Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Church" Is Not an Institution, But a Movement

Years ago I was in Singapore eating dinner with Pastor Albert Kang, and we were talking about Christianity. Albert leaned over the table and said, “Christianity is a movement, not an institution.” That’s correct.

When I hear people say things like “church is boring” they are talking about the “institutional church,” not the real church. I’ve been on the inside of the institutional church, and it’s a struggle. The institutional church is political, bureaucratic, slow to move. Pastors and priests of institutional churches are viewed as butlers who are there to please parishioners.

The “church” we see in the New Testament was nothing like this. There, the word “church” meant a “people called out to follow after God,” rather than a “building.” “Church” has nothing to do with buildings. Some “churches” meet in buildings, but they don’t need to.

The real Church is like an army, ready and alert and on the move and flexible. “Church” is about people, not buildings or political institutions. The real Church is revolutionary; the institutional “church” is but a reflection of it’s culture’s institutions. Institutional churches “vote” on things, like what color the carpet should be in the nursery. (Institutional churches have split over that kind of thing!) I hate to burst your bubble about this, but the word “vote” only appears once in the actual Bible. It’s in Acts 26:9-11, when Paul talks about his former Christian-persecuting life and how he would “cast his vote” to punish Christians.

“Church” is not something you “go to” on Sundays. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are the “church.” How odd it is to say “I’m going to church today,” which is the equivalent of saying “I’m going to myself today.” Sounds a bit self-serving, doesn’t it? The next time someone asks you “Where’s your church at?” you can just point to your own self. You are the church. This doesn’t change, even if you lose your building.

We are the church. Jesus is our Lord. Jesus is on a mission. The mission is about his kingdom, and introducing others to it. “Christians” are people who follow after Jesus. They don’t “vote” for Jesus; they follow him. In the process sex addicts get free of their addiction, prostitutes find the love of God, marriages get reconciled, drifters find a home, the homeless and hungry get cared for, children get to keep their biological parents, life takes on meaning, hope gets restored, paradigms gets shifted, and one discovers the glorious presence of God. Nothing can separate a person from that - not famine or nakedness or persecution or the economy or even death. That’s “church” as I see it. “Boring” is not the word to describe it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Charles Taylor - A Review (+ A Comment on Richard Rorty)

I (like you?) read a lot of books at one time. I'm still slowly reading through Charles Taylor's brilliant A Secular Age. There's an entire universe of ideas in this book - what a read! I am now thinking that if I were stranded on a deserted island and could take only a few books with me, Taylor's would be one.

Here's a nice review from an agnostic on Taylor's book.

Note the comment on Richard Rorty. "I’m not prepared to argue, as Richard Rorty does, that there is no transcendent basis for my commitment to human rights and that it is a purely contingent historical formation. Rorty is mighty sure of himself. I just don’t know. So there is what appears to be a permanent gap in my belief system. If I were a religious person, I guess I’d be entitled to call it a Mystery. This gap doesn’t trouble me. All belief systems have Mysteries."

Personally, were I an atheist, I'd have to side with Rorty. I fail to see how his statement could be false. If there's no God then it seems to analytically follow that "there is no transcendent basis for my commitment to human rights." That leaves: "a purely contingent historical formation.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bill Craig & J.P. Moreland - The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology

The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, will come out this May. The cost: a mere $159.96!

Here's the Table of Contents:

1. The Project of Natural Theology (Charles Taliaferro).
2. The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument (Alexander R. Pruss).
3. The Kalam Cosmological Argument (William Lane Craig and James D. Sinclair).
4. The Teleological Argument (Robin Collins).
5. The Argument from Consciousness (J. P. Moreland).
6. The Argument from Reason (Victor Reppert).
7. The Moral Argument (Mark D. Linville).
8. The Argument from Evil (Stewart Goetz).
9. The Argument from Religious Experience (Kai-man Kwan).
10. The Ontological Argument (Robert Maydole).
11. The Argument from Miracles (Lydia McGrew and Timothy McGrew).

Chapter 11, by McGrew & McGrew, can be found here in its 75-page entirety - "The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth."

Can Thinking About the Great Depression Cause a Great Depression?

Philippians 4:8 reads: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Here is the idea that the things we think about (in the sense of pondering them and meditating on them) affect our whole being. Such as: much time spent playing violent video games and watching violent movies results in a reduction of helping behaviors. A recent University of Michigan study supports this. (See my 2/22/09 post on this.) This does not mean that if one plays violent games and watches violent movies that one will be violent. The study does claim to show that "violent video games and movies make people numb to the pain and suffering of others."

At Saturday's there was an article of another kind that supports the Philippians 4:8 truth. It's called:"Can Talk of a Depression Lead to One?" For example, thinking about the "Great Depression" "serves as a model for our expectations, damping what John Maynard Keynes called our “animal spirits,” reducing consumers’ willingness to spend and businesses’ willingness to hire and expand. The Depression narrative could easily end up as a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Today "the Great Depression appears truly relevant, and many people have been spooked by the story." The article claims that the Great Depression was itself "partly driven by the retelling of earlier depression stories." Note: this presents a strange loop for the philosophical naturalist. Can one choose not to think about the Great Depression? If one chooses to think about it, then one's thoughts appear to have causal influence in some way.

Forget for a moment the economic event called the "Great Depression" and think, but only briefly, about mental depression. As I have counseled many people over the years re. mood disorders, if they are followers of Jesus I refer them to Philippians 4:8 (if I think the origin of the person's depression is clinical I do this and refer them to a good clinician). Because I and they believe the Bible contains God-inspired truths, I encourage them to carry a list of such truths around with them and think much on them in the sense of meditating on them. For me personally, and for many others I am familiar with, depression lifts. The recent cover story of Time magazine lends support to the idea that people who have a strong faith in God generally fare better when it comes to physical and mental health.

For me none of this is some merer "positive thinking" technique. I want truth. As I fill my heart and mind with things that I find good, true, noble, pure, and lovely, I believe God forms my heart in light of such things.

So in my church, as a pastor, I don't want to bury my head in the sand re. the economic situation we now are in. I want to know which of my church family members are being hit by this and reach out to them and seek God re. helping them. And I'll continue to place my hope and trust in the God who years ago tore me out of a life of drug-darkness, and communicate this to our church family. On Sunday mornings we'll worship God for his greatness, love, and glory, and preach about the Real Jesus. I wonder what would happen in our community and country if we spent our days meditating on these things rather than meditating on the Great Depression?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Does the Brain Create God?

Neuro-studies are replacing the liberal arts (aka the "humanities"). Universities have science departments and these are not to be construed as humanities departments. But this is changing. Soon, there may be only science departments. This will create an unusual problem, which I'll visit below. Theology ("religious studies") is one area of the humanities destined for a fall.

It's Sunday night, I'm sitting in our family room with Linda awaiting the Academy Awards show. My laptop is, literally, on my lap. Late Sundays for me are often "New York Times" times. I've for some time now abandoned the hard copy New York Times for On today's "front page" is a link to an archived article: "Darwin's God." (2/4/07) The article begins: "God has always been a puzzle for Scott Atran." Atran's burning questions include: are we humans hard-wired to believe in God? If so, how did that happen, and why? And, if one so explains religion, does one then explain religion away?

Re. the first question, the discovery that we humans are hard-wired for God-belief can be used in support of both theists and atheists. The theist can argue that, if the noetic framework of theism is true, then it's not improbable that God would make us "hard-wired" to connect with God. The nytimes article says: "What does this mean for belief in the supernatural? It means our brains are primed for it, ready to presume the presence of agents even when such presence confounds logic."

Atran teaches at the University of Michigan. I went to his website and checked out some of the links. This took me to a recent New Scientist article called "Born believers: How your brain creates God." (2/4/09) Atran's view is not that religion has evolved as an adaptation that increases the chances of survivability. His idea is that "religion emerges as a natural by-product of the way the human mind works." This is the "hard-wiring theory."

Psychologist Pascal Boyer says that, if this is true, it cannot mean that adults who believe in God are "childish or weak-minded." Put another way, those of us who believe in God are not the simple idiots Richard Dawkins takes us to be. Paul Bloom of Yale U. says that religion is an inescapable artefact of the wiring in our brains. Bloom states: "All humans possess the brain circuitry and that never goes away." Olivera Petrovich of Oxford U says that " even adults who describe themselves as atheists and agnostics are prone to supernatural thinking." Studies done on atheists show that "they often tacitly attribute purpose to significant or traumatic moments in their lives, as if some agency were intervening to make it happen. They don't completely exorcise the ghost of god - they just muzzle it."

"If religion is a natural consequence of how our brains work, where does that leave god? All the researchers involved stress that none of this says anything about the existence or otherwise of gods: as Barratt points out, whether or not a belief is true is independent of why people believe it. It does, however, suggests that god isn't going away, and that atheism will always be a hard sell. Religious belief is the "path of least resistance", says Boyer, while disbelief requires effort."

The hard-wiring theory "challenges the idea that religion is an adaptation." Atran says religion "arises as an artefact of the ability to build fictive worlds. I don't think there's an adaptation for religion any more than there's an adaptation to make airplanes."

This leads me to conclude that the statement "Humans are hard-wired to believe in God and the supernatural" could not be used, if true, to disprove the existence of God and the supernatural. Isn't it all, in that case, but a very big, juicy example of the genetic fallacy?

Of course, if the hard-wiring theory is true, then it's positively ignorant for "atheists" who have expended tons of mental effort to repress the hard-wiring to blame we who go with the flow. At most, their valiant Everest-kind-of-struggle does not conclude with "God does not exist" but in wearing a t-shirt that says "I climbed Mount Improbable."

As for the "agnostic," that poor creature, if there is a true one, is seen as someone whose hard-wiring is defective, leaving them with either no God to believe in and therefore no struggle to overcome should they "choose" to overcome it. Using Atran's reasoning, my guess is that an agnostic is not someone who does not "know" there is a God but who is refusing to make a "decision" to embrace the hard-wiring or climb Mount Improbable.

Finally, what will all this look like when the "humanities" are absorbed into neuro-studies? All that will be left will be "science." But by "science" we can't mean "science" as some understand it today, viz., as some kind of quest for "understanding and truth." The scientist herself is an emergent creature, rising out of the neural fabric that has either evolved for adaptibility or is hard-wired to "think scientifically" or a mixture of both. "Truth," which has always belonged to the humanities (as Hume and many others have shown us), will have disappeared.

Violent Video Games & Movies Numb People to Others' Suffering

The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan reports that a study shows that "violent video games and movies make people numb to the pain and suffering of others." Exposure to violent media produces "physiological desensitization" and reduces "helping behavior." "People exposed to media violence are less helpful to others in need because they are 'comfortably numb' to the pain and suffering of others, to borrow the title of a Pink Floyd song."

"People who had played a violent game took significantly longer to help the victim than those who played a nonviolent game—73 seconds compared to 16 seconds. People who had played a violent game were also less likely to notice and report the fight. And if they did report it, they judged it to be less serious than did those who had played a nonviolent game."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bertrand Russell & the Argument From Design

Russell, in Why I Am Not a Christian, critiques the Design Argument for God's existence and rejects it, giving him yet another purported reason to remain a-Christian. Russell writes: "everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different, we could not manage to live in it. That is the argument from design."

Russell then argues that, like Richard Dawkins, Darwin's evolutionary theory shows us that apparent design can be explained without reference to a Designer God. What can we say to this?

I would first point out the existence of theists such as Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller who also agree with evolutionary theory. Collins and Miller make powerful cases for the acceptance of evolutionary theory while not eliminating the existence of God.

Secondly, we still have scientists who are interested in intelligent design theory. And we still have scientists who have questions about macroevolution. Note: ID theory is greatly despised by a number of scientists who are very vocal about this. One's position as a scientist could be in jeopardy if one raised questions about natural selection. Even the suggestion that one might like to at least investigate the claims of ID theorists can be enough to bring down on oneself a desert storm of ad hominem abusives. For some rational dialogue (with an admittedly theistic bias, yet containing essays by Wesley Elsberry and Nick Matzke, as well as atheist Michael Ruse) try something like this.

Philosophically it's significant that former philosopher-atheist Antony Flew has been persuaded by a version of the design argument and has come to accept the existence of a God. It was humorous to see the reaction of a few atheists (not all, by any means; and probably a number of them don't really care since they aren't interested in "evangelistic atheism" and wearing "I Ride the Atheist Bus" t-shirts). These few were scrambling to analyze Flew's mental capabilities. Evangelistic atheism simply in unable to comprehend that one could be a "bright" philosopher or scientist and still believe in God.

As for Russell, he was not familiar with anthropic coincidences and the fine-tuning argument which states that the fine-tuning of the unverse is not improbable on theism but is very improbable on the atheistic single-universe hypothesis. It's this latter argument that especially interests me.

Russell continues: "When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it. Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists?"

I find this reasoning unpersuasive. Since Russell cannot see sub specie aeternitatis, he's in no position to judge that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. And even if he could make that judgment, it is not clear that on Christian theism we should be concerned to show that we live in the best of all possible worlds, since whatever our world once was it has long since fallen from that state. Precisely, we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. The KKK and Fascism exist because we have been given free will. See here, for example, the arguments of Alvin Plantinga (his work on evolutionary naturalism) and Greg Boyd.
Russell's criticism here is facile and unstudied. He has yet to give me any significant reason as to why I should not remain a follower of Jesus.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Plantinga's Refutation of Mackie's Logical Argument From Evil Against God's Existence

Here’s “the Logical Problem of Evil,” as formulated by the philosopher J.L. Mackie. This has been called "Mackie’s triad":

1. God is all-powerful.

2. God is wholly good.

3. Evil exists.

These three are thought to be logically inconsistent. This means one cannot affirm - simultaneously - the truth of all three statements.

Mackie adds some explanatory rules to make the inconsistency more obvious. Mackie believes that:

iv. A good being would always stop evil from happening. This means that a good being always eliminates evil as far as it can.

v. An all-powerful being is able to stop evil from happening. It can do anything. There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do.

With these two explanatory rules added, Mackie thinks the logical inconsistency is obvious. Thus, for Mackie, to believe in the existence of God is positively irrational (= illogical).

Mackie's argument can be put in the form of what is called a logically "inconsistent triad". In this argument form, three propositions are inconsistent with each other such that one cannot hold all three at the same time without holding a contradiction. Holding such a contradiction would be like believing that:

a. This object is round.

b. This object is square.

It’s impossible to consistently or rationally believe both of these at the same time. Thus Mackie's argument from the problem of evil is an argument that seeks to demonstrate that the traditional theistic definition of God is logically incompatible with the existence of evil. It concludes that God cannot possibly exist if evil exists. Mackie argues that the theist cannot rationally believe in God's existence given the existence of evil.

Now NO ONE ACCEPTS THIS ARGUMENT AS A PROOF OF GOD’S NON-EXISTENCE TODAY. (See William Rowe's footnote #1 at the end of his essay in Pojman, Philosophy of Religion.) WHY NOT?

The decisive refutation was given by Alvin Plantinga.

To refute this all Plantinga needs to show is that it is possible to affirm (1), (2), and (3) together.

Here it is.

Plantinga argues there are possible worlds which God cannot actualize. His argument has to do with what are called “counterfactuals of creaturely freedom.” A counterfactual statement is an “If… then…” statement. An “If… then…” statement is a hypothetical statement.
Such as: “If A… then B…” Because the statement is hypothetical, there is a “counter” statement to it which says: “If A… then not-B…” ONLY ONE of these statements can be true. (In modal logic counterfactual statements are about possible worlds.)

Some “If… then…” statements are about creaturely freedom. E.g., “If John is faced with choice A, he will choose B.” Or, “If John is faced with choice A, he will not choose B.” These statements are about creaturely free will. Only one of them can be true. They cannot both be true.

Logically, it's possible that God has "counterfactual knowledge." If God has counterfactual knowledge then God knows with certainty the actual, contingent truth-value of all counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. This does not entail that God has, however, control whatsoever over the truth-value of these counterfactuals. This is because it is possible that persons have free will. On this view God does not control our choices. Here’s an example.

Suppose God wants John to freely refrain from taking a bribe. God will not control John’s choice, because John has free will. All God can do is give John free will.

So, one of the following propositions is true. But only one can be true. If one is true, the other is necessarily false.

c) If John has free will, then John will take the bribe.

d) If John is free, then John will not take the bribe.

If (c) is true, then John will take the bribe and God won’t get what he wants. Only if (d) is true will John do what God wants him to do.

So, we have two possible worlds. One possible world is where (c) is true. Another possible world is where (d) is true. But if (c) is true, then God cannot actualize a possible world in which (d) is true. This is because (c) and (d) are “counterfactuals of creaturely freedom.” (CCFs) Only one of them can be true. Depending on which one is true, it means that the counter-proposition is false.
Therefore there is at least one possible world which God cannot actualize. Therefore God cannot actualize all possible worlds.

Remember, God knows the truth-value of all CCFs. God knows what John will do. But John has free will, so it does not mean that God controls or determines what John will do. Because God knows whether (c) is true or (d) is true, God cannot actualize a possible world where the counterfactual of either (c) or (d) is true.

Plantinga then argues that it is possible that every creature suffers in fact from transworld depravity. So, although there are possible worlds where creatures are free but commit no moral evil, these were not feasible worlds for God to actualize, since the truth-values of the relevant counterfactuals of freedom were not under His control. Because it is logically possible that God has given creaturely agents free will, has counterfactual, and transwordl depravity exists, then God cannot create a possible world where things work out just as he wants.
Therefore Mackie's triad does not present us with three logically incompatible statements. It is possible to affirm: 1) God is all-powerful; 2) God is all-loving; 3) evil exists.

Thus, God cannot always eliminate evil.

Be Weird For the Right Reasons

I think of myself as a follower of Jesus, who is called to be a pastor, and who has been blessed to worship and dwell and work with a wonderful group of Jesus-followers. Some view us as "charismatic." I prefer "followers of Jesus."

The more I read and study and meditate on the central person in the Christian Scriptures, Jesus the Christ, the more I am taken by his central message, which is about the kingdom of God. It's clear to me that Jesus both proclaimed the good news of God's kingdom, demonstrated it with miraculous signs and wonders, and understood that the real conflict was a spiritual thing involving the kingdom of Satan (aka the kingdom of darkness). I believe all of the above.

I also understand that I live in a secular age. (See Charles Taylor's brilliant work to understand the depths of this.) So, when I stand before my philosophy students in the community college I teach at and say "I believe in Jesus" and mean by this "I embrace Jesus' message of the kingdom, that miraculous signs and wonders are part of actual Christianity, and that we battle not merely against people but against dark spiritual forces," some students view me as, I think, a bit off. Some are intrigued. Some don't know what to do with this. To help them I remind them that the class is philosophy of religion, and the Christian "religion" is one of the Big 5. I realize my take on what actual Christianity is is not universally shared, but it is a major interpretation of Christianity.

In a secular, post-Christian, de-sacralized world, what I believe and expect is weird. Increasingly, I don't mind being that kind of weird. Actually everyone is "weird," if we understand "weirdness" as "not fitting in with my worldview." In that sense I find atheistic expectations and incongruencies weird.

If you're going to be weird, be weird for the right reasons. But don't be weird for weirdness's sake. "Weirdness" qua weirdness is no virtue. Spiritually, it's even dangerous. Today, as it has been in every era, we have "Christians" who love weirdness more than they love the real Jesus. So they bring in all kinds of cultural inebriation into the church. It's here that I point you to Lee Grady's recent article "Strange Fire In the House of the Lord." If you're a follower of the Jesus who still works the miraculous and still delivers us out of the kingdom of darkness, you would do well to read the wise counsel of Grady here. He's the editor of Charisma magazine, and a person who wants the real fire of God, which is a fire that heals and delivers and restores and reveals the beautiful kingdom of God to people, and sees actual, genuine miraculous signs as "signs" which are not to be worshiped themselves but which point people to the one thing they need more than any sign; viz., God the Sign-Giver.

Younger Jesus-followers who are zealous for the fire of God continue to need older mentors to steer them through their journey and help them learn to discern the real activity of Jesus from the fake. Thanks to Lee Grady for helping us do that.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Atheist Buses: Belief in God = Belief in Fairies?

This picture shows one of the signs appearing on "atheist buses" in cities like London. It reads:

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom if it too? There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Hmmm... Years ago I got a personal paradigm shift from a kind of deism and even a practical atheism to theism. I became a theist. Concurrently, I became a follower of Jesus. I didn;t believe in fairies before my shift, and I don't believe in fairies now. The words on this poster make a connection like this: Belief in God is equivalent to belief in fairies existing at the bottom of one's garden. This reasoning feels like the kind of thing I've heard some atheists say, e.g.: "I reject belief in God just like I reject belief in Thor, Zeus, etc. etc." Well, I reject belief in all those finite quasi-gods too.

The God of theism with the requisite omni-attributes is quite different than a "fairy" with whatever attributes such a thing would have. An argument like the fine-tuning argument for God's existence reasons that whatever caused the fine-tuning of our universe could not have been a fairy. Therefore, the logical equivalence "God" and "fairy" fails. Logically, belief in God does not entail fairy-belief. So one can believe in God and reject the existence of fairies, or conclude that "probably" there are no fairies.

This particular bus poster reminds me of religious posters that make false claims. It only preachers to members of the choir who accept such irrationality.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Breaking Free From a Culture of Mediocrity

(The River Raisin in Monroe)

Today I spoke to our ministry school students about breaking free from a culture of mediocrity. I challenged them, not to compare themselves with others or try to be better than others, but to do their best in the things God has called them to do. Paul told his young mentoree Timothy to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:15)

This morning I led worship at our church from 9 - 9:30 AM. There was a handful of people there. I’ve played and performed before several thousand, and in front of a few. Every time I do something like this I give it my all, my very best. In this regard numbers mean nothing. Why? Because, as a God-believer and follower of Jesus, whatever I do I do before, not people, but an audience of One; viz., before God. Long ago I learned that God gives it all for me; therefore I am to give my very best back to God. Have I done this every time? No. But every day of my life, whether I meet with people helping them or leading worship or teaching or being a husband, my goal is to give it my best.

In my MCCC philosophy of religion classes I give oral exams. Students meet with me personally, I ask them questions about the materials covered in class. This way I can find out if they really have studied the stuff. One time one of my students who was a Christian walked in to the oral exam. They were carrying a Bible. They hadn’t studied. I failed them. I found myself wishing they didn’t walk around carrying a Bible if they weren’t going to work hard and do their best at whatever God has called them to do. In short, the question for that kind of person is: has God called you to be in college? If the answer is “yes,” then act like it. Otherwise, it’s an embarrassment. At least, I felt embarrassed by that kind of mediocrity. I told them “I’m expecting a lot more out you - you’re better than that.”

I meet some Christians who want to do big things for God but could care less about excellence in all the small things of life. I don ‘t think God’s going to entrust them with big things unless they do their best in all the small things God calls them to do. And I won’t trust them with responsibility either. God is looking for servants. In servanthood, size doesn’t matter. Watch out for Christians who want to do big stuff for Jesus but won’t do the dishes in their own home.
I don’t want my students to be mediocre. Again, this has nothing to do with being “the best”; it’s all about doing your best for Jesus. In everything he calls you to do.

By the way, that Christian student looked at me after I told them “you just failed this exam,” and they said: “I’m not going to disappoint you the next time.” Good. More than that, I don’t want them to disappoint the God who sent his Son to bleed and die so that this student might live.

Some families, some environments, breed mediocrity. If that’s the culture you grew up in or now live in, choose to break free from that. You won’t need to rationalize the mediocrity any more. God wants you to love him with ALL your heart, soul, mind, and strength. That’s where the real blessings lie.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bertrand Russell on the First Cause Argument for God

One of Bertrand Russell's reasons to not be a "Christian" is his understanding that the first cause argument for God's existence fails. Russell writes:

"Perhaps the simplest and easiest to understand is the argument of the First Cause. (It is maintained that everything we see in this world has a cause, and as you go back in the chain of causes further and further you must come to a First Cause, and to that First Cause you give the name of God.) That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality it used to have; but, apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity."

First, Aquinas's first cause argument distinguishes between causality in fieri and causality in esse. Russell speaks to the first kind of causality and not the second, which is the Thomistic first-cause argument that is stronger. So I don't think Russell here does anything that should lead anyone to not be a Christian.

Russell then says that the fallacy of the First Cause argument is that the question "Who made me?" cannot be answered because one will then ask the question "Who made the God who made me?" "If everything must have a cause, then cause must have a cause." But this is not clear. Russell was unfamiliar with the more powerful Kalam version of the cosmological argument. That argument states that everything that begins to exist has a cause. So, if God did not begin to exist, then it's clear that God will be best understood as not having a cause.

Russell writes: "There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause."

All of this reasoning of Russell's is questionable. Our universe did begin to exist. Big-bang cosmology verifies this. Our universe has an age, and anything that has an age has a birthday. So that is one reason "to suppose that the world had a beginning at all." Further, the Kalam argument does not argue that all things must have a beginning. But it seems true that whatever does have a beginning ("begins to exist") is best understood as having a cause (therefore things that begin to exist do not pop into existence uncaused).

From this I conclude Russell has not yet given one good reason as to why he should choose to not be a Christian. I think one should never decide to not be a Christian for the reasons Russell has so far given.

Why Bertrand Russell Was Not a Christian

Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian was published in 1957. It still graces the shelves of bookstores much as C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity does. I thought I'd pick up my old copy and give it a re-read.

Russell first defines "Christian," as he should. If he's going to show us why he's not something he must define just what that something is that he's not. "Christian," for Russell, means two things. First, one must believe in God and immortality. By "God" I feel sure he means the theistic God with all the requisite omni-attributes. By "immortality" he means the belief that, after physical death, one's existence will continue. He's surely right in that if one denies God's existence one should not refer to oneself as a "Christian." Even though there are some who have done this (yes, there have been "Christian atheists"), I agree that an atheist would not be coherent in embracing Christianity while retaining his or her irreligion.

Secondly, Russell says that, to be a Christian, "you must have at the very lowest the belief that Christ was, if not divine, at least the best and wisest of men." Now Russell think Jesus was the best and wisest of men, and that forms one of his reasons for not being a Christian. But here I think he's wrong; viz., this does not form a good reason for not being a Christian. The core Christian claim is that Jesus is "the Christ"; viz., the anointed one which the Old Testament points towards. If Jesus was not this, then I fully agree he was not the best and wisest of men. Surely Jesus the Christ was not wise if he thought himself to be the One from God but was not. Here we have to define "wisdom." Was Jesus the Christ "wise?" I think so. But my thinking so is a function of my belief that he was and is the Christ. If that is not true than I would have to find Jesus to be very unwise.

Russell then proceeds to take on the first cause argument for God's existence. I'll look at that in my next Russell post.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Philosophy of Religion Exams

This week's Philosophy of Religion oral exams:

Monday - room Z271

Wednesday - room Z257

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Gran Torino" & Monroe's Hotel Sterling

Linda and I saw Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" last night. We both liked it. I thought it was excellent, and at points was deeply moved by it. It's filmed in Detroit. The closing credits-scene is beautiful - on Grosse Isle. It's a movie about forgiveness, atonement, and redemption. Some have said Eastwood is self-atoning for his earlier spaghetti westerns which were callous and brutal and unforgiving.

And, Linda surprised me yesterday with a gift of a night at Monroe's Hotel Sterling. It's a beautifully renovated facility in downtown Monroe. Staying a night here makes me feel like I'm in downtown Manhattan.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Martin Heidegger

Here's a very good Heidegger site. For fun, follow within the site to this very clever "Being and Time" site. The discovery of this brings back memories of my fascination with and struggle to understand Heidegger.

It was in my undergraduate philosophy studies that I was introduced to Heidegger by one of my all-time favorite professors, Michael Gelven. The way I teach philosophy today is deeply indebted to Gelven as a teacher. He's also a brilliant Heidegger scholar.

I took an independent study on Heidegger in my Master's program with Tom Finger. It was on Being and Time. I think I was beginning to dimly understand some things about Heidegger. Heidegger's way of "thinking" (not "philosophizing" Western-style) is so paradigmatically different than Western logical philosophizing. I will always remain grateful to Tom for his interest in me and willingness to meet individually to mentor me (he also gave me an independent study on Hans-Georg Gadamer's Truth and Method).

In my doctoral work I took a seminar with Heidegger scholar David Michael Levin. We studied Heidegger's Early Greek Thinking. Levin was, and is, a truly brilliant scholar. I enjoyed him as a person, even though I struggled with understanding at the time. I think I did not have as much of a Heidegger background as did some of the other philosophy students. Northwestern University, at the time I was there, specialized in phenomenology (Heidegger and Gadamer being "hermeneutic phenomenologists").

Finally, a nod to my son Dan, who bravely took a course on Heidegger as an undergraduate at Michigan State University. I loved talking with with Dan as he tried to come to grips with this very different kind of thinking as taught by a professor who probably was a good scholar but struggled to actually teach.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Who's Captaining the Ship?

Mass murderer Timothy McVeigh handed over a copy of the poem "Invictus" to his executioners just before he died. The poem served as McVeigh's "last word." It reads:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

McVeigh was, arguably, an atheist, and this poem serves him well. (Of course from this it does not follow that if one is an atheist one will do what McVeigh did.)

Today, as I taught a class of students at Monroe High School about worldview and religious diversity and how it relates to healthcare, I thought of the following worldviews and how they relate to the soul, if the soul is thought of as a ship.

- Theism - God is captain of the ship

- Atheism - I am captain of the ship

- Agnosticism - We can't know if the ship is being captained

- Deism - God has abandoned the ship

- Polytheism - the ship has 330 million captains

- Pantheism - The captain is the ship

- Monism - There is no ship

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Religious & Worldview Diversity

For Mrs Richardville's Health Occupations class at Monroe High School (thank you Sarah for inviting me to speak to your classes!):

Thank you for allowing me to speak in your class. I really enjoyed meeting you, and teaching you some things. I appreciated the energy you had for the material I was talking about, and the many good and relevant questions you asked.

Here are some of the ideas I’ve shared with you at our two class sessions together.

I came to talk about diversity from the perspectives of philosophy and religion.

Philosophy deals with issues such as:

- Meaning of life; the meaning of “meaning”
- Ethics – right and wrong; good and evil
- Knowledge (called “epistemology” – “theory of knowledge”) – what can we know; also, what does it mean to “know” anything at all; is true knowledge possible
- Truth – what is “truth”; Logic concerns what is called “propositional truth,” i.e., evaluating arguments which are composed of statements, a “statement” being a sentence that is either true or false
- Personhood – the nature of persons; is there such a thing as “mind,” such a thing as “soul?”
- Value – such as, e.g., beauty (philosophy of aesthetics)
- God – is there a God – yes or no? Philosophical (essentially non-religious) arguments are given for the existence of God and against the existence of God
- Worldviews – noetic frameworks

Religions deal with issues of:

- Good and evil; right and wrong
- Meaning
- God
- Value
- The meaning of persons
- Life after death
- Purpose of life

Both philosophy and religion deal with life's "Big questions." They deal with questions "science" (qua science) cannot answer.
Every person has a “philosophy” and a “religious” or “a-religious” perspective.

No one does not have a “worldview.” Most people are unable to articulate their worldview. Few reflect on their worldview. For most, it is simply the water they swim in, the air they breathe. Worldviews show themselves in words that are spoken, choices that are made, and behaviors.

So, for the purposes of working in the field of health care, every person you encounter and care for will have a worldview. They may not be able to reflect on it. But it will show itself to you if you understand some things. Like what?

Understand the basic worldviews. Understand the basic religions and ir-religions.


- Theism – the belief in one God who has the omni-attributes of all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, omni-temporality, and so on…
- Atheism – the belief that God does not exist
For me, atheism implies Philosophical Naturalism; viz., the idea that all that exists is matter and its various arrangements (collocations)
- Deism – the belief in one God, but with the idea that this God has made the world and then leaves it alone
- Agnosticism – the belief that we cannot know whether or not there is a God
- Pantheism – that belief that all that is, is “God”
- Polytheism – the belief in multiple deities/gods
- Monism – the belief that everything that is, is metaphysically One
- Animism – the belief that inanimate objects are occupied by spirits (“anima”)

In regard to these worlds, all of them can be either “strong” or “weak.” These words, used this way, do not imply value judgments. They refer to: “able to philosophically reason about the worldview,” or “unable to philosophically reason about the worldview.” For example, someone may say they are an atheist, yet when asked for a reason for their atheism, are unable to give something philosophically coherent. A “strong atheist” is one who is able to give articulate arguments for the non-existence of God.

Because everyone has a worldview, patients you attend to in the health care field will have a worldview.


- Judaism – 14 million
- Christianity – 2.2 billion
- Islam – 1.5 million
- Hinduism – 1 billion
- Buddhism – 400 million

There are also a number of “minor” religions. For example, in Chinese culture we have Primitive Chinese Religions (400 billion). This includes Confucianism and Taoism.

Within each of these there are various “denominations.” Like, e.g., within the concept of “money” there are different “denominations” – a penny, nickel, quarter, dollar bill, and so on…

Judaism and Christianity are essentially historical religions. That is, the claim is that God has acted in human history to reveal himself to us and love us. Christianity, e.g., rises or falls with the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam are religions of ideas.

Because many of the patients you attend to will be religious, it will be helpful to know something about their belief system, especially if they are serious and committed to what they believe.

Note: Among people in America, I have found that most patients will not only not refuse prayer, but will appreciate being prayed for. As a health care professional you may not be allowed to pray for patients. But your patient may greatly value having someone come in to pray for them.

If someone is a committed ir-religionist, they may or may not want prayer.

My cross-cultural experience in Asia and elsewhere tells me that most people, when facing a health-care crisis, concern themselves with worldview and religious questions and issues. So it will be good to be sensitive to these things.

Again - thanks for allowing me to come to your class. If you want to dialogue sent me a response!

John Piippo

Lee Smolin's Darwinian Multiverse

Discover Magazine today published an article called "We All Live In Darwin's World." The article claims that Darwin's theory of natural selection is being shown to apply to nearly everything, to include physical cosmological theories. The articles focuses on physicist Lee Smolin's theory of "cosmological natural selection."

Smolin "developed a theory that posits the existence of a vast number of unseen universes, each generated by the collapse of a black hole. The conditions of those collapses bestow each universe with its own set of fundamental parameters, such as the masses of its various subatomic particles. Just as life diversified on Earth, the “multiverse” in Smolin’s theory evolved from simple beginnings into a complex and varied assemblage of universes, each exhibiting a distinctive set of traits."

The article states: "If a wealth of universes with unique parameters exists, Smolin says, then our own case does not seem so special or so unlikely. In fact, cosmological natural selection specifically favors universes—like ours—in which massive stars can form and give rise to new black holes. “By using Darwinian methodology, I was able to get an explanation for the improbable complexity of our universe,” Smolin says."

So, note first that if there is not a multiverse, then our universe seems special and improbably complex. So an atheist like Smolin really needs a multiverse to exist. Note: Valentine's Day is approaching. If you have a friend who is an atheist (and I do have a number of atheist friends) it would be nice to get them a good multiverse theory for a gift.

Smolin's multiverse theory is not universally accepted by physicists. That's not to say his theory is false. Truth and falsity are not functions of peer approval. But one must note, e.g., the work of Tufts University physicist Alexander Vilenkin. See his article "On Cosmic Natural Selection." Vilenkin writes: "Smolin points out that his theory would be falsified if black hole production were shown to increase when the constants of nature are varied from their present values. He has repeatedly challenged the physics community to refute his theory and maintains that, despite seferal attempts, it has not yet been falsified." In Vilenkin's essay he argues "that black hole production can be enhanced by an increase in the value of the cosmological constant, thus falsifying Smolin's conjecture."

How should one study this? One text often cited is Universe or Multiverse?, edited by Bernard Carr. It contains articles by physicists Smolin, Stephen Hawking, and many others - totalling over 500 pages (and $69!!). Here one sees the debate go back and forth over whether multiverse theory is not only true but whether it is even in principle verifiable and "scientific."

From Darwin's finches to multiverse theory? The thought comes to me that, as Feb. 12 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birthday (go here to join the celebration), people like Lee Smolin have their party hats on ready to thank Charles Darwin for everything. Perhaps Darwin has given us the long-sought-after "theory of everything?" "Natural selection" is beginning to take on the omni-attributes that have been attributed to God. Natural selection accounts for love, war, economics, art, creativity, religion, God, and the universe ("In the beginning Natural Selection created..."). Soon Natural Selection will explain why physicists need to posit a multiverse, and why they react negatively to the idea of a single universe (for their survival?). We will then see Lee Smolin's behavior fully explained, and then understand why he theorizes as he does. Then we'll get at the deepest question, which is: If Natural Selection explains everything, what causes it? Or, a bit lighter, what caused Darwin? Perhaps some caution should be exercised here.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Atheist Bus Campaign As a Reflection of Neural Activity

I heard about the atheist bus ad campaign a long time ago. Today's it's made Time magazine.

800 London buses have ads that read: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." Atheist Ariane Sharine, who came up with the idea, says: "Our campaign provides reassurance for people who might be agnostic and don't quite believe, and worry what will happen to them if they don't."

Three Christian groups in London are countering with their own bus-ad campaign. The article says:

"Similar atheist campaigns have run in Barcelona, Madrid and Washington, D.C. But since its January 6 launch, the London scheme has been credited with inspiring atheist bus campaigns in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany and Italy, where next month posters in Genoa will read: "The bad news is that God does not exist. The good news is that we do not need him.""

Atheist Richard Dawkins says: "I don't object at all to the Christian ads that are going up, especially if they make people think. If more people think for themselves, we'll have fewer religious people."

Hmmm... just the opposite happened to me. I began to finally think, and the result was I became a follower of Jesus.

Then, I changed my undergraduate studies to philosophy. I loved thinking about the big issues of life, and for me at that time to major in philosophy was the best option. It challenged me to think a lot more, and to think deeply about things like meaning and knowledge and truth and right and wrong and personhood. This deeper thinking resulted in my thinking that my choice to follow Jesus was the right life-choice. 38 years later, after a whole lot of "deep thought," I'm grateful I chose to follow after Jesus.

The deep thinking of philosophy brought me, of course, face-to-face with atheism. One can't study philosophy without looking at all the best alternatives. Currently, my thinking includes viewing real atheism as philosophical naturalism (PN). On PN issues of right and wrong and truth and knowledge and meaning and personhood become logically inconsequential; viz., one can't derive non-empirical value-judgments from the empiricist philosophy of PN.

For me, the idea of an atheist "campaigning" for the "truth" of her worldview and against the "delusion" of theism is weird. Consider, e.g., Bertrand Russell's famous statement about atheism.

"That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."

Russell then attempts to say one must build one's life on "the scaffolding" of this worldview. Of course, if atheism is true, that's the only alternative. But remember that Russell thought, even though Nature was "omnipotent yet blind," that persons were "free." On PN-studies today, that is extremely questionable. When I was introduced to Russellian atheism I then studied French existentialist atheism, esp Camus and Sartre, and read Kafka and Nietzsche and watched Ingmar Bergman films. On those forms of atheism "campaigning" for the "truth" of atheism either doesn't happen because life is meaningless anyway, or does happen but, upon "thinking," seems "absurd," even makes one "nauseous." (Sartre) If PN is correct then there's a lot of "bad news." The bad news is that God does not exist. The bad news is also that without God life has no meaning. The bad news is probably that "thinking" is but the neural activity of the physical brain. The bad news is that my last sentence cannot be verified on PN. The good news is that an atheist need not feel bad about any of this. The bad news is that "feeling good and feeling bad" have nothing to do with meaning and truth. James Brown was right and he was wrong when he sang, "I feel good, like I knew that I would."

Perhaps the atheistic bus campaign is but an epiphenomenon of physical neural activity? If so, pay no attention to it, realizing that "paying attention to anything" is probably impossible (aka the problem of first-person subjective experience). Just a thought.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Surprise - Daniel Dennett Is Not Tillichian

I just laughed out loud as I read Daniel Dennett's response to Jerry Coyne's science-religion essay. But first - what did not amuse me was Dennett's comedic psychology of religious belief-analysis of scientists who, amazingly, accept evolutionary theory and think God fits into it. Dennett's an excellent thinker but should stay away from whatever it is he's trying to do here.

But... I spoke at a conference this last year on God and philosophical naturalism, arguing for the latter as incoherent and for the coherence of (supernaturalistic) theism. One Christian scholar objected, saying they both believed in God and were themselves a naturalist. How could that be? It could be if one was a Tillichian. Paul Tillich's ontology of religious belief dismisses the miraculous. If that's true, what about God? Isn't God a super-natural (non-natural; not reducible to "nature") being? Not for Tillich. Instead, indebted to Heidegger, God is "The Ground of Being." It is, frankly, a sensible idea. I don't agree with it, but it's not nonsensical. But I am certain Heidegger is not real popular among scientific philosophical naturalists.

Dennett writes: "I haven't any idea what the Ground of All Being is, so I guess I don't have to be an atheist about that. Maybe the process of evolution by natural selection just is God! Now there's a way of reconciling evolution with religion!" Now that is funny. Kudos to Daniel Dennett.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Eugene Peterson Is a Subversive

Eugene Peterson, the kind-bearded translator of the Bible into The Message, is a subversive. (Like Jesus was.) One has to watch out, or his thoughts will get into you, planted like seeds, one day to emerge out of your heart making you think - where did that come from?

I read a lot of books at one time. I like to go slowly through them, absorbing them, slow-cooking the ideas. One of the books I'm slow-cooking now is Peterson's The Jesus Way. Here's one of his radical ideas ("radical," from Latin radix, meaning "root," from which we derive "radish"; a "radical" gets at the root of things).

"Unfortunately, the more popular American church strategies in respect to congregation are not friendly to the local and the personal. The American way with its penchant for catchy slogans and stirring visions denigrates the local, and its programmatic ways of dealing with people erode the personal, replacing intimacies with functions. The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus way with the American way. For Christians who are serious about following Jesus by understanding and pursuing the ways that Jesus is the Way, this deconstruction of the Christian congregation is particularly distressing and a looming distraction from the way of Jesus." (5)

Yes, and of course. Read those words slowly. Observe American "Christianity," not to brutalize it, but to gain wisdom as how to get those Christians delivered. Alongside this read the original Jesus texts - M, M, L, & J. Note the cognitive dissonance. Choose the real Jesus over the American Jesus. Give thanks for the real thing; pray for the Babylonian Captivity of the American Church.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

President Obama's Religious Beliefs

Here's what President Obama said about his personal religious beliefs at today's National Prayer Breakfast:

"I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I’ve ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done.

I didn’t become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck – no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God’s spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose – His purpose. "

There will be a lot of people analyzing these remarks.

- A Muslim becomes an atheist.

- Methodist and Baptist grandparents who didn't participate in church.

- A mother who was skeptical of organized religion. (I am too, and so was Jesus, who was actually against the organized religion of his time.)

- Obama becomes a follower of Jesus after he sees and joins with other Jesus-followers who take the gospel seriously.

How about - let's pray for him?

The Untestability of Multiverse Concepts

Multiverse concepts “are extending into philosophy” rather than science “and may not be testable.””

- Lawrence Krauss, physicist and astronomer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Robin Collins on the Many Worlds Hypothesis (as an objection to the fine-tuning argument for God)

(We live in a "Goldilocks Universe")

For my Philosophy of Religion Students -Robin Collins considers the "multiverse alternative" to the fine-tuning argment for God's existence. Here are some notes, quotes, and further things re. arguing against the Atheistic "Many-Worlds Hypothesis."

From “A Scientific Argument For the Existence of God” (in Pojman, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology)

That our universe is fine-tuned for our existence is not debated by those who object to the Fine-Tuning Argument (FTA) for God’s existence.

Using Collins’s “prime principle of confirmation,” the fine-tuned universe demands an explanation. It seems that the alternatives are three: the fine-tuned universe exists by: 1) chance; 2) necessity; or 3)design. W.L. Craig argues that “necessity” is ruled out because if the fine-tuning necessarily exists then non-life-forming universes are impossible. Multiverse theory assumes that the fine-tuning cannot be necessary since it postulates a vast amount of life-prohibiting universes.

This leaves us with chance or design. If our universe is the only universe there is, then, using the prime principle of confirmation, clearly design is more probable than chance. See John Leslie’s “firing squad” analogy here.

Collins writes: “In response to the theistic explanation of fine-tuning of the cosmos, many atheists have offered an alternative explanation, what I will call the atheistic many-universes hypothesis (MUH)… According to this hypothesis, there are a very large – perhaps infinite – number of universes, with the fundamental parameters of physics varying from universe to universe.” (80)

Advocates of MUH rely on “the so-called vacuum fluctuation models and the oscillating big bang models.” (81)

The Vacuum Fluctuation Model

“According to vacuum fluctuation models, our universe, along with these other universes, were generated by quantum fluctuations in a preexisting superspace.” (81) Think of this preexisting superspace as an infinitely extending ocean full of soap. Think then of each universe generated out of this superspace as a soap bubble which spontaneously forms on the ocean.

The Oscillating Big Bang theory

This is the idea that our universe will eventually collapse in on itself (the “big crunch”). From that “big crunch” will come another “big bang,” forming a new universe, which will eventually collapse, then “bang,” and so on and on.

“According to those who use this model to attempt to explain the fine-tuning, during every cycle, the parameters of physics and the initial conditions of the universe are reset at random. Since this process of collapse, explosion, collapse, and explosion has been going on for all eternity, eventually a fine-tuned universe will occur, indeed, infinitely many of them.” (81)

Reasons to Reject the Atheistic MUH

#1 – “Everything else being equal, we should prefer hypotheses for which we have independent evidence or that are natural extrapolations from what we already know.” (81)
It’s hard to see how the MUH could be a natural extrapolation from what we already observe. Whereas postulating a “super-mind” is a natural extrapolation from our observation of minds in general.
“Moreover, unlike the MUH, we have some experiential evidence for the existence of God, namely religious experience.” (81)

#2 – The MUH needs a “many-universe generator,” which seems to need to have been designed. Such a generator “is governed by a complex set of physical laws that allow it to produce the universes. It stands to reason, therefore, that if these laws were slightly different the generator probably would not be able to produce any universes that could sustain life. After all, even my bread machine has to be made just right in order to work properly, and it only produces loaves of bread, not universes.” (82)

The MUH seems unable to avoid the design issue, only moving the problem of design to another level.

William Lane Craig writes: “Now this recourse to the World Ensemble will be in vain if it turns out that the mechanism that generates the World Ensemble must itself be fine-tuned, for then one has only kicked the problem upstairs. And, indeed, that does seem to be the case. The most popular candidate for a World Ensemble today, the inflationary multiverse, does appear to require fine-tuning. For example, M-theory, the theory which supposedly governs the multiverse, works only if there are exactly eleven dimensions—but it does nothing to explain why precisely that number of dimensions should exist.”

#3 – Another reason to reject the MUH “is that the universe generator must not only select the parameters of physics at random, but must actually randomly create or select the very laws of physics themselves. This makes the hypothesis even more far-fetched since it is difficult to see what possible physical mechanism could select or create laws.” (82)

Because just the right parameters of physics are needed for life to occur, the right set of laws is also needed. “If, for instance, certain laws of physics were missing, life would be impossible.” (82)
#4 – The atheistic MUH “cannot explain other features of the universe that seem to exhibit apparent design, whereas theism can.”

For example, Einstein and other physicists felt that the laws of physics themselves exhibit beauty, elegance, harmony, and ingenuity. “Now such beauty, elegance, and ingenuity make sense if the universe was designed by God. Under the atheistic MUH, however, there is no reason to expect the fundamental laws of physics to be elegant or beautiful.” (82)

#5 – “Neither the atheistic MUH )nor the atheistic single-universe hypothesis) can at present adequately account for the improbable initial arrangement of matter in the universe required by the second law of thermodynamics.” (82)

Some Objections to the Atheistic MUH by William Lane Craig

William lane Craig, in his essay “Barrow and Tipler On the Anthropic Principle and Divine Design,” offers objections to the atheistic MUH.

1. There is no evidence for any of these theories apart from the fact of intelligent life itself.
a. John Leslie points out that any evidence for a World Ensemble (multiverse) is equally evidence for a divine Designer.

2. The idea of an “infinite” number of universes raises the issue of “the paradoxical nature of the existence of an actually infinite number of things.”

3. “In order to stave off the conclusion of a Designer, the Anthropic philosopher must take the metaphysically speculative step of embracing a special kind of multiple universe scenario.”
a. “The Anthropic Principle is impotent unless it is conjoined with a profoundly metaphysical vision of reality.”

4. John Leslie argues that the God hypothesis is no more obscure than the MUH is, nor less scientific, “since natural laws and initial conditions are not generally taken to be scientifically explicable.”

Multiverse theory leaves science and engages in metaphysics.

Finally, here’s some things from a post I made.

A real problem arises for multiverse theorists: how can the existence of not only an infinite number of universes, but for that matter the existence of just one different universe, be empirically verified? How could, in principle, such a theory be tested? The answer appears to be: such a theory is not empirically testable and verifiable.Consider this from the on-line article “One universe or many? Panel holds unusual debate” (from which the above Linde quotes are also taken).

“Lawrence Krauss, a physicist and astronomer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said the whole multiverse idea is so speculative as to border on nonsense. It’s an outcome of an old impulse, which also gave rise to the correct notion that other planets exist, he argued: “We don’t want to be alone.”It also caters to our desire for stability, he added: the universe changes, but “the multiverse is always the same.” And if there are many universes, you don’t have to make any predictions that will subject your pet theory to awkward tests, “because there’s always one in which the answers work out.”Krauss allowed that he might buy the multiverse idea if it’s a consequence of some new theory that also successfully accounts for many other unexplained phenomena. But otherwise, multiverse concepts “are extending into philosophy” rather than science, he added, “and may not be testable.””

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Need for Faith In a Multiverse

Jerry Coyne writes: "The idea of multiple universes may seem like a desperate move--a Hail Mary thrown out by physicists who are repelled by religious explanations. But physics is full of ideas that are completely counterintuitive, and multiverse theories fall naturally out of long-standing ideas of physics. They represent physicists' attempts to give a naturalistic explanation for what others see as evidence of design. For many scientists, multiverses seem far more reasonable than the solipsistic assumption that our own universe with its 10,000,000,000, 000,000 planets was created just so a single species of mammal would evolve on one of them fourteen billion years later."

For Coyne, multiverse theory seems more reasonable than belief in God. But of course, since his concern is to give a "naturalistic explanation for what others see as evidence of design." But if this universe is the only universe that exists and has ever existed, then belief in God seems reasonable precisely because it seems outrageously improbable that it should be a life-supporting unvierse (a "Goldilocks universe"). That is why I think, in spite of Coyne's words here, the "multiverse" idea is a "desperate move."

We seem to have two outrageous possibilities. The philosophical naturalist is baffled by anyone who could rationally believe a "God" created the universe. The theist is astounded that there is a "multiverse." I find God far more reasonable than multiverses. Here's why.

Multiverse theory seems, in principle, scientifically unverifiable. In fact, it strikes me as a good example of a real "solipsistic assumption." The idea that we dwell fully in our universe but need to verify an extra-universal universe poses problems. And even if we could, the verification of one other universe is a long, long way from empirically verifying a near-infinite number of universes. We're stuck in our universe, unable to see, smell, hear, taste, or touch anything outside of it. If that's not a kind of solipsism, I don't know what is.

Jerry Coyne and I were both born in 1949. Is the existence of a multiverse logically possible? I think so. Is it logically possible to verify it "scientifically?" I think so. All one needs to do is get outside of our universe and empirically detect a possible infinity of universes. Will Coyne and I ever see the day this happens? Probably, no. So for him it will, probably, always remain something like an article of faith, much like Carl Sagan believed aliens existed but never had scientific-empirical evidence that they did. (That long, long string of prime numbers emanating from outer space never was detected.)

For Coyne there must be something like a multiverse. He believes there's got to be some kind of thing other than God that explains the existence of us. Because the current big-time-verifiable reality seems to be that we are the only universe that has ever existed and ever will exist - again, as far as we scientifically know. We so far have a universe that is 14,000,000,000 years old which has produced... us. And that seems wildly improbable, far more than a "free lunch." (Here "free lunch" is a Hume-type weak analogy.) If that is the case, then I'll take God.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Jerry Coyne's Confession of Faith In a Multiverse

Jerry Coyne has written an article critiqueing the new books by physicist Karl Giberson (Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution) and Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller (Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul). Both Giberson and Miller are Christian theists, and argue for the compatibility of science (evolutionary theory) and religion (Christian theism). Coyne finds their critiques of Intelligent Design theory devastating, but thinks they are wrong about the idea that one can be a theist and embrace evolutionary theory.

Miller points to the fine-tuning argument for God's existence as offering but one reason to believe in God as a scientist. This argument states that the constants of the universe just happen to have life-promoting values. We inhabit a "Goldilocks universe," a universe which is "just right" for our existence. That our universe is fine-tuned for our existence is unquestionable. Some, like Miller (and myself), take this as evidence for a God who did this. Coyne, of course, disagrees. I find his disagreement unpersuasive.

Coyne says that "scientists have other explanations." Such as what? Such as the "multiverse theory." Coyne writes: "there are intriguing "multiverse" theories that invoke the appearance of many universes, each with different physical laws; and we could have evolved only in one whose laws permit life." But how is this response "scientific," since the existence of multiverses is as scientifically untestable as is the existence of God?

Coyne knows about this objection. He writes: "The idea of multiple universes may seem like a desperate move--a Hail Mary thrown out by physicists who are repelled by religious explanations." Pause here. Indeed, this is how it seems, not only to Christian theists but certain non-theistic scientists as well. See, e.g., my post Anthropic Coincidences & the Non-Verifiability of the Multiverse Theory. Coyne's response to this objection is: "But physics is full of ideas that are completely counterintuitive, and multiverse theories fall naturally out of long-standing ideas of physics. They represent physicists' attempts to give a naturalistic explanation for what others see as evidence of design. For many scientists, multiverses seem far more reasonable than the solipsistic assumption that our own universe with its 10,000,000,000, 000,000 planets was created just so a single species of mammal would evolve on one of them fourteen billion years later." But surely this is just begging the question. One assumes naturalism to begin with and then goes for the best current option - multiverses. Coyne says "for many scientists multiverses seem far more reasonable..." than belief in a God. But of course, if these scientists already are philosophical naturalists. Coyne's reasoning is circular, and achieves nothing except to function as a kind of confession.

Coyne continues: "Miller equates the faith of religious believers with physicists' "faith" in a naturalistic explanation for physical laws." Indeed. Coyne quotes Miller:

"Believers ... are right to remind skeptics and agnostics that one of their favored explanations for the nature of our existence involves an element of the imagination as wild as any tale in a sacred book: namely, the existence of countless parallel simultaneous universes with which we can never communicate and whose existence we cannot even test. Such belief also requires an extraordinary level of "faith" and the nonreligious would do well to admit as much."

Correct. Coyne responds: "Contrary to Miller's claim, the existence of multiverses does not require a leap of faith nearly as large as that of imagining a God." But, again, OF COURSE, if one is already philosophically committed to naturalism. Coyne's argument with Miller here reduces to a kind of "My dad is tougher than your dad" thing.

Coyne confessionally concludes: "It [multiverse theory] may be wrong, but wait a decade and we will know a lot more about the anthropic principle. In the meantime, it is simply wrong to claim that proposing a provisional and testable scientific hypothesis --not a "belief"--is equivalent to religious faith." I find this incoherent. Some think multiverse theory is in principle scientifically untestable. It strikes me as a matter of faith. "As wild as any tale in a sacred book," as Miller says.