Tuesday, November 23, 2010

UNIT 2: The Gospel on Mars Hill: foundations for a Christian worldview, and for culture- transforming service

 FOCUS: The gospel on Mars Hill:  Ac 17, 1 Cor 1 - 2 & 15, with Rom 1 - 2 . . . confronting skeptical worldviews, ways of life, cultures & communities not  grounded in the Creator. Warranted credible truths, comparative difficulties & worldview choice. Atheism, agnosticism, evolutionary materialism, the problems of good and evil, generic theism and Bible-based covenantal theism.  1 Cor 15:1 – 11, historical credibility, minimal facts, prophetic context [esp. Is. 53, 44: 7 - 8, warrant of OT through prophetic power]. Surrender to the Lord of Life & Saviour, discipleship and reformation.
___________________


TOPICS:

INTRODUCTION

Climbing Mars Hill

A warranted first step to theism: design not "designoid"


Building a Worldview: first principles and first truths

--> Turtles, all the way doooown . . .  

--> The W J Murray concerns on the required basis for reasoned dialogue

--> Warranted, Credible (self-evident) Truths and First Principles of Right Reason

Dealing with the issue of good and evil 


--> The challenge of morality (is it objective?)

--> Living in a moral (or intellectual) Plato's Cave 
   

Biblical theism: "just the facts . . . "

Christian discipleship and cultural transformation

FOR DISCUSSION AND ASSIGNMENTS

































INTRODUCTION: We live in a skeptical age, where -- as was noted in the preliminary remarks for this course:
. . . we are now in the age of Google, YouTube, blogs and other freely accessible web soap-box and forum technologies, Dan Brown and his The Da Vinci Code, the vituperative New Atheists, Radical IslamISTS, and many others.

As a result, we now face a flood of superficially persuasive and atmosphere-poisoning materials that target God, the Scriptures, Jesus, the Christian Faith and Christians today (including personal hate and slander sites) and much more. This backs up an unprecedented and rising tidal wave of direct and undermining attacks against the Christian faith in the Caribbean and elsewhere that we can find on our streets, on our verandahs, on our TV's and computers, in our schools and offices, and even in our churches.

A flood of attacks that finds us too often in a sad spiritual condition, and by and large utterly unprepared to soundly answer on the reason for the hope that we have:
The two tidal wave threats to the Christian faith in the Caribbean

In such a time as this, it is no longer enough to simply know the content of the gospel or the scriptures, and to rest content in our personal experience of life-changing encounter with God. 

For, all around us, the gospel, the God of the Bible, the Christian Faith, the churches and even individual Christians are under relentless, manipulative and too often hateful attack, attacks that are armed with superficially persuasive and too often viciously and maliciously toxic talking points that are free for a search and download; all across the Internet. 

And, in many cases, even when these toxic talking points fail to actually persuade, they so poison and polarise the atmosphere that it is very hard for people to listen to the Good News of Jesus and the reason for our hope in him. Which is part of the obvious intent. For, as Aristotle so tellingly warned 2,300 years ago in his The Rhetoric, Bk I Ch 2, arguments work by one or more of the appeals to (a) emotions, (b) credibility of an authority or presenter, or to (c) the actual meat of fact and reasoning, but -- and, this is the key problem -- hostile or poisoned emotions, once stirred, can utterly warp our judgement:
Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible . . . Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . . Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question . . .

As a direct result of such challenges and the willful creation of an increasingly toxic situation, we desperately need to equip a much broader base of people in the churches at a much higher level of understanding and living out of the gospel, the Scriptures, theology and issues; if we are to be credible, sound, competent and effective. Such a challenge also means and demands that as we set out to study systematic theology, we have to equip people to think through and lay a sound worldviews foundation, the main focal issue for this unit.

And, "foundations" (a characteristic New Testament word for laying a solid basis for thought, attitude, motivation and life, and building on it . . . ) shows just how radical -- that word comes from the Latin radix, root -- the Christian Faith really is.   

For, just as how the Athenians in Acts 17 wanted to hear "the latest ideas" but were by and large not open to a truly back- to- foundations and look- at- the fatal- cracks critique, avant garde thinkers in our day really want to hear the latest wrinkles and innovations within the comfortable World System of the day. 

They want to discuss some new Ptolemaic epicycle, not a Copernican, back to basics revolutionary idea that threatens their comfortable system. And don't you dare come along threatening to "box bread out of our mouths" by upending the system and rendering their expertise obsolete. (No wonder knowledge revolutions so often proceed one funeral at a time as one generation locked into the old way dies off and a new one emerges that is open to the new way.)

So, the message of the gospel -- warranted by the credible history of Jesus and the power of the Spirit who breaks through in those who penitently heed it -- will do again just what Paul did 1960 years ago: start from something, some altar, some artifact, some inscription, something that inadvertently reflects the pivotal underlying problem. Thus, it will go to the roots and expose their rottenness, it will dig up a bit of the foundations and expose fatal structural cracks. Then it will call for a sounder foundation, as Jesus did at the close of the Sermon on the Mount:
 Matt 7:24 “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!” [NET]
So also, we must be prepared for the response of amazement or puzzlement: 
Matt 7:28 When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, 29 because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law. [NET]

In short, he cut clean across the traditions and the "Rabbi [Expert] X says, Rabbi [Expert] Y says, and so we have the right pedigree." No wonder, the upended experts, frequently, were less than amused. 

So also with Paul, when he reached the cutting point in his presentation at Mars Hill. The resurrection of Jesus with 500+ eyewitnesses. Foolishness to many Greeks locked into a view that saw the body as the prison of the soul, and an offense to the Jews who saw a crucified man as necessarily accursed by God. Hence the interruption and reaction:
Acts 17: 29 [Paul:] ". . . since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination. 30 Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
 
32 Now when they heard about the resurrection from the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul left the Areopagus. 34 But some people joined him and believed. Among them were Dionysius, who was a member of the Areopagus, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. [NET]

But, as those few who responded found out, when the storm comes, God's foolishness, apparent weakness and strangeness will prove to be plainly wiser, stronger, sounder than the ways of men.

  In particular, in our day, we can see that science -- the major intellectual movement in our civilisation, is often dominated by an imposed materialism that was all too aptly summarised as follows by a major proponent, Professor Richard Lewontin, an evolutionary biologist of Harvard University:
. . .  It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. [“Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997. (NB: a priori means the claim is imposed before the facts are allowed to speak Cf. critical survey here.)]
 In short, by imposing so-called methodological naturalism, in the minds of those who think like professor Lewontin -- e.g., the leadership of both the US National Academy of Science and National Science Teachers Association, along with many other individuals and groups  (i.e. this is an ideologically and institutionally dominant, though patently question-begging, school of thought) -- science is forced into an evolutionary materialistic mould; right from the outset.  That is, painful though it is to have to hear, such are plainly going in mind-closing logical circles, as Philip Johnson (a founding Intelligent Design movement thinker) pointed out in the following rebuttal to Lewontin of November that same year:

For scientific materialists
the materialism comes first; the science comes thereafter.
We might more accurately term them "materialists employing science." And if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence. That theory will necessarily be at least roughly like neo-Darwinism, in that it will have to involve some combination of random changes and law-like processes capable of producing complicated organisms that (in [now retired Oxford Evolutionary Biologist and atheism advocate Richard] Dawkins’ words) "give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose."  

. . . .   The debate about creation and evolution is not deadlocked . . . Biblical literalism is not the issue. The issue is whether materialism and rationality are the same thing. Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses. [Emphases added.] ["The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism," First Things, 77 (Nov. 1997), pp. 22 – 25.]

But, in an era where evolutionary materialistic science gives many the impression that God is out of a job, how can the gospel have enough credibility to be heard?

That is the second focal issue for this unit.

Thirdly, we must also focus on responding responsibly and effectively to a region -- and a wider civilisation -- that has badly lost its way. 

This is the third focal issue for this unit.



Climbing Mars Hill


In AD 50, the Apostle Paul, having been harried out from city after city in Macedonia, faced a very similar set of challenges to what we now face, in Athens. 

And, as a great lion pushed too far turns at bay and vexes those who unwisely kept on pushing, harrying and pursuing, the apostle took a bold stance before the Areopagus:
Ac 17:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was greatly upset because he saw the city was full of idols. 17 So he was addressing the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogue, and in the marketplace [the Agora]  every day those who happened to be there. 18 Also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him, and some were asking, “What does this foolish babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods.” (They said this because he was proclaiming the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 

19 So they took Paul and brought him to the Areopagus [possibly, on Mars Hill itself -- pictured below -- or (more likely)  in the neighbouring Agora],


Mars hill, at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens (cf video tour here)
. . . saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some surprising things to our ears, so we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there used to spend their time in nothing else than telling or listening to something new.)

22 So Paul stood before the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For as I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown god.’ Therefore what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you.

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone.

26 From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live,  27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’

29 So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination.  30 Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

32 Now when they heard about the resurrection from the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul left the Areopagus.

34 But some people joined him and believed. Among them were Dionysius, who was a member of the Areopagus, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. [NET]
Paul's approach gives us some key examples and ideas:
1 --> As we have already outlined, he first found a culturally bridging point of contact, the now famous altar to the unknown god that points to the rhetorical kairos, the opportunity and occasion that focuses attention and opens the way for the speech to effect a breakthrough.  So, while he is going to do a "look at the foundations and their cracks" radical critique, he is not introducing something utterly strange, but is explaining what the unknown God honoured in a municipal monument right there in their city has told him to say to the Athenians (and through them, to all peoples).

2 --> Subtly, he is also reminding the Athenians -- proud guardians of Greece's intellectual heritage (which is the heart of our own intellectual culture) -- that on the most important point of knowledge, the foundational ground of reality, the root of being, they have had to build a public monument to their ignorance. Craaack . . . the foundations of the pagan, cynical, skeptical worldview and culture -- "the common people thought the stories of the gods were equally true, the philosophers that they were equally false, the politicians that they were equally useful" [cf. Gibbon et al.]  --  have a fatal structural flaw.

3 --> He then proceeded to correct common misunderstandings: the Creator of the cosmos is not dependent on us, nor is he confined to temples like the idols are. Instead, we depend on him, and as their own poets have put it we are his sons and daughters; it is in him that we live, move and have our being.

4 --> He is the creator of nationhood, and is Lord of the times, places and resources we have as nations; so supervising the course of history that from time to time, in the face of pivotal moments [ kairous], we are moved to grope for him, however blindly.

5 --> In this time, he has decisively intervened in history, showing us that we will stand before the bar of eternal judgement by raising  Jesus (the one who will be our Judge, having felt the full force of human frailty and temptation) from the dead.

6 --> Accordingly, he calls us to face and acknowledge the credible truth, repent and put our trust in God in the face of Christ.



Thus, Paul -- as do today's Christian thinkers -- found an acceptable point of contact, pointed to the key error he would correct, outlined our status as creatures and nations accountable before our common Creator, Sustainer, Lord and Father, then introduced the gospel. The key point of warrant for the gospel (and thus for the reality of that hitherto unknown God) is the resurrection, as attested by over five hundred eyewitnesses and the fulfillment of scriptural prophecies given in the key case some seven hundred years beforehand.  And, in light of that gospel, we are all called to repentance.



Alas, as outlined, that was the sticking point. 

For, the idea of a bodily resurrection cut across deeply entrenched worldview assumptions. So, many in the audience in effect said: never mind our acknowledged ignorance and whatever evidence you may present, we don't accept that God can be like that. 

The immediate results were therefore scanty, and Paul was literally laughed out of court. 

But, today, Dionysius the Areopagite (one of the few who heeded the gospel call that day) is remembered as the first bishop of Athens, and as its patron saint. Indeed, from a map of modern Athens, we can see that the road by Mars Hill is now called Apostle Paul Street. Its continuation by the Acropolis is Dionysius the Areopagite street. Behind the Agora is Holy Apostle church.

To cap it all off, the above once- mocked Mars Hill speech is on a bronze plaque affixed at the foot of the hill itself. 
The verdict of history is in: the future belonged to the Apostle and even more to the gospel he proclaimed that decisive day. Not to  the skeptical scholars or to cynical politicians of the ilk of a Pilate: "what is 'truth'?"

Just so, in our day, by God's grace the well-warranted truth of the gospel will again prevail. For:

7 --> as Paul put it in Acts 17, God created the nations, and so controls our places and times [kairous], that we are forced to grope (however blindly and ignorantly) for him in the midst of crises.

8 --> Then, as Paul’s presence in Athens exemplifies, God sends his spokesmen into such places at such times with the call to repentance, renewal and reformation, opening the door --

“so that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles [εθνη -- ethne, from  ἔθνος -- ethnos  n. 1. a race (as of the same habit), i.e. a tribe] through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Holy Spirit.”[Gal. 3:14, NIV '84] 
9 --> Therefore, following Eph 4:9 - 16, "[Jesus] . . . gave" leaders to the church, "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up . . . attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ." [NIV '84]

10 --> So, God is now sending the gospel of blessing to the nations of the Caribbean in our time of kairos, thus calling out, creating, building and equipping his body, the church “the fulness of him who fills everything in every way” as the means of blessing for our region and beyond, to the wider world.

11 --> Thus, he is sending us out as his disciples, into — and beyond — the local community as “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

12 --> Consequently, as we live, love, evangelise, disciple, serve, and provide high integrity leadership, Christ’s reforming and transforming redemptive fullness will naturally, often invisibly and imperceptibly, spread through "all things" across the Caribbean Basin and beyond.

13 --> This promotes truly sustainable -- God-blessed -- development under the vision of Psalm 127:
 PS 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house,     
its builders labor in vain.   
Unless the LORD watches over the city,     
the watchmen stand guard in vain. [NIV '84]


We see here a picture of the God who is not only Creator and Lord, but enters into  history, bringing us to repentance and reconciliation, graciously opening the doors for a mutual agreement -- a covenant -- with promises, conditions and blessings. 

But, before such covenantal blessings can be accessed by the individual, the family or the community, the issue of rebellious, willfully sinful rejection of God must be faced; as Paul outlines in Romans 1 - 2, and with an insight from ch. 13 on love as the keystone of core morality:
  Rom 1:18 . . . the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, 19 because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  

20 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.  21 For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts1 were darkened.  22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

 24 Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! . . . .  28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done . . . .
 Rom 2:5 . . .  [B]ecause of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed!  

6 He will reward each one according to his works: 7 eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality, 8 but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness . . . .

13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous before God, but those who do the law will be declared righteous.  14 For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. 15 They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them, 16 on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.
Rom 13: 8b . . . the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,” (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong [Thayer: κακός -1. of a bad nature  2. of a mode of thinking, feeling, acting a. base, wrong, wicked b. not such as it ought to be 3. troublesome, injurious, pernicious, destructive, baneful] to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. [NET, emphases added]
In the apostle's argument, the dismissive rejection of God is always culpable; for there is adequate -- nay, compelling -- evidence in the world outside and the heart, mind and conscience of man inside, to strongly warrant the conclusion that our world is a Creation, and that of a good God.  

The God under whose moral government we therefore live, through the principle that he has made us equally in his image and thus creates a mutual obligation of respect, love and not doing harm but rather benefit to neighbour. This principle of moral government we can see amplified in John Locke's citation from "the judicious [Anglican Canon Richard] Hooker, in his Ecclesiastical Polity, 1594 +, when Locke sought to ground the principles of liberty and justice in the community, in Ch 2 sect. 5 of his well-known Second Treatise on Civil Government:

. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man's hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant . . . [Hooker then continues, citing Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, Bk 8:] as namely, That because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like . . . ] [Eccl. Polity,preface, Bk I, "ch." 8, p.80, cf. here. Emphasis added.]

In short, the apostle holds that people who turn from God and the evidence that points to him, are in willful error; an error that then tends to eat away at the bonds between ourselves and others whom God has made just as much in his image as we ourselves. 

However, people thus have reasonable moral expectations that we must respect their dignity as created just like ourselves, equally in God's image, and with their own individual calling under God to a path of good and achievement. So, we can have no just right to hinder our neighbour by violating life, liberty, property, reputation etc.


But, too often, instead of living together in harmonious community under our common good, reasonable, just Creator, Father, God and Lord, we instead make up distracting stories and images that look like men, birds, beasts, reptiles etc.

In the old days, such were in pagan temples. Given the sort of question-begging a priori materialism posed by Lewontin and so many others, too often, nowadays, such images and stories appear as "educational" or even "scientific" exhibits in museums, textbooks, TV documentaries and "science" web sites. 

So, we may draw a provocative comparison:
Then:
Now:

Paul's point is that when we set up such images and spin out such beguiling stories in the teeth of the evidence and implications we know or should easily enough know [cf. here on and here on below] about our world and our own selves, we  fall victim to a willfully ignorant, rebellious en-darkened mind and a benumbed conscience; one that ironically often sees itself as wise and right. It is then no wonder that our passions spin out of control, and we become benumbed to our shameful, destructive and debasing addictions and willful abuse of the other.  Hence Paul's caution to Christians in Ephesians 4:
Eph 4: 17 . . . I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 

18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 

20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth. [NET]
Wilfully rebellious, endarkened, calloused cultures such as Paul here describes, go into moral spin-out, crash and burn. 

That sounds rather sadly like early C21 Western Civilisation, but we will predictably hear the hot retort:  
Science shows that there is no evidence for God, and your out-dated religion is in a losing war against ever-advancing knowledge!
Is that really so?

Let us see . . .


A warranted first step to Theism: design, not "designoid"


In our time, faith in God is under unprecedented attack.  This should be understood in light of of the counsel in Heb 11 on the pivotal importance of accepting the reality of and and trusting in God:

 Heb 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible . . . .

6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. [ESV]

So, well-grounded confidence in the reality of God and an inclination to trust him in light of his promises (and, from vv 4 - 5, history of dealing with those who so trust him) is foundational to having a right relationship with God. 


In an age that often sees "skepticism" as a central intellectual virtue, such trust may seem naive at best. And, when such trust seems rooted in well-grounded findings of science, faith can be seen as little more than intellectual suicide. Hence, the climate of dismissive contempt and outright hostility in the name of science.
 

This sort of thinking and attitude, in the main, trace to the intentional cultural impact of Darwin's origins science theories on our civilisation since 1859. 

For, as we may read in an October 13th, 1880 letter to Edward Bibbins Aveling (a physician, and Common law husband of Eleanor Marx (1884), thus better known to history as Karl Marx's de facto son- in- law) in reference to requested remarks on a book by Aveling that sought to popularise Darwin's thought [apparently, The Student's Darwin. London: Freethought Publishing Co., 1881], Charles Darwin went on record as follows:
. . . though I am a strong advocate for free thought [--> NB: free-thought is an old synonym for skepticism, agnosticism or atheism] on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follows from the advance of science. It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science. I may, however, have been unduly biassed by the pain which it would give some members of my family [--> NB: especially his wife, Emma], if I aided in any way direct attacks on religion.
This letter makes it utterly clear that a key background motive for Darwin's theorising on origins science was to put God out of a job, thus indirectly undermining the plausibility of believing in God.  

In thinking and acting like this, he probably believed that he was championing enlightenment and science-led progress in their path to victory over backward, irrational but emotionally clung-to beliefs. And so his strategy was to lead in a science that was in his mind showing just how outdated and ill-founded the Judaeo-Christian theism that had dominated the West since Constantine in the 300's was.

In case the views just raised are doubted, here is Aveling on Darwin, the Christian faith and clergy, shortly after his passing:
SINCE the death of our great teacher, the clergy, who denounced him aforetime with that volubility of which long practice in the art of vituperation has made them consummate masters, have claimed the illustrious dead as one of their flock  . . . . those who are trying to effect a compromise between the irreconcilables, religion and scientific thought, from the Archbishop of Canterbury upwards, are assuring us that the great truths of Evolution are all in harmony with the Bible, and have been this long time embodied in more or less hidden guise in the teaching of the Church—that, in short, the discoveries of to-day are a godsend to religion, whilst less versatile thinkers had regarded them the rather as a god's end. All this might have been passed by with pity and a sigh for something more novel. But when these same persons tell us that Charles Darwin was a religious man and a Christian, a feeling other than one of pity is ours . . . .

[Having been invited to lunch and at the end of the meal with a Dr Büchner of Germany, withdrawing to Darwin's study, so] once we were within the walls of his study, and he was sitting in most unconventional fashion in the large, well-worn easy chair, almost the first thing he said was, "Why do you call yourselves Atheists?" . . . . It was pointed out that the Greek α was privative, not negative; that whilst we did not commit the folly of god-denial, we avoided with equal care the folly of god-assertion: that as god was not proven, we were without god (άϑεοι) and by consequence were with hope in this world, and in this world alone . . .  with point after point of our argument he agreed; statement on statement that was made he endorsed, saying finally: "I am with you in thought, but I should prefer the word Agnostic to the word Atheist."

Upon this the suggestion was made that, after all, "Agnostic" was but "Atheist" writ respectable, and "Atheist" was only "Agnostic" writ aggressive. To say that one did not know was the verbal equivalent of saying that one was destitute of the god-idea, whilst at the same time a sop was thrown to the Cerberus of society by the adoption of a name less determined and uncompromising. At this he smiled and asked: "Why should you be so aggressive? Is anything gained by trying to force these new ideas upon the mass of mankind? It is all very well for educated, cultured, thoughtful people; but are the masses yet ripe for it?" 

Then we asked him whether the same questions he now asked of us had not been addressed to him about the years 1859—60, when his immortal "Origin of Species" first saw the light. Many at that time had thought a greater wisdom would have been shown in only enunciating the revolutionary truths of Natural and Sexual Selection to the judicious few. Many had, as of old, dreaded the open declaration of truth to the multitudes. New ideas are always at first regarded as only for the study.
Danger is feared if they are proclaimed abroad on the house-tops, and discussed in market-place and home. But he, happily for humanity, had by the gentle, irresistible power of reason, forced his new ideas upon the mass of the people. And the masses had been found ripe for it. Had he kept silence, the tremendous strides taken by human thought during the last twenty-one years would have been shorn of their fair proportions, perhaps had hardly been made at all. His own illustrious example was encouragement, was for a command to every thinker to make known to all his fellows that which he believed to be the truth.

Then the talk fell upon Christianity, and these remarkable words were uttered: "I never gave up Christianity until I was forty years of age." I commend these words to the careful consideration of all and sundry who claimed the great naturalist as an orthodox Christian . . . [Aveling, E. B. 1883. The religious views of Charles Darwin. London: Freethought Publishing Company. In reply to this, Darwin's son, Francis wrote: "Dr. Aveling tried to show that the terms "Agnostic" and "Atheist" were practically equivalent—that an atheist is one who, without denying the existence of God, is without God, inasmuch as he is unconvinced of the existence of a Deity. My father's replies implied his preference for the unaggressive attitude of an Agnostic. Dr. Aveling seems (p. 5) to regard the absence of aggressiveness in my father's views as distinguishing them in an unessential manner from his own. But, in my judgment, it is precisely differences of this kind which distinguish him so completely from the class of thinkers to which Dr. Aveling belongs."]
Of course, the proffered definition of "atheist" is a rhetorically convenient and somewhat tendentious one, as atheism normally is understood as the active, even aggressive, denial of the reality of God, not merely doubting it. Which is of course the reason why Francis Darwin emphasises the difference between Agnosticism and Atheism in his own onward response as cited. But, from the pen of Aveling, and the association of Dr. Ludwig Büchner, of Darmstadt, president of The International Federation of Freethinkers Congress in London on September 25th, 26th, 27th of 1881, we have a clear enough picture on Darwin's views on Religion and how this intersected with his theory and its expected effect on the masses. 

In particular, Darwin was plainly of the view that the Christian faith is ill-founded, that there is no clear warrant for confidence in the reality of God, and that gradual scientific enlightenment would so undermine the Christian faith and theism that eventually an "enlightened" era under the name science would emerge. God's reality would not so much be hotly dismissed but rather viewed as increasingly doubtful and irrelevant to the world of informed thought. (Cf. below.)

Unsurprisingly, then,  once Darwinian thought on the origin of the varieties of life had triumphed in the academy, in education and in the popular media, for the first time in history Atheism became a movement with a mass following.  

This, because -- on the authority of "Science" -- there now seemed to be a way to explain the complex and tightly integrated structures of living organisms without necessary reference to design or to -- shudder -- creation. Instead, on the strength of "science," we were invited by Darwin to instead view features of organisms as the product of laws of chance and laws of necessity acting on one or a few original "simple" forms.  Namely: 
. . . Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life and from use and disuse: a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life and from use and disuse: a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved." [Origin, Ch 15. Emphasis added]
So, we can see the heavy blow, with a little sop tossed to "the Creator," to soften the immediate impact. 

Indeed, in another letter, written to Joseph Hooker in 1872, Darwin  suggested that even the origin of life itself perhaps did not need an intelligent Creator:
It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are present, which could ever have been present. But if (and Oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed . . .
This pattern of thought has progressed to the point where Dawkins has openly said that evolutionary biology makes it possible to be "an intellectually fulfilled atheist."  He thus re-defines biology as the study of complicated things that seem to be designed (but are not), terming such things: "designoid." And, as we saw above, Lewontin fails to see anything wrong with imposing materialism on science before any facts can speak. 

Mr Martin Mahner of the Center for Inquiry-Europe is even more explicit in redefining science as applied evolutionary materialist education, in a 2011 Science and Education article:
. . . metaphysical naturalism is a constitutive ontological principle of science in that the general empirical methods of science, such as observation, measurement and experiment, and thus the very production of empirical evidence, presuppose a no-supernature principle . . . .
Metaphysical or ontological naturalism (henceforth: ON) ["roughly" and "simply"] is the view that all that exists is our lawful spatiotemporal world. Its negation is of course supernaturalism: the view that our lawful spatiotemporal world is not all that exists because there is another non-spatiotemporal world transcending the natural one, whose inhabitants—usually considered to be intentional beings—are not subject to natural laws . . . . Both scientists and science educators keep being challenged by creationists of all shades, who try hard to reintroduce supernaturalist explanations into biology and into all the areas of science that concern the origin of the world in general and of human beings in particular. A major aspect of this debate is the role of ON in science . . . .

ON is not part of a deductive argument in the sense that if we collected all the statements or theories of science and used them as premises, then ON would logically follow. After all, scientific theories do not explicitly talk about anything metaphysical such as the presence or absence of supernatural entities: they simply refer to natural entities and processes only. Therefore, ON rather is a tacit metaphysical supposition of science, an ontological postulate. It is part of a metascientific framework or, if preferred, of the metaparadigm of science that guides the construction and evaluation of theories, and that helps to explain why science works and succeeds in studying and explaining the world. ["The role of Metaphysical Naturalism in Science," Science and Education, 2011] 
In an intellectual climate like this, the idea of a God and Creator often seems to be both unnecessary and perhaps even absurd or an attack against knowledge and its great champion, science. Worse, the despised "supernaturalism" is led by potentially violent and tyrannical, "fundamentalist" heirs of the Inquisition who in their blind, irrational religiosity have become enemies of "science," "progress," and even "freedom."  

However, in the rush to rage and dismissal, something crucial is being missed. Namely, that there is a second, easily empirically investigated contrast to "natural," i.e. ART-ificial. And, to investigate whether something was produced by design, on evident, tested and found reliable observable markers -- signs -- of such design, is beyond reasonable dispute, a routine scientific endeavour. Once, science is taken on terms such as we may find in high quality, responsible dictionaries written before the recent brouhaha over the scientific status of the inference to design on empirically reliable signs, and which sought to summarise how science is understood by the informed:
science: a branch of knowledge conducted on objective principles involving the systematized observation of and experiment with phenomena, esp. concerned with the material and functions of the physical universe. [Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1990 -- and yes, they used the "z" Virginia!]

scientific method: principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge [”the body of truth, information and principles acquired by mankind”] involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. [Webster's 7th Collegiate Dictionary, 1965]
In short, we may reasonably argue that across time, and in light of the importance of the goals and values that science should be objective, fair in its methods, and should seek to progressively discover the truth about our world, a sounder understanding is that:
science, at its best, is the unfettered — but ethically and intellectually responsible — progressive, observational evidence-led pursuit of the truth about our world (i.e. an accurate and reliable description and explanation of it), based on:
a: collecting, recording, indexing, collating and reporting accurate, reliable (and where feasible, repeatable) empirical -- real-world, on the ground -- observations and measurements,

b: inference to best current -- thus, always provisional -- abductive explanation of the observed facts,

c: thus producing hypotheses, laws, theories and models, using  logical-mathematical analysis, intuition and creative, rational imagination [including Einstein's favourite gedankenexperiment, i.e thought experiments],

d: continual empirical testing through further experiments, observations and measurement; and,

e: uncensored but mutually respectful discussion on the merits of fact, alternative assumptions and logic among the informed. (And, especially in wide-ranging areas that cut across traditional dividing lines between fields of study, or on controversial subjects, "the informed" is not to be confused with the eminent members of the guild of scholars and their publicists or popularisers who dominate a particular field at any given time.)
 As a result, science enables us to ever more effectively (albeit provisionally) describe, explain, understand, predict and influence or control objects, phenomena and processes in our world.
Of course, the pivotal issue is that, on these terms, there is significant evidence in the world in which we live, that:
I: The observed cosmos shows signs of being set up at a finely tuned, knife's edge operating point that makes possible Carbon-chemistry, aqueous medium cell based life.


II: Cell-based biological life, at its molecular roots, is built on complex, coded, functionally specific organisation and information, exhibiting step by step processes that require core clusters of parts that have to all be present and work together for metabolism and self-replication to happen. (That is, cell-based life shows complex, functionally specific information, and irreducible complexity of core structures. The only empirically warranted, observed source for such phenomena is design, i.e. "art.")

III: The world of complex, multicellular life forms reveals not only (i) a systematic pattern of sudden appearances, stasis and disappearance or continuity to the modern era in the fossil record -- the only actual record of life in the past beyond human observation, but also (ii) a consistent and overwhelming pattern of many body plans that are based on huge further leaps in such complex, functionally specific information, and many further cases of irreducibly complex organised structures and processes.


IV: We ourselves exhibit linguistic ability, which is a leap in body plan complexity. We are also forced to rely on the capacity of the mind to know accurately and reason correctly -- not just to blindly carry out processes shaped willy-nilly by blind happenstance and mechanical necessity, which are irrelevant to warrant, force of logical inference, or truthfulness. That is, mind transcends mere survival of the fittest and related promotion of whatever works. (On this point, evolutionary materialism arguably reduces to self-referential contradictions, i.e. the absurdity of relying on a mind that on such premises we have no good reason to accept as reliable.)


V: We find ourselves under moral government by the force of ought, and cannot escape feeling and indeed knowing that, say: torturing innocent children for pleasure is wrong. That strongly points to our being under the lordship of a moral governor.
These five concerns and associated empirical signs therefore cumulatively strongly point to the reasonableness of seeing that our world is designed, life is designed, major forms of life are designed, and that we are not only designed but are intellectually and morally responsible towards the truth and the right.


So, on empirically based, reasonable inference to design, it is patently not irrational or anti-scientific, to hold that the world, its contents and we ourselves are designed, by a creator beyond the cosmos of awesome power and knowledge, who holds us to our moral and intellectual responsibilities. Nor is this new, for instance the co-founder of the theory of evolution, from 1869 on went on record that he found, even in an evolutionary view, evidence of purpose and mind in the world of life. Thus, he titled and sub-titled his major -- but now largely forgotten --work (The World of Life, 1910 on, cf. here, here, here and here at Amazon):


The World of Life: a manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose


And, in the preface, he spelled out what he meant, thusly:
But besides the discussion of these and several other allied subjects, the most prominent feature of my book is that I enter into a popular yet critical examination of those underlying fundamental problems which Darwin purposely excluded from his works as being beyond the scope of his enquiry.
Such are, the nature and causes of Life itself ; and more especially of its most fundamental and mysterious powers growth and reproduction. I first endeavour to show (in Chapter XIV.) by a care-ful consideration of the structure of the bird’s feather; of the marvellous transformations of the higher insects ; and, more especially of the highly elaborated wing-scales of the Lepidoptera (as easily accessible examples of what is going on in every part of the structure of every living thing), the absolute necessity for an organising and directive Life-Principle in order to account for the very possibility of these complex outgrowths.
I argue, that they necessarily imply first, a Creative Power, which so constituted matter as to render these marvels possible ; next, a directive Mind which is demanded at every step of what we term growth, and often look upon as so simple and natural a process as to require no explanation ; and, lastly, an ultimate Purpose, in the very existence of the whole vast life-world in all its long course of evolution throughout the eons of geological time.
This Purpose, which alone throws light on many of the mysteries of its mode of evolution, I hold to be the development of Man, the one crowning product of the whole cosmic process of  life-development ; the only being which can to some extent comprehend nature; which can perceive and trace out her modes of action ; which can appreciate the hidden forces and motions everywhere at work, and can deduce from them a supreme and over-ruling Mind as their necessary cause.
For those who accept some such view as I have indicated, I show (in Chapters XV. and XVI.) how strongly it is sup-ported and enforced by a long series of facts and co-relations which we can hardly look upon as all purely accidental coincidences. Such are the infinitely varied products of living things which serve man’s purposes and man’s alone not only by supplying his material wants, and by gratifying his higher tastes and emotions, but as rendering possible many of those advances in the arts and in science which we claim to be the highest proofs of his superiority to the brutes, as well as of his advancing civilisation.
From a consideration of these better-known facts I proceed (in Chapter XVII.) to an exposition of the mystery of cell-growth ; to a consideration of the elements in their special relation to the earth itself and to the life-world ; while in the last chapter I endeavour to show the purpose of that law of diversity which seems to pervade the whole material Universe. [Pp. vi - vii, preface, 1914 UK Edn.]
It is worth the pause to see Darwin's Heretic, a recently released video on Wallace's life story and contributions to evolutionary theory and thought:






It is thus significant to see who has been lionised in our time, and who has been largely forgotten or relegated to historical footnotes. And yet, Wallace's story clearly demonstrated that even in an evolutionary frame of thought, it was possible to be a capable scientist and a design thinker. He also raised significant issues on the implications of the observable functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information that we see so often manifested in the world of life. By the late 1970's, J S Wicken, an eminent Origin of Life theorist, would raise quite similar issues, when he wrote:


Organized’ systems are to be carefully distinguished from ‘ordered’ systems.  Neither kind of system is ‘random,’ but whereas ordered systems are generated according to simple algorithms [[i.e. “simple” force laws acting on objects starting from arbitrary and common- place initial conditions] and therefore lack complexity, organized systems must be assembled element by element according to an [[originally . . . ] external ‘wiring diagram’ with a high information content . . . Organization, then, is functional complexity and carries information. It is non-random by design or by selection, rather than by the a priori necessity of crystallographic ‘order.’ [“The Generation of Complexity in Evolution: A Thermodynamic and Information-Theoretical Discussion,” Journal of Theoretical Biology, 77 (April 1979): p. 353, of pp. 349-65. (Emphases and notes added. Nb: “originally” is added to highlight that for self-replicating systems, the blue print can be built-in.)]

Wicken obviously recognised that design is the commonly observed cause of such functionally specific, organised complexity, but hoped that cumulative chance variation and so-called natural selection -- which is purposeless by definition -- can also account for such specified complex organisation and associated information. However, obviously, the very term "selection" implies that purpose and mind may well be involved. 

Which was exactly Wallace's point. 

At any rate, such an inference to design should not be ruled out by imposing question-begging redefinitions of science ahead of letting the observed facts speak, and if natural selection so-called is called on as a substitute for purpose, it should be warranted on abundant and clear observation. The first roadblock to that is that for origin of life, until reproduction based on self-replication of cells exists, there can be no differences in reproductive success for one population to dominate over another and so replace it. Where also, the mechanism for such cellular self replication is based on complex coded information, step by step procedures and a cluster of intricate, carefully organised implementing machines; i.e. sophisticated information technologies.  The only observed cause of such is design, and for excellent reason having to do with the nature of languages, digitally coded computer programs and the machines that execute them. 

Similarly, for novel body plan features and organs, such as the wing or lungs of a bird, or the sonar system of the bat or whale, or the human ability to use language, there are additional jumps of millions of bits of such coded, digital information that has to be written into the DNA in the cell and executed in a controlled fashion, starting from the fertilised ovum. 

Careful and sophisticated design is an obvious candidate explanation for these sorts of things.

But, that is exactly the sort of responsible, informed thinking that attracts the stereotyping, scape-goating and dismissive caricaturing we just saw.

Ironically, such smug prejudice and thinly veiled, ill-founded hostility towards those who object to evolutionary materialist atheism dressed up in the holy lab coat  is usually not recognised for what it is. 

Namely: setting up and smearing convenient strawmen and scape-goats with demeaning or even demonising, dehumanising, polarising caricatures

For, in the minds of the "brights" just described -- and as they have been led to think by the ideological champions who endlessly drum out their talking points in the media and education systems -- those who object to such talking points hate science and would turn back the clock on progress; showing themselves to be ignorant, stupid, insane or even outright wicked. 

Before any reasonable discussion can be had, this sort of illegitimate polarisation and atmosphere poisoning (and, equally, the reverse stereotyping of those who have genuine issues with typical views and values of Evangelicals and other conservative Christians) will have to be put to one side.


Major and controversial issues cannot be soundly addressed in a poisonously polarised, angry atmosphere.


But, having noted that, we must now move on to the actual pivotal issue. For, plainly, the central citadel of the evolutionary materialist ideology is what is seen as its firm scientific foundation.

So, we must answer this issue first of all, if we are to be even listened to. 

For that, as we just saw in outline, the place to begin is with something Darwin did not know 130 - 150 years ago.

Namely, that the workhorse protein molecules in the living cell are carefully assembled step by step in the ribosome based on a 4-state (G/C/A/T or U) digitally coded message .  This message is found in the messenger RNA molecule [mRNA], which serves as a control tape. The process also uses sets of transfer RNA [tRNA] molecules, which are key-lock fitted implementing-arm machines with "tool tips" loaded with the successive amino acids to be added to the emerging protein chain. So, we may illustrate


 


Thus, in a living cell, protein bio-synthesis is a step by step, code-controlled procedure, as Vuk Nikolic’s astonishing video animation of the process shows:


 


Moreover, we may see that John Von Neumann's logical-mathematical requisites for a self-replicating automaton (as is illustrated below) are fulfilled in the living, self-reproducing cell: 


As a self-replicating entity that takes in energy and resources from its surroundings to grow, maintain and replicate itself, using metabolic processes, the living cell requires:

(i) a code to record the required information to create not only (a) the primary functional machine  but also (b) the self-replicating facility; and, that (c) can express step by step finite procedures  ("algorithms") to replicate itself; 
  
(ii) a coded tape record of the required instructions (here, the 4-state DNA code), together with
 
(iii) a tape reader  that reads and interprets the coded specifications and associated instructions (e.g. as the Ribosome acts during protein assembly); thus controlling:  
 
(iv) position-arm implementing machines with “tool tips”  used to carry out the action-steps for the specified replication (including replication of the constructor itself); backed up by 
   
(v) either:
   
(1) a pre-existing reservoir of required parts and energy sources, or    
(2) associated “metabolic” machines carrying out activities that as a part of their function, can provide required specific parts and forms of energy for the replication facility, from generic resources in the surrounding environment.

That such a complex, information system based entity could originate by molecules blindly coming together in Darwin's warm little electrified pond or (a modern equivalent like a deep sea volcanic vent etc.) is utterly implausible.
 

Instead, on our universal experience and observation, procedural and data storing languages, digitally coded text, complex stored programs simply do not originate by chance or blind mechanical necessity; but, by the action of purposeful and deeply knowledgeable intelligence.  For, whenever we directly observe how they are made, functionally specific, complex information[FSCI]  -- and the similarly complex and specific organisation that makes the information do something -- are invariably the products of intelligence.

We are not just pleading that we have not seen it happen by chance and necessity and so are skeptical, but we are also pointing to a positive, universal observation. Namely, complex software (or more broadly, functionally specific, complex information) is always an intelligent artifact, whenever we see it actually being made.  

So, by the logic of induction, design theorists plausibly argue that we are reasonably entitled to take such FSCI as a reliable sign -- a signature -- of intelligently directed configuration. That is, of design.

What of the origin of the dozens of major body plans involved in complex life forms from trees to bees to worms, to turtles and men? For these, the further increments in functionally specific biological information are so large -- moving from several hundred thousand bits for simple unicellular life forms to tens to thousands of millions of bits for multicellular organisms -- that the problem is enormously compounded. The conclusion is the same.

On the actual scientific evidence, it is seriously arguable that the best explanation of self-replicating cell based life and its vast diversity -- precisely contrary to Darwin -- is design.  Design is back on the table as a serious candidate explanation for the functionally organised complexity of life. Once this is understood, many people will then be willing to consider the cumulative evidence from other domains of thought that points to God as Creator and Lord with a far more open mind. 

As an introductory survey, we may wish to view Strobel's The Case for a Creator (and perhaps read the book of the same title, and/or look at an introductory course here on):


The Case For A Creator from JD Pilgrim on Vimeo.

But, before looking at the case for theism (not merely design), we must first ask a prior question: in a world with many competing and conflicting worldviews, is there a reasonable basis -- foundation -- on which we can make a credible choice?

 
Building a theistic Worldview: first principles and first truths

First, we must accept that all worldviews have foundational or core "first plausible" basic -- foundational -- beliefs that are not subject to further proof: they are where our proofs must start from.  For, to warrant a claim, A, as worthy of trust and acceptance -- i.e. as credible, or even as knowledge -- we need B, and B would need C, and so on.  It would help us to see this, by briefly defining the key term, worldview:
world·view  (wûrldvy)
n. In both senses also called Weltanschauung.
1. The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.
2. A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.

[Translation of German Weltanschauung.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
The terms "perspective" and "beliefs" point to the implications of the chain of warrant challenge just outlined.  For, in the end we face the proverbial "turtles all the way down" forever; or else circularity; or else, if we are to be logically coherent and rational, we must stop at "first plausibles" that are reasonable:


Now, a vicious infinite regress is absurdly impossible for finite, fallible thinkers such as we are: we would never get far back enough to get started with proving, nor could we trust ourselves to be right all along the chain.  

Looping back through "turtles in a circle" is little better: it ends up assuming what should be shown. 

That is, the last turtle has to stand somewhere


We are thus forced to stop at some set of first plausibles or other -- that is, a "faith-point" (yes, we ALL must live by some faith or another, given our finitude and fallibility) --  and then we need to compare alternatives and see which "somewhere" -- which worldview foundation -- is least difficult. Illustrating:




(NB: At this level, all sets of alternative first plausibles bristle with difficulties. Indeed, the fundamental, generic method of philosophy is therefore that of comparative difficulties.)

John Locke aptly summed up our resulting humbling dilemma in section 5 of his introduction to his famous essay on human understanding:

Men have reason to be well satisfied with what God hath thought fit for them, since he hath given them (as St. Peter says [NB: i.e. 2 Pet 1:2 - 4]) pana pros zoen kaieusebeian, whatsoever is necessary for the conveniences of life and information of virtue; and has put within the reach of their discovery, the comfortable provision for this life, and the way that leads to a better. How short soever their knowledge may come of an universal or perfect comprehension of whatsoever is, it yet secures their great concernments [Prov 1: 1 - 7], that they have light enough to lead them to the knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own duties [cf Rom 1 - 2 & 13, Ac 17, Jn 3:19 - 21, Eph 4:17 - 24, Isaiah 5:18 & 20 - 21, Jer. 2:13Titus 2:11 - 14 etc, etc]. Men may find matter sufficient to busy their heads, and employ their hands with variety, delight, and satisfaction, if they will not boldly quarrel with their own constitution, and throw away the blessings their hands are filled with, because they are not big enough to grasp everything . . . It will be no excuse to an idle and untoward servant [Matt 24:42 - 51], who would not attend his business by candle light, to plead that he had not broad sunshine. The Candle that is set up in us [Prov 20:27] shines bright enough for all our purposes . . . If we will disbelieve everything, because we cannot certainly know all things, we shall do muchwhat as wisely as he who would not use his legs, but sit still and perish, because he had no wings to fly. [Emphases added. Text references also added, to document the sources of Locke's biblical allusions and citations. Yes, they are indeed patently there.]
So, we must make the best of the candle-light we have. At worldview choice foundational level, a good way to do that is to look at three major comparative difficulties tests:
(1) factual adequacy relative to what we credibly know about the world and ourselves, 
(2) coherence, by which the pieces of our worldview must fit together logically and work together harmoniously, 
(3) explanatory relevance and simplicity: our view needs to explain reality (including our experience of ourselves in our common world) elegantly, simply and powerfully, being neither simplistic nor a patchwork where we are forever adding after-the-fact patches to fix  leak after leak.
 Now, let us not lose sight of what we are doing: something truly radical, that cuts across what the avant garde and their wanna-be hangers on really want: to discuss the newest ideas and issues within their comfortable world- system. As a rule, they are NOT really interested in an upending foundational critique that is going to start from exposing the rottenness of roots or the fatal cracks in foundations, or worse, looming icebergs in the path of the Titanic. 

However, when a system (even one that imagines itself to be the radical, progressive replacement of old fashioned outdated "religious" thought -- notice how "God," "religion," "Christianity,"  "The Scriptures" and "faith" are practically dirty words in many quarters today . . . ) is fatally flawed, that is necessary. And in this case, we are going after an assessment of foundations of worldviews from the roots up. 

Just as Jesus did and just as Paul did. 

The aim being, to create a sounder -- saner -- system to build thought, hopes and lives on.

Let us adapt a remark by W J Murray, of the blog Uncommon Descent, to highlight the significance of what we are about to tackle:
If you do not [acknowledge] the law of non-contradiction, you have nothing to argue about. If you do not [admit] the principles of sound reason, you have nothing to argue with. If you do not [recognise] libertarian free will, you have no one to argue against. If you do not [accept] morality to be an objective commodity, you have no reason to argue in the first place.

Two key components of this process of foundation level comparative difficulties in pursuit of a worldview that is a reasonable faith, are: (i) first principles of right reason, and (ii) warranted, credible (self-evident) truths.

For instance, consider Josiah Royce's subtle but simple claim: error exists.

To try to deny it only ends up giving an instance of its truth; it is undeniably true.  


Let's zoom in a bit (using mostly glorified common sense "deduction" and a light dusting of symbols), as this will help us understand the roots of reasoning and reasonableness. As we have stressed, this is back to roots, back to sources, back to foundations. So, in steps of thought:
1: Let us take up, Royce’s Error exists, and symbolise it: E. (Where the denial would be NOT-E, ~E. Error does not exist, in plain English. Don't overlook what, equivalently, ~ E tries to say: "it is an ERROR to hold that error exists." Oops, it seems we can already see why the claim error exists is undeniably true! [And if you are inclined to dispute the use of a singular term "Error," simply kindly consider it to refer to the set E that collects errors, and the like.])
2: Attempt a conjunction, to draw this out more formally: { E AND ~E }
3: We have here mutually exclusive, opposed and exhaustive claims that address the real world joined together in a way that tries to say both are so.
4: Common sense, based on wide experience and our sense of how things are and can or cannot be -- to be further analysed below, yielding three key first principles of right reason --  tells us that, instead:
(a) this conjunction { E AND ~E } must be false (so that the CONJUNCTION is a definite case of an error . . . i.e. the set that collects errors is necessarily non-empty), and that
(b) its falsity being relevant to one of the claims,
(c) we may readily identify that the false one is ~E. Which means:
______________________________________
(d) E is true and is undeniably true. (On pain of a breach of common sense.)
5: So, E is true, is known to be true once we understand it and is undeniably true on pain of patent -- obvious, hard to deny -- self contradiction.
6: It is therefore self evident.
7: It is warranted as reliably true, indeed to demonstrative certainty.
8: Where, E refers to the real world of things as such.
9: It is a case of absolute, objective, certainly known truth; a case of certain knowledge. "Justified, true belief," nothing less.
10: It is also a matter of widely observed fact -- starting with our first school exercises with sums and visions of red X's -- confirming the accuracy of a particular consensus of experience.
11: So, here we have a certainly known case of truth existing as that which accurately refers to reality.
12: Also, a case of knowledge existing as warranted, credibly true beliefs, in this case to certainty.
13: Our ability to access truth and knowledge about the real, extra-mental world by experience, reasoning and observation is confirmed in at least one pivotal case.
14: Contemporary worldviews — their name is Legion — that would deny, deride or dismiss such [including the point that there are such things as self evident truths that relate to the real world], are thence shown to be factually inadequate and incoherent. They are unable to explain reality.
15: Such worldviews are, as a bloc, falsified by this one key point. They are unreasonable. (And yes, I know this may be hard to accept, but if your favoured system contradicts soundly established facts and/or truths, it is seriously defective.)
16: Of course the truth in question is particularly humbling and a warning on the limits of our knowledge and the gap between belief and truth or even ability to formulate a logical assertion and truth.
17: So, we need to be humble, and — contrary to assertions about how insisting on such objectivity manifests "arrogance" and potentially oppressive "intolerance" – the first principles of right reason (implicit in the above, to be drawn out below) allow us to humbly, honestly test our views so that we can identify when we have gone off the rails and to in at least some cases confirm when our confidence is well grounded.
 So -- while we can be mistaken about it -- truth exists and we can in some cases confidently know it on pain of absurdity if we try to deny it.  In particular, it is well warranted and credibly true beyond reasonable doubt or dispute that error exists. Truth therefore exists, and knowledge -- i.e. the set of warranted, credibly true [and reliable] claims -- also exists. (As noted already, but it bears repeating as it is hard for some to accept: this cuts a wide swath across many commonly encountered worldview ideas of our time; such as, the idea that there is no truth beyond what seems true to you or me, or that we cannot know the truth on important matters beyond conflicting opinions.) 

Secondly, though we may be in eror about just what we are (e.g. suppose we are proverbial brains in vats . . .), we cannot be mistaken that we are conscious, self-aware beings. This can perhaps be most easily seen by comparing our experience of ourselves as being aware -- i.e. conscious selves -- to the obvious point that a rock has no dreams or beliefs:





 That observation has a vital corollary, in a day and age where it is popular to imagine that consciousness can somehow emerge from sufficiently complex parallel and/or looping software riding on complex hardware -- whether in silicon or in a network of nerve cells.  Leibnitz, in his Monadology, 17, put it pretty directly by his analogy of the mill:

[P]erception, and that which depends upon it, are inexplicable by mechanical causes, that is to say, by figures and motions. Supposing that there were a machine whose structure produced thought, sensation, and perception, we could conceive of it as increased in size with the same proportions until one was able to enter into its interior, as he would into a mill. Now, on going into it he would find only pieces working upon one another, but never would he find anything to explain perception.
In short, consciousness cannot be simply reduced to blind mechanical interactions and ordered sequences of such actions. 

Cogs move upon one another with so many Newton-metres of torque and turn through so many degrees as a result, which turning which being a matter of how they are somehow arranged and which was turned first. (Where, complex functionally specific arrangements themselves have but one observed source, design. The notion that such could plausibly arise step by step through chance variations and selection of the incrementally successful needs to be demonstrated empirically rather than be implied or assumed as a consequence of taking up an evolutionary materialist view as a controlling idea.)

Likewise in a computer, so many volts at a certain point in a specially designed rock -- made of doped Silicon -- mechanically trips gates in a sequence determined by the organisation of solid state electronic components. As "a rock has no dreams," it is not surprising that at no point is the resulting process of mechanical computation credibly equal to conscious, self-aware perception, intent, the quality of being appeared to redly, truth, falsity, insight-driven inference from if P is so then Q must follow logically in light of meanings, warrant, knowledge, understanding, wisdom or right or wrong. Such are simply categorically distinct from blind mechanical necessity and chance circumstances or disturbances.

Which is why John Searle's Chinese Room thought exercise is so telling:
Imagine that a person—me, for example—knows no Chinese and is locked in a room with boxes full of Chinese symbols and an instruction book written in English for manipulating the symbols. Unknown to me, the boxes are called “the database” and the instruction book is called “the program.” I am called “the computer.”
People outside the room pass in bunches of Chinese symbols that, unknown to me, are questions. I look up in the instruction book what I am supposed to do and I give back answers in Chinese symbols.
Suppose I get so good at shuffling the symbols and passing out the answers that my answers are indistinguishable from a native Chinese speaker’s. I give every indication of understanding the language despite the fact that I actually don’t understand a word of Chinese.
And if I do not, neither does any digital computer, because no computer, qua computer, has anything I do not have. It has stocks of symbols, rules for manipulating symbols, a system that allows it to rapidly transition from zeros to ones, and the ability to process inputs and outputs. That is it. There is nothing else. [Cf. Jay Richards here.]
Indeed, the well known genetics pioneer and Evolutionist, J B S Haldane, at the turn of the 1930's, astutely observed:
"It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.” ["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. (Highlight and emphases added.)]

In short, we are undeniably conscious, and are also evidently self-moved, embodied beings. Where, the mechanics of embodiment or mechanical processing or computation simply do not suffice to explain that first fact of our existence; conscious self-awareness. 

Yes, we have brains, but that does not suffice to explain the characteristic capacities we sometimes speak of in terms of the mind. Or even . . . the soul. Though, many are prone to imagine or assert that it does. (If someone does such to you, ask him or her to explain just how it was shown, by whom, when -- and with what prize awarded -- that conscious, self aware self-reflective mindedness "emerges from" or "reduces to" complex software and hardware. Predictably, such claims and views will trace to the question-begging influence of controlling evolutionary materialist ideas.)

It is probably worth a pause to cite Engineer Derek Smith's two-tier controller cybernetic model for a brain-body system, in which the higher order supervisory controller directs and influences and interacts with the lower one, used as an input-output controller:



 (There is plenty of room in such a model to think about how a mind-brain interface -- if that is the right word -- can happen; perhaps, using quantum influences on the action of selected neurons and networks. Where, what is really needed here is to re-open minds to worldview level live option possibilities that too often tend to be suppressed or dismissed out of hand because of the overbearing influence of materialist philosophies dressed up in lab coats. If someone under that influence tries to dismiss the possibility of realities beyond observable matter, energy, space and time observed through scientific techniques, it may be helpful to ask: and who will be observing, measuring, analysing, hypothesising and testing then concluding, other than: a conscious, self-aware, knowledgeable, purposeful, active investigator subject to ethical obligations?)


Similarly, though it is quite unfashionable to seriously say such nowadays (an indictment of our times . . .), to try to deny the classic three basic principles of right reason -- the law of identity, that of non-contradiction, and that of the excluded middle -- inevitably ends up in absurdity  

Why is that? 

Simple: to think at all, we must be able to distinguish things (or else all would be confusion and chaos), and these laws immediately follow from that first act of thought.  


A builder's plumb-line allows him to test whether a wall
is true (straight) and plumb (accurately vertical).
Cf. Amos 7:7 - 9 for a prophetic rebuke and warning.
The apostle Paul, in dealing with a church discipline problem in Corinth, by way of illustration, gives some profound insights on just how important distinction and clear identity in the midst of diversity are for understanding, reflecting on and communicationg about our common world.  

We can term this the plumb-line principle, the one we use to test the quality of our work, even as a plumb-line tests the quality of a wall.

It will help us to bear Paul's thoughts in mind as we proceed:
1 Cor 14:If even inanimate musical instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone [listening] know or understand what is played? And if the war bugle gives an uncertain (indistinct) call, who will prepare for battle?
Just so it is with you; if you in the [unknown] tongue speak words that are not intelligible, how will anyone understand what you are saying? For you will be talking into empty space!
10 There are, I suppose, all these many [to us unknown] tongues in the world [somewhere], and none is destitute of [its own power of] expression and meaning. 11 But if I do not know the force and significance of the speech (language), I shall seem to be a foreigner to the one who speaks [to me], and the speaker who addresses [me] will seem a foreigner to me. [AMP]

Here, we are very close to seeing how the power of mind, language and distinct related symbols and signals that can be communicated from one party to another, to enable rational thought and intelligible communication  and mutual understanding. 

All of which crucially rests on the concept of distinct things with particular, distinct identities.

So, now, a diagram showing the world split into two distinct labelled parts, A and NOT-A . . . or we could symbolise { A | NOT-A } . . . will help us see how naturally this happens once we can recognise some distinct entity A:


A bright red ball [A] on a table in a
wider context [NOT-A] in a world, W:
W = { A | NOT-A }  where we can
see that the ball is: { A | NOT-A} (Source)
If at a given moment we distinctly recognise,  identify and label some thing, A -- say, a bright red ball on a table -- we mark a mental border-line and also necessarily identify NOT-A as "the rest of the World." We thus have a definite separation of the World into two parts, and it immediately and undeniably holds from such a world partition that:
(a) the part labelled A will be A (symbolically, [A => A] = 1), 
(b) A will not be the same as NOT-A ( [A AND NOT-A] = 0); and
(c) there is no third option to being A or NOT-A ( [A OR NOT-A] = 1).  Or, to be clearer about the significance of the dichotomy in World, W = { A | NOT-A }, let's instead explicitly use the Exclusive OR, AUT not VEL [A Ex-OR NOT-A] = 1. That is A, or not A but not a third option such as A AND NOT-A, and no fourth such as neither A nor NOT-A.
So, we see how naturally the laws of (a) identity, (b) non-contradiction (or, non-confusion!), and (c) the excluded middle swing into action. 

This naturalness also extends to the world of statements that assert that something is true or false, as we may see from Aristotle's classic remark in his Metaphysics 1011b (loading the 1933 English translation):
. . .   if it is impossible at the same time to affirm and deny a thing truly, it is also impossible for contraries to apply to a thing at the same time; either both must apply in a modified sense, or one in a modified sense and the other absolutely.
Nor indeed can there be any intermediate between contrary statements, but of one thing we must either assert or deny one thing, whatever it may be. This will be plain if we first define truth and falsehood. To say that what is is not, or that what is not is, is false; but to say that what is is, and what is not is not, is true; and therefore also he who says that a thing is or is not will say either what is true or what is false. [Emphases added]
 So, we can state the laws in more or less traditional terms, regarding distinct things -- objects, phenomena, states of affairs and the like:
[a'] A distinct thing, A, is what it is (the law of identity); 
[b'] A distinct thing, A, cannot at once be and not-be (the law of non-contradiction);
[c'] A distinct thing, A, is or it is not, but not both or neither (the law of the excluded middle).
In short, the diagram helps take the "mystery" out of the laws, showing us why they make sense once we can identify some distinct thing A and mentally mark it off from its context, NOT-A. [Cf. responses to objections  here.]  

In 1011b, too, Ari gives us a bonus, by aptly defining truth: 
[def'n. 1, of truth:]  to say that what is is, and what is not is not, is true.
____________
(F/N: As a note for logicians who may pass by: we are here specifically speaking with reference to the experienced world of credibly real things, so extensions to empty-set contexts in which questions over contrasted empty sets -- that is, quite literally: no-thing --  arise, are irrelevant for the moment. That is, we deal here with the classic square of opposition. Courtesy Wikipedia, which very helpfully renders in terms of Venn diagrams illuminating that classic syllogisms are about assertions regarding set membership:
Then, once we see what follows from dealing with a world of real categories with at least one member each (or at least where affirmative assertions are taken to have existential import), we may then extend to the case of empty sets and see how much of a difference this possibility makes. Thence the issue that a universal quantification All A is B or No A is B does not have existential import, and the subtlety that an existential quantification, e.g. some x is A, does have existential import. [Logicians should also note Terence Parsons' rehabilitative argument here at SEP. It turns out that if we accept the natural language force of the A form [top left], All S is P -- that S is non-empty, and render the O form [bottom right], as not every S is P (following Ackrill's rendering of Aristotle in De Interpretatione 6–7 and with reference to Prior Analytics I.2, 25a.1–25 also) then the classical square of opposition is fully valid. As he goes on to observe: "On this view affirmatives have existential import, and negatives do not—a point that became elevated to a general principle in late medieval times.[6] The ancients thus did not see the incoherence of the square as formulated by Aristotle because there was no incoherence to see."])
It is worth noting how Wikipedia -- speaking against the known general ideological trend of that well known reference site -- remarks on these laws, c. Feb 2012, in an article on the laws of thought tracing to Dec 2004:
 The law of non-contradiction and the law of excluded middle are not separate laws per se, but correlates of the law of identity. That is to say, they are two interdependent and complementary principles that inhere naturally (implicitly) within the law of identity, as its essential nature . . .   whenever we ‘identify’ a thing as belonging to a certain class or instance of a class, we intellectually set that thing apart from all the other things in existence which are ‘not’ of that same class or instance of a class. In other words, the proposition, “A is A and A is not ~A” (law of identity) intellectually partitions a universe of discourse (the domain of all things) into exactly two subsets, A and ~A, and thus gives rise to a dichotomy. As with all dichotomies, A and ~A must then be ‘mutually exclusive’ and ‘jointly exhaustive’ with respect to that universe of discourse. In other words, ‘no one thing can simultaneously be a member of both A and ~A’ (law of non-contradiction), whilst ‘every single thing must be a member of either A or ~A’ (law of excluded middle).
What’s more . . .  thinking entails the manipulation and amalgamation of simpler concepts in order to form more complex ones, and therefore, we must have a means of distinguishing these different concepts. It follows then that the first principle of language (law of identity) is also rightfully called the first principle of thought, and by extension, the first principle reason (rational thought) . . . 
 That is, once we identify something, A, as there or potentially there, we have reason to see that it has an identity, that it is distinct from other things and if it exists it cannot at the same time and sense not exist


A unicorn- a possible being
If A is a unicorn -- which does not presently exist in our world [but which, thanks to genetic manipulation probably will within 100 years, at least as a novelty people will be willing to pay good money to see or to own . . . ] then A cannot simultaneously in the same sense not be a unicorn. And that we can recognise that something is NOT a unicorn, does imply that a "unicorn" is a potential thing with distinct identity. That is, it is a possible being with a coherent set of defining attributes, and could be actual. Though presently, it is not.


We should also note that a fourth key law of sound thought linked quite directly to the above is the principle of sufficient reason , which enfolds  the principle of cause and effect

Schopenhauer in his Manuscript Remains, Vol. 4, notes that:  
[PSR, strong form:] "Of everything that is, it can be found why it is."
This, we may soften slightly into a weak form version that should be unobjectionable to reasonable thinkers, and will prove adequate for our purposes :
 [PSR, weak form:] Of any thing A that is
[. . . or (ii) is possible, or even (iii) is impossible],
we may ask, why it is
[. . . or (ii') why it is possible, or (iii') why it is impossible],
and expect -- or at least hope -- to find a reasonable answer.
 Of course, for any given case, X, we may simply proceed to ask why is X so, or why is X possible or why is X impossible, and seek a reasonable answer. So, the weak form as it stands is unobjectionable. And if one imagines there may be an infinite regress, the answer is that we must consider the case of a candidate necessary being, say N, as will now follow.   

The fire tetrahedron (an extension of the classic fire triangle you may have learned about in Boy Scouts or the like . . . ) is a helpful case to study briefly in order to amplify and draw out the surprising force of the sphinx-like riddle posed by the weak-form PSR: 
 

For a fire to begin or to continue, we need (1) fuel, (2) heat, (3) an oxidiser [usually oxygen] and (4) an un- interfered- with heat-generating chain reaction mechanism. (For, Halon fire extinguishers work by breaking up the chain reaction.) 

Each of the four factors is necessary for, and the set of four are jointly sufficient to begin and sustain a fire. We thus see four contributory factors, each of which is necessary [knock it out and you block or kill the fire], and together they are sufficient for the fire. 


A lighted match (HT:
Gateway Care Training, UK)
This may be studied by lighting a match. For instance, strike one, and let it half burn. Then, tilt the head up. Watch the flame fade out for want of an ON/OFF enabling factor, fuel. 

Similarly, if one pulls a second match and instead of wiping on the friction-strike strip, moves it rapidly through the air -- much lower friction -- it will not light for want of heat. If we were to try to strike a match in pure Nitrogen instead of air, it might flare at first (depending on what is in the head) but the main fuel, wood will not burn for want of a good oxidiser. And so forth. 

As a similar exercise, one may set a candle stub in a tray of water and light it. Then, put a jar over the candle, such that water can be drawn up into it. After a little while, the candle will go out for want of the oxidiser in air, Oxygen.

(One should do the actual experiment, at least to the stage of making a match fade out. Many of us will have done this or the like in school.)

We thus see by definite and instructive example, the principle of cause and effect. That is, 

[d'] if something has a beginning or may cease from being -- or, generally it is contingent -- it has a cause.
 Common-sense rationality, decision-making and science alike are founded on this principle of right reason: if an event happens, why -- and, how? If something begins or ceases to exist, why and how? If something is sustained in existence, what factors contribute to, promote or constrain that effect or process, how? 

The answers to these questions are causes.

Without the reality behind the concept of cause the very idea of laws of nature would make no sense: events would happen anywhere, anytime, with no intelligible reason or constraint.  


As a direct result, neither rationality nor responsibility would be possible; all would be a confused, unintelligible, unpredictable, uncontrollable chaos with nothing having a stable existence or identity.  That is, this principle is directly linked to the identity cluster already outlined. Indeed, it can be noted that if something A is possible, its defining attributes must be coherent, unlike the contradictions between requisites of squarishness and circularity that render a square circle impossible:



One and the same object cannot be circular and squarish in the same
sense and place at the same time



Also, since it often comes up, yes: a necessary, ON/OFF enabling causal factor is a causal factor -- if there is no fuel, the car cannot go because there is no energy source for the engine. Similarly, without an unstable nucleus or particle, there can be no radioactive decay and without a photon of sufficient energy, there can be no photo-electric emission of electrons: that is, contrary to a common error, quantum mechanical events or effects, strictly speaking, are not cause-less.

(By the way, the concept of a miracle -- something out of the ordinary that is a sign that points to a cause beyond the natural order -- in fact depends on there being such a general order in the world. In an unintelligible chaos, there can be no extra-ordinary signposts, as nothing will be ordinary or regular!)


However, there is a subtle facet to this, one that brings out the other side of  the principle of sufficient reason. 


Namely, that there is a possible class of being that does not have a beginning, and cannot go out of existence; such necessary beings are self-sufficient, have no enabling, ON/OFF external necessary causal factors, and as such cannot be blocked from existing. And it is held that once there is a serious candidate to be such a necessary being, if the candidate is not contradictory in itself, it will be actual.  [Such a thing is possible if it is not impossible . . . as a square circle is impossibly self contradictory as the necessary attributes for something to be squarish and those required for it to be circular stand in mutual contradiction.]

Or, we could arrive at effectively the same point another way, one which brings out what it means to be a serious candidate to be a necessary being:

If a thing does not exist it is either that it could, but just doesn't happen to exist, or that it cannot exist because it is a conceptual contradiction, such as square circles, or round triangles and so on. Therefore, if it does exist, it is either that it exists contingently or that it is not contingent but exists necessarily (that is it could not fail to exist without contradiction). [--> The truth reported in "2 + 3 = 5" is a simple case in point; it could not fail without self-contradiction.] These are the four most basic modes of being [--> possible vs impossible and contingent vs non-contingent] and cannot be denied . . . the four modes are the basic logical deductions about the nature of existence.
That is, for a successful candidate necessary being:
 since there is no external ON/OFF enabling causal factor, a successful candidate necessary being will exist without a beginning, and cannot cease from existing as one cannot "switch off" a sustaining external factor. 
As a simple example the true proposition 2 + 3 = 5 and its constituent numbers are such necessary beings. To see that, try to imagine a world where, 2, 3, 5 and the operation of abstractly joining 2 and 3 to form 5 did not exist or can cease from existing, or where it is false that || + ||| --> |||||.

Another possibility of course is that such a candidate being is impossible: it cannot be so as there is the sort of inescapable contradiction  of defining attributes as is involved in being a proposed square circle. 

So, we have candidates to be necessary beings that may not be possible on pain of contradiction, or else that may not be impossible, equally on pain of contradiction. (Thus, the law of non-contradiction is inextricably entangled into possibility of being, and thence into cause and effect. Attempts to sever the two are wrong-headed and inevitably fail.)


A flying spaghetti monster
knitted doll, showing how
this is used to mock
the idea of God as
necessary being (note
the words on the chalk board)
Of course, something like "a flying spaghetti monster" -- which would be built of components and depends on their particular arrangement to be what it would be, is not a serious candidate to be a necessary being. (NB: Such has been suggested in dismissive parody of the iconic creation of Adam that appears in Michelangelo's famous Sistine Chapel painting. God, of course is symbolised in that painting as an Old Man, the Ancient of Days, but that is just a representation. God is a serious  -- nay, the most serious -- candidate to be a necessary being.)

In addition, since matter as we know it (such as what goes into spaghetti and noodles as well as eye-stalks and eyes) is contingent, a necessary being will not be material. The likely candidates are: (a) numbers such as 2, (b)  abstract, necessarily true propositions and (c) an eternal mind . . .  often brought together by suggesting that (d) such abstract truths or entities are held in and eternally contemplated by such a mind


It is worth amplifying the case of 2 and related concepts. Now, for argument consider an empty world with no physical/spatial extension. To see how numbers are real in such, consider the well-known empty set, which collects nothing: { }.  Then, secondly consider -- all of this is a mental, abstract exercise -- the following steps:
i: Assign { } the symbol, 0:  { } --> 0

ii: collect 0 as the sole member of the set 1: { 0 } --> 1

iii: Similarly, collect these to get 2: { 0, 1 } --> 2.
The number 2 thus exists without a beginning or cause,  nor can it cease from being -- it is a necessary being. We cannot create a possible world in which 2 would not exist, given the abstract steps so far!

iv: This recognition of the reality of numbers can continue indefinitely to yield the Natural Numbers, N.

*************
v: For the more mathematically inclined (fair warning . . . !), this can be extended by defining fractions and decimals to express Real and Complex numbers, by setting any real number as being a composite, WHOLE + FRACTION, where:
Fraction = 0 + b1/10 + b2/100 + b3/1,000 + . . .
. . . so that we get say 19.79 etc with the usual meanings, and where also we define a complex number c = p + i*q, i being the square root of minus 1 (very useful in Math) and p and q are real numbers. So we can have the complex number 1.978 + i*19.79. And, as we can see that for any two "neighbouring" points u and v defined on such whole + fraction terms (which differ by some tiny amount, e), we can always extend to a number between them, by adding in more terms -- or, simply, by taking the average (u + v)/2, i.e. we have here defined a continuum, the Real Numbers, where we are taking in the negatives as simply the reversal of the positives such that w + [-w] = 0.

vi: Now  i*q is often assigned to a Y-axis and p the X-axis, so that p and i*q can be plotted on the Argand plane, aka Complex plane:


The abstract Argand plane with real and imaginary axes, and a complex number Z
with its complement. Notice, how we now have an abstract space, C, with the angle
to the real axis definable on the trigonometry of r, x and y, via sin, cos and tan
 We can then draw a vector r from the origin, to the point defined by the co-ordinates. Then, angles made by such a vector can then be defined relative to the X-axis from the usual trig ratios, and rotations can be defined, introducing time, t. By Pythagoras' theorem, of course r^2 = p^2 + q^2, defining the magnitude (length) of r. BTW, a rotating vector is called a phasor.

vii: Similarly, we can extend to three dimensions [using the i, j, k unit vectors along x, y and z axes], and allow a virtual particle p -- notice, we are now in the world of contingent possibilities -- to traverse on set coherent laws of motion, including introducing mass, force, momentum, energy etc.  in what is now a virtual model world.

viii: Bodies in such a world would be collections of linked particles, even as geometrical figures are clusters of linked points.

ix: We now have a three dimensional virtual reality with a physics! (Computer graphics uses techniques related to this outline sketch.)
x: This can then move to the or a real world by instantiation. This would of course require a creator with the skill, knowledge, intent and power to move from contemplated virtual worlds to instantiated actual ones.

xi: As a corollary, it is worth noting on the parallel lines postulate of Euclidean Geometry. It is often said that the fact of non-Euclidean Geometry renders moot the idea that parallel lines never meet, which is equivalent to the angle sun triangle assertion that the sum of the three angles is 180 degrees of arc. Just look on how triangles on Earth's surface can sum to a different value, and how parallels of longitude converge at the poles:
 


xii: But, a subtlety lurks. Parallel lines lie in a flat plane, as is specified by the vertices of a triangle, say ABC. (Such a plane can be set up algebraically using the Argand plane, with origin at say vertex A and 0X axis along the line  AB, so we can define a vector of arbitrary length r pivoting from A within the plane and rotate it to sweep the plane, guaranteed to be flat by the mathematics involved. And with a spot of thought, this can be extended to the three-dimensional case.)

xiii: Within the plane, straight lines can be specified by the usual expression y = m*x + c, and for a given m, the slopes will be the same for a family of lines with a range of values of c, say c0, c1, c2, . . . cn. These lines will therefore be parallel, separated by the fact that 0Y-intercept is c and oX-intercept will be -c/m. The triangle between the origin, the 0Y and 0X intercepts will specify that the triangles for c0, c1 etc are similar, and the lines for two different values ci and cj will have a guaranteed separation linked to the value of cj - ci at any given point along the lines.

xiv: That is, within a Euclidean, planar space, parallel lines indeed will never meet. Spaces where this fails are not planar. Hence the following from Wolfram Math World:

In three dimensions, there are three classes of constant curvature geometries. All are based on the first four of Euclid’s postulates, but each uses its own version of the parallel postulate. The “flat” geometry of everyday intuition is called Euclidean geometry (or parabolic geometry), and the non-Euclidean geometries are called hyperbolic geometry (or Lobachevsky-Bolyai-Gauss geometry) and elliptic geometry (or Riemannian geometry). Spherical geometry is a non-Euclidean two-dimensional geometry. It was not until 1868 that Beltrami proved that non-Euclidean geometries were as logically consistent as Euclidean geometry.
xv: So, equidistant straight lines in the same flat plane will be at the same separation anywhere. That is locked into what parallel means in this context -- and to shift from such a world without notice is a case of equivocation, i.e. there has been a subtle shift in the meaning of triangle and parallel.

xvi: In other words, the dismissive assertion that this fifth Euclidean postulate does not hold (as was used to create non-Euclidean Geometries) is equivalent to leaving such a space, e.g. cf. a “triangle” on the curved surface of the earth. The problem was that evidently such spaces had not been thought through as possible. Where also of course, post Relativity, whether the world we live in in the large scale is Euclidean is doubtful, but in the small scale it is sufficiently close that it suggested the idea of such a space.

xvii: This little excursus shows us how the astonishing relevance and power of Mathematics in analysing the physical world can be easily explained on the use of such mathematics as the means of contemplating and creating the world, by God.  Again, God is the best candidate explanation of a world in which mathematics (necessarily including logic) shows such astonishing power.

An eternal mind that is all-knowing and capable of such contemplation, reasoning and creation etc, is of course one way of describing God.

This also brings up a perhaps surprising corollary: 
[Cor:] IF God is a serious candidate necessary being [which is generally granted] THEN, if God is possible, he is actual. That is, the denial of the existence of God [which can be by rhetorical dismissal] in fact implies that one effectively considers God an impossible being. Atheists should note that warranting such a stringent claim entails a pretty serious intellectual responsibility.
Strange thoughts, perhaps, but not absurd ones.

So also, if we live in a cosmos that (as the cosmologists tell us) seems -- on the cumulative balance of evidence -- to have had a beginning, then it too is credibly contingent, thus caused. 


The sheer undeniable actuality of our cosmos then points to the principle that nothingness has no causal powers
[e']: from a genuine nothing -- NO-Thing or non-being (As Aristotle put it: "what rocks dream of" . . . such have no dreams of course . . . ) -- not matter, not energy, not space, not time, not mind etc. -- nothing can or will come. 

So then, if we can see things that credibly have had a beginning or may come to an end; in a cosmos of like character, we reasonably and even confidently infer that a necessary being is the ultimate, root-cause of our world; even through suggestions such as a multiverse (which would simply multiply the contingent beings).   

Of course, God is the main candidate to be such a necessary being. (As we saw, truths that are eternal in scope, i.e. true propositions, are another class of candidates, and are classically thought of as being eternally resident in the mind of God.) 

On such first principles of right reason and warranted credible truths, one way to summarise the basic cumulative theistic case  -- the case for God as the key necessary being who is the ground of reality -- would therefore be:
a: Worldviews are not subject of deductive proof, as they address many matters of fact, so they can only be warranted on a cumulative case basis, in the context of key evidence, inference to best of competing live option explanations, and comparative difficulties.
b: Such an argument works analogously to a rope: thin, short individual fibres are twisted together to make a strand, and several strands are braided or counter-twisted together to form a much longer, stronger rope that depends on the mutual support of the components for its overall strength.
c: In short, it is a relevant instance of the fallacy of composition to assume or infer that by attacking one or a few individual components and/or highlighting its particular difficulties without considering the alternatives and their difficulties, one can dispose of and dismiss a worldview case.
(But of course, if one has indeed cut through at least one major strand of a worldview's case, then the system as a whole may be destabilised and decisively weakened. A fraying rope dangling by a single strand is proverbially unstable and unreliable. That is the reason why it was emphasised above that we do have self-evident, undeniable -- thus certainly knowable -- truths such as that error exists [or that 2 + 3 = 5 i.e. ||  + ||| --> |||||], and that the first principles of right reason connected to the identity and existence of things such as a bright red ball on a table, are also self-evident and undeniable on pain of reduction to absurdity. Systems of thought that cannot solidly address or answer to such truths or try to reject them, are decisively weakened. Unfortunately today, there  are many such systems.)


(Likewise, let me cite UD blog's resident Philosopher, Dr Vincent J Torley [VJT], on several types and/or degrees of certainty relevant to arguing that one may responsibly and rationally certain that one knows that God exists. These allow us to discuss how we may be certain or sufficiently confident in degree of warrant that we are reasonably, responsibly justified in confidently thinking, speaking, arguing and acting as though something is true:
 Many people think of certainty as an all-or-nothing affair: you’re either certain of a fact or you’re not. But certainty comes in degrees: for instance, the certainty I have of the propositions of arithmetic is quite different from a jury’s certainty beyond reasonable doubt [ --> i.e.  moral certainty in a context of anglophone, Common Law based criminal jurisprudence . . . ] that the defendant in a court trial has indeed committed a crime. We also need to distinguish between subjective and objective certainty: for example, a juror at a trial may be subjectively certain of the defendant’s guilt, while at the same time realizing that objectively speaking, the defendant’s guilt remains uncertain, as there are no objective grounds on which she can demonstrate his guilt to the other jurors, beyond reasonable doubt . . . .

The six levels of objective certainty I distinguish are: logical certainty (which applies to truths whose denial is a contradiction in terms), self-referential certainty (which relates to truths which cannot be consistently denied), empirical certainty (which holds for truths known from sensory experience [--> I am empirically certain that heavy objects near earth's surface, if dropped, will fall with initial acceleration 9.8 N/kg, and, bearing in mind memories of red X's for sums, that error exists . . . ]), transcendental certainty (which attaches to truths whose denial would entail the collapse of a whole field of knowledge, such as science), abductive certainty (where the truth in question is established as overwhelmingly probable [--> but plainly not beyond the abstract possibility of correction . . . ] by a process of inference to the best explanation), and normative certainty (which holds for propositions established by appealing to various norms governing human rationality).)

d: Instead, a sound worldview level thinker therefore embarks on the comparative difficulties process across live options, including addressing factual adequacy, coherence, and explanatory power; where,
e: Something like the life, death and witnessed resurrection of Jesus in the context of the scriptural prophecies of Israel, if well warranted as a fact of history [and we have argued in the linked that it is] may well become one of the credible facts that has to be adequately accounted for by a credible worldview.
f: In that context, we may further effectively argue that the observed cosmos is credibly contingent [cf the Big Bang theory], as well as its constituents, which warrants the conclusion that it requires a cause.
g: At the root of that chain of cause (as already mentioned) is a candidate necessary being, with sufficient power, knowledge, purposefulness and skill to build a cosmos that sits at a fine-tuned operating point that facilitates Carbon-chemistry, cell based life, even through multiverse suggestions.
[This raises the sub-cosmos "bread factory" issue . . . what sort of super-cosmic "bread factory" is needed to bake up a rich variety of sub-cosmi instead of the equivalent of a doughy half baked mess of ill-blended ingredients, or a blackened hockey puck of burned ingredients? Such a cosmos-bakery will be at least as much a finely tuned entity as our observed cosmos, so that it can produce a distribution of universes that will have in it at least one such as ours. The multiverse proposal does not dispose of the fine-tuning issue.]
h: Similarly, such a candidate necessary being (as already discussed) is either possible or impossible, but plainly it is not impossible: there is no self-contradiction, and there is no external, necessary physical factor that can block its emergence or switch it off. Moreover, the evident reality of our contingent cosmos warrants that such a being is required as the ground of the contingent world we can see. So, arguably, the double force of necessity acts: there is such a necessary being with the relevant attributes to account for a cosmos and for life including ourselves as minded, conscious, en-conscienced creatures.
i: The specific nature of that necessary being is further implied by the evident design of life and cosmos (as already outlined and/or linked), as such a being must have the attributes necessary to account for such design: extra-cosmic, intelligent, very powerful, purposeful, acting as creator. These are of course features of the being we describe as God.Where also, in the same discussion Dr Torley gives a handy, well boiled down philosophical summary of what God would be:
 [A Philosophical Definition of God:] By God I mean Someone, not some thing, or some state or some process. More specifically, I mean Someone (beyond space and time) Whose nature it is to know and love in a perfect and unlimited way, Whose mode of acting is simply to know, love and choose (without anything more basic underlying these acts), Who is the Creator and Conserver of the natural world, and Who is therefore capable of making anything He wishes to, provided that it’s consistent with His nature as a perfectly intelligent and loving being, and with His other choices . . . . Since God is self-explanatory, as the Ultimate Cause, He cannot possess any ad hoc features, like being a trickster. Nor can God be totally evil, since evil is a privation [--> i.e. evil has no independent existence, it is the frustration, diversion, perversion or privation of the good out of its proper end, function, role or potential], and God is an infinite and unbounded Being. Hence we are forced to suppose that God is good. As to whether God is loving in a personal sense: each and every person is an end-in-itself, and for God to treat a person in an impersonal fashion would reflect a deficiency on His part; and since we know God is free from deficiencies, it follows that He must be personal.


j: Going further, as morally bound creatures — something atheists inadvertently acknowledge when they assume the repugnance of evil in mistakenly trying to argue from evil to atheism — a moral universe implies that the ground of its being is an IS that has in it inherent goodness sufficient to ground OUGHT. If you doubt this status, consider the assertion: "it is wrong/we ought not to torture innocent babies for pleasure" -- for, those who try to deny the force of this ought only manage to show themselves to be repulsively morally monstrous. And, as C S Lewis was fond of highlighting, when we quarrel, we constantly unconsciously testify to the consensus of mankind that we are indeed under objective moral government by appealing to what ought to have been, and arguing back and forth on the premise that oughtness is real. Which, invites the inference that the best explanation for that is that we are creatures of a moral Lawgiver. That is, God is moral and indeed, good. Norm Geisler has a useful discussion of the major alternatives on this --
1: Pantheists affirm God and deny Evil, ending up in denying a major and painful aspect of reality;
 2: Atheists affirm evil and deny God, ending up in a need to ground the basis for morality;

3: Theists affirm both God and evil, and need to find how the two can simultaneously be true ( usually addressed through the principle that the power to love implies the reality of choice and the possibility of evil, so the issue is the balance of good and evil in the world):

k: In rebuttal, the Euthyphro dilemma is often suggested, namely that  there is an apparent dilemma, is good independent of God or is it an arbitrary announcement of God? If the former, God is not sovereign and is no ground for goodness, if the latter, good/evil is just cosmic whim and dictatorship.
l: In simple reply, the dilemma is misdirected (cf. also here and here for more); as it was originally conceived to address pagan gods who were in effect super-men, not the ground of being. At the heart of the Judaeo-Christian worldview is the understanding that God is Creator and of inherently good character, which is morally and logically coherent. So, the cosmos reflects that goodness, and coherence.
m: Evil will then reveal its moral unsoundness by its incoherence and chaotic, destructive impact, thence, the test -- and principle -- of sustainability (cf also here). Hence, too, the force of Kant's Categorical Imperative: evil acts cannot become the norm without chaos, and they -- equivalently -- end up using others of equal worth as though they were mere means to one's end, disrespecting them as ends in themselves. 
n: This is closely related to the classic Golden Rule -- love and treat your neighbour as you would legitimately want to be treated, under God (who made us equally in his image) -- that is at the heart of  Judaeo-Christian ethics and its ethos of heart-softening, repentance, reformation and transformation of lives, families, institutions and communities.

o: At this point, it is worth adding some excerpted remarks originally given in reply to a challenge to define "goodness," not only for their direct value, but because this gives us a picture of how warrant, knowledge and definition fit into the foundation of worldviews:
 . . . even — for argument — taking the term goodness as an  undefined analytical primitive, [i.e. a first "glorified common sense" notion like points or lines in Euclid's framework for Geometry] to be fleshed out on intuitive insights (rooted in our experience of the world giving us key cases and a basis for assessing family resemblance thus allowing identification and validation of a concept . . . ) applied to analysis, we will observe that all fields have such analytical primitives.
Starting with mathematics.
Otherwise, we face infinite regress; which is absurd.
So, any “definitionitis”-based objection is already selectively hyperskeptical . . . . To avert question-begging, we make sure that on comparative difficulties, we have a starting point that is factually adequate, coherent and explanatorily elegant (neither ad hoc nor simplistic).
Now, that is a general case, and applies to the basic structure of worldviews . . . starting with the turtles all the way down problem [highlighted above] . . . .
So, immediately, the point that in major fields of study we have analytical primitives that are not defined on a [precise descriptive statement]  basis but are formed as concepts on experience and/or rational intuition, is a central concept for discussion. [The] disanalogy objection to pointing out that the whole field of biology rests on such a primitive, “life,” fails and is a case of selective hyperskepticism on the structure of domains of knowledge.
It is worth pausing to note on rational intuition, our ability to recognise key concepts, patterns and cases, often beyond our ability to express analytically. For instance, field biologists are often able to reliably identify the base taxon of an observed creature, without any explicit analysis, because of their experience based expertise. Similarly, we can often recognise members of a family quite accurately, beyond our power to explain. Down that road lies the more fundamental path to “definition,” ostensive definition ["a definition that points out or exhibits instances of the term defined"]. Definitions on genus-difference [e.g. a bicycle is a certain specific type of two-wheeled vehicle powered by pedals and/or a motor], [or by precise and complete] statements of necessary and sufficient conditions [to include or exclude a suggested case] , or operational sequences [of actions, e.g. a metre is the distance light travels in a certain time, about 3 nano seconds], are dependent on this prior identification and rational intuition about key cases of a common theme and family resemblance that is close enough to be in, or failed resemblance that allows exclusion.
This principle and practice of identification based on experience, family resemblance and rational intuition, is a reality of our life as knowing agents, and it traces to the core rational and cognitive capacities we have as a basic endowment. It is also tied closely to the issue explored by Plantinga in recent years, on the warrant for and reliability of knowledge based on proper function of our endowed cognitive and related capacities and senses functioning in an appropriate environment.
Coming back to the concept of goodness, in fact, we do have a wide base of experience of goodness. We also have reasonable tests, that allow us to discern the morally sound in many cases. For instance, principles like reciprocity of valuable equals and the society-level incoherence of the morally unsound [evils can only thrive by parasiting off the fact that most of the time, most of us do not act like that, e.g. think about what would happen to the community if we routinely lied in essentially all communications . . . ) allow us to identify core principles and practices of goodness.
So, we are not at all locked up to a definitionitis trap.
Going beyond, we have in hand a reasonable concept of goodness with many good comparison cases, so it is plainly not "nonsense" or "meaningless" or "incoherent" to project on that basis, to the idea that the creator of a cosmos fine tuned for life, who would be responsible for the emergence of intelligent life -- and may even be conceived of as having made such life "in his image," is good to the nth degree.
We may carry out a similar analysis of what it means to be "rational" or "reasonable" etc.
So, in reasoning about our idea of God, we may indeed reasonably and in light of abundant and even compelling empirical evidence conceive of and even know of an inherently and ultimately good, wise and reasonable Creator God who is the necessary and transcendent being responsible for the cosmos we observe and for us in it. So, we have met the coherence, explanatory elegance and factual adequacy criteria at worldview foundational level.
In that context, we may freely examine and draw a reasonable conclusion on the claim that such a good, wise, reasonable Creator God would be a worldview foundational IS who can ground OUGHT.
Such a good God, would per essential character, make a world in conformity with his being and character, i.e. core morality would be an in-built feature of the world, and in particular of creatures capable of moral action.
For instance, a world in which love is possible is of a different order of goodness than one in which all is based on pre-programmed [robot-like machines], of mechanical necessity and/or chance in the physical world, and executed programs in the animated world of life. That implicates the power of real choice, i.e freedom. Which is another good of that higher order.
But, with such, comes responsibility and come as well duties of care to value, choose and act aright towards the other.
We have arrived at a basis for morality, on an objective warrant. It also pivots -- unsurprisingly -- on the power and freedom to value, choose and love.
As a bonus, it is exactly these principles that are the pivot of the now classic Plantinga free will defense against the deductive and inductive forms of the problem of evil. (Cf here on [below] for a 101.) We also have an answer, by extension, to the problem of good that especially confronts the materialist.
In Dembski's words on Boethius:
In his Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius states the following paradox: “If God exists, whence evil? But whence good, if God does not exist?” . . .
p: This, too, is why, in grounding the principles of liberty and just government, Locke, in Ch II Section 5 of his historically pivotal Second Treatise on Civil Government, cited "the judicious [Anglican Theologian Richard] Hooker" in his 1594+ Ecclesiastical Polity:
. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man's hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant.
(This brings out the basis for the objectivity of sound moral principles. For, the God of Judaeo-Christian theism is the ground of reality, so it is a classic theistic answer to the proposed dilemma that the inherently good Creator of the cosmos made a world that -- in accordance with his unchangeably good character -- not only is replete with reliable, compelling signs pointing to his eternal power and Deity as the root of our being, but also builds in a real, reasonable, intelligible moral principle into that world.)

q: That intelligible moral principle is then implanted inextricably in our very nature as human beings as the basis of the light of conscience), so that for instance by our nature as creatures equally made in God's image with ability to know, reason and choose, we have a known duty of mutual respect. Which is Hooker's point, and via Locke, a major component of the foundation of modern liberty and democracy through just, legitimate, limited and accountable government.
r: By contrast, when Cornell University history of Biology professor William Provine spoke at the 1998 University of Tennessee Darwin Day celebrations, he went on record:
Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent . . . . The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them. Human free will, however, is another matter. Even evolutionists have trouble swallowing that implication. I will argue that humans are locally determined systems that make choices. They have, however, no free will . . .
 s: Similarly, in his 1995 Scientific American article, "God's Utility Function," Richard Dawkins, Simonyi professor for the public understanding of science, of Oxford University, went on record:
Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This lesson is one of the hardest for humans to learn. We cannot accept that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous: indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.
We humans have purpose on the brain. We find it difficult to look at anything without wondering what it is “for,” what the motive for it or the purpose behind it might be. The desire to see purpose everywhere is natural in an animal that lives surrounded by machines, works of art, tools and other designed artifacts – an animal whose waking thoughts are dominated by its own goals and aims . . . . In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pitiless indifference . . . . DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.
t: In short, evolutionary materialism is inherently, inescapably amoral, having in it no foundational IS that can bear the weight of the sort of ought that makes us look at a child victim of torture and say, this ought not to have happened. Those who hold to such views, see morality as a matter of feelings and values inculcated by genes, culture, family and personal experience, and often find nothing wrong with playing on our moral sensibilities to get us to feel as they want, to promote the ideas and agendas they want.

u: In short, on a radically relativist, amoral evolutionary materialist worldview, in the end, might and manipulation make 'right.'  And, as the playthings that dance to the tunes played by our genes, experiences and cultures, we of course have no genuine freedom of choice or thought. Man as a responsible, freely reasoning creature, on this view, is dead.
v: So, if such a one and his or her ilk hold power, why not manipulate popular or even educated feelings and views to the desired end? Which sort of amoral manipulativeness and factionism is exactly what Plato warned against in his The Laws, Bk X, 2350 years ago, c. 360 BC:
[The avant garde philosophers, teachers and artists c. 400 BC] say that fire and water, and earth and air [ --> i.e. the classical "material" elements of the cosmos], all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art, [ --> so, evolutionary materialism is an ancient philosophy and adherents would explain the cosmos as being matter shaped by chance and necessity, rejecting any and all signs pointing to design]  and that as to the bodies which come next in order-earth, and sun, and moon, and stars-they have been created by means of these absolutely inanimate existences. The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them-of hot with cold, or of dry with moist, or of soft with hard, and according to all the other accidental admixtures of opposites which have been formed by necessity. After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only . . . . 

[[T]hese people would say that the Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states, which are different in different places, according to the agreement of those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.- [ --> Relativism, too, is not new; complete with its radical amorality rooted in a worldview that has no foundational IS that can ground OUGHT. (Cf. here for Locke's views and sources on a very different base for grounding liberty as opposed to license and resulting anarchistic "every man does what is right in his own eyes" chaos leading to tyranny.)] These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might [ -->  Evolutionary materialism leads to the promotion of amorality], and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions [ --> Evolutionary materialism-motivated amorality "naturally" leads to continual contentions and power struggles; cf. dramatisation here],  these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others , and not in legal subjection to them [ --> such amoral factions, if they gain power, "naturally" tend towards ruthless tyranny; here, too, Plato hints at the career of Alcibiades] . . .
w: No wonder, too, that Paul warned us in no uncertain terms:

Eph 4: 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!- 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self,  which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. [ESV]
x: To cap off, starting with the 500+ eyewitnesses of C1, and continuing down to today, millions have personally come to meet, know and have their lives transformed by the Just, Holy, Good, Loving and Living God in the face of the risen Christ. (And if one is offended by Christian particularism, I suggest a look here as a start.)
There is, of course, "a rich literature" in critique of such a cumulative theistic case that leads to the Judaeo-Christian worldview.

But, what is needed  is to show -- not just assume, assert or shout --  that that "rich literature" succeeds. 


Not, in showing what was never at issue — that it is possible to reject such arguments by challenging premises and dismissing facts — but that on comparative difficulties across the case as a whole, atheism or the like is a superior conclusion, including in the implications of alternative premises to the rejected ones.

For just one instance (and as was just hinted at), if the human mind is so delusional that the millions across time who claim to have met and been transformed by God in the face of Christ are deluded, then on what alternative grounds can you trust your mind not to be deluded when it arrives at atheistical, evolutionary materialistic conclusions?

In any case, enough has now been examined to show beyond reasonable doubt that ethical, generic theism is a reasonable and credible worldview, whether or not one is inclined to accept it. 

Therefore, on fair comment we may freely say: the sort of contemptuously dismissive hostility that is ever so common among, say, the so-called New Atheists and their fellow travellers -- and as is all too aptly summarised in Dawkins' notoriously barbed and unfortunate "ignorant, stupid, insane . . . or wicked" remark -- reveals far more about those who imagine or outright say such, than about the actual state of the case on its merits.

We can therefore also see why the Christian faith tradition is not at all backward or  irrational to begin from the evident reality of God, and to then call for response to him on these terms:

Rom 1:19 . . . what can be known about God is plain to [people], because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse . . .

John 3:19 . . .  this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Heb 11: 1 Now faith [cf. Rom 4:4 - 5 &10:14 - 17: i.e. trusting  God based on his evident reality, character and word . . . ] is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible . . . .  6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

However, we have not yet addressed what is, by general consent, the strongest cluster of objections to such theism; namely, the problem(s) of evil.

But also, there is an immediate balancing factor: to object that evil is inconsistent with the existence of God has the implication that we are bound by the force of ought. That is, there is a moral law. How can such a binding law be grounded without a law-giver? And, if not, what IS is there, that can bear the weight of OUGHT? 


(Where also, a blind, non-purposeful cosmos of matter, energy, space and time interacting under chance circumstances and mechanical necessity -- the root-stuff of today's popular evolutionary materialism, plainly cannot sustain that load. Of course, we must here see off a strawman fallacy: we are not here asserting that materialistic atheists etc. can never act or think morally, but rather we are highlighting the unbridgeable gap between such moral principles as they may accept as binding -- as opposed to, merely expedient [cf. here Alcibiades] -- and the foundations of their worldview, as Plato also did, ever so long ago in The Laws, Bk X, 360 BC. Remember, as well, the principle that we are bound by the compelling force of ought, includes the idea that we ought to refrain from, say, torturing newborn infants to death. And many other similarly blatant cases. The self evident truth of such a moral claim [and, alas, on some sad cases, the horrible gap between what is and what ought to be . . . ] can easily be seen by the patently absurd consequences of trying to deny such. Ought is credibly real, and undeniable on pain of blatant absurdity in the face of such notorious cases.)

While that restores matters to an even keel, it does not directly answer the problem of evil. So, we now must face the main direct argument against the existence of God, the problem of evil.

Dealing with the issue of good and evil

Difficult as the intellectual forms of the problem of evil are, it is far easier to answer them than to deal with the horrific impact of pain and evil in our existence. 

So, before going on to look at that form, let us watch Ravi Zacharias respond to this problem, with that horrific personal violation known as rape as the chief example:



(Of course, while such an answer is helpful, what is truly needed is healing of the heart and mind on the strength of what our Wounded Healer has done through the cross. One who faces such a life challenge -- especially if s/he begins to feel sucked down by a swirling vortex of despair or begins to wish he or she were dead or had never been born [serious, potentially clinical warning signs . . . ] -- should therefore seek sound, empathetic pastoral counselling and/or psychological care.)

Leading design theorist and philosopher-theologian William Dembski helps us put the intellectual forms of the problem of evil in context, by citing the sixth century Christian philosopher, Boethius:
In his Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius states the following paradox: “If God exists, whence evil? But whence good, if God does not exist?” Boethius contrasts the problem that evil poses for  theism with the problem that good poses for atheism. The problem of good does not receive nearly as much attention as the problem evil, but it is the more basic problem. That’s because evil always presupposes a good that has been subverted. All our words for evil make this plain: the New Testament word for sin (Greek hamartia) presupposes a target that’s been missed; deviation presupposes a way (Latin via) from which we’ve departed; injustice presupposes justice; etc. So let’s ask, who’s got the worse problem, the theist or the atheist? Start with the theist. God is the source of all being and purpose. Given God’s existence, what sense does it make to deny God’s goodness? None . . . . The problem of evil still confronts theists, though not as a logical or philosophical problem, but instead as a psychological and existential one [as was addressed above] . . . . 
The problem of good as it faces the atheist is this: nature, which is nuts-and-bolts reality for the atheist, has no values and thus can offer no grounding for good and evil. As nineteenth century freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll used to say, “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments. There are consequences.” More recently, Richard Dawkins made the same point: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” ["Prepared Remarks for the Dembski-Hitchens Debate," Uncommon Descent Blog, Nov 22, 2010]
In short, when we come to core worldview problems, we should address the comparative difficulties of the main alternatives, and make our choice on which difficulties it is better to live with. 

Plantinga's free-will defense, in a skeletal form, allows us to effectively address the problem. For, it is claimed that the following set of theistic beliefs embed an unresolvable contradiction:

1.      God exists
2.      God is omnipotent – all powerful
3.      God is omniscient – all-knowing
4.      God is omni-benevolent – all-good
5.      God created the world
6.      The world contains evil
To do so, there is an implicit claim that, (2a) if he exists, God is omnipotent and so capable of -- but obviously does not eliminate -- evil. So, at least one of 2 – 5 should be surrendered. But all of these claims are central to the notion of God, so it is held that the problem is actually 1. 

Therefore, NOT-1: God does not exist.

However, it has been pointed out by Plantinga and others that:
  1. 2a is not consistent with what theists actually believe: if the elimination of some evil would lead to a worse evil, or prevent the emergence of a greater good, then God might have a good reason to permit some evil in the cosmos.
  2. Specifically, what if “many evils result from human free will or from the fact that our universe operates under natural laws or from the fact that humans exist in a setting that fosters soul-making . . . [and that such a world] contains more good than a world that does not” ?
  3. In this case, Theists propose that 2a should be revised: 2b: “A good, omnipotent God will eliminate evil as far as he can without either losing a greater good or bringing about a greater evil.”  But, once this is done, the alleged contradiction collapses.
  4. Further, Alvin Plantinga – through his free will defense -- was able to show that the theistic set is actually consistent. He did this by augmenting the set with a further proposition that is logically possible (as opposed to seeming plausible to one who may be committed to another worldview) and which makes the consistency clear. That proposition, skeletally, is 5a: “God created a world (potentially) containing evil; and has a good reason for doing so.” Propositions 1, 2b, 3, 4, and 5a are plainly consistent, and entail 6.
  5. The essence of that defense is:
    “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures . . . God can create free creatures, but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For . . . then they aren’t significantly free after all . . . He could only have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.” [NB: This assumes that moral good reflects the power of choice: if we are merely robots carrying out programs, then we cannot actually love, be truthful, etc.] [From: Clark, Kelley James. Return to Reason. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 69 – 70, citing Plantinga, God, Freedom and Evil, (Eerdmans, 1974), p. 30.]
  6. Nor is the possible world known as heaven a good counter-example. For, heaven would exist as a world in which the results of choices made to live by the truth in love across a lifetime have culminated in their eternal reward. This we may see from an argument made by the apostle Paul:
    Rom 2:6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 78 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. [NIV]
  7. Anticipating the onward response that in at least some possible worlds, there are free creatures, all of whom freely do what is right, Plantinga asserts a further possibility: trans-world depravity. That is, in all worlds God could create in which a certain person, say Gordon, exists; then that person would have freely gone wrong at least once. And, what if it is further possible that this holds for every class of created, morally capable being? (Then, there would be no possible worlds in which moral good is possible but in which moral  evil would not in fact occur. So the benefit of moral good would entail that the world would contain transworld depraved creatures.)
  8. Moreover, Plantinga proposes that there is a possible state of affairs in which God and natural evil can exist. For instance, if all natural evils are the result of the actions of significantly free creatures such as Satan and his minions, then since it is logically possible that God could not have created a world with a greater balance of good over evil if it did not contain such creatures, God and natural evil are compatible.
     
  9. At this point, albeit grudgingly, leading atheologians (Such as Mackie and Williams) concede that the deductive form of the problem of evil stands overturned. Thus, a new question is put on the table.
  10. It is: But what if the world seems to contain too much evil, and evil that is apparently pointless, i.e. gratuitous? First, the greater good “absorbs” at least some of the evils. To this, the Christian Theist further responds that there are goods in the world that are left out of the account so far; especially, that the fall of mankind led to the greatest good of all: that God loved the world and gave his Son, setting in motion the programme of redemption as a supreme good that absorbs all evils. That is, it is rational for a Christian to believe there are no unabsorbed evils, even though the atheologian may beg to differ with the Christian’s beliefs.
  11. However, it should be noted that there is an existential or pastoral form of the problem of evil (as we saw above): where the overwhelming force of evil and pain brings us to doubt God. To that, no mere rational argument will suffice; for it is a life-challenge we face, as did Job. And, as a perusal of Job 23:1 – 7, 38:1 – 7, 40:1 – 8, 42:1 – 6, God may be more interested in exposing our underlying motives and calling for willingness to trust him even where we cannot trace him, than in satisfying our queries and rebutting our pained accusations. That is, it is at least possible that God is primarily in the business of soul-making.         
Where then does the problem of evil stand today? 

On balance, it is rational to believe that God exists, but obviously there are many deep, even painful questions to which we have no answers. And, those who choose to believe in God will have a radically different evaluation of evil than those who reject him. 

We may now carry this forward, to briefly address the vexed problem of the fairly common attempt to reduce morality to subjective or otherwise relative perceptions imposed by persuasion or force. For this, it is perhaps best to start with a very concrete case, one which is unfortunately not just theoretical:
ASSERTION: it is self-evidently wrong, bad and evil to kidnap, torture, sexually violate and murder a young child. Likewise, by corollary: if we come across such a case in progress, it is our duty to try to intervene to save the child from such a monster.
Almost all people will agree that such a case is horrible, and to be deplored. So also, they wil agree that a duty of rescue obtains, or at least succor for someone left half dead. Thus, we see the significance of the Good Samaritan as a paradigm of neighbourliness across racial, religious, political and other dividing-lines or even outright enmity:
Luke 10:25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

  28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  

30 Jesus replied, 
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’  
 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  

37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” [ESV]


And, normally responsive people will at least grudgingly respect the following summary of such core, conscience attested morality from the pen of Paul:
Rom 2:14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them . . . . 

Rom 13:Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong [NIV, "harm"] to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. [ESV]

But that acknowledgement is not the same as to further acknowledge that the sort of wrong we are contemplating is bindingly, objectively, universally something that OUGHT not to be done. 

And indeed, many will boldly assert that it cannot be proved that it is absurd to reject the notion that core moral principles are objective and universally binding, so we are left to the feelings of revulsion and the community consensus backed up by police and courts on this.

 Not so.


Compare a fish, that we lure to bite on a hook, then land, kill and eat for lunch without compunction. And even for those who object, they will do so by extension of the protective sense we have about say the young child -- not the other way around. But, unless there is a material difference between a young child and a fish, that sense of wrong is frankly delusional, it is just a disguised preference, one that we are simply willing to back up with force. 

So, already, once we let radical relativism and subjectivism loose, we are looking at the absurdity and chaos of the nihilist abyss, might (and manipulation) makes for 'right.'

Oops.

At the pivot of the skeptical objections to objective moral truth, notwithstanding persistent reduction to absurdity,  is the pose that since we may err and since famously there are disagreements on morality, we can reduce moral feelings to subjective perceptions tastes and preferences, dismissing any and all claims of objectivity much less self evidence. 

So, there is an unbridgeable IS-OUGHT gap, game over.

Not so fast, as there is no better reason to imagine that we live in a moral Plato’s Cave world, than that we live in a physical or intellectual Plato’s Cave world.


That is, we consider the imagined world of Plato where the denizens, having been imprisoned from childhood, all imagine that the shadow shows portrayed for their benefit are reality. Until, one is loosed, sees the apparatus of manipulation, then is led outside and learns of the reality that is there to be discovered. Then he tries to rescue his fellows, only to be ridiculed and attacked:




Video:



Now, the skeptical question is, do we physically live in such a delusional world (maybe in another form such as the brains in vats or the Matrix's pods . . . ), and can we reliably tell the difference?

The best answer to such is, that such a scenario implies general delusion and the general un-trustworthiness of our senses and reasoning powers.

So, it undercuts itself in a turtles all the way down chain of possible delusions -- an infinite regress of Plato's cave delusions.

Common good sense then tells us that the skeptic has caught himself up in his own web, his argument is self referentially incoherent.

This may seem so outlandish that a live example will help, here on from a real blog discussion thread exchange:
 CS, 176: . . . you see, it’s not that I don’t perceive other individuals “out there. It’s that I’m not sure about what the external world “really is.” It could be an illusion. Or it could have a reality close to what I’m perceiving. There’s no way to know for sure. In the end, I’m only sure that I’m conscious and experiencing “the external world.” But I don’t have a surety about the nature of “the external world.” Pragmatically, I assume it exists, because I really have no choice, unless I want to just lie down and do nothing.

WJM, 183: . . .  You [CS] have stated that your epistemological solipsism means that you cannot be sure of what exists outside of your mind – or even if there is an existence outside of you mind.

My question to you, then, is: can you be sure of what does not exist outside of your mind?

CS, 184: . . . No. Can you?

WJM, 185: So, you cannot be sure that morality is not a commodity that exists objectively outside of your mind?

CS, 189: Correct. It may very well be. But I can’t be sure of it. Neither do I perceive anything that would make me think it is true . . . 
 The onward cascade of doubts and/or delusional worlds, though implicit, is painfully patent.  This participant is neither confident of the external nor the internal worlds, and ends up in an arbitrary and confessedly blind faith that something is "out there" and "in here" nonetheless. Which boils down to, s/he cannot live consistent with his or her view.


So also, the proper stance in response to such is that this sort of appeal to general doubt or general delusion about major aspects of reality and the mind reduces to absurdity. In response, we should hold that it is senseless to assume or imply the general dubiousness or delusion of any major faculty of mind, precisely because of that absurd result.

Instead, until and unless we can find evidence of specific error, we will confidently hold to what seems to be reliable, common sense reality; beginning with the bench-mark truths that are self-evident and foundational (e.g. first truths and first principles of right reason . . . ), which we will use as plumb-lines to test the systems of thought we hold. Yes, as finite, fallible, intellectually and morally struggling creatures, we must live by faith, but there is no reason why such faith should be blind, hopeless and/or absurdly irrational. Thus, we proceed on common good sense and solid first principles, until and unless we see specific good evidence and reason to acknowledge and turn from specific error.  Which, we pledge to promptly do, out of our sense of a duty of care to seek and follow the truth through good reasoning on credible evidence.

 H'mm -- isn't that an OUGHT?

Yes it is.

No surprise.

And, a big hint on the nature of the underlying foundational IS that grounds OUGHT.

So also, we see the absurdities implied by attempted denial of moral reality through reducing it to mere [potentially] delusional subjective perceptions. Even the much prized or even vaunted rationality is in the stakes!

For, if our minds are that delusional on so important a matter, we have decisively undercut the mind, period.

Which should be patent, once we give it a moment’s thought in light of our experience and understanding of the world we live in.

It is reasonable to hold and accept instead that: just as we have minds that allow us to make sense of the signals of our external world accessed through seeing and hearing, forming a coherent picture of the world, we have a generally [as opposed to absolutely] trustworthy sense -- conscience -- that is detecting and responding to duty in light of the value of those we interact with. 

Now, too, we have already seen grounds for understanding that there are objective truths that we subjects can access and know using our senses and faculties of conscious thought, even to undeniable certainty in certain key cases.

The question behind this thread is whether this extends to the domain of OUGHT.

And, a specific (and unfortunately, real world) candidate has been put: that it is self evident that it is wrong to kidnap, torture, rape and murder a child.

The peculiar thing is that for all the skeptical arguments that have so often been raised in reply to this case [which, unfortunately, is based on real world events], we consistently find very little evidence of open direct denial.

Instinctively, objectors realise that to deny this truth plainly is to admit to moral deficiency, to be morally defective in an absurd way.

So, the challenges raised have been indirect; intended to undermine and redefine morality in ways that — while such is not usually openly admitted — amount to might and manipulation make ‘right.’

Where of course the child is a proverbial example of one who is not able to appeal to strength or persuasive ability, especially in the face of a kidnapper.

That is, might makes 'right' would rob children of their rights -- as arguably has already been happening with children still in the womb.

Where, too, all of us here to read and discuss this once were children in the womb and then growing children walking around in a world where there are such things as predators like this.

And so the hesitation to be brazenly direct and dismissive is easily explained; and, the widespread attempts to instead seek to undermine the general objectivity and binding nature of OUGHT.

So also, we see indirect inadvertent evidence that even those who deny objectivity to morality recognise it.

Thus, objectors are inadvertently testifying against interests that they too are quite aware of an inner sense — usually termed conscience — that senses, makes sense of and responds strongly to morality even as eyes sense light and ears sound thence minds manifest an awareness of the world based on such sight and sound.

That brings up the root issue: conscience is invisible, as conscious mind is invisible, and in a materialism-influenced age, seeing is believing.

Oops, seeing the physical world depends on that invisible, familiar but mysterious consciousness, and rocks — whether fancy bits of silicon or peculiar cells that pass ion currents and thus signals in networks similar to solid state electronic logic gates  -- have no dreams.

Yet another sign of the irretrievable incoherence and factual inadequacy of materialism and its fellow travellers. So, we have no good reason to reject the objectivity of being bound by OUGHT.

And, just by observing the pattern of human quarrels -- we habitually appeal to fairness that is binding upon us all, we find that the sense of ought is near universal and forms a core consensus that we ought to be treated fairly in light of simply being human, the exceptions being accountable for on much the same grounds as that some people have become blind. (I will never forget the videotaped last words cry of a man in a gas chamber, even as the gases were being released: I am a human being! [How this was allowed out on news, I don't know.])

We recognise that we have quasi-infinite worth, which should not be violated. Thus, our sense of justice and of the difference between luring and catching a fish to become lunch and luring and despoiling then destroying a child. (Where, that some take pity on the fish and will go out of their way to eat only vegetables is itself further eloquent testimony on the point. [Notice, there is no "people for the ethical treatment of fruit, root starches, grains and vegetables" movement.])

As the ghost of that child tells us, OUGHT, then, is credibly real -- objective and binding; which then points onwards to a foundational IS that properly bears the weight of OUGHT.

Notoriously, there is but one level of reality where that can enter, the foundation. Namely, the best explanation for the binding nature of core morality leading to our being under moral government, is a Moral Governor. This Governor would be the inherently good creator God who has endowed us with minds, hearts, consciences and rights; thus also, duties.

 In a world where God is the foundation, OUGHT makes sense, and is grounded in a foundational IS. Refuse to acknowledge God in light of evidence that he is real -- including that of finding ourselves under the binding force of the moral government of OUGHT -- and we lose anchorage for morality, rights, fairness, justice, law and civilisation. Opening the door to absurd chaos. Hence, the force of the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, when it confidently asserts:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, [cf Rom 1:18 - 21, 2:14 - 15], that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security . . .

This is of course historically pivotal in the rise of modern liberty and democratic self government guided -- however inevitably imperfect and struggling the reality! -- by the twin stars of liberty and justice for all.

Which brings us to the significance of:
 

Biblical theism: "just the facts . . . "

Generic theism is plainly a credible and powerful worldview, but does this extend to the historical foundations of the Christian Faith itself? 

In short, what are the pivotal facts? 

A good place to begin is the point in Unit 1, where we observed:
[O]ne may -- and in the case of Josh McDowell, did (cf. shocking video) -- first examine the NT record objectively as authentic, adequately preserved and transmitted eyewitness-lifetime primary historical source material, then find it sound as history, then go on to personal encounter with the living God in the face of the risen Christ, and then on that strength of miraculous spiritual transformation draw the further spiritual conclusion that it is also God-inspired Holy Scripture that "cannot be broken."
The astute reader will see that hitherto, we have emphasised the historical reliability of especially the NT scriptures, and have gone on to point to the accuracy of OT prophecies that are fulfilled in the Christ event that the NT reports.


That is quite deliberate.


The natural road to high confidence in the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures of the Holy Bible is to see that he NT speaks the truth, and that there is an astonishing and miraculous feature in them: fulfillment of prophecies of the redemptive Messiah. Then, through repentant trust in the living God in the face of Christ, one may come to trust the God who stands behind the history and prophecies and through that encounter find salvation and transformation of life. In that context, it is natural to take the attitude to the Scriptures that that Messiah who died for our sins, was buried and rose again "according to the scriptures" took: "the Scripture cannot be broken." [Jn 10:35]


Theologian Clarke Pinnock has aptly summarised this view:
Why, in the last analysis, do Christian people believe the Bible is God’s Word? Not because they have studied up on Christian evidences and apologetics, however useful these may prove to some. Christians believe the Bible because it has been able to do for them exactly as Paul promised it would [i.e. in 2 Tim 3:13 – 17]: introduce them to a saving and transforming knowledge of Christ. Reasons for faith and answers to perplexing difficulties in the text, therefore, are supportive but not constitutive of faith in God and his Word. Faith rests ultimately, not on in human wisdom, but in a demonstration of the Spirit and power. [The Scripture Principle, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), p. xix.]

Or, as the magisterial theologian John Wenham summarised in a similar vein, in responding to skeptical objections to this attitude to the scriptures among learned theologians:
H. E. W. Turner [16] has distinguished two basic approaches to the Gospels: the historical and the interpretative. The former believes that the Gospels were intended to be historical records, the latter that they were essentially propaganda, written to present a particular view of Jesus. The former assumes [in accordance with the standard approach of historical scholarship in dealing with prime source documents that are fair on the face]  that the records are true unless good reason can be showed to the contrary; the latter assumes the opposite. The attitude of Bultmann and his school to a Gospel-saying has been summarised as . . . '(1) If it reflects the faith of the church after the resurrection, it must be regarded as a creation of the church, rather than an authentic saying of Jesus. (2) If there is a parallel saying attributed to a Rabbi, it must be held as a Jewish tradition which has been erroneously attributed to Jesus. But if it is neither -- if it is clearly distinct both from the faith of the church and from Judaism -- then it may be safely accepted as authentic.' [17] This means of course that any appeal to Scripture by Jesus is at once suspect. This approach produces an improbable view of both Jesus and the early church. Jesus becomes an eccentric who took almost nothing from his environment. The church becomes inexplicable, since it took almost nothing from its master. Rather it so altered what it received from him that its teaching can be seen in sharp contrast to the few sayings which it preserved. [Christ and the Bible, (Guilford, Surrey, England: Eagle, 1993), pp. 45 - 46. Emphasis added.]
_______________
16: H. E. W. Turner, Historicity of the Gospels (London, 1963)
17: R. H. Fuller, Interpreting the Miracles (London, 1963), pp. 26f.
The contrast in views is decisive for all of theology and Christian living.

This decision and the priority of the resurrection must be our focus, for, it will always be possible to tease out strands of text and point to real or imagined difficulties, provoking doubts and maybe dismissals without sober consideration of the key warrant for the Christian Faith. 

Indeed, there is a major wave of current skepticism that does just that. 

But, to try to reject a cumulative case by pointing to the slenderness or weakness of the individual fibre may well fail to see the cumulative effect of the core warranting case; i.e. it commits the fallacy of composition.

For instance, sometimes it is objected that the Christian faith is like a set of buckets with holes in them, so one cannot carry water. 


But, there is a reply: if we stack the buckets so one stops the hole in the next, the resulting composite bucket will often be serviceable to carry water. 

The key lesson: a whole is often stronger than the individual part, as it takes advantage of how partly strong, partly weak parts can work together to build on strengths, compensate for weaknesses and counter threats.

So, if we are to assess the warrant for Christianity, we must turn away from trying to answer a raft of real or imagined difficulties one by one -- with the farm being bet on each throw of the die, and we must turn instead to a sounder approach: assessing the cumulative strength of the core warrant for the Christian faith.

Namely, the record and reality of Jesus of Nazareth as the scripturally prophesied, crucified, risen Messiah, Saviour and Lord. Once this is firmly established, it puts all difficulties -- and, by the very nature of the case, there will inevitably be many such -- in proper perspective. 



For instance, as a useful 101, let us watch Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ, full- length- in- one- clip version:




Let us next remind ourselves from Unit 1, of how Australian scholar Paul Barnett, in his Is the New Testament History?, provides an excellent place to start building our answer. He does so by giving us a summing up of the composite, consensus view of early non-Christian sources from late C1 to early C2, on the roots of the Christian faith and its characteristics:

On the basis of . . . non-Christian sources [i.e. Tacitus (Annals, on the fire in Rome, AD 64; written ~ AD 115), Rabbi Eliezer (~ 90's AD; cited J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1929), p. 34), Pliny (Letters to Trajan from Bithynia, ~ AD 112), Josephus (Antiquities, ~ 90's)] it is possible to draw the following conclusions:
1: Jesus Christ was executed (by crucifixion?) in Judaea during the period where Tiberius was Emperor (AD 14 - 37) and Pontius Pilate was Governor (AD 26 - 36). [Tacitus]

2: The movement spread from Judaea to Rome. [Tacitus]

3: Jesus claimed to be God and that he would depart and return. [Eliezer]

4: His followers worshipped him as (a) god. [Pliny]

5: He was called "the Christ." [Josephus]

6: His followers were called "Christians." [Tacitus, Pliny]

7: They were numerous in Bithynia and Rome [Tacitus, Pliny]

8: It was a world-wide movement. [Eliezer]

9: His brother was James. [Josephus]
[Is the New Testament History? (London, Hodder, 1987), pp. 30 - 31.]
The pattern in these sources, as we already saw, is instantly familiar. 

That external support -- as we already saw, but need to remind ourselves of -- should not be surprising, given that (as Barnett goes on to observe, pp. 37 - 41) in the very first cluster of writing sub-apostolic church fathers -- Clement of Rome [c. AD 96], Ignatius [c. 108] and Polycarp [c. 110], 25 of the 27 books in the New Testament are cited or alluded to, as authentic and authoritative scripture. [Only the two rather brief works, 2 Jn and Jude, are not cited or alluded to.]  In short, the onward textual history of the NT documents begins in the 90's AD, i.e. within living memory of the Apostles, and it continues in an unbroken chain of custody to the origin of printing. 

Fundamentally, we are dealing with prime source documents, coming from a reasonable chain of custody. That is, the NT documents are fair on the face and deserve to be respected as prime source documents. Moreover, from the days of Sir William Ramsey on, a Century and more past now, the NT documents have received repeated, considerable (and sometimes, unexpected) archaeological confirmation.

Also, we must not forget how the earliest generally accepted fragment (the Rylands Papyrus, P52,  c. 125 AD with John 18:31 - 33 and 37 - 38) dates to the edge of the first century, in a codex -- roughly, the modern book form -- showing that this was already being treated as a serious work, several hundred miles form where it was likely written, in Ephesus:



This chain of custody and independent external support decisively undercuts the remaining fringe of radical scholars and skeptical popular writers who want to date these works to ~ 100 - 160 AD.  The overwhelming evidence is that the NT documents come from the First Century, from excellent chain of custody, and trace to the circle of key witnesses and disciples of Jesus. 

So, if we lay hyper- skepticism driven by anti- supernatural prejudices aside, there is no good reason to doubt that the NT documents, considered as a body, are primary and highly trustworthy sources, datable to the lifetime of eyewitnesses to the events and teachings recounted. Thus, it is a fair conclusion to hold that they are authentically rooted in and accurately reflect the core testimony, message, teachings and general history of the C1 church.

But, such anti-supernaturalism is indeed a material issue.  

To cogently address it on the street, the key question is the central miracle reported in the NT, the resurrection of Jesus, which we have already seen in Unit 1, was credibly prophesied c. 700 BC in Isa 53.  

This miracle has been the focus of considerable and quite harsh scrutiny over the past several centuries, but (as we already saw) the following twelve "minimal facts"  are considered firmly established by the majority or in some cases even nearly all NT scholars:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. He was buried.
3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).
5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
7. The resurrection was the central message.
8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
9. The Church was born and grew.
10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).
12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic). [Cf. Habermas' paper here and a broader more popular discussion here.]
That means that if you wish to dispute these, the burden of warrant is on you. That means the real discussion needs to be on what best explains these strongly warranted facts. Where, we also know that the classic "alternative" skeptical explanations pioneered by the deists and others 300 years ago,  have deservedly fallen by the wayside, and the now favoured "spiritual body" visions fares but little better against the credible facts of the text.  

In short, on inference to best explanation, once the tomb was evidently empty that first Easter morning [real, the "objection" the NT records, the stolen body talking point, pivots on the fact of the missing body], something has to reasonably explain -- 
  • the missing corpse and the empty tomb, 
  • the convincing appearances to the disciples [altogether over 500], 
  • those to the circle of women,
  • that to his family [who were previously skeptical to the point of fearing their eldest brother insane], and 
  • that to Paul in his earlier career of arch-persecutor, as well as 
  • the inability of the Jewish and Roman authorities to produce convincing evidence to scotch reports of a risen messiah,
. . . and it has to do so without undue strain or obvious anti-supernaturalist bias that leads to accepting what would otherwise be preposterous. 

In this, we should recall again that as ordinary men and women of typical common sense rationality, the fishermen, farmers, house-wives and tax collectors in Jesus' circle of followers would be able to tell a live man from a violently dead one, and they could also tell which of two events came first.

It took no miracle to see, converse and even eat supper with Jesus. Nor did it take a miracle to see him crucified, speared to ensure death, taken down and buried in the famed borrowed rich Sanhedrinist's tomb -- unlikely to be recounted unless true! -- then sealed therein and guarded.


No, we cannot reasonably claim that what was experienced in itself was "extraordinary." The talking point "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," does not wash. Eating supper with a longstanding friend is extraordinary? Come on.

The miracle lies, rather in the implications of the timeline sequence: Jesus was crucified and buried first, then after that, he reportedly met, spoke to and ate supper with his disciples on the following Sunday evening and on the Sunday evening after that too. In this last event, he reportedly invited Thomas the doubter to insert his hands into the fearsome, but now evidently powerless wounds.

So, on the credible minimal facts, either the core witnesses were utterly misled by an inexplicable delusion, or they were just what they understood themselves to be -- witnesses of the truth. 

So, we are right back to the testimony of men who risked and then ultimately peacefully laid their lives down on the conviction that they were eyewitnesses. They surrendered their lives rather than deny what they personally knew was true from having lived through it.

So, we are back to the full impact of the gospel.


As Peter preached in the very first Christian sermon:
Acts 2:22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know – 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles.  But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power . . . .
"32 This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it.  33 So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear . . . . 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” [NET]

And, if the apostles and those with them in the core circle of 500 witnesses were indeed witnesses of the truth, the millions ever since who testify to having met God in the face of the risen Christ are also witnesses of the truth.

A truth that potentially has revolutionary, transforming impact for us, our lives, communities and world. 

A truth that demands our sincere response of repentance and trust in God through the crucified, but now risen Christ, and guided by the scriptures that authentically record that truth, starting with the Old Testament that he so highly regarded, which sets the context for Messiah, and prophesies his coming. Then also, continuing through the New Testament that reliably reports his life, teachings, passion, death as Saviour, and triumphant resurrection as Living Lord who shall return as Judge, but even now intercedes for us before the Throne of Grace.

Indeed, let us hear and heed the final counsel of the Apostle Paul to his son in the faith, Timothy, even as he faced imminent death at the hands of Nero for his bold witness to Christ:

 2 Tim 3:12 . . . all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom  you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God  may be competent, equipped for every good work. 
2 Tim 4: 1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound  teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith . . .  [ESV]
So, it is not just theism that has a good bedrock core warrant, but confident Judaeo-Christian, Scripture-respecting theism. A warrant that can be held on to even when one faces difficulties with or is even perplexed by particular issues, concerns, challenges or texts.


It is in that spirit, and with that confidence that we may now freely proceed.

Christian discipleship and cultural transformation

After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned the church:

Matt 28:16 . . .  the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated.  17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,  20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [NET]
Paul amplifies this, giving it operational form, in Eph 4:
Eph 4:10 [Jesus], the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things.
11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,  12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ,  13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.
14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.  15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.  16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. 

17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.   18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts.  19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires,  23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth. [NET]
This is a call for individual, community and cultural transformation through discipleship and godly service through the truth in love.  
(NB: Cf. downloadable slideshow of the 2002 JTS-CGST Public Ethics Lecture. Bearing in mind, as well, the issue that -- absent a firm ethical foundation for balanced rights, freedoms and responsibilities in community -- democratic majority rule all too easily deteriorates into "three wolves and two sheep taking a vote on what's for lunch," the sort of stakeholder-based participative, ethically rooted sustainability strategies and approaches here, and the sort of more specific strategic planning and executing approaches, techniques and tools here on, will also be helpful.)
In that work of discipleship, reformation and God-blessed transformation, Jesus has given gifted leaders to the church to equip its members to do the works of loving and truthful service that help to fill all things [παντων, panton, from πᾶς pas (pas`) -- 1. all, any, every, the whole] with his grace, blessing and glory. Thus, through the church and the Spirit-enabled gifted service of all its members, the whole community and culture is filled with Christ, even as the waves advancing and retreating on a beach gradually (and almost invisibly but inexorably) march upwards to high tide:
 


Thus, the gospel-equipped, Spirit enabled church is the rising tide of history. In Titus 2:11 - 14, the apostle therefore adds:
Titus 2:11 . . .  the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. 12 It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good.
The rest of this course consequently  seeks to help build us up for just that task, by strengthening our understanding of the core foundations of our faith. As a part of that process of strengthening, it is convenient to look back a generation, to the key pioneering (albeit somewhat controversial and not without errors) thought and work of Francis Schaeffer, as he surveyed the intersection of the Christian faith and western culture over the past millennium, in light of the foundational thinking we can find in Paul on Mars Hill and in the Epistle to the Romans.

It is helpful to start by examining Paul's call to holiness and to truth in Eph 4:17 - 24:

 Eph 4:17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!- 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self,5  which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Here, we see a dynamic, whereby it is possible to turn away from God and become en-darkened in understanding and benumbed in conscience because we harden our hearts and block our minds to the accessible, knowable truth about God. Rom 1:18 - 23 elaborates, in the context of what became known as natural theology:
 Rom 1:18 . . . the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things [we may safely add: whether in the name of the old pagan religions or "science" or whatever else makes but little difference to the result] . . . .

 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done . . . .

32 Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
The ugly picture just painted is one in which we can see that if we are open-minded and diligent, we can see from nature, and from our hearts, minds and consciences, enough to point us to God; as was outlined above in this unit.

However, it is possible to willfully suppress that knowledge, by insisting on substituting a different start-point for what we are willing to accept as knowledge, and resisting the force of the actual evidence.  If we do so, God will not stop us as our hardened hearts, benumbed consciences and endarkened understandings lead us ever further astray in the teeth of what we know or should know.  Chaos in lives, families and communities is the predictable consequence.


But, one day, he will hold us to account.

Now, Schaeffer was in Continental Europe across the 1950′s – 70′s as an orthodox, evangelical, Dutch Reformed missionary to whom the students gasping for intellectual coherence in a sea of existentialist despair, came. Came in numbers amounting to a movement. To the point where the village he was based in made it into at least one popular song.


Fundamentally, then, Romans 1 rooted critical analysis of worldviews and their cultural implications was what Schaeffer was doing, and sufficiently well that when he passed away from cancer in 1984, major news magazines noted on his life work with a modicum of respect.


He was doing so in an atmosphere dominated by the great lights of learning in Europe who were building an existentialist worldview out of the wreckage of two world wars and the collapse of the academy as a leader in enlightenment (and under the distant looming shadow of the heirs of Marx and Lenin), given the dark age the horrible wars demonstrated beyond all doubt.


Don’t forget, one of these leading lights -- Jaspers -- used to tell his students that the first thing is to make sure you don’t commit suicide. And, the description of a man who came to Schaeffer, clinging to the fading memory of a “final experience” as an anchor for a sense of being in contact with something that can be seen as objective reality, as a drowning man clutches a straw, is iconic of his underlying compassion.


That should be respected, and we should reckon with Schaeffer’s successes as well as his limitations; whether or not we in the end agree with him on all or even most points. Let's adapt his famous Line of Despair diagram, to set up a timeline- based analytical framework; as that allows us to see the broad flow of thought and its consequences:


Now of course there will inevitably be a few limitations to such a sweeping analysis, and Schaeffer has made a couple of errors, especially on Thomas Aquinas: the latter actually did accept that the Fall affects will and mind (cf. e.g. ST I Q 85, Art, 3), and in his revised edition of Escape from Reason, Schaeffer more correctly located the cleavage between nature and grace and faith and reason etc. to those who followed. We should also recognise that Aquinas was responding to the Averroists, Islamic and Christian, who are seen by many as the real pioneers of the sort of split worldview that we are examining.
 
Averroes (i.e. Ibn Rushd), an Islamic interpreter of Aristotle, had then been recently translated into Latin, and this helped put the issues posed by Aristotle on centre stage in the University of Paris, where both Aquinas and Siger of Brabant taught. Brabant seems to have taught Aristotle in light of Averroes, without seeking a full reconciliation with Christian thought, and was opposed by Aquinas.  Sadly, the matter came up for ecclesiastical interventions in 1270 and -- shortly after Aquinas' death-- in 1277, forcing Brabant to lose his academic position.


After Aquinas's time [1225 - 1274], the controversial William of Ockham (or, Occam) [c. 1285 - c. 1347] -- who (by papal intervention) also lost his academic position over controversies -- is seen as carrying forward the idea that "only faith gives us access to theological truths. The ways of God are not open to reason, for God has freely chosen to create a world and establish a way of salvation within it apart from any necessary laws that human logic or rationality can uncover." [Dale T. Irvin & Scott W. Sunquist. History of World Christian Movement Volume I: Earliest Christianity to 1453, p. 434.] 


He is also on record: Sent. I, dist. 30, q. 1: “For nothing ought to be posited without a reason given, unless it is self-evident (literally, known through itself) or known by experience or proved by the authority of Sacred Scripture.” This last is sufficiently close to Aquinas' statements in  ST, I Q 1, etc., that it easily invites misreading Aquinas' plain intent to bring reason under the authority of scripture as authentic revelation. Here is the key statement:
[Aquinas, ST, I, Q 1, art 1:] It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason“The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee” (Isa. 66:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation . . .

Notwithstanding such balancing points, it is worth pondering the concern that by not putting in as a main stress the emphasis on Paul's corrective to the willful blindness "then and there," Aquinas' inadvertent lack of balanced emphasis in key introductory texts (e.g. ST, I Q 1) unintentionally opened a door for others to miss the point that willfully rebellious man has an endarkened mind that hinders him from seeing or acknowledging the compelling force of the signs in the world around him, and in his own heart, conscience and mind within.  

It would also have been helpful for Aquinas to note briefly "then and there" on the authenticity and authentication of the Scriptures as trustworthy and authoritative revelation; in light of Peter's observations in 2 Pet 1:13 - 21 & 3:1 - 18 on how we are to live by the authentic revelatory word we have, and so also how we must therefore recognise, resist, expose and correct misleading, mockingly skeptical and dismissive rhetoric. This, as, we are not following clever fables, but rather truthful and credible eyewitness based reports further undergirded by the powerfully fulfilled centuries-old scriptural prophecies of Him who holds the future and so can accurately predict it. [Cf. Isa 41:21 - 24.]

Moreover, the scriptures -- and more specifically the God who stands behind them -- also significantly work by experiential self-authentication. That is, through the scriptures, across the ages, literally millions have come to know God in life- transforming, satisfying ways. This, in the face of Jesus through the fulfilled  promises of the gospel. Precisely as Peter points out in 2 Pet 1:2 - 4 (and as Locke cited in the Greek in his Introduction to his Essay on Human Understanding, as was already quoted above):
2 Pet 1:2May grace (God's favor) and peace (which is [a]perfect well-being, all necessary good, all spiritual prosperity, and [b]freedom from fears and agitating passions and moral conflicts) be multiplied to you in [the full, personal, [c]precise, and correct] knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
    3For His divine power has bestowed upon us all things that [are requisite and suited] to life and godliness, through the [[d]full, personal] knowledge of Him Who called us by and to His own glory and excellence (virtue).
    4By means of these He has bestowed on us His precious and exceedingly great promises, so that through them you may escape [by flight] from the moral decay (rottenness and corruption) that is in the world because of covetousness (lust and greed), and become sharers (partakers) of the divine nature. [AMP]

This is also the context of Jesus' definition of the "eternal life" discussed in John 3:16, in John 17:3:
Jn 17:3And this is eternal life: [it means] to know (to perceive, recognize, become acquainted with, and understand) You, the only true and real God, and [likewise] to know Him, Jesus [as the] Christ (the Anointed One, the Messiah), Whom You have sent.
One may indeed choose to reject and dismiss such a body of life experience and testimony.

But, that comes at a stiffer cost than one may wish to pay, for then it raises the question of the human mind being so delusional that it would drastically undermine the credibility of all knowledge-claims, especially where we claim to know other persons in relationships (e.g. we only interact with bodies, we infer that here is a person behind the body).  So, it should be no surprise to see that many of the millions transformed through living encounter with God in the face of Christ will confidently report that they know God as personally as they know their mothers. As far as such are concerned, the man with a living experience of relationship is under no obligation to concede his living reality to the man who approaches him armed with skeptical, dismissive talking points.

Indeed, they would be inclined to conclude that the skeptical dismissive points are similar to how an imaginary, skeptical blind man might doubt the reality of light, which he cannot see. We would pity such a man, instead of desperately trying to prove the reality of our experience to him.

This is the context for Clark Pinnock's Scripture Principle concept:
Why, in the last analysis, do Christian people believe the Bible is God’s Word? Not because they have studied up on Christian evidences and apologetics, however useful these may prove to some. Christians believe the Bible because it has been able to do for them exactly as Paul promised it would [i.e. in 2 Tim 3:13 – 17]: introduce them to a saving and transforming knowledge of Christ. Reasons for faith and answers to perplexing difficulties in the text, therefore, are supportive but not constitutive of faith in God and his Word. Faith rests ultimately, not on in human wisdom, but in a demonstration of the Spirit and power. [An allusion to 1 Cor 2:1 - 5.]

[The Scripture Principle, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), p. xix. Cf here, C S Lewis' discussion of Lucy Pevensie in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when she returns from Narnia the first time, only to be doubted by her elder siblings, here.]
In any case, it should be a quite useful exercise to now pause and view Schaeffer's video mini-series survey episode 1, from the book/video series How Should We then Live? (Amazon DVD, here.):


Similarly, we need to ponder where the pattern of willfully turning our backs on the God who is evident in his handiwork in our world and who has put the candle of conscience within to speak to us can end up. Schaeffer and Koop, responding to the rise of abortion on demand in the USA, did a book and video, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

Let us look at the video:




As Schaeffer was so fond of remarking, ideas have consequences, and we must think about why we are now thinking as we increasingly are, in light of those consequences.


In steps of thought:


a --> The root soil of the Christian faith is the Hebraic tradition and covenant with God, in light of the promise of Messiah; so much so that in Romans, Paul puts it this way:
Rom 11: 16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root  of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. [ESV]
 b -->  But, at the same time, the Christian faith is not simply an extension of Judaism, it is a recognised fulfillment of a promise of the OT, as  we can see from the very first Church Council, in Jerusalem in AD 48 or 49, when Paul and Barnabas described their experiences on their first Missionary journey:
 Ac 15:12 . . . all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon [i.e. Peter, cf. vv 7 - 11] has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, 
      16 ​​​​​​​​“‘After this I will return,         and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;         I will rebuild its ruins,          and I will restore it,       17 ​​​​​​​​that the remnant  of mankind may seek the Lord,         and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,          says the Lord, who makes these things     18 known from of old.’  
c --> In that context, Paul is a pivotal figure. A Jewish Rabbi and Pharisee of the Pharisees, from Tarsus, a Greek-speaking centre of Learning and a Roman Citizen, he embodied the Christian integration of the heritage of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome that was the foundation of Western Culture as we know it.

d --> It took centuries, and it was never a one-sided affair (where, sadly, there were many errors, unwise compromises and sins or even crimes and atrocities in the process, cf Unit 9 below); but that synthesis created something new, a Judaeo-Christian civilisation, once known as Christendom. In the second episode of his How Should We then Live series, Schaeffer gives significant (and often overlooked) insights, though his thought is somewhat marred by the error regarding Aquinas' views on the fall as was already pointed out:


 

e --> In that civilisation, the gospel as recorded in the Bible as the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant, played a pivotal role in shaping the culture and the lives and views of the Christianised peoples, even among those who were not personally committed "born again" Christians. And, it was taken for granted that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised messiah, the crucified and risen Saviour and Lord, the Son of God who one day would come to Judge the living and the dead.

f --> In that context, it was natural to see in the order of nature, the evident design of life, the beauty of the heavens and the world, the powers of mind and the voice of conscience, strong cumulative evidence that decisively points to God. And so, major institutions, culture, law, politics and policy were often (though, not often enough and not thoroughly enough in a balanced way!) consciously shaped by that counsel. Here, we may find the Pauline form of the Golden Rule in Rom 13 particularly helpful, especially in the NIV '84 rendering:

 Rom 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,”[a] and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.  

11
And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
g --> However, the Christianised peoples came into increasing conflict with the Muslim ones, in the aftermath of the Jihad expansion by war that especially characterised the century after Mohammed's death (NB: cf. here, here, here, here, here and here on Islam), i.e. from from about 630 to 730 AD. The Islamic powers moved from having conquered Arabia c. 620 - 630 under Mohammed, to battering on the gates of India and those of Paris, France by the 730's. By 711, Spain had been invaded and (apart from some mountainous regions) was rapidly conquered, and then in 732, an invading Muslim Army was stopped by Charles Martel, 150 miles from Paris. In response to such invasions, to repeated piratical jihad raids (including on Rome, where the last general European leader was based, i.e. the pope), to attacks on and massacres of peaceful Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land, and in response to an appeal from the Byzantine Emperor, the world moved into the nearly 1,000 year long era of cold and hot wars between civilisations, with India, the Middle East, Spain and Eastern Europe as zones of long-term conflict. [These wars were only resolved when the European nations conquered the Middle East.] Unsurprisingly, worldviews conflict -- and thus philosophical debates -- also came into the picture.

h --> In that context, Schaeffer's timeline of pivotal events picks up with Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, a champion of natural theology who spoke to the issue of what is knowable by light of nature, and what is only knowable by faithful response to authentic revelation; or, "nature" and "grace."


i --> In advocating natural theology, argument to God from signs in nature and in our own conscious experience, Aquinas -- Schaeffer errs here --  did acknowledge the impairment of will and mind by man's sinful, rebellious position; but in many of the classic and more readily accessible key texts (which, then as now, tended to take on a life of their own similar to John 3:16 . . . ), Aquinas' balance was significantly different from what Paul emphasised, namely the tendency to rebel against and suppress what we can and should know about God on adequate evidence; but which we find distasteful. In John 8:42 - 47, Jesus also warns against this problem of systematic misunderstanding in no uncertain terms:

Jn 8:42Jesus said [--> to some who had adhered to him as his disciples!] . . . If God were your Father, you would love Me and respect Me and welcome Me gladly, for I proceeded (came forth) from God [out of His very presence]. I did not even come on My own authority or of My own accord (as self-appointed); but He sent Me.

    43Why do you misunderstand what I say? It is because you are unable to hear what I am saying. [You cannot bear to listen to My message; your ears are shut to My teaching.]  44You are of your father, the devil, and it is your will to practice the lusts and gratify the desires [which are characteristic] of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a falsehood, he speaks what is natural to him, for he is a liar [himself] and the father of lies and of all that is false.

    45But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me [do not trust Me, do not rely on Me, or adhere to Me] . . . .

47 Whoever is of God listens to God. [Those who belong to God hear the words of God.] This is the reason that you do not listen [to those words, to Me]: because you do not belong to God and are not of God or in harmony with Him. [AMP]
j --> So, there is a danger, even among those who ostensibly are following Christ, of being so locked into error that one is unable to hear the truth, precisely because it cuts across what one already believes and is unwilling to be corrected about. It is thus unsurprising that in later generations, men of a more skeptical disposition, would take the relationship of complementarity with distinction in how the unified truth is warranted between Nature and Grace that was presented by Aquinas, and turn it instead into  a division -- a dichotomy [= to cut in two] -- and an opposition such that Nature declares autonomy and "eats up" Grace:
 


 (Episode 3, on the renaissance, episode 4 on the reformation, and episode five on the era of the political and economic revolutions, are helpful in further deepening our understanding. The series as a whole is available here.)


k --> The same principle of an autonomous [ = law unto itself] lower storey that tends to crush the upper storey then led to centuries of conflict over finding a unified and satisfactory worldview. Skeptical, rationalist, empiricist and idealist worldviews that dismiss God and the evidence that points to him thus tend to be fragmentary, lacking cohesion. And that lack of coherence and resulting inner tensions are pointer-signs that reveal their key defects.  This immediately points to a strategy for response through prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership, as we may adapt from Schaeffer's "taking the roof off" diagram in his The God Who is There [also HT, WJM and CY et al at UD]:




l --> By the time we reach the beginning of the 1800's, we are at a threshold that Schaeffer aptly called The Line of Despair. Hope of a unified, rationalistic, empirically grounded worldview that brought it all together in a harmonious whole was increasingly surrendered.  Kant, a precursor, saw an inescapable gap between the world of our inner life (including our perceptions of the external world)  and the external world of things in themselves. But in this, as William Lane Craig points out in one of his recent debates with Ludemann, there is already a key, fatal self-referential contradiction:
insofar as these . . . assumptions include Kant's strictures on the scope of scientific knowledge, they are deeply, fatally flawed. For Kant must at least be claiming to have knowledge of the way some things (e.g., the mind and its structures and operations) exist in themselves and not merely as they appear; he confidently affirms that the idea of God, for instance, has the property of unknowability. [10] So the theory relies on knowledge that the theory, if it was true, would not -- could not -- allow. [ Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment, ed. Paul Copan (Downer's Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), p. 13. NB: Ref. [10] is to Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief, pp. 3 - 30, and is shortly followed by a reference to F. H. Bradley's gentle but stinging opening salvo in his Appearance and Reality, 2nd Edn.: that "The man who is ready to prove that metaphysical knowledge is impossible has . . . himself . . . perhaps unknowingly, entered the arena [of metaphysics] . . . . To say that reality is such that our knowledge cannot reach it, is to claim to know reality." (Clarendon Press, 1930), p.1]
m --> Soon thereafter, Hegel (and famously Marx . . . ), no longer thought in terms of truth and error in direct opposition, but instead radically relativised truth and access to it into a sort of ongoing evolutionary triangular process of an idea and another idea in tension with it, so that these ideas contend for a time and yield a partial unity that leads on to the next stage. Thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis, repeat. (Marx's key difference was he pushed the idea of intellectual struggles into clashes of classes of men in contention over fundamentally economic concerns.)

n --> According to Schaeffer, Kierkegaard, in turn, would see himself as finding the hoped for unity and meaningfulness by a willed leap of faith. From him would come the religious and secular existentialists; hence eventually Schaeffer's man desperately clinging to the experience of the redness of a rose or the beauty of a sunset as the anchor-point for meaning in his life.

o --> And meanwhile, area after area of culture would fall beneath the line, following the ideas pioneered by philosophy. Arts and music, general culture, professions, government, and last of all, theology itself. 

p --> All of this spreads out in ripples from Germany (and its major universities), to its neighbours such as France and Holland, Britain and then by the early C20, America then the world at large; at least that part strongly influenced by Western Culture. 

q --> But, too, there were people of insight who saw the possible consequences. Christian Johann Heinrich Heine (cf. Wikipedia bio, here) a German poet, journalist and writer, and a Jewish Christian [baptised as such in 1825], in 1831, in Religion and Philosophy in Germany, wrote one of the most chillingly accurate (and too often neglected) prophecies in all modern literature -- yes, a full century before the Nazis rose to power:

Christianity — and that is its greatest merit — has somewhat mitigated that brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered [--> the Swastika, visually, is a twisted, broken cross . . .], the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. …

The old stone gods will then rise from long ruins and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and Thor will leap to life with his giant hammer and smash the Gothic cathedrals. …

Do not smile at my advice — the advice of a dreamer who warns you against Kantians, Fichteans, and philosophers of nature. Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible as has taken place in the spiritual. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder … comes rolling somewhat slowly, but … its crash … will be unlike anything before in the history of the world. …

At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead [--> cf. air warfare, symbol of the USA], and lions in farthest Africa [--> the lion is a key symbol of Britain, cf. also the North African campaigns]  will draw in their tails and slink away. … A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.
r -->   So, plainly, for a long time, insightful or even inspired thinkers warned against and mourned the loss of unified meaning based on  rationalist ideas as informed by scientific evidence from observation and evolving theories. ( N.b.: rationalism is a skeptical approach to thought and knowledge that in effect rejects or even mocks the possibility or credibility of revelation from God, as step number one to "critically aware" learning.)

s --> But, they were not heeded. And now, as a global movement -- one that, in light of Heine's warning on the consequences of rationalist skepticism and irrational neo-paganism, we should be extremely wary of -- we arrive at the ultra- or post- moderns, who celebrate what was once mourned. Mary Klages (as a typical example) sums up this view and spirit:

“[Postmodernism] differs from modernism in its attitude toward a lot of these trends. Modernism, for example, tends to present a fragmented view of human subjectivity and history (think of [T. S. Eliot’s epochal poem] The Wasteland, for instance, or of Woolf's To the Lighthouse), but presents that fragmentation as something tragic, something to be lamented and mourned as a loss . . . Postmodernism, in contrast, doesn't lament the idea of fragmentation, provisionality, or incoherence, but rather celebrates that. The world is meaningless? Let's not pretend that art can make meaning then, let's just play with nonsense.[Emphasis added.]
t --> Thomas Oden is withering in his response to such thinking:
Postmodernity in my meaning is simply that historical formation that will follow the era of spent modernity – the time span from 1789 [fall of Bastille, start of French Revolution] to 1989 [fall of Berlin Wall, end of Communist revolutionary era] which characteristically embraced an enlightenment worldview that cast an ideological spell over our times, now in grave moral spinout . . . We could call what is passing the era of French Enlightenment, German Idealism, and British Empiricism, but those influences are just more complicated ways of saying modern consciousness . . . .

Experience teaches that when avant-garde academics bandy about the term “postmodern,” it is usually more accurate to strike post and insert ultra. For guild scholars, postmodern simply means hypermodern, where the value assumptions of modernity are nostalgically recollected and ancient wisdoms compulsively disregarded. Meanwhile the emergent actual postmodernity that is being suffered through outside the ivory tower is not yet grasped or rightly appraised by those in it.

We do not at all mean by post modernity what many academics mean – deconstructionist literary criticism and relativistic nihilism . . . Richard Rorty and Jacques Derrida are ultra-modern writers according to this definition, rather than postmodern . . . . what is named post is actually a desperate extension of despairing modernity that imagines by calling itself another name (postmodern), it can extend the ideology of modernity into the period following modernity . . . .

My use of the term “postmodern” began in 1969 . . . in seeking to describe spiritual wanderers searching for roots, before Derrida and Foucalt popularized it, and just before the Architectural world began to shanghai the idea. When philosophers and literary critics got around to using the term postmodernity in the 80’s to be applied to what we are calling ultramodernity, my thought was that the term was being misapplied then, and it still is now . . . . We can defiantly sit on the term postmodern with a paleo-orthodox spin . . . on the grounds that its earlier meaning is preferable to its later meaning, and the logic of a Christian understanding of modern history demands it. The logic of modernity demands something to follow it, even when the myth of modernity lives in denial of that possibility. [“The Death of Modernity and Postmodern Evangelical Spirituality,” in The Challenge of Postmodernism, Ed. David S. Dockery (Wheaton, IL: Bridgepoint/Victor, 1995), pp. 25 – 27.]
u --> Of course, on another front, we face the resurgence of the same Islamic worldviews, ideological and geostrategic challenges that Europe faced in Aquinas' day. But this time around, Western Civilisation is eaten out from within, and is filled with inner doubts as to whether it even deserves to live.

v --> Against that backdrop, we are called to stand up as a unique people, a counterculture and an alternative that calls men to listen to the voice of God in not only the signs we can see in the world around and in our minds and consciences within, but through authentic testimony to the gospel backed up by the sign of the resurrection, through the thereby released miraculous transforming power of God in our lives, the God we have been forgiven and blessed by, and in light of his authenticated Word. 

w --> Under that call, we can again see the force of the programme of action in Eph 4 in a new light:

 Eph 4:7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says,  
  
                    “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
        and he gave gifts to men.”

 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?1  10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds  and teachers,  12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,4  to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
x --> The authentic truth in love liberates, and that same truth in love transforms individuals, families, communities and cultures, if we will but receive it with gratitude and repentant trust:
Eph 4: 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.

18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 

20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!- 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self,5  which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
And so, we must now go on to further elaborate what the truth in love as authenticated by the sign of the resurrection is, and how it transforms, so we may be better able to receive it and be blessed by God through it.
 
FOR DISCUSSION AND ASSIGNMENT

The focus for this unit has been on on warranting our confidence in the scriptures and their main message, in the face of worldview level challenges, starting from the contemporary dominance of a priori evolutionary materialism, and from Paul's encounter with the Athenian intellectual elite on Mars Hill.

1] Why is it that Richard Dawkins has felt confident enough to say on the record that "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)"? [“Put Your Money on Evolution” The New York Times (April 9, 1989) section VII p.35. You may wish to see his onward 2006 article here, a somewhat sympathetic theistic response here, Dembski's response here, Egnor's remarks here and creationist rebuttals here, here and here.]


2] Similarly, why did Lewontin not see it as a basic error in logic to impose evolutionary materialism as an a priori on doing science? What is the effect of such an a priori on the degree of warrant for knowledge claims in origins science, and why?


3] What would be your response if you were challenged along the lines of what Dawkins or Lewontin have said? In light of the critical summary here and other sources pro and con that you may explore [try: here, here, and here for a start], have the evolutionary materialists succeeded in "putting God out of a job"? Why or why not?


4] Examine and summarise the above discussion on the significance of digitally coded, functionally specific complex information in the living cell:

a:  is the summary of how proteins are made in the cell accurate and fair?
b: what is the usual source of language, codes, computer programs and symbols, on your observation?
c: given remarks here, is it plausible that such things could spontaneously originate by undirected forces of necessity and chance? why or why not?
d: is it a fair, empirically warranted conclusion that FSCI is a signature of intelligent design?
e: what do your conclusions imply about the origin of cell-based life and of major body plans, why?
f:  what do these issues imply about the credibility of the idea that we are created by God?
5] Given the motives, attitudes, words and actions of many evolutionary scientists from Darwin, Huxley and Haeckel to Dawkins, Sagan and Lewontin to today's champions of evolutionary materialistic science, it fair to compare pagan idols in temples with modern "educational" animatronic dinosaur displays in museums? Why or why not? What are the implications of your answers?

6] Are generic and Biblical, Judaeo-Christian theism credible or well warranted? Why or why not? In light of the issues raised by Paul, as well as Heine, Craig, Schaeffer, Oden and others, what are the implications of your answers for the individual, the community and our civilisation as well as the wider world? Why?

7]  Is it reasonable to say that we find ourselves subject to binding moral principles such as fairness, respect and love for others? In light of your answer, what are the implications of the problems of good and evil? And, what do the resulting moral issues imply for the transformation of lives, families, churches, communities and cultures?