Tag Archives: Relgion

We Don’t Need to Defend Our Case

CL_062313_stop_avoiding_criticism_329296110At long last, we’ve reached the end of Chris Hallquist’s“William Lane Craig Exposed”. Hallquist decides to close this chapter with a commentary of Richard Dawkins’ refusal to debate Craig.

This issue has become something of a bygone matter, and I doubt that there’s much more to be said about it. Even Hallquist struggles to add anything to the discussion–simply repeating Dawkins own statements, and implying that it was Craig, rather than others (including many atheists), who accused Dawkins of cowardice for not debating.

But I see no point in beating that drum. Any chance of the debate happening is gone, and we all know how it would have gone. An actual debate would have simply been a formality, and the fact that Dawkins refused, I think, turned out to be a bigger victory than a debate would have been.

This is because it showed so clearly that both Dawkins and his fans can pretty consistently be found attempting to insulate themselves from the same sort of criticism they are quick to fire at others, in spite of the fact that Dawkins lists being open to criticism in his own revision of the Ten Commandments.

He refuses debates, his fans refuse to defend their views:

For instance, very few of Dawkins’ supporters will defend his Boeing 747 argument. Nor will they support the materialism they passionately embrace. Even the term “atheism” has been redefined by them as “a lack of belief” in order to avoid having to defend it as a position. Personally, I can’t think of any argument in The God Delusion that the New Atheists are still willing to defend.

This leaves me to wonder why they are still following him.

Really, the only thing that the New Atheists are as consistent about as their hatred of religion is their refusal to offer a logical defense for any actual claim. This seems odd coming from the self-proclaimed champions of reason and science–who complain that religion is holding back the advancement of knowledge and insist that one should have evidence ready on demand for anything one claims.

Not that they don’t make claims. Dawkins publicly maintained that raising children Catholic is child abuse for more than a decade before someone finally asked him for supporting evidence. The best he could do was to say that it was “intuitively very reasonable”.

If these are the kinds of defenses we hear from a man who demands overwhelming support from the opposition, it’s no wonder that neither he nor his intellectual disciples are eager to put their position forward for careful examination.

That being the case, I feel it best to move on from the New Atheists, and interact with a more reasonable opposition to Christian theism. To fail to acknowledge that there are more sophisticated atheists than them is to make the same mistake they make about theists.

As such, I’ll be moving on to some more serious thinkers in my next series.

Relativity Writ Large?

timeless_lrg2Taking as a starting point that the universe had a cause, I think it is reasonable to wonder whether the cause could itself be timeless. At least, this was one of my questions upon first hearing the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

It is not so much that I doubted that the time of the universe originated in the Big Bang. Rather, it was that I wanted to know if there was reason to believe that there couldn’t be time in a region “outside” the universe.
Of course, there could be. The real question is whether there could be an infinitely old cause of the universe.

Though modern science has quite a bit of value to say on the subject, and the current state of cosmology favors a finite age to physical reality, there are deeper reasons to accept a timeless cause of the universe. Whether or not one believes in the multiverse, time (whether our timeline or one “outside” of the universe) simply cannot be infinite in the past.

In considering the topic, I took a look at the philosophical arguments for the finitude of the past. While they didn’t strike me as emotionally impressive (that is, they didn’t “feel true”), I was ultimately forced to conclude that they were sound.

If this is true, there is no point in proposing theories (scientific or otherwise) to defend the logically impossible. These arguments demonstrate that there is no way, even in principle, that there is an infinite series of finite past events (in any timeline).

My favorite of these arguments is actually one that Craig (who has championed the Kalam Cosmological Argument) doesn’t tend to use. It is often called the “Grim Reaper” paradox.

Suppose that there were a man who (since eternity past) has been passed, one at a time, by an infinite number of “Grim Reapers”. Of course, one thinks, the man is long since dead.

Well, maybe.

Each grim reaper can only kill the man if he’s still alive. So, that is to say, only the first of them can kill him. The trouble is that there is no “first” grim reaper; the line has been going since eternity past. Every one of them has another in front. So, none of them can actually kill the man.

So, he’s alive?

Here we’re seeing the paradox. If the man is alive the “next” reaper will kill him, but for every “next”, the one before should have already killed him, so none of them can actually kill him. Still it is a contradiction to say that an infinite string of reapers will just pass him by (leaving him alive).

There is more to be said, but one thing that shouldn’t be said is that this is a silly example, not pertinent to the real world. Most importantly, this is because it is a test for logical consistency (like a mathematical proof), not an empirical experiment. But, even for those who (strangely) insist that logical problems don’t affect reality, there is a crippling issue here.

The passage of time is, itself, like the grim reapers in the examples. If, with every passing moment, there is a positive chance that the universe will be created (by the multiverse–or whatever) and there is an infinite space of time in that region, then the universe should already have been created “earlier”.

No matter how far back one goes in this “extra-universal timeline”, there is always an infinite time in the past, so the universe should already have come into being. No matter how far back one goes in time (as with the grim reapers) the time when the universe was made should have already come.

As such, there is no actual time in which the universe could have been made.

This breaks down into contradiction, meaning that, whatever else one thinks of the original cause of the first physical objects, there are only two ways out of this.

First is to grant a timeless cause of the universe. And, second, is to claim that the multiverse (or whatever other cause) is itself finite in time–in which case one is back to the same question with it.

So far, so good. But I’ll get to some of the other traits of the universe in future posts.

Taking a Stand for Relativism

Batman-vs.-Relativism-Part-4“Good and bad are simply concepts in your mind.”

I’ve long since lost count of the number of times I’ve encountered this sentiment. Obviously, I disagree with it. I’ll explain why in a later post. For now, I’m more interested in a particular fact about the people who make the claim.

No, it is not that these people are committing themselves either to open nihilism or a large amount of irrationality in their daily actions. True as that is, there’s something else that is pointed out far less often:

This statement, in the context of debates on religion, almost always comes from people who insist that they are not claiming that God does not exist.

Many atheists have put a lot of energy into defining their position as “a lack of belief in God”, rather than a belief that there is no God. Such people tend to be very insistent that they need not make a case against God’s existence. Since they aren’t claiming God doesn’t exist, so the argument goes, they needn’t support their position–that is for the theist to do.

I’m not one to argue definitions, so I’ll not comment on the validity of this one. But, under any definition, there are severe problems with this tact. Most pertinently, the claim that morality is subjective presumes that God does not exist. Such a statement should, therefore, be supported by reasons to believe that God does not exist.

Of course, the atheist in question could simply avoid making such claims. She could simply introduce moral relativism as a possibility, rather than state it outright. This would be a perfect solution, so long as she is solely interested in winning debates without regard for behaving in a logically consistent manner.

This is to say that, unless one is abdicating all right to make any statement in a moral discussion or hold any position about morals at all (even in daily life), one is going to have to take a position on God’s existence. One simply has no room to say that this or that religious moral is wrong, even in a subjective sense, until one has shown the religion in question to be false.

One’s position may be tentative, of course, but simply “not believing” isn’t enough.

The Mindless Defender of Reason?

cartoon-zombie-scientist copyThere is a reason that the philosopher Rosenberg asserts that he has no mind: He knows that claiming to have one would contradict his atheism.

I find it more than a little ironic that, in the wake of so much insistence that there is no evidence for anything other than the physical, the things making the demands are themselves such evidence.

That is to say, minds.

Science has been unable to explain the mind. Meaning, purpose, subjective impressions, and the like are simply impossible to nail down with the tools of science. Of course, many insist that these are all simply brain states. And, while these things may all be correlated with brain states, there is a very simple reason why neurology (or any other science) isn’t going to explain them fully:

Because science forbids it from doing so.

Many keep making the argument that everything else has been made to submit to the investigation techniques of science, so it is only a matter of time before the mind is quantified and analyzed in the same way. Now, I’m not convinced that the first half of this statement is true. It would be more accurate to say everything else that the naturalist is willing to admit exists has submitted to this technique (or will in the future). But the real problem lies elsewhere.

One of the most useful tricks of science is to ignore anything it can’t quantify. It simply dismisses these things as “subjective”. That is well and good when one is doing science, but to call something subjective is, in part, to call it mental. Science has, in effect, been using the mind as the dumping bin for everything it can’t investigate. And it has been doing this for the last four centuries. It would be too much, I think, to say that the mind is defined in science as “everything science can’t investigate”, but it isn’t so far off the mark, either.

So, to say that the mind will eventually submit to scientific investigation because “everything else” has done so is like saying that, since we got rid of all the dirt in the house by sweeping it under the kitchen rug, we can get rid of the dirt under the kitchen rug in the same way.

This means that science cannot, even in principle, fully explain the mind. It can explain brain states. And test subjects can report to us which mental events are correlated with those brain states. As amazing as that is, it isn’t a scientific explanation of the mind.

But, unless one is willing to agree with Alex Rosenberg that the mind doesn’t exist, and thoughts aren’t about things, this means concluding that naturalism is false.