Book Review: “Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know” by James Miller

J.W. Wartick - Reconstructing Faith

hardwired-jmIrreverent. That’s how I would describe Hardwired by James Miller in one word. Miller appeared unimpressed by Natural Theology, and perhaps even less impressed by current scholarly apologetics. Yet this is, unabashedly, an apologetics work. It’s just not the type that many readers would expect going in. Miller’s approach is presuppositional: that is, he sought to discuss the questions about faith by analyzing those things that people already assume or know.

Illustrative was his comment early on in the work. Miller was approached by a mother who was heartbroken over her son leaving the faith. She asked him, “‘How do I convince him there is a God?'” Miller’s answer is indicative of his apologetic method: “He already believes in God.” This startling statement forms the basis for the rest of the book. Miller’s approach revolved around showing people the God they “already know.”

How might one justify this outlandish…

View original post 1,379 more words

Muddy Morality

Image

This article was posted on the Download Youth Ministry blog, one of the most well-read youth ministry websites out there.

One of the most and least popular Sunday school classes I ever taught involved a lot of mud.  “Most” popular, I say, because the students always remembered it.  “Least” popular, because their parents weren’t all that happy with the results.

Early on Sunday morning, I walked out onto the church lawn with a hose.  This was one of those formal churches, where the girls where frilly dresses and the boys wore handsome suits.  On the front lawn of the church that day, I made a mud puddle.  And by “puddle,” I mean lake….

Read the rest here.

Everyone Knows God Is There

MMI knew there was a college guy out there somewhere settling into a dorm, scoping out the weekend nightlife, and generally not thinking about the fact that his flippant comment about church had brought his mother to my doorstep. She caught me on the patio after church almost in tears. She told me her son was in his first year at college and had given up on everything she had taught him about faith. Years of Sunday school instruction had amounted to firm agnosticism. So many childhood bedtime prayers had now resulted in an adulthood of sleeping in on the weekends. She described recent conversations and arguments and e-mails, which had concluded in a closed door.

“How do I convince him that there is a God?” she asked….

 

Read the rest here.

Certainly Agnostic

Image

Posted on the Christian Apologetics Alliance

When I offer an apologetics seminar that I call “Know Why You Believe,” I find that the skeptical attendees have a preferred label for themselves.  “So I’m an agnostic,” says the first person to raise his hand, and that is the preface to his question.  A few others nod their heads eagerly.

I’m not sure if I believe him or not.  But I’ve finally come up with a good, brief answer….

Read the rest here.

Changing My Mind on Darwin

ImageSo I’ve changed my mind about Darwinism.  I guess I have to tell you where my mind was to tell you where it now is.

I’ve never invested much study in evolution because I was neither threatened by it theologically nor enchanted by it philosophically.  The biology teachers taught it to me.  I can explain it.  As a follower of Jesus, I can see a viable explanation for how God could do it that way.  I’m also not overly confident that science is fueled by objective curiosity rather than passionate self-interest and ideology, money and power.  Science is motivated reasoning on its best days.

When I listen to militant Christians talk about Darwinism, it’s pretty clear they aren’t scientists, don’t know what they’re talking about, and aren’t even open-minded enough to think about the subject.  When I listen to militant Darwinists, it’s pretty clear that they aren’t scientists, don’t know what they’re talking about, and aren’t even open-minded enough to think about the subject.  I guess there are just so many fundamentalists in this debate on both sides, I’ve stayed away from it entirely.  I read a few books about it years ago and felt like there were a few intelligent people arguing for and against, surrounded by a cacophony of lunatics.

I’ve just read Stephen Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt.  Meyer is a Cambridge PhD in philosophy of science.  He hangs out with the Intelligent Design people.  His writing is fluid, detailed, and reasonable.  He seems to know what he’s talking about.

The book makes the case for the fact that the fossil record doesn’t support Darwinism.  The sudden appearance of new phyla without sufficient time for the mutation and selection process to work is simply unaccounted for by the rocks.

The problem is that when Meyer says things like, “the Precambrian fossil record simply does not document the gradual emergence of the crucial distinguishing characteristics of the Cambrian animals,” how on earth should I know if he’s right?  I don’t have time to immerse myself in paleontology.  I’ll never be an expert.  I just have four hundred pages of articulate, self-assured, well-documented evidence for Meyer’s case.

So here’s how I find my way into a conversation on subjects that are not my primary field of study.  I read the reviews that are antagonistic to the source and just look at the logic that’s employed.  I find that this often gives me the best read on a work.  If the critics are sincere, the reviews are usually precise.

The New Yorker’s review began with a genetic fallacy, presented arguments that Meyer had refuted without mentioning that Meyer had addressed them, and then deferred to another blogger for the scientific content of the review.  It then called Meyer “absurd,” which, given how shoddy the review actually is, was an absurd thing to do.

Then I read the review from which the New Yorker piece got its “science,” which was actually written by a grad student at Berkeley.  Now I have to say that Berkeley is, in fact, one of my fields of expertise, and I know exactly how Berkeley grad students go about their “work.”  Somehow Berkeley selects the crazies and the militants who show the most promise and then teaches them that knowledge is a completely subjective power tool which should be manipulated by those on an ideological crusade to undermine authority.  I’m not kidding.  I went to Berkeley.  That’s what we did.

What’s interesting about the grad student’s review is that it was posted 24 hours after the release of Meyer’s book, and it’s filled with snark.  He’s not having an intelligent conversation, he’s insulting Meyer in order to defend something religiously.  In a later, defensive review, the grad student says that he read the book “during lunch.” He read over 400 pages of scientific material during lunch, and then posted an insulting review.  He says his detractors are just “slow readers.” People who win speed reading competitions tend to cover 1,000 words per minute (maybe 4 pages) with 50% comprehension.  That level of comprehension is almost useless, and it becomes less useful the more information-rich the content.  A book of Meyer’s size would have taken an hour and forty minutes at that pace, with minimal retention, and that’s if you’re not, oh, say, eating lunch.  On top of that, the review is almost 10,000 words long, which would take some time to write, making it highly suspicious that the review was written after the book was read and not before, in anticipation of the book’s release.

See, this is how I know who to trust in academic communities.  The charlatans have no character.  You read the grad student’s defenses of his review (and they sound a little panicked), and you realize that he has been following Christians around and arguing with them for years with an inquisitor’s zeal.  There’s a personal agenda here, and his approach to new information on the subject is anything but scientific.

Now I start to smell a rat, and I change tactics.  Now I really want Meyer to be wrong.  I want one, good, solid review by an objective thinker, maybe even a Christian, who can debunk Meyer.

So then I read Donald Prothero’s review.  He’s a paleontologist and a scholar.  It begins with a caricature and a smear, saying that anyone who questions evolution suffers from confirmation bias (explain Thomas Nagel?).  He then says they have PhD’s in the wrong fields and thus aren’t qualified to discuss evolution (Meyer, again, studied philosophy of science).  Then he launches into unsubstantiated accusations, saying there are errors on every page.  He says Meyer claims the Cambrian explosion happened “all at once.” Now look, I just read Meyer, and he doesn’t say that at all.  This isn’t a mistake.  This is a lie.  The truth comes out as he goes on to refer to Meyer’s religion as a “fairy tale.” Again, I haven’t found a scientific mind.  I’ve found another fundamentalist.

Now I start to sweat.  A host of scientists have endorsed the book (http://www.darwinsdoubt.com/blurbs/).  I want one to reject it on perfectly level-headed grounds, with no patronizing rhetoric.

Another definitive work on the Cambrian Explosion came out in January of this year.  Called The Cambrian Explosion, it attempts to give a scientific explanation for how so much variety erupted in such a short time.  The authors say “the Cambrian explosion can be considered an adaptive radiation only by stretching the term beyond all recognition.” That means the evolutionists are saying the fossil evidence doesn’t bolster evolution in this particular era.

The New York Times ran a science article last month that said that scientists will spend the coming years trying to figure out what combination of environmental triggers caused the Cambrian explosion.  It doesn’t mention Meyer.  It also seems to leave a big, open question mark about why we need to defend Darwinism at points where the evidence leans away from it.

So now I’ve changed my mind.  I don’t think the fossil evidence does support the current representation of Darwinism.  I think there are some otherwise well-trained scientists who are freaking out, and doing it in widely public and observable ways.  Their lack of command of reason is a tell-tale sign that their motives for defending their orthodoxy are not scientific.  And I believe the failure of the scientific communities to engage in this conversation in a rational way is a manifestation of power brokering rather than honest intellectual engagement.

Could humanity have evolved?  Sure.  But the case isn’t as strong as they told me in biology class.

Advance Praise for Hardwired

I’m so thankful to the scholars and ministry leaders who have given my new book Hardwired a thumbs up.  After the investment of years of work, it’s nice to have someone else enjoy it.  And when you write, you’re never sure that it will happen….

JWHardwired is for all of us who live with doubt and uncertainty about the Christian faith. With wisdom, insight and clarity Jim points the way for anyone struggling with insecurity and disbelief to firmly grasp the idea that what they already know is the perfect place to realize a belief in God. This is a book I will recommend to every young adult wrestling with core and fundamental truth. It is a book I will recommend to every mature and older adult looking for a path forward through doubt, frustration and seasons of distress. It is a book I will recommend to anyone open to the idea that God exists and that He loves them and wants them to know Him. In fact I recommend Hardwired to you. I am certain it will open your understanding of God and deepen your belief in God.”

Jon Wallace, President of Azusa Pacific University

TS“I like Hardwired a lot. It’s smart, confident and quite funny. Miller drills to the core of detached claims to neutrality about God. I can’t wait to give this book to friends of mine.”

Tim Stafford, author of Miracles and Senior Writer for Christianity Today

.

TC“A fascinating and highly readable argument for God. Miller avoids the complicated jargon of much contemporary apologetics, and argues in conversational style reminiscent of Lewis and Chesterton that many of our deepest held convictions about the world point unavoidably to a personal God. The book will be of great help to those struggling with doubt. I warmly recommend it.”

Thomas M. Crisp, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Biola University and Associate Director of Biola’s Center for Christian Thought

JS“Miller’s book is going to provide a map for readers who are yearning to understand how we know what we know to be true regarding faith and life.  There will be lots of insight for who cherish the line by Pascal – ‘The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of.'”

Rev. Dr. Jim Singleton, Jr., Associate Professor of Pastoral Leadership and Evangelism, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

SD“Here is a fresh and original look at religious unbelief. In Hardwired, James Miller surprisingly argues that we all—atheists, agnostics, and believers alike—latently believe that God exists and that we depend on God. The book is clever, well-written, and convincing. I recommend it highly.”

Dr. Stephen T. Davis, Russell K. Pitzer Professor of Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College

DG“Rather than gathering evidence that demands a verdict, James Miller plumbs the depth of the human heart, showing us that the things we take for granted provide a sure foundation for deep, abiding faith. The whole approach is surprisingly fresh and compelling. Add to that Miller’s gift for just-the-right analogy and his clear, spare style, and you’ll know why I’m excited to recommend this book.”

Dr. Diana Pavlac Glyer, author of The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community

AM“…he [Miller] has the mind of a scholar, the heart of a pastor, and the ability to synthesize those features in a way that few leaders can. In this book Jim challenges many of the intellectual assumptions of traditional apologetics, which start with what we don’t know, and suggests that the most compelling and heartfelt case for the Christian faith starts with what we do know. Just like in his preaching, he takes apologetics out of the ivory tower and brings it to the streets where people live.”

Adam S. McHugh, author Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture

PC“James Miller’s book is a very readable reinforcement of the fact that God has placed eternity in each of our hearts. It helpfully supplements various contemporary apologetical arguments by highlighting the personal, practical, and existential themes familiar to all humans—themes that can touch the heart and move it in a Godward direction.”

Paul Copan, Professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, Florida

JRHardwired has flipped my traditional thinking of Christian apologetics upside down with sound and logical intellect, peppered with Jim’s quiet humor and personal vignettes. Our hearts are indeed “God’s Positioning System” – the case for Christ has been and is made, we just need to discover it!

Dr. John Reynolds, Executive Vice President – Azusa Pacific University, California and Chancellor, Azusa Pacific Online University

DC“In a world of debate and challenge to the Christian way of thinking, this book is a breath of fresh air in giving guidance and principles of understanding of how faith really works and pulsates in one’s life. Offbeat, different, creative, it’s a new way of looking at how faith is given, nurtured and survives.”

Rev. Dr. Dan Chun, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, co-founder of Hawaiian Islands Ministries

CC“Jim Miller does an excellent job of turning our questions upside down and helping us know how much we didn’t know we knew.  He suggests a major shift from trying to prove things to people to helping them realize what they already know.  He helps us examine our assumptions and discover what has been missing in our thinking.  This is an engaging and thought-provoking book.  I highly recommend it.”

Rev. Dr. Clark Cowden

Explore the book in paperback or ebook here:hw

Hardwired (Amazon)

Hardwired (Barnes and Noble)

When is a thought not a thought?

ImageI’m not sure if everyone follows this, so forgive me if this is abstract.  I just kind of find it hilarious and awfully compelling.

If you don’t believe in God, you believe the world is fundamentally matter and that life came about through the process of evolution.  Evolution requires only the survival of the fittest, and survival simply comes about through 4 things: fighting, fleeing, feeding, and reproduction.  That’s it.  At no point along the way do your thoughts about the world around you actually have to truly represent the world around you.

For instance, an evolutionary psychologist might tell you that mild paranoia actually gives you better chances of survival than realism, so you may have evolved into a kind of paranoia that you now think is an accurate picture of reality.  In other words, your thoughts about what is “true” and “real” simply aren’t, because you’re more likely to survive this way.

That means that when you say “I don’t believe in God,” you are saying that you can’t trust your thoughts to actually reveal reality.  You don’t trust your own thoughts to be true.  As a consequence, your perception that there is no God can’t be trusted to be true, and thus you don’t believe in your own atheism.

If this seems silly on first glance, you might want to give it a second thought.

Hardwired

Philosophers of all stripes are coming to see that scientific methodology can fundamentally undermine itself.

These are the kinds of things I speculate about in

Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know.

SDG

Watching the sun set over the ocean always feels like the closing curtain to a good play.  Moments like these feel like a sweetly passing sentiment, because we have become so used to God whispering his love that we take it for granted.  We don’t even hear it, a spouse’s “What was that?” to the other who has already left the room.  But the order of the universe is in fact a message from God.

The harmony of creation is a lullaby from a God who is reordering a broken world.  It’s his way of telling us there is still sense in things, even after tragedy.  It’s the strength of the arms that cradle us.  It’s his, “There, there.” Because there is fundamental order “out there,” maybe one day I can have it “in here.”

And thus you can hear the love of nature’s harmony in Bach’s Inventions.  He scratched at the top of his compositions, “SDG,” or Soli Deo Gloria: to God alone be the glory.  If he had not written it there, his music would say it by itself, because the fundamental order that beauty captures glorifies God.  SDG is written on the sunset.  The pulsing rhythm of sunrises and sunsets are a visual drumbeat.Image

Creation’s order plays on our natural love of harmony and structure.  That should be a clue to us as to where we come from.  The idea that order could just spring from a primal nothing should strike us as absurd.  Order has to have come from somewhere.  At least when a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, there was a hat.  For those who believe the universe just came to be, there is no hat, and no magician.  Science has changed its mind on this one.  Historically, the predominant view was not that the universe came to exist, but that it had always been.  For those who didn’t believe in a Creator, the idea of a moment of creation was too much of an affront.  In fact, Marcus Aurelius called it logically absurd.[1]  “Out of nothing, nothing comes.” Today, we know universally and conversationally about the Big Bang, or in other words, the magically appearing rabbit.  And this fact honestly makes atheists queasy.

Ludwig Wittgenstein described what this feels like. He said that he sometimes had a certain experience which could best be described by saying that “when I have it, I wonder at the existence of the world. I am then inclined to use such phrases as ‘How extraordinary that anything should exist!’ or ‘How extraordinary that the world should exist!’” [2]

And it is extraordinary.  Extraordinary that our hearts long for order.  Extraordinary that we feel like it should be more complete than it is.  And extraordinary that our deepest longings jibe with that which God has promised.  God is a fairly sloppy artist.  He’s left his fingerprints all over the work.

1 The Meditations of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, V.12.

2 Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (London: Oxford University Press,1958), p. 70.

Death by Explanation

ImageScientists can describe to you the project of finding a “universal theory,” something that explains the whole of existence in its most basic terms.  This generally involves some form of reductionism, usually collapsing the three great sciences into one another.  Biology is to be explained by chemistry, and chemistry is to be explained by physics.  In other words, the activity of our hearts and minds are the firings of neurons and the swirling of chemicals.  Those chemicals are fundamentally the interactions of molecules, which are the interactions of atoms, which are the interactions of protons, neutrons, electrons.  If you slice with a thinner razor, you come to quarks and leptons and bosons.  The universal theory aims at getting to the center of these Russian dolls and explaining how the little one, and the forces that hold them together, governs everything else.

This is a real effort in the sciences.  Darwinism is the greatest reductionist theory in existence, an alternative to a Designer.  Next, scientists are looking for a source for the big bang, trying to come up with a viable alternative to a Creator.  This is a real effort in the sciences – and it really isn’t going to work.

Renee Descartes tried to do the same thing with the mental world.  He tried to break thought down into its smallest, most basic parts.  If he imagined that the world around him didn’t exist, imagined even that the parts of his body didn’t exist, that with which he ultimately left was “I think therefore I am.” The criticism of his theory has always been, “Hey, where did this ‘I’ come from?  What’s the ‘I’ that’s doing the thinking?” In other words, you can’t really separate thinking from the person who is doing it, so it’s hard to say what the tiniest little atom is in the sequence of mental events.  You could try saying, “Thinking happens,” but that doesn’t really explain the fact that thinking is self-conscious.  Our thoughts are part of a bigger story, a narrative, and no one thought can be separated out by itself from the others.  Thoughts can’t be broken into atoms.

The same thing is true in the physical sciences.  The problem with atomistic theory is that nothing in the real world can be dissected down to constituent parts that are actually separated from one another.  The atoms are holding hands.  Physics is a narrative.  The fact that some atoms make up the point where my pencil ends and others make up the point where the paper begins constitutes a story about the atoms that the individual atoms can’t tell on their own.

Ultimately, materialistic, atheistic scientific efforts will keep hacking away at life looking for its smallest unit.  But science is trying to grab hold of mercury.  What it’s trying to contain will always slip away.  Atoms will never by themselves tell the story of existence.  The whole narrative is bigger than the sum of its parts.

The scientific reduction of biology into chemistry and physics tells us as much about life as dissection tells us about what it feels like to fall in love.

The Ground

Image

I remember reading about a man badly injured in a car accident.  When asked about the vehicle that hit him, he said, “I didn’t see the truck, just the crash.”  Sometimes we’re so panicked about the crash, we miss what hit us.

The Greek poet Epimenides saw things that most people miss.  He was hailed as a prophet, and legends about him supersede history – that he slept for 50 years, that he lived for 300, that before he died his body appeared tattooed, and that he saw visions.  However, what little we have of his poetry doesn’t suggest mystical visions so much as common sense.  I wonder if prophets are sometimes just people who saw what hit them.Image

He wrote a poem called the Cretica, The Cretan.  It was a poem about Zeus, king of the gods.  In it, the king of Crete tells Zeus that the Cretans have lied by building a tomb to Zeus.  However, King Minos knows that Zeus is eternal and needs no tomb, because “in you we live and move and have our being.”

Two things interest me about the poem.  One, he doesn’t charge them with a mistake; he charges them with lying.  Given the nature of the issue, I’m not sure who they could be lying to except themselves.  Two, his proof is not data to be analyzed, but existence on the whole.  In you we live, we are active, we exist.  Without you, someone has to explain life arising from inanimate matter, motion, and a universe that has somehow come to be.

Hasn’t it always been the case that when one claims that God is dead, whether a Roman centurion stationed outside of Jesus’ tomb or Friedrich Nietzsche stationed on the doorstep of the 20th century, we’re taking part in a grand self-deception that is corrected by reality itself?  God is the ground on which we stand, and I cannot deny him any more surely than I can stay in mid-jump.  Without God, there’s no reason why there should be a universe rather than not, and no explanation for how something came from nothing.  Without God, there is no explanation for the constant motion in which life is immersed, motion which pushes us, as Sartre said, inevitably towards moral crisis and commitment.  And without God, there is no explanation for how inanimate matter produced consciousness and mental properties, as even atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel has admitted.

The Apostle Paul quotes Epimenides (Acts 17:28) when he engaged the Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill.  He’s proof-texting from their own library.  It’s as if to say, “You already know God is there.  Your own poets have said so.  Your own prophet would call you a liar for denying it.”

I think the charge of lying may be harsh, though technically correct.  I might use a different word for it.  It’s a coping mechanism.  The reality is that crashes are startling and leave us resentful of a fragile world in which they happen.  Denying the possibility of a good, overseeing father figure may be a way of voicing resentment.  It’s fear boiling over into rage.  But at the end of the deny, it’s still just a denial of reality.  Without God, there’s no one to be mad at.