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.