naturalism

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Book Review: “Truth in the Flesh” by John Hartung

Truth in the Flesh by John Hartung is an introductory work on apologetics that covers a surprisingly wide breadth of topics. The work is divided into two parts: meeting objections to the faith and making a case for the Christian faith.

Hartung begins with an analysis of plausibility structures and “blank stares” (7ff). Throughout the work, Hartung works to make high level ideas accessible at the level where a lay person can come to an understanding, and the notion of a “blank stare” is just one example of how he does this. He notes that Christian claims are often met with a “blank stare.” Such incredulity is often based on one’s own presumption of “prestige” and “social gate-keeping.” To break through this kind of barrier, Hartung suggests pressing on by questioning the listener on why they seem incredulous, which will open the path to discussing plausibility. He notes that one must keep in mind the notion that worldviews are at odds here, not just opposing views on individual topics.

Hartung’s discussion of the problem of evil is multi-leveled and interesting. He addresses the notion of evil as  a privation, something that is a lack of something rather than a thing-in-itself. Hartung then analyzes how evil could possibly be viewed as a challenge to the existence of God. He offers Christ as a solution to suffering. God who suffers with us cures our suffering.

Hartung then turns to two purported challenges to Christianity: science and faith and religious pluralism. Regarding the former, Hartung addresses a number of issues, including supposed incompatibility of faith and science, the “god of the gaps” objection, the possibility of making an inference to God, and more. Regarding the latter, he considers the possibility of testing truth claims of religion, relativism, religious experience, and a few other topics. Ultimately, he concludes that neither of these supposed challenges undermines Christian faith.

Hartung’s case for the Christian faith is built upon a cumulative case version of argument. He builds bottom up from God to Christ to Christian theism. One of the several highlights from the second part of Truth in the Flesh is the discussion of philosophical modernity. He traces modern thought from Plato on down through Locke and Hume and touches the important points of the development of their ideas. He continues to interact with these and other thinkers throughout the work.

Hartung’s arguments for the existence of God are concise and will give lay readers an introduction to a number of prominent philosophical arguments. He also offers a chapter in which he breaks apart the naturalistic worldview, arguing that it cannot account for meaning. Finally, the arguments for Christian theism specifically are added to the mix and the possibility of miracles, reliability of the New Testament, and the Incarnation are all defended.

Truth in the Flesh is an extraodinary work in a number of ways. Its breadth is impressive. Hartung manages to discuss extremely complex issues in such a way that those looking to learn about apologetics can understand, while those who have read thoroughly on the topic will get new insight and a great review. In particular, Hartung’s focus on some of the thinkers of modernity helps to make the work stand apart from the pack. I recommend Truth in the Flesh primarily as an introductory text for apologetics, but also as a great reference for those who are experienced in the field.

Source

John Hartung, Truth in the Flesh (Chipley, FL: Theocentric Publishing Group, 2012).

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not asked to endorse it, nor was I in any way influenced in my opinion by the publisher. My thanks to the publisher for the book.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 7/28/2012

I’m excited by the great diversity of topics Christian bloggers have taken up all over the web. It’s hard to keep up. Here is my attempt to try. Check out these excellent selections.

Subordinating the Trinity for Gender Purposes– A brief post discussing the unfortunate fact that some theologians have been distorting the Trinity simply to push their own agenda regarding gender. I have discussed this at length in my own post, “Women, Complementarianism, and the Trinity.

H.P. Lovecraft and the horror of Naturalistic Materialism– A very thought-provoking post about Lovecraft’s view of a Godless universe as a thing of horror. I highly recommend this read.

In Praise of Personal Retreats– there is something to be said for taking a break and delving into the Word. Check out this post, and think about a retreat of your own.

Spider-Man Spins a Design Argument– An interesting post about intelligent design and Spider-Man.

Which is Hate Speech? – Is it hate speech if you disagree with someone? Dan Savage, ironically an anti-bullying advocate, recently used a number of curse words and slurs to describe a group of Christian students. Meanwhile, Douglas Wilson is called out for hate speech due to talking about a controversial topic. Check out this insightful discussion.

Book Review: “7 Truths that Changed the World” by Kenneth Samples

Kenneth Samples’ latest book, 7 Truths That Changed the World (hereafter 7TC) provides an easy-to-read, fairly comprehensive apologetic for the Christian faith in a unique format.

Samples presents 7TC as a kind of investigation into the “dangerous ideas” that are central to Christianity. These dangerous ideas are:

  1. Not all men stay dead. In this section, Samples defends the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. Christians who are actively involved in reading apologetics will find that the argument is the fairly well-known “minimal facts” style, but Samples does manage to give some uniqueness to the argument in the next chapter, wherein he examines various objections to the argument for the resurrection. Particularly unique was the fact that Samples takes the time to offer critiques of some of the more outlandish objections, like the twin brother theory (38).
  2. God walked the earth- Here, Samples puts the “dangerous idea” squarely in the context of religious pluralism. Not all religions can be true (48ff) and if Jesus was God on earth, then Christianity is true. Interestingly, rather than simply presenting arguments for Jesus’ Godhood, Samples offers a few theories of the incarnation and only then moves towards Biblical evidence for Jesus’ deity (50-53; 53ff). Again, Samples engages with some little-known but often abused objections, including the notion that Jesus was a guru (69-70) or even an alien (70-71).
  3. A fine-tuned cosmos with a beginning- Samples then engages in an argument from cosmic fine-tuning. Again, Samples puts the argument into a context rather than simply throwing it out to be fielded. Throughout the book, Samples grounds the arguments he makes within the broad theological history that surrounds the ideas. For this argument, he points out the historical doctrine of creation out of nothing through the Bible and church history (78-80). He also points out the “weighty theological implications” of the fine-tuning argument (82-83). He then argues that Christian theology helped ground the emergence of science (91ff).
  4. Clear pointers to God- Explanatory power is one way to evaluate worldviews, and Samples weighs atheistic naturalism against Christian theism. Samples offers a method by which people can evaluate worldviews. Essentially, this is a summary of his excellent work, A World of Difference, which I comment on in my post “Can We Evaluate Worldviews? How to navigate the sea of ideas.” Throughout this section, Samples offers a number of arguments in favor of the notion that God exists and can best explain the universe we observe.
  5. Not by Works- One of the core tenets of Protestantism, and indeed of  evangelicalism (and in many ways, more modern Roman Catholicism) is salvation by grace. The fact that Christianity offers salvation as a gift provides another way to analyze it in light of other worldviews (134ff). All humans feel an urge to try to work for salvation, but this is mistaken. Ultimately, we cannot do it by ourselves (136ff). Sin is a predicament in which we find ourselves, it is a condition (137-138). Thus, Christianity offers a “way out” by salvation through grace in Christ.
  6. Humanity’s Value and Dignity- Humans have value. Most humans realize that it is wrong to cause harm or suffering and that certain virtues are good. However, without theism, there is no basis for human values (167ff). Some atheists have realized this and rejected meaning (163-166), but their worldviews dim in comparison to the light Christianity brings.
  7. The Good in Suffering- The problem of evil is the most oft-trumpeted argument for atheism, and Samples responds to it mostly by utilizing the “greater good” theodicy (theodicy means, basically, a defense from the problem of evil). First, he points out that it is not logically incoherent to suppose God is all powerful and all good while still believing evil exists (196-200). Then, he argues that God can have good purposes for evil and suffering (205ff). While we may not come up with a specific reason for every single evil that occurs, God’s sovereignty ensures that good will triumph and that all things work for His purposes (209ff).  I don’t tend to favor the “greater good” theodicy because I’m not sure I can swallow the notion that every evil has a greater good–but I think that when applied to evil generally it may be more powerful. Samples does a good job introducing the reader to the basics on the problem of evil and a theodicy here.

While much of the material in 7TC goes over things the avid reader of apologetics will have encountered, the novelty of some of the arguments as well as the answers to some infrequently-considered objections makes the book worthwhile even to “veterans.” It is also very helpful to have some of the background in historical theology that Samples gives to contextualize many of his points. These kinds of extra details with the overall argument give readers a level of background knowledge that not all introductory apologetics books can provide.

Moreover, the format makes it work well as the kind of book to hand to a skeptic or a believer with doubts. It presents the core doctrines of the Christian faith in their broad contexts and defends them admirably. While hardened skeptics may laugh a book like this off, for those with open minds the arguments will be compelling enough to start conversations. Due to the effort to make the book readable for a general audience, it is clear that Samples can’t touch on every objection, but it will get readers thinking.

Overall, 7 Truths That Changed the World is a superb effort by a fantastic scholar. It presents a reasoned defense of the whole of Christianity in a short, digestible form that makes it perfect for an introduction to apologetics or as a book to give friends to start conversations. Not only that, but Samples provides enough unique insight to make it worth a read by even “veterans” of apologetics literature. It comes recommended highly.

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not asked to endorse it, nor was I in any way influenced in my opinion by the publisher. My thanks to the publisher for the book.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Where the Conflict Really Lies” by Alvin Plantinga

There are few names bigger than Alvin Plantinga when it comes to philosophy of religion and there are few topics more hotly debated than science and religion. Plantinga’s latest book, Where the Conflict Really Lies (hereafter WCRL) has therefore generated much interest as it has one of the foremost philosophers of religion taking on this highly contentious topic.
Plantinga minces no words. The very first line of the book outlines his central claim: “there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, and superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.”1

The first part of the book is dedicated to the superficial conflict between science and religious belief. The reason this alleged conflict is important is due, largely, to the success of the scientific enterprise. Because science has shown itself to be a reliable way to come to know the world, if religion is in direct conflict with science, then it would seem to discredit religion. Not only that, but, Plantinga argues, Christians should have a “particularly high regard” for science due to the foundations of the scientific enterprise on a study of the world.2

In order to examine this alleged conflict, Plantinga first takes on the article of science most often taken to discredit religion: evolution. Here, readers may be surprised to find that Plantinga does not try to argue against evolution itself. Rather, Plantinga draws a distinction between the notion of evolution and Darwinism. The former, argues Plantinga, is consistent with Christian belief, whether or not it is the way the variety of life came to be, while the latter is not consistent with Christianity because central to its account is the notion that the process of evolution is unguided.3

WCRL then turns to Richard Dawkins. Plantinga argues that “A Darwinist will think there is a complete Darwinian history for every contemporary species, and indeed for every contemporary organism.”4  Here again there is nothing which puts such a theory in conflict with Christian belief. Writes Plantinga, “[The process of evolution] could have been superintended and orchestrated by God.”5 But Dawkins (and others) claim that evolution “reveals a universe without design.” But what argument is provided towards this conclusion? Plantinga draws out Dawkins reasoning and shows that the only logic given is that evolution could have happened by way of unguided evolution. But then:

What [Dawkins] actually argues… is that there is a Darwinian series of contemporary life forms… but [this series] wouldn’t show, of course, that the living world, let alone the entire universe, is without design. At best it would show, given a couple of assumptions, that it is not astronomically improbable that the living world was produced by unguided evolution and hence without design. But the argument form ‘p is not astronomically improbable’ therefore ‘p’ is a bit unprepossessing… What [Dawkins] shows, at best, is that it’s epistemically possible that it’s biologically possible that life came to be without design. But that’s a little short of what he claims to show.6

Plantinga then moves on to argue that Daniel Dennett’s argument is similarly flawed.7 Paul Draper’s argument that evolution is more likely on naturalism than theism is more interesting, but assumes that “everything else is equal.”8 But then, everything is not equal. Theism provides a number of relevant probabilities which weigh the argument in favor of theism instead.9

The arguments against theism from evolution are therefore largely dispensed. What of the possibility of divine action? Some argue that God doesn’t actually act in the world—in fact, the argument is made that even most theologians don’t believe this, despite writing that God does act in various ways. The argument is made that because of natural laws, God cannot or does not intervene.10  However, one can simply argue that the correct view of a natural law is that “When the universe is causally closed (when God is not acting specially in the world), P.”11

Plantinga does acknowledge that there are some fields in science which do provide at least superficial conflict with theism. These include evolutionary psychology and (some) historical critical scholarship.12 Evolutionary psychology generally doesn’t challenge religious belief. “Describing the origin of religious belief and the cognitive mechanisms involved does nothing… to impugn its truth.”13 Now some suggest that religious beliefs are due to devices not aimed at truth, and this would provide a reason to doubt religious belief.14 However, the way that most do this is by conjoining atheism with psychology or operating under other assumptions which undermine religious belief a priori. While this may mean that specific conclusions in psychology are in conflict with theism, these conclusions only follow from the anti-theistic assumptions at the bottom. Thus, while some accounts of evolutionary psychology are in conflict with theism, they don’t provide a solid basis for rejecting it.15 Similarly, varied methods of historical concept may draw some conclusions which are in conflict with Christian theism, but these methods are themselves undergirded by assumptions that theism is, at best, not to be entered into historical discussion.16

There are, Plantinga argues, significant reasons to think that theism is in concord with science. First, the argument from cosmological fine-tuning, he argues, gives “some slight support” for theism.17 The section on fine-tuning has responses to some serious criticisms of such arguments. Most interesting are his responses to Tim and Lydia McGrew and Eric Vestrup—in which Plantinga argues that we can indeed get to the point where we can assess the fine-tuning argument;18 Plantinga’s discussion of the multiverse;19 and his discussion of relevant probabilities regarding fine-tuning.20

Michael Behe’s design theory is discussed at length in WCRL.21 Plantinga offers some additional insights into the Intelligent Design debate. He argues that one can view design not so much as a probabilistic argument but instead as simple perception.22 He reads both Behe and William Paley in this light and argues that they are offering design discourses as opposed to arguments.23 This, in turn, allows him to argue that design is a kind of “properly basic belief” and he offers a robust discussion of epistemology to support this intuition.24

Further, there is deep concord between Christian Theism and Science when one looks at the very roots of the scientific endeavor. Here, rather than simply listing various theists who helped build the empirical method, Plantinga argues that science relies upon various theistic assumptions in order for its methods to succeed. These include the “divine image” in which humans are capable of rational thought;25 God’s order as providing regularity for the universe;26 natural laws;27 mathematics;28 induction;29 and simplicity and “other theoretical virtues” (like beauty).30

Finally, Plantinga turns to naturalism: does it really resonate so well with science? Plantinga grants for the sake of argument that there is at least superficial concord between naturalism on science, if only because so many naturalists trumpet this “fact.”31 Yet there is, he argues, a deep conflict between science and naturalism: namely, that if evolution is true and naturalism is true, there is no reason to trust our cognitive abilities.32 “Suppose you are a naturalist,” he writes, “you think there is no such person as God, and that we and our cognitive faculties have been cobbled together by natural selection. Can you then sensibly think that our cognitive faculties are for the most part reliable?”33

Plantinga argues you cannot. The reason is because we have no way to suppose that evolution is truth aimed, but rather it is merely survival aimed (if indeed it is aimed at all!). He also argues that because naturalists are almost all materialists, there is no way to adequately ground beliefs.34 Finally, because naturalism and evolution conjoin to give a low probability that our rational abilities are reliable, we have received a defeater for every belief we have, including naturalism and evolution.35 Thus, the conflict “is not between science and theistic religion: it is between science and naturalism. That’s where the conflict really lies.”36

WCRL covers an extremely broad range of topics, and will likely be critiqued on each topic outlined above and more. The book touches on issues that are at the core of the debate between naturalists and theists, and as such it will be highly contentious. That said, the book is basically required reading for anyone interested in this discourse. Plantinga provides extremely valuable insights into every topic he touches. His discussion of biological design, for example, provides unique insight into the topic by locating it within epistemology as opposed to biology alone. Further, his “evolutionary argument against naturalism” continues to live despite endless criticism. The list of important topics Plantinga illumines in WCRL is extensive.

Where the Conflict Really Lies will resonate deeply with those who are involved in the science and religion discourse. Theists will find much to think about and perhaps new life for some arguments they have tended to set aside. Naturalists will discover a significant challenge to their own paradigm. Those on either side will benefit from reading this work.

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1 Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies (New York, NY: Oxford, 2011), ix.
2 Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, 3-4. (Unless otherwise noted, all references are to this work.)
3 12 (emphasis his).
4 15 (emphasis his).
5 16.
6 24-25.
7 33ff, esp. 40-41.
8 53.
9 53ff.
10 69ff.
11 86, see the arguments there and following.
12 129ff.
13 140.
14 141ff.
15 143ff.
16 152ff.
17 224.
18 205-211.
19 212ff.
20 219ff.
21 225-264.
22 236ff.
23 240-248.
24 248ff; see esp. 253-258, 262-264.
25 266ff.
26 271ff.
27 274ff.
28 284ff.
29 292ff.
30 296ff.
31 307ff.
32 311ff.
33 313.
34 318ff.
35 339ff.
36 350.

This review was originally posted at Apologetics315 here: http://www.apologetics315.com/2012/02/book-review-where-conflict-really-lies.html

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Guest Post: “Is There Life on Other Planets?” by Greg Reeves

If you’ve been reading the science news lately, you’ll find there has been a lot of buzz about “extrasolar planets”, or “exoplanets” (i.e., planets that orbit other stars).  For an example, see here.  The reason why is in the last several years, the number of exoplanets that we’ve discovered has increased dramatically, mostly due to the Kepler mission.  But regardless of the reason why, one interesting question this brings up is, “Are there other planets that host life?”

This is an incredibly profound question for both the religious and non-religious alike.  For the Christian, the knee-jerk reaction might be “no, of course not, God specially created the life on earth and did not do so elsewhere.” (By the way, I do not necessarily espouse this view.) For the secularist, the presence of life on other planets only adds weight to the idea that life arose here on earth by strictly naturalistic processes.  So what does science have to say about this subject?  Given the sensationalistic popular news articles, one might think the universe is teeming with alien life.  However, the data actually say otherwise.

First, answering the origin of life question, from a scientific standpoint, is incredibly hard.  In fact, after investigating the state of affairs on this problem in order to write a book, it has driven agnostic physicist Paul Davies to proclaim1:

 When I set out to write this book, I was convinced that science was close to wrapping up the mystery of life’s origin…Having spend a year or two researching the field, I am now of the opinion that there remains a huge gulf in our understanding…This gulf’s not merely ignorance about certain technical details, it is a major conceptual lacuna.

He goes on to say:

Many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled. There are two reasons for their unease. First they feel it opens the door to religious fundamentalists…Second, they worry that a frank admission of ignorance will undermine funding…

Second, even though it is a conceptually difficult phenomenon to study, scientists are incredibly confident that it will be resolved one day.  The main reason why is that the alternative to having a naturalistic origin of life would be a supernaturalistic origin of life, something that most secular scientists not only do not believe in but also that they rule out completely according to their philosophical worldview.

Third, we now know that life on our planet originated in a geological instant.  As soon as this planet became even remotely suitable for life, roughly 3.9-3.8 billion years ago, life began (our earliest evidence for life is between 3.86 and 3.80 billion years ago).  To the secular scientist, this implies that even though we have no idea how, the origin of life must be a very simple, fast process.

Fourth, because the origin of life is simple and fast, it probably is not a finely-tuned process, according to the reasoning of secularism.  In other words, all you need are some minimal requirements (liquid water, a rocky planet, some carbon-containing compounds, and a short window of time) and life will surely appear.  This principle led astronomer Steve Vogt, upon discovery of a rocky exoplanet in the “Goldilocks zone” (the distance from their star that would allow a planet to potentially harbor liquid water), to state, “The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent.”  (As an interesting sidenote, the particular planet he was referring to may not even be a planet. Of course, we are still discovering exo-planets, and I have been confident for some time that we would find a near-earth-sized rocky planet in the Goldilocks zone.  And lo and behold, we have.  For examples, see here and here.)

So, given this background, is it likely that such “Goldilocks planets”, which are likely to be all over the place in the universe, harbor life?  Well, there are two sides to this story.  As I laid out above, the popular secular point of view (and the point of view portrayed by the media) is that life is inevitable whenever loose conditions are met (background point four).  So of course, whenever you have a planet in the Goldilocks zone, life is inevitable.  This view springs solely from the assumption of naturalism (background point 2) and the fact that life arose on earth quickly (background point 3).  You can easily see this point of view when reading the popular news articles, which are overflowing with unbridled optimism.

The other view is that life is rare in the universe, because all of the prowess of the origin-of-life scientific community has returned a comparatively small amount of promising data (background point 1). In fact, not only has little actual progress been made towards discovering naturalistic pathways towards origin of life, but instead the more we know the more we discover how far away we are.  Problems such as the lack of a prebiotic soup, the irreducible complexity of life, the homochirality problem (all bio-molecules must be either 100% right-handed or 100% left-handed), the difficulty in producing a cell membrane, and the finely-tuned conditions needed to carry out the chemical reactions that produce biological precursors all reveal a much less optimistic story from the point of view of hard science.

The problems for the hypothesis of the naturalistic origin of life don’t stop there, however.  The more we study our planet, the more we realize that an exoplanet needs a lot more going its way than just to be in the Goldilocks zone.  There are a whole host of astronomical and geological parameters that must be exquisitely finely-tuned for life to (1) exist and (2) persist on a planet.  The timing of the formation of the exosolar system, the location of the exosolar system within the galaxy, the type of galaxy the exosolar system is in, the elemental composition of the star and planet, and the existence of stable, long-lasting plate tectonics are just a few of the finely-tuned parameters that must be met for life to exist and thrive.

None of this is to say that we should not be investigating how life could have originated, or whether exoplanets may harbor other life forms.  Indeed, if God did create the universe and life, I am convinced that these scientific disciplines will serve only to glorify Him further.

But these observations do beg the question: which is it?  Is life abundant in the universe, a premise based on one data point and questionable assumptions, or is life rare, a premise based upon the empirical findings of the fields of biochemistry, organic chemistry, astronomy, and geology?  It seems to me that hope springs eternal for the secular exoplanet researcher, but the hard scientific data tells another story.

1. Davies, Paul.  “The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life.”  Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (March 16, 2000)

Dr Greg Reeves holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University, and is currently an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at North Carolina State University. He is the co-director of the NC State chapter of Ratio Christi. His blog can be found at twobooksapproach.blogspot.com.

Really Recommended Posts 02/03/12

Says the Madman, “Humanity is Dead, and We Are Its Murderers”– An insightful post which argues that naturalism has undermined the worth and value of humans.

Zombies of Christianity– I really enjoyed this discussion of the diversity of doctrine in Christianity and how to approach it.

My latest post on abortion generated some controversy, but I’d like to point out that scientifically, the unborn simply is a human being. One can find this not only in numerous medical textbooks on embryology, but also in the words of abortions-rights advocates themselves. Check out this phenomenal post which outlines the fact that the unborn are human beings, period- Medical Testimony.

C.S. Lewis is one of the greatest Christian Apologists of all time. Check out this post which brings us Beyond Mere Christianity.  Interested in literary apologetics? Check out Holly Ordway’s guest post on my blog here.

A Response to the Problem of an ‘Evil God’ as Raised by Stephen Law.– An excellent article, which I don’t fully agree with (I think Edward Feser answers the challenge correctly, for example), but which provides a thorough critique of Law’s position.

The Artist: A Film Review and Reflection- Holly Ordway shares her thoughts on “The Artist.”

How Many Atheists in America? Fewer than You Might Think– Pretty self explanatory.

Quantum Indeterminacy, Materialism, and Free Will: Do our minds shape reality?

The idea is that “freedom” of the will is simply the fact that human behavior is unpredictable, and that this unpredictability is a consequence of the random character of “quantum processes” happening in the brain… To be subject to random mental disturbance is not freedom but a kind of slavery or even madness. (Professor of Theoretical Particle Physics at the University of Delaware, Stephen Barr, 178)

Can there be free will on materialism?

The question has been perpetuated throughout the history of modern science. For quite a while, it was thought that all things were deterministic, given materialism. Thus, the view of life was a bit fatalistic. However, with the advent of Quantum Mechanics, some have argued that quantum indeterminacy allows for freedom of the will. Is that the case?

First, it’s important to outline quantum indeterminacy. On the quantum level, events are probabilistic. What that means is that “given complete information about the state of a physical system at one time, its later behavior [cannot] be predited with certainty… [only] the relative probabilities of various future outcomes [can be predicted]” (Barr, 176, cited below).

It becomes immediately apparent how some might see this as salvation for a physicalist perspective on free will. If events are not determined on a quantum level, perhaps our choices are free in some sense as well. But difficulties with this interpretation arise immediately. First, quantum indeterminacy is not a reflection of our choices, but just that: indeterminacy. As quoted above, our supposed choices would (on physicalism) be merely probabilistic. Our actions would be unpredictable, but that is not freedom. Surely, if the actions we take are merely the reflections of probability curves on a quantum level, that is not the same as freedom. Rather, they would be actions taken due to a basically random process. If I have the “choice” between A and B, and the probability is 50/50 on a quantum level, then my “choice” for B instead of A is just the same as if I flipped a coin. The coin doesn’t choose which side to land on, its just probability.

So it seems that right off the bat, quantum indeterminacy cannot explain free will on materialism or physicalism. Rather than being “free will” it would boil down to random events. As Barr wrote, we would be subject to random mental disturbances, and this would entail slavery at best (178).

But can materialists circumvent this problem? One suggestion is that we have control of quantum events themselves, so we therefore would be in control of our choices. But note that this presupposes a kind of extra-quantum center of control from which we can observe and control quantum events. Let’s put it into a thought experiment. Suppose we granted materialism. In that case, our “selves” are our brains. The brain is a physical object, itself governed by quantum events. Now, the purported way out for materialism is that our brain, a physical thing governed by physical processes, itself monitors and controls physical processes such that they effect the brain in the way the brain has chosen. The difficulties with this position should be immediately apparent. The brain, as a physical object, is itself governed by quantum events. These quantum events are not just logically prior but also temporally prior to the brain. Therefore, those things the brain chooses have been determined by previous physical states of affairs. So ultimately, it’s all material, and it’s all probabilistic. The freedom does not enter into the equation.

The problems don’t end there for those who wish to rescue freedom of the will in materialism. Another issue is that of the observer in a quantum event. In order for quantum indeterminacy to be helpful in regards to free will, the observer of a quantum event would have to be outside of the system. “[T]he observer cannot be considered part of the system that is being physically described and remain the observer of it” (Barr, 238). If all there is were the physical world, then the system would include “me.” I could not be the observer who took action in the quantum events, because I would be part of the description of these events. As Barr puts it:

The mathematical descriptions of the physical world given to us by quantum theory presuppose the existence of observers who lie outside those mathematical descriptions (238).

If materialism were true, then quantum indeterminacy could not rescue free will. The agents who were suppoed to be free would be, themselves, part of the system which they were supposed to observe and determine.

So does quantum indeterminacy factor into free will at all? Here’s where things get really interesting. It seems that those who argue for its importance with free will are correct, in a qualified sense. The indeterminacy provides a necessary, but not sufficient, reason for free will. We’ve already seen that it can’t help out in a purely materialistic world–the brain states which supposedly select from various choices are themselves physically determined by prior choices and/or other physical aspects of reality. But what if there were an immaterial mind in the mix? This immaterial mind would not be determined by prior quantum events, and indeed it could take the place of observer for quantum events. Thus, the immaterial mind could serve as the observer of these quantum events.

Quantum indeterminacy, then, acts as a necessary but not sufficient reason for freedom of the will. While the discovery of quantum indeterminacy ushered in an era in which comprehensive physical determinism was tempered by probability, it allowed an opening for free will which can only be utilized by an extra-physical observer. Because our experience of the world includes an intuitive sense of freedom, the previous arguments therefore provide a strong reason to embrace substance dualism. If we experience the world as one in which we are free, and we cannot be free on materialism, then our experience provides us with evidence against materialism.

The world, it seems, is more than merely the physical.

Source:

Stephen Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2003).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Materialists: Where is hope? Look to the stars!

“[T]he Universe may harbor civilizations more intelligent than our own. Perhaps one day, through interstellar communication, some advanced civilization will help us resolve such age-old problems as war, famine, disease, overpopulation, misuse of natural resources, and human aging.”- John Oró, “Historical Understanding of Life’s Beginnings” (40, cited below).

Such is the hope of materialism. I’ve argued elsewhere that if all we are is matter, then there is no meaning. The pervasive response was that “we make our own meaning.” Leaving questions over the tenability of such a view aside, I have turned to a different, and interesting phenomenon: Where is there room for hope, within materialism? 

It didn’t take long to dig up some quotes. One of the classes I’m taking this semester is on the Origins of Life. A few books we were assigned for this class were from a materialist perspective. The quote above is from one of those books. It resonated deeply with me. Consider this: If all we are is matter, having arrived here by unguided, biochemical processes, living on a dying planet in a dying universe–where is our hope? One cannot turn to transcendence with such a worldview, but one can attempt to emulate it.

Such is the case found in materialistic literature. Such is the grand materialist hope:

We can look hopefully for our saviors from the stars. There must be more intelligent life out there, and they will usher in a new era, a near utopia wherein disease, death, war, and hunger are all eliminated. Our alien saviors will rush to our aide once they’ve found us on this dying rock, and we will worship them as we used to worship the mythic gods of old. 

But it is not just hope for the future which must guide us. Our realization that we are but one among many (and many who are probably smarter than us) must lead us to a new set of ethics. Oró writes of new ethical principles we must embrace: “Humility: The life of all cells descends from simple molecules… Hope: Someday we may communicate with more advanced civilizations… Universality: We come from stardust and to stardust we shall return… Peace: We should change our culture of war into a culture of peace” (Oró, 40-41 cited below). Humility, hope, peace, universality–these are all things Christians embrace also, but the materialist has redefined them. Our hope is not int the transcendent but in the here-and-now. Our hope, again, reaches for the stars.

But is this really a hope? We know the universe is dying. We know that, even were we to escape death, eventually the cosmic heat death of the universe would occur, and our ultimate doom is sealed. Should we hope that our alien saviors are also inter-dimensional travelers? Should we hope that they transcend space and time? I leave these questions open.

But the most interesting phenomenon in all of this is that the materialist has abandoned their presupposition. Rather than hoping for what is they hope for what we know not. They look to the stars, grasping at things unseen. Iris Fry, a professor at both Tel Aviv University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and author of The Emergence of Life on Earth writes honestly and lucidly of the philosophical commitments of the materialist in this sphere:

[T]he realization that many non-empirical factors are involved in determining scientific positions and in the adoption of scientific theories leads to the notion of theoretical and philosophical decision, or commitment. Research into the origin of life and the search for extraterrestrial life are a clear case in point, because here the weight of the philosophical commitment is much greater than in more conventional scientific fields. As long as no empirical evidence of life beyond Earth has been found, and as long as no scientific theory has succeeded in providing a fully convincing account of the emergence of life on Earth, the adoption of an evolutionary point of view toward the question of life’s origin and the rejection of the idea of purposeful design involve a very strong philosophical commitment. -Iris Fry (283, Cited Below)

Ultimately, I think she is quite right. There is a philosophical commitment being espoused here, not a scientific commitment. Too often, materialists forget that, but kudos to Fry for honestly admitting it while also espousing the very commitment.

Where is our hope?

The materialist answers: The stars.

Is this really rational?

Sources:

John Oró “Historical Understanding of Life’s Beginnings” in Life’s Origin ed. J. William Schopf (Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2002).

Iris Fry The Emergence of Life on Earth (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers, 2000.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

What Evil? (The Problem of Evil on Empiricism)

The problem of evil is often seen to be the greatest philosophical challenge to theistic belief. The problem of evil is also most frequently raised by people who are ardent empiricists (which undergirds their atheism).  There are many versions of empiricism, but the one we will investigate at the moment is naturalistic, atheistic empiricism, which holds both that there is nothing but the natural world in the sense of the world which can be directly accessed via the senses and only sensory, empirical evidence is sufficient evidence for holding a proposition to be true.

On this view, it seems extremely difficult to figure out what exactly evil is. Sam Harris is well known for trying to show that science is capable of dealing with moral issues (discussed here). The method basically involves finding out what makes people happy (which is “good”) and what makes them unhappy (which makes it “bad”) (see here). It remains totally unclear to me, however, how Harris makes the jump from “happy” to “objective good.” Measuring people’s happiness doesn’t mean measuring goodness. There are serial killers who are very happy to go about secretly killing as many people as possible. That doesn’t make their action “good”, unless you boil “good” down to a purely subjective basis, on which nothing can be decried as “evil” unless 100% of people agree it is indeed evil.

Returning to the problem of evil, then, it seems like theists can simply ask the atheists a question: “What evil?” Judging something as “evil” is necessarily a valuation of an action. How does one make an experiment which can make a value judgment? Certainly, one can try to argue, as does Harris, that values are just [scientific] facts (note that the theist agrees that moral values are facts… but facts centered on the nature of God, not on empirical grounds). But simply asserting something doesn’t make it so. I often say “God exists.” People don’t tend to take this as profound evidence that the statement is true. (Though, perhaps if I said “God exists is a fact.” I might win some over… at least those who take Harris seriously when he makes a similar claim about values in the video linked above.)

So the question remains: What evil? On an atheistic empirical standpoint, there doesn’t seem to be any way to judge actions or events as “evil” other than by saying “I don’t like that.” But perhaps I do like that same event/action. Who’s to judge between us? Bringing numbers into the mix won’t help either. Imagine a scenario in which 1,000,000 people thought some action (rape) was evil. On the other side there were 10,000 who thought the same action was perfectly reasonable, because, after all, that’s how our ancestors behaved. Who is right? Well, on empiricism, perhaps one could argue that the 1,000,000 are right, but then we’re making a judgment on values simply because of a majority vote. Science doesn’t work that way. We don’t just vote on what is empirically correct.

The only way to solve this problem would be to argue that in moral questions, the majority is correct. Yet I don’t see any way to argue in this matter other than metaphysically, which is exactly what the empiricist is trying to avoid. Therefore, on empiricism, there is no such thing as evil. Just good and bad feelings. And that’s not enough.

And so we get to my main argument.

1) One cannot rationally hold both to a proposition’s truth and falsehood.

2) On atheistic empiricism, there is no evil.

3) Atheistic empiricists argue that evil disproves (or challenges) the existence of God [implicit premise: evil exists].

4) Therefore, atheistic empiricists hold that both evil does not exist, and that it does exist (2, 3).

5) Therefore, atheistic empiricism is irrational (1, 4).

In order to avoid the argument, the atheistic empiricist can simply deny 3). However, this would disarm the strongest anti-theistic argument. I see no reason to feel threatened by the problem of evil when it is leveled by an empirical/naturalistic anti-theist. In fact, some have argued that:

1) If evil has meaning, then God exists.

2) Evil has meaning.

3) God exists (1, 2, modus ponens).

This argument is a kind of reverse moral argument, and I think it works, though I doubt one will find many anti-theists who will accept premise 1). As is the case with the moral argument [1) If objective morals exist, then God exists; 2) Objective morals exist; 3) therefore God exists], I believe atheists will vary between denying 1) and 2) as they find convenient.

I leave it to the naturalistic/empirical atheist to show that science can, in fact, test for objective morality, rather than just measuring feelings.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Case for Dualism: Against Monism

Substance dualism seems to be the most reasonable position when it comes to consciousness. I’m going to be exploring the reasons for this throughout several posts.

Substance dualism is the idea that our conscious self is a combination of both a physical and non-physical reality. That is, our consciousness is not just neurons firing in the brain, but also some kind of phenomenal self, which is separate from the physical realm.

One reason for holding to substance dualism is that it avoids the problems of monistic physicalism. Physicalism argues that our conscious self is literally the brain. There is nothing but neurons firing in the brain (okay, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but the general idea is that our brain is our “self”).

Physicalism, therefore, leads to a kind of monism–everything is matter. Depending on which physicalist philosopher one prefers, this can lead to all sorts of problems. We can see this when we examine what exactly composes a “thought.” On dualism, a “thought” is a non-physical, phenomenal experience of the “self”–which is generally referred to either as “mind” or “soul.” On physicalism, a “thought” is identical with a brain state.

In other words, on Physicalism:

Brain state A => Mental state A’

Brain state B => Mental state B’

And so on.

When I experience thought A’, it is because of a prior brain state, A. My mental states are either identical to, or supervenient upon, the physical state of my brain. The problem with this is that it relegates mental states to epiphenomenalism. That is, if a mental state is wholly dependent on a brain state, the mental state is superfluous. This is because the mental state is entirely dependent upon (or identical to) the brain state. On physicalism, a mental state does not occur without a brain state occurring prior to, or in conjunction with, it.

This, in turn, leads to epiphenomenalism because the mental state is, as  I said, superfluous. If it is always the case that Brain state A=> Mental state A’, then Brain state A causes whatever actions we take, for the brain state entails the mental state, which itself is identical to or supervenient upon the brain state to exist. But then, if we cut mental state A’ out of the equation, we would still have Brain state A and the action. Thus, consciousness is entirely superfluous.

Another problem with this is that it also means consciousness doesn’t have to have any connection with the actual world. Our brain states could be causing all kinds of wild mental states which are completely unconnected to what is happening outside of our “self,” but we would never know it or act differently. I could be having the mental states of pigs flying and eating buffaloes as I write this, but it wouldn’t matter because the brain state is what is causative. The mental state is simply a byproduct of the brain state. Or, we could all be zombies, without any kind of phenomenal consciousness, and yet still be performing the same actions.

Yet another problem, on the physicalist perspective, is that there seems to be no reason for our mental states to line up with reality. Why is it that despite the fact that our brain state is causing all of our actions, or mental state seems to line up with those actions? There doesn’t seem to be any reason our mental states should line up with reality. One response could be that we have no reason to suppose they do line up with reality, but then we have no reason to trust anything we “think” and should give up whatever positions we do hold.

Of course, monistic physicalism actually argues that there is no mental state A’ generated by brain state A, but I don’t see any reason for believing this is true, for they are of two completely different kinds. One is gray mush, the other is a phenomenal image of a cat. One is composed of neurons shooting impulses to and fro, the other is the idea that “I wish I had eaten breakfast.” The law of identity states that A = A. But, according to monistic physicalism, my gray mush/neurons firing = image of cat. This is simply false.

So, I have no reason to accept physicalism on any of these formulations, and every reason to reject it. Physicalism is epiphenomenal, gives us reasons to doubt our basic intuitions, and makes any thoughts we have completely arbitrary.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

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