For The Gods They Made

One of my buddies recently asked me if I knew the song “Sympathy for the Devil”.

“I know of it,” I said.

What I meant was that I was aware of the song.  I heard Stephen King talk about it repeatedly in his book Dreamcatcher.  I think I also heard the “woo-woo” part of the song somewhere and could recognize it if I heard it again.  I even knew what the song was about; I knew the song was a monologue given by Satan himself.  But I don’t think I had ever heard it all the way through.

A few hours later, I saw this commercial:

There is was again.  “Sympathy For The Devil”.  Apparently this version was by Motorhead rather than The Rolling Stones, but it is the same song.

With that, my interest was piqued, and I decided to investigate.  I didn’t want to listen to the song; I never was a Stones guy.  But I wanted to understand it.  So I looked up the lyrics and read them.  And I was surprised to find this:

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People fighting “for the Gods they made”.  That’s what I found.  That’s what the lyrics say.

And I am fairly sure that line is a slam against people of faith.  Maybe not against all people of faith; I like to be fair, and it is fair to admit that this line is not that broad, that it could just refer to some people of faith.  It is still a slam, though.  People of faith (whether just some or all) are being critiqued here.  Beyond that, it is a slam I have heard before.  It uses the “religion causes violence” idea that is so popular among the critics of my way of life, but it adds the additional twist that this violence is extra-unfounded because the basis for it is invented or imaginary.  People of faith aren’t just being violent, this line/slam says; they are being violent for what any “rational” person would immediately identify as no good reason or even no reason at all.

Now I don’t know who wrote that line, and I don’t know why.  I imagine whoever it was thought they were being very clever.  I imagine they thought they had really found a nail they could drive into faith’s coffin.  Maybe that’s not true and maybe that’s not fair, but it is what I imagine.

What I know, though, is that this is not the case at all.  The idea suggested by this line, the idea that faith is wrong/wrong-headed to start such reason-less fights, is neither clever nor a nail in the coffin of faith.  It is neither of these things because it is not unique to faith/people of faith.  Many people, quite likely all people, are doing what this song describes whether they know it or not.  Just about everybody in our society, if not actually everybody, is being violent for no reason.

Let me explain what I mean.  The existence of God and/or gods and/or a spiritual side of existence is an all or nothing reality.  He/They/It either exist or not.  There is no gray area here.  There is no room for gray area.  If there is no God/gods/spiritual, then the materialist worldview I have often written against here is true.  If there is no God/gods/spiritual, there there is nothing to life but physical matter.  Not only is God/Bible/Church not real and thus meaningless, but so are other non-physical ideas and ideals like love, tolerance, acceptance, equality, fairness, rights, etc.

H.L. Mencken understood this to some extent.  He defined love in this way:

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If the materialist worldview is correct, then not only is love a delusion, but so is every other abstract, non-physical notion.  If the materialist worldview is correct, then the only thing that is real is “nature red in tooth and claw”.  If the materialist worldview is correct, then might most certainly makes right and the survival of the fittest is the only ideal.

Few people, though, whether materialist or not, are living that way.  Many if not most people are fighting over abstract ideas: racism, sexism,  bullying, and others of that kind.  I am with them in those fights (at least ideologically; I’m not with them in the caustic way they carry out these fights, but I agree with their ideas; those ideas contradict the way of my faith).  But what these people might be failing to realize as they fight so vigorously is that these things are as invented as the “Gods” of The Rolling Stones’ song are.  They are as contrived as any deity.  And any fights based on them are thus just as reason-less and just as ridiculous.

This is the reality if the materialist worldview is the correct understanding of reality:  all of us are as ridiculous as the people of faith The Stones are critiquing.  All of us are being violent for no good reason.

But if the materialist worldview is not the correct understanding or reality…well, that means there is a spiritual side of life, doesn’t it?  That means at least one of the Gods we’ve being fight over is real, at least one of these Gods isn’t invented.  And if that is true, we ought to (non-violently, of course) try to figure out which one it is.

Convincing The World That What You’re Working On Matters

I’ve been seeing this commercial a lot lately:

Now I think Windows 10 is fine, and I think this young lady’s desire to benefit others with cancer research is great.  I still have to comment, though, about her second-to-last statement.  She says,  “Half of science is about convincing the world that what you’re working on matters.”  And that got my attention because the fact is that this is impossible.  It is impossible to convince the world that what you’re working on matters.  It is impossible to convince the world that anything else matters, either.  It is impossible to convince the world that anything matters because the truth is that nothing matters.

Nothing matters in a materialisitic worldview, that is, the worldview which asserts that matter (which is different from matters) is all there is, that there is no spiritual/non-material/non-physical element to existence.  In this worldview, the universe and all humankind are nothing other than materials of various kinds which will eventually cease to exist.

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It is a popular worldview in our time.  I think it is, anyway.  Certain applications or ramifications of it are certainly popular.  It kind of acts as a default worldview; we all seem to be interacting on something similar to this in the public sphere.  If it is true, though, it dashes that young lady’s hopes of doing something that matters.  If it is true, it dashes everyone’s hopes of doing something that matters.  If it is true, nothing matters because everything will cease to exist and everything we’ve done (good, bad, or indifferent) will be null and void.

This is the truth that drove Leo Tolstoy to despair.  While searching for “meaning”, that is, something which mattered, he asked this question.

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His implied answer, of course, is, “No.”  It is “no” in a materialistic worldview, anyway.  If materialism is true, then, as Tolstoy so rightly saw, there is nothing which mattered, nothing which death would not stop from mattering.

This is likely what MacBeth was thinking about as well when he made this statement:

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More than anything, though, it is what Solomon discovered.  After spending a good deal of time trying to determine what was good in life (that is, what mattered), he came to this conclusion:

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All is vanity (empty, worthless, meaningless, matterless), Solomon says.  All is vanity, that is, apart from God (a spiritual worldview).

Now you may not accept Solomon to be the inspired and thus infallible teacher I take him to be.  You may not even accept that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes.  But you can’t deny that Ecclesiastes contains wisdom.  You can’t deny that whoever wrote the book was wise and that the book itself was considered wise enough (or containing enough wisdom) to be preserved.  You can’t deny that whoever wrote the book had more time and resources to devote to this question than most of us do (as he details in the first two chapters).  You can’t deny that his well-researched conclusion has some validity.

And it does.  I’d love that young lady to become a doctor and cure cancer.  I’d love her to do something that matters (not just convince the world of it but actually do it).  That’s not going to happen in a materialistic world or a materialistic worldview, though.  The only way to do something that matters is to get a different worldview, a spiritual one.


Science Tests Faith


Today I listened to an excellent podcast called Speak Life.  The episode I listened to was titled “Is Science The Enemy of Faith?”  It contained a short lecture delivered by a guy named Glen Scrivener.  The lecture was brilliant on several levels.

It started with a story  about a botanist named Betty who analyzed rather than appreciated a rose she had received for Valentine’s Day.  With this, Scrivener was showing that it is possible to understand the inner workings of the universe without understanding what the universe was for.  This is an idea that I’ve been mulling for about 20 years.  The idea first came to me when I saw a rainbow in the sky over Cincinnati during a snowstorm (yes, a snowstorm, not a rainstorm) and I realized that science could explain how that rainbow got there but could never explain why it was there or why it excited me so much.  I wrote a poem about this, in fact.  That poem is now lost, and probably for the better.  But Bettys (or is it Betties?) are still around, and every time I encounter them I feel like Ted Danson in this scene from Gulliver’s Travels:


Another great thing Scrivener said in the lecture was “scientism of the gaps”.  There was a question time following his lecture, and someone asked about Christians using “God of the gaps” arguments.  These arguments merely apply God to whatever is unknown, and for that reason they are not regarded very well.  Scrivener in reply said that some scientists are guilty of a similar poor argument he called “scientism of the gaps”.  As the name suggests, this is just applying some scientific principle, such as “natural selection”, or, even worse, some scientific fact which simply has not been discovered yet, to whatever is unknown.  I had never heard that phrase “scientism of the gaps” before, but I had encountered this type of thinking.  I particularly encountered it when I wrote a paper on the Cambrian Explosion in grad school.  At that time, I ran across this video:

Professor Valentine there states that there “must have been” the kind of biological build-up Darwinian evolution requires, and he admits that there is no evidence for that build-up, but still concludes that such a build-up is “probably right” and “must have been”.  I just don’t see the qualitative difference between saying something like that and saying something is because “God made it that way”.  It does seem like scientism in the gaps to me, and it seems as poor as God in the gaps.

More than anything, though, this podcast reminded me of a TV special that aired on Fox during my final year of Bible college.  The special was called Signs From God: Science Tests Faith and was hosted by Giselle Fernandez.

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For some reason I thought this was called “Science Vs Faith” and was hosted by Soledad O’Brien, which is why it took me forever to find.

I remember the special being promoted less as “science tests faith” and more like “science versus faith”.  And I remember thinking at the time, “What science?”  I probably could have also asked, “What faith?” as the “signs from God” being tested were not signs I would have based any of my faith upon.  Indeed, while the general consensus seems to be that all science is against all faith, a quick survey of the many branches of science shows that this is not close to being true.

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Not even close to being exhaustive, but the best I could do in the space I had.

Does geology argue against faith in any degree?  Or forensics?  Physics?  What about math?  Computer science?  Political science?  None of them do.  In fact, no true scientific fact (that is, an observation of the natural world) can argue against faith, and no scientific field does, either.  Rather, as Scrivener says in the podcast, what really argues against the faith (or tries to argue against it) is a scientific philosophy, a worldview or even religion which uses science and looks like a science and influences science but is not itself a science.  You can also call it naturalism, materialism, philosophical materialism, etc.  But you really can’t call it science.  It isn’t.

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That, as Alvin Plantiga says, is where the conflict really lies, what the conflict really is.  It is not science versus faith.  It is scientism versus faith.  It is not a conflict of “fact versus myth”, as some would like to present it.  It is a conflict of one worldview against another.

Scrivener ably defended my worldview in his lecture.  He left lots of room for true science (observation of nature) as well (indeed, based on his comments, there were lots of Christian scientists in the room with him).  He showed that science is not and really cannot be the enemy of The Faith and vice versa.  And I completely agree.

The Real Meaning of RIP

Someone famous died today.  Who it was isn’t important (well, it is, but you know what I mean).  What is important is that all sorts of posts and tweets began appearing after news of this person’s passing was released.  A good deal of these posts and tweets contained the acrostic (or is it an abbreviation?) R.I.P.  Some of these posts/tweets contained this acrostic at their ends, like a footnote.  Others had it prominently in their beginnings.  These latter posts/tweets not only mentioned R.I.P. but directly, prominently wished it upon this deceased person.

R.I.P., of course, means “rest in peace”.  And I have a couple problems with it.  The first is that it spells rip, which is rather aggressive considering the situation.  It is great sentiment, but it is not really expressed in a great way.

The second and more important problem I have with this phrase is that it presupposes a spiritual element to life.  Actually, what it presupposes is an afterlife, an existence which continues after this present life.  That is not so much a problem for me, really; I believe there is such an afterlife.  But it is a problem for materialism, the worldview which is competing with The Faith for the minds of our society.  Materialism (sometimes called philosophical materialism or naturalism to distinguish it from the consumerist, love-of-physical-possessions type of materialism) asserts that there is no spiritual component to existence, that existence is only the material or matter.  This worldview is presented by some as the only “reasonable” interpretation of the universe.

Things get sticky, though, when these materialists start using R.I.P.  Because the fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as R.I.P. in the materialistic world.  There is simply non-existence, the cessation of existing.  That’s not “rest” or “peace”.  That’s just nothing.  Now that’s a “reasonable” conclusion I came to on my own, but you don’t have to take it from me.  Take it from a guy much smarter than me: Dr. William Provine.

Or if not him, how about Sherlock Holmes (the Benedict Cumberbatch version)?

Sherlock says this to a pair of children, and Watson immediately rebukes him for doing so.  And yet what he says is exactly what he should have said to not just a pair of children but all children if materialism is correct.  It is what is true if materialism is correct, what has to be true and has to be said if materialism is correct.

What we see, then, in R.I.P and Watson’s reaction to Sherlock’s comment is that people have a hard time living according to the materialistic worldview.  Even if they intellectually agree with it, they have emotional trouble living by it.  It is rather unlivable.  It doesn’t seem to fit real life.  It doesn’t seem to work.  It doesn’t seem to be what we need.  We just plain don’t like it.

And maybe the fact that we don’t like it on these emotional and practical levels says something about it’s truth.  Maybe we have this trouble with the materialistic worldview because we feel it isn’t the right worldview.  Maybe we find ourselves wishing for the rest and peace we don’t believe in because something hardwired in us says there must be such rest and peace.