Filling Naturalism’s Void – Gary Habermas, PhD (video & transcript)

This is a lecture on world views, given by Dr. Gary R. Habermas at Liberty University in 2012.

Naturalism has been the predominant world view in western civilization universities throughout all of our lifetimes. There has never been a time, in all of our lifetimes when that has not been the case. It runs the western university. It does not run the whole world university system. Other places in the world are not like that. But in western North America, western Europe, Australia, and in other places as well, in China, in the old Russia- the University system encapsulates a naturalistic world view which says: The natural world is all that there is. There is no supernatural world and what we know, we usually know by sense experience. That has dominated education philosophically, it’s dominated western education since at least the 1930’s.

But, for the first time in our lifetime, there’s a new phenomenon that seems to be sweeping the western world right now. I wrote about it in 1988, in a journal article. You can find it on my website garyhabermas.com. But, the name of the article was ‘Changing Paradigms- A Challenge to Naturalism‘.  This was 1988, and I said there were some signs that naturalism was going out. Now, we have secular philosophers and other saying: naturalism’s dead. Now, I think that’s a little premature, but something does seem to be happening.

A lot of you know that I became a good friend of Anthony Flew‘s before he passed away. He came to Liberty University in 1985. He was the best known philosophical atheist in the world, and by the way, naturalism is the world view from which atheism…. I think of atheism as a subcategory . Naturalism is the philosophical Father of that sort of thinking. And Tony Flew was the best known philosophical naturalist (he was an atheist) in the world. He came to campus and we debated the topic of the resurrection of Jesus in 1985. It became a book with what was then Harper & Rowe. Over the years, Tony and I got to be very close. We used to talk about a lot of things. One day we did our last debate, in 2003. We debated 3 times, soon afterwards, a year later I heard that Tony’s view was changing. I called him one day on the phone and I said, „I heard that you don’t consider yourself an atheist anymore. He said, „Well, sort of, I don’t, but, I’m in a state of flux right now,” and he said, „about a month ago, I thought that was my view, but, now, I think I’m still an atheist, but, with really big questions.”

We talked in between, but I called him a year later, and he said, „This time I’ve made the switch.” I’m no longer an atheist. I believe in God. This book came out in 2004, and notice the word NO crossed out- And There is a God. The subtitle is ‘How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind’. Now, this was huge and it really bothered the atheistic community. If a Christian deconverted, I would be very sad about it , but I don’t think it affects the truth of Christianity. Somehow, the atheist group has acted like this has been … they tried to explain it other ways: He’s senile, he’s getting old… Jay Leno said in a joke on his show, „Hey, this well known philosophical atheist, he’s 85 years old. I guess if I was 85 years old, I’d get right with God too.” Well, the thing is that Tony Flew didn’t believe in an afterlife. So that was not his motivation, for doing this. (Photo via www.npr.org Order from Amazon here – http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Cosmos-Materialist-Neo-Darwinian-Conception)

Here’s a more recent example. Thomas Nagel, University Professor at New York University, in both philosophy and law. He published this book: Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. Now, you have to know how influential of a person he is. He’s not Anthony Flew, but, he’s extremely influential. I should tell you that Anthony Flew wrote more material defending atheism than anybody whoever lived. What a moniker. But, Thomas Nagel is hugely influential, and yet he is saying, „Looks like we’re losing.”

To me, this is the one that really caught my eye. I know a person who knows David Brooks, and I understand He is not a Christian. He wrote an article in the New York Times called ‘The Neural Buddhists‘. Basically, he says: Some people think atheism is center stage in this country because of New Atheism. He says, „I’ve got news for you: Atheism is dead. Atheism is dead in the western world. Something else has already taken its place. And, he defined the 2 main takers, (which) he calls ‘Neural Buddhism’- which he says is made up of a number of sciences, but this is later brain research that is now allowing for supernatural areas, at least religious areas, he says, That’s one group.” And, he says, „The other group is the Judeo-Christian heritage. They are the 2 takers for filling naturalism’s void.” Look at some of these comments/quotes:

  • The cognitive revolution- you might think it’s good news because atheism is dead and religion is coming back in, but it’s gonna challenge Christianity, if we’re not careful.
  • The momentum has shifted from hardcore materialism (which is a species of naturalism). He says it shifted. Now, when he says this may not be comfortable for Christianity, what he says is: The 2 big views- Neural Buddhism, what we would probably call the New Age Movement (which is backed up by a number of empirical science studies), (so,) Neural Buddhism vs. some revelatory religion.- he uses the Judeo-Christian heritage. He keeps talking about the Bible.   Here’s what they both have in common. They’re both open to God because naturalism’s dead, they’re both interested and open to religion They’re both okay with prayer, general prayer, general worship, afterlife; that’s okay. But he says, here’s what Christians believe that Neural Buddhists don’t believe. He says, Christians believe that there are specific revealed doctrines that are true. Now, he doesn’t say that, but we would with things like reincarnation, deity of Christ, a God of the universe who reveals Himself to a people- the Israelites, and is concerned that people come to know Jesus Christ. He says, „Those specific doctrines are not shared by the Neural Buddhists. He says, „They’re gonna say that that’s your addition to evolutionary views of spirituality. And you can be spiritual. You can believe in God, you can worship. You can pray. You can believe in an afterlife (sort of, don’t be too adamant about it) . But, if you believe in particular doctrines, prove it!” That’s what David Brooks says in his article. „If you believe in particular articles of faith, show why those doctrines are true.” Because the other group doesn’t believe that, so the biggest rub is gonna be to show your specific religious views are true.
  • „We’re in the middle of a scientific revolution and it’s gonna be having huge cultural effects. It’s going on now.” What he’s saying is naturalists don’t know they’ve lost. They’re losing, but he says, „They’re not losing, they’ve lost. The world’s passing them by.”

How are we gonna fill this void left by naturalism?

  1. New Atheism – My question is: How are we gonna fill this void left by naturalism and this battle with such things as The New Atheism? They still have some influence, although numbers show that atheists are very small. One recent survey said that only 2% of Americans are atheists. I think it’s higher than that. But the New Atheists are having real influence with our young people (ages) 18-25.
  2. New Age 
  3. Postmodernism

Those are forms, minus the atheism, those are the forms that this is coming in. And David Brooks, whom I understand is Jewish, David Brooks says, „If you’ve got specific doctrines, prove it. If you wanna say what Neural Buddhists say, but more, tell us what more and why? Why are there more doctrines? Why should we believe it? (13:00)

I’ve been starting to work with a concept in the last 10 years, that basically says this: When I talk to you about apologetics in the area of philosophy or theology, which talks about evidences. Every religion has apologetics, but, Christian apologetics are: How do we know some of these general areas like God, and morality, and afterlife are true? And how do we know the specific areas, areas like incarnation, deity of Christ, the death and resurrection of Jesus, things that are central to our faith, how do we know these things are true? That’s the subject of apologetics. When I say apologetics, most people think – Bible. We think of it as largely defending a body of doctrine that closed about 2000 years ago. But, what I’m gonna argue is that apologetics is a contemporary aspect and there are many, many new subjects that we have not had research on, at least the kind of research I’m talking about, more recently than the last 30 years. When you think apologetics, you might not just think New Testament anymore, you might think some additional research today that evidences what we believe. (Transcript continues below video)

2012 – Lecture by Gary R. Habermas VIDEO by religionphilosophy

Consciousness does not cease to exist with death of the physical body

On the subject of near death experiences- these have now been written up. My last count of 5 years ago, the subject of near death experiences has been written up in at least 15-20 different medical journals. Now, why would peer reviewed secular medical journals run articles on these. Now, first, when these came out, everyone was talking, „Yeah, it’s interesting and we’ve got some interesting cases there. I’m not talking about people who died and saw a light, went down a tunnel, and ‘wow’, doesn’t that prove that it’s true? No, it doesn’t. It might just prove common physiology, or common neurology. But, in over 100 cases, I and another individual, who is the editor of the only peer reviewed near-death journal in the world (I’m a reviewer for that journal- in fact, it’s secular, it’s largely eastern, and marginally Neuro Buddhist. The two of us, between us (I’ve not seen her list), but, we both have a list of over 100 well evidenced near death experiences. They are incredibly evidential, where a person sees something while they claim to be in an out of body state. Some of them are incredible, the person reports things that happen miles away. This has very much surprised a lot of people. And, these have been written up in a lot of journals, but, what does it show?

This indicates for a lot of folks that consciousness does not cease to exist with death of the physical body.  You say, „Well, yeah, because the brain doesn’t die right away, and you might still see something for 2,3 or 4 minutes. Well, there are reports of these things going on for hours when the person is dead. Here is one of the evidential stories and according to a Gallup survey 20 years ago, 8 million Americans have claimed to have experienced near death phenomenon of some sort. Maybe they didn’t die, but, they’ve watched someone else describe this sort of thing. How about blind folks who have never seen anything in their whole lives until their near death experienceThey report something that happens down the road, they come back and correctly report it, and now they’re still blind, but they saw something during the experience. Some of these reports come with flat EEG and flat EKG’s. This is a general category. (19:25)

How about specific Christian categories? All in the last 20 or 30 years. You say ‘Resurrection’, that’s a New Testament study. I mean it is, but the latest New Testament research that is turned… I often give a lecture at universities called „The Resurrection that Changed a Generation of Scholars”. Today, more critics than not believe something happened to the risen Jesus. And that evidence is only about 30 years old. You might think the shroud of Turin is dead. Not so. A new round of experiments are being done right now, they’re not telling you much about them, but it could either make it or break it.

Documented miracle claims

Some of us have thought, „I’ve got a few cases like this in my family. I wouldn’t call it a miracle, but 3 things have happened in my family and I think they qualify as a miracle. And I think, for the most part, Christians have been very much influenced by this naturalistic mindset , and when things happen to us that are miracles, we very frequently, just like the naturalists, maybe not as radically, but we’ll just as frequently say, „Ah, crazy things happen, and we sweep it under the carpet and we forget about it. We don’t really count is as miracles, cause we just really doubt that miracles happen, so we don’t tell anybody. We sort of think miracles occur.

A New Testament scholar, Craig Keener, phD from Duke University in New testament, and a minor in classics, and this is amazing because the classics come into this study. Craig was doing a commentary on the Book of Acts- 3000 pages. Craig is famous for this. He wrote a book ‘The Historical Jesus’ 400 pages and the end notes were 400 pages. Well, his book on Acts has 100,000 parallels with classical studies. So, he’s going through the book of Acts and he comes across these miracle accounts. So, he decided to start collecting evidence for miracle cases. The result is a 2 volume work , that, if you’re interested in this topic, you’ve got to see it, it’s a masterpiece. It has come out in 2 volumes. It’s from Baker Academics, it’s entitled ‘Miracles’. It is 1,200 pages of evidenced miracle claims.

Many of these (miracles), and I know we have a lot of medical people here, if I told you some of these cases you would say, „Mmm, no this doesn’t happen.” Let me tell you one. A fellow who had a spleen removed for medical reasons and when he got out of the hospital, they took him to the church post-op, getting ready for his post-op checkup and they laid hands on and prayed for him. He went back there and he’s got a spleen. He’s got another spleen. No way. What do you do with it? Here’s the before, and here’s the after. They do have cases of where bones have grown on the spot. They do have cases where heart valves have been replaced on the spot. You say, „That can’t happen.” Well, the guy who spread that story- an MD, phD, professor from UCLA School of Medicine, who spent 4 years at Mayo Clinic.

When you read Craig’s accounts, 1,200 pages, after a while you think, Wow, there’s no more room for skepticism.” Or double blind prayer experiments. Not all have turned out very well. Some of the ones that are politically correct- the list of prayers, are from our viewpoint kind of odd, like witch doctors and medicine men. In one well known double blind prayer experiment , if you were prayed for, you were slightly more likely not to be healed. But, the only 2 that I know of double blind prayer experiments that have had statistical favorable healing results through prayer, both of the them, all the prayers were orthodox-Christian (not the orthodox denomination, but orthodox Judeo-Christian beliefs in God- ). I want to make this clear. I think God answers prayer for everybody. He did in biblical times. Jesus didn’t heal people by saying, „Are you a believer? If not, get out of line.” God answered prayer for everyone. Here’s the last line (in that report):

The findings of this double blind prayer experiment are consistent with prayer to the Judeo-Christian God.

This is in a medical journal. (26:00)

Conclusion

What are we doing to further the Christian message and let people know we have reasons to believe in these things?

  1. The best thing we can do to remedy this is to take David Brooks up (the guy from the New York Times), take him at his word, and to be able to show that theism is true, and to further the demise of naturalism. Or, why is theism true, and naturalism false?
  2. Let’s show that Christian doctrine, which no other religion has (we share some things with Judaism), but, for the most part, Christianity has some unique beliefs, Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, He died, was raised from the dead. Are we able to argue, not just the things that overlap with Neural Buddhism, but, worship and afterlife, but specific Christian doctrines, are we ready to do that?

In closing here, there is also an encouraging aspect. I love 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul ends 57 wonderful verses on the resurrection, the earliest most evidential resurrection passage in the New Testament. Paul ends by saying, „Therefore,” verse 58, ” be steadfast, immovable.” You’ve probably seen some of the reports, but between 60-90% of our young people, who go away to secular schools, they walk away from their faiths. Naturalism may be on the downslide, but they don’t know it. And Neuro Buddhism is not gonna be a lot nicer to us. It’s nice that we can believe in religion, but they’re not gonna be a lot nicer to us. Our young people are going away and sliding away from Christianity.

There’s a study that just came out that says many of them come back in their 30’s. But, first of all, many of them don’t, and those who do have lost 15 key years of from their lives. So, Paul says to be steadfast and immovable. But, why aren’t we the bastion of teaching our young people, that Christians have the best, the best possible message in the world? So many people write to me and say, „My professor attacked this, or that… What should I say?” I tell them over, and over again, there are good responses to these things. Read this, consider this. But I tell students, „Think about this, there’s a lot more to Christianity than what I’m gonna say. But, as long as the deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus are true, Christianity follows. When someone attacks a periphery thing, I think we go after it 2 ways. We answer the complaint, and then we say to the young people, „That’s not a just reason for walking away form Christianity. Until someone can disprove the deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the center of Christianity remains.”

Lastly, same verse, Paul says. „always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.  First, he says, „Hang in there, be steadfast, immovable, and in his second point – your labor in the Lord is not in vain. Get out there and do something.”

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