Things I wish I had said

Illogical Secular Soppiness

Some statements, I have wanted to use in some Facebook discussions, but never did use them.  Mainly because the other side of the posting discussion would never understand, either due to intelligence or extreme prejudice or both.

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Because humans are capable of knowing, the first cause that produced them, if one wants to believe, they must have a mind.  Because humans are capable of choosing, the first cause they must have a will.  And so on.  Philosopher Étienne Gilson (who wrote “God and Philosophy “ New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1941),  captures the argument neatly: “because a human is a someone and not a something, the source of human life must be also a Someone.”  It is the height of illogic to think that humans originated from anything with lower functionality than they did— from a something instead of a Someone.

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We often contrast “believers” to “nonbelievers,” but that can be misleading.  Everyone believes in something, a sense that must be assumed as a principle that is fundamentally true.  Atheists often fail to recognize that they are in the same boat as everyone else.  A common mantra on atheist websites goes like this: “Atheism is not a belief.  Atheism is merely the lack of a belief in God or gods.”  However, it is impossible to think without having some starting point.  If you do not start with God, you must start somewhere else.  You must propose something else as the ultimate, eternal, uncreated reality that is the cause and source of everything else and why you believe it.  The important question is not which starting points are religious or secular, but which claims stand up to testing.

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There is a widespread bias— that any statement about the supernatural is by definition “irrational.”  You will find the same bias on display, in the comments section, under virtually any article on the Internet about Christianity.  No matter how strong the evidence, any claim that there exists something beyond what is known by empirical science is attacked as “irrational.”  Yet to define what is rational solely by whether it fits the tenets of your own worldview is an invalid move because it rules out all other truth claims by definition.  This is convenient because you do not even have to investigate the evidence that way.

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Those who reject the Creator will generally create an idol out of some form of the creation story.  They will absolutize some power or element immanent within the cosmos, elevating it into an all-defining principle— a false absolute.

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If what is real is defined in terms of what can be known by the five senses, then reality seems to include only the material world.  However, if you track empiricism to its logical conclusion, it takes a surprising turn inward to the mind.  It signals an important trend in Western thought from materialism to mentalism— from matter as the primary reality to mind as primary.

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It is impossible to step outside my own head to compare my internal images with the external world to see if they match.  “There is simply no way to show that humans can gain knowledge of extra-mental realities if we are only directly aware of mental realities.  Neither reason nor experience will allow us to bridge the chasm between our minds and the external world that looms if representationalism is true.”  Writes C. Stephen Evans in his book “Natural Signs and Knowledge of God: A New Look at Theistic Arguments” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, p.  28).

This is the core of the modernist concept: the idea that if we strip away enough cultural debris— received traditions, speculative philosophies, religious claims— in short, anything humans can be mistaken about, we will finally reach something we cannot be mistaken about.  As Romans 1 says, they fastened on something within creation to serve in the place of God as their secure and certain source of truth, their ultimate explainer, and the fixed foundation of knowledge.  The goal was to find a method by which the individual could transcend his or her limited niche in space and time to arrive at absolute, godlike knowledge,

Most philosophies are born when someone stumbles on one of the undeniable facts of human experience and then claims to have discovered the ultimate, infallible foundation of all knowledge.  Every non-biblical philosophy fastens on something in creation— something known by general revelation— and tries to build a system of truth on that foundation.  Therefore it is denied, redefined, or dismissed as unreal, anything it does not explain.

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When the apostles proclaimed the gospel, they treated their message as public truth, based on eyewitness testimony, open to cross-examination and testing— that “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands” (1 John 1: 1).  They did not preach “cleverly devised myths” but were “eyewitnesses” of events taking place in time and space (2 Pet. 1: 16).

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We can learn from the insights found in science and philosophy.  We should refuse to allow good words like empirical and rational taken over by secular worldviews.  Instead, we should work to fill these terms with balanced biblical content.  All the while, we should be making the case that, whatever is genuinely good and true finds its true home within Christianity.  Every -ism isolates one strand from the rich fabric of truth.  Christianity alone provides what the greatest philosophers and sages have sought all along: a coherent and transcendent framework that encompasses all of human knowledge.

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Humans are not self-existent, self-sufficient, or self-defining.  They did not create themselves.  They are finite, dependent, contingent beings.  As a result, they will always look outside themselves for their ultimate identity and meaning.  They will define human nature by its relationship to the divine— however they define divinity.  Those who do not get their identity from a transcendent Creator will get it from some substitute in creation.

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Haven’t we all heard people say that religion is nothing but an expression of psychological need?  That religion is projection of a father figure in the sky?  A myth invented by primitive people to assuage their fear of natural forces?  In the typical college course or television science program, a reductionist theory of religion is assumed without argument.

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Haven’t we all met cynics who insist that morality is nothing but self-interest in disguise?  Because humans are made in God’s image, they often do treat others with dignity and respect; they engage in humanitarian projects and advocate for human rights.  The problem is that non-biblical worldviews provide no logical basis for such altruistic behavior.  People suppress anything that threatens their favored worldview.  If general revelation is evidence for God, then every substitute religion will have to deny that evidence.

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Obviously, humans are not free to do anything we might dream up, because we are creatures and not the Creator.  We are also embedded within a physical universe and a social world; we each have a personal history that affects our choices.  Yet within those parameters, we have some range of genuine choice and accountability.

Humans are so constituted that they cannot function without free will.  It is one of those stubborn facts that must be accounted for by any worldview.  The ability to choose from among alternatives makes a host of other distinctively human capacities possible— creativity and problem solving, love and relationships (robots do not love), even rationality itself (if our minds are preprogrammed to hold an idea, then it is not a rational decision).

When a concept (like free will) keeps bubbling up inescapably and irresistibly even in the mind of someone who disavows it— whose worldview directly denies it— that’s a good clue that it is a truth of general revelation that is being suppressed.  The more consistently people work out the logic of their worldview, the more reductionistic the result will be, the wider the gap, and the further its leap into irrational mysticism.

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  1. K. Chesterton in “The Everlasting Man” (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1993, 143, 141) wagers that secularists reject Christianity not because it is a bad theory but because it seems “too good to be true.” If secularists find Christianity “incredible,” Chesterton concludes, that is because it is so incredibly positive in affirming a high view of human freedom and dignity.  Yet, ironically, these same secularists claim to be “free thinkers.”  Nonsense, Chesterton responds.  We must vigorously protest when secularists “close all the doors of the cosmic prison on us with a clang of eternal iron, tell us that our emancipation is a dream and our dungeon a necessity; and then calmly turn round and tell us they have a freer thought.”

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Not everyone who accepts materialism or naturalism goes on to accept determinism.  Nevertheless, I suggest that’s only because they are not as careful to work out the logical outcome of their premises.  Often people accept ideas that sound attractive or sophisticated but do not follow those ideas all the way to their final implications.

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We often hear people say, “Don’t impose your religion on me.”  However, we never hear people say, “Don’t impose your facts on me.”  Why not?  Because facts are assumed to be objective and universal, binding on everyone.  People often hold half-baked ideas that they would reject if they understood more clearly where those ideas lead.  Therefore, they erect a kind of buffer zone to protect themselves from recognizing the illogical and inhumane consequences of their worldviews.

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We often hear stereotypes that Christianity is negative and repressive; that it regards human nature as corrupt and worthless; that it places little value on life in this world.  But in reality the Christian worldview has a much higher view of human life than any competing system.  It gives a logical basis for the facts of experience that are denied by the dominant secular worldviews of our day: freedom, creativity, love, personal significance, genuine truth.

Another common negative stereotype is that Christianity is irrational and obscurantist. When theory and facts contradict one another, which should be followed?  The best explanation for why living things function as if they were designed is that they were designed.  Darwinism is a philosophical bias more than coherent science. Darwinian processes may explain some patterns and changes in gene frequency in populations, but the evidence does not even remotely support the claim that chance and necessity fully account for the appearance of complex design in living things.

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Freud’s notion that religion is wish fulfillment can be turned against his own theory.  In fact, it is much more plausible that atheism, rather than Christianity, is a form of wish fulfillment. For if there is no God, then no one is watching, there is no moral accountability, and you can do what you want (as long as you can get away with it).  Internal contradictions are fatal to any worldview because contradictory statements are necessarily false. “This circle is square” is contradictory, so it has to be false.

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A theory is valid science (on the correct side of the boundary between science and nonscience) if it can be verified by scientific observation. Everything that could not be so verified was nonsense. Thus science was considered the only route to understanding; all other purported knowledge was not knowledge at all.

In scientific publications, the origin of life is consistently described as the result of random, unguided natural processes with no intelligent input. How much evidence is there to there is virtually no evidence to support this conclusion about history, and no scientist can go back in time to observe it. Then why is science so firmly committed to this conclusion? It is because the philosophy, the assumption, of methodological naturalism requires it, no matter what the evidence. As Richard Lewontin has famously stated:

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

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Consider the numerous cases of preserved biomolecules like proteins or DNA in ancient fossils.  These same biomolecules in the modern world have short half-lives of thousands of years or less. However, the chronology based on Materialistic Naturalism requires, and radiometric dating provides, ages for the fossil biomolecules of many millions of years. The short half-lives of biomolecules and the radiometric dates are two conflicting lines of evidence, and the conflict needs an explanation. When two lines of evidence conflict, this indicates there is something that we don’t yet understand. Which is correct?

Are the fossil biomolecules very ancient, in violation of the laws of chemistry that govern their half-lives today? Or are the accepted radiometric dates wrong, and the fossils are actually quite young?  Materialistic Naturalism allows only one of those interpretations— the fossils must be very ancient, and we don’t understand how they lasted so long.  Materialistic Naturalism does not allow consideration of both possibilities— it does not allow an open-minded search for scientific truth.

Of course, if the fossils were formed within the last few thousand years (too short a time for the evolution of new types of organisms), that points ultimately to an intervening action in regard to the short time span, and science can’t examine the nature of that cause. The questions here are as follows: Do we want to know what is true about the events, even if we can’t verify their ultimate cause? Or do we allow an assumption, Materialistic Naturalism, to dictate what is true about the events?

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