Friday, April 6, 2012

Properly Basic Cycles

The title of this post is a play on words. Philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig make the proposal that for many, belief in God is a properly basic belief. That is to say, belief in the existence of God is innate in human experience and does not need to be inferred from other truths in order to be reasonable.

Recently a conversation with three friends turned toward the topic of intelligent design. Immediately I thought of the exquisite machinery of the cell as an example of design. I was prepared to propose that a designer, the God of the Bible, was the author and creator of the complex organization and order we observe at the level of the cell in all living things. To use the vernacular, I was “loaded for bear.” With one of my conversation partners, my preparation proved unnecessary. He announced he sees design when he observes the beautiful countryside in our area.

Another of my friends seemed ready to receive more detailed evidence of design features. Whether or not my evidentialist presentation in possible future conversations will be effective remains to be seen. It seems clear there is no single path leading to human apprehension of deeper truth. Some prefer to establish their beliefs based primarily on physical evidence. For others the highway toward belief has no rough pavement, for their beliefs are properly basic. John Calvin credited an innate human presence he termed the sensus divinitatis.

My study of cycles in nature triggers in me a personal sense of wonder. The simplicity of the concept that our bodies are composed primarily of just a few simple elements recycled repeatedly over long ages is intriguing, as is the fact that along this path each of the elements repeatedly combines and separates from other elements according to basic laws of nature. Exactly why each element possesses its unique properties is not completely within human grasp, and is another cause for personal fascination.

Sometimes scripture presents the recycling concept in a reverential context. On March 28, 2012, the message in the daily devotional guide Our Daily Bread highlighted an experience of worship by author Julie Ackerman Link. Exulting over the beauty of light-reflective waves on Lake Michigan, she develops her idea: “Using water and air, (God) makes extravagant beauty out of seemingly mundane things…..He makes wondrous works of art. We enjoy His gallery in skies above and on earth and sea below…..God uses another gallery  to display His glory—humans. We too are made of something ordinary—dust (Gen 2:7). But to us He added an extraordinary ingredient—His very own breath (v. 7). Like waves of the sea and flowers of the field (Isa. 40:7) our lives are brief and seen by few.”

Julie Ackerman Link’s experience is partially founded on evidence from the natural world. Flowers, and even our bodies live and die and the elements of which they are composed are recycled. Likewise, the water and air are recycled as God makes wondrous works of art from them in phenomena such as snowflakes and clouds. For those most impacted by the effect of properly basic beliefs, verses such as Isa. 66:1-2 hold deep meaning: “…And the earth is my footstool…All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord.” Some people have no trouble inspecting the artistic beauty surrounding us, crediting God as its creator, and believing in His existence. Others have need for the evidence of exquisite design in the cell and the coding properties of the cell’s DNA molecule to tilt them toward belief.

Evidence of the reality of God and His authorship of design features does not significantly impact the scientific community in our modern times. This community has been slanted toward a worldview of naturalism. Stephen C. Meyer, philosopher of science and director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, labors to present identification of intelligently designed features in the world of nature as fully scientific. Here is a quote from Dr. Meyer:

“If we go back to the period of Newton and Kepler and Boyle and Galileo and Copernicus, the period that historians of science call the Scientific Revolution, the concept of Intelligent Design was actually part of the foundation of the whole scientific enterprise. The scientists at the time had a watchword or a kind of motto and it was the idea of intelligibility. They believed that they could study nature and make sense of it because it was intelligible to the human mind. Why? Because it had been designed by a rational intellect, namely in their view, the Judeo-Christian God.”

 Acquiring the sense of divine reality is a solemn undertaking. For some the task consumes virtually no personal effort. For others, some standard of proof or evidence seems necessary. When both properly basic belief and the force of evidence work in harmony, the path to belief may be even smoother. For such individuals there is a complementary relationship between properly basic beliefs and evidence.