Dawkins vs. Plantinga; Atheism vs. Theism

Al Mohler writes:

Alvin Plantinga, perhaps the most influential Christian philosopher in the world today, has issued a devastating review of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. It is not to be missed. Plantinga, who serves as John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, published his review in the current issue of Books & Culture.

Beware this is not typical “blog reading.” Plantinga is a first rate thinker and philosopher. A careful reading of his critique demolishes the argument put forth by Dawkins. It makes me miss my college philosophy courses.

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  • sven,
    I think that you, if you want to be convincing, need to stop the non causa logic that you have been employing in this discussion. I claim that because your proofs have the reason of creating non-relative claims. You see, the study of logic isn’t about what you see as absurd or insane. Its about Validity, soundness of an argument.
    That being said here is an argument that fits.
    In Summa Theologiae, Aquinas offers five arguments for God’s existence, commonly known as the “Five Ways.”
    There are differing degrees of perfection in things. (premise)
    1.If things have differing degrees of perfection, then there is a supreme perfection to which other things approximate. (premise)
    2.The supreme perfection is the cause of all the degrees of perfection in other things. (premise)
    3.Thus, there is something that causes the being and goodness of every perfection in all things, and this is God. (1-3)
    This argument provides sound premises and a valid inferences. The previous argument is merely an example.

    To address those found of science and evolution here is a convincing and solid argument:
    1.In order for life to exist an exact value is needed for almost innumerable laws and constants (premise)
    2. Life exists (premise)
    3. Therefore the planet and universe we live in possess these constant and values in the perfect degree for life (1,2)
    4. It is extremely improbable that all of these laws and constants come together in way that allows life, very near impossible (premise)
    5. Therefore it is probable that there was a designer that brought these laws and constants into agreement allowing life (3,4)

    And to support the previous here is a version of the telogical argument which is quite sold.
    1. X is too (complex, orderly, adaptive, apparently purposeful, and/or beautiful) to have occurred randomly or accidentally.
    2.Therefore, X must have been created by a (sentient, intelligent, wise, and/or purposeful) being.
    3. God is that (sentient, intelligent, wise, and/or purposeful) being.
    4. Therefore, God exists.

    You see, if we attempt to refute argument one must provide logical rebuttals in order to have a logical conclusion— that is something that you have failed to provide.
    Thank you
    God dose exist, your claims cannot disprove that by way of logic, however it is quite possible (as demonstrated) that God can be…Interesting huh?

  • Interesting? Yeah, it’s interesting that only people who already believe in supernatural deities find this kind of mental gymnastics compelling. If this “logic” is so darned solid then why do so so many very intelligent, educated, philosophical, logic oriented people find it utterly ridiculous?

    These arguments have all been noted and dismissed.

  • Remember… the ones refuting your arguments are generally the same people whose logio brought you quantum theory, general and special relativity …you know… real things.

    And enough about evolution already. Life evolved on this planet. It is a fact. Countless different scientific pathways demonstrate this. They all agree. There is not one scientific specialty that refutes it. There is simply no doubt that it happened and continues to happen. If it did not and does not then none of the knowledge we have acquired through science can be deemed reliable. But over and over again science has been shown to be a highly valid method of discovery. Observing the world scientifically works. Mulitiple scientific disciplines confirm the fact that life evolved on this planet over the last 3.5 billion years. There are a couple different theories regarding specific aspects of it, but none require the employment of a god.

  • I could reverse your statement in the following way:

    “it’s interesting that only people who already dis-believe in supernatural deities find this kind of argument ridiculous. If this “logic” is so darned silly then why do do so many very intelligent, educated, philosophical, logic oriented people find it compelling?”

    You’ve said nothing of substance. “We’re smarter than you” is not a good response. Einstein wasn’t an atheist (I am not claiming him as a Christian), he didn’t think atheism was compelling, nor did he find belief in God ridiculous.

    “These arguments have all been noted and dismissed.”

    Exactly, not refuted, simply dismissed based on your bias and presuppositional starting point.

    Theists are not opposed to science. You speak as if they are. Again, I refer you to Einstein from this week’s Time Magazine article on Einstein and Faith http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1607298-1,00.html:

    “But throughout his life, Einstein was consistent in rejecting the charge that he was an atheist. “There are people who say there is no God,” he told a friend. “But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views.” And unlike Sigmund Freud or Bertrand Russell or George Bernard Shaw, Einstein never felt the urge to denigrate those who believed in God; instead, he tended to denigrate atheists. “What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos,” he explained.

    “In fact, Einstein tended to be more critical of debunkers, who seemed to lack humility or a sense of awe, than of the faithful. “The fanatical atheists,” he wrote in a letter, “are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who–in their grudge against traditional religion as the ‘opium of the masses’– cannot hear the music of the spheres.”

    “Einstein later explained his view of the relationship between science and religion at a conference at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. The realm of science, he said, was to ascertain what was the case, but not evaluate human thoughts and actions about what should be the case. Religion had the reverse mandate. Yet the endeavors worked together at times. “Science can be created only by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding,” he said. “This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion.” The talk got front-page news coverage, and his pithy conclusion became famous. “The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

  • Steve, I know you accept much of what has been discovered through science. I was responding to John, who apparently does not. Those “logical” steps of his, or Aquinas or whomever, are just nonsense. “…differing degrees of perfection in things”?? Once again, this totally redefines the word “perfect”. I thought “perfect” was an absolute. Something is either perfect or it isn’t. Like “pregnant”. The old joke about being a little bit pregnant is funny because it is absurd. So is being a little bit perfect. Not to mention that perfection is a completely subjective judgement. It was Aquinas’ opinion perhaps, but there is nothing scientific or logical about it.

    Here is another example of someone who believes a certain thing to be true (God) and then twists the parts of science he likes into his own little mold and disregards the rest. That tired stuff about the fine tuning of the universe has been addressed over and over. It simply doesn’t fly, and for many reasons. The main one being, once again, believer’s cavalier willingness to accept the idea of a perfect thing being necessary to account for the universe because they view the universe as being “too perfect” and nothing can be perfect, except this god we dreamed up (excuse me – ALL these gods we have dreamed up). He alone can be perfect and we have no problem at all with stopping right there and totally reversing ourselves and our “logic” by claiming that something can indeed be perfect. That stopping point is completely arbitrary. How do you go on with your life and not think “Hey… what if my god was created by an even bigger god?”

    This brings me back to the ontological notion that your god must exist simply because you can imagine a concept of something being greater than everything else. This one drops my jaw. Do you really… honestly… cross your heart and hope to die believe that something must logically exist in reality just because you can imagine it in your head?

  • Sevn,
    “These arguments have all been noted and dismissed.” Can you please show me how the have been dismissed; perhaps, you can provide a logical proof that counters the assertions placed by the theological argument and the Aquinas’s fifth way. Sevn, by reading your arguments I have noticed an interesting patter, which is as follows:
    I don’t agree with X
    X cannot be refuted by any logic that I know of.
    X is against my beliefs
    So X should be dismissed
    Therefore, I will dismiss X.
    This is obviously a prime example of pooh-pooh fallacy and ignoring the counter evidence. I have not seen any logical argument presented by you proving that God doesn’t exist, all I have seen are illogical stipulations with no evidence.
    The beauty of our position is that it is almost ironclad; you see, science and facts are defining characteristics of the theological argument. Every time a pattern, a fact, a law or what ever is discovered it shows design and purpose! Thus, God exist.

  • Well John, I am truly sorry you read all my writings on this page in that way. I certainly do not. I don’t believe Steve does, either.

    First of all… and mainly… you show a complete ignorance of the core discussion on here between Steve and me. You have not seen any logical arguments from me proving that God doesn’t exist because none can ever be made. For you to not understand that very basic starting point is illuminating. As I have stated repeatedly, the proof burden regarding God sits squarely upon the shoulders of the ones claiming He exists.

    You are claiming He exists therefore you need to provide proof of that, if you have any. I need only tell you if I agree with it or not, and if I don’t, tell you why not.

    As to your two “proofs” that you put forth in your first post I have already begun to address the first. “…differing degrees of perfection”?? That sentence is meaningless unless you redefine the word perfect to suit your needs.

    As to step two, “2.The supreme perfection is the cause of all the degrees of perfection in other things. (premise)” You are imagining a supreme perfection (whatever that means)… that does not mean one actually exists in reality. So if that is your premise it’s a very weak one. It’s just gibberish, actually. I’m sorry, but what you are saying there just doesn’t make any sense. For a proof to actually prove something the proof must, at the very least, make sense. So you can start off by explaining exactly what “differing degrees of perfection” means.

    As for the second proof… John, you need only do a quick Google search to find the many web pages with cogent responses to that very played argument of yours. The refutations to your arguments enjoy a very public existence. You don’t believe them. I understand that. I can only assume that by the way you keep pounding away at the same things you find to be proofs.

    This is a call and response. You call that God exists and you say why you believe it. If you keep shouting the same calls you will keep getting the same responses from people like me.

  • Steve, I’d like to offer as my next installment a quote from a recent online debate between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan….

    “If God loves the world, he has a terribly noncommittal way of showing it. Why rig a silly game in which only the poorly educated and mentally unbalanced are perfectly tuned to glimpse the truth of your existence, while smart, well-adjusted, and well-educated people (like yourself) must wrestle with doubt, barricade themselves behind euphemism, and cling to spurious “mysteries” to keep from tumbling into unbelief? You beckon me to a world in which George Bush and James Dobson have an effortless bead on the deepest conceivable truth; meanwhile, 93 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences may well be doomed for eternity by their skepticism. It’s hard for me to imagine that this scenario seems even remotely plausible to you–but this is Christianity at a glance. I am not the first to notice that it is a strange sort of loving God who would make salvation depend upon a person’s ability to believe in him on bad evidence.” Sam Harris beliefnet.com

  • Sven,
    Thank you for addressing my concerns. Obviously, you don’t understand Aquinas, and I am not about to spend five pages of comments to explain him. However, http://www.oohlah.wordpress.com provides some interesting insight into this proof. Now, the theological argument currently has a lot of criticism, but no FORMAL logical refutation of its validity or soundness. Thus, that syllogism seems proof, but not enough to satisfy the pleading necessity for empirical evidence that you have expressed. You seem to be searching for, like I previously stated, some form empirical evidence. That seem difficult due to following reasons: 1. You believe since refutes God’s existence; thus that cannot be used as justification. 2. You don’t seem to accept metaphysical reasons for the existence of deity, so mysticism will not work. 3. You don’t pay attention to logic or any possible rationalistic claim for the existence of God; thus, any syllogism or like evidence will not work. It follows that any one that attempt to give you your “proof or evidence” for God is in a state of false dilemma.

    A syllogism can be employed to help in my attempts to illuminate the possible existence of God
    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
    2. The universe began to exist.
    2.1 Argument based on the impossibility of an actual infinite:
    2.11 An actual infinite cannot exist.
    2.12 An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.
    2.13 Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.
    2.2 Argument based on the impossibility of the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition:
    2.21 A collection formed by successive addition cannot be actually infinite.
    2.22 The temporal series of past events is a collection formed by successive addition.
    2.23 Therefore, the temporal series of past events cannot be actually infinite.
    3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence
    4. That cause is God.

  • So…. God is not actually infinite? (2.11)

  • Sven Bridstrup

    This argument keeps popping up and I still don’t understand how you get around the fact that you have a blatant contradiction within it. You claim an infinite cannot exist and then you propose an infinite to account for it. How does this make sense to you?

  • The silence is deafening…

  • Patience is a virtue. Arrogance is not.

    Life is hectic right now and blogging is lower on the priority list…

  • LOL… Sorry, Steve. I was prodding. OK, get back to me whenever.

  • Sven,
    Thanks for your patience. Life has truly been out of control busy…

    Your last quote from Sam Harris was interesting, but unconvincing. Why would it compel me to know that a lot of smart people disagree with me? Certainly we are not engaging in a majority rules approach.

    Harris also simply misunderstands the story. For someone so “smart” he demonstrates a complete lack of comprehension of the religious view and message. Maybe that is intentional, the mockery seems to be an indelible part of his presentation. This appeals to some, but not all doubters and thinkers about reality, religion, origins and endings. We all know sophisticated people who are utterly foolish, and we wouldn’t listen to them or emulate them. We also know simple people who are eminently wise and would give anything to be as contented and happy as they are. All Harris is saying is that there are a lot of stupid people out there to which I can heartily add an amen – it doesn’t add anything to the argument. Certainly all any of us can truly be convinced of is our ignorance (Socrates???).

    I think the biggest differences between us are our starting points (presuppositions) and our particular favoritism for science (you) and philosophy (me). I am interested in metaphysics and you find no use for metaphysics. I don’t know if that is a chasm we can bridge.

    For me, the scientific describes the mechanism. I think there is more than science that contributes to our truth and knowledge. Different sorts of truth, but yet truth nonetheless. I believe in a soul, an immaterial part of man. You say it is simply electrical impulses in the brain. I can appreciate the mechanism, but I am not satisfied that because you can explain how it works you have dismissed its existence.

    It has been a long time since I have responded, I feel I am jumping into stuff we have hashed through already, and I certainly don’t think I have answered your questions to your satisfaction – and I am not familiar with John’s argument and terminology so I will leave that alone.

    So, let me ask you some questions, not to change the subject (we both have demonstrated the ability to multi-discuss):

    Do you ever doubt your materialism? Do you ever think that there is something more to you than biological functioning?
    Do you ever despair that the end of your life is approaching? How are you planning on “manning up” as Sam Harris requires of atheists facing death?

  • Steve,

    I need to go to sleep, but I will give a couple quick answers then flesh them out in a day or two.

    Do I ever doubt my materialism or biological functioning? I don’t know if doubt is the right word. Maybe “question” is a better word. Or maybe even “examine”. Be we can never really examine that which we cannot perceive. It is of course always possible that we are not really material beings and that this world we see is all illusion. But, as I have said, if that is true then we can never “know” anything.

    Do I ever dispair about the end of my life? Um…. no.

    How am I planning on manning up and facing death? I haven’t really given it much thought – maybe only because I am not presently facing it. All I know is that I WILL die. It may only feel like falling asleep. It may feel very painful. I guess it all depends on how I go.

    More later….. sleep now.

  • I want to clarify my response to the first question. I was a little vague, I think. What I mean is I can examine my exsistence, but only in so far as what I can perceive with my five senses. If my exsistence has some other nature that I cannot perceive then I cannot examine that aspect of it. I can imagine a host of things, but the only evidence I have about my exsistence is what I can hear and see, etc.

    Now, I will freely admit that I cannot grasp the idea that when I die everything just stops. I cannot imagine experiencing nothing – or rather… not experiencing, period. (Although I must say when I sleep I am not conscious of my experience. So I guess I am saying that I cannot imagine consciously experienceing nothing…. which makes absolutely no sense! LOL.)

    But, my inability to wrap my head around the idea of nothingness is in no way evidence one way or the other about what happens to me after I die. It is merely indicative of the limitations of my knowledge and imagination. So, it may be that consciousness continues after death and maybe forever. But no one on this earth knows if that is true or not. We can only imagine what happens to our consciousness after we die.

    So, no, I never doubt my materialism. I see things that are really there. I am really here. These walls are real. The moon is real. We can imagine many alternative realities, but look at the overwhelming, constant and congruent input we get from all of our senses that this material world really exists compared to our minds’ wanderings about the supernatural. There is simply no comparison. There is no reason to believe that anything other than this world we experience every minute of every day really exists.

    This is why I maintain that neither philosophy or religion or anything except imperical evidence gives ua any knowledge about the physical world. Let me emphasize… the physical world. Philosophy is great for illustrating ideas, but it does not further our knowledge about our physical reality one bit.

    All this is why I am completely baffled by the fact that you admit you have no empirical evidence of a supernatural creator and yet you believe it to be true. You doubt your materialism and yet you have no evidence to support that doubt except a selected book of stories and your imagination.

    I hope this answers your question. And BTW, if you don’t doubt your materialism then please disregard the last paragraph.

  • Also, Harris was not trying to compel you by saying a lot of smart people disagree with you. He was simply asking why God would require belief in the truth of His existence for eternal salvation and then make that truth overwhlemingly more obvious to the less intelligent and less educated among us, creating a hell full of scholars and geniuses… not to mention Muslims and Jews and Hindus and…

  • Hey Sven,

    I don’t doubt my materialism, I doubt my ability to correctly interpret the totality of my experience or my universe. I can get glimpses of it, but rightly interpreting the evidence is a dicey proposition. Our empirical limitations are huge, and so it seems to me that they must be viewed for what they are: all we can see, hear, smell and taste.

    All of us interpret our empirical data. Those interpretations are based on a lot of things, including philosophy. When I say that I cannot prove God empirically, that doesn’t mean that the empirical evidence cannot be explained by God, or credited to Him. But I didn’t see Him do it. That is all I am saying by that.

    We can know more than we can sense. We can’t taste, see, smell, hear or touch “four.” But we know and agree that there is such a thing as “four.” Even your cogitating about nothingness is beyond empiricism. But we can talk about “nothing.” It has meaning. Infinity is also one of those ideas beyond empiricism. Both of us are stuck with it. You say the universe always existed, I am not satisfied with non-intelligent material as being the substance of infinity, that is for me, Mind or what I call God.

    Harris’ comment is odd to me. If you are going to concede the existence of God for the sake of argument, He is what He is. It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not. He is what He is. If He is capricious, he is capricious. If he wants to appeal to the ignorant and ignore the intelligent, it is what it is. That would be the prerogative of God. This is why I avoid arguing at this level for the existence of the Christian God – that argument is premature here. If we both believed in God we could begin to discuss what kind of God he is. But your objections to this hypothetical God seem to me to be off the subject, that is, pointing out apparent inconsistencies in belief systems, or ideas you don’t like as arguments against the general idea of theism. You think that the multiplicity of religious expression mitigates against God’s existence. It doesn’t.

    Having said that I reject Harris’ assumption that only the “poorly educated and mentally unbalanced are perfectly tuned to glimpse the truth of (God’s) existence.” He has not proved that connection. Maybe his analysis of why the numbers in the National Academy of Sciences are skewed against God has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with arrogance. Maybe it has to do with their overwhelming and a priori allegiance to radical epistemological empiricism which forces them into this position. That is not a function of intelligence. Maybe it has to do with their narrow view of their intelligence and self-sufficiency that feebly clings to its own “godness.” There could be any number of explanations for this statistic. Even if it is connected to intelligence it says nothing about the existence of God.

  • Steve,

    Glad to know you are confident in your materialism. Also glad to know you doubt your ability to interpret everything totally and correctly. Luckily science has developed a solid structure for navigating these shortcomings. Not a perfect structure.

    Empirical evidence can be attributed to God, true. It can also be attributed to two gods… or a hundred… we’ve been here.

    Yeah, we cannot taste “four”. But we would have no concept of 4 unless we could hear taste smell…etc. All of our concepts are outgrowths of our five senses. The big five are all we got!

    I do not now nor have I ever claimed that the universe always existed. You have put these words in my mouth before. I do not hold this position. What I have said is I don’t get why people who have trouble with an infinite universe have no problem at all with an infinite god. You obviously have no problem with infinity. You just can’t believe that what you can see hear taste…. can be infinite. I am not claiming it IS infinite. I am claiming there is no evidence it is NOT infinite. I know you understand the distinction in the latter and yet you still attribute the former to me.

    Harris was not basing his statement on the NAS alone. Large scale studies consistently show a direct, negative correlation between education and religiosity. It’s a fact. The more educated you are, the less likely you are to believe. We are, of course, free to interpret the data, but it seems strange (comical) to me that a god would create beings that increased their chances of going to hell for eternity with every class they took and every book they read (except for one). If He exists He obviously is what He is. So, what? The point is that claims about Him are wildly inconsistent and whenever questions like the one above are raised they are dismissed with flippant comments like “He is what He is”.

    Arrogance? Do you really believe all those scientists dismiss the notion of a god out of arrogance? They also dismiss the notion of three headed monkeys on Mars. Do you think they do that out of arrogance, too? I’ll tell you what arrogance is; arrogance is claiming to know things you have no way of knowing.

    “…overwhelming and a priori allegiance to radical epistemological empiricism which forces them into this position”

    Wow. Well I’ll tell ya, this “radical epistemological empiricism” has shown itself to be mighty handy. And is it still such a radical idea to require empirical evidence before believing something to be true about this physical world? Your statement is correct, though. When faced with the available evidence – the evidence from our five senses, we are forced to concede that gods do not exist.

    Why do we both have to believe He exists in order to discuss your claims about Him? Your claim that He exists is what started this whole thread. You think that’s not what we’re talking about? Of course it is.

    Hey, I got a wild idea for an experiement. Let’s each describe, in as fine a detail as possible, the position of the other regarding God, existence, epistemology, …etc. Just to see if we are really listening to each other. We can flip a coin to see who goes first. No fair rereading the thread!

  • Now you can see my picture, too!

  • Soon…

  • There it is!

  • I’m game.

  • You were heads…. it was tails. So, I will go first. I’m at work now but I will get to it soon!

  • Ron

    I am coming into this a year late, I see.

    I agree with Sven that getting one’s head around nothingness is a tall order. Steve’s arguments, on the other hand, are problematic. You say, Steve, that one can talk about nothing and that it has meaning. How so? We cannot imagine not being conscious. We can see someone else not being conscious, but not actually BEING conscious.

    And that is precisely the problem that humans have: the unknowingness of what happens when we die. So religion is there to help us believe that when we die we don’t just end. It is serving its function, so it seems.

  • Hey Ron,

    Wow, it has been some time that I have revisited this post and discussion. Thanks for visiting.

    I have perused the discussion and cannot find my comments about “nothing” having meaning. So I will take your word for it and look again later, but nothing does have meaning. We can talk about the idea of “nothing” can we not? We are doing so now, and we can even probably agree about its definition.

    Is it true that we cannot imagine being unconscious? I think we can imagine that, but I am not seeing the point you are making.

    Death really is a puzzle for us.

  • Ron

    Good to get a reply, Steve. I thought I was whistling into the void 🙂

    I don’t think that being able to talk about something necessarily means it exists. We can talk about unicorns, but that doesn’t mean that they exist. For “nothing” to exist, it would have to be something. If it is something, then it isn’t nothing. Talking about it immediately presents the problem of “it”, for “nothing” certainly isn’t “it”: “it,” after all, is of necessity something. And I doubt very much that we can come up with a definition of “nothing”, never mind agreeing on it.

    Yes, death is a puzzle for us. This is the point I was making. We cannot, no matter how hard we try, imagine being unconscious. We cannot imagine what it is to not exist. And that makes death so horrific: the thought of just ending. It is so much easier to imagine something happening after death – a paradise of some sort, or reincarnation, or whatever. Anything to avoid the nothingness of no being.

  • “Nothing exists” would be a contradiction. I don’t think I said “nothing exists” rather that nothing has meaning. We can define and discuss it. That is, it has meaning. Just because we cannot agree on its meaning does not mean it is meaningless, just as the word meaningless can be defined.

    I don’t know what the point is though…Sven and I were talking about the existence of God. At least I was, Sven was talking about the silliness of the concept or the attempt. Mostly I was trying to talk about epistemological issues. So my point with Sven about “nothing” is that it is beyond empiricism to talk about nothing (or being unconscious) as it is beyond the scientific method. If you have read the long interchange this was the main point. There are some things not subject to science. I accused Sven of Scientism which I see as inadequate to explain all that we are and experience and conceive.

    Since we can talk about “nothing” and even conceive of “nothing” even though we cannot experience it opens up a door to the discussion of things outside empiricism.

    As to unicorns. Since I don’t know where you are coming from I will not ascribe this way of arguing to you, but postulating silly things like green spaghetti monsters or other kinds of things that are imaginary and silly are not good objections to the ontological argument.

  • Ron

    It is difficult to refute an argument that is based on the fact that it can’t be discussed because they it is “outside empiricism.” In a different way, Wittgenstein maintained that there are some matters that we don’t have the language to discuss. It is a good way to stop discussions and is, in my opinion, a different angle to Popper’s dictum about a theory being good only if there is the possibility of refuting it.

    I agree with you that “nothing exists” is a contradiction. I do not agree, though, that “nothing” has meaning. What is its meaning? Perhaps it is that nothing is the absence of everything. That, of course, has large theological repercussions, that basically render God meaningless. Meaningless as inm non-existence.

    You say we can define “nothing”. You also, presumably, say that we can define God. I maintain that we cannot actually define either. We can define God only in the terms that He defines Himself, which is somewhat circular.

    My point about unicorns was to query “existence”, but since we are not getting into ontology (at least I think we aren’t), we don’t have to go down the path of “imaginary” concepts.

  • G-man

    I read every post so far. Interesting. I am a Christian who has often wondered about proving the existence of God. So far I have concluded that when you do prove, via empirical Scientific observations, that God exsist. You probaly have observed, located, detected and discovered something that is not God.

  • Ron no one is saying that we can’t discuss anything outside of empiricism except empiricists, then they proceed to talk about it, like the concept of nothing. I am not an empiricist (that doesn’t mean I don’t argue at times using Empirical argumentation) and I think we can have discussions about things outside empiricism. I think you are confused about this, that seems to be the crux of the issue. I think we can have a non-Empirical discussion and make conclusions about something like God, you don’t (I think, I don’t want to put words in your mouth).

    I suggest an article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entitled Rationalism vs. Empiricism

    Ron, what are we talking about? it has been a year since I have been embroiled in this thread and as you can see it was mostly a two way conversation between Sven and me. What do you want to talk about?

    The whole post began with the Plantinga and he has offered a version of the Ontological Argument for God’s existence and that became a major thread through these comments so I think ontology would be the a most appropriate topic of conversation.

    G-man…reading every post is impressive. Once we accept the existence of God, that he is real, we can talk about Empirical stuff showing us the character and nature of God (his invisible attributes namely his eternal power and divine nature clearly perceived in the things that have been made to quote Paul). But you are right, that would not in and of itself be God. But then we travel into the discussion of transcendence and imminence.

  • G-Man

    I have an intersesting question for all Christians who are participating in this argument. Would you accept the same level of evidence, that we use to prove the existence of God, if you were the suspect in a capitol murder case? Would you allow the prosecution to play by the same rules and level of evidence that would be used against you, if you life were on the line? Interested in your responses.

  • Ron

    Steve, I have no problem discussing God. The point is whether you wish to discuss God in the understanding that He exists or go back one step to a discussion of God’s existence. Like the concept of “nothing”, we have a problem as soon as we use “is”, since that implies existence. You agree that “nothing” does not exist, yet do not apply that logic to God.

    G-Man, you imply that once one sees God, it is not God that one sees.

  • Logic does not equal non-sense.

    Discussing God and discussing “nothing” are not equivalents. It is ignorant to make them equivalents. Nothing by definition is non-existent. Applying that “logic” to God would not be logical, it is question begging. This whole post (comments) I have been trying to discuss the arguments for God’s existence without presupposing his existence. That is why I resisted Sven’s criticisms of Christianity as an argument against the existence of God. I conceded and added my personal “reasons” for faith which is a much different process than presenting an argument for God’s existence and I think that distinction is clearly made in the comments.

    Ron said:
    “You agree that “nothing” does not exist, yet do not apply that logic to God.”

    ????Surely I am not the only one baffled by that statement. What are you saying: “nothing” does not exist, god is nothing therefore God does not exist? Is this the logical progression you are asking me to apply? Is that the only “is” we can use about God: God is nothing? If so, you need to pick it up a level.

    The issue here is whether we can have a discussion about that which is outside empirical observation. That is an epistemological discussion that precedes any discussion we can have about God’s existence (or non-existence if that makes you feel better).

  • Ron

    Steve, I did not say that God is nothing. What I did refer to is “is”, which as soon as you use it, means that the subject exists. Let me extend it: If I say “a unicorn is…” it means that I am referring to something that we agree exists. A unicorn exists on paper and in our imaginations. We know what a unicorn looks like, and so “exists” in that sense. With God, though, we need to go further in our description, the moment we say “God is…” We are then assuming that God exists, even though there are those who will disagree even on that fundamental.

    How does one draw a picture of God? For Jews it would be impossible, while for Christians perhaps a picture of Jesus would do it. But for non-Christians or non-believers, that picture would not represent God. We would still be left with the problem of “God is…” that carries within itself the actual belief.

  • Ron

    I just noticed that somebody said it long before me. It is the logical problem with ineffability that was noted by Augustine, “God should not be said to be ineffable, for when this is said something is said. And a contradiction in terms is created, since if that is ineffable which cannot be spoken, then that is not ineffable which is called ineffable”. To say that X is ineffable is to say something about X, which contravenes ineffability. This problem has been raised anew by Alvin Plantinga (which is where this discussion started) and Keith Yandell.

  • At the very least I can say God is in the same way I can speak of a unicorn. Your point is inane.

    There is no problem with the statement God is…. regardless of his actual existence. I am not presupposing God’s existence in my attempts to “prove” his existence. There is an idea of God. The question is: does the idea have a reference point in reality? Isn’t that why we are having this discussion, or are you a figment of my imagination as well?

    Are we discussing God’s existence or our inability to describe issues beyond empiricism: God; death; unconsciousness etc. Does our inability to express necessitate meaninglessness?

    If Augustine is appropriate for our discussion how about Paul:

    Romans 8:26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;

    1 Corinthians 2:11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.

    But that would be assuming he exists and you want to carry the discussion back a step.

    Ron, you are presupposing his non-existence as much as I might be presupposing his existence. So is not your “God is not” the equivalent of my “God is”?

  • Ron

    Steve, I am not presupposing anything. That is the point. It is you who is assuming that God exists, and so it is you who has to prove it. You need to prove existence; I do not need to prove non-existence.

    What surprises me is that God would hide Himself so well that humans need to go into philosophical and scientific discussions in order to find if He even exists. Surely if he wanted us to know Him, He would make it easier for us. After all, it’s not, surely, the point of life to discover his existence but to follow Him. It seems a strange way of ordering the world, especially as God is infallible and knows what we are going to do. And no, free will is not an option, since that would mean that God does not know something.

  • “I am not presupposing anything”
    You’re kidding right? The only person on the planet with an intact tabula rasa? Of course you are presupposing many things, all of us are. The issue is our ability or inability to judge the value of our presuppositions, conclusions, belief systems and our ability to make sense of what we perceive.

    Your very next paragraph reflects your assumptions, let me summarize the assumption: “if there is a god he would be easier to find”. The assumption is that “god” by definition would be easy to find. These ideas that god is good…or that he is ordered or infallible or omniscient (which I believe) are irrelevant to the first discussion of existence. Rejection of Christianity, Islam or any other religious system is not the same as proving God does not exist.

    In order to have a discussion we have to have some sort of common ground on which to have the discussion. For you and I, that common ground has to be a beginning point and we still have not agreed upon a common epistemological starting point.

    Atheists make this statement regularly and I find it intellectually dishonest: “You need to prove existence; I do not need to prove non-existence.” If you do not need to prove it, why are we having this discussion? Why do you care if I am deluded and whether or not I can influence others to be deluded? I often say: “idiocy speaks for itself.” So let me be an idiot, it should say everything that needs to be said. My contention is that it is not “idiocy” and has therefore demanded the attention of people like Harris, et al. Atheism is a worldview that like any other worldview, should be defended. You say you don’t need to prove non-existence yet work at proving it. One reason you do so is that God’s non-existence is not self-evident. Another reason you do so is that Theism is the predominant world-view and you want it to be otherwise, you want to belong to an enlightened humanity.

    I am willing to speak for my position and defend it. That is what this post is all about. You may not accept my reasoning, but at least admit there is a legitimate attempt made, and many of them throughout history and philosophy. What surprises me is that in the same comment you can claim to “make no assumptions” and then assume that God does not exist. You cannot have it both ways.

    Free will? where did that come from? You have not had a discussion with me about free will (I don’t believe that humanity has such a thing), and I am not sure how it is relevant to a discussion (or are we having a non-discussion) of God’s potential existence.

  • Ron

    Not only do I not have to prove non-existence, I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to. Why should I have to disprove the existence of, say, little green men from Mars? And how could I? Just because you say you have seen them, would you then challenge me to prove that they don’t exist?

    Why am I assuming the God exists if I question the characteristics that He must have? On the contrary, I am questioning His existence by showing the unlikelihood of His hiding Himself.

    As to why we are having this discussion, well it is, surely, so that you can prove God’s existence. Of course it doesn’t matter to me whether you are deluded (or not). But don’t you want to prove to anyone and everyone that non-believers are deluded?

    Even if you are right that “Theism is the predominant world-view” (which is not necessarily correct and would, in any case, depend on whether you define “theism as monotheism), why does my not being a theist make me “want to belong to an enlightened humanity.”? Actually, I would much prefer to be part of a majority if its views made sense to me. As for an argument against my views, it was rather weak, don’t you think?

    I agree with you that humanity does not have free will. How does that square with the notion of sin and punishment? Why would God punish someone for a sin that the perpetrator had no choice but to perform? The onus is on you to prove the existence of a God who knows what we are going to do but punishes us nevertheless for doing it.

    Of course I accept that are genuine attemps made to prove the existence of God. I am, though, having difficulties in being convinced.

  • I don’t know what your views are…

    Ron said:
    “Why should I have to disprove the existence of, say, little green men from Mars?”

    Making an appeal to the ridiculous (logical fallacy) does not disprove anything. I have never said that I see them. Neither have you said that you do. What is the point of this statement other than to say: The idea of God is ridiculous. The existence of little green men or spaghetti monsters is not the equivalent of saying that God exists.

    And the fact of the matter is that we can prove that little green men do not exist on Mars. The difference in the discussion regarding God is that we are talking about the existence of a “necessary”.

    Ron said:
    “Why am I assuming the God exists if I question the characteristics that He must have? On the contrary, I am questioning His existence by showing the unlikelihood of His hiding Himself.”

    Fascinating statement in light of your criticism. According to you He doesn’t exist, meaning he doesn’t have any characteristics. But you believe he doesn’t exist based on characteristics he must have if he existed. Why must God have these characteristics? So take your little green men. It really doesn’t matter if we change the color to red or blue or purple, or make them something other than “men”. They are mythical and up for debate, in fact we can make up many different kinds of men.

    But, when it comes to God it is objectionable to say that he might be unjust, or hidden, or capricious. So the concept of God is certainly more substantive than spaghetti monsters behind Saturn. That is why the idea of God won’t go away, no matter how much we evolve. There is something to this idea that is uniquely different than the idea of unicorns.

    Now having said that, multiple ideas about God (even conflicting ideas) do not negate the possibility of his existence. Just because many are wrong about the details does not mean there is no God. So whether or not God has hid himself is not an argument.

    My argument against your views is weak by default. I don’t know what they are.

    Ron said:
    “But don’t you want to prove to anyone and everyone that non-believers are deluded?”

    I want to know what is true. I think that there is much delusion (falling short of truth) in many camps. Believe me when I say it is more painful to listen to Christians talk than I want to admit. I find that a major problem today is that we treat one another according to “camp” rather than as humans, which a universal category. Now I admit that Christians can be the worst culprits in the us vs. them game but I try to connect with people at the common denominator of our humanness, and listen very carefully to try and discern truth. So I read Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Shermer, et al to continuously challenge my assumptions, beliefs and preconceived notions – and I am sure I have many of them that are deficient to truth. Don’t you feel the same way?

    I think that one thing that empiricism proves is that humanity has very little to be “proud” about. We are small in stature seemingly hidden away in a tiny corner of the universe that we can barely begin to comprehend. So as I mentioned somewhere in this post of comments, humility seems to be the most important attitude to accompany the philosophical journey. I see little of it on both sides of the argument. I even find it creeping through in my discussion with you…my apologies. I certainly don’t want that to be the tenor of our discussion. Cyberspace can be “the Temple” of hubris.

    Doesn’t your worldview deserve a defense?

    My comment about wanting to belong to an enlightened humanity was generic not personal. I think all of us would like to be part of the enlightened, whatever that means, and it discourages us to see diminished humanity whether in behavior or intellect. I was not implying that you wanted to belong to the club of theists so that you would be enlightened, rather that you wanted to belong (as all of us) to an enlightened whole and theism is embarrassing to you. That is why the discussion is important to you. I do think it matters to you whether or not I am deluded.

  • Ron

    I am wondering if the discussion is as important to me as it is to you. I cannot, of course, deny psychological motivations within us, so that any belief is rooted as much in ourselves as to “the truth”. As far as I am aware, it does not matter to me whether you are deluded; I think it matters more to me whether *I* am deluded.

    I think that it would be wonderful if God existed, since it would generally make life simpler. It would certainly make the thought of death more bearable. Is that what you mean about “the existence of a “necessary.”? But surely the fact that something is necessary, does not mean that it exists.

    Why is God more substantive than spaghetti monsters behind Saturn? Because millions of people believe in God and not in spaghetti monsters? Just because most of the world believed that the world was flat did not make it a fact. And just because humans need a way of reconciling themselves to the inevitability of their own demise, it surely doesn’t mean that the means they have of doing so exists.

    Steve, I hope that I am not offending you in any of my comments. You certainly strike me as honest in your arguments and refreshigly free of hubris, all too common in discussions about beliefs.

    The point about little green men from mars is not that one can prove that they don’t exist. If it makes it easier, I can talk about little green monsters on a planet outside the Milky Way. If I say they exist and they talk to me, it is up to me to prove it, not up to you to prove that they don’t.

    I am a little puzzled by your comments about the possibilty of God having non-godlike characteristics. Surely the argument is about an omniscient, all-knowing, all good entity. If it isn’t, then what is it that we are discussing? If I said that I belive in a wicked, not omniscient being, would that satisfy you?

  • I find it interesting that the argument is always brought up that the burden of proof is on the theist. While it is the theist’s job to defend and to give credible reasons, that doesn’t leave the atheist on the opposite side, not needing to show evidence. The claim “There is no God” is just as much a claim concerning knowledge as “There is a God”. The atheist makes a claim that the universe is in fact certain way, while the theist does the same. The atheistic position is not a default position, as many claim it to be. That is simply philosophically false. Agnosticism should be dubbed the “default position”. Regardless of all that, both sides are convinced of the truth value concerning their arguments; that is why they believe the way they do. If, indeed, atheism is the default position, needing no defending, as many claim, then atheists should not worry about theists claims of the existence of a deity.

    Also, rejected evidence is not the absence of evidence. That is simply perspective. Also, there is a difference in unsound arguments and unconvincing arguments. Just because you don’t buy the conclusion of the argument does not mean that the conclusion isn’t true.

  • issac newton

    No one here has mentioned the second law of thermodynamics, which, in my mind, puts all arguments either way on hold. We as humans have never observed any process in the universe which shows a reversal of entropy within a closed system…everything deteriorates and burns out. The creation of the universe cries out for an explanation something other than natural. How could a lower amount of entropy in the universe once existed without some supernatural causal process?

    Is it possible that the second law of thermodynamics, in some distant future time, will be found to be false? Hard to imagine….

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