May the 4th Be With You

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As I’m learning a little about writing on a regular schedule, I feel the need to get my writing & sleeping habits under control.  I’m going to take this week off to work on both of these.  In the meantime, May the 4th be with you.

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Worldviews, Fails, & The Most Important Thing of All

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I was supposed to post today, but I failed.  Well, I failed up till now.  Wow, I failed so much I even failed at failing.  Oh well, I better make this quick, so I don’t fail even at that.

Last wednesday Mrs. Igniscient posted a recommendation of the book “What’s Your Worldview”.  I followed through & behold, I also hold the Christian worldview (though I did briefly explore Pelagianism due to an ambiguity in the question that divided it from Christianity).

But I wanted to clarify, in case anyone actually reads this stuff, what a worldview is.  A worldview is essentially how one understands reality & their place in it.

Ravi Zacharias says there are 4 main questions that a worldview has to deal with, concerning; 1) origins, 2) meaning, 3) morality, and 4) destiny.  Everyone has a worldview, whether they are aware of it or not, because everyone deals with these questions in some way.

1. Origins: How did I get here?  Well, that’s easy; from my parents.  But how did they get here?  From their parents, and so on.  But obviously that can’t go on forever; at some point in the past there is a non-parent answer to that question.  Did God start the whole thing?  Did nature start it?  And if nature started it, why did that happen?  Why is there anything at all?

2. Meaning: What is my purpose?  Why am I here?  Am I just trying to be happy before I die, or is there something greater?  Should I feel better if people remember me after I’m gone?  What about producing many descendents who go on through history?  How will any of that matter when I’m dead?  When we’re all dead?  Is life just some pointless science experiment by nobody for no reason; and when it’s over it will be as if nothing ever happened?  And who’s to say at that point that anything ever did happen?  Why should I even go on?

3. Morality: How should I live?  What are my obligations?  Do we have rights, and if so, on what authority?  What rights do we have?  Do we have the same rights?  Is it ok to judge others?  If not, how do you explain that judgment?  By what standard do we judge, or are we judged?  What consequences are there for my actions?

4. Destiny: What comes next?  What happens when we die?  Is heaven for real?  Should I trust a 4-year old to answer that question?

These questions affect not only how you perceive yourself & the world around you, but how you live your life.  Not only is it important to have satisfying answers to these four questions, but each of your answers should be consistent with each other.  If you think that man’s destiny is the grave & nothing more, it would be odd for you to hold that your purpose is to strive for the prosperity & perseverance of the human race.

If you haven’t thought about these things, I recommend you start.  What else have you been thinking about?  Is it worth it?  You might be wasting your time.  Aha, you are thinking about it, aren’t you?  Congratulations, you are a philosopher.  And to think, I paid money to be one & you snuck in for free!

Well, it turns out it’s after midnight, so I have indeed failed to fail at failing.  I’m a trifecta of fail.  But the most important thing of all is… nevermind, I’ll come back to this point later.

Random Apologetics – Evidence for Evolution

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Topic randomly selected from a list of apologetic questions.

#52. What are the key pieces of evidence for evolution?

Earlier I talked about the implications of evolution. Now I’m going to take a brief look at the key evidences for it. I cheated & googled this – what are you going to do about it?

1. Ancient Organism Remains

We’ve found fossils, bones, insects in amber, petrified wood, and even ancient animals preserved to this day in ice (I recall not too long ago some villagers in Russia were eating a preserved mammoth).

So what do remains tell us about evolution? By their existence alone, very little; but they are the primary evidence from the past that we have to work with. Dating methods can tell us these remains are very old, but that alone doesn’t prove evolution. I believe the case for evolution from organism remains involves arranging them sequentially to form a kind of pattern. So if we can see that the oldest remains are generally the most simple forms of life, & the newer remains are generally the more complex forms of life, this corroborates the idea that all lifeforms are related, with the more complex forms having evolved from the less complex forms.

Of course, this pattern only corroborates the theory of evolution. In other words; it doesn’t rule evolution out; but neither does it indicate that evolution is true.

2. Fossil Layers

I would think fossil layers are a component of ancient organism remains, but I suppose it is a particularly important part of the case for evolution. Fossils are found in sedimentary rock because it is formed by adding layer upon layer of dust, dirt, & debris (including dinosaurs). We know how sedimentary rock is formed (well, I don’t; but I know what scientists say – I guess that’s going to have to do because I’m not going to get a science degree) & we can see distinct layers of sedimentary rock, indicating different conditions, sediment materials, etc. This helps compare various strata (distinct layers).

Fossil layers help to compare ages of fossils. When dinosaurs are always found below elephants, it suggests they lived & died much earlier than elephants did. I don’t know if we actually find any elephant fossils, but I don’t care. You get the idea.

3. Similarities Among Living Organisms

Here’s the main point, in my understanding. Look around. There are a number of distinct body types. Zebras, donkeys, and horses are quite similar. Chimps are very similar to humans. It seems natural to suggest that similar animals are related in some way. With genetics, we can see that similar animals have similar DNA.

All of this corroborates very nicely with the theory of evolution, but again there doesn’t seem to be any positive evidence. If God were to create all animals in a day, and He wanted to make two kinds of animals that were very similar, wouldn’t you expect Him to use similar DNA?

But I think there’s a little more to it than this. Scientists claim they can identify copying errors in genes in humans that are the same in some primates supposed to be relatives. If this is correct, this would seem to be positive evidence for evolution. This is where it helps to be an evolutionary scientist. How are the rest of us supposed to take claims like this? I try to give the benefit of the doubt & if possible go with the majority opinion

There is another factor when you add geology into the picture. For example, I’m sure you’ve noticed that certain continents form a very obvious jigsaw puzzle. If we suppose that, for instance, Africa & South America were once joined (& how can we not suppose this?), we can then look for similarities in plant & animal life in those two areas. It turns out (so I’m told – remember, I’m not a scientist), that you have a very peculiar similarity in some plant & animal life between those two far away continents. If plants & animals were simply randomly distributed, there should be arbitrary similarities (for example between south africa & Alaska, or Germany & Australia), but what we seem to find are similarities between regions bordering each other, and regions that were clearly at one time bordering each other. Very peculiar, in my mind.

4. Similarities of Embryos

I guess the similarities of embryos goes along the same lines as above, so I’m not going to get into this too much. It strikes me as not particularly odd that various animal types would develop from nearly identical embryos; whether evolution is true or not.

Ask the Doctor; maybe he knows

So there you have it; 4 factors that are seen as strong evidence of evolution. If you were trying to figure out whether I believe in evolution or not, you may have been frustrated. I am skeptical of evolution in general, however there are aspects I find compelling. It seems to have some explanatory power, but significant holes. Since I know that God exists & is the creator, I know that all life being related is not too difficult for Him, but I can’t figure out how it works & I’m not particularly worried about it. On the other hand, creating everything distinct is perfectly reasonable as well.

Good Friday – “It goes here, it goes there” (my 2 yr old helped name this)

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Another reason today was "good".  We haven't had good snowman building weather like this all year.

Another reason today was “good”. We haven’t had good snowman building weather like this all year.

It’s Good Friday!  So this is the anniversary (sort of) of the day Jesus died; I guess that’s good.  I had this conversation with my 4 year old today.  It makes perfect sense to her.  “If Jesus died, then we can go to heaven, but if he didn’t die, then we can’t.”  What can be better news than this?  I mean, it sucked for Jesus, clearly; so it seems kind of weird too say, “hooray! they killed Jesus!”  But that’s pretty much what Good Friday is all about, isn’t it?  On the other hand, what’s done is done; shouldn’t we appreciate what he went through for our sake?

One more thing I want to share today.  This was shared by Ravi Zacharias on Facebook.  A blog post titled, “Is Richard Dawkins leading people to Jesus?”  That made me smile.

Identifying The Cause: Omniscience

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Part 2 – Identifying “The Cause”

4. Omniscience

Omniscience is another controversial attribute.  On the one hand, it seems pretty straightforward; if God is all-powerful He must know everything, right?  Of course right!  And that is where I start with our not yet identified cause of the universe.  Since we know that it is omnipotent, it stands to reason that it has access to all truth at all times.

The difficulty with omniscience is with knowledge of the future, or foreknowledge.  In Christian doctrine, God knows the future.  Some charge that since God knows all future actions we may “choose”, there is in fact no choice because we can only possibly choose what God already knows will happen.  If only one course of action is even possible, how can humans have any free will?  It seems that if God knows the future, human freewill is impossible; but only an illusion of freewill is the case.  This objection to Christianity tends to have the end of disproving the Christian God, or at least the religion which holds to the apparently contradictory doctrines of human freewill & God’s foreknowledge.

Since we have already established the existence of an intelligent, omnipotent creator, rejecting its existence is not on the table.  Since we know that this creator transcends the universe it created, we know that time is not a limitation for it; therefore in light of its omnipotence, it must have knowledge of all truth; past, present, & future.  Perhaps there truly is no such thing as human freewill then?  Let’s take a closer look.

Suppose I was walking along a path & came to a fork.  Which side will I choose?  I don’t know; I haven’t decided yet, but an omniscient transcendent being would know because it would be able to observe the choice from a perspective outside of time.  Suppose the omniscient being knows that I will choose left.  In that case when I decide, I will certainly choose left.  Now, does it follow that I will choose left because the omniscient being knows I will choose left?

Well, on the one hand, we could say that because the omniscient being knows it, we can know that I will choose left; but this only describes how we come to know that, not how I make the decision.  There is a causal link between the omniscient being knowing what I will choose (and revealing it to us in this example), and our knowing what the result will be, but it is not clear at all how this knowledge causes me to choose one way or another.

Ok, but doesn’t the fact that the omniscient being knows what I will choose prove that the future is determined already?  If the omniscient being knows it, then there is only one possibility; I may think I have a free choice, but there is no possibility that I will choose the one the omniscient being knows that I won’t.  But then, there never was any possibility that I would choose what I wouldn’t choose, so why should this be a problem?

Is your head hurting yet?  If so, you might want to leave it there.  If you’re following, this is where it gets exciting.

So the major problem, as I see it, with the idea that an omniscient being knowing the future means that the future is determined, is that it forces temporal limitations on a being we know created time & exists outside its limitations.  If we view this being as a creature of the universe, stuck in the present along with all of us, then it’s knowledge of the future can only mean one thing: at the present moment, it is true that the future is written & is immutable (ie. the future is determined).  If the omniscient being existed in this way, stuck in the present moment, it would not have to know the future to be omniscient.  If the future is unwritten, it hasn’t happened yet & there is nothing to know.  But we would expect a being outside the spatial-temporal universe to be able to relate to the universe by any possible reference point in time or space.  To such a being, it would be as if the entire history of the universe is complete & yet mutable.  Changes might be made at one point in history which would affect everything afterward, yet the free-willed creatures would merely go about their free-willed lives as if it was always that way.

And of course it would have always been whatever way the omniscient (& omnipotent) being decided it should be.  It is important to not sneak temporality back in & see it as a sort of editing process, with a prior original history & then a succession of revisions.  If you could imagine all the revisions (we might call them, “acts of God”) being a part of the original creation, I think this would be a better picture.  You could think of the “end result” (though remember it would be more like an instantaneous act than a editing process) as something like the selection of one possible world out of many possibilities involving an infinite number of different combinations of potential revisions (or acts of God).

So in short; the future knowledge of an omnipotent being does not cause the necessary lack of free-will.  Rather, the omnipotent being knows what choices will necessarily be made, because it sees that they are in fact made.  The knowledge is a result of the choice, which is known from outside of the temporal system in which it is made.

Identifying The Cause: Omnipotence

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omnipotence paradox

Part 2 – Identifying “The Cause”

3. Omnipotence

Omnipotence is perhaps the most misunderstood characteristic attributed to God.  Before I can make the case for the omnipotence of the cause of the universe, we must understand what it is.

The most common definition I hear is that omnipotence means the ability to do anything.  What is ambiguous about this definition is the definition of “anything”.  Does it mean the object of any combination of words, letters or symbols?  Can an omnipotent being do agajkohgiohjgiaohgih?  There are two possible responses to this question.  The first is, certainly, whatever that means; an omnipotent being can do anything.  The second is, “what exactly are we talking about?”  If the question doesn’t even make sense, does it matter if there is an answer to it?  Does this even qualify as “anything”?

No, it doesn’t.  If you don’t ask a meaningful question, how can you receive a meaningful answer?  An answer is only meaningful in the context of the question.  “Yes” and “no” are not the least bit helpful when nobody knows what we are talking about.

A common method of attempting to disprove Theism is to ask a question about God’s omnipotence in order to show that this critical characteristic is logically absurd; and therefore God does not exist.  The classic example pits God’s power against himself, by asking, “can God create a rock so heavy even He can’t lift it?”  On the surface the question seems to make sense.  We can understand that a being with incredible power could create matter such as rocks, & we understand that rocks require some degree of power to move, and a larger degree of power for larger rocks.

Ok, now what exactly are we proposing God create?  Let’s clearly define an object too heavy for God to move, and then we can evaluate whether He would be capable of moving it.  But for a being who created matter in the first place, there doesn’t seem to be any reasonable limit to the amount of matter which can be moved.  The result is not a limit of God’s power to create; but a lack of a meaningful question.  Why not ask, “can God create a rock so purple that He can’t lift it?”  The weight of the rock is as irrelevant as its colour.

So this idea of omnipotence meaning the object of any combination of words, letters or symbols is clearly absurd.  It seems to me there are two groups of people unwilling to give up this definition.  The first are those who insist that God must have this characteristic in order to disprove His existence by showing that the characteristic is irrational & no being could possibly possess it.  The second are Theists who appeal to this characteristic as an excuse for anything intellectually troubling.  It’s an intellectual get-out-of-jail-free card.  If it seems like your religion might not be rational; that’s ok because God transcends reason.  If you want some entertainment, try to get one of each of these types together to debate the existence of God.

So what is omnipotence?  Omnipotent is Latin; the combination of “omni” (all) & “potent” (powerful).  It literally means possessing all power.  Therefore an omnipotent being can do anything that power can do.  It can’t increase the pressure of water to the point that unicorns pop out of it.  It can’t create a round square.

Finally, how do we know that the cause of the universe is omnipotent?  Simply because it created the entire universe in the first place.  If something can create matter & time, from nothing besides its own power, including the various cosmological constants which make up the laws of nature, then it can do so again on any scale.  It can make any change to any part of the universe, create any new object; in short, that being must be all-powerful over the universe, or omnipotent.

Identifying The Cause: Personality

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Personality

Part 2 – Identifying “The Cause”

2.2 Personality

Continuing in the task of identifying the cause of the universe & morality, today we will look at personality.

Everything that exists is either contingent or necessary.  Because these are opposites, this statement is a necessary truth, like saying, “everything that exists is either a narwhale or not a narwhale” or “there’s 10 kinds of people, those who understand binary & those who don’t”.  A contingent thing can exist or not exist; like a delicious bass, the whole universe, or Justin Bieber.  A necessary thing, as the name implies, cannot possibly fail to exist, like abstract realities such as numbers or the laws of logic.

Now, we’ve already established that the cause is immaterial & eternal.  If it is eternal, then it is a necessary being; because 1) it was not caused to exist by anything else & 2) it does not change (then it would be temporal), so it cannot cease to exist at any time.

But what is that cause like?  Is it personal or non-personal?  For example, if the effect was the warming of a room we might ask, was the cause a natural process, like the rising of the sun, or was it an intelligent agent, like a person turning a furnace on?  If the cause was natural, then any time the cause exists, the effect must exist.  If the sun rises, the temperature rises.  If the cause is a person, then the person can exist without causing the effect until he so chooses.

Ok, why is this important?  If the cause of the universe was a naturally determined process, then the effect must exist eternally along with the cause.  But we already know the effect (the universe) is not eternal.  Therefore, whatever caused the universe to exist is a personal being; that is, an intelligent being who chose to create the universe.