Paradigms & Metanarrative
"Science's Alternative to an Intelligent Creator: the Multiverse Theory", in Discover (Nov. 10, 2008).
A sublime cosmic mystery unfolds on a mild summer afternoon in Palo Alto, California... The day seems ordinary enough. Cyclists maneuver through traffic, and orange poppies bloom on dry brown hills near Linde’s office on the Stanford University campus. But everything here, right down to the photons lighting the scene after an eight-minute jaunt from the sun, bears witness to an extraordinary fact about the universe: Its basic properties are uncannily suited for life. Tweak the laws of physics in just about any way and — in this universe, anyway — life as we know it would not exist. ¶ Consider just two possible changes. Atoms consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons. If those protons were just 0.2 percent more massive than they actually are, they would be unstable and would decay into simpler particles. Atoms wouldn’t exist; neither would we. If gravity were slightly more powerful, the consequences would be nearly as grave. A beefed-up gravitational force would compress stars more tightly, making them smaller, hotter, and denser. Rather than surviving for billions of years, stars would burn through their fuel in a few million years, sputtering out long before life had a chance to evolve. There are many such examples of the universe’s life-friendly properties—so many, in fact, that physicists can’t dismiss them all as mere accidents. ¶ Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us. ¶ Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. 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 multi verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.
On a recent broadcast of the Infidel Guy (Sep. 16, 2008), a caller challenged Gary Habermas, the evening's guest, to reconcile the omniscience of God with human free will. Habermas did his best to argue that there is no necessary conflict, that God knows because we freely choose, we do not so choose because God knows. For my part, I think it's a legitimate and difficult objection. I'm not yet persuaded by either Molinist or Openness attempts to reconcile the two, much less compatabilism or the notion that it is solved by God's being outside of time. But what followed is what struck me. Habermas took the opportunity to ask Reggie Finley, the host, whether he, as a naturalist, believed in free will. Reggie paused, then conceded that he was still trying to figure that one out. Good luck, Reggie, because while free will may be problematic for the theist, it is probably a lost cause for the naturalist. For example, in his excellent and lucid work, The Significance of Free Will, Robert Kane manages to find a place for indeterminacy in matter (in quantum theory), but not for agency, the sine qua non of free will in my judgment. My point is not to wade into the deep waters of human freedom. Rather, I'm taking exception to the widespread impression that it is only the theist who must accept mysteries, antinomies, and quandaries. The truth is, all worldviews are beset by unique difficulties and internal conceptual problems. And, we remain perplexed by many mysteries that we share in common. That is to say, we're in this together. With our amazing, but limited human faculties, the world remains puzzling to us all. In the ongoing debate about what is and is not real, it would serve us well to be mindful of the problems with which each worldview must wrestle. To that end, here are some that occur to me for both Christian theism and for Naturalism.
Michael Egnor on Behaviorism said...
"The Battle for Your Mind" at Evolution News and Views (Oct 29 2008).
Having convinced only a small fraction of Americans that chance and tautology — i.e. Darwinism — adequately explains life (despite a court-ordered monopoly on public education for the last half-century), materialists are moving on to your mind. Materialism posits that your mind is meat. No soul, no spirit, just chemicals, congealed by natural selection to dupe you into believing that you’re more than an evanescent meat-robot. It’s a hard sell, but that’s not to say that materialists haven’t tried. In the first half of the 20th century, behaviorists proposed that internal mental states were irrelevant or didn’t exist at all. All that mattered in the study of the mind was stimulus and response. Behaviorism turned out, unsurprisingly, to be a sterile avenue of research, as one might guess about a theory of the mind that denied or ignored mental states. As a theory of the mind, it is now largely regarded as insane, even by materialists. Behaviorism may be the only scientific theory to be finally extinguished by a joke: After a night of passion, one behaviorist rolls over in bed and says to the other: "that was good for you; how was it for me?"
Thomas Sowell (Basic Books : June 4, 2007), 352 pages.
This latest work by Sowell examines two competing visions which shape our debates about the nature of reason, justice, equality, and power. These visions are the "constrained" vision, which sees human nature as unchanging and selfish, and the "unconstrained" vision, in which human nature is malleable and perfectible. The book builds a convincing case that ethical and policy disputes are ultimately based on the differences in these visions. It covers a wide variety of political, philosophical, and economic thought. Although occasionally abstract, this volume is an important contribution to our understanding of current social issues. Recommended for large public and all college and university libraries. ~ Library Journal
Michael W. Goheen and Craig G. Bartholomew (Baker Academic: Nov 1, 2008), 224 pages.
How can Christians live faithfully at the crossroads of the story of Scripture and postmodern culture? In Living at the Crossroads, authors Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew explore this question as they provide a general introduction to Christian worldview. Ideal for both students and lay readers, Living at the Crossroads lays out a brief summary of the biblical story and the most fundamental beliefs of Scripture. The book tells the story of Western culture from the classical period to postmodernity. The authors then provide an analysis of how Christians live in the tension that exists at the intersection of the biblical and cultural stories, exploring the important implications in key areas of life, such as education, scholarship, economics, politics, and church.
"God Is Not Dead Yet", in Christianity Today (July, 2008).
However all this may be, some might think that the resurgence of natural theology in our time is merely so much labor lost. For don't we live in a postmodern culture in which appeals to such apologetic arguments are no longer effective? Rational arguments for the truth of theism are no longer supposed to work. Some Christians therefore advise that we should simply share our narrative and invite people to participate in it. This sort of thinking is guilty of a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture. The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology; rather, they are relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But, of course, that's not postmodernism; that's modernism! That's just old-line verificationism, which held that anything you can't prove with your five senses is a matter of personal taste. We live in a culture that remains deeply modernist.
In recent years, as our deepening understanding of the delicate complexity of the universe continues unabated, Naturalists are increasingly turning to "multiverse" hypotheses to blunt or dodge the force of fine-tuning and teleological arguments for the existence of a Designer. Roughly, the idea is that, parallel to the universe we inhabit, there exists an infinite series of universes, each of which is different from our own in at least one respect. In the multiverse, every contingent possibility is instantiated in at least one universe. If it helps, the concept has been used for dramatic effect on the TV show, Sliders, and in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The multiverse is thought to undercut design arguments because while it is wildly improbable that our life-supporting universe should exist if there was only one shot at it, it is inevitable that our universe exist if every possible universe exists. (Yes, it begs the question of the necessary conditions for this meta-universe, but we'll leave that to the side.) There are mixed feelings about the multiverse hypothesis amongst skeptics and Naturalists. While it may be a stopgap against the implications of our apparently designed universe, it is an inescapably ironic move for the Naturalist to postulate a deus ex machina that is unobserved and, in principle, unobservable.
Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro (Eerdmans: May 23, 2008), 132 pages.
Most, if not all, other books on naturalism are written for professional philosophers alone. Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro offer a book that — without losing anything in the way of scholarly standards — is primarily aimed at a college-educated audience interested in learning about this pervasive worldview. Naturalism groups the various terms of this philosophy into two general categories: strict naturalism and broad naturalism. According to the strict version, all that exists can be exhaustively described and explained by the natural sciences. As Goetz and Taliaferro explain it, broad naturalism allows that there may be some things beyond physics and the natural sciences, but insists that there can be no reality beyond nature — i.e., God — and explicitly rules out the possibility of souls. The authors argue that both categories face substantial objections in their failure to allow for consciousness, human free will, and values. They offer sustained replies to the naturalist critique of the soul and the existence of God and engage in critical evaluations of works by scholarly and popular advocates of naturalism — Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Thomas Nagel, Jaegwon Kim, and others.
David J. Bagget, Gary R. Habermas, and Jerry L. Walls, eds. (InterVarsity Press: Apr 2008), 280 pages.
What did C. S. Lewis think about truth, goodness and beauty? Fifteen essays explore three major philosophical themes from the writings of Lewis: Truth, Goodness and Beauty. This volume provides a comprehensive overview of Lewis's philosophical reflections on arguments for Christianity, the character of God, theodicy, moral goodness, heaven and hell, a theory of literature, and the place of the imagination. Contributors include Victor Reppert, Dave Horner, Peter Kreeft, Russell Howell, and Michael Peterson. "There are three things that will never die: truth, goodness, and beauty. These are the three things we all need, and need absolutely. Our minds want not only some truth and some falsehood, but all truth, without limit. Our wills want not only some good and some evil, but all good, without limit. Our desires, imaginations, feelings or hearts want not just some beauty and some ugliness, but all beauty, without limit." ~ Peter Kreeft, chp. 1
David Berlinski (Crown Forum : April 1, 2008), 256 pages.
Militant atheism is on the rise. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens have dominated bestseller lists with books denigrating religious belief as dangerous foolishness. And these authors are merely the leading edge of a far larger movement–one that now includes much of the scientific community. “The attack on traditional religious thought,” writes David Berlinski in The Devil’s Delusion, “marks the consolidation in our time of science as the single system of belief in which rational men and women might place their faith, and if not their faith, then certainly their devotion.” A secular Jew, Berlinski nonetheless delivers a biting defense of religious thought. An acclaimed author who has spent his career writing about mathematics and the sciences, he turns the scientific community’s cherished skepticism back on itself, daring to ask and answer some rather embarrassing questions. ~ Product Description
Gary Marcus (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Mar 2008), 224 pages.
Why are we subject to irrational beliefs, inaccurate memories, even war? We can thank evolution, Marcus says, which can only tinker with structures that already exist, rather than create new ones: "Natural selection... tends to favor genes that have immediate advantages" rather than long-term value. Marcus, director of NYU's Infant Language Learning Center, refers to this as "kluge," a term engineers use to refer to a clumsily designed solution to a problem. Thus, memory developed in our prehominid ancestry to respond with immediacy, rather than accuracy; one result is erroneous eyewitness testimony in courtrooms. In describing the results of studies of human perception, cognition and beliefs, Marcus encapsulates how the mind is "contaminated by emotions, moods, desires, goals, and simple self-interest...." The mind's fragility, he says, is demonstrated by mental illness, which seems to have no adaptive purpose. In a concluding chapter, Marcus offers a baker's dozen of suggestions for getting around the brain's flaws and achieving "true wisdom." While some are self-evident, others could be helpful, such as "Whenever possible, consider alternate hypotheses" and "Don't just set goals. Make contingency plans." Using evolutionary psychology, Marcus educates the reader about mental flaws in a succinct, often enjoyable way. ~ Publishers Weekly
Robert Burton (St. Martin's Press: Feb 5, 2008), 272 pages.
You recognize when you know something for certain, right? You "know" the sky is blue, or that the traffic light had turned green, or where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001 — you know these things, well, because you just do. In On Being Certain, neurologist Robert Burton challenges the notions of how we think about what we know. He shows that the feeling of certainty we have when we "know" something comes from sources beyond our control and knowledge. In fact, certainty is a mental sensation, rather than evidence of fact. Because this "feeling of knowing" seems like confirmation of knowledge, we tend to think of it as a product of reason. But an increasing body of evidence suggests that feelings such as certainty stem from primitive areas of the brain, and are independent of active, conscious reflection and reasoning. The feeling of knowing happens to us; we cannot make it happen. Bringing together cutting edge neuroscience, experimental data, and fascinating anecdotes, Robert Burton explores the inconsistent and sometimes paradoxical relationship between our thoughts and what we actually know. Provocative and groundbreaking, On Being Certain, will challenge what you know (or think you know) about the mind, knowledge, and reason. ~ Product Description
"The Challenges of Postmodernism", chap.14 in Passionate Conviction, eds. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (B&H Academic, Nashville : 2007), p.210.
[P]ostmodernism leads to the institutionalization of anger. Postmodernists are preoccupied with power struggles that surround language use and social practice, and they see themselves as part of a missionary movement to liberate powerless, oppressed victims from dominance. They often practice a "hermeneutics of suspicion" in which they interpret body language, speech, and written communication not in terms of the communicators' own intentions but in terms of their attempt to victimize and dominate "the other" as understood according to the postmodernists' interpretive agenda (e.g. feminism, gay rights, and so forth). To be sure, power issues are a legitimate aspect of language, though one hardly needs postmodernism to see this. But by making power struggles and victimization a central focus of the postmodern crusade, the movement dignifies anger by institutionalizing it and placing it on ideological high ground, and it creates anger by fostering relational suspicion according to which there is a victimizer under every linguistic tree.
J.P. Moreland on Postmodernism said...
"The Challenges of Postmodernism", chap.14 in Passionate Conviction, eds. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (B&H Academic, Nashville : 2007), p.208.
Put simply, postmodernism is self-refuting. Postmodernists appear to claim that their own assertions about the modern era, about how language and consciousness work, and so forth are true and rational; and they write literary texts and protest when people misinterpret the authorial intent in their own writings. In these and other ways postmodernism seems to be self-refuting. ¶ Sometimes postmodernists respond by denying that they take their own assertions and writing to be true, rational, constituted by their own authorial intent, and so forth. If these claims are correct, then they would, indeed, save postmodernism from self-refutation. But this response must be rejected. When one actually reads carefully postmodernist writings, it is hard to avoid the impression that they do, indeed, present themselves as true, rational, and so on. In this sense, though on the defensive, postmodernists may deny that their writings exhibit these features; nevertheless an examination of those writings seems to undermine those denials.
J.P. Moreland on Postmodernism said...
"The Challenges of Postmodernism", chap.14 in Passionate Conviction, eds. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (B&H Academic, Nashville : 2007), p.207-08.
Postmodernism is both a historical, chronological notion and a philosophical ideology. Understood historically, postmodernism refers to a period of thought that follows and is a reaction to the period called modernity. Modernity is the period of European thought that developed out of the Renaissance (1300-1550) and flourished in the Enlightenment (c. 1650-1800) in the ideas of people like Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Leibniz, and Kant. In the chronological sense, postmodernism is sometimes called "post modernism." So understood, it is fair to say that postmodernism is often guilty of a simplistic characterization of modernity because the thinkers in that period were far from monolithic. Indeed, Descartes, Hume, and Kant have elements in their thought that are more at home in postmodernism than they are in the so-called modern era. Nevertheless, setting historical accuracy aside, the chronological notion of postmodernism depicts it as an era that began in and, in some sense, replaces modernity.¶ As a philosophical standpoint, postmodernism is primarily a reinterpretation of what knowledge is and what counts as knowledge. More broadly, it represents a form of cultural relativism about such things as reality, truth, reason, value, linguistic meaning, the self, and other notions. On a postmodernist view there is no such thing as objective reality, truth, value, reason, and so forth. All these are social constructions, creations of linguistic practices and, as such, are relative not to individuals but to social groups that share a narrative. Roughly, a narrative is a perspective such as Marxism, atheism, or Christianity that is embedded in the group's social and linguistic practices.
"The Challenges of Postmodernism", chap.14 in Passionate Conviction, eds. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (B&H Academic, Nashville : 2007), p.206.
An important and, sadly, often neglected component of Christian apologetics is the task of showing how Christian ideas enhance and do explanatory work across the academic disciplines and how rival worldviews harm and fail to do commensurate work in those same fields. And given that the various aspects of the image of God are recalcitrant facts for rival worldviews such as naturalism and postmodernism, one would expect that in those fields that examine that image, Christianity would enhance and its rivals would harm work and practice in these fields in particular. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the field of psychology.
"A Moral Argument" in Passionate Conviction, eds. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (B&H Publishing: Oct 1, 2007), p.85.
Yes, many naturalists deny that objective moral values exist — that our moral impulse is nothing more than the product of a blind evolutionary process that selects out traits that enhance survival and reproduction. I such a case, morality is merely subjective. However, non-theists can and do endorse objective moral values — that rape or child abuse is wrong. These nontheistic moral realists will tell us, "You don't need God to be good." Yet the deeper question is, how did we come to be morally responsible, rights-bearing beings? Since all human beings are God's image-bearers, they not surprisingly recognize the same sorts of moral values theist do. The basic issue, tough, is this: why think humans have rights and dignity if they're products of valueless, physical processes in a cause-and-effect series from the bing bang until now? The more plausible context or scenario is that human value and moral responsibility come from a good God who created us as intrinsically valuable, morally responsible creatures.
Charles Taylor (Belknap Press: Sep 20, 2007), 896 pages.
In his characteristically erudite yet engaging fashion, Taylor, winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize, takes up where he left off in his magnificent Sources of the Self (1989) as he brilliantly traces the emergence of secularity and the processes of secularization in the modern age. Challenging the idea that the secular takes hold in a world where religion is experienced as a loss or where religions are subtracted from the culture, Taylor discovers the secular emerging in the midst of the religious. The Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis on breaking down the invidious political structures of the Catholic Church, provides the starting point down the road to the secular age. Taylor sweeps grandly and magisterially through the 18th and 19th centuries as he recreates the history of secularism and its parallel challenges to religion. He concludes that a focus on the religious has never been lost in Western culture, but that it is one among many stories striving for acceptance. Taylor's examination of the rise of unbelief in the 19th century is alone worth the price of the book and offers an essential reminder that the Victorian age, more than the Enlightenment, dominates our present view of the meanings of secularity. Taylor's inspired combination of philosophy and history sparkles in this must-read virtuoso performance.
Kenneth Richard Samples (Baker Books: Sep 1, 2007), 320 pages.
Recent Barna research indicates that less than one in ten evangelical Christians hold a biblical worldview. A World of Difference seeks to change this disturbing fact by educating readers on how the Christian perspective is uniquely reasonable, verifiable, and liveable. Author Kenneth Richard Samples faced a profound test of his own belief system during a personal life-and-death crisis. In A World of Difference, he uses nine distinct tests to compare the Christian worldview with current religious and philosophical competitors, including Islam, postmodernism, naturalism, and pantheistic monism. Samples tackles tough issues through this in-depth study of Christianity's history, creed, and philosophical basis. An excellent resource for readers who want their view of life and the world to make sense. ~ Product Description
J.P. Moreland (Zondervan: May 5, 2007), 240 pages.
Here is penetrating analysis and critique of Western society’s dominant worldviews, naturalism and postmodernism, which have also influenced the church. Moreland issues a bold call to reclaim powerful kingdom living and influence through recovery of the Christian mind, renovation of Christian spirituality, and restoration of the Holy Spirit’s power. "Preachers need to understand the culture, but even more they need to have tools for leading their people out of the cultural confusion that characterizes our age. J. P. Moreland has provided a powerful guide for pastors….This is an important book for church leaders." ~ Preaching magazine