36 Arguments For The Existence of God — A Work of Fiction: Appendix

How do the arguments stand? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Okay. I kind of cheated. I saw that all the arguments are in the appendix and that’s why I ordered the book from the library so I decided to skip the novel since I have many other books waiting to be read and get to the meat of the issue. How does Rebecca Goldstein handle the arguments?

Goldstein lists 36 arguments. I have been in apologetics for nearly 20 years and some of these arguments I have never before seen used. Many are left out, such as the arguments of Thomas Aquinas and the argument from the resurrection of Jesus.

Let’s start with the first argument she deals with, the Cosmological Argument. The first premise she has listed in the argument is “Everything that exists must have a cause.” When seeing that, it’s hard to not think about Edward Feser’s epic takedown of this kind of nonsense. Note Feser also includes “What caused God?” as a dumb objection.

Feser rightly points out that no prominent defender of the Cosmological argument in history has ever said the argument is that everything has a cause. Maybe your local pastor who doesn’t know the argument well might say that, but it is not said by serious philosophers. How did Goldstein make such a basic mistake?

If this is the first objection also, we have to wonder how seriously one should take Goldstein on the others since this is a basic mistake. It leaves one considering that Goldstein has never read any serious work on the cosmological argument. If she has, that could be even worse because she badly misunderstood whatever it is she read.

Many arguments from this point on are scientific and I have no wish to look at those as I am not a scientist, or they are arguments that I would never use and have not seen anyone else use. The next one I want to look at is the argument from miracles. However, to really look at that, I have to leapfrog ahead to another argument. That’s the argument from holy books.

Of course, it is a fallacious argument to assume that the book can only be the Word of God if God exists. but I am interested instead in dealing with the flaw in her look at flaws in the argument. The second one has her saying that all the books contradict, which they do. Goldstein says that one has to have arrogant provincialism to believe that the documents held sacred by the clan one was born in are true and the others false.

Apparently, it never occurs to her that one could, I don’t know, look for evidence that one of the books is true and make a decision based on evidence. If one is convinced the book is true, it is not arrogance to accept it. It would be arrogance rather to not accept it.

So when we return to miracles, Goldstein sees a similar problem. Miracles are used for any number of religions. How do we know any of them are true?

Technically, Christianity is the one that is founded on a miracle, the resurrection of Jesus. Muhammad does no miracles in the Koran. Miracles would not fit in Hinduism or Buddhism. Miracles could be added in later traditions, but they are not foundational.

Goldstein also says a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. She does not tell where this comes from. Certainly, some people describe it this way, but not all.

Finally, she of course appeals to Hume. Hume’s argument has been critiqued several times over. One of the best critiques is by the agnostic Earman in his book Hume’s Abject Failure. For my own purposes, Hume was arguing in a circle. How does he know that a miracle has never occurred? Hume mainly relied on his own elite companions who like him did not believe in miracles, but he has no basis to demonstrate that no miracle has ever occurred.

The next argument is the argument from morality. Once again, as if on schedule, Goldstein trots out Euthyphro. Does God have a good reason for what He does? If He does, then we can use that same reasoning for ourselves. If He doesn’t, then His choices are arbitrary. It never occurs to Goldstein to define goodness itself. After all, if she doesn’t, she will have to live with the dilemma herself. Is something good because it benefits society, or does it benefit society because it is good? I have dealt with this elsewhere.

Naturally, there’s also criticism of the God of the Old Testament. As expected, there is no interaction with the scholarly work in this field or looking at life in an ANE culture. No doubt, Goldstein would not want creationists who never study evolution critiquing that, but I guess she gets a free pass.

These are the only ones I really want to look at. Most of the others are outside of my area of expertise or are just weak. It’s a shame to see so many atheists praising a work like this. On the other hand, it also shows us that the atheists are not becoming informed on these matters and likely just believing something because it argues what they want to believe.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: 36 Arguments For The Existence of God — A Work of Fiction –Part 1

What do I think of Rebecca Goldstein’s book published by Pantheon Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I read through Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, he referred to this book as a book to deal with the arguments for God. I decided I’d order it to see what it was like. I have started it and really I don’t see how this book deals with the arguments for God thus far.

The book deals with an atheist celebrity of sorts who studies the psychology of religion named Cass Seltzer. The problem I have though is that I really can’t find anything likable about this character. I don’t see any real personality and he seems rather bland. I don’t think the book thus far has dealt with the existence of God at all, but even as a novel I find it boring.

This isn’t because of ideological differences. As a story, I could actually enjoy The Da Vinci Code. The history in it is awful, but the story isn’t that bad. (Don’t go see the movie. The movie was terrible!) I think the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov is some wonderful science fiction. I enjoyed reading Huxley’s Brave New World as well as Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm. I have strong ideological differences with all those authors, but the stories weren’t bad.

I can’t say the same about Goldstein. What is disappointing though is that this book is meant to deal with arguments for God, but it really doesn’t seem to do that at all. The first chapter is about something called the argument from the improbable self. It’s along the lines apparently of asking how I came to be me where I am. Seltzer starts thinking in the piece about existence and yet doesn’t appear to do anything. It’s as if he’s on the verge of something and then stops. (To be fair, the appendix I see does deal with more of the arguments so that will be interesting to see. I don’t expect much though since she says for the cosmological argument that the first premise is “Everything that exists must have a cause.” No great thinker in academia ever has ever defended such a notion for this argument.)

As the story goes on, various arguments seem to be dealt with, but it’s really hard to see how they are. If all that really deals with the arguments is the appendix, this book could have been much shorter. All we see is Seltzer attending scientific meetings and interacting with some women in his life. None of this really shows an atheist taking seriously the arguments.

I am thinking then at this point that I might not be able to write much anything more about this until we do get to the appendix, which is a shame. The story as it is is just rather boring and I don’t have any connection to the characters whatsoever. If things change, I will let you know out there, but if they don’t, then we will just deal with the theistic arguments in the appendix when I get there.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Atheists: Please Get The Argument Right

What happens when you misrepresent an argument? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I had an atheist get in touch with a ministry I work for and the conversation was cordial enough. Anyway, he recommended I come to his blog and subscribe and give my thoughts since they wanted to see intelligent theists. I subscribed and yesterday responded to something about blind faith including the Richard Dawkins idea that faith is believing something without evidence.

In the comments section, somehow it came to the cosmological argument, which I had not advanced, and the pointing out of how silly it was. After all, it’s silly to say that everything that exists has a cause. Why is it that God is the exception? The blog owner and another atheist said this and a third showed up to celebrate what a great response it was.

Yes. Absolutely wonderful.

Except, you know, that’s not what the argument is.

I know of no serious defender of the cosmological argument who is a scholar of the field and/or teaches at an institution of higher learning who advances this argument. None of them say “Everything has a cause.” The argument traditionally given is “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.”

To say something like this would be like me going to a group I was giving an apologetics lecture to and saying, “Do you want to know how stupid evolution is? Let me give you an example. Evolutionists believe that a fish crawled out of the sea and turned into a puppy dog and that puppy dog gave birth to a lion who gave birth to a human being. Isn’t that stupid?”

It definitely is. The problem is that evolutionists do not present arguments like this. This is not the way evolution is formulated. Keep in mind that this does not mean evolution is true nor does it mean that evolution is false. The atheists misrepresented the Kalam, but that does not mean that the Kalam is an airtight argument that works. The Kalam must still stand on its own two feet.

What it does mean is when dealing with any argument, one must deal with the argument as it is and not as one would like to have it. Do the latter and you can dispatch with any argument. Just turn it into something completely ridiculous and refute that and your work is done.

It’s also quite ironic to have atheists talking about blind faith and yet believing simply whatever is read in a book or on a web site by an atheist without looking to see if the argument is right. Were any theistic philosophers consulted to see if they used this argument? You know the answer to that as well as I do.

This has been going after atheists, but keep in mind this is entirely unacceptable for Christians. We are people who do want to take down our opponents’ arguments and we should, but let’s make sure we are taking down their arguments. There is no victory in making a fake argument and it’s dishonest and an insult to the cause of Christ.

And to atheist readers of this, if you have done this, stop it. Deal with the real argument. When I see the fake argument put forward, I just conclude that you’re an atheist who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 1

Does the cosmological argument stand up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve had sitting on the backburner for awhile another book besides Seeing Through Christianity to go through and that’s Evidence Considered by Glenton Jelbert. Jelbert has decided to go after Mike Licona and Bill Dembski’s book Evidence For God. Jelbert is a former Christian and it is interesting to go through what he has.

The first chapter is on the cosmological argument which was written by David Beck. It’s noteworthy that there is no distinction between what kind of cosmological argument is used. Craig uses one kind that is called the horizontal argument. This one goes with the beginning of the universe and largely relies on Big Bang Cosmology. The vertical kind does not require any science at all and is more philosophical and asks what is the basis for the existing of the universe.

Imagine you wake up tomorrow and you hear some weird music playing. You ask “What is causing this sound?” It doesn’t seem to make sense to ask “What caused this sound?” since the sound is going on in the present. The music is continually playing so you ask what is causing it.

Now another day, you wake up and you go outside to do a morning walk and you find when you open the front door a giant crystal orb is blocking your path. You ask “What caused this?” because it’s being put there is an event that happened in the past. It is often missed that you could just as much ask “What is causing this?”

Why could you ask that? Because too often, the existence of these things is treated like a given. It’s as if things can exist by their own power. One could say that we could commit suicide by our own power, but none of us can by our own power say “I don’t want to exist!” and just poof out.

Jelbert begins his response by saying we could grant the argument and it doesn’t really get us close to theism. He says that all religions are able to use this shows this, but can they all use it? For instance, Mormonism would not use this argument since matter is really eternal in Mormonism with gods begetting gods that create their own planets where the denizens can become gods.

The Abrahamic religions can use this because the vertical form definitely depends on one uncaused cause. Using natural theology and Aristotelian metaphysics, Aquinas can tell us plenty about the god that can be found. There is a false notion that to say that since natural theology alone can’t tell us what god there is, then there can’t be a god. In the Middle Ages, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian philosophers could all agree on the arguments of natural theology. They’d determine which form of theism is true by looking at special revelation.

From there, Jelbert goes on to talk about how Jeopardy recently defined atheism as “The active, principled denial of the existence of God.” Jelbert refers to this an absurd definition. Jelbert says “A definition of atheist as someone who does not believe there is a god, is the equivalent of saying that since the case has not been made, the burden of proof lies with the theist/deist.”

First off, this sentence is incredibly unclear. Thinking it was just me, I showed it to one of my friends who’s much more familiar with English and grammar only to get a similar response. My rule with the burden of proof argument is that anyone who makes a claim has a burden. If you come up and say “I am an atheist,” and I ask why, you need to back that. It doesn’t work to say “Unless you can demonstrate your case, atheism is true.” It could be that I am a theist who has terrible reasons for believing in God and yet God still exists. If I come to you and say I’m a theist, it’s not up to you to disprove theism. It’s up to me to demonstrate theism.

As for the idea about it being absurd, perhaps Jelbert would like to speak to these others.

“Atheism is the position that affirms the non-existence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.”

William Rowe The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy p.62

“Atheism, as presented in this book, is a definite doctrine, and defending it requires one to engage with religious ideas. An atheist is one who denies the existence of a personal, transcendent creator of the universe, rather than one who simply lives life without reference to such a being.”

Robin Le Poidevin Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion p.xvii

Jelbert goes on to say that the argument proves nothing about Jesus, virgin births (Which I do affirm), the resurrection, or any creed. Indeed it doesn’t. It is hardly a fault of an argument that it does not prove what it was never meant to prove. The argument could be entirely valid and Islam is true. Either way, atheism is false.

Jelbert goes on to argue that maybe the cause is itself physical. The problem with this is that in the horizontal form, the being is beyond space, time, and matter, which means it is not limited by any of those and thus it is not spatial, it is eternal, and it is immaterial. In the vertical form, it is a being that is not capable of change from another agent. Anything material is capable of such change. This is because in Thomistic and Aristotelian metaphysics, these kinds of things have what is called potential, which is capacity for change. Matter essentially has this. Thus, physical beings are ruled out.

Jelbert also argues that an infinite chain could possibly exist. This would be a problem for a horizontal version perhaps, but not a vertical one. There are two kinds of chains. In one chain, consider my wife and I. Suppose in a tragedy our parents all died through car accidents or some other means today. That would not mean that we suddenly go out of existence. In fact, we could have our own children still without our parents. (Obviously, we don’t want anything to happen to our parents of course.)

If this kind of chain is what the universe is, then an infinite chain could be possible. I leave that to the mathematicians. Yet what if our universe is not like this? Aquinas gives the example of a stick pushing a rock and the rock pushing a leaf while the stick is pushed by a hand. This is a short chain, but in this chain, if you remove any part, all activity ceases. All present activity is continuously dependent on past activity. If that is the case for our universe, then an infinite chain is not possible.

A Thomistic argument gives a chain where existence depends on something else existing. If all existing depends on another existence, then you have such a chain going on as with the rock being moved, then there’s no reason to think any existing would be going on right now. This is not chronological either. If it was, it would be the former chain. Too many atheistic arguments treat existing as if it was a given. It’s quite odd to think that so many atheists who want to talk about how God doesn’t exist don’t really say much about what it means to exist.

Jelbert then says that the third point is that there must be a single uncaused or infinite being. Jelbert sees a switch between cause and being, but it’s a wonder what we’re supposed to see. If anything is causing any change, it must be something that exists in some way, that is, it is. It’s a being.

Jelbert also says that Beck says that “We cannot make sense of the universe, the reality in which we live, apart from there being a real God.” Jelbert says that this is an admission that the feeling of not knowing is something Beck doesn’t like and he heals it with the idea of God. It’s a wonder how this is read. Beck just gave a statement of fact. Nothing is said about personal feelings in the matter.

Jelbert then goes on to say that this is what has been done for millennia, but this is indeed too much of a leap. The first leap is to assume an emotional case for Beck. The second is to assume that everyone thinks in modern individualistic psychological terminology.

If we want to play this game, then we could say that many people find a God distasteful who will judge them for their sins, require repentance, or disagree with their political views. This causes psychological discomfort. The way to quiet this is to argue that this God doesn’t exist to give emotional solace.

Does this apply to some people? Sure. Are some people also Christians for emotional reasons? Sadly so. Does this tell us about the truth? Not at all. Instead, Jelbert has given a reason that cannot be known. Saying that you have an explanation that explains something is not necessarily addressing something emotional. It could provide emotional solace as a plus, but that does not mean that it is false.

We will later on look at another chapter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters