7/30/2015

Why You Should Become a Christian: God Makes Logic, Rational Thought, and Science Possible

Logic

Have you ever spent an afternoon thinking about thinking? Most people I know would quickly answer with a resounding “no.” Some would throw in an expletive. I admit that I am the type of person who thinks about thinking.

One aspect of thinking is our ability to determine the internal consistency of ideas, or whether or not the ideas ‘fit together.’  We need to be able to know whether our thinking method itself is accurate. This reasoning is the realm of formal logic.

Formal logic has always fascinated me. The laws of logic shape the way we think. They are an open window to the Christian God’s world.

Let us examine one law for instance: the law of non-contradiction.  It says that something cannot be both A and Non-A at the same time, in the same relationship, and in the same sense. This law cannot be denied. To deny it is to affirm it. For example, if you say, “The law of non-contradiction does not apply,” you could mean, “The law of non-contradiction does indeed apply.” The meanings would be the same.

The noted theologian Gordon H. Clark explains:
If the law of [non] contradiction is curbed, then a collection of letters, w-a-t-e-r, can mean not only sulfuric acid, but also at the same time and in the same sentence, tree, stone, Arcturus, the preposition because, and the cow jumped over the moon, ad infinitum…A word that means everything means nothing.
This law of logic, which leads us to all the others, is undeniable because to question it is to use it. It is the only way we can think.

How would an atheist account for a law like this, or any other of the laws of logic for that matter?  These abstract laws are not the result of observable behavior of objects or actions. We do not observe the laws of logic occurring in nature.  They are “abstract,” not physical things we can touch.

They are not open for scientific exploration and study. We assume that logic’s laws work in order to evaluate scientific evidence. Using science to prove that logic works would be circular reasoning, meaning that you would have to assume that logic works in order to prove that logic works.

The laws of logic cannot come from science because science is based on inductive reasoning from things we see in our environments. For example, we cannot see the law of non-contradiction in the world. We would have to see the properties of a non-existent things (non-A). The laws of logic are abstract constructions that exist only in the mind. We discover the laws of logic by thought, not observation.

The laws of logic are not evolutionary in origin, either. Evolutionary processes governed by natural selection would not necessarily lead to the truth about our world.

If our thinking is a preconditioned response determined by our genetics, rational impulses would then be determined by genetics. There would be no decisions made in any traditional sense. We would all be pre-programmed to do what we do, and therefore there would be no sense in arguing. We could not change each other’s genetics, so no one could possibly win.

Natural selection would only encourage behavior that would lead to survival. We could not be certain our beliefs about the world were true, only that they let us survive in any given situation.
Further, genetics change from person to person. Therefore, the undeniable laws of logic would change from one person to the next.

A Christian can account for the laws of logic by stating that they come from God. God has originated the laws of logic because He thinks logically. The laws of logic are a reflection of God’s mind. They do not change because the God whose thinking they reflect does not change.

As Michael Butler puts it: 
If atheists were consistent with their worldview, they would give up on logic and rationality altogether. But since they do behave rationally (at least some of the time) this shows that they are borrowing capital from [Christianity]…
Christianity allows for abstract and universal laws. Abstract because the Christian worldview teaches that more things exist than material objects. Thus it makes sense for there to be abstractions. Moreover, the universality of logic is possible because it is grounded in the character of God. God is by nature logical. And this all-powerful, all-knowing God orders all things…
I do not find an adequate explanation for logic and rational thought outside God. Literally, my thinking about thinking drives me inescapably to God’s existence.

Rational Thought
How do we know what we know? How do we know what is true? How do we evaluate one idea against another? How do we interpret the information our senses provide us? What do we see? Hear? Touch? Smell? Taste?

These questions fascinate me. I first began to ask questions like this as I studied Human Factors Engineering (HFE) in graduate school. HFE is a branch of engineering that studies how a human being interacts with their environment, usually with respect to how we obtain information and how we perform work. We looked at basic types of mistakes that people make, the way we obtain information from our senses, the way we process that information, the way we decide to act, and the way we activate machine controls to act on that processed information. The field includes ergonomics, but it includes much more than that.

One of the things we learned ‘right off the bat’ was the way we interact with our environment is a process. Think of a black box with arrows going into the left side for what goes into the process (inputs) and arrows coming out of the right side for what comes out of the process (outputs). The box itself represents a set of steps performed on the inputs to reach the outputs.

I had never thought of knowledge being the result, or output, of a process until those classes. I began to read widely on the subject, both within my field and outside it. I came across the branch of philosophy know as epistemology very quickly. According to Wikipedia, epistemology is “the branch of philosophy that studies the nature, methods, limitations, and validity of knowledge and belief.” This field fascinates me.

I have been taught to see rational thought as a process. Any process that reaches an organized output requires someone to set it up and keep it going. From assembly lines to creation itself, processes require a processor. Someone must design a process, or it does not lead to purposeful outcomes. That includes the process of knowledge and the process of thought.

As John Frame puts it here:
[Those that defend the Christian faith] have often noted that we could not know the world at all unless it had been designed for knowledge. If the world were nothing but matter, motion, time, and chance, we would have no reason to think that the ideas in our heads told us anything about the real world. Only if a person had designed the world to be known, and the human mind to know it, could knowledge be possible…without God the data of our experience suggesting order and causality are unintelligible…So if creation presupposes God, even the denial of creation presupposes him …
The process of logical thinking and the process of arriving at knowledge from our senses both require a designer. 

We need a designer who possesses creativity and intention. We need a designer that does not change his thinking himself. If his thinking process fundamentally  changed, then our process of logical thinking would change as well. Going back to Frame’s writings: “Logic, the laws of nature, and the laws of morality make no sense unless God is presupposed.”  (“Transcendental Arguments: An Essay” by John Frame, as downloaded from: apollos.ws/transcendental-argument/Transcendental%20Arguments.pdf, on 2/25/15)

Science

I had been employed as an industrial statistician for several years in the past. I used statistical methods to determine the best way to set up manufacturing equipment and processes.

The basic uniformity of nature, the idea that things in the future will happen as they have in the past, is a requirement for any kind of knowledge based on probability or science. But how can we be sure our experiments will work?

We know the future will be basically consistent with the past with respect to physical laws because the God who upholds those laws does not change. The way the world works does not change from one moment to the next because God made it to be relatively consistent.

As apologist Michael Butler says: 
That the uniformity of nature is compatible with the Christian worldview is easily proven ... God, who is providentially in control of all events, has revealed to us that we can count on regularities in the natural world.
The Bible teaches that God providentially causes the harvest to come in due season, for example. Because of this regularity, we can be assured that scientific endeavors will be fruitful. Thus, far from presupposing the falsity of Christianity, science would be impossible without the truth of the Christian worldview.
Once again, my professional life leads me to belief in God. All of science, not just my profession, depends on the basic uniformity of nature, and only God’s design of the world to act in a certain way can guarantee it.  The fact that science works proves that God exists.

God establishes reason, and without Him, we have no reason to be reasonable at all.


Our next post chapter will shift from philosophy to the field of history.  We will explore the Person and work of Jesus Christ in the next of our reasons to believe in the God of the Bible.  

7/24/2015

Why You Should Become a Christian:God Has Done What He Has Done

This post is an argument for God’s existence based on what He did when He created the world.  Bear with me on this one, because this is the most intensely philosophical argument in this short series.

God is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. This truth is foundational for a popular argument for God’s existence. Reason demonstrates that something in the past must have always existed.  We will look at two examples: counting and the progression of time.

It is not possible to count to the end of the series of real numbers. You can always count one more. It is, in one sense, an infinite series of discrete things. You can’t move to the end of a series like that. It has no end.

It is similarly impossible to move through an infinite series of moments of time, if time is in fact a discrete series of real moments. For example, if time extends forward forever then it is obvious it will never end. Reversing the process, if time extends infinitely into the past, time would never have arrived at this moment.

Similarly, we cannot expect that an infinite regress of causes of physical things exists either. That is, if we move backward from ourselves to the things that caused the things we perceive in our world now, then backward to the things that caused them and so on, we must find something that did not have a beginning. Otherwise, the universe would never have moved through an infinite series of discrete things to get to ourselves.

The infinite regression cannot exist in reality. Whatever the first cause was, it must have always been and it must have the power and ability to bring about all we see in the universe.
There is another way to state this type of argument that has been made popular by Walter Martin and R. C. Sproul. The universe as it exists now is either self-created, uncreated / eternal, or created by someone or something that is eternal.

The universe cannot be self-created because then it would have to exist before it existed in order to create itself. That is manifestly illogical. (It’s so illogical that I get a headache reading the first sentence of this paragraph.)

The universe cannot be eternal because everything we see in the universe is changing with respect to its being. It is coming and going out of existence, so to speak. If it is changing with respect to its being, it cannot be eternal.

Also, as R. C. Sproul points out, if that unchanging thing is the universe, it would have to be a part of the universe that does not change and has always existed. We still have something eternal and powerful that created it.  This being exists beyond the universe in the most important sense. It is transcendent, or has a different form of existence than the perceivable universe. So we are left with one conclusion regarding how the universe began: it was created by someone or something that is eternal.

There is another possibility that has become more and more popular, especially since the “Matrix” movies were released: the universe might be an illusion. The philosophical theologian Norman Geisler said that if all of reality is some form of an illusion, you must account for the illusion. The illusion is either self-created, eternal, or created by an eternal being; and we are back to the discussion above.  (It might also help to remind someone who thinks that life is just a dream to avoid talking in his sleep.) 

With two lines of reasoning, we find the universe coming from something that has always existed. Something, or someone, has always been here. It was not caused to be by something that existed before it. It is self-existent; it has the power of being in itself.

J. P. Morland, another theologian, adds that nothing outside this first cause could have caused it either act or not act. There was a “time” when there was nothing outside it, so there was nothing to cause its actions. It has the power of choice, the power to act on its own. Only a person has the power of choice.

Now we have a personality that has always existed, is super-powerful, and displays intention. This fits the Christian notion of God quite well, but not perfectly. 

There is another aspect of what God has done that leads us to other things about Him.  The world around us is full of processes that move toward an organized purpose.

My area of professional expertise is industrial engineering, also called “process engineering” at some universities.  We industrial engineers spend most of our lives in the pursuit of process improvement.

We professionally apply ourselves to manufacturing processes in many different industries. We look at ways to improve equipment, organization of jobs, the way human beings interact with machines, and the way humans interact with each other.

The end, or purpose, of a manufacturing process is to produce quality products, when needed by customers, at minimal cost, in a safe manner. There is one thing we know: a process left to itself does not meet that purpose.

Any time we take our hands off the controls, neglect the equipment, or neglect the people, we experience bad products, late shipments, high costs, and increased injuries. If we neglect the process completely, we achieve nothing whatsoever.

The argument I am stating below, is not exactly about design as some have said. It is about purpose.
John Gerstner, in his book Reasons for Faith (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960, reprint 1995), uses this example on p. 34-35: “The dandelion sends up a little parachute to carry its seed along on the wind and find a place to germinate. That certainly spells intention … we search in vain to find anything in the dandelion that corresponds to our brain, the brain that enables us to think up useful plans.”  The humble dandelion shows that it has a purpose, and it must have been designed to meet that purpose.

This quote is another way of describing a process that leads to a conclusion: the ongoing cycle of life.  We find the location of the purpose evident in this process in “the ultimate cause which we have seen lies behind everything that is.” (ibid, p. 35)

This is not an argument based on probabilities, or an argument that is more likely true than not.  Evidence for any purpose at any point in any process demonstrates the existence of an intelligence to set that purpose.

So now we have reasoned to a being that has always existed, has great power, has the power to choose, has intelligence, and has intention. Only personal beings have the power to choose, and possess intelligence and intention. This truth fits the general idea of the eternal, personal God of the 
Bible well, but not perfectly.


Our next post will look at some abstract processes that also require explanation.

7/17/2015

Why You Should Become a Christian: God has told us about Himself

We can solve some problems intuitively. As an engineering major I was often faced with complex problems in mathematics, chemistry, physics, and other engineering disciplines that required much thought to solve.

I was often guided by my intuition, a kind of problem-solving method best describe by the phrase: “AH-HA, now I see it.” Many of us were often able to see the answer without consciously thinking through the problem. Of course, we had to go back to the beginning, reason through our answer and provide a proper line of reasoning to get credit for the problem on an exam.

The “AH-HA method” guided me through many problems and exercises. It guides me through many decisions I make today as a manager. Of course, I have to go back to data and facts derived from observation and careful thinking to make my case. I must still justify my actions to others.

Does this mean the “AH-HA method” is inferior? Yes, it does in a least one way. Decisions should be made based on facts.

We must explain the real world as we find it. However, do not tell me intuition has no place. Thousands of problems over the course of an undergraduate and a graduate degree in engineering tell me otherwise.

I freely admit that my initial solution to the question of God’s existence was fully intuitive. I just knew, from a big-picture assessment, that the Christian concept of God and salvation explained my world. The concept itself was convincing.

Of course, in a period of self-doubt and insecurity at about age 20, I reasoned through the problem. It was a pure “AH-HA method” to begin with, but I found many reasons to believe the “AH-HA” solution was accurate.

I want to give you an overview of this concept of God that led me to say “AH-HA.” The best short definition of God’s attributes, the things we can know about His being, is illustrated by a quote from one Christian definition: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 4).

God is a Spirit. His very being is not physical or dependent upon a physical component. His being is not divided. His being cannot be split up into parts. Louis Berkhof puts it like this, “…He is not composed of various parts, such as the body and soul in man, and for that very reason is not subject to division.”

God is infinite. He is not limited by anything: not His physical universe, not His knowledge, not His location, and not His situation. He can do anything He wants.

Is there anything God cannot do? Yes. He cannot do anything that He does not choose to do, and there are some things He will never choose. He will not lie, fail to be just, do something unrighteous, or do anything else that is inconsistent with His character. His promises can be counted on.

God is eternal, or unlimited by time. He has always been there. He never came into being in any sense, and He never will come to be any other way than He is now. A quote from the theologian Louis Berkhof illustrates the eternal nature of God when he says, “For Him there is only an eternal present, and no past or future.”

God is unchangeable. His being cannot change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has always been who He is and never will be different. To quote Arthur W. Pink: “God is perpetually the same: subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations.”

The part about God not changing His determinations bothers some people. How then can the Bible say that God “repents?” God’s reactions will be consistent with His own attributes.

He chooses to react in a certain way toward another being when that being acts one way, and then changes His reaction to that being when that being changes. He will forgive the repentant. He will turn His anger against the unrepentant. He is both loving and just as appropriate. The changes are in us, not in Him. God is a being with Whom we can relate. 

These facts govern everything else about Him. God’s “being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” are all “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.”

God is not limited with respect to knowledge. He knows everything that has happened, everything that will happen, and everything that could have happened but did not.

His knowledge means He will never be surprised by the problems we face, and that he knows the ultimate solutions to those problems. He also knows how to communicate with creatures like us.

God is not limited with respect to His power. He can do anything He wants. Nothing or no one can stop Him. The standard way to say this is “God can do all His holy will.” Nothing can stop His wrath against sin. Nothing can stop His mercy and grace towards the repentant.

God is holy. R. C. Sproul quotes the old children’s table blessing for a picture of God’s holiness: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for this food.” God’s holiness is His greatness and His goodness. He is different from anyone or anything else. God always does the right thing. He is most worthy of worship.

God is just. He cannot do anything that is unjust to another. He cannot wrong someone. He must see that justice is done.   

He is the only perfect judge of all people, everywhere. This explains my conscience. God in His wisdom has placed within me an intuitive conviction that certain things are wrong.

God is good. There is another aspect to this truth. God shows mercy. He is gracious to His creatures. The just God who requires a penalty for sin provides the payment for that sin in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

This gives a solution for the real guilt I experience.  I am not talking about guilt feelings, but actual guilt for actual sins. God offers mercy and grace in the face of His ultimate justice.

God is truth. He always tells the truth. He reveals Himself and His will in His creation and in His revelation in the Bible.  I can count on the promise of salvation He makes.

By intuition, this idea of God can convincingly explain the world we live in. I will give arguments to back up this idea in the chapters ahead based on philosophy and history. The historical arguments will be based on the person and work of Jesus Christ, the only teacher and example worth following.


Our next post will discuss what God has done in His creation.
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