Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Poll

I find this a bit hard to believe, but since it's Easter I thought I'd put it up on Viewpoint anyway:

As Christians gather to celebrate Easter this Sunday, the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 88% of adults nationwide think the person known to history as Jesus Christ actually walked the earth 2,000 years ago. That's up five points from a year ago. Today, 5% disagree and 7% are not sure.

Eighty-two percent (82%) also believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God who came to Earth and died for our sins. Another 10% think otherwise and 8% aren't sure.

Nearly as many, 79% believe the central claim of the Christian faith--that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Only 10% say they do not believe the first Easter resurrection really happened, while 11% are not sure.

Almost 80% of Americans believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus? Eighty two percent believe in the deity of Christ and substitutionary atonement? I wonder what the response would have been had folks been asked what difference these beliefs make in the way they live their life. I also wonder what the response would've been had these questions been posed to, say, a thousand college students surveyed on a range of campuses. Alas, Rasmussen apparently wasn't curious about the same things I am.

There's more on this poll at the link.


More on Hitchens/Craig

Doug TenNapel over at Big Hollywood offers a retrospective of the Hitchens/Craig debate held last Saturday at Biola University. TenNapel, who was present for the event, thinks that although Craig won the argument, Hitchens won the debate. He says this because Craig's arguments, based as they are on reason and logic, have little purchase in a culture that has learned to think emotively rather than rationally. Hitchens based his case for atheism on the ubiquity of suffering and returned to this theme at every opportunity. It's a theme that deeply resonates with people and possesses a great deal of emotional and psychological power even if, as an argument, it possesses very little logical force.

TenNapel writes:

But in my opinion, though Dr. Craig won the argument (he was the only one who even presented a formal argument), Hitchens won the debate. It's not the argument of the debaters, it's the condition of the audience that wins the day. While few of Dr. Craig's arguments are dispersed through culture, even religious culture, I've been raised on most of Hitchens' arguments. Dr. Craig's arguments are true and well-reasoned but difficult to comprehend on a first hearing. Hitchens' arguments are what we'll find spoken against God on prime time television, at the water-cooler, I've even heard some of them on Animal Planet. Culture generally makes Hitchens' argument by default....

I think if there were atheists in the audience on the brink of salvation that Dr. Craig's well-argued positions would find little purchase. Opposite that, the room of Christians would likely have a large segment of doubters, and the cultural arguments against God presented by Hitchens would likely change more minds in my opinion.

So are debates judged by the merit of the arguments or the embrace of the audience? In this all important subject, I think the effect on the audience is the preferred measurement. But the evening left little doubt to most of us that Hitchens did not make a case for atheism at all. He barely even acknowledged his own atheism which was oddly refreshing. It reminds me of G. K. Chesterton who said, "Somehow one can never manage to be an atheist."

It reminds me of a quote from Feuerbach who said that all atheists deny their faith by their actions. In other words, they can't live consistently with the logical entailments of their atheism.

At any rate, TenNapel is probably correct about the effect of non-rational appeals on a post-modern audience, and the power of Hitchens' wit and British accent to charm his listeners are not to be underestimated either. Even so, I think there's something ironic in the fact that an atheist who lays claim to having the rationally superior position utterly fails on the grounds of rationality and can only succeed by resorting to emotional appeals. Some might have thought that emotional appeal would have been the recourse of the defender of theism.

Anyway, you can read TenNapel's full summary of the debate at the link.


The Whole World in His Mind?

The May issue of Discover magazine has a very interesting article on a topic we've addressed from time to time on this page. We've noted that much, if not all, of our experience of the universe is in fact subjective, that not only the phenomena of sense experience - things like color, sound and fragrance - but also that which appears to us to be objectively real - matter, space and time - are in fact ultimately created by our minds. If this is true then the irreducible ground of reality is mind, not matter.

This seems to be the implication, not only of much philosophical speculation, but also of much of contemporary physics, especially quantum physics. As physicist James Jeans once said, the universe looks more like a grand idea than a grand machine.

The article in Discover (which is not yet available online) makes a similar case and concludes that the universe is "biocentric," i.e. that it's a creation of human minds. I think this is probably true of qualia (sensations) and what we call time, but to say that it's true of the universe as a whole seems to me to be a bit of a stretch. To be sure, it may well be that all of cosmic reality is indeed mind-dependent, but that it's dependent upon our minds for its existence seems to me to be the least likely alternative. It seems more plausible to suppose that Jeans' grand idea is the product not of human minds but of a cosmic mind, the mind of God.

The authors of the Discover article shy from considering this possibility, not wishing, perhaps, to suggest anything that has religious connotations, but it makes much more sense of the evidence they adduce than does their biocentrism.

Consider just one example from the quantum world. Pairs of sub-atomic particles formed simultaneously share a property known as entanglement. These particles are somehow mysteriously connected to each other even if they are separated by vast distances across space. If one of the pair undergoes some alteration the other undergoes a corresponding alteration even though any message sent from the one to the other would have to travel at near infinite speed in order for the second particle to know that the first has been altered. How does this happen? There's no physical explanation for this instantaneous connectivity. If, however, these particles, and everything else, are really part of God's consciousness, the problem of entanglement is explained. Every event is immediately known by God, and His mind imposes the laws that govern the behavior of these particles.

It seems like an obvious solution for anyone who already believes that quantum phenomena are observer-dependent, but perhaps we're going to have to unravel more of the mysteries of the universe's structure and behavior before those scientists still in the grip of a metaphysical naturalism begin to wean themselves away from their theophobia.