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.”
“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.