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.


Something Other Than God–A Journey from Staunch Atheism to Christianity

Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It

Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It by Jennifer Fulwiler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Something Other Than God is a dramatic, brutally honest conversion story from a woman born to and raised by atheist parents. Ms. Fulwiler describes, in great detail, the role apologetics (including the work of J.P. Moreland and Lee Strobel) had in pointing her towards the ultimate truth of Christianity. In an account that reads like a well-written novel, she walks you though her personal journey from hostile atheism to Roman Catholicism. Her fascinating story, intelligent insights, and dry witt made the book a real page-turner.

You can watch a great short video of Ms. Fulwiler by CLICKING HERE.


William Lane Craig Responds to Victor Stenger

How to Debate a Christian ApologistI highly recommend Dr. William Lane Craig’s latest Reasonable Faith Podcast, in which he masterfully demonstrates the impotence of Victor Stenger’s latest rant, “How to Debate a Christian Apologist.” As usual, the anti-theist’s counter-arguments collapse logically (not shocking) or else fail to address the theist’s actual argument (also not shocking).

You can listen to the podcast HERE.

Natural Theology and the Resurrection: Part 2

Dear Readers,

This is part 2 of a 2-part series from my guest contributor, Ken Mann. Click here to read Part 1


In this second post considering the Resurrection as a topic of natural theology, we will consider the approach found in The Resurrection of Jesus. Because the history and the study of ancient manuscripts are not normally associated with topics in natural theology, we will look at Licona’s thesis in more depth.

The first chapter looks at the nature of history and how it is practiced outside of biblical scholarship. We learn that after a certain dalliance with post-modernism, historians as a group are overwhelmingly realist. That is to say, “They maintain that the past is knowable to a limited extent and that narratives constructed of the past correspond to the actual past to varying degrees.”[1] Because of the tenuous nature of the data historians use, this is an important conclusion. The study of the natural world that laid the foundations for modern science started with the belief that knowledge of the natural world was possible. In addition to the philosophy of history, the philosophical views held by the historian are also discussed in depth. Licona refers to this as a historian’s horizon, which he defines as, “how historians view things as a result of their knowledge, experience, beliefs, education, cultural conditioning, preferences, presuppositions and worldview.”[2] This is by far the most significant recurring theme in any discussion related to natural theology or Christian apologetics. (Sadly, in the other fields of study, the “horizons” of physicists and evolutionary biologists are never discussed.)

Chapter 2 focuses on the question of whether or not a miracle can be the subject of an historical investigation. Licona defines a miracle as event that defies natural explanation and occurs in a context with religious significance. Miracles defined in this way are not generally the subject of natural theology (as the religious significance could only be supplied by special revelation). However, if we focus on the first part of the definition, a miracle is an event with a cause beyond nature, beyond the material universe, a cause that is super-natural. In other words, a miracle is an event where the best explanation is God. Clearly this is simply another way of describing what the origin of the universe or the origins of biological information point toward, a cause beyond the natural realm.[3]

Chapters 3 and 4 explore the historical evidence that is available for the resurrection. Licona surveys all of the ancient writings within an adequate timespan of Jesus’ life for any references to the crucifixion and the resurrection. He further assesses the various sources for their credibility (e.g. when were they written and did the authors have access to eye witnesses). In a similar manner, the effectiveness of natural theology arguments relies on selecting the most relevant and widely accepted data. Licona argues for three facts that “are acknowledged as facts by a nearly unanimous and heterogeneous consensus of scholars who have studied the subject.”[4] These are: (1) Jesus died by crucifixion, (2) the disciples had experiences that led them to believe that Jesus had been resurrected, and (3) Paul converted after experiencing that he believed was a post resurrection appearance of Jesus.[5]

Finally, in chapter 5 Licona discusses and evaluates six different hypotheses that are representative of what scholars offer to explain the accepted historical facts surround the death of Jesus. Each hypothesis is analyzed to determine which is the best explanation of the historical bedrock. Four of the criteria used: plausibility, explanatory power and scope, and least ad hoc, are perfectly at home in the discussion of any natural theology argument.[6] Under the scrutiny of these criteria, against five other theories, relying on only three facts the resurrection hypothesis stands out as the best explanation.

The powerful case Licona has created for the resurrection has a great deal in common with arguments for God’s existence in natural theology. There must be a sound method, which includes a deep understanding of the discipline in question, typically from the philosophy of that discipline. A sound method also includes an understanding how worldviews impinge on how any subject is approached. There must be solid evidence or data. If you are going to make an argument from within a discipline, whether in cosmology or history, you must use evidence or data that is accepted within that discipline. This is a crucial element of natural theology arguments. By using the knowledge accepted in a given field the argument becomes an explanation of what the discipline tells us about reality. Finally, an inference to the best explanation or abductive reasoning is the best way to argue from the evidence to a conclusion. Such arguments cannot yield the certainty of a deductive argument, but such limits are diminished when compared to the power of finding arguments for God in ostensibly secular domains of human knowledge.

Why is it important to portray a defense of the resurrection as a natural theology argument? Historically, when Christian doctrines are attacked, especially those derived directly from the Bible, the nominal response has been to either surrender or fight back. Arguably, there are ample reasons to push back against many criticisms. As Licona amply demonstrates, there are many fanciful interpretations of Bible based on mythical source documents or anti-supernatural bias that deserve to be discredited. However, Licona’s book also demonstrates that many of these have been discarded by peer review (by historical scholars and biblical scholars). This may lead us to another tact that relies more on our trust in Christian theism than our ability to dispatch the critics or their arguments. Given sound methodology, credible evidence, and a reasonable search for the best explanation, almost any field of human knowledge can be turned into a tool of apologetics. Rather than circling the wagons and defending every “jot and tittle” of God’s word or Christian doctrine as being perfect and beyond criticism, we can engage the skeptics in their own disciplines, on their own turf, and we can have confidence that God’s truth will be shown.


[1] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, Kindle Locations 6316–6317.

[2] Ibid., Kindle Location 420.

[3] While Licona’s discussion focuses on historical assessment of miracles, the subjects addressed, especially a discussion of Hume are also found in R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 1997).

[4] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, Kindle Locations 6379–6380.

[5] Ibid., Kindle Locations 3036–3038.

[6] For that matter these criteria are equally comfortable in any scientific setting as well.

Cambrian Fossils, Biological Information, and Countering Naturalism

Cosmos, the latest attempt at materialist indoctrination of the public, recently finished its 13-week television run. A reboot of the 1980 miniseries co-written and presented by the late Carl Sagan, it was a spectacle of historical misinformation and blatant atheistic propaganda that even included Sagan’s famous declaration, “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” The worldview implication is evident: that there is no mind behind the material world and that mankind is nothing more than a cosmic accident, a bi-product of purposeless, undirected physical processes. This sharply conflicts with the Judeo-Christian worldview in which man, intentionally made in the image of God, is the crown of creation.

Some viewers of Cosmos may have wondered: does science truly point to a godless universe? Is there no evidence of a designer’s hand in the natural world? That’s what the creators of the program set out to communicate it seems, but one glaring omission was any attempt on their part to answer one of the most important scientific questions: how did the biological information necessary for life originate? The answer is fundamental to determining the correct worldview. Are blind material processes sufficient to explain life, or is there evidence of a mind behind the matter?

Darwin-Doubt PicThankfully, not all theorists avoid the biological information question like it’s some sort of plague. In Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, Dr. Stephen Meyer tackles that issue head-on and (as the title states) makes a compelling argument for intelligent design. The book’s release in June, 2013 shook the evolutionary biology and paleontology communities, and the aftershocks persist. Darwin’s Doubt made an impressive debut at the number seven spot on the New York Times bestseller list for nonfiction and has been hailed as “an accurate and comprehensive review of the evidence” and “a game-changer” by credentialed scientists in fields such as paleontology, genetics, and biology. Meyer’s central thesis stands in direct opposition to the materialist view by claiming that open-minded scientific evaluation of living things and natural history strongly suggests a transcendent intelligence.

In his book, Meyer explores the history, mystery, and current scientific state-of-affairs surrounding an event known as the Cambrian explosion. In a geological blink of an eye, the vast majority of animal phyla appear in the fossil record without viable evidence of evolutionary precursors. Charles Darwin was acutely aware of (and troubled by) this conundrum. In the ensuing century and a half since his Origin of Species was published, the Cambrian dilemma has only intensified. It presents a grave problem for evolutionary theory—the problem of the origin of the biological information needed to launch such a monumental zoological revolution.

Meyer contends that unguided natural selection acting upon random genetic mutations cannot explain the influx of biological information necessary for the Cambrian explosion. What makes his case particularly powerful is that it is built upon a broad range of respected, peer-reviewed scientific publications. He examines the latest evidence from evolutionary and developmental biology, genetics, and epigenetics in order to highlight the severity of the problem and demonstrates that materialist attempts to explain it away often beg the question, miss the point, or rely upon phantom “data.”

The new, expanded edition of Darwin’s Doubt includes a substantial epilogue in which Meyer offers a thorough response to the book’s critics. Unfortunately, the vast majority of detractors never addressed the central arguments of the book. In fact, even the writers of some high-profile, oft-cited negative reviews seem to have not engaged most of the material. But a few scientists did, notably UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall, who wrote a respectful rebuttal to the book in the September 10th edition of the prestigious academic journal, Science, last year. A wonderful BBC radio debate soon followed. 

Marshall argued that new animal body plans could arise through the rewiring of gene regulatory networks, the genetic programs that guide early animal development. Meyer’s response is that the experimental data have demonstrated that mutations in these genes are always fatal to the organism, and that moreover, Marshall hasn’t offered an explanation for the origin of the pre-existing genetic and epigenetic information his explanation presupposes. Meyer explains why Marshall’s (and others’) counterarguments not only fail, they inadvertently offer extra support for Meyer’s thesis.

Ultimately, the materialist theories offered by critics of Darwin’s Doubt have done nothing to diminish the problem of the origin of biological information. Experience has made it clear, Meyer argues, that only minds produce information. Thus, intelligent design remains the best explanation, not only for the Cambrian information explosion, but for all of life.

We are no accident.

For more information, visit www.darwinsdoubt.com.



Natural Theology and the Resurrection: Part 1

Dear Readers, I bring to you another excellent 2-part series from my guest contributor, Ken Mann. 



Natural Theology and the Resurrection: Part 1

           The resurgence of Christian apologetics over the past 50 years has been a wonderful development for the Church. The growing presence of orthodox Christians in fields such as philosophy, biology, and physics has essentially resurrected the intellectual roots of the Church. At its core Christianity is a worldview, a view of reality that can withstand any challenge from any quarter of human knowledge. The response to such challenges does not always come from Scripture. In fact, many fields of human knowledge present arguments for the truth of the Christian worldview. Such arguments are usually referred to as natural theology, which simply refers to finding evidence for God in what is revealed in nature. A rubric for grounding this enterprise is the “two books” approach to God’s revelation. As the single author of creation and scripture, God cannot contradict himself.

The power of arguments from natural theology is in their capacity to draw upon the knowledge we glean from nature. Many times the very knowledge we rely on to survive and thrive in a modern, technology-driven society, can lead us to profound clues about the existence and nature of God. Structured in this way, these arguments are not burdened with the misunderstandings and cultural baggage that a secular society attaches to religious doctrine. In effect, these arguments take the knowledge secular society accepts and exposes implications that support a theistic worldview. This conclusion is a long way from the “foot of the cross,” but such an expectation misses the point. Whether building confidence in God’s existence or undermining confidence in metaphysical naturalism, natural theology can move one closer to God. If nothing else, as Austin Farrer reminds us, we must contend for the rationality of our belief:

It is commonly said that if rational argument is so seldom the cause of conviction, philosophical apologists must largely be wasting their shot. The premise is true, but the conclusion does not follow. For though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.[1]

In these posts I argue that the form of arguments drawn from natural theology can and should be expanded into areas of Christian doctrine that are typically left to purely hermeneutic defenses. The real foundation for natural theology is not merely the sciences, but what human beings can learn about reality apart from special revelation (Scripture, the Church, or direct revelation to individuals). This view has been informed by Michael Licona’s book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. The Bible and other ancient texts are the raw data that are interpreted by historians to determine what happened in the past, and when possible, why those things happened. Licona draws upon the development of historiography, the philosophy of history, and the study of ancient manuscripts to create a robust defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.

I will examine natural theology arguments from cosmology and show how core tenets, practices and difficulties from these fields are also demonstrated in Licona’s approach to defending the Resurrection. For each, we will consider the goal of the argument, what each argument can actually accomplish, and the data and intellectual tools used. This comparison will demonstrate that the truth of Christianity has nothing to fear when the data, tools and worldviews involved are all clearly understood.

Let us begin with an overview of cosmological arguments.[2] Cosmology is the study of the origin and development of the universe. The definition of the term concedes part of what cosmological arguments seek to demonstrate: that the universe (all matter, space, and even time) had a beginning. A second goal is to demonstrate that whatever caused the universe was something that transcends matter, space and time. While the goal of such arguments may seem modest compared to the scope Christian theism, it is still significant. They establish that the material universe is not an eternal, self-existent entity. Further, they demonstrate that the universe could not “create itself.” Assuming their conclusions are accepted, what do cosmological arguments establish? They argue for the existence of a being that has many of the characteristics of God found in the Judeo-Christian traditions of the Old and New Testaments. They establish that the existence of a being like the Christian God is more plausible than a purely materialistic universe.

Cosmological arguments are played out in the realms of physics and philosophy. At least those are the two disciplines that should be involved. For millennia, the dominant view found in science, philosophy and most religious traditions, was that the universe was eternal. The lone exception to this view was the creation narrative found in Genesis that argued that God did not organize or manipulate existing matter, but that God created everything.

In 1964, empirical evidence of the universe having a beginning in the finite past was discovered in the form of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). This was only one in a long series of empirical discoveries supporting a beginning to the universe based on a cosmic singularity[3]. The establishment of Big Bang cosmology has cemented in the scientific realm that the universe had a beginning. The debate since then been a sometimes-convoluted wrestling match between philosophy and very obscure disciplines within physics (e.g. quantum mechanics and string theory).

In Part 2, we will turn our attention to Licona’s defense of the resurrection and the connection his approach has to natural theology.


[1] “Austin Farrer Quotes,” http://www.sourcedquotes.com/Austin-Farrer-Quotes, (accessed April 22, 2014).

[2] For the sake of space and avoiding excessive technical depth, we will not go into details of any given argument. There are of course different specific arguments within this category. The goal here is to provide an overview that allows the reader to connect this argument with what Licona has done regarding the resurrection.

[3] What has come to be known as the “Big Bang Theory” was originally proposed by Georges Lemaître in 1927 as a consequence of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (1915). The discovery of the CMBR eliminated any models of an eternal universe from serious consideration.

Natural Theology: What It is and Why You Need It

The enterprise of Christian apologetics incorporates a broad range of intellectual disciplines, such as history, philosophy, theology, physics, ethics, mathematics, fine arts, biology, and literature. It’s a beautiful and remarkable thing that virtually every avenue of mankind’s scholarly exploration has yielded significant support for Christianity. The result is a spectacular mosaic that, unless Christianity is actually true, should never have materialized, much less in such high definition. The picture that has emerged over the past two thousand years, the product of man’s attempt at a comprehensive study of reality, is an argument itself, I think.

Notice, however, that when some of these relevant disciplines are taken individually, the evidence they provide doesn’t get you all the way to Christian theism. It may get you to a rather vague theism, or even a theism with strong Christian flavor, but no further. We don’t see the creeds spelled out in nature. We should be mindful of this so as not to overstate a claim and in order to hold the non-theist accountable when (not if) they try to argue against the existence of God in general by criticizing Christian theism in particular. We must not underestimate the value of these disciplines; they are crucial for the foundation upon which our broader project depends.  They constitute what some have called our pre-apologetic.

A subset of these disciplines make up what is referred to as natural theology, which is, for me, an area of keen academic interest. Natural theology explores the questions of the existence and nature of God without examining Scripture or other forms of alleged divine revelation. Instead, the practitioner philosophically reflects upon observations of the natural world and draws metaphysical conclusions–i.e., that God exists and has certain attributes. This stands in contrast to revealed theology, which is wholly dependent upon special revelation (Scripture, for example). Historically, natural theology has been employed by some adherents of all the major monotheistic religions–Christianity, Judaism, and Islam–as well as some prominent thinkers who rejected all of those characterizations of God (think Voltaire and Spinoza).

You’re probably familiar with at least a few of the arguments developed by natural theology, even if you haven’t heard them labeled as such. The Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God, which incorporates logic and astrophysics, is the poster child. The fine-tuning argument and the argument from consciousness are other better-known examples. While science often factors in, it doesn’t always. For instance, natural theology also includes the moral argument and the argument from the existence of evil.

There is much debate over whether intelligent design arguments based on biological observations qualify as natural theology. Dr. William Dembski, a key figure in the contemporary intelligent design (ID) movement, says that they do not. Specifically, he says that the ID program is not a theological endeavor, although he notes that its conclusions have implications for theology. I agree with Dembski on this careful delineation. There are indeed supporters of ID research who are not theists and some who see ID as evidential support for fringe-science hypotheses, such as life having been engineered and seeded on earth by a distant alien civilization (directed panspermia).

But, I am convinced that we can and should use the positive arguments for design from biology in the practice of natural theology. By “positive arguments” I mean the characteristics of life that indicate, often by analogy, the activity of a Designer. To be clear, such arguments do not rule out evolutionary common descent, they only point to things like planning, guidance, and purpose in biology. Materialists are highly critical of this approach, saying that the appearance of design in living things is illusory, the product of blind, purposeless processes. This actually boils down to philosophical pre-commitments, because science, as such, cannot prove or disprove a metaphysical claim. However, I believe the case for God based upon natural theology is much stronger than the case for the absence of God based on natural observations, hence the value of this approach.

Ultimately, our dialogue with non-theists must begin with the logical first thing, which is the existence of God. If someone has dismissed the validity of Scripture wholesale, we can’t use special revelation as the starting point. Our common ground, then, must be the observation of the world around us. I see natural theology as a powerful first stepping stone in the cumulative case for Christianity. I also believe that Scripture endorses it. Romans 1:20 says, “For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” And Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands.”

For further reading, I recommend The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology edited by Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. J.P. Moreland and In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post-Humean Assessment edited by Dr. James F. Sennett and Dr. Douglas Groothuis.



Motherhood and the Life of the Mind

Early yesterday morning, I met up with a friend at my neighborhood coffee shop. A morning outing without my kids, on a weekday, is a rarity during this season of my life, so it was a treat to have uninterrupted adult conversation for a whole 90 minutes. :-)

I had forgotten about the hustle and bustle of early weekday mornings in a suburban cafe. Experiencing it again made me reflect on days gone by. Before my older son was born, I worked as a research associate for a biotechnology company just a couple blocks down from this particular coffee shop, so up until about 11 years ago (Eeeeek! That long?) I was one of the career women standing in line for an overpriced coffee, checking my watch, hoping not to be late for work. I loved my job; I loved having my mind challenged on a daily basis and honing my skills on cutting-edge biochemistry equipment while perched at my bench wearing my white lab coat. It felt like my “place” in the world.

My last day on the job was five days before I became a mother. BAM! The world shifted under my feet.

For the first 18 months of my new life, I was surrounded by several close friends with new babies. I had an active mommy-social-life in addition to the demands of caring for an infant and a husband. My life was rather full. But one by one, those friends moved away, my son grew and became a bit lower-maintenance, and I found myself experiencing increasing restlessness. I knew I was called to be a stay-at-home mom, but I was becoming desperate for intellectual stimulation. For about five years, I tried to develop passions for things I saw other moms doing, but to little avail. I joined Bible study groups made up of young moms, but never quite fit in and often found the material shallow; I tried my hand at various visual arts but found out pretty quickly that I didn’t have much natural talent; I started writing a novel that never went beyond chapter 1. I felt discouraged, like a piece of me was missing, and my spiritual life was a bit crippled by that deficiency.

Then, through a series of very painful circumstances, God showed me, in no uncertain terms, that my intellectual fulfillment was inextricably linked to Him and to my ministry calling–a calling that He had been leading me towards since college, though I didn’t recognize it until that much later date. So, exactly 10 years after finishing my bachelor’s degree, I applied to graduate school and began working towards a master’s in science and religion (that science background had a much higher purpose than I ever expected!). Five years after that momentous event, here I am, about to begin doctoral work. I am overwhelmed just thinking about where I was spiritually and intellectually (stagnant) and where God has brought me–while I’ve remained a stay-at-home mother and the primary educator of my children. Sometimes my heart feels like it’s going to burst with the gratitude I feel for this transformative, enlightening,  joyful, no-turning-back journey I’ve been granted. The most wonderful thing about it, though, is not how my inner life has changed for the better; rather, it’s how much better equipped I have become to be the mother I should be.

What am I getting at? Am I saying that every mother should follow the same path that I have? Do you need a PhD to be a great mom? No, of course not! We are each uniquely fashioned and purposed. But, we are all commanded to love God with our minds and we are urged to train up our children in a way that honors and glorifies Him. We must  maximize our potential in this regard.

Here’s what I want you to know. As mothers, our spiritual maturity depends in a major way on our intellectual development. We have to get beyond knowing WHAT we believe to be true about God and the world and be able to say WHY we believe it to be so. When one of our children approaches us with questions such as “Mom, how do you know God’s real, and not just made up?” or “How do you know the Bible is true?” we’d better have something more substantial than, “Oh honey, we just have faith!” if we want to train up warriors in this decaying, increasingly hostile culture. What’s more, we cannot underestimate the value of modelling for our children the value of lifelong learning.

Moms, if you haven’t already, then I implore you to begin today. You may be thinking, “I don’t even know where to start! The very idea of sweeping the cobwebs out of that corner of my brain is so daunting!” Allow me to give you a quick-start list that you could easily cover by the end of this calendar year by simply replacing a chunk of your entertainment time with study.

1. First, you need to understand why the life of the mind is essential to the Christian. I recommend Dr. J.P. Moreland’s book, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul.

2. Get a handle on worldview and how to discern truth from the subtle falsehoods we’re bombarded with. I suggest Kenneth Sample’s book, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.

3. Spend some time studying the essential doctrines of Christianity. Tragically, many Christians don’t even understand the faith they claim to profess! There are many great books out there, but I would start with C.S. Lewis’s famous book, Mere Christianity. It’s not a systematic theology text. Lewis’s purpose in writing it was to communicate the minimum set of core doctrines that must be held. After this, I would suggest something that delves into theology in a non-intimidating way, such as Dr. Alister McGrath’s Theology: The Basics.

4. Develop your ability to defend Christianity against common objections. I particularly like the format and readability of Dr. Douglas Groothuis’s book, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Don’t be intimidated by the page count! This book is extremely readable and digestible. You could take it a section at the time, with breaks in between.

5. Learn about the history of ideas and their impact on human culture. This is a MAJOR area of weakness for secularists, and has a nearly untapped potential for apologetics and evangelism. It’s the area I’ve chosen for my PhD research, actually. Study some of the great works of philosophy and literature from the past two thousand years. You can wade in easily with Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Think About the Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization.

6. Sharpen your ability to think clearly and reason well by learning to avoid common fallacies. I recommend The Fallacy Detective: Thirty-Eight Lessons on How to Recognize Bad Reasoning.

Partner up with another mom so that you can encourage and sharpen one another in your quest to become better thinkers, better Christ-followers, and better educators of your children.

The saying is so true: All Christians are theologians, philosophers, and apologists, the question is simply how competent we are. Competence takes work, but oh, what rewarding work it is! Few investments bring such certain and abundant return.

Let us raise up the next generation to highly value Christian scholarship, to have solid reasons for their hope, and to carry on this legacy for the glory of God.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Why Science Does Not Disprove God (and my commentary)

An article on Time Magazine’s website caught my attention today due to some social media buzz. I’d like to link to it here and offer my personal thoughts. timeThe article, Why Science Does Not Disprove God, is written by Dr. Amir D. Aczel, who has recently published a book by the same title. (I’ve not read the book, only the author’s article.) It’s notable that an article with this title is on Time’s website. Maybe their site views were down and they needed something to attract the ever-dependable, vociferous anti-theist internet trolls for the sake of a traffic spike (tongue-in-cheek). Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the article, but I think some of the language was a bit ambiguous and could be misconstrued, hence my motivation for this post. So, without further ado… Aczel begins:

A number of recent books and articles will have you believe that—somehow—science has now disproved the existence of God. We know so much about how the Universe works, their authors claim, that God is simply unnecessary: we can explain all the workings of the Universe without the need for a “creator.”

Yes, this is an accurate depiction of the common pop-atheism claim. But the argument is a poor one. Dr. John Lennox’s charmingly snarky remark comes to mind here:

It is those scientists who make exaggerated claims for science who make science look ridiculous. They have unintentionally and perhaps unconsciously wandered from doing science into myth-making–incoherent myths at that.

(God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?)

In reality, science has been woefully unsuccessful in answering some essential questions about the world. Contrary to the claims of some dogmatic materialism devotees, there are areas that seem to be utterly closed to empiricism. Hold this thought–I’ll elaborate in a moment.

Aczel goes on to laud the extraordinary achievements of science, including the mapping of the human genome (a project headed by a devout Christian, mind you) and the elucidation of cellular machinery. But then he makes a statement that I think needs careful clarification:

Science has won major victories against entrenched religious dogma throughout the 19th Century.

We need to understand what “entrenched religious dogma” means here. It does NOT mean essential Christian doctrines, the tenets of the faith that are required for saving knowledge of Christ. The “dogma” Aczel is referring to (I’m giving Aczel the benefit of the doubt here) includes specific interpretations of Scripture held for philosophical and other reasons. The point being, those interpretations aren’t the only options for textual coherence and Christian orthodoxy, so the “major victories” of science he refers to are not victories over Christianity. Science, the study of God’s natural revelation to us, helps our efforts to correctly understand God’s special revelation (Scripture). That’s both a win for science and a win for Christian theology.

Aczel mentions Leon Foucault’s pendulum, and how it experimentally demonstrated the rotation of the earth. But he goes further, seeming to make the claim that this was key in disproving geocentrism. That’s a very misleading statement. First of all, by the time of Foucault, heliocentrism had long been accepted by the Church and the scientific community based on empirical evidence. Perhaps Aczel means that the pendulum demonstration offered more support for the heliocentric model. Second, it must be noted that the geocentric model was indeed held by some Christian (and academic) authorities in centuries past, but at that time Scripture was being interpreted in an overly- literalistic way mainly because of theologians’ commitment to Aristotelian cosmology. My point being, evidence in strong support of heliocentrism is more of a “victory” over a non-religious natural philosophy (geocentric cosmology), one that happened to be held by religious and non-religious people of a certain time period. Aczel ends the paragraph with:

We now know that Earth is billions—not thousands—of years old, as some theologians had calculated based on counting generations back to the biblical Adam. All of these discoveries defeated literal interpretations of scripture.

I’m glad he was careful to use the phrase “literal interpretations of scripture.” The age of the earth controversy hinges on textual interpretation, not on authority or inerrancy of Scripture. This is a point many anti-theist activists refuse to acknowledge, because it ruins one of their favorite arguments against Christianity. And don’t let them tell you that Christianity has simply re-interpreted Genesis 1 and 2 to escape a fatally crushing blow of good science. There were theologians and church leaders in very early Christendom (first few centuries after Christ’s resurrection) that did not interpret the Genesis “days” literally. No matter what view you happen to take on the age of the earth, be mindful that this is not an issue that Christian orthodoxy hinges upon. The anti-theist (or even the Christian) who tells you otherwise is either dishonest or woefully under-educated on the nuances of ancient near-eastern literature and the complexity of biblical hermeneutics. Aczel continues:

But has modern science, from the beginning of the 20th Century, proved that there is no God, as some commentators are now claiming? Science is an amazing, wonderful undertaking: it teaches us about life, the world, and the Universe. But it has not revealed to us why the Universe came into existence, nor what preceded its birth in the Big Bang. Equally, biological evolution has not brought us the slightest understanding of how the first living organisms emerged from inanimate matter on this planet, and how the advanced eukaryotic cells—the highly structured building blocks of advanced life forms—ever emerged from simpler organisms. Neither does it explain one of the greatest mysteries of science: how did consciousness arise in living things? Where do symbolic thinking and self-awareness come from? What is it that allows us humans to understand the mysteries of biology, physics, mathematics, engineering, and medicine? And what enables us to create great works of art, music, architecture, and literature? Science is nowhere near to explaining these deep mysteries.

When I read this passage, I could almost hear the materialists caterwauling, “Argument from ignorance!! Argument from ignorance!! God of the gaps!! God of the gaps!!” Please hear me on this: It is very probably true that science will elucidate much more about the natural world as time goes on. The history of science has taught us to expect this, and a biblical view of the cosmos and of mankind does as well. BUT, there is a key difference between something the scientific community hasn’t yet figured out and something science CANNOT answer (for one reason or another). Materialists put an enormous amount of faith in one particular idea: There is a material explanation for EVERYTHING, even if we never discover all of them.

Think about that for a moment. Realize that this is not a scientific statement. It is a 100% philosophical statement that reveals an a priori commitment to materialism. What if some things have a non-material explanation? The handicapped version of scientific inquiry used by the materialist is impotent to discover such a thing. In other words, “There are only material explanations because those are the only ones I’m willing to consider.” Do you see the problem with this dogmatism? For example, Aczel mentions that science has no idea what preceded the Big Bang. Do you know why? Because space, matter, and TIME came into existence at that moment. “What happened before?” becomes a nonsensical question. What does that leave you with when you’re trying to determine a cause of the Big Bang? Something immaterial and timeless with power of causation (ahem). Science, by definition, can only study our universe’s matter, space, energy, and the regularities that govern them. It cannot go beyond that. The question of “before” the Big Bang is closed to science. The only thing the materialist can do is speculate, but all of the alternative theories suffer from logical problems, such as the impossibility of an infinite past series of events or moments in time.

Aczel also mentions the origin of the first life as a grave difficulty for science. This is a different situation, because life came about in the course of time after the beginning of the universe. So technically, science can investigate the how and when of life’s genesis. Intelligent design advocates are accused of the “God of the gaps” fallacy, which plugs God into any gaps in scientific knowledge. But this is categorically false. What the design advocate is claiming is that the genetic code and the characteristics of living cells bear unmistakable marks of intelligent agency. That is entirely different from saying, “Since we don’t know where life came from, God must have done it.” In other words, the biological design argument is based on empirical data not on a lack of data. The materialist, who is philosophically committed to considering only one type of explanation for natural phenomena, refuses from the start to accept indicators of design, no matter what evidence comes to light over time. Talk about open-minded inquiry.

I particularly love that Aczel asks, “Where do symbolic thinking and self-awareness come from? What is it that allows us humans to understand the mysteries of biology, physics, mathematics, engineering, and medicine? And what enables us to create great works of art, music, architecture, and literature?” The higher cognition and rationality that is required for symbolic and abstract thought, for the conception of elaborate and artistic creations, is unique to human beings. Furthermore, these are capabilities that wouldn’t have emerged based on a survival or reproductive advantage out in the prehistoric jungle. It’s a bit silly to think that some ancient hominid who first developed the mental construct of numbers, for example, was somehow more physically fit, or more attractive to a mate who had no such concept. Rationality, including symbolic/abstract thought, and acute moral awareness delineate us in kind, not degree, from the rest of the animal kingdom. This is one facet of what philosophers of religion mean when they refer to the imago Dei, the image of God. I love Aczel’s next argument (emphasis, mine):

But much more important than these conundrums is the persistent question of the fine-tuning of the parameters of the Universe: Why is our Universe so precisely tailor-made for the emergence of life? This question has never been answered satisfactorily, and I believe that it will never find a scientific solution. For the deeper we delve into the mysteries of physics and cosmology, the more the Universe appears to be intricate and incredibly complex. To explain the quantum-mechanical behavior of even one tiny particle requires pages and pages of extremely advanced mathematics. Why are even the tiniest particles of matter so unbelievably complicated? It appears that there is a vast, hidden “wisdom,” or structure, or a knotty blueprint for even the most simple-looking element of nature.

Indeed, there should come a point in our scientific investigation when we admit that material explanations for some phenomena are appearing less and less likely, and we should consider other possibilities. This is not to say that we close the door on material explanation!! We are simply broadening the scope of our inquiry. Why on earth would any competent scientist object to this? The only reason, as far as I can see, is that it rubs their metaphysical fur the wrong way. After a few good words on the fine-tuning problem, Aczel declares:

…the purely hypothetical multiverse does not solve the problem of God. The incredible fine-tuning of the Universe presents the most powerful argument for the existence of an immanent creative entity we may well call God. Lacking convincing scientific evidence to the contrary, such a power may be necessary to force all the parameters we need for our existence—cosmological, physical, chemical, biological, and cognitive—to be what they are.

I agree. Even the late Christopher Hitchens admitted this troubling problem for materialism. (<—that video is a MUST-WATCH). The odds are not in their favor. The article ends with:

Science and religion are two sides of the same deep human impulse to understand the world, to know our place in it, and to marvel at the wonder of life and the infinite cosmos we are surrounded by. Let’s keep them that way, and not let one of them attempt to usurp the role of the other.

This comes very close to what I believe is the correct philosophy of science and faith integration: Science, when correct, will never conflict with theology, done correctly; they actually exist in synergy, complementing and even supporting one another. In the oft-quoted words of the brilliant scientist Johannes Kepler, the practice of science is merely “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”