9/05/2008

Al Mohler on New Atheism

I just finished Al Mohler’s book Atheism Remix. It’s a short, pithy call to Christians for a distinctly biblical response to Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Crossway’s new book blog has a link to a clip of Mohler talking about the topic.

The book is a good read. Mohler summarizes a response from Alvin Plantinga in an article on the web called “The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism ad absurdum.” The web article was worth the price of Mohler’s book. Mohler chooses to summarize other people’s arguments instead of putting forth his own, and that does trouble me.

3 comments:

Samuel Skinner said...

Hello. My name is Sam and I am dropping in to change your mind. To that end, I am taking the web article you linked and showing the problems with it (and answers to the questions it pretends to ask).

...

First of he does ad hominum's and than stawmans like crazy. We can ignore that- it is softening up, but not an actual argument.

For starters, the theory of evolution by natural selection IS a blind process. Know, it could be overseen by something... but that falls victim to Occum's Razor, a concept this author seems not to have heard of. The theory of evolution accounts for life without the need for any extra things, and hence anything extra is shaved off by Occum's Razor.

In short, he doesn't understand Occum's Razor, and procedes to strawman the argument.

Next, this:
"Not much. First, is God complex? According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like. Some of the discussions of divine simplicity get pretty complicated, not to say arcane.3 (It isn't only Catholic theology that declares God simple; according to the Belgic Confession, a splendid expression of Reformed Christianity, God is "a single and simple spiritual being.") So first, according to classical theology, God is simple, not complex.4 More remarkable, perhaps, is that according to Dawkins' own definition of complexity, God is not complex. According to his definition (set out in The Blind Watchmaker), something is complex if it has parts that are "arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone." But of course God is a spirit, not a material object at all, and hence has no parts.5 A fortiori (as philosophers like to say) God doesn't have parts arranged in ways unlikely to have arisen by chance. Therefore, given the definition of complexity Dawkins himself proposes, God is not complex."

Why is God simple? Because we say God is simple! That is it, his rejection of Dawkin's point- he is asserting, by fiat that Dawkins is wrong. Let me go into detail- I see you are not convinced:

"according to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like."

If you look, God is able to violate the rules of logic, defintion, and probably a few others. Property, for example desribes various features a thing has- it CANNOT be said thing. Actual is the current state and potential is what it can be. If they are the same, said object is unchanging- which doesn't make it simple. Essence of the core of something and existance is the property of being real- they are completely unrelated!

"Some of the discussions of divine simplicity get pretty complicated, not to say arcane."

But all of them assume God exists- not only that, they assume certain things about God are true. None of the assumptions have been proven or are even possible. Some of them are even logical contradictions.

"It isn't only Catholic theology that declares God simple; according to the Belgic Confession, a splendid expression of Reformed Christianity, God is "a single and simple spiritual being.")"

Completely irrelveant- the truth is NOT statistical.

"But of course God is a spirit, not a material object at all, and hence has no parts.5 A fortiori (as philosophers like to say) God doesn't have parts arranged in ways unlikely to have arisen by chance."

And here we get "God is supernatural and thus can ignore the laws of logic". Here is the problem- for God to have intellgience, he MUST have parts that are arranged in a complex pattern. ALL intellgience is based off of emergent properties. This is another case of saying "God is special and can ignore the fact that it violates everything we know".

It is worth pointing out that it opens up a host of problems- namely, being made of spirit doesn't solve the problem, but makes more.

"So first, it is far from obvious that God is complex. But second, suppose we concede, at least for purposes of argument, that God is complex. Perhaps we think the more a being knows, the more complex it is; God, being omniscient, would then be highly complex. Perhaps so; still, why does Dawkins think it follows that God would be improbable? Given materialism and the idea that the ultimate objects in our universe are the elementary particles of physics, perhaps a being that knew a great deal would be improbable—how could those particles get arranged in such a way as to constitute a being with all that knowledge? Of course we aren't given materialism. Dawkins is arguing that theism is improbable; it would be dialectically deficient in excelsis to argue this by appealing to materialism as a premise. Of course it is unlikely that there is such a person as God if materialism is true; in fact materialism logically entails that there is no such person as God; but it would be obviously question-begging to argue that theism is improbable because materialism is true."

And he argues materialism isn't true. Here is the thing- there is no reason to believe that supernaturalism is true. Occum's Razor appears AGAIN.

"So why think God must be improbable? According to classical theism, God is a necessary being; it is not so much as possible that there should be no such person as God; he exists in all possible worlds. But if God is a necessary being, if he exists in all possible worlds, then the probability that he exists, of course, is 1, and the probability that he does not exist is 0. Far from its being improbable that he exists, his existence is maximally probable. So if Dawkins proposes that God's existence is improbable, he owes us an argument for the conclusion that there is no necessary being with the attributes of God—an argument that doesn't just start from the premise that materialism is true. Neither he nor anyone else has provided even a decent argument along these lines; Dawkins doesn't even seem to be aware that he needs an argument of that sort."

This is the first cause argument. However, there is no reason to believe God is a necesary being except that theologians have DEFINED God as a necesary being.

It would be nice is we are told why we need a necesary being, but sadly, we aren't given that.

"Fine-Tuning Argument."

I'll skip this because it has certain obvious flaws. For starters, the physical laws (in case you are unaware) are emrgent- they are based on the cumulative results of things at the bottom. We don't know if the physical laws could be any differant- in fact they may always set to these values.

More to the point, there is a major assumption in the argument- life is special- after all, the universe is fine tunned for that. However, this is a totally unproven assumption and it CANNOT be proven or even supported except with circular logic. Thus the entire counter argument is invalid.

"Hey, hold on a minute! You have explained nothing at all! Any intelligent life that designed those tractors would have to be at least as complex as they are."

Once again, he strawmans, without realizing the point his opponents are making. The point is that life started off simple- simple enough to emerge due to the vagarities of chance. Gradually some forms became complex.

It is worth noting the objection is valid if there are no signs of intellgient life on the planet- after all, it doesn't explain anything in such a case. Yeah- i read to much sci fi.

"Similarly, in invoking God as the original creator of life, we aren't trying to explain organized complexity in general, but only a particular kind of it, i.e., terrestrial life. So even if (contrary to fact, as I see it) God himself displays organized complexity, we would be perfectly sensible in explaining the existence of terrestrial life in terms of divine activity."

This comes just after the argument where he declares that God is responsible for all complexity in the universe.

"Still, how is that a point against theism? Explanations come to an end; for theism they come to an end in God."

Once again, showing a complete lack of understanding of Occum's Razor.

"The materialist or physicalist, for example, doesn't have an explanation for the existence of elementary particles: they just are."

Except those have physical existance- we KNOW they exist.

"Now the neurophysiology on which our beliefs depend will doubtless be adaptive; but why think for a moment that the beliefs dependent on or caused by that neurophysiology will be mostly true? Why think our cognitive faculties are reliable?"

They often aren't that is the basis of optical illusions. That is why the idea of logic and rational thinking were thought up- to provide a system to check if our beliefs are false or true.

I'd go into more detail, but I don't want to bore you.

J. K. Jones said...

Thank you for dropping by, Mr. Skinner. I am unable to adequately respond to your comment at this time due to some pressing personal issue. I will get back to you, though, as I respect your views.

I would like to point out that Occum's Razor is not a helpful theory at all. Many scientific discoveries have been made which have led to a more complex theory that better explains the facts found in nature than the previous, simpler theory. Take the move from Newtonian Physics to General Relativity (not to mention Quantum Theory).

Second, you might want to review and / or comment on the posts under the search label “Evolution,” or, better yet, the search label “Teleological Argument.”

JK

J. K. Jones said...

Mr. Skinner,

To respond to your post at a more involved level:


Part 1: Plantinga

I have not read as much of Plantinga’s books and articles as I would like, but I have read enough to know he is a big boy, and he can take care of himself.



Part 2: The Argument from Purpose:

You state that evolution is a “blind process,” but why should I think so? How do you know evolution is a blind process? You state “life started off simple,” but how do that life started off simple? Your comment assumes certain things it does not prove, or even argue for.

Assuming that evolution is true, we find the universe exists in such a way as to support life. In the universe, we find that things are organized in such a way as to give rise to organisms that are filled with things that serve a purpose. Nothing serves a purpose without something making it to serve that purpose.

The ‘purposiveness’ we find in the universe is an argument that life is special. Why would the universe be designed to give rise to life if life had no meaning? The argument does not assume life is special; it establishes that life is special.

Unless we assume that our thoughts and concepts arrive from chance, and there is no purpose at all in the universe or organization at all in our reasoning. If that is the case, we should stop arguing because rational discourse has no meaning anyway.



Part 3: The Argument from Science

You say “there is no reason to believe that supernaturalism is true,” but the very nature of science itself requires certain fixed truths such as the laws of logic, the laws of mathematics, and the uniformity of nature. You said “…the physical laws… are emergent – they are based on the cumulative results of things at the bottom. We don’t know if the physical laws could be any different – in fact they may always set to these values.” If they always set to these values, then I want an explanation for why they do.

Why is nature uniform, that is, why is nature the same today as it was yesterday? Why should we expect that nature will be the same tomorrow as it was today? David Hume is famous for arguing that we cannot know the cause of any event with certainty. Hume is less famous for his argument that we cannot expect nature to behave the same in the future as it has in the past. Why should we expect there to be any physical laws at all? Time plus chance would not give us an adequate explanation. Why should we expect matter in motion (a purely physical universe) to behave the same tomorrow as it does today? Would it not be more reasonable to think that the chance patterns we see in matter would be different tomorrow just based on elementary laws of probability? Why should we expect that many ‘heads’ without any ‘tails’ in the ‘coin flip’ of a purely physical universe?

I have an explanation: God made it that way. Being the reasonable person you are, you should want to provide an alternative explanation. I would love to hear it.

We see from this that even that even the idea that the physical universe “may always set to these values” powerfully argues for God’s existence.




Part 4: The Argument from First Cause

Let’s use argument to get to much of the idea of God’s ‘simplicity.’ Simplicity is a technical term that does require some argumentation and definition. I will avoid theological terms as much as possible.

I exist. I must exist in order to deny my own existence. This may seem an obvious point, but some make much of the idea that everything we see is an illusion. Even if that is the case, I must exist in order to have the illusion. I was caused. There was a time when I came to be. My own self-awareness and the empirical evidence that I find support this.

There must have been a cause of my existence. Something must have existed before me in order to bring about my existence. Out of nothing, nothing comes. There is something now, so there was never nothing. Remember this is about causing to be. It is about existence itself.

If I trace back from the cause of my existence to the cause of the cause of my existence, and so on, I must arrive at something that never came to be. The series of causes cannot go back without end. Some examples follow.

It is not possible to count to the end of the series of positive real numbers when you start at zero (0, 1, 2, 3, 4…). You can always count one more. It is, in one sense, an infinite series of discrete things. You cannot count to the end of the string of positive numbers; it has no end. Starting from zero, you cannot count to the beginning of the string of negative numbers; it has no beginning (0, -1, -2, -3, …). We go endlessly in either direction. We cannot count either up or down through an endless series of numbers. If we count forward to zero, we must start counting from a particular negative number, or we will never count to zero.

It is similarly impossible to move through an infinite series of discrete moments of time. For example, if time extends forward endlessly it will obviously never end. Reversing the process, if time extends endlessly into the past, time would never have arrived at this moment because an endless number of moments of time would have elapsed to get to now.

Going back to the series of causes leading up to me, this series cannot contain an endless number of causes in the past because I would then be the end of an endless series of causes, which is impossible. There must have been a first cause to begin the series of causes that lead to my existence. This first cause must have always existed in order to give a starting place to the series. If there was a time when it did not exist, there would be nothing now.

This first cause must always exist because it has the power of being in itself. Again, it existed before everything else, so nothing else could cause it to be. It’s being is not caused by anything but itself. It’s being cannot be changed by anything outside itself in any way.

This first cause must have the power to bring about everything else. It was the only thing that existed at the time of creation, so everything must have been a result of its action. If it has the power to cause everything to be, it must have the ability to cease to cause everything to be. It can create or destroy.

This first cause must be able to cause itself to act to produce everything else. The first cause existed before everything else, so there was nothing else to cause it to act. This ability to act or not to act implies something like the freedom of choice. Free choice is a key element of personhood.

So the argument has arrived at a being that has always existed and cannot cease to exist (what Christian theology has called being ‘eternal’). This being has the power to bring the universe into existence or take the universe out of existence (what Christian theology has meant by omnipotence; the power to do anything with the creation that is possible), and has the power to cause itself to act (this is part of the foundation for personhood).

This eternal, self-existent, omnipotent, personal First Cause is remarkably similar to the God of Christianity. I have arrived at this Being from examination of the things that are present in the universe right now.

Please excuse the length of my response, but I wanted to try my best.

JK

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