I've started reading "Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science" edited by William Dembski and Mike Licona. This is (as you might gather from the title) a Christian apologetic defence of God.
So I'll comment (briefly, I hope) on each of the 50 arguments presented, and let you know how compelling, or otherwise, I find them. Please comment, if you want. Here's section one: The Question of Philosophy...
1. The Cosmological Argument by David Beck
I've commented on this argument several times recently in the posts relating to the William Lane Craig debates (e.g. here). The argument is stated slightly differently here from how WLC says it, and it doesn't go as far in its implications as WLC's version. Here the argument is:
- What we observe and experience in our universe is contingent
- A network of causally dependent contingent things cannot be infinite
- A network of causally dependent contingent things must be finite
- Therefore, there must be a first cause.
- What we observe and experience in our universe in time and space is contingent
- A network of causally dependent contingent things in time and space cannot be infinite
- A network of causally dependent contingent things in time and space must be finite
- Therefore, there must be a first cause in time and space.
Having reflected on WLC's version of the argument for a few months now, I think there is another flaw in the argument which I hadn't got to grips with before. It assumes time and space are independent. Einstein explained how time and space are connected. It is only our perspective that puts the arrow of time onto reality. Viewed from other perspectives, there is not necessarily a time 'origin'.
Imagine all of 4D space-time as a bubble or a sphere (in much the same way as a 3D sphere can be drawn on paper as a 2D circle). The south-north axis is our 'arrow of time' as we perceive it. What we have at the pole is not a 'beginning' as WLC would have it, but only a boundary - the edge of the space-time bubble. Not everything that has a boundary requires a cause...
Another of my many (and varied) thoughts on this is that the cosmological argument assumes that the cause of an event must come before the effect in time. And yet, if we accept the argument of a timeless agent, this isn't necessarily the case. Many apologists, I'm sure, would accept the claim that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the central event in history. Now, consider the salvation of Godly people who lived in Old Testament times. Did Christ's saving act on the cross influence their salvation? Many would say 'yes' - so the cause of some effect does not necessarily happen before the effect in time. Similarly, what about OT prophecy regarding Jesus - surely Jesus was the cause and the prophecy the effect, even though the effect came first?
So in arguing that there was a first cause, we do not need to argue that the first cause was before the first effect, or indeed, has even happened yet. We could still be waiting for the 'first' cause to come around. Now if the first cause hasn't necessarily happened yet, why can't it be part of a cause and effect chain itself? Maybe something we do in the future will have cosmological effects which start the whole thing off in 'the past'?
I'm not saying that this is what I believe, I just think that there are holes in the cosmological argument, such that it isn't strong enough to stand alone. More evidence is needed. Maybe the other 49 bits of evidence will make a strong case...
2. The Moral Argument for God's Existence by Paul Copan
I've been over this ground in other posts recently, so I'll keep this brief. In my opinion, this line of reasoning only leads to the conclusion that there is something greater than the individual. Morality is defined relative to the greater 'entity' not to the individual. As far as I can tell, the argument cannot take us to conclude that the greater thing is God. In my opinion, it could be simply 'human society' - the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. Things that are beneficial for society as a whole are deemed moral, things which are detrimental to society as a whole are deemed immoral.
Copan's argument is clearly aimed at bible-believing Christians and probably won't wash with unbelieving skeptics. He quotes bible verses all over the place. Once again, this confirms the suspicion that apologetics is not about winning new converts, but rather about boosting the confidence of already committed believers.
3. Near Death Experiences by Gary Habermas
This is an odd piece of 'evidence'. At no point does Habermas demonstrate that the existence of NDEs requires there to be a God. He seems to take it as read that any evidence for the 'supernatural' implies there must be a God.
I've heard Habermas in debate on this topic before. His 'killer' piece of evidence concerns 'Katie' an eleven year old girl who had an NDE and during this, amongst other things, saw an angel called 'Elizabeth' and a glimpse of her family many miles away - she was able to accurately state what it was her mother cooked for dinner and what toys her brother was playing with.
Having just Googled this, the odd thing is I can find no evidence for this story outside of apologetics. The only people who discuss or mention the case are using it as evidence for God, with no further citations. For me, that raises an alarm warning bell. But even if the story is true and accurately presented, what does it tell us? Only that weird and unexplainable things happen. Nothing at all about NDEs says anything about the existence (or otherwise) of God. I'm not even sure that NDEs are evidence for 'the supernatural' - at present, all we can say is that there is some weird psychology going on near death and NDEs have not yet managed to demonstrate any extra sensory perception to anyone who is not pre-inclined to believe in it anyway.
4. Naturalism by L. Russ Bush III
Another odd one. This offers no evidence for God, but only an argument why Naturalism isn't a coherent worldview. The chapter assumes there are only two possibilities: (i) there is a God, or, (ii) there is only Naturalism. It then assumes if it can pick holes in (ii) that (i) wins by default.
The author seems to think that the naturalist's reason for reason is basically chemical reactions in the brain, and if he says that often enough he will discredit naturalism. The main point here is that the human ability to think and reason is (in the naturalistic view) the result of a non-rational process of evolution and rests entirely on chemical processes and psychological processes which we have no reason to trust. Whereas the theist view starts off with rationality and reason, so it is only in the theistic worldview that we can actually trust our own reasoning.
The problem with this is that the author's case boils down to the belief that the pre-supposition of reason at the start of the process of creation is better than the evidence based observation that reason only came late on in the process of evolution. In other words, he asserts that "reason just is" has more explanatory power than "reason evolved". He also seems to assume that humans are reasonable and rational beings, rather than just appearing that way, but offers no evidence that we actually are reasonable. Many psychologists would disagree and point out that you actually can't trust your own reasoning, much of the time. Which actually makes the naturalist case more compelling.
5. Suffering for what? by Bruce A. Little
This is the first piece of 'evidence' in this book which actually provides no evidence at all, for anything. The author contends that the Christian experiences three different types of suffering:
- Suffering for righteousness
- Suffering in the same way as everyone else
- Suffering because of willful disobedience to God
The thing I don't understand about this chapter is why it is even here? It doesn't even attempt to give evidence for God. The reasoning 'there is suffering, therefore there is God' is counter intuitive to the max, and would need some unpacking - which isn't even attempted. Literally pointless.
6. Responding to the argument from evil by David Wood
This chapter isn't evidence for God, but rather it gives a response to one of the stronger atheist arguments. The reasoning being that if it can be shown that an argument is flawed, the conclusions are therefore also flawed. Of course that is a fallacy, you can use a poor argument to try and defend a truth. Indeed, the whole point of this blog post is not to demonstrate that there is no God, but only to demonstrate that these apologetics arguments are flawed, whether or not there is a God. As this chapter points out, some of the atheist arguments have holes in them too.
The Argument from Evil (AE) is not perfect. To be honest, I've never come across a perfect argument for anything. All arguments have holes. Arguments are not the same as mathematical proofs. Mathematical proofs demonstrate that their conclusion must be the case. The best an argument can do is conclude something beyond reasonable doubt. Of course, what constitutes reasonable doubt is another debate...
So this chapter does, essentially, what I am doing to the other chapters in this book. Picks holes. It picks at the hole that assumes God wants a world free from suffering, it picks at the hole (which isn't there) that misunderstands what the Christian means by the word "faith". It also picks at the hole that misunderstands what the Christian means by the word "good", which is actually a rerun of the first hole picking, expressed in different words. The strongest part of this hole picking is the 'awareness assumption' that assumes that if God has reasons for allowing suffering that we must necessarily be able to comprehend these reasons. This is the hardest point for the atheist to defend.
But having made this point, the author basically says the best defence against the AE is to use the offence of the cosmological and moral arguments. Basically he admits he can't refute the AE, he can only cast some doubt on it and then change the subject by using multiple other arguments. I'm not sure this is good enough. I don't think this is sufficient to go 'beyond reasonable doubt'. But anyway, the author gets to say more in the next chapter...
7. God, Suffering and Santa Claus by David Wood
This chapter presents a direct contest between theism and atheism. Which worldview has the better explanatory power? The chapter uses the example of Santa. Where do the presents come from on Chrismas morning? When a child dismisses the notion that it was Santa who put them there, they don't jump to assuming 'the presents just are' but rather attribute the present giving to another agent, namely their parents. In doing this, he seems to be assuming that 'agency' as the best explanation for almost everything, which may be flawed thinking.
He asserts that if a theory can explain multiple observations, but not all observations, that the theory should not necessarily be dismissed. He explains that theism can explain: (a) the fact of existence, (b) the fine-tuning of the universe, (c) the origin of life, (d) the rise of consciousness, (e) moral values, and (f) miracles. The claim that theism can't explain (g) suffering shouldn't, by itself, be enough to dismiss theism. He then asserts that atheism can't explain any of the points (a) to (f) above, so theism shown to be a better explanation of reality than atheism.
The problem with this, is that it is a highly 'cherry picked' list of things. If there are only six things that theism can explain that atheism can't, then theism is in serious trouble. I'm sure that if I put my mind to it, I could find six things that atheism can explain which theism can't.
And I'm not sure theism actually does have a better answer to all of the above than atheism. (a) theism pre-supposes existence (the existence of God), it doesn't explain it. (b) the apparent fine-tuning of the universe is a necessary condition for our existence - the fact that we are able to ask the question pre-supposes the fine-tuning. It doesn't pre-suppose a fine-tuner. We have no idea how many universes with different tuning have been and gone with no life, or how many lifeless universes there currently are in the multiverse. All solutions to this question, whether theist or non-theist require the invocation of an unseen infinite, and so all arguments are equally flawed. (c) as with (a) this is a pre-supposition of theism, that God lives at the outset, so life is not explained, it is merely asserted. (d) is much like (a) and (c) a pre-supposition. (e) moral values - I've dealt with that above. And finally (f) miracles. The funny thing about this is that the author of the chapter claims that the resurrection of Jesus is more believable than the 'absurd phenomena' of mass hallucinations. Despite the fact that we have good hard evidence for mass hallucinations in recent history, and no hard evidence for resurrection.
The thing is, 'atheism' isn't a single explanatory theory, it is basically a rejection of the 'theism' theory which pre-supposes most of its own conclusions. So we're running around in circles here.
So that's the first selection of 'evidence' for God in this book. I must say that all the arguments presented either do not really pertain to the subject at hand, or have holes in them. Once again, that's not to say that there is no God, only to say that none of these arguments is good enough evidence to conclude his existence. The next section deals with science, so we'll see how I get on with that in a few days time...