Origins: A Reasonable Explanation For Reason Itself

Where Does Consciousness Originate?

When it comes to explanations for origins, the origin of the universe seems to be the logical place to begin the discussion. That’s where I usually start. But as a way of transitioning from the previous topic of morality, I will take a different approach and first consider where reason and logic come from at all.

Think about it (pun intended). The very fact that we can have a discussion about the nature of morality, or the origin of the universe — or anything at all — means that we have the capacity to consider alternative ideas. Ideas are not physical things. So, how can we do that? What is it about the physical neurons that make up our brains transmitting electro-chemical signals back and forth that gives us the ability to compare alternatives between non-physical things like concepts and ideas? How do we explain “intentionality” or free will?

The one thing about this life that we know and experience directly and without any doubt is the awareness of the “self.” We know we exist because we experience the physical realities of the world. But just who is it that has these experiences? There seems to be something about “us” that cannot be explained by the physical stuff we can see, touch, taste, hear, or smell, and it is something for which a purely physical, atheistic universe cannot even begin to account.

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »

Stop Staring, Please

Two and a half weeks ago, my dermatologist performed a Moh’s surgery procedure on me to remove a patch of squamous cell skin cancer from the inside of the bridge of my nose. It really is more of a nuisance than a serious threat but the healing process has not been fun. It was painful at first and came with a swollen, partial black eye and an obnoxiously large bandage that blocked my vision. The big bandage took a week to get reduced to a large bandaid, and now I’m down to a small circular one that I almost forget is there … until I go out in public.

This whole ordeal has given me a new perspective, and not just on the issue of why we need to use sunscreen. I already knew that and have chosen to ignore it for most of my life. The bandage is a consequence of my bad choices and a reminder that I have made a lot of them. But the reason I’m writing this is because the bandage has also become a trigger for making me realize how badly most of us react to those who are different from us. It’s a realization that may even be uglier than squamous cell skin cancer.

It’s only a bandaid people!

Little kids stare at me like I have a third eye. Adults in the airport pretend not to look, but then I catch them stealing glances. It’s as if I had a giant growth sticking out of my forehead and it has made me think, “What if I did?”

What if, like the young man my wife and I saw in Times Square this week, instead of a two-week stint with a bandaid, I had a lifelong attachment to a giant growth that deformed my face and forehead? What if I had Down Syndrome? What if I had a speech impediment? In other words, what if I could never take the bandaid off? Do we even realize how much we can affect the personality of someone simply by staring at them because they are different?

I doubt it.

Continue Reading »

The Chiffon Delusion

If you’re as old as me, you may remember the annoyingly catchy commercials for Chiffon Margarine that assured us that “If you think it’s butter, but it’s not … it’s Chiffon!” The gist of the ad was that the synthetic Chiffon margarine was even better than nature’s butter. In fact, Chiffon was so good that the commercials also carried a tongue-in-cheek warning: “It’s not nice to fool mother nature!” Cute. Catchy. Comical.

Well, if fooling with “mother nature” isn’t “nice” when you’re talking about margarine, what kind of adjective should we use to describe our growing propensity to fool with human nature?

A friend of mine pointed out that she recently set up a new Gmail account. In doing so she was surprised to find that one of the inputs that is required (and that comes with the warning that you “may not leave this blank”) is Gender. The input field comes with the following choices: “Male,” “Female,” and “Other.”

Other?

Though this is trumpeted as a way to show respect and tolerance to our “transgendered community,” the truth is that this is really one of the most disrespectful and potentially harmful things that any of us could do to anyone. It is not loving to deny the reality of human nature. It is not loving to enable destructive behavior. It is hateful. It invites further destruction. It is no different than building a city below sea level, or excavating a basement under your beach house, or moving your family onto the rim of an active volcano, or building your house on a geological fault line.

Tommy Lobel

Speaking of fault lines, our culture is teetering on one right now, and the way we respond may have ramifications far beyond anything we can imagine. We, as a culture, are not just fooling with Mother Nature, we are fooling with the most basic of foundations of our existence.

Continue Reading »

Thinking Allowed

I have been challenged recently (on several fronts — some just internally) about the purpose and usefulness of Christian apologetics. I don’t take the challenge lightly. Some who have challenged me have given me some food for thought about how I approach my Christian convictions and I take their critiques seriously. I know for a fact that I am prone to over think things and to be too quick to rely on my “head” to live out my convictions while I’m too slow to use my “hands” to serve others. No doubt about it.

But I would also challenge my hand-focused friends to consider that their works of service do not absolve them from thinking about their faith. It’s the only way to make sure that our service has the proper foundation and that the Christianity we are presenting is an accurate view of the world. The whole discussion reminded me of a similar post from 5 years ago that I am re-posting here.

Because I try my best to adhere to the principle of being “tolerant of people, but intolerant of (bad) ideas,” I will not identify the author of the following. I only quote said author to make a point about the self-defeating consequences of anti-intellectualism in the church. Check out this excerpt (sorry it is so long) from a book which contains a chapter entitled, “Confused Mind”:

Reasoning Leads to Confusion

…O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves? … Matthew 16:8 (KJV)

A large percentage of God’s people are admittedly confused. Why? As we have seen, one reason is wondering. Another is reasoning. The dictionary partially defines the word reason in the noun form as an “underlying fact or motive that provides logical sense for a premise or occurrence” and in the verb form as “to use the faculty of reason: think logically.”

A simple way to say it is, reasoning occurs when a person tries to figure out the “why” behind something. Reasoning causes the mind to revolve around and around a situation, issue or event attempting to understand all its intricate component parts. We are reasoning when we dissect a statement or teaching to see if it is logical, and disregard it if it is not.

Satan frequently steals the will of God from us due to reasoning … What God leads a person to do does not always make logical sense to his mind. His spirit may affirm it and his mind may reject it …Don’t Reason in the Mind, Just Obey the Spirit

… the realization of how easily we can be led by our heads and allow reasoning to keep us out of God’s will provoked in me a “reverential” fear of reasoning.

Let me point out that this author “has been teaching the Word of God since 1976 and in ministry since 1980.” This author is the prolific writer of “more than 70 inspirational books” and has “released thousands of audio teachings as well as a complete video library.” This author can be heard on national radio broadcasts, seen on national TV programs almost every day, and travels nationwide speaking and doing teaching conferences. This author has influenced a whole lot of people. I don’t want to disparage the writer. I’m sure the writer has helped many people and is motivated to do so for all the right reasons. But, in this specific case, this person is just plain wrong. The teaching offered here is deeply flawed and destructive to any Christ-follower who adheres to it. Unfortunately, many new and vulnerable minds do just that.

Continue Reading »

Passing On Our Narcissism

If you turn your TV on these days, you can’t avoid hearing about the Casey Anthony trial going on down in Florida — the details of which are horrifying and disgusting. The case reminds me of a study I read about and am re-posting here because Casey Anthony is a poster child for this topic … on steroids. It appears that little Caylee Anthony suffered the consequences of this trend from a mother who at best (even if she is innocent of murder) found her daughter to be a severe inconvenience, and at worst, bypassed the day care option by resorting to, shall we say, a more permanent solution.

I start with the results of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) — a nationwide survey of 16,475 college students conducted between 1982 and 2006. In a nutshell, the survey revealed that the narcissistic attitudes of our youth have risen steadily over the past 25 years. In its latest iteration, two-thirds of the students demonstrated above average narcissism — up more that 30% since 1982.

Reading this reminded me of another survey conducted during the 1990s wherein a research group studying the state of American education released a report comparing the math scores of U.S. and Japanese high school students. The results were not surprising.

Continue Reading »

Nephesh

Hank

Moses, the writer of the Genesis creation account, used the word nephesh (Hebrew: soul, self, life, creature, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion) to describe the creation of the most advanced animal life next to man. These creatures are sometimes described as the “soulish” animals; those that display a mind, will, and emotion. They differ from humanity in the ways that are most important — they are not able to understand, relate to, or seek to communicate with the Creator Himself. But they seem to be perfectly suited to be in relationships with human beings. They seem to be made to please us.

They are sad when we are sad. They rejoice in our happiness. In fact, many of us have no doubt that they seem most content, and are indeed most determined, to seek to provide that happiness for us. They are designed to bring joy and comfort to us in ways that are completely inexplicable apart from what seems to be a deliberate creative act of God for that purpose.

How else do you explain an animal who runs to the window before you pull in the driveway; who cowers when you are angry; who fetches a ball until his tongue hangs down on his chest, covered with leaves and dirt; who licks your arm where it itches even if you cannot see or feel any physical reason for the itch; who senses cancer a doctor cannot see?

How else can pure evolutionary biology explain why a dog wags his tail?

Years ago our golden retriever, Hank, learned to be excited when we celebrated someone’s birthday. He would start to wiggle when we’d light the birthday candles. He would pant and jump when we sang “Happy Birthday.” When the song was over, he would beg the one whose birthday it was for one of their birthday card envelopes. He would take the envelope in his mouth and make his way around the house, wagging his tail and offering it to every person he could find.

None of us can explain why he started doing this. It seems he just wants to join us when we celebrate.

Today our family lost our favorite birthday party friend. Hank was the most kind, loving family pet we could ever imagine having. It was a joy to share our home with him and we will miss him greatly. When we remember Hank, it will always be with a smile and the tune of the “Happy Birthday” song in our hearts.

If God had a picture in His mind when he made nephesh, it must have looked just like Hank.

Larry Bird, R.I.P.

We just buried our family’s pet cockatiel, Larry. He was not an extraordinarily bright or talented bird – he thought he had a twin brother who matched his every dance move when he stood in front of a mirror or even in front of the shiny faucet of our kitchen sink. But he could whistle approvingly at you when you walked into a room, or offer his rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” 716 times in a row while you were trying to watch a television show. He could hiss at you when you tried to take him out of his cage at a time when he preferred to be taking a nap, or try to peck holes in your fingers when you tried to put him back in. He spent many a day alone and ignored in his 2′ by 3′ birdcage. Larry was a hit attraction four years ago when he first graced our family room on Christmas morning. He was well taken care of. But Larry had long since lost his status as the center of attention and popularity at the Perry house.

And that’s why I was surprised at the outpouring of grief and volume of tears that flowed following his unexpected death a few days ago. My boys – two of which are tough-guy, too-cool (by that I mean “typical”) teenagers – were devastated when the found Larry lying lifeless in the bottom of his cage. Their sobbing returned when we buried him in the backyard the next day.

Why would a silly, annoyingly loud, exceptionally messy little bird bring about such a reaction from the boys for whom Larry’s novelty had long worn off?

Continue Reading »

Why Get On The Bike?

Why Get On The Bike?

What is it that motivates you? What is it that gives your life meaning and purpose? Is it simply the chemicals and biological material that make up your body, or is it more than that? Is it something that makes no sense in a purely physical world? My friend Tim’s story not only defies the odds; it defies the Naturalistic paradigm we all have been told to accept.

Tim is a physical therapist and a triathlete. The guy is not only in the best physical condition of most anyone I know, he helps fix other people who are trying to get that way. More importantly, Tim is a husband and father who loves his family deeply because he loves his God sincerely. Six weeks ago Tim felt lousy after returning from a bike ride. He was anxious about work and moving to a new house so he attributed his worn out feeling to the stressors in his life. He was tired and weak. The next day he was feeling even more out of sorts. His wife told him to go for a run. Afterward he felt worse. That night he contracted a fever with a temperature of 104.5. The next day he went to the doctor who gave him some antibiotics and drew some blood. Three days later Tim was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

Continue Reading »