Archive for the ‘william lane craig’ tag
Agreeing with some advice Jonathan Chait offered about political discourse and argumentation, Ta-Nehisi Coates said political commentators — I think he would probably extend this to all opinion writers — should increasingly take on intellectual giants, rather than go after mental featherweights such as Sarah Palin and Michelle Malkin:
Write about something other than current politics. Do not limit yourself to fighting with people who are alive. Fight with some of the intellectual greats. Fight with historians, scientists, and academics. And then after you fight with them, have the decency to admit when they’ve kicked your ass. Do not use your platform to act like they didn’t. Getting your ass kicked is an essential part of growing your intellectual muscle.
I agree to a degree, insofar as it helps the person doing the writing. In Christian apologetics, for instance, it would be more beneficial to the intellectual growth of the writer to argue against some of the best thinkers apologetics has to offer — William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas or Ravi Zacharias, for instance, rather than charlatans like Pat Robertson or James Dobson. That’s not to say the “best thinkers” in apologetics offer a compelling case for belief. I just mean that these “thinkers” — and I used the term loosely — sometimes hold more nuanced views on faith than less erudite pastors and priests who simply quote scripture and assume that’s going to convince us of anything. A person, then, is better equipped to argue from a position of nonbelief when she has anticipated all the ways believers jump through rhetorical hoops attempting to defend faith.
A quote from Omar Khyyam seems apt here:
The Koran! Well, come put me to the test — Lovely old book in hideous error drest. Believe me, I can quote the Koran too. The unbeliever knows his Koran best.
That’s Rhetoric 101. Know your opponents, and anticipate their arguments. So, in this regard providing commentary on the brightest thinkers from any field of inquiry, rather than the most asinine, continues a pattern of learning that, as Coates argues, should not stop once a person gets a college degree.
What Coates doesn’t address is the flip side to this. Does pointing out stupidity benefit readers or does it just needlessly proliferate garbage and give people like Malkin more “air time” than they deserve? Media Matters, of course, has more or less built an empire on pointing out stupidity that takes place on FOX News on a daily basis, and I could crash this server writing about the latest antics of people like Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and their ilk. While I criticize them on here occasionally, would it be helpful to the larger and probably never-ending debate about which ideology, liberal or conservative, is the best one for leading a nation? Probably not.
But I think pointing out stupidity accomplishes at least two important goals. Deservedly, it marginalizes people like Beck and Malkin and their ultra-religious counterparts to the sidelines. Second, and more importantly, it shines a bright light on just how far the political and religious message in America has gone off the rails and how far the GOP spectrum has shifted, and making light of this could hopefully result in more moderate approaches, even among conservatives. Fringe ideology in either direction, left or right, will get us nowhere fast.
Believers often make the assertion, as I briefly alluded to in a recent post, that God exists in some realm outside of time and space, and because of this, he is not bound by the laws of physics that may, under different circumstances, preclude him from performing some of the miracles in this world or raising people from the dead (i.e. Lazarus, Jesus). They also trot out this eye-rubbing piece of faux logic to rule out the possibility that we small-minded creatures could ever conclusively prove or disprove his existence since, they say, he exists outside of our observable view.
Notwithstanding the fact that this train of thought could be used to believe or imagine any possibility whatsoever, from sugar plumb fairies dancing on the ether to Apollo playing soccer with Zeus in the shadows of Mount Olympus, simply separating God from space and time doesn’t make him more believable. So, let’s work through the implications of both scenarios and see if God comes out looking any better either way.
First, let’s say that God exists inside space and time. The argument from belief is that, as I briefly mentioned, if he is part of our universe, he might be bound by the hindered by the laws of nature and as such, may not able to perform the powers attributed to him. But why would this necessarily be the case for an omnipotent being? Mountains don’t move, at least not in any sense that we can observe with the naked eye in real time, but the Bible claims that faith can move mountains. And who but God is behind the power that could make a feat happen in the physical world? Thus, here is a theoretical example — since it has never been observed in practice — of God’s ability to act against what science tells us is impossible (moving large objects out of sheer will of mind in the absence of energy).
While this would not necessarily prohibit his ability to perform miracles, since an all-powerful god, by definition, does not cease being God just because is part of the universe, rather than outside it. It does mean, however, that if he is operating inside space and time then he too must have been formed by some force or process that predates himself, which ultimately means that, while he may be indeed supernatural and powerful beyond our comprehension or be endowed with some characteristics that, to us, approach the divine, he is not the source of own existence, and thus, not the supreme progenitor of everything.
Michael Shermer equates a being that develops in this way to an extraterrestrial:
God is typically described by Western religions as omniscient and omnipotent. Because we are far from possessing these traits, how can we possibly distinguish a God who has them absolutely from an ETI who merely has them copiously relative to us? We can’t. But if God were only relatively more knowing and powerful than we are, then by definition the deity would be an ETI!
This is not quite what I had in mind, but it’s close. Jerry Coyne, a professor at the University of Chicago, more accurately describes the view that if God developed via evolution like every other being inside space and time, he would remain unseen, perhaps, but still be able to impact natural elements in a scientifically observable way:
The being might not be demonstrable, but the actions of that being might well be. In that sense there can be natural evidence for a supernatural god. We can’t see electrons, either, but we can see their actions, and hence infer that they exist.
This is the position Richard Dawkins takes in his book, “The God Delusion.” But here’s the problem for believers in this scenario. While he can still be all-powerful, or what we may define as such, omnipotence does not make him eternal and immune from incremental development since he resides inside space and time and is subject to time itself. The implication here is that, whatever form or process might have created God, God as we know him, like every being that exists inside the universe must have evolved from a simpler, not more complex form, which runs directly counter to the accepted notion of God from the Bible and the other two major monotheistic religions.
Thus, the “theory,” and I mean that in the nonscientific sense, that apologists float, and indeed must adopt, is that God exists outside of spacetime where the laws of the universe do not apply, and that he exists in the “spiritual,” not the physical realm. Sophisticated apologists like William Lane Craig support this using the Kalam cosmological argument to suggest that because the universe began to exist (since here we are), it thus requires a prime mover, on whom Craig, presumably out of thin air, bestows the following traits. This creator is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful and intelligent. Less sophisticated believers, on the other hand, simply cite biblical passages like 2 Peter 3:9 and Revelation 1:8.
I don’t think it’s necessarily to contemplate multiverses or whether Craig’s eternal God could possibly exist in another physical realm different than our own, since even if God exists in another universe and even if science one day discovers that we live in a multiverse, believers, I think, would still need to argue for a God outside of spacetime for their position to remain even remotely intelligible.
Here are the negative implications that believers must face when contemplating God outside space and time:
- If God resides in a spiritual realm or is somehow removed from space and time, how can they possibly claim to know anything about him? Their unsatisfying answer, of course, is that God has an inexplicable ability to communicate to believers through the Holy Spirit. But this means that he must necessarily enter our physical world millions of times per day speaking with believers across the world. Pew reports that the globe contained about 2.18 billion Christians in 2011. Let’s say God communicates with each believer just once per day for a year. That would mean that the Holy Spirit has been issuing a whopping 7,957,700,000,000 statements to Christians every single year for 2,000 years. That’s 1.59154e+16 revelations! Now, with that much information coming from heaven, three implications follow. First, the record from the Bible suggests that God was once intimately interested in human events. Why would God living in some spiritual region give two farthings about mortals in the first place? Second, one would think that with that much information coming from God himself, we humans would have a better understanding of the universe itself, our purpose within it and more intelligible information about the authenticity of the Bible. Further, would it too much to ask, since he is all-loving, after all, that God might pass along a definitive cure for cancer or HIV/AIDs to someone somewhere? Or, perhaps, he could tell Catholic officials that it is, indeed, evil to deny people contraception in poverty stricken regions in Africa or that feeding people and improving the lives of conscious creatures might be a shade more important than the construction of sprawling Taj Mahal-esque multimillion dollar church compounds? Third, the existence of all those revelations might mean that God is indeed spending more time here on Earth than in this supposed other realm, and as a consequence, he theoretically exists in both worlds simultaneously. This is exactly the message of Psalms 139: 7-12. So, wherever else he might spend his time, he and his descendants would at least be, in part, subject to change inherent in the notion of evolution from simple to complex forms. Since the Bible argues that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, the argument supporting God’s ability to communicate with man seems self-defeating.
- Related to this, Craig describes God as “changeless” and “timeless” to support the idea that God was the prime mover and stands outside of spacetime, but as John Loftus and others have argued, it’s just plain bizarre to suggest that God never changes. In his book, “Why I Became an Atheist,” Loftus quotes William Hasker, who noted that “… when God began to create the universe, he changed, beginning to do something that previously he had not done.” Or, as Loftus himself put it in, “The whole notion that God doesn’t change seems to imply that God never has a new thought, or idea, since everything is an eternal NOW, and there is nothing he can learn. This is woodenly static. God would not be a person, but a block of ice, a thing.”
I have tried to show that either way we view God’s existence, here in our universe or outside of it, the idea of an all-powerful, unchanging deity who created everything, yet somehow stands outside of everything, falls in on itself once specific implications are considered, and the argument for this deity carries no more validity than the alternative.
The first, written by Tim Stanley, says that Dawkins is either a “fool” or a “coward” for not taking the stage with Craig in a debate about God. Stanley proceeds to call Craig an “excellent speaker” with a “witty, deliberate style that often makes his opponents look (and probably feel) a little ridiculous.”
Therefore, everyone just presumed that Dawkins refused to debate Craig because he’s scared. He is, after all, only human (or a talking monkey, depending on your point of view).
But Dawkins is a proud man (or arrogant chimp), and the accusation of cowardice probably ate at him from within. Finally, on Thursday, he gave a proper excuse for his no show to The Guardian. Its intellectual emptiness says so much about his particular brand of atheism.
To call Dawkins scared of debating anyone is completely absurd in the first place, especially considering any notion that Dawkins was or is quaking in his boots about the possibility of debating a professional obscurantist like William Lane Craig. Please.
“But why take the lives of innocent children? The terrible totality of the destruction was undoubtedly related to the prohibition of assimilation to pagan nations on Israel‘s part. In commanding complete destruction of the Canaanites, the Lord says, ‘You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons, or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods’ (Deut 7.3-4). … God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel. … Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.”
Dawkins in response:
Do not plead that I have taken these revolting words out of context. What context could possibly justify them?
Here is Stanley:
Actually, the context is called “Christian apologetics”, and it’s been around for centuries. It’s the attempt by scholars to present a rational basis for belief in God. … Craig’s purpose in writing this piece is to unravel the paradox of a moral Bible that also includes lashings of apparently random violence. Craig stresses that these passages of the Bible are difficult for us to read because we are not of the age in which they are written – they are just as alien to us as Beowulf or the Iliad. That’s because Christian society has been shaped by the rules of life outlined in the New Testament, not in the section of The Bible in which this massacre occurs. Far from using this passage to celebrate the slaughter of heathen, Craig is making the point that the revelation of God’s justice has changed over time. The horrors of the Old Testament have been rendered unnecessary by Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. That’s why the idiots who protest the funerals of gay soldiers or blow up abortion clinics aren’t just cruel, they’re bad theologians.
Bad theologians? Really? How is the God (or gods) of the New Testament an improvement on the Old Testament deity? In the Old Testament, we see Yahweh, through his arbitrarily chosen race of people, wreaking havoc on various tribes (men, women, children and even livestock) in Israel’s quest to conquer the Promised Land.
Dawkins, then, does not refuse to debate Craig out of cowardice or fear but out of contempt for Craig’s failure to denounce the corrosive morality of the Old Testament. Dawkins simply does have enough respect for the man to share a stage with him, and I think that’s clear if one reads Dawkin’s entire column.
In the New Testament, Jesus, operating under the veil of peace and goodwill, actually introduces a more ruthless form of justice than Yahweh ever did. God in the Old Testament seems satisfied with merely killing innocents in the physical world and going about his business. By the time we get to the New Testament, God, we learn, will not just demand utter servitude while people are alive, but he will demand it for all eternity in heaven, or else, they will face the fire forever.
I ask again, how is this system of justice an improvement over the Old Testament? God has went from a completely carnal system (killing people as a means to conquer territory) to a spiritual judgment for non-believers, a punishment that never ends. And, of course, it is not until the New Testament that we get a more robust picture of the idea of sheol, a place of darkness or, by new Testament standards, a place of never-ending torment. So, God’s justice, while it may have changed from the Old Testament to the New, actually got more brutal and more severe by many large degrees.
Craig also claims in his article that we should not feel remorse for the children who died in the Old Testament because they were bound for heaven upon their death. But here, Craig is reading New Testament and later Christian doctrine back onto the Old Testament text because there is scant little in the OT to suggest an afterlife or a system of eternal rewards or punishments (exceptions being, perhaps, Daniel 12:2 and Psalms 16:10-11).
Of course, if God’s idea of justice did change, as is suggested based on the differences between the Old and New testament, that would also rip holes in the doctrine that God is unchanging, as goes the common church mantra: “God is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
Head over to the Breaking Spells blog to read that intellectual superstar, William Lane Craig, explaining how animals other than humanoid primates aren’t conscious of pain because they have no prefrontal cortex. Actually, mice do seem to have these, and other animals probably do as well. Here’s another article from the NIH that suggests as much.
This is Craig’s comment about prefrontal cortices:
…the awareness that one is oneself in pain requires self-awareness, which is centered in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain—a section of the brain which is missing in all animals except for the humanoid primates. Thus, amazingly, even though animals may experience pain, they are not aware of being in pain. God in His mercy has apparently spared animals the awareness of pain. This is a tremendous comfort to us pet owners. For even though your dog or cat may be in pain, it really isn’t aware of it and so doesn’t suffer as you would if you were in pain.
And a portion of the blogger’s response:
… the pre-frontal cortex is present in animals outside the primate line. It’s a bit different (primates tend to have granularized cortices ). …
WLC is citing the work of philosopher Michael Murray, who suggests that animals aren’t aware of their pain (therefore god exists) -but Murray has some fatal flaws in his work. Murray differentiates humans from other animals by claiming (with minimal evidenciary support) that there exists a “affective pathway” which allows for self-awareness -this pathway, he says, terminates in the prefrontal cortex in humans. Because non-human animals aren’t self aware of their pain, according to Murray, they aren’t suffering. In other words, gratuitous evil is not present.
But lets suppose it’s the granular layer that’s found in primate cortices that makes the difference. This granular layer is present in many non-human primates, and yet these primates experience pain and are clearly, demonstrably aware of it. Gratuitous evil, therefore, exists among non-human primates that suffer predation, abuse, natural disasters, anthropogenic habitat destruction, infanticide, etc., etc.
If gratuitous evil exists, god can neither be omnipotent or benevolent. Therefore, god doesn’t exist. It’s not my reasoning, it’s the reasoning of WLC and Michael Murray. Surely one or both would move their goalposts accordingly if called on it, so I’m not expecting either to revise their positions. That would be too much like science.
I realize that I am skipping ahead by many large degrees from the early part of Genesis to Joshua, but I have just been re-reading some other passages today in my spare time. Why you ask? Because I think it’s important to have a firm understanding of a book that I routinely criticize, so I read up from time to time. As I read, I was struck — again — by the gross immorality that drips from nearly every verse of Joshua 10-12. Here we have Joshua, who is keeping the old warring and plundering fires burning for Moses, taking possession of lands as the Lord gives them into Israel’s hands and killing people, men, woman and children to boot. Here is the Bible at its most inhumane. I could select many passages in these two chapters for examples, but since there are so many that take on the same nature, thus multiplying the level of brutality seemingly with every new sentence, I will only need one:
38 Then Joshua and all Israel with him turned around and attacked Debir. 39 They took the city, its king and its villages, and put them to the sword. Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors. They did to Debir and its king as they had done to Libnah and its king and to Hebron.
40 So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded. 41 Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon. 42 All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign, because the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel. — Joshua 10:38-42, NIV
All who breathed.
If that phrase alone isn’t chilling enough, kids in Sunday school are often taught that these were noble deeds by which God was paving the way for the Israelites to inhabit the promised land. It is here that believers will probably trot out an argument about moral objectivity, that God alone is the source of morality, not humans, that he can pretty much do whatever he wants and that God’s moral order is vastly different and superior to ours.
I’ve often heard popularizers raise this issue as a refutation of the moral argument for God’s existence. But that’s plainly incorrect. The claim that God could not have issued such a command doesn’t falsify or undercut either of the two premises in the moral argument as I have defended it:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.
In fact, insofar as the atheist thinks that God did something morally wrong in commanding the extermination of the Canaanites, he affirms premise (2). So what is the problem supposed to be?
The problem, it seems to me, is that if God could not have issued such a command, then the biblical stories must be false. Either the incidents never really happened but are just Israeli folklore; or else, if they did, then Israel, carried away in a fit of nationalistic fervor, thinking that God was on their side, claimed that God had commanded them to commit these atrocities, when in fact He had not. In other words, this problem is really an objection to biblical inerrancy.
And he later in the article adds this rather odious statement:
Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses. We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.” Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.
Let’s work through the claim the claim that Craig asserts: that nonbelievers think God was morally wrong in commanding the killing of the Canaanites. First, Craig is a very bright fellow; in fact, he is one of most intelligent Christian apologists that I have ever come across. As such, he’s very capable of duping some of the more thoughtful believers who seek intellectual confirmations of their faith. As such, he knows full well that the statement, “If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist” is a fallacious bit of reasoning. Craig merely makes this ungrounded claim because he can; his readers are, after all and for the most part, believers, and they will buy much of what he says without much independent thought.
The above statement begs the question because it assumes that which it sets out to prove, that objective morals can not exist without God. And this further begs the questions because it assumes that God is somehow the progenitor of everything that is good. But this is illogical. God could very well be evil. Where is the rule or law that says just because a god might exist, that he is automatically good? Craig is making an assumption based on what he wants to believe, and ironically, against the only book that he has on which to base his claims, and that book does not paint a very moral picture of this god at all.
Further, Craig claims that atheists actually affirm that “objective moral values do exist” when they say that killing the Canaanites was unethical. Sam Harris in “The Moral Landscape” makes some good preliminary arguments on the potentiality that science could have something to say about human morality. In his introduction, Harris said:
I will argue … that questions about values — about meaning, morality, and life’s larger purpose — are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures. Values, therefore, translate into facts that can be scientifically understood: regarding positive and negative social emotions, retributive impulses, the effects of specific laws and social institutions on human relationships, the neurophysiology of happiness and suffering, etc. The most important of these facts are bound to transcend culture — just as facts about physical and mental health do. … The more we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see that there are right and wrong answers to the questions of human values.
That said, let’s examine Craig’s premise in more detail. Let’s assume God is real, and that he alone is the originator of morality and that he alone determines who is fit to live and die, to suffer or flourish. Let’s look at the following scenario: God commands a man to bind the arms and legs of a female juvenile. Then, God commands him to rape her repeatedly and then to pluck out one of her eye balls and watch as she agonizes in pain and terror for two hours. God tells the man to just sit there and watch like a sadist. God then commands the man to lop off one of her fingers. She would probably not be dead at this point, remember, and the man waits for another hour while the girl writhes in a kind of misery that defies definition. And then, finally, and mercifully for the girl, God commands him to choke her to death with a piece of rope until she breathes her last.
As horrified as someone might be by such a scene, the believer would squirm and say, “But God would never command such a thing!”
But here is the hang of it: if you give God moral license and make him the source of morality outright, God, in theory, can command anything, and the believer must obey freely and willingly. Here one might object: God can’t do that which goes against his character as a loving and just deity. But I retort: If God is inhibited by any parameters whatsoever, he is not omnipotent, and, by definition, whatever else he may be, he is not God. So yes, if he is omnipotent, he can, indeed, perform such an action if he wished, and Lane seems to admit it (“God has no such prohibition”). This is similar to the question that non-believers often raise: If God is omnipotent, can he create a rock that is too heavy for him to lift? Both scenarios are non sequiturs, and they are debate stoppers.
Thus, if I am to believe the Bible, I must believe that the Israelites, who went around the greater Palestine area killing and plundering at will, are just normal people as capable of hearing a word or command from God as any believer today. And what do we call believers today who, who after hearing a word from their god, fly planes into buildings or blow themselves up or generally wage war against the rest of the world for not following their particular set of dogmas? We call them extremists, fanatics and/or terrorists. What makes the Israelites any different? But there I go again — silly me — judging the Bible by modern codes of ethics.
Below is a video illustrating a previous point of mine that I have maintained: that, in my search for the truth with regard to human existence and religion in general, hope, wishful thinking and fantasy are three things that I’ve respectably discarded in the pursuit of truth. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, forward to 3:30 to see the point.
Here, Christopher Hitchens has this to say about the eventual heat death of Earth, the meaning of his life and the pursuit of truth:
We don’t particularly welcome the idea of the annihilation of either ourselves as individuals, the party will go on and will have left, and we’re not coming back, or, the entropic heat death of the universe. We don’t like the idea, but there’s a good deal of evidence to suggest that is what’s gonna happen. And there’s very, very little evidence to suggest that I’ll see you all again in some theme park, one nice and one nasty experience. There’s absolutely no evidence for that at all. So, I’m willing to accept on the evidence conclusions that may be unwelcome to me. I’m sorry if I sound as if I’m spell that out, but I will. Now you want to know what makes my life meaningful, generally speaking it’s been, struggling myself to be free, and if I can say it without immodesty, … to try to help others to be free too. That’s what’s given a lot of meaning to my life.