Challenging Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracies do happen. Lots of people think they are common. 71% of Americans think the government are hiding the truth about UFO’s, 9/11 was an inside job, and the Apollo moon landings (or at least the first one) was a hoax. But how likely are these conspiracy theories? And what logical tools can we use to explore them?

First – here’s a real conspiracy. On June 17th 1972, burglars were arrested in the Watergate complex in Washington DC. They were discovered to be part of a small group connected to President Nixon’s re-election campaign, seeking to wiretap phones and steal documents.[1] Conspiracies are about small groups of people attempting something immoral. Watergate failed because the group was exposed.

So – what about UFOs and the Apollo moon landings?

Ken Samples points to five questions we can ask of these claims to test the logical basis of the conspiracy claim.[2] These logical tools reveal the majority of conspiracy theories to be false.

1 – Does the theory hold together?

Does it have a solid foundation or is it contradictory? For example, think about the claim that aliens are visiting the planet. Given the vast distances that would have to be travelled, and the physical laws that would have to be overturned in order to achieve this, the theory starts to look contradictory. The facts required for the UFO government conspiracy don’t hold together.

 

2 – Does the theory comport with the facts?

Good theories don’t only fit with all the facts, they also tie them all together. The Watergate burglars were where they should not be, with wire tapping equipment, and one of them had the telephone number of Nixon’s government office. These are simply facts. But the theory that they are conspiring to steal information they should not lawfully have – ties these facts together.

A bad theory will reject some of the facts because they are inconvenient to the theory. For example, people who try to claim that the Jewish Holocaust did not happen during WW2 have to reject the data available from Jewish, Axis and Allied sources. They may mount a theory, but they will have to hide certain facts that the theory does not comport with.

 

3 – Does the theory avoid unwarranted assumptions?

Often when you start to investigate a bad theory, people make unwarranted claims to make the theory stand. For example, consider the claim that the Apollo moon landing was faked. The documented evidence shows that 400, 000 people were employed on Apollo and over 20,000 industrial firms and Universities were active in the enterprise. It was a massive undertaking in financial terms and man hours. It was also massive in the sheer number of people that had to be involved to make it happen.

If we are to claim that the astronauts did not reach the moon, then we have to make the assumption that all these people, or at least a significant proportion of them, were willing to keep this secret. But not just that, but they were all able to KEEP this secret in the face of jubilation around the world, and fifty years of celebrations. This starts to sound like an unwarranted assumption. After all, it would only take one person to crack … and the game would be up! Yet in fifty years, there has been no whisper of falsification by those actually involved. Just by people with a conspiracy axe to grind.

 

4 – How well does the theory handle counter evidence?

When counter evidence comes to light, how well does the conspiracy theory deal with this? For example, on the moon landing, how does the hoax theory cope with counter evidence like:

  • the photographic evidence from American and Chinese satellites showing the Apollo equipment remaining on the landing sites.
  • the bouncing of lasers off of instrumentation on the moon.
  • moon rocks.

 

5 – Is the theory open to falsification? If so, how?

Can a theory be proven false under certain circumstances? Or is it simply impossible to falsify it? Conspiracy theories tend NOT to be open to falsification. There is always another unwarranted assumption that stops the process of falsification.

However – a good theory IS open to falsification. This is one of the reasons that a good theory has rational weight. For example, if there was no connection between the Nixon government and the Watergate burglars, the conspiracy theory could have been quickly falsified.

 

 

Conclusion

It’s fun to kick conspiracy theories around. But when we put them through these logical filters – most of them drop out as false.

So – the next question is – what happens when we expose the theory that Jesus rose from the dead – to these logical tools? Well – the theory comes out to be a sound one. I’ll talk about that next.

[1] Watergate Scandal, History, accessed 29th August, 2019, https://www.history.com/topics/1970s/watergate.

[2] Logically Questioning Strange Ideas and Controversial Theories, Reasons to Believe, accessed 29th August, 2019, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/reflections/read/reflections/2017/07/11/logically-questioning-strange-ideas-and-controversial-theories.

Why Write An Apologetics Blog?


Someone asked me recently, “Why do you waste your time writing a blog about theological issues? Can’t you do something a bit more useful with your time?”

Oh – sure. If we categorically knew that God did not exist – I agree, I would be wasting my time. It would be like spending time blogging furiously about the popularity of married bachelors. Pointless. Because married bachelors don’t exist.

But no one can make that claim about God.

If it is possible that there is a God who is responsible for creating the Universe and everything that lives in it, and it is possible to know something about that God – then is writing this blog really a waste of time? Particularly if that God expects us to use our rational capacities to do this work of getting to know him during our lives? No – from that perspective, writing this blog could be one of the most important things I do with my time.

You see – I don’t think we have to look very far to begin to learn something about what God may be like.

Nature
For centuries of human history, thinkers have looked at nature to see what we can learn about God. Any designer is going to reflect himself in what he makes. Right?

Enlightenment thinkers challenged the idea we could learn anything about God this way. David Hume thought that, “no inferences we make from the physical to the metaphysical are viable …. their conclusions go beyond what is supported by the evidence.”[2] Immanuel Kant agreed, saying that “knowledge requires some sort of experiential basis. If we don’t have sense data, then we cannot have knowledge. And because we do not see, touch, taste, smell or hear God directly, Kant’s model does not allow divine knowledge to come from the physical world.”[2] The enlightenment was not kind to Natural Theology.

Well – I think Hume makes an excellent point. It is simply unhelpful for theologians and apologists to make more of the evidence than they are warranted to. But can’t we say that nature could point us to God? Here are just two examples (there are many more). Can’t we logically consider that biology simply looks designed because it is … the result of a designing intelligence? Further, what do we do with the continuing discovery of the fitness of the Universe for the existence of life? Doesn’t this give a very strong evidence for design?

For more on design pointers, check out Jim Wallace.

What about Kant? He is right that we cannot access God directly with our senses. But can’t we encounter God indirectly via our senses? When police detectives arrive at a crime scene, they don’t usually have the criminal standing there saying, “Hello. I killed the victim. Please take me to jail.” No – they explore the scene for clues, they form the most logical hypotheses for the explanation of this evidence, and these hypotheses hopefully lead them toward the person who committed the crime. The detective’s senses are critical. They perceive the perpetrator indirectly, before they see him directly.

Maybe our senses will never allow us to sense God directly in the here and now. But they do allow us to view pointers towards him. Leaving us the promise of a future face to face encounter with Him.

Scripture
I’ve written here about the way the Bible points towards God as a historical work. Yes, Christians say it is special revelation. But before its special, it’s simply historical.

Conclusion
There are pointers littered throughout our lives that direct us toward the God who is partially concealed in the here and now. I think it’s important to reflect on that possibility, and to explore the possibilities it presents. So, that is an important reason why I write this blog.

 

[1] James K. Dew JR. and Mark W. Foreman, How Do We Know? An Introduction to Epistemology, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2014), 134.

[2] Ibid.

Couldn’t God Create a World Where Evil Doesn’t Exist?

If there IS a God, then why didn’t he create a world where there is no evil?

Well – if you are willing to give up free will, then anything is possible. If God took away our ability to exercise free will, then I’m sure evil would stop in the world. But the question is – would you want to lose your ability to exercise your free will?

Libertarian free will” – this is how I understand the universe. In other words, reality is not determined. I can make choices, and I have free will to exercise this choice. This assumption underpins everything in our lives.

Some people will disagree, saying, “I only think I have free will. But really, reality is determined.” They might point to different determining factors. For example, biology, the laws of physics, even God. This view is called Compatibilism. But Compatibilism has many problems. I don’t think it allows us to make sense of how we live our lives. And it certainly undermines my ability to understand what the Bible is saying.

Problem 1 – Compatibilism and Life

We live our lives dealing with people, and organizations, asserting power upon us. Perhaps they demand us to pay our taxes, or they expect us to take out the bins at home. Also, we try to exert our power on other people to make them do what we want them to do.

The existence of power in the world is a problem for the Compatibilist.

For example:

  1. If Compatibilism is true, then all events are necessitated (whether I realise that or not).
  2. If all events are necessitated, then there are no powers.
  3. Free will consists in the exercise of an agent’s powers.
  4. The world is full of agents exercising power.
  5. Therefore these agents have free will.[1]

Compatibilism doesn’t square with how the world works. Libertarianism, on the other hand, does.

 

Problem 2 – Compatibilism and the Bible

The Bible is full of statements like, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses … stop sinning.”[2] If I don’t actually have the free will to choose how to behave, then it is meaningless for the Bible to challenge my behaviour. Because my behaviour is necessary.

Yet – I do actually have free will. This is evident from the opening story in Genesis when Adam and Eve chose to assert their free wills against God. Without this understanding, I simply cannot understand what the Bible is saying. It is saying – “I’m a free being, and I must use my free will to love and follow a good and just God in my life.”

 

Libertarian Free Will and Evil

So – back to the first question. If there IS a God, then why didn’t he create a world where there is no evil?

For a start, evil’s not a thing. Rather, evil is “a corruption of the good, and evil arises from the misuse of the will.”[3] So disease and man’s inhumanity to man are two evils. They are a corruption of what is good, and misuse of personal freedom.

God wants us to be able to freely exercise our God given, libertarian free will. He made us this way. But because we use our free will to hurt other people, we live in a world where evil exists.

So – couldn’t God take away our free will? Well – would we want to live lives without any free will? Clay Jones points out that, virtually every science fiction story touches upon the issues around free will.[4] Maybe its Blade Runner, where replicants are seeking to free themselves from oppressive human beings. They want freedom … “and more life.” Maybe it’s Star Trek, and the Borg are seeking to take away our uniqueness and distinctiveness. They want us to join the collective and become just another drone. No – every fibre of being aboard the Enterprise fights against that notion. We are free beings. And the audience replies – amen! Human beings believe they are free, and they assert their power to maintain that freedom.

 

God Cannot Make a Free World Where there Is No Evil

So – in the final analysis, it turns out that there are some things God cannot do. He cannot create a square circle, and he cannot create a world full of free beings like us where there is not a possibility of evil.

If you want a world without evil, then welcome to the Borg collective. Which ironically, would be the ultimate evil for free people like us…

 

[1] Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum, A new argument against compatibilism, Oxford Academic, accessed 22nd August, 2019, https://academic.oup.com/analysis/article-abstract/74/1/20/301393?redirectedFrom=fulltext.

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:33, NIV.

[3] Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil? Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions, (Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2017), 20.

[4] Clay Jones, Sci-Fi, Free Will and the Problem of Evil, Clay Jones, accessed 22nd August, 2019, https://www.clayjones.net/2015/07/sci-fi-free-will-and-the-problem-of-evil/.

Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Sometimes people will say to me something like, “I might believe there was a God if there wasn’t so much evil in the world.” I’ve always scratched my head at this response because it seems to me that evil is MAN’S problem – not God’s problem. The perpetrators of great evil in history have been people.

So, why is it that good people seem to suffer? Take my little sister Anne, for instance. She died of a horrible disease at age 37…way too young. Anne was the nicest person you could ever meet, and she was a source of strength, kindness and hope to many people. But – I know Anne. She would have hesitated at agreeing with you that she was truly a GOOD person. Why? Because as a Christian she knew the real state of her heart and what she was capable of if she let her guard down.

I don’t think Anne is that different from anyone else. Certainly not that different from her big brother. We are all capable of evil acts. Elie Wiesel survived the Jewish Holocaust, and said “man isn’t only executioner, victim and spectator. He is all three.”[1] Clay Jones suggests that perhaps human niceness is more of a survival strategy than anything else. We tell ourselves we are good, but actually we fear the consequences of the evil that we know lurks in our hearts. Do flirty co-workers avoid affairs because of innate goodness, or because they fear the loss of the reputation is they are found out? Do murderers stop at red lights because they are good people, or because they fear the possibility of a car accident if they keep going? The fact that much good is done in the world does not mean that good is done by good people, just normal people who are doers of particularly good acts.[2]

But why is there so much suffering in the world? I would suggest three reasons:

  1. Because people are capable of making other people suffer.
  2. To wake us up to the mess the world is in, and to drive us to God. He really does have a project underway to transform people’s hearts from the inside out. “Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”[3]
  3. To wake me up to my own personal guilt, and to drive me to God. But not to bury me under despair. Rather, as an incentive for me to stop rejecting God’s transformative project and to get on board with it myself.[4]

 

Yes. I know, it’s tough to hear about the next heart breaking event on the news. But – I do genuinely think that hope and light bleeds through each act that brings pain and darkness. We all face the end of our lives one day. And…

“If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins – make a clean breast of them – he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.”[5]

 

[1] Elie Wiesel, The Town Beyond the Wall, trans. Stephen Barker (New York: Avon, 1970), 174.

[2] Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil? Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2017).

[3] Colossians 3:10, New Living Translation.

[4] Ibid.

[5] 1 John 1:9, The Message.

 

Photo by Luis Galvez on Unsplash

Dealing With Fallen Heroes

It’s not easy when people you look up to are found to be less than perfect.

I’m a Christian, and have been involved in the work of the church for my whole life. I experienced “hero disappointment” around Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church last year. I visited Willow Creek as a twenty year old. He has challenged and inspired me for over 25 years. Yet last year, he went into sudden retirement amidst a (still growing) realisation that he regularly abused his position of power and authority. Some of those closest to him are reportedly still coming to terms with their bad experiences of Bill.

When you are hit by these sorts of revelations, you go into a kind of grief cycle. There’s shock followed by anger and bargaining. But – you do eventually come to accept it. When public Christian leaders fall – this sort of grief will be known by people inside and even outside of Christianity.

I know people who may be similarly affected by the news of Hillsong Church leader Marty Sampson this week.

The question is – how should we speak about a fallen Christian leader in the midst of the fallout? Well – the New Testament goes into some detail on how to treat conflict in the church, and how discipline must be handled in the church.[1]

That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m asking how we should WE speak about public figures who have suddenly brought the Christian church into disrepute?

 

Well – I think there is good evidence to suggest the authentic Christian answer is – “respectfully.”

 

Why do I say that? Consider the following.

 

Do you feel hurt and betrayed by this leader who has fallen?

Perhaps we feel we have somehow been mistreated by them … or feel outraged that the church has in some way been mistreated? Well – if we hang onto these feelings, they can undermine us. That’s why Jesus spoke directly to this problem:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”[2]

They are another human being, as well as a fallen Christian leader. So – Jesus’ command is relevant. And – it is important for our health too. This is one reason being a Christian makes sense – it’s about making healthy life choices like – choosing to love and forgive those who hurt us. Even if it takes us time to do so.

 

Is your belief in Christianity is being challenged  by this painful situation?

This can happen for some people. When our leader suddenly fall off the path, we can find ourselves wondering whether we’ve wasted our time in following them. Some may ask, “Is Christianity still true? Even when the Christian leader I idolized has gone?“

Well – idolizing other people is always going to be a problem. So we need to adjust our attitude. Only one person is not going to let you down. And that’s Jesus. Other people – in my experience – will let us down regularly.

But there’s another issue here. Maybe this fallen leader’s life poses a question to us – “Do I still believe that Christianity is true?” How should we respond?  Sometimes, it isn’t a person’s words that challenge our beliefs. It is often how other Christian people treat us that leave us wondering, “Do I still believe? Even in the face of this nightmare?”

The Bible says:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”[3]

We must look to the foundations we have with Christ first, not any church or church leader. Revere Christ as Lord, it says. We need a strong foundation with someone who won’t disappoint you. That’s going to be Jesus and no one else. Christianity is still true cos Jesus is still Jesus.

While standing on this firm foundation, how do we speak about the fallen leader who has challenged our Christian belief by their actions? We must speak words of confident Christian convictions with gentleness and respect. The only way you can do this, is by having firm foundations in your life on Christ.

By the way – the Jesus who is the foundation for gentleness and respect – is also the Jesus who forgives us when we confess we have not lived this way. His forgiveness is available.

 

Do you simply feel contempt for this fallen leader?

In that case, I think we need to reflect on the fact that Jesus was always for those who were the outcasts in society. And – he had harsh and challenging words for those who shunned them. Particularly those in the religious establishment. The church does not belong to us. It belongs to Jesus. It’s ultimately his responsibility to deal with situations like this one.

Surely that’s worth reflecting on?

Surely it’s better to aim to speak about people who have disappointed you – with gentleness and respect?

 

 

 

 

 

[1] For example, Matthew 18.

[2] Luke 6:27-28, NIV.

[3] 1 Peter 3:15, NIV.

I Feel for Marty Sampson

I feel for Marty Sampson.

 

I’m working from people who saw his recent Instagram post, which has now been taken down. He expressed his wrestles and doubts with Christian belief, and he gave us a list of these.

  • Church leaders who fall
  • apparent Bible contradictions
  • eternity for the unsaved (Jesus in the Gospels refers to this place as Gehenna – we translate this as Hell)

…his list went on. I get it. These are real issues to grapple with. After each one, he complained that no one was talking about these things. I’ve spent years talking about these things. They need to be discussed. Why on earth wasn’t Marty doing so in his church?

He apparently concluded that he was not a Christian any more. “It’s not for me … Christianity just seems like another religion at this point.”[1] If that’s where he is, then that’s a real shame, because he put his finger on something really important in his Instagram post. Something that, if he allows it to, could move him forwards in a positive way.

 

“I want genuine truth, not just the “I believe it” kind of truth.”[2]

 

I totally agree with him here. That’s what I think Christianity is. Christianity is about genuine truth, not “I believe it” kind of truth. It has ALWAYS been this. But it sounds like … Marty hasn’t realised this before. True Christianity has never been about saying, “Just believe it. Have faith and your faith will get you through.”  If you are a Christian believer and you think that your Christian belief is grounded on faith alone…like Marty…then one day you are going to be in trouble. Serious – trouble. And – it’s just a matter of time before the wheels start coming off. Unfortunately for Marty, this has happened in a very public way.

 

Yet people will ask, “isn’t faith important?” Of course it is. “So – why can’t Christianity be grounded on faith alone?”

 

Well – you’ve got to understand what the word “faith” means. Faith is not the ground of knowledge about anything. Faith is our RESPONSE to the knowledge of the revelation about Jesus we have received. Faith does not give us any knowledge about God, we need to find that knowledge about God elsewhere. This is what doing theology is all about, folks. If we don’t do the work of understanding the Bible, then there will be no source of knowledge to ground our beliefs on. Oh – we may go along with the crowd in church. We may develop as a leader, find ourselves repeating what the other leaders say, and feel we are right because other people are impressed and believe what we say. We may even advance in the use of our gifts and talents in various ways. But inside … we will always be thinking … “is this stuff really TRUE? Can I bet my life on Christianity or not?”

 

Faith isn’t about saying “I believe it.” Any environment which fosters this … and teaches Christianity this way, is an unhealthy environment. Rather – faith is about choosing to trust and act on the basis of the God you are truly coming to know and believe.

 

Faith isn’t knowing what we don’t know, or believing something in spite of the evidence. Faith is not a source of knowledge at all! Rather – faith is simply our active choice to respond with TRUST in the God we have come to believe and know because he has made himself known to us.

 

What is Christian faith? It is holding on to the God we’ve learned about when the storms of doubt come raging in our lives. But we can only hold on in the first place … because we already genuinely and truly know the God who we are holding on to.

 

I’m praying Marty gets that so that he can move forward in that way. God loves you and – “he is still calling you out upon the waters,” Marty.

 

 

[1] Leah MarieAnn Klett, Hillsong writer: ‘I’m genuinely losing my faith’, The Christian Post, https://www.christianpost.com/news/hillsong-writer-reveals-hes-no-longer-a-christian-im-genuinely-losing-my-faith.html.

[2] Ibid.

Can You Know Whether or Not the Bible Contains God’s Special Words?

He smiled at me.

“So it sounds like you believe that the Bible is special, somehow. That even though it was written by people, it was inspired by God. That somehow it contains God’s special message to mankind.”

I braced myself for the inevitable onslaught. “Yup. That’s what I believe.”

The onslaught didn’t come. Instead, he asked a simple question. “How do you know, Stuart?”

 

It’s a reasonable enough question. Right? It’s one thing to BELIEVE…it is quite another thing to KNOW. Knowledge claims require solid justification. How do I know that the Bible contains God’s special words?

If Christians believe the Bible to be special revelation…do we know that just because the text claims that it is so? That sounds a bit weak. Do we know because we feel it is true? Well – yes, scripture is properly basic to Christians, but that’s not going to help the sceptic who needs some logical argument supporting our claim about how special the Bible is. Besides, Muslims would say the same thing of the Qu’aran.

 

Jonathan Morrow lays out a non-circular argument to support the claim that the Bible contains God’s special and true words.[1] This argument appeals to the historical reports in the most recent part of the Bible – the New Testament. The argument doesn’t require these scriptural claims to be special in any way…just that they accurately reflect what happened in the past. This is a logical, historical justification of the claim that the Bible is God’s special revelation to mankind.

 

  1. Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be God.

He claimed authority that God alone possesses. For example, control over nature[2],  speaking for God,[3] ability to forgive sin[4] and authority over the final judgement.[5]

He owned special titles from Judaism pointing to his divinity. I’m talking about Messiah, Son of God and Son of Man. All were understood by the original audience as pointers to divinity.

 

  1. God authenticated his radical claims by raising Jesus from the dead.

We know this based on five minimal, historical facts that must be explained when considering the claim that Jesus rose from the dead:

      1. Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
      2. Jesus’ disciples claimed he rose and appeared to them.
      3. The Christian persecutor Saul was radically changed to chief proclaimer of the Christian faith.
      4. The sceptic James, Jesus’ brother, was also suddenly changed and became a Christian leader.
      5. Jesus’ tomb was found empty.

These facts are typically accepted even by the most sceptical and antagonistic historians.

 

  1. Jesus of Nazareth taught the divine inspiration and the authority of Scripture.

He recognized the Old Testament’s authority:

  • He did not come “to abolish the Law … but to fulfil.”[6]
  • He submitted himself to the moral authority of the Old Testament, often using the words “It is written…”
  • Jesus submitted himself to his God given mission, understanding that he “must suffer many things and be rejected … and be killed, and after three days rise again.”[7]

He provided for the writing of the New Testament:

  • He appointed the apostles himself as ministers of the New Covenant.
  • He promised the Holy Spirit to them, who will “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”[8]
  • The apostles recognised they were writing with the authority of Jesus.

 

  1. Since Jesus of Nazareth is Divine, his endorsement of the Bible carries the authority of God.

 

So – why is it reasonable to say that we know the Bible is God’s special revelation?

The answer hinges on the person and life of Jesus of Nazareth. In other words:

“if God raised Jesus from the dead, then the most likely reason was to confirm the truthfulness of Jesus’ teachings. If we are correct in this, then the inspiration of Scripture follows as a verified doctrine, affirmed by God Himself when He raised Jesus from the dead.”[9]

 

[1] Jonathan Morrow, Questioning the Bible 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014).

[2] Luke 11:20.

[3] Matthew 7:28-29.

[4] Mark 2:1-12.

[5] Luke 12:8-9.

[6] Matthew 5:17.

[7] Mark 8:31.

[8] John 14:26.

[9] Gary R. Habermas, Jesus and the Inspiration of Scripture, Areopagus Journal 2, no. 1 (2002), 15, quoted in Jonathan Morrow, Questioning the Bible.

The Meaning of the Pale Blue Dot

It was 1990.

The Voyager 1 spacecraft was 4 billion miles from home. And as it left the solar system, it turned round for one last look at the Earth. That planet where a team of smart engineers constructed it, and continued to control its actions…tho not for much longer. The Voyager 1 camera caught sight of a pale blue dot.

Planet Earth.

The thing we think is the centre of our existence, our experience and our home is actually just a tiny blue speck amongst seemingly infinite vast, hostile, empty space. We think home is meaningful. Clearly – its hardly anything at all, a shard of blue caught in star light.

So – given that is true, then why would human beings think they were special? Sure, primitive humans might engage in religious activities and write religious texts. But they knew nothing about what’s actually going on in the Universe. Now – thanks to Voyager 1 – we know something. And what’s going on is – we are virtually nothing and of no apparent significance amongst billions of galaxies that occupy a hostile Universe.

Carl Sagan put it like this:

“Our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”[1]

Christians think humanity is special, but isn’t this just solipsism? Mistakenly thinking too highly of oneself, acting in a self-centred, so unhealthy way?

I completely agree that selfishness is harmful and should be stopped. But I want to challenge the notion that the pale blue dot picture REALLY tells us the Earth, and the human race is NOT special.

First – how does the vast hostility of the Universe argue against God? Doesn’t the existence of the beautiful earth, and the incredible degree of fine tuning involved for the support of carbon based life on our planet, suggest the reverse? We have the right density of atmosphere, at the right distance from the sun, with a moon…and the life permitting parameters continue on. Given all the odds against life being here, and the hostility of cosmic the environment, doesn’t the fact we are here and smart enough to build and launch space probes…provide evidence that argues FOR divine intervention? Not against it?

Jim Wallace goes further. He asks, doesn’t the pale blue dot within a hostile cosmos, “show us the need for the intervention of a creator?”[2]

 

Second – imagine this for me. You are walking thru a desert. There are sand dunes in ever direction, and around you there’s an endless desert filled randomly with rocks and gravel. And as you are walking along, sun beating down on you, you stop. You reach down, and you turn over one particular rock that is lying in front of you. And you find writing on it! In dried blood, you find the words “Help, I’ve been kidnapped and I’m being held against my will a mile away in a red shack.”

Who in their right mind is going to ignore this stone and claim it is of no consequence? Who would shrug and throw it back on the ground amongst the countless rocks in the desert? Why would the stone with writing on it be special among millions of desert stones?

Wallace again suggests the size and age of the desert, and the number of the stones filling it has no bearing on the importance of that one stone. Because when you are holding that one stone, it shows evidence of design and intelligence. Someone had to write that message on the back of that one stone. What does the message do? It causes an urge within us to find the one who wrote it. Right?

Now think again about our planet.

Biologists are discovering just how much information is transcribed throughout biological life. An example of this information is the DNA molecule found throughout the life forms who inhabit on our planet. Even evolutionary biologists claim that life LOOKS designed, even tho they don’t agree that it is. It doesn’t matter how vast or how old our universe is, and it’s irrelevant how many star system and galaxies fill it. When we consider our beautiful, blue, life filled home, we are considering a place literally COVERED and FILLED by with information. And its hanging amidst an empty, hostile and barren vacuum. Like the rock in the desert, doesn’t that points to an originating design and intelligence?

Doesn’t the biological information covering the rock of our planet cause an urge within us to seek out the author of it?[3]

[1] Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, (Random House Publishers, 1997).

[2] J Warner Wallace, Quick Shot Responses to “Earth is Just a Pale Blue Dot in a Huge Hostile Universe” [Cold-Case Christianity S5E19], Cold-Case Christianity with J. Warner Wallace, accessed 9th August 2019, https://coldcasechristianity.com/podcasts/quick-shot-responses-to-earth-is-just-a-pale-blue-dot-in-a-huge-hostile-universe-cold-case-christianity-s5e19/.

[3] Wallace.

We Talk Together Like We Are Souls

I was sitting in the dentist chair, mouth open.

“So, Stuart. How’s the crown been?”

I closed my mouth. Peta’s a great dentist. She did a fine job on my crown back in April. It was my first root canal treatment, and it was not as unpleasant as I thought it was going to be.

“Yes – fine,” I replied. “Although … it feels kind of weird sometimes.”

Her face turned a bit quizzical. “How so,” she asked.

I realised I’d started a conversation I wasn’t sure how to finish. “Well, I thought that since you had killed the nerve in that tooth during the root canal, that I wouldn’t feel anything in that part of my mouth any more. But – that’s not entirely true. I do feel something around that particular tooth.”

“Is it painful? Can you chew on that side of your mouth?”

“Oh – no…it’s not painful at all. Yes I can chew…”

“Well what’s the problem?” Her professional dentistry was kicking in. I gulped.

“There’s no problem. It’s just an odd sensation that I’m getting used to, I guess.”

“What does it feel like?”

Oh no. That was the question I didn’t want her to ask. “How do I describe this to you? I have no idea. But it feels different…it’s an odd sensation.”

Thankfully, at this point she smiled at me.

“My old dental assistant Morag had a crown fitted once, and she described a similar thing to me. My problem is – I have never had a crown or a root canal so I can’t relate to the sensation that you and Morag are experiencing.” It’s true. Peta’s not only got a beautiful face, she’s also got immaculate teeth! It’s sure a comfort when your dentist has nice teeth. “Also – look, Stuart. The x-ray is fine and I’m happy with it. You are able to chew and have no pain…” She was marshalling the evidence in a convincing way.

“Right,” I replied. “I can live with ‘weird.’ There’s no problem here.”

 

As Peta completed my dental check-up, something occurred to me. This conversation is a great example of how we talk to each other as if we are embodied souls, rather than physical biological machines. We talk like we are people with bodies composed of physical brains, teeth, mouths, etc. But it’s the person who possesses these physical organs who we are really interacting with as we have a discussion.

Here’s one way to defend the claim that I am an embodied soul. It was proposed by Stewart Goetz, and is summarised by J P Moreland in his recent book “The Soul”. In this, I am assuming my mind is a property of my soul.[1]

1 – I am essentially an indivisible, simple spiritual substance.

We know this by personal introspection. When we enter deeply into ourselves, we are aware of some properly basic facts that aren’t supported by any other facts. We just know them:

  • I’m aware of my own self.
  • My self is distinct from my body.
  • My self is distinct from a mental experience.
  • I am a spatially un-extended, simple centre of consciousness.

2 – A physical body has spatial extension and separable parts.

For example, my teeth have a location in my skull, size and weight.

3 – The law of identity says if x=y then whatever is true of x is true of y.

4 – What is true of me, is not true of my body therefore I am not my body.

There are various ways to show this premise is true.

For example, there is physical brain activity whenever I am thinking. But just because A causes B, this does not mean A=B. Rather, it could also mean that A and B are closely correlated together. When my mind grapples with complex abstract concepts, there is measurable brain activity. This doesn’t mean my physical brain is conscious of concepts. It just means that my brain activity correlates to the activity of my immaterial mind.

Also, another way is the difference between my mind and the chemical/physical cause and effect relationships between physical parts of my brain. The activity of my free will is of a different order to physical cause and effect. Where  I can freely make personal choices that aren’t constrained by physical cause and effect, where my brain is a physical object that cannot.

Another example, sometimes people have regions of the brains removed. While this may or may not affect elements of their personality, they are still the same person they were before and after the procedure. Clearly, some brain trauma and disease does affect the survivor’s life afterwards. I know people experiencing this right now, and sometimes we say “They are like a different person.” But surely they aren’t. Surely, their condition shows a difficulty they now experience in coming thru and expressing themselves in the physical world, rather than them being completely altered and being an actual different person on the basis of a physical event or disease?

5 – If I am not identical with my physical body then I am a soul.

My physical properties are different from my mental properties. But they seem to work together.

6 – Therefore I am a soul.

 

The conversation with my dentist reminds me we are souls:

“How has it been?” she asked me. She assumes I am the same person today who experienced the fitting of the crown back in April. Even though my physical body has changed at the cellular level in the intervening time, I am still me. I’m the me who went to the dentist with a sore tooth, experienced a root canal and crown, and came back 6-months later for a check-up.

Also – she’s not asking about physical cause and effect. She’s asking about my freely formed opinion.

“How does it feel?” she asked me. The physical pain receptors in my body fire, send signals to the brain via the c-fibres. How does this feel? If there’s just a physical brain sitting at the end of the c-fibres – there’s no one to experience a sensation. These signals are being interpreted by someone. ME.

“It’s an odd sensation,” I replied. So – I’m aware of a sensation in my mouth.

“The x-ray showed everything was fine,” she replied as she marshalled the evidence against me. Yes! Using physical methods, she verified everything was working in my mouth. From the outside in, she is sure that the physical procedure has been successful. But…is that all this conversation is about? No – the thoughts of a patient’s mind are part of this too.

“I don’t know what your sensation is like,” she honestly replied. Exactly. She knows things look good on the outside. But she’s never had a root canal herself. She cannot by personal introspection, share the experience I am having. She can only ask me what it’s like and listen to my (admittedly poor) description.

 

In the end, this discussion was not actually about my physical mouth, the gum or the tooth or the nerves. Actually – the conversation was about how I feel about living my life with a crowned tooth. This was about the thoughts and feelings of my embodied mind or soul, that result from the physical alteration she skilfully made to my physical body.

 

What’s more, this conversation between us has been a meeting of minds. We often use that phrase, don’t we? “A meeting of minds.” Surely the purpose of the conversation was for two embodied souls to talk and to understand each other.

 

It seems to me that people talk to each other like we are souls. And if that’s right…there’s a lot more to this life than we might realise there is right now.

[1] J P Moreland, The Soul How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014).

Review of Science and the Mind of the Maker

I bought Melissa’s book earlier this year, and was blown away by the clarity and compelling nature of her arguments. Then, while at BIOLA University in June, I had the pleasure of meeting her in person and listening to her talk about her “Maker Thesis.”

In her book, Melissa observes our Western culture is constantly pushing the notion that nature can be explained without resorting to God, and that no one should stick with such a Medieval superstition as Christianity to understand the world. Aren’t people who persist in doing that just  “scientifically illiterate or suffering from some kind of religious-induced delusion?”[1] This actually reminds me of someone who said to me on Facebook recently, “clearly Stuart your belief in God shows you suffer from some sort of lack in your life. I am sorry for you.”

Clearly, many people are comfortable with the Naturalistic worldview today and are therefore antagonistic towards those who do not subscribe to it. Naturalists exclude God and see the Universe as a closed system. This leads to materialism which says the “cosmos … can be reduced to, matter and energy governed by the laws of nature.”[2] And this forms a naturalistic bias among scientists. She points out that methodological naturalism is the claim that “scientists should always seek natural causes to explain observed phenomena.”[3]

The problem with all of this is it has a serious effect on our culture’s ability to KNOW things.

The scientific approach is only useful for explaining certain very specific areas. But it starts to break down when we ask the questions usually posed by a child. Why am I here? What’s my purpose in life, and what happened when my grandparents died? Where did they go? We become incapable of grappling with these obvious questions under materialism. So, Melissa reasonably says, “we should be free to contemplate the possible philosophical and theistic implications of scientific discoveries without being wrongly accused of having an antiscience mentality.”[4]

But – hang on. Don’t Christians always try to push God into the gaps caused by our ignorance? Wait – we cannot always be accused of trying to shoehorn God into the gaps in our knowledge. In fact, it is because we are doing Science, and gathering vital data about nature, that leads us to infer God as a reasonable explanation based on our observations! She admits that God cannot be proven or disproven using scientific methods. But, the discoveries of the natural sciences help us to infer that the God explanation is a reasonable one for the Universe, and also explains humanity’s act of doing Science itself.

I think Melissa is also saying that materialistic arguments tend to beg the question, in other word they assume what they are trying to prove.

She then goes on to ague for her “Maker Thesis” in three ways:

  • using current scientific evidence to support philosophical arguments for a Maker.
  • observing many features in the Universe had to converge to make Science possible.
  • demonstrating that creatures with a rational mind and soul account for the practices of the sciences.

 

For example, there is increasing evidence of a finely tuned Universe to support life. The materialist’s response to this evidence explains away this incredible physical specificity by positing an infinite number of randomly ordered universes, or multiverse. They claim we happen to inhabit life permitting universe that randomly occurred. Yet, this assumption seems unwarranted. There’s “no observational evidence [of the multiverse] … the theory cannot avoid philosophical problems associated with past infinities … it would explain why all the [universal] constants … must be what they are … [not] why we have a life permitting … [universe].”[5] So multiverse theory is a fallacious attempt to avoid the conclusion the universe is intentionally designed to permit life.

Melissa’s “Maker Thesis” powerfully explains “origin, rationality and intricacy of nature.”[6] And she illustrates this through cosmology, biology, the rightness of mathematics to explain nature, and the philosophical arguments for the mind. She says, scientific study gives a “glimpse into the mind of the Maker.”[7] I have to agree with her. And, having met her and heard what she has to say, I’m looking forward to hearing more from her in the future.

 

[1] Melissa Cain Travis, Science and the Mind of the Maker, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2018),  kindle edition, loc 172.

[2] Travis, loc 181.

[3] Travis, loc 219.

[4] Travis, loc 237.

[5]Travis, loc 3260.

[6] Travis, loc 3357.

[7] Ibid.