Monday, November 26, 2012

Presupposing that a Christian God exists

Before I stumbled across Deacon Duncan's review of the debate between Russell Glasser and Pastor Stephen Feinstein, I'd started reading the debate (my prior comments are here and here), and was planning a more elaborate review. Since Duncan is doing this already, I'm relieved of that motivation, and can record my take-away for handy recall, should I ever need it. To re-establish the context of the Glasser-Feinstein debate, Glasser is an atheist, Feinstein is a presuppositionalist apologist, and the topic - which I never saw declared, but which I infer from Feinstein's opening post - is that a Christian worldview is correct.

Pastor Stephen Feinstein asserts that without the Christian God, intelligibility is not possible, thus atheism is impossible. By this last phrase, I believe he means that the lack of belief in a personal god - atheism - cannot be true. His words:

I affirm that the Christian worldview is the only worldview that is possible given the preconditions of intelligibility

In a nutshell, Feinstein's argument reduces to an unsupported assertion that the Christian God exists.

My summary - which draws on my own thoughts as well as Duncan's - is this:

Reality must present itself in a way that's capable of being comprehended by hypothetical observers if it is to be understood - it must be "self-consistent". Its features, their attributes, behaviors and relationships must be repeatable under repeatable conditions in order to be understood. From observations that we actual observers make, we can then make inferences about their attributes, behaviors and relationships that might pertain under varying conditions. From those inferences, we then can derive fundamental conventions ("laws" or "axioms") upon which other knowledge items are constructed. Introducing unobserved features into this framework makes the framework inconsistent and thus unintelligible. A god is just such an unobserved feature.

A god or other unobservable feature is not logically ruled out in this scheme, but is instead made unnecessary due to the principle of parsimony ("Occam's Razor"). All other things being equal, the simpler scheme is to be preferred.

It's that simple.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Read the Bible from start to finish

Read the Bible from start to finish.

I mean it.

Start at Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1 "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." and slog your way verse-by-verse through the Hebrew Bible to Malachi 4:6 "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.", and on through Matthew in the New Testament "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." to Revelations 22:21 "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you all. Amen."

If you're feeling studious, write a note or two on each chapter. Regardless, you will probably not get far before you say to yourself "there's something wrong with this".

You might even stop at Gen 1:1 and ask yourself "who is this 'God' and where does he get this heaven and earth-creating power?". It's conceivable that you could get a bit pickier and ask "what beginning, what heaven?". Then, you'll write a note to yourself to see if this God guy is explained, where he came from, how he got his powers. Maybe a few clearer definitions will be offered, so that you get a sense of whether this guy is worthy of further attention.

By the end of Genesis 1, you'll no doubt have noticed how backward God works ... Or how backwards the author got it. He's creating earth and grass before he creates the sun and moon; he creates man "in our image" - even tho' no one can explain why God needs a peepee or a vajayjay ... Let alone why man and woman would be in their (or his) image in the first place. Extra credit: look for the chapter in the Bible that explains why he refers to himself as "in our image" - as if he's a group. Alternatively, how do male and female both come from his image? Did he have male and female junk?

Then he makes man (and woman) again in Chapter 2.

My favorite stuff is in chapters 6 through 9 - Noah's Ark. Try to figure out how that worked ... You'll have fun.

It goes on and on and on like this.

I dare you to read it.

Is God as magnificent as Reality?

It occurred to me that folks that assert the existence of God - specifically the Christian God - without providing evidence or sound rational justification, may be playing to a pretty uncritical audience.

If the consumer of this proclamation is uncritical or ambivalent, then the assertion that "God is real" may simply satisfy the general feeling that there is something greater than we are at work in the universe. This general story, that there's a personal agent spinning the dials of existence, has been passed down for millennia to this very day. Depending on when and where you were born, the story is slightly different.

These stories are obsolete. They ignore the observable and magnificent reality that we live in - that each of us is unique, that all of us together are alone (so far as we can tell) in an enormous universe, that we humans have a duty to cherish each other and preserve each other for as long as we can so that we can explore this life, this universe, and someday travel to the stars and insure the survival of our descendants until the stars no longer shine.

Metaphysics or nonsense?

I mentioned this in my last post, that Deacon Duncan at Evangelical Realism is reviewing the Pastor Stephen Feinstein-Russell Glasser web debate. I'm fascinated at the mental gymnastics that Feinstein employs to make "some point" that supports his conception of God. I have to admit to being stopped dead in my tracks at the things that Feinstein says. Not to be rude or anything, but this is utter nonsense. Here's a snippet that he uses to explain (or make excuses for) the Trinity. He says:

God is a Trinity. God, as presented in the Bible, is one God who exists as three persons. As great of a mystery as this is, it is the only conception of God that A) solves the one and many problem of philosophy and B) avoids the self-defeating contradiction inherent in all views of a unitarian God.


Case in point, an attribute is defined as a characteristic of God intrinsic to His nature, to where it is impossible for God to be God, and yet not have that characteristic. Thus, an attribute of God is “personality” as I have already said. Personality requires relational existence. Therefore, if God were not a Trinity, who then did God have a personal relationship with prior to creation? He would not be a person until He made other persons, which would make Him dependent upon creation, thereby removing His distinction from it and His sovereignty, thus causing the whole concept of God to drown in contradiction. If God did not have the attribute of personality until the start of creation, then He existed without a characteristic that is necessary to Him by definition. I think you get the point. The triune God solves this problem since for all eternity the one God had a personal relationship among the three persons of the Trinity.

If this is "sophisticated theology", I can imagine the prominent counter-apologists dismissing it as irrelevant gobbledygook.

You'll notice in that second paragraph that it relies on bare assertion and argument from ignorance - no evidence or sound argument is provided.

A friend once commented that, in general, philosophy is a black hole. If this style of gobbledygook is what a philosopher has to do when they don't have evidence or a straightforward explanation, then I can see why so many laypeople think philosophy is crap.

Be sure to visit Evangelical Realism to get the in-depth analysis.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Objective and subjective existence

I was going to post a few entries on the Pastor Stephen Feinstein-Russell Glasser web debate on the existence of God, but Deacon Duncan at Evangelical Realism is WAY AHEAD of me, and does a way better job. I may still make a few small comments - it's my first serious look at "presuppositional apologetics" - but only to add anything that I think is missing, or to reinterpret some of the lengthier passages into smaller units that work for me. Links to all rounds of the debate can be found on this post at the Atheist Experience website.

Jumping forward into Duncan's second post on the debate, he summarizes the ideas of objective and subjective existence nicely in the following two paragraphs.

This “real” reality is what we could and should call material reality—not in the sense that it’s made of atoms (because atoms are real, and what are they made of, eh?), but in the sense that it exists in and of itself, as the necessary being. Fictional realities are not material realities, because their whole existence is contingent on the subjective perceptions and thoughts of some observer who is thinking about them. Santa Claus, for example, “exists” only in a fictional “reality” whose existence depends on people thinking about him and telling kids about him and so on. If we could wave a magic wand that would make everyone forget about him, and make every reference disappear from our art and literature and so on, then his “existence” would likewise cease, because it’s contingent on the perceptions of at least one observer.

Gravity, on the other hand, is an aspect of material reality, even though it’s not made of atoms. Wave the same magic wand, make people forget about gravity, delete every reference to gravity from literature and art, even render every sentient being in the universe unconscious so they can’t think about anything, and planets will still orbit their stars and rain will still fall down. Material reality does not depend on the perceptions of any third party, it exists in and of itself.

There are two implications raised here. One - that a proposition considered to "objectively exist" does, in fact, objectively exist if it can be discovered (or rediscovered) whether or not humans have knowledge of it, or have written of it. For instance, there is gravity on Mars as well as in the Eta Carinae star system. We can say gravity exists because it is consistent in all contexts that we laypeople care about. Two - and more relevant to me today - is that the concept of objective existence leads us to the logical conclusion that "gods" do not exist. In other words, the concepts of Yahweh, Allah, Zeus, Odin, Krishna, Horus would not exist here, or across the universe, without humans to supply them. An alien life form, if it exists, might have a concept of a higher power, but it would be nothing like the stories we have been telling ourselves for thousands of years.

I think that, as much as any thought experiment you can perform about a god, is sufficient to demonstrate the absurdity of the claim that a personal god exists.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Yes Songs

I like Yes.
Yes logo
I first heard their second album "Time and a Word" sometime during my senior year of high school, and have been hooked ever since. Obviously, after decades, and decreasing frequency of new albums, and decreasing surprises in their newer music, I no longer am the unabashed fanboy that I was for several decades. I still, however, go on a "Yes jag" every year or two, when I'm overcome with nostalgia by songs that span four decades.

The opening song on "Time and a Word" - a cover of Richie Havens' "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed" - included a full orchestra and a frenetic, soaring string section introduction that still gets my heart going to this day. Yes' third album - "The Yes Album" - was possibly their best endeavor, although there's heavy voting for "Fragile", "Close to the Edge" and the poppy "90125".

Over the years, the one song that has grown on me, so much so that I consider it to be one of my favorites, is "The Gates of Delirium" from their 1974 album "Relayer". It occupies an entire album side - nearly 22 minutes for those of you that have never handled a vinyl LP. It is an epic reimagining of Tolstoy's War and Peace - an alternatively mellow, driving, cacophonous, driving and finally mellow journey through war. I remember hearing it soon after the start of the 1991 invasion of Iraq, and being deeply moved. Again, in 2003, I purposely spun it while coming home after work the day that the U.S. invaded Iraq a second time (for a far less noble cause).
A few days ago, I stumbled upon the "Yes Symphonic" video of it, and was completely captivated. This is incredible. If you like Yes, then you HAVE to watch this!

Why don't the religious have their own LHC project?

I'm just starting to read Sean Carroll's much-anticipated book "The Particle at the End of the Universe" (I just realized that the title was a nod to Douglass Adams!) In the prologue, Carroll notes the thousands of theorists, engineers, experimenters, the billions of dollars and the decades spent to find what appears to be the Higgs Boson - that "goddamn particle".

I wonder why the religious, the theologists and the apologists for God don't mount a similar effort if they are so sure of God's existence.

Any ideas why?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Atheism is impossible

I'm getting ready to read the debate between Russell Glasser and Pastor Stephen, but in the first few paragraphs by Pastor Stephen, I was struck by the statement "...I believe atheism is untenable, irrational, and ultimately impossible."

This is worth a quick comment before getting back to my reading:

The idea that "atheism is ... impossible" stands out like the sun on a clear day. Atheism - the lack of belief in a personal deity, is by all measures, MORE likely to be a correct belief than theism, because a universe that does not include the complications of a parallel supernatural system to provide a basis for supernatural beings such as God, is inherently simpler and more likely per Occam's razor.

This ought to be interesting hearing the arguments on how it isn't!