Answering apologists’ questions, part 2


In our last episode, Robin had discovered the location of the secret underground lab where Commissioner Gordon has been held prisoner. Meanwhile, Woodstock played an elaborate prank on Snoopy involving Linus’s security blanket, some Elmer’s Glue, and a feather pillow, and Andy and Opie had finally found Barney Fife passed out at the fishing hole after enjoying a little too much of the whiskey he’d been ordered to confiscate from Otis. Finally, philosopher Paul Copan had contributed a sincere but naive two-part question to Lee Strobel’s list, prompting Martin once again to fire up the old Mac.

Philosopher Paul Copan: Given the commonly recognized and scientifically supported belief that the universe (all matter, energy, space, time) began to exist a finite time ago and that the universe is remarkably finely tuned for life, does this not (strongly) suggest that the universe is ontologically haunted and that this fact should require further exploration, given the metaphysically staggering implications?

Copan is a little wide of the mark in terms of what is scientifically supported about the universe’s origins. From my layman’s standpoint, let me relate my own understanding of where science is right now on that subject. Yes, the universe as we know it has a finite history, but of what came before, we know nothing. The Big Bang theory is not a creation ex nihilo theory, but simply one that describes the event that caused our universe to expand into its present form. The concept I find most plausible is that the pre-BB universe existed in a quantum state, with the BB itself a quantum event. Causal explanations are nicely disposed of here, since causality itself — indeed, most of physics if I understand it correctly — is a non-issue at the quantum level.

In short, there was never a state of nonexistence preceding the Big Bang. And quantum mechanics dispenses with the need to think of the universe as “ontologically haunted,” Copan’s poetic $20 way of saying “created by God.”

There is hardly any kind of scientific consensus on the universe being “fine-tuned for life,” a common mantra of the scientifically-minded apologist. As a scientific layman, I’d have to say, if this were in fact the case, where is all the life? That we know of, there is but one planet in all the universe bearing life (although really earnest efforts to find those elusive Martian microbes continue). I think it would be far more accurate to say that life has been fine-tuned for its environment on Earth, and that fine-tuning mechanism is evolution by natural selection.

Moreover, as physicist Victor Stenger has pointed out, if the universe were indeed created by the God of Christianity for the purpose of containing life to worship him, why would God need to “fine tune” it? For Pete’s sake, he’s supposed to be omnipotent. If all it took was an act of will in Genesis 1 to get the ball rolling, why should any “fine tuning” need to be done? I mean, they can’t even claim that this one is scripturally supported. It’s not as if Genesis says, “And finally on the seventh day, God rested, having pulled two all-nighters in a row to get the fine-tuning right.” The whole “fine tuning” argument from apologists makes it sound as if God really worked his ass off to get this darn universe just so. Again, it seems Christianity’s God is omnipotent when it’s convenient for him to be. But once science begins taking a close look at his alleged “creation,” he’s a dedicated if imperfect hard worker who’s just done the very best he can, and all of his “bad” design is in fact really “elegant” design that we puny humans are too dim to comprehend. (I’ve actually heard Hugh Ross make a pitch very like that one.)

I’d suggest Copan go off and read Stenger’s God: The Failed Hypothesis, which addresses these matters with real expertise.

Copan continues:

And, second, granted that the major objection to belief in God is the problem of evil, does the concept of evil itself not suggest a standard of goodness or a design plan from which things deviate, so that if things ought to be a certain way (rather than just happening to be the way they are in nature), don’t such ‘injustices’ or ‘evils’ seem to suggest a moral/design plan independent of nature?

First off, the problem of evil is a major (not necessarily the major) objection to belief in God. The major objection continues to be that whole “complete and utter absence of evidence” thing.

Certainly the concept of evil implies a concept of good. Duh. One must have a frame of reference to compare one to the other. But who came up with this concept? People, that’s who.

There is nothing in nature called “right” or “wrong.” If a rock on Mars falls off a cliff and breaks another rock, the falling rock has not done a bad thing. These are concepts that exist only in a social context, and then, only among a social species (like our own) who develop the concepts as a helpful way to ensure species survival. Throughout the millennia that civilization has been developing, humans have found it useful to codify certain behaviors as either right or wrong, based upon whether the observable consequences of those behaviors are harmful or not. And we can judge what is harmful or not by our innate empathic qualities. Seeing a person hurting triggers a hardwired response in us, because we can understand what it would be like for us to be in the same situation. And studies have shown that a tendency towards cooperative, altruistic behavior is innate in children. We’ve also observed that some of our close cousins among primates have developed ethical heirarchies themselves.

We don’t need magic men in the sky to explain why we can tell right from wrong. The development of human morality has been a stochastic process, and not always a consistent one. There are many things people one did in the past — hold slaves, marry underage girls, round up Jews and burn them alive (not talking about Nazis here, but medieval Christians) — that were considered perfectly morally acceptible, which today we’d find appalling. The idea of a single “moral/design plan” existing outside of nature that has informed our morality is simply not backed up by any understanding of history or cultural anthropology. If such a thing did exist, you’d expect not to see moral precepts radically changing from age to age and culture to culture, as they have done. While some precepts have remained consistent, many have changed and continue to change. Fifty years ago they were still lynching black men in this country, and now we’ve put one in the White House. We’re always learning.

Finally, your implications about divine “moral/design plans” not only fail to get God off the hook where the problem of evil is concerned, they merely highlight the problem. If right and wrong are in fact God-ordained concepts, then — once more with feeling — why does he allow children to get raped, thousands to die in tsunamis and earthquakes, and so on ad infinitum? Accepting the idea you want me to consider, that God is a necessary precondition for moral understanding, makes his own moral insouciance (let alone his outright evil — remember, this is a guy who will send even a child down the trapdoor to eternal Hell for not joining the Official Jesus Fan Club) a thoroughly intractible problem for the Christian to address. And we haven’t even gotten to the Euthyphro Dillemma yet.

Frank Pastore just reiterates some of Copan’s points, just in a way that accentuates his ignorance, so I’ll address him quickly.

Radio host Frank Pastore: “Please explain how something can come from nothing, how life can come from death, how mind can come from brain, and how our moral senses developed from an amoral source.”

1) Nothing in science says something came from nothing. You believe a God poofed it all into place via an act of will, so could you please gi
ve a detailed description of the physical processes set in motion when God said “Let there be light”; please discuss in particular how those processes were initiated, in other words, how exactly the sound of God’s voice instantiated the matter that became our universe; and finally, the nature of the realm in which God exists, how that realm came to be, and how and when God came to be, and by what process.

Take your time.

2) Nothing in science says life came from death. Again, you are the one who believes a man was resurrected from the dead. Perhaps you can give a more coherent explanation of how this occurred than your fellow “resurrection expert” Ken Habermas.

As for life coming from non-life, that subject is abiogenesis, and you can probably Google up what actual scientists are thinking about it.

3) I believe the development of the mind is one of the many ongoing fields of study in evolutionary biology. I would not claim to know if they have all the answers in yet (and I doubt they do). But Christians all too often use that fact as an opportunity to launch the Argument from Ignorance fallacy: science hasn’t got the answers, so Goddidit. No, God doesn’t get to win by default whenever there isn’t a better scientific answer at hand (though the fact Christians so often think he does really underscores the fact that “God,” when you get right down to it, is merely a placeholder for ignorance).

How our minds evolved is not really that perplexing a mystery. Steven Pinker has an interesting interview here on the topic. We know homo sapiens had just plain bigger brains than other hominids, including those we at one point shared the planet with, like Neanderthals and homo erectus. The latter guy was a huge strapping brute, over six feet on average and built like a linebacker. But he had an itty bitty brain, and never learned, the way H. sapiens did, how to hunt together in teams to bring down the big game. In short, how our minds developed is another amazing story in our evolutionary history, and one — like all factual, scientific alternatives to religious myth — far more glorious and astonishing than the simplistic all-in-one “Goddidit” non-answer, that far too many people seem to prefer to experiencing the real wonder of our world.

4) For our moral development, see my answer to Copan above. Our morality, like everything else, evolved. It didn’t just spring wholly made from nothingness. In Pastore’s question, you really see the Either/Or Fallacy so commonly at work in Christians’ thinking. It’s like Behe’s irreducible complexity nonsense, applied to all of existence. Either God gave us morals, or somehow morals just poofed out of nothingness all by themselves (and who coould believe that?). Either God developed our minds, or they just poofed into existence from nothingness all by themselves (and who could believe that?). And so on. Questions like Pastore’s come front-loaded with their lack of understanding and misinformation, tainting the question’s very premise with errors that you have to correct before you can even address the question itself.

Okay, so that wasn’t a quick reply after all. Maybe I’ll do better with our final question.

Apologist Greg Koukl: Why is something here rather than nothing here? Clearly, the physical universe is not eternal (Second Law of Thermodynamics, Big Bang cosmology). Either everything came from something outside the material universe, or everything came from nothing (Law of Excluded Middle). Which of those two is the most reasonable alternative? As an atheist, you seem to have opted for the latter. Why?

Okay, this one will go quickly. Talk about your Either/Or Fallacies! Koukl even uses the words themselves in describing what he incorrectly thinks the only explanations are for the existence of the universe. (And indeed, what he mistakenly refers to as the “Law of Excluded Middle” is in fact another classical fallacy.)

See my answer to Copan for my thinking on the pre-Big Bang universe. It’s a reasonably well scientifically supported hypothesis that doesn’t involve either of Koukl’s alternatives, and metaphysically, it’s more sound as well. Many Christian apologists work from what Dawson Bethrick — an erudite atheist blogger I occasionally read, though I’m not an Objectivist as he is — calls a “primacy of nonexistence” metaphysics. In other words, they start from the presupposition that before the universe there had to be nothing, and since nothing can come from nothing, a God was therefore needed to create the universe. Conversely, an atheist can reasonably employ a “primacy of existence” metaphysics that takes into account the notion that there was never a period of nothingness, that there has in fact always been a universe, and that universe was in a quantum state prior to the Big Bang. Thus, existence itself becomes a causal primary. There’s no need to prove that “existence exists,” because, well, you know, here we are and all. (Unless you end up talking to a solipsist, that is, and frankly I think your time would be more productively spent tweezing your ass hairs.) And it works better with Occam’s Razor, too. It is indeed the more parsimonious explanation to think that existence exists, rather than having to come up with whole speculative realms of meta-existence — and I’d include gods in heavens alongside bubble multiverses here — just to concoct tortuous explanations for our own existence.

Okay. I think that about wraps it up for me. If anyone else has answers for Lee’s list of questioners, or corrections and enhancements to any of the answers I gave, well, that’s what comment threads are for.

Comments

  1. says

    “Philosopher Paul Copan: Given the commonly recognized and scientifically supported belief that the universe (all matter, energy, space, time) began to exist a finite time ago and that the universe is remarkably finely tuned for life…”This is petitio principii; that the universe is “fine tuned” for “life” (or anything) is an unproven teleological assertion.”Life” is freakishly rare in the observable universe whereas un-life is monotonously common.Indeed, based on what we can see, the universe is “fine tuned” to produce Black Holes, Dark Energy, hard solar radiation, interstellar vacuum, space dust… and oh yes, a few solar systems here and there, including the ONE we are aware of which supports life.If this is “fine tuning,” I’d hate to see what inexact tuning looks like.

  2. says

    I love it-but I do have to make one nitpick as an anthro buff- Neanderthal brain volume equaled or exceeded that of modern Homo sapiens. What was apparently lacking was sufficient linguistic capacity for rapid cultural transmission of tool technology, etc, etc.

  3. says

    One quibble, and that’s about the “before the Big Bang” bit. At this point, any description of that–in fact, any assumption that “before the Big Bang” is a meaningful phrase–is pure speculation. Physical laws as we know them break down before the Planck Time, and until there’s a unified field theory, we really can’t say anything about point zero. I’m not sure about using the term “quantum state,” since from my perspective everything is in a “quantum state” of some sort, but it’s been awhile since I took Quantum Physics. Stenger’s hypothesis of vacuum fluctuations is problematic, I think, in that it does a little fancy footwork that doesn’t jive with the science as I understand it (for instance, we don’t have any examples of “nothing,” so when he suggests that “nothing” is an unstable state, I think it’s a little shaky). Point being, we have a model that breaks down at a certain point. Our current understanding posits a singularity at point zero, but a singularity is kind of a physical placeholder for “we don’t know,” so it doesn’t entirely solve the problem or provide an explanation. Hence the need for a unified field theory. What this all boils down to is this: as far as we know, as far as all the evidence suggests, time is a property of the universe as we know it. It’s a dimension like length and width; it’s why physicists talk about “spacetime.” There’s no reason to think that time somehow existed prior to the universe’s beginning, or that running the clock backward past the beginning is even possible. Positing that there were events before the beginning of time, much like positing that there is a place north of the North Pole, requires some evidentiary justification or is cleanly shaved away by Occam’s Razor. As far as any of the current models–which are admittedly incomplete–suggest, the question “what happened before the Big Bang” is precisely as meaningless as “what’s next to the universe.” Your points stand, though: although any explanations are ultimately speculative in nature, there are plenty of speculative explanations that rely on things we know exist. There’s Stenger’s bit about vacuum fluctuations, which are a known phenomenon; Dawkins mentions the Lee Smolin idea of budding universes, and we know that at least one universe exists, and so forth. The God hypothesis is only one of many speculative hypotheses, and already is at a disadvantage for proposing something that we don’t even have an example of in this universe.

  4. says

    Again, it seems Christianity’s God is omnipotent when it’s convenient for him to be… all of his “bad” design is in fact really “elegant” design that we puny humans are too dim to comprehend. (I’ve actually heard Hugh Ross make a pitch very like that one.)This is why I refuse to argue with them, and why I advocate marginalizing them. Dialogue is impossible; the line in the sand is forever moving, and will forever continue to move. Nothing you say will make any difference. Their denial is unassailable. You can spend weeks studying, arming yourself with every fact imaginable, theological or scientific, to support your arguments. In the end, none of it will matter. They will always believe precisely what they want to believe.As Marcus Ross, a YEC who was, tragically, given a PhD in geology by the University of Rhode Island a year and a half ago, has said – even if he were to be shown irrefutable evidence in support of evolution, he would still refuse to believe it. They see this as a strength, not as a weakness.

  5. Martin says

    All good points, Tom. I was using the phrase “before the Big Bang” in a rather simplistic sense, to convey the idea that we simply cannot say anything about what conditions may have been before the advent of the universe. It’s true that, if time itself doesn’t exist at the quantum level, it’s not accurate to discuss a “time” “before” the BB in the first place.

  6. says

    Z, Martin said that Homo erectus had a tiny brain, not Homo neandertalis (did I spell that right?And everyone here is giving short shrift to the “fine tuning” idea. I agree that the phrase implies teleology, but apart from that, the physical constants of the universe (mass of electron, gravitational constant, speed of light, charge of an electron/proton, etc.) all fall within a narrow range of values that even could plausibly support life. Change any of these just a little bit and you end up with a universe where stars and galaxies didn’t form, or where matter just stayed as subatomic particles without being bound up into atoms, scenarios like that, which are completely unable to support any kind of complexity that would lead to life.The non-theist answers to that include the idea of multiple universes (or a much much larger universe where the physical constants vary), and we just happen to live in this part because we couldn’t have come about in the other parts. Or my favorite possible explanation, that there is some as-yet undiscovered physical principle that requires the physical constants to be as they are; any other values would be a violation of the beautiful but as yet undiscovered physical laws.

  7. says

    I just wanted to add something to Z’s response, being a primatology-buff, myself.There’s nothing to suggest that any of our close hominan relatives weren’t adept hunters and very good team-players, since chimpanzees work together in the wild to hunt monkeys and to depose alpha males/females.I agree with Z that verbal language was probably the factor that set apart H. sapiens, although it’s hard to gauge the diction skills of our extinct relatives.

  8. says

    Curt Cameron: “The non-theist answers to that include the idea of multiple universes (or a much much larger universe where the physical constants vary), and we just happen to live in this part because we couldn’t have come about in the other parts. Or my favorite possible explanation, that there is some as-yet undiscovered physical principle that requires the physical constants to be as they are”While the Multiverse or the Invariable Constants options are possible, there’s still another alternative you didn’t mention: that the universe/solar system/planet is “fine-tuned”(I’ve grown to hate that stupid phrase :P) for life, simply because if it weren’t we wouldn’t be around to notice.It’s similar, as well as equally annoying, to the old creationist argument arguing that life is too improbable to have come about without a god. “You silly atheist, the odds of self-replicating molecules arising out of random chemicals are 1,000 kajillions to 1, oh how I wish I could have that much faith har-har.” Yeah? well, who cares how improbable it was?, we’re here. It happened. “But the universe/living organisms seem/s so perfect. Like it was designed for a specific purpose by an intelligent agent.”Looks designed, huh? once again, as opposed to what? all those universes we’ve seen where everything looked purposeless?. Bring me an example of an animal that doesn’t seem to have a purpose. Show me what non-design looks like. If the building needs a builder(kiss my ass, Comfort) and the eye needs a “Creator” then EVERYTHING is designed. Which means nothing is ’cause the word has been rendered meaningless.But what do I know?. =D

  9. says

    I am in no way claiming that the following sentiment is original:I wish I had a nickel for every creationist/apologist who tries to use their complete ignorance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics as somehow proof of their favorite fairy tale’s veracity.Of course it follows, they seem to be ignorant of Biology, yet claim evolution isn’t correct. Why stop there? Continue your ignorance into basic physics then claim physics is incorrect.Sheesh.

  10. says

    And everyone here is giving short shrift to the “fine tuning” idea. I agree that the phrase implies teleology, but apart from that, the physical constants of the universe (mass of electron, gravitational constant, speed of light, charge of an electron/proton, etc.) all fall within a narrow range of values that even could plausibly support life.I would say that at this particular moment and for at least the foreseeable future, the universe supports life. We are talking about a span from the Big Bang until whatever end scientists predict for the universe. Was there any life anywhere in the universe 10 billion years ago? Probably not. So the universe was not fine tuned for life 10 billion years ago. Will it be fine tuned for life 10 billion years from now? Who knows? By then, our sun will have burned out and the Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy will have run into each other.My problem with the fine tuning argument, at least as a theist would imply, is that some supreme being poofed the universe into being with everything in place as it is now. But we know that it was not always so. 4 billion years ago, our solar system was a shooting gallery and the Earth experienced many impact events. The water we have likely came from comets that struck the planet. The oxygen we breathe today is only possible because it was released into the atmosphere by bacteria over the course of millions of years. It is all part of a continuous process that happens to make our existence possible at this time but the conditions we enjoy today are by no means permanent.

  11. says

    @ Curt Cameron:I have often wondered, myself, how that, in the short sliver of time, that man has existed and known of gravity’s existence, that we have been able to say with certainty that it always has the same pull. I am trying to understand the subject, but, the wikipedia article on the timeline of the big bang ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_Big_Bang ) seems to imply that gravity has been affected quite profoundly by the process.So, is there a logical reason to assume that the variables mentioned in fine-tuning arguments are static (as opposed those that change so slowly that it may take millions of years to accurately measure their change)?

  12. says

    The “fine-tuning” argument is simply an extension/evolution of earlier beliefs like the Sun revolving around the Earth, or that we are the center of the Universe. What these arguments all really do is attempt to place the speaker at the center of importance. There is an inherent bias in such beliefs, which is only more obvious with the later two examples because we have already gained a greater understanding since.This argument is reasoned away by applying the anthropic principle. To borrow a line of reasoning from Steven Jay Gould, its like saying hot dogs were created long and narrow to fit into hot dog buns. The response to the fine-tuned universe argument is thus that the universe wasn’t created to place humanity within it, but rather humanity is simply the natural unguided result of evolutionary changes and the filling of niches in the universe over time. Further, it is necessary that we find ourselves in a universe where the constants are favorable for life, for if they were not, we could not make such an observation in the first place.

  13. says

    Tommy said:Was there any life anywhere in the universe 10 billion years ago? Probably not. So the universe was not fine tuned for life 10 billion years ago.You’re misundertaking what I’m saying. I’m going to avoid the problematic phrase “fine tuned,” but the physical constants of the universe 10 billion years ago were at that time in a narrow range of values that could plausibly support life. Those constants led to the formation of atoms, molecules, stars and planets. Outside that narrow range, and it’s not just that you have planets with less water or something, you don’t have planets or stars at all.Thomas, I can’t answer your question in detail, but we can see in far-away galaxies, which we’re seeing as they were billions of years ago, that the same physical constants seemed to be in effect then as now.

  14. says

    Just a couple of things. The fine-tuning arguments for the universe being intelligently designed in such a way as to produce us rests upon an implicit assumption: that one can only vary any of the constants one at a time. Actually, as Stenger and Sam Adams (of the University of Michigan) have pointed out, this assumption is entirely unwarranted. To get a more realistic assessment of how likely a universe with its constants set at random would be to produce conditions conducive to life appearing at all, one has to vary each of the parameters together. It may well be the case that if one instead varies a single parameter by itself, the universe would throw a wobbly and make itself inhospitable to life. But there could be combinations of values that produce liveable universes. Adams tested the idea by varying a number of parameters in a computer simulation of a “multiverse” comprised of many constituent universes. As he says, “You have to turn all the knobs and find out what happens.” To quote him: there are three constants are involved in the formation of stable, energy-emitting stars: the gravitational constant, the alpha constant (which determines the strength of interactions between matter and radiation); and a composite of constants determining the reaction rates of nuclear processes. He allowed the values in each universe to change randomly and then found the proportion of universes in which these stars can form. About a quarter of them produced such stars. Furthermore, some of the universes had values that differed from those in other universes by a factor of up to 100, with stars still forming.And of course, when we talk about life, we mean to talk about systems that would be recognisable as living. There might well be systems that follow some Darwinian logic (heritability of information, random change to that information, and the prospects of the system being perpetuated by virtue of that change) that could be utterly unalike anything we have conceived of. There might even be entities that follow Lamarckian evolution instead of Darwinian evolution (some day, robots will be able to acquire this ability).Anyway, onto another point. If the universe is fine-tuned for life, this counts as evidence for special creation. If the universe if fine-tuned to produce us, God wouldn’t need to have made us directly. Evidence for God would be if we inhabited a universe which all the science told us we should not have been inhabiting – for example, one that was populated by stars that couldn’t produce the requisite elements that are required for life, and so on. Then we might be justified in believing that something supernatural had produced us.

  15. says

    Lui, that’s fascinating – as well as being very useful information. I’d like to see it posted all over the net. I’m gong to save it and use it the next time I break my rule and argue with a fundie.

  16. says

    Shit, I made a mess of the last paragraph. Here’s what I meant:”Anyway, onto another point. If the universe is fine-tuned for life, this counts as evidence against special creation (in the God-directly-producing-us sense). If the universe if fine-tuned to produce us, God wouldn’t need to have made us directly. Evidence for God would be if we inhabited a universe which all the science told us we should not have been inhabiting – for example, one that was populated by stars that couldn’t produce the requisite elements that are required for life, and so on. Then we might be justified in believing that something supernatural had produced us.”Sorry if I confused anyone.

  17. says

    “The whole “fine tuning” argument from apologists makes it sound as if God really worked his ass off to get this darn universe just so.”Maybe He brought order from chaos to show you that He exists. Order does not just spontaneously arise. Someone has to bring it.The order He provides stands out like the faces cut into Mount Rushmore. It’s not soil erosion, it’s carefully designed artwork.“While some precepts have remained consistent, many have changed and continue to change.”But how does the morality in a given culture change? Usually by appeal to a higher standard of morality. And, conspicuously enough, these higher standards appear to be the same from culture to culture.“If right and wrong are in fact God-ordained concepts, then — once more with feeling — why does he allow children to get raped, thousands to die in tsunamis and earthquakes, and so on ad infinitum?”My first reaction is “What are we doing to right these wrongs you find?” Did you bring them up just to argue about them or are you actively engaged in righting the wrongs?Second reaction, “To what higher standard of morality are you appealing to says that these things are in fact wrong?”Third, the whole argument depends on two things: that there is such a thing as real, metaphysical evil (which you probably don’t affirm) and that there is no possible good reason for God to allow evil (which you can’t possibly know). The whole argument against God from the presence of evil is being abandoned by many current philosophers.“…please discuss in particular how those processes were initiated…”Those processes were brought into being by a God who has always existed. This follows from the impossibility of infinite regress of causes. The first cause must have always existed, it must be separate from the universe because it existed before the universe, and it must have the power to act without outside influence (a key element of personhood).“…there was never a period of nothingness, that there has in fact always been a universe…”Again, even if you consider the first cause to be a part of the universe, it still must have always existed, it must be separate from the universe because it existed before the universe, and it must have the power to act without outside influence (a key element of personhood). We still have a first cuase, we are now only arguing about its name. (By the way the Christian doctrine of the immanence of God allows for God as a part of the universe in this sense. The argument calls for a transcendence of being, not a transcendence of location.) What’s your “scientific explanation” for what you find around you?Take your time.

  18. says

    Order does not just spontaneously arise. Someone has to bring it.This follows from the impossibility of infinite regress of causes. The first cause must have always existed, it must be separate from the universe because it existed before the universe, and it must have the power to act without outside influence (a key element of personhood).J.K., I told you on Daniel Florien’s blog – all you have is a long list of suppositions and declarative statements without foundation. Your arguments reflect nothing more than your conceptual biases. One could just as easily argue that that infinite regression dictates that the universe must always have existed in some form. This is, in fact, what the Buddhists argue. I told you two weeks ago to read some Buddhist philosophy; you told me you couldn’t “get past” the idea that you don’t exist. This is not what Buddhism teaches, which demonstrates that you really aren’t interested in investigating anything that would conflict with your Christian worldview. You will, of course, deny this, but your entire set of arguments boils down to, “Things work the way I want them to because I want them to.”

  19. Martin says

    Oh boy! Someone’s thrown down the gauntlet. Let’s see how he does.Order does not just spontaneously arise. Someone has to bring it.Order can indeed spontaneously arise. Example: the crystalline pattern of snowflakes. Sorry, but the whole “you can’t get order from disorder” mantra, which IDer’s chant as if it were an axiom, really has no scientific backing. Here’s a more detailed page from Donald Simanek explaining how things really are.And even if you were right, you’ve just fallen into the same trap that apologists have fallen into for centuries, despite your confident presentation: God has to be ordered if he is in fact a being capable of ordering other things. The premise of your argument requires him to have been ordered by “someone” himself. Who was it?The order He provides stands out like the faces cut into Mount Rushmore. It’s not soil erosion, it’s carefully designed artwork.Uh, sorry, but soil erosion does happen, you know. We have evidence for it, as any gardener you tell you. Your statement only reflects what you want to see. It also, again, presents you with a problem. If you are prepared to say that every phenomenon in nature is “carefully designed artwork,” then how is your concept of “design,” which encompasses everything, a scientifically falsifiable concept? What, in your opinion, would a non-God-designed universe look like? Without a frame of reference for non-design, how do you establish design? But how does the morality in a given culture change? Usually by appeal to a higher standard of morality.What “higher standard” exactly? The Christian God’s? Well, medieval Europe was just about the most Christian society you could imagine. And it was a monstrously violent hellhole that no modern person would want to live in for more than a minute. If you were Jewish living in medieval Europe, you basically had a bullseye painted on your head. When the Black Death struck in the 14th century, Jews were blamed for poisoning the wells. The entire Jewish populations of towns were slaughtered without mercy for this imaginary “crime” by the Christian majority. And your God, who was in a position to stop both the plague and the murders of Jews committed in misguided retribution for them, sat back and did nothing to stop this (I’m allowing his existence for the sake of the argument, you see).So it clearly was not your God who represented the “higher standard” of morality that led to cultural and societal changes. It would in fact have been a little thing called the Enlightenment, when humanist, secular concepts of civil rights and egalitarianism began to circulate, and the dogmas of the church started being pushed to the back burner.No system of moral precepts has ever been perfect. But Christianity can barely even lay claim to a workable one, let alone a good one.And, conspicuously enough, these higher standards appear to be the same from culture to culture.Which, again, argues against Christian influence, as most of these are not Christian cultures. Confucius came up with something quite like the Golden Rule 500 years before Jesus is supposed to have. Christianity really didn’t bring anything new to the table where ethics and morality are concerned.My first reaction is “What are we doing to right these wrongs you find?” Did you bring them up just to argue about them or are you actively engaged in righting the wrongs?Well, your first reaction is a silly one. Whatever I or other people are doing to right wrongs we find in the world does not absolve apologists from having to answer the question of why their God allows those wrongs in the first place. Come on, you’re just dodging the issue, not addressing it.Second reaction, “To what higher standard of morality are you appealing to says that these things are in fact wrong?”Ah, I knew you were going there! :-) You and Rhology, peas in a pod.Newsflash: I don’t need a “higher” standard of morality to know right from wrong. All I need is to apply my reason, coupled with my nature as a thinking, empathic being, and, well, guess what…you can figure these things out, you know! Forever in Christian apologetics you will hear the mantra repeated that people are just too stupid to comprehend the most basic facts of life, to process information based on observing the consequences of actions, and make conclusions and decisions thereby. I understand how it’d be in Christianity’s interest for people to believe they’re stupid, as stupid followers are less likely to ask questions and pick at all the little problems that crop up when trying to accept all of Christianity’s claims.The fact is, people, even most religious ones, aren’t quite so stupid as all that, and we can, as thinking beings, understand the moral precepts we live by just fine. We’re hardwired for it. Meanwhile, God is still spinning his wheels in the Euthyphro Dilemma.And besides, a God who tortures people for eternity for not worshiping him to his satisfaction — in other words, an evil god — cannot possibly possess a “higher standard” of morality for me to aspire to. It’s a constant source of amusement to hear Christians insist I must “get” my morals from a God less moral than I am.Third, the whole argument depends on two things: that there is such a thing as real, metaphysical evil (which you probably don’t affirm) and that there is no possible good reason for God to allow evil (which you can’t possibly know).Please describe the possible good reason your God has to allow children to get raped. If you say, “I can’t possibly know it,” you haven’t exactly done your God any favors.I would describe what you call evil in terms of mental health — sociopathy, narcissism, lunacy and what have you. And assuming you mean supernatural evil when you say metaphysical evil, I don’t affirm it, and I think it’s irresponsible to do so, as it absolves people of personal responsibility for their actions. Those processes were brought into being by a God who has always existed. This follows from the impossibility of infinite regress of causes. The first cause must have always existed, it must be separate from the universe because it existed before the universe, and it must have the power to act without outside influence (a key element of personhood).Explain the evidence you have for a “God that always existed.” Even if you could get to a god here, how could you confirm its eternal existence? This is simply an assertion, one of those things, as you told me above, you can’t possibly know.From where I’m sitting this is a purely speculative answer which you have already shown to be non-falsifiable (and therefore impossible to examine scientifically), because you’ve already declared everything that exists to be a divine work of art. And notice that nothing here says that this hypothetical God has to resemble in any way the Christian God. It could be the impersonal god of deism, or Aristotle’s Prime Mover, or Gus the Magic Cosmic Hippo. So even I were to accept the above for the sake of argument, you still haven’t gotten a millimeter towards any kind of proof of Christianity over any other concept of the divine humanity has imagined down the ages. All you’ve done is list a possibility, I’ll grant you. But without anything you can produce to back it up, it’s God of the Gaps all over again.Again, even if you consider the first cause to be a part of the universe, it still must have always existed, it must be separate from the universe because it existed before the universe, and it must have the power to act without outside influence (a key element of personhood). We still have a first cuase, we are now only arguing about its name.
    While I’m intrigued by your insistence that the “first cause” must have been both part of and separate from the universe, I don’t see anything in your claims here that’s really necessary. If the universe’s state “prior” to the Big Bang was a singularity, then that disposes of problems like causality and infinite regress, because (a) quantum events such as vacuum fluctuations are not causal and (b) time itself would not even exist within a singularity. In short, we have a set of perfectly natural processes that can account for the Big Bang, which, once again, does not describe the creation of the universe, but merely the event that caused the universe to expand into its present state. If the universe is defined as the totality of all that exists (and I think it’s reasonable to define it so; alternate or bubble universes are just as speculative as gods), then we have a parsimonious explanation that utilizes known scientific phenomena and doesn’t rely on bringing in external actors — which then requires you to explain them — to account for the universe. I think Laplace was right. God is just an unnecessary hypothesis.(By the way the Christian doctrine of the immanence of God allows for God as a part of the universe in this sense. The argument calls for a transcendence of being, not a transcendence of location.)Again, show me hard evidence to back this Christian doctrine up, and I’ll consider it relevant.Anyway, a higher quality of discussion than we usually get from Christian commenters. My compliments.

  20. Martin says

    J.K. made another unwitting mistake that I missed the first time around, in this quote:The order He provides stands out like the faces cut into Mount Rushmore. It’s not soil erosion, it’s carefully designed artwork.J.K., how is it that we can tell that the faces in Mount Rushmore are artwork? Simple, we can see that they are different from the uncarved, natural rock surrounding them. In other words, in addition to knowing that sculptors actually exist and create faces out of rock, we have a frame of reference in nature itself for distinguishing a designed sculpture from an undesigned natural formation.This is the central embarrassment of Paley’s Watchmaker argument, that ends up causing the argument to refute itself. If you find a watch in the desert, how would you know it was designed? Since Paley wants you solely to use the information you have on hand, the clear answer is that it is markedly different from its surroundings. In other words, watches prove deserts weren’t designed. (Yes, another example of order from disorder, the waves in sand dunes shaped by winds, not by “someone.”) And faces in Mount Rushmore prove the mountain itself wasn’t designed either.

  21. says

    This is the central embarrassment of Paley’s Watchmaker argumentI’ve always wondered what Paley would have said about a sundial.

  22. says

    Ok.Fine-tuning is not a controversial claim. I don’t think anyone challenges it.From what I’ve seen the quantum states idea you are talking about are highly suspect.http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/ultimatequestion.htmlAnd of course here you are only sticking to one particular interpretation of quantum mechanics he is sticking to.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpretation_of_quantum_mechanics#Summary_of_common_interpretations_of_QMSome interpretations do involve a cause.

  23. says

    Martin,The problem have with your illustration about the desert background is that we are still left without an explanation for the order which stands out from the disorder. I am willing to grant, only for the sake of argument, that disorder exists. I am even willing to grant that disorder is the natural state of the universe / world. But the design / order / purposefulness we see arising from the disorder still needs an explanation, and that explanation is an intelligent, purposeful being that put certain factors into place from the very moment of the universe’s beginning in order to give rise to design / order / purpose. He (or she, the argument has not got that far yet) may have even put disorder in the universe to purposefully highlight the order we find.In your approach, that order arises from disorder is not an explanation of how order arises. It’s just a statement of brute fact. I don’t stop there; I ask why.There are multiple answers to the idea that the designer must be designed by a designer who in turn must be designed, by a designer who in turn must be designed, etc. The first is that there cannot be an unending regress of designers. There must have been an undersigned designer, or we would never have arrived to the designs we see now. The unending regress is impossible to traverse.The second is that maybe God is simple after all. That God is Spirit is a tenant of Christianity (and other major theistic religions as well). This would mean that God is simple, that is, not made up of parts or passions. Since He is not made up of parts, those parts would not have to be designed. See this link for a more in-depth treatment of this idea: http://richarddawkins.net/article,676,The-Dawkins-Confusion-Naturalism-ad-absurdum,Alvin-PlantingaAs to morality, a good case can be made that most of the reforms that have occurred in the western world were the direct result of better interpretations of the Bible, not abandonment of the Bible. Besides, the Christian position is that we all have the law of God written on our hearts (Romans 2:4). We all see the same moral precepts because God put them in our hearts. This is why I can learn about a moral response to those from a lower station in life from Gandhi, the right questions to ask about human suffering from the Buddha, the importance of faith informing all of life from Islam, the golden rule from Confucius, etc. I do not have to agree with everything those outside my faith teach in order to appreciate and learn from their strengths. I can expect their morality to make sense at least some of the time because God wrote His law large on their hearts and in their minds.You see, in criticizing the past moral history of Christianity, you have employed the very moral law that you are trying to avoid having to analyze. You can criticize Christianity’s misinterpretations of it’s own precepts (and rightly so), but only by appealing to the higher moral standard.It’s this moral law, that you have affirmed in a back-handed fashion, that requires a moral lawgiver. As to the evidence I have that something has always existed, please see the post here:http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/2008/08/cosmological-argument-restated-why-i-am.htmlOh, by the way, I would love to hear your pier-reviewed, generally accepted naturalistic explanation for the beginning of the universe. I appreciate your even-keeled response to my comments. By the way, could I use your comments and my responses on my blog as a post? I won’t do that without your permission, and I will certainly welcome your comments there.

  24. Martin says

    Fine-tuning is not a controversial claim. I don’t think anyone challenges it.Oh, I think quite a few people challenge it, or ore specifically, that the alleged “fine tuning” we see is the result of the deliberate actions of an anthropomorphic deity. Again, most of the universe is profoundly inimical to life. And if an all-powerful God was responsible for all this, why would he need to “fine tune” the universe for life? Such a God could create life to exist under any conditions, under any set of universal constants he felt like. Or is this just another case of God being omnipotent except when he’s not?From what I’ve seen the quantum states idea you are talking about are highly suspect.From what I’ve seen William Lane Craig is hardly a authority on the topic.Some interpretations do involve a cause.Even so, a quantum explanation for the Big Bang is more parsimonious than gods, as it relies on events we know exist.Oh and the Euthrypo dilemma was debunked since the time of Thomas AquinasDo tell. Present the refutation.

  25. says

    The definition of fine-tuning would be roughly that certain universal constants fall within a narrow range that allows for life in this universe.I don’t think that’s controversial. What is is what the best explanation for those constants are.”why would he need to “fine tune” the universe for life?”The same reason you don’t put your goldfish in a pot of boiling water.”Such a God could create life to exist under any conditions, under any set of universal constants he felt like.”What? God decided to make life so he created a universe that could facilitate life. I don’t understand your objection here.”Even so, a quantum explanation for the Big Bang is more parsimonious than gods, as it relies on events we know exist.”We know that personal agents can cause things to exist too.And as to the Euthrypo dilemma”God’s nature is righteous and therefore normative. God loves goodness because he is good, and therefore he commands goodness in his revelation to man. Therefore in one sense, God loves the good because it is good; the concept is not arbitrary. Yet he does not need to look outside himself for a standard of goodness. That standard is his own character. ”

  26. says

    “God’s nature is righteous and therefore normative. God loves goodness because he is good,”That’s just saying that God is what God is.”Yet he does not need to look outside himself for a standard of goodness. That standard is his own character.”So he orders goodness because he wants people to do as he says. That doesn’t seem to get us very far.And by what standard do WE judge that God is “good”? If God is good because good is just what God happens to be, then that explains precisely nothing. We judge God by OUR standards, and impute into him what we think is right (and boy, does that vary).”Therefore in one sense, God loves the good because it is good”That’s just saying that he loves what he is. Why should he love that?“Yet he does not need to look outside himself for a standard of goodness. That standard is his own character.”A pretty “arbitrary” concept, if very there was one, because it still leaves us completely in the dark about why WE should embrace this goodness as our own. Good simply boils down to what God happens to be, and doing good boils down to doing what we’re told. Dictators absolutely LOVE this sort of rationale.This argument seems to me more an abuse of the English language than a carefully thought-out proposition. It sounds like people just want to give their own morality divine sanction, so they personify it in the form of God so as to make it more “concrete”. Morality is a tricky idea philosophically, but adding God into the mix to smooth it out leaves us with something rather barren. Ironically, in the quest to find ultimate meaning, those who equivocate God’s character with good and vice versa have stripped it of its human significance.

  27. says

    God cannot possibly be “simple”. He is supposed to have cognitive and volitional faculties that dwarf anything that the human psyche is capable of comprehending. He is supposed to be capable of hearing the prayers of millions of human beings, of fine-tuning the universe, of experiencing sadness and anger, of having foresight, of divining things into existence, of wreaking miracles, of retaining and accessing a practically infinite amount of information, etc etc etc. Some people like to talk about God as being “energy” or some sort of “force”, but energy doesn’t sacrifice its only son for the sins of humanity. I think that religionists try to have it both ways: they want their God to give them the benefits of divine person-hood, but they don’t want to face the implications of his necessary complexity, so they try to caste him in terms of simplicity.

  28. says

    Mr. Free Thinker (a hilarious misnomer if ever there was one) says:And as to the Euthrypo dilemma”God’s nature is righteous and therefore normative. God loves goodness because he is good, and therefore he commands goodness in his revelation to man. Therefore in one sense, God loves the good because it is good; the concept is not arbitrary. Yet he does not need to look outside himself for a standard of goodness. That standard is his own character.”That doesn’t solve the Euthyphro dilemma, it just moves it up one level of abstraction. Is God’s character good because it meets some external standard of goodness, or is it good simply because God has it? It’s turtles all the way down, you know.

  29. says

    Andrew T.,“Is God’s character good because it meets some external standard of goodness, or is it good simply because God has it?”God is good, and the very definition of good. The external standards of righteousness are established by Him because they reflect His character. God has the right to establish standards of goodness, and He establishes those standards in the best way possible. In that sense, it is “good simply because God has it.” God meets all external standards of righteousness because He established them. He could not have established them in any other way. In that sense, “it meets some external standard of goodness.” God establishes all of the immaterial, unchanging laws we find in the universe (the laws of morality, the laws of logic, the laws of mathematics, etc.). These laws are what they are because that is what God is (good, logical, rational, etc.). We can do good because we are made in God’s image. We can think because we are made in God’s image. How do you think a standard of goodness is established? What is your view?Why do you think the laws of logic / mathematics are what they are? What is your view?Do you think the laws of morality, logic, and mathematics change? Do you think it is possible that they could be any other way?I am interested to know.

  30. says

    Lui,What parts does God have that need to be designed to work together effectively? God is spirit, and He has no parts.Besides, that is only one of the arguments offered (see my comment above).

  31. says

    “God is good, and the very definition of good. The external standards of righteousness are established by Him because they reflect His character.”Which is pretty much a perfect reiteration of the same thing. You’re just saying that God is what God is. This gives no additional insight into the nature of goodness.“God has the right to establish standards of goodness”In other words, he has the right to impose on us what he is, and he has this right because you judge him to be “good” (because he’s God, after all, and God is “good” by definition. This is maddeningly circular).“and He establishes those standards in the best way possible”How do you know that? Based on what criteria do you judge that he establishes these standards in the best way possible?“God meets all external standards of righteousness because He established them.”It’s just too easy, isn’t it? The problem with that is that it doesn’t mean anything whatsoever. It’s simply consigning the problem of morality to another personal agent, and then calling it an “external standard” that we’re obliged to follow because…God is more powerful than us? Because he tells us to follow these standards? That’s adds nothing to an understanding of morality; it gets us no nearer to a sober reflection of what it means to be a moral agent. It’s simply a dictatorial logic that confuses power with righteousness. That’s a barren and, frankly, worthless conception of morality if ever there was one.“We can do good because we are made in God’s image. We can think because we are made in God’s image.”Actually, we can do good because we evolved that way, adapting to a complex social system that necessitated that we able to get into the heads of other people and come to understand their concerns and feelings. We can think because we have large brains – complex pieces of biological apparatus – that evolved to give us the ability to absorb information about our surroundings and simulate outcomes in our heads before engaging in potentially dangerous courses of action. A curious thing about God is that he always just happens to agree with whatever we decide is “right”. One would think that if God represented an external basis for morality, he would have found a way to get his message across more clearly and unambiguously to his humans. Instead, we find endless variation in how people interpret passages in the Bible, whether this or that should be taken in context or whether it still applies today.“What parts does God have that need to be designed to work together effectively? God is spirit, and He has no parts.”That’s nice, but that’s not an argument, it’s an assertion with no basis in evidence. What’s more, it’s an excuse because you’re using God’s mysteriousness to avoid having to provide any argument for how he can be “simple” and at the same time do things that require the retention of information, the capacity for feelings, etc. These things call for at least a degree of heterogeneity. Finally, you’re basing your claim upon a concept that hasn’t even been demonstrated and is pretty much close to being debunked in its entirety: the notion of “spirit”.“Why do you think the laws of logic / mathematics are what they are? What is your view?”I have no idea, and neither do you. Saying that God made them that way leaves you with the problem of why God made them that way (I doubt that you will be able to show that he had to have made them in order for them to exist – since we have nothing else to compare it to – but if you want to talk about why they are what they are, adding God into the picture will only exacerbate the problem, because then you need to talk about the internal logic of God and how this logic yields the laws of mathematics, morality etc. Even worse, why should God be the way he is? Does he have any choice in the matter? “Why” should there be a God at all?Even if, on the other hand, you say that God had no other way to make them, then you’re in exactly the same boat as me, and in addition you must contend with there being some principle external to God that he can’t tamper with, in which case he didn’t establish these laws. I simply cut God out from the picture. The problem is difficult enough without introducing an intelligent agent into the mix.

  32. says

    J.K. Jones. Let's make this a simple question:Could God decide one day that drowning people in M&Ms is a morally good action?If the answer is anything other then a simple yes, then God is not the source of Good, merely the embodiment of it, which means good comes from another source, so God isn't neccessary for good.This includes the response: "He could but he wouldn't." Why wouldn't he? Because it's not in his nature? That means that his nature is dictated by an external source.

  33. says

    Lui,As to whether God is simple or spirit, I would refer you to Alvin Plantinga in the link above. I also gave some other arguments to counter the notion that God must be designed. The notion that God is spirit comes from the Bible. I think there are hints that God must be like this from nature, but I don’t think there are proofs. I do think we have good rational basis for accepting the Bible to be true, but I’ll leave that aside for now.So, according to you, we have these external standards of morality and logical thinking because we evolved that way. Let’s take the laws of logic for example.Why do the laws of logic apply across all cultures and all the times of recorded history? Why are they consistent from one culture to the next or even one person to the next? If they evolved, why is there no variation? Why is this the only way we can think?They are not mere social constructions, or they would change from person to person and from culture to culture (some cultures have tried to change logic’s foundations, but they always build buildings and cars using the same old thinking processes). I’ll assume evolution to be true for this paragraph and the next. Evolution assumes that those traits that ensure survival are passed on from genetic ancestors to their progeny (natural selection). Natural selection does not ensure that abstract concepts are true, just that they ensure survival. Why can I trust what my senses tell me about the world? If natural selection keeps traits based on their survival value alone, all of my abstract beliefs and even my concrete perceptions must ensure my survival. That does not necessarily mean they are true, that they correspond to reality.I can avoid eating poisonous mushrooms because I know they are poisonous. That way I don’t die. I can also avoid them because I think that they do not taste good. That way I don’t die; but they taste fine (that’s why they are so dangerous). The belief that ensures my survival in this case is not true. All beliefs could in fact be that way. We could theoretically know nothing at all.Further, if the universe does in fact depend on random processes at the most basic level, then we have no reason to think that the universe will behave in the future the same way it has behaved in the past. Everything I see in our world is changing (with the possible exception of the speed of light, but I don’t see that directly). Why do the laws of logic (non-contradiction, excluded middle, etc.) not change along with everything else? Logical laws are not merely properties of matter, or they would change with matter. Why should I expect the processes I see in the world, if governed by randomness, to result in a world that will behave the same in the future as it has in the past? Scientific experimentation depends on this. It’s called the uniformity of nature.By the way, I did not say that any of this proves God’s existence. I said I could assume that God made the universe and my mental faculties in such a way as to make rational thought possible. I can assume that I think God’s thoughts after Him. I can assume that God made the universe to reflect His perfect nature. I can also assume that God wrote His law on my heart, so I can have good moral sense.Of course, we must first come up with a viable alternative so we can argue about whether this assumption is true. In a sense, the burden of proof has now shifted. You have to provide positive evidence that rational thought is possible. All I have to be is a skeptic. I can even quote Hume, Kant, Niche and Derrida.Buy the way, there is something internal to God that He can’t tamper with. He cannot deny Himself. He will always choose what He wants, and that will always be consistent with who He is. It’s not that there is something outside Him that makes it so He cannot choose differently; it’s His choice and He will not make it differently. The standard is inviolable, but it is not external to God.

  34. says

    Aminstar,There is nothing outside God that is keeping Him from doing anything He wants to do, but He always does what He wants to do. He cannot do something that He does not want to do, and He always wants to do the good thing. Drowning innocent (!) people in M&Ms is not good, so God won’t choose to do it.

  35. says

    J. K. Jones continues to be hilariously circular. Something to ponder:Why doesn’t God choose to drown innocent people? Because that wouldn’t be good.Why wouldn’t it be good? Because it’s not what God would do.Textbook example.

  36. says

    Aminstar,There is nothing outside God that is keeping Him from doing anything He wants to do, but He always does what He wants to do. He cannot do something that He does not want to do, and He always wants to do the good thing.Drowning innocent (!) people in M&Ms is not good, so God won’t choose to do it. Well then we’ve established that good =/= whatever God does. Rather, God=Good. So, where does God look to decide what is good? That is the real source of morality, not God.

  37. says

    Aminstar,”…where does God look to decide what is good? That is the real source of morality, not God.”Nowhere outside Himself. Kazim,It’s really not circular. Why doesn’t God choose to drown innocent people? Because He does not want to.Why wouldn’t it be good? Because it’s not what God would want to do.What is the source of the standard for what is moral?What God desires to do.

  38. says

    Aminstar,”…where does God look to decide what is good? That is the real source of morality, not God.”Nowhere outside Himself.Kazim,It’s really not circular.Why doesn’t God choose to drown innocent people? Because He does not want to.Why wouldn’t it be good? Because it’s not what God would want to do.What is the source of the standard for what is moral?What God desires to do. In this case, if God wanted to drown people in M&M's it would be good then. Right? If he decided one day that drowning in M&Ms was good? Oh and also decided that drowning in Skittles was a horrible idea. Both of these would suddenly become true right? Because God decided it? And there is nothing to prevent god from doing this, if he wanted to. Right?

  39. says

    “As to whether God is simple or spirit, I would refer you to Alvin Plantinga in the link above.”Plantinga doesn’t provide an argument to that effect; he merely asserts it. When you’re dealing in religion, anyone becomes free to abuse language as they see fit. Since we defer to religion its own “magesterium” – where it is imagined that it deals with questions about “why” while science deals with the “how” – people get into the habit of thinking that they can work from that basic assumption and that there just has to be something to it. This is what happens when we become slaves to language. We imagine that just because a question can be strung together in a grammatically sound sentence and it “speaks to us”, that it must therefore be a question with necessary depth.“The notion that God is spirit comes from the Bible.”It doesn’t matter where it comes from; what matters is whether the very notion of spirit is itself coherent.“Why are they consistent from one culture to the next or even one person to the next?”Because we inhabit the same universe and these principles are convergently discovered by different people.“If they evolved, why is there no variation?”Because they aren’t subject to evolution.“Why is this the only way we can think?”I don’t know. Having said that, this lends no credence to the notion that God is therefore the default choice to go to in search of an answer, any more than an Australian aboriginal myth is the place to look. Even if we never discover why this is the way we think, it gives precisely zero weight to the God hypothesis. Firstly, when a theory is unable to account for something, that doesn’t, by itself, mean that an alternative theory or hypothesis is any better equipped to do so. Secondly, there’s no evidence for your assertion that it was God.“Why do the laws of logic (non-contradiction, excluded middle, etc.) not change along with everything else? Logical laws are not merely properties of matter, or they would change with matter.”Why would that be the default assumption about a Godless world? Since we have no other worlds to compare this one to, we are stuck for the time being with observing what we actually see (a necessity) and working from there, not declaring by fiat that a Godless world would have to be chaotic. “Why should I expect the processes I see in the world, if governed by randomness, to result in a world that will behave the same in the future as it has in the past? Scientific experimentation depends on this. It’s called the uniformity of nature.”Exactly. So since it’s a FACT that this is what we see, the question then becomes how to account for it. We live in this uniformity whether or not God is real. If you want to assert that only God can adequately account for a uniform world, you have to provide a prior probability assessment that compares the two and shows that the God hypothesis provides a higher probability. Lacking this, any talk about a default expectation of a Godless world being incapable of producing order and beings capable of beings comprehending logic totally vacuous.“You have to provide positive evidence that rational thought is possible.”No I don’t, since the very fact we’re engaging in this debate testifies to that. You don’t get to win the argument by default just because your world view entails uniformity in nature. So does mine, but that’s based upon evidence. The burden of proof is still very much upon you. It isn’t me who’s violating Occam’s Razor by assuming more than the evidence requires. I could say “I think the universe just happens to be this way.” You must say, “I think the universe is this way because God happens to be this way.” Both have an element of the inscrutable, but you go up another level of abstraction and unnecessarily complicate the picture.“it’s His choice and He will not make it differently.”and yet just a sentence before you say: “Buy the way, there is something internal to God that He can’t tamper with. He cannot deny Himself.”So he doesn’t have a “choice”.

  40. says

    Amnistar,You need to know at least one other thing about God. His essential nature does not change. That is, His desires, in the sense we are discussing them here, do not change either. That is why He makes good, consistent standards.Again, it’s not that He could not change the standard because of something outside of Him. It’s that he does not and will not want to change because of His own nature.This is not to say that His relationships with and actions toward human beings are unchanging. The short version is that when we change our response to Him, He must necessarily change how He reacts toward us. He doesn’t change; we do.

  41. says

    You need to know at least one other thing about God. His essential nature does not change. That is, His desires, in the sense we are discussing them here, do not change either. That is why He makes good, consistent standards.What you have claimed is that God is the source of good. That is, whatever God says is good, is good, because God says it is, and for no other reason. Now, if God’s nature is to be good, that’s something else. He is good, and he says what is good (because he is good) but it was good before he said it, that’s why he said it. You can’t have it both ways, either it is good before God says so, and thus God didn’t make it good, OR God says it is good, and then becomes good. So, which is it?

  42. says

    Lui,“It doesn’t matter where it comes from; what matters is whether the very notion of spirit is itself coherent.”It means ‘without passions or parts.’ It doesn’t mean without being or existence. It’s not incoherent.Besides, if there is an argument to show the Bible to be true, and I believe there is, then the concept must by definition be coherent even though it is hard to understand.You said the laws of logic were consistent from one culture to the next or even one person to the next because “we inhabit the same universe and these principles are convergently discovered by different people.”That is absolutely true. We do discover these truths convergently. We all find the same answers to these questions. Buy why do we find these truths to be what they are? That is the question you have failed to answer.You said the these concepts “aren’t subject to evolution.” You are absolutely right. They are immaterial / abstract concepts. They are also universally true. The question is why are they not subject to evolution when everything else that has to do with us is?“I don’t know.”Then you have no reason to think that any of your arguments can have weight. You can’t ultimately prove anything. Not scientifically, not philosophically, not rationally.“…this lends no credence to the notion that God is therefore the default choice to go to in search of an answer…”I said I could assume rationality. I didn’t say I had proved anything in the formal sense. I should point out that I do have a workable assumption. It is at least possibly true. I have heard nothing from you that is even possible. You have no theory.“…when a theory is unable to account for something, that doesn’t, by itself, mean that an alternative theory or hypothesis is any better equipped to do so.”You have not provided an alternative theory or hypothesis to the one I have. Meanwhile, I’ll just sit back and act on my assumptions. I plan to read the Bible tonight and think really hard about what it says. I might learn something.“Secondly, there’s no evidence for your assertion that it was God.”Again, it’s an assumption on my part. What is the assumption(s) that underlies your rational and scientific endeavors? “…we are stuck for the time being with observing what we actually see (a necessity) and working from there, not declaring by fiat that a Godless world would have to be chaotic… We live in this uniformity whether or not God is real…”The world we live in is not chaotic. The question I am asking is why is the world not chaotic? Explain yourself. Give me one workable theory that can be tested. “That’s just the way it is’ does not count.“…You don’t get to win the argument by default just because your world view entails uniformity in nature. So does mine, but that’s based upon evidence…”You don’t understand the nature of your predicament. I want you to provide a workable theory. I want you to establish an epistemology, a theory for knowledge, which is workable within your assumptions. You are the one with the case to prove. Otherwise, you do not have any truth to share on any topic whatsoever. You can’t prove anything you say to be true. All of your truth claims are just a matter of faith on your part. Faith in science or reason that is not based on solid assumptions.You have both feet firmly planted in mid-air.“So [God] doesn’t have a “choice”.He has the same choice that any of us does. He always chooses what He wants. None of us can choose any different. We always choose what we want to choose given our options. We always choose the thing we want most given the situation we find ourselves in. There is no exception.

  43. says

    Amnistar,“You can’t have it both ways, either it is good before God says so, and thus God didn’t make it good…”It is good because God says so and He is the ultimate definition of good. He does not change, so the standard of good does not change. God could not choose to make the standard any way other than it is, given that He is good. His desires are good, so He desires to give us a perfect moral standard. The standard is not based on something outside of God; it is based on His unchanging, perfectly good moral character.Therefore the standard is not arbitrary. It could not be any other way than it is.“..OR God says it is good, and then becomes good.”God says it is good. That’s right. What exactly is the problem with that?Why can’t the only being in the universe, that we know of, who is good decide what is good for the rest of us? Why can’t he express a standard based on his own goodness?

  44. says

    It’s lucky that J.K. Jones keeps reminding us that he’s not using circular logic, or I might be fooled into thinking that he just keeps repeating the same circular logic over and over again.

  45. says

    It is good because God says so and He is the ultimate definition of good. He does not change, so the standard of good does not change.God could not choose to make the standard any way other than it is, given that He is good. His desires are good, so He desires to give us a perfect moral standard. The standard is not based on something outside of God; it is based on His unchanging, perfectly good moral character.So god can’t change the standard of good, which means he doesn’t decide what is good, merely dictates it. Good, we now know that God doesn’t decide what is good or evil, he merely knows what is good or evil. Good to know.Now we have to decide what dictates good and evil.

  46. says

    Amnistar,“So god can’t change the standard of good, which means he doesn’t decide what is good, merely dictates it. “The standard of good is God’s character. God’s character does not change. God dictates a standard based on His character that He will not dictate in any other way. He’s not going to change His mind.“Good, we now know that God doesn’t decide what is good or evil, he merely knows what is good or evil. Good to know.”He knows what is consistent with His own character. That is the standard. “Now we have to decide what dictates good and evil.”God’s unchanging, good character. Nothing else qualifies as an absolute, unchanging standard. Universal, abstract laws must have a ground that does not change, and only God’s being qualifies.God is good. God does not change. Good does not change. Why is that a problem?You are going to great lengths to show a circular pattern in all of this that simply does not exist.

  47. says

    “It means ‘without passions or parts.’ It doesn’t mean without being or existence. It’s not incoherent.“Without passions” isn’t exactly the impression one gets from the blood-curdling passages in which God and his disciples command their armies to “dash to pieces” enemy tribes, right down to the children. Without parts? Well, when someone resolves that one I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, I’ll continue to think that the concept is incoherent (by “it”, I mean the notion that it can have no parts, yet at the same time pontificate about morality and exist).“Besides, if there is an argument to show the Bible to be true, and I believe there is, then the concept must by definition be coherent even though it is hard to understand.”That seems reasonable, except that the Bible isn’t true, for the following reason: people have been fighting each other over its “real meaning” for centuries. This would be fine if it was something written by flawed human beings carrying the prejudices and limitations of their age, but a divine being? Surely the latter could write a tome with a bit of clarity and a lack of ambiguity? There’s nothing in the Bible that could not have been written by humans living at the time.“You said the laws of logic were consistent from one culture to the next or even one person to the next because “we inhabit the same universe and these principles are convergently discovered by different people.”That is absolutely true. We do discover these truths convergently. We all find the same answers to these questions. Buy why do we find these truths to be what they are? That is the question you have failed to answer.”It’s not entirely clear why this should be so, but in fact I was wrong in a sense. Different people have different cognitive predispositions and competences, and these can be affected by such things as age. What’s more, numerous studies have shown that people are rather bad at assessing probabilities. Humans are naturally poor statisticians. So a God that is all-good and knowledge loving, just as he allows for massive evil in the world, would, by that same token, allow a great variety of cognitive error in the world. If that’s so, then you are in no more position to say that you can be justified in supposing that you have an accurate view of reality on your presumptions than I do on mine. The notion that God is all-loving and knowledge loving does not automatically entail that he would have made humans with a true conception of the world. But to return to my own justification – or attempt at a justification – for why people would stumble upon the same rules of logic (even if these rules of logic are NOT in fact good guides to reality), one factor is that the solutions to problems faced by humans required similar logical structures to crack them because of the similar constraints and demands of those problems. If someone wants to make an aeroplane more efficient, for example, similar constraints will dictate that the shape of a European Airbus and an American Boeing will be pretty much the same: streamlined. Secondly, it could be a necessary feature of an intelligent species that certain logical structures will be apparent to them, owing to convergent evolution and species-wide cognitive features that are shared, more or less, in the same way across the board. It’s not that hard to imagine this being the case, or why: having an acuity for one sort of information processing will likely place constraints on or deteriorate the aptitude in another domain. Another issue I’ve raised in similar discussions (or fist-fights) is that the sciences have remarkable interlocking parsimony with respect to one another, so this lends credence to the notion that we are at least on the right track in uncovering an approximate view of reality. While individual humans may be bad at coming to truths, we have an enterprise that does this for us, and the way we can be quite sure of its reliability is that it is a positive feedback system that can generate predictions and automatically right itself.“You said the these concepts “aren’t subject to evolution.” You are absolutely right. They are immaterial / abstract concepts. They are also universally true. The question is why are they not subject to evolution when everything else that has to do with us is?”Because they aren’t “about us”. They’re about the universe at large. Hence they’re not subject to biological evolution.Nicholas Everitt is rather good on these issues, I think. You can download his book “The Non-Existence of God” here, and read chapter 9 (“Naturalism, evolution and rationality”) where he shows that several of your presumptions are erroneous, and that the problems you see in a non-theist account of rational humans are sometimes actually exacerbated if one presumes a theistic outlook. For the sake of argument, I will take his views as my own as I think he makes a reasonable case. You’ve certainly raised some relevant issues and I thank you for forcing me to think more carefully about them. But I do think that your position is utterly vacuous and self-defeating. Its best hope is to poke holes in the naturalistic account, but in so doing it shoots itself powerfully in the foot, as Everitt shows. If you like I will endeavour to summarise his points, but he writes with far more clarity than I could.“The standard of good is God’s character.”Which is the same as saying “the standard of God’s character is God’s character”, since you’ve found no other way to conceive of morality. This is an exercise in labelling, not exposition.

  48. says

    Lui,“…”Without passions” isn’t exactly the impression one gets…”The better way to put it is without conflicting passions. If God is mad, He is all mad. If He is loving, He is all loving.“…the notion that it can have no parts, yet at the same time pontificate about morality and exist…”No physical parts. He exists without physical parts. “…people have been fighting each other over its “real meaning” for centuries…”That just proves that people are sinners, and that this sin effects their intellects and emotions. The fault is not with the Bible; it is with us.“…Different people have different cognitive predispositions and competences, and these can be affected by such things as age. What’s more, numerous studies have shown that people are rather bad at assessing probabilities. Humans are naturally poor statisticians.”Even if some are better at it than others, they still use the same thinking processes. They still use the same logical rules and basic sense perceptions. “So a God that is all-good and knowledge loving, just as he allows for massive evil in the world, would, by that same token, allow a great variety of cognitive error in the world…”Lack of ‘perfect’ design by our standards does not imply no design at all. I could also note the effects of sin on our cognitive faculties. I’d refer you to Christian theologians’ discussions of the noetic effects of sin.“…The notion that God is all-loving and knowledge loving does not automatically entail that he would have made humans with a true conception of the world…”But the God who reveals Himself in the Bible does promise that He will be revealed in creation (Psalm 32, Romans 1), in the moral law (Romans 2), and in the thinking process (1 Corinthians 1-2). In fact, sense perception and logical reasoning are presupposed by verbal and written communication. You have to be able to see or hear the words and think about their meaning.“…the solutions to problems faced by humans required similar logical structures to crack them because of the similar constraints and demands of those problems…”But those solutions ensure survival only, not truth about the real world. Maybe everyone’s thought process is defective in the same way. After all, in your view, we evolved down similar lines.“…the sciences have remarkable interlocking parsimony with respect to one another, so this lends credence to the notion that we are at least on the right track in uncovering an approximate view of reality…”Yes, isn’t God’s design of the world to be know and us to know it wonderful.“…Because they aren’t “about us”. They’re about the universe at large…”Yes. God designed the universe to be consistent and knowable.“Nicholas Everitt”I’ll read his book as soon as I get a little money.“…”the standard of God’s character is God’s character”, since you’ve found no other way to conceive of morality. This is an exercise in labeling, not exposition.”Exactly. God is providing a definition, not a justification. Universal, abstract laws, be they moral, logical, or mathematical, require an unchanging being for a ground for this very reason.I have enjoyed our discussion so far.

  49. says

    Universal, abstract laws, be they moral, logical, or mathematical, require an unchanging being for a ground for this very reason.Are you kidding me? And you can’t understand why I accuse you of having nothing more than a long list of suppositions? Your entire litany consists of “This is the only way in which I can conceptualize it, so this is the way it has to be.” You wouldn’t recognize anything outside of your narrowly-blinkered world view if it walked up to you and introduced itself.That’s it; I’m unsubscribing from this thread. I can’t read this drivel any longer. I don’t understand how you guys have the patience for it. It’s like arguing with Rho, except that this one is polite. As someone said here the other day, it’s like arguing with a child who wants a lollipop before dinner. You can give him all the reasons in the world as to why he shouldn’t have it; in the end, it’s always the same – “WANT LOLLY!”

  50. says

    Cipher,Oh you poor dear…having to put up with a stupid fool like me. How can you ever stand it? You are much better at insulting me than you are at answering my arguments.

  51. says

    J.K. You’ve now made a statement that I think will have interesting ramifications, “God doesn’t change.”Ever? Never changes at all? Not even the littlest bit?

  52. says

    Amnistar,God is unchanging in His being, character (what theologians call His perfections), purposes, and promises. Yet God does act. He does feel emotions. And He acts and feels differently in response to different situations. (Most of this we learn from the Bible, but we do know from the universe around us that God exists independently from everything else, and that implies a few things as well.)God’s unchanging nature does have interesting implications. For example, God’s knowledge does not change. He never learns new things or forgets things. He knows all things past, present and future, actual and possible, and knows them all equally vividly. This is why the universe follows logical laws. Logic helps us see how everything fits together (how facts interrelate). We can know it all fits together because God knows everything. It must all be true, and it must all logically inter-relate because it can be known in God’s mind vividly. In a sense, it can be know all at the same ‘time,’ so it must all be logical. God’s knowledge does not change, so we know the interrelatedness of facts must also be consistent. (Note, the idea that God establishes logic is not a ‘proof’ as such. It’s more of an assumption. I can assume logic works because I assume God exists. Proofs of God’s existence come from another angle.)I await the thoughts you have on this one.

  53. says

    Amnistar,“…the morals that God gives us also do not change…”The moral principles do not change. The moral actions those principles require often change. For example, the principle can be that we submit to lawful governmental authority. (I am assuming that the government’s laws do not violate another moral principle.) But the government’s laws may change to make something illegal that used to be legal or vice versa. We have to do what the new law requires. The moral action changes, but the principle does not. God might also change His requirements due to a change in the situation. The principle would be to do what God says to do. The actions might be temporary, as was the case with the ceremonial laws given in the Old Testament. These laws were put in place in order to teach people something important: that a blood sacrifice was needed to pay the penalty for sin. When Christ paid that penalty in full through His perfect life and undeserved death, then the teaching provided by the ceremonial law was no longer necessary. God’s point has been made, so His requirements changed.God can respond to different situations in different ways. He can require something different, based on the situation at hand, in order to comply with basic moral principles. He can act differently toward someone based on a change in that person’s behavior or attitude. He doesn’t change, but the situation He is in changes. It’s an outcome of His decision to create a changing world inhabited by free moral agents.We also face changing situations where morality must be applied. The basic moral principles remain the same because they are based on God’s unchanging nature, but we only apply the particular principle to a situation that the situation calls for. “Thou shalt not kill” does not apply when I am tempted to steal from my neighbor. “Thou shalt not bear false witness” may not apply when we are hiding Jews from Nazis to keep them from being killed. It’s not ‘situational ethics,’ but it does depend on the situation at hand.

  54. says

    It’s not ‘situational ethics,’ but it does depend on the situation at hand. And you’ve just ended your arguement, thank you.you stated that it what God said is what was moral. Then you hold that God’s word is the bible. You also told me that God WOULD NOT change what he said.Thus, what he said in the bible should still be true. The issue of blood sacrifice aside, the rest of the laws of the bible either still apply, or do not still apply. You claim that the laws only applied then and don’t apply now, but that would be a change in ethics based upon the situation, which is situational ethics, which cannot exist if God cannot change his morals.It was a pleasure debating with you, have a great morning/day/evening.-Amnistar

  55. says

    “The better way to put it is without conflicting passions. If God is mad, He is all mad. If He is loving, He is all loving.”Why can’t he, say, be a little bit pissed off (as befits certain wrong doings. Why shouldn’t WE emulate God and be “all mad” when someone, say, giggles at a funeral, if God is the basis for “good”?) instead of going completely apeshit and drowning the entire planet (an event that didn’t actually occur, incidentally, but one can still take it to be metaphorical. Surely for nothing praise-worthy)? Why should this binary disposition be entailed by his not having conflicting passions? What criteria do you use to judge that, anyway? Under what circumstances would he be all mad or all loving? How can we tell? What does he feel right now (surely those people who claim to commune with God on a regular basis can provide some insights there)? And if he’s “all mad” right now, as he was during the Flood, say, why doesn’t he wipe us out and leave behind a few chosen followers?“…the notion that it can have no parts, yet at the same time pontificate about morality and exist…”No physical parts. He exists without physical parts.So which is it? He has no parts per say or he has no physical parts? If not the former, then can he continue to be described as non-complex? Surely not, since you would have it that the design specification for living creatures already existed before they appeared on Earth. Design specifications are complex, and they require a medium in which to be stored and retrieved. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of things that God is supposedly capable of.“That just proves that people are sinners, and that this sin effects their intellects and emotions. The fault is not with the Bible; it is with us.”Right, but of course you just happen to have the “right” take on the meaning of the Bible, as befits someone who is saved. The fault certainly is with us: for placing our trust in an archaic, out-dated book.“They still use the same logical rules and basic sense perceptions.”Yes, but but my point is that they use these common logical rules and basic sense perceptions to come to different conclusions about the world. So it’s not automatically the case that God should be concerned with making his subjects excellent truth-perceivers just because he made them.“Lack of ‘perfect’ design by our standards does not imply no design at all.”Nor does it imply design. And that, too, is a cop-out, because if “God did it” is consistent with any conceivable state of the world, then the God hypothesis fails to be useful. To be useful, it needs to specify in advance what would count as evidence for design and what wouldn’t. So far, no one has come up with such a criterion (including “intelligent design theorists”). Those who would claim that we came about through divine intervention rather than through natural processes have their work cut out for them. Not only does science have a totally satisfactory account for how apparent design can have arisen naturally, there is precisely zero evidence for the divine alternative. It might have been a tenable hypothesis before Darwin and Wallace, but no longer. It is today a completely antiquated conception, at least with respect to biology. “God did it” is the termination of inquiry. It leaves us with a bunch of disparate facts about the world, no organising framework with which to relate them to one another, and no criterion to judge what the utility function of something.How do you actually specify that something has been “designed”? Analogies to human-made artefacts can only take you so far; as Hume showed, if one goes down that road one also needs to contend with the many more dis-analogies than analogies.Finally, since God is all-or-nothing when it comes to anger and love, why not design? If he is “perfect”, why don’t his designs reflect this?“You have to be able to see or hear the words and think about their meaning.”That, in and of itself, still gives us no reasons to think that what those passages say are actually true. You might believe it, but we’re talking about whether it’s right to believe it. If you’re telling us atheists that we shouldn’t trust our senses, then how can we trust them when we happen to read something in the Bible? How can YOU? How do you know your senses aren’t fooling you when you read those things? If you can trust them there, then you can trust them in other domains as well.“But those solutions ensure survival only, not truth about the real world.”I was referring to the existence of convergently discovered logical structures. I acknowledged that they might not provide us with a true picture of the world, only a useful one. My aim there was only to address the issue of how there should be such structures that keep getting rediscovered.“Yes, isn’t God’s design of the world to be know and us to know it wonderful.Except that no one has demonstrated God’s design. If you simply assume that everything is “designed”, then you’ve “won” the argument by default. Saying that God made everything for whatever reason is intellectually impoverished. If you can’t tell us anything about his intentions in designing things this way rather than some other, then you can’t talk about him designing things “for” anything. If you can’t tell us about his intentions as a designer, then you can’t talk about design being more probable as an account for what we see than evolution, because you have no prior probability assessments to compare the two. It is simply a subjective opinion with no corroborating evidence (ironically, the reason that humans are so prone to seeing design in nature may have to do with the way evolution built us. The reason we find it difficult to accept evolution may be because of evolution. So you have evolution to thank for your creationism). The notion of design is a non-starter in more ways than one. It is seductive and intuitive, but as a scientific proposition to explain biological and cognitive complexity, it fails.Another point of relevance: if “design” is such a truism, then surely our investigations would have uncovered it by now. Instead, the scientific community is virtually unanimous in its . If God gives us such a true perception of the world, then surely the most powerful methodology we have for investigating nature – science – should back up those intuitions. It doesn’t. It flies right against them. If you believe that God gave us the tools for seeing the world the way it is, then creationism – being the more intuitive, “obvious” account – should have moved beyond “What, you really think we came from monkeys?”“Yes. God designed the universe to be consistent and knowable.”No more plausible than “we happened to evolve in the universe and come to know some of its laws and regularities.”“Exactly. God is providing a definition, not a justification.”And I have a different definition. Yet somehow, you wouldn’t think my basis for morality is “justified”. God very much IS about providing a justification, and everyone knows it.“Universal, abstract laws, be they moral, logical, or mathematical, require an unchanging being for a ground for this very reason.”How do they “require an unchanging being”? There’s a bold, unwarranted assertion if ever there was one. Why not just define them for what they are on their own terms, rather than deferring to a being? Again, you’re adding a layer of complexity on top of other things where none is needed. If you want a “ground” on which to tether everything else to, you can call it whatever you like, but why does it have to be a conscious, volitional being? How is it preferable to say “God is the basis of these laws” rather than “these laws just happen to be as they are”? They both need the same thing – namely, that something jus
    t happens to be as it is – but in your case, it’s God just happening to be the way he is. Why is he this way and not another? The problem doesn’t disappear with God, it’s simply moved up another level of abstraction, as someone else has said.“God is good. God does not change. Good does not change.Why is that a problem?”Because if God is this homogeneous entity that stays in perfect equilibrium all the time, then it’s not a volitional being. A volitional being requires a change in its disposition towards some action. It requires response to contingency. As you said, God can love and he can be angry. This requires a change in his mental state (or what passes for a mental state) in response to the shenanigans of human beings (since God is omniscient, he already knew, from the get-go, that his creation would sin against and betray him).“God is unchanging in His being, character (what theologians call His perfections), purposes, and promises. Yet God does act. He does feel emotions. And He acts and feels differently in response to different situations.”So his character doesn’t change, but that means he has a character, which means that he isn’t homogeneous, which means he has parts.

  56. says

    Lui,We have no reason to think that God’s being is anything like what we are used to. We cannot necessarily reason from the beings / people we see to the things that must necessarily be true of God. Your entire argument against God’s simplicity is based on this notion.“…the existence of convergently discovered logical structures…the issue of how there should be such structures that keep getting rediscovered.”That is the very question I have been asking in several comments above. How is it that we find a universe in which things behave according to necessity / causation? Why should we find anything but random behavior that cannot be described in rational or scientific terms? God is my explanation. What’s yours? To this point, you have merely stated the way things are, not provided an explanation.“Saying that God made everything for whatever reason is intellectually impoverished. If you can’t tell us anything about his intentions in designing things this way rather than some other, then you can’t talk about him designing things “for” anything. If you can’t tell us about his intentions as a designer, then you can’t talk about design being more probable as an account for what we see than evolution, because you have no prior probability assessments to compare the two.”It is inherently obvious that one purpose of the design we see in nature is to advance life itself. Even evolution, if we assume it to be true, moves toward the purpose of maintaining and improving life. Some intentions are intuitively obvious, if you want to look for them. Some branches of science, paleontology for example, do this all of the time. These branches of science also assume analogy between our design methods and the design methods of our prehistoric ancestors. “… “we happened to evolve in the universe and come to know some of its laws and regularities.”… “these laws just happen to be as they are”…”Except you don’t have an explanation for those laws or regularities. Why are thigns like what they are?“Because if God is this homogeneous entity that stays in perfect equilibrium all the time, then it’s not a volitional being.”God’s being and character do not change. How does it follow that He is not volitional? He can change in that He can act, but He will act consistently with His own character at all times.“So his character doesn’t change, but that means he has a character, which means that he isn’t homogeneous, which means he has parts.”Parts, well maybe in a certain sense, but it does not follow that those would be physical parts. Why should non-physical / spiritual things be designed?Please keep one more thing in mind. We have to have an undersigned designer, or we have no explanation for the design we find. We cannot have an unending regress of design. It all must come from somewhere, or we would have none of it at all. We must have something unexplained, in a certain sense, before we can explain anything. Else, we could not possibly have an explanation for anything at all. We would never hope to find an explanation for the phenomenon we see.

  57. says

    “Lui,We have no reason to think that God’s being is anything like what we are used to.”Yet he is supposed to possess all the (supposedly) characteristic human emotions and dispositions (you named two of them: love and anger) and to “design” things in a way that creationists are fond of saying is akin to how a human engineer might design them. Saying that such and such “looks designed” and then retreating to “oh, but he might not be anything like us” isn’t defensible.“How is it that we find a universe in which things behave according to necessity / causation?”By definition, we couldn’t have found ourselves in any other kind of universe, because they would lack the regularity to have produced us. We would therefore not have been here to talk about it in the first place. Our very existence is predicated upon a universe with a degree of order.“Why should we find anything but random behavior that cannot be described in rational or scientific terms?”As above. Of course, none of this tells us “why” the universe is as it is; only that our very perception of the universe necessitates that the universe have regularity. I think the erroneous presumption you’re making is that there is some a priori expectation for a non-God administered universe to be chaotic. But whether the universe is God-administered is one of the things we’re discussing; you don’t just presume it from the outset “because” the universe is ordered. Without empirical evidence to that effect, such determinations are quite meaningless. We have no other universe to compare this one to, so a prior probability assessment is not yet possible.“God is my explanation. What’s yours? To this point, you have merely stated the way things are, not provided an explanation.”Your explanation for what? Something you have no prior probability assessment for, and therefore no justification in saying that this-and-this state of the world is more probable than some of other state of the world given an intelligent designer. I’m saying you don’t need God to be brought into the picture.“It is inherently obvious that one purpose of the design we see in nature is to advance life itself.”The only thing that’s “inherently obvious” from a scientifically defensible position is that the “point” of life, if there be one, is to propagate genetic information. What “purpose” do you see in the design of the Ebola virus? What about parasitic worms?“Even evolution, if we assume it to be true, moves toward the purpose of maintaining and improving life. “First of all, we wouldn’t want to “assume” it to be true because no one has to make a leap of faith when it comes to evolution. Just look at the masses of convergently corroborating evidence for it. It’s the most scrutinised theory in the history of science. Secondly, that was a very imprecise, loaded way of putting it. Evolution isn’t “for” anything. It’s a process that happens automatically when certain parameters in an environment are in place. It doesn’t aim for anything, it has no foresight, it has no inexorable drive to discover itself through a rational intelligence.“Some intentions are intuitively obvious, if you want to look for them. Some branches of science, paleontology for example, do this all of the time.”It’s a massive leap to say that “Homo erectus designed this implement to kill animals” and “the eye was designed by God”. Firstly, we know that H. erectus was, at the least, a collateral ancestor of ours, and that it had a relatively large brain (we also know that H. erectus happened to exist). We know that these implements were designed because they were shaped in the same way we would have designed stabbing instruments with simple materials. But to make the leap and say that the eye is designed by a divine intelligence is unwarranted, for a whole raft of reasons. With spears, we’re talking about objects manufactured by beings whose existence is not in question. In the case of God a being whose existence we’re trying to determine in the first place – no such neat correspondence exists. Since we can’t see God directing anything, we would be as justified in saying that “Biological complexity arose not through God, but through some organising principle which we have not yet modelled.”Spears don’t have heredity. Their specifications need to be stored in human brains. Eyes are underwritten by genetic programs that interact with their environment in complex ways. These programs are passed on and there is the possibility for them to be modified and shaped according to the demands of the environments they find themselves in. So spears and eyes are utterly different things. Even if we knew nothing about genes, we should still be cautious to ascribe biological complexity to design. Why is there so much inefficiency and waste? Why so many parasites? What would count as evidence against design? Like I said before, if any state of the world is consistent with the God hypothesis – if there is nothing that would count as evidence against God – then the latter ceases to mean anything.“These branches of science also assume analogy between our design methods and the design methods of our prehistoric ancestors.”Yes, of our ancestors. What has that to do with God? You said earlier: “We have no reason to think that God’s being is anything like what we are used to.”“Except you don’t have an explanation for those laws or regularities. Why are thigns like what they are?”That very question comes laden with the presupposition that they shouldn’t be the way they are if not for a God directing to that effect. You haven’t shown that. You’ve merely shown that you can’t conceive of them being the way they are through a naturalistic account.“Parts, well maybe in a certain sense, but it does not follow that those would be physical parts. Why should non-physical / spiritual things be designed?”I didn’t say they should be designed. I’m only saying two things: that intelligence arrives late in the universe, not earlier. It arrives through a cumulative process of incremental change, and all current indicators are that this view is correct. Secondly, there are no such things as disembodied minds. Minds require a medium to generate them (another disconnect between the notion of God – a cosmic mind – and his creations, which require a physical medium to travel about in. Why would we need to be entrapped in physical bodies? What’s the point of creating life so it can perpetuate more life, if nearly all this life is manifested through biochemical – that is, physical – processes?). Besides which, what IS a “spiritual thing”? Does it behave according to any constraints? Does it have the analogue of, say, sub-atomic particles? Is it more like energy? Or is it, as I suspect, just a glorified word for “intentionality”?“Please keep one more thing in mind. We have to have an undersigned designer, or we have no explanation for the design we find.”You PRESUME it’s design. If you presume that, then you can’t help winning the argument by default, because you’ve already loaded the terms of discourse with your own presuppositions. The problem is that you haven’t demonstrated that the complexity we see IS designed. It might appear to be designed in some respects (and be utterly unlike something a competent engineer would design in other respects, but that can be conveniently taken care of by invoking “God works in mysterious ways”, which is the very antithesis of an “explanation”) but, since we don’t see God actually doing these things (all we see are the supposed artefacts of his genius), and since nothing could count as evidence against God (because anything could always be retrospectively interpreted to make it fit with “God did it”) we would be as justified in saying “some process we haven’t seen could have produced this order”. Of course, we have now discovered this process – na
    tural selection – but even if we hadn’t, the God hypothesis would be suspect.“We cannot have an unending regress of design. It all must come from somewhere, or we would have none of it at all.”I find it curious that theists think that can decide when this dreaded infinite regress should be terminated. Apparently, the idea “things are as they are” won’t suffice, so a mind has to be brought in. We may never know “why” things are as they are (to the extent that that’s even a valid question; it may well not be) but that just means we don’t know. It doesn’t mean that religion is any more qualified to answer it. The religious “explanation” itself raises more questions: “why” is God the way he is instead of some other way? “Why” should there be a God? Could there not have been a God, and if not, why? Yet the theist feels justified in arbitrarily determining that the infinite regress they warned against earlier is now no more. These existential questions are not alleviated by invoking a divine mind; they are exacerbated.“We must have something unexplained, in a certain sense, before we can explain anything.”So why then do you demand that I “explain” why the order of the universe is what it is before I can proceed? Why can’t I take that to be what’s unexplained? All you’ve done is to push the mystery back another notch, and to call it “God” (which is, if anything, even MORE mysterious).“We would never hope to find an explanation for the phenomenon we see.”Only if you choose to ignore the mountains of evidence from evolutionary biology and other relevant fields, which isn’t what I’ve done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>