How Far Do We Go In Accepting People’s Feelings When They Contradict Reality?

Do we define people according to their feelings or according to external reality?

I previously wrote about the consequences of accepting people’s self-described sexual identity and what it might cost society (see here).  That article upset some people who are in my sphere of personal interaction. Some thought the view was callous and no doubt others thought it to be offensive.

Since that post we have had a few interesting cases in the news. First we had the case of Rachel Dolezal, a black woman who was a head of a local chapter of the NAACP. The only slight problem is that she was actually white. She self-identified as black because in her mind she says she is black. (see here)

More recently we have learned of a Norwegian woman who thinks she is a cat who accidentally landed in a human body (see here).  That she claims to have been born this way should make Lady GaGa proud. This woman says she realized from an early age that she was actually a cat and that at birth there was some sort of genetic situation that left her in the wrong body.

We then turn to Miley Cyrus, who has claimed to be gender fluid, finding a single gender to be too confining. She has supported such cases, promoting at least one teenager who claimed the same gender fluidity. One day they feel more male, the next leaning more toward female. One wonders what box they check on the application forms.

In still another case, a friend who worked at a local psychiatric hospital tells me they once had a male patient who thought he was pregnant. Even though this one claimed to be human, he was obviously not actually pregnant, but was convinced he was, and no amount of logic would convince him otherwise. The doctor jokingly quipped that the patient was not going to be released until he had his baby.

So what is the fundamental difference between these cases? In all of these situations we have people who are convinced in their minds that they are in fact different than the external reality. In one case we lock the poor man up and give him professional help to try to cure him, in another we find a little humor and quickly move on, in another we get slightly indignant that this person has headed a civil rights agency without actually experiencing a violation of civil rights. In three of the cases we hold them to actually be what the external reality says they are. But in the case of those who claim to be transgender, we ignore reality and hold them to be what they feel to be, accepting them going to medical doctors to become more like what their internal state believes they are.

What is the fundamental difference? If we accept the transgendered human as the opposite sex merely because they claim to have been wired this way, then what grounds do we have in firing the white person who wants to head a black civil rights agency? Indeed, what grounds do we have in hospitalizing the man who thinks he is pregnant? If we are to accept transgenderism based upon a person’s claims about their mental state in clear opposition to their external reality, what grounds do we have in hospitalizing any person we claim to be delusional? Except for those who are a physical danger to someone, what grounds do we have for trying to correct any mental state whatsoever? On second thought, even in the case of us stopping a mentally ill person from hurting someone, are we not imposing an external reality onto their internal state, claiming them to be wrong? What grounds do we have of denying their mental state as false? And please do not come back to me by saying this is all just much foolishness, for was it not but a few years ago that accepting such sexual confusion would be considered equally silly?

The Bible tells us that if we plumb the human heart, we will not find bottom. Human experience proves this out, for we have yet to search the depths of the human situation. Until we re-align ourselves with the compass of God’s clear thinking, we will be forever mired in confusion brought about by following our own hearts. Jesus tells us that If the blind lead the blind, they will both fall into a ditch.

Posted in Culture, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A Little Apologetic Humor

We have had a bit of heavy stuff lately, so here is a bit of apologetic humor.

 

Posted in Apologetics, Atheism | 3 Comments

An Atheist Questions the Logic of Darwinism, Part 3

In the previous post, we learned that Thomas Nagel’s book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False maintains that if indeed the world really exists in a mind-independent way (such as sugar or water) and if some things exist in a mind-dependent way (such as the taste of sweetness or the experience of pain as being bad), then consciousness exists and our observations of the world are not an illusion. Such a consciousness presents several complications for Neo-Darwinism due to 1) the need for a physical body to evolve a mental brain before the capabilities of the brain are considered, 2) the failure of a way to break down consciousness into components that could evolve, and 3) the failure to have an evolutionary schema that would allow for mental and physical evolution to happen in single events in organism.

Nagel’s next tact is to point out that our ability to think developed far beyond any ability necessary for survival. Rationality per se presents problems separate from consciousness. Rationality “cannot be conceived of, even speculatively, as composed of countless atoms of miniature rationality.”(p.87) Reason has to appear in conscious animals fully formed and functioning, and not merely by chance, but by probability so high as to be assured.

Nagel expands the problem of reason further. One could maintain that some human ability to develop abstract knowledge would be beneficial for natural selection to work, but when we consider all of our capabilities, no reasonable explanation for our mental capabilities arise. As Nagel explains:

It requires that mutations and whatever else may be the sources of genotypic variation should generate not only physical structures but phenomenology, desire and aversion, awareness of other minds, symbolic representations, and logical consistency, all having essential roles in the production of behavior. . . The rest of the story suggests that knowledge of objective scientific and moral truth, should there be such things, could result from the exercise of capacities that, in more mundane applications, are at least not inimical to survival. (p.78)

Here he holds that things like understanding symbols, abstract nature of phenomenon, and logic itself, are not needed for pure survival, but yet presumably each of these mental constructs, and the myriad of others like them, presumably developed gradually from simple to complex, bit by bit, giving one person the advantage in survival over another.

The idea is that our reason gives us the ability to evaluate our animal desires and go beyond them, yet presumably the reason was somehow a result of the animal desires. But the problem is not merely one of evaluating base desires, but going further into questioning the phenomenon we observe in our reason itself. Nagel describes it as “the freedom reflective consciousness gives us from the rule of innate perceptual and motivational dispositions.”

What this means is that if we hope to include the human mind in the natural order, we have to explain not only consciousness as it enters into perception, emotion, desire, and aversion but also the conscious control of belief and conduct in response to the awareness of reasons–the avoidance of inconsistency, the subsumption of particular cases under general principles, the confirmation or disconfirmation of general principles by particular observations, and so forth. This is what it means to allow oneself to be guided by the objective truth, rather than just by one’s impressions.(p.84)

One is reminded of Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, which holds that if evolution is true, then our abilities to understand are produced by a natural ability to survive, and nothing more.  Our perceptions then merely promote survival in the sense that they are functional, not necessarily objectively true. If every rabbit runs from every lion because he thinks the lion is playing a fun game of tag, then the same effect results as if they were running for survival. So if we conclude that evolution is true and all that exist are natural forces, then that very conclusion undermines our ability to make objective conclusions about whether evolution is true. Nagel summarizes similarly, “It is not merely the subjectivity of thought but its capacity to transcend subjectivity and to discover what is objectively the case that presents are problem.”(p.72)

Nagel goes on to conclude that because of the interrelatedness of physical with the mental –their dependence on each other–the properties of the universe would have to have made Neo-Darwinism not just possible, but probable.

Nagel presents some ideas worth pursuing. At the very least, it is refreshing to see someone raising the questions. In the end, at least some of those who hold to Neo-Darwinism will do so out of a tenacious desire to avoid the conclusion that God exists, for to do so forces us to realize that someday we will answer for how we lived our lives.

 

Posted in Evolution | 2 Comments

An Atheist Questions the Logic of Darwinism, Part 2

Thomas Nagel, in his important book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, systematically challenges several important areas of study, claiming that neo-Darwinism cannot adequately explain the development of the biological world around us. The three big areas that he presents as issues are consciousness, cognition, and value.

Nagel argues that consciousness presents a significant problem for Darwinism. Since consciousness exists as a part of life, it must be considered in the explanation of how life came to be. As evolutionary biology is a physical theory, it has a choice of either reducing the mental to the physical or claiming the mental has some active part in life. If the evolutionist chooses the first option, it cannot account for mental things that are not physically reducible. If the second option is chosen, then evolutionary biology is no longer a purely physical theory, and must explain how consciousness evolves into more advanced mental states, bringing in an entirely different area of natural selection than the physical. (p.14-15)

Nagel points out that evolutionary biology typically assumes that the world around us is reasonable and intelligible. If this natural intelligible order exists, then it either exists without an explanation, which destroys the materialist’s demand for a natural explanation for everything, or exists with an explanation, but does so before the mind perceives it. Yet the physical brain is what is supposed to be the root of  the emergent property of conscious reason.

As a further explanation, Nagel points out that water = H2O, and H2O = water. “Water is nothing but H2O. . . It’s water even if there’s no one around to see, feel, or taste it. . . Our perceptual experiences aren’t part of the water; they are just effects it has on our senses. The intrinsic properties of water . . . are all fully explained by H2O and its properties.” (p.40-41). However, things like the sweet taste of sugar, the feeling of pain, do not seem to be identical to the physical properties they are associated with. Rather, “experience of taste seems to be something extra, contingently related to the brain state–something produced rather than constituted by the brain state. So it cannot be identical with the brain state in the way that water is identical to H2O.”(p.41) Unless we drive ourselves to the absurd conclusion that things like sweetness and hurting are illusions that do not really exist, we are left with an evolutionary biology that is inadequate.

If evolutionary biology is a purely physical theory, then it might explain complex physical conditions, but is entirely inadequate to explain consciousness, even if the physical structure of the organism is a sufficient explanation for the existence of consciousness. (p.44-45). Nagel gives what seems to be a gaping hole in evolution:  “That process would have to be not only the physical history of the appearance and development of physical organisms but also a mental history of the appearance and development of conscious beings. And somehow it would have to be one process, making both aspects of the result intelligible.”(p. 52) Physical science may have things to say about the origin of life, but leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, which shows that natural evolution cannot be an explanation for the basic intelligibility of the world.(p.53)

It gets worse. “To explain consciousness, a physical evolutionary history would have to show why it was likely that organisms of the kind that have consciousness would arise.”(p.60) In other words, the physical capability that produces consciousness would have to develop prior to the natural selection of mental processes. Then the natural selection of mental processes would somehow occur in one process with the physical. Yet, “we have no comparably clear idea of a part-whole relation for mental reality–no idea how mental states at the level of organisms could be composed out of properties of microelements . . .”(p.62)

Nagel goes on to expand on the interwoven issues between physical evolution and the corresponding mental evolution that would have to somehow produce one effect. The primary take away for me is not that these questions exist, but that the naturalist scientists of our day brush these questions aside with a wave of a dogmatic hand, being as stringently tied to their system of physicalism as any young earth creationist would their view.

For the Christian, we can can rest in knowing that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and His works are wonderful. (Psalm 139:14)

 

 

 

 

Posted in Evolution | 6 Comments

An Atheist Questions the Logic of Darwinism (Part 1)

Evolution, as understood in the popular circles as purely random physical mutations filtered by natural selection, is increasingly under attack. It’s defenders must continue to climb further onto a limb and make explanations that taste more and more like just-so stories.

One recent attack on evolution comes from atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel who wrote the book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Nagel’s explanations are reasonable, but written as a philosopher who sometimes paints in broad strokes. His conclusions, however, are strong enough to deserve attention from the Darwinists.

Nagel is no religious zealot, for he clearly states what he would conclude if left to his own personal desires: “My preference for an immanent, natural explanation is congruent with my atheism.”(p.95) He denies any arguments that require a Designer (p.12), yet calls for intelligent design proponents to be treated more fairly and given serious evaluation (p.10). Nagel is an atheist who follows his reason to a logical conclusion.

He describes the direction from which he starts:

With regard to evolution, the process of natural selection cannot account for the actual history without an adequate supply of viable mutations, and I believe it remains an open question whether this could have been provided in geological time merely as a result of chemical accident, without the operation of some other factors determining and restricting the forms of genetic variation. It is no longer legitimate simply to imagine a sequence of gradually evolving phenotypes, as if their appearance through mutations in the DNA were unproblematic — as Richard Dawkins does for the evolution of the eye. With regard to the origin of life, the problem is much harder . . . The coming into existence of the genetic code — an arbitrary mapping of nucleotide sequences into amino acids, together with mechanisms that can read the code and carry out its instructions — seems particularly resistant to being revealed as probable given physical law alone. (p.9-10)

Indeed, it would seem that much of modern Neo-Darwinism is based on assuming the process is valid, then seeking to sequence the data to fit the model, often convincing us that the process is valid by imagining how a sequence might work. We are reminded of the statements by Dr. James Tour, who has stated “when it comes to the often gross extrapolations between observations and conclusions on macroevolution, scientists, it seems to me, permit unhealthy leeway.” (see the full article here)

Nagel is honest enough to point out a fact that is quite obvious but not given much attention by most modern biologists:

I find it puzzling that this view of things should be taken as more or less self-evident, as I believe it commonly is. Everyone acknowledges that there are vast amounts we do not know, and that enormous opportunities for progress in understanding lie before us. But scientific naturalists claim to know what the form that progress will be . . . (p.20)

Indeed, such an idea is more amazing when we consider the many changes in theories that have occurred in the annals of science. The college science textbooks that we studied a generation ago are so outdated as to be good for not much more than a doorstop, yet the current batch of scientists are just as convinced of their current accuracy as the previous ones were.

Nagel goes on to elaborate on the significant problem Neo-Darwinism has in explaining the areas of consciousness, cognition, and value. The next posts will examine some of Nagel’s claims in these areas.

Posted in Evolution, Philosophy, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

A Rational Academic Finds A Radical Faith

Dr. Holly Ordway wrote the book Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds A Radical Faith (Moody Publishers, 2010). In it, she tells the story of her rise in academic circles and her entrenchment as an intellectual atheist.

At thirty-one years old, I was an atheist college professor–and I delighted in thinking of myself that way. I got a kick out of being an unbeliever; it was fun to consider myself superior to the unenlightened, superstitious masses, and to make comments about Christians.

She then describes a change that happened in her life. The surprising thing is the clarity and openness that she describes the feelings that came over her as she was changed. The description is almost a reluctant change, one that she admits was unexpected and unwelcome, yet as it happened she seems to be, as Dr. C. S. Lewis described, surprised by joy. After becoming curious about Christianity and being given some scholarly Christian materials to read, Ordway describes her experience of conversion:

For me, it was completely new, utterly unexpected — and uninvited. What had happened was that I recognized a change in my internal state. It was like being feverish, while at the same time being completely well. Everything felt sharper-edged, preternaturally clear, yet at the verge of revealing something beyond itself. I felt — I felt something . . . Someone . . . working in me that was outside of, or beyond, myself. . . . I had not expected it. I had not looked for it.

Ordway’s book is a light but well-written account of how one hardened atheist thinker wrestled with the issues related to Christianity. She speaks of reading apologetics books and rejecting parts of them, accepting others, but ultimately coming to terms with the fact that there is a God, Jesus is who He said He was, and He revealed Himself to her. Ordway’s account is no foxhole conversion, but rather a slow, thoughtful journey. It is worth reading.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Suicide: Where Are The Answers?

I do volunteer work with a college apologetics ministry, Ratio Christi (www.ratiochristi.org). We mentor college students to defend their faith against attacks and questions from atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and critics. The most rewarding part of the job is working with great students who will go on to do great things. We get the pleasure to work with some of the brightest young thinking Christians.

This last weekend, one of our best students committed suicide. Our sense of frustration and sense of loss is obviously great, but I am sure not nearly as much as that of his family.

I know what have been my thoughts this week, but I can only guess what might be the thoughts of his family and close friends. This student was very bright, worked hard, had a good grasp of the issues, and was set to go on and do great things for God’s kingdom. We saw no signs of depression or mental illness. I am sure you can guess the questions: Why would God allow such a thing? Could not an all-powerful God stop this person? Could not God change him? Could not God have caused the gun to fail? Why would God allow such a tragedy, then allow the family and friends to suffer? The questions could go on, but you get the idea. These are not trivial questions, and many counselors see these types of questions all the time.

No doubt many atheists and skeptics use such situations to scream to the world that God does not exist, or He would have done something. Possibly God is limited or uncaring and is therefore unworthy of worship. This is the classic problem of evil.

I have considered this problem from a cool intellectual stance many times (just search for morals or evil in my search bar). Right now, however, I am looking at the problem with fresh pain and loss, for the senseless suicide has hit close to home. Added to the obvious pain is that my work is to pass along something to the next generation, and this suicide has added to the loss.

Either God is still worthy of worship in times like these, or He is not worthy any time. So what is my response?

I fully recognize the intellectual arguments, for I have blogged them here many times. But now the question is more personal, more feeling, so close that it is under my skin and in my heart. How do I respond?

My first reflection on this suicide was indeed “God, where are you? Where were you?” Following this is a recognition that there will likely be no simple answer that will satisfy the pain of those who knew this person. I admit that we all have the questions I listed above, but likely will never get answers this side of heaven.

My next reflection was on the hollowness of atheism in a time like this. No, not hollowness, but downright wrongness. I thought of Richard Dawkins’ quote “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” I am sure that if Dawkins were at the funeral he would be polite and cordial and not say such things to the family, but there is also no doubt that the day he said these words, somewhere there was a grieving mother who had a child that had just killed themselves. He cannot separate himself from a universe that has “blind pitiless indifference,” one with no evil or good, yet then turn around and say that we do not admit to such ideas in polite company, that the suicide this week was evil, we should have pity, and such evil acts are proof that God is absent or irrelevant.

Something inside me calls out to God for answers. But over that, something inside me screams out to the atheists that suicide of a loved one is indeed proof that evil exists, that we want good, and we are incapable of believing that blindness and indifference is the way of the world. No doubt the atheists at the funeral would agree, and are likely angry at me right now for suggesting that they are indifferent to such evil acts. But that’s just the point. If we admit that evil and good are real, that we cannot be pitiless and indifferent in situations such as this, we have pulled the foundation from under the atheists’ position and the whole show collapses on stage in front of everyone. If evil exists, and surely this suicide that has put fresh pain in my gut is evil, then now there is more to the world than chemistry and physics.

I may never know why my friend shot himself this week, for God does not respond to my demands. But I know that atheism presents no answers, and God promises to eventually wipe away every tear. I may not like the fact that God may never tell me the answers to my questions, but I rest knowing that a world without God is a more monstrous idea than the evil of one person’s suicide.

For you, Chase.

Posted in Atheism, Morality | 12 Comments