Dialogue With an Atheist
In the early part of 2005 I engaged in a series of email exchanges with an atheistic professor of a state university on the east coast. To protect his identity I have chosen to refer to him simply as Liam. The dialogue is recorded below by topic. Some portions have been edited for the sake of clarity and/or brevity. I hope this dialogue will help believers to recognize the intellectual strength of Christian theism against the attacks of atheism.
Theism, Atheism, and the Burden of Proof · Why Is There Something Rather than Nothing? · Truth vs. Made-up Answers · Free Will and Consciousness · Morality · Universal Human Needs · Why Someone Believes in God
Theism, Atheism, and the Burden of Proof
He who makes a claim assumes the burden of proof to defend his claim. Theists make the claim that God exists, so they must assume the burden to defend that claim. Atheists make no claim at all, so we need not prove anything to have our disbelief supported or buttressed. We treat all claims as worthy of consideration, but subject to verification. The more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinary the evidence must be in support of that claim.
If the theist cannot substantiate his claim with good evidence, then he fails to meet his burden. The theist does fail to meet his burden, and thus atheism is the default position. The atheist need not prove anything to have his disbelief supported or buttressed.
I understand what you are saying about the burden of proof. Anyone who makes a claim has the burden of proof to substantiate his claim. If I claim God exists, the burden of proof is on me to defend that claim with reasonable evidence (and I do). Once I have fulfilled my responsibility to provide reasons for my persuasion the burden of proof falls on those who reject my conclusions to demonstrate why my reasons are flawed, or simply inadequate to justify the conclusion. If they cannot do so, and my reasons are both adequate and reasonable, intellectual honesty demands that the detractor adopt the same persuasion (at least until further evidence arises to the contrary). So even if one wants to argue that atheists do not have the burden of proof to establish their point of view, at minimum they do have the burden of proof to maintain their point of view when challenged by evidence that supports a view contrary to their own.
But let me go a step further to argue that atheists not only have the burden of proof to demonstrate the inadequacy of arguments in favor of contrary positions, but they also have the burden of proof to defend their position on the question of God's existence.
No one is on neutral ground except those who know nothing about a topic/issue. Everyone believes something about ultimate things, and therefore must take on some burden of proof. Those who view the world as including a divine being need to justify that worldview; i.e. give reasons why anyone should think that worldview accurately reflects reality. Likewise, those who view the world as being void of a divine being need to justify that worldview, and show its explanatory superiority over other worldviews.
Atheism is a truth-claim about ultimate things. It is a claim to describe the way the world really is. It is not merely a negative claim, but a positive claim as well. It is a positive claim that there is no God (strong atheism), or a positive claim that there is no reason to believe in God (weak atheism). You seem to be a weak atheist. Either way, a claim is being made concerning the true nature of the world and that claim needs to be defended.
On a related note, any valid intellectual position must have at least one point-of-falsification. You have to ask yourself, How much and what type of evidence is necessary to falsify my belief? If you don't know the answer to this question you may not be willing to change your position when presented with evidence that truly falsifies it. Once you discover what that evidence is, however, you will know what the other side must prove before you would be justified in changing your position. To state this more positively, one should ask themselves what type evidence they are willing to accept as proof that their position is in error. I have talked to one too many people in my life that will not change their position no matter how strong the evidence against it may be. Why? It is because they have a priori determined that they will believe A and not B regardless of the evidence, or lack thereof. That is intellectual stubbornness of the highest order. Those of us who seek truth we must always remember that truth is a leader, not a follower. We ought to accept where it leads us, rather than protest when it brings us down an unexpected path. Truth is more valuable than ego; truth is more valuable than reputation; truth is more valuable than winning arguments; truth is more valuable than being right. Truth is valuable simply because it is true.
Believers don't even come close to meeting their burden. Moreover, if I were a Christian I would be embarrassed by the intellectual dishonesty practiced by some, such as the disingenuous attacks on evolution (ironically, I maintain that evolution need not even be incompatible with existence of a deity/creator).
I think the best explanation for reality need not be the one that we would like to have. Theists may wish to believe what they do, but that doesn't make it so.
You are confused about so-called "strong atheism." One really cannot prove a negative, such as "Flying purple people-eaters don't exist." But, one should not have to. And one doesn't.
You have misrepresented atheism (weak atheism). If we sometimes seem to conclude anything, it is simply a concise way of stating that the various crank, supernatural, religious, and otherwise irrational claims have not been sustained.
But that is all this is. Failure to accept a position is not an affirmative position requiring a defense. It is unreasonable to demand that people defend against nonsense, for instance. You might not like that this is how it is, but you cannot simply insist that atheism is a position. Actually, atheism is a special kind of skepticism, which also is not a position but an attitude! We believe that the world is wonderful and worth knowing, but that we progress most by a healthy skepticism against irrationality in all forms.
I thought your first paragraph showed understanding, but your second paragraph reveals confusion. An atheist does not hold anything. Period.
I agree with your principle, but believe you have misapplied it. I don't have a position to defend. If there is no position, there can be no point of falsification for that non-position. You have it reversed. It is I that should be asking you what I need to show you to falsify your view. Typically, no amount of evidence ever suffices to deter a theist. And that is what makes such a person irrational, and perhaps irredeemable: the total overlooking of huge amounts of knowledge contradicting a position that is really untenable. I admire how you defend and define, but again, I believe the argument is against your belief, not against my lack of belief.
You are an able defender of your position, and even though I find your reasoning flawed, the flaw is sufficiently subtle and nuanced so as to escape detection by many. Still, I appreciate your ideas and promise to think more about them, notwithstanding the previous paragraphs.
Atheism is a position. It is a claim. Even if it is a negative claim, it is claim nonetheless, and as such it needs to be defended.
No. It is not a claim. Is refusing to believe in flying monsters a claim? Why should someone have to defend their disbelief of someone else's delusions?
If you say, "I do not believe in flying monsters" you are making a claim, are you not? We can debate over how much evidence/reason you must present to defend your claim, but indeed it is a claim.
No, I am not making any claim when I express disbelief. I am simply stating that the person making the claim has not met his burden of proof.
I am not trying to shift the burden by arguing that you are making a claim that you must defend. Clearly the theist has more burden than the atheist, but at the very least the moment the theist offers justification for belief in God the atheist has the burden of proof to show why that justification is inadequate, is not the best explanation, or is logically flawed. The atheist cannot merely sit back, fold his arms, and make assertions that the theist's reasons are not good. Furthermore, the atheist should lay out what is an acceptable level of proof to establish God's existence.
Although I object to the terms you used, in point of fact, atheistic and skeptical literature defends beautifully precisely along the lines you wish.
You do have some explaining to do as an atheist, just as I do as a theist. You have to explain
1. How something could come into existence out of nowhere caused by no one and no thing
2. How life could come from non-life
3. How irreducibly complex biological systems can arise by naturalistic means
4. The origin of our moral experience: understanding of right/wrong, justice/injustice, etc.
5. The problem of evil
6. What grounds continuity of identity through physical change
7. Our intuition that human beings are equal and deserving of equal rights.
9. Why man seeks a purpose in life
10. Why logic is universal
There is a lot to explain. Christianity provides rational responses for every one of these issues. I argue that Christian theism best explains why there is something rather than nothing. I argue that only Christianity makes the most sense of our moral experience. I argue that there must be a soul for us to have genuine free-will and genuine knowledge. I argue that if God did not exist it would be impossible to truly "know" that He does not exist. I argue that God makes the most sense out of the origin and present condition of the cosmos, etc.
We can never prove the existence of God or the truth of Christianity beyond a reasonable doubt, but that should not be the standard to which we are held. There are very few things that we can know with apodictic certainty. Even if at the end of the day you do not think our arguments provide adequate proof for the existence of God (as opposed to certainty), I think you can at least admit that belief in God/Christianity is not a blind leap of faith. It is a reasoned judgment based on reality and rooted in clear thinking. We are not engaging in wishful thinking while we close our eyes to the facts. Maybe a lot of Christians do that, but clearly not all. I do not believe in Christianity because I am unaware of other religions and philosophies, or because I close my eyes to the evidence. I am a Christian because I believe the evidence for the God of Christianity is very good, and that the Christian worldview best explains the kind of world we live in.
And just a reminder this is not a fight. This is a dialogue. I am more than happy to talk about these sorts of issues, and to learn from our discussion, but I do not engage in fights or attacks. While I believe I am right (as everybody does) I am open to correction as I hope you are too. Even if at the end of the day you remain an atheist and I remain a Christian, I hope through this dialogue we will come to understand things we did not understand before we began our dialogue, and that we will end the dialogue with mutual respect for one another.
It is an illusion that an atheist must argue why there is something (existence, matter, life, etc.) rather than nothing.
a. That there is existence is manifest and axiomatic.
b. To suggest an atheist has to explain matter or life is to suggest that the concept of oblivion makes some sense in the first place. In point of fact, the concept of nothingness is so repugnant to reason that it violates any reasonable person's sense of what must be shown.
c. Even if I agreed that God was the first-cause of the universe, where did God come from?
d. The other issues, such as consciousness, free will, evil, purpose, etc. are explained by science - e.g., Dr. Michael Shermer's books, such as "The Science of Good & Evil".
e. Religion pretends that bad answers, made-up answers, and wrong answers are always preferable to truth. In fact, I would far prefer to say "I don't know" than to make up stories of magic creatures with names like "God" and "Christ".
f. To the extent that Christianity addresses these questions is a testament not only to human needs and a certain core (e.g., need for purpose, fear of death), but is a kind of evolutionary answer to myth survival. Professor Paul Kurtz's book titled The Transcendental Temptation did a nice job of addressing many of these.
g. Atheism answers these things rationally, but theism merely gives magical fairy tales as answers. For most of recorded human history theism did not even bother to present any semblance of logic, until it got beaten up by reason (of course the answers have to relate at least a bit to reality, or else they would not survive).
h. Most people will respond to parental socialization and believe almost anything, so even then, reason takes a back seat to social pressure and conformity in terms of answering why myths survive. And the message of eternal life is certainly more welcome than "You live for perhaps 80 years and never again!" is.
i. I think religion is not really a blind leap at all. Yes, it is a leap of faith -- away from reason. But, it's a leap only in departing reason, and certainly not much of a leap in the sense of working hard. In fact, it's lazy thinking from the viewpoint of most people. (You are the relatively rare exception.)
In summary, notwithstanding your excellent defenses of your view, religion is a combination of wishful thinking, ignorance, and superstition all clothed to appear otherwise. Not only does theism not "best explain" reason, compassion, purpose, evil, consciousness, etc., it really does not explain any of them at all!
I enjoy discussing with you.
Let me respond to each of your points in turn.
a. It goes without saying that existence is manifest. The question is "Why is there something rather than nothing at all?" That is a question that both atheistic and theistic philosophers have addressed for millennia.
b. Scientists and philosophers both agree that the universe had a beginning, so there was a point at which nothing existed: oblivion. There was no space, no time, no matter, and then suddenly there was. So oblivion is not repugnant. It was a reality. The question is why it is no longer a reality.
c. I address this question in "Eternity and Forever."
d. Science cannot explain consciousness, free-will, etc. because they are not material things. Science can only examine the material world. If all that exists is material things, then free-will is an illusion.
e. What makes you think that? I prefer truth to bad answers, made-up answers, and wrong answers. That's why I am a Christian. I am not a Christian because it makes me feel good. I'm not a Christian because I like the concepts that Christianity teaches. In fact, if I had to choose a religion based on what I like it would not be Christianity! I am a Christian because I have evaluated other ideas (atheism, other religions, other philosophies) and found intellectually inferior to Christianity. Christianity is reasonable, and best explains reality as we encounter it.
f. I would ask, Why is it that these tend to be universal needs and questions of humanity? Maybe there is a metaphysical reason for them. Secondly, this appears to be the typical "religion is a crutch" argument. This sort of argument commits the genetic fallacy (invalidating a view based on how a person came to hold that view). The truth of a belief is independent of the influences or motivations that brought one to believe in it. While the observation that people get satisfaction from believing in God may be true, what follows from that observation? Nothing. It speaks nothing about the truth or error of Christianity itself. The truth of Christianity depends on the veracity of the claims themselves.
g. In all of my writings you will find that I employ rational arguments, not fairy-tales. I do not appeal to the Bible, some religious authority, or some personal experience. I advance rational arguments that can be accessed and evaluated by any one. It is entirely unfair and dishonest to castigate religion as irrational beliefs and fairy-tales. There have always been theistic apologists, even before the age of reason. The Greeks, the early church, and Muslim scholars supplied rational reasons to believe in God/Christianity before the age of reason. The age of reason, however, brought new challenges-challenges that many theists disengaged themselves from until the past ½ century. Some of the challenges were nothing but old challenges repackaged-challenges that theists had answered many times in the past. Others were new, and admittedly Christians became lazy and retreated to their den of experience rather than doing the hard work necessary to interact with their detractors in the public square. It's a sad history, but it is history. While many Christians are still in their den of experience, there are quite a few of top-rate Christian scholars who are addressing the big issues.
h. This is another example of the genetic fallacy. I could equally argue that atheists would prefer a world in which there is no God and no afterlife, because that would mean they have the freedom to live as they wish with no accountability to anyone and no consequences. Thomas Nagel (himself an atheist) spoke of such calling it a "cosmic authority problem." The fact of the matter is that all of us have some emotional tie to our beliefs-including atheists-but this does not tell us anything about the truth of the views themselves. The reasons for which someone may want to believe in God are only relevant after we first discover whether God exists.
i. I'm glad you do not see it as a blind leap, but it is not a leap against reason. My definition of faith is that it is a reasoned judgment in reality. I agree with you that many religious believers have not examined the issues at hand, and have very little reason to believe as they do (but then again, the same can be said of many atheists. The fact of the matter is that many people take positions on issues without a thorough investigation and without giving it much thought). Thank you for considering me to be one of the exceptions to the rule.
Interesting arguments-filled with mistakes, unfortunately.
For instance, you equate naturalism with mechanistic determinism. This is wrong on several levels.
My most strenuous objection is your insistence that atheism is a belief that no god exists. But, in fact, skepticism itself is not a set of positions as much as an attitude about requiring verification.
Moreover, although you are clever in that you are one of the few theists who understand falsification, religious claims cannot be falsified, and thus one could argue that a rational person could be forgiven for even discussing religion with a theist given that no matter how ridiculous his positions, no matter how many contradictions there are in the bible, no matter how religion is at odds with science and reality, the believer will never allow his mind to change.
Given sufficient evidence I would embrace theism, but the burden of proof is enormous.
I do understand your point about atheism not being a belief in the positive sense (at least in your case) and grant that to you, but you do have a worldview that presupposes the non-existence of God. Yours is just one of many worldviews. When someone asks, "Which worldview (theism, atheism) better explains reality as we encounter it?", do you not have an obligation to defend the coherency of your worldview against the others? Do you not have the obligation to show how your worldview better explains reality as we encounter it than the next worldview? I think so. So if nothing else, in the presence of competing worldviews you have the burden of proof to show why your worldview is superior to the next.
I find it difficult, if not impossible for the choices we make to be genuinely free choices (in the sense that could have been otherwise) in a purely physical world. Everything is just matter in motion-nothing more and nothing less. Purely physical things do not decide; they simply react in determined ways to prior physical stimuli. If we are just physical, how do we escape the cause and effect to be the masters of our own destiny, free from coercion? In a purely physical world all of our thoughts, acts, decisions, etc. are not free and could not have been otherwise. They are what they are because of prior physical events in our lives. Naturalism, then, does lead to mechanistic determinism.
You said religious beliefs cannot be falsified. I disagree. All that needs to be done is to refute the solid philosophical arguments offered in behalf of God's existence (rather than simply offering some off-the-wall possible alternative explanation as is so often done). If one could show me how it is more reasonable to believe that something can come from nothing out of nowhere caused by nothing fully charged with energy I would take one huge step away from theism. If one could show me a better explanation for our moral experience than theism, I would take another huge step away from theism. Unfortunately, however, atheists have not been able to provide superior explanations to theism.
You said, "No matter how ridiculous his positions , no matter how religion is at odds with science and reality, the believer will never allow his mind to change." Your description of the theist is equally applicable to the atheist in many cases. Richard Lewontin (the eminent professor of genetics at Harvard, and himself a committed non-theistic evolutionist) was very candid about this when he said:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs...in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.1
In his book, The Last Word, Thomas Nagel, an atheist professor of philosophy and law at New York University School of Law, defended philosophical rationalism against subjectivism. At one point he admits that rationalism has theistic implications that he does not like. He suggests that subjectivism is due in part to a fear of religion, citing his own fear as a case in point:
I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: 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. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning, and design as fundamental features of the world.2
These quotes demonstrate that both believers and unbelievers alike can be guilty of only seeing what they want to see, no matter how much the evidence speaks against it, and no matter how much at odds it is with common sense. I find that atheists have to make all sorts of unreasonable claims and appeal to unlikely explanations to maintain their worldview. They have to claim that matter could simply pop into existence out of nowhere without a prior and sufficient cause, fully charged with energy. They have to say the cause is greater than the effect. They have to claim that chance could account for the specified complexity in our universe (despite the overwhelming statistical data which shows the chances of even small elements necessary for evolution to be less than the total molecules in the entire universe). They have to say order comes from chaos. They have to say that our sense of objective right and wrong is an accident of nature.
But where do we see nothing coming from something? Where do we see an effect without a prior cause? Where do we see life coming from non-life (we have a scientific law that says it does not happen)? Where do we see chaos producing order? Where do we see macro-evolution occurring in our world? We don't. So how is it reasonable to believe in those things? Those beliefs are not rooted in scientific observation. They are simply required beliefs for atheism as a worldview to be true. Belief in such things is not a commitment of reason, but a commitment of faith to a philosophic position that attempts to get God out of the picture at all costs-even the cost of common sense. Atheists would rather propose the wildest and most unscientific of theories to get out of what appears to be the best explanation of these things. So, yes, there are some theists who believe in God against the evidence that they are aware of to the contrary, but there are also atheists who reject the existence of God knowing that acknowledging His existence would provide a better explanation of the data and our human experience. Not only do I believe that there is more than sufficient evidence to believe in the reality of God's existence, but I believe there is good evidence to believe that atheism as a world view is not coherent, and cannot explain the totality of the human experience and reality as we encounter it.
Finally, I wanted to share something I ran across recently from Paul Copan concerning theism, atheism, and the burden of proof:
Even if the theist could not muster good arguments for God's existence, atheism still would not be shown to be true. The outspoken atheist Kai Nielsen recognizes this: "To show that an argument is invalid or unsound is not to show that the conclusion of the argument is false.... All the proofs of God's existence may fail, but it still may be the case that God exists." (Kai Nielsen, Reason and Practice (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 143-44.)
Alvin Plantinga correctly argues that the atheist does not treat the statements "God exists" and "God does not exist" in the same manner. The atheist assumes that if one has no evidence for God's existence, then one is obligated to believe that God does not exist-whether or not one has evidence against God's existence. Atheism is justified only if there is sufficient evidence against God's existence.3
If we do not have that positive evidence at best we should remain agnostic on the God-question until sufficient evidence for or against God's existence is discovered.
What you cite may have relevance if atheists made an affirmative claim such as "There is no God" instead of "I don't believe in a God." However, that is not the case (although I do concede that this is a popular confusion among many). Theistic radio hosts such as Sean Hannity and G. Gordon Liddy love to depict the strong position as the definition, because it allows a more equal footing. Incidentally, I learned years ago not to allow outsiders to define insiders' terms, values, and so on.
I think you missed the point. The point is that the issue of God's existence is not settled simply because adequate proof for God's existence has not been provided (assuming such was the case). To settle the question of God's existence; to end the agnostic pursuit, one must have positive evidence that God does not exist.
You once compared belief in God to belief in Santa Clause, noting that just as you do not need to find evidence against Santa's existence to not accept it, you do not need evidence against God's existence to not accept it either. As Paul Copan said, "To place belief in Santa Claus or mermaids and belief in God on the same level is mistaken. The issue is not that we have no good evidence for these mythical entities; rather, we have strong evidence that they do not exist. Absence of evidence is not at all the same as evidence of absence, which some atheists fail to see."4 Even atheist Kai Nielsen recognized that fact.
Admittedly, there are times in which absence of evidence is evidence of absence. This happens when we would expect to find evidence of something's existence, but in fact find none. For example, if Santa exists we would expect to find his home in the North Pole, or have empirical evidence of flying reindeers, elves, or Santa being caught on a security camera delivering presents inside someone's home. Where evidence should be found, none is found, and thus the absence of evidence is good evidence for Santa's absence from the realm of the real. The principle here is that "the justification conferred...will be proportional to the ratio between the amount of evidence that we do have and the amount of evidence that we should expect if the entity existed. If the ratio is small, then little justification is conferred on the belief that the entity does not exist."
(William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 156).
If you do not have positive evidence against God's existence you should still be on the agnostic journey. And don't come back with "agnosticism is atheism by default." Say what you will, but you positively do not believe there is a God. Every negative claim is an affirmative claim in reverse. Using Santa Clause as an example, when I say "I don't believe in Santa Clause" it reflects my positive affirmation that "I believe Santa Clause does not exist." The same goes for your claim concerning God. After all, the reason we do not believe in particular things is because we positively do not believe they exist. If they existed we would believe in them. Our beliefs (epistemology) are only justified if grounded in an appropriate ontological foundation. So to deny that your claim "I don't believe in a God" (epistemology) does not presuppose the affirmative belief that "God does not exist" (ontology) seems to engage in word games, and seems intellectually dishonest.
Actually, I think you make a very good point here, and intellectual honesty demands that I acknowledge it and consider it more-whether it fails to sway me, or not. Thank you. Not saying it changes anything, but still, good point.
You said, "But where do we see nothing coming from something? Where do we see an effect without a prior cause? Where do we see life coming from non-life (we have a scientific law that says it does not happen)? Where do we see chaos producing order? Where do we see macro-evolution occurring in our world? We don't. So how is it reasonable to believe in those things? Those beliefs are not rooted in scientific observation. They are simply required beliefs for atheism as a worldview to be true." No, they're not required beliefs, or beliefs at all. They are not even what smart atheists say!
Then what do smart atheists say? How do they get out of this problem? I have heard some smart atheists from the big universities say some of the dumbest things to explain these facts.
What is wrong with saying "I don't know (at least not yet)"? An honest lack of an answer is still infinitely preferable to the typical Christian bad answer.
Nothing is wrong with not knowing. There are many things I do not know, but the fact that you raise this question tells me that you see the "God option" as the "I don't know" explanation. That is not true. This is not a God-of-the-gaps kind of thing in which we invoke God to explain what we find ourselves staring in the face of human ignorance. The God option is the best explanation for what we do know. The problem of evil, consciousness, free-will, irreducible complexity, etc. are best explained by the existence by an Intelligent, Personal Being.
The problem with naturalists is that they will not allow the best explanation simply because it is a supernatural explanation that employs intelligence. But what is wrong with that if the evidence suggests a supernatural/intelligent origin/cause? As Michael Behe wrote, "It is often said that science must avoid any conclusions which smack of the supernatural. But this seems to me to be both bad logic and bad science. Science is not a game in which arbitrary rules are used to decide what explanations are to be permitted. Rather, it is an effort to make true statements about physical reality."5 If reality is that the God created the universe why not acknowledge it, especially since that is the conclusion the evidence supports? The only reason is the atheist's a priori philosophical prejudice against the existence of God.
Why Is There Something Rather than Nothing?
You have to explain how something could come into existence out of nowhere caused by no one and no thing.
That there is existence is manifest and axiomatic.
It goes without saying that existence is manifest. The question is "Why is there something rather than nothing at all?" That is a question that both atheistic and theistic philosophers have addressed for millennia.
I disagree. Nothingness is repugnant to reason. I maintain that one cannot even imagine oblivion. Explaining oblivion is the one that requires work-not explaining existence!
Repugnant or not, scientists are virtually unanimous that there was a point of singularity before which nothing existed. Philosophers agree as well. All that's left is to explain how nothing became something, and atheism is an inadequate explanation. Only theism can adequately solve the dilemma. The beginning of the cosmos requires a personal, infinite, eternal, non-spatial, immaterial cause.
This is a rare instance in which I don't just go along with prevailing opinion. Some scientists say there may be an infinite repetition of cycles of big bangs followed by a collapse of the universe into a point of singularity, and followed once again by another bang. But even if they are wrong, inadequacy of theory A is not proof of theory B because there may be alternatives. Also, theory A may simply need more shoring up, not total replacement.
And the god-view is rife with far bigger problems. It's basically a magic answer-and in my opinion an unworthy answer-because all questions are swept under the rug of "God did it" as though that answers anything, never mind everything.
Yes, some scientists propose an "oscillating theory" of the universe. The question is not Are there alternative theories? The question is Are the alternative theories sound, and more plausible than the Intelligent Designer theory? You will find that the oscillating universe theory is flawed both scientifically and philosophically.
Philosophically it will not work because it cannot escape the problem of an absolute beginning. The theory attempts to say the universe has undergone an infinite series of expansions and contractions, and thus does not require a beginning. It is impossible for the past to be infinitely long. Today would mark the end of the infinite series of past events, and yet infinity by definition is without beginning or ending. It is simply impossible to traverse an actual infinity, so the past must be finite. The oscillating theory cannot escape the problem of a beginning no matter how many universes you want to postulate existed before the current one. Ultimately there had to be a first universe that came into being from nothing, and such a universe needs a cause.
It will not work scientifically either. Our knowledge of physics does not support an infinitely oscillating universe. As the late Professor Tinsley of Yale explains, in oscillating models "even though the mathematics say that the universe oscillates, there is no known physics to reverse the collapse and bounce back to a new expansion. The physics seems to say that those models start from the Big Bang, expand, collapse, then end." The observations of astronomers appear to run contrary to the oscillating model as well for two reasons.
William Lane Craig observed that
the observed homogeneity of matter distribution throughout the universe seems unaccountable on an oscillating model. During the contraction phase of such a model, black holes begin to gobble up surrounding matter, resulting in an inhomogeneous distribution of matter. But there is no known mechanism to "iron out" these inhomogeneities during the ensuing expansion phase. Thus, the homogeneity of matter observed throughout the universe would remain unexplained.6
Second, the density of the universe appears to be insufficient for the re-contraction of the universe. For the oscillating model to be even possible, it is necessary that the universe be sufficiently dense such that gravity can overcome the force of the expansion and pull the universe back together again. However, according to the best estimates, if one takes into account both luminous matter and non-luminous matter (found in galactic halos) as well as any possible contribution of neutrino particles to total mass, the universe is still only about one-half that needed for re-contraction. Moreover, recent work on calculating the speed and deceleration of the expansion confirms that the universe is expanding at, so to speak, "escape velocity" and will not therefore re-contract. According to Sandage and Tammann, "Hence, we are forced to decide that . . . it seems inevitable that the Universe will expand forever"; they conclude, therefore, that "the Universe has happened only once."7
Rich Deem said
the reason that the universe would not "bounce" if it were to contract is that the universe is extremely inefficient (entropic). In fact, the universe is so inefficient that the bounce resulting from the collapse of the universe would be only 0.00000001% of the original Big Bang (see table above). Such a small "bounce" would result in an almost immediate re-collapse of the universe into one giant black hole for the rest of eternity."8
Even if the universe does oscillate the thermodynamic properties of this model imply a beginning to the oscillation cycles. Again Craig writes:
For the thermodynamic properties of an oscillating model are such that the universe expands farther and farther with each successive cycle. Therefore, as one traces the expansions back in time, they grow smaller and smaller. As one scientific team explains, "The effect of entropy production will be to enlarge the cosmic scale, from cycle to cycle. . . . Thus, looking back in time, each cycle generated less entropy, had a smaller cycle time, and had a smaller cycle expansion factor than the cycle that followed it."9
I agree that inadequacy of theory A is not proof of theory B. Theory B needs to amass its own support and be shown to have more explanatory scope, explanatory power, and plausibility than theory A. When it comes to origins there is a lot of evidence supporting the notion that evolution is not adequate to account for the whole of our universe, and a lot of evidence suggesting that an Intelligent, infinite, eternal, personal Designer is responsible.
This is not a God-of-the-gaps view at all. God is not being invoked to explain what we don't understand, but rather to explain what we do understand! Knowing what we know about the characteristics of intelligent agency, and knowing what we know about the characteristics of our world we have every good reason to believe that intelligence of some sort was responsible for at least certain parts of our universe. Our universe bears all the marks of an intelligent designer. Evolutionists recognize this. Richard Dawkins, in The Blind Watchmaker wrote, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose."10 Everyone agrees that the world appears designed so the burden of proof is on those want to attribute what bears the characteristics of having been designed to chance to show how chance is capable of producing the same thing. That has not been done. Evolutionists have not satisfied their burden of proof.
In the same way you argued that people have no reason to assume God exists unless theists satisfy their burden of proof to demonstrate otherwise, likewise I argue that people have no reason to assume that anything other than an intelligent agent created our world (seeing that it appears to have been designed, and bears all the characteristics of design) unless atheists satisfy their burden of proof to demonstrate that the order and specified complexity of our universe could be produced by chance events. I do not need to do that though because theism is not only the default position by ignorance to any arguments to the contrary, but is supported by the empirical evidence itself.
Even if every criticism you stated were shown to be correct and true, they would not suffice to demonstrate the necessity for existence of a deity. I understand "the transcendental temptation" to believe so (to use the title of Dr. Paul Kurtz's book), but that does not make it so.
It's not clear at all to me that an eternal past is not possible.
And I have no such burden. I simply say that I don't know. Period. And this is important. I do not assume anything about design in the universe. Yes, it may appear designed, but it also appears that we see flying saucers, or that the sun revolves around the earth. So what? It has NO bearing on whether there has actually been any design!!!
I don't even agree that your use of the word "design" is correct, because humans mean "design" as distinct from how things appear naturally without special human intervention. So, at best it's circular, and at worst it's a violation of the meaning of "design" to say things in nature are designed.
What do I say, then? I simply say nature exists: within reality there is life, matter, and observable generalizations about how things behave (usually called "laws"). Do you dispute that? I don't think so.
I don't know or understand how they came to be, but I am comfortable with the co-eternity of matter and life.
I also remind you that when asking me to explain things like the universe existing, I will say to you: "As opposed to what? Oblivion?" To me, that is a concept that is odious and repugnant to reason-not reality, matter, life, etc.
But, whatever holes I have, that's not to say that any theory is necessarily better. I far prefer to say I don't know than to latch onto religion (however masquerading as science).
What it does suffice to demonstrate is that there must be a beginning to the material world. From there philosophy kicks in to tell us what is necessary for there to be a beginning. Let me briefly summarize this argument for you:
If it is impossible to traverse the infinite (and it is), then there must be a beginning to our universe. Everything that comes into being has a cause, so the beginning of the universe must have had a cause. Whatever caused space, time, and matter to come into existence cannot itself be spatial, temporal, and material because you cannot bring into existence for the first time that which already exists. So the first cause must be eternal, non-spacial, and non-material. Furthermore, the nature of the first cause must be personal because only a personal agent can will an effect to come into being without a prior cause. It cannot be an event, because event-causes always presuppose a prior event, and yet there is not an infinite amount of time in which an infinite amount of event-causes could exist. If the first cause of the universe was an event cause, we would be back to the problem of traversing the infinite. That is why the first cause of the universe must be personal, in addition to being eternal, non-spacial, non-material, etc. That is a description of a monotheistic God. That's what suffices to demonstrate the necessary existence of God.
You said it is not clear to you that it is impossible to have an eternal past, so let me argue this point a little more. In philosophy it is called "the impossibility of traversing the infinite." It is impossible to have an infinite amount of time before the present because the present would be the terminus of that infinite amount of preceding time. Because infinity has no terminus, however, it would be a contradiction in terms to speak of an infinite amount of time before the present. If there existed an eternal past would could never have arrived at "today." Greg Koukl summed this up very well when he said:
We agreed you cannot get to any infinite point in the future by adding events one to another. Therefore, this present moment in time can't represent an actual infinite number of events added one to another proceeding from the past. Time has proceeded forward from the past as one event is added onto another to get us to today. But we know that whenever you pause in the count you can't have an infinite number of events. Which means that there is no infinite number of events that goes backward from this point in time, only a finite number of events. If you can't get into the infinite future from a fixed reference point (the present) by adding consecutive events one by one, you cannot get into the infinite past by subtracting consecutive events, one by one, from a fixed reference point (the present).11
An actual infinite is philosophically and experientially impossible. As the famous mathematician, David Hilbert, wrote, "The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought. The role that remains for the infinite to play solely that of an idea." [David Hilbert, "On the Infinite", in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. with an Intro. by Paul Benacerraf and Hilary Putnam (Prentice-Hall, 1964) p. 151.]
It's not just that a beginning to the temporo-spatial-material world makes more sense than an eternal world, but that it is the only possible explanation given what we know from astrophysics and philosophy. Even the famed materialist Stephen Hawking wrote, "Almost everyone now believes that the universe and time itself had a beginning at the Big Bang." [Stephen Hawking, The Nature of Space and Time (Princeton University Press, 1996), 20] Philosophically speaking this world had to have a beginning. Science bears out the same conclusion with Big Bang cosmology and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.
Concerning design, "design" is not a nilly-willy kind of a word. We mean something very specific by it. Design is detectable because it bears certain characteristics, particularly the characteristic of specified complexity (not just specified information, and not just complexity, but specified complexity). We do not have to know that someone designed something, or know who the designer was to recognize design when we see it. When I drive by Mt. Rushmore I know it was designed even though I don't know who did it or when. When I find a piece of ancient jewelry while excavating a piece of land I recognize that it was designed. If we landed on Pluto and found skyscrapers I would not have to have pictures of someone building those skyscrapers to know that they were designed by an intelligent mind. The same goes for the universe. It bears all the marks of design.
The Intelligent Design argument is a logical argument about how wholes are constructed from parts. As Nancy Pearcey wrote,
An aggregate structure, like a pile of sand, can be built up gradually by simply adding a piece at a time-one grain of sand after another. By contrast, an organized structure, like the inside of a computer, is built up according to a preexisting blueprint, plan, or design. Each interlocking piece is structured to contribute the functioning of the whole-which in turn becomes possible only after a minimal number of pieces are in place. The logical question, then is whether living structures are aggregates or organized wholes. And the answer is clear: Not only on the level of body systems, but also within each tiny cell, living structures are incredibly complex organized wholes. The most plausible theory, then, is that the pieces were put together according to a preexisting blueprint.12
William Dembski adds,
It's not just that certain biological systems are so complex that we can't imagine how they evolved by Darwinian pathways. Rather, we can show conclusively that direct Darwinian pathways are causally inadequate to bring them about and that indirect Darwinian pathways, which have always been more difficult to substantiate, are utterly without empirical support in bringing them about. Conversely, we do know what has the causal power to produce irreducible complexity-intelligent design.13
If we see specified complexity in the universe, but have no testable theory to show how such complexity could have come about naturally, then by default it should be attributed to an Intelligent Designer because we have positive and conclusive evidence that intelligent designers are able to create complex things of a specified sort.
To answer your question, the appearance of design has a lot of bearing on the issue. While appearances can be deceiving, and we can be mistaken in our sensory judgments, we generally trust our senses unless we have very good evidence to believe that our senses are deceiving us. Since everyone agrees that the universe appears designed, the evidence must be very good to demonstrate that our senses are deceiving us.
The universe is not a closed system, I have been told, and therefore, the thermodynamic claim is a misuse of physics.
The only way the universe could be an open system is if it were infinite, but it is not. Physics has demonstrated that to be true, so I cannot possibly be misusing physics in my argument. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is one of the most attested scientific laws known to man. There is no scientific evidence upon which to deny it. As British cosmologist, Arthur Eddington, wrote:
The Law that entropy increases-the Second Law of Thermodynamics-holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations-then so much for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation-well, these experiments do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.
[Quoted in Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1988, 20, quoted in Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 78.]
Truth vs. Made-up Answers
Religion pretends that bad answers, made-up answers, and wrong answers are always preferable to truth. In fact, I would far prefer to say "I don't know" than to make up stories of magic creatures with names like "God" and "Christ".
I prefer truth to bad answers, made-up answers, and wrong answers.
Come, come now! Now you are stealing my words. Christians and theists more generally are notorious for making up things. That you may be one of the few with not just intellect, but integrity does not mean that most of your compatriots are above this. I enjoy the irony, however, of you trying to use that line on me!
I'm not using a line on you. I speak the truth.
Some of the most intellectually dishonest people I have met are atheists, so the blade cuts both ways. On your side you have people such as Richard Dawkins who go so far as to say in The Blind Watchmaker, "Even if there were no actual evidence in favor of the Darwinian theory we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories."14 (emphasis in original) Then there is Kansas State University professor, S.C. Todd, who wrote in Nature, "Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic."15 Neither of these statements indicates people who are willing to follow the evidence where it leads. They are committed to a particular philosophy, and plan to stick to that philosophy even if it has no evidentiary support, and even if all the evidence supports the existence of an Intelligent Designer.
When it comes to explaining how something comes from nothing out of nowhere caused by no one Peter Atkins of Oxford just makes up an ad hoc answer that is absolutely irrational and has no empirical, philosophic, or scientific support.16 But for smart atheists like Atkins, any answer-no matter how irrational-is better than following the evidence where it leads. Once again I quote Richard Lewontin:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs...in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.17
Free Will and Consciousness
Science cannot explain consciousness and free-will because they are not material things. Science can only examine the material world. If all that exists is material things, then free-will is an illusion.
Claiming they are not material, or admitting ignorance of the mechanisms is a far cry from proving they are not material. We know plenty about products inducing certain "desired" emotions chemically. The pharmaceutical industry, in fact, makes a wonderful profit on such products.
But even if I were not right just making up a "God" does not answer anything. In fact, it makes it worse. You have unwittingly violated both Ockham's Razor and the Scholastic Argument (objective reality of cause exceeds that of effects).
I am not talking about a mere ignorance of the mechanisms. I am talking about the object itself. Free-will and human consciousness are not physical things. How do I know? I know so because they lack all physical properties.
I disagree. You might as well try telling me that certain natural processes are unnatural. Sorry that won't fly with me.
Then what are the physical properties of free-will and consciousness? How much do they weigh? How far do they extend into space? What is their chemical composition? Name me just one physical property inherent to consciousness or free-will. If you cannot, then you are unjustified in claiming that they are physical things.
According to some honest materialists free-will is really an illusion. John Bishop candidly stated that "the idea of a responsible agent, with the 'originative' ability to initiate events in the natural world, does not sit easily with the idea of a natural organism . Our scientific understanding of human behavior seems to be in tension with a presupposition of the ethical stance we adopt toward it."18
Again, Bishop says that
the problem of natural agency is an ontological problem-a problem about whether the existence of actions can be admitted within a natural scientific perspective Agent causal-relations do not belong to the ontology of the natural perspective. Naturalism does not essentially employ the concept of a causal relation whose first member is in the category of person or agent (or even in the broader category of continuant or "substance"). All natural causal relations have first members in the category of event or state of affairs.19
In other words, naturalism does not allow for free-will agents to simply decide. There is no such thing as agent-causation; only event-causation. Event-causes work in a strictly deterministic cause and effect relationship. There is no room for free will in event-causation. According to naturalism human acts are better classified as "happenings," not acts. "Acts" implies the involvement of a personal, willing agent. That concept is void in a purely naturalistic worldview.
Cornell University professor, William Provine, admitted that "free will as it is traditionally conceived-the freedom to make uncoerced and unpredictable choices among alternative possible courses of action-simply does not exist . There is no way that the evolutionary process as it is currently conceived can produce a being that is truly free to make choices."20
If there is no free will no one is capable of choosing to believe something because of good reasons. He would only believe what he does because he has been determined to do so by prior physical forces acting on him. Arguments would not matter; reasons would not matter; only prior physical events acting on one at that moment would matter. One person's belief in materialistic determinism is just as determined as another person's belief in free-will theism. We might experience an illusion of knowledge, but we could never know if what we think we know about the world is the way it truly is, or if it is merely the way we have been determined to believe it is by prior physical causes in our life. Genuine rationality requires freedom, and yet freedom is not possible in a purely material world. In a purely material world every one of our thoughts and beliefs are determined rather than being based on good reasons. That's why if there is no such thing as free-will no one could know it.
This is a problem for the atheist because he must confess that while our thoughts have the appearance of independent rationality and genuine deliberation, these are merely illusions. Such a confession requires that the atheist to give up his claims to objective knowledge, for in a materialistic world knowledge is not objective and testable but determined by physical factors and above verification. The atheist is left without a means to test or ground his claims of knowledge in reality because he could never know if what he believes about the way things really are is the way they truly are, or if he has simply been determined to believe what he does because of the way prior events have unfolded in his life. It could be that there is no free-will, but if this were true it would be impossible to know it because we could not have any meaningful deliberation over the evidence for and against the idea. Whatever we may believe about free-will has been determined for us by preceding physical factors, as is everything else we claim to know is true.
So where does the atheist's knowledge that there is no God and no soul come from? Where does his knowledge that only the material world exists come from? It could not have come by adjudicating between the evidence for and against God's existence and concluding that evidence in support of His non-existence was superior to the evidence in support of His existence. No, it came as the result of prior physical causes acting on his physical stuff. Simply put the atheist's belief that God does not exist is not based on good reasons, but on prior physical causes. This strips the atheist's claim of any real meaning and ontological status.
To ground knowledge in reality, and to believe that knowledge is testable and discoverable by weighing available evidence requires the existence of an immaterial soul, which in turn requires an immaterial source (God). Without a soul we must confess that knowledge is determined by prior physical forces working on one's brain, and thus may not have any relationship to reality. Because the "knowledge" we experience in a material world cannot be tested by independent rationality human beings are deprived of developing any meaningful epistemology. Without a valid and objective epistemology it is rather impossible for the atheist to ground his claim that there is no God as true knowledge, while at the same time denying the very mechanism necessary to ground that claim as such: the soul. The non-believer, then, finds himself in a predicament wherein he must embrace theism if he is going to try to make any meaningful claims at all concerning the existence or non-existence of God. And if theism must be assumed before such an argument can be made, the argument for God's non-existence can no longer be made. In the end the atheist must confess that for him to know God does not exist, God must exist.
I find it difficult, if not impossible, then, for the choices we make to be genuinely free (in the sense that could have been otherwise) in a purely physical world. Everything is just matter in motion-nothing more and nothing less. Purely physical things do not decide; they react in determined ways to prior physical stimuli. If we are just physical, how do we escape the cause and effect to be the masters of our own destiny, free from coercion? In a purely physical world all of our thoughts, acts, decisions, etc. are not free and could not have been otherwise. They are what they are because of prior physical events in our lives.
Actually, there are physical correlates of these activities, and soon the actual physical mechanisms may all be worked out. Or, it may take a long time.
And materials are not united on free will being an illusion. There are determinists and free-willers in both atheist and theist camps.
Actually, I have not yet decided about free will vs. determinism, but I reject pure determinism for the reasons you outlined. In fact I believe the dichotomy is the problem, in that the role of consciousness is incorrectly admitted. Once admitted, we see that humans can intervene with some control-although one could argue that control itself is a product of earlier experiences/interactions/causes. But even then, the theist is just as troubled as the non-theist.
I agree that there is a correlation, but the correlation is between something physical and something non-physical. The fact remains that consciousness qua consciousness is non-physical. All attempts to materialize it have failed. Scientists cannot even figure out the causal relationship between the two. Naturalist, John Searle, went so far as to say "the leading problem in the biological sciences is the problem of explaining how neurobiological processes cause conscious experience."21 Naturalist philosopher, Ned Block, likewise admitted that
we have no conception of our physical or functional nature that allows us to understand how it could explain our subjective experience, or so says one point of view on consciousness ... However, the fact is that in the case of thought, we actually have more than one substantive research program and their proponents are busy fighting it out, comparing which research program handles which phenomena best. But in the case of consciousness, we have nothing--zilch--worthy of being called a research program, nor are there any substantive proposals about how to go about starting one. Researchers are stumped. There have been many tantalizing discoveries recently about neuropsychological syndromes in which consciousness seems to be in some way missing or defective, but no one has yet come up with a theoretical perspective that uses these data to narrow the explanatory gap, even a little bit.22
Why postulate a purely physicalist view of the mind? Is it because the evidence for such a view is more compelling than the evidence for substance dualism? No. John Searle wrote, "Acceptance of the current [physicalist] views is motivated not so much by an independent conviction of their truth as by a terror of what are apparently the only alternatives. That is, the choice we are tacitly presented with is between a 'scientific' approach, as represented by one or another of the current versions of 'materialism,' and an 'unscientific' approach, as represented by Cartesianism or some other traditional religious conception of the mind." [John Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), 3-4, in William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 249.]
John Searle was honest about the bias against mind when he wrote, “Earlier materialists argued that there aren’t any such things as separate mental phenomena, because mental phenomena are identical with brain states. More recent materialists argue that there aren’t any such things as separate mental phenomena because they are not identical with brain states. I find this pattern very revealing, and what it reveals is an urge to get rid of mental phenomena at any cost.” [Ibid., 260.] Why such an urge to get rid of the mind? It’s because Darwin’s theory requires it. As Daniel Dennett wrote that “Darwin saw from the outset that his theory had to include an entirely naturalistic account of the origins of ‘mind,’…for if Man were to be the golden exception to Darwin’s rule, the whole theory would be dismissible.” [Daniel Dennett, review of Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior by Robert J. Richards, Philosophy of Science 56 (1989): 541, in William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 512.]
It is interesting how you worded that: "I have not yet decided about free will vs. determinism." The fact that you believe you can actually decide on this issue demonstrates that you believe in free will, for in a naturalistic worldview (which is required of the atheistic worldview) you cannot truly decide anything. Your beliefs are decided for you by prior physical factors acting on your physical stuff. You may think you are deliberating over the evidence, and that your conclusions are based on good reasons, but at best this is simply an illusion. Rationality evolved by blind, random chance just like everything else. There is no way to know, then, whether human rationality possesses the ability to reflect reality, or if it is just the product of meaningless chance forces both past and present. Darwin wrestled with this question, calling it his "horrid doubt." He wrote, "With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy." Darwin recognized that in a purely material world in which everything is produced by random chance processes, objective and reliable knowledge seems improbable. Indeed, Darwin recognized that his worldview cut off the very branch he was sitting on. A materialistic view of the world cannot ground knowledge in any meaningful way.
Given your belief that you can decide, the only question that remains is What worldview can ground objective knowledge that is truly related to the real world? I guarantee you that it is not atheism. Only theism can ground objective knowledge. If atheism cannot ground such basic human intuitions such as free-will and objective knowledge, it is not an adequate worldview (it cannot provide an adequate epistemology, yet alone an adequate ontology). When one's worldview points in one direction, and yet their experience in another, it is time for them to reevaluate their worldview. If free-will is real; if rationality is real and reliable, something must account for it. The best explanation is that our rationality is due to the fact that we were created in the image of the Ultimate Personal/Rational Being.
Naturalists have been trying for a long time to supply a naturalistic explanation for consciousness but have been frustrated in their attempts. Why? Because consciousness is not a physical thing. There are physical processes that correlate with consciousness (but no one knows the causal relationship between the two), but consciousness itself is not physical. How do I know this? I know this because physical things have physical properties: height, weight, dimensions, chemical composition, etc. So how much does consciousness weigh? What is the chemical composition of consciousness? To ask the questions themselves demonstrates the absurdity of the presupposition.
If consciousness was a physical thing, scientists should be able to see what you see at this moment. They should be able to see your memories in your brain. Why? Because they are 1st person experiences accessible only to you. The chemical processes accompanying your consciousness, however, are accessible to others. While scientists can see those processes, only you can see your thoughts. Why? Because you are a substantial soul, an immaterial entity.
How can you reject determinism? An atheistic worldview necessarily entails some sort of determinism because there is nothing that can transcend the mechanistic cause and effect determinism inherent to a physical universe operating according to natural laws. Even if you want to invoke quantum physics, all that does is add a little chance to the equation. You are still not left with genuine free-will and deliberation that leads one in a rational way to come to know the world as it really is. It only means that some things you know were determined by law, whereas others were determined by chance. But in neither case is there any sense in which you freely chose what to believe irrespective of prior physical forces acting on your physical "stuff."
So what? I would rather admit not knowing or admit to having an incomplete answer rather than make something up and then pretend that I had an answer (which is what your religious stuff is: just things made up that sound good, taking advantage of certain human aspirations and hungers, but ultimately failing to come even close to demonstrating the existence of a supernatural being).
You put it rather starkly, but for the most part, I can live with this. Free will might be more illusory than you think anyway.
"So what?" This shows your true hand. You are not concerned with the evidence. You are only willing to accept certain kinds of explanations, and you have a priori ruled out the existence of God as one of the acceptable explanations. You are not committed to finding truth, but rather committed to finding "truths" you find personally acceptable. If God is the best explanation, why deny it? If our attempts to find naturalistic answers to certain questions fail, why not allow for some other type of explanation? Who said that naturalistic explanations are the only possible explanations to reality?
If God actually does exist, and God actually created the universe then we should expect to find evidence of that. If you create a painting, should I not expect to find evidence of your creative fingerprint in it? Of course. And if there is evidence that the painting was painted by someone (because it exhibits patterns, brushstrokes, etc.), then all attempts to keep looking for a naturalistic cause would be foolish. Indeed, if the cause of some things is supernatural in nature, then all attempts at finding a purely natural explanation for them are doomed to failure. If after years and years of seeking a natural explanation we cannot find one, maybe we ought to recognize that it might be because there isn't one. This is especially the case with the mind-brain issue. A naturalistic explanation is impossible because consciousness is not a physical thing. If it's not a physical thing, then it can't have a physical cause. Trying to find a physical cause to a non-physical thing is like trying to weigh a chicken with a yardstick. It can't be done. Trying for longer and longer periods of time will not bring us any closer to success because we're using the wrong tools and wrong concepts to answer the question.
If free-will is illusory, then how do you know that what you have freely chosen to believe based on what you thought was a rational conclusion ofthe evidence is actually the way the world really is?
You can't, you won't, and you don't.
If free-will is illusory, then why are you so concerned about changing the minds of those who have been determined to believe in God by physics? I guess you do so because physics has determined for you to do so, and you only are under the illusion that it is something you have chosen to do. You can say you believe free-will might actually be illusory, but you don't act as though you do. It's our actions, not our professed beliefs that truly reveal what it is that we believe.
Not necessarily. Consciousness is a real phenomenon--one that doesn't require magic, imaginary beings--and it accounts for your sense of free will.
I personally hold the issue to be insoluble, but because it is morally repugnant to reject free will (e.g., no criminal responsibility), we opt in favor of acting as though we have free will and we should hold people responsible.
But, at a purely intellectual level, I cannot prove that I have free will... and I definitely reject appeals to the buy-bull and "god" as answers, giving that an answer to explain must never introduce more problems than are solved.
This is an excellent discussion on free will. I don't know, however, where I stand. I believe there is a lot to what you have cited. Regardless of the outcome, humans have some choices--albeit within a limited context and backdrop of their states, physical situations, motivations, etc. I just don't see this as sufficiently compelling one way or the other vis-à-vis theism.
If consciousness is a physical phenomenon as you say, then it cannot account for free-will because it is controlled by physical phenomenon that works according to chance. What you think you have freely chosen you did not freely choose. Prior physical factors acting on your brain/consciousness made the decision for you.
I agree that it is morally repugnant to reject free will, but why? It's because we know we have it! The only question is What is required to ground it? Your solution is to deny its existence, and then proceed to tell us that we ought to live as though it were real (which presumes we can freely choose to act on your suggestion). How absurd is that? That would be like me telling you, "I know it's impossible for a being like God to exist, but too much rests on the idea that he does (moral responsibility, free-will, etc.); therefore, you ought to act as though he exists." That is intellectual dishonesty of the highest sort. We don't opt in favor of believing fairy tales just because it suits our fancy, and yet that is what you are advocating: even though free-will and moral responsibility to not exist, we should act as though they do. While you accuse Christians of believing in fairy tales, it is actually you who believes in fairy tales. Not only do you believe in things that you don't have any evidence for, but you believing in things that you know are not true!
If we know there is no such thing as free-will because there is nothing to ground it in a purely physical world, then would it not be wrong to hold people morally responsible for particular choices when we know they did not choose those choices? Why should we punish Scott Peterson for killing his wife and unborn child if he is not a free moral agent who freely and willingly chose to do it? If his actions were the result of other physical forces acting on his physical machinery that he was not in control of, then he should not be held accountable. We don't hold children with Down's Syndrome accountable for their physical defects because they did not choose to be born with them. It was beyond their control. If we are purely physical machines then we cannot be held accountable for our actions either, because they are physical defects as well. To convict people of wrongdoing for acts they had no control over would be the height of injustice. If you are right about free will and morality, then we should do away with our justice system.
You would never do that, however, because you believe it is morally repugnant to deny free-will and moral responsibility. But where did you get that idea from? That is a moral idea. If this moral idea of yours developed through chance physical processes in your brain/consciousness, or was imposed on you by outside physical forces acting on your physical stuff, then there is no reason to take it as an accurate description of reality. Of course you and I both know that is not true. You understand that this moral idea that people ought to be held accountable for their actions is actually true. You need to find out why you feel it so morally repugnant to deny free-will, because if you are right about free-will, and you are right about atheism, there is no objective morality to even speak of. It's just your personal likes vs. mine, and why should I care what you happen to like or dislike? Nothing can be morally repugnant in the true sense of the word if there is no God, and yet you recognize that morality exists.
Atheism, not Christianity, introduces more problems than it attempts to solve-and it can't even solve the problem it attempted to solve in the first place anyway. There is still no grounding for free-will and objective morality, and then to add insult on top of insult atheism advises us to act as though we have free-will and moral responsibility even though we don't. I am afraid that it is atheism, not Christianity, that is intellectually inadequate for the task of explaining our world.
Only the self-deluded believe we do not have free-will because our recognition that we actually choose things is so obvious and intuitive. The question, then, is what worldview is necessary to account for this phenomenon? Atheism cannot account for it because atheism demands a purely materialistic world, and it is a purely materialistic world that robs us of free-will. Only a world in which non-physical things exist (in man that would be the soul) is it possible to transcend the deterministic cause-and-effect relationship inherent to a purely physical mechanism. What I find interesting is that many atheists/naturalists admit that their worldview leads to determinism, and yet are honest about the fact that on an existential level they reject that conclusion. They act as though, and live as though they were free, all the while claiming that they are not. Such an intellectual-existential schizophrenia ought to clue us into the fact that materialism as a worldview must be false. The only other option is to give up our belief in free-will. But if we did, we would have to admit that our giving it up was not a choice we made; it was made for us by prior physical factors in our lives. Ultimately all human choices-love, beliefs, etc.-are the result of good physics, not good choices.
As science proceeds, we find that more and more of our "choices" are highly predictable-although I hasten to add that is not the same as pure determinism (but it smacks of it).
Since my beliefs about free will are uncertain I can't see responding to the idea that free will requires a deity. I have a suspicion, however, that if I did resolve in favor of free will, I would nonetheless still not agree that this leads to the conclusion of a deity.
Very good points, but I'm not afraid. If consciousness and free will are illusory, as suggested in a book that I partially read by a Harvard psychologist/ psychiatrist, The Illusion of Conscious Will, then so be it.
You don't get it, do you? You can't see how contradictory your statements are. Purely material things work according to pure cause and effect. If you and your mind are nothing more than purely physical things (which is true of an atheistic worldview), then your thoughts and beliefs cannot be freely chosen. The very fact that you think you can resolve the free-will vs. determinism issue by analyzing the arguments for and against it and then apply reason to determine which view is true assumes that you have free-will. If you did not have free-will you could not deliberate on the evidence and then decide which view is the true view. If you are nothing more than molecules then your conclusion did not come about as a result of good reason, but good physics. Whatever you decide will be decided by purely material causes.
Agnostic, Michael Ruse, wrote,
Why should a bunch of atoms have thinking ability? Why should I, even as I write now, be able to reflect on what I am doing and why should you, even as you read now, be able to ponder my points, agreeing or disagreeing, with pleasure or pain, deciding to refute me or deciding that I am just not worth the effort? No one, certainly not the Darwinian as such, seems to have any answer to this...The point is that there is no scientific answer.23
In his book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, Stephen Barr wrote, "If ideas are just patterns of nerve impulses, then how can one say that any idea (including the idea of materialism itself) is superior to any other? One pattern of nerve impulses cannot be truer or less true than another pattern, any more than a toothache can be truer or less true than another toothache."24
This epistemological problem is not a problem for theists who embrace a dualistic view of man. But if man has no soul there is no way to escape the determinism inherent to purely physical systems to be able to decide what to believe based on good reasons. We are left with believing whatever prior physical forces in our life determined we would believe, including the belief that there is no God (in your case), and the belief that there is a God (in my case).
The problem with atheists is that they recognize their worldview provides no room for the concept of truth, free-will, and moral responsibility, and yet they act as though truth exists, they have it, and they freely chose it. For example Marvin Minsky of MIT, in The Society of the Mind wrote, "The physical world provides no room for freedom of will," but "that concept is essential to our models of the mental realm. Too much of our psychology is based on it for us to ever give it up. We're virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it's false."25 Philosopher John Searle thinks there are two pictures of the world that are at war with one another. On the one hand science tells us that we are machines, and yet we seem to be aware of ourselves as free, rational decision makers. He says "we can't give up our conviction of our own freedom, even though there's no ground for it."26 During an interview John Searle said, "The conviction of freedom is built into our experiences; we can't just give it up. If we tried to, we couldn't live with it. We can say, OK, I believe in determinism; but then when we go into a restaurant we have to make up our mind what we're going to order, and that's a free choice."27
Adherents of scientific naturalism freely acknowledge that their worldview cannot sustain the concepts of truth and free-will, and then acknowledge that in ordinary life they have to switch to a different paradigm. There is a conflict between what they know on the basis of experience and what they profess in their stated beliefs. That ought to tell them something about their beliefs. "After all, the purpose of a worldview is to explain the world--and if it fails to explain some part of the world, then there's something wrong with that worldview."28 If your worldview cannot explain something we know intuitively about reality then your worldview is deficient, plain and simple.
I concede that free will is a fascinating issue, but the magic answers of soul, God, etc. are not real answers. They are the real illusions in an otherwise serious discussion, although I can understand their appeal to you and other theists.
It is always the same answer with you. You admit that naturalism cannot provide an adequate answer. You implicitly admit the adequacy of the theistic answer (the existence of God/soul), and yet you deny such out of hand. How can you justify such treatment of ideas? It seems rather clear to me through our dialogue that you are simply biased against belief in the supernatural, no matter how much evidence there may be in its behalf. You would rather claim to have no position, or believe in an intellectually inadequate or even absurd position than concede that the theistic position is the most adequate explanation, and even the most probable given what we know. You have so much faith in the not-God that you will maintain your belief in materialism regardless of the fact that it is a deficient worldview.
Morality in any objective sense of the word is meaningless within an atheistic/materialistic worldview. If there is no transcendent source to give meaning to "good" and "evil," then evil and goodness are relative to the individual and/or culture with no objective existence. Good and evil are just an autobiography of a person's/culture's personal likes and dislikes. In such is the case why ought we be moral according to the traditional categories of morality? In the name of what am I obligated to alter my desires/behavior to fit someone's personal definitions of right and wrong? If there is no God, why not just act according to my own self-interest?
If morals are nothing more than social constructions, illusions, or the meaningless product of evolution why can't we escape them? Why should we continue to follow them? Why not just do whatever we want since we are not morally accountable to anyone, and there is no difference between the destiny of the good and the evil because there is nothing beyond the grave? Within an atheistic worldview there is no good reason. While someone may choose to continue to follow traditional morality, that is not a choice to do something good over something evil, but merely to do something. While an atheist may recognize morality and continue to live in a moral fashion similar to those who adopt theistic worldviews, he cannot make sense of that which he recognizes, nor ground moral obligation in any meaningful way (the atheist may have an epistemological basis for acting morally, but not an ontological basis). Atheism simply does not fit our moral experience.
Actually, you have it backwards. Morality is of limited meaning when it is coerced via threats such as eternal hell vs. coaxed with phony promises of eternal heaven.
Atheists by and large are far more moral than most theists!
I don't share the feeling or sense of irresponsibility. Doing right vs. wrong transcends theism, as does the issue of free will and consciousness. I admit they are difficult, but something being difficult is never a reason to jump to a magic conclusion that a supernatural being is the explanation for a difficult natural phenomenon.
Morality is meaningful regardless of your beliefs regarding the consequences for obeying or disobeying moral intuitions. When an atheist is presented with the desire to kill someone his moral struggle is no less real or meaningful than it is for the theist who finds himself in the same situation.
Morality is not coerced by threats of heaven and hell anymore than eating healthy is coerced by threats of disease, or practicing safe-sex is coerced by the threat of STDs. Actions have consequences. Evil acts have evil consequences, while good acts have good consequences. It's simply the law of natural consequences we are all familiar with.
To say that atheists are "far more moral than most theists" is absurd. While I could agree that many atheists are just as moral, many atheists are less moral. And why shouldn't they be? There is no philosophical reason for them to act according to the same moral standards as theists. Even if an atheist recognizes the existence of some sort of moral rules, why ought he obey them? Why should he think he has an obligation to them? Only in a theistic worldview in which there is a personal Moral Law Giver does the concept of obligation make any sense. Apart from theism the concept of moral obligation is meaningless because there is no transcendent source grounding the moral laws. They are either an illusion, social construct, or the result of the blind and random chance processes of evolutionary development (accident of nature).
If absolute morals evolved or came into being by chance why should we think they apply to us, and only us? Their mere existence is insufficient to establish our personal obligation to them. Only theism can provide a match between our moral make-up and the structure of reality. As Paul Copan wrote, "A solely materialistic universe might produce in us feelings and beliefs of obligation--like the protection of our children or survival of our species or subculture-but that's a different matter from actually having such obligations we ought to carry out."29
We are not jumping to a magic conclusion by invoking God to explain the world. One of the marks of rationality is to adopt the theory that can explain the most data with the least amount of difficulties (Ockham's Razor). Scientists and historians work off of a principle called "inference to the best explanation." What can best explain a varied amount of data, both empirical and propositional? What can explain why there is something rather than nothing? What can ground our understanding that torturing babies for fun is wrong? What can explain consciousness? What can explain our sense of justice? What can explain our sense of intrinsic human value? What can explain our sense of human equality? What can explain our recognition that we are more than our bodies? What can account for the objective and universal nature of rationality? If the existence of an eternal, non-spatial, immaterial, personal being is the best explanation for these and a host of other questions, then why reject it out of hand? The only way the God-option would be unacceptable is if there are good reasons to believe that a being such as God cannot exist. That is not the case, and thus the God option remains a viable option. The question, then, is Why reject it?
That is naive nonsense, and I thought you were too well informed to be spouting such imbecile drivel.
You do make a good point that the implications of a theory do, in fact, redound to the benefit of, or detract from, the theory itself. You ask, though, why reject God? Well, first there has to be a compelling case. Your case is better than most I've heard, but still basically is a magic trick. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, yet I see little or none. In fact, theism doesn't even come close. Rather, it manipulates human emotion and preys on our fears and kindred weaknesses (e.g., death -- look at the total nonsense about atheists in foxholes, as though that means anything even if it were a lot more true than it really is).
Sweeping all answers under a rug -- "God did it" -- has always struck me as begging far more questions than even theists pretend to answer. I understand the appeal, and you are a competent and even skilled debater of your position. However, I am concerned with reason and not emotion, as well as facts & reality and not wishful thinking or pretty theories.
Call it what you will, but you have not provided me with an answer. If you convince someone that God does not exist, then morals do not exist as such either. They are either social inventions, the product of chance, or illusory. In any case they have no ontological grounding. They are simply utilitarian in nature. In such a case, why ought someone act "morally" if it is not in their self-interest? What is the ontological grounding for morality? Sure the atheist has an epistemological basis for morality, but if there is no transcendent source to define good and evil, then good and evil are relative to the individual/culture with no objective meaning. We would be left with the mere likes and dislikes of men. You like ice-cream, I like chocolate; Hitler likes to kill Jews, I like to save Jews. Who is to say who is right? Why shouldn't Hitler kill Jews? Killing is not objectively wrong; it is only subjectively wrong.
If a newly converted atheist asked you, "Why should I not kill my neighbor if it is in my best interest?" what are you going to tell him? This is a serious question. The atheistic worldview is simply inadequate to answer it. While atheists can recognize morality, in the name of what ought they act morally? They lack grounding for their sense of moral oughtness.
You like to re-frame things I say, and in the process you like to depict my words essentially as having a more superficial meaning than they do. Take moral self-interest for example.
Moral self-interest transcends individuals. I am a bit surprised (and disappointed) that you hold such a myopic view about what "self-interest" means. Likewise, theist such as you love to pretend that without your make-believe big daddy in the sky what we do is of little consequence in the grand scheme. Poppycock!
Self-interest is not so superficial. Individuals wish to reproduce, get along, and benefit from society, so they must often obey rules for society for themselves, their families, their communities, and so on, even though they occasionally see no direct benefit and even are inconvenienced or even stymied in various ways.
The ultimate issue remains to deal with truth-not the most elaborate concoction of a theory about imaginary beings. It really is not the issue whether you believe that there is a certain kind of grounding for values. What matters is what actually is the basis of morality: various human-based theories based on human reality, or your religious fantasies about how you imagine things to be based on teachings allegedly from certain beings that are, for me, clearly supernatural, superstitious, and imaginary.
Human social evolution explains morality very well. There is no need to appeal to your make-believe god or creation or anything else.
Morality is not self-interest. Morality is often at the expense of self-interest. If you were in Nazi Germany and your neighbor was a Jew who was being hunted down by the Nazis for extermination, you would probably feel a moral impulse to protect him from being unjustly killed. Let's say you chose to protect him by hiding him in your attic. You know that your life could be threatened for doing so, but yet you feel you ought to do it. Where is the self-interest there? Why do you feel you ought to protect him even at the expense of self-preservation? Where does that moral impulse come from? It cannot come from self-interest. If morals do not find their binding force in a transcendent source then there is no moral obligation to protect innocent life. Having done so is not praiseworthy, and having failed to do so when you had the power to do so is not blame-worthy. It simply is. What Hitler did to the Jews was not wrong in any ultimate sense. It simply was.
If morals are nothing more than rules everyone agrees on so that we can all get along (social contract theory), then so long as we all agree there can be no immoral choices. If a society agrees to exterminate the minority then that becomes a good thing. If society agrees to enslave certain people that becomes good because society contracts with each other to do so for the good of the whole society. Slaves should not complain about their situation because it is for the benefit of society. That is absurd.
To say morality is a social construction simply says finite minds invented morality for social purposes. It still has no binding force on us. Whether it be an accident of nature, an illusion, or a social invention, why ought we obey moral rules if they have no objective meaning? If there is no One we are obligated to, and if there is no difference in the destiny of those who live immoral and those who live morally, why shouldn't we just live for our own self-interests?
Universal Human Needs
The fact that religions address questions of origins, morality, personal identity, meaning, and purpose is a testament not only to basic human needs (e.g., need for purpose, fear of death), but is a kind of evolutionary answer to myth survival.
Why is it that these tend to be universal needs and questions of humanity?
There is no need for the hocus-pocus of religion to explain them, but even if we had no explanation it would still be better to say we don't know than to embrace the superstitious beliefs that you call religion.
Why would it be better? Why is any explanation besides the existence of God potentially valid? The only way you can rule it out a priori is if there is no evidence for the existence of God, and all the evidence suggests that God cannot exist. Neither of these states of affairs is the case, however, and thus to say must reject a supernatural explanation for the universal experiences/needs of humanity a priori seems like nothing more than an unjustified philosophical commitment/bias, not like someone who is willing to follow the evidence wherever it might lead.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The God claim doesn't come close. Any claim that fails to meet its burden may be rejected. There is no need to disprove God.
I admire how you try to turn this around, implying that the nontheist is the one with a closed mind. Clever man, you are! But it won't work.
You are clever in evading my point. I asked valid questions and made a valid point. Why won't you answer them? I offer you valid arguments in favor of God's existence, but you simply dismiss them without showing how they are philosophically flawed, and without showing how naturalism can better account for the data.
How can you rule out the existence of God if there is evidence for God's existence (and I have given plenty of it), and there is no compelling evidence to suggest that God cannot exist? You seem to do so a priori. I just cannot understand how someone can see that their worldview is inadequate to explain a host of data/human experience, while the theistic worldview can explain the same with the greatest simplicity and least amount of difficulty, and yet claim that you are being rational. How is that rational?
Again I ask you, Why is any explanation besides the existence of God potentially valid? You cannot say that there is no evidence for the existence of God because I have given you plenty of rational evidence for God's existence. You simply dismiss it out of hand without justification, and without an adequate alternative explanation for the same data/phenomenon. Neither can you say that all the evidence suggests that God does not, or cannot exist. Quoting Paul Copan again, "The atheist does not treat the statements 'God exists' and 'God does not exist' in the same manner. The atheist assumes that if one has no evidence for God's existence, then one is obligated to believe that God does not exist--whether or not one has evidence against God's existence. Atheism is justified only if there is sufficient evidence against God's existence."
Sorry. I don't believe you showed anything other than difficulties that you personally have with materialism, and secondly, I have not conceded that there are no answers -- just that I am not going to rehash what others say, such as Shermer, Smith, et al.
I remain committed to the view-despite your cleverness-that you are the one making the claim, and therefore you have the burden of proof. It is really unfair to ask another to disprove the existence of imaginary beings.
Simply calling an argument "clever" to malign it as some mental trick is not a rebuttal to my argument. You must show why my argument is intellectually manipulative if you are going to call it "clever" and then move on without comment. What if I responded to your arguments by simply saying, "Oh, that was clever. I'm not going to buy into that one. You thought you had me, but you are just manipulating me with words"? Would you not think I was simply playing the "label and dismiss" game? Of course you would. You would want me to demonstrate how I thought it was that you were manipulating me with your words so as to make it appear that what you were saying was true when in fact it was not. I only ask for the same treatment.
Why Someone Believes in God
Most people will respond to parental socialization and believe almost anything. Reason takes a back seat to social pressure and conformity in terms of answering why myths survive. And the message of eternal life is certainly more welcome than "You live for perhaps 80 years and never again" is.
This is an example of the genetic fallacy. I could equally argue that atheists would prefer a world in which there is no God and no afterlife, because that would mean they have the freedom to live as they wish with no accountability to anyone and no consequences.
Total nonsense! Why would anybody prefer to be dead forever over having everlasting life?! I certainly would embrace religion if it were real.
Actually, in many ways I wish I would simply pass out of existence when I die. Sometimes I get scared at the idea of living forever. Besides, I am not talking about the desire for immortality. I'm talking about the desire to be accountable to no one but our own selves; i.e. to do as we please without anyone telling us we have done wrong.
For true believers nothing will falsify religion. Nothing. It does not matter how many contradictions the bible has. It does not matter how primitive the teachings are. It does not matter how one can show the "lessons" of the bible can be attributed to primitive peoples.
Although some atheists are not true atheists or critical atheists of a true scientific, skeptical nature, this does not change the principled positions of the majority of real atheists who are nowhere near as vulnerable to the charge of being closed-minded as "believers" who would believe whatever they were spoon-fed in childhood. Surely it has crossed your mind that the vast majority of people "inherit" their parents' religion. What does that tell us?
Anyway, you must know that, for numerous reasons, the average atheist is far, far more likely to be reflective and thoughtful about cosmological questions. As you point out, this does not prove one position superior, but it's a very powerful hint.
It tells us very little that people often inherit their parents' religion. It is not important how someone came to hold the view they hold; all that is important is the soundness of the reasons for which they hold the view they do. If I was born in India I probably would have grown up a Hindu, and might have been a Hindu up to the present day. But I was not born in India, and I was not raised a Hindu. I was born in America to Christian parents, and happen to be a Christian myself. What does this tell us about the truth of Christianity or Hinduism? Nothing!
I could employ this same fallacious line of reasoning to turn the tables on you, because gauging the truth-value of a view based on the influences that brought one to hold it is a double-edged sword. You were born in America and were educated in American schools where scientific naturalism is the prevailing philosophy. If you had not been raised in America and attended American universities, you probably would not be a scientific naturalist (and hence an atheist). If you were born in Saudi Arabia you would probably be a Muslim theist. Does that mean scientific naturalism is therefore false? Of course not. The truth-value of scientific naturalism, Christianity, and Islam must be determined on the merits of those views themselves. We have all been influenced by others and owe those people for much of our current beliefs, but that empirical observation alone tells us nothing about the truth of our views.
As far as your observation about the number of "thinking" atheists versus the number of "thinking" Christians, again what does this tell us? Yeah, I agree that a lot of Christians are dumb. A lot of Christians believe in Christ for dumb reasons. So what? I am not concerned about why dumb Christians believe in Christianity anymore than I am concerned about why dumb atheists reject the existence of God. What I am concerned about is why thinking atheists reject God, and why thinking Christians/theists believe in God-and there are a lot of thinking Christians out there. Sure you don't encounter them much on the street, but I typically don't encounter thinking atheists on the street either. Both camps tend to be isolated to the universities and print media. There are many top-notch, well-qualified conservative Christian scholars out there such as William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Scott B. Rae, Greg Koukl, Norman Geisler, Frank Turek, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Ravi Zacharias, J. Budziszewski, Jay Richards, John Bloom, Gary Habermas, Alister McGrath, Phillip Johnson, etc.
But let's just assume for the sake of argument that there are 1,000,000 thinking atheists and only 1 thinking Christian. Does this therefore mean the Christians' ideas are wrong? Do we compare numbers, or ideas? The strength of ideas wins the day, not numbers. You are aware as well as I am that a lot of smart people have held to very ignorant ideas in the past. The only reason the droves of "intelligent people" came to finally change their view was because one "dumb" person had the nerve to challenge their ideas, and expose them as inferior. As William Durrant said, "Truth always originates in a minority of one, and every custom begins as a broken precedent." Sheer numbers is never the final tally on truth.
Actually, it speaks volumes! It tells us that people are socialized into the religions they claim to embrace freely. Can you honestly tell me that this is not suspect, that one's beliefs - and hence one's view of reality - are largely a function of the accident of one's birthright???
It is sad that you confess that you might be a Hindu if born in India, because that suggests you would find ways to rationalize what you believe rather than search for the truth.
But what matters are the reasons they hold the beliefs they do, not how they came into contact with those reasons or beliefs. The reasons are matters of public debate. The man with the better reasons wins.
No, that is not what I was suggesting. My point was that I would be raised being taught Hinduism is true, and would naturally believe it uncritically as every child does. When I got older, however, and began to question my faith I believe I would reject it in favor of Christianity (so long as I was exposed to the same critiques and evidential support for both positions as I have been now).
Very true, and I've said so myself. However, you must realize that how a person came to a viewpoint is an indicator of the seriousness of the view.
How they came to hold the view will show you if they had rational reasons or some other reasons, but it tells you nothing about whether their view is true or false. An absolute fool may come to believe in X without having any good rational reasons to believe X. If it turns out that X is true, then his beliefs about X are true even if he cannot substantiate his beliefs rationally.
The truth of Christianity depends on the veracity of the claims themselves, nothing more and nothing less. The truth of a view is independent of the influences that brought me to believe in it.
What you wrote sounds good, but in practice, the good little theists do not really explore. They mouth the same platitudes passed on by parents and others. Ah... Yes, smart people are very good at explaining away things that they arrived at for non-smart reasons!
In my experience, and from my reading I can trace the non-belief of many atheists to some bad experience they had in their life. Often some evil befalls them or their family and as a result of the problem of evil they give up their belief in God. Then they spend enough time amassing enough pseudo-intellectual arguments to justify the non-belief they are already committed to because of their experience. Sure, some don't fit this paradigm. Some gave up their faith because they became convinced of Darwinian evolution, etc. The point is that both theists and atheists can be guilty of looking only so far as to justify what they are already committed to believing. They do not explore further.
The fact of the matter is that there are lots of theists who are bad theists (according to you) because they do explore the foundations for their faith. They do not take what their parents told them for granted. To think that there aren't a lot of Christian thinkers simply because you do not encounter many is a mistake. I do not encounter too many thinking atheists either. Most commit the most ridiculous philosophical mistakes when it comes to religion. That does not mean there are not any thinking atheists out there. I have to find them in literature. The same goes for the thinking Christians. All that remains to be decided is whose thinking is justified and whose is not. That is something that the evidence will decide; where one was born cannot decide that.
Unfortunately you are missing my point, but I can agree with what you wrote. People believe incompatible religions, but their reason for the belief is irrational.
Still, I never meant to imply that people can't believe correct things for bad reasons, or the reverse, I suppose. But it sure is telling (and damning) that so many people profess a belief based on little more than mommy and daddy bringing them up that set of truth claims (as opposed to a different set) merely for said reason!
I agree that it is insufficient to believe something just because mommy and daddy raised you to believe it. However, if someone was raised to believe something that they never questioned, and that belief turns out to be true they are justified in believing it. If I believe the sun is X miles away from the earth because scientists say it is-even though I have never questioned that belief or investigated the means by which scientists came up with figure X-I would be justified in believing it if it is indeed a true description of reality.
Your position is highly debatable.
Saying something is debatable without describing why it is debatable, and the reasons for which it ought to be doubted is a common tactic people employ to get out of dealing with a good argument. It is similar to the response, "Well scholars disagree on that." Ok, so what does that tell us? Does it mean that the person making the argument is mistaken? No. The scholars who disagree with the argument may be mistaken. What's important is why scholars would disagree. Once we have determined the answer to that question, then we compare reasons to reasons to determine whose view is better substantiated. I hope you were simply trying to be brief, and were not using this tactic.
So what is debatable about that? Reality is what it is. If my beliefs about reality correspond to the way the world really is, then my beliefs are true even if I don't know how I came to believe what I believe, and can't substantiate my beliefs rationally.
1. Richard Lewontin, "Billions and Billions of Demons," The New York Review of Books, January 4, 1997.
2. Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 130-1.
3. Paul Copan, "The Presumption of Atheism"; available from http://www.gospelcom.net/rzim/publications/essay_arttext.php?id=3; Internet; accessed 13 February 2005.
5. Michael Behe, "Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference"; available from http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=54; Internet; accessed 12 February 2005.
6. William Lane Craig, "The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe"; available from http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth11.html; Internet; accessed 03 January 2005.
7. William Lane Craig, "The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe"; available from http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth11.html; Internet; accessed 03 January 2005, citing David N. Schramm and Gary Steigman, "Relic Neutrinos and the Density of the Universe," Astrophysical Journal 243 (1981): p. 1-7.
8. Rich Deem, "Evidence for God's Existence from Cosmology"; available from http://www.godandscience.org/slideshow/sld012.html; Internet; accessed 14 March 2005.
9. William Lane Craig, "The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe"; available from http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth11.html; Internet; accessed 03 January 2005, citing Duane Dicus, et.al. "Effects of Proton Decay on the Cosmological Future." Astrophysical Journal 252 (1982): l, 8.
10. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: Norton, 1987), 1.
11. Greg Koukl, "You Won't Live an Eternity;" available from http://www.str.org/free/commentaries/misc_topics/eternity.htm; Internet, accessed 6 June 2000.
12. Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Book, 2004), 188.
13. William A. Dembski, "Irreducible Complexity Revisited"; available from http://www.iscid.org/papers/Dembski_IrreducibleComplexityRevisited_011404.pdf; Internet; accessed 17 January 2005.
14. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, 287.
15. S.C. Todd, "A View from Kansas on That Evolution Debate," Nature 401 (September 30, 1999): 423.
16. See the William Lane Craig vs. Peter Atkins debate on the topic, "What is the Evidence For/Against the Existence of God?", held at The Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, GA on April 3, 1998. It is available at http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-atkins.html.
17. Richard Lewontin, "Billions and Billions of Demons," The New York Review of Books, January 4, 1997.
18. John Bishop, Natural Agency (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 1, quoted in J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 104.
19. Ibid., 40.
20. Cited in Phillip Johnson, Darwin on Trial, 2d ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 127. Based on Johnson's research notes it appears the quote is drawn from Provine's paper "Evolution and the Foundation of Ethics" appearing in MBL Science, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 25-29 (a publication of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, MA).
21. John Searle, "John Searle's NYRB Articles on Consciousness"; available from http://horizons-2000.org/5.%20Mind%20and%20Metaphysics/Searle/On%20Searle's%20NYRB%20Article.htm; Internet; accessed 7 May 2005.
22. Ned Block, under the entry "Consciousness in Anglo-American Philosophy" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Supplement (Macmillan, 1996); available from http://pubpages.unh.edu/~jel/713cog/con1.html; Internet; accessed 7 May 2005.
23. Michael Ruse, Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? (Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2001), 73.
24. Stephen Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), p. unknown.
25. Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985), 301, quoted in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Book, 2004), 109.
26. Transcript of a television interview with John Searle from a program titled "Thinking Allowed: Conversations on the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery," with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove at http://www.williamjames.com/transcripts/searle.htm, quoted in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Book, 2004), 110.
27. John Searle, interview by Jeffrey Mishlove, Thinking Allowed: Conversations on the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, PBS, at http://www.williamjames.com/transcripts/searle.htm, quoted in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Book, 2004), 394.
28. Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Book, 2004), 110-1.
29. Paul Copan, " 'Who Are You to Judge Others?'--In Defense of Making Moral Judgments"; available from http://www.rzim.org/publications/essay_arttext.php?id=9; Internet; accessed 13 March 2005.
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