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What Is Beyond the Physical?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
August 2, 2022 12:01 am

What Is Beyond the Physical?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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August 2, 2022 12:01 am

We live in a time of great scientific advancement. But in this pursuit of knowledge, few people are asking the most important question: "Why?" Today, R.C. Sproul shows that we must look beyond this world to discover its purpose and meaning.

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Through the centuries, people have asked some big philosophical questions. One of them is, why is there something rather than nothing?

Stay with us. Renewing Your Mind is next. The Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn once diagnosed the problem of the modern world by saying that men have forgotten God. But Dr. R.C. Sproul believed the problem goes even deeper.

We've also forgotten how to think. This is important for us as Christians because we need to be able to respond to the big questions that people are asking. Let's join Dr. Sproul now. As we continue our study of the elements and structures of a worldview, I'd like to start by asking you a question, those of you who are here in this room, how many of you have photo albums at home that include pictures of yourself from your childhood?

Let me see. Those things are kind of interesting. We almost all keep those keepsakes, don't we? One of my favorite pictures that I have at home is a picture of myself and my best friend at age three. In fact, this boy was my first playmate, and the picture was taken where the two of us were standing on a log at the public park called South Park in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This fellow's father took us out there one Sunday afternoon and snapped our pictures, and I still have the photograph.

And both of us are standing there on the log holding hands, and we're wearing short pants and jacket, you know, white shirt, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and the whole bit. And this fellow's name that appears in this keepsake is Donnie Whirlow. Donnie lived two doors up from me when I was growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania. And we were inseparable buddies when we were three and four and five and six.

We began to drift apart a little bit after that because we had such diverse interests. I remember that every Christmas morning, as soon as I opened up my presents and accumulated the toys that were there, when that rite and ceremony was over, the first thing I did after I left the house was go straight up to Donnie's house to see what Donnie got for Christmas. And likewise, you know, then he'd come back on down to my house, and I'd show him what I got. When I was six years old, I'll never forget, I opened up the Christmas presents, and there was a complete football uniform, a child's version of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I used to grab shoulder pads, helmets, you know, the whole thing. I couldn't wait for Donnie to see it. I went up to Donnie's house dressed in my football uniform, and Donnie was as excited as I was for the present that he got. He got a microscope.

And that's sort of the way it went. Every year I'd get a basketball or a hockey stick. Donnie would get a medical encyclopedia. And as we got a little older, Donnie distinguished himself in grade school and in junior high school and high school as being an extremely brilliant young fellow.

He didn't care that much about football and basketball and the things that real people care about. And he earned for himself a nickname borrowed from the annals of Donald Duck. We called him Gyro Gearloose. Do you remember the character Gyro Gearloose from Donald Duck stories? He was the crazy inventor because Donnie was one of those kids that couldn't leave anything that man had put together intact. If it was a clock, he had to take it apart, and he had this insatiable curiosity to discover how things worked. And I used to think that was strange, but Donnie was preoccupied with questions. Just like the thinker over here. Remember, let's not forget our guest here.

I don't want to ignore you, you know. What are you thinking about this time? He's obviously pondering questions.

But there are different kinds of questions, aren't there? The question that preoccupied my friend Donnie Warlow, who's now Dr. Donald Warlow, of course, a scientist. His whole life, he was engaged with asking this question. How? How does it work? How is the human body put together?

How are cells constructed? And his curiosity was never, ever filled. And so even as an adult, he's still spending his life asking the question, how? I remember as a child, I could have cared less about how when it came to how machines work. When I got my driver's license, and I drove my parents' car, and the car broke down, I would unlatch the hood of the car, open the hood, and look in there, and all I could say was, well, there's still a motor here. And I closed it. The only reason I really opened the hood and looked in there in the first place was that that was expected of a male whose car broke down that he was supposed to at least open the hood and look. I don't know what he was looking for because I didn't know the difference between a cam and a rotator cuff.

Okay. I still don't because I just never was interested in the how questions. But I ask questions too, a question that haunted me from the earliest days of my life. In fact, I can remember walking down another pathway. On the way to school, we walked about a mile to school like Abraham Lincoln used to do through the snow.

And the last quarter of a mile was in front of this large building, and their parking lot was protected by telephone poles that were rolled up at the end of the parking space. And we used to balance along these poles that were lying on the ground there. And as I used to do that, I used to think a lot, and I would be balancing my way across there thinking about why do I have to spend five days of the week doing what I hate to do so that I could have two days doing what I like to do? Because I hated school, and I couldn't understand why I had to go there all the time.

And that was my question, my question during the war when my father was away fighting in Europe, and the pictures of Mussolini and of Stalin and of Hitler were appearing on the covers of Life magazine and Look magazine and Time magazine. I was asking the question, my mother all the time, why does he have to be gone? The dog dies. Why do dogs die? Why death?

Two doors up for me, Donnie was taking the alarm clock apart to see how it worked. I'm asking, why do we have clocks? Why is there such a thing as time? And from the earliest part of my life, I was, as I say, preoccupied with this question, why?

And I still am. The question why took me in my own pursuit of understanding my life and my world beyond the mere examination of objects as they appear to the naked eye. That question inevitably drives you beyond physics to what we call metaphysics. We know the academic discipline that we're all forced to take an introductory aspect of in high school called physics. Metaphysics searches for that which lies above and beyond the scope of the physical. Metaphysics is not something that is indulged in simply by quacks or mystics, but it was the science of the ancient world. People like Plato and Socrates and Aristotle whose thinking shaped the structures of western civilization were very much interested in the question of metaphysics. In fact, the original quest of philosophy was a metaphysical pursuit.

The ancient philosophers, though they disagreed on various points of philosophy, all were engaged in the quest for what we call ultimate reality. Do you think this rug is blue? Why? It appears to be.

Do you believe that something is as it appears to be? To your eye appears to be blue. Why?

Your eye told you that. Why? Are you getting frustrated? Do you know that we can exhaust anybody's knowledge with eight questions? It's the same question each time.

Why? Because why just keeps pushing us backwards, further and further and further, or we might say deeper and deeper and deeper into our quest. Nobody can go beyond the eighth why and still be speaking intelligently. You finally say after seven times, you get to the eighth time, you go, I don't know why.

You throw your hands up. Because the why question pushes us to the question of ultimate reality. We can talk about this rug as approximate reality, but even as we speak, we know that this rug is not as it appears to be, that there's no such thing as blueness residing or inherent in this rug, don't we? We know that colors come from light, and whatever light is reflected from this rug, as the spectrum is separated and the light waves are separated, then the blue shade or the blue tone is reflected and it strikes the iris of my eye and so on, and I perceive blueness.

But without light, there's no color in that rug. In fact, when I'm on the golf course and I'm stymied by a tree and I have no shot, you know, some nut always says to me, go ahead and hit it, R.C., trees are 90% air. They don't look like 90% air, and every golfer that's tried to hit a shot through them knows that he's not going to get through it 90% of the time. But when somebody says that to me, that that tree is 90% air, I really have an urge to correct them, say it's a lot more than 90%.

I say, what do you mean? Well, that tree is made up of molecules, and the molecules are made up of atoms, and the atoms are made up of subatomic particles. And he realized that between the nucleus of an atom and the subatomic particles, the neutrons and protons and so on, they're supposed to be flying around outside. There's space. What's the proportionate ratio between the nucleus, the stuff, the essence of it, and that space? Well, the best analogy I've heard on this is if you would go to downtown Los Angeles, to the city of Los Angeles, and put a Volkswagen in the exact center of Los Angeles, and then drive to the extreme edge of the city limits of Los Angeles, you would get an idea of the space ratio that exists between the nucleus and the particles of an atom. All that area from the Volkswagen out to the perimeter would be empty space.

Now, why doesn't my golf ball go through there with ease if it's so much space? When we're talking about atomic theory and so on, we're trying to get beyond what we perceive physically and get down to the ultimate source and stuff of reality. Now, the science of metaphysics, maybe that's what he's thinking about. He's sitting there thinking, why am I doing this?

Why am I sitting like this? Maybe he's asking questions about why he is at all. He's asking questions about the meaning of his existence, which is one of the most important questions anybody can ever ask as they're constructing their worldview, the question, why am I here? Well, let's again go back to this concept of metaphysics. In the sphere of metaphysics, we can talk about subheadings under metaphysics that philosophers have been concerned with historically. One I've already alluded to is the science of ontology. Another aspect is the science of teleology.

Let me just take those two for a moment as important aspects of our study of metaphysics. The science of ontology, how many of you, let's be honest, don't know what that term means? It's a new term to you, ontology. That's fine. That's good.

There's nothing to be embarrassed about there. This is language peculiar to a particular discipline. Ontology is the science or the study of being. Ontos is a participial form of the verb to be, and so it just simply means being. And ontology is the study of being. We have all different kinds of being. We have human beings, divine beings. Well, the philosopher who's engaged in metaphysics is asking the question of ultimate being. It's an ontological question.

Let me give you an example of this. I've used this example before, and I hope I'm not boring you with repetition, but I had a conversation with a professor of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, a professor of physics. And I was about to give an address that night on the adequacy of human language to speak about God. And this gentleman was there, something, as a skeptic and was being cynical, and we had dinner beforehand, and he said to me, I don't envy your task. And he said, what's that? He said, having to get up there and talk about God.

He said, because you can't say anything meaningful about God because God is beyond the scope of science and beyond the scope of real language and so on. He said, it's a tough thing to do, isn't it? And I said, well, yes. I said, but surely you can understand my dilemma. He said, why?

I said, well, because you have the same problem with categories that you guys use in physics. And he says, like what? And I said, well, like energy. And he said, what do you mean? I said, well, what is energy?

And he said, well, everybody has an energy. I said, well, what is it? He says, it's the ability to do work. I said, I don't want to know what it can do.

I don't want to know its function. I want to know what it is because you people keep telling me that ultimately the world is made up of energy. You speak of energy in terms of amounts. So what is it? And he said, energy is mc squared. I said, I don't hear its mathematical equivalency.

I want to know what it is. It's is-ness. See, what I was pushing for was an ontological definition of energy. And calling my friend a task and the fact that people ascribe being to energy all the time, I want to know what kind of a being it is, if it has being or if it is being. It's difficult really to speak meaningfully about such concepts as it is to speak about God.

I think it's far more difficult to speak about energy than it is to speak about God. But in any case, ontology asks the question, what is ultimate reality? And it asks questions like this, why is there something rather than nothing? Did you ever ask that question?

Not why am I here, but why is anything here? When the Hubble spacecraft was launched, with the hopes of the scientific community that this most sophisticated telescope of all time was going to give us a quantum leap in our knowledge of outer space, I heard one of the newscasters speak on television saying that 15 billion years ago, the universe exploded into being, and he made reference to the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe. I just want to go right through the television set.

I want to grab the guy by the throat and say, what are you talking about? Are you out of your mind? What do you mean that something exploded into being? What was it before it exploded into being?

Huh? If it wasn't being, what was it? Non-being. If it had no being, it was nothing, and nothing doesn't explode, okay?

You talk about this singularity that explodes, and you're talking about a change in the form and the structures of being, but you're not talking about movement from nothing into being. That's so crucial to our understanding of reality. One of the first laws in anybody's worldview should be ex nihilo nihilfit, out of nothing nothing comes. That's an ontological law. The second law you should have is that if something exists, if anything participates at all in being, then somewhere, somehow, something or someone must have the power of being within itself, or nothing could possibly be. Ladies and gentlemen, that statement I just made I'm convinced is epistemologically compelling, but the only way to deny it is to deny reason and to deny science. If something exists, something has the power of being in and of itself, and I know it's not me, and I know it's not the thinker. The thinker may be sitting there saying, hmm, wonder why something is.

I wonder if there is anything that is. Why would Descartes, like this man here, be so intent of crawling into this Dutch heaven to ask himself all the questions he can muster with all the critical tools he can bring to bear to come to this simple basic conclusion, cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore, I am! Eureka! I know something for sure! I am!

And the grocer down the street says, what's wrong with that guy? You know, I know that I am. I've been aware of that since the first moment of self-consciousness.

You don't have to be Popeye the Sailor Man. I am. I am to be aware of your own existence. Descartes said, hey, I'm not just talking about self-awareness. I'm talking about the certainty of my existence. And from there, Descartes says, if I am, then something must have being or I couldn't be. And Descartes went like that to the concept of God, based on the compelling, logical conclusion derived from his own existence.

If I am, Descartes was saying, God must be. That's metaphysics, ladies and gentlemen. Now, the second dimension of metaphysics that the ancient Greeks and modern thinkers are still always concerned with is teleology. It comes from the Greek word that appears often in the New Testament in various forms, telos. Telos. Telos means end, purpose, or goal. And the science of teleology is the science of purposes and goals. When I was taking freshman biology in college, the teacher told us in the opening day of the lecture, she said, we're going to study biology, but don't anybody ever ask me any questions of teleology.

They're out of order. They're beyond the scope of the scientific enterprise. And I wanted to jump up and say, then science has become a prostitute and not a means to pursue knowledge, because what more important knowledge can we discover than the question why we are here?

What is the purpose of these things? It's when a nation abandons teleology that its laws become confused to the extent that there's a federal crime to destroy the eggs of fish while the embryos of human beings can be slaughtered, because people aren't asking why. Metaphysics is not simply for the ivory tower scholar or for the thinker. How we perceive metaphysics, how we perceive being, and how we perceive purpose touches the very heart of our lives. Ladies and gentlemen, we need to think about these things. And we need to think deeply, intently, pondering them. The fact that our society has abandoned purpose is evidenced all around us.

That's why Dr. R.C. Sproul taught this series that we call Blueprint for Thinking. As Christians, we need to have a fully formed, well-thought-out worldview. Once we make sense of the world, biblically, we'll be equipped to point others to truth as well.

This week on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. Sproul is helping us find the basic elements for right thinking. There are five messages in this series, and we will add them to your online learning library when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. Once you've made your request, we will also send you the series, The Consequences of Ideas. There are 35 messages there, surveying Western thought and philosophy through the centuries.

R.C. shows us the impact that these ideas have had on world events, theology, and culture. You can request both of these resources when you call us at 800-435-4343. You can also give your gift online at While you're there, you can explore the archive of past Renewing Your Mind programs, including today's message. You can also download the free Ligonier app that gives you access to daily Bible studies, articles, and videos.

Learn more and download it when you go to your favorite app store. Now here's a preview of tomorrow's lesson. I hear again and again and again from the students, I don't need to know any theology. All I need to know is Jesus.

I say, well, that's neat. Who is Jesus? And as soon as they begin to answer that question, they have been plunged immediately into theology. Learning to think theologically. That's tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-17 19:11:31 / 2023-03-17 19:20:34 / 9

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