Monday, August 12, 2013


My favorite class in high school was geometry.  One of the things that I took from that class was the idea that there are certain premises that are to be accepted as true without proof.  These are generally referred to as postulates or axioms.  Additionally, there are certain rules of logic for working with those postulates; for example, propositions that lead to contradictions are not allowed.  And then the whole system is built from those postulates and working rules.  I loved the course in part because it introduced me to the concept of formal logic but probably more because the terrific sense of satisfaction that I got when I was able to prove something using that system.

If only the everyday world were as neat and tidy as mathematical systems are.  When we are discussing something like, say, religion, if we could all agree on our starting points and the rules of logic to be applied to those points, perhaps we could also agree on the conclusions about  how the world works. 
The fact that there are vast differences in worldview is clear evidence that either we are not able to agree on the basic premises or that we cannot agree on the logic to be applied to those premises.  In my experience most differences in our views of the world stem from differences in our basic premises, those things accepted as true without proof, and not from differences in the arguments to be applied to those premises.

With that in mind, I thought it might be time to state what the basic postulates of my worldview are.  So here goes.

1. There is nothing beyond the physical world, operating according to a set of rules--essentially matter, energy, space, time and the laws of physics that govern them.

In a sense, this is the only really fundamental postulate.  All of the following statements in some sense derive from this statement.  But I think the following elaborations better help to explain my perspective.  

2. Our understanding of the world has advanced through the principles of science and scientific research and the application of rational thought.  Reliance on authority--belief in something simply because someone or something, for example, scripture, has declared it to be true--impedes progress in understanding the world.

3. Humans created the concept of God to provide answers to questions of how the world came to be, how it works, and what our role might be.  The history of science has been one of finding natural explanations for events that had formerly been attributed to divine or supernatural intervention.  As science has progressed and answered many of the questions that the concept of God had served to answer in the past, the reasons for retaining the idea of God have continued to diminish.  In fact, there is no need to posit the existence of God.

4. The universe as we understand it came into existence in the big bang, which occurred 13.7 billion years ago.  It is not clear how the universe came into existence or why it came into existence.  But attributing its existence (creation) to a higher power is not necessary or useful.

5. Consciousness is a by-product of the electro-chemical activity of the nervous system.  It is epiphenomenal and does not have any influence on our behavior.  Most likely it is the source of our sense of free will and the soul.

6. There is no consciousness or other existence beyond this life.  Death simply represents the irreversible breakdown of our chemical organization.  Therefore, life does not have “meaning” beyond our current existence.  There is no such thing as the soul.

7. Living things, including humans, are simply part of the physical world.  Human behavior is determined by the same rules as everything else in the world.  The concept of free will implies that an individual can override what would occur by reason of the laws of nature.  Because the laws of nature control everything that occurs, free will is an illusion and does not exist.

8. One of our greatest challenges is reconciling the fact of the absence of free will with the importance of embracing and promoting the concept of personal responsibility.

I know, I know, these are not mainstream, and for many, these positions may seem really bleak.  But that’s what I have to work with, and in truth, it’s not nearly so bleak as you might think.  In any event, perhaps this provides an understanding of why I have difficulty addressing comments that assume reliance on authority and belief in a personal God.  They simply follow from a very different set of postulates.

One further comment.  After I took geometry in high school, I learned that there are more geometries than the Euclidean plane geometry that I was taught.  These other, non-Euclidean geometries begin with a different set of postulates that lead to mathematical “truths” (theorems) that are internally consistent within that geometry but inconsistent with the theorems that are derived from Euclidean geometry.  Hmmm . . . .   

So, to quote Pontius Pilate out of context, “What is truth?”

© 2013 John M. Phillips


  1. Interesting...You know you are way beyond me in understand the "physical world (and it's), operating according to a set of rules--essentially matter, energy, space, time and the laws of physics that govern them. And yet there are rules that seem unchanging like the "I Am." The same yesterday today and tomorrow.
    Impeding the progress of this world is the interpretation by man of the Bible and other sources of reference to what is truth. I agree that the Bible is a book that was written by man for man to help us see God. But I also believe that man's view of God is flawed and therefore faulty. Even the Bible says we see through a glass darkly. I think the only truth to focus on is Jesus who came to reveal God. He demonstrated what God is, because He is God. anything that is called truth other than that is a false truth, so I would say that most religion is false...yes, even much in the SDA church. Jesus was always restoring, healing, blessing, forgiving. He was trying to bring order back. The little He did do got Him killed. No one wanted to believe what was beyond their finite minds. And yet He calls us to believe.

    As for the big bang...matter might have made an appearance with a bang. the world created out of that matter, which was without form and void many billions of years later accounts for the age difference people give to the world, hence the misunderstandings among creationists. I have no problem with that idea. All that sustains life existed before life began...we needed light water, vegetation etc for life be sustainable...for it all to be there ready to support life is pretty amazing to think of without creation.
    Consciousness is a by-product of the electro-chemical activity of the nervous system. Animals and humans function differently, why. There is certainly a difference between consciousness and conscience. Why is there feelings of guilt, remorse, sadness, longing, hope, courage...desire to learn?

    And then laws of nature...we see life in nature...the oceans provide water for the clouds, which refresh the earth and the rivers run back to the ocean...take the circle of life out of this picture and you get the dead sea. Or take respiration...we give out Co2 and the plants use it to give us O2. Refuse to give Co2, tie a plastic bag over your head and you die. Life is based on the circle of life...the kreb cycle in the body...the seed the in ground, buried and springs forth in newness of life only to produce more seed...Yes, nature it the perfect example of love is the perfect example of God, He gave all to give life...the circle of life. As the good book says, dying to self we live. Personal responsibility in a others as you would have them love you.

  2. Hi, Lisa,

    Thanks for your comments on my post, which is probably the most fundamental of those I have written. Because of the way I think, I am responding to a number of points you have made.

    a. As far as we know, the laws of nature are unchanging. It's our understanding of them over the years that has changed.

    b. Are you saying that because the scriptures were written by men that they are not inerrant? That would be a major difference with most fundamental Christians, who believe that the scriptures are inerrant.

    c. You stated, that Christ "demonstrated what God is, because He is God. Anything that is called truth other than that is a false truth." I confess that I am having a hard time understanding what you meant by that. Are you saying that the only truth is that Christ is God and that all else is false? Obviously that would be a fundamental difference between our points of view. I am saying that there are truths about the world. We don't know what they are precisely, but it is science that has brought us closer to that truth.

    d. I guess I'm not sure where you stand on creation. Are you saying that the big bang happened when science says it did, some 13.7 billion years ago? How do you feel about the rest of the creation story? The evolution of life through natural means? Adam and Eve? The Flood? The age of dinosaurs? Geologic periods?

    e. Conscience is a component or type of consciousness. Humans are animals and function like other animals in terms of their biology. I've been around dogs enough to feel confident that they have a consciousness. Humans of course have consciousness and that is where we get our sense of freedom of choice and of the soul, but, in the end, consciousness does not have any impact on our behavior.

  3. a...I think that is basically true, after sin. I doubt the nature was the same before sin...because I think satan governed the world. God gave man the earth to rule and we let satan take it away....
    b. Yes, I do believe culture influenced things written in the Bible and how can man fully understand and explain God? I think though the guidance of the HS that men were moved to write...but it wasn't a direct word by word recording of God. It was their understanding of God. So, I might not agree with other christians on this...but this is how is see it. I think that is why Jesus reveal God because we had gotten it so wrong.
    c. I am saying that the life of Jesus and His teachings are the truth about God. Jesus said, "if you have seen me you have seen the Father." Jesus came to reveal the truth about Himself, God, to us.
    d. I just don't think that matter didn't exist before creation...the bible says the the universe was a witness to creation. So it could have come with a "bang" long before earth came into existence. I do believe in creation, and Adam and Eve and I think there truly was a flood, science has many voices on this topic. I also think science is discoveries prove old theories wrong all the time.
    e. Yes, but without conscience where does doing right and wrong fit...why do you live by certain show your love for those you care about. It is that inner voice that questions your actions, that stops you from hurting...that makes you want to share and care. Consciousness is awareness, but a mentally ill patient may not know the difference between shooting someone or just hating them. Conscience impacts behavior.

    1. Lisa,

      a. So you think the laws of nature were changed at man's fall, but they have been consistent since. But all of science is premised on the idea that the laws of nature apply for all times and all locations, at least in this universe. Thus we differ on this point. And I have to say I believe your argument is tautological. I do not know how you would be able to demonstrate your point of view without begging the question.

      b. My question was whether you thought the scriptures were inerrant. I'm not sure you answered that question. You said that the scriptures were not a direct word-for-word expression from God. If you are saying that there are discrepancies in the Bible, say, between the descriptions of God in the OT and those in the NT, then how are you deciding which is correct? Just by what feels preferable? Seems like cherry-picking to me.

      c. So is this confirmation that a lot of the OT, to the extent it differs from the NT, should be treated as incorrect? How do we know this? Maybe it's just because the NT view is more compatible with our overall moral point of view at this point in history.

      d. Accepted science--at least that of the last 125 years--has not had "many voices" on the question of the age of the earth and life on earth, on evolution, or on the flood. The views espoused by supporters of "intelligent design" or "creation science" or whatever you want to call it have virtually no support in the scientific community. It is true that the finer points of, say, evolutionary science have changed over the years, but only in the details not in the basic principles. There is not a shred of credible evidence in favor of a fundamentalist point of view in these areas. Moreover, evolution makes great sense. Within a short time after Darwin published "The Origin of Species" the scientific community was saying, "That's so obvious, why didn't we think of it before."

      e. The discussion was on consciousness, not conscience. I'm not sure we differ on the issue of conscience. Please reread my comment on this point.