Movies, stories, and songs are a great way to gather insight into the viewpoints of others and ourselves. They are wonderful, small windows through which we can look, which hopefully pique our attention to explore the philosophers who have dug much deeper than most of the artists. These sources of entertainment also tend to provide us with glimpses of popular thought. Exploring media allows us to see worldviews which are present in our culture or worldviews which are being presented to shape and change culture. One of the topics I have seen come up more frequently, as of late, is that of free will. Neuroscience, psychology, and biology have all been advanced greatly over the past few decades and they appear to be culminating into a conclusion that our lives are determined by our genes and our circumstances. In the minds of many, such a conclusion would overthrow religion. Therefore, it is important that we as Christians know what we believe about the will.
It doesn't matter which worldview you accept in life, any position is going to produce its nagging questions. Most people don't seem to have too much of a problem with the dissonance, either because they're unaware of the bigger questions or because it ultimately doesn't matter to them. They can go on with life and never give the problems inherent in their worldviews a second thought. That does not at all describe me. The big questions nag me, and nag me, and nag me - and will likely do so until the day I die. While I'm trying to find that middle ground and come to terms with the fact that mystery exists and isn't always bad, I don't think I can ever stop working through the big questions.
One of these big questions which arise and is particularly strong in Reformed Theology, is the question of how evil originated. If God created good humans in a good world, and if human action is the result of acting upon one's desires, then how could sin have ever come about? If a good, all-powerful God created a good world, then any deficiency which arises seems to be attributable to God. But Christians know that can't be the case, for then God would be evil.
The murder of James Bulgar is a story which wrecks my heart. While all murders are tragic, this one feels to me as if it fits into a different category. The level of reprehensibility, of violence, of senselessness, and of the corruption of innocence eats away at my emotions. But in reality, the murder of James wasn't much different than the murders of other children, save for one fact - his murderers were children themselves. I think the reason the Bulgar case has become so infamous and why so many find it more tragic than other cases is because the source of evil came from an unexpected place. How could two children kidnap, torture, and murder a small child? That's not something children do. In fact, that's something it seems children aren't capable of doing. We don't expect to find great evil in certain places. We think such a thing is reserved for the darkest recesses of society. We expect evil to exist, but we don't expect it in all the places where we often find it.
Many Evangelicals harp on the fact that our culture has lost notions of sin. Our culture is often willing to call evil, "good." Certainly the redefining of morality is problematic, but I think there is something even more tragic going on.
It is easy to live in fear these days. Perhaps it's always been that way. Maybe the times aren't any more fearful today, but rather humans are beings always prone to fear. Regardless of fear's source, whether in circumstances or in human nature, it's easy for those of us living in the present to see the fears which the modern world stirs up in our neighbors and in ourselves. But all this fear seems so odd in our enlightened age. One would have thought (or at least I would have thought) that a world which proclaimed itself as more "scientific," more "objective," and less "mystical" would be one in which fears would dissipate. In a world where malicious demons and capricious gods don't exist, we only have the rational world to fear. And what is there to fear in that which can be understood and controlled? The problems of modernity can be measured, assessed, and converted into probabilities. In a world where cause and effect are better understood than ever before, it seems like we should have a handle on most of our fears. Yet we find that in the Western world - the part of the world who thinks of themselves as the most advanced and scientific - fear reigns supreme. Whether you watch the news and take the temperature of the nation, whether you gather anecdotes from those in your community, or whether you simply look at rates of psychological/emotional issues and prescription drug use and drug abuse, you'll find that our world is one which is steeped in fear.
In my view, one of the main problems with libertarian free (LFW) will is that it's groundless. By removing causation from an individual's choice, only randomness is left as an explanation, which is really no explanation at all. To show this problem, I like to refer to the time machine analogy.
I recently started a podcast with some acquaintances. The podcast focuses on the issue of CHristian nonviolence, exploring the case for a nonviolent position as well as discussing rebuttals against the position. Check it out here!
For each of our pregnancies, I wrote sonnets dedicated to our new child. I don't have too much to offer in the way of quilting or woodworking, so creating some sort of functional heirloom isn't an option for me. Instead, I thought I would craft some of the ideas I thought most important for my kids to understand when they grew up, and I decided to do this in sonnet format. While the structure is modeled around childish notions (ABC's, 123's, Colors, etc), the content is about morality, theology, and the like. They are definitely ideas the kids will have to grow into. I hope that one day my children can read my sonnets and reflections and take them into their own hearts as they wrestle with their humanity, with God, and with how they are going to move out in the world. Until they grow into that, I hope these works will be of use to at least one other strange person out there who would take the time to read about epistemology or metaphysics in an archaic, poetic format.
The SLED argument against abortion has been one of the greatest defenses of a child’s right to life. The simple line of reasoning goes a long way in most abortion discussions. The few arguments which the SLED argument can't handle tend to be arguments based on arbitrarily formed definitions of things like “personhood,” and/or basing arguments on degreed properties which lead to inconsistently applied conclusions. A simple reductio ad absurdum reduces most surviving arguments down to positions which either aren't tenable or consistent. For more on this, you can check out what I've written on the issue of abortion here.
However, I have found one newer argument for abortion to be relatively compelling – the argument from bodily autonomy. The argument basically says that as it stands, if we were to prevent abortions, a corpse would then have more rights than women. A corpse may legally donate or withhold organs – even to those in need – whereas under anti-abortion laws, a mother would have no choice in the case but to contribute her organs to sustaining the life of another. We would be requiring her to give up her bodily autonomy for the sake of another. While this “heroism” may be lauded as a great sacrifice if it was a willingly pursued course of action, it is not something we can require of another. Bodily autonomy supersedes the needs of another. Whereas most other arguments have some apparent loopholes, this particular argument initially seemed unassailable to me.
While there are a slew of recurring emotional arguments made against God by popular atheists, I believe that one of the most foundational of these ideas can be seen in the Christopher vs. Peter Hitchens debate. The atheist Christopher Hitchens provides an intuitive "argument" against God, which essentially asserts that if a God existed, he wouldn't be petty enough to dictate morality over things like sexual ethics and such. And if there was a God who dictated such things like that, he would be both petty, and dictatorial. Who would want to worship a god who was petty and sought to dominate even the minutia of your life? Dr. Hitchens ends his tirade to nearly unanimous applause. But while an atheistic argument such as this may push with much emotional force, what one tends to find upon closer examination is that it carries little weight. Soundbites sound great, but are often easily dissected into fallacy or simplicity. They are great for the emotions, terrible for the intellect. While emotions are useful in producing initial action and decision, they are terrible foundations upon which to build a worldview.
Elin: Mommy, I don't want to pray tonight.
Catalina: Why don't you want to pray? We pray every night?
Elin: God doesn't answer my prayers.
Catalina: What do you mean, baby?
Elin: I keep having nightmares. We pray for me to stop having nightmares every night, and God just doesn't answer my prayers.