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Christianity

The Big Questions...

Does the Christian perspective make sense?

by a freethinker Jiri Jelinek

Contents

Intro

Proponents of Christian theology (e.g. Ravi Zacharias) like to stress that a coherent worldview must be able to "satisfactorily answer big questions" relevant to origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. Some Christians talk about additional ones, e.g. identity, and they claim that their religious framework provides the best answers. Is it really the case? That's the question this article was written to address. Let me make it very clear that I'm not concerned about how appealing the Christian answers might be from the emotional perspective (/arguments based on the appeal to emotion fallacy), but rather if they are rational and logically sound considering what we do (and don't) know about our reality.

Questions

Question #1: Origin
Synopsis: What's the ultimate origin of our reality? If there are more universes, what's the origin of the multiverse?
Ref.ID Christians claim... My Response
Q1R1 There must be a prime mover (/unmoved mover) - a primary cause (/"mover") of all the motion, and that's our god. The prime mover argument (Aquinas'/Aristotle's "first way") is based on unjustified assumptions. Certain forms of mindless "movement" can be a fundamental part of the ultimate nature of our reality. It has not been established that "no movement" (of any kind) is somehow more natural than movement. Many theories involve everlasting movement/vibrations. Our universe apparently did start with the big bang, but there are more and more reasons to work on theories which allow for before big bang scenarios - which leads physicists towards multiverse models (which is testable and provides strong counter-arguments for the teleological argument). One of the problems with the standard big bang time-singularity model is that it requires general relativity which breaks down with the universe getting close to the Planck temperature, and its math is incompatible with the math behind quantum mechanics. Whatever model/theory you pick (e.g. the string theory based eternal multiverse, or the time-singularity-based universe), you never need an intelligent prime mover. And it's possible to get something from what we define as nothing without any conflicts in the domain of theoretical physics. But even if you actually did need something, why would it need to be an intelligent agent (?) let alone the Christian god? Besides, an intelligent processing/thought itself (as commonly defined) cannot function without some form of movement.


Question #2: Meaning
Synopsis: What provides meaning? What's the meaning of life? Why are we here?
Ref.ID Christians claim... My Response
Q2R1 Our purpose is to glorify [the Christian] god because the Bible says so. Life without god is meaningless/absurd. The fact that we - as individuals - are capable of experiencing qualitatively distinct perceptions/feelings/qualia (e.g. degrees of pain and pleasure) provides the basis for meaningful behavior on our subjective/personal level. Ultimately, everything we call "meaningful" has to do with efforts to decrease negative perceptions and/or increase the positive. Our feelings are emergent phenomena based on physical brain-processing. Our bodies/minds provide a sufficient source of meaning. While external agents can help to create more meaning-rich environments and shape what seems meaningful to others, their input isn't required. Besides identifying what makes our life meaningful based on our own body/mind (Level #1: self-based meaning), there are other levels of meaning. E.g. some parents/societies/organizations "dedicate" their children/members to something particular [sometimes even before they are born] (Level #2: external intelligent agent based meaning). Natural processes (e.g. emergence, evolution, weather) can produce effects and patterns which allow for or complement the Level #1 and/or Level #2 based meaning without any intentional action [by an intelligent agent] involved (Level #3: unintentional pseudo-meaning). Intelligent agents are highly unlikely to emerge (and survive) in environments which lack the Level #3 based compatibility, so it's not surprising at all that we observe it. As for the very first form of life, it - by definition - could not be intentionally produced by anything living/intelligent, thus no "higher meaning" involved. While the existence of life in our solar system can include the Level #2 meaning (e.g. planted by advanced aliens for a reason), it's not required/justified by any means. Much less so when talking about self-contradicting god(s). Without an intelligent agent, all the [so called big] "Why?" questions become practically irrelevant, and (at best) turn into "How?" questions. The assumption that our life was created by an intelligent being [for a reason] is [so far] completely unjustified (/unsupported by science), thus the "Why are we here?" question itself (in terms of meaning) is not necessarily a valid question. We are here because nature allows it, but the nature itself (which is just a ginormous ocean of patterns) doesn't seem to have any special regard for what's meaningful to us. It's just another pattern which comes and goes (much like religions). For hundreds of thousands of years, modern humans lived without knowing anything about the Christian meaning-relevant perspective, and life was still meaningful to them. The Christian god is absolutely unnecessary when it comes to meaning. As for the "Bible says so", that's an appeal to authority fallacy.


Question #3: Morality
Synopsis: What's the source of [our] morality? How can we tell what's moral without [the Christian] god?
Ref.ID Christians claim... My Response
Q3R1 The source is [the biblical] all-good god. Without him, we have no way to know what/isn't moral. To say that something is right or wrong is to affirm the existence of [the Christian] god. False. Morality is relative, and derived from subjective perceptions/feelings. The closest thing to the objective morality (in multi-agent worlds) would require all the agents to have 100% compatible system of values/preferences. Morality is a subject to evolution (even within religious communities promoting the idea of objective morality), and moral perspectives emerge from experienced positives/negatives. It's all feeling based (like meaning), thus very subjective. Like the colors we experience, the experienced positives/negatives are properties of the brain (/mind), not properties of the external world, which is what makes the concept of objective morality invalid. It's all about interpretation. Imagine a simple universe which consists of only 2 simple minds and an environment which has just one adjustable property: color. It can only be set to black or white. The 2 minds have a conflicting preference about it to the point that it hurts (/feels immoral) when it's not set as preferred. Both will do all they can to switch it to their favorite color, and both are convinced that the other is "evil". One of the potential solutions would be to sync their "moral" preferences, but imagine that someone would want to modify your "moral" preferences - suggesting that they are "immoral." Objectively, moral perspectives can be compared in terms of compatibility, but not in terms of more/less moral. One of the biggest problems (and perhaps the biggest) with the Christian god is that he contradicts himself by violating his own allegedly absolute morality by making decisions to add those who [will surely] violate it (/sinners) to his creation. Those active pro-sin choices aren't just violations of his own moral code, but completely invalidate the whole Christian framework. And overall, the behavior of the Christian god is so incompatible with what people increasingly tend to view as moral, that it's just a matter of time before this god joins the huge crowd of widely rejected gods. Consider his actions summarized in the "Drunk With Blood: God's killings in the Bible" book by Steve Wells. Consider points about biblical god's morality made by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins in the below vids:




Question #4: Destiny
Synopsis: How does it all end? Is there afterlife?
Ref.ID Christians claim... My Response
Q4R1 When we die, god will judge us. We (/our souls) will either go to heaven or hell. Not only that there is no valid evidence for afterlife, but observations indicate that our consciousness functionally/existentially depends on our brain processing. Our consciousness (including feelings) can be predictably altered by physically altering the brain (through drugs, stimulation, surgeries, injuries, etc.) in a way which is consistent with the contemporary neuroscience. Our mental shortcomings (e.g. long-term held/wired beliefs being hard to change/rewire even when it's clearly reasonable and desirable to do so) are also well compatible with the physical structure of our brains (/neural nets). The more you damage the brain, the more of your mental capabilities get lost.



Our bodies contain dissolved sodium, potassium and calcium (/electrolytes) which are essential for conducting impulses along neurons. When nerves get damaged (by a blow to the head for example), potassium gets released from cells and calcium rushes in - destabilizing the electrolyte balance. The less balance, the more disrupted consciousness (up to a complete shutdown). The concentration of electrolytes also depends on a variety of hormones. Our Memories (/experiences) are stored throughout many brain structures in connections between neurons, and related data structures have been traced to the molecular level. Some memories can be destroyed just by altering or removing a single molecule or chemical.

If you surgically separate hemispheres of a living brain (split-brain surgery / full corpus callosotomy - which has been performed on a number of epileptic patients decades ago), they become two separate minds capable of developing mutually conflicting preferences, and (if well separated) they remain unaware of each other's thoughts and memories. A single-hemisphere mind can get surprised by obviously purposeful behavior of the half of the body controlled by the other hemisphere. Split-brain patient's hands can also fight each other since each hemisphere has its own will - as seen in the below vid at 9:45. This wouldn't be the case if our decisions were driven by a single matter-independent soul (which obviously couldn't be split by cutting the brain tissue).



Clearly, there is a fundamental dependency on the brain. The concept of afterlife is simply unreasonable. Phenomena/qualities generated through emergence (including our consciousness) existentially depend on the underlying system.

Talking about emergence, consider the "Game of Life" by John Conway:



Think about the amazing complexity/beauty which can emerge based on its trivial logic. On a large enough scale, it - in theory - can produce a 2D supercomputer with astonishingly beautiful patterns. But if you destroy that underlying simple-rule based structure then all the relevant/emerged complexity/beauty gets lost (/"dies") with it. Just like that, our consciousness [almost certainly] dies as a result of a physical destruction of its platform/brain.
Q4R2 You gotta have hope! When trying to rationally address the "Is there afterlife?" question, your emotion based hopes are irrelevant. If you are uncomfortable with the prospect of dying then (instead of kidding yourself with irrational and childish fairy tales) you better support the immortality research. Self-contradicting gods who have no problem with (1) intentionally creating agents destined to hurt millions, (2) torturing children, (3) torturing innocent animals etc., clearly aren't a better source of hope than our science. If you fear your death, consider what Mark Twain once wrote: "I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it." If you fear your death because of being concerned about how it's gonna impact those you love then perhaps you still have some time to make sure that they will be well set. If your parents taught you to be weak-minded about death, then good luck with not making the same mistake when teaching your children. Teach your children how to face challenges without irrational and unnecessary fears/emotions. And if you get to the point when there is really nothing you can do about the undesirable, then face it like a man, and accept the inevitable.


Question #5: Identity
Synopsis: Are we merely evolved animals or are we spiritual beings? If spiritual, what is the soul or spirit?
Ref.ID Christians claim... My Response
Q5R1 God created humans in his image.

How?
View A: Adam & Eve; Evolution is a lie.
View B: Evolution - guided by god.
...

God gave humans immortal souls. Our souls are who we truly are.

Who has souls?
View #1: Only humans.
View #2: All living things (including plants); with the human souls being immaterial/immortal, unlike souls of the lower life forms which cease to exist at the time of death.
View #3: Humans and animals, both eligible for afterlife.
...

What does it mean (/allow for) to have a soul?

# Makes [an organic] body live. (View #2)
# Sensations / feelings / emotions / qualia (Views #1 and #2)
# Advanced senses, incl. sense of humor, and sense for art (View #1)
# Thoughts / intellect (*)
# Memory / ability to learn (*)
# Imagination (*)
# Ability to take an intentional action (*)
# Ability to take an intentional action utilizing the god-given free will. (View #1)

(*) Not required for View #2 / plants.

Unlike the lower life forms, [most] humans have a sufficient level of intelligence for making the choice between god's will and one's own will.
In short, we are relatively advanced apes, our free will is an illusion, and our mental capabilities are based on our brain processing (see Q4R1 for some of the details). All (so called) "spiritual" aspects of our minds depend on physical states of our bodies/brains. Our feelings are perhaps the most interesting part. The exact process of how feelings emerge (described as "strong emergence" by some researchers) is a subject of scientific research, but its dependency on the physical states is obvious.

The fact that 2000 years wasn't enough for Christians to make their minds and unify their framework (but enough to produce 41,000 denominations) just demonstrates how ambiguous and confusing the alleged "word of god" actually is from various perspectives (including identity). Christians keep struggling trying to meaningfully define their identity, and our scientific knowledge makes it more and more difficult to defend their views.

Christian voices against evolution (without any peer reviewed science supporting their claims) are simply embarrassing. Scientific evidence clearly indicates that we (just like other complex life forms) gradually evolved from less complex life forms. Christian media (desperate to maintain their doctrine) still promote and celebrate anti-evolution materials produced by clueless (or intellectually dishonest) people who have no credentials in fields relevant to evolutionary biology, and who keep using highly ignorant pseudo-arguments which were debunked many times over decades ago. If interested in credible answers, look for peer reviewed science. In science, peer reviews are absolutely essential. And it's not just one guy's opinion against another. The methodology used in science delivers quality which (by far) surpasses capabilities of any single individual, and that's why it got much farther than any individual authority figure based framework of thought.



After more than 150 years of intense research, the theory of evolution is one of the very best (if not the best) scientific theories mankind ever put together. The [still] often heard remark that "it's just a theory" (as if a scientific theory was no big deal) is - to put it mildly - very misleading and plain ignorant.



Another often heard and very naive idea (promoted by intelligent design proponents) is that the scientific world is somehow controlled by a single organization which prevents mainstream-view-contradicting views/studies from being published. There are thousands of scientific journals with tens if thousands of editors working with hundreds of thousands of scientists/reviewers (who provide mostly anonymous peer reviews). With so many independent scientific channels, you can't prevent good science from getting published. And there are many scientists who are eager to challenge or even disprove well established scientific views because that's one of the ways how people get recognized/famous in science. The thing is, you gotta be able to back up your claims.

If you are a Christian who believes in evolution [guided by god], note that:
1) Without Adam and Eve, you are missing the first sin story - which is essential for the Christian doctrine.
2) You have to deal with death and suffering long before any man could sin - which sharply conflicts with the bible.
3) Your timeline (including the order of events) conflicts with the bible. Were grass, land plants, and trees created before the sun? No, evolved after the sun. Land plants as the first form of life? No, marine organisms. Birds created before land animals? No, evolved from land animals. Fruit trees created before fish? No, evolved after fish.
If you can reject the relevant parts of the bible then what makes you think that other parts (especially those that deal with paranormal) are reliable? But at least you (unlike many other Christians) understand that the evidence for our evolution is very strong.

Evolution is a theory as well as a fact. We are apes. Humans belong to the Hominidae family, also known as great apes. While the "great ape" is a common name rather than a taxonomic label, and there are usage differences (sometimes excluding humans), the fact is that all members of the Hominidae family share more than 97% of their DNA. Biologically, we are not that different. A female gorilla known as Koko has been documented to use/sign about 1000 words, build sign sentences, understand about 2000 words, express desires (e.g. a desire to have a pet) variety of emotional states (including being very sad when her cat died), + she also demonstrated sense of humor, and much more.

The alleged "free will" is also highly problematic. Our will is far from being 100% free. Neuroscientists can scan your brain real-time and determine your decisions before (and sometimes many seconds before) you get the illusion of the consciously making them. Most (if not all) decision-making is done on the subconscious level. Our DNA-based neural nets get continuously configured by lots of data we cannot effectively control. Individual neurons are practically deterministic components. We are biological machines with feelings and lots of fully-automated processing. There appears to be no room for a real "free will" - which makes the Christian concept of soul unreasonable.


Conclusion

When it comes to the above listed "big questions", the Christian perspective is unreasonable.


Reasonable objection(s)? Contact me [anonymously if preferred].