belief … (RJS)

I had the opportunity last November to be part of a group of Christians who met in New York to discuss the issues of science and Christian faith. The statement posted last Thursday came from the discussions at that meeting. The first section of the statement affirms the power and value of science  in describing the glory of God’s creation while denying that the material world constitutes the whole of reality. The power and value of science includes its explanatory ability in cosmology, geology and evolutionary biology. But science has limits and these limits should be recognized. In particular science has limits in fully describing and explaining reality, including, as it is put in the statement, such matters as beauty, history, love, justice, friendship, and indeed science itself.

This concept, that there are limits to scientific explanation, is something of a radical idea in the University today.  Scientific materialism is a pervasive view, in the air we breath and the water we drink. It is an underlying assumption, implicit rather than explicit. Scientific understanding, it is believed, undermines the reason for God except, perhaps, in a vague spiritual sense. There are no necessary gaps, nothing need be explained by resort to supernatural superstition.

This is a bit of an overstatement perhaps, although not by much. Few Christians, and fewer skeptics appreciate the depth of thinking  through the ages on the reason for faith and the nature of God. The arguments are rational and sophisticated, these are not explanations cobbled together to fill a pre-scientific vacuum. Very few are undermined or even seriously impacted by the advance of scientific knowledge. And this leads me to a book I picked up at the meeting …

Francis Collins, in the brief stretch between stints as head of the Human Genome Project at NIH and, now, Director of NIH, put together a book, Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith, an anthology of readings he finds helpful in discussing rational reasons for belief in God. The anthology is, in some sense, a supplement to his book The Language of God. The essays  and excerpts in this book will not provide a proof for the existence of God – no such proof is possible. But they do provide arguments and reasons for belief.

Faith and reason are not, as many seem to be arguing today, mutually exclusive. They never have been. The letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Evidence! Down through the centuries, humanity’s greatest minds have developed interesting and compelling arguments about faith, based on moral philosophy, observations about nature, and examination of sacred texts. But outside of limited academic circles, these deeper perspectives are not head from much these days. The goal of this anthology is to present some of these points of view, to spur on a more nuanced and intellectually rich discussion of the most profound questions that humanity asks: Is there a God? If so, what is God like? Does God care about me? And what, if anything, is the meaning of life? (Introduction p. xi)

The selections included in the anthology span authors from NT Wright, Tim Keller, and CS Lewis to Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas; oh … with Plato, Gandhi, Elie Wiesel, Dorothy Sayers and Mother Theresa thrown in for good measure. Over the next many months, in an occasional series of posts, I will read through this book and consider the questions raised by the various authors. To set the stage as we begin today …

If someone approached you in a coffee shop and asked you what argument for faith you found most persuasive, what would it be? Why?

Who has had the greatest impact on your thinking?

In the introduction to the book Dr. Collins gives a very brief sketch of the arguments he found compelling as he considered the evidence for God; evidence including the profound experience of people, the existence of the moral law, the fine tuning of the universe. None of these provide proofs for the existence of God – but they can provide signposts pointing in the direction of God, and they did so for him.  The very order and intelligibility of the universe, the natural processes studied by science, the assumption of naturalism underlying science, is a signpost pointing to God. Evolution and the effectiveness of evolutionary processes in producing “the marvelous diversity of living things on a blue planet near the outer edge of a spiral galaxy” in a universe billions of years old, is not an acid to dissolve away religious thinking, but a reason for awe and worship of the creator.

The moral law was a  particularly persuasive argument for Dr. Collins and led him to take the claims of faith seriously.

Do not get me wrong. I am not arguing that the existence of the Moral Law somehow proves God’s existence. Such proofs cannot be provided by the study of nature. … But even if radically altruistic human acts can ultimately be explained on the basis of evolutionary mechanisms, this would do nothing to exclude God’s hand. For if God chose the process of evolution in the beginning to create humans in imago dei (“the image of God”), it would also be perfectly reasonable for God to use the same process to instill knowledge of the Moral Law.

A deeper question raised by this debate is the fundamental nature of good and evil.  Does morality actually have any foundation? To be consistent, a committed atheist, who argues that evolution can fully account for all aspects of human nature, must also argue that the human urge toward altruism, including its most radical and self-sacrificial forms, is a purely evolutionary artifact. This forces the conclusion that the concepts of good and evil have no real foundation, and that we have been hoodwinked by evolution into thinking that morality provides meaningful standards of judgment.(xv-xvi)

An evolutionary explanation for morality and altruism, in the absence of any underlying transcendent reality, is an empirical natural law that preserves a specific arrangement or collection of possible arrangements of atoms in molecules. This is intrinsically unsatisfactory as a ground for life and death. What is true here for the moral law is true as well for other areas of reality where scientific explanations, even if correct, are incomplete …  aspects of life such as love, justice, friendship and beauty. The most compelling evidence for God is not found in gaps in scientific understanding of the natural world, but in a layer of reality that transcends the material and provides meaning to the material reality.

What do you think? Is the existence of the Moral Law an argument for the existence of God?

If the development of the Moral Law can be explained by natural process – does the existence of morality itself, separate from the means by which we are driven to moral behavior, point toward the existence of God?

Dr. Collins concludes the introduction reflecting on the greatest commandment as quoted by Jesus – to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind (Mt 22). The addition of ‘mind’ is significant. As Christians we ought not construct a firewall between the life of faith and the life of the mind.

Surely humanity’s ongoing search for truth is not enriched by such limitations. In the words of Socrates (at least as imagined by Plato), the key to a fully mature, fully rewarding life, both for us as individuals, and as a society, is “to follow the argument wherever it leads” unafraid of the consequences. If this collection of essays provides even a small encouragement in this direction for the seeker, the believer, or the skeptic, that will be gratifying indeed! (xviii)

Join us for the consideration of the other readings  in the book.

It you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • http://www.russhoward.tumblr.com Russ Howard

    I had this discussion with my 13 year old recently. He’s reading Strobel’s A Case for Faith. I encouraged him that I want to have a reasonable faith, but I’m not in this thing with Jesus because of what I can understand. These days, it’s often what I can’t understand that draws me further in. The beauty of incarnation, the goodness of the cross and resurrection, how the story just rings true.

    I guess I want both, the reasoning and the mystery.

  • Jason Lee

    The moral law thing doesn’t do much for me. It seems that social scientists have a variety of sophisticated explanations for the social construction of morality and altruism (but perhaps the hard scientists aren’t aware or don’t think much of these).

    Personally, thinking about being a world full of colorful animals on a little blue speck makes me think about how unlikely it is that there’s no one at home in the heavens. I know this probably doesn’t do much for those steeped the hard sciences, but it does continue to amaze me and make me think about God.

    When in the coffee shop situation, I’d have to say that I wouldn’t answer the question as given. For me it really comes down to personal ongoing experiences of God. I literally depend on God to get me through life at a deep emotional level and to give any sense of what life should be. Perhaps in this “should be” statement I’m conceding that it is at some level the belief that God has moral law that draws me to belief in God (but this is different than the kind of moral law collins is talking about I think). So although a subjective answer, it’s really this subjective experiential aspect that bolsters my ongoing belief in God (and specifically Christianity).

  • http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/ steve martin

    RJS,

    You stated:
    Scientific materialism is a pervasive view, in the air we breath and the water we drink. It is an underlying assumption, implicit rather than explicit.

    It is my impression, that this is actually becoming a more explicit assumption. Depressingly, it seems a lot of “science” writing starts by at least stating this assumption. I just picked up “What we believe but cannot Prove: Today’s Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty” … and it is amazing how often the non-material / the supernatural / God is explicitly brushed aside.

    So question: Within academia, do you see this assumption as no more explicitly articulated than say a decade ago?

  • J.L. Schafer

    “If someone approached you in a coffee shop and asked you what argument for faith you found most persuasive?”

    OK. I am a scientist, a highly trained one. I happen to be sitting in a coffeeshop right now. And someone (RJS) has just asked me that question.

    For me, the answer has changed significantly and repeatedly over the years. At the moment, the arrgument that I find very persuasive is the line of thinking described by Newbigin in his book Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship. This is not simply an argument about why we need faith in a generic divine power behind the universe. It is an argument that is specifically and unabashedly Christian. And it was heavily influenced by the epistemology of scientist-turned-philosopher Michael Polanyi, who concluded that all true knowledge of ultimate realities is ultimately personal. This knowledge must come from communication with a person who knows such things (whom we believe to be Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word). And to receive that knowledge is not simply to give mental assent to the truthfulness, but to personally commit oneself to live and act as though the claims are true (even in the midst of uncertainty and doubt), because the person who makes the claims is regarded as trustworthy. By this line of reasoning, faith is personal, relational, and committal.

    Empirical observation and hypothesis testing can greatly help us to understand how things work. But these

  • J.L. Schafer

    …can never get us to ultimate reality. Only a person can.

  • http://scienceandtheology.wordpress.com Justin Topp

    Great post, RJS, and I’m looking forward to the rest of them. Sounds like the New York gathering was productive. Wondered a bit about this… “…the assumption of naturalism underlying science, is a signpost pointing to God.” I agree with the first two signposts in that sentence, but not sure about this last one. Care to explain?

  • rjs

    Jason Lee,

    There are social science explanations and physical, biological, material explanations. All part of the truth I am sure.

    But none of these are in themselves sufficient ground. This isn’t as I see it a gap argument. It isn’t that there is no way to rationalize a “Moral Law” without a creator to instill it. But morality as a “natural social law” is inherently unsatisfactory and incomplete. Now I am not sure that this is what Collins meant originally – as an argument – but it is the way I was thinking about it.

  • rjs

    Steve,

    I think it is becoming more explicit – and it is seen as part of the teaching mission for many to impart a true understanding of this naturalist reality (they don’t consider it simply a view of reality).

    I posted last year on an article in PNAS – Is Free Will Anti-Science. (The post was moved to this site, but the comments didn’t come along – you’ll have to go to the beliefnet site to see the original comments.) Underlying this paper – and much other discussion is the assumption of complete unadulterated naturalism.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    “If someone approached you in a coffee shop and asked you what argument for faith you found most persuasive, what would it be? Why?”

    I’m with Jason Lee on this, except his first paragraph, save the first sentence. It’s not an argument, really, for trusting Christ that I find most pursuasive; it’s what I’ve experienced, combined with the quality of the persons who witness for and against that faith.

    Not to draw too great a comparison, but if we asked the same question of Peter or any of the apostles, they would say the same, but, with much greater force I imagine. It’s not arguments; it’s what they’ve seen and heard personally. Even Paul’s methodology and goal for those he converted come to mind: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” To much of the Church has all but abandoned that goal and methodology. That decision, tactically speaking, is nothing short of tragic for overcoming naturalism.

    I wholeheartedly agree with RJS, also though, on the whole substance of the post. We do have reasons and arguments and they play a necessary role. (I personally find the suggestion that this whole world/universe is an accident pretty hilarious, and that ‘argument’ gives me much encouragement.) But part of rejecting the assault of scientific naturalism, and confronting its bold claims that it can explain everything, is to open ourselves and others to experiencing what naturalism claims can’t be experienced.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/rants/atheism/love.html Ray Ingles

    To be consistent, a committed atheist, who argues that evolution can fully account for all aspects of human nature, must also argue that the human urge toward altruism, including its most radical and self-sacrificial forms, is a purely evolutionary artifact. This forces the conclusion that the concepts of good and evil have no real foundation…

    But the last sentence doesn’t follow from the rest.

    Evolution adapts organisms to reality. We’re adapted to one gravity, one atmosphere, a certain set of nutrients in the environment, etc. If there are moral realities, humans could be adapted to the via evolution. (Which is so far consistent with what Collins says.)

    But the unspoken assumption here is that a ‘moral reality’ can only be framed by God, or at the very least can’t be framed in a naturalistic manner. It’s possible to disagree with that assumption. And I’ve done so here before. (Links mangled a bit to get past filter: http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2009/11/16/8-little-foxes-that-spoil-the-churchs-vines-4/#comment-90995 http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2010/02/09/christian-worldview-is-there-a-place-rjs/#comment-96340 http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2010/02/01/law-at-the-jesus-creed-david-opderbeck-6/#comment-95621 http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2009/08/06/atheist-delusions-2/#comment-83316 http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2010/10/14/the-moral-landscape-rjs/#comment-115852 )

    As to science talking about things like beauty and love… I can suggest things like David Sloan Wilson’s “Evolution for Everyone” where he talks about beauty (e.g. the chapter “The Beauty of Abraham Lincoln”) as well as love. I’ve go my own little essay on love, too. Click on my name to see it.

  • Mark T

    The “fine-tuning of the universe” for life argument may not hold as much water as once thought. See http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/26276/

    Summary: It is appearing that the setting of the constant that allowed the formation of stars and galaxies, and thus the evolution of life, is at the edge of the allowable range. In other words, it is nowhere near the “optimum” setting that one would’ve expected an omniscient creator to have put it. That life exists may be even more amazing than we thought.

  • http://scienceandtheology.wordpress.com Justin Topp

    Great comments T!

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Unfortunately I don’t believe in the god that I think most people believe in. Just as the sum of our molecules, compounds, matter and energy produce something that is conscious and transcendent of parts, so too do I believe that God is a transcendence of the universe which is all in all God. I don’t mean that in a mechanistic way either, that is that I don’t believe God is simply a transcendence of the universe because we don’t know what the universe is. I expect that the universe is unknowingly different from our experience of it.

    Saying it another way, God is.

    But, to the person in the coffee shop I would say that in my experience there is something out there that seems to tie all of this together and whatever that something is, I call God and God is good.

    As far as moral law is concerned, that is simply something that does not refute God to me.

    One of the problems that I see in the world is that people have a persistent delusion that their perception of the universe is what the universe is. It is nothing like our perception of it, or more specifically, or perception is only one possible perception. So, to me, we always live in a universe made up of beliefs.

    Now here I go getting all spiritual, metaphysical and stuff….

  • AHH

    Stepping back a bit, I think the church tends to overvalue “arguments for the existence of God”. Suppose somebody is persuaded of “the existence of God”. Well, what God? A generic theist, someone who believes in an anonymous “Supreme Being” or “Designer” is just as lost as an atheist. The Kingdom is not manifest in an anonymous God, but in the God who came with a name, incarnate in Jesus.

    So I endorse the comments of J.L Schafer @3 about Newbigin’s great book. Better to have Jesus as part of the picture from the beginning than to make Jesus an apologetic afterthought after devoting all one’s energy to trying to argue for theism.
    Not that God can’t work through arguments for theism; at least occasionally theism can be a way-station on the path to Jesus. But I think in general Christian apologetics are too much about a generic God and too little about the full Story that is centered around Jesus.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    The fine tuning argument has always been a non-starter for me since I am a Bayesian. Given that we are here the only possible way that could happen is to have the appropriate conditions for us to be here. I don’t care how remote of a possibility it is, the only way we can ask the question is for it to happen.

    Said another way, the fact that we can ask the question presupposes that the conditions exist.

    Said in a mechanistic way, we really don’t know how many universes there are or how long they have been forming and changing. It can easily be assumed that there are infinite universes therefore anything that can happen does.

  • http://www.twocities.org Dave Moore

    Tie: between the uniqueness of the trinity and the raw descriptions of human nature in the Bible. I discuss these often with unbelieving friends and they are exceedingly helpful.

    Probably St. Augustine, but would “amen” JL Schafer’s comment about Proper Confidence.

  • Ryan

    I am surprised the the unwillingness of so many on here to answer the question RJS put forth. Why create a fals dichotomy and act like you can’t have a reason for the hope you have within, and still bask in the mystery of who God is?

    I find for me both propel the other forward, and spur me on to deep love and intimacy with God.

    Since I am sitting in a coffee shop right now, and have had conversations about God here in the past I will tell you one that comes up over and over; the cosmological argument. In no way does this argument prove the divinity of Jesus or Christianity, but it has given me a reason to believe as Collins book advocates for.

    William Lane Craig has been massively influential for me in understanding this argument and enjoying its simplicity.
    1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause
    2. The Universe began to exist
    3. Therefore the universe has a cause

    This is so simple you can throw it out to a high school student or someone in a coffee shop and get them thinking.

  • Karl

    I don’t know that there is one single reason for faith that I find *most* persuasive. For me, it is the sum total of numerous reasons/arguments. The moral law/moral sense IS a powerful one in my mind, though.

    C.S. Lewis has had the greatest influence in my thinking about my faith and the reasons for belief in God. I find persuasive what Dr. Jerry Root has termed the “two-track conversion” that Lewis followed, in which along one track a rational mind grappled with hard questions and found reasonable (though not ironclad certain) answers, while on a second parallel track, a romantic and imaginative journey took place and a heart longing for Joy found consolation in relationship with its creator and savior. Some people follow only one or the other of these tracks to faith (all rational apologetics, or all emotional longing and experience) but it is the both-and nature of Lewis’s conversion and writing that I find persuasive and that most resonates with my own experience.

  • Rick

    Karl #18 brings up some good points, specifically the “numerous reasons”, and noting the impact of CS Lewis.

    I would also add the “historical” reason, especially the Crucifixtion and Resurrection. Therefore, the question RJS asked, “Who has had the greatest impact on your thinking?”, would have to mention scholars such as NT Wright in the answer.

  • Rick

    oops, should say “Crucifixion”

  • Alan K

    Greatest argument for faith? The existence of the Jews and the church. Why else would they be here?

    Greatest impact on thinking? Karl Barth. And because of that, I can’t really answer the final two questions because God’s reality is a non-issue for me. The issue for me is who God is.

  • dopderbeck

    I think the existence of the moral law is a powerful argument. Efforts to reduce the moral sense to mere “adaptive altruism” and so on end up failing miserably and don’t prove to be sophisticated in the least.

    I think the existence of mind is also a powerful argument. Again, I think efforts to reduce mind to an epiphenomenon prove to be self-defeating and shallow.

    I think the first mover argument mentioned by Ryan (#17) has some weight, but it’s less persuasive to me, because it’s not necessarily the case that “the universe began to exist,” at least in an Aristotelian sense, if any multiverse theory is true. Moreover, I think that theologically speaking, first mover arguments sometimes misstate the meaning of the doctrine of creation ex nihlo.

    I think fine-tuning arguments have some weight, even in the context of multiverse theories, because even the multiverse requires specific physical law-like properties.

    I think historical arguments such as NT Wright’s concerning the Resurrection are helpful, but can’t be conclusive.

    Ultimately I agree with those who have quoted Newbiggin and Barth and even, if you read him carefully, C.S. Lewis — faith in the person of Jesus Christ comes from meeting the person of Jesus Christ, from the veridical witness of the Holy Spirit, and from the testimony of trusted people who also have met Jesus. All of these other rational arguments are not “proofs” but indications of the coherence of faith in this person.

  • dopderbeck

    BTW, although this looks like an excellent book, I think Collins misses the mark here: ‘“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Evidence!”

    What we post-Enlightenment folks think of as “evidence” is “empirical evidence.” But this passage in Hebrews is discussing “evidence” without empirical support — “the evidence of things not seen.” Faith produces a kind of knowledge based on something different.

  • rjs

    Justin (#7)

    Perhaps that line is mangled a bit – I wrote “The very order and intelligibility of the universe, the natural processes studied by science, the assumption of naturalism underlying science, is a signpost pointing to God.

    The assumptions of naturalism underlying science are essentially assumptions about order and intelligibility. The universe makes sense and can be understood and described. But this property of order and intelligibility can be a signpost pointing toward God – not a property that eliminates God from the picture.

    This is the idea I was trying to get across.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    After further contemplation I have a more honest (to myself) answer. I believe in God because I want to. Given the evidence it seems to come down to a leap of faith in one sense or the other and I have decided that I want to experience the life of a believer. I have heard people say that God can give you everything that you are searching for in life so I decided to put that to the test and make the leap. Now note, I am not saying God will give me material possession or comfort, I fully recognize that those may be taken away. But God will give me a relationship with the world that comes closest to the reason we exist and I want to experience that.

    Unfortunately, I could not convince myself to take that leap into Christianity until NT Wright. Up until that point I felt that Christianity did not have what I was looking for. But now with the advances I have seen over the past 2 decades, I am becoming more convinced everyday that not only does Christianity have the life I am looking for, but Jesus actually got to live it.

  • dopderbeck

    For an extended and IMHO brilliant discussion of why materialism fails utterly as a philosophy, check out Conor Cunningham’s new book, Darwin’s Pious Idea.

    The fact is that materialism doesn’t really support the notion that the universe is orderly and “intelligible.” In the view of true materialism, there is no such thing as “mind,” and therefore no such thing as anything being “intelligible.” Moreover, in the view of true materialism, our perceptual capabilities are designed for survival, not for truth, and therefore there is no reason to base any sort of meta-philosophy on those capabilities. There is no more reason under true materialism to expect that humans have a true understanding of “the way things are” than to expect such true understanding from a rhinoceros or an amoeba.

  • dopderbeck

    DRT (#25) — the fact that you want to believe in God — the longing for God — is itself a sort of evidence for God (Augustine’s God-shaped vacuum). To the materialist, this is just wish-fulfillment. But of course, the committed materialist wants to believe in materialism, so what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If all belief is reducible to wish-fulfillment, then there is no such thing as true belief.

  • rjs

    dopderbeck,

    I have Cunningham’s book – and plan to post on it once I get a chance to read it. We’ll see how long that takes.

  • http://scienceandtheology.wordpress.com Justin Topp

    Thanks for the reply, RJS. Got it.

    DRT (#25)… I also think wanting to believe is meaningful. I don’t think it counts as external evidence for God, but I certainly think it has some meaning personally as one wrestles with the faith. And at least it’s honest, right?!?!

  • J.L. Schafer

    DRT, I’m glad you’re a Bayesian. So am I, for pragmatic reasons. But I don’t see what that has to do with the fine-tuning argument.

  • Steve K

    Dave Opderbeck,
    I’m under the impression “First Mover” arguments (in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition) are not dependent on whether the universe had a beginning. Could some learn-ed Thomist correct me if I’m wrong?

    Thanks

  • dopderbeck

    Steve K — I think you are right in that Thomas’s doctrine of creation relates to the contingency of creation, not the “time” at which creation came to be. But note WL Craig’s statement of the argument, which does assume a temporal beginning; and note how it is usually used in popular apologetics — tied to the Big Bang.

  • Bev Mitchell

    It would take a patient listener and more than one cup of coffee but I would try something like the followng:
    Matter, Life, Death and Victory

    Material and spiritual reality

    We are material/spiritual beings inhabiting a material reality and intimately connected with it. We have only weak abilities to interact with spiritual reality where dwell God, Jesus and other spiritual beings, including the evil ones. The Holy Spirit is our only sure connection with that other reality, and we are called to fight against evil in that reality by agreeing with Him and thereby availing ourselves of His power. Why God needs us in this battle is not clear. It may be important for us to voluntarily experience His power while still inhabiting material reality – in some sense, we are ‘in training’.

    Material death may be a consequence of material limitations

    The material reality that we inhabit, which we understand better each passing year, has some real limitations.The big one is that there is only a certain amount of it – only a limited, though vast, amount of matter. Imagine that to make it possible to have one planet on which could evolve one sentient, material species, who could be given a spirit and free will, required an investment of the vast majority of this matter as non-living stuff. The remainder was available for living things which subsequently evolved, leading to material human beings. Now, with matter being severely limited, and given that all living things share the same atoms with all other living and non-living things, living things must be recycled – material death must occur. Put another way, the limitations on matter mean that no living thing can go on reproducing and consuming forever. All living things must die or stop reproducing (at least).

    The relationship between death and evil

    Now, if material death is ‘bad’ and the result of evil, what is material birth? In a world of limited resources death is the necessary corollary of birth. Birth may be ‘good’, but in a limited resource reality only death can make way for more birth. So, the conflict in spiritual reality over what material reality should be like (eg. should it be limited?) may go back to the original creation of matter. Imagine that evil somehow had the power (against God’s will but for some reason permitted) to limit the amount of matter available. In one stroke, material birth/life become hostage to death.

    Made in the Image of God and living in the presence of evil

    ‘In the image of God’ probably means many things, but it surely must mean that we are spiritual beings with a God-given authority to make our own decisions. This also means there is another kind of life – spiritual life. But what about spiritual power? Given the authority to make up our own minds, and the reality of evil, our spiritual life now comes into play. Obviously, the spiritual power we have is wholly insufficient for the challenge of dealing with evil – it wasn’t sufficient in the ‘garden’ and it is not sufficient for any one of us at any time in history. Once humanity reached the stage where we could be given spiritual life and authority over our own decisions, we became easy prey for evil and we made and continue to make decisions that seriously separate us from Almighty God. We don’t have the spiritual power to resist. Only God has this kind of Power. With this theological perspective, ‘original sin’ is seen more as ‘inevitable sin’. Apart from God, with free will and in the presence of evil, we always sin. It has to do with our not having the Power of God within us. Accepting God’s authority is the first step in receiving this Power.
    The defeat of Evil and death
    The solution, God’s solution, to this dilemma was to work with humans as soon as we could understand, first giving us a spirit and free will (because he seems to really think this is ultimately the way to go) then revealing himself to us, standing by us as we work out why it’s really important to yield to His way of doing things, and then stepping in to show, in Christ, that human beings really can follow God in complete faith. This is the spiritual story of human existence as well as each individual’s story. Finally, Christ’s sacrifice brought to an end evil’s claim on us, in both material and spiritual reality. “Death was swallowed up in victory.”

    The war has been won, the battles continue

    We now find ourselves in the already-not yet time, still material and under all the limitations of that reality, but, by when we accept Christ’s forgiveness, we are able to grow spiritually as we learn to yield to the gentle urgings of the Holy Spirit. When God will decide that it’s time to say ‘enough’ is his concern, but the stage is set, the necessary suffering and sacrifice in spiritual reality has already been completed. Since, in our disobedience, we appear to be rapidly changing the planet into a place that will be increasingly unfriendly to material life, it may be that God has in mind a rescue just before we make some irreversible errors. Until that time, there is still only so much matter to go around which, quite practically, leads to recycling. This includes the material birth-death cycle for all living things. In spiritual terms, however, existence never ends. As to the nature of the glorified existence that we are promised, and that Christ revealed after His resurrection, we can only speculate.

  • Jeremy

    If someone was to ask me, I’d point to the cosmological argument and several non-rational reasons like experience and conviction. I personally find the moral argument and the argument from desire sentimentally convincing (I want morality to have a backing and I want my desires to be fulfillable), but not completely logical. I find the ontological argument singularly unconvincing.

    It would be hard to pin down most influential thinkers. Lewis and Wright figure in heavily, but I’ve found myself increasingly abandoning rational arguments. They’re useful, but I’ve met way too many de-converts that start their story with “I used to be really into apologetics…” Relationship doesn’t seem to survive constant analysis…makes sense, I guess. I think that’s true of human relationships too.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    J.L. Schafer, I seems to me that the fine tuning argument is an argument for god based on the chance of a fine tuned universe happening with and without divine intervention. Given we have a fined tuned universe, my Bayesian approach assigns a much higher probability to the event taking place than a non-Bayesian would. Is this incorrect in your view? The last time I used Bayesian statistics was 25 years ago when we were trying to predict the velocity of a projectile that would perforate a given armor system 50 percent of the time….

  • J.L. Schafer

    DRT, a Bayesian starts with a subjective prior probability, then factors in the evidence and converts it to a posterior probability. The Bayesian says, “Given the evidence, the probability of [the unobservable happening] being true is [a specific probability].”

    A non-Bayesian would not even assign a probability to the unobservable happening. Rather, he or she would say, “Suppose the unobservable happening — in this case, creation by a purposeful being — never happened. Then, under that null hypothesis, the chance that we would observe such a finely tuned universe is [something extremely tiny]. Then either (a) the null hypothesis is true, and an outrageously rare event occurred, or (b) the null hypothesis must be false.”

    The Bayesian and non-Bayesian (i.e., frequentist) approaches are different ways of summarizing the evidence. But given the same evidence, the two approaches should lead to similar conclusions.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Ah, J.L. Schafer, I agree with you, but reach a different conclusion. The Non person would say there is a small occurrence and the Bayesian would assign a high occurrence. Given we don’t have multiple experimental trials, we have a problem…..perhaps I have to look at your view more.

  • J.L. Schafer

    Hi DRT: Upon the evidence of a finely tuned universe, the non-Bayesian would say, “The evidence that I see would have a very small chance of appearing if God were not there.” The Bayesian would look at the same evidence and say, “This same evidence, which would be very rare if God did not exist, now makes it very likely that God is there.” The two statements are very compatible. The only difference is that the Bayesian takes the extra step of flipping the probability around, so that he or she can say, “The probability of God’s existence is such-and-such.” The non-Bayesian doesn’t take that extra step.

    Do we have multiple trials? In one sense we don’t, because there is only one realization of the history of this universe that we can see. But that’s a red herring, because we never have multiple realizations of history.
    But in another sense, we do have multiple trials, because the evidence for complexity [however you measure it] is some accumulation of multiple packets of information, and those multiple packets provide replication.

  • JohnM

    I like Paul D. Feinberg’s cumulative case approach to apologetics. It doesn’t require detailed got-all-the-facts airtight answers to everything to make it’s case. Instead this approach seeks to demonstrate Christianity is the explaination that best fits the evidence before us. It also has the advantage of being able to make use of several threads of evidence (one of which is the moral law) rather than resting on a singular argument.

    One disadvange, but one it shares in common with other approaches, – it’s not likely to be an in a nutshell answer to the coffee shop question. Ultimately as has been noted in #22, I, like all Christians, believe not because of an argument, but by the conviction of the Holy Spirit

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    J.L Schafer, you are using your predisposed experience for the existence of a deity differently than me. I am using the initial state and knowledge to indicate the lack of a deity, making the Bayesian approach a reverse of the theistic approach.

    But, I am rusty, though I think what i said is right, I will look into this more (obsessively no doubt). Thanks for engaging.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    BTW, my Bayesian statement is, “Given there is no proof of god, and we are presented with this universe, the probability of it existing (god) is small given the evidence (the evidence is not supported).”

  • tscott

    “And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
    Which yields its fruit in its season,
    And its leaf does not wither.
    And in whatever he does he prospers.”

    My introduction into scriptural Christianity was with such a man. He was retired and having Wednesday evening “bible studies” at his house. Most modest in all sense of the word. A coincidence of opposites in the mystical usage. The Spirit of God is catching in my experience, resulting in a spirit of adoption and gifts. That community was strongly in the tradition that the results translated into doing good for others(prayer as key).

  • Rick

    Scot wrote this comment for another post, but I thought it interesting in light of the conversation on this post:

    “I heard George Mavrodes give a lecture. He was a major philosopher at Mich State. He said that most people change their mind, not on the basis of evidence or logic, but on the basis of a charismatic leader.”

  • rjs

    tscott,

    Nice reflection – the best apologetic is relationship, and the most devastating critique is relational.

    Rick,

    Charismatic leaders have a role and a duty – although this is a broad network. And I think this plays in with tscott’s reflection. Most people don’t sit down and reason dispassionately – they trust people, for the most part they trust people who have proven trustworthy.

    But the worst leaders are those who have reached positions on the authority of other charismatic leaders … without doing any of the heavy lifting themselves.

  • http://www.spirithome.com/apologetics.html Bob Longman

    This whole thing gives me this strange feeling. It’s like a vast jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces missing. There’s far more than enough to see and enjoy the whole thing. But the people I want to share the faith with, and bear witness to Christ to, point to the missing pieces (several of which are found in atheist arguments, others in the evils done by Christians), and say, ‘What good is the whole?’ or even ‘There is no whole.”

    I get the feeling there’s something missing here, but I can’t put my finger on it. I want to write about it, but how do I show something of what’s on the missing pieces?


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