“Why I was Once an Atheist” –From Pastor Matt

Dear Readers,

I am now dwelling deep inside the cave of PhD work, up to my eyeballs in Plato and battling the balrog. I promise I’ll try to post a new article soon! But in the meantime, I encourage you to check out this fascinating piece by Pastor Matt. Here’s an excerpt:

Once I became confident that Christianity didn’t work and, therefore, God didn’t exist, I looked primarily to the work of Sigmund Freud to intellectually justify my atheism.  I argued those who believe in God do so only because they are afraid of death and the uncertainties of life, so they create a giant daddy in the sky that will take care of them.

When I received any push back from Christians, I would lob the typical accusations their way: “What about those who have never heard?” “Why is there evil in the world, especially natural evil?”

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Blessings,

Melissa

Socrates Meets Descartes: A Fun Little Primer on Cartesian Philosophy

Descartes

Socrates Meets Descartes is part of Dr. Peter Kreeft’s Socrates Meets… book collection. If you are not already familiar with these popular-level philosophy books, I encourage you to consider them. Here’s the concept: Kreeft uses Socrates—the father of philosophy—as a mouthpiece to individually examine major philosophers of history through classic Socratic dialogue. This turns out to be a rather ingenious literary technique that is employed with both wit and wisdom.

In Socrates Meets Descartes: The Father of Philosophy Analyzes the Father of Modern Philosophy’s Discourse on Method, Socrates’ interlocutor is Rene Descartes. Kreeft arranges their imaginary meeting in Purgatory, where Descartes’ penance is defending his famous Discourse on Method in response to Socrates’ demanding critique. Descartes, the reader learns, set out to revolutionize philosophy by inventing a scientific method that could discern truths with certainty, even eliminate human warfare by providing the tools for intellectual conflict resolution. If everyone had a common set of data and tools (his method), they would be enabled to reach the same conclusions, he claimed. In fact, everything that can be known could, theoretically, be realized in this way. Descartes’ purpose in writing Discourse on Method was to introduce the world to his new science of philosophy. It was this work that contained the most famous statement in the history of philosophy: “I think, therefore I am.”

Socrates proceeds to examine each step in Descartes’ system, which first moves from universal doubt to certainty only of one’s self-existence, then to proof of God’s existence, and then the existence of the material world.  Socrates doesn’t pull any punches in his analysis of Descartes’ ideas. He extensively questions the hidden presuppositions of Descartes’ project and points out logical difficulties.  But Descartes has his moments, too. One fine example is when he roundly criticizes the ancient pagan philosophers “who discuss morals in very proud and magnificent palaces that are built on nothing but sand and mud” (83). Often, a difficulty isn’t fully resolved, and the two philosophers leave the reader with what they call a philosophical “loose end.” Sometimes it was a mild relief to abandon an increasingly tedious rabbit trail, but sometimes it was frustrating, such as when it happened at the end of Socrates’ evaluation of Descartes’ version of the ontological argument.

Kreeft packs a lot of value into this little volume, but manages to do so with clear language and a minimal amount of convoluted argumentation. In addition to learning the basic strengths and weaknesses of the Cartesian philosophy being scrutinized, the reader is exposed to a few rules of logical argumentation, some basics of ancient Greek thought (Plato’s Cave is explained, for example), relevant cultural context, and names of a few of Descartes’ key challengers and sympathizers. The dialogue is interspersed with comic relief, clever and corny—both appropriate to the spirit of the book.

I highly recommend Socrates Meets Descartes and believe it to be suitable for college undergraduates or adults just beginning a foray into philosophical study. It’s a wonderful stand-alone introduction to Descartes that would serve as a nice preliminary to research.

The Divine Mathematician and His Image-Bearers

Originally posted on School of Christian Thought:

In his celebrated book, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, Dr. Steven Weinberg said that mankind is a “farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes” after the Big Bang. According to Weinberg and many other atheist thinkers past and present, the cosmos is not purposeful and we, its observers, amount to nothing more than self-aware cosmic dust bunnies.

Dr. Weinberg is a Nobel Prize winning physicist, a brilliant scholar who has spent decades investigating the intricacies of the material universe. I find it astonishing that individuals with such extensive, intimate knowledge of the mathematics of nature could so confidently dismiss the implications of the fact that we are conscious, intelligent beings capable of ascertaining these complex truths in the first place.

Consider this. Humans developed fundamentals of mathematics before they were applied to nature. We first had to…

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Oops? Reality TV Promoting the Pro-Life Message

I’m not much of a television watcher. There are too few hours in the day and precious little programming that is time worthy, in my opinion. I must admit, however, that I’ll often pull up a random episode of some mindless TV show on my iPad when I’m running on the treadmill. This week, I saw an internet blurb that mentioned a prenatal ultrasound happening on the “Men Tell All” episode of that reality show, The Bachelorette, which is broadcast by ABC

“What?!” I thought to myself. “They showed an unborn baby on national television, on a popular prime time show?”

Yes, yes they did, and when I streamed the episode from the ABC website to see it for myself, I was awestruck. That segment of the show inadvertently but beautifully promoted the pro-life message in an extremely effective way. They called the unborn entity a baby and a child, over and over again. They showed the ultrasound on a huge screen and pointed out all the little body parts to an utterly spellbound audience.

Here’s how it went down:

[Host] Chris Harrison: We’re about to witness a Bachelor first: a live ultrasound of their baby to find out the sex of this child. (Turns to the parents, Ashley and JP, former Bachelorette stars who are now married.) Are you sure you want to do this, are we excited? This has got to be a little nerve-wracking.

Ahsley: We’re excited, we’re excited.

Chris Harrison: I’m excited. Look, we’ve seen this thing come full circle. Everybody’s been on this journey with you guys, from the Bachelorette to falling in love with this pretty fantastic guy, obviously the wedding, and now, a baby! So, let’s bring out the technician, Greg. Greg, come on in here. Let’s do this! Greg is our ultrasound technician, and we’re going to find out the sex of this baby!

Technician Greg: Okay, make yourself comfortable and we’ll rock and roll here.

Chris Harrison: Greg, you’ve done this before, right? Haha.

Technician Greg: This if my first day.

Chris Harrison: On the job training, it works.

Ashley: (Opens the side of her dress to expose part of her belly) Don’t look, guys! Haha.

Chris Harrison: JP, were you hoping for a boy or a girl?

JP: Doesn’t matter to me. Healthy baby, that’s all that matters.

Chris Harrison: Good answer.

<Audience applause>

Chris Harrison: Okay, are you ready? Can we tell?

Technician Greg: (Moving the ultrasound wand around, looking at his monitor) Ummmm…Your fluid is really good, so we’ll get the baby to move around a little bit.

Chris Harrison: Alright, let’s put it up on the big screen here…

<Live feed of ultrasound pops up on the big screen, and the audience murmurs excitedly. A joke ensues, with Chris Harrison’s face superimposed over the ultrasound image. Everyone laughs.> 

Chris Harrison: Okay, are you ready? It’s time to reveal Ashley and JP’s beautiful baby.

<The sound of the heartbeat is loud and clear through the studio speakers.> 

Technician Greg: Heartbeat…

Ashley: That’s so crazy.

Chris Harrison: Look at that heartbeat. Does that just get you every time?

Technician Greg: That’s a little ear there. That’s the ear.

Ashley: That’s so cool. That’s a funny ear.

JP: Amazing…

Technician Greg: There’s a little thumb.

Ashley: Thumbs up, everyone!

Chris Harrison: That doesn’t look like a thumb to me, Greg. (Everyone laughs.) Well, can we tell?

Technician Greg: We can tell! JP, Ashley, it is…a boy!

<Audience erupts into enthusiastic applause.> 

Chris Harrison: Thanks, Greg.

Ashley: Love it!

Chris Harrison: (Slapping JP on the shoulder) Mazel tov, buddy.

JP: Thanks!

Chris Harrison: Congratulations! Having a boy!

Ashley: Thank you.

Chris Harrison: Look at the tears in your eyes!

JP: It’s emotional, you know.

Ashley: He’s gonna look just like little JP over here.

JP: I hope so, haha.

Chris Harrison: The new short stop for the Yankees, congratulations. Every dad has that dream, of having that son.

JP: A girl would have been just as nice, but a  baby boy, the fist grandchild in the family, the first child between me or my brother, it’s kind of nice to pass the name on…watch football with.

Ahsley: I knew all along, from the beginning. I told JP early on…this feels like a boy, it just feels like a boy to me, very early on. Momma’s intuition.

JP: You had a 50-50 shot.

Ashley: Ha, that’s true. My odds were pretty good.

Chris Harrison: Well guys, congratulations. It’s so beautiful. I could not be happier for the two of you. The baby, your new life in Miami. You know I love the two of you dearly, so I wish you nothing but the best. Congratulations.

End of segment. 

Usually, the ultrasound to determine the sex of a baby is done roughly halfway through the pregnancy, and Ashley mentioned that the baby is due in October. I’ve included an example of a 20-week ultrasound image here.

All this excitement about what they were all calling a baby, a child. Ashley referred to herself as a “momma” from very early on in the pregnancy.

Wait…

In America, it would be completely legal to kill that baby within his mother’s womb for no better reason than the convenience of the mother.

Let that sink in.

But on national, prime time television, that precious unborn baby was put on display for all the world to see, his heartbeat was clearly heard. His features were pointed out. His parents were overjoyed. The studio audience celebrated.

It made me wonder how many pro-abortion folks were sitting in the audience, or how many were watching all this unfold on television. Were they angry that the words “baby” and “child” were used instead of “fetus” or “product of conception”? Did seeing the ultrasound affect their feelings about abortion? Somewhere in America, is there a woman dealing with a crisis pregnancy who saw this episode and then chose life for her own baby?

When it comes to the bioethics of abortion, everything boils down to one question: What is the unborn? The answer to this question does not change based on whether or not the content of the womb is wanted. Looking at the ultrasound image, it was so very plain that this was a human being, a baby with eyes and ears, fingers and toes. Yet the pro-abortion faction in our country insists that if Ashley decided tomorrow that she just wasn’t ready to be a mother, it would be acceptable for her to have that baby boy killed and removed from her body. Only the “pro-choice” crowd, and the abortionist, would call it a “product of conception,” not a baby.

What do you know, something amazingly good can come out of vapid reality television. They actually called an unborn baby a baby, a child. Because that’s exactly what it is.

Pray to end abortion.

On Film and Philosophy: Transcendence and the Existence of the Soul

Much more often than many people realize, philosophy is communicated through the art of film, the usual subjects being ethics and metaphysics–the branch of philosophy that deals with the question: What exists? The metaphysical discussion that fascinates me more than any other is the case for and against the existence of an immaterial soul. So, when I became aware of the recent Johnny Depp  film, Transcendence, and the subject matter it addresses, it went to the top of my must-watch movie list. You can see the Transcendence trailer HERE.

In the film, Dr. Will Caster (Depp) is a brilliant,  famous computer scientist working in the field of AI (artificial intelligence). His mission is to develop a truly sentient (self-aware) quantum computer that will transcend the collective intelligence of humanity–a point he calls “the singularity”.  The dual goals being to unlock the secret of human consciousness, what Dr. Caster justifiably calls the “deepest mystery of the universe,” and create a biotechnological utopia on earth.

After an attack from an anti-AI extremist group, Caster is mortally wounded and given only a few weeks to live. His wife–who is also his research and development partner–and his best friend, another researcher, devise a plan to “save” Castor’s life by uploading his consciousness into part of his company’s super-computer. The metaphysical assumption made here is that the human mind is nothing more than–and reducible to–its collection of electrical impulses and stored memories, which a powerful computer system should be able to precisely replicate, thus providing a conduit for a person’s consciousness.

The underlying question that runs throughout the film is whether or not the seemingly self-aware, freely-acting computer entity IS Dr. Will Caster, or if it is just a digital simulation of his consciousness. In other words, is the human self an immaterial entity (a soul), or is it only a mass of electrochemical patterns in the brain that could persist through a non-biological medium? The wife and the best friend have conflicting views on the situation.

Philosophers of mind and neuroscientists have debated the nature of the human person for a very long time. There are strict materialists as well as proponents of an immaterial soul in the higher ranks of each of these disciplines. As much as many materialist scientists would like to make this a scientific question only, it isn’t. To approach it that way is egregiously naive.

Imagine that we eventually develop the AI technology necessary to digitally upload a person’s brain patterns into a computer, every bit identical. This doesn’t involve killing the person, so the biological entity could exist alongside of the computer entity. Suppose, for example, we do this with Stephen Hawking. We scan his brain activity for a period of time and then upload the comprehensive neurological information into a computer capable of running and interpreting the patterns correctly. The obvious questions would be: Which one is Stephen Hawking? Where does his self now reside? Is it only in the body, or is it now in both the body and the machine? Does the computer have self-awareness? If so, who is it?

One major point to understand here is that the self is not divisible or multipliable. Hawking would not be consciously present in both the body and the computer, exercising free agency and thought in both at the same time. When we say “I” in reference to ourselves, by definition we mean a single, whole being. The computer may have an exact copy of Hawking’s brain patterns, but it cannot also house Hawking’s actual self, which resides in his body, experiencing the sensations (sight, touch, sound, etc.) of that body. Once Hawking’s biological body dies, his self doesn’t somehow migrate into the computer. Basically, this demonstrates that the self is not a person’s collective material brain states. Those states could, theoretically, be identically replicated by a machine, yet the machine would not be a second Hawking self. Furthermore, the material brain or the material computer is divisible, meaning it could be physically broken up into parts. You could remove a percentage of Hawking’s brain, but that would not remove a portion of Hawking himself. He would still have his whole self; he would still be a complete person in the metaphysical sense. Yet, the brain patterns are theoretically multipliable in the sense of being reproducible.

If it is simply your brain that is conscious, then an exact duplicate of your electrochemical brain activity in this hypothetical quantum computer should also duplicate your consciousness, your self. But first-person introspection is a singular phenomenon. Do we simply deny the existence of the self altogether?

Further compelling support for the existence of an immaterial component is the phenomenon of a person’s intentional brain state manipulation. This can, over time, lead to a physical “rewiring” of the brain itself.  We can consciously choose what to think about, thus manipulating our own brain activity. In other words, we are agents that can consciously change the physical pattern of our neural pathways.

The question arises: Who or what is acting upon the physical brain? It is the self. But because of the law of identity, the self cannot also be the brain. In logic, the law of identity says that for A (the brain) to be identical with B (the self) they have to have all the same properties, no exception. For example, if the self is the agent that desires to think about purple-feathered dinosaurs and then does so, the self is manipulating the electrochemical patterns in the physical brain to visualize a purple-feathered dinosaur. The self is the agent, the physical brain is what the agent is acting upon and what undergoes change. The two cannot be one and the same thing. The agent is not the brain. Note that this is not to say that the brain cannot impact consciousness. This is what happens in psychological disorders–abnormal brain states giving the person false beliefs. But a causal relationship, in one direction or the other, does not indicate they are one and the same thing, and a dependence of one upon the other doesn’t, either.

Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a neuroscientist and physician (Buddhist I believe), has written fascinating case studies about this. Experimentation with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) patients has shown that over time, intentionally choosing not to think about a particular thing (the object of the OCD behavior) can eventually change the patient’s neurochemical pathways and drastically reduce the person’s drive to perform the obsessive-compulsive actions. The patient is the conscious agent exercising free will to change the material brain. The brain doesn’t have free will. So, if you give up the concept of the immaterial soul, you give up free will (yes, despite what advocates of emergent consciousness claim).

I won’t spoil the movie for you, and I won’t tell you what philosophical conclusion the characters reach by the end. But I encourage you to check it out along with a few videos on this topic. First, futurist/technologist (and atheist) Ray Kurzweil, whose ideas the film seems to be based upon, has a series of interview videos on the Closer to Truth website. CLICK HERE and then you can scroll to the bottom of Kurzweil’s profile to watch the series of short videos. Next, I encourage you to watch Dr. J.P. Moreland’s lecture on the existence of the soul, which I include here.