Are We Just Molecules in Motion?

Are We Just Molecules in Motion? July 20, 2015

I’m on vacation in Europe, so I’ll be posting from the archives for a few weeks.

How can humans be nothing more than molecules on motion? From only this, how could we get consciousness or morality or other high-level human traits?

Christian apologists object to what they see as the consequences of the naturalistic view—that humans are nothing more than machines. Can this mechanistic outlook explain the facts of consciousness and morality?

In the first place, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle makes clear that we’re not living in a clockwork universe where, if we could only understand the state of things precisely enough, we could in theory predict the future. Quarks are not like billiard balls. Heisenberg states that there is unavoidable randomness at the quantum level, and things are not deterministic. Naturalists agree that a deterministic, molecules-in-motion worldview doesn’t work.

This caricature refuses to go beyond the simple laws governing our molecules, but reality is a bit more complicated. Consciousness, morality, and other complex human traits don’t follow directly from fundamental quantum laws, but they are examples of emergent phenomena.

Emergent phenomena in water

Consider water molecules. At the quantum level, the forces are pretty straightforward—electrostatic forces hold things together and heat drives them apart; the strong force keeps the nucleus intact and the weak force governs when it breaks apart; and so on.

The diagram above shows a water molecule, with the bonding angle and distance between nuclei shown. Imagine conveying all this information about water to quantum physicists in another galaxy who don’t have water. They would know everything about water but only at the nano scale.

From this, could they deduce the existence of whirlpools, turbulence, erosion, or waves on the shore? Would they anticipate rainbows, clouds, snowflakes, fog, and frost? Could they predict that water self-ionizes or expands as it freezes? No single water molecule possesses the properties of wetness, fluidity, pH, salinity, or surface tension, but these and other properties emerge when trillions of trillions of water molecules are put together.

Wetness isn’t a property of a water molecule; it emerges. Individually it’s not there, but it appears collectively.

Other examples

Take alloys as another example. If you add water to alcohol, you get dilute alcohol. But if you add tin to copper, you get bronze. Add carbon to iron to get steel. The resulting alloys can be more useful than the elements that make them. Sometimes 1 + 1 = 3.

Take the human brain. Our brains have roughly 100 billion (that’s 1011) neurons. A single neuron doesn’t think 10–11 times as fast; it doesn’t think at all. Thinking is another emergent phenomenon.

Similarly, consciousness doesn’t reside in any one neuron or in any section of the brain; it emerges from an entire working brain. The same is true with morality. If there’s no need to imagine a mind separate from the brain to explain consciousness in a mouse, why would it be necessary for humans?

Compare a human brain with a lizard brain. A lizard doesn’t have a poorly developed sense of humor (or wit or irony), it has none at all. Humans’ extra brain cells don’t make us a super lizard, they makes us something completely new and different, something emergent.

Denigrate the brain with “we’re just molecules in motion” if you want, but consciousness is like wetness—it emerges out of the whole. There is no need to imagine an objective morality grounded outside the human brain, or a mind to provide consciousness, or a soul to provide personality. All evidence points to their simply being properties of the brain.

Clay is molded to make a pot, 
but it is in the space where there is nothing 
that the usefulness of the pot lies.
Cut out doors and windows to make a room, 
and it is in the spaces where there is nothing 
that the usefulness of the room lies.
— Chinese classic Tao Te Ching

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 11/12/12.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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  • MNb

    “Denigrate the brain with “we’re just molecules in motion”
    I don’t think this is denigrating at all. That’s just another self delusion of believers.
    There is another striking example. Crowd behaviour, during demonstrations for instance, is quite predictable and can be manipulated. Individual characteristics become irrelevant due to the Law of Large Numbers. That doesn’t affect in anyway the individuality of the people involved. A crowd is more than the sum of the people that are part of the crowd.

  • Rudy R

    Or to borrow from Richard Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene,” the human body is just a vehicle or mode for gene replication.

  • Greg G.

    A lizard doesn’t have a poorly developed sense of humor (or wit or irony), it has none at all.

    I asked a lizard what he would call a chameleon that couldn’t change color,

    He said, “A reptile dysfunction.”

    • Clover and Boxer

      I doubt a lizard actually said that.

      • Greg G.

        I saw a gecko peddling insurance on television.

  • Dark Star

    The statement “Heisenberg states that there is unavoidable randomness at the quantum level, and things are not deterministic.” is incorrect.

    It says there is a limit to “measurement” (of a handful of very specific pairs of properties) but says nothing about ontology. Many-Worlds is a trivial example that preserves Determinism.

    Determinism is not a solved problem.

    • MNb

      Many worlds is also a probabilistic theory (even if it’s deterministic; the both are not mutually exclusive, as for instance Brownian motion shows). Replace “unavoidable randomness” with “probabilism” and BobS’ point stands. Typically physics speaks of grades of freedom.
      Free will might be something like that – there is no empirical evidence against it.

  • Are we just molecules in motion? Yes.

    • Sophia Sadek

      I disagree. There appears to be more to cellular activity than molecular motion.

  • TheNuszAbides

    yay, Europe! how many stops?

    • I’m in Iceland now (first time). Then to London for a few days to see the Magna Carta exhibit at the London Museum. And finally a week in southern France.

      Packing for chilly Iceland and toasty France was a pain, though I’ll probably survive.

      • Kodie

        The mistake most people make is that they think the liquor options when they travel won’t be any good.

      • MR

        Ooh, I’m going to see the Magna Carta exhibit in California. The Huntington Library has a draft. I believe your exhibit is at the British Library, nicht wahr, or are they displaying one at the British Museum as well? In February they’re bring the four originals together, I read.

        • Kodie

          A good analogy for a change? Are 4 Magna Cartas better than 1? Such a document was drafted by an amalgamation of molecules many, many trillions of seconds ago, in letters that don’t mean anything individually, in a dead-ish language, and in molecules of ink that also are just splotches on a page individually. But emerge! As a coherent! Charter of government! The remaining copies of which will be reunited proximately like the remaining 2 Beatles with tickets selling for first children and an arm, and a line out the door, but the text of which can be seen online for free or a reasonable replica at your nearest major city’s public library.

          For that matter, countries don’t even exist without a population. Imagine exiling everyone who disagrees. You might have a land mass with borders and govern nobody. Is that still a country?

        • I hear that there will be 2 originals and, yes, I believe it’s at the Library. (Thanks for the correction.)

        • MR

          Yes, I hear the British museum has two of the originals. I saw the copy in DC a few years ago, not realizing, or not remembering, that it was written 80 years after the fact.

      • Sophia Sadek

        I hope you get the opportunity to visit a geothermal bath while you are in Iceland and a perfume factory while in Southern France.

        • we went to the Blue Lagoon near the airport by Reykyavik. Touristy, yes, but quite fun.

  • Bruce Gorton

    With apologises to John Parr

    Looking out, you don’t see the particles in the wall
    It is mostly empty space with fields binding it all
    But you touch it and feel the brick grain
    Your hand can’t pass through it, how can you explain?
    Study the brain, see thoughts become a graph line
    Chemicals, electrical signals forming up your mind
    You think there should be something in store
    Maybe a soul, or some sign of the something more (There is nothing more)

    (Chorus)
    Lights splits to show a gold horizon, under a blazing sky
    Atoms are colliding, make that eagle flying high
    You’re molecules in motion, which science reveals
    You feel it deep inside you, living reactions and fire

    Studying, don’t know when this reaction will resolve
    Time is limited, and there are so many problems to solve
    I am made of it, I try to understand
    But I am just one man

    (Chorus)

    I am kin to the highest mountain, ocean is in my ancestry
    I feel the living reaction burning in me, burning in me
    Just one life to live is mine, and I am living it now,
    chemistry alive
    I feel my heartbeat playing, hear my breath sing high
    Smell the rains coming, feel the breeze blow free
    I am molecules in motion, living reactions on fire

    (chorus)

    I am kin to the highest mountain, ocean is in my ancestry
    I feel the living reaction burning in me, burning in me
    burning in me (to fade)

    • Fabio

      Hey Bruce! How are you man? I missed you. 🙂

      • Bruce Gorton

        Fairly well. I’ve been lurking a lot more lately – so I’ve been around.

  • Christopher R Weiss

    Nobody really knows what happens at the quantum level. Our observations are statistical and mostly indirect. As someone already stated, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is a limit on observation and not a statement about the inherent randomness of quantum events. The base assumptions of your argument are flawed.

    Of course consciousness is emergent behavior. So what? It can still be deterministic without changing anything, including our moral judgments.

    • Greg G.

      Of course consciousness is emergent behavior. So what? It can still be deterministic without changing anything, including our moral judgments.

      The effects of the apparent randomness of quantum events are so small that they would almost never affect the workings of the brain at the cellular level, according to Sean M. Carroll. I expect it is something like this:

      http://www.smbc-comics.com/comics/1436972562-20150715.png

      So even if the universe is free at the quantum level, it would be deterministic at the molecular level. Since brains function at the cellular level, free will is but an illusion. The free part isn’t will and the will part isn’t free.

      • Christopher R Weiss

        People are so desperate to preserve the notion of free will they are willing to make incredible leaps of logic, drawing all sorts of conclusions without any evidence. The only answer we can reasonably make is that things appear to be deterministic.

        • MNb

          Nice contradiction with your previous comment – on quantum level things totally appear to be non-deterministic.

          “desperate to preserve the notion of free will”
          Given the current results of neuroscience it’s not even possible to define free will meaningfully. If you’re saying that free will as understood by christian theology is wrong you’re kicking in an open door. This has been understood since the Middle Ages, as the donkey dilemma shows.

        • Christopher R Weiss

          You misunderstood my original remark.

          The observation of quantum particles is probabilistic and indirect. This is not the same as non-deterministic behavior. For example, while it is not possible to predict when individual isotope atoms will decay, the overall decay rate of a sample is constant. If things were truly probabilistic, decay rates would have a variance.

          The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is about limits in observation and not a statement of behavior. Because of things like the HUP, quanta require probability models.

        • MNb

          I understood your original remark correctly.

          “If things were truly probabilistic”

          The no true probabilism fallacy.
          This is just nonsense in the most literal meaning of the word, combined with a poor understanding of both statistics and the Law of Large Numbers. Finally you don’t seem to understand the difference between randomness (anything goes) and probability.
          The overall constance of the decay of a sample of radioactive constance in the first place is not entirely constant. It’s the result of a probability distribution, with a very narrow peak due to the Law of Large Numbers.
          Finally you haven’t answered the question why our observations are limited. The simple and straightforward answer is “because behaviour at quantum level is like that”.

        • Christopher R Weiss

          Let me make this simpler.

          The HUP is based on the idea that to directly observe a quantum particle requires a disruption. You must disrupt it with a photon or other observation device. To do that means that you lose information, which is very different than observations made above the quantum scale. For example, I can know a car’s position and momentum without disrupting either measure within any meaningful unit of error. To do so for a quantum particle, is impossible.

          The rest of your statement is based on this fundamental misunderstanding on your part.

        • MNb

          Nothing in my statement contradicts this idea, which I have been familiar with since more than 25 years.
          Again you only show your prejudice: someone disagreeing with according to you immediately shows misunderstanding and lack of education.

        • Christopher R Weiss

          You are not distinguishing between methods of observation and actual behavior.

        • MNb

          I am.
          You are not telling us if the method of observation used by Modern Physics can’t determine the ontology of elementary particles then what method can.
          Yeah, it’s totally possible that the actual behaviour of elementary particles, if unobserved ie undisturbed by nasty physicists, are 100% deterministic, because ontology. But what does that mean if there is no way to find out?
          Faith.

          Note that there is even an alternative to the probabilistic versions of QM:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Broglie–Bohm_theory

          Also note its problems.
          And now I’ve got to run.I’m already too late.

      • I don’t want to get into the free will debate myself. There’s lots of material here that I haven’t read, so I would add much to the conversation. But why doesn’t the butterfly affect mean that quantum fluctuation affects things at the macro level–rarely, not more than zero times?

        • Greg G.

          Even if quantum fluctuations did flip the state of a critical brain cell to a different decision, the person’s will is driven by that new state. That would be the free part but the will is subject to the randomness, so it would not be free.

          AIUI, the brain signals are not 100% reliable. A more reliable communication network would require more weight, consume far more energy, and have less brain capacity. An error-tolerant system with error correction circuits in place of the larger diameter signal channels will have some interesting incorrect error corrections, which could account for creativity and the illusion of free will.

    • MNb

      “Our observations are statistical and mostly indirect.”
      So what? That applies to the vast majority of observations in physics.

      “the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is a limit on observation and not a statement about the inherent randomness of quantum events.”
      Just because you say so? There are quite a few smart people who disagree.’
      You duck the question how come that HUP is a limit on observations. A simple and straightforward answer is “because of the inherent randomness of quantum events”. Though I object the word “randomness” here; I prefer probability, which can take any value from 0 to 1. Many people associate randomness with a probability of 0,5 (in the case of two possible outcomes). But that obviously was not what BobS referred to.
      What’s more – if HUP is not an ontological statement neither is classical causality. As entire Modern Physics is probabilistic you essentially deny physics (and thus even entire science) the validity to make any ontological statement. That’s OK – but that leaves you empty handed regarding method. You can’t find out anymore which ontology is correct and which isn’t.
      The only sensible attitude is patiently waiting until neuroscience has build a consistent and coherent model of the human brain. If that’s non-probabilistic – and I don’t rule it out – then there is no room left for free will.

      • Christopher R Weiss

        No, it does not. Observations in mechanics, fluid dynamics, etc. are direct. Measurements in astronomy are not indirect. You are completely mis-characterizing physics in general. If you are talking about inferences those are built from evidence, QED is different.

        I would suggest you actually read a lay book on QED. There are several good ones. Feynman has a few books targeted to non-physicists.

        • MNb

          Wrong. You can’t directly observe Newtonian forces. A spring scale for instance measures distance and nothing else.

          “I would suggest you actually read a lay book on QED. There are several good ones. Feynman has a few books targeted to non-physicists.”

          BWAHAHAHAHA!
          I’m a teacher phsysics with 25 years experience. During my training in the 80’s I have studied from Elementary Modern Physics by Richard Weidner (Rutgers University) and Robert Sells (State University College of Arts and Sciences), Third Edition. It’s on my shelf. I have done all the calculations – and a few more, including regarding the correspondence principle – as well.
          Thanks for showing your prejudice – someone disagreeing with your view automatically is an ignorant in your judgment.

        • Christopher R Weiss

          I am very glad I didn’t have the misfortune of taking one of your classes. You demonstrate that even physicists can disagree and misunderstand quantum mechanics.

          I have done PhD work in applied mathematics. Wave equations are statements of observation and not definitions of behavior.

        • MNb

          “I am very glad I didn’t have the misfortune of taking one of your classes.”
          Yeah, you might learn something that doesn’t suit you. Or you just prefer poisoning wells – in this case the brother of the Nobel Price Winner

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_%27t_Hooft

          His brother Henk was the coordinator. One of my professors cowrote

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BINAS

          I would think they were qualified, but you apparently think otherwise – just because my views deviate from yours. Excellent job, PhD in applied maths or not.

    • Of course consciousness is emergent behavior. So
      what?

      So Christians who use the “so you say we’re just molecules in motion?” argument to lampoon the idea of a soul-less person are using a flawed argument.

  • Snowflake

    Have a wonderful time in Europe. Hope it is a vacation. Be well.

  • Fabio

    The logic in this post does not hold on a close scrutiny. Consider water, it says, “No single water molecule possesses the properties of wetness, fluidity, pH, salinity, or surface tension, but these and other properties emerge when trillions of trillions of water molecules are put together.” But all this properties are physical properties, measurable and quantifiable; if, in the analogy, the water molecules are neurons, then the physical properties are the brain chemistry, the electrical activity, the neural pathways that support the storage of data. Consciousness, morality, creativity, humor, cannot be explained just by the sheer number of brain cells.
    Consider the brain of a lizard, it says, no humor whatsoever, and I agree with it, a lizard does not have what I would call a “soul”, but it has instincts that compel it to feed, and flee, and fight and….reproduce. Such instincts cannot be explained by the numbers of cells, but by the existence of a spark of life (a divine spark?)
    You can add as many molecules of water you want, you will end up with a ocean not a living organism, let alone a human being.

    • MNb

      “Consciousness, morality, creativity, humor, cannot be explained just by the sheer number of brain cells.”
      This is where you go wrong. They can be explained in terms of interaction, just like water being fluid is the result of interactions. It doesn’t make any sense to say that a single water molecule is fluid.
      It’s your logic that doesn’t hold.

      • Fabio

        Just googled fluidity, first result: ”
        a. the ability of a substance to flow.
        b. a measure of this ability, the reciprocal of the coefficient of viscosity.
        c. Compare rhe.”

        How do you define consciousness? Can you measure it? Is it the reciprocal of the coefficient of….what?

        • You are starting from a position of humans as being somehow necessarily special and different from other animals.

          Consciousness = the ability for an organism to be aware of itself in some way, to some degree. Even the simplest ones do, just not nearly to the level of complexity to which we carry it. All it takes is sensory nerves and a way for them to talk to each other. Or, chemical signals and receptors in some cases.

        • MNb

          Thanks for not addressing my point and thus showing your disingeneousity.

          “It doesn’t make any sense to say that a single water molecule is fluid.”
          In the same way “a single brain cell is not conscious hence a gazillion brain cells can’t produce consciousness” is a non sequitur.
          Your questions are irrelevant for this point.

    • RichardSRussell

      Actually, nothing has what you would call a “soul”.

    • Bruce Gorton

      I wouldn’t be entirely sure on that considering none of us speak lizard, and thus are capable of understanding the jokes.

      Google has already created a computer that is a snarky bastard, and that is much less advanced than the average lizard brain.

      http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2015/06/26/artificial-intelligence-machine-gets-testy-with-its-programmers/

      That said – think about your computer for a moment.

      Your computer is made up of a collection of elements which individually can’t do much. But put together right they can do things which each part couldn’t on its own.

      Stick all those parts in a blender, and you get smashed computer parts.

      The computer is more than the sum of its parts, in that it can do more than the sum of its parts can.

      So, if you look at the brain – it too is more than the sum of its parts. Stick it in a blender, and you’ll get investigated by the police – you won’t get a functional brain.

      But with the way it is put together, through millions of years of evolution, it can produce all the elements of personality, creativity and thought that we consider human.

      • But if you consider connectivity as one of the “parts” it is once again simply the sum of its parts…

        • Rick Dutkiewicz

          I agree that the phrase “the sum is greater than its parts” leans too much toward a woo-woo attitude of our universe and our life. “The sum is greater than its parts” only means that we didn’t define the parts very thoroughly. It’s a problem of semantics, word definitions, and our human limitations.

          It’s a lot like my problem with the way the word “randomness” is thrown around by those quantum theorists mentioned in the article. “Random” only means “we don’t know where it came from”. Yes, we might be able to mathematically simulate randomness by using a random-number generator that is separate from the main equation. In the real universe, there is no such way to generate randomness outside of causality. Randomness is not outside of physical causality, and is not really “random” except to our instruments and theories which lose track of causality at a certain vanishing point. Then we trot out the word “random”.

          It’s the next layer of the onion we need to discard as we peel back from anthropocentrism. Humans love to look at the world and think that the boundaries of our knowledge are the actual boundaries of the physical universe. That’s why we have dreamed up a speed-limit to motion (light speed), a “time/space balloon” to limit our big expanding universe, and the quantum “randomness” which is the limit to tininess.

          We will eventually find deeper and deeper realities behind all of the concepts we regard as a “limit” or “boundary”. And then someone will claim to have found a new “absolute boundary” that transcends causality.

          When we say “here the laws of physics break down”, we’re not saying anything about reality. We’re saying that we don’t understand yet.

      • Fabio

        Hey Bruce, sorry I did not answer you right away; I’m being bullied around by a bunch of atheists on another post 😉
        Well, we did go down that road already, you and me, didn’t we?
        Anyway, about the computer: do you believe that as technology advances and computer become more sophisticated we could witness the birth of AI? Able of learning, intuition, creativity, feelings and so on?

    • “Such instincts cannot be explained by the numbers of cells,”

      Actually they are explained by the number and connectivity of said cells. To point out a simpler example: Certain nematodes are frequently used for this purpose as they only have a few hundred neurons, and they’ve been fully mapped. Those that are responsible for the sex-dimorphic reproductive behaviors are known. Each more complex animal simply layers on more neurons and complexity to handle more complex bodies and behaviors. Withing neurology, this stuff is pretty well known – the knowledge just never makes it out of the silo.

  • Sophia Sadek

    One of the biggest problems with consciousness is that there is no single definition for the word. The most restrictive definition I have seen would better be described as self-consciousness or self-awareness. This is the category of consciousness the study of which depends on things like the mirror test, which is pretty crude. In the other direction are things like awareness of events under general anesthesia. The best that we can get from these extremes is the range of experience that could be considered a form of awareness.

    • captcrisis

      The only useful definition (to me) is the most basic, and it depended on the formation of language. One day a cavewoman (named Wilma) was chewing walrus blubber and a caveman (named Fred) said to her, “Wilma, you’re chewing blubber!”

      Wilma thought to herself: “I’m chewing blubber!” That was the beginning of consciousness.

      • Sophia Sadek

        Fred and Wilma chewing the fat.

  • I beg to differ.

    “Compare a human brain with a lizard brain […] Humans’ extra brain cells don’t make us a super lizard…]

    Actually, the lowest part of our brain is very much analogous to that of a lizard, with the exceptions of different somatic connections & they’ve spent as much time evolving as we have. They are far more scent oriented than we are, for instance, as shown by the amount of neurons dedicated to such needs. But, on top of that basic neural anatomy that handles hardwired tasks, behaviors & decision making, we have two additional layers. It’s that top one that makes us primates so different and so self aware and communicative.

    Insofar as consciousness goes, it’s clearly an aggregate, not some magical greater-than-the-sum. Think of it as a sum of layers. Damage one or more and the unique person & their consciousness change somewhat. Grow them and the same thing happens. We are not machines, we’re not computers, but we are indeed the sum of our parts. It’s just really complex and as A.C. Clarke could have said, that makes it seem indistinguishable from magic.

    • Suppose I were of average intelligence but you were the smartest human. You would have the same capabilities as me, just better developed ones.

      It would be a difference of degree. Compared to lizards, we also have differences in kind. That’s the difference I was talking about.

      • That’s not necessarily true. In the end like so many other traits its a mix of nurture and nature. Many type of intelligence* have been shown to be inherent; although they can be developed to some given degree, different people have varying ease of doing so and max out at different levels.

        *the term itself is problematic but let’s just assume in different guises it means something similar to, “mental abilities” which can individually range from artistic to social to computational to spatial and so on.

  • Yes, your arguments on emergence and indeterminism are incorrect. These two types of atheism apologetics arguments were debunked by Steven Weinberg (1992) and J.P. Moreland (2003), respectively:

    http://www.eoht.info/page/Moreland-Strobel+dialogue

    http://www.eoht.info/page/Scrooge+Tiny+Tim+dialogue

    More on the history of the “molecules in motion” polemic here:

    http://www.eoht.info/page/Molecules+in+motion

    • MR

      Strobel? BWAH-HA-HA-HA!!

    • As MR suggested, Strobel and Moreland trading mutual back rubs is beyond useless.

      But if you’d like to summarize any of the relevant points, that might be a useful addition to the conversation here.

      • MR

        Strobel’s Case for Christ was pivotal to me walking away from Christianity. He made me aware of biblical issues that I didn’t even know about, but it was his disingenuous arguments that really made me realize the tenuous evidence that Christianity is based on.

        What’s up with these links? That second one isn’t even complete, and the third references back to this article. WTF?

        • The third link is a historical article on the origin of the if we’re just “molecules in motion” polemic used by apologeticists, who originated it, etc. Research on the term, led me to this blog, which is what there is a link-back and also why I am posting here.

        • I don’t recall if you’ve responded to the post above. If not, I encourage you to do so if you find any errors.

      • Re: “Strobel and Moreland trading mutual back rubs is beyond useless”, I would not be so hasty. I just finished Stobel’s The Case for a Creator, and there is much to be learned from study of the atheist turned theist, e.g. I never knew, prior to reading his book, that Ludwig Feuerbach said in 1850 that someday, in his view, chemistry would dissolve Christianity in a vat of nitric acid. I am now into reading C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity.

        • If Strobel says he was an atheist beforehand, I believe him, but he wasn’t much of an atheist. That he was convinced by the arguments he documents doesn’t say much about how well-versed he was on the issue.

          Feel free to come back all woozy after you’ve read Mere Christianity and tell us how great it was. I’ve written a couple of posts about it; perhaps you’d like to respond to them if you find errors or places where I’ve shortchanged Lewis.

        • Rick Dutkiewicz

          Reading Mere Christianity in my early 20s is what made me realize that I was an atheist, forty years ago. Although I liked Lewis much better than other theologians and apologists I was reading at the time, his arguments were so weak, they made me finally give up trying to hold onto my Christian faith. I thought, “if this is the best encouragement I can find to save my faith, I guess there’s no saving it”. His arguments were not arguments, they were “Mere Assertions”.

      • Re: “summarize mutual points”, you’re trying to discard god, but save free will theory. Correct? You’re tying to panhandle Heisenberg as an ontic opening to declare “yes determinism is bunk!” Correct? The Scrooge link is Steven Weinberg debunking that argument, better than I could put in words. And the “emergent phenomena” argument is but theism coated in a thin veil of science.

        • I have little to say about free will or determinism.

          I’m not trying to discard God; that’s simply my conclusion after giving the hypothesis years of thought (evidence: this blog).

          “Emergent phenomena” = theism? Uh, yeah, I guess a deity could be behind how that works, but where’s the evidence? “It’s cool; therefore, it must be supernatural”?

    • MNb

      “How could there be immaterial ….. laws?”
      Those laws are not immaterial.

      “Why should there be an absolute standard of reasoning …?”
      There isn’t.
      Nice cartoon. That’s Lisle laying on the ground.

  • Eric Pfeifer

    Bob,

    I am new to this blog posting and also many of the technical arguments you make. I don’t doubt your genuine approach to your search for reality, but often in reading your posts it seems these discussions revolve around evangelical and protestant authors and apologists. I was wondering if you have ever read Rahner, De Lubac, Congar, Ratzinger, Bonaventure, Aquinas or any others from the Catholic Tradition? If you have, do you have any posts on their discussion around science, faith, and reality?

    • My short answer is No. My focus is where the fire is hottest, and Catholics aren’t so much the problem (with the exception of social issues like sex ed, abortion, and SSM).

      I’ve debated some Catholic scholars on several occasions here in the Seattle area. Their positions are much fuzzier than the typical conservative protestant, which gives me less to talk about. There’s simply not much there.

      But that’s just one small subset of Catholic scholarship. If you want to summarize an argument or two that you find especially compelling, I’d like to read that.