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.
So I responded with links to three YouTube videos from Dr. Roland Nash:
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.
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.
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:
- Does free will exist in heaven?
- If so, what’s to prevent god from kicking you out after the fact?
- 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
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
Dumbest Tweet I’ve Read in a While
I’ve complained that arguing via Twitter is a bad idea. The problem is that you get 140 characters to make your point, and that’s it. So reading a tweet that’s truly stupid, but requires more than 140 characters to respond to, creates a dilemma. There’s TwitLonger for some of those cases, or I can link it up to my blog as I’m doing in this case, but there’s no way to know how many people will actually read the reply.
Another issue is, while you might reply to the person that said it, and you include “@” + their Twitter name so they will see it, not everyone who read the tweet will see it. This is complicated by the fact that users can retweet posts that they like, spreading the message (but no replies) far and wide.
And, there are far more atheists using Twitter than theists. Which means that, when an atheist says something that’s plain ignorant but is catchy nonetheless, it is going to get read and retweeted dozens of times. Even if a theist writes a reply, the damage is already done. Few (if any) will see the reply.
Twitter user Monicks (whose real name appears to be Monica), has the ignorant tweet of (perhaps) the year. Maybe not, since we’re only in April (the best month of the year, and yesterday was the best day of the year). But it’s still pretty ignorant. Monica says:
I’m not subscribed to Monica, so the only reason I saw it is because she was retweeted by ThinkAtheist, who I do subscribe to. Monica has 5,609 subscribers and ThinkAtheist has 8,934 subscribers. That particular tweet was retweeted by at least 12 other users, so it looks like way more people have seen that tweet than will ever see this reply. But I wanted to try anyway. Read the rest of this entry