On Trusting God

What is God really like? How do we know?

One view of God is that "He" is omniscient, omnipotent, and immutable. An
Open Theist would disagree, claiming that God does not necessarily know the future and would cite Jeremiah 32:35 as one example where it "did not enter" God's mind that man would do certain things. Furthermore, if God did infallibly know the future, He could not change it, therefore the argument is that He is not omnipotent. God is mutable, as shown by passages such as Exodus 32:14: "And the LORD changed His mind about the disaster he had planned to bring upon His people." This can be contrasted with Malachi 3:6, "For I the LORD do not change..." and James 1:17 "with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

The purpose here is not to decide which view of God is correct but rather to think about thinking about God.

A certain open theist
was asked, "How are we supposed to trust a God who doesn’t know the future?" His answer was, "Presumably the same way we trust people who don't know the future. Is a Creator who doesn't know the future any less worthy of worship than one who does? It's still His Game, His Rules, regardless of whether He knows the outcome and/or every last twist and turn of the game or not."

First, note the change from "trust" to "worship." Whether or not God is trustworthy depends on God's nature. Whether or not God is worthy of worship depends on our value system. That is, what we value should conform to whatever God is. If God isn't trustworthy, then He should be worshipped, but perhaps we shouldn't value trust. If God is trustworthy, then He should be worshipped, and we perhaps should value trust. God should be worshipped due to His position as unique creator, but this doesn't inform us of His actual nature.

Second, trusting God in the same way that we trust people is problematic. We know people who aren't generally trustworthy who have a change of heart at the end and earn our trust. There are likewise people who are generally trustworthy who end up betraying us. This open theist likes to use the analogy of God as Game Designer where our reality is His simulation. Now, I can appreciate this analogy, since it is in some ways similar to the "God as Author" analogy that I've used. But this little, hopefully fictional, exchange illustrates one problem with trusting God in the way we trust people.

   "Jehovah? Jehovah! I told you to get to bed an hour ago. You have a big day tomorrow. It's your 'eight day' ceremony and you have to be rested for it."
   "Aw, Mom. Just a few more minutes? My simulation is about to finish. I want to see if the initial conditions I programmed into it turn out like I expect. The anti-Christ fellow is about to make his appearance!"
   "Jehovah, I find it inconsistent that you told your creatures to 'Honor your father and your mother' but me you ignore."
   "But you know that those rules only apply to them. They don't apply to me."
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   "Well, in my house, you have to obey my rules. Turn your computer off and get to bed. Now. You can always start another one when you have more time."
   "Yes, Mom."

   *Click*

   Fade to black.

This story isn't consistent with Scripture. But how do we know that Scripture reveals what really is? God says that there is no one like Him, much less greater than Him. How do we know? Because He said so. How do we know His knowledge is complete in this area? Because He said so. How do we know God will not lie to us? Because He said so. But what if He was lying to us?

So we have a bootstrap problem. As the source of all creation, God exists in a different relation to us than other people. We find that in order to trust God we first have to trust God. If we must start with trusting God, when would there be a warrant to stop trusting Him? Would it be if God did something we didn't expect? That would require that we know the fullness of God's purpose. But "His ways are not our ways" (Isa. 55:8-9) and "time and chance happen to all men" (Eccl. 9:11). I believe that this shows that we must unconditionally trust God, regardless of whether or not His revealed nature is His true nature.

I wonder if there is a symmetry between the necessity for unconditional trust and unconditional election?


[1] See
Modeling Morality and Modeling Morality: The End of Time.

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Atheism: It isn't about evidence

[Updated 5/7/2011, 10:49:05 PM; then 5/13/2011, 8:03:53PM]

On the first of the year I wrote "
Cybertheology" to begin the long process of using science, particularly computer science, evolutionary biology, and game theory to give evidence for and provide understanding of God. After all, I believe that the God who reveals Himself in the spoken and written Word also speaks through nature -- and that the message must be the same in both. In 2009 I wrote "Evidence for God" which gave my reaction to one atheist's claim of the lack of evidence for God. Over at John Wright's blog, another atheist commenter recently claimed again that there is no convincing evidence for God.

I have now come to the conclusion that a consistent rational atheist cannot claim that evidence, or the lack thereof, is the issue at all. The proof is really very simple and builds upon ideas in the earlier post "
Bad Arguments Against Materialism."

Every argument should have well-defined terms. Defining "God" is surprisingly hard. Traditionally, Christianity has said that God is immutable and omniscient; however, an
Open Theist would disagree with these characteristics. Some argue that God is inherently good; otherwise would say that the existence of evil disproves this notion (and this latter group is wrong, but that's not the topic of this post). The notion of "creator" is sufficient for now. Materialism has to conclude that matter in motion is the source of the idea of God -- "god" is an emergent property -- just like the number i is an emergent property (to the best of my limited knowledge of physics, one can't point to the square root of -1 apples or protons). Theism holds that matter is an emergent property of God and, therefore, God must be immaterial. One side holds that God is the product of man's imagination; the other says that man's imagination is the product of God.

Tangentially related to this is the question of how to recognize the existence of and the reason for singular events, such as Creation or the Resurrection. As will be shown, this reduces to differences in brain wiring.

If a creator God does not exist, then nature must consist solely of matter in motion. In particular, our thoughts arise from the movement of matter in certain patterns and our thoughts must obey the laws of physics. The laws of physics themselves are simply descriptions of how matter moves in relation to other matter. A description is just matter in a different dynamic relationship to other matter. Some theists may reject this idea and state that there is a supernatural aspect to thought, but the atheist has no such recourse. Computers, goldfish, and human minds work via electrons in a silicon, or carbon, matrix. The complexity of thought depends on the arrangement of atoms in the brain (or CPU).
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The key insight is that evidence is simply atoms that are external to the brain; different brains process the same data differently. There is a reason why we don't discuss theology with goldfish, golden retrievers, or computers: their brains don't have enough particles in the right configuration. The same principle applies to the atheist and the agnostic. When they say, "the evidence isn't convincing," what they really mean is "the atoms in my brain don't process the external data the way yours does."

The observation that brain states can be changed due to external factors (memory is "simply" state changes in the brain) doesn't help. Either the brain actively causes brain states to change based on how the brain processes the data, or there is some effect where the brain is passively changed. In the first case, the brain's wiring affects the brain's wiring, so the data is irrelevant, because different brains process the same data differently. The external data just shows how the brain is wired. In the second case, the external data changes the brain. The brain isn't evaluating evidence in the sense of the claim that the "evidence isn't convincing." Instead, the correct view is "my brain is/is not capable of being changed by the external world in the same way as other brains."

Since the external evidence is the same for both theist and atheist, the difference is in the way brains process that data. Given the way most human brains work (cf.
The Mechanism of Morality), we ask "which arrangement of atoms is better?"

The rational atheist must answer, "that which results in reproductive advantage." The problem for the atheist at this point is that theists have more children than atheists. Even though atheism appears to be on the rise, population in general is on the rise. In relative numbers, the atheists are losing ground. Writing in "
The Source of Evangelism" (atheist evangelism), Vox Day said, "... their own children are converting to religion faster than religious children are converting out of it."

We have evolved to think in teleological terms. As
this study showed, people with Asperger's typically don't ascribe intention or purpose behind the events in their lives. Atheists, on the other hand, can reason teleologically, but they reject those explanations. It isn't evidence -- it's wiring. The atheist can't come out and say that their brains are wired better than the theists, for at least two reasons. First, it isn't supported by the demographics. Again quoting Vox Day, "But the demographic disadvantage means that the atheist community has to keep all of their children within the godless fold and de-convert one out of every three religious children just to keep pace with the growth of the religious community." Second, it isn't supported by reason. After all, materialism is a strict subset of theism. The theist can think everything the atheist can -- and more. The theist has a bigger "universe" in which to think.

One explanation for this demographic disparity may be found in the difference between brains wired to recognize the existence of a creator God and those that are not. In the Abrahamic religions, the creator God is strongly identified with life. For example, the Jews were told by God, "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live..." [De 30:19]; Jesus said, "... have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” Christianity asserts that death is an "enemy" -- the last enemy to be overcome [1 Cor 15:26]. Certainly, one doesn't have to reject the idea of a Creator God to reject life; but in my limited experience it sure seems that social battles of abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia, are drawn with a line generally between secular and religious. The side that places a premium on reproduction will outproduce those that do not.

If the atheist can't say that their brains are wired better than theists, they also won't say that their wiring is worse. That would totally defeat their arguments. Therefore, they adapt a form of protective coloration wherein they deflect the issue to be external to themselves -- the evidence -- when it clearly isn't. Adopting protective coloration against one's own species may be another reason for the reproductive disadvantage of atheists. After all, this is a form of defection against the larger group and, as Axelrod has shown, an evolutionary strategy to maximize reproductive success is to defect in turn.

It appears that the atheist cannot win. If God does exist, they are wrong. If God exists only in man's imagination, evolution has wired man so that the idea of God gives a direction toward reproductive success. The attempt to remove God from society will result in demographic weakness.
Shiny secular utopias simply don't exist.2



[1] After posting this in the morning, in the evening I started re-reading
Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter. Via seemingly different paths we have come to similar conclusions. On P-4 he writes:
  As I see it, the only way of overcoming this magical view of what "I" and consciousness are is to keep reminding oneself, unpleasant though it may seem, that the "teetering bulb of dread and dream" that nestles safely inside one's own cranium is a purely physical object made up of completely sterile and an inanimate components, all of which obey exactly the same laws as those that govern all the rest of the universe, such as pieces of text, or CD-ROMs, or computers. Only if one keeps on bashing up against this disturbing fact can one slowly begin to develop a feel for the way out of the mystery of consciousness: that the key is not the stuff out of which brains are made, but the patterns that can come to exist inside the stuff of a brain.
  This is a liberating shift, because it allows one to move to a different level of considering what brains are: as
media that support complex patterns that mirror, albeit far from perfectly, the world...
[2] On 5/12, CNN.com posted the article "Religious belief is human nature, huge new study claims". In this article, Oxford University professor Roger Trigg, is quoted as saying "The secularization thesis of the 1960s - I think that was hopeless."
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Beeker

Beeker
Beeker was our middle child's Betta fish. Johnny brought him along when he came to visit us for Christmas, and Beeker was entrusted to our care when he went back to school in pursuit of his PhD. Around 10am on Monday, April 25 we left to pick up our daughter from college for the summer and returned home around 8pm Tuesday. Beeker had been in increasingly frail health over the past weeks; he passed away sometime while we were gone.

He was buried with full honors and has left a small void in our lives.

This picture was taken 1/8/11 on the occasion of moving Beeker into his new home.


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