How Bad Can Atheist Arguments Get?

What are we to make of the “Brights” today? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There are some atheists that give Christianity a fair hearing and can give a take. Some of them can look and say “I can understand how from a rational perspective that you can see this as evidence for the resurrection of Jesus or the existence of God.” Some of them can admit arguments from the other side need to be wrestled with.

Unfortunately, from what I meet online, these are the exception.

I could sadly say the same for Christians reversed, but the problem is many atheists claim that by being atheists, they are champions of reason and evidence. For them, I often modify the saying of Jesus. These people honor reason with their lips, but their heads are far from it.

Saturday night I had posted in a debate group in a thread about someone saying something about how Jesus probably wasn’t white. I agree with this. Jesus looked like the average Jew of His day and was most likely more olive-skinned than anything else. Still, for humor, I always post this meme.

So an atheist messages me yesterday morning asking if I had abandoned my faith thinking I had because I had posted this. Like I said, these guys are not experts in reason and evidence. He invited me to check out his website. Now I’m not going to comment on posts about science as science because I know that is not my area. However, I did see a guest post worth mentioning. We’ll go through it piece by piece as a fine example of how NOT to do atheist apologetics. It’s by someone named Jim Dorans, although I wonder why anyone would want to put their name to this.

“Every single attempted logical argument for the existence of the Abrahamic God, without exception, fails on at least one count.”

Well this is first off a very bold claim. Every single one of them fails. Hopefully, we’ll see that evidence. Also, keep in mind arguments from philosophy are not for the Abrahamic God normally, but for a god who is consistent with the Abrahamic God. It could be that God exists and all the Abrahamic faiths are wrong.

“Saint Anselm of Canterbury made the logical error of assuming the need for a perfect being, and worked from that point on. By that reasoning, and working from an unproven assumption, it was very easy to “prove” the existence of God.”

What would be nice to see is some quote from Anselm showing this. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. Heck, this guy doesn’t even state what Anselm’s argument is or what it is even called. I do not accept the argument, known as the ontological argument, but this is in no way a refutation of Anselm.

“However, that very same reasoning could be applied by an opponent to prove the existence of Zeus, so that’s another reason why it’s a very weak argument.”

And here we are wrong again. Zeus is a being in a polytheistic system. He is never described as a perfect being. If anything, Zeus is a really big human figure with some special powers. You could compare him to Superman. Zeus is a part of a system that needs to be explained. He is not like the god of the Abrahamic faiths.

“Thomas Aquinas too, committed a similar error by assuming the need for a necessary being, and so, based on that unproven assumption, still managed to make a good argument for the existence of God.

It was very much begging the question, and from that fallacious standpoint, he was able to effectively define God into existence.”

As a Thomist, I just find this laughingly hysterical. Again, there is no quote of Aquinas. There is not even a listing of his arguments. There is nothing to show that the author has even read Aquinas. Aquinas’s arguments are also deductive arguments where if one accepts the premises and can show no fault in the form, the conclusion follows.

Normally, if you are responding to an argument, you lay out what the argument is and then show how the proponent thinks the conclusion follows. You try to be as charitable as possible with it. Then you show why you think the proponent of the argument is wrong.

“Again, using the same flawed reasoning, an opponent could just as easily define Zeus into existence.”

See above.

“The well-worn cosmological argument fails too, but for different reasons. Hugely complex, monstrous, recycled arguments tell us the 9,742 ways that a naturalistic explanation is logically impossible, but those 9,742 ways are then “falsified” by inserting God, because God is exempt from, and unbounded by, the laws of logic.Usually, the main claim revolves around the Bereanistic “it is impossible to cross an infinity”, which is just another way of saying that it is impossible to get to the start of an infinity in the past.”

It depends on what kind of infinity is being crossed. Some Aquinas was open to. He said, for example, in q. 46. article 2 of the Prima Pars of the Summa that you cannot demonstrate by reason alone that the universe had a beginning. It must be believed on the basis of Scripture. Today, scientists can debate that one back and forth, but Aquinas is not making an argument like that.

Aquinas says an infinity is impossible though if there is dependence on the ongoing activity of what comes prior. Picture my illustration of an eternal statue standing eternally in front of an eternal mirror. How long has the mirror been reflecting the statue? Eternally. Is the image in the mirror still dependent? Yes.

Aquinas uses the example of a stick pushing a rock and a hand moving the stick. Remove the hand or the stick and the rock doesn’t move. That is the kind of infinity Aquinas says is impossible to have. You cannot have a chain of secondary causes without one primary cause.

Note also that Dorans doesn’t say why or why not this is the case. Is it possible to transcend an infinite? Is it possible for the universe to be infinitely old? He doesn’t tell us.

“The claim then implodes on itself by stating that there must have been a First Cause (which therefore must have crossed that infinity in the past).”

Brace yourself for the demonstration.

“This First Cause is claimed to be God, which of course contradicts the principle of cause and effect, by stating that God does not require a cause, because he is er…God. So, we have now invoked the fallacy of special pleading.”

And everyone who has read anything on the cosmological argument howls with laughter at this point. I can do no better than Ed Feser does. Let’s look at what he says about it here.

1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.”
Lots of people – probably most people who have an opinion on the matter – think that the cosmological argument goes like this: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists.  They then have no trouble at all poking holes in it.  If everything has a cause, then what caused God?  Why assume in the first place that everything has to have a cause?  Why assume the cause is God?  Etc.


Here’s the funny thing, though.  People who attack this argument never tell you where they got it from.  They never quote anyone defending it.  There’s a reason for that.  The reason is that none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this stupid argument.  Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne.  And not anyone else either, as far as I know.  (Your Pastor Bob doesn’t count.  I mean no one among prominent philosophers.)  And yet it is constantly presented, not only by popular writers but even by some professional philosophers, as if it were “the” “basic” version of the cosmological argument, and as if every other version were essentially just a variation on it.


Don’t take my word for it.  The atheist Robin Le Poidevin, in his book Arguing for Atheism (which my critic Jason Rosenhouse thinks is pretty hot stuff) begins his critique of the cosmological argument by attacking a variation of the silly argument given above – though he admits that “no-one has defended a cosmological argument of precisely this form”!  So what’s the point of attacking it?  Why not start instead with what some prominent defender of the cosmological argument has actually said?”

Feser is stating what many of us already know. No one is using this argument that Dorans is dealing with. No one. Again, this is not saying anything about Pastor Bob using it. I am referring to anyone academically inclined. Feser goes on.

“And that, I submit, is the reason why the stupid “Everything has a cause” argument – a complete fabrication, an urban legend, something no philosopher has ever defended – perpetually haunts the debate over the cosmological argument.  It gives atheists an easy target, and a way rhetorically to make even their most sophisticated opponents seem silly and not worth bothering with.  It‘s a slimy debating trick, nothing more – a shameless exercise in what I have elsewhere called “meta-sophistry.”  (I make no judgment about whether Le Poidevin’s or Dennett’s sleaziness was deliberate.  But that they should know better is beyond question.)


What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause.  These claims are as different from “Everything has a cause” as “Whatever has color is extended” is different from “Everything is extended.”  Defenders of the cosmological argument also provide arguments for these claims about causation.  You may disagree with the claims – though if you think they are falsified by modern physics, you are sorely mistaken – but you cannot justly accuse the defender of the cosmological argument either of saying something manifestly silly or of contradicting himself when he goes on to say that God is uncaused.


This gives us what I regard as “the basic” test for determining whether an atheist is informed and intellectually honest.  If he thinks that the cosmological argument rests on the claim that “everything has a cause,” then he is simply ignorant of the basic facts.  If he persists in asserting that it rests on this claim after being informed otherwise, then he is intellectually dishonest.  And if he is an academic philosopher like Le Poidevin or Dennett who is professionally obligated to know these things and to eschew cheap debating tricks, then… well, you do the math.”

And I fully agree with Feser again. Either Dorans is intellectually dishonest, which I do not want to say due to the principle of charity, or he is just ignorant of basic facts. Still not the height of charity, but ignorance is easier to take care of than outright dishonesty.

“What is even more amusing is that more special pleading is then used to justify the original special pleading, because God is, well, God …

But why God? Why not Zeus?”

And again, this is still not understood. God does not have a beginning and in Thomism at least, His very nature is to exist. He is what it means to be. You might as well ask “What caused existence to come into existence?” It is either something that already existed, which is a problem since its existence needs to be explained if existence had beginning, or it is something that didn’t exist, which means something can come from nothing, which is nonsense.

So here we have a claim that all the arguments fail and yet none of them are even spelled out at all, no writings are cited, and this is from only two philosophers. There are plenty of others. Some arguments I will think work. Some I will not, but the claim from Dorans is that they all fail and yet we haven’t seen them all put to use and what we have seen, it is the response that fails and fails miserably.

Again, if you want to be an atheist, be one. You can do that. However, please do not be one like Dorans and actually do your intellectual homework and read the other side and take them seriously. Christians need to do the same. Don’t present yourself as a champion of reason and evidence though when your very words will betray you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 4/4/2020

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

The past is a funny place. They do things differently there. So it is that they did not see the world we do. They didn’t know about germs and viruses like our world knows about right now. They didn’t know how to explain weather. Until Galileo, they thought the sun went around the Earth. They would never have dreamed of the internet, video games, Alexa devices, automobiles, or anything we have today.

Now seeing how they didn’t have all of that and we have so much more today, why should we take what they said back then seriously? These are modern times after all! You can Google and learn anything that you want to! Modern science has shown us so much about the world! Why would we want to go to another system like philosophy?

Maybe though, just maybe, those who came before us have something that they can teach us. Maybe science and philosophy can work together. Maybe if we go down this path, we can find that we are truly not alone in the universe, not in the sense of extraterrestrial life, though that could be, but in the sense of a God who is out there.

In the 13th century, there lived a monk named Thomas Aquinas who was named the dumb ox by his classmates. His teacher said that dumb ox would roar and the whole world would hear it. His teacher was right. Today, Thomas Aquinas’s philosophy is still shaping the thinking of many people.

It’s not just Catholics either. Protestants like myself can greatly value the teaching of Thomas Aquinas. In order to discuss him and mainly his arguments for God, I am bringing on an up and coming apologist to talk about the issues, something I am prone to do as others did the same for me and still do the same. His name is Gil Sanders.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Gil studied under Edward Feser for almost three years at PCC, and got his bachelors in philosophy at Cal State Los Angeles. He co-founded a Ratio Christi at PCC, lead a philosophy club, and went on to publish a paper in the CSULA journal. Gil’s special areas of research include philosophy of religion, metaphysics, politics, and ethics. 

We’ll be discussing Thomistic metaphysics, why anyone should care about Aquinas, and how Aquinas gave a convincing argument that God exists. I hope you’re looking forward to this one. We are still working hard on uploading older episodes. Stay tuned!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Praying in the Presence of our Lord with St.Thomas Aquinas.

What do I think of Mike Aquilina’s book published by Lambing Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My wife got me this book as a gift knowing that I am looking to improve my prayer life and that I’m a big fan of Thomas Aquinas. At the start, this is a book by a Catholic for a Catholic. I am not faulting that at all. Protestants write for Protestants normally, Orthodox for Orthodox, Atheists for atheists, Muslims for Muslims, etc. Naturally, they all write books at times to try to convince others, but books that are more devotional will be more likely to be non-argumentative.

So if you’re a Protestant reading this, no, you likely will not agree with the views of the Eucharist and Mary, but that’s okay. It is quite foolish to say whichever camp you belong to that you cannot learn from the others. Aquinas is definitely someone we can all learn from and not just in his intellectual mind, but in his devotional mind.

Aquilina goes through some of the prayers of Aquinas and breaks them down bit by bit and has a devotional entry on each of them. This could then be a good daily devotional to be read just to have something to meditate on. At the same time, someone could go straight through, like I did, and get some good material out of it.

Reading through also gives the reader something to shoot for. Aquinas was in his day from my understanding a loner and standout from the crowd, but his passion is something not talked about often. Aquilina tells us that when Aquinas had a hard problem, he would go and lean his head on the altar and rest it there hoping to receive solace.

God wasn’t just an intellectual pursuit for Aquinas, although there was certainly a lot of that in his life. God was a being, a personal being, to be desired for His own sake. It is easy to go to God to thank Him for what He has done, which we should, and to make our requests known to Him, which we should do, but too often we do not come to Him for who He is.

Aquilina tells us that adoration is something that should be reserved for God alone. Of course, there’s always the chance that words change meanings and what we mean by adore isn’t the same thing as was meant back then. The attitude would still need to be the same and that would be that only God deserves the highest place. Any Christian knows that sadly, that can be a struggle at times.

So if you want to improve your prayer life and use Aquinas as a model, this is a good one. Areas of disagreement for Protestants do not have to be the focus. Catholics and Orthodox are more likely to enjoy those elements of the work, but we could all bear to improve our prayer life. Aquinas is a great model for that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/10/2019

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

Due to technical difficulties last time we recorded, this post is a repost of a prior post as we rescheduled our guest.

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

Christianity has had a rich tradition for 2,000 years. That tradition has included several great thinkers as well. Contrary to what many people think, it’s not the case that church history began with your pastor.

It’s also not the case that church history began with the Reformation. It did not happen that the apostles died and then the gospel was lost and then the Reformers restored it. This is not to say the Reformers didn’t do a great work that I think was important and needed, but it is to say that Christianity did not cease to exist.

Another great tragedy is that if you tell people there have been great Christian thinkers throughout history, they will likely think that such is antithetical to Christianity. You can see that and think “Well, yes Nick, there are plenty of atheists out there who think Christianity and sound thinking don’t go together at all.” Unfortunately, I’m talking about Christians as well. There are too many Christians who are anti-intellectual in their approach.

We ignore this great intellectual heritage we have to our own downfall. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. We should be seeking to learn from these people who went before us. Many of the battles that they fought are being fought today and we can learn from how they won those battles so we can be better prepared today.

Not only that, many of their spiritual struggles can be ours today. Could you find something you can relate to in Augustine’s Confessions? Would you be like Martin Luther and struggle with the idea that God is always ready to punish you? Can you be a person with a fervent imagination like C.S. Lewis?

To discuss these great thinkers and others, I am bringing on someone who recently wrote the book Classic Christian Thinkers. This is someone who is a thinker himself being a philosopher. He is also a Christian who will be guiding us on how we are to look at this issue? His name is Ken Samples from Reasons To Believe.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Philosopher and theologian Kenneth Richard Samples has a great passion to help people understand the reasonableness and relevance of Christianity’s truth claims. He is the senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe and the author of several books, including Christian Endgame7 Truths That Changed the World, and God Among Sages

Dr. Samples and I will be discussing nine great Christian thinkers in history. These are people generally recognized across the board. We will be seeing what we can learn from them and why we should really care about these old dead guys so some would see them today. What difference do they still make in our culture today?

Please be watching for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Also, please consider becoming a partner with us in this work by making a donation to Deeper Waters and also leaving a positive review of our podcast on iTunes. It means so much to us!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Classic Christian Thinkers

What do I think of Ken Samples’s book published by RTB Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For some people, to think of a Christian thinker sounds like a contradiction in terms. Sadly, some of those people are also Christians. After all, aren’t Christians supposed to be people of faith? This assumes that faith is something anti-intellectual when it isn’t. Our Christianity has a rich heritage of great thinkers and we should embrace them.

It would be too much to list all the great Christian thinkers, but in this book, Ken Samples has chosen to give nine. Each chapter covers one thinker and is a brief portrait of their life and how they contributed to apologetics and philosophy. He also lists the best books to read by these thinkers and works to go to to understand their life and impact all the more.

He also goes across traditions for this. There are people in this list that Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox are likely to admire. Perhaps not all of them, but anyone from any of these traditions will find someone they can support. So who are the people he covers?

He starts with Irenaeus and then Athanasius. Next in line are the big free of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. A lot of people in Catholic and Orthodox circles might not be happy with Martin Luther and John Calvin next, but each were great thinkers who have shaped the Christian world. After those is Blaise Pascal and then to top it all of is a great mind who has found support from all three branches and that is C.S. Lewis.

Samples’s book is also easy to read and understand. The reader will walk away with a greater appreciation of who the person is. Also, any reader can just read each chapter on its own if you want to get a brief overview of a certain figure in church history.

The book is also good for group discussions. This is a book that small groups could get together and read about the life of one thinker and then discuss the impact of that thinker with the discussion questions. I am sure Samples would love to see this happen and I know that I definitely would.

The book is also really trying to be more ecumenical than one might think. Martin Luther will not be the favorite of Catholics and Protestants, but Samples does not go after Catholics or Orthodox in the chapter. He also gives us the interesting idea that it could be that more works have been written about Martin Luther than about any other figure in history apart from Jesus Christ.

The real goal of the success of this book will be seen in one way. That will be in how many people go to these great writers themselves and at least read some of their works. Samples would be disappointed to know readers used his book to learn about the thinkers without going to the thinkers himself. As Lewis said, “Read Plato. Not books about Plato.”

I encourage anyone interesting in Christian thinking to read this book. Those interested in church history should read it as well. Remember to use it as a stepping stone though to get to the other books that Samples would say are far more important.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/25/2018: Matthew Levering

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

Many of our debates today all go back to one idea. Is there a God? This is one of the fundamental questions of any worldview and how you answer it will affect the answer you give to most every other question. The majority of the world answers in the affirmative to this, but why?

Can there be given any evidence of the existence of deity? How long has this debate been going on and what can we learn from the great minds of the past? What also of those who have argued against the idea of theism? Do they have anything that should be seriously considered as well?

To discuss these questions, I decided to bring on a scholar who has studied this subject well and has taught it well. I decided to find someone who knows the philosophy behind the subject and is ready to discuss it. I decided then to bring on Dr. Matthew Levering, author of the book Proofs of God.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Matthew Levering holds the James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology at Mundelein Seminary.  He is the author or editor of over forty books on topics in dogmatic, sacramental, moral, historical, and biblical theology.  He is the translator of Gilles Emery’s The Trinity, and with Gilles Emery he co-edited The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity.  Among his books are Scripture and Metaphysics: Aquinas and the Renewal of Trinitarian Theology and Engaging the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: Love and Gift in the Trinity and the Church.  He co-edits two quarterly journals, Nova et Vetera and International Journal of Systematic Theology.  Since 2004, he has been a participant in Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and from 2007-2016 he served as Chair of the Board of the Academy of Catholic Theology.  He co-founded the Chicago Theological Initiative and has directed the Center for Scriptural Exegesis, Philosophy, and Doctrine since 2011.

We’ll be talking about, well, proofs of God. How do they work? Are any of them failed proofs? What about the arguments against God? How serious are they? Naturally, we will be spending some time talking about my favorite proofs, the Thomistic proofs. How well do they hold up and do atheists who argue against them really understand them?

How should Christians use these arguments? What is the relationship between faith and reason? Is it a problem that these arguments can get you to theism but none of them can get you to the Christian God directly?

I really hope you’ll be tuning in to this episode as I think it’s the first one we’ve actually done on the theistic arguments directly for the existence of God and it’s been a topic I’ve been wanting to discuss on the show for some time. I also hope that you will go on iTunes and leave a positive review for the Deeper Waters Podcast. It really means a lot to me to get to see them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: Proofs of God

What do I think of Matthew Levering’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Levering’s book is a textbook, but reading it you wouldn’t think that. It is a book that is simple to understand putting the classical proofs of God and others in ways that can be grasped by any reader. Levering does not assume you have prior knowledge of the subject. It’s as if this could be the first time you are seriously engaging the idea and he wants to help you out.

Something else interesting is that he also has a number of writers who wrote on the opposite end. Some like Kant didn’t think the classical proofs and such worked, but they gave other arguments for God. Some just outright didn’t think arguments worked like Hume and Wittgenstein. Their thoughts are included as well.

Levering is also very fair in the main body of the work. He gives the overview of each writer and it isn’t until the concluding part of the chapter that he starts giving some of his thoughts on what was said. Of course, none of this is exhaustive. The book is around 220 pages and you have over 20 thinkers to go through so you can only devote so much time to each one.

Levering starts with the church fathers. Right at the start, I find it fascinating that atheism was not being seriously debated at this time, and yet the early church was starting to answer questions before they came along. These were serious thinkers despite what might be said about them by atheists on the internet. It doesn’t mean they were right in everything or that all their arguments were good, but they were arguments and they were trying to seriously engage.

It won’t be a shock to anyone who follows my work that my favorite portion is when we get to the medieval period. Naturally, I tend to gravitate towards Thomas Aquinas and his ways. These are the ways that I use when I do apologetics and I find them to always be misrepresented somehow when someone attempts to refute them.

From there we go to the Reformers and then closer and closer until we get to the modern era. The latest we get to is Barth. I tended to think that as far as the arguments went, they lost much of their caliber after the ones from Aquinas and when later writers looked back and tried to respond, they tended to misrepresent the argument. How many times do I see atheists today trying to make arguments about the origin of the universe and thinking they have refuted Aquinas in the process?

I understand Levering wanted to keep the book reasonably small and readable, but I do hope there will come an updated version sometime with more time spent on more of the philosophers and seeing people after Barth. If not that, then perhaps we could do a sequel on modern proofs of God to see what people are saying and then give a brief look at arguments from the past. Another option would be a book contrasting proofs of God in the past with those of today.

Levering’s book is still a great one to read, especially when the only criticisms I can really come up with or asking if there’s a way even more can be put in. This will be a new book I will refer to when people ask me for evidences of God. If they want to focus on Aquinas, by all means choose Feser, but if you want overview of everyone, Levering is a great place to go to.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Rationality Rules On The Unmoved Mover

Is the unmoved mover a bad argument? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been dialoguing with an atheist via text message a local pastor told me about. Last night, we were talking about Aquinas’s argument for the unmoved mover. He wanted to send me a video arguing against it to get my thoughts. He told me the video was by someone who went by “Rationality Rules.” I have noticed that so many people who identify themselves by rationality or reason or logic often honor the idea with their lips, but their heads are far from it. I asked him to send it so I could see it. It can be found here.

Fortunately, it comes with a long description to show many of the main points. I found it amusing that towards the start we have Aquinas and Peter Kreeft both having dunce hats put on their heads. Yes. Aquinas, one of the greatest minds in Western civilization should have a dunce cap on. It’s amazing the arrogance that these guys have.

Anyway, RR says he’s not going to deal with Aquinas’s, but Kreeft’s, because, you know, the arguments are basically the same.

No, they’re not.

But hey, apparently it would be too hard to, you know, go and look online and actually read the original argument and actually work to understand it and see what it’s really arguing. Nope. Just go for someone you think is giving the argument. Kreeft is a wonderful philosopher, but here he is also speaking for laymen and not giving the argument in its full sophistication. Unfortunately, I think he also gets it wrong, but let’s see what is said.

Anyway, this is how RR sums up the argument syllogistically.

• Everything that exists is in motion.

• Everything in motion is caused to be in motion by something else.

• Something must’ve existed without a cause.

• We call this first-cause (or unmoved mover) god.

• Therefore, god exists.

This isn’t the argument.

For one thing, we have to ask what is motion. Motion is not just movement, but movement is a type of motion. All movement is motion but not all motion is movement, at least in the physical sense. We know this because Aquinas would talk about movement in angels and angels are not physical. Your atheist friend can say he doesn’t believe in angels. Irrelevant. Aquinas does and Aquinas knows they are not physical so his argument is not limited to the physical.

What is being talked about is potential becoming actuality. Potential is the capacity for change that something has. Actuality is the way that it is. I am sitting right now as I type this. I have the potential to stand, kneel, lie down, jump, etc. If I do any of those, such as stand, then I am actualized my potential to stand and from there, I have the potential again to sit.

This is indeed caused in some respect by another. I do something because I want something outside of myself, which is what would be called The Good. My will is driven towards this. Every one of us desires what we think of as The Good. We can disagree on what we think The Good is, but all of us do want it and when we do something, we are doing it for something we perceive to be a good.

Aquinas is also talking about objects that have no will. A hand moves a stick which moves a rock which moves a leaf. Remove any piece of the chain and the leaf doesn’t move.

So what is the cause of this change? Aquinas says we have to find what it is to avoid an infinite regress. What kind of regress is he talking about? It’s either per accidens or per se. In the former, suppose mine and Allie’s parents both die suddenly. Could we still have children together? Absolutely. All things being equal, there is nothing about our reproduction that is hindered or helped by our parents being alive. That is irrelevant.

Now consider a chain that’s more per se. Each event is dependent on what came before it. Consider a Rube Goldberg machine. That is what it is like. This is the point of Aquinas. This means that everything in the chain is being used as an instrument, but if there are secondary causes, there must be a primary cause. The chain has to find its origin somewhere.

Note that this is also not saying it has to start there chronologically, as the universe being eternal is at this point irrelevant to Aquinas. It’s saying that there must be some great source, such as a gear that all the other gears have to move around and if the big gear stops, the little ones do as well. For Aquinas though, this place where the buck stops must be unmoved itself. If it is not, then it is part of the chain and the chain still needs to be explained.

If we see anything that is in motion, then we need to explain that. That would include the universe because I think it’s quite uncontroversial to say the universe undergoes change. We can all agree to that one. What needs to be at the root is something unchanging in its nature.

RR says the first flaw with this argument is that it does not prove that Christianity is true.

It would not prove that this Unmoved Mover still exists, that it’s a being, that it’s conscious, or that it impregnated a virgin, in order to sacrifice itself to itself so that it could forgive you for your ancestors’ actions… or in other words, it would not prove that Kreeft’s very specific interpretation of the Christianity is true.

This is the common silly objection that so many atheists have. You have not proven that this God is the Christian God, therefore the argument fails. Yes. What a great rejoinder, except the argument was never meant to prove the Christian God. Aquinas knew this. Every defender of the argument knows it. Aquinas could use this argument, but so could the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides. So could the Muslim philosopher Avicenna. Put these three in a room together and they will not dispute this argument. They will agree to it. That’s when the disputes start. Who is this mover?

Also, to say that it doesn’t show the mover still exists is just fallacious because once Aquinas establishes God, he goes on to establish things that can be known about God from reason and natural theology and that includes His eternality and immutability among other things. People who argue against the argument like this are just intellectually lazy. Of course, we knew that when we saw the bad representation of the Trinity anyway.

The second fallacy is that of special pleading. Something must have existed without a cause. That’s not the argument though. It’s that something must have existed that is not in motion like everything else is. God is not moved by anything else. He moves all other things. Aquinas does say why as well. Special Pleading fails.

The last two objections deal with the Big Bang Theory. Unfortunately for RR, these are irrelevant. Aquinas’s argument is not about the origins of the universe. The Big Bang Theory could be disproven tomorrow and Aquinas would be unfazed. The universe could be shown to be eternal and Aquinas will still be standing. Aquinas would ask why you’re talking about all this stuff about how the universe came to be when his argument says nothing about that.

In conclusion, it will be good when RR deals with the real argument. If he wants to do so, I suggest for a good understanding he consider something like reading Edward Feser. Feser’s “Aquinas” would be a great introduction for him. As it stands, RR has dealt with a straw man and the dunce cap needs to be removed and put on the head of the rightful owner.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 17

Does atheism have a case with evolutionary computation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look today at the work of Glenton Jelbert. We’re still on the science section which many of you know is not my forte. On this chapter, I cannot comment much because I do not claim to understand the science. What I will comment on is a couple of claims that Jelbert makes that I think can be worth discussing.

Jelbert does rightly say that a goal is central to biological evolution. The goal in biological evolution is the passing along of genes with the end result being reproduction, survival, and food. Jelbert in the chapter says he puts the word goal in quotation marks because goal implies an intent.

The fascinating thing about this is that this is something that fits exactly in line with classical theism. When classical theists talk about teleology, they do not mean intelligent design. Instead, what they mean is that things do indeed act towards an end. This does not mean rational things or divine things. It means anything that is created acts toward an end.

Edward Feser gives a summation of what this means here. Too many atheists will be too quick to jump on their own assumptions. Feser tells us we have to drop everything we’ve heard from the modern ID movement and just look at the argument of Aquinas for what it means to him, not understood in light of modern ideas of teleology. I leave it to the reader to go through Feser’s article as he explains it much better than I can and those intrigued can get his books.

What this means then is that if we have a goal in evolution, then we have a basis for the existence of God. This does not mean that evolution is some entity that has this intent in mind. It just means that if creatures tend to, all things being equal, act toward a certain end, then there is a reasonable case for theism.

At the end of the chapter then, we get to another claim of Jelbert’s that bears relation to this. Jelbert is right that the removal of biological evolution would not require the acceptance of a creator. I agree. One could be an atheist even before Darwin. On the other hand, the acceptance of biological evolution does not require the negation of a creator. (If this is so, and I am sure it is, it makes me wonder why we’re arguing this so much.)

Yet Jelbert says something problematic when he says that Robert J. Marks II, his opponent in this chapter, has not connected a creator to any specific claims theists make, then he has not established theism. At this, he is definitely wrong. Suppose we could take the classical arguments like Aristotle did and establish there is some sort of deity, which is what Aristotle did. Even if we don’t know the nature of this deity in connection to an established world religion, we still have a deity. It seems to be a bizarre universe in which we can say a deity exists and atheism is true. Establishing theism does not mean establishing an Abrahamic religion. It means establishing theism. Establishing theism is necessary to showing an Abrahamic religion is true, but it’s not sufficient. Still, it is sufficient in itself to refute atheism.

We’ll deal with chapter 19 when we return.

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