The Alternate Time Machine Part 2

The scientist and inventor of the alternate time machine, which had the unique ability to travel not through the fabric of actual time but to traverse all possible worlds, was not satisfied with his first journey. Continue reading “The Alternate Time Machine Part 2”

A Review of American Fascists 1

We are taking a momentary departure from our present discussion to review the book: American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges.

This topic has come about as a direct result of an event close to home: My daughter being assigned the book for college reading. The course? Humanities. Not political science. Not world religions, either (it will be clear that the book is a an examination of, and no-holds barred attack upon, the Christian faith). Nope, just humanities.

Of course, humanities lends itself to, and has always allowed for, broad selection of reading material. Humanities professors use their own discretion in selecting reading material for these classes, and I cannot say that I blame them. But I find it both interesting and not surprising that the reading list for this course is pretty exclusively anti-Christian and left-wing with really no attempt to provide opposing viewpoints. As my own daughter has said, humanities courses seems to be “an excuse for professors to take their own personal views and force it upon their students.” Continue reading “A Review of American Fascists 1”

Memories, Life and Graduation

My daughter graduates from high school this week (yes: I am that old). Over the past two years, she has had the privilege of having one of those English teachers who was top-notch and memorable, encouraging his students to think critically, independently, and pursue excellence. Continue reading “Memories, Life and Graduation”

Atheists Cannot Possibly Be Any Good

If you are an atheist — or at least find yourself sympathetic to those that claim to be — then you are most likely familiar with the term New Atheist. If you are not, it refers to a new type of skeptic who has emerged in the past several years, who not only believes there is no God but who is also particularly hostile to those who do.

Renowned biologist Richard Dawkins is quoted as saying, ““I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils.” Likewise, neuroscientist and author Sam Harris describes religious faith as an “uncompromising misuse of the power of our minds” which “forms a kind of perverse, cultural singularity,” and that being a man of perfect faith is “a terrible thing to be.”

What is particularly interesting about the new atheist is his unmistakable sense of moral outrage over faith. Faith is not something that is simply not preferable; no, it is wrong, even evil. But wrong based on what? In a world where there is no more than the observable universe, what meaning does right and wrong possibly have? To be sure, an atheist, if he is consistent, cannot possibly be any good, not because he is not able, but because good does not exist.

Think of it: If the atheism that Harris and Dawkins hold to is true, absolutely true, then it matters little how your neighbor chooses to live, or what they choose to believe.

But are we saying that atheists are not capable of being moral? Of course not.  To be clear (and somewhat repetitive), the atheist is just as capable of being kind and generous and courageous (and whatever virtue you wish to add) as the person who believes in God. What we are saying rather is that in a world where God does not exist, there is no good. In such a world, we can conform to any code of behavior we wish to define, whether it be based on our upbringing or evolutionary past. But ultimately, it is meaningless.

As an illustration, imagine a different world, where evolution on its unguided and indifferent evolutionary course bestowed us with very long necks, and also deposited within us the odd belief that holding our heads as high as possible was the right thing to do. And imagine that that was the extent of our understanding of what is “right.”

And just as in our world, there were many of us who believed holding one’s head high was right because there was an invisible entity who held his head higher than all of us, and it is what He wanted.

But others, more educated and enlightened, came to realize that there was no such entity. But when challenged, they insisted they were just as capable of holding their heads high as the rest of us, even better at it than some of their Entity-believing peers. Or, that holding one’s head to the side was actually the right thing to do — and they condemned those who did not.

Now I ask you: Would such claims of the long-necked enlightened have any meaning?

And yet, in our world, this is exactly what we see. The new atheist protests he does not need to believe in God to be good (hold his neck high). He also condemns faith as wrong and evil because it is the opposite of scientific rationalism (“holding one’s head to the side”). The one thing we do not observe the new atheist doing is the very thing that seems most logically consistent: Responding that whether he is capable of being good or not is irrelevant, since ultimately the moral pose we choose to assume is pointless.

Think of it: If the atheism that Harris and Dawkins hold to is true, absolutely true, then it matters little how your neighbor chooses to live, or what they choose to believe. Even the worst atrocity — induced by religious extremists or an atheistic regime — is merely an unwanted  exchange of matter and energy.

So what do you think? If there is no God, is there such a thing as moral standards? If so, how did they come about, and by want scientific means do we know they exist? If not, why should we choose to live in any manner that is virtuous or what one might call moral? Lastly, what is your moral code for living, and why? I welcome your comments.

Faith: Truth by Relationship

Bertrand Russell, the late atheist and author of the book, “Why I am not a Christian,” is quoted as saying that though the claims of Christianity could be true, it lies outside the realm of knowledge to know for certain, and so is pointless to try. How different this is from my experience and those I know who have come into, and even now maintain, a personal relationship with Jesus.

But Russell should not be dismissed lightly, nor misunderstood. He is not glibly stating it is too much work to figure out if there is a God or not. Rather, he is saying it is impossible to know. That is, Russell is stating that knowledge of God, at best, could be no more than supposition.

From the standpoint of the rational mind, this is certainly true. There are many things we can know by our intellect, even regarding the possibility, even probability, of  God’s existence. Throughout history in fact many scholars have put forth compelling arguments for God’s existence. I love the following article by William Lane Craig that recaps the most popular of those here. These go a long way to establish the rational basis for a belief in God. But the point is, none of these arguments will bring you into a state of certainty concerning God’s existence. That is, they won’t get you from believing that there could be a God to knowing that there is a God. And this is Russell’s point.

But what Russell lacks is the imagination, or perhaps willingness, to consider that God may choose other means than man’s rational faculties to make Himself known. Let’s assume for a moment God exists and that He desires that man know this, even to the point that man’s ultimate happiness is at stake, as Christianity affirms: Does it make sense to assume that he would leave man to figure it out on his own? Is it reasonable to assume that man, and not God, would be the initiator of such knowledge? How then is the assumption that man’s intellectual ability is the only way to knowledge of God convincing? To be sure, if there is no God, then our reasoning faculty is all we have. But if there is a God, such an assumption is unwarranted. Russell’s declaration therefore is not a statement of fact but a decision.

From a Christian perspective, the notion that God would only be known by the powers of reason is not only not necessary but somewhat puzzling. For though the Christian may also determine the possibility of God through reason, ultimately his certainty in God’s existence is established through an entirely different faculty. It is called faith.

Now it is really important we be clear here as to what we mean by faith. Contrary to rampant misconception, faith is not a decision to affirm something as true without evidence (or even despite evidence to the contrary). In fact, it is not a decision at all. If it were, it would be no more than an arbitrary act of the will. In which case, we would have to agree with Russell here that such a decision would be meaningless.

In fact, I would go further and say that faith as mere decision is not only meaningless but impossible. I can say that I believe in unicorns, but that does not mean that I do. Even if I tell others that I believe in unicorns, start a bring-back-the-unicorns movement, seek out others who also believe in unicorns, or publish my statement of belief in unicorns, that will not change the facts about what I believe. This is because belief ultimately requires evidence. And when it comes to belief in God, that evidence must come from something beyond what the rational mind — or I would argue, even scientific discovery — can supply.

Imagine that someone came up with a logical proof for God that was airtight. Would we believe it?

Or, imagine for a moment that science proved the existence of God. Through empirical, airtight investigation, it was discovered with certainty that God existed, and he existed in the person of Molech, the ancient Semitic god, who requires child sacrifice. Would we believe it? Perhaps. But a more likely scenario is that the scientific findings would be discredited. The instruments used would be deemed faulty. If it was determined that the scientific instruments were without flaw and reliable, the underlying scientific principles of the experiment would be discounted. And even if the underlying scientific principles passed muster — that it was determined in order for the findings to be false, the basic laws of Newtonian/Quantum physics would have to be violated — we would most likely be reminded that science, despite its benefits to mankind, does not deal in absolute certainty. We might even go so far as to question the underlying philosophical assumptions of science and point out that its goal is to gain understanding of the material world concerning causal relationships and to make predictions, but is not necessarily able to determine what is ultimately true.

And who knows? We might even decide that science, after all, was not the best means of confirming the existence of God, and conclude that when it came to such matters, no one could be absolutely certain, and that it was nonsense even to talk about science being able to prove God in the first place. And we would go on with our lives.

The point is, when it comes to such weighty matters as God’s existence and the personal ramifications it might entail, even science is not sufficient to the task. It requires something beyond it. It requires not man trying to figure out God, but God reaching out to man. This is what the Christian calls faith. For the Christian, truth is not ultimately confirmed through analysis, but by relationship.

As a concluding thought: To our hypothetical scenario, someone may be quick to point out that it is preposterous to think that science would ever be able to confirm the existence of God in the manner described. And that, indirectly, is precisely the point: Of all the cognitive faculties in the heart of man, isn’t it interesting that in deciding a basis for what is ultimately true, we have chosen the one that guarantees us both the greatest autonomy, and least accountability.