Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 8

Does the universe present a problem for atheism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return now to Evidence Considered by Glenton Jelbert. We’re now entering into the more scientific aspects here. Now I’m someone who does not really get into scientific apologetics. I don’t speak the language of science and I think it’s too often a mistake to think that science is either the final or ultimate arbiter on questions of theism, miracles, etc.

The first chapter will be the response to Robert Kaita. I do not plan on arguing against much of the science in this and other chapters, but I do plan on dealing with philosophical and historical claims that rise up. I gather this time the question is about why the universe is comprehensible. Kaita says this is a question scientists have not been able to answer.

In reality, they shouldn’t be able to, at least not as scientists. John Polkinghorne has used this kind of example. Suppose my wife goes into the kitchen and notices a saucepan of water boiling on the stove and asks “Why is the water boiling?” I explain, “My Princess, when water gets heated, the molecules in it break apart and go from a liquid state to a gas state.” Would that be a true answer? Absolutely. It would not be the main answer and that is an answer science cannot get at because it points to intentions of the will. It would be “I am wanting to make a glass of tea.”

I consider the question about why the universe is comprehensible to be not a question of science but of philosophy. Science provides the data, but many times scientists like to go beyond the data and make pronouncements on what the data means. All worldviews do this. This is fair to an extent, but it should be recognized the person is not speaking from their field.

Another question raised is the sustaining of the universe. This is an important question, and yet, it’s a secondary one. The universe can be seen as part of something else. It can be seen as part of existence. The universe does not have to be. One day, it will not be. It will die in a cold death. Existence though has to be. Existence cannot not exist. I want to know why anything exists at all. What keeps existence itself going?

Kaita does speak about how we’re ungrateful for the gifts of God that we have. This is certainly true and we’re all guilty to an extent, but it doesn’t answer the scientific questions. Of course, it shouldn’t. It really surprised me how much meant to be scientific here was not scientific really.

Jelbert starts by saying this argument is fascinating for showing the state of mind of the intelligent Christian. I find this quite a fascinating statement in itself. You take one writing from an intelligent Christian and that shows the state of mind of the intelligent Christian? I consider myself an intelligent Christian and my state of mind is quite different here.

Jelbert also says that Kaita has divided the world into the good and the chaotic and focuses on the good. I could not help but think about this passage from Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday describing the meeting of the man Sunday.

“Have you noticed an odd thing,” he said, “about all your descriptions? Each man of you finds Sunday quite different, yet each man of you can only find one thing to compare him to — the universe itself. Bull finds him like the earth in spring, Gogol like the sun at noonday. The Secretary is reminded of the shapeless protoplasm, and the Inspector of the carelessness of virgin forests. The Professor says he is like a changing landscape. This is queer, but it is queerer still that I also have had my odd notion about the President, and I also find that I think of Sunday as I think of the whole world.”

“Get on a little faster, Syme,” said Bull; “never mind the balloon.”

“When I first saw Sunday,” said Syme slowly, “I only saw his back; and when I saw his back, I knew he was the worst man in the world. His neck and shoulders were brutal, like those of some apish god. His head had a stoop that was hardly human, like the stoop of an ox. In fact, I had at once the revolting fancy that this was not a man at all, but a beast dressed up in men’s clothes.”

“Get on,” said Dr. Bull.

“And then the queer thing happened. I had seen his back from the street, as he sat in the balcony. Then I entered the hotel, and coming round the other side of him, saw his face in the sunlight. His face frightened me, as it did everyone; but not because it was brutal, not because it was evil. On the contrary, it frightened me because it was so beautiful, because it was so good.”

“Syme,” exclaimed the Secretary, “are you ill?”

“It was like the face of some ancient archangel, judging justly after heroic wars. There was laughter in the eyes, and in the mouth honour and sorrow. There was the same white hair, the same great, grey-clad shoulders that I had seen from behind. But when I saw him from behind I was certain he was an animal, and when I saw him in front I knew he was a god.”

“Pan,” said the Professor dreamily, “was a god and an animal.”

“Then, and again and always,” went on Syme like a man talking to himself, “that has been for me the mystery of Sunday, and it is also the mystery of the world. When I see the horrible back, I am sure the noble face is but a mask. When I see the face but for an instant, I know the back is only a jest. Bad is so bad, that we cannot but think good an accident; good is so good, that we feel certain that evil could be explained. But the whole came to a kind of crest yesterday when I raced Sunday for the cab, and was just behind him all the way.”

You see, everyone has to explain the same data and it depends on how we do see it. One can say this world is mostly good and evil is the exception, or mostly evil and good is the exception, or it is evenly divided. Now based on Jelbert’s writing on morality, I have no idea where he comes from, although as I have said goodness is a lot more than just morality. I do say that he has to explain the data that we have. Christianity I don’t think has any problem with it. In fact, evil is an essential part of our worldview. If there were no evil, there would be no point in the death of the Son of God, or a death of the Son of God for that matter!

Jelbert responds to the idea that it takes as much faith to be an atheist as it does a theist. Jelbert says it takes no faith to say you don’t know. Perhaps, but is that what an atheist is saying? Is atheism not a claim about the way the world really is? I know a lot of atheists say it is just describing a lack of God belief, but I frankly consider this silly. Atheism then becomes nothing more than a statement of personal psychology and nothing about the way the world is. If atheism makes no claims about objective reality, it should not be treated as a serious worldview.

Jelbert also says you can’t take the scientific data, put a few Bible verses in, and say your worldview alone explains it. I agree. However, in the book of Licona and Dembski, I am sure Kaita is well aware there are other people handling those questions and is just saying how this works for him as a Christian. It does not mean that I agree with his exegesis, but it does mean that I think leeway can be granted.

Jelbert says there is no reason the laws and constraints of physics would change with time. Perhaps. There is also no reason that they wouldn’t. I am eager to see if when we get to the question of miracles if he uses Hume’s objection since that assumes that everything works the same way always when Hume himself said that if you drop a rock 1,000 times, that will not prove it will fall when you drop it the 1,001st time. Past experience for Hume could be a good indicator, but not an iron-clad proof. The point is though that your average physicist will not do an experiment every day to see if lead still sinks when placed in water. They will take it for granted and they are justified provided they believe in a universe of order. On atheism, I have no reason to believe that is the case.

Jelbert concludes that this isn’t evidence for God since we have to split the universe, but I really don’t see this as a problem. I don’t think anyone who thinks this world is perfect. Those who think there is nothing worthwhile in this universe end up with suicide. Most of us are not like that. The question is which side are we on? Then, how do we explain that side.

It is also true that this cannot point to any one world religion, and I agree, but it can start to point away from atheism. The fact that there is order can lead one to think there is something beyond the order, and note that is not scientific. That is metaphysical. Why is there order and sustenance at all? I know as a Christian I have an answer, but I see none for atheism.

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

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/3/2016: Hugh Ross

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It used to be said that we lived on a pale blue dot. In this vast universe of ours, we are one solitary spot on the map. To some, this makes us seem insignificant. Why should there be a vast universe and yet this one tiny little planet that has life? If there is a God, why would He do something like this? Isn’t that wasteful?

Besides, is there anything really unique about our planet having life? Surely there are others out there that have life. Why should we look at our planet and see it as an exception to the rule. Ironically with the skeptics, the claim has us losing both ways. If we alone have life, well that shows that we’re just a freak accident. If life is throughout the universe, that shows that there is no creator supposedly needed.

Is our planet unique? I’m not a scientist, so I can’t say, but I do know someone who is. He is returning to my show to talk about his book The Improbable Planet. He is someone I consider a friend and I have a high respect for him also with him being a fellow Aspie just like I am. My guest this Saturday is going to be once again, Dr. Hugh Ross.

hugh-ross-head-shot

Astronomer Hugh Ross is founder and president of Reasons to Believe, an organization dedicated to integrating scientific fact and biblical faith. His books include Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job. and Navigating Genesis.

We’ll be talking about his latest book and looking at the claims that he presents in it. Why is the universe the way that it is and why is it that we have all these planets out here? Is God just creating some pretty scenery for us to look at, or is something else going on? Is there a reason our solar system is the way it is?

Why did it take so long for life to show up on the Earth anyway? Couldn’t God have done things a lot faster? Look at how many extinction events we had and how many disasters we had on this planet before we showed up. Is there really a point to that?

Come to think of it, what is the point? Why is it that God did all of this? Why is it that he created dinosaurs that we would never see with our eyes and had all these events take place for billions of years when the time that we have spent on here is just a tiny portion of all of that? Is God really interested in this time that humanity has been alive so much that He will create a universe and a planet just for that?

Join me this Saturday as Hugh Ross and I discuss these topics. We are working on getting past shows up. We had a flaw with the audio on David Sorrell’s so we are going to be working on that again and then everything should flow as normal. Please go to ITunes also and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters