Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Consciousness and Creation Out of Nothing

Linda and I in Green Lake, Wisconsin

Atheist Bertrand Russell, in his essay "A Free Man's Worship," was amazed, even stunned, that unthinking Mother Nature could produce offspring that could think, and had free will. Indeed, all should be stunned by this, since mental events seem discontinuous from physical matter.

Few doubt that, with the universe's beginning, all that existed were physical particles. Yet somehow, mental events such as consciousness and feeling and free will eventually came to exist. How so?

J. P. Moreland has argued that consciousness is best explained by the existence of a conscious Being. (See Moreland, Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument.) Philosopher Paul Copan writes: 

"J. P. argues that the emergence of consciousness cannot be accounted for by a rearrangement of matter. Conscious/subjective experience is radically distinct from the stuff of matter—a point which a number of naturalists like Colin McGinn and John Searle readily admit. Indeed, the emergence of consciousness in a material world without God looks more like creation out of nothing than an emergent property." (Copan, "J.P. Moreland's Natural Theology," in 
J. P. Moreland, Paul M. Gould and Richard Brian Davis. Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J. P. Moreland, p. 119)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

One of my favorite subjects is the meaning of "nothing." Two good books to begin to study nothingness are: Nothing: A Very Short Introduction, by physicist Frank Close; and Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story, by Jim Holt.

Physicist Lawrence Krauss added his voice to the discussion, in A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than NothingKrauss picks up on Stephen Hawking's claim that physics can now explain how the universe came from nothing. Krauss writes

"For over 2,000 years the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" has captured theologians and philosophers. While usually framed as a religious or philosophical question, it is equally a question about the natural world. So an appropriate place to try and resolve it is with science."

And: "As a scientist, I have never quite understood the conviction, at the basis of essentially all the world's religions, that creation requires a creator. Every day beautiful and miraculous objects suddenly appear, from snowflakes on a cold winter morning to rainbows after a late afternoon summer shower."

But semantically, "creation" requires a "creator." On philosophical naturalism the idea of nature as a "creation" is a vestige of Judeo-Christian theism. The artist's painting is his "creation." Simply put: no artist, no creation. Minimally, it's misleading to speak of "creation" without a "Creator." Surely Krauss understands that.

But what about the idea that, without a Creator, our universe not only can, but has come out of nothing? Krauss writes that:

1) We live in a "flat universe." A closed universe is dominated by matter and will one day collapse; an open universe will expland forever; but a flat universe "is just at the boundary - slowing down, but never quite stopping."
2) Observations of the cosmic microwave background from the Big Bang have unambiguously confirmed that we live in a precisely flat universe."
3) The dominant energy in our universe is "dark energy."

Now watch Krauss make much ado about nothing. :

"The existence of dark energy and a flat universe has profound implications for those of us who suspected the universe might arise from nothing. Why? Because if you add up the total energy of a flat universe, the result is precisely zero. How can this be? When you include the effects of gravity, energy comes in two forms. Mass corresponds to positive energy, but the gravitational attraction between massive objects can correspond to negative energy. If the positive energy and the negative gravitational energy of the universe cancel out, we end up in a flat universe.
Think about it: If our universe arose spontaneously from nothing at all, one might predict that its total energy should be zero. And when we measure the total energy of the universe, which could have been anything, the answer turns out to be the only one consistent with this possibility."

This, thinks Krauss, is no coincidence. It's what one would expect if the universe came out of "nothing at all." Thus, he thinks, we have an explanation for why there is something rather than nothing.
Many have responded to Krauss's claim. William Lane Craig does so here. Craig says:
1) Krauss doesn't have a clue about the philosophical and metaphysical questions he is trying to address here. If by "nothing" Krauss means literally non-being, "then physics is impotent to explain how being can arise from non-being."
2) Surely Craig is correct here. Because "physics explains the transition from one physical state to another physical state, according to certain laws of nature operating on the initial state's conditions... In absolute origination there is nothing that endures from non-being to being." Physics, therefore, is impotent to explain how one could have an "absolute origination." Pause on this point and ponder...
3) The idea that there would be predictability if the universe just popped into existence from nothing is nonsensical, for then there would not be a reason why the universe could not be anything. From "nothing," no prediction can be made re. the universe's total energy. If non-being is taken philosophically seriously, it has no properties and no constraints, hence the laws of physics do not apply, and nothing can be predicted from it.
4) Krauss is guilty of the fallacy of equivocation; viz., he has equivocated on the term "nothingness." He has changed the meaning of the word "nothingness." 
When philosophers and theologians ask the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" they mean, by "nothing," "non-being." From non-being, nothing can come.

Krauss's equivocation is this: "nothing" does not really mean "nothing." Our universe came out of "relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states." These fields are not property-deficient; they "are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff." (David Albert, Columbia University, "On the Origin of Everything.") Hence, Krauss has failed to explain explained why there is something rather than nothing, since his version of nothing is, it turns out, something.

"Fear and Glory" - a Christmas Meditation

Fuller Studio (of Fuller Theological Seminary) is putting out some of the best video stuff there is.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Knowledge Argument Against Physicalism (The "Mary Argument")


Were I an atheist, I would be a physicalist. That is, I would believe that reality - every bit of it, to include ideas, hopes, dreams, fears, loves - is only physical. Reality is particles, without remainder.

Were I an atheist, physicalism would present some problems for me. One problem would be the "Mary argument."

In 1982 Australian analytic philosopher Frank Jackson presented his "Mary argument" against physicalism. Jackson wrote:

"Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like ‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal chords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky is blue’.… What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not? It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then is it inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false." (In "Qualia: The Knowledge Argument.") 

Did Mary learn something new? Did she have new knowledge? Jackson, and  others, believe the answer is yes. (See, e.g., "The Ghost in the Machine: Embodied Souls," by Stewart Goetz. In Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J. P. Moreland.) 

The Knowledge Argument Against Physicalism is this:

(1) Mary has all the physical information concerning human color vision before her release.
(2) But there is some information about human color vision that she does not have before her release.
(3) Therefore, not all information is physical information.

Were I an atheist, this would trouble me. My experience of troubledness would resist reduction to physical particles.

Are "Spirit" and "Soul" Different?

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Josh, in Detroit

Wayne Grudem, in his magisterial Systematic Theology, writes:

"How many parts are there to man? Everyone agrees that we have physical bodies. Most people (both Christians and non-Christians) sense that they also have an immaterial soul - a "soul" that will live on after their bodies die.
But here the agreement ends. Some people believe that in addition to "body" and "soul" we have a third part, a "spirit" that mostly relates to God. The view that man is made of three parts (body, soul, and spirit) is called trichotomy. Though this has been a common view in popular evangelical Bible teaching, there are few scholarly defenses of it today." (Grudem, op. cit., 472)

Grudem argues that the correct view is that a person is a dichotomy; viz., body and soul/spirit, because "soul" and "spirit" are used interchangeably to refer to the same thing.

Grudem's defense of persons as essentially dichotomies (rather than trichotomies) is lengthy. His main points are:

1. Scriptures uses "soul" and "spirit" interchangeably. To give one example, in John 12:27 Jesus says, "Now my soul is troubled." But in a similar context, Jesus was "troubled in spirit" (John 13:21).

2. At death, Scripture says either that the "soul" departs or the "spirit" departs. "Scripture nowhere says that a person's "soul and spirit" departed or went to heaven or were yielded up to God. If soul and spirit were separate and distinct things, we would expect that such language would be affirmed somewhere, if only to assure the reader that no essential part of the person is left behind." (Ib., 474) For example, when Rachel died, we read that her "soul" was departing (Gen. 35:18). David prayed, "Into your hands I commit my "spirit"" (Ps. 31:5).

3. Man is said to be either "body and soul" or "body and spirit." "Jesus tells us not to fear those who "kill the body but cannot kill the soul," but that we should rather "fear those who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). Here the word "soul" clearly must refer to the part of the person that exists after death... On the other hand, many is sometimes said to be "body and spirit."" See 1 Cor. 5:5. "Similarly, James says that "the body apart from the spirit is dead" (James 2:26), but mentions nothing about a special soul." (Ib., 475)

4. The "soul" can sin or the "spirit" can sin. Trichotomists usually think of the "spirit" as purer than the "soul." But Paul encourages the Corinthians to cleanse themselves "from every defilement of body and spirit (2 Cor. 7:1). Thus, "he clearly implies that there can be defilement (or sin) in our spirits." (Ib.)

5. Everything that the soul is said to do, the spirit is also said to do, and everything that the spirit is said to do the soul is also said to do. Grudem spends two pages defending this.

To study more on this:

N. T. Wright maintains a distinction between "soul" and "spirit." See "Mind, Spirit, Soul, and Body." But note: neither is Wright a trichotomist. (See here, e.g.) Wright questions all these distinctions as being non-Hebraic.

Here Wright talks of a "limited dualism" - "The Good Bishop Weighs In." 

J. P. Moreland is a dichotomist/dualist. See The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why it Matters

Greg Boyd thinks there is textual evidence for the distinction between "soul" and "spirit." See here.

Craig Blomberg holds to a dichotomous view. See here, p. 66.

Bruce Ware has a helpful essay: "Human Nature and the Soul." 

God Desires Participants, not Spectators


Soren Kierkegaard writes:

"Is God's meaning, in Christianity, simply to humble man through the model (that is to say putting before us the ideal) and to console him with 'Grace,' but in such a way that through Christianity there is expressed the fact that between God and man there is no relationship, that man must express his thankfulness like a dog to man, so that adoration becomes more and more true, and more and more pleasing to God, as it becomes less and less possible for man to imagine that he could be like the model? ... Is that the meaning of Christianity? Or is it the very reverse, that God's will is to express that he desires to be in relation with man, and therefore desires the thanks and the adoration which is in spirit and in truth: imitation? The latter is certainly the meaning of Christianity. But the former is a cunning invention of us men (although it may have its better side) in order to escape from the real relation to God." (In David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor, 28)

Real Jesus-following is following-after Jesus. It's participation, not spectating. It's not pew-sitting. It's not being entertained. It's "following the footsteps of Christ in imitation" (St Francis of Assisi, in Ib., 27). 

Real Church was never meant to be an entertainment center. David Augsburger says that authentic Jesus-spirituality "accepts no substitute for actual participation." (Ib.) 

Augsburger writes: "We are not observers, not spectators, not admirers, not onlookers, not conceptualizers, but participants. Participation is the central theological framework of all careful thought-about spirituality...

...The ideal of discipleship as participation through the imitation of Christ is a recurring theme, reemerging wherever the practice of following Jesus in life is given priority." (Ib.)

Anyone who claims to belong to Jesus must follow the path taken by Jesus. How will you do this? I suggest begin by reading the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Slow-cook in them. Become familiar with the Real Jesus. Next, submit to the filling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God will empower you to live, do, and say as Jesus lived, did, and said. Finally, remember that this is a growth process. even Jesus had to grow in wisdom and stature. (Luke 2:52)

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Why Does God Allow Suffering? A Few Resources

Woodland Cemetery, Monroe

A friend asked me: "Any suggestions for resources for a teen struggling to believe in God? Questioning why does God allow suffering?"

Here are a few suggestions.

William Lane Craig, On Guard. See Chapter 7, "What About Suffering?"

Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God.

Philip Yancey, Where Is God When it Hurts?

Greg Boyd, Is God to Blame? Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

Watch the movie "The Shack." Then, read Roger Olsen's book Finding God in the Shack.

Five Problems with Top-Down Vision-Casting in Churches

Image result for john piippo leadership
Snow-covered trees in Monroe

At Redeemer Fellowship Church we have a team of Elders who function in non-task-oriented ways. As Elders our focus is twofold: discerning what God is saying to us, and loving and serving our church family. 
One thing we as Elders do not do, is brainstorm about programs we could implement in our church. What a relief this is to me! I've been there, done that, and don't want to do it every again.

"Some of my worst disasters in ministry have come from trying to implement a vision, only to find out that no one else was buying into it. They might have even agreed that it was a good idea. For me. But it wasn’t theirs. So they didn’t get behind it."

Top-down "vision-casting" strategy looks like this.

  • The pastor gets a vision for the church through prayer, Bible-reading or the latest church leadership conference
  • The pastor preaches about the vision
  • The leaders and congregation get behind the vision
  • The vision is supported, preached, and repeated regularly

  • Vaters says there are five problems with this.

    Problem 1 - It's more Old Testament than New Testament.

    In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit descends on the entire church. Peter than speaks for what the entire church experienced.

    "The church gets the vision from prayer-soaked time in God's Word."

    This is an example of what I call The Presence-Driven Church.

    Problem 2 - It relies on obscure and/or questionably interpreted Bible passages.

    How many times has Proverbs 29:18 been cited in defense of top-down vision-casting - Where there is no vision, the people perish. But the entire verse, in context, is really about keeping God's laws, not casting visions. It reads: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law is happy.

    Problem 3 - It puts all the weight on the pastor.

    In Acts 2 Peter did not shoulder the weight of the vision. He and the Eleven shared the vision, as Acts 2:14 says.

    Here is the heart of pastoral burnout: the carrying of a vision, alone, and striving to recruit people to have a heart for it.

    Problem 4 - It doesn't include the dreams and visions of church members.

    Vaters writes:

    "When I go to a church leadership conference, it’s not to find out what the leader’s vision is and how I can help them fulfill it. I go to get tools to help me fulfill the vision God has given me for my life and ministry. I think a lot of people would come to our churches if they could get that help from us."

    Problem 5 - It requires constant selling.

    Anyone who knows me knows I would be a failure as a salesperson. Thank God I don't have to do that as a pastor!

    Vaters writes:

    "The three most-taught principles of vision-casting are "repeat, repeat, repeat." I've been told constantly that if I don't remind people at a minimum of once a month about the vision, they'll forget it.
    That's a problem.
    Any vision that needs to be sold to me that constantly...   I don't know... maybe it's not God's vision for me."

    The reality is that, if a person has a vision from God burning inside of them, they couldn't stop thinking about it if they tried.

    The role of a pastor is to equip the people for works of ministry, not to purchase equipment for the people to sit in while the pastor works. Vaters writes, "Leaders don't ask people to support their vision. They ask, "How can I help you reach your vision?""

    Enter the small church. "Much of the emphasis on top-down vision-casting has been the result of our big church leadership obsession." It's hard to release a few thousand Christians into visionary missional activity that comes from God, to them. 

    Small churches could do this. Like the 120 worshipers who gathered on the Day of Pentecost. Vaters concludes:

    "A community of believers, worshiping, dreaming and working together as guided by the Holy Spirit speaking to and through everyone. Not that's a vision worth writing down and running with."

    Friday, December 08, 2017

    Meditation on Scripture & Hearing God

    Maracas Bay, Trinidad

    "As fundamental a step as we can take . . . is learning to meditate - learning first to hear God's word, and let it inform and take root in us. This may be extremely difficult, for the churches have no courses on meditation, despite the fact that it is an art that must be learned from those who have mastered it, and despite the fact that the supreme task of the church is to listen to the Word of God."[1]

    Elizabeth O'Connor

    Is the supreme task of the church to listen to the Word of God? I think a case can be made for this.

    Remember that by "church" we mean: a people movement called out by God to proclaim the good news of God's rule and reign, in Christ, and by the Spirit. Every movement has a commander. In the Jesus Movement, God is our leader. The Lord is our Shepherd.

    If the Lord is our Shepherd, then we are the "sheep of his pasture." Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."[2]

    We are Jesus-followers. The game of life we play is "Follow the Leader." This is called "obedience." If we don't hear the voice of our Leader and sense his promptings, "following" won't make sense. Thus, listening and hearing from God is supremely important. Hearing God brings us into the Great Conversation.

    If you desire to pray as conversation with God, meditate on Scripture. Good places to begin are Psalm 23, John chapters 14, 15, and 16, and Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7. Marinate in these verses. Slow-cook in them. Chew on them. To meditate is to chew, slowly. The more you chew, the more the words become assimilable to your spirit. God's truths get into you. They become you. When this happens a lot of God-hearing takes place.

    To meditate is to focus on one thing; e.g., on one verse, or part of a verse. Such as "Believe in me."[3] Or "The Lord is my shepherd.”[4] Meditate on things like this, and the Spirit will move them from your mind into your heart.

    In my praying times I meditate on portions of Scripture. It is common, in the middle of these meditations, to hear God speak to me. Richard Foster writes:

    "Let me tell you how much God desires our presence. How much God longs to hear from us. How much God yearns to communicate with us. At the very heart of God is the passionate disposition to be in loving fellowship with you ... with me. From the human side of this equation it is meditative prayer that ushers us into this divine-human fellowship."[5]

    [1] Cited in Richard Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey Into Meditative Prayer, Kindle Locations 72-72
    [2] John 10:27
    [3] Jesus, in John 14:1
    [4] Psalm 23:1
    [5] Ib., Kindle Locations 74-76

    Core Relational Values to Live By

    Monroe - path along the River Raisin

    Here is a re-edited list of core relational values I posted years ago.
    • Be motivated by the love of God, not by the need for acceptance. 
    • Impart God’s love in everything you say and do. 
    • Be moved with compassion for the lost and wounded. 
    • Err on the side of grace, rather than judgment. 
    • Live life in such a way that your highest priority is to have intimacy and communion with God, then with your spouse, then your children, and after that others. 
    • Commit to a lifestyle of never ending change, seeking to be conformed to the image of Christ. 
    • Take personal responsibility for your life, actions, and emotions, rather than blame others for things that go wrong in your life. 
    • Surround yourself with spiritual fathers and mothers who hold you to a lifestyle of personal accountability in all areas of your life and ministry.
    • Seek to increase in wisdom and knowledge through continued study of sound biblical truths. 
    • Let your words be seasoned with grace, to lift up others, and never to bring down, devalue, or defame one of God’s creations.
    • Seek to live a transparent life that is open with God, others, and yourself.
    • Let your confidence and self-esteem not be found in your talents or accomplishments or possessions, but in your identity and faith in Christ. 
    • Practice the presence of the Lord 24/7. 
    • View your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, and seek to live in purity and moderation. 
    • Receive God’s love, and give and minister out of the overflow of love in your life.
    • Bear the faults and weaknesses of others in your life, and do not seek to please yourself or to get your own way in life.
    • Be a servant-leader who leads by modeling a servant’s heart. 
    • Be a good listener who judges not by what your eyes see or ears hear, but by discerning the root issues of the heart. 
    • Rejoice more in your name being written in the book of life than in any success and praise that ministry can bring to you.
    • Walk in the Spirit of Christ, who is meek and lowly of heart. 
    • Daily experience the Father’s love, and give it away to the people you meet. 
    • Live a lifestyle of thanksgiving and gratitude for all that God and others have provided for you. 
    • Walk in loyalty in all your relationships.