Theism


Theists argue that God is the best explanation for objective moral truths.  Atheists typically appeal to the Euthyphro Dilemma (ED) to show that God cannot be the foundation for morality.  The ED asks whether something is good only because God wills it as such, or if God wills something because it is good.  If something is good only because God considers it good, then goodness seems arbitrary and relative to God’s desires.  If He had so chosen, murder could have been right and truth-telling could have been wrong. On the other hand, if God wills the good because it is inherently good, then goodness would be a standard that exists outside of God.  He is subject to the moral law just as we are.

So either goodness is arbitrary or it is independent of God.  Either God arbitrarily declares what is good or He recognizes what is good based on some standard outside of Himself.  If the good is an arbitrary expression of God’s will, then the good is subjective rather than objective.  While God may serve as the foundation for His subjective morality, He cannot serve as the foundation for objective moral truths.  On the other hand, if God wills something because He recognizes it is objectively good, then something other than God is the standard of objective moral truths.  He may inform us of those moral truths, but they do not depend on God for their existence.

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At least that’s the idea behind some new research on the effects of belief in God on the brain. Apparently, people suppress the areas of the brain used for analytical thinking and engage those parts of the brain used for empathy in order to believe in God.  The clear message of these research “findings” is that you have to stop thinking in order to believe in God.  Belief in God is about how you feel, not about what you think.

I have not read the actual research, and probably couldn’t make much sense of it even if I had.  But I don’t need to review the research in order to know that this research is irrelevant to the question of whether God exists.  First, it commits a logical fallacy known as the genetic fallacy.  This fallacy is committed any time one attempts to invalidate the truth of some X because of the origin of X.  Since belief in God has its origin in our feelings rather than our thinking (the origin of X), God (X) does not exist.  He’s just a product of our personal feelings.

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SoulUntil relatively recently, most people believed that human beings are constituted of both body and soul.  With the rise of materialism, Darwinism, and neuroscience, however, this notion is under scrutiny and dismissed by most secular thinkers as ridiculous.  The notion that humans have souls is tantamount to a “ghost in the machine,” as British philosopher Gilbert Ryle put it.

The existence of the soul is important to Christianity for a variety of reasons.  First, the Scriptures teach that humans have souls.  If we don’t, then Scripture is wrong.  Second, if humans lack souls, then there is no life beyond the grave (at least prior to the resurrection).  But apart from the Bible or human tradition, why should we think the soul exists?  That is the subject of J.P. Moreland’s newest book, The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters.

This is not the first book Moreland has written on the subject, but it is the first book that is easily accessible to a lay audience. In less than 200 pages, Moreland lays out the case for the existence of the soul, the nature of the soul/consciousness, and the afterlife. He manages to examine the Biblical teaching on the topic as well.

While the modern tendency is to reduce the mind to the brain (appealing to neuroscience for empirical evidence), Moreland argues that this is manifestly false because mental properties are not identical to brain properties.  If mental properties cannot be reduced to physical properties, then the mind is not a physical thing, but an immaterial substance.

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A new Harris Poll confirms that Christian beliefs are on the decline in this country.  There is a greater need for apologetic engagement with culture than ever before.
HT: CNS News

A or BIf you’re looking for an explanation of the universe, which is a collection of contingent beings, there are only two possibilities: 1) The explanation is found in a necessary being that transcends the universe; 2) There is no explanation.

Regarding 1), every physical entity is a contingent being. The “universe” simply refers to the whole collection of physical, contingent beings.  One cannot explain why the universe exists by appealing to another physical, contingent being because there can be no physical, contingent beings outside of the collection of all physical, contingent beings.  “But,” one might say, “perhaps it could be explained by a prior non-physical, contingent being.  Perhaps, but even if so, as a contingent being, that non-physical, contingent entity would also require an explanation for its existence.  To avoid an infinite regress, one must ultimately arrive at a necessary being that transcends the universe, and explains why the universe exists.

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Not scienceMany believe science has disproven God.  This is not possible, even in principle.[1]  The truth of the matter is that advances in science are providing more reasons to believe in God, not less.  While scientific discoveries cannot prove God’s existence, they can be used to support premises in arguments that have theistic conclusions/implications. For example, science has discovered that the universe began to exist.  Anything that begins to exist requires an external cause.  Since the universe encompasses all physical reality, the cause of the universe must transcend physical reality.  It cannot be a prior physical event or some natural law, because there was nothing physical prior to the first physical event, and natural laws only come into being once the natural world comes into being.  Whatever caused the universe to come into being must be transcendent, powerful, immaterial, spaceless, eternal, and personal, which is an apt description of God.

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religion_check_boxOver at Uncommon Descent, vjtorley reports on a recent survey of 996 adults conducted between October 17-18, 2013 regarding American religious beliefs.  Some of the more notable findings include:

  • 3 out of 4 adults believe in God: 76% believe in God, 14% don’t believe in God, and 10% are not sure.
  • Young adults aged 18-29 are the least likely to believe in God.  Only 63% believe in God.  A full 25% don’t believe in God, and 12% are not sure, for a total of 37% God doubters/deniers.  That’s 2 out of 5!  Compare this to other age groups:
    • 30-44 = 14% atheist
    • 45-64 = 9% atheist
    • 65+ = 6% atheist

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thinking manPhilosohpers David Bourget and David Chalmers recently surveyed 931 philosophy faculty members to determine their views on 30 different issues.  Here were some of the more interesting results:

God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.
Mind: physicalism 56.5%; non-physicalism 27.1%; other 16.4%.
Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%.
Meta-ethics: moral realism 56.4%; moral anti-realism 27.7%; other 15.9%.
Normative ethics: deontology 25.9%; consequentialism 23.6%; virtue ethics 18.2%; other 32.3%.
Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%
Time: B-theory 26.3%; A-theory 15.5%; other 58.2%.
Truth: correspondence 50.8%; deflationary 24.8%; epistemic 6.9%; other 17.5%.

Notice that although 72.8% of respondents are atheists, 56.4% are moral realists. This goes to show the strength of our moral intuitions. While atheists do not have a sufficient ontological grounding for objective moral values, they still believe in them nonetheless.

I was surprised that only 13.7% believe in libertarian free will. I would expect it to be much higher.  Perhaps this correlates with the high rates of physicalism.

HT: Scot McKnight

ContingencyWhile in discussion with A. C. Grayling on the March 25 edition of the Unbelievable radio program, Peter S. Williams provided a nice, concise presentation of the cosmological argument from contingency:

Once you’ve made the distinction between things that have causes and…things that don’t have causes, if something exists it either is the kind of thing that requires something outside of itself to exist, or it’s not.  If it’s not possible for there to be an infinite regress of things that do require causes outside of themselves, and it is true that something exists which does require a cause outside itself [the universe, and everything in it]…,there can’t be an infinite regress of such causes, and therefore you have to have a termination of that regress.  [God is the best explanation for the termination of that regress.]

For those of you for whom this to be a bit too concise, let me flesh it out a bit.

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ImperviousThe kalam cosmological argument (KCA) for God’s existence can be stated as follows:

(1) Anything that begins to exist requires a cause
(2) The universe began to exist
(3) Thus, the universe requires a cause

Additional logical inferences allow us to identify this cause as God.  Whatever caused space, time, and matter to begin to exist cannot itself be spatial, temporal, or material.  Furthermore, whatever caused our orderly, life-permitting universe to come into being a finite time ago must be immensely powerful, intelligent, conscious, and hence personal.  These are apt descriptions of a being theists have long identified as God.

Both premises have been challenged on scientific grounds.  Premise one is typically challenged on the basis of quantum mechanics, while premise two is challenged by new cosmological models that seek to restore an eternal universe.  I am going to argue that neither premise of the argument can be undermined by scientific evidence, and thus the argument itself is impervious to scientific refutation.  Only philosophical arguments are capable of undermining either premise of the argument.

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There’s a difference between how we know something to be true (epistemology), and what makes that something true (ontology).  Keeping this distinction in mind would illuminate many debates.  For example, atheists often claim that one doesn’t need God to know morality and act morally.  That’s true, but it misses the point.  Just because one can know moral truths and behave morally without believing in God does not mean God is not necessary to explain morality.  As Greg Koukl likes to say, that’s like saying because one is able to read books without believing in authors, authors are not necessary to explain the origin of books (author-of-the-gaps).  In the same way books need authors, moral laws need a moral-law giver.

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While I have already written an assessment of Stephen Law’s evil god challenge, after listening to Law engage in an informal debate on the topic with Glenn Peoples on Unbelievable, I have a few more observations to make.

Law seems to take as his starting point the idea that people reject the existence of an evil God based on the empirical evidence: there is simply too much good in the world for an evil god to exist.  Then he reasons that if the presence of good in the world makes the existence of an evil God absurd, people should also recognize that the presence of evil in the world makes the existence of a good God equally absurd.  The success of his argument depends on three assumptions:

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The kalam cosmological argument (KCA) for God’s existence goes as follows: 

(1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause
(2) The universe began to exist
(3) Therefore, the universe has a cause

When we consider what kind of cause would be necessary to bring the universe into being, we arrive at an immaterial, eternal, spaceless, personal, intelligent, and powerful being – an apt description of what theists identify as God.  Atheists commonly object and theists often wonder, “Well, then who made God?”  Theists rightly point out that the argument does not claim everything has a cause, but only those things that begin to exist.  As an eternal being, God never began to exist, and thus does not need a cause.  Indeed, the question itself is nonsensical given the kind of being God is. 

We apologists must be careful, however, not to think that the 1st premise of the KCA proves God does not have a cause.  The premise only pertains to things which begin to exist.  We cannot infer anything about the causal requirements or lack thereof for eternal beings from this premise.  While the 1st premise of the KCA does not require that God have a cause, to think it proves God does not have a cause is to commit the fallacy of denying the antecedent:

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Many atheists assert that an eternal universe is explanatorily equivalent to an eternal God.  For example, Sagan once asked, “If we say that God has always been, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always been?”[1]  And just recently, two prominent atheists made the same claim.  In his new book, A Universe from Nothing, Lawrence Krauss writes, “[T]he declaration of a First Cause still leaves open the question, ‘Who created the Creator?’ After all, what is the difference between arguing in favor of an eternally existing creator versus an eternally existing universe without one?”[2]  Victor Stenger agrees with Krauss:

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In response to various cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of a creator God some atheists appeal to the principle of parsimony—often dubbed “Ockham’s Razor”—to argue that invoking God to explain our cosmic origins is both unnecessary and unhelpful.  Introducing a divine being to explain the origin of the universe is said to be less parsimonious than simply acknowledging that the universe popped into existence uncaused from absolutely nothing.

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During his debate with Arif Ahmed and Andrew Copson at the Cambridge Union Society, Peter S. Williams gave a lucid illustration for the argument for the existence of God based on the contingency of material reality.[1]

Imagine if I asked you to loan me a book.  You say you don’t have it, but you’ll ask your friend to loan you his, and in turn you’ll loan it to me.  When you ask your friend for the book, he says he does not have it, but he’ll ask his friend to borrow his copy, and in turn he’ll loan it to you, who will loan it to me.  If this process continues ad infinitum, I will never receive the book.  If I do receive the book it is because the process of requesting to borrow the book is not infinite, but temporally finite.  Somewhere down the chain of requests to borrow the book, someone actually had the book without having to borrow it from someone else.  

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Several months ago the Discovery Channel aired a television series featuring Stephen Hawking called Curiosity.  Whereas in his book The Grand Design Hawking claimed that God is not necessary to explain the origin of the universe given the existence of physical laws such as gravity, in Curiosity he argued that God could not have created the universe because there was no time in which God could have done so:

[D]o we need a God to set it all up so a Big Bang can bang? … Our everyday experience makes us convinced that everything that happens must be caused by something that occurred earlier in time.  So it’s natural for us to assume that something—perhaps God—must have caused the universe to come into existence.  But when we’re talking about the universe as a whole, that isn’t necessarily so.
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There’s been a lot of buzz in both theistic and atheistic camps regarding Stephen Law’s evil-god argument, and many think it poses a serious challenge to the theism. Edward Feser sums up the essence of the argument nicely when he writes:

Law claims that the evidence for the existence of a good God is no better than the evidence for the existence of an evil god, and that any theodicy a theist might put forward as a way of reconciling the fact of evil with the existence of a good God has a parallel in a reverse-theodicy a believer in an evil god could put forward to reconcile the presence of good in the world with the existence of an evil god.  Now, no one actually believes in an evil god.  Therefore, Law concludes, since (he claims) the evidence for a good God is no better than that for an evil God, no one should believe in a good God either.  That’s the “evil god challenge.”[1]

Perhaps I am missing something, but I don’t think the evil-God “argument” is actually an argument against God’s existence at all, yet alone a good argument. Consider the following three points:

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I often hear both non-theists and theists alike say it is impossible to disprove God’s existence because it is impossible to disprove a universal negative.  This conception, though popular, is mistaken.

While a universal negative cannot be proven empirically, it can be proven logically.  If something is logically contradictory, or incoherent, we can be sure it does not exist.  For example, I can prove there are no square circles.  I cannot, and need not do so empirically, but I can do so logically.  To prove that God does not exist, then, does not require omniscience so long as one can demonstrate that there is something in the very concept of God that is rationally incoherent.  Of course, that is difficult for atheists to do because there doesn’t seem to be anything about the idea of a divine, transcendent being that is internally incoherent or self-contradictory.  Nevertheless, if they could find one, they could disprove God’s existence.

Some of you may have seen a news article circulating every major news outlet.  With provocative titles such as “God did not create the universe, says Hawking,” and “Why God Did Not Create the Universe,” one would expect to find some new scientific discovery/argument proving that the universe is capable of creating itself – no God needed.  After reading the articles, however, that expectation will quickly turn into disappointment.

Stephen Hawking is probably the most famous physicist alive.  While he is clearly a brilliant man, his case for the sufficiency of natural processes to account for the origin of the universe is truly embarrassing.  Consider the following claim: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.  Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.  It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”

Where to begin!  First, while Hawking is attempting to explain how something could come from nothing, he only explains how something (the universe) comes from something else (physical laws, namely gravity).  True nothingness is the absence of any and all existents, including physical laws.  So from whence come the physical laws?

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