Archives for December 2014

Lacking the courage of one’s convictions

argument_book2Obviously, Professor A. C. Grayling must be a very busy man. I don’t doubt that teaching, writing, and interviews keeps him quite busy.

However, I confess that I am finding it very difficult to believe that his schedule has been completely booked for the rest of his life.

I simply can’t understand why he can’t carve out a few hours of spare time to burst my bubble of egotistical pride, by demonstrating the intellectual superiority of his atheistic humanism once and for all.

After reading his book and blogging about it twice because I appreciated the skill of its authorship, I grew bold and wrote the good professor to propose a written debate that would pit his GOD Argument versus my Counterargument for God.

You see, I paid attention when I read his book. I believe that already know much of what the professor might say, and it gave me the confidence to approach him.

I am quite convinced that my counterargument can defeat his argument, even though my book was originally intended to rebut The God Delusion of Richard Dawkins.

So when Grayling’s first assistant asked me to define the parameters for the debate I proposed admittedly, my hopes rose.southernprose_cover_CAFG

My reply suggested that Professor Grayling could set the debate parameters for debate himself. My offer said that we could schedule our discussion for any future exchange at his convenience.

So you might imagine my surprise when his second assistant replied and said that it would never be convenient.

Not even sometime in late 2016? I asked.

Nope. Never, as in never, ever.

Please forgive me for stating the obvious, but I believe that if Professor Grayling’s schedule is truly that jam-packed and inflexible, the first assistant would almost certainly have known that and simply could have declined my offer, rather that requesting details of a debate that could never happen. The fact that the assistant asked for some details and then declined my invitation for a discussion suggests something else may be going on here.

Rather than actually being too busy, it seems much more plausible that Professor Grayling simply doesn’t want to debate me, and probably because my credentials don’t impress him.  After all, I don’t even have a master’s degree, much less a PhD.

I’m not any sort of religious leader. I’m just a writer. Therefore, he would have more to lose in this exchange. He also probably thinks it is beneath him to condescend to debate me.

Surely he cannot be afraid of my argument…unless he knows what it is.

Well, I suppose that’s only fair because I’m not afraid of his argument, either. Or his curriculum vitae.

But I am still puzzled.

I must admit that if the situation were reversed, I would feel compelled to give Grayling something of an intellectual smackdown for having the temerity to challenge my authority as an academic and educator, which in my case doesn’t exist.

Yet we all have some pride.

Let me be abundantly clear — I am saying without equivocation that I am sure my argument is superior, and would defeat Grayling’s in a fair debate. After all, I’ve read his book. I know what he has to offer.

If that brash assertion doesn’t goad Professor Grayling into coming forward to accept my offer, nothing will, because I know if someone boldly claimed they could destroy my published argument in debate, I would want to teach such an audacious person a real lesson in humility.

Assuming that I could, of course. I would even make time for it in my schedule, if necessary.

So perhaps Professor Grayling considers himself above the fray — and if he can ignore having his authority questioned in such a brash and audacious manner, he’s right.

Because I am saying here again that his argument cannot defeat mine.

Now I know that if anyone were to read my book and challenged one or more of my assertions about God with an alternate interpretation of the evidence in question, they would hear directly from me — they would not get the brushoff from one or more of my editors.

But I am not Professor A. C. Grayling.

I am also not lacking for the courage of my convictions.

 

Heaven Is for Real

HeavenIsForRealSome atheists seem to think that if they relentlessly attack theists and blame God for all the evil in the world, they will eventually succeed and completely eradicate all religious beliefs.

Frankly, that will never happen. The goal is simply unattainable.

As long as people inhabit the earth, at least some of them will believe in a supernatural God.

Nevertheless, a rather persistent atheist acquaintance recently posted links to several news stories on Facebook about mothers who had allegedly murdered their own kids because they wanted the children to go to heaven. His argument apparently was that religious beliefs, not mental illness, motivated these women to commit such heinous crimes.

Now were the situation reversed — for example, if I insinuated that people who believe Darwinian theory explains their existence were all prone to become serial-killing atheist cannibals and used Jeffrey Dahmer as an example, I would be committing the same flawed, illogical “guilt by association” argument my acquaintance had attempted. And that would be just as juvenile, and wrong.

Two wrongs don’t make a right. Nor do two left turns, but three do.

This acquaintance went so far to direct a question specifically to me, asking, “how many more have to die before someone says ‘Stop!’ This heaven stuff isn’t real?”

My reply was to say that I believe heaven is for real. However, I also know that I can’t prove it any more than an evolutionary biologist can prove that I share a common ancestor with an oak tree.

I won’t claim to know heaven exists beyond all doubt, because that would make me a liar.

On the other hand, I have looked at some fairly compelling evidence that strongly suggests heaven exists. I have personally investigated numerous accounts of alleged near death experience and spoken to multiple people with various claims of visiting either heaven or hell.

It turns out that there are quite a few very specific examples of scientific evidence known as corroborated veridical NDE events. That evidence is extraordinarily compelling.

Conveniently, the movie Heaven is for Real deals with most of the relevant questions we should be asking both science and each other about NDEs.

I will admit that normally I don’t particularly care for movies of this genre because they leave too many questions unanswered, or they avoid controversial subjects entirely.

However, the writers and directors of the movie did a remarkably good job of presenting both sides of the arguments.

They didn’t just deliver the audience the “feel good” message that there is life after death. For example, Todd mentions in church that Colton never “flat-lined” during surgery — although the surgeon clearly didn’t expect him to live, technically Colton never died.

Yet he claimed to have visited heaven, where he allegedly saw remarkable things.

Also in the film, an atheist college professor tells Todd that she believes that supernatural phenomena like extra sensory knowledge could be possible in a materialist world, though her character fails to explain how. They even talked about Colton’s claim that Jesus owned a multi-colored horse.

Poignantly, a grieving mother who attends Todd’s church wanted to know why her son was killed in combat, while Colton was spared from his near fatal bout with appendicitis. She wondered if God didn’t love her son as much as He loved Colton.

In my book Counterargument for God, I talked about several incidents of this same phenomena that were well supported by medical evidence, such as the NDE of Pam Reynolds or Michaela Roser.

The movie Heaven is for Real gives at least three examples of such corroborated veridical NDE events. The first example occurred during surgery: four-year-old Colton claimed that he left his physical body and watched as his father “yelled” at God.

True, Todd Burpo is a pastor. His son Colton was exposed to religious beliefs at a very young age. And it would be quite natural to expect a father who is a pastor would be praying passionately in a chapel while his son is critically ill. southernprose_cover_CAFG But “yelling” at God? Why would it be normal, or natural, for a four-year-old whose father preached at church every Sunday to hallucinate that his father was very angry with God at the same time doctors worked desperately to save his life?

I would be remiss if I failed to point out anecdotes like this one crush the idea that Christians are glad when their children die, and want to kill their children, as this particular atheist acquaintance had suggested on Facebook.

The second and most significant example of a corroborated veridical NDE perception came later in the movie, when four-year-old Colton told his mother that he knew an older sibling died in her womb, because he had met that dead sister while visiting heaven.

There is not a logical or rational explanation for how such a young boy would know such a painful and intimate family detail, especially at such a young age. Until that point, the movie had portrayed the mother as most skeptical of Colton’s alleged experience, which would be a natural reaction from most people. His knowledge of that miscarriage changed her mind, though.

The third, example of corroborated veridical NDE events was that Colton also recalled meeting and described Todd’s grandfather, a man who had died long before Colton was born.

The film also connected Colton Burpo’s description of Jesus the work of Akiane Kramarik, which I wrote about when I read first the book on which the movie was based.

Skeptical atheists may claim that young Colton had been exposed to all of this information due to family conversations, or his father’s work as a pastor. Or a darker assumption might be made that the story had been fabricated as a deliberate ruse concocted in order to sell millions of books.

However, Colton Burpo’s emergency appendectomy is scientific evidence of a medical nature. There are hospital records that document that he was very sick and would have died without surgery.

Yet the movie also drives home the fact that Colton never “officially” flat-lined during surgery. To classify his experience as an NDE would probably be technically incorrect. The important point was not how near death the person in question may have been, but whether or not the information they claim to have learned while their physical body was incapacitated.

My atheist friends frequently make the mistake of assuming the most important information to be gleaned from an alleged near death experience whether or not medical science had declared the person dead prior to resuscitation.

That doesn’t seem to be the critical piece of information we can learn from an experience such as Colton’s, however.

My atheist friends like to fixate on the more fantastic, unverifiable claims that Colton made of heaven, such as that Jesus rode a beautiful multi-colored horse. Claims such as those make the experience sound somewhat hallucinogenic in nature, which supports the atheistic theory that NDE “observations” are merely the product of chemical reactions in a dying brain.

The most salient facts about an NDE are those pieces of information he could not have acquired through his normal sensory processes at the time he allegedly learned them, specifically the three examples of corroborated veridical NDE events.

As I try to tell these atheist friends of mine, if you don’t like or believe the story of Colton Burpo for whatever reason, simply move on to the next best example. Because if you believe that everyone who experiences an NDE has a euphoric experience and goes to heaven because of chemical reactions in their dying brain, you should check out the accounts of Matthew Botsford or Howard Storm.

Heaven isn’t a metaphor or a fairy tale. I can’t prove it, but heaven is for real. Unfortunately for some, so will be hell.

The good news is that all we have to do to avoid hell is exercise our free will, and love God.

The Christmas Truce

Christmas_truce_2Evangelists of atheism have often suggested that religion has been responsible for much of the pain and suffering we observe in this world.

That belief is badly mistaken — it is actually the polar opposite of the truth. There is evidence that suggests if Christian spirit were allowed to rule the world, there might truly be peace on earth.

The true story of the 1914 Christmas Truce reminds us that peace IS possible, but only for men of good will. Peace doesn’t come from wishful thinking.

A century ago, all was quiet on the Western front. The first war that involved the whole world had almost ended as quickly as it began. And Christian spirit was largely responsible.

The night was Christmas Eve, 1914.  Only five months after World War I began, British and German soldiers were dug into trenches formed along the Western front, where they watched each other from a relatively safe distance. Bodies littered the barren turf of no-man’s land separating the two armies.

Naturally, the British troops were quite surprised when they heard the Germans begin to sing in the quiet night. They knew the tune, but the words were in a foreign language.

Private Frank Sumter was one of the first to recognize the Christmas carol. Years later, he recalled the occasion, saying, “…and then we heard the Germans singing Silent Night, Holy Night. I said, “C’mon, boys. Let’s join in with the song.”

Soon soldiers from both sides were joyfully singing the same hymn together, but in different languages.Christmas_truce

Then on Christmas morning, a German soldier tentatively emerged from the trenches. He held up a small Christmas tree adorned with lit candles before bravely crossing the open field in front of the readied guns of the British, extending an offering of peace to men that had been his mortal enemy the previous day.

Soon troops from both sides had emerged from their trenches to exchange food and other small gifts. Next, British and German troops began working together as they dug graves and buried their dead.

Joint funeral services were held. Soldiers began to treat each other as human beings, not lambs for slaughter. Men who had been desperately trying to kill “the enemy” days earlier were cooperating with each other. They had lost all desire to maim and kill each other simply for wearing the wrong color uniform.

The truce remained in effect after Christmas. Troops who days earlier exchanged gifts with their “enemy” found it impossible to resume the bloodshed. However, the powers-that-be would have none of that. The officers and generals not dying in the trenches were forced to intervene before fighting resumed. An artillery bombardment was ordered that shattered the peace.

Then a British officer visiting the trenches after Christmas grabbed a rifle and murdered an unarmed German soldier to provoke new hostilities. The war had begrudgingly resumed.

By the following Christmas, millions more of these brave young men were dead. In total, sixteen million people were killed during World War I, manipulated by their respective governments run by politicians far from the front lines so they might blow up each other with bombs, shred the opposing forces with machine gun fire, or poison them with mustard gas.

Christmas_truce_3

Unfortunately, the generals on each side had also learned their lesson from that Christmas truce of 1914. Orders were passed down the following December declaring any informal armistices at Christmas would be considered treason, giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Humans have to be taught to hate, and how best to kill their fellow man.

God is the giver of life. But God also gives us free will. We can choose to maim and kill each other.

God allows us to choose evil. Or we can choose Him.

The message we can learn from the Christmas truce of 1914 seems crystal clear: the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

But only if we allow it.

 

A. C. Grayling and The GOD Argument

A. C. Grayling

A. C. Grayling

I’ve enjoyed reading The GOD Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism, in spite of the fact I disagreed with much of what author A. C. Grayling wrote. As I asserted in my earlier blog about the Scopes Monkey Trial, Professor Grayling is an excellent writer.

At times, his book forced me to exercise the little grey cells in my head quite vigorously.

For example, at first I couldn’t figure out why Professor Grayling described the problem as ‘logically impossible’ when he wrote:

Consider the sentence, ‘I can trisect a Euclidean angle using only ruler and compass.’ This is a grammatical and even in one sense an intelligible sentence, but it claims something that is logically impossible to do — and therefore to think.

I must confess that relatively simple sentence initially befuddled me.

After all, I could envision drawing a two-dimensional right angle with a horizontal line  intersecting a vertical line at 90 degrees, and then trisecting it at 30 and 60 degrees rather easily with a compass. However, I sensed that I was missing something that must be obvious and could not be understanding the problem correctly, if what Professor Grayling wrote was true. And my instincts were correct.

It turned out the operative word in that deceptively simple sentence was ‘Euclidean’ — apparently referring to a three-dimensional angle, like what you would find in the corner of a room formed where two walls meet. Then I realized what Grayling must have meant, and he’s right: the task is impossible to perform using only a ruler, pencil and compass. On the other hand, it’s a piece of cake for me to trisect such an angle using only one tool, that being my miter saw, to cut a piece of base moulding or quarter round. Solving a difficult problem merely requires two things: that you understand the real nature of the problem, and you have the ideal tools for the job.

[CORRECTION: a math professor friend has informed me that I was completely wrong about Euclidean meaning a three dimensional angle. However, my right angle example is the exception to the “impossible” rule, according to the link he gave me. Lucky guess on my part.]

But I like books that force me to think.

Professor Grayling divided his book into two parts: the first section is devoted to his argument against religion, and the second half extols the perceived virtues of humanism.

He uses phrases such as “to see the human mind liberated from religion and superstition…” [emphasis added] as he lauds the work of militant antitheists and evangelists for atheism such as Richard DawkinsSam Harris, Dan Barker and Christopher Hitchens.

In a chapter titled “Naming and Describing a ‘God'” Grayling suggested that we could just as easily refer to God as ‘Fred’ or ‘the supreme egg’, obviously mocking the concept of a supernatural creator.

Coincidentally, in my book I suggested that readers with an atheistic worldview like Professor Grayling’s should do exactly that — refer to “supernatural intelligence” with any substitute moniker for God they felt most comfortable using, whether that name be Jesus, Allah, Krishna, Zeus, Thor, the celestial teapot, or even the flying spaghetti monster, for all I care.

Professor Grayling wrote:

One line of thinking in the theory of knowledge has it that belief is not an all-or-nothing affair, but a matter of degree. The degree in question can be represented as a probability value. [emphasis added.]

We seem to agree that belief is best measured in relationship to probability.

In my book Counterargument for God, I said: “[T]he probability of any form of supernatural intelligence should initially be set very low, like one-half of one percent. Then the probability of good luck would be extremely high: 99.5 percent. Remember, there is a direct, inverse relationship between the two variables.”

We also agreed that the initial probability of God may be set quite low.

Interestingly enough, Grayling also said this, mirroring something I wrote:

The initial probability of there being a deity is not fifty percent, as some try to argue. There is a hidden assumption of agnosticism, which premises the thought that there is insufficient evidence to settle the matter either way.

Keep in mind that the initial probability we assign God isn’t a value of particular importance to me — it’s only the end result that matters.

My counterargument to atheism relies primarily on logic, common sense, and scientific evidence.  If we assume the universe had an origin, there are only two logical alternatives: either the universe came to exist through a series of accidents, or it was created on purpose.

southernprose_cover_CAFG

Grayling also wrote:

But it is not rational to bet on something’s being the case that has a probability of 99.9 percent chance of not being the case, and since acceptance of a belief is exactly comparable to taking a bet, the question ‘is it rational to bet on x’ and ‘is it rational to believe in x’ alike admit of unequivocal yes/no answers.

The problem is that Professor Grayling has expressed the probability problem exactly backwards. He clearly doesn’t understand the relationship between the probability of a creator God versus the probability of good luck being responsible. To suggest that the probability of God is nearly zero would mean the probability that unbelievable good luck explains our existence is virtual certainty, nearly 100 percent.

However, Sir Roger Penrose has calculated the odds that the Big Bang would create this universe were 1 in 10^300th power, which is an infinitessimally small fraction of one percent.

Because of the remarkably low probability that our universe was created in the Big Bang by random chance, multiverse theory exists, mainly to solve the improbability problem of a fine-tuned universe just right for life conveniently existing so that we might also exist.

And the Big Bang is only the first highly improbable event that we must consider in our quest to answer the existential questions.There is also the relative probability that luck also caused inflation, the origin of life, and even the differentiation of primitive life into the diverse forms we see today.

Stephen Hawking has asserted that even the slightest variation in the inflationary period that immediately followed the creation of the universe, even a minor change as small as one in a million-million, would have caused the new universe to collapse. The improbability of inflation is both dependent and independent of the Big Bang event.

What I mean by that is inflation could not have happened without the Big Bang occurring first. Therefore inflation requires the Big Bang.

The Big Bang did not require inflation, however. We cannot simply assume that inflation had no choice but to occur, unless we are prepared to accept the teleological ramifications that arise from it.

In his book the good professor conceded that the ‘Goldilocks enigma’ exists, meaning our universe is extraordinarily, even uniquely apt for life.

But Professor Grayling attempts to counter this scientific observation with an argument based on incredulity — maintaining that no matter how hard it is to believe in good luck, it is even more difficult to believe in a supernatural God. He does this while completely failing to realize that God and incredible good luck are our only two probabilities.

Those probabilities are inversely related to each other. In other words, as the probability that sort of good luck increases, the probability of God decreases in direct proportion.

Unwittingly or not, Grayling has merely attempted to replace the concept of a supernatural deity with Time as the god that solves all of our existential problems.

Frankly, that isn’t exactly a new idea. Not to mention, it’s a very flawed idea.

Nor does Grayling break any new ground with his argument against religion, parroting much of what Dawkins wrote to evangelize his atheism in The God Delusion. 

But Grayling is correct about the importance of relative probability but wrong about its application when he writes:

It is of course the case that it is sometimes uncertain whether something is or is not so, because the evidence pushes both ways, or is insufficient. Then the rational course is either to suspend judgment (this is what agnostics mistakenly think they are doing; see below) or to take a chance, helped by any external considerations that give some inclining help. This typically happens when the probability of something is about 50 percent. But it is not rational to bet on something’s being the case that has a probability of 99.9 percent of not being the case, and since acceptance of a belief is exactly comparable to taking a bet,  the question ‘is it rational to bet on x’ and ‘is it rational to believe in x’ alike admit of unequivocal yes/no answers.

However, Grayling couldn’t have been more wrong…and, of course, there are gradations of wrong — when he wrote:

Depending on your point of view it is just a lucky or unlucky result of how things happen to be. The universe’s parameters are not tuned on purpose for us to exist. It is the other way around: we exist because the laws happen to be as they are.

Academic credentials or not, I can’t simply give Professor Grayling a pass on this one. How could such a baseless assertion be considered any more valid than a religious person invoking a creator God? And who made these ‘laws’ that are being applied?

Grayling also defines the moral argument improperly to say “there can be no morality without a deity.”

But no one really questions whether or not morality exists. The issue is whether morality is relative or objective.

Another reason I liked Grayling’s book is because he delves into another topic of apparent mutual interest — the near death experience.

Unfortunately, Grayling misinterprets the evidence about NDEs at his disposal just as badly as he bungled the probability argument.  He attributes belief that life after death to two possible motives: fear, or a desire to seek justice. I will admit that those are two common reasons why people might want to believe in life after death, but neither is the best reason.

The best reason to believe life after death is possible is this: a phenomena known as corroborated veridical NDE events, which involves a person very near death learning new information that can be investigated and verified, information they should not have known — indicating that the spiritual mind and physical brain were briefly separated, and the mind continued to learn.

Discussing these areas of sharp disagreement with Professor Grayling could prove quite interesting. A written debate could be very challenging, if he were to agree to such a proposition.

One of us would surely be humbled by the experience.

Coaching change

coach Mark Richt

coach Mark Richt

So, you’re a Georgia fan who’s tired of the underachieving football program, huh?

After all, the Georgia coach has been on the job for THIRTEEN whole years and still hasn’t won a national championship, has he?

Enough of this mediocrity!

This is big boy, SEC football. In this conference, it’s always, what have you done for us lately? Don’t believe me? Just ask Gene Chizik

So what if our coach has won a couple of measly SEC championships for Georgia up to this point in his coaching career? That simply isn’t good enough.

Look at the bigger picture — we’ve been in a championship drought for the last few years now.

Our coach has, gasp! a losing bowl record. Can’t win the big game anymore. And we’re talking about big-time college football at a prestigious university. We deserve a championship team.

This sort of incompetence simply cannot be tolerated. We have every right to expect to expect our football team to win at all costs. No matter what.

It shouldn’t matter that we demand more discipline of our players than our competitors.

As alumni, we want to be proud and brag our players are smarter, better people…as long as they win, too. Surely you will concede that our program seems to be headed in the wrong direction. The SEC competition is only getting stronger, while our team seems to be regressing…so enough already!

Just get rid of the guy, okay?

Congratulations!

You just fired Vince Dooley, the greatest coach in Georgia’s history, three years before he led Georgia to the 1980 national championship.

This is exactly why you should never have Greg McGarity’s job.