Wednesday, November 10, 2010

1 Chron 12:32 report, 65: Is believing in God an intellectually credible view in today's day?

In recent weeks, I have had to seriously address the now common perception that to believe in God and in morality rooted in God's character [especially as outlined in the Holy Bible], is delusional, dangerous and anti-scientific.

At the root of these New Atheism-tinged notions, is the concept that there is no credible warrant for believing in God, and the related now increasingly promoted view that the God of the Bible is an outdated, Bronze Age tribal deity who is racist, imperialistic, genocidal and repellent. (Vox Day, by the way, neatly demolishes New Atheist pretensions here. [Yes, his The Irrational Atheist is available in multiple formats, for a free download.]) 

The root of that view is the idea that the concept of God is intellectually bankrupt, and in a blog exchange, one of the atheist advocates, actually pointed to the "rich" philosophical literature that  critiques arguments pointing to God. (Cf a survey here at New World Encyclopedia.)

Now, some years ago, I presented a College-level introduction to philosophy course, and in so doing, I presented a survey of the theistic arguments and main atheistic counter arguments. (Including on the no. 1 argument that directly argues for atheism, the problem of evil.)

In that course I made a main point that the theistic arguments cannot prove that God exists to the satisfaction of all by logical deduction from premises -- assumptions, givens or "facts" -- acceptable to all "reasonable" people.  (Rom 1:19 - 23, and vv 28 - 32 have some choice words on just how unreasonable "reasonable" people can sometimes be.)

Not least, because it is always possible in argument that if you are more hostile to the conclusion of a valid argument than you are friendly to its assumptions, you can always reverse the argument by rejecting the conclusion as a reason to deny the premises.P => Q, but NOT-Q, so NOT-P is a perfectly valid argument.

But, there is a sting in the tail.

Sometimes, to reject a cumulative cluster of arguments forming a common case, one is forced to paint him- or her- self into a pretty nasty worldview corner, by the premises s/he chooses to reject. 

That is, when it comes to worldviews, we are dealing with a cumulative case that works rather like a rope: short, thin, weak individual fibres are twisted together to form longer, stronger yarns. Yarns are counter-twisted to form much stronger strands. Then, strands are re-twisted to form a thick, long, strong rope in which the twists and counter-twists work together sot hat the strengths of he individual fibres grip on one another and the whole is much stronger, unified and stable than the parts:

So, then, we may find it wise to take as fresh look at theistic evidence and arguments:
a: Worldviews are not subject of deductive proof, as they address matters of fact, so they will be warranted on a cumulative case basis.
b: Such an argument works analogously to a rope: thin, short individual fibres are twisted together to make a strand, and several strands are braided or counter-twisted together to form a much longer, stronger rope that depends on the mutual support of the components for its overall strength.
c: In short it is a relevant instance of the fallacy of composition to assume or infer that by attacking individual components, one can dispose of a worldview case
d: Instead, one has to embark on the comparative difficulties process across live options, including addressing factual adequacy, coherence, and explanatory power; where,
e: something like the resurrection of Jesus in the context of prophecies, if well warranted as fact [and we have argued in the linked that it is] becomes one of the credible facts that has to be accounted for.
f: In that context, we may further effectively argue that the observed cosmos is credibly contingent [cf Big Bang], as well as its constituents, which warrants the conclusion that it requires a cause.
g: At the root of that chain of cause is a necessary being, with sufficient power and skill to build a cosmos that sits at a fine-tuned operating point that facilitates C-chemistry, cell based life, even through multiverse suggestions [the sub-cosmos bread factory issue . . . what sort of super-cosmic bread factory is needed to bake up a rich variety of sub-cosmi instead of the equivalent of a doughy half baked mess of ill-blended ingredients, or a blackened hockey puck of burned ingredients]
h: Similarly, such a necessary being is either possible or impossible, but plainly it is not impossible: there is no self-contradiction, and indeed the above warrants that it is necessary as the ground of the contingent world we can see. So arguably the force of necessity acts: there is such a necessary being with the relevant attributes to account for a cosmos and for life including ourselves as minded, conscious, en-conscienced creatures.
i: That necessary being is implicated by the evident design of life and cosmos, and has the attributes necessary to account for such design: extra-cosmic, intelligent, very powerful, purposeful, acting as creator. These are of course features of the being we describe as God.
j: Going further, as morally bound creatures — something atheists inadvertently acknowledge when they assume the repugnance of evil in mistakenly trying to argue from evil to atheism — a moral universe implies that the ground of its being is an IS that has in it inherent goodness sufficient to ground OUGHT. That is God is moral and specifically good.
k: To cap off, starting with the 500+ eyewitnesses of C1, and continuing down to today, millions have personally come to meet and know the Living God in the face of the risen Christ. (And if you, dear reader, are offended by Christian particularism, I suggest you look here as a start.)
Some of course claim that there is a rich literature in critique of such a cumulative case. But of course, one can always reject unpalatable proposed conclusions or inferred conclusions, then use that to dismiss the premises.

What such need to show to us, however, is that that rich literature succeeds, not in showing what was never at issue — that it is possible to reject such arguments by challenging premises and dismissing facts — but that on comparative difficulties across the case as a whole, their atheism is a superior conclusion, including in the implications of alternative premises to the rejected ones.

In particular, do not forget that if the human mind is so delusional that the millions across time who claim to have met and been transformed by God are deluded, then on what alternative grounds can you trust your mind not to be deluded when it arrives at atheistical, evolutionary materialistic conclusions?

Similarly, when one objects to evil as a basis for rejecting God, one needs to provide a credible account for the reality of evil. That is harder for evolutionary materialists -- the dominant form of atheists today -- to sustain than one would think on first sight. 

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason explains why:
Evil is real . . .  That's why people object to it.  Therefore, objective moral standards must exist as well [i.e. as that which evil offends and violates]  . . . .  The first thing we observe about [such] moral rules is that, though they exist, they are not physical because they don't seem to have physical properties. We won't bump into them in the dark.  They don't extend into space.  They have no weight.  They have no chemical characteristics.  Instead, they are immaterial things we discover through the process of thought, introspection, and reflection without the aid of our five senses  . . . .
We have, with a high degree of certainty, stumbled upon something real.  Yet it's something that can't be proven empirically or described in terms of natural laws.  This teaches us there's more to the world than just the physical universe.  If non-physical things--like moral rules--truly exist, then materialism as a world view is false.
There seem to be many other things that populate the world, things like propositions, numbers, and the laws of logic.  Values like happiness, friendship, and faithfulness are there, too, along with meanings and language.  There may even be persons--souls, angels, and other divine beings.

Our discovery also tells us some things really exist that science has no access to, even in principle.  Some things are not governed by natural laws.  Science, therefore, is not the only discipline giving us true information about the world.  It follows, then, that naturalism as a world view is also false.
 Our discovery of moral rules forces us to expand our understanding of the nature of reality and open our minds to the possibility of a host of new things that populate the world in the invisible realm.

That is, the acknowledged reality of evil has serious potential implications. Also, one who proposes an evolutionary materialistic view of the world, then faces the problem that s/he has no grounding IS in his worldview that is capable of serving as a foundation for OUGHT. Will Hawthorne hits this one for six:
Assume (per impossibile) that atheistic naturalism [= evolutionary materialism] is true. Assume, furthermore, that one can't infer an 'ought' from an 'is' [the 'is' being in this context physicalist: matter-energy, space- time, chance and mechanical forces].  (Richard Dawkins and many other atheists should grant both of these assumptions.) Given our second assumption, there is no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer an 'ought'. And given our first assumption, there is nothing that exists over and above the natural world; the natural world is all that there is. It follows logically that, for any action you care to pick, there's no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer that one ought to refrain from performing that action. Add a further uncontroversial assumption: an action is permissible if and only if it's not the case that one ought to refrain from performing that action. (This is just the standard inferential scheme for formal deontic logic.) We've conformed to standard principles and inference rules of logic and we've started out with assumptions that atheists have conceded in print. And yet we reach the absurd conclusion: therefore, for any action you care to pick, it's permissible to perform that action. If you'd like, you can take this as the meat behind the slogan 'if atheism is true, all things are permitted'. For example if atheism is true, every action Hitler performed was permissible. Many atheists don't like this consequence of their worldview. But they cannot escape it and insist that they are being logical at the same time.
Now, we all know that at least some actions are really not permissible (for example, racist actions). Since the conclusion of the argument denies this, there must be a problem somewhere in the argument. Could the argument be invalid? No. The argument has not violated a single rule of logic and all inferences were made explicit. Thus we are forced to deny the truth of one of the assumptions we started out with. That means we either deny atheistic naturalism or (the more intuitively appealing) principle that one can't infer 'ought' from 'is' [save where one's grounding IS is inherently moral, i.e. God]. [Emphases added.]
Then, on the classic problem of evil itself, the case is by no means so straightforward as many atheists or agnostics still believe. 

Plantinga shows us why, through his now famous Free Will Defense. 

This approach exploits the fact that "contradiction" is so stringent a claim that you do not need to put up something that is known to be true to overturn it, just logically possible. 

This -- HT Ilion -- needs a bit of step-by-step explanation:
i --> A "contradiction" happens in logic when two or more of a set of statements cannot be true at the same time, as they -- directly or by implication -- mean that in the same sense of A some claim A and its denial, NOT-A, are both true; which is obvious -- self-evident -- nonsense. 
(This is the famous Law of Non-Contradiction put forward by Aristotle in Metaphysics 1005b (about properties and existence) "It is impossible for the same attribute at once to belong and not to belong [20] to the same thing and in the same relation . . . it is impossible for anyone to suppose that the same thing is and is not," and again in 1011b (about statements) "the most certain of all beliefs is that opposite statements are not both true at the same time." The famous Persian, Muslim scholar, philosopher and physician Avicenna commented on it: "Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned." [Metaphysics, I; commenting on Aristotle, Topics I.11.105a4–5.])
 ii --> NB: It is also actually possible to make a single statement that is so bad that it has a contradiction within itself! [E.g. "there are no absolute truths" -- exposed by asking: "are you absolutely sure of that?" Such statements are self-referential and self-contradictory, i.e. self-refuting; shown by reducing them to absurdity by exposing he hidden contradiction.])  

iii --> But, if you can propose a possible state of the world or cosmos that harmonises supposed contradictory elements, they are not in fact in logical contradiction. (Cf a case in point here, on the First Easter's timeline.)

iv --> For example, there is no way that you can harmonise squares and circles  make a square circle; a genuine contradiction. 

v --> However, a lot of things that we may imagine are contradictions, are in fact quite compatible. 

vi --> For instance, Q: Can you stand at just one point on the Earth's surface and be due north of London, England, Bridgetown, Barbados and Tokyo, Japan? 
A: At first that seems to be a contradiction, but if you go to the North pole of our nearly-spherical planet, that is indeed possible. And you don't have to actually go there to prove that the supposed contradiction is more of a confusion on our part! [We often forget that the earth is not a flat, map-like surface. The following picture is HT the your dictionary page for "north pole."]

vii --> That is, a confusion on my part does not at all imply a contradiction on your part.

With that in mind, we can now follow Plantinga's argument, in a skeletal form. 

For, it is claimed that the following set of theistic beliefs embed an unresolvable contradiction:
1.      God exists
2.      God is omnipotent – all powerful
3.      God is omniscient – all-knowing
4.      God is omni-benevolent – all-good
5.      God created the world
6.      The world contains evil
To do so, there is an implicit claim that, (2a) if he exists, God is omnipotent and so capable of -- but obviously does not eliminate -- evil. So, at least one of 2 – 5 should be surrendered. But all of these claims are central to the notion of God, so it is held that the problem is actually 1. 

Therefore, NOT-1: God does not exist.

However, it has been pointed out by Plantinga and others that:
  1. 2a is not consistent with what theists believe: if the elimination of some evil would lead to a worse evil, or prevent the emergence of a greater good, then God might have a good reason to permit some evil in the cosmos.

  2. Specifically, what if “many evils result from human free will or from the fact that our universe operates under natural laws or from the fact that humans exist in a setting that fosters soul-making . . . [and that such a world] contains more good than a world that does not” ?

  3. In this case, Theists propose that 2a should be revised: 2b: “A good, omnipotent God will eliminate evil as far as he can without either losing a greater good or bringing about a greater evil.”  But, once this is done, the alleged contradiction collapses.

  4. Further, Alvin Plantinga – through his free will defense -- was able to show that the theistic set is actually consistent. He did this by augmenting the set with a further proposition that is logically possible (as opposed to probable or plausible) and which makes the consistency clear. That proposition, skeletally, is 5a: “God created a world (potentially) containing evil; and has a good reason for doing so.” Propositions 1, 2b, 3, 4, and 5a are plainly consistent, and entail 6.

  5. The essence of that defense is: “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures . . . God can create free creatures, but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For . . . then they aren’t significantly free after all . . . He could only have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.” (This assumes that moral good reflects the power of choice: if we are merely robots carrying out programs, then we cannot actually love, be truthful, etc.) [Clark, Kelley James. Return to Reason. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 69 – 70, citing Plantinga, God, Freedom and Evil, (Eerdmans, 1974), p. 30.]

  6. Nor is the possible world known as heaven a good counter-example. For, heaven would exist as a world in which the results of choices made to live by the truth in love across a lifetime have culminated in their eternal reward. This we may see from an argument made by the apostle Paul:
    Rom 2:6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.
  7. Anticipating the onward response that in at least some possible worlds, there are free creatures, all of whom freely do what is right, Plantinga asserts a further possibility: trans-world depravity. That is, in all worlds God could create in which a certain person, say Gordon, exists; then that person would have freely gone wrong at least once. And, what if it is further possible that this holds for every class of created, morally capable being? (Then, there would be no possible worlds in which moral good is possible but in which moral  evil would not in fact occur. So the benefit of moral good would entail that the world would contain transworld depraved creatures.)

  8. Moreover, Plantinga proposes that there is a possible state of affairs in which God and natural evil can exist. For instance, if all natural evils are the result of the actions of significantly free creatures such as Satan and his minions, then since it is logically possible that God could not have created a world with a greater balance of good over evil if it did not contain such creatures, God and natural evil are compatible.
  9. At this point, albeit grudgingly, leading atheologians (Such as Mackie and Williams) concede that the deductive form of the problem of evil stands overturned. Thus, a new question is put on the table.

  10. It is: But what if the world seems to contain too much evil, and evil that is apparently pointless, i.e. gratuitous? First, the greater good “absorbs” at least some of the evils. To this, the Christian Theist further responds that there are goods in the world that are left out of the account so far; especially, that the fall of mankind led to the greatest good of all: that God loved the world and gave his Son, setting in motion the programme of redemption as a supreme good that absorbs all evils. That is, it is rational for a Christian to believe there are no unabsorbed evils, even though the atheologian may beg to differ with the Christian’s beliefs.

  11. However, it should be noted that there is an existential form of the problem of evil: where the overwhelming force of evil and pain brings us to doubt God. To that, no mere rational argument will suffice; for it is a life-challenge we face, as did Job. And, as a perusal of Job 23:1 – 7, 38:1 – 7, 40:1 – 8, 42:1 – 6, God may be more interested in exposing our underlying motives and calling for willingness to trust him even where we cannot trace him, than in satisfying our queries and rebutting our pained accusations. That is, it is at least possible that God is primarily in the business of soul-making.         
Where then does the problem of evil stand today? On balance, it is rational to believe that God exists, but obviously there are many deep, even painful questions to which we have no answers. And, those who choose to believe in God will have a radically different evaluation of evil than those who reject him. 

CONCLUSIONS: Overall, we have seen that there are no proofs acceptable to all informed thinkers that there is/is not a God.  However, it is clear that the rejection of ALL of the arguments to God requires quite strong commitments, some of which may well seem extreme; perhaps to the point of evident irrationality. In a world where evil is plainly real and deplorable, for just one instance, it is a bit hard to propose a worldview that has in its roots no IS sufficient to ground OUGHT. So, just maybe, Judaeo-Christian Theism has more solid yams and coco and vim in it -- a la "Lightning" Bolt -- than many may have thought. END


IlĂ­on said...

"In that course I made a main point that the theistic arguments cannot prove that God exists to the satisfaction by logical deduction from premises -- assumptions, givens or "facts" -- acceptable to all "reasonable" people."

I disagree (see here for an outline).

What we cannot do is present an argument that will *force* someone to admit that God is.

GEM of The Kairos Initiative said...


Took a look at a very familiar argument, where the cause-effect chains that drive physical processes are not sufficient to warrant trust in the ground-consequent chains of intentional thoughts that are required for reasoning.

I of course agree -- and point out that this is probably one of the reasons for the rejection of causality by many people today.

I used "reasonable" in quotes, to show that I am speaking of people who are conventionally viewed as rational, educated, informed, bright etc. But rationality of us finite, fallible, too often ill-willed, and ever so ignorant relative to what is knowable creatures is of course subject to error, and in this case there are big ones in atheistic views, as I go on to show.

Later on DV, I will look at pantheism and some other options on offer. this all follows up from a couple of hot UD threads.


GEM of The Kairos Initiative said...

I have expanded the discussion of harmonising to show that a claimed contradiction is not so.