April 26, 2010

Its All Your Fault

Posted in What's the Point? tagged , , , , , , , at 12:15 PM by E. M.

In the last post we looked at the mechanics behind the origin of the universe and used all kinds of science-y concepts to explain how something can come from nothing (with the explanation that what we think of as “something” really is “nothing” because…oh, just read the last post. I don’t want to go over it again).

We have an explanation of all the “stuff” in the universe, but what about us? Apparently there is something special and unique about man.  The Bible spends a couple chapters and verses here and there about the creation of the universe, but it has volumes of information about the make up of humanity.  In Genesis 1:27, it is said that we are made in God’s image (well actually it only says that the first man and woman were made in God’s image.  Technically, the rest of us are in their image.  I’ll deal with that in a future post).

What is it that makes humanity so special?  What do we have over the rest of creation?  The ability (that most of us have) to think – understand and apply knowledge – definitely puts us in a different category than the vast majority of matter in the universe.  But many animals also have the ability to think.  Some people even believe that dolphins are more intelligent than humans.  Of course that doesn’t explain why they keep getting caught in those tuna nets.  How smart do you have to be to swim around a net?

If we bear any “resemblance” to a being whose nature is composed of principles (God), then that means our true nature – the real“us”, is made of principles (we discussed this a few posts ago). Unlike God however, our principles are NOT always and completely Right and Just (listening to a politician or lawyer for two minutes will bear that out).

The principles that make up our nature are unique to the individual.  Your principles are the first cause of your personality.  Everything that makes up your personality, temperament, reactions, values, and psychology are an effect of your core principles.  I can think of few causes more worthwhile than discovering and living out your individual principles.  Here is a link that will greatly aid you in this endeavor.

Incidentally, my principles are “understanding” and “sharing” – At my core is the desire to understand things and then to share what I understand with others.  Hence, this blog.

Whatever our individual principles are though, it is important to keep in mind that our basic nature is NOT always and completely right and just.

We are also different from God in another very important way: God gave us free will.  Free will (or volitional will) means that we have the ability to intentionally act outside of, or contrary to our nature.   So while it is not in our nature to be right and just, we can choose to be.

Interestingly, this is not an ability that God has.  That’s right; God does not have free will.  Before you accuse me of sacrilege, consider the implications.  If God could choose to not be always and completely right and just, then He would no longer be the First Cause of creation.  Which is impossible according to the law of non-contradiction.

Ok, so why would God create humanity this way?  Apparently God has some special purpose for us.  We intrinsically know this.  We know that we have a “higher purpose”.  It causes us to ask, “what’s the point?” and not be satisfied until we get the answer.

God wants something from us.  Dare I say, He desires something from us.  But how can a perfect being have desires?  Does that mean that God is lacking something?  Isn’t God “complete”?

Yes, He is complete, but there is something that a being who lacks nothing can desire without diminishing His completeness – He can desire more of what He already has! (I’ll address this next week)

The Biblical narrative makes it clear that God wants us to choose Him.  More specifically, He wants us to choose to love Him.  We’ll explore why God wants us to love Him and why our love is so important to Him in next week’s post.  But for now, we’ll go with the supposition that God wants us to love Him, and that this desire is Right (since that’s God’s nature).  Let’s look at the mechanics and implications of God creating us with the ability to love Him.

As we saw in this post, love is not an emotion; it is not an involuntary feeling or reaction.  Love is a choice.  In order for a choice to exist, there has to be at least two options in existence, as well as a being of volitional will to make the choice.

So God, being Just, must present a just situation in which His creation can exercise the choice to love Him.  For this situation to exist, God would have to:

  1. Create a being with free will.
  2. Present the choice to love or not love Him.
  3. In the purest sense, not interfere with, or act on the choice until after the choice is made. (There are circumstances where God can intervene prior to a choice being carried out in response to justice, but the vast majority of the time, He has to allow the choice to be carried out before He can act).

The only way we can truly love God is if we have the option not to love Him.  This is a choice we constantly make.

This situation offers an answer to the classic question that many skeptics (and believers) have about God which I promised to address in the post on love: “If God is a God of love, how can He allow [universally acknowledged “bad thing”] to happen?”  In light of what we understand about God’s nature and ours, a more valid question would be, “how could a God of love not allow them to happen?”

In addressing this question, I am excluding “natural” calamities such as hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, getting mauled by a bear etc.  There is a reason for these situations that we’ll tackle later, but for now I’m limiting the answers to evil initiated by man, against man.

All evil and abhorrent actions that people commit – war, violence, assault, molestation, theft, betrayal, cruelty etc, are all the result of choices; specifically the choice to act in an unloving manner to others.  And God cannot justly intervene (in most cases) until after the choice is carried out, because anytime before the choice is executed, the person has an opportunity to intentionally change his or her mind and not commit the act!

If God does not allow them that opportunity, then He is interfering with free will.  If He interferes with free will, He is nullifying choice and preventing love (which a God of love cannot do).

Furthermore, if God punishes someone before they do evil, He is being unjust.  If He is unjust, then He is not God (the First Cause).  God cannot act outside of His nature (right and just), so He cannot punish evil before evil happens.  Just like a police officer cannot arrest you for murder when you decide to murder someone.  You are not a murderer until you actually kill someone.  Only after you commit the act can you be judged.

So, the reason why God allows evil to be committed is that He wants us to choose love, and He can’t justly interfere with our opportunity to make the right choice.  However, He can, does, and will justly and completely punish all the evil that has ever been committed in due time – as only a just judge would do.

As for the reason there is evil in the world – you see the reason every morning when you look in the mirror.  All the evil in the world is the result of choices people make to not love each other and God.  Evil is not God’s fault.  It’s ours’.

Next week we’ll look at why God wants us to love Him.  The reason behind this desire is not only the answer to “what’s the point?” it is also the answer to the meaning of life.  No big deal.

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April 19, 2010

Creation – Something out of Nothing

Posted in What's the Point? tagged , , , , , , at 12:43 PM by E. M.

WARNING – this post is a bit longer than usual and its chock full of scientific stuff. Depending on how technical you are, it may take a couple of reads to sink in. I apologize in advance for any resulting aneurysms.

The physical universe is the result of a First Cause.  The First Cause is defined in the information source known as the Judeo-Christian Bible.  The Bible calls the First Cause “God”

Up until now, I’ve reduced the origins of the physical universe into immaterial concepts like “information” and “principles”, and described the universe itself in terms of its governing rules such as causality and thermodynamics.  But we don’t just experience the physical universe conceptually.  We can touch it, taste it, hear it, smell it, and see it.  Its fair to ask , when will I finally talk about the more tangible aspects of the universe ?(or how can you answer “what’s the point?” if you never get to the %&@$# point?!)

I hear you.  In this post I endeavor to give a practical answer to how the physical universe could come into being from the First Cause.  Once we reach the end of this post, hopefully you will understand why I had to give so much seemingly “vague” background information first

Now, according to the Bible, God simply spoke everything into existence – “And God said let there be light”, and suddenly light existed. (And God said, “let there be colon cancer”, and the first McDonalds opened).  This seems rather fanciful, but lets take a systematic approach with this and start at the beginning.

The basic building block of matter is the atom.  Everything we see, mountains, trees, oceans, even our physical bodies are made up of trillions of atoms too small to be seen without powerful scientific equipment.  As the picture at the top shows, an atom consists of a nucleus at the center, and one or more negatively charged particles called electrons that orbit the nucleus at high speeds.  The picture above is he common way atoms are presented because it makes them easy to visualize, but he proportions are WAY off.

The size ratio of the nucleus to the orbit of the electron is about 100,000 to 1.  In other words, if the nucleus were the size of the head of a pin, the orbit of the electron would be over 100 meters away.  If we were on a football field, and the head of a pin (nucleus) was at the 50 yard-line, the electron’s orbit circumference would be the end zones on either side!

The VAST majority (99.99999~%) of an atom is…nothing.  Empty space.  Ok, so if the building blocks of matter are primarily empty space, then why do physical objects seem solid?  That’s because of the electrons. Due to their electric charge, they repel the electrons in other atoms and groups of atoms (molecules).  Remember in grade school when you’d have two magnets that would stick to each other because they had a different electrical charge, but when you’d turn one over the similar charge would make them repel each other?  Like that.

So then, when you have an object made of billions of atoms and molecules like the chair you’re sitting on, the repellant force of all those electrons is so great that it seems solid, when it encounters another object made of billions of atoms and molecules (like your butt).

The more electrons present in each atom, the more solid and dense an object seems, which is why iron, which has 26 electrons is more solid than water, which has 10 electrons, and which is more solid that helium, which has two.  But in reality, this “solidness” is an electro-magnetic illusion because, again, the vast majority of an atom is nothingness.

But wait, it gets worse.

An electron itself is almost without mass.  Electrons “behave” a lot like light (which has no mass).  Many scientists believe that the apparent mass that an electron has is only inferred form the electro-magnetic energy created from its fast orbit of the nucleus.  So in essence, the particle responsible for the phenomenon that makes objects tangible is not “real”

But wait, it gets even worse.

The nucleus (composed of particles called protons and neutrons) does have definitive mass.  Protons and neutrons are each made up of three sub-atomic particles call “quarks”.  Quarks are so small that they cannot be observed by scientific equipment.  We only know they exist based on secondary evidence.  This puts us in the crazy world of particle or “Quantum” physics.

Sub-atomic particles are unimaginably small – so small in fact that the laws of physics become fuzzy and cause these particles to behave very strangely.  The Copenhagen Interpretation and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle show that sub-atomic particles have no definitive independent locality or even existence when scientists are not observing them.  In other words, sub-atomic particles cannot be said to definitively exist unless an intelligent being is actively looking at them!  If that does not freak you out, then you didn’t understand it.

Quantum physics is so odd that it even disturbs the scientists who study it.  Niels Bohr stated, “Anyone who is not shocked by Quantum theory has not understood it.”

Richard Feynman said, “Of all the theories proposed in [the 20th Century], the silliest is Quantum theory…the only thing that Quantum theory has going for it, in fact, is that it is unquestionably correct.”

So in summary, what can we say about physical matter via the atoms that make it up?

  1. 99.9~% of it is nothingness
  2. Its physical tangibility is an electro-magnetic illusion
  3. The tiny fraction of 1% of it that actually is “real” doesn’t exist unless an intelligent being is thinking about it

So……….we know that the universe exists, but nothing in it is what we’d define as “real” on a fundamental level.  What do we do with this information?  Why, analyze it of course!

Do we know of anything else that exists and is immaterial, consists primarily of electronic energy, has a dramatic effect on what we call physical matter, and only exists as a product of intelligence?  We do.  We’ve discussed it before. Information!  Or more specifically thought.

Ok, brace yourself…The universe and everything in it  is nothing more than a thought in the mind of God! (granted, a really, really complex thought, but still…)

The metaphysical ramifications are staggering.  Everything we see as physical existence – stars, planets, mountains, oceans, birds, bees, flowers, trees, the Grand Canyon, and Disneyland, are all figments of God’s imagination (ok, I won’t blame God for Disneyland.  That’s just not fair).

Everything exists because God is thinking about it.  Including us.  (I wonder what would happen if God stopped thinking about it?  Never mind.  This post is theoretical enough as it is).

With this in mind (no pun intended), God speaking everything into existence is not so far fetched.  In fact, it kind of makes sense, especially if His spoken words correlate perfectly with His thoughts.

Think about dreams you’ve had at night or fantasies your created in your mind.  You dismiss them as not being real, but in essence, they work on the same principles as divine creation.

PLEASE note that I am NOT getting all New Age-y on you and saying that we can create or alter objective reality with our thoughts in the manner that books like The Secret (and some popular Televangelists) say you can.  We are not God.  We do not have the nature of the First Cause.

But then…what about us?  We’re different from anything else in known creation.  We have volitional will.  We can intentionally act apart from God’s will and initiate situations that He may not want to happen.  How and why did God create us this way?  I’ll tell you in one week…

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April 12, 2010

Love is a Three-Way

Posted in What's the Point? tagged , , , , , , at 9:21 AM by E. M.

The TrinityBased on human understanding, we know that the First Cause of existence is “right” and “just”; righteousness and justice describe the nature of the First Cause.   The Judeo-Christian Bible gives us more details about the First Cause (God).

Most of the characteristics that we attribute to God (merciful, holy, compassionate, all-knowing, all-mighty, etc.) are the effects of His nature.  But one of the most prominent characteristics of God in the scriptures as well as popular culture is “love”.  One of the first Bible verses kids learn is “God is love”.  If you asked the average person to describe God’s most prominent trait, they would most likely say that He is “loving” (followed by “really old”,  “really loud”, and “possessing an obscenely large beard”).

Even those who doubt or deny the existence of God acknowledge love as His defining characteristic.  On more than one occasion I’ve had some disgruntled person ask “If God is so loving, then why does He allow [universally acknowledged “bad thing”] to happen?”  (FYI – I will actually answer that question in two weeks)

So what exactly is “love”?  Asking that question leads to a diversity of subjective answers ranging from “a strong affection” to “about $50 an hour”.   But since we’re talking about God’s love, we need to go to the Bible to get His definition.

The first Biblical mention of the word love is in Genesis chapter 22, where God commands Abraham to take his precious son Isaac, whom he loves more than anything else in the world. . .  and climb to the top of a mountain and kill him as a sacrifice of faith.

Granted, on the surface this seems like an odd way to introduce the concept of love to the reader, but this event is intimately tied to the ultimate example of God’s love which is highlighted in the most famous verse in the Bible; John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

According to many Biblical scholars, the sacrifice of God’s Son took place on the same mountain where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac.  God stopped Abraham before he completed the sacrifice, but by being willing to faithfully carry it out, Abraham prophetically acted out God’s ultimate act of love.

These two defining “love” moments in the Bible have two important things in common; they involve sacrifice, and they are done for the benefit of another (for God in Abraham’s case, and for all of humanity in God’s case).

A sacrifice is the giving of a value without personally getting anything in return.

So, Biblically speaking, love is giving a value for the benefit of another without the expectation of getting anything in return. There’s more exposition on this idea here.

God’s love is not only crucial to answering, “What’s the point? (and we will finally get to that answer in 3 weeks.  I promise), it also has a defining impact on another vital aspect of God’s identity.

John 17:24 states that love existed before the universe itself.  That presents us with something of a problem.  From the definition we have, it looks like love requires the existence of at least two persons – the giver of love and the receiver.  We usually refer to this as a “relationship”, but the Bible does not use that word.  The Bible calls the love interaction a “fellowship”.  However this complicates things even more, because a definitive model of fellowship requires at least three persons, each loving another directly while receiving love indirectly from the third person.  (Here is a link that explains fellowship in detail).

So love existed before the universe and requires no less than three persons.  But we know that the only thing that existed before the universe is the First Cause.  There is only one logical solution to this dilemma: if the First Cause is love, and love requires at least three persons, then the First Cause must be three “persons”.

Once again, the Biblical description of the First Cause reflects this aspect of God’s nature.  The Bible gives implicit evidence that God is three persons – specifically called the “Father”, “Son”, and “Holy Spirit”.  This concept is called “The Trinity”.

The Father is called God throughout the Bible.  The Son is called God in John 1:1-14, 1 John 5:20, Titus 2:13, and Romans 9:5.  The Holy Spirit is called God in Acts 5:3-4, and 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.  All three are credited with the creation of the universe; The Father in Psalms 102:24-25 and Job 38, the Son in John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:16, and the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2, and Job 26:13.  More detail on this subject is available at this site.

It bears mentioning that despite the Biblical evidence, several religious traditions strongly disagree with the idea of God being three persons for various reasons.  Fortunately I’m not religious, so I’m not terribly interested in why the idea of the Trinity runs afoul some religious traditions.

Yet and still, it is reasonable to ask why God is presented both as a singular mind AND three persons in the Bible.  How do we resolve this?  Well, if the Trinity is the First Cause, then all three persons must have the exact same nature – right and just.  If all three persons are always and completely right and just, then they are always and completely in perfect, harmonious agreement.  Thus they speak and act as one, whether presenting themselves individually as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, or when they present themselves corporately as “God”.  What goes for one goes for all.  They only seem to differentiate in role and hierarchy, and they’ve all obviously agreed to assume and maintain their roles.

So we’ve added some significant depth to the identity of the First Cause that has hopefully deepened our level of understanding of the principles and providences that existed before the universe.  And that’s all well and good, but I have admittedly been dwelling in the realm of the theoretical and existential up to this point and said very little about the practical matter of the physical universe itself.

Yet all the things we see, hear, touch and experience are “real”, not theoretical and conceptual…right?  So enough about what the First Cause is, lets talk about the BIG effect.  What is the universe and how did the First Cause, well, cause it?  We’ll get into that next week.  The answers are guaranteed to surprise you, or your money back.

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April 5, 2010

The Bible – Special Delivery

Posted in What's the Point? tagged , , , , , , , at 11:53 AM by E. M.

Based solely on human understanding, we’ve concluded that the nature of the First Cause is the principles of “righteousness”, and “justice”. We’ve also seen that the Judeo-Christian Bible meets the qualifications of an additional information source from, and about the First Cause (God) because it agrees with what we already know about the First Cause and it demonstrates its supernatural origin.  But why would the Fist Cause want to supply this information, and to whom would it be intended?

Asking these questions assumes that the First Cause is intentional, which assumes that the First Cause has a volitional will, which assumes that the First Cause is intelligent.  Are these assumptions correct?

The Bible definitely presents God as intelligent (possessing knowledge and having the ability to productively apply it) and that God is intentional.  This matches what we already know, because we have previously discussed the fact that information exists, and intelligence is on the causality ladder between principles (first causes) and information.

So why would an intelligent being want to provide information about his or herself?  Logically, to let other intelligent beings know who he or she is.  And why would the intelligent being want others to know who they are? Well, if they are just (which we know the First Cause is) then there must be some value gained both for the intelligent being in being known, and for the recipient of the information in coming to know the intelligent being.

What are the values gained?  I contend that for the recipients (us) the value is the answer to question, “What’s the point?” But what value could the First Cause get from us knowing this information?  The First Cause gets its greatest desire fulfilled! We’ll address that in next four posts…

In the meantime, its logical to assume that God gave us the Bible because He wants to be known by other intelligent beings (with this in mind, I could argue that God does not want most politicians and Hollywood celebrities to know Him.  But that would be mean).

But why create the Bible to get this information out?  Wouldn’t it make more sense if God just parted the clouds and yelled “Hey!  I’m God!  Bow down and worship me you grubby little monkeys!”  Actually, He did (granted, He didn’t say the “grubby little monkeys” line). God spoke verbally and directly to man in the past (and will do so again in the future), but men still refused to understand God or accept His answer to the question “What’s the point?”  We’ll explore these interactions more in depth in upcoming posts, but for our present age, the Bible is our determined information source.

Of course the point of any information source is to be understood by the intended audience.  This idea often prompts some to interject the artificial objection to the Bible that I like to call “The Many Interpretations Fallacy” (aka – The Battle-Cry of the Intellectually Lazy).

Basically, the perpetrator says, “There are soooo many interpretations of the Bible, we could never be possibly sure what it really means.  How do you know your interpretation is correct?  Now put that Bible down, American Idol is on!”

There are indeed many interpretations of the Bible (Charles Manson has one that shows he’s Jesus), but there is only ONE correct interpretation of the Bible – the one that God intended!  All other interpretations are wrong, so they are irrelevant.  Our challenge is to discern that correct interpretation.  This discernment is greatly aided by knowing God’s nature, will, and plan for humanity.  This blog endeavors to help in this cause.

To that end, one could fairly say that based on the information in the Bible, God is much more than just the principles of “right” and “just”.  Isn’t God a “person”? Doesn’t He have a personality, intelligence, feelings, desires, values, temperament, love, compassion, mercy, etc.?

Yes, he does.  The Bible says God possesses all of those qualities. But remember the rules of causality – those traits are all effects of the cause.  God’s “person” is an effect of being always and completely right and just.

In my next post I want to address one of God’s fundamental characteristics.  The implications of this characteristic are critical in understanding an extremely important aspect of God’s identity.  Next week, we’re going to discuss Love

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