Friday, August 19, 2016

Evolutionary Heresies

In less than two hundred years, the theory of evolution has grown from simple observations of wildlife into a biological explanation of all living things to the epistemological foundation of everything we know about ourselves and the entire universe. Materialism -- the belief that nothing exists outside of the physical universe and that man is merely the chemical byproduct of an unguided process no more complicated than matter plus time plus chance -- is now the prevailing worldview of our culture. Nearly every institution that speaks with authority religiously clings to it. It is an inherently flawed dogma that has profound philosophical and practical implications on every aspect of how we think, how we choose to live, how we treat others, and how we raise our children.

Darwin’s theory of natural selection forms the basis of modern biology. Organisms with the best traits for survival produce more offspring, which results in change within species that makes them more resilient over generations. The theory is applied more expansively to explain change between species, making natural selection the mechanism for the incremental development of all life, from the simplest cell to modern man. Critics claim there is a lack of evidence to support macro evolutionary change and point to problems such as the irreducible complexity of even the simplest organisms, the inability of the theory to explain human consciousness, or even language. While their objections have grown into a sizable body of research, they remain in the distinct minority and are largely mocked by the broader scientific community.

If nothing else, those who critique evolution on purely biological grounds force the scientific community to more rigorously defend entrenched positions that have gone largely unchallenged. Such critiques do not, however, address the fallacious way in which the theory of evolution is mistakenly used as a philosophical explanation for the creation of the universe. When employed in this way, the theory violates its own presuppositions and is rendered invalid.

Evolution is silent on the origin of life. It only offers an explanation of how life developed. In other words, the acrimonious debate over evolution is irrelevant to the fundamental mystery of creation. On the question of where matter came from in the first place, the best science can offer is its own sterile restatement of the Genesis account: in the beginning, there was a big bang. But this version of creation lacks an eternal deity so it is just another way of saying that something came from nothing, a notion that is ironically at odds with science itself.

Absent a creator, evolution is an undirected process that sprang up out of nowhere. Its origin cannot be understood empirically, and metaphysically, it is illogical. But even if one is able to put this fundamental problem aside, another problem arises. Without a creator, the entire universe, including man himself, is simply the mindless and accidental result of this biochemical process that somehow began on its own. By definition, it is a process devoid of reason. But if we are merely a byproduct of a process that is devoid of reason, we cannot use reason to make an argument for the validity of that process. In other words, materialists have no way to determine whether evolution is true. Their worldview asserts (even though in cannot logically assert) that there is no such thing as truth.

Materialists have unwittingly invalidated not just the theory of evolution but the entire basis on which we can know anything. Their worldview is not only devoid of reason but also of right and wrong. Its empirical foundations and conclusions are nonsense and it offers no normative guidance on how we should live. Despite this intellectual bankruptcy, materialism has been given a treasured place in our culture. Is it any wonder that the modern world is unraveling?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Limits of Reason

“There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” – Proverbs 14:12

The ability to reason separates man from the animals and gives him dominion over all of the earth. Simply put, it is the most important attribute we possess. With it we can create or conquer, protect or destroy. Reason allows us to unravel the workings of the physical universe and gives us the ability to discern natural law. It makes us self-aware, forcing us to ponder our own existence and the origin of it.

The answer to this question determines not only where we came from but where we are going and how we choose to live. And on this critical question, reason does not leave us in the dark. Understanding the things we all have access to, namely ourselves and the world around us, leads to the undeniable conclusion of the existence of God.

Perhaps the most basic way to reach this conclusion is the cosmological argument, which dates back at least as far as Aristotle in the 4th Century Before Christ. The argument has been pondered by philosophers and theologians for centuries. Thomas Aquinas may have the most concise and famous form of it. Contemporary Norman Geisler provides a thorough version of it that is summarized here. While it builds on a set of premises that should each be rigorously examined and understood, the entire proof can be curtly expressed like this: you exist, therefore God exists.

Here is my paraphrase: being cannot be denied without contradiction. If one claims not to exist, he is asserting that claim using his own existence. Now, being is distinct from non-being. Something is not nothing. Furthermore, something cannot come from nothing. It is also known that man and everything in the universe is dependent on something else for existence. That something, by definition, must have an independent nature that is unchangeable. In order to have created everything and to sustain it, the independent entity must have several attributes, among these are it must be immaterial, infinite, omnipotent, and omniscient.

It requires no special revelation to derive this conception of God and it is a syllogism that cannot be logically refuted. Many have tried and all have failed. No other explanation for the origin of life is consistent with reality and simply observing the material world makes the argument self-evident, as the Apostle Paul explains, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

This theoretical conception of God aligns with only one worldview: Judeo-Christian revelation. The ancient Hebrews did not sit and ponder an abstract divinity using metaphysics. They encountered divine intervention that has been recorded in the writings of their patriarchs and prophets. That intervention, impressed upon a nomadic tribe of outcasts, was unlike anything the world had ever seen. It, and it alone, revealed a God that has the exact same attributes as the conjectural version of the creator that philosophers would later derive on their own. No other religion describes such a God. Their revelation foretold of the Christ who would embody these attributes in the flesh in order to redeem humanity.

These are the two pillars that point toward God. One is derived from “what has been made” and is built entirely on logic. It is a theoretical model of what God must look like based on what we know about ourselves and the universe around us. The other is divine revelation, which has withstood unrelenting attacks by skeptics from the onset. For thousands of years it has been vindicated, time and again, by its own transforming and prophetic passages and the historical record. Scripture describes, in inexhaustible detail, who God is and our relationship toward Him and our fellow man. Both of these pillars are in perfect harmony with one another and both perfectly explain reality. And both can be grasped using our ability to reason.

Unfortunately this does not settle the matter. Reason commands so little of our decision making that it is easy to discard the conclusive evidence before us. Fallen man is beset by physical and psychological limitations that constantly impede on his rational thought. We are hampered by illness or injury, stress and anxiety, and a finite amount of intelligence. Far worse than all of that is how we exercise our free will. When we can think clearly we usually choose not to. We are driven by selfishness, jealously, anger, and greed, habitually seeking to ingratiate and elevate ourselves at the expense of others. These powerful desires blind us to truth. As it is written, “This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

Man is limited in his capacity to understand but, far more importantly, we have no desire to do so. We willfully ignore the evidence and choose to live in a state of ignorance, believing theories and superstitions that are internally contradictory because they ostensibly provide us with the autonomy we crave. As St. Timothy explained, we find ourselves “always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”. Or as the Psalmist declared, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

These are the limits of reason. It is not a failing of it but of us. When we reject God, we are also rejecting reason itself. We lose our ability to think rationally and neither logic or history can change our minds. As Jesus explained, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” We substitute “darkness for light, and light for darkness” and the only perfectly reasonable answer to existence appears to us as foolishness.

Fortunately it does not have to be this way. God implores us, “Come now, and let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” He promises that all those who diligently seek will find Him. This has been true for so many skeptics whose intent was to disprove Scripture but did so with a sincerity and earnestness that allowed them to honestly examine its claims. In doing so they were given life and the world around them began to make sense.