Discussion with a Naturalist

Discussion with a Naturalist

On August 5, 2006, our local newspaper published a citizen editorial that I wrote on the topic of worldview. At the end of the article they also published my e-mail address. From that, I had several people respond to me. One of those responses was from a college professor. As it turned out, we dialogued about worldview for nearly two months. This document is the content of that dialogue. Because the conversation went on for so long, this document is also quite long. Please don’t let that discourage you from taking the time to read it. Don’t try to do it in one sitting, but please do read the whole thing. It is very powerful.

In our discussion we talked about quiet a number of issues that are bound to come up when a Christian and a Naturalist discuss their differences. Because of his high level of education and competence, this discussion actually went very deep.

After we had finished and as I thought about all that had been discussed, I recognized that many of the arguments that he brought up are the very things that cause many Christians to lose connection with their own faith. I personally know people who have had their faith completely shaken by the arguments of Naturalism. In fact, I have felt the agony of doubt as I have dealt with this myself. I firmly believe that the internal struggle that many people have is not a reflection on the lack of evidence for the Christian faith.

The evidence for faith in Christ is very powerful and compelling. Rather, most of the struggles people experience are simply a reflection on the sad intellectual state of many Christians. In this discussion we talk about issues that relate to the Bible, evolution, origins and even the very nature of faith itself.

It is my hope that as you read this dialogue, two things will happen. First, I hope that you will gain a powerful confidence in the intellectual viability of the Christian faith. Even if you are not able yourself to reply to some of the hard questions that people might throw out, that does not mean that the questions do not have answers. The Christian faith is very powerful that way. Secondly, I hope that it will be an inspiration to you to become more well versed in your own faith. Being able to engage people at the worldview level provides a very powerful witnessing opportunity.

Immediately below is a copy of the original article that was published in the paper. Following that is the dialogue. Let me make a couple of simple comments on what you will find below. Each reply is dated so that you can keep up with the flow. That being said, once in a while one of us would send more than one reply before the other person replied back. Also, there were times when a reply was made to something that was originally discussed at an earlier time. Do not let that confuse you. There are also places where one person replied by inserting the other person’s previous comments then replied immediately following.

In places where that occurred, you will find the original comments in red. Please also note that I have changed the name of the person I dialogued with and have edited out certain information about that person’s identity. One last note. There are a few places where explanations are placed within brackets […]. These were not a part of the original discussion, but simply clarifications to help the reader.

Before I send you into the fray, I would like to give special credit to Dr. Georgia Purdom with Answers in Genesis. She is a scientist with that organization who give me some specific and needed help when the discussion turned to matters related to some very technical science questions. That organization, along with the Institute for Creation Research provide some very great resources in this arena.

Disagreement Needn’t Lead to Destruction
Tallahassee Democrat – August 5, 2006

I have my own personal point of view when it comes to the hot button issues of things like abortion, religion in the public square, evolution, homosexual marriage, the “right to die,” and so on. In fact, I don’t make any bones about the fact that I am an Evangelical Christian and believe that God is an objective person who has personally revealed himself to mankind in a way that allows us to know who he is, what he is like, and his purpose and will for mankind. On top of that, I don’t mind asserting and debating my beliefs with people who don’t agree with me. But I also have a very strong sense that it is possible for people to disagree without feeling like we have to destroy each other.

I am absolutely convinced that what I believe is right and that opposing viewpoints are wrong. But so are you and everyone else. And we live our lives based on our understanding. It is just that these days, people seem determined to make their view dominate regardless of the will of the majority. If we happen to be on the minority side we ought to advocate for our position and work for change, but not in a way that breaks down society.

I can’t fix intolerance for opposing viewpoints, but let me at least contribute a way to better understand one another. There are many different belief systems, but every one emerges out of only four foundational worldviews. Each worldview represents the way that people organize reality. It is easy to see that other’s believe differently than we do. But for most, it is hard to imagine that others understand the actual nature of reality differently. This is important because each belief system leads to different conclusions about how we should view, and make policy for, the hot button issues. First, a quick look at the four worldviews. Naturalism is the belief that only material reality exists – no God or spiritual existence. The implication is that morality becomes strictly man made. Naturalistic belief systems include existentialism, secular humanism, atheism, much of postmodernism and others.

Animism sees reality to have separate material and spiritual parts which interact in a symbiotic relationship. The spiritual gods manifest themselves in physical nature. The implication is that people tend to live completely “in the present” for the purpose of appeasing and manipulating the gods. Animistic religions include Shinto, Wicca, Voodoo and various forms of paganism.

Far Eastern Thought understands reality as a totally impersonal cosmos which is moving toward unity. All of material reality is seen to be an illusion. The implication is a passivism which asserts that we can’t objectively know anything. Far Eastern systems include Hinduism, Buddhism, elements of New Age and others.

Theism is the belief that there is a God. He may be personal or impersonal. Theistic systems usually depend on some kind of revelation as their authority source, and the way things ought to be are prescribed by a written revelation or a prophet. The primary implication is that adherents should work to fulfill the morality specified by the authority. Theistic belief systems include Christianity, Judaism and Islam along with many spin-offs such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormonism.

The specifics of any particular belief system can be gathered by finding its view concerning ultimate reality, material reality, human beings, death, knowledge, morality and human history. Once these are known it is possible to examine what evidence there is to support the conclusions. There is no such thing as empirical proof for any belief system. But there is evidence for or against the validity of each one. I believe that the Christian faith has the most coherent answer to the worldview questions and the most consistent evidence to support it. I also realize that other people disagree with me. So let’s fiercely argue the evidence, make our points, try to convince our opponents and then respect outcome that the majority decides. And if we don’t like it, work within the boundaries of civility to try and change it. The only way to avoid tyranny or the chaos of anarchy is to be willing to give that kind of respect.

Freddy Davis is the Executive Director of MarketFaith Ministries (www.marketfaith.org), author of the book Culture Wars and a writer and speaker on the topic of worldview.

6 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy Davis,
I read your letter in the Tallahassee Democrat. In a time where the country is getting more and more polarized, it is refreshing to see your letter calling for more understanding between people. While I’m not arguing that all worldviews are equally valid, what is equal among the different worldviews is the fact that people are completely convinced that their worldview is the correct one. There is a puzzle here: How can two people with opposite worldviews both be certain that their view is the right one and that all the evidence supports their own view?

Two people with opposite views can look at the same news, and both come to the conclusion that it supports their own worldview. The certainty that people feel about each of the mutually contradictory worldviews is quite puzzling to me, and I’ve spent some time thinking about how this is possible. One thing I’ve found is called “confirmation bias” (there is a short article on this on wikipedia). Basically, the idea is that the worldview acts like a lens, and all the news one reads is interpreted through that lens. So all this information is molded in this way to fit the worldview, and this results in the idea that everything out there in the world supports the worldview one already has. This also explains why someone who started with the opposite worldview will also think why what’s going on in the world supports their worldview as well.

I’ve tried some experiments and come to the conclusion that I too am not immune to “confirmation bias”. As an example of such an experiment, I tried to write down the initial gut reaction when a politician in the news has done something unethical: If it’s from my favorite party then the gut reaction is “the other side does even worse things” while if it’s from the other political party then the gut reaction is “more proof how bad that party is”. By writing down these gut reactions I can detect that I’m not immune to this bias. Even when aware of the effect, I think I’m still not immune to this bias, which makes me believe that it must be a very strong effect.

Anyway, the goal of this e-mail is to explain why people with opposite worldviews are so completely convinced that they are right. I hope that when people become aware of how strong the effect of “confirmation bias” is, that this will help to increase mutual understanding between people of opposing views.

Thanks again for your letter of reconciliation to the newspaper,
William

8/6/06
William,
Thanks for your note. You are exactly right about worldview being like a lens. In fact, in my book, Culture Wars, I use that illustration as part of my explanation. If you are interested in the topic of worldview, let me recommend that you read the book. Also, on my website – www.marketfaith.org – there are a number of other worldview resources and links to other groups that deal with the topic, if you are interested.

The truth is, people only know what they know. The only way around it is to become educated on the topic of worldview. Even with that, though, we still live our lives based on what we consider the truth. Our challenge is to figure out which worldview represents real truth, then to intentionally conform our lives to it.
Hope you have a terrific day.
Freddy

6 Aug 2006
Freddy,
The truth is, people only know what they know. The only way around it is to become educated on the topic of worldview. Even with that, though, we still live our lives based on what we consider the truth. Our challenge is to figure out which worldview represents real truth, then to intentionally conform our lives to it.
But what if none of these worldviews has convincing evidence? I used to think there was witness evidence for the resurrection (I reasoned that the resurrection was probably true because it seemed unlikely for 12 apostles to spread a false story, and I also read Lee Strobel’s book and some other texts on this topic). But after reading the other side (see http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/resurrection/lecture.html) and having been unable to find flaws in the arguments (while finding many flaws in Strobel’s book and other books on the resurrection), it is now clear to me that the evidence for the resurrection is not credible. People around me tell me that I should ask God for faith, but it seems impossible for me to believe when there is no credible evidence. When I make an effort to  believe, while at the same time knowing there is no good evidence, I can’t help but feel I’m fooling myself. This puts me in the uncomfortable position that if what I used to believe is true, then I will be eternally tortured in the afterlife, and yet there is nothing I can do to prevent that fate since if Christianity is true then the only way out would be to believe something that is contrary to the conclusion that studying the  evidence has forced on me.
William

8/7/06
William,
The fact is, there is no proof that any worldview is true – if you are defining proof as a “physically conclusive” demonstration of something. All we have is evidence. And you may not find the evidence that Lee Strobel (and others) have put forth to your personal liking, but it is still very compelling. In other words, work from the other side and give compelling evidence that what he has written is “not true.” And if you compare that evidence with what you find for any other worldview, I believe you find that what Lee has written is very strong, indeed.

But you need to go back a step and realize that every worldview is solidly built on a foundation of faith. It is hard for me to determine, at this point, exactly where you are coming from. It seems to me that maybe you are searching and struggling to discern what is the truth. I am not certain of that, but your probing questions seem honest enough to me. But whatever your current position, you have no empirical proof to support it – and you never will. That is not a criticism. Everyone is in that same boat. I just want to make the point that whatever position you ultimately choose, it will be a faith position.

You also need to realize that every position has its advocates and you will find people attached to every one who are very knowledgeable and can be very persuasive. Take, for instance, the article that you referred to. I didn’t read the whole thing, but I did go through it enough to get where he is coming from. In his article he proposes a number of different scenarios by which Jesus might not have been physically resurrected. What evidence does he have for any of these? None! It is purely his speculations. On top of that, I find his scholarship quite lacking. Almost everything he writes is simply alternative speculations about how it “could have been” different than what is written in the Bible. Just because he can think up alternative explanations, or imagine other ways, does not make it true. He is obviously very educated and makes a lot of intelligent sounding historical references. But if you look at it critically, every bit of it is nothing more than his speculations based on a set of presuppositions that he is defending. No proof for any of it.

He, himself, begins his whole argument with a set of assumptions (his worldview lens) which the article is designed to prove. His lens is, “the stories make more sense when given natural rather than supernatural explanations.” From his own words, he argues from a naturalistic worldview as relates to the resurrection. If you want to judge the credibility of his presentation, you can’t first simply read what he has written and accept it at face value. You have to understand his worldview and determine if the foundation he is building his argument on can stand on its own. If it doesn’t, then the whole argument falls. I don’t believe that his naturalistic foundation has a leg to stand on. If there really is such a thing as spiritual reality, then his naturalistic arguments actually seem rather lame.

It is certainly true that the Christian faith is founded on faith. In fact, that very element is a central point in the belief system itself. I appreciate that your friends tell you that you should simply ask God for faith. Not to put them down, but blind faith (even in Christ) is no better than what Richard Carrier is proposing for his Naturalistic conclusions. There is “something” that is truth – something that matches up with the way reality is actually organized. It is impossible for me to get into the depth of this at this point, but the Christian faith matches up with the way we experience reality in a way that no other belief system does. We are personal beings, we have legitimate free will, we long for meaning in life, we sense transcendence, we find true meaning in relationships. All of these and more point to a reality where there is a personal, loving God who is engaged in the world and who is diligently expressing and revealing himself to mankind. None of these things make any sense at all under Naturalism, Animism or Far Eastern worldviews.

On top of that, I have personally met Jesus Christ. Not physically, of course. But in the same way that millions and millions of Christians have over the centuries. Because we, as humans, are spiritual beings created by God for fellowship with himself, it is possible for this kind of relationship to take place. Coming to the relationship is certainly an act of faith, but that does not mean that it is not an objective reality. God, though unseen with physical eyes, is an objectively real person and we can have an objectively real relationship with him because in our essence we are spiritual beings able to make that connection.

I hope that this has helped some with your own search. I hope you will take the time to delve more deeply into the whole concept of worldview and use that as a solid foundation to bring you to the truth for your life.

Blessings,
Freddy

7 Aug 2006
Freddy,
Whether Lee Strobel’s work or Richard Carrier’s work is compelling depends of course on the worldview one already has. I assume that for both of us, we find compelling whatever confirms what we already believe.

Still, even when I read Strobel as a Christian, I did find a few red flags in the book. He tends to spend a lot of time on the weak arguments of the skeptics and little or no time on the more serious objections. This makes it appear as though the skeptics have a weak case. The book also suggests that this is an investigation by a journalist, but no journalist would interview experts on only one side.

Suppose we have a murder trial in the courtroom. The mother of the victim believes that the accused is guilty, and the mother of the accused believes he is innocent. Now suppose that the mother of the accused decides to only listen to the defense arguments, and the mother of the victim decides to only listen to the prosecution side. After that, each is certain that they are right. But this certainty is an illusion of course, if you only consider the arguments supporting what you already believe, then no change in opinion is possible. In a real murder trial, it’s quite likely that this is the way mothers would look at it, the emotional attachment to the situation is so strong that evidence from the other side can not really penetrate into the mind. The only evidence that the mind will hear is that what confirms what they need to believe. Each finds the evidence of one side very compelling, and is essentially unable to even consider the evidence of the other side.

The exception to this rule is found in science: People there go through great lengths to find evidence that could disprove current theories. In science, theories do not gain wide acceptance until they have survived as many attempts at disapproval as possible. In this mindset, if you want to believe in something with confidence, you actively try to find evidence against it. Most people don’t understand this: Why try to find evidence against cherished beliefs? Well, that’s the only way one can be confident in those beliefs.

In the same way that Strobel’s text is written with the goal of convincing the reader of his beliefs, the same is also true for Richard Carrier’s text. He too clearly wants to convince you of his viewpoint. But there are some differences though. First of all, Carrier does not shy away from looking at the strongest Christian arguments, while Strobel ignores the strongest skeptic arguments. Second, Carrier gives many references. That’s an indication that he doesn’t want you to believe him on his word, he wants you to check these claims for yourself. When I do these checks, that’s when his story becomes more convincing than Strobel’s. Strobel doesn’t tell you where to find the historical evidence (all the evidence, not just carefully selected evidence) for the witnesses and such. His story depends on the reader not checking all the available historical evidence.

It is hard for me to determine, at this point, exactly where you are coming from.
I am an ex-Christian. I lost my faith by studying it.

But whatever your current position, you have no empirical proof to support it – and you never will.
My current position is that a detailed study shows that the evidence for Christianity is not what it is claimed to be. It is not stronger than the evidence for other religions.

just want to make the point that whatever position you ultimately choose, it will be a faith position.
It is not a faith position. My position is that I’ve studied the evidence, and have seen that it is weak. I’m not making any claims about where this world comes from.

To put it this way: I know less about the world than you do. You know the resurrection happened, I don’t know that.

I don’t know where the world comes from, and what its purpose might be. Not knowing something is not a position of faith.

You also need to realize that every position has its advocates and you will find people attached to every one who are very knowledgeable and can be very persuasive.
People can be very persuasive. That’s why one should not be persuaded by what people say, but only by the evidence. Of course this works two ways: I’ve often felt very moved by a good sermon. At the time that certainly felt right. But feelings don’t determine what’s really true, because if that was the case, then two opposites could both be true (see again the story about the two mothers in a murder trial) and that can’t be the case.

Take, for instance, the article that you referred to. I didn’t read the whole thing, but I did go through it enough to get where he is coming from. In his article he proposes a number of different scenarios by which Jesus might not have been physically resurrected. What evidence does he have for any of these? None! It is purely his speculations.
Exactly.
The point is: this is also true for the standard interpretation. It is simply one of the several scenarios, none of which is solidly proven by the evidence.

On top of that, I find his scholarship quite lacking. Almost everything he writes is simply alternative speculations about how it “could have been” different than what is written in the Bible. Just because he can think up alternative explanations, or imagine other ways, does not make it true. He is obviously very educated and makes a lot of intelligent sounding historical references. But if you look at it critically, every bit of it is nothing more than his speculations based on a set of presuppositions that he is defending. No proof for any of it.
Right. But I think that Carrier is not convinced of any of these speculations. What I remember from reading that is that he’s trying to estimate the probability of each scenario. None of these scenarios is proven. But the real issue here is not whether or not these alternative scenarios are true. The real issue is this: Does the standard scenario (resurrection happened) have a higher probability than the other scenarios?

He, himself, begins his whole argument with a set of assumptions (his worldview lens) which the article is designed to prove. His lens is, “the stories make more sense when given natural rather than supernatural explanations.” From his own words, he argues from a naturalistic worldview as relates to the resurrection. If you want to judge the credibility of his presentation, you can’t first simply read what he has written and accept it at face value.
But most Christians would accept Strobel at face value. What one has to do is to put these things next to each other and compare.

If there really is such a thing as spiritual reality, then his naturalistic arguments actually seem rather lame.
I read and compare these texts under the assumption there is a God. But even assuming a God, one still has to prove the resurrection. Without that, one ends up with Deism instead of Christianity. Of course, if I then fail to find  evidence for Deism either, then that leaves me with no faith.

There is “something” that is truth – something that matches up with the way reality is actually organized.
I agree. The question is: Did we find that truth? How can sure that we did? Studying that was the beginning of the end of my faith.

It is impossible for me to get into the depth of this at this point, but the Christian faith matches up with the way we experience reality in a way that no other belief system does.
Here I disagree. All worldviews will make that claim. Once you have a worldview, you interpret everything through that, and then you always end up with the conclusion the reality matches your worldview better than other worldviews. So this argument supports every worldview, not just the Christian worldview.

We are personal beings, we have legitimate free will, we long for meaning in life,
True, we want to find meaning. That’s why we’re eager to believe that we’ve found it. All the more reason to double check that our conclusions are based on evidence instead of on our desire to have an answer.

On top of that, I have personally met Jesus Christ. Not physically, of course. But in the same way that millions and millions of Christians have over the centuries.
These experiences tend to be very different among different cultures and times. They do not point to one God, but to many. I know that a personal experience can be very convincing. But something tells me that we are taught to connect these experiences with the religion of the land, a connection we ourselves would not have made otherwise.

I hope that this has helped some with your own search. I hope you will take the time to delve more deeply into the whole concept of worldview and use that as a solid foundation to bring you to the truth for your life.
I have delved into this. The truth I found is that the evidence just isn’t there. It appears as though there is evidence, but when you look in more detail (look at all the historical evidence instead of just a carefully selected subset of that), then the evidence starts to point the other way. People believe because they want to, or because they need to, but not because of evidence. The possibility that there is no connection between personal experiences and the religion of the land, that’s simply something people are unwilling to accept, and therefore the evidence is simply irrelevant. For those of us that need evidence, the only two options are no belief or (self)deception.
William

8/7/06
William,

Thank you for your considered reply. I also appreciate the fact that you were willing to go ahead and tell me where you are coming from. It is very difficult to have a decent conversation when one person is being cryptic.

Your illustration about the murder case makes my point precisely. Before you delve into the evidence you have to get at the validity of the worldview. Once you are convinced that the worldview is true, only then does the evidence make any sense. No evidence presented from one worldview makes any sense when viewed through the lens of another.

Which brings us to your insistence that only science and Naturalism brings us to the truth. My question is, how do you know this? Your assertion that only science gives the basis for answering the question assumes that a Naturalistic understanding of reality is truth. It assumes that there is no such thing as spiritual reality and that either matter always existed or that is somehow spontaneously appeared – neither of which are within the realm of science to proclaim. They are faith statements founded on a metaphysical base. Your assertion that it is not a faith position simply is not true. And in making the assertions you cannot get away with setting aside the question of origins. It is a fundamental foundation of the worldview you are working from. And your assertion that “not knowing something” is not a position of faith is also not true. You have to make certain positive assertions in order to come to that conclusion – and in saying that, you certainly have dismissed some possibilities. You could not have done that without making a positive determination that you don’t think certain things are true.

I personally understand where you are coming from as far as your struggle to believe the Christian faith. I have been there myself, but ultimately came out on the other side. I never could resolve how a Naturalistic approach to understanding reality could be. Its assertion concerning origins forces one to believe that matter exists in a way that is totally unsupportable by anything but a leap of faith.

Of course you are right about much of what you said about Lee Strobel’s book, though I would not be quite so hard on him as I believe his purpose, and the audience he is writing for, support the reason the book was done as it is. There are other writers who have a much more scholarly approach to the topic than he does who address the “hard” issues you refer to. But the fact is, the same problems apply to every defense that is written about every worldview. I could very easily make the same arguments about Carrier’s assertions. In fact, it is even worse with him since all he offers are pure speculations.

As I said before. Ultimately, whatever worldview we choose is a faith choice. I certainly am convinced that the God of the Bible is real and that he has positively and objectively revealed himself – in the creation, throughout history, and directly to my life. I do assert that there is such a thing as spiritual reality and that it is possible for me, as a spiritual being, to have an objective personal relationship with God – spirit to spirit. I also assert that I actually enjoy this relationship in my daily life. If you have some proof or evidence that this is not so, I am certainly open to hearing it.

Though I wish that you could know God the way I know him, I don’t necessarily expect you to convert over. However, I do believe that you would be less than honest if you don’t apply the same skepticism to your Naturalistic worldview that you have to your former Christian faith. What can you bring to the table to prove that Naturalism is a valid lens through which to view the world?

Thanks for the stimulating discussion. I certainly hope you have a terrific day.
Blessings,
Freddy

7 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
Your illustration about the murder case makes my point precisely. Before you delve into the evidence you have to get at the validity of the worldview. Once you are convinced that the worldview is true, only then does the evidence make any sense.
But what if you’re in a situation where the evidence does not make sense? Ignore the evidence, or change worldview? Once one is committed to a worldview, how can a person still deal with contrary evidence in a fair way?

Going back to the jury trial, what if all members of the prosecution, defense, jurors and judge were family members of the accused. Does it even make sense to hold a trial then?

That’s why I say that if a person is really committed to finding out the truth, one must look at the evidence of the other side and really study it seriously. Otherwise, the chance that one’s worldview is correct is not higher than the chance that that jury trial comes up with the correct decision.

But for a devout believer, of any religion, such study may be very hard to do. For a Christian, to really seriously consider the other side, that can feel like a personal betrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ. Most people don’t want to go there.

Because of this, it’s nearly impossible for a Christian or a Muslim, or other devout believers to switch position. As certain as you are now about Christianity, that’s how certain you would have been about Islam if you had been born in the Middle East. All personal religious experiences (I know how strong those can be) would have been interpreted in terms of Islam. In fact, everything you see in the world would have been viewed that way.

Rejecting your own worldview is hard to do. But I did that because I really did look at the evidence and really did think about both sides. I realize now that most people can not do that. They are personally committed to their worldview, and, like the mother of the accused, consider it as a personal betrayal to really look at the evidence. That’s really how strong people feel about their worldview. I guess I was just wired a bit differently than others.

Which brings us to your insistence that only science and Naturalism brings us to the truth. My question is, how do you know this?
How I know this? Well, what I do know is that in the above mentioned jury trial, the end result is not reliable. The strongest point about science is not about how it finds truth, it’s about how it discards untruths. When Einstein proposed to replace Newton’s laws by his own, he did not just say “mine are based on better reasoning”. He proposed experiments by which one can test. Of course, no experiment can prove that Einstein’s theory is correct, and no experiment can prove that Newton is correct. What the experiment can prove is that Newton’s theory is incorrect. What does that mean for Einstein’s theory; is it true? Well, the only thing one can say for sure is that it’s true only as far as people have been able to measure it. Go beyond that range, then it’s not necessarily true.

Your assertion that only science gives the basis for answering the question assumes that a Naturalistic understanding of reality is truth.
There are many examples of scientists that do not assume Naturalism. There was a good article in Saturday’s newspaper (religion section) about a devout Christian who is also a famous scientist in the human genome project. You see, other scientists want to know the results of his experiments. This is independent of whether they have the same ideas on religion.

It assumes that there is no such thing as spiritual reality and that either matter always existed or that is somehow spontaneously appeared – neither of which are within the realm of science to proclaim.
Now you are talking about the science of origins. But this is only a small part of science. There is much more science about curing diseases, finding better materials, etc. Christians can and do participate in every branch of science. Science does not require people to be naturalists. The assumptions are much simpler than that. Basically, all that really matters is that if you do an experiment, and I do the exact same experiment, then we should get the same result.

And in making the assertions you cannot get away with setting aside the question of origins.
People can live without knowing where the world came from. We want an answer to origins, but we do not need an answer to origins.

If people want to study how to cure a certain disease, or study some other problem in science, or study the civil war, then they do not need to know about origins.

There is a strong desire to know the answer for the question of origins. But because of that, one has to be extra careful to make sure one does not jump to a conclusion prematurely. Having a strong desire to know the answer makes it less likely to find the correct answer. Like in the jury trial, when emotions get involved, one can not be sure the outcome is correct.

When the evidence is not strong, and emotional strings are attached, then what is preferable:
A) I don’t know the answer.
B) Here is the answer: ….. (fill in the dots)

I choose A. Most people will go with B. The desire to have an answer is stronger than the desire to make sure that an answer (if any) is correct. Is it really true in your view that choosing A requires *more* faith than choosing B?

I never could resolve how a Naturalistic approach to understanding reality could be.
There is more than just Naturalism and Christianity. Many of the founding fathers were Deists. Basically Deists believe that the world was created while saying at the same time that there is no good evidence that the Creator is the one from the Bible. That seems perfectly reasonable to me. How can you be certain that this is false?

Personal commitment can cloud a person’s judgement, like in the jury trial example. How can you be certain that this is not happening to you?

Of course you can ask me the same question, how can I be sure. But that question led me to that I really can not be sure about my Christian worldview, which eventually led me to lose my faith.

Though I wish that you could know God the way I know him, I don’t necessarily expect you to convert over. However, I do believe that you would be less than honest if you don’t apply the same skepticism to your Naturalistic worldview that you have to your former Christian faith. What can you bring to the table to prove that Naturalism is a valid lens through which to view the world?
For example, praying should help cure people if what the Bible says is true. Yet, studies find no effect (there was a recent $2.4 million study funded by the Templeton foundation). If prayer did have an effect, then I would be forced to believe whether I want to or not.

It is not the case that I do not want to believe. Of course I want to believe that I will see my loved ones again in the afterlife. But what I want to be true has no impact on what actually is true.

Thanks for the stimulating discussion. I certainly hope you have a terrific day.
Thanks, I hope you have a good day too. I’m happy to be able to discuss these issues that have been on my mind for some time now.
William

PS. While I don’t expect that either one of us is going to change worldviews, I do hope this discussion adds some mutual understanding. Many people around me think that one would have to be crazy not to believe, that mine is an untenable worldview full of contradictions. Yet I don’t think I’m crazy to think this way, and hope that you agree.

8/7/06
William,
Of course I don’t think you are crazy. In fact, I perceive you to be honest in a way that most people who have responded to me are not. For me, the discussion with you is very refreshing.

Up to a point, your example of the murder trial is very helpful but, as with most illustrations, it breaks down after a point so I don’t want to get married too tightly to it. To continue using it, we have to, at some point, start throwing in hypotheticals which, by necessity, tilt the outcome toward a particular conclusion. For instance, your “what if” leads to the conclusion that a conviction is absolutely forthcoming. If I changed the “what if” to something different (for instance that the people involved were completely competent and objective and only wanted to see justice done) the outcome would be very different. Another problem with the example is that it is possible to come up with way more the just the two scenarios. We could “what if” till the cows come home. To really get at the bottom line issues, I think we have to deal directly, rather than indirectly, with worldview.

Regarding how to make sense of the evidence, you have a very good question. However, we are in a situation, again, where you are assuming a particular outcome ahead of time. Perhaps if the evidence doesn’t make sense it is because you are looking at the it through a worldview lens that doesn’t support the conclusion you think ought to emerge. If the worldview is incorrect the evidence can’t help but look distorted. If that is the case it could be an indication that the worldview framework is not the truth. If you are married to the worldview in spite of the evidence, what does that say? As you have said yourself, every bit of evidence makes sense within some worldview context. It sounds to me like you already have your mind made up, so the positive evidence for the Christian faith is simply dismissed as a presupposition. It literally can’t be considered as a possible alternative.

You are absolutely right about the difficulty of changing worldviews. That being said, it is done all the time. In fact you have done it and are currently married to Naturalism. The experience that you went through is not as uncommon as you might think. It is just that in the experience of most who do, it is a spontaneous emotional change rather than a deliberate considered one. The normal time that it happens is during high school or college when the worldview that a person grew up with is first challenged and they don’t have the means to answer back. However, it is possible for the change to be considered and deliberate, but not without an honest evaluation of all of the alternatives.

While it may be difficult to make a worldview changing decision, it certainly is possible. It absolutely is possible for people to learn all of the foundational worldview positions and how to associate into them so you can know how they feel and the mentality that goes along with them. I think that very few do it, but it can be done. In fact, that is a part of the training that I give people when I put on seminars. The fact that most people are afraid to go there does not change the truth or the actual nature of reality. You are right, it is a scarey place to go because our very being is tied up with our worldview, and if an individual does not know how to objectively discern between the different worldviews, it threatens the very core of individual existence. That surely can scare the fool out of people.

Your idea that the strength of science is in how it discards untruths has the same exact problem as asserting that it can positively demonstrate truth. That may be true when it comes to empirical science (In fact I agree with you 100% on the value of science and the benefits of it. Applying the principles of the scientific method on issues that relate to the natural world is very much a Christian position. Many have even argued that the emergence of science itself was the direct result of Christians taking seriously God’s command to manage the earth. And, indeed, today there are many Christian scientists. This absolutely fits hand in glove.). The problem comes when you try to apply scientific principles to metaphysical issues. Science indeed cannot demonstrate that the resurrection of Jesus Christ did not take place. And any attempt to demonstrate it must be built on the assumptions of a worldview that excludes the possibility of the miraculous. At that point science has stepped out of what it is able to work with and into the realm of metaphysics which it cannot deal with.

Regarding origins, this is not a small part of science (or even a part at all). We have to be careful when talking about this, though, to make the right distinctions. Talk of origins is not simply a discussion about the big bang or other speculation of the beginning of the universe. My question related to, “Where did matter, itself, come from?” Science has to start with something. If you go beyond that, you move out of science and into metaphysics. And while that may seem like a question that is far removed from the various experiments that scientists do day in and day out, the implications are enormous – particularly when it comes to ethics.

If there is no God, then there is no compelling reason to only do science that benefits mankind. But the rules about what to do, and not do, have to be set by someone. Who does it? The ones with the power. And if things go against the interests of one side, that is OK because they benefit the other side. On the other hand, if there is a God, then he sets the parameters and we have a definition of what is good and right that is revealed by him.

The issue is not whether or not we can live life without knowing the answer to the question of origins. Certainly we live without knowing the answers to a lot of questions. The question is, “What is the truth?” And the way an individual answers that question has profound implications for self, family, community, country and world. In fact, in an ultimate sense, the answer that a person gives to the question of origins may be the most profoundly important question that we, as humans, have to answer. And everyone answers the question. Even if they cannot give you a considered explanation, everyone lives their life according to some understanding of this question. And the result is actively expressed in life.

Please don’t take this personally because I don’t mean it that way, but your skepticism is not completely honest. If it were, you would be willing the throw Christianity into the mix of beliefs that were possible. But that is not what you have done. You say, “I don’t know the answer,” but you definitively say it is not any kind of Theism, while at the same time arguing strongly for Naturalism. When you say “personal commitment can cloud a person’s judgment,” that goes for commitment to a non-theistic belief system just as it does to a Theistic one.

At this point I hope you don’t mind if I make a personal observation about your statement that you want to believe but don’t find it compelling. Ultimately you will have to resolve that within yourself. But you must recognize that the faith system you are holding onto now truly is a metaphysical faith system. You can no more prove empirically that there is no God than I can prove empirically that there is one. As you go through and answer the seven worldview questions, you have to resort to some authority that is completely unprovable in a scientific sense. At the very least, the Christian faith system provides an explanation for all of the things it proposes about the nature of existence. The very best that can be done with Naturalism is to say, “I don’t know and there is no way to find out.” In that sense, I actually do believe that it takes more faith to make your choice.

I think I have expressed this already, but I will again. Just because God is unseen with the physical eye doesn’t mean that he is not an objectively real person. He is just as real as you and I. It is just that he resides in an existence that transcends what is physical.

And one last thing concerning your question about prayer (I think this also falls into this aspect of the discussion). Let me just say that your question regarding prayer also has an underlying presupposition – that being that if we pray for something God is compelled to provide it. I think many people (certainly many Christians included) fall into this misconception. The fact is, God has his own agenda and it is not up to him to conform to us. Rather, it is up to us to understand him and get in line with that. Honestly, I think that more people rebel against God on that account than because of the intellect factor. They find it more convenient to be their own God rather than giving their life over to him.

William, thanks again for the discussion. I hope that your day is a terrific one.
By the way, what do you do?
Freddy

7 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
About origins, Even if people were to find a complete set of physical laws that describe the origins of the universe, one could still ask the question: Why should there exist anything that satisfies those physical laws? Or even, why should there exist any physical laws at all?

This leads to the question:
Why should there exist anything at all?
Why is there something instead of nothing?

Neither naturalism nor theism has an answer to that question. Both already assume that something exists. In case of naturalism, that assumed “something” is:
* something non-personal that can lead the universe we see today
In case of theism, that assumed “something” is:
* something personal that can lead the universe we see today
But both already assume right from the get go that something exists, so neither one can be seen as an explanation of why there exists something instead of nothing.

One has to accept that some questions simply can not be answered. It is also possible for certain questions to have an answer even though all known answers are false. Take for example lightning before electricity was known. In those days, all explanations (natural and supernatural) of lightning were false. So if one insisted on having an answer, the answer would inevitably be false.

So again, asking a hard question “where does … come from” then saying “there must exist an answer” and then “of all the known answers, I find all of them unconvincing except one” that by no means implies that the one remaining answer is correct, or that any of them is correct. To call something true one needs evidence. Without evidence, the answer is only a guess.

There is no decisive evidence for Christianity, otherwise everyone would believe. And it would no longer be called faith, it would be knowledge. But it’s still possible there is enough there to have good reason to believe. I read parts of the New Testament, and then started reading the Old Testament. At the time, I was a believer, though I was not as certain as you are. What I found was greatly troubling. There didn’t seem to be any reasonable way to reconcile the idea of a loving God with the tremendous amount of violence (much of it committed or ordered by God) in the old Testament. I read the first 4 books of the Old Testament, to the point where the violence was simply more than what I could stomach.

I went to apologetics websites that would explain the violence, but at some point the violence became so bad and unreasonable that trying to justify it with cleverly looking arguments started to look immoral to me. I started to think: people should not justify genocide (including women, children, and even infants), even if they can. Because if you can justify one genocide, you can justify them all. One can always think of some reason why something is OK. Moral values, if they are to have any meaning, means saying no to such justifications. There are literally hundreds of examples of terrible biblical violence. The other day I looked up various Christian apologetics to see what they said about Psalm 137:9. None of them had the courage to say that this line is not divinely inspired. They all had their excuses about why it was OK. Then I re-read Psalm 137:9 knowing that people will even justify this, and it just made me sad. Do people really have no boundaries when it comes to defending cherished beliefs? Shouldn’t there be some point where that light goes on that says “this is wrong”? All of this is highly disappointing I think. We could of course argue about Psalm 137:9, but the list of biblical violence is very long so that would become an endless debate. Either
way, a worldview in which all of this violence is OK because it’s committed by a good God, for me such a worldview is impossible to adopt.

I once believed that the Bible (Old and New Testament) is divinely inspired. Clearly after I started reading the Bible, that belief became no longer possible. This does not prove that there is no God. I haven’t said in my e-mails that there is no God. What I did give up is the belief that if there is a God, then it’s the one in the Bible. Many of the people around me think that guys like me will be tortured in the afterlife. But I don’t think that fear leads to good decisions. Science indeed cannot demonstrate that the resurrection of Jesus Christ did not take place.

But a study of the historical evidence and the circumstances at the time can give some idea about whether the resurrection is likely or not. For example, if one were to find solid historical evidence for the existence of most or all of the apostles, then that would make it more likely that the resurrection happened. If we knew for sure that all apostles are historical, that helps the Christian side. Likewise there can also be pieces of evidence that support the skeptic side. The best guess would be based on weighing all of the evidence from both sides. Considering only one side of the evidence makes no sense if the goal is truth. Even after weighing all of the evidence, one might still not be certain beyond a reasonable doubt.

However, a conclusion based on all of the evidence is still much preferable to one based on a subset of the evidence. The jury analogy holds here: usually both sides have at least some evidence. And some of that evidence can be uncertain or circumstantial. But sometimes, that’s all the evidence there is. To reach the most reliable decision, all one can do is carefully weigh all of it. That’s what we have to do. It’s more likely to lead to the correct conclusion than simply saying “we can’t know for sure, so I’m not even going to study the evidence”. The bottom line is that even if there is no decisive evidence, studying whatever evidence is there still makes sense.

Let me reiterate that since our worldviews filter out contrary evidence, the only way to get a balanced view of the evidence is to spend more time on the evidence from the other side than on the evidence from your own side. However, the Christians I know spend zero time on evidence from the other side. The skeptic side is not like that, there are many skeptics that know all the common and not so common arguments for Christianity in great detail.

And any attempt to demonstrate it must be built on the assumptions of a worldview that excludes the possibility of the miraculous.
No, I disagree. A historian can study the circumstances at the time, and study all the historical documents and other pieces of evidence that are available. And he can do this study regardless of whether he is a naturalist or a theist. So the assumption that there are no miracles need not be made. I also think that numerous devout believers that actually did such a study ended up losing their faith because of their study. Such people are impossible to re-convert back to Christianity since they already know all the arguments.

“Where did matter, itself, come from?” Science has to start with something.
One has to make some assumptions, yes. But as long as the assumptions are testable, then that’s OK.

If there is no God, then there is no compelling reason to only do science that benefits mankind. Why? We care about others, it’s just the way people are. Why are people that way? Well, maybe God (Deism or Christian) made them that way. Altruism benefits the spread of your own genes, so persistence of altruism is to be expected from a naturalism/evolution point of view. It even occurs among some species of animals. So in any worldview, altruism is easy to explain.

But the rules about what to do, and not do, have to be set by someone. Who does it? The ones with the power.
You meant: the one with the power. God has the power, so he sets the rules. That’s an example of might makes right.

Is there some additional justification for those rules other than might makes right? If so, then why is that justification by itself not sufficient for us? Why also the need to have a powerful being that enforces the rules?

I think you assume that without belief in God, people will act immorally. Yet, in the country where I was born (Netherlands), most people don’t believe in Christianity anymore, and yet the abortion rate is 5 times lower than here. Crime rates are lower too, and international aide is much higher (as a percentage of GDP) than it is here in the US. So belief is not necessary to make a country more moral. But even if Christianity did lead to better morals, the question of whether a proposition is true or not is independent of its benefits.

Please don’t take this personally because I don’t mean it that way, but your skepticism is not completely honest. If it were, you would be willing the throw Christianity into the mix of beliefs that were possible.
Christianity was the belief I started with. So certainly, at the time I studied it I considered it more than just possible, I considered it very likely to be true. However, this position became untenable for me after I started reading the Bible.

You say, “I don’t know the answer,” but you definitively say it is not any kind of Theism, while at the same time arguing strongly for Naturalism.
Well, you did not leave me the option of Deism. But perhaps from a practical point of view, Deism is the same as naturalism. Because if there is a God that did not leave us his Word, then naturalism is false, but we’re still stuck with figuring out our own moral values, just like in naturalism.

On moral values, let me end with one observation: I have never met a person who was evil and genuinely happy at the same time. Kind and generous people tend to be much happier than other people. If personal happiness is a goal, then helping others makes sense.

At this point I hope you don’t mind if I make a personal observation about your statement that you want to believe but don’t find it compelling.
There is a list with hundreds of cruel and (in my view) unjustifiable biblical brutalities. I can send you a list if you want. When you go through all of those, and then read the explanations by Christian apologists, do you find the explanations compelling? I’d be very interested in your answer to this question, because for me the answer is no, leading to a crisis in faith. At that point I really do need some good evidence to maintain faith, I study that, and when that turns out not to hold up, then I’ve run out of options for the Christian faith. Perhaps it’s unfair for me to ask for good evidence, but like I said, I came to a point where I really needed some, and it wasn’t there.

You can no more prove empirically that there is no God than I can prove empirically that there is one.
But I’m not trying to prove that there is no God. I did not claim in my e-mails that there is no God.

As you go through and answer the seven worldview questions, you have to resort to some authority that is completely unprovable in a scientific sense.
We know that killing infants is wrong. And so is killing people for crimes committed by their distant ancestors. Those are the only assumptions I need to reject the idea that the Bible is inspired by a good God. This line of reasoning still stands, regardless of whether the rest of my worldview is based on some unprovable authority or not.

I actually do believe that it takes more faith to make your choice. Believing more things always requires more faith. If you believe A and B and I believe B but I’m not sure about A, then your position requires more faith.

underlying presupposition – that being that if we pray for something God is compelled to provide it
The Bible does say that God answers prayers. Certainly God is not compelled to answer every prayer, but even if he only answers prayers occasionally, then the effect could become statistically detectable. The point is not that this is the way to prove that God exists. All I’m saying is that even if there exists, in your words “existence that transcends what is physical” then there still might be a way to test that. For example, answering prayers, even if only occasionally, could be detectable, it would mean that the prayed-for would heal slightly more often than others. Or as another example, if He had wanted us to think that we are special among the creatures here on earth, he could have printed undeniable evidence for that in our genome. He chose not to do so. Or, he could have made sure that there would be solid historical evidence for each of the apostles. Again, he chose not to do that.

My point is that God can transcend the physical while at the same time leaving behind some undeniable evidence. There are many ways conceivable how this could have been done. For some reason He decided not to do that. It seems that He does not want everybody to believe in Him. To me that conclusion is very puzzling but I see no way to avoid that conclusion. If you do see a way, I’d be very interested.

By the way, what do you do?
I’m a college professor.
Thanks again for your thoughts,
William

8/8/06
William,
Hope your day has been a terrific one. I have been a bit busy on my side today.

I was reading through your e-mail and I seem detect a slightly different tone than before. It seems that you are moving more strongly toward a defense of Naturalism and a more direct attack on Christianity rather than our original exploration about worldview concepts that we started out with. I hope you are not taking offense with me. I certainly do have a strong sense of what I believe and it is definitely different than yours. And there is no question that I would like for you to regain a trust in Christ. But your decisions about your life are yours to make. I believe this sincerely. And if this is becoming something contentious I have no problem with ending our dialogue. Let me know.

Now, to address the issues you brought up.

I think one of the big issues we are bumping up against relates to your understanding of who the God of the Bible is. You have said several times that it was when reading about God in the Bible that you became convinced that the Christian faith is not true. However, based on some of the things you have said, I am getting a sense that your understanding does not match up with my understanding of God as I read the Bible. To help me get on the same page with you, I would appreciate a description or a list of the things about God that you find offensive to the point of indicating he is not truly God. Thanks. You have addressed several things throughout your e-mail related to this issue and I will be happy to take a stab at them for you, but without knowing exactly where you are coming from on this, my answers might be all over the place without ever addressing exactly what you are talking about.

Before I go any further, let me list the 7 worldview questions that I work from. It seems that we have strayed a bit from the topic. Not that it is bad or wrong, but without keeping the worldview foundation in mind, it becomes nearly impossible to keep focused.
1. What is the nature of ultimate reality?
2. What is the nature of material reality?
3. What is the nature of mankind?
4. What happens to a person at death?
5. How can we know anything at all?
6. How can we know right and wrong?
7. What is the nature of human history?

Every worldview answers these questions (some better than others) and based on the answers, individuals frame their thinking and live their lives. You asked why should anything exist at all? Every worldview answers the question. Naturalism says, “There is no reason.” Animism and Far Eastern Thought say, “It just exists.” Theism says, “God created it for his purposes.” And these questions are about as far as we can go. At this stage we are bumping up against the “faith” factor which cannot be penetrated. Based on their faith assumptions, every person assumes their worldview and lives their life based on it.

Your skepticism about God is not without context. It is based on your worldview – and you live it out in your life whether you are able to completely articulate it or not. You see the God of the Bible a particular way, you understand morality a particular way, you address history a particular way, you consider mankind to be a particular kind of being, etc. (What we are talking about here are the answers to the 7 questions above.) Because of the way you did it in this e-mail, it is hard for me to respond. I have been put in a position where it would be necessary for me to rebut what you said. And if I do that, I will do it based on my worldview. If we go that route, we will immediately be at loggerheads – two people arguing about the same evidence while looking at it through different lenses.

Several of the points you made in your last response to me addressed some issues from your specific worldview presuppositions. So you will see what I am talking about, I will just mention a couple of these below. My point in doing it is not to challenge you, but to simply demonstrate how you are answering your questions and challenging me based on them.

Examples:
But a study of the historical evidence and the circumstances at the time can give some idea about whether the resurrection is likely or not.
The very way that history is thought of and addressed is dependent on your worldview perspective. While what you said follows logically from your worldview, it doesn’t follow at all from my worldview. And it doesn’t even make sense from a Far Eastern Thought worldview. Your statement is dependent on a set of worldview presuppositions which allow for you to develop probabilities based on what you know from ancient history.

We care about others, it’s just the way people are. Why are people that way? Well, maybe God (Deism or Christian) made us that way. Altruism benefits the spread of your own genes, so persistence of altruism is to be expected from a naturalism/evolution point of view. It even occurs among some species of animals.
This statement is also worldview dependent. It could just as easily be argued that people are not naturally altruistic and that altruism towards people outside ones own group is detrimental to the survival of the group. It could be argued that genocide of an opposing faction helps the survival of ones own group. My point is, without an outside (transcendent/revealed) set of regulations for society, there is no compelling reason to see it one way or another. Each group just makes it up for themselves. Every worldview has a different answer for this question.

One more:
I think you assume that without belief in God, people will act immorally. Yet, in the country where I was born (Netherlands), most people don’t believe in Christianity anymore, and yet the abortion rate is 5 times lower than here. Crime rates are lower too, and international aide is much higher (as a percentage of GDP) than it is here in the US.
I did some research about the Netherlands and here is what I found:
1. Euthanasia is a legal and acceptable practice. There are even attempts being made as we speak to make it apply to children under 12 years old under certain circumstances.
2. Prostitution is legal.
3. Recreational drug use is legal.
4. Polygamy is legal.
5. Homosexual marriage is considered equivalent to heterosexual marriage.
6. Pornography is broadcast on regular television.
7. A Roman Catholic order is monitored by the state secret service as a dangerous organization because of their stand for traditional morality.
8. People who assert Biblical morality are considered fascists.
9. A person can get in legal trouble for speaking in a way that is politically incorrect concerning homosexuality.
10. The government pays for sex change operations (including the case were both the mother and father with children had the surgery done.
11. Police don’t pursue many crimes because they know that the judges will not allow the prosecution to go forward.
12. Even when the police do respond to calls, it is not unusual for them to wait several hours before doing so.

It seems to me that when nothing is a crime the crime rate will indeed be low. But that is not my point. You may look at this list through your worldview lens and think that most of this is normal – certainly most people in the Netherlands must. I look at it from my worldview and see a moral train wreck.

But my purpose here is not to make a comparison here between the Netherlands and America. There is certainly plenty wrong here, too. I am only pointing out that what is considered moral is filtered through a worldview lens and that by using these kinds of examples to prove your point and disprove mine, we are not going to get at the kind of conclusion that we started working toward in the beginning. We can certainly address these kinds of issues, and I have no problem with that. But if we don’t do it within the worldview context, it simply becomes a “he says – she says” proposition.

One last point I would like to make. You said that our worldviews filter out contrary evidence so the only way to get a balanced view of the evidence is to spend more time on the evidence from the other side than on ones own side. I agree with the first part of your statement, but I don’t agree with the conclusion. I don’t think we can focus on the evidence if we want to get at the truth. I believe we have to focus on the lens that we see the evidence through. If the focus is on the evidence, we will always be looking at it through our own lens. We will look at the same evidence and interpret it differently every time.

I think we have to learn how to do lens analysis if we want to get at truth. While it may be hard (and it is true that many Christians don’t spend time examining it – though this fact has no influence on the actual state of truth) it is not impossible. It is possible to learn how to analyze the lenses and see which set of presuppositions are the most accurate for interpreting the evidence.

I know that this time I did not address everything that you brought up, but I felt we were moving away from our ability to continue intelligently and wanted to try and refocus. If we continue I feel that many of the issues I didn’t address today will come back into play. And, of course, feel free to bring up any you want. I am not attempting to avoid anything.

Hope you have a terrific day.
Freddy

9 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
I’ll answer this one question here, and then I’ll stop discussing my deconversion so we can get back to worldviews.

To help me get on the same page with you, I would appreciate a description or a list of the things about God that you find offensive to the point of indicating he is not truly God. Thanks.
After my deconversion was almost complete and I was still making a last attempt at finding some answers, I ran across this website: http://skepticsannotatedBible.com/ (click on “Cruelty and Violence” in the column on the right). Before you go to that URL, please note much of it is written in a very unpleasant tone so if you don’t want to spoil your morning then don’t read that website (I found the tone of that website offensive, and that despite the fact that my deconversion was already almost complete at the time).

For some of the biblical problems listed on that website I did find that the response of Christian apologetics was right. But for many of the problems, I did not think the Christian responses explained the problem away. So there still remained a long list of problems. This completed my deconversion.
Back to worldviews
1. What is the nature of ultimate reality?
2. What is the nature of material reality?
3. What is the nature of mankind?
4. What happens to a person at death?
5. How can we know anything at all?
6. How can we know right and wrong?
7. What is the nature of human history?
1. Don’t know.
2. Something that appears to follow physical laws. Why? Well, I don’t think that anything of interest (like thought) is possible in a universe that has completely no order. So the fact that we can live and think implies that there has to be some order, some physical laws. But why these instead of others? I don’t know. The fact that we can live and think implies that we have at least some control over our environment. But in a totally unpredictable universe it is not possible to control anything. So any universe that contains living/thinking beings must be at least somewhat predictable. The predictability of the universe that we have so far discovered, that’s what we call the laws of physics. But these laws are not necessarily the ultimate reality. All they describe is the patterns that have been found so far.
3. I have not yet fully adopted the naturalistic worldview, but clearly that’s the direction I’m moving to. So if I go a step further than where I am right now, then I’ll have to answer question 3 as follows: People are animals with larger brains than other animals.
4. The same as what happened before we existed. Whatever I experienced before I existed (i.e. nothing) is what I expect after death as well. I think that “before life” and “after life” is the same.
5. I still need to think about that. So I must answer: I don’t know.
6. We have a built in sense of right and wrong, across cultures and religions, people know that it is wrong to do something to others than we do not want done to ourselves (I don’t think that humans are unique in this respect, I think some of this can be observed among certain animals as well).
7. Much of this is directed by human nature and by chance.

By the way, what are your thoughts on the question “why is there something instead of nothing”?
Naturalism says, “There is no reason.”
I disagree. In naturalism, one must give reasons too. One can not simply say “altruism exists for no reason”. An explanation is needed here.

But some things happen by chance. If you roll the dice and you get a 6 then a naturalist need not explain why you got a 6. Likewise, the people that won the lottery don’t need to ask themselves why they won. There, the answer really that there is no reason, just chance. If, however, someone rolls a 6 fifty times in a row, then an explanation is needed (check the dice).

4. Polygamy is legal.
Not true. And I’ve never heard of claims 7 through 12 either, I don’t know why someone would write that about the Netherlands.

I believe we have to focus on the lens that we see the evidence through. If the focus is on the evidence, we will always be looking at it through our own lens. We will look at the same evidence and interpret it differently every time.

But there is still an objective truth about evidence that is independent of worldview. If in my worldview a tree has 400 year rings, then in your worldview that tree also has 400 year rings. We can not make all evidence relative, some of it should be real beyond a reasonable doubt for everyone.

As another example, take global warming. Not everyone believes it is man made, but almost all scientists do. But regardless of whether one believes global warming is manmade or not, everyone agrees that the 10 hottest years on record are all after 1990. It’s simple: If it’s hot on my earth, then it’s hot on your earth too. There’s no way around that. So we must agree on this piece of evidence. But we can still look at the same evidence (that the 10 hottest years on record are all recent) and draw a different conclusion (e.g. about whether it’s man made or not). So while conclusions might differ among different viewpoints, the evidence is the same for everyone. We can not say that the worldview is what comes first here, I think one first has to agree on the facts, before one searches for an explanation. But in that step, explaining the facts, someone’s worldview becomes very important.

I’ll think about the remainder of your e-mail tomorrow.
Hope you have a great day,
William

8/9/06
William,
Before I get into the meat of your discussion, let me make a few comments about a couple of your comments.

First, I looked over the website you suggested and was appalled. Not because of the tone of it. I see that kind of thing all the time. But I am not sure I have ever seen a more blatant disregard of scholarship in my life. If your students did math the way that person did Biblical scholarship, you would flunk them without a second thought. Just for starters, there were wrong and completely unwarranted assumptions about the purposes and nature of God and a lack of making a distinction between the acts of human individuals and acts of God. I started to go through it to make a list of issues, but there was a problem with the interpretation of virtually every verse. I finally had to simply give up. I am not necessarily surprised that there would be a website like this, but I can do nothing but shake my head at it. This is totally bogus and dishonest. Using that approach I could take virtually any book in the world and prove anything I decided to prove. The God described in the Bible is very different than the God described on that website. I know you
said that this was not a real influence on your decision, and I hope not. I discern that you are much more honest at arriving at your conclusions than this.

Secondly, I appreciate you making the effort to answer the worldview questions. My purpose was really not for you to answer them for me. Just from our previous discussion I already knew your answers. I just wanted to let you know completely where I was coming from in order to make the worldview discussion more complete.

The third thing relates to the issues regarding the Netherlands. While there might not be a law that says polygamy is legal, there was a court decision which allowed it. Check out http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/301

As for the other things, some of those things are admittedly anecdotal, but my purpose in putting them in was, as I said, not for putting down Holland (certainly America and many other countries have their own issues), but for making a point about worldview. You might also be interested in checking out the following article. http://www.sspx.ca/Angelus/2004_FebMar/Hellish_Holland.htm

Now on to the directly worldview discussion.
You mentioned that “there is still an objective truth about evidence that is independent of worldview.” Actually there is not. When you compare your worldview with mine, we do come to the same conclusion as regards the tree with 400 year rings and other matters which depend on empirical data. While I assert that in addition to the physical universe there is also a spiritual element of reality, we still agree on the basic nature of the physical part. But there is another worldview that literally dismisses the reality of the physical. All Far Eastern worldviews literally understand material reality to be an illusion. Of course they don’t (and can’t) live their lives as if that it true, but it is a part of the worldview. In that case, they would adamantly disagree with you that the tree even had 400 rings. If you were to ask, “How many rings does it have?,” they might legitimately answer, “Green.”

Let me see if I can illustrate the problem in another way. I assume that you are familiar with the movie The Matrix. In that movie humans are hooked up to a machine designed to extract their energy to run a giant computer network. The humans, however, are hooked up to the computer which is running a program in each of their brains that makes them think they are actually living life out in the world. They don’t know they are confined to a pod farm. The question becomes, “How do we know that right now, we ourselves are not in that situation?” We can’t know. We make a faith assumption that what we see and the actions we take in life are actually happening. So, when we answer the worldview questions we are doing so based only on our faith assumptions about the nature of reality.

Where evidence comes in is to try and validate the presuppositions of the worldview. For instance, I mentioned above that Far Eastern Thought doctrine assumes that material reality is an illusion. However, no one lives their life as if that is true. That is a good indication that Far Eastern Thought is not valid. It doesn’t match up with the way human beings actually experience reality. We have to do this kind of analysis in order to get at the truth of any particular worldview.

I hope these clarifications help move us forward and that you have a terrific day.
Freddy

9 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
Where evidence comes in is to try and validate the presuppositions of the worldview. For instance, I mentioned above that Far Eastern Thought doctrine assumes that material reality is an illusion.
That’s a good point. I wanted to put the facts/evidence first, then go from that. But if I do that, then I’m already excluding some worldviews! Far Eastern Thought is so different that things we both would agree on as facts, they might consider those facts an illusion, even though, as you mentioned:

However, no one lives their life as if that is true. That is a good indication that Far Eastern Thought is not valid. It  doesn’t match up with the way human beings actually experience reality.
Of course, no matter how absurd the worldview from “The Matrix” is, strictly speaking, it can not be disproven. However, an application of Occam’s razor [definition – When faced with two or more possible explanations for a situation, choose the simpler one.] would discard this “Matrix hypothesis” as unnecessary. Would you agree that Occam’s razor is the right way to treat this worldview?
William

8/9/06
William,
From my and your point of view, Occam’s razor would definitely come into play here. But when talking about worldview you still have to put it in the context of the worldview you are dealing with. Looking once again at a Far Eastern worldview, Occam’s razor makes no sense.

And, of course, I too believe that The Matrix scenario is pretty far fetched. But it does illustrate the issues we are dealing with related to worldview and how we have to get worldview in place before evidence makes much sense.
Freddy

9 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
First, I looked over the website you suggested and was appalled. Not because of the tone of it. I see that kind of thing all the time. But I am not sure I have ever seen a more blatant disregard of scholarship in my life.
Regular scholarship would:
A) explain the historical circumstances
B) use the knowledge gained by past scholarship
C) present more than just 1 side of the issue.
Clearly this website does none of that, so it is not scholarship.

My own view on scriptural interpretation is that one should try to interpret it in the way people would have interpreted the text at the time it was written. But I don’t really know of any places that present scripture in that way (if you do, I’d be interested!). This website doesn’t present any historical context either, in fact, he even says that he specifically looks at it not from a historical perspective but from his own perspective. The website clearly has an agenda, to mock the Bible. True academic scholarship should have no agenda at all other than really trying to figure out what it says, regardless of what the outcome might be.

Suppose for example we want to study the question whether or not salvation is by faith alone. You know that not everyone agrees on this. If you search and find a website that claims that salvation is by faith alone, chances are that they will only list quotes that support their position. Likewise, a website that claims it’s not just faith by also actions, that website will probably focus on quotes supporting their view.

Real scholarship should in my view do this:
First, list all the relevant biblical quotes for both sides (including explanations of the historical context around those quotes). Then, list the best arguments for both sides that scholarship has found. Only after that, write down the conclusion of the scholar who is writing this. This way the reader can weigh these arguments, and come to a conclusion.

Do you know of places where I can find this type of scholarship?
William

8/9/06
William,
You are right on about the elements of good scholarship. When trying to get at how to best interpret scripture, Biblical hermeneutics is the field of study you are looking for. As far as web resources to examine Biblical hermeneutics, there are a bunch of good sites out there. This one seems to be a good basic primer.
http://hermeneutics.kulikovskyonline.net/hermeneutics/hermeneutics.htm

Here is one that has links to a whole storehouse of information. There are people and ideas represented on this one that I personally don’t agree with, but there are a lot of good resources none the same. http://www.biblicalhermeneutics.net/ Here are some others. There is a good variety of theological viewpoints represented here, but you will find that the basic approach to getting at the interpretation is pretty consistent.
http://www.forananswer.org/Top_General/Hermeneutics.htm
http://www.gotquestions.org/Biblical-hermeneutics.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_hermeneutics
http://www.solagroup.org/articles/understandingtheBible.html

There are lots more. You can find them by simply googling Biblical hermeneutics.

You are, no doubt, correct in your observation that most websites which deal with particular issues are advocates for their position. I wouldn’t be too hard on them, though, unless the scholarship the advocacy is based on is flawed. Different people have different purposes for their writing. Much of it is not for scholastic purposes, but is for teaching the faithful or for apologetics.

But there is a lot of good scholarship, too, if that is what you are looking for.
Hope this helps you in your quest.
Freddy

8/10/06
Dear Freddy,
From my and your point of view, Occam’s razor would definitely come into play here. But when talking about worldview you still have to put it in the context of the worldview you are dealing with. Looking once again at a Far Eastern worldview, Occam’s razor makes no sense.
But it seems then that in order to compare worldviews, we must have already chosen a worldview? I mean, if I want to argue against the Far Eastern view, then I’m using a line of reasoning, Occam’s razor, that does not make sense in the Far Eastern view. In other words, my rejection of the Far Eastern view is an a priori rejection. I already implicitly rejected it by selecting how to reason.

Your argument “people don’t actually live their lives that way” might fit better here. Of course, Far Easterners might have some response for that too, a response that makes sense in their mind but not in ours. We would feel that they live with a contradictory worldview, for them, either they don’t think contradictions are important, or they think they’re not actually contradictions (I wonder what their take on that is).

Do you think that it’s typical for people to think that other worldviews are completely contradictory? Or in your worldview, is it important for you to find a solution when you encounter a contradiction? Please let me know. I know some people for whom this is very important, and some people for whom this is not important at all (hard to imagine but true! Some people, when faced with a contradiction in their worldview, will say this: “well, I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m sure others have found an answer, so I don’t need to worry about it”).

You said one starts by selecting a worldview, and that one has to do this even before studying evidence and facts. You also gave the criteria you use to make the selection. But why those criteria? How were those criteria selected? I would have used different criteria.
William

10 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,

Let me expand a bit on an earlier question: what is the nature of mankind? Here are some thoughts on the place of humans in the grand scheme of things:
Next time you walk on the beach, try to imagine how many grains of sand there are. There are more galaxies in the universe than grains of sand on all the earths beaches combined. Each of those galaxies has hundreds of billions of stars and planets. Earth is one of those planets. On the earth, there has been life for more than 3 billion years. Countless numbers of species have come and gone, and right now, there are millions of species alive. One of those species is humans, we’re a newcomer (sharks have been on the earth a thousand times longer than we have). Right now there are billions of humans. One of them is me. That’s my place in the grand scheme. Compared with the universe, I’m a tiny part of a tiny part of a grain of sand on a large beach. All I can do is watch in awe, and enjoy the stunning beauty of what I can see and learn, however tiny fraction of the universe that might be. I’d be very interested what you think of this perspective on humans.

Looking from this perspective, the thought that we, this one species among many, having lived for such a tiny portion of the earth’s time line, on this one planet among countlessly many, that we are the centerpiece of it all, that we are the reason God created all of it, that’s simply too hard to believe.

Knowing my place in the scheme of things, not at the center of the Creator’s attention, but being just one out of many, I find it easier to be awed by the breathtaking beauty of it all. There is no need for a better world after death, we just have to open our eyes so we can see the beauty of this world.

Anyway, I know you have a different view on this, but I hope this gives you an idea how the world looks like from a naturalist point of view.
William

8/10/06
William,
There is nothing in your answer that is a surprise to me. Of course different naturalists end up with different feelings about their aloneness in the universe. Some experience awe like you shared, and others experience angst. My own perspective is also one of awe, though for an entirely different reason. I believe that God created all of this just so that mankind would have an environment to live in and to learn to relate to him. This might seem a bit extravagant for some. But if God is who I believe he is, the material universe is a small thing for him and only comprises a small fraction of the totality of reality, and that only for a limited amount of time.
Freddy

10 Aug 2006
Freddy
My own perspective is also one of awe, though for an entirely different reason. I believe that God created all of this just so that mankind would have an environment to live in and to learn to relate to him. This might seem a bit extravagant for some. But if God is who I believe he is, the material universe is a small thing for him and only comprises a small fraction of the totality of reality, and that only for a limited amount of time.
But under Theism, the world doesn’t need to be like this. It could have been the way the ancients (including the authors of the Bible) thought that the world was, with the earth at its center, stars being little lights in the sky (small enough so that they could fall to earth, see Revelation) etc.

Also, if humans are the main attraction, why would God wait billions of years to put them on the earth? Why watch dinosaurs for a hundred million years?

I think you brush this aside a bit too easily. There is a genuine puzzle here for theists. It’s a small puzzle, not big enough to switch worldviews over, but a puzzle nevertheless.

A person can acknowledge that a worldview contains some puzzles and still maintain that worldview, that’s perfectly rational I think. But quickly dismissing puzzles, that might be a subconscious effort to make sure that a cherished worldview is not challenged. I’m not saying that you did that in this example, but I do think that this method of protecting worldviews is the way our mind works, and that nobody is fully immune to that.
William

8/10/06
William,
Certainly the world doesn’t need to be the way I described it, but I believe that is the way it is revealed for us in Scripture. It may have seemed to you that I was being a bit flippant about what I wrote, but I was not. In fact, I have spent countless hours considering these things. I wasn’t trying to give a defense to you, it was simply a brief synopsis. I can jump into apologetic mode if I need to, but my purpose at this stage has simply been to deal with worldview issues.

When you look at things from my worldview, time (like space) is a relatively insignificant thing. Billions of years seems long to us, but is the snap of a finger in relationship to eternity – where the whole concept of time even loses its meaning. As a result, what may seem like an extraordinary statement to you is really not that big a deal to me. (As an aside, the time line that many scientists give concerning the age of the earth and the point at which various species roamed the earth does have alternative explanations. I have actually been at a dinosaur park in Texas (state park) where there are fossilized dinosaur tracks with human tracks inside them. I am not as dogmatic as some who would say that the universe is only 10,000 years old, but I am also a bit more skeptical than you about how the whole process has unfolded. The approach you have based your scenario on is the traditional Naturalist approach because Naturalism requires that kind of dating. That being said, there are issues that many scientists will not address because it doesn’t neatly fit into that system – a case of living with internal contradiction of a worldview.)

Certainly there are puzzles – there are lots of things I don’t know specific answers to. I really am not trying to gloss over anything. But my Theistic worldview is very consistent and comprehensive regarding the overall structure of reality. It takes into account the seen and the unseen. I just feel very confident about it. When you speak of my view and the way that the ancients viewed nature (and along the same vein we could add the theological differences expressed between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible), there are two different issues that need to be looked at. One is the understanding of the nature of nature. Regarding that, human understanding has developed over the centuries to the point where we now look at things through a modern scientific lens. They didn’t have modern science back then. But the fact that they described what they saw does not make the descriptive narratives wrong. It is just descriptive in a way that is not modern science.

There is a similar point that needs to be made about how God has revealed himself to mankind. He didn’t do it all at once. It was a progressive revelation that carried forth certain themes. God revealed himself and his ways in nature, through the nation of Israel, through prophets, through Jesus Christ and directly – spirit to spirit – to mankind. The core of that revelation is recorded in the Bible. My description here is not intended to be a full theology, just a summary statement. It makes no sense at all from a Naturalist worldview, but is completely logical from my Christian Theism.

All this to say, I am not trying to be casual or disrespectful in my descriptions. I am just familiar enough with my worldview that the summary description seemed sufficient and my intent in writing was not a defense, simply a brief description.
Hope this helps,
Freddy

10 Aug 2006
Freddy
There is nothing in your answer that is a surprise to me. Of course different naturalists end up with different feelings about their aloneness in the universe.
Wait, we’re not alone of course. We have our children, family members, other people (who we can also think of as family members, just that the common ancestor is more generations ago) other species (same comment), etc.

Also, we’re not completely separated from what happens in the universe. We’re not just spectators, it’s not just there for our amusement, we’re genuinely a part of that. For example, supernova’s are the only places in the universe that create things like carbon, oxygen, and many other elements that we ourselves are made from. So when we see pictures of supernova’s made by telescopes, it’s as if we’re looking at creation in action. Other things in space, like comets, are not just meaningless rocks in space, they contain amino acids; the building blocks of life. Sure comets can also be destructive, but often the forces of nature that are destructive are the same ones as the ones that are needed for life (other examples: plate tectonics, volcano’s, etc, they’re destructive in the short term but are necessary for life in the long term).

We are, by no means, alone. Kids also help to put things in perspective.
William

8/10/06
William,
Absolutely! I hope you didn’t misinterpret what I meant. Mine was simply an observation about the ways different Naturalists react to the fundamental Naturalist belief that this life is all there is.

Of course, different ways of reacting is not limited to Naturalists. Christians (and every other group), too, have different ways that they respond to the perceived realities of their worldview on a personal level. I personally believe that some of those ways are healthier than others. But that is not really the point. It was just an observation and reflection to your comment and doesn’t necessarily add a lot to our core discussion of worldview.
Freddy

10 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
I think you gave a very good explanation. I was wrong when I guessed that you might have brushed this issue aside.

The dinosaur tracks with human footsteps in them have been thoroughly discredited, even by some young earth creationists (not all, of course).

The creation/evolution “controversy” hurts both sides, I think. It puts a wedge between Christians and scientists. Unnecessarily so, because obviously Christians can be scientists, and scientists can be Christians. The message this “controversy” sends to Christian students is this one: “Don’t go into science”. It also sends a message to scientists: “Christians care more about faith than about facts”. Both of these are very bad messages, and unnecessary as well (Catholics, Anglicans, other several churches see no conflict with evolution).

Now that DNA can be scanned, this is a golden age for testing evolution to far greater accuracy than was ever possible before. It’s sad that during this golden age for biology (and its applications, such as curing diseases) that some organizations want to drive Christian students away from this area of science, or science in general.
William

8/10/06
William,
I think you absolutely right on this. Good science is good science no matter who is doing it. And the same is true with bad science.
Freddy

10 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
To get back to choosing worldviews, here are some of the criteria I would propose:
First of all, as few assumptions as possible. We have to assume some things, but if an assumption is unnecessary, lets not make that assumption.

Second, it’s OK if some questions remain unanswered, but what’s not OK is a clear contradiction between the assumptions.

For me, that means that if I want to assume biblical inerrancy into my worldview, then I would indeed have to go to that skeptics website I e-mailed you earlier, click on “Contradictions”, go through the whole list, study every one of them and try to find (using the help of other Christian writers of course) a good solution. But if for some of the alleged contradictions there are only excuses and no real answers, then biblical inerrancy becomes untenable for me.

For naturalism, I have yet to find a real contradiction. So for me, it’s holding up much better than Christianity.
William

8/10/06
William,
I understand what you are trying to get at, but by taking your approach you still have to start from a predetermined worldview base through which you filter which assumptions you are going to allow. Even what is considered to be a contradiction will be determined by the worldview. That is what makes the whole idea of worldview so difficult to get at, and why you have to go beyond simple propositional statements. You actually have to figure out how to get yourself into each worldview experientially, then step back out and evaluate it by comparing it with the way humans actually operate in life.

Your example about inerency works well for doing an apologetics assignment, but doesn’t do well for getting at worldview because you are still filtering all of your evaluations through your own worldview, and your conclusions will be swayed by your presuppositions.

People do the same thing when trying to come to conclusions about Naturalism. They study the objects of nature, but don’t evaluate the lens they are looking through. Your statement about Naturalism brings this out. You will not find a contradiction if your presuppositions support the conclusions you are drawing. If you really want to get at the bottom line, you have to look at Naturalism itself and see if it is capable of supporting itself.

Wow, we have been busy today :-).
Freddy

10 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
You will not find a contradiction if your presuppositions support the conclusions you are drawing.
No, then you can still find contradictions, because even if the assumptions support the conclusion you want to draw, you can still get a contradiction if you assume too many things. Here is an example from mathematics. Suppose X and Y are numbers, and suppose I want to conclude that X = 1.
Now I assume the following three things:
X = 1
Y = 1
X + Y = 3
Of course, the assumptions imply that X = 1. However, even though the assumptions imply what I wanted to conclude, there is still a contradiction, which I can find if I’m willing to search for it. You see, had I not used the first assumption, but the second and third assumption, then I would have concluded that X is 2. So the three assumptions imply a contradiction.

So even if the assumptions already imply what I wanted to conclude, I can still have a contradiction if I make assumptions that are too many or too strong. The more assumptions you make, or the stronger assumptions you make, the more potential there is for a contradiction. In the above example, removing any of the three assumptions is enough to get rid of contradictions.

This indicates why it can be a good idea not to assume anything unless you really absolutely have to. And given the choice between a strong assumption (one from which you can conclude many things) and a weaker assumption, then use the weaker assumption if you can. The same thinking leads to the rejection of the Matrix hypothesis we discussed earlier, it’s an unnecessary assumption, so it’s discarded.

If you really want to get at the bottom line, you have to look at Naturalism itself and see if it is capable of supporting itself.
In mathematics, a theory is called consistent if within that theory no contradictions can occur. One of the theorems by Goedel basically says that if you work within a consistent theory then you can not prove the consistency of that theory.

Having this in mind, if someone, arguing within Naturalism, could prove Naturalism to be consistent, then for me that would be a sign that Naturalism is NOT consistent. Why? Because (at least in mathematics) consistent theories can not be proven to be consistent within that theory.

So proof of a worldview, if all is OK then a complete proof shouldn’t even exist. Instead, one can only try to disprove a worldview. The more one tries to disprove a worldview and fails in doing so, the more confidence one gains in that worldview.

Even for the most treasured physical law, if you find one counter example, just one example where that law doesn’t hold, then that law is no longer considered true. But on the flipside of that, no matter how much evidence you gather in support of that law, the most you can get is an increase in confidence but you never get to the point where it’s considered 100% proven true. That’s the right standard, if consistency is a goal.

William
PS. We’ve indeed e-mailed a lot. Lets take a break for a day.

8/11/06
William,
I believe that you and I are very much on the same page regarding our personal beliefs about how we should use logic to evaluate our existence. Even though we may disagree about issues related to the existence of God, our approach concerning material reality converges until we get to the topic of where matter comes from and the implications that are drawn from that. We both believe that we live in an objectively real world that operates according to the principles of cause and effect and that we, as humans, have the capacity to analyze that and draw conclusions.

I could only wish that dealing with worldview was as straightforward and logical as dealing with math and natural science. I agree with your examples completely as it relates to math and also agree with the approach you use to logic as it relates to coming to conclusions. The struggle we have when dealing with worldview, though, is that virtually everything we talk about, even the way we deal with logic and math are dependent on presuppositions that take us beyond the logic we use for ourselves. At some point every worldview hits a wall which requires that the next step be a step of faith. When we get to that place, there is nothing left to do but work on evaluating the lens rather than simply trying to defend the way we see the world through the lens.

I am not saying this to give up on our discussion. I really do believe that there is an objective way reality is organized and that we can know it (though, even that is a presupposition). I think we are 100% together on that one. It is just that we can’t strictly prove it by any means that come out of our own presuppositional arsenal. We have to use our logic to explain/prove our logic.

I have been working on some things to try and lay this out a little more (for myself as well as for others). When I get it all together I will share it with you. I would be interested in your feedback on it.

Hope you have a terrific one.
Freddy

11 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
At some point every worldview hits a wall which requires that the next step be a step of faith.
One last question then: Should this step of faith be tentative or a permanent commitment?

Say for example I choose Naturalism, and suppose that 3 years from now I encounter a piece of solid evidence that contradicts my worldview. What do I do then? Do I then abandon Naturalism or keep faith in it?

I have been working on some things to try and lay this out a little more (for myself as well as for others). When I get it all together I will share it with you.
Thanks. I’d be interested to see it.
William

8/11/06
William,
Wow, that is a pretty profound question. Since dealing with one’s own worldview has such a powerful impact on the self, it is not typically something that we just shift at the drop of a hat. I don’t know that the question you asked has a clean answer. I can only tell you how I deal with it.

To me, the search is for truth, no matter where it leads. I believe that reality is organized in some objectively real way and I want to know it and align my life with it. That being said, I sometimes even find myself shifting away from dealing strictly with worldview and getting emotionally sucked into focusing on the specific outcomes more than I want because the personal implications are so profound. I want my views to prevail because of the implications on a personal and societal level (vs. the implications of other worldviews).

In my life, I have already spent a great deal of time (years) working on this and feel very confident that what I believe matches up with the way we, as human beings, experience reality better than any other worldview explanation. As a result, my personal confidence has risen to the point that I think it would take some pretty solid evidence to cause me to shift.

If you personally have not come to that level of certitude, I think you owe it to yourself to explore the possibilities until you are satisfied. After all, the truth is the truth no matter what we personally believe at any given moment. There are billions of people all over the world who live their lives as if their worldview is right, whether it is or not. The ones who are wrong still go from birth to death, though there are things about their lives that will not be consistent and they just live with the inconsistency, most ignorantly so (of course there are potential transcendent considerations, as well). For me, it is not just a choice of personal preference based on the fact that I might like the implications for me personally. Rather, the choice is based on my best effort to get at the truth – the way reality is actually objectively organized.

Just one more thought on the idea of faith. Sometimes people think of faith as something that has no basis. I don’t believe that is true. Blind faith is nothing more than presumption. I think our faith needs to be founded on the best evidence it is possible to find.

Hope your day is a terrific one. Talk to you soon.
Freddy

[Note: Some of the following discussion relates to a separate discussion that was taking place about a particular document. I have chosen not to include that document here, but I believe that the way William’s response is handled will allow you to follow the discussion easily.]

11 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
You wrote about naturalism:
The only thing that exists is matter which is evolving and eternal.
In modern science, matter is not eternal for two reasons:
1) It can be converted to energy (and energy can be converted to matter)
2) The universe (and therefore, all matter in it) has a finite age.

There are also a number of other things you attribute to naturalism that are not widely accepted among naturalists. For example, you write:
Humans are simply the most highly evolved biological species that exists on earth.
but that suggests we excel at everything, which is not true. I would leave the word “evolved” out of that sentence and simply remark that compared to other species, we have stronger cognitive skills.

After a bit of internet searching, I found a good definition of naturalism on: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/naturalism/ (don’t worry, this website is much more scholarly than the previous one I e-mailed to you. You’ll be able to find the viewpoints of naturalists on numerous topics on that website, much of it carefully written down).

In any case, here is the definition of naturalism on that website: As defined by philosopher Paul Draper, naturalism is “the hypothesis that the physical world is a ‘closed system’ in the sense that nothing that is neither a part nor a product of it can affect it.” More simply, it is the denial of the existence of supernatural causes.

I think that sums it up perfectly. Naturalism says that there are no supernatural forces acting in our universe. I think that one sentence is the complete definition of naturalism.

Matter: Matter is assumed to exist, but its presence cannot be accounted for.
That goes too far as well. Matter as we know it is created shortly after the big bang and many details about this process are known. This is not just guess work because the computations yield several detailed predictions that can be tested with telescopes. There are numerous theories about what caused the big bang. None of them is widely accepted because at the moment these theories can not be tested (remember, testing is what makes it science!). Scientific consensus starts after what’s called Planck time (a tiny fraction of a second after the big bang) but this is before matter as we know it existed.

Human beings do exhibit spiritual? characteristics which cannot objectively be accounted for by any biological model.
No naturalist would make that assumption.

Scientific Method:
Naturalism is founded on the principle that matter is all that exists and everything can be accounted for on the basis of scientific principles. Because this is a basic presupposition
The basis of science is not naturalism, but a weaker assumption, called methodological naturalism. If you run a scientific experiment, then “methodological naturalism” is the assumption that no supernatural forces will affect that particular experiment. So methodological naturalism does not contradict theism. For more details on this I would recommend the above mentioned website, it has numerous papers with detailed answers to many questions.

William

8/12/06
William,
Thanks so much for your insights and observations. As I said, this is first draft and I want to be able to express things correctly.

I struggle a little with exactly how to express certain ideas because of the audience I am writing for and primarily speak to. Most of them are just average folks who have no technical or academic background in science or philosophy, but would like to better understand other people’s belief systems.

My own background and approach to the topic, too, is rather different than what you might expect. I am not a scientist (I think you probably already figured that out) and I also do not have an academic background in philosophy (I have had a number of philosophy courses in my academic portfolio and have done a lot of reading, but by background is in communications and theology).

My interest in the topic actually came about because of practical (boots on the ground) considerations, and what expertise I have resulted from those practical needs. I served for nearly 17 years overseas as a Christian missionary in two radically different cultures. In order to effectively communicate my message I had a specific need to know were people were coming from and to actually get inside of their way of thinking. It is no good to just throw a message out there if the way you express it doesn’t make any sense to the people who are listening (I’m sure you deal with that same problem when you teach a math class – especially to those whose background doesn’t include a lot of math).

I found the practical tools of worldview to be the key to gaining that understanding. The only problem is, most of the material written about that topic is written by philosophers for philosophers. The average person (my primary audience) does not, and will not, get it at that level. So, over the last several years I have spent my time trying to simplify the explanations in a way that is easily understood by those folks.

This brings me to my dilemma. I understand the comments you made to me and I want to incorporate them into my explanations. Some of them, though, are technical and make fine distinctions that I believe will go over the heads of my public. Let me feed back a few of those things to you and perhaps you can offer some suggestions as to how I might simplify without misrepresenting the technicalities.

I wrote about Naturalism that “the only thing that exists is matter which is evolving and eternal.” At that point you made a distinction between matter and energy. I recognize that technically you are right, but the meaning I was trying to convey was not about matter as opposed to energy, but matter as the measurable stuff of which the material universe is composed. In my meaning, the term matter is more of a lay usage which would include both matter and energy. Given my primary audience, do you think I still need to use the more technical wording or will the more generic wording do? (This question also addresses the issue that you dealt with related to the Big Bang. The moments before matter emerged out of the ball of energy there may have only been pure energy, but that is still the stuff of material reality and it had to come from somewhere – the question of “Why is there something instead of nothing.”)

The next comment related to humans being the most highly evolved biological species. Of course you are right that there are other species which have other characteristics which operate at a higher level than what humans have. Again, I was using the term “most highly evolved” in a lay fashion. I think that the average reader understands that when I express it that way I am referring to cognitive development, but at the same time I don’t want to put myself in a position where some might read it and dismiss it because they think I have it completely wrong. What do you think?

Concerning the definition of Naturalism. I like the one you found. I think it does sum it up nicely. Do you think that it is substantively different than what I wrote? If so, in what way?

Of course you are right that no naturalist would make the assumption that human beings exhibit spiritual characteristics. Here is another case where I was using a non-technical description as a means of trying to describe the unique personal characteristics that human beings have that other biological creatures don’t have – the various things I mentioned in the chart about the way that human beings experience life [selfawareness, creativity, free will, etc.]. Perhaps I need to put the word spiritual in quotes or maybe just get a different word or way of expressing that idea. Any thoughts on that?

Your comment about my use of the term “scientific method” is also well taken. I actually wrestled with whether or not to say it that way when I wrote it, but decided at that point just to go with it. Of course you are right that the basis of science is not Naturalism. I don’t think I said that, though. I was using the reverse, that Naturalism is dependent on science and scientific principles. Did that come across wrong to you? Any suggestions here?

Another difficulty I get into when trying to create definitions like this is that every basic worldview has numerous expressions. The foundational worldview is the core, but as people begin to play with it, different emphases emerge. From Naturalism emerge such belief systems as Secular Humanism, Atheism, Agnosticism, Skepticism, Existentialism, Marxism, Positivism and others. From theism emerge such belief systems as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unity, The Way International, and on and on. In fact, one of the people who has been writing to me related to my article is a Jehovah’s Witness [http://www.marketfaith.org/newsletter/Issue_2.pdf]. Obviously the conversation we are having is quite different than the one you and I are having. We are discussing the same basic worldview but have radically different beliefs about how it should be expressed.

To me, that is the reason that it is so important to work at the worldview level. You can really get bogged down working higher up the tree.

Thanks again for your feedback on this. It is helpful to me. Hope you have a terrific day.
Freddy

8/14/06
Dear Freddy,
Did you see Carlton Pearson’s story on Sunday’s NBC dateline? (see also: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032600/ ) He was a highly successful preacher that used to have very large audiences, until he stopped believing in Hell and started teaching that Hell does not exist. I’d be curious to know if you saw this show (or otherwise read about his story) and what you think of it.
William

8/14/06
William,
I was just in the process of writing you back. I did not see that interview, but I have seen other interviews with him and have read articles about him and what he has written. His views are really not so novel. I think the thing that makes his case stick out is that he is a high profile person who can be contrasted with the Christian view for the news media. People in the past who have gone his route have run the gambit. There have been some whose change of heart led them into politics, into philosophy, into being outspoken critics of the Christian faith and into seclusion. Some of those folks have even become world renowned.

People shift worldviews all the time (from any given one to any other given one). I don’t think it reflects on the truth or falsity of any one of them. To be honest, there are even people who claim to be Christians whose lives are so far away from the teachings of the faith that it is a mockery (of course this also happens among people in every other worldview). Bad apples don’t reflect the actual truth of the matter. I think we have to evaluate on the best evidence we can find, not on strengths and weaknesses of personalities.

I just wanted to thank you for the feedback from the other e-mail. I think you are absolutely right that we don’t have to sacrifice precision for understandability – but it does seem to take a little more work. I actually had another person say an almost identical thing to me – he, too, is a teacher (imagine that). There is always this desire to do explanations in sound bites. Sometimes that is just not the best way to go.

I am interested to hear a little more about your thoughts on the nature of material reality. You stated that “no doubt the material world lasts a long time, but how would a naturalist know that the material world is eternal?” I am interested to know what other assumptions could possibly be made, other than it somehow spontaneously appeared? Not meaning, of course the universe as it exists today, but material stuff in general. I recognize that a naturalist cannot definitively answer that question because we are getting back to the faith element that cannot be avoided. It seems a bit disingenuous to me, though, for Naturalists just to pass it off and start with the “Big Bang.” Obviously that is one of my reasons for dismissing Naturalism as credible because I see that as an inconsistency within the worldview itself. You are exactly right about Theism’s assumption, but Naturalism seems to simply avoid the issue altogether.

I like your point about the idea of “highly evolved.” The issue in this case is intelligence, not evolution. Thanks for that.

That is interesting to me that you tried to figure out tests to understand the nature of your spiritual experiences. I would be interested to know what you thought up and what you concluded. I don’t see how a person can test that kind of thing. I completely agree with you that Naturalists (and people from every other worldview) can have “religious/spiritual” experiences. It seems to me that what is describable about those experiences are the feelings that occur within our bodies as we view beauty or have some profound insight. I fully believe that the things we feel result from the way our bodies physiologically respond to those events. But, to me, that is a separate issue from the event itself (related, but not essentially connected). For example, when I first met God in my life, there was an emotional element to it (very profound to me). But the feelings were only a response to something else. I believe that what actually happened was an objective event that transcended the physical. I believe I actually objectively met God spirit to spirit.

I do understand what you are talking about as you reflected as to whether or not the experiences came from outside or inside. In the Bible, Jesus himself talked about that very point when he told the story of a man who died and went to hell and was so tormented that he wanted God to at least do a supernatural act (send someone back from the dead) to warn his brothers. The response was that “they have the teachings of Moses and the prophets to warn them.” The point was, people don’t ultimately make their decisions about eternal (worldview) issues based strictly on their human experiences. They are too easy to explain away as time passes (Did that really happen or was it just my imagination?). Ultimately everyone does make a decision about what to do concerning God (whether consciously/directly or by simply making a competing choice) and the basis of the decision always has a faith foundation. The final question for me becomes, “Which faith choice can support itself best.”

That is an interesting quote that, “Science answers all questions that can be answered,” but I have a problem with it because I don’t see how that assertion can be backed up. We are bumping up, again, against the presupposition wall. For instance, suppose that things actually exists the way I believe as an objective reality. Given that assumption, there are questions that can be answered, and are answered, that science cannot deal with. I know a Naturalist would not agree with my conclusion, but also can’t dispute it without contradicting the statement. I don’t think that it is simply a matter that “it is very natural for Naturalists to look to science” (which is certainly true). But the problem is, Naturalists have nowhere else to go, even if reality is actually different than what they think.

Did I specifically say that Naturalists cannot base their moral values on anything? If I did, I was falling prey to my imprecision again. That statement certainly doesn’t fit with all of the things I have been saying before, does it? Of course everyone bases their moral values on something. The difference for Naturalism and Theism relates to whether or not the values are based on something absolute or not. If they are, then the quest is make sure that the particular absolute basis is the “actual” truth. If an absolute authority is not recognized, the quest is for individuals or societies to try and figure out what is most functional for their situation.

Thanks again for your feedback. This is helpful as I try to most effectively express myself. Hope your day is a terrific one. Talk to you again soon.
Freddy

14 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
His views are really not so novel. … I think we have to evaluate on the best evidence we can find, not on strengths and weaknesses of personalities.
I agree with those statements. My curiosity was not just about this particular preacher, I was curious of your opinion on the doctrine of hell. I take it that you believe this doctrine to be true.

You see, I live in a country where half of the population believes that in the afterlife, I will be tortured in a gruesome way for all eternity. With no possibility of escape. And nothing I will do or not do in this life will change this. The knowledge that most people around me actually believe that is an uncomfortable reality. (to compare: Imagine yourself living in a Muslim country, you as a Christian, and that most of your friends around you, your colleagues, most of your family members, etc, that all these people believe that you will be tortured for an eternity, simply for not being a Muslim).

PS. I can see though that denying the existence of hell is hard to reconcile with the new testament.

I am interested to hear a little more about your thoughts on the nature of material reality. You stated that “no doubt the material world lasts a long time, but how would a naturalist know that the material world is eternal?” I am interested to know what other assumptions could possibly be made, other than it somehow spontaneously appeared?
There is a difference between “has always existed” and “has already existed for infinitely many years”. Time and space are part of the universe. So at every moment of time that has ever existed, there was also a universe. But this does not imply that time stretches back infinitely many years to the past. There is a subtle difference between the two.

The phrase “eternal” suggests that the material world dates back an unlimited number of years to the past. The big bang theory says that there have been only a limited (a finite) number of years in the past. But the universe (which consists of time, space, matter, energy, etc) has existed during all those years.

The phrase “spontaneously appeared” is also quite ambiguous. Where should this matter then suddenly appear? In some empty space that was empty before the big bang took place? However, that’s a misinterpretation of the big bang theory. The big bang is not just the origin of matter, it is also the origin of space and time. A theist that believes the big bang theory would say that not only matter was created, but also space and time itself. In fact, this creation of space continues to this day! The reason that the distances between the galaxies increases over time is because more and more space is being created between them. From a theist point of view it is easy to say that God continues creating more and more space. A naturalist would have to find physical laws that dictate this expansion of space. Some might say that they are the same thing, that God and the physical laws are one and the same (that’s more or less Einstein’s view).

Note also that in physics, empty space is not nothing. What’s more mysterious (i.e. more speculative) than the question “why is there matter” is the question “why is there something like space-time?”.

Not meaning, of course the universe as it exists today, but material stuff in general. I recognize that a naturalist cannot definitively answer that question because we are getting back to the faith element that cannot be avoided. It seems a bit disingenuous to me, though, for Naturalists just to pass it off and start with the “Big Bang.”
Keep in mind that questions of the form “why is … true” do not always have an answer. In mathematical logic one can actually prove that there exist true statements for which the question “why is that statement true” has no answer (i.e. there exist mathematical statements that are both true and unprovable at the same time. As counterintuitive as that sounds, Goedel first proved that claim. I read the proof, and think it’s true beyond any doubt). So having an unanswered why-question is no weakness. In fact, there is also a theorem that says that nontrivial mathematical models that don’t have such unanswered why-questions are inconsistent. So if all questions are answered with apparent certainty, that’s a big red flag that there are going to be some contradictions.

Finally, let me remark that there exist numerous explanations for what exactly caused the big bang. So if I insist on having an explanation for the big bang, I could read all of those and then select whichever one I find most plausible.

However, scientists should set the bar higher than that. We must devise tests to figure out which of these explanations are wrong. Until that happens, there will not be consensus on these explanations (if you’re curious about some of them, I could say something about the ones I’m familiar with).

For me, far more interesting than “what happened” is the question “how can we tell that that’s what happened instead of something else”. I would not find the big bang interesting if it weren’t for the fact that one can devise ways to test it. In any case, looking at the analogy from math, it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed if one can not answer all why-questions.

In summary, there are natural explanations for what caused the big bang, but lacking tests there’s not going to be consensus. But even if there were, this would just put the whole question of origins one step back. Because whatever it is that lead to the big bang, one can again ask about that object as to where it came from. Inevitably one encounters an unanswered why question.

For instance, one explanation describes how a big bang could arise from a vacuum. Now in physics, a vacuum is not nothing, it is something in which quantum fluctuations occur. So if we assume that a vacuum can exist, then we can ask ourselves if a quantum fluctuation can set off a big bang (not inside that same vacuum but instead creating its own space-time). If physical laws were to allow this, there’s still the question where that vacuum came from. You see, that question never goes away. It’s the equivalent of the question of where God came from.

Another explanation is the “Ultimate ensemble theory of everything” briefly described on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Tegmark

Again, this is highly speculative. Mainstream scientists want things that can be tested, and obviously, this particular view can not.

I’ll look at the remainder of your e-mail later.
Best regards,
William

PS. You may also want to see other views on naturalism. Let me recommend this website:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphysical_naturalism

8/14/06
William,
Got it. I misunderstood your intention on the hell question. You are right, it would be pretty hard to dismiss the existence of it and still take the teachings of the New Testament very seriously. I do believe that it exists, but prefer not to use the same kind of imagery that is most popular. I do believe that it is a literal reality, but not that it is a physical place which is capable of containing fire and brimstone. I believe that it is part of the larger spiritual reality, and specifically a place which God has designated and set aside which contains no aspect of his presence. This does not do away with the horribleness of it. I don’t believe that there is anything that could be more horrible than the total absence of God.

But I don’t think the actual existence of hell is the real issue that most people object to. I also believe that most people have not made the effort to understand the implications of what it is all about. According to the Bible, people don’t just end up in hell because of the bad they did in life outweighed the good. It is also not simply an arbitrary thing. It is impossible to understand all of the mechanics of the process, but there are some things that have been revealed in Scripture about it. Let me see if I can divide it into segments.

1. God is personal, he loves us and does not desire that anyone end up eternally separated from him. He also has an essential nature that is holy and individuals must somehow meet that standard of holiness to be able to enter his presence. The problem is, our essential nature is not holy like that (often referred to as a sin nature) and influences us to live a life separated from him.

2. To solve the problem, God provided a means for us to have our sin forgiven. This process culminated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Essentially he became a substitutionary sacrifice to take care of the sin issue. Basically he lived a life which made him worthy to become the sacrifice (perfection) and offered himself for us. The resurrection was a demonstration that he had the power to pull this off.

3. The forgiveness which the sacrifice provided for is not automatically applied to every person. What God is interested in is relationship, so individuals must make a free will decision to receive the forgiveness – which includes the willingness to live life in a way that reflects his purpose and ways.

4. Those who choose another path have chosen separation from God which continues beyond this life. Separation from God is the result of human choice, not God’s.

This is certainly a very brief and incomplete description but hopefully gives the gist of process. The bottom line is that people make their choices. God doesn’t just up and send people to hell. It is not about being a “super evil” person. It is about rejecting the opportunity to live in relationship with God.

I do understand the discomfort of living in a country that has certain different ways of thinking and values than ones own. I lived as a minority in two different countries for nearly 17 years. But what other people believe does not determine what is the true or false.

I find your thoughts on material reality to be quite interesting – not compelling as a basis for formulating a worldview, but very interesting none the same. Do let me clear up one thing that I said at this point. I was not implying that the idea that matter might have somehow spontaneously appeared had anything to do with the “Big Bang.” I was simply expressing what I saw as the only other option I could think of if the idea was rejected that matter is not eternal (I seem to remember a law in science that states that “matter changes form but cannot be created or destroyed). You are definitely out of my league with all of your knowledge and background in mathematics and physics. I do, though, enjoy hearing knowledgeable people talking about the various possibilities concerning how the natural world might work.

Your other e-mail just came in so I will continue in this one just to make things easier. Back to tying this all to worldview, though, we still come up against the same issues we have already been talking about. We can’t prove any of them empirically and have to come to our personal conclusions by other means.

Very interesting, your thoughts about how to test your spiritual experiences. I thought, though that you might run into some problems by taking that approach. To use your way, it becomes necessary to make certain presuppositions about the nature of God, his purposes and the way he operates. I think the approach you took works well when dealing with physical reality, but doesn’t work well when applied to worldview issues. It assumes that faith issues can be analyzed the same way as physical reality or that the issues you are analyzing are somehow part of physical reality and operate under the same set of laws.

I am going to just go through what you wrote and try to pick out some of the presuppositions you are making (let me know if I am off base here):
* That God would somehow answer you in a way that fits into your ideas of how he speaks rather than by some other means of his own choosing.
* That the purpose of God’s communication is to bestow intellectual knowledge vs. experiential knowledge.
* (I am inserting this just as a correction – not as one of the presuppositions. The reference to the disciples “not tasting death” was not a reference to the second coming, but to his transfiguration which occurred shortly after Jesus said it.)
* That all people who claim to hear a word from God actually heard from God, rather than someone else).
* That all people who claim to hear a word from God hear it accurately.

I don’t presume to think that you personally hold any of these presuppositions, but it seems like the tests you put forth assume them. What if God has a different way of speaking and that his purposes for speaking are different than the expectations of the hearer?

I am writing this not to dispute what you are saying as much as to suggest that we have to take a different approach if we want to get at communicating with God. I think we first have to assume that he is how he is and not how we think he is, or how we want him to be. At that point we have to somehow align ourselves to that (in my view, based on how he has revealed himself to us). Only then are we in a position to hear what he has to say. I am convinced that God is wanting to reveal himself to every individual, but he does it according to his ways, not ours.

That is a great observation about the way scientists are wired. I think the same principle can be applied to “artsy” people and other categories we can think up as well. And I personally think it is a wonderful thing. Imagine what wouldn’t get done in the world if everyone were wired the same way.

Interestingly enough, this kind of diversity within the Christian community is very helpful. God is so much larger than we are, and different people are able to contribute different insights based on the approach they take – not different theology, but like seeing the gemstone from different angles.

Wow, enough for now. Hope your day is a terrific one.
Freddy

8/14/06
Dear Freddy,
1. God is personal, he loves us and does not desire that anyone end up eternally separated from him. He also has an essential nature that is holy and individuals must somehow meet that standard of holiness to be able to enter his presence.
If the goal of hell is to keep certain people away from his presence then God could of course decide to do just that. He could decide to give the unbeliever what the unbeliever expects: no afterlife. But giving the unbeliever an afterlife in a place where there will be “wailing and gnashing of teeth” serves no purpose.

2. To solve the problem, God provided a means for us to have our sin forgiven. This process culminated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Essentially he became a substitutionary sacrifice to take care of the sin issue. Basically he lived a life which made him worthy to become the sacrifice (perfection) and offered himself for us. The resurrection was a demonstration that he had the power to pull this off.
God made sure not to leave any real evidence behind. No texts that date in the same decade, for most of the apostles, no evidence that they existed, etc. It appears as if God doesn’t want everyone to believe this.

I find your thoughts on material reality to be quite interesting – not compelling as a basis for formulating a worldview, but very interesting none the same.
They’re not the basis of a naturalist worldview. The basis of a naturalist worldview is simply the denial of the supernatural, nothing more. Of course, one still wonders about origins. For naturalists that wonder about origins/matter/time/space/etc, the only option left is science.
William

8/14/06
Dear Freddy,
The discussion on hell is taking us off topic. I responded to your second point by saying that God did not to leave any real evidence behind. Of course we disagree on the strength of the evidence for the resurrection, which could to an endless debate on the technical details of this evidence, and take us far off topic.

Back to the origins of matter. In physics, a material particle is described by a mathematical object called a wave function. There is a philosophical question whether this particle is actually a wave function, or whether it is only described by a wave function. From a practical point of view it’s not clear how one can tell the difference.

Now to simplify things drastically (perhaps too much) lets look at the following sequence of mathematical objects. In this case, the mathematical objects are not “wave functions” (“material particles”) but they are just whole numbers. 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 …. (Fibonacci numbers)

The pattern here is this: Next number = Sum of the two preceding numbers Now if you look at that sequence, and look at the pattern in that sequence, you will notice that the pattern is not enough to describe that sequence entirely. For example, the sequence 2 1 3 4 7 11 18 …. satisfies the same pattern but it’s not the same sequence.

So to completely describe that sequence of fibonacci numbers, I need to give two things:
* the pattern (the rule that tells you how to compute the next number from preceding numbers)
* the initial conditions (what the first numbers were).

So to describe the sequence of fibonacci numbers I need to say:
* the next number is the sum of the previous two numbers and I need to also say:
* the first two numbers are both 1.

In the physical world, “the patterns we see” = “the physical laws we’ve discovered”

But if you look at the analogy of the sequence and its pattern, you can see that just having the pattern is not enough to describe everything. To describe the whole sequence we need the pattern and the initial conditions.

Likewise, it is reasonable that if you want to describe the entire universe, it’s not enough to give just the pattern (the laws of nature) but that you have to give initial conditions as well.

Now the more compact one can describe the initial conditions and the physical laws, the more compact the description of the universe becomes. And the initial conditions for the universe are very easy to describe, namely: temperature = highest temperature allowed in quantum mechanics density = highest density allowed in quantum mechanics.

In fact, this is the only way you can choose temperature and density in a way that is not arbitrary and not zero. More initial conditions are not needed because at such extreme temperature and density the finer details don’t really affect the end result. So these initial conditions are pretty much the only initial conditions that are not arbitrary.

Keep in mind that this is a very simplified description, but it does carry the idea. Now going back to the example of the sequence, what’s special about that sequence, is it its initial conditions (two 1’s) or is it the rule it follows? I would say that the rule is more special than the initial conditions.

Likewise, the initial condition of the universe is also very easy to describe: Take the highest temperature/density allowed in quantum mechanics (see wikipedia: Planck units. Note that these units  were already introduced long before the big bang theory was introduced). However, the laws of nature are not so easy to describe, they involve sophisticated math.

The laws of nature show wonderful mathematical connections, they are much more surprising than the initial conditions at the starting point, which are simply described as “choose the maximum density/temperature”. So then the question “Who or what set off the big bang”, to me, that question is intriguing but not as intriguing as the question “why these physical laws” (or from a theist point of view: “Who wrote these physical laws”).

What conclusions can one draw from all of this? Why these physical laws and not other ones? Well, no matter what kind of universe a thinking being finds himself in, he can always ask himself that question. It’s as if the numbers in the fibonnaci sequence ask themselves, we see this pattern, how can this possibly be explained? Why this pattern instead of another? There must be a reason (i.e. an intelligent designer) for this pattern. But should there really be a reason for this pattern? After all, there are also sequences with different patterns. And one can’t find a provable reason if that reason would also exclude the existence of other sequences that could equally well exist.
William

15 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
I was simply expressing what I saw as the only other option I could think of if the idea was rejected that matter is not eternal (I seem to remember a law in science that states that “matter changes form but cannot be created or destroyed).
Particle accelerators do create matter. Not out of nothing of course, this matter is created out of energy (lots of energy).

What then are possible explanations of the origin of the universe?
1) There may have been a pre-existing entity that gave rise to this universe. That pre-existing entity may have been caused by yet another pre-existing entity (and so on) or that pre-existing entity may be eternal. This pre-existing entity could be:
a) impersonal (atheism)
b) personal but not interacting with humans (Deism)
c) personal and interacting with humans (theism)

2) It is also possible that the existence of the universe is simply a “brute fact”, i.e., something that is true but for which there is no explanation. As unappealing as that sounds, we must at be open to the possibility, because “brute facts” (true statements that can not be proven, not even in principle) do exist (for example in mathematics).

Options 1a and 2 are consistent with Naturalism. Option 1b is not, but from a practical point Deism is not so different from Naturalism since neither one believes any organized religion.

If option 1c implies that I have to believe major contradictions (e.g. that the majority of the people on this earth will be sent to Hell by a loving God, and hundreds of biblical contradictions) then I have to conclude that option 1c is by far the least likely of all the above options.

Option 1b is quite different. It does not lead to contradictions as far as I can tell. The only negative thing I can say about 1b is that 1b appears to be an unnecessary assumption.

Most people find option 2 unacceptable. They simply don’t want things to be this way. But I think that that’s not a good argument, we don’t get to choose the truth based on what feels right emotionally. We have to base truth on evidence in an unbiased way and as unemotional as possible (wouldn’t you want jury trials to work that way too?).

I am going to just go through what you wrote and try to pick out some of the presuppositions you are making (let me know if I am off base here):
* That God would somehow answer you in a way that fits into your ideas of how he speaks rather than by some other means of his own choosing.
* That the purpose of God’s communication is to bestow intellectual knowledge vs. experiential knowledge.
* (I am inserting this just as a correction – not as one of the presuppositions. The reference to the disciples “not tasting death” was not a reference to the second coming, but to his transfiguration which occurred shortly after Jesus said it.)
* That all people who claim to hear a word from God actually heard from God. rather than someone else).
* That all people who claim to hear a word from God hear it accurately.
The point was that God’s voice is one of the most convincing pieces of evidence for the existence of God. This evidence disappears the moment you realize that naturalism also has an explanation for the fact that people hear such voices, and that the naturalist explanation can accommodate the facts much more easily than the theist explanation. (the facts I’m referring to is that different people hear different things, and that what they hear is strongly correlated to their religious/cultural environment). You can try to explain these facts away, but naturalism is still better because there I wouldn’t need to explain these facts away, because in naturalism these facts are to be expected.

People are very good at explaining inconvenient facts away. Even things like Psalm 137:9 (how can a person committing what’s written there possibly be happy as the text says?). People that can explain that fact away can explain away any fact. But getting rid of inconvenient facts with ad hoc explanations is no path to truth. There is a lot of that going on in theism. Naturalism is not like that (and I really don’t think I’m being biased here). All it assumes is that there is no supernatural. But whatever the facts may be, that’s simply what we have to live with. If it is a fact that we can not (yet) explain something important, then that too is something we just have to live with. When naturalism leaves some things unexplained, theists see that as a weakness in naturalism. I counter that explaining facts away is a weakness, accepting them as they are is not.
William

8/15/06
William,
Just to help keep things from being so disjointed, I will make this a reply to all three of your last e-mails. I recognize that the discussion about hell is a little off of the central subject but, obviously, it does come into play when talking about the implications of various worldview beliefs, so I don’t have a problem with dealing with it in the overall context. I am a little bit surprised at your reaction about it. I do, though, understand that many Naturalists react toward the topic the way you have. I don’t know your own reaction, but the many of the people I talk to about this react strictly from an emotional base and are not willing to evaluate it on a more objective level.

It appears, though, that you are working from a particular preconception that you have about hell and how it fits into grand scheme of Christian theology. Though I don’t have a full sense of your thoughts on the topic, it appears to me to be different than what I actually believe. I am not sure how to deal with that.

That being said, and speaking from my own point of view, it really doesn’t matter what we can conceive of. What matters is what actually exists. If the actual reality of existence includes hell, then our objections to it are really irrelevant. Our only recourse is to put ourselves into a position to live in relationship with God rather than outside of that relationship. We have to come to our own conclusions about what is really the truth. It seems that the consequences of you being wrong on that has much more of a down side than for me being wrong.

Another issue that follows is that you seem to want God to express his existence to you in a particular way that you dictate. To be sure, that would make it easier on all of us, myself included. But it seems that he has chosen a different way to reveal himself. If he is an objective reality as I believe, and he really is God, which I also believe, then he is the one who sets the parameters for how things go and we really shouldn’t expect that he would accommodate himself to us just because we prefer it a different way. It would be kind of like us demanding that the President of the US change certain White House protocols because we don’t like it. It is simply not our prerogative.

I appreciate your illustration with the numbers. I understand the limitations you are cautioning about and accept your illustration based on that. And I agree completely that within the physical universe, the principles and mathematical formulas that you are referring to are perfectly reasonable. I just don’t believe that you can take those and draw conclusions concerning whether or not God exists, or how he might do things, based on that.

But here we go again, running into the problem of presuppositions. You are still trying to deduce whether or not God exists based on a type of logic and a physical law that applies to the physical universe. But if God really exists as the Christian faith asserts, then there is a logic and set of laws that transcends the universe that we cannot know, and perhaps cannot even reasonably speculate about. I believe that God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and that he has the capability of injecting himself into our system without messing up its ongoing function – we refer to that as miracles. Based on my presuppositions that is completely reasonable.

There are, of course, other possible explanations of the origin of the universe than the ones you proposed, if you want to bring into play the other worldviews. It could be monistic and pantheistic as Far Eastern Philosophies assert with material reality being an illusion and the real nature of reality being eternal, impersonal and unknowable. Or it could be like Animistic worldviews envision with many gods who created material reality and interact with it in a symbiotic relationship. All of these are speculations, of course, along with anything that Naturalism or Theism might propose. I don’t believe that these other ones are reasonable, but I cannot base that simply on my preferences or just on the presuppositions of my Theistic beliefs and you can’t do it completely based on your Naturalistic beliefs. Ultimately it is impossible to completely get away from our own presuppositions, but it is possible to explore outside of our own.

Naturalism certainly can account for its view if one assumes its presuppositions, as can every worldview. And every worldview falls apart if you start analyzing it according to the presuppositions of another worldview. That is why I think it is necessary to get a handle on all four basic worldviews so there can be a basis for putting them up against one another based on their own presuppositions.

When you try to take your 1c and draw conclusions about a transcendent reality based on your Naturalistic framework it just doesn’t work. Your assertion of major contradictions in the Christian faith simply does not follow unless you make assumptions that are not a part of my worldview – then of course you are going to consider that there are contradictions. But you will always have that same problem whenever working across worldviews.

I am not sure what you are trying to get at with your idea of inconvenient facts. Are you saying that any explanation that you don’t care for is explaining something away and is not valid? If we take that kind of approach we will simply end up dismissing anything we don’t like no matter the reasoning. And your assertion that Naturalism doesn’t have the same problem is only true, again, if you are only working with the presuppositions of Naturalism. Using assumptions from other worldviews would create the same problem where the person you are trying to convince could accuse you of coming up with ad hoc explanations.

I don’t object to you not agreeing with my Christian Theism in the same way that I don’t agree with Naturalism. But I would expect that when you start doing it, you would do so from a base that expresses my actual beliefs rather than making wrong assertions about the nature of God, hell, etc., and using improper hermeneutical principles to interpret the Bible. I seem to detect a little bit of that in the last couple of e-mails.

Anyhow, I think that pretty much pulls everything together so we are back on one track again. Hope your day is a terrific one.
Freddy

15 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
I recognize that the discussion about hell is a little off of the central subject
Hell is also not central to my reasoning either, but for me, it serves as an example that shows how far away other worldviews are from my own. How other people in our modern age can believe something that is so far away from my own view? That’s a question that cries out for an explanation. Why can’t people see the obvious contradictions in the Bible? There must be something that prevents people from applying logical thinking to their own beliefs.

But what could it be?

Well, that’s why I’m interested in worldviews and their effect on people. I suspect that emotions also play a major role in trumping logic. Perhaps emotions are simply more convincing for most people than cold hard evidence.

Though I don’t have a full sense of your thoughts on the topic, it appears to me to be different than what I actually believe.
Perhaps the way we differ is the way our truth scales are ordered.

For me, logic is at the top of the truth scale. In my mind, an object with contradictory properties can not exist. A round square does not exist. Even if my life depended on it, I can not move myself to believe that two things that contradict each other can both be true. So when I read the Bible as a Christian and I found contradictions, then this had profound implications for me.

For you, I’d guess that Christ is at the top of the truth scale, it trumps everything else, even logic. This means that if you find contradictions in the Bible, you do not conclude that the Bible has errors, but instead you would say that the Bible remains true and that the contradictions are a result of errors in your own human logic (even if you can’t see what that error might be). Any discomfort that this might cause can be taken away by the knowledge that others have already studied (and possibly resolved) those same issues. Is that a fair way to compare our views? If you find a logical contradiction in the Bible, would you say that the fault lies in your own logic and not in the Bible?

If so, then that might explain our different viewpoints. If not, please correct me.

I appreciate your illustration with the numbers. I understand the limitations you are cautioning about and accept your illustration based on that. And I agree completely that within the physical universe, the principles and mathematical formulas that you are referring to are perfectly reasonable. I just don’t believe that you can take those and draw conclusions concerning whether or not God exists, or how he might do things, based on that.
Well, that’s exactly the point. From the fact that the universe exists you can’t draw any conclusions. The fact that the universe exists says nothing about whether there is a God or not.

But if God really exists as the Christian faith asserts, then there is a logic and set of laws that transcends the universe that we cannot know, and perhaps cannot even reasonably speculate about.
No, I disagree. A statement can not be both true and false at the same time. God can not draw a round square. He can not write down a number that is both 1 and not 1 at the same time. Or do you disagree with that?

Naturalism certainly can account for its view if one assumes its presuppositions, as can every worldview.
Would you say then that the rules of logic are an assumption of the Naturalism worldview? That another worldview need not abide by the rules of logic and can still describe reality?

Is it a presupposition when I assume that if two things contradict each other, that then it is not possible for both to be true? Or is this statement an obvious truth for everyone, something that needs not be explicitly assumed?

Your assertion of major contradictions in the Christian faith simply does not follow unless you make assumptions that are not a part of my worldview
There are Christians that agree with me that the Bible does contain numerous contradictions. Would their worldviews then be incompatible with yours?

Of course you are going to consider that there are contradictions. But you will always have that same problem whenever working across worldviews.
If I find a contradiction in naturalism, then I’ll abandon that too.

I am not sure what you are trying to get at with your idea of inconvenient facts.
I meant the uncomfortable questions that you don’t want to answer. You see, I don’t want you to hide behind the claim that I’m using improper hermeneutical principles to interpret the Bible. So I’ll ask you to do the interpreting for me. All I’m asking is to answer some simple yes/no questions, should we believe Psalm 137:9 or not? Is that sentence divinely inspired or not?

Why am I pushing these unpleasant questions? Well, history shows that those nagging little details can be very important. By focusing on nagging little details, Einstein figured out that Newton’s laws had to be revised. This lead to major progress (for instance, our GPS system depends on Einstein’s theory because the GPS satellites require accurate time keeping).
Best regards,
William

8/15/06
William,
Your assertion that there are contradictions in the Bible is only a logical point of view if a person assumes a worldview that demands that kind of an explanation, or if the person saying there are contradictions has not done enough study to understand how the pieces fit together. The question, “How can other people in our modern age believe something that is so far away from my own point of view?” can only be asked by making the assumption that a different point of view is certainly wrong (I am assuming that the phrase “in our modern age” is an expression of the idea that any view that believes there is a supernatural comes from superstition).

You, obviously, believe that your worldview explains it all (quite normal), but you, too, have come to your presuppositions by faith. You can’t prove Naturalism is correct. It seems right to you because you fully accept that there is no supernatural. But you don’t, and can’t, know it is true. The best that can be done is to live your life based on it as if it is true. Your constant assertions about contradictions in the Bible are only valid if you take a point of view that refuses to consider the logic that is able to reconcile the contradictions. You have already indicated that you are not willing to do that, so dealing with specifics about the Bible would be a futile exercise.

You are absolutely right that emotion often trumps logic. But the emotion is not just on the side of the Theists. As I said before, I have interacted with many Naturalists who refuse to believe Christian Theism. Mostly, their aversion was not because of the logic, but purely because they refuse to put themselves under the moral demands of the Christian faith. They want to be their own God and the whole reaction is emotional. The value systems that emerge out of Naturalism are religious systems just as surely as those which emerge out of Theism, and most people react emotionally when their religious faith is challenged – no matter what it is.

Logic is right up there for me, too. But logic is not proof. And logic is only logical according to the presuppositions you bring to the table. And if there is a spiritual reality (which I believe there is), what meaning does the logic have if that spiritual reality is not taken into account. It becomes incomplete and the conclusions would end up being wrong.

Personally I don’t see the contradictions you keep referring to. Here is what happens with me when I come across something in the Bible I don’t understand. I start with the assumption that my worldview is consistent and that there are no contradictions (I feel justified in starting there because I have already done a lot of heavy lifting to explore the logic and consistency of my worldview. And experientially I know that the relationship I have with God is real and valid). If there is something I don’t understand, I look for ways that it can be reconciled with what I already know. I don’t typically go looking around for things that would discredit my worldview. If I can come up with what seems like a reasonable answer I generally go with it – at least provisionally. If not, I may simply suspend judgment until I can investigate and evaluate further. All that being said, I do try to be as honest and objective as I possibly can.

Now, before you go pointing fingers, that is what you do, too. That same basic methodology has oozed all over the things you have said to me. Not that it is strange. Our first reaction is virtually always to look for ways to justify our own worldview presuppositions.

But getting to the point of being willing to follow truth no matter where it leads (even to changing our worldview) is a step beyond the everyday process of dealing with the routine questions where we struggle for answers. We still have to go directly to the worldview itself and deal honestly on that level.

Concerning your statement about something being both true and false at the same time, I agree with you that it can’t be. But if you have a situation where the properties of two different places are different, then it is not a contradiction to acknowledge that. In fact, what would be false would be to not acknowledge it.

I believe, with you, that the rules of logic are completely valid when dealing in our material world with issues that relate to material reality. But I believe that there is something else that has an entirely different set of rules that goes beyond those bounds. Logic is valid, but it is limited. When dealing with spiritual reality other factors must come into play.

You are right, there are people who call themselves Christians who agree with you. But if you change the name of something, does that change the characteristics of that thing? Naturalists who call themselves Christians are still Naturalists. They are definitely working off of a different worldview.

William, is there anything that I have not been straight with you about? Even where we don’t agree, I have not sidestepped anything that you have addressed – even the hard questions. I have not avoided answering you about Psalm 137:9. The way you treated the issue before did not come across as a question as much as an illustration of a point about how people deal with certain issues related to worldview (and maybe a little bit as an accusation). But if I do answer that question directly, are you going to accuse me of “getting rid of an inconvenient fact?” Will I be perceived as trying to “explain it away?” Will you simply take that as a justification that you were right that Christians simply use “ad hoc” explanations to justify their contradictions? You can’t have it both ways, you know. If that is the case, I will lose out in your eyes no matter how I answer. And in that case, the answer really doesn’t matter because you have already decided that my answer couldn’t possibly be valid.
Until next time.
Freddy

16 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
As I said before, I have interacted with many Naturalists who refuse to believe Christian Theism. Mostly, their aversion was not because of the logic, but purely because they refuse to put themselves under the moral demands of the Christian faith. They want to be their own God and the whole reaction is emotional. The value systems that emerge out of Naturalism are religious systems just as surely as those which emerge out of Theism, and most people react emotionally when their religious faith is challenged – no matter what it is.
Perhaps secular humanism is a religion (I’ll think about that for a while). And as such, if you attack it (or to put it more nicely: if you challenge people to think about their views) then people might respond in a defensive way. But I think challenging people to think about their own views, like you are doing, that’s a good thing. It would be good if naturalists (and theists, and far easterners, etc) would commit themselves to challenging their own views every once in a while. That would perhaps make our society less polarized (wishful thinking, I admit).

I also tried to challenge you, but the topic I picked to do that is not a good choice because it’s too contentious. You are right when you conclude that no matter what you answer, yes or no, that it’s not going to look good seen from my viewpoint. You can’t say “no, not divinely inspired” because then the question “is all of the Bible divinely inspired” would have to be answered with “no, not all of it”. But if you say “yes, it is divinely inspired” then that would be morally unacceptable to anyone you want to convert. So I’ll not bring up this particular quote again. It would be more productive to get back to the issue of trying to describe each worldview in a short and clear way, and how each worldview would respond to certain questions, and do this as accurately as possible given restraints on the text length (ideally we would both agree on the text about naturalism). After that, you describe your reasons for choosing one worldview over another (here no agreement is necessary, because there you write your own opinion).
Best regards,
William

8/16/06
William,
Thank you for that. Like I said, I don’t have any problem dealing with any question you have or any issue, no matter how difficult. It just needs to be on a basis where the replies are appropriately respected. If there is a clear weakness based on the presuppositions of my worldview, they deserve to be challenged, but not just out of hand. In the case of the illustration you brought up, there are actually other alternatives that you have not considered which would have made a simple yes or no an inappropriate, perhaps even incorrect, response to your question.

Let me give you my definition of a religion. Since I have made the statement that belief systems from every worldview are religions, it is only fair that you know where I am coming from.

A religion is the outward expression of the values of a worldview.

Thus, the worldview itself is not a religion – it is a set of presuppositions that the religion is based on. Religious beliefs emerge from the worldview. As a result, you will have many different religions emerging from each worldview. The value of working with worldview as opposed to the individual religions (at least in the early stages) is that it narrows down the amount of systems you have to deal with. For instance, if you can eliminate Animism as a valid worldview, all of the religious systems that are associated with it fall as well.

You can’t take that approach forever, though. Once you settle on a worldview that seems valid, you have to then deal with all of the different specific systems within it to determine which can be considered valid and which cannot – which requires a little more specialized set of evaluative tools.

Since you brought up Secular Humanism, consider this (this system is actually easier than most to define because Secular Humanists have specifically spelled out their doctrine). It has 17 (give or take) specific doctrines concerning:
1. The nature of religion
2. Philosophy and ethics
3. The nature of mankind
4. Society
5. Government
6. Science
And in the case of Secular Humanism, it has actually been recognized by the courts as a religious entity. Most other atheistic belief systems (from Naturalism) don’t tend to be quite as highly developed as Secular Humanism and may take a little more work to spell out the doctrines, but they are definitely there. I have done a lot of work on identifying that very information if you are interested in looking. You can find it at my website at www.marketfaith.org in the “resources” section.
Hope your day is a terrific one. Talk to you again soon.
Freddy

16 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
Shortly after I sent my previous e-mail, I realized I have not treated you fairly (going as far as to question your position on logic, which was uncalled for, simply because it is so difficult for me to understand why others see things differently. I’m sorry about that).

The way I got to this realization is as follows. I asked myself: If there are errors in my own reasoning, then, given the possibility that I could be biased, how can I still be able to find these errors? Well, the idea I had was this: Lets just assume that there is an error in my conclusion. So now I force myself to work with the assumption that I made an error somewhere, and under that situation I’m searching for where that error could have slipped in. And as long as I don’t find an error, I keep repeating to myself “there is an error, just find it”.

This way I found something that I dismissed too easily. We’ve both had religious experiences. I explained how I concluded that mine did not come from God. So for me, these religious experiences do not pose a problem for naturalism, they don’t contradict naturalism. What I didn’t consider is the possibility that your religious experiences could have been far more convincing than mine. If that’s the case, then for you these experiences pose a much bigger problem for naturalism than they did for me.

Worldviews amplify our differences because since we each interpret everything through our own worldview, we are both subject to “confirmation bias” which is an effect that strengthens our views.

But apart from that, we may have already started out differently, in the sense that while we both grew up Christians, you may have had much stronger religious experiences than I did. Then it would be very unfair for me to question your logic just because you don’t do the same as I did!

In the case of the illustration you brought up,
Something occurred to me. If people learn some things about the Bible from the viewpoint of unbelievers (e.g. like this illustration) then you’ll have a much harder time converting them (because even if you have a good response, it would still be an effort to explain that, and that’s not helpful). Perhaps that’s the reason that someone wrote that skeptics annotated Bible website, to undermine conversion.

Thus, the worldview itself is not a religion – it is a set of presuppositions that the religion is based on. Religious beliefs emerge from the worldview. As a result, you will have many different religions emerging from each worldview.
So different denominations could be considered different religions with the same Christian worldview. Yes, that makes sense, because the practices can very between denominations. For example, Catholics and Anglicans, that’s almost the same religion, their services are structured in a similar way, but they’re quite different from say Pentecostal religion.

Since you brought up Secular Humanism, consider this (this system is actually easier than most to define because Secular Humanists have specifically spelled out their doctrine). It has 17 (give or take) specific doctrines concerning.
I should look up those 17 to see if they fit me.
Best regards,
William

8/16/06
William,
I think you are beginning to get some of the deeper significance of the possibilities of working with worldview. You are coming up with some very good insights. I think that your process for working through it is fascinating. It illustrates what we were talking about earlier concerning how different people seem to be wired differently. Not that we come to completely different conclusions, but the process we use to get there can sometimes be very different. I would not have thought to approach it quite the way you did. I think it is great!

Let me see if I can stimulate a couple of refinements for you. Your statement about the strength of the experience is completely logical based on a Naturalistic worldview since Naturalism would have to assume that the experience itself is strictly a product biological events in our bodies (no transcendent elements possible). That would not be valid, though for my Christian beliefs because I believe that God is an objective person that we can know in an objective way. Because of that, I would not say that the “strength of experience” was what made the difference. I would simply say I met God (which, as a byproduct, produced a physiological response in my body – but the actual experience and the response are not essentially connected). Perhaps by this you can see how both experiences are interpreted differently even though we might have experienced pretty much the same feelings. For me it is not the strength of feelings that accounts for the difference, but the confidence that my experience with God is an objective reality.

You are spot on that worldview is a means for amplifying our differences (or at least highlighting them).

You are also right that it makes us subject to “confirmation bias.” This is why it is so important to evaluate worldview based on an understanding of all the worldview possibilities rather than limiting ourselves to a knowledge of only our own. Only when we begin to understand them all do we put ourselves in a position to really evaluate of our own.

It is hard to speculate generically why individuals might write a “skeptics Bible” or other similar types of materials. I really think that is an individual matter. For some it really is a reactionary emotional response based totally on an irrational dislike for the implications of an opposing worldview. For others it is a completely honest attempt to justify one’s own beliefs and discredit another. And I suppose there are all kinds of possibilities in between. If the attempt is honest, I don’t have any problem with it. You can find apologetic material written to defend virtually every belief system that exists – some of it really good and some of it laughable. Of course I am convinced of my own, but I believe honest investigation and dialogue has great value.

This is not completely on topic, but it is a reference to something you mentioned a couple of times so I will just throw this in for free. You mentioned about the idea of conversion. I have been pondering the nature of that topic and what makes it such a dramatic event in people’s lives. My own provisional conclusion is that a conversion is when a person experientially adopts a new worldview. Because it causes a shift at such a fundamental level of our being (the very presuppositions that we base our understanding of reality on) it is extremely profound. What people believe at that level is their complete basis for living life. So when a change occurs, most people feel compelled at the deepest level of their being to defend it – even if it is not consistent.

When it comes to identifying different religions, I am not sure exactly where you draw the line to say something is a completely different religion, but there needs to be a significant difference in the fundamental tenets of the belief systems to make that kind of distinction. For the most part, the differences between Christian denominations would not rise to the level of being a different religion, simply a variation of the same one. For instance, even though Pentecostals and Catholics have a lot of differences in practices and even theology, they would still answer the 7 worldview questions pretty much the same way. As a result they would generally be considered to be variations of the same religion.

However, Mormons would have an entirely different answer for the nature of ultimate reality than what is found in the Christian religion. This makes Mormonism to be actually a different religion.

If you are interested in looking at the basic beliefs of Secular Humanism (or any of a number of other belief systems) I have already done a lot of the work for you. You can go to www.marketfaith.org, click on the “resources” tab, then on the “Worldview Summaries of Religions, Cults & Philosophies” link. At that point simply click on the one you are interested in.
Hope you have a terrific one.
Freddy

8/18/06
Dear Freddy,
Let me see if I can stimulate a couple of refinements for you. Your statement about the strength of the experience is completely logical based on a Naturalistic worldview since Naturalism would have to assume that the experience itself is strictly a product biological events in our bodies (no transcendent elements possible).
You keep assuming that this conclusion is based on Naturalism. It is not. Remember that I came to the conclusion (that these experiences are not evidence of God) while a was still a Christian.

This conclusion did not mean that I had to give up my Christian beliefs.

What that meant was that I had to search elsewhere for evidence of God (e.g. Strobel’s book on the resurrection). For a while I was OK with that.

Things changed more drastically some time later when I started reading the Bible. Once you know what’s actually in there, it becomes so much harder to believe! But this is besides the point, because this came after I had already concluded (while I was still a Christian) that religious experiences are not evidence of God, and that I needed other evidence. The historical evidence presented by Strobel worked for me, at least at the time.

One way that we might differ is that if you have much stronger experiences than I had, then it would be harder for you to come to the same conclusion (that this is not evidence of God because people of other religions also have such experiences). You could for example conclude that Muslim’s aren’t really talking to God (even though they think they do) but that you yourself really do talk to God (your experiences are so strong that it would be very hard to conclude that these experiences come from within yourself).

Add to that decades of seeing things that only confirm your view (remember, this happens to people of every worldview) and the near certainty that arose from those experiences has now grown to a complete certainty.

Here is one other way that we might differ: Now that I think back, I remember that even as a child, although I believed, prayed, talked to God, etc., even then I remember that there were already some teachings that I didn’t know what to do with. I remember at a very young age we were taught the story of Abraham on his way to sacrifice his only son. But even back then, though I was very young, I already wondered “would I do that? If God told me to kill my son, would I?” And I also remember thinking: “No, I wouldn’t do that. I know that God is good, so if he ordered me to kill my son, then I must have not heard it right. If I did think I heard God say that, then I’d have to be mistaken, and I would not follow the order to kill my son”. So I guess that even at a young age, as a devout believer, my sense of right and wrong was wired in a way that’s incompatible with the Christian belief. I would not follow the order, I’d assume I didn’t hear it right. And if I did hear it right, I’d assume that my mind is failing me, and I’d have myself locked up in a mental institution to protect my son. That means that no matter what God would tell me, I would not follow that order.

Perhaps you’ve never had doubts like that. Maybe that’s one more way in which we differ. And perhaps, even though I thought I believed, perhaps I never really reached this 100% complete and unwavering faith because these unresolved issues, even if you don’t think about them, might be somehow working in the subconscious to spoil the certainty a little bit.

Christians tell me that morals come from God and the Bible. Clearly my morals don’t, already as a child I realized that I would have denied a direct order from God. Now that I actually have a son, it is even more clear how immense the horror was that Abraham was asked (and willing) to do. But in the Christian world, this serves as an example of obedience.
Best regards,
William

PS. For studying worldviews, perhaps the following is an interesting exercise. Try to imagine how Christianity, its teachings, preachers, followers, and churches, would look like seen through naturalist viewpoint.

18 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
It is hard to speculate generically why individuals might write a “skeptics Bible” or other similar types of materials.
I think you are right that emotions played a role in writing this website. For example, the tone in: http://www.skepticsannotatedBible.com/dt/intro.html certainly suggests this. I think this website started out as an emotional attack, and that the author is now trying to turn it into something more scholarly (I should say: less unscholarly). For instance, when you click on: http://www.skepticsannotatedBible.com/contra/by_name.html and click on one of the contradictions, then the usual ridicule is missing. All it does is give two lists with biblical quotes, without any further comment. Underneath those lists one finds Christian responses. Click for example on the question “Is Salvation by faith alone?” What you find is something that is actually useful as a resource for study. No ridicule, just two lists of quotes, followed by four Christian (and no skeptic) responses.

And since each of those two lists contains a substantial number of quotes, it would be fair to conclude that reasonable Christians can in fact disagree on whether or not salvation is by faith alone. Both sides do have ample of ammunition to support their side. Moreover, anyone that wants to debate whether or not salvation is by faith alone, would want to know before the debate starts what the ammunition (the list of biblical quotes) of the other side is. For this, the website (at least this part of it) is useful.

If you are interested in looking at the basic beliefs of Secular Humanism (or any of a number of other belief systems) I have already done a lot of the work for you. You can go to www.marketfaith.org, click on the “resources” tab, then on the “Worldview Summaries of Religions, Cults & Philosophies” link. At that point simply click on the one you are interested in.
I noticed a pro abortion point of view in the Secular Humanism description. Some of the Secular Humanism websites mention abortion, while others don’t. I’d be happier if they didn’t mention abortion because it’s not clear to me why a naturalist should choose one side or the other.
William

8/19/06
William,
Hope your weekend is getting off to a great start. I just got back in town from doing a presentation in Central Florida. Good experience, but I am a little pooped.

Since we have not really discussed your personal doctrinal beliefs during the time you say you were a Christian, it is really hard for me to make any kind of evaluation about where, exactly, your conclusions come from. But I was not basing my comments on your upbringing or when you had certain thoughts about certain things. I was basing it on the conclusion itself. A person is not a Christian just because they were raised in a certain church or country or family, or even went to church and were christened or baptized. There are a lot of people who identify themselves as Christians who are not. The means for actually becoming a Christian is individual and personal. It happens at a point when an individual recognizes the existence of and need for God in their life, and individually and intentionally takes
measures to enter into a personal relationship with him.

Many people who culturally identify themselves as Christians (I call them “cultural Christians”) actually hold many beliefs which are not consistent with a Christian worldview. On top of that, many people identify certain spiritual experiences as being a confirmation of their faith. As a result, it is not unusual for some of those folks to hold doctrines and have a lifestyle that is not consistent with a true reading of the Bible. And when they decide they don’t like Christianity, it is not really Christianity they don’t like, but their wrong understanding of it.

To me, the unfortunate case is that when some of these people later reject what they think is the Christian faith, what they have really rejected is a hybrid of some kind that is devoid of an actual relationship with God. I have no way of knowing your own experience, but several things you have said lead me to think that your experience may have been somewhat consistent with one of these scenarios. I know that this is not necessarily the case, but it would certainly not be unusual.

If that was the case it would be an explanation to me of why your approach to interpreting certain Biblical passages points in a direction that is different than the approach I feel is correct (for example your approach to the passage in Psalms and your example of the situation with Abraham). As I have said before, it is possible to take the Bible and, if you don’t use correct hermeneutical principles to do your interpretation, make it come to any conclusion you want. And taking the approach you have, it seems very logical that you would come to the conclusion you have and react the way you have. I disagree with your interpretation, but based on it, I do see why you would be repulsed by it – I also am repulsed by the conclusions you come to. If that is what I believed about Christianity, I would quit it too. But you are reading it through the eyes of a Naturalist or some Christian/Naturalist hybrid. You are not approaching it
the way a Christian would.

Your assumptions about the way I have come to belief and the reasons I have persisted is not exactly accurate. I grew up in a Christian family and our family participated in church when I was young. In my tradition we don’t have confirmation, it is strictly up to the individual to make their own decision about following God, or not, when they get old enough to understand it. Of course everyone is taught and encouraged to do so, but nothing happens until the individual decides. For me, it was at age 16. And, by the way, that was the result of a very dramatic spiritual experience for me. However, following that, while in high school and in college, I was confronted with Naturalistic ideas for the first time and went through quite an internal struggle for over a year as I tried to come to some kind of personal reconciliation. My search led me to conclude differently than you.

But my growth and understanding didn’t stop there. Contrary to your implications about the part experience plays in my faith decisions, there is an element that has become even more important for me. Over the years I have continued to challenge my own faith and to study. And the more I do, the more I am convinced that Naturalism is not internally consistent and is not worthy of my devotion. On the other side, I continue to be more and more convinced that Christian Theism is consistent with reality as we experience it in life. On top of my rational evaluation, my personal experience lends confirmation to me that it is the truth. It used to be that what I learned confirmed my experience. I have grown to the place where now my experience confirms what I have learned. Our experience of reality is not just hanging out there on its own. There is a rational part and an experiential part that work in tandem.

It is interesting that you ask me to imagine how Christianity looks through the eyes of a Naturalist. I can actually do that much better than most Naturalists because I have met very few Naturalists who have an accurate view of Christianity. Mostly what I see from Naturalists, as we addressed earlier, is an emotional reaction against Christian morality rather than an intellectual and rational evaluation of the faith. The kind of evaluation you ask for is actually very easy to do. The result is the kind of writings you see from the Jesus Seminar and other such groups. You simply make the assumption, up front, that there is no supernatural, then interpret everything in the Bible as if it had a natural cause. The end result is to simply deny that most of what is written there actually happened and that the interpretations that Christians give are simply not true. As we have been talking about though, there is no empirical reason for Naturalists to do this. They do it based on faith assumptions that there is no supernatural. I do understand it, but there is no objective reason or justification for it.

If you are particularly interested in Secular Humanism, you might want to check out their own website. The link http://www.americanhumanist.org/about/manifesto2.html goes directly to the Humanist Manifesto II. Look at Article VI and you will find the one where the reference is made to abortion.

You are right about it not being clear why a Naturalist would choose one view over another concerning abortion (or any other value for that matter). However, you have to remember that this is simply one expression of Naturalism and is not dealing directly with the worldview itself. There are other expressions as well – Existentialism, Marxism, Positivism, etc., as we have already talked about. But the fact is, there is no transcendent reason for any particular expression of Naturalism. People have to make it up as they go along and different people envision it different ways. Your individual view is no exception. There is no essentially compelling reason why you “ought” to have a aversion to killing infants or committing genocide against groups you disagree with. I know that to do that would horrify you, but there is no compelling Naturalistic reason why things should operate your way rather than, say, Stalin’s or Hitler’s way. That is simply the Nature of Naturalism. The fact that Secular Humanists have selected a certain set of values to emphasize is simply a recognition that societies have to have some rules in order to avoid anarchy (which
is a value they see as helpful), but there is no particular reason why one set “ought” to take precedence over another. It is simply a matter of the law of the jungle – which ever group has the power makes the rules.
Have a terrific one,
Freddy

27 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
I haven’t forgotten about our e-mails, but I’ve gotten busier so I can’t write as frequently anymore.
There are a lot of people who identify themselves as Christians who are not. The means for actually becoming a Christian is individual and personal. It happens at a point when an individual recognizes the existence of and need for God in their life, and individually and intentionally takes measures to enter into a personal relationship with him.
I don’t know precisely your definition of a Christian, so I’m not sure if I ever was one in that definition. I do remember having a personal relationship (meaning: praying, having the feeling that God hears me, and having the feeling that he answers yes/no questions) but I don’t remember having the need for God (my life was pretty easy at the time so I didn’t feel needs).

A simple definition would be “someone who believes in the divinity of Jesus”. But, as you point out, there is
a difficulty with simple definitions, because by this definition someone unaware of most of the main teachings could still be a Christian.

Many people who culturally identify themselves as Christians (I call them “cultural Christians”) actually hold many beliefs which are not consistent with a Christian worldview. On top of that, many people identify a certain spiritual experiences as being a confirmation of their faith. As a result, it is not unusual for some of those folks to hold doctrines and have a lifestyle that is not consistent with a true reading of the Bible. And when they decide they don’t like Christianity, it is not really Christianity they don’t like, but their wrong understanding of it.
Yes, there are people that don’t know (or don’t believe) most of the Bible and still consider it to be very important to be a Christian.

A little while ago there was a senator on TV who was sponsoring a bill to have the 10 commandments displayed in more places. A reporter asked him to name the ten commandments. He only knew three of them. So apparently, the ten commandments are so important that they need to be displayed in courthouses, and at the same time so unimportant that it’s enough to remember just 3 out of 10. Or perhaps none of the commandments were important to him, the only thing that was important were the votes of those that do think they’re important.

If that was the case it would be an explanation to me of why your approach to interpreting certain Biblical passages points in a direction that is different than the approach I feel is correct (for example your approach to the passage in Psalms and your example of the situation with Abraham). As I have said before, it is possible to take the Bible and, if you don’t use correct hermeneutical principles to do your interpretation, make it come to any conclusion you want. And taking the approach you have, it seems very logical that you would come to the conclusion you have and react the way you have. I disagree with your interpretation, but based on it, I do see why you would be repulsed by it – I also am repulsed by the conclusions you come to. If that is what I believed about Christianity, I would quit it too.
The language in the story of Abraham is clear and easy to understand. And yet, you seem to say that one still has to study the right “hermeneutical principles” before reading this passage. But the text is clear and unambiguous, it’s very clear what’s meant there. And still you say I should interpret it in a different way. That’s a big problem, because if I did that, then I could use the same strategy for other passages even when their meaning is clear (for instance, a gay Episcopal bishop can use this strategy to explain away biblical passages that are inconvenient to him).

I am suspicious about the phrase “hermeneutical principles”. I can not get around the conclusion that what I read is what it says. The language in the story of Abraham is clear and easy to understand. And if I could get around that conclusion, I think I can also get around most other passages too, which would mean that the Bible does not really tell me how to live my life.

But you are reading it through the eyes of a Naturalist or some Christian/Naturalist hybrid. You are not approaching it the way a Christian would.
Could it be that I already had a naturalist approach even when I believed in the divinity of Jesus, and even when I believed that God acts in this world and that one can communicate with Him?

However, following that, while in high school and in college, I was confronted with Naturalistic ideas for the first time and went through quite an internal struggle for over a year as I tried to come to some kind of personal reconciliation. My search led me to conclude differently than you.
When you say Naturalistic ideas, do you mean evolution?

Struggles can sometimes radicalize people (meaning that the end result is either a very committed Christian or an atheist, but nothing in between).

And the more I do, the more I am convinced that Naturalism is not internally consistent and is not worthy of my devotion.
Is it “not internally consistent” or is it “not working for you”? If it is not internally consistent, it means that you found a logical contradiction.

It is interesting that you ask me to imagine how Christianity looks through the eyes of a Naturalist. I can actually do that much better than most Naturalists because I have met very few Naturalists who have an accurate view of Christianity. Mostly what I see from Naturalists, as we addressed earlier, is an emotional reaction against Christian morality rather than an intellectual and rational evaluation of the faith.
My view of the story of Abraham (or the doctrine of Hell, etc), is that a typical emotional reaction against Christian morality?

The kind of evaluation you ask for is actually very easy to do. The result is the kind of writings you see from the Jesus Seminar and other such groups. You simply make the assumption, up front, that there is no supernatural, then interpret everything in the Bible as if it had a natural cause.
I don’t think that the Jesus Seminar works that way. I think they study it the way one studies history in general.

You see, even if you accept the supernatural and the divinity of Christ, one can still look at a passage and ask “are those the words of Jesus, or is this a later interpolation?”

Do you believe that Jesus said everything that is attributed to him in the Gospels? Is there absolutely no passage in there that was added a few centuries later?

Humanist Manifesto II. Look at Article VI and you will find the one where the reference is made to abortion.
By the way, where would I find the biblical case against abortion (as far as I know the Bible doesn’t mention this issue?).

My personal position is pro-life, however, I am not sure enough of myself to force this position on others, which makes me a reluctant pro-choicer as well (my emotional feeling on this is clearly pro-life but apart from emotional feelings I don’t have any other arguments to force this position on others. Perhaps you view this as a gap in Naturalism. However, gaps are inevitable. I reject worldviews for contradictions, not for gaps).

There is no essentially compelling reason why you “ought” to have a aversion to killing infants or committing genocide against groups you disagree with.
It seems to me that many people don’t really have an aversion to genocide. After 9/11, it was not uncommon to hear people say “bomb them all” even though of course these bombs inevitably fall on people that have nothing to do with 9/11.

I know that to do that would horrify you, but there is no compelling Naturalistic reason why things should operate your way rather than, say, Stalin’s or Hitler’s way. That is simply the Nature of Naturalism.
And indeed, things can go Stalin’s or Hitler’s way. What’s frightening is that the atrocities committed for example by Nazi Germany were done by normal people. Once you realize that, it indicates how careful we must guard ourselves against these tendencies (this is part of my deconversion, because my conclusion was that, to be logically consistent, I would also need to reject the biblical genocides as morally unacceptable).

It is simply a matter of the law of the jungle – which ever group has the power makes the rules.
But that’s really the world we live in. For example, whether divorce is legal or not in a country, this is simply decided by whoever has the power to write laws in that country.
William

8/28/06
William,
I completely understand your situation. School is back in session and you are bound to be pretty busy. If you want to continue corresponding, feel free to do so at your convenience.

I believe I understand where you are coming from as you describe your background related to the Christian faith. The simple fact is, when we are young we don’t question what we are taught by those we trust. If our parents or pastor or teachers tell us about faith, children tend to simply believe it and go on. Generally we continue to believe what we have been taught until there is some compelling reason to question it. When it comes to our belief system we usually hit that point in our mid teens to early twenties. People who move into higher education after high school have more opportunities to have their childhood beliefs challenged than those who don’t. As a result, I suspect that a higher percentage of people who don’t take that step tend to hold on to their childhood beliefs without ever questioning them too much. I think that there is a large percentage of that group who don’t live their lives as if that set of beliefs was actually true, but they hold to it as a faith position, anyway.

Of those who do have their faith challenged, there tends to be at least three categories of people. We could probably identify others, but these three will help me make my point. One group are those who immediately believe the new system and convert over to it. Another group are those who simply dismiss the new system without intellectually investigating it. They simply hold on to what they were taught growing up.

I think there is a third group, and this is the one that I fell into. When I was challenged it shook me pretty hard. (To answer your question about my own struggle, evolution was a part of the picture. But I think the bigger picture has to be put out there. It was really the various implications of Naturalism. Darwin’s theory of evolution simply gave intellectual plausibility to the Naturalistic ideas that were already floating around. After that, Naturalists began applying their principles to everything – psychology, education, government, sociology, law, etc.) When first confronted with these new ideas, I didn’t have an intellectual background to deal with it. But my faith was important to me, so I determined to dig deeper and evaluate which side seemed more credible. Obviously the conclusion I personally came to was that my Christian Theism is more consistent as a worldview. You are absolutely right about people taking on a position and following it blindly (like the senator you mentioned). I believe that a lot of folks who do that do have ulterior motives, but there are those who simply don’t have the intellectual background to give a good logical argument – but the existential faith experience is so real to them that they believe it is right anyway. Obviously a person can be intellectually compelling and totally wrong, or can come across as a total ignoramus but positionally be correct. Truth is independent of the verbal or intellectual abilities of any individual.

You asked if it could be that you already had a naturalist approach even when you believed in the divinity of Christ. Of course I cannot answer that question directly. I do believe that it is possible that the environment you grew up in could have had enough Naturalism intertwined in it that the divinity of Jesus
was not taken seriously and that it made it easier for you to cross over yourself when your faith was challenged. I am sure that American society is very much that way now. Many people who claim to believe in Christ have a hybrid understanding of what that really means. If that is the case, I believe that it is important to go back to the source and reevaluate the faith based on its actual teachings, rather than on the influences of society or the bad example of those who are in error. One of the most common objections to the Christian faith that many bring up is the bad behavior and that has been expressed throughout history in the name of Christianity. All I can say is, the people who did it were bad and their actions went against the very teachings they hung their hats on. But the bad behavior of some who called themselves Christian is not a reflection on the teaching itself. The truth stands independent of the bad
actions of any groups or individuals.

There are a few other issues you brought up. Let me address them in sections.

The Consistency of Naturalism
Naturalism makes that positive assertion that there is no God and no transcendent reality. However it has no basis for making that assertion. That assertion assumes all knowledge – which is impossible. There is no evidence that can be brought to bear to indicate that the assertion is true. Beyond that, it asserts that everything which exists is the result of Natural law. However, there is no Natural law to explain the origin of matter (to include energy) and no natural law to explain how the evolutionary pattern that it depends on can account for the origin or the nature of life. It simply starts out with a faith assumption then rejects anything that doesn’t fit in the assumption. And for anything that is Naturally unexplainable, it simply asserts that we just don’t know enough yet to quantify it. It claims to be a belief system based strictly on physical law, yet everything is built on a faith foundation. To me, that is logical inconsistency.

Beyond the consistency issue, there is the problem of morality. I deeply appreciate your personal sense of morality. I think it is quite commendable that you object to abortion (even though you struggle with the “why”) and that you abhor the evils of war and genocide. But the question again becomes, “Why?” For Naturalism it simply is not an issue. The law of the jungle is the law of nature. Survival of the fittest is the rule and those who can become the Alpha Male get to call the shots. Morality is not an issue. For Naturalists who are uncomfortable with that, a different dynamic has to be brought into play. Some justification has to be introduced that makes a more pacifistic approach to be a survival mechanism. That means the pacifists must somehow become the Alpha Males so they can control the social mechanism.

Still, there is no compelling reason for it. It is simply a matter of preference since there is no transcendent reason for it to be so. (You are right about one thing. Genocide through the eyes of a Naturalist is at least not logically inconsistent.)

I cannot provide you with an empirical experiment which demonstrates that human beings have an inner spiritual component that points us to the reality of an objective moral reality. But to me, the fact that you and many other Naturalists have this strong sense of a moral right and wrong, in spite of the assertion that there is no objective morality, points me to the conclusion that it does, indeed, exist. The fact is, human beings have the capacity to act against our personal best interests to put forth the interests of others, even when there is no survivability reason to do so. To me, this is another huge inconsistency in Naturalism.

Interpretation of Scripture
I don’t object to you, or anyone else, questioning any particular interpretation of scripture. It is, though, essential that when an interpretation is done, it is done in a way that allows the true meaning and significance of the text to be brought forth. The Jesus Seminar does not do that. They start with the assumption that there is no supernatural, then base their interpretation on that. Since a huge amount of what Jesus talks about relates to the supernatural, they have presuppositionally concluded that virtually nothing that is recorded in the Bible as the words of Jesus are actually his words. That is a shameful approach to Biblical interpretation. If someone approached math and said that no equation that used the numbers 3 through 7 is a valid equation, would you consider that valid? This is basically what the Jesus Seminar does.

You are certainly right that it is possible to look at a passage and ask if they are the words of Jesus or a later interpolation. But you better have good criteria to base your conclusions on. The Bible has been studied in this regard probably more than virtually any other book in history, and the only people saying that Jesus’ words were added later are people who are using methodologies like the folks with the Jesus Seminar. Their scholarship is simply lacking. If you would like a short synopsis of how that plays out, you might want to go to the MarketFaith Ministries website and read my essay on the DaVinci Code. There is a section on “The Reliability of New Testament Documents.” If you are particularly interested, there are many other resources available which are much more extensive.

Let me go ahead, here, and also address your question about Abraham, and I will also touch on your previous questions related to Psalm 137. This is probably a good place to deal with that. By way of introduction, though, let me make a few comments. When I approach Biblical interpretation, I do try and treat the Bible as a whole, not simply grab pieces and do with them what I will. I begin with a couple of assumptions. First, I assume that the Bible is consistent with itself and when I come across difficult passages I have confidence that it can be reconciled within the framework of Christian Theism. Please understand, though, that this is not an arbitrary assumption. It has its basis on a couple of different factors.

The first foundational basis is that the Bible is an objective revelation that God has given to mankind and in it he has revealed himself and his ways. There are some passages that are unambiguous relating to these matters and some that are more difficult to understand. I start with the clear ones and work to understand the more difficult ones based on that. The second foundational basis that I work from is that I have a personal relationship with God, and he has worked in my life in a way that is consistent with what he has revealed. I recognize that this existential element is quite difficult for a Naturalist to accept.

However, the existential is not arbitrary, but is experienced in relationship to what is revealed. This gives an objective foundation to base the existential on and compare it to. If my experience in any way contradicts the revelation, it is assumed that the experience is in error.

Now, let me touch on the matters of interpretation that you have asked about. First concerning Abraham. We must begin by recognizing the context. God had in mind to use Abraham to create a people who would become the means by which he would reveal himself to the world. As such, he wanted a person who had a character and a devotion that could be trusted with that kind of responsibility. So, God devised a test to see just how far Abraham would go in his devotion. Understand that there are other scripture passages which are quite blunt about the fact that child sacrifice is unacceptable to God. God never intended for Abraham to go through with the process. This is demonstrated by the fact that God provided an animal for the sacrifice before Abe could carry it out. If it truly was God’s intention for Abraham to actually sacrifice his child, I would be in total agreement with you. But that was simply not the case.

Now, concerning Psalm 137. Rather than make an involved explanation here, let me simply refer you to a couple of websites of folks who have already taken the time to deal specifically with this topic. I hope you find these resources refreshing in their straightforward approach to the topic and recognize how the hermeneutic is not used simply as a way of explaining away problems, as much as being a tool to help get at what is really going on. I believe that you will find that the issues that you have referred to as “Biblical genocides” are also addressed here.
http://www.Bible-interpretation.com/answer_psalms1379.htm
http://www.brfwitness.org/Articles/1986v21n4.htm

The Abortion Issue
You are right that the specific issue of abortion is not mentioned in the Bible. Apparently that was not really the kind of issue in Biblical days that needed to specifically be addressed. What is addressed, though, is the sanctity of life. Life is understood to be a special creation of God. It is also important to understand that in speaking of human life we are not simply talking about physical life. Humans have a spiritual essence that makes us something more than other biological creatures. This essence includes self-consciousness, free will and other characteristics that reflect the personhood of God himself. Because of the special nature of humanity, the prerogative of taking life is reserved for him. (Note: The issues of capital punishment and war are entirely different issues and have to be addressed in a different way).

At this point we have to ask the question, “When does life begin?” The Christian asserts that God creates life when the embryo is established. That is the point when God inserts life. Thus, abortion becomes the taking of life – murder. This is why Christians object so strongly to it.

For the Naturalist, there is no compelling reason to object to abortion, as an embryo is nothing more than a mass of tissue without intrinsic value. Any reservations about it must simply be existential or pragmatic.

Let me make a final point. There is nothing that I have written above that is a definitive proof of anything. That kind of proof simply does not exist for any worldview. On top of that, very few people make their ultimate decisions about the worldview they will adopt and the lifestyle they will follow based strictly on logical arguments. I could never argue you into the Christian faith any more than you could argue me into Naturalism. We ultimately make our decisions based on one of two things. Some make their decisions based on the kind of lifestyle they are determined to live regardless of any inconsistencies (indeed, most people do not even stop to consider that there are inconsistencies), and others because of a sense that “this is really the truth.”

I thought of an example that may register with you. If you try to solve a math equation that has been posited but never solved, you can take one of two approaches.
1. You can consider that it is possible to solve it and can continue to work on it, even for years and years on end.
2. You can determine that it is not possible to solve it and you will then only look for reasons not to waste your time with it.

Neither position is based on an objective rationale. Both are faith positions. The one you choose will determine how you interact with that equation in the future.

The validation of the Christian Theism is first founded on faith. Only after that comes the life validation. (Actually every worldview takes this approach). This is possible because God is an objective person and because his objective essence is spirit.

Hope your first week back teaching is a terrific experience.
Freddy

29 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
I agree that naturalism leaves some questions unanswered, but there really are no contradictions here. For example, here you attack an assumption simply for being an assumption, and then consider that as a contradiction in Naturalism:
Naturalism makes that positive assertion that there is no God and no transcendent reality. However it has no basis for making that assertion. That assertion assumes all knowledge – which is impossible.
Naturalism makes the assumption that there is no God and no supernatural. There is no conclusive proof of that assertion. That’s why it’s an assumption. An assumption is by definition an assertion without proof. As long as no evidence of God or the supernatural is found, there is no contradiction in this assumption. The assumption that God does exist is by itself also not something that leads to contradictions (however, many theists will make additional assumptions about the character of God, and those additional assumptions may well contradict each other).
That assertion assumes all knowledge – which is impossible.
You are saying that to assume “no God” one must first assume all knowledge. If that were so then one could never make any assumptions. One does not need to know everything to make such an assumption, because if that reasoning were valid, then in order for me to claim that there are no Unicorns I would first need to assume all knowledge. Clearly, I don’t need to know everything to say that there are no Unicorns. I do not need to search every inch in space before I can make the no-Unicorn assumption.

The way I look at it is like this: Since I can not find evidence of Unicorns, I consider the existence of Unicorns unlikely. So at this moment in time I believe that there are no Unicorns, I consider this to be true with very high probability. However, if I were to encounter some evidence that contradicts this view, then I can no longer think that the existence of Unicorns is unlikely, and have to change my position.

The same applies to the supernatural. Having found no evidence for the supernatural that holds up under scrutiny, I conclude that it is very likely that there is no supernatural. I make the assumption that there is no supernatural, since I think this is very likely to be true. However, just like the no-Unicorn assumption, the no-God assumption is not conclusively proven, so if I were to encounter something that genuinely contradicts this assumption (not word games like criticizing an assumption for being an assumption) then and only then do I need to give up this assumption.
William

8/29/06
William,
I think you just affirmed my point. A person’s decision to consciously choose one worldview over another is not something that is based on the ability to come up with incontrovertible proof. Every worldview is ultimately based on faith and each person has to decide for themselves what they will accept as truth. I think that the very assumptions of Naturalism affirm a contradiction. You, obviously, don’t see it that way. But neither your position nor mine can be proven.

There is a point to be made by your unicorn illustration, though I do believe your comparison of a unicorn to God is not a very good comparison and that you have overreached with it a bit. No one that I know of has ever asserted that a unicorn was a real creature. God is asserted as a real objective person – a person I know, by the way. The key is, there is evidence of God. It is just that you are not willing to accept the kind of evidence that God gives.

I do hope that as you continue to deal with this issue in your own life, that you are able to come to a resolution that satisfies your spirit. Have a terrific day.

Freddy

29 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,

Clearly belief in unicorns is less reasonable than belief in God. I should have added that in my previous email that the point of the example was not to say that God and unicorns are somehow on equal footing, clearly they’re not.

Rather, the point was that if your argument was valid that one can not assert or even assume that there is no supernatural, then the same argument would also apply to unicorns.

I do think it’s important to point out that there really are no contradictions in naturalism. Note though that this does not imply that this worldview is true! Because for a worldview to be true, having no contradictions is necessary but not sufficient.

William

8/29/06
William,
Perhaps my vocabulary is getting in the way. But it seems to me to be a logical contradiction to argue for a faith position (Naturalism) based on a worldview that asserts that the only things that are real are things that can be empirically verified and which asserts as fact that material reality has an origin that can be explained empirically. Maybe this is not a contradiction. Maybe it is something else.

Freddy

29 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
You are absolutely right about people taking on a position and following it blindly (like the senator you mentioned).
These senators do not follow religion, and certainly don’t follow it blindly. They only pretend to follow religion. They abuse the religious beliefs of others for the benefit of their own political careers. Take for example Senator Bob Barr. Divorced several times (married a woman he was cheating with, then cheated on her and divorced her as well, failed to pay child support, etc.) Such a man for whom fidelity and the sanctity of marriage means even less than it did for Bill Clinton has the audacity to sponsor the “Defense of Marriage Act”. And the voters fall for that.

The senators are not the ones that are blind. It’s the voters that are blind. They vote for who sounds right, not for who is right.

Truth is independent of the verbal or intellectual abilities of any individual.
Very true. But most people don’t make decisions based on an intellectual study, but base their decisions more on trust. We tend to believe those people that sound trustworthy. If someone sounds sincere, we don’t usually check their story to make sure they were telling the truth.

One of the most common objections to the Christian faith that many bring up is the bad behavior and that has been expressed throughout history in the name of Christianity. All I can say is, the people who did it were bad and their actions went against the very teachings they hung their hats on. But the bad behavior of some who called themselves Christian is not a reflection on the teaching itself. The truth stands independent of the bad actions of any groups or individuals.
I agree with what you write here. I hope that you apply the same standards to other faiths as well (people also use examples of bad behavior to attack atheism, or more recently, to attack Islam. But I hope you agree that the same defense you made for Christianity applies here as well).

However, there is no Natural law to explain the origin of matter (to include energy) and no natural law to explain how the evolutionary pattern that it depends on can account for the origin or the nature of life.
Actually, the problem is not that there is no natural explanation for the origin of matter/energy, the problem is that there are several explanations, and that we currently can not figure out which one (if any) is the right one. That’s why there is no consensus on a natural explanation.

And again, if one keeps going further and further back then one inevitably reaches the question “why is there something instead of nothing” and no worldview can answer that without already assuming the conclusion.

It claims to be a belief system based strictly on physical law, yet everything is built on a faith foundation. To me, that is logical inconsistency.
It is not logically inconsistent to make an assumption, as long as the assumption does not contradict known facts.

Naturalism is not based on physical law. It’s based on the assumption that there is no supernatural. Again, this is an assumption, it’s not something that has been proven conclusively.

“Why?” For Naturalism it simply is not an issue. The law of the jungle is the law of nature. Survival of the fittest is the rule and those who can become the Alpha Male get to call the shots.
But this really is the world we live in. Under Naturalism, someone like Hitler can come to power, even in a democracy, and when he becomes the Alpha Male, he calls the shots. And no matter how horrific the shots are that he calls, there’s no God that will interfere, only humans can interfere, which they did, something for which I’m very grateful. Under Naturalism, if humans don’t end the Nazi regime, then there’s no God that will do it for us.

And during the Cold war, whether this would turn into an all out nuclear war or not, it’s in the hand of the Alpha Male’s, with no supernatural force out there to help humanity if it goes wrong.

Likewise, with hurricane Katrina, the scientific consensus was that a Hurricane category 4 would drown New Orleans. In 2001 I read an article in Scientific American that described in great detail what exactly would happen if a major hurricane hit that area. The scientific consensus was that this was very likely to happen within just one or two decades (unless of course the Alpha Male politicians would suddenly decide to listen to the scientific consensus and quickly build defenses to the water, but alas, that’s not how politics works in this country). It’s like rolling the dice once each year, sooner or later you will roll a 6. Problem is, you don’t know when. It may be 1 year, or may be 20 years (and when scientists admit this uncertainty, politicians quickly lose interest).

That means the pacifists must somehow become the Alpha Males so they can control the social mechanism.
True, and sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.

A worldwide rise in secular humanism would be a great thing. Imagine if Iran adopted secular humanism… That would be much better than a theocracy chasing a nuclear weapon.

The fact is, human beings have the capacity to act against our personal best interests to put forth the interests of others, even when there is no survivability reason to do so. To me, this is another huge inconsistency in Naturalism.
Our natural instincts, our gut feelings, our first reactions, our emotions, etc., all of those are very strongly tailored to the survival of our genes. All these things are highly tuned for the goal of survival of our genes. But sometimes rational thought leads to a conclusion that differs from the one from our natural instincts. Then we can make a choice. We are not slaves of our natural instincts, we can, if we want, choose something else.

It’s not clear how this is inconsistent with Naturalism. If at some point in time, a bigger brain suddenly offered a survival benefit (e.g. a change in mate preference might have triggered such a thing), then one need not be surprised that larger brains started evolving.

When you say there is an inconsistency, I think you are saying that under Naturalism, one would expect that everything done by the larger brain must have a survival benefit. But that’s false. If a larger brain does a few things that don’t help the survival of the genes, then evolution can still push for a larger brain as long as the survival advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

So if you find one aspect of bigger brains that is not a survival benefit, then that does not contradict Naturalism/evolution. You only get a contradiction if the total net effect of a bigger brain is not a survival benefit.

William

8/30/06
William,
Let me make just a couple of clarifications before I get to my main point. I will mark these clarifications by an asterisk. Each of them relates to points you have made.

* First, I am not particularly interested in the hypocrisy of individuals or even large groups of people (including Christians). Wrongs done in the name of Christianity or political expediency that is perpetrated in the name of Christian principles do not have any effect on the truth or falsity of anything. People (individuals as well as whole religions) can do the right things for the wrong reasons as easily as they can do the wrong things for the right reasons. The only thing that concerns me is to get at Truth. When that is followed, especially for the right reasons, then we really have something.

* Also I want to make a semantic clarification. You seem to be missing an important point I am making, so perhaps I am not explaining myself well. When I say there is no natural law to explain the origin of matter/energy, I am specifically referring to the question you are addressing related to “why is there something rather than nothing.” I am not particularly interested in “stuff” that already exists. My issue is, “Where did “stuff” come from?” Was it created or is it somehow self-existent? You are right in saying that ultimately we have to assume a conclusion. My point is, Naturalism has no good assumption. It has to step outside of itself and simply believe something that it cannot account for. My question is, “How is that faith assumption more reasonable than believing that there is an eternal creator God?” Certainly everyone has to make their own decisions about what principle of reality they will organize their life around.

Personally, I believe at this level a belief in God is much more intellectually plausible than what Naturalism has to offer (which is simply to say, “It just exists”). At this point, the rejection of God becomes simply a matter of personal preference rather than a real search for Truth.

* If you assume that there is no supernatural, what is left but physical law? Naturalism is, by default, based on physical law. I don’t think it is possible to finesse past that.

* I simply don’t agree with you that the Law of the Jungle” is “the world we live in.” I believe that God created the world for a purpose and that his purpose is being fulfilled in the unfolding of history. Not that God is directing evil to take place, but that nothing that takes place (even by the decisions and the hands of evil people) will be able to thwart the ultimate purposes of God. He will even take what is evil and use it for ultimately good purposes. The ultimate expression of that was when Jesus Christ who had committed no sin was executed unjustly on a Roman cross. God took that horribly unjust event and used it as the lynch pin of his means for providing eternal life to those who are willing to accept it.

* I also don’t agree that a worldwide rise in Secular Humanism would be a great thing. Some of the most intolerant people I have ever met have been Secular Humanists. In the end, I believe you would end up with tyranny just as bad as any that has ever been demonstrated in the world. The intolerance that many Secular Humanists have and display toward people with my worldview is a small taste of what it would be like if they were in total control. The reason is, people who call themselves by a particular name (any label) don’t tend to act according to their doctrines when they gain power. You have seen this principle worked out with horrible results under the name of virtually every belief system that has ever been created (Christian, Islamic, Marxist, Shinto, etc.). All of these have basically benevolent doctrines. But it is not about the banner that they fly, it is the evil that resides in the heart of man. And if the heart is not changed, it tends toward evil. The fact is, every Naturalistic expression, regardless of the specific doctrine it
espouses (even Secular Humanism), contains the seed of tyranny. The “Law of the Jungle” is its root, and the destruction of people who have competing worldviews is not inconsistent with the foundation (not that everyone who is a Naturalist will do that (certainly not). But it is not inconsistent. At least with Christian Theism, when people do evil under that banner, they are being inconsistent with what they say they believe.

* I do not agree with you that everything is tailored to the survival of our genes. We do have a strong survival urge, but the drive for meaning is stronger still. And Naturalism is very weak as relates to the urge for meaning. It is reduced to arguing that the need for meaning itself is a survival mechanism. I don’t believe this is true. No other biological creature has this need, yet they have survived.

* My reference to The DaVinci Code was not intended to debate the book. Of course it is fiction. However, there are a lot of theological (and historical) issues that the book asserts which are simply wrong. As a result, some of us took the opportunity to use the inaccuracies of the book as a teaching tool. The paper I wrote was not to put down The DaVinci Code (I actually enjoyed the story line), but to teach certain things about the Christian faith. What I referenced in that paper was simply one of those teachings related to the reliability of the New Testament documents. The fact that the book is fiction has nothing to do with the issue I addressed with you.

* I am a bit perplexed with your discussion of when life begins. The definitions that scientists give to that question do not concern my point. My point is that God himself makes a new creation when conception takes place. Human beings are more than mere biological animals. We are eternal spirits who are housed for a time in a physical body. God himself installs that spirit at conception. It is that spiritual life, not the physical life that I, and other Christians, are more concerned about.

* Of course you love your children – even before they are born. But I am asserting that your love is more than a simple biologically induced emotional response (instinct). Whether it is intellectually acknowledged or not, man is a being who is created in the image of God. A part of that personhood includes the ability to self-consciously and selflessly love your child. An intellectual denial of transcendence does not change the reality.

* I’m sorry I did not give the kind of answer you were looking for concerning the words of Jesus in the gospels. When I was reading it, it appeared to me that your reference was a rhetorical question rather than a literal one. I certainly don’t have any objection about answering it. The simple answer is, yes. I do believe that all of the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels were his. I am aware of one small pericope that is not found in the earliest manuscripts which involves Jesus (the story of the woman caught in adultery). However, I don’t believe that this was added later by someone who simply made it up. I believe that it was something that actually happened and it was a compelling enough that the Christian community felt it should not be left out.

So much for the clarifications. After all of this, we are back to the big issue. Something is Truth and everything else is not. That being said, it is possible for us to live our lives from conception to physical death and get it wrong. If what you believe (a Naturalistic worldview) is Truth, all of our debates and the human struggle for meaning really don’t amount to much. We die and it is over. But if what I believe is Truth, then it does matter. Either way, I guess I am in good shape. My worldview gives my life meaning and fulfillment. If it turns out that there is no afterlife, I will have had a great life to the end. If I am right, though, not only have I been able to have a meaningful physical life, but I will also have a fulfilling eternity.

For me, though, this is not simply a matter of making a choice so that I can find meaning in this life. It goes well beyond that. That kind of meaning is certainly a great by-product. But the bottom line is, it is Truth. There really is an objective personal God who loves me and whom I have come to know in a personal relationship. The fulfillment that relationship brings goes well beyond anything that mere physical reality has to offer.

Hope you are having a great first week of class.
Freddy

30 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
I have only time to respond to two items, more next week.

On your first point, we agree on that (I wrote something on that in an e-mail I wrote after the one you’re responding to).

On the next point ?Where did “stuff” come from? Let me try to clarify our differences with an analogy (a bit further below).

Christians look at the earth (or the universe) and say “there has to be a reason for all of this”. Then they look at themselves, and say again “there has to be a reason for this”. And they conclude that the earth and the universe were created specifically to function as a home for humans, and that humans were also created for a reason.

Here is the analogy: Suppose you’re lost in the forests. But just before you die of thirst, you find a lake, saving your life. Now you can say to yourself: 1) this lake has to be there for a reason 2) and that reason has to be: my life. (to get back to our discussion, in items 1 and 2, just replace “lake” by either “earth” or “universe”). Our differences are this, that I disagree with both item 1 and item 2. The fact that that lake/earth/universe exists does not need to have a reason. And moreover, even if there is a reason, then that reason need not be our existence.

Christians assume both 1 and 2. Neither of those assumptions are justified in my mind. Especially assumption 2 (that the earth and universe was created for humans) is very unlikely I think, given the enormous size/age of the universe and the incredible tiny portion of it that we occupy.

People often assume that everything has a reason. But that assumption is provably false (because there exist counter examples in mathematics).

So the question “why does something exist” may or may not have an answer. But even if it does, theism does not offer an answer because theism starts by assuming that something (i.e. God) exists. But if it’s OK for the theist to assume that something exists, why is it not OK for a naturalist to assume that something exists?

William

8/30/06
William,
Let me try again. I used the word “stuff” because using the terms “matter and energy” took you off in an entirely different direction. I am trying to come up with some word that expresses the essence and fact of the “stuff” that makes up physical reality. Pick your word. That “stuff” had to either have an origin outside of itself or is self existent. The idea of an origin outside of itself is not compatible with Naturalism. So you are left with something else. My point is, Naturalism has no way of dealing with that. There is no physical law that I am aware of that allows “physical stuff” to emerge out of nothing and no physical law that allows for “material stuff” to be eternal.”

Actually, your analogy does not work for Christian Theism. We do not look at physical reality and say there has to be a reason for its existence. The reason has been revealed from the outside – by God. Your analogy begins with a Naturalistic assumption then reasons to its conclusions using Naturalistic assumptions. Your analogy and the conclusion do not make your point because it doesn’t take into account the possibility of revelation.

It is a very good question to ask as to why “if it’s OK for the Theist to assume that something exists, why is it not OK for a naturalist to assume that something exists?” And there is a very good answer.

First of all, the “thing” that you are saying that Theists assume to exist is God. By definition God is eternal and he is an objective reality. But the reason we are able to assert his existence is not because we assume him to exist. It is because he has revealed himself to us. So, it is actually more than just an assumption. It is backed up by evidence that is available to those who are willing to accept it. Naturalists won’t accept that evidence because they exclude the category of existence that the evidence falls into.

On the other side, the “thing” that you are saying Naturalists want to assume is …. Well, what exactly is it that you want to assume? You tell me the origin of the “physical stuff” of material reality? There has to be a physical answer that fits into Natural Law because Naturalism excludes everything else. What it is that we are supposed to assume about it – that it just exists and we are not supposed to question it? Now that is blind faith with no rationality in it at all. I am having trouble with this.

Freddy

30 Aug 2006
Dear Freddy,
Naturalism has no way of dealing with that. There is no physical law that I am aware of that allows “physical stuff” to emerge out of nothing and no physical law that allows for “material stuff” to be eternal.”
Two responses, note the similarity:
(Naturalism + science) This “material stuff” does not come out of nothing. It comes out of the Big Bang, which in turn is initiated by something called the inflation field.
(Theism + science) This “material stuff” does not come out of nothing. It comes out of the Big Bang, which in turn is initiated by something called God.

You seem to think that the Naturalism + science answer is completely contradictory, while the Theism + science makes perfect sense to you. But read these two answers again, and note how similar they really are! Now to continue, how to choose between the two?

First Naturalism + science.
If there were no evidence for the existence of an inflation field, then it’s reasonable to say that this is a faith position, and not a position based on reason. But that’s not quite how it is. You see, if there is an inflation field, then this necessarily leaves very detailed patterns in the cosmic background radiation.

Because of this, spacecraft have been launched to measure this. And indeed, the measured patterns fit exactly the prediction. Note that the existence of an inflation field has other testable consequences, and that new spacecraft will be launched next year to test those predictions as well. Thus, the assumption that an inflation field exists, this assumption is NOT entirely based on faith. It has consequences that can be tested. (Also, it would be hard to understand why a Universe created by God instead of by an inflation field should have these particular patterns in the background radiation. I can see no reason why God would insert those particular patterns).

Next: Theism + science
Again, very much the same arguments apply. If (apart from our existence) there were no additional evidence of a God, then it’s reasonable to say that this is a faith position, and not a position based on reason. But, you will say: that’s not quite how it is, because, there is additional evidence of a God (he revealed himself to us). Thus, you would say, the assumption that a God exists, this assumption is NOT entirely based on faith. It has consequences that can be tested. (Here we can insert some more arguments for theism).

If you now compare the above two positions, and note how similar the text is, I think you will agree that they are really not as different as you think. It’s certainly not fair to call one of them completely contradictory and at the same time say that the other one makes perfect sense.

What it then really boils down to is: how good is this revelational evidence of God? If the evidence is strong, then theism is more reasonable, but if the evidence is weak, then naturalism is more reasonable.

William

8/31/06
William,
I’m not sure that the fact that it is possible to create similar wordings figures in when determining which option (if any) is Truth. Something is Truth (corresponds with the way things really are), and everything else is not. Personally, I consider the relational evidence of God to be profound. Of course, using your Naturalistic assumptions, my evidence cannot be accepted or even acknowledged.

Okay, let’s do this step by step. Where does the inflation field and all of the “stuff” that makes it up come from, and how did it originate?

Freddy

3 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
I’m not sure that the fact that it is possible to create similar wordings figures in when determining which option (if any) is Truth. Something is Truth (corresponds with the way things really are), and everything else is not.
The point I’m trying to make is that the mere fact that the universe exists is not enough to prove that God exists (because there are other explanations [like the inflation field] that are equally reasonable).

So one has to search for other evidence for the existence of God, e.g. you mentioned relational evidence. Others might mention historical evidence. If that evidence is convincing, then it’s perfectly rational to believe in God.

Depending on what the evidence is, it can be perfectly rational to believe in God. I don’t think that it’s irrational to believe in God when you find the evidence for God convincing. And I would not simply dismiss relational evidence. If the relational evidence is strong then it is rational to believe in God. The only point I’m trying to make is that just looking at the question where the universe comes from, that’s not enough to conclude that theism is true and naturalism is false. I don’t think this particular issue counts as evidence for theism.

Personally, I consider the relational evidence of God to be profound. Of course, using your Naturalistic assumptions, my evidence cannot be accepted or even acknowledged.
This means that you have some additional evidence that I don’t have. It’s quite possible then that both of our positions are perfectly rational given the evidence that each of us has access to.

Okay, let’s do this step by step. Where does the inflation field and all of the “stuff” that makes it up come from, and how did it originate?
But I can ask the exact same question about God.

And whatever answer you give there, wherever you write “God” I can simply write “inflation field” or some other physical construction. So our worldviews do equally well on this particular question.

The only difference is that God (a being not subject to the laws of physics) could have created any universe He wanted, whereas the inflation field (which is subject to the laws of quantum mechanics) can only produce a universe that displays the same patterns as our universe. We can not apply computations on the “God produced the universe” hypothesis, but we can apply computations on the “inflation field produced the universe” hypothesis and deduce from that hypothesis what patterns are to be expected in the sky. This difference, that a physical explanation leads to testable predictions, while a supernatural explanation does not, that’s really the main difference between the two explanations. But in both theism and naturalism, the explanation where the ultimate source (God in theism, or something impersonal in naturalism) comes from has the exact same answer (i.e. it has no real answer). It’s the same because one can word for word replace “God” by something like “inflation field” or more generally “some impersonal
creating force”. You could for example say “God always existed”. I could say the same about some impersonal creating force.
William

9/4/06
William,
I am beginning to become a bit uncertain as to where this is going. I am not sure if you are looking for a way to turn away from God or are trying to give a positive assertion that the Naturalistic worldview reflects objective truth. Your whole approach is getting harder to follow. Are you trying to prove that God doesn’t exist or that Naturalism expresses objective truth. Worldviews cannot be proven by the means that you are trying to use. They are also not simply matters of rationality. Rationality rests squarely on the presuppositions that one uses to assert a particular point of view. Any view can be considered rational given the right presuppositions. Consistency, though, is another matter.

Here is where the problem arises. You are asserting that Naturalism is the fundamental organizing principle of reality. This means that there is no such thing as the supernatural and that everything is explainable by natural causes. The problem that we run into is that there is no natural explanation for the “material” that material reality is made up of. The inflation field may give an explanation of where matter, as we know it, comes from, but where did the material come from that the inflation field emerged out of. This question of “ultimate source” is not trivial, and the fact that it is possible to replace one word with another in a sentence (God vs. some impersonal creating force) is a basically meaningless assertion. It is very easy to make a sentence with interchangeable words. For instance, “A dog/cat lives at my next door neighbor’s house.” Both are valid sentences but only one is true. [It is the cat, just in case you are interested. :-)].

There is a big difference in our assertions. God is, by definition, an uncaused cause. He doesn’t need a naturalistic explanation and is not subject to one. I can consistently assert Christian Theism by saying that. All of natural reality fits nicely within it – whatever natural theories turn out to be the way the material universe actually operates. And since God is the creator, he is capable of interacting with the natural system to accomplish his purposes without disrupting it. He is capable of inserting a human creature who has a spiritual core and of communicating propositional truth and interacting in a personal relationship. Asserting an open system where God interacts with his creation is perfectly consistent.

By the same token, Naturalism also ultimately needs an uncaused cause – only to be consistent it must have one that absolutely follows natural law. The only problem is, natural law itself does not allow for natural material to emerge out of nothing. This basically only leaves the option that the natural material itself is eternal. However, even with that there is no natural explanation. Naturalism as a worldview system, therefore, rests on a foundation that does not support the conclusion. In order to believe it you have to make a massive leap of faith that goes well beyond any evidence you have to support it. (That in itself is a contradiction to Naturalism. All you can really say is, “I don’t know.”) And a person’s only motive for accepting this belief system is because of the personal preference that one does not want to accept the Theistic option. Since both worldviews are founded on faith and since both acknowledge the operation of natural law, there is no objective reason for a person to choose Naturalism. It is a choice of religious
faith.

I personally believe you are wrong on this matter. I have made my choice based on the various evidence that God has inserted into the natural world and the personal interaction I have had with that evidence. You also have to make your choice. It is absolutely possible for individuals to live their entire lives based on a set of assumptions that does not reflect the true nature of ultimate reality. At least one of us is doing that. God does, though, reveal himself to those who open their lives to him. I have met him and communicate with him.

Hope you are having a terrific Labor Day weekend.
Freddy

4 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
I think we are getting closer to figuring out where our interpretations about naturalism diverge. You place two additional assumptions in your description of naturalism that are not part of naturalism.

You are asserting that Naturalism is the fundamental organizing principle of reality. This means that there is no such thing as the supernatural and that everything is explainable by natural causes.
Here you assume that a naturalist thinks that everything is explainable. That assumption is not part of the definition of naturalism.

There is a big difference in our assertions. God is, by definition, an uncaused cause.
Here you assume that under naturalism, there are no uncaused causes.

But in quantum mechanics, there are uncaused causes (for example, the radioactive decay of an unstable atom is an uncaused event. Quantum mechanics only describes the likelihood that this event will take
place in a given amount of time. But the event itself is uncaused).

Uncaused causes do exist in modern science, provided that they satisfy the laws of quantum mechanics. The question is whether or not a quantum mechanical uncaused event can lead to our universe, and if so, then the question is how one can test it, and whether this is what actually happened. But even if that’s what happened, it would not disprove God’s existence. Because even if the universe is an uncaused event, it is possible that God exists and decided to make himself known at some point in time. In fact, I think if you search among Christian physicists, it would be easy for you to find someone who has no problems believing that the universe might have been originated by a quantum mechanical uncaused event, while at the same time believing in the resurrection of Christ. You might wonder: how can such a Christian think of God as a Creator? Well, the creative act might have consisted of writing down the laws
of nature. God could have selected the set of laws of nature, and could have left the construction of matter to natural processes that follow those laws. I think that interpretation on God’s Creation is common among Christian physicists. Note that it matches certain aspects of the book of Genesis quite well. Take for example “let there be light”. Does that mean that God constructed light with his own hands, or does it mean that he wrote the laws of nature that govern light? The same applies to matter. Did God create light and matter with his own hands, or did he only write down the laws of nature, after which these physical things arose on their own (while following those laws of nature).

I’m not saying that this is the correct interpretation of Genesis. But one could, if one wanted to, interpret Genesis that way, and I think this interpretation is common among Christian scientists: God commands that things like the earth, plants, animals, and humans, come into existence but he does not actually construct them by hand. Instead, he writes the laws of nature that will lead to these things. The universe then comes into existence as an uncaused quantum mechanical event. God’s contribution is that he’s the author of the laws of quantum mechanics. I don’t see any way to prove or disprove this scenario.

Are you trying to prove that God doesn’t exist or that Naturalism expresses objective truth?
How could I prove either of those things? All I’m trying to prove is that Naturalism is a worldview that is internally consistent. That doesn’t mean that it’s true. It only means that it could be true. It can not be dismissed outright, you need more evidence (and, I understood from your previous e-mail that you have such evidence, specifically, relational evidence).

William

9/4/06
William,
I think that your emphasis on uncaused causes goes in the wrong direction. When speaking of uncaused causes, I am specifically talking about the very origin of the material that makes up physical reality itself, not about things that happen within what already exists.

I have no doubt that your explanation is correct related to how many physicists who are Christian think in terms of the operation of natural laws. However, this only applies after physical material and physical laws already exist. Whatever actually turns out to be the ultimate truth concerning the way the material universe is organized, or the means that God may have used to bring it into existence, I have no issue with that (though there are still other issues that relate to the eternal spirit of human beings and God’s insertion of himself into the ongoing operation of material reality that we are not touching on at this time).

I am not saying that Naturalists think that everything has to be explainable. I am saying, though, that the Naturalistic worldview requires that all explanations ultimately have a natural explanation, even if scientists don’t yet know the answers. In this context, I believe that what I said in the last e-mail is valid. To my knowledge there is no scientific principle or law that indicates that the stuff which the material universe is ultimately composed of somehow spontaneously emerged out of nothing or that it is eternally existent. It can only deal with something that already exists. In this sense, Naturalism is not internally consistent because it assumes an origin that is inconsistent with what is possible using Naturalistic assumptions. The uncaused cause we are dealing with here relates to the very existence of material reality itself.

Naturalism as a worldview is very consistent and comprehensive up to a point. If you begin the discussion with what already exists, and throw out any discussion on ultimate origins, Naturalism can do quite well (at least in terms of coming up with scenarios about how the cosmos possibly evolved into what it is now. I don’t think it does quite as well in dealing with the actual nature of human beings.). But in the end it falls apart because it cannot explain its own existence.

Of course, my Christian beliefs are also worldview assumptions. I do, though, think that the evidence for it is rather compelling. The relational evidence for the truth of God’s existence is, to me, very powerful – the idea that personal self-aware beings require a personal creator and the testimony of my own life and millions of others throughout history of God’s personal interaction in our lives. But that is not the only evidence. I think that the whole argument concerning intelligent design is also quite compelling. On top of that, the internal evidence from the Bible itself (the historical evidence, fulfilled prophesy, and the resurrection of Christ) is also very strong. But ultimately it was a step of faith that I had to make to see the validation of the evidence. When I opened myself up to God, he made me personally aware of his presence. Ultimately every person must make their own step of faith and live with the outcome of the worldview they choose to build their life on.

Freddy

5 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
When speaking of uncaused causes, I am specifically talking about the very origin of the material that makes up physical reality itself, not about things that happen within what already exists.
This reminds me of a previous e-mail where you wrote that the origin of physical reality contradicts the laws of nature.

The laws of nature describe what happens inside the physical reality. Similarly, the laws of law describe what should happen in a courtroom. But the very existence of a courtroom does not contradict the laws that describe what ought to happen inside that courtroom. Likewise, the very existence of a physical reality does not contradict the laws that describe what ought to happen inside that physical reality.

Perhaps the physical reality has always existed, perhaps it has an origin, but either case does not contradict naturalism because naturalism only makes a claim about what happens inside our physical reality. The claim of naturalism is that anything that affects what happens inside our physical reality is itself part of our physical reality. In other words: there are no supernatural forces acting inside our physical reality. But no matter where the physical reality comes from (possibilities are: (1) has always existed (2) comes from an impersonal natural creator, or (3) comes from a personal creator) whichever of those possibilities is true, it is still possible that no supernatural forces are acting *inside* the physical reality. That’s why, no matter what the origin of the universe is, to decide if there are any supernatural forces acting inside the physical reality, we have to search for them and check them (why must they be checked?

Well, because if we were to believe all supernatural claims made by all religions worldwide, then surely we would get contradictions).
If no supernatural forces are found, then naturalism could be true.
If no supernatural forces occur in our physical reality, then naturalism is true.

Whatever actually turns out to be the ultimate truth concerning the way the material universe is organized, or the means that God may have used to bring it into existence,
To bring the physical reality into existence is almost like saying that there once was a time when the physical reality did not exist.

However, there was never a time that the physical reality didn’t exist because time is a part of physical reality (I’m not just saying that to make life hard on you. Einstein showed that time and space are inseparable, if there is time, there is also space. But quantum mechanics shows that space, even empty space, even a perfect vacuum, is not nothing. It’s a something. In a vacuum, particles constantly pop in and out of existence, uncaused. The effects of this can be measured as a slight pressure of vacuum. So empty space is not nothing, it’s a something. Then by Einstein, time must be something too. So if there exists nothing, no physical reality, then there exists no time either).

So when you ask what happened between the time that there was no physical reality and the time that there was a physical reality, then you’ll probably end up with a paradox. Just talking about a time where there was nothing is already a paradox.

But simply stating a paradox does not prove anything (e.g. we could discuss Zeno’s paradox, but that wouldn’t prove anything). To make sure that we’re not simply discussing a paradox, to make sure that we’re discussing a real issue, one has to be extremely careful with the wording.

But from a human perspective, it’s very difficult to talk about things without involving time. But there are some questions that don’t specifically involve time: the main one being “why is there something instead of nothing”. Another one is: why should there be any physical laws? And why these laws instead of other laws?

I have seen a “natural” explanation, which we could discuss if you like, but it’s not a popular one because it can neither be proven nor disproven (scientists don’t like explanations that can not (not even in principle) be disproven). You can find it on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultimate_ensemble

I am not saying that Naturalists think that everything has to be explainable. I am saying, though, that the Naturalistic worldview requires that all explanations ultimately have a natural explanation, even if scientists don’t yet know the answers. In this context, I believe that what I said in the last e- mail is valid. To my knowledge there is no scientific principle or law that indicates that the stuff which the material universe is ultimately composed of somehow spontaneously emerged out of nothing or that it is eternally existent.
In Hawking’s description of cosmology, there is no time of creation in the universe (there is no time where something mysterious happens). In his description there is no origin of the universe, no mysterious point in time where the laws of nature do something very odd. Is his view correct? Well, it may be testable, if his description leads to the wrong distribution of galaxies then we can reject it.

Hawking said that the question “What came before the Big Bang?” was meaningless, and compared it to asking “What lies north of the north pole?” For our discussion, we need not agree with that. But in any case, the mental picture that there was once nothing and some time later there was something, that picture can not be reconciled with modern science, because if there’s time, there’s space, and if there’s space, there’s something. It can’t be that there exists nothing and that there exists time at the same time.

It can only deal with something that already exists. In this sense, Naturalism is not internally consistent because it assumes an origin that is inconsistent with what is possible using Naturalistic assumptions.
The way naturalism is normally defined, it says only something about what happens inside the physical reality. But is the very origin of physical reality itself also a part inside the physical reality?

But in the end it falls apart because it cannot explain its own existence.
No worldview explains why something exists. Theism does not explain why God exists. It assumes that God exists.

A naturalist assumes that what he sees, observes, measures, etc, that those things exist. The things that we observe, how can it possibly be contradictory to assume that those things exist?

I think that the whole argument concerning intelligent design is also quite compelling.
The DNA evidence (e.g. comparisons of endogenous retroviruses [ERVs]) proves common ancestry beyond any reasonable doubt. I wonder why the media never talks about recent strong evidence for evolution. The reason there is a nasty conflict is because the intelligent design movement aims to insert statements in a science class that are provably false. Because of that, among scientists, intelligent design hurts the Christian cause rather than helps it. The intelligent design movement is OK with such collateral damage because there are many more non-scientists than scientists.

On top of that, the internal evidence from the Bible itself (the historical evidence,
Luke dates the birth of Jesus to 6 A.D. Matthew dates the birth of Jesus to 6 B.C. (or some year before 4 B.C.). No historian, except fundamentalist Christians, disputes that. It is also very obvious that the authors of Genesis had a geocentric view of the cosmos, believed that the stars sit in a dome in the sky, believed that there was water “above” that dome and that that’s where rain comes from, etc. Clearly they did not have a line of communication with the Creator). Biblical inerrancy is simply impossible to believe.

fulfilled prophesy
Name an example of a fulfilled prophesy where the prophesy was written before the event took place, and where the event is confirmed by independent evidence.

and the resurrection of Christ
I recommend that you read Richard Carrier on that topic: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/ While you may not agree with his conclusions, only a little bit of reading is enough to show that Christian apologists like Strobel are very selective with the evidence. Strobel and other apologists leave out key pieces of evidence to an extent that goes far beyond the bounds of academic scholarship. Include all the evidence and the case becomes very much weaker.

When I opened myself up to God, he made me personally aware of his presence.
I can not argue with this. This fact is indeed a good reason to believe. I do not wish to attack your faith, because clearly you do have a good reason to believe. What I hope to accomplish is the idea that for someone who has not had such a profound experience, that for such a person it’s not irrational not to believe.

William

9/5/06
William,
It is getting harder to respond to you. It seems that you keep shifting the discussion from one thing to another and I am totally losing your continuity. The issues you have mentioned in your most recent e-mail jump all over the place, and the assertions and sources you are using as an authority are not very strong. I am getting the feeling that you are just throwing mud up against the wall to see if something will stick.

First let me say that I have never said that the origin of physical reality contradicts the laws of nature. I have no idea where you got that from and no idea what you are getting at. Maybe you can refresh my memory and give me some context.

* Your assertion that Naturalism only makes assumptions about what happens inside of our physical reality is absolutely right. Of course that’s all it does. Ultimately it can do nothing else. But that is not the point. The point is, it positively asserts that there is nothing outside of physical reality – period. That is a faith assumption about the nature of reality that it cannot back up in any way. That is a faith assumption that it has no empirical way of asserting. What is so ironic is that it puts down Christian Theism for making the exact same kind of faith assertion. Naturalism certainly can’t answer the ultimate questions about origins, but that doesn’t mean it gets to escape having to face up to it. The very definition of a worldview includes a claim to be a comprehensive understanding of reality. The problem is, Naturalism simply can’t step up to the plate on that issue. You are just mistaken on the nature of worldview.

* You keep sidestepping the topic of ultimate origins. Of course Naturalism can’t check to see if there are any supernatural forces. But that is not the point. The point is, Naturalism positively asserts that there is no such thing as supernatural forces. So, even if they could be shown to exist Naturalists would not acknowledge the kind of evidence that would be put forth. There is, in fact, evidence that is put forth, but it is not accepted by the faith system of Naturalism. As for supernatural claims made by other religions, those have to be backed up by evidence, as well. In the end, there is only one thing that is truth. Everything else is not truth.

* Your reference to the nature of time really comes out of the blue and seems to me to be another discussion shift. Of course time is meaningless outside of material reality. We speak of “a time when …” because of the fact that we live in time. Does it help if I use the phrase “before time” to express the idea of a point when material reality did not exist? The change in terminology does not change the meaning of what I have said. Your discussions about vacuums and “space not being nothing” and paradoxes and references to Stephen Hawking do not address the point at all. Your whole discussion only addresses the part of reality that exists materially (not surprising since that is all you acknowledge). Spiritual reality, where God exists, is also a real place. It is just not material reality and is not subject the to observation and quantification that Naturalism insists on. Your reference to the “ultimate ensemble” speculation is also a meaningless distraction. We can imagine “one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eaters,” too, but it is meaningless to assert that they exist. What is your point? No worldview can be proven or disproved using Naturalistic assumptions – which is all you are willing to acknowledge.

* Your assertion about endogenous retroviruses proving common ancestry beyond a reasonable doubt is simply not true. There are advocates of other explanations who are giants in the biological sciences. And what are you talking about that the media never talks about evidence for evolution? It is exactly the opposite. It is the evidence against biological evolution (not to be confused with natural selection) that is never talked about in the media. I am not a biological scientist, but I do read. And to make the assertion that common ancestry is provable requires that people ignore a tremendous amount of evidence that debunks macro-evolutionary theory in order to make that claim. And regarding intelligent design, exactly what statements that are provably false are you talking about? Your whole assertion on this point is an attack without any specific evidence to back it up at all.

* The rest of your assertions primarily relate to your attacks on the validity of the Bible. First of all, let me take exception to your pejorative use of the term fundamentalist Christian. Some of the best scholarship that has ever been done related to history, particularly the history that surrounds the events of the Bible, are by these so called “fundamentalist Christian” scholars. Really they are very serious Biblical scholars and historians. If you think they are bogus, tell me who you are talking about and give me your evidence.

* And if you are really interested in fulfilled prophesy, let me recommend “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell. It is a very detailed and scholarly study of virtually all of the fulfilled prophesy that is found in the entire Bible related to Jesus Christ. Because of the way you issued your challenge, though, I am really not sure of your motives concerning this. It comes across as more of a dismissive statement.

* Finally, your assertion that “no historian except fundamentalist Christians” disputes your account (rather Richard Carrier’s account) of the birth of Jesus is just bunk. Richard Carrier obviously has a bone to pick and the poor scholarship he uses and the wrong assertions he makes about many things puts him in the category of one who can’t be trusted with the historical record. He is not a scholar trying to find the truth. His whole purpose is to try and find everything he can to discredit Christianity – even if it means distorting the truth. He is not an honest broker. For you to put down Strobel and lift up Carrier does not help your case.

Just a note: Lee Strobel is not a Biblical scholar. He is a journalist trying to make complex topics accessible to an audience of people who are also not scholars. His books are not original research, they are interviews with top scholars who are the experts. If you are really serious about your attacks on the Bible, then you need to study the people who Strobel interviewed for his books. Those are the ones who have spent their lives doing the scholarly research.

At this point, I am not sure where you are. You seem to have moved strongly into an attack mode rather than the civil back and forth we started out with. As I have said before, we don’t have to continue this if you don’t want to. No worldview is empirically provable. The evidence that I base my faith on has an empirical component, but ultimately comes down to my own experience with God and the decisions I have made about that. I am convinced because the evidence makes sense to me and because I have met God. Your worldview is based on the same foundational components. If you are totally convinced that there positively is no God to the point that you are willing to base your life on that assertion and live with the results of that conclusion, then you have settled your religious faith.
Hope you had a terrific Labor Day weekend.

Freddy

9/7/06
Dear Freddy,
It is getting harder to respond to you. It seems that you keep shifting the discussion from one thing to another and I am totally losing your continuity.
On the topic of the origin of matter/energy/universe, I attempted to show some different viewpoints on this issue. It’s OK with me if you dismiss each of those viewpoints provided that you are aware of them.

However, I can see how presenting various different viewpoints will make the discussion lose continuity, so I understand your criticism. Let me then try to summarize the origins issue and avoid those various details:
It’s hard to comprehend how:
(1) a universe could exist on its own without having been created by an intelligent being.

It’s also hard to comprehend how:
(2) such an intelligent being could exist on its own without in turn having been created by yet something else.

Argument A:
One can argue that (1) is too hard to understand, then conclude that (1) must be false and reject any of the numerous viewpoints I offered on (1). (note: none of those numerous viewpoints has been proven).

Argument B:
Personally, I too find (1) hard to understand, but I find (2) even harder to understand. But just because I don’t understand how (2) could happen, does that justify rejecting (2) outright, and rejecting anything that might support (2)?

Both argument A and argument B are not valid, because they draw a conclusion based upon us not understanding something. But how can we conclude anything from what we don’t understand? But still you seem to insist that argument A is valid evidence for God. We’ll probably never agree on that. The mere fact that “not understanding” leads to actual information is not valid reasoning. Neither argument A nor argument B offers real evidence for/against God’s existence.

You could ask: How can a universe like ours arise/exist on its own?
But if an infinite being like God can arise/exist on his own, why can’t the same be true for something less complicated like our universe? Keep in mind that the initial condition for our universe is very simple (take the maximal density/temperature allowed under quantum mechanics).

It’s very tempting to conclude something from an observation we don’t understand. People have always done that throughout history, it’s a natural thing for humans to do. But if we use consistent standards of logic, then we can’t accept one of the arguments A or B and reject the other.

William

PS. Please note I’m not rejecting all of your evidence for God, but I do reject some of it, and some of it (e.g. biblical inerrancy) I reject forcefully. That can make the discussion quite contentious.

PS2. I brought up the issue of Jesus birthday because I recently saw a show on TV about Herod, not because of Carrier’s article. The date of Herod’s death (4 BC) struck me as strange and I did a bit of a search about that. I asked myself: how would a first century reader interpret the two texts? One can ask the same question about other things in the Gospels. The phrase “while some of you standing here have not yet tasted death”, I’m sure someone can find some explanation as to why that means that the 2nd coming is thousands of years later, but would a first century reader also have interpreted it that way?

9/7/06
William,
James Allen, S.B. Aw, Vladimir Betina, Kimberly Berrine, Raymond Bohlin. I could go on with dozens more if needed.

When it comes to your observation about the media, I think you are right. But the fact is, they rarely explain anything in any detail. Even when there is a focused special report they rarely are able to give much detail. On the surface level, though, they still overwhelmingly side with the side of Naturalism. But the argument also applies on the other side. You don’t ever hear them giving the evidence against evolutionary theory, either.

I am not sure I fully understand your statement about your rejection of Biblical inerrancy. What do you mean by that statement? What kind of errors are you asserting? In dealing with this, I think you are being a little disingenuous. You have jumped all over Lee Strobel for “not including key pieces of evidence” while your arguments to me are riddled with that approach to presenting your evidence. For instance, you have jumped all over the issue of the date of Christ’s birth, and only acknowledged one side. Now I am not blaming you for doing that. You have a point of view that you think is right and you are presenting that argument. If you believe that presenting other evidence is not useful you don’t do it. And that is okay as long as the research is honest and you are not presenting information that is deliberately deceitful. It is not up to you, but up to me to answer it if I think it is wrong. By the same token, many of the people you have quoted and the scientists you rely on do not give the ID point of view in their presentations. Again, I don’t think that is a problem as long as it is honest research, but you can’t have differing expectations for your own sources and those who have an opposing point of view.

I don’t think that is any different than what Lee Strobel has done. He is presenting his honest viewpoint to a particular audience. He is not being dishonest by not including information that he doesn’t believe is the truth. (BTW, if you are interested in reading information from another perspective on the birth of Christ, there is a very good article at http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aiia/census-luke2.html. The fact is, over the years people who have tried to discredit the accuracy of the Bible have used literally dozens of similar types of arguments related to apparent discrepancies related to times, locations, and many other things. And slowly but surely the archeological evidence has proven the Bible to be accurate. There are still some things that do not yet have outside validation, but as archeological research is done, that validation keeps coming in.)

Now, to your ERVs. (BTW, here is another case where you have presented only one side and not included possible alternatives.) This is one of those topics where the final judgment is not yet in. It is actually much like the case related to the birth of Christ. Because this is an area where I am not very conversant, I had to take some time to see what all of this is about. As I researched it, it does seem that there are other possible explanations than what you presented. Since most of the stuff about this is very technical, I certainly do not want to get into a detailed, technical discussion about it here. I will say this, though. There is a body of data related to ERVs that has been interpreted by many in the scientific community to mean a particular thing. So far though, the interpretation starts with the assumptions of Naturalism and, naturally, ends with Naturalistic conclusions. But there is no actual proof that the interpretation you give is correct. Maybe somewhere down the line some kind of proof will emerge. If it does, I personally think that it will ultimately point in a different direction. If you are interested in a different perspective, you may want to check out http://www.trueorigin.org/theobald1e.asp. The bottom line is, the fact that there are alternative interpretations that are actually viable makes a dogmatic assertion about common ancestry a bit premature.

Back to the matter/energy/universe discussion. What is so difficult in dealing with your answers is that everything you say is based on Naturalistic assumptions. Even the way you frame your “Argument A and Argument B” puts the whole discussion only in a Naturalistic frame. It is not your reasoning that I have trouble with, it is the frame itself. You are arguing strictly within your worldview frame rather than making arguments that validate the frame. So, every time I reply I have to begin by challenging your assumptions.

The fact that something is “hard for you to understand” is not a basis for the kind of conclusion you are drawing. If I argued the same way you are, I would word things the way you do only in reverse and it would not be a meaningful discussion.

The bottom line is, when you go back far enough, somewhere you have to postulate an uncaused cause – either natural or supernatural. Christian Theism asserts that the uncaused cause is supernatural. And the assertion about the nature of that uncaused cause (an uncreated God) fits in exactly with the premise of the worldview. Naturalism, on the other hand, asserts that the uncaused cause must be natural. The problem remains, though, that there is no natural explanation for how such a thing could be. It is a faith position that has no warrant for its postulation and which stands in opposition to the very position it is asserting.
Hope your day is a terrific one.

Freddy

11 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
James Allen, S.B. Aw, Vladimir Betina, Kimberly Berrine, Raymond Bohlin. I could go on with dozens more if needed.
In your previous e-mail you talked about “giants in the field”. Now I looked up in the ISI Web of Science and of the four people you listed there, only Vladimir Betina has a decent list of publications, comparable to that of a typical faculty member here at my university (I assume then that you consider the faculty members here at my university to be giants in the field as well).

The other three: Allen, Berrine, and Bohlin have so few publications (1, 0, and 2, respectively) that they would have no chance at all to get a job here at my university. Even graduate students have publication lists better than that by the time they get their PhD. If these people are giants in their field, then so are our graduate students.

In any case, whoever told you that these are giants in their field was clearly misleading you. They were counting on you not checking up on this claim.

If you’re curious, just compare the publications of those people with those of an actual giant in biology like Francis Collins (one of the leaders in the human genome project, who, by the way, is an Evangelical Christian). There’s simply no comparison. Collins has a huge list of publications (7 times more than the four names you mentioned combined, and on top of that, these are papers in prestigious journals that are cited many times).

Please note the strategy here: ID’ers call these people giants in their field. This works wonders with the general public. On you, it had the desired effect. But a scientist simply goes to isinet.com to check the quality of their publication lists and finds out quickly that the claim that these people are giants is bogus. End result: It makes intelligent design look better in the general public, but it makes intelligent design look worse in the eyes of scientists. But, like I e-mailed you before, they understand that their claims have this type of collateral damage, and are OK with that because scientists only make up a small percentage of the population. And in a democracy, it doesn’t really matter what this small part of the population thinks. All that matters is what the majority of the voters think.

I think that the reason we hear so much about intelligent design lately is precisely because they have given up on trying to convince scientists, and are taking their case straight to the voter. Leading ID institutions have almost entirely stopped writing material intended to be studied by scientific experts, practically everything they write nowadays is aimed at convincing only the general public. What scientists think doesn’t matter.

For instance, you have jumped all over the issue of the date of Christ’s birth, and only acknowledged one side.
I was taught that Christ was born in AD 6. Yet, Herod died in 4 BC. At this point I don’t even know your position on the issue (was Christ born 6 AD or 6 BC?). That would be something I would need to know before I can go further into this.

I don’t think that is any different than what Lee Strobel has done. He is presenting his honest viewpoint to a particular audience. He is not being dishonest by not including information that he doesn’t believe is the truth.
Perhaps I’m looking at it from the standards of science, which are much higher. In science, you can’t get away with leaving out relevant data, even if you believe this data to be incorrect (in that case, you’d still have to mention that data and indicate why you think that data is not reliable). But simply not even mentioning a possibly crucial piece of data, in the world of science that would not be tolerated. Even referees that actually agree with the final conclusion would reject a paper that made this type of omission.

http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aiia/census-luke2.html
OK, I’ll have a look at it.

[on ERV’s]
This is one of those topics that where the final judgment is not yet in.
I really did check this one very thoroughly, including the URL you e-mailed me and similar ones (I’ve read that URL and several similar ones a year ago on this issue). I can assure you that there is no way around this conclusion.

I don’t think you fully grasp the nature of this evidence:
On the one hand, we have the fossil record, literally written in stone. The creationist interpretation of this record is that it’s mostly remains of animals drowned in a flood (Of course, a flood would sort the remains by size and not by complexity, so a flood geology fossil record can not be reconciled with the actual fossil record). In any case, in the creationist interpretation the tree-structure derived from the fossil record is meaningless because all animals were created at the same time.

And yet: The tree-structure derived from this fossil record matches the tree-structure that computer programs derive from our DNA!

That proves common ancestry beyond any reasonable doubt. Think about this for a moment: We never see a common ERV where it shouldn’t be according to the fossil based tree of life. And we always see them where they should appear. If you want I can draw some tree-structures to explain what’s meant by that. In any case: The data derived from the fossil record matches that from the DNA record spectacularly. But if the fossil record is just a pile of bones deposited in a giant flood, then this is a completely inexplicable coincidence. The odds against that are extraordinary (just one common ERV by chance is less likely than a billion to one, and there are many, very many).

On that website you mentioned to me it tried to explain how a common ERV can happen without a common ancestor. But the mechanism proposed there (e.g. that certain viruses prefer certain spots in the genome and that that would explain why they’re found at the same spot in different species) my main criticism to that mechanism is not just that it’s wrong, what I really object to is the fact that they can easily know it is wrong and still write it. How can the authors of that website know that their explanation is wrong? Well, for one thing, there has been much research on the behavior of viruses (that’s of course important for our health) and just a little bit of library searching shows conclusively that this mechanism doesn’t work. In addition, this mechanism does not explain why we don’t find a common ERV at spots where it would contradict the fossil record. So the mechanism is easily disproved, so easily that the authors of ID websites must be aware of it (that, and the fact that I e-mailed them about it a year ago), and despite all of that they stick with this explanation full well knowing that it’s an explanation that can easily be disproved.

William

9/15/06
Dear William,
I’m sorry that I have taken this long to get back with you. This has been a particularly busy week for me and I have not had the time to deal with all of the issues you have raised. It seems that you have taken this conversation in a direction that is well beyond my pay grade related to viruses and genetics and I am not able to give you good replies based on my own research. I suspect that you, also, are depending on the research of others who are outside of your field of expertise, as well. It has taken me some time to research information that allows me to respond to you intelligently.

Before I go any further, first let me address your criticism related to the names of the scientists I gave you. First of all, the names I gave you are people who have their PhDs and work in the fields of biology, biochemistry or genetics. It seems that you have particular standards, though, that you require before you are willing to accept any of the names. I don’t fault you here and understand that your environment in an academic setting colors the way you view the experts (somewhat of a worldview issue in itself), so let me share a few more names with you. Of course you only asked for one, but try these out: Walter Bradley, Jonathan Wells, Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe. Perhaps you will find these more acceptable. Of course some people are more well known than others (within their fields, of course) but I can give you a list of dozens of scientists in these fields who are Christian Theists.

But let me move on to the real issue at hand. As I mentioned, this is a field that is well beyond my expertise. So, I found a person who is a molecular geneticist, Georgia Purdom, and spoke personally with her about the issues you raised. I actually don’t want to try to debate you on this topic, even using the information she gave me. Let me just deal with the bottom line and then go on from there. If you want to engage someone who can talk with you more deeply about this topic, I can give you her e-mail address.

Basically, the bottom line is that there is still too much that is not known about the nature of ERVs and the fragments that are found in DNA to make the kind of sweeping conclusions that you have made concerning them. This, apparently, is still a relatively new area of research and the origins and implications of various elements within DNA are still being researched. It seems that much of what used to be considered “junk” DNA has since been discovered to have useful functions. In fact, it seems that the very term “junk DNA” is being used less and less. She expressed her own opinion that as scientists discover more, they will find that virtually all of what is considered “junk” will be found to have a use. This is probably not much different than the way that the scientific community has dealt with the structure of atoms. I remember when I was in school that atoms were thought by scientists to have a fairly simple
structure. It was in all the science textbooks from elementary school to college. My how things have changed. With new discoveries new theories have even had to be created – and are still being bandied around and tested. In order to make the claims you have made, there are certain assumptions that have to be made about the origin and nature of viruses that are simply not known, at this point, to be scientific fact. It is still a case of taking evidence and running it through a Naturalistic filter to try and make the answer come out the way a Naturalist views reality.

But now let me get down to what I consider to be the real issue at hand. Since science has yet to give us the kind of definitive answers that can prove Naturalism, I think we are still operating in the realm of trying to figure out which worldview gives us the most reasonable understanding of the nature of reality. I still believe that Naturalism falls dreadfully short in this arena. Where is the evidence that something came out of nothing or that the “something” is eternal? Where is the evidence that mind somehow evolved out of matter – consciousness out of unconsciousness? Where is the evidence that there is no God? Why is it that mankind has such a powerful need for meaning in life that people will literally kill themselves if they cannot find it? If you held Naturalism up to the same standards that you hold Christian Theism, I am sure that you would have to become an a-atheist.

I have said this before and will say it again. I am convinced that the reason why most people who turn away from God and to Naturalism is not because the evidence for Naturalism is so strong. Rather, it is because they want to be autonomous from the standards that God brings to the table. It is a moral rather than an intellectual issue.

Hope you have a terrific weekend.
Freddy

15 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
Before I go any further, first let me address your criticism related to the names of the scientists I gave you. First of all, the names I gave you are people who have their PhDs and work in the fields of biology, biochemistry or genetics. It seems that you have particular standards, though, that you require before you are willing to accept any of the names. I don’t fault you here and understand that your environment in an academic setting colors the way you view the experts (somewhat of a worldview issue in itself),
You called these people “giants” in their fields. All I’m pointing out is that if you consider them to be giants, then you should also consider every faculty member in biology at my school a giant in their field.

That has nothing to do with worldviews. I mean, is there really any worldview in which someone with 1 or even someone with 0 publications would be considered a giant in the field of biology? And yet, you listed several of them. This indicates that you’re simply copying some information you’ve read elsewhere without checking it.

Of course you only asked for one, but try these out: Walter Bradley, Jonathan Wells, Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe.
I know that Behe has genuine research credentials (meaning: refereed research publications), comparable to that of a typical university faculty member. Not sure about the other three (I can look it up if you want).

Among all biologists with refereed research publications, the percentage that supports ID is probably well below 1% (keep in mind that there are thousands of research level biologists, so to reach 1% there would have to be dozens that support ID. But as far as I know in our entire state there are none). The percentage of Christians among biologists is much higher. The vast majority of Christian biologists that have reached the research level support evolution.

But let me move on to the real issue at hand. As I mentioned, this is a field that is well beyond my expertise. So, I found a person who is a molecular geneticist, Georgia Purdom, and spoke personally with her about the issues you raised. I actually don’t want to try to debate you on this topic, even using the information she gave me. Let me just deal with the bottom line and then go on from there. If you want to engage someone who can talk with you more deeply about this topic, I can give you her e-mail address. Basically, the bottom line is that there is still too much that is not known about the nature of ERVs and the fragments that are found in DNA to make the kind of sweeping conclusions that you have made concerning them.
I know some of the people that write the software for comparing DNA and obtaining tree-structures from them (there’s a lot of math in that software).

How is it that these tree-structures found by the computer matches those coming from the fossil record? (keep in mind that that info is not fed to the computer, all it has to work with is the DNA sequences).

She expressed her own opinion that as scientists discover more, they will find that virtually all of what is considered “junk” will be found to have a use.
I don’t see how that’s relevant here. The tree-structure can be computed from DNA data whether or not that piece of data has a biological function or not.

William

9/15/06
William,
I am really beginning detect a certain degree of arrogance in your replies that I don’t particularly enjoy. Either that or you are missing the meaning of some of my explanations. I said that I recognize that I was a little loose in touting some people as “giants.” I have to remember that you operate in an environment that has very specific criteria concerning what that means. That doesn’t take away from the fact that there are people who are well recognized. But it seems that it doesn’t really make any difference, because when I give you someone who is highly recognized, you immediately denigrate that.

The fact that the large majority of scientists in the various fields of biological science are Naturalists does not make them right regarding issues related to evolutionary theory. Theories become accepted throughout the scientific community based on a particular interpretation of what is known at any given time. And the tendency is for the large majority to accept it. But there have been many, many, many instances where later discoveries have debunked previous theories and then everyone shifts over to the new one. The number of scientists lined up on one particular side of the line at any particular moment is not the factor that determines truth.

Along with that is the fact that a Naturalistic worldview (spelled religion) colors the research and the interpretation of a lot of the research that is done. If most of that research is done by people who start with naturalistic presuppositions, guess what they are going to conclude? Naturalists simply will not allow the assumptions of other worldviews to even be debated.

Perhaps I am still not getting the full significance of what you are trying to say concerning the ERVs. It seems to me that you are saying that your tree structure proves that all life, from the smallest microbes to the highest mammals, have a common ancestor. Is this what you are saying? Or is it just from plants on up? Or is it just from animal life or from mammals? Regardless of the starting point, the assertion you are making simply does not add up. Where is the evidence that one species ever evolved from another species. There is not evidence of even one intermediate form. The fossil record doesn’t support it. And after decades of work trying to induce mutations, attempting to create environments from which life could emerge, formulating theories about where and how life originated, and  formulating theories about how mutations could incrementally generate new species, they still have nothing, and the holes in evolutionary theory are recognized to be as large as ever. In my mind that would be evidence that the situation concerning the ERVs points to something else – perhaps that there is, or used to be, some functionality for the ERV particles in all of the life forms where it is found. Perhaps that functionality is simply not understood at this point.

On another topic, perhaps you are waiting until a later time to respond to the part of my e-mail that addresses the worldview issues related to Naturalism. That seems to have been missing out of your last few responses.
Freddy

9/16/06
Dear Freddy,
There is not evidence of even one intermediate form.
You need to see some of these pictures for yourself. Go to: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/ and click on Part I item 4. Look for example the pictures A through N under ape-humans. If there were no intermediates between apes and humans, then it should be easy to decide which of them are apes and which are humans. And yet, different creationist books classify them differently, they can’t agree on which of these are humans and which are apes. That’s rather odd if there really aren’t any intermediates. And yes, DNA evidence does show the common ancestry of all known life.

Check up on the evolution of the horse. There are 40 intermediate forms known in the fossil record, each slightly changed from the previous one. But there is no point in debating that with words, you have to see the pictures with your own eyes. Saying that there are no intermediate forms is the equivalence of the refusal to believe Galileo’s claim that Jupiter has moons. But as Galileo said: why don’t you look into the telescope? If you don’t want to look in there, then there’s really not much point in continuing this discussion.

In mammals, the very same genes that lead to limbs, in fish those lead to fins. Coincidence? Well, biology without evolution consists of thousands of such coincidences.

Humans have a gene for making vitamin C. Yet, due to a mutation, this gene doesn’t work, and therefore we need food that contains vitamin C. But why even have such a gene if it doesn’t work? Well, for the same reason as we have a tail bone. It’s a left-over that was useful for our ancestors long ago. And how do you suppose that a flood can sort animals not with respect to size, but with respect to complexity? How does an ordering w.r.t. [with regard to] complexity arise in the rock strata? I could go on and on.

There are 40 different techniques for dating things based on radiometrics. On top of that there are treerings, varves,  ice cores, etc. The ages from the fossil record can be compared with the ages derived from DNA data (molecular  clocks). Why should those numbers be consistent? Again, if common ancestry is false, then it must be the case that the Creator literally constructed hundreds of pieces of evidence for common ancestry. Are all of those a coincidence?

They key strategy of ID is to assume that the reader is only familiar with one or two pieces of evidence, and then to discredit those, usually with provably false statements (like your claim that there are no intermediates). They never explain why all the different lines of evidence fit so well together. Again, why should the data obtained from the rocks match the data obtained from DNA? (the tree structure, the ages, etc.). As a simple example, one can count the number of mutations that we observe today from each generation to the next. Then multiply that by the number of generations that, according to the fossil record, are supposed to exist between us and the time of the common ancestor with chimpanzees (note that chimps also evolved/mutated from our common ancestor, so adding those mutations in doubles the number). Then compare that with the actual number of mutations between us and chimps. If the actual number of changes is greater than this product, then that would be a mismatch. However, for some mysterious (not so mysterious if you accept common ancestry) those mismatches have never been found, not just for us, but for any of the so-far sequenced species.

Also note that in principle it is possible that when the next species gets DNA sequenced, that such (or some other type of) mismatch does occur, thereby disproving common ancestry. However, this has not happened yet. Are ID institutes waiting for that? Or are they proposing to perform additional ways to test common ancestry? The answer is no. The Templeton foundation offered them to pay for any experiments they might wish to do. But ID institutes were not interested in running any experiments, despite the fact that the funding would be there, ready for the taking. No real scientist would ever pass up on such an excellent chance to get funding for doing experiments, because getting funding is very hard. ID institutes simply didn’t want to do experiments, even if they can do them at no cost. That’s a clear sign that there’s something decibels not scientific going on there.

William

9/16/06
Freddy,
I am really beginning detect a certain degree of arrogance in your replies that I don’t particularly enjoy.
I can’t say that I enjoy our recent discussions either. You are throwing claims at me that you clearly didn’t even bother to verify. Who am I debating if I respond to those claims?

But there have been many, many, many instances where later discoveries have debunked previous theories and then everyone shifts over to the new one.
In the past, theories were replaced by the scientific process, and not through political or legal pressure.

And after decades of work trying to induce mutations,
Mutations arise naturally. The DNA of your children does not match exactly with that of you and your wife. There will be approximately 100 random mutations. This is simply an observable fact.

the holes in evolutionary theory are recognized to be as large as ever.
Recognized by whom? By the same people that claim that there are no intermediates in the fossil record!

In my mind that would be evidence that the situation concerning the ERVs points to something else – perhaps that there is, or used to be, some functionality for the ERV particles in all of the life forms where it is found. Perhaps that functionality is simply not understood at this point.
Viruses insert an ERV into the DNA. We know that that’s how viruses reproduce.

William

9/25/06
Greetings William,

I am sorry to have taken so long to get back with you. This has been a particularly busy time for me and I have not had the time necessary to address all of the things you have thrown out there. You have completely shifted the discussion from the general (worldview) to the specifics (the outward manifestations and implications of the worldview). I really wanted to stay only with the worldview end of it because the implications, whatever they are, always emerge out of the worldview. You can’t get away from it. If the worldview is not credible, then the presuppositions and conclusions drawn from it are also not credible.

I have tried to move us back in this direction over our last few exchanges, but you have totally ignored the worldview issues and tried to jump completely into the implication issues. Since you seem to be insisting that we operate on this level, I will address your replies on this level. Ultimately this does not bring us to any kind of a satisfactory conclusion, but I will do it anyway because I don’t think we can get to the ultimate issues until we do. However, I am going to use this a jumping off point to get back to the ultimate issues.

Since you have introduced specific issues, I am going to try to address them individually. Your previous statements will be in red.

Mutations arise naturally. The DNA of your children does not match exactly with that of you and your wife. There will be approximately 100 random mutations. This is simply an observable fact.
When you refer to mutations here, I am not sure exactly what you mean. Since the DNA of parents combines to form a child, of course the child’s DNA is going to be different. If that is what you mean, I would not designate that as a mutation. It is simply the result of the natural combining of the DNA of parents to form a new person.

However, you may mean that there are actual mutations that cause something to actually be different in the child. If this is what you mean, what kind of differences are you talking about? I don’t know anyone who would say natural selection does not take place within a species. But this has very defined limits which do not lead to changes that are able to generate a new species. Farmers, ranchers and scientists have worked for years developing hybrids. There has never been a situation where an actual new species of life has been created – or even come close. After a certain point, the changes just won’t go any further.

Viruses insert an ERV into the DNA. We know that that’s how viruses reproduce.
I don’t think anyone has disputed whether or not we know about how viruses reproduce. The question here is not about the data itself, but how the data is interpreted. Basically all you are doing is starting with your Darwinistic presuppositions about how reality is structured and making arguments based on that. If your presuppositions are valid, then perhaps your conclusions are moving in the right direction (though I don’t believe your presuppositions work). Even with that, though, they are always subject to discoveries of new information that wasn’t available previously.

In the case of ERVs, your conclusions are only correct if your Darwinist presuppositions are correct. The previous article I referred you to proposed a different set of presuppositions and gave six alternative conclusions that could be deduced. Since the data you have proposed is limited and there is still much that is not known, there is no way you can be so definitive as to say it absolutely shows common ancestry. From my perspective, it better reflects a common designer. You are treating the data as if it is observable science and can be demonstrated in a laboratory. Historical data simply can’t be treated that way. Your interpretation depends on your presuppositions. That is why it is so essential to go back and evaluate the worldview presuppositions – which I will do a little later.

In the past, theories were replaced by the scientific process, and not through political or legal pressure.
I have no idea what political or legal pressure you are talking about here. Can you give me specific instances where modern creation scientists are creating their theories and making evaluations based on political or legal pressure?

You need to see some of these pictures for yourself. Go to: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/ and click on Part I item 4. Look for example the pictures A through N under ape-humans. If there were no intermediates between apes and humans, then it should be easy to decide which of them are apes and which are humans. And yet, different creationist books classify them differently, they can’t agree on which of these are humans and which are apes. That’s rather odd if there really aren’t any intermediates.
First, it would be helpful to know specifically what creationists you are referring to who classify them differently. I don’t think there is as much controversy as you are suggesting. But beyond that, your whole argument again goes to the issue of presuppositions. The only way you can conclude that the pictures show evolution is to have a set of presuppositions that lead you to that conclusion. Just looking at pictures does not necessarily indicate anything. There is not one shred of evidence that you can give that proves that a Naturalistic interpretation of the data is correct. There are other possibilities for interpreting the data that are just as valid based on different presuppositions. As a Christian Theist, I look at those pictures and see different creatures which were each individually created, not creatures which evolved one from another. Neither of our conclusions can be proven empirically. They absolutely depend on the presupposition set.

And yes, DNA evidence does show the common ancestry of all known life.
Only if you start with Darwinistic presuppositions. You still have to prove that those presuppositions are valid (and so far you have pretty much ignored that area).

Check up on the evolution of the horse. There are 40 intermediate forms known in the fossil record, each slightly changed from the previous one. But there is no point in debating that with words, you have to see the pictures with your own eyes. Saying that there are no intermediate forms is the equivalence of the refusal to believe Galileo’s claim that Jupiter has moons. But as Galileo said: why don’t you look into the telescope? If you don’t want to look in there, then there’s really not much point in continuing this discussion.
As before, looking at pictures is not proof of anything. What are the slight changes that you are referring to? Based on Naturalistic presuppositions, those changes must give some advantage to the organism as a whole for natural selection to keep them. What supposed changes, which are visible in the fossil record, are significant enough for each particular organism to be selected and kept? Where are the pictures of these horses and the evidence behind the pictures that they are actually intermediate forms? That kind of information cannot be demonstrated. It must start with the unprovable presupposition that macroevolution is at work. Your reference to Galileo is totally meaningless. The fact I am interpreting the data differently than you does not mean that I am not looking at the evidence.

In mammals, the very same genes that lead to limbs, in fish those lead to fins. Coincidence? Well, biology without evolution consists of thousands of such coincidences.
This may be true, but the opposite is also true. There are situations where completely different genes lead to homologous body parts (such as the body segments in insects). On top of that, there are cases where the same genes can lead to non-homologous body parts. This is all interesting information, but it still has to be interpreted based on the whole body of data. You can’t just pick out one subset and draw the sweeping conclusions you are trying to make about the evolutionary process.

Humans have a gene for making vitamin C. Yet, due to a mutation, this gene doesn’t work, and therefore we need food that contains vitamin C. But why even have such a gene if it doesn’t work? Well, for the same reason as we have a tail bone. It’s a left-over that was useful for our ancestors long ago.
Another case where you are assuming Naturalistic presuppositions with which to interpret the data. We have actually touched on this before. You are citing the pseudogene, or junk DNA, argument. This is another case of taking incomplete information and trying to draw sweeping conclusions. As research continues, much of the so called “junk” DNA is being found to actually be functional. The primary reason much of it hasn’t been looked at before is because the scientists who were studying it started with an evolutionary mindset and simply assumed that it was leftovers from mutations when it is actually functional genetic material. From a Theistic point of view, it would be perfectly logical for the Creator to use the same DNA to code for the same proteins. The differences between organisms lie in the when, where, how and why the various proteins are expressed. What seems to be emerging is that the places in the DNA where that regulatory information is located is in the so called “junk” DNA.

And how do you suppose that a flood can sort animals not with respect to size, but with respect to complexity? How does an ordering w.r.t. complexity arise in the rock strata?
I do not personally care to write out all of the possibilities related to this topic. Again, though, everything depends on your presuppositions. It is certainly possible for fossils to be sorted related to complexity rather than size. If you are interested in reading about this from someone who has researched the possibilities based on a different set of presuppositions, you can check out http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v14/i1/humanfossils.asp

I could go on and on.
And I could go on and on giving you legitimate alternative possibilities based on a different set of presuppositions.

There are 40 different techniques for dating things based on radiometrics. On top of that there are treerings, varves, ice cores, etc. The ages from the fossil record can be compared with the ages derived from DNA data (molecular clocks). Why should those numbers be consistent? Again, if common ancestry is false, then it must be the case that the Creator literally constructed hundreds of pieces of evidence for common ancestry. Are all of those a coincidence?
The reason those numbers may not be consistent is because radiometric data itself is very biased and unreliable. If you really want to understand the inconsistencies, you might want to start with this article at http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/am/v1/n1/radioactive-dating.

On top of that, over 90% of dating methods indicate a world less than billions of years old (ex. The amount of sediment on the sea floor).

They key strategy of ID is to assume that the reader is only familiar with one or two pieces of evidence, and then to discredit those, usually with provably false statements (like your claim that there are no intermediates). They never explain why all the different lines of evidence fit so well together.
I think you are making a false connection between ID and the idea of a young earth. They are not the same thing. You are comparing apples and oranges.

The reason Creationists do not explain why all the different lines of evidence fit so well together is because they don’t. In order to make them fit together you have to start with unprovable Naturalistic presuppositions, which makes what you are calling “provably false statements” only provable if your presuppositions are accepted.” (By the way, you have still not proven your claim of intermediates – which also depends on those same presuppositions).

Again, why should the data obtained from the rocks match the data obtained from DNA? (the tree structure, the ages, etc.). As a simple example, one can count the number of mutations that we observe today from each generation to the next. Then multiply that by the number of generations that, according to the fossil record, are supposed to exist between us and the time of the common ancestor with chimpanzees (note that chimps also evolved/mutated from our common ancestor, so adding those mutations in doubles the number). Then compare that with the actual number of mutations between us and chimps. If the actual number if changes is greater than this product, then that would be a mismatch. However, for some mysterious (not so mysterious if you accept common ancestry) those mismatches have never been found, not just for us, but for any of the so-far sequenced species.
You made such a big deal about me citing sources. Here you keep on making claims about this without citing any sources yourself. What are some specific examples of this that you are referring to?

But even without that, you are still asserting things that are based on unprovable Naturalistic presuppositions. The whole thing falls apart when you start with a different set of presuppositions. And, as before, operational science can only tell us so much about historical science. You can’t do experiments on the data that is collected, you can only interpret it based on some set of presuppositions. And you can’t even be totally be sure of the context of all of the historical data. We are looking at “best guesses” based on a particular set of presuppositions.

Also note that in principle it is possible that when the next species gets DNA sequenced, that such (or some other type of) mismatch does occur, thereby disproving common ancestry. However, this has not happened yet. Are ID institutes waiting for that? Or are they proposing to perform additional ways to test common ancestry? The answer is no. The Templeton foundation offered them to pay for any experiments they might wish to do. But ID institutes were not interested in running any experiments, despite the fact that the funding would be there, ready for the taking. No real scientist would ever pass up on such an excellent chance to get funding for doing experiments, because getting funding is very hard. ID institutes simply didn’t want to do experiments, even if they can do them at no cost. That’s a clear sign that there’s something decibels not scientific going on there.
Again, you are making a sweeping generalization that all DNA sequences among organisms fit the fossil record or “evolutionary tree structure.” That is simply not true. There are various known cases where there are conflicts with the tree structures. Does this information disprove common ancestry to you? I doubt it, because you are basing your conclusions on interpretations of data which are informed by Naturalistic presuppositions, not on something empirically provable. It is part and parcel of your own religious faith. I do not know about the Templeton Foundation situation. I do know, though, that most in the ID movement are scientists in the lab doing research, and they interpret their findings based on their presuppositions rather than yours – different starting point, different conclusions.

Now, let me move on to the only place where it is possible to come to any resolution about anything – the worldview presuppositions themselves. So far all we have looked at are different interpretations of data based on differing presuppositions. If we really want to get at the bottom line, we have to go the source of the different interpretations. Based on this a person can look at the evidence and make a decision about which one seems to most closely correspond with the way reality is actually organized. Whatever the conclusion, it will be a faith (spelled religious) decision. With this you can decide to believe that there is an objective God who lives in an objective spiritual reality and created the material universe, or that there is no God and that material reality is all there is and that it either spontaneously sprang into existence or that it is, itself, eternal.

Let me start with natural selection since we have already been dealing with it. As we look at natural selection, all that can be empirically demonstrated is that it works in a very narrow framework and much of it is actually reversible depending on climactic variations. What evolutionists have tried to do is project the natural selection that we can observe into a broader framework and claim that the process is responsible for the emergence of life and the gradual evolution of higher and higher life forms. The only problem is, there is no observational support for this process and no known mechanisms capable of producing this result. The only reason Naturalists use this model is because the idea of a creator is rejected out of hand and it is the only naturalistic mechanism that they can imagine where their Naturalistic presuppositions can be supported. The presuppositions come first, then the attempt to find a way to justify them.

Now, I want to address the idea of design for a bit. Contrary to the image that detractors try to portray, design can be empirically detected. It is definitely possible to distinguish between random products of nature and products of intelligence. In fact, virtually all scientists recognize this fact. All Naturalism is, really, is the attempt to find evidence that intelligent appearing design can be accounted for by purely natural forces (so that there only appears to be design).

The evidence of design is evident in:
Biology – The complexity of a single cell is so vast that evolutionary theory simply cannot account for it. Darwin himself admitted that if the existence of irreducible complexity could be demonstrated, it would disprove his theory. Simply put, living organisms are not aggregate structures, but are organized structures which have complex parts which are dependent on and contribute to the whole. The mechanisms (whether cellular in nature or whole body parts) only operate after all of the pieces are in place. They must appear simultaneously for them to work at all. A gradual evolutionary process based on natural selection cannot account for it. Natural selection only works after there is function, but there is no function until all of the parts are in place.

Cosmology and Physics – The cosmos is fine-tuned to support life. Any change in the force of gravity, nuclear forces, electromagnetism, the ratio of the mass of protons or electrons or any of a number of other variables would eliminate the possibility of the existence of life. These variables are not, in and of themselves constrained by natural law. Yet, they are set optimally in the universe to support life. The odds against that are so great that they cannot even be calculated. The design inference is the simplest and most direct reading of the evidence.

Genetics – Genetics, itself, has become a branch of information technology. The genetic code is digital in the same way as computer code – literally. We know that natural causes do not produce messages. Any time we observe a message, we always conclude that it is not a product of natural causes, but of intelligence.

Naturalistic researchers have tried to account for this in two different ways.
1. Chance – Information is the result of random processes. However, chance has never, in any circumstance, been demonstrated to produce complex information. To the contrary, chance events tend to scramble information.
2. Law – Information results from laws which act from within matter itself. The assumption is that given the right preconditions, life will arise automatically and inevitably. This, though, doesn’t make sense because in principle, laws of nature do not give rise to information. Rather they are regular, repeatable and predictable. By contrast, information (ex. DNA) is a message that is irregular and non-repeatable. There are no laws of chemical attraction and repulsion that can cause the letters in DNA to link in any particular pattern. We know why they stick to the helix, but not why they are sequenced the way they are.

There is a third alternative which is rejected by Naturalists, but which fits the situation – design. Based on information theory, it is possible to have irregular sequences that fit a prescribed pattern and convey information. Here, the message is independent of the medium that carries it. That being the case, the message is not created by the medium. Products of design are selected in advance and exhibit an irregular, meaningful pattern – such as we see in a DNA sequence.

We know the kind of structures produced by chance, law and design, and DNA fits design.

Now, back to worldview. What I have written above is not empirical proof, but it is very compelling evidence that there is something beyond the “natural” which is necessary to produce the natural world and the life that is found in it. What you have laid out in your Naturalistic arguments is your evidence to argue for a universe that is not dependent on a transcendent intelligence – material and life somehow are able to emerge spontaneously. At this point, all a person can do is evaluate the evidence and decide personally which matches up most closely with what we know about observable reality. I don’t think Naturalism does very well. It proposes material that makes up material reality that it cannot account for. It proposes a naturalistic emergence of life, but cannot account for how it comes into being. It proposes a universe that appears to be the product of an intelligent designer, but without any evidence declares that there is none.

I have said this before, and will say it again here. Very few people decide which worldview to follow based on empirical evidence. Most people decide based on moral grounds. They either decide that God exists and are willing to conform to the way he has established the moral order, or that they do not want to live life based on a transcendent morality and look for some other philosophy to latch onto, whether it is consistent or not.

I personally believe that the evidence for the existence of God is compelling. But it is not just the evidence that I have presented above. There is a personal/relational element to reality that also exists. Naturalistic presuppositions only account for this based on a survival motif (individual creatures only select behaviors which help facilitate survival). But humans are capable of and exhibit behavior which transcends Darwinian forces. No Naturalist can account for this and must assert their Naturalistic explanation based purely on faith. Even our human experience cries out against a Naturalistic explanation for our existence and our behavior.

But from my point of view, all of this is totally expected. God has revealed himself as personal and has made us in his image (with the personal characteristics which are demonstrated in our personhood). Additionally, I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with him in a personal relationship. All of that together gives me not only an intellectual, but a personal framework with which to understand reality.

On an empirical level, there are things that both of us can continue to throw out that the other cannot fully explain. There is just too much that is simply not known. But based on what we do know, Christian Theism is able to account for the way our reality is structured in a way that Naturalism is simply unable to address.

Freddy

26 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
I don’t have much time today to respond to your e-mail, more next week. Meanwhile, I’d like to ask you to
read: The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins. This book is very well written. And in light of the current conflict between science and religion, it’s interesting to know what exactly a top scientist like Collins views as evidence for belief.

A few years ago I read some work by the RATE project at www.icr.org.Those writings contributed to my loss of faith, because I found claims in there that the authors (given their level of expertise) simply had to know were false. But the question as to why they would lie, that was a tough question that I struggled with for quite a while, and still have not quite figured out. Also, if modern Christian apologists can lie, wouldn’t the same be true for those from two millennia ago? But if that’s so, then what was I basing my beliefs on? This all took some time to figure out and there were other contributing factors (e.g. reading the TO) but this one was important too since it undermined confidence in Christian writings.

I will give you an example of what can happen if you make a mistake while attacking science in the church: My graduate student, he was a firm believer before he came to my university. Just before coming he went to a camp. His church had advised him to go there so that he would have some ammunition in case people told him some things that his church did not agree with (like evolution).

At this camp, one of the leaders showed the students a picture of some galaxy stating that this galaxy can’t be stable and therefore can’t be older than say 6,000 years. Therefore, the universe is young. My student knew 100% sure that that claim had to be wrong. First of all, these galaxies are so enormous and the distances between the stars are so big that even if a galaxy is not stable, a few thousand years won’t mean anything. More important, my student knew that if the universe was only 6,000 years old, we shouldn’t even be seeing those galaxies, the light should not have reached us yet. Before that point, my student had believed everything that his parents and church had told him and never questioned any of it.

At the camp he was told something he knew was false. Then he asked himself “what else did they tell me that’s not true?” This story does not have a happy ending. I think he’s now agnostic/atheist. This also meant giving up most of his friends and his girlfriend (they’re Christians), and straining his relation with his parents. But an unnecessary lie at that camp planted a seed of doubt, and that doubt grew, and everything fell apart. If the people at the camp had played it safe, and stuck to those things they know are true, not making false claims, then none of this would have happened.

Let me leave you with this picture: Suppose you claim in the church that there are no intermediate forms. A teenage boy sitting in the church wonders: But didn’t we see intermediate forms last week in the museum??? Before that point this boy thought that the church had the truth. But now he’s asked to disbelieve something he saw with his own eyes, and a seed of doubt is planted. Looking at deconversion stories online, you’ll see that this scenario is not  uncommon.

I have said this before and will say it again. I am convinced that the reason why most people who turn away from God and to Naturalism is not because the evidence for Naturalism is so strong. Rather, it is because they want to be autonomous from the standards that God brings to the table. It is a moral rather than an intellectual issue.
Freddy, this remark is actually very offensive. It tells me that just because I happen to believe that a loving God could not possibly have ordered the genocides in the Bible, and that thus the Bible is false, that just because of that there is a problem with my moral values.

So I must either believe what I know to be false, or else, there’s a problem with my moral values. And as far as moral values is concerned, I can’t believe where we are heading. I thought of the US as the country that liberated Europe. But now I find myself living in a country that openly supports torture. And churches support this regime, I can’t believe that this is actually happening, how can such a thing be possible? In the middle ages, during a time of fear and superstition, all it took to torture someone was to claim they were witches. Now the country seems to be again in the grips of fear, and all it takes is to claim someone is a terrorist, and just like before, anything, even hearsay evidence, will do (like that Canadian). Even the right to confront the evidence, or even to have it be seen by a judge, those modern world achievements are under siege by our own government. And all of this is fine, but my moral values, those are the ones that are wrong, just because I disbelieve? I just don’t understand our world.

William

September 26, 2006
William,
I completely understand what you are saying. And I certainly don’t disagree with you that there are people who take stances and put out information that is not accurate. This, though, is not something that is limited to Theists. And I believe that you are reading something into the motives of people that may not be exactly right. You keep accusing Christians of saying things that “they know are lies.” I don’t believe that this is true. I imagine that most of the people saying these things really do believe they are true, and the things they say fall perfectly into line with the presuppositions they begin with (there actually are theoretical positions that would support a young universe based on presuppositions that a Naturalist would not agree with – even using your illustration with stars and light). But your accusations would be like me using my presuppositions and saying that Naturalists are lying and they know it because they come up with conclusions that I believe are false. Couldn’t I say the exact same thing about Naturalistic scientists – If they would lie about the possibilities of natural selection, what else would they lie about?

The issues we are dealing with go well beyond the pronouncements of any individual – whether they are lying or not. It goes to the issue of Truth. It seems that your whole argument to me is that if there are some people in one camp that say things that I think are not the truth, then I am going to reject that point of view no matter what the evidence shows. That is simply an emotional reaction and I would not give it a lot of credibility. Taking that point of view, I would reject Naturalism, not because I thought it was wrong scientifically, but because Naturalistic thinkers like Stalin and Hitler slaughtered millions of people. To me, that is simply not a valid way to approach it.

I appreciate your anecdotal illustration, but it also doesn’t prove anything. And I doubt very seriously that you would accept that kind of reasoning as a means to justify or disprove a theory in math or physics. Truth is independent of people’s emotional responses. There are misguided and even reprehensible people who fall into the camp of every worldview. That is no reason to reject the worldview itself.

I find it amazing that you still definitively insist that intermediate forms exist and that telling people that they don’t is a lie. I understand that it is a part of evolutionary theory that is a “doctrine of the faith,” but it only makes sense when you start with a presupposition that allows for it. I know it can be made to look like there are intermediate forms when you line up certain pictures side by side, but that does not set aside the fact that there is still no known mechanism that will allow incremental changes to create what Darwinian theory proposes. The intermediate forms are assumed, but they are not proven. It is not a disservice to point this out to people, in spite of the fact that adherents of the evolutionary theory run the museum and present the information in a way that tries to support their faith position. I think your illustration about the boy is an awful one that expresses an emotional reaction, and is not based on any kind of good logic or science.

As for the comment about morality, that was not meant to be offensive at all. In fact, the whole idea of morality as I expressed it has nothing to do with your own personal morality. I know plenty of people who are Naturalists and are considered by society to be upstanding moral citizens. I actually believe you personally fit into that category. I do recognize the difficulty for me to raise the idea of morality with a Naturalist since morality has no transcendental foundation. For a Naturalist there is no such thing as objective morality, it is simply what the individual or society want to define it to be. That is why people like Hitler and Stalin could do what they did without any problem. They were defining their acts of genocide as achieving the common good. For the most part, though, even most Naturalists adopt a more humanistic approach – so personal morality is not the issue (even though there is still no compelling reason to adopt any particular approach).

That being said, my reference to you related to the approach you take to deciding what worldview you will adhere to. The point was that your decision is not based on empirical proof (neither is mine or anyone else’s). Rather, the tendency of people is to decide what direction they want to go based on moral preferences. Once the moral preference is in place, they then follow a worldview that supports that approach.

I hope this clarifies some things.
Have a terrific day,
Freddy

26 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
I find it amazing that you still definitively insist that intermediate forms exist and that telling people that they don’t is a lie.
You don’t have to believe me, just see it with your own eyes. Get a book, or go to a museum What are these bones then? Separate species that are now extinct? That happen to have some features between two other species? Well, those are called intermediate forms.

It’s interesting to me that a person can see something with their own eyes and still deny that it exists. Read for example: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/world/story/0,,1868904,00.html Why should a collection of bones be a problem for a believer? Why should Kenya’s scientific treasures be hidden in the basement of the museum?

I know it can be made to look like there are intermediate forms when you line up certain pictures side by side,
So they do exist? Or it just looks like they exist?

but that does not set aside the fact that there is still no known mechanism that will allow incremental changes to create what Darwinian theory proposes.
It is wrong for you to claim that no mechanism is known. Such a mechanism is known, the most you can claim about it is that you don’t believe that that mechanism can produce the life forms we see today.

A few years ago, I attended a presentation by Brian Miller (PhD in physics) that made a convincing case against evolution. The next day I realized that he made a math error in his discussion of Haldane’s dilemma. Then I started to look into some of his other claims. During the talk, Miller gave a number of problems that he claimed were being ignored by evolutionists, and several of these problems were very convincing. However, when I entered these problems into Google I discovered that every one of the problems he mentioned had in fact been studied and solutions had been proposed. It is reasonable to disagree with the proposed solutions, however, it is not reasonable to make the false claim that the problems had been simply ignored. I do not believe that Miller was deliberately lying but nevertheless, somewhere along the line someone has added a false statement into this presentation to make it more convincing, a “white lie” so to say.

I have alerted Miller (he was, or is, at the Discovery Institute) of this problem. Anyone can make a mistake every once in a while. But what bothers me greatly is that the Discovery Institute continues to make the exact same claims (claiming that certain problems have been entirely ignored by biologists) in their presentations full well knowing that a simple Google search proves these claims to be false. And I know that these claims are very effective on the audience.

The intermediate forms are assumed, but they are not proven. It is not a disservice to point this out to people,
That’s not what you’re doing. You were saying they don’t even exist.

To get back to the example of the boy in church, what exactly is he supposed to think? That the bones in the museum don’t exist? Or that they’re fake? That the pictures in the books in the library, that those are fake, produced by atheist scientists with the purpose of undermining faith? That boy will have to believe either that, or else accept that he was told in church isn’t true. And neither of those two options is easy. Many will believe the church. But not all.

William

September 26, 2006
William,
You still don’t seem to understand that when actual scientific proof does not exist, that the presuppositions that a person begins with determine how the person interprets that data that is out there. The data itself is objective reality – no one is saying that the bones do not exist. I don’t know why you keep saying I am trying to deny that various data doesn’t exist. I am all for scientific inquiry. But it is simply not true that all scientific inquiry is by default based on Naturalistic assumptions. If you want to pull that one off, you are going to have to prove the presuppositions, which cannot be done. The next best thing is to give the best evidence as to why your Naturalistic presuppositions are true. But you have completely, at every turn, refused to address this issue. No response to where the material comes from which makes up material reality. No response about where life comes from. No response about where consciousness comes from. No response about the issues related to limitations of natural selection. No response about how the information of life came to exist and ended up being organized in an intelligent manner. Nothing! All I keep getting are your assertions based only on Naturalistic presuppositions without any reason why I should accept that set of presuppositions.

I am also not saying that Darwinists do not have theoretical models that they use to try and explain the data. What I am saying that the interpretations only make sense based on the presuppositions, and the presuppositions cannot be proven and they are full of problems that they are unable to answer using natural explanations. They are statements of faith.

If the mechanism for incremental changes that can lead to the evolution of new species is known (not theorized about, but known) then what is it? It is not natural selection. No scientist has ever been able to demonstrate that in any sense. All they have is fossil (historical) evidence (data). And asserting that this kind of historical evidence proves that natural selection is able to create new species is a huge leap of faith based on nothing more than the assumption that there is no supernatural so there had to be a natural way for it to happen. It is not based on experimental science, it is atheistic religion pure and simple.

We could go back and forth giving anecdotal stories all day long and it still doesn’t prove anything. It can make for a good speech presentation, but does not prove any points. You keep hammering away at Christian Theists who are investigating their presuppositions and reporting findings based on their presuppositions, but what about all of the Naturalists who have made unfounded assertions, blunderous mistakes and have also just flat out lied. Why don’t you get just as upset about that and renounce Naturalism? It is because the reason for your acceptance of Naturalistic philosophy is not based on facts, it is based on your worldview, and you are only sympathetic to the evidence that supports your view. That is not an unusual thing, but it is what it is.

Ultimately, the worldview you accept is your business. I don’t anticipate converting you to my way of thinking. You have to make your own decisions about how you want to think of how reality is organized. But ignoring the profound problems of Naturalism does not make those problems go away. And rejecting Christian Theism simply because there are people who have disappointed you or have come up with some conclusions that don’t fit with your preferences also doesn’t make the worldview false.

There is something that it true, and that is the only objective reality. Everything else is either completely false or incomplete. As a worldview, I think Naturalism is sadly lacking. There are points of intersection that it has with Christian Theism when it comes to respect and acceptance of scientific research. But the assumptions of the Naturalistic worldview extend way beyond that and make faith assumptions that are simply not supportable.

Freddy

27 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
There are so many false statements in your e-mail that I simply don’t know where to begin.

Lets pick just one example:
If the mechanism for incremental changes that can lead to the evolution of new species is known (not theorized about, but known) then what is it? It is not natural selection. No scientist has ever been able to demonstrate that in any sense.
Natural selection has been experimentally demonstrated. Evolution has been observed. Of course, only on (for geological standards) short time scales, but nevertheless, evolution has been observed. Creationists tend to call this micro-evolution, and claim this to be something entirely different than macroevolution.

Let me give just two examples, but there are very many more.
1). Cancer cells have been observed to evolve a pump that specifically pumps out the anti-cancer drugs. This happens on a human time scale. These pumps are by no means easy constructions (in fact, almost nothing in biology is easy).
2). Dogs have evolved into many diverse varieties in just 15,000 years which is only a blink of an eye on the geological time scale. Their appearances are already very different from one another, so much so, that if you didn’t already know that they all have a recent common ancestor, you’d never guess that this is the case. Given enough time, some kinds inevitably become no longer interbreedable, at which point they are separate species.

I think you are using the “naturalistic assumptions” as something to hide behind. The fact of the matter is simply that much of what you’re stating is provably wrong no matter what worldview one adheres to.

I don’t want to go into this issue any further unless and until you are willing to learn more about it. Please read the book I mentioned earlier so you that you know at least a couple of actual facts, proven in the laboratory. We can then discuss those and see if that constitutes good evidence for evolution or not.

William

September 27, 2006
William,
I have on several occasions said that I did not want this discussion to be a bother to you and that there is no compulsion to keep it going if you don’t want to. It is entirely up to you – no hard feelings on this end.

Now, to your remarks.
I think that I have explicitly stated that natural selection has been demonstrated. My whole discussion about hybridization was about natural selection. I don’t know of anyone who disputes the process of natural selection. But natural selection is not the same thing as evolution. What you are referring to as things which “have been observed” are issues that relate to natural selection, not to evolution. Evolution relates to descent with modification over a very long period of time which leads to the development of new species and new life forms which did not before exist. This is entirely different than natural selection and you cannot use natural selection as evidence to support evolution.

As for your examples, there are some serious flaws.
1. What you are calling the evolution of a pump in a cancer cell is simply not the case. Some cancer cells do have a pump that pumps out cancer drugs. But they did not evolve a pump specifically to do that. The pumps were already there when whey changed from a normal cell to a cancer cell. When the cells mutated, they changed in a way that caused them to pump out the cancer drugs. In the process of change they actually lost specificity – not gained it. Mutations do not add information (If you have a source which shows that there was an actual evolutionary change taking place in the cancer cell rather than a simple mutation of something that already existed, I would be interested in seeing it). It is also interesting to note that the end result of the entire process with cancer is to destroy the organism. There are not going to be too many genes passed on to the next generation when cancer kills the organism.
2. I am not sure I fully understand why you are using the dog as an example of evolution. Dogs are still dogs and the differences are simply variations within a species – the result of natural selection, not evolution. If I am not mistaken, all dogs can pretty much be traced back to the wolf. Your whole idea that given enough time they would inevitably become a separate species is pure Darwinian Naturalistic speculation. There is no proof for this. It is the theory which emerges straight out of the presuppositions of Naturalism.

Your statement that I am hiding behind the idea of “naturalistic assumptions” is ludicrous. In fact, I have given you very specific evidences why the whole framework of Naturalism (not just the specific illustrations that you keep trying to throw out) does not hold up. If anyone is dodging dealing with a topic, you are the one. You keep ignoring the worldview questions I ask. On the other hand, I have dealt with virtually everything you have brought up.

You keep telling me that what I am saying is provably wrong, but nothing of what you have replied to me proves anything. All you are doing is starting with Naturalistic presuppositions (which can’t be proven), and drawing inferences and interpreting data based on those. You have not given me a reason to accept your approach. And you are still not answering the questions which would give a high probability that Naturalism could be true. If you really want to shoot me down, there are two ways to approach it. First you can give me some kind of evidence (which does not require a worldview presupposition) that God doesn’t exist. Secondly you can give me a reasonable Naturalistic explanation (with evidence) as to why “something” (rather than nothing) exists, where life comes from, and where consciousness comes from. Even though you don’t like the answers that Christian Theism gives, at the very least it does have a reasonable explanation for all of these.

The whole discussion that we are having began as a discussion on worldview. You have aggressively moved the discussion away from that and now are not even willing to put what you are saying into a worldview context. It makes the conversation quite difficult.

Freddy

27 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
As for your examples, there are some serious flaws.
1. What you are calling the evolution of a pump in a cancer cell is simply not the case. Some cancer cells do have a pump that pumps out cancer drugs. But they did not evolve a pump specifically to do that. The pumps were already there when whey changed from a normal cell to a cancer cell. When the cells mutated, they changed in a way that caused them to pump out the cancer drugs. In the process of change they actually lost specificity – not gained it.
No, they gain specificity. Over a number of cell generations these pumps keep getting more and more specific, so that after some time they become more and more optimized at targeting specifically the cancer drug.

This follows exactly the mechanism of evolution.

We start with some cancer cells, happily growing. Now suddenly their environment changes (that’s always a crucial step in evolution). Namely, suddenly their environment contains a drug that kills most of them. The ones that remain have some mechanism of dealing with the cancer drug, something that works but doesn’t work very well. But their offspring keeps getting better and better at it. This is because each offspring has new mutations (most of them not helpful) but the few that have useful mutations have much higher survival/reproduction rates. So after a number of cell generations you get cells that very specifically pump out the drug without pumping out similar but harmless molecules.

This is also the reason that if you take antibiotics, you should always finish the series even if halfway through you already feel better. Because if you kill almost all of them, instead of all of them, then you’re actively producing resistant versions. Especially if you repeat the process (kill almost all, but not all. Then let them grow back, and again kill almost all, etc) then they keep getting better and better at resisting the drug. If you repeat this for a while then you get strains that are much better at defeating the drug than any one of the ones that you started with.

Yesterday I read an article in the Scientific American where this very process was used to produce certain viruses with useful electrical and mechanical properties. Given any molecule, no matter how complex, it takes just 3 weeks to produce viruses that bind specifically to that molecule and to no other. These viruses can then be used to detect the presence of that molecule (this is useful because with this method substances can be detected even if their concentration is extremely low). Again the process here is random mutations (these happen naturally, nothing needs to be done to induce mutations) and selection. This process has been demonstrated to work very precisely, you can make viruses this way that target one particular molecule but that don’t bind to any other (even very similar) molecules. People in the world of sports know that if they use illegal substances, and if there’s even the tiniest trace of them left in the sample, then they’ll be busted. But if what you write (that no information can possibly be added through mutations) is true then these things shouldn’t work.

Still, you might wonder how these observations relate to things from the far past.

We can forever argue whether or not evolution can produce the diversity observed today. Clearly it can produce some diversity (e.g. diverse dogs) but can it produce something even more diverse given a time span more than a hundred thousand longer than that of dogs? One can forever argue about whether or not that is possible, but in science, observations always trump these kind of arguments.

And that goes both ways. You see, even if evolution were possible, that still wouldn’t be enough because if something is possible, that by no means implies that it actually did happen that way. So then the question is, what observations today could possibly prove or disprove that evolution actually did produce diverse species? For this, I recommend Francis Collins’ book.

William

September 27, 2006
William,
I understand what you are saying, but this still does not address the point. No new pump evolved. It is simply the adaptation of a pump that already exists. And I still don’t see a source cited.

And with the viruses, even they can only go so far. And even with that it is possible for them to revert back over time. This kind of adaptation is not evolution. Evolution cannot be shown to produce diversity (or anything for that matter). Natural selection produces diversity (the dogs). Again, I have no issues with this. It is the evolution part that does not fly. You can have diversity within dogs, but there is no science to show how you get from a cat to a dog, or from a dog to a horse, or whatever.

As for observation being able to trump theoretical propositions concerning how the world got to be the way it is, I agree with that 100%. But that is not the issue. My complaint does not have to do with the use of the scientific method. Science is not the exclusive domain of Naturalists. Creationists can also legitimately use it. My problem is that Darwinists take the data and interpret it in a way that goes well beyond what has ever been observed. They project answers that exclusively algin with a Naturalistic understanding of reality and dismiss, out of hand (and even put down), any other interpretation, regardless of what evidence is put on the table. A classic case is the vehemence with which Darwinists have fought to keep science teachers in public schools from presenting the problems related to evolutionary theory and the separate issue of teaching ID alongside Naturalistic theory – both are rational theories, after all.

To address your statement about eternal discussions, why do you think it is that it is possible for us to forever argue about whether or not evolution can produce life and derivative life forms? It is because the foundation for the argument is not something that can be proven. Ultimately, all of the arguments that are put forth emerge from a faith foundation that cannot be proven by science. The question then becomes, which worldview gives the most reasonable framework within which to build. I simply believe that Naturalism comes up short. There are issues it simply cannot deal with.

I think you have stated what I have been saying all along. No worldview can prove itself to be correct. By definition a worldview is a set of assumptions. People choose their worldview based on faith. The problem I have with Naturalism is that it claims there is no such thing as the supernatural and that everything can be explained naturally. Yet it must resort to faith to make that assertion. In addition to that, it simply cannot even address the most fundamental questions, much less give comprehensive natural proof.

I know that my Christian Theism is also a faith view. But at least it is fully consistent with itself. I also fully realize that internal consistency does not prove that it is the Truth about the structure of reality. I have other evidence that I depend on for that. But it is fully consistent and has a rational answer for all of the questions.

What is it about Collins’ book that you want me to know? Is there some other kind of evidence in there that you think gives a leg up to Naturalism? I don’t necessarily have any objection to reading it, but I have read books that present all kinds of perspectives, even beyond the two worldviews that we have mostly been dealing with. What new perspectives is this going to give me?

Freddy

27 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
Here is a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs1zeWWIm5M&NR (a 5 minute video). It discusses a prediction of evolution (namely that human chromose #2 must have a pair of chromosome-end-markers at a very precise location on that chromosome, because a comparison between human and primate DNA shows that a chromosome-merger must have taken place if evolution is true). Let me know what you think.

If you want to see more from Ken Miller, then from that same web page as above click on: “Ken Miller on Intelligent Design” (a 2 hour video, which contains the above 5 minute video).

William

September 28, 2006
William,
It is interesting, but just more of the same speculation about what might have happened. If you notice listening to him, he kept over and over using the presuppositions of Naturalism to form his arguments. It seems to the me that the reason he was not cross examined is because he gave no information that needed to be refuted. It was all, “if …. is the case, then …. would be the result.” But, he didn’t say that was the only possible answer. That is because he is aware that a different set of presuppositions would inevitably lead to different conclusions.

He was also totally dismissive of the ID perspective simply because it didn’t fit his paradigm. He simply did not refute another viewpoint.

There is nothing in this video that proves anything. The idea that God was being deceptive is totally bogus – and insulting, if you want to know the truth. Again, you have to arrogantly assume Naturalistic presuppositions to make a statement like that.

Freddy

28 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
Let’s walk through this again:
These markers are always found at the end of the chromosomes, never in the middle of chromosomes EXCEPT at the very precise location predicted by evolution.

Nevertheless, you feel confident in stating that not only is evolution wrong, but on top of that, there is NO evidence for evolution whatsoever. Do you have any idea how bad that looks?

You confidently stated that not only are intermediate forms not evidence for evolution, but moreover, intermediate forms do not even exist! This despite the fact that you can go and see them with your own eyes. How can this be explained? That’s why I’m intrigued by worldviews.

You are certainly not alone in your opinion. Michael Behe (an ID supporter with genuine scientific credentials) states confidently that biologists have absolutely no explanation whatsoever for how the immune system could have evolved. And he wants this claim taught in the biology class room. He makes this claim in a courtroom, after the opposing side just placed 50 papers and 9 books on his desk that describe exactly how biologists think the immune system evolved, and how this can be tested.

He admits in court that he has not read these papers, and yet, he remains confident that biologists have no explanation whatsoever how the immune system could have evolved. And like you, he has no idea how bad that looked in the eyes of the judge. Even to this day, ID institutes blame the judge for the loss in Kitzmiller vs Dover, they can’t imagine how this could have anything to do with the evidence presented at the trial. No matter how obvious it is why they lost, their worldview is stunningly effective at keeping the facts out of the mind.

I’m also intrigued by some of your defense mechanisms as well. I explained to you how someone in your church can lose faith if you make what I consider to be provably false claims. I also personally know people who lost their faith in this way, and even gave you an example. Yet, this example doesn’t seem to bother you one bit (despite the, from your perspective, severe consequences of loss of faith) because you already have another explanation handy, which you can always use regardless of whether it applies to this example or not: If people lose faith this way, well, you can convince yourself that that wouldn’t be your fault. After all, people don’t stop believing because of evidence, but solely because they want to disobey. This reasoning allows you to continue making claims without having to first check them, because if something goes wrong with someone’s faith, then you’ve already convinced yourself that it’s not your fault.

I’m repeating myself now, but still, I find it very interesting how a scientist like Behe can confidently state that nobody knows how the immune system evolved, with 50 papers and 9 books (unread by Behe) that prove the opposite, sitting on his desk right in front of him. If you can explain to me how that works, then I’d consider our discussions a success. I’d be very happy if you can explain to me how Behe can continue making this claim, why he wants his claims taught in the biology class, and how he can explain all of the opposition to his claims by simply saying that it’s all because of unproven Naturalistic assumptions, and not because there might actually be a problem with his claims.

There is nothing in this video that proves anything. The idea that God was being deceptive is totally bogus – and insulting, if you want to know the truth.
Right. The idea of a deceptive God is unacceptable, and that’s exactly why theists should reject ID. Intelligent Design has some other theological implications as well. I refer to Collins for this.

As a practical matter, after Kitzmiller vs Dover, one has to wonder about future strategy. I think that after Kitzmiller, a judge that would hand a victory to ID would almost surely also have handed a victory to the usual creationism. If it’s true that winning a compromise like ID is equally hard as winning the whole thing (we can debate if that’s actually the case), then why go for the compromise?

William

September 28, 2006
Dear William,
Do you realize what you are saying? This only looks bad if you assume the presuppositions of Naturalism and completely dismiss the possibility that there might be a God who is an objective person who actually is intelligent and created the world to fit a pattern that makes sense to him. If such a God exists, what makes it so strange that he would form each type of creature individually, thus eliminating the need for intermediate forms? What would be so strange that he would create man with just the right mixture of chromosomes and in the right places that makes man to be man? It is just that you assume that God does not exist so it couldn’t be that way, and you only look at data as if it was not created by God. Your interpretation is coming from the filter, not from the data.

This is where you are completely missing the whole point. All you are doing is taking data and running it through a Naturalistic filter. If the filter is good, it works. But you can’t prove that the Naturalistic filter is Truth. In fact, you have totally ignored, up until now, all of the questions that I have raised about the viability of a Naturalistic worldview. Naturalism requires a faith assumption that there is not a transcendent God.

Much of what you are calling “facts” are simply not facts. They are interpretations of data that are run through a worldview filter. Run it through a different filter and you end up with a different result. Your problem in understanding worldview is that you are so tied into the Naturalistic worldview yourself, that you are not able to see how the data could legitimately be interpreted differently. You start with the assumption that there is no God. That is not a problem with the conclusions of ID, it is a problem of worldview. You can’t prove there is no God, but you assume it anyway and look for any kind of evidence that will prove your point. And any data that comes along is interpreted in a way that is designed (interesting word, here) to prove your point. On the other hand, any interpretation that goes against your presuppositions is summarily dismissed. I understand what is going on, and I actually expect you to do that. Everyone does it. But it is not reasonable to simply dismiss ID out of hand when Naturalism itself is not able to definitively address the issues that ID raises about the origin of intelligence in nature. Where does the intelligence come from, in the first place, that Naturalists use to challenge the proposition that there is a God?

I am not sure I really get your courtroom illustration and what you are trying to prove by throwing it is out there. I suppose that the person who placed the 50 pages and 9 books in front of Behe has read all of the books and papers that have been produced by the people who believe ID? Is it unreasonable to assume that Behe has studied the topic enough that he pretty much knows what the arguments are and how they are presented? There are only so many arguments that can be made. Not having read specific papers is not proof, or even evidence, of anything. It is a totally meaningless point. For instance, I have not read Collins. But have I confronted pretty much all of the theological issues that Collins raises? Probably. To be fair, have you read all of the people who dispute your point of view? I doubt it very seriously. In fact, you have been discussing this issue with me for a couple of months now. Have you even read my work? My point is, if an individual knows the issues and the arguments, the fact that there are certain papers that they have not read does not really mean anything. Does the fact that you have not read everything that has been written concerning a particular mathematical theory invalidate your credibility as a mathematician? Of course not!

Before I go on, let me make one quick comment about these papers and books that were put in front of Behe. If there was so much proof in those papers, where is the experimental evidence where an immune system has been created in the lab? You wrote specifically that the papers in front of Behe “prove” it can be done. The fact that evolutionary biologists have a theory about how it might have happened is a far cry from proof.

I don’t really understand why you are bringing up topics related to how something looks to a judge or why certain people fall away from their Christian faith. This has absolutely nothing to do with the truth of any point of view. If the judge buys into Naturalistic thought, is it conceivable that he made his ruling based on his own biases rather than on the actual issues of the case? There is a lot of that going on these days (and interestingly enough, the judicial philosophy that allows for that is straight out of Naturalism). If a person converts from Christianity to Naturalism (or pantheism or some other belief system) does that prove anything about the truth of any of them? If you want to play that game, we can probably give anecdotal illustrations all day long of people who have converted from one worldview to another. People convert from Naturalism to faith in Christ, from Animism to Pantheism, and on and on. So what is your point? What you are calling my “defense mechanisms” are the exact things you are doing from your side. There is no difference at all.

I find it very disrespectful that you are making personal accusations toward me about my feelings and motives concerning people who turn away from the Christian faith. You can (and have) challenged my beliefs and that is okay, but you are way off base challenging my motives. And are you really saying it is my fault when a person makes a decision to go another direction? Do you take the blame when a Naturalist becomes a Christian? And since when is one person responsible for the free will decisions that another makes? The really crazy thing is, this whole discussion doesn’t even make sense from a Naturalistic point of view. Ultimately everything is biologically determined, anyway, right? And if you want to argue that point, what is your scientific basis? There is none. It is all based on worldview assumptions.

You completely missed my point about God being deceptive. He is not! To make a claim that God is deceptive requires that you know more information than it is possible for you to know. You would literally have to know the intentions of God himself. All you are doing is simply making assumptions to fit your model.

You keep trying to hammer on problems you think exist in Christian Theism, but you continue to totally ignore the issues I have brought up about the problems related to Naturalism. Why is it that you feel you get to attack me, yet don’t feel obligated to address the problems with Naturalism that I bring up? I think it is because you are so convinced that Naturalism is correct, you feel that if you can just give me a few more “facts” I will finally get it. It seems that you still really don’t understand the whole idea of worldview. If you really are interested in coming to the kind of resolution that you say you are, you are going to have to deal with the presuppositional issues before you can go any further.
Hope your day is a terrific one.
Freddy

28 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
books that were put in front of Behe. If there was so much proof in those papers, where is the experimental evidence where an immune system has been created in the lab? You wrote specifically that the papers in front of Behe “prove” it can be done.
These papers proposed specific tests by which the proposed mechanism could be tested. Namely, if the proposed mechanism was true, then one can derive from that several detailed predictions about the immune system that can be tested in the lab. If those predictions are wrong, then so is the proposed mechanism. So the mechanism proposed in those papers is testable to a certain degree.

I am not sure I really get your courtroom illustration and what you are trying to prove by throwing it is out there. I suppose that the person who placed the 50 pages and 9 books in front of Behe has read all of the books and papers that have been produced by the people who believe ID?
The science side was much more careful at the trial. They never claimed that ID had no ideas, because such a claim is easily falsified with a pile of books. They were careful to avoid statements that are easily disproven. The ID side, on the other hand, was not so careful.

It’s quite a different thing to say that:
(A) Biologists have absolutely no idea how this process works and have completely ignored the problem.
than it is to say:
(B) Yes, biologists have written ideas on how this process works, but we’ll explain why those ideas are wrong.

For public opinion, strategy (A) works much better than strategy (B) because it’s so much easier. But Behe used strategy (A) in the courtroom, where things work differently. I mean, regardless of whether the biologists explanations are correct or not, shouldn’t it be obvious that strategy (A) in a courtroom is a path that leads to defeat?
I hope we can at least agree on that point.

William

September 28, 2006
William,
Sorry, I actually don’t see the relevance of this whole line of discussion. I am not really into the strategic maneuvering of lawyers. None of this really has anything to do with what is truth and what is not.
What I mean is that strategy A (denial of the existence of evidence, denial of the existence of explanations, denial of the existence of intermediate forms, etc) this strategy is simply politics, it has nothing to do with searching for truth.

That’s why the discussion switched to legal strategies, what I’m trying to point out is that strategy A is very effective in the court of public opinion, but at the same time it’s very counter productive when the issue is studied in more detail, like at the trial.

Most importantly, this strategy is the opposite of searching truth.

And what does “testable to a certain degree” mean? Does that mean you can come to incomplete conclusions?

Freddy

28 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
Sorry, I actually don’t see the relevance of this whole line of discussion. I am not really into the strategic maneuvering of lawyers. None of this really has anything to do with what is truth and what is not. What I mean is that strategy A (denial of the existence of evidence, denial of the existence of explanations, denial of the existence of intermediate forms, etc) this strategy is simply politics, it has nothing to do with searching for truth.

That’s why the discussion switched to legal strategies, what I’m trying to point out is that strategy A is very effective in the court of public opinion, but at the same time it’s very counter productive when the issue is studied in more detail, like at the trial.

Most importantly, this strategy is the opposite of searching truth.

And what does “testable to a certain degree” mean? Does that mean you can come to incomplete conclusions?
What I meant with that is that yes, the theory of the origin of the immune system is testable, but no, this does not mean that the theory is proven (there could conceivably be some other theory that makes the same predictions, if that’s the case, then one can not consider either one of them to be proven)

William

8/28/06
William,
It appears that you may be trying to make a cross application from what happened in the courtroom to the way I am addressing the issues, but I am not sure. You are not completely clear on your meaning.

If you are simply talking about the legal strategies, then my response is that the legal strategies have no bearing on anything we have been dealing with. Whether one strategy is good for a courtroom or public opinion means nothing. The purpose of the court fight was not a search for truth, but a fight between opposing sides to get their way. Neither one of those contexts are going to produce an answer to whether or not Naturalism has any merit. As we demonstrated by our own conversation, laying out the specific evidence to support various theories will not take you to truth. It only demonstrates the logical conclusions of a particular set of presuppositions. If you don’t first deal with the presuppositions, the data that is filtered through them has no context and conclusions are impossible.

If, on the other hand, you are trying to make the point that my own arguments are the implementation of strategy A, and that I am simply denying the existence of various kinds of evidence, then you are completely off base. I do not, and have not, denied the existence of any kind of evidence. The evidence is there. What I am saying is that the presuppositions of Naturalism lead to interpretations of the evidence that are simply wrong. That is not a denial of evidence. Show me that the presuppositions of Naturalism are Truth and I will agree with your interpretation of the data. Until you do, you are wasting my time and yours.

Maybe I am wrong here, but it seems to me that we are coming to the end of any meaningful discussion. The only thing you are responding to these days are things that do not have anything to do with worldview. You have given no response whatsoever to about 90% of the issues I have raised. Perhaps we should call it a day. I have enjoyed the dialog, but I am not sure that there is anything left to be said.

Freddy

29 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
You have given no response whatsoever to about 90% of the issues I have raised.
I can not respond to all of these issues in a short period of time.

For example, you wrote that evolution can not produce new information. But just the day before, I had read an article that shows that evolution can in fact produce new information. Moreover, this is used in real applications, which couldn’t possibly work if evolution can not create new information. Trying to explain how this works takes quite a bit of time, that by itself is already a full e-mail. But even if I write such e-mail, then I’ve only responded to just 1 sentence of your e-mail. This way, things are going to take a very long time. That’s why I asked you to check some of the things before you write them, because the way things are going now, it really is getting too much work to respond to everything. Nor should that be necessary, you could have checked some things yourself if you had wanted to.

When you write ID arguments that already have been disproved conclusively, especially if it’s something that you could have checked yourself, then there is little time left for the good points that you brought up.

Perhaps we should call it a day.
OK, lets leave it at that.

William

PS. Even though our discussion has ended, I still recommend Collins’ book. Not that this would change your position, but I’m sure you’ll like the book nevertheless, he discusses not just science, but also various theological viewpoints, and the reasons why a famous scientist believes in God. All in all, I’m sure you’ll find good material in there that can be of use to you. Plus, it’s a good thing to know which of the ID arguments are actually supported by this (and a few other) famous scientists (for instance: the fine tuning argument).

September 29, 2006
William,
One of the big problems is that many of the things you are defining as “new information” are actually nothing more than variations of old information, not actually new stuff. And the equating of evolution with natural selection is also a problem. There is a difference. It is this kind of inability to move beyond the interpretation of data to the framework that actually interprets the data that has put us at a dead end. The problem is that we are working on two completely different conceptual levels. I, personally, don’t think that we will ever be able to come to any conclusion at all as long as we operate on the level of interpretation rather than with the worldview frameworks themselves.

I have enjoyed it though, and hope that one day we may actually have the opportunity to meet in person. Thanks for recommending Collins’ book. I look forward to the opportunity to read it.
Best regards,
Freddy

29 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
One of the big problems is that many of the things you are defining as “new information” are actually nothing more than variations of old information, not actually new stuff.
Most books don’t contain new words either, they simply consist of old words put together in a different order. So new books are simply variations of old books. But it’s hard to argue that new books don’t contain new information.

The same is true for those viruses produced by directed evolution, they are also variations of prior viruses, and yet they do something that no prior virus could, namely bind to one specific molecule and to no other. This means that this new virus has the information needed to distinguish that one particular molecule from all others. This information was not present in initial viruses because none of the initial viruses has the capability to bind to that, and only to that, particular molecule. Information theory then says that the new information content must on average be at least the logarithm of the number of potential molecules.

The reason we can’t agree is simply this: You consider something a fact if and only if it fits in your worldview.

But in science, the threshold is something entirely different: In the end, the only things that count as science are those things that can be tested. If something can not be tested, then it’s not science. Even if a theory is true, if it can’t be tested, then it’s not science. The claim “evolution can’t produce new information” is a scientific claim because it can be tested. Tests show that this claim is false. Evolution can be tested in many ways. For example, common ancestry predicts that there should be two end-markers in the middle of chromosome number 2. This claim can then be tested. As of yet, ID does not make testable predictions about the genome, and so it is not science. It is conceivable that in the future it would make predictions that are testable in the laboratory, and that ID institutes perform such tests, at which point ID would meet the definition of science. But until that happens, evolution is the only game in town for biological origins as far as science is concerned.

William

September 29, 2006
William,
You keep illustrating my point. You are operating on a data level rather than on a worldview level. Your statement that I only consider something a fact if it fits my worldview is rather ironic. Actually you get this right, but that is the whole nature of worldview. That is exactly what you are doing, too. The only difference in what you are doing and what I am doing is that I am arguing on a worldview level and you are simply arguing evidence that is already filtered through your worldview. You are assuming yours is correct, but have not given one shred of evidence that it is true. You can’t say where the material comes from that makes up the physical world. You can’t say where life comes from. You can’t say how organisms moved from lesser to more complex beings. You can’t say where consciousness comes from. You simply can’t support the Naturalistic framework that you are working from. That being the case, every interpretation you give to any data is arbitrary. It has no objective context.

Your book illustration does not fly. A book is not a living thing and new letters are not being added to the alphabet to make them. Using your illustration would be like saying that it is possible to go from molecules to man without adding new letters to the alphabet. Doesn’t work. Mutation and natural selection do not add new information, they decrease it or simply move it around. You can keep adding new suggestions as to some new mechanism that might work, but that simply is not science – it is speculation.

Your virus illustration also does not fly. A virus is not a living thing. What you have written does not support the theory of evolution. A virus is still a virus, not something completely new.

You keep equating historical science with operational science. They are not the same thing and cannot be treated the same. When you look at historical data, all you can do is interpret it. Your interpretation of the data is filtered through your naturalistic assumptions which simply cannot be supported. For instance, your insistence that evolution can be tested only flies if you assume (a priori) that common ancestry is true. It is a subjective assumption up front. There is no objective reason to assume it. The only reason you assume it is because you need to find something to support your preconceived (but unsupported) idea that there is no supernatural. The fact is, you can take the very same data and start with different presuppositions and come up with an entirely different (and rational) conclusion. It is like picking an arbitrary fact without any context to put on a test, then creating a question that will give you that answer. The problem is, the fact itself is not anchored in anything objective so even if you get the answer you want it doesn’t prove anything. That is the problem of playing with data within a worldview framework that cannot support itself. If you ever get to the place where you are willing to address the Naturalistic worldview itself, I will be happy to engage you again. But until then I think we are at a dead end.

Hope the rest of your semester is a good one. I enjoyed the dialogue.
Freddy

29 Sep 2006
Dear Freddy,
You can’t say where the material comes from that makes up the physical world. You can’t say where life comes from. You can’t say how organisms moved from lesser to more complex beings. You can’t say where consciousness comes from.
But do you know how God made these things?

Genesis chapter 1 says that God commanded these things into existence. However, how these things then came into existence, it doesn’t say.

Why be so opposed to those that try to figure out the how part, whether it’s cosmologists, biologists, geologists, etc? It puzzles me why this should be such a deep conflict.

As far as organisms evolving, for science, testing is much more important than explaining. Before asking for an explanation, first ask: How can one test if evolution took place or not? Because if it fails the tests then the theory will be rejected whether it explains things or not.

The hallmark of science is: testable predictions. If a theory makes testable predictions, then it’s science, whether we like it or not.

Your virus illustration also does not fly. A virus is not a living thing. What you have written does not support the theory of evolution. A virus is still a virus, not something completely new.
It shows that a virus can evolve to obtain new capabilities that no virus had before.

You keep equating historical science with operational science.
But any science must state things that can be tested. Otherwise it wouldn’t be called a science.

They are not the same thing and cannot be treated the same. When you look at historical data, all you can do is interpret it.
Historical interpretations can sometimes also be tested, especially when new evidence is found. So people could argue that history is still a science.

It is true that we could both look at the same set of data and come up with a different interpretation. But there remains the possibility that more data will be found, and that this new data will disprove one of the possible interpretations, at which point we might well both agree on an interpretation.

I would guess that we would very often reach agreement about those parts of history about which there is a great deal of available evidence (I just bought the book 1776).

For instance, your insistence that evolution can be tested only flies if you assume (a priori) that common ancestry is true.
You seem to be saying that assumptions are never rejected.

The logic works like this: Derive predictions from the assumption. Then test those predictions. If the tests fail, then reject the assumption.

So if one assumes something up-front, it can still be rejected later on if the tests fail. An assumption in science is not a dogma. There always remains the possibility that the assumption will be rejected later on. In the case of common ancestry, there are very many predictions that can be tested (e.g. the example about chromosome #2). If those predictions fail, then even an atheist would be forced to reject common ancestry. If you want to reject evolution as a scientist then you have to find a failed prediction. And if you’re hoping that ID will replace evolution, well, that won’t happen unless ID makes testable predictions too. You keep blaming this on worldviews, but I don’t think that makes sense because in any worldview, naturalism or theism, it must be the case that if evolution makes predictions that fail, then it must be rejected.

I mean, here is the whole principle of science in a nutshell:
Predictions fail = Reject assumption.
Predictions pass = Confidence level about the assumption increases.
and I really don’t understand why this principle can’t get along with your worldview. Why shouldn’t successful predictions increase our confidence in evolution? Why shouldn’t evolution be rejected if its predictions fail? We keep repeating ourselves but it just doesn’t make sense to me why we can’t agree on this simple principle.

In any case, you’re right, this discussion has gone too long, I keep replying because I strongly feel that this should make sense in any worldview, not just in naturalism. I disagree with the idea that the evidence for evolution is only strong under a naturalistic worldview but not under other worldviews. The evidence is strong under any worldview, so strong, that I sincerely believe rejection of evolution is caused solely by a fear of learning truth.

On a brighter note: maybe the reason I kept responding is simply because wanted to have the last word…. :) So this time, lets really end the discussion. I’ll give you the last word if you want. If you reply to this email, then I promise I’ll read your e-mail and that I will not respond to it unless you ask me to.
Sincerely,

William

September 30, 2006
Dear William,
I am not responding in order to have the last word, so if you want it then I will gladly defer. The things you have said in this e-mail come closer to dealing with the worldview issues than what you have expressed lately and I appreciate that. I agree with you completely that the “how” of our world is an important study. Nothing I have said, or implied, is meant to take away from that. But even the “how” must be in a context. The Bible is not a book of science, it only points us to the one who made the things we study in science. It’s purpose is to reveal to us who he is and what he is like.

Christians (at least most of them) are not opposed to doing scientific research. There are many Christians who do that as a vocation. There are actually thoughtful Christians who believe that God worked through the evolutionary process to do his creative work. I, personally, think that approach is internally inconsistent, but there is a group who believe that. There are others who believe, and I am sure you are familiar with their teachings, that the earth is only 6,000 ~ 10,000 years old. Others, still, believe that God did all of the creating directly, but that the time frame is more in line with what evolutionary scientists believe. Obviously, even among believers there are positions that may be suspect, or even wrong. In summary, there is no essential conflict between the Christian faith and science. But that is not at all the point. There are issues that relate to God and knowing him that transcend these kinds of specifics.

To speak to your point, certainly testing is important in science. But without a context, the tests mean nothing. The testing part is the science. And you are exactly right that any worldview ought to be able to appreciate that. The conflict is not in the testing (I have absolutely no problem at all with your principle concerning the nature of the principles of science. But you are moving beyond that and assuming that the results that come out of that process must first be put through a Naturalistic filter in order to interpret them. I am saying that a Creationist filter is more consistent with the nature of reality). The conflict is in the interpretation of the data once the testing is done. And the interpretation is worldview dependent. Even given the fact that new information is bound to be discovered, it still has to be put into a context in order to interpret it. If you put it in one context you come up with one conclusion. If you put it in another you come up with a different one. And every context (worldview) is a faith assumption about the nature of reality (not blind faith, of course, but faith none the less). The deepest problem with Naturalism is that it assumes a completely natural cause for all that exists, yet can’t come up with a natural explanation for existence itself. Christian Theism can get away with that because we assert that there is an extra-natural person who started it all. Naturalism can’t get away with it because it asserts that it must be natural.

As we wrap this up, I wonder about your own commitment to Naturalism. This is not a challenge, just an observation. If you were really committed to it, it seems to me that you would be defending it on a worldview level. Since you are not, it looks more to me that you are more in a negative mode of rejecting God than of a positive mode of asserting Naturalism. If that is so, I would hope that it might be more a case of you rejecting the image of God that you had when you were growing up rather than the rejection of God himself. I do understand the difference. I had to work through this issue in my own life.

It is very difficult to grow up in an environment where you are taught a shallow intellectual form of Christianity which does not deal with the profound issues that we have been discussing, while at the same time being immersed in an educational environment which teaches from a different presuppositional level and deals with those same issues in a more serious way. I know that is the case here in America and imagine was the same for you growing up. I absolutely affirm that many Christians (maybe most) have not done a good job of dealing with this and have allowed their faith to be degraded to an emotional, sometimes even anti-intellectual, soup that is divorced from the operation of the real world. This is so damning in Christianity because people end up not living up to the standards, both intellectually and morally, that they profess. Many of the people who reject Christianity, do so because of the hypocrisy of Christians rather than the teachings of the faith itself.

I get that. And frankly it ticks me off as well. I have committed my life to working in that context and I see it a lot. It is not pleasant. But the solution is not to abandon faith in God, it is to actually work to help people conform their lives to the Truth. A person does not have to be anti-intellectual to believe in God.

In my own life I have searched deeply to find the Truth. In that search I have come to know God in a personal relationship. The way God designed that relationship was not that we communicate with him by walkie talkie. Rather he literally places an element of himself inside of us and communes with us directly – person to person.

When God created the physical universe, he did it in a way that would support life. And when he created man, he created a being that is different than all of the other living things he had created before. This one he created in his own image. That is a being who is self-aware, free willed, able to make independent choices, creative, and so on. In other words, the essence of human beings is spiritual like God himself, not physical. We are housed in a physical body, but our essence is spirit. His purpose in this was to have a class of being that he could have a relationship with. That is the bottom line of the Christian faith.

In getting to the specifics of the relationship, though, it is essential that human beings interact with God based on who he is, and with a personal desire to be in the relationship with him. It is not at all unlike human relationships. You become close to people who have basically the same character that you have and who want to be close to you. You steer clear of people who live out entirely different values and who don’t want to be around you. In the case of God, he sets the standards of relationship. If we want a relationship with him we have to be willing to conform ourselves to his standard – which is moral perfection.

Now, obviously, we don’t have the capability to do that within ourselves. This is where the whole imagery of the Old Testament sacrificial system came in – to illustrate the seriousness of our willful disrespect for God. In other words, that disrespect is so bad that the one doing it ought to spiritually die (eternal separation from God). But his love for his creation is so great that he provided a means to overcome it. The ultimate expression of that was when God literally came to earth in the form of the human being Jesus Christ, and became the ultimate sacrifice in our place.

But even with that God does not force his love on us. Each person must individually decide whether or not they want the relationship. Free will is not really free if we don’t have the ability to reject him as well as accept him. The special thing for those who choose to enter a relationship with him is that he comes and dwells inside of us. His spirit communes directly with our spirit and we are able to have a relationship that is more profound than any other that is possible. This is what gives ultimate meaning and purpose to life. It is my hope that at some point in your life you will be able to step into this kind of faith so that you can know God, not as an abstract intellectual concept, but as a personal friend who loves you very much. Touch base once in a while. I have enjoyed this.

God bless,
Freddy

September 30, 2006
Dear Freddy,
If I get to have the last word, then let me say this: I’ve read your e-mail several times, and I think your words are very thoughtful.

You asked about my commitment to naturalism. Let me answer it this way: I think it is the most consistent worldview, but I don’t want to be committed to it, in the sense that I hope that I will never be so certain of it that evidence to the contrary no longer matters.

William