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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label existence of God. Show all posts
Showing posts with label existence of God. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why Evidence for God Argues for Only One God


Does God exist? There are many different arguments apologists use to make the case for God's existence, such as why the universe exists at all, the fine tuning of the universe, the existence of moral values and duties, the existence of reason, and so on.

Each of these pieces of evidence for God has merit. However, assuming any one of them is a slam-dunk is a bit foolish. The real power in the arguments comes when we look at all of them together. This is known as making a cumulative case for God's existence. Taken together, the arguments form a very strong foundation, making the belief that God exists much more reasonable than its negation.

I've written previously on the strength of a cumulative case for God's existence. However, an interesting objection to the cumulative case argument was voiced by an atheist named Tyler on the podcast of the UK radio show Unbelievable? hosted by Justin Brierley.  Around the 1:09:10 mark, Tyler asked:
What does it mean to make a cumulative case for God? It seems to me the phrase is used to get around one of the oldest debates in recorded history: How many gods are there? I guess you wouldn't have to call them gods; you could just call them supernatural beings. Does the phrase "a cumulative case for God" really eliminate the possibility that the universe was created by one God and the morals by another? Couldn't all of the arguments for God point to a pantheon of supernatural beings that may not ever exist anymore?

Who God is versus arguments for his existence

 Tyler's question is an important one, not only because it shows a misunderstanding of what the cumulative case is, but also a misunderstanding for the arguments referenced therein. Argument for God's existence, like those listed above, are focused on the idea of necessity. For instance, the Kalam cosmological argument argues for why there is something rather than nothing at all. Such an argument is not limited to only the natural world. If supernatural beings exist, one must account for their existence, too. Those beings are either contingent, meaning they rely upon something else for their existence, or they are necessary--they have always existed, that is they are eternal. Christianity holds that God is an always-existing being that anchors all other existences.

To posit only other supernatural entities that may not even exist anymore runs into a host of problems. First, one must ask "Where do such beings come from? Why do they exist?" I imagine one retort would be "They are all eternally existent!" but this won't do the job. If these beings no longer exist now, it proves they are not eternal.

"Fine," one might say, "They continue to exist as well right now." But we still have some problems. First, there cannot be more than one eternal, all-powerful being. Think about this for a moment. If there are even two beings who claim to have all power, the one thing each absolutely couldn't have is power over the other. If they are equal in power, it means their power is limited by the simple fact the other being exists. So they couldn't be all powerful. Two all-powerful beings is a contradiction in terms. And if they are not all powerful, they are in some way contingent for their power is mitigated. One of the two simply doesn't need to exist since the other can do his job for him.

The moral argument plays out the same way. How can one being be creator and another be the foundation of morals? Does this mean the creator-being is obligated to follow the dictates of the morals-establishing being? Along this line of reasoning, one runs smack-dab into the Euthyphro dilemma Plato spelled out. It again makes these beings contingent, reliant upon something or someone outside of themselves.

Why only monotheism is logically coherent

The Christian who offers a cumulative case for God is doing so in part to explain the existence of contingent things. To suppose multiple supernatural beings then forces the question about their existence, given they are contingent themselves. One must either hold to a contradiction or stumble into an infinite regress, wither of which is a reasonable position to take. Only a single necessary being works consistently given all the evidence presented.

One reason understanding the difference between necessity and contingency is so important is it helps the truth seeker save a vast amount of time exploring different religious faith claims. It shows any faith that posits multiple gods as an explanation for the origin of the cosmos is probably incorrect and monotheistic faiths should be investigated first.

Understanding a Cumulative Case

It isn't the phrase "a cumulative case" that eliminates the possibility of multiple supernatural beings; it is the type of case the Christian seeks to explain. Prosecutors offer cumulative cases in court all the time as they mount many, many pieces of evidence against a defendant stating the best explanation that makes sense of all this evidence is the defendant committed the crime. But the type of case we are making for God's existence is one of ultimate origins. What grounds morality as objective? Why is there something rather than nothing? It is in this way cumulative case arguments are powerful. They make the case for why the best explanation for the existence of all things is a single all-powerful, all-good God who is personal, one who chooses to create with intention.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Confusion of Atheistic Moral Grounding



Is morality evidence for the existence of God? At first blush, the answer seems to be no. Certainly there are many moral people who don't believe in any kind of God just as there are people who are strong believers, yet perform some of the most vile, immoral acts. Christopher Hitchens famously dared believers "to find one good or noble thing which cannot be accomplished without religion." This is usually the way such exchanges progress.

But framing the debate in such a manner makes two fundamental mistakes: it begs the primary question while creating a biased set of assumptions. We can look at each of these in turn.

Atheists Acting Morally Begs the Question of Moral Grounding

It doesn't seem to be a grand claim to say human beings are built to be moral beings. By that I mean the vast majority of humanity is inherently sensitive to the concepts of right and wrong, even if their understanding of what constitutes right and wrong are debated. The quip that the young cannibal is still instructed by his mother to clean his plate demonstrates this. It is human to understand actions can have moral implications.

The problem comes in when we begin asking "how do we know which actions are moral and which are not?" What is the "thing" that moral actions share but is missing from immoral ones? It cannot be something as simple as  survivability, for there are many scenarios where people have freely chosen to die for a moral cause. Take abortion, for example. Certainly, if  survivability is the only guideline, then abortion clearly diminishes the survival function of the species and is thus immoral.

This is worse if the natural world is all there is, for we never claim rape or murder for a male lion seizing a female to copulate or a black widow eating her mate.

When one claims that God is necessary for morality to be real, he is not claiming no one can act in ways recognized by a society as moral if they don't believe in God. Rather, he is asking what grounds choices as right or wrong intrinsically? What is the fundamental thing that anchors right and wrong? What is it that stands above and beyond all human beings and even all nature that is at the core of morality? Morals must transcend nature to be prescriptive. What is it on an atheistic worldview that does this transcending?

Slipping in Moral Assumptions

One possible counter by non-theists would be it isn't something as crude as  survivability only that grounds morality. One must consider human flourishing, the quality of life we would experience if we deemed immoral acts moral. But such a move doesn't help them in their quest, for terms like flourishing are loaded with moral implication. To flourish beyond  survivability means to advance toward some goal. What is the goal to which we are advancing and why should human beings objectively be the ones to advance? They say cockroaches will be the only ones left after a nuclear war; perhaps homo sapiens have had their run and it's time for the cockroaches to take a turn.

To claim that one's quality of life is the judge or that morals evolve from a concept of reciprocity ("I wouldn't like it if someone did that to me so we shouldn't do it to them") falls into the same trap. Why does it matter whether you like it or not? There's a big difference between preferences and the oughtness of moral values and duties. Moral quandaries are not about what one likes or doesn't like. Situations like the Heinz dilemma show just how problematic these become.

By appealing to one's actions ("I act morally"), to survivability, or to reciprocity, the central question of moral grounding remains unanswered.  None of these responses nail down the foundation of morality; they never answer what makes moral values different than preference or cultural convention. Of course, one could hold that there is no other moral grounding, making objective morality a useful fiction. But if morality isn't real, then no one is really moral at all, including the atheist. It seems the only coherent foundation allowing morals to be real is a transcendent God.
Image courtesy Dean Hochman and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Moral Argument for God's Existence (podcast)



Atheists claim the God of the Bible is evil, but what makes an action good or evil? Are right and wrong simply what we all agree upon or must they originate in something bigger than humanity? In our latest series, Lenny explores what morality requires and why the existence of right and wrong means God must exist.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Good, the True, and the Beautiful



Is beauty something that is objective? As I speak with people today, many answer with a quick "no." "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," they say. However, the thought may be a bit too easily dismissed. Certainly, we all would have serious questions about a person who upon observing a radiant sunset over the Grand Canyon would exclaim "Ew! That's so ugly!" There's something universal in our appreciation for the beauty of that vista.

In his book Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, Roger Scruton tackles this point. He explains:
There is an appealing idea about beauty which goes back to Plato and Plotinus, and which became incorporated by various routes into Christian theological thinking. According to this idea beauty is an ultimate value-something that we pursue for its own sake, and for the pursuit of which no further reason need be given. Beauty should therefore be compared to truth and goodness, one member of a trio of ultimate values which justify our rational inclinations. Why believe p? Because it is true. Why want x? Because it is good. Why look at y? Because it is beautiful. In some way, philosophers have argued, those answers are on a par: each brings a state of mind into the ambit of reason, by connecting it to something that it 1s m our nature, as rational beings, to pursue. Someone who asked 'why believe what is true?' or 'why want what is good?' has failed to understand the nature of reasoning. He doesn't see that if we are to justify our beliefs and desires at all, then our reasons' must be anchored in the true and the good.1
Scruton then begins exploring the question in more depth. He notes that the good and the true would never be at odds with each other, yet someone can be so charmed by a mythical account, they choose to believe it "and in this case beauty is the enemy of truth."2 However, as he unpacks just what the beautiful entails, Scruton demonstrates that real beauty is more than attraction. It goes deeper, to a deep appreciation for the thing as it is. We appreciate the sunset not because of what it can do for us, but what it is in itself. "When our interest is entirely taken up by a thing, as it appears in our perception, and independently of any use to which it might be put, then do we begin to speak of its beauty" (emphasis added.)3 Scruton defines this appreciation for the thing itself as a "disinterested interest," meaning we are disinterested in what they thing can do for us, but what it's intrinsic essence is. In this sense, the sunset is truly beautiful while a myth is not. The myth is a false beauty, for it is not true, it's intrinsic essence is built upon falsehood.

There is much more that I could write in this regard, but I will leave it to those interested to grab Scruton's book and explore the ideas further. I do think, though, that the case for the beautiful to be placed beside the true and the good as objective ultimate categories is compelling. As such, we should understand that just as the good and the true are rooted in an all-good and all-truthful God, the ultimate grounding of the beautiful would too be found in a God whose nature is the source of all beauty.

References

1. Scruton, Roger. Beauty: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. 2.
2. Scruton, 2011. 2.
3. Scruton, 2011. 14.
Image courtesy Todd Petrie and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Star Trek, Saving Private Ryan, and the Problem with Evolutionary Morality



Morality is real. There are ways one should or should not act. There are values and duties that attach to being human, such as killing babies for no reason other than pleasure is always wrong. Some people don't agree with this view, holding morality as a useful fiction, but I will place them to one side for the moment. I think most people would agree with me that morality is a real thing; good and evil are real concepts.

I would think that most people would agree that there are certain oughts to which people should adhere. One ought not to enslave another human being, for example. The point of disagreement is rooted in where these kinds of oughts come from and why we should follow them. Atheists and humanists feel that moral laws came about because they conferred a certain evolutionary advantage to the group, as Herbert Gintis, et. al writes:
From an evolutionary viewpoint, we argue that ethical behavior was fitness-enhancing in the years marking the emergence of Homo sapiens because human groups with many altruists fared better than groups of selfish individuals, and the fitness losses sustained by altruists were more than compensated by the superior performance of the groups in which they congregated.1

A Utilitarian Morality

In the evolutionary view of morality, it is the survival value of the altruistic act that becomes the crucial thing. Those societies that encourage helping one another, even to one's own detriment, will be "more fit" than others, increasing the survivability of the group as a whole.

Such a scenario makes some sense. If one is to save others at the cost of even one's own life, it is easy to see how survivability is increased. This is a utilitarian concept of morality that philosopher Jeremy Bentham pioneered, but most people would be more familiar with how Leonard Nimoy's character Spock voiced it in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. There, Spock heroically exposes himself to lethal radiation levels to save the ship, then pronounces "It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one."




What if Morality Contradicts Survivability?

While a utilitarian view of morality seems plausible and fits within an evolutionary framework, it runs into problems in other circumstances. For instance, let's take a different scenario of altruism, the one offered in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. There, a platoon of soldiers is sent deep into enemy territory in order to extract one man—Private Ryan—whose three brothers had already been lost in combat. A real-life scenario similar to the film played out in the Niland family, and their four sons Robert, Preston, Thomas, and Joseph. The Canisus library reports:
Robert was killed on D-day while manning his machine-gun post in Neuville, a city not far from the beaches. Preston was killed the next day near Omaha Beach. Fritz, meanwhile, had been dropped between Omaha and Utah beaches while Thomas was involved in a glider unit that landed in France. Joseph, 25, was not involved with the invasion.

When the Army heard of the tragic story, they determined that the Nilands would not suffer the death of their last child.2
In the film, the Army seeks to do the right thing in removing Private Ryan from potential harm and restoring at least one son to the family. However, the cost is high. In order to save one person, many in the company are lost. Also, significant resources such as these battle-hardened soldiers are not spent engaging the enemy, but rescuing this one young soldier. In any analysis, it seems this situation is all about the needs of the few or the one trumping the needs of the many.

So, here's the question: does the Army act morally in the Saving Private Ryan scenario? Was this the right thing to do or was it evil? If the utilitarian ethic is all there is, that is if survival value is all morality boils down to, then sacrificing so many for the life of a single man is not only not morally good, it is the opposite. That makes it evil of the Army to order Tom Hanks and company to go save Matt Damon.3 But I think people will intuitively understand to call the actions in Saving Private Ryan evil simply doesn't work. There's more to morality that the result of survivability which means that morality cannot be as simple as an evolutionary mechanism.

In order for morality to be real, God must be real, too.


References

1. Gintis, Herbert, Joseph Henrich, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd, and Ernst Fehr. "Strong Reciprocity and the Roots of Human Morality." Social Justice Research 21.2 (2008): 241. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
2. "The Niland Boys." The Niland Boys. Andrew L. Bouwhuis Library, July 2006. Web. 08 Mar. 2016. http://library.canisius.edu/archives/niland
3.As an aside, just how many times is Matt Damon going to need to be rescued? He's rescued from a poor life in Boston, from enemy territory, from Mars, from a planet on the other side of a black hole, and even from himself in The Bourne Identity.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Why Doesn't God Prove He Exists? Because It Wouldn't Help Disbelief



One of the more popular questions that atheists ask is "Why does God make it so difficult to believe in Him? If he would just give us some proof he exists, I'd believe." I've heard such statements many times, but I don't think their claim is true. I think the atheists are misstating their case in what devotion to a real God means. They fail to understand the stubbornness of the human heart and the animosity the natural man holds against God.

One way to better understand how people in the real world react to a righteous and holy God, we can simply look to the past. For argument's sake, let's assume the stories of the Israel's deliverance from Egypt are true. There, God does a series of miracles to free the Israelites from their slavery and set them in a promised land. These are not run of the mill miracles, either, but show-stopping affairs. God dried up the Red Sea and then drowned the Egyptian army in that same sea. He provided both meat in a desert and manna with the dew each morning. He cleansed the bitter waters and also produced water from the rock at Meribah. He led them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God gave as much evidence as one could possibly want to the Israelites.

Ignoring Evidence is a Very Human Thing to Do

One would think such grandstanding would make believing in Yahweh a slam-dunk, right? Unfortunately, no. Even though the Israelites were direct witnesses to some of the most obvious proofs of God's existence, it did not stifle their desire to abandon God and do what they pleased. The psalmist summarizes the reaction of the people in Psalm 106. Time after time, they disobey God, they don't trust God, or they turn to foreign gods. God's provision of proof didn't make the Israelites more faithful; it simply highlighted how selfish and demanding their hearts were. Nothing other than getting everything they wanted at the time they wanted it would do.

When I read the accounts of the ancient Israelites, I find their reaction to be completely human and believable. Even if you're an atheist who doesn't hold to the historicity of the accounts, you must admit that stubborn rejection of proof is a real possibility. In fact, this scenario is more probable than not. That's why people still start smoking cigarettes regardless of how big the Surgeon General's warnings appear on the package. No one is saying, "Why didn't anyone provide proof that cigarettes cause cancer?" They all know it does, but their desire trumps the evidence. The proof doesn't matter.

The resurrection of Jesus is a really good example of just how this plays out in the question of God's existence. We have as much evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus as we do any event in ancient history. If Jesus rose from the dead, then it provides evidence that God exists. There is compelling evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, there is evidence that God exists. However, atheists will contort, excuse, deny the resurrection as not evidence, or even deny that Jesus ever lived at all (!) because they don't like the conclusion. They won't use the same standard to measure the resurrection as they would other acts of ancient history.

Thomas Nagel is a famous atheist philosopher who admits that modern materialist explanations of the emergence of consciousness fail. In his book The Last Word, he made a very honest statement about his lack of belief in God. Nagel wrote:
In speaking of the fear of religion, I don't mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.1
I think most people would agree. While many people form an idea of God that comports to their view of the world, most don't want to be beholden to a holy, righteous God that tells them the things they want to do are not good and they shouldn't do them. As long as that is fundamental to the human condition, proof of God's existence will never suffice to change their minds. It can always be explained away.

References

1. Nagel, Thomas. The Last Word. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. Print. 130.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Why Science Cannot Ground All Knowledge



Is science the best, most assured way of learning about reality? In the minds of more and more people, the answer is "yes." Yesterday, I highlighted a quote from scientist Peter Atkins on how he relies upon science to inform him about the world, dismissing even the consideration of God's existence as "lazy." But, relying on science as the only arbiter for judging the verity of truth claims will never work, because science cannot function as one's starting point.

When explaining reality, everyone must have a starting point. For example, one may observe an event, such as a strike of lightning, and ask "what makes that happen?" A person may respond by describing how a storm cell moving across the land scrapes off electrons until the charge is to such a degree they rush back to the ground, which is reasonable scientific. The first person would be justified in asking "how do you know that?" More conversations could ensue about the structure of atoms, experimental testing and predictions, etc. But each tome, the questioner could ask for further justification for the facts being presented. Sooner or later, there must be a starting point for science.

Four Assumptions Scientist Must Hold

Assuming the questioner drives his respondent back further and further (i.e. "But, how do you know that?") one will quickly see the scientific method relies upon several assumptions. The first is the world will behave consistently. Scientists assume that because electrons have behaved in a certain way in the past, they will also do so tomorrow, and next week, and fifty billion years from now. Science cannot prove this; the scientist must assume it to make predictions.

Secondly, in order to draw any conclusions at all, scientists must assume logic takes us towards the truth. Without logic, one could never infer anything. How can one infer any electron in the universe will behave in the same manner as the electrons creating the lighting strike if one cannot build an argument? The scientific method is really a logical argument offering support for its premises by way of experimentation and concludes with its hypothesis either confirmed or denied. The scientist gives reasons for his conclusion!

Thirdly, the scientist must assume ethics are important. Much research today draws its conclusions not simply from its own findings but from prior research and publication. Falsifying data to arrive at the conclusion one wants is considered wrong. Even unintentional bias and flawed research methods can corrupt results. That's why there's a real concern that so much of what's being published in scientific journals is irreproducible.  Without assuming ethical standards of truth-telling and the importance of solid methodology, scientific endeavors would be a confusing mishmash of conflicting data, with everyone's opinion held as equally valuable.

Lastly, the scientist must assume that his or her own mind is reliable in reporting how the world works. This is a key component to the scientific process and it also poses the biggest problem in cutting God out of the picture. If your brain is the product of mutations whose only benefit to its host is that of survival, then why should you trust it? Survival is not the same thing as truth-telling. In fact, lying can make survival much easier in many circumstances. As long as survival is the outcome, it doesn't matter whether you believe you need to run from the tiger because you're in a race or because it may eat you. If you get away, the same result is achieved. So, if we evolved from some primate species, why trust our "monkey-brains" to tell us the truth? How could one argue that a mindless, random process would even act in an orderly way?

God Grounds the Starting Points

Going back to pour first point, one must assume some intentional ordering of universe in order to ground the assumption of a consistent universe. Christianity teaches that God is a consistent God. He would create his universe in such a way that it would be consistent as well. This gives us a reason to believe in the consistency of the universe, a reason which science cannot offer. Scientists certainly assume the universe is consistent in its laws, but they have no basis for doing so, other than that's what they've seen. But even our dreams have an air of consistency to them until we wake up. Then we realize how inconsistent they are. To assume

Secondly, in the assumption of logic, God also becomes the starting point. If God is the logos—that is Reason itself—then logic and reason are built into the universe as reflections of his nature. Logic works because God is a logical God and we, as rational creatures, bear his image. Thus, we can understand and use reason to discover truths about the created order.

Thirdly, morality must have its grounding in God. The concept of classifying things as right or classifying them as wrong is central to theology. One cannot have the absolute standards of right and wrong without appealing to a being who transcends all of creation. That is God.

Lastly, the fact that a God of reason created us with the capacity to reason gives us grounding for believing our capacity for reason itself. AS part of God's created order, we can experience it in meaningful ways.

Science is a wonderful tool that tells us much about a very small slice of reality: the natural world. But the world is much bigger than its mechanics. Logic, ethics, aesthetics, relationships, mathematics, abstract concepts, and spiritual realities also comprise our lives and our experiences. Not only can science not explain these things, it must assume them before it gets going. It cannot explain its own assumptions, and therefore shows its incapacity for being the proper starting point.

Image courtesy Longlivetheux - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Unvarished Bias of Scientism



Recently, an episode of the Unbelievable? program featured a discussion on whether it is reasonable to claim that advances in science somehow undermine the existence of God. It pivoted on the assertion that science and religion are somehow opposed to one another, In other words, once certain scientific explanations for some observed phenomena are found, it removes the need for God to "do that."

The show pitted mathematician and physics Dr. David Glass against Oxford Emeritus Professor Peter Atkins and humanist James Croft. Peter Atkins is a physical chemist and a primary example of what it means to believe in not simply science, but scientism.

Atkins over and over again characterizes any appeal to a divine intelligence for explaining why things are the way they are as "lazy." It's as though the more he repeats the charge, the more believable he thinks it becomes. Then, at about the 44:52 mark, he offers this statement:
I'm just taking the world as it seems to me, from an utterly unprejudiced point of view. Lying here, looking at the evidence, assessing the evidence, accepting that this purported alternative explanation has arisen from sentiment, misogyny, power, hegemony, you name it… fear of personal annihilation, manipulation. All those things don't convince me that it's a better explanation.
Is this really the viewpoint of someone who holds an "utterly unprejudiced point of view?" Such a claim is farcical on its face. This isn't a one-off comment, either. Earlier in the program, he explained why he rejects theism as holding any sort of explanatory power:
I accepted right at the beginning that you can't disprove the existence of God, because as James [Croft] said, it's such a slippery and ill-defined concept. But what you can do is to understand how people came to believe that "God did it." That is, it's driven by sentiment, fear of personal annihilation, and cultural pressures, and history, and power grabbing, and all the things that go into religious belief. But if you discard those and you're left with trying to understand a mechanism by which the world works, a mechanism how it came into existence, then the only answer is through the scientific method, which is a procedure that depends upon evidence and setting theories into a whole network of understanding.
During the conversation, Glass queries Atkins and asks him how he proposes to use science to explain things like objective moral values, mathematics, and logic. Atkins retorts that ethics indeed can be explained via evolutionary survival principles, thus completely missing the distinction between functional outcomes and moral reality.

Who's Lazy Now?

Atkins' dodge should be noted. He cannot discuss how science claims to account for mathematics or the laws of logic. That's because it is impossible to do so, for science must assume these things before it can even start.

Even leaving all that aside, any person who is even half-interested in the truth will recognize that Atkins is anything but unbiased when trying to understand how beliefs are formed. His vitriolic mischaracterization that all cultures across all societies throughout history came to the conclusion of a creator for the material world because of sentiment, power, and hegemony is shameful. Has Atkins bothered at all to look into this matter? Why doesn't he acknowledge that world-class scientists like Francis Collins, who is doing top-notch work, would be deeply offended at such a characterization?

Atkins' statements do serve a purpose. They functions as evidence for only one conclusion: Atkins is the one corrupted by bias. He's the lazy one who isn't interested in seeking answers. He simply wants to throw insults, and his opinions on this issue can be ignored.

Friday, January 22, 2016

You Need an End Game for the Origin of Life



Antony Flew was one of the more formidable philosophers who argued against Christian theism over the course of his career. Flew was intelligent, a powerful writer but fair in his argumentation. But he never let his ideology get in the way of his investigation. As he said, "My own commitment then as a philosopher who was also areligious unbeliever was and remains that of Plato's Socrates: 'We must follow the argument wherever it leads.'" 1

Even as an "areligious unbeliever" philosopher, Flew had become more and more bothered by certain inherent problems associated with the neo-Darwinist conception of evolution. Primarily, Flew was concerned about the origin of life, or as the question he later asks in his book, "How did life go live?" Even prior to his announcement that he was renouncing atheism and identifying as a theist, he wrote:
Probably Darwin himself believed that life was miraculously breathed into that primordial form of not always consistently reproducing life by God, though not the revealed God of then contemporary Christianity, who had predestined so many of Darwin's friends and family to an eternity of extreme torture.

But the evidential situation of natural (as opposed to revealed) theology has been transformed in the more than fifty years since Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism. 2

The End Goal of Life Must be there in the Beginning

Flew identifies three key questions about the origin of life that are philosophical in their purpose. He asks, "How can a universe of mindless matter produce beings with intrinsic ends, self-replication capabilities, and 'coded-chemistry'?"3 These are key issues in the debate over the origin of life.

The first concept, that of the goal of an organism is tied in come ways to the second concept. Living things reproduce. Without reproduction, evolution is a non-starter. When one discusses the origin of life, one of the goals of that organism's function must be to make more of itself; otherwise we only see a recurring series of dead ends. But we don't see this as a result of any other laws of nature. Just how did this function of organisms that are living and have some kind of end goal (e.g. surviving and reproducing) come about? And how did the DNA, which represents the coded chemistry, become representative of those functions?

Goals and desired ends don't come about by random acts. Neither do codes. Codes are really arbitrary. Flew points to David Berlinski's example of Morse code, noting the connection of dots and dashes to specific letters is the connection a mind makes.4 The codes are a vehicle to carry information, but they aren't the important part of the equation. The message is. Therefore, codes exist first in the minds of the code-builders who construct them for a specific purpose, to communicate messages over a certain medium.

So, the purpose or design or the end game—what is known in philosophy as teleology— of an organism is crucial to not simply sustaining life but to life's origin. From the very beginning, we see life must have the goal of survival and replication built in.  It uses coded DNA to carry out this goal; and the code itself implies a goal-oriented creation.

The very first life requires purpose and cannot be explained away as mere randomness.The question becomes, how can you get goals without a mind?

References

1. Flew, Antony. "Letter from Antony Flew on Darwinism and Theology." Philosophy Now, Issue 43. October/November 2003. Web. 22 Jan 2016. https://philosophynow.org/issues/47/Letter_from_Antony_Flew_on_Darwinism_and_Theology
2. Flew, 2003.
3. Flew, Antony, and Roy Abraham. Varghese. There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. New York: HarperOne, 2007. Print. 124.
4. Flew, 2007. 127.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Just What is This Evil We Object to, Anyway?



What is evil? Why would God create evil in the world at all? I've engaged in conversation on this issue many times and I've found that a lot of confusion exists on even what we mean when we say something is evil. There's a clip at the end of Time Bandits where the Supreme Being has cooked the personified Evil to a crisp. He says of the charred remains, "Do be careful! Don't lose any of that stuff, that's concentrated evil!"

That's how a lot of people think of evil—as a thing in itself that stands in contrast to good. The Yin and Yang symbol represents such a view, showing how good and evil are necessary for each other's' existence.

However, this view is incorrect as the church father Augustine has argued:
All of nature, therefore, is good, since the Creator of all nature is supremely good. But nature is not supremely and immutably good as is the Creator of it. Thus the good in created things can be diminished and augmented. For good to be diminished is evil; still, however much it is diminished, something must remain of its original nature as long as it exists at all. For no matter what kind or however insignificant a thing may be, the good which is its "nature" cannot be destroyed without the thing itself being destroyed. There is good reason, therefore, to praise an uncorrupted thing, and if it were indeed an incorruptible thing which could not be destroyed, it would doubtless be all the more worthy of praise. When, however, a thing is corrupted, its corruption is an evil because it is, by just so much, a privation of the good. Where there is no privation of the good, there is no evil. Where there is evil, there is a corresponding diminution of the good. As long, then, as a thing is being corrupted, there is good in it of which it is being deprived; and in this process, if something of its being remains that cannot be further corrupted, this will then be an incorruptible entity [natura incorruptibilis], and to this great good it will have come through the process of corruption. But even if the corruption is not arrested, it still does not cease having some good of which it cannot be further deprived. If, however, the corruption comes to be total and entire, there is no good left either, because it is no longer an entity at all. Wherefore corruption cannot consume the good without also consuming the thing itself. Every actual entity [natura] is therefore good; a greater good if it cannot be corrupted, a lesser good if it can be. Yet only the foolish and unknowing can deny that it is still good even when corrupted. Whenever a thing is consumed by corruption, not even the corruption remains, for it is nothing in itself, having no subsistent being in which to exist.1
Augustine points out that if God created everything, everything would be good. However, created things aren't good necessarily like God is so they can be corrupted. It is this corruption or deviation from their original created purpose that we call evil. Just like the cold is the absence of heat, darkness is the absence of light, and a vacuum is the absence of matter, evil is the absence of good. By understanding what evil is, it gets us a step closer to understanding why God would allow evil in the world at all.

References

1. Augustine of Hippo. "Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love (Enchiridion)." Translated by Albert C. Outler. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Calvin College Computer Science, 1 June 2005. Web. 07 Jan. 2016. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/enchiridion.chapter4.html.

Friday, December 04, 2015

The Logical Incoherence of Arguing God is a Social Construct



Yesterday, I received a message from a Christian student who was frustrated at his professor's dismissal of religious belief as socially constructed. He writes:
Today in my Sociology class, we covered a very controversial topic--Religion. My professor explained to us that his goal was to be as objective as possible, but still, implemented his ideas into the lecture.

Some notable points he brought up, which are straight from the Sociology textbook, is that all religion is "socially constructed" and that faith is "belief without scientific evidence." He then brought up the Council of Nicea, concerning the nature of Christ, which reconciled the two ideas that Christ was both fully man and fully God, but attributed it to maintaining unity in the church. In short, we made this up in order to keep peace.

He stated that religion is constantly evolving and falsely asserted that Christianity was the first to develop monotheism. His final statement was made near the end of the lecture that "we all need to exercise some level of spirituality in order to survive" since religion provides comfort in the case of tragedy.

How does one, especially as a student, respond to such claims? It's apparent the professor has already chosen where he stands concerning religion. When another spoke up during the lecture, it was clear all he wants to do is debate. As Christians, should we speak up or not cast our pearls before swine?
There are really a couple of questions here. On Monday, I'll tackle how Christians should respond when placed in these difficult situations, but first I want to talk about some of the professor's claims, many of which are demonstrably false. The easiest one to dismiss is the one the student already recognized: that Christianity was the first to develop monotheism. Simply put, no one believes this! Judaism had monotheism down well before Jesus ministered on earth, a fact that is widely accepted by sociologists of all stripes. Either the prof misspoke, was misunderstood, or chose to ignore an accepted point of history on this.

Dealing with the "Socially-Constructed Religion" Charge

What about the larger point that religion is "socially constructed?" The charge isn't new. It was probably most famously made by the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach in his The Essence of Christianity in 1841. There, Feuerbach lays out the argument that human beings will see and interpret their world to reflect their own nature. In other words, God doesn't really exist; he is an expression of understanding the world in human terms and is a super-human projected onto the world.1 Freud taught a similar concept, that the belief in God, salvation, and the resurrection was simply forms of wish-fulfillment to satiate the desires of humanity's frailty.2

Feuerbach's charge has been offered over the years as the trump card to explain the universality of belief in the divine. There's only one problem; it doesn't follow. Another philosopher named Eduard von Hartmann spotted the logical flaw in Feuerbach's argument and clearly dismantled it. Alister McGrath explains:
At the heart of Feuerbach's atheism is his belief that God is only a projected longing. Now it is certainly true that things do not exist because we desire them. But it does not follow from this that, because we desire something, it does not exist. Yet this is the logical structure of Feuerbach's analysis. Eduard von Hartmann pointed this out nearly a century ago, when he wrote: ‘it is perfectly true that nothing exists merely because we wish it, but it is not true that something cannot exist if we wish it. Feuerbach's entire critique of religion and the proof of his atheism, however, rest upon this single argument – a logical fallacy.'3
The thing von Hartmann realized is that people wish for all kinds of things. Snowboarders in California have been wishing for the drought to end so they can go snowboarding, for example. However, just because people wish for something doesn't mean the thing they wish for is untrue. If the meteorologists are right, California is in for a very wet winter this year! Similarly, whether or not people wish that God exists has no bearing on whether or not he does in fact exist. Those are two separate issues and von Hartmann rightly notes that Feuerbach, and Freud by extension, have staked their dismissal of God on fallacious reasoning. They're being illogical to hold to their position.

Nicaea Was Not About Making Nice

On the idea that Nicaea was held to reconcile the divinity and humanity of Jesus so that everyone could, to quote Rodney King, "just get along" is simply untrue. The concept of the Trinity predated Nicaea by some time. In fact, Tertullian used the word to describe God at least a century earlier. By 325, there were the Trinitarians who held to Jesus's equality with the Father and the Arians, who held that Jesus was divine but not in the same way as the Father. Both sides held to their views adamantly and Nicaea was called to discuss which view was correct.

The Council at Nicaea clarified the orthodox stance that most Christians already held, but it certainly didn't make everyone get along. The fight continued for another fifty years and got so heated that Pope Liberius who had supported the Nicaean Creed was exiled by the Arian Emperor Constantius II. He was then pressured to excommunicate the Trinitarian champion Saint Athanasius and ultimately even signed off on a creed that espoused Arianism and rejected Trinitiarianism!4 It wasn't until the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD that Arianism was definitively defeated and Trinitarianism was solidified as the orthodox position of the church. So, if the Trinity was invented at Nicaea to maintain unity in the church, it was an incredible failure!

As you can see, when one studies the history and the background of these claims, a much different picture of them emerges. I will address the thorny issue of how to engage in class discussion on these topics next time, but one thing you should consider is that the more you know about the history of your faith, the better prepared you can be when such discussions arise.

References

1. Feuerbach writes, "Religion is that conception of the nature of the world and of man which is essential to, i.e., identical with; a man's nature. But man does not stand above this his necessary conception; on the contrary, it stands above him; it animates, determines, governs him. The necessity of a proof, of a middle term to unite qualities with existence, the possibility of a doubt, is abolished. Only that which is apart from my own being is capable of being doubted by me. How then can I doubt of God, who is my being? To doubt of God is to doubt of myself." Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity. London: Trubner, 1881. Print. 20.
2. Holt, Tim. "Sigmund Freud Religion as WishFulfilment." Philosophy of Religion.  Philosophy of Religion. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2015. http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/arguments-for-atheism/the-psychogenesis-of-religion/sigmund-freud-religion-as-wish-fulfilment/.
3. McGrath, Alister. "God as Wish Fulfilment?" Bethinking.org. UCCF: The Christian Unions, 12 May 2005. Web. 04 Dec. 2015. http://www.bethinking.org/does-god-exist/god-as-wish-fulfilment.
4. Pavao, Paul F. "Pope Liberius." Christian History for Everyman. Greatest Stories Ever Told. Paul Pavao, 2009. Web. 04 Dec. 2015. http://www.christian-history.org/pope-liberius.html.
Image courtesy Maciej Chojnacki and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Absolute Irrationality of Expecting Absolute Proof for God



In a recent blog post, Sean McDowell interviewed atheist-turned-theologian Guillaume Bignon about his path to Christianity and some of the pieces that contributed to his conversion. There are many good pieces to the interview, especially the concept of clarifying what the Gospel is and what it is that Christians actually believe. I've written before about why this is crucial since we live in a post-Christian culture.

Another point Guillaume made is that he first became more sensitive to the concept of God when he gave up the idea of absolute proof being essential to believe. He explains:
An important piece I came to understand prior to my conversion was that my standard of proof was completely unrealistic. I wanted airtight proof before I could believe in God, and I came to realize almost none of the things I knew in life enjoyed this kind of support: my name, my date of birth, the reality of the outside world, the existence of other people, and a multitude of other things I was yet fully rational in believing. So my expectations about God suffered from a double standard.1
Guillaume's demand for proof of God is a common theme in the many atheists I've spoken with over the years. They really expect God to do things like make limbs grow back or write his name in flaming letters across the moon. Yet, even miraculous signs like the resurrection of a decomposing corpse have been dismissed by those whose hearts are sufficiently hardened.

How Much Proof is Reasonable?

The bigger point Guillaume made is most of the things we believe and believe reasonably are not the things we demand such proof of. For example, most people believe they know who their biological father is or was. They believe this without running paternity tests to have scientific proof that the man listed on their birth certificate contributed 50% of their DNA. However, we also know it isn't a stretch for a woman to be unfaithful, get pregnant, and then pass the child off as her spouse's progeny. We don't know exactly how many children such as this exist, but the odds are strong it‘s much more than a handful.

Given this fact, is it unreasonable for you to believe that the man you believe is your father is actually not your biological parent? Should everyone run DNA tests before claiming their heritage? Of course not; such a demand would be unrealistic, unnecessary, and irrational. Imagine a friend kept saying "But you don't KNOW that man is your father without proper proof! You're just taking their word for it and it is in their best interest to cover up that embarrassing indiscretion!" None of those statements are false, so why dismiss the friend?

The demand of the friend is unreasonable because we include all we know and experience in our beliefs. You don't only look at the fact that some chance exists your father isn't really yours. You also consider the character of your parents, what their relationship to each other is like, and your interaction with them. None of these things prove paternity, but that doesn't make it unreasonable of you to hold to your belief.

Being reasonable doesn't require airtight proof. As Guillaume said, there are millions of beliefs we hold where we would never demand such a level of evidence before believing in something. On the contrary, demanding airtight proof is usually a sign of being unreasonable. I pray more atheists will follow Guillaume's lead and realize that point.

References

1. McDowell, Sean. "Former French Atheist Becomes a Christian: An Interview." Sean McDowell.org. Sean McDowell, 02 Dec. 2015. Web. 02 Dec. 2015. http://seanmcdowell.org/blog/former-french-atheist-becomes-a-christian-an-interview.
Image courtesy Charles Knowles and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Three Intractable Problems for Atheism


Is science doing real work while people who posit a creator are being intellectually lazy? That's what atheists like Richard Dawkins would have you believe. In an interview with the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Connecticut, Dawkins claimed pointing to an intelligent designer is "a cowardly evasion, it's lazy. What we should be doing as scientists is rolling up our sleeves and saying, right, Darwin solved the big problem. Now let's take that as encouragement to solve the other big problems, like the origin of life and the origin of the cosmos."1

Is Dawkins right? In fact, he has the whole thing backwards. Darwin had the easier time constructing his evolutionary model because he didn't have the details to worry about. Scientists in Darwin's day didn't know about the complex structures of DNA or how the telltale evidence of the Big Bang proves the universe must've come into existence at a specific point in the past. Darwin could sluff over the biology. However atheists today don't have that luxury.

1. What Started the Universe?

The first problem is the most fundamental. Why does our universe exit? Why should it be here at all? Usually when bringing up this issue, you will hear people retreat to talk of the Big Bangs and quantum vacuums. But both of those things assume what is being asked.

You cannot have a bang unless there is something to go bang and something else to trigger the bang. If before the Big Bang there is nothing, then nothing cannot bang. Quantum vacuums, which have become the easy excuse in trying to solve this problem, are not nothing either. As I've explained before, these fluctuations have attributes and potentials. The fact that they fluctuate means they are in time and they have energy states. Just as an idea isn't nothing, to define quantum states as nothing is to misunderstand what nothing is. Out of nothing nothing comes is foundational to all scientific studies. If you give up on that, you're not doing science any more.

So, instead of starting with nothing, maybe we assume the thing that banged is the eternal thing. But if the singularity that banged existed from all eternity, then why didn't it bang earlier than when it did? We know the universe is using up its energy, so we know that it's only been around a limited amount of time. Why? What was that thing that changed to make the singularity explode into the universe we see? What ever it was that changed, it certainly wasn't nothing, because if nothing changed, then the universe would never have come to be.

2. What Started Life?

In 2011, John Horgan wrote an article for the Scientific American web site entitled "Pssst! Don't tell the creationists, but scientists don't have a clue how life began." There, Horgan explains how the search to understand the origin of life from nonliving chemicals has given science exactly zero answers.2 The problems are legion: the speed at which microorganisms emerged from the time that earth was capable of supporting any life is pretty fast. It really doesn't give the incredibly complex chains of molecules like DNA or RNA much time to "stumble" into the right configurations to start replicating, especially given the harsh environment and the capacity for destruction even after a fortuitous assembly.

Just what those things were that first came together is problematic, too. As David Berlinkski pointed out, there is a real chicken and the egg problem, given the need for proteins to assemble DNA or RNA and the need for DNA or RNA to carry the blueprint for those very proteins. Even the RNA Word hypotheses Horgan mentions are not immune to monstrous problems, such as the astronomical odds it would take to assemble any kind of self-replicating chain of RNA. That's why there is no functional model at all for how life came to be; there's merely a bunch of speculation containing an incredible number of holes.

3. Where Did Consciousness Come From?

Even if one were to get chemicals to self-replicate, that wouldn't be the end of the difficulty to explain how beings like us got here. While reproduction is a defining feature of life, life has different levels. A plant is a living being, but it isn't conscious; it cannot think. Human beings are known as thinking creatures. But, just how does this consciousness arise from non-conscious material? What model is there for this? Again, there isn't one.

Consciousness is an incredibly tricky thing. A lot of materialists want to redefine consciousness as the electro-chemical reactions happening in the brain, but that makes no sense. Consciousness is something qualitatively different than electrical connections, otherwise we would have to consider that our tablets and smart phones are conscious right now. Consciousness is qualitatively different from physical processes, which means that it cannot be grounded in only the physical. It requires a completely different explanation, one that science cannot offer.

In his article, John Horgan is honest in reporting that science is completely in the dark concerning the beginning of life. Yet, he balks at one workable explanation available to him, the idea of a creator. At the end of the article he writes that creationists' "explanations suffer from the same flaw: What created the divine Creator? And at least scientists are making an honest effort to solve life's mystery instead of blaming it all on God." Of course, this is as old as it is uninformed. Asking what created the creator is like asking which golfer is going to win the Daytona 500. It's a clear category error and is really Horgan's way of ignoring the only other option out there.

These three problems should offer clear signs that there is more to the world than matter in motion. Science is a field that relies upon observation to draw conclusions. In our entire history, no human has ever seen a thing come from nothing, seen life emerge spontaneously from non-life, or seen consciousness emerge from unconscious matter. It just doesn't happen. So why would anyone think all three happened, and happened without the guidance of any intelligent entity? If you're a golfer in Daytona, you can pull your driver from your bag, but it won't do you much good in this competition. Scientists can continue to talk about these problems, but they won't get any closer to the answer.

References

1. Teitelbaum, Jeremy. "The Dean and Richard Dawkins." UConn Today. University of Connecticut, 10 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. http://today.uconn.edu/2014/04/the-dean-and-richard-dawkins/
2. Horgan, John. "Pssst! Don't Tell the Creationists, but Scientists Don't Have a Clue How Life Began." Scientific American. Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc., 28 Feb. 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/pssst-dont-tell-the-creationists-but-scientists-dont-have-a-clue-how-life-began/.
Image courtesy rosipaw and licensed via theCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Three Facts Showing the Incredible Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Life



William Lane Craig is one of Christendom's most effective spokesmen arguing for God's existence. One of his famed "five arguments for God's existence" is the fine tuning of the universe for intelligent life. But the term "fine-tuning" really falls very short of just how precise the initial conditions and the universal constants are that allow us to live. They are infinitesimally fine numbers.

In his short book Does God Exist? Craig offers some examples as well as a couple of comparisons to set the stage. He writes:
Before I share a few examples of fine-tuning by way of physics, here are some numbers to help us to appreciate the delicacy of the fine-tuning. The number of seconds in the entire history of the universe is around 1017 (that's 1 followed by seventeen zeroes: 100,000,000,000,000,000). The number of subatomic particles in the entire known universe is said to be around 1080 (1 followed by eighty zeroes). These are simply incomprehensible numbers.

Being mindful of those numbers, consider the following: The force of gravity is so finely tuned that an alteration in its value by even one part out of 1050 would have prevented a life-permitting universe. Similarly, a change in the value of the so-called cosmological constant, which drives the acceleration of the universe's expansion, by as little as one part in 10120 would have rendered the universe life-prohibiting. Now here's a corker: Roger Penrose of Oxford University has calculated that the odds of the universe's initial low entropy condition's existing by chance is on the order of one chance out of 1010 (123), a number which is so inconceivable that to call it astronomical would be a wild understatement.

The fine-tuning here is beyond comprehension. Having an accuracy of even one part out of 1060 is like firing a bullet toward the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and nailing a one-inch target!

The examples of fine-tuning are so many and so various that they aren't likely to disappear with the advance of science. Like it or not, fine-tuning is just a fact of life which is scientifically well-established.

But, you might say, if the constants and quantities had had different values, then maybe different forms of life might have evolved! No, that underestimates the truly disastrous consequences of a change in the values of these constants and quantities. When scientists talk about a universe's being life-permitting, they're not talking about just present forms of life. By "life," scientists just mean the property of organisms to take in food, extract energy from it, grow, adapt to their environment, and reproduce. Anything that can fulfill those functions counts as life. And the point is, in order for life so-defined to exist, whatever form it might take, the constants and quantities of the universe have to be unbelievably fine-tuned; otherwise, disaster results. In the absence of fine-tuning, not even matter, not even chemistry, would exist, much less planets where life might evolve.

The question we face, then, is this: What is the best explanation of the cosmic fine-tuning? Many philosophers and scientists think that the reason that the universe is finely tuned for life is because it was designed to be life-permitting by an intelligent Designer.1
1. Craig, William Lane. Does God Exist?. Pine Mountain, GA: Impact 360 Institute, 2014. Kindle Edition. (Kindle Locations 524-546)

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Why Does God Remain Hidden? (podcast)



"If God is all-powerful, why didn't He create people who would all believe He exists?" It's a common question; one that stems from God's divine hiddenness. However, the freedom people have to deny God may be just as important as believing in Him. In this four part podcast series, Lenny explains why the nature of God demands that humans choose to follow Him freely.


rss feed Subscribe to the Come Reason podcast here or on iTunes here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Must Science Assume Atheism?



I recently listened to an interesting conversation between Alister McGrath and Jim Al-Kalili on the Unbelievable! podcast. Both guests have an extensive science background and had a very thought-provoking exchange. While McGrath is a Christian apologist Al-Kalili is a theoretical physicist, radio host, and president of the British Humanist Association.

One key point that McGrath mentioned on the program is the assumptions people take from the scientific enterprise. For example, I've spoken with many atheists who say in order to "do good science" one must assume atheism. They then conclude that science is itself an atheistic enterprise and they believe science and faith are then set against one another. But this is actually sloppy thinking, as McGrath pointed out, and it misses a key distinction.

Methodology versus Ontology

McGrath makes the point that science does adopt a certain methodology in its discipline, what is known as methodological naturalism. In other words, science approaches its exploration of the world as if the answers can all be found by uncovering various natural laws and functions. Scientists take this approach because it forces them to dig deeper; asking the "why does this thing function in this way" helps us investigate the natural world more completely.

However methodological naturalism is just that: a methodology. It's an assumption the scientist makes as he approaches his work.  This assumption, just like any other, has limitations and cannot inform us of other questions which may be equally relevant.  As an illustration, think of a forensic scientist. A forensic pathologist can study a body and determine the cause of death. Perhaps the victim's heart gave out under extreme stress. What the pathologist cannot do is say whether the person was under stress because of an emotional crisis at home, because the victim was exercising to try and get into shape, or because the victim was under duress by being held at gunpoint. The mental state of the victim is out of reach to science. Even if it is shown that the death was caused by another party, motive for the crime cannot be shown scientifically. The detectives must employ methods other than naturalism to uncover those.

This is where most atheists who make the claim that science and faith are at odds go wrong.  They jump from science assuming a methodology of naturalism to the existence of God Himself. That's an unwarranted leap. Existence is a question of ontology, not methodology. That is it is a question of existence.  As McGrath stated, "By definition, a research method can uncover some things and not others, and this is the method that science uses. But we have to be very careful we don't conflate that into a view of reality." That would be like a shopkeeper believing that since his inventory shows negative two widgets, he is in possession of widgets made out of anti-matter! The method of inventory is not the same as the reality.

Weighing Science Along With Other Forms of Knowledge

To claim that science is atheistic is to confuse methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism, a mistake thinking people should never make. A more thoughtful approach to questions of truth and reality is to take those findings we understand through scientific discovery and see how they fit with all the other ways we can know things. Like the detective, we must gather our facts about the world from more than just the science. We must weigh all the evidence we have and see if we can draw an inference to the best explanation from them. Shutting out other forms of knowledge doesn't make one more intelligent; it makes them less so.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Irrationality of Indifference to God


In my time on college campuses, I've had the opportunity to engage with people who are passionate about their particular faith, and I've been able to engage with those atheists who are passionate about their particular lack of faith. However, many of the students I engage are those who identify themselves as not really religious and not really interested in exploring the concept of God. They perhaps have some preconceptions, usually formed in the elementary or middle school years, and they reinforce those beliefs by pointing to selective evidence. For them, to actually put forth effort to examine the question of God, his revelation, and his attributes is simply too much work.

But this is certainly an irrational position to take. The question of God—does he exist, how can we know about him, and what does a living God mean for our own existence—should be of primary concern to everyone. If the Christian God is real, how we can know him and what he requires of us is of eternal significance.

Blasé Pascal argues much the same way in his Pensées. He explains:
Before entering into the proofs of the Christian religion, I find it necessary to point out the sinfulness of those men who live in indifference to the search for truth in a matter which is so important to them, and which touches them so nearly.

Of all their errors, this doubtless is the one which most convicts them of foolishness and blindness, and in which it is easiest to confound them by the first glimmerings of common sense and by natural feelings.

For it is not to be doubted that the duration of this life is but a moment; that the state of death is eternal, whatever may be its nature; and that thus all our actions and thoughts must take such different directions, according to the state of that eternity, that it is impossible to take one step with sense and judgement, unless we regulate our course by the truth of that point which ought to be our ultimate end.

There is nothing clearer than this; and thus, according to the principles of reason, the conduct of men is wholly unreasonable, if they do not take another course.

On this point, therefore, we condemn those who live without thought of the ultimate end of life, who let themselves be guided by their own inclinations and their own pleasures without reflection and without concern, and, as if they could annihilate eternity by turning away their thought from it, think only of making themselves happy for the moment.

Yet this eternity exists, and death, which must open into it and threatens them every hour, must in a little time infallibly put them under the dreadful necessity of being either annihilated or unhappy for ever, without knowing which of these eternities is for ever prepared for them.

This is a doubt of terrible consequence. They are in peril of eternal woe and thereupon, as if the matter were not worth the trouble, they neglect to inquire whether this is one of those opinions which people receive with too credulous a facility, or one of those which, obscure in themselves, have a very firm, though hidden, foundation. Thus they know not whether there be truth or falsity in the matter, nor whether there be strength or weakness in the proofs. They have them before their eyes; they refuse to look at them; and in that ignorance they choose all that is necessary to fall into this misfortune if it exists, to await death to make trial of it, yet to be very content in this state, to make profession of it, and indeed to boast of it. Can we think seriously of the importance of this subject without being horrified at conduct so extravagant?

This resting in ignorance is a monstrous thing, and they who pass their life in it must be made to feel its extravagance and stupidity, by having it shown to them, so that they may be confounded by the sight of their folly. For this is how men reason, when they choose to live in such ignorance of what they are and without seeking enlightenment. "I know not," they say…1
We chastise people for not having car insurance to guard against the expenses that would accompany an accident that might not happen. We shake our heads at those who would spend their paycheck on video games instead of paying their bills. Such behaviors are properly denounced as childish. Yet, death is not an uncertain end to our earthly existence. The statistics on death are pretty solid: every one out of one person dies. To dismiss the question of God and eternity then is to be even more foolish.

References

1. Pascal, Blasé. "Pensées (Fragments 195- 285)." Christian Apologetics Past & Present: A Primary Source Reader (Volume 2: From 1500). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. 178-79. Kindle Edition.

Image courtesy Sander van der Wel. Licensed by [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 19, 2015

I Think, Therefore God Exists



Rene Descartes is famous for his quest to identify at least one thing that was absolutely certain. He considered what he saw and what he felt, but he reasoned that his senses could be lying to him. He considered his past experiences, but he thought that it could be the case that he didn't remember them accurately or perhaps an evil daemon placed those thoughts in his mind even though they weren't real events (think: The Matrix). The more things he thought about, the more he doubted until he came to the realization that he couldn't doubt the fact that he was doubting! If doubting is going on, thinking is going on and someone has to do that thinking. Thus we get Descartes famous statement, "I think, therefore I am."

Conscious thought not only proves the existence of the thinker, as Descartes argued, but it also points to the existence of the Creator of the thinker. Materialists believe that all thinking is merely the outworking of physical processes like brain chemistry and electrical stimulation. But that view faces huge problems; it fails to explain where thoughts come from at all and why unconscious matter would suddenly have this new ability, especially given an evolutionary paradigm.

We Can't Assume Thought Just Emerges

Have you ever had a brand new thought that seems to come from nowhere? Or perhaps you held to a particular belief and you read something and it strikes you that your belief is wrong, even though the piece you're reading isn't directly related to that belief. Where do these thoughts come from? How do they appear? Why should we have them at all?

J.P. Moreland says that to simply wave off consciousness as a product of the physical functions of the brain is tantamount to ignoring the question. Mental states do not "just appear." JP says they are "puzzling entities that cry out for an explanation."1 Philosopher Thomas Nagel agrees. In his book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False he explains that the goal of science is to understand just how it is that things work the way they do. Nagel states that in science there is "an assumption that certain things are so remarkable that they have to be explained as non-accidental if we are to pretend to a real understanding of the world"2

The materialist view that thoughts are simply products of brain chemistry without need of any further explanation should then be considered the opposite of real understanding. It's guesswork and it's offered because the materialist holds a preconceived bias against immaterial causes such as the soul as the source of thought.

Why Should an Organ Produce Consciousness?

 Another problem with the materialist account of human consciousness is it doesn't fit neatly into the Darwinian explanation of how complex entities arise through means of natural selection. Just how does unconscious material become conscious in the first place? When we see plants that grow in the direction if the sun, we can explain their actions through physical processes, but since it's impossible to describe mental events using physical explanations, it's impossible to offer a physical explanation for the emergence of consciousness.

This is why Darwinian explanations for the emergence of consciousness fall short. David Berlinski noted the same when he asks:
Why should a limited and finite organ such as the human brain have the power to see into the heart of matter or mathematics? These are subjects that have nothing to do with the Darwinian business of scrabbling up the greasy pole of life. It's as if the liver, in addition to producing bile, were to demonstrate the unexpected ability to play the violin. This is a question Darwinian biology has not yet answered.3
Consciousness, the ability human beings have for rational thought, cannot be explained in materialist terms. Our ability to reason separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is something that cries out to be explained and by limiting oneself to only the materialist's tools of empirical evidence gives us no explanations at all. Our senses can deceive us, as Descartes rightly reasoned. Instead, consciousness points to an immaterial aspect of who we are and the emergence of consciousness points to an immaterial origin. Minds come from minds, consciousness comes from conscious beings. The Christian argues that the conscious mind is part of the immaterial soul, created by a conscious, rational, immaterial God. Such an explanation is both consistent and sensible. Consciousness gives us reason to believe God exists.

References

1. Moreland, James Porter. The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. London: SCM in Association with the Center of Theology and Philosophy, U of Nottingham, 2009. Print. 24.
2. Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.
3. Berlinski, David. The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. New York: Crown Forum, 2008. Print. 16-17

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Is God An Egomaniac In Desiring Worship? (video)



One of the more flimsy objections to the concept of God I've heard is "Why would God create beings so they could just turn around and praise him? Doesn't that seem needy or egotistical? Why does an all-powerful God need us to worship him?" The question displays both a superficial understanding of what worship is and how it shapes the believer. It also demonstrates an amazing level of arrogance by the person who thinks that he should never have to show deference to his creator.

In this short video, Lenny explains why t is both decent and proper that human beings should worship a God of love who created them.

   

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Search for God is Growing-Online




Last week an interesting article appeared in the New York Times looking at Google searches about God and religion. The article stated that search trends—how people look up things on Google and other search engines—is another piece of evidence showing the slide away from religious belief.

Writer Seth Stephens-Davidowitz offers several examples in the piece:
Despite the rising popularity of Pope Francis, who was elected in 2013, Google searches for churches are 15 percent lower in the first half of this decade than they were during the last half of the previous one. Searches questioning God's existence are up. Many behaviors that he supposedly abhors have skyrocketed. Porn searches are up 83 percent. For heroin, it's 32 percent.1
If that wasn't disheartening enough, Stephens-Davidowitz tried to broaden his examination to include concepts such as how to treat one's neighbor:
"Love thy neighbor" is the most common search with the word "neighbor" in it, but right behind at No. 2 is "neighbor porn." The top Google search including the word "God" is "God of War," a video game, with more than 700,000 searches per year. The No. 1 search that includes "how to" and "Walmart" is "how to steal from Walmart," beating all questions related to coupons, price-matching or applying for a job.2

What Does It Mean?

As Stephens-Davidowitz notes, one cannot assume too much from the data. People Google things all the time that they may be partly confused on or even things that they do believe, but don't quite know how to explain. In fact, the article even stipulates that in more spiritually active areas of the country should show an uptick in searches about God. "If people somewhere are searching a lot about a topic, it is overwhelming evidence those people are very interested in that topic. Jambalaya recipes are searched mostly in Louisiana; Lakers statistics are searched mostly in Los Angeles."3

I think it's interesting what Stephens-Davidowitz uses as a comparison to the declining searches for God: neighbor porn, how to steal from Wal-Mart, heroin. It's as if the author was trying to correlate the increase in lasciviousness with the decline in religious belief.  Perhaps, but it simply could show that without religion people become more self-absorbed. With no deity to believe in, you aren't ultimately accountable to anyone but yourself.

The Opportunity for Witness

The key to the article, though, isn't that smut searches are on the rise. It is that the people who have questions about God are taking them not to a pastor but online:
The No. 1 question in the country is "who created God?" Second is why God allows suffering. This is the famous problem of evil. If God is all powerful and all good, how could he allow suffering? The third most-asked question is why does God hate me? The fourth is why God needs so much praise.4
Stephens-Davidowitz is correct when he explains "People may not share their doubts with friends, relatives, rabbis, pastors or imams. They inevitably share them with Google." That means ministries that give good answers to these kinds of objections need to not only be online, but need to be Google-friendly. That's why I've been doing online apologetics and evangelism since 1996. The mission field is now a digital one. That's where people are looking and that's where those who wish to topple Christianity are trying to capture the seekers. We need to be there, too.

Of course, it's difficult. This ministry runs on an extremely limited budget and we could use more help to reach even more people. If you'd like to help support the online efforts of Come Reason to provide real answers to those who are questioning God, just click here. We greatly appreciate your support.

References

1. Stephens-Davidowitz, Seth. "Googling for God." The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Sept. 2015. Web. 29 Sept. 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/opinion/sunday/seth-stephens-davidowitz-googling-for-god.html?emc=edit_th_20150920&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=60141341&_r=1.
2. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.
3. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.
4. Stephens-Davidowitz, 2015.
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