Apr

16

2012

James Anderson|10:00 PM CT

Can We Prove the Existence of God?

Can we prove the existence of God? What exactly does it mean to prove something? What would count as a proof of God's existence? To explore these questions, let's consider one popular argument for God's existence and test it against some different criteria for proofs. Here's the argument:

1. If God does not exist, there are no objective, culture-transcending moral duties.

2. There are objective, culture-transcending moral duties.

3. Therefore, God exists.

Is this a proof of God's existence? One suggestion is that any sound argument constitutes a proof. An argument is sound if and only if (a) all its premises are true and (b) it is deductively valid, in the sense that its conclusion follows necessarily from its premises (i.e., it's logically impossible for the premises to be true but the conclusion to be false).

Is our argument sound? It's certainly deductively valid: it has the valid argument form of modus tollens (if P then Q; not Q; therefore, not P). Moreover, both of its premises are true. There are indeed objective, culture-transcending moral duties, such as the duty to care for one's children, and it's very hard to see what would ground such moral obligations if there were no God. At any rate, I believe that both premises are true, and so do many other people. But does everyone believe both premises? Well, no---and therein lies the rub.

Limitations of Sound Arguments

There's another obvious problem with the idea that any sound argument amounts to a proof. Consider the following argument for the existence of God:

  1. Either the moon is made of green cheese or God exists.
  2. The moon is not made of green cheese.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Or this one:

  1. Everything the Bible says is true.
  2. The Bible says that God exists.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Both of these arguments are deductively valid and have true premises. Yet we can see that there's something very fishy about the arguments. If someone were to ask you to prove the existence of God, you'd be unlikely to offer either of these arguments with any seriousness. Why? Simply because only someone who already believes in the existence of God would concede the first premise of each argument. The arguments are fallaciously circular in the sense that one would have to accept the conclusion before one could reasonably accept the premises. Even though the arguments are valid and (Christians would say) sound, they're worthless as proofs. They have little, if any, persuasive force.

Is our original argument circular in the same sort of way? Is it clear that one or other of the premises wouldn't be granted by someone who doesn't already believe in God? The argument doesn't appear to be circular in that question-begging way. After all, there are many atheists who accept that there are objective moral duties (and plenty more who argue as though there are). Furthermore, a number of atheist philosophers have agreed with the first premise of the argument.

This raises a further question and invites a further refinement of our criteria for proofs. If atheists have granted both premises of the argument, and they recognize that the argument is logically valid, why don't they accept the conclusion that God exists? The short answer is that few atheists would affirm both premises. Those who affirm premise one will typically deny premise two, and vice versa. The explanation for this, of course, is that anyone who accepts both premises is logically committed to the conclusion---and most atheists simply don't want to accept the conclusion.

Once you see that an argument is logically valid, you can't consistently affirm its premises and deny its conclusion. So you have two options in order to maintain consistency. You can either (a) affirm the premises and the conclusion or (b) deny the conclusion and at least one of the premises. When presented with an argument like the one above, atheists will typically follow the second option rather than the first. Why? The reasons are complex but the short answer, from a biblical perspective, is simply---human sin. One of the defining characteristics of unbelievers is that they "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18).

Proof and Persuasion

If the conclusion of a sound argument is rejected because of sinful suppression, clearly that's no fault of the argument. But it does raise the question of the relationship between proof and persuasion. Should we define a proof as an argument that is not only sound but also persuasive? The difficulty here is that we've now introduced a significant element of human subjectivity. What's persuasive to me might not be persuasive to someone else.

Tying the notion of proof to persuasion isn't a very promising route. There are simply too many subjective and circumstantial factors to take into account on that front. So let's try to get back to some more objective criteria for judging arguments.

Often mathematical proofs are held up as the gold standard of objective proofs. For example, we can prove (using a strategy known as induction) that for every natural number N, either N or N+1 is divisible by two. What people often don't realize is that mathematical proofs are always constructed within the context of a pre-accepted system: a formal scheme that specifies both axioms (foundational propositions) and rules of inference (by which various other propositions can be deduced from the axioms). Mathematical proofs are always system-dependent: the proof is only as good as the underlying system.

So if we're to take mathematical proofs as our model, what "system" should we use to prove the existence of God? Presumably the rules of inference will be the laws of logic. What about the axioms? Some would insist that the axioms of a proof must be beyond rational question: they must be self-evidently true, or indubitable, or logically undeniable, or directly observable by the senses. These are the sort of axioms that everyone should accept.

This sounds promising, but even these criteria face objections. Intelligent and well-informed people have disagreed over which truths (if any) are self-evident, indubitable, and logically undeniable. And different people have different sense observations. The quest for universally acceptable premises comes unstuck again.

Certainty, Circularity, and Social Security Cards

Also inspired by mathematical proofs is the idea that a proof must have an absolutely certain conclusion: its conclusion simply cannot be rationally denied. However, the conclusion of a proof cannot be more certain than its premises; thus an argument with an absolutely certain conclusion must have absolutely certain premises. Does our test-case argument fit that bill?

I would say that anyone who denies there are objective, culture-transcending moral duties is irrational. (I'd argue this is presupposed by Paul's argument in Romans 1-2.) Anyone who denies those moral duties is either lying, self-deceived, or suffering from cognitive dysfunction. But that's a distinctively Christian perspective, so now we're back to the problem of circularity.

As for the first premise of our argument, the conditional premise, I think a very strong case can be made that objective moral duties necessarily depend on God---yet the possibility remains, however slight, that we've overlooked something. We can't claim absolute, knock-down, drag-out certainty for that premise. But does proof really demand absolute certainty?

Soon after I relocated from Britain to the United States, I had to visit the local Social Security Administration office to apply for a Social Security Number. The nice lady behind the counter required me to prove several things, so I showed her some documentation, including my British passport, my work visa, my immigration card, and a letter from my employer. But had I really proven anything to her?

It's logically possible that the documents were elaborate forgeries. But how reasonable would it have been for her to demand more rigorous proof? Should I have eliminated every logical possibility that would undermine or contradict my claim, including the possibility that I was using a Jedi mind-trick or that she was actually in a dream?

However tempting it may be to set a high bar for a proof, the higher we set the bar the less reasonable it becomes to demand such a proof. So where does that leave our original question? Can we give any useful answer to it?

Person-Dependent Proofs

Here is my modest proposal: We should think of proofs in terms of proofs for a particular person. In much the same way that mathematical proofs are system-dependent, so proofs of the existence of God need to be seen as person-dependent. The question "Can we prove the existence of God?" then becomes "Can we prove the existence of God to so-and-so?" My suggestion is that if we can show, without begging the question, that the existence of God logically follows from propositions that a person already accepts, or is willing on reflection to accept, then we have indeed proven the existence of God to that person. If they fail to see that the existence of God follows from what they already believe or take for granted, or if they prefer to abandon other beliefs rather than to affirm the existence of God, the problem doesn't lie in the proof.

What does this mean for our test-case argument? If we understand proof along the lines I've suggested, the argument is indeed a proof for particular people, not necessarily for everyone. What's more, on this understanding there are numerous proofs of God's existence. There are many arguments that demonstrate the existence of God from beliefs or assumptions that people already hold. (Consult the resources listed below for examples.) Some of these proofs might be deemed more effective or more persuasive than others, depending on the target audience, but as we've seen, proof and persuasion are two distinct things.

Yes, We Can Prove God Exists

So yes, we can prove the existence of God; but how exactly we prove the existence of God will depend on the particular person we're dealing with and what they're willing to grant.

There is, however, another question I think we should also ask: "Do we need to prove the existence of God?" My short answer: "No, but it's still important to be able to do so." I take the view, following John Calvin and other Reformed scholars, that Romans 1:18-32 teaches a universal knowledge of God: a sensus divinitatis that is part of our human nature. On this view, every human being possesses a natural knowledge of the living and true God, even though they sinfully distort and suppress that knowledge. It's precisely this fact that serves as the basis for God's universal judgment. People don't need to have the existence of God proven to them by us. Natural revelation, we might say, is proof itself and proof enough. It's as though God is continually showing his self-certified "documentation." Furthermore, I agree with the so-called Reformed epistemologists (Alvin Plantinga being the most well-known) that we hold many beliefs, including many beliefs about God, in a "basic" way; that is, not on the basis of proofs or arguments or inferences from observational evidence. So no one needs to be able to prove the existence of God in order to have a rational belief in God.

Nevertheless, proofs of God's existence, when formulated consistently with biblical revelation, can still serve many useful purposes. They can clarify our understanding of God, his attributes, and his relationship to the creation; they can increase our appreciation of God's majesty and our utter dependence on him; they can help to neutralize the objections of unbelievers and the doubts of believers; and they can expose the irrationality and self-deceit of unbelief---all to the glory of God.

For further reading:

James Anderson is assistant professor of theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte. He is an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and came to RTS from Edinburgh, Scotland. His doctoral thesis at the University of Edinburgh explored the paradoxical nature of certain Christian doctrines and the implications for the rationality of Christian faith.

Categories: Bible and Theology
  • Matt W

    Good article. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I have been hoping to find some way to combine the so called proofs and Plantinga's reformed epistemology because I don't think they're incompatible. Still not sure.

    However I did notice you say that your sample arguments have true premises, but the premise 1 of the first sample argument commits the either or fallacy (or is it begging the question?) and premise 1 of argument 2 assumes facts not into evidence so they really aren't valid on its own. Been a while since I took a logic course, so I don't remember the exact terminology for those logical fallacies...

    • Fletcher

      There is no such "either or" fallacy committed. In truth-functional logic, a disjunction (which has the form of "p or q") is true when one of its disjuncts is true. Since I take it that you think q is true, you ought to then take the argument to be sound.

  • David

    Well said. I agree completely! "Exegeting" souls follows the same three rules as exegeting text; context, context, context. As Doug Wilson says, apologetics are primarily for young Christians, but they can be useful to clear a way for the gospel if a particular person is willing to let go of their logical fallacies and go for the ride, and this will occur if God is working behind the scenes. I am always mindful in these discussions that apologetics must be approached with a full awareness that the realities I am attempting to communicate and convince of are only spiritually understood.

    So, the only fact that I am actually attempting to prove is that the person with whom I am speaking is a sinner in need of help outside of themselves. Apologetics paints a picture of what is inside, but they won't truly see these things unless they pass through the door of repentance.

  • Al Smith

    Hmmm, and there was me thinking that it delights God to use the folly of what we preach to convert those He's going to convert.

    Proofs are helpful for a Christian to know but they don't convince an unbeliever.

    When you say, "we can prove the existence of God; but how exactly we prove the existence of God will depend on the particular person we're dealing with and what they're willing to grant." The bible clearly teaches that the unregenerate mind is hostile to God so what makes you percceive they are prepared to grant anything that will lead to an accurate knowledge of the one true God?

    Look, I'm not against proofs, I just see too much scriptural revelation telling us not to use them in a constructive way - putting forward the evidences and asking the unbeliever to make a decision based on the evidence. I do, however, see scriptural support for using them in a desctructive way (i.e. demonstrating the folly of the other person's world view and showing them an intellectual costs for holding the position that they do.)

    Don't abandon the proofs, just use them in a destructive way that is honouring to what God has chosen to reveal through Scripture about how the unregenerate mind works. To ignore what He tells us about the way we think, it to fail to honour God.

    As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. ****We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God****, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,"

    • steve hays

      Al Smith

      "Proofs are helpful for a Christian to know but they don't convince an unbeliever. When you say, "we can prove the existence of God; but how exactly we prove the existence of God will depend on the particular person we're dealing with and what they're willing to grant." The bible clearly teaches that the unregenerate mind is hostile to God so what makes you percceive they are prepared to grant anything that will lead to an accurate knowledge of the one true God?"

      The logic of that objection isn't confined to theist proofs or apologetics. It applies with equal force to preaching, evangelism, and missions.

      • zilch

        I agree, Steve. As Martin Luther said, Die Vernunft ist die höchste Hur, die der Teufel hat.

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  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    This essay is persuasively powerful to me that God's existence can be proved to some people.

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  • http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com Ron

    Hi James,

    I liked much of what you said and possibly all of what you believe on this matter, but I’m not sure due to something that I cannot quite interpret as being part of your position. It seems to me you are saying that the proof we should employ should be person-dependent: “My suggestion is that if we can show, without begging the question, that the existence of God logically follows from propositions that a person already accepts, or is willing on reflection to accept, then we have indeed proven the existence of God to that person.

    But isn't it so that the “consistent” professing unbeliever will not accept all the proof's premises as true, for his problem is not typically the rejection of what constitutes a valid form of argument but rather the truth of the premises. So, won’t such a person believe the main question has been begged, even given the best of proofs? In which case, we would only be able to prove the existence of God to those who already believe, if acceptance of all the propositions is necessary for accepting the soundness of the proof (which I don’t think is your point). Or are you saying that the person ought to believe the premises of which the conclusion follows and that the premises are so related to each other (such as with a transcendental argument), unlike in the green cheese example, that he's reduced to absurdity if he doesn't embrace the proof? If that is the case, then can't we take the subject person-dependent part out of the equation?

    Thanks in advance,
    Ron

    • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

      Hi Ron,

      My point was that if we understand proofs as person-dependent (analogous to mathematical proofs being system-dependent) then we can indeed prove the existence of God. If a particular person, having been presented with a good theistic argument based on propositions he accepts, subsequently denies those propositions (rather than accept the theistic conclusion), it doesn't follow that God's existence wasn't proven. A goal is a goal, even if someone moves the goalposts after the event.

      A "consistent" professing unbeliever may typically reject the premises, but by the grace of God not every professing unbeliever is consistent (in his unbelief). The Holy Spirit may open the heart of the unbeliever to accept the conclusion. We know it happens sometimes. So we persevere with apologetics, just as we persevere with evangelism, even while we hold to the doctrine of total depravity.

      I think in the case of some sound theistic arguments, a person ought to believe their premises (where 'ought' is cashed out in terms of proper-function rationality or something along those lines). But that wasn't the point I was trying to make. I'd also add that TAG can proceed even from false premises; this is one of its distinctive features. (Antitheism presupposes theism!)

      I'm not sure I understand the thrust of your last question. Even TAG has to proceed from premises that are accepted by the target audience. The neat thing about TAG (if you can pull it off) is that it can incorporate any proposition whatsoever as a premise. Even so, exactly which proposition one uses as a "launching pad" will depend on the target audience. And TAG has other premises that must also be accepted (or else argued for on the basis of other accepted propositions).

      • http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com Ron

        Hi Ron,
        My point was that if we understand proofs as person-dependent (analogous to mathematical proofs being system-dependent) then we can indeed prove the existence of God. If a particular person, having been presented with a good theistic argument based on propositions he accepts, subsequently denies those propositions (rather than accept the theistic conclusion), it doesn't follow that God's existence wasn't proven. A goal is a goal, even if someone moves the goalposts after the event.
        "

        James,

        Thanks for getting back so quickly. If I may…
        It seems to me that you have reduced the acid test for proof to two conditions: (i) sound argument coupled with (ii) an acceptance of the premises. If one accepts the premises in such a proof while either (a) accepting or (b) rejecting the conclusion, to him God is still proven. In other words, as long as the argument is valid and the premises are true and subjectively accepted, God is proven (whether persuasion obtains or not). If another person rejects any of the premises of the same sound argument, God is not proven to him (is how I read you). Accordingly, you seem to suggest that there is no universally objective proof of God’s existence but rather God is only absolutely(?) proved if the argument is sound and the person accepts the premises even should he deny the implication / conclusion the premises logically demand.

        I agree that the “Holy Spirit may open the heart of the unbeliever to accept the conclusion.” That is our hope. I also appreciate your point regarding the feeble attempt to turn TAG on its head. Good one!

        Even TAG has to proceed from premises that are accepted by the target audience.

        I’m not sure I follow. A premise in TAG can be that all predication presupposes God. Professing unbelievers don’t typically admit to accepting that premise since the premises overtly presupposes God. If you are suggesting that in their suppression they indeed accept the premises on another level, then of course we are in agreement, and God could be proved to all persons by the same argument, but that would seem to run counter to your point.

        Indeed, “which proposition one uses as a ‘launching pad’ will depend on the target audience.” Whether I talk about preconditions for logic or music will depend upon my audience, but notwithstanding it seems to me that in your view proof does not require persuasion (which I agree with), but where we seem to part company is that you believe that proof has a subjective quality that requires that the person confess the premises as true (even if he doesn’t recognize the implications of the premises). However, and I think this is the rub, we don’t typically see unbelievers while in their unbelief confessing the premise that God is the precondition for x-experience (while denying God’s existence – the consequence of the accepted premise). Accordingly, it would seem, at least practically speaking (in your estimation that is) God is never proven to unbelievers, except in those rare cases in which God is embraced as a precondition for intelligible experience yet while not embraced as actually existing.

        What am I missing?

        • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

          Thanks for the stimulating comments, Ron.

          Regarding the "acid test", there are really three conditions: (1) sound argument; (2) non-question-begging argument (in the sense discussed in the article); (3) acceptance of premises.

          None of this is incompatible (so far as I can tell) with the notion of a "universally objective proof". But whether there is such a proof (or proofs) depends, of course, on exactly what it means for a proof to be "universally objective". Clearly, in your mind, soundness isn't sufficient. I guess what you're looking for is a proof with premises that are universally accepted, or, better still, that cannot be rationally denied. If so, that raises the further question of what are the conditions of rationality -- and that was something I couldn't delve into in the article (and I don't think I needed to).

          If rationality is cashed out in something like Plantingan proper-function terms, then yes, I think there are "universally objective proofs" -- sound arguments with premises that one would normally be irrational to deny.

          As for the transcendental premise in TAG, I wouldn't expect an unbeliever simply to accept that premise; I would give arguments in its support, arguments from premises that he does accept (or ought to accept on reflection). The article I co-wrote with Greg Welty does that sort of argumentative work.

          Does that address your concerns?

          • http://reformedapologist.blogspot.com Ron

            Hi James,

            Actually, I'm not looking for premises that are universally accepted in order to satisfy my notion of proof. I’m still not tracking I guess, but that’s OK. Let me leave you with a link that includes a piece of mine I’d like to draw your attention to. It’s called "A Sound Proof For God’s Existence." http://theologicalresources.wordpress.com/category/apologetics-articles/

            It might better inform of where I'm coming from. I think I resonated w/ your post because it reminded me of these things I speak about. In that piece I write:

            "In sum, the proof of God's existence is sound in and of itself because it employs a valid form and true premises. Consequently, the argument succeeds in proving the existence of God, but in a much more powerful way than the first deductive argument at the top of the page, which although is sound, does not deal with the preconditions of intelligible experience and, therefore, is not very interesting other than it serves as a good example (to the Christian in particular) that God's existence can be proved.

            Finally, the Christian would do well not only to offer a proof for God's existence in a transcendental fashion but also to expose the various forms of the one unbelieving worldview for their arbitrariness and inconsistencies. Note well, however, that to reduce an opposing worldview to absurdity is not to prove the Christian worldview. It's a far cry from it in fact. Our apologetic is not inductive. We must also appreciate that all the competitors to the Christian worldview are simply variations of the single-unbelieving worldview, which posits that intelligible experience can be justified apart from revelation. Consequently, there are not an infinite number of worldviews as some have claimed but rather only two. I know this from Scripture, which is a reliable appeal for truth; Scripture allows us to know some things without having to know all things! Scripture is the only appeal for those who wish to justify their knowledge of anything."

            Maybe you can glean from those musings of mine how much we might be in agreement.

            Best wishes,
            Ron

  • MIke

    Hey James,
    Nice work! I was thinking, instead of presenting subjective acceptance acts as proof, would it be better to say when the objective arguments for God are accepted, the person accepting this aliens with the objective reality of God’s existence which they suppress? It seems the article could leave room for proof to seem relativistic vs. coming into line with the objective reality. i.e. God is. I think I am saying the same thing with a slight twist; I am just not sure I want to argue for proof as subjective acceptance to objective reality of God. It seems the “universal knowledge of God” from creation, morality, the law and eternity on the heart is sufficient proof (Rom. 1:18-32.) Just thinking this through, please lwt mw know if you can see holes in my rational here.

    • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

      Mike,

      Yes, I think it's fair to say that a good theistic argument will aim to bring the unbeliever into line with the objective truth that they suppress.

      I don't think my position leaves room for relativism. From our Christian perspective, the premises that the unbeliever accepts, the premises on the basis of which we're proving God's existence, are objective truths. They represent objective reality. (Some qualifications need to be made here regarding the Transcendental Argument for God -- see my reply to Ron above.)

  • Adam Evans

    Thank you! I love it people not to follow William Lane Craig's logic on the proof of god concept. I give you points for that. As for the last part. Well, I think the logic fails when the author said that everyone including atheists have sensus divinitatis because the Bible tells me so is a another logical fallacy.

    I debate with Buddhists before and they tell me that it is written in their books that everyone has Karma and Karma has effects on what happens when I rebirth. Yet, I don't believe in that form of Karma.

    My 2 cents.

  • Noah

    Adam,

    Dr. Anderson's argument is *not* a logical fallacy. (and if it is what fallacy is it? What *rule* of logic does it violate?) Nor is it bad/failed logic. You say, "I think the logic fails when the author said that everyone including atheists have sensus divinitatis because the Bible tells me so is a another logical fallacy."
    That is ***not*** a logical fallacy or a failure of logic (read a logic book if you don't believe me). The following reconstruction of your argument is logically valid:
    (1) If the Bible tells me (X), then (X) is true. (if p, then q)
    (2) The Bible tells me (X). (p)
    (3) Therefore (X) is true (by modus ponens). (.: q)
    The conclusion necessarily follows the premises and does not violate the rules of logic. The real question is whether the premises are true (i.e. (1) and (2)). Dr. Anderson nicely summarized and explained all of this in this very post, which means you either didn't read him well or didn't understand him. You may not agree with the soundness of Dr. Anderson's remarks (which is another thing he nicely explained), but that doesn't mean Dr. Anderson was making any logical fallacies.

    Lastly, Dr. Anderson gave a bare bones description of a technical and robust understanding of the sensus divinitatis as presented by Alvin Plantinga and others (you can read Dr. Anderson's book for a thorough treatment of the topic). Your reply also seems to be loaded with contestable views concerning the nature of disagreement, evidence, role of the Bible, reason, etc.

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  • https://theologiansinc.wordpress.com/ Joshua

    The obvious answer here is a resounding "no". God cannot be 'proved' nor His existence demonstrated.

    • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

      Thanks for clearing that up, Joshua. My apologies for wasting everybody's time!

      • https://theologiansinc.wordpress.com/ Joshua

        No problem. Glad to have helped:)

        • AKuyper

          Joshua comments on virtually every post and reminds me of Proverbs 18.2 every time.

          • taco

            Well there was this one time when... well read for yourself: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/03/13/answering-objections-to-presuppositionalism/?comments#comment-25261

            "I don't believe that Scripture is a deposit of infallible knowledge that provides a foundation for any and all thought," -joshua

          • https://theologiansinc.wordpress.com/ Joshua

            sad face :(

            • zilch

              Buck up, Joshua. For that quote you earn an atheist blue star. Start collecting, and who knows where you might end up? Me, I'm looking forward to lots of great conversations while roasting marshmallows over the Hellfires.

    • Fletcher

      Did you have a distinction in mind between God's not being able to be proved and God's existence not being able to be demonstrated? Or was that just a sexy way to end your deliciously insightful post?

      • https://theologiansinc.wordpress.com/ Joshua

        I did not.

  • Keith

    "There are indeed objective, culture-transcending moral duties, such as the duty to care for one's children, and it's very hard to see what would ground such moral obligations if there were no God."

    Admittedly we don't see "moral duties" displayed in species other than humans, for example, "caring for one's children", or altruism. Oh, wait, I guess we do. But that implies our "moral duties" are the natural results of evolution. Well, maybe god gave animals the same moral obligations as humans deliberately so it would be less obvious our moral codes are derived from god. God is tricky that way.

    • zilch

      Yep. We can reword the syllogism to make this clear:

      1. If God does not exist, there are no objective, culture-transcending desires, such as wanting food or sex.

      2. There are objective, culture-transcending desires.

      3. Therefore, God exists.

      Why is it such a mystery to so many theists that most people want pretty much the same thing? Our "objective" morals are based on genetics, culture, and reason- no gods necessary.

      • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

        zilch,

        No, that's not a rewording, that's a completely different syllogism. A moral duty is not a desire. If you can't tell the difference between a duty and a desire, you need to read up on basic moral theory.

        Like your friend Keith, you're confusing the prescriptive with the descriptive. Atheists do that a lot. :(

        I can understand, though, why you'd want to substitute a bad theistic argument for a good theistic argument. :)

        • zilch

          James- you're right, "reword" was the wrong word here. I should have said, I changed some words and came up with a different, but identically structured, syllogism.

          But unless you can show how "moral duties" differ from "desires" in a way that requires God for their existence, the parallel holds. Moral duties are desires- the desire, for instance, to provide for ones children.

          And as far as confusing prescriptive with descriptive goes, considering them to be a yes/no duality is an artifice of philosophy. Prescriptions evolve from descriptions: no description, no prescription.

          And no, I'm not interested per se in substituting bad theistic arguments for good ones: I'm interested in pursuing the truth. As I'm sure you are too. :)

    • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

      Keith,

      You're confusing patterns of behavior with moral duties. That animals behave in certain ways is no evidence that they have moral duties to behave in those ways, and our knowledge of our own moral duties is not based on observing our own behavior patterns. In short, you're confusing the prescriptive with the descriptive: how we ought to behave with how we do in fact behave.

      But perhaps the root problem is that you want to deny that we really do have moral duties. Perhaps that's why you put "moral duties" in scare quotes. If that's the case, you nicely illustrate what I claimed in the article. You would sooner repudiate your basic human moral intuitions than accept the existence of God.

      If you don't think you have a real moral duty to care for your children, then frankly I pity your children -- or, if you don't have children, I pray that you'll hold off until your moral outlook matures. The same applies if you think that there is no moral difference between humans and animals.

      • Keith

        I didn't intend "scare quotes", I meant to make it clear I was not referring to animal (or human) behaviors as "moral duties". Apologies all around.

        Let me rephrase it a different way: there is no evidence to indicate moral duties are something other than a human construct, and a different evolutionary path might well have resulted in different moral duties. The fact that humanity's "moral duties" produce behaviors identical to animals (that presumably lack moral duties), is strong evidence against the idea of moral absolutism.

        • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

          If there are no moral duties, why did you feel the need to apologize?

          If there are no moral duties, why did you complain (below) about Christian apologists not apprising people of atheist counterarguments?

          Do you think that people have a moral obligation to pursue and promote the truth over their own group interests?

          I'm not trying to be cute, Keith. I'm just pointing out that you don't seem to take your atheism seriously enough, because your comments here are shot through with presuppositions inconsistent with what you profess. You can't seem to shake off the moral categories you inherited from Christianity via Western culture. You're borrowing capital from the Christian worldview in order to criticize its adherents, because your evolutionary naturalism can't fund the checks you're writing.

          Only someone indoctrinated by Darwinian mythology would seriously claim that human behaviors are identical to animal behaviors.

          • Keith

            I disagree, of course. There is reasonable evidence our morality is a purely natural mechanism; there is no evidence at all that any morality exists outside of those natural mechanisms.

            "Only someone indoctrinated by Darwinian mythology would seriously claim that human behaviors are identical to animal behaviors."

            OK, I'm interested: how will you distinguish human behaviors from animal behaviors? Are you saying there's a moral action, common between humans and animals, yet different somehow?

            • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

              Keith,

              Those weren't rhetorical questions. I'm sure I'm not the only one here who would like to know your answers. How do you reconcile your comments here with your denial of moral duties?

              There couldn't be reasonable evidence that "our morality is a purely natural mechanism" because morality, properly understood, couldn't be a mechanism. Again you confuse the prescriptive with the descriptive. Morality pertains to how we ought to behave, not how we do in fact behave. It's possible that our moral beliefs are the product of a mechanism; but don't confuse beliefs about morality with morality as such.

              For the same reason, distinguishing human behaviors from animal behaviors is beside the point. The question at hand is not whether we do behave in such-and-such a manner, but whether we have a duty -- a moral obligation -- to behave in such-and-such a manner. When you raise questions about supposed similarities between human behavior and animal behavior, you're only changing the subject.

          • zilch

            I know this was addressed to Keith- I hope no one minds if I put in my € 0.02 here as well. James, you say:

            You can't seem to shake off the moral categories you inherited from Christianity via Western culture. You're borrowing capital from the Christian worldview in order to criticize its adherents, because your evolutionary naturalism can't fund the checks you're writing.

            I don't think anyone here is not aware that morals are similar worldwide, at least to a great extent, and that basic morals such as the Golden Rule are not unique or even earliest expressed in Christianity. Since we're all speaking English here, it's fair to guess that most of us grew up in Christian cultures, and thus naturally absorbed or were at least influenced by Christian morals. If this blog were in Farsi, then you could have accused us atheists of borrowing from Islamic Kulturgut.

            In any case, as I pointed out above, no one claims that evolutionary naturalism alone can account for morals: it's the basis of them- as Keith mentioned, the fact that other animals have similar morals (whether learned or genetic) leads one to believe that morals are part of the natural world- but we humans have much more complicated morals that are built up, not in our genes, but in our memes: our culture. Basically, morals, starting from the genetic behaviors seen in social animals, and evolving through the simple cultures of other apes, the human breakthrough of speech and then writing, which enabled the spread of mores, laws, and religions- all morals serve one goal: building society.

            Successful morals tend to produce more offspring in the form of children and converts, and thus spread. It's just more evolution.

            • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

              zilch,

              You're equivocating on "morals" and missing the point altogether. Moral codes are not moral duties. If you think they are, presumably you must also think that the Aztecs had a moral duty to sacrifice their children and that precolonial Indian widows had a moral duty to self-immolate on their husbands' funeral pyres.

              You're making the same basic error as Keith (see above). Moral codes are to moral duties much as scientific theories are to the (actual) laws of physics. Just because two people hold to different scientific theories doesn't mean that different laws of physics apply to them. Just as the (actual) laws of physics are independent of human thoughts about them, so the (actual) laws of morality are independent of human thoughts about them.

              Even if evolutionary naturalism could account for moral codes (it can't, by the way, because it can't account for human consciousness and intellect) that would tell us nothing about whether it could account for real moral duties: moral obligations that are binding on all human beings regardless of their moral code, regardless of their cultural situation, regardless of their actual patterns of behavior.

            • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

              Keith and zilch,

              You guys would benefit from reading this chapter by Paul Copan on the failure of naturalistic ethics:

              http://www.paulcopan.com/articles/pdf/God-naturalism-morality.pdf

            • Keith

              I apologize, I thought you were making a rhetorical point.

              Rejecting the idea of an absolute morality does not prevent me from judging choices as morally good or bad. We all judge others' behaviors based on what we believe is good or bad, right or wrong, whatever. I can say "it's bad to lie" without any recourse to god.

              (I think) you're arguing there are moral values outside of human constructs, and I don't agree. There is no evidence any absolute morality exists. However, that does not limit us, and we can have all of the same discussions of good and bad, right and wrong, without any need for an absolute morality.

            • Keith

              James, when you say "the (actual) laws of morality are independent of human thoughts about them", and "evolutionary naturalism ... can't account for human consciousness and intellect", I believe you're making statements without evidence.

              Can you prove either of those statements?

              If, by the latter claim, you mean "evolutionary naturalism cannot YET account for consciousness and intellect", I guess I can agree with that, but "god of the gaps" arguments aren't interesting.

            • zilch

              James- this is a reply to your comment four comments above, which for some reason doesn't have a "reply" link. First of all, thanks for your friendly tone, something that atheists cannot take for granted from Christians (and of course vice versa too- we're all human). You say:

              You're equivocating on "morals" and missing the point altogether. Moral codes are not moral duties. If you think they are, presumably you must also think that the Aztecs had a moral duty to sacrifice their children and that precolonial Indian widows had a moral duty to self-immolate on their husbands' funeral pyres.

              What's the difference between a "moral code" and a "moral duty"? Both say "this is what you should or should not do". I think you're already presuming that a "moral duty" is like a "moral code" except that it's backed by some sort of ultimate authority. Since I don't see any proof for the existence of such an authority, I don't see any difference between "moral codes" and "moral duties". I do think my morals, and probably yours too, are superior, or at least more zeitgemäß (suited to the times) than the Aztec and Indian examples here. My morals, and yours (I presume) are also more advanced than those of the Bible, in at least some ways: or do you condone slavery?

              You're making the same basic error as Keith (see above). Moral codes are to moral duties much as scientific theories are to the (actual) laws of physics. Just because two people hold to different scientific theories doesn't mean that different laws of physics apply to them. Just as the (actual) laws of physics are independent of human thoughts about them, so the (actual) laws of morality are independent of human thoughts about them.

              Same problem. If you can't show that there is an ultimate authority responsible for morals, then your distinction between "moral codes" and "moral duties" doesn't obtain.

              Even if evolutionary naturalism could account for moral codes (it can't, by the way, because it can't account for human consciousness and intellect)[...]

              Depends on what you mean by "account". Of course science doesn't have anything like a complete account for consciousness and intellect- these are probably the most complex and intractable systems in the Universe- but we are making progress daily. Does Christianity have an "account" of consciousness and intellect that does work- that is, enables us to make predictions about real-world events that science cannot? If so, show me.

              [...] that would tell us nothing about whether it could account for real moral duties: moral obligations that are binding on all human beings regardless of their moral code, regardless of their cultural situation, regardless of their actual patterns of behavior.

              Again, you're simply assuming what remains to be demonstrated: the existence of such moral obligations. This is not an argument, but simply a statement of your position.

              Thanks for the link- I've downloaded it and will read it when I get time.

              cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

            • zilch

              Okay, James, I've read the essay by Copan you linked to. Basically, it commits the same error you do: it assumes, without demonstrating or even mentioning it, that there exists an "objective" morality which must be declared by fiat by some authority, who must naturally be God. Part of the problem, especially among theists but even among some atheists, is that the qualifier "objective" is also simply assumed as a property morals either have or don't have. I don't see it that way.

            • Keith

              James, I read Paul Copan's "God, Naturalism, and the Foundations of Morality" -- thanks for the link.

              One comment before I get to your point: Paul's argument is based on trust in untrustworthy mechanisms. He says: "We are wise to assume that our senses, our powers of reasoning, and our most fundamental moral instincts are not systematically deceiving us. We should—and typically do—take for granted their adequate function."

              Paul is incorrect: our senses, reasoning and moral instincts are entirely brain-based (at least, there's no evidence to suggest they are not brain-based), and they systematically deceive us.

              There are many physical deceptions the brain practices (a few examples among thousands: the so-called "blind spot" which the brain fills in, the "hitter's paradox", where the brain creates false memories, the fact that memories are not static, but are re-written and potentially modified every time we remember an event). It would be foolish to assume our moral intuitions are problem free in the face of so many physical deceptions, and in fact there are analogous moral mistakes the brain makes: people significantly change their moral viewpoints based on relatively insignificant changes to the phrasing of a problem (the "trolley problem"), people reliably answer moral questions incorrectly (reacting more strongly to a single child in peril than to many children in peril), increasing or decreasing the activity of parts of the brain significantly change people's moral views, and so on. In summary, Paul's dependence on untrustworthy mechanisms to define his objective morality undermines the entire argument.

              To be fair, Paul does address this problem, for example, he says "humans may misperceive or make logical missteps. However, such mistakes hardly call into question the general reliability of our sense or reasoning powers; indeed, they presuppose it." I think this defense is weak: we're not talking sensory data or reasoning, we're talking about moral intuitions, which are difficult to measure, at best.

              Paul later says "One assumes a trustworthy reasoning process to arrive, ironically, at the conclusion that reasoning cannot be trusted." I'm in complete agreement. But the answer is that science works not because we trust our reasoning, but because we've created a process allowing us to correct for the fact that our reasoning cannot be trusted.

              Paul gets to James' point later in the essay, when he says "Theism has the metaphysical wherewithal to account for such values: there is an intimate connection between (a) a good God and Creator (the metaphysical foundation) and (b) human dignity/rights, and general moral obligations. God is the necessarily good Source of all finite goods. So anyone can know that humans have rights and dignity and obligations. But, more crucially, how did they come to be that way—particularly if they are the result of valueless, cause-and-effect physical processes from the big bang until now? Theism offers the requisite foundations."

              In Paul's expansion of these ideas, it's clear his argument is not about evidence, rather it's about probabilities: evolution is less likely to produce a common morality than a deity. There's a lot more in the essay, but that's the heart of James' point: we cannot fully explain these things with a naturalistic approach (mostly true: there are lots of ideas and models, but no consensus as far as I know), therefore saying "god did it" is the simplest, best, most convincing explanation we have.

              I disagree:

              First, given the variability in every human morality, I find a god-given, hard-wired morality to be suspect. If god hard-wired our morality, wouldn't there be at least one moral view that everybody, every culture everywhere, shared? Paul admits there isn't, and defines the problem out of existence: "Those not recognizing such truths as properly basic are simply wrong and morally dysfunctional." In other words, Paul says, if we throw out any cases that don't fit our model, our model works.

              Second, god-given hard-wired morality can't explain the moral behavior we see in the animal kingdom. Moral behaviors unique to humanity are few, if any, and when animals model complex morality such as altruism in their behaviors, I don't see how we can accept any solution that fails to explain why that is the case. The naturalistic evolution of morality predicts and explains why the animal kingdom exhibits moral behaviors more-or-less in line with human behaviors. A god-given morality does nothing to explain that fact.

              Third, Paul is making a god-of-the-gaps argument. We can't explain moral behaviors fully, and so "god did it" is a simpler, more complete explanation. It's a dangerous argument to make. For the last several hundred years we've repeated this argument on thousands of topics, and religion has lost the argument every single time. Think about that: without exception, every single time, religion has lost this argument. I'm doubtful the "roots of morality" will be the case that changes religion's losing streak. History alone should make us hesitant to accept any god-of-the-gaps arguments, and Paul's argument is not based on evidence: it's based on a lack of evidence on the other side of the question.

              All that said… James: what is it about this essay that you find compelling? What is it that convinces you naturalism will never, ever, explain morality? Because that's really the stand you're taking.

            • Matthias

              Keith says,

              "If, by the latter claim, you mean 'evolutionary naturalism cannot YET account for consciousness and intellect', I guess I can agree with that, but 'god of the gaps' arguments aren't interesting."

              My answer: Neither are 'evolution of the gaps' arguments. Try again.

              Ours isn't a "god of the gaps" nearly as much as yours is an "evolution of the gaps" or perhaps "something-other-than-God of the gaps." Because, while we aren't necessarily incorrect to invoke God's work in a gap a scientific explanation cannot presently fill (primary/secondary causation, etc.), only yours precludes the other from the start. The best explanation for this, in my estimation (OK so, I'm being a little sarcastic), is sinful suppression of truth.

              Regards,
              Matthias

            • Keith

              Nobody should preclude invoking god, and it would be wrong to argue for that preclusion.

              What I ask is you provide evidence of supernatural intervention. Without evidence, I'm unlikely to convert to your point-of-view, but that doesn't mean I'm gnoring a valid argument: it simply reflects my belief that claims without evidence are unlikely to be true.

              Neil DeGrasse Tyson once commented that "God is an ever shrinking pocket of scientific ignorance", and I think that's a fair evaluation of the last few hundred years. As far as anybody can tell, god simply doesn't act on our world in any physically measurable way. Did god ever act on our world in a physically measurable way? We're probably never going to know, but as far as I can tell, there's no evidence of it.

            • Matthias

              Keith,

              What if I said that everything measureable is due to God's action, such that to ask for "evidence" of God's action is really to beg the question against God? There are historically detailed ways in which God has worked, up and above everything we consider natural. (the accounts of miracles, for instance, in the Bible. Also the life of Jesus.)

              Also, I have to apologize for opening this conversation back up. I know it's a few months down the road, but I chanced across a post with a link to here and found your conversation with Dr. Anderson intriguing.

              Regards,
              Matthias

            • Keith

              Saying "everything measurable is due to God's action", sure, it's logically possible, but there's no physical evidence that is the case.

              "Historically detailed ways in which God has worked", yes and no. There are historical stories, but there's no physical evidence those stories are true and such stories are fairly common (for example, many historical figures and gods were born of virgins, and many of those pre-dated Jesus' birth).

              Let me make two points to explain why I think supernatural intervention is an unlikely explanation.

              First, religions document tens of thousands of supernatural interventions, from the litany of Catholic saints, visions and miracles, to the daily miracles that are so common we don't even think of them as supernatural, like speaking in tongues and praying Doesn't it bother you these events both universally lack physical supporting evidence and have continually decreased over time? Miracles were commonplace until humanity has the means to physically record them, then suddenly, no more miracles! Where is the 20th century version of St. Denis? (In summary, St. Denis was beheaded, but continued to preach for some time, carrying his head.) What passes for a miracle in our age is Jesus' face appearing on toast, while in the 3rd century, beheaded priests carried their heads and kept preaching. Why so many grand and terrible miracles historically, but none today? If miracles are just made-up stories, it all makes sense, after all, people are less likely to relate how the Virgin Mary physically appeared to them if they are expected to upload videos to YouTube to prove it. But as a person who believes in supernatural intervention, how do you explain the decrease in miracles over time?

              Second, let's consider the most common miracle in religion, god's supernatural intervention as a result of intercessory prayer. I think we can agree religious people pray for god's physical intervention in their lives, and a principle reason for those prayers is health. The problem with god's intercessory healing is that we would know it if god supernaturally healed people. Statistically, if members of one religion lived longer or were less prone or more resistant to disease, we would absolutely, unquestionably, know it. And that's not the case: it turns out the religious of all faiths are sick and die at the same rate and in the same ways as each other.

              (As a side-note, I submit that god choosing not to supernaturally intervene in our world in any way is both scripturally arguable and is the only thing that makes the issue of theodicy go away. If god doesn't intervene at all, it can work; if god intervenes to find you a parking spot, god choosing not to intervene as 20,000 children die each day becomes morally indefensible.)

            • Matthias

              "there's no physical evidence that is the case."

              I sumbit the Bible(what it says, in particular, concerning God's meticulous sovereignty and providence, Ephesians 1:11) as evidence, and not merely evidence, but first-hand testimony to that fact. Perhaps you don't accept the Bible, but you can't say "there's no evidence."

              What kind of natural evidence would you accept for something supernatural? Physical evidence of "something unexplainable"? You've already put evolutionary naturalism in the gap of anything unexplainable. I would guess you're not interested in evidence anyhow.

              Of course, neither am I. We are both offering different paradigms - different "meanings of fact," as it were. No fact of nature is interpreted except through a paradigm. There is no neutrality. In this debate, the "meaning of facts" is more important than "facts" themselves. Since God is the author and creator of all possible evidence for anything, there is nothing in nature than can be used (except inconsistently) as evidence against Him. The real question is, then, which "meaning" or which "paradigm" is consistent with itself and sufficiently expounds reality. The world and reality is the cauldron of evidence that we are toiling and troubling over in order to interpret. My assertion is that, unless you presuppose Christianity, you cannot begin to make sense of anything.

              "First..."

              I'm not interested in defending anything other than the Bible at this point. The purpose of miracles in the Bible is well-explained in Reformed Theology. You should read up on that.

              "Second..."

              You said that, "The problem with god's intercessory healing is that we would know it if god supernaturally healed people."

              But recall one of my earlier assertions: that God is superintending *everything* that comes to pass, not just what *you* consider "supernatural." Any healing, natural or supernatural, is wrought by God. Since God sovereignly manages everything, he also manages the intercessory prayers themselves, as well as the purpose for which they are offered. And so God will fulfill such things as healing in answer to intercessory prayer.

              "And that's not the case: it turns out the religious of all faiths are sick and die at the same rate and in the same ways as each other."

              [insert clever quote about drinking the kool-Aid]

              My earlier explanation about God's meticulous providence and sovereignty should suffice to answer your misapprehensions regarding "divine intervention." For now, I'll only say your assumption regarding intervention is incorrect (i.e. that that's the only way God works in nature).

              When you get a chance, visit choosinghats.com . It's a website dedicated to answering questions skeptics raise against Christianity. Many of the things you brought up are answered more in depth there.

            • Keith

              While I agree the Bible is "evidence", I don't believe it is trustworthy or "good" evidence for all the reasons you'd anticipate: it's vague, edited, mis-translated, inconsistent, unexceptional, second- or third-hand at best: I'm sure you know the arguments better than I do.

              I disagree that I'm not interested in evidence, and I'll flatly state it's easy to convert me to a religious faith: give me unambiguous evidence of a god and you're done. I choose evolutionary naturalism as the best hypothesis for unexplainable things because historically naturalism has a much better track record than god for explaining the unknown. Simply put, when wondering who ate the last piece of pizza, "my teenage son" is a better hypothesis than "a pink unicorn", because my son took the last piece every time I can remember, and I've never seen a pink unicorn.

              Finally, to resort to "God's meticulous providence and sovereignty" is logical, and I can't dispute it, but it's not terribly useful. Yes, god may be authoring all possible physical evidence, but once you go there, predestination is unavoidable, and we might as well be software running on an alien computer, a la The Matrix. Yes, it's a perfectly logical and defensible position to take, but there's nowhere to go once you've made the statement, and no possible physical evidence can ever disprove you. If no possible evidence could change your mind, I think we're done.

              Thanks for the pointer to choosinghats.

            • Matthias

              I've heard many more arguments against than I've seen demonstrated. And I don't think anyone can accept those things you listed as a reason to reject the Bible and ultimately avoid destroying all knowledge of any history, period. Without a double-standard, at least (i.e. inconsistency). I'll leave it at that.

              Assuming that any evidence is "ambiguous" is, in effect, to beg the question against God. Either all the evidence is for God, or none of it is. The thing is, God is the precondition for the existence of evidence, period. And so there's only one way that road can go. There is no neutrality. You carry assumptions into the world of evidence and so those must be examined before the evidence can possibly be. Your glasses must be cleansed before you can hope to see anything beyond them clearly.

              Predestination poses no problem to Reformed Theology. It's not quite like the Matrix or computer programs.

              If I put a bunch of marbles into a jar, it would be fallacious to expect that by observing one of them, it could be proven that I *didn't* put them there. You might be able to measure the manner in which they fell and arranged themselves in the jar, but it is impossible to derive the conclusion that I didn't put them in there. And only by presupposing my pouring marbles into the jar can you make sense of "why there is something rather than nothing" in the jar.

              I think you understand where I'm going. Anyway, this was a pleasant exchange. Feel free to leave a comment or a few over on the website (I am one of the contributors), and even visit our chat channel some time for real-time conversation, if you'd like :)

  • Keith

    I have a question, and it's something that genuinely perplexes me: if, after 5,000 years of apologetics for one god or another, without finding a single argument that cannot be reasonably refuted by your opponents... why not give up? If you can't solve a problem in 5,000 years of arguing, it's time to admit that either the question does not admit of a solution, or your tools are insufficient to the task.

    If god shows up, great. If he doesn't, that's OK by me. Let's all have a drink.

    • https://theologiansinc.wordpress.com/ Joshua

      It's quite a leap to say that every single argument for God has been reasonably refuted - I could say the same about everything that's every been argued about. I'd actually say it's roughly the opposite - there really aren't any good arguments disproving God or anything of that nature.

      Obviously, though, there is more to God than arguments, just as there is to all of life - and, even more obviously, one doesn't need an argument to believe in everything. Of course, I don't view God as an 'explanation' of sorts - which means that I don't invoke God to explain that which I don't fully understand - say, for instance, against evolution.

    • Fletcher

      The underlying argument seems to be: if there is disagreement, that is evidence against the positive claim's truthfulness. Brilliant.

      There is disagreement over whether light is wave- or particle-based. Guess we should just abandon physics.

      • Keith

        That's a false equivalence: we've been arguing over light's duality for a few hundred years, but we can show progress, we have learned new information in that time. We simply know more about light's duality now than we knew 50 years ago, let alone a hundred years ago.

        Contrast that to belief in god, where arguments by Plato and Aristotle (for example, the Cosmological) are still state-of-the-art.

        It's a standard atheist question: in what realm of human knowledge can we say Iron Age humans knew just as much as we do? Religion stands alone.

        What new facts have we've learned about god in the last 100 years? The last 1000 years?

        In the past few hundred years we have deduced facts about god with relatively high probability (god doesn't physically intervene in our lives, angels don't appear to people), but those are conclusions based on a lack of evidence more than they are new information about god's existence or qualities.

        From the outside, theological arguments and arguments as to whether the 1930 St. Louis Cardinals could have beaten the 1936 New York Yankees appear similar.

        • Fletcher

          I'm afraid you've tipped your hand. Arguments by Plato and Aristotle are not "state-of-the-art", and, actually, an argument as simple as Anselm's ontological argument has been subject to extremely rigorous analysis and has undergone considerable refinement.

          You also demonstrate a lack of precision in your grasp of philosophical methodology. You don't "deduce facts" with any degree of "probability". Deductive entailment is necessary, not probabilistic.

          The subject matter of theology and philosophy does not often lend itself to empirical investigation. A distinction as elementary as that between an empirical question and an evaluative question should enable you get a grasp of why progress is readily forthcoming in one and not in the other. Why expect all areas of inquiry to be explanatorily accessible in this way?

          • Keith

            We'll have to disagree on "considerable refinement". I find William Craig's version of the cosmological argument little different, and no more convincing, than the original. I stand by my statement.

            I grant the subsequent points you make: I'm not making a philosophical argument, we should not expect all areas of inquiry to be accessible in the same way, and I do not argue analysis and refinement are themselves meaningless (although I do argue they so far have shown few practical applications).

            Is it fair to contrast what we consider "progress" in one realm of human knowledge vs. other realms? I think yes, and the contrast gives us a relative measure of our ability to progress in any particular area. And by that contrast, we see exactly how significant our progress in theology has been.

            • https://theologiansinc.wordpress.com/ Joshua

              Indeed- the progress made in theology, particularly in the last 10-20 years, has been astounding.

  • Keith

    "So yes, we can prove the existence of God; but how exactly we prove the existence of God will depend on the particular person we're dealing with and what they're willing to grant."

    So, let me make sure I understand how this works in practice:

    You and I are talking religion, and you "prove" the existence of god. Swayed, I fall to my knees and accept Jesus. But, unbeknownst to ignorant me, the "proof" that convicted my sinful heart has problems.

    As an honest fellow of apologetics, you'd undoubtedly pull me to my feet and cry "Stop, man! Many atheists find the argument I gave you tragically flawed, generally on the basis of X, Y and Z, and you should consider those arguments carefully before you give your heart to Jesus".

    Yeah. That would almost certainly happen.

    You don't find anything slightly distasteful about using "proofs" you know are simplistic or fallacious, to persuade others of the Kingdom?

    • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

      Simplistic?

      This from the guy who says Craig's cosmological argument is "little different" than Aristotle's? :)

      • Keith

        That's a fair cop.

        When I said "I find them little different", I was not referring to the complexity of the argument, and I should have made that clear. Where I find them depressingly similar is their lack of testability, or perhaps, usability: in short, neither of them explain anything at all, and, of course, neither of them make any claim about the truth or falsity of any religion.

  • Al Smith

    Sometimes apologetics is just about stopping the mouths of the ungodly and demonstrating their folly to the onlookers to the argument. The Holy Spirit may have no interest in converting the person that the apologist is talking to, but is actually hardening them yet at the same time planning to opening the eyes of one of their friends.

    • zilch

      Seriously? That would neatly account for the existence of atheism, wouldn't it? I guess God really has it in for me, then. Not much I can do if He wants to harden my heart, is there?

      • Al Smith

        You could always repent and read the bible looking for truth, rather than continually looking for excuses to remain in unbelief. Have you ever noticed that little satisfying emotional reaction you get when you find something in the text that you think is a contradiction or that you think it just stupid? Can you remember how that makes you feel? If you haven't noticed it yet, don't worry about it, you may notice it next time. On the other hand (and I'm sure you'll already know this) the bible does teach you could just keep mocking in order to keep convincing yourself of your own wisdom in an effort to suppress the knowledge of the God you know exists until the point that your conscience is completely seared.

        How would you know if you were wrong?

        • zilch

          How would I know if I were wrong? I can't know with certainty. But you can't know with certainty that you're not a brain in a vat, and the Bible, plus all the feelings you have about God, are not just fed into your brain. I, just like you, can only go with what seems most likely. And it seems most likely to me that gods don't exist, based on the evidence and reasoning I've seen so far.

          But actually, although I do enjoy arguing with theists (and atheists too!), I don't really care what you believe, as long as you behave nicely. Drop me a line if you're ever in Vienna, Al, or in the SF Bay Area most summers, and lunch is on me. That goes for anyone else participating here as well.

          cheers from sunny Austria, zilch

          edit- I see my email doesn't show here. You can reach me if desired at fydylstyks, then that funny "klammer affe", then utanet point at. If a spambot can understand that, then I'd say we have a contender for the Turing test.

          • taco

            I can't know with certainty. But you can't know with certainty that you're not a brain in a vat, and the Bible, plus all the feelings you have about God, are not just fed into your brain.

            The irony of Zilch being certain what Al cannot know makes my sides hurt.

            • zilch

              I hope your sides hurt with laughter, taco, even if it's just canned laughter from the Matrix.

              Seriously- how can anyone prove they're not deluded?

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  • David

    All of this debate and two of the best proofs for Intelligent Design are the existence of the words "Intelligent" and "Design". :)

  • Michael

    1. If Santa Claus does not exist, there are no presents
    2. There are presents
    3. Therefore, Santa Claus exists

    • https://theologiansinc.wordpress.com/ Joshua

      I saw my parents wrapping presents on Christmas night for me...

    • Fletcher

      Do you expect anyone to accept your first premise? If you're attempting to draw a parallel between that argument and any of the ones Anderson put up, then I'm afraid you've failed to produce anything even approximating an analogous argument. While many people think the premises Anderson provided are false, many of them take them to be true. Contrastingly, children aside, nobody takes your first premise to be true.

      Anderson's point is simply that not every sound argument is rationally persuasive, since the latter is a relation (two-place) and not a property (one-place). Validity is a property of some arguments, soundness is a property of some arguments, being rationally compelling is a relation that holds between an argument and a person (even though I stated it here as a relational property).

      • Michael

        It parallels the irrationality of saying that, because there is objective morality, there has to be a god. How can he come to that conclusion from either of his premises? Furthermore, his view of those supposedly objective morals is subjective in and of itself. What good are purportedly objective guidelines when there is no consistency in interpretation? Is what you're saying that people decide what is morally appropriate and not god?

        • Dan

          So what you're saying is that there's no reason to attribute objective morality to God but for the fact that we cannot think of anything else? You're just arguing against both premises. There isn't a problem with the conclusion.

        • Fletcher

          That argument of Anderson's is deductively valid; it has the form of a modus tollens, which ensures its validity. So predicating of it "irrationality" or suggesting that the conclusion doesn't follow from the premises represents a confusion about logic.

          If you think that either of the premises (or both) are false, then you do not think that the argument is sound. But that's just not logically or philosophically interesting. The point about rational persuasiveness is simply that an argument's soundness is insufficient (and unnecessary, in fact) for its rational acceptability. The latter component is extraneous to arguments, hence why its a relation that holds between arguments *and* persons.

  • David

    And this is comment thread shows why apologetics are mainly for newly believing Christians. Paul reasoned from the Biblical texts, not from reason itself. Otherwise, Jesus would have thanked the Father for revealing these truths to the wise and understanding and not to the childlike. If the Bible is not accepted as 'true' then what is needed first is simple gospel proclamation, as this is the only power to bring an "Abeynormal" brain to life. ;) We like to make it more complicated than this, we like to feel as though we have more to do with the convincing than is the reality. We preach a foolish message that is heard, accepted and followed by Christ's childlike sheep.

    "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1 Corinthians 2:14

    • Al Smith

      David, I agree entirely with all the scriptural points you make but I differ with your conclusion that apologetics is mainly for newly believing Christians. Could it not just be that newly believing Christians have just not realised that it was hearing the Word of God that supernaturally converted them, rather than clever arguments?

      Surely apologetics is the responsibility of every Christian? But surely what really matters is *HOW* we do apologetics?

      One of the reasons I hate the term "apologetics" is because when we use the term, people instantly think it means they need to learn clever philosophical arguments--the kind discussed in the article and the kind deployed in the thread. A better alternative term to encourage people to use is "persuasive evangelism." After all, isn't that what the goal of every apologist should be?

      When we start with clever philosophical arguments, we're immediately assuming that the person we're giving them to is capable of being persuaded by them but God tells us in His word that they can't be. The unregenerate mind is hostile to God...noone seeks after God...noone can come to me unless the father first draws them...etc, etc.

      When we seek to just give evidences, we're immediately assuming the person is capable of correctly evaluating the evidences. God tells us that the natural man cannot. There's a massive difference between presenting the historical evidence for the resurrection and preaching Christ and Him crucified, yet too many apologists today think they are the same thing.

      The other problem is that God tells us in His Word exactly what He does use to convert sinners.

      So when we start out by presenting philosophical arguments or presenting evidences, not only are we doing something that God says will not work, we are also ignoring what He says we are supposed to be doing. Doing apologetics the way that most do is actually being doubly disobedient to God and does not honour Him or give him the glory. Essentially, we're saying to God that we know better that Him and we'll do it our way. That's declaring our autonomy and, bottom line, it's sinful. It's actually akin to idolatrous blasphemy. Now, given the recent direction that many of the apologetics articles on TGC have been taking, I'm sure this comment will win me lots of friends on here, but to be frank, I'm staggered at how some of the best reformed exegetical minds on the planet don't appear to see that what's being pushed as apologetics is actually inconsistent with scriptural revelation. That's disappointing.

      Now, all of that is not to say that evidences and philospohical arguments are not important. They are. Christians should learn them but Christians also need to understand when it's appropriate to use them and how they should be used. As I highlighted in a previous comment, by all means use them, just proclaim god's truth first *then* use them in a destructive way to destroy arguments and demolish strongholds.

      When God tells us that using arguments crafted by the wisdom of man is pointless--He doesn't use them to convert people--continuing to use them constructively is not only a waste of time and effort, it is also sinful disobedience.

      • David

        Hi Al, that was essentially my point. I was simply agreeing with Doug Wilson's view on Christian apologetics. I agree with you. However, I will talk with anyone about anything as long as there is progress because this means that God is working.

        I have a "three strikes" rule. If I can't get someone out of their biased, unreasonable, circular logic then I end the conversation, yet at all times in my conversation the gospel is present.

        Apologetics can be useful to clear a way for the gospel, and not that the gospel needs the path cleared, but this is simply how God may choose to bring someone to new life (or bring them to the gospel).

        In light of the gospel being the only power to save, apologetics is the unnecessary evil of removing all false stumbling blocks so that the true stumbling block, the cross, can be the only one. Of course, they are not aware that the cross has been the main stumbling block for them all along. So, again, I always continue the discussion when progress is being made; when someone is systematically realizing that their man-made stumbling blocks are an illusion and unreasonable. This, in my opinion, can only be happening if God is at work. At the very least, they are being exposed to truth and the seed of Christ crucified is being planted.

  • FroodyZarquon

    This article basically lets you know that there are multiple definitions for the word proof/prove. It draws people in implying the definition synonymous with "confirm" then merely confirms the possibility to "convince" people of God's existence; which is the other synonym.

    As others already said in comments, for any social species a system of ethics is required to survive from birth to procreation through multiple generations. Biology presents an objectively true culture-transcending alternative to God. I can also prove, as in confirm, that the proof Mr. Anderson presents is baseless by looking at the Bible and pointing out that it has God presenting culture-transcending moral duties which don't transcend culture.

    Mr. Anderson is correct, a divine axiom can't be established because it would transcend the primary axiom, an objective reality, required to created it.

    • FroodyZarquon

      If I may comment on the conversation you're having with Keith and Zilch, Mr. Anderson, I think that you three are mostly circling each other with semantics. They speak to you focused on projecting themselves to outshine Christian morality while you do the same trying to outshine the secular. Both sides admit that morality transcends culture but neither are willing to leave their culture to find common ground and explore it openly. If God transcends culture then He transcends Christianity, does he not? The same can be said of evolution/biology and ideological perceptions that seek to drive a wedge between spirituality and rationality. Both can be right and mistaken at the same time because morality is an entity of time. It's a vector without an easily defined beginning or end.

      Through history we can see what has stuck around and where the trend is going because a system of ethics is defined by who and what behavior gets included or excluded from the pack. We've gone from including a tribal to city-state to a nation to a global species now trying to cope with the various differences that came along the way. From including one people to one race to all races to all people regardless of gender and on the horizon is the realization that gender and sex isn't polar. Perceptions of health, war, relationships, slavery, human rights, and everything in between is in a constant state of change.

      The Bible shows this it as well as history. Everything is in a constant flux through the rise and fall of Israel, the coming and death of Jesus, and all the events that happened afterwords including the civil rights movements happening even today. And guess what, all that stuff happened to us biologically too so the secular folk are in the same boat. They don't get to cast Christianity aside... if they are to reconcile their world view is truth it has to account for all human occurrences without condemnation or otherness. As John Searle has said: "If you can't say it clearly then you don't understand it yourself."

      Peace.

      • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

        FroodyZarquon,

        Our conversation has been about whether there are objective, culture-transcending moral duties. That is most assuredly not a matter of semantics.

        Keith wants to deny that there are such duties while at the same time making moral judgments that presuppose them.

        The question is not whether Keith can make moral judgements or whether he can do so without referring to God. The question is whether such moral judgments are even intelligible from a naturalistic perspective.

        • FroodyZarquon

          And yet both parties are attempting to divide yen from yang. Humanity can't continue it's existence void of action any more than it can continue it's existence without perceiving order. That's what God is, correct? The essence of order? Prescription takes description and vice versa. Deduction takes induction and vice versa. Both parties are disagreeing over the words and perspectives essential to defining morality... it's a semantic dispute.

          If you want a question that will actually get you somewhere you should ask whether either position is truly intelligible while void of the implications introduced by the other? My opinion is obvious, but I'm curious whether you would agree.

        • zilch

          James- again, I can't speak for Keith, but for me, morals are, like all living things, in a state of evolution. That means that while there are no absolute rights or wrongs, there are general tendencies and desires, and they change with time. For instance: the Bible condones slavery. Do you?

          • FroodyZarquon

            Hey Zilch, while I agree that there are no absolute rights or wrongs I would point out that there are absolutely constant rights and wrongs.

            Aspects of life/humanity in environment present objective absolutes which directly translate to objectively necessary social values of right and wrong for propagation. This gives objective reasoning for why immoral/amoral behavior, while a constant occurrence through human cultures and history (which James might interpret as the free will aspect of predestination), doesn't propagate social appeal beyond an ideologically isolated "in" person or group. Narrow justification has narrow appeal. Flipping the coin the propagation of humanity requires some aspect of empathy towards the familial, the ignorance and innocence of children (which require empathy to care for) will see much before cultural presuppositions indoctrinate them, and this family unit co-inhabits a universe with non-family whether they like it or not integration is inevitable.

            Unless I'm mistaken this system of moral outlook is intelligible, cohesive/orderly, and naturalistic all in one go. James, Zilch, what say ye? Have I managed to circle the wagons?

            • zilch

              froody- perhaps because I minored in paleontology, I tend to look at everything through evolution-tinted glasses, and that gives me a constitutional aversion to the word "absolute" in certain contexts. What's absolute about morality? Before there was life, there was no morality, so there are no "absolute constants" of right and wrong either: they, too, evolved. I think I basically agree with what you're saying, that there are constants because they are necessary for survival, but these are constants with fuzzy edges. Does that make sense?

              cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

  • http://pjamesbeardsley.wordpress.com Peter Beardsley

    I find overwhelming evidence for the existence of a singular, living God. I think the absence of one has many troubling logical conclusions (the absence of ethics being one). I wrote a formal logic proof on my website about how a living, perfect God is a necessary truth of a the property "goodness" existing.

    I agree that the existence of God can be proven by some axioms, axioms that I perceive to be consistent with reality. Your "The Bible says God exists." proof is a terrific example. It is logically sound. It is thoroughly unconvincing to anyone who doesn't accept the axiom.

    In my personal opinion, the Bible makes it clear in both the New and Old Testaments that the existence of God is not provable from a set of universal, consistent, true, self evident axioms:

    Proverbs 14:12 -- If God was provable, there would be no way that appears right to man, but in the end leads to death. The Bible says there is, in fact, one and only one.

    I take this to mean that there is a set of axioms by which a person can live their life that is (1) consistent with reality, (2) consistent with itself, (3) doesn't include God's existence as either an axiom or a necessary logical implication of the axioms. Of course, being consistent with reality, it doesn't disprove God either. I accept the possibility that I am wrong about this, but do think the notion is Biblically consistent.

    Hebrews 11:1 -- If God was provable, faith would be corroborating evidence of things clearly seen, not things unseen.

    That doesn't make it untrue, obviously. By Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, in any logically consistent system (including, perhaps especially, reality), there are things that are true that are not provable. I do think it makes clear that any proof of the existence of God is somehow "faulty" in the sense that one will always have to take an axiom on faith.

    • taco

      I take this to mean that there is a set of axioms by which a person can live their life that is (1) consistent with reality, (2) consistent with itself, (3) doesn't include God's existence as either an axiom or a necessary logical implication of the axioms.

      Romans 1:21

      • http://pjamesbeardsley.wordpress.com Peter Beardsley

        That verse doesn't contradict what I said.

        • taco

          The verse does NOT say: "For although they knew God, and reasoned as though God did not exist, they reasoned correctly and their hearts were enlightened."

          In fact the whole section of Scripture explicitly discusses how the non-Christian will live their life because of their denial of reality.

          • http://pjamesbeardsley.wordpress.com Peter Beardsley

            You're right. It doesn't say that. It still doesn't contradict me in the slightest.

            The vast majority of non-Christians do not, in fact, live their lives in a way that appears right to them. Indeed, the verse says their hearts were foolish and they were living a life contradictory to what they knew. There is only one way that both (1) appears right to man and (2) leads to death, and the vast majority of non-Christians do not take it. That too, is a narrow path inasmuch as it is only one way.

            It still doesn't mean that there is not such a set of axioms.

    • zilch

      Peter- I read your proof at your site and commented on it. Nice work, but I'm not convinced.

      Let me know if you're ever around my way, and lunch is on me.

  • robert landbeck

    "Can we prove the existence of God'? YES, but only with a new gospel! For what science and religion thought impossible has now happened. History has its first literal, testable and fully demonstrable proof for faith.

    The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise, predefined and predictable experience and called 'the first Resurrection' in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods' willingness to real Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine transcendence. Ultimate proof!

    Thus 'faith' become trust in action, to search and discover this direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, law, command and covenant, which at the same time, realigns our human moral compass with the Divine, "correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries." So like it or no, a new religious teaching, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists. Nothing short of an intellectual, moral and religious revolution is getting under way. To test or not to test, that is the question? More info at http://www.energon.org.uk,
    http://soulgineering.com/2011/05/22/the-final-freedoms/

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  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Hi Zilch and Professor James Anderson, et al,

    Could you provide brief thoughts and feedback on this short proof of God's existence:

    Irrefutably Refuting Atheism.

    • http://pjamesbeardsley.wordpress.com Peter Beardsley

      I am neither, but I'll jump in anyway. The argument presented combines aspects of the watchmaker argument (design implies designer) with aspects of the origin argument (origin implies originator). While I believe both arguments are consistent with themselves, one another, and reality, there's one huge "problem" with them: they assume libertarian design and origin. A consistent atheist will deny these things and say both are the result of pure accident.

      I agree with the video that an atheist who acknowledges the existence of design and origin in the universe (at least the kind that would require a designer or originator), and not even necessarily of the universe as a whole, any part of it suffices, is being inconsistent. If, however, those things are denied and chalked up to a long string of inevitable nuclear-electro-chemical reactions that resulted in everything that has been designed and/or originated, their argument does not fall apart.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for your reply and jumping in. I am unclear about several parts of your reply.

    there's one huge "problem" with them: they assume libertarian design and origin. A consistent atheist will deny these things and say both are the result of pure accident.

    What exactly is a consistent atheist denying? What are the two things that this consistent atheist is saying is a result of pure accident? If you don't mind explicitly spelling it out for me, I'd appreciate it. Something like, "Thing 1: and Thing 2: . The consistent atheist denies both of these things."

    "If, however, those things are denied and chalked up to a long string of inevitable nuclear-electro-chemical reactions that resulted in everything that has been designed and/or originated, their argument does not fall apart."

    What is the intermediate between "NOTHING" and "a long string of inevitable nuclear-electro-chemical reactions"?

    Suppose you have a large, empty fish tank. What is the intermediate between "NOTHING" and then seeing "a long string of inevitable nuclear-electro-chemical reactions" within the large, empty fish tank?

    • http://pjamesbeardsley.wordpress.com Peter Beardsley

      Thing 1 would be the existence of design such that requires a designer, Thing 2 would be the existence of origin such that requires an originator. The consistent atheist will deny these things.

      As to the second point of unclarity, it speaks to the first: the assumption of origin. The consistent atheist will say that the long string of reactions by which the universe gained its current existence always was and always will be; there was no origin. There need be no intermediate between always was and always will be.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Peter Beardsley: "Thing 1 would be the existence of design such that requires a designer, Thing 2 would be the existence of origin such that requires an originator. The consistent atheist will deny these things."

    I'm glad that I asked for clarification. Because that wasn't the argument that was presented in the short video. Thing 1 was "No Universe" or Nothing. Thing 2 was "Universe" or Something. The argument is that an Intermediate is needed to go from Thing 1 to Thing 2, to go from "No Universe" to a "Universe", or to go from Nothing to Something.

    The consistent atheist cannot deny Thing 2 for s/he will acknowledge that there's a universe existing. If the consistent atheist wants to deny Thing 1, then s/he is denying the latest and best physical science that says that there was a beginning to the universe.

    But if the consistent atheist grants Thing 1 and Thing 2, then they have to explain or account for an Intermediate between Thing 1 and Thing 2.

    • FroodyZarquon

      Since you described it for me I don't need to wait until I get home to watch the video. My response is this: Saying that a God existed before the universe makes just as much sense as saying that heaven exists north of the earth. A consistent anyone, atheist or theist, would admit that the definition of existence breaks down absent a universe.

      • David

        That is an excruciating analysis. You make sense on one level, but the level right above it is "common sense", you went one too far. :)

        All I will says is... if a source is unreliable as proof of its own claims than that goes for you as well. Unless you have exhausted the Biblical text and have offered reasons other than "it's wrong because men wrote it" then any claim to its lack of reliability is not credible as you are trying to solve the problem on the same level, that in your mind, it was created. In the context of history, taking into account the astronomical impact of the Bible for the last 2000+ years (best selling book of all time), it deserves more respect than skeptical assumptions.

        A source that finds proof within itself is certainly untrustworthy but that does not mean, necessarily, that it is wrong.

        • FroodyZarquon

          I contest that the level right above is the primary axiom, that A is A. Existence exists and you, me, and my computer are within the same existence. You accept that too otherwise all nouns, including The Bible, would exist subjectively. You reject my description of beauty, taste, and whatever else suggesting that it's too elementary to be justifiable and yet both of us agree that they exist in this existence with us to be perceived. I don't understand where I jumped out of bounds... especially when you're the one who brought them up in the first place.

          You seem to miss my point about the Bible, I did not say that "it's wrong because men wrote it." Keith presented objective evidence to suggest that the eye isn't perfect, you rebutted him then admitted that he could be right because of scripture. So I asked "is language a more or less fallible reference than the reality it interprets?"

          • David

            I'm confused by the question because it is being asked in a language... several in fact.

            • FroodyZarquon

              If language can't be used to describe it's own paradox then you only further demonstrate it's limitations, and thus the limitations of your Bible ;)

          • David

            I have no such problem with language, it is you who brought it up as an issue. I was pointing out your paradox, not mine.

            • FroodyZarquon

              Which is exactly my point. Does reality exist independent of language?

            • zilch

              Does reality exist independent of language? Yes. Next question.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Peter Beardsley: "As to the second point of unclarity, it speaks to the first: the assumption of origin. The consistent atheist will say that the long string of reactions by which the universe gained its current existence always was and always will be; there was no origin. There need be no intermediate between always was and always will be."

    So you're basically saying that this atheist denies the beginning of the universe, denies a Big Bang, and that the universe has always existed infinitely long ago. Is that an accurate summation?

    Zilch,

    Are you an atheist who believes in the beginning of the universe? Or are you an atheist who believes that that universe has always existed such that the universe has no beginning?

    • http://pjamesbeardsley.wordpress.com Peter Beardsley

      I am saying that a consistent atheist, not necessarily all atheists, believe that the universe (not that which is contained in the universe in their present forms) existed pre Big Bang. It was there, it was just contained in whatever stuff (or stuffs) "banged" in order to start the formation of planets, stars, people, computers, etc.

      A consistent atheist doesn't think the universe went from "nothing" to "not nothing." He or she thinks it was always "not nothing," just in a different form.

      I agree with the argument in the video (which, yes, is a form of the watchmaker / originator argument). It is logically sound if and only if you assume states of "nothing" and "not nothing," etc. I believe it is consistent with reality. All I'm saying is that you are indeed making an assumption there, which you kinda have to do in any logical argument.

    • Keith

      Pardon me for jumping in -- but I am an atheist, and with respect to the beginning of the universe, well, to cut to the chase, I don't know. And anybody that believes one way or the other is almost certainly believing without evidence.

      I've seen no evidence that would even indicate what an answer might look like, and the problem may simply not admit of a solution for us, with our limited senses and position of being inside the universe.

      I've read convincing arguments that the universe has always existed, and convincing arguments that the universe had to have a beginning. That's the best thing about arguing without any evidence: as long as you're logically consistent, you don't actually have to cash the check.

      • David

        Keith, again... the best evidence that all things exist by means of Intelligent Design are the existence of the words "Intelligent" and "Design". In Romans 1, Paul explains that all men are without excuse for not accepting the existence of God because He is evident in His creation."

        Or, in other words, men are without excuse because they fail to see the microcosmic realities of their own personal intelligent "creation" in contrast to the perfect order, which they observe at each moment... consider the irony of the human eye that seeks the Heavens for answers failing to look upon itself and consider it's profound, intelligent and obviously designed complexities.

        There is no excuse, men simply "suppress the truth in unrighteousness"; some are just more intellectually honest than others (e.g., Huxley conceded that there was probably a god, but he simply refused to worship him/her in order to feed his own desires).

        • Keith

          David, when you say the human eye is "profound, intelligent and obviously designed", you lose me. There are many references on this topic, and I'm sure you can search the web for them as well as I, but I will excerpt from one such review (http://denbeste.nu/essays/humaneye.shtml) to make a point:

          The vertebrate retina is a terrible design. The optic nerve comes into the eyeball at a certain point, and the nerve fibers spread out across the surface of the retina. Each individual nerve fiber reaches its assigned point, burrows down into the retina through several layers of epithelial cells, and ends with the light receptor itself pointing away from the lens of the eye, which is the direction from which the light must come. As a result, incoming light strikes the surface of the retina and must penetrate through multiple layers of inactive cells and then through the body of the nerve itself before it reaches the active point where it might be detected. This both diffuses and attenuates the light, decreasing the efficiency of the retina in accomplishing its function.

          It's possible to do this better. We know this because the mollusc eye does it right. In the mollusc eye (typified by the octopus, squid and chambered nautilus, all of which have excellent vision) the optic nerve spreads out under the retina, and each nerve burrows up through the retina and ends with the light sensor on the surface of the retina, pointing towards the lens. This means that there is no attenuation of the light before it reaches the active components. (Just incidentally, this also means that molluscs have no blind spot. Vertebrates have a blind spot because there are no light receptors at the location where the nerve passes through the retina.)

          The key phrase is "it's possible to do this better". Why? Because we have examples of doing it better. Even if you are prepared to argue the human eye itself is "well designed", how do you explain the dozens (hundreds?) of different eye designs? Why would a perfect designer create multiple, different designs, all of which are flawed in different ways?

          There’s nothing irrational about denying intelligent design, and the science on it is settled. If I had to pick a single “proof”, I’d say I don’t believe in ID because of the sheer, epic, awfulness of the design. Eyes that don’t see, whales with legs, humans with tails, the human DNA that’s “junk DNA”, just along for the ride, the single shared tube for both breathing and swallowing. Over and over in nature, we see exactly what we’d expect to see as a result of random mutations over millions of years -- and nothing like what we'd expect to see if it was designed.

          If god designed this mess, he’s a terrible engineer.

          • David

            Wow, talk about missing the forest for the trees. This is coming from the same field of science that once thought the Earth was flat, that the cell was not complex and that we came from monkeys. Maybe when they figure out how the brain works they will realize they're wrong about the eye, and to do this they will observe engineering and design with created tools and systematized languages that are microcosms of the code they are attempting to decipher.

            Can you not hear yourself? "It is possible to design this better than 'chaos' did."

            • Keith

              David, I'm not following your argument.

              You're saying "science has been wrong before"; sure, granted.

              You're saying "we might at some future time decide the eye is, in fact, well-designed based on advances in our knowledge"; sure, unlikely but granted, science changes all the time.

              You're saying "you can't evaluate a design when the designed object is an integral part of the evaluation process"; sure, I guess that's possible, but since there's no way to get "outside the box", there's not much we can do to prove it one way or the other, and there's no evidence you're correct.

              As far as "chaos", evolution is most emphatically not about "chaos", it's about selection from random mutation. There is nothing chaotic about selection. Imagine I randomly throw jelly-beans at you. That's chaotic, no color is preferred over another. Now imagine that you select the green jelly-beans. That's not chaotic at all, and you'll end up with a nice collection of jelly-beans, some light green, some dark green, some bluish-purplish green.

              Which is exactly what we see in the eye. There's a strong evolutionary selection for response to light, but the exact mechanism was randomly arrived at, which is why animals exhibit such a wide variety of eye mechanisms.

              As I said a few minutes ago: over and over in nature, we see exactly what we’d expect to see as a result of random mutations over millions of years, and we see nothing like what we'd expect from a designer.

          • David

            see my reply to Zilch. :)

          • David

            Keith, as respected as Darwin is, we should look carefully into his potential difficulties as valid apart from any further, additional discoveries as they are valid autonomous points.

            Yes, Darwin was unaware of the coding language God or Random Speck used to program humans. ;)

        • zilch

          David- Keith answered the gist of your comment here. I'll just add one more example: did God design the halibut?

          I'm curious. You say: Huxley conceded that there was probably a god, but he simply refused to worship him/her in order to feed his own desires

          I assume you mean T.H.Huxley here. Could you provide a link and/or a direct quote? I've read quite a bit about his life and don't recall anything like this. Thanks.

          cheers from cloudy Vienna, zilch

          • David

            Maybe he did just for people like you. ;) If you're going to go there, then... did God create the rest? Are scientists able to create the Halibut? Are scientists able to conceive of something "ex nihilo" with no point of reference (i.e., we know other fish exist)? What is our standard for determining the Halibut is poorly designed, is it not exceptional design? To who or what do we give the credit for the exceptional design? :)

            And I was referring to Aldous Huxley.

            • zilch

              David- you meant Aldous? Okay, thanks. I do vaguely remember some quote from him to that effect. Thomas wouldn't have said anything that foolish.

              And maybe you're right, and God created the halibut to "snare the proud". Did the Devil bury all those fossils too? Last Tuesday, perhaps?

              Are you able to conceive of God ex nihilo? I sure can't. Doesn't help if you say "He was around forever"- either way, one doesn't expect infinitely complex Beings to simply appear, or simply be there. If there's anything to be learned from evolution, it's that complex beings must evolve: they don't just pop up out of nowhere- or just exist from the beginning.

              And as far as "exceptional design" goes: as Keith already said, any human engineer could come up with a better design for the human eye- or the recurrent laryngeal nerve, or the halibut. Sure, we can't make eyes or halibuts, but then again we don't have billions of years to help us.

          • David

            Yes, sorry. I never pay attention to auto-correct with weird names. ;)

            Your point about fossils is interesting in light of Darwin's often ignored chapter "Difficulties With the Theory". Darwin made it clear that if the fossil records did not exponentially increase then his theory would be proven false, something that has NOT occurred. Along with this problem was the potential discovery that the cell was more complex than was known during Darwin's time. The cell, as you know, has been discovered to be more complex than we could possibly imagine. We can get into the truths about carbon dating as well.

            I'm confused. I thought it was a well known scientific rule that something can never come from nothing. There are theistic evolutionists so the problem for you is not so much the "how" but the "where" "what" and"why". That's the whole point. SOMETHING or SOMEONE has always had to exist. Based upon what we observe in nature, and filtered through the context of our microcosmic comparisons of intelligence, personality and design it is MORE reasonable to believe that this something that has always existed is a SOMEONE Who has always existed.

            The antithetical SOMETHING that exploded and happened to contain the building blocks of 350,000,000+ galaxies, including Venus, which spins in the opposite direction of other planets and so of said "explosion"... must have always existed. And if you deny that then whatever this speck was had an origin from something or SOMEONE that/who has always existed.

            Also, in my worldview, I have no problem with the profound and majestic design of the eye. As good as that is, we are told in Scripture that these Earthy bodies are not the perfected bodies that Christians will receive at the Resurrection. Sin has entered the world and with that disease, imperfections and death. Scientists would have a little more credibility if they could scratch the surface of even simple observable realities. "I like God's way of doing it, better than their way of NOT doing it."

            Would you concede that anything is beautiful? Would you conceded that food tastes good? Would you concede that you have asked "why" in reference to your own existence? Then you are already on the right path... keep going.

            • Keith

              David, it's a mistake to focus on Darwin. Darwin was an amazing scientist, but the reality is the most important proofs of evolutionary theory were discovered after Darwin.

              For example, Darwin knew nothing about genetics, and DNA cataloguing is probably the single most complete proof for evolution. The fact that every species sharing an evolved trait has common DNA to the point they diverged, is so powerful and so predictive, that proving the "theory of evolution" wrong would be akin to proving the "theory of gravity" wrong. Like gravity, there are many things about evolution we don't understand -- but the evolutionary model has stood for 150 years and has mountain of evidence from a wide variety of disciplines, to prove it.

              As an analogy, Louis Pasteur invented the "germ theory of disease". The germ theory of disease won't be proven wrong either, but Pasteur knew nothing compared to what we know now about how germs work, and his writings are no longer directly relevant to the discussion.

            • FroodyZarquon

              Hey David,

              I couldn't help but notice that you go from criticizing observations of reality making pleas to ignorance then make positive reference to a work of compiled human language (The Bible). Is language a more or less fallible reference than the reality it interprets? Like I stated above, "existence" doesn't make sense absent a universe so anything existing before time only begs expansion to the definition. Your presumption has no basis by which just reason so it's impossible to discern what's more or less reasonable.

              Would you concede that everything is beautiful? Your perception of ugliness prevents you from accepting things as they are. Would you concede that all food tastes good? Your perception of distaste dissuades you from enjoying all you can. Would you concede that you cannot exist without an existence to inhabit? Your perception of isolation detaches your spirit from the wonder of the present. How can the right path be to believe that the benevolent motive for an individual's life can only be reached after death?

            • zilch

              David- sorry, I somehow overlooked your comment here. Keith and Froody have already said some of what I would have said. I'll just add a couple of points.

              First, the known fossil record has increased exponentially since Darwin's time. More importantly, all kinds of other evidence that supports and extends it has been found since his time, so that while there are still disagreements about details, there is no serious scientific doubt about the big picture: evolution occurred, and we humans, like all other living things, are descended from earlier forms.

              You say: SOMETHING or SOMEONE has always had to exist. Based upon what we observe in nature, and filtered through the context of our microcosmic comparisons of intelligence, personality and design it is MORE reasonable to believe that this something that has always existed is a SOMEONE Who has always existed.

              I'm not sanguine enough to say that "something or someone has always had to exist". I don't know enough about the nature of time to speculate about beginnings. But if this is true, my experience of the world would lead me rather to believe in "something" rather than "someone" always having existed, because as far as can be seen, "someones" are always the product of evolution, and evolution must always start with "something".

              Would you concede that anything is beautiful? Would you conceded that food tastes good? Would you concede that you have asked "why" in reference to your own existence? Then you are already on the right path... keep going.

              Yes, I'll happily concede all that. But I believe there are answers to why that don't necessarily involve gods, who of course immediately beg their own questions. And as far as being on the "right" path goes, I'm just trying to navigate with a faulty compass, and don't know exactly where I'm going. Just like all of us. But I keep going, and I try to do my best.

              cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

          • taco

            David- Keith answered the gist of your comment here. I'll just add one more example: did God design the halibut?

            Agumentum ad Halibut - just when you think you've seen it all someone argues from the halibut.

            • zilch

              taco- thanks, I'll remember "argumentum ad halibut".

            • David

              Zilch, the fossil record has not expanded NEAR what Darwin predicted. On the contrary, evolution is still not proven fact... it is just taught as such.

              You cannot escape the fact that someone or something has always had to exist. If "something" suddenly existed than it was created by nothing or something and if it was created by something than where did that something come from? You can't escape it and the logical conclusions based upon what is observable in nature do not bode well for the proponents of human logic and reason who argue for a "nothing" something.

              Again, there are Creationists who agree with Evolution, your problem is not the how but the What, How and Why. All of this discussion is cutting off branches. The root of the issue that everyone shares is that there must be faith in a someone or a something that/who has always existed. Again, for the simple, logical reason that I am a someone writing about these things, using a language that is a product of infinite languages creating the hardware and software of the human body, and that this programmed hardware using programmed software is a microcosm of a Creator Who has created using identical methods the MOST reasonable explanation is a "Someone" has always existed.

              I once observed a really poor Japanese robot, in an article about the robot, it was said that "hundreds of intelligent designers" were needed to create this life-like machine. The irony is damning.

            • David

              *then

            • zilch

              David- you say:

              Zilch, the fossil record has not expanded NEAR what Darwin predicted.

              You'll have to refresh my memory. What exactly did Darwin predict? But again, as Keith and Froody have already pointed out, while it's interesting and even inspiring in a scientific way what Darwin did and thought, in the end, well, that was 150 years ago. We've moved on, and I'm sure Darwin would have been thrilled for the discovery of all his mistakes: he bent over backwards to look at every possible explanation or doubt; he was his own worst critic by far.

              I've heard Christians use Darwin's mistakes over and over to "disprove" or at least cast doubt on evolution. I can't help but think that this is revealing of the mindset of theists, who are more concerned with what authority says, in the form of their God, their Book, their Church, then what the world says. Darwin is not the atheist god; even Dawkins is not. In the end, what matters is what the world teaches us.

              Again, for the simple, logical reason that I am a someone writing about these things, using a language that is a product of infinite languages creating the hardware and software of the human body, and that this programmed hardware using programmed software is a microcosm of a Creator Who has created using identical methods the MOST reasonable explanation is a "Someone" has always existed.

              This is of course the Argument from Design, classically presented by Paley as a watch found on a heath. Incidentally, Paley's Natural Theology, where this argument was presented in 1802, is a great read, a much better version of the Argument from Design than any modern one I know of. But Paley was wrong- evolution is, amazingly enough, capable of evolving reasoning brains, and the evidence is all around us.

              I once observed a really poor Japanese robot, in an article about the robot, it was said that "hundreds of intelligent designers" were needed to create this life-like machine. The irony is damning.

              It's true that even the smartest humans are no match for evolution. But then again, evolution's been at it for much longer than we have.

              cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

            • David

              "It's true that even the smartest humans are no match for evolution. But then again, evolution's been at it for much longer than we have."

              Enough said.

            • zilch

              I agree, David. Cheerio.

    • zilch

      Hey Truth- nice to see you in this parallel universe. You ask: Are you an atheist who believes in the beginning of the universe? Or are you an atheist who believes that that universe has always existed such that the universe has no beginning?

      I agree with Keith and Froody here: I don't know. I'll also say that I suspect our understanding of time is inadequate to encompass either eternity or a beginning: I suspect that the truth is beyond our understanding. But that's just my wild speculation.

      In any case, the video is based on wordplay: assuming that the Universe was "created" and concluding that everything "created" must have a "creator". Except "creators", who are presumably just somehow always there. As Carl Sagan said, why there is anything at all is a mystery, and one we may never understand. But positing a Creator God as being the unexplained mystery, instead of just the existence of a material Universe with laws, is infinitely more complex, and doesn't explain any more. So until I see evidence for this God, I'll stick with the simpler explanation, as far as it goes.

      cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

      • David

        Also, I HIGHLY recommend these documentaries from ILLUSTRA Media. They are not Christian propaganda but scientific journalism made up of Christians and atheists reasoning together, getting rid of presuppositions and bias and starting from scratch in their reasoning (which is how C.S. Lewis came to the gospel's validity [see Mere Christianity])

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  • M Burke

    "I'll stick with the simpler explanation"
    Yes, it all spontaneously appeared one day out of nothing. And yet they say creationists are deluded.

    • Keith

      Atheism: The belief that there was NOTHING and NOTHING happened to NOTHING and then NOTHING magically exploded for no reason, created EVERYTHING and then a bunch of EVERYTHING magically rearranged itself for no reason what so ever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs.

      Christianity: The belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

      • David

        My response is below.

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  • David

    Keith. Both descriptions are correct, and with a bottom line logic the "Christianity" explanation is still more reasonable based upon what is observable, while filtering that observation through the common sense of microcosmic realities; something that is done on a persistent basis to bring hypothesis to fact (see Science).

    As to why Christianity is not believed by most and is in fact impossible to believe apart from a merciful prerequisite act of God:

    "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2 : 14)

    "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

    For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for other gods." (Romans 1) And, as an atheist, if you think you're not worshiping a god then your first error is a categorical one; you most certainly are.

    "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."(John 6 : 44)

    The means the Father uses to draw men is the gospel, and considering this in light of the two former Scriptures you can see why these conversations are only as fruitful as close as they bring us to the gospel. Apart from God giving light to fallen minds, these conversations on our end (Christians) are like describing the color red to a dead man (as opposed to the proverbial blind man).

    I have provided Scripture as my evidence. It has its own inherent and professed authority. It is true, because it says it's true and the evidences it provides for its truth are verified in the life of every true believer. I also believe that uncovering the truths of its exclusivity can be salutatory in saving faith. I have said WHY these things are true, God claims to be the author of His word and the Word Itself (John 1). The onus for proof (opposing) is now on you. You are entitled to retort with a defense along the same lines (i.e., "I say it is not true, so it is not true")... but it is certainly NOT a case of my word against your word as your credibility is infinitely less than Scripture (see History). Your antithesis must be wrought from expertise on the subject for there to be any credibility in your defense... as in any field; especially from a defense that is sourced from your own, individual reasoning (something that I could argue should be irrelevant for a creature with no intended purpose). As soon as you appeal to an outside source, which you must do for credibility, then it is my source against yours... but this already is the case and that's a problem for you (your logic against my source material).

    Here is a challenge: Abandon bias, presupposition, assumption and external logic and prove from the Biblical text itself that its claims are wrong. Be careful. In light of its claims, that these are supernatural events done by the hand of an Omnipotent and Omniscient Creator, it is not enough to dismiss supernatural Biblical events as "scientifically impossible" and thus "untrue". C.S. Lewis helped the gospel connect for his friend J.R.R. Tolkien by explaining the Bible to him as the "true myth". This might help you in finding an unbiased starting point.

    • FroodyZarquon

      And what of my case where I arrived where I am biased to Christianity? I wanted back into the fold. To be on the same side of everyone I loved. When I finally stopped trying and just gave myself up to what God/Jesus wanted from me... well... I am still open to it. ;)

      Can you face your own challenge? If you were to approach the Bible and it's origins without bias you wold read into the mythologies of Sumeria, Babylonia, Egypt, Indios, and others of the time period and put yourself in their shoes without bias. Not only does Israel not show up until really late in the game, they seem to come in as polytheists like everyone else. The Bible even displays the struggle getting people to go from polytheism to henotheism to monolatrism to monotheism. And the disposition of God changes with his names. El Elohim, Yahweh, El Shaddai... no concepts or even nouns are completely unique to Israel. The mythos of time period was a melting pot of cultures as they interacted and conquered each other.

      Flipping the coin and taking your challenge has already been done and there is a site that lists intrinsic Biblical contradictions here:
      http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/by_name.html
      Inconsistencies with reality here:
      http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/science/long.html
      And missteps of logic here:
      http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/abs/long.htm

      You get the picture. No bias, just me exploring the universe and letting the cards fall as they may. The conclusion you present isn't any more compelling than the other ancient religions. The language aspect doesn't help... it's no wonder there how thousands of denominations and probably as many interpretations of Biblical truth as there are critical-thinking practitioners.

      There a reason why the Bible has to be published and read... it doesn't occur independent of the cultures creating it. We've yet to meet a indigenous culture that quotes scripture without first meeting a Christian... but all of them know of taste and beauty, all have seen the stars. Existence is the common ground for all cultures, not a book.

      • David

        Firstly, my Lewis/Tolkien reference ... strike that ... reverse it. Okay.

        To your claim to have once been "part of the fold", here is some tough love:

        "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." 1 John 2 : 19

        I have also already undertaken your challenge, and it is easily proven to be just the opposite. The Gospel is the original. If you exhaust your sources for that line of debate you will see that they are nonexistent or laughably unreliable. Mithra is easily shown to be post-Christ upon serious historical examination.

        As far as those links, you are dealing with people who are not experts in Biblical interpretation; hermeneutic, exegesis. There are legitimate contradictions in the Bible, but these always fall within a context of finite attempting to understand infinite, a "His ways are higher than our ways"context; antinomies as opposed to seeming paradoxes. I could go through each one of those Scriptures and explain where the interpretation is in error and where they raise legitimate questions, that can be answered in a way that does not undermine the foundation of inerrancy.

        Unfortunately, this is the limitation of these types of debate, the conclusion apart from an act of God will always be the same... this is the way the process was designed. Yes, it does seem like a cop-out but this is so that we may not share in the glory of redemption apart from the "foolish message" of the gospel.

        Here again is the Biblical explanation for your dilemma. I understand it having been on both sides:

        "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1 Cor. 2 : 14

        • http://goatisme.wordpress.com/ FroodyZarquon

          I wouldn't interpret 1 John 2:19 as tough love; I would call it a false line of reasoning; no-true-Scotsman to be specific. "If you aren't still with me you never were to begin with" is an excuse to keep a herd from empathizing with those who escape Plato's cave. At least apostates aren't executed any more, that's a plus.

          Mithra? I never mentioned Zoroastianism, I've never looked into it because it doesn't pop into history until ~500BC. You must think I was talking about Jesus... the Zeitgeist movie thing with Horus, Mithra, etc. While the savior/martyr motif certainly isn't unique the philosophy behind Christianity was nothing short of revolutionary. It adapted Aristotelian metaphysics into Israel's monolartism to present to people a much more accurate and useful model of their place and purpose in the universe. It completely botched the human perspective as far as empirical and political knowledge is concerned... we went from Greece and Alexandria to the dark ages. But all of that is another discussion, I was talking the source of Christianity, which isn't Jesus but Judaism. Go back before the Zoroastrainism to the works of Sumeria, Akkadia, and the earlier works of Egypt. Hebrew doesn't even pop into the picture until 1000BC, and it isn't even an original language; it's based off of Canaanite script. The Israelites seem to come from nowhere to pose a threat to Egypt, get beaten back only to head north and pummel the floundering Canaan and assimilate their civilization. Before that the Habiru were inhabiting the space between those two countries... coincidence? Could be, the details are to slim to draw really hard evidence but the implication seem to add up. This paragraph with my last gives you physical and mental interactions between states/nations for you to look into if you haven't but choose too. My perspective comes from sources independent of the Bible as well as the Bible itself... blah blah appeals to authorities, only none of mine requires faith that the best thing in life happens after death where you go to a heaven north of earth to visit a God who originated before time.

          Like the others, I think it's time my attendance here is draws to a close. I had to find you post by searching through the thread for all the places I've commented, which usually a good indicator to move on. If you would like to continue our conversation, have questions, or anything else you can find me via the blog I've made.

          • David

            Jesus used the same "line of reasoning" in John 10

            "The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

            Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

            Notice Jesus did not say "You are not my sheep because you do not believe" but "You do not believe because you are not my sheep." The Jews were looking for the sign that Keith is looking for, to be told plainly. Jesus said "A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign (as proof), but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah." The "sign of Jonah" is Jesus' death, burial and resurrection... the gospel.

            I find it interesting how you are so willing to rely on history but ignore the plain historical claims of the Bible. Care to provide your sources? It's amazing that you can so easily say "It adapted Aristotelian metaphysics into Israel's monolartism to present to people a much more accurate and useful model of their place and purpose in the universe", read into the text this way and ignore the plain accounts and words of Christ. I will agree that Christ's words were/are revolutionary.

            Here is a great example of what happens when you don't have your sources straight.

            And here again is a good reason why you should believe the Biblical text over Aristotle... if you had to chose one.

    • Keith

      "Christianity is not believed by most and is in fact impossible to believe apart from a merciful prerequisite act of God".

      And doesn't that strike you as odd? Doesn't the whole process seem incredibly arcane and silly?

      Your god claims to love everybody equally, wants everybody to come to him and desires none perish, and then chooses this nonsensical plan to accomplish his goals. He provides no proof he exists and he authors a book chock-full of errors, inconsistencies and lacking any proof of divine authorship, that can be interpreted in any way you can imagine, and then disappears for centuries.

      Statistically, the single most significant action you can take to increase the likelihood of personal salvation is to pick your parents with great care. Let's consider third-world or Muslim children that die in childhood and go to hell to be tortured for eternity. Pick the wrong parents, then die in childhood, and you have no chance at all.

      You say "god has made [his plan] plain to [people]". Let me think for half a second… oh, right. Making it "plain" would be a light show in the sky once a year, unexplainable by science, with the words "I am your god, Happy New Year To All", in every human language. That would be "plain".

      Imagine for a second a parent making their wishes "plain" to their children in the way that god makes his wishes "plain" to us, and spanking them when they did the wrong thing. Would you describe that person as a good parent?

      • David

        YES! It does seem odd to me, but it's God's standard and not mine. That's why I'm not God, to assume a God and presume to understand Him perfectly is the height of ignorance/arrogance.

        My God does not claim to love everyone equally. He loves all, but not apart from the demands of His holiness. The Bible describes Christians as the "Bride of Christ". A husband does not love all woman in the same way he loves his bride, otherwise he will soon be without a bride. God shows this same focused, particular love upon those He has chosen. He chooses them apart from any condition save His choice. Is this unfair? See Romans 9.

        If it were up to me I would save everyone in the end. Does this mean that I am more loving and merciful than God? NO! It means that little ole' sinful, finite me has an inadequate understanding of infinite, perfect Holiness and its demands for mercy and justice. It shows me that I am the one being saved apart from a true understanding of the wretchedness of my own sin, understanding that my offense toward God is justly deserving of eternal death. This is true for the seemingly innocent child and the Godless, moralistic do-gooder.

        The eternal display of justice upon unrepentant sinners shows me that justice is equally right as mercy when it comes to righteous love, and that I don't understand this. This is the offense of the of Christianity for many: All deserve death and some are saved, those who would believe are shown to be the ones who are saved by the perfect work of Christ. Christ did not die for all men without exception but for all men without distinction and the specific people for which He died WILL be saved. These people are not granted this gift by their faith, but by their faith it is shown that these people have been granted this gift. This is the message of the gospel. Good news for believers and really bad news for God-haters.

        If we had the signs that you are claiming would validate belief and existence then people would believe apart from the means of the gospel and repentance. He offers plenty of proof He exists including His word that has been "delivered once and for all to the saints". You just chose not to believe it... it's not any more complicated than that.

        Being born in a Christian home does not guarantee salvation and this, for me, validates the Biblical claims that "no one can come to the Son unless the Father draw them" (The greek word for "draw" here in John 6 literally means "to drag".) I've observed more children growing up in Christian homes and rejecting God than I have those who grow up in Christian homes displaying fruits of true saving faith. I will agree though that those who are placed in a truly Christian home receive a blessing even if they never are spiritually regenerated.

        God has made it plain through His word, again... you don't believe it. Believe what the Bible says and then your dilemma in your last paragraph will go away.

        Your problem is that you are holding your, external, relative and sinful standard against God's righteous standard presented in His Word. Are God's ways offensive to secular humanism? Absolutely. God's standard shows secular humanists that they are not nearly as important as they think and infinitely more important than they could ever imagine. :)

  • Keith

    "Here is a challenge: Abandon bias, presupposition, assumption and external logic and prove from the Biblical text itself that its claims are wrong."

    I can't say it better than Galileo:

    I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.

    • David

      Said the Always-Exisiting-Speck-Explosion-Ape-Man.

      • zilch

        Eppure si muove.

        • David

          Now we're getting somewhere. Compare the historical validity of Galileo's supposed statement to the historical validity of the Biblical texts and then ask yourself why you so easily believe, at least indirectly implied agreement, that these words were uttered by Galileo and why you so easily disbelieve the actual historical validity (credibility, reliability) of the Biblical texts?

          • zilch

            David: I don't know if Galileo uttered these words or not. I do believe that some parts of the Bible have historical validity: there are places, peoples, battles, etc, mentioned in Scripture which most likely are real. But I don't believe the supernatural stuff, because supernatural stuff doesn't happen, as far as I know; and people make up supernatural stuff all the time.

  • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

    Keith and zilch,

    This has been an interesting exchange, but I can't keep it up indefinitely, and now that Keith has regurgitated the "cosmic Jewish zombie" meme, I'm not sure he's a serious interlocutor. So these will be my final comments. You guys are welcome to have the last words.

    I appreciate the fact that you both took the time to read the Copan article. Here are some remarks on your responses.

    zilch writes: "Basically, it commits the same error you do: it assumes, without demonstrating or even mentioning it, that there exists an 'objective' morality which must be declared by fiat by some authority, who must naturally be God."

    It's hardly an error to assume that there are objective moral values and that we know such values, since everybody takes it for granted all the time, including you. For example, you think that your morals are superior to the Aztecs. Really? By what standard? If there are no objective, culture-transcending moral norms, your claim is utterly without foundation.

    zilch writes elsewhere: "James- again, I can't speak for Keith, but for me, morals are, like all living things, in a state of evolution. That means that while there are no absolute rights or wrongs, there are general tendencies and desires, and they change with time. For instance: the Bible condones slavery. Do you?"

    Nice try. But no, you are the one who condones slavery, by denying any moral absolutes. Do you think the Atlantic slave trade was morally acceptable or morally wrong? Or will you say that there's no objective answer to that question?

    I pose the same questions to Keith, who says he rejects "the idea of an absolute morality". So how consistent are you guys?

    Keith writes: "In [Copan's] expansion of these ideas, it's clear his argument is not about evidence, rather it's about probabilities: evolution is less likely to produce a common morality than a deity."

    It's about both evidence and probabilities; the two are related, of course. If the probability of some phenomenon P given theism is much higher that the probability of P given naturalism, then P is good evidence for theism over against naturalism.

    Keith continues: "Third, [Copan] is making a god-of-the-gaps argument. We can't explain moral behaviors fully, and so 'god did it' is a simpler, more complete explanation. It's a dangerous argument to make. For the last several hundred years we've repeated this argument on thousands of topics, and religion has lost the argument every single time. Think about that: without exception, every single time, religion has lost this argument. I'm doubtful the 'roots of morality' will be the case that changes religion's losing streak. History alone should make us hesitant to accept any god-of-the-gaps arguments, and Paul's argument is not based on evidence: it's based on a lack of evidence on the other side of the question."

    This is a caricature of Copan's argument. It isn't a God-of-the-gaps argument, because theism is doing positive explanatory work. The argument isn't anything like "We can't see how morality evolved naturally so God must've done it". The argument is: theism can readily account for our knowledge of objective moral values, human rights, human dignity, etc., whereas naturalism cannot; therefore, we have good reason for believing in God. What exactly do you think is wrong with that inference?

    If you want to deny that there are objective moral values, human rights, etc., so be it -- but that's hardly an easy way out.

    I notice, by the way, that you didn't give a direct answer to my question about whether we have a moral duty to pursue and promote the truth. I have to assume at this point that your answer is no.

    Keith writes: "Rejecting the idea of an absolute morality does not prevent me from judging choices as morally good or bad. We all judge others' behaviors based on what we believe is good or bad, right or wrong, whatever. I can say 'it's bad to lie' without any recourse to god."

    Yes, of course you can say that. But that's not the point. The point is that you can't account for the intelligibility of those moral judgments. You may say that such judgments reduce to personal or societal preferences. In that case, why think your preferences are any better or worse than those of, say, Anders Behring Breivik?

    Keith apparently thinks that, given enough time, naturalistic explanations for morality, consciousness, and intelligence will be forthcoming, even though naturalists today don't have the faintest idea how to explain them (many preferring to deny their reality altogether). This tells me three things: (1) Keith doesn't realize that the arguments against naturalism based on morality, consciousness, and intelligence aren't arguments from ignorance but positive arguments showing that naturalism doesn't have the metaphysical resources in principle to account for them; (2) he doesn't appreciate just how intractable these problems are for naturalists; and (3) he lives by faith, not by sight.

    I don't mean this as an insult, but I'm afraid you guys are dilettante atheists. You haven't really come to terms with the implications of your evolutionary naturalism. You should read and digest the works of some hard-core naturalists like Daniel Dennett, Alex Rosenberg, and the Churchlands, who recognize that a consistent naturalist has to deny altogether the reality of objective moral values, moral responsibility, free will, consciousness, and intellect. (By the way, Keith, that's the answer to your question about whether I can prove my claim about naturalism's inability to account for such things: I don't need to prove it, because these guys have already made the argument and bitten the bullet.)

    To be fair, however, Keith may be further down the road than I've given him credit, because he says that "our senses, reasoning and moral instincts are entirely brain-based (at least, there's no evidence to suggest they are not brain-based), and they systematically deceive us."

    Keith isn't the first naturalist to say this sort of thing. But it's astonishing to me that he doesn't see how self-defeating it is. He thinks his senses and reasoning systematically deceive him and yet by employing those same senses and reasoning he concludes that science has discredited religion and that all the arguments for theism are bogus. Go figure! :)

    Finally, some brief remarks about Keith's argument from the bad design of the eye, etc. Darwinists love to trot out these supposed examples of bad design, but they simply don't hold water on closer examination. For example, you can find two articles on the ARN website (www.arn.org) which explain why the design of the human eye is perfectly sensible, and indeed inexplicable from a Darwinian perspective. (I can't post the links, because then this comment would be flagged as spam. But they're authored by George Ayoub and Michael Denton.) The same goes for the other standard examples. Moreover, these arguments from alleged bad design fail to recognize that design always involves trade-offs and that one needs to know the designer's desiderata in order to make a reliable judgment about whether the design of something was good or bad with respect to those desiderata. But how on earth would an atheist be in a position to know that sort of thing, especially an atheist with a brain that systematically deceives him?

    • zilch

      Sorry for double dipping here, but I must reply to this also. James, you say:

      I don't mean this as an insult, but I'm afraid you guys are dilettante atheists. You haven't really come to terms with the implications of your evolutionary naturalism. You should read and digest the works of some hard-core naturalists like Daniel Dennett, Alex Rosenberg, and the Churchlands, who recognize that a consistent naturalist has to deny altogether the reality of objective moral values, moral responsibility, free will, consciousness, and intellect.

      Well, I must admit, I haven't read any Rosenberg. I know some of the Churchlands' work, though, and I believe I've read most of Dennett's stuff. But in the first place: all of these people are philosophers. Why should I necessarily hold the same views as any particular philosopher, just because he or she is an atheist? The issues must be argued on their merits, not on the basis of the religion or lack of such of their proponents. And philosophers, it must be said, have made a terrible muddle of these problems, and more often than not simply shown how our words work, not how the world works.

      And secondly: at least in Dennett's case, I don't think he would agree with your assessment here. While he denies "objective" morality, as do I, he doesn't deny the reality of moral responsibility, free will, consciousness, or intellect, as far as I am aware, unless you are using a very strained definition of "reality" here. Dennett wrote extensively about free will in Freedom Evolves and consciousness in Consciousness Explained, not denying the reality of either. Of course, it might well be that his concepts of consciousness and free will don't seem "real" to you, but that's not the same thing as his denying their reality.

  • Keith

    "... now that Keith has regurgitated the "cosmic Jewish zombie" meme, I'm not sure he's a serious interlocutor."

    Be fair -- I "regurgitated" both sides of the argument, including the "nothing from nothing, until we eventually have dinosaurs" meme, which is just as silly as "cosmic Jewish zombies".

    • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

      Yes, you did. The question is: Why?

      • Keith

        M. Burke made reference to the "nothing from nothing" meme, so I quoted it in full. An (obviously failed) attempt at humor.

  • Keith

    I think we're pretty much on the same page at this point, James. Most of the assumptions you think I'm making, are, in fact, assumptions I'm making.

    When it's all over, I believe your claim of the existence of moral absolutes not only cannot be tested, but also has no practical applications: first, you have only your own moral intuitions as to what these moral absolutes might be (god is either silent, unclear or inconsistent), second, it's easy to show your moral intuitions are flawed (as are all of our moral intuitions), and finally, your moral intuitions differ violently from the historic, great leaders of your religion (who understood god's moral absolutes to comfortably include slavery, genocide and witch-burning). Even if moral absolutes exist, it would require a fair amount of hubris on your part to argue religion a reliable reporter or source of them.

    When you say I cannot prove my moral choices better than Mr. Breivik's, you're correct, and without an objective moral standard, I cannot. What I reply is that religion's demonstrably flawed reporting and lack of access to moral absolutes means -- neither can you. Claiming there are moral absolutes is useless unless religion can reliably communicate them, and it cannot.

    To your specific questions:

    If I reject the idea of an absolute morality, then I cannot "prove" anything is a bad thing. I agree. Without an objective measuring stick, I am forced to fall back to personal or societal preferences, as you say. I reject your use of the prejudicial terms, however: personal or societal preferences can be trivial, but can also be complex and well-reasoned. I certainly hope that in the next generations we can reason together to find personal and societal preferences that lead to better outcomes for us all.
    (I also reiterate my claim above: given religion's proven inability to access any moral absolutes that might exist, religion has no advantage over me, we're all in the same situation.)

    Finally, I see nothing self-defeating about acknowledging the limits of the brain: it is what it is, and it would be foolish to deny the facts. Let's admit it, and find ways to work around the problems. As someone once said, "the brain evolved to chase medium-to-fast moving animals on the savannah, so it's not surprising the physical universe and slavery both proved to be a challenge". Trusting your brain simply ignores everything neuroscience has taught us.

    • http://www.proginosko.com James Anderson

      "Trusting your brain simply ignores everything neuroscience has taught us."

      I'm pleased to hear that you and the neuroscientists have been able to outwit your brains. Perhaps you can do without them altogether?

      Okay, I'm done now. Really. :)

      • Keith

        This is actually an interesting question, and one to which I'd like an answer, if you've considered it.

        Much of Copan's argument relies on the ability to identify a moral absolute, an argument that appears similar to the religious meme "God exists because I know in my heart he exists". In other words, there are other paths to "knowing" that don't require sensory evidence.

        I honestly don't see how you can doubt the brain's limitations. Anyone doubting should skim Wikipedia's list of known cognitive biases (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases), it will make you wonder how we all manage to find our way to breakfast each day.

        You said "outwit your brain" in jest, but you are correct in substance. The scientific method can be viewed as a set of practices intended to "outwit your brain". When you write yourself a note, because you know you won't remember somebody's birthday, you're "outwitting your brain", because you know it's not good at remembering.

        Given the brain's obvious limitations, how can you argue the validity of any sense of a moral absolute or any personal religious experience?

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    James Anderson: "But no, you [Zilch] are the one who condones slavery, by denying any moral absolutes. Do you think the Atlantic slave trade was morally acceptable or morally wrong? Or will you say that there's no objective answer to that question?

    I pose the same questions to Keith, who says he rejects "the idea of an absolute morality". So how consistent are you guys?"

    With regards to the observation of intellectual or moral consistency among doctrinaire atheists, or actually the lack thereof, this article by Scott Oliphint regarding Richard Dawkins and how he raised the ire of his fellow atheists is quite illuminating:

    Going Down? Dawkins, Doubters and Debauchery.

    I commend this article to both atheists and Biblical Christians.

  • zilch

    James- thanks for hosting a convivial exchange here, and thanks to all the other posters as well for maintaining a high level of interest and civility- not something to be taken for granted, as I'm sure all of you know.

    There's meat enough here to go on for a long time, but it seems unlikely anyone is going to be persuaded one way or another, so I too will finish up by attempting to at least make clear what I think are the unspoken assumptions here. I said:

    Basically, it [the Copan article] commits the same error you do: it assumes, without demonstrating or even mentioning it, that there exists an 'objective' morality which must be declared by fiat by some authority, who must naturally be God.

    You replied:

    It's hardly an error to assume that there are objective moral values and that we know such values, since everybody takes it for granted all the time, including you. For example, you think that your morals are superior to the Aztecs. Really? By what standard? If there are no objective, culture-transcending moral norms, your claim is utterly without foundation.

    Please tell me exactly what you mean by "objective", and perhaps we can see the difficulty here. I put the word in scare quotes because it's so often simply used, by theists and atheists alike, without careful consideration of what it could possibly mean. Is a given moral position (or morally relevant act) "good" or "right" by definition, if and only if God holds it to be so? In that case, there's no point in debating "objective" morals with atheists- you will have to do that with Muslims, or perhaps Calvinists (or Arminians). I would also argue that no text, say "thou shalt not murder", can be held to be "objective", since its meaning in particular cases is not obvious, and is obviously a point of contention amongst believers.

    If you simply mean "something that everyone holds to be right" then you are also in trouble, because although there is widespread agreement on basic moral values (I think we can agree on that), it's not absolute agreement. So what do you mean by "objective"?

    Perhaps a parallel will help make my position clear. Morals are like halibuts: is halibut objectively good to eat? With foods too, there are no absolutes, but there is a lot of agreement about basics: for instance, apples are generally judged a better food than sand. The reasons for this judgment (and others) can be found in the way we evolved, but also in tradition and reason. Morals are more complex, but are similar in having general tendencies, but no absolutes. As I said:

    James- again, I can't speak for Keith, but for me, morals are, like all living things, in a state of evolution. That means that while there are no absolute rights or wrongs, there are general tendencies and desires, and they change with time. For instance: the Bible condones slavery. Do you?

    You replied:

    Nice try. But no, you are the one who condones slavery, by denying any moral absolutes. Do you think the Atlantic slave trade was morally acceptable or morally wrong? Or will you say that there's no objective answer to that question?

    You simply sidestepped my question about slavery in the Bible. And how does it follow from my denial of moral absolutes (by which I take it you mean objective morals) that I condone slavery? For the record, I don't condone slavery. Putting an "absolutely" or "objectively" in there doesn't make any difference to my not condoning slavery. You say:

    I pose the same questions to Keith, who says he rejects "the idea of an absolute morality". So how consistent are you guys?

    I try to be consistent within my own worldview- that's one reason I chat with theists such as yourself, to try to find inconsistencies- but I don't really care if my worldview differs from that of other atheists. Atheism is not, after all, a religion. This ties in with the link that Truth posted in the comment above about Dawkins: my particular morals are not the same as Dawkins', but so what? Atheism doesn't prescribe any moral position. As I said, my morals come from genetics, culture, and reason. So do yours.

    I guess the best way to try to explain my problem here is that I think the World trumps the Word. And I don't merely mean the Christian Word; I mean words in general, and philosophy in particular. Unless we are very careful, words can take on lives of their own, and a great deal of philosophy (and theology, of course) consists of words chasing their own tails, in my humble opinion. The word "objective" is a good example of this. Words tend to naturally divide the world into dualisms, and while this is useful and even unavoidable to some extent, it can lead us into descriptions of worlds that only exist in words.

    Okay, end of rant. Thanks for a good chat, and again, please drop me a line if any of you are out this way, and lunch is on me.

    cheers from chilly Vienna, zilch

  • http://siyam-existenceofgod.blogspot.in/ md.siyam

    http://siyam-existenceofgod.blogspot.in

    Arguments for and against the existence of God have been proposed by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others. In philosophical terms, arguments for and against the existence of God involve primarily the sub-disciplines of epistemology (theory of knowledge) and ontology (nature of being), but also of the theory of value, since concepts of perfection are often bound up with notions of God.
    The debate concerning the existence of God raises many philosophical issues. A basic problem is the existence of both monotheistic and polytheistic views. Some definitions of God's existence are so non-specific that it is certain that something exists that meets the definition[citation needed]; in stark contrast, there are suggestions that other definitions are self-contradictory. A wide variety of arguments exist which can be categorized as metaphysical, logical, empirical, or subjective. The existence of God is subject to lively debate both in philosophy the philosophy of religion being almost entirely devoted to the question—and in popular culture.
    Atheists maintain that arguments for the existence of God show insufficient reason to believe. Certain theists acknowledge that belief in the existence of God may not be amenable to demonstration or refutation, but rests on faith alone. Other religions, such as Buddhism, do not concern themselves with the question of the existence or non-existence of God at all. Psychological and sociological explanations for believing in the existence of God may point to a shared neurological and cultural framework for belief based on cognitive processes in the brain.

    Source-http://siyam-existenceofgod.blogspot.in/2012/03/existence-of-god.html

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  • http://www.theculturewatch.com Tom Snyder

    To me, Premise 1 and 2 are rationally or logically inescapable, as well as linguistically, pragmatically, empirically, and psychologically inescapable, partly because of the impossibility of the contrary positions. Therefore, the argument is an inescapable proof for ALL people. So, perhaps the people who still deny the argument has been proven are insane or irrational/illogical as well as just plain immoral or sinful.

    • zilch

      I guess I'm just wrong and bad. Sorry.

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