Saturday, September 27, 2014

I've Been Here Before...Pivotal Moments in My Journey

This will serve as the hub and first entry for a new series, where anyone who wishes can follow along and encounter the major moments that impacted the way I think about reality, and what is true.

My Testimony: Era of Uncertainty

I took a philosophy class in 2009 and chose to do some independent reading in the book I had had to buy for it, covering two chapters that were not focused on in the course. These concerned Neuroscience and Determinism. Determinism is simply the view that everything that happens is directly attributable to the immediately preceding state of the universe, and so on and so on. Reality is a complex machine that runs on physical laws and that's it. Technically, that's materialistic determinism. Determinism that allows for a supernatural aspect to the universe would hold that spiritual beings control your destiny and so whereas it's not all mechanically produced, you nevertheless do not have much of a choice in how your future unfolds. And neuroscience, from an atheist perspective, is often presented as a scientific argument against the soul, i.e. that all of your thoughts, emotions, desires, will, decisions etc are produced by neurochemical electrical interactions between the cells of your brain.

Take these two thoughts together, and what do you get? The idea that I couldn't trust my thoughts to be accurate, because my beliefs might just be deterministic phenomena, artifacts of physical processes in the brain, with nothing to connect them to truth or to give them meaningful significance. What if I only believed what I did because I was organically predisposed to believe it, and chance life experiences influenced my thoughts to produce that result? That there was no choice involved, and no transcendent truth.

Once the thought was comprehended, I couldn't ignore it. I had to deal with it.

And I couldn't find a way to. I sat still in my chair on several occasions, trying to avoid distracting myself, and emptying my mind inasmuch as it was possible. I tried to figure out where my thoughts were coming from. Sitting still in nothingness, you never go completely blank. Something comprehensible pops up in your mind inevitably, and the challenge I was trying to accomplish was being able to pinpoint where these spontaneous thoughts were coming from, and why.

I couldn't do it. Whereas I couldn't always find a preceding thought that influenced the thought in question, there was no test, no way to know how to tell if what you thought was "your" thought, or if it was a random brain artifact, or for that matter a spiritually imported idea, whether heavenly or hellish in origin. There's no test for it in science, and when I convinced myself that there was no personally convincing way to be able to persuade myself that "I" was the author of my thoughts, I retreated in despair.
A year or two later, I came upon the realization that not knowing the secrets of how my thoughts worked was not a cause for despair but a cause for relief. See my blog treatise on that here.
I couldn't answer my troubles, and so in dejected bitterness pushed the ideas away from me. I tried to avoid thinking about it. Consequently, for the next 9 months or so, I prayed almost not at all, I slunk in to the Campus Crusade meetings from the back of the lecture hall after they had gotten started, and slunk back to my dorm in silence before they finished singing at the end. And only went about three times. I had attempted to manage taking several Chemical Engineering gateway courses, while at the same time being an RA, and without any relationships with people who were either available or willing to help me. All the guys who did well in those courses had several friends they met with several times a week to work on studying and homework together. I didn't have that. Being an introvert, not to mention being away from home (some groups were composed of friends from high school--or home school, as it were), my isolation hurt me academically, and my lofty idea of being ambitious with amassing obligations became a downfall for me. I can't blame others for not working with me. It wasn't out of spite, so far as I can tell. But there are some things you can't overcome without a support group or a team. The road of the solitary individual doesn't run to the same place as the road of the group that bears its members burdens.

I went deeper into depression as it became undeniably clear that I would fail my engineering course. Calculus wasn't looking so good, either. I sat up late at night and in the late part of the semester, encountered internet forums for the first time. There was a facebook application called "MyPolls," which solicited people's opinions in answering multiple choice surveys (and you could make your own), and below, there was a comment section for each one, with a plus-minus rating system for each participant, based on how many people clicked to agree or disagree with your comments. That was where I was first initiated. That was also where I first heard of Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Pat Robertson, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and notably The Tea Party, which had just begun establishing itself. As it turns out, the majority of the users were loyal Democrats, with a fair amount being middle-aged. At that point I would still probably have considered myself a Democrat, in my naivete, but their actions helped dissuade me. It was these helpful individuals who opened my eye to the way that liberals maintain cohesion among themselves: relentless mockery of "The Other," bullying of dissenters and those who are honestly questioning, and ostracism of the free thinker. Their numerical majority made the MyPolls application into an echo chamber, where the frequent participants were able to style themselves as erudite intellectuals and assure each other of their superiority over conservatives, whether it concern intelligence, morality, or even their sense of humor. I had little trouble there so long as I agreed with the crowd. But when I began to go against the grain, then I had my first encounter with GroupThink, where my 'star score' of some thousand points went so far down as to go totally negative, and I was made to question what progress I had been working toward, in gaining appreciation from others, when they were so resentful of independent thought that they ruined what I had out of spite. 

I "ragequit" and found another forum on-line, which distinguished itself from MyPolls by coincidentally (meaning I didn't know this before I joined) being more conservative--having more conservative participants. And the way we treated dissenters and were treated by them was such a stark difference to what I had previously experienced. People also talked about God a lot more. If I had to characterize a conservative forum with professing christians, compared to a liberal forum, I'd say that the former has a positive continuing emphasis on God, whereas the latter has a negative continuing emphasis on other people. And the dissenters are different: a dissenter of a liberal establishment challenges the majority groupthink, and is attacked personally. A dissenter of a conservative establishment attacks God and conservatives personally, and is challenged to think. This initial introduction to how one group in society treats the other was later to be confirmed again and again on facebook threads and my university's discussion forum. It was no isolated incident. 

On this other forum, I was introduced to a number of things. The two I remember the most significantly are these: Owl City's music, sampled for another user's profile (which tells me I was on this site by mid-February of 2010, since the Ocean Eyes tour came to my university shortly after), and a link from another user, after we had been philosophically debating an atheist. 

That link led me to a website where there were documentary video productions available for free to view. The person in question was Ron Wyatt, an apparently prominent archaeologist. 

I was still undiscerning, not schooled in theological disciplines. I drank up all the stuff I saw. It was amazing! I was so excited to really be faced with the fact that the Global Flood of Genesis 6-9 had actually happened. I'd casually accepted it before, but now it was made real. And now that my mind was tilled and the ground fertile to receive seed, I was eager to find out if there was more written on this subject, more scientific evidence to back it up.

And oh, there was. Ron Wyatt, no careful scholar himself, led me to, while Googling for his name, come across Answers in Genesis.

The face on the front page was familiar. I'd seen it in the back of a book I'd borrowed from the pastor's library in 2006, entitled "15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History," so I now had a faint notion that this website was somehow connected to that book. What I was unprepared to find, scarcely a week after encountering the idea that the Worldwide Flood was real, was that the source that first told me about it was not reliable. My very first Answers in Genesis Article was this one:

The formatting has changed, since the website has recently gone fully mobile-viewable. But the subjects are all mainly there. One of the titles had something to do with Ron Wyatt. Some trial and error just now led me to identify this one as being the closest candidate for the article I read:

I can hardly describe with words the glee that gripped me when the full force of the mental understanding that the history in Genesis was not just true, but tangibly, imminently and overpoweringly real hit me. Reeling, I made myself now undertake to make sure that this idea was unassailably true. I constrained my joy to submit to careful study, so that I would rather be measured in my happiness than falsely happy out of ignorance, the more to despair in the fall. 

Now that the idea had caught, I had no problem discarding Wyatt as an unreliable authority, seeing as none of his "discoveries" needed to be true for the conclusions to be warranted. That was what Answers in Genesis planted in my head when I first poked my head in the door, so to speak. The takeaway from my first milestone on my journey to where I am now was this: We don't need to accept every claim. We have more than enough proof to convince us of the truth of God's Word without gullibly gobbling up shaky evidences. 

This proof was what I now was committed to searching out.
~ Rak Chazak

Below, links to the successive entries in this series will be listed when the articles are published.

1 comment:

  1. I *think* the book is "15 Reasons...".. I can't find any other one that seems to fit the bill. I just can't remember it being that short, and I'm pretty sure I had it with me at summer camp that year, yet the book was apparently published late August.

    This is perplexing. But there was a book, I tell you! :) There was an advert in the back with Ken Ham holding a book above his head. I'd stumbled on AiG before, doing other types of internet searches, but written it off as creationist nonsense.

    Not this time.