Five Conversations to Have With Your Kids After Seeing Frozen II

Elizabeth Urbanowicz points out five interesting themes you could dig into after enjoying the movie. Of course…in my experience…EVERYTHING doesn’t always begin to make sense when you get older. 😉

1. What Is the Nature of God?

2. How Do We Determine Right from Wrong?

3. Is Seeking Truth Important?

4. We the Ones We’ve Been Waiting for?

5. Is Love Permanent?

To read more, find her blog here:

https://foundationworldview.com/five-conversations-to-have-with-your-kids-after-seeing-frozen-ii/

Why Does God Let a Child Die?

When my wife miscarried our first child, we did not know why it happened. When I sat with my parents as my sister died of cancer, I saw in their eyes the same question, “Why?” This week, I gave some financial support to a family whose young daughter is currently fighting cancer. I want them to experience a happy ending to this horrendous roller coaster of cancer. But I have no control over their outcome.

The singer songwriter Gary Barlow put the devastating experience of the still birth of his daughter Poppy like this:

A head full of madness
And no where safe
When tears aren’t big enough,
And love turns into hate[1]

I don’t know why God allows particular children to die. I would not presume to give you an answer to that question. And in the rawness of this loss, there are no answers to give, only love and support. If that is where you are at right now – please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you, and my hope is that you have people around you that can grieve with you.

But as I’ve lived in the aftermath of my own loss, as the years have passed for me, I have come to make some important general observations that could help those who are further down the road with loss. I do not think the death of children somehow represents evidence that there is no God. Actually – quite the reverse is true. I think these losses speak of God’s good character.

What do I mean?

Well – I’m guessing that you, like me, value your free will? Ultimately, you don’t want to be forced into going along with anything, right? You make up your own mind, and you have a will that you intend to use. Also – presumably you, like me, put a lot of respect onto the observations of science. You notice how scientific methods have allowed us to work out how the physical laws work in our universe?

Here’s the thing. When children tragically die, it is usually the result of some form of natural event. Perhaps it is neglect. Maybe the result of natural law. For example, the law of gravity means that our planet orbits the sun. But it also means that if a child falls far enough, they will die. Disease is something we often cannot predict, but its relentlessly natural. It’s a destructive process that wreaks havoc on the child’s young body, and doctors can often observe the process unfolding. Natural law in motion.

Children do die in our world. Often it is preventable. But not always.

How are we going to change that? Well – let me ask the question another way. If children are not going to die for these reasons, then how long should they be indestructible for? Because that’s what we would be asking for. Right? If children must not die – they must necessarily be indestructible. Natural law is still law. Falling would still be a possibility, neglect and disease a risk. If children were not to die as a result, then none of these things would harm them. Perhaps because their bodies are impregnable, or because God miraculously intervenes every time to rescue them. So – the question is – how long should children stay indestructible? To what age?

It’s an absurd question, right? Here are some more significant problems with a world filled with indestructible children:[2]

1 – People would fail to learn that irresponsible actions towards children result in tragic consequences. We would not learn to act responsible towards children if they could not be harmed. The vulnerability of the young must be a constant reminder of our need to care for them properly.

2 – We would have unmistakable evidence that God absolutely does exist. Because kids would be supernaturally saved. And what would that do? It would be an onslaught on our own, personal free will. We would not be free to choose whether or not to believe in God because his reality would be staring us in the face. Yet that’s not how God wants it to be. He wants things so that we can choose whether or not to believe, and so that we are not coerced in any way.

3 – Tragedy like the death of a child teaches and moulds us as people. And while it can make some people very bitter indeed, if we respond to it in the right way, it can form courage and compassion for others within us. It can make us people who patiently support other people who are suffering the pain of loss.

 

You know, I love my children and my grandchildren deeply. I will do everything in my power to fight for their health, their safety, and I want to enable them to grow and flourish in their lives. But none of these kids can be my ultimate source of happiness. Because I do not know what the future holds. There must be a firmer place to locate my security and my happiness. And this is God’s call to me, I think. To find it primarily in relationship with him.

Barlow goes on in his song to say:

Fly high and let me go
That sky will save your soul
When you pass by then you’ll know
That this gonna take a bit of getting used to
But I know what’s right for you
Let me go[3]

In a sense, I agree with him. The time must come when we must let that lost little one go. But it’s not the sky that’ll save your soul. Rather, it’s the God who might not be answering your “why?” question, but offers security and happiness in the midst of this loss.

And what of the children that I, and my friends and family have lost? What of them? Well, Christians observe evidence from the Bible that suggests that young ones go straight to the wonder and safety of God’s presence if they die before they have had a chance to really live.[4] Whether they die inside or outside the womb…these little ones are safe in God’s hands. That’s the Christian’s hope for the child that has been lost. A firm hand under us as we grieve.

[1] Let Me Go (Gary Barlow Song), accessed 27th November, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Let_Me_Go_(Gary_Barlow_song).

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

[3] Barlow.

[4] For example, 2 Samuel 12:22.

 

Can You Reject Christianity Based on Religion’s Possible Benefit to Survival?

Sometimes I’ll hear people try to discredit Christianity by saying religion has only natural causes and, so it simply gives you survival benefit. That is why religion and Christianity have thrived. It has nothing to do with whether or not God exists.

For example, lets suppose that the early humans on planet earth evolved the creative ability to form tools and to learn the principle of cause and effect in nature. That set them apart from the animals. It allowed them to create tools that gave them the ability to influence their environment, and begin to understand their environment. When you strike two stones together, it creates a spark. If that spark is harnessed the right way with the right materials, it can be used to start a fire that can be used for positive reasons (cooking dinner or scaring animals away).

Well – the story continues. Because people intuitively understood cause and effect and understood nature, we then invented a God that looks like us. A personal being that we just placed all our hopes and aspirations onto. And humans began to pray to that God. Prayer made them feel better! And so, these humans survived longer than the ones that didn’t. So, religion becomes embedded in our genes. The person concludes. “I’m sorry – religion isn’t based on anything true. Rather, it is just inherited circuits in the brain.”[1]

 

The Genetic Fallacy

There is a fundamental problem with this whole idea. It is built on a logical fallacy of irrelevance called the GENETIC FALLACY. Logical fallacies are examples of faulty reasoning. The genetic fallacy happens when you try to demonstrate why an argument is true or false based on the origin of its premises. But that doesn’t follow logically, that’s simply incoherent. You need to measure the truthfulness of an argument based on the CLAIMS of the argument’s premises, rather than the ORIGIN of its premises.

The genetic fallacy “judges a claim good or bad based on where it came from. This avoids the claims of the argument … leveraging existing negative perceptions to make someone’s argument look bad.”[2] This is fallacious because it is a distraction from the original argument and draws us away from the claims of that argument.

So why is the idea about the source of religion logically fallacious? Well, isn’t it saying this?

 

The Human Tools Argument Against Religion:

The origin of religion is found solely in the ability of early human tool makers .

Therefore, religion is false.

 

Well – that is simply a logically false argument. The early humans could very well have harnessed tools, sought to influence the environment and some cultures absolutely did point to natural phenomena and suppose those things were gods. And they might very well have tried to project their aspirations onto the idea of a supposed God idea. But – what relevance is this to the question of the existence of God and Christianity?

Whether or not any or all of that is a true account of human beginnings, this has no bearing on the truthfulness of Christianity. It is all simply irrelevant. You need to asses the actual truth claims of Christianity to decide whether it is true or not. For example, the historical testable claims of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the historical foundation of Christianity. That is an important area to assess when determining the truth of Christianity. The supposed cause of early human religious ideas has no bearing on whether Christianity is true because it has no relevance to it. It’s a logical fallacy.

[1] Is God a Delusion?, Reasonable Faith, accessed 22nd November, 2019, https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/debates/is-god-a-delusion/.

[2] Genetic, your logical fallacy is, accessed 22nd November, 2019, https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/genetic.

 

Machines, Personhood and Sarah Connor

Contains mild spoilers.

The latest Terminator movie has stumbled at the box office. I feel that’s unfortunate because this was a genuinely fresh and interesting take on a well established story. What interested me was the philosophical article I read about it in the Hollywood Reporter.

The Hollywood Reporter suggests that, perhaps people just don’t see AI as the enemy any more? Rather, we see machines in more positive terms, convinced by the idea of a future personhood owned by machines. Yet Dark Fate tries to observe the psychological difference between man and machine. “Humans are uniquely alive compared to artificially intelligent beings because we are fated to death and decay in ways machines are not.”[1] There is a character called Grace who is part human and part machine, yet she is psychologically on the human side of the conflict. In comparison, the antagonist is a highly dangerous Rev-9 model Terminator which mimics humanity simply to make it a more efficient killing machine. This is a familiar story beat. Schwarzenegger’s Terminator in this movie has tried to emulate humanity for more positive and life giving reasons. Yet both of these machine Terminators are simply machines, unable to achieve personhood. Arnie’s Terminator “appreciates humanity and strives toward personhood, but can’t fully achieve it.”[2] So in this movie we see the full spread – human, part human and machine. The inhumanity and non-personhood is always located on the machine side. Perhaps people don’t resonate with this idea so much anymore? Perhaps “the generation raised on Wall-E is entering adulthood just as regarding robots as people becomes the onscreen norm.”[3]

If you think about it, Western society is increasingly of the opinion that people are simply biological mechanisms. There’s no soul, no spirit, just physical. We live, we break down and we die. And death is that cessation of functionality that no one in Western society likes thinking or talking about. Given that understanding of humanity, it makes sense that robots would be seen closer to us than ever before. Why do we have to portray conscious robots as the enemy, when it makes more sense to imagine that they would be our friends?

It’s a fascinating observation and – the Reporter might have a great point. But because society gathers around the idea of future, conscious AI, does not make that idea either credible or likely. Fictional stories are important, we learn a lot about ourselves and our personal development through myth and fairy-tale. Fictional stories can also lead to breakthrus in science. But sometimes the fictional idea is just going to remain a fictional idea. I think conscious, thinking and creative AI is one of those fun yet solid fictions. It doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of Terminator Dark Fate, but I’m increasingly convinced that genuinely conscious, thinking machines are impossible.

Why?

 

1 – We project our capacity for conscious thinking onto today’s AI.

It’s a way we use language and it would be misleading to someone who knows nothing about computers. AI is a cool gadget that makes my life better (self-driving car). Yet our AI of today is purely functional, following an algorithm and incapable of thinking about whether or not it wants to. It is a mechanism designed to emulate a human (hello Siri).

 

2 – We are always going to be superior to AI.

Machines may be faster and stronger than us, but we have ontological superiority. We are the ones designing and thinking here. When machines do cool things, they don’t get the praise. We do. The designers. We may not even have a metaphysical property that allows us to create thinking, creative  machines that can reproduce themselves.

 

3 – We are conscious, but we do not understand what that means.

A genuinely thinking machine would have to be conscious. But no one is doing the work to understand consciousness from a third person perspective. Part of the problem is that consciousness is something we have. It is deeply subjective and requires someone to be conscious. It is not something we can dissect from a third person perspective. Rather, it is something we experience. Thinking always requires a thinker.

We need to understand consciousness to replicate it. But – I’m not sure we’re built to understand consciousness. Just to experience it and use it to understand other things.

 

4 – Humans are of a Different Order than Machines.

Yes, we have a physical make up and the closer we look at it, the intricacy of biological mechanism is seen. But – we are of a different order to machines. Likening machines to humans is, in a real sense, comparing apples and oranges.

Whoever we are, we have the ability to navigate our way through life, following our own thoughts and ideas and intentions. We create opportunities and respond to events that occur from our own rational, creative and conscious selves. We have general intelligence. We live in our environment and we cope within it, we adjust. We establish a social network, we conduct our lives appropriately.

Machines are different order from us. They lack this general rationality. We give them rules to follow and they don’t think about it, they just do it. We are simply of a different order from them. We can build them to mimic human characteristics, but they are not thinking as they do so. They are simply following the instructions we programmed them with.

 

Final Thoughts

Yes, we are going to get better at making machines mimic human behaviour. But – I don’t think we will ever see a genuinely conscious machine. Terminator Dark Fate understands the ontological differences between us. And I think there is an important reason for doing that. Realising that we are more than biological machines is important for the future of humanity. It is a life giving perspective. As Arnie once said – “Come with me if you want to live.”

[1] Clara Wardlow, One Reason ‘Terminator Dark Fate’ Didn’t Connect With Sci-Fi Audiences, Hollywood Reporter, accessed 20th November 2019, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/why-terminator-dark-fate-didnt-connect-audiences-1252112.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

 

Rise of the Machines?

This summer, I had lunch with Doctor Mihretu Guta at Biola University. Mihretu specialises in the areas of metaphysics and the philosophy of mind. That particular day over lunch, he was speaking to us about his assessment of the field of artificial intelligence. And he has some fascinating observations to make here. You can listen to Mihretu talk about AI on Sean McDowell’s recent podcast.[1]

I would summarise his important points like this:

 

First – today we enjoy the benefits of weak AI.

We’ve got very useful computer based tools available to us today. Our phones incorporate facial recognition technology, self-driving cars are coming on line, we use SIRI to help us talk to and locate people, and we can order products from Amazon that get to us incredibly quickly. These are partly to do with computer tools, or weak AI.

What is weak AI? It is a machine which is fed an algorithm, a set of instructions that we gave it. It follows those instructions correctly, quickly and hopefully reliably!

By convention, we call these things AI. But these technologies are not thinking machines. They are not engaging in conscious thought. They are simply doing what we told them to do, and triggering on certain events to achieve certain tasks.

 

Second – strong AI is what some people are trying to get to.

In strong AI, people are talking about a conscious machine. Something that becomes creative and begins to spawn its own machines. But it is hard to see how you can get from a machine following an algorithm to a machine creating brand new algorithms out of its own creativity.

 

Third – we sometimes speak of weak AI like it is strong AI.

A confusion occurs in culture.

The AI we are talking about today is purely functional. It is doing tasks within a very specific context. It is not a thinking, creative machine that decides what it wants to do and works out its own way to do it. But – we begin to talk like it is. We import ideas from books and movies we like, and sometimes we fool ourselves that our cool gadgets are strong AI.

We may talk of strong AI, but there are issues to face when trying to create it:

1 – We are the thinking beings here, and we are the ones inventing machines. Thinking always requires a thinker to be somewhere. We therefore have ONTOLOGICIAL SUPERIORITY over machines. We are always the ones that built them.

2 – However clever our machines appear to be, they cannot take away from us our ontological superiority over them.

3 – Miharetu does not think people have a metaphysical property as rational beings to bring about a conscious being that is similar in kind to us.

4 – Miharetu is joined in this scepticism toward strong AI by John Searle, who is a naturalistic philosopher of mind. Searle also rejects the notion that we can invent a strong AI.

 

Fourth – an important step to strong AI is an understanding of consciousness.

We have to understand what consciousness is before we can create machines that are conscious. Yet no one is even thinking about this. He observes that the AI researchers today usually dismiss the subject of consciousness in 3 lines. They haven’t even tried to grapple with this area.

Part of the problem is that consciousness is something we have. It is deeply subjective and requires someone to be conscious. It is not something we can dissect from a third person perspective. Rather, it is something we experience. Thinking always requires a thinker.

Machines aren’t conscious. We cannot even articulate what our consciousness is, never mind imbue some machine with it.

 

Five – we are simply of a different order from our machines.

Whoever we are, we have the ability to navigate our way through life, following our own thoughts and ideas and intentions. We create opportunities and respond to events that occur from our own rational, creative and conscious selves. We have general intelligence. We live in our environment and we cope within it, we adjust. We establish a social network, we conduct our lives appropriately.

Machines are different order from us. They lack this general rationality. We give them rules to follow and they don’t think about it, they just do it. We are simply of a different order from them. We can build them to mimic human characteristics, but they are not thinking as they do so. They are simply following the instructions we programmed them with.

[1] Artificial Intelligence and Our View of Human Persons, Think Biblically Podcast, accessed 19th November 2019, https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/artificial-intelligence-our-view-human-persons-mihretu/id1300837524?i=1000453915653.

 

Faith of the Scientist

I’ll often hear people say things like, “I have no time for faith. I live my live on reason, observation and evidence.” Really?

I see. Well – let’s see how that works, shall we?

 

Lets imagine a scientist is doing some rigorous analysis, studying something in nature. How about, the behaviour of enzymes in the human digestive system. Well – I agree. That scientist is going to use reason, she’s going to make observations and also appeal to the evidence she gathers as she reaches her conclusions. But – what else is going on as she does so?[1]

 

1 – She BELIEVES that her senses are trustworthy. In other words, she has faith that as the facts reveal themselves to her, that she has the abilities to detect them via her senses. That she can know facts using human senses.

2 – She BELIEVES that her mental faculties are trustworthy. And – she believes the peer group that reviews her work – also have trustworthy mental faculties. These scientists trust their rational faculties. They just take for granted, for example, that their rational faculties allow them to perceive, compare, combine, remember and infer. In other words, these people believe their mental faculties are reliable and can be used to reach legitimate conclusions.

3 – She BELIEVES certain critical truths that she has NOT learned thru scientific observation alone:

  • Every effect must have a cause
  • The same cause under like minded circumstances will produce the same effect.

4 – She BELIEVES it is moral and right to use her rational faculties, not to manufacture and make up things, but to accurately observe the behaviour of these enzymes, and report them as honestly and rigorously as she can.

 

That’s a lot of faith / belief before we start our scientific analysis. Don’t you think? Perhaps you and I are in the same boat whether we do science or not. People often appeal to science because it holds a lot of authority in our culture today. But what is science actually grounded upon?

Sir John Polkinghorn has said:

“Science does not explain the mathematical intelligibility of the physical world, for it is part of science’s founding faith that this is so.”

Professor of Mathematics, John Lennox, has continued.[2] You cannot begin to do physics without believing in the intelligibility of the universe. And on what evidence do scientists base their faith? Lennox observes the following:

1 – Human reason did not create the universe.

2 – Humans did not create our own powers of reason either. We can hone them, but we didn’t originate them.

How odd then that what goes on our tiny heads actually gives us anything near a true account of the behaviour of the staggering universe in which we inhabit? This is truly an unreasonable conclusion…from the perspective of atheism.

BUT – for a theist – the grounding beliefs of the scientist and the observations above make perfect sense. And they resonate perfectly with:

In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was God … All things came to be through him.” (John 1:1,3)

[1] Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism, (New York: Trinity Press International, 2007), 33-34, summarised.

[2] John C. Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything, (Oxford: The Good Book Company, 2019), loc 526.

Why I Blog

It occurred to me again this week WHY I write this blog.

My purpose, and the point of this blog, is to insert rational and logical arguments for the historic Christian worldview into society. The point is simply to propose a perspective, and an argument. What other people choose to do with this, is entirely up to them. And – I am very grateful to those who take the time to read the blog and be influenced in some way by it.

Sometimes, people will thank me for posting something. I’ve had a couple of those recently and – it is incredibly encouraging to hear that. Thank you to those people!

Other times, people will seek to engage me on the issues I raised in a particular blog. Some people will thoughtfully and critically raised a concern or an objection, and want to discuss that with me. I relish the opportunity to have these discussions. And I often learn a lot from them. I wish I had more of these opportunities.

Other times, the person will simply assert the opposite perspective that I present in my blog. Usually, these comments don’t contain rational arguments. They usually seek to shame or mock the perspective given in my blog. The shame and mockery is sometimes pinned to me as the author. In spite of the fallacious tone of these comments, I will often engage in these conversations. I have spent a lot of time over the last few years doing this. Partly, it is done out of a genuine desire to understand where the other person is coming from. And from this, sometimes to point out the problems with the counter assertions they are making. Unfortunately, I often find myself in the internet blog equivalent of the Monty Python Argument sketch. “Is this the 5 minute argument or the full half hour?”

These tiring argumentative conversations usually leave me with the feeling that either this person is seeking to shout down the original argument, or is asking me to try to wrestle them out of their own contrary convictions. Neither is of any interest to me. First, you are welcome to posit whatever argument you want to. The quality of this argument will be judged by your audience. Go write your own blog. I’m not interested in getting into a shouting match with anyone. That is outside of the bounds of my blog. Also, I’m not interested in changing anyone’s mind by sheer will or strength. My job is to pose the argument, and then discuss aspects of the argument with those who are interested. I am happy to leave the argument with the audience. I’m not going to force it on anyone. But – I commend the argument honestly to you.

 

What is Christian Apologetics?

Christian Apologetics is a branch of Theology. It is about making a type of legal defence (apologia) and giving a reason (logos) in a respectful way (1 Peter 3:15). In other words, there is truth in the world, we can know it, and the claims of Christianity are contained within that sphere of truth. This has been going on in the Christian church since at least the second century, when Christians like Justin Martyr found themselves engaging with Greek ideas. You can also find traces of apologetic practice rooted in the Apostle Paul’s New Testament letters.

 

What is Respond Blog?

Well, my blog posts are one of my attempts at giving a defence and a reason for Christianity. It is an apologetic blog. Sometimes people will use the word “apologist” as a pejorative term. Yet those who do, typically are simply counter apologists, batting for the other team or the other worldview, and seeking to unkindly and fallaciously discredit their opponent.

That I write the blog post – presenting the argument – is my main purpose. Discussing the quality of the aspects of this argument can sometimes be involved. Great. Shouting and wrestling over the ideas are both outside of the bounds of this blog. If you want to discuss my post, present me a well-constructed and thoughtful counter argument. Then, we can talk!

We all have a worldview. It makes sense to take it out, dust it off, and check to see whether or not it makes sense. That’s what I’m doing thru my blog. I’m assessing my Christian worldview. And – I commend the arguments to you.

Faith Under Fire

Why is it that Christianity’s critics often don’t seem to bother to understand what Christian belief actually is, but mistakenly assume they already know?

It’s fascinating to me that the New Atheists have roundly attacked the word “faith”, because faith is critically important for making any spiritual progress in life at all. The Bible teaches that the only way we can come to the real and true God, is by faith. Faith is the condition of salvation, you can’t be a saved human being without faith. The experience of the Christian is grounded in their faith in Christ.

But is that the faith that is under fire, here? Daniel Dennett has said:

“There is a big difference between religions faith and scientific faith: what has driven the changes in concepts in physics is not just heightened skepticism from an increasingly worldly and sophisticated clientele, but a tidal wave of exquisitely detailed positive results.”[1]

So scientific faith, to him, is evidenced and based on results. Religious faith is not at all evidenced. Rather, it involves arrogantly claiming knowledge we do not actually know. And worse, the claim to know ALL the answers.

“I, for one, am not in awe of your faith. I am appalled by your arrogance, by your unreasonable certainty that you have all the answers.”[2]

Dennett seems to caricature Biblical faith, and attack a poor straw man of Biblical faith.

What Is Biblical Faith?

Faith as defined in scripture is about expressing our trust. The Latin phrase “Fides qua Creditur” is translated “the faith by which (it) is believed.”[3] It’s about a subjective expression of trust, and this expression is the very thing of belief. When talking about faith, the New Testament often uses the Greek word “pistis,” meaning persuasion, to come to trust.[4]

The Bible’s understanding of faith is an all-encompassing one. It involves our intellect, as we understand what to believe and why. It also affects my will. It is about choosing to trust the person of Jesus Christ, to appropriate him as our saviour. And it also involves our emotions. It is important to understand that the Bible’s understanding of true saving faith encompasses all of these facets, our intellect our wills and out emotions. If trust is merely intellectual, then it becomes intellectual assent. I am intellectually convinced that there is a God, but I am not engaged in any form of relationship with him. The demons have this sort of faith. They know God exists. They hate and fear him.

How can we cause ourselves to engage in Biblical faith? Well – we cannot. Faith is a gift from God. It has been granted by God that we believe (Philippians 1:29), it’s a gift so that no one can boast of their own achievement of faith (Ephesians 2:8). God enables us to place our whole trust in him, it is a glorious gift from him to us. God commends us for being people who live as faith filled individuals. That’s apparent in Hebrews 11. It pleases him when we put our hopes in him, and live in a way that we are assured that God will keep his promises. This is Biblical faith, a whole and complete trust in God.

What’s Wrong With Dennett’s Attack?

So Dennett’s attack on “religious faith,” is not an attack on the Bible’s understanding of Christian faith. Whatever he’s railing against, it’s not Christianity. He assumes religious faith to be lacking in any evidential component only. Yet Biblical faith involves the intellect. We must understanding the facts of God’s revelation in his words of scripture and in the world. And, we must understand why we should believe. Faith is not belief in what we know ain’t so, it is a whole trust placed in the God we know.

Dennett claims religious faith to be arrogant and unreasonably certain. But surely this is a matter of individual perspective. Someone that has placed their whole trust in a firm and secure saviour, who knows the promises he has made, and who has experienced his activity in our lives, this isn’t arrogance. It is simply a degree of confident trust. Perhaps Dennett is saying – “I don’t have that sort of experience of God working in my life, so you shouldn’t presume that you have this experience in yours. How dare you be more trust filled and confident than I am!!” This is just logically incoherent. And, it’s bad manners. How can he logically assume his subjective view is identical to ours? He cannot reasonably impose his subjective experience onto ours to replace ours. No – faith is a personal and subjective way of living life. Rather than criticising believers for having confident assurance, perhaps Dennett should be asking God to give him Biblical faith so that he can live with the same confidence and trust that Christians have access to?

I think Dennett is comparing apples and oranges when he compares scientific and religious faith. Yet ironically, both are grounded in an epistemology that assumes an order and behaviour of nature that cannot be explained by nature itself, and points to a divine creator.

[1] Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, (London:Penguin Books, 2006), 233.

[2] Dennett, 51.

[3] Richard A Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 122.

[4] 4102, Pistis, Strong’s Concordance, https://biblehub.com/greek/4102.htm

Must the Cause of the Universe Be a Person?

In my previous posts here and here, I’ve outlined the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and I explained some of the scientific evidences that support its philosophical premises and conclusion.

1 – Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2 – The universe began to exist.

3 – Therefore the universe has a cause.

I also said it is reasonable to infer that, because the universe must have a cause, that this cause must have different properties from the universe itself. It must be a cause which is external from the universe itself, timeless (eternal), immaterial, powerful, and because it is eternal, it must therefore exercise agency in order to bring about a non-eternal universe. This inference points to what mono-theistic religions, like Christianity, describe as “God.”

The thing is – God is always understood by religious people to be personal. But, is it reasonable to infer from the Kalam that the cause of the universe is personal, as the religions claim God is?

Here are three reasons why we can infer a personal first cause to the universe from the Kalam:

FIRST – Because we can describe a CAUSE in TWO Different Ways, but ONLY ONE is Appropriate

We can describe a cause in terms of natural law, and we can also describe cause in terms of the actions of an agent. Here’s an example:

I come into the kitchen and the kettle is boiling. Why? Here’s the two different ways to describe this cause:

Natural Law – the flame’s heat is being conducted by the metal kettle bottom, increasing the kinetic energy of the water molecules. They break the surface tension and are thrown off in steam.

Agent Action – My wife Janet put the kettle on for a cup of tea.

Both of these explanations are legitimate in describing why the kettle is boiling.

But in the case of the beginning of the universe, a scientific explanation is not necessarily legitimate. Craig explains, saying “there is nothing before (the universe), and therefore it cannot be accounted for in terms of laws operating on initial conditions. It can only be accounted for in terms of an agent and his volitions, a personal explanation.”[1]

 

SECOND – The Cause’s Personhood is LOGICALLY IMPLIED by its Timeless and Immaterial Properties

A logical implication is where, “if p is true then q must also be true. So, p implies q.” Its important to notice that p and q are not the same, but they ARE logically equivalent.

The only entities we know that are timeless and immaterial are abstract numbers and minds. But numbers cannot cause anything while minds can. So, this IMPLIES that the transcendent cause of the universe is a MIND. And only personal agents have minds.

But can a mind, and so a person, be timeless? Don’t we exist as people and therefore think during the passage of time? I sure did that as I was writing this blog – it took a while to think thru and write it down. But why must an eternal person be that way?

Personhood involves self-consciousness, intentionality and freedom of the will. That’s what all persons are like. None of these properties demands existence “in time.” An eternal being could know everything without having to gradually discover it. As long as there is no change in this eternal being, we do not need to ascribe temporality to the person. A changeless self-conscious can be an eternal mind.[2]

So, I’m saying the conclusion of the Kalam, that the universe has a cause, IMPLIES that the transcendent cause of the universe is an eternal MIND. And only personal agents have minds.

p is the conclusion of the Kalam – “Therefore the universe has a cause.”

q is the personhood of the cause of the universe.

So, p implies q.

 

THIRD – An Eternal Cause Producing a Finite Effect Requires the Volition of an Agent

If the universe was a natural phenomenon, then we would expect it to be timeless. The cause cannot be different from the effect under natural law. Yet, the scientific evidence points to a finite universe, not an eternal one.

So, a personal agent has freely chosen to create a universe in time. There’s a complex philosophical argument for this. But basically, if there’s no agent causing the universe, it is incoherent that we have a temporal and not an eternal universe.

 

Conclusion

The Kalam concludes that the universe has a first cause. The logical inference that follows the Kalam’s conclusion is that this cause is personal, “uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful. This, as Thomas Aquinas was wont to remark, is what everybody means by ‘God.’”[3]

[1] Willian Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008), edition 3, 152.

[2] Terrance L. Tiessen, Is God timeless or temporal apart from creation?, Thoughts Theological, posted October 31st, 2013, https://www.thoughtstheological.com/is-god-timeless-or-temporal-apart-from-creation/.

[3] Craig, 153.

Can We Avoid a Beginning to the Universe?

Can you prove the universe is eternal, and never had a beginning? Some scientists think so. But this is a very old idea they are working on.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument was first formulated by a Muslim philosopher in the 12th century to combat ancient Greek ideas about an eternal universe. The Kalam does not function as a proof of Christianity – or indeed Islam – but it clearly gives us ground for a cause that we can deduce as personal, powerful, immaterial, beginning less and timeless. Why? Because time, space, matter and energy were all created with the universe, so the cause cannot be of the same stuff as what it caused. So, it took will and choice to cause the universe to exist. This cause of the universe fits with how mono-theistic religions describe God.

The basic Kalam argument says:

1 – Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2 – The universe began to exist.

3 – Therefore the universe has a cause.

 

I’ve discussed some of the scientific support for premise 2 – the universe began to exist. But not everyone agrees that the universe began to exist. There are various attempts to argue for an eternal universe. This blog looks at them.[1]

1 – Oscillating Universes

Imagine universes coming into existence and then dying out one after another. A bit like a pendulum swinging to and fro into eternity.

The problem with this theory is that our universe has thermodynamic properties, and we know that entropy (the degree of disorder in a system) grows over time. So, on each oscillation, the degree of entropy increases. This means that each oscillation cycle gets longer and longer. So if that is the case, then working backward, the earlier oscillations were shorter.

Where’s this leading? You guessed it. We are back at the universe having a beginning. The first oscillation had to be initiated by a cause.

2 – Bubble Universes

The idea behind this theory, also known as the multiverse, is that each bubble contains a different universe and the second law of thermodynamics only applies inside each different bubble.

The problem is that you still need a beginning, even to the multiverse. The Borde Guth Vilenkin theory from 2003 discovers that any expanding universe cannot be infinite into the past. It must have a starting point, a space time boundary.

Bubble Universes still need a first cause and a beginning.

3 – Baby Universes

In this theory, energy is thought to travel through worm holes in space and exit from black holes, spawning baby universes as it does so. The problem here is that subatomic physics has shown that whatever goes into a black hole stays in our universe. So, the second law of thermodynamics still applies. And – we are left with needing a space time boundary condition again.

4 – The Universe Caused Itself

This idea is incoherent and worse than magic. At least in magic you have a magician and a hat for him to draw the rabbit out of. With this idea, the rabbit just pops into existence all by itself! No – this is an illogical idea. The universe would have to first exist to cause itself. Do you see the problem? It’s a logically incoherent idea.

 

5 – The Big Bang is Logically Incoherent

Because the laws of physics break down at the big bang, it is said that this is a logically contradictory state of affairs.[2] Why is it logically contradictory? Presumably because the person making the claim is a naturalist. And you will often find the naturalist making assumptions about the universe that are very similar to the theists assumptions about God. So – the naturalist needs the universe to be eternal to satisfy their naturalistic worldview. A supernatural creation event does not fit well with naturalism.

This is not an issue of logic at all. It is a worldview issue, and what the naturalistic worldview will permit.

Yet at what cost? This attempt seems to ignore all the scientific evidence and philosophical reasoning to the contrary. For example, Einstein’s model for General Relativity predicted a finitely old universe before this was a fashionable idea. He underplayed this prediction until further theories and observations (that I’ve discussed here) confirmed a finite universe.

Basically, you have to ignore a lot of data to cling to the ancient Greek idea of an eternal universe and to avoid challenging your own worldview assumptions.

 

Conclusion

If the universe began to exist, then it has a cause. To admit that, and to stop there and not consider what that cause is, seems to me to be really very strange. We are all about making scientific discoveries…right? So why would we stop at the thought of making metaphysical discoveries, and looking seriously at why we are here in the first place?

If we take the Kalam’s conclusion – which logically deduces a personal first cause – then the question becomes, what is that creator like? To answer that question, the best place to start is Christianity. If you can disprove Christianity, then you can really work out what the truth is – right?

[1] William Lane Craig, On Guard Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, (Lee Vance View: David C. Cook, 2010), kindle edition, loc 1131 – 1649, synthesised and summarised.

[2]Big Bang Vanishes” – Quantum Theory Describes an Eternal Universe, The Daily Galaxy, posted 17th June, 2019, https://dailygalaxy.com/2019/06/big-bang-vanishes-quantum-theory-describes-an-eternal-universe/.