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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What Does Death Have to Do with Having a Happy Holidays?

Two Christmas stories that have stood the test of time are Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Both stories invite the main character to suppose he were dead. In A Christmas Carol, the ghost of Christmas future asks Scrooge to look at how people will talk about him once he has died. In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey is taken to an alternative world in which he sees how things in his town would be different had he never lived.

Additionally, both main characters must look into the face of death, confronting their own mortality, before they are ready to see that their problems originate in their own hearts. In A Christmas Carol, before Scrooge faces his own death, he encounters Marley’s ghost who warns Scrooge that if he continues in this path, he will end up like Marley, chained to his idol.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George sinks into such deep despair that he ends up standing on the edge of the bridge considering suicide, but instead rescues another jumper from the bridge. Incidentally, the other jumper was Clarence who, similar to Marley, was once alive but now is dead, and whose mission is to help George live a better life. Scrooge and George Bailey are vastly different characters, yet both are miserable because of the same seed of discontent growing within them, and both are cured through similar means.

Interestingly, what is different about George Bailey and Ebenezer Scrooge is telling. Scrooge is the lonely wealthy man who seeks to rob others of joy because he cannot feel it himself. George is the sympathetic family man who begrudges his tender-heartedness because it has left him poor and stagnant. Both the rich man and the poor man struggle with discontent, and both the rich man and the poor man believe that money is the key to their happiness.

Both men are plagued by the same disease, discontent. When a person is discontent in poverty, he does not see the mercies and blessings he has been given, but only his lack. Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, points out that a man who is discontent in this estate will think even bitter things taste sweet. We see this when George Bailey considers compromising his standards and partnering with Mr. Potter, the town tyrant.

When a person is discontent in wealth, he can never accumulate enough to satisfy his true needs. Scrooge hoarded his wealth as a kind of security. Marley warns that rather than a security it is a fetter. The discontented wealthy man can never acquire enough, and we see this in Scrooge’s bitterness. He left his loved ones to pursue wealth, but wealth proved to be a burden rather than a companion.

By the end of the story Scrooge and George Bailey are not in a different place than they were when they faced their supernatural reminders of their mortality. Yes, George got the lost money back, but his town didn’t change, his house still had the broken bannister, and he still had four children to feed.  Scrooge still lived in the same dark house and Bob Cratchit was still his employee. What changed was their state of mind. And that is the lesson. Contentment is a state of mind, not some perfect combination of annual income, a home’s square footage, stock investments, luxury car, or vacation experiences.

George Bailey and Ebenezer Scrooge may not be characters in our time and place, but their lesson applies now as it did then. Ours is a culture that thrives on us never having enough. There are noble things that we should not be content to endure, like children dying from leukemia, or grandparents whose mind has been ravaged by Alzheimer’s, or diseases that destroy the body and injuries that result in loss of function.

However, wanting to rid the world of innocent suffering is not the kind of discontent that haunted George Bailey or Ebenezer Scrooge and it is not the kind of discontent that is endemic in our own time. Ours is a discontent that says “You deserve the best.” It is a discontent that comes from a sense of entitlement and a lack of thankfulness.

Many people blame our cultural sense of discontent on commercials that tell us that you will be happier driving a particular car or technology industries selling newer and better products before the warranty is out on your old one or magazines with air-brushed models sporting impossibly perfect bodies. But George Bailey and Ebenezer Scrooge didn’t have Cadillacs, iPhone 6s, or Photoshop. These industries are not the problem; they just make a profit from it. The problem is as old as human nature. We are dissatisfied with what we have and instead of addressing the root of our dissatisfaction, we would rather strive for more and more like Scrooge, or sink into despair like George Bailey. Their lesson strikes a chord with us because we are like them, and perhaps, like them, our focus on our lack robs us of our joy in what we have.

Disabilities, Super-Abilities, and “Normal”

Tim Howard (Wikipedia)

A recent ABC News report asks whether Tourette’s syndrome can give athletes an advantage. Two examples given in the report are soccer player, Tim Howard, and swimmer, Anthony Ervin. Goal-keeper, Tim Howard, made history in the recent United States versus Belgium World Cup game in which he blocked a record-breaking sixteen goals.  This is the latest in several career successes for Howard, who believes his Tourette’s gives him an advantage on the field. Olympic gold-medalist, swimmer, Anthony Ervin believes that his tics, caused by Tourette’s syndrome, help him with speed by channeling his nervousness.

Studies indicate that athletes with Tourette’s do not have a noticeably faster response time or move faster than athletes without Tourette’s, but there may be other factors that contribute to an advantage on the field, or in the pool. It may be that Howard and Ervin’s mental and physical discipline needed to manage their Tourette’s works to their advantage.

Another recent study, reported in Scientific American, looked at how people with dyslexia can identify visual cues better than those without dyslexia. Apparently, people with dyslexia can look at pictures of impossible figures, like the three-dimensional impossible figures in an Escher print, and pick out the problem more quickly than other people.  This ability can translate to the real world. Often people with dyslexia can look at room and find what looks out-of-place.

Waterfall, 1961 (Wikipedia)

Scientists are not entirely sure why this happens, but they speculate that it may have to do with the brain changes that occur in people who read a lot versus people who do not read as often or read slowly. People who read less tend to have a more holistic perspective of a particular setting rather than focusing on one thing and tuning out the rest of their surroundings. This coincides with studies on entrepreneurs with dyslexia. In the United States, about 35% of entrepreneurs have dyslexia. Many of these entrepreneurs say that dealing with their dyslexia has helped them to become very good at sifting information and grasping the “big picture” better than other people.

Both of these studies demonstrate perceived advantages from something that is labeled as a disability or abnormality. It may be that while abilities in one area are diminished, abilities in another area are enhanced. David Epstein in his book, The Sports Gene, says that most of the people we celebrate as great athletes and examples of human achievement, have attributes that fall outside of the norm. One of his many examples is that of elite-level basketball players. Most people have an arm span that is the same as their height, but most professional basketball players have a longer arm span than height, which would serve as an advantage on the court. Longer arm span is not necessarily considered a disability, although in some cases, it can be and indicator of Marfan syndrome. This is just one of many examples in Epstein’s book where an “abnormality” leads to an athletic advantage.

One article on the OCD Foundation’s website on Tourette’s syndrome points out that metaphors are everything, and a child who is told his Tourette’s is like driving a Ferrari while everyone else is driving a Toyota will grow up thinking quite differently about himself and his abilities than a child who believes he is limited due to a disability. Additionally, several of the entrepreneurs with dyslexia said that they had supportive parents and mentors who helped them see their abilities rather than their disabilities. Perhaps in our eagerness to “cure” abnormalities and diseases with advances in medical technologies and enhancement therapies, we lose sight of the gifts and creativity that these people bring.

Mortifying Reality TV

Ever since COPS aired in 1989, the reality TV professional niche genre has found a willing following. Even among the television connoisseurs, reality TV shows that follow a particular profession seem a bit more high-brow than makeovers, contests, match-making, or group living situations. You are able to see what it is like for those who work in a particular profession, and often viewers gain a greater respect for the particular difficulties that those professions face.

Notable professional reality TV shows are New York Med, which is a recent addition to professional reality TV that has received positive reviews. Ace of Cakes was a Food Network success that ran for ten seasons, documenting what it is like to work in the high-pressure world of the novelty cake business. Deadliest Catch documented the exciting life of crab catchers and ran for ten seasons on the Discovery Channel.

One profession that has garnered some interest in the reality TV world is the mortuary business. Lifetime announced that it would be airing a new reality TV show called “Good Grief” which follows twin brothers and one of their wives as they run the Johnson Family Mortuary in Ft. Worth. Other shows about the mortuary business include A&E’s “Family Plots” about Poway Bernardo Mortuary in California and TLC’s “Best Funeral Ever” about the Golden Gate Funeral Home in Dallas.

“Good Grief” was scheduled to air on July 23 with the TV description:

Take a step deep into the heart of Texas with the Johnson Family Mortuary! You’ve never seen a family funeral business like this one – full of spice and soul. Rachel runs the family business alongside her husband Dondre and his twin Derrick, together known as the “Undertaker Twins,” who bring the life to the business of death. Working with family is never easy with drama, fights and forgiveness, but with the Johnsons, death has never been so lively.

Such a description may seem a little creepily flippant about a somber subject, and may say something about our culture that even death and funeral arrangements can become fodder for prime time TV. However, lest we judge what our culture has come to too hastily, the reason why the show was cancelled is even more disturbing.

“Good Grief” was set to air on July 23. Lifetime dropped the show after the owners were evicted from the building where the mortuary was run, and authorities found eight decaying bodies inside. Dondre and Rachel were charged with seven counts of abuse of a corpse. Derrick claims that he had severed ties with the mortuary, and was not involved in the negligence. The details of what the police uncovered can be found here, but brace yourself because it is not for the faint of heart.

If art says something about a culture, then what does it say about our culture that Good Grief would have been a third reality TV show about the mortuary business but it was canceled because the family that Lifetime chose to follow was engaging in negligent behavior?