Category Archives: God

The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the Third

Next from Geoffrey Berg’s Six Ways of Atheism we have the God Has No Explanatory Value Argument:

  1. God if he exists must be the ultimate being and provide the answers to all of our ultimate questions — otherwise he is not God.
  2. Yet even supposing as a hypothesis that God exists the questions that God was supposed to finally answer still remain (though in some cases God is substituted in the question for the Universe).
  3. Therefore hypothesizing is only unnecessarily adding an extra stage to such problems and has no real explanatory value.
  4. Therefore according to Logic (Occam’s Razor Law — ‘that entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity’) we should not postulate God’s existence and there is no adequate reason to suppose that God exists.
  5. Therefore we should suppose that God does not exist.

Starting with (1), I agree that God should provide the answers to all of the ultimate questions.  When explaining the argument, however, Berg lists attributes of God (eternal, absolute good, purpose-giver) rather than explaining what big questions he means.  He only ends up asking one: How did the universe arise?

… [T]he answer for theists is, of course, God created it.  How did God arise?  Well, God has always existed.  But, why then, has the Universe not always existed?  Thus God can be cut out as an unnecessary extra.  Poor God, always being cut out as an unnecessary extra that contributes nothing to understanding except complication.  God is no more than a valueless extra intermediary stage in explanation.  (p. 64)

This didn’t work for Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, and it isn’t going to work for Berg now.  “Who made God?” is not a valid retort. Read the rest of this entry

The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the Second

Geoffrey Berg’s second argument states that since God is so far outside the realm of human experience and comprehension, that he is simply unknowable.  Therefore, you shouldn’t believe in him.

This Man and God Comprehension Gulf Argument is formulated as follows:

  1. Man is finite (in time, space and power etc).
  2. God if he exists in infinite (in time, space  and power etc).
  3. Therefore mankind cannot possibly recognize God or even know that God exists.

I have no issues with either premises.  Man is finite per (1), and God is infinite per (2).  Neither is a problem for me.

As a conclusion, (3) overreaches; Berg should have stuck with the first clause: “Therefore mankind cannot possibly recognize God … .”  That would have been a far more reasonable conclusion given the data.  Still a demonstrably false conclusion, but a much more reasonable one.

As for “… even know that God exists,” that is simply not true.  God is the inference to the best explanation: we see design, order, natural laws — the universe makes sense.  It works together like a machine, and machines are designed and built by an intelligent mind for a purpose.

Therefore, God is a reasonable conclusion from natural philosophy (even if a controversial one).  So I disagree that mankind cannot “… even know that God exists.” Read the rest of this entry

The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the First

Geoffrey Berg’s tome, The Six Ways of Atheism, is a small volume but it requires some unpacking to get at the core of what he’s trying to say.  I’m going to tackle one argument per post and we should get through the book by Saturday.

Let’s dive in to the first argument, the Aggregate of Qualities Argument:

  1. If God exists, God must necessarily possess all of several remarkable qualities (including supreme goodness, omnipotence, immortality, omniscience, ultimate creator, purpose giver).
  2. Every one of these qualities may not exist in any one entity and if any such quality does exist it exists in few entities or in some cases (e.g. omnipotence, ultimate creator) in at most one entity.
  3. Therefore it is highly unlikely any entity would possess even one of these qualities.
  4. There is an infinitesimal chance that any one entity (given the almost infinite number of entities in the Universe) might possess the combination of even some two of these qualities, let alone all of them.
  5. In statistical analysis a merely hypothetical infinitesimal chance can in effect be treated as the no chance to which it approximates so very closely.
  6. Therefore as there is statistically such an infinitesimal chance of any entity possessing, as God would have to do, all God’s essential qualities in combination it can be said for all practical and statistical purposes that God just does not exist.

This argument fails to disprove God as Christians defend him.  Berg states repeatedly that there is little chance a being in this universe possesses any of these qualities, let alone all of them.  Agreed.  But we never argue that God is part of the universe.  Which means all of Berg’s statistical analysis and posturing about how language glosses over reality is moot.  His rantings only apply to beings originating in and living in the known universe.  God transcends that universe, and therefore isn’t subject to laws that define the universe.

Berg anticipated seven potential responses; this was (oddly) not one of them.  All of the objections he considered were pathetic and require no rejoinder from me.

So Berg and I agree that God doesn’t exist in the known universe.  That is only equal to “God doesn’t exist at all” given metaphysical naturalism.

The Mystery of God

Any theism that didn’t ultimately point to mystery would not be a very believable world view. So we must not regret our final use of mystery. It is not an unfortunate, desperation ploy but a necessary part of any exalted theism.

— Tom Morris

Why do People Become Atheists?

I’ve posited that atheists do not want ultimate accountability to God, and that is part of their motivation for denying God’s existence.  Atheists try hard to resist that, but a few have been forthright about it.  Philosopher Thomas Nagel, for example, wrote:

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

Now, the Atheist Camel comes clean as well.  When contemplating what the reaction would be to bulletproof evidence that there is a god, he said:

I’ll proffer that it depends on the god’s persona. If it is a hands (or trunk, or tentacles) off god, who created us and lets us live out our lives as independent beings unfettered by its irrational  threats and demands; perhaps a fun loving kind of being that finds our behavior amusing or disgusting, but nevertheless nonjudgmental–  perhaps asking only for an occasional acknowledgement and thank you now and then I’d have no problem with it. Acknowledge and move on. (source, emphasis added)

So he’s fine as long as there is minimal intrusion in his life.  Now, what if this deity was the God of the Bible and did demand certain things?

Where scientists never before bothered to contemplate the supernatural, many of them, and our freethinking brethren, would now kowtow to this God’s demands.  But many more would turn their attention toward one objective…find a way to destroy it.  An underground movement, an army of partisans, dedicated to freedom of thought, rationality, fairness and conscience battling not only for the freedom to live life free from omnipotent oppression and irrationality, but for the freedom and right to die and fade into oblivion without pain and fear.

If there were a proven God of the Bible in all its horrendous glory man would be compelled to stop killing each other. The thinking among us would turn our undivided attention to find a way to kill this God monster … once and for all. (source, emphasis added)

So the truth comes out.  As long as the Atheist Camel gets to live as he chooses, with no interference from a deity, he’s fine.  But the moment there is an expectation of behavior and a requisite final judgement, he thinks that humans should join together and kill that God.

What can I say?  This confirms my original theory about atheists wanting to avoid final judgment classic-D&D-style — rolling a 20-sider and saying “I disbelieve.”  I just wish more atheists were this honest.

Another Facebook Meme that Should be Destroyed

Wow.  Just wow.  So many things wrong with this graphic.  So many problems and inconsistencies of thought. . . .  So many half-truths and misrepresentations. . . .

Let’s just start left and travel right.  A word of warning — this is longer than my average blog post because it covers a variety of topics related to same-sex marriage.  It’s approaching 1800 words and I cut quite a bit of material out.  Be warned as you travel below the fold. . . . Read the rest of this entry

Quick Post: Ignorant Meme

Most memes that float around are plain ignorant, and thus are fairly easy to decimate.  And this one is no different:

The first thing that we have to understand about God is that he is all three branches of our American government combined — he’s the original theocracy.  He is, in fact, referred to by titles that reflect that:

  • Lawgiver — Isaiah 33:22, James 4:12 [Congress]
  • King of kings — 1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14 and 19:16 [President]
  • Judge — Genesis 18:25, Psalm 7:11, 2 Timothy 4:8 [Courts]

When God enacts a law as Lawgiver, he has the right to be both Judge and Executioner when enforcing said law.  God, like the State, can impose the death penalty for people who transgress the law.

The commandment referenced refers to cold-blooded murder.  Acts like self-defense or capital punishment imposed by the State are not in view and are not forbidden.  So God is not transgressing his own law by imposing the death penalty on a guilty party.  God isn’t murdering anyone, he is acting as Judge and Executioner.

So we are done here.  Next meme I crush is that lovely FB floater that asks if you still oppose gay marriage, and through a series of poorly-reasoned, badly-exegeted biblical examples shows you’re some kind of bigot.  It actually shows anything but that, as we shall soon see.

Atheism and the Burden of Proof

One of the most frequent statements I hear when I talk about God with atheists is that there is “no evidence” that God exists, and that is usually followed by telling me that the burden of proof is on me, the theist, because I’m the one making the positive assertion.

However, an actual atheist, as I covered yesterday, is making a positive assertion — he is positively asserting there is no God.  This is framed negatively, but he isn’t withholding judgement on my assertion.  He declares it false.

Withholding judgement is agnosticism — not knowing.  In which case, I’m obliged to prove my case (or at least make a reasonable argument for it) for the benefit of the undecided person.

But the atheist has gone beyond withholding judgement.  He’s made one of his own, and for that he owes an explanation.

Think this through:

If I say, “God exists!”  Aside from, “Praise Jesus, I know he does!” there are two potential replies.  (Actually, there are more, but let’s just stick with these two for simplicity sake.)

Someone might respond, “I’m not convinced.”

This is your agnostic.  I should lay out my case for him.  If he remains unconvinced, we can discuss the particulars.  He has no specific position, so he owes me no explanation beyond what my argument lacks.

The other potential reply is: “Poppycock!  There is no god, you silly Christian.  Science disproves him.  Besides, there was never any evidence anyway.”

This is your atheist.  It is totally disingenuous for the atheist to think I’m the only one with a burden of proof here.  I will still lay out my case, however he needs to both rebut my case and lay out his own — merely rebutting my case doesn’t prove anything other than I have a poor case.  It only moves us to agnosticism, being unconvinced.  The atheist isn’t “withholding judgement”: he’s convinced that I’m wrong.  For that, he owes me an argument.

One needs nothing beyond “insufficient evidence” to withhold judgement, but the moment rejection enters the picture, a judgement has been made and a logical argument for why must be presented.  Saying “I lack belief in all gods” is a total cop-out and very lazy debating.

UPDATES:

  • 8/13/12 at 1:40am EDT because there were a lot of typos.  I’m ashamed of that.  1-2 is fine with me because I’m not perfect, but there were probably 4-5!
  • 8/19/12 at 12:41am: Another perspective from Steve Wilkinson here.

Defining “Atheism”

A comment, though marked as spam, poses an interesting problem nonetheless:

Some of the ambiguity and controversy involved in defining atheism arises from difficulty in reaching a consensus for the definitions of words like deity and god. The plurality of wildly different conceptions of god and deities leads to differing ideas regarding atheism’s applicability. The ancient Romans accused Christians of being atheists for not worshiping the pagan deities. Gradually, this view fell into disfavor as theism came to be understood as encompassing belief in any divinity.

I had always meant to do a post on the difference, as I see it, between atheism and agnosticism.  This seems like as good a time as any.

First, does it matter that there are a plurality of conceptions of God?  And I would have to say, for all practical purposes, the answer is no.  Atheism, as I will show, isn’t a point of view (as supernaturalism is).

Supernatural is outside of nature.  Nature is your context: the container in which you find yourself.  Therefore, that which originates in this universe is natural to us.  However, that which originates outside the universe is supernatural.

Flip it, and that makes us supernatural to God, since we don’t reside on the same plane of existence.

Atheism is making a claim about how things are ordered, regardless of your particular perspective.

But who (or what) is God, then?  True, there have been a plurality of conceptions of God.  Accepting one over another doesn’t make all of those who reject your particular deity atheists.  Infidels, yes.  Atheists, no.

Think of it like this: in an election, I have several candidates to choose from.  The front runners are Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  Or I can simply abstain and not vote.  The gray area is this: If I vote for Obama, does that mean I think Romney is unfit for the job?

Well, not necessarily.

There’s no meaningful way to vote against Romney without voting for Obama.  So if I want to afford Obama the chance to see his economic plan through but think that Romney would do an adequate job if elected, then I’m not anti-Romney per se.

On the other hand, I may think that Romney and Obama are equally wretched as leaders and statesmen, but vote for Obama because he’s currently more experienced.

Bottom line: a vote for one is not necessarily a vote against the other.

Which is an accurate description of agnosticismAgnostic literally means “without knowledge.”  Agnostics really don’t know whether there is a god, but they remain open to finding out.  While they don’t see adequate evidence for God, they find no reasons to deny the possibility of God’s existence.  They don’t know.

Finally, the burning question: what is atheism?  Atheism is the rejection of all God-belief.  In our election example, these guys are staying home from the ballot because the actively reject both candidates.

It is not simply “lacking belief in God.”  Lacking indicates they could be persuaded with the right evidence.  Nothing sways most atheists.  Read these comments if you don’t believe me.

Atheism is a rejection of the divine, no matter one’s conception of it.  It matters not whether that divine is supernatural (as monotheism posits), or within nature (as paganism posits), or in ourselves waiting to be unleashed (as New Age theology posits).  Atheism rejects it all in one fell swoop.

Tomorrow, atheism and the burden of proof.  That should both be interesting, and infuriating to my atheist readers.  Because, spoiler alert, you guys have a burden of proof!

The Indictment Among the Rhetoric

Yesterday, I spoke of the Blog for WWGHA totally messing up Christian doctrine.  Mere rabbit trails compared to what the author really wants us to answer for him.

Thomas is asking for a theodicy that makes sense of the events of the last few years:

How can anyone love a “God” who allows hundreds of thousands of people to die in a tsunami, or dozens of people to get shot innocently in a movie theater? What parent would allow you siblings to die while they looked on laughing.

Semantically, Thomas is actually asking for a personal reason Christians can love a God that passively allows tragedy to occur.  But I’m going to interpret him charitably here, assuming Thomas is asking for a theodicy: a logically argued resolution to the problem of evil in a world run by an omnipotent, omniscient God who could end evil but doesn’t.

Infinite wisdom, as the author of the target piece argues, isn’t really all that satisfying.  Neither is the related “mystery” of God.

I’ve never really been that big a fan of the “free will defense,” since the Bible shows God quashing free will.  However, the instances of God upholding free will vastly outnumber the instances of him preventing sin.  So I think that free will, while not the answer, is a component of the bigger picture.

Greater good isn’t all that great by itself.   Strobel’s Case for Faith has a great analogy about a bear trap.  Suppose a bear is caught in a trap and you decide to free it.  You can’t possibly do so without causing the animal more pain than he’s in, and there’s no possible way to explain to the animal that his increased pain will actually lead to total freedom.  And so he’ll lash out at you while you try to free him in a misplaced effort to defend himself.

We lash out at God for people dying in tsunamis and for innocents getting shot in a movie theater.  But what if all this is just part of the ultimate plan designed to free us from this bear trap?  What if the pains we see and the suffering we endure are really leading up to the day when none of this pain and strife will be necessary?  When the metaphorical hunter finally releases our leg and we can scamper pain-free into the woods?

I don’t think it’s the whole picture, but I think that the greater good defense has some merit to it.

This means I see merit to both free will and the greater good.  And I think a synthesis of the two is the answer to all questions related to theodicy.  Which leads me toward something I might call the Education Defense for Evil — it is necessary to have evil in this world to reveal God’s full character (wrath, love, and mercy), bring full glory to God at the culmination of history, and to reveal our own nature.

Evil serves a purpose (greater good) without being God’s purpose (free will).

I confess that while I’ve thought about this for a while now, I have little in the way of previous theodicy by any great thinker to back it up.  The idea needs more development, but it is something I foresee I will be writing and researching more in the future.  This seemed as good a time as any to introduce it, since I could scarcely criticize Thomas from WWGHA in the previous post without actually answering the one conundrum that was worthwhile.