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richard dawkins

This tag is associated with 18 posts

Really Recommended Posts 9/23

The World’s First Talking Chair Shows Up in the UK– one of my favorite websites, No Apologies Allowed, has recently featured a comic on Dawkins’ failure to man up and meet William Lane Craig in a debate on the existence of God. Given the absolute trouncing Craig gave to Dawkins’ buddy, Sam Harris, it’s not surprising Dawkins is hiding as far from this debate as possible.

Thinking Christian is another site I follow closely, and he recently had two fantastic posts. The first is a review of the Intelligent Design movie, “Metamorphosis.” I recently purchased the film but have yet to watch it. I anticipate it greatly. The second post points out some pretty interesting aspects about how the “person” status of slaves was revoked–just as people now revoke the unborn’s “person” status. Check out his post, “Non-Persons Yesterday and Today.”

Holly Ordway over at Hieropraxis has another interesting post which reflects on why we should be “Reclaiming Story for Christ.” Holly has a ton of awesome posts, and I highly recommend her site.

“God is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of ‘Love Wins'” by Kevin DeYoung. I think the title says it all.

Randy Everist over at “Possible Worlds” has a fun post reflecting on the “Worst Objection to the Kalam Cosmological Argument.” For some reason I can’t get a direct link, so simply go to his site http://randyeverist.com/ and scroll down.

Readers should recognize that I’ve also been focusing on the Kalam recently, and can check out my more recent posts on the topic: Dawkins and Oppy vs. Theism: Defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument; “The Multiverse Created Itself” and “Who Made God after all?”- The Kalam Cosmological Argument

Do you like Biblical Archaeology? I do! Jason Dulle over at Theo-sophical Ruminations has featured another post in his series on the topic. This one features the ossuary of Caiaphas.

Image Credit:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Old_Fence_Post.JPG

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Dawkins and Oppy vs. Theism: Defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument

“[Arguments for God’s existence from an infinite regress] make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress.” -Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 101.

Dawkins vs. the Kalam

Just over a year ago at Richard Dawkins’ site, someone asked Dawkins to respond to the Kalam Cosmological Argument (see an exposition of the argument here). The reader outlined the argument:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause
Dawkins responded almost immediately: “You left out Step 4: ‘Therefore Jesus died for our sins and regularly turns into a wafer.'”

Dawkins is frequently witty, but often wrong. The argument is for broad theism. The Kalam is intended to show that the universe is caused, it is not an argument for Christianity specifically. I pointed out in another post that just because an argument is for broad theism (or just the brute existence of God), that doesn’t mean the argument is useless evidentially for Christianity. If we know the universe is caused, then we also know whatever caused the universe must be capable of causation (obviously), choice (it must select a moment to bring about the universe), powerful enough to bring the universe into existence out of nothing, etc. This would be powerful evidence and part of a cumulative case towards Christianity.

Then there’s Dawkins’ quote in The God Delusion which I have seen utilized to challenge the Kalam. First, I should note that Dawkins’ quote is in response to Aquinas’ Five Ways/Proofs. Further, it seems to be intentionally pointed towards a Leibnizian version of the Cosmological Argument (for a fuller defense of that argument, see here). But, a simple answer to Dawkins objection, which he seems to think is devastating, would be to point out that the universe and God are different types of entities. The universe is contingent, and God is necessary. That’s not arbitrary, that’s just the kind of things those entities are.

A Philosophical Attack On the Kalam

Not all atheists are as capable of blind, willful ignorance as Dawkins. Graham Oppy’s recent book Arguing About Gods has a thoughtful, challenging section dedicated to William Lane Craig’s exposition of the Kalam.

Oppy challenges Craig on every step of the Kalam, but I’m going to focus upon one. Oppy writes, “[I]t is quite unclear why one should suppose that the allegedly counter-intuitive behavior of the transfinite [numbers]… casts doubt on the idea that the very smallest transfinite cardinals do find application to ‘the real world'”(Arguing About Gods, 140).

This proposal is meant to challenge Craig’s contention that the infinite cannot actually exist. For, if there can be no actual infinites, then the objects we see around us–indeed, the universe itself–must have begun. Yet Oppy’s contention really only reflects mathematical truths. But surely this is a rather untenable claim. Oppy would have to provide evidence that the infinite actually exists and is not just an abstract mathematical concept. Craig’s contention is that the infinite can only be used in things like Cantor’s theory for mathematical equations. Why does Craig make this restriction? He cites David Hilbert, the famous German Mathematician, who points out that:

the infinite is nowhere found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitmate basis for rational thought… the role for infinite to play is solely that of an idea… (David Hilbert Quoted in Craig, 87, cited below)

Yet Oppy provides no reason to think that there are actually infinite things found in reality. Rather, he resorts to claiming that Craig misinterpreted Hilbert’s paradoxes and that “If the Cantorian theory of the transfinite numbers is intelligible, then we can suppose that some parts of it find application ‘in the real world…'” (Oppy, 140). But is that true? Aren’t there plenty of things that are intelligible but for which we have no application ‘in the real world’? I abstract a bit when I point this out, but it is perfectly intelligible that there could be flying pigs, yet we don’t find an application of that in “the real world” other than as a false statement. There are nearly limitless examples of intelligible things we can think of, or intelligible theories, which have no application in the real world.

But perhaps Oppy isn’t making a claim quite as strong as saying actual infinites exist. Perhaps he is just referring to the possibility that they do. The problem then, however, is that, as Craig writes in a critique of Oppy’s position, “Oppy’s attempt to defend the possibility of the existence of an actual infinite is vitiated by his conflation of narrowly and broadly logical possibility.” The problem is that Oppy has confused broad logical possibility (that it is possible to construct a consistent set with an actual infinite) with modal (the notion that an infinite actually does exist in a possible world) or actual possibility in the real world. Again, Craig writes, ” Oppy… seems to take a proposition’s freedom from inconsistency in first-order logic to be indicative of that proposition’s being true in some possible world” (Craig b, cited below). So Oppy has not done anything to defeat the Kalam. Even were Craig to grant that Cantorian theory allows for broad logical possibility of actual infinites, it would not show that they are actually possible in our world. And again, even were they possible in the real world, an actual infinite would have to exist in order to discredit the Kalam. Thus, Oppy’s counter to the Kalam is quite weak–it’s based upon a conflation of broadly logical and actual possibility, and even were he to show that infinites are actually possible, the problem would remain that we have observed none.

Yet, and this is very important to note, even if actual infinites did exist, that wouldn’t undermine the idea that everything which began has a cause. It would only allow atheists to claim the universe did not begin. But how would they go about claiming that? They’d have to show that a model of the origins of the universe which allowed for an infinite past was plausible–more plausible than the alternative. Yet the only hope for showing this would be to make a theory as parsimonious as the Big Bang theory, which postulates an absolute beginning to the universe. So, even were there actually infinite things in the universe, which I very much doubt, that would not undermine the Kalam. It would make the argument more difficult to defend, but it would not falsify it. All it would show is that there are objects which are not caused.

Thus, I take it that the Kalam Cosmological Argument does not suffer defeat, either from vocal, misguided atheists like Dawkins, or thoughtful philosophers like Graham Oppy.

Links:

Again, see an outline and defense of the Kalam Cosmological Arugment here.

William Lane Craig discusses another objection: whether a beginningless past is actually infinite: here. He offers a number of critiques of Oppy’s position here. You can also access a review by Craig of Oppy’s book here (you will need to sign up for a free account on http://www.reasonablefaith.org/).

Check out my review of a recent debate between Craig and Lawrence Krauss, in which the Kalam was discussed here. (Includes a link to the actual debate.)

Wintery Knight writes about how to defend the Kalam at his site: http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/how-to-defend-the-kalam-cosmological-argument-just-like-william-lane-craig/

Sources:

Graham Oppy, Arguing About Gods (New York, NY: Cambridge, 2006).

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2008).

William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1979).

William Lane Craig b, “Graham Oppy on the Kalam Cosmological Argument” (Leadership U, November 8, 2005), http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/oppy.html, accessed 9/1/2011. Also found at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5162.

Image credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA: http://spacetelescope.org/images/potw1021a/, found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PGC_39058.jpg.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

One of the most frequently cited and debated arguments for the existence of God is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I have not written on the argument before because there is simply so much good material on it out there that I don’t think I can add anything new. I have, however, run into numerous people with questions on the argument recently, and felt the need to finally get around to a post on the Kalam. Those interested in the argument are highly encouraged to read the links included at the end.

The argument

The argument itself is quite simple:

1) Everything that began to exist has a cause

2) The universe began to exist

3) Therefore, the universe has a cause

The argument is deductively valid, so the question is whether the premises are true. If true, the conclusion is certain.

Defense of Premise 1

Why should we think that whatever began to exist has a cause? First, it seems a denial of this principle would undermine science. Science is an investigation of causation. If the anti-theist wishes to deny this premise, she is committed to a fallacy similar to that which she calls the “goddidit” fallacy: dismissing explanation for an event. (Interestingly, saying “God did it” is not a dismissal of explanation: it is, itself, an explanation. It’s saying the explanation which best fits the evidence is theism.)

Suppose premise 1 were false. In that case, things could and would be coming into existence for no reason whatsoever out of nothing. We would observe a remarkably different universe than that which we do, in fact, observe. A tiger would miraculously materialize in my room and eat me.

Now, it must be noted that some appeal to quantum physics in order to say this premise is false. They hold that certain quantum events bring things into existence without reason. Such an interpretation seems misguided at best, however, for a few reasons. First, the event would seem to have an explanation, namely, that it is a quantum phenomena of type x. Second, even were one to deny that this is a form of explanation or causation, the fact remains that these quantum events don’t originate from nothing. They originate from the laws and systems present within our universe. Third, these quantum events, on an examination of quantum theory, are not uncaused; they are merely spheres of probability. Finally, an exclusion of causal chains seems to undermine quantum theory itself or at least make it difficult to correctly interpret (on this, see William Wharton’s paper “Causation with Quantum Mechanics”). Like Wharton, I think the main reason causation is sometimes excluded from interpretations of QM is because of an avoidance of “metaphysical first causes.” Obviously, if this is the motivation for avoiding causation, it is not spurred by a commitment to science, but a commitment to avoiding the metaphysical implications of science.

Finally, consider what Wintery Knight points out about QM and the Kalam:

First, quantum mechanics is not going to save the atheist here. In QM, virtual particles come into being in a vacuum. The vacuum is sparked by a scientist. The particles exist for a period of time inversely proportional to their mass. But in the case of the big bang, there is no vacuum – there’s nothing. There is no scientist – there’s nothing. And the universe is far too massive to last 14 billion years as a virtual particle. (Wintery Knight, “How to defend the kalam cosmological argument just like William Lane Craig” April 8th, 2009).

The quantum events observed are caused: by the scientist. Therefore, they don’t undermine premise 1.

To sum up, the reasons for thinking the first premise true are clear: 1) to deny it undercuts science; 2) we don’t observe a universe with uncaused events; 3) the only reason found to deny the premise is an a priori commitment to anti-theism.

Defense of Premise 2

Did the universe begin? There are many arguments to support the premise that the universe did, in fact, begin, but I’m going to focus on only two: the impossibility of an infinite past and the empirical evidence of a finite past.

Impossibility of an infinite past

If the past is infinite, then we will have had to cross an infinite number of moments of time in order to come to the present moment. However, for any finite number of moments in time, x, there will always be a moment such that x+1 does not equal infinity. There is no way to start at any arbitrary moment in the supposedly infinite past and then add enough successive moments to arrive at the present moment. As such, it would be impossible to experience the present moment. However, we are experiencing the present moment, therefore, the past is finite.

Empirical evidence for a finite past

Despite misgivings from some Christians about the Big Bang theory, it has proven to be eminently valuable for arguments like the Kalam. I would go so far as to say the Big Bang serves as powerful evidence for a creator.

The reasoning behind this is that when we measure cosmic background radiation we can measure the expansion of the universe. Extrapolating backwards leads us to the conclusion that at some point in the finite past, the universe began to exist.

Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that both premise 1 and 2 are true. However, because the argument is deductively valid, it follows that the universe has a cause.

Conclusions

Okay, so the universe has a cause. That doesn’t prove God exists! Well no, it doesn’t, but it does show that whatever caused the universe has many of the attributes classical theism has attributed to God, and therefore lends credence to the claim God exists. For whatever caused the universe must have extraordinary power (omnipotence);  it must have made a choice to create the universe out of nothing (personal causation/agency); it must have been outside of time (the universe came into existence along with space and time); it must have been outside of space; and it must exist necessarily. As such, the Kalam doesn’t prove Christianity true instantly; it just proves theism is more plausible than atheism. Not only that, but it does show that whatever caused the universe is remarkably similar to the God Christians claim exists.

Appendix: Who made God?

Perhaps the most common objection to the argument outlined above is “Okay, well who made God?” This common retort can be answered after a minute of reflection. Classical theism holds that God exists necessarily, which means that God is eternal and beginningless. The first premise asserts that “whatever begins to exist…” therefore, it doesn’t apply to God. Is this a mere ad hoc fix on theism? No, because it isn’t saying God has no explanation for His existence (which reason is found in His necessary existence); it is saying that he did not begin, and is therefore uncaused. The detractor at this point would have to establish that “everything which exists is caused”–a much more difficult claim to defend than the claim that “everything which began to exist has a cause.” In fact, the anti-theistic claim seems necessarily false, for things which don’t begin are uncaused.

Links

Answers to objections towards the Kalam Cosmological Argument from Richard Dawkins and Graham Oppy

Did the multiverse create itself? Who made God?– more objections to the KCA are answered.

Sites

Wintery Knight  “How to defend the kalam cosmological argument just like William Lane Craig”

Thinking Matters “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”

Wintery Knight, “The kalam cosmological argument defended in a peer-reviewed science journal”

Books

The Kalam Cosmological Argument by William Lane Craig

The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology edited by Craig and J.P. Moreland

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

On the statement that “we are all atheists”

“We are all atheists to other religions, we [atheists] just take it one step further.”

The phrase initially has some kind of shock value, and then it gets you thinking. As a Christian, it may have you thinking, “Wow, I never thought of it that way… maybe there is something to this ‘atheism’ thing.” As an atheist, it may have you saying “Yeah, you Christians are just as rational/skeptical as we atheists about other religions, why not just apply that same logic to your own?”

I’ve addressed this statement/argument/quip/whathaveyou before: here. Yet I keep seeing it pop up in everyday conversation and even from people like Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss in his debate with William Lane Craig.

There’s a problem though, in fact, there’s more than one problem:

1) The statement is false

2) The statement is irrational

3) The statement–as with many false or irrational statements–proves too much (or too little).

Let’s examine to each of these in turn.

The Statement is False

The idea that Christians are atheists to all other religions is simply false. As I’ve explained elsewhere, to other religions, I am not an atheist, I am a rival theist–an adherent of another religion. I’m not an atheist to a Hindu, I am a theist of a different tradition. To the Muslim, I’m not an atheist–I’m a rival theistic believer. So, simply put, the statement is false.

Atheism, by definition, is the belief that there is no God. Therefore, because I believe in a God, I am not an atheist, by definition. William Lane Craig addresses this statement here. The person who brought up the question curiously counters Craig by saying “That’s semantics.” Funny, considering that’s what the atheists are doing: making up semantic word games. Redefine terms to win a debate: atheism at any cost.

The Statement Is Irrational

As I’ve argued elsewhere, the statement is simply irrational. The atheist is literally saying that the theist is an atheist:

necessarily, for any human bb is either theist (T) or ~T. But Christians are T, therefore they are necessarily ~~T. In English, it is true that any human being is either an atheist or a theist. Christians are theists, therefore, they are necessarily not atheists. (here)

But then what the atheist is saying is that the b who is T = ~T in regards to T`, T“, etc. This is simply false, however, because the b who is T is necessarily ~~T. So the atheist is claiming that a contradiction is true.

The Statement Proves Too Much

Consider the following statement:

there are a theoretically infinite number of possible answers to the equation “Two plus two,” but only one actually true answer. To say that “Two plus two equals four” is to automatically make me an unbeliever in all the other possible answers. It’s not rational, however, for the atheist to say, “Well I just go one step further and choose to disbelieve that four is the answer either.” (Dean Todd)

The same type of argument could be made for any true statement. Therefore, the type of reasoning employed in the “we’re all atheists” statement would undermine all true belief.

But it’s just a quip

In regards to my previous post on this statement, several respondents said variations of “You’re taking it too seriously, it’s just a phrase meant to inspire discussion” or “It’s just a quip”. As one respondent put it:

The original formulation didn’t use the word “atheist.” It simply said, “You disbelieve in all the gods of all the religions other than your own. Well, we godless folks only disbelieve in one more than you do. We disbelieve in them all.” Stated this way, your hair splitting over the poetic use of “atheist” becomes irrelevant and the central point stands

But it can be seen that this falls victim to the same difficulties already pointed out above. For it could be said that “You disbelieve in all the possible answers to the statement 2+2=? except one [4], I just disbelieve in them all.” It’s simply positively irrational to even use it as a talking point. That, or it’s trivially true and therefore pointless.

Finally, consider the reasoning behind the statement that “it’s just a quip.” Does using a phrase as a mere expression excuse it from being contradictory or false? Suppose I were to go around saying “atheists are theists too, they just don’t know it!” After all, in the Bible it says God’s existence is plain and can be easily discerned (Romans 1:18-20). So it follows that atheists are theists! Obviously, if I were to use this as a “quip” or “expression” it would be seen as an insult or a jab. Not only that, but it would be seen as obviously false “I’m not a theist,” the atheist would respond. “But it’s just a quip!” I could reply. That doesn’t excuse it from being utterly false. Or again, many Hindus claim that all people are really Hindus, they just don’t know it. After all, Brahma is all, so anyone is really Brahma and part of Hinduism, whether they know it or not. But this is clearly false. I am not a Hindu. I think the concept of Brahman is self-referentially incoherent. To assign a label to me that is false is not to make a quip, but an insult; to assign a label that is incoherent is irrational.

A Dilemma

I present a dilemma:

Those who assert the “We are all atheists” phrase are either:

1) Making an argument for atheism from the phrase, which is irrational and contradictory

or

2) Being disingenuous and actively making ad hominem jabs at theists (and therefore being irrational)

To maintain the use of this phrase is to live in a world of either irrationality or insult: either way, it is to disrespect ourselves and our fellows.

The Underlying Reasons For Making the Statement

In discussing this statement with atheists, I’ve found that often it is seen as a simple attempt to try to point out to Christians their “inconsistency.” The reasoning is that Christians use their cognitive abilities when rejecting other faiths, but they apparently don’t in regards to their own. Following from this, it is argued that if Christians were to just be as skeptical about their own faith as they were about others’, they’d be atheists too (or at least understand atheism).

There are problems with this reasoning. The first is that it begs the question against Christianity by assuming that there are no good reasons to be a theist (i.e. if you examined Christianity, you’d reject it too). There have been many who have examined Christianity and found it to be epistemologically robust; so the reasoning of the atheist is question begging. But it also assumes that atheism is a kind of epistemic neutral ground (something I examined here): if one is an atheist, he/she can examine all worldviews without bias. Again, the problem is that this is false. Atheism is grounded upon the idea that “there is no God.” As such, that doesn’t make in unbiased–rather, it makes it biased against the existence of a God(s). So to assume that atheism is an unbiased viewpoint through which all religions should be viewed is to once more beg the question.

Therefore, it appears as though we are once more left wanting any good reason to use the phrase. The statement that “we are all atheists” is false, irrational, insulting, and epistemically question begging.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Edward Feser has a phenomenal discussion of this same topic in his post: “The ‘one god further’ objection”

Dissecting the ‘One Less God’ Meme– Prayson Daniel takes on a meme based on this argument which has been recently circling the web.

William Lane Craig discusses the definition of atheism in writing. Interestingly, Anthony Flew, the renowned atheistic philosopher (who turned deist late in life) admits that atheists have twisted the meaning of atheism so as to weaken it and allow for agnostics to enter the fold of atheism (and therefore they don’t have to argue for the position that “there is no God”). Craig quotes him herein.

Craig also discusses it in another video here.

Another interesting post on this topic.

SDG.

The featured picture is a poster featuring Soviet Anti-Religion Propaganda.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Dawkins vs. Craig: Deaf, or blatantly misrepresenting theism?

I stumbled on this video from the recent debate between William Lane Craig et. al and Richard Dawkins et al. which occurred in Mexico. It was via Doug Geivett’s blog (he was another participant in the debate). The video is cut to show Craig’s comments alongside Dawkins’ rebuttals. It seems as though Dawkins either completely missed what Craig was saying, or he is blatantly misrepresenting the case on the other side. I tend to suspect it is the latter, as in the writings of Dawkins which I have read, he doesn’t strike me as the most intellectually honest fellow. Judge for yourself:

The whole debate can be found here.

Sam Harris on Morality: A Critique

I watched a video of Sam Harris talking about morality in February this year (here) and was quite interested in what he had to say on morality.

I was excited to see what  Sam Harris had to say. He is one of the so-called “New Atheists”, and thus I expect him to be on the absolute cutting edge of the philosophical debate between theism and atheism. My excitement built because the video was called “Science Can Answer Moral Questions.” I think there are insurmountable problems with such a claim, but this video claims Sam Harris answers this very question.

After some initial comments in which Harris remarked that people often think science doesn’t have much to say about values, Harris did not wait very long to show how it is that science can indeed interact with values and morality. He states, “Values are a certain kind of fact [sic]; they are facts about the well-being of conscious creatures.”

This is literally his argument. I’ve watched the  video twice, trying to see if I missed anything, but I haven’t. This is what he says “Values are… fact[s]…”

I read the comments underneath and I noted that one commenter said “I do not see how the speaker used science to understand morality.” The next commenter replied, “I agree that his current argument is unscientific, and that his examples were somewhat extreme and not well presented.” Okay, so I don’t think I missed anything.

One commenter did say that Harris made (sort of) the following argument:

“-science can tell us what makes people happy
“-a moral decision will increase happiness
“-therefore, we can use science to determine if a decision is good or not”

Now obviously these comments are not authoritative on what Harris was saying, but from this video I see no actual argument. Harris managed to prove nothing. What does it mean to say a moral value is a fact? This is something that most (I’d say all, but there are always exceptions) theists would absolutely agree with. Moral values are facts. So what?

How is it that suddenly declaring moral values facts means that science can now discover moral values? It seems to me as though this is impossible. Construct an empirical test that demonstrates “Rape is wrong” or “Murdering people for one’s own pleasure is wrong.” It seems to me as though this cannot be done. Perhaps the one comment did make some headway, however. On atheistic naturalistic science, consciousness is reducible to brain states. These can be detected by science. Throw in the assumption that what makes people feel good is right and what makes them feel bad is wrong, and we now have a way to determine objective morality!

Well, not so much. One immediate objection is that murder or rape, it could be argued, make the perpetrators quite happy. Who decides which happiness trumps which happiness? Is it a group effort? Gather enough test subjects around when a murder happens, measure their brain waves to determine how many people are happy or sad, check off a box “right” or “wrong” depending on the happiness levels. Repeat as many times as needed for empirical validation, and now we have an objective moral values? I think this view is utterly bankrupt. How can we determine morality by mob?

Not only that, but isn’t it possible that at different time periods in history (or the future) such measurements would come up differently? Suppose that in the future the majority of people believe murder is a happy thing, or at least it is acceptable. Well, on this same test, there would be completely different results. Suddenly, objective morality has changed its mind!

There are other problems, however. How exactly can a moral value even be testable. We can do as above and simply measure happiness in various moral situations, but that doesn’t do anything to test the moral value itself. Instead, it tests how people feel about the moral value. How do we test the value with science? I don’t see any possible way to do so.

One final problem is that Harris, on this argument, seems to take what is “right” to be what people like. This is a huge assumption. How fortuitous it would be that naturalistic evolution managed to line us up exactly with the self-existent moral values such that we would like what is “right”! No, the problem with this is that equating “right” with “pleasure” allows for things like the Nazis. Get enough people who take pleasure in exterminating a populace that is a huge minority, and you have suddenly changed “objective” “right” to be exterminating that populace. Say there are 1,000,000,000 people who each get +1 happiness to exterminate a population of 10 people, who would each get -100 happiness (the maximum!) for being exterminated. Clearly, +1,000,000,000 is better than -100. But is it objectively right to say that exterminating people for +1 happiness is right?

Speaking of the well being of children, Harris says: “Is there any doubt that this question has an answer and that it matters?” Indeed not. I am absolutely astounded that someone like Sam Harris seems to be arguing that there are objective moral values. He has nothing on which he can base them. Dawkins states that “there is at bottom no… evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” In contrast, Harris states that moral values are fact! But he has no grounds to do so. Science cannot show objective morality. It can show the feelings of individuals. These feelings are not objective.

At best, all the atheist can do is distill the feelings of the mob into a general recommendation for morality one way or another. I’m not saying atheists cannot be moral people (indeed, I think often many atheists are extremely moral individuals, with much to commend them in this regard), rather, I would argue that atheists have no basis for their morality. Such morality can be based on the feelings of the majority, but it can never be stated that these are objectively right or wrong.

It is telling, further, that someone like Harris admits that there are indeed objective values such as right and wrong. It is quite unfortunate, however, to have to watch him fumbling to try to explain them. The atheistic universe is exactly as Dawkins portrays it, “there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” Thankfully, theists have something on which to base objective morality: God. The universe, on theism, has such things as objective moral values, it has design, it has purpose, it has good and evil, and instead of blind, pitiless indifference, it has a God who cares specifically about each creature in this universe.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from cited material which is the property of its respective owner[s]) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Dawkins discussing “The Greatest Show On Earth” (Attempts to Counter Teleology)

There was a video I found online of Dawkins talking about his latest book, “The Greatest Show On Earth.” Naturally I had to watch it and I honestly found myself laughing out loud at a few points. Dawkins is surely a good speaker. I find him quite a natural at sounding amiable despite spitting blasphemy and utter illogic the entire time.

Now I have not read the book. I cracked it open at Borders recently, but that’s about it, so these comments only come from the video.

Dawkins’ brand of argument is one that I am honestly baffled by. Basically, what Dawkins says, is that the reason we see so much apparent design in the universe is because it could not have failed to be any other way, given the fact that we are here to observe it. I have heard this argument before but never really reflected on how ridiculous it is before now.

“The fact of our own existence is perhaps too surprising to bear… How is it that we find ourselves not merely existing, but surrounded by such complexity, such excellence, such endless forms so beautiful… The answer is this: it could not have been otherwise, given that we are capable of noticing our existence at all and of asking questions about it.”- Dawkins, in the interview at the link above.

The argument seems at first to be as follows:

[1]

1. There is apparent design in the universe that brought about our existence.

2. We exist.

3. The reason we see apparent design in the universe is because we exist.

What!? I don’t even want to delve into the depths of how many fallacies there are in this argument, as I may have constructed it wrong. Perhaps the argument is, instead:

[2]

1. We exist

2. There is apparent design in the universe that brought about our existence.

3. Therefore, we are here to observe that design.

Again, what!?

But on further reflection, perhaps these arguments are unfair to the original statement. It may be that the argument is not meant analytically, and instead should just be seen as a brute statement of fact:

Conclusion [1]: The apparent design we see in the universe is observed simply because we exist to observe it.

Another way to state this could be:

Conclusion [2]: We read design for our existence into the universe because we exist to do so.

I still can’t get over how utterly question begging all of these assertions are. Perhaps I could answer with a parody that begs the question in favor of teleology:

Conclusion [3]: We read design for our existence into the universe because it actually is there.

I think that my conclusion has about as much [or more] validity as the argument Dawkins [and others] makes.

Basically what Dawkins and others who make this argument have done is acknowledge the tremendous weight that the teleological argument brings to the table, and then decide to beg the question against it in their own favor by saying, “Well of course it seems designed for us, we’re here, aren’t we?”

But let me be perhaps more fair. Maybe Dawkins is really trying to say that:

Conclusion [4]: Because we are here to observe all of these things, it follows that they should appear to be designed for us, for we could not have come about if such conditions had not occurred.

This may, at first glance, seem more valid. But let us examine it further. How is it that it somehow follows from this conclusion that the design is not in fact intelligent design? How does it follow that the design does not point specifically to creation? I don’t think there is any good way to try to exclude either of these alternatives. What Dawkins has in fact done is not eliminate design from the equation, but introduce evolution as an alternative explanation. He acknowledges design, and then throws evolution into the mix as a possible explanation (“How is it… it could not have been otherwise”). It’s essentially giving up on trying to explain away design and instead admitting it and trying to explain it within evolution.

It follows that such people have been thrown into a trilemma:

1. Admit design and then beg the question against it

2. Admit design and modify the theory of evolution in an ad hoc manner [which again begs the qeustion]

3. Deny design entirely

The third option has become increasingly untenable, so people like Dawkins have tried the first two. Unfortunately, in doing so they have abandoned the very logic they claim to cling to.

But again, perhaps I may be accused of erecting a straw man. “It’s not that Dawkins is saying there is design, just that there appears to be design, because we are here.” I answer again by saying that this is completely question-begging against teleology. It smacks of a complete ad hoc modification of one’s view.

But I think there is a stronger argument I have left out. Perhaps Dawkins means to argue:

[3]

1. If some species X exists, then the universe would appear designed for X.

2. X exists.

3. Therefore, the universe appears designed for X.

Okay. How does this in any way eliminate or discredit design? I don’t see any reason to accept the view that it does. All it states is what is obvious. It doesn’t, however, eliminate the following argument:

[4]

1. If some species X exists, then the universe is designed for X.

2. X exists.

3. Therefore, the universe is designed for X.

Nor does it do anything to somehow discredit this latter argument. All it’s done is formulate a weaker version of the teleological argument, which is the argument many theists are using nowadays to begin with.

But there is even one more argument I have forgotten:

[5]

1. If species X exists, then it is impossible that conditions are such that X would fail to exist.

2. X exists.

3. Therefore, it is impossible that conditions are such that X would fail to exist.

I think this is perhaps the strongest form or Darwins’ argument. According to this argument, it simply follows that if any one species (or probably, any being whatsoever) exists, then conditions could not have been anything but what they are. I believe this is not a straw man largely because it is formulated almost exactly from what Dawkins says (see quote above, specifically “The answer is this: it could not have been otherwise…”). In other words, if something exists, then it is simply obvious that conditions would have to be such that that thing exists. I would answer:

There are major problems for the evolutionist holding to this view. For in stating that it would be impossible for conditions to be otherwise, one making this argument has made it necessarily true that every species that does exist, exists. In other words, the universe exists in such a fashion that it is necessarily true that humans came to exist. Similarly, it is necessarily true that walruses, cardinals, and the like came to exist. But what does that say about evolution? Where did the natural selection go? Where did the random chance go? What has happened to those conditions that factor into making species diverse? For if the species that exist today exist because of a necessary chain of events leading up to the species that currently exist, it follows [due to necessity] that the speceis that exist now could not have failed to exist, nor could there have been other species. I think that this kind of argument should make the atheistic evolutionist quite uncomfortable, for if it is necessarily true that humans exist, all they’ve done is actually acknowledge that the universe was arranged in such a way that humans would actually exist.

And I see no way to make this argument without including necessity in it. For if necessity is left out of argument [5] above, then it suffers from the problem of not actually eliminating design. But if necessity is included in the argument, then it follows that species that exist now exist necessarily, and therefore the universe is such that humans have come about necessarily because of pre-existing conditions, which many theists would gladly acknowledge, and perhaps even cling to.

I conclude with restating my exact quote from Dawkins’ mouth. I leave out his paltry answer this second time, for his question remains unanswered in light of his illogic. Thank you, Dawkins, for acknowledging that the universe was specifically designed for us.

“The fact of our own existence is perhaps too surprising to bear… How is it that we find ourselves not merely existing, but surrounded by such complexity, such excellence, such endless forms so beautiful?”

I answer: God.

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Counter-Counter Apologetics 2: Gross Misunderstandings of the Ontological Argument

In this second in my series countering counter-apologetics, I will examine arguments that are supposed to counter the Ontological Argument, which I personally believe is both logically valid and unavoidably true.

There are two main sources I will use to show the anti-theistic counter. Iron Chariots and Richard Dawkins. It is telling that I personally believe that Iron Chariots, a Wikipedia-offshoot site for counter-apologetics manages to make a better case than Richard Dawkins.

The Ontological Argument comes in a very wide range of forms. There is no way I could discuss all of them individually in a limited space, so I won’t. What I will do is simply lay out a very basic template that underlies most ontological arguments, show the counter-arguments and counter those.

The Ontological Argument is basically as follows:

1. It is possible there is a being that is the greatest conceivable being.

2. That which exists in reality is greater than that which exists in the understanding.

3. Therefore, the greatest possible being must exist in reality by definition.

This is by far the most basic possible way I could strip the argument down. I’d like to put a mini disclaimer here and say I am no professional philosopher, so I may have taken too many of the finer points out of the Ontological Argument, but I think this is the best summing up.

There are a few ways that anti-theists attempt to counter this argument, by making a parody of it, by challenging the first premise, or by judging it as unintelligible.

I will deal with the latter argument first. The challenge is made that the Ontological Argument is unintelligible. This is, I believe, the general point Richard Dawkins is trying to make in his amateurish attack on theistic arguments in The God Delusion. He points to a few things in order to try to get around it. The first is reducing the argument to the “language of the playground (104).” I might point out that I would gladly put his entire book in such language, because I wholly agree with him when he states that “I am a scientist rather than a philosopher (107).” Poking fun at an argument is an interesting tactic, but wholly ineffective. I honestly have nothing more to say about this first apparent attack, because all it shows is Dawkins’ own ineffectual method of argumentation: discarding the rules of philosophy in favor of elitest bickering.

His second attack is stating that, “The very idea that grand conclusions could follow from such logomachist trickery offends me aesthetically, so I must take care to refrain from brandying words like ‘fool (105).'” Dawkins breaks his own rule several times, not using the word fool, but berating the religious in general throughout his book. Further, the fact that logic offends him aesthetically speaks volumes for the amount of mastery he has over philosophy. His claim that an argument such as the ontological one is “trickery” really does nothing to the argument, because once again it’s not actually an attack on any of the premises, but rather simply being offended by a logically sound argument.

In his third approach, Dawkisn simply tries to point to the argument as unintelligible by quoting a story of a debate between Euler and Diderot, in which Euler was said to have stated “Monsieur [sic], (a+b^n)/n=x therefore God exists!” I’m not entirely sure I’m drawing the correct conclusion from Dawkins random placement of this quote in his supposed dismantling of various theistic arguments, but it seems he’s comparing the Ontological Argument to just pulling random things out of a hat. Unfortunately, that is not the case, because the Ontological Argument is logically valid, and the only way to get around it is to challenge a premise, which Dawkins either can’t, due to his ineptness with philosophy, or won’t, due to his general misrepresentation of theism in general, do.

Further, how exactly is it that the ontological argument is unintelligible? It states simply that it is possible to think of a being that is the greatest of all. That’s not so hard to comprehend. The argument doesn’t depend on us being able to conceive of this being in its entirety, just to have a concept of possibility. This idea that God is possible is intelligible to even those children who would use the “playground language” dawkins attempts to reduce the Ontological Argument to. The other points of the Ontological Argument follow, so the argument itself is intelligible.

Iron Chariots takes a different route, presenting some of the more interesting challenges to the Ontological Argument (in fairness to Dawkins, he did show a parody of the argument, but I don’t think it’s any better or worse than those presented at Iron Chariots).

The Ontological Argument is generally thought to be most susceptible to parodies. This is essentially taking an argument and constructing a new argument with the same logical structure to come to an absurd conclusion.

Iron Chariots presents three parodies. They are all almost identical, so I shall show the two classic versions:

“Unicorns:

  1. Let us define a unicorn as a magical equine being that has one horn, and that exists.
  2. By the above definition, such a being must necessarily exist.
  3. Therefore unicorns exist.

Shangri-La:

  1. Shangri-La is the greatest place on earth.
  2. A place that exists is greater than one that doesn’t.
  3. Therefore, Shangri-La exists. (Iron Chariots) “

The problem with these parodies is that they seem to miss the entire point of the Ontological Argument, which is that it is discussing a necessary being. Unicorns, by definition, are contingent beings. That is, their existence is not necessary, they are not necessary in our universe for our universe to be as it is. The same goes for locations such as Shangri-La. The theistic God, however, has tied into the concept necessity. According to theism, God is not a contingent being, but a necessary one. Therefore, these parodies don’t actually do anything to the Ontological Argument because they missed one of the core premises. Now I will concede my mini-Ontological Arugment doesn’t explicitly state necessity, but other versions do. It can also be shown through logical analysis that these kind of paraodies are invalid.

The final attempt at invalidating the Ontological Argument is another parody, known as “Gasking’s Proof”:

  1. The creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable.
  2. The merit of an achievement consists of its intrinsic greatness and the ability of its creator.
  3. The greater the handicap to the creator, the greater the achievement (would you be more impressed by Turner painting a beautiful landscape or a blind one-armed dwarf?)
  4. The biggest handicap to a creator would be non-existence
  5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the creation of an existing creator, we can conceive a greater being — namely, one who created everything while not existing.
  6. Therefore, God does not exist.

There are many problems with this attempt to parody the Ontological Argument and prove God doesn’t exist. These are all problems with the premises. Premise 1 states that the creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable. How so? Are there not achievements that could be greater? Could not the greatest achievement be creating infinite universes? For the sake of argument, however, I’ll concede step 1. Premises 3 and 4, I believe, has the greatest problems. Premise 3 assumes that doing things with a handicap makes something logically greater. I’d love to see a proof of this. The premise makes an appeal to common sense, but that is invalid in logic. I’m not at all convinced that having a handicap and doing something makes that achievement itself greater. This is made more problematic by the fact that premise 1 points to the universe as being the greatest achievement. This would seem to mean that an achievement is a finished product, not the steps leading up to the product.

For example, the Cubs winning the World Series after over a century without doing so may seem a greater achievement than the Yankees doing so, but it would be hard to show that logically, for both have the World Series as the finished product. I’m willing to grant premise 3, however, just for the sake of argument.

Premise 4 is where the argument really breaks apart. How is it that non-existence is a handicap? Handicaps can only be applied to things that do exist. To imply that something has a handicap assumes implicitly that it exists. Thus, premise 4 essentially says that a being both exists and does not exist, which is logically impossible. I assume that this premise was in order to counter the idea that existing-in-reality is greater than existing-in-understanding, but note that both of these are existing. In other words, the choice in the Ontological Argument is not saying that something that doesn’t exist exists, just that something that exists-in-the-understanding rather exists-in-reality. Premise 4 is therefore completely invalid both logically and in relation to the Ontological Argument.

I may talk further about Ontological Arguments, but that’s what I have for now. As William Lane Craig states, the Ontological argument leaves anti-theists with no way out. If the concept of the theistic God is even possible, than God exists, necessarily.

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