"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Call

The call goes out:
"Rise up oh brother! Steel yourself with the truth! Have faith in who you are! Cast off the myths of your past and stride forth in the truth of your own self-sustaining power! Bend your knee to no authority for you are your own — subject to none! There is none to protect you — no one to fight your battles. But take heart! You can accomplish all things by looking inward and finding the power within! Let no man call you sinner! Let no man consider you wrong, for you are the standard by which all things are measured! You alone have the power to define good from evil. The sun will rise and set for you. Go forth in the confident knowledge of your own power."

I hear the call. It echos in my ears. But I cannot heed it, for I am dust. I do not sustain myself. I am utterly dependent upon forces beyond my control. The air I breathe I do not make. The sun that warms me I do not stoke. The bones that hold me together I did not craft. Where then do I find such vigor and faith in my own abilities? If pulled from the confines of my fragile refuge my blood would boil in the vacuum of space.

"Believe in yourself!" The call goes out.

But I cannot heed this call, for I cannot find my power. They forgot to tell me where to look. "Look inward" they say, yet all I see is dust. I am empty. Do you not see it? Where did you find your confidence? Did it beat within your heart? Was it buried deep within your head? I swear I searched every part of me but all I found was dust. How then do they expect me to find my power after they've labored to steal it away? How can I have faith in myself when 'myself' is naught but clay?

"Rise up oh brother! Cast off the useless myths of old!"

But the stories of the ancients haunt me. They tell of one who spoke all into existence — a divine power from whom all things flow. One who allowed the fall of Man, who Himself was brought low. But in the depths He did not dwell. He was raised they say, but He will not be raised alone. He rose to bring us with Him, to carry us to heights we could not reach on our own.

"They lie! They were confused! Time erodes all and your savior is no exception! We searched the heavens with our telescopes! With our microscopes we probed the cell! We have split the atom and released it's power! HE WAS NOT THERE! We have seen all there is to see! We have known all there is to know and He is not there! Take heart, for in His absence YOU remain! Have faith in all that you are!"

But you do not hear! I am DUST! Do you not see? What is there to put my faith in? Should I place my trust in a stone? You have rent me in two and seen that I am dust. Why then do you continue your call? On what basis do you stake your claim? What foundation holds the weight of your assurance? I do not share your strength. I cannot place my faith in dust. My strength will come from Him who made me. Do you not see? To deny Him, is to deny me.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Update for the sake of updates

It's been a solid week since the last real movement in this place. So I figured since I finally mustered up the energy for another extended response to Matt and Incitatus I'd give the readership a bit of a heads up. Click here for the latest happenings. In case you are wondering yes we are still flogging the relationship between morality theism and atheism.

Also Tom Freeman has an interesting post up here that I'd really like to give a thorough blog when I get a minute. Have a read and keep an eye out for some thoughts on that in the future.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Does Dawkins exist?

I know we all love Dawkins as an atheist evangelist around here, so let's not take it too seriously when I post this bit of humor. “What designed the Dawkins, just tell me that.” priceless...

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Friday, March 16, 2007

The search for congruity

Our good friend Incitatus has recently posted a comment that is so brutally honest I cannot help but honor it with a post all it's own. He's obviously not trying to "win" with a comment like this. The man is just being honest. I have a lot of respect for that. The following are a few brief out takes. Read the comment in it's entirety by following the link above.

I can't speak for all atheists, but my atheism often runs contrary to a very deep and primitive sense that a higher power exists. Now, for me, I choose to believe that this gut instinct is the psychological equivalent of an appendix, and hence I opt to override it with what I perceive to be a rationale outlook. However, the 'feeling' (which Alex has alluded to before) remains, and so there is something of a continual minor conflict, which I perceive to be the old and the new parts of the gray porridge trapped in my skull.

A question I have asked myself is whether that's really healthy; am I forcing my body to behave in a manner not in keeping with it's evolution? One can argue that atheists seem like very healthy people, but we can never really know what goes on in the mind of any other atheist except ourselves. How do we know some atheists aren't 'cheating' as it were? Secretly relapsing into theism under strenuous circumstances? The metaphysical equivalent of nipping into the alley for a smoke? Who knows. I can only speak for myself, but I freely confess that I cheat regularly; usually to hurl abuse at providence for anything that doesn't go the way I planned...

Alex responds:
I look at it like this:
I am conscious. I exist. At this point in my life I have been struck with a heightened sensitivity to things such as beauty, love, justice, mercy and redemption. I feel these qualities in a deeper sense than I have at any other point in my life. I am aware of a thread of truth that runs through out all humanity. Not only physical truth, but moral truth. We all appeal to it. We argue about who is closer to it. Thing is, the argument cannot even be started without the shared impression that such a thing exists. It's easy to appeal to physical truth because more often than not we can point to it. Moral truth is different. Most people are moral realists, though most do not think through the implications of that position. Also, as Moe hints at, there is this question of "why is there something instead of nothing?" We also have this reality that the deepest longing of every human is to be known... to be known completely... and to be loved while hiding nothing.

In my mind this all points somewhere. It points to something big. Much bigger than the god of religion that I knew growing up... but at the same time... maybe more importantly, it points to EXACTLY the God I knew as a child. It points to the same God I would thank for my toys and the big puddle at the end of our drive way. As I lay out on a moonless night and stare out into the universe, my mind feels as if it is about to collapse under the sheer weight of my situation. I move about with such an urgency, with such motivation...


If there is no God, the stars themselves scream the answer...

I must admit throughout the last several months of this debate I have spent large swaths of time pretending to be an atheist. (I do a pretty poor job) I try to imagine that the entire purpose of my life is to make my own purpose and my own meaning. Then I ask why? What does it matter what purpose I choose?

Can you hear the crickets chirping?

There is no answer.

I pretend I'm part of an unfathomable reaction to an unknown cause. I try to feel weight of a story that tells me I am part of the grand march of evolution progressing onward and upwards... until of course it is all brought to nothing. I operate my morality believing that it is strictly evolved mental paths that proved conducive to survival. But then I remember – If I know this about my morality, I see that there is nothing of any weight behind it. I am under no obligation to surrender to it. I can obey it when it suites me and ignore it when it doesn't.

If I became an atheist, there's a lot of things I'd do differently. You'd be tempted to call me a bad man –  tempted, I say, because remember, there's no such thing as bad.

When I look at religions in general they make me rather ill. There seems to be this level of wishful thinking and propensity to suspend critical thought in favor of a nice story to hang our life on. I find it quite disturbing.

But then I look at Jesus. Not Christianity as it is often manifested, but the person of Jesus. You know, that guy who partied with the hookers and drunks. The guy who hurled abuse at the religious leaders. The guy who took compassion on prostitutes and turned away the proud. The one who's body the religious leaders claimed was 'stolen' (because it was gone) by his followers who then gained nothing form their 'hoax' but persecution and death. (all the while being in a position to know the 'truth')

To me it all ads up to something. A bigger story, if you will. It reaches the very depths of my heart's longings. It gives me strength to face a life I would otherwise have no purpose to live. Could it be there is more to this life than pure naturalism allows for? If I am wrong what will I have lost? My faith (and it is faith) gives a foundation for every belief I hold. Without God we are adrift. There is no right, or wrong, good, nor bad, beautiful, or ugly, life nor death. All existence "JUST IS". Oddly enough the faith I hold states, "I AM". We are not the center, He is.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

The atheist's wager

In the MP3 below, Zacharias mentions Pascal's Wager - the idea that believing in God, regardless of whether He exists of not, is the rational thing to do.

I've never given the wager much time, it raises too many questions and makes too many assumptions to be considered valid in my eyes. I mention it only because I came across this during my mid-morning blogsurf today. It could be summed up as the atheist's wager:

We must consider the possibility that there is a God. However, this God gave us a brain and wanted us to use it. The faith-based thinker hears God tell him, “I saw these religions come up and sweep the land. I could have stepped forward and say, ‘Don’t believe them.’ However, if I had done that, you would never have learned to think for yourselves. This was my ultimate test – to see if you would follow self-professed prophets uttering nonsense, or whether you will use reason to see through this religious nonsense and come to me with a thinking mind, or whether you would shut off and throw away this gift of a brain that I gave you. These people have devoted their lives to reason. They used the brain that I gave them. You, however, have not. I have no use for you.”

Now, if apply Pascal’s Wager to this interpretation of God, we get a situation where it is rational to abandon God and take up reason. Taking up reason saves the individual from eternal damnation – a fate that one gets thrown into if one commits the mortal sin of taking the existence of God on faith value.

Pascal's wager only holds if we're able to demonstrate that the proposition 'God wants us to believe in Him' is more likely than 'God wants us to make the most of the attributes he gave us'.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

"Why I am not an Atheist" - Ravi Zacharias

I just today happened across an address given in two parts by Ravi Zacharias entitled "Why I am not an Atheist". Part 1 and part 2

Both parts are really worth a listen, as Ravi seems to touch on many of the points we discuss here and bring a well articulated presentation of the Christian perspective.

Let the disagreements begin!

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

An agreement!!!

After months of essentially shooting past one another Matt and I have arrived at an agreement regarding the nature of meaning and purpose in the life of the Atheist. To arrive at this point we must first assume the NT emergence of CT. I would obviously disagree with this assumption, but I do it a priori. Similarly the atheist affirms this assumption and does so a priori. Now on to the agreement which can be seen evolving in this thread

The agreement as it now stands
We will call the following thesis the 'internal meaning thesis'
{IMT} =since we are conscious and self-aware (CT) we are able to perceive our own existence and have an emotional/intellectual reaction (MT) to our own state of existence.

The same formula can be used to establish the existence of an internally generated sense of purpose but I see no need to formalize another silly thesis statement to substantiate that.

We have also come to an agreement that if NT then IMT necessitates that Man is the only source from which meaning and purpose can spring. Having said that the atheist acknowledges that Man as a collective unit has no meaning, no purpose, no hope. The atheist then lives in a reality where he punctuates his existence with moments self-ordained meaning and purpose all the while realizing that in an ultimate sense life is purposeless and meaningless.

To me this sounds akin to fulfilling a life long dream to build an elaborate sand castle on a remote white sand beach. Then after applying the final touch you realize you built it within reach of the quickly rising tide... and you forgot your camera.

I'd guess if you wanted my analogy to be even more accurate you'd need to have the sand castle be conscious and you to have never existed at all, but then we are just using stupid talk. I'll just chalk that up to the weakness of analogies in general. =)

So at the end of the day we seem of have a much better handle on our terms, yet the more clearly we define the Atheist position the more I realize how unacceptable I find the implications. I'd imagine the implications will be discussed in the coming posts.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Deception loves to hide

I am about to undertake setting up "the problem of meaning" for the atheist. I am not here going to try and show how the theists are able to maintain their sense of meaning, but perhaps I will come back to it. Let's start with a few thesis definitions.

Let's call the first the 'meaning thesis':

{MT} = the emotional/intellectual reaction a conscious agent has to concepts, situations, surroundings or other conscious agents

It should be noted that MT is true for the theist and the atheist alike. However, my question is: Is this a valid argument if God does not exist?

The first assumption we must make is that one must be conscious to make such a claim. This may seem obvious, but it is an important subtlety to my argument. Let's devise a working definition for our purposes and call it the 'consciousness thesis':

{CT} = An agent that is aware of it's self and it's surroundings

Now if there is no God CT must be explainable by the 'naturalistic thesis'

{NT} = All existence is the product of mindless chance combined with the natural laws and time

The best atheist explanation I have yet heard on the reconciliation of CT & NT is the concept of emergence. Basically stating that our minds or what we call "us" or "I" should ultimately be explainable through emergent properties between the interactions of the elemental parts that form our whole. "We are more than the sum of our parts" the adherents of this philosophy will say.

Matt is also fond of saying that the experience of a situation is something more (or perhaps different) than the explanation of it.

But what exactly is meant by this? Surly it is not to be assumed that in light of NT there is an increase of some kind of substantial reality. All that can be allowed is that the result of situation or phenomenon X is inscrutable.

Therefore, if NT, then CT can not truly be 'more than' the summation of it's parts, it is then only inscrutable interactions of the lower essential parts.

So what then can be said of meaning? If NT, then MT is yet another emergent property of the system. The aurora borealis is also an emergent property of the system. Does it have meaning? The objection can then be made by the NT holders, "but we are different!" My response would be "well sure, but in what way?". If any fantastic occurrence can be explained purely in terms of emergence where does meaning come in?

The atheist will be tempted to reply that CT can preserve our sense of meaning, but if CT is purely an emergent property of NT where does meaning get smuggled in?

It would seem to me that though it is not disputed that you feel your life has meaning and that you find certain things to be meaningful, if one considers NT, you are forced to realize that you are simply a very small part of a fantastic, albeit meaningless, reaction. You may want to hold onto NT and MT in the worst way, but I do not see how one can allow the other.

One further point I'd like to make is that if NT I believe MT if fundamentally broken. If NT, then "I exist", in the strongest sense, cannot be upheld. "you" do not exist as a substantial reality. What you consider to be "you" is a temporary synthesis of sub atomic particles. "you" are but a phase in a reaction. Here again, the matter that you call "you" can only have as much meaning as the purpose you are meant to serve. Thus, according to NT your purpose and therefore meaning is null.

Let me be clear in my position that I do not believe this about you. I believe you are filled with meaning and your life has purpose to a degree that you cannot now even begin to realize. I am merely trying to help you see that the atheist position does not allow for the life you wish to live unless you feel comfortable living a life of fundamental self deception.

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Sing me a song Mr. Atheist

Just a quick little thought here... What do you atheists sing about? Does it make you feel kind of silly? Just curious.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

God-shaped hole

There's an interesting piece about the evolution of religious belief on the New York Times website today:

In “The God Delusion,” published last year and still on best-seller lists, the Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins concludes that religion is nothing more than a useless, and sometimes dangerous, evolutionary accident. “Religious behavior may be a misfiring, an unfortunate byproduct of an underlying psychological propensity which in other circumstances is, or once was, useful,” Dawkins wrote. He is joined by two other best-selling authors — Sam Harris, who wrote “The End of Faith,” and Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts University who wrote “Breaking the Spell.” The three men differ in their personal styles and whether they are engaged in a battle against religiosity, but their names are often mentioned together. They have been portrayed as an unholy trinity of neo-atheists, promoting their secular world view with a fervor that seems almost evangelical.

Lost in the hullabaloo over the neo-atheists is a quieter and potentially more illuminating debate. It is taking place not between science and religion but within science itself, specifically among the scientists studying the evolution of religion. These scholars tend to agree on one point: that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history. What they disagree about is why a tendency to believe evolved, whether it was because belief itself was adaptive or because it was just an evolutionary byproduct, a mere consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain.

Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God — evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident? Is there something about the cognitive functioning of humans that makes us receptive to belief in a supernatural deity? And if scientists are able to explain God, what then? Is explaining religion the same thing as explaining it away? Are the nonbelievers right, and is religion at its core an empty undertaking, a misdirection, a vestigial artifact of a primitive mind? Or are the believers right, and does the fact that we have the mental capacities for discerning God suggest that it was God who put them there?

In short, are we hard-wired to believe in God? And if we are, how and why did that happen?

(My "thoughts" can be found here.)

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sorry I'm late!

Just an FYI that I finally got my initial responses posted to Matt's recent post: Unfounded Fears I have them posted in-line with his initial post. Sorry I've been a absent lately. It's been a busy week.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Objective Truth

I’ve been mulling over the issue of ‘objective truth’ – i.e. truth which exists above and beyond our opinions and perceptions.

The big problem I have with this notion is that I can’t see how, even if it existed, we could ever have access to such truth: our knowledge of the “external” world is subjective, and therefore any knowledge we could have of ‘objective truth’ would be the same.

Some have suggested that ‘objective truth’ and ‘God’s truth’ are the same thing – so if we know the latter we have the former. However, we can’t escape from the fact that any knowledge of God would also be subjective – so we’re back where we started.

Any thoughts?

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