Skeptics vs. Christians: Let’s Be Reasonable

A question asked by some philosophers concerns how the soul interacts with the body. The allusion by skeptics is that since we do not know how the soul moves the mind and body, why then it must not be able to. Such an argument is an ironic twist of the God-of-the-gaps fallacy, a type of atheist-of-the-gaps fallacy. We cannot explain it, so it must not be true.

The alternative to the existence of a soul is pure physical naturalism, the position that all that exists is chemistry and physics and their emergent properties. We cannot see, smell, hear, or touch electromagnetism, but we can measure it and demonstrate that it is a property of natural forces.

I once had an atheist ask me “what instrument can I use to measure the soul?” The  clear implication is that if I cannot measure it, it must not exist. My response is to point out the myriad of things that we cannot measure with instruments, but we nevertheless hold to exist. For my atheist friend to be consistent, he would have to conclude that the list of things that do not exist because we cannot measure them would include justice, irony, humor, love, beauty, Lady Macbeth’s emotions, and a host of other things that make life worth living.

The king of the skeptics, the philosopher David Hume, was known for his rigor in holding to his skepticism, tried to deal with this exact issue. In his book An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he claimed that

That the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the squares of the other two sides, cannot be known, let the terms be ever so exactly defined, without a train of reasoning and enquiry. But to convince us of this proposition, that where there is no property, there can be no injustice, it is only necessary to define the terms, and explain injustice to be a violation of property. This proposition is, indeed, nothing but a more imperfect definition. It is the same case with all those pretended syllogistical reasonings, which may be found in every other branch of learning, except the sciences of quantity and number; and these may safely, I think, be pronounced the only proper objects of knowledge and demonstration.

So Hume concludes that “the science of quantity and number” are “the only proper objects of knowledge.” The problem, of course, is that this statement by Hume, and indeed his entire collection of writings, are neither quantity nor number, so by his own standard we can dismiss his writings as not proper knowledge. Hume is, at bottom, self refuting. Even he seems to admit so, when he once stated “When we leave our closet, and engage in the common affairs of life, its conclusions seem to vanish, like the phantoms of the night on the appearance of the morning; and it is difficult for us to retain even that conviction, which we had attained with difficulty.” In other words, we ultimately have to put our little game back in the closet and return to regular life, where we know we cannot doubt such things.

So the skeptics system is built upon a premise that God does not exist and only physical things are worth knowing, then tries to convince us through argument that arguments are futile. He tells us that “only things that we can measure with instruments are worth knowing” but this statement itself cannot be measured with instruments.

I would much prefer the Biblical book of Romans with its iron logic, or the Psalms with their beauty.

Posted in Apologetics, Philosophy, Skepticism | 1 Comment

A. C. Grayling’s The God Argument: Another Disappointment

I recently picked up a copy of a new book, The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and For Humanism by A. C. Grayling. In seeing the book, my first thoughts went to the common and tired refrain from many atheists who try to claim that atheism is merely non-belief, that they never make a case for anything, but always express a lack of belief in something. Such a position only holds up briefly, until one considers that the majority of modern popular atheist writers are doing nothing but building a positive case against religion. Grayling’s book is a case in point, but others are easy to come by.

Grayling’s book is yet another attempt to build a case against Christianity. He also uses the same level of poor argumentation that is common to modern atheist writers. Claiming their arguments are based in reason, we actually find more rhetoric and persuasion than logic. For example, we do not get far into the book before we find the claim that “The word ‘god’ is just too vaguely specified.”(p.25) I have heard several atheists claim that the idea of God is vague, imprecise, and even impossible to define. Never having seen a clear explanation for why this is so, I hoped that Grayling’s book would tell me why atheists believe God is not clear. This claim seems to be repeated often in atheist circles, and when I saw Grayling’s book, had hoped I would get a clear explanation by a trained atheist on why they believe such a thing.

However, in support of his claim that God is undefinable, the only support Grayling gives is about two pages of allusion to the problem of evil, not even dealing with the many responses that have been given to it. With this one brief point, Grayling then concludes “These points are intended to indicate the problems with the concept of an omnipotent being, and of a ‘necessary being’. These are phrases that appear to have meaning but on examination turn out to make no sense.” (p.28). Up to this point, Grayling had said nothing about necessary beings, and had made little reference to any issues of omnipotence. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt that he may have been referring to an assumed issue with God’s power and the existence of evil, certainly Grayling should have at least dealt with the responses that Christians give, answers that adequately resolve God’s power with the existence of evil.

Such is the tone of the book. In the chapter titled Theistic Arguments, one would have expected Grayling to attempt to logically dismantle the Christian apologists’ main arguments, but he does not. The chapter gives a one-sentence description of four arguments for God: the teleological, ontological, vertical cosmological, and moral arguments. Surprisingly, the chapter does not deal with trying to refute these arguments. There is really nothing there at all that tries to explain why the arguments for God might have problems. The entire chapter is a mere seven pages, most of which can only be described as persuasion.

One example will suffice. Of the four arguments for God listed, the only half-hearted refutation is of the ontological argument. Grayling’s case? Since, in the ontological argument, God would have all power, and since other beings have some power, God could not have all of it. (p.70). Such a defense is worse than weak, for Grayling is using an obvious equivocation of the terms — God having unlimited power does not mean all other beings would have none. The rest of the chapter is a persuasive case concerning Grayling’s views of whether God’s attributes are clearly defined, summarizing his case as “Think of trying to gt an investor to put money into a scheme which cannot be described or talked about.” (p.71). Even if the chapter were to be about God’s attributes, the pages quote no theologians that supposedly cannot explain God.

Therefore, claiming God cannot be explained is a mere assertion by Grayling, not one he proves. He then uses terms such as “scheme,” an emotion-filled word that is not a logical argument. Such writing is built upon persuasion techniques, not on logic or reason. Failing to deal with the rigorous arguments for the existence of God, then using persuasion techniques, makes atheist writings fail in their attempts at reason, but succeed in evangelizing some readers into their atheist belief system.

An excellent counter-argument from Christians is the book True Reason, by Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer. The book is excellent anthology of Christian apologetic responses to to modern atheists, written in a very readable and concise manner. Introducing the collection of works in the book, Gilson explains:

These atheists’ claim to reason, however, is becoming harder and harder to sustain. We who have contributed to this book believe reason is much more a weakness for them than a strength. Their books, articles, and debates are riddled with fallacies, appeals to emotion, and mishandling of evidence. Their claim to reason is often a matter of public relations rather than of competence in reasoned discourse. (p.15)

To those who are persuaded by modern atheist writers such as A. C. Grayling, I would encourage you to pick up a Bible and read it afresh, for it is much more logical and reasonable than you will find in any modern writer.

 

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Can There Be An Infinite Series of Escapes From Kalam?

One of the demonstrations for the existence of God is the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which claims that the universe had a beginning, and therefore needed a beginner. At its root, it is quite simple, for anything that comes to be must have a cause. Of itself, the Kalam demonstration does not get us the God of the Bible, but further reasoning after the Kalam can get us to God’s attributes.

One of the supports for the demonstration is that there cannot be an infinite series of moments prior to now, so there must be a beginning.  Most of the arguments about infinites in Kalam are dealt with by those philosophically trained theists who understand the Kalam. Perhaps the leading supporter of Kalam is William Lane Craig, whose book The Kalam Cosmological Argument has a lengthy section on infinity. Craig also includes 25 pages of detailed defense of his position on infinity in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

Skeptics and atheists are not silent on this point, of course, and have fun entangling theists in conundrums about infinites. I’m convinced most of them do not read the detailed explanations in the writings of men like Craig, but either get their information from popular online sources such as YouTube or do not listen to theists at all, but merely pass around criticisms among themselves. If they would have read the detailed explanations of Kalam, they would not make the same mistakes over and over.

One of the key positions of the Kalam argument is that the there cannot be an infinite series of moments prior to now, so there must be a beginning. One of the supports for this is the following:

  • A collection formed by successive addition cannot be an actual infinite.
  • The temporal series of events is a collection formed by successive addition.
  • Therefore, the temporal series of events cannot be an actual infinite. (Craig, Natural Theology, p.117)

Skeptics respond with a series of criticisms, most of which are off point. They give arguments such as infinity being used in mathematics. Indeed, interesting and odd things can be found when one tries to nail down the properties of infinity. For example, the mathematician Bolzano (1781 – 1848) pointed out that if we take the simple function y=2x, and apply it to all the numbers between 0 and 1, then “every real number between o and 1 is assigned a unique companion between 0 and 2. Therefore, Bolzano concluded, there are as many numbers between 0 and 1 as there are in the interval 0 to 2, which has twice the length of the 0 to 1 interval.” (Aczel, The Mystery of the Aleph, p.61).

Further, we can take an infinite set of whole numbers, and compare it to an infinite set of odd numbers, and an infinite set of squared numbers, and the different sets will be the same size: infinite. Such are the games people play with defining infinity.

The problem, of course, is that these are mathematical abstracts, not actual infinity. Craig’s point in Kalam is not denying that we can do slippery things in mathematics with infinity – no one in apologetics denies that. The Kalam denies actual infinity that is reached by successive addition. This is a very different thing than abstract infinity in math formulas, or possible numbers between two points. We can indeed do math that shows an infinite set of numbers within an inch. However, no matter how hard we try, we cannot add an infinite number of sheets of paper into a one-inch binder. No matter how thin the paper, or how hard we squeeze, we can only add a finite number of sheets of paper into one inch.

The Kalam also deals with successive addition. It is a brute fact that in a series derived by successive addition, we always have an ever-increasing finite, not an infinite. As Craig explains:

It follows, then, that the temporal series of events cannot be actually infinite. The only way a collection of which members are being successively added could be actually infinite would be for it to have an infinite tenselessly existing “core” to which additions are being made. But then, it would not be a collection formed by successive addition, for there would always exist a surd infinite, itself not formed successively but simply given, to which a finite number of successive additions have been made. (Natural Theology, 124-125)

As apologists, we find ourselves repeatedly having to explain that in dealing with objects in the universe being measured by moments of time, we are dealing with actual, real things, not abstract distances between two points on an imaginary timeline. We are dealing with actual, real things that are occurring successively. Adding to very large finites merely gives us bigger finites.

There is a group that is trying to build a clock that will run for 10,000 years. Let’s say they succeed. We can be sure of two things. First, it may run for a long time, but it will not run forever, for eventually the forces of nature will stop it. Second, if someone finds it someday, they will be able to conclude that since it is running, someone had to start it. It could not have been running for an infinite amount of time.

In the work of Craig and other theists who specialize in the Kalam, they deal with much more detail than can be done on this blog. I still wonder if the skeptics have truly read the detailed explanations of Kalam. I also wonder if they truly believe their positions, or if they just like to have fun slipping around in the world of abstract infinity.  In the end, the Kalam Argument is a valid demonstration that shows the universe had a beginning and therefore needed a Beginner.

 

Posted in Apologetics, Philosophy, Skepticism | 10 Comments

Why Did God Create Adam When He Knew He Would Sin?

This is another in a series of skeptical and critical questions about Christianity.

Question: Why did God create Adam and Eve? If He knew mankind would sin and eventually need to be killed (Noah’s flood), why create Adam and Eve in the first place? If God knew that they would sin and need judgement, then God must have wanted them to sin and wanted to judge them.

Answer: This question fails to account for several factors. First, forced love is impossible, for love must be freely chosen. I can create a computer program that every night when I come home, the computer says “Welcome home dear, I missed you. I love you.” But the computer would not have actually missed me, nor would it really love me. It would merely be doing what it was created to do, for it did not have a choice. Love, by contrast, must be freely chosen, or it is not love. Therefore if God made mankind such that we could not but respond favorably to God, we would not be loving. Such is necessary for being created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Therefore if God wanted to create a being in His own image that was capable of freely loving Him, He had to give us the ability to walk away and deny Him.

Second, as always, “why?” questions are interesting to ponder, but give us absolutely no rational argument for or against God, the Bible, or anything religious. Just because we might not know exactly why God does something, it does not follow that there is no good reason.

Third, because the only way to the greater good, love, is to have the freedom to deny God, then it does not follow that God necessarily wanted sin and judgement, but that sin and judgment were a necessary consequence to obtaining the greater good. A parent does not enjoy it when a child suffers through problems, but doing so is the only way for the child to learn maturity.

Fourth, God always provides a way to be reconciled with Him. Judgement is never the only alternative, but a loving God always provides a way to get back into good standing with Himself. Those who fall into judgement are those who do not take advantage of God’s way to avoid judgement.  Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock” which means He is waiting for us to change our minds and follow Him.

 

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Old Testament Numbers Proven True

In the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, we find the following:

1 Kings 15:25:  Now Nadab the son of Jeroboam became king over Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years.

1 Kings 15:33 In the third year of Asa king of Judah, Baasha the son of Ahijah became king over all Israel in Tizrah,, and reigned twenty-four years.

The discerning reader immediately notices a problem: Nadab was Asa’s second year + 2, and Baasha began in Asa’s third year. The yearly totals of the Old Testament kings have many of these, so much so that the totals have baffled people for many centuries. No doubt critics and liberal Bible commentators have held these as examples of errors. The task gets more difficult when we consider there were 44 kings over the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, some of the kings had similar names (Ahaziah, Athaliah, Azariah, Amaziah), and the counting continued through the rising and falling of multiple nations.

Edwin Thiele spent a good bit of time time untangling the chronology, and published it in his book The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Thiele goes into much tedious detail referencing and counting the kings. He attributes the issues to the following:

  • Some nations started counting from the day the king started reigning, while other nations started counting at the beginning of the new year following the crowning of a new king.
  • Some new years started in different months (Nisan vs. Tishri)
  • The method of counting changed over the centuries, depending on which nation was the the dominant ruler at the time
  • Some kings crowned their sons before the older king died, so some kings co-reigned

If you add this up over the four dozen kings who reigned for almost four centuries, and the numbers can be confusing. Thiele systematically documents each interaction between each king, which dating system was used in which nation, and who overlapped who.

Thiele carefully cross-referenced himself with known dates in ancient history, but only after he had worked out the internal consistency of the Hebrew dating systems. “Charts were prepared without dates of any kind to show the interrelationships of the rulers of Israel and Judah. Only at the end was there to be a check with the known years of ancient history.”(p.21)  As Thiele states,

As this pattern of lengths of reigns and synchronisms is carefully studied, we see that the individuals who first recorded these data were dealing with contemporary chronological materials of the greatest accuracy and the highest historical value. Back of the seeming discrepancies lies an underlying harmony not previously appreciated because of failure to understand the principles of the chronological systems then in use. (p.50)

The once ambiguous and confusing numbers of the Hebrew kings have taken on new value and meaning. Bewilderment and doubt have been replaced by certainty and assurance. In these numbers we now know that we are dealing not with fancy but with fact. The true meanings of these once seemingly irreconcilable data have been clarieifed nad we are in a position to appreciate their value the fields of biblical scholarship and ancient historical research. . . .

In our work with these data we did not begin with the assumption that they were largely in error, whether because of mistakes in original recordings, scribal corruptions that crept in along the way, or editorial misjudgments of some late day. But we did begin on a quest to ascertain whether there might not be some basic chronological pattern into which these numbers would fit . . .

The reigns of both nations are constantly interwoven with each other in strict accord with the requirements of the data provided by the original Hebrew recorders. This chain we believe to be complete, sound, and capable of withstanding any challenge that historical evidence may bring upon it. (p.211)

Thus the Bible is again proven accurate. The lesson for us today is not so much the tedious details of ironing out a list of ancient kings, but that of how the original confusions were approached. Many Bible critics take all Biblical questions or confusions as evidence of error. A more prudent approach is to consider that since the Bible has been proven accurate in so many other places, there is likely a reason for why it reads as it does. If we first take the text to be written for a purpose, with the writer being at least as intelligent as we are, if not more so, then we will more often find the truth. In the case of the numbers of the Hebrew kings, Thiele shows that the Bible is true and inerrant, and it is unwise to hold that it made a mistake merely because we cannot resolve a question.

 

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Creation, Evolution, The Courts, & Public Opinion

In the book Darwin Day in America, author John West shows how evolutionary thought, inspired by Charles Darwin and accepted by his followers, has impacted various parts of society. Far from mere biology, Darwin’s theory of random mutations filtered by natural selection has shaped our culture in many areas. West explores how evolutionary thought has been applied to many areas having nothing to do with biology, such as criminal justice, how we respond to mental illness, and how we run businesses.

West describes how some groups have sponsored a holiday called Darwin Day, where they celebrate Darwinism and have a generally fun time doing their best to demean religion. West lists a series of groups that describe themselves as secular humanists, atheists, agnostics, and desiring a freedom from religion. Indeed, being decidedly anti-religious seems to be a pattern, and with many groups, there is no pretense of neutrality, for their bias is evident. “In California a group calling itself “Students for Science and Skepticism” hosted a lecture at the University of California-Irvine on the topic, “Darwin’s Greatest Discovery: Design Without a Designer.” In Boston, a group sponsored a similar event on “Biological Arguments Against the Existence of God.”” (p.211) The first claim, design without a designer, would be a pretty neat metaphysical trick. I would suspect sleight of hand in such a talk, but Darwin’s present-day spokesmen are generally not great students of philosophy in general or metaphysics in particular. Therefore the problem of design without a designer pales compared to the current atheist teachings of getting all matter from nothing — which is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, only there is no hat and no magician. The second, arguments against the existence of God, fly in the face of our atheist friends’ repeated claim that they have no such claims at proving anything.

West quotes Amanda Chesworth, one of the original sponsors who promote Darwin Day celebrations: “The knowledge we share in science serves to shrink our differences and smooth the path to our collective future. In this sense we have the necessary ingredients to build a just society.” (p.210). Oh, really? Now we are told that scientists have figured out a way to justice. We used to teach school children that science was observing and making measurements of natural forces. We are still taught by atheists that nothing in the world exists except matter and energy. But now, somehow, those promoting Darwinism tell us that observing natural forces can give us a theory of justice. If category jumping were an Olympic sport, this deserves a medal.

West’s book goes on to compare the attempts to use Darwinism for genetic engineering. Many are familiar with the 1925 Scopes Trial, where biology teacher John Scopes was prosecuted in Tennessee for teaching evolution. Darwin Day in America spends several pages showing what was actually taught in the textbook that Scopes used. The high school textbook was A Civic Biology by George Hunter. The actual truth of what was taught is a far cry from the movie Inherit the Wind, which turns out to be such a false view as to be not much more than a parody.

West shows how the textbook at the center of the 1925 Scopes trial used evolution to teach white supremacy, encouraging students to consider their future spouse’s genes before getting married, since it is an obligation to be selective in breeding to improve the human race. In comparing races, the texbtook lists black, brown, yellow, American Indian, and “finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.” (p.212) We are also given a description of those who have not been selective in their breeding, saying that “they are true parasites” on society. (p.213)

Such teaching was a direct result of accepting Darwin’s theory of selection. Yet when Tennessee rejected such ideas, the resulting public description of the 1925 Scopes trial generally mentions none of this, but makes a false caricature of religion in general, and Christianity in particular.

Cut to Arkansas. In the early 1980′s, Arkansas passed a law that said that schools could teach both evolution and creation. Many groups sued, including the ACLU and liberal Christian denominations. One of the witnesses in the trial was Norman Geisler, who spoke in favor of teaching creation. In his 2007 book, Creation and the Courts, Geisler shows how his testimony, and that of another witness Duane Gish, were never included as part of the officially published court transcripts. Thus their testimony was never available to Supreme Court justices in considering appeal, or other federal judges who referred to the case, such as the 2005 Dover case, which tried to teach students about gaps/issues with Darwinism. That official court testimony would not be published in a modern court case, especially one of such significance, is no less than astounding, and feeds theories of conspiracy.

Geisler’s testimony was published for the first time in his 2007 book. In Geisler’s pro-creation testimony, he speaks of many topics that show the line between teaching science, religion, and first causes is not so clear. Some of his testimony included:

  • Ancient Greeks, who did not connect religion and a first cause of creation.
  • Some religions do not demand belief in a deity, creator, or supreme being
  • Some people believe there is a deity or creator but are not religious
  • Humanist religions, as well as Buddhism, many of whom are atheist.
  • Religious humanist teachings of evolution and creation.
  • People who took Darwin’s theory and made it a tenet of their religion
  • Distinctions between knowing that and a personal commitment to
  • The history of philosophy and religion as they relate to science
  • People who developed valid science through religious experiences
  • Whether science can deal with ultimate origins

There’s much more, but you get the idea. Geisler’s testimony was knowledgeable about many facets of the debate: the history, philosophical underpinnings, and relationships of the ideas involved. By contrast, the ACLU lawyer who cross-examined Geisler asked about the following:

  • Whether the God of the Bible was theistic and active
  • The difference between micro-, macro-, and theistic evolution
  • Whether creation implies a creator
  • What Mussolini and Nietzsche taught about evolution
  • Whether the Bible is inerrant.
  • Whether he believes Satan exists
  • Whether he believes UFOs exist

The testimony Geisler gave in the Arkansas trail was very relevant, but was ignored by the ACLU lawyers, who tried to taint his testimony with irrelevant questions. The public press painted the trials as circus acts, so the issues that were at hand were never evaluated by other courts or the court of public opinion. As the lawyer Phillip Johnson said in his book Darwin On Trial, tactics such as this reek of persuasion, not solid arguments.

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If Evil, Then Good

It appears obvious to most people that we cannot have a crooked unless we first have a straight to measure it against. Sure, the crooked stick can exist, but the only way we know to call it crooked, instead of merely just a stick with no concept of alignment, is if we know to call it crooked because we do have a concept of a straight alignment. So if crooked exists, we must have a straight, at least in concept. We do not claim an object has a certain property unless we have a concept of that object not having the property.

The same applies with good and evil. If we have an evil act, the the only way we know to call it evil is to have, at least in concept, a concept of the act not being evil, which is good. So our critics who quickly point to objects in the world as being objectively, universally evil are actually doing so on the basis that objective, universal good exists. This reasoning is one of Aquinas’ five ways.

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