New Book: Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics

New book out, hot off the press: “Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics” by William Dembski, Robert Marks, and Winston Ewart. These men are all math modelers, and they are claiming that there is no math model to explain evolution, and as such, it mathematically has not been proven. Written at the level that us non-math folks can understand.

 

Dr. Robert Marks says “There exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution.” Without the math to back it up, it is difficult for scientific explanations to hold for very long. 

This work will likely be very influential.

 

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What is Metaphysics, and Why is it Important?

An introduction to metaphysics is in order. When we speak of metaphysics, we are not speaking of the odd, occultic section of the used bookstore. Instead, we are speaking of the branch of philosophy that studies how things exist.

Thomas Aquinas wrote what is arguably the pinnacle of the expression of metaphysics as it applies to God. Let us examine a statement of metaphysics and try to explain it.

Potency and act divide being in such a way that whatever is, is either pure act or of necessity composed of potency and act.

No doubt such a statement appears gibberish to the common ear. To understand such a statement, we must explain the terms.

The terms potency and act are old ways of saying potential and actual. A man is potentially strong, then he exercises and lifts weights and becomes actually strong.

In metaphysics, the term being has more than one sense.

  • A being is a thing, in the sense of a human being. In this sense, being is a noun.
  • Being is an action, in grammar a participle, such as running, jumping, sewing, or hitting.  Just as running is the action of one who runs, being is the action of one who exists.

In English, the two senses of being can be easily confused. Many of the original writings about metaphysics were in other languages, where the two senses are different words. Latin speaks of ens, being as a noun or thing, and esse, being as a participle or action.

We get more confused when we realize that the noun being (ens), must necessarily include the act of being (esse). A thing must exist to be a thing, therefore whatever exists includes the act of existing.

So our sentence above might be rewritten in terms that makes more sense to us:

Potential and actual divide things that exist in such a way that whatever exists, is either purely actual or of necessity composed of potential and actual.

This statement is significant. Whatever is purely actual, with no mixture of potential, cannot get better, or stronger, or change in any way. A purely strong man could not do anything to get stronger. If he could potentially get stronger, then he would have potential that has not been actualized and his strength would not be purely actual.  A man who could get stronger is composed of potential and actual.  All composed things are limited, for they have not yet actualized their potential.

So, to repeat, if a thing were fully actualized, it would have no potential to get better, stronger, wiser, or any other way. If a thing is composed of potential and actual, it has some strength or some wisdom, but has the potential to get stronger or wiser.

So the statement above is saying that whatever exists is either purely actual, in which case it cannot increase in any way, or is a mixture of potential and actual.

Why does this matter? Because everything we observe in this world is a mixture of potential and actual. Everything could get warmer, or denser, or stronger, or wiser. Everything that is a mixture of potential and actual was caused to be that way, and could not have caused itself. Therefore there must be a thing which is purely actual, with no mixture of potential. This thing that is purely actual, therefore necessarily exists, and this we call God.

But this concept of potential and actual has more applications. When humans think a thought, we move from potentially thinking to actually thinking. Only something that is already actual can cause something to change from potentially existing to actually existing. Since we have some things about us that are actual, it is logical that we can cause potentials to become actual. For example, if we are potentially strong, we can do exercise and become actually stronger.

Therefore this concept of act and potency supports the existence of God and human free will agency.

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Human Agency is Consistent with First Mover Arguments

In considering arguments for the existence of God, we sometimes encounter the argument of the first mover, now often referred to as the first cause. This first cause argument comes into play when we try to speak of human agency, or the human ability to have free will. First we must give a bit of background to set up the discussion.

Briefly, the first mover argument says that everything in the universe is caused to exist by another, yet this chain of causing cannot go back infinitely, for then every event in the chain is an effect. Aquinas used this in the first and second ways of his five ways. Aquinas was speaking of current, ongoing causation, as demonstrated by his analogy of a stone being moved by a stick, which in turn is moved by the hand. The motion would be ongoing and current, or the stone would not move. Since the stone cannot move itself, there must be something stationary causing the chain of movement, for an infinite series of sticks have no power in themselves to move anything.  William Lane Craig uses the first mover in explaining the Kalam Cosmological Argument, going backward in a logical series, and giving several arguments of why an infinite series of causes cannot exist. One of his reasons is that an infinite cannot be crossed, therefore there cannot be an infinite series of causes prior to now. An ever-increasing finite is not an infinite. The original first mover argument is found in Aristotle.

But when considering the nature of chains of events and the possibilities of infinites, it is sometimes argued something like the following:

  1. If the first mover argument is true, and since effects must have a cause, humans cannot generate thoughts or actions without the actions being previously caused by another.
  2. If humans, on their own, can generate thoughts or actions without any previous cause, then we have a counter-example to the first mover argument. Arguments for God will fail, including those from Aquinas and Craig.
  3. If humans, on their own, cannot generate thoughts or actions without any previous cause, then there is no free will, no moral accountability, and the world is determined. At best, God then becomes irrelevant; at worse, arguments for God from contingency or morality will ultimately fail.

Such reasoning then gives skeptics a tool to have fun running in conversational circles with theists, which they seem to do with glee. One suspects they really are looking for excuses, or they would not argue from such a position, for their arguments fail.

The simple answer is that as humans, we have been given the capacity to have free will acts and generate movement and thoughts. Human movement and thoughts are not generated with no prior cause, but from the human agent, who was caused to have the capacity to generate actions. Actions are when a potential moves to an actual, and humans have the ability to move potential thoughts to actual thoughts, and potential movement to actual movement. We were caused to have this ability from the first, uncaused cause, which we call God. So human actions do not come from nothing, and the human capacity to generate thoughts and actions does not come from nothing. All things are caused but not determined, for humans were caused to have the capacity to make free-will thoughts and actions.

I completed a lengthy series on the justification for human agency, the first of which you can read here.

To this we add the words of Aristotle. The following section is from Aristotle’s De Anima, in a section where he is describing how humans move. He writes quite a bit about the various aspects of the human soul having the capacity to generate, mentioning movement quite a bit:

It is because of the movement started by the object of desire that the thinking produces its movement . . . There is really one thing that produces movement, the object of desire. . . in fact it is not clear that the intellect produces movement without desire. . . the movement produces by reasoning being invariably accompanied by that produced by wishing, while desire even in the face of reasoning produces movement . . .

We have shown, then, that it is the sort of capacity of the soul that is called desire that produces movement. (De Anima, III.10, 433a)

We are not concerned here with Aristotle’s conclusions about what parts of the soul cause what type of action, but rather the pervasiveness of his mentioning that the human soul does indeed cause action, and does so of its own accord, with no direct, efficient cause of the action other than the human soul having the capacity to do so. Aristotle’s main thrust is explaining just exactly how he thinks the soul operates, and does not question whether the soul is able to do so. Aristotle seems to not even consider whether a soul would not have the capacity to generate thoughts and actions of itself. The idea seems so obvious as to not need discussion.

Aquinas’ writings are similar. In the Summa Theologia, he speaks at length about human abilities, frequently mentioning agency. But he brings in the idea of agency as if it was a settled fact, which is amazing considering the length and depth of the Summa, where he questions more things than we ever thought it possible to question. That Aquinas would not question agency is telling.

We can therefore conclude that at least Aristotle and Aquinas held it obvious and not contradictory in the slightest to both hold to an argument of a first mover and full human agency. Humans have the capacity to cause thoughts and actions, which is sufficient to do so. It was given to them by their creator God.

 

 

 

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A Theoretical Physicist Evaluates the Bible’s View of Creation

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Hume’s Explanation of Cause and Effect

In David Hume’s An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he includes a section on the connection between cause and effect. He draws examples such as one billiard ball moving and striking another, then the second ball moving. Hume goes to some length to convince us that we have absolutely no idea of why one event would cause another. All we have, he says, is a sequence of events that customarily follow each other over repeated experiences.

We only find, that the one does actually, in fact, follow the other. The impulse one billiard-ball is attended with motion in the second. This is the whole that appears to the outward senses. The mind feels no sentiment or inward impression from this succession of objects:  Consequently, there is not, in any single, particular instance of cause and effect, any thing which can suggest the idea of power or necessary connexion. (sic)

Hume mentions many times in this section that we have no idea of how a cause can be connected to an effect. How does heat come about from a flame? How are our limbs moved by our will? When a string vibrates and we hear a sound, we cannot know why we hear a sound, but merely that one customarily follows the other. Indeed, “even in the most familiar events, the energy of the cause is as unintelligible as in the most unusual, and that we only learn by experience the frequent Conjunction of objects, without being ever able to comprehend anything like Connextion between them.”

Hume was very insightful to make this observation. However, he confuses how we learn the connection with whether or not we can investigate it and prove that the cause generates the effect. Yes, we typically learn cause and effect from repeated observation. However, it is not true that the most common effects are as much a mystery as the most unusual and mysterious ones. When we encounter an effect, it may take us a while to learn why the cause generates it. Indeed, in the case of the human mind and will, we may never fully understand all aspects of the cause. But it is not the case that all cause and effect relationships are this way.

In his billiard ball example, we can understand and explain the physics of objects and motion. Newton helped us demonstrate that objects with mass, when in motion, must expend that energy when striking another object. We know why the second ball moves because we know the laws of physics involved in objects in motion. Concluding that the second ball will move is not a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

In Hume’s logic, we would have to lump such things as roosters crowing before the sun rises with billiard balls striking each other. Even if we do not understand a particular cause, it is not the case, as Hume explains, that “We have no idea of the connexion, nor even any distinct notion what it is we desire to know, where we endeavour at a conception of it.”

Sure, Hume is correct that when we see an object for the first time and are ignorant of its properties, we are not able to predict what it will do. And he is also correct that we need repeated observations to first learn the connection between the cause and effect that we observe. But once we do, then we are confident about how billiard balls and violin strings cause things because we know how they work. It is not the case that we forever assume the effect follows the cause merely because one customarily follows the other.

I am reminded of a very old TV show called The Beverly Hillbillies. In the show, a hillbilly family who has never seen modern life is transplanted to a mansion in Beverly Hills. One of the running gags is that when the doorbell rings, the family does not connect the sound of music coming from the walls with the fact that someone pushed the front doorbell button. They merely say that whenever that music comes from the walls, soon after someone always knocks at the door. Hume would have us forever stuck in the Beverly Hillbillies show, never realizing how the doorbell works. However, once we repeatedly observe the effect, we can understand how the mechanism works, and we do indeed know how the cause generates the effect.

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Did Paul Create His Own Version of Christianity?

This is another in a series of questions on the Bible.

 Question: In Acts 21, Paul is described as partaking in Jewish rituals to show the Jerusalem Church that he has not strayed from the Law of Moses. Gerd Luedemann takes this as evidence that the early Church was essentially Jewish in nature and thus that there was a division between early Jewish Christianity and Pauline Christianity. It would seem then that we are given Paul’s version of Christianity which differed from other versions of Christianity. 

 In reply, there are several points:

 First, it is true that in Acts 21 Paul goes to Jerusalem, encounters the church there, and begins a purification ritual. The part of the question that says he did it “to show the Jerusalem Church that he has not strayed from the Law of Moses” is an opinion that is read into the text. The passage simply says that Paul began the ritual; it does not say why he did it. Unfortunately for this question, Paul is arrested before he can finish the ritual, meet with the church, and address the issue…..or at least Luke does not record for us anything else Paul said on the matter before he was arrested.

 Second, in the passage, v.21 and v.25 tell us much of what the church leaders were thinking and discussing. It is clear from these two verses that the church leaders in Jerusalem were making a distinction between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. The accusation against Paul was that he was telling the Jewish Christians that it was not necessary to circumcise children nor “walk according to our customs.” In v.25, the Jerusalem church leaders repeat the response given at the church council in Acts 15:21, speaking to Gentile Christians.

 Therefore it is clear that the early Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were from a thoroughly Jewish culture. That their church would reflect such a culture is no surprise. That they had to be corrected by Paul is also no surprise, as shown in Galatians (see below). This only shows that the Jerusalem church, made of primarily Jews and the starting point of the early church, is Jewish. Even today, many Jewish Christian churches still hold to their Jewishness…….they call themselves Jewish, meet on Saturdays, keep Jewish traditions, and have church services which have a distinct Jewish flavor. This is not a division in the church.

 Third, Acts 15 – 16 give us a clue as to Paul’s thinking. In Acts 15, there is a discussion about circumcision as it relates to salvation, v.1. That it relates to salvation is the key, for Romans 14 tells us that there are some issues we should not divide fellowship over. Salvation, however, is an issue to divide over if a view is heretical. So most of Acts 15 have the story of this council, saying it is not necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised. Yet immediately after, in 16.3, Paul circumcises Timothy “because of the Jews who were in those parts.” They had just had a council that said people like Timothy did not have to be circumcised, yet Paul immediately circumcises him. Why? It was so that unimportant things like circumcision did not get in the way of the more important message of salvation in Jesus. Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:20 “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law.” Therefore it is clear that Paul was trying to not make minor issues a stumbling block, and was allowing people to keep cultural things in their church practices, as long as they did not affect important things like salvation, the resurrection, the true God, and the nature of Jesus. Paul says clearly and plainly that he is not under the law. Therefore he would not teach other Jews that they were.

 Fourth, the book of Galatians addresses this exact issue and does so with force and vigor. In it, Paul confronts the apostle Peter in front of the church and corrects him about his practices that would lead both Jews and Gentiles to think they were obligated to keep the law of Moses or any legalistic requirement. Over and over in Galatians, Paul makes it clear that no one, Jew or Gentile, is obligated to be circumcised or keep the law. That neither Jew nor Gentile is required to keep these practices is enforced over and over again in most of this book, including most of chapters five and six. We cannot take one passage in Acts 21 and have it override the rest of the New Testament, including Galatians.

 Now, I grant that in Galatians it mentions that even Barnabas was taken in by the hypocrisy, as we see in 2:13. Many people hold that here Paul was indeed by himself in the view he teaches, and the other Jews were incorrect. But Galatians and Acts 15-16 are in the holy scriptures, as are the passages where Peter tells us Paul’s writings are inspired scriptures (2 Peter 3:16). It is no surprise to say that Paul had disagreements with the Jewish leaders about the requirements of the law, for the Bible tells us they did. But the Bible also tells us that the Jewish leaders ultimately all agreed with Paul that circumcision and the keeping of the law are not required for salvation. Jewish Christians apparently still kept some of the practices, as did Paul in Acts 16:3, but this was to keep from making minor issues a stumbling block.

 In Galatians 1:18 to 2:10, Paul describes how he went to the apostles at Jerusalem on two occasions and checked with them whether his teachings were correct. They all agreed, including Peter, James, and John.

 So we can conclude that the only first century church that was Jewish was the ones filled with Jews, which is the same as today. There were disagreements about what was required, but in the end, after much debate, all the church leaders agreed that for salvation, no Jewish law or customs were required. In Acts 21, the Jewish leaders of a primarily Jewish church had issues with Paul about circumcision and customs, not about salvation issues. Paul responded by doing what he always did, “to the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews.” Paul had no issue with confrontation with church leaders over this same issue, as he did without hesitation in Galatians 2:14. Here he did not, since it was not an issue over salvation. Over time he would have educated them about how to teach practices and requirements, but was arrested before he could do so.

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Can We Be Free in Heaven and Not Sin? (Part 3)

A question arises that goes something like this:

If evil and sin are the result of mankind’s free will, then why is it that people in heaven will have free will, but not sin? If we truly have free will in heaven, we would eventually sin. But heaven is described as a place where there is no sin. If God can create a place where there is no sin, why did He not do so in the first place? If humans can be in a state where they do not sin, and God did not create us this way in the first place, then God is reprehensible, and not all good or all love. Either God cannot create a place where there is no sin or could create such a place but did not. In either case, God is not as described in the Bible.

We have answered parts of this objection before. First, we gave a list of all possible combinations of worlds and found that the current world is the best way to get to the best world. You can find that discussion here. In short, a world where no one chooses to do the best good is a world devoid of such things as compassion, bravery, and sacrifice for others. Such a world would not be the best of all possible worlds. Second, we gave a response from theologian Norman Geisler who dealt with free will and the ultimate good. You can find that here.

In the current post we explore an answer from author Brian Shanley in Beyond Libertarianism and Compatibilism: Thomas Aquinas on Created Freedom, found in Freedom and the Human Person (2007). Shanley gives his take on Aquinas’ view of human freedom. Shanley explains that humans naturally, by necessity, will what is the perceived good.

Intellectual beings therefore have an unrestricted appetite for their own good as known. This inclination to the good belongs necessarily to human beings as rational natures prior to any choice. . . Whenever goodness is perceived, the will can become engaged with it as an object of desire precisely as known to be good (even if mistakenly so). . . This natural ordination or inclination of the will to objects as good is prior to and explanatory of the will’s explicit acts; we do not have any choice about our ordination to the good–it belongs to the will by natural necessity. . . Every being has a desire for its own proper perfection. . . It too is not a matter of choice but nature:  human beings naturally will what they do for the sake of happiness. (p.73-74)

Therefore humans choose what we do because we think it will fulfill us. Even when we choose things that are ultimately evil or self-destructive, we do so because at the time we believe it will make us happy. No one chooses what they feel is the wrong choice. Even those who commit suicide do so because they feel it is the way to eliminate pain and suffering. Those who torture others do so because they get some twisted sense of joy from it.

Our flawed human nature — indeed, our spiritually dead human nature — is incapable of fully realizing God’s full and true good. Therefore we selfishly choose to sin. But we will not remain in this state forever, as Shanley explains:

All human striving for the perfective good is an implicit yearning for God. If we were actually to see God in all his perfect goodness, we would will him necessarily and naturally and not as an object of free choice. Once a person enters into the beatific vision, the will’s nature has come to rest in its proper object. Precisely because its nature is made to find completion in the infinite good that is God, the will is not necessitated with respect to any other object. This side of the beatific vision, no object can compel and quiet the will’s orientation to the good.

Because of the curse of sin and the resulting spiritual pollution, we are separated from a holy God. The flawed human condition results in questions such as the current one. Our sinful natures do not fully understand the infinite holiness and beauty of God. Once we see Him face to face in the beatific vision, the object of our desire will have been found. We then will want no cheap substitute. Just as when a child plays with a toy, but later grows to adulthood and realizes the real thing, he is no longer able to go back and choose the child’s toy.  When we see God, He will be the focus of our desire and we will choose no sin. As Geisler says, in heaven our freedom will be perfected.

Could this be considered a loss of free will, since the will is necessitated toward God? Only in the sense that the human will is always necessitated in the same way, toward what it perceives as good. In salvation, God changes us and informs our mind and soul with His spirit, thus giving us a taste of what heaven will be like. We then choose to love Him, for we cannot help but do so.

Inevitably, someone will ask “why would God do it this way and not some other way?” The answer is in the first post we linked above, for a world with greater good is better than a world without greater good, and greater good requires situations precipitated by evil. A world with love is greater than a world without love, and true love requires the ability to walk away.

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