Atheist Contradictions: Lack of Free Will

July 29, 2010

In a discussion on Free Will (the idea that we have the ability to make independent choices not determined by genetics, environmental history, or brain chemistry) atheist Jerry Coyne makes this rather startling statement concerning his view of free will:

“We simply don’t like to think that we’re molecular automatons, and so we adopt a definition of free will that makes us think we’re free. But as far as I can see, I, like everyone else, am just a molecular puppet. I don’t like that much, but that’s how it is. I don’t like the fact that I’m going to die, either, but you don’t see me redefining the notion of “death” to pretend I’m immortal”.

That statement itself is not the contradiction I want to address. Indeed, despite the fact that many atheists might believe in free will, the lack of free will is actually the consistent position within atheism. This is because since naturalism denies the existence of a soul or something like it all that remains of our cognitive facilities is chemical processes in the physical brain. In short there is no ‘I’ there to hold opinions, make choices, or hold beliefs – there is only the organ of the brain responding to stimuli. As much as ‘we’ might feel like ‘we’ are making choices about what ‘we’ desire, this feeling would by necessity be merely illusory in a naturalistic schema; all that exists is the mechanism of the brain; there is no ‘person’ actually there.

Where the contradiction comes in is the when atheists discuss what is or isn’t true concerning beliefs about religion and atheism. If no free will exists, and if thoughts and beliefs are merely the result of physical and chemical processes in the brain, then what an individual believes is already determined and they are no more able to change that reality than they are able to fly to another planet by merely thinking about it. Religious sentiment as well atheistic rejection of that sentiment is simply the way our particular cognitive equipment responds to the stimuli we encounter – it has nothing to do with someone being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or any more or less reasonable or logical. So the entire conversation for an atheist is moot, and any devotion to advancing their beliefs is an exercise in futility.

But then again, if atheism is true, they may have no other choice in the matter.


Observations

July 28, 2010

“More consequences for thought and action follow the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other basic question.”

- Mortimer J. Adler


Low Hanging Fruit

July 27, 2010

Overheard this question recently:

If science were to disappear, the world as we know it would collapse into another Dark Age. But if theology was no more? What would we lose?

First off, the question is a bit of a strawman, because it is comparing the results of scientific knowledge (our current technologies and understanding of the universe) with the vague notion of ‘theology’ which of course isn’t a single thing, but instead disparate ideas which people may or may not act on. We don’t know what effects current theological ideas might have in the future, just as we don’t know what impact current scientific ideas might have in the future . There are after all many scientific theories in existence today which would have no discernible impact if the knowledge of them were gone; string theory comes to mind for example. But we do know what effects past theological ideas have had.

So a fair comparison would be if we compared the impact of scientific knowledge over time to the impact of Christian theological knowledge over time.

We know for example that the impact of certain theologies produced most classical Western works of literature, music, and art. It influenced great thinkers and scientists like Newton, Pascal, and Bacon, who were theologians as well as scientists and thinkers.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, it influenced the creation of unified languages, which in turn inspired the character of nations, as well as political and social movements like the Reformation, a critical turning point in Western culture and political thought. It influenced the establishment of many of the greatest universities like Yale and Harvard, in addition to essential social organizations like hospitals, orphanages, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. It inspired important concepts like human equality and the endowment of inalienable rights, and furthered adoption of the same through groups like the Abolitionists.

It encouraged the Puritans to seek and establish new lands. It positively influences and transforms countries today, a fact recognized by even its detractors.

Those are just a few critical aspects of our lives we owe to Christian theology. So had it not existed, neither than would our science, nor the culture in which science now operates. Theology is certainly more critical.


Does a Belief in Creationism Harm Science Education?

July 26, 2010

A recent editorial in Nature Immunology, a member of the Nature family of scientific journals bizarrely attacks Francis Collins, the current head of the NIH and former leader of the Human Genome Project, for his “openly religious stance”.  The editorial claims that this stance “could have undesirable effects on science education in the United States.” Apparently this is because in the introduction of his new book Collins, “describes his belief in a non-natural, non-measurable, improvable deity that created the universe and its laws with humans as the ultimate aim of its creation.” which has the potential to “create opportunities for creationism adepts” – whatever those are.

 I won’t get into the absurdity of the notion that Francis Collins, an accomplished and awarded scientist, is somehow corrupting science by his very existence. Nor will I attempt to address the notion that he is, despite his belief in and defense of Neo-Darwinism, a ‘creationist’. This is futile, given that atheists now apparently define a Creationist as, “Anyone who does not equate science with atheism”.

Instead I want to address this notion that a belief in ‘Creationism’ somehow corrupts one’s ability to study and work in the sciences.

Part of the answer to this of course comes down to how one defines Creationism. As I pointed out, in atheist parlance it is essentially equivalent to any defense of theism. More traditionally, it is the notion that specific Scriptures concerning the origin of the universe, life, and humans can be supported through scientific evidences (This is would be how creationists define themselves). The current conventional idea however, the one addressed in recent court rulings, statutes, and school board considerations is the idea that there is reasonable basis to be skeptical of wholly natural explanations of the origin of the universe, life, and humanity.

 So we have to ask, how is it this last consideration can ‘threaten’ a science education?

 The vast majority of sciences – chemistry, physics, engineering, genetics, medicine, agronomy, the computer sciences, etc, don’t rely in any way on a particular idea about origins at all. They deal with nature as it is not how it came into being. Some other sciences, like geology, astronomy/astrophysics, and biology deal with theories of origins to some extent, though rarely as a matter of essential practice. For example there is no definitive theory of the origins of life itself; no settled notion of the origin of the genome or the cell. In fact, there is a legitimate question as to whether there ever will be any certain knowledge concerning the natural processes that presumably governed the origin of life – this does not mean we cannot continue to study and understand living processes.

 Much the same can be said for ideas about origins of the universe. Though the inception of the universe is widely understood to begin with the Big Bang, but the causes of this event, and the laws that governed it’s eventual manifestation as a universe where life can exist as it does, are certainly far from understood and again not critical to the ordinary cataloging and exploration of the universe as it is. There is certainly nothing there that requires anyone to be atheistic in one’s beliefs.

 And in many ways limiting one’s ideas to a purely evolutionary schema can lead to absurd results. As I noted elsewhere, the attempted application of evolutionary origins to human psychology and sociology has been used to justify seeing a mental depression as a ‘good’ thing contrary to all common sense. Of course it has in the past been used to justify now defunct notions such as eugenics.

 Also notable is the inherent contradiction in the reality that the US is simultaneously the most creationist friendly country in the world while being one of the most scientifically literate and accomplished countries. That fact in and of itself should put to death the notion that somehow a belief “non-natural, non-measurable” deity is incompatible with scientific literacy.

 In the final consideration it appears that the only persons working in the sciences that see it as essential to reject any religious beliefs are those for whom the sciences serve not as a means of exploring the universe, but as means of justifying their own atheistic beliefs.

 And that justification isn’t scientific at all.


Where’s Jack?

July 23, 2010

In paradise. Well, of the earthly sort. I spent the last several days exporing the wonder of Glacier National Park, and have generaly been out of range of any networks (yeah nature!). I will be spending the next couple of days working my way slowly east through the Badlands. Hope to post something of interest by early next week; including a few pictures.


Friday Fun-ness

July 16, 2010

I love the outdoors, and am looking forward to hiking Glacier National Park next week, but I tell you if I run into this guy, I will push him off a cliff:


Another Attack on Liberty by the Gay Agenda

July 16, 2010

I have chronicled elsewhere how the growth of the gay lobby diminishes the basic liberties of others. Now, in addition to attacks on freedom of speech, religious practice and association, the homosexual agenda is beginning to diminish academic freedoms.

This last week, Kenneth Howell, an adjunct Professor in the religion Dept. at the University of Illinois, was fired from his job. His horrible crime? Teaching the subject of his class. The Illinois News-Gazette gives the details:

Kenneth Howell was told after the spring semester ended that he would no longer be teaching in the UI’s Department of Religion. The decision came after a student complained about a discussion of homosexuality in the class in which Howell taught that the Catholic Church believes homosexual acts are morally wrong.

Howell has been an adjunct lecturer in the department for nine years, during which he taught two courses, Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought. He was also director of the Institute of Catholic Thought, part of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center on campus and the Catholic Diocese of Peoria. Funding for his salary came from the Institute of Catholic Thought.

One of his lectures in the introductory class on Catholicism focuses on the application of natural law theory to a social issue. In early May, Howell wrote a lengthy e-mail to his students, in preparation for an exam, in which he discusses how the theory of utilitarianism and natural law theory would judge the morality of homosexual acts.

The student complaint came in a May 13 e-mail to Robert McKim, head of the religion department. The author of the e-mail said he was writing on behalf of a friend – a student in Howell’s class, who wanted to remain anonymous. The e-mail complained about Howell’s statements about homosexuality, which the student called “hate speech.”

“Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing,” the student wrote in the e-mail. “Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another. The courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought; not limit one’s worldview and ostracize people of a certain sexual orientation.”

So a professor in a religion department at a public University teaching about Catholic doctrine teaches about Catholic doctrine, and loses his job. And all it took for him to be fired was for a gay student to be upset about him teaching the subject of the class.

This is yet another example of how in the name of ‘independent thought’ and the encouragement of ‘public discourse’, the gay agenda represses both. They have in the most Orwellian fashion undermined the basic beliefs and freedoms of the university in the name of tolerance.

It continues to become increasingly clear that those who are advancing the power of the homosexual lobby do so to the detriment of others basic freedoms – and no one who is interested in maintaining those freedoms should do anything to help this group become more powerful.



Prayers for Christopher Hitchens

July 16, 2010

On the heels of the announcement by Chistopher Hitchens that he has esophageal cancer, my immediate response was to pray. Pray for healing, pray for spiritual awakening, pray for salvation before the opportunity passes. And while that was my inclination, I was reluctant to call for others to do so, because I respect his conscience, and as he is an atheist it was quite possible he would see such a call as offensive. However, in a recent interview with Hugh Hewitt, he seemed to think otherwise:

HH: The number of people I’m sure who are praying for you, including people who come up to me and ask me to tell you that, people like Joseph Timothy Cook, how are you responding to them, given your famous atheism?

CH: Well look, I mean, I think that prayer and holy water, and things like that are all fine. They don’t do any good, but they don’t necessarily do any harm. It’s touching to be thought of in that way. It makes up for those who tell me that I’ve got my just desserts. It’s, I’m afraid to say it’s almost as well-founded an idea. I mean, I don’t, they don’t know whether prayer will work, and they don’t know whether I’ve come by this because I’m a sinner.

HH: Oh, I…has anyone actually said that to you?

CH: Yeah, oh yes.

HH: Oh, my gosh. Forgive them. Well…

CH: Well, I mean, I don’t mind. It doesn’t hurt me. But for the same reason, I wish it was more consoling. But I have to say there’s some extremely nice people, including people known to you, have said that I’m in their prayers, and I can only say that I’m touched by the thought.

So I now find it appropriate to call for such prayer, not because he is well known, or because of his atheism – but because he is a person suffering. And while science and medicine have their limits, we as Christians know we can offer that which science and medicine cannot – peace of heart and mind, with the hope of the comfort and power of Christ in others lives.

So whether you appreciate his journalistic courage and honesty, or find yourself maddened by his antagonism to the notion of God, pray for Christopher Hitchens that he finds healing and hope.


Arguments for God: The Transformative Power of Christianity

July 16, 2010

 

I initially thought to title this post ‘because it works’, which is a more basic way of describing the impact of the truths of Christianity on individuals and society. And unlike many arguments this isn’t an argument merely for the existence of God, but rather the fact that the transformation we see in the lives of people who convert to Christianity is consistent with the existence of God, and thus lends credence to the claim He exists.

First though, a couple of observations by objective observers (atheists in this case) which I think demonstrate the claim. The first comes from Penn Jillette, in an interview with Las Vegas Weekly about TV show Bull****!:

Are there any groups you won’t go after?

We haven’t tackled Scientology because Showtime doesn’t want us to. Maybe they have deals with individual Scientologists —- I’m not sure. And we haven’t tackled Islam because we have families.

Meaning, you won’t attack Islam because you’re afraid it’ll attack back …

Right, and I think the worst thing you can say about a group in a free society is that you’re afraid to talk about it—I can’t think of anything more horrific. [...]

You do go after Christians, though …

Teller and I have been brutal to Christians, and their response shows that they’re good ****ing Americans who believe in freedom of speech. We attack them all the time, and we still get letters that say, “We appreciate your passion. Sincerely yours, in Christ.” Christians come to our show at the Rio and give us Bibles all the time. They’re incredibly kind to us. Sure, there are a couple of them who live in garages, give themselves titles and send out death threats to me and Bill Maher and Trey Parker. But the vast majority are polite, open-minded people, and I respect them for that.

What is interesting about this response is its tacit acknowledgement of the transformative power of Christian beliefs – Christianity is distinguished experientially from other belief systems by its ability to change the responses of believers to attacks by opponents. They respond to such attacks with kindness. This is a direct manifestation of the truth articulated in Scripture:

Romans 12:21 (NAS)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Another observation comes from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an atheist, critic of Islam and author from her book Nomad:

The Christianity of love and tolerance remains one of the West’s most powerful antidotes to the Islam of hate and intolerance. Ex-Muslims find Jesus Christ to be a more attractive and humane figure than Muhammad, the founder of Islam.

Hirsi Ali, a Somali émigré to the Netherlands (who is now in the US), has had a unique opportunity to observe the impact of beliefs around the world. Her recommendation for dealing with the oppression of Islam? Christianity. She has said:

So long as we atheists and classical liberals have no effective programs of our own to defeat the spread of radical Islam, we should work with enlightened Christians who are willing to devise some. We should bury the hatchet, rearrange our priorities, and fight together against a much more dangerous common enemy.

Given the choice, I would be far rather live in a Christian than a Muslim country.Despite her lack of belief, she recognizes the transformative power of a belief in Christ. In short, she observes that the effect such belief has on adherent is consistent with the claims of Christianity – and that speaks volumes to the reality it represents.

One last observation, which is a bit older, but I think equally powerful. It comes from Matthew Parris, an atheist writer for the Times of London, concerning the impact of the spread of Christianity on Africans and African culture:

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

As one who has travelled in Africa and Central America, this claim fits my own experience; the truths of Christianity are exemplified in the visibly transformed lives of those who comes to accept them. This effect is universal, cross-cultural, and powerful. It is not merely anecdotal, but a matter of record.

So I would offer this is is perhaps one of the greatest evidences for the truth of Christianity – it is capable of transforming the lives of believers in the best possible ways in a way no other belief system can.


Observations

July 15, 2010

Rejecting God because His absence consigns people to hell makes as much sense as rejecting light because it’s absence consigns people to darkness.


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