The ministry hosting this website (sntjohnny.com) also puts on an online apologetics academy. The fall session is coming up. Dr. Gary Habermas will be guest lecturing on the historical Jesus and the evidence for the Resurrection. It is possible to attend these lectures without being enrolled in the academy. Those enrolled in the academy, regardless …
In the nearly 20 years or so of debating with various kinds of non-Christians, I have often encountered a way of thinking that I think is self-evidently flawed, but oddly common nonetheless. What I mean is this: as soon as you press the point, they drop the principle, recognizing it can’t be maintained as tightly as was presented. A moment later, or in another conversation, the principle is re-presented.
The principle is this: that a proposition is true if it explains something. Or, a belief is to be preferred if it explains something. Or, the better belief is the one that explains the most.
At first blush, this principle seems pretty solid. After all, don’t we give weight to an idea, hypothesis, or theory if it provides an explanation for something else? If I come across the body of a clearly murdered person and the evidence points to another person who is known to have hated the victim, wouldn’t we say, “Well, that explains that. He hated him.” ? Well, yes. It does explain it, but it still doesn’t follow that he actually murdered anyone. The time honored tradition for hanging a murder verdict on someone does include motive- but also means and opportunity. Merely having a hypothesis that ‘explains’ the facts does not prove the hypothesis. One must corroborate it. If it cannot be corroborated, it doesn’t follow it isn’t true. We just have to be careful how we weight it. We certainly would not (or ought not) sentence a man to death for it.
One of the things I’ve come to realize is the truth of this statement: As the dead do not know the living, or even that they themselves are dead, so too irrationality does not know rationality. Augustine argued that evil was not a ‘thing-in-itself’ but always some good thing that has been corrupted. Evil is …
I try mightily to keep myself from having unexamined beliefs. I turned one up, though, in the last month or so, no doubt because of the writing contest and online apologetics conference I was working on. The writing contest, for example, is labeled as a Christian writing contest. I began to think about how an endeavor like writing, or any endeavor at all, could justify being termed ‘Christian’ and realized I had never really thought about it much before, and had rather accepted the presumptions that had been handed down to me. I hate it when I do that! Even if the presumptions are right!
However, what I turned up when I began my examination may surprise the reader. In Evangelical circles, the Christian sub-culture is a constant temptation and Christianese the prevailing language, which I myself attack in this post warning about Christianese and shibboleths. There is a silly sense within Christendom that you can slap the label ‘Christian’ on front of something and you’ve sanctified it. The truth usually is that it’s merely been rendered more marketable within the Church.
The reader would be wrong if he thought that the presumption handed down to me was the one I just described, however.
Here is the part of Mark’s argument where I saw a parallel: the KSM trial won’t be a ‘show trial’ because the outcome isn’t rigged. I retorted that there was no doubt in my mind that if KSM was declared innocent, whether on the merits of the case or because of a technicality, there was no way that KSM wouldn’t end up in custody again, which is in effect an unfair trial under the constitution, for if a person is declared innocent under the constitution, he is free to go. Mark replied that what happens after the trial is irrelevant to the fairness of the trial.
I will leave aside other aspects of the conversation which you can read for yourself.
I find this to be an interesting argument that seems to be the same argument that many atheists appear to be running with when they decide that it is likely that God doesn’t exist because a loving, omnipotent and omniscient God wouldn’t allow such horrible evils to occur.
What is the alternative? Let us imagine that every time someone did an evil thing, God swooped in and prevented it. If this happened, would we imagine that that person really had free will?
We knew it was coming: the accusation that my paraphrase was a strawman.
Indeed, virtually every aspect of my ‘paraphrase’ was reflected in the answers that spewed forth, from the hypersensitivity to perceived insults “lay off the ridicule” “that’s just arrogance” while barbs are flying from their own side “are you just some smart a– 12 year old kid who got a certificate in your local church “Defense of Christianity” Sunday School Class?” to the random ‘catch-all’ argument that proves atheism right, the smug reference to ‘ancient books’ such as “You base your thought process on a 1900+ year old set of desert scribblings.” Throw in the knee jerk attempt to force the theist to argue in the terms that the atheist himself is dictating, not the terms the theist is actually presenting, “what in the world does bible god have to do with the Big Bang?!? It is not in your bible, stop trying to hijack the BB theory and pretend that your god caused it.” Let’s not forget the constant ‘rebuttals’ that in fact we ‘don’t know’ and ‘can’t know’ from people who apparently are atheists, and not agnostics.
All these are variations of my paraphrasing.
I recently had a conversation with some gents that I thought I would paraphrase for my blog. I think I’ve had the same kind of conversation a dozen times in the last three months. I have combined all the conversations into one paraphrase. Enjoy.
Them: We believe science is the only way to learn about the world and religion is just faith-mongering superstition. There is no scientific basis for believing in the existence of God. Belief is just irrationalism. I know what you’re going to say. That there had to be something that has always existed. Why not the universe?
Me: Well, science says that the universe had a beginning. So I guess the universe can’t be the thing that has always existed. Surely that means we can explore other options.
I noticed the other day that someone had taken the time to respond at length to my post discussing trancendence, immanence, logic and superlogic. Then I woke up this morning to find out he had posted again on it! Herr Professor, this is just too much! 🙂 Herr Professor, now going by Deacon Duncan, knows that I prefer to have extended discussions on my discussion forum but he has sufficiently stroked my ego that I think a post or two is warranted. It is not every day that I am described as smart and sophisticated and that my arguments are clever. However, since the Professor already is two posts ahead of me he will have to be patient as I catch up. Below is part one. Please read this to the very end, or not at all.
For this entry I am responding mainly to his first article, ‘Can God do Nonsense?’
From the start, I’d like to point out that H. Professor admitted one of my contentions as reasonable. I had argued that an evaluation of God’s ‘omni’ nature doesn’t require that he performs nonsensical demands, like making a rock he cannot lift. I said that even atheists can accept this, and H. Professor did.
Orthodox Christianity holds that God is both a transcendent entity and immanent. If you understand what Christians propose to be true about God, you understand why both attributes follow necessarily. All religions boil down to some expression of one of these two attributes, usually to the exclusion of one to the other. Deism, for example, emphasizes transcendence and despises immanence. Various forms of paganism emphasize immanence, that is they identify ‘God’ with the universe and reject that there is a God ‘outside’ it. Even atheism takes a position here: naturalism is just another variation on immanence and ‘God’ is just another label for the ‘universe.’
Christianity insists that God is both transcendent and immanent.
At any rate, there are some implications of this and I think it would be helpful to understand some arguments regarding Christian theism. I can begin with by trotting out the old ‘Can God create a rock that he cannot lift or move?’ line. The contention is that if God is all powerful he should be able to do this but in doing so he would simultaneously undermine his own omnipotence. Most of the time this is answered by pointing out that some statements are just nonsense and God’s omni-characteristics do not require him to be able to achieve the nonsensical. To understand how this is nonsensical we might take on the next line in this attack, “Can God make a round square?” We see in this case that what is involved is simply definitional. If round is properly and consistently defined and asked to apply to a square, also properly and consistently defined, then the request is nonsensical. Something doesn’t become reasonable just because you insert ‘Can God’ in front of it.
When I was in college I made a nuisance of myself once by finding the slope of a vertical line (which, we are told, is ‘undefined.’) Impossible, you say. As did the math instructor. But I ‘found’ it by rotating the grid beneath the line and recalculated, for now, of course, the line wasn’t perfectly …
If you spend as much time reading the writings of atheists as I do, you see many chest thumping descriptions of atheism as being brave, bold, and the logical position of any rational person. One of the clearest and most sustained presentation of atheism in that sense is in Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” where …