Monday, June 30, 2008


In the last post, I highlighted a new book by J.P. Moreland, Consciousness and the Existence of God. I shared a quote that identifies the main thesis of the book, to wit that the existence of consciousness (in human beings and other living things) is better explained by Christian theism than by naturalism. A reader, Steven, skeptical of Moreland's thesis, offered some comments that I'd like to address. If nothing else, it might help us all--if we sincerely seek truth--to think more clearly about such issues.

I'll take Steven's last comment first, since it is so obviously an attempt to sidestep the argument.* In response to Moreland's claim, "If you start with particles and just rearrange them according to physical law, you won't get mind," Steven writes,
Gosh! This guy Moreland can tell us everything that can ever happen in a universe of amazing size and complexity. What a genius!
I suspect that Moreland legitimately qualifies as a genius (though I am not privy to his scores on an I.Q. test), but that is irrelevant to the issue. So, too, is the notion that accurately assessing that physical law is inadequate for explaining the origin of consciousness is equivalent to knowing all things about the universe. Steven's comment here is both a straw-man and an ad hominem (abusive), and does not in any way provide us with reason to think that Moreland's conclusion is a false one.

Regarding the question 'How does consciousness exist?', Steven also mischaracterizes both the naturalist position ("That is a difficult question.") and Moreland's ("It just does.") Moreland's view is not that consciousness 'just exists,' but rather that consciousness (that of a self-existent, eternal, transcendent, personal Being) precedes all of the material of this universe (including the physical aspects of living things). While Steven may not like this view, it is a perfectly reasonable one. Indeed, it has been the default view for the vast majority of the history of Western civilization, and is being continually supported by the latest scientific discoveries.

There was only a brief window of time (from Kant until Einstein), in fact, when the alternate view--that the universe itself was eternal--seemed at all likely. But with general relativity now the most rigorously tested--and validated--concept in all of physics, we know that the universe had a beginning, and the only real objection that has ever been made to the cosmological argument for the existence of God has been soundly refuted.

In short, Moreland's claim that consciousness precedes the material aspects of this universe is on firmer evidential footing than ever, and on far firmer footing than the materialist alternative.

Moreover, the idea that the origin of consciousness is merely a difficult question (for the naturalist) is greatly understated. The origin of consciousness (and other immaterial things, like mind, soul, or spirit, thoughts, memories, emotions) is so problematic for the materialist view that naturalists have spent much of the last several decades trying to deny the existence of such things. Unfortunately, the evidence (and reason) are all against such a denial. And that is why materialists have had to offer up hand-waving 'emergent law' ideas.

(More in the next post.)

* It should be clear to anyone following these posts that the brief quote I shared does not contain Moreland's argument. Rather, it identifies the conclusion of that argument. The argument itself, and refutations of each of the extant rebuttals to it, are found in the full-length version (the book, not the sound bite from the Amazon interview). If Steven or any other skeptic truly believes that Moreland's position is flawed, they would do well to read the book and interact with the argument as there presented. Alternatively, those in Central Oregon in early November may have opportunity at the Conference to dialogue with J.P. about the supposed inadequacies of his view.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Argument from Consciousness

I just learned that J.P.Moreland has a new book out. (J.P. will be the featured speaker at an apologetics event to be held in Bend this fall, sponsored by The Apologetics Guild.) The book is titled Consciousness and the Existence of God, and its central thesis is the "argument from consciousness."

I can't yet give you my review of the book (I'll plan to read it soon), so here's an excerpt from
As mentioned in the introduction, many believe that finite minds provide evidence of a Divine Mind as their creator. If we limit our options to theism and naturalism, it is hard to see how finite consciousness could result from the rearrangement of brute matter; it is easier to see how a Conscious Being could produce finite consciousness since, according to theism, the Basic Being is Himself conscious. Thus, the theist has no need to explain how consciousness can come from materials bereft of it. Consciousness is there from the beginning. To put the point differently, in the beginning there were either particles or the Logos. If you start with particles and just rearrange them according to physical law, you won’t get mind. If you start with Logos, you already have mind.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

True Beliefs

(I just posted this at the blog of Kilns College, an exciting new venture with which I'm involved. I thought my readership here would appreciate it as well.)

The leadership of Kilns College is beginning to kick around what to include in a "Statement of Faith," which is a necessary sort of thing for a Christian college to have. Normally, such a statement would include our beliefs about God, Scripture, the human condition, salvation, and perhaps one or two other items.
But today, it seems, one cannot simply lay out what it is one believes to be the truth about such things. No, in our postmodern culture, one may first have to at least claim--if not actually go through the process of substantiating the claim--that there is such a thing as objective truth in the first place.

So, lest we put a good deal of effort into a corporate statement of faith only to have it viewed as a subjective exercise not meant to intersect with any absolute reality, I thought it best to establish up front that we at Kilns College hold to an objectivist view of truth. That is, with the vast majority of thinkers throughout the history of Western civilization, we hold that some statements (ideas or beliefs) are true and that others are false, that some correspond to reality and others do not.

As an example, we are likely to make a statement such as, "Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, died by Roman crucifixion and was bodily raised on the third day." By making this claim, we are not merely saying that this particular belief works for us or has more meaning for us than it does for other people. Rather, we would be claiming that this is a fundamental truth about Jesus Christ that matches reality at all times and for all people, regardless of whether or not they believe (agree with) it.

In this case, the truth value of the statement resides in Jesus--the object of the statement--and not in the claimant or anyone else considering the truth value (these latter would both be subjects). We reject a subjectivist understanding of truth and affirm an objectivist understanding.

The subjectivist, relativist understanding of truth espoused by postmodernists is ultimately self-referentially absurd. But rather than demonstrate that the way I normally would, let me come at it a different way, one appropriate to a school of higher education.

Just as relative morality makes nonsense of the concept of moral reform or moral improvement, a subjectivist view of truth makes unintelligible the concept of learning. If there is no truth--no accurate understanding of the way things are--then gathering more knowledge is pointless. You may continually change your understanding or the way you view things, but if there is no right understanding to which you have gotten closer, you might just as well be doing almost anything else.

Until a very short time ago, virtually everyone believed in objective truth, goodness, and beauty, and the goal of a liberal arts education was to raise up gentlemen and ladies by helping them align their thoughts, will, and emotions with that tuth, goodness, and beauty.

We at Kilns College still believe these things, and I hope that our statement of beliefs (when finished) will reflect this.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Guatemalan Gardener

For some reason, I've been thinking about a particular gardener that I spent several enjoyable days watching years ago. My oldest son, Nathan, and I were staying in downtown Guatemala. The "hotel" was a group of bungaloes separated by lawn and gardens and walled off from the surrounding city sprawl. We were cooling our heels while waiting for research permits (we eventually headed back to Tikal to collect blood samples--for genetic analysis--from Swallow-tailed Kites). So we spent a bit of time swimming, sitting poolside, or reading in the gardens.

We had plenty of leisure to watch the gardeners (of which there were actually three). A typical morning's work for one of these men was to trim a vine growing up one of the stairways. It would require a bit of snipping here, a spot of pruning there. He raked up the trimmings and swept any flagstones or walks as he went, never making much noise or breaking a sweat.

The afternoon might have brought a small patch of lawn to mow. This was accomplished with an old mower like Grandpa had, with the spinning blades. Edging was done by hand. There were no motors, no gas fumes, no noise. I've heard tell of the attention to small detail of the Japanese gardener, but he has nothing on our little Guatemalteco. His was a simple employment, and one which he seemed to enjoy and at which he excelled.

To tell the truth, I haven't been just thinking about this gardener from time to time--I've been thinking wistfully about him, perhaps even envying him.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Creation Enjoyment

One of the things I plan to share in my "Creation" talk this Sunday evening is this... that since we personally know the Author and Artist of creation, and have an idea about some of His purposes and intents, we Christians should enjoy the creation more than anyone. Unfortunately, I find that this is not often the case, that many Christians today are ambivalent at best toward the wonders of creation all around us.

I won't be sharing this Sunday night, but here's something I copied out of The Wilderness World of John Muir when I read it many years ago. It relates a conversation Muir had with a farmer as he headed up into the Sierras on a months-long botanical excursion...
"You look like a strong-minded man," he replied, "and surely you are able to do something better than wander over the country and look at weeds and blossoms. These are hard times, and real work is required of every man that is able. Picking up blossoms doesn't seem to be a man's work at all in any kind of times."

To this I replied, "You are a believer in the Bible, are you not?" "Oh, yes." "Well, you know Solomon was a strong-minded man, and he is generally believed to have been the very wisest man the world ever saw, and yet he considered it worth his while to study plants; not only to go and pick them up as I was doing, but to study them; and you know that we are told that he wrote a book about plants, not only of the great cedars of Lebanon, but of little bits of things growing in the cracks of the walls."

"Therefore, you see that Solomon differed very much more from you than from me in this matter. I'll warrant you he had many a long ramble in the mountains of Judea... And again, do you not remember that Christ told His disciples to 'Consider the lilies how they grow' and compared their beauty with Solomon in all his glory? Now, whose advice am I to take, yours or Christ's? Christ says, 'consider the lilies;' you say, 'Don't consider them. It isn't worthwhile to 'any strong-minded man.'"
I don't completely agree with Muir's exegesis here, but find his position food for thought.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Next week, I have a chance to talk to a select group of folks about my favorite topic, Creation. I'm really looking forward to it (and to the week of thinking about it between now and then). I hope to make the following points...
The doctrine of Creation is foundational to the Christian worldview, and it grounds our understanding of metaphysics, theology, anthropology, epistemology, hamartiology, morality, aesthetics, soteriology, and eschatology.

For the Israelites--including those of the second-temple period (Jesus' time)--what set Yahweh apart from all other beings (idols, false gods, angels, demons, people) was His role as Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Likewise, it was Jesus' demonstrated power as Creator/Sustainer that caused the fierce montheists of His day to consider Him (and the Spirit) as one with Yahweh.

The understanding that the universe was created has in our day greater empirical support than ever, as God is blessing our skeptical generation with overwhelming evidence for His existence and love, and that from virtually every scientific discipline. The latest evidence provides powerful apologetic support for biblical Christianity.

Christians should be leading the way in "creation care."

Christians should enjoy the creation more than anyone.
Some pretty fun talking points, eh?

Friday, June 13, 2008


I was told that a friend was reading Bart Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus and so thought I would repost what I wrote about it last fall. It is just another in a list of very popular books attempting to refute Christianity. Like Richard Dawkins (in The God Delusion), Ehrman's main problem is that he doesn't think well, that his "arguments" are not persuasive because they involve logical fallacies and lack adequate support.

With regard to the reliability of the New Testament, Ehrman adopts a hermeneutic of suspicion (or skepticism) for a very silly--and self-centered--reason. In effect, his whole approach is based on the reasoning he describes here...
I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place... And if he didn't perform that miracle [of preserving the words], there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words.
It doesn't take a gifted logician to see that this is not a valid, cogent argument, but merely an arrogant opinion. He is saying, in effect, "If I were God, I would have done it this way. Since it was not done the way I think it should have been, it cannot have involved God."

This, of course, is just another case of the root of all sin, the pride by which we would put ourselves in the place of Almighty God. Unfortunately, many of Ehrman's readers will be either unequipped to see through this sort of sloppy thinking or willing to come to the same conclusion (and thus deny the claim of God upon their lives).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Greatest Drama Ever Staged

Last night, I reread an essay by Dorothy Sayers titled "The greatest drama ever staged." It's good stuff, so I thought I'd share a sample here...
The church's answer is categorical and uncompromising, and it is this: that Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the most exact and literal sense of the words, the "God by whom all things were made"... Now, this is not just a pious commonplace; it is not a commonplace at all. For what it means is this, among other things: that for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is--limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death--he (God) had the honesty and the courage to take his ownmedicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Genetic Similarity

Today I want to point out another problem with the appeal to genetics as support for evolution. This part of the claim...
DNA profiles show evolutionary relationships among species.
involves circular reasoning. Genetic similarity is offered as proof for evolution, but only because the claimant assumes that any similarity must be due to evolution. This is, of course, fallacious.

The evidence, stated without bias, is that all living things share varying degrees of similarity, both in their biochemical composition and in their genetic make-up. The degree of similarity tends to increase within recognizable hierarchies, such that mammals are more similar to one another than any mammal is to birds, and primates are more similar to one another than any primate is to bats or whales. That this is true at the morphological level has been known for a long time. The ancients Greeks understood it (and, I dare say, so did most ancient peoples). It certainly was well-known prior to Darwin, as by his time comparative anatomy was a well-developed discipline.

As I shared in the last post, Darwinists expected this similarity NOT to be true at the molecular (biochemical level), and they were wrong. We now know that this hierarchy of similarity extends (generally) to the genetic level.

But again, this recognition utterly fails to distinguish among competing theories for the diversity of life. Specifically, the alternate view that has been held for the vast majority of the history of Western civilization--that there is a single Creator/Designer responsible for life--finds at least equal support from these findings from the latest genetic research. Indeed, the great similarity (on the levels of morphology and physiology, biochemistry, and genetics) between living things actually presents problems for Darwin's theory. This includes the highly-publicized finding that chimps and humans share 95% or more of the same genetic material.

You see, Darwin's theory was not an attempt to explain the similarities between living things. Rather, it was an attempt to explain the differences. Gradualistic evolution--with its vast number of hypothetical (and yet-undiscovered) transitional forms--was meant to explain how the differences (as between chimps and humans) came to be. And that explanation involved strictly material causes and effects. That is, if evolution is an accurate explanation for the diversity of life, we will discover differences (at some level, whether biochemical, genetic, embryological, or whatever) that represent sufficient causes for the morphological, physiological, and other obvious differences.

Instead, at each material level (first biochemistry, then genetics, now evo-devo) evolutionary scientists are surprised at how similar different organisms (like chimps and humans) are. In other words, we still cannot say--on strictly materialist terms--what accounts for the vast differences (especially on characteristics like intelligence, reasoning, imagination, and such) between us and chimps. The genetic evidence doesn't account for these differences--and so, far from supporting evolution (as is frequently claimed), that evidence further undermines naturalistic evolution as an adequate explanation.

To believe otherwise is simply to argue in a circle.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Genetics and Evolution

We have seen (in recent posts) that microevolution (as in the development by bacteria of resistance to antibiotics) is irrelevent to the issue of whether evolution accounts for the diversity of life and that the fossil evidence does not support neo-Darwinism. There is one other claim made by those unfamiliar with the evidence, here represented by a comment I received a few weeks ago...
DNA profiles show evolutionary relationships among species. There was no field of genetics when Darwin published the Origin of Species. The development of the field of genetics stood to topple natural selection. It turned out to be one of the strongest demonstrations of the fact of evolution there is.
There are several problems with this appeal to genetics. First, the claimant wrongly implies that evolutionists made predictions about what genetics would reveal, and that those predictions were validated. Conversely, the implication could be that theism made predictions that were falsified by genetics. Neither is true.

Darwinian evolution quite simply persists because its proponents explain away contrary evidence in the relatively few cases where predictions were made in the first place. Modern evolutionary theory is not predictive, but reactive. And 'just-so stories' after the fact are much more numerous than are cases of evidence actually fitting a priori expectations. According to Behe,
...reasoning straightforwardly in terms of Darwin's theory led badly astray even the most eminent evolutionary biologists, who reached conclusions completely opposite to biological reality.
Behe lists several examples, of which I'll quote just two. The first is from Francois Jacob...
When I started in biology in the 1950s, the idea was that the molecules from one organism were very different from the molecules from another organism. For instance, cows had cow molecules and goats had goat molecules and snakes had snake molecules, and it was because they were made of cow molecules that a cow was a cow.
Today, of course, we know this idea to be false. And, to be sure, this finding is not fatal to neo-Darwinism, but that's not the point. The point is that biochemistry and genetics did not validate the Darwinian expectation--it refuted it.

Incidentally, the Bible (indeed, portions of it written 3500 years ago) claimed just what modern science has verified--that humans are made of the same 'stuff' as other animals. Genesis 2:7 has the physical part of humans being formed from the 'dust of the ground,' whereas verse 19 of that chapter tells us that the same is true of "every beast of the field and every bird of the air." In more modern terms, all life is formed of the very same elements of which the earth's crust is composed. As late as the 1950's, Darwinian theory apparently led its believers to expect otherwise.

Here's Behe's second example...
In the 1960s, Ernst Mayr, an architect of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, confidently predicted on Darwinian grounds that "the search for homologous genes is quite futile," of which Sean Carroll notes, "The view was entirely incorrect."
And here's the take-home message (from Behe, in answer to my anonymous Darwinbot),
In retrospect, it is astounding to realize that the strong molecular similarity of life, which Darwinists now routinely (and incorrectly) appropriate as support for their entire theory, was not anticipated by them. They expected the opposite.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Limits of Darwinism

In my last post, I discussed the logical fallacy involved in using evidence for antibiotic resistance in bacteria to argue for macroevolution. But there are other problems with the claim involving such resistance.

First--and most obvious--is the fact that the bacteria remain bacteria, that no essential change in the species has occurred. That is, that while the new resistance has a significant effect on the species likelihood to persist (survive), the change is nonetheless extremely slight with regard to the organism as a whole. Indeed, we now know that bacteria alive today are essentially indistinguishable from the first bacteria living on the planet. This is (to say the least) evidence contrary to the expectations of macroevolutionary theory.

Second, the latest technology from genetics, genomics, and pathology allows us to examine both the types of mutational changes involved in the acquisition of resistance and the facility and frequency of such mutational changes.

In his latest book, The Edge of Evolution, biochemist Michael J. Behe does just such an examination, and his conclusions are anything but supportive of neo-Darwinism. Behe looks at systems involving extremely large population sizes for which we can determine the frequency and type of beneficial random mutations: malaria cells, human blood cells (in their response to invading malarial cells), HIV, and E. coli.

As to the type of mutation occurring in these systems, the changes that represent a specific benefit (to the malarial cell in its efforts to parasitize humans or in the human blood cells in their efforts to defeat malaria) actually involve a breaking of an existing gene product. That is, a genetic change that confers an adaption in this very specific regard is an abandoning of a previous function. It is not the mutational advance spoken of so easily by Darwinists, but a degradation of existing function.

Moreover, the likelihood of such random mutations--as determined by its frequency in these systems--is extremely small (as Behe takes several chapters to carefully demonstrate). If you're interested in this stuff, by all means get Behe's book, but here's an example of the conclusions to which this research leads...
The likelihood that Homo sapiens achieved any single mutation of the kind required for malaria to become resistant to chloroquine--not the easiest mutation, to be sure, but still only a shift of two amino acids--the likelihood that such a mutation could arise just once in the entire course of the human lineage [given] ten million years, is miniscule... On average, for humans to achieve a mutation like this by chance, we would need to wait a hundred million times ten million years. Since that is many times the age of the universe, it's reasonable to conclude the following: No mutation that is of the same complexity as chloroquine resistance in malaria arose by Darwinian evolution in the line leading to humans in the past ten million years.

Instead of concentrating on us humans, we can look at the odds another way. There are about five thousand species of modern mammals. If each spoecies had an average of a million members, and if a new generation appeared each year, and if this went on for two hundred million years, the likelihood of a single [such mutation] appearing in the whole bunch over that entire time would be only about one in a hundred.
Again, we see that the evidence appealed to most readily by modern Darwinists turns out, on closer inspection, to tend toward falsifying the theory for which they argue.