Friday, January 27, 2012

Why Won’t We Abuse Free Will in Heaven?

I’ve heard the objection to the Christian belief before from friends, “Why won’t we sin in heaven?” I recently read this article on it. Now I don’t know if theism is true or false, this is simply a response I read that I thought was interesting and addressed the objection. It was written by someone named Clay Jones who is a christian apologist. Yes, I know this topic is controversial so take it for what its worth.
Bart Ehrman raises an objection to the free will defense in his book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Imporant Question – Why We Suffer: “Most people who believe in God-given free will also believe in an afterlife. Presumably people in the afterlife will still have free will (they won’t be robots then either, will they?). And yet there won’t be suffering (allegedly) then. Why will people know how to exercise free will in heaven if they can’t know how to exercise it on earth?” (12-13). This is a common question and there are several reasons we can have free will in Heaven but not sin.
There’s much to say on this, but I’ll be brief here.
First, the Bible says that one day all the things that cause sin will be destroyed: “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mat. 13:41). This includes Satan and his minions, as well as all those who tasted of good and evil and ultimately chose evil. (Rev. 20:10, 13). There will be a new earth (Rev. 21:1) so that the corruptions of this earth will be forever gone; we will no longer be “one-click” from evil. Our bodies will be redeemed and we will no longer know the lusts of the flesh. (Phil. 3:21). But God waits to accomplish these things until all those who will come to Him, come. (2 Pet. 3:9).
Second, the eternal punishment of the eternally unrepentant will serve as an eternal reminder of the peril and horror of sin. [I should add, this does not have to be an eternal hell fire where people literally burn for all eternity. The same meaning can be taken if we view this point as saying that the ultimate consequences of sin (death, especially of lost loved ones) will serve as an eternal reminder.]
Third, I suspect that lessons learned here and at the Judgment will make sin too ridiculous to commit.1 In other words, God couldn’t just create beings with a significantly free will and not let them ever use it wrongly, but that doesn’t mean that this world and all the evil we experience here won’t be sufficient, in conjunction with the other things I just mentioned, to make us realize that sin is something we simply won’t want to do—ever.
I use the following illustration when I teach. I will hold a pen, or other sharp object, up to my eye and ask the class if they would like to see me jab it into my eye?2 Holding the pen even closer I’ll stress, “I could do it!” Then I’ll ask, “But I’m not going to. Do you know why?” No one ever answers. Finally I tell them, “I’m not going to do it because I’m too smart for that; that would be stupid thing to do.” Consider that we don’t give pens to babies because, sure enough, sooner or later they’d jab them into their eyes. But, even if I lived a billion years on this earth (as long as I still had all my marbles), I would never, ever, intentionally jab a pen into my eye because I know that would be stupid.
That is what is going on in this world. We are learning to distinguish between good and evil (Heb. 5:14). We are learning that sin is not only rebellion but that sin is stupid, hurtful, hateful, and counterproductive. We are learning that God is right, was right, and always will be right. And at the Judgment, where everyone’s evil thoughts and deeds will be exposed, we are going to get an amazing education about the horror of sin. In other words, this life prepares us to be able to use our free will responsibly in Heaven. Just like so many rebellious teenagers, we are learning the hard way—through experience—that our Heavenly Father has been right all along.
And finally, in Heaven, those who persevere in their faith, having learned here that rebellion is inane and insane, will see God who will give them the Kingdom (2 Thess. 1:5; Luke 12:32) where:
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. ~Revelation 22:3-5

William Lane Craig makes a similar point in a debate with Ray Bradley. Bradly asked why God didn’t just create heaven and forego this world.
Craig: “No, Heaven may not be a possible world when you take it in isolation by itself. It may be that the only way in which God could actualize a heaven of free creatures all worshiping Him and not falling into sin would be by having, so to speak, this run-up to it, this advance life during which there is a veil of decision-making in which some people choose for God and some people against God. Otherwise you don’t know that heaven is an actualizable world. You have no way of knowing that possibility.”
Bradley: “You’re saying, in effect, that when I characterize heaven as a possible world in which everybody freely receives Christ, I’m wrong insofar as that had to be preceded by this actual world, this world of vale of tears and woe in which people are sinful and the like.”
Craig: “I’m saying that it may not be feasible for God to actualize heaven in isolation from such an antecedent world.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

Atheism: A Null Hypothesis on God

Here is an article from Huffington Post's Religious section that I can appreciate and relate to in my search for God. I don't necessarily agree with everything the author says but I think it's worth the read anyway. So feel free to either read the majority of it here or to go read it on HP's website. And if you have disagreements with the author take it up on his comment section, though feel free to leave comments here as well.

"...I have tried in vain over the years to understand atheism. I've written about it several times, and whenever I do, I get a bucket of responses from atheists. And of course if I'm ever feeling disconnected from my non-believing brothers and sisters, I really have to go no further than the comment board on The Huffington Post (it seems they have quite a fascination with my articles there).
Try as I may to get atheism, I still don't. I do, however, see where agnostics are coming from. In fact, I identify myself quite often as a Christian agnostic. This is from the website, on the origin of the word:
"Thomas Henry Huxley invented the word agnostic in the Spring of 1869... Huxley first used the word agnostic at a party at James Knowles's house on Clapham Common prior to the formation of the Metaphysical Society... He [Huxley] took it from St. Paul's mention of the altar to 'the Unknown God.'"

The actual Greek roots of the word, "a-gnosis" means, "without knowledge." Basically, Huxley asserted that he didn't feel he had sufficient understanding either way to say with certainty that God does or does not exist. And really, if we consider the centrality of faith in the context of the metaphysical, no one KNOWS that God exists, or else they would have no need for faith. I understand that some will say their faith is so strong that it feels to them like certitude, but that is different than truly knowing.
There's also the notion of "deep knowing," which some people claim supersedes the vagueness of agnosticism. But again, in considering the actual etymology of the word, the type of knowledge Huxley is talking about is a cerebral, intellectual knowledge, not a gut feeling, regardless of the strength of conviction.
So by this definition, we're all agnostic, really.
And that's why I struggle to understand atheism.
Etymologically, atheism has similar Greek roots to agnosticism, coming from the words "a-theos" which means "no God" or "without God." This implies the same kind of certitude that a religious fundamentalist might claim is arguing they "know without any doubt that God exists." Based on what? Either of you? There is no way to prove or disprove the existence of God. Especially when we can't even nail down what exactly it is we're talking about.
For some, God is an anthropomorphic "other." For others, as philosopher John D. Caputo suggests, it's not that God exists as some independent metaphysical entity, but rather God "insists, so that the rest of creation might exist."
Put another way, God is the impetus, the spark, the divine breath, the "inspiration," if you will from which all the rest of creation finds meaning. But God is not to be found "elsewhere." It's more like light in that way, conspiring with the physical world to create something that makes sense. Yet to borrow a scientific concept, when you're seeing an object, what you're actually seeing is the light, or more specifically, the result of the interaction between the light and the observed object.
But you don't see the thing itself; you see the light. But the light is the means by which we find meaning in all that we see.
Pretty amazing understanding of God if you ask me. But how do you measure it? How do you prove it? Or disprove it?
One of the cornerstones of science is the scientific method, which is the process by which phenomena are understood and measured based on observable data. And I can see why someone who leans heavily on the scientific method would say that, since the idea of God is not directly observable in the ways defined by the scientific method, it's a non-issue.
But here's the thing. At one time, atomic particles were not observable, given the instruments at our disposal. Neither was dark matter. Or gravity, for that matter, which still cannot be directly observed: only measured as it affects other objects. It's not a "thing" that can be pinned down.
Sound familiar?
I respect the process and constraints of the scientific method. It has been critical to so much of the advancement we've made as a species. but to say that even science is entirely constrained by the scientific method is to ignore the creative imagination required to stretch the boundaries, to imagine what might be, beyond what is now understood to be. It's this kind of imagination that pushes humanity to create new tools that have allowed us to observe things we never knew existed before.
But all of those things -- and I'd argue, much more we've yet to discover -- have been a part of creation, despite our inability to observe or even conceive of them. Making room for those possibilities, seem, to me, to be at the heart of science as much as the rigorous processes defined by the scientific method.
In my graduate studies, I learned that every time you formed a hypothesis (God is), you were also required to develop a null hypothesis that says the opposite of your hypothesis (God isn't). Keep in mind that there are no "facts" in science, but rather hypotheses (educated guesses) and theories (hypotheses that have been supported by science, but that may ultimately be disproved). Now, I'm not a scientist, but it makes perfect sense within this model to have the "null hypothesis" that God doesn't exist.
However, to leap from that to certitude of God's non-existence is to violate the principles of the scientific method, isn't it? Even Aristotle conceded that the boundaries of science prohibited it from testing certain metaphysical phenomena such as the existence of God.
It seems to me, to paraphrase Paul (like Huxley), that we risk becoming that which we hate in staking claims of certainty on either side of this issue. In pushing back primarily against religious fundamentalism, atheism risks embracing the very fundamentalism it resists. And in doing so, it abandons the very principles of science it claims as the basis for non-belief.
I can work with a null hypothesis on the existence of God. There's room for dialogue. It creates space for creative imagination on both sides, whereas fundamentalism of any stripe seeks to draw lines of distinction (ie, division) and to stem conversation for the purpose of "being right."
I don't know if God exists. You don't know if God doesn't exist. But if scientists can not only coexist on both sides of a hypothesis, but even use that difference to promote progress, it seems we can and should apply similar principles to the public forum."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Does Science Make a Belief in God Obsolete

The John Templeton Foundation is an organization that is committed to discussing and researching life's big questions like complexity, evolution, love, forgiveness and free will. I've posted a link to a number of essays discussing the big question of, "Does Science Make a Belief in God Obsolete?" These essays were written by various authors including notable atheists Christopher Hitchens, Steven Pinker and Victor J. Stenger as well as believers such as Kenneth Miller, Jerome Groopman and William Phillips among many others. I've read through quite a few of the essays and appreciated the wide range of opinions and thoughts. Due to studying at this moment I do not have time to post my thoughts on all of them but I hope to a later date. Perhaps though you will enjoy them for yourself. So please take some time to read through them and do not limit yourself to just one side of the debate. Enjoy.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Origin of the Supraphysical - Why Antony Flew Became a Deist.

After reading the five points of Varghese that natural question that will arise is: So how did life, consciousness, thought, and the self come to be? 

The history of the world shows the sudden emergence of these phenomena—life appearing soon after the cooling of planet earth, consciousness mysteriously manifesting itself in the Cambrian explosion, language emerging in the “symbolic species” without any evolutionary forerunner. 

The phenomena in question range from code and symbol processing systems and goal-seeking, intention-manifesting agents at one end to subjective awareness, conceptual thought, and the human self at the other. The only coherent way to describe these phenomena is to say that they are different dimensions of being that are supraphysical in one way or another. They are totally integrated with the physical and yet radically “new.” We are not talking here of ghosts in machines, but of agents of different kinds, some that are conscious, others that are both conscious and thinking. In every case there is no vitalism or dualism, but an integration that is total, a holism that incorporates physical and mental. 

Although the new atheists have failed to come to grips with either the nature or the source of life, consciousness, thought, and the self, the answer to the question of the origin of the supraphysical seems obvious: the Supraphysical can only originate in a supraphysical source. Life, consciousness, mind, and the self can only come from a Source that is living, conscious, and thinking. If we are centers of consciousness and thought who are able to know and love and intend and execute, I cannot see how such centers could come to be from something that is itself incapable of all these activities. Although simple physical processes could create complex physical phenomena, we are not concerned here with the relation of simple and complex, but with the origin of “centers.” 

It’s simply inconceivable that any material matrix or field can generate agents who think and act. Matter cannot produce conceptions and perceptions. A force field does not plan or think. So at the level of reason and everyday experience, we become immediately aware that the world of living, conscious, thinking beings has to originate in a living Source, a Mind.

There is a God - Appendix A

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Can We Be Good Without God?

Of course we can! No question. However, here is an interesting quote to think upon:

"If God does not exist, everything is permissible."
- Fyodor Dostoievski