Monday, February 16, 2015

Atheism and the Problem of Evil and Suffering

Atheists are fond of arguing that because there is evil in the world, God doesn't exist. And it has just as often been replied that the conclusion doesn't follow for several reasons (for example, a good God might have loving reasons for permitting suffering). And it has also been pointed out that if God doesn't exist, there is no "problem of evil," since there is no evil, only experiences and phenomena that we personally dislike. Evil implies a cosmic standard, and without a transcendent God, we can have no cosmic, universal, or even global, standards of value, and hence no way of arguing against the existence of God because of the presence of evil.

It has also been pointed out that if we got here by some purely naturalistic process (like evolution), how could we trust our brains to know that? If evolution chooses mutations on the basis of the reproductive advantage they offer the organism, then our brains developed not to understand truth or the reality either the natural or moral world, but merely in order to outreproduce every other human. So our perceptions of the external world, our use of reason, our analysis of our experiences--all are suspect and unreliable.

Further, and this has also been remarked, if we are merely evolved animals, where all that exists is a brain with various electrochemical events (no mind, no soul, no spirit), then there is not really a you or me to experience evil, only a deterministic brain, And if we our brains determine randomly or determine deterministically what we believe and do, then perhaps atheists are randomly required to disbelieve in God, while we theists are equally randomly required to believe. Why (and how) argue with beliefs that are predetermined by the purposeless activity of our brains? Why try to  change someone's beliefs when those beliefs are an accidental product of a random cosmos?

Why not adopt the eastern idea that suffering is maya, an illusion, and not real at all? What happens to the atheist argument then? What problem of pain?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

On the Persistence of Neo-Darwinism After Losing Its Explanatory Power

Among those who have witnessed the increasing weakness of the Neo-Darwinian model of origins and development to explain biological life, the question has arisen about why anyone still adheres to this theory, and why, in fact, its supporters use ever shriller voices and even lawsuits to prevent the presentation of opposing ideas. There are actually several answers

1. Neo-Darwinism is an exercise in Procrustean science, where observations and conclusions are forced to fit the theory. In his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn observes that "normal science" is "a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education." He says that theory directs the construction of experiments and the observations that reinforce and refine the theory. Physicist Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend opines that "the idea to fit something into what is already there drives the great majority of scientists today" (quoted in Paul Feyerabend, The Tyranny of Science).

2. Relatedly, Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking Fast and Slow, refers to a phenomenon he calls "theory-induced blindness." He says that "once you have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws." The good news is that, once you overcome your blindness and reject the theory, it might well seem "not only false but absurd." So I think a second reason that Neo-Darwinism hangs on is that its supporters, under the spell of theory-induced blindness, simply can't see how poorly the evidence matches the claims.

3. Peer pressure. Or, the emperor's new clothes. Prestige, promotions, tenure, grants, and success in the scientific world require conformity of thought about the theory of evolution. If you want a job in any area of science, you'd better give lip service to Darwin. Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel himself is fed up with the demand for conformity. In his book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, he writes, "Physico-chemical reductionism in biology is the orthodox view, and any resistance is regarded as not only scientifically but politically incorrect." To Nagel, even though he proposes no alternative explanation for life on earth, "The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes." The problem is that "almost everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the reductive research program as sacrosanct, on the ground that anything else would not be science."

4. Neo-Darwinism is a religion, or, if you prefer, a metaphysical ideology. As such, a fundamental article of faith in Neo-Darwinism is that the biological world--and in fact, the entire cosmos--is to be explained by mechanisms and phenomena that decidedly exclude anything or Anyone supernatural. This fact explains the hostility of the Neo-Darwinists to the Intelligent Design theoreticians--they suspect that intelligent design theory has implications of the supernatural. And recall that science has been redefined from "the search for truth and knowledge" to "the search for naturalistic explanations." As geneticist Richard Lewontin says, many scientists are committed to naturalistic explanations of the existence of life because "we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism." And, he concludes, "that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door" (New York Review of Books).

5. Following from the previous reason is the problem of what Neo-Darwinist theory can be replaced with if the scientific establishment abandons that sinking ship. Returning to Thomas Kuhn, he notes that "once it has achieved the status of paradigm, a scientific theory is declared invalid only if an alternate candidate is available to take its place." And right now, there is no naturalistic, materialistic alternative explanation for the existence of the biological world. All of the "alternative" theories are just flavors of basically Neo-Darwinist evolution--panspermia, hopeful monster, punctuated equilibria.

Ultimately, then, it's a worldview problem. Neo-Darwinism is the creation myth of those who want to keep God away. No amount of evidence, argument, or common sense is likely to displace the theory because the theory is a fundamental, unfalsifiable assumption impervious to evidence against it. It's an article of faith. For these reasons, Neo-Darwinism is likely to continue to be propped up for the foreseeable future.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Secret to a Happy Marriage

There are thousands of books aimed at saving, repairing, or improving marriage. Thousands of research articles investigate what makes marriages last or break apart. Countless hours and millions of dollars have gone into studying marriage with the idea of determining how they grow and strengthen or how they weaken and fall apart. You can watch videos, read books, listen to audio presentations, go to seminars and weekend retreats. You can visit counselors, pastors, and therapists.

But the answer to What Makes a Happy Marriage? is really simple. Save time and pay attention. What all the research has shown--all the studies and interviews and observations--boils down to a single, simple truth:

Happily married couples are nice to each other.

Yes, it's that simple. Now, it may not be easy, but don't fall for the "simple is easy" myth. The fact is, couples who report being happy--and happily married--are gentle, respectful, loving, kind, affectionate, happy, supportive, and fun with each other. In other words, nice.

If that seems like a Duh! truth, consider then why so many married people are always using verbal daggers and emotional clubs on each other, criticizing, contradicting, condescending, shaming, belittling, showing contempt, rejection, hostility, superiority, and even hatefulness.

Just quit that. Treat  your spouse the way you treat your friends, and then see how much happier you both can be.

Monday, January 05, 2015

American Culture Is Going Downhill

The belief that our culture is getting worse has been attributed to the age of those who think so. Old folks are the ones who talk about the good old days. Sam, one of the people who seems wise in these things, says the following:

Every old man complains of the growing depravity of the world, of the petulance and insolence of the rising generation. He recounts the decency and regularity of former times, and celebrates the discipline and sobriety of the age in which his  youth was passed; a happy age which is now no more to be expected, since confusion has broken in upon the world, and thrown down all the boundaries of civility and reverence.

But those who complain of the worsening of the world are right, you say. I agree, But then, I'm getting old now, too.

So what, you ask? Well, Sam is Samuel Johnson, and the quotation above was written in 1750 (Rambler essay Number 50, published September 8, 1750). If every generation thinks (rightly?) that things are getting worse and the younger generation is spoiled and corrupt, and if we've had about 9 or 10 generations since then, why, we must be living in very confused times, where there is little civility and reverence. Hey, wait. That's right.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Is God Proud? An Egotist?

God in general and Christianity in particular have been attacked by their despisers in many ways: persecution, denial, attempted refutation, ignoring them, diluting their message, reinterpreting the Bible, and so on. Among these attacks is the charge that God, by demanding worship and honor and praise, reveals himself as an egotistical being, thinking of himself above all else. This is incorrect.

I will not make the case that God deserves the praise and honor he demands because he has created a beautiful world (take a look at butterflies, flowers, tropical plants--and remember that the creation is under a curse because of the fall of mankind, so imagine what it was like before), or because he has given us existence and the free will that we so sadly misuse, or that he has given us a solution to the evils we create by misusing that free will (that's Jesus, in case you aren't clear).

In my view, the reason God demands that we worship, praise, and serve him is to get us out of ourselves. God does not need praise or anything else. As the creator of the universe, he's kind of set, having everything he could ever need. But he loves us and wants what's good for us. And since we, as a result of the fall, in which that Eden couple believed a shady stranger they had met for five minutes instead of their creator whom they had known for awhile--since, we, as I say, have brought about calamity on the world by abusing our free will around those who promise paradise, God wants us to remove our focus on ourselves (wanna talk about me, I, mine, my) and shift it to something else. And since he picked himself, the fit is natural. Creator of wonders, giver of life, and savior from sin--yes, worship him and realize that life is not all about you.

Yes, it turns out that many people have it backwards. They focus on themselves and  act selfishly, and when they fail to find happiness, they think, "I need to think about myself more," God wants us to realize that happiness comes from giving to others, thinking about their needs instead of your endless wants, and caring for those who live blindly and mistakenly in this hurting world.

The things that God demands--belief, trust, worship, service--are the things that will make us happy and stop the individual pursuit of our own earthly Utopia, a pursuit which has always resulted and always will result in failure, misery, and suffering. More than that, fulfilling God's demands heals our souls and brings us joy through the proper focus of life.

Ask yourself, of all the people you know, how many of the proud ones are genuinely happy? And now how many of the truly humble ones are genuinely happy? Like it or not, the road to happiness is paved with humility.

Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. --James 4:10 (NASB)
You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, --1 Peter 5:5-6 (NASB)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

This Might Make You Toss Your Cookies

Of course, you already know there is no privacy left, either online or in three-dimensional life. But all this watching, tracking, data mining, and so on results in diminishment. Eli Pariser has already noted, in The Filter Bubble, that our experience on the Web is being reduced by the Cookie Cops, who read the cookies set on your computer and tattle tale what they find to the advertisers.

I was prompted to write this entry because of recent evidence of Cookie Cop activity. A week or so go, I was doing some research for my Sunday School class about the decline of Western Civilization--what caused it and how we can reverse it, and so on. In the process, our speaker mentioned that the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought Transcendental Meditation to the United States, where it had a profound impact. Naturally, I googled "transcendental meditation" to get  little more background information.

Now, every site I visit--Target, Home Depot, etc.--presents me with ads for Transcendental Meditation. Some are text ads and some are display. I should be used to it by now, but it still seems unsettling to find ads for something I searched on a month ago showing up on the most  unlikely sites, just because I was cookied with those ads. The ads are customized to  your searches, so everyone sees different ads on  the same Web site.

If civilization consists of shared experiences, cultural values and meaning, then we are in trouble as a civilization, because we share less and less in common as we are all treated to a customized life experience.

Monday, November 24, 2014

New Testament Greek and Literal Meanings

Looking at the New Testament in the Greek language original offers some fascinating translations or interpretations. A favorite reference book I use is Word Study Greek-English New Testament, edited by Paul McReynolds. Since I don't know classical, New Testament, or modern Greek, I'm either unbiased or dangerous, so be forewarned and see if my interpretations are logical.

Hebrews  11:1 is usually translated, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (NASB). Let's look at the Greek. The word translated faith is pistis, which can also be translated as trust. That in itself could make a sermon. Faith is trust. Have faith in God means have  trust in God. But let's go on. The word translated assurance in the NASB is alternately translated as substance in other versions. However, the Greek behind it is hypostasis which means, literally, standing below (hypo = below, stasis = standings). Thus, another word that fits hypostasis is foundation. That would make Hebrews 11:1a read, "Trust is the foundation of our hope."

Since Hebrews 11 is about faith, let's continue with the translation of 11:1a as, "Faith is the foundation of our hope." Then the remainder of 11:1. The Greek translated conviction or evidence is elegchos, meaning rebuke, reprove, expose. What literally says, "rebuking invisible things" means to give an answer for, or refute. It's like a response in a debate, a rebuttal. So, a clear translation of Hebrews 11:1b requires some rewording, but the usual word translated from elegchos should not be conviction or evidence, in my view. I would translate it this way:

Faith is the foundation of our hope, our confidence in the truth of things we can't yet see.

Faith provides the anchor of confident trust in God's truth when you can't see, know, or understand yet.