Naturalism

What in the world is naturalism?

Naturalism is the belief that the material universe is all that exists in the universe. You must be able to see it, touch it, or observe it to be real—several other “isms” flow out of naturalism.

Materialism – the belief nothing exists but matter, even mental cognition.

Empiricism – knowledge is limited to our senses.

Determinism – man, is merely a machine and cannot make real choices (free-will).

Relativism – ethics are relative to the person and or culture.

Nihilism – life is meaningless because if life is formed by accident with no intention behind it, there is no reason to believe humanity has a purpose.

Putting On Our Thinking Caps

How did the world come into existence, and where did life come? If we explore this idea and have a meaningful conversation about it, we must boil it down to the two most prominent worldviews. Naturalism is probably the most predominant worldview today. As stated above, we can only know the world around us by observing the natural world.

Naturalism denies the supernatural.

Charles Darwin gave naturalism legs when he theorized that a process of natural selection or evolution was the explanation for the vast difference in life. Given enough time and a single cell of life, everything could evolve into what we have in our world today. Hummingbirds, Orca whales, giraffes, and humans are all a product of a primordial soup, of sorts, that eventually spawned life as we know it. It seems plausible enough for most people to say, “well, yeah, that makes sense,” but does it make sense?

I am simplifying the discussion, not disrespecting Darwin or the reader, but to try and boil it down to the most basic assumptions made in theory.

However, we need to back up. We have made assumptions that single cell life is readily accessible or easily reproduced or made. That is not the case. Science has many answers, but it often has as many questions as answers, and in fact, personal experience shows that often when people throw the word “science” around, they do not know what they mean by science. To define our terms, the science I am talking about is observable. Form a hypothesis, run tests, and record the results. Do this repeatedly until conclusions support the hypothesis.

If this is our starting point, where have we ever observed life formed from non-life?  Life does not come from non-life.

Stephen Hawking said, “because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” [1] That is a big statement.

In a natural world, we have to either start with an eternal universe or a created universe. The second law of thermodynamics rules out an eternal universe. In short, it states, “the total amount of useable energy in any isolated system never increases” in other words, just like your car will always wear out, so will the universe. It cannot regenerate itself. It is always in decay. That means there is a time limit to the universe.

I’ll come back to the law of gravity in a moment because if we truly have a “nothing” universe, how do we account for the law of gravity? Our second option is to have a created universe, and this requires something that sets the whole thing into motion. Enter stage left, the Big Bang Theory.

Oxford Chemist Peter Atkins claims, “By chance, there was a fluctuation, and set of points, emerging from nothing and taking their existence from the pattern they formed, defined a time. The chance formation of a pattern resulted in the emergence of time from coalesced opposites, its emergence from nothing. From absolute nothing, absolutely without intervention, there came into being rudimentary existence.”[2]

By chance

The chance formation

Emergence from nothing

From absolute nothing

Without intervention

Rudimentary existence

Does this sound scientific? It sounds like someone that knows a bunch of big words put them together and made something up.

Jeffrey D. Johnson argues, “Unless you believe in magic without a magician, the engineering marvel of the simplest cell could not have evolved from non-living matter. For life to begin, the simple cell had to spontaneously appear with all its necessary parts, thrown together in the proper place, creating the semantic information needed for the living cell to reproduce itself.” [3]

Johnson quotes Darwin, “To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd to the highest possible degree.”[4]

World-renowned chemist James M. Tour asks the real question, “Does anyone understand the chemical details behind macroevolution? If so, I would like to sit with that person and be taught, so I invite them to meet with me.”[5]

If Hawkings and Atkins sound absurd, which I believe they do, Darwin and Tour have no idea how this is possible, then what is the alternative? Do we believe naturalism just because we have been taught it in the school system or because most scientists say Big Bang Cosmology is true? Evolution (macro) is true? Is there a reason behind our disbelief in the supernatural?

In this short video clip Christopher Hitchens argues that the warm feeling he gets through doing a good deed, giving blood, is something that evolution has given him for his sake and everybody else’s.

Do not allow that statement to sneak past. How did evolution give this to us? Evolution is impersonal. It cares not for anything other than eliminating the weak and perpetuating itself. There is no feeling in naturalism. How did feelings evolve? They are immaterial. As an example, how do you know your spouse loves you or that you love your spouse? You can’t see love. You can’t touch love. You can’t put it in a bottle and sell it? It is an immaterial thing.

He says it does not require a divine spark or any programming, but it begs the question, why would you give blood? It does not benefit you.  It only helps those weaker. If “survival of the fittest” is real, giving blood or doing good to your neighbor has no benefit. Hitchens also introduces sin into the conversation, although he does not realize it. He discusses sociopaths and psychopaths. In a natural world, sociopaths and psychopaths are only living out their natural order; they happen to be more aggressive about it, but who can possibly say they are wrong?

The Only Other Alternative

The only other possibility is a supernatural world, created and directed by an intelligent being. Within this framework, there are a couple of possibilities, such as the “god” of deism. Deism is an impersonal god that created the universe and has no further contact with the creation. The god of deism allows the world to play itself out.  That is depressing, and it does not describe the God of Christianity. The God that describes himself as being the One and Only God. The beginning and the end, the God that controls all things and spoke all things into existence.

If we boil it down to the two possibilities described here, let us be honest about something. They both involve faith. Darwin, Atkins, Hawkings, nor Hitchens have answers. Science doesn’t have the answer. Science has failed to produce life from non-life. Naturalism depends on faith, and it’s not even a good guess faith. It is blind faith.

Christianity provides answers to incredibly complex problems. It explains how life began, why life began, how evil entered the world, where consciousness comes from, and a purpose to our existence. For example, when Hitchens argues you do not need a “god” to do good things, he is right. Where he is fatally wrong is that he just cannot justify why you would do good, or what’s wrong with doing evil.

Where did this innate sense of right and wrong come from? Why do people do good to other people for no apparent reason?

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

The very opening line of the Bible tells us there was a beginning point for measuring time. There is also an all-powerful being, God, that created all things, and as we journey through the creation story, we will find that God created humanity different from the plants and all the animals.

then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (Genesis 2:7).

God breathed life into Adam, and he created man in the image of God. Man is not only physical, but man is also spiritual. Man has a body, and man has a soul. Man also has a conscience, dictating right from wrong.

Paul writes this in Romans about why people know right from wrong.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Romans 2:14-16).

Even before Moses received the law on tablets of stone, God had written it upon their hearts. Have you ever noticed the shame a young toddler feels when they lie to their parents? Of course, they are not very creative in their lies. It is easy to catch them, but we become more complex and more industrious in our deceit as we grow. The conscience begins to deaden. The callouses form upon the tender part of our inner being, and we lie without remorse.

God’s law tenderizes that callous. Naturalism has no explanation for the conscience. It has no explanation for those laws of gravity that Hawkings discussed. The immaterial does not produce laws of gravity, laws of logic, and laws of math. We see how he had to sneak over to the other side, borrow a little of this and a little of that from the Christian worldview to support his theory, and Hitchens does the very same thing. They know these things exist; they cannot account for them. I’ve argued this many times with some brilliant people, and this goes right past them. They either ignorantly reject this, or they miss the point.

Is it willful ignorance? I do not know, but we must consider it is the effect sin has on human consciousness. The Bible says man suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). He desires to reject authority, go his way, and avoid responding to the God he denies. They would instead embrace absurdity, then surrender to God.

The supernatural aspect of the Bible relies on written and eye-witness testimony, not to mention the fulfillment of prophetic events and human experience. My good friends Donnell and Connell explain that it is easy to deny it if you throw out all the evidence of super-naturalism.

There is so much more to be said, but I will address some more topics, such as free-will in my next article.

Kevin


[1] Johnson, Jeffrey D. The Absurdity of Unbelief: a Worldview Apologetic of the Christian Faith. (Free Grace Press, 2016), 131.

[2] Ibid 132

[3] Ibid 147

[4] Ibid 149

[5] Ibid 150

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 1:1.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 2:7.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 2:14–16.

The Problem of Evil

I recently came across a Facebook post which showed a starving child looking for food in a field, and a vulture standing ready for what looked inevitable. It is truly heartbreaking and devastating to think of such a situation. Having children of my own, I cannot bear to think of them starving to death, or the tortures of a place like Auschwitz. Evil is indeed real. It is in this world, and from the Christian perspective, how do we look at it?

I’m a street evangelist and a Christian apologist (not formally). I certainly have my fair share of discussions with those that believe this disproves the existence of God. In most cases, this gives full liberty to the “atheist” to debunk the idea that a good and loving God would allow this sort of thing to happen in the world, and undoubtedly, they have a point that challenges us all.

Scottish Philosopher, Davide Hume, said this: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Whence evil?” Hume presents a challenging argument, and while the topic is diverse, I will provide a defense for this argument. There are many theories of why evil exists and “whence” evil came.

Scripture provides lots of clues, but it also provides some absolutes. Primarily, it unequivocally states the goodness, righteousness, and moral perfection of God.

You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he? Habakkuk 1:13

Secondly, the Scriptures teach that God is not the author of evil.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. James 1:13

It is difficult for the human mind to comprehend a Sovereign God that hates evil and ordains evil for His purposes. God has created all things. We know God created all things good (Genesis 1:25), and with Adam and Eve, all things were very good (Genesis 1:31). We also know that sin entered the world. Since God is the creator of all things, and He has purposed all things according to the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11), then God had a purpose for His decree which allowed evil to enter into creation.

The London Baptist Confession of Faith 3.1 says this:

From all eternity God decreed all that should happen in time, and this He did freely and unalterably, consulting only His own wise and holy will. Yet in so doing He does not become in any sense the author of sin, nor does He share responsibility for sin with sinners. Neither, by reason of His decree, is the will of any creature whom He has made violated; nor is the free working of second causes put aside; rather is it established. In all matters the divine wisdom appears, as also does God’s power and faithfulness in effecting that which He has purposed.

The writers of the confession worded this carefully. Man is not coerced but freely sins by his desire (James 1:14).  

What do we say to the “atheist” who argues along the lines of Hume? On the surface, this seems a formative argument and can stump many a well-intended Christian.

Greg Bahnsen answered it well: “Philosophically speaking, the problem of evil turns out to be, therefore, a problem for the unbeliever himself. In order to use the argument from evil against the Christian worldview, he must first be able to show that his judgments about the existence of evil are meaningful – which is precisely what his unbelieving worldview is unable to do.”

In other words, how can the “atheist” justify moral or immoral behavior? The “atheist” argues what is right and what is wrong, but what is his basis? If he is true to his belief system, there is no God, then what is the standard of right and wrong? According to atheistic, Darwinian evolution, the process of survival of the fittest is merely working itself out. What is wrong with the murder of 11 million in the Holocaust? What is wrong with the starving child in Sudan? Why is rape wrong?

Cornelius Van Til called this “borrowed capital.” Our “atheistic” friends must borrow from the Christian worldview for morality to claim God is immoral. In the “atheistic” worldview, morality is an impossibility. Morality only comes through a moral being, not chunks of rock.

Would I ask my “atheist” friends to provide the alternative to the problem of evil? Herein lies a great difficulty for them. If evil exists, then it exists in people. We believe evil exists; therefore, it exists in people, but which kind of people? All people or just some people? If we begin to corner our “atheistic” friend about the evil in his own life, then we get to the crux of the problem.  Evil resides in us all.

The difference between me, a Christian, and an unbeliever are that I rejoice someday evil will be judged. ALL EVIL. The evil acts committed in secret will be punished, even those in the dark recesses of the mind. Hitler did not escape punishment via suicide, and neither will any of us.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Corinthians 5:10

For those that reject Christ, this will be an awful day. The Bible teaches that evil exists; it teaches that God is a good and just God that hates evil. God will ultimately punish all evil and all those that commit evil, which is in all of us. The answer is that Christ saves us from our evil selves.

Rather than pointing to evil acts and saying, “see God does not exist,” turn to Him and live. Abandon a life of sin and evil rebellion, and surrender at the cross of Christ, where the greatest act of evil was ever committed. The murder of an innocent man. That innocent man willingly laid down His life (John 10:18), that we might live.

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Corinthians 6:2

The Lord stands ready to heal and ready to forgive. Please do not reject so great a salvation shaking your fist at the God you know exists.

A special thank you to Dr. Brian Borgman for his excellent teaching on the Problem of Evil. I have linked his sermons here, here, here, and here.

Note: I have quotes around atheist, or atheistic, because the Bible teaches all have a revelation of God through creation and providence, but suppress the truth in their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-23).

Kevin

Gentle Parenting?

What in the world is gentle, or grace-based parenting? Let me begin by saying, As a 54 year-old father of four, I’m still trying to learn, and this is an area that my wife and I desire to transform, as we grow in grace.

We are not parenting “experts,” nor have we ever claimed to be, even though I know some that think they are. We were indoctrinated into a system of child-rearing that we have come to see as damaging and debilitating. It produces short-term results, but at the long-term cost of what? That is still to be determined.

As we began to learn the meaning of the word grace, we have begun to see the freedom in Christ, and His grace toward rebels like us. The real question remains, if He extends such unmerited favor toward us, and directs us in Him, why did we decide we needed to beat the sin out of our children?  

I wrote a Facebook post recently based on something I saw that bears repeating. The originator of this post is someone named Sarah Ockwell-Smith. I do not know her. She said this.

Compliant and obedient children seem great in childhood, but all of those years of obeying, not being allowed to ‘answer back’ to get their point across and eventually being too scared to confide in you, for fear of reprimand, does not make for an emotionally healthy adult.

Disagreements, debates, and healthy conflict may be harder on us as parents – but it makes for a much more positive future for our children.

The picture on this blog was posted by her as well, and I think it tells such a heartbreaking story. As a child, I was spanked more than a few times. I cannot declaratively say it hurt me in the long run, and this is not an article to condemn all use of the rod in discipline. My mom and dad were loving and careful parents. There were healthy boundaries in our home growing up. Healthy boundaries are reasonable, there is a clear difference between right and wrong, and obeying your parents, this is a good and godly thing to do. It is a command in the Ten Commandments and the New Testament.

Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (Ephesians 6:1).

We expect our children to obey and to honor us. The Ephesians passage continues that it is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you, and you may live long in the land, verse 2 through 3. No issues so far, we do not allow our children to run wild, we do our best to show them love, and to keep control over them, so they are not without boundaries. The more important focus of this article is the next verse.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

I’ve become convinced this is the key to appropriate parenting. I love the Proverbs, and I believe they are critical in gaining God’s wisdom. Grace-based parenting hinges on this verse. What I’ve often seen is that authoritarian based legalistic systems teach the rod with severity. They believe the will of a child must be broken, because they are guilty sinners in the eyes of a Holy God. Teaching them first to obey, must come with strictness and harshness. They wouldn’t say it must be harsh because they would recognize the verse says not to provoke to anger, but it has no other way to be interpreted by the child except harshness.

John Calvin has a well-balanced commentary on this verse:

Parents, in their turn, are exhorted not to irritate their children with immoderate harshness. This would excite hatred, and would lead them to throw off the yoke altogether. Accordingly, in Colossians he adds, ‘lest they be discouraged’ (Col 3:21).

When we as parents react in harshness, in anger, in frustration, when we are quick to pull out the rod, this carries the immediate effect of provocation. The outflow of discipline in our children is a provocation. Matthew Henry is my favorite Bible Commentator. He has offered balanced, orthodox commentary that has survived hundreds of years for a good reason.

His commentary is concise, but illustrates my desire:

Though God has given you power, you must not abuse that power, remembering that your children are, in a particular manner, pieces of yourselves, and therefore ought to be governed with great tenderness and love. Be not impatient with them, use no unreasonable severities and lay no rigid injunctions upon them. When you caution them, when you counsel them, when you reprove them, do it in such a manner as not to provoke them to wrath. In all such cases deal prudently and wisely with them, endeavouring to convince their judgments and to work upon their reason.

Calvin also affirms this treatment of children:

Kind and liberal treatment keeps children in reverence for their parents, and increases readiness and cheerfulness of their obedience, while a hard and unkind severtity rouses them to obstinancy, and destroys their dutifulness.

Calvin does offer a warning, that we are not too permissive, and this is the balance that must be fought for,

But on the other hand, lest there should be too much indulgence, as sometimes happens, he tightens the rein as it were, and adds, in the discipline and correction of the Lord. For God does not want parents to be so fond towards their children that they corrupt them by sparing them. Let their kindness be tempered, so as to keep them in the discipline of the Lord, and correct them also when they go astray.

I believe there is an ugly downside to the demand for obedience that comes out of most fundamentalist type groups. The children become aware and trained that obedience is better than beatings. They become conformists and have no way of coping with what their little minds cannot reason through. Instead, we need to seek balance.

I found some deep conviction in a sermon by Pastor Don Green, and I post it here that you might see the high demands of the first-time obedience crowd. I realize as 1689, Reformed Baptist, this probably puts me at odds with many of them, but that is okay.

I hope to come to a balanced position on the topic, which yields excellent long-term results in our parenting, and yours as well. I don’t want our kids to be unruly, I don’t want to withhold discipline so they will “like” me, but I also want them to know how much we love them and desire the best way to parent them.

Kevin

Social Media Distancing

social_media_distancing

Well, we all have a lot of extra time on our hands these days, at least I expect most of us do. The natural thing is to spend more time on social media, advancing your cause, getting your message out there, and “encouraging” the masses.

I’m that guy too, so as not to be overly offensive. I’ve had my time as a keyboard warrior, where I joyfully went to battle every day to rid the world of Arminians, Easy Believism “Christians, and the like…

I have decided that I’m over it, but really what I want to encourage you today, is to live like we’ve been called to live. If you profess Christ, then live the life you were called to live.

Standing for truth is important, Jesus stood for truth, Paul stood for truth, Luther stood for truth, but most of us aren’t Luther’s.  The point I desire to make, is that there is a balance to these things. Is it unimportant to be right? No, not necessarily, but I don’t want to compromise to the shame of Christ. He didn’t call me out of darkness to the glorious light of his gospel that I get to be a Raging Bull.

I’m going to begin practicing “Social Media Distancing” not because I don’t care about people, or what people have to say, it’s just that I’ve been shown that I’m really not that big of a deal. My thoughts are not that relevant. Perhaps you are different, and that’s fine, you do you…

I’ve decide I need to chill out, take care of my family, honor my employer, try to do a good job in my education, do a much better job loving my wife, the list is endless, and social media needs to be at the end of it. Thus ends my rant, carry on, and don’t forget to pray for those government officials that have some tough decisions to make.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. – 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Kevin

“Breaking Amish”

breaking amish

 

Breaking Amish was a television series that I’ve never seen a single episode. On occasion, I would see a preview or a commercial for it, but the other day the thought of it struck me. Here is a description of the former series.

The reality series `Breaking Amish’ provides a unique look into the lives of young men and women as they break free from their Amish or Mennonite traditions to pursue dreams in another world altogether. Living in New York City and Brooklyn, New York, the cast wears jeans, uses electricity, and spends time in places that serve alcohol – all first-time experiences for them – but taking advantage of Western luxuries has its disadvantages. The cast members likely will be abandoned by their families if they commit to living full-time on the outside, and even if they return to their previous lifestyles, they risk being shunned by their community altogether. The choice is theirs, and they know it comes with potential lifelong consequences.

Amish and Mennonite communities and, subsequently, many Orthodox Christian communities place high priorities on external conformation to community standards, and this is clear with the Amish. The men wear blue or gray pants with suspenders, black shoes, and blue work shirts and wide-brimmed hats. The women wear blue or gray ankle-length dresses, hair bonnets, and black shoes.

Legalism is about appearances. They conform to a set of community standards that others set for themselves and those around them. Authoritarianism drives the train. While legalism can exist without authoritarianism, where authoritarianism exists, legalism abounds. They go together like “peas and carrots.”

Whether this show was a representation of reality or not is certainly debatable, but the concepts are legitimate and of great concern to the children in these environments. Not all children will run off to New York City and go wild. Some will internalize, and some will openly rebel. My contention with legalistic, cultic, authoritarian churches is that many of the children will grow up to become this themselves, or they will rebel against the system.

Upon leaving a place bound in legalism and authoritarianism, I made the argument that the children growing up in this place will grow to hate Christianity. They will only see it as a big set of rules. A series of do this but do not do that. Dress like this, but do not dress like that. But the whole time they most often see the hypocrisy of the adults involved. You see it is always easier to be a purveyor of the rules than an actual follower of the rules.  I hope I am wrong, but we watched the faces of the children as they grow up. They went from joyful, fun-loving kids to, in many ways, expressionless and somber. When seeds of Christianity seemed to blossom, they were often squashed because their testimonies did not meet community standards. They probably had not mourned enough.

True Christian freedom exhibited in the fruit of the Spirit is that we are free to love and be loved, to live for the glory of God in a way that each are unique and representative of the complexities of variety that God creates, but in authoritarianism, it is like Amish and Mennonite life. Everyone should look the same. Stand in line, wear the same clothes, have the same responses the questions asked…

Will the adults realize this before it is too late? I do not know, but we can hope, and we can pray.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23

Kevin