Larry Wall’s Quantum Proof that God is Good

Larry WallThanks to Tyson for posting an interesting article (originally from 2002) by Larry Wall, the inventor of the Perl programming language, on how his scientific mind led him to belief in God. In the article he is responding to an atheistic or possibly deistic questioner who seems to hold that Christian belief is incompatible with science.

Here’s a taster, showing how Wall bases his response in quantum mechanics:

A lot of folks get hung up at point B [“God is good to people who really look for him”] for various reasons, some logical and some moral, but mostly because of Shroedinger again. People are almost afraid to observe the B qubit because they don’t want the wave function to collapse either to a 0 or a 1, since both choices are deemed unpalatable. A lot of people who claim to be agnostics don’t take the position so much because they don’t know, but because they don’t want to know, sometimes desperately so.

Because if it turns out to be a 0, then we really are the slaves of our selfish genes, and there’s no basis for morality other than various forms of tribalism.

And because if it turns out to be a 1, then you have swallow a whole bunch of flim-flam that goes with it. Or do you?

I don’t claim to understand all of this, but it is interesting!

The Atheists' Anti-Evolution Conspiracy?

Conspiracy theoriesJames McGrath suggests that

anti-evolutionism is the result of atheist scientists infiltrating Christian circles, and offering lame and unpersuasive criticisms of mainstream science in order to discredit Christianity and hinder the spread of the Gospel.

Or maybe that isn’t what he means. Anyway, his post about fun with conspiracy theories is amusing and well worth a read.

Are atheists zombies?

The discussion on James McGrath’s post JesusWeen led me to consider the intriguing possibility that atheists, and in fact all people who are not Christian believers, might be zombies.

Zombies from "Night of the Living Dead"Now I am not here talking about the kind of flesh-eating “undead” which seem to be more and more prominent in our popular culture, and will no doubt feature prominently in this year’s Halloween festivities. There is even a Zombie Theology website, at which one of the leading contributors is my blogging friend Alan Knox. But then at that site there are some things taking a similar line to what I am taking here, such as the post When zombies go to Sunday School.

My point in this post relates to the concept of philosophical zombies. I was led to look at this by the mention of qualia in a comment by idmillington on McGrath’s post. This kind of zombie is defined as

a hypothetical being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except in that it lacks conscious experience, qualia, or sentience.

Well, they say “hypothetical”, but how can we know that there are not real zombies of this variety living among us? After all, the hypothesis is that they are indistinguishable from the rest of us. But would they really be, not just in their actions but also in their abstract thinking? If a being that lacked true consciousness were to engage in a debate about consciousness, surely its lack of first-hand knowledge would be reflected in its arguments. Would it not be more likely than a genuinely conscious human being to hold that consciousness is illusory?

Let’s turn to what the Bible has to say here. There is a consistent picture in Scripture, starting from Genesis 2:17 and traceable at least to Revelation 3:1, that people who go against God’s ways are spiritually dead, although their bodies and minds are alive. This idea is expounded most clearly by the Apostle Paul:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. … 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions …

Ephesians 2:1-2,4-5 (NIV)

Christian theologians have generally explained this in terms of the human being as tripartite: body, soul and spirit. On this basis, it is the human spirit which is dead in unbelievers, those who are not “in Christ”, even in those whose bodies and souls (i.e. minds and emotions) are alive. But when someone becomes a Christian, a major part of their “born again” experience is that their human spirit comes alive, as Paul seems to teach in the following verse, although its interpretation is disputed:

But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.

Romans 8:10 (NIV 1984)

Can the human spirit be identified with consciousness? That is not impossible. But Christian teaching might suggest more an identification with conscience and intuition, and also that the spirit is the part of the human being which is in contact with God. So would an intelligent being which lacks a human a philosophical zombie? Technically, probably not, but it does look as if there is some parallel between the concepts.

A better way to put this might be as foillows. According to Christian teaching, unbelievers and atheists, while not necessarily completely without conscience or intuition, lack the part of the human being which is in contact with God. This explains why they are unable to understand matters of Christian faith. As Paul wrote,

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV)

So please don’t be afraid this Halloween that atheists will break into your home in the night and suck your brains out. After all, some of them have plenty of their own brains. But bear in mind that they may be somewhat lacking in the more spiritual aspects of discernment. And remember that arguing with them is pointless, as they do not have the capacity to understand spiritual matters. Instead, pray for them, that the Holy Spirit will give life and light to their human spirits and show them the truth about God.

Steve Jobs, Preacher of a Secular Gospel

Steve JobsFor the last few days I have been watching the reaction to the death of Steve Jobs. Some has been over the top. Some has been very funny. Some has been both, like this one I found on Facebook:

Three apples changed the world: Eve’s, Newton’s, and Steve Jobs’.

As I commented on Facebook:

As for Jobs’ Apple, well, its significance is really only on popular culture, and without him the company will struggle to keep ahead of the Far East.

On similar lines, I found very interesting an article Steve Jobs: The Secular Prophet, written by Andy Crouch, an editor at Christianity Today, and published in the Wall Street Journal. Thanks to John Meunier for the link.

Crouch explores the symbolism of the Apple logo with the missing bite, and sees in the technology it represents an attempt to reverse the curse of the Fall:

Steve Jobs was the evangelist of this particular kind of progress—and he was the perfect evangelist because he had no competing source of hope. He believed so sincerely in the “magical, revolutionary” promise of Apple precisely because he believed in no higher power.

Thus he presents Jobs as a preacher of “the gospel of a secular age”, one which brings only “cold comfort”,

But the genius of Steve Jobs was to persuade us, at least for a little while, that cold comfort is enough.

Crouch continues by contrasting the Apple pioneer with Martin Luther King, who, unlike Jobs, articulated a real hope for the future.

For people of a secular age, Steve Jobs’s gospel may seem like all the good news we need. But people of another age would have considered it a set of beautifully polished empty promises, notwithstanding all its magical results. …

Whatever the limits of Steve Jobs’s secular gospel, or for that matter of Dr. King’s Christian one, our keen sense of loss at his passing reminds us that the oxygen of human societies is hope. Steve Jobs kept hope alive. We will not soon see his like again. Let us hope that when we do, it is soon enough to help us deal with the troubles that this century, and every century, will bring.

This is how Crouch ends his thought-provoking essay. While I might have liked it to close with a clearer endorsement of King’s true Christian gospel rather than Jobs’ version, it is good to see such matters being discussed openly in a secular journal.

The atheistic Buddhism of Steve Jobs might offer the best that humanity can achieve without God. But that is at best a pale shadow of what men and women can enjoy if they follow Jesus, and allow him to lead them into receiving all the good things which God provides for his people. To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13:12, now we may see an image of reality in an iPhone, but then we shall see face to face.

I'm 99.97% atheist!

Atheist symbolIn a post The atheist delusion Gez quotes the following from David Nicholls, President of the Atheist Foundation:

We’re … people who have realised there’s absolutely no evidence for any of the 3000 gods …

In a comment Robert J. Wilson, himself an atheist, makes a point which I was also going to bring up before I saw his comment:

As Mr. Nicholls rightly points out, there are over 3,000 gods throughout history. Christians are 99.9% atheist in that they disbelieve in all but one. We (atheists) simply go one god further.

I could have responded by noting how completely Wilson misunderstands, or misrepresents, what the one God means to us Christians. We don’t so much believe in his existence as have a relationship with him. Even if I didn’t believe that Solomon’s thousand wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:3) existed, that would bring me no closer to disbelieving in the existence of my own one wife – I know she exists because I know her! And the same with my one God.

But the reply to Wilson I in fact posted, pointing out his mathematical error, was more on the level his argument deserves:

Interesting statistic, Robert. Perhaps you think we Christians are 99.9% atheist in that we disbelieve in all but THREE of the 3000? But the three are one, so I go with 99.97% atheist. ;-)

Scott Bailey in bed with creationists!

Scott Bailey when he was a professional ice hockey goaltender

Scott Bailey when he was a professional ice hockey goaltender

I was rather enjoying Scott Bailey’s series Does Higher Criticism Attempt to “Destroy the Bible”? This was teaching in simple language some important lessons about how to approach the Bible.

But when Scott came to the fifth post in his series his presuppositions started to show. Indeed this post is little more than a summary of them. But Scott’s position became really clear when I tried to engage with him in the comments on this post. I summarised his first response to me as

You clearly reject as “delusional and willfully ignorant” anyone who believes in any kind of spiritual world interacting with our world today.

He replied that he would accept this kind of interaction if I could show him

how it works, that it works, and do it under repeatable, verifiable, testable conditions.

But when I suggested that his insistence on “repeatable, verifiable, testable conditions” for any tests of spiritual activity implies that

large parts of modern science, including almost all geology, evolutionary biology and astronomy, are invalid because they are based on observation rather than repeatable experiment,

he replied

Are you really that stupid and unaware of the different scientific methods and disciplines? … it’s hard for me to fathom someone could seriously write that. Perhaps the most idiotic thing you have commented here.

Well, I’ll let my readers judge who is being “idiotic” here. Of course there are different scientific methods in different disciplines. But he is trying to argue that it is “delusional” to speak of interactions between the material and the spiritual world because they cannot be proven by the experimental methods used in one particular set of disciplines – although they can very likely be demonstrated by using observational methods which are accepted in other scientific disciplines.

Now I accept that good observational evidence needs to be found for any claims for example of healing as a result of prayer, and that it is hard to find such evidence. But to claim that it is “delusional” to believe in such healings unless they can be performed under repeatable laboratory conditions is quite unreasonable. It is also offensive to astronomers, evolutionary biologists etc whose work, if the same standards were applied to it, would also have to be written off as “delusional”.

Yes, Scott has some uncomfortable bedfellows here, creationists who argue against evolution and an ancient universe because these scientific results are based only on observation of fossils, distant galaxies etc and not on experiments done “under repeatable, verifiable, testable conditions”.

Scott, you, like “Every single person in the western world”, have been “inculcated, socialized, and deeply, deeply ingrained into Enlightenment categories of thinking” – to quote your own words. But that does not imply that those categories are objectively correct and that all others are false. The excellent scholar does not blindly accept the categories of thinking he or she has been brought up with, but questions these paradigms and is prepared to transcend them. Great scientific advances have been made by those like Einstein who were able to think in new categories. But second rate scholars like Bultmann, as I discussed recently, continue to think in the old ways long after they have been discredited. Scott, you might think it a compliment to be compared with Bultmann, but I don’t mean it as such when I suggest that you are making the same mistake as him.

Revelation is Like a Bouquet of Roses

A bouquet of rosesI am copying this title with thanks from the post Revelation is Like a Bouquet of Roses by Jeremy Myers. Indeed he has a good point comparing the various ways in which God reveals himself with a bouquet. Many blooms are better than one, and a variety of blooms is better still.

But the main point I want to take from Jeremy’s post is that, despite the alliteration, it is wrong to contrast science with Scripture.

Scripture and nature, theology and science The real contrasts which need to be made are between Scripture and nature, and between theology and science. Scripture and nature both provide us with data, revealed by God, for us human beings to interpret. Theology is human interpretation of Scripture, and science is human interpretation of nature. Jeremy offers a helpful diagram, copied here, summarising the situation.

So, Jeremy writes,

we can never really say that Science contradicts Scripture. It doesn’t. Nature and Scripture cannot disagree, because both are simply the pools of data from which Science and Theology come. When Science and theology are at odds, it is only because one or the other has misinterpreted and misunderstood the data.

So when someone gets upset that “Science is undermining the Bible!” what they are really saying is that “Science is undermining my understanding of the Bible.” The two are very different. We must be careful to not equate our theology with Scripture. The two are not the same.

I couldn’t have put it better. But there is also another side to it. Much of the theory of evolution, for example, is probably good science. But when atheistic scientists use it as the basis for assertions that there is no place for a Creator God, they need to be reminded not to go beyond what can be justified from observations of nature. Belief in God does not conflict with these observations, but only with some scientific interpretations of them.

Taking over mountains from the grass roots

The Guardian, the UK’s top left-leaning newspaper, has an excellent article today Could this be the church to calm our secularist outrage?, written by the sceptical agnostic (his words) John Harris, and an accompanying video. The article and the video feature Frontline Church in Liverpool, 15 miles from my home, and its project among prostitutes in the area: not open evangelism but “a weekly operation in which a handful of volunteers take food, tea and condoms to the city’s sex workers.” The agnostic reporter is clearly impressed, and muses on the response to this, or lack of it, from militant secularists.

Nic HardingWhat the church is doing is impressive. But I want to look more at what the church is saying – at least at the words of its pastor Nic Harding, who is seen preaching in the video. In fact he writes about his struggle preparing this sermon in a post on his own blog. Following this in the video, John Harris interviews him.

Here is the video, followed by a partial transcript:

(04:09) Harding (preaching): Our calling is out there … Social justice, education, health care, politics, government: these are all areas that God says “Who is willing to claim that mountain?” … How can we make a difference? How can we challenge the prevailing attitudes of money being the bottom line for everything? How can we add value to what we do? How can we touch the lives of people, even though we are dealing with products or commodities or services? …

(04:56) Harris: If the people here took over all those mountains and ran the show, what would society look like? …

(08:39) Harris: You see I think about these things politically, about the ideal way the society should go. I think in terms of it being more equal, less individualistic. You know, the structures of society should change. Are we talking about the same thing?

Harding: I think we probably are. But we probably are approaching it from a different starting point. Because politics tends to look at things from a top down model. It tends to see … You start to change society by changing how you run society from the top, from political systems, whether it be capitalism or socialism, whatever it might be. Whereas Christianity starts at grass roots. It starts with individuals’ lives changing. It starts with families, broken families coming together and reconciling. It starts with children being raised by parents who care about what happens to them. It starts with parent governors in schools making a difference in their local school. It starts with people who go into work with a different attitude and mindset. It’s a bottom up thing.

Harris: But you know where you’re going? Because if you ask me I will tell you. I would like a society where the rich are less rich and the poor are less poor. How would you feel about that?

Harding: I think a society where people are generous with what they have got would be fantastic, where people are willing to share their goods, their possessions, their time, their energy – not in an enforced way, because I think once you enforce it you take the whole spirit out of it, but on a completely free will basis, because people’s hearts have been changed.

In the sermon extract, Harding seems to be alluding to the Seven Mountains Mandate popularised by Lance Wallnau among others, which encourages Christians to seek

to gain influence over the “mountains” of government, church, education, family, media, arts, and business.

Now according to Joel Watts these seven mountains are the same as the ones in Revelation 17:9, over which the Beast reigns. I’m sure this point has not escaped Wallnau and friends. Joel writes:

Stay with me for a minute –

  • Wallnau identified seven mountains and one to rule over them.
  • John writes of seven mountains/hills with one to rule over them.

Anyone? Anyone at all see anything wrong with this whatsoever?

No, Joel, nothing wrong. Wallnau and John agree that the enemy temporarily rules over the seven mountains. Wallnau teaches that Christians should bring them under the rule of Jesus, the kingdom of God. John also teaches, in verse 14 of the same chapter, how Jesus and his armies will defeat the enemy and conquer the mountains. Where is the difference?

Joel also considers that the Seven Mountain Strategy is all about “Dominionism”. Well, as Wikipedia says,

The use and application of this terminology is a matter of controversy.

Nic Harding certainly isn’t talking about Dominion Theology as described in this Wikipedia article, and I’m pretty sure Lance Wallnau isn’t either. Neither of them envisage setting up a kind of Christian Sharia Law to replace secular law. There also seem to be quite a few differences from Wikipedia’s “Dominionism as a broader movement”. There may indeed be influences from Kuyper and Schaeffer, but not from Rushdoony. Harding is explicit that what Christians should do must be “on a completely free will basis, because people’s hearts have been changed”. Society is to be transformed according to Christian principles not by imposition from the top but by Christians working up from the grass roots.

Is this something from the right or from the left? If this is “Dominionism” from the Christian right, why is it so appealing to the Marx-quoting agnostic from the left-wing Guardian? Militant secularists may rage, but the label doesn’t matter. What does matter is that people that the world, and the secular government, ignore or reject are being accepted and provided for by Christians. This is the love which can turn the world upside down.

Thanks to Phil Ritchie and the Evangelical Alliance for their links to this article.

Gagarin's God: found not in space but on earth

Yuri Gagarin (first day cover)Today the world celebrates fifty years since Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. He was an unlikely hero. Although a highly trained pilot, as the BBC reports, he

had no control over his spacecraft during the historic flight.

And he didn’t even complete a full orbit of the earth.

But what did he see, or not see, in space? And what did he say, or not say? It became a staple theme of atheistic Soviet propaganda that during his flight he said

I see no God up here.

But no such words appear in the official transcripts of his communications. A few days later he did apparently say, in response to a question very likely from an important communist,

No I didn’t see God. I looked and looked but I didn’t see God.

On the other hand he also said, at least as reported at Wikipedia,

Someone who never met God on Earth, would never meet Him in space.

And it is known that he was a practising Orthodox Christian who had his daughter baptised shortly before his flight.

Of course Gagarin did not see God in space. He clearly understood well that God is not an old man sitting in the sky, hidden from human view only by the atmosphere. It is probably a reflection of the naivety of the Soviet propaganda machine, rather than of the naivety of the popular Russian idea of God, that Gagarin’s alleged words were ever considered a serious argument for atheism. As even their famous peasant become cosmonaut clearly understood, God is to be found not in space but here on earth.

Pullman's Good Man Jesus, or the Church's Scoundrel Christ?

Bishop Alan Wilson has an interesting review of Philip Pullman’s new book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, which sounds like bad history but interesting fiction. The author is of course a well known atheist.

I haven’t read the book, so I am relying here on the bishop’s review. As far as I can tell from that, Pullman has taken the 19th century speculation about the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith and turned them into two separate people, brothers but very different. Indeed there seem to be elements of the Prodigal Son story mixed in. But it seems that Pullman’s good man Jesus represents the real original man from Nazareth, and his scoundrel Christ is a caricature of what the church has turned Jesus into.

Bishop Alan quotes at length Pullman’s version of Jesus’ prayer in the garden:

Lord, if I thought you were listening, I’d pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should weild no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn but only forgive. That it should not be like a palace, with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood to the carpenter, but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place. Does the tree say to the sparrow “Get out, you don’t belong here?” Does the tree say to the hungry man, “That fruit is not for you?” Does the tree test the loyalty of the beasts before it allows them into the shade?’

So far, so good. But I was disappointed at the Anglican bishop’s response to this:

Amen! This is a rather C of E ecclesology; The Church is anything but perfect, but always in need of necessary reformation. This comes from its interaction with the society it serves, not some infallible magisterium. …

No, Bishop Alan, Pullman’s Jesus is not commending the Church of England. It may not have an “infallible magisterium”. It may have become relatively poor, recently, but not by renouncing riches or giving generously, only by being inept at holding on to its wealth. But it still owns huge amounts of property, and makes its own laws or gets the government to do so for it. Many of its buildings are precisely “like a palace, with marble walls and polished floors”. Its bishops (not Bishop Alan, at least yet) still wield secular authority in the House of Lords. And if its official leaders are no longer quick to condemn, that lack is more than made up for by the pronouncements of some of its clergy and lay people.

If the church wants to show the love of the real Jesus to atheists like Pullman, it won’t do it by boasting that it is not as bad as those Roman Catholics with their “infallible magisterium”, but by doing something about the points which Pullman actually puts on the lips of Jesus. May the church indeed become

like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood to the carpenter, but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place.