Mind Boggling Silence

There are two basic views (and some sub-categories of each) about how to understand the relationship between the brain and the mind. The first, physicalismsays that the mind is nothing more than an extension of the brain. The second, dualism, says that the mind and brain are different things altogether.

Physicalism insists that there is no difference between the mind and the brain — that the “mind” is simply a way to refer to the results of chemical processes that go on in the neural network controlled by the gray matter between your ears.

“According to strict physicalism, a human being is merely a physical entity. The only things that exist are physical substances, properties and events … The physical substance called the brain has physical properties such as a certain weight, volume, size, electrical activity, chemical composition and so forth … when someone has an occasion of pain or an occurrence of a thought, physicalists hold that these are merely particular physical events — events where certain C-fibers are firing or certain electrical and chemical events are happening in the brain and central nervous system.”*

Since thoughts and feelings are nothing but physical events that result from electrical impulses between neural cells, we can actually connect electrodes to the brain, stimulate it in different ways, and observe which area of the brain “lights up.” We can manipulate that area of the brain with surgery or chemicals and thereby alter behavior, or at least understand what made you act the way you did when you felt sad, or angry, or happy, or attracted to a mate.

Once we know where our different behaviors and inclinations reside, we are well on our way to solving all the mysteries of the origin and operation of imagination, concepts, thoughts, instincts, and morality. Since these are nothing but different kinds of chemical reactions, and “free will” is really nothing but an illusion about the responses the chemicals in your brain have to various inputs from physical events that preceded the actions you take, neuroscientists like will soon be able to explain and control each of them.

You are your brain and your brain is a computer made of meat.

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In A “Perfect” World

We recently had a great discussion with some good friends whose first grade son is just becoming exposed to the differences between the Old Earth (OE) and Young Earth (YE) Creationism. This is not an easy topic to confront with a first grader, but parents must be prepared and equipped to face it. Talking about it reminded me of one of my favorite books so I thought I’d try to summarize a thorny issue.

At its core, the OE/YE debate is about how we view the relationship between science and theology. There is a methodical way to think about that relationship that I have discussed elsewhere but here I’d like to address an internal, theological aspect of the OE/YE debate: “Death before the Fall” of Adam and Eve. I want to say that even though I hold a different view, I greatly respect the YE stridency on this topic because it is vitally important. It strikes at the heart of the entire plan of salvation.

At the center of this issue is the answer to the question about what God meant when He declared His creation “very good” in Genesis 1:31. On the YE view, there is no room for interpretation of this phrase. YE proponents insist that the OE view violates a central doctrine of the Christian faith. They reason that if there was already death in the world God created, that would negate the very reason that Christ died on the cross. As I said, I have great empathy for their concern here.

These are serious issues and they deserve to be answered. I applaud and accept the challenge of the YE side on this because I fully understand their reluctance to accept the obvious OE implication that if the Earth had been around for a few billion years before Adam and Eve showed up, there would have been a whole lot of “death before the fall.” If the YE view is correct about the meaning of “very good” and the implications of death before the fall, the OE view would necessarily be false. We need to be very clear, and very careful, about how we approach this issue.

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The Disturbing Sound of Silence

I can only recall a few movies that have left me speechless. Silenceis one of them. The film makes you live up to its name while you are experiencing it because the intensity is overwhelming at times. When the action goes silent, the theater you are sitting in also feels like a tomb. No whispering. No shuffling of feet. No rustle of people moving in their seats. But it also leaves you in stunned silence days later when you can’t get it out of your mind. It is a movie that makes you contemplate some of life’s most serious questions. Is God out there? Does He know I exist? Why all the suffering?

Silence is a movie that doesn’t give answers to those questions; it only makes them more real. There are no clichés thrown around. No neatly wrapped conclusions. This movie will not make any religious believer feel better about the topic of doubt but it will make them less prone to dismiss it.

Without spoiling the plot, or trying to pontificate on the profound topics this film explores, here are some practical takeaways I think are worth mentioning

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The Story of Reality (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2017)

Click Above To Order

Greg Koukl’s newest book, The Story of Reality: How The World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important That Happens In Between, is a clear, concise, non-threatening overview of the Christian worldview. The beauty of this book is that it turns the common arguments for the Christian God into exactly what the title suggests — a story that makes sense of everything we observe and experience in this life. It is a masterful presentation of the oldest definition of truth as the correspondence between what we believe about something and the way the world actually is.

Koukl’s weekly radio show and podcast are always informative and entertaining. I consider him to be the most clear, down-to-earth, understandable Christian apologist on the planet. His calm demeanor, and his ability to sift through complex questions and clarify useful answers with grace and wisdom, is truly something to behold. With this book, he has taken that gift of communication and put it on paper to deliver a masterful picture of the Christian message. If you are serious about your faith, buy this book and devour it. If you know someone who is a seeker, or even someone who already considers themselves to be a Christian but wants to be better able to articulate their Christian convictions, give them this book as a gift. You will both be glad you did.

 

 

An Unexamined Faith

In the spirit of open discussion and a defense of an approach to faith issues that is predicated on thinking for one’s self, I dug up an old USA Today article that demonstrates what I believe to be an important distinction between the culturally accepted view (that faith amounts to an unjustified “blind leap”) and the biblical view that faith is a thoughtful act of trust. This story, published several years after the 9-11 terrorist attack [linked here: Those Touched Most Deeply By 9/11, A Turning Point In Faith], provides a short but telling insight into the way many approach issues of faith in our culture. The gist of the piece is that the tragedy of 9/11 had a significant impact — in both directions — on the faith of those who were personally affected by the terrorist attacks.

The “violence and pain” of the worst terrorists attack in history brought out not only the dangers of religious fanaticism, but the problem that all religions must face in addressing the problem of evil in our world. As the article notes,

Many whose lives were changed that day are still coming to terms spiritually with 9/11. Some have taken comfort from their faith; others have found it lacking. Some have a stronger faith, a different faith or no faith at all.

I admit that this is nowhere near a scientific study of the issues surrounding how people consider their faith (or lack of it), but I do believe the anecdotal evidence in this story reveals a lot about how many approach the topic. A few examples …

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Peace With The Bedlamites

“Black Friday” chaos, “Cyber Monday” deals, Amazon Prime, stress, retail profits, travel disruptions, and finding the “right gift” (which, apparently, demands a trip to the Lexus or Mercedes dealership) have all come to define this time of year. The only thing that seems to change is how early it starts. Santa in Walmart in October? No problem. A giant, inflatable snowman writhing in your front yard? Of course.

‘Tis the Season! Happy Holidays!

Welcome to the cultural event formerly known as Christmas. How did we get here? Has our society lost its mind? It seems that with regard to the celebration of Christmas the answer is clearly, “yes.” But maybe a little history will help to put things in perspective …

In 1247 the sheriff of London, a man named Simon FitzMary founded a priory for the sisters and brethren of the order of the Star of Bethlehem just outside the city walls. It was used, as one of its special purposes, for the housing and entertainment of the bishop and canons of St. Mary of Bethlehem, its mother church, and thereby became known as the Priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem.

By 1330, records show that the priory had become a hospital and that by 1403 some of its patients began to remain there permanently. When King Henry VIII later dissolved the Catholic monasteries in Britain, the priory was given to the city of London and, in 1547, officially sanctioned as an insane asylum which soon became infamous for the brutal ill-treatment meted out to the insane and the clamor, commotion, and pandemonium that could be heard emanating from within it. Because the local residents spoke in a dialect that didn’t quite live up to the King’s English, their cockney pronunciation of Bethlehem came out as “bedlam.”

So, in a way that only human beings could contrive, the word we now use to describe lunacy and chaos actually has its source in the name of the city of Jesus’ birth: Bethlehem.

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Date: January 8, 2017—January 29, 2017
Event: Sanctity of Human Life Training Seminar
Topic: Sanctity of Human Life Training
Sponsor: Liberty Heights Church
Public: Public

Making Snowflakes

We are hearing a lot of negative press about the “snowflake generation” these days and I must confess that I have been guilty of joining in the mockery. It is hard to take seriously the growing movement for “safe spaces” on college campuses, “cry rooms” for those who have been traumatized by election results, “micro-aggression” awareness, “trigger warnings,” and the growing trend to silence any voice that isn’t saying what some college faculty member, president, or commencement audience wants so desperately to hear.

While I find the combination of all these trends and issues to be a sad commentary about the direction of our culture and of the freedom of expression, religion, speech, and assembly guaranteed by the first Amendment to our Constitution, I also find it a little too easy to join the chorus in damning the younger generation for their gross lack of wisdom and civic virtue.

I say that for two reasons …

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Finding Her Mind

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My mom has Alzheimer’s Disease.

Most of us have read about it or seen movies about it, but until you experience what it does to a loved one, those are nothing but detached observations that can’t possibly describe the evil tyrant that Alzheimer’s is. Yes, its attack is relentless and debilitating. But the person who has the disease is not its only victim. In fact, the sad reality is that the victim seems blissfully unaware that anything is wrong with them — at least I pray that is the case — while those who love them must stand helplessly by and watch the one they love drift further and further away, even while they’re sitting right in front of you.

My mom tells stories from years ago but can’t remember that she just ate dinner. The stories are jumbled and intertwined. Sometimes she laughs or gets sad as she tells them, whether the emotion is appropriate to the story she’s telling or not. She warns us about imaginary problems and wonders why people who have been dead for many years haven’t stopped by to see her. We go along with the stories and ask questions to hear her tell more. We love to hear her tell them. We heed her warnings and encourage her to tells us more. We remind her who we are and where we live — several times a day. We tell her about the five grandsons she is shocked to learn she has — even as she can recite us their names in order if we prompt her in the right way. My wife and I explain that yes, we really did invite her to our wedding 30 years ago and, yes, that man over there has been her husband since 1956.

There are glimpses of coherence that pop in and out, but those moments seem to be showing themselves less often.

She loves to watch old movies. The beauty of that love is that you can tune into the American Movie Classics channel on TV at any point during a broadcast and she becomes completely engrossed in the story from that point forward. Unfortunately, it also means the TV is on a lot — and not just replaying old movies. The incessant news. The sports. The blathering chatter and audio pollution is ever-present in her family room. Her ears never get a rest from it. Sadly, both she, and we, have gotten too used to hearing it. It’s background noise.

But last Sunday morning we turned it off.

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False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.

~ J. Gresham Machen