Critics of the Author

by Brian 20. September 2009 23:39

I've always found it strange when atheists conjoin the nonexistence of God with a critique of the way the world is. A former coworker, quite sure God doesn’t exist, told me if they met face to face, he would “punch him in the nose for creating such a miserable existence.” Now of course he had to be kidding for several reasons, the least of which is the obvious contradiction between God’s nonexistence and an audience with Him to vent disapproval of His handiwork. Yet, this fellow’s demeanor was not at all like someone joking. He had a serious look of anger and disgust. Who was he angry with if God doesn’t exist? Joseph Stalin died on March 5, 1953, after suffering a stroke four days earlier. I read his daughter witnessed Stalin’s last moments in bed raising his fist towards heaven and shaking it in defiance. Was he shaking his fist at a nonexistent God? It seems to me those who critique the Author of the material universe in one breath while claiming to know He does not exist in the other are guilty of inconsistent thinking. Yet I’m sure there’s a nontheist out there who will correct me and explain the argument actually goes something like:

 

An all-good, omnipotent God would not create a universe like P

The universe is like P

Therefore; an all-good, omnipotent God does not exist

 

The problem is the typical atheist I’ve encountered betrays another perspective by their behavior and the way they argue the finer points.

 

An all-good, omnipotent God could create a universe like P

The universe is like P

I don’t like P

Therefore; I don’t like an all-good, omnipotent God who could create P

 

I wrote a poem for those who claim God should have gone about creating the universe differently:

 

Total Disclosure:
Parade across the sky
Intrusion of mind and eye
In fear recoil and hatred lash
A thunderous call, a blinding flash
The "Lord Almighty", on high!

Freely choose his only path
To pasture or wild of wrath
All creation, charged to love
An awkward decree; a cry from above
Quiet ranks split in half

Remember the perfect way?
An invitation day by day
Blatancy, a skeptic's plea
Perfect love he cannot see
Critic of the Author you say?


Freedom from Pain:
Farewell suffering and pain
Pleasure wax, sickness wane
Broken heart, a distant thought
Pleasant feelings, painfully sought
Greater measure, time and again

Weariness of pleasure, peak despair
Over the top and into the air
Ballast and net both discarded
Author forgotten; Spirit departed
And wings he did not share!

Remember the perfect way?
Suffering's shout and brilliant ray
Need arise, grace befall
Humility breach Destruction's wall
Critic of the Author you say?



Create No Evil:
No beast to be caged
Corruptible works are never waged
Through time's curtain, he looks ahead
To the furnace! Inexorable dead
Budding sin is gauged

Endless worlds thy hand hath made
Not did one make the grade
Freewill given in love return
To be the Author, each did yearn
Stars and dust, burn and fade

Remember the perfect way?
Thy or my, yea or nay
A love of darkness and inmost night
Or the one you critique and His glorious light
Critic of the Author you say?

Dogmatism (part II) - Inflexibility

by Brian 5. September 2009 18:37

The dogmatist is often charged with holding belief stubbornly, even in light of undercutting evidence. The term dogmatic seems to imply inflexibility these days. But why should this be a problem or even surprising? There is a disingenuous notion inflexibility is a particularly Christian trait when it is in fact a normal human condition, and in many cases desirable. Consider what I refer to as substantive-worldview: This is an ingrained, comprehensive, momentous and cohesive framework of belief defining one’s overall view of the world and the basis of many of our actions. Substantive-worldview deals with life’s most important subjects including origin, purpose, destiny and morality. It has been my experience many so-called freethinkers demonstrate substantive-worldview as well as numerous people of faith.

 

Of course as a Christian I expect our cognitive faculties are designed properly for the purpose of obtaining true belief. After all, we are created in God’s image and God is rational. [Genesis 1, Isaiah 1:18.] But Christian perspective temporarily aside; can you honestly imagine a well-functioning cognitive system where foundational belief supporting other well-established belief are casually discarded? What about a cognitive system where new ideas contradicting other well-accepted ideas are casually adopted? We all know from experience the more foundational and momentous a belief is, the more impact it would have on our worldview if suddenly found false. Likewise, integrating a new idea contradicting core belief may not be possible without dismantling worldview. I know this from personal experience having gone through an extreme worldview makeover from nontheism to Christianity.

 

If the resurrection of Jesus is a cornerstone belief in my Christian worldview, other beliefs will follow, some of which inflexibly: Jesus’ authority was confirmed by God’s action; God has the power to overcome death; God acts in the physical world, etc. It is unreasonable to think I should suddenly become flexible on the precepts of philosophical naturalism. To reject the view supernatural cause exists in the physical world would be to turn my Christian worldview on its head. Likewise, if philosophical naturalism is a cornerstone view in the freethinker’s foundation, she will also hold other related beliefs inflexibly: such as, God does not act in the physical world or He does not exist; Jesus was only a man if he existed at all, etc. How could one in this case suddenly accept the Resurrection without a complete rework of their foundation? Is there really any wonder why those with substantive-worldview are inflexible?

 

Here the freethinker is likely to claim they are more apt to modify their view based on evidence and this flexibility is what differentiates them from the Christian dogmatist. But where does the evidence really lead? The worldview of the freethinking nontheist (freeNT) does not appear to shift as new evidence is uncovered. Does the evidence always point in their direction? As the static universe theory died in the mid-twentieth century and science moved to a model astonishingly similar to the Creation account, did the freeNT budge? Is the freeNT open to new ideas such as those offered by Intelligent Design (ID) or do they excommunicate scientists with contrary perspectives? Talkorigins.org is a popular hangout for freeNT Darwinists and I’ve yet to see any interest whatsoever in what ID has to say on their website. They seem inflexible and dogmatic to me at least. A large number of freeNT speculators would rather turn to cosmic ancestry and the panspermia theory rather than consider a divine biogenesis theory. I still recall their false-hope and zeal for what might be found in the scrapings of space dust from the NASA Genesis probe [1]. Theirs is clearly a faith looking for the facts to support it. The bottom line; the freeNT is flexible as long as it harmonizes with their worldview. But that is just the same sort of flexibility we seen in the Christian.

Several years ago I engaged a colleague and professed agnostic on a flight back from business. This was the first time I had a chance to discuss core worldview issues with him. We talked about our beliefs and his skepticism was apparent. We discussed origins, neo-Darwinian evolution, cosmology, etc. Our conversation was very amiable and pleasant. My co-worker clearly had a good grasp of the subjects we discussed and he demonstrated substantive-worldview from my observation. Although skeptical, he expressed views on origin, purpose and death. He even conceded evidence such as the Cambrian Explosion [2] did not support the contemporary neo-Darwinian view. But it was what he told me at the end of our discussion that was astonishing. He said: “I am comfortable with my agnosticism” and “suddenly ceasing to exist [at death] is actually appealing to me.” These two statements go the core of his worldview and I should not expect much flexibility in his position on God, even given good supporting arguments and evidence. As I conclude, consider the words of G. K. Chesterton who sums it up so well: “There are two kinds of people in the world: the conscious and the unconscious dogmatists. I have always found that the unconscious dogmatists were by far the most dogmatic.” [3]

[1] The NASA Genesis mission returned (crashed) on Sept 8, 2004 with the hope of learning more about how our solar system was formed. Although NASA officially (on their website) states there are no life-origin motives involved in the project, others disagree. "Our mission is to gain a greater understanding of the origin and evolution of organic material on Earth," said Michael Mumma, a comet expert and director of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, NASA Astrobiology Institute, who is leading the research. "The key question is: Were water and organic molecules delivered to Earth by cometary impact and does [that process] extend to planets elsewhere?" In other words, panspermia.

[2] The Cambrian Explosion is the radiation of animal phyla that started about 570 million years ago. The famous paleontologist Stephen J. Gould (1941-2002), referred to this as the reverse cone of diversity. Evolutionary theory implies life gets more and more complex and diverse from one origin. But the whole thing turns out to be reversed based on the fossil record.

[3] Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), Generally Speaking, 1928

Knowing

by Brian 31. August 2009 06:20

I watched Knowing with Nicolas Cage the other night and even though there were quite a few "why is he doing that?" moments in the movie, I enjoyed it. The classroom scene caught my attention though. John, an astrophysicist played by Cage, asks his MIT students whether the universe is "determined or random." Based on the way the scene plays out you are basically told the universe is either one of the two. If determined, every effect is the result of a chain of antecedent causes and when contrasted with randomness as depicted in the movie, you get the idea determined events are telic - that is, there is some sort of point or purpose to the chain. On the other hand, John having recently lost his wife believes the universe is random and hence pointless and absurd. "S#@! just happens," as John points out. Fair enough, this is better-than-average Hollywood philosophy - if but only slightly.

If quantum indeterminacy is ontic (that is quantum events are ontologically vague) then the universe at the micro level may in fact be "random" in the sense that future states are not wholly determined by past ones. When combined with the nonlinearity of reality one can conceive of a flexible and open universe. If on the other hand, quantum indeterminacy is merely epistemic (that is, we cannot know the outcome of a quantum event even though it could only have a specific one) then effects are wholly determined by their chains of antecedent causes. In this case then the universe might not be random even if it appears that way to us.  For example, I recently read that a gas molecule after a mere 50 collisions would have a state measurably affected by the presence of an electron at the other end of the universe (an extremely weak force across a vast distance still having an impact.) It's unlikely even the super-intellect of the aliens in the movie could predict the 50-year chain of tragic events based on initial states.

Knowing (the movie) subtly paints a false dilemma. We are told the universe is either determined, without freewill, perhaps heading towards telos (the end of some cosmic goal) - or, the universe is random, flexible, evolving and pointless. But there is an escape between the horns of this dilemma. The universe may be open and flexible AND have a purpose. Christian theology has room for this alternative. John Polkinghorne in Science and Providence puts it this way: We live in "a world of orderliness but not clockwork regularity, of potentiality without predictability, endowed with an assurance of development but with a certain openness to its actual form." This seems to me to be the way the world really is. There is room for the ecbatic "stuff happens" within the telic where "God intends."  

About the author

I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, an owner of ISC, lead architect of MapDotNet, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs, hot air baloons, lawn furniture)

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