Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Reasons to be cheerful pt 3

Continuing on the "war on Christmas" theme I came across this article today. The right-wing news station Fox News (owned by Rupert Murdoch) ran a piece by the well known American Christian Theologian/Philosopher William Lane-Craig titled "A Christmas gift for Atheists - Five reasons why God exists". Now, WLC is supposed to be (according to many Christian commentators in the USA) the leading Christian light in terms of rational, philosophical debate, he is pitched as some kind of "Atheist's worst nightmare". You can imagine my excitement when I saw this headline, perhaps finally, the theistic side of the house will be presenting some decent arguments, something that isn't just the usual strung out, circular dribble of wish thinking, scientific ignorance and moral cherry picking, something we can all get our teeth into.

I've copied and commented on Craig's 5 points below, so let's have a look..

1.  God provides the best explanation of the origin of the universe.  Given the scientific evidence we have about our universe and its origins, and bolstered by arguments presented by philosophers for centuries, it is highly probable that the universe had an absolute beginning. Since the universe, like everything else, could not have merely popped into being without a cause, there must exist a transcendent reality beyond time and space that brought the universe into existence. This entity must therefore be enormously powerful. Only a transcendent, unembodied mind suitably fits that description.

Hold on a minute, these assertions are based on a flawed premise, this is just the old cosmological argument, the assertion that everything has a first cause is unjustified, it's an argument from intuition. You'll need a lot more than simple "intuition" to convince the theoretical physicists on subjects such as infinity and causality. Where's the Maths WLC? And why would an "unembodied mind" be the only possible explanation, why not an as yet undiscovered natural phenomenon, or the multi-verse, or quantum fluctuation?

2.  God provides the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe. Contemporary physics has established that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent, interactive life.  That is to say, in order for intelligent, interactive life to exist, the fundamental constants and quantities of nature must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range.  There are three competing explanations of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design. The first two are highly implausible, given the independence of the fundamental constants and quantities from nature's laws and the desperate manoeuvres needed to save the hypothesis of chance. That leaves design as the best explanation.

But, the universe isn't "fine-tuned" for intelligent life (like Human beings)? It may have escaped WLC's attention but 99.99999999 (and so on) % of what we currently know as our "universe" is totally uninhabitable for our kind of life, in fact most of planet Earth is the same, too cold, too hot, too dry, too wet or simply devoid of the essentials for life. In addition to this fundamental point, I have to ask, with what is Craig comparing our universe, how many universes were sampled to come up with this assertion?

3.  God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties. Even atheists recognize that some things, for example, the Holocaust, are objectively evil. But if atheism is true, what basis is there for the objectivity of the moral values we affirm? Evolution? Social conditioning? These factors may at best produce in us the subjective feeling that there are objective moral values and duties, but they do nothing to provide a basis for them. If human evolution had taken a different path, a very different set of moral feelings might have evolved. By contrast, God Himself serves as the paradigm of goodness, and His commandments constitute our moral duties. Thus, theism provides a better explanation of objective moral values and duties.

But we do have an objective moral source, it's us, homo sapiens sapiens! We would not have thrived so long as a social species unless we developed our own moral values and cultural frameworks (of which Christianity is but one example). Atheists can be demonstrably good without God, Christians can be demonstrably bad with him and our moral standards change over time, so a much more likely explanation is that Atheism is the correct position and simply that people will be people, the good the bad and the psychopathic.

4.  God provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  Historians have reached something of consensus that the historical Jesus thought that in himself God’s Kingdom had broken into human history, and he carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms as evidence of that fact.  Moreover, most historical scholars agree that after his crucifixion Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty by a group of female disciples, that various individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death, and that the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection despite their every predisposition to the contrary. I can think of no better explanation of these facts than the one the original disciples gave: God raised Jesus from the dead.

So WLC can't think of a better explanation for the disappearance of a body from a tomb than divine intervention? really? (Roman medical experiments?) Assuming Jesus even existed (and that's a stretch) all the work still remains ahead of Craig in terms of proving that this person was in fact a God and that his legend was not simply created after the fact, like Craig must think all other religious myths were, there is nothing remarkable or exceptional about the Christian one. Does Craig's God explain how Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse or how Krishna was the eighth incarnation of Vishnu?

5.  God can be personally known and experienced.  The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Down through history Christians have found through Jesus a personal acquaintance with God that has transformed their lives.

And so says every other religious person throughout history! Atheists do not claim that religious people don't experience subjective psychological phenomena that can affect how they see the world, this is well known. Our brains are predisposed to such phenomena through a myriad of chemical interactions and environmental effects. The essential ingredient missing from Craig's analysis is some critique of the nature of the experience, simply stating that "I had a dream" or "I felt warm and fuzzy whilst singing hymns" is simply not enough to prove anything beyond normal (natural) human experience.

How disappointing, I guess I'll stay an Atheist then, merry Christmas WLC..

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