Monthly Archives: July 2011

New Proofs on Reply to God is Imaginary

I have completed two new proofs on my slow-going re-write of God is NOT Imaginary, a reply to that unfortunate spectacle of a website allegedly authored by Marshall Brain.  The newbies:

As always, enjoy!

Another Round Up of Comments!

I have a confession to make.

I hate answering comments.  Seriously.  I hate it with an unparalleled passion.  That’s why I procrastinate doing it forever.  I keep hoping, one day, that my blog will be large enough that I can let my Christian readers defend my points, while I continue to write new posts and articles.  But, alas, my readership tends to be atheists who are reading me to disagree with me.

Which might be better, in a way.  At least I know that the Gospel message is getting out there.  If my readership was entirely Christian, I’d just be preaching to the choir rather than defending the faith.

And so, now I shall wade into the comment sections and pick up the neglected comments.

First up, Boz weighs in on my much derided post on philosophical ignorance.  The post was with regard to Monica (@Monicks on Twitter) making a tweet that confuses methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism.  Atheists, who are metaphysical naturalists, often thought there was no difference (or shouldn’t be).  That was completely unexpected.  And by completely unexpected, I mean completely expected!

He told me to stop insulting Monica by calling her ignorant.  I told him I wasn’t; I proved she was ignorant.  To which he replied:

Alexander Johannesen asserted that you were ignorant in the comments of another thread, and you responded that it was an ad hominem/personal insult.

Wrong-o.  What Alex said was:

Your surprising ignorance of other religions are quite astounding considering you make such big and bold assertions about them, and right now you stand as a prime example of the arrogance the outside world see when we look in on people like you.

The bolded portion is the ad hominem, and (I thought) quite rude.  Alex (in that thread) also thought that I meant the ignorant comment was the ad hominem.  But Christians are the shallow thinkers who forgo science and just say that God did it solely because we don’t understand it and don’t want to.  Riiiiight.

Next, Alex responds on the same thread to J.W. Wartick and I talking about how metaphysical naturalism defeats itself by providing no way to actually prove itself:

May I remind you both that none of you two can step outside of the natural world to confirm any of your claims? And that, in fact, you don’t need go outside the boundaries of scientific epistemology in order for *any* philosophy to be correct. And who in their right mind could claim a model of thought for correct, anyway?

And this is the type of thinking that led me to post this.  I’m claiming that something aside from the material world exists.  Alex is claiming otherwise, since he says  that we don’t have to look any further than science to find out what is happening here.   I’m also understanding him to mean that one cannot claim a thought model correct, since he’s saying no one in his right mind would try.  So it seems that since he actually can’t step outside of the natural world either (per J.W.), he’s going to point out that no one can, then say that there’s no way to know who is correct.

If that’s true, then all of us are fighting for nothing.  If we can’t know, why bother?  But here is postmodernism rearing its ugly head: all opinions are equally valid, and what’s true for you might not be true for me.  Sorry, no.  Truth is such because it’s true.  It corresponds exactly to reality.

That’s the lazy man’s way out–just claim you can’t know it.

All right, now for a couple of quickies on this post.  First up, Boz, who links to this category in Wikipedia and then challenges:

Maybe you could response to the slogan: “You’re an atheist to literally thousands of CREATOR gods.  I’m only an atheist to one more CREATOR god than you!”   ?

Sure, and I’ll respond via link as well: http://en.wikipedia.org/Jesus.  He claimed to be the Son of God and backed it up with a Resurrection from the dead, in fulfillment of Scriptures written hundreds of years before his life.  I’d say that trumps the other creator gods.

Then, Brian Westley:

Yes, people make up all kinds of gods, some more powerful than others.  This doesn’t make your god more likely; in fact, the reverse is true.

So, when more people think of a similar idea, that makes it less true?  Your philosophy of language must be really interesting.

In philosophy, however, we should always interpret terrible arguments in the most charitable way possible.  So I’ll assume that’s probably not really what you meant.  You might have meant (and this is by far the more intriguing argument), that because a plethora of creator gods exist, that makes it a lot harder to know which is the actual creator god.  And you have a point.  But, it makes your default position of atheism look very apathetic.

For why, let’s assume that everyone in the world has a soul mate (I don’t actually believe this; I think that people choose a mate and then work really hard to build a solid marriage).  If you’re single, then somewhere out there is your soul mate, and it is up to you to seek her and then marry her.

If your position were applied consistently, then you’d conclude that because a plethora of women exist, that overwhelms the odds of finding your soul mate.  So, you’ll just stop searching.  Apathetic.

So, how would I know which creator god is the correct entity?  That’s tough to argue subjectively, since Muslims know Allah is the only one, while others are just as convinced (including Christians) that some other entity created this universe.  As I answered above, Jesus of Nazareth would be objective confirmation of “my” God.

Okay, join me next time for more from the comment bag.  I’ve got to stop letting these pile up!

Twitter and Shallow Reasoning

Recently, on Twitter, I got into a discussion with two users (@LifesPoser and @JoeUnseen) about the existence of God.  As usual, they were crowing about how I need to prove that God exists before they’ll listen to me.

https://twitter.com/#!/LifesPoser/status/89019071726759937

So I responded with links to three YouTube videos from Dr. Roland Nash:

https://twitter.com/#!/tucholskic/status/89187665408299008

First of all, I doubt that these guys watched all of the videos.  The discussion centered around the first video, where Dr. Nash explains that we as humans take for granted a number of propositions that we are unable to prove.  Two such examples are the existence of an external world and the existence of other minds (known as solipsism; and one user even ridiculed my entire argument by saying that when the theist resorts to solipsism, that means he’s beat).

The shallow reasoning in question:

Not correct, not even a little bit.  Just because I’m experiencing the external world, I can’t call that evidence of the existence of the external world.  All such evidence–picking up a crayon off my basement floor, sitting in a chair, talking to my wife–is part of the very thing I’m trying to prove.

Consider trying to prove a murder in court.  We’re trying to prove that the act itself occurred.  We can’t see the act itself, only the evidence produced by the act.  Security footage (not the actual act, mind you, but a recording of it–the actual act happened in the past and is not accessible to us).  A knife with the defendant’s fingerprints on the handle and the victim’s blood on the blade.  Footprints matching the defendant’s shoes in blood fleeing the crime scene.  These things are incidental to the act itself, they exist as a record of the act.

With trying to prove the external world, everything that you can point to is part of the external world, not a record of its existence.  This is akin to my fellow theists saying that the Bible is God’s word because it says so.  You can’t do that; it’s begging the question.

There are equally plausible metaphysical explanations for an outside world.  Look at The Matrix.  You can’t prove that isn’t what’s happening right now.

So, what?

The take away point is that you are rational for believing in the existence of an external world.  Moreover, you are rational for believing that the people you encounter have minds.  And, you are rational for believing that there is a shared experience with that other person when we’re standing in the same room.  We see the same lamp.  We sit together at the same table.

You can’t prove it.  But, you’d be irrational to consider The Matrix scenario.  You’d be locked up if you came to believe that.  That’s how good The Matrix is at detecting and punishing dissent from it.  (Ooops!  Is that Agent Smith knocking at my door?)

So Alvin Plantinga argues that we are rational for believing in the existence of God without having to provide empirical evidence for it.  I’m not proving the existence of God any more than I’m proving the external world.  I’m providing rational reasons for my belief in God.  These I’ve detailed before:

  • The existence of something rather than nothing
  • Cosmology points to a universe with an absolute beginning, implying a transcendent cause (a cause cannot be part of the resulting effect)
  • Harmony of nature (look at the imbalances caused by transplanting non-indigenous species into a new environment or by the unnatural extinction of a member of that biosphere)
  • Complex structure of even inorganic matter
  • Appearance of design in biology is best explained by actual design
  • Existence of absolute morality (human sacrifice is always wrong, even if the Canaanites, Aztecs, and Mayans [among others] thought it was business as usual)
  • DNA is a living language, and languages don’t just “come together” one day
  • Conscious existence of humans with a free will

Multiple lines of reasoning (not really evidence or proof) coalesce to make the existence of God much more likely than not.  Each of those items by itself makes God very likely, but the cumulative case becomes much, much stronger.  Pretty tough to shake, in my own estimation.

Now, I know it’s fashionable among atheists to say that I bear 100% of the burden of proof since I’m the “prosecution” making the positive claim (“The defendant committed the crime, your honor!”).  But that’s just American imperialism.  Other justice systems make the defendant bear the burden of proof (“I did not commit the crime, your honor!”).  Given all this, I’d say the atheist (at minimum) has at least one burden of proof, though he’s not going to like hearing me say it.

He owes me reasons why non-belief is rational.  Note that I’m not asking him to prove a negative.  I’m asking for what I just gave here–multiple lines of evidence and argument that make the nonexistence of God more likely than not.  Given the usual squawking about theistic burden of proof, I’m not holding my breath for these reasons.

 

Ethical Pain

It never fails to amaze me that people deny objective morality.  Morality isn’t mere opinion.  Right now, somewhere in this world, there is someone who is doing something that, regardless of his or her personal opinion (or the opinion of the society in which he lives), is just plain wrong.

For example, in certain Islamic traditions, it is a sin for the woman to enjoy sex.  So, her genitals are mutilated in a way that will preclude any sort of enjoyment from sex.  That society, even its women, approve of this practice and celebrate it.  But it’s just objectively wrong, even though it is allowed to proceed even with the blessing of those affected the most adversely by it.

CAA member Sam Harper has a really interesting way of knowing that we have objective moral values.  It borders on the fallacy of appeal to motive, so I’m not presenting it as an argument.  It’s some really good food for thought.  Sam writes:

A divorced girl once confessed to me that she had cheated on her husband with his best friend just to get revenge. Then she tried to justify herself by saying, “After what he did to me, I didn’t feel married.” Of course marriage is not a feeling, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and even the most absurd excuse will do if it’s all you’ve got to avoid admitting that you’ve done something so wrong.

Interesting.  People do go to great lengths to justify incorrect behavior.  In my years as a manager, I’ve seen people rationalize the most bizarre behavior.  Everyone is the exception to the rule.  Like the divorced girl, we find reasons (however thin) to commit immoral acts because we know they’re wrong and it hurts us to do them.

Yet, the pull to commit them is stronger than the potential consequences.  So what is a person to do?  Sam responds:

There’s another way to avoid ethical pain that few people seem to ever try. Instead of getting rid of the rules or looking for loopholes to let yourself off the hook, why not just obey the moral laws? Why not just do right and avoid wrong? Why don’t more people try this?

Reminds me of the old adage “Christianity is not tried and found wanting.  It is found difficult and left untried.”  When I was growing up and going to Catholic school, I used to hate the song “Amazing Grace” mainly because I knew I wasn’t a wretch.  Except that I was:

Why is being moral so hard? It’s because of the kind of people we are. It’s easy for somebody with nothing but good intentions, good motives, and good dispositions to be good. Being moral is almost impossible for us, though, because that’s not the kind of people we are. We do bad things because we have bad intentions, motives, and dispositions. Christianity is unpopular, because Christianity is realistic about this. Embracing the Christian worldview requires people to admit things they don’t want to admit.

That’s what was so amazing about God’s grace in the first place!  It took me much of my life to realize that I was a wretch and that I hurt a lot of people.  When I finally admitted that to myself, I was ready for Christianity.  Most people don’t want to go there.  As Sam closes:

The reason Christianity is so hard for people to except is because before you can accept it, you have to first drop all the excuses and admit that you really have violated the moral law. You really have done wrong. There are no loopholes to let you off the hook. You’re guilty. Once you admit your guilt, you are left to face yourself in all your moral failure. That’s not easy.

No it’s not.  But when our sinful nature is confronted and we no longer make excuses for ourselves, this is the most freedom anyone can experience in life.  This is what it means to know the truth, and the truth makes you free.

Final Question from the Reddit Thread

This is, at last, the very last question from the Reddit thread of questions that theists supposedly can’t answer.  It is a three-part question:

  1. Does free will exist in heaven?
  2. If so, what’s to prevent god from kicking you out after the fact?
  3. If not, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of giving man free will in the first place?

In general, as a Calvinist, I’m not overly impressed with questions about free will.  We Reformed folks don’t really think that humans have it.  In the sense that when faced with path A or path B, do I believe that we can pick either without respect to God making us choose the one he desires?  Yes, I think we can do that.  But, I also believe that in so doing we are doing God’s will and advancing his plan for our lives as he saw fit to declare from eternity.  It seems to be a contradiction, but the Bible affirms both an exhaustive divine decree and the free moral agency of humans.  Therefore, the two might appear to conflict to us but in reality work in harmony.

As a Christian theist, I’m also not overly impressed with atheists who bring up free will as a supposed airtight objection to the concept of God.  Without God, there could be no free will.  In the Westminster Confession of Faith, we see that human freedom is upheld and founded on the decree of God.  In fact, metaphysically speaking, it seems illogical given the atheistic commitment to naturalism that we would have a free will. Read the rest of this entry

In Defense of Kim Kardashian

I don’t normally wade into pop culture debates, but this one brings a lesson from the Bible into some focus.

There is a huge huff over a recent tweet from Kim Kardashian.  The controversial tweet:

Per my previous post, I think we need to be very, very careful about what we believe from the news.  The primary goal of the media is to sell more papers, and nothing sells better than a good controversy.  The Casey Anthony case is a fine example of something that will continue to sell papers for weeks to come, even though it’s ostensibly over.

The problem that people have with Kim’s post is that she is the daughter of the late Robert Kardashian, one of the attorneys that helped OJ Simpson.  So what?  Kim was 15 when her father presented the OJ case.  That had nothing to do with her.  She didn’t sit by OJ.

How many of my skeptic readers are siding with the backlash against Kim?  If you are, and you have previously argued that it is ridiculous that God holds us responsible for Adam taking a bite of the wrong fruit, you are being really inconsistent.

On one hand, you think that it is outrageous, unfair, and illogical that you are held responsible for your father Adam’s sin per Ezekiel 18:19-20.  You were not there, you did not pull the fruit off the tree, you did not take a bite.  You shouldn’t be condemned for it!  Yet, you’re now condemning Kim Kardashian for something her father did but she had nothing to do with.  It’s okay for you, but not for God.

Thing is, God doesn’t condemn us for what Adam did, and I’ve repeatedly answered this point (for example: here and here).  We don’t suffer for the sin, we suffer the effects of the sin.

Unfortunately, Kim is not suffering the effects of her father’s actions in this backlash.  People are tying the so-called irony of her statements directly to her father’s actions.  That’s outrageous, unfair, and illogical.

Lay off Kim Kardashian, people.  If she is outraged over this verdict, she has every right to be.  Her father’s actions during the OJ trial have nothing to do with her, so let her be and stop holding her responsible for her father’s actions.  Skeptics make repeated fluff about that being unfair when they perceive it done to them by God, but people seem to have no difficulty doing it to a fellow human being.  That’s terribly inconsistent.

Casey Anthony and the Real Goal of the Media

The entire debacle with the Casey Anthony trial brings something into sharp focus that we all should consider.  The media has two goals:

  1. Increase circulation (i.e. sell more papers)
  2. Report the news

And they go at these goals in that order.  Controversy sells papers, so they tackle stories like a mother allegedly murdering her toddler because they know that that is going to sell like crazy.

Now, Casey Anthony has been found not guilty by a jury of her peers.  But, in the court of public opinion, she had long ago been convicted and sentenced.  But, we have to ask ourselves, did we hear all of the facts?

I’m going to guess not.  We didn’t hear all of the facts of the Rodney King case.  We saw an edited version of the tape, that when played in its entirety, cleared the officers involved of any wrong doing.  I saw the entire tape a long time ago, and believe me those officers acted in self-defense.  They got a bit excessive and should have been disciplined for that, but they didn’t act as disproportionately to the situation as the media had us believe.

I’m not saying that the media deliberately distorts the facts of a case.  They don’t.  But, they give us a minimalist set, the set most convenient to the story they are trying to tell.  They leave out or gloss over other facts.

For those of us that have taken journalism classes, we know that a news story is written in the “inverted pyramid” style.  First comes the lead, which is supposed to grab our attention and pull us into the story.  It’s the most interesting and attention-grabbing part of the story.  Then, the facts of the case are presented, in order of importance.

But, who gets to decide that order?  The reporter.  I may disagree with the reporter ordering of the facts.  But, knowing that news stories contain the substance of the story in the first half or so, I seldom read an entire news story.  I give the reporter the benefit of the doubt, assuming that he is going to get the important facts correct in the first part of the story and use the leftovers at the bottom of the article.  So I seldom read a newspaper article beyond the sixth or seventh paragraph, knowing that is “unimportant facts” after that.

Or is it?

It occurs to me that these “fluff” facts might make all the difference.  It might be facts that the reporter or his editors wish to minimize or conceal.  Print journalism is all about word count, so some facts may have been omitted altogether.

None of this amounts to deliberate distortion, but you do have to wonder if this case, like many others, presented the public with a minimalist set of facts to paint Casey Anthony as guilty when she’s not and we’d know she’s not if we were given the remainder of the facts.  So, let’s remember that we weren’t on the jury and maybe we should trust that the 12 people in possession of facts we weren’t privy to made an informed decision.

Questions Theists Can’t Answer, Election/Predestination

More questions from the Reddit thread that proposes questions theists can’t answer. These are focused on election/predestination.

If god knows everything that is and will ever be, and he knows that you will not accept him before you are even born, why would he send you to hell? You are essentially judged before you can do anything. What kind of “good” god would do that?

So, basically, if you don’t accept God’s free gift of grace, it’s his fault?  No, no, no, no, no, no.  The only way that someone is judged before he has a chance to do anything is if God actually creates the unbelief and decrees the sin leading to, nurturing, and sustaining the unbelief.  God doesn’t do any of that; he knows all of that in advance.

“Knowing” that something is so is a far cry from “making” it so.  The example I gave recently is rather crude, but it works.  Ted gave Bill two choices.  Either Bill could watch Eliza Dushku privately re-enact the scene where she models bikinis in The New Guy just for Bill, or Ted can slap Bill in across the face with a wet codfish.

Ted knows without a doubt that Bill will pick the bikini modeling thing.  There can be no question in anyone’s mind, even if you haven’t seen Eliza model the bikinis in The New Guy, that Bill will pick that option.  Ted didn’t make Bill pick that option.  He only knew that Bill would select it.

In other words, God knowing that a creature will do X is not the same as God forcing a creature to do X.  Or, more appropriately, ordering the universe in such a way that it is inescapable the creature will do X. Read the rest of this entry

Apt Description of God

Chris Reese from Cloud of Witnesses featured a concise and excellent quote that perfectly describes the nature of God, as cited by Dallas Willard:

God is “the eternal, independent, and self-existent Being; the Being whose purposes and actions spring from Himself, without foreign motive or influence; he who is absolute in dominion; the most pure, the most simple, the most spiritual of all essences; infinitely perfect; and eternally self-sufficient, needing nothing that he has made; illimitable in his immensity, inconceivable in his mode of existence, and indescribable in his essence; known fully only by himself, because an infinite mind can only be fully comprehended by itself.  In a word, a Being who, from his infinite wisdom, cannot err or be deceived, and from his infinite goodness, can do nothing but what is eternally just, and right, and kind.” [Adam Clarke in Cyclopaedia, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1894), 903-4, quoted by Dallas Willard in Knowing Christ Today, chapter 4, n. 1.]

Let’s break take a look at just a few of these descriptors. Read the rest of this entry