Sunday, February 24, 2008

Everything That Had a Beginning...

The Cosmological Argument for the existence of God is an odd one to me in that it seems so simple. Some of the evidence behind it is not necessarily all that simple (specifically, the scientific evidence that shows the universe had a beginning and is not an eternally existing thing), but the argument itself and its premises couldn't be simpler. (I'll make the disclaimer if it's not obvious that none of this is my original thoughts... I'd have to give Frank Turek credit for boiling it down to such a communicable level.)

I've tried to imagine for a while what a Devout Atheist would have to say about it, and honestly, for the life of me, I'm actually not quite sure. So, I'd like to ask some of the DA's reading this to tell me what I'm missing.

* Everything that had a beginning had a cause.
* The universe had a beginning.
* Therefore the universe had a cause.

Obviously, everyone knows what a Christian is going to say this cause is.

Let me usurp what I think will probably be the first kind of response by posing it myself.

DA: Well, then who caused (or created) the first cause (or God)?

me: nobody

My answer of 'nobody' explained...

Since something exists (I assume we can agree on this), something must've always existed. For instance, you can't create yourself and you have to exist prior to creating anything. So, using particularly nebulous language, there must me something eternal out there.

That something eternal can be only one of two possible things:

Either the universe itself has always existed...
Or something outside the universe has always existed.

You'll notice this either/or brings us back to the second premise of the argument. I'm assuming we're in agreement about this premise that states the universe had a beginning since modern cosmology and physics has done a splendid job of showing us just that. So, since we know that the universe is not an eternally existing thing in and of itself, it would seem that it must be true that something outside the universe has always existed.

Given that the Book us Christians put so much stock in explicitly defines God as something that did not come to be, something unmade, something eternal that did not have a beginning (which means He didn't need a cause), it would seem like the Christian idea of God fits quite well with what the above logic (combined with the evidence provided by modern cosmology and physics regarding the non-eternalness of our universe) makes apparent.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Is It Rational to Believe in God?

A brief, but precise article addressing the rationality of believing in God. It provides a solid and distilled foundation that makes what atheists and Christians are arguing about nearly as clear as it can be.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Some of Britain's citizens do not relate to her legal system

I've seen this in two separate places now - and am as annoyed as both of the other parties are that someone, particularly a 'Christian leader', would make such a patently idiotic (not to mention completely wrong and immoral) bunch of statements - so I figured I'd mention it here.

Christian leadership - first place I saw it
Multiple Choice Legal Systems? - second place I saw it

So, if sharia law applies to Muslims if they so choose, would a Muslim man responsible for the rape of a non-Muslim woman get to choose to be examined under the lens of sharia law or the standing law of the British land?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day

I ran across this fairly new title because I'm subscribed to the atheismsucks blog. I read the preface... and wow... the guy (a computer game designer, interestingly enough) makes some pretty bold remarks, attention grabbing enough that I think I'll stop at Borders and get it on the way home. The blog provides a link to a free downloadable copy, but I'm not a fan of reading books on pdf, I prefer the real thing. Here's a few of them from the preface... purpose in writing this book is not to defend God, or even to argue for the truth of my particular religious faith. Instead, I intend to defend those who are now being misled into doubting their faith or are fooled into feeling more secure in their lack of faith on the basis of the fraudulent, error-filled writings of these three men. I do not make this triple charge of fraudulence lightly, nor is my doing so a fearful response to their churlish disregard for what to me and millions of other individuals is the central element of human existence.

There is simply no more fitting description of the cerebral snake oil that Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens are selling to the unwary reader—and the media—under the false label of science and reason. I am confident that no one, not even the most purely rational, uber-skeptical agnostic or card-carrying ACLU atheist, will take serious exception to my charge by the time they finish this book.

It took me some time to decide what this book should be titled. Part of the challenge was due to the fact that it addresses the philosophical and ideological arguments of three very different men. If the book were to solely address Sam Harris, I should likely have entitled it The Incompetent Atheist. In the case of Christopher Hitchens, I could have reasonably named it The Irrelevant Atheist. And given the way in which the eminent Richard Dawkins has apparently decided to abandon empirical evidence, the scientific method, and Reason herself in embracing a quasi-medieval philosophical ontology, The Ironic Atheist would surely have been most fitting.

In the end, I settled upon The Irrational Atheist for the following reason. This book is a direct challenge to the idea that atheism is the proper philosophical standard for human reason, that being an atheist is an inherently rational perspective, and that attempting to build a civilized society without religion is a rational object.

This is not a theological work. The text contains no arguments for the existence of God and the supernatural, nor is it concerned with evolution, creationism, the age of Earth, or intelligent design. It contains no arguments from Scripture; in attacking the arguments, assertions, and conclusions of the New Atheists, my only weapons are the purely secular ones of reason, logic, and historically documented, independently verifiable fact. This is not a book about God, it is about those who seek to replace Him.

At first glance, it may seem crazy that a computer game designer, one whose only significant intellectual accomplishment of note is to have once convinced Michelle Malkin to skip an opportunity to promote herself, should dare to dispute an Oxford don, a respected university professor, a famous French philosopher, a highly regarded journalist, and an ecstasy-using dropout who is still working toward a graduate degree at forty . . . okay, perhaps that last one makes sense. As Gag Halfrunt is reliably reported to have said of the immortal Zaphod Beeblebrox, I’m just zis guy, ya know?

That's got to be the most challenging and abrasive intro I've seen in these types of books. We'll see how it turns out.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Breaking the Golden Rule - Book Recommendation

I say I'm breaking the Golden Rule here because I generally have no use for someone suggesting a book to me when the book they're suggesting obviously flies in the face of my faith. Well, since Demian has set the precedent for this, I'm using him as my excuse for recommending a book.

I recently read "What's So Great About Christianity" by Dinesh D'Souza. I thought it was great. He lays bare every argument you have heard made by the devout atheists. Actually, I don't know about that, I said that mostly because I wanted to mock Demian as he said something like it in his post. I do think it's a well written book that at the least will challenge atheists, agnostics, apatheists and the like and give them a new angle to look at some things from.

To go a step further then Demian did in mocking himself for annoyingly suggesting a book, which I've already done... I'll counter my suggestion by giving the atheist crowd one not to bother with, this way I'm not the guy who suggests every book he reads to someone else.... "Reasons of the Heart" by William Edgar. This book is alright, parts of it are edifying for people of faith... nothing I'd suggest to any of you in the atheist crowd though.

A brief review from one of your own... Michael Shermer says...

As an unbeliever, I passionately disagree with Dinesh D’Souza on some of his positions. But he is a first-rate scholar whom I feel absolutely compelled to read. His thorough research and elegant prose have elevated him into the top ranks of those who champion liberty and individual responsibility. Now he adds Christianity to his formula for the good society, and although non-Christians and non-theists may disagree with some of his arguments, we ignore him at our peril. D’Souza’s book takes the debate to a new level. Read it.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Pascal’s Wager and The Point of Contact

Pascal’s Wager is a fairly well known concept set forth by the French mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662). In Dinesh D’Souza’s [recently released] book “What’s So Great About Christianity”, Pascal’s Wager is defined and addressed in a very succinct, effective and clear manner. In the spirit of using something like this from somewhere else instead of trying to reproduce my own commentary (a reproduction which probably wouldn’t be as good anyway), I’ll provide D’Souza’s treatment of the Wager.

From the chapter named “A Skeptic’s Wager: Pascal and the Reasonableness of Faith”, D’Souza says (the particularly bold assertion he makes is that [paraphrasing] ‘no rational person would refuse to have faith in God’):

Pascal argues that in life we have to gamble. Let’s say you are offered a new job that may take your career to new heights. It looks extremely promising, but of course there are risks. There is no way in advance to know how things will turn out. You have to decide whether to go for it. Or you are in love with a woman. You have been dating for a while, yet you cannot be certain what marriage to her for the next several decades is going to be like. You proceed on the basis of what you know, but what you know is, by the nature of the matter, inadequate. Yet you have to make a decision. You cannot keep saying, “I will remain agnostic until I know for sure.” If you wait too long, she will marry someone else, or both of you will be dead.

In the same way, Pascal argues that in making our decision about God, we will never understand everything in advance. No amount of rational investigation can produce definitive answers, as what comes after death remains unknown. Therefore we have to examine the options and make our wager. But what are the alternatives, and how should we weight the odds? Pascal argues that we have two basic choices, and either way we must consider the risk of being wrong.

If we have faith in God and it turns out that God does not exist, we face a downside risk: metaphysical error. But if we reject God during our lives, and it turns out God does exist, there is much more serious risk: eternal separation from God. Based on these two possible outcomes, Pascal declares that it is much less risky to have faith in God. In the face of an uncertain outcome, no rational person would refuse to give up something that is finite if there is a possibility of gaining an infinite prize. In fact, under these conditions it is unreasonable not to believe. Pascal writes, “Let us weigh up the gain and loss involved in calling heads that God exists. If you win, you win everything. If you lose, you lose nothing. Do not hesitate, then: wager that he does exist.”

The ingenuity of Pascal’s argument is that it emphasizes the practical necessity of making a choice. This necessity is imposed by death. There comes a day when there are no tomorrows, and then we all have to cast our votes for or against the proposition on the ballot.

I don’t see how any person could read the previous excerpt and not get some strong feeling out of it - Christians one of comfort and vindication… atheists one of disgust, anger and potentially discomfort.

Now… on to the complimentary topic, The Point of Contact. What am I talking about here? Again, unsurprisingly, this is something I’ve gotten from another source. In the book “Reasons of the Heart – Recovering Christian Persuasion” the author William Edgar put this name and a solid description to this concept. In doing so, he’s tied in a portion of the book of Romans that has always been particularly interesting to me. So, using his words, what are we talking about here? We’re talking about “…an ancient preoccupation in apologetics, matching the message to the audience or making a ‘point of contact’.”

What does Edgar assert that The Point of Contact is? Again, I’ll let him describe by quoting from Chapter 5 – A Rich Palette:

Over the centuries people have debated about where that point of contact is. Is it because people are reasonable and so we can communicate when we properly use reason? From Pascal’s phrase, reasons of the heart, we realize that unaided, unqualified reason is not enough; people are more than rational machines. Besides, our rationality is tainted by our motives, sin and self-interest.

If the point of contact does not lie in unaided reason, where is it? Simply put, the Bible sees it in the knowledge everyone already possesses of God’s reality. According to Romans 1:19-21 all people know God, being surrounded by his revelation. Whether or not they fully acknowledge him or process the information correctly, every person is aware of God just by virtue of being human.

… This point is no doubt controversial. The Bible states it baldy without any explanation, yet the knowledge of God is not readily apparent in many unbelievers – because of a complicating factor. Though it is perfectly true that human beings have God’s revelation, it does not follow that they process it correctly. Again, according to Romans 1, though we know God, we refuse to acknowledge him or give him thanks. What Paul literally says is that we suppress the truth, “holding” it in unrighteousness. The Greek word means something like “put into prison.” That is, in refusing to be thankful to the Creator, we put the truth behind bars.

Thus in effect, Paul says that in various ways and through various expressions, all people are somehow hiding from the God they really know. We live in a kind of contradiction, a paradox: On the one hand, everyone has a religious impulse, whether overtly religious or not. Yet on the other hand, somewhere that impulse has gone wrong.

I would feel remiss at this point if I did not mention one other point the author makes. He contends that we not only fail in our apologetics if we stop at the unmasking of unbelief, but that we are being unbiblical and cruel because we are leaving people in a hopeless position. He addresses this notion by providing a positive follow up to this ‘unmasking’, something he calls ‘Coming Home’. I’ll not give any more detail about this, as this begins to skew from the original subject and intent of the post, but like I said, I felt like I would be quoting the author out of context in a way that he would not approve of if I didn’t at least mention the ‘Coming Home’ concept.

Okay then, back to the original intent of the post, which is that I see quite a complementary relationship between Pascal’s Wager and The Point of Contact. Pascal’s Wager, especially as summarized by D’Souza, seems convincing enough to me to warrant a person at least bring some humility and genuine desire to the table in terms of seeking God. But then, when you combine the Wager with the The Point of Contact, or that is to say when you combine the Wager with the bold and [likely] offensive commentary the Creator God provides about the nature of the beings He created, this begins to feel to me like it would be quite a prickly and bothersome tandem for an unbeliever.

To be clear, I’m not asserting that any of this is enough for an unbeliever to take in and then simply flip some internal switch which then allows them to be a believer. But, as I said before, it seems like more than enough to bring some humility and a genuine desire to seek God to the table.

A better way to describe this than “prickly and bothersome” can be found by going back to a piece of the aforementioned scripture (verse 20 of Romans 1 - ESV): “So they are without excuse.”