The X-Factor: Reformulating the Etiological Argument

I generally would agree with Immanuel Kant's assertion that the existence of God can neither be proved nor disproved. And I doubt the following will convince anyone. However, I still find it important to articulate the logical framework for my belief in God; at the very least, I would hope to demonstrate that God is plausible.

I would consider this argument an expansion of the spatiotemporal etiological (or cosmological) argument. (Big words are fun.) Just as time has a direction, so does truth; truths flow from other truths as events flow from causes.

So it's a sort of synthesis of the cosmological argument and the teleological argument, and can be condensed to one statement:

Unless mathematics and logic alone can prove that the universe must be exactly the way it is, some other determining factor must exist.

From here, the transition from "determining factor" to "God" is mostly one of semantics.

(This is not meant as a formal proof, although it is structured as such. Also, Leibniz basically already thought of this.)

The Physicalist Assumptions

1. An objective physical reality exists.

This is something that would be a bigger problem for postmodernists than physicalists...but it bears brief discussion. Could it all be in our heads? The short answer is yes but. If the universe does, in fact, exist only in our heads, then our heads, at least, are real and exist in a different reality. Although I would contend that our perceptions are often extremely fallible, they are not completely imperfect. And if a simulated reality is all we know, it is reality for all intents and purposes (except in The Matrix).

2. The objective physical reality is governed by the "laws of thought." In other words, truth and reality are rational.

I would think of the "laws of thought" as "natural axioms," propositions that are only true because we cannot conceive or comprehend reality without them. It is not necessary here to enumerate them. Examples would be the law of identity (A is A) and the law of noncontradiction (A and not-A cannot both be true). Notice that it is impossible to prove these laws without invoking them, but it is also impossible to disprove them or even consider them without invoking them.

3. The objective physical reality is governed by the "mathematical axioms." In other words, truth and reality are mathematical.

There is much more debate about the underlying theory of mathematics, probably because much of mathematics is far less intuitive than foundational logic (although logic might not be intuitive either). Regardless of the controversy surrounding the philosophy of mathematics (That, ladies and gentleman, is sarcasm, by the way), I also do not know anyone who would contest this assumption. In other words, people might argue about why 2 + 2 = 4 is true, but they do not argue about whether or not it is, in fact, true.

4. The objective physical reality behaves in an orderly manner.

For obvious reasons, I doubt any physicalist would disagree, because this assumption is the foundation of science. It could be rephrased, "Given fixed physical conditions, a system can only behave in one way." (This is somewhat related to determinism.)

Think about how science works: you measure something under certain conditions, and then formulate a theory based on the assumption your experiment is repeatable. What do you call someone who does the same thing twice and expects different results each time? Insane.

1-4. An objective physical reality exists and behaves in a predictable and orderly manner. It is governed only by the laws of logic and mathematics.

I added the "only" to indicate the true claim physicalists make, that no knowledge, existence, or meaning exists outside logic, mathematics, and physics.

This could be restated this way: Except for the principles of mathematics and logic, everything exists within the closed system of physical reality.

My Counter-Assumption and Its Implications

5. The physical universe is governed by the principle of sufficient reason and is not solely contingent on the "laws of thought" and the "mathematical axioms."

Mathematical and logical truths resist any exterior explanation; that is why they are considered to be "self-evident." The same is not true for purely physical truths. Almost by definition, they require an explanation; otherwise, they are indistinguishable from magic.

It is impossible to imagine a world without the law of identity, but it isn't impossible to conceive of a world without special relativity. Thus, the structure of the universe (insofar as we understand it now) is completely arbitrary; it is independent of mathematical and logical truths. I know of no one (yet) who has ever attempted to derive the universe's structure from pure mathematics and logic; to me (and seemingly to everyone else), it seems impossible. Even assuming we were to identity the Theory of Everything, that theory itself would not depend solely upon pure mathematics and logic; otherwise, mathematics and logic themselves would be the Theory of Everything! And I know no one so audacious as to make that claim.

To illustrate what I mean, consider that we have both Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries. The universe is (supposedly) non-Euclidean; why isn't it Euclidean? Has it not arbitrarily chosen a non-Euclidean geometry for itself? Could a Euclidean universe not exist that would satisfy mathematics and logic? I'm not saying this is the best example, but it illustrates the variability in what the universe could be. After all, physicalists tacitly admit that the universe could exist in many different forms when they advocate the multiverse theory.

Therefore, by the physicalists' own admission, what the universe is must depend upon something else: the X-Factor. It cannot depend on mathematics and logic alone, because they allow for an infinite number of different universes. Therefore, there must be some other explanation for why the universe behaves the way it does. (Remember that a Theory of Everything would only explain how the universe fundamentally behaves, not why that is how it behaves.)

If physicalists argue this point, then we must wonder why a random universe (such as ours) would appear and then cease to behave in a random manner. To deny the existence of the X-Factor is to attribute the X-Factor's properties to the universe itself. This is not a scientific statement; this is arbitrarily excluding physical reality from the principle of sufficient reason.

Thus, the X-Factor exists. At the very least, it is impossible to reject the possibility of its existence without invoking the universe as the X-Factor.

Possible Objections

1. What if the universe isn't orderly, but random? Quantum physics could indicate the universe very well is random. Can't randomness be explained by the multiverse theory?

The implications of randomness should be striking to the physicalist. (Note that randomness should not be confused with unpredictability or imprecision of data.) Imagine, if you will, a Lamborghini's appearing in your driveway. Imagine concluding that it came there for no reason whatsoever; that doesn't make sense. Randomness is worse than magic; instead of appealing to an unknown power, randomness appeals to no power at all. Randomness is chaos, and it should be unacceptable to physicalists.

(David Hume, a non-religious rationalist, said, "Chance is only our ignorance of real causes." Charles Darwin, who needs no introduction, said, "I cannot look at the universe as a result of blind chance." And we all remember Einstein's famous - and paraphrased - statement that "God does not play dice.")

What about the multiverse theory, which posits an infinite number of universes encompassing all possible physical realities? First of all, the multiverse theory merely pushes back the question; instead of asking why the universe is the way it is, we merely have to ask why the multiverse is the way it is.

And because these universes would (hypothetically) be parallel, it would probably be impossible to prove their existence. In other words, the multiverse theory is much more a religious than a scientific claim.

2. What if "physical laws" can be derived from mathematical and logical truths?

If this were true, mathematics and logic would become the proverbial Theory of Everything. But even if this were true, some physical truths would remain arbitrary. The amount of matter and energy in the universe is the most obvious example. There must be some explanation for why we do not have a little more or little less matter and energy. Our physical reality must depend on something besides logic and mathematics.

And as I said before, no one has even attempted to identify the Theory of Everything with first-order logic and mathematics.

3. Isn't this just the kalam cosmological argument?

I am not (necessarily) invoking the cosmological argument here. Before the Big Bang theory was accepted by the scientific community, physicalists argued that the universe was infinitely old, and that there was an infinite regression of spatiotemporal causes (thus leaving one infinitely removed uncaused cause). Now, of course, many would prefer to invoke an infinite regression of causes preceding or simultaneous to the Big Bang - but this isn't about spatiotemporal causes themselves, but the causes of truth. (I do, however, have one friend who invokes creatio ex nihilo in the physicalist sense.)

4. Why are only mathematical and logical principles independent of the principle of sufficient reason? Why are physical principles not included?

Physics consists merely of observations of our universe, while mathematics and logic are independent of our universe's structure. Physics very much depends upon the nature of the universe, and so "physical laws" are only descriptions and interpretations of data. F = ma depends very much upon how the universe works, but A = A does not. To say "The universe is the way it is because of physics" and "Physics is the way it is because the universe is the way it is" does not make sense. (What a horrible sentence.) The two are codependent. So physics requires an explanation because reality requires an explanation.

5. Why can't the universe itself be the X-Factor?

This is, in my opinion, the most difficult objection to counter. But it is still very surmountable.

Physicalism, in my mind, implies a closed rational system in which how the universe works can be explained by physics, mathematics, and logic alone. But this closed rational system is inherently flawed, because it cannot explain the system itself.

So any claim suggesting the universe needs no explanation or self-created is itself a non-scientific or religious claim.

I have heard the argument made that, because of Occam's Razor, the X-Factor (God) would be an unnecessarily complex entity to invoke. It would be one too many assumptions. However, historically, the existence of an uncaused Truth has been much more intuitive than the existence of a finite, self-causing universe. It seems much more reasonable to invoke an uncaused ethereal, abstract entity than a universe of quarks and bosons that spontaneously came into being.

We would have to posit a universe which first existed beyond spacetime, in a random flux of nothingness, and then arbitrarily created itself. In doing so, it would become temporal and orderly. Does that really make sense?

In short, the two alternatives I see are God...and magic.

But I don't know...


Innocence: The Lost Virtue

Innocence is generally misunderstood in our society. We often refer to it in the legal sense of lack of guilt, but it is much, much more than that. It is life unmarred, unblemished, uncorrupted - pure - untainted by sin or the world. It is not ignorance or naïveté, but purity of mind, motive and heart.

Innocence is beautiful.

Yet today, beauty is not equated with innocence at all; instead, beauty has become sensualized and sexualized. Ask a man what he wants in a woman, and he'll probably name (or at least think) a body part. (Just think of some of the words we use to describe women: curvaceous, hot, sexy, steamy, etc.) Women have been reduced from human beings to objects for sexual and physical pleasure. (This is an issue I consider to be much more important to feminism than abortion rights or even, in all honesty, voting or employment rights. Of course, I'm not a woman...)

I am not writing this because I believe this objectification of woman is sinful or immoral (although I do). I am writing this because I find this new image of women tawdry and unappealing - not because it is wrong, but because it is ugly.

I will not pretend that this brazen sexuality is unattractive on a physical level; we are, after all, animals, and we respond to sensual cues - sight, smell, sound, and touch, and taste - as any other animal species would. I am not attempting to deny the importance or beauty that exists in physical appearances. But intellectually - spiritually - I am appalled and saddened by this desire to flaunt, this animal drive unmitigated by modesty or propriety.

(By the way, the blame lies much more on the men who encourage and worship the behavior than on the women.)

And I really don't understand it. I don't understand how people have begun to equate sex with love, because to me, there is something inherently beautiful about chastity, purity, and innocence. I really cannot imagine loving someone who did not possess those traits - not shyness, social awkwardness or introversion, but the desire not to have yourself running (naked) through someone else's head. I am talking about the desire to reserve yourself and your body for someone you love. In today's world this requires maturity, conviction and willpower. It is difficult, and I remember
my old school's motto: "The Beautiful is Difficult." Any other "beauty," to me, seems easy and cheap.

I admit that I (and men in general) can sometimes be more attracted to someone physically if she is wearing revealing clothing or dancing inappropriately. (For me, though, it's usually nothing more than an annoyance or a distraction - especially when someone who has no business revealing anything does.) But I am painfully aware of the primal nature of this attraction; it is nothing more than lust for a visual image, nothing more than anything your dog or cat ever felt.

And can that truly compare to love? For me, it never has, and I hope it never will. A woman can be physically attractive and pretty - but without innocence, she can never be beautiful. "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman who rejects discretion" (Proverbs 11:22, NET).

The problem is pervasive in literature and in the media. (Consider the fact that Romeo and Juliet hardly knew each other.) We romanticize love at first sight, failing to realize that love is based on so much more than sight. We joke about the fragility of Hollywood relationships, then fall hook, line and sinker for Hollywood love. (Despite the romance and the music, Jack didn't really love Rose.) Consider these lines from Goethe's Faust:

Once a fair vision came to me;
Therein I saw an apple-tree,
Two beauteous apples charmed mine eyes;
I climb'd forthwith to reach the prize.


Apples still fondly ye desire,
From paradise it bath been so.
Feelings of joy my breast inspire
That such too in my garden grow.
In the play, Faust falls passionately in love with a young woman named Gretchen (whom, surprisingly, he has never met). However, the exchange above occurs not with Gretchen, but with a young witch (whom, yet again, he has never met). The tragedy, of course, is that Faust corrupts the innocent Gretchen and ruins her life. (She does, however, have a happy ending.)

Our sexual drive is powerful, and with good reason; we ourselves are the results of numerous past sexual encounters. In fact,
we even tend to overemphasize our sensual urges; a lot of our problems can be attributed to a collective lust for sensual pleasure from food, drugs, television, and sex. But I believe our desire for true beauty and for innocence can be equally or more powerful.

Innocence is children and in nature is idealized; children wouldn't be cute if they weren't innocent. But the point applies to adults, too; I cannot escape the notion that, in submitting to our culture, we are neglecting our souls for our infinitely mortal bodies.

People at my school sometimes ridicule me for this position. Their response is often one of shock and incredulity, as if I were some sort of asexual freak or ascetic. But I think our society does understand the importance of the word "love," although we often misunderstand it. (For starters, love is much more than an emotion.) And I hope that people can come to the point where they can at least understand my view.


An Appeal to Disney

A list of some of Disney's greatest animated (non-CGI) movies of the past twenty years:
  1. The Little Mermaid (1989)
  2. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
  3. Aladdin (1992)
  4. Pocahontas (1995)
  5. Hercules (1997)
  6. Mulan (1998)
And some more recent animated (non-CGI) Disney movies:
  1. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
  2. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
  3. Treasure Planet (2002)
  4. Brother Bear (2003)
  5. Home on the Range (2004)
What's the difference between the two lists? I can summarize it in two words:
  1. Music
  2. Princesses
Nothing else really matters. Remember that great song from Brother Bear? I don't either. Remember the princess from Treasure Planet you wanted to be (or marry) when you grew up? Neither do I! Disney movies are one of the coolest things in the world, when done correctly. And the formula for doing it correctly is so simple! You just need breathtaking music...and princesses.

Obviously, there are some exceptions. The Lion King, for example, is a great Disney movie with no princesses (Nala doesn't really count). And people loved Finding Nemo, but that was CGI.

So Disney, please...


Remember your roots.

Finding Philosophy's God: The Hierarchy of Reality

Basically, this is how I think of things. It's a work in progress that I'm hammering out.

The Question

We define something's reality by what it depends on to be true. Something is physically real if its truth depends on the foundational truths (whatever they may be) of physics; something is logically real if its truth depends on the laws of logic.

We are physically real. The universe is physically real. Mathematical statements and things of that nature are logically real. But what do the foundational truths of physics and logic depend on?

The Answer


I am not speaking of a personal God (in Whom I do, however, believe). I am speaking definitionally: God is defined to be the truth upon which all other truths depend.

God has been defined before as the First Cause, referring to temporal causality. I am expanding this definition: not only does physical reality depend upon God, but all reality and truth depend upon him.

Since almost everyone can agree that everything has a cause of some sort - physical or otherwise - not many people should have a problem believing in this God. We understand that things need explanations. We just generally don't think of the laws of physics or logic as things that need explaining. (Of course, if they don't need explaining, then they are the truth on which all other truths depend, and God becomes a list of physical and logical principles that sort of self-created. This makes a little sense with the rules of logic, which people see as self-evident. Not so with the rules of physics.)

The Strange Opinion

We're familiar with discussing God as supernatural. I contend that God is superreal; he exists ontologically above our reality. I'm going to offer an analogy to explain this.

Children (and some adults) have imaginary friends. If the child ceased to exist, the imaginary friend would cease to exist, because its (non-physical) existence depends on the child.

We are God's imaginary friends.

Why is this definition important?

It establishes that everyone must believe in something arbitrary, that is independent of physical reality. If certain aspects of the physical truths are independent of the logical truths (although physics does depend upon mathematics, specific physical ratios do not), then our universe is arbitrary, because it could have been some other way. Which means that physicalism doesn't really make sense.


(Note that we are still nowhere near Yahweh.)


The Arbitrary Absurd: A Brief Summary

Most things are only true because something else is true. (Think about it.) These are what I would call dependent truths. (I've discussed this earlier.) Mathematics best illustrates this; all mathematical theorems depend on mathematical axioms, which have no proofs themselves (meaning this cartoon is wrong). I believe physics, and thus physical reality, operates in a similar fashion. There are certain independent physical relationships that are the foundation of the rest of physics. What our universe is depends on what those independent physical relationships are.

The problem, of course, is that these independent truths are completely arbitrary, and thus absurd. This forces us to ask the question of why they are what they are.

In my opinion, there is no thoroughly logical or scientific explanation. Why? Because even if there were such an explanation, it would itself become the independent, absurd, and arbitrary truth.

This seems to be a huge flaw in any physicalist worldview. Physicalism is not a rationally closed set; not all of physics can be explained by physics. In short, reality is fundamentally absurd. Any reality would be absurd, and any conception of reality will be absurd, because to deny the absurd is itself absurd.

We cannot ignore the absurd, even if we try. It is our friend. So stop pretending it doesn't exist.



"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

- Albert Einstein
It is in my mind an indisputable fact that there exists some arbitrary absolute truth, upon which all other truth depends. (If it does not exist, then all the "subjective" truths themselves become arbitrary and absolute.) Some would call this absolute the Theory of Everything; others call it God. Very few are willing to deny it. "Everything happens for a reason," we say, but eventually there must something that is...just because. For no reason in particular. "At the heart of reality lies a paradox which we may worship or deride, but never understand." And that very idea - that we cannot explain everything rationally, but must accept some things because that's just the way it is - should fill us all with awe. It is, in short, miraculous.

And so we should be fascinated by everything around us and within us. Dimensionless constants are fascinating to me. The human capacity for love - and for hatred - is fascinating. I fear that we have neglected our childish amazement in a foolish and vain over-estimation of our feeble knowledge. Blaise Pascal said, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me." The thought that we even exist should stun us. The thought that space-time is curved should dumbfound us. I will never understand how Claude Debussy somehow composed Clair de lune. It just doesn't make sense to me. It's amazing.

I encourage us all to listen for the eternal silence. It is always there.


Sunday Morning Politics?

It makes a lot of sense for presidential candidates to speak in churches on Sunday mornings. What doesn't make sense is churches devoting the few hours they have on Sunday mornings to politics, a subject matter which has almost nothing to do with God.

Now, although I have no statistics, I would bet that the majority of people in my church are conservative, at least socially. I know many church members who are politically active, and I am not suggesting that Christians completely extricate themselves from the political process.

But I would be appalled if we wasted the precious time we have on politics, on things that are (by definition) of this world. (The one exception is candidate Mike Huckabee, who actually preached at a church.) The media is (or are) doing a fantastic job bombarding us with the useless minutiae of the presidential race 24/7; do the two hours people spend actually half-focusing on God need to be spent discussing the economy or the war?

War, the economy, abortion, and other political topics are indeed issues that should be informed by our personal beliefs. But they are in no way central to Christianity at all. I just wish that people knew half as much about the Bible as they do about politics (even though people basically know nothing about politics).


Sullivan Ballou's Letter

This letter was written by a Civil War soldier to his wife. I wish people still wrote like this...

The Letter

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days - perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more...

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing - perfectly willing - to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt...

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me - perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness...

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights...always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again...

The Resolution

"Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the first Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861.

Born March 28, 1829 in Smithfield, R.I., Ballou was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.; Brown University in Providence, R.I. and the National Law School in Ballston, N.Y. He was admitted to the Rhode Island Bar in 1853.

Ballou devoted his brief life to public service. He was elected in 1854 as clerk of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, later serving as its speaker. He married Sarah Hart Shumway on October 15, 1855, and the following year saw the birth of their first child, Edgar. A second son, William, was born in 1859. Ballou immediately entered the military in 1861 after the war broke out. He became judge advocate of the Rhode Island militia and was 32 at the time of his death at the first Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861.

When he died, his wife was 24. She later moved to New Jersey to live out her life with her son, William, and never re-married. She died at age 80 in 1917. Sullivan and Sarah Ballou are buried next to each other at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, R.I. There are no known living descendants.

Ironically, Sullivan Ballou’s letter was never mailed. Although Sarah would receive other, decidedly more upbeat letters, dated after the now-famous letter from the battlefield, the letter in question would be found among Sullivan Ballou’s effects when Gov. William Sprague of Rhode Island traveled to Virginia to retrieve the remains of his state’s sons who had fallen in battle."


Darth Vader

...Words can't describe...


Guest Article: Science and Christianity

Here we find a translation of the story of Creation as told by the Torah and, later, the Bible.


At it's most basic level, the story of creation does not address much about what Science has discovered about our universe. As for the thousands of galaxies, solar systems, suns, planets, etc. that make up the universe of which we are a part, Genesis merely says "God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars." This, of course, was simply to delineate night and day. Also, this took place after creating water and land. Both of these observations lead to a contradiction with what Science tells us, and thus a contradiction between legitimizing Christianity's story of creation and Science's.

As for Evolution, Genesis then states that God created creatures of the sea and birds in the sky, then some beasts for the land, and finally man to rule all of them. Now, according to the Theory of Evolution, birds evolved after primates; yet the Torah gives us the birds coming at least a day or two before Humans.

These are only a few contradictions between Genesis's version of Creation and Science's version. Obviously, Science of this century has more tools to work with at discovering how we originated than Genesis does. Do these contradictions really mean anything? Do they disprove Christianity? Probably not. They are relatively minor, and have little bearing on what will happen to our souls after we pass on.

Yet one crucial part of this opening chapter of Genesis does deal with our souls and our relationship with God; that part which states that God created Man in His own image. Now, as we physical beings cannot resemble a supernatural one in appearance, this must mean we are created in God's image in terms of the spirit, in terms of the soul. Yet Science and Evolution tell us that all creatures on the Earth come from the same organism, the same place: "The common descent of organisms was first deduced from four simple facts about organisms: First, they have geographic distributions that cannot be explained by local adaptation. Second, the diversity of life is not a set of completely unique organisms, but organisms that share morphological similarities. Third, vestigial traits with no clear purpose resemble functional ancestral traits, and finally, that organisms can be classified using these similarities into a hierarchy of nested groups."

As we research
our genetic coding further, we continue to discover relationships to the other life on our planet at a closer and closer level to the subatomic. Things like the Golden Ratio of 1.618 which lie in a myriad of structures on different animals, including Humans, strongly indicate our inseparable relation to other animals. Yet if we all come from the same organism and all share the same basic genetic coding, how can some of us have souls and others lack them? I believe that if any of us has a soul, than all of us must; furthermore, if any human has a soul, than so must every form of life. This resembles some Buddhist theories about our relationship to the natural world.

The Bible does not address the issue of animals having souls; it does not even address the Dinosaurs. For many, a belief in a religion requires some questions and a few answers; after viewing Christianity with the lens of twenty-first century Science, we find many questions left unanswered.


Asa Gray's Thoughts on Evolution

These are some quotes from an article I recently read.

The Quotes

Theologians have a short and easy, if not wholly satisfactory, way of refuting scientific doctrines which they object to, by pitting the authority or opinion of one savant against another.
Probably from the lack of familiarity with prevalent ideas and their history, the theologians are apt to suppose that scientific men of the present day are taking up theories of evolution in pure wantonness or mere superfluity of naughtiness; that it would have been quite possible, as well as more proper, to leave all such matters alone. Quieta non movere is doubtless a wise rule upon such subjects, so long as it is fairly applicable. But the time for its application in respect to questions of the origin and relations of existing species has gone by. To ignore them is to imitate the foolish bird that seeks security by hiding its head in the sand. Moreover, the naturalists did not force these questions upon the world; but the world forced them upon the naturalists.
This doctrine [evolution] ... is fully compatible with dogmatic as well as natural theology ... it explains moral anomalies, and accounts for the mixture of good and evil in the world, as well as for the merely relative perfection of things; and ... "the whole scheme which God has framed for man's existence, from the first that was created to all eternity, collapses if the great law of evolution be suppressed."
Now, all former experience shows that it is neither safe nor wise to pronounce a whole system "thoroughly atheistic" which it is conceded may be held theistically, and which is likely to be largely held, if not to prevail, on scientific grounds. It may be well to remember that, "of the two great minds of the seventeenth century, Newton and Leibnitz [sic], both profoundly religious as well as philosophical, one produced the theory of gravitation, the other objected to that theory that it was subversive of natural religion; also that the nebular hypothesis - a natural consequence of the theory of gravitation and of the subsequent progress of physical and astronomical discovery - has been denounced as atheistical [sic] even down to our day." It has now outlived anathema.
Finally, ought not theologians to consider whether they have not already, in principle, conceded to the geologists and physicists all that they are asked to concede to the evolutionists; whether, indeed, the main natural theological difficulties which attend the doctrine of evolution - serious as they may be - are not virtually contained in the admission that there is a system of Nature with fixed laws. This, at least, we may say, that, under a system in which so much is done "by the establishment of general laws," it is legitimate for any one to prove, if he can, that any particular thing in the natural world is so done; and it is the proper business of scientific men to push their enquiries [sic] in this direction.
It is not, perhaps, for us to suggest that the theological army in the past has been much too encumbered with impedimenta for effective aggression in the conflict against atheistic tendencies in modern science; and that in resisting attack it has endeavored to hold too much ground, so wasting strength in the obstinate defense of positions which have become unimportant as well as untenable. Some of the arguments, as well as the guns, which well served a former generation, need to be replaced by others of longer range and greater penetration.
Now, the evidence of geology to-day [sic] is, that species seem to come in suddenly and in full perfection, remain substantially unchanged during the term of their existence, and pass away in full perfection. Other species take their place apparently by substitution, not by transmutation. But you will ask me, "Do you, then, reject the doctrine of evolution? Do you accept the creation of species directly and without secondary agencies and processes?" I answer, No! Science knows nothing of phenomena which do not take place by secondary causes and processes. She does not deny such occurrence, for true Science is not dogmatic, and she knows full well that, tracing up the phenomena from cause to cause, we must somewhere reach the more direct agency of a First Cause.
My Christian friends, these schemes of reconciliation become daily more and more distasteful to me. I have used them in times past; but now the deliberate construction of such schemes seems to me almost like trifling with the words of Scripture and the teachings of Nature. They seem to me almost irrelevant, and quite foreign to the true, humble, liberal spirit of Christianity; they are so evidently artificial, so evidently mere ingenious human devices. It seems to me that if we will only regard the two books in the philosophical spirit which I have endeavored to describe, and then simply wait and possess our souls in patience, the questions in dispute will soon adjust themselves as other similar questions have already done.

My Thoughts

Any idea when this article was published? January 15, 1874. It was written by Asa Gray and published in The Nation.

Now, imagine where we would be if we had listened to Asa Gray.

He raises some good points about "God of the gaps" apologetics. (I'll note here that atheists just use "Science of the gaps" arguments and say gaps in scientific knowledge will be resolved eventually. But more on that later.) Christianity will never thrive in the modern world unless it can be perceived as reconcilable with science. Which it can be, if people stop and think. Let's assume that the theory of evolution is completely false. So what? Why argue? Whose salvation does it affect? Why should we portray ourselves as backwards and superstitious people? Fortunately or unfortunately, I don't know of that many successful conversions coming from the Intelligent Design movement; what I do know is that there is a lot of scorn for ID advocates (especially Young-Earth Creationists) that is probably hurting Christianity, regardless of how old the Earth actually is.

Objections to evolution on scientific grounds should be raised; I don't think there's an open and shut case for it. What do I believe about evolution? I'm not a biologist, and I don't feel like devoting days of my life to studying it. So I don't know. What I do know is that our faith in Christ can't depend on this. The manufactured conflict between Christianity and science is not a novel development, and I see no reason to continue manufacturing it.

That being said, evolution cannot be proved (I prefer "proven," but Blogger gives me a red line). You can line up evidence for and against it, but in the end, you're going to need faith, because it already happened. Hmm... Sounds familiar.

Postmodernism Generator

This is amazing. I found it on Custardy's blog. I'm starting to wonder if this generated other scholarly works of note [Note: Just kidding! That obviously isn't a work of note!].

The Myth of Probability

René Descartes once said, "When it is not in our power to determine what is true, we ought to act according to what is most probable." Now, I'm not sure whether or not I agree with that statement, because I'm not sure whether it is in our power to determine what is most probable.

But Wait, What Exactly Is Probability?

But what does probability even mean? The classical definition of probability, according to Pierre-Simon Laplace (yes, that Laplace):
The probability of an event is the ratio of the number of cases favorable to it, to the number of all cases possible when nothing leads us to expect that any one of these cases should occur more than any other, which renders them, for us, equally possible.
Frequency probability, on the other hand, defines an event's probability as "the limit of its relative frequency in a large number of trials" (according to Wikipedia). Note the "large number of trials." Statistical significance, people! Please! (And the law of large numbers is fascinating, but it can only be proved by testing it multiple times and seeing that it eventually works - in other words, by using the law of large numbers. It basically means that "probabilities are probably true.") Anyway, there's also Bayesian probability, which doesn't make a lot of sense to me (and I'm not the only one).

The Implications of Probability

But back to what Descartes said. My question is simple: When can probability truly be applied to real life?

We apply probability a lot more than we think. In fact, every time we say something is true, we are really saying it has a 100% probability of being true. When we say that the Earth's gravitational pull is (close to) a certain number, we mean (in frequentist terms) that the relative frequency of the limit of that number is 1. We generally assume that time will not effect the probability of certain statements or truths, including scientific propositions; in fact, one foundational truth of science is that accurate results in the past are still valid today. There is a 100% probability the laws of nature do not change. (Or is there?)

In general, I don't really mind this use of probability. It's pretty effective for what it attempts to do: to predict. But the predictive number we assign to a statement does not in the least affect its actual truth value.

Consider the classic example of probability: a deck of cards. Assuming the deck is sufficiently shuffled so that the cards are distributed randomly, the chances of drawing a certain card are 1 in 52, or approximately 1.92%. But that's not really true! That's just the best prediction we can make. The truth is, there is exactly one deck of cards arranged in exactly one order, so there is a 100% probability that a certain card will be drawn and a 0% probability any other card will be drawn. The reality is that there is no chance. As David Hume said, "Chance is only our ignorance of real causes."

This raises another question: Is there irreducible randomness in nature? Is radioactive decay really random, as Schrödinger's cat might suggest? Are there hidden variables? If there are hidden variables, probability is merely a concession either of a lack of data or of an inability to analyze the data. But if quantum mechanics is truly random, or indeterministic, what exactly happens? (I'm asking rhetorically.) How does a physicalist metaphysic (How ironic is that phrase?) explain randomness when science depends upon an orderly universe? Imagine if Newton's second law were "f = ma only at random times." But if the universe is deterministic, from whence (I love that word) do the independent relationships arise?

Probability and Belief

Descartes attempted to apply probability to entire belief systems, and so do a lot of people today. Atheists (who sometimes exalt themselves as "skeptics" or "brights"), in particular, argue that the existence of a god (whatever that means) is exceedingly improbable. (By the way, I don't like to think of things this way. I don't think of atheism as not believing in God and theism as believing in God; I think of them as beliefs in different sets of independent truths, that actually aren't all that different. More on that at another time.) But where are the numbers? How can you evaluate the probability of a god? If God's probability is either 0% or 100% (He either exists or doesn't exist), are we going to say it's at 7.3% or 50.01% or whatever? Should we only believe in God if His probability is greater than 50%?

And what factors affect the probability of God's existence (Yes, I switched from "a god" to "God." I don't care enough.)? That is itself a question that is rarely asked. I'm still not sure how to answer it.

Even assuming that physicalism can explain the entirety of our existence, does that automatically bring God's probability to 0%? Recall that probability requires more than one trial. We only have one trial of the universe, so we can't determine God's probability at all; we don't have enough trials. True probability cannot exist outside the context of a sufficient number of trials. Thus, even in this (hypothetical) atheistic utopia of a universe, God might still exist. His probability would be unknown. Which is why agnosticism makes a lot more sense.

But consider more specific questions. Are the New Testament documents reliable? Can we really assign a number to the probability that they are reliable? Should we assume that every piece of evidence has equal weight? How does this work?

The reality is that people who consider their answers to such questions "objective" are overstating the precision of their arguments. Prominent atheist Antony Flew recently converted to deism because, in his mind, the existence of God became more probable than the non-existence of God. While I'm happy a prominent atheist has renounced atheism (though he's far from Christianity), I still think this whole idea is kind of absurd. At what point did the existence of God top 50%? Which tidbit of evidence did that? Did Flew assign numerical values to the different facts on each side and weigh them up? Or did he just use what atheists rarely admit to using, a gut instinct?

We cannot rationally calculate God's probability. There is no such thing. We can examine evidence, but our final determination will be arbitrary and subjective, even if it is based on objective and truthful information. Which is why people disagree more about this than about whether or not 2 + 2 = 4. (It does.)

Does that mean we should all be agnostic? No! (I don't think so.) It does mean that reason is not the only source of knowledge in this area. And it means that our question should be rephrased. "What is the probability that God exists?" should become "Is God compatible with what we know about reality? Is physicalism compatible with what we know about reality? Are they both?" (That would be interesting.) And finally, we must ask what role pure reason plays in this all. (Hint: I don't think it's 100%.) (Get it? I referenced probability in my parenthetical comment!) (Three parenthetical comments in a row!)

God is more than a hypothesis.

Social Security

Good luck.

The NET Bible

My friend Thomas Allison showed me this Bible a couple months ago, and I've been using it ever since. According to bible.org (and how bad can they be?) in its Preface to the NET Bible:
The NET Bible is a completely new translation of the Bible with 60,932 translators’ notes [Note: emphasis added]! It was completed by more than 25 scholars – experts in the original biblical languages – who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts.
As you might have figured out, I really like the idea of 60,932 translators' notes (that's almost two notes per verse, depending upon which Bible you use). These includes notes about the translators' choices, cultural context, and much, much more! But seriously, there is in-depth discussion of verses such as Acts 2:38 that are highly contested theologically. (More on that verse someday.)

You can download it for free or purchase it. So have fun.


The Borowitz Report

Some great satire on this website. Check the archives and sign up. My two favorites are Huckabee Chooses Jesus as Running Mate and Border Control Jobs Outsourced to Mexico.


There's just something about minotaurs...

Church History in Plain Language

I just finished reading Bruce L. Shelley's Church History in Plain Language. This is a great book for anyone considering introducing himself to the fascinating and controversial field of Christianity's history. Church history is an incredibly important subject, because it explores the relationship between the Church and the world over time. Needless to say, how the Church should interact with the world is one of the most pressing issues facing any congregation. Studying church history more in-depth will allow us to understand the differences between denominations and their theologies and the (vast) cultural influences acting upon Christianity.
Anyway, Dr. Shelley divides Christianity into eight eras:
  1. The Age of Jesus and the Apostles (6 BC-70 AD)
  2. The Age of Catholic Christianity (70-312)
  3. The Age of the Christian Roman Empire (312-590)
  4. The Christian Middle Ages (590-1517)
  5. The Age of the Reformation (1517-1648)
  6. The Age of Reason and Revival (1648-1789)
  7. The Age of Progress (1789-1914)
  8. The Age of Ideologies (1914-1996)
(Yes, I know the historical divisions are different in Wikipedia. Get over it.)

Dr. Shelley does a great job of writing how the title says he will - in plain language. History flows very organically from his pen (or maybe it's a quill). Now, Dr. Shelley seems to be a conservative Protestant (He never says so explicitly, but his opinion of the Roman Catholic church isn't very Roman Catholic. This is the doctrinal statement he is apparently required to sign.), and so the book does focus on Western Protestant Christianity more so than Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Christianity, but he does a great job of finding balance. There are also hundreds of suggestions for further reading, so you can find even more excuses for not getting off your butt. I want to read a history book by a Roman Catholic historian next, though.
By the way, church history is especially important to those of us who are members of non-traditional, non-denominational, or young churches. And yes, that includes me and my church family. It is vital that we understand our place in time instead of assuming we are the Restorers of True Apostolic Christianity or whatever.

And no, Bruce didn't recruit me to write this spot for his book....but Bruce, if you're reading this, you know what to do.

Star Wars and the KGB: The Ultimate Conspiracy

So you known the Lusankya, Ysanne Isard's Super Star Destroyer (what a great name) in the (allegedly fictional) Star Wars universe? Well, turns out the place where the KGB did their dirty work is called Lubyanka. Dyslexic coincidence? I think not. More updates will be forthcoming.


Tortured Logic

The Münchhausen Trilemma

A Random Introduction

The Münchhausen Trilemma (Rockin' the Umlaut!) is one of my favorite philosophical premises. The basic idea (one I had intuited but never really formulated) is that you can't really prove...anything. It is closely related to fallibilism, the idea that absolute certainty about knowledge is impossible (according to Wikipedia). It also can be associated with solipsism, although I would argue that the solipsist's certainty in his mind's existence runs contrary to it. Hans Albert, a German philosopher, described the pitfalls of the three means of justifying truth (hence "Trilemma," not "Dilemma"):
  1. All justifications in pursuit of certain knowledge have also to justify the means of their justification and doing so they have to justify anew the means of their justification. Therefore there can be no end. We are faced with the hopeless situation of 'infinite regression.'
  2. One can justify with a circular argument, but this sacrifices its validity.
  3. One can stop at self-evidence or common sense or fundamental principles or speaking 'ex cathedra' or at any other evidence, but in doing so the intention to install certain justification is abandoned.
But that is Wikipedia's version. Albert's original words (translated) are:
Here, one has a mere choice between: 1. an infinite regression, which appears because of the necessity to go ever further back, but isn’t practically feasible and doesn’t, therefore, provide a certain foundation; 2. a logical circle in the deduction, which is caused by the fact that one, in the need to found, falls back on statements which had already appeared before as requiring a foundation, and which circle does not lead to any certain foundation either; and finally: 3. a break of searching at a certain point, which indeed appears principally feasible, but would mean a random suspension of the principle of sufficient reason.
Of course, this is philosophy, so not everyone will agree. In fact, almost no one will agree. In fact, a lot of philosophers seem kind of silly to me. But oops, I've almost begun a rant. Anyway, in another grand irony, Aristotle (kind of) argued against this theory thousands of years before Hans Albert's Rhineland even existed:(It's kind of long, if you don't want to read it.)
Some hold that, owing to the necessity of knowing the primary premises, there is no scientific knowledge. Others think there is, but that all truths are demonstrable. Neither doctrine is either true or a necessary deduction from the premises. The first school, assuming that there is no way of knowing other than by demonstration, maintain that an infinite regress is involved, on the ground that if behind the prior stands no primary, we could not know the posterior through the prior (wherein they are right, for one cannot traverse an infinite series): if on the other hand – they say – the series terminates and there are primary premises, yet these are unknowable because incapable of demonstration, which according to them is the only form of knowledge. And since thus one cannot know the primary premises, knowledge of the conclusions which follow from them is not pure scientific knowledge nor properly knowing at all, but rests on the mere supposition that the premises are true. The other party agree with them as regards knowing, holding that it is only possible by demonstration, but they see no difficulty in holding that all truths are demonstrated, on the ground that demonstration may be circular and reciprocal. Our own doctrine is that not all knowledge is demonstrative: on the contrary, knowledge of the immediate premises is independent of demonstration. (The necessity of this is obvious; for since we must know the prior premises from which the demonstration is drawn, and since the regress must end in immediate truths, those truths must be indemonstrable.) Such, then, is our doctrine, and in addition we maintain that besides scientific knowledge there is its originative source which enables us to recognize the definitions.
To be honest, I'm not sure what Aristotle is getting at here. This is, partially, a problem of semantics; he's making a distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge, but since most people don't start taking Philosophy classes until college (which is, conveniently, the time they also are given free reign to engage in various non-philosophical pursuits), the difference seems to escape them.

The point is, Aristotle was wrong about a lot of things, including this one. I think. The problem with this stuff is that it hearkens (nice word) to the foundations of our reasoning, which generally have no foundation themselves. We should note that the Münchhausen Trilemma refutes itself, because it asserts that it (as a member of the set "Everything," or more formally "Potential Certain Truth") cannot be proven. In other words, since nothing can be proven, the Münchhausen Trilemma cannot be proven.

That being said, I've decided to accept it a priori, if you will. Or at least by faith. Because even though it can't be proven by its own standards, it can be proven by the (substandard) standards of logic, which it refutes.

The way I think about it is this: There are two kinds of truths, independent and dependent. As you might suspect, the dependent truths depend upon the independent truths. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in mathematics. Mathematics has axioms (also known as postulates), baseless assumptions [Note: I'm just kidding! String theory really is great! I think.] from which theorems and other goodies are derived. The validity of the dependent truths - theories, laws, etc. - cannot be ascertained without full knowledge of the validity of the independent truths, which cannot be ascertained because they are independent. Even worse, mathematicians can create complete new theoretical worlds just by changing the axioms. In Euclidean geometry, for example, only one line passing through a certain point can be parallel with another line. But what if this weren't true? By scratching that assumption, we come up with non-Euclidean geometry, which just so happens to be essential to general relativity.

This malleability of independent truth is not just true for mathematics, but for basically everything I can think of. And it's really, really funny, because certainty kind of gets thrown out the window. As François-Marie Arouet so eloquently (that's a stretch, but whatever) stated, "Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one."

So why is this important?

The assumptions we make are generally a big deal. And avoiding them is pretty difficult. Two of my favorites are:
  1. There is an external reality. This one is pretty interesting.
  2. We are not insane (i.e., our senses and perceptions generally correlate to the external reality). This is the probably the worst assumption we have ever made. As Einstein said, "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." But this basically means that when we see oranges, for example, they are really there, and not just an illusion.
It is an interesting mental exercise to determine what exactly the fundamental truths upon which we rely (no dangling prepositions here) are. Or, even better, we can (try to) determine the fundamental truths of those who disagree with us fundamentally [Note to Democrats: I still love you! No really, why are you running away?]. Of course, as David Mahfood has pointed out, proving something and knowing something are two (very) different things. He also has noted that we can't really disprove the skeptical hypotheses, which doubt our perceptions themselves. Which is true, but if we're doubting our senses, what's the point?

Certain assumptions must be made for our lives to make any sense or have any meaning. I believe that the assumption of an external reality is kind of important (Imagine if you really believed it was all in your head. Then imagine if everyone else believed it was all in their heads.). However, we must also recognize that the nature of how we think depends upon the biological, perceptual, informational, and experiential limitations of our cognitive faculties.

Which assumptions are reliable? That's something we have to answer for ourselves. I know a lot of people will think that my beliefs are based on invalid assumptions. In fact, some people [Note: Doesn't he look like a pedophile or something in that picture?] think I'm deluded. For more on that, check out this blog and this guy, Alister McGrath.

Finally, this is important because it demonstrates what I will call the non-universality of reason. At least, human reason. Our minds are fallible and imprisoned in a Euclidean reality that our mathematicians tell us isn't true, and I think this should lead us to be weary of a completely rationalistic outlook on life. This is especially true because nature seems to demonstrate clear causal and temporal patterns. So what was the first cause? I think we should be open to the consideration of a worldview in which human reason is merely a subset of all knowledge. Put another way, we (at least now) cannot possibly know everything there is to know.

So there it is.


I've tried to put up a bunch of links so that this can be used as a reference for people. There are at least three websites - those of Christopher Hitchens (whose first name, ironically, starts with "Christ"), Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett - with which I would vehemently disagree. I haven't really perused all the links thoroughly, though, so I'm hoping the volume of information makes up for its potential crappiness.

Clive Staples Lewis

C.S. Lewis might be my favorite Christian thinker of all time. A former atheist, he converted to Christianity and wrote some phenomenal books, including The Chronicles of Narnia series (Should it be "the The Chronicles of Narnia" series?), Mere Christianity, God in the Dock (which I want to read), The Screwtape Letters, and more. Mere Christianity is one of the best books I have ever read.

There's just something special about his writing. Maybe it's that he was an Englishman born in the 1800's, but he's very quotable. He also is exceptionally intelligent and (unlike many Christian writers) willing (and able) to confront atheism. Most of his writing discusses Christianity from a more philosophical standpoint, rather than scientific or historical. His two most famous ideas (according to Wikipedia, anyway, but they are the two I associate with him) are the common morality of man and the inability to classify Jesus as a great teacher:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.