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Random thoughts and views of Tim Young

Archive for the ‘God’ Category

St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument for God’s Existence

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St. Anselm of Canterbury was an interesting guy.  He was born 1033 in Aosta to a well off family.  Though he was a bright and well liked child who stole the affection of his mother, Anselm had a strained relationship with his father.  In his teens, he became intensely interested in religion and wanted to enter the monastery, but was denied.   While in his early twenties, Anselm’s mother died and his relationship with his father became hostile.  Unable to cope with this father, Anselm left his house at the age of 23 and wondered around Burgundy and France for three years.

Around the age of 27 Anselm arrived at a monastery and soon after became a monk.  His brilliance was quickly noticed, and he became popular among his peers.  At one point, they challenged him to prove the truths of scripture by reason alone (i.e. without using the Bible).  Anselm accepted the challenge, and wrote the Monologion.  In this book, Anselm attempted to argue for the existence of God and many of the Christian doctrines without the aid of Scripture. This was no easy task. Ultimately the book is a long chain of arguments that can be tiresome to read.   Anselm would later describe the book as being “knit together by linking of many arguments,” and this fact caused Anselm to be dissatisfied with the work.  It was not that he thought the arguments in the book were false, it was just that they were inelegantly strung together into a long laborious chain of arguments.

As Anselm’s dissatisfaction grew, he became very anxious to discover a new, single, argument that would, in his own words,

require no other for its proof than itself alone; and alone would suffice to demonstrate that God truly exists, and that there is a supreme good requiring nothing else, which all other things require for their existence and well-being; and whatever we believe regarding the divine Being

Anselm desired a single argument that would prove God’s existence and every attribute associated with him.  Anselm took this very seriously to the point that he became obsessed by it.  He lost his appetite and could hardly sleep at night.  At one point his obsession got so bad that he could no longer pay attention in church which lead him to believe the task was a temptation from the devil!  Eventually Anselm finally did discover his “proof,” and he wrote it in the second chapter of his work Proslogion.

So just what was Anselm’s great argument?  Let’s see his own words,

AND so, Lord, do you, who do give understanding to faith, give me, so far as you knowest it to be profitable, to understand that you are as we believe; and that you are that which we believe. And indeed, we believe that you are a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. Or is there no such nature, since the fool has said in his heart, there is no God? (Psalms xiv. 1). But, at any rate, this very fool, when he hears of this being of which I speak –a being than which nothing greater can be conceived –understands what be hears, and what he understands is in his understanding; although he does not understand it to exist.

For, it is one thing for an object to be in the understanding, and another to understand that the object exists. When a painter first conceives of what he will afterwards perform, he has it in his understanding, but be does not yet understand it to be, because he has not yet performed it. But after he has made the painting, be both has it in his understanding, and he understands that it exists, because he has made it.

Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.

Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.

Did it convince you?  My guess is you’re probably still trying to figure out just what the argument is!  Well, it can probably be formulated like this,

(1)   God is by definition the greatest possible being.

(2)    The greatest possible being exists in the mind.

(3)   Either the greatest possible being exists in the mind only, or he is exists in the mind and in reality.

(4)   Assume (for reductio) that the greatest possible being exists in the mind only.

(5)   In that case there could be a greater being viz. that very same being existing both in the mind and in reality.

(6)   But then there could a being greater than the greatest possible being (which would be a contradiction).

(7)   Therefore the greatest possible being exists both in the mind and in reality.

Think on that for a second! 🙂  Do you think Anselm was successful?

_______________

–All quotations are from the preface of Proslogion except for the main argument which comes from chapter 2 of the same work.

William Lane Craig’s Moral Argument for God’s Existence

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  1. If God does not exist, then there are no objective moral values or duties.
  2. There are objective moral values and duties.
  3. Therefore, God exist.

It seems to me that those who want to reject this argument will do so by denying the second premise.  In that case he’d likely be a non-cognitivist or a relativist.  In response I think Craig would push his point about there being circumstances in which we can just see that certain acts are right or wrong.  We can just see, for example, that many of the acts done by Hitler were immoral.

I suppose some would want to reject the first promise.  So, for example, they might give a naturalistic account of moral properties.  They might argue, for example, that “keeping your promises is good” is equivalent to “keeping your promises is N” (where “N” is some natural property like “maximally conducive to human wellbeing.”).   Or they might give a non-naturalistic account of moral properties, in which case “good” would refer to some irreducible moral property (i.e. a property that could not be reduced to “N”).  I think in both cases Craig’s response would be “So what?  Why should either case create objective moral duties for me?”

His argument seems good to me, but I suppose I have my own biases.

Thoughts?

Written by Tim

January 15, 2010 at 9:58 am

You Can’t Prove a Universal Negative!…Or can you?

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Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m a Bible thump’n evangelical Christian, but I have to point out bad arguments when I see them…even when they come from Christians.  In fact, I think I ought to be harder on Christians then I am non-Christians.  After all, we are supposed to be in possession of the most complete and cogent world view.  So why would we need to propound bad arguments?  So here’s a bad argument that I’ll seen thrown around a bit.  It goes something like this: 

Atheist: God doesn’t exist.

Theist: But you cannot prove a universal negative, so you cannot know that God doesn’t exist.  In order to know that God didn’t exist, you’d have to examine the whole universe.  But you cannot do that so you cannot know that God exist 

My dear Christian brothers and sisters, if you are using this argument, STOP!!  Do not pass go, do not collect $200…  It’s a bad argument.  Why?  Because you can prove a universal negative.  How?  By showing that it’s falsehood involves us in an inconsistency. Here’s an example: 

Universal negative: There are no four-sided circles. 

Now, let’s suppose, for a second that the above sentence were false.  In that case there would be at least one object in the universe that was a four-sided circle.  But how could there be a four-sided circle?  What would it look like exactly?  Try picturing it in your head… Don’t feel bad if you can’t.  In fact you shouldn’t be able to conceive of four-side circle because the concept is contradictory.  By definition circles don’t have sides.  So the existence of a four-sided circle would be inconsistent, hence the above is true. 

Now, in the past atheists have argued that believing in God’s existence is like believing the existence of a four-sided circle.  They argued that God—were He to exist—would be a ‘walking’ contradiction just as our four-sided circle proved to be.  So, for example, atheists argued that God’s omnipotence is contradictory.  You’ve seen the fruits of this argument if you’ve ever been asked the question “Can God create a stone so large he cannot lift it?”  This question shows—or at least it’s supposed to show—that God’s omnipotence is contradictory, thus such a God cannot exist.  Or consider this: 

  1. God is omnipotent, thus He has the power to rid the world of evil.
  2. God is omniscient, thus He knows how to rid the world of evil.
  3. God is omnibenevolent, thus He does not want there to be evil in the world.
  4. There is evil in the world.
  5. Therefore God does not exist 

Again, this is meant to show an inconsistency.  In this case we are told that God’s existence is incompatible with the existence of evil.  Thus either God exists, or evil exist, but not both.  Since we know evil exists, then God cannot exist…or so goes the argument.

 In any case, the point is that atheists have tried to show that God doesn’t exist, and that the whole “you can’t prove a universal negative thing” response simply ignores this fact.

Written by Tim

January 13, 2010 at 11:09 am

An Argument for the Complexity of God? (Part 1)

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So I’ve finally found an article that presents an argument for the complexity of God. The author of the article is anonymous so for simplicity’s sake I’m going to refer to the author as “he” even though I’m fully aware that the author may be a “she.” I’m going to respond to the article in two parts. In the first part I will respond to the author’s objection to the design argument, in the second part I will response to the author’s argument for the complexity of God. Hope you enjoy, and if you happen to know the author of this article, feel free to direct him to my somewhat rough critique!

In the article the author distinguishes between complexity and what he calls “fundamental complexity.” As we shall see, the exact nature of “fundamental complexity” is a bit of a mystery—I’m just not exactly sure what he means by the term—but in any case the idea really presents no problem for intelligent design.

The authors begins the article by noting that though “[n]atural phenomena often seem to be extremely complex…when a scientific explanation is found, the complexity is invariably seen to originate from some simple fundamental principle.” That is to say, complex things like cells and flagellums can be explained in terms of random mutations and natural selection. At first brush, things such a cell seems impossible. However, when you throw natural selection into the mix suddenly it makes the cell’s complexity all the much more palatable. The same goes for many other natural phenomena we find in the world. They may seem very improbable at first, but there always seems to be some underlying principle in terms of which their complexity can be explained. Though these types of phenomena are complex they are not fundamentally complex.

So just what does it mean for something to be fundamentally complex? The author defines it this way:

By “fundamental complexity” I mean that the complexity cannot, even in principle, be explained in simpler terms.

That is to say, a phenomenon is fundamentally complex when it cannot be explained in terms of some underlying principle. Remember the example of the cell above? I said that the complexity of a cell can be explained in terms of random mutations and natural selection. In that case natural selection is the “simpler term” that explains the origin of cells. But suppose there was no simpler term or underlying principle that explained the complexity of a cell. What then? Well, then the cell would be “fundamentally complex” since there would be no underlying principle that explains its complexity. Fundamental complexity is the inability for some natural phenomenon to be explained in “simpler terms.”

Now for some reason the author seems to think this distinction creates a problem for the design argument. He says,

One of the latest incarnations of the Argument from Design, is Behe’s claim that biochemical processes are “irreducibly complex” and therefore a god must have created that complexity.

That’s a pretty crude representation of ID, but we get the point. In any case, what’s the problem with this? Well says the author,

The notion of irreducible complexity is a weaker principle than the notion of fundamental complexity discussed above. It is not enough for Behe to show that a biochemical system is irreducible complex for his conclusion of a designer to follow; he must show that the system is fundamentally complex and he has not done this.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Why on earth would Behe or any other ID proponent need to believe in fundamental complexity? What the author is assuming here is that fundamental complexity is a necessary component of ID. But that’s obviously false. Clearly both evolutionists and ID proponents believe that complexity can be explained in terms of some “underlying principle.” The evolutionist believes that principle is natural selection, while the ID proponent believes it is design. Evolution explains complexity in terms of random mutations and natural selection, while ID does so in terms of design and “intelligent causes.” Nobody needs to claim “fundamental complexity.” In fact, I have a hard time seeing why anyone would ever want to believe in such a thing like fundamental complexity. It really has no bearing on the discussion.

But perhaps the author means to say something different here. Perhaps when the author says that a phenomenon is fundamentally complex when it cannot be explained in “simpler terms” what he really means is that a phenomenon is fundamentally complex when it can’t be explained in naturalistic terms. Maybe he believes the fundamentally complex phenomena are those that have no naturalistic explanations are. He doesn’t spell this out explicitly, but since all his examples refer to natural explanations, (scientific explanations, natural selection, etc.) this seems to be what he means. So going off of this a more accurate definition of “fundamental complexity” would be:

-A phenomenon P is fundamentally complex if and only if P cannot, even in principle, be explained in naturalistic terms.

This definition avoids the problem I raised earlier. Plus, it serves the author’s intended purpose since ID proponents really do appeal to non-naturalist principles in order to explain complex phenomenon (like appealing to a supernatural intelligent designer, for example).

But still, there is something really odd about the author’s argument. Notice that a phenomenon is fundamentally complex only if there is no naturalistic explanation for it. This means that as long as there is some possible naturalistic explanation for a phenomenon, then that phenomenon is not fundamentally complex. So long as some evolutionist can give a naturalistic explanation for P than P is not fundamentally complex. But that’s a strikingly odd (and noticeably biased) claim to make.

Suppose an evolutionist and an ID proponent are discussing the complexity of a cell. The ID proponent tells the evolutionists “See, I think an intelligent designer best explains the enormous complexity we see displayed in a cell.” The evolutionist responds, “But, my dear friend, natural selection still represents a possible naturalistic explanation for the complexity we find in a cell. Therefore intelligent design is false.”

Clearly that would be fallacious reasoning on the part of the evolutionist. The ID proponent doesn’t have to show that there are no possible naturalistic explanations, she only has to show that ID is the best explanation—which is the very same task the evolutionist has. It is not as though the only way for ID to be true is for there to be no naturalistic explanations for complexity. I mean, why couldn’t we just suppose that the reverse is true? Why not suppose that so long as there are non-naturalistic explanations then naturalistic explanations (such as evolution) are false? What if after hearing about evolution and natural selection an ID proponent responded with “Well that’s a nice theory, but ID still represents a possible non-naturalistic explanation for the complexity of biological systems, therefore evolution is false.” Obviously that wouldn’t work for the ID proponent, so why should we allow such a move from an evolutionist?

More importantly, I wonder if the author even realizes his bias here. I doubt he does, and such an attitude is part and parcel of the elitism present in naturalists circles.

One last possibility. Maybe the author thinks that a phenomenon is fundamental complex only if there are no probable naturalistic explanations for that phenomenon. But of course, part of the ID case lies in showing that naturalistic explanations are highly improbable, and that’s a point the author would need to interact with if he wanted to avoid begging the question.

Written by Tim

April 8, 2009 at 5:30 pm

The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

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spaghetti_monster

 

The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is meant as a parody of intelligent design. He makes his first appearance in a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education in protest to their decision to require that intelligent design be taught alongside evolution in public schools.We are told that the FSM created the world and even regularly intervenes in human affairs by use of his “noodly appendage.” He supposedly created the world to make it look as if evolution is true, and he frequently sabotages carbon dating test so that they give inaccurate readings, leaving us with the impression that the world is really very old when in fact it is only 10,000 years old. There is even a church for this deity called The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I say: Give it up! Please!!

First off this is nothing unique. We have the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU), Russell’s tea pot, supermanism, etc. All of these are really meant as parodies of theism (usually Christianity), and they are supposed to somehow show the absurdity of believing in God. Well, I’m beginning to get tired of hearing all of them (FSM seems to be the most popular at the moment). So atheists, before you’re tempted to use one of these as an objection to Christianity, please take note of the following:

By creating such superficial fairytales as the FSM or the IPU, you are really showing your superficial understanding of Christianity, and any reasonably reflective Christian will not take you seriously. Why? Well:

1. These cheesy, on the spot parodies do not at all take into consideration the historic development of Christianity given through the various works of great historic (and contemporary) figures. Everyone from St. Paul, St Augustian, Thomas Aquinas, and Anselm, to Calvin, Edwards, Plantinga, and Van Til… the list could go and on, but the important thing is that you’re failing to understand Christianity as a complex knowledge tradition, and this causes you to draw inadequate analogies between the God of the bible and, say, a flying spaghetti monster.

2. You’re mistakenly viewing the Christian God as a vacuous concept.. As if I could go from believing “God exist” to believing “God does not exist” without it having a catastrophic effect on my world view. More to the point, Christianity is a complete world view, and the Christian God is at the very center of that world view. He gives purpose to our existence, He gives purpose to the universe, He is the ground of knowledge and truth, ethics and aesthetics. I cannot answer the questions “what is right and wrong” or “what is beautiful” without making recourse to God.. The entire foundation of philosophy, science, history…in short, everything, is built upon God. To get rid of God is to get rid of an ENTIRE world view, thus one is forced to answer life’s ultimate questions by making recourse to other things, by other means. On the other hand, whether or not I choose to believe in a flying spaghetti monster, an invisible pink unicorn, a dragon in my garage, an invisible gardener, or a tea pot in orbit around the Sun between Earth and Mars, has no such effect.

So please, give it a rest!

…though I do have to admit the FSM pictures are pretty funny!

So is God Designed? (In Christian Perspective)

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Last post I pointed out that the “Who designed the designer?” objection to intelligent design is a red herring. Pointing out that the designer is complex and therefore in need of a designer itself doesn’t mean that the universe wasn’t designed. Maybe the designer is complex? So what? If ID is true, then the universe is designed regardless.

 

But still, might it be the case that God is designed? After all, wouldn’t God be more intricate and more complex than any feature of the universe? Sure cells, flagellums, humans, etc., are complex but wouldn’t God be even more complex than they? And if we’re arguing that the complex features of the universe are best explained by an intelligent designer, then how much more would this principle apply to God?

So, can this problem be escaped? I think so. The first question we’ve got to ask is this: Why should we believe God is designed? The argument for that goes something like this:

1. Complex things are best explained by an intelligent designer.

2. God is a complex thing.

3. Therefore God is best explained by an intelligent designer.

No doubt, the first premise will be accepted by ID proponents. Indeed some would argue that ID entails (1). After all, ID proponents like Michael Behe, for example, often appeal to the complexity of cells as evidence for them being designed by an intelligent designer. So for now we can accept the first premise. What about the second premise ? Why should we believe God is complex? As best I can tell the assumption for (2) goes something like this: Any being who could design all the complex features of the universe would in all likelihood be at least as complex as those things it designed. And naturally this seems like a reasonable assumption. There are many examples of manmade things in our world: machinery, computers, cars, architecture, art, data structures, etc., etc., and no matter how complex and amazing these things are, there is still something that’s even more complex than they are: their designer–in short, human beings. The same is true for other animals as well. Birds make intricate bird nests, and ants make intricate underground networks, but a bird and an ant are far more complex than those things they “design”. Thus–or so the argument goes–it is reasonable for us to assume that if God designed the universe, then in all likelihood He is at least as complex as the universe itself, and probably more so. Hence we get (2), and (3) follows logically.

Now it’s worth noting at this point that ID proponents typically view complexity in terms of the arrangement of material parts. Just reflect for a moment on what is commonly appealed to in intelligent design arguments. Cells, DNA, flagellums, eyes, etc. What should be fairly obvious is that these are all material things and they are “complex” in that they are constituted by an intricate arrangement of material parts unlikely to have arisen by chance. In fact, the probability of their parts being arranged as they are completely by chance is extremely low. Something like the probability of a tornado going through a junk yard and producing a 747 jet…and I don’t think that any of us would hold our breath waiting for that to happen.

So why is this important? Well because it would appear that according to ID a necessary condition for X to be complex is that X be a material object.  In other words, anything called “complex” (in the ID sense of the word) has got to be a material object or some sort. We don’t find, for example, ID proponents speaking of the irreducible complexity of “souls,” or minds, or abstract entities like numbers. They’re always talking about some physical object: cells, bacteria, etc.

So according to (2) God must be a material object of some sort.  But why should we suppose that God is a material object? After all, doesn’t the Bible make abundantly clear that God is spirit (e.g. John 4:24)? Furthermore, why should we believe that God is complex? Isn’t it, for example, a Christian tradition of ours that God is simple i.e. not a composite being? It’s quite clear that the Christian conception of God doesn’t fit (2).

So again, why is it that we should suppose that God is complex? Well the argument for (2) above was essentially that in all our experiences with design the designer is always more complex then its design, thus we have good reason to believe that in the case of God and the universe, God is more complex than the universe. But isn’t there something a bit odd about this claim? Suppose it is the case that the Christian God exists. If that be the case, then there are many designed things which are more complex than their designer. In fact, everything that God designed would be more complex then He is. The universe would be filled with such examples, and we’d come in contact with them on a daily basis. So the argument in support of (2) does nothing more then beg the question. What really needs to be shown is why God must be complex which, unfortunately, is an argument I’ve yet to find. Maybe someone reading this knows of one?

Written by Tim

March 17, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Intelligent Design — What’s the Problem?

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I’ve been thinking about intelligent design (ID) lately and I am wondering what all the beef with the argument is about. For those of you who don’t know, ID in a nutshell argues that certain features of the universe, life, etc., are unlikely to have arisen by chance or natural selection alone. These features, it is argued, are best explained by an intelligent designer.  So just what sorts of features are better explained by an intelligent designer? Well firstly there are those features that are so complex that it seems unlikely that evolution can account for them. When one marvels at the workings of a cell, for example, it is hard not to think the cell at least LOOKS designed by some intelligence.

Then there are those features of the universe that appear to be so precisely tuned to the correct parameters, that to even suggest random chance as an explanation seems almost to border on lunacy. Here’s one example given by Robin Collin:

There are other cases of the fine-tuning of the constants of physics besides the strength of the forces, however. Probably the most widely discussed among physicists and cosmologists – and esoteric– is the fine-tuning of what is known as the cosmological constant. The cosmological constant was a term that Einstein included in his central equation of his theory of gravity – that is, general relativity — which today is thought to correspond to the energy density of empty space. A positive cosmological constant acts as a sort of anti-gravity, a repulsive force causing space itself to expand. If the cosmological constant had a significant positive value, space would expand so rapidly that all matter would quickly disperse, and thus galaxies, stars, and even small aggregates of matter could never form. The conclusion is that it must fall exceedingly close to zero, relative to its natural range of values, for complex life to be possible in our universe.

Now, the fundamental theories of particle physics set a natural range of values for the cosmological constant. This natural range of values, however, is at least 1053 – that is, one followed by fifty three zeros – times the range of life-permitting values. That is, if 0 to L represent the range of life-permitting values, the theoretically possible range of values is at least 0 to 1053L. To intuitively see what this means, consider a dartboard analogy: suppose that we had a dart board that extended across the entire visible galazy, with a target on the dart board of less than an inch in diameter. The amount of fine-tuning of the cosmological constant could be compared to randomly throwing a dart at the board and landing exactly in the target![1]

Wow amazing! How could that be anything but God? …Ok ok, so perhaps I’m a bit too partial to the ID argument 🙂 In all actuality, though, I don’t really consider myself knowledgeable enough on the subject to make an informed judgment; it’s all kind of new to me and I’m still looking into it. Still, I have a hard time seeing what the arguments against it could be?

Notes

[1] Collins, R. (n.d.). God, Design, and Fine-Tuning. Retrieved Feburary 2009, from http://home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/FINETUNE/China%20fine-tuning%20paper%20revised%20for%20web.doc

Written by Tim

February 14, 2009 at 12:36 am