Monday, July 22, 2013

Response to "My Question for Theists" from the1janitor (from youtube)




Thank you for the opportunity to engage with you on these questions/comments. I hope that you will not read in any derogatory or combative tone into the responses that follow as there was none intended – at all! And forgive me for any typos. I did this on a cell phone. Thanks!

Comment: Arguing with a religious person is akin to arguing with someone who says "normal 2+2 is 4 but in an alternate dimension it is something else and that is what I believe". 

Response: I do not think that is a good analogy.  Such a case is a basic logical contradiction. It posits that A equals both A and non A.  However, there is no logical contradiction in positing the existence of God – unless, of course, the existence of God is firmly established as logically impossible – but at this point in the video you have yet to argue that point. I will get to that in more detail as I respond to some of your other points.

Comment: Debates are usually unproductive

Response: I agree wholeheartedly.

Comment: Arguing to win is not the point

Response: Again, I agree. C.S. Lewis said that we ought to be arguing toward the truth rather than around the truth. To that end, I have a small disagreement with your next point.

Comment: The point is to understand the other persons point of view and the identify the difference

Response: I think that you are right, but only to a point. Ultimately, we ought to be seeking the truth – not merely to identify our differences. Even so, I think understanding other points of view is a HUGE part of that process.

Comment: Do logic and science always apply?

Response: Logic; yes. Otherwise, we have no reason for trusting anything that is said, observed, studied or otherwise. This conversation I am typing might actually be about pop-tarts, even though I think I am responding to your video. As for science; that depends what you mean by science.  If you mean empirical science then I think the answer is clearly no. There are limitations to empirical science. For example, what is “logic” made of? How much does it weigh? Some answers cannot be arrived at through empirical investigation. That is why the fields of philosophy, metaphysics, psychology, etc are necessary. We also have to acknowledge that science doesn’t actually say anything -- scientists do. All data has to be interpreted and all people interpret based on their own presuppositions. What is more, that raises a whole other line of questions. Namely, where does logic come from and why is it reliable? If it is entirely natural, then why is it not subject to the same changes as other aspects of nature? Can it go extinct like a species? The law of gravity applies in certain places in the universe where gravity is present, but not in others. Is logic the same way? Are there places where there is less logic present and 2+2 actually does equal 7 instead of 4? You might sarcastically say “Yes, in Churches!”  And we could both laugh at that. But ultimately, you and I would agree that is absurd. We both know that the laws of logic exist.  What is more, we both agree that they are unchanging and were there before we discovered them. How does atheism account for that? The theist has no trouble grounding the eternal, unchangeable laws of logic and reason – they are grounded in an eternal, unchanging mind – i.e. God. Alright, now we move on to your real question.

BIG QUESTION: What is it about religion that makes you okay with suspending everything you otherwise KNOW to be true about the universe?

Response: I am not okay with that. But I think I can safely assume that you will not be satisfied with that answer. So, I will go a bit further. You are proposing a false dichotomy. Namely that logic, reason, science (i.e. everything we know about the universe) are necessarily opposed to Theism and vice versa. In fact, the same accusation might be made against Atheism’s willingness to suspend everything you otherwise know to be true about the universe. Consider the comments of the naturalist biologist Richard Lewontin. According to Lewontin (a naturalist),
                "We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of  its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."
According to Lewontin, Atheists simply cannot follow the evidence where it leads. Is that science? Is that logical? Of course not! I am not suggesting that you, or any other Atheist must first believe in God in order to do proper science. However, I am convinced that ruling out God or a supernatural explanation before you even start betrays the entire enterprise of seeking truth. But let’s move on to the next (related) point.

Comment: I say that on the assumption that an all powerful, sentient, omniscient being is illogical and invalid.

Response: That needs to be established, not just assumed. You have the roof, but you need walls to support it or else you do not have a house. I could stop there, but let me provide an example of why I think any such argument fails. Modern scientists often run into road blocks in their research. That is, until they formulate some theory that can account for the relevant data and allows them to move past the road block. For example, consider quarks, string theory, black holes, dark energy, the multi-verse etc. None of these have ever been observed. Some of these posit unfathomable amounts respective to power, time and dimensions. The numbers used to describe them boggle the human mind.  I could say “That is very unscientific!” But I would not do that. In the same way, it is not unscientific to posit the existence of an omnipotent (power), eternal (time), omnipresent (space), being if doing so accounts for the relevant data. I won’t take up your time by running through all of the arguments for theism (cosmological, teleological, moral -- I am sure you are familiar). I think it should suffice, for the purpose of your original question, to show that it is not illogical or unscientific to examine the relevant data and interpret it as pointing to a timeless, spaceless, limitless, moral intelligence.


Comment: Well, some people just believe because it makes them feel better, and that is good whether or not it is true.
Response:  For the record, that is not the Christian perspective. I know that the original question was about general Theism, not Christianity in particular, but I want to zero in for a second on something significant with regard to this particular comment. The Apostle Paul said that if Jesus was not raised from the dead then we are more pitiful than anyone else. I would think that most Atheists would totally love that about Christianity. In short, Christianity is a faith that depends entirely on the historicity of a past event – the resurrection of Christ. If we take Paul seriously, then is a religion entirely based on evidence! Just because that isn’t the way most people approach it doesn’t change it as a fact -- if the resurrection didn’t happen, then Christianity is empty and being a Christian is pitiful. Like I said, that sounds to me like a claim that any Atheist should be happy to oblige. As you said at the end of this video, it is silly to say that it simply doesn’t matter. It is of potentially eternal significance. At that point, a person who wants to determine the truth of Christianity simply needs to investigate relevant and scholarly works available on the resurrection and determine for themselves if they hold any water. In fact, people like J. Warner Wallace and Lee Strobel have famously written books chronicling their investigations and subsequent conversions from Atheism to Christianity

Comment: Some people say "you cannot disprove God exists so why do I need proof" to which you ask, what are we accepting as proof -- typically we use science an logic.

Response: I think your point is excellent, but it plays for both teams. I am interested in following the evidence where it leads. But I would ask you, “what are you willing to accept as proof for the existence of God?” If science and logic point univocally to an eternal, spaceless, timeless, moral, creator of the universe; would that be sufficient proof of His existence? If your answer is “no”, then it would seem that science and logic aren’t the criteria by which proof is established. Maybe your objections to the existence of God are emotional, moral, or otherwise, but that would be precisely what you decry as being “irrational and unscientific” about the reason many people hold to Theism. At that point, the idea of proof is totally subjective. We can both agree that we want something more substantial than that.

Comment: Using science and logic it is easy to prove not only that God doesn't exist but that He CAN'T exist. 

Response: I think you are swimming upstream with that claim. I don’t know any reputable philosophers who would maintain that it is impossible for God to exist. Highly improbable? Sure. But that leads to your 3 challenges as to the likelihood of God’s existence.

Comment: Challenge to omnipotence.  Omnipotence entails that God could create an indestructible wall that he can also destroy and that is a contradiction.

Response: The premise is flawed because you have misrepresented omnipotence. Omnipotence does not mean that God can do everything imaginable. It only means that He can do everything that is logically possible. Therefore, it is logically impossible for God to create a wall that He cannot destroy; or a boulder too heavy for Him to lift; or a married bachelor or any other such logical impossibility.

Comment: Challenge to omnipresence. You said, “That's easy, I am here, I can't be over there. I cannot occupy two spaces at once or all spaces at all times.” 

Response: Again, the premise is flawed because you have misrepresented omnipresence. Omnipresence does not mean that God has a physical body that is either present in all spaces equally or stretched out through all spaces. If God is an immaterial mind, omnipresence means that God is mentally present at all times and places.  In that sense, omnipresence is very closely tied to omniscience. So, let’s move on to that.

Comment: Challenge to omniscience. Omniscience entails the knowledge of how to create all reality, but reality must first exist in order to have that knowledge which is a contradiction. 

Response:  I am not trying to sound like a broken record, but the premise misrepresents omniscience. It does not entail His knowing how to create Himself. If God is uncreated (as Theism maintains), then that would be a logical impossibility. Just like omnipotence means having power to do all things that power can do, omniscience means knowing all things that can be known.  The creation of an uncreated being is not something that can be known.

Comment: Why don't the normal rules of logic apply to God? 

Response: I hope that I have demonstrated that I dislike that idea as much as you. Thanks again!



14 comments:

  1. A couple of things to keep in mind, not necessarily directed at either of you but it bears some weight on the discussion.

    1) Science is hardly the only way we can know things about the universe. We can know via the senses, like how I know I am at a computer right now because of my sight and tactility. We can also know via experience. I know that my lawnmower's engine is hot because I burned myself on it a few weekends ago. We also validly know things through authority (I know I was born on August 31st through the authority of my parents and my birth certificate) and memory (I remember my birth certificate saying I was born on August 31st). That religious belief is unscientific (I would call it a-scientific to strip the derogatoriness of the term) should hardly be a surprise but it's a misapplication of the methodology.

    2) Science suffers from what philosopher David Hume called the problem of induction. Generally this means that it arrives at conclusions using inductive logic, which goes from particular instances (in this case, through experimentation) into general ideas. We know that gasoline is combustible because it has been tested and concluded as such. The problem with this is that there's no reason for us to believe that the next experiment with gasoline will produce the same results. In broader terms, we don't know that the universe will act the same way tomorrow as it does today. It is an assumption based on prior experience, but it cannot be conclusive the way other methods of knowledge-acquisition are. There is a way to kind of jerry-rig scientific inquiry by the falsification method, but there is still an element of assumption with that.

    3) Unless you're a scientist who has conducted a experiment that arrived at a particular conclusion, every scientific fact has to be taken on authority--often by three or four degrees of separation from the scientist.

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    1. Great points Jay. Thanks for chiming in.

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  2. Hi Jason, I live in Upper Hutt.
    Last year I was asked in moment of madness to contact a certain Jason who works for life switch here in upper hutt as I have been working on a plan to eventually teach both adults and kids to defend their faith against the fundie evos.
    I was given a phone number which I promptly lost.
    I really enjoyed post and will work through the others, you have a gift mate, one we need working in the body of Christ.
    anyway you isn't that Jason is you??????
    my phone number is 528 7611

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  3. Nope. I have been known to visit Pizza Hut, but I know nothing of Upper Hutt. Sorry

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  4. I told you Tony ;) but he's right. You do have a gift. This initial response is really good. I hope you plan to post further communications. Thanks for this Jason and I pray blessings on your marriage, career, music and ministry.

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  5. Lots of great points thanks Jason ;)

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  6. Hello, I am kevin aka the1janitor, the person who created the video to which this post is a response. That video was created a long time ago, and while I still stand by it, I would phrase certain things different if I were to make it today. This response is over a month late, and I'm not sure if you will even see it, but I just happened to notice this blog today, and I thought I'd give my thoughts). I had to truncate some of my thoughts to not exceed the character limit.

    “If science and logic point univocally to an eternal, spaceless, timeless, moral, creator of the universe; would that be sufficient proof of His existence? “
    Obviously it would. But of course that has never happened. Curiously.

    Omnipotence.
    Since the making of that video I have learned that the word “omnipotence” means many different things to different people (usually the definition that is the most convenient to the argument made). In general this is annoying because again, we have to go back to step one and define what exactly God is. A common theist tactic is to say “oh ho, your definitions are wrong!” or “no that's not what I believe,” so they don't have to actually defend any assertions. Of interest to me, is 1. in what way is God omnipotent (can he do all things, only logical things, only things of his nature, only more things than other beings, but not necessarily all things? And 2. where did you get that from. What is the basis of you choosing your definition of omnipotence. If you just made it up in your head, well it's a wonder why theism is unattractive to me. At any rate, The claim that omnipotence means “God can do all things that are 'logically possible' is dubious when coming from a Christian, because God does a whole lot of logically impossible stuff in the Bible. But these days Christians are okay with saying Bible stories are just parables, so I won't rest on that.
    Saying that it is “impossible for God to create a boulder that is too heavy for him to lift” begs the question of God's omnipotence. It assumes his omnipotence as a refutation of a challenge to it. Logically, this is an argument from incredulity. How do you know it is impossible for God to create a boulder that is too heavy for him to lift? Because you assume his omnipotence. A human can create a object that is too heavy from him to lift. It only becomes a logical contradiction when you assume omnipotence. This is an invalid argument form and as such does nothing to answer my challenge.

    Omnipresence.
    Much like Omnipotence, this term means something different depending on whom you ask. And I would offer the same inquiry as the basis of your choosing the definition you chose. You correct me by saying that God is an 'immaterial mind” as if that is more logical or scientifically valid. An immaterial mind that can interact with physical matter, is itself scientifically dubious. And again (and you will find this is a trend), your refutation is based upon an ad hoc positing of some attribute of God that happens to contradict my challenge of him.

    Omniscience.
    The same here. You argument is based upon the assumption that God is 'uncreated,' which makes no sense logically or scientifically.

    In general your main argument seems to be that my definitions are wrong, yet your replace them with assertions that are equally, if not more logically dubious. Perhaps my definitions are not what you personally believe, (and some people do believe what I've described) but telling me what you believe doesn't help me, when what you believe doesn't itself satisfy the basic rules of logic and science any more than what I said. The biggest question I had in my video is “why don't the normal rules of logic apply to God?” and I feel the question is still on the table.

    I appreciate your thoughtful response, and hopefully you get a chance to read this.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I apologize for how anachronistic my reply might have seemed. Before I reply, let me start by saying that I like your use of the word "dubious" (no sarcasm intended). Alright, let us get down to business.

      You said that you find it "curious" that it has never been demonstrated that science and logic point equivocally to an eternal spaceless, timeless, moral, creator of the universe. Of course, I know that you are using the word "curious" a bit sarcastically. Even so, I do not think it should be curious at all. First of all because there may be literally nothing that can be said to have been demonstrated by science and logic without ANY disagreement. Even basic claims such as "the material world exists" do not pass without someone disagreeing. At any rate, that was not the original point of my statement. I was simply asking IF such a scenario would suffice as proof of God's existence in your mind. To that you have responded, "obviously it would." That was all I was trying to establish.

      But what of the scientific and logical evidence? Do they point to such an entity? Of course, that is debatable. As I said before, evidence itself must be interpreted. But I would like to point you to an article I recently read by Mike Wall on Space.com. The article is titled "The Big Bang Didn't Need God to Start the Universe." In the article Wall quotes extensively from astrophysicist Alex Filippenko from the University of Berkley. Obviously, this is not an article that is friendly to the Theistic cause. Even so, I think it concedes A LOT to my position. Here a couple of excerpts.

      "If we're after the ultimate origin of everything, however, invoking the laws of physics doesn't quite do the trick. It may get us one step closer, but it doesn't take us all the way, Filippenko said."

      "The 'divine spark' was whatever produced the laws of physics," Filippenko said. "And I don't know what produced that divine spark. So let's just leave it at the laws of physics."

      What reason does Filippenko's give for not making same inference to God that I do (to a conscious being that is eternal, spaceless, timeless etc)? He says that positing God simply raises the question of "Who created God?" Therefore, he concludes that it couldn't have been God, but just opts to say "physics did it." One obvious problem is that he has simply subtracted timelessness from the qualities of God. Whatever the cause of time turns out to be, it must be timeless and cannot itself have a creator (which would require a time when it came into being). However, he has no problem ascribing timelessness to the laws of physics, or whatever the "divine spark" (his term, not mine) turns out to be. In short, he has laid all of his cards on the table and we can see that he has ruled out God as a possible explanation from the very outset (hence the title of the article).

      Anyway, I do not mean to suggest that by quoting one article that I have proven God's existence. Like I said, all I wanted to ask in the first place was whether or not there is any sort of proof that you would accept. I only present this article as a demonstration of what I believe are clear cut examples where science is pointing (even if unintentionally) to the sort of first cause that I described.

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    2. I will now move on now to the 3 attributes of God in question. First of all, omnipotence. I did not mean to employ, "your definitions are wrong" as a clever or dubious tactic. I meant it genuinely. As a person who has studied theology extensively, I can tell you that I do not know of anyone (liberal or conservative) that thinks God can do things that are logically impossible. He cannot make square circles or married bachelors. That does not impact his omnipotence at all as these are not things that can be done with the use of power. But then you suggest the boulder example. You explain that it is invalid because it requires that we assume God's omnipotence at the outset. Of course it does! No one is asking, "can a being of finite power create something so heavy that he would not have enough power to lift it?" The question is "Can a being of infinite power create something so heavy that he does not have enough power to lift it?" Change the question if you like. I don't have any interest it in. But as long as that is the question, then there is a logical problem. The question actually doesn't have anything to do with his power. He couldn't create such a thing because IF he is omnipotent, then such a thing cannot exist logically. You said, "God does a whole lot of logically impossible stuff in the Bible." I would simply ask you to give me an example.

      Second, omnipresence. You suggest that the problem of immaterial minds interacting with physical matter makes my characterization of omnipresence dubious. Without hashing out the entire philosophical issue (though I think there are good responses to it), let me again say that my position is nothing new. I am not mincing words to try to sneak around a problem. I have never heard any serious theologian argue that God is physically present everywhere as though he were multiplied a billion times or stretched out like a giant blanket.

      Now to omniscience. You said that it "makes no sense logically or scientifically" to say that God is uncreated. What do you mean by "make sense"? Can you demonstrate the logical flaw to me? I feel like you are appealing to our inability to grasp what timelessness is like. However, that is irrelevant to the question of God's existence since it would apply to whatever the timeless cause of the universe turned out to be. Even if, as Filippenko suggested, the laws of physics(or even the entire universe itself in some primitive form )existed timelessly and created time; I could come right back and say "that doesn't make sense." But I would hope that you would realize how silly that response would be. It might not be easy to grasp, but that would not necessarily rule it out as the most reasonable conclusion.

      To wrap up, I feel like you have responded to my critique by accusing me of misunderstanding terms that I accused you of misunderstanding. It is a more intellectual version of saying "nuh uh!" Your original critiques were valid, but only on a certain conception of God and his attributes. My goal was to demonstrate that such a conception is actually incompatible with a classical Christian Theism. Therefore, your critiques fail to pose a threat to my Theism. I took that as the point of your video. How do you as a theist respond to these critiques? Well, that is how I respond. I do not think it is helpful to say, "that is not how I understand Christianity, you are just mincing words to get around my critiques." If I am, please show me. I do not have any vested interest in believe something that is false. I seriously mean that. I tell it to all of my students each year and will always stand by it. Anyway...thanks for responding and I look forward to your thoughts on what I have added here.

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  7. the overall question of my video is "why, in the case of religion, do you believe things that are clearly logicaly and scientifically invalid"
    I stated some common beliefs about God that are clearly logically adn scientifically invalid, and you responded by saying, 'no those are not the correct beliefs', yet you replaced them with things that are equally logicaly and scientfically invalid.
    You don't know anyone who thinks God can do anyting logicaly impossible? Do you believe that God multiplied the fish and the loaves of bread? I know lots of people who believe this absurd story. Do you believe Jesus turned water into wine? I know plenty of people who do. (These are examples of logically ridiculous things in the bible, and there are many, many more examples if these do not suit you).
    Science, nor logic, nor I, are after "the ultimate origin of everything." But these things are very good at demonstrating when things don't make sense.
    my question is not "can a being of inifinite power do something illogical?"
    my question is "can ANYTHING that exists or ever will exist do something illogical?
    I suggest the answer is no. and I argue that it is absurd to claim otherwise.
    There is no scientific or logical precedent for something being 'uncreated.' If we are using science and logic as our base, something 'uncreated' doesn't make sense. If you are using something other than science or logic as your foundation than we are arguing from different standpoints and you are responding to something other than my original question.

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    1. Multiplying loaves and fishes and turning water to wine are not LOGICALLY impossible. They are naturally impossible. But the account of these miracles doesn't suppose that they were done naturally but supernaturally. As such, they are logically coherent. Sure, if you presuppose that supernatural acts are impossible, then you can shrug them off as "ridiculous" as you so eloquently put it. But what you were critiquing was the inconsistency of MY worldview. From my position, the supernatural is possible, and I believe there is good evidence that backs that up. As such, there is nothing logically impossible about a miracle. I really don't think I need to belabor this point. I am not playing word games here. I am confident that the distinction I am drawing holds regardless of whether one is an atheist, agnostic, theist or otherwise.

      Next, you said, there is no scientific or logical precedent for something being "uncreated." But certainly you are arguing that SOMETHING is uncreated. Otherwise you are suggesting that all that exists came into being at some point in the past from absolute non-being. Not the nothing of Lawrence Krauss, which is actually something (and he admits that) and therefore uncreated, but rather, complete and total non-being. Where is the precedent for that and how do you suppose that makes sense? Clearly, where we disagree is about what exactly the uncreated stuff is.

      To be fair, I have not in any way been trying to pin you down or show that your beliefs are ridiculous. What I have been trying to do is to demonstrate that what you were attacking in the video is actually a straw man--a misrepresentation of Christian theology. Of course, maybe your quarrel really isn't with me, but with people who are ignorant of what Christianity actually teaches. In that sense, we are somewhat in league together. I am terribly concerned with the biblical/theological/historical ignorance of the average believer. Anyway...not sure where to go from there. Thanks again for the interaction!

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  8. You have a GIFT Jason! The1janitor is so called atheist because he thinks miracles are impossible. Simply, he has never experienced one or has ignored it. If he really looks for answers he will be given. All he has to do is ask (asking meaning praying) Then I will ask you again: If you experience a miracle are you crazy? Thank you both for the wisdom. Please, pray for me, too. God bless.

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