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.”