Dec 16 2013

The Logic of God

Fox News recently ran an opinion piece called: A Christmas gift for atheists — five reasons why God exists, by William Lane Craig. I usually don’t spend time here addressing issues of faith, but I will address any argument that purports to be based on logic and/or evidence.

Faith is often defined as believing without evidence. Hebrews 11:1 is often quoted:

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

I prefer Christopher Hitchens’ take:

“Faith is the surrender of the mind, it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other animals. It’s our need to believe and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. … Out of all the virtues, all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated”

Sometimes those who have faith also seek evidence and logic to back up their belief. This is a win-win for them because if the logic and evidence are found wanting, they can always then fall back on their faith. In any case – let’s take a look at alleged five reasons why God exists:

1.  God provides the best explanation of the origin of the universe.

This is the old, “Well, the universe didn’t come from nowhere” argument. He writes:

…it is highly probable that the universe had an absolute beginning. Since the universe, like everything else, could not have merely popped into being without a cause, there must exist a transcendent reality beyond time and space that brought the universe into existence.

Actually physicists debate whether or not our universe had a beginning. This cannot be taken as an uncontroversial premise. Stephen Hawking argued that our universe may be temporally finite yet unbound, just as it is spacially finite but unbound.

Even if we do accept the premise that our universe had a beginning, this may simply be embedded in a deeper physical reality, something to do with quantum fluctuations in space-time, or something equally incomprehensible.

Giving up on understanding space-time and just saying, “godidit” is not even an answer. This then creates the regression paradox of – well then where did God come from. And if God is transcendent and eternal, then why can’t the underlying physics of the universe be?  Postulating a God actually solves nothing, and certainly the existence of the universe is not a-priori evidence for something like a God.

2.  God provides the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe.

The anthropic principle again – the laws of the universe are fine-tuned to be compatible with life. Of course they are, because life exists. Craig argues God is the “best explanation” for this fine tuning:

There are three competing explanations of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design. The first two are highly implausible, given the independence of the fundamental constants and quantities from nature’s laws and the desperate maneuvers needed to save the hypothesis of chance. That leaves design as the best explanation.

He is being prematurely dismissive, in order to unfairly favor his preferred explanation.  There are no “desperate maneuvers” necessary – certainly no more desperate than postulating a God. The universe may have the laws it does because they are necessary, for some underlying and yet undiscovered principle of physics. There may be many universes with various assortments of physical constants, and life arises only in those compatible with life.

If you are keeping track, by the way, Craig is two-for-two with god-of-the-gaps arguments.

3.  God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.

This is perhaps his worst argument, because it is entirely circular. It’s not even a gap argument. He is essentially saying that objective morality exists because God gives it to us, and the existence of objective morality proves God exists. Craig ignores, and seems entirely unfamiliar with, the philosophical underpinnings of ethical thought.

He does not establish that there is anything we can call “objective morality.” The closest we get is morality that is universal among humanity, but then even there we have individual exceptions. Ultimately all morality is subjective in that it derives from value judgments which are necessarily human. However, they can be objective in that they are based upon valid logic, carefully thought out so as to be based on a consistent philosophy, and applied fairly to everyone.

I go into this issue much more thoroughly here (and if you are really ambitious you can delve through the 400+ comments).

4.  God provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Here Craig makes a dubious factual claim – that there is a consensus among historians for the basic facts of the New Testament concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Craig offers no evidence for his assertions. Granted, this is a complex issue, and one or two references are not going to establish any position.

Here are the issues, however: The question of the historical Jesus has two parts – did Jesus exist, and to what extent are the events depicted in the New Testament accurate. Craig is confusing these two things.

There does appear to be a consensus that Jesus was probably a real historical figure. However, there are serious scholars who are not convinced.

That, however, is not the important question for Craig’s argument. The important bit is the second interpretation of an historical Jesus – the supernatural aspects of the New Testament.  There is no consensus among historians that the miracles of the New Testament actually happened, rather that a mythology developed around the person of Jesus.

Again, there is no one or few references that can establish such a large question, but the RationalWiki does have a good overview with lots of references.

5.  God can be personally known and experienced. 

This is more circular reasoning – Christians believe in God and this has transformed their lives, therefore God exists. This is a profoundly naive argument. Human psychology is a far simpler explanation. In fact decades of psychological research have shown that basic human psychology – the need for meaning, control, understanding, etc., all lend themselves to religious faith.

Craig’s five reasons, taken together, amount to the claim that if you take the Christian world-view for granted, then there are reasons to believe in God. Of course, if you take a materialist world view, Craig offers nothing but circular reasoning and logical fallacies. In fact I have yet to see a single sound argument for the existence of God. They all amount to god-of-the-gaps arguments or circular reasons of some variety.

Craig then cannot help but get a bit condescending, which usually happens when believers preach to atheists:

The good thing is that atheists tend to be very passionate people and want to believe in something. If they would only put aside the slogans for a moment and reexamine their worldview in light of the best philosophical, scientific, and historical evidence we have today, then they, too, would find Christmas worth celebrating!

Craig is saying that atheists are biased by narrow “slogan” thinking, when evidence and logic clearly shows that his faith is correct. He has only demonstrated, however, that it is he who is following narrow and fallacious thinking.

He then goes on to essentially assert the superiority of his world-view, and that those poor sodden atheists could find meaning if they just put aside their bias.

Non-believers, however, don’t seem to have any problems finding happiness and meaning in their world-view. I am quite happy celebrating Christmas without faith. This season was originally a pagan holiday, celebrating the return of the light, and does not belong to Christians. Many faiths and world views celebrate the season.

For me it is about family, friends, and taking time from our hectic lives to consider how much we appreciate  the people in our lives. Humans are social creatures – we survive and find meaning in our relationships with others. On the darkest day of the year, we shine a little light of love, companionship, and community into each-others lives. No faith required.

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