Ready to Answer - Lesson 5
By Jim Baird
Do People Exist?
Background Information for the Teacher
- Students will be able to explain the way modern unbelievers most commonly see human beings.
- Students will be able to explain why the unbelieving view of humans implies the doctrine that humans do not have freewill.
- Students will be able to demonstrate why this is such a big problem for the modern unbeliever.
- It is important not just to read these notes to the class. Teacher should be very familiar with the outline and choose how to present the material, making notes in the margins as needed. Practicing the lesson a few times will allow the teacher to look at the students’ eyes while making the presentation.
- Some find it helpful to underline the key words that will spark their memory of what to say and do next.
- A teacher who is new to this subject would be wise to get copies of the resources listed at the bottom of this outline and study them as well.
- Blackboard should be provided, clean with chalk and erasers.
- Students should have access to Bibles, or have overheads of all scriptures.
- It would be helpful to have the quotes in the introduction and in the learning activities on overhead transparencies.
- If you are going to use the handouts associated with this lesson, give them out after the introduction. The underlined material in these notes appears in the handouts.
In our time, rejecting God means that human beings are not what we think we are? we aren’t people because people don’t exist.
Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class
Introduction: (about 8 minutes)
- If you used lesson three, remind the students of the discussion of what it means to be a person.
- Ask the question, “What makes people different from other things in the universe?” Put their responses on the board. [Examples: Thinking, loving, making choices, being creative]
- After a couple of minutes, guide the students toward the recognition of the central place the power to choose plays in our idea of what it means to be human.
- We said in lesson three that the ability to make wise choices and act on them was part of what made us human.
- See how many of the items the class brought up would be changed if humans are not really capable of making choices.
- Now at the top of the blackboard, write “DO PEOPLE EXIST?”
- Explain that most modern ways of saying that God does not exist also imply that people do not exist.
- As we shall see, in the non-god worldview, human beings exist, but human beings are not people, because we are not free to make choices in the way we think we are.
Learning Experiences: (about 40 minutes)
- One of the fundamental questions for everybody is “Where do we come from?”
- There have been only a couple of views that have seemed reasonable to any large number of people. Either we were created for a purpose by some god or gods. Or we arose from blind, purposeless processes.
- By far the most common view has been 1. - that we were created by some god or gods.
- As we noticed in lesson three, if you believe in any gods at all, there is good reason to believe in the one, absolute God described in the Bible. [Use the reminders below only if you are sure you have lots of time.]
- One God is a lot simpler than other views that have limited gods working with pre-existing materials and so forth.
- One perfect God is a lot simpler than a god with limits, because limits always raise more questions.
- One perfect God is a more reliable moral governor of the world.
- One perfect God can be ultimate in a way that limited gods cannot.
- So today, if you want to avoid believing in God, the best way to proceed is to believe that we arose from blind, purposeless processes.
- What is the most common form of this belief today? [See what they come up with.]
- Typically, most unbelievers today believe we are produced by the blind and purposeless laws of nature operating on matter, through the process we call evolution.
- If I am the product of the blind and purposeless laws of nature acting on matter, what does that imply about me? [Put A. though F. on board, then explain as suggested. In the study sheet, A. through F. are fill in the blanks.]
- I am nothing but matter.
- Nothing in science could make something spiritual or non-material out of matter. If you start with matter, you end up with matter.
- So, I am a very, very complicated piece of matter - a sack of carbon-based molecules operating according to the laws of nature and the environment I am in.
- My brain is a computer.
- If I am matter, so is my brain, of course. It is matter organized like a computer. My brain may have millions more connections than the most powerful supercomputers we are able to build so far, but it is still a computer.
- My brain is programmed entirely by my DNA and by my environment.
- In the modern unbelieving view, everything I am has to go back either to my genetics (DNA) or my upbringing (environment). These are the only material causes that affect me, and so to say that there is something more is to say that I am more than matter.
- Q. “Can you see any evidence of this idea in our culture?” A: Hopefully, they will point out all the ways that we explain or excuse behavior by pointing to bad genes or bad environment. If not, give them a nudge with some of the points below.
- He can’t help it that he turned to a life of crime. He was raised in the poorest, most dangerous part of the city.
- She can’t help having such a hot temper - her whole family is like that.
- Therefore, all my thoughts are really the results of my brain running its program.
- Unless I am going to sneak in something besides matter at this point, then this is all that my thoughts could be.
- I have no more ability to make free choices than a computer has.
- Computers don’t choose. They just run programs and generate output.
- (It is a good thing too. What would happen if your computer had a mind of its own?)
- Since people are beings able to make free choices, I am not a person.
- In fact, on this view, people do not exist, since there are no beings who can make free choices the way we think people can.
- People are mythological beings.
- If you think people exist, you already have a pretty good reason to doubt most modern forms of unbelief.
- If you think you really are a person after all, then you already have some good evidence that you were created by God.
- I am nothing but matter.
- If I really believe that I cannot make free choices, how would that change the way I think? [You may want to ask the students to write their own answers to each question.]
- How would I explain the fact that it seems like I can make free choices, within this view?
- [After some suggestions, point out that the typical answer is that the feeling of free choice is an illusion based on ignorance. Because I can’t sense my computer/brain actually doing its work,it just seems like I have options. If I knew more about my brain’s working, I would see that everything is just programming. Write 'Choosing is an illusion’ on the board]
- Based on this view, what is going on when I feel proud or ashamed of something I have done?
- [Hopefully, they will suggest that, in this view, pride and shame must also be illusions,since I have no control over my actions. If my program made me do just the opposite of the behavior I feel proud of, it would mean nothing.They are both just program outputs, with no real meaning or significance. Write -Pride and shame are illusions’ on the board.]
- Based on this view, what is going on when I feel that someone else did something right or wrong?
- [Hopefully they will notice that this is also an illusion in this view, since no one is responsible. Everyone just reacts as their program tells them to react. They are not to blame, nor are they worthy of being praised. Write 'Right and wrong are illusions’ on the board.]
- Based on the 'no free choice’ view, what would it mean to “try to make the world a better place” or to “learn to love people unselfishly”?
- [By now they’ll be getting the hang of this. Trying to do anything is just another illusion. Either my program will make me do things that will make the world a better place, or it won’t. It is not up to me, and the feeling I have of “trying” to do this or that is just a part of the illusion. Write -Trying and loving are illusions’ on the board.]
- What is the difference between a brave man who tries to protect his family in danger, and a coward who hides behind his own wife and children to try to save his own life?
- [Bravery and cowardice are also illusions. My program will make me do either brave actions or cowardly ones, but I am not in control. Write 'Bravery and cowardice are illusions’ on the board]
- In this view, what would be the difference between someone who thinks critically to find out the truth about things and one who just gullibly accepts whatever he has been taught?
- [My program will generate the behavior of critical thinking or gullible acceptance. I may get credit for one or the other, but I am not really responsible. Write 'Critical thinking and gullible acceptance are illusions’ on the board.]
- How would I explain the fact that it seems like I can make free choices, within this view?
- Does anybody really believe that human beings just arose by the blind, purposeless processes?
- When we realize what is implied in this view, we realize just how hard it is to believe it?
- Usually, it is believers who are asked “Where is your proof?”
- But on this question, the tables are turned.
- We can ask, “Where is your proof that:
- human beings are not people,
- human beings cannot make choices,
- pride and shame are illusions,
- right and wrong are illusions,
- trying and loving are illusions,
- courage and cowardice are illusions, and
- critical thinking and gullible acceptance are illusions?”
- On all these questions, the only proof offered is that science has been able to explain so many things by using only blind, purposeless processes.
- But human beings are unique, and so science might hit a kind of wall with them.
- In fact, just because science using “blind processes” has been successful in many areas is no proof at all that it will be successful in every area.
- Therefore, the evidence offered isn’t nearly enough to prove all these very hard-to-believe claims as well.
- In fact, a good sign of just how weak the evidence is for the blind evolutionary processes view is the fact that those who hold it still act as if it were not true.
- For instance, sometimes Christians are told that they should have the courage to think for themselves, rather than letting some old book think for them. What would it mean to “think for myself” or even to “have courage” if we are just the products of blind processes?
- Obviously, if I do “think for myself” or “have courage” it is just my program generating that behavior. If I do just the opposite, again it is just my program making me do it. Nothing is my fault, or to my credit.
- But when people argue with me to try to get me to give up Christian belief and accept their worldview instead, they are acting as if I have some choice in the matter.
- In other words, by arguing with me, they are acting as if their own view is not really true.
- This is actually true of all argument. Anyone who tries to get you to 'change your mind’ thinks you have the power to do so. Modern unbelievers find themselves trying to get us to change our minds to the view that we have no power to change our minds.
- In other words, it looks like even unbelievers really think that humans do have the freedom to make choices.
- Since they don’t believe their own doctrine,why should we?
- Does any of this provide evidence for God?
- Yes. When there are two competing theories and we have reason to believe that one or the other of them is right, whatever counts against one is evidence for the other?
- So every item in the list above that makes the blind evolutionary processes view harder to believe makes the creation by God view easier to believe.
- Based on the creation view, the fundamental reality is a person rather than blind matter. A person already includes the idea of choice, so it is less mysterious how created humans could be persons with free choice as well.
- So if you think that humans are people, you already have some reason to believe the creation view rather than the blind processes view.
- This case gets stronger as you add in the other items that seem to make no sense on the blind processes view: pride and shame, right and wrong, trying and loving, courage and cowardice, as well as critical thinking and gullible acceptance.
- Taken together, it makes a strong argument that we are created by some god.
- And remember that by the simplicity argument in lesson three, the most probable god is the absolute creator God described in the Bible.
- So from the most fundamental characteristics of the way we think, we get a strong argument for the existence of God.
Application: (About two minutes)
- This lesson gives an argument for the existence of God, but it is also about another very important issue: how should we view ourselves.
- There are two competing views of human beings in the world today.
- Either we are purposeless sacks of protoplasm generated by blind processes for no reason and with no future, or we are people, with the real ability to make wise choices.
- In a lot of ways, this issue is deeper than most of the other arguments in this series. Our view of human beings is a foundation for our view of almost everything else. The conflict over which view is correct is in many ways the fundamental conflict of our time. Let’s be wise in how we react.
- A. J. Hoover. The Case for Christian Theism. Baker Books,
- Chapter 8.
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