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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Faith and Reason: Part 2

I went back to the Faith and Reason class today, accompanied by Derek Sansone, who had heard about my experience last week and was very interested to see the class for himself. There had been somewhat of a backlash against the previous week's class, which had involved an interview of several invited atheists. Since the format had not allowed for much reponse to the atheists' arguments, many had felt that the unidirectional exchange may have put in jeapordy some of the weaker Christians, and inspired doubt with which they were unable to cope. This was especially seen as an error given the fact that the class takes place within the church context. Kevin Harris, the leader of the class, had consulted with Norman Geisler and William Lane Craig, who both agreed that it was not a good idea to interact with atheism in a church setting- especially without the adequate chance for Christian rebuttal.

To rectify this imbalance, Kevin prepared a brief rebuttal to some of the arguments for atheism (and thus, against Christianity) that had been broached by the invited guests the week before. I'll go through the main points here, and offer my commentary.

Against Naturalism

First, this view has fallen on hard times, especially the last 50 years, with the emergence of Big Bang cosmology. The evidence shows that the universe had a beginning - it is not eternal. There was nothing "natural" prior to the Big Bang because there was no nature! But since something cannot come from nothing uncaused, there must have been something beyond nature to bring it about! So the universe must have had a super- (beyond) natural cause. All matter, space, and time itself came into existence a finite time ago. Since the universe is not eternal, and something cannot come from nothing uncaused, then something eternal beyond the universe must have caused it.

Current cosmology theorizes that space and time both began simultaneously, therefore it makes no sense to talk about anything happening "prior to the Big Bang." In addition, although cosmology theorizes a finite Universe, it does not follow that there was a "beginning." This indicates linear thinking in regards to space-time, when in fact it is multi-dimensional. A good analogy for this is to think of the Universe as occupying the surface area of a sphere. There is no beginning or endpoint to a sphere, but it does occupy a finite surface area.

Against Materialism
There are many things that are real, yet are not material. Like numbers, ideas, propositions, the Laws of Logic, etc. These things are real (exist in reality) but they are not material! Many atheists don't like this observation because it opens the door for the possibility of an immaterial, transcendent God and spiritual reality.
The examples given are all concepts, which are themselves material in nature since they depend on a material brain to store them, and which are metaphysically natural, since no coherent concept is independent of material context.

God of the Gaps
First, the Christian does not need to argue this way. We can point to God based on what we do know, not just on what we don't know. We can show evidence for God from things like the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning design in the universe, and of course the historical evidences for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
This seems to miss the issue. Positing God as the Creator is itselt a God of the Gaps approach, as is the Argument from Fine Tuning. Historical evidences for Jesus really aren't germane to an argument like God of the Gaps, because it is concerned with scientific knowledge, not historical knowledge.
Second, the Christian view is compatible with God being the ultimate cause of various phenomena, yet, He can work through "secondary causation". God created the world (ultimate cause) and the world contains systems that produce various phenomena (secondary cause) - all within God's providence!
This is the approach taken by Deism, and it's also scientifically worthless. The difference between a naturalistic Universe and a Universe created to run naturalistically is nil. But admittedly, for those who take a position of faith, this approach is the best hope to retain appreciation for the scientific approach.

Against Atheistic Morality and Meaning
The fact that atheists recognize morality just like we all do shows that there is incumbent upon mankind a sense of "ought" - one ought do this and one ought not do that, etc. This moved C.S. Lewis from atheism, to theism, to Christianity. "Survival instinct" and social conformity fail to fully explain objective moral values. In that case, whoever is the strongest or whoever gains control of a given society determines what is moral. Imagine for a moment if Hitler had conquered the world and the Nazis were still in control! So, we must go beyond society to judge society and atheism says we can't do that. Yet, that is what they want to do!
This is an attack against moral relativism, and one which those of us here at GTA would support. So the equivocation of atheism with relativism is incorrect, but it's a common error among Christians.
Second, notice that "better" implies a best. We don't know if things are getting "better" unless we have a best in mind. If we are making "progress" then there must be a standard to which we are progressing. But on atheism, there really is no ultimate standard. It is just what you, they, Hitler, or anyone else thinks is the standard. Therefore, we must all fight to get "ours" (survival of the fittest?).
This is not true. It is possible to compare two things without having an ultimate standard. Evolution, for example, functions by giving selective advantages to populations which are "better" suited to their environment than other populations. It does not follow, however, that there exists some ultimate standard of a perfect squirrel to which all existing squirrels can be compared, nor to which they are progressing towards. And you'll notice the naturalistic fallacy implied by the final part of this section, I'm sure.
Third, notice much of this can be applied to meaning too. If there is no ultimate meaning in the universe then one is left to create his or her own meaning. If God does not exist, then there is no ultimate meaning in life. The entire universe and everything in it will one day die out in what scientists call the "heat death". In that case be a cannibal or a cardiologist - it ultimately matters not.
This section carries much more weight with a Christian- the idea of creating one's own meaning is foreign to the Christian mindset. The lack of "ultimate" meaning in life does not intimidate me, it challenges me to do my best to find that meaning on my own.
In conclusion, the Christian need not ever doubt his or her faith in the Risen Christ due to the arguments of atheism. Atheism is an inferior worldview which does not adequately explain the universe, the meaningful human heart, nor the historical data concerning our Lord.
This is what really interests me about the desire for reasoned arguments and evidence to the Christian- their intersection with faith. It seems to me that faith that needs to be bolstered by arguments and evidence is a very weak faith indeed- I wonder if, given a hypothetical situation in which their arguments and evidence are found by them to be lacking, would they give up that same faith?

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14 Comments:

At 5/29/2006 1:20 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

To your excellent analysis I would merely add that "might makes right" is the philosophy of the God-believer, not of atheism. It is the God-believer who believes that God's infinite might grants God infinite right over human beings, the right to kill and genocide indiscriminately. THAT is the ideology of a Hitler or a Stalin.

 
At 5/30/2006 6:47 AM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

"THAT is the ideology of a Hitler or a Stalin."

Also, let's not forget that Hitler and Stalin were doing just as the Vantillians claim: they were "borrowing" their morality from the Christian worldview.

It's nice to throw the dog one of its pre-chewed bones once in a while. May it choke on it.

Regards,
Dawson

 
At 5/30/2006 1:25 PM, Blogger Berk declaimed...

There are many things that are real, yet are not material. Like numbers, ideas, propositions, the Laws of Logic, etc. These things are real (exist in reality) but they are not material! Many atheists don't like this observation because it opens the door for the possibility of an immaterial, transcendent God and spiritual reality.

I have no problem with labeling things as "material" and "immaterial." I am even willing to use the concepts SOUL and SPIRIT in my language. I differentiate MATERIAL from IMMATERIATL in that what is MATERIAL has real metphysical boundaries that exist AND can be drawn in such a way as to show someone else with the same faculties that to which I am referring. The IMMATERIAL has real metaphysical boundaries but I cannot draw them in such a way as to show you what I am observing.

So, in a nutshell - matter is that which is bounded by real "M-E" and can be drawn for another observer whereas the immaterial is bounded by real "M-E" but cannot be draw for another observer.

Take the concept SOUL. I can show you what gives rise to it. There seem to be things in reality which need motivation from without. These things can't seem to move themselves - we'll call them ROCKS. On the other hand there seems to be things that can move themselves - what causes it? An emergent property it seems - we'll call it a soul. But what can we actually point to in reality? So, there is a REAL difference that gives rise to the concept but on the one hand I can draw out for you a ROCK but on the other I cannot draw out for you a SOUL.

I am not saying that there are metaphysically real entities called souls. Likewise, I am also saying that there are no real metaphysical entities called matter either. Both are dependent upon our level of perception and how we have purposefully chosen to divide existence into categories of understanding. I think there is a real problem with taking ANY concept and applying it to the underlying reality that exists. This seesm to fly in the face of conceptual axioms does it not? Existence is not meant to define what reality IS only that IT IS - and by way of extension that it has primacy over our modes of awareness.

I do not think that metaphysically matter or immaterial have any metaphysical significance. Reality is whatever it is - material and immaterial are just concepts we use to differentiate between our own level of perception.

 
At 5/30/2006 2:55 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

That's great berk, but we also have to use concepts in the way people use them. I doubt that many people would qualify the mind as "immaterial" (whatever that means).

 
At 5/30/2006 3:34 PM, Blogger Berk declaimed...

What is matter then? Don't you need soemthing in order to differentiate from in order to grasp a concept? How does one form the concept MATTER? Entities? To what in reality does one refer when using the concept ENTITY?

 
At 5/30/2006 4:44 PM, Blogger BlackSun declaimed...

Radio waves are not 'material,' but they are very real, and vital to commerce and communication. Radiation can kill you--it kinetically knocks apart your DNA. High-energy radiation (or any radiation) can be shown to have an equivalent mass, based on the wave-particle duality, and the de Broglie wavelength.

The material world includes all derivative phenomena of matter, visible or otherwise. This includes consciousness and ideas.

The false material/spiritual dichotomy is just another theistic smokescreen. I think you have to have an I.Q. in the two digits to not understand that ideas are actually as real as objects (most good ones are abstractions).

Theists have no valid arguments, so they invent stuff like this.

 
At 5/30/2006 4:57 PM, Blogger Berk declaimed...

The material world includes all derivative phenomena of matter, visible or otherwise.

This seems to say that existence IS matter. Existence as an axiom is not about defining what reality IS.

To what in reality does the concept MATERIAL refer?

 
At 5/30/2006 5:24 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"What is matter then?"

The only definition of matter we have right now is : "that which is observable". And that's what we have to be contented with until we find the fundamental nature of reality.


"Don't you need soemthing in order to differentiate from in order to grasp a concept?"

At the most basic level, yes. But not in one's constructs. You can construct a concept like "universe", which has no differentiation, by uniting the concepts "set", "all" and "existents".


"To what in reality does one refer when using the concept ENTITY?"

An entity is a discrete unit. The concept refer to anything that we observe.

 
At 5/30/2006 5:26 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"Radio waves are not 'material,'"

Radio waves can be observed through the use of radio sets, and therefore are material. Also, we know that they are composed of electromagnetic waves, which are material.

 
At 5/31/2006 4:56 PM, Blogger demonsthenes declaimed...

This is great discussion. I would love to provide a forum for this kinda of discussion next time you have one.

I won't spam, so let me know if you wouldn't mind sharing your conversatoins on diff. medium. :)

 
At 5/31/2006 5:10 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Well, I already have a perfectly good message board... (graveyardofthegods.com/forum)

 
At 6/01/2006 8:06 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

"Radio waves are not 'material,'"

"Radio waves can be observed through the use of radio sets, and therefore are material. Also, we know that they are composed of electromagnetic waves, which are material."

You said much the same thing when I tried to use that example several months ago. I'm glad you did. The imaginary numbers that are also being called immaterial are not immaterial. It is merely a way to look at something material, like the mathematical equivalent to a hole in the ground or the money you owe on a loan. Transcendental numbers are even "less immaterial". For example, just because I can't write out the complete value of pi does not mean that it is not an actual ratio of the circumference of a circle divided by it's radius.

 
At 10/21/2008 8:01 PM, Blogger jack340 declaimed...

In these various war of words, I have two rather simple questions:

1)If (and I understand that for some folks here, this is a huge "if") you were there following Jesus around in His day and you actually saw first-hand the miracles the Bible says He performed, would you argue with Him as to the existence and nature of God, or would you believe God was actually at work through Him and believe what He said? I'm asking you to assume for a moment that what is now written is actually what He intended to be written, such that your belief would be in Him as the Son of God (God Himself in flesh) and the Savior of man. Would these miracles be enough for you to believe in God and in His direct Manifestation/intervention?
2)Okay, that is quite hypothetical... let's get current - what would God need to do in,through or around you today such that you would believe He is the God of the Scriptures and the Creator and Owner and Sustainer of the Universe? Is it knowledge you need, a great work, a better argument? What would it take?

I'd like to ask you to dodge the temptation to poke fun at the possibility - really, what would it take, then or now?

 
At 10/21/2008 8:04 PM, Blogger jack340 declaimed...

In these various war of words, I have two rather simple questions:

1)If (and I understand that for some folks here, this is a huge "if") you were there following Jesus around in His day and you actually saw first-hand the miracles the Bible says He performed, would you argue with Him as to the existence and nature of God, or would you believe God was actually at work through Him and believe what He said? I'm asking you to assume for a moment that what is now written is actually what He intended to be written, such that your belief would be in Him as the Son of God (God Himself in flesh) and the Savior of man. Would these miracles be enough for you to believe in God and in His direct Manifestation/intervention?
2)Okay, that is quite hypothetical... let's get current - what would God need to do in,through or around you today such that you would believe He is the God of the Scriptures and the Creator and Owner and Sustainer of the Universe? Is it knowledge you need, a great work, a better argument? What would it take?

I'd like to ask you to dodge the temptation to poke fun at the possibility - really, what would it take, then or now?

-Jack

 

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