From the series, “Why I Believe What I Believe” from the blog: ccbiblestudies.com
The fact that Christianity and the Bible teach the reality of an unseen spiritual world may put the worldview out of the running for potential acceptance by those who hold the preconception that the material world is all there is (all there was, and all there ever will be, to loosely quote the bold and unexamined assertion made by Carl Sagan in “Cosmos”). If this is your belief, then the Christian claim that a spiritual being called “Satan” is “the ruler of this world” (according to Jesus—John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11) sounds like conspiracy theory on steroids. So let me start by challenging the assertion and assumption that a belief in the invisible is not a viable option for an adult with a normal, functioning brain.
It’s the contention of the Bible that there’s more to reality than the merely material. The world is made up of more than just the physical, and we are bigger than our bodies. If you happen to be an atheistic materialist, of course you won’t accept this description of reality just on my say-so or the Bible’s, but let’s talk about it.
For starters, once we really stop to think about it, we all know that there is more to reality than the merely material. Do you believe in the reality of abstractions? Do you believe in love, beauty, truth, justice? If you’re a hard-core materialist, you’ll have to say “no.” To stay consistent, you’ll have to deny the objective reality of these abstract concepts and say that all abstract concepts are just products of the human mind (or rather, the human brain because your worldview will not allow you to accept the concept of the human mind as somehow differentiated from the brain.)
But now let’s talk about an abstract concept we all believe in. You won’t be able to deny the objective reality of this abstract concept because its product is the human brain. And all other organs. And all other organisms. This is an abstract concept which bears very tangible fruit in the material world. It is the very foundation of life. I’m talking about the abstract concept of information.
Information is really nothing more than an abstract concept. If a person speaks no English or is completely illiterate but somehow stumbles onto this blog post, to such a person these words that I’m typing are nothing more than unintelligible shapes and designs just like Thai or Arabic writing is to me. The information I’m passing on has no material value. It is apprehended as meaning only in the mind of the sender and of the receiver. As a physical reality, words are nothing more than vibrations in the atmosphere or ink on a page or a series of electronic ones and zeros. Meaning and communication are abstracts that exist only in a mind (or a brain, if you must!).
Now, here’s the crazy part. We are entirely made up of this abstract concept called information. Information (in the sense in which I’m using it here) must be functional. It cannot be mere recognized order or pattern that means nothing like the Thai alphabet is to me. I can recognize that there is pattern and order to it, but I can’t decipher it. In order for information to be information in any real way, it must do something. It must produce results. It must communicate. And functional information is exactly what our DNA code is. It turns into something. In nature, it does not have the (to me) unintelligible quality of Thai writing. Life know what to do with it. Living bodies know how to read and interpret the DNA code correctly to create the proteins that are needed to turn into cells, just as the computer I’m typing on correctly takes the words I’m typing and turns them into ones and zeros that again turn into words for you to read.
Our bodies are made up of the material, just as the words I’m communicating use a physical medium. But our bodies are also made up of the abstract concept of information just as you’re understanding the meaning of the words I’m typing (or so I hope).
In fact, information is the most basic example I can give of a word I finally want to introduce into the conversation now that I’ve given it a build-up. That word is “spiritual.” In its most basic understanding, “spiritual” is referring to realities that are invisible (not just because they’re too small to be seen like the atom) but, in fact, intangible. Immaterial. Non-physical. Incapable of being apprehended by the senses.
With the illustration of information, you may be surprised to learn that you probably already to some degree believe in the spiritual, even if you (as the materialist I’m addressing in this post) would never use the word as something you embrace.
But there you are! Now that you’ve realized that you must acknowledge one intangible reality because of the undeniable nature of information, maybe you’ll open your mind (yes, mind! Not just your brain!) to the possibility of other spiritual realities. Like the mind.
And there are certainly good reasons for believing that the mind is more than just the brain. Believing that there is no such thing as mind, that all is matter, has given rise to the necessity of determinism. If we are nothing more than our atoms, then we are all just dancing to our DNA (according to Richard Dawkins). We have no free will. We make no choices in any kind of real way. Matter has no will of its own. It perfectly obeys natural law.
But anyone with an ounce of sense can see that we simply cannot live consistently with this philosophy. We hold people accountable for their actions. We expect people to understand the difference between right and wrong and feel justifiably angry (at least, the anger feels justifiable to us) when we see the wrong in action. Out of one side of the mouth, we may spout the idea that love, beauty, truth, justice are nothing more than chemical tricks the brain plays on us, but no one can live as though this is fact. We all feel these abstractions to be much bigger and more powerful realities than the tangibles.
And if our thinking is entirely predetermined by the shapes our brains take on, thanks to the information in our DNA, then what’s the sense in trusting any human thought, anyway? We couldn’t discover truth by the random actions of our brain circuits. What is truth? Just a chemical illusion. A trick of matter.
So we’ve seen that information is a real thing. It produces real results. It is verifiably objective. But this is the interesting thing: in all observation, information has ever only been the product of Mind. My computer can generate information, but only because some mind programmed it to do so. We have never, in the history of anything, witnessed information come about through something other than thinking. Intelligence. Mind.
Now, all this has obvious implications into the origin of life question, but I’ll save that for another post. I’m just trying to open your mind here to the possibility of the reality of a spiritual world.
If you can wrap your head around the idea that believing in a spiritual world is not akin to believing in fairies but is a sensible, adult position to take, you can begin to understand that maybe all Christians aren’t quite as crazy as they may seem at first glance. Yes, because it’s out of our visible, tangible experience, the reality of unseen worlds and unseen beings proclaimed by the Bible is hard for us to swallow. But understand that “spiritual” just means “intangible” and that our minds (as distinct from our brains) are intangible, and you’ll be on the right track, I believe.
The Bible does teach that there are spirit-beings who aren’t restricted to the limitations of a physical body as we humans are. God is one such. He is a person, but not a body (in His eternal nature). He is spirit. Or if you prefer, He is mind. Not brain, but mind. Then, the Bible tells us, He created lesser but very powerful spirit-beings (or minds) who were also not restricted to a body in the same way we are. The Bible calls them angels (or messengers). And God also created other spirit-beings who are also bodies — restricted to the boundaries of matter and time and space. We call them humans.
Reading between the lines of some hints the Bible gives us, some angels rebelled against their Creator (because the God of freedom had to create free minds capable of free choice to freely serve Him or not. He is not the God of determinism. At least, that’s how I read the Bible.). These fallen angels became absolutely evil and are the spirit-beings the Bible calls “demons.” (Satan, or “adversary” or “enemy”, being chief among them.)
Although they can never be considered science proper, speculations now abound about multiple universes. It’s a fascinating idea. And try this one on for size: In a sense, that’s really what the spiritual realm is. It’s a spiritual universe that intersects with our physical universe. It’s an entirely different mode of existence that we can’t quite grasp in physical terms, but we have ourselves and our minds and the information they carry to show us an illustration of that spiritual universe and its intersection with the physical. If you like, the spiritual is the fifth dimension.
If the Bible is a true story (and at some point in this series about, “Why I Believe What I Believe” I hope to explain to you why I believe it is), then this utterly debased and fallen, completely evil spirit-being called Satan is the ruler of a spiritual kingdom of evil that intersects with our visible, tangible world and is at constant war with God’s kingdom of right and light.
I know I’ve said the spiritual world is invisible, but as we’ve seen with the invisible concept of information, it can have very visible effects on our visible world. And when I look around at the world as it is, the only thing that makes sense of it for me is this doctrine that the spiritual world is real and there is an evil side to it–that there are powers and intelligences that are intent on our destruction. Once you open your mind to the idea of a real spiritual reality, that’s all you’ll be able to see in our world, and you won’t be able to unsee it.
There’s no other explanation I can think of. Why is our world so infiltrated by evil? Yes, survival of the fittest can be brutal. Yes, nature is “red in tooth and claw.” Yes, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. But the animal kingdom acts on instinct and does what it does to ensure survival in some form. No animal kills or injures for “fun.” Animals fight and kill to eat or to mate. Humans are the only animals (because we’re more than animals and are the intersection between the physical and spiritual in a single entity) that are capable of pure evil. Only humanity produces serial killers and Holocausts and torture chambers for no reason other than because we can.
Looking around at our world, I sometimes feel that I can’t go on believing in a God. I’m never tempted to stop believing in a devil.
I know humans. I am one. And I don’t think we could get this bad all on our own without a little help from the dark side. But once I recognize Satan’s reality, I am brought back to the reality of God. Without good, there can be no true evil.
And good and evil are abstract concepts which are spiritual realities that are hard to deny. We all, on some level, know the that they are objectively real. And that brings me to the abstract concept of absolute truth — absolute right and wrong — and how we come to our beliefs about them that will be the topic of next post.