Sunday, June 25, 2017

IMPLANTED MORAL STANDARDS: EMBRACED OR ELIMINATED





A college student who stutters and experiences intense self-hate, now fearfully avoids social situations. The stoic blogger, Massimo Pigliucci, advised:

·       Seems to me the thing you need to focus now is your self-hatred. Stoicism is a philosophy of acceptance of imperfection, both in others and in ourselves. Here is Epictetus:

·       “An ignorant person is inclined to blame others for his own misfortune. To blame oneself is proof of progress. But the wise man never has to blame another or himself.” (Enchiridion 5)

However, how can we accept ourselves when we fail ourselves so painfully? Pigliucci provides some positive reinforcement:

·       So, no, you are not a coward. Far from it. You have had the courage to take on your condition and trying to do something about it. You made valiant efforts, and a lot of progress. But you have not achieved all your goals. That is okay. The next question is how to move forward.

Pigliucci realizes that positive reinforcement is not enough. The college student needs some tangible reinforcements to prove to himself that he is not contemptible, along with therapy and support groups.

Well, what if the problem continues or others appear? The stoic answer is to focus on the effort and not the outcome. Pigliucci therefore concludes:

·       But even if none of the above works, you are not a coward. You are just a human being with a condition that he did not ask for nor cause, and who is trying to do his best to overcome that condition, or at least live the best life he can, given the situation. That takes courage.

In other words, “You are not as bad as you think or feel. Therefore, accept yourself.” In essence, Pigliucci and stoicism have the ultimate standard by which to judge, and the student should see himself in terms of this standard, rather than his own inclinations.

However, this raises several questions. For one thing, why do we even need a standard? Why not just believe that there are no objective standards of judgment? Postmodernism tells us that there are absolutely no objective standards. Instead, our standards or values are all humanly created and, therefore, arbitrary and evolving. So just forget about them or create your own.

However, this just doesn’t seem to work. Seemingly, we are not free to create our own standards. Instead, we continue to live by standards that cause us pain. Guilt, self-hatred, and shame are universal, and we spend our lives in an unending struggle to pacify these painful realities.

Where does our embedded web of judgments come from? While some have been inculcated through our socialization, the universality of others, like the capacity to even experience guilt and shame, tends to argue for a universal cause – DNA.

If so, who wired us to have moral standards and our painful, life-controlling feelings? Many argue that evolution did it. These feelings insured necessary group cohesion, but they are no longer necessary. We have grown beyond our need for them. Therefore, they should be eliminated or reduced through therapy.

In contrast, the Bible would argue that they are still needful, lest we become amoral sociopaths. Instead, we have been wired by God for morality and even for the knowledge of God.

Our troublesome moral evaluations and feelings are so deep and integral to our being that they have resisted medication, re-education, and therapy.  Rather than relics which had only once conferred upon the human race a survival advantage, they continue to play a vital role.

We are moral creatures, and moral standards are part of what it means to be human. To nullify them is to make ourselves less than human. Despite our postmodern denials, our embedded moral circuitry insures some semblance of morality. More importantly, they lead us to their ultimate Author and cure, the forgiveness of God, that is able to counter all the feelings that result from the absolute and unavoidable standards He has planted within us.

I know that this is an extreme and annoying claim. However, I am certain that Christ is the missing piece that completes the puzzle of humanity – the piece that holds all the other parts together in harmony. This is something that can only be seen from within, but let me try to illustrate.

Not only does Christ forgive and cleanse me from all my moral failures, He also has made following His implanted moral code – and we find it spelled out in His Scriptures –a thing of joy, as the Prophet Isaiah had portrayed the Messiah:

·       And his delight shall be in [serving] the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. (Isaiah 11:3-4)

When we embrace the moral law, which we find written on our conscience, as truth, we also embrace ourselves, who we truly are. Therefore, I find great delight and liberation in living in harmony with this embedded code. This gives me a powerful rationale for resisting my destructive impulses and the satisfaction in knowing the truth that exceeds all other claimants. It is like completing a 1000 piece puzzle and seeing how all the shapes and patterns fit together. It is also like standing on a mountaintop and seeing how all the towns are connected together by their roads. There is joy in truth as well as in morality.

There is also freedom. Before, I had been obsessed with trying to prove my value as a person. Now this has been fulfilled in Jesus, as Paul had commented:

·       …I count everything [I had trusted in for my self-esteem] as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)

Guilt and shame are unforgiving taskmasters. They can never be satisfied, no matter how much we sacrifice. They will always demand more accomplishments and recognition. However, in Christ, we have all the validation we will ever need.

Admittedly, I am over-simplifying. There are also potholes in the roads and even obstacles. Sometimes, the puzzle comes with missing pieces. However, we can trust that the pieces will soon become apparent.





Friday, June 23, 2017

WHO ARE WE? THE WAY WE THINK ABOUT OURSELVES WILL EITHER ENNOBLE OR DEGRADE US





Are our minds just complex bio-chemical machines – wet computers?

A computer can only see what it is programmed to see. Can our minds take us beyond our neuronal programming? Can we examine the paths that our thoughts take and go beyond them?

However, it seems that my mind is a tool at my disposal. It is my horse and I hold the whip. I can contemplate myself and make adjustments and corrections. I am free to choose against my impulses or for them.

Will my mind take me to where I want it to go, to investigate what has previously been uninvestigated, to think new thoughts, clearer insights, and to go beyond my present understanding? If my intuitions are reliable, I’d have to answer “yes!” If they are unreliable, perhaps I am just dreaming?

Instead, it seems that my mind is not locked into deterministic bio-chemical, formulaic circuits and patterns. It has taken flight and can go where it wills.

Who has given my mind its wings? The One who has created me in His likeness, the One who awaits me to join Him in His eternal home!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

GOD REQUIRES EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE, BUT SO DOES THE MULTIVERSE





Carl Sagan had famously written: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” This makes a lot of sense. If my neighbor claims that he had just been voted the “Man of the Year,” I would be skeptical. However, if he had merry claimed that his wife regarded him as her “man of the year,” I would be satisfied without any evidence.

However, should the same skepticism also apply when my neighbor claims that God is the explanation of consciousness, life, freewill, and the fine-tuning of the universe? Admittedly, this is an extraordinary claim, but let’s just examine one aspect of it – the extraordinary fine-tuning of the universe. Some have calculated the chances of having a universe fine-tuned for life to be one chance in 10 followed by 100 zeros.

I want to argue that any explanation of fine-tuning requires an extraordinary explanation – either supernatural (ID) or a natural explanation. This consideration therefore transforms our question into, “Which paradigm is best?”

The natural explanation invokes the multiverse, reasoning that if there are an infinite number of universes, it is likely that our fortuitous universe would be one of them. However, this seems to be the most extraordinary claim:

1. There is no scientific evidence for even a second universe, let alone an infinite number.
2. There is no known mechanism that can generate universes out of nothing.
3. There is no evidence that anything has ever been caused naturally and without intelligence.
4. It can provide no answer for the elegance, universality, and immutability for our fine-tuned laws of science.

In light of these problems, rather than the ID paradigm as extraordinary, it would seem that naturalistic paradigm requires more support and represents a desperate attempt to remove God from the picture. Science writer, John Horgan, confessed that:

·       “Multiverse theories aren’t theories; they’re science fictions, theologies, works of the imagination unconstrained by science.”

Theoretical physicist, Paul Steinhardt, confessed the same concern:

·       “The key thing that distinguishes science from non-science is that scientific ideas have to be subject to tests. Some people are nowadays thinking, no, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.” (Regis Nicoll; Salvo Magazine; Summer 2017, 38)

Tim Folger, writing for Discover Magazine, claimed that the multiverse is the “only viable non-religious explanation”:

·       “Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life….The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non-religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life. (“The Multiverse Theory,” Dec. 2008)

Perhaps the multiverse requires even more extraordinary evidence than ID. As a naturalistic theory, it only can serve to explain the “fine-tuning problem.” In order to explain life, consciousness, DNA, the first cell, the existence of natural causal agents, the first cause, and freewill, naturalism must invoke entirely different theories for each. And with each additional theory or postulate, it makes itself even more improbable, thereby violating Occam’s Razor. However, ID has only one necessary postulate – God!


Columbia University mathematician and atheist Peter Woit has expressed serious doubts about the multiverse:

·       …The idea of assuming a Multiverse and using it to make statistical predictions doesn’t work. But instead of drawing the obvious conclusion (this was a scientifically worthless idea, as seemed likely to most everyone else), the argument is that we need a “revolution in our understanding of physics” that will make the idea work.

According to science writer, Denise O’Leary, “Woit blames the Templeton Foundation [for funding and purveying this meritless idea]. It appears to have given $15 million to physicist to pursue these questions, and $10 million to the publishing group Nautilus…And he does not understand “why the rest of the physics community is staying quiet.” (Salvo Magazine; Summer 2017, 50)

Why the quiet? Why the tenacious grasp of the multiverse? Perhaps this represents a desperate attempt to keep God out of the picture. According to evolutionist and geneticist Richard Lewontin:
  
·       We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism [that nothing exists apart from matter and energy]. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, …Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

Clearly, the presence of God is unwelcome in the bastions of science, even at the expense of adopting science-less theories and purveying them as facts. O’Leary writes:

·       Vast evidence supports the view that our universe and our planet are fine-tuned for life, which suggests a cosmic scheme based on some type of meaning, purpose, or intelligence. By contrast, no evidence supports the multiverse.

Rather than proposing the highly unlikely multiverse, it is more reasonable to claim that we are very limited in our understanding about the origins of the universe and fine-tuning.

While this is true, we have to observe that we are also very limited about our understandings of the fundamentals – light, matter, energy, time, and space. However, this limitation should not prevent us from doing science or from going where our limited evidence leads.

IS GOD UNJUST? DOESN’T HE HARDEN AND DECEIVE?



There are several verses claiming that God does harden hearts, even, seemingly, to commit sin. Paul had written several verses that seem to indicate that God is unjust – hardening and deceiving certain people. Let’s look at them. Afterwards, we will try to answer each:

  •   2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. [see Ezekiel 14:9; Revelation 17:17]


2.    Romans 9:17-18 (ESV) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [quoting from Exodus 9:16] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

3.    Romans 11:7-10 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” [quoting from Isaiah 29:10; 6:9-10]  And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” [quoting from Psalm 69:22-23]

Let’s start with the first example. This one is relatively easy to explain. In this case, it is clear that God hadn’t deceived the innocent but rather those who were already practicing self-deception. They had refused to “believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” They had committed their lives to the darkness in favor of the light (John 3:19-20).

However, as Paul explained elsewhere, this is the result of a gradual process of rejecting the truth. Only after continually rejecting the light, God gives them over to the desires of their heart to believe those things they want to believe and do:

·       Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:24-28)

There is no indication here that they were born with “dishonorable passions” or a “debased mind.” Instead, this corruption was the result of exchanging “the truth of God for a lie,” as Paul had claimed in 2 Thessalonians 2:10: “because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”

Also, Paul is explicit that when we suppress the truth about God (Romans 1:18), we are “without excuse”:

·       For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

Instead, had we been born without the ability to choose God, we would have a perfect excuse for our rejection of God – “We just couldn’t have done otherwise, right!” However, when we fail to combat such reasoning, we mitigate sin and place the responsibility for our sin on the wrong party – God.

Admittedly, there are a number of verses that claim that we cannot come to God on our own. However, were we born with this inability, or did it result from our own choices?

This brings us to my second example – God hardening Pharaoh’s heart to accomplish His purposes through him. Again, God was not unjust? Rather, it seems that He gave Pharaoh just what he wanted.

Pharaoh wasn’t a mindless puppet in God’s hands. He too had been a willful, purposeful moral agent who had hardened his own heart:

·       But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (Exodus 8:15)

·       Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. (Exodus 7:13-14)

While some verses indicate that God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart, others indicate that he had hardened his own heart. If we are going to understand the justice and righteousness of God, I think that we have to accept the oft-mentioned Biblical fact that God is able to direct us, even through our freewill choices, as some have correctly commented: “Hell is God giving us what we want.”

Our natural inclination is to conclude that it was either Pharaoh or God who had hardened his heart. Why not both? Perhaps our God is great enough to accomplish His plans through our freewill choices! There are many verses that indicate that both parties are morally responsible. While Paul claimed that he had worked harder than the others, he also claimed that whatever good had come out of his life was the result of the Spirit working through him:


·       But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Admittedly, this is a great mystery, but it is also the glory of God and the message of His Word. While Scripture is entirely “God-breathed” out (2 Timothy 3:16), unsurprisingly, it also reflects the humanity of its writers – their vocabulary, associations, feelings, and experiences.

Let’s now go to the final example:

·       And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” (Romans 11:10; Paul quoting from Psalm 69:22-23)

Why had David uttered such a damning curse on Israel? Because Israel had hardened their hearts and had given themselves over to rebellion! Immediately before these verses from Psalm 69, David had written:

·       You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonor; my foes are all known to you. Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink. (Psalm 69:19-21)

These were not innocent people. Rather, David had been cursing the very people who God already given over to the hardness of their own hearts because of their rebellion, as we had read in Romans 1. In light of this, David was merely asking God to give them the darkness that they had already chosen for themselves.

God’s justice requires understanding. If we neither understand human motives or God’s motives, how can we indict God’s justice? Nevertheless, we do.

Let’s look at one last verse that has often been quoted in the New Testament (Matthew 13:14-15; John 12:40; Acts 28:26-27):

·       And he [God] said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)

Were these Israelites born this way or did their rebellion make them this way? In each context where the Bible teaches about Israel’s inability to come to come, there is never a hint that this inability was the result of the Fall or God giving birth to a depraved Israel. Instead, we hear the opposite message – that God had given Israel everything they had needed:

·       …My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.  And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? (Isaiah 5:1-4)

Israel had accused God of many things. However, never once did they accuse God of not giving them the freedom or inclination to come to Him. Instead, Scripture is consistent in insisting that we must take total responsibility for our rebellion – that we are “without excuse.”