Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Natural and Unnatural

I posted a question on Yahoo answers recently asking how vegans felt about breast feeding. You see, vegans differ from vegetarians in that while neither will eat meat, vegetarians are at least willing to eat animal products such as eggs, milk, and cheese. Vegans won't even eat animal products. So I was curious to know how they felt about breast feeding since that involves consuming an animal product.

The best answer I got was essentially this:

1. Vegans are against exploitation.
2. Breast feeding is not exploitation, but eating non-human animal products is.
3. Therefore vegans are okay with breast feeding, but they are against eating non-human animal products.

That seemed consistent to me.

But there was another argument brought up that I wasn't so sure about. A few people pointed out that breast feeding is natural, but eating the products of other animals is not. It was as if to say that as long as something is natural, it is okay, and if it is unnatural, then it is not okay.

I almost posted another question about that. I was curious to know how vegans felt about homosexuality. Arguably, it's unnatural since male parts and female parts are complimentary, but same sex parts aren't. To be consistent, shouldn't vegans also oppose homosexuality for the same reason? But most vegans I've met tend to be liberal, and most liberals tend to be okay with homosexuality.

Of course a lot of people will say that homosexuality is natural just because other animals also engage in homosexual behavior. But if a vegan makes that argument, they will undermine their argument for being vegan. After all, coyotes eat chicken eggs. In fact, LOTS of other animals eat eggs that don't belong to them. Does that make eating eggs natural and therefore okay? And I've also seen interspecies breast feeding, although that usually happens in captivity more than in the wild, so I guess they could say it's still unnatural.

I'm not convinced that natural = okay or that unnatural = bad. I can think of counter-examples of both. But what do you think? Do you think if something is natural that it's okay, and if it's unnatural it's not okay? And how do you distinguish between what is natural and what isn't? Are non-human animals even capable of doing something that isn't natural? If not, then how are we? If we are capable of doing what is natural and also what is unnatural, how do you tell the difference? What makes something natural or unnatural?

If you're a Calvinist, wouldn't you have to admit that the natural state of man is that he is a sinner? Isn't sin natural? If sin is natural, then how can you equate the natural with the morally permissible and the unnatural with being morally wrong?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bill Craig, Richard Dawkins, and MMA

I just found out that William Lane Craig and Richard Dawkins are scheduled to participate in a panel discussion this Saturday morning, November 13, in a Mexican conference called Ciudad de las Ideas. There will be six people on the panel discussing the question, "Does the Universe Have a Purpose?"

[UPDATE: Here is the video on youtube. Hopefully they will eventually release a version without the Spanish translator.]

[2nd UPDATE: Here is the English version of the debate.]

As most of you know, Dawkins has refused for some time to debate Craig. As he explained on this video clip, he'll debate a bishop, a cardinal, a pope, or an archbishop, but he doesn't debate creationists, and he won't debate somebody whose only claim to fame is that they are a good debater; he's too busy. Dawkins' naivety regarding Craig can be excused back then, but by now he must know that Craig is widely published in academic journals and is well-respected among his peers, so he can no longer use the excuse that Craig's only claim to fame is that he is a good debater. And a professional philosopher, of course, is more qualified to debate the question of God's existence than an ordinary bishop or cardinal. In fact, Craig is more qualified than Dawkins since Craig is trained in philosophy and Dawkins isn't. And Dawkins did debate John Lennox (see debate), which raises questions about Dawkins' willingness to debate creationists.

A lot of Christians out there have raised complaints about Dawkins' refusal to debate Craig. I've seen most of these in the comment sections of videos on youtube. Those on Dawkins' side always ask something like, "Well, why is it such a big deal to you Christians that he debate Craig? Why do you want to see this debate so bad? Why should Dawkins debate Craig?"

I think the reason people are drawn to debates is pretty much the same as why they are drawn to MMA. The appeal is the same in both cases. There are two kinds of confrontations we like to see. The first is a clash of titans. When we know of two amazing fighters who never seem to lose, we want to see what would happen if they were matched against each other. What would happen if an immovable object were confronted with an unstoppable force? It's the same in debates. We want to see the smartest people on both sides go at it to see who will win. We like to see giants fall, especially when they are on the other team.

The second kind of confrontation is a confrontation between smack-talkers or arrogant people. We like to see the arrogant humbled. We like to see smack talkers eat their own words. Atheists and Christians talk smack almost as much as MMA fighters; they just do it a little differently. I mean think about it. If you're Catholic, wouldn't you love to see James White defeated soundly in a debate?

The reason we Christians want to see Dawkins and Craig debate is because we already know Craig is going to win. Dawkins has gotten away with belittling Christianity in public unchecked, and he comes across as amazingly arrogant in his talks and books. The God Delusion is one of the most popular books out there defending atheism, and most of the people who read it will probably never read anything by William Lane Craig (I question whether Dawkins has either). Given the influence of Dawkins' book, it should be perfectly understandable why we Christians would want to see Dawkins defeated in a public debate. We want all the people who think so highly of Dawkins to see that his arguments will not stand up to scrutiny against a trained Christian thinker like Craig. We want to see him humbled and exposed. The hope is that it will at least open his followers up to reading good academic material from the other side. We want to shake their unfounded confidence in their atheism that appears to us to be the result of skilled smack talk rather than good arguments. (It's interesting how persuasive somebody can be when, instead of really having good arguments, they just sound very confident.)

Craig has two major advantages over Dawkins. First, he's more educated in natural theology than Dawkins is, and his arguments are better. Second, Craig has more skill and experience at public debate than Dawkins. So it would be a total shock to me if Craig did not clearly win a debate with Dawkins on the existence of God, and I suspect that has a lot to do with why Dawkins won't debate him, in spite of what he says.

I think Dawkins' claim that he's too busy to debate creationists or that it's beneath him is a poor excuse not to debate Craig given how much time Dawkins has spent writing against these people. If you're going to publish books to refute intelligent design or theistic philosophy, then you can't turn around and claim it's a waste of time to refute them in debate. I'm not saying everybody who writes a book is obliged to debate. Most people don't debate at all, and that's fine. But if you are open to debating, like Dawkins is, then you can't use the excuse that you haven't got time when clearly you have. If Dawkins thinks that refuting creationists is the waste of time, then he should never have written chapter 4 on The God Delusion. I haven't read The Greatest Show On Earth yet, but I'll bet he "wasted time" refuting intelligent design in there, too.

I think public debates do have some value. When two people write books defending opposite views, we want to know how they would deal with each other directly. You can't cover a whole lot of material in a debate, but I think it's helpful to see a little peer review. It's helpful to see if a person's point of view can stand up to scrutiny, and how they will respond directly to their critics. The usefulness of debates, of course, is diminished by the fact that sometimes the outcome of the debate has more to do with the skill of the debaters than with the defensibility of their positions. (I would probably be a horrible debater because I'd get nervous, and I can't think when I'm nervous. I even get nervous when I call radio shows to talk to people who are on my side. I'd be a mess if I had to debate somebody in public who was not on my side.) But for the most part, I think debates are interesting merely for their entertainment value. We just like to see titans clash and the arrogant humbled. Debates are entertainment pretty much for the same reason MMA is entertaining.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Re: A Pro-Choice Perspective

This is a response to a blog entry by Julie Wallace posted on The Mommypotamus blog. To get the full effect, you should read her blog first. I wrote this addressing her because originally I was going to post it as a comment under her blog, but it got too long, so I'm just going to post it here and provide a link there.

Hi Julie. A friend of mine on Facebook linked to your blog, and one of her friends suggested that we pro-life people read it with an open mind, so I did the best I could. I had a few disagreements with it that I wanted to mention, but before I do, I wanted to mention a couple of points of agreement.

First, I totally agree that the differences between the pro-choice and the pro-life camps should not prevent us from working together to reduce the number of abortions. Both sides seem to agree that adoption is a good alternative and ought to be encouraged. Second, I also agree that encouraging interracial adoption would be a good idea.

I could be persuaded if I had more facts, but I'm a bit skeptical that encouraging interracial adoption will do anything to reduce the number of abortions. From what I understand (and I could be wrong), the black children who have trouble finding homes are not newborns. There are more people willing to adopt newborns than there are newborns, and I've never heard of anybody, black or white, who had a difficult time finding somebody to adopt their newborn. But I'm open to correction on that.

Regarding the first misconception, I've never thought that "pro choice" meant "pro abortion," but I can understand how this confusion might come about. Maybe if pro-choice people tried a little harder to understand the pro-life position, they would also understand where these misconceptions comes from. And once they understand where the misconceptions come from, they can do a better job of straightening them out.

I'll give you an example of where this misconception comes from. Typically, people think of Planned Parenthood as a pro-choice organization, and they think of Crises Pregnancy Centers as being pro-life. It's understandable that, being pro-life, Crises Pregnancy Centers would try to help pregnant women with options, such as adoption, that would discourage them from resorting to abortion. But if Planned Parenthood were really pro-choice, we should expect them to help women who choose life just as much as they help women who choose abortion. But that isn't the case at all. Planned Parenthood does far more for women who choose abortion than for women who choose life. It is hard for some people to believe that Planned Parenthood is really pro-choice when they seem to only support one option--abortion.

You say that it is a misconception to equate "reproductive rights" with "abortion rights," but you don't do anything to explain where the misconception lies. What is the difference? You appear to contradict yourself later in your blog when you say, "The pro-choice movement is not about trying to convince women to have abortions; it is about empowering women to be able to make their own reproductive choices, free from state interference, regardless of their belief system." If the pro-choice movement is about reproductive choices, doesn't that include "abortion rights"?

I think it is disingenuous for you to say that abortion being about the life of the unborn is a misconception on the part of pro-life advocates since it is the linchpin of their argument for the pro-life position. This is the argument:

1. It is wrong to take the life of an innocent human being without proper justification.
2. Abortion takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification.
3. Therefore, it's wrong to have an abortion.

Everybody agrees that it's wrong to take the life of innocent people without justification. And everybody agrees that abortion takes the life of something. There are only two relevant questions remaining: 1) What is the unborn? and 2) What is the justification for taking the life of the unborn?

From a pro-life perspective, if the unborn is anything other than an innocent human being, then no justification for abortion is necessary. If it's just a lump of tissue, an organ, or an appendage of the mother's body, then we don't need to offer reasons for why it ought to be legal. Just have the abortion; it's no different than having your appendix removed. But if the unborn is a distinct individual human being, then the only justification for taking its life that is adequate is to save the life of the mother. The reasons pro-choice people typically offer to justify abortions would never be used to justify killing somebody outside the womb. For example, you'd never condone infanticide just because it would spare the child grief later on in life. You'd never condone infanticide just because it relieves the mother of trauma, grief, or a financial burden. And for goodness sake, you'd never condone infanticide just to make it safer for mothers to kill their children! If the reasons pro-choice people offer would not work to justify killing a child, and if the unborn are just as much human beings as children are, then those reasons do not work to justify abortion either.

Now, granted, there are pro-choice people who think the unborn are just as much human beings as the born are, but who still think abortion ought to be legal. I can fully understand why such people would think it's a misconception that the debate is about the life of the unborn. Obviously, it's not about the life of the unborn for them, since they think abortion is justified anyway. But I think you are badly mistaken to think the life of the unborn is not a relevant factor in the debate.

I am skeptical that the debate is really about choice, per se. Nobody, on either side of the debate, supports any choice in any situation. We all support choice in areas where the options are all morally neutral or good. We all think people ought to have the freedom to choose their own doctor, whether to get married or not, what do to do for a living, etc. But none of us support the choice to drown our own children in the bathtub, to rob banks, to vandalize cars, etc. Before any of us are going to be pro-choice about anything at all, we first need to answer the question of whether the options under consideration are acceptable or not for a civilized society.

You are mistaken to say that nobody disputes what abortion actually is. I've debated the issue enough and seen enough debates on the issue to know with a high degree of confidence that most pro-choice people do not believe that an individual human life begins at conception. Many of them attribute personhood to the fetus at some later point during the pregnancy, and quite a few of them don't attribute personhood to the unborn until it is born. And, as you seem to recognize, some people use viability as the cut-off point. So you are very mistaken to say that there is no dispute about what abortion does--whether it takes the life of an innocent human being or not. Pro-choice people typically refer to the unborn as a "mass of cells" or a "lump of tissue" prior to when they consider it an individual human life. I've seen this first hand.

Your radical idea that we all stop talking about the moral issue struck me as extremely odd when just a few sentences earlier you said, "The debate is about whether or not the act of abortion is morally okay." And your rationale for why we should end the debate was almost just as odd--that we are never going to solve the dilemma satisfactorily. What, in your mind, would constitute "solving the dilemma"? Does that entail getting everybody to agree with each other? If so, then all debate is futile. Do you expect to convince everybody who reads your blog to be persuaded by your radical idea? If not, then why write it? You yourself are making an argument in this blog that will not convince everybody. If our inability to convince everybody is any reason for why we should end a debate, then you should never have written this blog entry.

But, you see, you don't need to convince everybody before it's fruitful to engage in debate. The fact is, people on both sides have been persuaded by arguments. It is because of arguments that you and I both hold the positions we hold. If you had not been given any reasons to change your mind, you probably would never have become pro-choice. Debate is fruitful whether it causes everybody to agree or not. It clarifies things for us. It forces us to think carefully about our own positions. It gives us an opportunity to understand why people disagree with us. It gives us the opportunity to change our minds. Heaven help us if we ever stop debating!

One of your reasons for why we should not ban abortions is because banning abortion will not reduce the demand for it. I think this is a bad argument for two reasons. First, because it is factually untrue. Abortions became far more prevalent after Roe v. Wade than before. And simple psychology should tell you that any sort of discouragement for an activity will reduce the incidence of that activity. Making abortion illegal certainly will not stop all abortions, but I'm confident that it will reduce them. Think of all the women who struggle with their decision, or vacillate, who sit on the fence trying to make a decision. In their cases, it wouldn't take much to push them one way or the other. If abortion were illegal, those people would be far more likely to choose life because they would have so much extra incentive to do so.

Second, even if banning abortion wouldn't reduce the demand for it, is that any reason to keep it legal? Assume, for the sake of argument, that abortion is no different than infanticide, as the pro-life camp thinks. Should we keep it legal just because people are going to do it anyway? Would you honestly use that same reasoning for any other issue? Laws do not prevent crimes. We all know that. Should we therefore make what we ordinarily consider to be crimes legal just because the law hasn't stopped them? Should bank robbery become legal just because the laws haven't stopped them? Should rape become legal? Hopefully you will agree with me that the notion is absurd.

You said, "In fact, many of my pro-choice friends believe abortion is immoral and have stated they would never do it themselves." This is an area worth pursuing because, as a pro-lifer, this is one area of the pro-choice movement that I confess to not understanding. Maybe you could clear this up for me, but first let me explain where my lack of understanding lies.

Why would anybody think abortion is wrong? Well, as I've said before, whether it's wrong or not depends on whether the unborn is a human being and whether there's adequate justification for it or not. If it's not a human being, then I see no reason why anybody would think it's wrong. So I can only assume that these pro-choice friends of yours fully acknowledge that the unborn are human beings just like everybody else. Now if they think it's wrong to take the life of innocent human beings, they must also think there is no adequate justification for it (because if there were adequate justification for it, then it wouldn't be wrong). But if there's no adequate justification for it, then why be pro-choice? To be pro-choice, don't you have to offer some sort of justification for why you ought to have the legal right to have an abortion in spite of the fact that your unborn is a human being? And if you have such a justification, then why think abortion is wrong? Abortion is either justified or it's not justified, so people who think abortion is wrong but that women should have the right to do it anyway strike me as being wildly inconsistent. It reminds me of what Abraham Lincoln said in the Lincoln/Douglas debates when Douglas argued that even if slavery is wrong, people should still have the right to do it. Lincoln said, "You can't have a right to do a wrong."

Being an attorney, you are no doubt aware of the difference between a causal slippery slope and a logical slippery slope. One is a fallacy, and the other is not. Your slippery slope argument is the former because it is a causal slippery slope. If abortion is a serious moral wrong, we cannot go ahead and allow it just because of what we imagine might happen next. But do we even have good reason to think your grim scenario would result if abortion became illegal? I think your imagined scenario is far-fetched, which is evident in the fact that abortion once WAS illegal in most states, but it did not result in the scenario you imagined. Your scenario is nothing but a non-sense scare tactic designed to persuade your readers to be pro-choice.

You ended your piece with the following questions: "Are you willing to give up your rights just so women can’t procure legal abortions?  Or is there another way for you to protect the unborn, one that leaves both your rights and your conscience unharmed?"

My answer is that I don't think it has to be either/or. We can do both. If pro-choice people want to reduce abortions because they think abortions are bad or because they have some desire to preserve life, then why stop at just one method of reducing abortions? Adoption reduces abortions, but does not prevent them altogether. Giving up the right to abortions is exactly the same. So let's do them both!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Does the doctrine of sola scriptura cause divisions?

I listened to a debate between TurretinFan (an anonymous fellow who is affiliated somehow with Alpha and Omega Ministries) and William Albrecht, which you can listen to on TurretinFan's YouTube channel. The debate turned out to be more interesting than I expected it to be. I just wanted to add my own thoughts to the debate.

Albrecht's primary strategy was to show that there was a correlation between doctrinal and denominational differences and belief in sola scriptura. He explained the correlation by saying sola scriptura had caused the differences.

TurretinFan responded by saying that correlation is not causation.

I agree with TurretinFan, but that got me to thinking. If correlation alone is not enough to demonstrate causation, then how could one demonstrate causation? Well, one way might be to consider the alternative. In any case, we should expect that if we remove the cause, we should also remove the effect.

It isn't quite that easy, though, because there are several different alternatives to subscribing to sola scriptura. One alternative is to deny the authority of the Bible altogether. But clearly removing sola scriptura in that case would not result in greater unity. On the contrary, it results in greater diversity. There are a myriad of religions and non-religious worldviews that deny sola scriptura.

Another alternative is Roman Catholicism, which is the point of view Albrecht holds to. In the case of Roman Catholicism, rather than rejecting the authority of the Bible, they have an additional source of authority alongside the Bible--the teaching magisterium. But this alternative doesn't eliminate diversity in beliefs. Catholics differ with each other on all kinds of things. I heard a sermon by a Catholic priest a long time ago where he quoted a statistic saying that 75% of Catholics do not believe in transubstantiation, even though it is an essential doctrine of Catholicism.

Albrecht seemed to consider any difference in belief on a doctrinal issue as division, whether people separated because of it or not. By that standard, there is lots and lots of division within the Catholic Church. Since the effect (division) remains even in the absence of the supposed cause (sola scriptura), it follows that sola scriptura is not shown to be the cause of division.

That is not to say that sola scriptura doesn't cause any division. One could argue that sola scripture is one among other causes of division, though I think that would be more difficult to demonstrate. I don't think Albrecht successfully demonstrated that sola scriptura causes any division.

But I'm surprised TurretinFan wouldn't admit that it does. On theoretical grounds alone, we should expect it to. Instead, TurretinFan pointed to James 4:1ff as evidence that sin is the cause of division. He says, "Scripture actually tells us one of the reasons, the reason why we have disunity and division among the body of Christ. James 4:1 states..." and then he quotes it.

It's interesting that he corrects himself from saying, "one of the reasons" to saying "the reason." Why did he do that? Well, if sin is the reason, as if there's only one reason, then that would exclude sola scriptura as being a reason, and especially the reason. But if he said, "one of the reasons," then that does not exclude sola scriptura as being one of the reasons. The resolve of the debate is simply that sola scriptura causes division and disunity. If sola scriptura is one among various other causes of disunity and division, then the affirmative (Albrecht) would be in the right. But if sin is merely one of various reasons for disunity and division, then James 4:1 does not negate the resolve. It's irrelevant. So TurretinFan had to correct himself to make it relevant.

It might've been fruitful for them to have debated this passage a little, but they didn't.

I've always thought that arguments against the legitimacy of other views based on diversity of belief were weak arguments. It really all depends on where you draw the circle around "us" and "them." If you're a reformed Baptist, you could say "we" have unity, and since there's so much diversity of belief among everybody else, then "we" must be in the right. Anybody can do that. Jehovah's Witnesses can do that. Five buddhists who all agree with each other on everything could do that. Authority structures like Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Catholics have do create some unity, but the unity is the result of the structure, not the result of actually having the truth on some issue. Somebody could invent a religion, create an authoritative structure around it, and create unity as a result, but that wouldn't give them any claim to legitimacy just because there was unity within their religion and diversity without.

As I've said a number of times on this blog, some amount of uncertainty and division is inevitable, regardless of how you try to patch it up. You just have to live with it. Setting up an authority structure does not solve the problem.

First, you have to figure out which authority structure to listen to--the governing body of Jehovah's Witnesses, the prophets of the LDS Church, or the teaching magisterium of the Catholic Church, etc. Since it would be circular reasoning to take the authority of any of these organizations on their own authority, you're forced to use your own cognitive faculties to assess the evidence and arguments to come to a conclusion. And since we are fallible, we are subject to making mistakes in the process.

Second, you have to interpret the interpreter. And we've seen that all three of the organizations I've mentioned have reinterpreted their own past documents. Non-Catholics are not really damned to hell. Black people aren't really cursed by God. The anointed class of Jehovah's Witnesses are not really inspired prophets. Etc. etc. Having an authoritative interpreter of the Bible doesn't really solve the problem of Biblical interpretation; it only postpones the problem since you now have to interpret the interpreter.

We might as well all face the fact that we cannot escape the problem of interpretation. And with the problem comes diversity. We are going to misunderstand some things. We just have to do the best we can to study the Bible and understand it correctly and be willing to live with the fact that we are fallible and might get some things wrong. That's the inescapable position we're in.

Friday, August 13, 2010

How to debunk Dhorpatan's argument against all gods

I summarized some of the content of this blog entry in this video in case anybody wants something shorter.

After I wrote my last blog entry responding to the YouTube video, "How to prove God doesn't exist, in 3 minutes or less!," I recorded a video of myself reading the blog so I could post it as a reply and everybody who saw the video would be able to see my response. You can’t post url’s in youtube comments. Dhorpatan (the guy who made the video) responded in the comment section of my video, saying that I had misunderstood his argument. I had his definition of “infinity” wrong, and my syllogism did not accurately represent what he was saying. So I decided to write a more thorough critique of his video with his clarifications in mind. This is going to be a complete redo of my critique of his argument against the existence of god.

Dhorpatan wrote in the detail section under his video that “this may be one of the greatest, if not THE greatest argument for the non-existence of not just the Judeo-Christian God, or Creator Gods, but ALL Gods!!” Since the purpose of the video is to refute the existence of all gods, his attempt can be considered a failure if he leaves any of them unrefuted. I’ll argue that not only did he fail to refute the existence of all gods, but he doesn’t manage to refute the existence of any gods at all.

BTW, I’m using ‘god’ with a small ‘g’ since we are talking about all gods, not just some specific god. I’m also using the pronoun ‘he’ as a convention. For the sake of Dhorpatan’s argument, it doesn’t matter whether god is male, female, neither, both, personal, or impersonal.

What is Dhorpatan attempting to refute?

Dhorpatan attempts to refute the existence of both finite gods and infinite gods, since, by the law of excluded middle, that exhausts all the possibilities. First, he argues against the existence of a finite god. Then he argues against the existence of an infinite god. He suggests asking the CTCer (i.e. Christian, theist, or creationist), “Is God infinite?” Then he launches into his arguments.

Argument against finite gods

This is his argument against a finite god in his own words:

If they say ‘no’ then god is not infinite, then he is not beginingless, and will require a cause, refuting his being god, since by definition, god cannot be dependent on something external to himself. Further, he cannot be the first cause creator since a non-infinite god is limited and would thus not be sufficient to halt infinite regress. This falsifies the existence of god since it is a violation of Occam’s razor to needlessly multiply explanations beyond logical parsimony. And since god would not be sufficient to halt infinite regress, his supernatural existence would be a needless multiplication of explanations beyond natural inquiry.

First argument against finite gods

The first part of his argument can be summarized like so:

1. If a finite god exists, then he has a beginning.
2. If the finite god has a beginning, then he must have a cause.
3. If the finite god has a cause, then he is dependent on something external to himself.
4. By definition, no god can be dependent on something external to himself.
5. Therefore, a finite god does not exist.

This is a deductive argument, and there are only two ways a deductive argument can go wrong. If at least one of the premises is false, then the argument fails. If the conclusion does not follow logically from the premises, then the logic is invalid, and the argument fails.

Let me say first of all that the logic in this argument is impeccable. It is definitely logically valid. I had to add the third premise to make his argument valid because that’s not exactly how he put it, but I don’t think he will object. He shouldn’t, anyway. I also tweaked the fourth premise for the sake of precision. Again, he shouldn’t object.

Let me also say that I agree with his second and third premises. I think his first and fourth premises are false, and that’s why his argument fails.

Let’s look at his first premise:

1. If a finite god exists, then he has a beginning.


Unfortunately, Dhorpatan didn’t give us a definition for “infinite.” Nor did he give us a reason for why we should think this premise is true. In my first response, I said that by “infinite,” he appeared to mean “beginningless.” After all, the contrapositive to this premise is: “If God is beginningless, then god is infinite.”

Let me make a detour here and explain what a “contrapositive” is. I’m not trying to insult anybody’s intelligence. It’s just that a lot of people don’t know what that means. The contrapositive to an if/then statement is a logically equivalent statement. “If P then Q” means the same thing as “If not Q, then not P.” You can demonstrate this by using modus tollens.

If P then Q.
Not Q
Therefore, not P.

Assuming the first premise is true (If P then Q), it follows that if the second premise is true, then the conclusion is true, since the conclusion follows from the first and second premise. In other words, it follows that “If not Q, then not P.”

Well, Dhorpatan corrected me about the relationship between beginninglessness and infinity. In the comment section of my video, he said, “Something that is beginningless is not necessarily infinite.” Then he used the laws of logic as an example of something that is beginningless but not infinite. What I want to point out is that Dhorpatan has unwittingly refuted his first premise. If his first premise is true, then it’s necessarily also true (by contrapositive) that if something is beginningless, then it is infinite. Since he has pointed out a counter-example to the contrapositive of his first premise, it follows that his first premise is false. And if his first premise is false, then his whole argument fails.

He could reword his first premise to be consistent with his statement and his counter-example. It would then read, “If a finite god exists, then it’s possible for him to have a beginning.” But of course that would invalidate his whole argument. To make it logically valid, he’d have to tweak the other premises to include mere possibility, and his conclusion would be, “A finite god could possibly not exist.” If the best his argument can achieve is to make the non-existence of a finite god possible, then his argument fails to show that a finite god does not exist. So by saying, “Something that is beginningless is not necessarily infinite,” Dhorpatan has refuted his argument against a finite god.

Maybe we could salvage his argument, though. Since he says that beginningless things are not necessarily infinite, maybe there are some cases where if something is beginningless, then it is infinite. We could salvage his first premise if somehow god turned out to be one of those special cases where if he is finite, then he is beginningless. Dhorpatan would have to provide us with an argument to that effect, though. He could not argue like so:

Anything that is finite must have a beginning.
God is finite.
Therefore, god must have a beginning.

He could not make that argument because he has already given us a counter-example to the first premise, namely the laws of logic. To salvage his argument, Dhorpatan needs to explain to us why god being finite means god must have a beginning, but the same rule does not apply to the laws of logic. Since Dhorpatan didn’t even attempt to defend this distinction, I can only guess at what his reasoning might be.

First, we should explore why he thinks god being finite must mean that he has a beginning. Although he didn’t give a definition for “infinity” in his video, he did tell me what he meant in the comment section of my video response. He defined “infinite” as "having no limits in time, space, extent or magnitude.” Perhaps he thinks a finite god must have a beginning because if god is finite, then he is limited in duration. He has only existed for a finite amount of time, and therefore has a beginning. How, then, might the laws of logic be finite, and not have a beginning? I suppose Dhorpatan could say that the laws of logic are timeless—they have no temporal component at all, neither a finite nor an infinite one. The only problem is that his argument against a finite god would then only apply to temporally finite gods. It would not apply to timeless gods, and would leave them unrefuted.

Dhorpatan could fix that problem by arguing, as William Lane Craig does, that god must be temporal if he is to have any kind of relationship with the physical cosmos. But there are problems with that, too. First, Dhorpatan’s argument against a finite god would do nothing to refute deistic finite gods, since deistic gods do not interact with the physical cosmos. Second, if god is the cause for the beginning of the space-time continuum, then god could be timeless without creation and temporal with creation. In that case, god could be temporal and yet beginningless.

Perhaps Dhorpatan has some reason to think there couldn’t be a beginningless finite god, and I just haven’t been able to guess what that reason might be. But we can demonstrate from premises that Dhorpatan has given us himself that there can be a beginningless finite god (finite in the sense of having a limited duration in time). Let’s look at his second and third premises:

2. If the finite god has a beginning, then he must have a cause.
3. If the finite god has a cause, then he is dependent on something external to himself.

If these premises apply to anything that has a beginning and anything that has a cause, then there must be a beginningless creator that is finite with respect to duration. Let me explain. Remember that Dhorpatan defined “infinite” as "having no limits in time, space, extent or magnitude.” So if something has no limit in extent, then it is infinite. Dhorpatan laters tells us that actual infinites cannot exist in the universe. So we can make the following argument:

1. If time does not have a beginning, then time is unlimited in extent.
2. If something has no limit in extent, then it is infinite.
3. An actual infinite cannot exist in the universe.
4. Therefore, time must have a beginning.

If something which has a beginning must have a cause, then time must have a cause. And if something which has a cause must be dependent on something external to itself, then the cause must be external to time. In other words, it must be timeless. So, using Dhorpatan’s own premises and definition, we have shown that something timeless brought time into existence. Since it’s possible that a temporally finite god is what brought time into existence, Dhorpatan’s argument against a finite god fails.

But his argument fails for another reason. His fourth premise is also false:

4. By definition, no god can be dependent on something external to himself.


His definition of god is too restrictive. There are all kinds of gods that are dependent on something external to themselves. All of the Greek and Roman gods were dependent on something external to themselves. Many of them were procreated. The Mormon god is also dependent on something external to himself. So clearly “god” has a much broader meaning than Dhorpatan has allowed. Since his fourth premise is false, his argument against a finite god fails.

There just doesn’t seem to be any way to salvage Dhorpatan’s argument against all finite gods. If there is, and if I just haven’t thought of it, then Dhorpatan needs to make another video, because the video with its present content is woefully inadequate.

Second argument against finite gods

Let’s move on to the second part of his argument against a finite god. It can be summarized like so:

1. If god is finite, then god is limited.
2. If god is limited, then god would not be able to halt an infinite regress.
3. If god is not able to halt an infinite regress, then god’s supernatural existence would be a needless multiplication of explanations beyond natural inquiry.
4. If god’s supernatural existence is a needless multiplication of explanations beyond natural inquiry, then god’s existence violates Occam’s razor.
5. Therefore, if god is finite, then god’s existence violates Occam’s razor.

The first premise lacks precision. While it’s true that if god were finite in some sense then he would be limited in that same sense. But Dhorpatan doesn’t tell us in what way God would have to be limited if he were finite. The problem with this lack of precision will become clear when we look at the second premise.

The second premise is false. If god were limited with respect to his personhood (i.e. he is a finite number of persons), it would not follow that god is unable to halt an infinite regress. God would have to be limited in some particular sense before it would follow that god is not able to halt an infinite regress. Since it’s possible for god to be limited in some way and still be able to halt an infinite regress, his second premise is false.

This is probably a good place for me to add that his definition of “infinite” also lacks precision. Let me explain what I mean. Let’s suppose I am able to eat a whole sandwich. It would follow that I am not limited by any inability to eat the sandwich. By Dhorpatan’s definition of infinite, you could argue that I am infinite since I have no limitations that prevent me from eating the sandwich, neither in extent, nor magnitude. Surely that is silly. That’s why philosophers and mathematicians don’t use google to come up with their definitions, as Dhorpatan apparently did.

The second premise is also false because, as we’ve shown, god could be limited in duration and still halt an infinite regress. If god is what caused time to come into existence, then god does halt an infinite regress.

His third premise is incoherent. The only way god’s supernatural existence could be a needless explanation is if (1) we have something that needs to be explained, and (2) we have something to explain it with other than god. So what on earth is he talking about? Maybe the thing that needs to be explained is the existence of the physical cosmos. Or maybe we need to explain the beginning of time or the beginning of events since there can’t be an infinite regress. But what else has Dhorpatan suggested to halt an infinite regress? Nothing, as far as I can see. If Dhorpatan doesn’t give us something to halt an infinite regress, god cannot be a needless explanation, and his third premise is false.

The fourth premise is more or less true by definition, but it lacks precision. I’ll just let it slide, though, since this post is already getting too long.

Now we get to the conclusion—that the existence of god violates Occam’s razor. Notice that the conclusion is not that a finite god does not exist. If Dhorpatan wanted to add that if something violates Occam’s razor, it therefore doesn’t exist, then his argument would be fallacious since that doesn’t follow. All Occam’s razor tells us is that any hypothetical entity we propose to explain some phenomenon that is already fully accounted for must be unjustified.

For example, let’s say I have an unassembled tent that I leave on the ground while I go use the bathroom. When I come back, I find that the tent has been assembled, and I need an explanation for how it got to be assembled. In that case, I am justified in inferring that at least one person set my tent up. Since one person is sufficient to explain how my tent got put up, Occam’s razor only allows me to infer one person. I’m not justified in inferring two or three people. But obviously it doesn’t follow that, therefore, only one person set the tent up. There may have been three or four people who set the tent up for all I know.

There are things that exist that we don’t know about because we haven’t discovered them yet. Since we don’t know about them, they obviously have no explanatory power for us. But clearly that does not mean they don’t exist. We have no phenomenon that we need unicorns to explain, but it doesn’t follow that no unicorns exist. It only follows that we are unjustified in inferring that they must.

So this argument from Occam’s razor does not support the claim that god does not exist. At best, it only works as a rebuttal to some phantom argument for the existence of god that Dhorpatan doesn’t tells us about. We can’t assess whether god is an unnecessary explanation in that phantom argument since Dhorpatan doesn’t tell us what the argument is. So we can just mark this whole Occam’s razor argument out. It’s irrelevant to Dhorpatan’s case against god.

Argument against infinite gods

Let’s move on to his argument against an infinite god. This is his argument in response to the question, “Is God infinite?”:

If they say ‘yes’ that God is infinite, then their God does not exist since actual infinites cannot subsist within the universe.


Dhorpatan didn’t like the way I characterized this argument in my previous blog/video. This is how I previously characterized the argument:

1. An actual infinite cannot exist in the universe.
2. God is an actual infinite.
3. Therefore, God cannot exist in the universe.

He objected to this characterization by saying, “your syllogism was a strawman, as I don't say God is actually infinite.” Of course, since he doesn’t believe in any god, it follows that he doesn’t believe god is infinite or finite. But the second premise only represents the definition of the god he is attempting to refute. So I insist that the argument does accurately represent what he is arguing. But I will characterize the argument differently to avoid his silly objection. Here’s the new characterization.

1. If an infinite god exists, then an actual infinite exists in the universe.
2. An actual infinite cannot exist in the universe.
3. Therefore, an infinite god cannot exist.

That is not exactly how he worded it, but surely he won’t object to this characterization. You can read his words for yourself and see that it accurately represents what he is arguing.

Let’s look at that first premise. One possible rebuttal is that God does not exist in the universe. If God doesn’t exist in the universe, then the first premise is false. Dhorpatan addresses this rebuttal later in the video. He says:

There is no outside the universe. The universe is existence. This rebuttal fails since it’s trying to baselessly assert that God exists outside of existence. Something that exists outside of existence doesn’t exist.


When I first read this, it struck me as a blaring case of begging the question. Since most theists make a distinction between the creator and the creation, and since the universe is the creation, it follows that the creator is not in or part of the universe. So the issue under dispute between theists and atheists is whether the universe is all that exists. But Dhorpatan’s refutation is based on the assumption that the universe is all that exists. There can be no clearer case of circular reasoning.

But as it turns out, I misunderstood what Dhorpatan was arguing. By saying the universe is existence, Dhorpatan was not making a synthetic statement; rather, he was making an analytic statement. In other words, he was just giving us a definition of the universe. He was telling us how he is using the word. In the comment section of his video, he said, “The Universe is defined by several credible sources as everything that exists.”

I suspect that Dhorpatan has just misunderstood what he has read. There are some authorities, like Carl Sagan, who have said the universe is all that ever was or will be. But they are not making analytic statements in those cases. They are not defining the universe. Rather, they were making metaphysical claims about reality. Their statements are synthetic. Usually, when anybody talks about the universe, they are referring to the entire space/time continuum, the physical cosmos, the sum total of space, time, and matter/energy. Whether there is anything other than the universe is a philosophical question.

But what’s important is not how the universe ought to be defined, but how Dhorptan is using the word “universe.” He is using the word as a synonym for “reality.” So we can substitute “reality” for all his uses of “universe” to avoid misunderstanding him. His argument would then be:

1. If an infinite god exists, then an actual infinite exists in reality.
2. An actual infinite cannot exist in reality.
3. Therefore, an infinite god cannot exist.

This avoids the objection that God does not exist in the universe. No theist is going to say, “God does not exist in reality,” and offer that as a rebuttal to Dhorpatan’s argument, because that would be to concede Dhorpatan’s argument.

The first premise appears at first glance to be an obvious truth. It’s almost a tautology. But it really depends on what is meant by “infinite” and “actual infinite.” For example, if a potentially infinite god exists, it wouldn’t follow that an actual infinite exists. A god who was constantly learning could be potentially infinite as his knowledge approached infinity, but it wouldn’t follow that an actual infinite exists in reality. So the only way the first premise can be true is if “infinite” means the same thing in both cases.

Likewise, his argument can only be valid if he is using “infinite” in the second premises just like he is using it in the first premise. If god is infinite in some sense other than Dhorpatan means when he says an actual infinite cannot exist, then his argument commits the fallacy of equivocation, and is invalid.

That’s what I accused him of in my first blog/video. Typically, when people say that actual infinites cannot exist in reality, they mean specifically that there cannot be an actually infinite number of things. But when theists say god is infinite, they do not mean it in that sense. Since Dhorpatan didn’t define “infinite” in his video, I just assumed he was using “infinite” in the senses they are typically used in the context of god and in the context of the impossibility of actual infinites.

He corrected me, though, and said that in both cases, he was using infinite to mean “having no limits in time, space, extent or magnitude.” Unfortunately, Dhorpatan’s definition is not precise enough to do any work for him. Dhorpatan made no distinction between potential infinites and actual infinites. Neither did he make any distinction between qualitative infinites and quantitative infinites, which he admits in the comment section of my first video.

While most people might accept that an actual quantitative infinite cannot exist in reality, I don’t think most people would accept that a qualitative infinite cannot exist in reality either. But many people don’t even accept that an actual quantitative infinite cannot exist in reality. Dhorpatan’s premise, then, is highly controversial. Yet he offers it without any substantiation. Without some kind of argument to support the premise that an actual infinite cannot exist in reality, Dhorpatan’s argument doesn’t disprove the existence of an infinite god.

Given the broad range of infinities that can be captured under his definition of “infinite,” his second premise just isn’t true. There are some infinities that fit his definition, but that can exist in reality. For example, if god is all powerful, then there is no limit to the extent of what he can do. But there is no reason to think that kind of infinite couldn’t exist.

Somebody may object, and say that God cannot engage in logical absurdity. He can’t create square circles or married bachelors, and he can’t make necessarily false statements true. But these are artificial limitations because the scenarios are incoherent. I know what a square is, and I know what a circle is, but I don’t know what a square circle is. “Square circle” is an incoherent combination of words. It isn’t clear what god is being asked to do, or what the world would look like if he could do it. It isn’t because of a lack of power that God can’t engage in logical absurdity. It’s because the scenarios themselves are nonsense. When we say god is all powerful, it means that he can do anything that actually makes sense, and that is meaningful.

There is a sense in which an all knowing god’s knowledge is infinite, and a sense in which it is not infinite. It is infinite in the sense that it is exhaustive. If god knows all true propositions, then there is no limit to the scope and extent of what god knows. But if there are only a finite number of true propositions, then you could say god’s knowledge is finite in number, even though it was exhaustive. There is no reason to suppose that such a god could not exist.

God is sometimes said to be qualitatively infinite because he had no beginning, or because he is a necessary being. As we’ve seen, though, Dhorpatan accepts the existence of at least some things that do not have beginnings, namely the laws of logic. The laws of logic are also necessary, so Dhorpatan would also have to accept the existence of necessary beings. It’s impossible for there not to be something in existence that is necessary. If anything exists at all, then something must be necessary because that’s the only way to halt a numerically infinite regress of explanations for contingent things. If Dhorpatan accepts the existence of necessary things that have no beginning, then he cannot dismiss the existence of god just because god is necessary and beginningless.

The sense in which Christians say that God is infinite is that God has certain attributes to a maximum degree. He is all powerful in the sense that he can do all things logically possible. He is all knowing in the sense that he knows all true propositions. He is uncreated. He is necessary. If Dhorpatan wants to disprove the Christian God, then he needs to explain why we should think that an infinite God in this sense cannot exist. It just won’t do to say that God’s temporal duration is finite, since the Christian God is causally prior to time, and is therefore beginningless. It won’t do to say that an actually infinite quantity cannot exist in reality since the Christian God is not actually infinite in that sense, and none of his attributes entail the existence of an actually infinite number of things.

Dhorpatan could say that if all these senses in which we say god is infinite (knowledge, power, necessity, etc.) are not really what he means by infinite, then he would have to place our god in the “finite” category, which he addressed in the first part of his video. But as we’ve seen, that argument fails. So Dhorpatan has failed to refute the existence of any god.

In fact, it would be hard to accept all of Dhorpatan’s premises and not arrive at the existence of some sort of creator god. If time had no beginning, the past would be an actually infinite collection of equal intervals of time. There would be an actually infinite number of minutes and of seconds. If an actual infinite cannot exist in reality, then time must have a beginning. Dhorpatan claims that if god has a beginning, then god will require a cause. Unless he has some reason to make a distinction, it seems that time would also require a cause. That means a timeless entity brought time into existence.

It turns out that the whole physical cosmos must have a beginning, because the cosmos is space/time. It’s the sum total of space, time, and matter/energy. It’s in a constant state of change, and change requires cause. Since there cannot be an actual infinite in reality, it follows that the causal chain in the physical cosmos must have a beginning. And if it has a beginning, then it must have a cause. So something spaceless, timeless, and immaterial must have brought the physical cosmos into existence.

Since Dhorpatan does not believe in actual infinites, he cannot rationally believe in infinite regresses. And if he doesn’t believe in infinite regresses, then he must believe in an uncaused first cause. The uncaused first cause is a necessary, uncaused, spaceless, timeless, and immaterial creator of the cosmos. It follows necessarily from Dhorpatan’s own premises, so it’s irrational for him to deny the existence of such an entity. And it would be a strange kind of atheism to accept such a thing.

Rebuttals

At the end of his video, Dhorpatan addressed three rebuttals to his argument against an infinite god, so let’s look at those.

The first rebuttal is that “God is spiritual, and is therefore not bound by the realities of non-spiritual entities.” Dhorpatan’s refutation is exactly right. The second premise—that actual infinities cannot exist in the universe—encompasses all of reality, whether spiritual or not. So this rebuttal makes an irrelevant distinction.

The second rebuttal is that “God created the universe, so he is not bound by the laws and limitations of it.” Dhorpatan responded by saying that “anything that exists within the universe is logically bound by the laws and limitations of it since positing otherwise will violate the law of non-contradiction.” There’s a confusion here about the meaning of “universe.” Somebody who offered this objection could not be using Dhorpatan’s meaning, because that would be to say that god created reality. And if god is real, that would mean god created himself, which is nonsense. What they mean, instead, is that God created the physical cosmos, and is therefore not bound by its rules. But that objection fails because the rule in question—the impossible of an actual infinite—applies to all of reality, not just the physical cosmos. And Dhorpatan is right to say that it is a contradiction to say that a rule which applies to all of reality does not apply to all of reality, god being the exception.

The third rebuttal is that “God is outside the universe, and is therefore not bound by the realities that beings inside the universe would be subject to.” We have already addressed this subject above.

There ye have it. Maybe I’ve made some mistakes in thinking somewhere, but hopefully it’s at least obvious that Dhorpatan’s argument needs a little more meat.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

How to prove God does not exist



It has been my observation that the majority of atheists who attempt to defend their atheism choose to defend weak atheism (mere lack of belief in God) rather than strong atheism (the positive view that God does not exist). And among those who actually defend strong atheism, it has been my observation that the majority of them defend it more with bluster than with carefully thought out logical argumentation. It is very refreshing for me to see an exception from time to time. This video attempts to defend strong atheism, and to do it carefully and logically. I really appreciate that.

And since I have such an appreciation for the attempt, I think it deserves a response.

He begins with the law of excluded middle. God is either infinite or God is not infinite. By "infinite" he appears to mean "beginningless." If God is not infinite, then God had a beginning, which means God must've had a cause to his existence, which is clearly unacceptable to most versions of theism, not to mention unparsimonious. So the only viable option for theists (especially Jews, Christians, and Muslims) is that God is infinite, i.e. beginningless. I totally agree with him so far.

The next part is the crux of his whole argument. He argues like so:

1. Actual infinities cannot exist in the universe.
2. God is actually infinite.
3. Therefore, God cannot exist in the universe.

I would take his first premise a step farther and say that actual infinities cannot exist in reality, whether in the universe or not. That would avoid the objection that God does not exist in the universe, which he attempts to answer later in the video.

But the problem with his argument is that it commits the fallacy of equivocation. He is equivocating on "infinity." When he says that infinities cannot exist in the universe, he means there cannot be an actually infinite number of things in the universe. But, of course, when theists say that God is infinite, they do not mean that God is an actually infinite number of things. God is only one thing. Trinitarians say that God is three persons. Personally, I don't know what most theists mean when they say God is infinite, but since the person who made this video equates "inifinity" with "beginninglessness," I can only assume he means that God has existed for an infinite amount of time.

Let's pursue that. To avoid equivocation, he would have to be saying in his first premise that the universe as a whole, as well as everything in the universe, must have a beginning. It cannot have existed for an infinite amount of time, because time itself cannot be infinite, i.e. beginningless. But that presents problems for his argument because he previously argued that if God is not infinite, then God must have a cause, which means God cannot halt an infinite regress. But the same problem is true of the universe. If the universe had a beginning, then by his reasoning, the universe, too, needs a cause. How will he avoid an infinite regress?

There's another problem with his argument. The second premise--that God is infinite--is based on the notion that God is beginningless. Beginningless, then, amounts to an actual infinite. But is that true? If something does not have a beginning, does that mean it has existed for an actually infinite amount of time? I would say not, because if time itself had a beginning, then whatever caused time to begin to exist, cannot have come into existence with time. Since it is causally prior to time, it is beginningless, even though it has only existed for a finite amount of time. And that's exactly what William Lane Craig has been arguing for years. Since it is possible for God to be beginningless, even though God hasn't existed for an infinite amount of time, it is fallacious to invoke the impossibility of an actual infinite to disprove the existence of a beginningless God.

Next in the video, he answers possible objections. He brings up three rebuttals that all basically amount to the same thing--God is not bound by the laws of the universe. Basically what this amounts to is that since "infinities cannot exist" is a law that applies merely to the universe, and since God isn't bound by those laws, that God can be infinite. I agree with him that these rebuttals are fallacious, but disagree with him about why they are fallacious. I think they are fallacious because "infinities cannot exist" is not merely a law of the universe, but a metaphysical law that applies to all of reality, whether in the universe or not. So it won't do to say God can be infinite just because he's not bound by the laws of the universe. It is logic that prevents actual infinities, not the physical properties of space, time, and matter.

But let's look at his rebuttals anyway.

The first objection is that since God is spiritual, he isn't bound by the same things non-spiritual things are bound by--presumably meaning he can be actually infinite even though nothing else can. The rebuttal is that it doesn't matter whether God is spiritual or not, since either way, God is real, and if God is real, then he can't exist within the universe. What exactly is the objection here? I admit I had to think about that for a while. Of course nobody claims that God is part of the universe, so his rebuttal doesn't seem to work at all. Maybe he's objecting to the doctrine of God's omnipresence, since that would require that God is located within the universe. But even if that were true, what has that got to do with the limitations of actual infinities? I confess I don't know.

The second objection is that since God created the universe, he isn't bound by its rules. He says this argument fails because anything in the universe is bound by its rules. If you say otherwise, you are violating the law of non-contradiction. There seems to me to be two problems with this rebuttal. First, the objection does not assume God is in the universe, only that since he created it, he is not bound by its rules. Second, even if the impossibility of actual infinities applies only to the universe, it is far from obvious that it must apply to anything in the universe since it seems at least possible that something which entered the universe from the outside may retain some of its properties. In case I'm not being clear, let me use an analogy. Let's suppose I've got a glass of water. Since water has certain properties (e.g. being a liquid), I can say that anything in my glass has these certain properties of water. But of course it wouldn't follow that anything I put in the glass must also have those properties just because I put it in the glass. Putting a spoon in the glass wouldn't make the spoon a liquid. In the same way, putting God in the universe wouldn't force God to take on all the properties of the universe.

The third objection is that God exists outside of the universe, and is therefore not limited by its rules. His rebuttal is a blatant case of begging the question against God's existence. He simply defines the universe as "everything that exists," and then excludes the existence of God since God is said to be outside the universe. Well, of course if you begin with the assumption of naturalism, you're going to arrive at the negation of anything supernatural, including God. Whether the universe is, in fact, all that exists is the issue under dispute. If God exists, then it isn't true that the universe is the only thing that exists.

In the comment section he responded to one person by saying that several credible sources define the universe as "everything that exists." Well, first of all, that's not a definition of the universe. It's a philosophical point of view about reality. Second, definitions are not arrived at by experts discovering them. Definitions are conventional. Third, as any critic of the ontological argument knows, you cannot define things in and out of existence. Fourth, several authorities define the universe as the sum total of space, time, and matter/energy, not as "everything that exists."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How does the resurrection of Jesus prove that he is the messiah?

I watched a short clip on youtube of a debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens asked Craig if Craig believed the story in Matthew about all the saints coming to life and walking around Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified. His point was that even if Jesus was raised from the dead, that doesn't prove anything about Jesus being the messiah or the son of God since lots of other people were raised from the dead, too. If the resurrection of these saints doesn't mean that they are divine or messianic or anything like that, then the resurrection of Jesus doesn't either.

Pinchas Lapide made the same point in his book on the resurrection of Jesus. He believed Jesus was raised from the dead, but he said that didn't mean Jesus was the messiah since lots of other people had been raised from the dead. Elijah raised people from the dead, for example.

I've heard this same argument made from other people, too, so I thought I'd blog on it and tell you how I think the resurrection of Jesus proves that Jesus was the messiah.

There are two differences between Jesus' resurrection and all these other resurrections. First, Jesus made lofty claims about himself, but none of these other people did. Second, no human so much as claimed to have raised Jesus from the dead. (There's a third difference--Jesus was raised to immortality, but the others were still mortal. But that's not a relevant difference for the sake of my argument.)

If Elijah claims to be a prophet, and then he raises somebody from the dead, it seems to me that says more about Elijah than it says about the person Elijah raised. Likewise, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, that says more about Jesus than it says about Lazarus. Well, there was no human agency in the resurrection of Jesus. I'm pretty sure that if there had been, that person would've been thought of as special enough to have mentioned somewhere in the literature that has come down to us. But it looks like not only was there no human agent involved, but nobody so much as claimed to have been involved. So who raised Jesus from the dead? Well, by process of elimination, it must've been some kind of supernatural entity.

If some ordinary guy who just blended in with everybody else, never seemed special, never claimed to be special, etc., died and then came back to life three days later, we might all think there was something special about him, but what? Without some context, it's hard to pour any specific significance into the situation. Maybe it's just some weird anomaly. After all, quantum physicists tell us it's at least possible that every subatomic particle in your body could simultaneously move in the same direction by the same distance at the same time, and then you would appear to magically relocate. Chances are against it, but it's at least possible. Maybe that's what happened here.

But Jesus made unusual claims about himself. That's not to say other people didn't make similar claims, but when you look at all the people who have lived in died, most people don't make those kinds of claims about themselves. Jesus at least claimed to be the messiah. However unlikely it is that Jesus would make such a claim, and however unlikely it is that somebody would rise from the dead, it seems next to impossible that these two unlikely events would both happen with the same person. So I think it's far more reasonable to believe that there is a connection between Jesus' claim to be the messiah and his resurrection from the dead than it is to believe it's just a big coincidence that both of these things are true about the same person.

But Jesus didn't just make claims about himself. He also made claims about his Father, God. Jesus was deeply committed to glorifying his father, to advancing his kingdom, and to keeping his law. Granted, it's possible some trickster of a supernatural being raised Jesus from the dead to make everybody believe in the God of Jesus, and to believe in Jesus himself, it seems far more reasonable to believe that the same God that Jesus preached is the very God who raised Jesus from the dead. And, if so, that vindicates Jesus' claims about himself.

Monday, July 12, 2010

White and Ehrman on textual criticism

I have a PDF copy of a transcript of a debate between James White and Bart Ehrman on the reliability of the New Testament text.

This was a really interesting debate. But in the end, I thought the whole debate came down to one question which was never adequately answered (or even asked) by either side. The question is this: How likely is it that more than one copy was made from the autographs?

You see, if it turns out that only one copy was made from the autographs, and then the autographs were lost, then no amount of textual criticism can reconstruct what the autographs said. The best we can do is reconstruct what the earliest copy said from which multiple copies were made. If the first copy made from the original Matthew had any mistakes in it, and if that’s the only copy that was ever made (or the only copy whose progeny survived), then it would be impossible to ever reconstruct exactly what the original said.

According to James White, since we have multiple lineages of copies, and all these copies go back to an original source, then not only are all the mistakes carried forward, but whatever was in the original was carried forward as well. Whenever you have a multitude of textual variants for one passage, the original version will be among them. So White believes that the entirety of the autographs have been preserved somewhere among all of our manuscript evidence. But that is only true if multiple copies were made from the original. It’s not true if only one copy was made from the original and the one copy had mistakes.

I don’t think Erhman was arguing, necessarily, that there was only one copy made from each document. He was just arguing that since it’s possible, and since we can only reconstruct the earliest copy from which multiple copies were made and lineages survived, that we cannot be sure that our reconstruction perfectly reflects what the originals said. He made it sound worse than that, though. In his scenario, there was one copy from the autograph, and then one copy of that copy, and then one copy of that copy. And the final copy was copied multiple times. So we can only reconstruct a copy of a copy of a copy, but never the autograph.

So it all comes down to that one question. How likely is it that more than one copy was made of the original autographs? What do you think?

Friday, June 18, 2010

The difference between compatibilism and determinism

Compatibilism is sometimes called soft determinism. It is distinguished from hard determinism. William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, and other libertarians sometimes argue that compatibilism reduces to hard determinism, and there really is no meaningful difference. I don't remember if it was Craig or Moreland (I think it was Moreland), but one of them compared compatibilism to a row of white dominoes where one domino was red. The red domino was supposed to represent the will--the faculty of volition. Since the will is causally determined by prior factors, such as motive, desire, belief, etc., then it's just one domino in a strictly deterministic causal chain. The redness of the domino makes no difference.

I think the major (and quite obvious) difference between compatibilism and hard determinism is that in hard determinism, the causal chain is made up entirely of non-rational, blind, mechanistic cause and effect, but in compatibilism, there is a mental component to the causal chain that includes a person's own desires, motives, inclinations, and intentions. And that is not an irrelevant difference.

The problem with reducing compatibilism to hard determinism is that if naturalism were true then compatibilism could not be true, but hard determinism could. The reason is that in compatibilism, mental events are able to have causal influence in the physical world. Things like motives and desires are mental events that have causal influence over the brain. If naturalism is true, then hard determinism would be true, but not compatibilism.

As Moreland often likes to point out, the indiscernibility of identicals dictates that if there is any property A and B do not have in common, then A and B cannot be the same thing. Since I've pointed out a rather obvious difference between hard determinism and compatibilism, it follows that they cannot be the same thing.

A person might respond by saying that even though there's a difference between a white domino and a red domino, it is not a significant difference. But significant with respect to what? I don't remember all the relevant differences Craig and Moreland pointed to, but there are three I can think of--an argument for the soul, rationality, morality.

An argument for the soul

In Scaling the Secular City, Moreland made the following argument:

1. If all we are is the sum of our physical parts, then we cannot have free will.
2. We do have free will.
3. Therefore, we are not merely the sum of our physical parts.

The reason Moreland used free will as an argument against physicalism is because physicalism entails determinism. But if we have a soul that stands outside of the physical world, but has causal influence over it, then it's possible to have free will. In fact, that's the only way we could have free will.

But you don't need free will to make this argument work. All you need is for mental events to have causal influence over the brain, which is possible under both libertarian free will and compatibilism.

1. If all we are is the sum of our physical parts, then mental events cannot have causal influence over physical events.
2. Mental events can have causal influence over physical events.
3. Therefore, we are not merely the sum of our physical parts.

Rationality

Moreland has argued that free will is necessary for rationality. But in other places he has argued that our beliefs are not under the control of the will. I asked him about that on the Alaska cruise, and he explained that although our beliefs are not under the direct control of the will, we do nevertheless choose to follow arguments, choose to think thoughts, choose to expose ourselves to belief-changing situations, etc., and our beliefs can change as a result. And that's what makes us rational.

But this account doesn't explain why it is necessary to have libertarian freedom in order to be rational. It seems to me that if my choice to follow an argument and think about its premises is the result of my desire to arrive at the truth, then I am being rational. And if my belief is the result of "seeing" the logical relation between statements such as "All men are mortal" and "Socrates is a man," then it seems to me that I'm being rational.

Morality

Craig, Moreland, and most (all?) libertarians think libertarian free will is necessary for morality and compatibilism or determinism is inconsistent with morality. I've already argued otherwise in my series on "An Argument Against Morality From Determinism," in May of 2005, but I'll give a brief response here.

According to libertarians, if our choices are determined by our desires and motives, then we can be worthy of neither praise or blame. If that's true, then the stronger our motives and desires are, the less culpable we are. The reason is because the stronger our motives and desires are, the more difficult it is to resist giving into them, and the more difficult it is to resist giving into them, the closer they are to determining our choices. It follows from this point of view, that the more full of hate and malice a person is, the less blameworthy they are. And the more full of love and kindness a person is, the less worthy of praise they are.

That's what follows from the libertarian view, but the libertarians have it entirely backwards. We all recognize intuitively that being a rotten person consists in having rotten desires, and the more rotten a person's desires, they more wicked they are for acting on them, and the more we blame them. And the more kind a person is, the more we praise them. An act that arises spontaneously for no reason at all can be worthy of neither praise nor blame, but we praise people or blame them because they do exactly what their wanted to do. The less hand their own desires have in bringing about their behavior, the less control we say they have over their actions. But the more hand their own desires have in bringing about their behavior, the more control we say they have over their actions. It follows that people are the most culpable for their actions when their actions are completely determined by their desires. Compatibilism makes sense out of moral responsibility. Libertarianism doesn't.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Three kinds of oughts

I've been putting this blog off for a long time because there was a fourth kind of ought I wanted to talk about, but I can't remember what it was.

Anyway, there are three kinds of oughts--the rational ought, the pragmatic ought, and the moral ought. And the reason I'm telling you about this is because in a lot of discussions (especially discussions over the grounding problem in morality), I see these different kinds of oughts conflated, which results of the participants talking past each other. I thought maybe if I could get the word out about these distinctions in "oughts" that maybe the conversation could move forward a bit.

The rational ought is like when you say, "You ought to believe that two and two make four." The rational ought comes from the fact that reality is a certain way and that sometimes given certain premises, the rational thing to do is believe a certain proposition that follows from the premises. A person who believes that all men are mortal and that Socrates is a man ought also to believe that Socrates is mortal.

A pragmatic ought is like when you say, "You ought to change the oil in your car." You're not doing anything immoral by not changing the oil in your car, but it's still a good idea for practical reasons. The pragmatic ought comes from the fact that some things are in your best interest or they serve your purposes. You ought, in the pragmatic sense, to save money, eat well, stay in school, etc.

A moral ought is like when you say, "You ought to be faithful to you wife." The moral ought comes from the fact that we all have obligations or imperatives that are imposed on us. We ought, in the moral sense, to be kind, generous, fair, and honest.

All of these oughts can be expressed using other words, such as good, bad, should, shouldn't, right, and wrong. Here are some examples:

The rational ought

'B' is a good answer to the question.
You should believe the man is guilty because there's good evidence for it.
That answer is not right.

The pragmatic ought

Saving money for retirement is a good idea.
You should save money for retirement.
[Hmm, maybe "right" and "wrong" don't work well with the pragmatic ought.]

The moral ought

It is good to be honest.
You should be honest with people.
Being honest is the right thing to do.

It is easy to conflate the moral ought with the pragmatic ought because most of the time, the moral thing to do is the pragmatic thing to do. If we all lived morally, the world would be a happier place. We'd all be better off.

That isn't always the case, though. It might be a good idea in the pragmatic sense to kill somebody, because it would help everybody else ought by relieving them of a burden. But it could still be wrong. And it might be right to be honest with somebody even if there are disadvantages in doing so.

In debates about the grounding question of morality, I have often seen people explain the pragmatic ought thinking they have given grounds for the moral ought. In answer to the question, "Why be moral?" atheists will sometimes answer that acting in a way that people call "moral" is in our best interest. If we don't want people to steal from us, we ought not steal from them. But, of course, that doesn't mean it's morally wrong to steal from people; it just means stealing is a bad idea in the pragmatic sense. A person who attempts to ground morality in practical advantages isn't really grounding morality at all since they are only explaining pragmatic oughts, and not moral oughts.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The crucifixion

There are a number of scholars from the entire range of the liberal/conservative spectrum who have said the most certain thing we can know about Jesus is that the Romans executed him by crucifixion. I don't know what all their individual reasons are for saying that, but I'll tell you what I think is the strongest reason.

The early Christians thought Jesus was the Christ. He was the fulfillment of the promises given to Israel to always have a man on the throne of David. By claiming to be the Christ, Jesus was essentially claiming to be the promised king of Israel. It was natural, then, that people would expect him to redeem Israel--to run the Romans off and reestablish Israel's national sovereignty and to usher in the kingdom of God on earth.

Now think about this. How likely is it that a group of Jews would make up a story about a christ and include in the story that the christ was killed by Israel's enemies? And they didn't even say he was killed heroically in battle. Rather, they came up with the most humiliating way for a criminal to die--by public crucifixion. And then they went about trying to win people over to this criminal-on-the-cross. I think that is an absurd notion.

If anything, I think Jesus' followers would've gone into damage control mode as a result of the crucifixion. They wouldn't have invented the idea. At worst, the idea that Jesus' died for sins was an invention meant to redeem Jesus' death on the cross. And the resurrection was invented to maintain the notion that Jesus was the christ in the face of his death.

In my opinion, the crucifixion of Jesus is about as certain as any historical event could be without having video footage. I have a hard time taking anybody seriously who denies it.

And that entails that Jesus existed, which is why I also have a hard time taking anybody seriously who denies the existence of Jesus.

Creating life

I read an article this morning on the BBC called "'Artificial life' breakthrough announced by scientists". Basically, they put a DNA molecule together by copying the DNA of a known bacteria, then put the DNA in the cell of an already existing bacteria. And it worked.

Personally, I think that is really cool. I mean think of the possibilities if we could build DNA ourselves. The reason humans have five fingers, birds have wings, and snakes lack legs is because of their DNA. If we really understood how DNA is able to code for all these features, and if we're able to build DNA molecules, then the possibilities seem limitless. We could create all sorts of things that barely even resemble what already exists. We could recreate dinosaurs. We could make horses with wings. We could make super-humans.

Of course there'll be an ethical debate about how we should use this technology. If they won't even allow human cloning, there's no way anybody is going to allow hybrid pseudo-humanoids. I'm just saying we could.

I think that with this technology, there is potential for great danger and great good. We've already seen what can happen when software engineering capability falls into the hands of the wrong people. Some people can't resist the urge to create computer viruses and spread them to as many people as possible. It's only a matter of time before some nut creates a super virus or a super bacteria that will reek all kinds of havoc. Biological warfare will spare no one.

But at the same time, it seems at least possible to create organisms that fight cancer or other diseases. Maybe a person's own stem cells can be taken out, re-engineered, and inserted back into the person that would allow the person to live longer. I really can't tell you what the possibilities might be, but I suspect there are all kinds of good possibilities.

So is it worth it? Is the potential good worth pursuing given the potential harm? To an extent, I'm not sure it matters, because we have such a thirst for knowledge--such a curiosity--that this is going to be explored regardless of the dangers. If government ever tried to put a stop to it, somebody in a secret lab somewhere would do it anyway. But I think at the very least, people ought to be made aware of the potential dangers.

Somebody posted a question this morning on Yahoo Answers wanting people's thoughts. One nut on there thought it somehow proved that life could've emerged through purely naturalistic causes. How he figured that the ability of an intelligent being (namely, humans) to engineer life is somehow evidence against Intelligent Design is beyond me. It sounds to me like the very definition of Intelligent Design. I wonder if the nut on Yahoo Answers thinks that since we've shown that humans are able to engineer cars, that cars could have emerged through purely naturalistic causes.

And that raises an interesting question. Suppose we decide to create, from scratch, a few different living organisms and implant them on a planet somewhere far away from earth. And then suppose those creatures evolved to the point that they could ask such questions as, "Where did we come from?" "Why are we here?" And suppose they discovered the theory of evolution. And suppose a small number of them said, "Wait a minute. Our DNA shows evidence of intelligent design. We think life was engineered by an intelligent being." They would be right, wouldn't they?

Think about that for a minute. Their evidence for intelligent design would be no different than our evidence for intelligent design. And they would be right to draw that conclusion. Is it unreasonable, then, for us to draw that conclusion?

But most people say our DNA does not show evidence of intelligent design. Think about that, too. It means that if we engineered life, put it on another planet, and it evolved into smart critters like us, they would never be able to tell their they had been engineered. They would never be able to tell that their DNA was the result of intelligent design. In spite of the fact that their DNA was the result of intelligent design, there would be no evidence for it. And the most justified conclusion for them would be that they emerged through a blind natural process.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Catholic Answers

I signed up at the Catholic Answers forum a long time ago so I could participate in the discussion forums, and I've been getting emails ever since. I just want you to see the subject line of the one I got today so you can tell me what you think.
Invest in Catholic Answers Live--The Dividends are Eternal

Is it just me or does that come across sounding a lot like something Johann Tetzel was doing back in the 16th century? Of course endulgences didn't have eternal consequences since purgatory wasn't eternal, but it does sound similar, doesn't it?

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not accusing Catholic Answers of anything. I'm sure what they mean is that if you send them money, you will be contributing to a ministry that is trying to bring people to salvation in Christ. I don't think they are saying that if you send them money, you'll be better off in eternity. But you have to admit it sure comes across that way, doesn't it?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Fine tuning and many worlds

Today, I have a question for you. I posted this question on Yahoo Answers, but nobody answered it, so now it's your turn.

According to the fine tuning argument, there are a whole bunch of constants that have to have very precise values before life could exist in the universe. Some examples of these constants include the gravitational constant, the strong nuclear force, the charge of an electron, etc. There are about 26 of them, and some of them are ratios between the values of other ones. If any one of these constants were different by a smidgen, then life would not be possible. Since we live in a life-permitting universe, and since it's unimaginably unlikely that the universe would be life-permitting, it appears that the universe was rigged. Somebody intentionally tuned the values of these constants with the intention of making the universe habitable to living things.

There are a number of ways to respond to this argument. You could say the physical constants are not contingent at all, and that they could not have had any different values. There's a necessity about them. Who knows? If they could not have been otherwise, then they're not really "tuned" at all.

Or you could say we got lucky. The fine tuning argument only renders it improbable that the universe would be life-permitting. It doesn't render it impossible. Crazy things happen.

Or you could say that any sort of universe is equally improbable, but that doesn't make it at all remarkable that it would turn out some particular way. If there hadn't been life, there would've been something else that would've been unique to that universe. There's nothing special about life that makes our universe remarkable. Choosing life as the object toward which the universe was "finely tuned" is arbitrary since any combination of values for the constants would've yielded something unique. Personally, I think this is the strongest argument against the design argument from fine-tuning.

Or, you could say that if the universe had not been life-permitting, then we wouldn't be here to be thinking about it. I've heard this one a lot, but this seems to be about the worst response to the fine tuning argument. I think the firing squad analogy adequately reveals the weakness in this type of response.

But I didn't want to talk about any of these responses today. I wanted to talk about the "many worlds" or the "multiverse" response. In this response, it is granted that the constants of the universe are contingent. They could have been otherwise. And, in fact, they are otherwise in many different universe. According to this view, there may be a gazillion different universes. The more universes there are, the more likely it is that at least one of them would have the right combination of constants to be life-permitting. We just happen to live in one that is. And, in fact, every thinking thing that considers the fine tuning argument lives in such a universe.

Lemme use an analogy. Let's suppose only one person bought a lottery ticket. And let's suppose they won the lottery. If that happened, we might all be justified in thinking the game had been rigged. Somebody intentionally tweaked the balls so they would produce the same numbers that were on the ticket. But if millions of people each got a lottery ticket, it would not be remarkable at all that at least one of them would have the right numbers. And the more lottery tickets there are, the more likely it is that somebody would win.

So it is with universes. No matter how unlikely a life-permitting universe is, the more universes there are, the more likely it is that one would come along that had just the right combination of constants. That's right. The unlikely may be likely, depending on your background information.

(That reminds me of the debate about miracles, and how some people think miracles are unlikely because they're so rare and statistically improbable, and how some people respond by saying that even statistically unlikely events may be likely in light of further background information. It would be ironic if somebody thought it was absurd to suggest that anything unlikely could be likely (like the resurrection) while at the same time subscribing to the many universes idea.)

One might respond by saying there's no evidence for universes other than ours, and the explanation is ad hoc. But here, I don't think it's clear where the burden of proof lies. Both sides are positing an entity or entities to explain how it is that the universe is finely tuned for life. One side posits a designer. The other posits multiple universes. If fine-tuning alone isn't enough to justify belief in either a designer or multiple universes, and if we have to look elsewhere for verification that such entities exist, then both theories fail. Why should we presume one explanation until the other gets further verification? Why does one side have a burden of proof the other side doesn't have?

That's not really where I wanted to go, though. I'm going to get to my question now. Both sides agree about one thing--that the constants of the universe are contingent. They could've been otherwise. This question is mainly for the many worlds people. If it's true that the constants can vary in value from one universe to the next, and there's no necessity about them having any particular value, why is it that they don't vary within universes? Why, for example, don't we find some electrons in our universe that have different charges than other universes? Why isn't the force of gravity stronger with some masses than with other masses? Why is there such uniformity in our universe when it seems like there could've been diversity? Is it just an incredible coincidence that every particle of the same kind is exactly like every other particle of the same kind all over the universe, or is there a physical cause for it?