Faith Within Reason: The Closed Minds of Free Thinkers

So one of the most hilariously mislabeled groups of all time are the “Free Thinkers.” You may know them by different labels, but the best way to identify a “free-thinker” is that they will deny any claim that cannot be backed up by empirical evidence. So heavily confined to their own logic are they that the will outright deny any reality that contradicts their ability to comprehend and logically sort out. Free Thinking is ironically one of the most binding, limiting, restraining, and mentally crippling schools of though. I can hardly think of a more close minded view than the one that says “If I cannot understand, it cannot be so.” This worship and deifying of the human mind is not only limiting in its ability to fully appreciate and comprehend life, but it is also extremely (and ironically) un-logical in its approach to denying the miraculous.

I always come across the same two arguments when ever I find myself in a discussion with a free-thinker. They love these arguments wield them like faith smashing sticks ready to bludgeon any feeble religious mind they come across. It is always kind of humorous to see these arguments flipped on their head and see their own weapons of choice used to poke holes in their own philosophy. Let me explain:

Argument 1: 

  • Premise: Those that testified to the miracles in scripture are unreliable because they are superstitious and unscientific.
  • Reasoning: They are superstitious an unscientific because they attest to miracles.
  • The Problem: If testifying to a miracle disqualifies one form being credible, how then could one credibly attest to a miracle if one were encountered?

In case that didn’t make sense, the “free-thinker” who uses these arguments to deny the miraculous creates a circular vacuums that makes it impossible for anyone to ever attest to a miracle. Testifying to a miracle makes you lose credibility, therefore no one can credibly attest to a miracle. This is not a very open-minded approach to the proposed question of miracles because it already presupposes that the denier is correct and that the one making the claim is false, as well as setting up a fallacy in which the one making the claim can never move around. It is really only a few steps above sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “I’m not listening because you are stupid and I am not.”

Counter Argument 1: 

  • Premise: Those that testified to love are unreliable because they are superstitious and unscientific.
  • Reasoning: They are superstitious an unscientific because they attest to love.
  • The Problem: If testifying to love disqualifies one form being credible because these properties cannot be empirically tested, how then could one credibly attest to love for those who have  never encounter it?

You see, there are many things in life from theoretical physics to the binding love of a husband and wife that are beyond the empirical. People denied the existence of the Okapi for many years though many people had claimed to have seen it. Why was it denied? Because every credible person knew that no such creature existed. It was clearly the in the realm of fantasy, and yet we now know that it does in fact exist. Miracles by nature can only be observed by those who happen to be there to observe them, and they cannot be empirically explained and prove or else they cease to be miracles. This is not the only argument, however, that is used to attack the miraculous events described in scripture.

Argument 2:

  • Premise: Those that testify to the miracles in scripture are unreliable because they were looking for miracles and were not observing subjective.
  • Reasoning: Those that look for miracles will find them, though they would not have found them if they were not looking for them.
  • The Problem: If looking for something disqualifies one from being credible then are the only credible discoveries those that are found by pure chance and happenstance?

Events of a miraculous nature have been testified throughout human existence from our very earliest records. Some miracles have more documentation to them than many ancient events we consider facts, and even today accounts of miracles in day-to-day life are not unheard of. I myself have witnessed several “miraculous” events in my years on this earth, but of course none of these are acceptable to the free-thinker.  The common dismissal of these claims is to dismiss the ancient man as a superstitious creature who lacked scientific understanding of the universe, but when one questions why we are to assume ancient man was superstitious the answer is usually that he attested to miracles. This logic is used even today every time a miraculous event occurs, one cannot attest to a miracle without being labeled superstitious and stupid based on the presupposition that belief in miracles is superstitious and stupid. This creates a circular logical fallacy where if one was to witness a miracle one could never attest to it because by attesting to the validity of the miracle one was also dismissing his own credibility.

To those people I raise this counter argument:

Counter Argument 2:

  • Premise: Those that testify to the existence of scientific laws are unreliable because they were looking for scientific laws and were not observing subjectively.
  • Reasoning: Those that look for laws of nature will find them, though they would not have found them if they were not looking for them.
  • The Problem: If one never supposed that the universe was bound by laws of nature then would have never discovered any of the laws of physics, chemistry, or many of the mathematical principles.

Is the assumption that the universe is somehow innately bound by physically consistent laws of nature really more logical than the assumption that God could involve himself in history through miraculous means. The only reason I can find that one is readily accepted and one is so cautiously denied is because one is testable and the other is not. We cannot invoke a miracle any time we wish, but to test whether gravity is consistent, one only needs to drop something from a height. To assume that because something is not testable it cannot be true is scientism, which is one of the most closed-minded views a man could take. To assume that his senses and logical reasoning are the only masters of truth in the universe is arrogance to the highest degree. This also becomes problematic when one raises the question of why the universe is bound to certain physical laws of nature. The scientismist (if that is even a world) would most likely attempt to dismiss the question without providing an answer while the monotheist could point to a grand designer.

Notice I am not writing this to attack science, but scientism. Science is a wonderful thing that explores the inner workings of the grand design. Scientism is the denial of all empirically unprovable aspects of life. Where science would look at a miracle and say “We cannot prove, test, or recreate that instance” scientism would look at a miracle and say “This cannot be!”

So why do I claim to believe in the miraculous events attributed to Christ? Because I find the testimony of these events both credible and highly likely. After Christ’s crucifixion the twelve men who had followed Christ (that were said to have run and hid during his death and burial) somehow became so convinced that they had seen the resurrected Christ that they spread his gospel all over the world. These men would rather die horrific deaths (which almost all of them did) rather than deny the truth of the risen Lord. This is not something one does on a whim, these men believed with all their heart and soul that Christ was risen and sin defeated.

Look a the life of Saul of Tarsus who by his own account and the account of Luke was a persecutor of the faith and a killer of Christians. Saul has a miraculous encounter on the road to Damascus that convinced him that the people he was so eagerly killing were actually the proclaimers of the true gospel of God. After changing his name to Paul this “Jew among Jews” whom had lived by the Torah and avidly fought against the “heresy” of Christianity, now became its biggest avocate. He planted churches all across the world and did a complete 180 turn form a life of self-righteous legalism to a servant like devotion to God and an advocate of the spiritual freedom found in Christ.

In the first few centuries Christians were fed to lions in colosseums, crucified in the emperor’s gardens, and burned alive or stoned for their refusal to deny the miraculous and life changing power of Christ. Even today there are thousands (possibly millions) of Christians all over the globe who would rather die than deny the miraculous and radical God-man who was Jesus the Christ. Considering that only around 3% of the world’s population outright denies the existence of the supernatural, maybe it is time for Free Thinkers to free up their minds a bit.

 

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Faith Within Reason: Charles H. Townes on Faith in Scientific Thought

So I’m currently reading Science and Theology: The New Consonance which so far has proven to be an amazing read. It’s a collection of essays written by theologians, physicists, Nobel Prize winners, evolutionary theorists, a former president of the “American Association for the Advancement of Science”, and even Pope John Paul II himself. Seriously though if you want a good intellectual read pick this book up. I’ll post a book review as soon as I’m done, but I can already tell you that this one’s a keeper.

The book deals with the relationship between Science and Theology from various points of view and is really a profound collection of works. I bring it up because today’s post was inspired by one of the essays found in the book: “Logic and Uncertainties in Science and Religion” by Charles H. Townes (a physicist). In it his essay Townes contributes a very interesting perspective on the notion of “Faith”, that being that even the most coldly logical human beings rely on faith at some point.

“Science and religion not only share common logic; they also share something else, namely, uncertainty. We must recognize that we do not know things for sure. Knowledge, even scientific knowledge, is less than absolute.”

– Charles H. Townes

The above quote came form the man who helped revolutionize the study of light and laser theories. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture:

Charles-Townes1

I told you he was smart!

All joking aside that’s a ballsy thing for a scientist to say considering you make a living based on the assumption that you can understand the universe around you and figure out how things work. He openly admits though that most of what he does as a scientist has grounds in faith at some point.

“The mathematician Godel proved that uncertainty is inherent even in the nature of our logic…. [He] proved that we can never be sure that the assumption with which we started are even self-consistent, let alone true. The only way we may show that they are self-consistent is to appeal to a new set of assumptions…. but of course these assumptions are subject to the same uncertainty regarding consistency, and so on. Logic and uncertainty come together in a single package and to take them seriously, there must be faith”

Charles H. Townes.

For those of you who don’t know Godel was the father of modern mathematics who also supposedly proved the existence of God using math.

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This somehow proves that God exists, but for the life of me it just looks like a bunch of numbers and squiggles. There’s a reason I didn’t major in math.

I don’t get it either, but the point made is that if we question everything, then we eventually reach a belief in nothing at all. Eventually no matter how deep down your thought goes it will eventually have to reside in an assumption. Nothing exists or can be possibly known unless an act of faith is taken at some level, even if it is simply to take on your own words that you are real. Trippy right?

For successful science of the type we know, we must have faith that the universe is governed by reliable laws and, further, that these laws can be discovered by human inquiry. The logic of human inquiry is trustworthy only if nature is itself logical…. This is the faith of reason”

– Charles H. Townes

Have you ever wondered why things always work in the same way over and over. Whether it is subatomic particles or the expansion of the universe itself science seems to be fairly reliable. Do you ever stop and wonder why that is? We assume that because gravity, for instance, always works that it always will work. This isn’t really a reason to believe other than we have no reason to think otherwise. We believe the universe is bound to certain laws and that these laws can be studied, comprehended, and understood by the human mind. If you are religious then you probably attribute the existence of these laws to designer or creator. If you are of the atheist opinion then I guess you assume these just exist because they do (I’m not an atheist so I don’t know what they think). It might just be me but I love thinking about this kind of stuff, the more I learn about the universe and the world around me the more I can see God’s handiwork in even the tiniest details.

[The scientist] must have faith that the problem is solvable, and that there is an inherent logic in nature which his or her mind is capable of reading.”

Charles H. Townes

We are all questing for truth. Some of us choose to look deep inside ourselves and other look outward. There are philosophers, scientists, theologians, logicians, mathematicians, day dreamers, poets, and deep thought thinkers but all of them have faith in something. Faith ties us all together and it is only by having faith in something that we are able to move forward.

Faith Within Reason: The Human Soul (The Secular Free Will and Beauty Problem)

mechanical_brain_by_acidmonkey1

In my last “Faith Within Reason” post I addressed the mystery of origin and how I found God to be a solution to a problem otherwise unanswerable. This post will deal with a topic that is more philosophical in nature, that being “do we have free will?” I’m not speaking of the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debates, but the problem I see in the notion of secular free will. Basically in the absence of a soul can we be said to have free will? To begin let’s establish the argument like so:

  1. If the universe is materialist lacking any supernatural qualities, then everything is simply matter and physics.
  2. If there is no soul (as a purely materialist would seem to argue) then our brains/minds are reducible to physics and properties of the physical world.
  3. Since physics are fundamentally deterministic, and our brains are acting by only the laws of physics (electro chemical impulses), the brain will always respond as it was physically and chemically determined to do.
  4. If we accept the above three arguments, then human choice is an illusion. Your brian is simply following the laws of physics as they were deterministically prone to do so.

If the above is accepted as truth then any debate of any type on the existence or nonexistence of God is ultimately pointless. People’s decisions are ultimately determined more by what they eat and how their body is made up than by any free willed logical process. I find this disturbing because, unlike religious determinism, there is no ultimate goal or purpose for any of this. We become little more than random chemical reactions in our brain.

This also raises the questions of why human beings would ever pursue something not related to survival and reproduction (as those are the factors all life seems geared towards). For example, if our minds are purely geared to survival, then our we would have never adapted to do anything that wasn’t necessary to self-preservation or the furthering of the species. This discussion, should have never come up since pondering the soul of man shouldn’t register in the mind of a creature whose entire function is to stay alive and reproduce. I don’t see why humanity would have ever desired to seek truth if there was no truth to seek. A purely survivalist creature, as we surely would be, would simply seek longevity in life and reproduction.

If there is no God, then all that exists is time and chance acting upon matter. If this is true then the difference between your thoughts and mine correspond to the difference between shaking up a bottle of Mountain Dew and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. You simply fizz atheistical and I fizz thematically. This means that you do not hold to atheism because it is true, but rather because of a series of chemical reactions of the brain. If there is no God, then all abstractions are chemical epiphenomena, like swamp gas over fetid water. This means we have no reason for assigning truth and falsity to the chemical reactions we call reasoning, or right and wrong to the irrational reactions we call morality. If no God, mankind is a set of bi-pedal carbon units of mostly water, and nothing else.

– Douglas Wilson

Big questions like “Why am I here?” and “Who am I?” would never have come to mind because they do nothing to further our survival. Essentially there is no reason we should have even developed and desire for knowledge outside of sex, obtaining food, building shelter, and basic survival skills.  The existence of art and beauty must also be brought into question since there is no survivalist argument for why a creature would seek out art or beauty. Why would we drive across the country to see a natural wonder like Niagara falls, or the Grand Canyon. Why visit a zoo or attempt to save an endangered species if we were not intending to eat the animals there. Why create art and waste valuable time observing and critiquing it? Such time and resources are a waste in survivalistic creatures.

It is a given that human beings want to survive, but we also want to live. There is an innate desire in all of us to seek out understanding and appreciate life. While some might argue otherwise, I take it as proof that we exist for something greater. I believe that our lives are more than simply walking the earth, eating food, mating, and dying.  I don’t see how we could reconcile this quest for knowledge and beauty with a materialist universe. We want answers to big questions, and it seems to me that man would not have a desire embedded deep in him if it were not possible to obtain. In a real sense, a world absent of God (or some higher authority) is pointless and ruthless. It is all chance and circumstance. Everything we have love, purpose, pain, struggle, strife, wonder, majesty, loss, and happiness is nothing more than random chemical reactions. The universe is merely a bunch of elements bumping around and nothing awaits us but the void of oblivion and nothingness. We find this offensive, I believe, because in our soul we know it is not true. I believe we are far more complex than we can possibly understand, and deep down in all of us we know we are more than just what we can see.

Faith With Reason: God (Part 1 – The Mystery of Origin)

The Universe

The goal of this post and future “Faith Within Reason” posts is not to attack those who disagree with me, but rather to explain why I believe what I believe. God is by definition a difficult concept that tends to raise more questions than answers. I won’t pretend that I have the ability to prove without a shadow of a doubt that God exists, but in this and future “Faith Within Reason” posts I’d like to at least establish why the belief in God may not be as silly as some may think.

The Mystery of Origin

So let’s begin where most things do, at the beginning. I don’t mean your beginning or my beginning, but the beginning of the very universe itself. I’m talking about the moment when everything started and the universe suddenly came to be. We live in a universe of motion. Celestial bodies are rushing around space at break-neck speeds, things are exploding, imploding, expanding, and contracting in a cosmic concerto that is both chaotic and yet bound a strict set of physical properties and laws.

Perhaps you are familiar with the Kalam Cosmological Argument, but if you aren’t the argument breaks down like this:

  1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence.
  2. The universe has a beginning of its existence.
  3. Therefore the universe has a cause of its existence.

It’s pretty simple and its simplicity can be related to its popularity. It seems solid, although some have protested that there is a problem with point #2 in that we don’t know if the universe ever had a beginning of its existence. I don’t profess to be a master of cosmology but this point seems to be up for debate as far as I can tell. Some argue that the universe always was while others argue that it did have an origin. Since I’m not one to say let’s abandon the traditional Kalam idea and tweak it a bit.

We know from Newton’s first law of motion that objects at rest will remain at rest until acted on by an outside force, just as objects in motion will stay in motion until an outside force either slows or stops their motion. By this observation we can assert from a universe in motion had to have some thing or force to initiate the original motion that set off the universe. I know some readers might already be rushing to the comment section to point to the big bang theory, but just hold on and keep reading. I will address that later on. Back to the point at hand, had there been no original force or motion then the universe would either not exist or simply remain in a steady state of non-motion. This doesn’t address the problem of why matter exists as opposed to non-existence, but that’s a question that can never truly be answered and so I won’t devote a lot of time to it.

This original force that enacted the chain of motion that is still going on today must have existed outside of the universe, since anything originating within the universe would fall into the same physical need for an original action or force to set it into motion. Denial of an outside force creates the problem of an infinite chain of axioms within the universe reverting backwards infinitely and never actually addressing the question of where all this movement and motion around us originated. For those who like bullet points:

  • The universe exists and there is motion, thus motion must have begun at some point because motion does not exist without a cause or source of force to bring it into action.
  • According to the principle of sufficient reason everything must have an explanation to account for it.
  • An infinite series of casual conditions cannot provide adequate explanation for the world because it would stand in need of explanation itself.
  • The existence of some necessary being, first cause, or personal agent must be involved to provide a more adequate explanation for the existence of motion.
  • Because of this at least one ultimate being/cause must exist because an infinite chain provides no explanation and ultimately leads one to the conclusion that the problem of origin is unexplainable.

To sum all this up, the fact that our universe is in motion argues for a causation of this motion from outside the universe. The only way to explain such a causation would be to have an acting force and since an acting force from within the universe would require motion, the acting force could not have originated within the universe. The big bang theory is a great theory for explaining how the universe came into the state of being we know today, but even this theory cannot fully attest to why the universe was filled with the incredibly high energy density, huge temperature variation, and pressures that lead to the rapid expanding and cooling processes needed for the “Bang” to occur. Heat is, after all, a form of energy created from the rapid motion of particles and something had to act on these particles to set them in motion to create heat. The big bang cannot attest to the origin of this heat energy or to what caused matter to move into place so gravity could bring it together and eventually thrust it back outward to create the universe as we know it. It cannot attest to why energy exists at all. To question where these energies and forces originate is to ask a question which cannot be answered successfully at this point, but for those who believe in God, He seems like a logical and easy fix for this seemingly unsolvable problem.

According to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thought, God existed in a state of eternity without origin or end. It is also thought that God existed separate from the universe, as the universe is seen as his creation. The common question raised at this point is “Where did God come from?” The usual answer given is that he always existed, which by our own universal properties seems illogical. We can only conclude that God must not be bound to the physical properties of the observable universe.  This is of course is not really provable and relies as a matter of faith, as do most things involving God. Yet if God does not exist something infinite and outside of our universe must exist to bring motion and energy into action, otherwise we become a part of an illogical never-ending chain reverting back to sources of sources and never finding the origin.

So like I said before I can’t prove God anymore than a person could disprove God. In this case the best I can do is show that there is, at least, a necessity for something “eternal” to exist that originated the first “push” to set the causation universe into action. Is that God, some unknown force, or are we still far to young in our study of the universe to make such a call? Those questions I leave up to you.