Friday, December 23, 2011

Point Five: The Self

The Last Point Varghese discusses is the self. You and I.

Once again he writes, "Once we acknowledge the fact that there is a first-person perspective, “I,” “me,” “mine,” and the like, we encounter the greatest and yet the most exhilarating mystery of all. I exist. To reverse Descartes, “I am, therefore I think, perceive, intend, mean, interact.” Who is this “I”? “Where” is it? How did it come to be? Your self is obviously not just something physical, just as it is not just something supraphysical. It is an embodied self, an ensouled body; “you” are not in a particular brain cell or in some part of your body. The cells in your body keep changing and yet “you” remain the same. If you study your neurons, you will find that none of them have the property of being an “I.” Of course your body is integral to who you are, but it is a “body” because it constituted as such by the self. To be human is to be embodied and ensouled. 

·         [David] Hume assumes that “myself” is an observable state like his thoughts and feelings. But the self is not something that can be thus observed. It is a constant fact of experience and, in fact, the ground of all experience. 

·         The most fundamental reality of which we are all aware, then, is the human self, and an understanding of the self inevitably sheds insights on all the origin questions and makes sense of reality as a whole. We realize that the self cannot be described, let alone explained, in terms of physics or chemistry: science does not discover the self; the self discovers science. We realize that no account of the history of the universe is coherent if it cannot account for the existence of the self."

And that concludes the five points of Varghese that he believes point to the existence of a supreme Mind, or God.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Point Four: Thought

The next point Varghese uses that would suggest that God exists is the concept of thought and its supraphysical nature.

·          He writes, "How is it that, from childhood, you can effortlessly think of both your dog Caesar and dogs in general? You can think of redness without thinking of a specific red thing (of course redness does not exist independently, but only in red things). You abstract and distinguish and unify without giving your ability to do these things a second thought. And you even ponder things that have no physical characteristics, such as the idea of liberty or the activity of angels. This power of thinking in concepts is by its very nature something that transcends matter. 

·         Once you think about it for a few minutes, you will know instantly that the idea that your thought of something is in any sense physical will be seen as unthinkably absurd. 

·         The point here is that, strictly speaking, your brain does not understand. You understand. Your brain enables you to understand, but not because your thoughts take place in the brain or because “you” cause certain neurons to fire. Rather, your act of understanding that eliminating poverty is a good thing, to take an instance, is a holistic process that is supraphysical in essence (meaning) and physical in execution (words and neurons). The act cannot be split into supraphysical and physical, because it is an indivisible act of an agent that is intrinsically physical and supraphysical. There is a structure to both the physical and the supraphysical, but their integration is so total that it makes no sense to ask if your acts are physical or supraphysical or even a hybrid of the two. They are acts of a person who is inescapably both embodied and “ensouled.” 

·         Supercomputer calculations and mainframe transactions performed in response to data and instructions are purely and simply a matter of electrical pulses, circuitry, and transistors. The same calculations and transactions performed by a human person, of course, involve the machinery of the brain, but they are performed by a center of consciousness who is conscious of what is going on, understands what is being done, and intentionally performs them. There is no awareness, understanding, meaning, intention, or person involved when the computer performs the same actions, even when the computer has multiple processors operating at superhuman speeds. The output of the computer has “meaning” for us (the weather forecast for tomorrow or your bank balance), but as far as the bundle of parts called the computer is concerned there are binary digits, 0’s and 1’s, that drive certain mechanical activities. To suggest that the computer “understands” what it is doing is like saying that a power line can meditate on the question of free will and determinism, or that the chemicals in a test tube can apply the principle of noncontradiction in solving a problem, or that a DVD player understands and enjoys the music it plays."

So the question arises, "How can we as nothing more than matter and electrical impulses construct thought to contemplate complex matters such as the questions of why that arise?" From a purely materialistic and naturalistic stand point it seems rather outlandish to suggest that pure matter can convert itself into a being that is not only alive, but a being that is capable of understanding. To go even further, how out of the millions of species that have existed in our planets history, only one species seems to be able to carry out these higher order processes. To describe how this happens without intelligence already existing in some form or another, it would seem to me, to be the same as to suggest that it happened by magic.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Point Three: Consciousness

Ok it's been a long time coming due to finals but here is Varghese's point three from Appendix A of There Is a God. Again most of this is taken directly from the book but I find it to be quite thought provoking nontheless.

·         He writes, "Consciousness is correlated with certain regions of the brain, but when the same systems of neurons are present in the brain stem there is no “production” of consciousness. As a matter of fact, as physicist Gerald Schroeder points out, there is no essential difference in the ultimate physical constituents of a heap of sand and the brain of an Einstein. Only blind and baseless faith in matter lies behind the claim that certain bits of matter can suddenly “create” a new reality that bears no resemblance to matter. 

·         In contrast to Dennett, Sam Harris has strongly defended the supraphysical reality of consciousness. “The problem, however, is that nothing about a brain, when surveyed as a physical system, declares it to be a bearer of that peculiar, interior dimension that each of us experiences as consciousness in his own case.” The upshot is startling: “Consciousness may be a far more rudimentary phenomenon than are living creatures and their brains. And there appears to be no obvious way of ruling out such a thesis experimentally.” To his credit, Dawkins acknowledges the reality of both consciousness and language and the problem this poses. “Neither Steve Pinker nor I can explain human subjective consciousness—what philosophers call qualia,” he said once. “In How the Mind Works Steve elegantly sets out the problem of subjective consciousness, and asks where it comes from and what’s the explanation. Then he’s honest enough to say, ‘Beats the heck out of me.’ That is an honest thing to say, and I echo it. We don’t know. We don’t understand it.”  Wolpert deliberately avoids the entire issue of consciousness—“I have purposely avoided any discussion of consciousness.'"

Of course we don't know how or why consciousness came to be. Similar to what I said for point two I echo with consciousness. We have only ever seen consciousness in action through living beings. Nonlife has never produced consciousness. Perhaps consciousness is what we should ultimately define as life. In anycase there may be some natural process behind it but at this point in time I feel it is safe to say that an equally likely idea is that there is some form of intelligence behind it. Call it God or whatever you like but I would certainly shy away from calling it impossible.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Some Atheist Scientists With Children Embrace Religious Traditions

I am taking a break from the 5 points of Varghese for a week or so because I don't have time at the moment due to my last round of finals approaching. However, I felt this was an interesting article that I would like to share. It kind of counters the beliefs held by some "New Atheists" like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris that religion is a bad thing and children should not be exposed to it at a young age. I could go into a lot more detail on that point as I disagree with it, but I'll just post the article and get back to studying. Enjoy.

"What happens when atheist scientists have kids? Do they expose them to religious traditions and institutions?

I surveyed nearly 1,700 natural and social scientists at elite American universities, and approximately half expressed some form of religious identity, whereas the other half did not. Then I interviewed a scientifically selected sample of 275 of these scientists, to ask them how they feel about religion. I found that nearly one in five (17 percent) of those who are atheists and parents are part of a religious congregation and have attended a religious service more than once in the past year.

Why would this be? Research I conducted with sociologist Kristen Schultz Lee (University at Buffalo, SUNY) showed just how tightly linked religion and family are in the United States--so much so that even some of society's least religious people find it important to expose their children to different religious choices. Our research challenges the assumption that parents who engage in religious socialization always hold religious beliefs themselves.

The atheist scientists interviewed cited personal and social reasons for introducing and integrating religious traditions and institutions into their children's lives.
Their reasons include:
• Scientific identity - Study participants wish to expose their children to all sources of knowledge (including religion) and allow them to make their own, informed choices about a religious identity.
• Spousal influence - Study participants are involved in a religious institution because of influence from their spouse or partner.
• Desire for community - Study participants want a sense of community (moral or otherwise), even if they do not personally hold religious beliefs.
To me, one of the most interesting findings was the discovery that some atheist scientists not only want to expose their children to religious institutions, but they also cite their scientific identity as a reason for doing so.

We expected these individuals to be less inclined to introduce their children to religious traditions than they are. But it turns out they want their children to know about different religious traditions because it is more consistent with their identity as a scientist to expose their children to all sources of knowledge. They want their children to be "free thinkers." Yet it is also important to them that their children don't abandon skepticism in the course of their religious education.

One study participant, a chemist raised in a strongly Catholic home, said he came to believe later in life that science and religion are not compatible, but what he wants to pass on to his daughter-- more than this belief --is the ability to make her own decisions in a thoughtful, intellectual way.

"I ... don't indoctrinate her that she should believe in God," he said. "I don't indoctrinate her into not believing in God." Like other atheist scientists who are parents, he has exposed his child to a variety of religious choices so he does not inadvertently indoctrinate her with atheism.

We hope the study's findings will help the public better understand how our professional and family lives can interact with our religious lives. We also hope they will serve to remind us that there is greater diversity in how atheists approach religion and childrearing than stereotypes might lead us to expect."

Elaine Howard Ecklund is a sociologist at Rice University, director of the Religion and Public Life Program, which is part of the Social Sciences Research Institute, and a Rice Scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy. Her most recent book is Science Vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think (Oxford University Press, 2010)

Some Atheist Scientists With Children Embrace Religious Traditions 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Point Two: Life

There are four dimensions of living beings. Such beings are agents, goal seekers, self-replicators and fourthly, they are semiotically driven (their existence depends on the interplay between codes and chemistry). Each and every living being acts or is capable of action. And each such being is the unified source and center of all its actions. Since these agents are capable of surviving and acting independently, their actions are in some fashion driven by goals (nourishment), and they can reproduce themselves; they are therefore goal-seeking, self-replicating autonomous agents. Moreover, as Howard H. Pattee points out, you find in living beings the interaction of semiotic processes (rules, codes, languages, information, control) and physical systems (laws, dynamics, energy, forces, matter).

Of the books (by new atheists) under study here (in Appendix A of There is a God), only Dawkins’s addresses the question of the origin of life. Wolpert is quite candid on the state of the field: “This is not to say that all the scientific questions relating to evolution have been solved. On the contrary, the origin of life itself, the evolution of the miraculous cell from which all living things evolved, is still poorly understood.” Dennett in previous works has simply taken it for granted that some materialist account must be right.

Unfortunately, on even the physico-chemical level, Dawkins’s approach is manifestly inadequate or worse. “But how does life get started?” he asks. “The origin of life was the chemical event, or series of events, whereby the vital conditions for natural selection first came about . . . . Once the vital ingredient—some kind of genetic molecule—is in place, true Darwinian natural selection can follow.” How did this happen? “Scientists invoke the magic of large numbers. The beauty of the anthropic principle is that it tells us, against all intuition, that a chemical model need only predict that life will arise on one planet in a billion billion to give us a good and entirely satisfying explanation for the presence of life here.” Given this type of reasoning, which is better described as an audacious exercise in superstition, anything we desire should exist somewhere if we just “invoke the magic of large numbers.” Unicorns or the elixir of youth, even if “staggeringly improbable,” are bound to occur “against all intuition.” The only requirement is “a chemical model” that “need only predict” these occurring “on one planet in a billion billion.”

Atheists often accuse believers of invoking the power of the God-of-the-Gaps to save them from the unknown. How did life arise? God did it. How do we have consciousness? God did it. How does there exist some sense of morality? God did it. Of course to simply say this and leave it at that is absurd and yet atheists use the same argument but instead of invoking God they call upon the magic of large numbers. How did life arise? Naturally, but it took billions of years. How do we have consciousness? Through natural processes, but it took millions of years. How does there exist some sense of morality? It evolved in us, it just needed millions of years. For atheists, who love to rely on the power of scientific observation, these claims can be described as extremely unscientific.

Science is all about observation and experimentation and yet with regards to origins (of life with regards to this post anyway) many take natural process over intelligence despite a complete lack of evidence. In fact, life has only ever been demonstrated or observed to come from pre-existing life and yet despite this observed requirement we seem to be able to overlook it by invoking the magic of large numbers. Can life arise naturally without a pre-existing form of life? Yes, it only needs x amount of years. Is this really the best answer?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Point One: Rationality

The first point Varghese argues is basically an appeal to human rationality. Believers and atheists argue that something had to always exist either the universe (which we could define as just a single clump of matter at one point in time) or God. I do not think that we necessarily have to believe that God created the universe “out of thin air” or out of nothing. The Hebrew word in Genesis that is used for “create” is “bara” which essentially means to form (or to fashion) which indicates that God is creating the universe with available material (perhaps in the Big Band from a single ball of matter). This is purely speculation on my part but I think it is worth contemplating. However, the point still stands that there had to be something that always existed. Something does not come from nothing.

Prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins and the others ask, “Who created God?” Now, clearly, theists and atheists can agree on one thing: if anything at all exists, there must be something preceding it that always existed. How did this eternally existing reality come to be? The answer is that it never came to be. It always existed. Take your pick: God or universe. Something always existed.  It is precisely at this point that the theme of rationality returns to the forefront. Contrary to the protestations of the atheists, there is a major difference between what theists and atheists claim about that which always exists. Atheists say that the explanation for the universe is simply that it is eternally existing, but we cannot explain how this eternally existing state of affairs came to be the way it is today. That is, came to support and give rise to life. It is inexplicable and has to be accepted as such. Theists, however, are adamant in pointing out that God is something that is not ultimately inexplicable: God’s existence is inexplicable to us at this point in time, but not to God. Inserting God into the equation, and by God I mean a superior mind, solves the problem of life, morality and consciousness which are things that lie outside the realm of science to some extent. You might not agree with me in this point but I will go into more detail when I discuss those three phenomenons in coming posts.

“The world is rational,” noted the great mathematician Kurt Gödel. The relevance of this rationality is that “the order of the world reflects the order of the supreme mind governing it.” The reality of rationality cannot be evaded with any appeal to natural selection. Natural selection presupposes the existence of physical entities that interact according to specific laws and of a code that manages the processes of life. And to talk of natural selection is to assume that there is some logic to what is happening in nature (adaptation) and that we are capable of understanding this logic.

So I hope this gives you something to think about and I’ll post a write up next on Varghese’s point 2: Life.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Critique of ‘The New Atheism’

The first of two appendices in There is a God by Antony Flew is a critique of the ‘New Atheism’ by co-author Roy Varghese. Varghese argues that there are some phenomena that are only explainable in terms of the existence of God (p. 161). His view is that atheism is a result of a deliberate refusal to look at the evidence, which is readily available in our immediate experience (p. 163). I think this goes hand in hand with Romans 1:20 which states, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." In my experience powerful cases for both the existence and nonexistence of God can be made but it seems to me that it really boils down to how one interprets the evidence available.

I'm using this post as an introduction to five of the reasons why notable former atheist Antony Flew left atheism for deism. It is important to note that he did not become a christian theist, he simply looked at the available evidence and concluded that a superior mind is a more likely cause for why we have something rather than nothing, as opposed to naturalistic explanations. The following is a quick summary of Roy Varghese's work in There is a God and as I said I will go more in depth in each of the five points he makes later on.

First, Varghese argues that something had to always exist, either God or the universe (p. 165). He maintains that the theist argument is superior because the atheist says that the eternal existence of the universe is inherently unexplainable, but theists argue that the eternal existence of God is not inexplicable, just incomprehensible for humans (p. 165). The atheist view also fails to explain why something exists rather than nothing, and why the something that exists obeys the laws of nature (p. 171).

Second, Varghese contends that most of the ‘new atheists’ do not even address the origin of life. Only Dawkins attempts an explanation; he claims that ‘a chemical model need only predict that life will arise on one planet in a billion billion to give us a good and entirely satisfying explanation for the presence of life here’ (p. 173). Varghese criticizes this as ‘manifestly inadequate or worse’ (p. 172) and as ‘an audacious exercise in superstition’ (p. 173), and indeed not even such an inadequate model exists.

Third, atheists have to deal with consciousness. Although certain areas of the brain are associated with consciousness, they do not produce consciousness—a certain area of a person’s brain may show activity when thinking about a certain idea, but a neurologist cannot tell from that person’s MRI what he is thinking about. ‘Consciousness is correlated with certain regions of the brain, but when the same systems of neurons are present in the brain stem there is no “production” of consciousness’ (p. 174).

Fourth, ‘beyond consciousness, there is the phenomenon of thought, of understanding, seeing meaning’ (p. 176). ‘At the foundation of all of our thinking, communicating, and use of language is a miraculous power. It is the power of noting differences and similarities and of generalizing and universalizing—what the philosophers call concepts universals, and the like. It is natural to humans, unique, and simply mystifying’ (pp. 176–177). The brain plays a part in this process, but there is clearly a non-physical part to it, as well. Varghese argues that ‘they are the acts of a person who is inescapably both embodied and “ensouled”’ (p. 178).

Fifth, the atheists have to deal with the emergence of the self, which he calls ‘the most obvious and unassailable and the most lethal for all forms of physicalism’ (p. 181).

Most of this post was taken from: Review of There is a God

Keep in mind I do not believe any of these points are "proofs" of the existence of God. I just think that they are some examples of purely natural phenomenon (as opposed to supernatural) that can be interpreted as evidence for the existence of a "god."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Can Life Be Merely an Accident?

“Can Life Be Merely an Accident?” That was the title of a talk I went to yesterday at Loma Linda University which featured Dr. Robert Piccioni, a cosmologist and author of “Atoms, Einstein and the Universe.” Basically his talk today was a variation of the Fine-Tuning argument except that Dr. Piccioni did not mention God even once in his talk until the question and answer period which I will describe later. So here is my summary of the talk.

Dr. Piccioni started stating, “Modern science has discovered that the conditions necessary for life are extraordinarily improbable. Let’s divide the requirements into four categories, all of which are essential for the existence of life: a viable universe, the right atoms, a habitable environment, and an effective genetic code.”

He stated that the universe has about 20 “knobs” or “dials” that must be precisely tuned to the right values to allow for life to exist and flourish. For whatever reason, the planet we call home happens to have all the dials set to these right values. I’m sure those of you who are reading this are familiar with the Fine-Tuning argument but I’ll give you a few of the examples he gave us at the talk.

First, he brought up how important even the smallest things are in the universe. He stated that the mass of a proton was one of the 20 knobs that are precisely “tuned” to the appropriate value.  If the proton’s mass was ¼ of a % either heavier or lighter no life could exist. For example, if the mass was heavier free neutrons would fail to decay to form protons resulting in a universe full of neutronium and no other elements (hydrogen, carbon, oxygen) could exist.

Secondly, he talked about how everything in the universe appears somewhat symmetrical except for the ratio of matter to ant-matter. If matter and anti-matter were in equal proportions they would cancel each other out and we would be left with a big universe full of nothing.

Thirdly, he talked about stars and their role in dark matter, gravity, the strong nuclear force, and the weak force. Stars are basically necessary for the formation of the elements of life. I did not quite catch all he said on stars so this will have to do.

Fourthly, he mentioned how the expansion of the universe is set to just the right speed that any faster or slower would have resulted in a “Big Crunch” after the Big Bang and again nothing would be able to live in the universe.

He then began taking about how “good planets are hard to find.” He stated that the majority of observable planets in the universe orbit 1 or 2 stars in an elliptical orbit. Earth is in the minority in that its orbit is more circular. Because of this, earth is able to stay within what is called the “Goldilocks Zone.” This allows for earth to have liquid water all year long. If the orbit was elliptical earth would pass between having a completely frozen surface and a barren desert. He also mentioned that if the sun was heavier or lighter in mass it would affect the earth in such a way that no life could survive. The outer planets, like Jupiter, provide protection from large space debris and so does the moon. Earth’s moon is also the only moon in our solar system that affects the axis of its planet. The moon actually acts to balance the earth in such a way as to allow for life. Also when the moon was formed (after breaking off of earth, possibly in an asteroid collision) it left earth with its high iron core that thus acts to protect the earth from the sun’s particles. He mentioned that the mass of the earth was just right to capture and hold the right gases needed for life (unlike Jupiter for example which captures too much helium). He also stated that the surface of the earth is renewed by plate tectonics to control the balance of carbon in the atmosphere. Without this renewing no life would be able to exist on earth. Carbon acts as a shield to protect the earth from things like meteorites and radiation.  Of course this is all just a very brief summary of his talk without a lot of the details. 

Then he began talking about the genetic code. He stated that human DNA consists of about 3.2 base pairs, or about 100 million atoms, and is 99.9% the same throughout all of humanity. He began talking about research being done titled “The Minimal Genome Project.” This research aimed to discover the minimal number of DNA base pairs that needed to assemble in order to create/sustain life. They found that the absolute shortest that DNA could be for a living organism was still an astounding 460,000 base pairs. He proceeded to show everyone how the maximum number of DNA base pairs that could possibly come together at one time, and in one place, was only 230 base pairs. A far cry from the 460,000 needed for life.

After his talk he opened the floor to some questions and answers with the audience. Some fellow came up to the front and asked him. “Do you believe God created evolution?”

His response was simple, to the point, and I thought was very appropriate. He said, “I am here simply to represent science and only scientific facts. My goal is only to increase interest in science. I am not here to tell anyone what to believe about God. I have my personal beliefs and I am not here to share them. I am just here to talk about the science behind the universe.”

So then that is my VERY brief summary of Dr. Piccioni’s talk. He went in to a little more depth in his actual presentation. I thought it was very interesting to hear him speak on the universe and its apparent fine-tuning without mentioning God once. He simply stuck to the facts accepted by scientists.

Monday, November 7, 2011

NASA says we might all be aliens

"Whether or not you believe in life outside of our solar system, the fact that we are all here means that the stuff we're made of must have come from somewhere. After studying meteorites and discovering ready-made components of DNA present, NASA has concluded that the building blocks of life as we know it may have crashed down on Earth from above.

Researchers at the Goddard Space Flight Center discovered portions of DNA on chunks of crashed space rock in both Antarctica and Australia. The extraterrestrial visitors contained various types of nucleobases, which are thought to be essential in the creation of DNA, and life in general. The scientists were able to isolate the compounds and prove that they weren't created here on Earth. This was particularly important, as critics often cite contamination as the reason for these compounds appearing on meteorites that have been studied in the past.

The team also concluded that certain space rocks — depending on their makeup and speed — work like manufacturing facilities for these biological precursors. The implications of the discovery are far-reaching, and suggest that humanity may owe its existence to a well-placed meteorite in the early days of the Earth, and that without it the planet might be a rocky, watery wasteland."

I thought this article was very interesting. Nasa says we might all be aliens, Christians already knew this. In all seriousness, whatever your beliefs, hopefully stories like these peak your interest.

From yahoo news
From Nasa

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Central Argument of The God Delusion

While I often have not liked the way William Lane Craig presents some of his arguments I found this video to be interesting as he talks about the central message of Richard Dawkins book "The God Delusion." You may not agree with much or anything WLC has to say but it's worth a watch anyway.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

War of the Worldviews: Let's Talk God

Here is an article from Huffington Post's religion section. I can't say that I agree 100% with everything the author says but I thought it was a good read. It was written by Deepak Chopra who is a hindu doctor and public speaker and recently wrote a book entitled "War of the Worldviews" which he references in the following article.

"In this series of posts about science and spirituality, I've left God for last, even though God has become the hottest topic as we struggle toward the future. The arguments against belief in God have been stridently raised by a small band of scientific atheists -- their avowed leader, Richard Dawkins, has become a household name. In our recent book, "War of the Worldviews," my co-author, Caltech physicist Leonard Mlodinow, doesn't pursue the atheist line. His worldview is scientific, but Leonard holds a view that is much more defensible than atheism:

"While science often casts doubt on spiritual beliefs and doctrines insofar as they make representations about the physical world, science does not -- and cannot -- conclude that God is an illusion."

I believe that spirituality can take hints from modern science to actually support the existence of God. Some of these hints have emerged from quantum physics, which long ago showed that the seemingly solid, convincing world of matter and energy actually derives from a highly uncertain, invisible realm that existed before time and space. Is this the domain of God? If so, it can't be the God of Genesis, a human-like figure sitting above the clouds who created heaven and earth in seven days. I think a new and expanded spirituality can deliver a God that is the same as pure intelligence, creativity and consciousness. Such a God is our source without being human -- a source from which all possibilities emerge and flow. Quite a number of credentialed scientists are thinking in the same direction without necessarily being religious. It would explain a lot about the cosmos if we fit into a living, conscious universe."

I would like to indicate here that I don't think the God of Gensis is necessarily a "man sitting up there in the clouds" I think that is largely a creation of human minds. In trying to relate to God humans seem to picture an old man in the sky with a beard. I'm under the impression that when we read that we are created in the image of God we are to understand that we are created in the nature of God. Its spiritual not physical. Now back to the article.

"Dawkins uses every tactic he can find -- including some underhanded ones -- to make it seem that science can disprove God. Leonard is right, however, to deny this. In simplest terms, you can't prove that something doesn't exist. But the scientific atheists are really relying on probabilities. Having mounted a heated attack on myth, superstition and belief in the supernatural (most of this argument is seriously outdated and belongs in the Victorian age), Dawkins tells us that all religious experience should be judged on rational grounds, asking how likely it really is that God, the soul, the afterlife or any other aspect of spirit actually could be true.

This stupendously misses the point. It's in the very nature of spirituality not to conform to everyday reason and logic. The point of spirituality is to transcend the ordinary world and reveal something invisible, unknown and yet part of ourselves. If an exotic traveler came to the court of a medieval king and claimed to have seen a rhinoceros, even there reason and probability wouldn't help. It makes no sense to test the claim of a new species of animal by saying, "How likely is it that this creature exists?" You produce the rhinoceros or you don't. But Dawkins throws out of court the thousands of spiritual experiences that are a continuous thread in human existence. He doesn't want to examine if they are true; he only wants to examine how many ways they could be false.

That's offensive and intellectually dishonest, ultimately appealing only to die-hard skeptics of the same stripe. Religion has enough bad things in its long, checkered history -- and science has enough triumphs -- that atheism seems to have a strong hand. In our book I argue that the case can be made in reverse, however. Science has given us atomic bombs, ever-new mechanized warfare, biological and chemical weapons, and countless forms of environmental pollution. If we want the best that science has to offer, are we destined to accept the worst along with it?

Not if spirituality is taken seriously, which means valuing our inner world. Science doesn't deal in purpose and meaning; it deals in data and measurement. Dawkins makes the fatal mistake of believing that data and measurement are superior to everyday experience. His brand of skepticism doesn't work to bring light; more often, it revels in making people feel insecure and doubtful.

In reality, life is about purpose and meaning. We don't have to throw those things out just because they aren't scientific. Quite the opposite. Like it or not, the scientist works on behalf of human beings who want even more purpose and meaning. If God is the word we apply to highest purpose, why not keep it? Or if another word is needed, a term that has no religious baggage, let's find one. The spiritual worldview is our salvation if we want to save the planet. I have no doubt of that, and our best hope is that science becomes part of the project that will redeem our future, not an enemy to the highest and best in human nature."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Evil and Suffering Part 4

Ok so for those of you following my blog I'm pretty sure this "Evil and Suffering" series of posts is going to go up to like 100 parts. I have found many things worthy of posting regarding the topic, and I have some points on evil and suffering in the world that I wish to share based on what my friend Chad wrote on his website so I hope to be able to continue posting over the coming weeks despite my super busy schedule. Until then here is a short thought for the day on "how can we suffer if there is a God?" So here's a thought I'll share from

The Christian Consolation: A God Who Suffers

Christians have a powerful consolation in the face of evil: the God they worship became human and suffered like us in the historical person of Jesus. Jesus lived a human life and experienced a physical death. But this physical suffering was only a part of his full suffering. The greatest agony for Jesus was the temporary loss of relationship with God. He went from experiencing the closest possible relationship with God to a state of total separation on the cross. This is became evident when he cried out his final words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). Jesus underwent this suffering out of love for humanity and obedience to God, knowing that his terrible death could restore our relationship to God. Keller attests to the significance of this:
"Christianity alone among the world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment. On the cross, he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power exceeds ours. In his death, God suffers in love, identifying with the abandoned and godforsaken."
We cannot fully explain evil, but we can say that it is not an indicator that God does not love us. In Jesus, God has suffered, and we can rest assured that that God shares our pain and knows our sufferings.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Will be posting soon!

With my first set of exams over I will be posting some more interesting things soon. Hopefully for Friday for those of you wondering if I am still alive!

Until then keep searching and just follow the evidence where it leads whether that be to theism, deism, agnosticism, atheism or whatever.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Evil and Suffering Part 3

Suffering is Also a Problem for Atheists

Evil also poses problems for the nonbeliever. Claims that torture is wrong even though the victims of torture might be terrorists with useful information appeal to some external standard. But what is this standard? Such claims need to be grounded in something if they are to be asserted with such confidence. So, while some naturalistic philosophers have developed ethical systems without God, many other naturalists acknowledge this doesn’t work and that such ethical systems are entirely arbitrary. If God does not exist and there is no grounding for how things ought to be, then moral — as opposed to emotional — outrage at horrendous evil has no basis. The fact that we cannot escape our sense of horror and outrage at evil actually points us to God’s existence.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Evil and Suffering Part 2

A God Who is Great but Mysterious

One response to the problem of evil that is necessary but ambivalent is to acknowledge that God’s ways are not our ways. God is greater than we are, with purposes that may differ greatly from ours. Even though we may not be able to see any reasons for our suffering, it is always possible that a God of such wisdom and creative power might have reasons for the existence of evil that are simply beyond human understanding.

I hear a lot of people, especially atheists say things like "Well if God is so loving how can you justify His killing of thousands of innocent people in the Old Testament?" But who is to say they were innocent? If a man or x number of men break into your house and try to harm or kill your family and you end up killing them in self defense to protect your family, are you no longer a good man or woman? Are you an unjust murderer? Where do we draw the line? How are we in our finite understand supposed to judge the actions of someone, or something (God) beyond our understanding? What is evil? Which leads me to my next point on how can we suffer if there is a God and can God use suffering in this world for the greater good.

A provocative Biblical story of suffering is the tragic tale of Job, a righteous man greatly blessed by God and successful in all that he did. Satan challenges God with the claim that Job only worships God because he is so blessed. So God allows Satan to torment Job to prove Job’s faithfulness. Job tragically loses his property, his children and finally his health. Long after one would expect, Job finally cries out to God to explain his suffering, a call that goes unanswered. Instead, God simply reminds Job of God’s divine majesty and power. Job withdraws his complaint, returns to trust in God, and his bountiful life is fully restored. Job’s story offers no answer to why he suffered so much, beyond the apparent discussion God was having with Satan about Job’s faith. The story does offer a powerful example of someone who remains faithful and acknowledges the limits of his own understanding:
"Then Job answered the Lord and said, "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes."
Through his suffering, Job came to know the reality of God in a new and more personal way.
The Biblical story of Joseph also reveals that suffering can lead to good. Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, wrongfully accused of sexual assault and thrown into prison. God uses these events to make Joseph a great leader in Egypt. As a result of his leadership, Egypt and the surrounding countries are saved from starvation in a terrible famine. Joseph makes this point to his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). Joseph’s story illustrates how God can use suffering for good purposes.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Keller describes a man from his church who lost his eyesight when he was shot in a drug deal that went bad. The blindness humbled the man and led to spiritual transformation. Reflecting on the experience, the man said, “It was a terrible price to pay, and yet I must say it was worth it. I finally have what makes life worthwhile.”

Our tragedies are often terrible: losing a child, watching an elderly parent suffer, being betrayed by those we trust. But if we are open, we can often see ways that our pain is being at least partially redeemed by God working purposefully through these experiences. As Keller suggests, God can no doubt see ways to bring some good out of our pain.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Evil and Suffering Part 1

This is a really big topic so I have termed this post as Part 1 as I am sure I will be posting a lot throughout the year on how evil and suffering can exist as well as a loving all-powerful God.

The most ancient and persistent objection to God’s existence is the problem of evil. How can a loving, powerful God allow so much evil and suffering in the world? Believers and nonbelievers alike must wrestle with this difficult question. Nonbelievers struggle with the atheist conclusion that morality is an illusory and ungrounded evolutionary artifact, in which case there may be no basis to complain about the unfairness of suffering, and believers battle with the apparent contradiction between God’s goodness and the suffering in the world.

Freedom in the Universe


As we grapple with the question of evil, we must first recognize that humans cause much of it. Humans, not God, murder, torture, defame, persecute and rape. Because humans have free will, they can do terrible and immoral things. But free will is essential if humans are to relate meaningfully to God. For humans to truly love God, they must be free to choose or reject that love. For God to stop all evil in the world, our freedom would have to be removed, and with it our capacity to truly love God. God cannot give us free will while at the same time restraining us from evil acts.

It is more difficult, however, to understand why a loving God would allow suffering from natural disasters or diseases. The Rev. John Polkinghorne refers to these as a consequence of physical evil. These cause incredible destruction and pain, but are not linked to human agency. As Dr. Francis Collins writes, “Science reveals that the universe, our own planet, and life itself are engaged in an evolutionary process.” The mechanisms that God used to create humans — like  the misspelling of a gene during cell replication — can also produce pain and suffering — if that misspelling leads to cancer. Likewise, the same forces that produced a life-sustaining planet including the laws of physics, chemistry, weather and tectonics, can also produce natural disasters. As with the free will of humans, God cannot constantly intervene in these areas without disrupting the inherent freedom of his creation and disrupting his consistent sustaining of all the matter and energy in the universe. Without this consistency, science would be impossible, and moral choices would be subverted. If God blocked the consequences of human moral choices, like committing murder, and natural events, like tsunamis, every time they led to evil results, then moral responsibility would disappear and the natural world would become incoherent.

Although evil challenges the existence of a good and loving creator, complaints about the unfairness of evil can also be interpreted as support for God existence. If there are no external standards of morality, what is the basis for moral claims? Why can we say that torturing children is wrong?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Great Prayer Experiment

One of the topics Dawkins discusses in The God Delusion is the "great prayer experiment" of 2006. 

Two previous double-blind studies (1) (2) had shown that intercessory prayer had significantly improved the health of patients admitted to coronary units of hospitals. And a third study was funded by the Templeton Foundation to confirm or refute the results of the other two studies.

The design of the latest prayer study (3) was somewhat unusual. The researchers used three patient groups. Two groups were advised of the study, but were not told whether they were in the prayer group or placebo group. The third group knew that they were being prayed for. The study was performed at six hospitals. Out of 3295 eligible patients, 1493 (45%) refused to participate, which is very high, although they did not explain the reasons for non-participation. The intercessors were composed of three groups. Two were Roman Catholic and one was a Protestant group. Unlike in previous studies, the intercessors were not allowed to pray their own prayers. The prayers were given to them by the study coordinators to "standardize" the prayers. The discussion section of the paper suggested that at least some of the intercessors were dissatisfied with the canned nature of the prayers. In attempting to standardize prayer, I believe the study introduced a serious flaw, since most intercessors tend to pray as they are led by the Spirit, instead of praying prepared scripts. Jesus told His followers not to pray repetitiously, since God would not hear those kinds of prayers. (4)

Ultimately, the results showed that groups 1 (prayer) and 2 (no prayer) were identical, whereas group 3 (those who knew they were being prayed for) did worse than the other two groups. However, the lack of efficacy of intercessory prayer in this study could be due to theological problems associated with the study design.

Dawkins fails to cite prayer studies that showed a positive result, instead reporting only on the one that showed a negative result. In fact, a new meta-analysis, which takes into account the entire body of empirical research on intercessory prayer (17 major studies), shows that according to American Psychological Association Division 12 criteria, intercessory prayer is classified as an experimental intervention that, overall, shows a small, but significant, positive effect.(5)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Food For Thought

Just a quick quote that I read today and thought I would share.

"If there is no God, then all that exists is time and chance acting on matter. If this is true then the difference between your thoughts and mine correspond to the difference between shaking up a bottle of Mountain Dew and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. You simply fizz atheistically and I fizz theistically. This means that you do not hold to atheism because it is true , but rather because of a series of chemical reactions.... Morality, tragedy, and sorrow are equally evanescent. They are all empty sensations created by the chemical reactions of the brain, in turn created by too much pizza the night before. If there is no God, then all abstractions are chemical epiphenomena, like swamp gas over fetid water. This means that we have no reason for assigning truth and falsity to the chemical fizz we call reasoning or right and wrong to the irrational reaction we call morality. If no God, mankind is a set of bi-pedal carbon units of mostly water. And nothing else."

- Theologian Douglas Wilson

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Faith is Infantile

            Here is some more food for thought for the weekend. This was written based largely off the writings of Joanna and Alister McGrath in The Dawkins Delusion and Richard Dawkins The God Delusion.

            As anyone familiar with antireligious polemics knows, a recurring atheist criticism of religious belief is that it is infantile, a childish delusion which ought to have disappeared as humanity reaches its maturity. Throughout his career Richard Dawkins has developed a similar criticism, drawing on a longstanding atheist analogy. In earlier works he emphasized that belief in God is just like believing in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. “These are childish beliefs that are abandoned as soon as we are capable of evidence-based thinking. And so is God. It's obvious, isn't it?” As Dawkins pointed out in his "Thought for the Day" on BBC Radio in 2003, humanity "can leave the cry-baby phase, and finally come of age." This "infantile explanation" belongs to an earlier, superstitious era in the history of humanity. “We've outgrown it.”

Hmmm. Like many of Dawkins's analogies, this has been constructed with a specific agenda in mind; in this case, the ridiculing of religion. Yet the analogy is obviously flawed. How many people do you know who began to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood? Or who found belief in the Tooth Fairy consoling in old age? Those who use this infantile argument have to explain why so many people discover God in later life and certainly do not regard this as representing any kind of regression, perversion or degeneration. A good recent example is provided by Anthony Flew (born 1923), the noted atheist philosopher who started to believe in God in his eighties and wrote the book There is a God.

Yet The God Delusion is surely right to express concern about the indoctrination of children by their parents. “Innocent minds are corrupted by adults cramming their religious beliefs down their children's throats.” Dawkins argues that the biological process of natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents or elders tell them. This, he suggests, makes them prone to trust whatever a parent says; like Santa Claus. This is seen as one of the most significant factors involved in sustaining religious belief in the world, when it ought to have been wiped out ages ago. Break the cycle of the transmission of religious ideas, and that will put an end to this nonsense. Dawkins then goes on to suggest that bringing up children with religious tradition is a form of child abuse.

Having read the misrepresentations of religion that are such a depressing feature of The God Delusion, I fear that secularists would merely force their own dogmas down the throats of the same gullible children, who lack, as Dawkins rightly points out, the discriminatory capacities needed to evaluate the ideas. His whole approach sounds uncomfortably like the antireligious programs built into the education of Soviet children during the 1950s, based on mantras such as "Science has disproved religion!" "Religion is superstition!" and the like. Children need to be told, fairly and accurately, what Christianity actually teaches; rather than be subjected to the ridiculous misrepresentations of Christian theology that litter The God Delusion.
Dawkins quotes with approval the views of his friend Nicholas Humphrey, who suggests that parents should no more be allowed to teach children about the "literal truth of the Bible" than "to knock their children's teeth out." If Humphrey is consistent here, he should be equally outraged about those who peddle misrepresentations of religion as if they were the truth. Might he argue, I wonder, that parents who read The God Delusion aloud to their children were also committing child abuse? Or are you only abusive if you impose religious, but not antireligious, dogmas and delusions?