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Rachel Held Evans vs. John Piper: Both Miss the Point

As a liberal, it isn’t too surprising that Rachel Held Evans repudiates the Reformed understanding of tragedies like the Moore tornadoes.  Essentially, we join Augustine in proclaiming that God feels it better to bring good from evil, than to eliminate all evil.

What started this is a tweet by John Piper (now removed) that quotes Job 1:19.  Here, a great wind topples Job’s house and kills his children.  Piper is, quite obviously, applying it to the recent tornado that ripped apart Moore, Oklahoma.

Is that insensitive, as Evans says? Read the rest of this entry

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Postmodernism in 140 Characters

Postmodernism is a complex philosophy.  I printed out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on it, and it ran 18 pages (including bibliography).  Though the opening of that article (accessed 9/21/2012) states that postmodernism is “indefinable as a truism” and is actually “a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices …,” I think that DamnRightTweets™ has managed to distill all of postmodernism into a single tweet:

https://twitter.com/DamnRightTweets/status/334065733082435584

Let’s disassemble that. Read the rest of this entry

More Dumb Tweets: Belief and Morality

Juan A. Raposo put up a fascinating tweet:

The implication being that theists are only moral because our belief in God keeps us moral.

So if not for that belief, we’d be vicious killing machines.  That thought misses a grand contradiction: Ask yourself, “What restrains the atheist from raping and pillaging?”  Belief that those things are wrong.

Is that belief fundamentally different from belief in God?

The atheist would say yes, but if he were consistent he’d be forced to admit that it differs very little.  After all, the Atheist Mantra is that there is “no evidence” for God and  God can’t be scientifically proven, right?

And that means that belief in God is worthless.  The underlying principle is a form of logical positivism, variously called empiricism or scientism.  It accepts only that which can be proven scientifically (scientism) or that which can be experienced by the senses (empiricism) as valid evidence.  Most atheists use this to disqualify evidence or argument that God exists.

The flip side is that morality can’t be scientifically proven, either.  So the belief that it is immoral to rape and pillage local towns is on the same grounds as God.  If one accepts the implied tenet that only that which can be scientifically proven is worth believing, then one cannot be consistent and also believe that raping and pillaging are morally wrong.  One has to prove that case.

So we both believe, without empirical evidence, that something restrains us from committing grievous harms against our fellow humans.  And that, by Raposo’s estimation, means neither of us are moral — but that’s the whole point of needing a Savior, isn’t it?

On Rational Discussion

The following meme is making the Facebook/Twitter rounds that shows how to have rational discourse:

rational-discussion

As usual, I think that this is incredibly simplistic.  When you unpack some of these, red flags start to go up.  The person who created this, I think, has an agenda and is so focused on that agenda that he is no longer concerned with truth.

Can you envision anything that will change your mind on the topic?  The key word here is “envision.”  I can’t envision anything that would change my mind on the existence God.  That, however, doesn’t mean I will be irrational in a discussion.  Perhaps during the conversation we can find something I had not thought of that would change my mind on God.

Just because I can’t envision it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  I have an open enough mind to accept that I may be wrong about the existence of God, while being confident that I’m not.  Aristotle observed, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”  I can entertain thoughts I don’t accept — my goal is truth, not comfort.

As a further point, I think that it is easy to use this as a crutch to end an inconvenient discussion by equivocating irrationality and passion.  I passionately believe in God, which is why I can’t envision anything changing my mind on that.  But that is not the same as irrationality.

Are you prepared to abide by the basic principles of reason in discussing this topic?  Two rules are given as an example:

  1. The position that is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence should be accepted as true.
  2. The person who asserts a position bears the onus of demonstrating its truth.

With regard to (1), “evidence” is (as it always is with atheists) left undefined.  Empirical or peer-reviewed scientific evidence aren’t the only forms of evidence.  Only accepting empirical or peer-reviewed scientific evidence is a form of logical positivism called either empircism or scientism (depending on which form you accept).  Neither position is consistent with itself, since there is no empirical or scientific evidence that would support a belief in those position.

Both positions, in fact, rule out the knowledge we gain from history, mathematics, and philosophy.  They also exclude eyewitness testimony from discussion.

Meaning that we accept things as true without “evidence” all the time — if that’s what is meant by “evidence.”  Remember that when we get to the farcical rules of discussion below.

I agree wholeheartedly with (2) provided you understand atheists share a burden of proof.

Once entered, four additional rules are given to govern the discussion:

Do not introduce a new argument while another argument has yet to be resolved.  I don’t, but every atheist I’ve had a discussion with has done this to me.  So, I won’t start doing this but please, atheists, don’t do this to me, either.

Do not move on to another argument if it is shown that a fact you have relied upon is inaccurate.  I’ll just admit my mistake, but this doesn’t happen to me often.

Provide evidence for your position or arguments.  Again, atheists should be doing this, too.  Atheists seldom back their own unbelief in God up with evidence or arguments.  This is both lazy and a direct violation of one of the basic principles of rational discussion (that the true position is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence).  Argue it’s reasonable.  Give me the evidence.

Do not argue that you do not need evidence.  Again, the obsessive requirement for evidence is logically inconsistent, because there is no evidence for accepting it as a true premise — and atheists say they only believe that which we have evidence for.

While I accept the spirit of this meme, I still find it the product of a simple mind concerned with winning online debates rather than seeking truth.

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

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.

And Now the Double Standard

Tuesday, I posted that truth is not relative.  Truth is truth, and if it’s the truth, it isn’t going to go back and reverse itself, as science so often does.

I spotlighted 5 things I was taught in elementary school science class as irrefutable fact, all of which are now considered false.  At the end of the post, I stated that I already knew the reply to this and I agreed with it.  I posted the reply on Wednesday.

Science is great at discerning cause-and-effect, but I’m not so sure that I’d classify the findings as “irrefutable truth.”  Our knowledge base is growing rapidly, and so we will find out that we occasionally missed the mark with previously held scientific theories.

Considering the vastness of the universe, the average scientist is likely formulating theories with 10% of the necessary data.  We expect to revise theories as more data become available.  With that in mind, those five points I made become simplistic and silly.

Now then, why does that create a double standard for theists?

Because our critics expect us to be right from the outset and never change.  However, when I criticize science for reversing itself, I’m rightly called ignorant.  I’m making an overly simplistic statement that totally misses the mark.

By the same token, as more information becomes available, people revise their opinions and theologies.

For example, despite Matthew Bellasario’s bellowing, the early church did not accord Mary the special place that Catholic theology does.  They brought Mary into their liturgies because they felt that she deserved a place on account of her role in Jesus’ life, which eventually evolved to a Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of All Graces role.  Catholics pay her hyper-dulia, a high accord indeed (higher than the saints, but lower than God).

One can even see evolving theology in the New Testament.  The letter to the Hebrews was likely the latest document prepared, and it is rich in theology.  The Gospel of John was the last of the Gospels and (again) it is rich in theology not present in the earlier Gospels.  We can deduce John’s theology from the earlier Gospels and Paul’s letters, but it isn’t codified in either.

The Trinity was codified in the Athanasian Creed, the third of the three ecumenical creeds generally agreed upon by all Christians.  We see an evolution in the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and finally the Athanasian Creed — each becomes more intricate as we gain greater insight and understanding.

Why, according to the critic, must all Christian belief be found all at once and never change; a progressive evolution indicates falsehood?  I don’t discount science as false merely because scientists revise their findings later.  Therefore, theology shouldn’t be discounted as false merely because we have revised it as time went on.  All of the revisions were made for good reasons, like the revisions to various scientific theories.

One thing hasn’t changed: Salvation by the grace of God, effected by our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.  Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant: we all unite under that banner.

And now you may comment on the entire series.

Why Yesterday’s Post Was (Only Partly) WRONG

I meant to post this a couple of hours ago, but life sometimes gets in the way.  I had a lot of work to do around the house.

Yesterday, I posted that truth is not relative.  Truth is truth, and if it’s the truth, it isn’t going to go back and reverse itself, as science so often does.

I spotlighted 5 things I was taught in elementary school science class as irrefutable fact, all of which are now considered false.  So much for irrefutable scientific fact, right?

At the end of the post, I stated that I already knew the reply to this and I agreed with it.  So let’s discuss that reply.

Science is great at discerning cause-and-effect, but I’m not so sure that I’d classify the findings as “irrefutable truth.”  Ever.  Which means that we are going to expect to find things we previously established through the scientific method to be false, because we might not have the entire picture.

It means our knowledge base is growing — more rapidly now than ever before — and so we will find out that we occasionally missed the mark with previously held scientific theories.

When a new CEO walks into a company, he can’t find everything out about everything in the company before he starts making decisions and changing the company around.  At best, he will make decisions with 70% of the data he needs.

Considering the vastness of the universe, the average scientist is likely formulating theories with 10% of the necessary data.

So that science is wrong isn’t a problem.  We expect to revise theories as more data become available.

With that in mind, those specific points I made become simplistic and silly.

Nothing ever suggested that the speed of light was the maximum attainable speed.  It looked that way for a long time.  Though we were confident in that conclusion, the universe is still quite mysterious to us and therefore finding something that moves faster than light should be exciting rather than garnering an “I told you so.”

If it’s possible to break the light barrier, then interstellar travel becomes a distinct possibility, and that would be cool.

The senses by which we perceive the world are varied, and scientists don’t officially agree on how many we have.  The do agree on the core five of touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing.  So it’s too simple to just say, “I learned about five senses, now there’s more?  Scientists are wrong!”  It’s more along the lines of discovering new ways we perceive the world.  Again, excitement and wonder should be the response, not “I told you so.”

Similarly, “planet” is a category that was never defined.  Now it is.  Pluto is no longer a planet and four asteroids are no longer asteroids because of semantics.  Changing these definitions was necessary because the solar system is far more complex than we thought it was.  After all, it’s weird to have moons larger than Mercury and asteroids roughly comparable to Pluto.  Even Pluto’s own moon is roughly the same size as its parent.

Revised definitions help keep things more consistent.

The brain is more complex than a Cray supercomputer and is far more compact.  It’s faster with its computations and it controls the body so seamlessly we barely know it’s there.

So it was overly simplistic of the scientists to ever postulate that the left hemisphere is cold logic and the right hemisphere is creativity.

Finally, I have no idea where that taste bud diagram ever came from.  I knew that was false the first time I saw it, because I tried liking an ice cream cone with different parts of the tongue.  I tasted it just fine.  For some reason, my teachers all tried to defend the diagram, but I think privately every student in that room knew better.

Revising conclusions in the face of new data is a staple of science, and I agree it is a valid reply to my over-simplified statements yesterday.  However, this is a serious double standard toward theism, and tomorrow I will explain why.  Then, you will be able to comment!

5 Truths I Learned in Science Class that are Now WRONG

Truth corresponds to reality.  This means that truth doesn’t change.  If it was true in 4000 b.c., it is still true now.

Atheists frequently insist that only science can discover the truth.

If truth is truth, then that means if a truth is uncovered by science, then it’s always true, right?

Nope.

Allow me to present 5 truths taught to me in grade school science class that have been proven wrong. Read the rest of this entry

Twitter and Shallow Reasoning

Recently, on Twitter, I got into a discussion with two users (@LifesPoser and @JoeUnseen) about the existence of God.  As usual, they were crowing about how I need to prove that God exists before they’ll listen to me.

https://twitter.com/#!/LifesPoser/status/89019071726759937

So I responded with links to three YouTube videos from Dr. Roland Nash:

https://twitter.com/#!/tucholskic/status/89187665408299008

First of all, I doubt that these guys watched all of the videos.  The discussion centered around the first video, where Dr. Nash explains that we as humans take for granted a number of propositions that we are unable to prove.  Two such examples are the existence of an external world and the existence of other minds (known as solipsism; and one user even ridiculed my entire argument by saying that when the theist resorts to solipsism, that means he’s beat).

The shallow reasoning in question:

Not correct, not even a little bit.  Just because I’m experiencing the external world, I can’t call that evidence of the existence of the external world.  All such evidence–picking up a crayon off my basement floor, sitting in a chair, talking to my wife–is part of the very thing I’m trying to prove.

Consider trying to prove a murder in court.  We’re trying to prove that the act itself occurred.  We can’t see the act itself, only the evidence produced by the act.  Security footage (not the actual act, mind you, but a recording of it–the actual act happened in the past and is not accessible to us).  A knife with the defendant’s fingerprints on the handle and the victim’s blood on the blade.  Footprints matching the defendant’s shoes in blood fleeing the crime scene.  These things are incidental to the act itself, they exist as a record of the act.

With trying to prove the external world, everything that you can point to is part of the external world, not a record of its existence.  This is akin to my fellow theists saying that the Bible is God’s word because it says so.  You can’t do that; it’s begging the question.

There are equally plausible metaphysical explanations for an outside world.  Look at The Matrix.  You can’t prove that isn’t what’s happening right now.

So, what?

The take away point is that you are rational for believing in the existence of an external world.  Moreover, you are rational for believing that the people you encounter have minds.  And, you are rational for believing that there is a shared experience with that other person when we’re standing in the same room.  We see the same lamp.  We sit together at the same table.

You can’t prove it.  But, you’d be irrational to consider The Matrix scenario.  You’d be locked up if you came to believe that.  That’s how good The Matrix is at detecting and punishing dissent from it.  (Ooops!  Is that Agent Smith knocking at my door?)

So Alvin Plantinga argues that we are rational for believing in the existence of God without having to provide empirical evidence for it.  I’m not proving the existence of God any more than I’m proving the external world.  I’m providing rational reasons for my belief in God.  These I’ve detailed before:

  • The existence of something rather than nothing
  • Cosmology points to a universe with an absolute beginning, implying a transcendent cause (a cause cannot be part of the resulting effect)
  • Harmony of nature (look at the imbalances caused by transplanting non-indigenous species into a new environment or by the unnatural extinction of a member of that biosphere)
  • Complex structure of even inorganic matter
  • Appearance of design in biology is best explained by actual design
  • Existence of absolute morality (human sacrifice is always wrong, even if the Canaanites, Aztecs, and Mayans [among others] thought it was business as usual)
  • DNA is a living language, and languages don’t just “come together” one day
  • Conscious existence of humans with a free will

Multiple lines of reasoning (not really evidence or proof) coalesce to make the existence of God much more likely than not.  Each of those items by itself makes God very likely, but the cumulative case becomes much, much stronger.  Pretty tough to shake, in my own estimation.

Now, I know it’s fashionable among atheists to say that I bear 100% of the burden of proof since I’m the “prosecution” making the positive claim (“The defendant committed the crime, your honor!”).  But that’s just American imperialism.  Other justice systems make the defendant bear the burden of proof (“I did not commit the crime, your honor!”).  Given all this, I’d say the atheist (at minimum) has at least one burden of proof, though he’s not going to like hearing me say it.

He owes me reasons why non-belief is rational.  Note that I’m not asking him to prove a negative.  I’m asking for what I just gave here–multiple lines of evidence and argument that make the nonexistence of God more likely than not.  Given the usual squawking about theistic burden of proof, I’m not holding my breath for these reasons.