McGrath on Dawkins

Theologian Alister McGrath offers these thoughts about Richard Dawkins. Let’s have a look.

Actually, the fun begins with essay’s headline: “Do Stop Behaving as if You Are God, Professor Dawkins.” McGrath is about to devote roughly a thousand words to explaining all the ways in which Dawkins has been behaving badly. If Dawkins’ behavior is nonetheless reminiscent of God, then God is hardly someone to be admired.

We pick up the action in the fifth paragraph. McGrath writes:

Of course, back in the Sixties, everyone who mattered was telling us that religion was dead. I was an atheist then. Growing up as a Protestant in Northern Ireland, I had come to believe religion was the cause of the Province’s problems. While I loved studying the sciences at school, they were important for another reason: science disproved God. Believing in God was only for sad, mad and bad people who had yet to be enlightened by science.

It is a common rap on atheists that they think religious people are fools or idiots. (Theists, we are led to believe, show only respect and tolerance going the other way.) Speaking for myself, the only thing I think about theists generally is that they are mistaken on an important issue of fact. After that, you have to take things on a case-by-case basis. I also believe that widespread religious belief does far more harm than good to a society.

I went up to Oxford to study the sciences in 1971, expecting my atheism to be consolidated. In the event, my world was turned upside down. I gave up one belief, atheism, and embraced another, Christianity. Why? There were many factors. For a start, I was alarmed by some atheist writings, which seemed more preoccupied with rubbishing religion than seeking the truth.

Above all, I encountered something at Oxford that I had failed to meet in Northern Ireland – articulate Christians who were able to challenge my atheism. I soon discovered two life-changing things.

First, Christianity made a lot of sense. It gave me a new way of seeing and understanding the world, above all, the natural sciences. Second, I discovered Christianity actually worked: it brought purpose and dignity to life.

McGrath explains that he was alarmed that certain atheist writings seemed more interested in rubbishing religion than in seeking truth. As if religious writing is uniformly focussed on truth, as opposed to denigrating atheists and pagans. Bad writing on a subject reflects badly on the writer, not the subject.

He then notes that at Oxford he enountered articulate Christians, a sort of person Northern Ireland apparently lacks. I guess I can only say that for me it was meeting articulate, sensible Christians that persuaded me that Christianity has nothing to offer. When I was only familiar with the braying fundamentalists I could still believe that I had not yet seen the real thing, only a bizarre caricature. It was when I started studying Christianity in a serious way that I realized just how foolish the whole thing was.

McGrath then gives us two reasons for his conversion to Christianity: That it made sense and that it brought dignity and purpose to life. What makes sense is a matter of taste, I suppose. To me it makes no sense to say that a world notable mostly for its mind-numbing quanitites of suffering, pain and death, both in the human world and in nature, is nonetheless superintended by an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God. It also makes little sense to me to conlcude, on the basis of a handful of accounts written long after the events in question, that roughly two thousand years ago one particular dead body behaved in ways that no dead body before or since has ever behaved. I would dearly like to know what it is about the world that makes sense in the light of Christianity.

And I think he should spell out how Christianity brings purpose and dignity to life. It seems to me that Christianity brings only the idea that a failure to accept God’s sacrifice on the corss will earn you an eternity of damnation. Nothing dignified there. And what is the purpose of life, according to Christians? To serve God in word, thought and deed? If you go through life doing what you can to leave your little corner of the world a little better than you found it, simply because it feels right to do so or brings you some personal satisfaction, you are living a purposeless, undignified life. But if you do the same things because you believe God wants you to do them, now you have purpose and dignity.

No one who believes such things should be accusing others of arrogance.

Skipping ahead a bit we come to this:

For instance, Dawkins often compares belief in God to an infantile belief in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, saying it is something we should all outgrow. But the analogy is flawed. How many people do you know who started to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood?

Many people discover God decades after they have ceased believing in the Tooth Fairy. Dawkins, of course, would just respond that people such as this are senile or mad, but that is not logical argument. Dawkins can no more ‘prove’ the non-existence of God than anyone else can prove He does exist.

I suspect Dawkins would not respond to people who come to theism later in life by calling them senile or mad. He would claim simply that they are mistaken. He would also claim that they can make no good argument in defense of their new found belief.

As for the business about not being able to prove God exists, it is really remarkable how religious people seem constitutionally unable to avoid that little canard. It is an utterly foolish and irrelevant point. The observation that God can not be conclusively disproved does not imply that belief and nonbelief are equally reasonable.

For example, the problem of evil is a serious difficulty for Christian conceptions of God, as every theologian has acknowledged. That is why to this day religious people spill a lot of ink trying to explain it away. When you couple this with the simple observation that science has uncovered no vestige of design in the natural world, claims of the ID folks notwithstanding, it pretty quickly shifts the burden of proof to the Christians. The point of Dawkins’ analogies of God to Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy is simply that it is no answer at all to jutsify your belief in something on the grounds that no one can disprove the belief.

The fact is that when no evidence can be adduced for an entity’s existence, and when such an entity can exist only in defiance of everything we have learned about the natural world, the burden of proof lies with those who claim the entity exists nevertheless. One wonders if McGrath has anything better than shallow canards with which to reply to Dawkins.

McGrath natters on like this for a while, but he says almost nothing of substance. Feel free to read the remainder of the essay if you wish, but don’t do so in the expectation of procuring food for thought.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    February 5, 2007

    Dawkins can no more ‘prove’ the non-existence of God than anyone else can prove He does exist.

    If the Flying Spaghetti Monster did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him, just to counteract this meaningless canard. The Unitarian God is just as un-provable as McGrath’s personal deity; must I pay obeisance to it as well as the Trinity, the Quadrinity, the Quintinity, Zeus and Isis?

  2. #2 Cody
    February 5, 2007

    A student journalist came to Baylor University’s Inherently Unofficial Atheist & Agnostic Society the other day and asked us the following question:

    “If you could dispel one common myth about atheism, what would it be?”

    Looking back on it now, I really wish I had said something about living a “purposeless” life:

    “If you go through life doing what you can to leave your little corner of the world a little better than you found it, simply because it feels right to do so or brings you some personal satisfaction, you are living a purposeless, undignified life. But if you do the same things because you believe God wants you to do them, now you have purpose and dignity.”

    I don’t know if I could word it any better.

  3. #3 brtkrbzhnv
    February 5, 2007

    The only reason we can’t prove or disprove God is because he’s about as well-defined as Xafsawd. We can easily disprove Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy, for these are well-defined and would be easily observable if they existed, and the same is true for the classical/fundamentalist omnipotent and benevolent god of Christianity, or Allah, for that matter. It’s only this modern fuzzy and inconsequential God that can’t in principle be disproved, but whether such a god exists (if indeed such an inconsequential creature should be called a god – I remain unconvinced) is not a very interesting question.

  4. #4 itchy
    February 5, 2007

    My magical garden gnome has proclaimed that Reese Witherspoon must visit my bedroom every night. I’ve told Ms. Witherspoon that she cannot prove that this isn’t true, but she stubbornly refuses to comply.

  5. #5 Steven Carr
    February 6, 2007

    ‘Growing up as a Protestant in Northern Ireland, I had come to believe religion was the cause of the Province’s problems.’

    What else can you expect from a Proddy?

  6. #6 Edward T. Babinski
    February 6, 2007

    To quote Quentin Crisp:

    Religious ideas are inflammatory in a way that I find difficult to understand. There are very few wars over the �Theory of Relativity,� very few heated arguments for that matter, whereas, in Northern Ireland, they are killing one another over religion. When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, �Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don�t believe?�

    ~~~~~~~~~

    Also, I recall how McGrath railed on in a book he wrote about John Calvin, trying to relieve Calvin of as much responsibility for becoming such a big wig in Geneva (one of Geneva’s only two college educated lawyers (and poking his nose in everything, and gaining influence as more of his converts from France flooded the city and joined the legistlature there, and becoming especially powerful after the successful immolation of Servetus for his “heresies” whom Calvin helped prosecute. McGrath mentioned in a sidelight that Calvin wasn’t always very kind to his fellow Reformers, but McGrath thought it in consequential to actually supply examples of just how unkindly Calvin could speak about others, nor did he speak about how Calvin sent letters hounding the former Genevan school teacher, Castellio [who argued in favor of not executing heretics], and blamed Castellio for loads of things, even as petty as complaining to governors that Castellio fished logs out of the river to burn as fuel and heat for his poor family after they had to leave Geneva due his differences with Calvin regarding various biblical interpretations. Or how Calvin hounded “heretics” in Poland by writing letters to magistrates there as well, demanding that heretics be brought to justice, or how Calvin wrote his little book on the Duty of Public Magistrates to Punish [Kill] Heretics, and how Calvin taught his followers how to stealthily spread their faith in Catholic France, at night, keeping the blinds drawn (while Luther and/or Calvin ironically complained about the spread of Anabaptist ideas via the same stealthy methods, and cursed such methods as indicating such people were evil for meeting in darkness rather than in the true light of day). Calvin eventually turned Geneva into his own personal publishing house, with presses turning out Calvin’s works and a college (the college of bleeding bottoms some nicknamed it), turning out Calvinist evangelists. The historical concensus is that John Calvin was an obsessional religious git. But McGrath wrote his book to try and disavow the gitness part and rejoice that Calvinism spread throughout Europe.

    In one astonishing place in his book on Calvin, McGrath turns his vitriol out on the peace loving mystical Aldous Huxley and his unreferenced mention in The Perennial Philosophy about the incident of a young boy being exectued in Geneva, near the height of Calvin’s influence there, for striking mother and/or father. McGrath asserts that Huxley is repeating a lie or simply making up the story. But I have seen the incident recounted in Schaff’s famous History of the Christian Church, and Schaff was a Protestant. I also found several other references to the incident, right down to the year, that McGrath can check on. I also found that Calvin approached the ruling party of Geneva and argued for the death penalty for things like adultery and disobedience to parents, and that he praised the death penalty for such things in his sermons on the beauty of O.T. laws, but that the ruling party of Geneva had a less strong stomach than Calvin for instituting such stern unforgiving laws, that is until Geneva became filled with Calvin’s adoring followers, i.e., the French that his followers converted at night who later had to flee France for Geneva, and who became part of the ruling party in Geneva. So later with his adoring French followers in control, such laws were indeed instituted. It was at that time that people were exectued for adultery, arms tied and thrown into the river to drown. And leading Calvin scholar Robert Kingdon, admits Geneva was taking things further at that time concerning such executions than other Protestant cities, nations, or even Catholics were doing at the time. As for the children who were disobedient to their parents, only one case of execution exists, but in other cases children were hung by the gallows by their armpits for a warning and to be reminded that they yet deserved execution. Soon after Calvin had died, some of his ministers in town threatened children with execution for playing games on Sunday. And of course, Calvin also instituted the practice of fining people a day’s wages if they did not attend church (which by the way was several times a week), and people had to memorize religious beliefs and wipe out all traces of Catholic practices, though Calvin did like the Catholic idea of threatening people with excommunication, and barring people from church and the Eucharist, which also meant others had to deny their excommunicated neighbors their society and company as well, isolating individuals. Geneva also would give people who preached anything other than Calvinism a day to get out of town, i.e., if they questioned predestination, or preached and raised other theological views, like Anabaptism or Catholicism, or Judaism. The Jews were banished before Calvin got there, and him and the Consistory he formed, sniffed out any Catholics or any religious ideas or practices with which Calvin disagreed and any people teaching such things or seen practicing them were threatened with banishment or worse. So even before the French refugees who adored Calvin took control of the ruling of Geneva, Calvin had already helped ensure that his peeping and sniffing out Consistory had made things pretty uniform. Heck, a few people committed suicide rather than be summoned to face the Consistory and Calvin’s “admonitions,” i.e., browbeating or heresy accusing manner. Calvin was almost always there when the Consistory met, and he had his nose in nearly every legislation of the city, being one of it’s only two college trained lawyers.

    In short, there’s lots of lessons to learn from Calvinism, not just the ones McGrath would like people to concentate upon. Lessons like Calvin’s obsessiveness (called “hard work” of course), and religion’s ability to make Geneva a marvelous city (if you banish everybody who doesn’t agree, and you implement plenty of laws and penalties).

    You also learn that theologically centered and motivated “heavens on earth” from Calvin’s Geneva to the Puritan’s cities in early America, don’t last long. Soon enough the imaginary monolithic views of the founder get questioned by people of equally obsessive tendencies, but with slightling differing views. Calvinists split soon enough over questions regarding free will and predestination, thus creating the Arminian controversy.

    And two hundred years after Calvin’s day, the environs of Geneva grew to become a haven for the deist philosopher, Voltaire, who lived in a house just outside town, while around that time the college that Calvin founded became presided over by deists who expressed doubts concerning Biblical interpretations and history, even expressing doubts concerning hell and Satan.

    So I guess Calvinism and the Protestant Reformation did teach mankind something in the longer run. Protestantism broke the monolith of Catholicism into smaller fragments, and also freed people to interpret holy books and question them, in wider ways than the Catholic church had previously limited, sanctioned and tried to keep under control. Of course a thousand years earlier even than the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic church itself was not such an imposing monolith, since at that time the Christian leaders of the East and West excommunicated each other, splitting Christians. Christianity and religion in general continues this whittling down process. Even Catholicism has continued to exist via a method of compromise, trying to keep together a host of diverse rival orders of monks and priests, silencing and/or excommunicating even some cardinals and church theologians, even today. But Catholicism also owes a lot to the riches the church accumulated centuries of discovery and plunder, and also owes a lot to its age, during which time so many people were “born Catholic,” and continue to do so, thanks to the church’s centuries of missions to foreign lands with people who have high birth rates, and their teaching that birth control is a “sin.”

    So, yes, you can learn a lot from studying religion. Just not always the lessons that McGrath and his love of Protestant heroes and Catholics and their love of Catholic heroes and Eastern Orthodox and their love of their heroes wish us to learn.

    Lastly, the religious world would be far different (as Aldous Huxley reminded his readers in The Perennial Philosophy) if European religion was influenced more by non-conformist Christian writers and theologians, by folks other than Luther and Calvin, folks who dared to argue even back then, that heretics OUGHT NOT be executed, and that states should not seek to impose the religious beliefs of their rulers onto their people. There were people who dared to argue in favor of such virtues that we take for granted today, but neither Luther nor Calvin, were in favor of such arguments, but instead wrote catechisms and were in favor of entire cities and countries all believing the same thing, something that Catholics also argued was necessary. So instead, as Aldous Huxley laments, Europe got the religion it deserved and also “The Thirty Years War.”

    Not that there aren’t other types of fanaticism other than religion, there are ideological fanaticisms that also attract ardent obsessed followers who will hurt others to try and instill uniformity of beliefs. Just read The Mind of the True Believer by Eric Hoffer, who discussed for instance the psychological parallels between people attracted to mass movements in Christian history, and political history (mass movements like fascism and communism). Fascinating stuff.

  7. #7 G. Shelley
    February 6, 2007

    For a start, I was alarmed by some atheist writings, which seemed more preoccupied with rubbishing religion than seeking the truth.

    Second, I discovered Christianity actually worked: it brought purpose and dignity to life.

    I think we see here the reason behind his conversion (and I suspect, that of the vast majority of people who find religion as an adult). He felt his life was empty and meaningless and was wanting some higher Truth to guide him. Content people, who feel their life has purpose and dignity and are not “seeking Truth” rarely, if ever fall for religion.

  8. #8 Doormat
    February 6, 2007

    You realise you are quoting the Daily Mail, right? It’s a strange newspaper, obsessing mainly about crime, immigrants, and the price of houses. It’s not exactly respected for accuracy in the UK…

    Alister McGrath seems to be being trotted out in Oxford at present: “The Dawkins Dilemma” is a witty poster being put out by the Christian Union, advertising a speech by McGrath. This had me thinking: how come the Christian Union (or mainstream churches in general, at least here) never attack other religions. I never see posters saying: “What’s batty about Buddhism” or “Why Muslim’s are mistaken” etc…

  9. #9 Chris Bell
    February 6, 2007

    If you go through to the article, McGrath notes that he recently debated Dawkins on a BBC show. I think this clip is available on YouTube. I don’t suggest watching it; the format was terrible and there was very little back and forth “debate.”

    McGrath also complained that much of his contribution to Dawkin’s show “The Root of All Evil”. If his contribution was as boring as the BBC show, then I think that was just good editing.

  10. #10 Chris Bell
    February 6, 2007

    **Sorry, much of McGrath’s contribution WAS CUT is what I meant to say.

    PS. Jason, are you going to do more updates in the Harris/Sullivan debate. There have been several back-and-forths since your last post on it.

  11. #11 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    I can’t figure out what atheists mean when they say there is a complete lack of evidence. To me there is a boatload of evidence for theism, evidence from the existence of reason, the evidence of consciousness, the evidence of objective moral values, the evidence of man’s inherent desire for God, the evidence supporting Christ’s resurrection, the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament, the evidence for miracles in the present day, the evidence of the beginning of the universe, the evidence of the fine-tuning of the universe, the evidence of religious experience, the direct experience of God on our personal lives, etc. etc. etc.

    I can understand someone saying this isn’t enough, or the nature of our claims requires a special standad of proof that hasn’t met. In which case I would just ask “What would it take?” But to say that there is no evidence??? You’ve got to be kidding.

  12. #12 Chris Bell
    February 6, 2007

    Victor:

    I will try to answer your question as best I can. I want to try and explain
    -Why this evidence is no good
    -Why it is poor evidence in a scientific sense
    -And why you agree with me

    First, the ‘evidence’ you give all doesn’t point to a God. “The existence of reason,” for example, doesn’t prove anything about God. It only shows that reason exists. Part of the reason the theory of Darwin is so powerful was that it gave a SIMPLE explanation for much of everyday life. Reason exists because it helps us survive. That is so much simpler (and verifiable) than ‘reason exists because God gave it to us.’ Monkeys, dogs, and elephants all have low-level reason. Squid and fish probably don’t. None of that proves anything to me about the existence of an all-powerful being who created the world. The same goes for the existence of morals.

    Claims about Jesus and miracles are dismissed as unreliable. People believe all sorts of nonsense. The fact is that claims of miracles and things like that decrease as a society gets more educated. There’s a reason that miracles all happened a long time ago. With our modern society, and cameras, video recorders, and newspapers, you would think we would see some of these miracles on the news. We don’t. You know the people in the middle east you see on the evening news talking about miracles and vengence and think, “Wow, their society makes no sense, and the things they believe are waaay out there.” That’s the same type of people who wrote the Bible. (And a different group of people modified it to make it more ‘consistent’ years later.)

    Second, when I say that none of your claims are scientific I mean that they are all based on second-hand reports or internal feelings. They are in no way REPEATABLE or DEMONSTRABLE. That’s just the nature of them. Forgive me for being sceptical, especially when so many of them have turned out to be wrong over the years. You expect me to believe in the most incredible thing anyone can describe or even imagine without being able to show in any meaningful way that it exists. (Of course, that’s the definition of faith.)

    Third, you agree with me. You know why? (I assume that you are a Christian here.) Because you disagree with all the other religions out there. Do you believe that Mohammed rode a winged horse away into heaven? Why not? It’s written in the sacred books. Thousands of people claim they saw it happen and know it to be true.

    You say that reason and existence prove there is a God. I think they prove that the Greek gods exist. We know there is a Zeus because the universe exists and his job is creating it. Humans make war because of Mars/Ares, the god who inspires war. If anything, I think my theory is even better than yours because I have individual gods for each thing, each one with good and bad qualities.

    My point is THAT YOU ARE AN ATHEIST TOO. All of the ‘evidence’ you use is also used by other beliefs, most of them flatly incompatible wth Christianity. You dismiss their evidence out of hand, but can’t understand when I do the same to you.

    If you want to respond, could you please start by answering these two questions:
    -Was Jesus born of a virgin? How do you know?
    -Did Mohammed fly into heaven on a winged horse? How do you know?

    PS. I also add that the formation of the Mormon religion within documented time provides a fascinating look into how religions form out of bogus beliefs. I encourage you to read “Under the Banner of Heaven” and then question how this compares to Christianity.

  13. #13 Blake Stacey
    February 6, 2007

    No historical or archaeological evidence supports Christ’s resurrection. In fact, we have no reliable, extra-Biblical evidence that Christ existed. The Jewish historian Josephus described John the Baptist in a fashion which tallies, generally speaking, with the description given in the gospels; however, Josephus does not mention Jesus in his history. (The one passage in Josephus which does glance upon Jesus breaks the flow of the surrounding prose, and scholars almost universally agree that it is the inclusion of a later, overly pious copyist, perhaps angered that Josephus’s history said nothing about Christ.)

    Likewise, we have no evidence that the New Testament is historically reliable, certainly not in the cases where it really matters. Other records give many details of Herod’s crimes, many of them far less wicked than slaughtering the innocents would have been, yet they speak nothing about that particular slaughter. We also face the difficulty that the gospels do not agree with one another. Even the three synoptic gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke — do not paint exactly the same picture of Jesus, his ministry and his life (while the Gospel of John is wildly divergent from the synoptic three in every significant respect). Jesus’s estimation of the worth of Gentiles, for example, shows remarkable differences between the Jewish parochialism of Matthew and the inclusiveness of Luke. The gospels also disagree with the Old Testament, for example in the genealogies they present while tracing the ancestry of Jesus.

    The biologists have presented us with a wealth of explanations for the development of moral thinking. Animals which care for each other can prosper and have more descendants. Natural selection has several mechanisms which can lead to altruism, for example (although exactly which mechanism is responsible for our own development is still somewhat up in the air).

    We have no evidence for objective moral values.

    Furthermore, the evidence does not support the claim that human beings have “an inherent desire for God”. If we did, why so many thousands of different gods? And even if we did have such an ingrained, genetic predisposition, what evidence could it provide that any god actually existed? Perhaps it’s just faulty wiring, or the inevitable consequence of understanding the unfamiliar in human terms — putting a human face on the natural world, because we understand people so much better.

    No miracle attested by modern people has stood up to skeptical scrutiny. One and all, they appear to be explicable in terms of human fallibility, our desire to see patterns, our need to be comforted, and, regrettably, our ability to be manipulated by callous hoaxes.

    The fine-tuning argument is, scientifically and philosophically, worthless. The cosmologist Sean Carroll has explained a very good reason why:

    the indisputable fact that there are many features of the laws of nature which don’t seem delicately adjusted at all, but seem completely irrelevant to the existence of life. In a cosmological context, the most obvious example is the sheer vastness of the universe; it would hardly seem necessary to make so many galaxies just so that life could arise on a single planet around a single star. But to me a more pointed observation is the existence of ”generations” of elementary particles. All of the ordinary matter in the universe seems to be made out of two types of quarks (up and down) and two types of leptons (electrons and electron neutrinos), as well as the various force-carrying particles. But this pattern of quarks and leptons is repeated threefold: the up and down quarks are joined by four more types, just as the electron and its neutrino are joined by two electron-type particles and two more neutrinos. As far as life is concerned, these particles are completely superfluous. All of the processes we observe in the everyday workings of the universe would go on in essentially the same way if those particles didn’t exist. Why do the constituents of nature exhibit this pointless duplication, if the laws of nature were constructed with life in mind?

    Moreover, the fine-tuning argument as it is commonly phrased falls under its own weight. “OK,” we say, “the cosmological parameters of the Universe were somehow carefully adjusted.” Then, the argument goes, there had to be a Fine Tuner. But the Fine Tuner does not — indeed, cannot — live within the Universe we know. Ergo, intelligence can exist in a realm which is not at all like our Universe. Yet the whole argument was based on the idea that all the peculiarities of our Universe are essential for intelligent life!

    If we maintain that the evidence for Christ must be at least as good as the evidence for Caesar, and that miracles must have at least equivalent medical benefits as medicine, and that the search for the Divine Watchmaker be at least as rigorous as that for neutrino oscillation, then we must conclude that no evidence in human history or the natural world points to a God of the Christian type.

  14. #14 JasonY
    February 6, 2007

    Victor Reppert,

    To me there is a boatload of evidence for theism, evidence from the existence of reason, the evidence of consciousness, the evidence of objective moral values, the evidence of man’s inherent desire for God, the evidence supporting Christ’s resurrection, the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament, the evidence for miracles in the present day, the evidence of the beginning of the universe, the evidence of the fine-tuning of the universe, the evidence of religious experience, the direct experience of God on our personal lives, etc. etc. etc.

    I don’t know why you think any of the items on your list are evidence for theism. What is the alleged “evidence of objective moral values,” for example? Describe it.

  15. #15 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    On a Bayesian model of evidence, something is evidence for God’s existence if it is more likely to be the case if God exists than if God does not exist. Let’s take consciousness. Evolution might be able to explain why conscious-appearing behavior might occur, but all of this behavior could take place without actual consciousness. Consciousness requires something it is like to be in that condition, and while my computer beats me in chess, it has no idea what it is like to win a chess game. If the cause of the universe is a being with literally conscious mental states, then it makes that this being can create creatures that are also conscious. If mindless matter is moving, then we might expect things that mimic conscious behavior, but not actual consciousness.

    Let’s take objective moral values. Why is there the degree of agreement that we have about fundamental ethical concepts. Take, for example, the issues related to abortion. Although there are deep differences between pro-choice and pro-life, both sides agree that life is valuable, even the life of the weak (who aren’t very fit from the point of view of evolution), and that the quality of life is important. In a godless world such an ethical code might evolve, but it might not. In a theistic world created by an ethical God the probability of its emergence is close to 1.

  16. #16 Chris Bell
    February 6, 2007

    Victor:

    FIRST PARAGRAPH: Here is your mistake. “Consciousness requires something it is like to be in that condition”

    Where do you get that from? It’s just not true. That is the power of evolution and related theories. They explain how consciousness DOES come from non-consciousness. To give the argument briefly, you would agree that some animals can see and react without being “conscious”. If they evolved the limited ability to ‘predict the future’ (to learn from the past, in other words), they would benefit. The model would be improved if they included themselves in it. In this way, consciousness (‘the awareness of self’) arises.

    SECOND PARAGRAPH: Here is your mistake. If A, then B does NOT mean if B, then A. You say “if God, then morals”. We have morals, so there is God.

    I would attribute our ‘common’ morals to our common genetics, as death and pain are disliked by all animals.

    How about this version of your argument. If there is a God, he would create ALL people to recognize morals. (Our morality would be even more unified than it is.) Since morality does very somewhat from person to person, there is no God. This is the classic, “If there is a God, why is there evil?” argument.

    If God, then unified morals. No unified morals; therefore, no God.

    I don’t think that is ‘evidence’ of anything since it is just a word game, but it proves just as much as your evidence.

    PS. You didn’t answer my two questions. :-( Could you please do so?

  17. #17 Blake Stacey
    February 6, 2007

    In a world where the bug-eyed monsters from Tau Ceti IV genetically engineered Homo sapiens as a food source, the probability of our exhibiting moral behavior is also close to 1, because the Tau Ceti monsters like their food weak and docile.

    Better get used to becoming an Earthlingburger soon, because lunchtime approaches and sometimes the children of Tau Ceti ask for seconds.

  18. #18 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    n a world where the bug-eyed monsters from Tau Ceti IV genetically engineered Homo sapiens as a food source, the probability of our exhibiting moral behavior is also close to 1, because the Tau Ceti monsters like their food weak and docile.

    Better get used to becoming an Earthlingburger soon, because lunchtime approaches and sometimes the children of Tau Ceti ask for seconds.

    VR: The question is whether there is evidence for theism. The question is not whether there is evidence for theism and nothing else.

  19. #19 Soren
    February 6, 2007

    “–both sides agree that life is valuable”

    Well that’s a simplification! Some people think all life is valuable. Some think only animal life is, some think only life that carries human genes is valuable, some think only people of their own race, nation, faith, or hockey team have value.

    And the abortion issue has people in all categories, and is as such really not an issue about the value of life.

    “–even the life of the weak (who aren’t very fit from the point of view of evolution)”

    Why are the weak not fit in point of evolution? Anyone who procreates is fit, in an evolutionary perspective. In fact if you are related to someone and your survival helps them survive and procreate, then there is an evolutionary advantage to you surviving, and the genes shared by you and your kind are thus fit.

    “–In a godless world such an ethical code might evolve, but it might not. In a theistic world created by an ethical God the probability of its emergence is close to 1.”

    If being kind to your neighbour is an evolutionary advantage more so than killing them on sight, then being kind is more likely to be selected for.

    On the other hand, you cannot just assume that being kind, is ethical in the eyes of an omnipotent god, thus you can only say that if morals are given by a god, then any set of morals might be supplied by it.

    Its the old question, if morals are moral by themselves, then your god has no choice but to supply them. If they are moral because your god wishes them to be, then it can decide that anything is moral. By proclamation, killing puppies, raping children, stealing, lying etc can become moral.

    /Soren

  20. #20 Blake Stacey
    February 6, 2007

    Evidence for “theism” (really, a narrow subset of all religious and theistic beliefs held throughout human history) does not count if it can equally well serve as evidence for something else.

  21. #21 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    Was Jesus born of a virgin? How do you know?

    VR: If I had the testimony of a trustworthy person to that effect, and the belief was consistent with what I otherwise think reasonable to believe.

    Did Muhammad fly into heaven on a winged horse? How do you know?

    VR: That would be antecedently improbable given my background beliefs. But if there is testimony for it from persons I thought reliable, then there would be evidence for that claim as well.

    Whether there is evidence for something is something I think we can ascertain objectively. Whether that evidence is convincing depends on subjective prior probabilities.

  22. #22 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    What is the evolutionary explanation for the existence of a physical universe? Why does it exist at all, rather than just nothing?

  23. #23 Chris Bell
    February 6, 2007

    Victor:

    The question is whether there is evidence for theism. The question is not whether there is evidence for theism and nothing else.

    True. But Blake’s point about the bugs was that the ‘evidence’ you gave for theism can be ‘evidence’ for anything.

    Evidence that proves anything really proves nothing at all.

  24. #24 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    First, the ‘evidence’ you give all doesn’t point to a God. “The existence of reason,” for example, doesn’t prove anything about God. It only shows that reason exists. Part of the reason the theory of Darwin is so powerful was that it gave a SIMPLE explanation for much of everyday life. Reason exists because it helps us survive. That is so much simpler (and verifiable) than ‘reason exists because God gave it to us.’ Monkeys, dogs, and elephants all have low-level reason. Squid and fish probably don’t. None of that proves anything to me about the existence of an all-powerful being who created the world. The same goes for the existence of morals.

    The existence of reason means that we are aware of logical and mathematical truths and are in a causal relation to those realities. That is what knowledge requires. So even if the existence of reason would be evolutionary advantageous, it requires a knowledge of objects that do not exist at particular places or times. How can finite beings such are ourselves know things that are not only true, but are true always and every, even in all possible worlds.

  25. #25 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    PS. I also add that the formation of the Mormon religion within documented time provides a fascinating look into how religions form out of bogus beliefs. I encourage you to read “Under the Banner of Heaven” and then question how this compares to Christianity.

    VR: Name me one event testified to in the Book of Mormon that is attested to by any source outside the Book of Mormon.

  26. #26 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    True. But Blake’s point about the bugs was that the ‘evidence’ you gave for theism can be ‘evidence’ for anything.

    Evidence that proves anything really proves nothing at all.

    It’s not evidence for anything, just those hypotheses that make it probable. We then have to select the most likely of those theories to accept, based on our prior probabilities.

  27. #27 David Heddle
    February 6, 2007

    Blake Stacy:

    (The one passage in Josephus which does glance upon Jesus breaks the flow of the surrounding prose, and scholars almost universally agree that it is the inclusion of a later, overly pious copyist, perhaps angered that Josephus’s history said nothing about Christ.)

    That’s an overstatement. There is mostly universal agreement that the statement about the resurrection attributed to Josephus was a redaction by misguided Christians. There is not universal agreement that the mere mention of Jesus was inserted. It is possible, some scholars believe, that a passing mention of Jesus by Josephus was embellished to include the resurrection reference. Please get your facts right.

    The gospels also disagree with the Old Testament, for example in the genealogies they present while tracing the ancestry of Jesus.

    No they don’t, and it is amazing that anyone still parrots such claims. This is yet another example of “the ancients were idiots” fallacy. It argues that the early church was so stupid they didn’t notice that the genealogies differed and made a correction. I won’t even bother telling you the trivial explanation–if you haven’t gone beyond repeating an easily disputed claim then you don’t deserve it.

    Furthermore, the evidence does not support the claim that human beings have “an inherent desire for God”. If we did, why so many thousands of different gods?

    Nor should it, given that the bible teaches exactly the opposite, namely that nobody seeks God, not one (Rom 3:11).

    If Sean Carrol wrote that (about the vastness of the universe), he is wrong. The baryon density, which is related to the vastness of the universe, is indeed one of the fine tune constants. Therefore the vastness of the universe is tightly connected to its habitability.

    Ergo, intelligence can exist in a realm which is not at all like our Universe. Yet the whole argument was based on the idea that all the peculiarities of our Universe are essential for intelligent life!

    Are you trying to write unsupportable crap? If anyone writes that the universe is fine-tuned for intelligent life they are clearly being sloppy. The universe is fine tuned, according to the actual cosmological ID argument rather than the caricature you presented, for life that requires heavy elements. It simply states that if you tweak, for example, the cosmological constant you get no stars, galaxies, and so no Carbon or Oxygen, etc.–ergo no life based on the necessity of those elements. It obviously does not claim that the fine tuner (God) must be carbon based.

  28. #28 Chris Bell
    February 6, 2007

    Victor:

    OK, if you want to define hearsay as evidence, then I will grant your point that there is “evidence” for God.

    But you admit that your definition is completely separate from the reliability of that evidence when you say, “Whether there is evidence for something is something I think we can ascertain objectively. Whether that evidence is convincing depends on subjective prior probabilities.”

    Again, under that standard, there can be evidence for nearly anything we can imagine. I think the more common understanding of “evidence” is something that bears more conclusive weight than that.

    Thousands of people saw Joseph Smith do miracles. They wrote about it, they followed him around, and they became Mormons. Why aren’t you Mormon? (Being more recent, their “evidence” is even more credible that 2,000 year old texts, isn’t it?)

  29. #29 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    IRST PARAGRAPH: Here is your mistake. “Consciousness requires something it is like to be in that condition”

    Where do you get that from? It’s just not true. That is the power of evolution and related theories. They explain how consciousness DOES come from non-consciousness. To give the argument briefly, you would agree that some animals can see and react without being “conscious”. If they evolved the limited ability to ‘predict the future’ (to learn from the past, in other words), they would benefit. The model would be improved if they included themselves in it. In this way, consciousness (‘the awareness of self’) arises.

    VR: Something we can program non-conscious computers to do. That is not what I mean by consciousness. If you say that what I mean by consciousness doesn’t exist, then I am going to say that you are telling something that I experience directly and immediately doesn’t exist, because it doesn’t fit in with a scientific model of the world. And all I am going to say to that is that that shows that science, as an understanding of the world, is incurably incomplete and far from infallible.

    Yes, our best science is wrong, and will always be wrong.

  30. #30 Blake Stacey
    February 6, 2007

    What is the evolutionary explanation for the existence of a physical universe? Why does it exist at all, rather than just nothing?

    1. Evolution is not all of science (just as “Darwin” is not all of biology, creationist complaints about “Darwinism” notwithstanding).

    2. If the tacit answer to this question is that God caused the physical universe to come about, I have to follow in the footsteps of all the five-year-olds who ask, “Who made God?” And if this question has no answer, perhaps because God is declared to be everlasting from ancient of days, then why can’t I say the same thing about the Universe? Shuffling the burden of “first cause” onto another being is not progress.

    3. What we have learned about the constitution of the physical Universe — its fundamental particles, the rules they follow and so forth — imply a definite task that any Universe-maker must have accomplished. No holy scripture in the world describes a being performing such a task; there is simply no connection between what you have to do to make a Universe and what the holy books sa the gods did.

  31. #31 Chris Bell
    February 6, 2007

    Victor: You wrote

    The existence of reason means that we are aware of logical and mathematical truths and are in a causal relation to those realities. That is what knowledge requires. So even if the existence of reason would be evolutionary advantageous, it requires a knowledge of objects that do not exist at particular places or times. How can finite beings such are ourselves know things that are not only true, but are true always and every, even in all possible worlds.

    I have read and reread this, but I still have trouble understanding exactly what it means. You say that we are “finite”. We are. Then you ask “How can finite beings such are ourselves know things that are not only true, but are true always and every, even in all possible worlds.”

    I don’t know what to say to that or what your point is. Is 2+2=4? Yes. Will 2+2 always =4? Yes. Why? Because 2+2 is defined to equal 4.

    You seem to imply somehow that this is evidence of God or denotes something mystical and extra-worldly about human reason. It doesn’t.

    I’m not sure what else to say. (“A is A” comes to mind.) Maybe if you spelled out this argument a little more I could better point out that leaps. That argument that there is a contradiction because we are “finite” while the things we know are “infinite” doesn’t make a lot of sense, as the definition of the word has changed between the two uses.

  32. #32 Sastra
    February 6, 2007

    McGrath:

    First, Christianity made a lot of sense. It gave me a new way of seeing and understanding the world, above all, the natural sciences. Second, I discovered Christianity actually worked: it brought purpose and dignity to life.

    If one approaches the existence of God or the truth of Christianity in the same way one would approach a science theory, then both of McGrath’s rationales make little sense. One can think of all sorts of “new ways of understanding the world” which are satisfying, but false. And the point on purpose and dignity has always seemed out of place to me.

    Does God exist or not? Depends on which view gives you more purpose and dignity. Big Bang or Steady State? Depends on which view gives more purpose and dignity to the world. Was the extinction of the dinosaurs primarily caused by a meteor or were other factors more important? Well, which view makes you feel more dignified, more purposeful? One could go on and on.

    G. Shelley’s comment, above, gets it basically right, I think, but I would not put it that the problem is “seeking Truth.” The problem is not seeking what’s true so much as finding what’s Comfortably Certain, an answer which will bring purpose and dignity to life, and make everything make sense.

    Bottom line, astrology offers personal meaning that cold astronomy can never provide. So?

  33. #33 Chris Bell
    February 6, 2007

    Victor – you wrote:

    If you say that what I mean by consciousness doesn’t exist, then I am going to say that you are telling something that I experience directly and immediately doesn’t exist, because it doesn’t fit in with a scientific model of the world. And all I am going to say to that is that that shows that science, as an understanding of the world, is incurably incomplete and far from infallible.

    That’s not what I said. I think there is consciousness. YOU said that consciousness CANNOT come from NON-consciousness.

    “Consciousness requires something it is like to be in that condition”

    That is the assumption in your argument above. It’s not true, and the argument falls apart after that. Darwin showed how consciousness can and does come from non-consciousness.

  34. #34 Blake Stacey
    February 6, 2007

    I know a finite number of things about the integers. For example, I know that I can start with an abstract object called “zero”. If I say that every “natural number” has a “successor” which is also a natural number, that no two natural numbers have the same successor, that zero is not the successor to any natural number, and that the idea of induction is valid, then I can build the Peano arithmetic of natural numbers. By writing down a finite list of ideas, I can prove theorems about the infinite set beginning 0, 1, 2, 3, . . .

    As Chris Bell said, we can’t make any progress if we change our definition of finite and infinite in the middle of an argument.

  35. #35 JasonY
    February 6, 2007

    Victor Reppert,

    Let’s take consciousness. …

    We don’t know why there is consciousness, but postulating a (conscious) creator God obviously does not help to answer that question. It just pushes the problem back a step.

    Let’s take objective moral values. Why is there the degree of agreement that we have about fundamental ethical concepts.

    Because we share the same biology, planet, and evolutionary history. Given that common nature and heritage, it would be surprising if human beings did not share a common set of moral instincts or intuitions. Of course, it’s also important not to overstate the level of agreement. Human societies exhibit an enormous diversity of ethics.

  36. #36 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    Let’s try.

    1) Acts of knowing are determined by the objects known. For example, my knowledge that there is a computer before me is caused by the fact that the computer is before me. If I know that A entails B, it is because the fact that A entails be causes me to believe that A entails B.

    2) Some people know that A entails B. (Otherwise science could not exist.)

    3) The fact that A entails be is something that is not true at a particular place or time, but is true everywhere, including all possible worlds.

    4) Therefore, a fact that is not true at any particular place and time causes me to believe that A entails B.

    5) If materialism is true, then I can only be affected by states of affairs that are true at particular places and times.

    Therefore, materialism is false.

    OK, we haven’t got to theism yet. There is absolute idealism, for example. But this argument, if successful, improves the probability of theism.

  37. #37 JasonY
    February 6, 2007

    Victor Reppert,

    “Was Jesus born of a virgin? How do you know?”VR: If I had the testimony of a trustworthy person to that effect, and the belief was consistent with what I otherwise think reasonable to believe.

    The belief is inconsistent with a mountain of scientific evidence regarding human reproductive biology. Why is it “reasonable” to hold a belief so strongly contradicted by science?

    What is the evolutionary explanation for the existence of a physical universe? Why does it exist at all, rather than just nothing?

    We don’t know. One could ask the same question about your God. The existence of the universe is known to us through our senses. The existence of God is not known to us at all.

  38. #38 Steven Carr
    February 6, 2007

    Victor writes
    3) The fact that A entails be is something that is not true at a particular place or time, but is true everywhere, including all possible worlds.

    ’5) If materialism is true, then I can only be affected by states of affairs that are true at particular places and times.’

    If a truth is true at all times and places , then it is true at the particular time and place were it can affect us.

    Victor thinks that the NT writers are reliable, therefore they can be trusted when they tell us that Mary’s hymen was intact after Jesus was ‘conceived’.

    I know Luke was supposed to be a doctor, but how did he determine that???

  39. #39 JasonY
    February 6, 2007

    Victor Reppert,

    1) Acts of knowing are determined by the objects known. For example, my knowledge that there is a computer before me is caused by the fact that the computer is before me. If I know that A entails B, it is because the fact that A entails be causes me to believe that A entails B. 2) Some people know that A entails B. (Otherwise science could not exist.)
    3) The fact that A entails be is something that is not true at a particular place or time, but is true everywhere, including all possible worlds. 4) Therefore, a fact that is not true at any particular place and time causes me to believe that A entails B. 5) If materialism is true, then I can only be affected by states of affairs that are true at particular places and times. Therefore, materialism is false.

    It’s hard to make sense of this argument at all. Your premise 1) is clearly false. Your knowledge that there is a computer before you is not “caused” by the fact that the computer is there. It is “caused” by the evidence of your senses. Without that evidence, you wouldn’t know that there is a computer before you.

  40. #40 Steven Carr
    February 6, 2007

    ’1) Acts of knowing are determined by the objects known. For example, my knowledge that there is a computer before me is caused by the fact that the computer is before me.’

    I think Jason is being a bit too picky on this.

    But it is nice to see Victor acknowledge that material objects can cause non-material effects.

    What would his hero , CS Lewis, have to say about that?

    To go back to McGrath, he writes ‘Dawkins can no more ‘prove’ the non-existence of God than anyone else can prove He does exist.’

    Perhaps that is why the God Delusion never states that Dawkins can prove the non-existence of God, and why Dawkins states in the book that McGrath is right on that point.

    Why McGrath thinks he has inflicted a mortal wound on his opponent, when he has only hit a shadow, is beyond me.

  41. #41 Steven Carr
    February 6, 2007

    ’1) Acts of knowing are determined by the objects known. For example, my knowledge that there is a computer before me is caused by the fact that the computer is before me.’

    I think Jason is being a bit too picky on this.

    But it is nice to see Victor acknowledge that material objects can cause non-material effects.

    What would his hero , CS Lewis, have to say about that?

    To go back to McGrath, he writes ‘Dawkins can no more ‘prove’ the non-existence of God than anyone else can prove He does exist.’

    Perhaps that is why the God Delusion never states that Dawkins can prove the non-existence of God, and why Dawkins states in the book that McGrath is right on that point.

    Why McGrath thinks he has inflicted a mortal wound on his opponent, when he has only hit a shadow, is beyond me.

  42. #42 Blake Stacey
    February 6, 2007

    McGrath:

    I gave up one belief, atheism, and embraced another, Christianity.

    I’m a little surprised nobody has harped on this yet. After all, according to High Priest Dawkins, this is equivalent to saying, “I gave up one hobby, not-stamp-collecting, and embraced another, collecting stamps from pre-Revolutionary America.” Or, alternatively, “I gave up one disease, health, and embraced another, epilepsy.”

  43. #43 Blake Stacey
    February 6, 2007

    Hey, we hit the #3 Most Active spot! Now, to consolidate this win — more flamage, everybody!

  44. #44 Jason Rosenhouse
    February 6, 2007

    Chris Bell-

    I do plan on getting back to the Harris/Sullivan debate, I’m just a little pressed for time this week.

    Victor Reppert-

    You wrote:

    I can’t figure out what atheists mean when they say there is a complete lack of evidence. To me there is a boatload of evidence for theism, evidence from the existence of reason, the evidence of consciousness, the evidence of objective moral values, the evidence of man’s inherent desire for God, the evidence supporting Christ’s resurrection, the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament, the evidence for miracles in the present day, the evidence of the beginning of the universe, the evidence of the fine-tuning of the universe, the evidence of religious experience, the direct experience of God on our personal lives, etc. etc. etc.

    I notice that other commenters have already laid into this remark, so I’ll just reply briefly. I’m afraid the examples you give simply aren’t evidence of the existence of the Christian God. You start with the existence of reason and consciousness. These emerge from physical processes in the brain, they say nothing at all about the existence of a higher power to the universe. Then you talk about objective moral values. I’ll accept for the purpose of this comment that there are objective moral values. Why must these values come from a supernatural source? In fact, to the extent that there are universally accepted moral values (say against murder and theft) they are far better explained as the result of evolution and simple pragmatism than as the result of religion. In fact, many moral strictures that derive from religion (prohibitions against homosexuality and abortion, treatment of women in Muslim countries, for example) are precisely the ones that are not universal.

    You then talk about man’s inherent desire for God. I have never felt that desire myself, but even accepting it for the sake of argument, what does it prove? Having a craving for something does not prove that the something exists. Then you come to the evidence of Christ’s resurrection and the reliability of the New Testament. I’m afraid this evidence, coming from various historical documents, is pretty thin gruel. The best you could get from such evidence is that the writers of those documents believed what they were saying. But considering that what they are saying is absurd on its face, we are entitled to better evidence than that. Many people have written accounts of supernatural events, but I suspect you, like everyone else, dismiss them as either mistaken or fraudulent. A 2000 year-old account of someone rising bodily from the dead is not something to be taken at face value.

    Next up is evidence for miracles. I am not aware of any such evidence that has survived scrutiny. The beginning of the universe? How is that evidence for God? Fine-tuning? That is more plausibly explained by some sort of multiverse theory. At the very least, you can’t give any argument for thinking God is a more likely explanation than the multiverse for fine tuning. Religious experience? The fact that such experiences only seem to manifest themselves when the brain is under sever stress, or in people who are already inclined to believe, I think there are simpler explanations.

    The fact is that you are not providing well-thought-out arguments for God’s existence. You are only rattling off talking points. Were I to stoop to this level, I could offer the following argument for atheism:

    &lduqo;It’s crazy when theists say it requires faith to be an atheist. Look at all the evidence! There is the evidence of evil, the evdience of religious conflict, the evidence from natural disasters, the evidence of mutually incompatible religious doctrines, the evidence of contradictions in the Bible, the evidence of relentless scientific progress, the evidence that religious faith declines as education goes up, the evidence of the increasing secularity of Europe, the evidence of theologians being wrong in every testable claim they have ever made about the natural world, the evidence of natural disasters, the evidence of the Holocaust, the evidence that Jesus Christ never existed, the evidence of known examples of moral depravity committed by the church, etc. etc. etc.”

    Are you impressed?

  45. #45 Blake Stacey
    February 6, 2007

    Jason Rosenhouse:

    Religious experience? The fact that such experiences only seem to manifest themselves when the brain is under sever stress, or in people who are already inclined to believe, I think there are simpler explanations.

    One might also note the troubling ability of chemical compounds — LSD, mescaline, psilocybin — to induce spiritual experiences. I feel like I’ve already written a blog comment about this. (Googles own name.) Aha!

    By itself, the discovery that a trigger in the physical world — a Bach fugue or a magic ‘shroom — can provoke a spiritual experience does not say very much about God. Think about it: if we were Intelligently Designed by a Designer who wanted His creations to “connect” with Him, then surely He would wire in a circuit for doing that. The spooky part comes when we find many natural triggers for spiritual events, all of which produce mystical transfigurations just as good as the old-time religion — i.e., indistinguishable both to the ‘shroom user and to outside bystanders. We can then study the origin of the mystical experience in a scientific way and propose theories for the origin of the “God circuit” which are entirely grounded in natural law.

    Daniel Dennett suggests one possibility in Breaking the Spell. Suppose you’re a hunter-gatherer, living in a nomadic clan community whose medical care is provided by a shaman. The people who can best be cured by the shaman’s arts stand a better chance of reproducing; ergo, susceptibility to shamanism gives an individual adaptive advantage. This isn’t just a psychological matter of credulity: if your brain can feel a strong placebo effect, the shaman can help you survive more diseases. Any genetic alteration which “hard-codes” this adaptation into your genome means a greater chance of success for you and your posterity.

    Now, consider the peacock’s-tail effect. A peahen discriminates between potential and non-potential mates by looking at their tails, so natural selection imposes the ability to detect a suitable tail, creating genes which wire a well-trained neural network into the peahen brain. But when this same neural network receives a grossly overblown stimulus, an amped-up version of the input it was trained to recognize, it responds with a frenzy of approval. Elaborate feather displays so overblown they even make the male bird’s life more difficult provoke an extremely favorable response in the female, and so these genes we would otherwise consider useless or even deleterious become widespread.

    It is difficult not to compare this with human society: for every typical anatomical difference between human men and women, you can find a culture which considers an extreme form of that difference a sign of beauty. (I first heard this observation in Desmond Morris’s The Human Sexes (1997), a documentary which aired rather late at night.) More deeply than that, however, what if the idea of a powerful sky-being is like the peacock’s tail to the mystical-response machinery we evolved over generations of shamanism?

    God is a high-heeled shoe, the hips of a Turkish belly dancer and the long neck of a Russian ballerina.

    It’s all speculation, of course, questions begging for answers, yet these are the kinds of speculations we will have to do with increasing frequency as we discover more electric and chemical means of provoking contact with divinity.

  46. #46 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    2. If the tacit answer to this question is that God caused the physical universe to come about, I have to follow in the footsteps of all the five-year-olds who ask, “Who made God?” And if this question has no answer, perhaps because God is declared to be everlasting from ancient of days, then why can’t I say the same thing about the universe.

    VR: Because the physical universe exists contingently, as is evidence by the fact that it had a temporal beginning. God is ex hypothesi a necessary being, who needs no cause.

  47. #47 Sastra
    February 6, 2007

    Victor Reppert wrote:

    2) Some people know that A entails B. (Otherwise science could not exist.)
    3) The fact that A entails B is something that is not true at a particular place or time, but is true everywhere, including all possible worlds.
    4) Therefore, a fact that is not true at any particular place and time causes me to believe that A entails B.

    What this argument seems to boil down to is that our ability to abstract general rules from natural particulars implies that there is some perfect abstract world outside of the natural world which allows us to do this — or, rather, makes us do this. From what I can tell, it’s a form of Platonism or Idealism. Abstractions are proof of God.

    I don’t think that follows at all. “A fact that is not true at any place or time CAUSES me to believe that A entails B” seems to reify abstractions, and act as if they are causes in the same way a rock falling on your head is the cause of your headache. I agree with others here, I think different meanings of the word “cause” are being confused.

    The fact that 1 added to 1 is 2 is simply stating a necessary relationship in a language without any ambiguity, in general terms. 1 and 1 don’t *cause* 2, and they don’t cause us to be aware of 2. Our recognition of relationships which we can express in abstract terms isn’t a case of spooky knowledge coming from outside the natural world. I do think this argument is rather strained.

  48. #48 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    I just want to emphasize that all I have been claiming is that there is some things that go into the mix as points counting in favor of theism. This is a claim, by the way, that I am willing to make with respect to atheism. The point of my “grab bag” argument was to argue against the claim “there is no evidence for theism” as opposed to the claim “there is sufficient evidence for theism”. All you need for evidence is just something which is slightly more likely to exist in a theistic universe than an atheistic universe. The probability of e/t is with respect to at least some e greater than the probability of e regardless of whether or not theism is true. You’ve put the hurdle very low that I have to step over.

  49. #49 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    I don’t think that follows at all. “A fact that is not true at any place or time CAUSES me to believe that A entails B” seems to reify abstractions, and act as if they are causes in the same way a rock falling on your head is the cause of your headache. I agree with others here, I think different meanings of the word “cause” are being confused.

    But this relation between abstracta has to be responsible for some state of my brain. this seems to violate the causal closure of physics principle. I come to believe that there no “God because of the evidence from the argument from evil.” That’s an abstract ground-consequent relationship causing a cause and effect relationship which produces a brain state. I’m sorry, but reification here is not a fallacy.

  50. #50 Jason
    February 6, 2007

    Victor Reppert,

    VR: Because the physical universe exists contingently, as is evidence by the fact that it had a temporal beginning. God is ex hypothesi a necessary being, who needs no cause.

    Either everything needs a cause, or not everything needs a cause. If the former, then God needs a cause. If the latter, then the universe may not need a cause. You haven’t solved the “problem” of the need for an uncaused First Cause by introducing the concept of God, you’ve just restated the problem in different terms.

  51. #51 Sastra
    February 6, 2007

    All you need for evidence is just something which is slightly more likely to exist in a theistic universe than an atheistic universe.

    The universe came from a universe-creating force. Reason comes from a reason force. Mind comes from a mind force. Love comes from a love force. Morals come from a moral force. Things come from a source force.

    Take everything we find complicated, or interesting, or pleasing, or important, and posit that it exists as an irreducible essence, and that’s where it came from. It’s the easiest answer of all, because it’s self-evident. It follows naturally — or, in this case, supernaturally.

    Draw a target around any X. An option that it was specifically put there by “an X-making thing which wanted it there” will always win brownie-points for “makes the existence of X more likely.” But there still seems to be something a little sneaking about it.

  52. #52 Victor Reppert
    February 6, 2007

    By the way, is there some kind of evidence that you would consider convincing, if God were to provide it? What would it look like? Is it your epistemology, or the state of the evidence, that insulates you from theism?

    Suppose evolutionists kept hitting and hitting and hitting a brick wall in explaining the bacterial flagellum. In other words, the gap keeps increasing instead of decreasing in size. Could anything along those lines show that the BF really does have an intelligent cause?

  53. #53 JasonY
    February 6, 2007

    Victor Reppert,

    By the way, is there some kind of evidence that you would consider convincing, if God were to provide it?

    If God exists, and wants us to believe he exists, why doesn’t he just instill in each of us the unshakable conviction that he exists, a conviction as strong and clear as our belief in our own existence?

  54. #54 Robert O'Brien
    February 6, 2007

    (The one passage in Josephus which does glance upon Jesus breaks the flow of the surrounding prose, and scholars almost universally agree that it is the inclusion of a later, overly pious copyist, perhaps angered that Josephus’s history said nothing about Christ.)

    That is false. Josephus had a perambulating style, like many ancient historians, and he refers to Jesus of Nazareth twice–in the so-called “Testimonium” and in Antiquities 20.9.1. The extant Greek version of the Testimonium has surely been redacted, but it most likely has an authentic nucleus (See Shlomo Pines’ book about the version from a Melkite Bishop and a quotation of Origen’s that are most likely more faithful to the original.) and only cranks dispute the other reference.

  55. #55 J. J. Ramsey
    February 6, 2007

    On the one hand …

    Blake Stacey: “(The one passage in Josephus which does glance upon Jesus breaks the flow of the surrounding prose, and scholars almost universally agree that it is the inclusion of a later, overly pious copyist, perhaps angered that Josephus’s history said nothing about Christ.)”

    Actually, there are two passages that “glance upon Jesus,” not one. The one you mentioned, Antiquities 18:63, is the Testimonium Flavianum, about which there is debate as to whether it is a real Josephan passage that has been tampered with or wholly forged, and Antiquities 20:200, which only briefly mentions Jesus as a way of identifying James and lacks the overtly pious tone that makes Testimonium Flavianum problematic. The latter passage is widely considered authentic.

    And on the other hand …

    “Is it your epistemology, or the state of the evidence, that insulates you from theism?”

    Evidence, definitely. The classical arguments for God have been pretty decisively refuted over the centuries, and as an anthology of historical documentation, the Bible is dodgy and its writers don’t have the credibility to justify belief in their bolder claims. Actual miracles seem just out of reach, and are the stories of friends of friends or rumors from another time and place.

  56. #56 Joseph Knecht
    February 6, 2007

    Blake Stacey:

    … I have to follow in the footsteps of all the five-year-olds who ask, “Who made God?” And if this question has no answer, perhaps because God is declared to be everlasting from ancient of days, then why can’t I say the same thing about the universe.

    VR: Because the physical universe exists contingently, as is evidence by the fact that it had a temporal beginning. God is ex hypothesi a necessary being, who needs no cause.

    Joseph: you are begging the question as to whether the concept of a necessary being even makes sense. This is not a settled matter. Moreover, you are begging the further question of whether something that has a temporal beginning is necessarily contingent. What is the relation that you believe exists between a temporal beginning and merely contingent existence?

    Personally, I don’t believe that the concept of a necessary being makes sense. It begs the question of existence by asserting existence as a predefined attribute. And what do we make of the ‘necessary being’ versions of Thor and the like: NThor, NZeus, NKrishna, NFSM, and so forth? “Necessary being” is just a conceptual gimmick that we can tack on the end of the list of attributes of any imaginary being.

    -joseph

  57. #57 Sastra
    February 6, 2007

    Victor Reppert wrote:

    By the way, is there some kind of evidence that you would consider convincing, if God were to provide it? What would it look like? Is it your epistemology, or the state of the evidence, that insulates you from theism?

    If paranormal claims such as ESP, psychokenesis, reincarnation, clairvoyance, psi power, vitalistic energy, or life after death were to meet high standards of scientific verification — replicable, demonstrable, reproducable — then this would certainly be strong evidence for the existence of the supernatural per se, and would make the existence of God much more plausible. Technically speaking, God is a disembodied mind which effects the world through psychokenesis. It’s a subset of a larger theory on the way reality works.

    This might not be convincing to you — or everyone — but I would personally find it highly significant.

  58. #58 itchy
    February 6, 2007

    Suppose evolutionists kept hitting and hitting and hitting a brick wall in explaining the bacterial flagellum. In other words, the gap keeps increasing instead of decreasing in size. Could anything along those lines show that the BF really does have an intelligent cause?

    If the emergence of bacterial flagella were the only evidence available in support of evolution, then, yes, this certainly would be a huge blow.

    But, of course, since the evidence for evolution is overwhelming and comes from myriad fields and continues to accumulate at an increasing rate, a specific case that is troubling would be viewed as a specific case that has an answer that is yet to be found.

    For example, the evidence for gravity is so overwhelming that, should we encounter a specific situation that is troubling — say ‘a descending elevator can produce an anti-gravity effect’ or ‘Farmer Jones says his wife floated 13 feet off the ground yesterday,’ we likely conclude (a) that it is a specific situation that does not undermine the general theory or that (b) it is a lie. To accept gravity, we need not prove that EVERY tree in EVERY forest falls when it is uprooted.

    We do not, however, possess that level of evidence for the existence of a god, so your analogy applies much better in that case.

    I’m surprised no one has taken this statement to task:

    In a godless world such an ethical code might evolve, but it might not. In a theistic world created by an ethical God the probability of its emergence is close to 1.

    This is not a mathematical statement. I can imagine all sorts of scenarios that beat your chances. For instance, ‘in a godless world where humans are destined to evolve an ethical code’ there is a probability of 1, which trumps your ‘close to 1.’

    I also can imagine a world created by an all-powerful god who clearly does NOT wish for humans to have an ethical code. In that world, the probability is zero. So any other explanation beats that one.

    Of course, you can play just as many games with your imagined scenarios, so the best we can do is a stalemate. That does not qualify as evidence.

  59. #59 Matt
    February 7, 2007

    Are you trying to write unsupportable crap? If anyone writes that the universe is fine-tuned for intelligent life they are clearly being sloppy. The universe is fine tuned, according to the actual cosmological ID argument rather than the caricature you presented, for life that requires heavy elements. It simply states that if you tweak, for example, the cosmological constant you get no stars, galaxies, and so no Carbon or Oxygen, etc.–ergo no life based on the necessity of those elements. It obviously does not claim that the fine tuner (God) must be carbon based.

    Can anyone make you laugh more than heddle? Just read the tone of his comments above. He is one angry dude. He complains about writing unsupportable crap and then follows it with his own unsupportable crap. No matter where he posts the thread will diminish in quality and increase in rudeness. All done with a loving spirit I presume.

  60. #60 Robert O'Brien
    February 7, 2007

    Can anyone make you laugh more than heddle? Just read the tone of his comments above. He is one angry dude. He complains about writing unsupportable crap and then follows it with his own unsupportable crap. No matter where he posts the thread will diminish in quality and increase in rudeness. All done with a loving spirit I presume.

    No.

  61. #61 Steven Carr
    February 7, 2007

    VICTOR REPPERT
    ‘But this relation between abstracta has to be responsible for some state of my brain. this seems to violate the causal closure of physics principle.’

    CARR
    No more than the idea that the laws of chess have some affect on what appears on the screen of a computer running Fritz.

    Victor, of course, claims that the laws of chess have no affect whatever on chess computers.

    And God clearly cannot be a necessary being.

    1) God is a necessary being and exists in all logically possible worlds.

    2) God is supposedly omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent

    3) Therefore , suppose a omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent being exists in all possible worlds

    4) Many logically possible worlds contain large amounts of suffering with no redeeming features.

    5) Therefore these logically possible worlds do not contain a being who would alleviate pointless suffering

    6) Therefore there are logically possible worlds that do not contain an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent being.

    7) But this contradicts 3, showing that there is no necessary omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent being

  62. #62 David Heddle
    February 7, 2007

    Matt,

    I’m not sure what you find objectionable about the tone of the blurb you quoted. I was responding to Blake Stacy who wrote an utterly juvenile criticism of cosmological ID, namely (paraphrasing) we assume that an intelligence outside our universe (true so far) created a fine-tuned universe (still OK) but that this creates some sort of trivial inconsistency because, quote, “the peculiarities of our Universe are essential for intelligent life!” This is an argument roughly the intellectual equivalent of an anti-evolutionist sating “if man descended from apes, how come there are still apes?” I pointed out that the actual definition of cosmological ID does not rule out an intelligence of some form than other that based on the availability of heavy elements, it only states that our universe is fine-tuned to support that type of life. That (merely a correct statement of the definition of CID) is absolutely supportable. Your assertion that I responded with my own unsupportable crap is demonstrably false, at least in this instance.

  63. #63 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    February 7, 2007

    I personally don’t care if Victor Reppert believes that there is evidence for his God, but I do wish he would learn to use HTML tags to set apart quotes from his own responses. I would suggest the blockquote and/or italic tags. that would be angle-bracket blockquote close-angle-bracket, or angle-bracket i close-angle-bracket.

    Thank you.

  64. #64 Matt
    February 7, 2007

    Well heddle I’m not going to get involved arguing ‘fine tuning’ it’s as unsupportable as Santa Claus and frankly unnecessary. His ‘juvenile’ critiscm is as good as what you are tossing in support of the idea. All you have is an assumption based on nothing supportable at all. It’s akin to saying a mud puddle is the shape it is because it was meant to be that way.

    But the rest of your post was what I was commenting on, your general condescention, your attitude with comments like these:

    ‘Are you trying to write unsupportable crap?’

    ‘I won’t even bother telling you the trivial explanation–if you haven’t gone beyond repeating an easily disputed claim then you don’t deserve it.’

    You use this flammable language everywhere which is why no one takes you seriously anywhere. And frankly it often demeans the conversation as a whole and ruins often productive threads. Which is a shame because although I think you are very wrong/irrational on just about everything I think you can contribute your thoughts.

    But this is the type of digression I’m talking about, I shouldn’t have commented it just seems to happen again and again everywhere. I apologize for wasting bandwidth.

  65. #65 radar pangaean
    February 7, 2007

    Two quotes:

    “Of course, back in the Sixties, everyone who mattered was telling us that religion was dead. I was an atheist then. Growing up as a Protestant in Northern Ireland…”

    and

    “For instance, Dawkins often compares belief in God to an infantile belief in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, saying it is something we should all outgrow. But the analogy is flawed. How many people do you know who started to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood?

    Many people discover God decades after they have ceased believing in the Tooth Fairy.”

    I think ‘re-discover’would be more appropriate in most cases. I doubt hat many people who were not indoctrinated in theistic views at an early, pre-cogntive phase of their life would be likely to ‘discover’ a belief in God in their adult life.

    The author admits that he was raised as a protestant. Like many people he claims to have been an atheist during the years of his life when many people rebel against their childhood upbringing, but also like many of them he then reverted to the a non-critical acceptance of his childhood beliefs as he aged.

    If a significant munber of adults still believed in Santa, many others would probably also feel free to maintain that belief into adulthood or come to accept it. Belief in God is still acceptable for adults in ways that belief in santa doesn’t share. What this man claims as support for his later ‘enlightenment’ looks more to me as just another example of someone who can’t get past their childhood brain-washing, even though they rebelled against it for a few years during their adolescence.

  66. #66 David Heddle
    February 7, 2007

    Matt,

    His ‘juvenile’ critiscm is as good as what you are tossing in support of the idea.

    I’m not surprised that you’ve engaged in a bait and switch. I offered no support of cosmological ID in this thread, I only clarified its definition, which is obviously quite different.

    But the rest of your post was what I was commenting on

    If you were actually complaining not about the part of my post you quoted, but the rest of it which you didn’t quote–well how am I supposed to know that?

    As for Jesus’ genealogies being different, I’m not going to address that ad infinitum any more that you would want to address the “what good is half an eye?” question every time it rears its ugly head. People should do some homework rather than smugly parrot. It would take only the simplest of efforts to find the standard explanation for the genealogy “problem.” Now, you (or Blake) are obviously free to dispute the explanation, but to treat the mere statement of the two genealogies as some sort of show-stopper is a sign of laziness. As I said, it implies that the early church leaders would read Blake’s post and say: “Do’h! I never noticed that!”

    As for nobody taking me seriously, I don’t think that’s true. But it might be.

  67. #67 MarkG
    February 7, 2007

    I second that, Mustafa.

    Victor, if HTML scares you, then at least quote like this:

    Victor said: “blah, blah, blah”

    There is no excuse for not doing so.

  68. #68 Blake Stacey
    February 7, 2007

    I am not a very original person. You may find just about everything I say somewhere else, for example in Theodore Drange’s The Fine-Tuning Argument (1998).

    One point that should be made is that although we may be able to show that life as we know it could not possibly exist in any of the alternate universes, there is no proof that other forms of life with mind or intelligence could not exist. In fact, theists themselves believe that since God existed prior to our universe, it is thus possible for a life form with mind or intelligence to exist apart from the physical constants of our particular universe. Therefore, they should concede the possibility that some other combination of physical constants could, over time, produce a universe that contains mind or intelligence, even if it is in a form quite different from any life that exists on our planet. [George] Schlesinger’s claim that only the particular combination of physical constants in our universe is of a special kind is totally unsupported. There is no reason whatever to believe it.

    Posted without further comment.

  69. #69 itchy
    February 7, 2007

    For the record, David, I disagree with almost all of your broader conclusions, but I have no problem with your tone. To visit and comment on a blog where your position is far outnumbered must be frustrating. I know I would have a hard time holding my temper if I did the same. I expect a few small breakdowns in civility along the way from both sides, and I think there was more condescension aimed at you than emanating from you. But I’m not keeping score.

    Maybe some of the complaints are left over from previous discussions, but I don’t see a big problem with this one.

  70. #70 Gatsby Blastyn
    February 7, 2007

    Can anyone make you laugh more than heddle? Just read the tone of his comments above. He is one angry dude. He complains about writing unsupportable crap and then follows it with his own unsupportable crap. No matter where he posts the thread will diminish in quality and increase in rudeness. All done with a loving spirit I presume.

    Matt,
    Do you have a problem in addressing his points? Or do you prefer to critique his tone? ‘Unsupportable crap’ (X2)…. and Matt is consider about others’ tones. How precious.

  71. #71 Robert O'Brien
    February 7, 2007

    You use this flammable language everywhere which is why no one takes you seriously anywhere.

    I take David Heddle seriously. You might keep that in mind the next time you want to invoke pluralis majestatis.

  72. #72 Gatsby Blastyn
    February 7, 2007

    David,
    There’s no reason to have to address Matt.
    He is not offering anything more than double standards regarding rules of conduct, and irrelevant whines about the tones people are using.
    Matt doesn’t seem interested in actually discussing any of this; because he has nothing intelligent to offer; but, since he is so emotionally wedded to his philosophy he attacks traits and behaviors of those he is in disagreement with.

  73. #73 Gatsby Blastyn
    February 7, 2007

    You use this flammable language everywhere which is why no one takes you seriously anywhere.

    And the cry of desperation echoes throughout the forum.

  74. #74 David Heddle
    February 7, 2007

    Blake,

    The problem with that statement you quoted is that it has no science to support it. Now, neither does the statement “God exists outside our universe.” But that is not intended to be a scientific statement. The criticism that fine-tuning only addresses the issue of “life as we know it” is not meant to invoke the supernatural, but rather it is a claim that the universes that arise if we tweak the constants might, through natural processes, produce another kind of life. It is the argument, not that fine-tuning is wrong, but that fine-tuning is chauvinistic.

    However, that argument does not really stand up to scientific scrutiny. For example, tweak the constants so that the universe expands faster and you get a universe with only hydrogen and helium gas, no galaxies, no stars, no planets. Is it really scientific to say that such a universe might produce some kind of life that we can’t imagine? Given the laws of physics and chemistry and a very modest assumption that any kind of life requires molecules that can store information, I’d say it’s not. For anyone who disagrees, the onus is on them to give some scientific basis for life based on hydrogen and helium. We can even do the experiment: a lot of our universe does look like that, and we can direct SETI to point their receivers at intergalactic space rather than at regions of high density.

  75. #75 joseph knecht
    February 7, 2007

    McGrath:

    For instance, Dawkins often compares belief in God to an infantile belief in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, saying it is something we should all outgrow. But the analogy is flawed. How many people do you know who started to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood?

    Many people discover God decades after they have ceased believing in the Tooth Fairy.”

    radar pangaean:

    I think ‘re-discover’would be more appropriate in most cases. I doubt hat many people who were not indoctrinated in theistic views at an early, pre-cogntive phase of their life would be likely to ‘discover’ a belief in God in their adult life.

    Me:

    I don’t necessarily think it true that not many find God later in life for the first time. Belief in God can be an incredibly comforting thing in extreme times. Your wife left you, your life seems meaningless, your mother died…, at times like this, relying on an imaginary all-powerful father figure could have real (psychological) benefit. It is clear from reading about people finding God that is sometimes the case. There have also, unfortunately, been plenty of people who were converted from indigenous cultures to Christianity later in life where there was no pre-existing God belief.

    At any rate, I don’t think that’s the right approach to take to answer McGrath’s point. He is saying that because believing in Santa Claus is not in every respect isomorphic to believing in God, the analogy is false.

    However, for an analogy to be instructive, the two things do not need to be identical in every respect, only in the relevant respects. The relevant respect in this case is “belief in an imaginary being on no other basis than the word of other people.” Onset of erroneous belief is in no way relevant to the analogy, so the fact that it differs is irrelevant.

  76. #76 Gatsby Blastyn
    February 7, 2007

    I second that, Mustafa.

    Victor, if HTML scares you, then at least quote like this:

    Victor said: “blah, blah, blah”

    There is no excuse for not doing so.

    “scares you” “No excuse”????
    Ha, there’s a melodramatic response for everything on this board.
    Don’t worry MarkG, it will be okay.
    Chewin’ more scenery than Bette Midler.

  77. #77 Gatsby Blastyn
    February 7, 2007

    Your wife left you, your life seems meaningless, your mother died…, at times like this, relying on an imaginary all-powerful father figure could have real (psychological) benefit. It is clear from reading about people finding God that is sometimes the case.

    Why the search for meaningfulness? That’s an odd thing to look for in a universe that is inherently meaningless.

    Also, it has to be more than that.
    When you lose a loved one (and I’ve lost many) you’re looking for truth, you’re not looking to be deluded.
    If I was looking for something to soften the blow I would have turned to drug use, after my mom died.
    Hell, I can easily lie to myself and make up any story I wish to be true. The problem is convincing yourself of that when you’re in your bed at night struggling with all of these issues. It’s hard to delude yourself than you think.
    You’re assumption is too simplistic and it assumes that those you are observing are less rational than you.

  78. #78 Jason Rosenhouse
    February 7, 2007

    This post has received 77 comments in two days and we’re only the third most active thread? Damn you P.Z. Myers!

  79. #79 joseph knecht
    February 7, 2007

    Why the search for meaningfulness? That’s an odd thing to look for in a universe that is inherently meaningless.

    Yes, it is an an odd thing. People sometimes do odd things, some people more than others. Not everybody in the world I live in behaves rationally all the time.

    Also, it has to be more than that.

    Well, I didn’t say this is the only explanation, only that it does sometimes happen.

    When you lose a loved one (and I’ve lost many) you’re looking for truth, you’re not looking to be deluded.

    You’re trying to argue this as a sweeping generalization for all people? I was merely stating that the assertion that somebody coming to believe in God for the first time as an adult is not an absurdity and not that incredibly rare.

    On the topic of grief and moments of intense existential pain, I’d argue that some people are looking for comfort and a way out of pain, and that they value that over the truth. Do you really believe that nobody ever has wanted to be comforted more than they have wanted the truth?

  80. #80 Blake Stacey
    February 7, 2007

    Jason Rosenhouse:

    This post has received 77 comments in two days and we’re only the third most active thread? Damn you P.Z. Myers!

    You know, sometimes complaining does solve the problem. ;-)

  81. #81 Blake Stacey
    February 7, 2007

    joseph knecht:

    On the topic of grief and moments of intense existential pain, I’d argue that some people are looking for comfort and a way out of pain, and that they value that over the truth. Do you really believe that nobody ever has wanted to be comforted more than they have wanted the truth?

    . . . or that intense emotion interfered with the cognitive faculties?

  82. #82 Pierce R. Butler
    February 7, 2007

    McGrath offered up another, longer screed against Dawkins at http://alternet.org/mediaculture/47052/ on January 26, ’07.

    It’s a textbook exercise in poor thinking, and adds up to little more than, “Dawkins is a poopyhead, therefore God exists.” Of the 483 comments appended, almost all seem to be negative. (Does that tally prove McGrath is wrong? Only if you accept the logic that popular support of religion is evidence for validity of religion – which is a central point in McGrath’s reasoning…)

  83. #83 JasonY
    February 7, 2007

    David Heddle,

    I think the anthropic principle effectively rebuts the fine-tuning argument, but even if we ignore that your argument doesn’t make any sense. We’re not in a position to draw any conclusions about the probability of life arising in a universe with different fundamental constants because we simply don’t know enough to make any reliable predictions about the relevant properties of such a universe. For your argument to work, you would have to show that most or all other combinations of fundamental constants would be incapable of producing, or at least be very unlikely to produce, a universe in which the types of processes and information-bearing structures presumed to be necessary for life could arise.

  84. #84 David Heddle
    February 7, 2007

    JasonY,

    The fine-tuning argument and the anthropic principle (as I think you mean it) are effectively the same. The term “fine-tuning” is usually used by those who favor cosmological ID, because it carries with it the connotation of a tuner. However, the anthropic principle is based on the same idea, that a slight change will render the universe uninhabitable (for any kind of life based on heavy elements). That is why Weinberg, using the anthropic principle, predicted a small cosmological constant. Someone who claimed to be a cosmological IDer could have made the exact same prediction, and called it a fine-tuning prediction. In either case it is an interesting but scientifically impotent argument, and not really a prediction in the usual scientific sense, because it leaves us with the unanswered question of the cause: a fine tuner or a vast sample of universes from which to draw? Neither is favored or ruled out by the observation–which really amounts to “we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t so.”

    What is effectively ruled out, regardless of whether you call it fine tuning or the anthropic principle, is that there is just one universe that happened to get it right. Unless you can with science, and not science fiction, make a case for life in a universe that expanded faster( no heavy elements) or slower (something like a giant neutron star.)

  85. #85 JasonY
    February 7, 2007

    I’m not claiming that the anthropic principle is a scientific theory. It is a rational rebuttal of the fine-tuning argument for the existence of a creator God. We observe the universe to have constants that allow for our existence because if it were not so we wouldn’t be here to make the observation. We cannot conclude that the existence of such a universe is unlikely because we don’t know why the constants have the values they do or how many other universes there are, or have been in the past, with different values.

  86. #86 David Heddle
    February 7, 2007

    That’s one way of stating the AP, but clearly in practice it hasn’t worked out in such a neutral manner. If Weinberg’s argument “what does the cosmological have to be in order for use to be here?” resulted in a cc that was even remotely close to what theory predicted, instead of one that was 80-120 orders of magnitude smaller, then I’d agree with you. But the actual value as predicted by the AP is so stunning that, even though it was the result of the AP, it has been dubbed by non-IDer Krauss as the “worst fine-tuning problem in physics.” Furthermore, it is at least partially responsible for the motivation to study multiverse theories, as Susskind admits. Thus, with the slight acknowledgment that the fine tuning arguments and the AP could have turned out to be different (in which case the fine tuning argument would have been dead) they, in effect, are now saying virtually the same thing.

  87. #87 Gatsby Blastyn
    February 7, 2007

    We cannot conclude that the existence of such a universe is unlikely because we don’t know why the constants have the values they do or how many other universes there are, or have been in the past, with different values.

    But we do know how unlikely it is in this one… the only observable one, the only one we are certain that currently exists, the only one that we are certain ever did exist.
    What mechanism creates the universe making machine that toggles the laws and constants to produce this wide array of universes? Why does that mechanism follow the laws it does?

    Yes, we can conclude such a universe is unlikely. Because even if you argue for some fundamental symmetry that was broke in which all of these laws are derived from…. you still need to explain the existence of this symmetry; and why is life inherent to it.

  88. #88 JasonY
    February 7, 2007

    Gatsby,

    But we do know how unlikely it is in this one… the only observable one, the only one we are certain that currently exists, the only one that we are certain ever did exist.

    No we don’t. How do we know the probability of the basic constants of nature having the values they do?

    What mechanism creates the universe making machine that toggles the laws and constants to produce this wide array of universes?

    We don’t know. What mechanism creates God? You aren’t solving any supposed problem of first causes by postulating a creator God, you’re just moving the problem back a step.

  89. #89 JasonY
    February 7, 2007

    David Heddle,

    If Weinberg’s argument “what does the cosmological have to be in order for use to be here?” resulted in a cc that was even remotely close to what theory predicted, instead of one that was 80-120 orders of magnitude smaller, then I’d agree with you. But the actual value as predicted by the AP is so stunning that, even though it was the result of the AP, it has been dubbed by non-IDer Krauss as the “worst fine-tuning problem in physics.”

    I don’t understand your argument here at all. We don’t know why the CC has the value it does. We don’t know the probability of it having the value it does rather than some other value. Even if the value is random, one of a vast number of equally likely values, we don’t know how many other universes there are, or have been, with different values, so we have no reason to believe the CC was finely tuned.

  90. #90 David Heddle
    February 7, 2007

    This will be my last comment on this thread, as the discussion turns to probability, I’ll repeat a claim that I have made here and elsewhere: the fine-tuning/cosmological ID argument is not based on improbability, even though it is often expressed that way. It is based on sensitivity. As many have correctly pointed out, there is no way to calculate the probability of various constants. The fact that many find striking (regardless of their ID position) is that if you change the values by a small amounts, the universe goes to hell, so to speak.

    It’s tempting, but not correct, to relate this to improbability. However, at least in my opinion, almost the opposite is true. The more unlikely the constants, the more they appear to come from a random draw, then the more indirect credibility (again, this is my opinion) for non-ID explanations, such as the super string landscape.

    The best thing that could ever happen for cosmological ID is a fundamental theory that predicts the values of the constants. In that case, they would not be improbable but, on the contrary, have a probability of unity. That would mean, given life’s sensitivity to their values, that habitability was built, in the form of those laws explaining the constants, into the very fabric of the universe. That (in my opinion) would be an enormous bit of circumstantial evidence in favor of cosmological ID.

    I don’t know how many other Cosmo-IDers share this counter-intuitive view, or how many non-IDers who are willing to argue unemotionally (are there any?) would concede that it makes sense, but there you have it.

  91. #91 Victor Reppert
    February 7, 2007

    I must admit that I have been somewhat remiss in failing to tag my comments and distinguish them from others. Trying to respond to a bunch of people at once is my lame excuse for my failures in that regard. I apologize for whatever confusion this might have caused.

  92. #92 Rob
    February 7, 2007

    “To me it makes no sense to say that a world notable mostly for its mind-numbing quanitites [sic] of suffering, pain and death, both in the human world and in nature, is nonetheless superintended by an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.”

    Really? In an atheist world there is no law giver, thus no objective right or wrong. An atheist is being inconsistent with his/her worldview to assert ANYTHING is morally right or morally wrong. To do so is to appeal to a law giver that the atheist defines almost certainly out of existence.

    You would be consistent if you were to say “I don’t like this or that”, or “my preference is that we behave like this of that” but at the end of the day you are left with just opinions and preferences.

    Some people prefer to love their enemies; other prefer to eat their enemies. For an atheist who cannot appeal to an objective moral law, which one is right?

    On the other hand, if God does exist, right and wrong flow (as Christians believe) from His very nature. QED.

  93. #93 Pseudonym
    February 7, 2007

    Rob, moral philosophy is a fairly well-developed field of human endeavour. I suggest you read up a bit on that before asserting nonsense like this:

    An atheist is being inconsistent with his/her worldview to assert ANYTHING is morally right or morally wrong.

    The view of Christian moral philosophy that you paint is, as you would have found out had you actually asked a mainstream Christian moral philosopher, also deeply wrong on several levels. But more to the point, it begs the question. Your hypothetical supernatural law-giver is no more objective than someone else’s hypothetical human law-giver.

    Mohammed was a law-giver, and while his code of laws was certainly a vast improvement over the barbarism that existed on the Arabian Peninsula before him, I respectfully disagree with some of his laws (though I wholeheartedly support the legacy of his jurisprudence).

    Even if you could present me with an objective supernatural law-giver that we could agree existed, and handed out consistent laws, those laws would still be testable by the tools of moral philosophy, and we could still make statements, and possibly disagree, about the merit of those laws.

  94. #94 Logically Speaking
    February 8, 2007

    Of course, you’re all missing the fundamental point that even IF there was evidence to suggest that God exists, there is still absolutely no reason to subscribe to any religion. Supposing there is convincing evidence that our Universe has a creator, on what grounds or rationale do you subscribe a sex to this creator (“He”)? On what grounds do you believe that this creator wants you to spend an hour of every day in a church? Regardless of evidence for the existence of God, religion is irrational.

    [quote]
    Really? In an atheist world there is no law giver, thus no objective right or wrong. An atheist is being inconsistent with his/her worldview to assert ANYTHING is morally right or morally wrong. To do so is to appeal to a law giver that the atheist defines almost certainly out of existence.

    On the other hand, if God does exist, right and wrong flow (as Christians believe) from His very nature. QED.
    [/quote]

    True, but we’re entirely incapable of knowing God’s will, so that point is moot. Even more so, you’re assuming that God has some sense of right and wrong. You might have your beliefs about God’s idea of good and evil, but in the end, they’re nothing more than the atheist version of “this is what I like”.

    Reason, logic and a few basic axioms (such as “I like being alive”) provide morals, nothing else.

  95. #95 itchy
    February 9, 2007

    Of course you’re correct, Logically Speaking. I think most commenters are aware of that.

    It’s one thing to posit the existence of a god, creator, designer or whatever. It’s an entirely different thing to purport to know anything about the wishes (if any) of this being.

    When Dawkins is accused of being arrogant in his assumptions by men like Dobson, it is nothing compared to the arrogance that religious people show in not only assuming the existence of a god but of knowing the god’s intentions.

  96. #96 Zelc
    February 14, 2007

    I want to comment on Victor’s arguments from probability. Earlier, Victor claimed that “On a Bayesian model of evidence, something is evidence for God’s existence if it is more likely to be the case if God exists than if God does not exist.” This argument does not work. Let’s use the example of consciousness.

    I’m going to use the following symbols:
    P(C) is the probability of consciousness existing.
    P(G) is the probability of God existing.
    P(A) is the probability that God doesn’t exist.
    P(C|G) is the probability that consciousness exists given that God exists.
    P(C|A) is the probability that consciousness exists given that God doesn’t exist.

    Now, we can write P(C) = P(C|G) * P(G) + P(C|A) * P(A)

    In other words, the total probability of consciousness existing is equal to the sum of the following:
    a) The probability that consciousness exists given God exists multiplied by the probability that God exists.
    b) The probability that consciousness exists given God doesn’t exist multiplied by the probability that God doesn’t exist.

    I think Victor wants to set P(C|G) as 1, or very close to it. Additionally, Victor thinks P(C|A) is significantly (in the statistical sense) less than P(C|G). So, we have the following equation:

    P(C) = 1 * P(G) + P(C|A) * P(A)

    And here we run into a problem. Let’s suppose P(C) is significantly less than 1. Then it means that P(C|A) is closer to P(C) since P(C|G) is or is very close to 1. In other words, if the probability that consciousness would exist in the world is less than 1, then a theory that has the probability of it existing at less than 1 is better than a theory that the probability of it existing is 1.

    So, the obvious way around this would be to set P(C) = 1. Now we have 1 = 1 * P(G) + P(C|A) * P(A).

    Unfortunately, this leads us into another problem. P(G) and P(A) correspond with our estimations of how likely God exists or doesn’t exist before we test our theory with consciousness. We can say that they should start roughly equal; or we can set them to 1/2. The problem is that the resulting equation is false:

    1 = 1 * 1/2 + P(C|A) * 1/2

    No matter what value you plug into P(C|A), the right side of the equation will not equal 1. The best you can do is plug in P(C|A) = 1, in which case the right side will equal 3/4. So that’s not right.

    Now, we could make the right side of the equation get very close to 1 by simply setting P(G) as close to 1. In other words, we’d end up with the following equation:

    1 = 1 * .99 + P(C|A) * (1 – .99)

    Now the right side of the equation can get pretty close to 1 no matter what P(C|A) is. But doing this gives us a different problem. In order to make the equation correct, we’ve simply ended up assuming that God is very likely to exist before we test our theories. In other words, we’ve just begged the question. So that doesn’t work.

    Indeed, the only way the equation comes out without begging the question would be to set both P(C|A) and P(C|G) as very close to 1, which doesn’t support Victor’s argument. We could also introduce another factor into the right side of the equation, but that produces two problems. First, G and A seem to exhaust the sample space. Second, in order to make the equation come out right, either P(Other) or P(C|Other) would need to be high, and it would provide competition for P(G) or P(C|G). Thus, the “Bayesian” approach to consciousness proving God is flawed.

  97. #97 Zelc
    February 14, 2007

    Urr, whoops. I made a mistake when I typed: “No matter what value you plug into P(C|A), the right side of the equation will not equal 1. [b]The best you can do is plug in P(C|A) = 1, in which case the right side will equal 3/4.[/b] So that’s not right.”

    That’s a typo. If you plug in P(C|A) = 1 (or close to 1), then the right side will equal 1 (or close to 1). However, the problem is we’ve just assumed that consciousness will certainly (or have a very high chance of) arising, in which case the existence of consciousness isn’t evidence of God’s existence over no God’s existence.

  98. #98 MartinM
    February 14, 2007

    In other words, if the probability that consciousness would exist in the world is less than 1, then a theory that has the probability of it existing at less than 1 is better than a theory that the probability of it existing is 1.

    No, it isn’t. P(C) is a statement about the set of all possible models, whereas P(C|A) and P(C|G) refer to what ought to be observed under specific models. One can’t directly compare them. One has to look at what’s actually observed, not what might have been observed in a different Universe. Victor’s statement that “On a Bayesian model of evidence, something is evidence for God’s existence if it is more likely to be the case if God exists than if God does not exist” is correct. The flaw in his argument is the one Sastra identified; there’s a difference between prediction and retrodiction.

  99. #99 Ryan Blood
    February 14, 2007

    Ultimately noone denies that you can logically believe in God and logically not believe in God. Anyone claiming otherwise is attacking the intelligence of far too many people to be fair or relevant. The characterization of atheists that theists believe in God for no reason is ludicrous however and I dont think there are any serious atheist philosophers who hold to that view. Whether atheists like it or not the big bang and the universes fine-tuning are very remarkable and very hard to explain naturalistically. Ultimately however atheists (and theists) can convince themselves of just about anything. Just as some Christians believe the universe is 6000 years old some atheists (such as that funny director Brian Flemming) will try to argue that Christ never existed, a view which is in direct opposition to almost all historians and scholars (religious or otherwise)

  100. #100 Zelc
    February 14, 2007

    “No, it isn’t. P(C) is a statement about the set of all possible models, whereas P(C|A) and P(C|G) refer to what ought to be observed under specific models. One can’t directly compare them. One has to look at what’s actually observed, not what might have been observed in a different Universe.”

    Hmm… good point. So maybe that doesn’t work. Still, I’d like to add that it’s tough to set P(C) as close to 1 based on the evidence. All we have is a single sample or data point (this world), and we don’t really know how likely it is for consciousness to exist. On the other hand, if we take the probability of consciousness to exist in a given species, planet, or time frame, it would probably be extremely low.

  101. #101 JasonY
    February 14, 2007

    Ryan Blood,

    The fine-tuning argument rests on the assumption that various fundamental constants of nature are unlikely to have the values we observe them to have by chance (and hence are likely to have been finely-tuned by an intelligent agent). But you have no evidence to support that assumption. The values may be necessary rather than contingent. Or our universe may be one of a vast number of universes, each with a different set of randomly-determined values. Only in those universes in which the values allow for intelligent life to arise would anyone be around to ponder the question.

  102. #102 MartinM
    February 14, 2007

    Still, I’d like to add that it’s tough to set P(C) as close to 1 based on the evidence

    That’s generally true when applying Bayesian methods; the probability of the observed data, independent of any given model, is usually impossible (or at least insanely difficult) to calculate. Fortunately, it’s not necessary. What really interests us is how that data informs us about specific models; in this case, we want to know about P(A|C) and P(G|C). By taking the ratio of these two terms, we can eliminate P(C) altogether.

  103. #103 Zelc
    February 14, 2007

    “By taking the ratio of these two terms, we can eliminate P(C) altogether.”
    I’m not sure what you mean by that.

    By the way, how do you make those cool quote thingies?

  104. #104 EdwardTBabinski
    February 15, 2007

    Perhaps Vic hasn’t gotten to the point of fully acknowledging that there are philosophers who argue that “theism” employs arguments that are equally as “circular” as the ones he finds so unsatisfactory in “naturalism” (especially whenever arguments about huge abstractions are analyzed in a strictly philosophical fashion).

    So maybe philosophy itself has its limits (whether they be “natural” philosophical limits or “supernatural” philosophical limits is yet another matter for theistic and nontheistic philosophers to argue over ad infinitum).

    I do know however that philosophy is such a flexible mode of “explaining big abstract questions” that even Christian philosophers are on multiple sides of the brain-mind question:

    http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/religion/cs_lewis_dualism.html

  105. #105 Badger3k
    February 15, 2007

    Ryan Blood “Just as some Christians believe the universe is 6000 years old some atheists (such as that funny director Brian Flemming) will try to argue that Christ never existed, a view which is in direct opposition to almost all historians and scholars (religious or otherwise)”

    I wish I had more time to keep up with this, but I’ll try to get back here some day, but a comment on this passage. Considering that Yeshua was deemed a real person (and more) for thousands of years, it would be rather strange if many people all of a sudden said “Hey, everything I learned as a kid is wrong, and he doesn’t exist”. When people look at the actual (lack of) evidence, it isn’t too hard to see that it was entirely possilbe that there was no historical Jesus. An appeal to numbers (or popularity) isn’t a good thing, especially if the actual evidence is weak or non-existent. Too many people approach the question with the basic idea that he existed, rather than approach the problem as “which is more probable or likely, given what we have and what we can infer from that?”

    Re – fine tuning arguments. If you want to use those, please show evidence that some form of life is not possible with other constants (note – this means more than just carbon-based, dna-based, earth organisms). Unless we can show that other forms of life aren’t possible, then how can we say life couldn’t evolve (or be created – hah hah) with some other constants (et al). Of course, that still leaves the problem of whether or not the constants can indeed be anything different (as others addressed), or if there was something “before” this universe we know (I know the problems since time started with the Big Bang, so before is a useless term/question anyway).

    As an aside, having finished Nicholas Everitt’s “The Non-Existence of God”, I think it should be recommended for further reading into philosophy (and a response to some of these arguments I saw here).

  106. #106 Kevin Brown
    February 17, 2007

    Greetings All: I’ve enjoyed reading this thread and as much as I wish I could contribute to the discussion in a meaningful and oringinal way, I cannot. So in an attempt to add something of value, I respectufully request those with interest in the question of The Anthropic Principle to read Dr. Victor J. Stenger’s paper at http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/Cosmo/ant_encyc.pdf
    Best Regards

  107. #107 Kevin Brown
    February 18, 2007

    [quote]>I respectufully request those with interest in the question of The Anthropic Principle to read Dr. Victor J. Stenger’s paper<[/quote]
    ********************************
    Upon further consideration, I would like to rephrase the above by replacing “to read” with “consider reading”. Thanks for your understanding.

  108. #108 Kevin Brown
    February 18, 2007

    Blake Stacey wrote
    [quote]The Jewish historian Josephus described John the Baptist in a fashion which tallies, generally speaking, with the description given in the gospels; however, Josephus does not mention Jesus in his history. (The one passage in Josephus which does glance upon Jesus breaks the flow of the surrounding prose, and scholars almost universally agree that it is the inclusion of a later, overly pious copyist, perhaps angered that Josephus’s history said nothing about Christ.[/quote]
    *****************************
    In support of Mr Blake Stacey, I submit Earl Doherty’s essay “JOSEPHUS UNBOUND: Reopening the Josephus Question” found at
    http://pages.ca.inter.net/~oblio/supp10.htm

    Doherty makes a good case that Josephus did not mention Jesus either in Antiquities of the Jews 18 or 20. The essay is somewhat lengthy, so it would be wrong to post it here.

  109. #109 Blake Stacey
    February 18, 2007

    Kevin Brown:

    Thanks for the links! I’ve found that Victor Stenger generally has his head screwed on right, i.e., the stuff of his which I’ve read has been pretty sensible. I wish I had the time to read his latest book and give it the thorough evaluation it probably deserves, but at the moment I’m in a bit of a Red Queen’s Race, and the hurrieder I go, the behinder I get. . . .

  110. #110 Ruth Buzzy
    June 29, 2007

    I don’t blame you for not believing in God.
    If I looked like you I would be pretty pissed too.
    I’m not handsome, but I’m not ugly – so I’m more agnostic.
    But if I looked like you I’d be a hardcore atheist indeed.

    Thick, dark eyebrows and thinning hair?
    What kind of God would pull that joke on anyone!

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!