Do We Believe In Magic?

Is our society more involved in magic than we realize? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

No. This isn’t really about the New Age movement or about witchcraft. This isn’t about reading Harry Potter or watching Sabrina: The Teenaged Witch. This isn’t really about fantasy as fantasy.

In our day and age, we like to think we are a scientific people. We have abandoned the ways of magic and religion. We only believe in that which can be empirically verified, and by that, we mean scientifically verified, even though the two aren’t identical. All scientific verification is empirical, but the reverse is not so.

If anything, today we see science as a new priesthood. I do not say this to demean science in the sense of the study of the material world. That is wonderful and that needs to continue. What I do demean is the idea that because someone is a scientist, they are qualified to speak on areas outside their expertise. However, there is also the danger that something can supposedly fall under science, but like scandals of bought priesthood in the past, so a scientific person can be bought off as well.

The Covid “pandemic” really brought a lot of this to light. At the time, I was not at all worried about it. It was a virus. It would come and it would go like any other virus. I never got caught up in mask hysteria and when I was required to wear one, I took it off as soon as I could. I never practiced social distancing for the virus. If I was doing it, it was generally just because I don’t like being close to people in general. I am also one of those people who never got a vaccine at all.

And yeah, I’ve never had Covid.

My parents also never got the vaccines and they’re in their 70s. They each got Covid earlier this year and then within a week of each of them getting it, they were both fine. My rule has been to never get caught up in hysteria where everyone is panicking.

Many of us now look back and realize that a lot of mistakes were made. The lockdowns were a mistake. Pulling kids out of school was a mistake. Plenty of people are questioning the vaccines and it used to be a conspiracy theory to say the virus came from a lab in Wuhan. Now it’s pretty much established fact.

A number of us also don’t support climate change hysteria either. When I take any kind of online survey, I can easily answer questions when it comes to environmental claims. It’s not that I don’t care about the planet, but I think that many of our solutions are harmful in the long-term even if we think there are short-term benefits. I would like to see us using nuclear power more and I would like to see the Keystone pipeline open.

As soon as I say any of this, there are people out there getting their proverbial pitchforks ready. After all, I have questioned the reigning dogma. We have seen that people who do go against whatever the reigning dogma is, particularly today on climate change, are quickly castigated and they are the new heretics.

“The difference though is science is evidence-based and religion isn’t!”

Which is entirely a straw man. The evidences are different, but all sides use evidence. Religions tend to use history and philosophy more as well as interpretation of sacred texts and analysis of it by believers and skeptics. Of course, some dogmas can be right, just like in science, and some can be wrong, just like in science.

One area that this comes to an interesting place is in how we use words. Magic is the idea that one can use words to somehow alter reality. Properly, this isn’t always the case. When a minister says “I now pronounce you husband and wife”, he is doing something his words have the power to affect. There are times when this is not the case.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson has referred to seeing men’s and women’s bathrooms as segregation. Don’t believe me? Go take a look here. (Warning. This is something unedited so there is language in the video.) It starts around 2:50. Shortly after 4:00, NDT says he sees men and women bathrooms and thinks “Colored and white”.

Go back twenty years, maybe even ten, and this wouldn’t be being questioned at all. Now NDT acts like it’s segregation. Why? It’s the spirit of the age. It’s where the politics lie.

I recently shared this picture on my Facebook.

One of the first replies I got was “Transwomen are women.”

What is this said today but a mantra? Repeat it enough and it will become true?

The next worth talking about is I just asked the question “What is a woman?” and got told that the idea of a woman is a societal construct. To which, I gave the reply that the idea that the meaning of woman is a societal construct is itself a societal construct.

We live in an age where we believe if we declare it to be so, it is. What is it called when someone goes in for a transgender operation? “Gender-affirming care”, when it is really the exact opposite. We have said that we should include couples of the same sex under the label of marriage, but did we stop to ask what marriage is and what it means? Consider also a group like Black Lives Matter. So if you don’t support the group, which is about many many things besides black lives, then you don’t think black lives matter?

This isn’t science. This is magic.

Too many of our leading scientists are also leading the way in this. The basic reality of biology would not have been denied until the political climate rolled around and then all of a sudden, we think we know something that no one else before us in history knew. We live in a society where we want to erase differences between men and women, do economic Russian Roulette and think only our intentions matter, and think that if we say the words, we can change reality. We can’t.

Reality will always win in the end.

For those in the scientific establishment also, this has only hurt them in the long run. There are more and more people unwilling to trust science when we think that there is a political side to it. If anything, we are not a scientific society. We are anti-science.

That doesn’t make us like religion in the past. Religion in the past still tried to tether itself to external reality by basing their conclusions on the idea of a supreme being outside the cosmos that created a rational universe and thus made the universe rational. Now, the basis for how we see reality is not without, but it is within. How someone feels about themselves and society determines reality.

The good news is, this path cannot last long. It will destroy itself.

The bad news, I have no idea how much it will take out with it when it collapses.

Let’s be prepared.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Are We Arguing the Demiurge?

Do we miss the point of an evolution debate? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

While I was watching on Facebook an atheist and a Christian debating evolution, I started pondering what was being argued. Both came from a position where this was a dealbreaker. If you disprove evolution, lo and behold, there’s God! If you prove evolution, lo and behold, God is out of a job!

Looking at that, one question comes to mind.

Which God?

For us, is that all God is? Is He just a fill-in-the-gap and if a naturalistic process comes along, then God is done? That’s not really a worthwhile way to see God.

For the atheist, isn’t it the same then? God is just a placeholder until we have something else that can take His place. Again, not worthwhile.

Both sides also treat the material world as a given to some extent. An atheist can say it’s a brute fact and the Christian seems to go along with it. The Christian can say “Yeah, we agree on the Big Bang Theory (Unless they are YEC), but after that, it’s all God.”

I don’t doubt that’s an imperfect representation, but there are similarities.

However, not only is matter treated as a given, it looks like both sides also treat existence itself as a given. The atheist says “The natural world is here and you have to prove a supernatural world.” (I am using terms that they use. For reasons why I don’t use the term “supernatural”, see here.) The Christian seems to too often buy into that and thinks he has to accept the material world as is.

The problem is this isn’t God being argued. This is the demiurge.

If you’re not familiar with that, it comes from Plato where the demiurge is a being invoked in a dialogue of Plato’s called Timaeus. This is a being that does not create matter so much as he just takes it and shapes it and makes what needs to be done. Implicitly if Christians accept this, we are arguing for a lesser god.

From the perspective of Aquinas, we need to go and ask about existence itself. The material world is not a given. It needs to be explained. Existence is not a given. It needs to be explained. If you can take the concept of God and remove it from your theology and still have something that exists, you did not have a true concept of God.

This is not to say you shouldn’t argue for or against evolution. That being said, if you want to argue against, let evolution fall scientifically. If it is bad science, that will happen. The main point is to know what kind of God you are arguing about.

If you are not arguing for the demiurge God, then your opponent has to give an account for everything to change your mind. Everything. He has to explain the universe, morality, numbers, ideas, and even the very fact of existence itself.

That’s quite a tall order.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

What Can Be Proven?

Is Philosophy a weaker form of argumentation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I asked the atheist on the page why Aristotle should be rejected. Well, he wrote over 2,000 years ago and we have learned a lot since then. Surely we have, but what have we learned that disproved his arguments? In response to that, his arguments are philosophical and cannot be proven.

This is a rather strange argument. For one thing, it’s a philosophical argument (Which means by its own standards it’s unproven) that says that we shouldn’t accept a philosophical argument that can’t be proven. Second, it is quite likely that this is a person who would choose to trust in science. Nothing against science, but proof doesn’t not exist in science. Instead, there is extremely high probability. There are some matters that we could say are practically certain, but today’s reigning science could be tomorrow’s junk science.

By the way, that also applies to history, a subject I prefer much more to talk about. In history, our knowledge is inductive as well. There are some matters that are so probable that we say they are practically certain. One such example in my field is that Jesus died by crucifixion.

Actually, if we only believed things in our lives that we could prove, we would believe very little. I don’t know how I could begin to prove to you what I had for breakfast this morning. Now we are getting to the point where you could start wondering if a blog is by me or an AI. How could I prove either one?

There are plenty of things out there that we cannot prove, but we would be crazy to even question those things. I have never been to London, but my Dad has and I know people at the Seminary who have. Now I could say that there are people involved in a grand conspiracy, including the media, to get me to believe that a place called London exists, but that would be crazy. (Although to be fair, the media being involved in a conspiracy in itself is not necessarily crazy.)

Some of you are waiting for me to get to the areas where there is proof. Those areas are logic and mathematics. Actually, both of them are highly philosophical in dealing with abstract objects and things that don’t depend on material reality for their being. Perhaps there is something to that, but that is something to ponder for another blog.

Let’s consider the classic syllogism.

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Socrates is mortal.

If the premises are true, and they are, and the form is valid, and it is, then the conclusion follows with certainty. There is no getting around it. Consider this.

All cats have six legs.
Scooby-Doo is a cat.
Scooby-Doo has six legs.

In this case, the premises are wrong, but the form is valid. If the premises are true, the conclusion would be.

All men are rational.
Linda is rational.
Linda is a man.

In this case, both premises are true, but unless someone has an odd name for a guy, Linda is not a man. Linda is a woman. The form in this case is not valid. There are invalid and valid syllogisms. The point is simply that if we have good data and good form, we can have conclusions.

Then there is Math. It could be something as simple as 2 + 2 = 4 or Fermat’s Last Theorem. Either way, these are things that can be proven or in some cases, disproven.

Once again, I find it odd the way atheists online interact in talking about proof and neglecting the best areas of proof and placing greatest trust in the areas where there is no proof.

Maybe all men are not rational….

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: In God We Doubt Part 13

Are we just serving our genes? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this chapter, Humphrys makes a list of heroic people and why they did what they did. An atheist like Richard Dawkins will write that we are living in service of our selfish genes. It’s a reversal of sorts of the Christian view. In our view, we are doing what we do in service of God, but in the atheist view, it is in service of ourselves. (Not sure how aborting your children works with that considering they can’t pass on any more genes for you or sterilizing your children through “gender-affirming care”, but that’s another point.)

But Humphrys doesn’t think this works. He talks about the Virginia Tech shooting as one example. Liviu Librescu, a 76 year-old math teacher, held the door shut so his students could escape through the windows knowing this would lead to his death. On another aside, it is disappointing that in these cases, many of us can bring to mind the shooter, but not the heroes that held back the shooter to some extent. Was Librescu doing this to serve his genes?

Humphrys doesn’t find this credible, and again, I agree. In a sense, genes have become a sort of god for Dawkins and others who go this route. Whatever the genes are commanding, this must be obeyed. This is not to say that we don’t have base desires that we all fall prey to. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be a problem with obesity, broken marriages, STDs, etc. in our world today.

Humphrys goes on to list a number of heroes and it’s worth reading this chapter just to hear what their stories are. Too often when we think about evil, we ask what is it that makes evil people do what they do? Could it perhaps be better to ask “What is it that makes good people do what they do?” and then find ways to make that far more likely to happen? Just a long shot here, but maybe we should consider the virtues that lead to people doing that and celebrate those virtues and condemn the vices that go the other way.

However, there is an unfortunate statement in this chapter in that Humphrys concludes that atheists have the best arguments. What they don’t have is a grasp of what it is that makes human beings what we are. I agree with the latter, but I definitely disagree with the former.

On the latter point, could we not consider that if atheists don’t have that, could that lead to the idea that man is more than just a material being? Could it lead to the idea of essences and substances? Could it lead to a soul, a spirit, or something of that sort? Would this not be a problematic position for atheism to explain anyway? If human beings are just material objects and we have been studying matter for so long and have personal experience with this matter, shouldn’t we have a good idea of what we are?

However, throughout this book, there has been little attention paid to theistic arguments. Even in the chapter featuring Craig, the only response given was that it was nonsense, all of it, and then Humphrys goes on to criticize Craig instead of asking his side how they can better answer Craig. I don’t see the Thomistic arguments ever dealt with nor do I see the philosophers used that have taken on the problem of evil.

Humphrys then is too dismissive. It seems that evil is just something that controls his thinking and that is the real draw. How can a good God allow evil? The problem is this is often a much more emotional argument than a rational one. We see this when Humphrys says that when a cab driver murders his wife and four children, that overpowers an argument.

Could it be atheists actually have the more emotional opinion?

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: In God We Doubt Part 8

What is the impact of bad sermons? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Most every speaker has had a bad presentation at times. They have had something happen where they didn’t know what to say or where they said something outright stupid. Unfortunately, when that happens in ministry, the results can be disastrous. Reviewing what I highlighted in chapter 11 where we start today, I saw one pop up immediately and as soon as I started it, I remembered how it ended because of how terrible it was.

Even worse, this took place at a funeral with the wife and kids right there. A funeral is worse not just because the people are grieving, but weddings and funerals are two of the times you are most likely going to have lost people in the church. Your average person who doesn’t want anything to do with a church can come to one of these out of deep respect, and personally, a funeral usually has the closest to a sermon.

So what does the vicar say here?

Terrible though it is to us, God grants the same freedom to cancer cells that he grants even to the most noble and virtuous of us.

Humphrys is right in pointing out that cancer cells are not intelligent agents that can move and make decisions. Of course, Christians need to be able to have a place in their worldview to explain cancer, but this is not a valid parallel at all. God does allow bad things to happen, including deaths from cancer, but are we going to put cancer cells on the same level as human beings?

Fortunately, Humphrys I don’t think sees all ministers like this, but too many will remember this. Sadly, we will have people easily remember the worst things we did to them. “Think of someone who hurt you.” Right now, most all of you have the image of someone in mind immediately.

Moving on from here, Humphrys asks about prayer. Isn’t it a pointless exercise? Isn’t the main emphasis asking for something? Well, no. The main emphasis should be worship and glorification, something I admit I need to work on as well. There is also thankfulness and the asking is not just health and material objects and items like that, but also forgiveness.

Humphrys also says in the Bible, God was performing miracles all the time. Hardly. You have an abundance of miracles in only three time periods, the Exodus and the conquest, the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, and the apostolic age starting with the ministry of Jesus. Miracles are recorded not because they are common, but because they are exceptional.

Getting back to prayer after all of this, Humphrys says God hears every prayer that is offered up, and yet doesn’t bother to intervene. I daresay Humphrys knows a lot of people who can speak of an answered prayer, yet will he say that is a coincidence? It seems that he has to.

What about something like Craig Keener’s works on miracles that show miracles specifically coming after prayer? Humphrys and others who do this have a unique method. If you pray for something and it doesn’t happen, that proves God doesn’t answer prayers. If you pray for something and it happens, that proves that coincidences take place.

Rabbi Sacks thankfully does deal with Humphrys well in an interview style saying that Humphrys seems to have this idea that the world ought to be just. This is ironically where C.S. Lewis began as well. Humphrys then says it needs to be like science where we test something again and again and it is proven and religion is asking the opposite.

Well, that’s just false. Having something happen again and again in science doesn’t mean “proof.” It means that it is incredibly likely, the same as in history. It can be so likely it would be nonsense to try to do some things again. If I stick my hand on a hot stove and I burn it, I’m not going to want to try it again. If I drop something and it falls repeatedly, I’m justified in thinking, contrary to Hume, that that is what will happen every time, all things being equal.

Sacks also rightly says that Humphrys buys into a sort of soft scientism where something should be scientifically established before it is acceptable. Much of our knowledge does not come about that way, such as our moral judgments and the rules of math and any number of other ideas we hold. Most of the claims we hold dearest are those that are NOT scientifically proven, such as that our loved ones love us, or that something is good to do, or that beauty is real.

Humphrys lists a lot of things he considers evils and said this would not happen in a just world. Well first off, who said the world is just right now? In a just world, the Son of God would not be crucified when He did no wrong. God promises justice, but He never promises a timeframe to it for us. Justice delayed is not justice denied.

Briefly, Humphrys talks about biblical interpretation with the idea that we are supposed to take the texts literally, though not stating what that means. I contend you should always take the text literally, but not literalistically. If something is written as a metaphor, taking it literally is reading it as a metaphor. If something is taken as a straight forward account, taking it literally is doing just that. Literalistic reading says there can be no inflection or change in language and no stylistic ideas of hyperbole, sarcasm, etc.

So ultimately as we conclude this part, it still looks like again all Humphrys really has is evil. This has just never really struck me as a strong objection to Christianity, especially since Christianity by necessity has an evil action right at the center, the crucifixion of Christ. Christianity is about dealing with the evil in part, so how is evil a defeater for it?

Beats me.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)





Book Plunge: Ready Player Two

What do I think about Ernest Cline’s sequel? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I don’t think it’s possible to talk about this without some spoilers so you have been warned. This is one of those books I have been reading just for fun as I am trying to get more fiction in my literary diet. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie Ready Player One and so I was glad to see when the sequel was available on Kindle for cheap.

As pertains to content, I still prefer the first story. In this second one, Wade, the main character, finds out that as the heir of Halliday, that Halliday left for the world a headset that one could use to log into the virtual world of the OASIS and it is up to Halliday’s heir to decide if he wants to mass produce and market this or not. The headset isn’t just a device to watch, but also a neural uplink. Wade does introduce it to the world, but the biggest critic of this decision is his then-girlfriend Samantha from the last movie.

Then along the way, a new quest is released like in the first one to find the seven shards of the siren’s soul. That quest is going okay until a threat rises up within the system of an AI that has gone rogue and decided that the seven pieces must be gathered for his own purposes. Wade and his friends then find themselves on a quest to get the shards in time and also find a way to defeat the AI.

Those are all the spoilers I want to give and I think they’re necessary. What strikes me again in looking at this is here we have the problem of technological geniuses creating an AI and lo and behold, the AI turns against its creators and decides it has its own plans. This seems to happen in every science fiction scenario involving it, but somehow, we’re the exception.

There is no doubt that science has been a means of bringing great blessings into our lives, but it has also brought great destruction into our lives. We can live in fear of nuclear weapons being used because we invented them. Whatever you think of the Covid situation, it was produced in a lab and had devastating effects around the world.

We are often told of the evils of religion, but what is really evil is the misuse of religion. Religion used for good does great things, such as fine charity work across the world and the love of one’s neighbor. Religion used for evil can have devastating consequences just as much, like 9/11.

In every scenario, the real culprit is the same actually. Us. Any good thing can be used just as much for evil. The problem is not the tool. The problem is the person using the tool. Science and religion in the hands of good men can be used for good. In the hands of evil men, it can be used for evil.

But let’s also include foolish men.

There are people in religion who are quite foolish, even in my own evangelical tradition. There are plenty of people who are sure they are called to ministry of some kind, but they don’t have the first clue how to do it and they think it’s unspiritual to get an education in what they study. Shouldn’t God just tell them everything? They’re not evil. They mean well. They just cause great destruction.

In the same way, there are plenty of people in science who aren’t evil at all. They could just have a lot of pride or foolishness, just like the person in religion, and think they can handle whatever happens. Both of them make great errors in judgment that affect not only them, but others as well.

It’s good to know we’re different, isn’t it?

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)




No. Evolution is not an either/or

Is there really a problem of evolution? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I got into a debate on Facebook with someone who was saying that you can’t have evolution and theism both. They contradict one another. Now many of you know that I don’t take a side on evolution. I don’t argue it’s true. I don’t argue it’s false.

So let’s look at the idea of contradiction first. Here is a source with a definition of evolution as follows:

“Evolution consists of changes in the heritable traits of a population of organisms as successive generations replace one another. It is populations of organisms that evolve, not individual organisms.”

Now I realize that doesn’t get into the inner technicalities as evolution is much broader than that and deeper, but this is a fine definition for now. Now how about theism? Here’s a definition from Britannica.

“the view that all limited or finite things are dependent in some way on one supreme or ultimate reality of which one may also speak in personal terms. In JudaismChristianity, and Islam, this ultimate reality is often called God.”

Sorry, but I’m not seeing the contradiction. There is no on the surface at least reason why one can’t believe in some form of God existing and at the same time believe that populations change and generations replace one another. What is more at odds is really not the science, but actually the idea of theism.

“Ah! So you’re admitting the problem is the existence of God!”

No. Actually, what I’m saying is that an idea of what God must be like is conflicting with an idea of what evolution is. Atheists believe it or not have a theology. They have an idea in mind of the kind of God that doesn’t exist and think “If God did exist, this is what He/She/It would be like and what He/She/It would do.”

I can say that I do think if evolution on the macro scale is true, as even the most rabid YEC will admit that species do change over time, then that does indeed contradict some forms of theism. This would mainly be Young-Earth Creationism as the Earth hasn’t been around long enough for that evolution to take place. This doesn’t mean that hypothetically the Earth couldn’t go on for billions of years and somehow avoid the heat death when the sun grows intensely and then evolution takes place. I’m not a scientist to tell if that could be possible in future generations or not.

However, if your idea of theism is God exists and must create every being by fiat and without any natural processes whatsoever, then yes, evolution does contradict that idea of theism. Note that this is saying that evolution is contradicting an idea of theism. That says nothing about theism as a whole but rather an interpretation of theism.

In reality, even your most rabid YEC will accept that some things are made through natural processes over time and this includes things that the Bible says are made by God. Consider how in Psalm 139 we are told that God knits us together in our mother’s womb. That doesn’t mean that God is directly involved in every single step purposefully as if He is causing everything. Everyone accepts that there is a process that God has set up of gestation whereby a new human life comes into being.

I also stressed in this discussion that evolution is inherently teleological. Now some people really balk at that idea. Doesn’t teleology mean that there is a mind behind the process guiding it? At the start from an empirical sense, that is not what is being said. All that is being said is that A causes B.

Edward Feser uses the example of an iceberg floating in the water. As it moves, the water within its range gets colder. It does not turn into cotton candy. This is essential for science. Imagine doing experiments and every time you got wildly different results. There has to be order in the universe to do science. This is also why miracles are not disproven by science but actually depend on the world being scientific to be possible. If the world was not orderly, you could not recognize exceptions.

So how does this tie in with evolution? Evolution leads to the survival of the fittest as the most fit survive. That is teleology. It is not saying evolution is a mind that intends this. It is just saying that this is what happens if evolution takes place.

Of course, I was also told that all of this comes from DNA and we all come from our parents and no maker is needed. This would have mattered had this been the question I had wondered. I instead asked about the ground of existing. Note the difference. Existing and not existence. It is not just how things came to be, but it is also what keeps them in being.

Consider that you wake up in the morning and you hear a strange sound. It keeps going on and on and you ask “What is causing that sound?” You don’t ask “What caused that sound?” until you hear the sound stop.

Now you wake up the next morning and open the door and there is a giant orb blocking your way. It is valid to ask “What caused this orb to be here?” However, it is also valid to ask “What is causing it to be here?” It is not as if these things, including you and I, have the basing of their existing in themselves. If that were true, a suicide could just will himself out of existing by pure thought alone.

Evolution doesn’t talk about how things are existing. It just talks about existing things and how they become other existing things over time. That’s not a problem to me.

If you want to know who has the problem here, as Plantinga would say, it’s not the theist, but the atheist. For the theist, evolution could be true or false and it wouldn’t matter. For the atheist, at least at the moment, evolution is the only game in town. Who has the most to lose here?

So go ahead and argue evolution all you want. I really don’t care. It doesn’t change my theism or my interpretation of Genesis or the data for the resurrection of Jesus. You can win a battle, but you’re still losing the major war.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Abstinence and the Virgin Birth (Which I do affirm)

Is there a problem with holding to abstinence and the virgin birth (Which I do affirm)? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This one has been going around Facebook a bit and as the main virgin birth guy (Which I do affirm), I figure I should be the one to address it. Looking at this, I do wonder what the main contention is. As is the problem with memes, it’s rarely clear.

So let’s consider if it’s a moral objection. Can you believe in the virgin birth, which I do affirm, and still believe in practicing abstinence? Yes. You recognize that this is a miracle that has taken place and that Mary herself did nothing wrong in this case.

By the way, along those lines, all Christians know that there are other forms of birth control. What we do know also is that when practiced, abstinence is the only one that is 100% effective. For most of the world today, it’s just incredible to think of a person going through life without having sex. The premise of a movie like the 40 Year-Old Virgin is meant to be obvious.

So let’s go the more likely route. It’s meant to poke fun at us for believing in something that is unscientific. After all, this involves a miracle and don’t we know that those never happen.

At this, I think even the most hardened skeptic would not want to try to take on the burden that there has never been a miracle in history and have to demonstrate this. How could you even begin to do that? What is more likely to be argued is that we do not have sufficient evidence to believe that a miracle has taken place in history.

Thus, we get to the first problem. There is really no way to establish that a miracle has never taken place in history so why should it be treated with incredulity that a miracle has taken place. I actually call this the argument from incredulity. The problem is it only works if you accept a worldview at the start that says miracles never happen.

Imagine if I made a similar argument.

Christians: We know Christianity is true.

Atheist: How?

Christian: Because Jesus rose from the dead.

Atheist: And how do we know that?

Christian: Because Christianity is true.

If you take at the start that a naturalistic philosophy is true and a miracle has never taken place, then obviously, a virgin birth, which I do affirm, has never taken place. However, that is the very claim under question. Has a miracle ever taken place?

If you affirm the existing of God and have reasons for believing in such, then you have a basis for believing that a miracle has taken place or at least could take place. If someone wants to mock that because atheism is true or some version of metaphysics that denies miracles, then they need to establish that. Whatever your worldview, it does not work to go to the other side and say “Your position is laughable because it disagrees with my position.”

In the end, I see no reason you cannot both affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm, and consistently practice abstinence. Issues about birth control can be debated among ourselves. This is just more of the type of argument from incredulity that works on those with the mindset already of materialism, but not much of anyone else. It has strong rhetorical pull, but nothing logical behind it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

A Reply to I.M. Skeptical on Thomism

Are Thomism and science incompatible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone sent me this article about Thomism and science by I.M. Skeptical who I will just call IM from now on. In this, he seeks to show that science is not compatible with Thomism. While he is at least quoting the other side, I do not think he really has the issues understood.

At the start, he says in this article that is a response to Thomistic Scholar that Dr. Dennis Bonnette, that since the original article was written, Thomistic scholars are obviously feeling the heat. This kind of armchair psychologizing I find amusing. If a Christian says nothing in response, he has no answer. If a Christian says something, it is obviously because he is scared of what has been stated. This doesn’t put the article at a good start.

As IM continues, he says that there is disagreement on the issue of God, but this cannot really be considered science vs. Metaphysics. After all, there are plenty of scientists who do believe in God. What ends up usually happening in this post of IM’s is that contradiction is asserted when it does not follow. IM does go on to say this:

Science has nothing to say about God, which is a metaphysical claim, so there is no disagreement there.  But metaphysics goes far beyond the question of God’s existence.  It is concerned with the reality of all kinds of things.  In Thomism, movement is explained in terms of the metaphysical paradigm of act and potency.  In science, it is explained in terms of the paradigm of mass, force, and energy, which is no less a metaphysical concept.  But Thomists disagree with that, because they see metaphysics as being separate and distinct from physical reality.  To them mass, force, and energy are science, but act and potency are metaphysics.

All movement in metaphysics is potentiality and actuality, but that can be brought about in terms of mass, force, and energy. It’s not an either/or. Gravity can cause an apple to fall, but that fall is also a case of actuality and potentiality at work. Thus, I don’t see how we disagree with that. While we could debate what a “law of nature” is, that doesn’t mean we don’t see that what is claimed is brought about by them does happen and there are physical consistencies. Actually, we would see this as part of the fifth way.

He goes on to say the following including a quote from Bonnette:

Bonnette attempts to illustrate his thesis of basic agreement by way of an example involving sensation and cognition.  It is epistemological realism – the philosophical notion that the object of our perception has external reality.  But his example goes off the rails with regard to agreement agreement between science and Thomism.  The scientific view is that sensation of an external object creates a neural pattern in the brain, and subsequent cognitive references to the object actually occur by means of neural activity and connections involving that set of neurons.  And Bonnette calls this an epistemological nightmare.  He insists that knowledge of an external object is “direct”:

While an entire epistemology is not possible here, note that we cannot doubt external reality when it is directly confronted. Doubt arises only when we shift our attention to a judgment about the external object in which what we know is not the object itself. For example, if I close my eyes and wonder whether the lion confronting me is really about to attack me, I am no longer looking at the lion, but at some internal image of it.

IM responds with:

Just to get this straight, as I understand it, the point of agreement here is on an issue of epistemology – namely epistemological realism – not on the science of cognition, which Bonnette apparently holds in disdain.  We don’t “directly confront” external reality at all, but the only image we have is an internal image that exists entirely in the brain.  And to the extent that our senses can be fooled, it is possible for a false image to be formed, and we certainly can doubt that external reality.  How this supports his thesis is a mystery to me.

However, IMs statement would be a science killer if believed. Why not be a solipsist? You could point to the data you get from the world around you, but how do you know that is really from the world around you? Perhaps it is all a hallucination? If the place you start is inside your head, you can never get out. This is why Thomism has been called the common sense philosophy.

Do we know about hallucinations and senses being wrong? Of course, but we start out with the idea that all things being equal, our senses are generally reliable. IMs position is more of a Kantian position which is probably the strongest reply to Aquinas, though I still find it problematic. If IM starts in their head, then all the data that comes in to them supposedly could still just be part of the hallucination. You could never know otherwise.

IM goes on with another quote from Bonnette:

The next area of agreement that he discusses is “metaphysical first principles”, such as the principal of non-contradiction and the principal of sufficient reason.  Again, he gives examples that don’t seem to support his own thesis.  On non-contradiction, he says:

Even the smallest phenomena must be read as what it is and not as its contradictory – otherwise, the reading would be useless. Claims of contradictory phenomena, such as wave-particle duality, rely on such observations. If a subatomic entity appears as a wave, that same exact reading cannot say it is a particle.

He evades the real issue here.  Yes, it’s true that observations of particles only measure one of these properties at a time, but the more fundamental issue is not that these properties are contradictory, but that the subatomic particle is something that exhibits both characteristics.  So rather than clinging to concepts of physical substance that are contradicted by observation, we need a metaphysical concept of substance that agrees with what we observe.

All that is being said is contradictions can’t be true. Again, if it is thought that contradictions can be true, then we can all go home. IM is right and Bonnette is right and I am right and if you disagree you are right. Again, reality will all break down. What about the Principle of Sufficient Reason?

Likewise, on the principal of sufficient reason, he reverts to a theistic definition of causation:

Causes are merely reasons for things that do not explain themselves.

Which is just another way to say that everything has a cause except for God.  And he insists that scientists always have to find causes for everything.  But that’s not really true.  At a macro level, things can be said to have causes (in terms of objects interacting with one another according to Newtonian or relativistic physical laws), but at the quantum level, things happen on a stochastic basis, and there is no notion of causality in quantum physics.  As it happens, this is a major point of disagreement between science and Thomism, despite Bonnette’s denial.

I love that first line of dismissal as if what Bonnette is saying is all about God. No. It’s not. There is no interaction with the four traditional causes of Aristotle. There is also nothing wrong with finding causes for things. Am I to think that scientists look at the quantum level and say to themselves, “Well, that looks uncaused. Let’s go get a drink.” At this point, my thinking is wait and see what will happen in the future in science.

Moving on:

He also takes care to separate the metaphysical principles at the heart of Thomism from science.

Potency and act, matter and form, finality, essence and existence: Most other Thomist principles are so clearly philosophical that natural science properly says little about them. The exceptions would be materialist denials that substantial forms and final causes exist in nature. Still, those are clearly philosophical, not scientific, claims.

He has no choice but to make this separation, because these metaphysical principles are in direct contradiction to modern science.  Act and potency do not explain how things move.  They provide a teleological account of movement that was incorporated into the physics of Aristotle, which was the science of the day, but no longer have any explanatory value.  Essentialism and forms are a reflection of man’s propensity to classify things, but they are purely conceptual, and don’t even stand up to philosophical scrutiny, let alone scientific.  (As modern philosophers note, how many grains of sand can you remove from a dune before it is no longer a dune?  As scientists note, at what point in evolutionary history does an ape give birth to a man?)

I always find it amusing that when science has a question, it’s always “Let’s go and find out the answer!” When the question exists in philosophy, “See? That’s proof that it’s false.” Every position has hard questions to answer. How many grains of sand make a dune? Granting evolution, when does an ape become a man?

These are all great questions worthy of study, but none are a defeater. They’re just reasons to keep studying. The same applies to science. He also says potency and actuality do not explain how things move. No one said that they do.

So why is it that Thomists place metaphysics as primary? IM has the answer!

“There is only one reason Thomists hold metaphysics above and separate from science.  Metaphysics is the thing that stands between science and theism.”

Again, it has to be fear. Right? Nope. Metaphysics is first because it comes first in order of being. Science is second because it covers specific kinds of reality. Note that in the time of Aquinas, science as we know it would be called natural philosophy. Theology would be called a science for Aquinas seeing as it was a body of knowledge, which is essentially what is meant.

Thus, I find IM’s position not strong at all. He has at least interacted some, but the armchair psychology is the problem. I could just as easily turn it on him and say that he wrote a reply because he is feeling the heat of Thomism. That could be true, but it cannot be demonstrated and is only an ad hominem.

Finally, as a Thomist, I have no problem with science. Whatever is true in science we should affirm. Reality does not contradict.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: The Big Picture

What do I think of Sean Carroll’s book published by Dutton books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This is a book an atheist reader of the blog suggested I should read. Naturally, I jump at such an invitation. (Keep this in mind atheists I interact with who make it seem like you might as well commit ritual suicide before reading any Christian academics.) I found the book to be a good one to read, thankfully not hostile for the majority towards Christianity, and nothing struck me as an emotional rant of any kind.

However, I did not find it persuasive. The science was fascinating, but not being a scientist or playing one on TV or studying in that field, I choose to not debate that point. Generally, when I come across something I’m skeptical of in science, I accept it for the sake of argument and see if it does any damage. Note that this is the science itself and not the philosophical conclusions some atheists draw from the science.

One post I made early on on my Facebook about the book was as follows:

However, I do comment on the other areas. Sean tells us that all that we have ever seen in our lives is material stuff and the material stuff is all that exists and that our knowledge of the world comes through observation.
I can agree to a large extent with the latter, but it doesn’t lead to the former. Let us take one example. As I sit here on my bed, I see to the left of me my cat Shiro. Now note that all I see when I look there is Shiro, one type of creature. I have in my mind the idea of an animal, and that concept of animal includes me in it, but yet the animal I am is not the animal that Shiro is.
Now you could take me to a pet store and I would see several people and several cats. I would not assume that each person is a whole different species or each cat a totally different animal. There are different races of people and different breed of cats, but all would fall under the category of humans or cats. However, I cannot observe the idea of human, animal, or cat. I observe many humans and cats and derive from those observations the idea of human, animal, and cat. Those concepts are immaterial concepts.
In the same way, Carroll can write about how we determine to be good people, and yet while I fully believe goodness is real, it is certainly not something I see with my eyes or detect in any way with my senses. Now we could say those essences aren’t real, but that leads us to nominalism which I think is even more difficult for science.
I could go on and list other concepts. Numbers. Triangularity. Existence itself. We notice things that are triangles and things that exist, but we don’t notice triangularity and existing itself.
Much of naturalism is just reductionism and ultimately, unlivable. Just as when Carroll talks about something being good, it is smuggling in something that is not scientific and trying to include in the rubric. It doesn’t work.
And this is a problem that many scientists have. It’s easy to take an idea like goodness or something and run with it assuming it is real. We don’t stop to think about what cats and humans are. How is it that even a small child can recognize catness in several cats while noting that they are all different? Again, just because knowledge begins with observation, it doesn’t mean it ends there.
Also, as I said later in another post, which I share again because there’s no need to reinvent the wheel:
Still going through Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture.” It’s not a bad book really. There are many parts that I agree with. He talks about events that could lead scientists to think the best explanation is beyond the natural world, such as the Second Coming of Jesus taking place and the dead being resurrected.
He then says it’s not that science presumes naturalism, but it has concluded that naturalism is the best picture of the world. He then speaks of all that we do and weighing out the evidences and then weigh out the conclusion and naturalism is ahead of the alternatives.
But there’s a little bit of sleight of hand going on here. It’s subtle and I think a lot of unwary readers would not grasp it, but here it is.
Carroll is speaking of science as if science is an authority doing its own study and coming to its own conclusions. No. Science doesn’t study anything. Science doesn’t say anything. Men and women who use science study and speak.
Carroll is also assuming that people who agree with him speak for all of science and all scientists. This is not so. I am not saying anything here to shoehorn in ID or creationism or anything like that, but there are plenty of intelligent scientists past and present who see no problem with holding a Christian worldview and agreeing with scientific study.
The same could apply if we replaced science with history, philosophy, theology, literature, or anything else. These are all fields that we study and different people in the fields come to different conclusions. I am convinced a study of history shows that Jesus rose from the dead, but it would be foolish to say that as if all historians agree with me.
Science is a wonderful tool and Christians should support it, but Carroll is speaking beyond science here. Science studies material means and low and behold, that’s the judgment many scientists make. You might as well conclude there is no paper buried on the beach because the metal detector can’t find it.
And this is something that does happen consistently and we must be on the watch for it. It’s too easy to throw out science as if it was speaking for itself. This can happen with any field other than science, such as history or philosophy or economics. Science doesn’t say anything. Scientists say things using science.
Later, I wrote something about what he said about NDEs.
On p. 219-220 of Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture, Carroll is making an argument that there is no soul and he is talking about NDEs. He refers to the book “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven.” Is that book a known fraud? Yes. The boy who was the source said he made it all up. Unfortunately, that’s the only book Carroll interacts with and ignores all the others.
Suppose I said “Now if you study evolution, take a look at Piltdown Man. Piltdown Man was a fraud. What does that tell you about the case for evolution?” That would be a shoddy argument. Even if you disbelieve in evolution and think it’s false, it should be accepted that pointing to one case that is a fraud is not a good way to argue against it.
Someone who does accept evolution would come and rightly say, “Yes. That was a fraud, but what about all this other evidence such as XYZ?” Now at that point, you can argue that evidence and see if it makes the case and that’s not for me to decide, but if you just present one fraud and ignore everyone else, that’s not really being honest.
Carroll also talks about cases where people put objects in a room in case an NDE takes place so that the person can see them. He says this has never happened though. So let’s assume that’s true. So what? That means all the other cases that happen, such as the dentures case You can see about that here:…/an-nde-to-sink…

That’s just one. There are plenty of others. You can pick up most any good book on NDEs and find several documented cases.
Like the problem of evil, it’s easy to make your opponent look weak if you argue and ignore all the positive evidence and just put in all the evidence you want. However, if your opponent is familiar with the data, he can easily show you up. The downside often though is that people don’t fact check what they read if it already agrees with what they want or think to be true.
So could it be still that NDEs are false and there is no soul? Perhaps, but this is not a good way to show it.
No one would accept in science a case where you cite one false occurrence and then throw out all the data on the side of that occurrence. It would be totally invalid to look at just one evolutionary fraud and then say all evolutionary science is bunk. Unfortunately, Carroll has done that here and hasn’t even looked at an evidential NDE at all.
There is also something worth being said about evolution:

Still going through Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture” and reading a lot about evolution. The main point being stressed is that the language is difficult because agency language and intentional language is hard to avoid as evolution acts without intent.
Now you all should know by now I’m not going to argue for or against evolution here. That’s for you all if you want to. I leave that to the readers who want to comment. I am not a scientist and I do not play one on TV and if I tried to speak on a subject I didn’t do reading on, I would embarrass myself.
However, I can speak about the philosophy of science and I do notice that evolution is often spoke of in terms of agency, which is really difficult to avoid as I think it’s part of the human tendency. At the same time, the biggest loss in this is really the removal of final causality. Some of you might be wondering what that is.
Aristotle listed four kinds of causes overall and the final cause was the reason something exists. What is the goal? What is the endgame? That doesn’t have to be an intentional goal. An iceberg floating through water makes it colder and does not turn it into cotton candy. The iceberg is not intending to make cold water, but that is what happens.
And evolution does not make sense without final causation.
After all, what is the point? That the fittest and best might survive and reproduce. This is not saying evolution if real is an intentional agency. It’s saying that that is the result when left to its processes just as the iceberg all things being equal will make the water colder.
For Christians, this is also the way we need to really look at design. You can go with an ID route all you want, but I prefer this route. This route that says there is a way that things consistently act in the universe, so much so that we practically expect it and can build scientific theorems around it. Imagine doing science in a world where one day water boils at 212 degrees F, the next day at 163 degrees F, and the next day at 34 degrees F. The world would be chaos.
And yet, it isn’t. There is consistently order in the universe which needs to be explained. Things act, intentionally or unintentionally, towards ends, and that needs to be explained.
If evolution is true, well that’s just the way God did it and cool. If it is not, God chose another way and cool. Either way, our system is set for working towards an end and for the Christian, even if the system is not intentional in its working, which we do not think it is, the mind behind the system and the rest of the universe is.
Again, I leave it to you all if you want to debate evolution. God bless Christians who do, provided you show it’s false science if it is. That’s not for me to determine. I just don’t want it to be we go to skeptics and tell them to choose the Bible or science. Too many will choose science, and sadly many Christian youth will do the same.
There’s also the section in the book where he said Quantum Field Theory is how we know we can’t bend spoons with our minds.
Just a guess, but I think many of us don’t have a clue about that theory and yet have full confidence we can’t bend spoons with our minds.
On p. 203, he says theists think they have a better explanation of the universe because they root it in a necessary being, but then says that there are no necessary beings.
And that’s it.

Glad we got that settled.

Imagine if I said, “Evolutionists say they have a better explanation based on common descent, but there is no common descent.”
Ridiculous? Yep. True? How should I know? Bad argument either way. It would have to be demonstrated on my part and I am nowhere close to making such an assertion let alone demonstrating it.
Finally, let’s look at one section definitely worth quoting verbatim.
“You’re telling me that judging right from wrong is just a matter of our personal feelings and preferences, grounded in nothing more substantial than our own views, with nothing external to back it up? That there are no objectively true moral facts out there in the world?
Yes, but admitting that morality is constructed, rather than found lying on the street, doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as morality. All hell has not broken loose.
The Big Picture by Sean Carroll pg 409-410.

As I contended in earlier blog posts such as here, this is a highly dangerous claim to make. If morality is not real, why don’t we live accordingly? If we are making it up, we can make it to be whatever we want. Anyone can set their own rules. Nothing is right and wrong. We just hope other people will play the game the same way we do and the only way to back it up is might makes right.

Fortunately, we live in a world where good and evil are real. I suspect we all know it to some extent not by our actions so much as our reactions.
Carroll’s book is good, but I do not find it persuasive. It is a step above many atheist writings, which sadly isn’t saying much, and he does strike me as a reasonable fellow, but I walked away not finding any major challenge.
In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
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