What would happen if an agnostic committed to thinking about God for a year? In this episode, Sean and Scott discuss the recent book "My Year with God," by Danish psychologist and Humanist of the Year Dr. Svend Brinkmann. They discuss positive takeaways from the book and some areas of disagreement about the intersection of science and faith, evidence for the soul, and how to go on a spiritual quest. This is an episode you won't want to miss.
Sean: What would happen if a Danish agnostic spent a year thinking about God? Today we're going to discuss a recent book called “My Year with God” by a psychology professor and 2018 Danish Humanist of the Year and leading public intellectual, Dr. Svend Brinkmann.
Scott: Sean, I found this book absolutely fascinating. But I think for our listeners, “My Year With God” might sound like a year-long Bible reading program.
Sean: Right. That's not what he's involved with here. Tell us what the book is about and how does he actually spend a year with God? So I only heard about this because the publisher reached out to me and asked me to endorse it because it was not written in English. It was just translated into English. He's from Denmark. So it's not on my normal radar, but I was fascinated by this idea of an agnostic who wanted to think about God for a year, seeing where this journey would lead him. So here's a couple quotes that just kind of capture what he's doing. He says, "The idea was to find out if the religious dimension to life might have relevance to someone like me, a scientist from a secular background." So he's just curious how relevant it is to him as a scientist. He says, "I hope my diary," his writing, "will forge a path between religious fundamentalism," which he attributes to kind of a certainty, literalistic interpretation of the scriptures, that he says kind of scares him.
Scott: Overly dogmatic.
Sean: Overly dogmatic, and outright rejection of religion. So is there a path forward in between? But what's fascinating is I'm always reading a book asking, "What are the assumptions of the person reading this book?" He approaches religion functionally, so he's not primarily asking the question, "Does God exist? Can I know? Is there evidence for God?" That comes up at times in this, but really he's asking the question, "Is there value from religion in our secular day?" So he quotes William James, who had kind of a very pragmatic view of truth. Here's where he writes, “we'll probably never be able to prove or disprove the existence of free will, and whether we can prove or disprove the existence of a God. But if faith in free will has beneficial effects, if it gives you a zest for life and allows you to live more freely, is that not sufficient reason to adopt it as the central pillar of the way that you live?" So he's basically, as a secular scientist, saying, "Are there things in religion that we can garner from and benefit us in our scientific day?"
Scott: And yeah, he reflects his background as a psychologist too.
Sean: Totally does.
Scott: With his allegiance to William James, who was the father of that kind of pragmatism, not only with religious beliefs, but also just in general. So there's just a lot to talk about here about what we take issue with, but what were some of the positive takeaways that you got?
Sean: Yeah, people who listen to us or view us know that we always lead in by saying, "Where can we find common ground? And there's a lot in this. Number one, he understands what's at stake with this question. So he starts the book, “this is page one.”
Scott: This is where he had me.
Sean: Oh, I'm glad to hear that. I mean, he talks about, he says, “my childhood musings about whether there is a God weren't just for fun. The after all the existence of a deity would imply some kind of order in the universe that we humankind didn't create. It would mean a Supreme being who might have a plan for our lives, whether we like it or not. It would provide some kind of meaning and purpose to life. It might even mean there's an afterlife.” Now he goes on and on and describes how these questions have kind of plagued him throughout his life. But right away I was like, wow, he understands what's at stake, which is good. Second, he invites a civil discussion about faith. I mean, coming out of the new atheist era, He's trying to forge a path that just says, "Look, in our divided world, let's just have a conversation about this." So here's a couple quotes that are so interesting. He says, "A lot of us are secularized, culturally Christian agnostics, and it would be good for us to have a collective discussion about the nature of faith and religion, and the impact they can and should have on modern human life in a secular society." Now I read that, I'm like, of course we should have a conversation about religion. But if you step into his shoes, he's taking more of a risk than I think people realize. So he writes this. He says, "My humanist friends, of whom there are many who celebrate enlightenment ideals and consider religion in all its forms to be nothing but superstition, may think I've sold out by entering the sphere of religion." So he's just inviting a conversation that's civil.
Scott: I think what our viewers need to appreciate too is that he is in one of the most secularized countries in the world today.
Sean: Absolutely. That's so important.
Scott: The vast majority of people in Denmark believe that he's sold out by even putting religion on the table.
Sean: That's right. Well said.
Scott: So he's really charting a pretty courageous path.
Sean: He is. That word is fair. That went through my mind and I think it's courageous. That's great. Third is he offers a helpful critique of Christianity and Christians. So sometimes when Christians read books like this, they get defensive. I read it and I understand those feelings because this is my tribe and I think it's true. But I also go, "Okay, what does an outsider see that we need to do better?" And here's a couple things. He said, "Even if I do envy people who have found meaning in religious faith," which is interesting in itself, "I don't welcome their attempts to convince me to believe the same thing as them. When that happens, I have a childish urge to adopt the opposite view and go full Nietzsche on them.”
Scott: I love that phrase.
Sean: Which should give us pause how we speak.
Sean: But then he writes, this is so interesting, he says, "I suspect the only form of evangelizing that might convince me, and by the way, probably many others, would be to see for myself that the believer's faith had made their life whole, meaningful, and worthy of emulation.” I tweeted that out, I thought that was so significant, that our lives, how we live, is going to speak more arguably than our words. And he has one more thing, he says, "The born-again form of Christianity practiced in the US doesn't exactly seem wracked with doubt. These people just know that they're right. I find it alienating. It's this religious self-righteousness more than anything that makes me skeptical about the value of faith.” So this rigid, dogmatic, fundamentalist, certain approach is turning a lot of enlightenment, secular people off. Now there's some other positive things here, but rather than just attacking the Bible, he talks about how he says, "The Bible is probably the most important spiritual resource in Western culture." So there's more than this, but that's four things that to me I was like, "wow, this is awesome.
Scott: I think those things by itself make the book worth reading.
Sean: I agree.
Scott: And he's on such an interesting journey. And there, you know, we'll get into this in a little more detail, but he has lots of occasions where I think he wants to see if religion can have some sort of value, but he's not willing to give up any of his metaphysical assumptions about reality, about knowledge, about morality, anything like that. And there were so many times where I think he came so close, he just needed a little bit of a nudge to get him over the hump and to embrace something like Judeo-Christian theism. And there were several times throughout the book where he used the phrase, he'd taken his secularism to its logical conclusion and then concluded, that's not livable.
Sean: Yes, he did. Nobody will get into that. You're right.
Scott: That's some really insightful stuff. Yep. All right. So let's turn the tables here.
Scott: Let's say that you decided that you were going to do just the opposite of this.
Sean: That's a great question.
Scott: And spend a year without God. And spend a year examining, exploring atheism. How would you do that?
Sean: Now what's interesting about this is there was a former Seventh Day Adventist pastor, his name is Ryan Bell. He and I had a public conversation on “Unbelievable” about this because he did this very thing where he was passionate. He said, I'm going to try a year of atheism. Now, my critique to him and our conversation was, “I don't think you took atheism far enough.” Now, there's not just an atheist worldview. There's existentialists, there's second humanists, there's Marxists. I totally understand that. But to me, I think if you take God out of the picture, and he hits on some of these issues, you lose human value, you lose purpose to life, you lose life after death, you lose meaning, you lose free will. I think nihilism is the most consistent atheistic or naturalistic worldview. Now I'm not saying all atheists actually live that out, but what I would do is I would say, what is the heart?
Scott: We would say, why not?
Sean: Yeah, well, that's fair. If you're gonna live out anything, I wanna find out what is the heart of this belief system and what would it mean to truly not just think about it, but to live it out? Because he's kind of approaching this really just thinking about religion for a year, which is very different than how I would suggest somebody go on a journey. So for example, he has this really interesting quote in here. He says, "I can't just choose to believe that my local football team will win the Champions League or that there's an almighty," and by the way, that's probably soccer in his context, or that there's an almighty God who wants the best for me. I just don't believe that. How can you choose to believe something you don't believe? Believing the unbelievable is a logical impossibility. Now I'd say it's not a logical impossibility. I think it's more of a practical challenge, but then he gives his illustration later. “Even if we want to fall asleep, we can't usually just choose to do so. However, this doesn't mean we're utterly powerless because we can, of course, prepare ourselves for it as well as possible.” So, I would say if somebody really wanted to explore the possibility of God, I agree with them. You can't just choose to say you believe in God, but in what ways can we prepare ourselves to be open to it? Now if the Christian faith is true, the primary barrier to God is not the intellect. It's not a lack of thinking about this. It's pride, and what's needed is humility. Now, I am not making an observation of him as a person at all. That is not my point. He says at the beginning, "I'm going to try to be open to this and follow this." But for anybody, it would involve reading the best arguments that there's such a God, talking with the most thoughtful Christians that are out there, and trying to genuinely identify what are the barriers that could keep me from believing my job, my reputation, my relationships, and am I willing to sacrifice those to follow what is true? Minimally, on any journey, those have to be a piece of it.
Scott: Yeah, the interesting part of it is he's not really asking the question, "Is it true?"
Sean: He's not asking that question.
Scott: He's asking, regardless of that, is it useful?
Sean: That's right.
Scott: And I think we, you know, it's just sort of the old adage that, you know, the heart can't embrace what the mind rejects. But he sort of put the mind for the most part, not entirely, I don't want to be fair to him, but whether Christianity is true or not is not really the point, and that's not the point of this search.
Sean That's right, that's right.
Scott: And I think that reflects, I think, not only the secular culture he's in, but I think that's the culture of the times too. Because we've said before on this podcast, when I was growing up, the main apologetic question is, is Christianity true?
Sean: That's right.
Scott: Today, I think, is Christianity good?
Sean: Or beautiful?
Scott: The question is different to that. And so in one sense, I think he's reflecting his own culture, but also the broader milieu in which these kinds of questions are entertained.
Sean: I think that's right.
Scott: So he starts, he doesn't look, interestingly, he doesn't look at Islam.
Sean: He does not.
Scott: Does not look at Judaism, mostly.
Sean: Right, right.
Scott: Does not really, doesn't have a lot to say about the Hebrew Bible. He picks Christianity. And his editor suggested that, I think for more practical reasons, but why do you think it's a good idea to begin with Christianity?
Sean: So you're right, it started with his editor, and he describes himself as a cultural Christian, was baptized, baptized his kids, celebrate Christmas. There's certain cultural things they do, void of what you and I would argue is the deeper meaning of those, but he's a cultural Christian. So he said, "My editor suggested, "this is my experience, makes sense." Now, if your journey is one of just asking, does religion have any value to society, it makes sense to start with the one that shaped the country in which you live, and you're familiar with. So given his assumptions, makes sense. But our colleague and my boss in the apologetics program, Craig Hazen, who has a PhD in world religions, has a fascinating talk where he says, "Anybody on a spiritual journey should begin their quest with Christianity." Why? Not because it's convenient, but for four reasons. He says, number one, because it's testable. Now what's interesting, all of these apply and they're wedded in his book in some fashion or another. So we'll come back to why it's testable, but Brinkmann appeals to Karl Popper's famous criterion of falsification that basically says, when you approach some scientific theory, you want to see if you can falsify it, but then says this applies to science and makes no sense to apply it to faith. But long before Popper came along, You see this with the Old Testament prophets doing experiments to show who is the one true God. In particular with the resurrection, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, "If Jesus is not risen, our faith is in vain." Our faith is in vain. So I would suggest that he's wise to start with Christianity, but he dismisses and says it's not testable, cites the criteria of falsification. But Christianity invites an investigation and talks about falsification if the resurrection didn't happen long before Popper came along.
Scott: Yeah, I think he's still thinking of it from his scientific background. Not in terms of the preponderance of evidence.
Scott: Yeah, and you can't put the resurrection in a lab and do repeatable things, but even a lot of scientific ideas are abduction and inference to the best explanation. And so I think what he values, you can actually find uniquely in Christianity. Second thing that Hazen argues is Christianity is livable. And you were hitting at this earlier, and there's three things that he says. I mean, just in his text, for example, he says, “the idea of the soul isn't credible. The fact that we have a rational soul means that we can be held accountable for our actions.” I think, okay, wait a minute. He's saying a soul's not credible. But if we had one in practice, then we could have accountability. Maybe we should keep this idea of the soul 'cause we all know accountability is a good idea. Well, in Christianity, it's livable 'cause you have a soul. The second one is in theory, it says “we can reduce humans, both ourselves and others, to nothing but biological machines. Nerd processes are complex configurations of molecules, but in practice, we can't.” Now, in Christianity, you don't have to reduce down to a biological machine. made by God, body, and soul. The last one he says is, "We live not only for empirically proven scientific truths, no matter how important they are, but love, commitment, and relationships." You don't find those in a lab. They're not built into a naturalistic worldview. So on free will, human value, and love, he says, "I have to divorce my worldview from how I live." Hayes's argument is you should start with Christianity because it's actually livable. And in Christianity, all three of those things are built in and livable. The third thing that I thought was fascinating that he picked up on this shows his awareness of the Christian worldview is Hayes says “the reason you should start with Christianity is because it has grace.” In other words, every other religion is working your way towards salvation. it's your effort, it's only in Christianity that God says it's a free gift if you'll accept it. And Brinkmann recognized this. Here's a quote, he says, "Jesus offers an interpretation that confronts humankind with an ideal that we can never live up to. We are necessarily intrinsically inadequate. And for this reason, this kind of ethics necessitates forgiveness. Perhaps this is Christianity's genuinely original contribution to ethics." He understands that Christianity says, "You cannot meet God's standard, and there's forgiveness if you're willing to accept it." So I love that he starts with Christianity, but if there's any chance he watches this or others, I'd say, "You're wise to start with Christianity." But this is actually good reason to think maybe that Christianity itself is actually true.
Scott: It's just fascinating stuff. I thought his discussion of ethics and morality, where he clearly has a place for objective moral truths, human fallibility, and like big time human fallibility, has no illusions about human beings being a blank slate.
Sean: That's exactly right.
Scott: And then the necessity of forgiveness, I think is a very compelling reason to think hard about the gospel message.
Scott: So let's think about the way he intersects God and morality. 'Cause he has an interesting statement where he says, God doesn't exist, but morality can still insist. God doesn't exist, but he can insist on us in the moral realm. What's your take on that intersection of morality and belief in God?
Sean: So I've got some thoughts in this that I want you to obviously weigh in here 'cause this is a lot of your specialty too, but this is where his training in psychology, I think could use some philosophical reflection upon the roots and grounding of objective morality itself. So here's a couple of quotes. He says, "Socrates demonstrated 2,500 years ago that we don't need gods to understand what is good and right." And I would say, "We don't need Socrates to tell us. We all know there's good and right without God.” That's a question of knowledge. Even as Christians, we realize people are made in the image of God and have awareness of right and wrong. So the question's not how we understand right and wrong. He says, “ethics don't become meaningless if there is no God behind them. Mathematics is no less meaningful in universe without God.” Now there's a couple of questions I would push back on. One question is why do we even have a universe in which mathematics, the world is orderly and organized, and we can have formulas that match up with the way the world is. It's not a big chaos, there's order. So there's an argument from mathematics, we can't just assume it, to there being design in the universe itself. Not to mention, numbers and logical principles are not physical and not at home in a material universe. But we'll kind of grant that. Then he says, "Similarly, ethics does not become meaningless." Well, there's a big difference between mathematics that is descriptive and ethics that is prescriptive how we ought to behave. So again, it's not about whether atheists or Christians or agnostics can do math or be ethical. The question is, “can you have objective moral values and duties if there is no God?” That's the question I don't think he answers and he has to assume. So he hints at something here and then leaves it. I wanted him to take this thought further. He says, "Could the idea of the ethical demand and an obligation to our fellow humans just be an illusion planted in us by a quick of evolutionary history? Could I in reality have no such obligations? These are possibilities." Now I love that he's entertaining this, but if there is no God who exists and there's no universal morality outside of us, and if humans don't have intrinsic value, then this is not a possibility. This is what the materialistic worldview entails. Many atheists have owned this.
Scott: I think he actually owned it later, where he said, "We can't live as though there are are no moral obligations. Even though I think we would say they're not adequately grounded. And we would admit, we all have moral obligations. We can have consensus that it's wrong to murder people without belief in God. But that can, at the end of the day, what do we say to someone who say in Nazi Germany in the 1930s to say, "You know, you're a Jewish person. You know, why shouldn't I kill you?" And at the end of the day, what you're left with is this exasperated statement that, because it's wrong, which of course begs the question--
Sean: Or it's not beneficial to society in some fashion would probably be his response.But that raises the question, where do obligations to care for the benefit of society come from if there's no God.
Scott: That's also correct. And it's, you know, ultimately, I think we're forced to a point to say it's wrong because God says thou shalt not kill, ultimately. And so I think that the idea that he, what he wants to hold onto is that for moral demands to still have their power without a God in whom they're adequately grounded. And I think there are pragmatic reasons. I mean, I would much rather live in a society that has moral obligations than one that doesn't. But there's no way to say to someone who challenges that on the basis that they're not adequately grounded, that sort of the ultimate “says who” question. Well, says the majority. Well, what if the majority in another culture says differently?
Sean: They're young.
Scott: You know, you have no place to go except for an appeal to power, which he's obviously not, you know, he's not willing to go there.
Sean: Yeah, and look, just to bring it full circle, if there is no God, we came about through a blind evolutionary process, then we have feelings that we ought to love our neighbor. We have instincts that we shouldn't take advantage of people and tell the truth, but he's right here. These have bubbled up through a blind, purposeless process, and they help us survive and thrive, but they're not actual moral commandments or moral goods that we ought to do. They're just instincts that we have. So I love that he surfaced this. I mean, I just want to commend him for having the courage to say, "Is this a possibility?" But I pushed back and I'd say, "You take God out of the picture. There is no other option." Now, other atheists will come in and give other options, but I think that they all fall short.
Scott: So let's, there's another intersection that he has a lot to say about. And he's given his background as an experimental psychologist. And that's on the connection between God and science. What do you make of that relationship, because it's a little different than his view of God and morality.
Sean: It is, yeah. It is different.
Scott: Spell that out for us.
Sean: So here's a couple things. I pulled out a couple quotes. Because religion and science are not parallel paths to enlightenment. Competing to see which has the deepest understanding of the same issues, they deal with different kinds of issues. Some people have models of conflict. Fortunately he doesn't have a conflict model, which is more of what the new atheists have. He has two parallel tracks that maybe religion gives us meaning and values and purpose. Science gives us knowledge about the natural world. So their "non-overlapping magisteria" is the term that's often used. I would push back and I'd say largely that's the case. You know, the spin of an electron, the process of mitosis. I'm not sure religion has much, if anything, to say that's a scientific question. The nature of angels, theological question. But there is overlap. There's some overlap scientifically, namely religion “in the beginning God.” Christianity holds that the universe itself had a beginning. There's historical overlap, a historical exodus, historical Jesus, the resurrection. I think there's psychological overlap. “What does it mean to be human? Are we body and are we soul?” So I think there's separate magic terms that have some overlap that I'd love to see him consider what some of that overlap means. More specifically, this one I have to say, well, let me read this quote. He says, "Intelligent design is closely related to creationism and asserts that humans, animals, and life itself were created by an almighty God rather than through random evolutionary processes." There is no chance he has read leading intelligent design proponents to define it that way. Probably has read critics who have dismissed it. I wrote a book on intelligence design with William Dempski. There's no– I'm not saying he should have read my book. That's not my point, but William Dempski is one of the proponents of this. He's been very careful. Stephen Meyer has been very careful. These are top tier intellects. Now, if you end up rejecting them at the end of the day, they deserve a fair hearing. And even some atheists like Thomas Nagel, who's a philosopher and his book mind and cosmos about a dozen years ago was "like “these guys from life and fine tuning are making better arguments than a lot of us think they are and they're being dismissed, not just on their merits, but on worldview.” So intelligent design is not a form of creationism. Creationism starts with the scriptures, either old or young. Intelligent design starts with empirically observing the signs of intelligence. We can know whether forensic science, archeology, and other disciplines, even SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is able to decipher when an intelligent agent has acted versus non-intelligent. Then the follow-up question is, who or what is that intelligence and what can we know about it? So it's not about random evolution versus the idea that God created. That's just a misunderstanding. I hope if he ever goes back and spends time exploring the issue of whether Christianity is true, I'm not saying this would even necessarily convince him, but at least read some of the leading thinkers and how they argue for intelligent design rather than just dismiss it.
Scott: I'd like him to look at some of the work that Alan Flanagan has done.
Sean: That would be great.
Scott: The conflict is not between Christianity and science. It's between naturalism and theism as underlying worldviews. Those are the things that are actually in conflict. And I think the way he's understood science, I think, is essentially, basically right, because they've got some overlap, maybe more than he would admit, but they are separate domains that deal with separate kinds of questions. It's the underlying worldviews that are the things that are actually in conflict. And I think even on evolutionary grounds, you don't use, it's hard to have a place for anything like moral properties that are reducible to chemistry and physics. And I think it's really challenging to think about how our rationality can actually be reliable.
Sean: That's right.
Scott: Because for one, I'm not sure how the adaptive value of theoretical physics fits in. It's good to know, but I think then there are a lot of beliefs that we have that are false that could nonetheless have adaptive value.
Sean: That's right.
Scott: And morality, I think is the same way. Yeah, we've adapted some of these moral conditions or values because it enables us to live better in community. But on an individual basis, you're an idiot if you do some of those things. So I think there's room for a lot of conversation still. And I think your point, I think is right, that he needs to be a little bit more up to date on some of the stuff that intelligent design has to offer. He only, you know, give him credit, he only took a year. So, you know, we've been at this for a longer time than that.
Sean: I get it, I'm grateful he's having this conversation, but that's a huge piece of the question of God. Is there information in DNA? Are the laws of physics fine-tuned? Does the universe have an origin? These are some of the biggest questions where the cutting edge science and philosophy is being done.
Scott: So one other, I think, really significant part of this that I think it struck us both, is that he holds this idea that the universe, sort of whatever he means by that, has a message for humankind. It's not all that different than what the Gospel is about. It's not. I agree. I found that just remarkable.
Scott: What is the message? And what could be done to just nudge him a little bit further toward the Gospel?
Sean: Yeah, this is one of my favorite parts of the book. He believes the universe teaches a sense of humility, a sense of reverence, a sense of awe. He values caring for fellow human beings. even tell stories of redemption and forgiveness at the end of somebody's life. These are all deeply Christian themes we can agree with here. I'm just not convinced that the universe itself in a materialistic fashion can give that message. That is one message somebody could take from it. But look, I was a communication major and very simply put, a message requires a messenger and a messaged sender, in a sense. So let me read the quote of what he says "The overall message is this," so he's kind of summing things up. "You are an interesting and important being because you exist, but at the same time, it's not all about you. I find it hard to imagine a more true and edifying thought." So he says humans have value, they have purpose, and they're supposed to live a certain way. How does a purposeless material universe give that message? So a message needs a sender and a receiver. Messages have authors. So it was even Hume a long time ago that said, “you can't get an ought from an is. If the universe just is, you can't get an ought about how we ought to behave and what message we ought to take, unless there's a mind and an intelligence and a sender behind it.” So I'm listening to him saying this stuff and just like, "Oh yes, I agree. That's my worldview. I just don't know how you get there when you take God and the source out of it.
Scott: I think about what Richard Dawkins view of the message of the universe. It's a place of blind, pitiless indifference to human beings. And I think, I think God bless him, but I think Dawkins is the one who's actually being much more consistent with his worldview.
Sean: I agree. I totally agree. I think he's right. Now there's a section in his book where he talks about the soul, which I think is great because that's an intersection with our field, philosophy and in psychology. And he gives objections to it. Now you've written a whole book on body and soul, so maybe we'll just kind of highlight these briefly, his objections and see what you think.
Scott: Well, the reason this matters is because it has to do with his view of eternal life.
Scott: And that's, in his view, that's a big deal for him, and rightly so, that he sees it that way.
Sean: So he says “there's no space for a soul in our scientific era, but the soul, again, has value to believe in it. So it makes sense we might as well believe in it.” Now what's ironic about that is if you say “there's no evidence that a soul is not real,” and then you say, “it's a soul that gives us kind of accountability and free will, so we ought to believe it.” There's a certain inherent contradiction there when you say “we don't have a soul and hence no free will, but we ought to choose to believe it anyways,” really shows that he says he doesn't believe in it. He recognizes in materialist worldview there's no space for it. But he is living his life as if a human being is not just a body but has a soul. So that raises the question, which worldview best grounds the way you live your life? That's a really fair question.
Scott: Really important question.
Sean: Now his objection is this. He says “the idea of the eternal soul lacks credibility because we have no idea how the ethereal substance could possibly survive the death of the organism and exist independently of the body.” Now there's a lot of things we know are true and we have no idea how they're true. Light is a wave and it's a particle, these electrons are. We know it's true. So the fact that we might not understand the mechanism doesn't prove that it's not true. So his assumption seems to be that unless we can show a scientific mechanism, then it can't happen. He's putting like, it's like unnecessary parameters on the question because if there is a soul, then by definition it will live outside of the body and be able to do so. So he's kind of begging the question by starting off by saying, we don't know how it works, therefore it's not the case. And of course we could point towards the evidence of like near death experiences, which are very carefully documented where there's a kind of consciousness apart from the body. So I just don't find that first one. You want anything at first one or keep going? What do you think?
Scott: Keep going.
Sean: Okay. Second one, he says, “if a soul lived on, there would be no reason to believe it was me at death, the soul is cut off from the body. And so I stop existing because I'm the creature living this life.” Well, the question is, what is me? It's a center of consciousness. It's a self, Just like throughout life, our bodies are constantly changing and regenerating, and it was still him. I mean, look inside the womb and as a baby, there's a part of me that goes, "In what sense is that me?" The physical body is completely changed, but that was me. There's a sense where this self can undergo change and still maintain its identity. And so, why couldn't a center of consciousness continue on. I don't get it.
Scott: It's because we're more than the conglomeration of our parts and properties.
Sean: I think that's exactly right.
Scott: He's already hinted at this in the previous point that he made about free will.
Sean: Yes, he did.
Scott: Because free will, what's the value of free will? That gives us moral accountability.
Sean: That's right.
Scott: But if we are not the same person through time and change, then that moral accountability goes out the window because you could commit a crime and 20 years from now be brought to justice and legitimately claim if we are nothing more than a collection of parts and properties, you could legitimately claim that you are a different person today than the one who committed the crime. And what gives us the unity of our personal identity through time and change is not something material.
Scott: It's something immaterial. And you're right, if the soul exists, then there's no reason that it can't, by definition, in theory, live outside the body. I think our normal state is embodied and will be embodied for most of eternity. But what else could Jesus have meant, or I'm sorry, what else could Paul have meant when he said “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord?”
Sean: There you go.
Scott: And so that's even for the Christian physicalist who wants to attribute all the things of the soul to the brain. That's a hard text, I think, to deal with for those folks.
Sean: I agree. I agree.
Scott: But I think the impact on moral accountability, and it's a-- that view of a human person is the basis for our criminal justice system. You're the same person who committed the crime with the one who's brought to justice, no matter how many years later that takes place.
Sean: So there's something non-physical that stays the same over time. I think he's not... I think this is an example where he's starting with certain tools about science and then because this is not the tool, he's going to rule out the reality of the soul. Maybe a different tool is required or different assumptions. The last one he says that's interesting. He says, "I find the idea of physical resurrection and eternal life harmful." Interesting. Why harmful? Now by the way, before we go any further, This is assuming that there's an objective duty to not harm. So if there's no God, this is his personal sense, I don't find it harmful. And if I was being insensitive, I could say, "Okay, you don't find it harmful. I don't care.” I'm not going to because I think we should love people, but I don't see how in the worldview it grounds that that is objectively wrong." So he finds the idea of physical resurrection and eternal life harmful. Why harmful? Well, if resurrection and eternal life were reality, it would diminish all we consider significant life. For something to have value, it must be ephemeral. I would say, look, he confuses the ability to appreciate something, identify it with the value of something within itself. So as human beings, maybe we can just, because we're finite, limited human beings bound by time, recognize things value because they're ephemeral. But are things like love objectively and transcendentally good? I mean, one of my atheist friends had interesting, I can't remember the exact words, but it was like something like, "Love goes on even after we die." And I thought, "Well, in your worldview, it actually doesn't." But there's a sense that there's these transcendent kind of universally good things, and maybe we just lack the ability to recognize them. Last thing I'll say is actually C.S. Lewis who said, "Belief in the resurrection doesn't make you useless to this life, but I recognize you're not just going to be around for X number of years. You're an eternal being. So I treat you as an infinite being, not a finite being. I'm actually going to treat you better." So it's those who believe in an afterlife that actually act better as a whole. He makes that argument. And there's some studies you could use to back that up.
Scott: I suspect we can go on for a lot longer time on this.
Sean: I love this book.
Scott: I did too. And we wanna, I hope that Dr. Brinkmann gets a chance to listen to this because I think we both wanna commend him for an honest, heartfelt search for God. And I think he's unearthed a whole lot of things of really significant value that I think we can take away. And I think what's been so interesting throughout this is the recognition that if faith can be useful, that's one thing. He's got a whole chapter on can faith be useful in dealing with grief.
Sean: Yeah, it's interesting.
Scott: Which as a psychologist, I would expect him to have an interest in.
Sean: Makes sense.
Scott: And it's some really good insight on that. He's got good insight all along the way. But I just, I wish we could have him sitting right here with us for a conversation and go on for another couple of hours and really exploring the worldview implications and the livability of the secular worldview that he is so steeped in. And understandably so, because that's the air they breathe in the culture, in that part of the world that they grew up in. So I wanna commend how counter-cultural the whole quest is for him.
Sean: I agree.
Scott: And what a risk that is. And we have great admiration for the courage that it took to do that. And we'll look for maybe a followup to this, my second year with God along the way.
Sean: How about my decade with God? I just, I wanna reiterate the same thing. I read this book three times. They asked me to endorse it, came back to prepare here, read it a second time. And each time I was pulling out different kind of insights and thoughts, it was refreshing 'cause of his attitude, refreshing 'cause his background. I wanna commend it. Now I am inclined towards books like this. You and I are both philosophically inclined. So if you are looking for a book from somebody who's respectful towards religion, comes from a very different background, and is gonna push on what you believe and make you think, excellent book, really wanna commend it to folks. I hope he'll keep exploring in this area and this is just the beginning for him.
Scott: Yeah, and just so our viewers are aware, this is an exploration. There's a lot, I mean, he has a lot of tentative, very tentative conclusions.
Scott: And you know, it doesn't go quite as far as we wish you would, but you know, let's just say there's a lot of common ground here to work with, and we welcome the opportunity to hear more
Sean: That'd be great.
Scott: About where his searches are. Hey, we hope you've enjoyed this today. If you have, if you have comments or questions or guests that you want to, or topics that you want to see us entertain on the podcast, you can email us at ThinkBiblically, one word, all one word, firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope you enjoyed this, see you next time.