Showing posts with label apologetics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label apologetics. Show all posts

Saturday, June 20, 2015

On the Existential Argument for God

First, I'd like to point out that I very much dislike any existential argument, somewhat related to the argument from desire (for God or anything else).  They're very much appeals to the populous.  And, while there is a point to be made, I hope I make it as we go, I dislike appeals to popular opinion.  Just because a large group of people feel such-and-such does not say anything to the truth of that feeling.

As a bit of background: I was doing some searching for existential arguments when I happened upon this page from "Common Sense Atheism."  This article written by Luke Muehlhauser is a response to an article by Tawa Anderson on "Apologetics 315," and I decided to respond to both of them here.

The first of Tawa’s arguments for God and the one that I want to discuss here is "Can Man Live Without God? An Existential Argument from Human Religiosity.”  Luke points out: "Tawa notes that every ancient and medieval culture was highly religious, and that 'there is indeed a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God.'"  However, Luke has no (real) response.  He only scoffs, "Tell that to the healthy, satisfied, well-educated atheists of Scandinavia and they will laugh at you."  Will they?  This article and this article from the New York Post and this article from the Guardian, all tell very different stories about Scandinavian happiness than seems to be touted in the atheist blogosphere.  The basic points in those articles are that Scandinavians are actually among the saddest people in the world, it's the social norm there to conform and claim happiness and uniformity above all else.  Sure they might be among the best educated in the world, as Luke seems to fall into the confusion between causation and correlation as he blogs on this topic quite frequently.  Let's not assume that just because they're unhappy atheists that that is why they are highly educated or vice versa.  Perhaps education and atheism are only corollarily related.

After scoffing and wrongfully claiming that Scandinavians are happy atheists, Luke moves on to an appeal to the majority in the educated world: "Tell that to the most prestigious scientists and philosophers in the world, most of whom are atheists, and they will laugh at you.  (More scoffing/emphasis added.)  Tell that to the millions of fulfilled, moral, successful atheists around the world and they will laugh at you."  Again not really an argument just mocking scorn.  But, since he's gone there let's play the numbers, and if we're playing we might as well play big right?  On Luke's other post about the causes of atheism he references this statistic: "non-believers skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900 to 918 million in 2000, or 0.2% of world population in 1900 to 15.3% in 2000" from this source.  So, given approximately 10,000 years of recorded human history the largest percentage ever recorded was a measly 15.3%!?  I am not a mathematician (I'm a linguist), but even I can tell that the incredibly vast majority of human beings throughout the entirety of human history were definitely religious, at least in some fashion.  If anything this supposedly educated majority of people that are happy atheists is completely false given simple statistics.  Also, let's look at educated religious people.  This interesting article on "" counts some of the top IQs ever tested as being Christians or at least theists.  Maybe the test is skewed to allow for a religious person to score higher (that was sarcasm!)?

So let's go back to Luke's only critique so far, "The claim that 'there is … a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God' is empirically false."  Is it?  We've shown clearly that trillions of people throughout history have had a desire for the ultimate, the other-worldly, the infinite.  But, because there's been a jump in atheism in the past hundred years or so the claim that most people have a desire for God is "empirically false"?  Perhaps Luke is misunderstanding the definition of empirically false.  How is this argument "a shameless, cult-like attempt to prop up human insecurities so that people cling even harder to the superstitions that feed off their insecurity"?  It's a verifiable claim from history that most people want to connect with God.  This verifiable fact implies that there is a hunger deep within humanity.  What are we to make of this hunger?  CS Lewis uses the analogy of one's hunger for food.  If an animal was born without the hunger for food, that organism would die within one generation.  Why are we still living with this desire if it's genetically disadvantageous to desire God, why is it still here?  If it's genetically disadvantageous to desire moral actions why do we still have those desires as well?  Luke's "critique" falls flat.

Luke's prejudice is clear when he calls belief in God "lies" that we ought to leave behind.  Claiming that "meaning and morality and happiness ... is available without fear and superstition (again a sign of prejudice), that is when they leave childish (and again) and comforting notions about gods behind."  I'm genuinely confused here though.  In the very next paragraph Luke claims that religion "thrives on existential insecurity," but he just said that it's "childish and comforting."  How can it be both comforting and full of insecurity?  Again a weak critique here because it's internally inconsistent.  Supposedly religion is childish and comforting, yet it seeks to unsettle its adherents.  Apparently this one book, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, is Luke's bible and much of his blogging apparently is founded on it.  It may have something interesting to say, but so far based on Luke's comments reflecting what it says, I'm not impressed.  That book claims that "Religion does not provide existential security – instead, it thrives on existential insecurity. It thrives on poverty and ignorance and fear and instability and risk."  And, that "the poorest nations in the world are the most religious," to which I wonder if this took into account the difference in wealth between Islamic countries and Christian or (post-Christian countries) or atheist nation-states like China.  Also, in a sense this is to be expected!  "When people live in a society that already provides them with [any] security ... [that has] stability and safety and education and health care ..." etc. etc. "then people don't need (or want) gods anymore."  (Quotes taken from the blog not from the book.)  Of course, if you lacked nothing in your life, would you want something more?  Oh wait that's the hallmark of the rich!  They become rich because they want more and more.  I found this interesting quote in Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, (I do NOT recommend the book in general, this is merely a quote) "The change in purchasing power over the last half century in the wealthy nations carries the same message: real purchasing power has more than doubled in the United States, France, and Japan, but life satisfaction has changed not a whit."  Even Jesus taught this concept in Matt. 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25.  Why would one think that people with money and security would want God?  They already have security and all the "happiness" that money can buy, which if they're honest isn't really all that much.  Apply this on a societal scale and see a similar result.  If the government supplies all the money, food, health, lodging you could ever want why would you look to God for anything.  That worked so well in the Soviet Union (again with the sarcasm).  So what can we conclude from this?  Safety and security provided by the state quickly and quietly errodes religion (particularly the weak, liberal religions that seek to appease society rather than God).  Scandinavia is the poster child for this.  As the weak, socially watered-down church there stopped appealing to God it became less and less appealing to people as their physical needs were all met by the socialist state.

This last bit is obvious and the clearest indicator that Luke has no understanding of the argument being discussed: "Does my yearning to be the next Matthew Bellamy suggest that I will be? Alas, no. Wishful thinking does not indicate truth."  That is not what the existential argument is saying whatsoever.  The argument does not say that wishing for God makes God exist.  It says, there is an overwhelming desire within humanity for the divine.  Therefore, there probably is something to that desire and the best explanation is that God put that desire in us.  The argument is not saying that wishful thinking makes it so.  Luke's critiques present a clearly flawed view and a deep misunderstanding of the argument in general.  As I said, I don't particularly like the existential argument(s) for God, but Luke Muehlhauser clearly doesn't understand them.  There is a big difference between not liking or thinking that an argument is ineffective and misunderstanding an argument and poorly critiquing it.

One last thing and this is more for my own edification than anything else.  I'd like to try to put the (correct) argument in a syllogism.

P1) The vast majority of humanity has had a desire for God
P2) People *generally* do not persist in desires that have no possibility of being fulfilled
C1) There *probably* is a God

From my recent trip to Korea

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists Number Three

Based on my post back in December about trying to break my writer's block (obviously it didn't work), I'm tackling this list of ten things Christians/theists need to keep in mind.  See this link for number one and here for part two, this is the third point:

There is a gap between natural theology and revealed theology. Arguing for a prime mover is not the same thing as arguing for any faith tradition.

This is a tough one to tackle in a whole blog entry because I totally agree.  Thomas Aquinas and others' "prime mover" argument for God really only gets to the first point of theism.  However, if just this initial part of the argument stands, at the very least atheism is false.

P1) All things that begin to exist have a cause for their existence
P2) The universe began to exist
C1) The universe has a cause

That is just the beginning of the argument.  That only gets to the point that there is some sort of God that created the universe.  That basic argument does not get us to the Christian God.  However, if we add these next few premises we can come to that conclusion:

P3) The cause for the material universe cannot be material itself
P4) The cause for the material universe cannot be with the scope of time
C2) The best description of such a Being is found within Christianity

Also, there is a long and complex argument for Christianity from historical facts:

P4) If Christ rose from the dead, He is God incarnate
P5) Christ rose from the dead (and there is historical evidence to support this)
C3) Christ, as revealed in the Bible is God (the God described above)

So there you have it; there is a gap between natural/general and revealed/special revelation, but it is not a huge gap and easy to cross.  Show me another religion that can claim anything near as powerful as the arguments for Christianity and I'll at least give it some thought.  Though I've done quite a bit of comparative religious studies and I've found other views wanting.

Denominational differences are another question altogether and doesn't belong in this particular discussion, so I'll leave that for another day.

Photo credit goes to my beautiful wife, Michelle Ronicker

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists Number Two

Based on my recent post about trying to break my writer's block, I'm tackling this list of ten things Christians/theists need to keep in mind.  See this link for number one, this is the second point:

Science has radically altered how we understand the universe, so theism must grapple with the implications of science before offering prescientific beliefs as truth.

First off, let's discuss definitions of various terms here.  I'm not claiming that these are the best or dictionary definitions, but it seems these are commonly agreed upon definitions.  If you disagree with these definitions I'd be open to hearing alternatives.

Science -- the methodical study of the physical/natural universe.
Radically altered -- completely changed.
Universe -- the totality of physically existent things.
Grapple with the implications -- consider and think about with relation to meaning.
Prescientific beliefs -- (honestly I'm not certain here, but I assume) metaphysical statements.
Truth -- that which best coherently explains and correlates with reality.

Given these definitions I find it curious why this would even be a problem.  Science deals with the physical nature of the universe, religion/Christianity deals with the metaphysical and sources of what it means to exist.  I think the original assumption is that science has somehow proven that God doesn't exist or at least that God doesn't need to exist.  I do not agree with the concept of NOMA, (Non-Overlapping MAgesteria) but in a sense the two are on a one-way street.  Science is concerned with what is happening or from what cause something happens, but it is limited to physical universe.  Science cannot get to a deeper meaning of existence.  Science cannot give why there is anything at all instead of nothingness.  Maybe, but honestly I'm not holding my breath, science will someday give us how the universe came into existence, but even then it still doesn't say why.  To try to apply purely scientific views to morality, consciousness, deeper meaning etc. only leads to disastrous results.  Pure logic says that one must torture the innocent if it will bring about something good.  Applying mathematic principles to life leads to devastating consequences.  As portrayed in the popular movie, Watchmen the hero/villain Adrian Veidt is perfectly justified in killing millions in order to potentially save billions of people.  Also, in V for Vendetta the government is perfectly justified at rounding up innocent people to do scientific experiments on them.  As I insinuated before any number of thought experiments seem to easily slip into absurdity.  Say you somehow could save one person by the torture of another, innocent, unrelated person.  Under strict utility, you have to weigh things that are totally unrelated to their value as human beings.  In a strict utilitarian view the idea of inalienable rights (life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness) is foreign.  You do not have a right to life if somehow your death brings about some good.

So, the study of the physical universe has greatly altered our lives including how and what are able to do, but it has had no impact on the meaning of life.  Just consider what I'm doing right now.  I'm typing out my thoughts on a laptop computer that is able to connect wirelessly at great speed to the largest collections of facts ever compiled.  It can process information at a speed faster than what used to take up several rooms of computing devices.  This isn't even all that amazing of a machine either.  Even small electronic devices can carry thousands of books.  We can nearly instantaneously communicate visually even at great distances.  We've landed on the moon.  We've sent probes deep into outer space.  But, all of this wonderful progress doesn't bring any deeper meaning or better moral value (whatever that may mean).

So far I've been bringing out the point that science doesn't bring meaning or really better people, only better convenience to living.  But what about the implication that religion is trying to control or denigrate science and scientific progress?  Why is this such a common theme?  I've actually written about this a couple times here and here.  Science actually only makes sense in the context of belief in God.  If everything is the result of random chance (under a strict materialist view), why would one expect any semblance of order to nature?  How can we perform scientific tests without first assuming that things won't randomly change?  Materialists won't admit it, but the consistency in nature is a presupposition smuggled in from the Christian/theistic view of the universe.  These "prescientific" beliefs actually guide science to be better, not just by giving science moral guidelines within which to work (think Nazi science experiments), but by giving it a foundation from which to spring.  If everything is random, then the scientific method itself will never work, because there's no reason why we should expect our testing and hypothesizing to be consistent in a framework of randomness.  Science, in the proper context is not lessened by believing that God created (creates) the natural universe, it a deepened understanding of the creator.  Indeed science is a form of worship, studying to know the Creator better by studying the creation.

Truth ... As Pilate so famously asked of Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18:38), presumably not knowing that Jesus had already given the answer, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6)."  If you're trying to get to the truth of things, there is only one source of truth revealed to humanity in various ways.  Science certainly is a wonderful study and can teach us much about God, but God has also revealed much of Himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 1:18).  There is no reason to expect science to "find God," or truth about God, but I'd say the reason some scientists can't find God is they are looking at the trees and missing the forest.  Big Bang theory also points to a creator.  The awesome intricacies of biological life, particularly the information found in genes, also points to God.  Also, based on a video I watched recently about quantum theory it seems that one of the conclusions we can come to is that quantum mechanics actually indicates that God is the reason for the universe.  So, science has proven God, just not in the way dogmatic materialist scientists will accept.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists Number One

Based on my recent post about trying to break my writer's block here's number one:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Consequently, the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist.

I've talked about this before and I don't really want a rehash of the same thoughts.  But, I want to revisit this idea to flesh-out how this really matters (or rather, how it doesn't).  What are the supposed extraordinary claims that the theist is supposedly making?  I can't speak for all the atheists who argue about this, but I assume that most of them are calling miracles "extraordinary claims."  Now, let's look at this.  Are miracles extraordinary claims?  Well, yes.  Of course they are, by definition a miracle is something extraordinary, but they're really only unexpected if there's no God.  If one takes a materialistic approach to philosophy, then a miracle cannot occur.  However, there's an important point missing from this whole conversation about miracles.  The very existence of anything whatsoever is a miracle in itself.  It's an ongoing miracle of creation.  I know, some theologians will balk at this, as the Genesis account implies that God is no longer creating.  Gen 2:1 says that the heavens and earth were completed and that God had "completed His work."  So, where do I come off saying that existence itself is a miracle?  Well, Col 1:17 Paul talks about how, in Christ all things hold together.  In this paradigm a miracle is not surprising at all.  Hebrews 1:3 has an even more active phrasing about how God holds everything together by His power.  So, the God who holds everything together can, by His mere willpower, suspend, cancel, or defy His own control over the entire universe.  Miracles are not nature behaving wrong or differently than it normally does or should.  It's God doing His will contrary to what we think or what we expect.

Also, as I commented before, which is a bigger miracle: A) The universe, for no reason with no cause exists, or B) God made the universe out of nothing?  Again, toss aside materialism for a minute.  If you a priori take materialism to be true then of course the theistic answer sounds extraordinary.  But at face-value the A) choice is obviously much more extraordinary.  I have seen arguments, most notably from Hawking, that attempt to use science to say that because of the laws of physics the universe must exist.  I don't even pretend to understand his scientific arguments, but have read some interesting things online that summarize Hawking and other prominent scientists' claims, and I've got to say, "I'm not buying it."  First off, every time I hear these types of arguments I hear a redefining of the word "nothing."  Now I understand that in certain contexts nothing can mean different things.  For example, one might ask, "What's up with you lately?"  To which you might answer, "Oh, nothing."  Does that mean the same as deGrasse Tyson's use of "nothing" which apparently means some type of quantum field in flux?  Obviously not.  But, these are the types of things I see when I discuss the beginnings of the universe with a materialist.  There was something (called nothing) and it exploded and became something else.  I pointed at Big Bang cosmology as an argument for God with an atheist one time and after going around and around, this interlocutor ended up admitting that the Big Band was true, but we don't know what happened before the Big Bang.  It's funny though, this particular atheist refused to accept that it might have been God. Basically reduced to saying, "We don't know and likely will never know what caused the Big Bang, but I refuse to accept that it could have been God."  If you give me a just-so story and make all your pieces fit together by inventing facts and theories that have never been shown to work in reality and only really work in some outrageous mathematical formula, all of which you cannot explain in terms that any regular person could follow or would accept, I have every right to dismiss your claim as extraordinary.  I have a saying I've been using for a while now (not sure if I've used it in my blogging before, if so I apologize for repeating myself), "Any claim made without evidence, can be dismissed without argument."  These are indeed extraordinary claims, but for sure the more extraordinary is the one that defies definition, explanation, and reason.

Lastly, I want to comment on the final part of the statement, "the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist."  Now, I know I'm only an amateur philosopher, but my knee-jerk reaction is, "So what?"  I, as a theist, have no qualms with making a case.  In general, yes, I'm making a claim.  (I don't think we can completely let off the atheist, but the point still stands, I'm making a truth-claim.)  My claim is fairly simple to prove though, "I believe, with good reason, that God exists."  Throw that one out there and see if anyone can disprove it ... notice some important points before you attack it.  First, "I believe," with this important qualifier, no one, can ever prove my claim incorrect unless that person somehow has mind-reading capabilities, which apparently doesn't exist outside God.  One might attack the second portion, "with good reason."  Well, let's look into various reasons/arguments. There are so many!  I've already mentioned the cosmological argument.  Then there's various design/fine-tuning arguments.  There's the moral argument made popular by CS Lewis in his masterwork Mere Christianity.  And, there are many others, some based on evidence and some on philosophy.  But clearly, there are plenty of "good reasons" to believe.  If you don't accept my claim, then not only are you calling me an idiot who hasn't examined these arguments, but you're making the claim that the millions of other Christians throughout history have all done the same thing.  Now, don't get me wrong, I don't typically think an appeal to authority is a particularly compelling argument.  However, if the authority to whom I'm appealing is sprinkled with such intellectual greats as Plato/Socrates, Aquinas, Newton, and even many of the top ten highest measured IQ test scorers who are at the very least theists, some clearly Christians, I'm justified in making such an appeal.  So, tell me again how you, Mr. Internet Atheist, know that only stupid, backwoods, country-bumkin, redneck, low-brow, Bible-thumpers believe in God.

Sorry for the abundance of sarcasm, but it seems that Mr. Internet Atheist is getting to me.  He's been drinking the Dawkins koolaid and doesn't really have anything new to add to the conversation.  I am by no means creative or worthy to be called an innovator in this discussion, but at least I admit that I'm standing on the shoulders of giants.  I don't know very much, but I do know that I exist and that I have good reasons to believe what I believe.

Screenshot from

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mere Moral Argument Part 2

Checkout this entry I submitted for the Christian Apologetics Alliance Newsletter:

Mere Moral Argument Part Two
The moral argument for God as laid out by C.S. Lewis in, Mere Christianity.
by: Samuel Ronicker November 2014

This is a continuation of a review of the book Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  Of course it is recommended that you read along in the text as we move on to book two; “What Christians Believe.”  Without further introduction let us examine the next section of this great text.

Chapter six; The Rival Conceptions of God

Lewis continues his masterwork with a somewhat puzzling comment, “If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through.”  Unfortunately, this is not a commonly held belief among many Christians.  Though it can be said of other religions as well, many seem to believe that they have a monopoly on the truth.  However, it is important that a Christian views other religions as wrong and that they are different from Christianity.  Here Lewis goes on to divide worldviews along the lines that are important in this ongoing discussion of the moral argument for God: the materialist vice the theist.  Then among theist views he divides those that believe god is somehow “beyond good and evil.”  The one that calls a cancer evil because it kills a man, but that person could just as easily say that a surgeon is evil because the surgeon kills the cancer.  In both the atheistic view and the pantheistic view, there really is no such thing as evil.  In the Christian view God is separate from creation and there are things in creation that work against God’s will.  Lewis finishes this chapter with a knock-down argument against any naturalist answer to the so-called “problem of evil.”

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies.”

Chapter seven; The Invasion

Lewis takes this chapter to discuss two types of invasion, one of over-simplified Christianity.  Just as atheism is too simple in leaving so much out and having no explanation for too many things so too is watered-down Christianity.  This is a type of Christianity that “simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right--leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption.  Both these are boys’ philosophies.”  The goal is not simplicity; religion is never simple.  The world is not simple, why would we expect relationship to God to be simple?  Even a “simple” child’s prayer is not truly simple.  It’s enemies of Christianity that often set up this simple version in order to tear it down.

To read the full article click here:

Picture credit here

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mere Moral Argument

Checkout this entry I submitted for the Christian Apologetics Alliance Newsletter:

Mere Moral Argument
The moral argument for God as lain out by C.S. Lewis in, Mere Christianity.
by: Samuel Ronicker September 2014

This article will seek to set out the moral argument for God as C. S. Lewis presents it in the first “book” of his momentous work, Mere Christianity.  This text was first published in 1952 partly based on a series of radio lectures given from 1942 to 1944.  If you have never read it, you should add it to your reading list; it is considered by many to be one of the best apologetics works of the 20th century. Lewis’ style is powerful as he lays out an argument that points to the existence of God based on moral intuition.  Lewis was famous as an atheist who set out to disprove Christianity and ended up, as he describes his conversion in Surprised by Joy: “In … 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God … perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”  In order to cover as much of this work as possible this article will attempt to summarize each chapter of the first section in order, future editions of the Christian Apologetics Alliance newsletter will feature expositions of the rest of the text.  Also of note, because there are multiple editions page numbers will not be referenced rather chapter and section headings only as they haven’t changed much through the different revisions.  Without further introduction:

Book One; Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe
Chapter One; The Law of Human Nature

This section contains the foundation for the rest of the arguments throughout the text.  Without a Law of Human Nature any dispute is empty.  Lewis uses the example of two people quarreling, and when two people argue, they generally do not dismiss the other person’s standards.  They actually agree on a standard that there is such a thing as right behavior.  In the typical quarrel, each person attempts to justify his or her actions within an accepted moral standard.  As Lewis puts it:
It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behaviour or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarreling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.
So, if there’s no such thing as right, then there’s also no such thing as wrong.  Though this law is not like the Laws of Nature (i.e. gravity).  One important difference is that humans can disobey this law.  There can be exceptions to the Law of Human nature, just as there are occasionally people who are colorblind or tone-deaf.  Lewis handles one important objection right away here.  Some skeptics claim that morality is totally different in different cultures, but this is missing an important point.  Just because there are differences, does not dismiss that all cultures have a sense of right and wrong.  The clearest example is in this simple quote, “Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.”

To read the full article click here:

Picture credit here

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Response to, “On Being an Atheist” by H. J. McCloskey

Another Essay written for my philosophy class.  Here is a link to a copy of the article. 
A Response to, “On Being an Atheist” by H. J. McCloskey
This essay is written as a response to the article entitled “On Being an Atheist” by H. J. McCloskey as published in 1968. As this article is clearly an attack on both Christianity and theists in general, we need to be always ready to give an answer for the hope we have in Christ (I Peter 3:15). A verse, which has a much deeper meaning in the context of McCloskey’s claim that because of the problem of evil, “theists should be miserable just because they are theists.”

At first, McCloskey tries to offer snippets of a much grander discussion on some of the primary arguments for God and refers to the arguments as “proofs,” claiming that they cannot definitively establish a case for God. However, these couple pages are not nearly enough to cover such deep arguments and his attempt to dismiss them are reminiscent of Dawkins’ work in The God Delusion, which philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls sophomoric (Plantinga, 2007). McCloskey, like many other atheists, sets up a straw man and easily knocks it down. The arguments for God that McCloskey mentions, ontological, cosmological, teleological, and the argument from design, are combinatorial in nature. If one argument is apparently weak the other arguments more than make up for supposed weaknesses in each other. Also, McCloskey dismisses the ontological argument apparently only because ordinary theists do not typically believe in God as a result of these types of proofs, which isn't an argument.

In terms of the cosmological arguments, McCloskey seems to be commenting on both the temporal and the non-temporal arguments for God at the same time, using what has become a worn-out critique, “Who created God?” That question, used by many atheists who seem to smugly stand up as if they have won the argument, is completely unimportant to the question. The cosmological argument from contingency has nothing to do with an infinitely old universe, which is where the critique only makes sense. Saying, “Who created God?” is like asking who created the uncreated, or who made this square circle, it's nonsense. It is a philosophically useless question considering the contingency of the universe. The only serious issue with the contingency argument, is that just because everything we have experienced in the universe appears to be contingent, does not necessarily mean that the universe itself is contingent. That too can be answered in that, the fallacy of composition, though technically can be applied to certain premises in the argument, the entire argument does not hinge on whether everything is contingent or if the universe itself is contingent. If any part of the universe is contingent then there must be a non-contingent, necessary being.

McCloskey makes the same mistake Dawkins makes in his books and Professor McGinn makes in his lecture series on philosophy, that is, take one argument for God, point out its weaknesses then apply that to other, completely separate arguments for God (McGinn, 2003). No one, that this author knows of, is claiming that the cosmological argument “entitle[s] us to postulate an all-powerful, all-perfect, uncaused cause.” As professor Kreeft says of Aquinas’ “ways,” “They claim to prove only a thin slice of God, so to speak, but enough to refute atheism” (Kreeft, 2009). Why do so many make the logical leap from, “a God exists” to “the Christian God exists” when no legitimate Christian apologist does so?
Then McCloskey turns to the teleological argument for God and claims that one would need “indisputable examples of design and purpose.” Again, a huge logical leap is being made here from the possibility or probability of design to indisputable examples of design. Why, when counterexamples are given from evolution, is plausibility the only thing needed to disprove creative design, and yet one that argues for creative design must give indisputable examples? Many atheist evolutionists seem content to give plausible explanations of how time, chance, and natural selection can explain away professor Behe’s irreducible complexity, however the question isn’t is it certain that a creative designer was involved, merely is it more probable that a designer was involved. In all these arguments the goal is not certainty, but plausibility. It is more plausible that an intelligent designer was involved than mere time/chance/natural selection.

There are so many examples of design it is difficult to choose just one. However, the so-called “fine-tuning argument” seems to be the most powerful argument because it circumvents any natural selection critiques. Though some seem to think there is an evolutionary answer, that some invisible, untestable, un-provable multiverse theories or universe generating machine theories, and no matter how unlikely these objections may be, are accepted by dogmatic atheists. But at its very core the fine-tuning argument is a powerful argument as our knowledge of the universe deepens.

As the fine-tuning argument makes teleological arguments more probable, so does the idea of abiogenesis. There is no designer required in either of these portions of the teleological arguments for God. However, even conceding evolution as true, the question of design is still not answered. The evolutionary process appeals to the laws of nature to work in a certain way, which implies a goal or an end. The very idea of an end or goal in a process requires the existence of a mind to imbue the process with a purpose. Purely natural or chemical processes, though at times orderly e.g. crystal formation, they don’t in themselves have any purpose. One possible critique is that the only purpose is to live and reproduce, but even that is a purpose and requires an explanation. And, if that is true, the entirety of McCloskey’s article is rendered worthless. If all of life has no meaning or purpose or goal save to live and reproduce, the atheists’ attempts at conjuring meaning in life come up empty.

Again McCloskey attacks a conclusion from an argument that has not (yet) been made. He has only answered the cosmological and the teleological arguments and ignored the ontological and the moral arguments for God. The teleological and cosmological arguments only show that it is reasonable to conclude that an all-powerful entity created the universe. These arguments do not speak to the characteristics of this entity other than power, creativity, and intelligence. The problem of evil must be made in the context of a particular view of God, that is, a theological context. It can be said to perhaps show that a particular view of God might be wrong, but it does not show that there is not a God at all. These direct philosophical questions and claims of inconsistency, which William Lane Craig seems to claim that current philosophers (even atheists) have abandoned (Craig, "Reasonable Faith Podcast", 2007), fall short of the goal of proving that God does not exist. The apologist need only show that it is possible that an all-powerful, all-good God to have reasons for permitting the existence of evil, to answer direct claims from the problem of evil.

Despite the more modern philosophers’ neglect of the logical problem of evil McCloskey seems to be clinging on to it saying, “No being who was perfect could have created a world in which there was unavoidable suffering or in which his creatures would (and in fact could have been created so as not to) engage in morally evil acts, acts which very often result in injury to innocent persons.” This completely ignores the concept of the “greater good” “second-order goods.” The former is best illustrated in the heroic soldier falling on the grenade to save his comrades, wherein the death of the soldier is evil but is required for the greater good of saving his comrades. Also, it is required for suffering to occur if one is to learn patience in the face of adversity.

Both Mackie and McCloskey have made similar claims against the free will answer to the problem of evil McCloskey saying, “might not God have very easily so have arranged the world and biased man to virtue that men always freely chose what is right?” and Mackie, “why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose the good?” (emphasis added). At first glance it doesn’t seem like a response is needed, because part of the idea of freedom is the ability to choose otherwise. Even so, Plantinga gives an interesting answer that illustrates how that question forms a possible world that even an omnipotent being cannot create because it hinges on the choices of the created beings’ choices.
As McCloskey closes this article, and indeed the whole purpose as stated from the beginning, he claims how, in light of the problem of evil, atheism is more comforting than theism. There is little comparison between this article and Professor Craig’s “The Absurdity of Life without God” chapter in the book Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Dr. Craig references dozens of atheist writers and philosophers who have all come to a similar agreement, there is no meaning in life. Who are we to trust? McCloskey’s blatant appeal to emotion essentially claiming, because theists have to answer the philosophical questions of why God would permit certain evils, their worldview is less comforting than the humanists’ perspective of self-reliance and self-respect. But as Nietzsche, is quoted by Craig from “The Gay Science,” in The Portable Nietzsche, “Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? God is dead. … And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?” (Craig, 1994, p. 77). Which is actually more comforting, the idea that there is an all-powerful creator that imbues the entire universe with meaning and life, or dust that is only on this dust ball for a blink in the eye of eternity blindly flying through space? The answer is intended to be rhetorical, but the picture is clear. Despite the theists’ need to explain the existence of evil in the context of an all-powerful, all-good God, it is much better than being nothingness’ accidental offspring.
Beebe, J. R. (n.d.). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Logical Problem of Evil. Retrieved March 31, 2014, from
Craig, W. (2007, August 5). Reasonable Faith Podcast. iTunes. Retrieved March 31, 2014, from
Craig, W. L. (1994). Reasonable faith: Christian truth and apologetics (Third ed.). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
Dawkins, R. (2006). The God delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co..
Kreeft, P. (2009). The philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books.
McCloskey, H. J. (1968). On Being an Atheist. Question 1, 51-54.
McGinn, C. (2003). Discovering the philosopher in you the big questions in philosophy. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, LLC.
Plantinga, A. (2007, March). The Dawkins Confusion. Books and Culture. Retrieved May 5, 2014, from

Ruse, M. (2003, August 30). Creationism. Stanford University. Retrieved May 4, 2014, from

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Long Time no Writing

I've been busy so let me give a bit of background before I get into what I've been thinking about lately.

I went to Korea to study Korean at Kyunghee University (경회대학), and I had a great time.  I made new friends, ate good food, and got to practice Korean quite a bit.  My wife and kids came to visit Korea for a week after my class was finished and I got to be their tour-guide/interpreter.  It was tons of fun!  We went to a bunch of places, but where I felt I did the best job as guide/interpreter was at the planetarium/kids museum in Namsan Park (남산공원) I basically translated the entire planetarium show for my boys and I felt like I only missed a few things.  My wife loved the fabric market in Dongdaemun (동대문시장) though that was one of the hardest parts for me as an interpreter, because there are so many specialized terms for various types of fabrics and they're different dependant on what you're using it to make.  Fortunately Michelle can just tell by feel and look which fabrics she wanted, and I just had to help with prices and amounts.

After returning from that month-long trip I get back to work and I'm the busiest I've ever been with work.  As many of you know I work for the US Air Force and I fly on an airplane to do my job.  Well, we have multiple planes here now and we don't have nearly enough people to cover all the positions in all the planes so I've been flying much more than I've ever flown before (with the exception of being deployed to the Middle-east a few years back.  On top of being super busy with work I restarted online classes and I'm taking Theology 202 and Philosophy 201 through Liberty U Online.  It's a bit disappointing so far because Philosophy is one of my favorite topics and while I feel like I have a good grasp of the concepts taught so far (it's only an intro to Philosophy class), I have the lowest grade I've ever had in any of my online courses.  The thing that bothers me about the class (it's also true of my current Theology class) is that they don't seem to be really trying to test whether I understand the material through the quizzes.  Rather they seem to be testing whether or not I read the assigned chapters.  For example, there was a question on a recent quiz that asked very specifically what a particular text says is important in a certain situation.  All the possible selections were logical and would have worked in the particular situation but the answer was specifically what that author said.  One could (in fact my coworker said something to this effect) that the reading is the material to be tested and that's what the quiz is getting at.

To me it's more important to encourage critical thinking, not test to see if students can parrot back what an author has said on such and such a subject.  I'm glad that there's more than just the quizzes in the class (there are a few essays).  I feel that, in both theology and philosophy, as long as one can give reasonable defenses and logical support for one's statements they've learned the material.  The point of theology is to understand the different belief systems surrounding humans trying to understand God as He has revealed Himself.  So if a student can come up with a commonsense, logical and biblical defense for a particular belief then that student has succeeded in theology.  Same with philosophy though one can remove the biblical component.  That's not to say one cannot apply biblical beliefs to the study of philosophy and vice versa, rather that philosophical answers that contain biblical arguments are not considered basic philosophical arguments.  That's the philosophy of religion or theology, depending on what the presenter is arguing.

Which brings me to yesterday.  I had to work and this particular time I was teamed up with a coworker that completely disagrees with me in almost every aspect of life.  After some random(ish) conversation about our recent exploits we started talking about philosophy.  I opened up with attempting to quote this section of one of the texts for my philosophy class, from Hasker's Metaphysics; Constructing a World View and I hope the exact same can be said of me:
". . . [I am] a Christian who loves philosophy and would like to consider himself a philosopher; he is a philosopher who loves Jesus Christ and want to be known as a disciple. A Christian first, a philosopher second—but neither one at the expense of the other. The insights I have gained from my Christian faith and experience prove to be of immense value as I do my philosophy, even though I cannot appeal to biblical authority as the basis for a philosophical argument. And the results of philosophical study enhance Christian understanding in many different ways—some of them already hinted at, others yet to be shown."
I think every Christian interested in philosophy should be able to say something just like that!  Well, I wasn't able to capture the words of the quote, but I talked about the basic idea that I want to be a philosopher and a Christian and that neither one detracts from the other.  One of the things we touched on was not using biblical authority/quotes to make philosophical arguments.  He basically didn't seem to believe that so we launched into a long conversation about the beginning of the universe, meaning of life, source for morality, and other philosophical interests.

It seemed that he accepts Big Bang cosmology for what it is, and that chains of events cannot cause themselves, but insisted that the universe is actually eternal, we just can't see beyond that beginning.  So, we have an immeasurable, invisible, impersonal properties of physics that led to the Big Bang.  He gave the analogy that time and space is a wave that we're surfing on, we can look back and see the top of the wave but we can't see the other side, but we know it's there.  He claims that theism is irrational because theist postulate that God was the one that started the series of events called the universe at the Big Bang.  Implying that it's more reasonable to assume that there was just something before the Big Bang that caused it, we just cannot see or measure anything that might have happened before the Big Bang.  This is even though I defined the whole of the universe as a closed system encompassing all that actually exists, past present and future.  Basically, the way I understand his argument is pure materialism forcing him to ignore the evidence of the Big Bang and postulate that that must not actually have been the beginning.

He did does seem to understand that his position is a position of faith.  But, it doesn't make sense to me that he could consider his position to be the more logical.  We both arrive at the same beginning, and that something had to start the beginning but rather than accept that it must be something outside the something that exists, a timeless limitless being that started all the somethings, he insists that it's not really the beginning that there's an invisible immeasurable something before the beginning that became what we call the initial singularity from which the Big Bang originated.  I tried to use multiple tactics that show that that argument is enough to reach the conclusion that there is something out there that started all this, then when one takes that as an acceptable premise, the other arguments for God point to other characteristics.  That initial premise will only allow that that something is incredibly powerful (at least in the concept of power that we have), and that it must be limitless by all physical essences.  For example this entity must be timeless/eternal, because time is a function of the physical universe and this something is outside the physical universe.  There are other points but he refused to budge on the assertion that before the Big Bang was not really the beginning, that the universe is eternal.

I did "win" one point!  He asked what one had to do to be saved.  I don't know his full religious educational background except that he was once a Mormon.  He seemed genuinely surprised when I told him that one doesn't have to do anything to be saved.  I presented to "ABC" method of describing "attaining" salvation.  That is, Admit you've sinned (makes sense, since if you refuse that you don't need saving and wouldn't be asking these questions in the first place), Believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins, and Choose to accept that payment for the penalty of your sins.  I hope this was able to dispel the common notion that Christianity is about doing certain things.

I've already shared this photo once but I really like this cafe (and apparently the previous gif was bothersome)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Short Review of the Book True Reason

True Reason is a great offering of reasoned responses to the "New Atheists." With the popularity of these anti-theist writers, it's good to see them called out on their irrational positions. As a Christian myself it's an insult to read these anti-theists' books and be called irrational, delusional, etc. When, if one really takes a good hard look at the arguments, the converse is actually true. The Christian Apologist has much more reasonable answers than these New Atheists. This book does a great job collating and responding to the many fallacious arguments throughout the New Atheists' writings. I highly recommend this book for the apologist looking for reasonable responses to brash New Atheists' claims. It's also great for any ordinary lay person that has heard these New Atheists spouting off with bold claims of truth or anti-truth etc. and wants to hear more about these extraordinary claims. The entire text is filled with great arguments and powerful blows to poor arguments offered up in New Atheists' writings but to be the best chapter is the eighth chapter, The Explanatory Emptiness of Naturalism. Most of the other chapters respond to specific issues in specific arguments, but this chapter combines several components of theistic arguments and the huge holes throughout naturalism. My favorite simple argument is in chapter eight.
1. If science explains things, then naturalism is false.
2. Science explains things.
3. Therefore, naturalism is false
Secular humanists/atheists/naturalists will try to claim 1. If science explains things, then naturalism is true. However, and the chapter explains this quite thoroughly, Naturalism itself if full of holes for which it will never find answers.

I do have more to say about the text but I haven't the time!  This review is posted on Goodreads as well as Amazon.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Upcoming Events and Club Involvement

There are a few upcoming events in my life that I want to talk about.  I've been thinking about this for a while and I'd like to air my ideas here.

First, (not in precedence in timeliness) is another trip to Korea.  I was privileged to visit Korea some years ago for a language class, and I'm slated to go back in late January.  Of course the timing could be better, what with it being winter and all my winter clothes are stored with all the rest of the stuff I didn't think I'd need living on a sub-tropical island.  So, I'll be spending about a month in Korea where the average high temps in Jan-Feb is between 34°F and 40°F so, yeah, chilly.  Oddly enough, last time I went to Korea it was in January.  I'm excited though, I had a good time the last time I went and I'm sure I'll have a good time again.  It'll be nice to be in a place where I'll be able to read the street signs.  I know a few Kanji (漢字, pronounced hanja 한자 in Korean) and some but not all of the kanas, so I can read some of the street signs here but the vast majority are a mystery to me.

Secondly, I've been looking into Focus on the Family's introductory apologetics program, The Truth Project, and I'm going to host a small discussion group that'll be going through the program when I'm back from Korea.  I've asked around and watched the promos and taken the host training program and I'm excited for this also.  I've enjoyed my own personal studies (and the one introductory college course) in apologetics and it will be neat to get a chance to discuss these topics with fellow believers.  The program is twelve lessons, each video about an hour long followed by discussion time.  That's the only downside to it, the time consumption.  Assuming some time to mingle and chit-chat, then an hour-long video, then discussion time.  In order to keep the total time for each session only two hours I'll have to limit the fellowship time and the discussion time.  I don't think everyone will want to sit around for hours discussing these things (I don't understand that, but I know it's common), but I'm sure there'll be enough good conversation that it'll be difficult to limit the discussion so people will be able to get back to their lives.

Third (and related to the second), I've been invited by a former coworker to start a Reasonable Faith apologetics group here on Okinawa.  There aren't any in Japan, so that's kind of a cool idea, to be the first group in Japan and the first in Okinawa.  I like Dr. William Lane Craig's apologetics lectures and his podcasts, though honestly his lecture voice is kinda dry, not unlike my own (main reason I don't do a podcast here, though I've thought about it).  His logic is pretty clearly stated though at times a bit high level.  This kind of group would be a great encouragement to deepen my own studies in apologetics.  Which brings up two final points.

I'm thinking about two or three other potential groups in which I'd like to participate.  I am always reminiscing about my high-school days when I ran with a cross country team and I was much faster and I think that if I could somehow get involved in a running club again, I might have more motivation and camaraderie to get some of my old speed back.  I've also been thinking about finding a language club to practice teaching English, while at the same time practicing Korean and Japanese.  And, I've recently discovered a chess group that meets on Saturdays.  It's only three older gentlemen right now, but my boys enjoy(ed) playing and I could use some over-the-board chess experience to improve my overall chess skill.  Maybe it's just rose-colored glasses but I've always felt that a group setting with encouragement and mutual support is the best place for training in a variety of disciplines.  Are any of you involved in similar clubs that have really made your life/studies/hobbies/etc. that much more enjoyable?  I've been in a variety of clubs and I hope that I can find/start some good groups while I live here in Okinawa.

Being a hippo is a rough life, especially at the zoo.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


So I posted the other day of a pop culture surprise and how I randomly ran across a song by Selena Gomez with some positive lyrics.  This week while out on a run (I'm prepping for a Feb marathon), I happened to hear this song by MIKESCHAIR:
MIKESCHAIR - "Keep Changing The World" Lyrics by
Something here is wrong
There are children without homes
But we just move along to take care of our own
There's so much suffering just outside our door
A cry so deafening
We just can't ignore
To all the people who are fighting for the broken
All the people who keep holding on to love
All the people who are reaching for the lonely
Keep changing the world
Take a look around
Before the sun goes out
What's lost can still be found
It's not too late now
It only takes one spark to make the fire burn
So reach inside your heart and let this be the start
Chorus (X2)
I know you see this suffering
How they gonna recover when
People just look over like,
Like they don't even notice em,
Everyone who's focusing,
On ending all this hopelessness
You can change the world
By changing Who the world is hoping in.
I see the sun coming up
It's a brighter day
Let's show the world that love is a better way
So lend a hand join the fight
'Cause time is ticking away
Keep changing the world
Chorus (X2) (Italics mine.) 
Now, I understand that MIKESCHAIR is a (so called) "Christian" band.  The reason I phrase it like that, is the simple fact that a group technically cannot fall under the category of Christian.  Because a Christian is a person that follows/believes in/bases one's life on Jesus Christ.  But, a band can be comprised of Christians, and can seek to write God-honoring lyrics/songs, but it cannot really be in that sense of the word.  So, I wasn't really surprised hearing such a great message, but I did want to bring it up here as it really hit me.

I don't know if you're a regular reader, or first-time visitor, or whatever but I often talk about/discuss/debate apologetics and other philosophic issues through this site, and I love a good debate/discussion about the existence of God, morality, philosophy, etc.  But, in all that, sometimes I lose sight of what the Gospel is really about.  I mean the word actually means, "good news," but I don't think about the hope of the Gospel.  This song really put that back into my thoughts.  Is apologetics important?  Yes.  Does it offer strong arguments for Christ?  Yes.  Will it (alone) bring people to the hope that is in Christ Jesus?  Probably not, it's too confrontational.