Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Absolute objective morality?

Following on from my recent comments on the William Lane Craig tour, I feel the need to challenge the 'moral argument' for God.

The moral argument basically states that there are 'absolute objective morals' and these must originate from a transcendent being.

I agree with half of that. I'm just not sure that there actually are absolute objective morals.

So, if you believe there are, please tell me some.

Specifically, please leave a comment telling me some absolute objective morals that do not involve violence by one person on another.

From observation of these debates, the only 'absolute morals' specifically discussed involve violence among humans - generally the strong attacking the weak. But if there are absolutes, they can't only apply to humans, can they? So show me a non-violent absolute moral...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

William Lane Craig vs The God Delusion

This post is a few comments on the event held on 25th October at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford and broadcast on the Unbelievable radio show and podcast from Premier Christian Radio. You can also watch the entire event on YouTube.

The event wasn't a debate like other events in Dr Craig's recent UK tour, but was a response by Dr Craig to Richard Dawkins's now infamous book 'The God Delusion'. Dawkins was invited to attend the event and defend his book, but he declined. The defence of the book, such as it was, was provided by three short presentations by three other atheist/agnostic Oxford dons.

The format of the evening was basically a 45 minute lecture by William Lane Craig, followed by the three 8 minute responses by the others, followed by another response by Dr Craig, then a Q&A session with questions from the audience.

As Dawkins's book (which I still haven't read) is an attack on the very concept of God, rather than a specific attack on the Christian God, the lecture by Dr Craig stayed firmly in the 'God of the Philosophers' territory - the only time the event strayed towards the specifically Christian God was in the Q&A session at the end.

This post is not a review of the event, and I don't intend to go into this in as much detail as I went into for the debate between Dr Craig and Dr Law. These are just some comments and thoughts on what I heard. In the mean time, I have also listened to another debate featuring Dr Craig (vs Peter Millican) and I may comment on that sometime too.

The Cosmological Argument

This was the core of Craig's lecture and is clearly his primary argument in favour of the existence of God. He presented it in much the same way as in previous debates. Basically, as the universe began to exist, it must have had a cause, and the cause must have been God.

Most of this argument is reasonably watertight, except Craig's leap of reasoning (about 14 mins into the YouTube video) that the transcendent first cause is "plausibly personal". He claims the personhood of the cause is implied by its "timelessness and immateriality". He then claims that the only entities able to have these properties are either (a) "abstract objects, like numbers", or (b) an "unembodied mind". Because the first cause obviously wasn't something like a number, it must therefore have been an unembodied person.

There is some clever sleight of hand going on here, and none of the other speakers picked up on it. Option (a), the 'abstract object, like a number' is there in the role of a straw man - it is only put there to be torn down. It is only put there to make option (b) seem like the only reasonable choice. Yet option (b) is not reasonable either. Craig offers no supporting arguments for there only being two options here, or indeed for there being any options here. He offers no justification for believing that an unembodied mind is actually anything other than science-fiction.

In other words, we know of no objects, entities or concepts that actually are immaterial and timeless. None. Not one. So to say that an immaterial and timeless thing must be one of two options is a cheat - it is nether of them, because we have no evidence that it is even possible, let alone plausible or probable.

Later on, Craig claimed that this timeless, changeless, eternal, infinite, unembodied yet personal entity must have had freewill in order to bring about the first cause. I think there's a logical flaw in that reasoning. In order to use freewill, the personal entity must make a decision and act. In order for a decision to be made there must be a 'time' or state 'before' which the decision was made (i.e. the entity's mind was not yet made up) and a 'time' or state 'after' which the decision had been made. Similarly with the action. A changeless entity cannot transition from one state to the other. I'd go as far as to say that personality requires change. If something is changeless, it cannot be a person and if something is a person, it cannot be changeless.

Basically I think the whole concept of God (or a god) existing outside of time is absolute bunk. (As I've said before, if it is even possible to have a being outside of time, then that being must be morally neutral - neither good nor evil.)

All this leads me to the point of concluding that if there was a timeless 'first cause' it remains so far outside of our understanding that we can't really know anything at all about it. The message of Jesus is 'God with us', God presented, as a person, in a way that we can understand. The philosophical first cause is so far removed from the person of Jesus, that I can see no justifiable way of connecting the two. If Jesus represents God for us, then the first cause is not God, and vice versa.

The ontological argument

This argument is the most bunk spouted by apologists. It dates back to Anselm in the 11th Century, although it was refined by Descartes and others. It goes like this: we can conceive of a God who is a "supremely perfect being" and who holds all perfections. One of the perfections we can conceive of is the perfection of existence and, thus, God must exist. There's more to it than that, but that's the gist.

The thing is, nobody who does not believe in a God will be persuaded by this reasoning. Its only function is to make theist apologists sound clever to their own supporters. Philosophers can tie themselves in knots over the logic, but no rational person will accept the claim that the existence or otherwise of God depends on whether or not we can conceive of him. It also relies on a lot of 'omnis', and I have very big issues with claiming that a God with all the omni-characteristics is actually compatible with reality as we observe it.

The responses

The responses were mostly adequate but not really up to the task of taking down Craig's assertions. Craig has being doing this style of debate for decades and the opponents were simply not in the same rhetorical league.

The only miss-step by Craig came in the Q&A session when he (incorrectly) claimed that God never commanded the Israelites in the old testament to kill women & children in the 'Canaanite Genocide' - the story says quite clearly that he did. Furthermore, Craig claimed that the Israelites were never told to hunt down and kill all of the Canaanites, only to drive them out. Well this is broadly true, but what of the Amalekites? The OT is quite clear, the Israelites were commanded not to allow an Amalekite to live. However, the format of the evening did not give Craig's opponents the opportunity to follow up on this, and I suspect none of them were well enough versed in the OT to actually know this anyway.

But enough of this 'brief' comment... I have some books to review for you sometime soon...

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The explanatory power of the unseen infinite

I've listened to a few debates on topics like 'Is there a God?' recently. One thing I've noted in the arguments of apologists is the use of what I'll call the 'unseen infinite' to explain the way the world is.

For example, consider the issue of suffering, one common argument against the existence of God is that there is too much suffering in the world for there to be an all-powerful, all-loving God.

The standard apologetic rebuttal to this is essentially that, in the light of an eternal life of bliss and joy, the present sufferings are as nothing.

In other words, to outweigh the known, visible, but finite amount of suffering in the world, you invoke an unknown, invisible and infinite amount of joy.

The problem with this is that the existence of the future, everlasting happiness cannot be demonstrated. There is simply no evidence for it, because future events have not happened. And we even have no evidence that people who have died in the past have gone anywhere happy (or otherwise, for that matter).

The reasoning is emotionally compelling, we want to believe it, but it is intellectually indefensible.

Almost any problem can be addressed by invoking an unseen and infinite reality, and apologists do this all the time. But its not really justifiable. If you have to invoke an unseen infinite to answer a problem, you might as well admit that your case is weak.

But what about God, is he just another unseen infinite?