Monday, March 24, 2008

An Accidental Man in an Accidental Universe: A Comparison of Apples to Apples and Faith to Faith

Brothers and Sisters,

Henry Adams, the great-grandson of President John Adams, and the grandson of President John Quincy Adams, was a prominent nineteenth-century historian, intellectual, and social critic. A dour, humorless man, he nevertheless had the unique ability to see beyond his own times into the dark future of our present age. For instance, he once compared science to a wild mustang, upon which man, once mounted, quickly loses control. During the depressing days of the Civil War, he commented: "I firmly believe that before many centuries more, science will be the master of man. The engines he will have invented will be beyond his strength to control."

The statement has proven to be prophetic in ways that Mr. Adams could not have anticipated. The "engines" he spoke of now represent far more than mere technological advances, but a philosophy of scientific materialism which has come to dominate public discourse in today's culture.

Materialism is one of many "isms" I hope to discuss in this blog. Darwinism, atheism, humanism, naturalism, relativism are each essentially a different branch of the same tree. They are philosophies intent on defining our universe by denying the existence of God. Materialism, for its part, suggests that everything can be explained through the existence of matter, and that material things are the only reality. Rocks, dirt, air, grass, these are the only things, in such a view that, well, matter. Spiritual and intellectual impulses are described as only the casual tweaking of neurons in our material brains. Sounds like a pretty boring world to me.

The materialist crowd claims that theirs is a complete framework for understanding the universe, that only science has the capability of revealing all, and that all must be subjected to its methods. Yet, Scientific materialism, in many respects, does not bear close scrutiny. In fact, much of it is blatantly unscientific.

In explanation, I'm reminded of a lecture I once attended on the subject of epistemology, which refers to a theory of knowledge, or how we know what we know. At one point, the lecturer, clearly a materialist, who went on and on about the wonders of Darwinian complexity, announced that he did not take the Bible seriously because it could not be proven scientifically. Most of the audience responded with dutiful leers and a smug nodding of their robotic heads. It was not considered polite to question the speaker during his lecture. But, one young lady snickered loudly and suggested that the speaker should compare apples to apples. What did she mean, the man asked? As she began to explain, she was indignantly interrupted and accused of being an enemy to science. How typical. I have often thought of that young lady and wondered what point she may have argued. I'm not quite sure, but I think I have a good idea. It goes like this.

The Bible is a historical document. Attempting to prove it scientifically is a little like getting the girls down at Accu-Nail to do your taxes. It just doesn't make much sense. There is a misunderstanding on two levels. 1) How to verify historical events, and 2) Ignorance and/or flagrant misuse of the scientific method.

You can choose any date in history, say, for argument's sake, my wife Karen's birthday. I know for a fact that Karen was born on June 25th, 1956 (I just hope she doesn't mind me telling this). Every year she recieves presents and we celebrate on that date in recognition. But I cannot, and she cannot prove that she was born on that date scientifically. Why? Because we're not comparing apples to apples.

The key to the scientific method is empirical observation, or that which can be repeatedly examined by the senses. It is the all-important first step in the process. Then you formulate a hypothesis, or an educated guess, based upon these repeated observations, test your hypothesis by experiment and theorize upon its conclusion. This is basic scientific inquiry.

Because a historical event cannot be observed repeatedly (Please resist the urge to ask if history does not repeat itself), it lies outside the bounds of the scientific method. In other words, we simply cannot watch Karen being born over and over again. However, if a past event can be documented, it can be confirmed in a historical and legal sense. Karen can produce a birth certificate that states she was born on her birthday. This proves, by the same standard of proof used in a court of law, which is beyond a reasonable doubt, that the date of her birth is quite correct. It is a verifiable historical fact.

The New Testament is the most well-attested, best corroborated work to survive from ancient times. The Old Testament comes in second, and many of its events are confirmed in the New. Because they are better documented, the events of the Bible are more verifiable than any in the ancient world. So no, the scientific method cannot tell us much about the Bible. But let's go back to comparing apples to apples. What can it tell us, when accurately applied, to some of the major tenants of materialism?

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," Solomon famously writes in the Book of Ecclesiastes. His point is that without God, everything is vanity. It is meaningless, and random. This is exactly the kind of world that material scientists ardently wish for, squeezing their eyes tightly closed, as they attempt to force out any possible element of theism in their constructs, while inexplicably using the language of design in their expression, with such phrases as "evolution produces," or "nature provides." It is perfectly normal to these guys to suggest that the inanimate universe has an intelligence, as long as we do not mention God.

This is the world they have forced upon us, where all the complexity of life is deemed accidental. The universe happened by accident; the sun, the stars, the galaxies, by accident. The earth and its incredible richness of environment and species is an accident. Man is an accident. My big toe is an accident. (That hurts. I'm quite fond of my big toe.)

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy," Hamlet says in Shakespeare's play of the same name. (I always wanted to say that to an atheistic scientist.) Hamlet (Shakespeare) was so right. We only have a finite view of an infinite universe. There is more out there than we can ever begin to know. We accept this as part of God's mystery. The materialist conjures up suppositions that seek to eliminate Him as a source. The problem is that none of these ideas are actually provable by science. Why? Go back to the scientific method. They cannot be empirically observed. There was no one around to see the beginnings of the universe, as science tells us it occurred. There was no one around to tediously watch the so-called "billions of years" development of the earth. There was no one around to see complex organisms spring to life from inanimate matter, and there was certainly no observation of species emerging and evolving into variant and more complex species over eons of time.

None of these notions are scientific facts. They are merely postulates, or assumptions, based upon prior beliefs. The main ones are: 1) There can be no miracles, and 2) There can be no God. So, if this is not science, then what is it? It is faith, pure and simple, naturalistic, materialistic faith. Now, we are comparing apples to apples. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather have faith in a God whose design is "clearly seen," imminently observable, and who has ennobled us with purpose and meaning, than in a universe whose machinations are random and thoughtless.

Love in Christ,



Anonymous said...

Matt and I were talking last week about miracles in the Bible. Matt Potter was telling me about a passage in II Kings where the head of an ax floats on water. He started telling me this and I was like "What?" that's in the Bible? So we looked it up and sure enough there was these guys chopping wood with an ax they borrowed from somebody. The ax head flew off and went into the water. They guys were like OH NO that's not our ax. Then Elisha made the ax head float so that they could get the ax.

Matt then started telling me about how a chariot from heaven came down to take Elijah away. When we talked about this, it gave me a sense of amazement and reverence for the Bible. Since I had never heard the story of the ax and forgotten the details of the firey chariot from heaven, I didn't look at the Bible as if were figred out by intelletucals, it made me wonder what is in there that I don't know. Then Matt said "One of my favorite words is chariot. What a cool word."

I went away from that conversation much more encouraged about the wonder of miracles and things from heaven. Maybe scientist attacks on the Bible have taken away any godly sense of imagination.


Brad Livengood said...

While it is true that Scientific Materialism, with its message of a meaningless and random universe, has left our world colder and more impersonal, wonder and imagination are, thankfully, very much alive. We simply cannot escape them. Why? Because God programmed them into each of our living souls. Even the most dedicated atheistic scientist will sometimes speak in expressions of sublime wonder at the vastness of the universe he is exploring, and to be sure, it takes a greater imagination to believe it was created by accident than by God's design.
We worship an omnipotent God, for whom nothing is impossible. Scripture is full of miraculous events, signs and wonders, such as those you mentioned. But the truth is, miracles are about us every day. We need to re-activate our sense of wonder by taking note of these "daily" miracles. Nothing is mundane. Nothing is redundant in God's Creation.
I hope that my next post will be on the subject of miracles and why it is quite logical to believe in them.
By the way, I think "chariot" is a great word indeed.

Anonymous said...


Very good diatribe against the "isms." It is very interesting that the evolutionists accuse Christians of being a biased group of people that are guilty of "begging the question" when it comes to disproving the notions of evolution. Largely, we are very guilty. However, are they not just as biased in their own presuppositional worldview. They begin with the notion that there is no God, all "observable science" is based on that presupposition. The youth recently looked at the distinctions between observable science and historicl science. The problem with evolutionists is that they infuse the meaning of observable science into the meaning of historical science. As you said in your article, they were not there and do not have an account from anyone that was there. They naturally assume that their argument for "The Big Bang THEORY" is empirical, when it is just the opposite. This cannot be tested by the scientific method; therefore, it is subjective to their presuppositions. It is based on faith. Dr. Greg Bahnsen, in "The Great Debate" with world renown atheist Dr. Gordon Stein, accuses atheists of stealing from the Christian Worldview. That is most definitely true! Could not an evolutionist say with the writer of Hebrews "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1)." Evolutionists have a conviction about what they have not seen in the creation of the universe. The possibility of an atom "miraculously" (don't use that word around atheists) appearing to create the cause of the universe is 10 to the 40,000th power. I would suggest that, not only does the evolutionist have to have faith, but it is a faith that would have to be far more far-fetched than any Christian. Another argument that the evolutionist cannot answer is the "Transcendental Argument" posed by men such as Immanuel Kant and world-famous apologist Cornelius Van Til. The "Transcendental Argument" states that the laws of logic cannot have any basis outside of the presupposed belief in God. Because the Christian worldview presupposes the belief in a personal God that has established an orderly creation including Absolute Truth, a Christian can argue off of the basis of Logical Absolutes, or rather the Laws of Logic. An atheist cannot do this. For their is nothing to derive any type of metaphysical truth pertaining to morality or logic. A consistent atheist must allow for Nazi Germany to act consistently to the Naturalistic worldview; in fact, we as Christians would say that their depraved nature makes them bound to it. This is why atheism is so scary. Ben Stein is coming out with a documentary on the persecution of "Intelligent Design" scientists receiving persecution within the field of science because they are showing both the scientific and the moral fallacies of Darwinism. They are saying that these "Intelligent Design" scientists are imposing religion into the field of science when they are not. In reality, the Darwinian worldview is a religion, it is a religion that presupposes a faith in the "things not seen." Darwinists fail the test of consistency and logic because they cannot practically live out the Freudian-Darwinism that man is just a glorified animal. They cannot handle the consequences of such a consistent worldview. In conclusion, not only can I not be an atheistic-evolutionist because I do not have the conscience to be that inconsistent, but I lack the faith as well; I do not have the faith to be an Atheist. I think this is a wake-up call for Christians; we are very inconsistent within our worldview. We believe that salvation is a miraculous work of the Lord, but then we practice "easy believism" that says that people can live a life that is contrary to everything biblical, but say that they are still Christians. Very convicting article Brad, both implicitly and explicitly. You da man!!!

Chelsea Marie said...

WOW people in this comment section sure have a lot to say! I wish I could think of something to add, but I am lost for words. Brad, you do an awesome job with your posts! I look forward to reading more. I do have one question, though, did Shakespeare REALLY write Hamlet? :)

Brad Livengood said...

Evan and Chelsea,
Thanks so much for the comments. It is interesting that for decades we were told that we could not teach Creationism in science courses because that would bring religion into the classroom. But, in point of fact, it was a religion they were teaching all along.
One of my favorite quotes comes from an early biographer of Charles Darwin, who wrote that "logic led Darwin to God, so Darwin abandoned logic." It is an accurate statement, as Evan eloquently noted, to say that logic exists in the exclusive domain of the Christian. Logic belongs to, and was created by God, and will always point directly back to Him. It is one of the great weapons of apologetics.
And yes, Chelsea Marie, I do believe that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. My question, and the question of countless others is, which Shakespeare are we talking about?

Anonymous said...

I am really enjoying reading the blog. I have been trying to come up with something intelligent to say. A verse keeps coming to mind. I Cor. 1:18a, "The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing." It is never going to be anything but foolishness because the professors, teachers, etc. are all perishing. I cannot imagine how hard it will be for my kids when they get to college. It is so important that we who are parents teach our children to examine everything from a biblical worldview. Demolishing Strongholds and this blog are very helpful in this. A few comments back "easy believism" was brought up. While I agree that this is a real issue do we see it as an aggravation or an opportunity? We have a responsibility to teach the truth and model the light of Christ in our lives. Too many times we forget to wrap everything we do in love. I Cor. 13:2 says that if we have all knowledge and all faith yet have not love we are NOTHING. We all have to teach/model the truth with the proper motivation of the heart.

Brad Livengood said...

The point you make is a crucial one. We can scrape up every tidbit of information available. We can create well-rounded arguments and proofs of enlightening merit. We can reason and polemicize until we are blue in the face, but it will all be proven useless without love. Love has to be the militating factor in all of this. I conclude these posts with the closing "Love In Christ" because I sincerely believe that such love is the greatest apologetic device of all.
We should certainly be contemptuous of any philosophy or worldview which ridicules Christianity or attempts to marginalize Christ, but we should never forget that the key to understanding for an unbeliever is ultimately through the heart, not the mind. The Apostle Paul spent a very long afternoon on the Areopagus making some of the most beautiful arguments ever devised, but in the end, most of the Athenians thought he was nuts and only a few were converted. Paul well understood the reason, as you quoted him from his first letter to the Corinthians. The message of the cross was foolishness to them, because they were perishing. The same would be true today, perhaps even more so. The secularists have their arguments, we have ours. We do have the truth, but most likely they would refuse to accept it. The only possible difference in the equation has to be love; selfless, refined in the fire, New Testament agape love. Only the love of Christ has the power to change lives in such a way. If we make these arguments without love as the basis, then ultimately they are Christless, and as Paul says, "we are nothing."
I do think we (the church) have a historic opportunity to inform and to combat the "easy believism" syndrome that has adversely effected so many Christians. New tools are now at our fingertips. The breadth and fluidity of communication technology is greater now than at any time in history. This blog is but a minute example. Believers have always used new and available technologies to spread the gospel, from the codices of Ancient Rome to the printing press of Gutenburg. But again, love is the key, to fight ignorance, to fight fear, to fight indifference.
Thanks, Dana, very incisive post.

Anonymous said...

I want to go back to Dana's concerns dealing with college. It is true that the situation on many campuses has, for a lack of better terminiology, gone south. However, I am reminded of one particular verse...

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6

Looking back on how I came to know the Lord as my Savior, I can say part of it was through the love of Jesus shown by church members, Sunday school teachers, RA leaders (which is where I accepted Christ), and family members. This was extremely evident with in my parents.

Even when I went away to college, I could not stray from the Lord. I can honestly say that without the two Christian examples I had at home, I'm not sure how my life would have turned out. Praise be to God!


Brad Livengood said...

Praise be to God indeed! I believe myself to be blessed in the same ways; by the example of dedicated Sunday School teachers, faithful church members, and Christian parents, who, just like your own, taught me about Jesus from an early age.
That having been said, it should be obvious to even a casual observer that people such as you or I are statistical anomalies. Kids go off to college and kind of disappear into some secular black hole, or something, where we rarely, if ever, see them in church again.
The verse you mentioned is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. I believe it to be some of the truest wisdom ever written. I also claim it as one of God's promises, and hold it tightly to my heart with regard to Paul, Jenny, and Seth. There's no doubt that many Christian parents do the same. So, what gives? The question arises, are we failing as to its practice?
In its obvious dictum on child-rearing, by suggesting that there is a "way to go," the verse also implies that there is a way not to go. Jesus Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life." His is the path to follow. I think we teach that fairly well, at least here at Greenwood. But, what is the way not to go? There are only two ways, as Jesus illustrates in the Sermon on the Mount, so it is clearly the opposite of following Him. It is way of the world. Kids these days are assailed by the world in a way that has intensified since even you went to college, and we do not do a very good job of insulating our kids from its temptations, its pratfalls, and especially, its ideas. Proverbs 22:6 is a verse of preparation, preparing young people for a life of service, and a life of worship. I believe that anyone who holds onto this verse(or any scripture for that matter)in faith will reap its rewards. But, as the assaults upon Christianity have intensified, so must our work in preparing young people intensify.
Thanks so much for the comments, Jeremy