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.
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.
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:
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Next post: How Cartesian Dualism Might Have Been True