A while ago, I wrote a post called “How to Dismantle Christianity” where I explained why I am a Christian and how, if you were so inclined, you would be able to persuade me to abandon my beliefs. Due to the fact that “apologetics” was a central player in my conversion story, the logical and rational defense of the Christian worldview is not something I stumbled upon after being a Christian for several years.
A little while after I posted it, @ArchAngelMike had some questions for me (those can be found here). Its been a long time coming (life sorta… happened, you know how it is), but here are my brief answers to Mike’s questions. For the reader, I’m going to try to make it so that you don’t have to jump back and forth between posts. I hope I’m at least partially successful.
Mike asks a LOT of questions. And these questions come with significant philosophical baggage that needs to be sorted out. As an example, imagine a child asking “how does a plant eat?” There is a lot there to unpack, isn’t there? (Also, I’m not calling AAMike a child) For this reason, this post is probably going to be much, much longer than the posts I usually write. Every single one of these questions could easily be a lengthy blog post in itself.
Asking questions is fine. In fact, I encourage it. However, a lot of times people seem to think that merely asking a question is a refutation. Obviously this is not the case.
Additionally, some people seem to be under the impression that their dissatisfaction with an answer entails that the person did not answer the question. Obviously this too is not the case.
And finally, I am not going to defend what I’ve said at full length. Literally hundreds (if not thousands) of books, papers, blogs, etc have been written on these topics. This post is far from exhaustive.
And AAMike, it is not easy to offend me… so I didn’t take any of your questions to be an attack on me, promise. As you’ll see, it is really easy to ask questions. It takes a much, much, MUCH longer time to give an appropriate answer.
I started by stating an informal version of the kalam cosmological argument.
AAMike’s first question:
“Why? What is it about the natural world that makes you think it has a cause? Why must that cause have the attributes you think it does? Why couldn’t it be completely different?”
This gets into what many philosophers & theologians refer to as “natural theology”. Natural theology, as described by the IEP, is “… a program of inquiry into the existence and attributes of God without referring or appealing to any divine revelation”. Natural theology is essentially asking the question what can we infer about God’s existence or attributes without referring to ‘holy texts’ or ‘subjective experiences’, but just by reason and examination of the world?
The Kalam is one example of an argument for God’s existence and attributes via natural theology.
Put simply, ‘the natural world has a cause’ is far more realistic than it’s denial. We know that the natural world began to exist (see: evidence for the big bang theory), and this reality entails that the natural world is a contingent entity; an entity not existing necessarily. The best possible explanation for this is that it had a cause. Given the constant defense of this by a wide variety of philosophers and cosmologists, it seems rather strange for someone to try to deny this.
Once we’ve established that the natural world has a cause, we are able to assess what that cause must have been (using logic, reason, etc). For a full defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, see Johnny Wilson’s (@The_JWilson) contribution to the Christian Apologetics Alliance’s quarterly publication, “Equipped“; The Kalam Cosmological Argument.
– Given that the natural world’s contingency, it must have been caused by something outside of itself. Something outside of the natural world is, by definition, supernatural.
– Given that the natural world’s beginning was the beginning of space, time & matter/energy, the cause must be outside of space, time & matter/energy as we know it.
– Given the principle of sufficient reason (that all things have a reason for existing, either by an external cause or by necessity of its own nature) and Occam’s Razor (explanatory entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity), we are justified in believing that the cause of the natural world is a metaphysically necessary entity, an attribute theologians have been applying to God since… well, since (probably) before Aristotle.
– Given that impersonal forces (like gravity, for example) always result in their effect while they exist, the only way for an eternally existent entity to cause something to exist and that effect not also be eternally existent would be for that entity to have a choice; therefore making it a personal cause.
There you go, AAMike. Given just an objective analysis of the existence of the natural world, we come to the conclusion that the cause of this natural world is a personal entity that is metaphysically necessary, supernatural, and outside of the time/space/matter/energy realm as we know it.
No appeal to divine revelation needed.
This question is directed towards my assertion that all perspectives, theistic and otherwise, all require something that is metaphysically necessary. I used the term “metaphysically necessary being”, and clearly there is some confusion with the term “being”, presumably because it implies some kind of personhood.
So, feel free to replace the word “being” with “entity”.
All perspectives, theistic and otherwise, require a metaphysically necessary entity. This is because, without a metaphysical stopping point, we have an infinite regression of prior causes, and an infinite regress of prior causes is not a bullet anyone should be willing to bite, because that doesn’t make sense.
AAMike also asks this question that could take an entire 30 volume series to answer:
“What are the difficulties of a naturalistic world view that you find insurmountable?”
In the context of this conversation (regarding the origin and explanation of the universe), the naturalistic view may come in many shapes and sizes. Some say the universe popped out of *actual* nothing, some say that it popped out of nothing but that nothing was actually something, some say that the universe is eternally existent but was in some prior unobservable state before inflation, some say that the universe simply has no explanation for its existence, and still others say that we’ll never know because science can’t tell us that answer, and still other naturalists have other answers. I would imagine there are some naturalistic positions that I’ve never even heard of.
So when you ask the question “What are the difficulties of a naturalistic world view that you find insurmountable?”, I have to ask… which naturalistic explanation are we talking about here? I don’t plan on addressing the problems with all of them here.
Put simply, the main problem that I see with naturalistic ideas regarding the origin of the natural world is…
– that they fail to recognize that the universe is contingent; or…
– that they fail to see the problem with an infinite regress (this might be where you fall), or…
– that they redefine terms in order to save face; or…
– that they simply ignore the entire problem altogether, presuppose naturalism and use that presupposition to deny any sort of theistic explanation (which is, of course, begging the question).
My third point was a non-technical reference to the teleological argument from cosmological fine tuning. This argument states that the fine tuning of the universe is due to either chance, design or necessity; and due to the fact that it is neither chance (far too improbable to be a likely answer) or necessity (the laws could have easily been otherwise), this entails that the finely tuned constants of the universe are due to design.
AAMike asks “What do you consider “inadequate” about natural processes that necessitate a “fine-tuner and how is it that the “fine-tuner” becomes exempt from requiring its own “fine-tuner”, basically leading to an infinite complexity paradox.”
“What do you consider “inadequate” about natural processes that necessitate a “fine-tuner…?”
As I explained above, we’re talking about ultimate explanations for why the universe is finely tuned. Plus, I don’t know what it means to appeal to “natural processes” to account for the finely tuned constants of nature itself.
AAMike also asks, “… and how is it that the “fine-tuner” becomes exempt from requiring its own “fine-tuner”, basically leading to an infinite complexity paradox.”
Here, AAMike is ignoring the actual argument (that I admittedly didn’t present in the first post, but it is readily accessible and Mike should have been aware of it, given that he interacts with apologists) and asking a question that shows he is not aware of the concept of metaphysical necessity. A metaphysically necessary entity, no matter how complex, does not require a fine-tuner or creator because a metaphysically necessary entity does not have a prior cause.
Additionally, no one can appeal to an infinite regression of prior causes, and I am not appealing to an infinite regress… so his question is not relevant to the point I made.
In my 4th point, I say ” I believe that our inner moral convictions are best explained by the Christian perspective of being made in the image of God”. This is an inductive approach to the question of Christianity’s validity that would go something like this:
Given the truth of Christianity, we would expect human beings to have an innate moral conviction due to the imago dei. The reality of our moral convictions are predicted by Christian theism, therefore our moral convictions are evidence for Christian theism. This is not a deductive argument so “therefore christianity is true” doesn’t follow, but it does increase the probability of Christianity being true.
AAMike asks, “What about evolved social norms that every indication suggests predates Christianity makes it best explained by the Christian perspective? To me, “Christian” morality is nothing more than common sense necessitated by the evolution of civilization. How is it that morality derived from a being that will willingly torture his “children” for an infinite amount of time even good?”
If Christianity is true, mankind was created in the image of God and this event itself “predates christianity”. AAMike offered an alternative explanation for morality, and without going to much into it (again, there has been a LOT written on this topic), it does not change the fact that the inner moral conviction present in humanity is predicted by Christianity.
To answer the 2nd part of the question, I am under the impression that the Bible does not teach that God “willingly tortures his children for an infinite amount of time”. Hell is described as a place of torment due to the fact that it is separation for God, and the Bible also teaches that hell is a temporary place that the unrepentant go before perishing.
This is not torture.
Nor is this an infinite duration of torment.
Ultimately, hell is a question of God’s justice. And I can’t imagine anyone saying that justice is not rightly a part of the ‘moral landscape’, to steal a term from Sam Harris.
I stated, “I believe the historical evidence is in favor of the actual resurrection of Christ, with no special treatment given to the Biblical texts during historical analysis.” and AAMike’s response was, “This one really confuses me. What historical evidence is there that there was ever a resurrection at all? The Bible is merely a claim, not evidence, so I’m thoroughly confused here. There are some historians that are not sure the man Jesus ever lived at all, let alone that his fantastical resurrection story is true.”
The usual way that christian apologists approach the topic of Christ’s resurrection is via a method known as ‘the minimal facts approach’. This is where we examine the historical evidence surrounding an event and posit the most likely answer.
In the case of the alleged resurrection, there is a large amount of evidence that a vast majority of qualified scholars agree upon (the assertion that Jesus didn’t exist is NOT one of those). For more on this, see Gary Habermas, Mike Licona’s lecture and debate with Bart Ehrman.
Additionally, there are very, very few qualified historians who doubt the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. Without his actual existence, there are huge voids in the historical record. There are also very, very good reasons to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person.
The common atheist tactic of saying “The Bible is merely a claim, not evidence” shows a severe lack of understanding of historical methodology. The Bible itself is a combination of 66 books, many of them containing historical information. Just because they are combined together into a single work does not mean that it is nothing more than a “claim”. The historical data included in the various books of the Bible is included by historians when doing history.
I suggest you abandon this bumper-sticker slogan; it is a way to easily pick out those ignorant of historical methodology in the same way that “if evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?” shows ignorance of evolution.
I said this:
“I believe the Bible has attributes that point to it being a book that is not merely a book by men, but a book that has been divinely inspired, in one way or another. I don’t think we have to assume inerrancy to come to that conclusion.”
AAMike said this:
What attributes? The Bible appears to be a fairly flawed story that has difficulty even staying on point. What about it makes you think that it was inspired by anything other than humanity?
The Bible is a story of God’s interactions with humanity. I have no idea what you mean by “the bible… has difficulty staying on point“. The general approach I used is a combination of what we would expect from something claiming to be “from God about men” rather than something “from men about God”.
Here are a couple articles that would be worth considering.
Can We Trust the Bible?
Is the Bible Authoritative?
I said this:
“If God does not exist, then belief in God is the result of evolution. That belief is pervasive throughout human history, believed by nearly everyone. This entails that evolution is responsible for extreme error in our belief forming systems. This is not a point against evolution, but a point against naturalism when taken together with evolution.”
AAMike responded with this:
“Why? To me, attributing to malice what may just be natural is an evolutionary advantage (at least it was). Seeing an enemy or a friend (even if one doesn’t exist) protects you in cases where there is an enemy you can’t see. Assuming the bushes rustling because of the wind and not a tiger means that when it is a tiger, you get eaten. Assuming it’s a tiger is an evolutionary advantage (even if you’re wrong).”
My original point was alluding to Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN) which is in the book, “Warrant and Proper Function“. Many of the notes and the points of Plantinga’s argument can be found online, such as here (an outline of a lecture he gave at Biola) or here (a video of Plantinga himself presenting the EAAN). I suggest anyone interested in this argument do their best to understand it, because if it is correct (and I think it is) then the combination of naturalism and unguided, non-teleological “darwinian” evolution cannot account for proper function of the mental faculties. I’ve also argued that the rejection of teleology in modern evolutionary theory is unwarranted, and you can find that here.
To answer AAMike’s questions…
Given both naturalism and evolution, our cognitive faculties evolved for survival, not true beliefs. This entails that the truth of our beliefs are, at best, accidental properties of an evolved set of cognitive faculties. There certainly is some advantage to believing certain things (i.e., that there is a tiger in the bush). Interestingly, AAMike, you provided a perfect example of how our cognitive faculties can produce useful fictions. You said “Assuming the bushes rustling because of the wind and not a tiger means that when it is a tiger, you get eaten. Assuming it’s a tiger is an evolutionary advantage (even if you’re wrong)”, and I have to agree.
But notice here that you are conceding that you could be wrong and it could still be evolutionarily advantageous. This entails that you understand how a false belief can help us survive, which means you understand that evolution does not guarantee true beliefs.
Your own example confirms that you understand the power of the EAAN.
The last point that AAMike had a question about was this:
“I believe naturalism entails a complete lack of free will. If we are nothing more than complex matter, it doesn’t seem possible that we can have free will. However, free will’s existence is obvious. Another point against a naturalistic perspective.”
In response, he asks:
“How does naturalism imply a lack of free will, and how is it more so than an all powerful deity controlling every aspect of your life? Even more than that, Christianity actually seems to call for the suspension of what semblance of free will you may have to serve your god infinitely, where there is no such eternal slavery required for an atheistic world view. How is willing eternal slavery better?”
Lets start at the bottom of this one.
“How is willing eternal slavery better?”
I don’t care about what is or is not ‘better’ in this sort of existential, pragmatic sense. We have to ask about reality.
“Christianity actually seems to call for the suspension of what semblance of free will you may have to serve your god infinitely, where there is no such eternal slavery required for an atheistic world view”
How does Christianity call for a suspension of free will? I’m not suggesting that we necessarily have libertarian free will in all circumstances, but I fail to see how Christianity suggests a strictly deterministic reality.
“… and how is it more so than an all powerful deity controlling every aspect of your life?”
I don’t know of a single theology that states that ‘an all powerful deity is controlling every aspect of your life’. If there was, perhaps you’d have a point. Perhaps a form of extremely rigid deterministic calvinism might embrace this, but I’ve never heard of it. It may be unfashionable for atheists to do theology, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary; especially if atheists want to do theology poorly.
“How does naturalism imply a lack of free will…?
Many forms of naturalism entail that we are no more than physical objects. In a purely reductionistic world, I don’t see how it is possible for us to have any freedom of the will, because we are literally nothing more than the sum of our parts. If matter does not make choices, how can it be said that we (as just complex matter) are able to make choices?
Other naturalists may attempt to allow for free will in one way or another (emergence is possible explanation), but given that we have absolutely no experience with emergence resulting in anything close to resembling free will, that is an appeal to future discoveries at best, and an ’emergence of the gaps’ at worst. Some people appeal to the indeterminacy of quantum objects, saying that because quantum objects are indeterminate, and we’re made up of quantum objects, therefore our actions are not deterministic. However, that doesn’t follow. If true, it would say that our actions are indeterminate, not that we have control over them.
If you have an explanation as to how naturalism allows for the fairly obvious fact of freedom of the will, I’d love to hear it and interact with you on it.
And that concludes my answers to ArchAtheistMike’s questions on my post, How to Dismantle Christianity.