Saturday, September 24, 2011

Views of logic: theism vs atheism part 3

In a previous post, I noted that while atheists claim that theists simply choose to "ignore" the laws of logic and physics when they choose, it's actually the other way around.  Unless you decide to suspend the laws of physics and logic when you wish, you must actually come to the conclusion that the universe had a Personal First Cause outside of space and time.

This was all in response to a comment by an atheist that I saw reposted on the pleaseconvinceme blog.  But there was something else about that post that got me riled up.  The original post said:

Theists imagine anything is possible simply because they have an imagination that can dream up anything they want. Atheists realize that isn't the case.
What I find especially interesting about that statement is that I am actually frustrated by this tactic coming from the atheist camp, not the theist camp.  This is especially obvious when you study the naturalistic theory of evolution as an explanation for everything.  For example, one of the issues I noted last time was with the charge from atheists that the belief in God that runs rampant within our species is simply a product of evolutionary history.  The thought is that, at a previous point in our species, the belief in a god or gods gave those believers some selective advantage.  So now, even though that's not necessarily giving anyone a selective reproductive advantage anymore, it's something that has been imprinted in our species from our evolutionary history.  That's actually become a working theory nowadays.  The problem is there is zero evidence of this.  It's an example of "as long as you can imagine it and it's consistent with naturalistic evolution, it's accepted as true".

Another example of this particular problem is where did our morals come from?  Well, clearly (since there is no god), our morals do not come from a transcendent source.  They must have been at one time given us an evolutionary advantage over the other humans who did not have those morals.  Nowadays, since we are a "social species", morals are in place in our genes so that we contribute to the greater good of our whole species.  The evidence for this is as abundant as for the above example.  That is to say, it is completely absent. But it's an explanation that is consistent with the naturalistic evolutionary paradigm, so it's taken as a given now that someone thought of it.

Of course, the most classic example of, "as long as I can imagine it, it must be true" is Darwin's "warm little pond".  In regards to theories of the origin of life, Darwin said in a famous letter to one of his colleagues that he could imagine a warm little pond where life got started.  This idea alone gave rise to the entire hypothesis of a prebiotic soup that was supposedly present on the early earth, from which life arose. It wasn't long before this idea, for which there was zero evidentiary support, became scientific dogma.  The idea of a prebiotic soup became so prevalent that nowadays everyone "knows" that's where life came from.  Very, very interesting how these things happen.

Methodological naturalism

I've posted in this blog several times on theistic evolution.  One of the (seemingly) interesting facts about those who hold a strong theistic evolutionary view is their commitment to a philosophical position called "methodological naturalism".

What's interesting is that's the common position held by why should theists hold that same philosophical view?

Methodological naturalism basically says that science cannot ever make statements about God.  In fact, the only kind of conclusions that you are allowed to draw, as a scientist, are naturalistic ones.  You can never take evidence you see in the natural world, and from that evidence, conclude that something supernatual occurred.  It's not allowed.

An aside: The statement, "From science, the only conclusions you are allowed to draw are natural ones, and supernatural conclusions are disallowed," is not a scientific statement.  It is a philosophical statement.  Thus, if you are a scientist, this is something that comes from outside of science that informs you how you do science.  Nothing wrong with that, but it's something every scientist must acknowledge.

Back to the discussion of methodological naturalism.  If a theist, who believes in God, says that in science only naturalistic causes are allowed to be drawn as conclusions, then science is reduced from something that searches for truth (no matter where it lies) to something that is dominated by a particular philosophy, a particular worldview, that can force you to conclude something false about the universe.

Now, as a scientist, I am not just going around saying God did everything.  But I am also not going around saying that God could never be the answer.  If God did act in the world, then there could possibly be some evidence of that.  And it's entirely possible that the particular system that I am studying has been effected by that.  If I rule that out from the get-go, then I am effectively ruling out truth in favor of a philosophical (not scientific) position.  I am slanting my scientific conclusions by my philosophical presuppositions.

Where does this lead us?  This means that we should always be cautious and tentative when it comes to science, and that also includes being cautions and tentative when it comes to examining our presuppositions (i.e., our "baggage") that we bring to the table.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Views of logic: theism vs atheism part 2

In the previous post, I reposted on atheist's beef with debating Christians: we don't respect the laws of logic and physics.  His supports this statement by saying that, as soon as we're backed into a corner, and can't find a way out, we essentially say, "Well, we're talking about God, so He can transcend the laws of physics, so we don't have to worry about that."

In a way, I sympathize with him.  I am sure all too often, he has found Christians giving that answer in an unsatisfying way.  We should definitely take heed and avoid things like God-of-the-gaps arguments.  (Perhaps I'll talk about this later.)

But what really jumped out at me after reading this post is that it's actually not the Christian that should have a problem with the laws of logic and the laws of physics.  It's the atheist.  Here's why.

The atheist needs to acknowledge that his point of view has to account for the origin of the laws of physics and the laws of logic. In particular, the laws of logic, which are universal and abstract: how can entities with these features arise in a universe that is purely physical?

On the other hand, the Christian worldview explains these very nicely. The universe is coherent and rational because a coherent and rational mind created it. The order of the laws of logic flow from God's orderly character. The fathers of modern science were all Christians, and this is for a reason: others who didn't take the universe as having a rational foundation were not motivated to study the world rationally.

The argument can be further turned on its head. According to the atheistic worldview, where did this highly finely-tuned universe come from? The answer given is the multiverse, where an infinite number of universes also exist, and we just happen to be present in one of the rare universes that have such finely-tuned laws of physics and configurations of matter.

But if everything is just chance, and we can explain any rare event just by saying we "happen" to live in the universe where that rare event occurred, then there is zero reason to trust the rationality or predictability of anything. Why would such implausibly-rare events happen in the past, but now that we're observing the universe, we can suddenly count on the reliability of the laws of physics? It's actually the atheistic worldview that relies on the suspension of the laws of physics and logic when it becomes convenient.

The problem also exists for a purely naturalistic view of evolution. If everything about us can be explained purely by our (naturalistic) evolutionary history, then the belief in God that is rampant in our species is also a product of evolution. The atheist explains this by saying that false beliefs in god-like personas helped us survive in the past, and thus they are fixed in our species now. But if we are such a product of evolution that we can't even distinguish between false beliefs and true beliefs, how do we know that anything our minds produce is reliable?

The argument that theists have no respect for logic or the laws of physics, while atheists do, really doesn't stand up to much scrutiny.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Views of logic: theism vs atheism

I saw this post on the PleaseConvinceMe Blog and just had to comment on it.  The post is exploring the idea that theists don't respect the laws of logic or the laws of physics, while atheists do.  The person who wrote the original argument about this said that in debating with theists, any time an atheist would almost pin down the theist in a logically (or scientifically) indefensible position, the theist's reliance on miracles could get them a free out, as it were.  Thus, there's really no point in discussing these matters with theists because you can't even reason with them.

This may come as a surprise, but I actually like this argument, not because I think it's convincing, but because it provides a lot of interesting things for me to think about.  Here is a re-posting of the argument:
You see, in the [Roadrunner] cartoon, the central gag is that the laws of physics apply to the coyote, but not to the Roadrunner. The Roadrunner can step off a cliff, stand in midair, taunt the coyote, and then race across to the other side. If the coyote tries it, the laws of physics kick in and he's met with a long whistling fall and a dramatic splat at the bottom of the canyon.

So it is with theists and atheists. Theists live in their imaginations and have no respect of logic or the laws of the physical laws of the universe. The laws of physics are more like conveniences to them. When it servers their purpose they will quote them, but the minute they contradict what they believe, they happily toss logic and reason out the window. If the atheist raises a logical contradiction, or points out an impossibility according to the laws of physics, the theists shrugs their shoulders and says, "it's a miracle, God can do anything". They are not bound by the laws of physics within their own minds and imaginations and they've taken that to believe that neither is the rest of the universe.

There's no arguing with that. You can't have a logical debate with someone who has no respect for logic. Just when you think you have them pinned down and there's no logical way out of it, much like the Roadrunner, they toss logic and the laws of physics to the wind and ignore everything you said.

You can't have a debate if both sides can't agree to the ground rules. Theists imagine anything is possible simply because they have an imagination that can dream up anything they want. Atheists realize that isn't the case. But in most cases atheists haven't realized this fundamental flaw. They keep thinking that if they only try hard enough, if they only go back to the drawing board one more time, that they can design the perfect logical argument which the Roadrunner... I mean, theists... cannot escape.
I have a lot of answers to this, which I will post later.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Following up on Pascal's wager: the probability of God

Last time I sort of just asserted that "the probability the bible is true is actually very, very close to one."  What if this were true.  What if, when you consider all of the evidence, then the probability of the bible being true is really, really high?  In that case, as we go back to the question of Pascal's wager, not only do you have an infinite reward in this wager, but you have extremely good odds of that infinite reward existing.  Not exactly how the Vegas bookies would set things up, is it?

However, I never gave any sort of evidence for that assertion.  Unfortunately, that is the subject of this entire blog, and it would be very difficult to encompass in a single post, but I will try to list several reasons for this to be true.

  1. The universe had a beginning.
  2. The universe (the laws of physics and the overall make-up of the universe) is exquisitely designed.
  3. The special set circumstances that must have occurred in order to produce a life-friendly planet was exquisitely finely-tuned (location and composition of the solar system, size of our moon, etc.).
  4. The origin of life occurred in a geological instant.
  5. The earliest life was incredibly complex.
  6. The simplest life is incredibly complex.
  7. The events that have taken place on this planet, in order for the planet to continue to be life-friendly for the past 4 billion years, have been exquisitely finely-tuned, (and must have taken planning).
  8. The sequence of events that have taken place before the appearance of man seem designed for the benefit of man.
  9. The timing of the formation of the solar system is finely-tuned.
  10. The timing of the appearance of man is finely-tuned.
  11. Our position in the history of the universe and our location within our universe provides us with the optimal conditions to study our universe.
  12. The order and rationality of the universe demands an explanation beyond randomness.  How can these things emerge out of chaos?
  13. The existence of immaterial, abstract, transcendent entities (including mathematics, logic, yes, even morality) demands an explanation beyond the material world.
  14. The existence of the mind and free will demands an explanation beyond the Naturalistic Theory of Evolution.
  15. The events recorded in Genesis 1 are almost perfectly consistent with the sequence of cosmological, geological, and biological events discerned from science. (Yes, I'm serious.)
  16. The biblical record has never been adequately challenged from either a historical or archaeological standpoint.
  17. The preponderance of fulfilled prophecy in the bible is remarkable.
  18. The emergence of the apostolic church is only consistent with the bible accurately depicting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I'm sure there are more, but I believe this is enough.  In fact, if I ever get readers on my blog, you probably would fall asleep before getting through that list.  But, perhaps in the coming weeks I'll expand on some or all of these.  For now, suffice it to say that the case for Christianity is more than just based on faith.  It is a case built on the cumulative evidence from almost every academic discipline you can think of.  Sure, each argument can by itself be avoided, but in most cases, in order to deny any single argument, you must appeal to a small, ad hoc probabilities.  When taken together, I assert that you have to twist and turn so many times, the mountain of evidence in favor of the Christian view is so great, to deny it is a matter of volition, not rationality.  (Of course, I am certain many would disagree with me.  Hence, this blog.)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pascal's Wager Part 3

Last time, I discussed the odds on Pascal's wager from a Vegas standpoint.  Because you stand to gain so much while risking so little, even if the odds on the bible being true are only moderately good, then that's a good bet to take!

However, the problem with this line of reasoning is that you are assuming people would take a bet that essentially requires them to alter their life.  In general, I think the economist would say this is not true.  Of course, I am not an economist, so I might be going out on a limb, but this makes sense to me.

With Pascal's wager, no matter how good the cost/benefit/odds/payoff analysis might be, you only get one shot. By the time the wager is over, you can't just dip back into your pool of money and ante up again.  This prospect sounds so unattractive, that most people won't be swayed by the cold reason that goes into this argument. 

Let me try to explain it in a different way.  Even though I originally said the risk was little, we're still talking about someone's life here. To the atheist, even the little risk of bending one's knee to God is too high, no matter what the payoff will be in the end. Most people can't or won't put a price on this. 

To make things worse, the atheist probably considers the prospect of spending eternity with God to be repugnant.  "Can't you just leave me alone, God, and let me live my life?" they say.  So the wager is asking the atheist to give up everything in order to potentially gain something they'd hate, and furthermore, on odds they think are remote.  Why in the world would the atheist take that bet?

So, the question then remains, can Pascal's Wager be redeemed? I think it can, but only in conjunction with other approaches.  First, we have to nail down what exactly is the probability that the bible is true?  As I described last time, even if this probability is as low as one in a million, from a strict cost/benefit analysis, that's a good bet; however, I argue that the probability the bible is true is actually very, very close to one.

Second, we have to convince the atheist that God is palatable, or at least the godly-lived life is palatable.  The atheist, who hates the idea of God, would never take that bet because of the reasons described above.  But what if you could convince the atheist that God is not a "cosmic bully" (as Dawkins I believe said), or that a godly-lived life is something worthy and satisfying?