J. Warner Wallace on True Believers

Something to think about–Even Unbelievers Are True Believers.

I’m not foolish enough to think Christians are immune to misguided or improperly motivated beliefs. I’ve written repeatedly about the perils of “accidental Christianity” and the largely unthoughtful nature of the Church. If you’re a Christian, you might want to ask yourself why you believe Christianity is true. There are lots of “true believing” Christians who are just like my unbelieving atheist and Mormon friends; committed to a worldview not because it is evidentially true but for some other utilitarian or practical reason.

This Christmas season, let’s renew our effort to celebrate the life of the mind as Christians. When you’re about to begin a conversation with an unbelieving friend, keep this important truth in view: Even unbelievers are true believers. We sometimes present the case for Christianity as though we are talking to people who simply don’t know the facts, (as if we are speaking into an evidential “vacuum”). But this isn’t always the case. Everyone’s a “true believer”, and sometimes the challenge is in recognizing why someone is committed to their views.

To learn more about J. Warner Wallace, see this article about him and his work as a homicide detective as well as being an impressive apologist for the Christian faith.

HT: Mr. Wintery Knight

A Review of The Principle

Copernicus Conversations with God (2)

Copernicus, Conversations with God, by Matejko. In background: Frombork Cathedral.

By Terrell Clemmons

Shortly before his death in 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) in which he proposed that the motion of the planets could be better explained by assuming that the Sun, rather than the Earth, sits at the center of the universe (the Solar System being the extent of the known universe of his day). Up until this point, Western scientists had visualized the universe in accordance with Ptolemy’s geocentric model, which in turn traced its roots back to Aristotle.

Later, Enlightenment thinkers extrapolated the Copernican model into what is now known as the Copernican principle. The Copernican principle states that the earth is not in any specially favored or spatially central location in the universe. And although it has never been proven, and in fact is unprovable with current technology, the Copernican principle has become entrenched into an axiomatic presupposition of modern thought, as astrophysicist Michael Rowan-Robinson wrote in 1996, “It is evident that in the post-Copernican era of human history, no well-informed and rational person can imagine that Earth occupies a unique position in the universe.”

Baby boomers may remember Carl Sagan pontificating, “Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.” What the Copernican principle generalizes into is a philosophy which says human beings are nothing, and human life is ultimately meaningless. If Copernicus disabused us of the geocentric view, the thinking goes, then why should earth or its occupants be considered as anything special?

Leaving aside the obvious non-sequitur in that question, the Copernican Principle became something of a godsend for nontheists. Because before Copernicus, the general assumption of all philosophy had been that the earth and mankind were the product of some kind of creator, and therefore were objects of special focus in the cosmos. The Copernican principle became the tool by which nontheists (later called materialists) would kick God out of their universe. It was “theological dynamite” in the words of atheist theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. “There’s nothing special about humans,” he continued. “We are nothing, absolute nothing.”

Is the Earth Moving?
The Principle, an expertly produced film narrated by Kate Mulgrew and featuring physicists Kaku, Lawrence Krauss (A Universe from Nothing), MIT’s Max Tegmark, and many others, reexamines the Copernican principle in light of recent cosmological discoveries. At the risk of oversimplification, The Principle makes the following points:

  • According to Isaac Newton, neither the sun nor the earth sits at the center of the solar system (or universe). The smaller body doesn’t revolve around the larger, but rather, both bodies revolve around whatever point is the center of mass. “So even in the heliocentric system, it’s not the earth going around the sun. Scientifically and technically, we would say that the earth and the sun are going around one point called the center of mass,” said Robert Sungenis, producer of the film.
  • Physicist Ernst Mach proposed considering the earth as the pivot point of the universe and said that if the universe were orbiting around the earth, it would create the exact same forces that we today ascribe to the motion of the earth. In other words, Mach’s principle said that we would see the same effects whether the earth was rotating in the universe or the universe were rotating around the earth. Mach’s ideas would influence and give way to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.
  • Einstein’s special theory of relativity said that the length, time, and mass of objects changed as those objects move through empty space. Echoing Mach, Einstein wrote, “The struggle, so violent in the early days of science, between the views of Ptolemy and Copernicus would then be quite meaningless. Either [coordinate system] could be used with equal justification. The two sentences, ‘the sun is at rest and the earth moves’, or ‘the sun moves and the earth is at rest’, would simply mean two different conventions concerning two different [coordinate systems]” (The Evolution of Physics, 1938).

From these and other points, the makers of The Principle suggest that we cannot definitively ascertain that the earth is in fact moving.

Is Earth the Center?
thePrinciple800x600v2From that basis, The Principle moves on to relate two aspects of Edwin Hubble’s 1929 discoveries. First, the universe is far more vast than had been previously believed – what astronomers had heretofore thought were stars were actually galaxies. And second, the universe is expanding – all those galaxies are moving away from the earth. In every direction, galaxies appear to be flying away from us, and the farther away they are, the faster they’re moving.

Could this discovery of galaxies moving away from earth in all directions argue in favor of a geocentric universe? Hubble found the thought most abhorrent. “Such a condition would imply that we occupy a unique position in the universe, analogous, in a sense, to the ancient conception of a central Earth,” he wrote. “This hypothesis cannot be disproved, but it is unwelcome and would only be accepted as a last resort in order to save the phenomena. Therefore we disregard this possibility … the unwelcome position of a favored location must be avoided at all costs … such a favored position is intolerable.”

Krauss was a lot more flippant about it, but he holds the same view. “Of course, that makes us look like we’re the center of the universe, but it’s not true. It just means the universe is expanding uniformly.” Perhaps it is. Or perhaps that conclusion is required in order to maintain the Copernican principle maxim of, “We’re nothing special.” In any event, The Principle and Einstein fairly well establish that motions are relative and must be spoken of in reference to some arbitrary fixed point.

The Principle touches on other concepts – dark matter, dark energy, quantum foam, the multiverse, and baby universes popping in and out of existence, hypothesized but thus far undetected entities put forth to explain observational data – and suggests that the need for some of these proposed entities could be eliminated by dispensing with the Copernican principle. A geocentric model, with the earth at the center of a spherically symmetrical universe, is a possible alternative, the filmmakers say. This, at the very least, is an intriguing thought.

Is Geocentrism the Central Question?
But is it a hill worth dying on? I don’t think so. The Copernican principle is a bad idea. It’s also a pet materialist concept, especially in its more generalized form implying that earth and human life are nothing unique. So it’s refreshing to see it reexamined in fresh light. Science advances by doggedly following data this way and asking tough questions.

But The Principle ventures needlessly into nuclear-reactive territory by positing a geocentric universe. Not only does this invite extreme derision from the scientific community (a snarkfest already underway), but a literal geocentric paradigm is not necessary to establish that the earth and human life are uniquely special.

The real divide isn’t between those who hold a geocentric view of the universe and those who hold some other non-geocentric view. The real divide is between those who adhere to philosophical naturalism – or materialism, the view that matter and energy are all that exists, and those who allow for the possibility of non-material causes. In simpler terms, the real divide is between atheism and non-atheism.

Look again at the quotes by Kaku, Krauss, and Hubble. Even in their denials of earth-exceptionalism, they give something away. Notice that they don’t argue against geocentrism in any physical sense, but against the view of earth and humanity as “unique,” “special,” or “favored” in a qualitative sense. This is a different kind of assertion. If earth and human life are uniquely special, there are certain theological implications that, for some, are “intolerable.” And therein lies the divide.

The Principle raises good questions, but simpler answers exist. The earth is already clearly special in that it has so many rare and unique properties that make it suitable for life. See The Privileged Planet. And life is special because it’s made by God. See also The Privileged Species. For the atheist that might be a revolutionary thought, but if you ask me, atheism is long overdue for a revolution.


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The Social Media Experiments and You

Google, Yahoo!, Target, and Facebook all engage in marketing research. They analyze metrics in order to provide targeted ads for its customers. For example, after a summer of attending multiple baby showers and buying items on registries, I started getting free samples of baby formula in the mail. Or, after using my preferred customer card at the grocery store, I received coupons for items that I am likely to buy. Similarly, Facebook filters the posts displayed in your News Feed based on interests, number of comments, and frequency of interaction and they select ads based on your activity.

Recently, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a research paper authored by Adam Kramer of Facebook, Inc. and Jamie Guillory and Jeffrey Hancock of Cornell University (the paper was edited by Susan Fiske of Princeton). They investigated the emotional response of 689,003 randomly selected Facebook users by changing what is displayed in their News Feeds. Using word counting and analysis software, they filtered out “negative” posts in one set of users, and filtered out “positive” posts in another set, so each user set was looking at predominantly negative posts or predominantly positive posts. They then had two control groups to account for the statistical differences between negative and positive posts. One control had neutral posts that contained neither distinctly positive nor negative content. They looked at the experimental groups during the prior week to ensure that they did not differ in emotional expression. This experiment took place during the week of January 11-18, 2012.

Their results showed a small, but significant correlation between the emotional content in the News Feed and the experimental groups’ posts. People who viewed fewer negative messages tended to have more positive words in their status updates, and those who viewed fewer positive messages tended to have more negative words in their status updates. Interestingly, people who were in the group that viewed emotionally neutral posts used fewer emotive words in their status updates and wrote fewer words, overall.

Based on a particular interpretation of Facebook’s Terms of Use, this experiment was perfectly legal. But many people believe that even though it may be legal, it is not ethical. Others say that Facebook was just engaging in marketing research?

I talked with a marketing expert from a large digital agency to understand the business ethics perspective. Digital agencies use metrics and data to make better products for their clients, but, as I learned, they are very careful with their data and place a high priority on customer expectations.

He said that marketing research is typically done through surveys or focus groups, in which case people agree to participate. It is true that from the technical side, they can look at trends in user activity, but the key is to not manipulate the user in any way because 1) it skews their data, and 2) it is deceptive. When companies like Google, for example, conduct research analyses, they do not want to change their algorithm because that changes the kind of data they are collecting. Google indicates which search items are paid to appear at the top of the list and they filter “bad” content, such as child pornography.

From a business ethics perspective, the important point is customer (or user) expectations. Facebook users know that the News Feed is filtered and the ads are targeted based on user response, searches, and interest. Facebook crossed a line when it manipulated the end product without the users knowing because Faceboook was no longer providing the expected service.

Let’s take an example from another widely-used, free service. People set up a Gmail account with the expectation that Gmail functions to send and receive emails. Gmail recently started filtering inbox mail by categories such as “Primary”, “Social” and “Promotions”. What if, for one week, Gmail decides to only show mail in your “Primary” tab that is “positive” or “negative” to see how that affects your emotional responses in your correspondences? Your mail is still being sent to your Gmail account, but only certain mail is showing up in the “Primary” tab. Gmail has decided to change how it filters your email without your knowledge and for the purpose of seeing whether it changes your output. Since this may change the content of the emails the user sends out, this could be considered tampering with email correspondence.

Let’s look at a second example. There is a certain trust that customers place in a product, whether you paid for the product or not. Customers trust that the promoted benefit of the product is what it will actually do. If you download a free weather application, you expect it to give you weather information. You don’t expect the app to access other data on your phone and transmit it to someone else without your knowledge. The promoted use of the app was for weather, but its behind-the-scenes use was for something different. Usually this kind of thing is referred as “spyware.”

As the ethical inquiries continue, an important question will be whether Facebook’s experiment is analogous to the hypothetical Gmail example or the spyware example or if it is analogous to marketing research.

From the new issue of Salvo – An interview with Robert P. George

An Interview with Robert P. George
by Marcia Segelstein
An excerpt from the interview:


Won’t there be huge ripple effects—for example, in terms of what’s normalized and taught in public schools?

Oh, sure. Of course, in many places public schools are already teaching a message about marriage and sexual morality that is profoundly contrary to the traditional teachings affirmed by Jews as well as Christians of all denominations. Institutions are coming under pressure in their hiring practices, for example, to conform to liberal ideology about marriage and sexuality.

Supporters of redefining marriage have made their argument in the form of an analogy with racial segregation and racial injustice, attempting to stigmatize, marginalize, and demonize Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others who believe in the traditional definition of marriage. And it’s been a very effective strategy despite the fact that it is intellectually bankrupt. The consequences of that strategy will play themselves out as people who oppose the teaching of the Abrahamic faiths and other faiths on sexuality and marriage depict those who seek to honor their convictions about marriage as bigots.

So, for example, anti-discrimination laws will be used to force churches to hire people who lead lives contrary to the Church’s teachings in their schools, in their social services, their soup kitchens, their drug rehab centers, and so on. This will have a terrible effect on the Church’s ministries because the success of those ministries hinges on those participating as providers sharing the faith-based convictions that inform the enterprise. Some—perhaps many—ministries, in order to protect their own consciences, will have to fold up. The same will be true for the teachings of Christian schools and probably Jewish and Muslim schools. Their accreditation would be placed in jeopardy. So there will be many grave consequences for freedom and for conscience.

And Salvo executive editor James Kushiner posted this elsewhere, from the interview. Also some enlightening answers here:

Salvo: One conservative Christian recently wrote that in the battle for traditional marriage, “Christians too often chose intolerance over charity when it came to how they treated gays.” Have we, as Christians, demonstrated a lack of love for gay people?

Robert George: No, we’ve been falsely accused of showing a lack of charity and a lack of love because that was very convenient to the arguments of the other side, a very effective tool. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people of all faiths who’ve been involved in the protection of marriage have gone out of their way, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church goes out of its way, to proclaim the truth that all men and woman are precious. Human beings have a profound and inherent dignity, an equal dignity, as creatures made in the very image and likeness of the Divine Creator and Ruler of the Universe.

This has never been something hidden. It has been frequently affirmed and re-affirmed, yet there are those who wish to refuse to hear it because it’s politically useful to their cause to depict Christians as mean-spirited or bigoted or hostile to people just because they don’t like something about them. It’s a slander. And for us to pretend that the slander is true is itself a sin against the truth. I’m all for confessing error and wrongdoing where error and wrongdoing have been committed. But I see no point in confessing sins that one has not committed, especially when doing so is the precise objective of those who wish unfairly to tar people or a movement as bigoted or hostile.

On Nihilism and Rampage Murders

A recent kudos on a Salvo article from the latest issue:

I think it is one of the best summaries of the “rampage murders” and I wish more people would read it.   I read it twice and he makes many important connections, that legislation for mental health and gun control will not fix the problem.  It is much deeper – a culture that lacks any transcendence. Existential nihilism is a logical conclusion to our cultures obsession with contraception, abortion, and inability to integrate faith in God.

You can read the article here: The Zombie Killers: Nihilism Threatens Us with the Walking Dead by Regis Nicoll. From the article. Could Mr. Nicoll be onto something here?…

The increase in zombie-like murders is gut-wrenching. But if we think we can thwart the perpetrators with the silver bullets of executive orders and congressional action, we would do well to recall Prohibition and the War on Drugs. Those efforts failed—and to the extreme—because legislation and law enforcement, by themselves, cannot imbue a moral sense into the heart of the offender, or renew the moral climate of society. Only a Transcendence that speaks to the deepest yearnings of the human spirit for wholeness, meaning, and significance can do that.

Unless the nihilistic worldview is abandoned for one that recognizes such a Transcendence, we can expect a rise in the number of walking dead and their devastating crimes. We must teach students and young people to reject what some of the supposedly brightest minds today are selling them—that the universe is meaningless and without purpose or supervision. Such nihilism only deadens the soul, which, after all, was created for communion with the living God.