Thursday, July 27, 2017

Guest Post: Reality Check. Theism or Naturalism?

By David Russell, Ministry Associate
Besides being complicated.  Reality, in my experience, is usually odd.  
Its not neat, not obvious, not what you expect.  C.S. Lewis
One of the biggest hurdles to jump while trying to discuss ideas is thought consistency.  In this post modern world many have relaxed the mind muscle and grown complacent, apathetic, even offended by discussing the depths of reality and the big questions of life.  I am often bewildered by the inconsistency some new age social justice warriors put forth.  They fight for equal rights and yet can’t justify why they should be equal or even where those rights come from.  They rail for tolerance while being intolerant to any that disagree.


In this article I hope to put the proverbial “stone in your shoe“.  I am going to address how bad this inconsistency of thought is, and what we need to do to change it.  I want to give a thanks to Rob Lundberg,  Frank Turek, and Ravi Zacharias who helped me in this journey.  Much of my material for this article is thanks to the hard work and illumination they gave me.  My wish is to help you identify these inconsistent thoughts and provide you with insight in dealing with people in everyday life and evangelism.
What is the nature of reality? What does it mean to be human?  What is going to happen to you after you leave this life?  Is this life all there is?  Is there real meaning?  These questions are the summary of questions I deal with on a regular basis.  They are like the root that supplies the branches of many other questions and thoughts.  Today, in the church and on the street, people seemed confused about these questions, some don’t care or even want explanations.  I find the latter the most disturbing.  We have allowed the culture to slip into the arms of apathy, filling our time with pure entertainment instead of thought provoking conversations.  Many have lost the ability to socialize with one another personally, others walk down the street carrying on full debates with they’re nose in a phone.
Entertainment is not wrong, nor is social media.  The problem is excess. We glutton ourselves with our devices and shows.  This, in turn, has led to a mental numbness, to Hollywood setting moral norms, aggrandizing abhorrent world views, and giving us false views of reality.  But the problem goes deeper still.  We have allowed this.  We have entertained this and we have allowed it to fester.  You could hear the train coming when philosophers touted God is dead, yet, we still allowed it to progress. Now the train is here calling us to board.  How will we respond?
The average person is still searching for how to respond, however, the mind is usually crowded with false notions of free thought and opinion given to them by liberal and relativist teachers.  People seem to be less teachable, prideful in their conclusions of these big issues.  They often mix an match different world views, trying to combine the parts they like and throw away parts they don’t. Some base entire worldviews on one You Tube video or Wiki article.  It seems, even in the church, Christians forget that the gospel is dependent upon the truth and relevant for all of us today.  I think we all need to step back and exercise the mind.  We need to equip ourselves and engage the culture.  As the post modern world continues on, we need to arm ourselves and reach the world.
Often, when we come up against the tide in dialogue with others, I have found your often dealing with a form of theism or a form of naturalism.  Knowing what your dealing with is the first process of identification.  This reveals a lot about where they are coming from and it may give you insight in how they where raised or what has influenced their worldview.  For this article, I want to point out the difference in these views and let you determine what best corresponds and is coherrent to the reality we find ourselves in.
Naturalism is a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted”.   On this view everything we experience is a product of time plus matter, plus chance.  Good and evil are just products of subjective flights of fancy.  Human value is rooted in the notion of human flourishing and thus like 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche put it “You have your way, I have my way.  As for the right way, it doesn’t exist” I was recently on a naturalist website and they claimed we are fully caused creatures, it states, “Seeing that we are fully caused creatures – not self-caused – we can no longer take or assign ultimate credit or blame for what we do. This leads to an ethics of compassion and understanding, both toward ourselves and others. We see that there but for circumstances go I. We would have been the homeless person in front of us, the convict, or the addict, had we been given their genetic and environmental lot in life”.
I encourage anyone reading this to follow this further.  There is much more to this worldview.  I am going to take the upper paragraph and ask, does this best describe our reality?  Is there no such thing as the right way? Are we organic robots,  unable to be responsible for our decisions?  Why should someones disposition lead to compassion if the right and wrong way don’t exist?  Do you see the inconsistency of thought?
What your seeing here is the assumption that the convict, addict, and homeless person are objective bad’s, while our, understanding that drives us to compassion, is an objective good.  Pure example of the “is, ought” fallacy.  Skeptic philosopher David Hume said it best “you can’t derive an ought from an is where morals are concerned.”  Naturalism, in the end, can only be a descriptive view, not a prescriptive.  It also leads to nihilism which means “the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.” That is why humanist Paul Kurtz says “If man is a product of evolution, one species among others, in a universe without purpose, then man’s option is to live for himself.”  Some naturalist own this, even if inconsistent, they own the logical outcome.  Dawkins tells us “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Nietzsche predicted this in his famous parable of the madman.  Finally, we have seen through the eyes of history what conclusion naturalistic nihilism draws,  Viktor Frankl states, 
If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.
I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment; or as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.
If life is as naturalism claims, we are left with no purpose, no ultimate meaning, no right or wrong.  This really leads to absurdity.  We wake up living our lives with purpose in mind, believe in true progress, have a sense of justice.  We experience a world of moral values and duties.  American founders called it self evident.  We bare the true consequence of our choices and demonstrate freedom of the will.  The difference between naturalism and theism reminds me of a famous quote from C.S. Lewis, he stated, “Thus in one sense the laws of Nature cover the whole field of space and time; in another, what they leave out is precisely the whole real universe – the incessant torrent of actual events which makes up true history. That must come from somewhere else. To think the laws can produce it is like thinking that you can create real money by simply doing sums.”
Theism, and I’m speaking of Christian theism, states that we have transcendent value.  Evil is a violation of purpose and moral values and duties are objective  rooted in the very nature of a good God.  It also explains the epistemological notion of progress through discovery.  We as human beings are equal because we are made in the image of our Creator, we have rights because of our intrinsic worth.  I cannot deprive you of  your rights unjustly because you display that same image on you.   This view does satisfy coherence and correspondent theories of truth.  We wake up and live lives of purpose because there is an ultimate purpose.  The theistic view gives us the answer to the ought.  Christian theism tells us that the truth about reality is knowable, that truth excludes its opposite, and it is evidential and experiential.
In conclusion, I think as the body of Christ we need apologetic’s.  Apologetic’s helps teach us why we believe what we believe.  Apologetic’s equips the body, helps with interaction when presenting the gospel, and gives confidence to the believer. In the weeks ahead I will be writing out the case for Christianity. The train is calling us to board, God is the conductor.  Nietzsche may have declared God is dead in 1882 but God declared him dead in 1900.

David Russell is a fellow apologist with the Real Issue Apologetics Ministry.  This post can be originally found on the Virginia Apologetics Union blog under the same title, on Word Press.

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