Daniel, Babylon, and the Ancient Primordial Soup

I’ve been doing some reading about Daniel (from the Bible) in a book by the great Oxford University mathematician, philosopher of science, and Christian apologist, John Lennox entitled, “Against the Flow, The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism.” While studying the history, it is pointed out that in order to draw parallels with the Babylonian society of Daniel with today’s Western society, we must first understand the worldview of the ancient Babylonians.

Ancient Babylon was an ultra-modern, polytheistic, yet secular society. The people found meaning and salvation through science and technology, much like many people do today. After all, the Bible says there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1:9). At this time of great prosperity and ultra-modern secularism, Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. He ordered many of the young men of Jerusalem back to Babylon to be stripped of their old way of life and be socially engineered into being a Babylonian and serving the king in various capacities. Daniel and three of his friends were just a few of the young men who were ripped from their families and taken to a foreign land to learn a new language, new literature, and all new customs.

Daniel found out real quick that these people did not believe in Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Daniel believed that Yahweh was the one true God, creator of heaven and earth. But after studying in Babylon (think about being away at college) he obviously had to study their gods. While they had many gods, the very beginning of the long line of gods began with a goddess named Nammu. She was the goddess who gave birth to all other goddesses.

I have three points I have learned about the time period, Nammu, and the view the ancient Babylonians had about her. I’ll share them and parallel it all with today’s world.

  1. Nammu was dubbed the “Primordial Sea Goddess.” This name for her gives us some great clues related to how the ancient people viewed their gods. In all of ancient Sumerian and Greek mythology, the gods all seem to be dependent on a pre-existing form of matter. These gods seem to originate inside an already existing cosmos (in this case, the sea). This is hugely important in drawing the distinction between these phony gods and the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible clearly exists outside of the cosmos. He created the cosmos and therefore He transcends it altogether, just as the Bible teaches. This leads me into my next point.
  1. The most vocal and militant evangelist of the New Atheism movement, Richard Dawkins, has been quoted many times saying this line: “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” The problem with this is that Judeo-Christian monotheism is not some streamlined version of pagan polytheism. Christians believe in a God that cannot be compared to the gods Dawkins speaks about. They are two totally different categories and I’ll show why this is the case.

John Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the UK puts it nicely when he says, “We make a great mistake if we think of monotheism as a linear development from polytheism, as if people first worshiped many gods and then reduced them to one. Monotheism is something else entirely. The meaning of a system lies outside the system. Therefore the meaning of the universe lies outside the universe. Monotheism, by discovering the transcendental God, the God who stands outside the universe and creates it, made it possible for the first time to believe that life has a meaning, not just a mythic or scientific explanation.”

So this argument that atheists simply believe in one god less than a Christian sounds very clever but fails miserably to make its point. While all the other gods that humanity has ever believed in which Dawkins speaks about are products of heaven and earth, our Christian God actually created heaven and earth and exists wholly apart from them.

  1. The third point I want to make draws a connection between the mythical goddess Nammu and the idea of macro-evolution. Remember from above that Nammu was called the “Primordial Sea Goddess.” Anyone with a basic familiarity with macro-evolution probably has ears that perk up when they hear the word “primordial.” Today’s evolutionists will use this word to form the term “primordial soup.” According to Webster, primordial soup is a mixture of organic molecules in evolutionary theory from which life on earth originated. Today’s evolutionary theorists, despite all the advances in science, et al, are still thinking the same way the ancients of Babylon thought thousands of years ago! Like today’s evolutionary theorists, the Babylonians thought life itself emerged from a primordial sea as evidenced by the primordial sea god, Nammu. Their old philosophy was much like that of today’s evolutionists in that they deified the basic forces of nature without ever knowing how to explain how the basic forces of nature could possibly originate on their own. While they derived all life from somehow pre-existing matter, the Christian God created the matter, it did not create Him!

Lennox notes in his book that “this idea that mass-energy is primitive, and all else derives from it, is the essence of the materialistic reductionism that tries to dominate Western society. On this view, mass-energy is subject to the laws of nature…and must have latent capacity to produce all we see around us…

Isn’t it amazing that there truly is nothing new under the sun?

“History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” –Ecclesiastes 1:9.

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They Live Inconsistently

I’ve noticed how many liberal, skeptical-minded nonbelievers tend to have strong convictions as it relates to protecting the environment, liberating the poor, eradicating diseases, and justice for the oppressed. All these things are worthy causes, though we all hold different methods by which we think they should be addressed.

I also notice some glaring contradictions with this kind of thinking among skeptical non-believers. These non-believers create an inconsistent worldview for themselves. They like to say things like, “all senses and convictions can be explained through biological evolution.” They readily admit that since we have evolved via natural selection, we can’t completely trust our own senses. They say our belief in God is simply a belief that has helped us survive, not that there is an actual God. They think beliefs, even our false beliefs, are beneficial to our survival and that is how our false belief in God originated. Maybe so. But here’s the rub with this kind of thinking: If we cannot trust our faculties as it relates to the falsity or truth about God, then why should we trust our faculties as it relates to anything at all, including macro-evolutionary science? To put it another way, if our cognitive faculties tell us only what we need to survive, not about what is actually true, why trust those faculties about anything at all? What a glaring contradiction!! Couldn’t it be then that this idea of macroevolution is simply an imaginary one that has merely assisted our human development? Why trust it?

We know God exists not because we have tangible proof, but because of cumulative clues that point very strongly toward His existence. We have the Cosmological Argument about causation of the universe. We have the teleological argument regarding the undeniable design features of the universe. We have the Anthropic Principle, which describes the delicate fine-tuning of the universe to allow life to survive. We have the regularity of nature. We have the existence of undeniable, objective moral values and duties. All of these things (plus many more) cumulatively form a solid basis for God’s existence.

But there are a few more things to add to the list. Remember what I wrote in the first paragraph. Many people have a very deep conviction to protect the environment, stand up for the oppressed, help the poor, and eradicate disease. As I pointed out, under a macro evolutionary view of the world, we have absolutely no reason to trust our convictions in these areas. After all, under this view, how can we trust anything we think to be true? Why should we carry a strong conviction about environmental issues? A Darwinist, if he is to be consistent, should admit it’s all just an illusion. The point is this, if there is no God, we should not trust any of our cognitive faculties at all.

But the problem for the Darwinist is that he does trust his cognitive faculties in areas he is most passionate about! He goes on about his every day life using his cognitive faculties and trusting them probably more than he trusts anything else. He has no real basis to say nature will go on regularly but he goes right on benefiting from nature’s regularity. He has no ultimate purpose for his social causes but he goes right on crusading for them.

However, if we believe God exists, we have every right to trust our cognitive faculties. We have every right to know the list of evidences for God is actually real. We can ground all the questions about the regularity of nature, moral obligations, helping the poor, or caring about God’s creation. Believers can crusade for justice and environmental stewardship because we have ultimate purpose in doing so.

Just like the bible states in Romans 1:19-20, everyone knows God is there. But isn’t it funny that those who deny him cannot actually live that way consistently?

How to Respond to Doubt

It’s probably safe to say that everyone has experienced thoughts of doubt concerning God and if he is really there.  I have had my own doubts from time to time.  Unfortunately, my doubting was sometimes labeled “sin.”

“How could a committed Christian ever doubt God?” they would ask.  I guess they thought that if I had some shred of doubt that I had backslidden or I wasn’t really a Christian.  That kind of response to a doubter can have devastating effects.  

One of my favorite biographies is Walter Isaacson’s account of the life of Steve Jobs.  Early in the book, Isaacson recounts that Jobs’ parents wanted him to be raised with a religious upbringing, so they took him to church. When Jobs was thirteen years old he came across a copy of Life magazine that had on its cover a picture of two starving children is Biafra. Jobs had been taught in church that God is all-knowing. He took the magazine to his pastor and asked if God knew about these starving children and what would happen to them. The pastor responded by saying that God knew about those children and that it was beyond Jobs’ understanding. This was not a sufficient answer for young Jobs. His pastor didn’t acknowledge Jobs’ doubts about God head-on. As a result, Jobs walked away from Christianity as a thirteen year old boy and the rest is history.

We can learn at least two things from this story. One, how not to deal with the doubts of young people and two, always being prepared to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15). Jobs’ pastor had a golden opportunity to tell young Steve how we may not have all the answers to why bad things happen to innocent people, but Christianity does offer the best explanation to the origin and nature of the universe, the human condition, sin and evil in the world, and the redemptive power of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Timothy Keller makes this remark about doubt: “People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.” We have good reasons to probe our doubts. After doing this we may learn to respond to tough questions. Perhaps Jobs’ pastor didn’t know how to respond to Jobs’ doubts because he never investigated the matter for himself. It’s hard to say. But one things remains, Steve Jobs was not in error to question why bad things happen under the watchful eye of our Creator God.

I want to focus on a couple of questions. Should we trust our doubts and can doubts actually help our faith to grow instead of hindering it? To address the first question we must understand that all doubts are a set of alternate beliefs. For example, a person may doubt Christianity is true because he has an alternate belief that there can’t be just one true religion. But notice that the person’s doubt rests on an assumption that there cannot be only one true religion. How does the person know for sure there cannot be only one true religion? In other words, the person’s doubt is really a leap of faith. So, the point is this:  if you have doubts about Christianity, put your doubts through the same rigorous tests as you do Christianity and you may find that your doubts aren’t very solid after all.

The question about our doubts helping us to grow our faith is found in the Bible. John the Baptist was a friend of Jesus and a mighty man of God. He was a prophet, a preacher, and the one who boldly announced Jesus’ arrival as the messiah. He saw the Spirit of God rest on Jesus, marking him as the Savior. John the Baptist had tremendous evidence for belief in Jesus as God incarnate. In fact, he was thrown into prison for his convictions.

Matthew chapter 11 reveals the doubting side of John the Baptist. He is sitting in prison with lots of time to think about things. After all the experiences he had since the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he had the audacity to send his friends to ask Jesus if he was really the Messiah. Jesus’ response to John’s doubting is very important. Jesus didn’t condemn him or make fun of John. He told John’s friends to report to him the things they had just heard and seen–the blind seeing, the lame walking, the lepers cured, the deaf hearing, and the Gospel being preached. Jesus gave John good evidence to keep his faith. He didn’t call him a sinner or tell him he didn’t understand. John kept his faith for the rest of his life and was later beheaded.

Another famous Biblical doubter is Thomas. I think Thomas gets an undeserved negative reputation in the Bible. I happen to like Thomas. Him and I think a lot alike. In John chapter 20, after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Jesus begins to appear alive again among his disciples. The disciples told Thomas about this encounter of seeing the resurrected Jesus and Thomas didn’t believe them. Thomas said, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers in them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” Wow! Those are some heavy demands. Not only does he want to see Jesus and his wounds, but he wants to actually put his fingers into Jesus’ nail holes! Eight days later, Jesus appeared to Thomas and his friends. Jesus did not condemn Thomas or tell him he was in sin. Rather, Jesus’ first words to Thomas were, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” Incredible! Jesus provided Thomas with evidence to help him with his doubt. Thomas then proclaimed Jesus his “Lord and his God” and his faith was strengthened through his doubt.

We all come across doubts from time to time just like these giants in the Bible did. It’s important to stress that doubt and unbelief are not the same thing. Doubt can be described as questioning and looking for answers. You can doubt and still be a believer. Christians need to know how to deal with doubt and maybe more importantly, learn to help others navigate their doubts. Here’s some points on how we should and should not respond to doubt.

Ways to not respond to doubt:

  1. We should never tell a doubter, “don’t think about it.” Our beliefs demand that we have confidence in them. We should cultivate our beliefs and know that they are rational.
  2. We should never tell someone to, “just believe.” Beliefs must be developed with rationality behind them. A lifeguard doesn’t tell a drowning child to “just swim.”
  3. We should never tell someone to, “have blind faith.” Why not have blind faith in Buddha then? Blind faith is not Biblical faith. Biblical faith has behind it great evidence that gives us excellent reasons to live by it.

Good ways to respond to doubt:

  1. Develop a prayer life with God. Conversing with God himself can do wonders to help with your doubts. Just like Jesus helped John the Baptist and Thomas, he wants to help you and he will. Francis Schaeffer said, “God is there, and he is not silent.” Ask him to help you.
  2. Learn to reflect. Go over the great stories in the Bible about how God has always remained true to his Word and promises. Read the Bible and reflect on it.
  3. Whatever area of doubt you’re going through, study the subject. Maybe you’re dealing with the death of a loved one. There are many great resources on pain and suffering. Maybe the friction secular scientists try to lay upon Christianity has you doubting. Read up on it. There are many Christian scientists who address these things head-on.
  4. Develop friendships with people you can trust. Sometimes having a friend to bounce your doubts off of can open up discussion and you may find answers to your doubts.

Douglas Groothuis gave a talk some time ago on his own doubts. He had this to say:

I have found in the toughest times of life I sometimes do not experience the presence of God. God seems to be distant. But what I come back to is that Christianity is true. There are reasons to believe it.

And in my ministry, my career, I have tried to study every major worldview, reading primary sources, writing, debating, and having conversations. That was a process. It didn’t happen all at once. I didn’t attain a high level of certainty the minute I became a Christian. That had to develop through questioning, through investigating, through conversations.

But I am a living example of someone who knows too much to walk away. Especially in the last year I have experienced some rather acute crises and suffering…But as bad as it gets and as angry as I can get at the Lord, I can’t deny that the Gospel is true. The Gospel has a firm and unyielding hold on me and I’m a Christian by the grace of God.

I agree.

Altruism and the Existence of God

Altruism is a behavior and feelings that show a desire to help others and show a lack of selfishness.  The reality of altruism is a huge problem for atheism and Darwinian evolution.  We know altruistic behavior has existed for as long as knowable human history.  An example of why this creates major problems for Darwinian evolutionists can be understood in the following examples.  A newspaper runs a story at Christmastime detailing the difficulties of a less fortunate family that is very needy.  A man reading the story is compelled to anonymously donate a large portion of money to this needy family to help them get through winter, to have necessities, and gives them the ability to provide some extra Christmas gifts to the children of the family.  This anonymous, altruistic action offers absolutely no kind of evolutionary advantage yet things like this happen all the time.  It stands to reason that, since this kind of behavior offers no evolutionary advantage, the trait of altruism should have disappeared long ago, if Darwinian evolution were true.

Consider the following story, which is true.  In May 2012, several groups of people were attempting to climb Mt. Everest as they do every year.  A young Israeli climber was nearing the summit when he came across another climber who had run into trouble.  This Turkish climber had fallen and lost most of his equipment, including his oxygen tank and his face mask.  He was clearly going to die very soon. The Israeli halted his ascent and spent several hours helping the distressed Turk back down Everest.  He saved the Turks life and lost three of his own fingers and four toes to frostbite.  He also lost his lifetime dream of reaching Everest’s summit.

In addition to all that, since May 2010, Turkey and Israel have been political enemies.  There is no love lost between these two countries.  So why did the Israeli risk his own life and give up his own dreams for such a self-less act?  It’s possible that he could have gained a better standing in the mating world had he had he been able to place “Everest Conqueror” on his dating resume.  The act did not do a thing to save and propagate his own DNA.  He did not save one of his relatives or even someone of his own ethnicity.  These are things that atheism cannot adequately answer.

What does atheism and Darwinian evolution have to say about this subject?  Natural selection tells the evolutionist that all humans strive to propagate their genes through future generations.  Some evolutionists claim that altruistic prestige that goes along with say, being a fireman, attracts healthy, beautiful females to altruistic males who, if they survive the risk of dying, have the ability to better propagate their genes over men who are less willing to risk their lives.  This is a flimsy argument on its own merit.  Oftentimes, complete slobs who are lazy and cowardly can attract beautiful women.  Maybe the slob has huge amounts of money from an inheritance or lottery winnings, as “luck” would have it.  Moreover, based on Darwinian evolution, it seems strange to me that any woman would want to reproduce with a man who consistently risks the gene pool by tempting death or giving away his family’s money to help others.  Let me be clear.  I understand things like this happen, it just doesn’t make sense based on Darwinian evolution.

Evolutionary biologist W. D. Hamilton has another explanation to the problem of altruism.  He claims that an altruistic person will still save his genes because he is more likely to rescue or die for his own kin.  He says you can save two of your children at the expense of your own life.  But if you’re saving cousins, your one life would have to save four cousins to make it worthwhile.  Or if you’re saving second cousins, you would have to sacrifice your one life for eight of your second cousins in order for the statistical formula to work and for your genes to be properly propagated.  These genetic computations seem very, very questionable.  Who would really be ready and willing to calculate these formulas in preparation for an altruistic action?

Geneticist E. O. Wilson has recently shied away from his lifelong belief that evolutionary processes could account for altruism.  He has begun to use an example that compares people to ants.  Ants will “choose” to assume roles that will shorten their own lives to enhance the colony.  But, as mathematician and the history of science research fellow at Boston University Amir Aczel asks, what is analogous to the human “colony?”  Is it one’s family, race, community, nation, etc.?  Aczel reminds us of examples of people jumping in icy water to save a dog or firemen rushing into a fiery building to save a cat.  Neither act will be beneficial to the “colony.”

People all over the world are paid modest wages to fight as soldiers and to serve as policemen and first responders. They do altruistic acts for people of different races, ethnicities, languages, religions, etc. European Christians risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis.  Soldiers form brotherly bonds that cause one another to fight to their death to save their comrades.  As Aczel (who is agnostic) points out, “To claim that these are acts that propagate one’s own genes would seem preposterous.”

So what could be the cause of this kind of behavior?  The answer to me is very simple.  It is caused by decency and goodness that is rooted in a decent and good God who upholds all of creation (Col 1:17, Psalm 100:5).  Christians have a great deal of evidences for objective morals rooted in God such as goodness, selflessness, kindness, and generosity.  We are friends of a good God (James 2:23) and friends and helpers to one another (Matt 5:42).  Christians have very good evidence for God’s existence, the truth and authenticity of the Bible, and the truth of the resurrection of Jesus.  If we follow the evidence where it leads without a presupposed worldview, we can find the answers to many, if not all, of our questions.

 

(Some of the material in this article has been adapted from the book by Amir D. Aczel, Why Science Does Not Disprove God (New York: HarperCollins, 2014).

 

 

Is the Mind the Brain? A Christian Apologetic (Updated)

The subject of this writing is something that comes up fairly often.  The assertion made by the atheist to the Christian is that minds cannot exist without brains.  We must be very concise in how we respond to this assertion.  Christians do not necessarily claim that the mind does not use the brain and the brain does not use the mind.  The claim a Christian should make is that the mind and the brain are two separate things.  Claiming anything more or less than that is unnecessary.  Let me define something before moving forward.  For the purposes of this article, I am going to use the terms mind and soul interchangeably.  The main thing we are looking at here is the differences in the material (the brain) and the immaterial (whether that’s the soul or the mind).

The first thing that must be pointed out when discussing this matter is that science cannot really do much of anything to help us answer the question.  All science can do is show that X causes Y, or that Y depends on X.  To illustrate this think about the self-driving cars being tested by Google.  Let’s say you tell the car GPS where you want to go and sit back in your seat to relax until you arrive.  So this car is required for your transportation.  You are dependent on it.  Likewise, the car is dependent on you to tell it what to do.  You are not the car and the car is not you but you both need each other to reach your ends.  Now let’s say the car breaks down and you are trapped inside.  If you couldn’t escape the car, you would be dead for all intents and purposes.  But, if you can remove yourself from the car, you can get around again.  So, in this case your body is not the same thing as the mechanism that was transporting you.  I want to show that souls (and minds) and physical bodies are like this.  The soul (and mind) uses the body but when the body breaks down, you leave the body and still exist.  Your self-consciousness lives in a body but is not the body.  This is a basic description for how a Christian describes a soul.

Ok, back to showing how this matter cannot be answered by science.  A well-known atheist by the name of Peter Atkins claims, “There is no reason to suppose that science cannot deal with every aspect of existence.”  This type of thinking is called “scientism,” which I consider a sort of religious viewpoint.  If Atkins claim is actually true then there are many disciplines that we should toss out the window such as literature, poetry, art, music, ethics, and philosophy.  How can science tell us that the Mona Lisa is a work of genius? Science can tell you that adding poison to someone’s drink can kill them but it cannot answer whether the act was right or wrong.

The physical brain

The great Oxford mathematician, philosopher of science, and bioethicist, John Lennox gives us an example of how science cannot deal with every aspect of existence.  He tells the story of his Aunt Matilda baking a beautiful cake and the cake is submitted to top scientists for analysis.  The nutritionists will calculate the calories and tell us its effect on the body.  The biochemists will tells us about the structure of the fats and proteins in the cake.  The chemists will describe the elements involved in their bonding.  The physicists will analyze the cake in terms of fundamental particles.  The mathematicians will offer equations to describe the behavior of those particles.  After all of this can we say the cake is completely explained?  We know the how of everything but suppose someone wanted to know why the cake was made.  Aunt Matilda knows she made the cake for a purpose, but not a single scientist in the world can tell why she made it.  Unless Aunt Matilda tells us, they are powerless.  Science cannot answer questions of ultimate purpose.  Moreover, it’s absurd to say that because Aunt Matilda made the cake for her nephew who just earned his degree, that we must dismiss purpose as an illusion because science cannot deal with it.

There are many things that are far outside of scientific explanation.  Two big ones are laws of logic and laws of nature.  Science could not even happen without the scientist presupposing laws of logic and laws of nature.  C.S. Lewis once said, “Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true.”  Science simply cannot explain these things.  The main point is that science deals with the materialistic world but there are clearly immaterial things in the world.  To name a few:  laws of logic, laws of nature, love, guilt, emotions, reason, etc.  If everything can be reduced to materials as atheists insist, then the atheist has a huge problem on his hands.

Darwin knew this.  He even admitted that his ideas on evolution are bunk if a human soul exists, that is to say an immaterial being that exists apart from the physical body.  Macro evolution rests on a foundational presupposition that immaterial minds do not exist.  That is why atheists must cling fervently to the idea that there is no mind, but just a moist brain.  Perhaps Obama would refer to them as “bitter clingers.”  If there is an immaterial mind, their dogma on evolution is false!  It is presuppositional belief.  Remember this!

Now that we know this topic is outside the realm of science we can discuss whether the mind and the brain are the same thing.  One way we can know this is not the case is by showing the mind is not materialistic like the brain.  If it was, then you would be an entirely different being today than you were 15 years ago.  We know the brain changes molecules completely about every 7 to 15 years.  So if your mind was completely material, it would not be the same as it was 15 years ago, but yet, you are the same being with the same personality.

Think about this:  Let’s say scientists are experimenting on your brain and they prod it in different areas.  They may prod one area and it conjures up a memory.  They may prod another area and it may conjure up an image of your sister wearing a pink dress.  Now, if your mind was just as physical as your brain, the scientist should not have to ask you what is in your mind during the experiment.  It seems somehow, somewhere he could dig around in your brain and find the image of your sister in a pink dress.  But he cannot.  That’s silly.  Furthermore, no one is aware of their physical brain.  The subject would never say, “Oh, I just felt a molecule line up when you prodded and it corresponded to my sister in a pink dress.”  So, you are unaware of your physical brain, but you are certainly aware of what’s going on inside you.

Humans can experience two types of sensations.  One type is an awareness detected by the five senses.  The other is awareness not detected by the senses such as fear, love, anger, and thoughts.  These types of sensations can be described using words and can be true or false.  Physical states cannot be true or false but thoughts can.  Mental states in the mind do not have size or shape and are not spatially located.  Everything about the brain runs counter to all of this.  The brain is completely physical.  A scientist may have more knowledge about my brain than I do but he can never have more knowledge about my thoughts, emotions, and mental state than I do.  I know what my thoughts and feelings are but a scientist can never inspect these things.

There is no amount of information in my moist, physical brain that can tell a person who I am, my dispositions, and my personality.  If I am just a brain then others ought to be able to know everything about me by prodding around in my brain.

If I am only a brain and do not have a mind, then all my behaviors, intentions, and decisions, are fixed by my brain, genes, and environmental input.  Physical objects always, always, always obey natural laws and inputs, therefore if I am only a material brain then I am simply reacting to molecular reactions based on natural laws.  If this were the case I would have absolutely ZERO grounds to claim free will.  I would no longer be personally responsible for my actions, whether good or bad.  And on top of that, I wouldn’t be able to freely type this article!!  But, as the empirical evidence shows, free will does exist and it requires that we are more than just a physical brain reacting to the laws of nature.  Therefore, I am a mind and soul that has a physical body.

When we are asked a specific question such as, “What is your middle name?” we can answer that question specifically.  How can blind, repetitive laws of nature explain our ability to answer such a question?  Should we think that molecules magically line up in the proper way by blind, repetitive laws to respond accurately?  That’s the height of absurdity!  We have the intelligence and intentionality to answer correctly.  Mere physical objects cannot do things like this.  A rock is just a rock.  It does nothing but exist as a rock.  If humans are simply materialistic beings, then why should we believe we have any more of an ability to reason than a rock?

Concerning the placebo effect, it’s always funny to see the atheists squirm with this one.  To put it in basic terms, it’s mind over matter.  A person in severe pain can be told he will be administered pain medicine.  He believes this to be that case when the doctor actually gives him a sugar pill to swallow.  Studies show that in up to 45% of patients, the mere thoughts in their mind of getting what they think is actual medicine will cause their pain to subside.  Likewise, the mind can cause the body to deteriorate quickly when consumed by depressive thinking and mental stress.  This makes no sense if the mind is physical.  The publication New Scientist magazine listed the placebo effect as number ONE on its list of “13 Things That Don’t Make Sense.”  Well of course it doesn’t make sense if you approach the matter from presuppositional Darwinian evolution dogma!

When Christians claim to have a soul separate from the body the atheists get very, very militant.  And earlier I showed why.  They think this is superstition when in fact they are the superstitious ones!  They are the ones who believe their creator magically popped into existence out of nothing by nothing by chance.  And by the way, chance is not a cause.  It’s a way to describe mathematical possibilities or to gloss over ignorance on a particular matter that can’t be answered on atheism, a sort of “God of the gaps” for the atheists.  Speaking of nothing, atheistic evangelist Daniel Dennett claims consciousness is an illusion.  Now think about that for a minute.  In order to detect an illusion you would have to see and know what is actually real!  LOLOLOLOL.  So apparently he exempts himself from his own theory.  I wonder when he wrote that nonsense if he sat there and thought, “You know, every truth claim I believe and am writing is an illusion.”  Let’s hear him talk about that on his book tour!

Daniel Dennett

It’s important to point out that the notion of the mind being the same as the brain is not a mainstream scientific idea.  This notion is popular in atheistic circles but there are plenty of scientists who don’t buy it, rightly so.  Nobel Prize winning neuroscience professor John Eccles supported the theory that the mind is a separate entity from the brain and cannot be “reduced down to the brain cell processes.”  That’s just one Nobel Prize winner.  There are hundreds if not thousands of search engine results with some great peer-reviewed resources showing how science is baffled by this subject.  And it will stay baffled for reasons we discussed.  It’s really not a scientific issue, but I digress.

So this notion of mind and brain is very easy to discern.  Sometimes it just takes a little bit of thought (pun intended).  Remember, to be a consistent atheist, materialism must be true.  To be a consistent atheist, the mind cannot be immaterial.  Former world-famous atheist Antony Flew had something to say on the matter.  He said, “Science cannot discover the self; the self discovers science.”  Perhaps, that is partly why he became a former atheist.

Does Religion Cause Mass Murder? The Atheists Think So

Consider this quote by Alister McGrath:

“Atheism argued that it abolished violence and tyranny by getting rid of what ultimately caused it: faith in God.  It was a credible claim in the 19th century precisely because atheism had not yet enjoyed the power and influence once exercised by religion. But all that has changed. Atheism’s innocence has now evaporated. In the 20th century, atheism managed to grasp the power that had hitherto eluded it. But then atheism proved just as fallible, just as corrupt, and just as oppressive as any belief system that had gone before it. Stalin’s death squads seemed just as murderous as their religious antecedents. Those who dreamed of freedom in the new atheist paradise often found themselves counting trees in Siberia or confined to the Gulag—and they were the lucky ones.”[1]

One of the key aspects of the French Revolution was that in France, the church was seen as being on the side of government.  As a result of the church being interested in its own power and authority as opposed to being interested in the welfare of the people, atheism began to look sexy.  As McGrath points out, “For many in modern Europe, the conclusion was obvious:  religion is an oppressor; atheism is a liberator.[2]  Clearly though, as the 20th century proves beyond all doubt, atheism leads to an oppressive end.

Fast forward to our post 9/11 world and we see the publication of three books by authors who apparently don’t know history or ignore the atheistic bloodbaths of the 20th century.  In response to the 9/11 terrorism, atheistic evangelists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett published books labeling religion a threat to the well-being of mankind.

Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett. The “new” atheist evangelists.

Put very simply, they claim religion causes mass murder.  But, when one takes an objective view of the facts, we see suicide bombers are motivated by a much more complex set of circumstances.[3]  As it turns out, religion is neither a necessary nor sufficient reason for suicide bombers.  The common factor found in suicide bombers is the sense of total helplessness in the face of perceived oppression coupled with a lack of conventional military capacity.[4]

We need to forcefully squash these silly assertions made by today’s “new” atheists.  This kind of thinking leads me to believe that the new atheists do not have a firm grasp of the implications of their own worldview as it turned out in the 20th century.  Learn to recognize these facts and bring them up.  These attacks on Christianity by the new atheists need to be soundly and intelligently crushed.

[1] Quoting Alister McGrath in the book by Ravi Zacharias, Beyond Opinion (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007) p. 29

[2] Zacharias, p. 25

[3] See more in the book by Diego Gambetta, Making Sense of Suicide Missions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

[4] Zacharias, p. 28

Can Atheists Be Moral?

The question is in the title, “Can Atheists Be Moral?”  The answer to that question is rather is easy to determine.  We have no reason to suspect that atheists cannot be moral individuals.  I personally know atheists who seem to act morally in their daily lives, despite their cursing at something they think does not exist.  So the short answer would be YES!  But, I’m interested in questions that goes deeper than that.

  1. Is morality relative?
  2. On what basis do humans place morality?

I am going to make the case for objective morality and that objective morality is based on God.  The most common objection that comes up in this argument is a misunderstanding of terms.  So first allow me to define the term objective morality.  To define the term, it must be broken down into its two parts.  To say that something is objective is to say that it is independent of what people think or perceive.  By contrast, to say that something is subjective is just to say that it is not objective; that is to say, it is dependent on what human persons think or perceive.[1]  To say that there is objective morality is to say that something is good or evil independently of whether any human being believes them to be so.[2]  An example of objective morality would be that torturing little babies for fun is wrong no matter what anyone believes about it.  Raping and beating women for sport is always wrong no matter what anyone believes about it.

To discover a basis of objective morality I want to show that this entire subject matter is completely outside the realm of science.  Science deals with only the physical world.  Science cannot tell us what ought to happen, it can only tell us what will probably happen under certain circumstances.  Objective morality on the other hand tells us how we ought to act.  To attempt to explain morality on a scientific, evolutionary basis is a fatal category error.  Morality is not physical.  You cannot weigh it or see what color it is.  If morality has its basis in Darwinian evolution, then morality cannot be objective.  If there is no God and we evolved from slime, then we have no higher moral status than slime because there is nothing beyond us to instill us with a sense of objective morality or dignity.[3]  If morality had its basis in the Darwinian evolutionary process, then raping women to propagate the DNA of men should be considered right.  Murder of the weak, invalid, and elderly should be the norm.  This is just nonsense that does not deserve any further treatment here.

Something further needs to be addressed before moving forward.  What I am not claiming is that belief in God is required to know and recognize objective morality.  Rather, I am making the claim that God’s existence is necessary for objective morality itself to exist.

Let’s answer some objections to objective morality before we make our case for God.

Moral relativism says that societies or individuals decide for themselves what is right and wrong.  There are three types of moral relativism: cultural relativism, conventionalism, and individual subjectivism.  Since this is a blog and not a book, I will not break these down.  Instead, I will try to cover them wholly with two examples.  First, for one to say, “all truth (including moral truth) is relative” is a self-refuting statement.  You should reply, “is that truth relative?”  You can see it is self-refuting.  Furthermore, if he is claiming all truth is relative, then why is he pushing his supposed “truth” on me?  I’m amazed there are people who believe this way but I see it nearly every single day.

A second way to dispel moral relativism is to use the Nazis as an example.  When they went to trial, their defense was that they were following the rule of law in their country.  They said they were simply following orders based on the views of their country’s government.  As we know, justice was served by appealing to a higher, objective moral standard.  This is important to remember when you hear an atheist make the claim that each society dictates the moral standard.  So which society is correct?  Hitler’s or Mother Teresa’s?  If it’s all based on the opinion of that particular society then it should have been right for the Nazis to murder millions of innocent people and wrong for the rest of the world to condemn them.  After all, it’s all based on subjective opinion.

So let’s cut to the chase.  If there is no God and no Heaven or Hell, then no ultimate justice will ever be served.  The baby torturer and the serial rapist will simply become worm food when they die.  The most well-known atheistic evangelist, Richard Dawkins, says, “Too bad.  Just because we wish there was ultimate justice doesn’t mean there is.”  Well, I don’t doubt that.  I don’t do much “wishful” thinking either.  But the point is this:  if there is no justice, then it follows that there is no injustice.  Something cannot be deemed wrong if there is no ultimate right.  C.S. Lewis said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”[4]  We strive to perfect our society, to reach for some unattainable utopia while presupposing that we somehow know we still need to progress.  How do we know this?  How do we know we still have room to improve ourselves?  Louis Markos put it nicely when he wrote that a supposed materialistic society can strive to be progressive, but without any fixed, transcendent standard of good and evil, right and wrong, how can we know that we have progressed?[5]

Speaking of Richard Dawkins, he made a remarkable admission about objective morality during an interview with Justin Brierley after he maintained that our sense of morality is an outcome of evolution.  The audio can be found here.  You may fast forward to the 5:29 mark.  Ill reproduce part of the statement here.

Brierley:  When you make a value judgment, don’t you immediately step yourself outside  of this evolutionary process and say that the reason this is good is that it’s good?  And you don’t have any way to stand on that statement.
DawkinsMy value judgment itself could come from my evolutionary past.
BrierleySo therefore it’s just as random in a sense as any product of evolution.
Dawkins:  You could say that….nothing about it makes it more probable than there is anything supernatural.
BrierleyUltimately, your belief that rape is wrong is as arbitrary as the fact that we’ve evolved five fingers rather than six.
DawkinsYou could say that, yeah.[6]

Wow!  So according to the atheistic evangelist, Dawkins believes that rape is simply socially unfashionable.  At least he is being a consistent atheist.  After all, without God, there are no objective moral standards.  Dawkins thinks all of our thoughts and behaviors are simply the blind results of molecules bouncing around in our brains.  In River out of Eden, Dawkins says,

“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt,
and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice.  The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good.  Nothing but blind pitiless indifference….DNA neither knows nor cares.  DNA just is, and we dance to its music.[7]

So it’s very clear, the new atheists can not only determine a basis for objective morality, many of them deny its very existence!  In order for atheists to live with themselves in a purposeless universe they must steal from God.  That is to say, they borrow things from a theistic worldview such as peace, justice, ethics, etc. because they have no basis for these things on a purely physical, materialistic worldview.[8]

Another atheistic evangelist, Sam Harris, says he actually believes in objective morality.  He bases his position of morality on learning about the well-being of conscious creatures.  The problem with this position is that it merely shows us what method to use to discover what is moral, not what actually makes something moral.  If you didn’t get that last sentence, please re-read it.  It is very important to understand that I am not arguing an epistemological position about morality but rather an ontological position.  In other words, we aren’t talking about how we know morality.  We are talking about why it objectively exists.  Toddlers can know morality by how it makes them feel.  If a child steals a toy from another child then feelings are hurt.  What I am getting at is the deeper question:  why does having something stolen from us bring about a sense of injustice?  You can know morality exists while denying God.  I can know a book exists and at the same time deny its author.  But there would be no book unless an author existed.  Atheists pull this same nonsense with God and objective morality.  Many of them claim to know objective morality while denying God exists, but there would be no objective morality unless God exists.[9]

Another common objection to objective morality is the Euthyphro dilemma.  Euthyphro (a character of Plato) asks, “Does God do something because it is good or is it good because God does it?  The problem here is that Plato offers only two options when there is a third option that he left out.  The whole question assumes good exists wholly apart from God.  This is a solid misunderstanding of God (at least the Christian God).  For God does not look to a standard beyond himself.  If he were required to look to a standard beyond himself then he wouldn’t be God.  God is also not arbitrary.  So the third option left out is God’s very nature is the standard of an unchanging moral nature.  This so called “dilemma” was answered hundreds of years ago but for some reason the new atheists bring it up from time to time.

Let’s make the case for an objective moral law giver.

Again, this is a blog, not a book, so I cannot spell out every single piece of evidence.  There are so many subjects (such as altruism) I just don’t have time to touch at least at this moment.  But along with answering the objections above, I think I can give a quick summary to show that God is the most reasonable basis for objective morality.

Objective morality contains a sense of obligation and oughtness that is universal, authoritative, and outweighs considerations of culture, time, and place.  Objective morality is always discovered and not invented. Objective morals are prescriptive to how we should act, not descriptive of the world.  But where did these objective morals originate?  Because morals cannot be scientifically tested, because they deal with purpose and will, because they are universal and transcend societies and time, their origination cannot be rooted in anything physical.  Because they universally and transcendently prescribe how we ought to act then we can conclude that something prescribed must have a prescriber.  This prescriber must also transcend societies, cultures, people, and time itself.  We can employ two simple syllogisms to help us think about God as the grounds for objective morals.  One of them goes like this:

  1. If a personal God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore, a personal God exists.

Most of this article has been devoted to proving the first two premises correct.  I have briefly shown that objective morals do exist, and I’ve shown that it would be more reasonable to ground them in a transcendent being (God) as opposed to grounding them in materialistic objects or processes.  Therefore, the conclusion follows.  Here is a simpler syllogism:

  1. Every law has a lawgiver.
  2. There is an objective moral law.
  3. Therefore, there is an objective moral law giver.

Let me summarize what we have briefly covered in this article:

  1. There exists objective morality.
  2. Objective morality holds that something is good or evil independently of human beliefs about it.
  3. Science is not the proper category for discussing morality.
  4. Belief in God is not required to know and recognize objective morals.
  5. Moral relativism is false.
  6. In a world based on materialism, we cannot justify good and evil, right and wrong, justice or injustice.
  7. Richard Dawkins thinks morality is arbitrary.
  8. God is a reasonable explanation for objective morality.

[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith 3rd Edition (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2008) p. 173.

[2] Craig, p. 173.

[3] Norman Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2004) p. 189.

[4] C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperCollins, 2007) p. 41.

[5] Louis Markos, Apologetics for the 21st Century (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2010) p. 76

[6] This interview was pointed out to me in the book by Frank Turek, Stealing from God, Why Atheists Need God To Make Their Case (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014) p. 90.

[7] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (New York: Basic Books, 1996) p. 133.

[8] I owe this idea to Frank Turek’s book, Stealing from God.

[9] Turek, p. 100.