Reality Check. Theism or Naturalism?

p9bBy David Russell

 

Besides being complicated.  Reality, in my experience, is usually odd.  Its not neat, not obvious, not what you expect.  C.S. Lewis

One of the biggest hurdles to jump while trying to discuss ideas is thought consistency.  In this post modern world many have relaxed the mind muscle and grown complacent, apathetic, even offended by discussing the depths of reality and the big questions of life.  I am often bewildered by the inconsistency some new age social justice warriors put forth.  They fight for equal rights and yet can’t justify why they should be equal or even where those rights come from.  They rail for tolerance while being intolerant to any that disagree.

In this article I hope to put the proverbial “stone in your shoe“.  I am going to address how bad this inconsistency of thought is, and what we need to do to change it.  I want to give a thanks to Rob Lundberg,  Frank Turek, and Ravi Zacharias who helped me in this journey.  Much of my material for this article is thanks to the hard work and illumination they gave me.  My wish is to help you identify these inconsistent thoughts and provide you with insight in dealing with people in everyday life and evangelism.

What is the nature of reality? What does it mean to be human?  What is going to happen to you after you leave this life?  Is this life all there is?  Is there real meaning?  These questions are the summary of questions I deal with on a regular basis.  They are like the root that supplies the branches of many other questions and thoughts.  Today, in the church and on the street, people seemed confused about these questions, some don’t care or even want explanations.  I find the latter the most disturbing.  We have allowed the culture to slip into the arms of apathy, filling our time with pure entertainment instead of thought provoking conversations.  Many have lost the ability to socialize with one another personally, others walk down the street carrying on full debates with they’re nose in a phone.

Entertainment is not wrong, nor is social media.  The problem is excess. We glutton ourselves with our devices and shows.  This, in turn, has led to a mental numbness, to Hollywood setting moral norms, aggrandizing abhorrent world views, and giving us false views of reality.  But the problem goes deeper still.  We have allowed this.  We have entertained this and we have allowed it to fester.  You could hear the train coming when philosophers touted God is dead, yet, we still allowed it to progress. Now the train is here calling us to board.  How will we respond?

The average person is still searching for how to respond, however, the mind is usually crowded with false notions of free thought and opinion given to them by liberal and relativist teachers.  People seem to be less teachable, prideful in their conclusions of these big issues.  They often mix an match different world views, trying to combine the parts they like and throw away parts they don’t. Some base entire worldviews on one You Tube video or Wiki article.  It seems, even in the church, Christians forget that the gospel is dependent upon the truth and relevant for all of us today.  I think we all need to step back and exercise the mind.  We need to equip ourselves and engage the culture.  As the post modern world continues on, we need to arm ourselves and reach the world.

Often, when we come up against the tide in dialogue with others, I have found your often dealing with a form of theism or a form of naturalism.  Knowing what your dealing with is the first process of identification.  This reveals a lot about where they are coming from and it may give you insight in how they where raised or what has influenced their worldview.  For this article, I want to point out the difference in these views and let you determine what best corresponds and is coherrent to the reality we find ourselves in.

Naturalism is a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted”.   On this view everything we experience is a product of time plus matter, plus chance.  Good and evil are just products of subjective flights of fancy.  Human value is rooted in the notion of human flourishing and thus like 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche put it “You have your way, I have my way.  As for the right way, it doesn’t exist” I was recently on a naturalist website and they claimed we are fully caused creatures, it states, “Seeing that we are fully caused creatures – not self-caused – we can no longer take or assign ultimate credit or blame for what we do. This leads to an ethics of compassion and understanding, both toward ourselves and others. We see that there but for circumstances go I. We would have been the homeless person in front of us, the convict, or the addict, had we been given their genetic and environmental lot in life”.

I encourage anyone reading this to follow this further.  There is much more to this worldview.  I am going to take the upper paragraph and ask, does this best describe our reality?  Is there no such thing as the right way? Are we organic robots,  unable to be responsible for our decisions?  Why should someones disposition lead to compassion if the right and wrong way don’t exist?  Do you see the inconsistency of thought?

What your seeing here is the assumption that the convict, addict, and homeless person are objective bad’s, while our, understanding that drives us to compassion, is an objective good.  Pure example of the “is, ought” fallacy.  Skeptic philosopher David Hume said it best “you can’t derive an ought from an is where morals are concerned.”  Naturalism, in the end, can only be a descriptive view, not a prescriptive.  It also leads to nihilism which means “the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.” That is why humanist Paul Kurtz says “If man is a product of evolution, one species among others, in a universe without purpose, then man’s option is to live for himself.”  Some naturalist own this, even if inconsistent, they own the logical outcome.  Dawkins tells us “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Nietzsche predicted this in his famous parable of the madman.  Finally, we have seen through the eyes of history what conclusion naturalistic nihilism draws,  Viktor Frankl states, If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.
I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment; or as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.

If life is as naturalism claims, we are left with no purpose, no ultimate meaning, no right or wrong.  This really leads to absurdity.  We wake up living our lives with purpose in mind, believe in true progress, have a sense of justice.  We experience a world of moral values and duties.  American founders called it self evident.  We bare the true consequence of our choices and demonstrate freedom of the will.  The difference between naturalism and theism reminds me of a famous quote from C.S. Lewis, he stated, “Thus in one sense the laws of Nature cover the whole field of space and time; in another, what they leave out is precisely the whole real universe – the incessant torrent of actual events which makes up true history. That must come from somewhere else. To think the laws can produce it is like thinking that you can create real money by simply doing sums.”

Theism, and I’m speaking of Christian theism, states that we have transcendent value.  Evil is a violation of purpose and moral values and duties are objective  rooted in the very nature of a good God.  It also explains the epistemological notion of progress through discovery.  We as human beings are equal because we are made in the image of our Creator, we have rights because of our intrinsic worth.  I cannot deprive you of  your rights unjustly because you display that same image on you.   This view does satisfy coherence and correspondent theories of truth.  We wake up and live lives of purpose because there is an ultimate purpose.  The theistic view gives us the answer to the ought.  Christian theism tells us that the truth about reality is knowable, that truth excludes its opposite, and it is evidential and experiential.

In conclusion, I think as the body of Christ we need apologetic’s.  Apologetic’s helps teach us why we believe what we believe.  Apologetic’s equips the body, helps with interaction when presenting the gospel, and gives confidence to the believer. In the weeks ahead I will be writing out the case for Christianity. The train is calling us to board, God is the conductor.  Nietzsche may have declared God is dead in 1882 but God declared him dead in 1900.

 

 

 

Simple Truth.

download By David Russell

The truth is that there are whole books on this topic and I won’t be writing an entire book on explaining truth.  I want to make this simple; hence the title.  Truth, as “Greg Koukl” describes, is not ice cream.  I love this analogy because it tells us that we can’t pick our own flavor of truth.  What is true for you is true for me in any objective sense.  The notion that there is no truth, makes a truth claim, “the truth is, there is no truth.” 

With that said, it seems we can’t escape truth.  Two people in a crashing plane can’t say, “it’s true that you need a parachute, but I don’t, because I don’t believe in gravity“. But as apologist, in our day and age, we see a society constantly living lives in denial that there is truth or that all truth is purely subjective.  Over the last fifty years or so, relativism has been a main theme across college campuses.

rel·a·tiv·ism
ˈrelədəˌvizəm/
noun
  1. the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute.

Today, this has gotten so bad that we have a portion of society that doesn’t even believe in or recognize gender.  Some deny objective reality completely.  But, in dealing with people, I have noticed this can only go so far.  Always, when engaged with others, I have found that absolutes always creep in.  No matter how hard the person tries to escape the truth, truth will always catch up.  We live in a culture that makes most of their decisions according to how they feel, often riding the waves of inconsistency in the ocean of sensationalism, they crash into the shores of reality.  Its a scary notion, and often times people aren’t able to handle what that inconsistency hands out. In the end, we can only try and deny it, ignore it, or walk away like Pilate did when he asked Jesus “What is truth?”  So, what is truth?

Truth

 noun

1. The true or actual state of a matter:

He tried to find out the truth.
2. Conformity with fact or reality; verity:
the truth of a statement.

I bring this to the forefront, because the truth we are discussing has an ontic referent. This idea that knowledge, morality, and truth are just delusions of grandeur is contested by, not only, our innate senses but that of any rational argument.  Not to mention, if there is no objective truth, knowledge etc. how can one trust in reality at all?  This ontic referent, is God.  Its not only because the bible tells us so, its because experience and evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, tell us so. Further more, people live lives with purpose in mind, it’s properly basic to all of us.  Without God, there is no real purpose to life.  The very fact that we exist is best explained by realizing the un-caused, first cause, is all powerful, space-less, time-less,  and personal. Choosing to create, he fined tuned this planet to be habitable for life.  Finally, he revealed himself in Jesus Christ, whose story is known through out history, his teachings changed the world, his life death and resurrection, recorded by those who knew him best, have stood the test of time.  He even claimed to be the “Truth” (John 14;6).

 So, at the end of the day, truth remains.  No matter what we do, it will be there.  I bet if Pilate had just stuck around for his question to be answered, his life would have been dramatically changed.  Truth has a certain power to it.  It has the ability to codify our trust.  Biblical faith, I found out, goes hand in hand with trust.  When I decided to really examine the claims of Christianity my faith grew.  Why? Because Christianity best conforms to reality. In the work place alone, I often find myself defending the reliability of the Gospels, giving evidence after evidence to the reality of the resurrection.  From it, I see the truth and how it conforms to the reality of our current state.  The description of the human condition and the answer to destiny and purpose, as mentioned above, we all wonder about.

What do we do with the simple truth?  Let me refer you back to the scene where Pilate talks to Jesus.  Pilate had a unique opportunity, one that the disciples had when seeing Christ risen.  Pilate walked away, the disciples changed the world.

Surfing against the gods of war!

1849588-bigthumbnail “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph 6;12)

This saying I use as satire but I want us all to actually imagine what we are up against.  As believers we fight a war on many fronts.  It seems that the battle within is not enough, we have to contend against outside forces that rival our faith.  This seems to happen in every area of our lives.  It’s like the end of the 300 when Leonidas is waiting for the hail storm of arrows to descend on him.

This article, “Surfing against the gods of war”, is about what we face as apologists and how to respond and help others discover what we are truly up against.

We live in a time of increased skepticism and doubt.  One only has to observe the universities where many give up their faith after year one.  Who’s to blame?  The church? Religious freedom?  Lets look at religious freedom first.

Religious freedom is often a double edged sword.  On one side we see freedom to worship and not be persecuted for the belief you hold, we see a fundamental human right and a beautiful, powerful one.  On the other side its blind, subjective, deceptive and often ignorant.  It’s like C.S. Lewis describing the three natural loves, in his book of the four loves, each has its beauty and danger.  This same truth applies to religious freedom.

Is religious freedom to blame?  No.  Religious freedom is necessary for any free society.  If we are the church, then one only has to go as far as the mirror to see who is to blame.  Yes, can untaught pastors lead large congregations? Can the ignorant amass huge followings? Can the blind guide people in crisis’s of faith? Yes, but it is our responsibility to know why we believe what we believe and to discover truth.  I believe its time, no longer can we sit idly by.  The evangelist must begin to incorporate apologetic’s into discipleship.

It was in 2007 when my crisis of faith hit.  I had been a Christian since the year 2000 but on the night, in the wake of my fathers death, I decided to debate an informed atheist and I lost.  I left with more questions than I had answers to and I woke up.  I decided that if I was to give my life for something I knew to be true, I needed to know why I believed it.  It was a journey, one I am so thankful to have gone on.  The discovery of my faith brought me closer to God than I thought possible.

To narrow this, there is a huge road block we all face.  This road block is all the misinformation on the internet that may hinder or lead you astray in your search.  Social media has become the classroom for the average Joe.  It is a hotbed for debate, in promoting wild conspiracies, inaccurate religious views, political reflections, and philosophical ruminations.

When evangelizing in the work place I am often challenged with questions posed on Yahoo or reddit, I even get the occasional YouTube speaker that teaches on everything except for what they are credentialed in.  Some questions are reminiscent of ideas Christianity dealt with hundreds of years ago, and dealt with effectively.  Others cite certain notions about the bible that aren’t at all biblical.

In the information age we are all google scholars and YouTube graduates. Regardless of the truth, some make eternal choices believing internet lies or revisionist history.  It is quite scary when you truly think on it.  In even the last few years, I find people are even too lazy to come up with their own arguments.  Instead, they flood you with articles that they haven’t even fully read or give you statistics without understanding how to read the statistic.

So, In the age of surfing against the gods of war, how is the apologist supposed to respond?  How about exactly how Peter tells us….15  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” That last part of verse 15, with gentleness and respect.  A gentleness that drips with patience or should I say pours? We have to remember hearts and souls are at stake.  Respond with truth, facts, and credible sources.  Also, remember your battling ideas and not just people.  Be respectful, nobody will care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Don’t allow your own knowledge to puff you up, that will only build walls between you and others.  It will also make you arrogant.  Don’t ever attack someones character, deal with their arguments.

Another good measure is to get things as clear as possible.  Respond by asking questions.  This usually ends up bringing out the presuppositions of the one your engaging and can give you an idea or reason the presupposition exists.  We see Jesus did this often, we see he often would follow a question with another question. Finally brothers and sisters, be compassionate.  Debates can turn into conversations, conversations build relationships,  and relationships are where you will experience the most success.