Saturday, April 27, 2013

Your Brain on Evolution

"The first [problem] concerns the likelihood that the processes of natural selection should have generated creatures with a capacity to discover by reason the truth about a reality that extends vastly beyond the initial appearances…Is it credible that selection for fitness in the prehistoric past should have fixed capacities that are effective in theoretical pursuits that were unimaginable at the time? The goal would be to explain how innate mental capacities that were selected for their immediate adaptive value are also capable of generating, through extended cultural-evolutionary history, true theories about a law-governed natural order that there was no adaptive need to understand earlier."

-Thomas Nagel in Mind and Cosmos

Monday, April 22, 2013

John Lennox: What Is Apologetics?

The Bible commands Christians to be apologists (1 Peter 3:15). However, despite the appearance of the term, apologetics has nothing to do with apologizing. In Greek, apologetics refers to giving a reasoned defense of one's position. Thus, in Plato's Apology, Socrates doesn't apologize to the court. Instead, he gives a defense of his actions.

John Lennox explains apologetics in a Christian context.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Evolutionary Morality

Moral Realism is the view that there are moral truths and facts about the universe. These facts are like other facts:

-They are mind-independent
-They correspond to reality
-They are binding and true regardless of whether or not people agree to them or believe in their existence

For example, the moral realist would say that the statements "rape is wrong" and "torturing infants for pleasure is wrong" actually carry truth, they are factually correct, and they correspond to reality. The moral anti-realist would say that these statements carry no truth or falsity, they simply reflect certain patterns and prejudices of society and culture.

It seems clear, though, that there really are moral facts. The person who thinks that it is fine to torture a 3-month old child for fun is a psychopath. Torturing 3-month old children for fun is not simply socially inconvenient, it is morally abhorrent and reprehensible.

"The man who says it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says 2+2=5." -Michael Ruse 

There are plenty of atheist philosophers (Thomas Nagel, Lousie Anthony, Shelly Kagan, etc.) who affirm moral realism, that is, they believe that there are objective moral values in place in the world. The problem with this is that it is difficult to provide a basis for objective morality on atheism. The most common way of 'grounding' objective morality in an atheistic worldview is to appeal to evolution.

Philosophers like Kevin Brosnan and Knut Skaursaune argue that evolutionary history has provided humans with the necessary moral tools to survive and these are what drive morality today. Rape is wrong because it hurts human flourishing. Torturing children is wrong because it goes against our natural instincts for empathy and child-rearing. Now, there are major flaws with evolutionary morality and they fall into 2 categories: epistemic and ontological.

Epistemic:

If there are moral facts about the universe, how can we discover them? If evolution has steered us solely towards survival, then what mechanism do we possess that allows us to 'track' and discover these moral facts? Sure there might be moral facts out there somewhere, but if naturalistic evolution is true then we have no way of discovering their existence, much less abiding by them!

Furthermore, even if we did have the ability to discover these moral facts, on what grounds should we abide by them? Suppose that these moral facts existed abstractly somewhere, these abstract concepts cannot stand in causal relations, that is to say that they cannot provide the necessary basis for moral obligations and "oughts".

Ontological:

There are three major problems with evolution providing us with objective morality:

1. Egoism conflicts with Altruism

The primal instinct for individual survival sometimes clashes with the best interests of the survival of the group, and viceversa. Why is there a dilemma between individual well-being and the well-being of the herd? If evolution really is the basis of objective morality then there should be no conflict--the choice that leads to the maximal well-being of the individual should also provide the maximal well-being of the herd, but this is not the case.

2. Prudential values conflict with Moral values

Let's imagine that in 20 years scientists discover that during forcable copulation (rape) an extra hormone is secreted in the semen which kills all the mutated/non-optimal sperm and allows only the healthiest sperm to reach the egg and fertilize it. This will end up with guaranteed healthy offspring, and ultimately a healthier population. Would this new finding then make rape a good thing? Of course not. We already know that rape is wrong, regardless of what advantages it may bring. Thus, even if a course of action is beneficial from an evolutionary perspective, it does not make it the morally correct course of action. But if evolution really did provide the basis for objective morality, then we would expect to see that the prudential choice was always the moral choice, but this is not the case.

3. Evolving morality cannot be trusted

If our morality is subject to evolution then it cannot be trusted, much less be objectively true. At one point in human history slavery was accepted, but now it is not. And yet it is still true that slavery was wrong even back then. Simply because something was accepted does not mean that it is acceptable. Our condemnation of slavery stems not from an enlightened morality that has evolved. Slavery was not objectively acceptable in the past simply because it was practiced in the past. It was and is and will always be objectively wrong. There will never come a point in time where slavery and rape are good actions because the world exists in such a way that there are moral facts that do not allow for slavery and rape to be good things. If our morality is evolving then it is not objective and we cannot trust it for it may tell us something different in the next 100 years. 

Did Isaac Newton Exist?

Skeptics love to compare Jesus to mythical figures like Isis, Mithras, and Dionysis in order to try to show that he, too, was purely mythical. This terribly flawed historical methodology has its adherents all across the internet but is completely absent from serious scholarship. No serious scholar believes that Jesus did not exist.

World-renowned historian and skeptic, Bart Ehrman says this, "I have written an entire book on what Jesus did and didn't say and for him to have said anything at all he must have existed...No serious scholar believes that Jesus did not exist."

But just for kicks, Rob Bowman has used the same standards of the internet atheists who try to disprove Jesus' existence, to show that the same criteria can be used to show that Isaac Newton never existed!

Jesus Christ
Isaac Newton
His birthday has been given both as December 25 and as January 6.His birthday has been given both as December 25 and as January 4.
His birthday is celebrated by his followers as “Christmas,” and the period between December 25 and January 6 has been called “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”His birthday is celebrated by his followers as “Newtonmas,” and the period between December 25 and January 4 has been called “The Ten Days of Newtonmas.”
His name is that of a famous figure in the Old Testament (Joshua).His name is that of a famous figure in the Old Testament (Isaac).
John described him as “the true light that comes into the world.”He is described as bringing light to the world: “God said ‘Let Newton be’ and all was light” (Alexander Pope).
He was circumcised on the eighth day.He was baptized on the eighth day.
According to tradition, his grandmother’s name was Hannah (usually Anglicized as Anne.)His mother’s name was Hannah.
According to tradition, his mother’s husband died when he was young.His mother’s husband died before he was born.
He never married.He never married.
He was famous for his knowledgeable exposition of the Scriptures.He was famous for his knowledgeable exposition of the Scriptures.
He professed the same faith as that of his countrymen, but they regarded him as a heretic.He professed the same faith as that of his countrymen, but they regarded him as a heretic.
Commenting on the Book of Daniel, he stated that “this gospel of the kingdom must first be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”Commenting on the Book of Daniel, he stated that “the Gospel must first be preached in all nations before the great tribulation, and end of the world.”
He rejected the idea that people could determine a date for the end of the world.He rejected the idea that people could determine a date for the end of the world.
He is regarded by many as one of the greatest men ever to live on earth.He is regarded by many, in the words of Richard Dawkins, as “one of the truly great men ever to walk the earth.”
He was honored by the use of the Greek titlekurios, which can be translated “Sir.”He was honored by the use of the title “Sir.”
Portraits of him depict him with strikingly different appearances.Portraits of him depict him with strikingly different appearances.
Marty McFly used his name in vain in the filmBack to the Future.Doc Emmet Brown used his name in vain in the film Back to the Future II.

Original post here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

D. A. Carson: What Is Inerrancy?

The Christian Gospel is primarily a message about Jesus' death, resurrection, and deity. However, Christianity includes a number of other doctrines, such as God's triune nature, a future judgment, and the inspiration of scripture. One common component of the doctrine of inspiration is the doctrine of biblical inerrancy—the position that whenever the Bible makes a truth claim (i.e., a statement purporting to say something about the way things really are), the claim is true.

In this video, D. A. Carson explains the doctrine of inerrancy.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Stephen Meyer: What Is Intelligent Design?

The Intelligent Design movement in biology is often portrayed as repackaged Creationism. However, the conclusion of the design inference is not that God exists, let alone that God created the world in a specific way. Rather, Intelligent Design maintains that certain features of organisms are best explained as the product of intelligence.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Daniel Wallace on New Testament Textual Variants

Bart Ehrman likes to tell his readers and listeners that there are hundreds of thousands of textual variants in the New Testament manuscript tradition, knowing that readers and listeners who are unfamiliar with what qualifies as a textual variant will be misled by this number. In reality, the vast majority of textual variants are simple spelling differences (e.g., spelling the Greek name for "John" with one "n" or two), and almost all other variants either do not affect meaning at all (e.g., synonyms) or they arise late in the manuscript tradition and therefore have nothing to do with the original text. Less than one percent of textual variants are both meaningful (i.e., they would affect our translation of the text) and viable (i.e., they may go back to the original text). Of the variants that are both meaningful and viable (the only variants that are really important), not one of them changes any significant Christian doctrine. The result of New Testament textual criticism, then, is that Christian doctrine and the texts it is grounded in are firmly established—hardly the message one would get by reading Ehrman!

Here's a brief discussion of variants by Daniel Wallace, one of the most respected New Testament textual critics and Greek scholars of our time.

PART ONE

PART TWO

Saturday, April 6, 2013

ATP Synthase and Intelligent Design

ATP Synthase is an enzyme that synthesizes ATP (an energy molecule) in your cells. It is composed of numerous protein subunits. Like many other molecular machines, ATP Synthase is a highly sophisticated structure whose design instructions are encoded in your DNA. Here's an excellent video showing the enzyme at work: