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|