Arguments for God

Remember a few posts back, when we saw Michael Ruse lecturing Richard Dawkins as follows:

More seriously, Dawkins is entirely ignorant of the fact that no believer-with the possible exception of some English clerics in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries-has ever thought that arguments are the best support for belief. Saint Augustine, one of the greatest thinkers of Western civilization, devoted but one paragraph in the City of God to the proofs. Saint Thomas was categorical that the proofs are second to faith.

In light of that it is with some amusement that I direct you to the current issue of Christianity Today. It’s cover story, which bears the headline, “God is Not Dead Yet,” discusses all the spiffy, sophisticated arguments philosophers have devised in support of God’s existence. It’s author is William Lane Craig. Looks like someone thinks rational arguments are central to an informed religious faith.

The article begins with the usual bravado of the genre:

You might think from the recent spate of atheist best-sellers that belief in God has become intellectually indefensible for thinking people today. But a look at these books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, among others, quickly reveals that the so-called New Atheism lacks intellectual muscle. It is blissfully ignorant of the revolution that has taken place in Anglo-American philosophy. It reflects the scientism of a bygone generation rather than the contemporary intellectual scene.

With that opening you might be expecting to read something novel. What is this revolution of which Craig speaks?

As he tells the story, the collapse of verificationism in the forties and fifties reawakened the discussion of arguments for God among philosophers. Led by Alvin Plantinga, this led to a new wave of Christian philosophers reviving the subject.

Well, that’s fascinating, But have these folks come up with any new or convincing arguments for God?

Apparenlty not. Here is the list of arguments Craig provides as representing the cutting edge of apologetics, together with my brief precis to remind you what the argument says:

  1. The Cosmological Argument. (Everything that exists has an explanation, either within itself or from an external cause, the universe can not be its own explanation, therefore it has an external cause which we call God.)
  2. The Kalam Cosmological Argument. (Everything that began to exist had a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe had a cause.)
  3. The Teleological Argument. (Intelligent Design in biology, and the fine-tuning of the constants in physics.)
  4. The Moral Argument. (Objective moral values exists, which is not possible without God.)
  5. The Ontological Argument. (Spare me)

That’s it! Notice what those arguments have in common? Except for the fine-tuning argument (whose history is dated in mere decades) the rest of those arguments are virtually as old as Christian apologetics itself. Plantinga may have slapped a fresh coat of paint on the ontological argument, but the fact remains that these are all very old arguments.

I won’t stop here to refute them. What I find remarkable, though, is Craig’s description of them:

The renaissance of Christian philosophy has been accompanied by a resurgence of interest in natural theology, that branch of theology that seeks to prove God’s existence apart from divine revelation. The goal of natural theology is to justify a broadly theistic worldview, one that is common among Christians, Jews, Muslims, and deists. While few would call them compelling proofs, all of the traditional arguments for God’s existence, not to mention some creative new arguments, find articulate defenders today. (Emphasis Added)

What an odd choice of words. It’s one thing to concede that the arguments are not logically definitive, but here’s Craig saying they’re not even compelling. One wonders, then, what role they play for the philosophers defending them.

Craig is kind enough to express the items on our list in the form of deductive arguments. In each case there is some one or two premises that are, to put it kindly, not obviously true. In fact, they usually amount to assuming what you are trying to prove. You may as well assume that God exists directly and be done with it. One example: a crucial premise in the cosmological argument as presented by Craig is, “If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.”

Doesn’t that strike you as quite a leap? Craig tries valiantly to defend it, but the fact remains that the universe might not have an explanation, or, even if it has one, there is no reason why that explanation can not by natural. Assuming that the universe has a non-natural explanation for its existence is no improvement over assuming that God exists in the first place.

All of these arguments suffer from similar defects. That notwithstanding, Craig regards them as terribly important:

Seen in this light, tailoring our gospel to a postmodern culture is self-defeating. By laying aside our best apologetic weapons of logic and evidence, we ensure modernism’s triumph over us. If the church adopts this course of action, the consequences in the next generation will be catastrophic. Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality. Meanwhile, scientific naturalism will continue to shape our culture’s view of how the world really is.

So here’s the situation. The arguments of natural theology are not compelling, but they nonetheless constitute the best apologetic weapon Christians have. Sounds about right.

Comments

  1. #1 df
    July 7, 2008

    Aren’t #1 and #2 just a rehash of Thomas Aquinas’ First Mover and First Cause? Is that the best they’ve got?

  2. #2 Greg Peterson
    July 7, 2008

    I read this article and was frankly shocked at how little hope it offered a believer seeking a cogent argument for his faith. I’ve started to feel a little bad for theists. It used to be fun tweaking their beaks and getting them all het up and whatnot, but now, it’s just gotten embarrassing. The thing is, I know and even love some theists, and I don’t wish to be condescending or glib or patronizing, but this sort of stuff just makes it so very hard. I mean, it fails so spectacularly that one wonders what the author actually thinks it says. They must think it says more than it actually does, don’t they? Maybe the key is, the arguments don’t really have to be compelling. After all, what the apologist is really going for here is some way to prop up the faith of people on the inside, to reassure them that they are neither stupid nor crazy for holding their faith traditions. And on that vanishingly modest level, perhaps this material can be judged a success. But it really raises in my mind the dangerous question, If people can believe things on the basis of arguments as thin as these, what would it be possible for them NOT to believe?

  3. #3 Siamang
    July 7, 2008

    As bad as these arguments are, they’ve been this bad for my entire lifetime. Religion always seems to be ready to fall, yet it doesn’t.

    Is it like the coyote and the roadrunner? The coyote has run himself all the way off the cliff, but will not fall until he looks down.

  4. #4 SiMPel MYnd
    July 7, 2008

    I started reading the article just for a laugh, but had to stop when I got to this little gem:

    If the universe never had a beginning, then the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. Not only is this a very paradoxical idea, but it also raises the problem: How could the present event ever arrive if an infinite number of prior events had to elapse first?

    My head then exploded from the amount of stupid it was trying to absorb.

  5. #5 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 7, 2008

    A very good friend of mine mentioned Craig’s arguments to me as the reason that he has the evidence he needs to fend off my request that he finally admit that his belief rests solely on faith. The exchange is here, and unfortunately he closed off the comments:

    me: � “there is no evidentiary support that if there is a cause for the universe then it must be a creator.” Where does he get that from?

    Alden: Basic rule of cause and effect. The full argument doesn�t seem that profound, until you really study it for awhile. Science is based on the premise that every effect has a cause (otherwise, what value would observation have?). Everything that begins to exist, therefore, also has a cause. So, if the universe has a beginning, as opposed to being eternal (such as hypotheses about universe cycles, and so on), it had a cause (i.e. creator).

    I think we talked about this before� this is why the Big Bang was such a big deal� in the past, materialists claimed the universe was eternal, thereby doing away with the need for a creator (a la Occam�s Razor). Having a beginning triggered the need for a cause/creator.

  6. #6 anon
    July 7, 2008

    EvolutionBlog in short:

    “I’m an atheist, look how stupid and silly those religious people are. I feel bad for them for being so stupid and silly and not as smart as I am, ’cause I’m an enlightened atheist.”

  7. #7 Siamang
    July 7, 2008

    Feel free to engage the ideas on the table here, anon.

    If you had any good arguments, I’m assuming you’d post them instead of snarking from behind the anon bushes.

  8. #8 temizlik
    July 7, 2008

    So what’s your point?

  9. #9 Kapitano
    July 7, 2008

    Anon in brief:

    “Atheists are arrogant. I’m not; I’m just right.”

  10. #10 Blake Stacey
    July 7, 2008

    William Lane Craig is an Old-Earth Creationist. Just look at page 3:

    The old design argument remains as robust today as ever, defended in various forms by Robin Collins, John Leslie, Paul Davies, William Dembski, Michael Denton, and others. Advocates of the Intelligent Design movement have continued the tradition of finding examples of design in biological systems.

    I unwind with my Cosmos videos, now and then, and I think it’s fair to say that Carl Sagan would never have called someone a demented fuckwit who needs to be smacked upside the head with a biology textbook. However, you all know me, and I am no Carl Sagan.

    William Lane Craig lacks knowledge, intellectual integrity, or both. Either he is blissfully ignorant of science, or he knows the facts but does not care to present them properly. Perhaps he presumes on the stupefaction of his audience?

    He goes on to drivel about cosmological fine-tuning, repeating the same hash that has been weighed and found wanting before.

    (His treatment of “the moral argument” is equally insipid, and his attempted refutation of the Euthyphro Dilemma is one of the most mindless I have ever seen. To coin a phrase, har har, it should not be turned aside lightly, but rather hurled against the nearest wall with great force.)

    If the man has any worthwhile ideas, he fails to express them. Great ideas being communicated poorly is not, alas, unknown in the legitimate sciences; however, William Lane Craig presumes to justify beliefs which already exist among his audience. He is not expounding an esoteric corner of string theory or the application of n-categories to quantum mechanics, but instead writing about truths supposedly fundamental to the human experience. If theology is too abstruse to be explained in a six-page article, it is irrelevant to the mainstream of religious belief, a firefly against the raging conflagration of faith; if, on the other hand, he is explaining it well, then it is utterly without value.

  11. #11 different_anon
    July 7, 2008

    “…the revolution that has taken place in Anglo-American philosophy…”

    There’s been a revolution in advanced navel-gazing? Philosophers have no testable ideas, and have no useful ideas, and exist for no good reason other than to …

    well, can’t think of anything. No good reason. Period.

  12. #12 Blake Stacey
    July 7, 2008

    This is where the essay hit the wall, metaphorically speaking, the first time I tried to read it:

    For an external cause of the universe must be beyond space and time and therefore cannot be physical or material. Now there are only two kinds of things that fit that description: either abstract objects, like numbers, or else an intelligent mind. But abstract objects are causally impotent. The number 7, for example, can’t cause anything. Therefore, it follows that the explanation of the universe is an external, transcendent, personal mind that created the universe—which is what most people have traditionally meant by “God.”

    Let’s try a point-by-point breakdown.

    0. For starters, try replacing “God” with “Amon-Re” or “Cronos” every time it occurs in Craig’s essay. It’s an illuminating experiment: a convenient and memorable way to point out the breathtaking vanity of using cosmological arguments to prop up, not a Watchmaker deism or a vague pan-spiritualism, but a specific sub-species of theism.

    1. Where did that word “personal” slip in?

    2. How does Craig presume to know so much about things which exist entirely outside and beyond the Universe, confidently reducing them to only two kinds?

    3. The materialist conception of mind — against which no empirical evidence stands — is that it is the behavior of matter. Mind is related to brain in much the same way that Ubuntu Linux is related to the laptop before me right now: its effects are constrained by physical law, but thanks to vast degrees of historical contingency and intrinsic complexity, they are not directly predictable from physical law. Many configurations of atoms in my brain map to the same mental state (indeed, mental states persist longer than the firing of an individual synapse), just as many distinct flows of electrons map to the same state of computer software. Seeking the explanation of psychology within physics is a little daft, but mental cogitation does not create physics.

    4. No mind has been observed to directly move anything more substantial than a body (let’s say a whale’s body, to be generous). Rearranging the surface of one planet is difficult enough, creation of mass-energy ex nihilo is beyond our capabilities, and creating Universes with new physical laws at play is almost beyond our comprehension.

    5. Craig is willing to attribute to “mind” qualities which are, to put it mildly, unsupported by evidence. Really, he defines “mind” to have the properties he wants, and equivocates between that definition-by-fiat and the familiar conception of thought. As long as we’re making shit up, Craig, why don’t we invent a new kind of number which is causally potent? All hail the hyper-Cosmic number π — it’s transcendental!

  13. #13 Dave M
    July 7, 2008

    The “revolution that has taken place in Anglo-American philosophy” is the discovery that … verificationism is no good? And that this means we can … go back to good old full-on pre-modern metaphysics in good methodological conscience? Somewhere, in the great beyond, W.V.O. Quine is punching himself repeatedly in the face.

  14. #14 Crudely Wrott
    July 7, 2008

    Greg Peterson asks, “They must think it says more than it actually does, don’t they?”

    The answer is yes, they do. A sacred promise from above has the refined essence of the numinous about it and tenuous as that may at first appear, it is an unusually fine mist that conceals behind its folds and wisps an even greater magic. And the faithful are repeatedly hammered with the claim that they are central to the o’er whelming holy plan. Presto! Another happy acolyte.

    Did I mention that it is so easy? No fuss, no muss? Just (only, simply, merely, casually, without in depth consideration, nevermind it won’t cost you nuthin’) believe.

    Blake Stacey, thank you for a clear expression of the mind-brain relationship in your point #3 above. I’ve always suspected that consciousness is something that falls naturally out of the constraints under which stuff and force interact.

  15. #15 baboo
    July 7, 2008

    Idiot said: “There’s been a revolution in advanced navel-gazing? Philosophers have no testable ideas, and have no useful ideas, and exist for no good reason other than to …”

    All scientific hypotheses are philosophical ideas that are eminently testable. There would arguably be no science at all without the philosophical propositions that fuel its operations.

  16. #16 Pseudonym
    July 7, 2008

    Christianity Today or no Christianity Today, I still agree with Michael Ruse with qualifications.

    The trouble with philosophy is that it’s actually quite hard to make a definitive statement about what people believe. It’s kind of like Poe’s Law. No matter how discredited some position is, you can always find someone who still agrees with it. In this case, in so-called “evangelical” US Christianity.

    Quite frankly, this says more about William Lane Craig, Christanity Today and what generally passes for “thought” in US evangelicalism than “the best apologetic weapon Christians have”. Indeed, anyone still talking in terms of “weapons” is clearly missing something.

  17. #17 Crudely Wrott
    July 7, 2008

    Again at Blake. Check out Sean at Cosmic Variance–Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Quantum Mechanics But Were Afraid to Ask.

    There’s rules; there’s limits; and then there is possibility.

  18. #18 miller
    July 7, 2008

    I’ve always imagined that sophisticated theology was way more complex than the “popular” discourse. You know, in the same way that cosmology is way more complicated than its popularizations. But nothing more successfully shattered this impression of “sophisticated” theology than the time I actually bothered to briefly look Plantinga up.

    I mean, seriously, the Ontological argument? I love playing with the modal logic, but I’d place the argument in the same category as Curry’s Paradox (“If this statement is true, then God exists”). The other major views on Wikipedia are the free-will defense of God (oh, please), a reformed epistemology (of the we-don’t-need-apologetics variety of apologetics), and an evolutionary argument against naturalism. That last one is especially ridiculous, since it argues that naturalistic evolution cannot evolve a mind that will produce true beliefs. What kind of BS theory of evolution did he learn? It also doesn’t sit too well with the arguments that religion is imprinted upon human nature.

    I now think apologetics is simply a tool to assist confirmation bias.

  19. #19 Blake Stacey
    July 7, 2008

    Crudely Wrott:

    After two years of QM classes, all told, I have a technical understanding of a good many of the questions posed in that comment thread, and I think I know when to deploy the old robot saying, “Insufficient data for meaningful response”. (At some point, I’ll have to write a book on the subject in order to figure out what I know and don’t know. The problem is that before getting to supersymmetric quantum mechanics, I’d have to cover the basic principles and formalism, and before getting there I’d have to talk about calculus and complex numbers. . . Knowing me, I’d try to cover all of high-school mathematics in order to get things just the way I want them.) I’ll be looking forward to the explanations Sean and company can come up with, particularly in the decoherence area — being a newer thing, it doesn’t have as many off-the-shelf vulgarizations as other subjects.

  20. #20 Blake Stacey
    July 7, 2008

    different_anon:

    The best brief defense of philosophy I have encountered comes from Dan Dennett.

    The history of philosophy is a history of very tempting mistakes, and the people that we study in the history of philosophy — Plato and Aristotle and Kant and all the rest — they were not dummies. They were really smart people and they made stunning errors.

    While it’s tempting to read that as an admission that the whole enterprise is fruitless, it’s also possible to take it as a warning: these are the ways in which smart brains can screw up badly!

  21. #21 Siamang
    July 7, 2008

    If this is really the best they’ve got, we may be looking at the last generation of “scholarly” religionists. God may indeed be dead after all, at least as far as the arguments for him go.

    The only arguments they’ve got left are Jack and shit, and Jack’s left town.

    Will the last serious philosopher with a “proof for God” remember to turn the light out when they retire?

    Time for a new headline: “Well, That Just About Wraps it Up for God”.

  22. #22 AL
    July 7, 2008

    If he wants to talk about Plantinga and new insights, I’m surprised Craig didn’t bring up Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism. No, it’s not a particularly good argument. In fact, I’m being quite generous when I say it’s piss-poor, but nevertheless, it is a unique argument that isn’t simply a differently decorated cookie cut from the same ontological/cosmological/teleological/presuppositionalist/Pascal’s Wager/Argument from Morality cookie-cutter templates of theistic apologetics.

  23. #23 Tony
    July 7, 2008

    The arguments put forth in the article all speak to the inherent order of the universe, and calling this “God.” As a nontheist, I guess I’m okay with this delineation of theology. This is not dissimilar from “Spinoza’s God” which Einstein found so enticing.

    My problem with theism is the eventual denouement into fairy tale beliefs in sky wizards and ghouls. Even that would be tolerable if they would just not equate it with rationalism, and more importantly, not try to enact civil laws based on their on their Sacred writings.

  24. #24 Blake Stacey
    July 8, 2008

    AL:

    If he wants to talk about Plantinga and new insights, I’m surprised Craig didn’t bring up Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism.

    Would that sit well with his acceptance of Intelligent Design? Yeah, I know, asking whether Pseudoscience X conflicts with Bad Philosophy Y is a little like writing fanfic where the Enterprise fights an Imperial Star Destroyer. . . except without the cool explosions. . . .

    Ah, who am I kidding: if it was mud he could have thrown at science, he would have done so, logic and consistency be buggered. He probably just ran out of space.

  25. #25 Siamang
    July 8, 2008

    Kirk or Picard?

    I like the meme currently going around labeling theological arguments as “Kirk vs Picard” type arguments.

    Good framing.

  26. #26 Pierce R. Butler
    July 8, 2008

    Philosophy may be the ultimate broody hen, more useful for its offspring than for itself.

    Science hived off from philosophy in the 18th & 19th centuries. Among present company, that would be considered a Good Thing, no?

    In the 19th & 20th centuries, theology became a separate discipline – not so useful in itself, but it’s good to get the slow learners in their own room for the sake of the rest.

    The last century saw the study of ethics begin to come into its own – something we need more of, particularly as explicit components of various curricula. Again, the (very long) gestation occurred within the body of philosophy.

    My personal (and admittedly tenuous) hope is that the 21st will see a lot more attention paid to epistemology, the core of the “critical thinking” skills that both sides of the evo-creo debate are purportedly demanding. This particular egg is still being warmed under the belly of the philosophical hen, but discussions such as this thread may constitute the sounds of early shell-pecks emerging from the old bird’s dirty nest.

  27. #27 AL
    July 8, 2008

    Well, the evolutionary argument for naturalism is presented as a reductio ad absurdum. IOW, Plantinga (or Craig, or anyone who invokes the argument) doesn’t necessarily have to believe the premise that evolution occurs. They assume, for argument’s sake, that it occurs, and use it to show that a naturalistic view of both evolution and the emergence of conscious intelligence is incompatible. So it wouldn’t be inconsistent with Craig’s sympathetic view of ID to bring up Plantinga’s argument.

    The argument is of course very bad, and it contains implicit dualistic assumptions about the nature of intelligence and what it means for something to be intelligent that are untenable at best, flat out wrong at worst. As a trivial example, Plantinga speaks of “true beliefs” being somehow independent of minds, which makes no sense unless you are a dualist. Well, OK, even then it still makes no sense because dualism itself makes no sense.

    Also, the question should be kept in mind that if the emergence of “true beliefs” is somehow a problem for naturalism, does invoking the supernatural solve it? Theists are fond of bringing up seemingly intractable philosophical problems for atheism and/or naturalism, then pretending theism solves those problems when it never does. How does a god guarantee “true beliefs” or reliable cognition? It doesn’t. We are simply to accept the false dichotomy that if a problem is alleged to be intractable for naturalism, God is real.

  28. #28 OrneryPest
    July 8, 2008

    Theological arguments all have one thing in common: observations are not allowed as premises. All premises must be things that have never been observed, things that, in principle, would be unobservable even if true, and things that directly contradict observations. Not only that, but we’re not allowed to try to verify conclusions by making further observations, because that would be Putting God To The Test, a most grievous sin.

  29. #29 Jay Steele
    July 8, 2008

    I enjoy reading this blog and its comments. Sometimes I am amazed at the naivete expressed here about the demise of religion. This is a science blog. Show me the evidence. The USA is as religious as ever and the actual evidence suggests a rise in religious activity in western Europe among young people. The news out of Africa and the countries surrounding the fertile crescent regarding religion speaks for itself.

    I am the pastor of a liberal church in MN. Personally, I am a non-theist. I use God-language metaphorically. My congregation ranges from outright atheists to liberal Christians (and others) who know they don’t believe in a supernatural deity anymore but are still trying to figure out what they do believe.

    But among all these people – and me – the religious impulse is there. The urge to see and find meaning in life, an openness to awe and wonder and beauty, and an appreciation for a sense of the mystery of life.

    Science can, and should, seek to understand and explain everything. That includes why we believe the way we do and why it is that we have a sense of awe at the beauty of a sunrise or at the birth of one of our children.

    But understanding how things work doesn’t make them go away. The religious impulse seems to be hard-wired into us. Hence, it is not surprising to me that belief in god came about as a way to make sense of this. It is highly unlikely this is going to change.

    And, quite frankly, while I have no belief in an afterlife, there is no denying that there are some things that science simply can’t prove or disprove, like what happens to us when we die. This is one “gap” that has always been, and I suspect, always will be, filled by some kind of religious response.

    Finally, a word about the value of religious community. While it is unfair to generalize from anecdotal evidence, the word I hear from the atheists in my congregation is that the atheist gatherings they have attended in the twin cities are pretty uninteresting events with lots of condescending jokes about ignorant religious people and not much purposeful activity. Religious people may very well be ignorant. But if someone in a religious community gets sick or dies, or if there is a tornado strike in the state or a call for aid in Darfur, there will be an organized response. And, at least in my community, where we regularly have speakers from other faith perspectives, and meals and conversations where the Christians and Jews and Pagans and atheists in my congregation come together to talk about their beliefs, there is an effort to ratchet down the culture wars and make the world a little better place to live. There is value in religious community.

    And, of course, all of this can happen in other kinds of community too. But does it? It is difficult for me to know from following the commenting on these kinds of blogs where there is lots of snark.

  30. #30 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 8, 2008

    The Christianity Today piece is rather similar to the chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism in which Craig summarizes current theistic philosophical arguments.

    In May 2008 Jeffrey Shallit discussed WLC’s ideas on time and infinity, as channeled through Kirk Dunston: Reply to William Lane Craig

    WLC finds the logical “proofs” to be convincing evidence of God, he finds his poor understanding of mathematics to be convincing evidence of God, he finds his poor understanding of physics to be convincing evidence of God; it appears that there is no theistic argument too lame for him to endorse.

  31. #31 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 8, 2008

    But among all these people – and me – the religious impulse is there. The urge to see and find meaning in life, an openness to awe and wonder and beauty, and an appreciation for a sense of the mystery of life.

    The religious impulse seems to be hard-wired into us.

    What a wishy-washy definition. Most science writers, including Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, acknowledge what Sagan termed “a sense of wonder.” Oddly, all three of those were atheist/agnostic, and do/did not consider “a sense of wonder” to be religious.

    Let me try this game: I define “breathing” to be a religious activity. Then I note that an overwhelming majority of people alive today engage in religious activity!

  32. #32 Chris Bell
    July 8, 2008

    These arguments from God always crack me up. They aren’t bad if you are trying to argue for a pantheistic “God”, but just because you use the word “God” doesn’t get you where you want to be.

    Let’s put in the Christian conception of God.

    -Every effect has a cause

    -There must have been a first effect without an cause, or else the universe would be infinite

    -This first cause is the Almighty Father, who gave his only begotten son to cleanse us of sin.

    It just doesn’t follow quite as well, does it? So I think the arguments aren’t terrible, but there is an extreme equivocation in their use. They argue for a thing called “God” and then assume that God is their God.

  33. #33 Blake Stacey
    July 8, 2008

    What Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said. Short-circuiting “awe and wonder” with “religion” presumes the conclusion of the argument. To a person raised in an agnostic, non-observant household (like me) it comes across as unbearably condescending.

    The only “atheist meetings” I attend — indeed, the only ones I know about — are Skeptics in the Pub and suchlike gatherings. Godlessness ain’t in the name, but you can be sure the infidels will be strongly represented. Such meetings have several advantages, I think, and not just that they are lubricated with ethanol. Skepticism is a method, perhaps a lifestyle if you’re being grandiose, while atheism is a conclusion; I can’t help but think that meetings organized on the former basis are more likely to avoid stultification.

  34. #34 Jay Steele
    July 8, 2008

    What a wishy-washy definition. Most science writers, including Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, acknowledge what Sagan termed “a sense of wonder.” Oddly, all three of those were atheist/agnostic, and do/did not consider “a sense of wonder” to be religious.
    Let me try this game: I define “breathing” to be a religious activity. Then I note that an overwhelming majority of people alive today engage in religious activity!

    Perhaps it is possible to get some kind of science degree without ever taking a course in history, sociology, anthropology, etc. Any standard definition of religion that attempts to include everything from non-theistic religions like Buddhism to polytheistic religions to voodoo to theistic religions begins with the common human response expressed in terms of awe, wonder, beauty, mystery. From there you move into the particulars of how it gets expressed in various cultures. There is nothing wishy-washy about it. You may not like this fact, but it is an indisputable fact. You don’t have to call it a religious impulse if the term repulses you but any anthropologist looking at your life will tell you that you have one, even if it manifests itself in an atheist response.

  35. #35 heddle
    July 8, 2008

    SiMPel Mynd

    started reading the article just for a laugh, but had to stop when I got to this little gem:

    If the universe never had a beginning, then the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. Not only is this a very paradoxical idea, but it also raises the problem: How could the present event ever arrive if an infinite number of prior events had to elapse first?

    My head then exploded from the amount of stupid it was trying to absorb.
    .

    Your head shouldn’t have exploded, because an infinitely old universe has precisely that unanswered paradox, one that cannot be addressed by the mathematics of infinite series. If the universe is infinitely old, there really is no explanation of how we got, temporally speaking to here. If you have one, I’m all ears. Please explain how you can start at -infinity, add an infinite number of terms in a non-alternating sequence, where the terms do not converge to zero, and end up in 2008.

    If there is a mathematical explanation, it would have to, I suspect, be rooted in the singularities present and the end of one universe and the start of the next, but I have never seen it worked out. Maybe you have, you know, given that it made your head explode. The point is it would be a non-trivial resolution and not, as your head exploding implies, sort of manifestly obvious.

  36. #36 MartinM
    July 8, 2008

    Please explain how you can start at -infinity

    You can’t. There’s no such place. A past-eternal Universe no more implies that the Universe started at -infinity than a future-eternal Universe implies that we can eventually reach +infinity. An eternal Universe neither starts nor stops anywhere; that’s the whole point.

  37. #37 Tulse
    July 8, 2008

    Here, heddle, let me clean that up for you:

    an infinitely old god has precisely that unanswered paradox, one that cannot be addressed by the mathematics of infinite series. If god is infinitely old, there really is no explanation of how he got, temporally speaking to here

  38. #38 Woobegone
    July 8, 2008

    Jay Steele : I find it very difficult to believe that there is some kind of common human religious impulse, given that in all cultures the religious beliefs and practices of the people seem to be geared towards achieving very prosaic goals (pray to this god to stay healthy, pray to God to get rich, meditate in this way to gain psychic powers and eventually become a god.)

    Now this is not to say that there isn’t a more “mystical” / philosophical strand within most religions. There clearly is and it’s very interesting that it seems to be rather similar across the world. However I think it’s rather naive to think that the average Joe believer believers because he’s looking to express his sense of wonder or beauty at the world. The average Joe believer believes because his parents did and his beliefs largely concern his own wellbeing. Now there’s nothing wishy-washy about that.

  39. #39 shortie
    July 8, 2008

    The universe, or cosmos, always was, always will be, had no beginning, will have no ending.
    Life in some form will have always existed and will always exist. “Gods” have always been invented by some as causes and always will be. Forms will continue to believe they are at the center of a universe which has no center. There will always be forms that believe that the universe around them is purposeful. There will occasionally be forms that evolve well and long enough to realize they are in fact the only purposeful elements.
    Get used to it.

  40. #40 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 8, 2008

    Please explain how you can start at -infinity, add an infinite number of terms in a non-alternating sequence, where the terms do not converge to zero, and end up in 2008.

    Sure. Just after you explain how you would “start at -infinity.” Isn’t that like saying, “go back to the beginning of a universe that has no beginning“?

  41. #41 Reynold Hall
    July 8, 2008

    If you want to see some real stupidity when it comes to to “proofs of God”, check out this weird-@$$ site.

    He’s a regular poster on Ray Comfort’s blog. He posts under the name Sye TenB

    This is the kind of weird crap he posts. To see him fully develop that kind of “thinking”, just look around on his site.

  42. #42 heddle
    July 8, 2008

    Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD

    Isn’t that like saying, “go back to the beginning of a universe that has no beginning”?

    Precisely. You can’t get there from here. And anyone who doesn’t see an infinite chain of cause-and-effect a legitimate philosophical (and mathematical) puzzle, independent of theology, has their head in the sand. But since it smacks of a theological plank, which it needn’t be, I suspect many will just conveniently and unthinkingly dismiss it as a non-problem when it certainly is (a problem).

  43. #43 ctw
    July 8, 2008

    Mr. Steele:

    While I applaud your version of “religious community”, I’m unclear on your definition of “religious”.

    But among all these people – and me – the religious impulse is there. The urge to see and find meaning in life, an openness to awe and wonder and beauty, and an appreciation for a sense of the mystery of life.

    Others have pointed out that the second and third of these are widely experienced independent of the “religious” views of the experiencer (although “life” appears to be suffering some serious demystification these days). But I consider the first requires elaboration, specifically, the envisioned scope. One may have in mind meaning within the bounds of this life – the effects one has on family, friends, colleagues, et al – or alternatively what I call “cosmic meaning”, ie, something beyond those bounds. The latter is what I assume “religious” is intended to convey. If this is wrong, I’d appreciate elaboration.

    Many of the non-religious don’t require the latter but are content with the former even when the bounds seem to be rather tight, ie, when one’s sphere of influence seems rather narrow. The despair and pointlessness that some people seem to assume necessarily accompanies this bounded sense of meaning simply isn’t there, at least in the numerous people I know who explicitly reject the existence of cosmic meaning without suffering obvious ill-effects.

    Given the qualification that meaning need not be “cosmic”, the assertion that “the religious impulse seems to be hard-wired into us” might be arguable (although in that case the label “religious” seems to be unnecessary). But if “religious” is intended to suggest a “cosmic” component, counterexamples abound. And, of course, at the other end of the spectrum there are plenty for whom life appears not to have much meaning, even in the bounded sense. Yet, they persevere – suggesting either wishful thinking (for “cosmic meaning”) or some motivation beyond “meaning in life”. Biological imperative, perhaps?

    Some nits:

    the naivete expressed here about the demise of religion.

    This blog and other similar ones are motivated to address religion not by prospects of its demise but by the “evidence” you suggest of the growth of some of its worst manifestations (I would have thought this obvious). I think you are mistaking statements of hope for counterfactual assertions. Widespread growth in the kind of religious activity you seem to espouse would be a redirection welcomed by many of the non-religious.

    atheist gatherings they have attended in the twin cities are pretty uninteresting events with lots of condescending jokes about ignorant religious people.

    Let’s make a personal deal: don’t characterize “the non-religious” by their worst exemplars and I won’t characterize “the religious” by theirs.

    And one not-so-nit:

    – there is no denying that there are some things that science simply can’t prove or disprove

    – it is an indisputable fact

    These evidence the importance of the epistemology studies championed by Pierce Butler in a previous comment. I’m not qualified to address this in detail (I managed to get through my first 65 years without even knowing the meaning of the word), but it’s my impression that one should be very careful with assertions of this sort. (Eg, the second is an example of what Simon Blackburn calls “Ramsey’s ladder”. A phrase like that is equivalent to nothing more than an exclamation point at the end of an assertion and affects the “truth” of the assertion not in the least.)

    – Charles

  44. #44 windy
    July 8, 2008

    I enjoy reading this blog and its comments. Sometimes I am amazed at the naivete expressed here about the demise of religion. This is a science blog. Show me the evidence.

    This post was about the demise of religion as an intellectual exercise, not a social activity. The evidence is right there in the post.

    I am the pastor of a liberal church in MN. Personally, I am a non-theist. I use God-language metaphorically. My congregation ranges from outright atheists to liberal Christians (and others) who know they don’t believe in a supernatural deity anymore but are still trying to figure out what they do believe.

    Really? No one in your congregation believes in a supernatural God? How do you know?

  45. #45 MartinM
    July 8, 2008

    You can’t get there from here.

    Because there isn’t a there! Do you also object to a spatially infinite Universe on the basis that nothing could travel from here to the (non-existent) edge?

  46. #46 heddle
    July 8, 2008

    MartinM,

    Because there isn’t a there! Do you also object to a spatially infinite Universe on the basis that nothing could travel from here to the (non-existent) edge?

    Yes I would object to an infinite, open universe. The present universe is probably much, much larger than the observable universe (which is about 40 billion light years) but it is not infinite. Unless you mean “effectively” infinite due to the accelerating expansion.

    But that’s not the issue–the question is how to resolve the conundrum mathematically–which nobody has answered. People are just saying: “Oh, there’s no problem.”

  47. #47 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 8, 2008

    Precisely. You can’t get there from here.

    But getting there was only step one in your algorithm to be followed and explained. After we “start at -infinity” you had a couple more steps we should follow. What was that about? If your only point was that the first instruction you gave is impossible according to the rules of the system was are to assume, why the extra steps?

    BTW, if you were attempting a Reductio ad absurdum, you failed. For a Raa, you start with a legal proposition, follow rules of the system, and show that you end up with a position which contradicts your original one. It is clear that you have not done that, since the steps you advise do not follow the rules of the system. You have only produced an argument from incredulity.

  48. #48 heddle
    July 8, 2008

    Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD

    I have not made any argument per se. I have stated that there is a long standing puzzle regarding an infinite chain of cause-and-effect. That is my assertion–and it is either true or false. If it is true, then it seem that it is reasonable that one cannot dismiss the puzzle as “so stupid it makes my head explode.” Maybe so, but the onus would be on such a person to explain why it is so stupid, and why those who pondered it, including Aristotle, missed the obvious.

  49. #49 Blake Stacey
    July 8, 2008

    You don’t have to call it a religious impulse if the term repulses you but any anthropologist looking at your life will tell you that you have one, even if it manifests itself in an atheist response.

    If true, this would suggest nothing more than that anthropologists are blinkered by a worldview in which awe and wonder are habitually conjoined with mysticism. Must the making of music now be a religious activity, because supernaturalism has often inspired it, godless musicians be damned?

  50. #50 Tulse
    July 8, 2008

    heddle:

    But that’s not the issue–the question is how to resolve the conundrum mathematically–which nobody has answered. People are just saying: “Oh, there’s no problem.”

    I note that you’ve avoiding commenting on the fact that this is also a problem for an “infinite” god.

  51. #51 earnestlee
    July 8, 2008

    Shortie pontificates thusly:
    ***
    The universe, or cosmos, always was, always will be, had no beginning, will have no ending. Life in some form will have always existed and will always exist. “Gods” have always been invented by some as causes and always will be. Forms will continue to believe they are at the center of a universe which has no center. There will always be forms that believe that the universe around them is purposeful. There will occasionally be forms that evolve well and long enough to realize they are in fact the only purposeful elements. Get used to it.
    ***

    Talk about simple minded. He can’t answer Heddle’s question about first cause, so simply asserts that there wasn’t any. Even the atheists here have dismissed such absurdity.

  52. #52 heddle
    July 8, 2008

    Tulse,

    Note that I do not consider any of these as proofs for God, and so I will not defend them as such. However, there is no problem in this schema, in principle, for an infinite deity as long as said deity is not an infinite chain of cause and effect. The proponents argue that the impossibility of an infinite chain of cause and effect proves God (as the first cause). That’s too strong for my taste, but I would concede that an infinitely old universe is problematic, a finite universe is suggestive, and while none of this proves an infinite deity, nor does it preclude one.

  53. #53 ctw
    July 8, 2008

    “Please explain how you can start at -infinity, add an infinite number of terms in a non-alternating sequence, where the terms do not converge to zero, and end up in 2008.”

    Could you elaborate on what you see as the problem, specifically what actual occurences you mean to model by “add an infinite number of terms” and why you see a need to “start at -infinity”?

    Imagine the infinite real line, put two separated dots on it, then with a pencil draw a line between them. The pencil tranverses an uncountable infinity of points but gets from from one dot to the next without problem. Similarly, if one interprets an infinite number of “events” as meaning that an infinite number of discrete times “occur” (whatever that might mean), then getting from any time in the past to the present seems analogous.

    I infer that you see this as being analogous to a problem in convergence of infinite series, but I don’t see why.

    – Charles

  54. #54 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 8, 2008

    Talk about simple minded. He can’t answer Heddle’s question about first cause, so simply asserts that there wasn’t any.

    Since Heddle’s question has turned out to violate the axioms of the system, and to be very silly, I think Shortie should be excused from answering it.

  55. #55 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 8, 2008

    That’s too strong for my taste, but I would concede that an infinitely old universe is problematic, a finite universe is suggestive, and while none of this proves an infinite deity, nor does it preclude one.

    The only “problem” you have uncovered so far is that you have trouble grasping the concept of an infinite past. A finite past also carries with it certain conceptual difficulties. Your inability to grasp something is not evidence that it does not correspond to reality. Bertrand Russell wrote:

    The argument that the world must have had a beginning in time is set forth with great clearness by Kant, who, however, supplements it by an equally powerful argument to prove that the world had no beginning in time.

  56. #56 Tulse
    July 8, 2008

    there is no problem in this schema, in principle, for an infinite deity as long as said deity is not an infinite chain of cause and effect.

    In other words, if one defines the problem away.

    How is this in principle different from saying that “everything but the beginning of the universe has a cause”?

  57. #57 heddle
    July 8, 2008

    Oh well, I cry uncle. You guys have clearly demonstrated that Aristotle was a fool to puzzle over such obvious matters. Once again I did not foresee the raw power of the argument by “summarily dismissing as trivial with extreme prejudice and with no explanation.” That one always stumps me–I should really be ready for it by now.

  58. #58 Siamang
    July 8, 2008

    Hey, Jay. I enjoy a thoughtful discussion.

    You wrote: “I enjoy reading this blog and its comments. Sometimes I am amazed at the naivete expressed here about the demise of religion. ”

    I don’t think anyone here said that religious practice is doing anything but thriving. That does not speak to the truth value of the various supernatural claims core to religious belief. What we’re saying is that the apologists have seem to run out of logical arguments for these claims… not that that stops them from making the same old and broken arguments again and again.

    “This is a science blog. Show me the evidence. ”

    It is a post about rational arguments for the existence of god. We are discussing the logical flaws in those arguments. Are we not allowed to do this? By whom?

    “The urge to see and find meaning in life, an openness to awe and wonder and beauty, and an appreciation for a sense of the mystery of life.”

    I have that too. I call it curiosity rather than a religious feeling. But when I get that feeling, I go to a science museum and ask questions of people who either know the answer or are working on it, and see if they’ve thought of the question that I’ve thought about. I don’t sit around in a stained-glass cloister and chant and mumble about mystery. When I have a question, I try to go find out the answer. What I see in religion is that it’s become complacent with mystery. It worships the mystery instead of taking mystery as a challenge. Indeed in many places in this culture, it’s gone on the attack against anyone who would puncture their precious mystery with some facts about modern biology.

    “Finally, a word about the value of religious community. While it is unfair to generalize from anecdotal evidence, the word I hear from the atheists in my congregation is that the atheist gatherings they have attended in the twin cities are pretty uninteresting events with lots of condescending jokes about ignorant religious people and not much purposeful activity.”

    That’s why I don’t go to atheist meetings. I’ve been to thousands of church services in my lifetime. A lot of them sucked too. I have had the distinct pleasure of hearing loved ones be damned from the pulpit. I bet it all comes down around the same: nice people and SOBs in both camps.

    But then here’s a question for you. You describe yourself a nontheist. You describe your ability to gather in a congregation of purposeful individuals. Have you ever thought that the reason atheist meetings suck is that you, and people like you who are good at bringing a community together, are all at church talking about a god that neither you nor I think is paying any attention?

    Have you thought about holding a nontheist group? If you’re in Los Angeles, I’d like to check it out!

    “Religious people may very well be ignorant. But if someone in a religious community gets sick or dies, or if there is a tornado strike in the state or a call for aid in Darfur, there will be an organized response.”

    But now you’re grouping us either by religion or by nothing. I’m an artist by trade, a parent by choice, a member of the community as well. A member of the PTA. If there’s a problem in my parent group, there is an organized response. Collections are taken, meals are brought around, child care and shuttle services are mobilized. When there have been disasters in the past, groups of artists from organizations I’ve belonged to have held auctions and benefits. We pitch in. I’ve organized school supply drives for children displaced from Katrina. I’ve swung a hammer at Habitat build sites. To say that “atheists” have no community organization is like saying cat owners have no community organization. It’s beside the point.

    You’re treating atheism like a church and complaining that we don’t have all the trappings. Don’t worry, we get our bread and grape juice and Bach music in other ways.

    “And, at least in my community, where we regularly have speakers from other faith perspectives, and meals and conversations where the Christians and Jews and Pagans and atheists in my congregation come together to talk about their beliefs, there is an effort to ratchet down the culture wars and make the world a little better place to live. ”

    I’m pleased you’re doing this. But for myself I could only stomach so much of these Kirk vs Picard type discussions where people discuss whether the Buddha has 1000 invisible arms or 1001. I have only a finite number of minutes on this earth, arguments over Issac vs Ishmael are best left to people who believe in them.

    “There is value in religious community.”
    I would argue that it’s only because there’s value in *community*. I might further argue that *religious* community takes away value because it specifically excludes me and my family because we don’t believe the ghost stories. I’d rather belong to a community that welcomes all people of good faith, instead of only people of faith.

    “But does it? It is difficult for me to know from following the commenting on these kinds of blogs where there is lots of snark.”

    I’m a member of my community. Don’t worry.

    You know, as a liberal and a nontheist, you must know that we’re coming off a bad patch of history. I remember 8 and 4 years ago in the presidential election cycle that people in the Democratic party were telling atheists to sit down and shut up, lest the Dems lose the election. I remember quite clearly that the voices were that John Kerry had to speak authentically about faith (whatever that means)… and all democrats too.

    I remember quite clearly the call that “secular progressives” needed, for the good of the party, to either stop being publicly progressive, or stop being publicly nontheist, lest the dems get tarred with the atheist word.

    I mean, we hear on the news stations how atheists should just shut up if they’re being persecuted, that we don’t know how good we’ve got it. Well, we tried that, and it didn’t work. I’ve been an atheist for about 20 years now. My mother just got told last month. I’m done shutting up about how this country has gone off the complete deep end with this religion business. Every city block has one or two or three churches it seems. What has it gotten us? Are our poor fed? Do our children have health care? Are our schools better than our prisons? Is our planet cleaner and healthier? Is the United States a model for equality, justice and peace?

    No, no and no. In every way, the political arms of organized religion have made this country worse over the last decade. It’s long past time to disempower those who claim to speak for God, but only speak words of division, fear, hate, greed, scientific ignorance, bigotry, and hypocritical self-righteousness.

    You also said, in response to someone else:

    “Perhaps it is possible to get some kind of science degree without ever taking a course in history, sociology, anthropology, etc.”

    I think you’re making a specific point about a specific poster. But I’d like to address the point more broadly…

    Perhaps the assumption is made here that if one is a scientist then one lives in the sterile reductionist world of test-tubes and supercomputers. Devoid of the squishier stuff of life, like that liberal-artsy stuff.

    I’m not a scientist by trade or by training. I’m an artist. But I’ve met a lot of people in the online atheist community. They do study world religions. They quite often have a wider and deeper understanding of the religious texts and traditions and history than adherents of one or another sect who often merely focus inward.

    I’ve met people online who are tremendously thoughtful, tremendously learned and in every way renaissance people. Artists, poets, musicians, dancers, historians and scientists. People who drink deep from the wellspring of life. Humanitarians not just in the charity sense, but in the sense of fully living the human existence. I’m talking about world-travellers… pilgrims on this planet. People who suck the marrow out of this life, because you and I both know, it’s probably the only one we’re likely to get.

    And there is a numinous quality to a life like ours. Merely because you’ve got a church and we don’t, you don’t get to stake an exclusive claim to “mystery” or “awe” or “wonder”.

    I have attended religious services in grandiose cathedrals and in people’s humble homes. I’ve attended seances, visited trance-channellers and fortune-tellers. I’ve met with people who claimed to be in contact with aliens and have been told I have a crystal in my brain. I’ve chanted Soto sutras to bring enlightenment to the deceased at a funeral service. I’ve attended communion at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, lit candles at Notre Dame in Paris and traveled the Mission roads in California. I’ve attended Catholic weddings and Mormon funerals. I’ve prayed at the Toshogu shrine in Nikko, the Meji Shrine in Tokyo and walked the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto. I’ve attended a lecture by Stephen Hawking, punted the Cam in Cambridge and visited the graves of Newton, Darwin and Halley in Westminster Abbey. I’ve touched a moon rock, seen the Rosetta Stone and witnessed the birth of my child and the death of too many of my loved ones.

    Do not think I toil in spiritual poverty or ignorance.

    I know the Buddha. The Buddha is a friend of mine. Don’t assume I don’t know the Buddha just because I don’t go to a church and you do.

    I just don’t believe the Buddha has any existence outside the mind of man.

    I also think that the people who claim to know things they cannot are gaining too much power and influence, and have shown that we cannot trust their visions when our society and our planet is at stake.

  59. #59 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 8, 2008

    My congregation ranges from outright atheists to liberal Christians (and others) who know they don’t believe in a supernatural deity anymore but are still trying to figure out what they do believe.

    If they don’t believe in a supernatural deity, why would they call themselves “Christians”? I suppose you’ve redefined that word as well.

  60. #60 Jason
    July 8, 2008

    Just to defend philosophy for a moment (admittedly speaking as a student of both philosophy and physics):
    I agree that the whole theological side is a complete waste of effort, but philosophy of science is certainly a useful (albeit not a required) accessory to science itself. Ethics is also, arguably, useful (you dont need to be religious to have concerns over things like cloning). Philosophy also contains very useful applications like Logic and Game Theory (also part of mathematics, in fairness). And of course, philosophy is the subject that spawns sciences.
    I’m just saying, dont despise philosophy just because the theocrats have hijacked parts of it to defend their lunacy.

  61. #61 Barron
    July 8, 2008

    With Jason on this one. The list from Craig are the ones that atheists (well, this atheist for sure) hear over and over and over and… They are convincing to people already convinced or listening to them casually. But they are in no way sophisticated or even new (taking fine tuning as a sub set of Paley). Considering that we do hear them repeatedly I’d say they carry some currency amongst believers (which is too bad considering their weaknesses). But it also seems sort of like a dodge. I doubt that many believers are genuinely compelled to belief by these arguments. If I showed clearly that Kalam was fallacious, would that really cause someone to lose faith?

    Wish I remembered the numbers off the top of my head, but in Shermer’s book on faith he quotes statistic that show that (overwhelmingly) people report that their personal beliefs are based on reason and that they suspect others are held for emotional reasons. So my belief is rational, yours is irrational. Little paradox there? Dare one call it projection? ;-)

    The accusation that atheist writers aren’t engaging the real theistic arguments always seems code for “they don’t address my personal conceptions of God” or, more like Ruse, “they don’t address the issues the way I want them addressed”. Sort of a redux of the my belief/your belief schism.

  62. #62 386sx
    July 8, 2008

    Seen in this light, tailoring our gospel to a postmodern culture is self-defeating.

    Of course it is. Look how stupid it is:

    9Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

    What a pile of idiotic crap. And some people think it’s supposed to be “wise”! Okay!

  63. #63 Tulse
    July 8, 2008

    You guys have clearly demonstrated that Aristotle was a fool to puzzle over such obvious matters.

    Arguments from authority are usually considered rather weak tea. Or should we also be debating whether the natural tendency of sublunary matter is to be at rest, and whether fleas actually arise from mud, since Aristotle held those views as well?

    Give the arguments if you have them, but don’t retreat behind the coattails of a famous name.

  64. #64 heddle
    July 8, 2008

    Tulse,

    I am not saying Aristotle was right because he was Aristotle. (That would argument from authority.) However, as bad as the argument from authority is, no better is the argument that says you can simply dismiss an inconvenient argument referencing an authority by cavalierly referring to the reference to said expert as “an argument from authority.” I am saying that it takes cajones to dismiss his argument as so trivially wrong and to cause one’s head to explode. After all, it took centuries to understand why his mechanics was wrong, and even now I wouldn’t dismiss his arguments as idiotic and trivial. I know this for a fact, because many students in an introductory physics class pre-test will default to the Aristotelian mechanics–suggesting he was not trivially wrong.

  65. #65 Tulse
    July 8, 2008

    So what you’re saying, heddle, is that you don’t understand Aristotle’s arguments yourself, but we shouldn’t dismiss them because he was smart.

    Again, I’d suggest that a better foundation for discussion would be to actually debate the arguments themselves, rather than whether someone thought they were unassailable.

  66. #66 Jay Steele
    July 8, 2008

    Woobegone, you say:

    Now this is not to say that there isn’t a more “mystical” / philosophical strand within most religions. There clearly is and it’s very interesting that it seems to be rather similar across the world. However I think it’s rather naive to think that the average Joe believer believers because he’s looking to express his sense of wonder or beauty at the world. The average Joe believer believes because his parents did and his beliefs largely concern his own wellbeing. Now there’s nothing wishy-washy about that.

    I would respond by saying that there are two pretty basic religious impulses shared by all humans. Wonder/awe/beauty on the one side and fear on the other. They are called religious impulses because they typically manifest themselves in forms of concrete religious expression. Some faith traditions emphasize one more, some the other.

    I would also say that while it is true that the average Joe believer is heavily influenced in religious persuasion by his upbringing, that is not the only factor. I am one of 4 siblings raised in a religious home and we range from atheist to evangelical Christian. Something more than socialization is involved.

  67. #67 bobyu
    July 8, 2008

    Steele: “I am one of 4 siblings raised in a religious home and we range from atheist to evangelical Christian. Something more than socialization is involved.”

    Probably has a lot to do with the family pecking order, and the corresponding need for assistance felt when dealing with the rest of the world. Evangelicals in particular feel that their destiny or fate is not theirs to determine.

  68. #68 Jay Steele
    July 8, 2008

    Charles:

    The use of the term religious basically has to do with the fact that historically the search for meaning, openness to awe and mystery, etc. have manifested themselves in concrete religious practices. Personally, I am comfortable with finding meaning within the bounds of this life, and that is certainly what I talk about in my church. However, there are diverse opinions there about whether that meaning is cosmic or not. I just say that if you focus on living a meaningful life here, the cosmic part will take care of itself.

    Point taken that this post was not about the demise of religion but about bad arguments for the existence of god and the worst manifestations of religion. No argument from me that they are bad and that there are bad apples.

    I will try to be more careful about my epistomology.

  69. #69 Jay Steele
    July 8, 2008

    Windy:

    As I just responded to Charles, point taken about the purpose of the post. As for how I know that no one in my congregation believes in a supernatural God, I haven’t conducted interviews with everyone and even then I suppose they could be lying. But the better evidence is that they are there in the first place. Over the 16+ years I have been here there have been many who have come through the doors to visit who didn’t stay very long because they do believe in a supernatural god and they realized they weren’t going to find what they were looking for at this church.

  70. #70 Tulse
    July 8, 2008

    Jay, I am rather confused — in what way is what you do “religious”, as opposed to “social” or “cultural”? If you and your congregation don’t believe in the supernatural, why is it a “religious” community, instead of a club?

    And if you don’t believe in the supernatural, don’t you feel a bit silly doing all those “concrete religious practices” that do refer to God?

  71. #71 The Ridger
    July 8, 2008

    @siamang:

    SISKO!

  72. #72 Jay Steele
    July 8, 2008

    Siamang:

    I must confess that I get suckered into to responding to these kinds of threads, mostly because the religious experience mocked here is not the kind of religious experience I grew up with or practice. You will get no argument from me on how bad things have been over the last 8 years and how much of it is tied to religion. We need a change.

    The funny thing is that within my denomination and in general I refuse to argue with conservatives about the existence of God or the “truth” of scriptures. The reasoning is circular; there is no way they will budge (unless some personal experience explodes their worldview like having one of their children come out gay, then sometimes you see change). But then I wonder why people here spend their time on these arguments, and I wonder why I spend my time reading them.

    I would say that the worship that I experience and lead is a reminder to be open to the mystery, to not forget the things in this life that are most important, and then go do what you can to make the world a better place. I would also argue that the evangelical and fundamentalist communities that are the most dangerous are the ones who actually have no sense of mystery. The bible is a book of facts and laws. God has spoken clearly and finally. There is nothing new to learn. There is no sense of the mystery of life which is the impulse then for trying to figure things out.

    As for why I am a pastor of a church when I don’t believe in God, why don’t I spend my time organizing other kinds of communities. Well, first of all I spend a fair amount of time doing that in politics. But probably because I had a gentle and non-dogmatic religious upbringing I have fond memories of religious community. And the particular community I am a part of has become something of a way-station for those who are in transition from traditional theologies that don’t work for them anymore. But they, too, still want to be part of a “religious” community.

    I have no doubt that atheists who are looking for it find meaningful community.

  73. #73 Jay Steele
    July 8, 2008

    Bayesian Bouffant:

    Pardon my for quoting scripture to you but there is a NT passage where Jesus defines what it is to be a Christian by saying that “if you want to be a follower of me take up your cross and follow.” There is absolutely nothing in that passage about beliefs or creeds. I am not redefining the term; I am reclaiming it. I am a Christian because I find the story and model of his life compelling. I have chosen to continue to be part of a Christian community because his story reminds me about the importance of simple living, creating communities that are welcoming, working for peace and justice, and that there are sometimes sacrifices that need to be made in order to accomplish these important things. Can you get to these things outside Christianity and religion? Of course. But it works for me.

  74. #74 heddle
    July 8, 2008

    A pastor of a church who doesn’t believe in god–

    the mind reels.

  75. #75 JimV
    July 8, 2008

    Siamang | July 8, 2008 2:31 PM

    I see someone beat me to this, which is not suprising and in fact pleasing. I’ll put it this way: SIROTI (someone is right on the internet). That is to say, I thought your comment was a highlight of an excellent thread.

    (That implies no disrespect to any other commenter, by the way; despite the disagreements between differing points of view there are only a small handful of words here that I would rather not have seen.)

  76. #76 Jay Steele
    July 8, 2008

    Heddle:

    Perhaps you have heard of Bishop John Shelby Spong? If not you can google him. He is a retired Episcopal bishop who has spent the last several decades making the case for a non-theistic Christianity, following in the footsteps of an earlier theologian named Paul Tillich. Two of many. There are lots of non-theistic Christians and clergy. For some reason, though, we don’t get invited very often to the White House to pray with presidents.

  77. #77 heddle
    July 8, 2008

    Jay Steele,

    I know quite a bit about Spong, I own and have read Christianity Must Change or Die, know about his emphasis on homosexuality (Spong: being gay may have been Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and Jonathan and David may have been lovers) and have blogged about him a few times. (I grieve for R. C. Sproul, because his books are often next to Spongs at B&N.) Spong has jettisoned all the parts of God that he doesn’t like, and has un-deified Christ and disavowed all Christ’s miracles, but as far as I know he still believes in a supernatural, very nice and pleasant, grandfatherly, I’m OK – You’re OK, transcendent god.

  78. #78 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 8, 2008

    Jay Steele-

    Thanks for the interesting comment. Others have already made most of the points I thought of as I read it (some more courteously than others, I would add). I would object to your use of the term “religious impulse” to describe a general sense of awe and wonder at the cosmos, not because I find the term repulsive, but simply because I think it cheapens the term “religious.” If being non-religious entails not being impressed by the beauty of the cosmos, then I don’t think you will find very many non-religious people. The views you expressed about the afterlife, about the role of science, about being a nontheist and the like are precisely my own. If I am now to be considered religious then the term has truly lost all meaning.

    As for your ruminations about religious communities, I urge you to heed your own advice about generalizing from anecdotal evidence. First, comparing “atheist gatherings” to “religious communities” is to compare apples and oranges. The gatherings to which your congregants refer are not about providing emotional support systems or taking care of families going through adversity. They are more like scientific conferences, where a group of people with similar interests get together for a day or two to discuss topics of mutual concern. I have attended quite a few atheist gatherings, and I have found them to be the usual mixed bag of superficial silliness on the one hand, and thought-provoking argumentation on the other that you would expect from a large group of loosely united people.

    From the other side, it’s nice that your religious community is a place where people of different faiths can discuss their differences peacefully. But I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that many churches in this country don’t have time for such things, because they are too busy telling their congregants that they risk their souls by engaging in that sort of conversation. I can’t tell you how many students, first in Kansas and now in Virginia, have told me of the intolerance and ostracization they experienced because they dissented from the religious views of their peers. Readers of this blog are probably familiar with Salvador Cordova, who advocates for ID. He told me once that he felt very unwelcome among many of the Christian groups on campus because his views on doctrine differed slightly from the groups. He added that he always felt welcome among the skeptic’s group on campus, where he was allowed to speak to his heart’s content, and was not belittled for his views.

    Community is a basic human need. For some people that need is satisfied by religion. Others find the intolerance of so many religious institutions antithetical to fulfilling that need. Those of us who do not participate in any organized religious group satisfy that need in other ways. In my case, I find my friends, family and coworkers fill the need quite nicely.

    So how about we just agree that large groups of like-minded people, be they religious or atheist, can sometimes act like jerks, and sometimes act like the nurturing community we all need and just leave it at that.

  79. #79 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 8, 2008

    Jay Steele: Pardon my for quoting scripture to you but there is a NT passage where Jesus defines what it is to be a Christian by saying that…

    The problem with cherry-picking from the Bible is that anyone can do it. Your quote sounds a lot like Luke 14:27. If you scan up one line to Luke 14:26 you’ll find this:

    If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

  80. #80 Owlmirror
    July 8, 2008

    Spong has jettisoned all the parts of God that he doesn’t like

    As do all theists. Only they call it “hermeneutics”, or “the proper interpretation of scripture”.

    and has un-deified Christ and disavowed all Christ’s miracles

    So? Just like all of the Arians or Unitarians or Muslims or Jews?

    but as far as I know he still believes in a supernatural, very nice and pleasant, grandfatherly, I’m OK – You’re OK, transcendent god

    And of course, there’s exactly as much evidence for that sort of God as there is for any other sort, including your whimsical “regenerator”.

  81. #81 Blake Stacey
    July 8, 2008

    Jason Rosenhouse:

    As for your ruminations about religious communities, I urge you to heed your own advice about generalizing from anecdotal evidence.

    As I mentioned up-thread, I’d have to define “atheist meetings” loosely in order to say I’ve attended any at all; I think Skeptics in the Pub and The Amaz!ng Meeting qualify on reasonable grounds, as while they are not formally atheist, you’re guaranteed to find plenty of godless folk present. If I were to generalize from my own personal stock of anecdotes, “atheist meetings” would be kick-ass.

    If I am now to be considered religious then the term has truly lost all meaning.

    Yes. For the love of chocolate cake and orgasms, yes!

    Ahem.

    We now return to your normal blogospheric standards of elevated discourse.

  82. #82 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 8, 2008

    heddle –

    You wrote:

    If the universe is infinitely old, there really is no explanation of how we got, temporally speaking to here.

    You also wrote:

    However, there is no problem in this schema, in principle, for an infinite deity as long as said deity is not an infinite chain of cause and effect.

    The business about cause and effect is a red herring here. The temporal paradox, such as it is, arises from any notion of an infinitely old universe. If God has always existed, then how could He have arrived at this particular moment of time? If the universe could not have started at minus infinity (whatever that means), added inifinitely many terms, and then arrived at 2008, then neither could God. After all, even God can’t do what is logically impossible.

    You could reply that God is outside the universe as we know it, and therefore not subject to our usual notions of time, but I could say precisely the same thing about the universe. Time as we know it came into being with the Big Bang. Whatever caused the Big Bang (if it’s even meaningful to talk about a cause for the Big Bang) would have been outside our usual notion of time as well. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a perfectly natural event.

    But even if we can extend our notion of time to before the Big Bang (as some physicists have suggested), I still don’t see the paradox in an infinite string of cause and effect. Is it paradoxical to imagine time extending infinitely far into the future? (I realize that the Sun will explode in roughly five billion years, but that will not be the end of time, of course). If it is not, then why should it be paradoxical to imagine that it extends infinitely far into the past? If there is no end of time in the forward direction, then why should there be an end in the backward direction?

    Our familiar notions of time, cause and effect are probably not adequate for understanding what happened at the moment of the Big Bang. Whatever happened was plainly something far beyond our everyday experiences. But, as usual, invoking God does not clarify anything. Nor does it solve any pressing philosophical problem.

  83. #83 Blake Stacey
    July 8, 2008

    Jason Rosenhouse:

    Our familiar notions of time, cause and effect are probably not adequate for understanding what happened at the moment of the Big Bang. Whatever happened was plainly something far beyond our everyday experiences. But, as usual, invoking God does not clarify anything.

    Indeed, it’s a step backwards, for as William Lane Craig loves to insist, people have a personal being in mind when they say the word “God”. Personal beings — that is, those with at least some attributes familiar from human persons — are not exactly “far beyond our everyday experiences”. You don’t get to claim that the divine is ineffable, and then turn around and eff it with talk like, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to Earth to get nailed unto a tree.”

  84. #84 Jay Steele
    July 8, 2008

    Bayesian Bouffant:

    You say:

    The problem with cherry-picking from the Bible is that anyone can do it. Your quote sounds a lot like Luke 14:27. If you scan up one line to Luke 14:26 you’ll find this:

    If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

    True enough about cherry-picking passages. The difference between the passages, however, is that mine is fairly straightforwardly understandable in or out of context. Yours isn’t. Your passage, in context, is a challenge to the patriarchal system that said that religion is properly handed down through the family. Jesus was trying to create a new community. Both the Jews and then the Romans accused the Christians of destroying families and like any cult movement (once again using a term – cult – in its anthropological sense of being a brand new religious movement) it challenged the existing family structures. So it sounds like an awful passage, and for many who joined the movement it was experienced as awful, but that is what it means in context.

    But I doubt you want to spend time with me on discussions about scripture hermeneutics!

  85. #85 Jay Steele
    July 8, 2008

    Heddle:

    Spong most definitely does not believe in any form of supernatural God. He states often in his writings that he uses the term metaphorically.

  86. #86 heddle
    July 8, 2008

    Jason,

    But again I am not defending these proofs. The only point is that an infinite universe of cause and effect was/is considered a paradox and an impossibility. And in that schema an eternal, causeless deity was not. A deity not comprised of a chain of cause and effect is what would commonly be called a deity “outside of time” which is not unreasonable, because the arrow in time and “cause and effect” are clearly related. The issue is not the validity of the proof, but the cavalier dismissal of the infinite universe paradox, which is unwarranted, independent of a loophole for an infinite deity which itself (I’d agree) cannot easily be defended.

  87. #87 Jay Steele
    July 8, 2008

    Jason:

    You say:

    So how about we just agree that large groups of like-minded people, be they religious or atheist, can sometimes act like jerks, and sometimes act like the nurturing community we all need and just leave it at that.

    Agreed.

  88. #88 Tulse
    July 8, 2008

    A deity not comprised of a chain of cause and effect is what would commonly be called a deity “outside of time” which is not unreasonable, because the arrow in time and “cause and effect” are clearly related.

    So this deity does not experience time, and therefore literally has no experiences? It does not have one thought after another? It does not intervene temporally (such as “created the world in six days”)? Events in the world are not separate for it? It didn’t, for example, find out that humans had sinned and then decide to send its only son, which would imply a temporal ordering?

  89. #89 Lofcaudio
    July 8, 2008

    It does not have one thought after another? It does not intervene temporally (such as “created the world in six days”)? Events in the world are not separate for it? It didn’t, for example, find out that humans had sinned and then decide to send its only son, which would imply a temporal ordering?

    Correct. That is one of the side effects of omniscience.

  90. #90 heddle
    July 8, 2008

    Tulse,

    It didn’t, for example, find out that humans had sinned and then decide to send its only son, which would imply a temporal ordering?

    I don’t know how God (or generically speaking, any deity “outside of time”) thinks but it definitely isn’t reactive in most Christian theologies. For example in Reformed theology, it is taught that a covenant was made before the foundation of time (before the Big Bang) in which the Father agreed to choose a people, Christ agreed to redeem them, and the Spirit agreed to help/sanctify them. You know–the whole election thingy. I bring that up only to point out that, indeed, some theology is well-developed around the God outside of time idea. On the other end of the spectrum would be open theism–there God is inside of time and even surprised by events.

    Jay Steele,

    He states often in his writings that he uses the term metaphorically.

    You may be right about Spong�his beliefs are so unrecognizable as anything remotely Christian that nothing would surprise me. I cannot find my Christianity Must Change or Die book–maybe it vaporized on a shelf next to a Jonathan Edwards book–although Dawkins and Harris are unscathed. I do recall with certainty that he had an awful lot of God talk therein, and talked of an afterlife and a spiritual realm. If his god is but a metaphor–something that I cannot refute, I wonder what it is a metaphor of? I know of many metaphors used to describe god, but none the other way around spring to mind–so what is it? And I wonder what his afterlife is–is it also a metaphor?

  91. #91 Siamang
    July 8, 2008

    Thanks Ridger and Jim.

    I was afraid that I was trying people’s patience with such a long post.

  92. #92 Siamang
    July 8, 2008

    Thanks Jay… I think we’re all learning more about each other as this thread progresses.

  93. #93 Jay Steele
    July 8, 2008

    Heddle:

    Well, this has to be my last post on this thread as I am trying to get ready to leave in the am for Pennsylvania to visit family.

    Regarding open theology during the last half of the last century there was a significant movement away from the idea of an all-powerful god among many theologians, including Bonhoeffer, Tillich, and Alfred North Whitehead, to name the bigger names. In the wake of the Holocaust it became difficult to defend the idea of a God who could do something about evil but didn’t. For these theologians and others, god was infinitely loving but not all powerful. And god was responsive; especially for Whitehead god was and is perpetually changing, and the only power god has is persuasive. Whitehead was trying very hard to reconcile theology with evolution and argued that god is constantly evolving and at the same time the energy that is persuasively inviting the universe to evolve. I don’t have the time to do him justice; he can be googled if there is interest. In any case out of this thinking came the famous “death of god” talk in the ’60’s. It was widely vilified by traditional Christians but remains a potent force among liberal Christians.

    As for your comments about Spong, I guess I find it ironic to have the same charges leveled against him by you as by conservative Christians. Apparently there can only be one definition of Christian. Unfortunately, or I would say fortunately, that is not the case. There are many non-theistic Christians; certainly a minority, but we are there. We define our Christianity not by doctrinal faith in God but by our practice.

    Thanks to all for putting up with me on this thread.

  94. #94 Pseudonym
    July 8, 2008

    First off, hello to Jay Steele. I was brought up in a liberal Christian church, and judging by his description, I suspect I’d fit in very well in his community.

    For those who think that “non-theism” can’t be Christian, I think that this betrays a science/engineering-type bias. In science, we like our definitions to be precise. We know what is meant by terms like “mass”, “ion” and “allele”, because these are jargon words that we define precisely.

    Outside of science and engineering, linguistics doesn’t work like that. Some words, like “freedom”, mean different things to different people. Others just don’t have a nice set of features that you can use to decide what’s “in” and what’s “out”.

    Wittgenstein, arguably the father of the study of semantics, wrote at length on the subject of what, precisely, is a “game”. Card games, board games, the Olympic games, war games and mind games are all “games”, but there is no single feature or set of features that all of them have in common, that we can use to distinguish games from non-games.

    Wittgenstein argued that the best we can do is to define prototypes. This is a game, and things like it are also games.

    Now here’s the thing: Jay’s group is closer to modern mainline/liberal Christian denominations (e.g. Anglicans/Episcopalians, Methodists etc), than those denominations are to the early Christian church. So no, it doesn’t seem to me that he’s bending the definition of “Christian” any more than Rowan Williams is for commenting that not believing in a literal virgin birth isn’t a barrier to being Christian.

    If he feels that he’s a Christian, there’s really no reason not to call him one just because he doesn’t fit with my personal strawman of what I think a Christian should be.

    Indeed, deciding who’s “in” and who’s “out” is precisely what fundamentalists spend a disturbing amount of their time doing. Jack Chick, you may recall, doesn’t even think that Roman Catholics are Christian.

    The folks at Uncommon Descent routinely accuse Ken Miller of all sorts of evil dishonesty, because in their universe, theistic evolutionists are a logical impossibility. (Admittedly, this is better than Expelled, which ignored his existence, and those of scientists like him, completely.) By his mere existence, he makes their simplistic arguments seem stupid, so they define him out of existence. You can’t be a theist and agree with evolution, therefore he’s either not really a theist or not really an evolutionist.

    Defining Jay as not Christian sounds like pretty much the same argument to me.

  95. #95 windy
    July 8, 2008

    For example in Reformed theology, it is taught that a covenant was made before the foundation of time (before the Big Bang) in which the Father agreed to choose a people, Christ agreed to redeem them, and the Spirit agreed to help/sanctify them.

    How can covenants “be made” and agreements reached before the foundation of time? Maybe Dr. Dan Streetmentioner could help Reformed theologists sort out their grammar.

  96. #96 Tulse
    July 8, 2008

    some theology is well-developed around the God outside of time idea

    No, that still doesn’t work, unless they also believe that once God got things rolling (which would sure seem like an event to me), God is in time. For example, a person’s soul arriving in heaven would be an event that would be experienced by God, no? Does such a God not hear prayers, or do miracles, or intervene in any fashion in the world at all?

    I suppose one could consistently be a Deist and argue for a God out of time, but once God interacts with the world, or people interact with the non-earthly domain, God is definitely in time.

  97. #97 Blake Stacey
    July 8, 2008

    Pseudonym:

    If he feels that he’s a Christian, there’s really no reason not to call him one just because he doesn’t fit with my personal strawman of what I think a Christian should be.

    Agreed. Essentialist thinking, of the I-define-who-is-a-true-Scotsman variety, is not helpful. However, it is convenient to introduce terminology which indicates whether one particular self-identified Christian will likely have a quarrel with another self-identified Christian. To paraphrase an extreme case which our host once proposed, one could call oneself Christian because one venerates Brad Pitt, but this does not guarantee any meaningful unity with one’s nominal brethren. This is why Thoth gave us adjectives.

  98. #98 JD
    July 8, 2008

    baboo wrote,

    There would arguably be no science at all without the philosophical propositions that fuel its operations.

    That’s utter nonsense…You couldn’t be more wrong. If anything is dead it’s philosophy. The majority of working/publishing scientists I know have little interest in formal philosophy. Very few, if any, science degrees (including post-graduate ones) require taking philosophy courses.

    Science would be just as successful whether academic philosphy existed or not because science is results/evidence based. The success and predominance of science is based on its utility. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but few of us scientists give a rat’s ass what philosophers have to say.

  99. #99 JD
    July 8, 2008

    Apparenlty not. Here is the list of arguments Craig provides as representing the cutting edge of apologetics, together with my brief precis to remind you what the argument says…..

    Craig’s List (lol) of arguments is embarrassingly weak. They range from special pleading (e.g., Both Cosmological Arguments) to gross ignorance of anthropology and the evolutionary biology of social systems (e.g., The Moral Argument). No wonder it’s call apologetics….they should apologize for such pathetic attempts at producing compelling arguments for their favorite fairy tales.

  100. #100 Pseudonym
    July 8, 2008

    Blake:

    To paraphrase an extreme case which our host once proposed, one could call oneself Christian because one venerates Brad Pitt, but this does not guarantee any meaningful unity with one’s nominal brethren.

    Perhaps we could take up this line of argument if anyone ever seriously tries that. Meanwhile, back in the real world, I haven’t yet found an actual counter-example which suggests that the “let’s use self-ascription” approach is inadequate.

  101. #101 JimV
    July 9, 2008

    It seems to me that many philosophers are smart people who fall into the trap of believing their own resumes, that is that they are smart enough to deduce fundamental truths about the universe from a minimum of facts, whereas it turns out that fundamental truths of physics, biology, and so on are often counter-intuitive to ordinary experience and require lots of hard work over many generations before enough facts are acquired to begin to understand them. From what little I know of Aristotle, mostly a long list of things which he got wrong, he fit that profile. In particular, his reasoning about a universe infinite in time seems naive to me, since I am used to working with the concept of infinity in calculus and number theory.

    Granted, infinity is not an intuitive concept to begin with. One wonders what Aristotle would have thought of Cantor’s Hotel, or the fact that the measure of all the rational numbers on the real line is zero. Perhaps the safest thing to say is that it is hubristic for humans to make any definitive statement about the properties of a universe infinite in time.

    Nevertheless, here is my stab at it. I consider the function y=sin(t), for t from negative infinity to positive infinity. Familiarity having breed acceptance, I have no problem with this concept, and see no problem in how t gets from negative infinity to any finite number. I envision the whole function as an entity, and while I can not really grasp it as such, comfort myself with the notion that for any given t, no matter how large or small, in principle I could calculate sin(t).

    In the same way, it seems to me, the universe (or multiverse) could be infinite in time, with any time no matter how distant in the past of future reachable conceptually by a time machine with sufficient energy.

    Suppose on the other hand I define a function f(t) such that ft(t) = sin(t) for t = a to b, and f(t)=0 otherwise. I could consider this function to begin at a and end at b, if I attach no significance to zero values.

    Similarly I could suppose the universe started at time a and will end at time b, with nothing existing outside this time range. Some would say of such a universe that “time does not exist” outside of [a,b], but it seems to me that I could conceptionally extend time before a to negative infinity and after b to positive infinity. Why not? Then Aristotle would be faced with the same question of how time got from negative infinity to some current time t within [a,b]. For Aristotle to say he refuses to consider times before a or after b seems to me to be simply defining his way out of the real problem – which is that infinity is a mathematical singularity which defeats human intuition.

    My favorite Lord Dunsany quotation (from “The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save For Sacnoth” seems appropriate to end with:

    “This is the tale of the vanquishing of the Fortress Unvanquishable, Save For Sacnoth, and of its passing away, as it is told and believed by those who love the mystic days of old.

    Others have said, and vainly claim to prove, that a fever came to Allathurion, and went away; and that this same fever drove Leothric into the marshes by night, and made him dream there and act violently with a sword.

    And others again say that there hath been no town of Allathurion, and that Leothric never lived.

    Peace to them. The gardener hath gathered up this autumn’s leaves. Who shall see them again, or who wot of them? And who shall say what hath befallen in the days of long ago?”

  102. #102 Daniel Elstner
    July 9, 2008

    We know what is meant by terms like “mass”, “ion” and “allele”, because these are jargon words that we define precisely.

    Aye.

    Outside of science and engineering, linguistics doesn’t work like that. Some words, like “freedom”, mean different things to different people.

    Ah!

    Humpty Dumpty: When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.
    Alice: The question is, whether you can make words mean so many different things.
    Humpty Dumpty: The question is: which is to be master – that’s all.

    A game indeed.

    Sure, the vast majority of human communication lacks the rigor and precision of science or engineering. However, it is still the same game with the same basic goal: To pass along information in a manner meaningful to the recipient.

    Any attempt to communicate relies on the implicit assumption that there will be at least some symbols with largely identical meaning to both parties. A meaningful conversation about anything requires some common ground, including if the exchange is emotional rather than intellectual.

    Indeed, deciding who’s “in” and who’s “out” is precisely what fundamentalists spend a disturbing amount of their time doing. Jack Chick, you may recall, doesn’t even think that Roman Catholics are Christian.

    Well, a word generally has a meaning at least to the person using it, and ideally to the recipients as well. Even nonsense words have a meaning in the most basic sense of the word. It becomes a game only when people deny the need for common ground, however fuzzy the ground may be. Myself, I don’t really care who’s in and who’s out. You be the master.

    The folks at Uncommon Descent routinely accuse Ken Miller of all sorts of evil dishonesty, because in their universe, theistic evolutionists are a logical impossibility.

    I think they are wrong about that one, at least according to my own definition of “Christian”. However, a theistic non-theist is definitely a logical impossibility. It’s an oxymoron recognizable as such at the grammatical level. In my view, any playing around with commonly understood meanings in order to defuse the oxymoron will be just that: playing around. It’s a game about as entertaining as Ludo, and unfortunately equally popular.

    The definition of “Christian” I use is rather fuzzy, and usually I don’t question someone’s self-identification. That said, I do expect a Christian to at least be a theist.

    Defining Jay as not Christian sounds like pretty much the same argument to me.

    I don’t mind. Your style of argument made you sound awfully like a politician, by the way. No offense; I can’t help my annoyingly lecturing tone either. :) Must be the blood.

    I think Jay can use whatever definition of “Christian” he likes and “label” himself accordingly. As long as he’s willing to share his definition in the event of a debate about the topic.

  103. #103 baboo
    July 9, 2008

    When the philosopher speaks of infinity, he/she may not be restricting himself to, paradoxically, the finite limits of mathematics. He may be, within the limits of our language, simply thinking of that which in mathematical terms seems unthinkable – that however we might describe time, we cannot seem to formulate a concept of an existence that was never begun.
    And while we think we hear him speaking of extending time either backward or forward, what we could and perhaps should have heard him saying is that change is relative to time rather than time relative to change.

  104. #104 David
    July 9, 2008

    I’ve owned a copy of a book edited by Plantinga on the Ontological Argument for about 40 years – it’s falling apart, as it’s had a lot of use. The most positive thing I can say about it is that Plantinga had the intellectual honesty to include all the essays which conclusively demolish the argument, from Kant on down and including Bradley’s (I think) pointing out that existence is not a predicate, and some others which cast some doubt on it (particularly Anselms’ contemporary Gaunillo – the argument has been known to be dodgy right from the start).

    Another useful volume is Hume’s “Twelve Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion”. Although his demolition of the Ontological Argument is not all that rigorous, it’s entertaining, and he does a number on all the other arguments as well.

    I don’t think there’s really anything new to say here.

  105. #105 baboo
    July 9, 2008

    Oh and JD, I don’t give a rats ass for the opinion of someone that can’t separate formal philosophy as it’s taught in academia from the great body of philosophical thought that is in fact responsible for any and all of the sciences taught in those same cloistered circles.

    It’s not what your narrow mind has assumed philosophers “have to say today,” but what they have said, without which there would be no today as you think you know it.

  106. #106 MartinM
    July 9, 2008

    Oh well, I cry uncle. You guys have clearly demonstrated that Aristotle was a fool to puzzle over such obvious matters. Once again I did not foresee the raw power of the argument by “summarily dismissing as trivial with extreme prejudice and with no explanation.” That one always stumps me–I should really be ready for it by now.

    Several of us have argued that your statement of the problem is fundamentally incoherent. As far as I can tell, there are two legitimate types of counter-argument. You could argue that A: the problem can be re-stated in a meaningful way, or B: your statement is not incoherent. You seem to have opted instead for C: summarily dismiss our arguments as summary dismissals and engage in pointless passive-agressive whining. This does little to advance the discussion.

  107. #107 heddle
    July 9, 2008

    MartinM,

    C: summarily dismiss our arguments as summary dismissals and engage in pointless passive-agressive whining. This does little to advance the discussion.

    Bullshit.

    The issue was stated clearly enough: an infinite universe is a longstanding and unresolved philosophical and mathematical puzzle, not head-exploding nonsense. Can’t get any clearer than that. You don’t have an answer, that’s fine, nobody else does either. But what was displayed was intellectual cowardice: denying that the problem exists. I would speculate, without much risk, that it is because it has theistic overtones. It can, but not necessarily so.

    And what “arguments” would that be? Actually I, the theist here, not you, not anyone else– except Jason who hinted at the same point– was the only one to offer a possible source of a solution: the singularity associated with the Big Bang or Big Bangs.

    But maybe I am wrong–so if you do have an argument that I missed, pleased indulge me and explain, again, no hemming, no hawing, no obfuscation, in straightforward terms, how an infinitely old universe is not a philosophical and mathematical puzzle.

  108. #108 Tulse
    July 9, 2008

    Explain, again, no hemming, no hawing, no obfuscation, in straightforward terms, how an infinitely old God is not a philosophical and mathematical puzzle.

  109. #109 heddle
    July 9, 2008

    Tulse,

    Explain, again, no hemming, no hawing, no obfuscation, in straightforward terms, how an infinitely old God is not a philosophical and mathematical puzzle.

    Why? I didn’t imply infinite universe and or infinite deity was so trivial that anyone taking it seriously made my head explode, or that it could be dismissed out of hand. But it was you and others who suggested or implied that the infinite universe puzzle was no big deal.

    I said, up above, that the loophole the “proof” affords for an infinite deity is not easily defended. So you asking me to prove something that I admit is difficult is hardly the same as my asking you to demonstrate something that is allegedly trivial.

    Suggesting a long standing problem is not a problem puts the onus on you to provide your obvious solution.

    So do it, if you can, without hemming, hawing, obfuscation or deflection.

  110. #110 MartinM
    July 9, 2008

    The issue was stated clearly enough: an infinite universe is a longstanding and unresolved philosophical and mathematical puzzle, not head-exploding nonsense. Can’t get any clearer than that.

    Of course you can! That isn’t even an issue; merely the claim that an issue exists. Were that all that had been said, denying that any such issue exists would have been a perfectly adequate response.

    But, of course, specific objections to a past-eternal Universe were raised. Craig’s statement of the problem:

    If the universe never had a beginning, then the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. Not only is this a very paradoxical idea, but it also raises the problem: How could the present event ever arrive if an infinite number of prior events had to elapse first?

    And your own:

    Please explain how you can start at -infinity, add an infinite number of terms in a non-alternating sequence, where the terms do not converge to zero, and end up in 2008.

    Far from summarily dismissing this point, several of us argued that this objection is based in a fundamental misunderstanding of what a past-eternal Universe actually entails. Both of you are treating infinity as a number, whereas in Craig’s statement it’s a cardinality, and in yours a limit.

    Craig’s statement of the problem fails because, just as the difference between two real numbers is always finite, the number of events between two any events is also finite, even in a past-eternal Universe. Yours fails because -infinity is not a number, and thus one cannot ‘start’ there in any meaningful sense, let alone add anything to it.

    We could, of course, extend the real line to include a point at (unsigned) infinity, or two points at positive and negative infinity. That doesn’t rescue your argument, however; the former is homeomorphic to a circle, and the latter to the unit interval.

  111. #111 Tulse
    July 9, 2008

    it was you and others who suggested or implied that the infinite universe puzzle was no big deal.

    You’ve misunderstood me. I was never arguing that an infinite universe was not problematic philosophically — I was suggesting that distinguishing between the philosophical problems of an infinite universe and an infinite God was not justified, and that any problems associated with the former would also apply to the latter.

    I said, up above, that the loophole the “proof” affords for an infinite deity is not easily defended.

    Right, so we agree that both are problematic.

  112. #112 heddle
    July 9, 2008

    MartinM,

    No obfuscation please. OK, Forget my formulation of the problem. Just use Craig’s

    If the universe never had a beginning, then the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. Not only is this a very paradoxical idea, but it also raises the problem: How could the present event ever arrive if an infinite number of prior events had to elapse first?

    How about we break it into premises:

    P1. The universe is infinitely old.
    P2. The number of events in the universe is infinite.

    You are challenging P2, I think. You wrote above:

    Craig’s statement of the problem fails because, just as the difference between two real numbers is always finite, the number of events between two any events is also finite, even in a past-eternal Universe.

    We can take “event” to mean the period of a level transition of an atomic clock. If I understand you correctly, you say P2 is wrong and the clock would tick a finite number of times between its past-eternal startup and now, in 2008. If the oscillation is 10^-9 seconds, what is this finite number of ticks that occurred? I think that is a fair question based on your claim.

    I anticipate that you will respond that I can’t place the clock in the infinte past. But that is just admitting the problem. And if I can’t place the clock in the infinite past, you have demonstrated nothing, because we all agree that in any finite duration, no matter how long, we can count the ticks.

    On the other hand, if you grant P2,

    Given P1 and P2, how do you explain that we have arrived at 2008?

    That is Craig’s statement. I say it is a legitimate puzzle. The consensus here is that it is stupid to the point of boggling the mind. I would like to know why it is manifestly dumb

  113. #113 heddle
    July 9, 2008

    Tulse,

    OK, sorry I misunderstood you and grouped you with some others.

  114. #114 MartinM
    July 9, 2008

    You are challenging P2, I think.

    No, not at all.

    Given P1 and P2, how do you explain that we have arrived at 2008?

    Simply by pointing out that there exists no time in the past from which we could not reach 2008. If there is such a time, what is it? If not, what’s the problem?

  115. #115 ctw
    July 9, 2008

    Ah, MartinM has (inadvertently) answered my earlier question to heddle, viz, what is heddle adding to what? Apparently, “events” are time intervals which are being added to t = -oo.

    In addition to the problem of treating -oo as a number, it strikes me that the specific phrasing “how does one arrive at 2008” is misleading since it implies if not a “starting point” at least a reference point, viz, zero. But that seems to be taking the image of time as something accumulated by a clock too literally.

    Instead of viewing a clock as accumulating time, imagine discovering a seemingly eternal clock (in a sense, isn’t that what an atomic clock is?) just blinking at one second intervals (ie, no counting). In that scenario, “now” is the current tick, there have been an infinite number of ticks prior to the current one (P2), there is no “then” (P1), hence “how we arrived at now from then” appears to have no meaning.

    Perhaps I’m still missing some subtlety – or more likely, reinventing the wheel.

    Oh, and a preemptive defense: I don’t mean to be dismissive re the problem posed. It took me a while to understand it and a while longer to come up with an argument – an argument that may be flawed or even foolish, but is nonetheless a serious attempt to address the issue.

    – Charles

  116. #116 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 9, 2008

    That is Craig’s statement. I say it is a legitimate puzzle. The consensus here is that it is stupid to the point of boggling the mind. I would like to know why it is manifestly dumb

    Are you still at this? If by “puzzle” you mean “this is a difficult concept to grasp,” then fine, it’s a puzzle. If you mean “my difficulty in grasping this proves that there is some contradiction or other problem with the proposal,” then you have failed to establish your case. I guess it’s not enough for you to be wrong, you have to be persistently wrong.

  117. #117 baboo
    July 9, 2008

    Most if not all paradoxes and puzzles presented as such by Christians and the like in defense of their dogma were and are rationalizations created through an organized process of self-deception.

  118. #118 Blake Stacey
    July 9, 2008

    Pseudonym:

    Perhaps we could take up this line of argument if anyone ever seriously tries that. Meanwhile, back in the real world, I haven’t yet found an actual counter-example which suggests that the “let’s use self-ascription” approach is inadequate.

    /me is confused

    You yourself cited an example where self-ascription leads to a problematic situation: Jack Chick and company refuse to accept Catholics’ self-identification as Christians. Therefore, the statement “no serious quarrel can exist among people who all self-identify as Christian” is in error. Likewise, the blog post to which I linked earlier concerned a situation where a scientist who self-identified as “Christian” claimed that his Christianity was entirely in accord with his scientific world-view. Looking at the details of his self-described Christianity, Jason Rosenhouse and others argued that other Christians would probably feel that it omits key parts of their faith. In other words, if that scientist’s view of Christianity is what’s necessary to reconcile faith with science, then others who self-identify as Christians will likely find that reconciliation a cold comfort indeed.

    From these and like examples, I conclude that the labels which people apply to themselves are not sufficient information to predict where quarrels and incompatibilities will arise. Therefore, self-ascriptions should be augmented with modifiers to carry the required information.

  119. #119 Blake Stacey
    July 9, 2008

    Michael Ruse said the following:

    More seriously, Dawkins is entirely ignorant of the fact that no believer-with the possible exception of some English clerics in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries-has ever thought that arguments are the best support for belief.

    Y’know, after thinking about it, I wonder if he’s not missing the point entirely. Sure, people don’t choose to believe after reading one of these supposed “proofs”, or after studying a whole book of them — just like they don’t reject other religions only after a careful study of those religions’ cosmogonies and theodicies. To echo Dawkins, “Most Christians happily disavow Baal and the Flying Spaghetti Monster without reference to monographs of Baalian exegesis or Pastafarian theology.”

    Precisely because judgments of belief are grounded in belief, most people are only familiar with treating the “big questions” as matters of faith. When all our stories involve answering “How?” and “Why?” in religious terms, then treating these questions through reason and empiricism is completely beyond our narrative horizon. Thus, perhaps, the canard that “atheists have just as much faith as the fundamentalists they despise”, and the casual conflation of awe and artistry with a “religious impulse”. . . .

    Anyway, one reason for approaching the “big questions” through argument and analysis is exactly because people don’t have the habit of doing so.

  120. #120 Pseudonym
    July 9, 2008

    Blake Stacey:

    You yourself cited an example where self-ascription leads to a problematic situation: Jack Chick and company refuse to accept Catholics’ self-identification as Christians.

    I meant that as an example where prescription is problematic: people differ on what the “correct” prescription is.

    Avoiding quarrels is not my plan. Moreover, I find it very hard to care whether or not I hurt the feelings of Jack Chick.

    My point is that it doesn’t make sense to define someone’s beliefs out of existence. If someone genuinely, honestly calls themselves a Christian, it’s not my place to dispute that. Rather than say that Fred Phelps is not a Christian, I’d prefer to point out how much he is not following the teachings and example of Jesus (say). So he would be a hypocritical Christian, but a Christian nonetheless.

    To do otherwise would be like calling someone whose political beliefs you disagree with “un-American” (feel free to substitute your own country), although at least in the case of “American” (or whatever nationality you substituted), there’s usually independent evidence of citizenship in some form or other.

  121. #121 Ginger Yellow
    July 10, 2008

    If the church adopts this course of action, the consequences in the next generation will be catastrophic. Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality. Meanwhile, scientific naturalism will continue to shape our culture’s view of how the world really is.

    And this is a problem why?

    If the universe never had a beginning, then the number of past events in the history of the universe is infinite. Not only is this a very paradoxical idea, but it also raises the problem: How could the present event ever arrive if an infinite number of prior events had to elapse first?

    … said the tortoise to Achilles.

  122. #122 heddle
    July 10, 2008

    Ginger Yellow,

    … said the tortoise to Achilles.

    Surely you see there is no connection between the paradox of an infinitely old universe of cause and effect and Zeno’s paradox. The latter is the paradox of how a finite distance can be represented as an infinite sum–which of course is now well understood high school math. The former is not about a finite interval, but an infinite interval. They are not the same problem, not even close.

  123. #123 baboo
    July 10, 2008

    The definitive connection between any and all paradoxical formulations is that they are illusory constructions in a syllogistic format, and not only should they never be used to demonstrate the truth of any proposition, but in Heddle’s hands, are being used, even worse, to assist him in what can never be anything more a probability assessment.

  124. #124 Chad
    July 10, 2008

    “Everything that began to exist had a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe had a cause.”

    What evidence does anyone have that the universe “began to exist”? We have evidence that it began expanding about 13.8 gya, but not that it was created or “began to exist.”

    “Objective moral values exists, which is not possible without God.”

    Says who? Craig? All one needs to do is look back in time far enough to see how “divine morality” seems to be a function of time and the level of sophistication of the society it exists in. More of the same silly apologetics.

    BTW, how do you “quote” in comments?

  125. #125 baboo
    July 10, 2008

    In other words, there is no such thing as a first cause unless every cause is the first of its kind, and by that definition will be the last of its kind as well.

  126. #126 TH
    July 11, 2008

    heddle to MartinM:

    We can take “event” to mean the period of a level transition of an atomic clock. If I understand you correctly, you say P2 is wrong and the clock would tick a finite number of times between its past-eternal startup and now, in 2008. If the oscillation is 10^-9 seconds, what is this finite number of ticks that occurred? I think that is a fair question based on your claim.

    I anticipate that you will respond that I can’t place the clock in the infinte past. But that is just admitting the problem. And if I can’t place the clock in the infinite past, you have demonstrated nothing, because we all agree that in any finite duration, no matter how long, we can count the ticks.

    My apologies for weighting in this conversation if I’ve been too thick to understand the problem correctly (and also for my possibly rather bad English), but doesn’t infinity in this context mean that you can choose any moment in the past and start counting the clock’s ticks and eventually get to the present year but there exists no lower bound where to start since the clock never actually started ticking in the first place?

    I return to lurk for now.

  127. #127 JimV
    July 11, 2008

    BTW, how do you “quote” in comments?

    Posted by: Chad | July 10, 2008 2:24

    To do what I just did, type [blockquote]BTW, how …[/blockquote], except use angled brackets instead of the square ones I used. You can also substitute [i]TEXT[/i] or [b]TEXT[/b] for italicising or bolding. Again, use the angled brackets.

    That works at this site. At some others, you use square brackets instead of angle brackets; at others you use [em] instead of [i] – the screen where you enter comments usually gives some hints. Try the wikipedia article on HTML for more information.

    … but doesn’t infinity in this context mean that you can choose any moment in the past and start counting the clock’s ticks and eventually get to the present year but there exists no lower bound where to start since the clock never actually started ticking in the first place?

    Posted by: TH | July 11, 2008 8:55 AM

    Yes, that’s a good way of stating what some of us have been trying to say. This sub-thread started with the early comment:

    My head then exploded from the amount of stupid it was trying to absorb.

    Posted by: SiMPel MYnd | July 7, 2008 7:39 PM

    which was a reaction to WL Craig’s use of the -infinity “starting point” argument to prove the existence of WLC’s god.

    Personally, I agree that that comment could have used more exposition and less partisan cheer-leading. (I blame evolution, which does not produce perfect commenters.) However, I do think WLC’s argument founders both on the modern understanding of the concept of infinity, and also due to commenter Tulse’s point that if there were a logical problem with an eternal universe, an eternal god does nothing to solve it.

  128. #128 jo5ef
    July 12, 2008

    Great thread guys! (except for the infinite past stuff, get over it Huddle). More power to ya Jay Steele and Siamang.
    As for the arguments, pretty weak, nothing new there.
    One point about “religous feeling”: whilst I acknowledge the force of the arguments of Jason et al, we do seem to love discussing and pondering these same questions again and again. For us humans God seems like the missing tooth that you cant help feeling for. (please do not interpret this as an endorsement for the existence of God).

  129. #129 Paul Murray
    July 12, 2008

    “There’s been a revolution in advanced navel-gazing? Philosophers have no testable ideas, and have no useful ideas, and exist for no good reason other than to …”

    Good ole american-style anti-intellectualism at work I see.

    Do you think that human rights are a good thing? That’s philosophy. Do you think that people ought to respect your posessions? That there exists such a thing as the United States? That laws ought to be obeyed? Or that they oght to be obeyed, except in certain circumstances? That’s philosophy.

    You you thing that we should make our decisions based on reason? That the physical universe is real, and all the Gods and Spirits are just hogwash? Guess what? That too is philosophy.

    Philosophy – by definition – is what you get when you dig down far enough in any line of inquiry. It’s thinking about thinking, which is something all thinking people do – even you.

  130. #130 Paul Murray
    July 12, 2008

    “What I see in religion is that it’s become complacent with mystery. It worships the mystery instead of taking mystery as a challenge.”

    As the book of Proverbs puts it: “It is the glory of God to coneal a matter. It is the glory of a King to find it out.”. Seems King S used to fund science. :-P

  131. #131 Chris
    July 13, 2008

    I’m not much into this debate, nor have I ever been.

    Here is my argument on the subject (very brief).

    1. God exists.
    2. God did not create a dualistic reality.
    3. Our material world is a delusional mental projection.
    4. We are responsible for making this world.
    5. God is the source of life (creator), not the source of material objects.
    6. Life is about the spirit/mind, and not the body. The body is nothing but a temporary interface for the mind to interact with the false world it made.
    7. Religion is inherently misguided. You cannot find God by listening to someone else’s interpretation of reality. You must find it for yourself.
    8. Just because you have no frame of reference for God existing, or spirit, or anything etc.. Doesn’t mean that it does not exist. Just because you are blind, doesn’t mean that everyone else is.

  132. #132 Chris
    July 13, 2008

    Also, I’d like to add a little more detail.

    1. We are part of God. We are part Gods extension (creation), that has decided to separate ourselves from our source. This in turn produced the material reality after a detailed process. This is why duality is inherently based on principles of separation and division.
    2. Perception does not make reality. What you perceive is not automatically real.
    3. Time is not linear, but our perception of it is. All of time actually happened within one instant.
    4. Evolution is accurate as far as the linear process of how the world came to be at this moment. Although, it is technically not accurate, because the entire material world is a delusion, anyway (material world can be seen as “space” if you want it to).
    5. This material world will never fully satisfy you, because it is not your home. You will always be missing something until you decide to return your mind to God.
    6. Being dependent on God to think is not a weakness, but an unbelievable strength. Our thoughts are misguided, short sighted, and lead us to suffering. You will never understand true peace, knowledge, or happiness until you return your mind to where it belongs.
    7. You have free will. You can choose to delay your return and suffer as long as you want. However, you cannot establish the truth of reality. God and heaven are not dependent on your beliefs and/or perceptions. They are constant no matter how deluded you are about truth.
    8. Looking at the world for proof of God and/or spirit is erroneous. You cannot find God in this world, because God does not even acknowledge it’s existence (to do so would completely collapse reality, and is impossible). If you are really interested in finding truth, seek within your mind.
    9. To clarify a point in the last post. If duality is a delusion, then naturally individuality must be as well (since it is merely a further division of duality). There is only one mind.
    10. When you wake up, it is done. You do not “wait” for anyone else, because there is no one else who you need wait for. You awake to the moment when all minds awake, for there is as stated, only one mind anyway.

  133. #133 Chris
    July 13, 2008

    One more thing. I am not a creationist, a Christian, or an anything. I subscribe to no ism or in or doctrine other then truth.

    You do not need a vast intellectual and/or analytical understanding to find God. It can help in some cases, and be detrimental in others.

    I am highly fascinated by evolution. I’m not trying to say that it is BS, or that these creatures never existed. A dinosaur is just as real as a cow, a therapsid is just as real as a horse. All are equally unreal in reality.

  134. #134 Nathan Schneider
    July 17, 2008

    Let me invite you to see my response to “God Is Not Dead Yet” that has just been published at the web-mag Religion Dispatches. I’m eager for readers and feedback, so I’d love to hear if you have any reactions.

    At Religion Dispatches.
    A mention of it on my blog, The Row Boat.

  135. #135 Jason Rackow
    July 17, 2008

    I am a Christian and I believe God created this world. Here’s why:

    First of all, I think there are many unanswered questions about our origins on both sides. But one of the arguments I don’t often see is the validity of the scriptures, and life of Jesus, based on the over 300 fulfilled prophecies. There is certainly more to the story, if indeed one man fulfilled all of these prophecies. Some of them, when reading them, you would not even suppose that they were talking about something to come. But, they’re there. I realize that has nothing to do with origins, but then you must account for the claims of Jesus to go along with that. Through the claims, you’ve maybe heard that you must deduce that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. The 3 L’s, as they’ve come to be known.

    So, Jesus makes these claims that He and the Father are One in each other. That He was not some guy that is just now being thought up. He is the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word is God. And this Word spoke this world into existence.

    When we look at what that potential Word (Jesus) spoke, perhaps we see the remnants of this speaking, even as it is still expanding, and see what we’ve come to call a Big Bang. We may note that there was nothing, and all of a sudden, there was something.

    This is an intersection that I think both Creationists and Evolutionists find themselves at. It can not be argued as something that is not based on religious belief, because it absolutely is. Each group is looking at the same facts and attempting to fit it into the mold of which we already believe.

    One group believes in no god.
    The other group believes in God.

  136. #136 Jason Rackow
    July 17, 2008

    I am a Christian and I believe God created this world. Here’s why:

    First of all, I think there are many unanswered questions about our origins on both sides. But one of the arguments I don’t often see is the validity of the scriptures, and life of Jesus, based on the over 300 fulfilled prophecies. There is certainly more to the story, if indeed one man fulfilled all of these prophecies. Some of them, when reading them, you would not even suppose that they were talking about something to come. But, they’re there. I realize that has nothing to do with origins, but then you must account for the claims of Jesus to go along with that. Through the claims, you’ve maybe heard that you must deduce that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. The 3 L’s, as they’ve come to be known.

    So, Jesus makes these claims that He and the Father are One in each other. That He was not some guy that is just now being thought up. He is the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word is God. And this Word spoke this world into existence.

    When we look at what that potential Word (Jesus) spoke, perhaps we see the remnants of this speaking, even as it is still expanding, and see what we’ve come to call a Big Bang. We may note that there was nothing, and all of a sudden, there was something.

    This is an intersection that I think both Creationists and Evolutionists find themselves at. It can not be argued as something that is not based on religious belief, because it absolutely is. Each group is looking at the same facts and attempting to fit it into the mold of which we already believe.

    One group believes in no god.
    The other group believes in God.

  137. #137 KAS
    July 19, 2008

    Jay Steele,

    In regards to your following statement;

    “And, quite frankly, while I have no belief in an afterlife, there is no denying that there are some things that science simply can’t prove or disprove, like what happens to us when we die. This is one “gap” that has always been, and I suspect, always will be, filled by some kind of religious response.”

    Your statement is false. Science does prove what happens when you die.

    Cause: Something stops working effectively; heart, brain, cardiovascular system, etc. Or, something interfered with the biology; cancer, injury, decapitation, etc. causing a failure in the ability for the body to function and in turn, causing a failure in the ability for the brain to function.

    Effect: An individual conciousness stops working. The body, which consists of organic materials, is either completely utilized by other living organisms or converted/dispersed through the process of decay.

    We understand through science how we think and how we perceive. We know that these things happen because of our brains processes. Science has proven that the brain causes the effect of consciousness and perception; so, science can theorize based on this. That if the brain causes consciousness and perception, then without the brain you do not have consciousness or perception.

    The answer to what happens after you die to your consciousness or ‘self’ is nothing.

    What happens to your body after you die is that it breaks down from being one organic life form functioning as the result of complex collaboration of many componants following genetic directions; to being individual, inactive components.

    Without the brain functioning, nothing can happen to the ‘self’, as the ‘self’ no longer exists.

    Your implication here is contradictory as well. How can you state denial of a belief in the afterlife? Aren’t you stating that belief, by questioning if something can happen after death?

    KAS

  138. #138 baboo
    July 19, 2008

    KAS, you have presented an hypothesis as to what happens when and after we “die” based on a series of observations made by scientists and philosophers that seem to present the most credible consensus. This doesn’t amount to proof of what happens, as it cannot even be assumed that it includes all of the ways our body parts and functions are redistributed. No mention was made, for example, of what happens to the bacteria we have hosted, or to the possible degree of consciousness of those structures, or to how much of our own consciousness could have been attributed to theirs.
    Science might support the probability assessment that there is no afterlife of the sort commonly posited by the various religions, but that’s about it. it cannot even say that all of what had constituted our bodies, minds included, has completely died.

  139. #139 Cooper
    July 21, 2008

    Every time I hear Plantinga’s reductio that materialism alone cannot guarantee reliable rationality, it makes me smile deep inside. It’s the perfect argument *for* a solely material basis of consciousness.

    The fact is, we don’t have rational minds. We engage in confirmation bias, wishful thinking, intentional ignorance, etc. There’s a lot about our minds that makes far more sense to be in the mind of a sometimes-hunted, not-so-robust ape living in the jungle.

    The only way to overcome these tendencies is to pit them against each other–which is what debate and peer review are all about.

  140. #140 Robert O'Brien
    July 22, 2008

    “My head then exploded from the amount of stupid it was trying to absorb.”

    Shorter SiMPel Mynd: I am stupid; my head a-splode.

    “Will the last serious philosopher with a “proof for God” remember to turn the light out when they retire?”

    If you lack the native intelligence to refute the arguments, then just say so.

    “Theological arguments all have one thing in common: observations are not allowed as premises.”

    Are you always this stupid, or are you making a special effort for this thread?

    “I am the pastor of a liberal church in MN. Personally, I am a non-theist.”

    Liberal church = apostate church.

    “The universe, or cosmos, always was, always will be, had no beginning, will have no ending.
    Life in some form will have always existed and will always exist. ‘Gods’ have always been invented by some as causes and always will be. Forms will continue to believe they are at the center of a universe which has no center. There will always be forms that believe that the universe around them is purposeful. There will occasionally be forms that evolve well and long enough to realize they are in fact the only purposeful elements.
    Get used to it.”

    Your view of the universe was discredited years ago. Get used to it, pinhead.

    “Bertrand Russell wrote…”

    The same naive Russell who was turned on his head by Goedel.

    “I’m an artist by trade…”

    That’s a surprise!

    “Perhaps you have heard of Bishop John Shelby Spong?”

    Spong is a false prophet, and a mediocre one at that.

    “They range from special pleading (e.g., Both Cosmological Arguments) to gross ignorance of anthropology and the evolutionary biology of social systems (e.g., The Moral Argument).”

    I am sure Craig knows about ethology. He probably just dismisses it as glorified fluff as I do.

    “The most positive thing I can say about it is that Plantinga had the intellectual honesty to include all the essays which conclusively demolish the argument, from Kant on down and including Bradley’s (I think) pointing out that existence is not a predicate, and some others which cast some doubt on it (particularly Anselms’ contemporary Gaunillo – the argument has been known to be dodgy right from the start).”

    No, those arguments only demonstrate that people have been misunderstanding the Ontological Argument for years and continue to do so.

  141. #141 shortie
    July 22, 2008

    O’Brien, your view of the universe has never been credited, so any opinion as to mine being discredited is premature at best.
    Oh, and there is little sting in being called a pinhead by anyone silly enough to call Russell naive, or take the ontological argument seriously.
    And it’s OK to take pride (as you do on your site) in being a conservative. Some would say it’s a choice to be ashamed of, but I suspect from your writings that the choice was inevitable and you can’t be held accountable for cranial birth defects.
    http://i73.photobucket.com/albums/i210/holygroundhog/me7.jpg

  142. #142 Robert O'Brien
    July 22, 2008

    “O’Brien, your view of the universe has never been credited, so any opinion as to mine being discredited is premature at best.”

    Keep deluding yourself.

    “Oh, and there is little sting in being called a pinhead by anyone silly enough to call Russell naive, or take the ontological argument seriously.”

    He was naive about mathematics and philosophy, your delusions to the contrary notwithstanding.

  143. #143 izmir evden eve
    July 26, 2008

    thanks youu.

  144. #145 KAS
    August 4, 2008

    Baboo,

    You’re right. I cannot portray definitive proof, as there is none (to prove, you would have to die.) However, as you state, I can outline a hypothesis of the most reasonable truth, based upon facts and understandings we do know. It is far better, and scientifically closer, than religious fable.

    I particularly liked where you went with this… I would not dispute that ‘life’ or consciousness could be apparent in every component of the body, not just the brain. Organisms do live within the body as do living cells; may they also share in consciousness?

    I still support the probability assessment of no afterlife, over fanciful fictitious views of heaven, hell or the like. I think that reason states, if one is far more likely than the other and you must choose you pick the theory most supported by fact, that the outcome of life is death, with no extension or bonus pack included.

    Don’t get me wrong; I, just like everyone else would like to believe in the afterlife. As that means I get to be alive/aware longer than my time on earth. But, I also would like to win a million bucks, have perfect health and find my dream job… wanting or wishing does not make something factual or likely.

  145. #146 baboo
    August 4, 2008

    KAS, all life is in some fashion the afterlife of some progenitors, and what we call instincts are in a sense the memories of experiences undergone by those ancestral entities. We are, perhaps, their heavens and hells combined. If so, some poor “dead” bastards are as we speak living in the mind-hells of a Robert OBrien.

    But again, that’s about it.

  146. #147 izmr evden eve
    August 8, 2008

    Thank you for sharing…

  147. #148 Collin Brendemuehl
    August 10, 2008

    Jason,

    You’ve missed something. Well, several things, to be more accurate.

    Craig is a Classic/Evidential apologist. And when, in Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. he paints Plantinga within evidentialism, most (of us) would say that he is miscategorizing what really amounts to Reformed Epistemology. (see both Warrant and Proper Function and Naturalism Defeated for both the position and the defense against naturalism and evolution. Take note how some of the evolutionists concede. These are not lightweights.)

    And just like Paulos you missed the other segments of apologetics. Five Views on Apologetics will give you that introduction. Evidentialism is not our best defense. In this your failing is the same as Paulos.

    Collin

  148. #149 fongooly
    August 10, 2008

    Among the beliefs based on purposeful causation of all things, Christianity is among the oddest. To be alert to the possibility of causation in nature gave primitive peoples a short term advantage. To believe in the essential paradox that energizes the Christian doctrine has simply taken away any such advantage for a world that looks to the long term as much as the short term for sustenance.

    What is that paradox? Well at bottom it’s the belief that we are creations of a God that punishes us for having accepted the dubious gift of that creation. One wonders how such a design could ever be feted as intelligent.

    Apologetics that result from such idiocy are the essence of institutionalized delusion.

  149. #150 chat
    November 12, 2008

    thank you..

  150. #152 mirc
    March 4, 2009

    thanks you

  151. #153 mirc indir
    March 4, 2009

    thanks you

  152. #154 mirc indir
    March 4, 2009

    thanks

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