RESPONDblogs: The Case for a Personal First Cause

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I find myself scratching my head when someone asks, “What caused the universe to exist?” What confuses me is that – often people will lead with a scientific answer to that question. Why is this an odd thing to do? Science is about using natural law to explain effects in nature. Yet before the universe, there were no natural laws…they started at the beginning of the universe. Surely science isn’t the appropriate tool to answer this origin question?

 

Perhaps philosophy is a safer starting point when exploring these issues. And using philosophical argument, you can mount a case for a personal First Cause…

 

First – the First Cause is wholly other than the Universe.

We’ve got to try to understand what CAUSED the universe in terms that are unbound BY the universe. Why? Because a cause is always greater than an effect. For example, we may love the characters and the plot of a novel or a movie. But that first cause of that “world” is of another order than that fictional world. The story is fictional – but its cause is real and has thoughts, abilities and a history that goes far beyond the bounds of the fictional world they wrote about.

 

The First Cause of the universe has caused space and time to exist. So, it transcends both. What does this mean?

Changeless – if it is timeless, then it does not react to the passage of time. We change over time. Things change over time. The First Cause is outside of time, and so does not change.

Immaterial – the universe is composed of matter. The First Cause is of another order to that and is not bound by the constraints of matter. It is therefore immaterial. This might sound tricky to accept…but those story characters I mentioned earlier are also immaterial. So are the thoughts about the thoughts that led to the story! So is truth, beauty and Justice. We are quite used to dealing with immaterial realities in our lives.

Uncaused – everything in the universe is caused. The First Cause is other than the universe and so is uncaused. What does this mean? It means that, unlike our experience of nature, there is no antecedent cause for the First Cause. The buck stops with the First Cause. Otherwise, we find ourselves asking…so who caused the First Cause? And that question can go on back and back for ever. No – the First Cause is uncaused. Again – this is very reasonable.  Ocam’s razor isn’t a shaving implement – it’s a problem-solving principle that states something like, “Among competing hypotheses, the simplest one is best.” There’s only one First Cause. Simples.

Powerful – the First Cause is pretty powerful to create a universe that looks beautifully infinite out of nothing…right?

 

Second – the First Cause is a person.

This is where things get tricky for many people. Perhaps we don’t like the thought of natural laws being the result of some super intelligence like God. Certainly, if we are opposed to the idea of God, then I get why we wouldn’t like that. But, I think the proposition that the First Cause is a person…makes a lot of sense quite apart from religious views. Why? Here are two reasons why.

First – the Personal explanation type gives a fuller explanation.

William Lane Craig points out that there are typically two types of explanation of an event. A scientific explanation, talking about the laws and initial conditions for the event, and a personal explanation, dealing with agents and their wills and choices. Both of these are good explanations.

He asks us to imagine a boiling kettle on the stove in the kitchen. And he asks, why’s the kettle on the boil?

The scientific explanation would say, “The heat…increases the kinetic energy of the water molecules…and are thrown off…[as] steam.”[1]

The personal explanation would be something like, “My wife’s making a cup of tea. Would you like some?”

Which explanation do we turn to when explaining the origin of the universe? We cannot use the scientific explanation because the laws and initial conditions that science deals with were caused when the universe began. There was nothing before the universe. That only leaves the personal explanation – an agent willed it. And only persons have wills. So, the First Cause of the universe is a Person.

 

Second – the Personal explanation solves the Temporal Effect and Timeless Cause Dilemma.

This one was tricky for me to grasp. But the dilemma is this. If a timeless cause has caused the effect of the Universe, then why isn’t the universe timeless…or eternal as well as the cause?

Again, Craig invites you to consider two different ways that events are caused:

1 – a brick shattering a window – in this case, one event (a kid throwing a brick) causes another event (the shattering of a window). You can call this EVENT / EVENT causation because it involves related events.

2 – a log floating on the water – this case is different. Here, one state of affairs causes another. Because the water has a certain surface tension, the log floats on it. This could be called STATE / STATE causation. In this causal relation, the effect need not have a cause. The log could have been floating there eternally. If someone threw it into the lake…then that’s EVENT / EVENT causation instead.

 

So – what about the causation of the universe? Here we seem to have a confusing situation – STATE / EVENT causation. The cause of the universe is timeless, but the effect isn’t timeless because it occurred at a specific point in time (around 14 billion years ago). Usually, the state has the same type of effect. But not in this situation.

 

This is a philosophical dilemma. And the way out proposed by Craig is a personal First Cause who “freely chooses to create a universe in time.”[2] This isn’t EVENT / EVENT causation. And it’s not STATE/STATE causation. Philosophers call it agent causation. And we are very familiar with this concept. Whenever I raise my hand in class to ask a question, my hand goes up as the result of agent causation.

 

 

So – where does this leave me?

The First Cause of the universe cannot be described using scientific means (the laws of physics). And the First Cause isn’t bound by the same constraints we ourselves experience within the universe. The First Cause is an eternal, immaterial, powerful Person. And that…sounds a lot like most people’s description of GOD. And if He’s really there…maybe the Bible’s been right all along. We can get to know who He really is?

 

Image courtesy of Pexels.

[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith Christian Truth and Apologetics 3rd ed, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008), 152.

[2] Ibid.

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RESPONDblogs: T2 and the Free Will Dilemma

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I sat in a packed cinema tonight to watch the newly restored 4K/3D release of Terminator 2. I know this movie so well – its over 25 years old now – yet it looks and sounds like it was just made last week. I genuinely appreciated the 3D conversion on the film – combined with the new sound mix – it really brought out details that I’d simply never seen and heard before.

The experience has never been better. And the various messages contained within it have never seemed more relevant!

It struck me tonight that – this story is about free will. Specifically, the struggle to regain the free will that’s been lost. It vividly illustrates how important it is that people are given the option to choose our future, rather than have it cruelly and inevitably determined for us.

 

The Importance of FREEDOM in the Terminator Universe

John Connor is destined to lead the fight against the machines in the year 2029. There appears to be no choice for him in this. The machines will inevitably trigger the nuclear fire that will exterminate the majority of the human race – leaving John to lead the human resistance against them. This is a future that mankind is hurtling toward with no seeming hope of rescue.

But the movie doesn’t dwell so much on this future struggle. Rather, it focusses on the inevitable and impending nuclear holocaust we face in the here and now (actually…in the 1990s. T2 is now a period piece…). The movie asks whether or not this awful fate can be averted? And if so…how?

 

This is a story about the battle of wills – the machines against the humans – and the battle ground is free will vs determinism. The freedom to live one’s life and to make choices…verses the tyranny of a determined existence. I hesitate to call spoiler alert on a 25 year old movie…but spoiler alert if you’ve not seen it yet:

The future machine army is trying to regain their future freedom by sending back Robert Patrick’s T1000 Terminator to kill John Connor in the past (makes perfect sense to me). Using the T1000, they plan to be free of John’s annoying resistance.

Meanwhile, the core family of John, his mother Sarah Connor and Arnie’s ageing T101 fight for the present freedom of humanity. They are fighting to somehow achieve freedom from the inevitable, horrifying nuclear fire that…if it occurs…will act as a prelude to the future man-machine war that John will lead. Yet perhaps freedom from this impending future is possible? And if so – this could mean that the holocaust is averted and the machine uprising is prevented?

 

Everyone is trying to regain their freedom in this film. Does the family succeed? Perhaps – with the awful cost of Arnie’s T101. Man – this scene tugs at one’s heart strings even more in 3D!

 

The Importance of Freedom to the Christian Worldview

James Cameron’s T2  has endured for many reasons. One of them – is the theme of human freedom that runs deeply through it. “There’s no fate,” Sarah Connor carves in a tabletop. There’s no fate but what we make. The future’s not set. At least it shouldn’t be set…

This is all a very Christian perspective on life. We are made with free will, the Bible tells us. We are urged to choose a life of obedience to God and his ways, going all the way back to Adam in the garden. You’re free to eat from any tree…except that one, because the results will be bad for you.[1] But the fact Adam…and we are urged to obey, tacitly assumes we have a choice in the matter. We don’t have to and we’re free to choose. God doesn’t set the future for us. We are not determined – we are free.

 

Whether or not God knows who WILL choose to obey him in the end or not (Molinism) we are free to choose now…and rightly so. We are built to exercise our free wills.

 

That’s why movies like T2 resonate so strongly. That’s why news reports where people have their human rights curtailed – and their freedom denied to them – provoke such outrage in people. Freedom is a core human value

 

The Problem of Human Free Will and the Consequences to Evil

What a shame then that this world contains so many examples where people exercise their freedom to curtail and remove the freedom of others. Nations threaten and intimidate other nations by firing missiles at them. Individuals find themselves being trafficked as a sexual commodity that is bought and sold to the highest bidder. Populations are wiped out in genocide.

 

Why doesn’t God do something about it?

If he’s there…and he cares…wouldn’t he intervene and rescue the suffering people now? Wouldn’t a loving God step in? Not necessarily. God created us with free will. He clearly wants us to exercise it. He wants people to have the freedom to live their lives…whether those people accept him or reject him. He’s not interested in coercing us. Rather, He’s looking for those who freely choose him and his ways.

 

Clay Jones makes the point that, when people ask why God doesn’t intervene in this world, they are not considering the outcome of that sort of intervention. If God somehow supernaturally intervenes every time someone begins to outwork acts of evil…causing others to lose their freedom….life would be very different for all of us. Actually, no one would be free any more.[2]

 

Yet as T2 reminds us…freedom is part of the core of who we are. We demand it – and rightly so.

What does this mean?

 

Imagine you are sitting at home with your partner and children, working on your laptop, and a pornographic image flashes up in your web browser…with a link urging you to explore further. What do you do? Your family are sitting there with you. At that moment – your freedom is curtailed. You might want to explore further – but you cannot. You aren’t free to do so because of the negative impact this would surely have on your partner and your children at that moment.

 

Now – perhaps in this instance, that’s a good thing. You’ve been given an easy way out to avoid the pornography. But if you lived every moment of your life with the gaze of a controlling deity…you would not ever be free in ANYTHING.

 

So it would be if God intervened miraculously every time someone began to cruelly remove someone else’s freedom. Everyone would be forced to acknowledge God whether they wanted to, or not. We would resent being coerced into worshipping him.

But that’s not what God wants. That’s not the way God works. He gives enough evidence for people to find him and engage with him if they wish to. But he doesn’t give himself away too much. One reason is, He wants to protect our free will.

 

That’s not to say there won’t be a final accounting for our use of our free will…because the Bible warns of a final judgement when everything concealed will be revealed…when justice will be seen to be done by every person. We’re accounted to live once…and then there’s the judgement.[3] Judgement Day is real…but it’s not Cameron’s proposed nuclear fire. It happens subsequently. (Aside: 4Ward’s VFX work showing the nuclear fire consuming LA really SHINES in the new T2 release. Chilling…yet you have to watch it.)

 

But in the here and now, in the same way we are free to exercise our wills, God’s also free to exercise his. He is free NOT to intervene…to ensure our freedom in the here and now. Yet whether we like it or not…it seems that our future is bound up with him. There are positive and negative consequences to the free will choices that we make in our lives now.

 

Image courtesy of Phil Cooden, https://flic.kr/p/Xa4KbR.

[1] Genesis 2:16-17.

[2] Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2017), 109-158.

[3] Hebrews 9:27.

RESPONDblogs: Human Beings are Unique

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What are we?

 

I listened to an interesting talk recently from Simon Conway Morris, who is Chair of Evolutionary Paleo biology at the Dept. of Earth Sciences at Cambridge University.

 

He asks the question – are we essentially just more “evolved” animals that belong on Darwin’s incremental tree of life? Or is there something unique about people compared to the animals? However much time has elapsed, perhaps we aren’t just naturally selected incremental improvement? Rather – we are something different altogether.

 

Evolutionary theory has drummed into us that we are essentially no different from other animal species. We’re related to other hominids. We are just matter – we are physical – we are all related. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this idea.

 

Or are we? As Morris says, “Maybe it’s not as simple as that.”[1]

 

 

First – we often misunderstand the animals we invest our lives in.

Morris thinks we have a habit of reading ourselves into the animals we relate to. Our relationship with dogs is a perfect example of this, he says. We humanize them…and they are happy to play along with our delusion. But crucially – as Morris points out – the evidence suggests that dogs have no idea what is going on inside our minds. They react to stimuli – they learn what actions and objects mean and sound like. Nothing more.

 

Dogs live happy and fulfilled lives as our pets. But we are of a different order to them.

 

We are not the only intelligent species on the planet – but it seems that our consciousness is of a completely different order to anything else. We live in an extended universe – the animals are confined to a monotonic universe. And they are happy that it is so.

 

What experimental evidence does Morris appeal to in making this claim?

 

Second – Morris offers the following evidence:

 

1 – Humans Uniquely Understand Cause and Effect

There’s evidence that crows are very intelligent. An experiment has been done where the bird has to perform a task – drop stones into a container – in order to raise the water level so it can have a drink. The fascinating thing is – often the crow will work this out. It will find and deposit the stones to raise the water level.

It is tempting to assume then – that it understands cause and effect, that it gets the implication of what it’s doing. Unfortunately – when the conditions of the experiment change – it becomes clear that the crow doesn’t understand this.

Yes, it has memory, yes its intelligent. But no, it’s not building up an understanding of nature. It can do one thing well – and that involves survival.

 

2 – Humans Live in an Out of the Box Culture

We can think in terms of “analogy”; we are meta-thinkers that can work outside of the box. We explore seemingly unrelated ideas and come up with ingenious solutions to problems.

A simple example of this is – humans use tools. We employ them in many tasks, and the evidence suggests we have done this for a long time. Chimpanzees also use tools.

Yet we go beyond them; we live outside the box. We are the only species we know today that creates tools to build tools. What’s more, we rely on the discoveries and processes laid down by previous tool builders as we do so. Human culture is cumulative, it builds on itself.

Animals like chimpanzees don’t exhibit this behaviour at all. They use tools, they have a culture. But they don’t appear to KNOW they have a culture, and they don’t build tools to make tools.

Morris opines, “This sounds like a trivial difference. But it might be larger than we realize.”[2]

 

3 – Human Culture Features Teaching and Learning

Humans have a sophisticated approach to teaching. We have a self-referential pedagogical approach – the teacher observes the pupil and knows where their mind is currently at. Through observation, the teacher works to move the student forward to where they need to be. We intuitively sense the student’s mind.

Do animals? Morris refers to various species of Ant, Meercat and chimp. And the scientific observation to date suggests that which the animals instinctively develop habits and abilities, they do so in a simple way. Animals don’t go to University like humans do. We are of a different order.

Do animals have false beliefs about the world? Do they have a theory of mind? Current understanding says no, it doesn’t look like it.

 

4 – Human Language is Very Peculiar Indeed

Morris refers to Vervet Monkeys who have been observed to make sounds that seem to relate to other animals in their habitat like a leopard, a snake and an eagle. This sounds like it could be a proto-language, like the foundations of our own language capabilities?

Well, clearly, we have words that also refer to objects and concepts. This blog post is full of them! But our language isn’t just a more evolved version of the Vervet Monkey’s sound. Why?

Morris points to two peculiar aspects of human language:

  • We can say things that go beyond a single meaning. Our communication can have an infinite number of meanings, depending on the context it is used in.
  • We have a bottomless depth of rich imagination in human discussion. We easily move between factual and fictional statements. And we have the ability to create fictional worlds – completely unrelated to our own – where the reader can enter through their imagination. And the fictional world resonates deeply with them.

 

5 – Humans Apply Mathematics in a Unique Way

Experiments suggest that Guppy fish exhibit numericity. They are able to judge relative numbers in terms of distance and size.

For example, if some were to say – “Imagine you have a stone and a feather. How much do I have to add or remove from each to perceive a difference in their weights?” It turns out that I have to add or remove quite a lot from the stone, but not very much at all to the feather to notice a weight change. This is numericity…and Guppy fish can do something similar to this.

Is this proto-maths? Well, it’s called a psycho-physical sensory effect by the scientists. But to suggest it is proto-maths is nonsense to Morris.

Mathematics is a rich conceptual language that bridges the abstract and the physical. Maths:

  • involves abstract entities that don’t exist; numbers, complex numbers.
  • requires that we can do sums like addition and subtraction. Animals can’t seem to do that.

 

 

Conclusion

Are we just advanced chimpanzees? Morris suggests this well-worn message fails to recognize the uniqueness of human beings. It underplays our conscious, thinking abilities that came up with that inadequate theory in the first place.

Humans are of a different order to animals. We have “dominion over the natural world” and uniquely exhibit the characteristics of our Creator.[3] This is not just the Bible’s opinion, it is born out in our relation to those animals we were supposed to care for.

But aren’t we just physical beings like the animals? Is brain simply a biological computing engine? Morris thinks otherwise. He’s a substance dualist. Mind and brain are different aspects of human existence.

The physical human brain seems to be more than a biological information processing organ. It’s a filter. Our intangible, human mind exists independently of our physical bodies. Our brain is part of the mechanism we use for intercepting, exploring and harnessing what goes on in our minds.

People aren’t just more advanced than the animals. We’re built specially; we’re of a different order altogether.

 

Image courtesy of New Old Stock.

[1] Simon Conway Morris, The Emergence of Life, James Gregory Lectures on Science and Christianity, https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/james-gregory-lectures-on-science-and-christianity/id917410241?mt=2&i=1000382210716.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Genesis 1:26 – 27.

 

RESPONDblogs: Isaac Newton – Scientific Revolutionary…and… Theologian?

newtonTim Peake is a British hero. He’s one of our most recent astronauts, spending about six months about the International Space Station (ISS) in 2016. Tim’s a passionate scientist, and he longs to inspire children to follow his lead.

When it came time to select a name for his mission, do you know what Tim called it?

“Principia”

Weird name, eh? Why choose that name? “To honour Isaac Newton’s ground-breaking text on physics, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Latin for ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), which described the principle laws of motion and gravity on which all space travel depends.”[1]

Who was Isaac Newton? He lived in the 17th century, he started the scientific revolution, and his brilliance inspired later scientists such as Albert Einstein.

“He was intellectually daring…His achievements were so momentous that the term ‘scientific genius’ was invented to describe him” – Professor Robert IIiffe, Director, The Newton Project.[2]

Here’s the thing. When we look at Newton’s life, we find that he was not only a brilliant thinker and communicator of scientific principles that have changed how we look at the universe. He also believed in God.

Is it helpful to look at the Christian backdrop of Isaac Newton? Does this help make the case for belief in God today?

Some would suggest not. After all, “the Protestant faith of the Bible was a standard part of the upbringing of children at that time and Newton was no exception to this rule…. a certain amount of sincere religious piety…is to be expected…”[3]   There’s no guarantee Newton was a “Christian”. Isn’t it more likely that the brilliant Newton was canny enough to work out how to climb the ladder of academic achievement? In his day, this involved public agreement with Christianity. Maybe he didn’t want to suffer like Galileo did at the hands of the Catholic Pope? Maybe he was a brilliant thinker who played the religion game to get ahead.

Yet there’s a problem here. We can so easily view Newton thru the spectacles of our own atheism. A brilliant thinker, tip-toeing thru the powerful, irrational Western religious minefield of the 17th century. Newton was too smart to be a Christian. Surely Newton’s outward religious statements were simply a survival strategy. Newton was just as godless inside his head as so many are today! Right?

 

No – I suggest the evidence doesn’t leave this option open to us.

If we lay down our comfortable presuppositions and look at that evidence, we find a different picture of Isaac Newton that challenges atheistic worldview assumptions to the core.

 

 

1 – Newton wrote the most significant science book in human history.

I mentioned it in my introduction.

The head of the Royal Society library said of Principia Mathematica, “It’s not just the history and development of science; it’s one of the greatest books ever published…influential in terms of applying mathematics to basic physical problems.”[4]

 

2 – All editions of Principia combine BOTH scientific principles and theology together.

I’ve heard people say that you simply cannot bring God into science. Well, that’s evidentially false. Newton was way ahead of us and doing just that centuries ago.

His ground-breaking Principia opens with the statement:

“Behold the pattern of the heavens, and the balances of the divine structure. Behold Jove’s calculation and the laws That the creator of all things, while he was setting the beginnings of the world, would not violate; Behold the foundations he gave to his works.”[5]

Newton blends the discussion about God and physics together seamlessly.

“No being exists or can exist which is not related to space in some way. God is everywhere, created minds are somewhere, and body is in the space that it occupies…So the quantity of the existence of God is eternal in relation to duration, and infinite in relation to the space in which he is present”[6]

 

He added additional theological principles Principia in his second and third editions.

 

3 – He intended for Principia to help connect the dots between the natural world, and its Designer.

When a young clergyman named Richard Bentley once approached Newton and asked about ways his scientific arguments pointed towards God, Newton responded:

“When I wrote my treatise about our System, I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a Deity and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose. But if I have done the public any service this way ’tis due to nothing but industry and a patient thought.”[7]

To someone called Halley, who verbally tore down Christianity in Newton’s presence, he was quick to respond. “Mun, you had better hold your tongue; you have never sufficiently considered the matter.”[8]

He fully intended his work to have application beyond the scientific disciplines, clearly pointing men to the Designer of this universe. And he was quick to challenge atheistic views that were clearly common in the 17th century.

 

4 – Newton wrote theology for longer than he wrote science.

Strange, given his scientific influence. But true.

He might be known for his scientific works, and he dabbled in alchemy too. But a lifetime of Bible study shows he was no reluctant church pew filler, or resentful, closet atheist. From his early thirties, Newton wrestled with complex theological issues writing works that deal with understanding Biblical prophecy, the Christian creeds, the Jewish religion and much more. He was no nominal religious observer. He was active and engaged. If we didn’t know that, it’s because his writings were not published until 2008 by Oxford University![9]

If it’s true that Newton was more than a scientific survivor, but a passionate believer in God, then we would expect to see, “sincere religious piety and Biblicism on the part of a Cambridge scholar like Newton living when he did…more…passionate than common piety…and when we look at the decade before the composition of the Principia this is precisely what we find.”[10]

Newton was a scientist and a passionate, God fearing theologian. But he was an interesting type of theologian. He was a Christian heretic, at odds with the Christian establishment.

Newton was so invested in scripture that he came to very different conclusions about the nature of God. Raised Anglican, he robustly rejected Roman Catholicism, but he also rejected a central part of Anglican Christianity as well; “[he broke] with almost all his contemporaries in condemning the concept of the Holy Trinity as the central doctrinal plank of that antichristian religion that came to dominate the Western world.”[11]

Christianity has traditional held that scripture teaches God is three persons, yet one in essence. One God, three separate coexisting persons. Newton rejected this teaching, and risked life and limb in the process. People were either hanged or imprisoned for rejecting the Trinity at that time.[12] Yet Newton held to his convictions.

Even though his religious writings remained unpublished until very recently, there is some evidence that towards the end of his life he was gearing up to more actively spreading his understanding of true Christianity; some observe this creeping into to the second and third editions of the Principia itself.[13]

Newton passionately believed that Christianity, “was a simple religion, preached to ordinary people, whose central feature was the principle of charity (or the Golden Rule) rather than any abstruse claim about the nature of Jesus Christ or about the precise manner in which he had redeemed humanity by his suffering.”[14]

 

 

 

 

 

What can we conclude from his religious writings and his unorthodox, risky spiritual convictions? It’s wrong to downplay Isaac Newton’s religious convictions as “simply expected and therefore meaningless.” Not at all. He stood apart from his contemporaries and he risked his life given his beliefs in God.

 

So…Newton was a scientific revolutionary and a passionate believer in God and the Bible. So what? So, he challenges how we approach and live our lives today.

How?

More in part2.

 

 

[1] Principia mission, UK Space Agency, https://principia.org.uk/the-mission/, accessed 20th July 2017.

[2] Isaac Newton: The man who discovered gravity, BBC iWonder, http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/zwwgcdm, accessed 20th July 2017.

[3]Stephen D. Snobelen, The Theology of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica: A Preliminary Survey, https://isaacnewtonstheology.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/theology-of-the-principia.pdf, 13.

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/05/principia-sir-isaac-newton-first-edition-auction-christies-new-york.

[5] Snobelen, Theology of the Principia, 9.

[6] Ibid, 18.

[7] Ibid, 7.

[8] Stephen D. Snobelen, Isaac Newton, heretic: the strategies of a Nicodemite, https://isaacnewtonstheology.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/heretic.pdf, 31.

[9] Introduction to the Texts, The Newton Project, http://www.newtonproject.ox.ac.uk/texts/introduction, accessed 20th July 2017.

[10] Snobelen, Theology of the Principia, 13.

[11] Introduction, Newton Project.

[12] Snobelen, heretic, 15.

[13] Snobelen, heretic, 26.

[14] Introduction, Newton Project.

 

RESPONDblog: The Cumulative Case…or God’s Crime Scene!

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I recently met up with two friends who would (probably) describe themselves as committed sceptics when it comes to Christianity. We’ve spoken about these things many times. Yet they never feel able to come close to joining me in my Christian convictions.

 

At one point that day, they reminded me, “We are not saying there is no God. What we are saying is – there isn’t enough evidence to decide about God either way. We simply cannot say.”

 

I’ve heard this perspective before. And I suspect it’s a strategy that’s used to push the responsibility for wrestling with ultimate questions of life away from us and onto God (if he’s even there!). It’s a way of divulging myself of that responsibility. If God wanted me to believe in him, he would be able to convince me that he’s there. He hasn’t. So, I’m justified in dismissing the subject altogether.

In other words – it’s God’s problem, not mine.

 

This bothers me. Not because I think this line of reasoning is correct, but because I’m concerned that this way of thinking just avoids the obvious. I’m referring to the strong cumulative case for God.

 

Jim Wallace lays this case out clearly in his book, “God’s Crime Scene”. He proposes that the universe and all its wonders has a cause found either inside or outside of the universe. If the cause is inside, there’s some natural explanation for it all. If it’s an outside cause – it’s God.

When Jim (a cold-case detective) looks for evidence that a murder has been committed, he examines the crime scene where the body is found. If there is any evidence of outside activity or objects which have been imported into the room (a foreign footprint or evidence that a gun was positioned to give the appearance of a suicide) then it is reasonable to posit there has been an influence from outside the room, and so a murder case needs to be solved.

Turning this reasoning to the bigger crime scene of the universe, Jim observes eight evidences “inside the room” that point to an outside influence:

 

Our universe had a beginning

“The universe could not have caused itself, since something would have to exist to cause its own existence.”[1]

Our universe appears fine-tuned for life

It’s fine-tuned in the following ways:

Forces governing the atom

Forces governing the matter in the universe

Forces governing the creation of chemicals

Shape, Position and Size of the Milky Way Galaxy

Position and composition of our sun

The age and mass of our sun

Relationship of planets to our sun

Earth’s relationship to the sun

Earth’s atmospheric conditions

Earth’s terrestrial nature

Earth’s relationship to the moon

Often people will quip, “We’re only able to notice fine-tuning because we’re here to see it. So, we can’t draw solid conclusions for the cause of fine-tuning.” Yet this is to commit a logical error in our thinking. We are confusing an observation with its explanation.

Others will claim this is an argument from ignorance. Yet surely, it’s precisely because we are NOT ignorant of these facts, that we are exploring this natural evidence? This is an argument from a growing competence in our understanding of nature.

Others will assume an infinite number of universes; we were bound to come up lucky with one of them. Yet a multi-verse would require finely tuned conditions itself to cause it, and the question of fine-tuning returns.

Life appeared from non-life

“’…the problem of getting all of the compounds together in a living cell is much like the problem of making a cream puff. The filling needs to be made in a pan on a stove, then put in a refrigerator, while the shell is combined in a bowl, baked in an oven, then cooled, before the two parts are put together. All of the steps need to happen to the right amounts of the right components in the right sequence using the right tools in order to form a successful final product.’ To make matters worse, the ‘icing’ on each ‘cream puff’ must also be inscribed with a message (DNA) billions of letters in length.”[2]

Biological organisms appear designed

Randomness is unable to invent, and all the complexity of life must already exist before natural selection can modify it. Life looks designed, and there’s a good reason for that.

Evil and injustice persist

This is a complex subject and there’s no one reason that can come close to explaining all the possible causes for evil and suffering.

“Yet our recognition of the existence of evil is itself a pointer back to God, not away from him. Unless there is a transcendent, Divine standard of “straightness,” evil is simply a matter of opinion. If this is the case, we can eliminate evil tomorrow. All we have to do is change our opinion of it.”[3]

Transcendent moral truths exist

Some things are always wrong. It’s always been wrong to kill other people for the fun of it. And the “transcendent, objective virtue of selflessness and virtuous reciprocity finds representation in nearly every historic theological or philosophical system”[4]

If this is simply a product of culture, then which one is right and how big does the moral majority must be before we must agree with it?

Perhaps morality is all about promoting human flourishing? But the problem here is that this idea imports moral ideas in the term “human flourishing”. It proposes moral survival before explaining the source of the moral truth.

Humans are free agents

Human freedom is a right, and people are morally accountable for the free will choices they make. Some deny free will exists, pointing to the deterministic biological processes at work within us. Yet our ability to ponder these issues “presupposes we have the freedom to think independently from deterministic physical processes.”[5]

“Free will is difficult to deny (unless, of course, we have the freedom to deny it.”[6]

Consciousness emerged from unconscious matter

There’s a strong case to suppose that my physical brain is separate from my mind or consciousness. There are foundational differences between mind and brain. “Any reluctance to embrace a dualistic explanation for mind seems grounded not in the evidence but in a desire to resist answers found outside the room.”[7]

Human consciousness is so inexplicable that naturalist philosopher Thomas Nagel has reluctantly affirmed that, “On a purely materialist understanding of biology, consciousness would have to be regarded as a tremendous and inexplicable extra brute fact about the world.”[8]

 

Having laid out eight examples of crime scene tampering, Jim draws the following conclusion.

If we could identify just one of these evidences, that would be enough to point to a potential outside cause. But when you concede the strong cumulative case…there are at least eight lines of diverse evidence for outside tampering…then we have a strong reason to pursue this case.  A far stronger reason than would be necessary to trigger a police murder investigation.

 

There’s a lot of natural evidence pointing towards God. In a real sense, God’s left his fingerprints everywhere. So perhaps the real question is not “is there evidence for God,” it’s “will I choose to discover who this God is?”

 

 

 

[1] [1] J. Warner Wallace, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, (David Cook), 41.

[2] Wallace, 75.

[3] Wallace, 190.

[4] Wallace, 163.

[5] Wallace, 152.

[6] Wallace, 157.

[7] Wallace, 137.

[8] Wallace, 136.

RESPONDblogs: Did Jesus Exist?

suetonius

Jesus.

 

There have been many canvases painted, books written, stained glass windows mounted and movies made about him. There are many different opinions today on who he was and what he actually said. But he lived such a long time ago; isn’t it possible he has been made up? Perhaps Jesus is just a mythical talisman people use to salve their fears, legitimize their ministries, justify their philosophies and excuse their behaviour. Is Jesus a myth?

 

No – I’m going to do a series of posts where I will outline my reasons for asserting the historicity of Jesus, and I will base this position on historical sources external to the New Testament.

Why?

Because so many people come to the Bible with a pre-conceived notion that it must be biased in its portrayal of Jesus. But what if extra-Biblical historical sources, from people with no pro-Christian theological bias…and sometimes some anti-Christian bias… did refer to the person of Jesus? And what if they also corroborated many many details that we read about Jesus in the New Testament Gospels? Would you be interested?

 

These sources fall into three categories, “(1) classical (that is, Greco-Roman), (2) Jewish and (3) Christian.”[1] I will focus on the first two.

 

The first Greco-Roman source is Gaius Suetonius, the Roman writer, lawyer and historian. He was chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian, and he wrote a history called On the Lives of the Caesars. His historical accounts were written with the aid of this Roman government documentation. Reporting on events in 49 C.E. he says,

“He [Emperor Claudius] banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus.”[2]

(The translator of Suetonius’s account notes that “Chrestus” is a variant spelling of “Christ”.)

A second related comment from Suetonius states that,

“After the great fire at Rome … Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.”[3]

 

Taken together, these records from Suetonius tell us some important details:

1 – Jews were expelled from Rome

2 – it was Christ who caused these Jews to make a disturbance…leading to their expulsion

3 – these Jews had a belief that was described as mischievous by Suetonius, and also described the same way by Tacitus (as we will see later)

4 – the term “Christians” was coined to describe this Jewish group who followed the teachings of Christ

 

Sceptic Richard Carrier denies the historical Jesus completely; he has decided that Jesus is a mythical and fictional invention. Richard says of the expulsion of the Jews from Rome that, “This incident was more likely city-wide violence ginned up by a Jewish [rabble rouser] named Chrestus.”[4] But Richard has problems with this:

  • He cannot produce any evidence of this supposed rabble rouser.
  • there is no evidence of any Jew being given that name; “among hundreds of Jewish names in the catacombs of Rome, there is not one instance of Chrestus being the name of a Jew”[5].

It is much more likely that Suetonius is not mentioning a person named Chretus; rather he is repeating an error in his source. He is referring to Jesus (passing on the assumption that his name was Christ), but misunderstood him to be an “agitator who lived in Rome in 49 C.E.”[6]

 

Richard Carrier continues; “it cannot plausibly be argued that [Suetonius] meant Jesus, who was neither alive nor in Rome at any time under Claudius.”[7] Carrier is pointing out that, because these Roman disturbances are dated to between 41 and 54 A.D. when Claudius was emperor, there is clearly a time discrepancy. Jesus was crucified years earlier; how can he provoke disturbances if he is already dead?

Yet Carrier is forgetting that the early Christian Church clearly declared Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. Surely Suetonius was only reporting clearly what was occurring during Claudius’s reign; namely that the Jewish Christian disturbances were claimed to be instigated by the resurrected Jesus. It is likely that these disturbances were, “sparked by disagreement about who Jesus was and/or what he said and did.”[8]

 

Richard Carrier also denies that the Suetonius quote corroborates anything written in the New Testament[9], but actually the opposite is true. Suetonius second quote describing the aftermath of the fires in Rome corroborates a small detail mentioned in Acts chapter 18 that affects the friends of Jesus; namely that, “Paul met a Jewish couple from Pontus … who had recently left Italy because Claudius had demanded that all Jews leave Rome.”[10]

 

Given the well documented Christian Resurrection preaching and the corroboration of a Christian expulsion from Rome, it would seem reasonable to agree with the majority scholarly opinion that Suetonius mentions the person of the historical Jesus, not a lost Jewish rabble rouser named Chrestus.

Did Jesus exist? Suetonius certainly thought so. Next up – TACITUS

  [1] Lawrence Mykytiuk, “Did Jesus Exist? Search for Evidence Beyond the Bible”, Bible History Daily, accessed March 12th, 2015, http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/did-jesus-exist/.

[2] Gary Habermas, “The Historical Jesus Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ Select chapters by Gary R. Habermas”, Dr. Gary R. Habermas Online Resources, Information, Media, accessed February 4th, 2015, http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/historicaljesus/historicaljesus.htm.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Richard Carrier, HITLER HOMER BIBLE CHRIST The Historical Papers of Richard Carrier 1995-2013, (Philosophy Press 2014), 377.

[5] Mykytiuk, “Did Jesus Exist?”.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Carrier, HITLER HOMER, 377.

[8] Mykytiuk, “Did Jesus Exist?”.

[9] Carrier, HITLER HOMER, 376.

[10] Habermas, “The Historical Jesus Ancient Evidence”.

RESPONDblogs: Free Resources for Responding to Christian Skeptics

christmas_wallpaper_3

Hey there – here are some free resources to help you as you make a case for Christian faith and belief. And if you are not yet personally convinced yourself about the claims of Christ – these free resources might help you.

 

I’m a big fan of David Robertson’s book “The Dawkins Letters” – much recommended! C S Lewis’s important work, “The Abolition of Man”, is also there – it’s quite tough going in places and so I’ve included a brilliant video commentary on the book that helped me get his more subtle points.

 

I have personally checked each and every one of these links – so they are correct at time of posting. Apologies if one doesn’t work for you. Try googling the book if you run into trouble? And please let me know of any problems and I’ll update the link.

 

There are a mix of downloadable PDF’s (indicated in brackets) and web published book versions here.

 

There is no intentional copyright infringement going on here – these books have been made available online for free use. This list was first compiled by https://chab123.wordpress.com

 

Enjoy!

 

Stuart

 

The Dawkins Letters by David Robertson

 

The Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi

This webpage took a minute or so to load for me – but it looks like a fun resource.

 

The Abolition of Man by C S Lewis [PDF]

I can also recommend the following commentary on “The Abolition of Man” by Benjamin McLean…it helped me grasp Lewis’s more subtle points.

The Abolition of Man Simplified, part 1

The Abolition of Man Simplified, part 2

 

Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock: What to Say Jehovah Witnesses When They Knock on your Door by Mike Licona

 

Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock: What to Say to Mormons When They Knock on Your Door by Mike Licona

 

Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity by Josh McDowell and Bart Larson [PDF]

 

He Walked Among Us: Evidence for the Historical Jesus by Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson [PDF]

 

Josh McDowell answers Five Tough Questions by Josh McDowell [PDF]

 

He Walked Among Us: Evidence for the Historical Jesus by Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson [PDF]

 

Fifty Nobel Laureates and Other Great Scientists Who Believe in God [PDF]

 

The Future of Justification by John Piper [PDF]

 

How Do You Know the Bible is from God? by Kyle Butt [PDF]

 

Runaway World by Michael Green

 

Skeptics should Consider Christianity by Josh McDowell and Don Steward [PDF]

 

Skeptics who Demanded a Verdict by Josh McDowell [PDF]

 

Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity  edited by John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth [PDF]

 

Confessions by St. Augustine [PDF]

 

Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching by St. Irenaeus

 

Jesus Rediscovered by Malcolm Muggeridge

 

St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen by W.M. Ramsey

 

Ten Reasons Why I Believe the Bible is the Word of God by R.A. Torrey

 

The Case for the Existence of God by Bert Thompson, Ph.D. [PDF]

 

The Islam Debate by Josh McDowell and John Gilchrist [PDF]

 

The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World General Editors- John Piper and Justin Taylor [PDF]

 

The Story of the Bible by Sir Frederic Kenyon

 

The Works of Flavius Josephus

 

Dealing with Doubt by Dr. Gary Habermas

 

Was Christ Born in Bethlehem? by W.M. Ramsey

 

Warranted Christian Belief by Dr. Alvin Plantinga

 

Man-The Dwelling Place of God by A.W. Tozer

 

The Necessity of Prayer by E.M. Bounds

 

The Normal Christian Life by Watchmen Nee

 

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

 

The Thomas Factor: Using Your Doubts to Draw Closer to God by Dr. Gary Habermas

 

In Six Days– Why 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation, Edited by Dr. John Ashton

 

Natural Theology by William Paley

 

Refuting Evolution 1 by Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D., F.M.

 

Refuting Evolution 2 by Jonathan Sarfati, with Michael Matthews

 

Taking Back Astronomy by Jason Lisle

 

The Creation Answers Book by Dr. Don Batton (Contributing Editor), Dr. David Catchpoole, Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, and Dr. Carl Wieland

 

The Global Flood of Noah by Bert Thompson, Ph.D. [PDF]

 

The Mystery of Life’s Origin by Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, and Roger L. Olsen [PDF or Adobe Reader]

 

In the Shadow of Darwin, a review of the teachings of John N. Clayton by Wayne Jackson and Bert Thompson [PDF]

 

Logic and Fallacies of Logic by Dr. Johnson C. Philip and Dr. Saneesh Cherian [PDF]

 

A Treatise on Human Nature by David Hume

 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

 

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

 

Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard

 

Me, the Professor, Fuzzy, and the Meaning of Life by David Pensgard

 

Heretics by G.K. Chesterton

 

Philosophical Fragments by Soren Kierkegaard

 

The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton

 

The Predicament of Modern Man by Elton Trueblood

 

The Sickness Unto Death by Soren Kierkegaard

 

What’s Wrong with the World? by G.K. Chesterton