Men Without Chests

31 08 2009

Men Without Chests is the intriguing title to the first chapter of C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man.  It is not only an intriguing title, but it is a compelling topic in today’s culture where we are told to tolerate lifestyles and ideas, but not truth or necessarily, people.

Abolitoin of ManLewis begins the chapter with the discussion of a book, a real book by real authors; however, he masks both the name of the book and the names of the authors as an act of kindness toward them, a kindness, although undeserved, is displayed out of Christian charity (this is my interpretation, not his).  Lewis writes, “I shall refer to these gentlemen as Gaius and Titius and to their book as The Green Book.  But I promise you there is such a book and I have it on my shelves.” (2)

The book was intended to be a book on writing and literary style, yet, as Lewis points out in this chapter, the book turns out to be a insidious book of philosophy.  Lewis discusses a portion of the book in which they discuss Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poet and philosopher, who wrote of a couple of tourists viewing a waterfall.   One says that the waterfall is sublime while the other says that it is pretty.  Now, since we don’t use the word sublime commonly in our vernacular, let me give you the definition: impressing the mind with a sense of grandeur or power; inspiring awe, veneration, etc.

My wife and I have had the opportunity to go to Niagara Falls years ago and I will tell you that neither of us would have described the falls as simply, pretty.  To do so would have done an injustice to the grandeur of the falls.  The same could be said of the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, the Grand Canyon and many other natural wonders of this world.  Coleridge as well endorsed the observation of the first tourist and rejected that of the second.

This is where Gaius and Titius step in to introduce philosophy to the conversation.  They tell the reader that the tourists were not making an observation about the waterfall itself, but an observation about their own feelings.  Lewis quotes Titius as saying, “When the man said This is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall…Actually…he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings.  What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word “Sublime”, or shortly, I have sublime feelings.” (2)

In other words, we are not making objective observations about a thing, in fact we cannot, we can only express the feelings or emotions brought about when observing a thing.  I called this insidious on the part of Gaius and Titius and here is why.  In the name of teaching the proper use of the English language, they are implanting ideas about the world into the heads of school children in a somewhat subversive manner.  They are not coming out and telling them that they are discussion philosophy and a worldview, they are merely slipping it in the back door, as it were, in the guise of an English lesson.

Gaius and Titius go on to give another example of this in the fourth chapter of their book where they take an advertisement for a cruise line and again slip in philosophy under the cover of English composition.  The ad encourages the reader to buy a ticket to sail the “Western Oceans where Drake and Devon sailed” seeking the adventures and treasures of the Indies.  Lewis criticizes the ad as a poor piece of writing, but criticizes Gaius and Titius for not only overlooking the poor writing, but instead focusing on the idea that the cruise ship won’t sail were these adventurers sailed and that any treasures that they bring home will be metaphorical.  In other words, instead of dealing with the grammar and syntax, these men attack the philosophical and literary underpinnings of the ad.  Lewis points out that they could do the same with Wordsworth and many of the other great writers in literary history as most of them used metaphor in their writing.

CS LewisLewis explains that up until recently our emotions and observations were connected to something real, something objective.  Our observations could be judged to be right or wrong as they were compared to the reality of that which was being observed or judged.  He explains that every culture had an understanding of a good that is beyond the physical world and that is objective in nature.  He illustrates this by using the Chinese concept of the Tao, “the reality beyond all predicates”, or as Plato called it, the forms.  Again, he uses the Tao not necessarily as a reference to Chinese thought, but to a concept that he says spans all major worldviews and that represents an objective reality beyond the physical world.  Readers can get tripped up on this concept and I will say that I am not in full agreement with Lewis’ presentation of this concept; however, it is helpful in understanding that there is a reality beyond this physical world that can be understood and grasped by us.

It is those who not only deny this reality but also convince others that this reality is no reality at all that Lewis calls men without chests. These people claim the title of intellectual and yet set out to destroy.  In destroying a person’s confidence in being able to grasp objective truth and in the very existence of objective truth, these people destroy hope, meaning and purpose in the person’s life as well.  If there is no objective truth, there can be no real meaning to life.  Morality becomes a quaint concept with no grounding in reality.  The Apostle Paul said that if the reality of the resurrection does not exist, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor. 15:32)  In other words, if there is no hope beyond this world, we might as well live it up in this world as it is all we have.

Yet, Paul says the same thing of these people that Lewis says of Gaius and Titius, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (v.33) Paul tells us that there is a reality beyond this physical existence and that Jesus is the demonstration of that through his death, burial and resurrection.  So, let us heed the words of Paul:

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (vv. 57-58)

Is Morality the Product of Evolution

25 08 2009

ArrowsLast week, we considered the question of whether religion could be explained by evolution alone, and this week we will do the same with the question of morality and ethics. I hear quite often in discussions with skeptics that morality is simply the product of evolution, something that has just helped our species to survive. Let’s begin by considering that possibility and find out what would be true of ethics and morality if it were merely a trait or mechanism that evolved to aid our survival as a species.

The first thing that would be true of morality would be that it would not be objective in nature. In other words, what we consider to be moral or immoral would not be a fact independent of our belief in the same. Murder would not be objectively wrong or evil, nor would rape, racism, or a whole host of other actions that we deem to be wrong, or even evil. In the same way, actions like helping the poor and needy, rescuing a drowning child, or being kind would not be objectively good things. It is possible, given evolution, that we could just as easily live in a world where killing the disabled or even people with certain characteristics would be considered to be good, or preventing the torture of animals would be evil.

After all, as the famous evolutionist, Stephen Jay Gould, in his book Wonderful life: the Burgess Shale and the nature of history (the name is a takeoff of the holiday favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life”) said that if we replay the tape of evolution “a million times…I doubt that anything like Homo sapiens would ever evolve again.” (289) He believed that because evolution involves chance mutations and that there is no telos (purpose or end goal), that if evolution were to be rerun, it would produce different results each time, including that Homo sapiens would not be a part of the other permutations.

We could equally extrapolate out for morality that it would turn out different each time, if it evolved at all! So, we could quite likely see a world where acts that we consider evil might be considered to be good and vice versa. Richard Dawkins, in a post debate radio interview, he would be OK with the idea of rape being acceptable if evolution had turned out differently. Dawkins replied that he would not like to live in such a world. In other words, Dawkins believed rape to be objectively evil, wrong despite what evolution would lead us to believe.

The second thing that would be true of morality, given evolution, would be that it would be possible for each person to evolve in a slightly different way such that we would each see morality differently from other people. In other words, morality would be person-subjective. No one would be able to say that their evolutionary view of morality was “better” than another person’s. So, if I evolved such that my morality allowed me to steal from others, the one from whom I have stolen could not say that I have done anything really wrong. It may be wrong to them to steal, but they would be in no position to impose that morality on me.

The third problem is also an epistemological problem (a how we know problem) in that evolution would not necessarily lead us to be able to distinguish truth as evolution (according to evolutionary experts) only puts our bodies in the right place at the right time so that we can survive as an entity and as a species. Now, I have problems with this view that evolution has this “goal” of survival as evolution is a blind process and has no goals or direction, it just is a process. However, even if evolution were capable of creating within us the ability to get our bodies in the right place at the right time, it would not necessitate that we would do so in a manner that would be considered moral or ethical. The fact is that we would not really have need for objective morality, just a need to make sure that we survive.

Morality, according to philosopher J.P. Moreland, implies a design or telos to our existence. Why, you might ask? Moreland uses a couple of illustrations to make the point. First, Moreland uses the example of an automobile carburetor, the part of the car that used to (carburetors are not found in many modern cars with fuel injectors) that would atomize gasoline so that it could be ignited by the spark plugs. Moreland asks whether there there could be a bad carburetor. Those of us who used to drive cars with carburetors would answer that yes, there could be a car with a bad carburetor, in fact, I a lot of time trying to start cars with bad carburetors. How do we know the carburetor is a bad one? Because we know how a carburetor is supposed to work, we know how it was designed to work. When it doesn’t work according to the design, we know it is bad.

So, are people designed to work a certain way, or are we the product of a blind chance process operating by selection? The answer obviously has implications. If it is the former, then there is a design according to which we are to live our lives and when we don’t live according to that plan, we are acting in a bad manner. However, if we are the product of a blind process, then there is no plan or design and no wrong way to live. Even if we are living in such a way that would lead to the extinction of the species, we can’t even say that this behavior is bad since the system is not “designed” for our survival, survival is merely a byproduct of how the system has worked out.

Moreland also uses an example of playing a game of Monopoly. He tells his opponent that the rules of the game are that his opponent can do anything he wants when it is his turn. He can make a sandwich, turn on the TV, ring a bell, or anything else he wants. His opponent begins his turn by loading up properties with hotels. Moreland counters by tipping over the board and ringing the bell. His opponent is confused by that move and proceeds to load up the properties with hotels once again. Moreland counters by wiping the board clear and turning on the TV. On and on it could go and since there is no ultimate purpose to the game with these rules, there is no right or wrong to the moves. The same is true of our lives, if there is no ultimate purpose, then there is no right or wrong behavior. We can either tip the board or put on the hotels and either move is just as “meaningful” or “meaningless” as the other. If life has no ultimate meaning, it has no ultimate morality and if it has no ultimate morality, then it has no ultimate meaning either.

These are the reasons that I believe that morality and meaning cannot be ultimately explained by evolution. Life has too much evidence of design, and design begs for a designer.

Did Religion Merely Evolve?

18 08 2009

This week, the book discussion group of which I am a part considered the idea of whether religion and religious beliefs are merely the product of evolution. Of course the author, Paul Ehrlich, assumes that this is the case as he is a naturalist and committed to explaining everything in life and culture via the evolutionary model. However, Ehrlich is not the first to have come up with this idea, nor is he the most recent to make this claim.evolution_cartoon

On the way home from the book discussion, I happened to catch a radio conversation between a couple of authors on this very subject. The first was Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God, a new book that takes that to which Ehrlich devoted one chapter and expands it out over 400 pages. I have not personally read this book; however, his counterpoint on this radio program was one of my own professors, John Mark Reynolds, from Biola University. Reynolds is a philosopher and the author of his latest book, When Athens Met Jerusalem: An Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought.  Reynolds’ critique of Wright covered a number of issues; however, one of his main critiques of Wright was his lack of interaction with some of the more recent philosophers of religion and his failure to cite references for many of his assertions. Again, I won’t comment further since I have not read Wright’s book.

I did read Ehrlich’s treatment of this topic and in reading some of the reviews of Wright’s book, it seems that they are arguing the same case, with Ehrlich doing it in a more summary fashion. So, back to the main question, did religion merely evolve?

Ehrlich’s contention regarding religion, as it is for many of his arguments regarding the development of human culture, is that we developed this trait or capacity due to the increasing size of our brains which resulted from the addition of meats and other proteins to our diets. Ehrlich argues that the capacity of our brains (not our minds) has given us awareness of the temporary nature of our lives and that there are places beyond where we live, potentially places that are up to this point, unknowable.

Religion to Ehrlich is a way of trying to reconcile the anxiety that we experience in life, as well as a way to create within us a certain emotion or exhilaration; the same type of exhilaration he says he gets when he sees his granddaughter, hears a well-drilled band, or pushes the throttle of an airplane. Ehrlich does see a difference between homo sapiens and Neanderthals in that we have more of a religious experience and ceremony when we bury our dead including the decoration of the body. Ehrlich also believes that seeing cause and effect patterns is hardwired into our systems and that we may also have invented causes for observed, yet currently unexplained effects in order to quell the anxiety of those unexplained events.

Ehrlich goes on to explain other behaviors and phenomena, all through a purely evolutionary paradigm, while not really giving an actual basis for drawing these conclusions. It seems that when one starts with evolutionary naturalism, one also has to try to fit all the pieces of the puzzle into that model, even if it means the person has to force the pieces to fit at times, and our group came to that conclusion about him in our discussion of this chapter. Although some of his explanations seem plausible, evolution still doesn’t explain how the universe (all matter, space, and time) came to be, why morality seems to be objective in nature (which it could not be given naturalism), the fine tuning of the universe, the existence of the mind, the resurrection of Jesus, and many other issues related to religion and science.

Ehrlich could be completely correct in his explanation of how religion came to be and yet, God could still actually exist. Yet, I find the whole explanation to be somewhat ad hoc. In other words, evolution is assumed to begin with and then religion is explained in light of the assumed evolutionary framework. I don’t see in these explanations such a slam dunk case being presented that it could not just as plausibly be explained via the Biblical model. To be more specific, if the biblical model is correct, which I think for many reasons it is, it tells us that man’s understanding of God has been corrupted by sin. Even though we have God’s written word, we still get things wrong. Now, go back to a time when people didn’t have a written revelation of God, nor regular direct interaction with God, and we can understand how so many different religious strains grew up over time.

Combine all of this with man’s autonomous nature and we can also understand how so many of these religions put man at the center and God at the periphery. It is man, in most religions (with the exception of Christianity and Judaism, before it was corrupted), who is responsible for working his way to God and earning heaven, paradise, or whatever form of eternal reward the religion describes.

I also think that most evolutionists underestimate how intelligent people were in past ages. When we think of the great classical thinkers of Homer, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, there are not many today that could probably produce the level of thinking that they produced without the benefit of our technological advances. When we look at engineering feats like the pyramids of Egypt and Central and South America which were produced without hydrolics and the heavy equipment that we have today, it is a marvel. I believe that we often look to the past with a chronological bias, thinking that we are somehow smarter because we have devices like computers, when what they produced in their day is technologically more amazing given their lack of the types of aids that we have today.

Did religion evolve to help us to answer those unanswered questions and deal with our anxieties? I find this explanation to lack explanatory scope. There are too many issues that remain unresolved by positing this explanation for religion and religious belief. Sure, it may address these issues like trying to explain the unknown or as a way to resolve anxiety. Yet, do we really think that morality is not objective as it would be if the concept of God merely evolved? Do we really think that the universe is either eternal, uncaused, or somehow self-caused as it must be if God really doesn’t exist? I don’t think that many, if any of us would be satisfied with these consequences that seem follow from the religious evolutionary hypothesis. I think when all the evidence is taken together, it is more reasonable to conclude that God exists, then to believe that he does not. If God exists, then it is also possible that he could have revealed himself to us and that is what is reported and recorded in the Bible. If Jesus existed, as history seems to indicate, then he isn’t a concoction of evolutionary thought as some would suggest. I find it more reasonable to suggest that the supernatural does exist and that God is a better explanation for the existence of matter, space and time, then to believe that it simply popped into being. The concept of religion as an evolved concept is simply too difficult for me to believe.

On Death, Dying, and Eternity

7 08 2009

We have heard it said that death is the great equalizer, everyone who is born will, if the Lord doesn’t return first, also die. As we have watched my father-in-law decline in health over the past year, we have been reminded of this grim fact. We live close to him and have had the chance to spend a fair amount of time with him at family gatherings and also on family vacations that we have taken with Andrea’s family nearly every year overEmpty Tomb the past dozen or so years. He is a nice person and has been very generous over the years to his family; however, at this point he lacks the most important thing anyone could want or need, a relationship with his Creator.

It was last summer, while at a family gathering that Andrea asked her father why he didn’t trust in Jesus. He said that he didn’t believe that Jesus existed. Andrea asked him what it would take for him to believe and he answered that if Jesus were to appear next to him he might, but then he caught himself and said that maybe he would think he was crazy. It was the week later that he was diagnosed with the cancer that will eventually take his life.

Now, I don’t believe that there is any connection to his rejection of Jesus and his cancer as he was already showing signs that something was wrong even the week or so before the gathering. However, the type of cancer with which he had been diagnosed that week was a very aggressive type and typically patients are given from months to a few years to live. His was caught early and the prognosis looked good, and he maintained very good health otherwise for an octogenarian (he ran three times per day, about two miles each time). He put his hope in science and medicine to cure him and it looked promising for a while.

Bert’s began to have more complications last December and, although the doctors didn’t tell anyone, he was showing signs that chemo wasn’t working. Now he is in a fast decline and has been confronted with the cold reality of what will be his eternal destiny. For him there is still the opportunity that he may repent and put his trust in Jesus; for the Christian, eternity is secured by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So, in a sense, death is not the great equalizer. For the Christian, physical death is a temporary setback on the way to an eternity with Jesus. During his life, Jesus announced that he would rise again, overcoming sin and death. On the cross he spoke the word that brought that reality to fruition – Tetelestai – it is finished. At that moment, Jesus proclaimed that death would no longer have a hold on those who trust in him, death had been conquered once and for those who are His. His resurrection showed the world that death and sin no longer reign.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.       1 Corinthians 15:54-56

Truth, a What and a Who

1 08 2009

I have written on the concept of truth in previous posts (April 2009); however, it is an important topic and I would like to address it from a different direction in today’s post.  As many of you are aware, we live in a postmodern generation where truth is considered to be relative.  In other words, a thing is true if you believe it to be true, but that same idea does not need to be true for me if I don’t want it to be.  Confused yet?  Let me explain further.

Many are most familiar with this concept in the area of morals.  We are often told, “that may be true for you, but not for me” when it comes to a person’s favorite cause or sin (as the Bible would describe certain actions).  This statement is often followed by an admonition to not be intolerant or try to force our beliefs on the other person (a principle that most people consider to be as close to absolute as possible!)  I would like to look at whether this idea is true (objectively) and also whether a person could even live consistently with such a belief.

So, is it true that something could be true for one person but not for another, whether it is a moral truth, a scientific truth, or any other type of truth?  I don’t think so, let me explain.  Could we ever conceive of an instance where murder (the taking of innocent life) could be justified?  How about an issue that has been in the news recently, racism?  I think in both of these cases one would have to say no to both questions, and those are just two of a number of cases in which I am sure we would also give the same answer.  However, I only need to show one case in which a moral value is objective, that is, that it is true whether or not anyone on earth believes it to be true, to make the case that morals are objective in nature.

This week we saw the “Beer Summit” in which a white police officer and a black professor sat down with our President (himself black) and our Vice President (who is white) to discuss a recent incident in which the black professor was arrested by the white officer.  Apparently, the officer was provoked by the professor according to witnesses, some of whom were black, when the professor broke into a tirade after being questioned about breaking into his own house when he apparently forgot his keys.  The President was asked about the incident at a press conference, not knowing all of the facts surrounding the case, and claimed that the police officer “acted stupidly” and the race discussion was set off in the media.

The question is whether it is ever justified to be a racist, no matter what a person’s skin color?  When we say that someone is a racist, I mean that they judge a person solely by the color of their skin, not, as Martin Luther King, Jr. hoped for, by the content of their character.  I submit that it is never justified to judge a person solely by the color of their skin and would challenge anyone who tried to justify such behavior.  However, according to the postmodernist, it is possible that it may be justified for a person to be a racist, or a murderer, or exhibit any number of other behaviors that the average person would call immoral.  We simply cannot say that anyone is really wrong as that would be imposing our beliefs on them.

Now, let’s look at whether a person could consistently live by this belief or philosophy.  Again, I would say that a person could not and have challenged many who espouse this belief.  In fact, I was temporarily suspended from a message board recently when I challenged a poster on this issue.  What is interesting is that he was willing to impose his morality on me when I offended him.  Fortunately, we were able to exchange some messages and have actually begun some good dialog with each other.

The question is whether a postmodern would fly with a postmodern airline pilot who believed that landing in the ocean is the same as landing on the runway.  Or, would a postmodern go to a postmodern surgeon who believed that removing the liver is the same as removing a kidney, or a heart bypass can be done using a piece of the intestine.  Postmoderns obey traffic signals, read labels on medicine bottles to make sure they are taking the right one in the right dosage, and get highly offended when told that they are wrong.  In fact, I heard the story of a postmodern who fired off a terse letter to a reviewer of his book claiming that the reviewer didn’t understand his book! In other words, his words did have objective meaning after all.

So, truth is something.  It is often described as that which corresponds to reality.  If I say rock, you know what I am talking about, even though you may not be picturing the same rock that I am, you know what a rock is.  If I say look up, we all would look in the same general direction.  Words mean things and we usually all understand them to mean the same thing.  Jesus spoke often about truth, telling the woman at the well that we must worship God in spirit and truth.   He often started important statements with “truly, truly” to let us know that these were important statements and that they were true statements.

However, the Bible tells us that truth is not just a what, but it is also a who.  Jesus told Thomas and the disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)  Jesus also told us, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)  I don’t believe that Jesus meant that we must simply understand some ideas or concepts to be free, although we must understand and trust the gospel, but we must also know Jesus, the truth, in order to be set free.

D.A. Carson quotes Dodd in his The Gospel according to John, saying, Because of truth’s intimate connection with Jesus, true disciples ‘must not only hear his words: they must in some sort be united with him who is the truth'” (349).  So, when your friends ask you, as Pilate did to Jesus, “what is truth?” (veritas) (John 18:38) you can tell them that it is a what and a who and it is found in Jesus.