Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Response to Bradley Bowen’s Skeptical View of Jesus’ Resurrection

I have continued to be in dialogue with Bradley Bowen on The Secular Outpost throughout his Argument Against the Resurrection of Jesus series. He wrote in part 10 of the series:
A key claim made by Christian apologists who defend the resurrection goes like this:
(JAW) Jesus of Nazareth was alive and walking around unassisted on the first Easter Sunday.
We are considering the implications of the following supposition:
4. (JAW) is false.
On this supposition, there are three logical possibilities:
A. Jesus was not alive on the first Easter Sunday.B. Jesus was alive on the first Easter Sunday but did not walk at all that day.C. Jesus was alive on the first Easter Sunday but was walking only with assistance from others.

Here is my response:
If A is true then the Apparent Death Theory (ADT) is not true. Since the Gospel accounts and historical records agree that Jesus was crucified we know that Jesus was subjected to a life threatening situation. This means that Jesus would have to survive scourging, crucifixion and very likely a spear thrust to the side that pierced his heart. We know that Suetonius, Josephus, Cicero and Livy all documented cases where people died during or shortly after scourging, and that scourging of non-Roman citizens was common before crucifixions. We also know that the Romans executed thousands of people via crucifixion, and so were very good at it. This means that Jesus would have to survive two life threatening events.

Jesus also very likely received a spear thrust to the side. John 19:32-34 says, “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” This accords with what the South African Medical Journal wrote in "The history and pathology of crucifixion."  They wrote, "The attending Roman guards could only leave the site after the victim had died, and were known to precipitate death by means of deliberate fracturing of the tibia and/or fibula, spear stab wounds into the heart, sharp blows to the front of the chest, or a smoking fire built at the foot of the cross to asphyxiate the victim."  So, it seems likely that Jesus would have to survive a spear thrust to the side as well.

Even if Jesus was somehow alive after sustaining a massive amount of trauma, he would have to survive three days in critical or serious condition in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb without the medical care he would desperately needed. Even if someone made it past the Roman guards and rescued Jesus he would have to go sometime without medical care and the care who would have eventually received would be very primitive by today’s standards.

Most NT scholars agree that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Even the agnostic scholar Bart Ehrman said, “The earliest accounts we have are unanimous in saying that Jesus was in fact buried by his fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and so it’s relatively reliable that’s what happened.” This means that since the highly experienced and disciplined soldiers that crucified really believed that he was dead. 1 Peter 1:3, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 and the Gospel accounts all indicate that Jesus followers also believed that Jesus died on the cross. So, everyone around Jesus believed that he really died on the cross. It also means that if Jesus’ body never made it out of the tomb then it would be obvious to everyone involved that Jesus was dead and not resurrected.

Roman historians also validate the Biblical accounts. Tacitus wrote:
Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.  
Tacitus confirms that Jesus was executed by Pontius Pilate.

The Gospel accounts also accord with what Josephus’ history He wrote, “At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die.” Again, it is confirmed that Jesus was crucified by Pilate.

So, taken all together there is a lot of evidence that suggests that Jesus died after being scourged, crucified and speared. This is why physician C. Truman Davis writes, “Apparently, to make doubly sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance between the ribs, upward through the pericardium and into the heart. John 19:34 states, ‘And immediately there came out blood and water.’ Thus there was an escape of watery fluid from the sac surrounding the heart and the blood of the interior of the heart. This is rather conclusive post-mortem evidence that Jesus died, not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium.”

This is why I think that the ADT is probably not true. Jesus would have to have to survive an extraordinary amount of trauma and three events that could likely kill him. However, Jesus’ empty tomb and post mortem appearances greatly lower the chances that A is true. All four Gospel accounts, Acts 1, Acts 13:28-32, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and 1 Peter 1:3-4 all claim that Jesus rose from the dead.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Negating the Negations: My Objections to Bradley Bowen’s Argument Against the Resurrection of Jesus

Bradley Bowen over at The Secular Outpost wrote an interesting article that questions whether Jesus really died on the cross. Although this approach is more novel then the usual skeptical claims against the resurrection of Jesus I think that when you analyze the amount of trauma the human body would have to endure from a Roman scourging and crucifixion I don’t see how Jesus could have survived. I will also question Bowen’s argument that Jesus wan not raised from the dead.

The brutality of scourging
The Gospels (Matt. 27:25; Mark 15: 15; John 19:1) state that the Jesus was scoured or flogged before being crucified. This was a common Roman practice that was only inflicted on non-citizens. Scourging was an extremely brutal and bloody process where the victim would be stretched out over a pillar and then whipped repeatedly with lashes that had pieces of bone and metal which would rip and tear the victim’s flesh. They would often reach a state of hypovolemic shock due to loss of blood.[1] Roman historians such as Josephus and Livy write that victims of scourging have died while still tied to the post. Jesus’ back would have been torn to shreds and he would have lost a massive amount of blood even before being nailed to the cross.

The horrors of crucifixion
The Gospels say that on the way to Golgotha Jesus was forced to carry the cross beam that he was going to be crucified on (a common crucifixion practice), and that he stumbled and collapsed under the weight of the beam. If Jesus fell chest first with the beam, which weighed about 100 pounds, on top of him then this could generate enough force to bruise his heart as some people in the medical community have hypothesized from observing car crash trauma.

Then once Jesus got to Golgotha nails were driven into his wrists and feet adding a considerable amount of pain and a significant amount of blood loss. A common way that crucified people die is by asphyxiation as they have difficulty breathing as the muscles of chest are hyper-expanded. However, Dr. C. Truman Davis believes that Jesus died of heart failure due shock and the constriction of fluid in the pericardial sac called a pericardial effusion.[2] This makes sense because John 19:34 states that the Roman legionnaire who presided over the crucifixion drove his spear up into the side of Jesus causing blood and water to come out of his side. This indicates that the pericardial sac had burst and the fluid inside leaked out of Jesus’ side. This is a coup de grâce that would almost certainly kill anyone.

The Romans were masters of crucifixion
Crucifixions were performed by experienced teams of Roman soldiers who specialized in execution. The Romans performed thousands of them as the ultimate show of force. Even though the centurion who lead the crucifixion of Jesus wasn’t a medical professional he would have been a master executioner and could be counted on to get his grisly job done. The penalties for incompetence in the Roman army were severe and could include execution so the centurion would have ample reason to not be lackadaisical about Jesus’ execution.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Incoherence of Scientism

The more that I dialogue with proponents of New Atheism the more I find that scientism, the epistemological theory that scientifically proven facts are the only source of true knowledge, undergirds their response to theistic arguments. They generally just dismiss theistic arguments with something like Christopher Hitchens slogan, “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence,” or if they deal with arguments their critiques are often full of blunders such as Richard Dawkins asking who made God. The problem with believing that science is the sole source true knowledge is that it is self-refuting and incoherent idea.

We can see this when we look at this argument:

  1. 1.    If scientism is true then scientific facts are the only source of true knowledge.
  2. 2.    Scientific facts are not the only source of true knowledge.
  3. 3.    Therefore scientism is false.

First of all, scientism is self-refuting because it can’t be scientifically proven that we should only believe scientific facts, and since scientism isn’t a scientifically proven fact it should be rejected.  

Scientism destroys science        
Secondly, scientism destroys science because it rejects principles that science relies upon. Science makes several assumptions such as there is an observable universe outside of our minds and that universe behaves in a uniform and repeatable way. These assumptions can’t be scientifically proven true so without the justification of philosophy these assumptions would have no logical merit. Inductive reasoning, which is the epistemological heart of science, can’t be scientifically proven. Inductive reasoning says that events will probably proceed as they have in the past, but there is no way to support this presupposition as events could change at any time. 

Also, scientism invalidates the mathematics which science relies upon since math can’t be scenically proven. Mathematic proofs such as 2+2=4 are taken to be necessarily true. If scientism invalidates inductive reasoning and mathematics then it destroys the only source of truth that it claims is true.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Did Adam and Eve Literally Exist?

After converting from agnosticism to Christianity I at times felt that Adam and Eve are not to be taken literally since I have long believed in some form of evolution. I especially questioned them when I learned that genetic records show that the human population was never below 10,000. However, after learning about Hylemorphic dualism from reading Edward Feser’s work I have come to take them literally.

I view the first few chapters of Genesis much as I do Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” as both have elements of poetic form. Tennyson’s poem is about a real British cavalry unit in the Crimean War, and discusses their real ill-fated charge. In much the same way Genesis poetically deals with the heart of the Creator as he forms the universe and life. This is not a science textbook that explains how God did it—it is science’s job to write that book. Much like Tennyson’s poem deals with a real cavalry unit, Genesis deals with a real Adam and Eve.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Negating the Negations: My Objections to Stephen Law’s Evil-God Challenge

In his recent debate with William Lane Craig and in his paper “The Evil-God Challenge” Stephen Law, an atheist philosopher from Heythrop College in London, concedes, for the sake of argument, that arguments like the cosmological arguments and fine tuning argument show that a creator God is possible. However, he asserts that these arguments don’t tell us anything about that god’s character and that these arguments could be in support of an evil god. This observation is quite obvious and wouldn’t be refuted by most apologists, including myself, as these arguments were never intended to show all of God’s attributes. That’s why apologists like William Lane Craig advocate the moral argument for God. While Law’s twist on the classical problem evil is ingenious I will show that his argument falls short by using a twist on Craig’s moral argument.

First of all, I’m not even sure that evil is really a thing—it seems like evil is an absence of good much like coldness is an absence of heat and darkness is an absence of light. Aquinas, in his Fourth Way, argues that, “Since all existent things can be compared to such qualities as degrees of goodness, there must exist something that is an Absolutely Good Being.” So, evil god would just be an absence of goodness.  

Law argues that you can turn all the usual theodicy arguments such as the free will argument and character argument into theodicies for the evil god. He argues that evil god would allow free will so that people could freely choose to do evil even though this means that people could also choose to do good. I think there is a slight problem with this reversal because theists usually argue that a major reason why God would choose to give humans free will is so they can choose whether or not to love and worship him. Free will is necessary for authentic relationships. I’m not sure that it follows that evil god would give us free will in order to be in relationship with us. It seems that evil god would just want people to torture—he wouldn’t care about how we feel about him.

However, I don’t want to focus on the theodicies for the good and evil god that seem to make each god plausible—I want to focus on objective moral values. In his debate with Craig, Law concedes that it seems that we intuitively know that objective moral values exist and that it would take a very powerful argument to challenge this intuition. We all just seem to know that killing innocent people is wrong. If we intuitively know that objective moral values exist then wouldn’t we intuitively know that evil objective morals would exist if evil god existed?

  1. 1. If evil god exists then evil objective moral values exist.
  2. 2.     Evil objective moral values don’t exist.
  3. 3.    Therefore evil god doesn't exist.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Why Aphilatelism Is A False Analogy

There is a popular analogy amongst the online atheist community comparing non-stamp collecting to atheism. There is an atheist who calls himself the Non-stamp collector and others who call themselves aphilatelists. The claim is that atheism is not a belief, philosophy or religion. That they don’t believe in God just like somebody could not believe in stamp collecting. The problem with this doge of intellectual burden of proof for atheist claims, and yes they do make claims, is that to be an atheist you must believe that theists and their arguments are wrong.

If someone where an Aphilatelist they would be someone who does not collect stamps. I personally do not collect stamps because it is a hobby that does not interest me. However, I do not think that stamp collectors are crazy, stupid, dangerous, delusional or wrong. I do not think that their hobby is a make believe fairytale. Some atheists, on the other hand, have said these things about theists. Even atheists who are not as confrontational and blunt as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens or John Loftus must, by virtue of being an atheist, believe that theists and their arguments are wrong about God. Often there are other beliefs tied to atheism such as naturalistic materialism which are opposed to what theists believe.

Atheists will claim that they have a non-belief, but with all the books such as “The God Delusion,” “God Is Great,” and “The Christian Delusion” which attempt to show why theists are wrong it sure does seem like atheists believe something. It this belief that theists are wrong that makes the comparison of aphilatelism to atheism a false analogy. Since atheists do indeed believe something they are responsible for defending the belief that theist’s arguments fall short of proving that God’s existence is likely and that theists are wrong to believe in God.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Is God’s Existence Just As Likely As Unicorns?

I have seen numerous comments from atheists that say that God’s existence is just as unlikely as unicorns, ferries and Santa Clause—they might even make the claim that they are aunicornists. There are a few problems with this line of thinking. The first is that we can use the Santa Principle to determine that unicorns don’t exist on earth. The second is that unicorns are not necessary beings while God is.

The Santa Principle says that a person is justified in believing that X does not exist if all of these conditions are met:

1. the area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined, and

2. all of the available evidence that X exists is inadequate, and

3. X is the sort of entity that, if X exists, then it would show.

So, using premises one and two we can say that unicorns don’t exist on earth because we have never seen any evidence of them. Since unicorns are said to be physical beings we should have found some evidence of them by now. Even if you assume that they are hiding in some very remote region then we should have at least found a unicorn skull that would verify their existence. However, we haven’t found any evidence of them so we can say with near certainty that unicorns do not exist on earth. Notice, however, that the Santa Principle says that the, “Area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined,” so we can’t say that we have searched the entire universe for unicorns. It could be possible that a planet 1,000 light years away has unicorns running around on it. Now, when we turn to using the principle to test whether God exists there are problems. God is said to be an immaterial being who does not reside on the earth. Since we currently do not have the ability to perceive immaterial beings we can’t say that the area where God exists has been comprehensively examined. God could very well exist in heaven, but we simply do not have the capacity to see him.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Could Christians Be Wasting Their Lives?

Hahah keep wasting your lives you crazy christians... you only get one, no afterlife, just this one pass. This one life you guys are wasting away praying to magical invisible sky daddy. HAhahahaa

--Anonymous commenter on Intellectual Feast

From time to time I run into comments from atheists, like the one quoted from the anonymous commenter, which deal with their belief that Christians are wasting their lives following a supposedly nonexistent God. I have even heard intelligent atheists like Daniel Dennett say that there is no easy way to tell believers that they have been wasting their lives on their faith. These comments show that the atheist commenter obviously hasn’t seriously thought about the implications of life without God in a materialist universe. If God doesn’t exist then our lives are brief, absurd and futile.

For centuries theists and atheists have been locked in a stalemate where neither side can conclusively prove or disprove God’s existence. Since this is the case, the atheist’s assertion that God or the afterlife doesn’t exist is an unfounded belief. However, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that the big bang was spontaneously uncaused and that matter popped into existence out of non-matter, and that we are here by chance as there is no God. What implications would this have on our lives? As the atheist says there is only one pass through life. In fact, when compared to the 13.7 billion years the universe has existed, our life span of zero to 120 years is incredibly ephemeral. Not only will each one of us die, but the entire human race is doomed to extinction as entropy causes the universe to die a slow heat death. If this is the case then how can one properly put their life to good use? Is it propagating my genes? No, as I said the human race will eventually be wiped out of existence so that is futile. How about accruing happy memories? Even if you don’t lose your memories as you grow senile with age, you will eventually lose all your memories when you die—it will be like they never existed. What about achieving fame through great works? Even if you are fortunate enough to be one of the few people in history to achieve greatness, your work will eventually be lost like the work of Shakespeare, Picasso, Plato and Mozart will be lost as the human race perishes. So, we see that in an entropic, materialist universe life is ultimately meaningless and futile.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Limits of Naturalism

This is my response to Shelby Cade’s excellent blog post titled “Our limited friend” on Flatland Apologetics:

Nice article Shelby. I often hear naturalists say there is as much proof for Santa Clause, ferries or unicorns as there is for God. We actually can rule out some of these entities with the Santa Principle which says that a person is justified in believing that X does not exist if all of these conditions are met:

1. The area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined, and

2. All of the available evidence that X exists is inadequate, and

3. X is the sort of entity that, if X exists, then it would show.

This works for supposed physical entities such as Santa, unicorns and Sasquatch because we should be able to find them in the world but haven’t been able to. This doesn’t rule out God because he is immaterial being that can’t be detected by our senses or current technology. We also can’t rule out the multiverse because we have no way to perceive any universe besides our own.

Immateriality is a crucial attribute of God because in a pre big bang world with no physical building blocks a god composed of physical matter couldn’t exist. An omnipotent, immaterial necessary being is needed to spark the big bang and form the universe.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dr. William Lane Craig vs. Dr. Lawrence Krauss

On March 30th, at North Carolina St. University, Christian philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig debated theoretical physicist Dr. Lawrence Krause on the question of is there is evidence for God. You can watch the debate here (skip to 16:00 for the debate introduction of 20:00 for the start of the debate).

The contrasting style and expertise of the debaters was interesting. Craig is a polished debater while Krause is not. Craig’s specialty is philosophy while Krause was uncomfortable talking about anything by physics.

The debate really hinged upon Craig’s assertion that a hypothesis is more probable given certain facts then it would without them. He formulates this with Bayes’ theorem Pr (H| E & B) > Pr (H|B) where H=a hypothesis; E=some specific evidence; B=our background information. He then goes on to present his usual five arguments:

1. The Leibnizian cosmological argument.

2. The Kalam cosmological argument.

3. The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.

4. Objective moral values and duties in the world.

5. The historical facts concerning Jesus of Nazareth.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Answering the “Challenge to Theists”

NonStampCollector posted a video on YouTube in which, after about eight minutes of rambling on, he challenges theists to explain how there is one God of the universe as opposed to three, 15 or x number of gods. I couldn’t resist a challenge like this, so I formulated an answer. Basically, if there are many gods of the universe then the world would be a much more chaotic place as each god would want to form and rule the universe in a different way. The competing gods would likely oppose each other like they do in Homer’s “The Iliad.” Since the universe is orderly we can conclude that there is just one God who formed it.

Here is my Monotheistic Argument:

   Premise 1—If there are many gods of the universe then the universe would be very chaotic and able to  support physical laws, as each god would oppose how the others formed and rule the universe.

   Premise 2—However, the universe obeys laws and is very ordered.

   Premise 3—If there are many gods of the universe then there would be many competing sets of objective moral values.

   Premise 4—However, there is one set of objective moral values.

   Therefore—Since the universe is orderly and there is one set of objective moral values there is just one God of the universe.

Say that god A wants a universe without stars so they, after the big bang, set the strong nuclear force stronger so that hydrogen and therefore stars couldn’t form. God B on the other hand wants a universe with stars so they set it at the current level so that stars can form. If these two gods were equally omnipotent who would win this disagreement? What if god C wants a universe without gravity, but god D likes gravity? Since there is gravity that allowed planets to form by causing matter to lump together we know that god C didn’t win that argument as the universe was forming, but say C decides to eliminates gravity and then D reestablishes the law of gravity. If this were the case the law of gravity wouldn’t be a law because gravity would exist at one moment and not exist at another moment—the world would be a very chaotic place. Since the world is orderly we can conclude that one God formed and rules the universe.

In the same way, say god A rules that raping and murdering people is a virtue while B rules that these acts are an abomination. Which god would win this argument? Since most everyone knows deep down inside that raping and murdering people is wrong and that being loving your neighbor as yourself is a good thing we can conclude that one God established objective moral values.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Illusory Optimism of Secular Humanists

To the Apologists: Have you ever had the courage to contemplate your existence without "God?" Of what are you so deathly afraid without having this construct? What would be missing?

I have and my guess is that most of the skeptics on the site have also contemplated their worlds without religion. I have concluded that a world without Gods is in all reality the same as with them. Except of course the world without would be far, far, far, more peaceful.
—Fritz, a commenter on Debunking Christianity.

As an ex-atheist I have indeed considered what life would be without God—it is one bleak existence. If there is no God then we are here by chance and will lead short lives before our existence is wiped out. The second law of thermal dynamics says that our sun and the universe will die a heat death making life impossible. This means that our lives are futile as all of our memories and work will be wiped out like they never existed. That being said, where does this rosy optimism of secular humanism come from? If it could be proved that God/gods don’t exist and that all religion is false would the world turn into a peaceful utopia as people cast off religion? I resoundingly say no because secular humanists have an unrealistically optimistic view of human nature.

The idea that most conflict is caused by religious strife is false. Most wars (if not all) are waged for control of  scarce resources (such as land, water and oil) and power. The utopian vision of secular humanists where the human race renounces religion and begins hugging one another while singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” would crack as soon there was a serious shortage of fresh water, food or oil. How long would it take for humanity to go from hugging one another to tearing each other apart over needed resources? As Richard Dawkins says, “We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.” Even if resources aren’t scarce there will always be the next Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, or Qaddafi who will use extreme violence to take or maintain power. The possibility of being a godlike dictator has always captivated mankind and there is no reason to think that will change.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Do You Believe In Near Death Experiences?

Colton told his parents that he had met his younger sister in heaven, describing her as a dark-haired girl who resembled his older sister, Cassie. When the Burpos questioned him, he asked his mother, “You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?” While his wife had suffered a miscarriage years before, Mr. Burpo said, they had not told Colton about it. “There’s just no way he could have known,” Mr. Burpo said.

I saw an interesting story in the book section of the New York Times about Colton Burpo, the 11 year old boy who is the subject of the book “Heaven is for Real,” who underwent surgery when his appendix burst when he was almost four. After Colton woke he said that he died and went to heaven and saw Jesus and his grandfather. The part I found most intriguing was that Colton described a sister who is in heaven, a sister that Colton never knew because of a miscarriage. The Burpo’s claim that there was no way that Colton could have known about the unborn sister because they never told him about the miscarriage.

The skeptical side of me says that the Burpo’s could be just trying to make money off of their son, but I think this is an interesting story if they are telling the truth. It would be hard to come up with a natural explanation for the story about the unborn sister. What do you think?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The False Claims of the “How Do We Know that Christians Are Delusional?” Video

There is a video on YouTube called "How Do We Know that Christians Are Delusional?” put out by a group of secular humanists that claims to show that Christians are delusional by first showing the competing claims of Mormonism and Islam. The argument is that all three religions are in their own “delusional bubbles” and that the only way to become rational and not harm society with their “delusional” beliefs is to burst the bubble by rejecting their faith. My objections are as follows:

• This video assumes that God does not exist which an unproven belief. The Kalam Cosmological argument, the Leibnizian Cosmological argument, Plantinga’s Ontological argument, moral argument and fine tuning arguments show that God probably exists.

• This video is packed with loaded language such as delusional, dangerous and fairy tale. This emotional language is trying to emotionally sway the viewer.

• The video wrongly assumes that if one religion is wrong then all religions are false. As I have written here religions can be viewed as different hypotheses that can be tested. This is a fallacy known as denying the antecedent which can be written as If A then B, Not A, thus Not B. Just because some religions may be false does not mean that all religions are false.

• At 5:40 the video begins describing several Biblical events such as the immaculate conception of Jesus and Jesus’ miracles as “magical” with the assumption that miracles are impossible. As I wrote here if God exists then miracles are very likely because God created the natural laws and can suspend them whenever He wishes.

• At 7:20 the video claims that if people are freed religious delusional bubbles then they’ll see that all religious people are delusional. How do they account for atheist/agnostic people like C.S. Lewis, Francis Collins, and I becoming Christians?

• At 7:42 there are two false assumptions; that prayer has been proven false and prayer is harmful for society. As I wrote here, prayer could only be proven false if you assume that God is an omnipotent cosmic genie that must do everything we demand. This is a clear misunderstanding of God’s role in our lives. God answers all prayers with a yes, no or later. Prayer could only be harmful if it as not rationally applied such as a person who is seriously ill who prays but does not consult a doctor. If people pray first and then go to see a doctor or take other initiative then prayer is a good thing. People should think of prayer as including God in their actions and decisions.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Quote of the Day, by John Polkinghorne

Science cannot tell theology how to construct a doctrine of creation, but you can't construct a doctrine of creation without taking account of the age of the universe and the evolutionary character of cosmic history—John Polinghorne, British physicist and Anglican theologian.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Reasoned Faith: Plantinga’s Ontological Argument

Alvin Plantinga, John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame

Ontological arguments have been around for centuries and began with St. Anselm’s ontological argument. Unlike design arguments and cosmological arguments ontological arguments do not draw upon empirical evidence to prove God’s existence, they use a priori reasoning. One of the more recent and effective versions of the ontological argument is posited by Alvin Plantinga, who is the John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. His argument can be formulated as follows:

   Premise 1--It is possible that a maximally great being exists.

   Premise 2--If 1, then there is at least one logically possible world in which a maximally great being exists.

   Premise 3--Therefore, there is at least one logically possible world in which a maximally great being exists.

   Premise 4--If a maximally great being exists in one logically possible world, it exists in every logically possible world.

   Therefore--A maximally great being (that is, God) exists in every logically possible world.

Plantinga defines maximal greatness as a being that is omniscient, omnipotent and all good. Critics of this argument like point out that you could plug anything, like a unicorn, into premise one and have this argument work, but as you think about all possible worlds then this parody doesn’t hold up. For example, a unicorn couldn’t exist in a universe that is hostile to biological life such as a universe that is a million degrees Fahrenheit, or in one where no matter exists. For a being to exist in every possible world it must be a spiritual being with maximal properties.

Not everyone appreciates the non-empirical nature of this argument, but I think that this conceptual argument, when back up by empirically oriented arguments like the cosmological arguments it can be another arrow in the apologist’s quiver.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Do You Believe In the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

One of Richard Dawkins’ favorite arguments is to say that there is as much proof for God as there is for the Flying Spaghetti Monster (or FSM), a deity that is purportedly invisible, omniscient, omnipotent and composed of spaghetti and meatballs. This caricature of faith in God and natural theology didn’t start with Dawkins, it actually began in 2005 when Bobby Henderson wrote a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education invoking the ridiculous name of the FSM to argue that only natural selection should be taught in schools. He wrote, “I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; One third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence.” Is it really true that there is the as much proof for the FSM as there is for God. The problem with this parody comes down the FSM’s boiled noodles and meatballs.
According to the Cosmological arguments for God (which I have written about here and here) the universe and all material in the universe came into being by a necessary agent which we call God. We all know that material objects like smart phones don’t just materialize out of thin air; they are contingent objects which are caused to come into being by people. Prior to the big bang space, time and matter didn’t exist so the best explanation for what sparked the big bang is an immaterial, omnipotent, eternal being. Pastafarians claim that the FSM created the universe, but there is a problem with their belief because the FSM is made of matter (I might add matter which would be visible). The FSM is composed of wheat and ground beef which is impossible because these are materials are contingent objects which need a cause. If there is no matter in the universe then there is no FSM.
I’m sorry to break it to the Richard Dawkins and the Pastafarians, but this parody simply doesn’t hold up. There is reason to believe in God and no reason to believe in the FSM.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Unreasonable Skepticism of David Hume

Shakespeare wrote that, “Modest doubt is call’d the beacon of the wise,” and I agree with him because we can’t just believe everything that we encounter. There is modest doubt and there is the unreasonable skepticism of David Hume, the eighteen century Scottish philosopher, who argued in "On Miracles" that miracles are impossible. A miracle can be defined as a suspension of natural law. The main problem with Hume’s argument is that it is question begging in that it assumes that God doesn’t exist and that if He did exist then He couldn’t suspend the natural laws he established. Since I have shown here and here that God probably exists we can assume that miracles are possible and can be believed if there is sufficient evidence that a miracle occurred.

God Controls Natural Law
When God sparked the big bang 13.7 billion years ago He also set the universal constants such as gravity, as well as establishing natural law. Since God is outside of natural law and established it He can suspend it whenever he chooses. So, we can describe supernatural events as very rare but possible. We can formulate the argument as follows:

Premise 1--God created the universe ex nihilo and governs natural laws.

Premise 2--If God governs natural laws, God can suspend natural laws. (From premise 1)

Premise 3--A suspension of natural laws is a definition of a miracle.

Therefore--If the God Christianity exists, He can perform miracles.*

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Is This Love?

Christians behaving badly
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the First Amendment rights of the members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas who protest at the funerals of fallen US soldiers. I don’t object to the 8-1 decision—I think protecting free speech rights is important for our nation. My objection is that the members of the church are dirtying the face of Jesus. Whenever I see Christians behaving like this it causes me cringe because it makes it harder to fight the stereotype that all Christians are hateful and bigoted.

In my atheist/agnostic days one of the greatest stumbling blocks to accepting Christianity was the actions of Christians. When non-believers see Christians protesting at the funerals of soldiers with signs that say “God hates fags,” “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates your tears,” they come to the conclusion that all Christians are hateful and bigoted. They hear the words of Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but then encounter the thoughtless and hateful actions of some Christians and come to the conclusion that Christians don’t walk the walk.

Another objection I have to the protests of the members of the Westboro Baptist Church is their assumption that the deaths of these soldiers are the result of the US’s tolerance of homosexuality. What proof do they have that the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are a punishment from God? It seems to me that these people are just projecting their beliefs onto God. Isn’t it more likely that the wars are a result of the decisions of US political and military leaders?

Over the years, I have come to learn that people like the members of the Westboro Baptist church are just rogue Christians who are not living by the teachings of Christianity. When Jesus was on the earth He did have some harsh words, but those words were always aimed at ultra religious people like the Pharisees. I’m not sure what Jesus would have to say to the members of Westboro who protest at soldier’s funerals, but I suspect that he might say that they are whitewashed tombs.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Negating the Negations: My Objections to John Loftus’ Outsider Test for Faith

John Loftus’ favorite argument against religious belief is his Outsider Test for Faith (or OTF) which is a slight variation of the problem of many religions. He says, “The presumption of The Outsider Test would be that since there are so very many religions, and with so many people believing in a particular religion because of “when and where they were born,” that when examining any religious belief, skepticism would be warranted, since the odds are good that the one you are investigating is wrong.”

He formulates his argument as follows:

Premise 1-- Religious diversity around the globe is a fact—many religions can be found in distinct geographical locations in the world.

Premise 2--There are no mutually agreed upon tests to determine which religion is true.

Premise 3--Religious apologists all claim they are correct and they reject all other distinctive religious beliefs but their own.

Premise 4--All religions seek to answer life’s most important questions in a believing communal social environment where the adherent is encouraged to believe and discouraged to doubt.

Therefore-- It’s probable that people adopt their religion based upon when and where they were born.

My first impression of the OTF is that it has a strong Midwest feel to it in that it assumes that most people are born into religion as Christianity is much more prevalent in the Midwest and the South (perhaps I get this sense because I know that John comes from Indiana and grew up in a Christian family). How does John account for people like me who grew up in atheist families, in the relatively secular Pacific Northwest (or the Northeast or Europe), but became Christians later in life? What about people who grew up in one religion but convert to another? I want to dig further into this argument and critique each premise of his argument.

Premise One
There is indeed a great deal of religious diversity in the world and I think this could point to the Argument from Desire:

Premise 1--Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

Premise 2--But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.

Premise 3--There must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.

Therefore--This something is what people call "God" and "life with God forever."

The pervasiveness of religion indicates that mankind senses that there is something beyond nature that it desires to interact with. As C.S. Lewis said, “"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

Premise Two
I think we can view religions as different hypotheses to answer to mankind’s great questions such as how did we get here; why are we here; why is there so much suffering in the world; is this life all that there is? Religions also seek to meet our innate desire for something beyond this world. Religions like hypotheses can all be tested. John is right to say that there is no universal test to evaluate the validity of religions, but I think that Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli have developed some good criteria: (1)

1. Are they true? (Can we verify their claims?)

2. Are they good (moral)?

3. Are they salvific? (Can they save you?)

4. Are they educative?

5. Are they useful?

Using these criteria we could test the different religions. Perhaps, in a later post, I can explain why I believe that Christianity passes these criteria.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why I Renounced Atheism

I grew up in an atheist family in one of the most un-churched areas in the nation so it is no surprise that I embraced atheism from a young age. When I reached high school I vociferously argued against Christians whom I thought were irrational believers of fairytales. I quickly latched onto atheist Existentialism which I believed explained the meaning of life and evolution which I thought provided proof that we don’t need God. However, as I got older my belief in atheism began to be shaken.

The first major shock came from physics class. I learned about the fine tuning of the physical constants shortly after the big bang. I learned how incredibly improbable it was that the universe was formed in such a way as to be amenable to life. If the universal constants were set even just a little bit differently then stars and life would not have formed. I saw that it came down to three options 1) the universe improbably just happened to be this way 2) there are multiple universes and we happen to be in the one where there is life or 3) God set the constants so life could form. Since there is no proof of a multiverse and the odds of the universe forming by chance are so low (one estimate puts them at 1/10,000,000,000124) it seemed like atheism was a belief as much as theism. When you coupled this with the fact that science has yet to explain what caused the big bang I began to come to the conclusion that agnosticism was the most rational viewpoint.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reasoned Faith: Cosmological Arguments Part II

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, German philosopher and mathematician
In part I of Cosmological Arguments I showed with the Kalam Cosmological Argument that universe came into existence because of some sort of cause. In part II I’ll show with the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument that the cause of the universe is most likely God. The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument says:
   Premise 1--Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.

   Premise 2--If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

   Premise 3--The universe is an existing thing.

   Therefore-- the explanation of the universe is God.

Since the universe is made of physical material it is a contingent object because no object can come from nothing. All contingent beings and objects must have a cause for its existence. The computer you are reading this post on is a contingent object that owes its existence to the people who manufactured it. Since the universe is a contingent existing object it needs a necessary agent to cause it, and the best way to explanation of the cause is an agent that is immaterial and eternal—that agent is God. In the computer example a contingent object’s existence is explained by contingent beings i.e. people, but the question remains what caused the people to come into existence. Prior to the big bang space, time, matter and the physical constants (such as gravity) did not exist. This means that physical contingent objects such as the universe need an explanation for their existence. God sparked the big bang 13.7 billion years ago and set the physical constants so that the universe and life could form.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The New Zealand Earthquake and the Problem of Evil

The recent earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand has John Loftus bringing up the problem of evil once again. John said, “I consider the evidential case against a good God from naturally caused suffering to be the most significant problem for believers. Can anyone tell me why God did not do a perpetual miracle by averting that earthquake?” The naturalistic explanation for what happened in New Zealand, which I agree with, is that the earthquake resulted from the release elastic energy when plates along the Alpine fault rubbed together. This explanation doesn’t address John’s question about why God couldn’t/wouldn’t miraculously release this elastic energy in a way that didn’t result in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries. To answer that question we explore the great cost of freedom.

When God formed mankind He endowed us with free will so that we could choose to love Him and follow Him or not. Giving mankind free will was the only way to have an authentic loving relationship with him. He could have made us into robots that worship God with an automatic fake love, but God chose to have an authentic unforced relationship with us. Mankind inevitably chose to reject God and follow its own path. God let us chose how we want to live our lives and let us face the consequences of our choices and actions. When we walked away from God we also chose to walk away from the joy and protections of life with God. Life apart from God is fraught with chaos, unhappiness and danger. We are no longer protected from dangers like earthquakes, tornados and tsunamis. As I wrote in an earlier post on theodicy, “It’s like we ran away from a perfectly safe home, in order gain freedom, and we are now vulnerable to the predators and dangers of a cold, hostile world.”

When it comes to the question of evil there are some fundamental misunderstandings about God’s love. When people say that God is good they are often saying that God is kind in that he does not subject us to pain. The correct way to define God’s goodness is that he does what is best for us. Sometimes what is best for us is to experience a little bit of pain in order to help us to grow as people. God is like a good Chemotherapist who subjects us to the discomforts of chemotherapy in order rid us of the cancer within us that threatens to destroy us. Sometimes God must use tough love with us.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Quote of the Day by Blaise Pascal

Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.

Reasoned Faith: Cosmological Arguments Part I

Modern cosmology has shown that the universe had a very hot infancy, and that it has been expanding and cooling for the past 13.7 billion years. Astronomers have found incontrovertible evidence supporting the big bang model, in the form of a widespread radiation that permeates space, a relic of the cosmic hot and dense past. We can confidently reconstruct the cosmic history from about a second after the "bang" onward, not too bad-- Marcelo Gleiser, Theoretical Physicist at Dartmouth College.
Cosmological arguments have been around for hundreds of years, but recent scientific discoveries have given these arguments more force. The big bang model shows that the universe had an origin 13.7 billion years ago. This evidence fits perfectly with William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument:

   Premise 1--Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

   Premise 2--The universe began to exist.

   Therefore-- the universe has a cause of its existence.

Prior to the big bang time, space and the physical constants did not exist. The building blocks of matter had yet to be formed. Since there were no material building blocks prior to the big bang and we know that the universe had an origin 13.7 billion years ago we know that the universe had to have some sort of cause and that the universe began to exist. This argument drives us to search for what caused the universe to come into existence.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Evidence of Atheist Delusion?

These Christians think all skeptical arguments are utterly lame, including mine. Who in their right mind would think this? Just once I'd like to hear a devout Christian say something like: "Hey, that's something I haven't thought of before," or, "This is a serious problem for my faith." It's just that these things are almost never said. No, they have the answers. And they laugh at all skeptical arguments, many of which derive from David Hume, who is thought to be the greatest English speaking philosopher who ever lived.
Now it's one thing to disagree with the skeptics. It's another thing entirely to think our arguments have no force at all. The fact that most Christians think they have no force at all simply means these Christians are delusional--John Loftus.

John Loftus of the Debunking Christianity blog has been lamenting the pushback he has been getting from believers who aren’t bowled over by his arguments. Since he is an ex-Christian I’m amazed that he doesn’t grasp the fact that theists and atheists have been locked in a stalemate for hundreds of years. Both sides have intelligent people with decent although imperfect arguments. Both sides seek absolute proof that God exists or doesn’t exist, proof that, at this point, doesn’t exist. I’m amazed that atheists like him can’t see that atheism is the mirror opposite of theism, that atheism is a belief that requires faith.

To a certain extent I agree with John that some atheist arguments like the problem of evil, the Santa Principle; and John’s Outsider Test for Faith do have some force, but I disagree that they prove that God doesn’t exist. The best atheist arguments show that it is possible that God doesn’t exist just like the best theist arguments show that it is probable that God exists. Since both sides are in a stalemate it comes down to whether you believe that God exists or that he doesn’t exist or that we don’t have enough information to know whether He exists.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bridging the Divide Between Faith and Science

Last week on the 13.7 blog there was an emphasis on the conflict between faith and science. In one entry Adam Frank posted a video from Bill O'Reilly where O'Reilly is claiming that God created the moon. In Frank’s post and a follow up post he questions which explanation, the scientific or religious, for the origin of the moon requires more faith. I’m no fan of O’Reilly but I think he is partly right and Frank is partly right. Couldn’t God have orchestrated the formation of the moon via the natural processes that science has discovered?

The leading scientific theory for the formation of the moon is that when the earth was still very hot a large object about the size of mars collided with the earth causing a rocky debris to blow out from the earth. Gravity caused this debris to orbit around the earth and coalesce into a ball that became the moon. One of the main reasons why scientists support this hypothesis is because the oxygen isotope composition of the earth is identical with moon whereas the composition is different than rocks from mars and meteorites. I think this is a very plausible explanation for how the moon was formed.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Quote of the Day, by Philip Hefner

For those of us who begin with God, the challenge is to recognize that our scientific understandings of nature are revelation – revelation of what God has done, what God is doing now, and what God intends.

Negating the Negations: Smith’s Logically Impossible God Argument

In his book “Atheism: The Case Against God” which was Published in 1980 George H. Smith attempts to prove that God is logically impossible. His main argument can be formulated as follows:

Premise 1 -- The universe and every entity behave in accord with natural law ("uniformity of nature").

Premise 2 -- Natural law is determined by the limited nature of existence.

Premise 3 -- Existence is limited in that every entity has a specific nature, determinate (finite) characteristics, that determine the capacities of that entity.

Premise 4 -- Whatever does not have finite characteristics does not exist.

Premise 5 -- A supernatural being does not have finite characteristics

Therefore -- A supernatural being does not exist.*

Premise three is fallacious because it begs the question that all entities are finite. Entities that exist in the physical world such as the universe, the sun, humans and animals do have finite characteristics because they are composed of parts that can break down. The sun and the universe are subject to the second law of thermal dynamics and so will eventually be extinguished. You and I are subject to the breakdown of our organs and the mutation of our DNA. However, by definition God is an eternal, spiritual being that is not composed of parts and is not subject to finite characteristics. As a spiritual being God is outside of the limits of natural law which he created.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Google Art Project: A Great Tool for Art Lovers

I recently found out about the Google Art Project in the Washington Post and New York Times, and thought it was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while. Google is now using their street view camera inside some of the world’s great art museums such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Hermitage, and the Van Gogh Museum so that people can take virtual tours of the museums. Sadly, the Louver is not on the list, but hopefully it will be one day. The resolution of the museum view camera is not very high, but taking virtual tours from your laptop is still pretty amazing. My favorite feature of the Google Art Project is the collection of famous pieces from each museum that can be zoomed in on in ultra high resolution. You can zoom in so closely that you can literally see the brush strokes. It’s like the art work is right in front of your face. Naturally, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer by Rembrandt was one of my favorites.

Besides adding more museums it would be nice if Google could add piece descriptions to their zoomed in collection. Higher resolution views for the museum tour would also be nice. However, I think Google has a good start with their Art Project. It’s a great tool that brings art lovers and the object of their affection a little bit closer.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Quote of the Day, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol.”

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Parallel Between Infrared Light and the Spiritual World

Infrared (IR) is a portion of invisible spectrum: the portion of the invisible electromagnetic spectrum consisting of radiation with wavelengths in the range 750 nm () to 1 mm (), between light and radio waves (1). Infrared light was discovered in 1800 by Sir Frederick William Herschel (2). In the last several decades the use of IR cameras and goggles for military, police and civilian purposes has grown. Since our human senses are not capable of perceiving IR light we didn’t even know about it for centuries. Does this mean that IR light didn’t exist prior to 1800? Of course not! We just couldn’t see it. However, this is precisely what skeptics say about the spiritual world; that because we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. What if the spiritual world like, IR light prior to 1800, exists but we just don’t the means to see it via our senses or current technology?

1. Encarta® World English Dictionary[North American Edition]

2. http://www.brynmawr.edu/Acads/Chem/mnerzsto/Marshall-Infrared.html

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Greatest Question

Adam Frank in his blog post entitled "Life Is More Meaningful Than Mere Facts Can Convey" quoted Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘"Even if God did exist, that would change nothing."’ Adam’s point is that knowing whether God exists or not is irrelevant because life is about being. I disagree because knowing whether or not God exists determines the meaning of our lives. If God doesn’t exist then there is no objective meaning to our lives.

The philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, “We can regard our life as a uselessly disturbing episode in the blissful repose of nothingness.” If God doesn’t exist then Schopenhauer is right, our lives are essentially meaningless. Since the material world is composed of parts it will eventually be torn apart via the second law of thermodynamics. Our bodies break down as we age making our lives ephemeral. Our own sun that makes life on earth possible is slowly dying. One day the sun will run out of fuel causing it to turn into a red giant. It will eventually expand and scorch the earth before contracting and going cold. The universe too is slowly dying. The universe is expanding at an increasingly fast rate so it is growing colder and darker. Eventually all the fuel in the universe will be used up and all the stars will die causing the universe to be extremely cold—all life would have been long extinguished. This means that all our memories and work in the physical world are doomed as well. Sadly, even the great works of Shakespeare, Plato, Tolstoy, Beethoven, Mozart, Da Vinci and Picasso will be destroyed. If there is no God then the world and humanity are like sandcastles built on the edge of the seashore and the great wave of time is poised to come crashing down.