Friday, December 29, 2006

Holding Paradigms Too Ptightly

When the ancient astronomer Ptolemy (100-175 AD) woke up every morning, the Sun was coming up in the east. As his day wore on, the Sun moved across the sky and set in the west. All the stars and planets followed suit. It was perfectly obvious to Ptolemy and his contemporaries that the Earth was the pivot point around which the rest of the cosmos revolved. Copernicus’s so-called “revolution” (so-called because it wasn’t really the revolution it's been made out to be – but that’s a whole different story) stemmed from his claim that Ptolemy was mistaken and that the Earth actually revolved around the Sun. Later confirmation by Galileo proved the Copernican theory to be correct. But both Copernicus and Galileo were considered nutcases for challenging the “obvious,” expert-supported understanding of The Way Things Were. The idea that the Earth is the center of things was so ingrained in the minds of people it took a violent brain-shaking to overcome it.

I was reminded of the Ptolemy thing as I read a new book I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the topics discussed here – Benjamin Wiker & Jonathan Witt’s, A Meaningful World. The book is packed with scientific and historical insights about the abject failure of Naturalism/Materialism to account for the intricacy and wonder that exists in even the simplest forms of biological life. Their book is captivatingly successful in its mission to show “how the arts and sciences reveal the genius of nature,” but I particularly enjoyed the historical parallel they drew between previously accepted scientific “facts” and the presumptive acceptance of the Darwinist paradigm that pervades scientific inquiry today. Take phlogiston for instance.

In their primitive attempts to unmask and define the secrets of the elemental substances, the alchemists tried to unlock the compound relationships between the elements (earth, air and water) by using the fourth element (fire) to burn and melt all variety of things into investigatory submission. In this effort, Joseph Priestley became the primary promoter of Phlogiston Theory, a widely accepted explanation for the alchemists’ observations, in which flammable materials were held to contain phlogiston, a substance that was released in the burning process. Phlogiston theory made perfect sense ...

If, for example, you placed a lit candle under a glass globe, as Priestly and others had done so many times, eventually (so they maintained) all the phlogiston would be released from the candle and saturate the globe. When the air in the globe could hold no more phlogiston, the candle went out … [or, with] … regard to the burning of metal, since the pure metal burned red-hot, it must (supposedly) have phlogiston in it. As the phlogiston was steadily released, the metal degraded, like a burnt log. Thus, the metal was dephlogisticated … [and] turned to a whitish, chalky calx (Latin for chalk) that, when reheated with charcoal … would return to its pristine [re-phlogisticated] condition.

Priestly’s work in this area led to the discovery of oxygen, which we now know is the real culprit in answering the burning question. Interestingly, he is credited with discovering oxygen himself in most textbooks and history accounts. But Priestly actually went to his grave “vehemently denying that oxygen even existed.” He was too tied the phlogiston paradigm to accept the physical evidence provided by French chemist Antoine Lavoisier. Lavoisier explained not only the phenomena Priestly observed as being the result of burning oxygen, he devised a way to isolate oxygen, which led to the parallel discovery that oxygen and hydrogen combine to form water. He did so because he overturned the phlogistian paradigm that everyone else accepted. He insisted that phlogiston did not even exist and proved it experimentally.

Though I won’t go into it here, a similar story can be told about the existence of “ether.” Scientists (including Michelson and Morley) made all manner of attempts to explain the invariant measurements of the speed of light away by invoking ether-based explanations for their results. It wasn’t until the introduction of his Special Relativity theory that Einstein proposed the wildly controversial view that “there was no ether.”

Old theories die hard. In all these cases hold the following in common:

  • The “commonly accepted” theory enjoyed popularity and unquestioned devotion among the scientific expert authorities of its day
  • The old ideas were challenged by maverick researchers with evidence to back up their claims
  • Those who held to the “commonly accepted” view belittled and ignored the new understanding primarily because it was a minority view
  • The old view proved to be not only wrong, but wildly inconsistent with the real world

Twenty-twenty hindsight allows us to look back at Ptolemy and phlogiston as bizarre examples of goofy science. It’s hard to see from our point of view how in the world anyone could ever have been so stubbornly committed to them in the face of obviously condemning evidence. When you are firmly planted in a paradigm, human nature proves time and again that it is nearly impossible to extricate yourself from it. It’s hard to do. Human pride and the idolatry of human reason inhibit our ability to see things clearly. But good science, backed up by solid evidence, demands that we consider the possibility that we may be wrong.

Now it might be coincidence that both these examples of paradigm shift involve subjects (Ptolemy and phlogiston) with the weird silent and/or unusually pronounced “p” thing going on. There is no logical explanation for why this might be. But, considering the ramifications of these ideas and the parallels that can be drawn between them and the commonly accepted naturalistic worldview - vs - Intelligent Design debate, I would like to propose alternate spellings for some terms we have all come to so readily accept: Pnatural selection and Pneo-Pdarwinian evolution.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Thank You, Mr. Hyde

Pro-Lifers will be missing one of their greatest public advocates next month when the new Congress returns to Washington. Henry Hyde (R, Illinois 6) chose not to run for reelection. Hyde has served for 32 years in the U.S. Congress and has been one the pro-life movement’s staunchest advocates.

As Scott has argued here many times, the ways to achieve the pro-life agenda are many and varied. Sometimes they are not as obvious as they may seem and sometimes the politicians who can help achieve them are not the most obvious choices. We wrestle with these issues in the real world and must make our choices accordingly – even if it means having to swallow some pretty tough pills to back some less than optimal candidates along the way. Henry Hyde disappointed many of us when some of his moral failings came to light after the Clinton impeachment debacle. This proved nothing more than that Hyde, like the rest of us, is a fallible human being. But when it comes to advancing pro-life issues, few can hold a candle to him.

Like many social conservatives, Hyde started out as a Democrat, became disillusioned with the left-wing agenda of that party, and switched to the Republican Party as a result. In a recent issue of National Review, Hyde admits that, like many of us in our younger days, he “had never really thought much about abortion.” But that all changed when a fellow Illinois state congressman asked him to co-sponsor a bill to liberalize Illinois abortion law. Hyde considered the legislation by reading a book: The Vanishing Right to Live, by Charles Rice “[and] became convinced that abortion was evil.” Hyde’s subsequent self-education on the issue led to the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1977, a bill that, by the “fairly conservative estimate” of The National Right to Life Committee’s Douglas Johnson, “has saved 1 million human lives in the 30 years that it has been in effect.”

Henry Hyde’s success in this area can be traced to a couple self-evident truths on which he based his opposition to the so-called “pro-choice” agenda. In his 1984 rebuttal to a Mario Cuomo speech at the University of Notre Dame, Hyde condemned …

the rise of militant secular-separationist perspective on the constitutional questions that seek to rule religiously based values “out of order” in the public arena

and specifically targeted “abortion liberty” as …

a profoundly narrow-minded, illiberal position; it constricts rather than expands, the scope of liberty properly understood (emphasis mine)

On behalf of those million human beings he helped save, I would like to thank Henry Hyde for his commitment to protect the most vulnerable in our society. Would that there were more politicians with the same principled conviction.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

No Pagans Here

Many Christians these days make a scene about boycotting Christmas. That's their choice but I'd like to humbly offer a rebuttal to the notion that all the Christmas symbols (trees, mistletoe, Santa Claus, gift-giving) and, most notably, the date we use for Christmas are nothing but an acceptance of paganism with which no "real" Christian should agree. I don't accept that. Here's why ...

First, what's wrong with stealing stuff from the pagans? Before I go any further with this, please hear me out. I know that probably sounds flippant but I don't mean it that way at all. Not to mention, I don't accept it. But here's the thing -- if we co-opt some formerly pagan practices and use them to celebrate our holiday, I don't see a problem with that. The pagan connections have long since disappeared. I, and my family, have never even considered their pagan roots (if indeed they even have any). They have always, and will always, be Christian images, symbols and practices to us. We associate them with the incarnation of Christ and celebrate that fact in our home. We've never considered otherwise. So please don't accuse me of capitulating to paganism. That's not what I do.

Besides, in keeping with the often-invoked Great Commission, and with Paul's exhortation to "be all things to all men," I don't see a problem with using those pagan symbols to attract pagans, then redefining them in Christian ways. In this way, the pagans are redirected from their journey down the wrong path and onto the path to the real Truth. I think that's a good thing.

Second -- and this applies mainly to the date we use to celebrate Christmas -- who says it has pagan roots?! Many people claim that Christianity uses December 25th as the date because we have caved to the Sun worshippers who give spiritual significance to the Winter Solstice. Not so. For starters, the Winter Solstice occurs on December 21st. But that's just the beginning.
Additionally, there are very distinct Christian-based reasons for selecting December 25th as the date of Christ's birth. For an excellent analysis of those reasons, please read William J. Tighe's, Calculating Christmas. It is a fascinating article that chronicles the origin of the date. I offer a brief summary here:

  • There was a common belief called the Integral Age of the great Jewish prophets that claimed they were born, or conceived, on the same day they died.
  • "Modern scholars agree that the death of Christ could have taken place only in A.D. 30 or 33, as those two are the only years of that time when the eve of Passover could have fallen on a Friday, the possibilities being either 7 April 30 or 3 April 33."
  • By the time of Tertullian the Western church had concluded that he died on Friday, 25 March 29. In keeping with the Integral Age theory, Christ's conception would be the same date -- putting his birth 9 months later -- on December 25
  • The Eastern Church, for a different set of reasons (and with a different set of calendars), concluded that Good Friday was actually April 6. Using parallel reasoning, the Eastern church began celebrating Christ's birth on January 6th -- and still do today.

As shown above, calendar differences necessitate that these dates are probably not correct. But that is not the point. The point is that the date for Christ's birth was not adopted from pagan sources. It was the early church's best effort to get it right. It was a carefully calculated, conscientious decision, based on Jewish tradition that led to the dates we use today.

So I won't accept the pagan accusations or the scorn of those who try to put them on me. My family will celebrate Christmas on December 25th like we always do. We do so because we accept the historicity of the incarnation and the reality of the salvation it brings us all. We hope you'll do the same.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Butting Heads (nicely)


Yesterday, a reader ("Mr. Dawkins") left the following comment regarding my previous post ("CopyCats") which I feel is worthy not just of a reply, but of its own dedicated post. Here is the entire comment in context. I will respond below ...
Your alleged case against naturalism is inherently flawed. Just because naturalism has not yet explained consciousness or thought life doesn't mean it never will. That is to say, your whole post forecloses on the possibility of a naturalistic explanation for these things when there is still a possibility naturalism can account for them. Or, to quote one of the favorite lines from you theists, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Given the extraordinary claims of theism, you bear an extraordinary burden of proof. Pointing out a few things naturalism has not yet explained won't make your case.
I want to thank Mr. Dawkins for his comment. I really do appreciate it and have only chosen to respond in this way because it displays such a textbook example of the naturalistic paradigm, it sets itself up as a great example of why I began this blog in the first place.

First, the post he mentions is not in any way intended to be my "case against naturalism." Maybe I wasn't clear, or maybe Mr. Dawkins missed my point, but the case against naturalism is vastly greater than the small observation I made here. Actually, the article I cited just caught my eye because of the creativity issue. But Mr. Dawkins' comment brings up several points I'd like to make:

First, the primary shortfall I addressed really only requires a short rejoinder. In this specific case, I was just pointing out that it is not just that science has not explained "thought life or consciousness." The point is that, under the naturalistic worldview, such things cannot even exist. I would not demand that Mr. Dawkins (unless he is THE Mr. Dawkins) provide a scientifically verifiable solution to the problem. I'm just asking that those who share his view offer some minimal philosophical justification for a phenomenon that is internally incoherent within that view.

Second, Mr. Dawkins, like many who share his view, makes an appeal to wait a little longer for our proof by asserting that "just because naturalism has not yet explained consciousness or thought life doesn't mean it never will."

True.

Maybe science will eventually explain such things. If it does, it will be self-refuting because it will require a complete admission that Naturalism must be re-defined to include the actual existence of non-physical entities. When theists try to offer, "God did it" (a phrase that makes me cringe, by the way) as an explanation for things that are otherwise inexplicable, naturalists call it an appeal to "The God of the Gaps." So, in fairness, I would say that Mr. Dawkins is appealing to a parallel " Science of the Gaps." No matter who makes the Gap appeal, it is an intellectual evasion. My view is that we should all examine the evidence and take the evidence where it leads. An intellectually honesty search for the truth demands it.

Third, Mr. Dawkins accuses me of "foreclosing on the possibility of a naturalistic explanation." But I do no such thing! I am open and waiting for such an explanation but if someone were to find one it would not in any way threaten my worldview. The naturalist, on the other hand, DOES fear a theistic explanation for anything and therefore denies its possibility by eliminating it BEFORE he examines the evidence. Darwinists do this all the time. They disparage the Intelligent Design movement not due to the evidence they find in complex biological systems, but in spite of it. This is what disturbs me about naturalists. Their presuppositions eliminate explanations BEFORE they examine the data.

Finally, Mr. Dawkins demands that my view requires an "extraordinary burden of proof." I agree. So does his. I do not presume Mr. Dawkins to be an atheist when I say this, but the burden to "prove" that God does NOT exist is greater than mine. No one denies the "appearance of design" in the universe. In the same way, no one can deny the existence of the non-physical thoughts/ideas/imaginings we all share. So, as obvious as the evidence for those things is, on what basis would Mr. Dawkins "prove" the non-existence of immaterial reality in general or God specifically? Let's be fair -- we both bear an extraordinary burden of proof. And, once again, I believe that intellectual honesty, devoid of the presupposed elimination of possible explanations, requires that we examine the evidence and accept the implications of that evidence.

I thank Mr. Dawkins for challenging me to do so and I hope he accepts my challenge for him to do the same. I believe that an honest pursuit of the truth will lead us to theistic conclusions and I think the evidence weighs heavily in my favor or I wouldn't be spending my time writing here. I look forward to more dialog along these lines in the future.

CROSSPOSTED AT: truehorizon.org


Monday, December 18, 2006

CopyCats

Look around you. Everything you see: Space Shuttles, computers, DVDs, cell phones, automobiles, skyscrapers ... the physical materials needed to make those things has always been laying around in the very fabric of the very earth beneath our feet …
  • Noah could have built an aircraft carrier.
  • Joshua could have used his cell phone to let the boys in Jericho know their time was up.
  • Paul could have emailed his letters to the churches at Ephesus and Corinth.
  • Shakespeare could have marketed his work as a reality TV show.
  • Christopher Columbus could have taken the red-eye from Rome to New York.

... the potential for each of these people to have done each of these things has always existed – in someone’s untapped imagination. None of those things was made manifest until it first popped into the mind of someone just like you ... as a thought.

Most of us never consider the profound and powerful nature of our thoughts. Thoughts are the fountainhead of human creativity. Once you do consider it however, the concept should not be terribly controversial. It is not even very profound – unless you subscribe to the naturalistic paradigm. In that case you have to explain how non-physical things can give rise to physical manifestations. It is naturalism’s greatest challenge.

Human creativity is grounded in the thought process – in the imagination of each and every one of us. But there is no physical explanation for the existence of this process. Inanimate electrons pinging around in the synapses of our gray matter offer us no physical explanation for the ethereal existence of abstract ideas, let alone how it is that those ideas can lead us to construct physical creations. Though naturalism claims that our thoughts somehow “emerge” from the actions of electrons, the claim is inconsistent with the parallel claim that non-physical entities don’t even exist. If hardcore Darwinian evolution is true, it is relegated to act on random variations in physical properties. Such a process offers no credible justification for the “emergence” of non-physical imaginings about physical entities that do not even exist in the “real” world!

So where would such a thing as “creativity” come from? In her new book, The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius, neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen describes the source of creative genius as:

the process that starts with a person – an artist, musician, inventor or even someone who's trying to figure out a better way of doing a task at work or at home ... the process can go by in a flash or it can take years.

Agreed. But defining creativity as a “process” does nothing to identify the source or trigger mechanism that serves as the impetus for the process. What would prompt an irrational, undirected batch of neurons in my brain to suddenly want to find a “better way” of doing something?

I don’t know Andreasen’s philosophical point of view (I haven’t read her book) so I have no intention of disparaging her well-established expertise. I simply read her interview and found it to be a good example of the nearly universal mindset that prevails in our society – a mindset that assumes everything can, and must, be reduced to a scientific explanation.

Maybe creativity is swimming around in your gene pool? Andreasen notes that Johann Sebastian Bach was only the most famous member of a family of more than 20 other eminent musicians. Fascinating. But, in the next paragraph, Andreasen admits that:

…creativity is not limited to the masterpiece work of art but can be found in everyday tasks such as cooking or gardening

In other words, every one of us shares some degree of creativity. It is a common human trait. Not everyone is a creative master but every one of us creates. And, therefore, every human being possesses the mind-blowing, naturalistically-inexplicable, easily-taken-for-granted, potential to imagine things which don’t yet exist in the material world and find a way to bring them to manifestation.

Creativity is a reflection of the Creator – a small but not insignificant trait He has allowed us to share. He creates a universe. We create a tossed salad. He creates real things out of nothingness. We make copycat representations and call it talent (even genius!). In our own pipsqueak way, our creativity is one aspect of our being made in the image of God (imago dei). We should honor that capacity within us, hone it, and recognize it for what it is to every one of us – an unimaginably generous gift.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Lead Singer


Though my initial reaction is to retch at the ideas of Peter Singer as discussed in the October issue of Touchstone magazine (“Livestock Exchange”), I must admit I have grown to appreciate his writing for one reason: the tactical and strategic advantage he gives to our side. Singer is a rare commodity. He is an articulate, consistent, coherent spokesman for the materialist worldview. Unlike many of his ilk, he is forthright in taking his philosophical presuppositions to their logical conclusions. Many who hear his views tend to dismiss them as being extreme, grotesque, or absurd.

Exactly.

I offer a sampling of some of those views for consideration:

Singer proposes, in his tome, "Practical Ethics," that the abortion debate does not hinge on the ethical considerations surrounding the status of the unborn as being valuable in virtue of the kind of thing they are. Instead, the worth of a human in Singer's view rests on its instrumental usefulness -- its functionality.

Singer comes to this conclusion because he holds that "that the right to physical integrity is grounded in a being's ability to suffer and ... among other things, the ability to plan and anticipate one's future." Attacking the common syllogism …
It is wrong to kill an innocent human being;
a human fetus is an innocent human being;
therefore it is wrong to kill a human fetus.
Singer challenges the second premise, on the grounds that an unborn baby is not rational or self-conscious, is owed no moral protection, and therefore has no intrinsic value.

Following this reasoning, Singer avoids even the most universally accepted squeamishness most of us feel when discussing partial-birth abortion. Singer argues that it is not only non-controversial for the attending physician to kill a newborn on the spot, but that it is also ethically acceptable to do so for 30 days after birth.

Precious, isn't it? But that's not all ...

Singer also believes that there should be no ethical concern regarding "mutually satisfying activities" of a sexual nature between humans and animals and that such activity should remain legal unless it involves what he sees as "cruelty." (Here one has to wonder how Singer could establish the definition of such a thing as "cruelty"). Though he admits that sex between species is not normal or natural, he insists that it should not be objectionable because humans are not different in kind from animals. We are only different in degree to which we have evolved.

There is plenty more where this comes from, but all of Singer's views are based on the underlying presupposition that naturalism is true; That only the physical world exists; That there are no such things as abstract ideas about values and morals, and that only materialistic processes define us. Most hard-core naturalists are not so bold or consistent in following their philosophical views to their logical ends. Most people, because they cannot escape the fact that they are made in God's image, have an inherent, inescapable intuition that Singer's ideas are grotesque. Even if they can't describe why, they know that there is something horribly wrong with accepting such notions. Singer seems to repress these natural inclinations, either for the notoriety it gains him or because he honestly doesn't feel them. Either explanation is sad but the result is that he offers us a bold proclamation of what we should expect from a worldview devoid of deity.

He is the lead Singer on the naturalistic bandwagon many are blindly following to their own destruction. For that reason, I think Peter Singer has unwittingly become one of our most powerful allies in the culture war. He provides us a perfect example of where, if left uncontested, naturalism will lead us. We should pray for him, show him respect and kindness – and quote him loudly and often.