Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Wasting Your Money?

December 11th, 2011

Recently, the Institute received the following comment

“You are wasting gullible people’s money by investing in the spread of your religion. Please use those donations to help people physically and not spiritually.”

Like similar comments we have received, it appears to be from a temporary email address; Even I use temporary email addresses when signing up for services I’m unsure of. Since a similar vein of comments have been flowing into other ministries, I assume it is the latest “fad” in anti-Christian argumentation. For that reason, I felt the need to make my response. Here it is in full:

Thanks for the comment. We appreciate all feedback whether negative or positive.

First of all, you overestimate how much the institute takes in. We basically fund everything ourselves. Even the classes we offer lose money. Our goal has never been about making money and it never will; We volunteer our time and pay our own way. We give away the teaching resources for free and they are being used by schools worldwide (literally) to raise up a generation of godly leaders. The small gifts we receive a few times a year merely alleviate the costs of minor expenses like hosting.

That said, your statement seems to infer that people don’t need “spiritual” help. Shall we help pay the rent of struggling people but not give them hope for better days? Shall we comfort the sick and dying with mere meals until they pass fearfully into the eternal unknown? How unkind and selfish. That is only doing half the mission given to us by God. The Church is supposed to bring both food and comfort to the home-bound elderly, the widows and orphans. If the church merely does one, only meeting physical or only meeting spiritual needs, it is only doing half of its mission. People are not merely machines that consume and are happy; People are also spiritual beings.

In addition, religions do not exist to bring happiness, equality and contentment to the earth; That is a side-effect of good doctrine that comes from the mind of an all knowing, all good God. In general, religions exist to bring man closer to God (or the equivalent depending on the religion). Religions usually describe the nature of the relationship between God (or the gods, the universe, etc) and man. In the case of Christianity, the God of the Bible has told us of the relationship we have.

Unlike so many false religions invented by man, Christianity is not about “do this” and “don’t do that” no matter what the popular media portrays. Christianity is about God offering us salvation for free apart from our actions. In Christianity, it is God who replaces our selfish, self-destructive spirit with His own; Once His Spirit dwells in us, we change from the inside. We live by love because we want to not because we have to.  As we all know, enforcing a set of religious rules without a change on the inside does not produce contentment, equality or freedom; Neither Mormonism, Islam or Catholicism can make anything like this claim. However, Biblical Christianity, as seen in communities from Communist China to Central Africa to South America does.

So the Institute will continue on its mission of teaching Christians how to defend their faith and refute the claims of those who disagree. In this way, unbelievers can experience the change that comes from accepting the salvation Jesus gave us and believers can spend less time arguing and more time helping those in need. We seem to be succeeding, not because we are anything special, but because God is causing it to happen. Glory to God.

We are not insulted nor offended by your question. Unlike other large monotheistic religions, Christianity welcomes the questions of both skeptics and doubters; That doesn’t mean we enjoy abuse or trolling (which we will probably ignore) but that does mean we are willing to answer any honest question … and even some less than honest ones.

Once again, thanks for your comment.

Are We Solely Products of Our Environment?

July 13th, 2010

Originally posted by IBD Vice President Matt Coombe on mjcoombe.com

I recently received this email and thought it would profit more than the sender. Here is the email in its entirety:

“I have a very intriguing question and no one has ever given a satisfactory answer. Will you please? Are you born by own will? Not certainly. I am a Muslim because I have been born among Muslims and those who have been born among Christians, Jews, and Hindus etc. become what ever teachings and knowledge they get from their parents, teachers or society.

It is a common belief among Muslims, Jews, Christians and Hindus that only members of their sect will be rewarded by God and people of other religions will go to hell. When a person does not have any control on birth and adopts religion where he has been born by God, why God will punish or reward on the basis of religion?

Kindly guide me. Thanks.”

This is a great question. In a world where post modern thought has pervaded every level, this question is an excellent example of the conflict between post modernism and traditional theism. According to post modernists, all truth is relative and subjective. One culture has their truth and another has an equally valid truth that is true for them. This question approaches the same subject: If each person adopts the “truth” of their culture, why does God condemn one and not another? Wasn’t it God who caused them to be born there?

We are, after all, not born of our own will. Can we control the environment we’re born into? Are we supposed to somehow see beyond the culture we were raised in; The culture that compels us to act, live and think in certain ways? How can a Muslim, Hindu or Christian be condemned by God when they are only acting in accordance with their own environment? It all seems so unfair.

For example, some environmentalists hate the loss of even a single tree, yet is the Beaver condemned by God for destroying a stand of trees to make its home? Does the Raven stand in judgment for feeding on the robins’ young? Should the Lion feel guilt because he has feasted on a fawn? Of course not, in these examples each animal is acting in accordance with their nature. The beaver in his beaver nature, raven in raven and lion in lion. Are humans any different?

Let’s suppose that you knew absolutely nothing about me. If you looked at my house, saw my clothes and peered in the windows of my car,  you could discover alot about me just from the outside; Police do it all the time. You could see the DVD’s I own and determine what type of movies I like. You could see my small and fairly modest library and probably draw some firm conclusions about what I believe. And each new thing you learned would reveal a little more about me; At the same time, the culture I come from would also be revealed, since I am, after all, a product of it.

That said, the question remains: Is man defined by his environment and merely a product of it, or do humans, unlike animals, posses the ability to make decisions despite their culture? I believe it is the latter. The culture I was born into had a definite Christian slant. The Christian religion was always nearby to influence my decisions, thoughts and actions. Does this mean that the only possible choice for me was a Christian one? Of course not. Differing from the raven or lion who act on instinct, in accordance with their nature, I can choose to shun my own culture and turn against it. It happens all the time.

However, if the premise of the question is true, then being born into a culture that follows one particular religion will always lead to the children following that same religion. As a result, those who follow the religion of their culture can not be condemned; They had no real ability to choose anything else. God placed them there and thus their fate was determined.

Nonsense! Take the acorn for example. Depending on the environment, an acorn has two options: It will either rot away or grow into an oak tree. Certainly the tree may be a different size or shape than the ones around it, but there is no doubt, no wavering, an acorn that grows will always produce an oak tree. If for whatever reason the acorn does not produce an oak, it is not considered normal. That is how an acorn works.

Is a human an acorn? If he is left to grow in the same environment, will he produce the same results every time? If the premise of the question is true, namely that each person born into a religion, then they have no option other than to embrace that religion. This leads to at least two conclusions:

  1. Man is like an acorn . Despite any intervening situations, he will become what his environment demands.
  2. If the first premise is true, then there can be no counter examples. A counter example would be a person who is born into a religion and, for whatever reason, did not embrace that religion.

In the case of the email’s author, consider Muhammad. Was he merely a product of his environment? Did he blindly follow the religion of his father and those before him? What about Jesus? Was he not mocked and beaten because the religious leaders of his day thought he was acting contradictory to the religion of his father? And these are just two examples. There are many counter examples to the premise.  A human need not always become merely the product of his environment.

Even in my own experience, I can think of people born into atheist homes who became Christians, Christians that became atheists, Muslims who became Christian and Christians who became Mormon. Humans are inherently religious. Humans also have a tendency to fall in line with their own culture, becoming indoctrinated at the earliest of ages. Many have never known any other culture. That said, at any time, any man can make any decision; This is called Free Will.

So, although a man is born into a culture and is indoctrinated thoroughly, it is the duty of all men to seek the truth. The ability to reason and to know is one of the greatest gifts given to man. So although God does place each man into a culture, He also gives every man the ability to examine, reason and to think for himself. Man is free to embrace or to reject his environment and culture.

In my case, if the culture a man is born into denies the God of Biblical Christianity, then that environment and culture should be rejected. Of course, some cultures make this is much harder to do than others. As a man who has studied the pertinent historical and biblical accounts, and spent years seeking the truth, I believe I’ve found it.

It is my prayer, then, that all people seek the truth and make it their goal, for then they will understand the words of Christ who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the father but through me.”

“Scientists create life. We are God” (part 2)

May 27th, 2010

In the first part of this response, I mentioned a few of the arguments atheists use to discredit theists; For the most part, their contentions lack evidence and their convictions are just as religious as any Sunday morning Christian. We are not fooled.

Now that the groundwork has been laid, let’s ask the question the article brings up: Did the scientists  indeed create life in the laboratory;  Was this a precursor to artificial intelligence? I know this may seem surprising, considering the way the article words it, but the answer to both of these questions is no.

First of all, the idea of a true AI has already been demonstrated to be untenable. John Searle demonstrates this with his famous thought experiment: Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese. He’s locked in a room full of boxes. Each is covered with Chinese symbols (a data base of sorts). At his disposal is a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (a program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols, which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (input). Now imagine that by following the instructions in the program, the man in the room is able to arrange and pass out Chinese symbols which happen to be correct answers to the questions sent in (the output). The program does enable the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese. However, he still doesn’t understand a word of Chinese.

Searle goes on to explain that the man in the room is similar to a computer. While computers can process information at an incredible rate, they don’t have the capacity to think about what they process. True “Artificial life” shouldn’t just produce inputs and outputs. In order for it to be what most consider real, it must have independent thoughts about those inputs and outputs; Or more precisely, this AI must participate in a function found only in humans: the use of second order mental states.

Second order mental states are essentially thoughts about thoughts; It would be impossible for a machine to do this. A machine can evaluate evidence and determine probabilities concerning various outcomes. That, however, is hardly a second order mental state. Now, in time, machines, androids, or some other type of AI could become so anthropomorphized that they are barely distinguishable from humans. Once again, this is not a true artificial intelligence, but rather the result of very clever and careful programming.

Back to the article. While there are some very intriguing uses for the molecular science mentioned in the article, this is in no way creating life. Essentially, this is more like the photocopying of a cell. In a nutshell, the process includes: Taking existing DNA, sequencing it, rebuilding and programing it, and  placing the DNA into an existing live cell and watching it grow. It isn’t anything new and it only acts according to how it was programmed. Now, it’s not my intention to diminish this fascinating work, but in no way does this article describe creating life; After all the hype is stripped, it merely describes how scientists can rearrange existing life.

“Scientists create life. We are God”

May 21st, 2010

Originally posted by IBD Vice President Matt Coombe on mjcoombe.com

I recently read about this article on an atheist forum. It is provocatively titled: “Scientists create life. We are God.” I’m not sure if their intention was to mock theists or to disprove God (or both). Either way, I have every intention of dismantling not only the title but the evidence presented in the article as well. Before I can do that, however, we need to understand where these arguments come from. We should first take a look at current trends in atheist argumentation.

There are many trends in atheist thought today. That said, there appear to be two getting the most media attention. These are the incoherent claim: “Look at this amazing scientific breakthrough! God surely does not exist!” and the ever popular: “Look at these religious cooks! They’re part of some obscure cult! It’s obvious that all religious people are mentally deficient … and God surely does not exist.”

The first argument, the science disproves God claim, is usually spouted by atheists without any thought given to the actual evidence; I’m convinced most don’t even realize they’re using the argument. It forces me to respond with comments like: “Why is this subject being discussed under the guise of atheism?” Of course, I usually await atheist responses in vain.

As for the article (linked above), my response was: “Why is this article being discussed on an atheist forum?” Not that atheists aren’t free to discuss whatever they wish; Don’t get me wrong. I was just wondering why such an obviously religious article, as its title makes clear, is so popular among a group that abhors religion … unless, of course, they are engaging in the religious practice of apologetics.

At times it seems like atheists are similar to those “religious” people who claim to see miracles everywhere (i.e. “I found my car keys, it’s a miracle!”).  In the same way, an atheist claims: “Science did something really cool, therefore God does not exist!’” It’s beyond the scope of this essay to argue this point further, but science and theism are in no way fundamentally contradictory.

As for the second popular argument, where religious people are viewed as deficient, I always tell my students: “If you want to refute something, you must refute it at its best. If you had the choice to refute a ‘moral’ atheist who loves his wife, provides for his family, and gives to the poor, or refute an atheist who is a murdering rapist, we should choose to refute the better example of atheism.” When I first ask my students which of the two we should  refute, they usually miss the mark (atleast at first) and assert the immoral atheist should be refuted. But I remind the student, Christianity can measure up to and overcome any other worldview at its best; After all, the most superior being in all of existence should bestow a superior worldview or lifestyle.

Atheists like to point out pedophile priests or suicide bombers, but such claims are informal fallacies, stemming from (but not limited to): The “red herring”, “poisoning the well”, and “straw man” arguments; None address the fundamental evidence for theism. Atheists (and at times Christians too) think that if they were to sink another’s boat it would entail that their own boat is floating. But this is not the case. Poking holes in the Christian worldview will in no way seal the holes of atheism (or vice versa). While lifestyle or actions should play somewhat of a role in determining the relative superiority of a worldview, the debate should come down to evidence. Who is more justified in believing what they believe?

It seems at best strange for an atheist to make the assertion, “We are God.” As people that openly voice their hated of religion, they certainly do seem to make alot of religious claims. For example, I hear atheists refer to their conversion to atheism or make large, sweeping metaphysical pronouncements. Despite the very similar terminology and subject matter, atheists still vehemently maintain: “Atheism is no religion.” Really?

I recently read a popular atheist argument that goes like this: “Atheism is as much a religion as not collecting stamps is a hobby.” Okay, I understand the statement. However, I disagree; Atheism is more than merely a lack of participation. Consider the example presented and imagine it this way: Atheism is like a man confronting a stamp collector and saying, “Why do you collect stamps? That’s a child’s hobby! Who even collects stamps, anyways?” As soon as someone is willing to fight for a belief, whether in a verbal or physical way, the belief begins to enter into the realm of religion.

In fact, whatever belief is most important to a person, if it shapes their worldview and guides their actions, that belief is for all practical purposes their religion. It isn’t just having a belief in one or many supernatural beings that necessitates a religion; In fact, many traditional Buddhists are atheists. Buddha himself was an agnostic; To him, the existence of God wasn’t even an important question. Even so, who would claim that devout monks, spending hours in meditation each day while secluded in cloistered monasteries are not religious people? Clearly, atheists can be highly religious people.

However, are all atheists religious? Maybe it’s just the vocal minority. Maybe it’s not. Many people aren’t aware of this, but the original humanist manifesto clearly referred to secular humanism as a religion. Mankind’s salvation would be found through reason and technology. Since the atheists making the “We are God” claims are obviously secular humanists, it appears that they are denying the very definition of their own beliefs. As Ravi Zacharias once said, “It’s not me you have a problem with. It’s reality.”

So even if an atheist isn’t an activist, they still espouse a religious worldview. As Dr. Fernandes has questioned, “If the statement, ‘There is a God’ is a religious statement, then why is the statement, ‘There is no God’ not a religious statement?” Well said. After all,  aren’t both statements making judgments about the same metaphysical truth?

Anyways, since I spent so much space on tangents here, I’ll have respond the article tomorrow.

Post Modernism Unravelled

May 13th, 2009

Dr. Fernandes unravels the philosophical mystery, underpinnings and weaknesses of Post Modernism.

Philosophers’ War Over the Soul

May 25th, 1997

by Paul Pardi

Recently, in an op-ed piece for Newsweek magazine, George Will roundly criticized Princeton philosopher Peter Singer for holding to a form of utilitarianism that allows him to deny that humans have intrinsic dignity and value and that, in some cases, killing a newborn could be morally justified. In the same vein as Singer, philosopher and professor of psychology at MIT Steven Pinker argues that personhood probably is a degreed notion having to do with possessing “morally significant traits” like memories and a sense of community; traits that “immature neonates don’t possess . . . any more than mice.” His conclusion: perhaps newborns aren’t truly persons and the immorality of taking their lives isn’t as clear-cut as some moral philosophers pretend it is.

Certainly one of the main themes in the philosophy of religion regarding immortality and personhood is that of deciding what to do with the soul. Should the soul end up in the intellectual discard pile along with phlogiston and witches or does the soul actually exist? Much of the current thinking on this subject focuses on this question. At first this may seem like an issue for philosophers of mind rather than for philosophers of religion. Actually, the issue concerns both. The philosopher of mind is interested in determining the ontological question: Does the soul exist? The philosopher of religion is interested in the implications of that ontology. In addition to moral implications, there are theological ones as well. For example, If we have no soul, then it is hard to make sense of the idea of immortality, yet immortality is a core tenet of most religious belief. As William James once noted, “Immortality is one of the great spiritual needs of man. The churches have constituted themselves the official guardians of the need . . .”

So there are two issues that concern the philosopher of religion. First there is the ontological question of whether or not there actually is a soul. Second, there are the moral and theological (and one might say anthropological) implications of the answer to that question. The apparent tension that exists between the current work being done in philosophy of mind and religious teaching seems to be constituted by a disparity between the “hard facts” of science that tell us that we’re nothing more than our bodies and brains, and religious dogma that seems to go contrary to that claim. For religion in the West, much of the religious teaching on the soul and the afterlife comes from a revelation from God (such as the Bible). In much of Eastern thought, the idea of immortality constitutes a fundamental principle upon which the entire religious structure is based. Boston University has been looking at solutions from both sides of the divide. For the past year, the university’s philosophy department has been examining this issue in its Institute for Philosophy and Religion. The title of this year’s program is “If I Should Die: Life, Death, and Immortality. Some of the titles of upcoming seminars are, “If I Should Die Before I Am Awakened: Buddhist Reflections on Death” and “Is There Life After Death? Where Are The Dead?” by Jürgen Moltmann.

Taking the lead from the current trend in philosophy of mind, many philosophers of religion are opting to dissolve the tension between the soul and the body by getting rid of the soul and translating “soul talk” into body or brain talk. They accept the current scientific thinking on mind-brain reduction and then argue that revelation claims are completely compatible with that thinking. A recent book edited by a team of theologians and philosophers at Fuller Seminary entitled Whatever Happened to the Soul? by Fortress Press (this book recently was reviewed in the current issue of the journal Philosophia Christi) does just that. In light of the current trend toward materialist views of consciousness, this book does not have anything new to offer regarding the ontological status of the mind. It does, however, have a lot to say about how one ought to understand religious claims regarding the soul and the afterlife in light of that trend. (Another novel approach to this problem was taken up recently by Australian philosopher Peter Forrest in his God Without the Supernatural by Cornel University Press.)

More traditional philosophers of religion balk at this approach. Many of these thinkers hold to some form of substance dualism. First, they argue that if we reject the idea of a substantial, immaterial soul, many aspects of the mind and personal identity simply cannot be explained adequately. Second, it becomes very difficult to understand the idea of an afterlife without talking about it in terms of a soul. Two new books argue against reductive materialism and for forms of substance dualism in just this way. William Hasker’s latest, The Emergent Self also from Cornell (part of the Cornel Studies in the Philosophy of Religion series) attempts to argue for a form of dualism (which he calls “emergent dualism”) while still recognizing “the critical role of the brain and nervous system for mental processes.” Whereas the Fortress book tends lean much more heavily on the side of mind to brain reduction, Hasker seeks to preserve the more traditional role for the soul while taking into account the recent discoveries in brain research. Given the newness of the book, Hasker’s contribution has not been adequately evaluated as to its viability as a player in the discussion.

The second book, Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics  by J.P. Moreland and Scott Rae (due out in March by InterVarsity Press) takes a more traditional view and defends a substance dualist view of the soul. The first part of the book, treated by Moreland whose particular strength lies in metaphysics and philosophy of mind, deals with the important metaphysical questions related to this issue. In the second part, ethicist Rae teases out the implications of the view for bioethics. Recently there has been a rash of articles and reviews that, like Moreland and Rae, call into question the viability of a purely materialistic view of the mind. William A. Dembski in the Catholic journal First Things, “Are we spiritual machines?” in an article with that title. Similarly, Matt Donnelly, in the most recent issue of Books and Culture entitled an article with the question, “Is Science Good for the Soul?” in which he explores the recent (what he calls) monist-dualist debate.

Western thinkers aren’t the only philosophers and theologians dealing with these questions. For example, Robin Cooper has written a book on Buddhist thought and its compatibility with recent brain research called The Evolving Mind: Buddhism, Biology, and Consciousness. The issues that are raised in Buddhist thought vis-à-vis Christian theology are markedly different. In a review for the Catholic University of America, Charles Jones wrote, “As one might expect, the resonances and tensions that emerge from the juxtaposition of Buddhism and modern science differ markedly from those that arise from the current struggles to position science within a Christian theological framework.” The point here is that the tensions that exist between modern science and traditional views on the body and soul cross religious traditions and the east-west boundary.

Which side will end up winning the favor of the academy is tough to answer. As far as philosophy of religion goes, there does seem to be a trend towards more traditional thinking regarding the soul and afterlife. This is true in spite of the opposite view dominating philosophy of mind. Given that the majority of thinkers historically have held to the existence of both a soul and an afterlife, this may be one area where philosophers of religion would be wise to refrain from too quickly abandoning their roots.