Tuesday, December 21, 2010

L 5.33

Agnosticism is built on the underlying assumption, indeed a kind of faith, that the process of questioning that we have at our disposal (which is very, very limited) will lead to truth. There are atheists who were Christians, became agnostics and then eventually succumbed to atheism. Despite what these people say, agnosticism does not logically lead to atheism.

One horn of agnosticism is the belief that we can’t know if God exists. Since an atheist cannot prove that God does not exist, the agnostic has no substantiation for turning to atheism as a worldview. We actually can know if God exists through His revelation. Without being able to prove that God does not exist and given the possibility of God’s revelation, the agnostic should not turn to atheism. In fact, the agnostic should not even remain agnostic for these reasons.

Furthermore, agnosticism can be the belief that we can know God’s existence but don’t have the quantity or quality of information at this time to support the belief that He has revealed Himself to us. Where this horn of agnosticism fails is that the assertion can’t be substantiated. What test is there that can be applied to know for sure that we don’t have the appropriate information or proof? There is no template or methodology for this sort of thing. Alternatively, we can know that God has revealed Himself to us through God’s revelation itself. Whether or not everyone agrees that God has done so is irrelevant. Stating we don’t have evidence of God’s revelation is something that can’t be proven. It would require all possible knowledge of this existence and the ability to disprove the phenomenon that people experience revelations. Even this tine of the agnostic fork doesn’t logically lead to atheism.

L 5.32

“We all must begin with something that exists as a ‘brute fact’”. (p. 97)

This is a concept called foundationalism which has already been addressed in post L 5.15. Loftus is right. Every person from every worldview accepts certain ideas as foundationally true, including naturalists. The question between the worldviews is why people accept certain beliefs as opposed to others. The non-theist position is inadequate and this forum has shown several reasons why this is the case. We know that non-theists cannot prove that God does not exist which means that the foundational beliefs they have chosen rest on nothing substantive.

As stated before, non-theists concoct the idea of a multiverse to attempt to support the conclusion that the universe does not need an explanation. Since, the universe (or multiverse) cannot itself be proved to be a brute fact, imagining an eternal chain of multiverses does not provide an acceptable foundational belief. Even if a world ensemble did exist, it still wouldn't answer the question of origins.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

L 5.31

On the subject of the improbability of our existence, the book turns to God’s nature for the conclusion that “We could never know an absolutely simple essence since the finite cannot comprehend the infinite”. (p. 95) Moreover, “How did God gain his knowledge? Where did he learn it? Does he know everything about himself as well?” (p. 96)

Whether God is simple or complex, has properties or is properties, is irrelevant to the discussion of the improbability of our existence. We were either designed or not, irrespective of God’s nature. Whether God was designed or not has no effect on the improbability of our own existence. Additionally, we can indeed know God if God so chooses to reveal Himself to us, which He clearly has done.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

L 5.30

On p. 93, Loftus criticizes the notion of intelligent design (nature exhibits design by intelligence instead of merely being the product of natural forces) by stating there are many more examples of poor design than there are of “intelligent” design. Therefore, if intelligent design were true, people wouldn’t be able to find these examples of poor design but, would instead find only the "best" designs in nature. The implication is that either ID via God doesn’t exist or that God is incompetent because He's responsible for bad design.

The problem with his criticism is that it’s difficult to assess purpose in biology from just a snapshot of a point in history. Purpose can evolve over time and can be evident in different ways at different times. Also, systems can have purpose even though the purpose(s) isn’t readily apparent. Unfortunately, Loftus doesn’t even allow for these possibilities which says something about his motive.

Loftus then starts to flail in the dark on pp. 93-94 when he muses about the notion of the improbability of life developing as a product of natural forces instead of being designed by an intelligent agent. He starts by quoting John Hick’s assertion that the improbability of any event happening “appears endlessly improbable”. To the contrary, Loftus states that the improbability of any event happening is “purely notional, not objective”. He then quotes John Hick as saying that “The only reality is the actual course of the universe”. These two ideas seem to be at odds with each other. Hick explicitly states that any event is astronomically impossible and that it is objective whereas Loftus somehow construes his statements as advocating the idea being merely in our heads and that we exist just because.

Later, Loftus applies Dawkins’ “747 gambit” in the hopes of showing that the improbability of any event in this universe as the result of intelligent design means that the designer must be even more improbable. This notion stands logic on it’s head because improbable contingent events require a necessary source of causality. Dawkins asks the question of (if we are designed) who designed the designer? No one did. That’s the truth of the necessary versus the contingent. The necessary exists necessarily. It (qua God) is the ultimate, final authority. God imparts the very concept of design. Without God, we wouldn’t even know what design means. The word design implies that there is a degree to which the design is efficient or effective or beautiful of authoritative or perfect or powerful or however one wants to describe it. God is ultimate to the degree that no design can import any more perfection into the ultimate.

Loftus says that Dawkins thinks God doesn’t exist because evolution is unguided when Dawkins certainly knows that this idea at least leaves the door open for a deist option. God could have acted through secondary causes in creating the biological diversity that now exists. Even so, that still doesn’t rule out theism. God is free to operate via secondary causes but, that doesn’t mean He’s not intimately involved with the universe as in a deist scenario. Incidentally, Loftus later quotes Howard Van Till on pp. 110-111 who shows how Dawkins’ assertion is completely flawed when he says “When scientists make statements concerning matters of origin, governance, value or purpose of the cosmos, they are necessarily stepping outside the bounds of scientific investigation and drawing from their religious or philosophical perspectives”.

Monday, December 6, 2010

L 5.29

On p. 90, Loftus takes a stab a answering the most fundamental question that non-theists are unable to answer; why there is something rather than nothing. He continues that “David Ramsay Steele questions why nonexistence is the default view”. In response, nonexistence isn’t the default view. The method is to put the two options on the table, nothing at all or the existence of something (namely this universe), and ask why one is the case as opposed to the other.

Loftus adds Stenger’s comment that “only by the constant action of an agent outside the universe, such as God, could a state of nothingness be maintained.” What Stenger doesn’t explain is how someone could substantiate such a statement. How does anyone know that nothingness would require God’s constant action? God doesn’t have to create anything which would seem to suggest that nothingness could easily be perpetuated if God so desired. Why does nothingness have to be maintained? What would be required to maintain nothingness, if anything at all? Stenger continues that “The fact that we have something is just what we would expect if there is no God”. This conclusion rests on the assumption that nothingness requires divine intervention. As was just stated, there is no way for someone to substantiate the assumption. Therefore, the conclusion rests on a foundation of aether. Loftus also makes the comment on p. 91 that nothingness is unstable. It’s perplexing how that could be because it’s nothing. There is nothing for instability to reside in or rest upon. There is nothing to be unstable.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

L 5.28

On p. 90, Loftus attempts to create a flaw in the Christian conception of existence by saying it’s possible for a multiverse to exist or for something to come from nothing outside of the laws of our universe. Aside from the fact that there is absolutely no proof of this idea whatsoever, all this does is push the question back one step. Why is there a multiverse instead of nothing? If there is a law outside our universe that does permit something to come from nothing, why does it exist? How did it come into being? The ultimate question always remains no matter what scenario is being conjured up. Those types of theories are all contingent so the necessary remains. What is the necessary creative force behind it all? This is the boundary at which the non-theist worldview comes to an end and is unable to comment any further.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

L 5.27

Richard Carrier asserts that “from chaos we can predict order, even incredibly complex order”. (p.90)

Any “order” that Carrier imagines is nothing of the kind. Any alleged order that appears in his dice-rolling scenario would be illusory and short lived. The issue isn’t a random sequence that appears to have order. It’s more like rolling the same sequence one million times over. In this case, someone has loaded the dice so perfectly and obviously that it takes a special kind of intellectual obstinacy to ignore the truth.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

L 5.26

“It is like arguing that a particular card hand is so improbably that it must have been preordained”. (p. 89)

This does not represent the profundity of the teleological explanation. Using the card analogy, it’s more like being dealt four aces one million times over. What are the odds of that? G. K. Chesterton said “So one elephant having a trunk was odd; but all elephants having trunks looked like a plot.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

L 5.25

Victor Stenger observes that the teleological explanation “makes the wholly unwarranted assumption that only one type of life is possible”. (p. 89)

That is not a necessary conclusion of the teleological explanation for God’s existence. There might be other types of life forms (such as silicone based). That would still not explain the incredible odds that the universe exists the way it does such that humans could live. Even if there were countless types of life forms, the universe would still be tuned in such a way that humans could exist. Even if humans were just part of an ensemble, the question of why we are here would still remain. There is no naturalistic reason why the universe should be tuned that way. Given how incredible those odds are, a non-naturalistic explanation needs to be sought. The fact that we appear to be the only life forms makes the argument even stronger.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

L 5.24

Wes Morriston tries to show that there is no difference between a personal creator and an impersonal creator where causality is concerned. He concludes “So the Kalam argument fails” on p. 86.

Even if Morriston is correct in his rebuttal of Craig regarding a personal creator, only one part of the Kalam argument has failed, not the entire argument. Loftus didn’t specify this so it seems that he is referring to the argument as a whole.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

L 5.23

William Lane Craig claims that the cause of the universe must be personal since someone had to will the universe into existence at some point. Morriston responds that “if God is timelessly eternal there was never a moment in time when God did not will into existence this universe”. (p. 86)

The objection is built on the assumption that even though God might be timeless, He is incapable of experiencing events as discrete. If He can experience events as discrete entities to themselves, then He could have at some point willed the universe into being as Craig suggests thus, justifying a personal creator as opposed to an impersonal force or the universe just existing as brute fact.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

L 5.22

“Craig’s basic problem is that he conflates counting an infinite number of events with counting all of them”. (p. 86)

What’s the difference? God still has to count them all and the number is infinite

“An immortal being could finish her beginningless task and yet not count all events.”

God can’t finish unless all events are counted. The sentence is absurd.

“…a set of an infinite number of events is not to be regarded as the same thing in every respect as an infinite number of sets each containing an infinite number of events”.

Why introduce an infinite number of sets each containing an infinite number of events? Either way, there is an infinite. Each event has to be counted down in order to get to zero. His attempt to object to the explanation further illustrates the absurdity of actual infinites. How can an infinite number of events be contained in a set in any real sense? How can an infinite set be compared to an infinite number of like sets?

Monday, October 25, 2010

L 5.21

“If we cannot go back in the infinite timeless past to find her counting, then she was never counting at all”. (p. 85)

Unless God finished in the infinite past which illustrates the absurdity of actual infinites.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

L 5.20

Loftus expounds on the subject of actual infinites when he responds to a comment by William Lane Craig who says that actual infinites aren’t possible, although potential infinites are. If God were counting down from infinity to zero, God, being eternal, would have finished in the infinite past. Yet, if God is counting down from infinity, God would never reach zero. Loftus says that “He [Craig] cannot say that she has always been counting and that she has never been counting”. (p. 85) That’s not what Craig is saying. It’s not that God has never been counting. It’s that God finished in the infinite past since God is Himself infinite. If God is counting down to zero, God has to finish at some point but, if God is counting from an infinite number, He can’t ever finish. This shows the absurdity of actual infinites.

Also, Loftus stresses that Craig’s conception goes against the mainstream. What Loftus isn’t admitting is that it isn’t a crime to go against the mainstream. Surely, Craig isn’t the only person with this stance. Plus, the mainstream has been wrong before. To support his case, Loftus quotes David Ramsay Steele who says that “things begin to exist without any cause all the time.” It’s disappointing that Loftus doesn’t specifically state what can exist sans cause. Perhaps Loftus is referring to virtual particles but, even they don’t come from nothing. In fact, nothing comes from nothing. Everything in the universe has a cause and thus, it’s existence warrants explanation. Steele is either misleading or misled.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

L 5.19

“David Ramsay Steele reminds us that according to quantum mechanics ‘things begin to exist without any cause all the time’”. (p. 85)

Steele is asserting something that is highly debatable and most probably false. Virtual particles, vacuum fluctuation and the Casimir effect have been well documented and there is no evidence whatsoever that particles are coming into existence from nothing. To quote such an assertion as a fact is nothing more than an attempt to mislead people.

Monday, October 18, 2010

L 5.18

In response to William Lane Craig’s assertion that tigers don’t just pop into existence and neither should the universe, Wes Morriston notes that “We have no experience of the origin of worlds to tell us that worlds don’t come into existence like that…That is why the absurdity of tigers and the like popping into existence out of nowhere tells us nothing about the utterly unique case of the Beginning of the whole natural order”. (p. 84)

What Morriston doesn’t understand is that when Craig is referring to tigers, he’s also referring to anything. It is a universal maxim that ex nihilo, nihil fit, from nothing, nothing comes. It doesn’t matter if we’re using tigers or universes as examples. Matter just doesn’t happen from nothing, Casimir effect included.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

L 5.17

Loftus – “It seems a better intuition would be that the universe has always existed since time now exists, for there would be no “time” at which the universe began to exist independently of the time that originates with the universe”. (p. 84)

Why must the universe begin independently of the time that originates with it? Why can’t they both start simultaneously? It seems most likely that time as we know it is concomitant with this universe and they began together from the same creative forces. In fact, there is no reason to think that the phenomenon of time that we experience makes sense apart from this existence. Just as the universe was created by God, time was also created by God in conjunction with this existence/universe.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

L 5.16

John Hick asserts that “we are accordingly faced with the choice of accepting God or accepting the existence of the physical universe itself as a given unintelligible and mysterious brute fact”. (p. 83)

The statement summarizes the situation succinctly. Either the universe was created by God or it was not. Theists have discovered that the divine explanation is far less improbable than the natural explanation. We know that the universe didn't exist at some point in the past. What caused the beginning of the universe? We know it could not have come from nothing because ex nihilo, nihil fit (from nothing, nothing comes). A sophisticated but ultimately futile attempt to overcome this maxim is the phenomenon of virtual particles appearing out of the vacuum of space, otherwise known as fluctuations of vacuum energy which is supposed to be a contravention of nothing coming from nothing. However, the vacuum isn’t exactly nothing. If there is energy present, then vacuum is a term that is only a close approximation of actual nothingness. Thus, vacuum fluctuation isn’t really creation from nothing but, is creation from something. The question then becomes why does vacuum energy exist? Where did it come from?

Since it has been established that the universe could not have come from nothing, there was something before that caused the universe. What is the source of that prior cause? If a natural explanation is offered (such as cosmological inflation), then this chain of explanations invites infinte regress, which is an impossibility. We know that actual infinites are impossible, even if potential infinites are possible (such as in mathematics). Given that natural explanations are unsatisfactory, there had to be a supernatural, uncaused cause behind the creation of the universe. There has to be brute explanation, an explanation to which there is no more explanation, the ultimate explanation. Since this reasoning can only lead to God, it makes Hick's former explanation much less fanciful and ad hoc than attempts to manufacture the latter.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

L 5.15

Michael Martin says that “any appeal to obvious or self-evident evidence must be regarded with suspicion, for many things that have been claimed to be self-evidently true…have turned out not to be true at all”. (p. 83)

What Martin is saying here is that the so called truth of Christianity is based on something Christians claim to be true in a self-evident way and that people should be skeptical of this sort of thinking. The self-evident truth that Christianity is built on and that Martin refers to is the ultimate authority of God and His revelation. Conceptually, this idea is called foundationalism. What critics of Christianity like Martin don’t acknowledge is that all people adhere to foundationalism. That is, all people hold some beliefs as properly basic, justified true beliefs. This includes non-theists. Atheists will object to this of course, because they feel like they exemplify non-belief. Yet, even atheists maintain foundational beliefs such as naturalism being all there is or that science is the ultimate authority. So, the question is why people choose certain foundational beliefs over others. Obviously, the naturalist is going to say that science is palpable and can be comprehended by the senses whereas metaphysical beliefs, like God, cannot. This is not totally true. Metaphysical things like God can be experienced by the senses and by rationality. They just require a different set of noetic tools than naturalism. Aquinas calls this the lumen intellectus agentis in his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (I Sententiarum - Question 1, Article 3). Furthermore, we know that the naturalist worldview cannot account for things that we know to be true such as moral sense or the mind/body problem. To turn to the non-theist worldview is to ignore the shortcomings of that worldview.

In the end, Martin’s critique isn’t valid. To criticize Christian foundationalism is to assume another set of foundational truths which are, at most, equal to Christian foundational beliefs and, at worst, less true than Christian beliefs.

Friday, October 8, 2010

L 5.14

On the subject of the existence of the universe, Loftus says “the concept of inertia…does away with the need to explain motion as requiring either a regress of causes, or an unmoved mover”. (p. 83)

The concept of inertia itself isn’t explained by this assertion from Loftus. Why does inertia exist? How did it come into being? All Loftus did is push the ultimate question back further, or up higher, as the case may be.

Similarly, much has been made of Stephen Hawking's recent assertion that God is not needed to explain the universe. Physics can do the job just fine according to Hawking. However, Hawking fails to explain where the physical laws he refers to came from. John Lennox has a pointed response.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

L 5.13

Loftus cites an objection to the ontological explanation of God’s existence in that the western conception of the MGBP would be significantly different than what easterners would conceive. Therefore, the ontological explanation can’t cross cultural boundaries and is ineffective. (p. 82)

This is a common misconception because many people have been misled by postmodernism. Postmodernism is far too complex for a thorough assessment in the context of Loftus’ point but, a few broad strokes can be made.

Postmodernism is a reaction to the conventions of modern era science, philosophy, art, social conventions and authority. In general, postmodernism is pervaded by skepticism especially in regards to traditional dichotomies; right/wrong, true/false, faith/reason, concept/object, etc. In this philosophical system, all human knowledge is conditioned, affected by the social/cultural situation it is derived from. There is no purely objective knowledge. Reality is created by social constructions, not concrete existence or brute fact. According to the postmodernist, there is no common human nature/rationality. There is no common logic. Traditional empiricism determines whereas postmodernism reflects. One of the most central tenets of postmodernism is that there is no purely neutral position from which truth can be observed or known. Postmodernism focuses less on objective states of affairs and more on the mechanisms by which knowledge is obtained. Reality is never directly known. All knowledge is the result of interpretation. Most relevant to Loftus’ point is that postmodernism asserts that there are no true metanarratives (such as the Christian beliefs about the world as derived from the Bible). Metanarratives are often mistakenly used to substantiate truth claims as opposed to those claims being legitimized on an empirical or logical basis. A metanarrative that attempts to cross socio-cultural boundaries constitutes intellectual imperialism, such as when Christians proselytize, which should not be allowed.

Having established some basics about postmodernism, some conclusions can be drawn about it such as the fact that there aren’t different types of logic as Loftus is implying and postmodernism alleges. Logic does not vary depending on context. Many people today have been misled into believing that western “either/or” thinking should be rejected in favor of eastern “both/and” thinking. In other words, westerners typically think that truth is represented by statements of fact where one fact is established to be true over other theories to avoid contradictions. Eastern thinking is said to embrace contradictions and, for the most part, avoid imperial absolutes. However, a thorough study of eastern belief systems shows that even eastern systems evidentially obey logical laws and don’t really embrace “both/and” thinking. Much more can be said about this.

One of the biggest mistakes made by Loftus’ position is that the problem with appealing to eastern thought is that there is no such thing. There are eastern thoughts, as in plural. There are and have been vigorous debates among eastern peoples about whether or not God is differentiated from everything else and whether or not God is personal or impersonal. Some forms of Hinduism resemble western religions where there is devotion to a deity. Other forms of Hinduism look incredibly foreign to westerners and do not have a personal God as the ultimate authority. In sum, Loftus needs to specify what he is referring to. Incidentally, eastern religions that assert that God is impersonal do not qualify as theistic. In other words, “god” is a force, not a personal being. Therefore, the ontological explanation doesn’t even apply because those religions aren’t even referring to a personal being. The relevance of this to Loftus’ statement is that only theistic systems need to be referred to when applying the ontological explanation of God’s existence.

Debating which is more desirable between an impersonal force or a personal God is a different discussion altogether. An impersonal force leaves open the question of why there is something rather than nothing. An impersonal force doesn’t create because the word create implies desire which implies a personal being. We have plenty of evidences that our existence was created. In addition, the issue of morality cannot be answered if everything is the product of an impersonal force. We know morality exists but, a system that appeals to an impersonal force has no source by which to make moral judgments. Many eastern thinkers assert that this life and it’s morality are just illusory. However, we know that the eastern idea that morality is illusory is evidentially absurd and that we must attempt to live by morality as much as possible. Even eastern religious systems that deny this know that a system without morality is unlivable. The cycle of death and rebirth (samsara) based on karma is an example of how they acknowledge that their system is ultimately unlivable because it is a system of morality. If there are no truly good or evil actions, what is the karmic system of punishment and reward based on?

The pantheistic/panentheistic notion of God not being differentiated from everything else invites problems as well. If we are part of the being of God then God suffers the consequences of our choices and this certainly can’t be the case if God is the MGBP. God could be affected by our suffering and vicissitudes. If we commit suicide, does that cause God to suffer? That would make Him less than the MGBP. The larger implication is that if we’re merely part of God, how can we be truly free? These considerations should be sufficient to establish that it is difficult to see how an undifferentiated God is more desirable than otherwise.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

L 5.12

Another objection to the ontological explanation of God’s nature is that, according to the explanation itself, God could also be maximally evil. Aside from the fact that it would make God contradictory (both maximally good and evil simultaneously), which is logically absurd, we know that good is greater and more desirable than evil. Therefore, since one of the two must win out and good is more desirable, God is good (thus ruling out a philosophy like the Taoist yin yang of two opposite but equal forces). Still, some might say that they would prefer an evil God to a good one. What would it mean for God to be maximally evil? Evil, by definition, is the opposite of good. God, being good, acts in a manner that not only benefits others but, also benefits Himself. Even an evil person does good in that they might do harm to others but, they are doing so to advance their own interests. To be maximally evil, God would have to not only do harm to others but, to Himself as well. Anything less than that would result in evil-God trying to do at least a minimal amount of good, if only for Himself. Since a maximally evil being would necessarily have to do evil to all, including himself, that being would be incongruent with it’s own existence and is therefore not logically tenable. Therefore, it remains that the MGBP must be the greatest good possible and cannot be maximally evil. This description matches the biblical definitions for God’s nature.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

L 5.11

If there is power, then God is the most powerful being possible. It’s not just that God is quantitatively omnipotent but, He is the very source of power. Apart from Him, there would be no power to conceive of. He is powerful to a degree that there is no more power that is available for Him to attain. He is so powerful that He is essentially synonymous with power. The same is true of God and any great property. There would be no way to comprehend morality, love, perfection, etc, if God did not exist.

One objection to the preceding point is that the words “great” or “perfect” need to be clarified. It is possible for the words to be perceived in varying ways. Thus, people will have different definitions of God’s greatness or perfection. This once again brings up the distinction between non-theism and theism. Further refining the words great and perfect only make sense after the issue of non-theism vs theism has been settled. Loftus, and atheists in general, are non-theists. There is no reason to even discuss the subject of “which god is more powerful” until non-theism has been eliminated from the pool of live options.

Monday, October 4, 2010

L 5.10

The universe and our existence are contingent. This we know. We know that the universe didn’t always exist and will eventually suffer a heat death. This means that the existence of the universe is contingent on other factors and is not a brute fact in and of itself. It is not possible that the universe pulled itself up by it’s own bootstraps. Even if the universe is the latest in a string of universes or is part of a multiverse (implying that the universe was caused by other, non-divine entities), all that has been done is to multiply the number of contingent entities. There still must be something logically necessary behind it all. This logical necessity is God; the maximally greatest being possible.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

L 5.9

In regards to the ontological explanation for God’s existence, Kant asserted that it is not reasonable to infer the extramental existence of something merely from it’s definition. (p. 81) His point could be restated that while the ontological explanation might have some explanatory value about the MGBP, that doesn’t mean that the idea of the MGBP necessarily possesses the characteristic of existence. However, Kant missed the point of the ontological explanation. The extramental existence of God is implied in the definition of God’s nature. If it is said that God’s existence isn’t necessary, then you haven’t achieved the desired result; accurately and thoroughly defining the MGBP. Describing the MGBP must necessarily include it’s existence. Otherwise, it is missing a crucial quality. In fact, it would be missing the most meaningful quality possible. If existence isn’t one of the qualities God possesses, what is being discussed?

Monday, September 27, 2010

L 5.8

Theists should remember that if you are looking for something, you don’t solicit help from someone who is already biased against it’s existence. Non-theists commenting on God’s existence are probably not a good source for truth on the matter because they aren’t looking for God to exist. Granted, non-theists would likely say that they aren’t looking because they have already looked and discovered that God doesn’t exist. As I have stated before, that is something no person can substantiate. No person possesses the kind of knowledge necessary to know that God does not exist. So, the non-theist stance on God’s existence should eliminate their testimony from the pool of viable options.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

L 5.7

In response to the ontological explanation for God’s existence, Loftus quotes Hume’s objection to the explanation in that the ontological explanation obscures the boundary between matters of fact and relations of ideas. (p. 80)

What Loftus is saying via Hume, is that an idea of the maximally greatest being possible (MGBP) is far from that being actually existing. In other words, God is most likely just a figment of our imaginations and there probably isn’t a MGBP. We can think up all sorts of grand ideas but, that doesn’t mean they actually exist in reality.

Descartes showed in his Meditations that nothing in the mind can exist that isn’t at least partially true in the real world. No person can think up something that doesn’t have at least partial basis in real world fact. Therefore, Hume’s distinction is somewhat artificial. This certainly doesn’t prove God’s existence beyond the shadow of a doubt but, it does point out that when we explain God’s existence, we’re talking about something real, not something that is solely in our minds.

Todd Furman asserts that matters of fact require “empirical evidence for any sort of justification it might ever have”. (p. 81) However, there isn’t going to be the kind of empirical evidence Furman is looking for. A supernatural god is going to have evidence in metaphysical form, not naturalistic form. Evidence of God’s existence is beyond the purview of science. Unfortunately, many people think that science will eventually prove or disprove everything possible. This is a grave misunderstanding of the purpose of science. Science works in this existence and operates according to the rules of this existence (methodological naturalism). Outside of this existence, science is woefully inadequate. Who knows what kind of supernatural rules are in place outside of this natural existence? Science can’t even tell us what happened during the Planck epoch of this universe, much less telling us anything about existence outside of this universe.

In summary, it is not accurate to say that the idea of the MGBP is without substantiation. People who reject the ontological explanation are looking for substantiation from naturalistic science when they should be looking more to philosophy and metaphysics.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

L 5.6

“Atheists generally think Christian theism inhibits scientific progress, creates class struggles, sexism, racism, mass neurosis, intolerance, and environmental disasters”. (p. 79)

Christian theism inhibits scientific progress
What is most unfortunate about this kind of thinking is that it somehow overlooks the obvious fact that many Christians have been and are scientists because they seek to better understand the existence God created. In that way, Christians aren’t actually preventing progress but, contributing to it. Loftus may not have heard of Georges LemaĆ®tre. He was known for something pretty significant.

creates class struggles
Certainly, there are Christians who have used Christianity to create class struggles. However, they have done so contra the Bible's teaching about the first church where everyone shared as they had need (Acts 4:32-35). Indeed, many socialists use this as justification that Christianity supports socialism. These people draw the exact opposite conclusion that Loftus has drawn.

One of the most prominent oversights about Christianity is that the first Christians treated women with unparalleled equality among ancient belief systems. A Christian I know pointed out that there are “many references in the Bible to women holding high, important positions in families and in society at large. Women are even mentioned in the lineage of Jesus, and that’s very unusual in itself. In those days, women were typically omitted from the genealogical lists. It was a MAN’S WORLD in every respect. Jesus changed all that. As for creation, God said that ‘it was not good for man to be alone.’ Therefore, His creation was not…complete without women. Think of how Jesus took care of His mother Mary; the story of the widow’s mite that seems so insignificant yet has been retold countless times throughout Christendom; the Godly influence of Timothy’s mother and grandmother on his life; the huge roles played in the Bible by Jesus’ mother Mary, Esther, Miriam, Pharaoh’s daughter, Rahab, Martha and Mary, Priscilla, Lydia, etc., etc. If God hadn’t placed a great deal of value on women, we wouldn’t have all those accounts of women and their deeds in the Bible. Many of them were in leadership positions.”

She continues “As for submission per se, I’m not so sure that the definition was exactly the same when the Bible was written as we often hear it today. Today we think of it as being lorded over, bossed around, intimidated, etc. I think it carried more of the connotation of love, caring, and respect, and earned respect at that. The role of all Christians–men and women–is one of submission . . . to God first, to authority (for civil order), to one another in all kinds of relationships (friendships, marriages, businesses, etc.). It’s not like a king and his subjects. That doesn’t work in any kind of relationship. In Ephesians 5, most pastors until recent years have totally omitted verse 21 which admonishes people to honor Christ by being submissive to each other. Then, the following verses expound on exactly how women are to be submissive and then how men are to be submissive. Marriage doesn’t work without mutual submission. A lot of what has been preached over the past hundred years or so has done more to fuel the battle between the sexes than any other outside force. I can tell you one thing for sure: If a man really loves a woman like Christ loved the church (loving and caring for it/her to the point of sacrificing his wants and even his very life for it/her), it’s easy and practically automatic for the woman to respond in kind. I think that’s what submission means, and that’s the great power of love. The problem is that mankind is fallen and, only with God’s help, can come anywhere close to loving someone that much. The biblical ideal is so antithetical to the way the real world functions that it’s very hard to get our contemporary minds to wrap around it. It’s a ‘dog eat dog’ world, and everyone wants to be the big dog. That’s just not the way God wants His children to function.”

The accusation that Christianity creates racism is just plain laziness. The Christian diaspora is one of the most amazing phenomena in the history of mankind. Followers of Christ endeavored, even died for, people of all races and creeds. Christians brought unparalleled human services to all people in the face of all manner of dangers to themselves. In this sense, Christianity crossed all social and racial borders. The same is the case today.

Many Christians feel that, based on the discrimination against Christianity prevalent in America today, non-Christians are much more intolerant than Christians are. The overriding sentiment in America today is to be tolerant of everything except Christianity.

mass neurosis
Christians suffering from mass neurosis depends on whether or not what they are seeing is true.

environmental disasters
If I understand Loftus correctly, the environmental disasters he is referring to are really more of a political issue than a religious issue.

The totality of this statement by Loftus is a fallacy called hurling the elephant. This fallacy usually takes several parts of a complex situation, throws them together with little regard to detail or contrary information and hurls an unwarranted conclusion at the target. Each individual point of Loftus’ statement bears little resemblance to reality. Not only does Loftus blame Christianity for something non-Christians are also guilty of but, he blames Christianity for the actions of a minority who acted outside of Christian beliefs.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

L 5.5

Stating that God is evil for allowing suffering diminishes the human experience. It is not evil. Rather, inscrutable suffering is part of uncertainty in life. Uncertainty can be used to breed spiritual alacrity. Uncertainty can serve as motivation to develop safer means of living. Uncertainty helps people to not take life for granted. To blithely dismiss inscrutable suffering as evil is to rob humanity of one of it’s most profound experiences and one of God’s most effective teaching tools.

Monday, September 20, 2010

L 5.4

One of the most profound truths about suffering is that without God, pain and suffering have no meaning. They exist merely to torment us. This is one of the greatest shortcomings of the non-theist position. There is no meaningful way to deal with suffering outside of God’s purpose in it. Non-theist systems, such as Buddhism and some forms of Hinduism, attempt to maintain the belief that suffering is illusory. Ideas like suffering, good and bad are to be overcome in order to reach enlightenment. In these systems, concepts like suffering are mental states that prevent enlightenment (moksha in Hinduism and nirvana in Buddhism). Once these limiting ways of thinking are overcome, a person can reach enlightenment where the mind has no boundaries and there are no more barriers between a person and the ultimate reality. Ultimately, these systems are untenable because they philosophically fail to acknowledge that suffering exists while existentially acknowledge that suffering exists. If suffering doesn’t exist, what is it that needs to be overcome? Why is there so much focus on meditating to rise above something that doesn’t exist? Even non-theists know that to cause someone else suffering is immoral. To the Hindu, doing so would negatively affect that person’s karma. How can something be immoral if it doesn’t exist? So, even the most sophisticated attempts to deal with suffering outside of God’s allowance and purpose for it utterly fail.

Friday, September 17, 2010

L 5.3

It’s unfortunate that most non-theists don’t acknowledge that God did create an existence without suffering; what is sometimes called the afterlife. The Bible tells us that as far as our existence goes, God will one day eliminate suffering from our experience. The good news is that this existence can be attained by anyone. The first step is written in Romans 10:9.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

L 5.2

Religious skeptics believe that people should be spared from suffering. Yet, they are not able to explain why. Most importantly, they are unable to explain why that type of existence would be better. When asked how the world should operate without suffering, the non-theists launches into some of the most interesting and convoluted scenarios imaginable that would make you think they should consider a career in fiction, or comedy. People playing God is never devoid of entertainment.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

L 5.1

P. 79 yields a statement on suffering that “…there is too much intense suffering in this world for there to be a good creator”. Loftus adds on p. 235 that many people state that suffering is pointless.

In general, there are two kinds of suffering; physical and emotional. Certainly, there are varying levels of suffering. On the physical side, a pin prick doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as getting burned. On the emotional side, getting passed over for a promotion isn’t nearly as painful as losing a loved one or being abandoned. Still, is the degree of suffering the most pertinent question? If the most intense suffering experiences were removed from our existence, there would still be suffering. The scale will have shifted and what was a moderately painful experience will then become the most painful experience and our sensitivities would adjust accordingly. We would still ask why the most intensely painful experiences are allowed by God. Therefore, the real question being asked by the non-theist isn’t really that there is intense suffering but, why there is suffering at all. Why are we allowed to suffer?

One of the most common approaches to this issue traditionally is that suffering came into the world as a result of sin, particularly that of Adam and Eve. However, non-Christians do not accept the authority or reliability of the Bible so, for them, the question still stands. Another typical response is that suffering is a result of our freewill. People suffer because of the immoral things people do to each other. On that statement, Loftus responds that “eliminating intense cases of suffering would still allow good and evil”. (p. 250)

An important distinction to make on the issue is that there is a difference between evil and suffering. The two often get conflated. The existence of evil will be discussed in later posts. On the subject of suffering, another important distinction is the difference between gratuitous suffering and inscrutable suffering. Bad things that people do to each other comprise gratuitous suffering. Gratuitous suffering is when one person causes another person pain. This kind of suffering is clearly a result of our own choices and isn’t difficult to understand. People make mistakes (including immoral actions) and pain to others is often the result. To ask for this kind of pain to be eliminated is to ask for people to be perfect which is not really a major issue with non-theists. Debate arises mostly in regards to inscrutable suffering. This kind of suffering is difficult to understand; hence, inscrutable. Natural disasters are the most common example. Why did God create a world that contained such great potential to cause so many people suffering?

God allows suffering for various reasons. Although, non-theists vehemently object to this. How can there be purpose in something like hurricane Katrina or an infant suffering from a painful disease? In Unshakable Foundations, Geisler and Bocchino list some purposes for suffering:

To develop character

To teach moral consequences

To warn of impending greater danger

To avoid greater suffering

To get our moral attention

One dynamic about suffering that is often overlooked is that it often has purpose. We experience this in our lives. For example, a doctor may intentionally inflict pain on a patient in order to instigate healing. Good can come from suffering. If you don’t think so, ask someone who is handicapped if any good has come from their life. Even if a handicapped person has been unable to be directly responsible for good, people who are caretakers can, at the very least, demonstrate unselfishness, love and compassion for others. In addition, suffering reminds us that we are mortal and not able to control our own circumstances which teaches us to look for greater purpose in life than just existing. A relationship with God can help us through painful experiences and suffering should cause us to strengthen that relationship. Ultimately, it’s an urgent and sobering realization that there are absolutes in this life, the greatest of which is God and His will. Concordantly, suffering can also help to remind us that this existence is not our permanent home.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

L 4.11

“Whether or not people accept these apologetic arguments [that support their own religion] will depend upon whether or not they are already insiders to that particular faith in the first place”. (p. 76)

This assertion is demonstrably false. Examples to the contrary are Anthony Flew, C. S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell. These people set out to prove that Christianity was false and ended up becoming Christian because they were convinced Christianity is the truth.

Monday, September 13, 2010

L 4.10

Another criticism of the outsider test is that it is practically impossible. As stated previously, there is no belief vacuum, not even agnosticism. Everyone fits into some category and there is no way to be “outside” of every belief. How can someone truly exercise the outsider test when there is no "outside" to equally judge the various beliefs?

People who advocate the outsider test commit special pleading in that they want religious people to “step outside” of religion so that non-religion can be evaluated objectively. Simultaneously, they complain that those religious people don’t accept nontheist beliefs because they don’t understand or don’t try the best arguments against religion. In other words, they don’t want religious people to be religious and they want religious people to be nontheist so that they can be swayed by the best arguments against religion. So, it’s special pleading. Nontheists are basically telling theists to “get out of all beliefs except nontheism”. Many nontheists don't even recognize that they are doing this.

Regardless, there are many, many followers of Christ who can accurately reproduce and respond to the most current, most forceful arguments from nontheists against Christianity yet, they remain unconvinced by nontheist conclusions. Many more followers of Christ are aware of these rebuttals. Therefore, it isn’t totally accurate to say that Christians are ignorant of these arguments.

Friday, September 10, 2010

L 4.9

Loftus advocates an “outsider test” but, such a test is not wholly convincing. Being a disciple of Christ implies a relationship. One has to genuinely invest in the relationship through good times and bad for a longer period of time rather than shorter to have any real insight into it. It’s the spiritual equivalent to not judging a book by it’s cover. Some people claim they were devout Christians but still left Christianity. Unfortuantely, many people participate in works-based variations on Christianity. Works-based religions proceed from particular acts to a general state. Being a disciple of Christ works in the opposite way; from a general state to particular acts. Did the former Christian ever actually have a lasting relationship with God? I’m not sure if this is true of Loftus. The first chapter seems to indicate that he did not. Second, I would ask if the person was not able to keep up their end of the relationship and ended up leaving Christianity when faced with difficulties. Being a disciple of Christ is not easy and not everyone is cut out for it. God allows us to be tested and some people don’t have the wherewithal to withstand those tests, even if they have had a genuine relationship for a short period of time. The relationship with God is like a muscle; it has to be exercised to be strong enough to handle adversity and have endurance.

Loftus implies that American Christians don't test their faith by examining other beliefs and their reaction to Christianity; the outsider test. America has been religiously diverse for several decades. Americans are exposed to quite a few religions that are significantly different than Christianity. Consequently, Christians do have their faith tested by direct exposure to other religions especially given the fact that diversity is so prevalent in American education and media.

Moreover, it is possible for a person to find truth on the first try and therefore, not need to test that truth. The relevance to the outsider test is that a person might have a particular religion as an accident of birth but, if that religion is true, further testing will only serve to continually reinforce that truth. Consequently, the outsider test is not necessary to discover truth in every case.

Disciples of Christ recognize works-based religions and have no need to test each one. While the particulars of worship among them might vary based on culture, they basically function the same in that the adherent must perform a prescribed set of actions in order to remain in good standing. This means that a person does not need to travel the world sampling each religion. One works-based religion is going to be fundamentally similar to the others. Christianity, on the other hand, is unique among the world religions in several ways.

The religious pluralist is going to disagree with Loftus. One branch of pluralism maintains that all religions are basically saying the same thing. Another branch says that even though religions are saying different things, sincere adherents of each religion will all end up saved or a participant in the ultimate reality. Therefore, pluralism maintains that the “outsider test” is irrelevant.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

L 4.8

In answer Four on pp. 73-74, Loftus attempts to respond to the objection that his argument from sociological conditions for belief commits the genetic fallacy. He states that “sociological facts provide evidence against religious faiths in general”. No, they don’t. They merely show a pattern of how some people adopt the beliefs of their culture. Those facts say absolutely nothing about the veracity of the beliefs. At most, they merely show that some people either don’t get exposed to other beliefs or do but still reject them.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

L 4.7

Imagine that theism is like driving to a destination. Upon arriving, events can take place. Using this analogy, atheism would be like not starting the journey, closing your eyes and pretending there are no destinations. Things that you can reach out and touch with your eyes closed are the only things that exist. Agnosticism would be like driving without stopping. You see destinations that you should stop at and investigate but, you feel like there aren’t good enough reasons to do so or that your shouldn’t stop because you don’t know what might happen.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

L 4.6

It’s possible that the reason why “it’s hard to shake the evangelical faith” (as Loftus says) is because theism is true and a great deal of brainwashing, obstinacy and/or intellectual forfeiture is required for a person to deny theism.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

L 4.5

“Psychiatrist Valerie Tarico describes the process of defending unintelligent beliefs by smart people”. (p. 70)

This assessment of Christians rests on an idea called compartmentalization. Acknowledging that there are brilliant people who are Christian despite incredibly persuasive arguments against Christianity, non-theists let the imagination run riot by asserting that these people in question turn their brilliant minds off when their lives intersect the realm of religion. They can work in scientific disciplines and operate with objectivity. Yet, they somehow flip the smart switch in their brains to the off position the rest of the time which enables them to remain religious. In this way, they compartmentalize their religious beliefs into a space that doesn’t require intelligence.

The most acute problem of this charge is that there is absolutely no way to prove it. What test could be devised to show that intelligent Christians are turning their brains off? It’s possible that the non-theist could claim that religious compartmentalization is the equivalent of genetic disposition; the so-called “God gene”. If there were a gene that predisposed someone to religious belief, they could function with normal rationality except in the area of a higher power. Aside from the fact that there is no such thing as a God gene, genes don’t affect our behavior in that way. The latest research on the alleged “gay gene” is interesting. The gene that has recently been linked with obesity does not dictate that people who have it are obese. It just means they have a proclivity for more caloric intake. If the person does not regulate intake vs expenditure, they will get obese. However, that is true of any person. What this does illustrate is how complex human behavior is.

This nontheist line of reasoning definitely constitutes sawing the branch they’re perched on because the statement can be turned around and used on non-theists. It could easily be said that nontheists turn off the smart switch in their brains when it comes to dealing with metaphysical issues that theists are well aware of like origin, purpose, destiny, etc.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

L 4.4

Elaborating on the notion of how to test beliefs, p. 70 provides the statement that “the whole notion of ‘an independent rational judgment’ is suspect, especially when there are no mutually agreed-upon reliable scientific tests to decide what to believe”.

Previous posts in this forum have outlined the fallacy of looking for scientific proof of something that is beyond science. Yet, that doesn’t mean that theistic beliefs are irrational.

What is interesting about Loftus stating that there are no mutually agreed-upon, reliable scientific tests is that he prides himself on the reliability of his control beliefs to conclusively establish the problems with Christianity. What’s more is that his control beliefs are supposedly based on scientific methodology. With that in mind, do atheist beliefs adhere to the Shermer statement quoted by Loftus that “people...give intellectual reasons justifying their beliefs that they arrived at for non-intelligent reasons.” Merely asserting that there is nothing supernatural without a shred of evidence would definitely fall under the category of a belief arrived at for non-intelligent reasons. Since that's the case, nontheism is certainly no better than theism. Moreover, nontheism can't address many metaphysical issues whereas theism can. In that sense, theism has a distinct advantage over nontheism.

When Loftus says that there is no “independent, rational judgment” he is making an independent, rational judgment. This kind of relativistic, postmodern double standard committed by non-theists never ends.

Non-theists constantly prop up “mutually agreed-upon” tests as the standard par excellence. Yet, he admits all over page 70 that people arrive at their beliefs for non-intelligent reasons. What makes secular rationalists think that such a test is reasonable?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

L 4.3

Michael Shermer is quoted on p. 70 saying “smart people...are able to give intellectual reasons justifying their beliefs that they arrived at for non-intelligent reasons.” Further, “there are several social reasons for leaving the faith that a person was born into.” (p.72)

First, Loftus should be careful citing this quote because it could be used against atheism. Many people believe that former Christians are merely mad at God for some selfish reason. They didn’t get their burning bush audience with God or they think that being a Christian makes them maintain a lifestyle that prevents certain indulgences or they think God unfairly took someone/something from them. In fact, the journal-like first chapter of Loftus’ book suggests that he might fit neatly into those categories.

Second, who gets to decide which reasons justifying a belief are intelligent and which ones aren’t? Making the claim that certain reasons are non-intelligent requires smuggled-in authority. The person making the claim should validate their authority in order to substantiate their position.

Third, “non-intelligent reasons” is really code for “non-scientific reasons”. Science isn’t really the question in this matter. The belief should be judged on rationality, especially of the metaphysical, philosophical variety. Christian beliefs have been shown to be rational for centuries. A good article on the topic is Alvin Plantinga’s “Should Methodological Naturalism Constrain Science”.

The second statement implies that moving from one faith to another only happens as a result of social pressures, not rationality. While this might be true of Loftus himself, several notable atheists who are now Christian claim that they followed the evidence in investigating Christian beliefs and they became followers of Christ. They give no indication that their conversion was due to social or cultural factors.

Monday, August 30, 2010

L 4.2

Richard Dawkins claims that “the overwhelming majority [of people] just happens to choose the one [religion] that their parents belong to...The religion we adopt is a matter of an accident of geography.” (pp.67-68)

This assertion might not be as true as it seems on the surface. There are examples to the contrary.

David Nassar has an incredible story

There is evidence that the Church in China is growing.

Christianity in the Middle East is an interesting topic.

Information about Christianity in Iran is very limited but, fascinating.

Analysis of Christianity in the Persian Gulf yields interesting results.

Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will Change Your Future By Joel C. Rosenberg explores Christian trends in Islamic cultures.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

L 4.1

Loftus advocates what he calls an outsider test. The idea is for a person to step outside of their belief, particularly Christianity, to objectively and impartially evaluate it. On p. 66 he says "But from the outside, the adherent of a different faith seems blind." What he is saying is that religious people are all saying the same thing about each others’ beliefs; that they’re false. If those same people could remove themselves to a position of non-belief, then they would be better able to appropriately assess the validity of these non-scientific worldviews and most likely would abandon them since they are the product of ancient superstitions. What Loftus fails to mention is that no one, not even agnostics, are devoid of faith.

Non-theism is the belief that naturalism is all there is. It is the faith that science can ultimately explain everything. Scientific methodology is the ultimate authority. Agnostics try to paint themselves as having non-belief or a-belief but, that is in itself a belief. It is belief in restraint from making a statement on either extreme of God’s existence. Agnostics use various means to determine that we either don’t have enough information or can’t know if God exists. That is faith in the means to make such a determination. In one sense, the outsider test for faith is a sham. Does Loftus advocate that a person remove themselves to a position of non-belief in anything in order to assess a worldview? If so, that’s an impossible task. Epistemology just doesn’t work that way. In order to assess beliefs, there has to be a method of doing so. A method is based on beliefs in certain things. Is Loftus saying a person should look at a belief through the eyes of someone who is not an advocate of that worldview? This isn’t much better because if you want to learn how to paint, you don’t ask an engineer. You ask a painter. If you are looking for God, you don’t ask an atheist because they don’t believe God exists.

In another sense, the outsider test for faith is a good idea in that people should constantly evaluate their beliefs objectively. The best way to do that is to be able to accurately reproduce objections to that belief. For the Christian, this means being educated in non-theist thinking so that those points can be paraphrased accurately back to a non-theist and they would agree that the objection has been adequately captured. In fact, the Bible exhorts believers to “test the spirits” in 1 John 4:1. There certainly have been people who don’t follow this admonition but, they do so contrary to what the Bible says.

The outsider test for faith isn’t quite as unique of an idea as Loftus seems to think it is and many, many people have employed it frequently in their lives. If Loftus were honest with himself, he probably wouldn’t be so confident in it’s ability to make atheists out of brainwashed Christians. There have been atheists who investigated Christianity from the “outside” and found Christianity to be too convincing to resist.

Friday, August 27, 2010

L 3.9

On the subject of God’s method for revelation, Loftus says "if God chose to reveal himself in the past, he chose a poor medium and a poor era in the ancient superstitious past to do so". (p. 61)

First, Loftus is using a ridiculous standard to ascertain the existence of God. Any era is ancient and superstitious when looked at from the future. Even contemporary scientific methods will be outdated as they are constantly refined. We know that in regards to intent, it has been demonstrably shown that the Bible has been faithfully transmitted. Also, his application of this standard assumes that God isn’t still revealing Himself to us today. It has already established in the preceding post that He does still reveal Himself. Aside from general revelation, Biblical revelation is just one avenue of special revelation. So, God is working in other ways that supplement revelation in the Bible.

Second, use of the word poor requires smuggled-in authority in that the observer is assuming an omniscient vantage point. Clearly, this isn’t the case. There is no way for any person to know that there isn’t an ultimate purpose in how revelation has occurred.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

L 3.8

"Science has taught us to assume a natural explanation for every event based upon methodological naturalism.” (p. 61)

What Loftus overlooks is that God can operate through secondary causes. A primary cause is when God directly intervenes in the natural order to part the sea or turn wine into water. A secondary cause is when God is not the proximate cause of change. We don’t directly control the temperature in the room but, we do so through a medium like a thermostat. We are ultimately in control but, we aren’t the proximate cause of change. We control the thermostat. The thermostat in turn directs the devices that change the temperature. God can work this way and, to us, this would look natural although suspicious at times. An example of this might be a circumstance or string of circumstances occurring against great odds like a person getting cured of a fatal disease for no readily apparent reason. This is what many people would consider a modern day miracle. Since there isn’t a direct, proximate intervention by God, all empirical events could just look like normal, everyday operations of the physical universe not guided by any divine process. Science can certainly provide empirical explanations for many aspects of our existence but, science will never be able to guarantee that there isn’t a supernatural being behind it all pushing the buttons and twisting the dials.

Non-theists clamor for God to work in primary causes since we now have more sophisticated noetic sensibilities and empirical equipment. We would be much more astute in assessing God's activity than our predecessors. To not do so means that God is unfairly concealing Himself from us or just doesn’t exist. This problem is referred to as the "divine shyness" problem. The Christian case is that biblical style miracles are not necessary after the completed work of Christ’s ministry. Unfortunately, the non-Christian who is asking for God to work as a primary cause does not accept the authority of the Bible or the divinity of Jesus. Therefore, their request stands as an enabler to belief. Without God’s role as proximate cause, they do not accept the biblical injunction. However, the dynamic expressed in the Bible means that God works more as a secondary cause now whereas in the past, He worked as a primary cause. He is much more subtle today.

God's work as a primary cause is inversely proportionate to our scientific knowledge [qualitatively, not quantitatively]. Obviously, the non-theist will object that there is no empirical proof of this and that this explanation is either ad hoc or an excuse for God’s lack of presence in our lives. The flaw in this objection is that as God's direct intervention in natural affairs increases, His activity becomes more compelling which leads to less freedom. This means that God was much more coercive in the past than today. While this prima facie seems like a violation of freedom of our ancestors, Loftus has adamantly pointed out that ancient people were more superstitious and less scientific than we are today. This means that God had more room to operate in the past without being coercive because to them, there were many events that seemed incredible to our ancestors that to us, seem mundane and standard operating procedure of causality. Even though people had a cursory understanding of causality, our ancestors did not have prior scientific endeavors to draw from as we do. They did not have the tools to seek scientifically empirical explanations for events like we do today as a result of the Scientific Revolution. Consequently, God was not contradicting their thought processes in the same way as He would be today. Granted, people had a general sense that seas don’t part on their own without some extraordinary force acting on them but, they didn’t have the scientific experience to know it is as certainly as we do today. If God were to perform proportionately miraculous actions in the modern/postmodern age, He would violate physical laws of causality in a way only He could which would in turn dramatically diminish, or extinguish altogether, our freedom. Keeping in mind that God’s quantitative activity has probably not changed over time, we have a condition in our lives that ancient people did not have; that of scientific advancement. This is a dynamic that is rarely, if ever, allowed for by critics of Christianity. Concordantly, non-theists are not able to justify why God’s modus operandi should remain the same throughout time despite changes in human epistemology. Non-theists want to criticize ancient people for being gullible and not seeking scientific causality for events but, don’t want to acknowledge that moderns would be enraged at the devastating effect God would produce if He did violate the laws that our present epistemology is based on thus mortally wounding our freedom. Essentially, atheists want to be coerced yet free which is logically absurd.

Another perspective on this issue is basically a rephrasing of the previous point of inverse proportionality. It comes from the testimony of many people who say that the less they have tried to manipulate their circumstances, the less they have tried to figure out truth on their own, the more God has revealed Himself to them. The more we lean on our own understanding, the more we occlude our ability to perceive God. This is an incredibly powerful point in regards to non-theism because of the irony that the more non-theists try to discover truth, the more they are not able to grasp it. Keep in mind that this has nothing to do with the intelligence of a person. There are smart people who are Christian and non-Christian alike. It’s about the motivation of a person, genius or not. The sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 made no sense to Abraham but, he did not rely on his own rationality and the divine presence was revealed to him. Moses recognized his limitations that he wasn’t worthy of being God’s ambassador and Exodus 3 records Moses in direct contact with YHWH. Job fought off the temptations of his friends and family and was granted an audience with God. The Psalms are replete with examples of God’s presence being revealed to the penitent. In Matthew 19, Jesus illustrates this truth to the rich young man when Jesus tells him to relieve himself of his worldly accoutrement insinuating that such solipsistic attachments prevent us from having fellowship with the Almighty.

In the Pensees (577), Blaise Pascal points out that “There is sufficient clearness to enlighten the elect, and sufficient obscurity to humble them. There is sufficient obscurity to blind the reprobate, and sufficient clearness to condemn them, and make them inexcusable…If God had permitted only one religion, it had been too easily known; but when we look at it closely, we clearly discern the truth amidst this confusion.”

What we see from Pascal’s “thoughts” is a truth that has been well known for a long time. The issue isn’t one of evidence as atheists claim. That is obfuscation. It’s a matter of the heart; the motivation of the individual. Atheists need to ask themselves in regards to the perception of God’s presence, why their standards are so much less reasonable than that of theists.

In the final analysis, Loftus’ statement should at least be amended to say “Science has taught us to assume a natural explanation for every natural event based upon methodological naturalism.”