Friday, April 02, 2010

Essay: Does God Exist? by Tawa Anderson

Does God Exist? by Tawa Anderson
Is there a God?1 How can you be sure that God exists?  Can you prove to me that God is real?  Does the existence (or lack thereof) of God make any significant difference?  Was Nietzsche right in declaring: “God is dead!”?  These questions strike at the very heart of human existence, and cry out for our personal attention and deliberation.  Furthermore, these questions must be answered before we can inquire into the truth of Christianity.  After all, if there is no God, then Jesus certainly isn’t God in the flesh!  If there is no God, there is no Christian faith worth considering.  In this brief essay, I will share three persuasive clues (traditionally called arguments or proofs) that point to the existence of God.  This is not an apologetic for Christianity, but rather for basic theism – an argument that God exists, not an argument that the Christian God is real. (MP3 Audio | RSS | iTunes)

The Human Condition: Why God Matters
Before considering arguments for God’s existence, however, I want to briefly address the importance of God’s existence.  To put it bluntly: what are the implications if Freud was right – if God is a delusion, a projection of the human subconscious, an expression of insecurity and wish-fulfillment?2
   
The Book of Ecclesiastes poetically summarizes the life without God: “Meaningless!  Meaningless!  Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless!”  Atheist philosopher Jacques Monod states: “Man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he emerged only by chance.”  What is man, in the absence of God?  An insignificant and doomed member of an insignificant and doomed race on an insignificant and doomed planet adrift amongst the infinitely immeasurable universe. What is our ultimate fate?  Nothingness.  Extinction.  Humanity without God is not a pretty picture.  The existence of God matters.

So the question becomes: does God exist?  Let us look at the clues provided by the unquenchably religious spirit of man, the origins and fine-tuning of the universe, and morality.

Can Man Live Without God? An Existential Argument from Human Religiosity
First, consider the nature and extent of religious desire and religious experience.  From the dawn of known history, human beings have been remarkably religious.  Every human culture and civilization has had a concept of the divine - gods, goddesses, and spirit beings.  People have a relentless desire to understand and touch the divine.  St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) said, “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in You [God].”  Notice also that our natural desires (e.g. hunger, thirst) are all matched by something which will satisfy them (e.g. food, water).  This suggests that our desire to know and touch God is matched by something in reality which will satisfy that desire - namely, God.  There is indeed a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God.3

Human beings also have a hunger for eternal life, to persist beyond physical death.  All human cultures express this desire (e.g. the pyramids of Egypt, the spirit world of native religions, Asian ancestor worship/veneration).  This yearning for eternity suggests that we exist for more than just this lifetime.  Finally, human beings have always sought answers to the great questions of life–“where did I come from?”, “what is wrong with me (and the world)?”, and “how can we fix it?”  We all seek answers, we all want wrongs to be set right, and we all yearn for eternal life.  This is a part of the human condition because we have been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).4

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God: An Evidential Argument from Cosmology5
Second, consider the origins of our unimaginably vast and majestic universe.  Our four-dimensional6  space-time continuum and all physical matter originated in the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago.  What caused the Big Bang?  The cause has to be transcendent, that is, outside of the physical universe itself (and therefore outside of time and space as we know it).  The cause also has to be personal (a “timeless rock” couldn’t cause anything).  The God of the Bible is a transcendent, personal being who brought the universe into existence—as Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Someone might ask: “If God made the universe, who [or what] made God?”  But God, as the transcendent personal cause of the universe, exists independently of time, and as such has no beginning.  Therefore, nothing caused God; He has always been.7

Furthermore, our universe is fine-tuned.  It is governed by a number of physical constants and laws (e.g. gravity, relativity) which are set at exactly the right place to support life on earth.  This is not random chance or pure luck, as some might argue.  Rather, it is evidence of a transcendent Being who created the universe (time, space, and matter) so that we might live and come to know Him.

So, the next time you gaze at the stars, remember that the heavens do indeed declare the glory of God, and the stars declare the work of His hands (Ps. 19:1)–our universe points to the existence of God.8

Good & God: A Rational Argument from Morality
Third, consider our awareness of morality–right and wrong.  Some people claim that morality is relative to the individual (right for me, wrong for you).  But deep down everyone knows that morality is objective–that some actions are truly wrong and others are truly right, regardless of whether someone agrees or likes it.  We recognize our own wrongdoing, and rightly feel guilty about it (see Rom. 2:1-5).  We also know that some things are wrong for all people in all cultures at all times–child abuse, rape, murder.  If someone disagrees, pummel them until they admit that it is really wrong for you to do so!

Where does our awareness of objective morality come from?  Perhaps we make it up as individuals or as societies, according to our own tastes.  If so, then the Holocaust was not evil, but rather the expression of Nazi Germany’s moral tastes.  Perhaps morality is a product of evolution instrumental to human survival.  If so, what we call “wrong” today may be “right” tomorrow.  Either way, morality is not a prescription for how we ought to behave, but rather a description of how we do behave.  If moral standards are not grounded in something transcendent (that is, outside of humanity), it is impossible to say (as we all do) that anything is always morally wrong (or right).  Simply put, if there is no God, then the evil that men do is not evil, it simply is.
 
Objective morality comes from our transcendent God, who has declared what is right and what is wrong (e.g. Ex. 20) based upon His character–His holiness, justice, and love.  God is the source of our knowledge of right and wrong–the clue of human morality points to the existence of God.

Come, Let Us Reason Together: An Invitation to Theism10
I have touched briefly on three persuasive clues that point to the existence of God.  I have not had time to lay the arguments out fully, but I have provided suggestions for further reading in each area.  Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that the arguments are not conclusive proofs.  I find them powerful and persuasive, but if you are entirely closed to considering the possibility of God’s existence, then no one will convince you.  If God is not in your “pool of live options”, then you will not be persuaded no matter what evidence and arguments are presented in God’s favor.  Thus, I wish to conclude with a personal appeal: I entreat you to not close your mind to the possibility of God.  Consider the clues for God with an open mind; consider the following essays (arguing for the truth of Christianity in particular) with a willingness to be persuaded. 

1 God here is understood simply as a transcendent or divine being – one outside of space and time.
2 Incidentally, I think the modern denial of God’s existence is a different type of wish-fulfillment – one which arises from man’s desire to be autonomous, self-sufficient, and secure in his own power.
3 Following C. S. Lewis, the argument looks like this:
a) Humans have undeniable natural desires, longings, or yearnings.
b) Each natural human desire/yearning has a satisfier in nature.
c) Humans have deep-seated religious yearnings which, if it is to be satisfied, can only be satisfied by an infinite God.
d) Therefore, God must exist.
4 For further reading, see Ravi Zecharias, Can Man Live Without God?; William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith.
5 Psalm 19:1ff.
6 String theory (in most manifestations) suggest there are more than these four dimensions—if you subscribe to string theory, expand the number of dimensions accordingly.  The same principle holds.
7 William Lane Craig phrases the argument:
(a) Everything that begins to exist has an external cause.
(b) The universe began to exist.
(c) Therefore, the universe had an external cause (outside of space and time), which we call God.
8 For further reading, see Lee Strobel, The Case For a Creator; Norm Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist.
9 For further reading, see C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; Timothy Keller, The Reason for God.
10 Isaiah 1:18.

34 comments :

kpolo said...

Some observations:

1) Existential argument from Religiousity: One can just as well argue that because human being thirst for knowledge or yearn for eternity, human beings are really gods who haven't come to the true realization of themselves. This is an argument for Deism or any notion of god, not necessarily God.

2) If you believe the universe came about per Big Bang cosmology 15 billion years ago, then you are obligated to reject the plain reading of Genesis 1 which not only contradicts the timeline, but also the events (earth before the "lights" before the "universe", etc.). If you cannot accept a plain reading of Genesis (using normal literature interpretation devices - Genesis is written as a historic account, not poetry; so you cannot infer wildly), then you will also have to reject the Gospel accounts of things like the virgin birth or the resurrection.

Tawa said...

Good comments!

1) I've never heard that particular twist on it - that perhaps humans are gods seeking their full self-actualization. Intriguing. Your second point, of course is precisely correct - the observations from religious experience are an argument for bare theism (or deism), not a strong argument for Christianity itself. But then, I admit this in my post, so it doesn't come as a surprise to me! What the human religious spirit does demonstrate, however, is the falling short of our dominant Western worldview. Arguably, the dominant culture view of the world today is that of naturalism (or materialism) - that matter (stuff) is all there is; there is no spiritual or supernatural realm or entities or whatnot. Observing the unquenchable religious spirit of humanity, the longing we have to touch the divine and endure past this physical life suggest that there is something significant missing from this contemporary worldview. Furthermore, the proliferation and downright commonness of intimate religious experience throughout the millenia suggest that there is, in fact, something non-material (i.e. supernatural) "out there". So that part of my post was NOT aimed at demonstrating the truth of Christianity, but rather at exposing the flaws in modern naturalism. We are inherently spiritual creatures because we are created or designed that way.

2) Why would I have to conclude that? I'm not sure that your implications logically follow.

a) First, I would argue that Genesis 1 is poetry, not straightforward historical prose. Hence, it is not necessary to interpret it in concrete literalistic fashion. Poetic interpretation of Genesis 1 has a long and illustrious history, including pre-Christian rabbinic scholars and even arguably the church father Augustine. I would agree with you, however, that the rest of Genesis is written as straightforward historical prose, and hence cannot be subject to "wild" interpretive devices.

b) A persuasive model (to me, at least) harmonizing Big Bang cosmology with a poetic interpretation of Genesis 1 is found in Hugh Ross's writings (e.g. The Creator and the Cosmos).

c) Let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that Genesis 1 is, as you suggest, prose and not poetry. Let's further assume that I still choose to interpret Genesis 1 figuratively or metaphorically - appealing to the "day-age" model, or the "day-gap" model, or something similar (perhaps the "earth-observation" model). Why would that REQUIRE me to interpret other historical accounts in the Bible figuratively or metaphorically? In other words, why would a figurative interpretation of Genesis 1 require me to reject, say, the virgin birth or the resurrection of Jesus? I can see how it would PERMIT me to interpret those passages figuratively as well (again, assuming [what is not the case] that I chose to treat historical prose in Genesis 1 figuratively). But why would it logically require it? I'm not sure I see your argument.

Thank you for the comments - I look forward to continuing to interact with you!

God Bless
Tawa Anderson

Ken Pulliam said...

Tawa,
First, I would like to say that you have a great writing style. You truly have a gift for communication.

Second, I don't find your arguments convincing and I will very briefly explain why.

a) No meaning in life without God--I have plenty of meaning in my life. I agree with Thomas Jefferson who was following Epicurus in saying that the pursuit of happiness is the purpose of life. I find happiness in my work, my family, my hobbies, etc. The fact that I will cease to exist when I die makes this life more important than if I thought I was going to live forever. (BTW, Ecclesiastes was supposedly written by Solomon who turned his back on Yahweh at the end of his life).

b) Men are Religious--this is true but I think can be explained by evolution. Man seeks to understand his environment and his mind has evolved to see patterns. Thus when things happen for which he had no explanation--such as earthquakes, volcanoes, lightning, etc., he attributed it to a deity. The fact that man yearns for more than what he has in life is just an existential reality, it doesn't prove the existence of a God, in my opinion.

c) Argument from cause--I think you meant to say the big bang happened 13.7 billion years ago, but regardless, I don't find the cosmological argument convincing. We do not know what preceded the big bang. I am told that the universe may be eternal and that it expands and then contracts and then repeats this cycle over and over.

d) Argument from fine tuning--If the universe is 13.7 billion years old and man has been around for about 200,000, then there was a huge amount of time in which the world wasn't geared for man. In addition, evolution says that man is tuned for his environment not that the environment is tuned for man. As for probablility, due to the enormous size of the universe, its not unreasonable to suppose that on one little tiny rock like the earth, life, although extremely improbable, did evolve.

e) Argument from morality--I find that there is no objective morality in the Bible. It permits things which we all believe today are wrong--slavery, genocide, polygamy, treatment of women as property, stoning of homosexuals and rebellious children, etc. You argue that man gets his sense of morality from God as a result of being made in God's image. If that is so, why do all men know innately that it is wrong to punish an innocent in the place of the guilty, and yet that is what God did in order to accomplish salvation?
Ken Pulliam

kpolo said...

Regarding (2):

a) Genesis 1 is not written in the Hebrew poetry style. I think to argue that only Gen 1 is poetic, but the rest is not is not a convincing argument. Augustine for the record interpreted Gen 1 allegorically but to make the (unwarranted) claim that God created the world instantly. Luther rejected this interpretation of Augustine.

c) The "day-age" model suffers from a fatal flaw: God created Adam on day 6. If each day is a eon, Adam was millions of years old at the end of day 7. But setting that aside, the re-interpretation of Gen 1 to fit modern cosmology doesn't "require" you to also reinterpret the gospel accounts. However, it does raise an inconsistency - you reinterpret scripture in an odd way (yom is used uniformly to refer to 24-hour days) to fit certain observations such as cosmology in one case but reject similar observations (e.g. the impossibility of the virgin birth or resurrection) in other cases. Again, it doesn't require you to reinterpret it, but it sure does provide a valid line of argument for someone to reject those accounts.

I would also contend that the best way of understanding scripture - which is to let scripture interpret scripture, based on Exodus 20 and Jesus quotes would have you conclude that only a literal reading of Genesis 1 is warranted.

Given that you hold to an old-earth model, do you also believe in theistic evolution or do you think that God created a literal Adam?

Tawa said...

Ken: Very good post – and thank you for the encouragement. Let me return the compliment – you present your thoughts very coherently. I’ll respond to your thoughts, not in an effort to argue, but to put forward matters for continued conversation and pondering.

a) It will come as no surprise to you that I disagree with Epicurus, Jefferson, and yourself as to the ‘purpose of life.’ I would argue, along with the Westminster Confession, that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. From a secular perspective, Aristotle puts forth some good arguments against ‘happiness’ (loosely defined) being the purpose of life. Nonetheless, to more important issues:

I am pleased, in a sense, that you find meaning and happiness in life. While some might go that route, I am not going to attack the authenticity of your experience. Instead, let me set my own experience beside yours. You claim it likely that God does not exist. I counter that I know that God does exist, and I have experienced Him personally in my own life. On two different occasions (I wish it were more, but God knows best) I have heard God speak to me. On various other occasions (again, not as often as I would wish) I have experienced God’s presence (the ‘numinous’, as Rudolf Otto would put it) powerfully and unmistakeably. Such basic, personal experience of God is really unalterable confirmation of His existence.

I would also say that I certainly find great fulfillment in the blessings of this life – family, study, hobbies (particularly music), watching our kids grow and flourish. Life is indeed good. And I certainly treat this life as crucially important – my belief (certainty) in an afterlife does not somehow make me less concerned or interested in this current life. Charles Taliaferro (an article called “Why We Need Immortality”) puts that point more eloquently than I can.

Finally, your closing comment about Ecclesiastes is interesting, but both controversial and somewhat beside the point. First, there are strong arguments out there that Hezekiah, not Solomon, is the primary author of Ecclesiastes. Second, amongst those who adhere to Solomonic authorship, a number of biblical scholars insist that an editor put the final marks upon the book – including such things as the attribution of meaninglessness to the pleasures of this life. Third, there is significant debate as to whether Solomon rejected Yahweh, and if so, when. One stream of thought (which I agree with) is that Solomon walked away from the Lord during the bulk of his kingship and was seduced by foreign women and gods; but that toward the end of his life, he repented and returned to the Lord – hence the book of Ecclesiastes marks his own assessment of his foolish years. Regardless, the book of Ecclesiastes (whoever the author and whatever Solomon’s life situation and ending spiritual condition) has been interpreted throughout history in the way I presented it in the original post.

Tawa said...

b) Personally, I think that evolution is sadly unable to account for human religiosity. Human beings are extremely creative, BUT God is beyond our creative capacities. Well, that’s not quite fair. We are perfectly capable of inventing spiritual beings and anthropomorphic gods and goddesses. However, I would argue that everything that we create or invent has a concrete referent – something in reality upon which it is based. Thus the Greek and Roman gods (along with the ancient Babylonian and Sumerian deities and the Hindu pantheon) bear a startling resemblance to human beings, with their petty jealousies, lusting after beautiful women, and sibling rivalries – not to mention their imperfections and fatal flaws (Achilles heel, e.g.). The one thing I would argue that human beings cannot create is an omnipotent, transcendent deity. Again, other ancient religions conceived of the gods ‘forming’ the universe out of pre-existent, chaotic matter. Hebrew monotheism alone conceived of God creating the universe ex nihilo, out of nothingness.

c) If you go back to my original post, I do indeed cite 13.7 billion years ago – it was the first response that mentioned 15 billion. Nonetheless. I find the cosmological argument very persuasive, but then I already believe that God is real, so that’s not much of a surprise! In regard to the eternality of the universe and the oscillating universe model (expansion-contraction-expansion, otherwise known as bang-crunch-bang), William Lane Craig (Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition) spends significant time debunking that particular theory of the universe. So does agnostic physicist Paul Davies (e.g., The Cosmic Jackpot), along with eminent scientist Stephen Hawking (e.g., A Brief History of Time). There are a couple of posts on my blog with regards to both the oscillating universe and the religious spirit of man that you might want to check out – they’re a quicker read! The short story is: (a) an eternal universe contradicts all our known astrophysical evidence; and (b) there is no known physical mechanism which would allow the universe to expand again after contracting (crunching).

Tawa said...

d) Does evolution really say that man is tuned for his environment? I think evolutionary theory (if it’s true) suggests that man is well-suited to survive in his environment; however, that hardly implies an answer to the question of whether man evolved to suit his environment, or whether the environment was designed to suit mankind. Hugh Ross and others (Paul Davies, Guillermo Gonzalez, e.g.) have done considerable work calculating the probability that a planet, anywhere in the vastness of the universe, could have the properties and constants necessary for the evolution of complex life – the results are not at all encouraging (well, that’s not quite true; I find them encouraging, but naturalists generally do not). That’s a large part of the reason theorists are turning to multiverse theory – it allows the existence of millions of universes, one of which certainly would have the suitable characteristics for life (hence, here we are).

e) You ask, “why do all men know innately that it is wrong to punish an innocent in the place of the guilty …” I am glad that you acknowledge this as a universal sentiment. But does that innate belief insist that it is wrong for an innocent person to voluntarily suffer (be punished) in place of the guilty? I think not. Rather, doesn’t our innate morality suggest that it is the height of heroic morality to take someone else’s deserved punishment upon ourselves to spare them from it? On Good Friday, Jesus was not driven to the cross against His will (hence Philippians 2 – he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross); rather, he willingly became an atoning sacrifice for our sins. He took our suffering upon himself of his own accord – an act of love.

My response is getting on the long side. Your comments brought up a considerable number of very interesting and thought-provoking issues, and I appreciate the opportunity to interact about them. I hope you will respond to some of the thoughts I put forward here, and we’ll be able to dialogue further.

God Bless
Tawa

Ken Pulliam said...

Tawa: thanks for your reply and I do enjoy the dialogue.

a) We will agree to disagree on the purpose of life. However, it seems to me that to maintain that ONLY Christians have real purpose in life is somewhat insulting to the more than 2/3 of the world's population that does not believe in the Christian god. In addition if you count Buddhists and Atheists/Agnostics, you have a very considerable number who don't believe in a personal God at all and yet these people are not living in despair.

On your personal religious experiences, only you truly know what you have experienced. I would suggest some things to consider, however. First, people tend to interpret their experiences in line with their belief system. For example, Catholics see or hear Mary, Muslims see or hear Muhammad, Hindus see or hear one of their gods, Mormons see or hear Joseph Smith or one of their prophets, and so on. An excellent book which I would recommend on this score is Visions of Jesus: Direct Encounters from the NT to Today by Philip Wiebe. Second, neurophysiologists and psychologists are beginning to explain how visions and other mystical phenomena are created in the brain. So, while your experience may be validation for you, I hope you can see why it is not proof of Christianity for me.

b) I think some of the Greek philosophers posited a god who was omnipotent, omniscient, etc.

Ken Pulliam said...

c) Regarding the cosmological argument, I offered the idea of an eternal universe as a possibility. It may not be the best option. I think we are in our infancy in understanding what happened so long ago. The fact is though that we don't know what preceded the big bang. We don't know for certain if there truly was "nothing" prior. In addition, our concept of effects needing a cause is based on our observation of the present universe with all of its regularities. How do we know that before there was anything (assuming there was truly nothing before the big bang) that the same laws applied?

d) But we plenty of evidence of species adapting to survive in their environment; we don't see any evidence of the environment adapting for the species. As for the probabilities of live evolving naturally, yes its highly improbable--however we know that highly improbable things do happen. What are the statistical odds that you and I would be carrying on this conversation right now? What are the odds of someone being struck by lightning twice at different times in their life? What are the odds of someone winning the powerball lottery? All of these are statistically "off the chart" yet they happen.

e) It is not wrong for a person to volunteer to suffer in someone's place but what is wrong is for a judicial authority to accept that substitution. If my frined commits a murder and I volunteer to be executed in his place, that is noble on my part, but it would be a miscarriage of justice if the legal system allowed it.

Thanks again for the dialogue. I noticed you are a Ph.D. student in Louisville. Are you studying at the SBS where Al Mohler is President?

David said...

kpolo,

This is real simple. If Genesis 1 is written as an historic account, then the Bible begins with a massive error.

Tawa said...

Kpolo – Again, thank you for your comments, and I appreciate your continued feedback.

Regarding the genre of Genesis 1 – I am certainly not alone in treating Genesis 1 as poetic rather than historical prose. Nor do I see myself as the foremost defender of such a position! Nonetheless, I will put forth a couple of thoughts in support of the position.

First, commentators have noted for a long time that there is a difficulty (to put it mildly) in reconciling the chronology of Genesis 1 and 2 if both are taken as straightforward historical prose – it seems that in Genesis 2 Adam is present prior to certain creative acts that occur on Days 4 & 5.

Second, the Hebrew ‘yom’ is, to my understanding, used for longer periods of time in a few other places in the Old Testament. Then there is, of course, the reminder that with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and vice versa; which implies that God’s account of creation may not give the same type of chronological structure that we would like.

Third, it is not a random decision to interpret Genesis 1 poetically. There are features indicated the poetic genre. The use of parallelism (most evident in v. 26f), and particularly the striking parallelism of the days themselves – the first three days creating the structure of the universe, then filling the structure out in the second set of three days, thereby eliminating the ‘formless’ and ‘empty’ of v. 2.

Fourth, the day-age model would not require Adam to be millions of years old by the end of Day 7. Adam is created at the end of the day six age; day seven seems to be an announcement of the completion of creation, rather than a period of time itself. Furthermore, the day-age model would not (to my understanding) require each of the ‘ages’ to be of equal lengths of time.

Fifth, Exodus 20 clearly draws an analogy between God’s work in creation and man’s work in six days (and to rest on the seventh). Would the analogy somehow be undermined if the six days of creation were metaphorical rather than literal? I don’t see how or why. Plus, as Christians we both believe (I assume) that God continues to uphold His creation every day – in that sense, His ‘work’ never ends. So the analogy drawn in Exodus 20 cannot be an ironclad, strict one.

Finally, I agree that the young-earth model (6 literal 24-hour days about 10,000 years ago) is a viable model for God’s creation of the universe. I am more open to the possibility of its being true today than I would have been five years ago. But it has its own difficulties. And I would finally insist that Scripture does not clearly require us to adhere to a young-earth model.

And no, I am not a theistic evolutionist – I have far less openness to the possibility of theistic evolution being true than of young-earth creationism being correct. I believe God created a literal Adam – I do not see any reason for interpreting Genesis 2 as poetic in form.

Oh – and lastly, is there a difference between cosmological observations and metaphysical presuppositions? I ask that because it seems to me that concluding on the basis of scientific observations that the universe may be 13.7 billion years old is categorically different than concluding based on philosophical assumptions that “miracles do not happen.” From a Christian viewpoint, whether the universe was created 13.7 b.y.a. or 10,000 years ago, this is still a supernatural miracle.

God Bless
Tawa

Tawa said...

Ken – Thank you for the continued interaction. You are refreshingly honest and polite in discourse!

a) I can agree to disagree on the purpose of life. And if I seemed to belittle or insult the meaning that non-Christians find in life, that certainly was not my intent. Atheist Will Provine may have said better what I was trying to say, when he insisted that there is no reason that a secular humanist cannot find ‘proximate meaning’ in life – he acknowledged the loss of ‘ultimate’ or ‘final’ meaning, but insisted that the replacement was not so bad. Perhaps an analogy would help to clarify what I am saying. God created human beings as sexual creatures; we therefore find fulfillment in sex. However, I would argue that there are different levels of sexual fulfillment or enjoyment that can be experienced; and that the deepest level of sexual satisfaction is found in the long-term monogamous marriage relationship founded upon Christ. Statistics tend to bear this out – couples who have been married for a long time tend to express higher levels of sexual satisfaction (although I have no studies readily at hand to share). Be this as it may, individuals engaged in non-marital sexual relationships are certainly going to (generally) express a degree of sexual fulfillment in their lives – they are going to enjoy the sex they are having. Same thing with meaning and fulfillment in life – yes, satisfaction (happiness, if you will) is available outside of a relationship with Christ. But I would argue that the fulfillment and meaning is deeper when life is oriented toward what God designed as our ultimate purpose. Nonetheless, if my initial response (or this one) comes across as condescending, then I sincerely apologize. It is not intended to.

b) Yes, I agree with you that while my experience of God provide self-authentication of my faith to me, they will not be found persuasive by those outside my faith (generally speaking). I disagree that neuroscientists are beginning to understand the nature of numinous experiences, but that is a science truly still in its infancy.

c) Re: cosmology. Our cosmology is far advanced now from where it was in the Middle Ages, when Christians were generally on the defensive in arguing that the universe was temporal and created. Non-Christian science held to the eternality of the universe; the revolution caused by Big Bang cosmology in the 20th century has turned the tables. Before, Christians were arguing that they knew the truth about the universe’s temporal nature, and were accused of believing against the scientific evidence – is the shoe on the other foot now? Finally, I would argue that we do know what happened at (and ‘before’) the Big Bang – it’s just that a lot of people are unwilling to accept the conclusions that the science points to! The Big Bang is a singularity, with literally nothing lying behind it – it requires a transcendent cause – we have no reason to infer any other conclusion, unless one is already precommitted to a naturalistic worldview which precludes the possibility of the existence of God.

d) Yes, we have evidence of species adapting to environment; but we do not have evidence of species evolving into new species, and that’s one of the crucial problems for evolutionary theory. And the probability of life evolving ‘naturally’ (that is, from non-life) is not ‘highly improbable’ – it is impossible. In fact, I would argue that believing that life can arise from non-life is akin to believing in a ‘miracle’ – that which cannot be naturalistically explained. But if you are going to believe in miracles anyway, then it’s a short step to embracing the existence of God.

Ken – I enjoy these exchanges. We need to head off now - I'm taking my kids to the swimming pool – at Southern Seminary; indeed, I am studying where Dr. Mohler is president, although I have not met him.

God Bless
Tawa

Sam said...

This is a little off topic, but I just couldn't resisting pointing out the irony comments about the improbability of evolution. IDers say evolution is unlikely because it's improbable. Ken says improbable things happen all the time. But I have seen the exact same things said in regards to resurrection debates. One person (usually invoking David Hume) will say resurrections are highly improbable events. The other person will point out that improbable events happen all the time. Isn't that ironic?

David said...

Tawa,

I'm sorry, but the "young earth model" is not viable. It is not correct. There are two choices here; read Genesis as poetry or accept that the Bible has massive errors.

Sam,

There is a difference between (1) events that are improbable, but still possible, given how nature works, and (2) events that are essentially impossible and that totally contradict everything we understand about how the natural world works. It's the difference between (1) winning the lottery when the odds are ten million to one against you and (2) seeing the lottery balls fly up into space as if gravity had no effect on them.

David said...

Tara,

"We do not have evidence of species evolving into new species".

Actually, we do have evidence that this happens.

"And the probability of life evolving ‘naturally’ (that is, from non-life) is not ‘highly improbable’ – it is impossible."

Evidence to support this claim?

David said...

Tawa,

One last thought. What if we say, just for the sake of argument, God created the first cell.

Any reason why everything we see today in the biological world couldn't be the product of evolution? Once we have a single cell, what's to stop evolution from producing the current diversity of species, including Homo sapiens?

Ken Pulliam said...

Sam,

The difference is that we know life, even though improbable, does exist. We don't know that the resurrection, which is improbable, did happen. If we had the same proof for it that we have for life existing, then I would accept it in spite of its improbability.

Ken Pulliam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken Pulliam said...

Tawa,

Hope you and your family enjoyed the pool. It was warm enough here in Atlanta yesterday for swimming--84 degrees!

a) I think that some people probably do have more meaning and purpose in life than others (but I would disagree that Christians have more than anyone else). We are fortunate that in this country we have the time to contemplate such things, for many poor people of the world, all they can do is concentrate on getting their next meal.

b) The biggest problem I have with using religious experience for validation of the authenticity of the religion is the fact that each religion has examples of religious experiences. For example, when my Mormon neighbor tells me he is certain of Mormonism because of a "burning in the bosom," what I am supposed to say? Or when a Hindu tells me he has seen one of his gods? Or when a Catholic tells me he has seen or heard from the Virgin Mary? They can't all be genuine experiences.

c) There is no agreement among scientists as to the Big Bang being a singularity. Stephen Hawking has changed his mind on the subject. On page 50 of A Brief History of Time , he writes: “It is perhaps ironic that, having changed my mind, I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe – as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account.”

d) I don't think its impossible that life evolved from non-life. There are several theories of abiogenesis put forward by scientists which may offer a viable explanation. For example, see here.

Thanks again for the dialogue.

Lee said...

Hi Tawa,

This is moving on nicely, but I thought I would add 10 cent where I can.

Finally, I would argue that we do know what happened at (and ‘before’) the Big Bang – it’s just that a lot of people are unwilling to accept the conclusions that the science points to! The Big Bang is a singularity

You can argue it until the cows come home, but you will not be talking science (nothing yet to measure)

Also, this singularity of which you speak is nothing more then where general relativity (GR) breaks down. It is the failure of the theory, NOT the 'natural laws' or physics.

Oh, and no one should be using GR when you get to the Big Bang since you are now at the quantum mechanical (QM) level... and GR is classical

GR fails where it does because it is just what happens when you divide anything by zero in maths - the maths goes to infinity. (The sign that the theory is wrong, which has been known since for over 80 years)

GR is also accepted to be wrong since it does not fit into the quantum realm. (QM is known to be wrong because it ignores gravity)

So science isn't pointing to any singularity - the current and best theories break, nothing more.

Something strange is happening, but our two best theories fail under such conditions.

Lets hope the LHC gives us some new stuff to base our theories on.

Take care

Lee

Lee said...

I feel I should also add, this is the kind of talk we hear from the likes of William Lane Craig – he and others are always ignoring quantum mechanics when they talk about the Big Bang and focus on only GR.

I wonder why?

I think I know, they cannot handle QM

Lee

kpolo said...

David,
I think the difference between your approach and my approach to Gen 1 is very simple: You are attempting to read Gen 1 in view of external interpretations of man, I'm taking the text to mean what it means based on its prose style.

Regd you theory about one cell:
a) This would imply death before Adam and death and destruction being a good thing
b) Transformation of one species to another has NEVER been observed.
c) Why should evolution stop with mankind? Why not have us evolve to better morality? Then Christ's death could have been avoided.


I'd also be interested in whether you believe Noah's flood was global or local? That would give me a better view into your exegetical approach.

Tawa said...

David

Just a couple of quick comments.

1) We do NOT have evidence of speciation (species evolving into new species). The only examples (that I'm aware of) that biologists have attempted to identify involve viruses; and even then, they are still viruses at the end of the 'evolution' - different forms of viruses, but still viruses nonetheless. Experimentation with fruit flies, flowers, crops, cattle, etc. have still only produced the same 'kind' or 'type' of offspring. So no, I do not accept your assertion that we have evidence of speciation.

2) Re: proof that life cannot arise from non-life. Briefly, origin-of-life researchers have been working frantically on this 'evolutionary problem' for over 60 years, and have made zero progress. And that's with human intelligence guiding the process (not naturalistic mechanisms on their own). But that is beside the point. Why should I bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that life cannot arise from non-life? That is a fairly standard 'natural law'. One seeking to argue otherwise bears the burden of proof to show that it can happen. On what basis would you suggest that life can arise from non-life? If you simply say, "because it happened here on earth", that's not particularly helpful, because of course I would respond: "No, it didn't - God created life on earth."

c) This isn't my battle, but I disagree when you suggest that young-earth is not a viable model for the creation of the universe. It is clearly not in YOUR pool of live options, given the worldview presuppositions that you hold. But, if one is a theist (believes in God), as I am, then young-earth is certainly a viable model. If there is a God (assume with me just for the sake of argument), then is it inconceivable that he could have made the universe to look much older than it in actuality is? I am not a young-earther myself, but I have to admit that this is certainly within the scope of what the Christian God can do (and may have done).

d) If you admit, just for the sake of argument, that God "created the first cell," then I would agree that there is nothing stopping God from using 'evolutionary processes' from resulting in the diversity of life that we now see. However, if you say that, you are redefining 'evolutionary processes' from their usual understanding - it is no longer a blind, random, materialistic process; rather, it is designed and implemented by God. But I am happy to let you do that if you like. It's not the model that I think is right, but so be it.

God Bless
Tawa

Tawa said...

Ken:

Just a couple of quick thoughts (again) - time runs away from me!

a) I agree. Although I suspect that people who are struggling for their next meal spend a considerable amount of time pondering the deeper questions of life as well. In fact, my own theory (opinion) is that the relative opulence and luxury that we experience in the West serves as a numbing blocker that distracts us from what I consider (and you seem to as well) the most important questions. Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? What is the meaning? Is there a God? Sadly, I find a lot of people in our society entirely unconcerned with these topics (except for the six months immediately following a disaster that affects them proximately, e.g. 9/11). But you are right - we are indeed blessed to live in a country where we have freedom to dialogue on such issues without fear of repression or recrimination.

b) I agree to a point. A number of people (true religious pluralists) would disagree, but I think you're right - they can't all have authentic experiences which are legitimately touching the one true God. However, I would argue that it is even more unlikely that they are all wrong, or inauthentic experiences. For more probable, in my mind, is that humans beings are all seeking after the transcendent divine reality which is out there, but not every professed religious experience is authentic or valid.

c) I've read Hawking's material, suggesting the boundary-less Big Bang, using introduced imaginary time. There are some interesting metaphysical assumptions and quantities thrown into his model, but the key word there is metaphysical - his theory is more philosophy than it is physics; more science fiction than science. I know that sounds like a rhetorical flourish, and it's not intended to be a quick dismissal. But his model is driven by the desire to do away with the origin of time and space because he comprehends the inevitable logical conclusion if there IS a singularity - something transcendent to the universe. And Hawking is determined to not allow a crack in the door where God could 'peek through'. I propose that the metaphysical commitment to an atheistic worldview comes first, and then the attempt to do away with the singularity results.

d) The results published in Cosmos (the Joyce-Lincoln experiments) are fairly underwhelming. I don't see them as showing anything like the naturalistic achievement of life in a test tube.

My more curious question, however, is this: Why do you see life arising from non-life as being less improbable than God? Why is the existence of God impossible in your perspective?

Oh - and in response to your comment to Sam - is it possible for anything historical that that level of proof be obtained? (i.e. that there be the same proof that the resurrection happened as that life exists) I see that as an unfair way to dismiss history. What if I turned the question around: if we had the same level of proof for the evolution of species from a common ancestor that we have for the existence of life itself on earth, that I would accept that theory, no matter how improbable it seems right now; but in the absence of such proof, I will stick to the thesis that God created the species according to their kinds. That's a fairly similar analogy, is it not? And I think it is equally unfair to demand that level of proof.

God Bless
Tawa

David said...

“You are attempting to read Gen 1 in view of external interpretations of man, I'm taking the text to mean what it means based on its prose style.”

What I’m trying to do is determine what happened in the past, regardless of what Genesis says.

”This would imply death before Adam and death and destruction being a good thing.”

I don’t really care what it implies about Adam. Things died on this planet for billions of years before humans appeared.

”Transformation of one species to another has NEVER been observed.”

Yeah, it has.

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB910.html

“Why should evolution stop with mankind?”

Well, I don’t see any reason why it should stop with man.

”I'd also be interested in whether you believe Noah's flood was global or local? That would give me a better view into your exegetical approach.”

My approach is to use the science of geology. There was no global flood. If one wishes to argue that the story in Genesis involved a local flood, then at least this is not contradicted by mountains of geological evidence.

David said...

Tawa,

“We do NOT have evidence of speciation (species evolving into new species.”

Yeah, we do.

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB910.html

“The only examples (that I'm aware of) that biologists have attempted to identify involve viruses; and even then, they are still viruses at the end of the 'evolution' - different forms of viruses, but still viruses nonetheless. “

“Virus” is not the name of a single species. It a name applied to a vast diversity of species. When a new virus species evolves, it’s a new species, regardless of whether or not it’s still a “virus”. Same is true with bacterial species. A new bacterial species is a new species, regardless of whether or not it’s still a “bacterium”.


”Re: proof that life cannot arise from non-life. Briefly, origin-of-life researchers have been working frantically on this 'evolutionary problem' for over 60 years, and have made zero progress.”

I don’t think that you are familiar with the research in this area. The problem may not be solved, yet, but to say there is “zero progress” is to greatly underestimate the current state of knowledge.


“Why should I bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that life cannot arise from non-life?”

You bear the burden of proof, because you’re claiming that this is impossible. You need to demonstrate how or why this is impossible. What “law” would be violated?

“I would respond: "No, it didn't - God created life on earth."

Easy enough to use “God” as a placeholder for ignorance, but how do you know this? If God did not create life on earth, how would you know that your hypothesis is wrong?

”This isn't my battle, but I disagree when you suggest that young-earth is not a viable model for the creation of the universe. It is clearly not in YOUR pool of live options, given the worldview presuppositions that you hold. But, if one is a theist (believes in God), as I am, then young-earth is certainly a viable model.”

I’m sorry, but the geological evidence against “young earth” is so extraordinarily overwhelming, that it’s simply not possible to rationally concluded that the earth is 6000 years old UNLESS one starts solely with a totally faith-based belief in the literal truth of Genesis. Now, THAT’S a “presupposition”. Put it another way, no one has ever come to the conclusion that the earth is 6000 years old without a prior commitment to a specific religious belief.


“If there is a God (assume with me just for the sake of argument), then is it inconceivable that he could have made the universe to look much older than it in actuality is? I am not a young-earther myself, but I have to admit that this is certainly within the scope of what the Christian God can do (and may have done).”

So, your God is a malicious trickster god?

Ken Pulliam said...

Tawa,
a) Yes I am sure that luxuries can keep a person from considering ultimate questions like the meaning of life but affluence can also provide the time and the resources to seriously study the issues.

b) You agree that all of these religious experiences cannot be authentic, yet each person maintains that theirs is and the others are wrong. The Mormon will say the Christian who relies on the inner witness of the Spirit is wrong and he is right to rely on his burning in the bosom, even though they both sound like the same thing to me. So, the fact that you are convinced by your religious experience but dubious about others seems problematic to me.

c) In an earlier post you called Hawking an eminent scientist and refer to his book, A Brief History of Time but now you say his writing is more science fiction than science. I don't want to sound unkind but it seems to me that when Hawking agrees with your biblical presuppositions then he is an eminent scientist but when he does not he is a more of a science fiction author.

d) Yes, there remains a lot that science cannot explain and abiogenesis is one of them but there is some headway being made there. And I don't maintain that God is impossible. I am an agnostic atheist which means that I don't believe in any of the gods that are commonly taught by religions today but I don't know for certain that there is no deity or supernatural force of some kind.

In regard to my response to Sam, he is the one who introduced the comparison between belief in the resurrection, though improbable and belief in life evolving, though improbable--so I had to deal with those two items in my response. No, nothing could be proven historically in the same sense that we can prove that life exists today but that is my point. We know that life exists and so even though its statistically improbable, we have to give an explanation (or just admit we don't know, i.e., agnosticism). But when it comes to the resurrection, I don't have to find an explanation of the fact (because that has not been proven), I only have to find an explanation of how the belief originated. I find it much more probable to explain the origin of the belief in naturalistic terms than I do supernaturalistic.

David said...

Tawa,

"However, if you say that, you are redefining 'evolutionary processes' from their usual understanding - it is no longer a blind, random, materialistic process; rather, it is designed and implemented by God."

Well, I'm not really redefining evolutionary processes, because evolution refers to what happens after life begins. Even if God makes a cell, the subsequent evolution can still be blind and materialistic. And selective.

Daniel said...

"Perhaps morality is a product of evolution instrumental to human survival. If so, what we call “wrong” today may be “right” tomorrow."

I've heard lots of renditions of the moral argument (including the Holocaust example) but this one, I've never heard. I like it!

Tawa said...

Sorry for not responding earlier. I know dialogue has moved to other posts, but I wanted to post two quick responses here and then allow the conversation to rest in peace (or pieces).

David - my point was simply that if you are willing to acknowledge a Creator who begins life, then all philosophical motivation in calling subsequent 'evolution' blind and materialistic has been done away with. Blind (random) and ateleological evolution is, at heart, an attempt to do away with the Creator altogether. Allowing the Creator back in as the originator of the first cell is "giving away the store" (from a naturalist's viewpoint - from my perspective, I'm quite pleased to have someone do that). If you can allow that God created the first cell, it seems that your ability to deny a more robust form of theistic creation has been compromised.

Ken - I've been reading some of your responses to other essays here. I do enjoy your thoughts and comments. I find it personally sharpening, although again I do not agree with your positions! Just a couple quick points. First, my treatment of Hawking is not all that unusual. His theory of imaginary time does not have a stadium full of fans. And it is perfectly reasonable to accept someone as an eminent authority in one area but not in another. And generally speaking, it will be in their more theoretical or speculative areas that eminent authorities have less of a following. Another example would be Stephen Jay Gould with his hypothesis of Punctuated Equilibrium - Gould is highly respected, but even many committed neo-Darwinists reject his hypothesis vehemently. My respect for Hawking is very high. But I agree with what seems to be the majority of scientists, that his imaginary time thesis is more science fiction than science.

Regarding the resurrection, I do not think you can find a naturalistic explanation for resurrection belief. This is probably not the place for further discussion on that topic, but I have two comments. (1) N. T. Wright's "The Resurrection of the Son of God" is the best academic treatment of the subject; I highly recommend it, although there are a few sections I have yet to work through. (2) I am happy to share a couple of academic papers I have written on the subject, if you request them. Probably better to request them through my own blog - there I will for sure get the request right away.

God Bless
Tawa

David said...

"If you are willing to acknowledge a Creator who begins life, then all philosophical motivation in calling subsequent 'evolution' blind and materialistic has been done away with."

Why? Are you saying that God couldn't just create a cell and then move on to other planets? Are you telling God how God must run the universe?

"Blind (random) and ateleological evolution is, at heart, an attempt to do away with the Creator altogether. "

Actually, it's just an attempt to understand how the natural world happens to work, regardless of what the answer happens to be.

Andrew Ridgway said...

a friend sent me here via facebook, so apologies for the thread necromancy.

you write: "I think the modern denial of God’s existence is a different type of wish-fulfillment – one which arises from man’s desire to be autonomous, self-sufficient, and secure in his own power."

you also write: "Atheist philosopher Jacques Monod states: “Man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he emerged only by chance.” What is man, in the absence of God? An insignificant and doomed member of an insignificant and doomed race on an insignificant and doomed planet adrift amongst the infinitely immeasurable universe."

if i may be so bold as to point out, the christian picture--in which the majority of humanity is to endure the eternal conscious torment of hell (broad is the path, wide the gate, and all that)--is infinitely worse.

a general observation: religious people do not understand non-religious people, nor their motivations for being such. i'm a nonbeliever because i don't believe. not because i want to pretend to be a self-sufficient little demigod. not because i want to hump everything in sight without divine disapproval. not because i'm mad at god for one thing or another. but because, having examined the claims of the theists, *i don't think those claims are true*.

but aside from these observations, i'm rather unimpressed. we don't quite know where the universe came from; we don't want to die; we have a sense of right and wrong; and we find that many cultures ascribe agency to nature and experience awe. the first is god of the gaps: we don't know what caused X, therefore god, where X has been, at various times, the operation of the sun, the formation of the earth, the origin of species, and has now pretty much retreated to the Planck time after the Big Bang. the next three are pretty easily explainable starting from the observation that man is a social animal with a survival instinct.

individually, these don't amount to much; collectively, you might get as far as saying that they are intimations of the supernatural. but you dodge a larger problem: they don't take you to any particular explanation for the supernatural. your arguments equally support YHWH, Wotan, Allah, and Quetzalcoatl. perhaps you saved that discussion for another entry, but if all the religions on earth look at the same set of phenomena and immediately jump to their own dogma, then which is more probable: that they're *all* misinterpreting natural phenomena as human psychology is wont to do, or that *just one* is right and the others are delusion--and that furthermore that *just one* just happens to be the one in which you were raised?

Anonymous said...

:)

Brony Pony said...

hmm all these facts are leading upon one course that god does and is existing tawa using science they have no proof, but saying we have no proof is also true but God created it it could have he created evolution or the big bang theory or even starting at goo but what we do know is that him giving his love to us giving all things life living under pressure of just chance is not possible in us when we get cut patching us up takes more than 100 chemical processes that could not of happen by chance proving in which a god does exist and proves that life is good with him and meaningless withought him.
Sincerley,
Robert Masonis 14yrold

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