July 2006

ThinkingToday's post on Raving Atheist (who, from the content of his recent posts, does not seem to be an atheist anymore … at least not the "raving" type) got me thinking about human consciousness. The RA notes that "Certainly I recognize there is a relationship between my consciousness and my brain, that there is perhaps some necessary foundation of matter which must support my every thought. But that I must stand upon a mountaintop to behold the view does not mean that I am the mountain, as lifeless as its rocks and dirt."

J. P. Moreland is a philosopher who has some interesting thoughts on the subject of consciousness, and how it applies to faith:

It will not do to claim that consciousness simply “emerged” from matter when it reached a certain level of complexity because “emergence” is merely a label for (rather than an explanation of) the phenomena being explained. [If] we are made in God’s image, there should be something about us that can’t be adequately explained without postulating God’s existence. And that is the case with mind and consciousness. Their reality supports the falsity of naturalism and the truth of theism.

For how Moreland reaches this conclusion, see his article "Does the Argument From Mind Provide Evidence for God?" Note that this is not a 'God of the gaps' type of argument. Moreland here is arguing that "even if evolutionary theory is someday able to adequately explain the origins of the human brain, it will remain fundamentally unable to explain the existence of the human mind." Worth thinking about.

BibleIn the beginning of his chapter about the Bible, Brian McLaren, in his fantastic book Finding Faith, begins by asking the question "God, couldn't you have done better than this?" He's referring to the Bible. He asks if it couldn't be "clearer, less controversial, more universal"? In the end, he wonders "What could God possibly think we have to gain by having a collection of holy Scriptures in this seemingly disorganized, patchwork form, if indeed they come from God at all?"

McLaren answers his own question later in the same chapter:

After [awhile], I begin to ask a different question: How else could it be? If God is indeed having a real story unfold throughout history, then of course, the story has to "happen" with freedom, and the reports of it have to come to us in their raw, unedited forms, warts and wrinkles, bizarre twists and unpredictable turns. And even if God were to edit the stories … for which audience would God edit them? For scientific, college-educated rationalists? For the wild-eyed artists and poets? For rice farmers in the East, fishermen in the North, hunter-gatherers in the South, or philosophers in the West? … If God wants us to interact personally with the story …. If God wants it to be a book that intersects and challenges people around the globe for their whole lives … stretches us to not be limited by our own inherited point of view, then of course it can't be like the phone book, a government code, or a high school biology textbook. Nor can it be a one-read book, after which we say, "The Bible? Oh, yes, I read that years ago," implying that we'll never need to look at it or think about it again. (McLaren, Finding Faith, 231-234)

I think McLaren is right on. The Bible is a story of God and humankind, alienation and reconciliation, faith and faithlessness, sin and forgiveness. Written over the course of 2,000 years by dozens of authors, the Bible nonetheless tells us the whole, interconnected, continuing story of humankind's walk with (sometimes closer to, often further from) God.

I highly recommend McLaren's book Finding Faith (not an affiliate link, buy it from Amazon or your favorite bookseller) to anyone, seeking, agnostic, Christian, whatever. It's the best book I know of to introduce people to 'real faith', not the type of 'bad faith' you'll hear belittled and riled against on the Internet and the world at large.

After tackling evolution yesterday, why not stem cell research today? :) Something that is usually overlooked in the debate is the difference between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells, as explained by Dr. David A. Prentice:

I am in favor of stem cell research. In fact, I don't know anyone who is opposed. If this sounds startling or puzzling, it's because many people don't know that they need to look for an adjective that should always be present in a discussion of stem cell research. Without an adjective defining the source of the stem cells, the term is misleading and spreads confusion.

There are many sources of stem cells, but the two most often discussed are embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells come from early embryos within the first few days of life. Obtaining them requires the breaking apart of the embryo , which necessarily results in death. By contrast, adult stem cells can be found in virtually all tissues of the body from birth onward (as well as in umbilical cord blood and placenta) and harvesting of these cells does not harm the individual from whom they are obtained.

Despite the hype surrounding them, embryonic stem cells actually have little to offer for treatment of disease. Their supposed advantages -unlimited growth and potential for forming all tissues- are hindrances when it comes to transplants to repair damaged tissue. When transplanted into experimental animals, these cells generally continue this untamed behavior, with a tendency to form tumors or various unwanted tissues. (Dr. David A. Prentice, The Real Promise of Stem Cell Research)

It seems as though many people critiquing the US veto aren't aware of this distinction. Adult stem cell research is still legal, kills no one, and is ongoing today. For more on why people reject embryonic stem cell research, see "Are you against stem cell research" (PDF) which asks the question "Wouldn’t you agree it is wrong to kill one human being to do research on her body to help someone else?"

EvolutionMy first and possibly last post on this blog regarding evolution. :) I basically have two short comments to make.

First, there seem to be some unanswered (unanswerable?) questions regarding evolution. For example: How did the male and female sexes develop through evolutionary processes? I can see how it's possible that most body parts could develop naturally, but here we have (if you'll excuse the crude terminology) two separate interlocking pieces, like a lock and key. I found an article here that explains the problem fairly well, "Evolutionary Theories on Gender and Sexual Reproduction". This is one reason why I think macroevolution is not a tenable theory.

Second, even if macroevolution is true, it cannot disprove God's existence. Some theists accept evolution, and are sometimes referred to as 'progressive creationists'. [EDIT Mar/04/07: I made a careless mistake in my original post. Originally I claimed in this post that Hugh Ross 'accepts evolution'. As the '8 Myths' page on Reasons.org clearly states, he does not. I apologize for this error.]

It seems there are still valid questions regarding evolution (Dissent from Darwin lists over 600 PhD holders from major schools who "are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life"), and even if macroevolution is true it doesn't matter much (from a faith perspective). Strobel's recent book Case for a Creator is a good resource on relevant topics, as well as other evidence for God's existence from a scientific point of view.

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