Christianity is Incoherent

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 24, 2011 in General Atheism,Podcast

(part of the Why Christianity Is False series; you can also listen to this podcast online or in iTunes or via RSS)

This is a reply to “Coherent, Consistent, and Livable” by Wes Widner.

Wes Widner says that the Christian worldview is coherent, consistent, and livable. Let’s consider each of these in turn.

Coherent?

In discussing coherency, Widner intends to examine “whether [a worldview] offers any explanation of the world around us and how accurate that description is.” Against the naturalistic worldview, Widner says that naturalism doesn’t “explain how something can come from nothing.”

First, note that this is an odd use of the term ‘coherent.’ Coherence, especially in philosophy and theology, means logical consistency, or “agreement in parts,” but Widner uses the term as if it refers to explanatory merit, which is something else.

Anyway, I explained in my last post why theism is a terrible explanation for the world around us, so let me turn instead to the objection that naturalism doesn’t “explain how something can come from nothing.”

Think back to Ancient Greece, centuries before the Christians arrived. Lightning was a mystery. Humanity was more than two thousand years away from understanding how lightning is possible. One popular explanation offered was that lightning was an act of Zeus. I can imagine the Greek pagans objecting that non-Zeus-worshipers cannot explain how lightning occurs.

But does this score any points for the Zeus hypothesis? Does it score any points against those who were skeptical of the existence of Zeus? Of course not. When we don’t know something, the conclusion is not “Therefore, we know it is magic” (from Zeus or from Jesus). When we don’t know something, the conclusion is “We don’t know.”

So the fact that we don’t understand cosmic origins scores no points for theism, and no points against naturalism.

And in fact, several hypotheses have been put forth about cosmic origins. Many atheists, of course, don’t believe that something came from nothing. In fact, we have never once encountered absolute nothingness, but we have lots of experience with there being something. So why suppose that nothingness is more basic than somethingness, and therefore somethingness needs to be explained? All the evidence we do have might suggest that there being something is most basic, and not in need of a special explanation.

But whatever the case might be about cosmic origins, to argue that we don’t understand something and therefore God must have done it is simply an argument from ignorance – an elementary logical fallacy.

Consistent?

In the next section, Widner does indeed turn to logical consistency. First, he dismisses “Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age, Wicca, Islam and Mormonism” as not even holding a “pretense of being consistent.” This is outrageous. I suspect there are some mystics of each tradition who might think their worldview is logically incoherent, but they are probably in the minority. Ask your average adherent of these religions if they think their worldview is logically consistent, and they will say “Yes,” and they’ll try to overcome any objections to logical consistency you might raise.

The claim that most of the world’s major religions (except Christianity) do not even hold up a pretense of being logically consistent either (1) displays a morally condemnable ignorance of the world religions about which Widner pretends to know so much, or (2) displays a morally condemnable lie about world religions.

As for naturalism, Widner claims that naturalism embraces a contradiction with regard to infinite regress, and he briefly waves his hand at some difficulties for grounding morality, meaning, and purpose in a naturalistic worldview. I have no doubt that some varieties of naturalism contain contradictions, while some do not. The concept of infinite regress is still debated, and many naturalists do not accept an infinite regress, anyway. But since Widner is not more detailed in his charges, I can’t say anything more about this.

As for Christianity, Widner asserts that while there “are certainly difficulties which require some effort and study,” Christianity is alone in presenting a logically consistent worldview. Those familiar with the doctrine of the trinity or the ambitious set of omni-qualities attributed to God may have serious doubts about that. Let me outline just a few of the worries:

  1. Is it consistent to say that a perfect being would create something? A perfect being has no needs or wants, so how could he need or want to create a world and populate it with beings and demand worship and sacrifice from them?
  2. Is it consistent to say that an unchangeable being would create something? If God is unchangeable, then he can’t have one set of intentions at one moment and then a new set of intentions at another. And yet God supposedly created at one time, but now doesn’t have the intention to create a universe, because he did it already. The idea of an unchangeable God that creates is incoherent.
  3. Is it consistent to say that an unchangeable being can be omniscient? If God is unchangeable, then his knowledge can’t change. And yet what is true changes all the time, for example what is true about my age. So an unchanging being can’t be omniscient.
  4. Is it consistent to say that God is transcendent and omnipresent? To be transcendent is to be nowhere in space, but to be omnipresent is to be everywhere in space.
  5. Is it consistent to say that God is transcendent and yet acts in time? To be transcendent is to be beyond space and time, so a transcendent being can’t also be immanent in space and time.
  6. Is it consistent to say that God is omniscient and has free will? If God knows all the actions he will perform, then he cannot do otherwise, and therefore he is not free.
  7. Is it consistent to say that God is all-merciful and all-just? A perfectly just person treats every offender with exactly the severity he or she deserves, but an all-merciful person treats every offender with less severity than he or she deserves. What sense does it make to say that God is all-merciful and all-just?

I could go on, but I think you get the point. If Christians want to say their worldview is logically consistent, they certainly have their work cut out for them putting together a concept of God that is logically consistent.

Livable?

In his last section, Widner suggests that atheism may not be livable because according to atheism “we are merely cosmic accidents… without meaning or purpose.” I’m not sure what Widner means by “livable,” but if it means anything like “able to be lived with purpose, happiness, and fulfillment,” then Widner’s claim is certainly not true. Hundreds of millions of atheists live happy, purposeful, fulfilled lives, including the majority of the world’s greatest philosophers and scientists, and also including its two greatest philanthropists: Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

Now, is Christianity livable? Sure. I lived it. But in many cases, and maybe even most cases, Christianity can be actively destructive. And I don’t just mean for Christian terrorists in Northern Ireland or Lebanon or the United States. I’m also talking about people burdened by guilt and shame for their homosexuality or masturbation. I’m talking about people who are taught that God doesn’t want them to have sex before marriage, so they marry sooner than is wise, which drastically increases their chances for unhappy marriage and divorce. I’m talking about parents who stunt their children’s education and chances for success by isolating them from the outside world to protect a worldview that can’t stand up to the light of understanding.

So is Christianity a good explanation for the world we live in? Not even close. Is Christianity logically consistent? Not that I can see. And is Christianity livable? Sure, but it has plenty of pathologies.

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{ 93 comments… read them below or add one }

citizen ghost January 24, 2011 at 4:30 am

Yup. It’s certainly not coherent or consistent. Sure, it’s “livable”- or at least it can be. But lots of belief systems are “livable.”

And here, it seems, we have yet another Christian apologist echoing the familiar trope that naturalism doesn’t “explain how something can come from nothing” – as if this observation (even if it were accurate) somehow helps make the case for theism, much less Christianity.

Of course the notion of “something coming from nothing” reflects, at best, a superficial account of modern physics and cosmology. But let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that the phrase accurately represents our current understanding of the origin of the universe.

So how does SUPERNATURALISM explain how something comes from nothing?

In the long history of this subject, has any theist or Christian Apologist EVER answered this? Of course not. Instead, by resorting to supernaturalism, theists simply absolve themselves from ever having to explain it. Or much of anything.

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Rob January 24, 2011 at 4:55 am

I keep a running score of what I think are the worst arguments for theism. Usually, I would say that Pascal’s Wager is the worst, but after reading this I am reminded how utterly bankrupt all forms of cosmological arguments are. So maybe the cosmological argument is the most forlorn of the long list of feeble arguments the theist uses. But now I realize that the worst argument for theism is just the one I have heard most recently.

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Michael January 24, 2011 at 5:21 am

I’m not sure if it’s what you are saying this here but I’ve seen you say it before so I’m gonna write this anyway; I am disappointed that you think the kalam cosmological argument is an argument from ignorance.
You keep making the very much cliched point about lightning and God of the gaps.
The kalam argument is not arguing from what we DON’T know, it’s arguing from what we DO know.
The argument is not, “We don’t have an explanation for why there is something rather than nothing, so God did it.”
The argument is, “We can deduce from philosophical argumentation and scientific evidence that the universe began to exist at a finite number of years ago. Things don’t pop into being out of nothing, so the universe must have had a cause.”
That’s arguing from different strands of scientific evidence that we DO have, and philosophical argumentation that we can clearly make.
It doesn’t say ‘we don’t know what this cause is so it must be God’. The argument says ‘if the universe, and time and space itself, had a beginning, then the cause must be a-temporal and a-spacial. How many things do we know of that have these qualities? Two: abstract objects and unembodied minds. But abstract objects can’t cause anything; that’s part of the very DEFINITIOn of an abstract object! (I’m talking about the The Causal Inefficacy Criterion.)’
And we continue to analyse. Now if we’ve got that far then we are already extremely close to what we refer to as God, without even touching on arguments for the mind being powerful, personal etc. But i suspect that most atheists will definitely not have accepted this much already so there is no point going further. They will reject the idea of an immaterial cause being behind the universe.

And they will probably reject my premises, ie that the cause must be timeless and spaceless. But you still can’t say I’m arguing from ignorance.
It was atheists who argued for the eternality of the universe, only to be falsified by Big Bang theory. It was atheists then arguing from what they didn’t know.
But you see that at each stage we are using philosophical argumentation and analysis to work out things about the universe, in particular its finitude, and things about this cause, in particular its attributes.
So I don’t see how you can keep on using your cliched comments about zeus and lightning, putting on a par with an argument that uses contemporary scientific evidence and nuanced philosophical reasoning.
I’ll say again, the argument is from what we DO know, not what we don’t.
/End of rant./

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Rules For January 24, 2011 at 5:34 am

How many things do we know of that have these qualities? Two: abstract objects and unembodied minds. But abstract objects can’t cause anything; that’s part of the very DEFINITIOn of an abstract object! (I’m talking about the The Causal Inefficacy Criterion.)’

How many disembodied minds have you or anybody else ever encountered or studied?

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Michael January 24, 2011 at 5:55 am

How many disembodied minds have you or anybody else ever encountered or studied?  

What relevance does that have to the argument?
All we need to know is whether it is a logical possibility.
I have never encountered an abstract object but it is still a logical possibility, even though i don’t believe they actually exist.

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Muto January 24, 2011 at 6:30 am

What relevance does that have to the argument?
All we need to know is whether it is a logical possibility.
I have never encountered an abstract object but it is still a logical possibility, even though i don’t believe they actually exist.  

As far as I know ‘mind’ is not a precisely defined phenomenon, but seems to be highly dependent on physical structure. Hence speculation whether a universe was created by a disembodied mind is as usefull as speculation that the universe was created by a non physical ecosystem, since an ecosystem is a complicated thing we do not fully understand, which could have causally active supernatural components.

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Martin January 24, 2011 at 6:31 am

Luke,

I’m baffled as to why you keep saying that cosmological arguments are god-of-the-gaps. Are you not familiar with Leibniz-style cosmological arguments?

The idea is that the set {all contingent things} is itself a contingent thing, and thus has an explanation external to itself. But that explanation cannot be contingent, since we are trying to explain the set {ALL contingent things}, and so you have to move external to contingent things, which is necessary things. Thus, a necessary something must explain the set {all contingent things}.

It’s often said that Peter van Inwagen refuted the principle of sufficent reason, so perhaps that argument isn’t good anymore. But god-of-the-gaps? I don’t think so.

BTW, William Rowe, Mr-Problem-of-Evil-Atheist himself, is a defender of cosmological arguments. This should at least give you pause as to so flippantly wave them away.

So why suppose that nothingness is more basic than somethingness, and therefore somethingness needs to be explained?

Which one of the following seems to require an explanation?

A) There is not an elf eating ice cream in your living room
B) There is an elf eating ice cream in your living room

citizen ghost,

So how does SUPERNATURALISM explain how something comes from nothing?

The idea is similar to the above; that you have to move external to the universe in order to explain its existence. If you come across a strange device in the forest, you would probably reason that it has an explanation for its existence, and that the explanation lies outside itself (somebody built it and then placed it there). This may or may not be correct for the universe, but I think it’s the one place that is perfectly reasonable to actually suggest a supernatural explanation.

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Larkus January 24, 2011 at 7:30 am

Michael wrote:

What relevance does that have to the argument?
All we need to know is whether it is a logical possibility.
I have never encountered an abstract object but it is still a logical possibility, even though i don’t believe they actually exist.

And what is about the possibility of the universe beginning to exist uncaused? Is all we have to know whether it is a logical possibility? You might not have encountered something beginning to exist uncaused, but it is still a logical possibility, even though you don’t believe, that such things actually exist.

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PDH January 24, 2011 at 7:56 am

Michael wrote,

How many things do we know of that have these qualities? Two: abstract objects and unembodied minds. But abstract objects can’t cause anything; that’s part of the very DEFINITIOn of an abstract object! (I’m talking about the The Causal Inefficacy Criterion.)’

If you believe that abstract objects exist then you presumably believe that there are highly sophisticated, multi-dimensional abstract objects with moving parts, which exist regardless of whether anyone is imagining them or not. Some of those objects will be complex enough that they contain entities with thoughts, feelings, senses, consciousness etc.

That’s what the universe is.

That is a simpler explanation of the data that appeals only to concepts you have already conceded. You can read more about it here: http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0704/0704.0646v2.pdf

And that is about as close to metaphysics as I’m willing to go.

Meanwhile, if you want to compare your hypothesis with a more down-to-earth one you need to show that God is more probable than things like eternal inflation and the B-theory of time.

What makes the move to ‘God did it’ invalid, I think, is that you’re jumping straight to a highly improbable hypothesis rather than considering the (trillions of) much simpler alternatives. I use the words ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ because they’re convenient but I don’t think that reality can actually be divided up into natural and supernatural things. There are just things and anyone who wants to have a go at explaining them is welcome to do so. The kinds of explanations that end up being referred to as ‘supernatural’ are nothing more than the utterly improbable and implausible explanations upon which it would be irrational to waste time and energy that could be better spent on something with a chance of being correct.

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Garren January 24, 2011 at 8:31 am

Christianity isn’t incoherent. It’s an essentially contested concept.

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Patrick January 24, 2011 at 8:38 am

Hmm. About the numbered list- an argument could be made that its not the idea of an [X] being also being or doing [Y] that’s incoherent, but rather the definition of [X] or [Y] used. For example, why would a perfect being not desire anything? What does it mean to be perfect? Why does that imply a lack of desires? Maybe the problem is that “perfect” is the sort of term that requires context to be meaningful- perfect in terms of what?

This just changes what’s incoherent about calling a god “perfect,” of course. If the trait you’re attributing to your god is an incoherent concept when applied to a god, then your theology is incoherent.

I personally think that the only way to rescue most of these terms is to recognize them for what they are- pious statements of praise that have been taken as literal statements because theology is a ratchet.

Christianity is instantly rendered coherent the moment you take all of the little blurbs of piousness and revert them back to non-cognitivist statements of praise. Treat christianity as a typical pagan religion, with a pre-existent cosmos that god modified, but which still retains some moral and physical rules that not even god can change, and everything changes. The problem of evil? Solved. The incoherence of the omni traits? Solved. Free will and omniscience conflicts? Solved.

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Steven R. January 24, 2011 at 8:40 am

“We are merely cosmic accidents.”

Uh, no sir. “Accident” implies that there was an intent to do something and some unintended consequence occurred. The universe neither intended to “create” us nor stop our “creation.” The term is only viable when talking about some personal intent to do something, which, from a naturalistic Atheist perspective, we are not accidents. I’m not sure why people continue to insist that somehow God gives us meaning. If God created us with the intention of throwing us into a black hole for his own amusement, would that give our lives the meaning of being God’s cruel form of entertainment? Or would we give meaning to those we love or trying to defy God’s fate for us? Meaning is up to the individual, no matter how you slice it.

@ Michael:

How is the Cosmological Argument arguing from what we know? It’s very foundation (at least for those that don’t just fail without even having to do any basic philosophy) lies on the idea that we have witnessed something being created and that’s certainly not true. By the way, if you’re going to wave your hand at the idea that a disembodied mind is nonsense because nobody has ever encountered one and merely say it is logically possible, then the basis for the cosmological argument also collapses, because it is also logically possible to say that something comes from nothing, even if nobody has ever seen this happen. Quantum mechanics or whatever also backs me up in this point; if anything, something coming from nothing has more backing than a disembodied mind, especially noting how most forms of dualism have some sort of weird emergent property that results out of physical structure to explain why the mind is damaged when the brain is. And all of that isn’t even going how God changing from an atemporal to temporal state goes against the Christian conception of an unchanging God who has always had the same powers.

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Steven R. January 24, 2011 at 8:59 am

So I don’t see how you can keep on using your cliched comments about zeus and lightning, putting on a par with an argument that uses contemporary scientific evidence and nuanced philosophical reasoning.
I’ll say again, the argument is from what we DO know, not what we don’t.
/End of rant./  

I just realized that a follower of Zeus can say the same thing. You can provide the same everything requires a cause argument to say that lightning requires a cause and that Naturalism or Christianity can’t explain them, and they’d be using nuanced philosophical reasoning and arguing from what we DO know (in this case, lightning exists) and thus posit that Zeus is a perfectly valid explanation, even if it doesn’t actually explain the mechanics of how lightning is created, just like the God of the cosmological argument doesn’t explain how an atemporal being can make a decision to create the universe (which, using the logic that is used to justify the idea that everything requires a cause can also be used to demonstrate that all decisions require time) or how exactly a disembodied mind is supposed to behave and how it got the power to create anything from nothing. It’s all pretty bad once you try to apply it to the real world, just like using Zeus to explain what we DO know (within the context that lightning is still unexplained).
————-

Just as a fun afterthought, another inconsistency in Christianity is the story of Noah were God regrets his decision to flood the Earth. Wouldn’t an omniscient being know not to do it because he/she/it will regret it later? Oh, and how escaping the paradox of “How can there be any free will if God already knows how we will act?” requires compatibilism and thus it invalidates Plantinga’s Free Will Theodicy and then, well, the Christian is fully susceptible to the Problem of Evil since their theology posits that evil does exist.

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Bradm January 24, 2011 at 9:06 am

Luke,

I disagree with most of your 7 worries, but I’d like to focus on #6. Drange’s argument (“9. The Omniscient-vs.-Free Argument”) is clearly false and I can’t believe it was published in Philo. The problem is in his point 4. Knowing that I will do something does not imply that I must do it. It only implies that I will do it. He defends this by claiming ” If a proposition is known to be true, then it must be true and cannot be false.” This is clearly false. If I know that “Luke writes posts on this blog”, it doesn’t follow that this must be true. It is is true, but it isn’t necessarily true. Or if I know that the Packers will with the Super Bowl, it doesn’t follow that they must win the Super Bowl. It only follows that they will win the Super Bowl.

And that means that Drange’s point 5 is false: “Thus, whatever an omniscient being does, he must do, and whatever he does not do, he cannot do.”

All he can claim in 5 is “Thus, whatever an omniscient being does, he will do, and whatever he does not do, he will not do.”

And that means his point 8 doesn’t follow from point 5.

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Bradm January 24, 2011 at 9:07 am

Correction: “the Packers will with the Super Bowl” => “the Packers will win the Super Bowl”

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Luke Muehlhauser January 24, 2011 at 9:17 am

Bradmn,

If the few paragraphs in the Philo article aren’t satisfying, Bill Rowe wrote a whole book on the subject called Can God Be Free?

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Martin January 24, 2011 at 9:26 am

Steven R,

You can provide the same everything requires a cause argument to say that lightning requires a cause and that Naturalism or Christianity can’t explain them…

Yes, you could, and then the naturalistic explanation would stack up against it and be clearly superior.

But the defender of the cosmological argument can argue that a naturalistic explanation cannot be considered for the origin of the universe because nature didn’t exist yet.

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Bradm January 24, 2011 at 9:26 am

I am aware of Drange’s book but that doesn’t change the fact that the argument you linked to is invalid.

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Bradm January 24, 2011 at 9:36 am

And I may be pointing out the obvious, but your statement “If God knows all the actions he will perform, then he cannot do otherwise, and therefore he is not free” commits the same error as Drange, so appealing to Rowe doesn’t really help you.

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Steven R. January 24, 2011 at 9:54 am

Steven R,Yes, you could, and then the naturalistic explanation would stack up against it and be clearly superior.

Not really because there wouldn’t be much knowledge of lightning. Zeus causing lightning would indeed tell us more than examining it naturally.

But the defender of the cosmological argument can argue that a naturalistic explanation cannot be considered for the origin of the universe because nature didn’t exist yet.  (Quote)

You’re kidding, right? That’s not what naturalism is. Going back to our Zeus example, you can merely say “Because lightning lacks a natural cause (given the time’s knowledge), it is clearly a thing that does not apply to nature, and, therefore, naturalism fails” or, if we had no knowledge of space, “Because nature ends on Earth, and lightning clearly comse from some source beyond the Earth, naturalism cannot explain it”and the argument is as valid as the Cosmological argument. Also, refer to my first post, in which I note the many problems with the Cosmological Argument as you present it.

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Bradm:

I do agree with you, but that requires a compatibilist understanding of Free Will, which brings about some other complications when we consider other aspects of God. This is, of course, because if you know you will do something and you know there is no other thing you can do, it has already been determined.

My computer is showing me some weird stuff, so forgive if it comes out all jumbled up.

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Polymeron January 24, 2011 at 10:25 am

Luke,
I would take point #3 to task; if God has knowledge of all points in time, then God does not need to change with time in regard to knowledge. The fourth dimension is simply another parameter in his knowledge. So an eternal, omniscient, unchanging being is not an inconsistent idea (except that today we only know a being’s knowledge as a process running on a brain’s hardware, which requires change. An omniscient unchanging being would probably be more like a tablet of knowledge than a person).

Having said that, this only puts more weight on point #5: To interact with the universe at any point in time, God must no be unchanging.

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Bradm January 24, 2011 at 10:39 am

Stephen R,

No, I don’t rely on a compatiblist understanding of free will. Drange assumes libertarian free will in his point 6 and I critique is argument based on point 6.

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Martin January 24, 2011 at 10:57 am

Steven R,

Cosmological arguments are in principle arguments, not what-we-know-right-now arguments. Even if science discovers that the quantum vacuum created the Big Bang, then the quantum vacuum is just more nature and the problem has been moved back another step.

If science discovers the Theory of Everything and it’s just one simple equation that explains the existence of the universe, you still have the question of why that equation exists instead of some other equation, and why does the universe have to answer to it.

It boils down to the universe being:

1. Necessary
2. Contingent
3. Brute fact

1 is difficult to argue for, 2 is more friendly to theism than naturalism, and 3 is a possibility but may also be difficult to argue for.

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Steven R. January 24, 2011 at 10:58 am

Stephen R,No, I don’t rely on a compatiblist understanding of free will. Drange assumes libertarian free will in his point 6 and I critique is argument based on point 6.  (Quote)

As I understand it, libertarian free will says that at any given time, an agent can take more than one decision and nothing is determined, but if we already know how said agent will act and it wont change, there’s really only one option taken. This is the same reason why Plantinga dismisses the idea that men freely choose good no matter what. I hope that made sense…

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Shane Steinhauser January 24, 2011 at 11:02 am

I thought of an inconsistancy in christian apologetics and I’ve been dying to put it forth. So here goes…

The freewill defense says that God cannot interfere with our freewill because interfering with our freewill would be evil.

Divine command morality says that *anything* God does is by definition moral. So under divine command morality God could take away our freewill and still be good.

So apparently when arguing agianst the problem of evil, an apologist will claim that it would be evil for God to take away our freewill, but when arguing agianst Old Testament atrocities the same apologist will argue that whatever God does is automatically moral.

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Patrick January 24, 2011 at 11:03 am

Luke,
I would take point #3 to task; if God has knowledge of all points in time, then God does not need to change with time in regard to knowledge. The fourth dimension is simply another parameter in his knowledge. So an eternal, omniscient, unchanging being is not an inconsistent idea (except that today we only know a being’s knowledge as a process running on a brain’s hardware, which requires change. An omniscient unchanging being would probably be more like a tablet of knowledge than a person).Having said that, this only puts more weight on point #5: To interact with the universe at any point in time, God must no be unchanging.  

Eh…

“Change” is defined in terms of whether you have different states depending on your point along the t axis. If you move the t axis from the 4th dimension to the 5th dimension and evaluate everything as a 4 dimensional object, then everything is timeless including you and me. Suddenly timelessness becomes a lot less impressive.

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Steven R. January 24, 2011 at 11:12 am

Steven R,Cosmological arguments are in principle arguments, not what-we-know-right-now arguments. Even if science discovers that the quantum vacuum created the Big Bang, then the quantum vacuum is just more nature and the problem has been moved back another step.If science discovers the Theory of Everything and it’s just one simple equation that explains the existence of the universe, you still have the question of why that equation exists instead of some other equation, and why does the universe have to answer to it.It boils down to the universe being:1. Necessary2. Contingent3. Brute fact1 is difficult to argue for, 2 is more friendly to theism than naturalism, and 3 is a possibility but may also be difficult to argue for.  (Quote)

I call B.S. here. “Why does something exist instead of nothing?” and, if we can provide and answer, then we can ask “Why does an answer exist instead of no answer?” ad nauseum. The question itself is flawed and impossible to answer. And no, God doesn’t solve it, since we can always ask, “Why does God exist instead of no God?” and you may provide some reason, but then we can ask “why does that reason exist instead of some other reason?” and so on. It’s a stupid question to ask. Furthermore, it assumes that there is an explanation. The problem, I think, lis in that when “why” is asked, we’re asking for some personal causation reason when indeed there may not be any. It’s like asking why a tornado is very likely to hit Kansas but not Antarctica, and, once a scientific explanation is found, ask why the laws of nature or whatever are in such a way that Kansas gets a tornado but Antartcitca doesn’t–the question presupposes that there was some intent to have Kansas get hit with tornados but not Antartictica when another possiblity is that there isn’t and our laws just happen to have that, and, as weird as that may sound, that may be because our brain is used to explaining things that actually have reasons for happening (ex: I’m hungry so I ate). A sort of explanatory bias.

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gigi January 24, 2011 at 11:19 am

Luke,
“Anyway, I explained in my last post why theism is a terrible explanation for the world around us, so let me turn instead to the objection that naturalism doesn’t explain how something can come from nothing.”

This is my first comment on CSA, but I have been reading your posts for quite some time. You have some interesting stuff (this post included).
I wrote this comment because I wanted to remind you that someone has replied to your claim that “theism is a terrible explanation for the world around us” . It’s called The problem of theism and explanation: a reply to Luke. I think you mentioned it in one of your News Bits.

And I also wanted to ask you: Are going to respond to this challenge?

Cheers,
gigi

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Jugglable January 24, 2011 at 11:21 am

“we have never once encountered absolute nothingness, but we have lots of experience with there being something. So why suppose that nothingness is more basic than somethingness”

I don’t think it’s somethingness that has to be explained, but contingent somethingness. I exist, but I don’t have to exist. There is nothing NECESSARY about my existence, and yet I exist. So, my existence must be explained.

I don’t think that God’s existence has to be explained if he is a necessary being. If that’s the case, he exists because it is his nature to exist and the question answers itself. But of the nexus of contingent phenomena we live in, it is indeed relevant to ask why it’s there at all.

“Is it consistent to say that a perfect being would create something”

This is such a fundamental misunderstanding about God. God does not need us. Some desires come out of a lack–like a desire to hurt somebody so you can feel bigger. But the desire to share comes precisely out of abundance. God, as a perfect being, would not have possibly had any gain for himself in mind when he created the world. It could only be for the benefit of the creature.

“The idea of an unchangeable God that creates is incoherent.”

God changed when he made the universe. All that proves is he’s not immutable. Changelessness and immutability are different.

“Is it consistent to say that God is transcendent and omnipresent? To be transcendent is to be nowhere in space, but to be omnipresent is to be everywhere in space.”

It is not true that to be transcendent is to be nowhere in space. To be transcendent means to be transcendent to space, and God once existed without space existing. He exists through all space, but a necessary being cannot be identified with a universe that is contingent, so he is also transcendent.

“If God knows all the actions he will perform, then he cannot do otherwise, and therefore he is not free.”

You are thinking that God’s knowledge of what he will do dictates what he will do. The causal relationship is the other way around. His knowledge of his free choices is based on his free choices, so there’s no contradiction.

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Martin January 24, 2011 at 11:41 am

Steven R,

if we can provide and answer, then we can ask “Why does an answer exist instead of no answer?” ad nauseum

But you can terminate the explanations by appealing to something that is necessary. 2+2=4 is a necessary fact. It is true by necessity of its own nature. You don’t need to go any further.

Lions are contingent facts. They have explanations outside themselves. In this case, the ancestors of lions. Which are further contingent things, and have explanations that lie outsid themselves, and so on.

when “why” is asked, we’re asking for some personal causation reason when indeed there may not be any.

This form of argumenation is not intended to be a personal explanation, or even an intelligent one. That something has an explanation that lies outside itself does not mean the same thing as it having a purpose.

Contingent: The explanation for why something is the way it is and not some other way lies outside itself.

Necessary: The explanation for why something is the way and not some other way lies within the necessity of its own nature (mathematical facts).

Is the universe necessary? Is it logically impossible for it not to exist, or for another universe to exist in place of ours? Doesn’t seem to be, at least prima facie.

So is the universe then contingent? If so, this would be a tidbit more in favor of theism than naturalism.

Perhaps the universe is just a brute fact: it just is the way it is, and that’s it; no explanation necessary. But then why special pleading just for this one object (the universe) but for all other objects it is assumed there is an explanation for their existence?

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J. Simonov January 24, 2011 at 11:46 am

Jugglable and/or Bradm:

I don’t understand how omniscience doesn’t logically constrain action. If you know the outcome of all your choices, then they must unfold in conformance with your knowledge, otherwise it would be the case that you did not have knowledge in the first place.

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cd January 24, 2011 at 11:47 am

The “something from nothing” apologetic tack doesn’t, in my opinion, necessarily point to the origin of the cosmos problem. The high level of abstraction and subsequent muddle of regress issues there undermine the emotional impact element and compatibility with egotistical desires which apologetics endeavors to achieve, encourage, and exploit.

I suspect “something from nothing” works because it’s wider, because it points obliquely at things emotionally much closer to home for the average weak believer- the arising of physical life and the arising of consciousness.

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J. Simonov January 24, 2011 at 11:50 am

Martin:

Perhaps the universe is just a brute fact: it just is the way it is, and that’s it; no explanation necessary. But then why special pleading just for this one object (the universe) but for all other objects it is assumed there is an explanation for their existence?

It seems to me that if we take “the universe” to mean “the sum total of everything that exists”, then it is incoherent to ask for an external explanation, as the explanation would itself be a part of existence.

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Haecceitas January 24, 2011 at 11:55 am

I’ll be very busy for the next few days, so I may not be able to give further replies but here are some comments anyway.

“So why suppose that nothingness is more basic than somethingness, and therefore somethingness needs to be explained?”

Isn’t nothingness infinitely simpler than somethingness? And isn’t our experience of somethingness mostly an experience of states of somethingness being explained by other states of somethingness?

“Is it consistent to say that a perfect being would create something? A perfect being has no needs or wants, so how could he need or want to create a world and populate it with beings and demand worship and sacrifice from them?”

Unless you are equivocating on the meaning of “want”, it isn’t clear at all to me that a perfect being can’t “want” to create something. It seems that creating and not creating would both be live options for a perfect being. Nothing requires a being like that to create and nothing prevents a being like that from creating.

“Is it consistent to say that an unchangeable being would create something? If God is unchangeable, then he can’t have one set of intentions at one moment and then a new set of intentions at another. And yet God supposedly created at one time, but now doesn’t have the intention to create a universe, because he did it already. The idea of an unchangeable God that creates is incoherent.”

There are various ways to understand term unchangeable as applied to God. Those who hold to stronger notions of unchangeability are likely to also say that God is not in time, so the issue of creating at some specific time doesn’t arise.

“Is it consistent to say that an unchangeable being can be omniscient? If God is unchangeable, then his knowledge can’t change. And yet what is true changes all the time, for example what is true about my age. So an unchanging being can’t be omniscient.”

Can’t all true statements can be formulated as tenseless unless the A-theory of time is true? Most informed theists who are A-theorists probably don’t hold a very strong view of divine changelessness.

“Is it consistent to say that God is transcendent and omnipresent? To be transcendent is to be nowhere in space, but to be omnipresent is to be everywhere in space.

Is it consistent to say that God is transcendent and yet acts in time? To be transcendent is to be beyond space and time, so a transcendent being can’t also be immanent in space and time.”

My current understanding of these terms would be roughly as follows:

omnipresence means that God has knowledge of everything that happens everywhere, can directly cause anything to happen anywhere and sustains everything that exists

transcendence means that God is not contained by anything nor does he exist in anything in the sense of having a limited location in or being confined by a system that is somehow more fundamental than God.

Do you think these are contradictory?

“Is it consistent to say that God is omniscient and has free will? If God knows all the actions he will perform, then he cannot do otherwise, and therefore he is not free.”

As long as God’s free decisions to act in certain ways are logically prior to his knowledge (so that he knows how he will act because he has chosen to act in that way, rather than vice versa), I think this counts as freedom. Also, God can be thought to be especially free in the sense that there are no external constraints that limit God’s choices.

“Is it consistent to say that God is all-merciful and all-just? A perfectly just person treats every offender with exactly the severity he or she deserves, but an all-merciful person treats every offender with less severity than he or she deserves. What sense does it make to say that God is all-merciful and all-just?”

The concept of penal substitution would seem to be an important part of the answer (which of course raises some additional issues as well). Assuming penal substitution, it can be the case that God punishes every offense with the full required severity while at the same time offering undeserved pardon for everyone.

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Patrick January 24, 2011 at 11:59 am

Martin:
It seems to me that if we take “the universe” to mean “the sum total of everything that exists”, then it is incoherent to ask for an external explanation, as the explanation would itself be a part of existence.  

Even worse, it makes the application of the assumption “something can’t come from nothing” to the universe as a whole a textbook example of the fallacy of composition.

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Hermes January 24, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Garren: “Christianity isn’t incoherent. It’s an essentially contested concept.”

Can’t it be both?

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PDH January 24, 2011 at 12:48 pm

‘Necessary beings.’

If the universe was a mathematical structure, as I suggested in my last post, it could be argued that the universe is logically necessary in the same way that 2 + 2 = 4 is ‘a necessary fact’ (Martin’s words). Logic exists in all logically possible worlds, for obvious reasons. This would also explain why we have these laws rather than others: all mathematical objects are equally necessary and we could only find ourselves in the ones where it is possible for us to exist (i.e. weak anthropic principle). It even explains what natural laws actually are. They are descriptions of the underlying structure.

Now I can see many problems with this kind of reasoning but I can’t see any that are not equally problematic for the theist’s proposal. So I don’t claim this to be an especially good argument, I only claim that it is not any worse than the (admittedly terrible) theistic equivalents. If it’s an invalid move for us, it’s an invalid move for theists, too.

So either you drop the logically necessary stuff or you drop the idea that naturalists can’t explain these things and only succeed in ‘pushing it back a level.’ We can go as far as you if we’re so inclined.

Additionally, theists have to actually show that God is a necessary being. You can’t just say, ‘well, maybe God is a necessary being and then we wouldn’t have to explain it.’ You are no closer to showing that that is the case than atheists are to showing that the universe is necessary. Atheists who subscribe to the MUH may even be closer.

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Garren January 24, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Hermes,

My comment about Christianity being an essentially contested concept rather than incoherent was a tongue in cheek reference to Luke saying something similar about morality in his “Scholarly Papers and Books I Want to Write” post.

I’m not sold on the usefulness of the “essentially contested concept” concept. At least incoherence models can say specifically where things are going wrong.

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Hermes January 24, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Garren, thanks.

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Martin January 24, 2011 at 1:44 pm

PDH,

If the universe was a mathematical structure, as I suggested in my last post, it could be argued that the universe is logically necessary

You can very well argue that the universe is necessary. And the theist can argue that it’s contingent. It’s just that it’s easy to conceive of another universe in place of this one, and so it might be an uphill battle to argue that our universe is necessary.

You can’t just say, ‘well, maybe God is a necessary being and then we wouldn’t have to explain it.’

But a theist can argue the other way around. First, that the universe is contingent and thus has an explanation outside itself. Then, that the explanation has to be necessary. So it only gets you part of the way to theism. It’s more of an argument that, if successful, gives a point to theism rather than naturalism, rather than a direct proof of any sort of being of religious significance.

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cl January 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Am I the only one who sees a growing discrepancy between Luke’s stated concerns for precision in language and the titles of various posts? Christianity is a noun, not an argument such that it can be rightly called false or incoherent. One might claim that specific tenets of Christianity are incoherent or false, but that’s different. As it is, we’re playing pretty loose with words here, no?

Luke,

When you tire of running in circles around WLC, perhaps you can give Aristotle’s argument from kinesis a viable address? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I never really found Craig’s reformulation of Aristotle persuasive, precisely because of the same “looseness with language” I just alluded to. Even as a believer, I never bought the cosmological argument–until I went to the source.

I have yet to see a viable atheist response.

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Emre January 24, 2011 at 2:16 pm

It’s not just Christianity that’s false. Islam, Judaism are just the same ..it of different colours. If religion was not “made up”, why weren’t there any female prophets? But I’m sure the believers would find millions of excuses to prove themselves right. But the obvious truth is, “religion is the opium of the people”, sometimes the hardest truth to discover, is the most obvious one. It doesn’t need a genius to understand that all religions are remakes of the same bad joke, but I think denial is easier for people, to feel protected, by some unknown, unseen source. I’m sure it’s caused by a big lack of self confidence. It must be a “bug” in human psychology, wish it could just be patched like any software, but sadly not, and it’s being exploited for milleniums.

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PDH January 24, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Martin wrote,

PDH,
You can very well argue that the universe is necessary. And the theist can argue that it’s contingent. It’s just that it’s easy to conceive of another universe in place of this one, and so it might be an uphill battle to argue that our universe is necessary

Similar to modal realism, the mathematical universes exhaust all logical possibilities. If mathematical objects are necessary as you assert and the universe is a mathematical object, then the universe is necessary. So are all other mathematical objects, including near identical universes and other more exotic ones. It doesn’t matter that others are conceivable. They would exist, too, provided they are possible. Tegmark refers to it as a level 4 multiverse.

But a theist can argue the other way around. First, that the universe is contingent and thus has an explanation outside itself. Then, that the explanation has to be necessary. So it only gets you part of the way to theism. It’s more of an argument that, if successful, gives a point to theism rather than naturalism, rather than a direct proof of any sort of being of religious significance.

I conceive of it as a dilemma that leads to a stalemate at worst for the atheist. The arguments that might be successful against the idea that the MUH is necessary would be successful against the idea that God is a necessary being, too, absent an effective ontological argument.

You can indeed simply reject that the universe is necessary and atheists can (and usually do) reject that God is necessary. These things have to be argued for. Tegmark makes at least as good a case for the MUH as any theist has done for God being necessary, so far as I’m aware. We know that necessary things are necessary, the question is whether God is one of them. Theists need a successful ontological argument or something like it that would establish that God actually is necessary or they don’t seem to have much of an advantage as far as I can see.

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cl January 24, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Emre,

It’s not just Christianity that’s false. Islam, Judaism are just the same ..it of different colours. If religion was not “made up”, why weren’t there any female prophets?

Speaking for Judaism and Christianity, we find Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Noahdiah, and Anna, among other female prophets. So, were you just ignorant of the truth, or, purposely misrepresenting it?

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Luke Muehlhauser January 24, 2011 at 3:29 pm

BTW, I appreciate the responses to specific charges of incoherency. I know that many of these arguments do not fit certain formulations of the theistic hypothesis.

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Jugglable January 24, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Emre:

“If religion was not “made up”, why weren’t there any female prophets?”

It’s a good question, but it’s not an argument. I often see atheists triumphantly ask tough questions and then just act like they’re knockdown arguments. Where did God come from? Why do bad things happen? Why were there no female prophets? Case closed! This is just a question about theism, not an argument for your position. If you think that all the prophets being male somehow implies atheism, I’d love to see the argument.

I disagree with what you said about religion being an opiate. It is for some people who are vaguely “spiritual,” but in authentic Christianity God calls on us and challenges us. As a religious person I personally think life would be way easier as an atheist. Have you ever seriously entertained for more than a couple of minutes that your own atheism might be wish-fulfulling fantasy?

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Steven R. January 24, 2011 at 3:48 pm

To Martin:

Steven R,
But you can terminate the explanations by appealing to something that is necessary. 2+2=4 is a necessary fact. It is true by necessity of its own nature. You don’t need to go any further.Lions are contingent facts. They have explanations outside themselves. In this case, the ancestors of lions. Which are further contingent things, and have explanations that lie outsid themselves, and so on.
This form of argumenation is not intended to be a personal explanation, or even an intelligent one. That something has an explanation that lies outside itself does not mean the same thing as it having a purpose.
Contingent: The explanation for why something is the way it is and not some other way lies outside itself.Necessary: The explanation for why something is the way and not some other way lies within the necessity of its own nature (mathematical facts).Is the universe necessary? Is it logically impossible for it not to exist, or for another universe to exist in place of ours? Doesn’t seem to be, at least prima facie.So is the universe then contingent? If so, this would be a tidbit more in favor of theism than naturalism.Perhaps the universe is just a brute fact: it just is the way it is, and that’s it; no explanation necessary. But then why special pleading just for this one object (the universe) but for all other objects it is assumed there is an explanation for their existence?  

Ah, alright, thanks for the taking the time to explain that, I’m still getting my head wrapped around these terms. I’ll just say that PDH & Patrick pretty much said what I would have said and much better. Sorry, I’m still new to this so my input beyond this point can only be of that of a novice.

@ Shane:

Haha, another problem for less generic forms of Theism, nice!

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Paul January 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm

As a religious person I personally think life would be way easier as an atheist. Have you ever seriously entertained for more than a couple of minutes that your own atheism might be wish-fulfulling fantasy?

Would this be because you would no longer need to worry about satisfying God’s will? Or some other reason? I am genuinely curious. Onto your question – the question (probably rhetorical) was not targeted at me but I am curious as to what you think the wishes might be.

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Paul January 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Which one of the following seems to require an explanation?

A) There is not an elf eating ice cream in your living room
B) There is an elf eating ice cream in your living room

LOL – neither.

The first claims that in the living room there are no elves eating ice-cream. The latter claims there is one.

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Patrick January 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm

A) There is not an elf-eating ice cream in your living room
B) There is an elf-eating ice cream in your living room

Poor elves!

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Brandon January 24, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Jugglable said :

This is such a fundamental misunderstanding about God. God does not need us. Some desires come out of a lack–like a desire to hurt somebody so you can feel bigger. But the desire to share comes precisely out of abundance. God, as a perfect being, would not have possibly had any gain for himself in mind when he created the world. It could only be for the benefit of the creature.

Before God created the universe, there was no pain. In order to “share” his abundance with just a few, God created in such a way as to bring pain to many.

If I were God, I would not have created at all.

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Bradm January 24, 2011 at 6:40 pm

J. Simonov,

“If you know the outcome of all your choices, then they must unfold in conformance with your knowledge, otherwise it would be the case that you did not have knowledge in the first place.”

No, this is incorrect. If you know that some action X will happen, then all you can infer from that is that X will happen. You can’t get from “I know X will happen” to “X must happen” without some further steps in between.

Look at it this way. If I say I know the Twin towers fell down on September 11, 2001 it doesn’t mean they had to fall down. It only means they did fall down. The future is no different. Just because you know something will happen, doesn’t mean it has to happen.

Norman Swartz’s lectures on free will and determinism are an excellent resource for learning about this. See also his page on the modal fallacy.

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Jugglable January 24, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Brandon:

“Before God created the universe, there was no pain. In order to “share” his abundance with just a few, God created in such a way as to bring pain to many.”

I don’t think God shares his abundance with just a few. God is love, and as long as you’ve experienced that legitimately, you’ve experienced God in some form.

You said “If I were God, I would not have created.” It is silly to start a sentence with “if I were God…” given how puny and contingent you are. God’s perspective is so different than yours.

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Brandon January 24, 2011 at 8:02 pm

I don’t think God shares his abundance with just a few. God is love, and as long as you’ve experienced that legitimately, you’ve experienced God in some form.

You said “If I were God, I would not have created.” It is silly to start a sentence with “if I were God…” given how puny and contingent you are. God’s perspective is so different than yours.

For theists who believe that upon death you go to heaven or hell, it seems reasonable to believe that more people will go to hell.

Now, if being God means that somehow you have the perspective that can justify unnecessarily creating a situation that leads to more people in hell than in heaven, then fine. But it renders any moral conversation about him worthless. Imagine trying to criticize the moral actions of Allah or Practical Joker God. Anyone could say that in Allah’s or PJG’s unpuny and uncontingent perspective, everything they do is justified.

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cl January 24, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Jugglable,

“If religion was not “made up”, why weren’t there any female prophets?” [Emre]

It’s a good question, but it’s not an argument.

By what standard can we call “good” a question that smuggles in a false premise? I normally find us on the same page, but that comment had me scratching my head.

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bossmanham January 24, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Luke. I promise I am not your father.

1.

Is it consistent to say that a perfect being would create something? A perfect being has no needs or wants, so how could he need or want to create a world and populate it with beings and demand worship and sacrifice from them?

Ambiguity out the wazoo here. You simply assert this without argument as well. Does a perfect being need anything for His existence? No. Obviously not.

Can a perfect being want things? Why not? It isn’t impeding His perfection. It has no impact on His power. All it seems to point to is a volitional will. I say your assertion that a want is a sign of imperfection is false.

Does a perfect being require certain things of His creation? If those can be construed as needs, in that regard, I say that a perfect being needing certain things is not an issue either. Next.

2.

Is it consistent to say that an unchangeable being would create something? If God is unchangeable, then he can’t have one set of intentions at one moment and then a new set of intentions at another. And yet God supposedly created at one time, but now doesn’t have the intention to create a universe, because he did it already. The idea of an unchangeable God that creates is incoherent.

On Christian theism, there was never a *TIME* when God changed in His decision to create something. Think back hard, Luke, hard to the Kalam argument and its nuances, like how there was no time without creation. There was no moment when He didn’t have the intention to create.

Also, when people speak of the unchanging nature of God, it is His essential attributes and moral nature. God is personal and has intentions and reactions like other personal beings. In that sense, it’s not a problem to say God changes. In the sense He has an ultimate plan and impeccable character, those don’t change. WLC says God is in time now. This isn’t a problem either, unless you can show how changing in the way I have described is a lack of perfection.

3.

Is it consistent to say that an unchangeable being can be omniscient? If God is unchangeable, then his knowledge can’t change. And yet what is true changes all the time, for example what is true about my age. So an unchanging being can’t be omniscient.

It’s like you’re not even trying here. Omniscience is knowledge of only and all true propositions. In that sense, God’s “now” knowledge is changing, assuming He is in time (and might I remind you, Luke, that as a B theorist, it seems hard to actually see how you hold that things are changing in that way). God, at this moment, knows only and all true propositions. One of those is “Atheist Luke is now x years old.” God still knows that “last year Atheist Luke was x years old.” As I pointed out in number 2, it’s hard to see how this is a problem with the ambiguity stripped from the assertion.

4.

Is it consistent to say that God is transcendent and omnipresent? To be transcendent is to be nowhere in space, but to be omnipresent is to be everywhere in space.

Who is to say God isn’t both? If omnipresence is to exist everywhere (even though you are being ungenerous even in that definition) then God would exist everywhere in the universe and anywhere that is beyond the universe as well. Say He created other universes, or lives in a separate realm of reality altogether as Hugh Ross argues. His power and influence are immediately present in all of those places. Another non issue.

5.

Is it consistent to say that God is transcendent and yet acts in time? To be transcendent is to be beyond space and time, so a transcendent being can’t also be immanent in space and time.

Being transcendent doesn’t entail not being able to act within that which you transcend. It simply shows you aren’t constrained to that realm. Next.

6.

Is it consistent to say that God is omniscient and has free will? If God knows all the actions he will perform, then he cannot do otherwise, and therefore he is not free.

Fail fail fail. Why determinists and open theists continue to use this line of argumentation is beyond me, when it’s quite clearly fallacious. It is modally fallacious, transferring necessity where it isn’t warranted by the rules of logic, as I show here.

7.

Is it consistent to say that God is all-merciful and all-just? A perfectly just person treats every offender with exactly the severity he or she deserves, but an all-merciful person treats every offender with less severity than he or she deserves. What sense does it make to say that God is all-merciful and all-just?

Maybe you’ve heard of something called the cross of Christ…ring a bell, Luke? Place where God’s justice and mercy meet? God is just in that His wrath is assuaged by the willing sacrifice of His perfect Son, and His mercy is shown by taking the sins and punishment of humanity on Himself? Yeah, that one.

That is one reason why Christianity is the only coherent form of theism.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. If Christians want to say their worldview is logically consistent, they certainly have their work cut out for them putting together a concept of God that is logically consistent.

No, these were all answered quite a while ago. It seems like you just aren’t being serious anymore.

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bossmanham January 24, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Oh, also with regard to the cross of Christ, He also imputes to us the righteousness of Christ so we are no longer deserving of His wrath. Perfectly just and perfectly merciful.

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Steven R. January 24, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Bossmanham:

Two points, don’t have the time to point out the other problems with your responses:

1. A perfect being would have no motivation to create something. That’s the problem if we attribute to it some sort of personal attributes.

2. No, the Christian God says that his powers are also consistent and have not changed, but obviously an atemporal God has much different power than a temporal one.

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bossmanham January 24, 2011 at 8:48 pm

1. Says who?

2. Says who?

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bossmanham January 24, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Also, in Luke’s #2, I want to add something to my response. If God had the intention, “to create the universe and then not create anything else” for eternity, then in doing what He did, His intentions never actually changed.

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wissam January 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Is it consistent to say that God is omniscient and has free will? If God knows all the actions he will perform, then he cannot do otherwise, and therefore he is not free. //

Middle knowledge?

//Think back to Ancient Greece, centuries before the Christians arrived. Lightning was a mystery. Humanity was more than two thousand years away from understanding how lightning is possible. One popular explanation offered was that lightning was an act of Zeus. I can imagine the Greek pagans objecting that non-Zeus-worshipers cannot explain how lightning occurs.

But does this score any points for the Zeus hypothesis? Does it score any points against those who were skeptical of the existence of Zeus? Of course not. When we don’t know something, the conclusion is not “Therefore, we know it is magic” (from Zeus or from Jesus). When we don’t know something, the conclusion is “We don’t know.”//

Inference to the best explanation?

>>>LUKEEEE, are you aware that William Lane Craig is a nominalist now? He studied the convincing arguments of the incosistency between Platonism and traditional theism! He was first inclined to become a Conceptual Realist, but he found nominalism more attractive!

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Shane Steinhauser January 24, 2011 at 11:03 pm

@Bossmanham

I agree with most of your criticisms of what Luke has to say. This one though doesn’t make any sense at all…

“Maybe you’ve heard of something called the cross of Christ…ring a bell, Luke? Place where God’s justice and mercy meet? God is just in that His wrath is assuaged by the willing sacrifice of His perfect Son, and His mercy is shown by taking the sins and punishment of humanity on Himself? Yeah, that one.”

Luke defined Justice as giving every offender what he or she deserves. How does giving the sum of humanity’s punishments over to Jesus make God just? It doesn’t. It is just the opposite, since Jesus is getting what he didn’t deserve, and humans are getting less than they deserve.

While we are on the subject of being just, I have to say that I find it ironic that God has a need for justice at all. Justice is part of a system of punishment. A system used by finite beings to keep other finite beings from doing the things that they don’t want them to do, when they are not around. If God existed he would have no need for justice since he would have the power to stop us from doing whatever he didn’t want us to do.

Just as ironic is the concept of a God who must fine tune a universe for life to exist within it. If God existed he would have no need for fine tuning. He could just say “let there be life”, and poof!, life would spring up regardless of whatever laws of physics existed. If God existed and wanted life within a black hole then it would be so. Fine tuning is something that finite beings do to finite things. Not something a supposidly infinite God does to finite things. The concept of an all powerful God who needs to fine tune the universe is just as big of a philosophical mistake as claiming that a God with infinite resources is being wasteful.

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J. Simonov January 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Bradm, and bossmanham:

Thank you for the links regarding free will and determinism. It’s late, so I’ll have to take some time to really understand them, but a cursory read hasn’t helped me as yet. Perhaps you could answer me this; if it is the case that God knows that I will choose to drink orange juice tomorrow morning, is it not necessarily the case that I will choose OJ? That is, is it possible that I will choose a different beverage in spite of God’s foreknowledge?

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Hermes January 24, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Like John Cage, I appreciate the silence as well as the noise.

Thanks go to those who have ignored the nonsense and have thus increased the signal. It is appreciated.

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Alexandros Marinos January 24, 2011 at 11:48 pm

“Is it consistent to say that an unchangeable being can be omniscient? If God is unchangeable, then his knowledge can’t change. And yet what is true changes all the time, for example what is true about my age. So an unchanging being can’t be omniscient.”

This strikes me as weak. Wouldn’t it be the case that in a block universe, an unchangeable god can have complete knowledge, with anything you refer to as changing being a static fact about certain coordinates inside the block?

And now, inspired by this post, allow me to give you the ‘Theistic Multiverse Hypothesis”:

Craig sidesteps the ‘perfect god has no need to create anything’ argument by saying that god created the universe for our benefit, not his. If it is the case that a human life is valuable in god’s view, then every additional human life would also be marginally valuable. Therefore any potential human has been created. And since humans are (in part?) a product of their environment, at the very least any universe that could host life (human or any other that god finds valuable) must have been created as well. There you go, the multiverse as evidence of god. :)

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TaiChi January 25, 2011 at 12:44 am

This strikes me as weak. Wouldn’t it be the case that in a block universe, an unchangeable god can have complete knowledge, with anything you refer to as changing being a static fact about certain coordinates inside the block?

I also think that temporally indexed knowledge isn’t going to be a problem for God. There is, however, essentially contextual knowledge that poses a problem for God’s omniscience. One can know all the third-person facts about the universe without being able to locate oneself in that universe, that is, without knowing who, what, when and where one is situated. Yet we do know (of ourselves), the who, what, when and where., and so there is this kind of first-person knowledge. But since one cannot know, for instance, that “I am TaiChi” unless they are the person ‘TaiChi’ (or that they “are in Taiwan” unless they are in Taiwan, etc.), there are an abundance of things which God could not know, despite being privy to all the third-person knowledge there is. (And if one responds that God is always, everywhere, and whatever, the point can be put in the negative: I know I am not Napoleon, am not resident on Ganymede, am not a Triceratops, etc.).

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TaiChi January 25, 2011 at 1:02 am

Perhaps you could answer me this; if it is the case that God knows that I will choose to drink orange juice tomorrow morning, is it not necessarily the case that I will choose OJ? That is, is it possible that I will choose a different beverage in spite of God’s foreknowledge?

Yes and no. If God knows that you will drink OJ, then in all possible worlds in which God knows you will drink OJ, it turns out you drink OJ. But in some possible worlds other than those in which God knows you drink OJ, then you do not drink OJ, and of course God knows you do not drink OJ, since God knows all. So, the extended answer is this: if necessity is here understood to be restricted to those possible worlds which conform to the condition that God knows you drink OJ, then yes, it is necessarily the case that you choose OJ and cannot do otherwise. On the other hand, if necessity is to be understood as completely unrestricted, as logically necessary one might say, then no, your drinking OJ is not necessary and you may choose otherwise.

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Bradm January 25, 2011 at 5:20 am

” if it is the case that God knows that I will choose to drink orange juice tomorrow morning, is it not necessarily the case that I will choose OJ? ”

If it is the case that God knows that you will choose to drink orange juice tomorrow morning, it is the case that you will choose to drink OJ. That’s all you can say. You can’t say I necessarily will drink OJ because drinking OJ is a contingent action on your part, not a necessary one. The fact that God knows it doesn’t make it necessary any more than the fact that you know you drank milk yesterday makes that a necessary action.

Most of the confusion on this lies in the way English is spoken. See the following paragraph on modal logic from the SEP:

“there is a dangerous ambiguity in the English interpretation of A→□◊A. We often use the expression ‘If A then necessarily B’ to express that the conditional ‘if A then B’ is necessary. This interpretation corresponds to □(A→B). On other occasions, we mean that if A, then B is necessary: A→□B. In English, ‘necessarily’ is an adverb, and since adverbs are usually placed near verbs, we have no natural way to indicate whether the modal operator applies to the whole conditional, or to its consequent.”

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citizen ghost January 25, 2011 at 6:18 am

Martin

If you come across a strange device in the forest, you would probably reason that it has an explanation for its existence, and that the explanation lies outside itself (somebody built it and then placed it there). This may or may not be correct for the universe, but I think it’s the one place that is perfectly reasonable to actually suggest a supernatural explanation.

But this is just another variation of the Paley argument only with a cosmological twist.

The analogy doesn’t work for several reasons. For starters, what is the basis for concluding that the device is strange to begin with? (and therefore require an explanation “outside itself”) It’s because, like Paley’s watch, we already recognize its particular qualities.

I’m not sure this works any better when talking about the universe. It is reasonable, you say, to think that the Universe too has an explanation “outside itself.” That sounds fine as far as it goes – but the problem isn’t it doesn’t go far at all. It doesn’t really go anywhere because it doesn’t actually explain anything at all. Remember, the argument here was that because naturalism doesn’t explain (or explain fully) how “something comes from nothing” it makes more sense to suppose that “supernaturalism” (i.e. God) can account for the existence of the universe.

What’s missing here is anything resembling an actual explanation. The appeal here really is “God of the Gaps.”

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Steven R. January 25, 2011 at 8:43 am

1. Says who?2. Says who?  

1. Think about it. You implicitly accepted the definition of “perfect” as encompassing that which has no desires. Without any desires to fulfill, there is no motivation to do anything. Not that I subscribe to this idea of “perfection” and I’d rather avoid this one because it all comes down to what one views as perfection.

2. The Bible. Unfortunately my current ability to search for the exact quote is limited, but it is something to the extent that God says that his POWERS–not his nature–have not lost their potency and have remained consistent. Hopefully it also rings a bell.

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J. Simonov January 25, 2011 at 9:01 am

Bradm:

If it is the case that God knows that you will choose to drink orange juice tomorrow morning, it is the case that you will choose to drink OJ. That’s all you can say. You can’t say I necessarily will drink OJ because drinking OJ is a contingent action on your part, not a necessary one. The fact that God knows it doesn’t make it necessary any more than the fact that you know you drank milk yesterday makes that a necessary action.

Alright, with you so far, necessity not entailed automatically. Would you say that I cannot choose something other than OJ, though, given God’s knowledge that I will be choosing OJ? If so, that seems to me, intuitively, to be where necessity might enter in.

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Martin January 25, 2011 at 9:46 am

Citizen Ghost,

Forget “strange,” then. It has nothing to do with the detection of design and Paley and all that. The same can be said about something natural as well. You are walking through the forest, and you find an oak tree. You reason that the oak tree has an explanation for its existence, and that the explanation lies external to the oak tree (a “parent” oak tree’s pollen floated through the air from elsewhere.)

If the oak tree existed in a field instead of a forest, you would reason no differently. If the oak tree existed in place of the entire earth, you would reason no differently, and if the oak tree were all that existed, you would reason no differently.

So if the reasoning works for the universe, then there must be an “external” explanation for the existence of the universe.

But if that thing also has an explanation, and so on, then you have the existence of an entire chain of infinite cause and effect, with no explanation for the entire chain.

So at some point a terminator is required, and that’s where the idea of a necessary cause comes in. A cause that has no explanation external to itself. It would be difficult to argue that the universe is that terminator, because there does not appear to be anything necessary about our universe.

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Jugglable January 25, 2011 at 11:03 am

CL,

I just do think it’s a good question. Why no female prophets? Jesus was very accepting of women yet only ordained men. Why? As a Christian I think it’s a good question.

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bossmanham January 25, 2011 at 11:18 am

Steven R,

1. Think about it. You implicitly accepted the definition of “perfect” as encompassing that which has no desires. Without any desires to fulfill, there is no motivation to do anything. Not that I subscribe to this idea of “perfection” and I’d rather avoid this one because it all comes down to what one views as perfection.

No I didn’t. Reread what I said about God wanting things not being a problem. I did say God didn’t need anything for His existence, but I don’t see why wanting or desiring something is an imperfection.

2. The Bible. Unfortunately my current ability to search for the exact quote is limited, but it is something to the extent that God says that his POWERS–not his nature–have not lost their potency and have remained consistent. Hopefully it also rings a bell

I never said God’s power has changed. Nothing about the nature or essence of God has changed ever. How would God being temporal entail a loss of power?

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cl January 25, 2011 at 11:51 am

Jugglable,

Why no female prophets?

Did you miss the list I already included?

Jesus was very accepting of women yet only ordained men.

Do you consider “ordained by Jesus” a necessary criterion for being a prophet? If yes, why did Jesus refer to those he did not ordain as prophets? If no, what is the import of stating that Jesus only “ordained” men?

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wissam January 25, 2011 at 12:16 pm

// If God knows that you will drink OJ, then in all possible worlds in which God knows you will drink OJ, it turns out you drink OJ. //

1. God is necessarily omniscient.

2. Necessarily, if God exists, then he knows that person P will do action A (from 1).

3. Necessarily God exists.

4.Necessarily, God knows that P will do A (2, 3, modus ponens).

5. Necessarily, if God knows that P will do A, then P will do A.

6. Necessarily, P will do A (4, 5, modus ponens).

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Patrick January 25, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Would I be right in summarizing all this talk about “will” and “must” and free will in the following way?

Under the interpretation of Christianity offered in this comment thread, it is possible for me to choose other than how God knows I will choose in exactly the same way that it is possible for me to sprout wings and fly, and this counts as free will.

I’m pretty sure that is what is being said, based on the difference between necessity and inevitability. But I’m not sure that what is being said is what is intended.

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bossmanham January 25, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Wissam,

That’s the very modal fallacy we’re talking about.

All that follows from Necessarily, if God knows that P will do A, then P will do A is that P will do A. Transferring the necessity is fallacious.

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bossmanham January 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Premise 4 would only be that God knows P will do A, not that necessarily P will do A. You would need to argue that it has to be the case that it is necessary that God knows that proposition. That seems to beg the question of determinism. That event had to happen therefore God had to know that event.

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Steven R. January 25, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Steven R,
No I didn’t. Reread what I said about God wanting things not being a problem. I did say God didn’t need anything for His existence, but I don’t see why wanting or desiring something is an imperfection.

Well, that’s the problem. If God doesn’t need anything, he has no desire to chose to do one thing over another and thus, no real motivation to create anything in particular. It is a rather odd argument but I don’t think you addressed it properly.

<blockquote cite="comment-91130
I never said God’s power has changed. Nothing about the nature or essence of God has changed ever. How would God being temporal entail a loss of power?  

Well, his powers certainly changed, which is the problem with Christian dogma. And for the life of me, I still can’t recall where that passage is. Ugh, so annoying to know you have the quote but forget where it is.

Patrick, I was thinking the same thing. Anyway, let’s use inevitable. We can rephrase the problem to say that God can’t evade what is now inevitable, and that poses a challenge to the idea that God can do anything logically possible, since changing your mind is logically possible. Plus, some interesting implications when analyzing the Old Testament, although I agree with you that all these terms are much less mind-boggling when treated as just a religion and not truths that need to be deciphered.

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Bradm January 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm

wissam, it has been explained a number of times above why 4 doesn’t follow.

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citizen ghost January 25, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Martin,

If the universe is not all there is (and current cosmology seems to indicate that it isn’t) then yes, I agree, it makes sense to think that something “external” caused (or is A cause) of the condition that we refer to as the Universe. But I don’t see how this is a good argument for theism or supernaturalism. It simply tells us that our current understanding of the origin of the universe is incomplete and that cosmology merits further study.

It would be difficult to argue that the universe is that terminator, because there does not appear to be anything necessary about our universe

Why not? What I mean is….how can we say one way or the other? You are assuming that everything about the Universe is contingency. Why? Spinoza’s argument was that the Universe isn’t a contigency, but is itself necessary This may not seem intuitive, but the logic works at least as well as Leibniz argument on contigency.

But either way – whether the Universe is contigent, or a necessity – supernaturalism doesn’t explain how the Universe came to be.

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JS Allen January 26, 2011 at 12:15 am

I was with you, right up until this point:

Christianity can be actively destructive. And I don’t just mean for Christian terrorists in Northern Ireland

Don’t you mean “IRA terrorists from Southern Ireland”? And those South Irish terrorists weren’t Christians, as any law-loving unionist Ulster Christian could tell ye.

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Luke Muehlhauser January 26, 2011 at 1:15 am

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JS Allen January 26, 2011 at 9:10 am

@Luke, I was messing with you. My heritage is Belfast Ulster, so I might claim that the other side were non-Christian terrorists (Papist antichrists, even), while the Ulster side were true Christians simply enforcing the law. It’s a moot point now, since “the troubles” are over, and the south deserves some pity for being suckered into the Euro.

To be honest, I lost you at the point you made it clear you were going to shoot fish in a barrel, despite your acknowledgment that the guy doesn’t even know what “incoherent” means. It’s hardly sportsmanlike.

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Razm January 26, 2011 at 9:47 am

Like John Cage, I appreciate the silence as well as the noise.Thanks go to thosewho have ignored the nonsense and have thus increased the signal.It is appreciated.  

What noise per say? I’m quite lost.

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Razm January 26, 2011 at 9:49 am

Like John Cage, I appreciate the silence as well as the noise.Thanks go to thosewho have ignored the nonsense and have thus increased the signal.It is appreciated.  

Noise? How so? I can’t say that I see much nonsense with the objections raised if I’m reading you correctly. Then again, I doubt I’m near the caliber of the regs.

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cl January 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Jugglable,

You there?

JS Allen,

To be honest, I lost you at the point you made it clear you were going to shoot fish in a barrel, despite your acknowledgment that the guy doesn’t even know what “incoherent” means. It’s hardly sportsmanlike. [to Luke]

LOL! Yeah, I pretty much lost him at the title. Taken at face value, the statement, “Christianity is incoherent” is, quite literally, incoherent. Irony meter broken, right? Lately, it seems that soundbites and appeals to emotion are on the rise here. I find that troubling given Luke’s stated penchant for precision in language. Then again, it is much easier to honor the temptation towards rhetorical device, and unfortunately, often just as persuasive–if not more so–than cold logic.

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Alex Petrov January 26, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Omniscience and free-will are indeed contradictory. If the statement, “You will do X” is true, then you must do X. If you can choose not to do X (aka “you must do X” is false), then the statement above is not necessarily true, and thus nothing knows for certain that “You will do X.”

You can not both know you or any being will do X and also indulge in the notion of free-will, at least over event X.

Further, on the idea of nothingness, just because nothing is “simpler” than something does not mean nothingness exists. Simplicity only argues in favor of existence when it fits with a model of reality. Nothing in reality points to nothingness actually existing, whereas we have plenty of evidence that something exists. There’s no reason to believe nothingness is a valid concept.

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TRUTHOVERfaith January 29, 2011 at 12:38 am

@cl

” what is the import of stating that Jesus only “ordained” men?”

One can’t help but wonder how the status and treatment of women might have changed for the better in many cultures over the last two thousand years had Jesus simply made a specific point of declaring that a woman had the same authority to preach the gospel that a man had.
But, apparently, he was too busy cursing fig trees and pigs and spitting in peoples eyes.

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wissam March 4, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Christianity is Incoherent

Wissam,That’s the very modal fallacy we’re talking about.All that follows from Necessarily, if God knows that P will do A, then P will do A is that P will do A. Transferring the necessity is fallacious.  (Quote)

You obviously didn’t read the argument!

Premise 4 would only be that God knows P will do A, not that necessarily P will do A. You would need to argue that it has to be the case that it is necessary that God knows that proposition. That seems to beg the question of determinism. That event had to happen therefore God had to know that event.  (Quote)

The two comments you made rest on the same confusion.

The following is valid in modal logic:

K, Distribution Axiom: N(p–>q)–>(Np–>Nq).

2 does NOT read: If god exists, he necessarily knows that P will do A.

2 ACTUALLY reads: N(god exists–> god knows that P will do A). By K: (Ngod exists–>Ngod knows that P will do A).

And since 3 says: Ngod exists, then 4 infers from BOTH 2 and 3 (modus ponens) that Ngod knows that P will do A.

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David August 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm

I came across this because a very intelligent and educated Christian friend of mine stated that after a 3 year battle with doubt and intense study, he concluded that Christianity is the only coherent worldview. I’m super confused by this because the guy’s a genius.

What’s coherent about:

An omniscient god being the ultimate first cause, but somehow not ultimately responsible for evil?

God created the entire universe with immutable physical laws, only to sporadically break those laws later in order to magically create things and perform some magic tricks, all accurately documented in Judeo-Christian stories, stories which contain a level of magic eerily similar to myriad other world mythologies in their attempts to explain things.

The (coherent?) Jewish story:

God decides he quite favors the Jews, calls them his “chosen” people, and doesn’t interact with anybody else. In his omniscience he sees this as the best strategy for interacting with his creation. So the Jews carry God around in their tent, on their quest to slaughter and overtake the land that their tent-dwelling god promises them. God prescribes hundreds of silly laws as documented by Jewish leaders, many of them punishable by death. God becomes disappointed with his creation which he made in omniscience and kills all but one family in a world-wide flood, but magically transforms the earth’s geology to show that no such flood could have occurred. This and much more fun stuff is the backstory on which Christianity depends, from which it all springs.

And the (coherent?) Christian continuation:

Later God decides these laws don’t apply anymore, the rampant death sentences are a little harsh, the bloody conquest is best abandoned, the tent (now temple) is getting a little cramped, and maybe he should interact with other people too. All the while, God is unchanging and absolute morality exists as prescribed by God. God decides to send himself to Earth, but instead of showing up as God he decides to show up inconspicuously in the form of a normal human, appears only to a normal small amount of people in his society instead of the whole world which he created, lives a normal human lifespan, isn’t noted much outside of his few followers, sacrifices himself to himself to appease himself, decides not to document the story himself but just see what people will write about him, allows the documentation (gospels) to be of unknown authorship at unknown dates and wreak of human authorship (errors, embellishments, contradictions, agendas), allow in doctrines such as virgin-birth (coincides with a misquote of Isaiah) and a triune God (of which two parts are explicitly male, coincides with the male-dominant society at the time), and decides that the best way to judge the eternal fates of all people (virtually 100% of whom never met this guy, and the rest who must rely on the goofed-up writings) is on whether or not they believe the story is true, and deems his visitation to earth (which brought a bizarre form of accountability and therefore eternal damnation for the majority of mankind) as “good news for all mankind”, and in his omniscience sees this as the best strategy for reaching out to his creation.

This is coherent? I just don’t see it, nor can I fathom putting all my stock back in it. To me the story seems clearly human in origin, not divine. Even if God does exist, Christianity is necessarily a terrible account in my view. Was a Christian for 26 years.

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David August 14, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Sorry, all that rant to say, I completely agree with the original post. Some very good points were raised, particularly about asking members of other religions if their beliefs are logically consistent. Of course they’ll say yes, and there will be very well studied intellectual people.

Also important is your point about atheism being unlivable because we’re just cosmic accidents. I hear this all the time, but the proof is right in front of their face, happy purposeful moral atheists.

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