Posts Tagged ‘morality’

You Are Not Your Brain

In going back and reviewing the audio from my church’s SWAT Seminar from a week and a half ago, I have been listening to J.P. Moreland discuss his evidence for the existence of the soul. This was of particular interest to me, because I posted such an argument on my blog last year. I was intrigued to note that my argument was only slightly related to Moreland’s argument, because it means 1) I’m capable of independent thought, and 2) I feel like I might be able to contribute to the overall defense of theistic belief.

However, in listening to Moreland’s talk on the subject, it’s clear to me that his position is on much firmer ground than mine. He gave many different reasons why conscious states differ from brain states, but more importantly why “you are not your brain.” Among these reasons is that a person’s consciousness is not comprised of parts (you can have 80% of a brain, but you can’t have 80% of a person) and that it is possible for self to be disembodied, but not possible for the brain, therefore the person and the brain are not identical.

But the one that struck me as the simplest, yet most powerful, is the idea that if the person and the brain were the same, free will would not be possible. And if free will is not possible, then there is no reasonable concept of responsibility. In essence, if we didn’t have free will, there would be no reason we should logically choose to do good things, because whether or not a good thing is done is directed by the brain, and we as a person have no say in what we choose. In reality, everything would just be an effect of the laws of physics and chemistry, and as a result there would be no moral value or worth placed on any result–it just is what it is.

But because we place moral value on some choices (i.e. some things are really right or really wrong), this means that there is some personal responsibility, and as a result, free will is a real concept. And since free will is a real concept, the resulting conclusion is that a person is not the same as his/her brain. This gives powerful evidence to the existence of something immaterial that is responsible for the movements between conscious states in a person.

I’m sure I’ll have a few more posts from the SWAT stuff, but thought this was worth sharing.

The Problem of Evil: Just Who Is Responsible?

I recently discussed the problem of evil, which is a popular topic of debate between theists and atheists. For those unfamiliar, the general notion is that if God exists, why is there evil or suffering in the world? Surely God could have created a world without evil, because He is all-powerful and all-loving. The fact that evil exists suggests either that God is not all-powerful or He is not all-loving, and would therefore cease to be God. The atheist then concludes that because there is evil, God almost certainly does not exist.

I’ve posted on this elsewhere, but to me it seems theists often jump to free will and the permission of evil to accomplish a greater good. While this is definitely a component of the theist’s defense, it appears to me that we often miss the initial step: who is responsible for evil?

As a theist, to me it seems like we need to clarify this responsibility before we can discuss further. If an atheist poses to you the problem of evil, the first question ought to be this: “Can evil exist without man?” That is to say, if man did not exist, would there still be evil?

In reply, the atheist can really only go two ways. The initial implied assumption here is that the atheist is a naturalist, and as such believes that nature is amoral and indifferent. Nature doesn’t care about the plight of man, and so it applies no value to man. Since evil is a moral value judgment, and nature has no values, nature is amoral and incapable of evil on its own.

So the atheist can say either of the following:

1) Yes, evil can exist without man, or
2) No, evil cannot exist without man.

If the answer is the first option, then the atheist is stipulating to the existence of the supernatural realm, and the entire framework of the atheist’s worldview is shattered. Why is this true? Because the only realms that could exist are the natural and the supernatural, by definition. If nature is amoral and man doesn’t exist, then the only way a moral value judgment like evil could exist in such a situation is within the supernatural realm. So the atheist has just admitted their own worldview is irrational!

Realistically, this means the only option for the atheist is #2, where the existence of evil is predicated on the existence of man. However, this also poses a problem for the atheist, as we are then able to construct a logical argument based on the premises laid out from the atheist’s worldview:

1) If evil exists, then someone or something is responsible for evil. (P1)
2) If man does not exist, then evil does not exist. (P2)
3) Nature on its own is amoral. (P3)
4) Evil exists. (P4, denying the consequent)
5) Therefore, someone or something is responsible for evil. (C1 –> P1, P4)
6) Also therefore, man exists. (C2 –> P2, P4)
7) Nature existed before man existed. (P5) [This is the naturalist’s assumption based on the theory of evolution.]
8) Therefore, there was a time before man where evil did not exist. (C3 –> P2, P3, C2, P5)
9) But evil exists now. (P6)
10) Therefore, the someone or something responsible for evil didn’t exist before man, but exists now. (C1, C3, P6)

Based on these ten steps, the only reasonable conclusion is that man is responsible for the evil we see in this world. So the atheist is really assuming that the problem of evil begins with man, unless he relinquishes his entire worldview and commits to supernaturalism.

So the issue then becomes the following: couldn’t God have created a world where man didn’t exist? I suppose it’s logically possible, but we as humans are in no position to make any assumptions about such a world where we didn’t exist–namely, that it would be a world that is better than the one we are currently experiencing. Surely it wouldn’t be better for us, because we wouldn’t exist. So we have no basis on which to judge God based on the existence of evil.

Without even discussing free will, any theist can make a reasonable assertion that the problem of evil is a poor and invalid objection to the probability of God’s existence. If you are faced with such a task, don’t worry! You have the answers!

What Am I Doing, and Why Am I Doing It?

I had some prayer time with God today while I went for a walk, and I was confessing some things to God, among them an addiction (I have tried not to call it that, but it is what it is) to gambling. I used to love going to the casino and playing/watching poker, largely because I was decent at it, and so didn’t lose the money that most do at a casino. God put a question on my heart today in trying to help me realize some various points He needed to hammer home. The question is this: “If you had $100 to do whatever you wanted with, no repercussions, what would you spend it on?” I wrestled with this. Would I go gambling? Would I spend it on my wife or daughter?

Ultimately I came to the realization that I wouldn’t gamble, which helped me draw the conclusion that God has helped me overcome that addiction. But what was worse was that God made it clear that in trying to choose between a small handful of things, I neglected to ask, “What would You have me do with that?” See, while I might have overcome my addiction, what I have yet to overcome is the selfish attitude that the casino touts as glorious and the word deifies as success. Not once until God made it clear to me did I think that maybe buying food for the homeless or donating it to missions might be a better use of that money than on myself. I didn’t think about what would bring Him the most glory.

Why does God ask us to do these things? It’s a question that I had to ask myself when an atheist recently asked me to put myself into Abraham’s shoes when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac. Though I tried to make myself appear humble by quoting Isaiah 55:9, it made me stop and ask myself what the purpose of going through these things is. I came to a couple of conclusions:

1) God’s ways are not our ways. In the Abraham/Isaac situation, we tend to base the morality of the situation on the action being performed. God’s morality is based on how we treat the request. Our way goes on the physical nature of the act; God’s way goes on the heart’s intent behind the act.

2) God would not ask anything of us that He’s not willing to do Himself. God asks for our sacrifice because He has sacrificed. God asks for us to set ourselves apart because He has set Himself apart. God asks us to go and pursue men because He has pursued us. God asks us to be obedient because He is always obedient to His own nature, since He is clear that He will never change.

I cannot possibly hope to understand everything God does in this world, and why He does it. I only know that He asks something of me, and I do it because there is no reason not to. God has demonstrated why He asks, what He is looking for. When I study, when I listen, He is clear. Perhaps there is so much moral ambiguity because we spend all of our time deciding what we think is right instead of listening for why His way is right.

My verse for this week I think sort of fits in this jumbled mess of a post, because it is about letting self go and understanding that God’s ways are not my ways, but His power is greater than any way I can possibly fathom to get it done:

    “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” — 1 Peter 4:11

Evidence for God’s Existence – The Argument for Intangible Soul

As we wrap up the series of arguments, we get to my own argument. I haven’t really heard this one posited anywhere else, and so I tentatively step out on my own here. I am honest enough with myself to admit that there may be holes in this argument that could come to light. If any of the four arguments bears attack, this one is probably it.

Now that I’ve tipped off any skeptics to lick their chops, let me explain the main point of the argument, give the hypothetical syllogism for the logic of the argument, then give the supporting evidence.

The main point of the argument is this: intangible concepts, such as ideas, words, emotions, moral characteristics, etc. cannot be reasonably shown to have material origins. The intangible soul, described plainly by theists and more specifically Christian theists, is the best explanation for the origin of intangible concepts.

The logical argument is this:

1) If intangible concepts exist, then the best explanation for the origin of these concepts is the soul.
2) Intangible concepts exist.
3) Therefore, the best explanation for the origin of these concepts is the soul.

Now the only objections to the second condition in the argument might come from the New Age movement, where some believe that our entire existence is illusory. I can’t really respond to that objection without going into all of the fundamental flaws with an illusory existence, so I’m going to put that possible objection aside and focus on the biggest potential problem with the argument: that the best explanation for the origin of intangible concepts is the soul.

For our purposes, I’m only going to take the argument far enough as to suppose the inference to the best explanation of soul. I think the logic would follow that the best explanation for the existence of soul is that it is created by God and instilled in us from birth, but that is not the goal of this post. If there is an objection at this level, perhaps we will address it in the comments. But I tend to believe that the greater number of possible objections will come in the initial step, rather than this second level. So let’s stick to the top level and reason it out first, then work our way down if necessary.

Now, the basis for the argument is rooted in taxonomy and genetics, with the simple scientific belief that something that originates from something else must contain the markers of its predecessors. A baby deer, for instance, will gather its genetic code from its parents. And deer are classified with other animals that have similar features into one family or genus, or phylum, etc., so the taxonomy tree is completed.

Now if we apply the same scientific method to intangible concepts, they must be similar to the thing from which they originate, right? So when we look for where intangible concepts come from, ought not that thing also be intangible? For where else in science or nature do we see something tangible produce something intangible? There is no evidence of this anywhere in science, so if we apply the same scientific method used to explain taxonomy and genetics, which point to the furthering of species, it makes sense that the origin of intangible concepts is itself intangible.

Now this raises a dilemma for the materialist. The materialist would say that such things as soul do not exist, and that things like emotions, words, ideas, come from the brain. But how do you explain the origin of such concepts in the brain using the scientific basis we’ve already discussed? The second issue with the brain being responsible for these is that the brain is not a creating entity, but rather a processing entity.

From the National Institute of Health: “The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. It is the major information-processing center of the body. The spinal cord conducts sensory information (information from the body) from the peripheral nervous system to the brain. After processing its many sensory inputs, the brain initiates motor outputs (coordinated mechanical responses) that are appropriate to the sensory input it receives. The spinal cord then carries this motor information from the brain through the PNS to various locations in the body (such as muscles and glands).” (emphasis mine) So the only initiation done by the brain is in response to a sensory input; it does not create anything by itself. Think about it this way–the eye processes light and sends information to the brain to tell you what you are looking at. But the eye did not create the light, it merely processed and necessitated a response. The brain is the same way.

Now the materialist would say, “Well words evolved just like other natural things. Similar grunts were processed by the brain and became associated with things, and over time they developed into words and that’s how we got language.” While that is entirely possible, this explanation does nothing for other intangible things like morality and emotions. The evidence for this is fairly rational–think of an emotion like love. Say your kid wanders into traffic. As a parent, you rescue them and can either hug them tightly or give them a swat on the rear for doing that. Both things are done out of love, but it is expressed different ways. The brain shouldn’t by nature process two opposite reactions to the same instance and arrive at the same conclusion, because the output must be appropriate to the input (i.e. my parent is inflicting pain, therefore she does not love me, versus my parent holds me tight and kisses me, therefore she loves me).

So for these intangible concepts, we need an entity that creates and generates them, rather than a responsive entity like the brain. Based on the taxonomy and genetics explanation above, it makes most sense that this entity also be intangible. So what is an intangible creative entity? Well, supernaturalism (and more specifically theism) has long posited the existence of such an entity called soul, by which things are created innately in us and our brain initiates motor outputs in response to express these things. Existence of soul would also mean that things like language, morality and emotions have been ingrained in us since the beginning of time, and while they have adapted due to different natural environments, they have always been present in one form or another.

Again, this poses a huge problem for the materialist, and more specifically for the evolutionist, because it would then make evolution the least plausible explanation for the existence of life. If language has existed from the outset, then humanity has existed from the outset, and did not evolve from some other life form.

So I feel like there’s a compelling case here that the existence of soul is the best explanation for intangible concepts. To make a reasonable objection, one must first tear down all of the arguments I’ve made here and provide positive evidence for the best alternative. I welcome your questions and objections.

Ravi Zacharias’ Take On the Evidence

Before we get to the fourth point of evidence in my argument, I saw this video on YouTube and thought it a very succinct way to say everything from the first three points that I’ve touched on. And it helps that Ravi has much better credentials than I do, so if my arguments don’t make sense, perhaps his will. Enjoy!

Opposition to the Moral Argument

Recently I have found myself in several discussions with atheists based on a variety of topics. I have stumbled on the “Blessed Atheist Bible Study,” where atheists go through the stories of the Bible and attempt to show inconsistency and laugh at how foolish they think it all sounds. I had the privilege of refuting one such consistency from the author of a book called “Disproving Christianity: Refuting the World’s Most Followed Religion.” I have come upon the blog post from an atheist who is not scared of death but assumes that many religious people are. I have discussed the rational nature of atheism. Yet in all of these instances, it seems the discussion has boiled down to the Moral Argument for the existence of God.

And why should it not? Morality is at our inner core; Christians know this to be our souls. We can’t see it, can’t touch it, but we know it’s there. In fact, everyone knows it’s there, because everyone believes in some form of morality. Even the most inconceivable of people who thought that murder was not wrong would still be enraged with a sense of wrongdoing if someone murdered their own child. Morality is a part of everything we actually do, because it is the innate governing body (given by God) of what we should and shouldn’t do.

So what do those who don’t believe in the existence of God say in opposition of the argument for objective moral values? Here are several that I’ve heard:

“Morality is based on a consensus of society.”

This sounds a lot like many of the laws we have today. Things are wrong because the law says and most people agree that these laws are good. The problem inherent in this argument is that different societies can have different opinions on what ought to be done. For instance, some societies say that polygamy is perfectly acceptable, other societies say it is absolutely wrong. One society in particular found it perfectly acceptable (by consensus, of course) to attempt to exterminate an entire race of people in what we call the Holocaust; many other societies decry this as pure evil. But if it is a societal consensus that determines morality, then someone injecting their morality on you is perfectly acceptable, for they are acting completely within their moral code. They are not violating their morality, so any act they perform, regardless of whether right or wrong in your own society, is OK. But if someone’s society says you ought to kill all blonde people and this is moral, and you are blonde, you might take exception to this if they came after you; you might even say it’s wrong. But if it’s not wrong in their moral code, then they are technically right in killing you. So morality based on societal consensus really doesn’t make sense.

“Anything that causes suffering is immoral,” or “Suffering is the measuring stick by which we determine right and wrong.”

This one actually sounds OK at first, because it allows for objective morality and suffering is seen as a universally wrong act. But this one consists of a logical inconsistency as well. First, on whom is the suffering placed for it to be immoral? For example, if someone were to attempt to kill a woman, but that woman killed that person in self-defense, is she committing an immoral act? It would definitely cause suffering for the person dying, as well as the dead person’s family and friends, so it would have to be considered immoral to defend one’s self.

But let’s take it a step further, and this is the argument I presented in response to this as well. Suppose a baseball game is tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth. The big power hitter for the home team comes up with two outs and smacks a game-winning home run off the opponent’s best pitcher. By doing this, he unleashes a huge celebration among his teammates and his fans. Unfortunately, he has just committed an immoral act and must therefore be condemned. Why? Because he caused suffering in the form of shame and disappointment for the pitcher, the opposing team, and all of the opposing team’s fans. It would also be an act with a relatively greater level of immorality than just killing the one person in self-defense, because the home run inflicted suffering on so many more people. I’m being sort of facetious here, but the logic to this argument is pretty ridiculous when you break it down.

“Morality has evolved over time and is based on current culture and circumstances.”

This one was particularly interesting, because this subjective morality came from someone who was trying to say that the Bible is inconsistent because God was evil in killing innocent Egyptians in the final plague of Exodus. However, if right and wrong change over time and are based on the current culture and societal norms, then we can make no judgments about the past in a moral sense. In this sense, everything done in history could be moral, so we can’t really condemn any acts we’ve seen in history. The persecution of Christians would be OK, the persecution of atheists would be OK, the slavery of Africans would be OK, because at that time the “current morality” could have allowed for this to be OK. This also means that not only was Pharaoh justified in enslaving the Israelites, but God was justified in committing an act in direct opposition. Both sides of the coin are OK in the past, because we can’t judge them based on our current morality, since it has evolved over time.

The second part of this one is whose morality we’re talking about here. My sense of what is moral in my culture is very different from the gentleman who put forth this argument, so which one of us evolved correctly? Did I not evolve properly, and so my morality is not really morality unless it agrees with his morality? If it is neither of us, then what is the measuring stick for the morality of the culture? If culture is the measuring stick, then it has to be independent of individuals, in which case we would all be subscribing to objective morality based on culture, which then begs the question of the past. It is a self-defeating argument.

Ultimately, there is no good answer to the Moral Argument, because there are objective moral values, and we all know it. They are based on what C.S. Lewis calls the “Tertium Quid,” or a Moral Law-Giver that transcends time and culture, so we can judge things once and for all as right or wrong based on this Moral Law-Giver. So if you are a believer in God, this should give you confidence moving forward that we have a great God that not only transcends time and space, but also is willing to give us a part of His nature to guide us as a compass discerning what is right and what is wrong, based on His nature. If you are a skeptic, what is your criticism of the Moral Argument?

Pre-Cognition = Removal of Free Will?

I have one of my frequent commenters to thank for passing this opinion article along from the New York Times. The first couple of paragraphs of the article provide the basis for the rest of the article:

In an influential article in the Annual Review of Neuroscience, Joshua Gold of the University of Pennsylvania and Michael Shadlen of the University of Washington sum up experiments aimed at discovering the neural basis of decision-making. In one set of experiments, researchers attached sensors to the parts of monkeys’ brains responsible for visual pattern recognition. The monkeys were then taught to respond to a cue by choosing to look at one of two patterns. Computers reading the sensors were able to register the decision a fraction of a second before the monkeys’ eyes turned to the pattern. As the monkeys were not deliberating, but rather reacting to visual stimuli, researchers were able to plausibly claim that the computer could successfully predict the monkeys’ reaction. In other words, the computer was reading the monkeys’ minds and knew before they did what their decision would be.

The implications are immediate. If researchers can in theory predict what human beings will decide before they themselves know it, what is left of the notion of human freedom? How can we say that humans are free in any meaningful way if others can know what their decisions will be before they themselves make them?

I have already given these responses to the source of the article, but as free will is fair play in this article, I feel it necessary to point out some flaws with this argument:

1) An assumption about what it says regarding the free will of humans is premature until the experiment is actually performed on humans. There is no guarantee such an experiment will work.

2) It equates free will and moral choices with a fraction of a second. Any reasonable thinking person knows that it takes considerably longer to carry out such a decision, which allows for the ability of someone to change their mind and is why people change their minds all the time.

3) Even the ability to predict these decisions doesn’t limit free will; all it does is tell us what choice is being made. It doesn’t change the identity of the decision-maker, nor does it change the actual decision. This is what morality and free will are all about.

Interestingly, the movie Minority Report has already run with this concept of pre-cognition. While ultimately the movie exposes a flaw in the system created, the idea that the pre-cogs could tell what was going to happen didn’t change whether or not the event was going to take place. It only allowed the protagonist the opportunity to stop it. Free will was not changed (e.g., the man still chose to kill his wife); the execution, or carrying out, of that will was all that was thwarted.

So in short, such an experiment means absolutely nothing with respect to free will and morality. The writer of the article pretty much agrees, but this kind of stuff is dangerous if you don’t stop and reason through it properly. As Christians we need to constantly be on guard for such claims, so as to not be swayed or allow those around us to stumble into these traps.