C.S. Lewis on Putting Yourself First

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Throughout the week, I try to think of what I have read that has surprised, inspired, convicted and/or stuck with me for some reason, and then share that passage. Hopefully it will bring some meaning to you. This quote in particular related to my post here.

Friday Quote from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the center—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race…What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on.  There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended—civilizations are built up—excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always bring the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start-up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.”

Marine Mammals as Metaphors for Spiritual Living

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I have been wondering lately about the interface between the material and spiritual worlds and how they connect. It may sound strange, but I just wonder what it looks like and how functions, and I think God may give us clues or metaphors as to what it is like. All metaphors do break down and fail if taken too far, though, so these are just some thoughts.

On Sunday I was imagining that the entire ocean represented the material universe, and the sky represents the spiritual realm. I had a picture in my mind of dolphins…how they are built for the water, yet are completely dependent on the air above their world. I think it is a wonderful picture of humanity’s dependence on God.

Just as it is essential for the dolphin to come to the surface for air, it struck me how essential it is for us to come to the surface for God’ Spirit. The air, when you think about it, is essentially separate to water. Bubbles of air don’t press into and  descend down into the depths. Small amounts of the gases may dissolve at the surface and diffuse slowly downward, but actual bubbles do not . Yet a mammal can inhale and carry a relatively large quantity of that air around with them wherever and as deep as they want to go. That is the only way (outside of man’s intervention) that a large quantity of air can move around below the surface of the ocean—inside of a mammal.

In the same way, we too can take from God what he gives us through His Bible and prayer, and bring it into a physical world that really has only a shadow of spirituality. And, in the same way, the air is slowly used up and we must return to the surface for spirituality. The air is not something we can produce in our bodies, but are completely dependent to return to God. Given this metaphor, it is not hard for me to image Jesus being fully man and fully God. Just as air, foreign to ourselves, fills our lungs and keeps us alive, so could the Holy Spirit completely and fully fill the material body of Jesus.

If indeed this ocean picture holds, I wondered what God sees as he looks out over the surface vast ocean of the world. Humanity coming here and there to the surface for life…or staying below in the depths, spiritual lungs burning in want. I wondered if, when God sees us in worship, he sees us like dolphins, breaking through the surface, flipping and twisting in playfulness in the air…only to fall back down into the physical world, unable to maintain, at least for the moment, a permanent place in the spiritual world.

Pantheism is Beyond Good and Evil

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So, I have been on this journey of scholarship for about fifteen months now. A series of events woke me from a slumber of low personal expectations, and decided to embrace the concept of life long learning. But I am always seeing gaps and assumptions in my knowledge, or fuzzy definitions of words that I hold. Today I was struck by C.S. Lewis’s definition of pantheism in Mere Christianity (Ch1, Bk 2) and it has served to make the concept clearer.

 “People who all believe in God can be divided according to the sort of God they believe in. There are two very different ideas on this subject. One of them is the idea that He is beyond good and evil. We humans call one thing good and another thing bad. But according to some people that is merely our human point of view. These people would say that the wiser you become the less you would want to call anything  good or bad, and the more clearly you would see that everything is good in one way and bad in another, and that nothing could have been different. Consequently, these people think that long before you got anywhere near the divine point of view the distinction would have disappeared altogether. We call a cancer bad, they would say, because it kills a man; but you might  just as well call a successful surgeon bad because he kills a cancer. It all depends on the point of view… The first of these views—the one that thinks God beyond good and evil—is called Pantheism.”

I had always held that pantheism was just a sort of universalism, that we all just sort of die and go into a blender of spirit and consciousness. I hadn’t really considered it with respect to its beliefs on good and evil. Lewis’s words really impacted me because I had just written here about the pantheistic ending of the movie Brave. I was thinking more of the final spiritual blending when I labeled it pantheistic, and then raised questions about it’s implications on any final judgment for humanity. This ending is absolutely pantheistic, according to Lewis. This movie is teaching us that, at a higher spiritual level, Mor’du was neither good nor evil.

If you have read Book 1 of Mere Christianity, you will have read Lewis’s case for the Moral Law that is installed in all of us.

“Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first.”


“You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built. Now, from this second bit of evidence we can conclude that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness.”

He shows that we all have a certain sense of right and wrong that we can see working in our consciousness, a Moral Law, and that behind that Law is a Somebody. At this stage of the book, he has not addressed religion yet, just that throughout history there has been moral teachings seen in the writings of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans.

The movie Brave is set in the highlands of ancient Scotland. Perhaps if it was William Wallace looking at the spirit of King Edward I of England’s ghost, rising from his corpse, would he have accepted that nod as Merida did from Mor’du? I wonder if these Highlanders, being so systematically oppressed over the years by the English, would ever really hold to this pantheistic worldview. If so, would Wallace have ever fought for Freedom?

Thoughts on “Red Badge of Courage”

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I am taking some time to read some of the books for my 15-year-old daughter’s literature class, and just finished reading “Red Badge of Courage.” I have discussed some part with her already, but I wanted to write a short review about the book, just to pull from my brain the impression it made upon me—nothing fancy or not super in-depth. This is also in keeping with my goal for the blog.

My wife and daughter said she cried at parts, and so, having cried at Where the Red Fern Grows, I prepped myself. But I just did not get the emotional connection she did—I take that back. She connected to the slaughter, but I didn’t. It was too vague for me. I connected very intimately with the youth, but not the countless soldiers dying around him. I thought the writing was stiff and staccato, and was distracting. It was a curious mixture of Civil War slang and sophisticated language, and I thought some of the imagery was odd or forced.

One month out of high school I was in U.S. Army basic training, learning a whole new definition of fear, pain and torture. I remember going through those same thoughts about courage and cowardice. I tried to put myself into scenarios and ask honestly—would I function? Would I run? Would I fight? Would I actually kill someone? I remember sitting and realizing the foolishness of my childish fantasies of war. This was real—a real gun with real bullets and real bullets would be fired at me. Was I really a coward or not?

I have also trained in martial arts and have felt, at times during intense sparring, that almost hysterical, ragged animal rage and exhausted focus on survival. I am not saying it is anything like time in combat, just that I have felt it. I thought the book portrayed these characteristics well. I was especially moved when he fled in battle and his mind writhed with shame and self-justifications. Also, in his first conflict after returning to his regiment, he went into a blind fury, continuing to fire when the enemy had gone. He notes that other stare at him and concludes they are admiring him, when we suspect they don’t.

Overall, this book paints a portrait of a boy transitioning to veteran, embodying the flag and leading others in the charge. I believe instinctively that every soldier must go through this process of innocence, intensity, shame, insanity, and resolution. I thought there was more violence going on in his heart and mind than there was on the field of battle.

The Imperial and Extinguished Free Will

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The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. –C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

I have posted here and here on free will, and these thoughts have brought to culmination some thoughts on the movie Brave that have been simmering in the back of my mind ever since I saw the movie. This movie has so much to do with free will, but in two different aspects. [Spoilers ahead]

The Imperial Free Will

In the movie, the fiery red-headed Merida is forced into an arranged marriage which she doesn’t want. In fact, she shows up at the archery contest to win her own hand, and aptly out-performs her competition. Her mother, though, who has always tried to mold and shape her into a proper princess, insists she marry for the good of the kingdom. Merida desperately tries to take control of her destiny, and this is where we see what I am calling the Imperial Will. She escapes the castle to change her Fate and…

  1. She follows a will o’ the wisp trail for what seems miles. Ok, now when I was a kid, rolling dice and playing Dungeons & Dragons ( Nerd Alert!), I would NEVER have followed a will o’ wisp. You are just asking for a Hobgoblin ambush or something, just sayin’. Legend has it, these lights lured travelers from safe paths. We, the audience, also know there is a huge terrible bear on the loose somewhere. When I saw her do this, I was alarmed!
  2. She finds a witch who will give her a spell to change her fate. Ok, a witch. She knows nothing about this woman and doesn’t think to ask.
  3. The witch makes her a cake that she must feed to her mother Elinor. Merida knows nothing about its effects. No, “Um, what is in this? or “What will this do to my mother?”
  4. She brings the cake back and actually gives it to her mother to eat. Oh yeah, did I mention, Merida knows nothing about its effects.

There is an ignorance streaming right through the life of Merida that is simply terrifying and a parent’s worst nightmare. It is as C.S. Lewis stated above—she set her free will up as what she had to have at all costs, and it made her so incredibly foolish. She did not consider the consequences for her actions, and the movie explores her attempt to make them right. I hope and pray that those young people who are coming into their self-awareness will see and learn from this lesson.

The movie shows the typical fight between parent and child, where the parent tries to fit the kid into their mold. I am not advocating that, but jeez, these kids accepted so little responsibility! The good part of the royal marriage is just that—they are married! And they love each other! The dysfunction, however, lies with squarely on the huge shoulders of King Fergus. Although very funny, he is a completely useless adolescent man (all the men were depicted this way, really) that left the real leadership to his wife. [Pet Peeve: It is annoying and offensive to think of men during that time period as so goofy (I’m thinking of William Wallace, Rob Roy, etc), but this is a kids movie and so I let it go.] This dysfunction, however, strains the parenting and leaves all the hard work to the mother. Sadly, this does reflect our society. Men, we need to step up and lead our families!

The Extinguished Free Will

The other instance of free will I saw in this movie was the use of bears. Once transformed into a bear, Merida’s mother started to become the bear and take on the animal nature. There was a moment when Elinor turned and attacked Merida. We see her come to her senses, her alarm and shame, and we sense the peril her mother is in.

This transition is key in understanding the pantheistic worldview underlying this movie. The villain of the movie, the huge vicious bear that took the leg of Fergus, is none other than the Mor’du.

Mor’du was not always a bear; he was a human prince, who wanted to take over the kingdom he shared with his three brothers, and went to the witch to gain “the strength of ten men”, paying with the ring of his house, which bears two crossed axes. The spell he received eventually transformed him into a bear, soon leading to the fall of the kingdom, as on the dawn of the second day, the spell became permanent and the bear side of him overtook his humanity, making him a monstrous beast.

In the end Mor’du is crushed and killed, and we see his human spirit rise up out of the carcass. He looks intently at Merida, nods, and then dissipates to become a will o’ wisp. At this point, I was tempted to think that this was a positive thing. Poor guy, made a huge life changing mistake, and he got released. Happy ending for him. I do wonder about the countless unhappy endings of those that lived and died when destroyed the kingdom. And I do wonder if this movie is telling me Mor’du is not responsible, after all, the animal “overtook his humanity.” An animal, of course, has no free will…therefore, Mor’du is not accountable for the crimes he has committed.

I thought I would be clever and call it Extinguished Free Will, and it raises a lot of questions. If Neo-Darwinian evolution is true, aren’t we all just higher animals? If that is the case, what are we really to be held accountable for? Aren’t we lucky if we manage to do a little bit of good? Does Hitler or Stalin just rise up out of their graves, give a nice little nod and go on into the universe? Is there no ultimate justice? Perhaps it is comforting to think that after all the bad we do, we still get to go surf the universe?

One reason why many people find [Life-Force] so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is sort of a tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen? -C.S. Lewis in Mere Chrisitanity

A Sad End to a Cycling Legend

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Lance Armstrong gives up fight against USADA, raising questions about his innocence – Friday Quote by Les Carpenter

In the end, Lance Armstrong quit. And no matter how fiercely he writes his statements or fires rockets on Twitter or demands we continue to buy into the fantasy that in a world of doping cyclists he alone was clean and rode faster and stronger, he still quit on Thursday night.

By quitting, he let the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency say he was guilty, say his seven Tour de France championships were as fake as everything else in a dirty sport. Because if he was innocent, if there was some means to battle the organization with no legal power the way he had the U.S. Department of Justice, he would not be letting USADA try to yank the yellow jerseys from his closet.

No way if there’s even a hint of hope does Lance Armstrong let this happen to his name. He was always too proud, too defiant, too stubborn to give up. He beat cancer. He beat the federal government. He beat everything that came his way. He didn’t relent.

If there was a fight to still fight, he would have fought it.

Now we’re burned by another fraud masquerading as a hero….

…It’s impossible not to look at the sea of yellow bands and the sick who have climbed from deathbeds, and say Lance Armstrong hasn’t made the world a better place for many.

But at the same time he sold a fairy tale. And he demanded we believe it. He fed it to us repeatedly while throwing everything he could find in the way of a darker truth that kept closing in. He could have continued to fight past Thursday. He could have gone through a hearing, and his accusers would have lined up before him. It’s hard to believe the man who played everything to the end wouldn’t take this chance, too. If he knocked away the federal government, why couldn’t he have found a way to win again?

….the irony is that Armstrong could have remained a hero. He could have been a saint, as well as a beacon of light to millions who never would have thought he had cheated throughout his career. All he had to do was stay retired.

But hubris got the best of him. It’s the fatal flaw of driven men everywhere. He had to come back. He had to try France another time. And in doing so he reset the clock on the statute of limitations. He gave the federal government an opportunity to look through his life. If the government hadn’t looked at Armstrong over the last two years it’s hard to imagine USADA gathering the evidence to do what it is doing now.

He would have remained untainted. He would have remained a seven-time winner of the Tour de France.

Instead, he sent out a flimsy statement explaining why the man who never quit was suddenly quitting. “I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair,” he wrote.

Somehow, that always seemed where Armstrong was best: when all looked bleak and nobody believed in him. By quitting, he sent a new message. One we’ve heard too many times in sports.

Sometimes a story is too good to be true.

“Defenders of Intelligent Design Deserve Our Gratitude”

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I saw this post this morning and thought I would immediately repost.

These are the words of noted atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel and was taken from his new book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. Yep, you read that right: Atheist. And yep, why the materialistic Neo-Darwinian worldview is Almost Certainly False. Typically, proponents of intelligent design are labeled as IDiots and mischaracterized into religious zealots. It is extremely refreshing to read this article and it’s quoted material:

In thinking about these questions I have been stimulated by criticisms of the prevailing scientific world picture… by the defenders of intelligent design. Even though writers like Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer are motivated at least in part by their religious beliefs, the empirical arguments they offer against the likelihood that the origin of life and its evolutionary history can be fully explained by physics and chemistry are of great interest in themselves. Another skeptic, David Berlinski, has brought out these problems vividly without reference to the design inference. Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.

Of the Darwinian worldview, Nagel has this to say:

I believe the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion. That world view is ripe for displacement…. (emphasis mine)

The people at the Discovery Institute and Evolution Views & News must be feeling a certain amount of elation at Nagel’s words. Not that it necessarily matters. The questions they raise about the Neo-Darwinian evolution are valid, thought-provoking, yet mocked.

On Nagel:

Nagel is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and recipient of the prestigious Balzan Prize for his work in moral philosophy. He has received fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other institutions. He is one of America’s top philosophers. Obviously, he also is a man of great courage and independence of thought. (emphasis mine)

Random Thoughts on Free Will and Choices

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I was talking with some friends this weekend about choices. I posted about this subject here about intelligence and choices, and these are some trails my thoughts have taken…

One conversation was with a family with kids and we were talking about teaching babies, and really children in general. The mother was saying she squeezes her baby boy’s hand when he goes to touch something she doesn’t want him to touch. When the baby later goes to touch the same object, he first looks to his mother. He does this, in fact, for other objects he goes to touch. He turns and looks. I am sure if you have kids, you have seen this. ‘Is mommy looking, is she going to do anything if I do this…’ They wait and they watch. It just struck me at how early babies can conceive of what is approved of and what isn’t, and how early they can start to make actual moral choices. I had a mental image suddenly of the child growing up, a speedy time-lapse fast forward movie where year after year a child makes thousands of choices both for and against the will of parents and society, and that under the child-now-adult, all these choices accumulate like pennies filling a jar. They cease to be choices, closing and becoming sort of automatic non-choices. They become biases, or conclusions. Ruts.

In another conversation, I was talking with a friend about nutrition and he was really passionate about the foods we put in our bodies and about all the chemicals and preservatives. For him, he had good reasons. He has struggled with pain in his GI tract and leaky gut syndrome, and he has had to modify his diet in order to just be and feel healthy. He said he grew up on a farm and always ate well there. It wasn’t until he got out on his own that he started to open up to eating other processed “tasty” foods. In the Navy, he was going on sick call every three months or so with severe abdominal pains. He noticed the pattern and asked the doctor about it. During the conversation, the doctor either mentioned or asked him about what he was eating. My friend said it was like getting slapped in the face. It was so clear to him that what he was eating was causing his symptoms. He also said he noticed the same sort of effects on his body after long runs on the submarine, when the fresh foods were gone and the least nutrition foods were served.

 Again, I was struck by the free will we can either make or ignore. I have had an upper level collegiate nutrition class and I know preservatives are extremely bad for you. It is simple—the preservatives keep bacteria from growing in the food, and after you ingest it, it keeps bacteria (the good kind we all have) from growing in our gut. I don’t think about that when I put my dollar in a machine for some tasty poptarts. Or should I qualify that: do I listen to my gut or my energy level (or lack of)? Do consider all aspects of the food and it’s quality? I have been at times extremely fit, but life has gotten so busy that healthy choices just don’t appear on my radar as much. Or, put another way, it may appear I am making a choice (hmm hungry, walk to machine, count money, ching ching ching, munch munch munch), but is there any free will in that choice? Is it any different from the choices animals make (turn this way or that, sniff sniff sniff, go that way, run, catch prey, munch munch munch). Would these be non-free will choices? Or simply our ruts?

On the way out of my neighborhood on mornings, I wave at neighbors. Most are friendly, but some aren’t. I wave anyway and most of the time, I get stared back at. I do wonder why the coolness. I wonder if is a conscious choice, or is simply this accumulated automation. Does he (or she) actually choose to not be friendly? It occurred to me that as a Christian, loving no matter the response, maybe especially because of a negative response, may serve to re-engage a free will choice in the other person. If someone is just a sour-puss and yet I am friendly, at some point he has to become self-conscious and realize, “Wow, I’m a sour-puss.” At that point, he can then decide again to continue or start to look at himself, evaluate his behavior, think about life, right and wrong, etc. If there is no hope, why change? Perhaps that is why God demands persistence on our part as Christians to continue to love no matter the circumstances or persecution. Perhaps it is this that roots out and pulls to the surface again a buried aggregate of bad choices, long-buried, that can changed to a different direction. To love our enemies forces our opponent’s free will back to the surface of consciousness. 

I was trying to think of a conclusion to try to tie these loose ends together. Ironically, I got home last night and the family was watching The Biggest Loser on Netflix. One of the contestants was saying how he felt like he had been asleep for the last fifteen years. Another woman said it was a final miscarriage that forced her to acknowledge what the doctors had told her, that her weight was the major factor. Hearing these stories and more, it all came together for me. We all get up in the morning and make all sorts of choices all day long. Some are minor, some major, but all are accumulative. How many are based on free will? What effects do they have on our health, both physical and spiritual? And if we do not examine ourselves, what does that say about our humanity? In the end, we may just be left to wonder about our lives, asking, “how did I get Here??”

“A Mere Prophecy” from Red Badge of Courage

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When the youth awoke it seemed to him that he had been asleep for a thousand years, and he felt sure that he opened his eyes upon an unexpected world. Gray mists were slowly shifting before the first efforts of the sun rays. An impending splendor could be seen in the eastern sky. An icy dew had chilled his face, and immediately upon arousing he curled farther down into his blanket. He stared for a while at the leaves overhead, moving in a heraldic wind of the day.

The distance was splintering and blaring with the noise of fighting. There was in the sound an expression of the deadly persistency, as if it had not begun and was not to cease.

About him were the rows and groups of men that he had dimly seen the previous night. They were getting a last draught of sleep before the awakening. The gaunt, careworn features and dusty figures were made plain by this quaint light at the dawning, but it dressed the skin of the men in corpselike hues and made the tangled limbs appear pulseless and dead. The youth started up with a little cry when his eyes first swept over this motionless mass of men, thick-spread upon the ground, pallid, and in strange postures. His disordered mind interpreted the hall of the forest as a charnel place. He believed for an instant that he was in the house of the dead, and he did not dare move lest these corpses start up, squalling and squawking. In a second, however, he achieved his proper mind. He swore a complicated oath at himself. He saw that this somber picture was not a fact of the present, but a mere prophecy. (emphasis mine)

From Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane, Chapter 14

Thoughts on Intelligence and the Material World

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I was reading in Signs of Intelligence yesterday and was struck by the meaning of “intelligence”, as derived from its Latin roots. It comes from intellegere, to discern or comprehend, but literally from the preposition inter, meaning between, and the verb lego, meaning to choose or select. Thus, intelligence consists of choosing between, choosing from a range of competing possibilities.

Dembski, in his essay, was relating this to Intelligent Design, but I was brought back to what I have been reading in The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. In chapter two, Lewis is describing the rationale for a neutral material world for people to live in. He writes first about God’s omnipotence, describing it as the power to do the intrinsically possible, not the intrinsically impossible (such as the argument that asks God to make a rock so big He can’t lift it; this is a non-entity and nonsense). Lewis then builds on this with the need for a material world (Nature):

“I am going to submit that not even Omnipotence could create a society of free souls without at the same time creating a relatively independent and ‘inexorable’ Nature.

There is no reason to suppose that self-consciousness, the recognition of a creature by itself as a ‘self’, can exist except in contrast with an ‘other’, a something which is not the self. It is against an environment and preferably a social environment, an environment of other selves, that the awareness of Myself stands out.”

He is saying that without a society, we would not be able to self-actualize.  There must be a fixed space and time environment available in order for co-existence, and there must be a material world that is neutral. We must be able to act on it and manipulate it in order to exercise choice and free will. This means that if I cut down a tree and use it to build a house, another ‘self’ cannot keep that tree for shade. But if God were to pop in and prevent me from cutting down the tree, I then cease to have free will. If He popped in to stop every act of self-will against other people (i.e. violence, oppression), free will would cease to exist.

In order to have intelligence, for choosing between, we must be allowed to make the choice. This must also allow for evil. So it seems, we either have free will with good and evil, or give up our freedom and cease to be self-conscious. There is no in between.

Later in chapter three, some ideas Lewis talks about, with regard to the material world, struck me. We were made not primarily to love God, but that He may love us, “that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’. An argument can be made that God is selfish or possessive, caring only for His satisfaction in molding us and caring little for our contentment.

Lewis first asks which of us would value the love of a friend that cared for our happiness but did not object to our becoming dishonest. To the question ‘Is God an egoist or altruistic?’, he brings a point I have never really considered. Lewis specifically isolates our language and definitions to our own material world.

“The truth is that this antithesis between egoistic and altruistic love cannot be unambiguously applied to the love of God for His creatures. Clashes of interest, and therefore opportunities either of selfishness or unselfishness, occur only between beings inhabiting a common world; God can no more be in competition with a creature than Shakespeare can be n competition with Viola. [a character from Twelfth Night; I had to look it up as I don’t know much Shakespeare…don’t judge me.]”

So words like selfish and possessive and even jealous are words linked to situations we observe in our material world, our world of choice and free will. Yet we really are in the interesting position of a fictional character observing owns writer. That is a very interesting concept to consider and ponder.

Lewis then brings the illustration of the material world to full dimension for me by using the Incarnation.

A modern pantheistic philosopher has said, ‘When the Absolute falls into the sea it becomes a fish’; in the same way, we Christians can point to the Incarnation and say that when God empties Himself of His glory and submits to those conditions under which alone egoism and altruism have a clear meaning, He is seen to be wholly altruistic.”

This is so amazing to me and makes the Incarnation clearer in my mind. In the place where we have exact meaning of words, we see Jesus selflessly acting out the Father’s will. The son of Man came to serve, to wash our feet, to teach and challenge us. All this must influence our concept of God the Father, existing outside of the material world.

Friday Quote from The Problem of Pain

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Beyond all doubt, His idea of ‘goodness’ differs from ours; but you need have no fear that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your moral standards. When the relevant difference between the Divine ethics and your own appears to you, you will not, in fact be in any doubt that the change demanded of you is in the direction you already call ‘better’. The Divine ‘goodness’ differs from ours, but it is not sheerly different: it differs from ours not as white from black but as a perfect circle from a child’s first attempt to draw a wheel. But when the child has learned to draw, it will know that the circle it then makes is what it was trying to make from the very beginning…..

…..We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the ‘intolerable compliment’. Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would, doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.

From The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, Chapter 3

John Lennox debates Peter Atkins

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This evening my wife and I enjoyed watching this debate with another couple over pizza. It generated a lively and animated discussion. Our teenage daughters watched with us for a while and we were able to discuss some of the points being debated. I highly recommend this video, not only just to watch, but to watch in a group setting and discussion tool. Yes, it is a bit long, but it is well worth it.

As a Christian, I found Lennox’s arguments convincing and I am very much in favor of an evidence-based faith. As Lennox states, a belief in God, a Creator, does indeed make scientific discovery more wonderful, and the rise of science in the Middle Ages was rooted in the Christian faith. Far from being a show stopper, as is stated by Atkins, it was this belief in a rational and ordered universe that inspired scientific investigation. Atkins consistently (i.e. over and over and over…) labels belief in design as laziness. As one commenter to the Youtube link asked, “how many times can one man say ‘Intellectual laziness’?” We were asking the same. Yet it was Atkins who demonstrated laziness in dismissing the conversions of prominent atheists like Anthony Flew, Francis Collins, C.S. Lewis and Alister McGrath as premature senility. This “laziness” is simply a straw man argument, packed from a stereotyped blind-faith anti-intellectualism and used to “prove” that belief in design is this show stopper. Those that fit this description, who fall back on various versions of God of the gaps explanations in place of genuine inquiry, are misled and hopefully few.

Regardless, they do not represent those that do look at the ever accumulating scientific data on our world and universe and decides the evidence points to a Designer. This is the importance of evidence-based faith. Given several examples of designed items (his own book, a 747, Paley’s watch), Atkins is unable to make the connection between these designed items and a designed universe. He is more comfortable attributing creative powers to matter and chance.

Overall, we found Atkins arrogant, a bit fidgety, but with a delightful accent. Ironically, as a scientist, he described himself as deeply humble. We were left to conclude it was so deep as to be unseen. John Lennox was lively and defined his arguments well. As to science, he considers it “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”.

We couldn’t agree more.

Friday Quote from The Horse and His Boy

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 “Aren’t you well, Bree dear?” said Aravis.

Bree turned round at last, his face mournful as only a horse’s can be.

“I shall go back to Calormen,” he said.

“What?” said Aravis. “Back to slavery!”

“Yes,” said Bree. “Slavery is all I’m fit for. How can I ever show my face among the free Horses of Narnia?—I who left a mare [Hwin] and a girl [Aravis] and a boy [Shasta] to be eaten by lions while I galloped all I could to save my own wretched skin!”

“We all ran as hard as we could,” said Hwin.

“Shasta didn’t!” snorted Bree. “At least he ran in the right direction: ran back. And that is what shames me most of all. I, who called myself a war-horse and boasted of a hundred fights, to be beaten by a little human boy—a child, a mere foal, who had never held a sword nor had any good nurture or example in his life!”

“I know,” said Aravis, “I felt just the same. Shasta was marvelous. I’m just as bad as you, Bree. I’ve been snubbing him and looking down on him ever since you met us and now he turns out to be the best of us all. But I think it would be better to stay and say we’re sorry than to go back to Calormen.”

“It’s all very well for you,” said Bree. “You haven’t disgraced yourself. But I’ve lost everything.”

“My good Horse,” said the Hermit, who had approached them unnoticed because his bare feet made so little noise on that sweet, dewy grass. “My good Horse, you’ve lost nothing but your self-conceit. No, no, cousin. Don’t put back your ears and shake your mane at me. If you are really so humbled as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You’re not quite the great Horse you had come to think, from living among poor dumb horses. Of course you were braver and cleverer than them. You could hardly help being that. It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia. But as long as you know you’re nobody special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another. And now, if you and my other four-footed cousin will come round to the kitchen door we’ll see about the other half of that mash.”

From The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, chapter 10

Clearly, Without Distortions

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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. –Romans 1:20 (emphasis mine)

The true scientific model of the origin of species, by design not by chance, can be demonstrated by com­mon sense and the simplest of sci­entific experiments with any species, particularly of butterflies; whereas it is scientifically impossible to sustain the evolutionary model without having to distort objective truth itself. –Bernard d’Abrera, The Concise Atlas of Butterflies of the World (emphasis mine)

I wanted to follow-up on my last two posts in which I was critical toward Answers in Genesis and the RATE Project by ICR. Some may think I may think I was just bashing them. I do not mean to, but there is a reason why I have a deep conviction about this: scientific data should be able to stand as neutral. God makes it clear in nature that he can be understood. We should never have to bend or distort data to fit a philosophy, whether religious or atheist.

In his writings on modern thought and culture, Francis Schaeffer has emphasized going back to the basic and primary question of “Is there a God?” Science and the evidence we uncover are the best way to decide that. All people, whether believers, agnostics, atheists, or whatever, should be able to use the tools of analysis and it will point to God’s handiwork. What truth do we observe?

  • A universe that came out of nothing and had a beginning.
  • The universe’s physical laws are fine-tuned to support life. For instance, if the force of gravity were any stronger or weaker by 1 part in 10100 (a 1 with 100 zeroes behind it) the universe could not support life. For perspective, there are 1080 atoms in the entire universe.
  • The Earth is uniquely situated in our galaxy such that it provides the overall best conditions for scientific discovery of the universe. (refer to The Privileged Planet dvd)

These points are all based on scientifically verified data, and they all seem to point to a Designer behind the universe. Also, this data was not generated by the religious, either. In fact, the Big Bang was a hard pill to swallow for naturalists, who believed that the universe had always existed. The data for the Big Bang forced scientists to accept the view that the universe, at one time, did not exist. And then it existed. The philosophical ramifications were obvious-it pointed to an external cause, namely a creator. Yet scientists, regardless of personal beliefs, accepted the data.

What about the theory of evolution? Does nature proclaim it as truth? Not at all.

  • Fossil evidence: researchers have been looking for over 100 years for missing links between the major species without result.
  • The fossil record of the Cambrian “explosion” demonstrates the exact opposite of what Darwin predicted. Here you have almost all of the basic body plans (phyla), rather than only a few basic types of animals that gradually divide into the phyla.
  • DNA: this discovery has only exacerbated evolutionary theory. As Bill Gates has noted, “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.” There is no scientific theory or explanation for the origin of the informational code in DNA.
  • Cells are nano-machines: they read DNA and make small molecular machines that perform specific tasks that are essential for life. There is also no scientific theory or explanation for the origin of cellular functioning.
  • Irreducible complexity: many aspects of cellular functioning require many parts, working together. Removal of any of the parts yields a non-functioning system. To pass on this function to off-spring, all parts must be present, which challenges evolutionary model.
  • Butterflies: the caterpillar spends its life gorging itself. In the chrysalis, the caterpillar literally dies and its body is used as food by a latent set of genes that use the caterpillar’s body to build the butterfly. The big question- how did these butterfly genes evolve?

All these facts are direct challenges to evolution and, as d’Abrera stated above, evolutionary biologists do not accept the data and have to distort truth to fit their philosophy. If it is fair to ask evolutionists to evaluate the data neutrally, outside of their preconceived notions, it is fair to ask Christians to do the same. In my view, since God made it, it is a win-win situation.

Evidences for an Old Earth

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This post started as a simple list of observations that show that the earth is older than the 6000 years that young creationists hold to. I left radiometric dating for the end because I have seen some writings saying this data is wildly inaccurate. I have linked a site with an extensive page on radiometric dating, with a quote addressing the supposed inaccuracy. Read for your self. I also found a study by the Institute of Creation Research that, just like this post concerning Answers in Genesis, disturbed me.

Evidence for >6000 years old

This evidence is either common sense, or you have to conjure the idea that God created the world to look old. 

Tree Rings: 12,000 year old trees have been found, the age determined from yearly growth rings

Varves: Lakes can form these deposits. They are composed of thin layers of clay and silt from a single summer and winter. They are of contrasting color and texture, and represent one year of deposits. Lakes actively forming varves can be found with 100,000 layers, and some ancient lakes have millions of layers preserved.

Ice Cores: Ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica preserve the longest record of snow deposits. Greenland shows about 50,000 layers, while Antarctica shows about 740,000 layers.

Speleothems: cave growths (stalagmites & stalactites) form similar layers as that of tree rings. Some cave formations have over 200,000 layers.

Carbon-14 Dating: This method of dating organic material has been combined with tree ring and varves, confirming each dating method.

Supernova 1987a: Prior to 1987, this was a star approximately 168,000 light years away. On Feb 23, 1987, the star exploded and became a supernova. That is, 168,000 years ago it exploded and it took that long for the light to reach the Earth.

Radiometric Dating: Isotopes are radioactive elements that decay into a non-radioactive form of the element. This can happen quickly or slowly, depending on the element.  Here is a good explanation of the science. It is long and technical and I found it convincing. Scientists have dated rocks at ~3.6 billion years using multiple methods.

As to inaccuracy:

Some young-Earth proponents recently reported that rocks were dated by the potassium-argon method to be a several million years old when they are really only a few years old. But the potassium-argon method, with its long half-life, was never intended to date rocks only 25 years old. These people have only succeeded in correctly showing that one can fool a single radiometric dating method when one uses it improperly. The false radiometric ages of several million years are due to parentless argon, as described here, and first reported in the literature some fifty years ago. Note that it would be extremely unlikely for another dating method to agree on these bogus ages. Getting agreement between more than one dating method is a recommended practice.

Extinct Radionuclides: Scientists have determined what isotopes would have formed in stars and supernovas. They have looked for these isotopes in nature and found the shorter lived isotopes missing, indicating the Earth is old enough for them to have decayed away.

Extinct Radionuclides Data Accepted by Young Earth Creationists

In doing some research on radionuclides, I found an article by Randy Isaac for the American Scientific Affiliation assessing studies made by the Institute of Creation Research (ICR). I found it very interesting because, rather than disputing the data on extinct radionuclides, the researchers affirmed it. The purpose of their project was to explain the evidence from a young earth perspective. 

The program was called the RATE (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth) Project, and it’s findings were published in 2005. Isaac summarizes the key points of the book as follows:

1. There is overwhelming evidence of more than 500 million years worth of radioactive decay.

2. Biblical interpretation and some scientific studies indicate a young earth.

3. Therefore, radioactive decay must have been accelerated by approximately a factor of one billion during the first three days of creation and during the Flood.

4. The concept of accelerated decay leads to two unresolved scientific problems, the heat problem and the radiation problem, though there is confidence that these will be solved in the future.

5. Therefore, the RATE project provides encouragement regarding the reliability of the Bible.

This study is billed as “groundbreaking results,” and it is considering that the ICR researchers concede that there is evidence for “more than 500 million years’ worth (at today’s rate) of nuclear and radioisotope decay.” Isaac notes that it is a “departure from previous creationist claims that radioactive decay is much less than reported.” In other words, the ICR researchers acknowledge to the amount of decay attested by mainstream science and validates the radiometric observations.

The ICR researchers reason that during the Flood, the rate of decay accelerated to accommodate a 6000 year old earth. The problem with this acceleration, the study admits, is the amount of heat generated—enough to evaporate the earth. It requires “a most unusual heat removal mechanism that is outside the known laws of thermodynamics.” I would qualify that as an understatement. A second problem is the radiation generated by this increase—one million times greater than today. How anyone (i.e. Noah et al.) survived this proposed year-long radioactive exposure is not known.

The young-earth advocate is therefore left with two positions. Either God created the earth with the appearance of age (thought by many to be inconsistent with the character of God) or else there are radical scientific laws yet to be discovered that would revolutionize science in the future. The authors acknowledge that no current scientific understanding is consistent with a young earth. Yet they are so confident that these problems will be resolved that they encourage a message that the reliability of the Bible has been confirmed.

I find it disturbing that these researchers, clinging so tightly to literal 24-hour days in Genesis, they propose radical and fundamental changes to physical laws that only last for about a year. With the other evidence for an older earth noted above, it seems absurd to cling to this fantastic theory rather than consider an erroneous interpretation of Genesis 1. This happened to Calvin and Luther, who clung to a geocentric solar system as supported by scripture. We now know they were wrong, so one is above error.

But to gloss over the major roadblocks to this theory and hail it in support of the Biblical authority is blind, deceptive and/or both. Isaac’s concludes his assessment this way:

The ASA does not take a position on issues when there is honest disagreement among Christians provided there is adherence to our statement of faith and to integrity in science. Accordingly, the ASA neither endorses nor opposes young-earth creationism which recognizes the possibility of a recent creation with appearance of age or which acknowledges the unresolved discrepancy between scientific data and a young-earth position. However, claims that scientific data affirm a young earth do not meet the criterion of integrity in science. Any portrayal of the RATE project as confirming scientific support for a young earth, contradicts the RATE project’s own admission of unresolved problems. The ASA can and does oppose such deception.