The Origins of Life

Either the universe had a personal beginning, or an impersonal beginning. The universe is therefore either an impersonal universe, or a personal one. If it is an impersonal universe, the evolvement of personality is a sad thing, because there is no satisfactory explanation giving meaning to thinking, acting, communicating, loving, having ideas, choosing, being full of creativity, and responding to the creativity of others. It is like a fish developing lungs in an airless universe. The longings and aspirations of personality drown without fulfillment.

I don’t know where he said this, but this is a quote attributed to Francis Schaeffer in his wife, Edith’s, book Christianity is Jewish (pg 17). Edith concludes this thought on page 19 saying:

If one chooses the impersonal beginning, one must go on to a logical conclusion of an impersonal universe, and an insignificant human being, and a meaningless history.

That would explain a lot about the massive despair blanketing our society…

15 thoughts on “The Origins of Life

  1. An impersonal universe allows humans to make their their own meanings. In fact, any claim that meaning is made by an outside Personality are just that–humans constructing meaning where there was none to begin with. No, I am not despondent nor in despair because I believe the universe might be impersonal.

  2. What does he mean by a ‘personal beginning’? I know he’s alluding to a god, but why not say that? His vagueness could also mean a ‘personal beginning’ to our universe by an advanced species of aliens.

    But what does any of this have to do with mass despair? Are you saying that since there is mass despair then the universe must be impersonal? Are you saying that the belief itself is causing mass despair? Yikes, if you are. Of course, I can understand why you would reach that conclusion from a Christian’s worldview, and maybe to the Christian it would cause despair, but logically it doesn’t follow.

    Personally, I prefer the Buddhist interpretation. It doesn’t matter whether or not the universe was ‘created’ by a god or gods… or aliens, for that matter. The reality is that we are here and now. I’m through with speculations, it’s time to get on with the business of living.

  3. Wait a minute; we are free to manufacture our own meaning (because it’s an impersonal universe), but it’s a problem when humans make their own in the image of an outside Personality?

  4. I say fine, let some ‘outside personality’ give your life meaning, but don’t be so condescending as to think that everyone else has to accept what you think brings meaning to the world, or insinuate that the cause of ‘mass despair’ is the lack of acknowledging there must be an ‘outside personality’.

    I’m all for an individual post-modern worldview, but as a group and society a modern naturalistic worldview, though maybe not the best, is what works the best to keep a more peaceful coexistence.

    Nate, I don’t know of any Christian who believes in an ‘outside personality’. If you are referring to your god, then surely he isn’t just ‘outside’. This brings up all kinds of metaphysical questions.

    Peter…. again, congratulations to you and the Mrs., and have you picked up John Loftus’ “Why I Am An Atheist”? Although I have moved on from atheism (still an atheist, but the conversations are getting boring), his book is fantastic so far. Even Geisler and Craig and made some positive remarks about it (though I think Loftus went overboard with the endorsements…. ten pages worth!!!).

  5. The point is this; if life began in an impersonal manner then it doesn’t make sense for us to find so much significance in personality.

    What is the point of the difference between your personality and mine if they are but the product of random chance? I believe that there is a significance to our existence on earth and to each individual person’s role in life. I also believe that without a sense of purpose and significance, people generally despair. “Without vision the people perish”

    What’s your thoughts on why depression is at an all time high in America?

    I think that ascribing to a philosophy that says nothing ultimately matters, because what is true for you may not be true for me leads to despair. Our lives are meant to be built upon something; an impersonal origin to the universe removes our moorings.

    Ravi Zacharias relates an anecdote regarding a visit to Ohio State University where they were all excited to give him a tour through the world’s first post-modern building. Inside there were doors leading know where, stairs for no reason, etc. After looking around for a while Ravi opined, “I bet the architect didn’t follow the same philosophy for the foundation.”

  6. by the way…the only thing I had in mind when I posted this quote was that it was a good statement on why Darwinian Evolution is a philosophically problematic theory; I didn’t have either of you guys in mind…though I’m happy to discuss this a bit.

  7. I’ll tackle your Darwinian Evolution comment first. Darwinian Evolution is less about philosophy as it is about being a scientific theory… one that has overwhelming evidence to support it. Second, the theory of evolution we have today has come along way since Darwin. One example is Darwin didn’t have the luxury of the knowledge of DNA, but it is amazing how its discovery has confirmed much of what Darwin theorized.

  8. I’ll reply to your reply about personality here.

    You may be right, it may not make much sense to find so much significance in personality. I know that Buddhists recognize the idea of anatman, or no-self. In Buddhism the self is an allusion created by the five skandhas. The Buddha, with the Buddist philosopher Nagarjuna writing much about this later on, talked about dependent origination. Basically, all things are interdependent, and nothing in itself is permanent. My point in mentioning the Buddhist idea is that the idea of self is not a self-evident philosophy or belief of all peoples.

    Second, who said anything about random chance? Not only does that contradict Buddhist philosophy, but scientific theory as well. I know that among the atheist community on the web that no one, including writers like Dawkins, or bloggers like PZ Myers, agree with the universe coming about by random chance. It’s nothing more than a straw man that continues to be used by creationists and theists.

    If you believe that there is significance to our role in life on this planet, great, especially if that is what appeals to your reason and fulfills your psychological needs, but it is an opinion, not a brute fact. Again, I can see how within the Christian worldview that you would believe it, and if it works for you, great. But it doesn’t mean that the rest of us live in despair because we don’t think there is some great cosmic reason for our existence.

    My thoughts on depression in America? I’ll spare the George W. Bush jokes, but I am not aware that depression is at an all time high. Besides, why just focus on America, why be so nationalistic? I think the question is, why is there so much suffering in the world, and how do you eliminate, or at least minimalize it? This is where Buddhism has proved to be of interest to me (at least a naturalistic progressive Buddhism….not the mystical “Pure Land” faith based Buddhism). The Buddha spoke a lot about suffering (Dukkha) and the path that leads to the end of suffering. But this something I am interested for myself, and not something I would force on someone else. Right now, it’s what works for me.

    I have been temporarily reassigned to patrol division and before I leave the parking lot in my patrol car I read the Metta Sutra. It’s not a prayer directed at any deity, but it has helped me be more mindful of how I treat people and it has stirred up in me a sense of compassion for others while I do my job.

    And even if depression were at an all time in America today. So what? Theistic belief is at an all time high in America, yet depression is also at an all time high. Is there a correlation? The same for divorce (divorce is higher among Christians than atheists). In fact, studies have shown that 95% of inmates in prisons are Christians, and only 0.02% describe themselves as atheists. So be careful about pointing fingers.

    What do you mean by ‘something’? Sure, everyone’s life is built on something, whether you mean it physically (I don’t think that’s what you meant), emotionally, or even spiritually, though I prefer existentially. We are a product of our environment and genes. Nature and nurture. We can’t avoid having a psychology without a worldview. But it doesn’t follow that an “impersonal origin to the universe removes our moorings.”

    Ravi Zacharias? Seriously? The man is categorically dishonest. Just watch his debates. I expected greater from a self-professed Christian. And who cares about doors that lead nowhere? Are you really using this as an example of how humanity has lost it’s way? It would impress me more if people like Zacharias would stop quibbling over ‘poor’ architecture and start dealing with real issues, even in the midst of his own camp, like dishonest evangelists who rake in the cash from gullible Christians. The same goes for not a few Christian charities, and don’t get me started on pedophilia among the clergy. Or take the all out brawl this week among Christians at the very site of Jesus supposed crucifixion, death, and resurrection… the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

    Nate, what can your god really offer the world? If his followers are an example of what one should expect, you can keep your Jesus, I’ll stick to finding my own way.

  9. Wow, Jamie; Ravi Zacharias categorically dishonest? That assertion does little to assure me of your rationality.

    What can God offer the world? Hope. Admittedly, hope deferred makes the heart sick; and people never fail to disappoint, but hope makes a difference.

    As for Darwinian Evolution and there being tons of evidence…there’s a ton of evidence that can be construed either way depending on your presuppositions, and the set that leads to an impersonal origin to the universe is as equally a philosophy as is Young Earth Creationism. “Free thinkers” ought to be able to admit that; that they often won’t is proof that they’re as “duped” as those they disparage for blind allegiance to Creationism.

    Let’s say for the sake of discussion that there are 1000 pieces of evidence regarding the origins of the universe. An Intelligent Design scientist and a Evolutionary scientist would both take a look at the 1000 pieces of evidence and come to two different conclusions about what “objective” scientific theory indicates the plain evidence shows. What does this tell us? 1. No human is completely objective. 2. Each theory is primarily a philosophical outlook, not primarily an objective, scientific interpretation of the available evidence.

    Unless you’re willing to assert that all creationist or intelligent design scientists are biased and dishonest, or unless I’m willing to assert that all evolutionary scientists are biased and dishonest then we have a stalemate.

    From the survey of the evidence that I have done, I’m absolutely positive that all available evidence points to a Personal Force and an Intelligent Design behind the universe. I personally believe that Personal, Intelligent Force is God. You, however, come to a different conclusion; I think there’s a lot of illogical conclusions that influence your thinking, but you obviously feel the same about me. Where do we go from there?

    I’ll stick to my convictions, and I’m comfortable with you sticking to yours — I’ll also continue to write about what makes sense to me about my convictions; I won’t force them on you, but I will talk about why I think they’re the only ones that truly make sense of the world. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t hold them…

  10. Creationism begins with presuppositions that cannot be tested and that are immune from investigation. Evolution, as a theory, has been on the table for open, scientific discussion for nearly 130 years. As a theory it works to account for and predict field findings, and it is fruitful in generating new research. Creationism is a cervical cap that hinders the cultivation of new research as the creationist (or the ID “scientist”) is content asserting “irreducible complexity” whenever an observation defies the current abilities of contemporary science to explain.

    Having been entrenched on both sides of the creation and evolution debate, I have found that creationism is incapable of accounting for the most basic of my daily observations about human behavior, human anatomy and physiology, and animal death adaptations (for predation and to avoid predation). To me this is not simply a matter of which presuppositions to choose, it is a matter of accounting for daily realities that are inconsistent with a creationist paradigm. Aside from my daily observations, the fossil record plainly favors the “old-earth” deposition models.

    Dr. Kurt Wise is a highly educated, young-earth creationist that I respect greatly. Unlike most creation scientists, he is extremely honest about the disparities between what can be learned from the material world and the young-earth creationist expectations of the same. He admits that the evidence is ubiquitously in favor of an “old earth” and the existence of the phylogenetic tree of life. He confesses, though, that “all of the evidence in the universe” would not be enough to convince him to abandon his young-earth creationist position because he adheres, first and foremost, to the Bible as his source of knowledge and understanding. As long as he devotes himself to a particular reading of the Bible, it is not worth discussing the physical world with him. However, he is respectable in that he admits that the evidence weighs in favor of the theory of evolution and mainstream geology.

    I use Wise to illustrate that it is possible to use the creationist paradigm yet confess that the physical evidences favor the evolutionary paradigm. Wise illustrates that science leads to the conclusion that evolution is a better working model despite presuppositions. Wise and others like him lend to the conclusion that those creation scientists that argue that evolution is a theory in crisis and that creationism is superior for scientific reasons are being dishonest…they are manipulating the evidence, they are liars. Ham, Morris (all of them), Austin, Humphreys…..the list goes on.

  11. Peter, this strikes me as intentional naivete. Creationism begins with presuppositions that cannot be tested and that are immune from investigation, and evolution doesn’t?! Even Dawkins – never a paragon of logical consistency – admits that no one knows how the universe began.

    For a guy who claims to have abandoned Christianity and/or Creationism due to logical inconsistencies, etc. you’re not providing a very good example. Which has been my contention from the beginning; you changed views because you didn’t like the constraints your previous worldview put upon you, not due to philosophical problems with Christianity.

    And listen, please refrain from calling people liars on my blog. I happen to have actually sat down with Ken Ham, to have spent a week with him, in fact. I have had the same pleasure with Dr. John Whitcomb. Neither of them are dishonest individuals – at all.

    Your post proves my previous comment; you’re making assertions that I completely deny. I am over-whelmed by the evidence that just the human organism by itself provides of a Creator, let alone my daily observations, the fossil-record, etc., etc.

    At the end of the day, you’re going to interpret and seek out information that seems to support the worldview you are comfortable maintaining. I believe the preponderance of evidence overwhelming supports Creationism, and frankly, I don’t believe that you truly are convinced to the contrary.

  12. Nate,
    How vary arrogant and disingenuous of you to presume to know why Peter left Christianity.

    As far as evolution, you are either extremely ignorant to the facts about evolution and to what the definition of science is in the first place, or you are blatantly dishonest . I choose the latter because your replies are more in step with Behe and the Discovery Institute, Zacharias, with a measure of Ray Comfort. I’m not only sorry for your readers, but also your children, who are being taught such drivel and will grow up with an intellectual handicap.

    Yes, there is such a thing as freedom of ideas but you don’t have a right to be free from criticism.

    Peter, I will no longer be visiting this blog. I’m all for the open exchange of ideas and challenging deeply seated beliefs, but when someone twists reality to fit their deep psychological needs and uses the cover of inquiry, I am so gone. Nate obviously isn’t interested in truth. That’s too bad, he use to be a heck of a guy.

    Goodbye Nate, I won’t be back, not even to review your reply. It would probably be better if you just deleted all my replies.

    Metta.

  13. Jaime, perhaps you won’t read this; that’s a bummer. I’ll gladly side with the Discovery Institute and Zacharias – they’re honest, forthright, intelligent people who aren’t into self-deception.

    You ought to know I’m not looking for freedom from criticism, but it appears that when I get forthright about my perception of what’s going on it’s “I’m outta here.”, while you and Peter are supposed to be free to cast aspersion where you will.

    “twists reality to fit their deep psychological needs and uses the cover of inquiry” – I couldn’t have described what you and Peter are doing any better!

    How does it feel coming back at ya? You obviously aren’t interested in the truth, Jamie, because you’re unwilling to accept that my perception of the facts is the accurate one.

    But apparently only you are allowed to have that attitude? I’m arrogant–yeah, that’s it.

    Hey, man; I’m more than willing to converse whenever you’d like to talk on an even playing field.

  14. Hello Nate!

    You state: “…you changed views because you didn’t like the constraints your previous worldview put upon you, not due to philosophical problems with Christianity.” I know that you this is what you and others may think and to some degree it really is true.

    I am convinced that the theory of evolution accounts for the realities of my world better than the dogma of creationism, and quite frankly, this is where I felt the constraints the strongest. Creationism and Christianity held back my thinking. I found the creationist paradigm to be a poor explanatory filter to account for what I know about nature. Instead of being able to account for or predict what I see in nature, I see that creationism has mounting liabilities.

    The presuppositions of methodological naturalism is paramount to science. This assumption allows the observer or the researcher to assume that an explanation can be found without having to resort to miraculous, supernatural interference. For example, the process of photosynthesis, rather than being explained by divine intervention, can be explained by purely naturalistic mechanisms. Methodological naturalism does not speak to the existence of the supernatural, but it does rule the supernatural as an unparsimonious multiplying of entities.

    Creationists attempt to apply methodological naturalism as much as they can to their models. Epistemologically, the degree to which they adhere to methodological naturalism is the veneer that they feel gives them the right to be self-titled “science.” The difference between creation and mainstream sciences becomes, then, what to do with the anomalies that methodological naturalistic assumptions do not explain. The creationist faces these problems with ad hoc assumptions such as unknown variables or the miraculous. For example, the creationist Flood model requires the occurrence of rapid radiological isotope decay and the rapid drift of crustal plates. Both of these variables would create an intense heat difficulty for the creationist. Under the assumptions of methodological naturalism, these difficulties become liabilities that work against the utility of the creationist flood model. However, for the creationist, there is the possibility of introducing outside entities (such as miracles) to account for the heat problem (let alone the mechanism for selectively rapid isotope decay and crustal-plate drift).

    The creationist model might be right; however, it requires more assumptions than scientific models, and it is because the creationist model must veer away from the presupposition of methodological naturalism that makes it non-scientific and dogmatic. Science has explanations for isotope decay and crustal drift that make less assumptions and that can account for more of the available information. Hence, the creationist flood model in these significant though briefly-addressed case studies, becomes less useful.

    The operations of science lead to the conclusion that the Earth is “old” and that life evolved. These operations rest on the methodology of naturalism; however, these operations speak nothing to the existence of the supernatural. It is possible to believe in the existence of the supernatural while exercising naturalistic scientific methodology. Creationists do, only taking exception when their prior dogmatic moorings require them to veer from such naturalism. I think there might be a supernatural realm…though I am convinced. I want to believe, and I may eventually embrace humbly embrace faith, but if I do, it will not be because creationism has won the battle…it will be because there are questions that methodological naturalism cannot address for which I want answers.

  15. Tandi commented on Nov 13, 6:37 PM:

    “I cannot let Peter’s statement concerning Dr. Kurt Wise stand without allowing this man to speak for himself. I just listened to the most balanced and thought-provoking sermon I have heard yet on this Evolution/Creation controversy. Dr. Wise is my hero! The sermon is available for free download at sermonaudio.com. It is entitled, “Challenges to Biologic Evolution.”

    Peter, please listen to this message….it may be exactly what you need to hear.”

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