January 12, 2013

To the degree someone claims the universe can come into existence uncaused, to that degree they reject science as a means of understanding the origin of the universe.

And to that degree one can reject anything they say as unworthy of serious consideration.

Craig On Hawking

December 6, 2011

Good (albeit lengthy) discussion by William Lane Craig on about Stephen Hawking and his claims about the supposed death of God and philosophy:

Needless to say, Craig demonstrates that both God and philosophy are alive and well.

Who Are The Magical Thinkers?

October 26, 2011

Philosopher Edward Feser, who is turning out to be one of the preeminent defenders of theism, writes an excellent piece on his blog about the atheist misperception of the term ‘magic’, and the application of it to theistic (especially Christian) beliefs. Indeed I find in reading Feser that he often clarifies thoughts I have intuited previously, but never elaborated on.

One warning – Feser expects readers to come with their brains fully engaged. Unlike atheist blogs by Coyne, Myers, and Harris which are nominally about ‘science’ but are in actuality paeans to New Atheism (and in Coynes case, cats) and diatribes on the evils of religion, Feser actually discusses philosophy and it application to thought, culture, and politics. And he does so utilizing the proper terms and with a deep understanding of the history of thought on various subjects. So it is never a light read. It is however quite refreshing for those willing to plow through it.

That being said, Feser’s latest is on the misapplication of the term ‘magic’ to theistic belief. As he notes, a proper definition of magic is “powers which are intrinsically unintelligible”. A Christian at least holds no such beliefs which is why the primary bulwark against paganism and mysticism over the ages has been Christianity, not atheism. Christian notions of God are overtly intelligible; God follows certain comprehensible purposes and acts in a way one would expect of a Being of His type.

As Feser points out, by the proper definition of ‘magic’, it is actually atheists who hold to magical thinking, because they hold that the universe arises by powers which aren’t ultimately intelligible:

Indeed, if any view is plausibly accused of being “magical” in the sense in question, it is atheism itself. The reason is that it is very likely that an atheist has to hold that the operation of at least the fundamental laws that govern the universe is an “unintelligible brute fact”; as I have noted before, that was precisely the view taken by J. L. Mackie and Bertrand Russell. The reason an atheist (arguably) has to hold this is that to allow that the world is not ultimately a brute fact — that it is intelligible through and through — seems to entail that there is some level of reality which is radically non-contingent or necessary in an absolute sense. And that would in turn be to allow (so the traditional metaphysician will argue) that there is something which, as the Thomist would put it, is pure actuality and ipsum esse subsistens or “subsistent being itself” — and thus something which has the divine attributes which inexorably flow from being pure actuality and ipsum esse subsistens. Hence it would be to give up atheism.

But to operate in a way that is ultimately unintelligible in principle — as the atheist arguably has to say the fundamental laws of nature do, insofar as he has to say that they are “just there” as a brute fact, something that could have been otherwise but happens to exist anyway, with no explanation — just is to be “magical” in the objectionable sense. In fact it is only on a theistic view of the world that the laws of nature are not “magical”; and the Mackie/Russell position is (as I argue in the post linked to above) ultimately incoherent for the same sorts of reason that magical thinking in general is incoherent. As is so often the case, the loudmouth New Atheist turns out to be exactly what he claims to despise — in this case, a believer in “magical powers.”

I see this sort of thinking so often in discussions with atheists. I can’t count the number of times I have seen atheists counter something like William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological argument by claiming the first premise , “Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence” simply isn’t true and that things can begin to exist in nature ‘uncaused’, often citing something like virtual particles. The moment they do that they are engaging in magical thinking i.e., that the universe operates according to forces which are intrinsically unintelligible.

This is just one of many ways that in the final evaluation it is atheists who undermine logic, reason and ultimately science through magical thinking.

Is Richard Dawkins A Coward?

May 17, 2011

For refusing to debate Christian philosopher William Lane Craig? Some of his fellow atheists appear to think so. From the London Telegraph:

Some of Prof Dawkins’s contemporaries are not impressed. Dr Daniel Came, a philosophy lecturer and fellow atheist, from Worcester College, Oxford, wrote to him urging him to reconsider his refusal to debate the existence of God with Prof Craig.

In a letter to Prof Dawkins, Dr Came said: “The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part.

“I notice that, by contrast, you are happy to discuss theological matters with television and radio presenters and other intellectual heavyweights like Pastor Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals and Pastor Keenan Roberts of the Colorado Hell House.”

Prof Craig, however, remains willing to debate with Prof Dawkins. “I am keeping the opportunity open for him to change his mind and debate with me in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford” in October, he said.

As I have said elsewhere, I don’t think debates are very useful for learning about a subject. But as a means of testing the rigorousness of ideas, they are wonderful venues. I suspect the reason Dawkins and other New Atheists are so fearful of debating Craig is because their means of attacking Christianity relies primarily of ad hominems, straw men, and Bulverisms. When held up to the light of scrutiny and placed side-by-side with Christianity, materialistic atheism comes off quite silly. As a result Craig has cut quite a swath through the field of atheist advocates, and come out looking quite formidable in the process.

Given those facts, perhaps Dawkin’s fear is the most rational response.

William Lane Craig/ Sam Harris Debate

April 15, 2011

I finally got around to listening to this debate (and much later, writing about it); it is yet another melee in a growing oeuvre of skirmishes between William Lane Craig and the New Atheists. With the caveats I mentioned in the Craig/Krauss debate post, I found this one to be much more engaging overall. Perhaps that is because Harris is a much more engaging speaker than Krauss was. Also Craig covers somewhat different ground here, less apologist and more critic of atheism’s power to ground objective morality.

I only have a couple of quick observations – I imagine people will draw their own conclusions based on their inclinations, so these are merely my take on it.

As I mentioned, Harris is very easy to listen to. Even when he is intimating that Christians are psychotic, idiotic and comparable to the Taliban he does so in even, reasonable tones that come across like he is just making an observation, not proffering an argument. And Harris often touches on points of agreement rather than merely dismissing his opponents – clitoral circumcision is bad, Jesus was a charismatic leader, we should fear losing an objective grounding for morality, etc.

Indeed one notable aspect of this debate is that Craig and Harris agree on one fundamental fact – that morals can be objectively known. Harris’ greatest critics in this regard aren’t Christians, but other atheists. Where they differ though is that Craig thinks morals are objective because he believes morals have an objective existence grounded in the existence and nature of God. Harris on the other hand thinks science can simply provide the framework for investigating morality by pegging it to human suffering, and we can understand that suffering is wrong because we have minds.

In arguing this Harris engages in a lot of question begging, but that is not my chief criticism of his views. In fact my chief criticism of Harris here wasn’t even one Craig considered. My chief criticism of Harris is that he puts great faith in human nature, though he probably wouldn’t call it that. For example, in his criticism of Craig’s ‘Divine Command’ theory he posits that in classroom of young children the kids might readily accept a direction from a teacher that it is fine to eat a cookie, but would reject a direction that it is fine to hit your neighbor. Apparently Craig has never actually encountered a child. In fact, this is exactly how we often end up with problem children – they have been given free reign by an adult to act as they desired, either through neglect or permissiveness. If humans simply acted in accordance with some inherent intuitive morality that we all innately agreed upon, we would have little need for laws or government at all. We actually have experimental evidence to show that adults will act to harm others in deference to an authority figure (ironically, a scientific researcher!), much less Harris’ imaginary children. So commands of an authority figure certainly do play a role in the moral choices humans make, and that authority should be one that is sufficiently great to warrant our obedience.

The other non-considered issue I take with Harris’ idea that science and provide a purely naturalistic framework for morality is that science has tried to do this before. As has been discussed here previously, the eugenics movement of the early 20th century was primarily an attempt to impose on humanity a purely scientific framework for making a better society. It was thought we could apply evolutionary theory to better mankind and thereby alleviate human suffering. Of course we now know that such efforts failed miserably. Just recently the global-warmists tried to save humanity by imposing on us a framework for how we should behave and act economically with regard to the latest scientific findings. We are only now beginning to realize how replete this ‘science’ is with politics, selfish ambition, and financial gain.

This is in fact that is the very reason we need a transcendent code of morality – because anything less than that is invariably the product of human inclination, and thus subject to the corruption of power and selfish interests. Sam Harris and the New Atheists aren’t above this. No person is.

As an aside Craig alluded briefly to the fact that the naturalism Harris believes in is deterministic with regard to human free will. This is critical, because if humans aren’t actually free to make moral choices, then attempting to determine which of those choices is ‘moral’ is irrelevant.

A number of folks have tried to counter that since by invoking the indeterminism of quantum physics. The problem with this argument is that while such indeterminacy might leave our futures indeterminate, it does nothing to free our will, because our will in purely mechanistic brain would be illusory anyway. Quantum mechanics would no more give us free will than it would cause a computer to exceed its programming and become aware of the its own operations and be able to modify them.

One has to wonder what the end-game for atheists is here. The reality is some subjects are amenable to scientific study – optimally those phenomena which can be readily quantified and subjected to repeatable experimentation. The cause and effects of human morality though are enmeshed with the complexities of human society and the results of bad morality may be stretched over generations. Take the ‘free love’ movement of the sixties. At the time it seemed like a fresh and exciting idea. Decades later, with communities plagued by broken families, deadly diseases like AIDs which cost our society significant resources to combat continuing to spread, and the objectification of women and girls which has turned human flesh into a consumer good has engendered much suffering in our society. While science has been employed to treat the symptoms it could do little to prevent the moral corruption to begin with. It certainly isn’t more effective than a few well understood and adhered to principles that prohibit adultery and sexual immorality, which if followed would lead to vast improvement of the human landscape.

Nonetheless, the debate raises some great discussions, which I think is the best outcome of such events.

You can listen to it here, and see it here.

William Lane Craig/ Lawrence Krauss Debate

April 5, 2011

I recently listened to the March 30th at NC State about whether there is evidence for God, and as is becoming a trend, Craig cleared laid out and defended his case based on a few easy to explain points while his counterpart fumbled with his response, muddled understanding of issues, and generally dissembled his way through.

I am not actually that big a fan of listening to or watching debates. I prefer to read about issues and then consider various viewpoints – having a couple of guys give well worn arguments in a stringent format can get repetitive and predictable. Nonetheless I think they are useful in demonstrating how nonsensical materialistic arguments can be. From discussing how different sorts of ‘nothing’ could produce the universe, to how Craig’s arguments don’t apply because the universe is ‘illogical’, to claiming the universe isn’t fine-tuned and then trying to explain away the obvious fine-tuning, Krauss covered the whole gamut of atheist arguments, from obfuscation to irrelevancy.

For his part Krauss, who just seems to have realized how badly he lost the debate, is trying to explain away that defeat in a Facebook rant. His basic take seems to be, “I was being nice to someone who is too stupid to understand the arguments, in front of a crowd that was too stupid to realize I actually won the debate.” When in doubt, Ad Hom!

If you don’t want to take Dr. Krauss’ obviously unbiased word for it, then decide for yourself:

Part 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 here.

Once you are done watching it, please enjoy a snarky yet hilarious review of the debate at Wintery Knight’s site.

Arguments for God: The Kalam Cosmological Argument

May 25, 2010

I was challenged recently in discussion with an atheist to not merely attack atheism, but to offer arguments for the existence of God. I have done this numerous times in various places of course, but up until now I don’t think I have done so categorically and methodically. Part of the reason is that there are so many fallacious arguments out there for atheism, that it is a much easier task to blow those out of the water than the time and effort it takes to detail the positive arguments. Indeed, if atheism isn’t true, it would stand that God exists by default. Nonetheless, it’s good to know that one’s beliefs reside on a foundation of reason and logic. And so I have decided to start a new category on my blog, Arguments for God.

Perhaps one of my favorite such arguments is the Kalam Cosmological argument. It is an argument that is at least 1000 years old, in many forms perhaps much older – and it is a idea that has been arrived at independently by various thinkers around the world. Many of course see its age as some sort of fault, as if the fact that it has been around awhile somehow diminishes its power, but I think that makes it more likely – after centuries of discussion, there is no good argument against it. Indeed it has been revived with much success by William Lane Craig, a Professor of Philosophy at Biola University.

Enough background – this is how the argument goes:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.

Fairly straight forward, isn’t it? One of the advantages of its age is that a number of its precepts have been chronicled. For example every evidence now indicates that the universe did indeed have a beginning point – it hasn’t always existed. This actually wasn’t evident until the 20th century, and not established until the ’60s. But there are another set of corollary arguments that demonstrate the impossibility of an actually infinite universe:

– 2.11 An actual infinite cannot exist.

– 2.12 An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.

– 2.13 Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.

– 2.2 Argument based on the impossibility of the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition.

– 2.21 A collection formed by successive addition cannot be actually infinite.

– 2.22 The temporal series of past events is a collection formed by successive addition.

– 2.23 Therefore, the temporal series of past events cannot be actually infinite.

In other words, something cannot be actually infinite as a set of things. The way to think about it is this – imagine I say I have an ‘infinite collection of marbles’ – then you offer me another marble which I add to my set; my set could not have actually been infinite because it is now bigger by one – meaning it was less than infinite before the addition.

In much the same way the universe is a set of objects – as well as a set of successive moments. Every additional moment means that the previous state of the universe wasn’t actually infinite. So it had to have had a beginning, and a cause to its beginning.

But what could cause the universe to begin? Well at some level it must be an entity not composed of a set of objects added by succession, one that exists timelessly, one that is complete in its existence and unchanging in its essential nature – or what Christians know as God. God is a necessary requirement for a temporal universe, and the Kalam argument demonstrates how the existence of a temporal, finite universe is itself evidence of the existence of God. There is no substantive atheist argument to the contrary.