Friday, February 10, 2012

John Loftus' Challenge to William Lane Craig

John Loftus has recently posted a challenge to Dr. Craig regarding his claims of the evidential status of the 'inner witness of the holy spirit'. In the past John has defended the integrity of Dr. Craig in the face of many accusations from within the skeptical movement that Craig is dishonest. I personally don't think Craig is intentionally dishonest, but his portrayals of modern physics are possibly bordering on dishonesty.

Loftus' challenge to Craig involves three specific questions, they are as follows.

Do you agree that objective evidence is external to the knower and can be verified by a third party at least in principle? Yes or no? How then can any third party verify a claim such as someone else's inner witness of the Spirit? At least someone's claim to be abducted by aliens is able to be verified in principle by a third party. Anyone in any religion or sect within one can claim to have had a veridical religious experience. These claims are a dime a dozen when they cannot be verified even in principle by a third party. What then do you say to the argument that these claims are subject to the charge of delusion, and as such, no evidence at all even to someone who claims to have had one? 

Dr. Craig, here is a follow-up question given the inherent subjectivity of the inner witness of the Spirit. How is possible for a reasonable faith to be based upon a subjective experience? Furthermore and more importantly, how is it possible for a reasonable man like yourself to claim such a subjective experience defeats all objective evidence? Now it's one thing to say a subjective experience is to be considered objective evidence. It's another thing entirely to say a subjective experience carries more weight than all objective evidence. 

One last question my friend. Put all three of them together and answer them all at one time if you wish.

Would you please specify the propositional content of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit? Plantinga calls the content "the great things of the gospel", and includes the idea that "God exists", "God has forgiven and accepted me", or "God is the author of the Bible." You claim this content assures Christians that they are children of God. But such a notion echoes the poet whom Paul quoted who said, "we are his offspring." (Acts 17:28) You are surely arguing that the inner witness of the third person of the trinity contains more propositional content than that. Shouldn't this witness be more specific about what is meant to be a "child" of the kind of "God" one believes in, how one becomes a child of this God, where one can learn additional information about this God, what he must think of the authority of that source of information, and how he can best interpret it? For instance, to say "God exists" does not say anything about the attributes of this God, and might even be consistent with panentheism. To say "God is the author of the Bible" doesn't say what a believer should think about the specific nature of the Bible, or how to best interpret it.

I have repeatedly asked you this last question and have posted it on my blog several times. Again, these types of arguments are swaying the faithful. You need to answer them if you want to be perceived as being honest with the facts. Many skeptics are saying you are not honest and I have been defending you.

If you refuse to answer these questions about the inner witness of the Spirit then I can no longer defend you from the charge of being dishonest with the facts. I hope you do respond, I really do.

Sorry, but it's your choice now.

It will be interested to see if Craig responds, and if he does, in what manner will he do so.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Absurdity of Christ

Today I want to explore the supposed purpose behind the message of Christ. The main message, blood sacrifice, not any of the other things like moral teaching or anything like that. We are told that Christ came to earth to die for our sins, so we can be reconciled to God. One could dispute the concept of sin and would be justified in doing so, I think the concept is meaningless but it distracts us from the more important issue of the actual atonement. I wish to argue that the concept of blood sacrifice and substitutional punishment is outdated, barbaric and illogical.

Firstly, the idea bloodshed will pay for wrongdoings assumes that the god in question desires blood. Believing in the god of the philosophers does not get you to this position. Admittedly, the god of the old testament is such a god, in fact there are passages such as Exodus 29:18 which explicitly state that the smell of burnt flesh is a pleasing odour to God. However this is not the god that modern Christians actually believe in. If it were, then Christians would still be engaging in the practice of burnt sacrifices, not to atone for the sins, because God killed himself in human form for that, but because they would believe it to be pleasing to god. After all, isn't that the reason Christians sing songs of praise to God? To please him?

The idea is outdated because it has no relevance to the modern conceptions of justice. Evangelists like Ray Comfort like to use the following analogy:
You commit a crime, the punishment for which is monetary compensation. Someone else pays your fine for you and you are let off the hook. They claim that the execution of Jesus does the same thing, you committed the crime of existing, and for it you deserve to die, Jesus was executed instead of you, so you are let off the hook. Is justice done in either of these cases? I contend that it is not, in fact that to allow such an event to take place would rather be a perversion of justice, yet Christians want you to believe that this is perfect justice.

Let me also try a logical reconstruction of the Christian theory of atonement as I see it. This is possibly an over-simplification, but it should suffice for my purposes here.

1. You trespassed God
2. Trespassing God deserves death
3. Jesus was killed instead of you
C. You are no longer culpable for your actions.

It should be quite plain that such an argument is logically invalid as it is currently written above. In order to make the conclusion follow from the premises, a fourth suppressed premise would need to be added.

1. You trespassed God
2. Trespassing God deserves death
3. Jesus was killed instead of you
[4. Any person who has not trespassed God and is killed in the place of another removes the accountability of the guilty person to their actions]
C. You are no longer culpable for your actions.

When it is expressed in this way it becomes quite apparent that such a principle is a blatant perversion of justice. If the same principle was applied in society toward its legal system, the entire social structure would likely collapse, as many innocent, honest persons would be imprisoned or killed, while many manipulative and sociopathic individuals would roam free.

Aside from that extremely contentious suppressed premise I think that premises 1 through 3 are not legitimate either. More than that, I think they cannot be established to be legitimate, they are things which we can only ever be in the dark about (assuming that it's impossible to prove God does not exist).

So in conclusion to all of that, I maintain that the message of Christ is absurd. It is outdated, barbaric and without reasonable support. The conclusions of the atonement will only be seen as viable by those who have already committed belief in Christianity. Perhaps it is possible to formulate a more cogent explanation of the atonement, but I suspect that it too will suffer from many of the same failings as my example.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

God is Not a 'Necessary Being'

It is my contention that a Creator God is not a necessary being; in fact a Creator God would in some sense (or at least some attributes of God) be contingent. I’ll try to explain. Note, I am not addressing the ontological argument here, as I think that would be a facile victory. As far as I'm aware Anselm's ontological argument and its variants are generally ignored these days.

In the general logical form:
1.If P then Q

the argument has it that P is sufficient for Q to be true, and Q is necessary for P to be true. I’ll give an example argument

Example 1:
1.If Bob drinks Beer, then he becomes drunk.
2. Bob drank Beer,
C. Bob became drunk

In the first premise, becoming drunk is the necessary effect of Bob drinking beer. This is a valid logical structure, and given that the premises are true, the conclusion is entailed. However it is not the case that if Bob is drunk, then he must have consumed some beer, he could have consumed rum. In this case, we can say that drinking beer is a sufficient cause for Bob being drunk, but it not a necessary cause.

If we inverted the argument's structure so as to try and work backwards from the drunken state to draw the conclusion that Bob drank beer, it would be an invalid argument. It would fail logically.

Example 2:
1. If Bob drinks Beer, then he becomes drunk.
2. Bob is drunk
C. Bob drank beer

This is a bad argument, so let's apply this to gods.

Example 3:
1. If a creator god exists, then a universe exists.
2. A creator god exists
C. A universe exists

In the first premise, the creation is the necessary effect of a creator god existing. The creator god is merely a sufficient cause of the universe existing, but not a necessary one. This means that at least in some sense, that the creator god is contingent on the existence of the universe. In order for it to be a creator god, it must have engaged in an act of creation, which means that before this 'time' it was not a creator god. A possible contradiction between theistic belief and the bible amigo? That can be a discussion for another time though.

Like in the first example, it is a valid logical structure, and given the truth of the premises, the conclusion must be true. Similarly, if we try to invert the argument to work backwards from the existence of the creation/universe to prove the existence of the creator god, we encounter logical failure.

Example 4:
1. If a creator god exists, then a universe exists.
2. The universe exists
C. A creator god exists.

This is a bad argument, and it is very similar to arguments that try to establish a god as a 'necessary being'. These arguments are deceptive and should be exposed whenever used.

People like William Lane Craig know this, which is why he opts to use the Kalam Cosmological argument, which does have a valid logical structure, but rests on deceptive or demonstrably false premises. It is my contention that what theists actually engage in is closer to Example 4. They work from the existence of the universe, and under their belief system, their god would have created this universe, and arrive at their predetermined conclusion.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Case Against Christianity

I just finished reading 'The Case Against Christianity' by Michael Martin. The book is around 250 pages long and covers topics such as the historicity of Jesus, the resurrection, the virgin birth, the second coming, the incarnation, Christian ethics, salvation by faith, divine command theory, the atonement and the philosophical basis of Christian belief. The two chapters I thought were the best were Chapter 3: 'The Resurrection' and Chapter 4: 'The Virgin Birth and the Second Coming', though the rest of the book was very good also.

Some of the chapters are quite jargon-laden, but if one is familiar with the technical terms used in logic then understanding the book won't be an issue. I think perhaps the best feature of this book is the philosophical and logical nature of many of the arguments against Christianity, as opposed to the scientific approach of Dawkins, or the 'bad for society' approach of Harris and Hitchens (I'm not saying this is the only trick up their sleeves, but it forms a large portion!). Having a different approach to the discussion I feel brings a breath of fresh air to a debate that all too often revolves around the same stale talking points.

I highly recommend that everyone reads this book, it's well worth your time.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Excellent Underrated Books

Since I've been in a bit of a book-reading-mood this year (8 books read so far since Christmas, onto number 9) I have decided to read some books which are on lukeprog's 'Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge' page. I've already read a number of books from his list, but they are all from the beginner/intermediate rankings that he's given them.

Currently I have withdrawn 'The Case Against Christianity' by Michael Martin, 'Theism and Explanation' by Gregory Dawes and 'The Miracle of Theism' by J.L. Mackie from my University's library. I have high respect for lukeprog (which makes me sad that he's no longer posting on Common Sense Atheism) and if he recommends a book it's probably well worth reading. The Martin and Mackie books were probably more well known back when they were first published (1993 and 1983) but don't seem to be as widely read today, which is unfortunate. Gregory Dawes book came out in 2009, but it only has 2 reviews on Amazon. Meanwhile many vastly inferior books in a similar vein (four horsemen I'm looking at you!) have many hundreds if not thousands of reviews, and countless more copies are available.

Unfortunately these books are much more expensive than the popular atheist books, which is probably a huge disincentive for people (who like to buy books) to read them. This is why I'm having to get them out of my university library, because I simply cannot afford them. I think that people should read the best books available, rather than the most popular.

When I have read them I will post a short review of them, and let you know whether I think you should read them too (chances are that I will recommend them).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - My Thoughts

I recently finished reading Richard Bauckham's book 'Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony' and thought I would share my thoughts with you. I'm not going to do a lengthy-ish review of it like I did with Timothy Keller's 'The Reason For God' last month, as there are really only a handful of things I wanted to say in response to this book.

For starters the book is quite a hefty tome, but it has long footnotes at the bottom of most pages which significantly reduces the average page length of actual content, so it's not as long of a read as it first gives the impression of. The book is fairly easy to understand although Bauckham tends to be quite tangential, and by that I mean he has asides which last up to 10 pages before continuing his argument, this detracts somewhat from his arguments, but I managed to follow them well enough.

The content and arguments however I found extremely underwhelming and often particularly specious. He often relies on many assumptions which I am not willing to accept and I do not think he provided sufficient reason for them. The first of these is his reliance on Papias of Hierapolis. The problem I see with Bauckham's reliance on Papias is that we do not have Papias' writings. What we have are a few quotations of his works by Eusebius and a mention by Iranaeus. Despite this, Bauckham takes the liberty to espouse the mind of Papias well beyond what the dubious quotes can possibly tell us. Bauckham does not address many of the problems associated with Papias such as the fact that his descriptions (via quotation) of the Gospel of Matthew and Mark do not match up with the gospels that we have today, so to rely so uncritically on the word of Papias as attesting to the eyewitness tradition within these gospels I find is very credulous and disappointing.

The other frustrating assumption I encountered while reading the book was the trustworthiness of the canonical gospels. Bauckham uses internal evidence within the gospel narratives to point to eyewitness testimony. One of the examples he uses is the preface of Luke, which alludes to the testimony upon which the author says he based his writing on. Bauckham pokes around the words used in this passage and finds a definition that supports his case, which has connotations of eye-witness testimony to the actual events. He seems to accept this rather uncritically, how we know the author was telling the truth Bauckham never reveals. His other main piece of internal evidence really requires a stretch of the imagination, it is what he called the 'Inclusio'. This is a literary device used in ancient literature by which the author conveys the source of information via using their perspective in the text, without outright claiming it came from them. Bauckham primarily claims Inclusio in the gospel of Mark as Peter's witness and in the gospel of Luke as the women disciples' witness. Bauckham seemed pretty convinced of his arguments strength here but I simply failed to see how he actually demonstrated that this was in fact the case. Like I said, it's a stretch of the imagination.

Overall I think Bauckham overstates the force of his arguments, but I commend him for putting forth new arguments and as he admits in the text, he is effectively going against the grain of nearly all modern New Testament scholarship. Credit is due to him for bringing a new spark to the debate, but I think the book was overwhelmingly unsuccessful in giving a solid case for eyewitness testimony.

For a far more in-depth critical analysis of the book and its specific arguments I suggest having a read of Neil Godfrey's blog Vridar, where he did a thorough review of the book in 2007. If you're more audio-inclined you may want to have a listen to a few of Robert M. Price's Bible Geek podcast, relevant episodes linked below.
January 19th 2012, Dr. Price reads Theodore J. Weeden's review of 'Jesus and the Eyewitnesses'
February 14th 2011, Dr. Price answers a listener's questions about the validity of Bauckham's arguments.