Friday, February 19, 2010

Antony Flew's There Is A God

Antony Flew was a self-admitted leading atheist in the West for decades. His article (done early in his career) on 'theology and falsification' was one of the most sought after articles in the 2nd half of the 20th century. He rejected cosmological arguments for God's existence. Yes, and, at one time he found David Hume's arguments convincing for a closed universe system. Even while growing up as a teenage, he admits feeling in his heart uncomfortable with the Problem of Evil in the world. This was compounded by his childhood teachers and peers having no thoughtful explanations for such a situation (should be a clarion call to the church to answer this question). However, through reading various philosophers later in life, Flew came to believe there were powerful arguments for God's existence and for explaining the so-called 'Problem of Evil.' In the book, Flew provides examples of such argument as the work of Terrence Penelhum that critiques assumptions Hume made which were unproven. As one point states, a "purely Humean story" would not offer meanings of 'cause' and 'law of nature' fitting the picture of reality we deal with ourselves day-to-day. Furthermore, the challenge of genetic messaging in DNA and the additional step of how complex the replicating process is served as a new empirical broadside to his former atheism. Flew asks the question based on a legitimate concern: 'can the origins of a system of coded chemistry be explained in a way that makes no appeal whatever to the kinds of facts that we otherwise invoke to explain codes and languages, systems of communication, the impress of ordinary words on the world of matter?' The existence of such coding is a conundrum as to why the 'mechanism of translation is what it is.' The origins of life are questions as to the origin of such a code and a translation system intact. Processing this knowledge/information in a machine like way with a highly 'precise recipe' raises questions about mindless molecules being able to form such a code and small scale complex factory. Even the symbol processing in the code is a mixture of chemicals that is far from explanable in a random fashion. Flew in his previous days also used to base his "Presumption of Atheism" on the existence of a universe. It is said to be with its laws the 'ultimate' point. But all such systems talk has 'some fundamentals [of assummed truths] that are not themselves explained.' (It is interesting he admits this, which so many people hide or don't realize.) Since the 1980's he says he had doubts about the universe just existing, due to contemporary cosmological consensus. It seems that the big bang theory provided a demanded conclusion: there was a beginning. And others saw the same matter of a beginning as a threat to their secularism or atheism; so that the result was they postulated a 'multiverse, numerous universes generated by endless vacuum fluctuation events, and Stephen Hawking's notion of a self-contained universe.' Their solution was to keep God out. This however creates a problem, contra Ockham, which is that a multiverse goes from a previously simple and better explanation over to a more complex one. And this for no evidential reason, except theoretical disagreement. Even Hawking acknowledges according to Flew that his system does not rule out God. Most cosmologists acknowledge they can't rule out God. But those who posit multiverses often by assumption rule God out. Flew says this secularist or atheist multiverse solution is like a schoolboy whose teacher doesn't believe a dog ate his homework, and as a result he posits the first version with a story that a pack of dogs---too many to count--ate his homework.' Richard Swinburne also argues against an eternal or non-beginning universe, by pointing out that appealing to 'empty space,' a something that is already there, essentially would never have an explanation. It would be 'inexplicable' forever. David Conway adds, per Flew, that a good example is a software virus 'capable of replicating itself on computers connected by a network. The fact that a million computers have been infected by the virus does not itself explain the existence of the self-replicating virus.'

More of the book could be mentioned, but I am more or less wanting to review it here. I highly recommend the book to see what is out there if you are curious as far as other philosophers working against eternal matter conceptions of reality. There are also references to good authorial works on the origin of life. Flew's account is personal and engaging at times and makes one think about how interactions we have with those who aren't theists or Christian theists may have personal doubts they don't mention. Those persons want to hear an answer that is thought out, so we should be prepared to answer in that sense too. Flew in the end rejects the Christian theist view (saving faith in Jesus Christ) due to his not wanting to settle on a certain brand of theism at this point. He entertains an argument for the resurrection by NT Wright and acknowledges that an omnipotent God like he now accepts must be out there, could definatley reveal Himself in the world if He wanted to. However, Flew is non-commital. This goes to show that one can only go so far in worldview without accepting Jesus Christ as Lord, over truth and reality, and Savior, of self admitting humbly our sin and need for His work. A theist is not a born again Christian. While we can be glad for Flew's realizing atheism isn't intellectually satisfying for him, yet we still must admit that he isn't serving Christ as Lord. Many believing Christians make this mistake of confusing theism with Christian theism. There is a difference, and it is whether one personally knows Jesus. However, as far as argumentation goes in thinking through our world and how we might talk about it, Flew's work is useful and interesting reading. It is highly endorsed by a number of relatively solid scholars from around the world as well. Flew does show that he has thought seriously about the position of theism and joined it. One may hope that he will be inclined to accept the Christ who redeems all things too.

While it is not addressed to my memory in the book, the chemical side of DNA and RNA bears more mention. The byproducts of some amino acids being formed into an order is often tar, which destroys productive adaptation. The sea is made of salt, which hampers such positive development of a primitive cell. There are also concerns of the right temperature and pressure for ideal conditions for a cell to form. Having the right and having pure chemicals (like what we get in a clean lab) are required to get even the needed situation. The open nature situation does not give production of a cell for many reasons. A lab is not exactly a fair comparison for the right chemicals being in one place. On top of this, the coding requires information added to the picture on long long lengths of manufacturing in the cell. These are at some point irreducibly complex, where they can't get any more simple without failure or lacking a key part. Thus life could not form on its own. It is not only improbably, but also the environments we see are simply not prone to that situation. And nature doesn't give information. Especially in the limited time the universe and the earth have been around. Yet in the end, this is an issue where a hardened heart will not accept evidence against its view, but will tell a story, a narrative, to explain away a God who convicts people about sin, so that they might see and repent. Something we may add, that most people don't want to do.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Moral Darwinism by Wiker

I thought I would share some of this very useful book. Wiker brings out how Christians unknowingly accepted from some who claimed to be Christians an Epicurean worldview in the 1600's and 1700's. Instead of keeping the discoveries of science as part of a Christian rooted worldview or outlook, and just accepting this as evidence for it; some came along persuading the culture to accept beliefs like this: that matter has always existed and the universe is infinite in size. (Both of which are claims that are highly dubious as far as evidence 'fit' and not accepted by many varied stripes of cosmologists. Apparently even 'father' Epicurus of the materialist worldview admitted a need for a Creator/Starter against his hope otherwise). The resulting idea of chance, infinite worlds, possible worlds, and matter with no limits ended up creating a sort of comfort for some to abandon a unique Incarnation of Christ. One creature, one planet. Wiker's argument (in an un-fairly broad summary I admit) in the book is that the moral chaos in the West is the result of thinking all is chance and no one is right about morality for others. The thinking of Epicurus was such that it wasn't based on research of the world/worlds/mathematical infinity, but rather it was based on his moral desire to be able to sin without any fear of judgment; something he essentially admits at points. We should probably be suspicious of claims of never ending chances for life to form from someone: why? When the detail of that evolutionary and materialist world happening pro life forming as we know it, is considered there exists a sheer complexity of cosmology. This complexity is accepted by serious scholars in that field, as well as the obvious view that there was a beginning to it all which is accepted. This looked less like Epicurus and 17th century so-called science had wanted, and hence less like Darwin's view and less like public school biology mythos. Biological research has shown a like picture of extreme complexity at the cell level and in the formation of systems that would die apart from a full function up front. The result is that evolution as Darwin saw it is not possible (some have obviously attempted adjustments, but the problems glare on when planning and intelligence is required to order such systems (they are systems at that level, highly complex)). You can see how theories of men and women in our day are given god-like attitudes/authority, even contrary to findings about cosmology and biology in this book. There is an effort, not unlike the scandal of climate researcher emails, to try and manipulate the evidence to fit an evolutionary scheme for the sake of having moral freedom to sin without judgment ever coming from God. In our day, evolution is a prop used to keep a sort of secular so called neutrality, which really has its own religious opinions (ie is a religion itself while playing 'neutrality'). Maybe more on this later, just some early thoughts...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thomas Morris - The Logic of God Incarnate

I came across this book lately which attempts to defend an orthodox understanding of Jesus as having two natures, but also the unity of his person. The author was a professor at Notre Dame for fifteen years in philosophy, and now is involved in practical ethics in workplaces it seems, if I understand correctly. And he delves into removing the charge against Christian theists that the incarnation is not coherent (divine and human). Some important distinctions are made on Jesus as God (being God), but not God 'simpliciter,' according to Chalcedonian historic orthodoxy. What does that mean? That is to say I am guessing from this, that when you talk of God, we also mean the Father, and Holy Spirit as well. So God is not exhausted by only one person of the Trinity, but all three persons are God. One God, three persons; though he doesn't spell this out. He also explores the use of the 'indiscernability principle' to talk of how to distinguish divine and human properties of a nature. There are good answers on how to discuss such a topic, though I didn't follow his argument entirely or agree entirely at points with how he approaches this (heavy philosophy can at times make you want to stick closer to Scripture than men's 'solutions' lol). However, Morris profitably eliminates a series of mistakes that have been made in church history by those who didn't understand the Trinity very well, including the mistakes of a one nature Son (made by Leigh in Morris' view who argues that there is a plausible new one nature). Then he deals with mistakes made by those who see problems with Jesus having said to have existed before Herod's day. Morris considers and rejects process theology (thankfully), but also considers that the Anselmian arguments for God's existence are useful for pointing out a way to explain the Doctrine of how the Incarnation of the Son could take place. This book was a serious read, and includes use of logic. I'm not sure if everyone reading would enjoy such a book or want to navigate its waters. However, it is a good thought experiment and helped me to be a more aware reader when it comes to issues related to current discussion on the Incarnation in contemporary challenges of our culture. He seems to also like/support a social Trinity view, but holds that one need not be a social Trinity committed person to agree with points he makes in defending orthodoxy. I agree that the book does that well at times, but then other times, I wondered if he capitulates too much to worldly philsophical or cultural assumptions. It must be remembered that the church need not bow down to the world's philosophical ideas that are 'popular' in one day or another. One more minor thought in passing, if its of use to anyone who might happen to read such a book as this, I personally found his discussion of psychological explanations for epistemic (how we know what we know) possibility of Jesus being tempted weren't all that helpful or certain. It seemed like uncharted territory, so that I would be hestitant to agree with some statements. However, at other times he is clearer that historic views on Jesus are the way to go. And that is true, philosophy can only get us so far on such an issue where we must stick close to Scripture. And one final thought, I wouldn't recommend the book to the average reader. The biggest issue I had with it was his multiple incarnation talk related to possible worlds (a popular idea in philosophy, but not my view at all). He doesn't say they exist, but leaves the door open, seemingly because science has shown that man isn't the center of God's creation in his opinion. But that is hardly an argument against one Incarnation, as the earth could be anywhere God wants it in the universe and still God's crowning creation is humankind. To delve into discussions of possible worlds beyond seemed too sci fi for my tastes. Not to mention that Colossians 1 seems to indicate clearly there is one Christ over all creation, and verse 19 there refers to one cross. Hence as I heard someone say recently, we serve a Christ who is over the cosmos (he used the phrase 'cosmic' Christ, i.e. not just for us, but over all the universe). But still, I am glad I'm more aware of what I might encounter out there in discussions on the street, especially with avid readers, college, graduate students or professors.