The Year That Was – Part One

So as 2012 comes to an end we are bombarded with lists of everything from the top news stories of the year, to the top songs heard on the radio and the top YouTube videos of your neighbour’s cat doing crazy thinks.  Not to be out done, I have decided to follow suite and spend the last 5 days of 2012 reposting the top viewed stories from the Meekonimics Project. 

In looking over my posting from this past year some of the entries that you viewed the most surprised me a bit.  Maybe it has something to do with the way I tagged them but some are still getting hits on a fairly regular basis several months after they were first posted.  Not as surprising, the more topical entries are at the top of the list but that doesn’t mean I’m going to change my approach to what I write.  My calling is still to write about economics and faith with the odd topical entry thrown in if it catches my attention, especially if I can spin it around to be somehow about economics, faith or both. 

So without further preamble here is the number 5 most viewed posting of 2012, originally posted on January 9, generating 39 individual reads and 3 comments to date –

Lawrence Kraus & Sam Harris Do It Again…



Lawrence Krauss & Sam Harris Do It Again

Noted Atheist thinker Sam Harris recently interviewed fellow atheist Lawrence Krauss on his blog in order to help promote Krauss’s new book “A Universe from Nothing.”   If you’re interested you can read the whole interview here –

As I’ve stated before it is offensive to me when atheists claim a monopoly on reason.  I actually find that the more convinced anyone becomes that their own view is correct, the less reasonable they are when faced with a contrary view.  The fact that Mr. Harris refers to his non-profit foundation “Project Reason” is in my humble opinion the height of arrogance!

True to form, in reading the interview with Krauss I came across something not only unreasonable but downright deceptive in the way that many atheists approach the top of the origins of the universe and the so called “Big Bang” theory.

Krauss; Empirical discoveries continue to tell us that the Universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not, and ‘something’ and ‘nothing’ are physical concepts and therefore are properly the domain of science, not theology or philosophy. (Indeed, religion and philosophy have added nothing to our understanding of these ideas in millennia.) I spend a great deal of time in the book detailing precisely how physics has changed our notions of “nothing,” for example.

Krauss is saying that science has essentially changed the meaning of the word “nothing”.  Is it really possible for a scientific discovery to change the meaning of a word?  It’s an interesting debate tactic, don’t like the meaning of a word, just change it. 

Essentially Krauss is saying that since he doesn’t like the implications of “nothing”, he has set out change what it what it means, don’t get me wrong, science can change our understanding of a physical concept but it cannot change the definition of a word!  And while “something” and “nothing” are physical concepts, they also carry significant theological and philosophical connotations.  Any “reasonable” person would know that no amount of linguistic gymnastics (twisting of words) is going to change that. Without really meaning to Krauss has actually strengthened the theistic point of view by getting closer to proving that what we once thought of as “nothing” has the power to become something after all. 

This brings me to the so called “Big Bang” theory.  Many atheists are surprised when I tell them that I actually support this theory for the creation of the universe and a careful reading of Genesis Chapter One doesn’t contradict it.  The central concept of the “Big Bang” theory is that the universe evolved from nothing while the central concept of Genesis chapter one is, wait for it; that the universe evolved from nothing.  The two theories share one key ingredient, that before there was something, there was nothing.  How the process of moving from nothing to something started remains a mystery but denying the plausibility of an intelligent creator as unreasonable on the one hand while attempting to change the meaning of the words that are central to the debate on the other is not only unscientific, it’s disingenuous, hypocritical and arrogant.  Any high school debating coach would slap Krauss on the wrist for even suggesting it.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (BANG!)  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (BANG!) God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)

The End of Faith Pt 2 – An Exercise in Missing the Point (Book Review)

I liked this book.  Sam Harris is an intelligent and articulate thinker and writer.  He lays out a very compelling argument for people to enter into reasoned debate about tribalism in a globalized world.   We need more thinkers, philosophers, theologians, atheists and deists on all sides to enter into this discussion if we are to understand one another and learn how to live together on this rock we call planet earth.

But Harris’ core thesis; that Faith in an unseen God is unreasonable and must be expunged from our consciousness if we are ever to ahieve lasting world peace, is overly simplistic and completely misses the mark.  Yes religious tribalism is bad but that has little or nothing to do with faith. Harris knows this and tries to have it both ways when discussing spiritualism and mysticism but completely glosses over or ignores it when discussing the major world religions.

I’ve seen this argument time and time again from both atheists and deists alike.  It’s a red herring.

No theologian or philosopher worth his salt will waste any breath attempting to prove or disprove the existence of God.  The “evidence” we have either way is circumstantial at best and you either believe that it points to God or you don’t.  There is no smoking gun and there is no DNA on the body.  Just like the OJ trial 15 years ago and the recent Casey Anderson verdict it’s un-provable so move on.

Therefore; what is at issue here is not faith but religion itself.    After exhausting the limited argument for or against the existence of God, which usually takes nothing more than a single paragraph, what most authors on both sides of the debate (Harris included) are left with is a discussion about the value of various religious dogmatic positions.

Let me be perfectly clear here.  While religion requires faith, faith does not require religion.

What Harris does is give an explanation for the end of his faith but does not provide any evidence that would lead others, who didn’t already share his view to end their own.  What we’re left with is a 200 page argument about various religious practices that are incompatible with a tolerant, pluralistic society but any further attempt to link religion with faith falls flat.

By the end of the book Harris appears to abandon all pretence when discussing mysticism.  Somehow in Harris’ view a mystic who believes that the world can simply be experienced without the need for any scientific analysis, or has he puts it, concepts, is more rational than one who attempts to connect concepts with unexplained experiences through, for lack of a better term, faith.

The roiling mystery of the world can be analyzed with concepts (this is science), or it can be experienced free of concepts (this is mysticism).  Religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time.  It is the denial – at once full of hope and full of fear – of the vastitude of human ignorance. – Sam Harris; The End of Faith

To be fair, Harris doesn’t actually use the term faith here, he blames it all on religion but the implication is clear.  Somehow the “faith” of a mystic is more rational than the faith found in religion, and while this may be true in many cases and may be a reason to abandon your religion, it is not a reason to abandon faith.

I am sure at this point many of my readers are going to want me to continue this line of thought and become an apologist for one faith
tradition or another.  I’m not going to do that.  If you have read any of my previous posts on religion in general and Christianity in particular you know where I stand on this.  While ultimately I do wish all atheists would become Christians the first step in that very long journey is to first recognize the rationality of Deism we can discuss the particulars of faith later.

The End of Faith?

 We cannot live by reason alone… It is nowhere  written, however, that human beings must be irrational, or live in a perpetual  state of siege, to enjoy an abiding sense of the sacred.  On the contrary… spirituality can be, indeed must be, deeply rational, even as it elucidates the limits of reason. – Sam Harris; The End of Faith

Sam Harris is an atheist, but he sure doesn’t sound like one in the above quote.  He sounds like a very reasoned and rational thinker who refuses to dismiss the possibility of a God, or at least spirituality, however improbable, without clear evidence.  In my opinion, that’s not really an atheist, that’s someone who is waiting for more evidence before making a decision.  I think Mr. Harris is one of the breed of so called atheists I could actually get along with.

Don’t get me wrong, I am an ardent Christ-follower just as Harris is an avowed atheist.  But we can debate the historical record and authority of scriptures until the cows come home and not convince each other of anything until we get one thing perfectly clear.  Nobody knows for sure how the universe was created.

Given the evidence we now have it is equally as likely that the “Big Bang” was caused by the gaseous excretion of a cosmic Chicken, as one atheist told me, as anything worthy of the name God and I agree.  But if God is indeed a cosmic Chicken does that make Him (It) any less awesome and God-like?

What I don’t accept is the notion that the universe simply created itself.  We live in a world of cause and effect and to say that the universe itself has no cause is to deny the entire scientific method that the rest of our understanding of the physical world is built upon.  A theory based on causeless-ness is no less irrational then the cosmic Chicken theory.

You see, all of the “evidence” we have in support of ANY theory for the origins of the universe is circumstantial at best.  Many atheists jump on Carl Sagan’s famous declaration that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence but then utterly fail to live up that requirement in support of any of their own theories.  Where is the extraordinary evidence to support a claim of causeless-ness exactly?  And if you say that I’m missing the point of what Sagan and all your arrogant and delusional atheist friends mean by causeless-ness, quite honestly, we’re doomed to a lifetime of circular arguments.   There is no point to a circular argument and we may as well forget the whole thing.  You can stop reading now, unsubscribe from this blog and never come back.  If all you want to do is argue in circles I’m not interested, see yah!

For those of you who didn’t just click away, congratulations, you at least have enough of an intellect to see that every effect has a cause, thanks for sticking around.

I don’t think if we’re honest with ourselves there are very many true atheists out there.  Just about everyone I have ever encountered when they honestly think about the origins of the universe will admit that at the end of the day there has to be an ultimate cause.  Although circumstantial all evidence points to the fact that something started all of this and that cause, regardless of whether or not it is worthy of the term God as we now understand it is nothing short of awesome.  It has been the task of all reasoned thought to determine that cause since the dawn of time.

So where does that leave us, me and you?  It leaves us with history and the evolution of human understanding in uneasy balance with our inquisitive nature and the future of the things we may yet discover.  It does not make the existence or non-existence of God more or less probable.

Funny thing, when I looked up “faith” in Wikipedia it started out by quoting Christian scripture;

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and  assurance about what we do not see. [Hebrews 11:1]

Are confidence, hope and assurance irrational?  Worse (or better, depending on how you look at it) does faith hinder inquiry?  The answer to both questions in my opinion is an emphatic NO!

Faith and reason can and must live side by side.  Without reason faith is indeed delusion as many atheists claim but reason without faith is empty and leads inevitably to a circular argument that can never be concluded.  In order for reason to have a purpose we must start from a faith position and then use reason to shine a light on the things we do not see.

Will some of our ideas be disproven?  Yes.

Will it be difficult to justify the mistakes of the past?  Yes.

Is it then reasonable, or even possible, to discard faith entirely?  No.

Did I convince anyone without any previous spiritual inclination of the existence of God?  I doubt it but that wasn’t my point, and yes I do have one.  My point is that without faith there is no reason for reason.  Atheists that point to reason as the only worthy pursuit don’t even have a valid starting point for their arguments.  They’re just running in circles.

One last thing; do I think the Bible is literally true? Of course not, but that’s a discussion for another time.