Finding Truth: Study Guide Chapter 1 Question 2

The Problem of Personhood

  1. What are the philosophical meanings of the terms personal and non-personal? How does the fact that humans are personal beings function as evidence for God? Do you find that evidence persuasive? Why or why not?

Pearcey reminds us that Paul said God could be known through the things that were made, and that includes us. The fact that we are persons is evidence that we are the created by a personal being. William Lane Craig defines “person” as a self-conscious individual with free will. (See Defenders Podcast, Doctrine of Christ, Part 4) This idea is related to the argument from the origin of the universe. In question 1 I mentioned that the cause of the universe had to be an agent with a will that could have willed not to create. Agent is synonymous with person.

The reason this is evidence for the existence of God is because persons do not come from non-persons.

At this point, some might object, “If persons cannot come from non-persons, then how is it the physical can come from the non-physical.” (I have never heard this objection, but it occurred to me as I thought through this.) I think the distinction is that there is adequate evidence that all matter came into existence at a point in the finite past, and requires a non-physical cause to account for it. On the other hand, it is possible for a non-physical being to exist in a timeless state.

The alternative is to say that human beings are not persons in that they have no free will.

Because I know where this book is going, I will hold off on a more detailed response to this later when we get to evaluating competing worldviews and applying Pearcey’s principles.

Finding Truth: The Study Guide Chapter 1 Question 1 Part 2

Origin of life:

Having begun to exist, and having the constants mentioned in the book and elsewhere, that means life’s origin and development are inevitable, right? Not so fast. Pearcey points out the necessity for massive amounts of information found in DNA for even the simplest life forms. Moreover, in every other experience we have had, information comes from an intelligent source.

This is a huge problem for a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life, but there are other nearly insurmountable hurdles that prebiotic chemistry must overcome before you even get to the level of DNA.

Many genes code for the production of proteins. In living systems, these proteins are formed from 20 amino acids. Amino acids form in three-dimensional shapes that form right-and left-handed structures. Those that form in living systems are left-handed (and the sugars that bind with them are right-handed.) When these same amino acids form in nature outside of living systems, or are produced in the lab, they form in equal mixtures of left- and right-handed forms. This is called a racemic mixture. In the presence of a racemic mixture, proteins cannot form. This is not merely a case that we do not know how amino acids could form proteins for the first life. It is a case where natural chemical processes prevent such proteins from forming. As Fazale Rana writes, “…without preexisting reservoirs of exclusively left-handed amino acids and exclusively right-handed sugars, the naturalistic assembly of proteins, DNA and RNA is prohibited.”[1]

Some astrobiologists (the only field of science completely devoid of data) have suggested that life could be based on some other element than carbon, such as silicon. However, as Rana points out,

Silicon belongs to the same chemical group as carbon and should display similar chemical properties, prompting some astrobiologists to propose that life could be based on this element. But while silicon does form rings and chains, these structures lack the stability and the range of complexity found in carbon-based compounds. Silicon-silicon bonds are much weaker than the corresponding carbon-carbon bonds, and unlike carbon-carbon bonds, they are susceptible to oxidation.[2]

This leaves carbon as likely the only element from which biochemistry can arise. It also explains why the search for habitable planets begins with planets that could possibly sustain liquid water, since carbon is most reactive in the same range of temperatures in which water is liquid.

Some have accused theists of appealing to “god-of-the-gaps,” saying we are invoking God to explain what we do not understand. This is not the case. We have numerous reasons to think God exists and that he has revealed himself. Part of that revelation is that he created the universe and life. Natural obstacles to undirected processes and information that requires an intelligent source are evidence that this is so.

[1] Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab: How New Discoveries in Synthetic Biology Make a Case for the Creator (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2011), 34-45.

[2] http://www.reasons.org/articles/strange-new-worlds-life-based-on-silicon-arsenic

Finding Truth: The Study Guide Chapter 1 Question 1 Part 1

Nancy Pearcy’s Finding Truth includes a study guide. Since my Sunday school class will be studying this book, I decided to blog some thoughts on how I would answer the questions. Today’s post will address the first part of the first question from Chapter 1.

Training Manual for Today’s “Romans”

  1. The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he died, stood before God, and God asked him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” Russell replied, “I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’” Summarize the evidence from physical nature described in the text:

Origin of the universe[1]:

Paul wrote to the Roman church:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 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 people are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

Pearcey notes that this is born out by science in the areas of the origin of universe and the origin of life. However, instead of unpacking the evidence of the origin of the universe, Pearcey changes focus to the fine-tuning of the universe for life. She mentions five of the constants that are exquisitely fine-tuned. (A list of 93 such constants can be found at http://www.reasons.org/articles/fine-tuning-for-life-in-the-universe.) The fine-tuning argument is powerful, but I would like to say something about the origin of the universe itself.

The 18th century philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz asked, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The only options are either that there has always been something, or that things began to exist.

To say that something (like the universe) has always existed is philosophically unsustainable, scientifically falsified, and contrary to Scripture. Philosophy helps us see that if the universe were eternal, that would mean the universe would have to have passed through an infinite number of moments of time in order to arrive at the present. But, you could never get an infinite number of things, (events, minutes, hours, years, widgets, zombies, bananas, take your pick) by successive addition. In other words, you can’t count to infinity because you never get there. Scientifically, we know from the Second Law of Thermodynamics that if the universe were eternal, it would have long since run out of usable energy. Moreover, the work of Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble shows that the universe had a beginning in the finite past. Scripturally, Genesis 1:1 tells us “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth.” The phrase “the heavens and the earth” in Hebrew is what is called a merism, which is a pair of contrasting words that express a totality or completeness.

If the universe is not eternal, then it must have had a beginning. Leibniz formulated an idea called the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR.) This was the idea that anything that exists has a reason for its existence that can be found in something else, or itself. In other words, there is no effect without a cause.[2] Moreover, as William Lane Craig has shown in his work on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, anything that begins to exist must have a cause. Since the universe (by which I mean all of matter, space and time,) began to exist it must have a cause. The universe could not have cause itself to exist, since this would mean it would have to exist before it existed. For the materialist to appeal to a natural cause for the beginning of the universe would be absurd, since the universe just is nature. To say they will someday discover how nature caused itself to begin to exist is like saying someday I will discover how I gave birth to my grandmother. The only option left is that something or someone outside the universe would have had to be the cause. Could it be something or does it have to be someone? What’s the difference? Either what cause the universe was sufficient conditions, or an agent that had the ability to exercise will which means the agent had the ability to not cause the universe to begin.[3] As noted above, there could not have been an infinite succession of moments during which the necessary conditions existed and for some reason produced the effect that is the universe. That leaves someone. That someone would have to be immaterial, non-spatial, timeless (at least without creation) and extremely powerful and intelligent. That sounds like the kind of being we would call God. Therefore, the beginning of the universe is powerful evidence of the existence of some kind of God. It is not enough to get to the God of the Bible, but it shows that an atheistic worldview is false.

Tomorrow I will address the issue of the origin of life.

[1] Nancy Pearcey, Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes(Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015), 333.

 

[2] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/leibniz/#PriSufRea

[3] For more on this, see J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City.

This is why I am skeptical of “Global Warming/ Climate Change”

For all I know, global warming, or :climate change,” might be a thing. Maybe we should even do something about it. As the scholar team at Reasons to Believe (reasons.org) point out, there are four questions that need to be addressed on this issue:

  1. Is the global temperature rising (or climate changing?)
  2. Is it caused by human activity?
  3. How big of a deal is it?
  4. What should be done about it?

These are all reasonable questions. What makes me suspicious of so many dire claims of catastrophic, anthropogenic climate change is the fact that so many proposed solutions involve schemes that make money for those making the claims, or poorly disguised wealth redistribution schemes. The latest example comes from none other than Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” who said, “We need, dare I say it, a tax, or should I say a fee,” he reportedly said before an anonymous student began recording him. “It’s not just to be mean,” he added, “it’s to redistribute wealth.”(http://www.examiner.com/article/science-guy-bill-nye-suggests-carbon-tax-to-redistribute-wealth)

Again, this tells us nothing about the truth of climate change claims. People who promote the claims in order to support a socialist or communist agenda could still be correct about the problem, even if their solutions cannot solve it. Those of us who value economic freedom, however, are right to be cautious.

Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home by Glenn Sunshine A review

Glenn Sunshine is a Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University, while also serving on the faculty of the Centurions Program of the Colson Center, and as the faculty advisor for Ratio Christi at CCSU. He has a BA in linguistics from Michigan State University, an MA in Church History from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, an MA in Reformation History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a PhD in Renaissance-Reformation History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a Christian and a historian, Sunshine has a passion for helping Christians see how worldview affects culture, and vice versa.

The thesis of Why You Think the Way You Do is that the history of Western Civilization can be traced according to its changing relationship to Christianity. Moreover, the successes and failures of Western culture can be linked to its acceptance or rejection of a Christian worldview.

The book opens with an explanation of the idea of worldview, and how it affects individuals and societies as a whole. It then traces the trajectory of Western culture from the Roman Empire, its transformation by the spread of Christianity, and the periods that followed. The chapters address major periods from the Middle Ages to the renaissance, to the modern “enlightenment” era, to the post-modern period to today. Sunshine shows how changes in worldviews impacted major events such as three great revolutions in England, France and America. This section was especially helpful to understand why the American Revolution succeeded where the Glorious Revolution, and the French Revolutions failed.

As history unfolds in more recent decades, we see the consequences of elevating personal autonomy to the point where ultimate freedom for all means little freedom for some. We see where the only thing considered immoral is considering something immoral. Moreover, we see how struggles for equality have become struggles for privilege by claiming victim status. We see tolerance become meaningless since tolerance entails disagreement, but disagreement is considered intolerance.

Sunshine has painted a clear picture of the consequences of the absence of the Christian worldview in the public square. While the history of Christendom is checkered with its wars of religion, Sunshine gives fair treatment of the issue, acknowledging excesses while noting where these diverge from Christian teaching.

It is not only society, however, that has lost a conscious Christian worldview. This is also missing in much of the Church. We in the church need to read this book and take its lessons to heart if we hope to have an impact on our culture.

This book is accessible to middle-school students, while being rich enough to not bore those with advanced degrees. Church youth leaders and students would do well to study this book. Our future as a nation may well depend upon it.

H/T Doug Groothuis. Christianity and Autonomous Reason: Drawing an Important Distinction

The secular philosophy textbook I use for Introduction to Philosophy classes proclaims that philosophy exercises one’s rational autonomy. Nascent philosophers are told to think critically by thinking for themselves. Some think that this embrace of philosophical autonomy conflicts with Christianity. Christians believe that we are created by and fully dependent upon God, redeemed by the http://douglasgroothuis.com/2015/02/23/christianity-and-autonomous-reason-drawing-an-important-distinction/ 

Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case

Stealing From God

Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case

Frank Turek is a speaker and author who wrote or co-wrote Correct But Not Politically Correct, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist, and Legislating Morality. Turek speaks on college campuses and hosts a weekly radio and television show. He has a DMin in Christian Apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary. (I knew it! He came eating and drinking, so he has a DMin!)

Turek’s writing and speaking, as well as his radio and television shows, center on Christian apologetics, and this book is a natural extension of his work.

In Stealing From God, Turek argues that the kinds of ideas atheists appeal to in order to disprove God would not even exist if God did not exist, and therefore atheism is almost certainly false. Turek discusses six of these ideas using the acrostic, “CRIMES:”

  • Causality
  • Reason
  • Intelligence and Intentionality
  • Morality
  • Evil
  • Science

He then covers each point in the first six chapters. In chapter 7 Turek makes a case for mere Christianity by addressing the existence of truth, God, miracles, and the reliability of the New Testament. Finally, chapter 8 defends the idea of eternal punishment.

In his discussion of causality, Turek notes that many of the new atheists appeal to science, especially the principle of causality, for what can be known. However, when it comes to the universe, suddenly there is an exception. In response to arguments such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument, where it is pointed out that anything that begins to exist must have a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe has a cause, atheists appeal to some as-yet undiscovered natural process to explain its origin. Some, like Lawrence Krauss go as far as to redefine nothing to muddy the waters. Moreover, Turek addresses Krauss’ claim that physical effects must have physical causes, and notes the need to explain the causes of the laws of nature and the fine-tuning of the universe for life. Finally, Turek notes the absurdity of the “Who made God?” challenge.

Reason

Atheists appeal to reason but reason points to a rational ground without which reason is an illusion. All of our capacities for reason are grounded in logic, but as Turek points out, the origin of logic needs to be accounted for. Atheists will sometimes claim that logic is a human convention, but the universal applicability of logic defies this explanation. Some will go as far as to deny logic, but it is inescapable. Turek argues that immaterial entities like the laws of logic cannot have a material origin. Therefore, reason would be impossible if atheism was true.

Information and Intentionality

Turek notes the common experience that information comes from an intelligent source and that DNA contains large quantities of information, and that along with epigenetic information provide the instructions for the various body plans. Atheism cannot account for the origin of such information. In response to the claim that appeals to Intelligent Design are not scientific, Turek notes that neither are appeals to Darwinism. The difference is philosophical.

With respect to intentionality, Turek points out many examples in the created order that point to being made for a purpose. This is evidence that there was a mind behind their existence. (While “intentionality” is used correctly here, though more for the sake of the acrostic, it seems to me teleology would have been clearer since in philosophy intentionality is more the “aboutness” of thought.)

Morality

Atheists will often complain about their rights while at the same time denying an objective ground to them. Moreover, they will appeal to evolution and biological processes to explain morality. Turek demonstrates the confusion that often surfaces over how people behave, how they ought to behave and how we know it. Turek then shows how the very moral intuitions atheists have but try to suppress are grounded in One who is good by his very nature.

Evil

Atheists complain about the evil they see in the world. What they don’t recognize, as Turek points out, is that evil proves the existence of good, which proves the existence of God. Without God, evil is just us “dancing to our DNA.” Moreover, contrary to the claim that religion causes wars and evil, Turek notes the millions killed in the 20th century by atheistic regimes.

Turek illustrates the hypocrisy of many skeptics who complain about evil by showing how we all want all the evil in the world removed… as long as it is that which is more evil than ourselves. He goes on to explain the purpose of suffering in the context of the purpose of our lives.

Science

It is sometimes claimed by atheists that science has disproven God. Scientific evidence is interpreted just like all kinds of evidence is. Turek notes that differences in worldview shape how the evidence is seen. Different approaches are required for studying origins than studying operational science. Science searches for causes whether event or agent. For an atheist to assert that all causation is event causation is to beg the question. Atheism only allows for event causation. To allow for agent causation requires the abandonment of materialism, which atheists are unwilling to do.

Science depends on the laws of physics, logic, and morality, none of which can exist without God. As Turek notes, it is not God that is at odds with science, but atheism.

Case for Christianity

Turek argues for mere Christianity by showing that the existence of truth, the existence of God, the possibility of miracles and the reliability of the New Testament provide sufficient evidence to think it is true.

Defense of Hell

In the final chapter, Turek offers arguments for the justice of eternal punishment for unregenerate sinners, noting that it is not loving for God to force people who don’t want him to spend eternity in his presence.

In his introduction, Turek defines his terms so it is clear what sort of God he is defending. Additionally, Turek’s treatment of the Canaanite conquest is well balanced by showing both Copan and Jones’ responses. Moreover, Turek’s engaging style and use of acrostics and catchy subtitles make for enjoyable reading.

Stealing From God is written at a level appropriate for highschoolers all the way to graduate students. It is a must read for anyone who thinks atheism is a robust alternative to the Christian worldview.

The Allure of Gentleness

The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith In the Manner of Jesus

By Dallas Willard

 

A review

Dallas Willard received his PhD in Philosophy from Baylor University in 1964. He served as Philosophy professor from 1965-2012 at the University of Southern California. In addition to The Allure of Gentleness, Willard wrote 13 books including The Divine Conspiracy, Renovation of the Heart, and Spirit of the Disciplines. He passed away in 2013.

The Allure of Gentleness was put together by Willard’s daughter from a series of talks given in 1990, along with notes and a list of additions Willard wanted included.

Willard’s purpose in writing this book was to return to a sense of apologetics as a shared journey of exploration, where we invite people to examine their doubts, welcoming the questions that trouble believers and seekers. The main thesis is that a gentle spirit and a kind presentation of the intellectual aspects of apologetics make them more effective.

The book is short, just seven chapters on 170 pages of content. Chapter 1 lays out Willard’s case for using our rational faculties in service of Christ. Chapter 2 applies this idea to apologetics as a practice. Chapter 3 offers a biblical model for apologetics. Chapter 4 explores the relationship between faith and reason. In chapter 5, Willard defends divine revelation. Chapter 6 addresses pain, suffering and the problem of evil. Finally, chapter 7 explores the ongoing interaction between the disciple and his Lord.

I really like reading anything Willard writes. When I read his work, I feel like I am having a conversation with the Christian grandfather I never had. I always come away feeling challenged and motivated to strive to do better, to seek God more fervently, and to emulate his manner. This book is no different in that respect. However, for those very reasons, there are a few things in this book that bother me.

One of the less troubling comments Willard makes is with respect to cosmic evolution. He notes that, “The suggestion of cosmic evolution (order out of chaos) as an alternative was not presented until the nineteenth century.”(76.) But it seems as though Willard is conflating the idea of cosmic evolution with biological evolution. Until the early 20th century, the reigning paradigm was that the universe was eternal and static. It was not until the work of Einstein and Hubble foreclosed on the steady state model that theories like Big Bang cosmology were proposed. Another place where Willard’s views could bring about confusion is in his section “Reading E=MC2 From Left to Right.” Here Willard asserts that God is energy. This lends itself to confusion because of equivocation of “energy.” If by energy one means the ability to do work, this is not a problem. However, when physicists speak of energy in the context of E=MC2, energy is a form that matter can take. However, I do not believe Willard means to say that God is a physical being.

In addition, Willard has a section he calls, “There is No “Good” Without Evil.” However, if it is the case that evil is a deprivation of good, how is good dependent on evil? Willard seems to be arguing that human evil is necessary. I can see his argument that certain goods require evils, such as courage requiring threats, mercy requires wrongs, and generosity requires needs, but a world without threats, wrongs and need could still be good.

The most troubling thing Willard writes is in his discussion on the hiddenness of God. Willard argues that God “…is capable of not knowing whatever he does not wish to know—should there be any such thing.” (66.) This idea is not even coherent,  for in order for God to choose to not know something, he would have to know it and when it would obtain in order to be sure he does not know it. This is a strange departure from the classical view of divine omniscience. Willard defends the view by drawing a parallel to divine omnipotence, noting that on omnipotent God is able to do anything power can do, but it does not mean he does do everything his power allows him to do. However, omniscience is not the ability to know, but the possession of the knowledge.

Finally, Willard gives a weak defense of the idea that God speaks to individuals. I say weak because the Bible passages offered do not support his argument. I do not mean to say that God does not, or cannot speak to individuals even today. What I am saying is that the passages Willard cites do not teach that every believer can expect to experience this. (For a more detailed treatment of this issue, see http://www.str.org/publications/does-god-whisper-part-1#.VOUFmVPF9Oh)

These concerns aside, I highly recommend this book, as well as anything else Willard writes. It is written at a level that a high school student can understand, and an academic can enjoy. It is an encouragement for those considering apologetics as a part of their skillset, and a challenge to those of us who have developed some skills to apply them in a more Christ-like manner.

Finding Truth

Finding Truth

By Nancy Pearcey

A Review

 

Nancy Pearcey is the director of the Christian Worldview Center at Houston Baptist University. She is the author or coauthor of six other books, including Total Truth, Saving Leonardo, and How Now Shall We Live (with Chuck Colson.)

Many Christian philosophers and apologists have written effective critiques of worldviews that compete with Christianity in the marketplace of ideas. In that sense there is nothing new in Pearcey’s book. The beauty of Finding Truth is in how Pearcey offers a systematic way to evaluate these worldviews in a way that exposes their weaknesses, and shows Christianity to be a viable alternative.

Working from the text of chapters 1 and 2 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, Pearcey outlines a five-step process for evaluating worldviews that compete with Christianity. She notes that every worldview has an ultimate concern, or something that has the status of divinity, hence the first step is to identify what this is for the worldview. What stands in for the God the worldview denies?

Every God-substitute turns out to be something within the created order, and therefore smaller than the God who is. Pearcey shows how all competing worldviews entail some form of reductionism. She then helps the reader identify it. If you think of a worldview as a box, only Christianity has one big enough to contain reality. All others are too small, and therefore they must deny, dismiss, or ignore aspects of reality that do not fit in the box.

Having noted the aspects of reality that must be denied, the third step is to compare the view with how one experiences the world. How well does the worldview make sense of the world as we find it?

In the next step, we examine the worldview to see if it passes its own test. Ultimately, worldviews contrary to Christianity are self-refuting.  For example, materialism denies the existence of free will. However, some form of free will is necessary for rationality to be possible. If rationality is not possible, the materialist cannot affirm or defend materialism. In the final step, the case is made for the Christian worldview, noting how the competing worldview is already borrowing from Christianity while denying it at the same time. Pearcey closes by arguing for an integrated faith that applies critical thinking, rather than shuns it.

Finding Truth is a must read for parents of high school students contemplating college, college students, youth pastors, and anyone else who wants to think carefully about faith and be able to share their faith more effectively.