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The Best Way to Decide the Existence of God

I think that this is the best way for atheists and Christians to finally settle our differences.

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The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the Sixth

The final Way of Atheism from Geoffrey Berg is the Some of God’s Defining Qualities Cannot Exist argument.  After tackling this argument, three things remain with this project.

First, I will contact Geoffrey Berg via his website to see if he is interested in rebutting my points.

Second, I want to reread the Fifth Way just to see if there are any points I missed.

Finally, I will start replying to the comments I’ve received thus far on all Six Ways.

All right, Mr. Berg, so far the arguments are stinkers.  One final shot: impress me…

  1. God must have certain characteristic qualities (such as providing purpose to life), otherwise he would not be God.
  2. But it is impossible for any entity to possess some of these qualities (such as providing purpose for life since we can find no real purpose and therefore in practice we have no ultimate purpose to our lives) that are essential to God.
  3. Therefore since some of God’s essential qualities (such as being the purpose provider to life) cannot possibly exist in any entity, God cannot exist.

I agree with (1).

Ooooh… I have to take some exception with (2).

On pages 156-157, Berg outlines that there is no purpose to life based on the fact that he’s never gotten a good answer from a theist.  That’s a terrible reason to conclude that there is no purpose for life.

The answer, I think, lies in two prongs.  First, we exist because God has purposed an outcome to this universe and we are to play a role in it.  As Isaiah points out, God has declared the end from the beginning (Is 46:10).  Human history is building to a final outcome purposed by and brought about by God.  We are agents of that by God’s design.

We do not know what ultimate part we play, and that leads us to the second reason we exist:  the journey of discovery that is life.  This journey becomes the foundation for our eternity.  If life on earth is a geometric plane, then life in eternity is geometric space.  If our life takes the shape of a circle, then in eternity it will inevitably be a sphere.

Which means that we need to take the time to investigate what it means to live a “good life.”  Because the foundation we are laying now determines the shape of our lives to come.  The foundation is irreversible; we want to lay the best one we can, and that means living right by God’s standards.

As Berg says, “to worship God” isn’t a very good reason to exist.  It is part of what we are to do, but it isn’t the end of the story.  God created the first humans to tend the Garden of Eden — to superintend and care for creation.  We perverted our own purpose when we first chose to disobey God, but the corruption of a thing shouldn’t be confused with the thing.  Meaning, we should recapture our original purpose by realizing that life is (as Berg points out) about the journey as much as the destination.

And, keeping with the superintendence idea, leave the Earth a little better than we found it.

None of this, of course, is possible apart from God.  And that renders premise (2) faulty.  Meaning (3) is not a correct conclusion.

Now, essentially, I’ve left the purpose of life open for each individual to find his or her own.  In so doing, I have actually made an objection that Berg anticipates; though he phrases it quite differently.  His basic answer to reassert that there is no ultimate purpose for life, even if you’re searching.  Berg gives the general objection that each purpose one finds leads one to ask what the purpose of that purpose is.

To that, I remind everyone that there is no need to explain an explanation.  If we would have concluded that the purpose of life is to have kids, then that’s the purpose of life.  Asking, “Why have kids?” is redundant because it’s the purpose of life.

Showing that the purpose of this life is to lay a foundation for an eternal existence, however, does not fall prey to the infinite regress of asking “For what purpose?”  If I’m right, there is no need to ask for additional clarification because starting eternity off right is an end in and of itself.

UPDATED

  • September 25, 2012 @ 10:45pm: Added the proper citation from Isaiah.

The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the Fourth

The Fourth Way of Atheism (This is Not the Best Possible World Argument) runs thus:

  1. God if he exists must be omnipotent, supremely good, and our ultimate creator.
  2. Therefore an existent God (being supremely good and competent) would have created the best possible world.
  3. As the world is inconsistent (between ages and people) it cannot all be the best possible world.
  4. Therefore as the world is not the best possible world, God cannot exist.

This would be true if not for one pesky little detail that Berg never addresses.  Let’s trace this argument from premise (1) to its conclusion to see where it goes awry.

I absolutely agree with (1).  No doubt that a being who wasn’t omnipotent, supremely good, and our ultimate creator would not be God in any sense of the term.

I agree with (2) in the sense that God did create the best possible world.  See Genesis 1:31 — creation is described as “very good” from God’s perspective.  It is doubtful that an omnipotent, perfectly good being would describe anything but the best possible world as “very good.”

(3) is true, but it skips a step — the Fall!

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen 3:12-13, emphasis added)

After dealing with the serpent and Eve, God turns to Adam:

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:17-19, emphasis added)

So now the world we see today is a punishment because of the transgression of Adam.  So this is not the best possible world; it was, now it is cursed because of the actions of humanity in defiance to God.

Once we understand that God created the best possible world, but cursed it to punish humanity, we realize that this argument doesn’t hold water.

All of the anticipated objections that Berg deals with are softball responses and so require no comment from me.  My objection, as always, is not anticipated.

The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the Third

Next from Geoffrey Berg’s Six Ways of Atheism we have the God Has No Explanatory Value Argument:

  1. God if he exists must be the ultimate being and provide the answers to all of our ultimate questions — otherwise he is not God.
  2. Yet even supposing as a hypothesis that God exists the questions that God was supposed to finally answer still remain (though in some cases God is substituted in the question for the Universe).
  3. Therefore hypothesizing is only unnecessarily adding an extra stage to such problems and has no real explanatory value.
  4. Therefore according to Logic (Occam’s Razor Law — ‘that entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity’) we should not postulate God’s existence and there is no adequate reason to suppose that God exists.
  5. Therefore we should suppose that God does not exist.

Starting with (1), I agree that God should provide the answers to all of the ultimate questions.  When explaining the argument, however, Berg lists attributes of God (eternal, absolute good, purpose-giver) rather than explaining what big questions he means.  He only ends up asking one: How did the universe arise?

… [T]he answer for theists is, of course, God created it.  How did God arise?  Well, God has always existed.  But, why then, has the Universe not always existed?  Thus God can be cut out as an unnecessary extra.  Poor God, always being cut out as an unnecessary extra that contributes nothing to understanding except complication.  God is no more than a valueless extra intermediary stage in explanation.  (p. 64)

This didn’t work for Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, and it isn’t going to work for Berg now.  “Who made God?” is not a valid retort. Read the rest of this entry

The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the Second

Geoffrey Berg’s second argument states that since God is so far outside the realm of human experience and comprehension, that he is simply unknowable.  Therefore, you shouldn’t believe in him.

This Man and God Comprehension Gulf Argument is formulated as follows:

  1. Man is finite (in time, space and power etc).
  2. God if he exists in infinite (in time, space  and power etc).
  3. Therefore mankind cannot possibly recognize God or even know that God exists.

I have no issues with either premises.  Man is finite per (1), and God is infinite per (2).  Neither is a problem for me.

As a conclusion, (3) overreaches; Berg should have stuck with the first clause: “Therefore mankind cannot possibly recognize God … .”  That would have been a far more reasonable conclusion given the data.  Still a demonstrably false conclusion, but a much more reasonable one.

As for “… even know that God exists,” that is simply not true.  God is the inference to the best explanation: we see design, order, natural laws — the universe makes sense.  It works together like a machine, and machines are designed and built by an intelligent mind for a purpose.

Therefore, God is a reasonable conclusion from natural philosophy (even if a controversial one).  So I disagree that mankind cannot “… even know that God exists.” Read the rest of this entry

The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the First

Geoffrey Berg’s tome, The Six Ways of Atheism, is a small volume but it requires some unpacking to get at the core of what he’s trying to say.  I’m going to tackle one argument per post and we should get through the book by Saturday.

Let’s dive in to the first argument, the Aggregate of Qualities Argument:

  1. If God exists, God must necessarily possess all of several remarkable qualities (including supreme goodness, omnipotence, immortality, omniscience, ultimate creator, purpose giver).
  2. Every one of these qualities may not exist in any one entity and if any such quality does exist it exists in few entities or in some cases (e.g. omnipotence, ultimate creator) in at most one entity.
  3. Therefore it is highly unlikely any entity would possess even one of these qualities.
  4. There is an infinitesimal chance that any one entity (given the almost infinite number of entities in the Universe) might possess the combination of even some two of these qualities, let alone all of them.
  5. In statistical analysis a merely hypothetical infinitesimal chance can in effect be treated as the no chance to which it approximates so very closely.
  6. Therefore as there is statistically such an infinitesimal chance of any entity possessing, as God would have to do, all God’s essential qualities in combination it can be said for all practical and statistical purposes that God just does not exist.

This argument fails to disprove God as Christians defend him.  Berg states repeatedly that there is little chance a being in this universe possesses any of these qualities, let alone all of them.  Agreed.  But we never argue that God is part of the universe.  Which means all of Berg’s statistical analysis and posturing about how language glosses over reality is moot.  His rantings only apply to beings originating in and living in the known universe.  God transcends that universe, and therefore isn’t subject to laws that define the universe.

Berg anticipated seven potential responses; this was (oddly) not one of them.  All of the objections he considered were pathetic and require no rejoinder from me.

So Berg and I agree that God doesn’t exist in the known universe.  That is only equal to “God doesn’t exist at all” given metaphysical naturalism.

Six Ways of Atheism: On Personal Qualifications

Geoffrey Berg has written a book with six new or improved arguments against God.  I disagree — not one argument is new and nothing is improved.  In fact, even atheists make fun of this guy (see Daniel Florien’s post here).

I am only writing on this for one reason, and one reason alone: my new resolution to finish things that I start!  I already wrote on the First Way of atheism.  Then I said I’d move on with the other disproofs Berg offered.  I never did.  I gave up, just like I give up on lots of things.

No more.

I am going to finish that which I start from now on.  This comes in two parts: previous posts and projects.  Regular readers will undoubtedly have noticed the first part of this resolution — I am far more active in the comments section than I ever have been.  I’m actually responding to challenges, instead of letting them slide!

The second part is projects — posts that I said I’d write but never actually did.  I was saddened when I read back through my blog, deleting posts that I no longer agreed with.  Whenever I got to something tagged “Site News,” there would be a list of posts I planned on writing.  And none of them ever materialized.  I was a tad horrified.  To rectify that, I’m going to write some of those posts, and finish some of the projects that I said I’d do.

One of the projects I started long ago was making a website with responses to all of the most popular atheist books.  So what I’ll do is continue with this project, and the first victim book I’ll visit is The Six Ways of Atheism.

Before I get started dismantling this piece of crap, I want to address one of Berg’s comments in the introduction.  He said:

Nor do I really wish to deal with my own personal status.  Essentially the arguments I put are valid or invalid irrespective of whether they are original to me or not.  It is the arguments I want to be considered, not the person putting the arguments. (p. 12)

He then goes on to complain about intellectual elitism in philosophy, and how you can succeed in business with no degree, but for philosophy, you need a Ph.D. or they won’t take you seriously.

Well, not surprisingly, I disagree.  It all depends on the arguments.  If you make good arguments and do your homework, people will take you seriously — even academics with tons of letters after their proper names.

Take me.  I have an associate’s degree in business.  That’s it.  I have no training in theology or philosophy, not even a 101 class.  However, I’ve had opponents ask what academic journals I’ve published in.  Once, I made a silly (but logically valid) argument to get out of doing something at work, and my boss said snidely, “I can tell you have a degree in philosophy.”

Despite my lack of formal training, I have been recognized as a thinker in philosophy of religion.  I have detractors as well — most famously Austin Cline of atheism.about.com said I do not possess the intellectual honesty to even claim the title of “armchair philosopher.”  A hit-and-run commenter on this blog said that were I to publish a book on philosophy of religion or Christian apologetics, it would be an insult to people who actually bothered to go to school to get degrees.

There are people who think Plato and Aristotle are hacks, too.  As I frequently say, any idiot can start a blog.  Any dummy can self-publish a book.  My overall point still stands: it doesn’t matter where the argument comes from as long as it is a solid argument.  If it’s good, people of all stripes will take notice.  Your book will sell.  Your blog will gain a following.

In that spirit, I am not going to consider Berg or his qualifications, only his arguments.  I will not make any snide comments about how Berg is obviously not a philosopher, because his arguments are as naive as Steve Carrel’s character in 40-year-old Virgin.  Nor am I going to make a comment about how arrogant he is; how the hubris drips off of every page leaving you with the same sticky feeling you have after a workout in high humidity.  You won’t read about how he would benefit from hiring a better copy editor than his 10 year old nephew who only worked for Mountain Dew.

No sarcasm.  No cheap shots.  From now on!

I will only consider the arguments.  If the arguments stand, then the source won’t matter.

Why do People Become Atheists?

I’ve posited that atheists do not want ultimate accountability to God, and that is part of their motivation for denying God’s existence.  Atheists try hard to resist that, but a few have been forthright about it.  Philosopher Thomas Nagel, for example, wrote:

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

Now, the Atheist Camel comes clean as well.  When contemplating what the reaction would be to bulletproof evidence that there is a god, he said:

I’ll proffer that it depends on the god’s persona. If it is a hands (or trunk, or tentacles) off god, who created us and lets us live out our lives as independent beings unfettered by its irrational  threats and demands; perhaps a fun loving kind of being that finds our behavior amusing or disgusting, but nevertheless nonjudgmental–  perhaps asking only for an occasional acknowledgement and thank you now and then I’d have no problem with it. Acknowledge and move on. (source, emphasis added)

So he’s fine as long as there is minimal intrusion in his life.  Now, what if this deity was the God of the Bible and did demand certain things?

Where scientists never before bothered to contemplate the supernatural, many of them, and our freethinking brethren, would now kowtow to this God’s demands.  But many more would turn their attention toward one objective…find a way to destroy it.  An underground movement, an army of partisans, dedicated to freedom of thought, rationality, fairness and conscience battling not only for the freedom to live life free from omnipotent oppression and irrationality, but for the freedom and right to die and fade into oblivion without pain and fear.

If there were a proven God of the Bible in all its horrendous glory man would be compelled to stop killing each other. The thinking among us would turn our undivided attention to find a way to kill this God monster … once and for all. (source, emphasis added)

So the truth comes out.  As long as the Atheist Camel gets to live as he chooses, with no interference from a deity, he’s fine.  But the moment there is an expectation of behavior and a requisite final judgement, he thinks that humans should join together and kill that God.

What can I say?  This confirms my original theory about atheists wanting to avoid final judgment classic-D&D-style — rolling a 20-sider and saying “I disbelieve.”  I just wish more atheists were this honest.

Atheism and the Burden of Proof

One of the most frequent statements I hear when I talk about God with atheists is that there is “no evidence” that God exists, and that is usually followed by telling me that the burden of proof is on me, the theist, because I’m the one making the positive assertion.

However, an actual atheist, as I covered yesterday, is making a positive assertion — he is positively asserting there is no God.  This is framed negatively, but he isn’t withholding judgement on my assertion.  He declares it false.

Withholding judgement is agnosticism — not knowing.  In which case, I’m obliged to prove my case (or at least make a reasonable argument for it) for the benefit of the undecided person.

But the atheist has gone beyond withholding judgement.  He’s made one of his own, and for that he owes an explanation.

Think this through:

If I say, “God exists!”  Aside from, “Praise Jesus, I know he does!” there are two potential replies.  (Actually, there are more, but let’s just stick with these two for simplicity sake.)

Someone might respond, “I’m not convinced.”

This is your agnostic.  I should lay out my case for him.  If he remains unconvinced, we can discuss the particulars.  He has no specific position, so he owes me no explanation beyond what my argument lacks.

The other potential reply is: “Poppycock!  There is no god, you silly Christian.  Science disproves him.  Besides, there was never any evidence anyway.”

This is your atheist.  It is totally disingenuous for the atheist to think I’m the only one with a burden of proof here.  I will still lay out my case, however he needs to both rebut my case and lay out his own — merely rebutting my case doesn’t prove anything other than I have a poor case.  It only moves us to agnosticism, being unconvinced.  The atheist isn’t “withholding judgement”: he’s convinced that I’m wrong.  For that, he owes me an argument.

One needs nothing beyond “insufficient evidence” to withhold judgement, but the moment rejection enters the picture, a judgement has been made and a logical argument for why must be presented.  Saying “I lack belief in all gods” is a total cop-out and very lazy debating.

UPDATES:

  • 8/13/12 at 1:40am EDT because there were a lot of typos.  I’m ashamed of that.  1-2 is fine with me because I’m not perfect, but there were probably 4-5!
  • 8/19/12 at 12:41am: Another perspective from Steve Wilkinson here.

Defining “Atheism”

A comment, though marked as spam, poses an interesting problem nonetheless:

Some of the ambiguity and controversy involved in defining atheism arises from difficulty in reaching a consensus for the definitions of words like deity and god. The plurality of wildly different conceptions of god and deities leads to differing ideas regarding atheism’s applicability. The ancient Romans accused Christians of being atheists for not worshiping the pagan deities. Gradually, this view fell into disfavor as theism came to be understood as encompassing belief in any divinity.

I had always meant to do a post on the difference, as I see it, between atheism and agnosticism.  This seems like as good a time as any.

First, does it matter that there are a plurality of conceptions of God?  And I would have to say, for all practical purposes, the answer is no.  Atheism, as I will show, isn’t a point of view (as supernaturalism is).

Supernatural is outside of nature.  Nature is your context: the container in which you find yourself.  Therefore, that which originates in this universe is natural to us.  However, that which originates outside the universe is supernatural.

Flip it, and that makes us supernatural to God, since we don’t reside on the same plane of existence.

Atheism is making a claim about how things are ordered, regardless of your particular perspective.

But who (or what) is God, then?  True, there have been a plurality of conceptions of God.  Accepting one over another doesn’t make all of those who reject your particular deity atheists.  Infidels, yes.  Atheists, no.

Think of it like this: in an election, I have several candidates to choose from.  The front runners are Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  Or I can simply abstain and not vote.  The gray area is this: If I vote for Obama, does that mean I think Romney is unfit for the job?

Well, not necessarily.

There’s no meaningful way to vote against Romney without voting for Obama.  So if I want to afford Obama the chance to see his economic plan through but think that Romney would do an adequate job if elected, then I’m not anti-Romney per se.

On the other hand, I may think that Romney and Obama are equally wretched as leaders and statesmen, but vote for Obama because he’s currently more experienced.

Bottom line: a vote for one is not necessarily a vote against the other.

Which is an accurate description of agnosticismAgnostic literally means “without knowledge.”  Agnostics really don’t know whether there is a god, but they remain open to finding out.  While they don’t see adequate evidence for God, they find no reasons to deny the possibility of God’s existence.  They don’t know.

Finally, the burning question: what is atheism?  Atheism is the rejection of all God-belief.  In our election example, these guys are staying home from the ballot because the actively reject both candidates.

It is not simply “lacking belief in God.”  Lacking indicates they could be persuaded with the right evidence.  Nothing sways most atheists.  Read these comments if you don’t believe me.

Atheism is a rejection of the divine, no matter one’s conception of it.  It matters not whether that divine is supernatural (as monotheism posits), or within nature (as paganism posits), or in ourselves waiting to be unleashed (as New Age theology posits).  Atheism rejects it all in one fell swoop.

Tomorrow, atheism and the burden of proof.  That should both be interesting, and infuriating to my atheist readers.  Because, spoiler alert, you guys have a burden of proof!