My Testimony

by Brian 26. December 2012 02:09

My worldview has seen considerable change. I grew up in a secular home with unbelieving family members. I hung around mostly irreligious friends. I almost never went to church. Raised in a single parent family, my grandparents were prominent role models. My grandmother loved to play chess and I have many fond memories of our time together. My grandfather was a staunch pragmatist who introduced me to science on Christmas day at the age of ten. From that day forward, it was a primary indoor pursuit. As for the outdoors, there were no role models. Those adventures were always unsupervised lessons in risk and reward. As a young man I had my last conversation with my grandfather at a St. Petersburg, Florida diner. He emphasized that morning the importance of being practical and taking charge of one’s future. Sadly, he died not long afterwards from cancer, having rarely discussed with me anything beyond the tools of worldly success . But I could not have agreed with him more at the time about the value of practicality and expediency. It was upon this foundation my worldview was built.

During my childhood I was also introduced to Christianity. I don’t recall the details, but I joined my best friend for a few Sunday morning services. It should be no surprise to anyone a handful of hours in church do not stack up against years of secular pursuits and influences. By the time I reached my mid-twenties, I had shed most of my openness to anything supernatural. In my late twenties I was firmly nontheistic. I was never an activist who promoted atheism. I didn’t go around claiming God’s nonexistence. This may be due to doubting the rationality of such an unsubstantiated position. I was more of a condescending weak-atheist. If asked to summarize my position, I would say: God probably doesn’t exist, but whatever works for you makes little difference to me. Though I could describe the Christian Gospel in theory, I believed it was a harmless delusion in reality.

I did not expect the extreme worldview makeover on my horizon. I thought things were going exceedingly well. My career in software development was taking off. I met my wife and married her at the age of twenty-eight. We had just built a new house together. Surely this was what my grandfather meant by “being in charge.” No question as to what I believed at the time, I was the master of my fate; I was the captain of my soul. So when I began to have troubles in marriage, I did not view it much differently than running up against a defect in software – I just needed to fix things and move on. With enough skill, intellect and effort, I thought I could face any problem and solve it. But it did not turn out that way. I reached a point at the age of thirty-one when I knew my marriage was terminal. I could not undo the damage. I believed divorce was inevitable and this change in perspective opened the door to a wider view.

My rebirth happened one night as I was contemplating the sale of our home after my wife had moved out. A Florida thunderstorm rolled in that evening as I was lying in bed brooding over things. Suddenly a lighting-strike nearby knocked the power out. As I lay there, I began to realize how much of my life was really beyond my control. The notion of “being in charge of one’s destiny” seemed utterly foolish as I stared into the dark that night. I thought there had to be a greater purpose which transcended my matter-of-fact life. I thought back to my childhood on the Christian message of the sacrifice of Jesus and the reconciliation with God for those who believe. While I dwelt on that thought, it was like a light switch turning on. It happened that fast. What seemed untrue and irrelevant before was now true and momentous. As quickly as the lightening had taken out the power, I was transformed. The words of Paul reflect my experience well: If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.

With transformation came a mission. I went to a nearby church and met with the pastor. I did not know at the time he would become a great mentor to me over the next decade. He explained some of the basic tenets of Christianity and we prayed together. I also tracked my wife down and brought her home. We spent the next year rebuilding our relationship. More than twenty years later our marriage is as strong as ever and full of blessings including two beautiful daughters. But returning to just a few months after becoming a follower of Christ, my wife and I joined a study group together. One evening we were talking about faith and reason and I emphatically proclaimed they were utterly incompatible. I half-jokingly professed how my left brain would handle reason and the right half would be in charge of my new faith. At the time I honestly believed the two domains did not intersect. What I omitted that evening was how unsatisfying this arrangement was for me. I thought it was just a burden I would have to carry. Yet I was on a mission, a path with Christ I had no intention of deviating from. A little intellectual dissonance was something I thought I could work out later.

A book by C. S. Lewis was a young woman’s response that night to my proclamation of the incompatibility of faith and reason. After reading Lewis and several other excellent writers, I was excited to learn of the congruity between Christian truth-claims and a reasoned view from science and philosophy. My previously perceived conflict was a matter of ignorance. This was so liberating that I dove head first into further study to continue uniting the true aspects of my previous worldview with the Christian faith. The book Reasonable Faith, by William Lane Craig, was a significant growth point. It not only dealt with many of my misunderstandings, but it also helped me put faith and reason into their proper role. I also learned about the reality of doubt. The truth is; anyone with a substantive worldview will encounter epistemic tension and conflict. I certainly had to deal with this as a nontheist and I still do as a Christian. But today I enjoy a significant unity between how I see the world through the special revelation of the Christian faith, and how I see things through the deliverances of reason. I have learned there is compatibility.

It is a misconception to think apologetics is only good for pre-evangelism: Tear down the roadblocks to the Gospel and more will be saved. Remove the obstacles at the doorstep and the door will be opened. To be sure, this happens. I have met several Christians over the years where apologetics played a significant role leading up to their conversion. But my testimony tells of another aspect of the apologetic enterprise. You may have heard the parable of the sower in Mark 4 where some of the seed fell on rocky soil. In such conditions the roots cannot take hold and the plant dies under the slightest environmental pressure. The same goes for a faith that is not integrated well into one’s worldview. Here apologetics helps to till the soil and tear down the fictions which prevent the flourishing of our faith. In the same parable, other seeds fell among the thorns which choked the plants springing up. I believe today the thorns are not just worries and temptations, but ideas. The cultural milieu we find ourselves in today, with its books, movies, social media, and anti-theistic education, is full of thorns contrary to the Christian worldview. Again, apologetics plays a critical role in clearing away these falsehoods so our faith can grow with fewer impediments.

In conclusion, I offer a warning to balance out my case for apologetics. As much as I appreciate the benefits of philosophical study over the last fifteen years, I also recognize some pitfalls. As a new Christian I was enamored by the ability to annihilate every atheist argument I encountered. But I have since learned nothing ever good comes out of a heated engagement. Today I rarely debate staunch unbelievers unless there are third-party observers who may be persuaded by polite rational discourse. Merely winning arguments is not profitable. On the other hand, discussing philosophical issues with honest seekers using 1-Peter-3 gentleness and respect has proven beneficial. All of this being said; we ought to consider our dedication. Spending a disproportionate amount of time in apologetic activities, neglecting other Christian disciplines, is a mistake. It has in the past taken me out into the arid desert for a dark night of the soul where one yearns for a single draft of living water. We should not neglect meeting with the Saints for encouragement and worship. Wrapping up a debate online or posting a blog is incomparably disappointing to one moment in the still presence of God. But if God occasionally chooses to use an apologetic approach through me, I'm good with it.  

 

Tags:

Prometheus

by Brian 12. June 2012 00:36

My expectations were fairly high. I was anticipating a lot from Prometheus being a fan of Ridley Scott’s films, especially the 1979 classic Alien. Prior to seeing the movie I read several negative opening reviews. These reviewers were irritated and even livid over certain theological and philosophical concepts presented in the film. In other words, I had to see it! Sure enough, there were a few interesting tidbits worthy of a blog or two. A scene in the movie reminded me of how the typical proponent of unguided Darwinism has a real problem with ultimate origins. But before I expand on this, a disclaimer is in order. Even though the movie trailer would reveal to the astute what I’m about to disclose, the content of this post may be considered a spoiler.

The story is about a team sent out to an unexplored world to investigate the possibility of extraterrestrials who allegedly visited the Earth long ago. Two scientists on the mission believe these visitors seeded life on Earth and thus were responsible for our existence. Called Engineers in the movie, these aliens were essentially Intelligent Designers. After the scientists presented their theory, one of the biologists in the audience seemed rather put off by the whole idea. He raised the following question: So are we just going to discount three centuries of Darwinism? Apparently he was ready to defend Darwinian evolution from these IDers who were introducing a discordant concept. On the surface, I’m not sure there is any incompatibility between the visitation of the Engineers and unqualified Darwinism. Perhaps the biologist was smuggling in an assumption or two. I will elaborate shortly.

The central theme in Prometheus is fairly new to Hollywood even though it was served up in the 2000 movie Mission to Mars, albeit then with a bit more lactose. But exogenesis, the idea life on Earth came from outer space, is nothing new. The more refined theory of Directed Panspermia really introduces the engineering element we see in the movie Prometheus. This idea was popularized by 20th-century scientists including Carl Sagan and the Nobel Prize winning molecular biologist Francis Crick. Crick’s exposition of the DNA led him and others to conclude there is a significant bootstrapping problem. Abiogenesis, the emergence of living organisms from nonliving matter appeared too improbable to some and they wondered how it all got started. Well, they surmised basic life was seeded here by extraterrestrials. Of course this does little to resolve the problem – it just pushes it further into space and into the past. If life cannot begin sans intelligence on our privileged planet, why should we think it would happen elsewhere in the universe?

So where is the rub for the Darwinist? What's wrong with an intelligent origin of life given Darwinism? The heavily tattooed bong-hitting character Fifield seemed to find the whole idea incredible in the movie. When it comes to Directed Panspermia, I would have to agree. On the other hand, maybe he and others are carrying a hidden assumption: Darwinian evolution is unguided and its explanatory scope will eventually extend to origins. On this view, we will discover life began by material processes without the benefit of any kind of intelligence. Now this is where I think some Darwinists have backed themselves into a corner leaving only two options, neither of which are tenable:

  • We don’t know how life started, but give science enough time and it will find it to be an unguided and purely material beginning
  • We don’t know how life started, but an unguided and purely material beginning is no big deal and is so highly plausible science need not take it too seriously

The first option is a fallacious appeal to ignorance. Science of the gaps is no better than god of the gaps when it is used to assert one’s position. It is one thing to say science has been fruitful and given time it will reach a verdict (P or ~P). It’s quite another thing to say the verdict will be that P. The second option conjures up images of folks like Michael Ruse hand-waving stories of life beginning on the backs of crystals. Can a rational proponent of unguided Darwinism really just ignore the immense challenge abiogenesis theories face? I guess some can. Others end up holding out for science to fall favorably on their faith. The rest are left to fantastical ideas like Directed Panspermia which make for a good movie, but not something I have enough faith in.

Tags:

Atheism is a worldview II

by Brian 2. May 2012 17:28

Atheists generally repudiate the claim that atheism is a worldview[i]. Some say atheism is merely the belief in a single proposition, whereas a worldview is a set of propositions comprising a philosophy of life or a conception of the world. Others say atheism is nothing more than the rejection of all gods and any system of belief one might wrap around this view is diverse and independent. But are these claims reasonable, and if not, why all of the denial? And suppose atheism is a worldview, why does it matter? These questions I will attempt to answer in this post. 



Is it or is it not?

A single proposition is not a worldview. The proposition “God exists” is no more a worldview than its negation “God does not exist.” It is one’s view of God and the corollaries associated with that view which contribute significantly to worldview. When someone says “an atheist only believes no gods exist” their statement is somewhat misleading. They are using the textbook definition of the word instead of the de facto description of the typical atheist. There may be a rare few out there who do not know or care about anything beyond the belief “there are no gods” (P) but most atheists have a fairly consistent set of corollary belief derived or dependent upon P. Consider the following questions:

  • Do most atheists believe matter ultimately precedes mind?
  • Do most atheists believe in abiogenesis over biogenesis (that life arose through material processes on earth or on some other world and transported here?)
  • Do most atheists believe the world has apparent design produced by material processes instead of actual design by an intelligent agent?
  • Do most atheists believe all self-regarding acts are amoral?
  • Do most atheists believe the essence of a man ceases to exist at death? 
  • Do most atheists believe the only purpose for existence is that which one self-determines?
  • Do most atheists value reason over faith and in significant numbers devalue faith altogether?
  • Do most atheists believe man is the primary determinant of man’s future?

Of course the answer is yes to most of these questions for most atheists.[ii] And these questions of origin, purpose, morality and destiny are the kinds of questions comprising worldview. One may find some variation in response to the above just as Christians for example do not agree on every issue, but that is not grounds to dismiss the correlation that generally exists.  Let’s be candid, atheists do not rally, come together for coffee, write books, debate, argue, criticize, litigate, and devote scores of hours to atheist-causes merely because they hold to a single contrary proposition to theists. No, many atheists have a substantive and comprehensive worldview, one that is derived and dependent upon their view of God, and one that motivates their behavior.[iii] Given who atheists generally are in terms of common core belief comprising worldview, it is obvious atheism is a richer description than just one who holds to a single proposition regarding nonexistence. This richer description is a worldview. 

Why deny it?

So what’s the big deal? Why would not atheists simply respond: “Yeah, atheism is a worldview, so what?” There are at least two answers; one clear-cut and the other a little more difficult to prove. I’ll just mention the later and then move right on to the former. The more atheism is acknowledged as a worldview, the more it will be recognized as a religion, and I don’t need to explain why this is an abomination to the atheist[iv]. But let’s skip this one and move on to a more tenable explanation as to why there is denial. Recognizing atheism as a worldview puts a new epistemic burden on the atheist. To start with:

If a core proposition (P) in one’s worldview is without warrant, then any corollary propositions (P1, P2 … Pn) of P are also unwarranted unless they have independent warrant.

Say because I believe that P (there are no gods), I also believe that P1, P2, and P3 given they are corollaries of P. I may very well have done my epistemic duty accepting corollaries P1, P2 and P3 given I have warrant (good reason) to believe that P. But what if I do not have good reason for that P? What if I assume there are no gods merely because I have no good reason for believing there are? In the absence of independent warrant for that P1, P2 and P3, I am slacking off my epistemic duty if I accept them. When the new atheist says: “you have not given me any good reason for believing Q” that does not mean therefore Q is false. One should be agnostic to Q merely on this basis. Building a worldview on a proposition you ought to be agnostic on is epistemic negligence.  I won’t rehash what I’ve gone into at length in my previous post. But suffice it to say the atheist does not want this additional epistemic burden.

If my point is still unclear, consider the following example. If I believe there are no gods (P) then I may very well believe design in nature is apparent and not actual (P1). P1 is a corollary belief on P because it is highly implausible, given that P; design in nature is actually due to the action of an intelligent agent[v]. Therefore, given that P1, my perspective on intelligent design (ID) is likely to be clouded. My skepticism of ID will most likely be exceedingly higher than my skepticism of abiogenesis. But without independent warrant for that P1, this bias is based solely on that P. But if the proper epistemic position for that P is agnosticism, then such bias is unwarranted.

It should be clear at this point the core proposition of the atheistic worldview “there are no gods” (P) must be warranted and accepted because there is good reason to accept it. Otherwise, without warrant, atheism as a worldview is a house of cards. One must have good reason for that P and not merely accept it as a default or hold the view as an agnostic. Otherwise, such a person cannot honestly claim their worldview, which depends significantly on that P, has epistemic integrity. But given the popularity of the sort of weak/default atheism displayed by the most prominent new atheists today, a house of cards it often appears to be.

Why does it matter?

In some ways it doesn’t. It is not illegal to deny what atheism is any more than it is to have a straw worldview. But atheist activism is on the rise. Skepticism and unbelief are on the rise[vi]. Prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins at the recent Reason Rally are as blatant as ever in their attacks. Their strategy is to “ridicule and show contempt” for what religious people hold dear while allegedly taking the high road of reason. Ironically it may be their high-calling of rationalism that is their unraveling. In the meantime, I hope others will stand up for those being deceived into thinking one has to check their brains out at the church door except when entering the church of atheism.



[i] For example, Luke Muehlhauser at http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=1270...here denies atheism is a worldview using the dictionary definition instead of the de facto description. He tries to show not all atheists agree on the eternality of matter, the multiverse and objective morality, while conveniently ignoring all of the things there is general agreement on. At http://evaluatingchristianity.wordpress.com/the-summary-case-for-atheism/arg4long/ you will see a similar rationale where the writer says atheists don’t all agree on fundamental questions. Yet only a select few examples are given and he seems to ignore the fact all major worldviews are made up of people who do not agree on every fundamental question. That hardly means their worldview is not substantially derived from their fundamental view of God. On ethics, one atheist may choose nihilism while another objectivism. But the fact there are two options available does not deny their atheism as a prior and essential element of their ethical view.

[ii] We are talking about western atheism, not any variant of Buddhism or other eastern worldview that is nontheistic.

 

[iii] There is likely a strong political correlation to atheism as well, though I will not attempt to argue that here.

 

[iv] A letter from an atheist (parody): Atheism is not a religion! We do not make claims about ultimate reality, because reality is ultimately absurd. We are not rude like those smug, pathetic Christians with their ludicrous faith in a nonexistent creator. We do not try to convince others of our perspective. So listen carefully: We do not pray or raise our hands, or sing ancient hymns. Yes, it’s true, we may sing each other’s praises at rallies, on blogs and on Facebook. And we do get together for fellowship over a meal or coffee from time to time. And yes, we gather for friendly neighborhood projects while helping to lead others away from the infestation of religion. But that’s different; we do not force our views upon others regarding religious things like origins, meaning, purpose or destiny. Okay, it is true; we believe the universe is the ultimate brute fact, the first-cause, the alpha of reality. And it is fair to say; we believe there is no meaning or purpose to life other than what we choose individually – and you are free to choose of course, as long as it doesn’t contradict a long list of axioms we hold. And yes, we believe there is no ultimate destiny other than certain nonexistence at death. But at least we do not worship anything, not even science. We merely look upon science with delight in its magisterial pronouncements and revelations on the way things really are – even those things metaphysical and beyond its reach. Yes, sometimes science is at odds with our worldview. But we have the patience to wait for its inevitable correction. We may have been wrong for centuries on the static universe model whereas theologians had it right. But who cares? At least we are not dogmatic and rigid when it contradicts our foundational beliefs. We simply understand it’s not real science. We take the time to understand logic and rational thought. We know the supernatural is a nonexistent reality because we know naturalism is the only reality. Therefore we are free from circular reasoning, free from non sequiturs, and are free to go where the evidence leads. And when we put on our “new atheism” face, we confidently proclaim: We don’t know; we just know you don’t know. So now it should be clear to you, atheism is not a religion!

 

[v] I’m discounting for the sake of brevity those who may believe some fantastical notion of intelligent aliens seeding the planet billions of years ago.

 

[vi] http://www.alternet.org/belief/151947/goodbye_religion_how_godlessness_is_increasing_with_each_new_generation

Tags: