Showing posts with label argument from design. Show all posts
Showing posts with label argument from design. Show all posts

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review of Bertrand Russell's Lecture "Why I am not a Christian" Part 2

Here we go again! Let's finish this. I started review/critiquing Bertrand Russell's lecture and I highly recommend that you read part one before continuing here. Without any more intro, let's jump right back in.

"The Moral Arguments for a Deity" -- His understanding of the argument is fairly rudimentary, but I agree with this first part, "One form is to say that there would be no right and wrong unless God existed." The way Dr. William Lane Craig phrases the argument is actually in the negative form: "If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. Objective moral values and duties do exist. Therefore, God does exist." So, his phrasing isn't a problem at the outset. Then he goes into this:
"I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question. The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are then in this situation: is that difference due to God's fiat or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God."
Here's the problem I have with this section. It's all stolen. It's basically a modern version of Plato's famous Euthyphro problem (often called the Euthyphro dilemma). To boil it down, either God commands goodness, or God is subject to goodness. This is a problem for the Christian making the moral argument because the crux of the issue is "objective moral values." If God commands goodness then is it "objective"? Russell doesn't have much more to say, other than it could very well be some other source of morality, he calls it a "superior deity." There are lots of good answers to the Euthyphro problem and I don't want today's issue to be as long as yesterday's so I'll merely point you to my two previous writings on the subject and this other post.

"The Argument For The Remedying Of Injustice" -- Here we come to what seems like the least invested of Russell's arguments. He says that, "they say, that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world." The odd thing that doesn't make sense in this argument is I can't see where one can conclude, "therefore God exists." Maybe one might conclude, "therefore it'd be better if God existed." Essentially, we have a cruel world where is seems that bad people are rewarded and good people suffer. I don't see this as a very strong argument so Russell's critique is fair. He uses this analogy: "Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue: 'The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.' You would say: 'Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment;' and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe." Even though I don't think the argument can conclude that God exists. I do think the existence of Heaven/Hell does make living more comfortable for the Christian. Think about it, if bad people are guaranteed to get their comeuppance, that could give some comfort to believers, but not necessarily.

Here is seems that Russell finally tips his hand. He says, "What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason. Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That plays a very profound part in influencing people's desire for a belief in God." Basically, Russell seems to portray a level of omniscience here. Has he interviewed every believer ever? Interesting though, surely Russell knows of the Apostle Paul. Paul is well known as one of the most prolific Christian missionaries, and he certainly didn't seem to have a wish for safety. Paul lists the "safety" that he was enjoying as a Christian teacher in 2 Cor. 11:24-31. It's only the modern "prosperity gospel" teachers that really state that Christianity really brings a comfortable life. Still none of this concludes, God does not exist or even that God does exist. In fact, this is a textbook kind of genetic fallacy. Even if every Christian everywhere only believes in God because of emotional desires and because they were "taught from early infancy to do it," that doesn't mean that God does not exist. What does it matter why people believe in God?

"The Character of Christ" -- This series of arguments are, again, rather unconvincing to the existence of God, though they are aimed directly at Christianity. As I said in part one, if Christ isn't divine, then Christianity is worthless/false. This leads to an interesting conundrum though, because Russell freely admits that he just doesn't agree with some of the teachings of Christ. This whole bit is just Russell's opinion. Also, this is just Russell saying, in a sense, I don't like these teachings. This also wouldn't conclude, "Therefore, God does not exist." The best one could conclude is that Russell doesn't like the teaching of Jesus. He starts with the "turn the other cheek." But, he dismisses this by saying that it wasn't original to Christ. Does Russell really think that an itinerant rabbi in first century Israel would steal a teaching (or even know, without being divine)? This is a teaching that Russell says came from "Lao-Tse and Buddha some 500 or 600 years before Christ." Which is more reasonable, that Jesus simply taught this or that he somehow had access to Far Eastern thought and teaching centuries before the rest of the Western world? I guess this is just Russell complimenting Jesus' teaching, but then dismissing it because others have had similar teachings. Next he takes aim at, "'Judge not lest ye be judged.' That principle I do not think you would find was popular in the law courts of Christian countries. I have known in my time quite a number of judges who were very earnest Christians, and they none of them felt that they were acting contrary to Christian principles in what they did." So, Russell likes this teaching but has a problem with Christians following His teaching!? This, like so many other things in Russell's lecture, betrays a serious lack of logical reasoning. This is kind of like Russell saying that because Christian judges ignore Jesus' teachings, Jesus wasn't a good teacher. Clearly that is a total non-sequitur. One last thing that Russell likes, "Then there is one other maxim of Christ which I think has a great deal in it, but I do not find that it is very popular among some of our Christian friends. He says, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor." That is a very excel ent maxim, but, as I say, it is not much practiced. All these, I think, are good maxims, although they are a little difficult to live up to." Again I have to ask, what does this prove?

"Defects In Christ's Teaching" -- Here Russell falls in with some extremely outlandish views. "Historically, it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one." Why would he go and say a silly think like the existence of Christ is doubtful? The existence of Jesus Christ is one of the best attested things in history. There is more textual evidence of the biographies of Jesus Christ (the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament) than there is anything else of that age. We have more evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ than is necessary to conclude that Jesus certainly existed. His first actual problem with Christ's teaching is, "[Jesus] certainly thought his second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that." Here's the kicker for Jesus' supposed claim that His second coming would be soon. The key phrase in the passage is that certain things will not happen until "the Son of Man comes into His kingdom." What exactly does Jesus mean by "come into His kingdom"? Now, clearly some in the early Church thought this was true. However, Paul specifically taught early Christians at the church of Thessalonica that they need to not live lazy lives just waiting around for Christ to return. So, sure Christians in the early Church thought that Jesus was returning in their time, but just because people have misunderstood this teaching doesn't mean that it was false. One interesting point though, Russell quotes Jesus as saying, "Take no thought for the morrow," but like so many before, Russell is taking a verse out of context. But, here it's used to deceive. The context for Jesus instructing his followers to not worry about tomorrow is not in the context of the Second Coming.

"The Moral Problem" -- Russell now aims his criticism of Jesus' teaching to what he calls moral deficiencies. He says, "There is one very serious defect to my mind in “Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person that is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment." So, despite Russell previously saying that Christians don't have to believe in Hell to be Christians and that he's not going to criticize that view, he now says that Christ can't be moral if He teaches about Hell. Russell also seems to have a problem with how Christ speaks to those with whom He disagrees. He compares Jesus' harshness with Socrates, but again this is a misunderstanding of Christian theology. Jesus doesn't level criticism toward those that merely disagree with him. That's not what salvation in Christianity is about. You don't have to "agree" with Jesus to be saved. Sure, if you are a Christian you will agree with Christ's teachings. But, salvation is a matter of accepting the teaching that Christ is the payment for one's sins, not just agreeing with Jesus' teachings. This doesn't sound like a convincing argument, "I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of this sort into the world." Russell doesn't think that a kind person would preach in a way that makes people afraid!? I've  heard this analogy a few times so I don't remember the exact source. Imagine you know that someone is walking towards a cliff. Is it a kind person who just lets that person walk off the cliff? Is there even a time when telling someone that they might die that might be scary for that person? Is that okay? Again, the kind person would be the one that tries to keep the person from dying, even sometimes using fear.

His other criticism was fairly personal. He doesn't like Jesus cast out demons into some pigs that then run off a cliff. He thinks that wasn't very nice and that a kind person wouldn't do that. Same with the withered fig tree. A kind person wouldn't do those mean things. These are petty and not very powerful arguments against Christ's teaching. Just because you don't like the way Jesus did things doesn't mean that he wasn't kind. Russell's opinion, for what that's worth, is clear, "I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to History. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects."

"The Emotional Factor" -- "One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous," I think Dennett stole this (at least I don't recall him giving credit to Russell). He talks about this in his work Breaking the Spell. Why does this seem to be an unspoken, often spoken of, rule? If anything, Christianity has welcomed a huge history of probing and analyzing of its claims. It's also interesting to note that the very existence of the supposed New Atheists is the 9/11 attacks. The New Atheists responded to the 9/11 by trying to debunk all religion as dangerous. Please convince me that religion makes men virtuous and yet, is somehow the cause of more bloodshed than anything else and dangerous. Either Russell is wrong, or the New Atheists are wrong (they could both be wrong). Here again Russell fails in his rhetoric, "That is the idea -- that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion. It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked. You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the so-called Ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with all its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burned as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion." He contradicts himself. We can't attack religion because it keeps people behaving morally, but people behave very badly when they are religious. He insists that Christianity is morally bankrupt: "I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world." Dawkins rips off this idea in The God Delusion. He refers to a moral zeitgeist. That morality is progressing, but Christianity is holding it back. Funny word though, progress, what would it mean to progress morally? Progress implies an intended direction. Where are we heading morally speaking?

"How The Churches Have Retarded Progress" -- Here is the main quote:
Supposing that in this world that we live in today an inexperienced girl is married to a syphilitic man, in that case the Catholic Church says, 'This is an indissoluble sacrament. You must stay together for life,' and no steps of any sort must be taken by that woman to prevent herself from giving birth to syphilitic children. This is what the Catholic church says. I say that that is fiendish cruelty, and nobody whose natural sympathies have not been warped by dogma, or whose moral nature was not absolutely dead to all sense of suffering, could maintain that it is right and proper that that state of things should continue.
But, we don't really have a good accounting for what is moral or immoral action. This critique of the "Catholic Church" (by which I assume he means the Roman Catholic Church) is nothing more than, Russell doesn't like the presumed teachings of the Church. This is nothing more than Russell's opinion. As such, it doesn't really deserve a response. Just as the previous issue, if we don't know where morality is progressing, we can't say that the Church is retarding its progress.

"Fear, The Foundation Of Religion" -- Russell says, "Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing -- fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand-in-hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things." Again, mere speculation. Is this really the truth? How does Russell know that Christianity is based on fear? Sure, there can be aspects of Christianity that are scary, but really, does Russell think that it's all about fear? Russell says that science can alleviate these fears, but how is that? He doesn't explain what science has to do with alleviating fear.

"What We Must Do" -- Finally, we come to Russell's conclusion and not a moment too soon. Russell says, "We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world -- its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it." (Emphasis mine.) Again, what's the meaning of "good"? Russell hasn't given us what goodness means, so these are just his opinions. Also, facts cannot be good or bad, they're just facts. This final quote I completely agree with, except the idea that Russell is implying that Christianity is what's wrong with the world and it is what needs changing/abolishing. "A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create." I find a bit of irony in Russell implying that Christianity is full of "ignorant men." Christianity has long been a bastion of education. Maybe today it's not as focused on education as it has been in the past, but it definitely isn't full of "ignorant men." In this final thrust, we have another genetic fallacy. Even if Christianity were full of and lead by only ignorant men, that wouldn't make it false.

Let's wrap this up. I don't have much more to say. This lecture was pretty sad. If anything it was like Dawkins' book The God Delusion. Just like that book, reading this lecture actually strengthened my faith. If this lecture represents the best arguments against Christianity, then Christianity is almost definitely true.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review of Bertrand Russell's Lecture "Why I am not a Christian" Part 1

So, two instigating factors drove me to read this famous lecture given by Bertrand Russell in 1929 (or at least the text I have was copyrighted in 1929). The first was a conversation online with a skeptic. We were discussing the moral argument for God. To be more specific we were discussing whether or not the skeptics I was engaging (on a Facebook site specifically for discussing religion) were actually atheists or "simply lacking belief in God." The discussion was started by the page owner sharing a post that said there were only three options, you either accept the proposition that there is a God, reject the proposition, or just don't care or know. This kind of discussion comes up all the time as modern (New Atheists) online skeptics often like to shirk the burden of proof (or really any responsibility in their position) by saying that they don't believe that God doesn't exist, they simply lack the belief that any god exists. Basically they often try to claim the null view, as opposed to a negative view. Anyways, that's backstory. One of these atheists quoted Russell's famous lecture as a response to my posting of the moral argument for the existence of God. Then, Friday night I met up with a small apologetics discussion group to watch the recently released movie, The Case for Christ. I'd seen the movie before, but on this viewing it struck me that Lee Strobel had once been strongly influenced by Russell's teachings (he specifically references this lecture). I then decided that if this was a good enough lecture for them, I ought to know what this great lecture actually taught. I didn't expect it to dissuade me from Christianity, but I want to know what Russell actually taught rather than hearing it secondhand. Without further ado, here we go.

I'm going to tackle each section separately:

"What is a Christian?" -- Here I actually appreciate Russell's honesty. He is clearheaded enough to not attack a straw man. He talks about watered-down Christianity that was, and still is, popular. He's right to say that Christianity is more than just "... a person who attempts to live a good life." I disagree that "The word does not have quite such a full-blooded meaning now as it had in the times of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. In those days, if a man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant. You accepted a whole collection of creeds which were set out with great precision, and every single syllable of those creeds you believed with the whole strength of your convictions." I know Christians that could be described that way, in fact, I consider myself to be one! I also disagree with the notion that a Christian can believe that Christ was the "best and wisest of men." A fundamental doctrine of Christianity has to be that Jesus Christ was more than just a wise man, but that He is divine. If Christ isn't divine then Christianity is false, and the surety for that truth is the truth of the resurrection. I also agree with his point concerning the abandonment of the doctrine of Hell. While I accept that Christians can, without abandoning Christianity altogether, have different views of Hell. There still needs to be some kind of understanding of an afterlife, which generally entails Hell and Heaven at the least. It's interesting from a rhetorician's point of view that while he here says that he's not going to include belief in Hell as part of fundamental Christian views, but later he does attack the theology of Hell saying that, "I do not myself feel that any person that is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment." So, believing in Hell isn't fundamental to Christianity, but it is a fundamental teaching of Christ and Russell can't be humane and believe in Hell at the same time. Despite what seems like Russell going back on his statement that Christians don't have to believe in Hell to be Christians, let's move on.

"The Existence of God" -- I was hoping that this would be where his really heavy-hitting arguments against God would start to come out, but alas this section is more about how this is too big of an argument to condense into such a short space (this was a lecture), and that he was only going to summarize his position. It is curious though that he brings up the Roman Catholic Church's teaching "that the existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason." This is a bit confusing because it seems like he's lambasting the Roman Catholic position as being about faith without reason, but then he says that he's going to take on only a few of their arguments here. I am puzzled. If their position is that it's a matter of faith and not reason, then why would they have arguments at all? Arguments are a feature of rational inquiry and persuasion, not blind faith.

"The First Cause Argument" -- Here we go, finally. His first critique of this argument is to call into doubt the concept of causation entirely. He says, "The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality that it used to have; but apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity." I don't appreciate the hubris. He hasn't made an argument yet and yet he's already assuring us that it cannot have any validity!? Also, it seems he's trying to say that science has somehow removed the need for a First Cause. How so? He hasn't offered any explanation of that, just a throwaway phrase that "men of science" have somehow debunked this argument. If anything, this argument has only gained traction in the area of science. Big Bang theory has exploded (yes a pun) on the scientific scene as a cosmology that destroys Russell's claim that "men of science" have reduced the vitality of this argument. They have demonstrated quite convincingly that there was an ultimate beginning to the universe, which plays right into the Christian's hand. In Russell's defense Big Bang cosmology was still young in the 1920's but he still doesn't have a scientific leg to stand on here. In addition to floundering scientifically, I think Russell just hasn't contemplated the philosophical arguments against a temporally infinite universe. He says that "the philosophers" have gotten at this as well, but still doesn't address how there could be an infinite past.

After this failure Russell commits probably his worst philosophical argumentation misstep (at least so far), he sets up an easy straw man. He says that when he was eighteen he was convinced by John Stuart Mill's autobiography that there is this question that kills the First Cause argument: "Who made God?" Really? That's your knockout blow? His parody (well, I wish it were a parody, apparently he take this seriously) is, "If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument." First, no theist ever says, intentionally, that "everything must have a cause." There are different varieties of this argument, so I can't include them all, but suffice it to say that Christian theologians/apologists who use First Cause arguments aren't so stupid as to clearly paint themselves into a corner with "everything must have a cause." The phrase that I've heard from most is, "Everything that begins to exist has a cause." That is a fair premise and it doesn't sound anything like Russell's straw man of First Cause arguments.

This next section was particularly humous to me so I have to point it out. He tells of how the Hindus believe "that the world rested upon an elephant, and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, 'How about the tortoise?' the Indian said, 'Suppose we change the subject.'" And, then proceeds to do the very same thing! He says, "The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause." In a sense, he's saying that we're just too naive to see how something could not have a beginning, and like his imaginary Indian says, "suppose we change the subject." Let's hear it, what is your best argument that the universe did not have a beginning. It's no use saying that we're just not imaginative enough to see how that's possible. That's like saying that we've never observed anything starting without a cause nor have we seen anything be infinitely existent, nor could we even imagine what that would look like, but it certainly is just our lack of imagination, it is possible. Just saying that something is possible doesn't make it so. I could say that a married bachelor is "possible" all I wanted, that doesn't make it so. I've said too much on this one part, let's keep going.

"The Natural-law Argument" -- This one is a more interesting one to me because I think Russell has something going for him, at least in part. These types of arguments are commonly called teleological arguments, arguments from design, or fine-tuning arguments. Russell is trying to take on what is, in my opinion, one of the strongest arguments for God. Unfortunately for Russell he didn't have modern science to again demonstrate just how delicately balanced the universe really is. He speaks of the popularity of these types of arguments in Sir Isaac Newton's day as they appealed to the "laws of nature" and that those laws are best explained by the existence of God. He does get something quite wrong here though. He says that once people had God as their explanation that it was "a convenient and simple explanation" and that it "saved them the trouble of looking any further for any explanation of the law of gravitation." Really? He even says that "Nowadays we explain the law of gravitation in a somewhat complicated fashion that Einstein has introduced." But, if we now explain gravitation differently, how did we get to that new understanding if we stopped looking for any further explanation of the law of gravitation back in Newton's day? He contradicts his own position! I will read him with a bit of charity here though and say that what he's really trying to say is that we've now come to understand gravitation differently and that it's not the law that we used to think it was. That's fair enough. "We now find that a great many things we thought were Natural Laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest depth of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard. That is, no doubt, a very remarkable fact, but you would hardly call it a law of nature." This is his strongest point, though it misses the mark.

His strongest point is that what we call "laws" of nature, are really just as subjective as the length of a yard. This is a good point because it cuts out the common phrase (I've heard it from numerous Christians, I've probably even said it) "if there's a law, there must be a lawgiver." The tact that many try to take here is that the laws of nature are like the governing laws of humans. That God wrote the, if you will, constitution of the universe, which included things like the law of gravity. I think this phrase, "laws require a lawgiver," is wrong-headed. I think Russell (and others) have a point. The law of gravity is, at its heart, just a human construct. It's not that gravity would go away if we didn't know about it or if our law were wrong (clearly we've had numerous wrong scientific ideas in the past). However, here's where I think this strongest point misses the mark. The teleological/design/fine tuning arguments don't rest on what we call "laws." What these arguments are really pointing to is the fact that the universe has qualities that only make sense given a divine Designer. Take the law of gravity, it's one of many that has to be a certain strength or the universe would collapse. Cosmologist have techniques and computer models where they have simulated, using complex mathematical modeling, what would happen if any one of the universal constants were somehow different than it is. It's not that there's some law that requires a lawgiver, per se, it's that there's a delicate balance that could only have been set up on purpose.

Russell points out that "Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which way you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and, being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were you are then faced with the question, Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?" I believe I've sufficiently answered his question in my previous paragraph, but let me summarize it. In cosmological modeling there are very few that will "work" that is, there are very few settings on the cosmological dial that will actually allow for the existence of a universe at all. So, while Russell is right to point out a distinction between human laws and natural laws, we're talking about a different situation altogether. One could say by way of analogy that the universe does seem to be running by a set of laws not unlike a country runs by a set of laws. And, just as a country needs a good set of laws to keep running a universe does as well. Only a perfectly knowledgeable, powerful Creator could set up laws and enforce them in such a way that keeps the whole universe running. Here's another important point that I think Russell gets completely wrong, "if there was a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary." This doesn't take into account what it means to be all-powerful. It seems that Russell is taking omnipotence to mean "able to do absolutely anything." Again, he's breaking with Christianity. Christianity teaches that even God is bound by His own nature, logic. Nonsense is still nonsense even when spoken of about God (I think that someone smarter than me said that, but the closest quote I can find is from John Lennox "Nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists.") God can no more make a married bachelor than you or I, because the very concept is nonsense. God chose to use gravity, atoms, quarks, strings (maybe), photons, strong and weak nuclear forces, etc. etc. to build His creation. Those physical things are limited by their natures to be physical. As physical things they have to be arranged in a certain way or else they wouldn't be anything. That is the design. Less like "laws," and more like a delicately balanced masterpiece.

"The Argument from Design" -- He starts off his critique of design arguments with a lot of silly things that people say things are designed for, but they are clearly misconstruing the purpose for which things are designed. Yes, we who hold to a design argument will need to give an accounting for this. If we say that such and such a thing was designed, we have, in a sense, said that we know for what purpose that thing is made. This is obvious with man-made objects. The lamp sitting beside me is clearly purposed to give light to an area. Knowing that purpose I can then say whether or not it was designed and if it was designed well. But, there is another level that Russell doesn't even attempt to address here, probably because it destroys his whole counter to design arguments. He says, "When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it." While I support the first part, we can't speak to the mind of God and say for what purpose the universe was designed (except with God's revealed truth, that is, God has told us some of His purpose for creating), we also cannot speak to whether or not that design is good or bad without knowing the mind of God. But, that is just what Russell is doing. He's saying that the design is bad. How could he know whether the design is good or bad? This is like an ordinary child looking at the design of the so called "Bird's Nest Stadium" (the actual name is the Beijing National Stadium) and saying that the design was bad! Who knows how to design a stadium better, the architects that built that amazing structure or this snotty, haughty child? God is many, many orders of magnitude above our understanding of design than the architect is above the child. So, who is Russell to say that the design is bad?

In addition to claiming to know that this design is bad, Russell also seems to think that the idea that this world will come to an end someday is a point against God's designing the earth. Once again it seems that Russell has fallen into his own trap. He has implied that we can't know something is designed without knowing for what purpose it was designed. But, here Russell has implied that God probably didn't design the world or at least didn't design it well because it will someday be dead and lifeless. Does Russell know for what purpose God made the world? If and only if one knows the ultimate goal of the existence of the world can one say that its dying is a bad design. Think of an analogy here, a lightbulb. It gives light and works. Is it poorly designed if it eventually wears out and stops working? Russell seems to be implying that an omniscient/omnipotent God would be able to design a lightbulb (from our analogy) that can last forever. But, again, does he know God's goal in making the lightbulb? Maybe, and I don't know for sure, God wanted the lightbulb to last only this long and no longer. Only if one knows when something is supposed to go defunct can one say whether or not it performed as expected or not.

When I first started writing this I had hoped I would be able to keep my comments to one entry. But, as I reach this point I realize I should have broken this up into multiple entries. So, I'll do just that. This is part one. Come back tomorrow for part two!

Ancient Okinawan Village on Ikei Island

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.
References
Beebe, J. R. (n.d.). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Logical Problem of Evil. Retrieved March 31, 2014, from http://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-log/#H4
Craig, W. (2007, August 5). Reasonable Faith Podcast. iTunes. Retrieved March 31, 2014, from https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/reasonable-faith-podcast/id252618197?mt=2
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 http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2007/marapr/1.21.html

Ruse, M. (2003, August 30). Creationism. Stanford University. Retrieved May 4, 2014, from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/creationism/

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 13: God: My Response

In my last entry I said that would respond to Prof McGinn's attempts at tearing down three prominent arguments for the existence of God.  I'm not certain how I want to organize this response so I apologize if this seems illogically arranged.  So here goes.

First, lets focus these arguments, Prof McGinn says at least a couple times in the lecture that these arguments are not intended to give cast-iron epistemological certainty that there is such a thing as God, just that the point is to test to see if the concept of god is logical.  One other key hole in his arguments is this, he says that the whole point of the discussion is to attempt to show if the concept of god is logical.  However, throughout his lecture he keep referencing the religious definitions of God.  Here's the way I see it, Prof McGinn is setting up a straw man in attacking each argument separately then offering red herrings in trying to make us chase after the traditional religious concepts of god rather than the basics of the argument.

Here's a recap of the arguments, the argument from design, the cosmological argument, and the ontological argument.  I'd like to take these and turn them around like Ravi Zacharias does in The End of Reason; A Response to the New Atheists as he borrows from Prof Dallas Willard (now passed on, May 2013) and use a more complete and powerful argument for the existence of God than this strawman Prof McGinn has torn down.

First, comes the what is commonly referred to as the cosmological argument; the way Mr. Zacharias words the argument, "no physical entity explains its own existence."  Now, that could be confusing because I'm a physical entity and I can sit here and explain my existence.  Obviously that's not the way those terms are intended to be used, it's along the lines of, no physical entity contains a complete explanation for its own existence.  It makes sense to also word this part of the argument as, no physical entity can create itself.  Biological life can reproduce, but that's not itself, that's a copy of itself.  In the Google+ conversation about the last entry +James Hooks said it this way, "everything in the universe has a cause, or everything that begins to exist has a cause."  Those kinds of statements are backed up by empirical observation.  These theories of something from nothing are so wildly speculative it's laughable.  Again, this is NOT 100% mathematical proof of an uncreated creator (UCC), just a rational statement about the plausibility.  Here's another thing Prof McGinn does throughout his lecture, after he presents the cosmological argument he claims that it doesn't logically follow that this UCC somehow has the attributes often claimed in religion, namely omniscience, omnipotence, and goodness.  Prof McGinn is implying that those qualities are a non sequitur, and he'd be right if  the argument was solely based on cosmological cause.

The actual best answer is to follow the cosmological cause argument with another powerful argument for a god.  That is the argument from design.  In that aforementioned Google+ argument +Andreas Geisler asked if one could recognize the undesigned.  A valid question but one that seems obvious from common sense.  There are so many examples of design in the universe that for all of them to come together in exactly the right way would take odds that are beyond astronomical.  I've read that the odds were calculated somewhere around 10,000,000,0002,000+. That's ten billion to the two-thousandth plus power!  So, design is evident all around us and yet Prof McGinn throws evolution at the concept like it's the silver bullet that will slay this argument.  What he's failing to see is the most basic form of biological design, the DNA/RNA structure cannot be explained by evolutionary process.  So, the red herring Prof McGinn expects the creationist apologist to chase after in this argument is the design of life as it is right now.  That's not the basic design that we're looking at, though a committed Young Earth Christian would say that the literal six days of creation show God's handiwork in the complexities of life as we study it.  But, again... that's not the argument in question.  The question is, is there design evident in life as we see it?  It seems obvious that the resounding answer must be, YES.  Again, this does not get us to the Christian God, as Prof McGinn seems to want us to make that leap, though we do have some characteristics that fit, namely powerful omnipotence, that is powerful beyond all imagination the ability to will the material into existence.  It would require that kind of power to bring all the universe into existence and then order it into a coherent design and put together the incredible complexity that is life (even the most basic forms of life).  Which leads us to another characteristic of God, omniscience, that is all knowing.  A God that exists outside the influences and rules of this universe and orders the entire universe must have knowledge beyond all human imagination.

There are two incredibly powerful arguments that Prof McGinn has neglected that will flesh out the rest of the characteristics of God.  The first comes from one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis.  In Mere Christianity Lewis makes a powerful argument from morality that shows how just the idea that all cultures throughout the entire history of mankind have had a shared concept of morality.  That isn't to say that all cultures agree with what is right or wrong, but at least they all agree that there is such a thing as right and wrong.  In response to the Euthyphro problem, which is often thrown at this argument, I've answered it before twice, but this writeup puts it quite well, "Thus the dilemma can be shown to be a false one.  God indeed commands things which are good, but the reason they are good is because they reflect God’s own nature.  So the goodness does not come ultimately from God’s commandments, but from His nature, which then results in good commandments.  As Steve Lovell concluded in ‘C.S. Lewis and the Euthyphro Dilemma’ (2002)."  So, we have more attributes of God, on top of omnipotence and omniscience, we have goodness.

Last but certainly not least is the argument presented in the life of Jesus Christ himself.  There are some that claim the life of Jesus is a myth.  People that claim that are intentionally turning a blind eye to more than enough evidence that Jesus really did live when the Bible claims He did, and the Bible itself has more than enough textual evidence to verify its trustworthiness.  Jesus' claim of divinity is unique among all religions, though I've seen arguments that say Jesus doesn't claim to be God, but I don't think they hold water.  I don't have time to go into that all right now, but suffice it to say, that Christianity is unique.  Our Lord is also our servant, and our sacrifice.  We cannot do anything to earn God's forgiveness or favor, all other religions have some form of working or doing something to gain forgiveness.  Not so with biblical Christianity; there are certain groups of people claiming to follow Jesus' teachings but they teach that you have to do this or do that contrary to biblical teaching, that's not the Christianity that Jesus died and rose again to create in us.

A word on Prof McGinn's use of the problem of evil as a counter argument to the existence of God.  First, it's a false pretence.  He claims to be arguing against the logical possibility of God, but in reality he's only arguing about one particular characteristic of a being that he doesn't believe exists.  As he's so fond of using to describe other philosophical ideas, now he's the one that's "putting the cart before the horse," and arguing about characteristics of a being that he hasn't shown to exist at all.  His argument about the existence of evil has been responded to in many ways but the best way I see to respond, is to call into the argument the idea that morality in general shows that we're designed by a moral being.  In the atheist purview there's no sanctity of life.  According to evolution and natural selection the weak are meant to die so that the strong can survive.  According to Peter Singer a pig is worth more than a disabled child; does that sound like morality can be found in science?  According to mathematics the world would be a much better place to live if there were about fifty percent less humans living here, according to that logic, we should initiate and promote holocausts to eliminate the weak, sickly humans.  The argument of the existence of evil doesn't work with purely scientific logic, because logic and science cannot tell you what is good/bad, right/wrong, good/evil, science just tells what is.

A word on Pascal's wager, I've never liked the idea, but Ravi Zacharias in the book I've already mentioned, puts it backwards from the typical reading of the wager.  It's not, you should believe because in the end if you're wrong what's the harm and if you're right you stand to gain tremendously.  I agree that's a hollow, relationally empty way to approach God.  Instead one should look at it like this, I believe and it enriches my life, if in the end I'm wrong and there is no God, what have I lost?  Nothing.

Lastly, I must say something about the ontological argument because that seemed to be Prof McGinn's favorite argument.  This seems odd to me, because though I can't point to any specific fallacy or flaw in the ontological argument, it seems like just wordplay.  A tautology of sorts, to say that the perfect conceivable being must exist because existence is more perfect than non-existence.  I don't think the argument is wrong to come to the conclusion that God exists, I just don't think it goes about it in a logical manner.

To sum up this incredibly long post (sorry about that):  I don't think this was Prof McGinn's intent but listening to this lecture actually made me more secure in my belief in God.  His futile attempts at breaking down these arguments only made me more sure that he's wrong and that it is logical to believe in a creator.  As it stands, his attacks at each argument doesn't really show anything, just that each argument has counter-arguments.  There isn't an argument out there that doesn't have a counter-argument (like that double negation?), there are skeptics for everything.  With the combination of all the arguments together it is easy to conclude that it is logical to believe that God created and cares for us, His creation.  Though that wasn't the original goal of the argument, all we wanted to prove was that it is indeed logical to believe that some form of creator being exists, and we've gotten so much farther than that when it's all said and done.

Another shot from Cape Zanpa