Posts Tagged ‘Science’

I was thinking this morning about something that has been on my mind some over the last couple of months concerning skepticism.  It’s the question of the quality and/or quantity of evidence many of today’s skeptics would need to believe in God.  I have often wondered about the answer to this question.  But something hit me in particular this morning as I was contemplating such an answer.

What is the greatest evidence a person could have that God exists?  I believe this would be a personal encounter with God.  That is, a personal, direct encounter, such as Paul experienced on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, or like Moses experienced on the mountain in Exodus 33.  In such an encounter, one would get some type of sensory experience of God.  It would not be a logical argument, indeed one might not even call such a thing evidence – we may be willing to call such an encounter proof, at least to the person who experienced it.

Now, imagine one of today’s extreme skeptics were to have such an encounter.  I can really only think of two possible outcomes.  In one scenario, the skeptic would see such an encounter as veridical, and would accept that they had an encounter with God.  In the second scenario, the skeptic would attempt to explain the encounter by naturalistic means – a hallucination, or something of that nature.  It is possible that the skeptic could accept that some kind of encounter occurred, but not believe that it was an encounter with God, but ultimately there are still two options – either they accept that there is something they cannot explain in any natural way, or they find some naturalistic response to the encounter.  What I want to show is that neither of these responses allows the naturalistic worldview any benefit.

The first option quite obviously works against any sort of naturalistic skepticism.  If one were to accept such an encounter as supernatural, then clearly they would have a defeater for strict naturalism.  They would have to start opening their mind to different possibilities and even consider more closely other supernatural claims.  The second option is also a problem for naturalism however.  If, despite the greatest possible evidence – indeed, proof – that can be given, the person still decides to reject the possibility of the supernatural, what evidence would ever convince them that they are wrong?  There could be no such evidence.  There is literally nothing even God could do, shy of thwarting their free-will, that would cause them to believe.  They will dwell in skepticism, regardless of the evidence. This latter option is the one I am convinced many modern skeptics would take.

But isn’t this a problem for that type of skepticism?  Doesn’t this show such skepticism to be thoroughly unreasonable?  If no evidence will ever be good enough, then what you really have is a denial of rationality.  You have a blind acceptance of a worldview.  Skeptics today like to talk so much about how odd faith is, but they are so blissfully unaware of the extremes of their own faith.

At this point, some skeptics might say that if God were to give them such an encounter, then they would believe.  But in that case, they have already accepted the supernatural as possible, in which case they must take more seriously the claims of those who say they have encountered the supernatural.   But this is exactly the point – the same skeptic who says they would accept a personal encounter with God as proof will quickly determine supposed naturalistic causes for the encounters of everyone else!  So why should I believe them when they say they would accept a personal encounter as evidence?  The double standard here is staggering, but this is the unfortunate two-faced nature of the logic behind much of today’s skepticism.

This is just one of many reasons that the extreme skepticism of today needs to be cast aside.  Unfortunately, when I say this, many skeptics automatically assume I am saying it should be exchanged for gullibility.  This is just another example of the absurd mentality they hold.  I am not endorsing the idea that we simply accept everything everyone in the world claims.  I’m saying to do just what the Bible calls for us to do – take on a reasonable skepticism – or perhaps better said, let us take on an open mind and thus search for the truth.  The oft-used verses of Acts 17 are powerful here.

Acts 17:10-12:

“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.  Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men” (ESV, emphasis mine)

The Bereans were considered more noble, but for what reason? Because they studied to see if what was being taught was true.  They didn’t just hear the gospel and say “sounds great! let’s go!”  They studied, not just once but many times, and through this found faith.

As it happens, this is where the skeptic prides himself today.  Many take pride, even haughtiness, in their ability to rise above everyone else, to cast off the shackles of religion, to ascend to the highest of intellectual heights!  But this is only a self-deluded facade.  Since when is stubborn mindedness a virtue of knowledge?  When did intellectual double standards become praise worthy?  The extreme skeptic of today is no more intellectual than any of us, and if there is any real shackle in religion, they have only exchanged it for the stockades of foolish, inflexible thinking.

So ultimately, what will convince this extreme skeptics we encounter today?  I’m not sure anything can.  There must first be a paradigm change in their thinking before any evidence can be compelling.  But whether we can compel them or not, we should not be concerned with their attacks.  It only needs to be remembered what Jesus himself said of this way of thinking:

Luke 16:27-31:

“And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’  But Abraham said, ‘ They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ” (ESV)

Surprise, surprise – Jesus was right.

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NewScientist Article – Born Believers

Ah, science.  The use of our intelligence to explain away our intelligence.  Don’t misunderstand – I’m not trying to bash science, but I am certainly a foe of the way science is tossed about these days in an attempt to force naturalistic explanations upon every aspect of the world.   God, the scientists say, is not a scientific question.  What they mean is, God is not a scientific question unless they’re trying to explain it through naturalistic means.  You see, science has a very convenient position these days.  While preaching in words that science can’t prove or disprove certain things, scientists nevertheless make statements of superiority through intellect which infer the opposite.  This article is a prime example of this.

Early on in the article we are told:

It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times. Our brains effortlessly conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters, and the more insecure we feel, the harder it is to resist the pull of this supernatural world. It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods.

So without really getting into the article, you basically have their summary.  Religious belief is clearly inferior to the vast intellect of those who have overcome their silly inclinations.  And in fact, if we see a rise in belief right now, it should be no surprise since we’re going through tough economic times.  But wait! Lest you feel offended at their snide comments, they’ve left a nugget of joy – all centered around the words “finely tuned.” We’ll get back to that in a minute.  First, let’s examine some of research they’re talking about.

Notice what we’re told from the beginning:

“There’s now a lot of evidence that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired,” says Bloom.

Much of that evidence comes from experiments carried out on children, who are seen as revealing a “default state” of the mind that persists, albeit in modified form, into adulthood. “Children the world over have a strong natural receptivity to believing in gods because of the way their minds work, and this early developing receptivity continues to anchor our intuitive thinking throughout life,” says anthropologist Justin Barrett of the University of Oxford.

So how does the brain conjure up gods? One of the key factors, says Bloom, is the fact that our brains have separate cognitive systems for dealing with living things – things with minds, or at least volition – and inanimate objects.

This separation happens very early in life. Bloom and colleagues have shown that babies as young as five months make a distinction between inanimate objects and people. Shown a box moving in a stop-start way, babies show surprise. But a person moving in the same way elicits no surprise. To babies, objects ought to obey the laws of physics and move in a predictable way. People, on the other hand, have their own intentions and goals, and move however they choose.

I find it absolutely fascinating that from childhood, human beings have an inclination to believe that there is more to the world than just natural laws and physical elements.  They can tell that there is a difference between animate and inanimate.  Now, while I’m sure I’ve had some influence on my baby girl in these first 4 months of her life, there’s not much I can do to teach her the difference between a block and myself.  I can imagine it now:

Me: Here’s a box – see? No life! Now look at daddy! Life! Do you get it?

Baby: *puke*

The fact is, on her own, she can tell that there’s something different about me – something that says that I can choose to do things, while a block should do things in a fairly consistent nature.  But Dr. Bloom takes it even further – he is willing to state that we have a “common sense dualism.”  In other words, it is naturally within us to assume that there is an innate separation between mind and body.  After all, we’ve all probably had some type of imaginary friend.  The fact that we can even attribute a personality to something that is otherwise inanimate is pretty fascinating in and of itself.  Of course, this must be an evolutionary adaptation:

…Without it we would be unable to maintain large social hierarchies and alliances or anticipate what an unseen enemy might be planning. “Requiring a body around to think about its mind would be a great liability,” he says.

On the other hand, the idea that someone can be planning anything seems to be based upon the idea that they have a mind that I cannot predict.  The idea that I have an alliance with someone seems based upon the idea that we have chosen to work together.  Even if their body was around me 24/7, how could I possibly know what they were planning unless they tell me?  Forcing the bottom-up approach can really end up being problematic in these kinds of areas.

The interesting thing is, these defaults about how we view minds carries over into our defaults about God:

Based on these and other experiments, Bering considers a belief in some form of life apart from that experienced in the body to be the default setting of the human brain. Education and experience teach us to override it, but it never truly leaves us, he says. From there it is only a short step to conceptualising spirits, dead ancestors and, of course, gods, says Pascal Boyer, a psychologist at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. Boyer points out that people expect their gods’ minds to work very much like human minds, suggesting they spring from the same brain system that enables us to think about absent or non-existent people.

The ability to conceive of gods, however, is not sufficient to give rise to religion. The mind has another essential attribute: an overdeveloped sense of cause and effect which primes us to see purpose and design everywhere, even where there is none.

I love that line – “education and experience teach us to override it.”  Recall that I mentioned earlier this notion of religious inferiority to “scientific” superiority.  That same bias shows up again here.  Sure – it’s our natural, inborn inclination to assume that there’s more to life than just physical things working in physical ways according to physical laws, and that there really is design and purpose in life, but that’s just something you overcome, if you’re smart enough.  I guess they’ve got a point – Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, Newton, and so many others in history who have contributed to science were educated and experienced enough to realize that we’re just matter in motion and God is just a delusion.  Wait a second…

Furthermore, we all know how much the God of the Bible is like the pagan gods.  Yes, existing eternally, expecting holiness, rewarding the righteous, condemning evil, loving everyone, etc. – it’s pretty similar to how human minds work.  You would think Isaiah 55:9 would be enough to disprove that theory.  No point in confusing scientists with the facts though, I suppose.

As we go through this article, things become clearer and clearer:

Olivera Petrovich of the University of Oxford asked pre-school children about the origins of natural things such as plants and animals. She found they were seven times as likely to answer that they were made by god than made by people.

These cognitive biases are so strong, says Petrovich, that children tend to spontaneously invent the concept of god without adult intervention: “They rely on their everyday experience of the physical world and construct the concept of god on the basis of this experience.” Because of this, when children hear the claims of religion they seem to make perfect sense.

Two things are clear here.  Firstly, Romans 1:20 is proven correct.  Secondly, Romans 1:21 is proven correct.  Rather than come to the obvious conclusion that something within us leads us to God – that we naturally search for God even outside of our supposed indoctrination – we must conclude that all this is just an accident of nature.

As the article draws to its close, they expound on something we saw earlier:

So if religion is a natural consequence of how our brains work, where does that leave god? All the researchers involved stress that none of this says anything about the existence or otherwise of gods: as Barratt points out, whether or not a belief is true is independent of why people believe it.

Indeed so – researchers would not want to commit the genetic fallacy, so they are hasty to admit that their findings say nothing of the truth or falsity of the claims.  Yet, what does the rest of the article really tell us about how they feel?  It’s a blatant inconsistency.  While they admit they cannot disprove God, they really seem to feel that this is just what they are doing.  And they look down on the believer for his ignorance on such things.  But in the end, what have they really proven?  Only that the reality of God should be obvious to man.

Just think about it for a second.  Does a person suddenly decide to climb up something large without proper safety equipment, or must he first overcome/ignore some innate concerns about his safety?  Does a person randomly decide to deprive themselves of food, or must they first feel there is a good reason to ignore their innate needs?  Point being, it takes a lot of work to ignore those things that are naturally within us.  But the ability to ignore those things does not necessarily make us better off for it.  Safety is important, and it can be achieved.  Our bodies need food, and hunger/thirst can be quenched.  So why is it that suddenly this one great part of who we are is the one thing which we must persist in ignoring?  Do you think you will wind up any better for it? Why are we told this is the one natural desire that cannot be quenched?

I will leave you with the wonderful words of a wonderful man – C.S. Lewis:

Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy. But is there any reason to suppose that reality offers any satisfaction to it? “Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.” But I think it may be urged that this misses the point. A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called “falling in love” occurred in a sexless world.

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