Sunday, 17 June 2007

A Search for Reasons for Belief

I like asking questions.

I have been having a bit of debate with Paul and plaguing him with questions about why he holds his Christian faith. He has directed me to this site as a explanation about which he says;

"I haven't read everything on it, but it's a site whose ethos and credentials I respect."
These are my thoughts and feedback.

Paul actually directed me to the section of the site which deals with the history of the bible, but being a bit of a awkward b*gger I am starting at the beginning instead. But I do intend to cover the section he recommended in due course.

This is a review of the "Introduction" and "Existence of God" sections.

Here is the first bit of the site;
"To expose unbelievers to the claims of the gospel by educating them about the evidences of the Christian faith. When this is done some, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, will turn from their sins and turn to Christ in faith. Although many will still choose to reject Christ, it won't be because of ignorance."
Well I certainly don't want to reject anything through ignorance. I suppose that is why I am doing this after all.
"In order to defend the Christian faith, one must obviously start with the premise that there is a God! Although this sounds elementary, it is extremely important, because an individual with an atheistic world-view will be unpersuaded by the objective facts underlying Christianity. He will simply attempt to interpret these facts within his atheistic framework. For instance, an atheistic geologist will interpret the fact that we find billions of dead things buried in sedimentary rocks (i.e., laid down by moving water) all over the earth as the proof of death, bloodshed, and the survival of the fittest over millions of years."
Oh well that's that then. I've got to believe in god or I won't find any of the evidence for his existence persuasive. But wasn't their purpose to "expose unbelievers . . . [so that]. . . some will turn from their sins and turn to Christ in faith. . ." ?

Of course both of these statements can't be true - I wonder which is?

BTW, are they saying that the various methods of radiometric dating don't work? From this one comment I'm not sure how old they think the earth is.
"We must admit, however, that the existence of God cannot be proven by the scientific method. Since God cannot be "tested" or "observed" one must necessarily resort to some sort of philosophical arguments in order to argue for God's existence. Furthermore, there must always be an element of obedient faith involved before the evidence for God's existence is accepted."
So it can't be proved then anyway?

An element of obedient faith? Believe it because you say so? Is that a joke?


"However, for those who are willing to believe and are sincerely searching for the truth, there is abundant evidence for the existence of God."
Those who have an open mind and can be persuaded by the evidence? No - its not possible to test or observe god.

Can't you say exactly the same thing about those willing to believe and sincerely searching for the truth (and not bothered about things like evidence) about alien abductions, faith healers, mediums etc? I am guessing that Paul doesn't believe in all of these things.

I think the truth is determined based upon the facts in other words the answers given to the questions and not the sincerity with which someone asks the question in the first place and without any regard for the evidence.

We are then given a short lists of arguments for god;

Ontological - this appears to be mere word games and doesn't actually mean anything.

Moral - In my opinion nothing external needs to define right and wrong. Humans are quite capable of working this out for themselves using democracy and the rule of law to help along the way. I think this is because our evolutionary history happily explains morals, altruism , a sense of right and wrong etc. The "Nice Guys First" chapter of "Selfish Gene" gives an introduction to this. For much more personal thoughts see my previous posts on "Being Good Without God" part 1 and part 2 - BTW Paul you never have given your thoughts on this like you said you were going to.

Teleological - From where I am sitting there is lots of mess and chaos in the universe I can see. Evolution does a good job of explaining the complexity - chaos theory and emergent properties seem to explain the rest without the need for anything supernatural.

"The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable with the chance that a 'tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.'"

This Hoyle quote doesn't work for me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if life is so incredibly improbable then why isn't god just as improbable - in fact, if he can do all these supernatural things then won't he be even more complex/improbable?

Even if you say he isn't more improbable for some reason (not sure what this could be) saying he caused things still leaves you with the question of who caused him?

Doesn't that just lead to an infinite regression? You know - turtles all the way down!

Secondly this Hoyle quote is very dodgy in my opinion because evolution isn't "a random process". This is surely known to the learned folk who wrote this site.

Are they telling fibs? This could be characterised as deliberately misrepresenting evolution because it sounds really persuasive to people who don't know about evolution.

Paley's argument - "It looks designed!" - doesn't get us anywhere when we realise that evolution works by design, blind unintelligent design, but design non-the-less.
"...Is it really credible that random processes could have constructed a reality, the smallest element of which - a functional protein or gene - is complex beyond our own creative capacities, a reality which is the very antithesis of chance, which excels in every sense anything produced by the intelligence of man?"
This is a textbook example of the "argument from incredulity" logical fallacy beloved of creationists. Have a look at my "Guide to Thinking Straight" for more of an explanation of this.

Thermodynamics - this is simply wrong, it doesn't rule out the creation of the universe - the law only gives us the apparent rules of this universe. We currently have no way of knowing what laws applied before the singularity during the big bang.

2LOT - a very bad fib here - at first they talk about the general law then apply this law to life - all with no mention at all that the 2LOT applies to closed systems.

Actually one part of a system can reduce in entropy at the expense of increased entropy elsewhere. Very bad pseudo-science. I thought this was supposed to be a reputable site?

Cosmological argument - This says that you can't argue for an infinite regression of natural causes but can argue for an eternal god. However this gives us no reasons in support of these assertions.

Why is an eternal god allowed but infinite progression not?

Isn't it more honest just to say that we (human beings) don't know how things started?

Next we are told that a big universe and the wonders of creation point to a god? Again no reasons given, just a bald assertion made.

At what size of universe and what level of wonder for its contents does a god become necessary?

We now get some more assertions, this time that atheism means something from nothing - strawman fibs.

The only atheists I know are happy to admit that they don't know how things started. Most do follow the development of the big bang theory with interest, but all will admit that we are going to have lots of problems going back to before the singularity. (Although some aspects of "brane" theory do hint that this might be possible)
"Furthermore, for an atheist to assert dogmatically that there is no God, then he must be omniscient, and therefore God! Therefore, his assertion contradicts itself!"
Agreed - but one minor point - I don't know any atheists who assert this.
"Conclusion: We can confidently state that the evidence for the existence of God is overwhelming. As the Psalmist stated in Psalm 14:1 and 53:1, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.""
Well I haven't seen any evidence yet, at one point you seemed to say there wouldn't be any - let's read it all again. . . just to see if I missed something . . .

No nothing.

Oh - and I am a fool, nice.


  1. Sorry, Psi, I think I may have misdirected you and caused you to waste your time. The site I assumed you were looking at, whose credentials and opinions I respect, was the bethinking one, which we must have been looking at in the context of another quote. I was only really interested in the specific quote related to Ramsay from that site - I don't know enough about it, and as you say, those arguments aren't necessarily substantive.

    However, your responses are also not necessarily substantive. For example, you say: "We now get some more assertions, this time that atheism means something from nothing - strawman fibs. The only atheists I know are happy to admit that they don't know how things started." Acknowledging that you don't know how things started doesn't mean that you don't need something from nothing.

    Also, you argue (with Dawkins) that a creator God must be more complex, and if so "who designed the designer?" This is a non-argument as well. Whilst everything we see in the universe is contingent, there is no reason to think that something we don't see which is not part of the universe need also be contingent - i.e. the answer to "Who designed the designer?" doesn't have to be given. It is possible to imagine something that isn't contingent.

    However, I really wouldn't recommend the arguments there. They are not "state of the art". Try this instead!

    Also, you assert that evolution is capable of producing things that look designed. However, this is a circular argument. If you say that the existence of designed objects is not evidence of a designer, you certainly can't use it as evidence for the lack of a designer.

  2. ... and that bethinking page addresses the issue of the many gods problem.