Archives for August 2016

The philosophical argument for God

southernprose_cover_CAFGThis post represents the other bookend to the effort I made to illustrate why waxing philosophical on the question as to whether or not God exists is an extraordinarily tricky problem to tackle, no matter what your personal opinions (atheist, theist, agnostic) on the subject might be. Especially simplistic arguments fail to reveal the true complexity of the argument as a whole.

To illustrate the gravity and true scope of the problem, I recruited the smartest person I know, an honest-to-God scientist recognized worldwide in his specific field of expertise, for an unbiased and unvarnished evaluation of the science and logic used in my article, focused on my own argument for God in particular to expose any and every perceived weakness in my reasoning.

What follows next is primarily my friend’s analytical feedback and constructive criticisms of my argument through our subsequent correspondence, which I’ve converted into an article to further elaborate on what we started…

No matter what you actually believe, your worldview will be at least partially based on faith, whether you are a scientist, an atheist, or someone like me.

Even if that faith is limited to yourself — you’ve put faith in something, but not in nothing.

The scientist places his or her faith in the scientific method and personal skill set to discern between illusion and reality. The atheist trusts intellect and reason will ultimately lead to evidence that validates their lack of belief in a supernatural God, while the theist has faith that his or her intellect is surpassed by something far greater.

In my opinion, no honest person should try to convince someone else that they know for a fact that God exists, or does not exist. It’s virtually impossible to make a comprehensive, rational, and coherent argument. On a scale of belief where zero represents certainty of no God and 100 percent represents the opposite extreme, the expected values should range between less than 1 percent and greater than 99 percent. A “knowledge” claim of either extreme actually has zero epistemic value.

So I solicited help from one of the smartest people I personally know well enough to ask for some advice. My (scientist) friend’s overall reaction to my request for constructive feedback was this:

Well, I think one problem is that science isn’t well suited to to this argument because, ultimately, the scientific method is a *negative* process. You want to believe something. But at best the scientific method can do is say is that belief in a God with some set of characteristics is not disproved. The Atheist faces the same problem. They want to believe there are no gods. Yet at best science can say “the facts indicate that gods with the following characteristics are not supported.” All you can do is say that belief in a God that created the universe with a fixed set of operating rules, and does not appear to interfere with those rules on a widespread, systematic basis, is consistent with the present state of the art of science. Likewise, the Atheist can only say that we see no evidence of Gods of a God who interferes with or directs nature in the operation outside of natural law (eg no supernatural interventions). That state is very unsatisfying to either party. But that’s where we are. And, interestingly, the former is in fact pretty well consistent with Orthodox Christian Theology as taught by the Church Fathers in the first few hundred years of the faith. It’s only later, when Christianity encountered the enlightenment, and the post-Augustinian worldview invaded Christianity, that it went off the rails. But that’s a different discussion.

My professional scientist friend and I seem to be agreeing more than we disagree on the idea that the scientific method does have its limitations as to what knowledge we might obtain by its application.

For example, once upon a time my friend Matthew Botsford was shot in the head, in a random act of violence. In fact, the bullet is still lodged in Matthew’s brain. He was so close to death and had suffered such serious brain trauma that his family was asked to donate his organs. Yet Matthew survived, only because his wife Nancy wouldn’t let go, and what he would call the grace of God.

Matthew sincerely and literally believes that he went to hell when he died and suffered horrific torment until he was literally rescued by God. And I believe him.

It’s a long story, but Matthew did recount most of the gory details in Nancy’s book titled A Day in Hell.

Matthew and Nancy Botsford

Matthew and Nancy Botsford

My point is simply this: Matthew knows that he was shot in the head, and he believes that God rescued him from hell. And I believe that he believes everything he has told me.

The first half of the statement above is a knowledge claim, well supported by scientific evidence. But what we believe happened after he “died” is not. The fact that I believe Matthew is sincere about his conviction that he really did spend time in hell is for the most part, irrelevant. What can we prove?

We cannot apply the scientific method to Matthew’s claims of his experiences in hell — for him, those experiences actually could be empirical observations formed through application of the scientific method but for anyone else, they can only be classified as anecdotal.

We might label Matthew Botsford a liar, selling a story for profit, but we have no evidence on which to base such an accusation. As a published author you’re going to have to trust my judgement on this, but the potential for future book sales is not a strong incentive for one to allow him or herself to be shot in the head, based on the assumption that it might make a good story for a book one day.

We could also assume Matthew Botsford suffered some hideous injury (well documented) that created a vivid hallucination (not documented) as an ugly delusion in his dying brain, horrific images and imagined experiences of torment and suffering in hell, but we’re also making a choice to reject belief due to our personal bias…anyone already convinced that no hell exists will not accept anything as evidence of hell.

Our third option is to give Matthew Botsford the benefit of the doubt and accept the possibility that he might actually be giving a true and accurate description of his experiences after death, to the very best of his ability to do so. And in doing so, we would be opening our minds to the distinct possibility that other personal accounts of similar stories might be true, too, which would require further investigation upon discovery.

Before judging my friend Matthew as a liar or a lunatic, perhaps you should follow my example. Before reaching any final conclusions you should also meet him face-to-face, and look directly into his eyes for any signs of deception while he tells his story.

As far as my attempt to inject myself into the debate between Dr. Alex Malpass and Matt Slick was concerned, my scientist/expert/truly brilliant friend had this to say:

Some quick thoughts FWIW – I think both Malpass and Slick are in gross violation of the “laws” (rules is probably a better term) of applied logic. As a denizen of the gray (and near expert in quantum mechanics), absolutes really bug me. They are very rarely applicable for anything other than highly theoretical, mathematical problems, yet people just *love* to force discussions in to a binary decision structure and argue “logic” because they want the purity of “right” and “wrong”. For example, I’d argue that the “God exists, or doesn’t” dichotomy is a sophomoric straw-man debate. Sure, it’s “true” on some completely theoretical level but it’s a stupid question from a practical standpoint because, as you correctly note, the definition of God is so open ended and fluid that the question becomes unanswerable. I think you go a bit off the rails when trying to argue that the alternative to “God” is “no God” – again, that argument it depends on the definition of “God”. So the other side, “God doesn’t exist” is also a “staw man” argument because it too depends on the definition of “God”. What if you define the Universe itself *as* God – the mathematical, QM rules, etc. Someone who wants an “intelligent” personal God would say that’s not a “God” – but someone else might argue that the laws of physics are in and of themselves intelligent on some level, rather than *evidence* of separate intelligence (definitions again). So the only real debatable question, certainly from a scientific/logic standpoint, is “Does a God with the following characteristics (a,b,c, …) exist?” because then you can provide observations that prove or disprove a,b,c,… In short, you can’t argue, on the basis of science or logic, that “no God’s exist”, only “Does this God (or class of Gods) exist?” which makes a disjunctive syllogism moot. Just skimmed most of the rest, but your list of “scientific claims” are not really “claims” made by the state of the art of accepted science – especially number 2. As I have tried over and over to get across, the “tuning” argument is coming from the string theory/multiverse hypothesis crowd (multiverse depends on string theory), and string theory is circling the toilet with every increase in energy of the LHC. Standard Model extensions and GUT argues that almost all, perhaps all, of the so-called fields collapse into a single mode. So all of the BS about dependencies goes away, as does your argument that “luck” is required. In other words, this Universe might exist because it’s the only one that is possible. [emphasis added] Now, if you want to argue that points to design, have at it. It’s an unanswerable question from a *science* standpoint because it requires being able to see other Universes (which seems to be theoretically impossible under either GUT or string/multiverse), and is therefore not science because there is no way to test the null hypothesis. Therefore a philosophical question. In short, I don’t think it’s a good idea to argue for God on the basis of bad, increasingly disproven science, just because it’s popular, and the “scientists” (they actually aren’t being scientists in this context) are using it to argue for atheism.

To my friend’s assertion (the particular sentence that I emphasized) above I replied,”That (the universe had to exist) is just as much of an assumption as fine tuning, isn’t it? Besides, I thought with spectrograph or some such equipment they could tell the composition of stars, which does seem to support the fine tuned argument, based on what I’ve read. But as we both know, I’m not a whole lot better than a trained parrot when it comes to understanding this stuff…weak gravitational force. Yeah, I can explain that. NOT.”

My spectroscope reference was a rather sloppy one, but I had this quote by cosmologist Chris Impey in mind, which I culled from his book The Living Cosmos:

Apart from hydrogen, everything else is just a trace element. Just how rare? Suppose a deck of cards represented randomly selected atoms in the universe. In one deck of cards, the aces would be helium atoms and the other forty-eight would be hydrogen atoms. You’d need thirty decks of cards before you’d expect to find one carbon atom. In the thirty decks of cards, there’d be a couple of oxygen atoms, too, but all the other cards would be hydrogen or helium. You’d need to search three hundred decks to find a single iron atom…How do we know what the universe is made of? Astronomers use remote sensing by spectroscopy to measure the composition of star stuff. Each element has a unique set of sharp spectral features that acts like a fingerprint, so by identifying that fingerprint in starlight, astronomers can measure contributions of different elements.

But I am woefully unqualified to argue either side in that science debate, multiverse hypotheses and string theories versus GUT. One possible solution would be to put people like Martin Rees and Roger Penrose in the same room with my friend and let them hash out the “best” answer to the origin of the universe as multiverse, string theory, or GUT. Just tell people like me how it all comes out.

Before I used up all of my friend’s time, I wish it had occurred to me to ask how the Grand Unified Theory (GUT) should not more accurately be called the Grand Unified Hypothesis (GUH) because his argument also seems to begin with a rather significant assumption, that the evidence can only lead to one conclusion without resorting to pantheism, by saying the universe had no choice but to exist in the current form it has taken. On the other hand, a man’s got to know his own limitations.

So to my friend I replied, “BTW, thanks very much for the feedback. It’s exactly what I needed. My plan is to say I offered the argument to an impartial moderator who happens to be a scientist (without naming names, of course) to demonstrate the dissent argument against what I’ve put together, after I mull it a while and perhaps change some stuff, too. But most of all, thanks. No one will know our little secret, because I might ask for the same sort of feedback again and I certainly don’t want to betray your confidence.”

In my opinion, if what Impey wrote about the delicate balance of elements distributed within the cosmos is correct (and I suspect it is) then my friend’s GUT is basically saying that the incredibly “fine-tuned” balance we observe in nature exists because natural forces would not allow these cosmological factors to vary even slightly.

Furthermore, if the laws of nature or physics were purely deterministic during the creation of the universe, meaning they could not have varied in the slightest, why does the resulting universe clearly show signs that random chance exists?

If chance did not exist, the outcome of any event would only have one possibility. Accidents would never occur, things would never break, and nothing would ever go wrong. To my pseudo-scientific ears, this sounds like my friend trying to say that if we threw six darts at a dart board, the only possible outcome that could occur would be that all six darts would strike the bullseye, with each of the six darts stuck into the fin of the previous one thrown — as if they had no choice .

On the other hand, involving myself in a disagreement between two highly qualified scientists would be most unwise. Brash claims and bold statements asserted to much smarter people have a tendency to blow up on a person. While I mulled over my dilemma on how to pursue more information from my source, my friend indulged me and solved my problem by continuing to hammer home his point:

Actually, “only one possible” is shorthand for “given the structure of matter and the laws of physics, only one combination of values for the underlying constants is stable”, is it’s not technically the same thing. You still get the philosophical question of how that one value came to be, but then there is no probability involved and is, in fact, finally a true binary situation: is, or is not. Other stars have nothing really to do with it, other than we know pretty well that the behavior of matter and energy “out there” is the same as it is here. Has nothing to do with the fine tuning argument. The fine tuning argument boils down to arguing that in order to get the universe we observe, the various “constants” have to be awfully close to what they are. If, for example, the strong nuclear force were 10% stronger than the electroweak force, nothing would work right. HOWEVER, what if the strong nuclear force and electroweak forces are manifestations of the same thing (eg the Grand Unified Theory)? Then they are the same thing and not “tuned”. There is some evidence for this – just like the weak and electromagnetic forces were “unified”, it is possible the other four forces will also be “unified”. That is on stronger ground than string “theory”.

I’m pretty sure that I understand from where my friend is coming — science definitely has its limits. On the other hand, I must respectfully disagree that with the idea that GUT could solve all the same problems as a god without supernatural intelligence.

Yet I also know that my friend’s specific field of expertise is more closely related to physics than chemistry or biology. And, due to time constraints and a very busy schedule, my friend may not be familiar with this two hour lecture by Dr. James Tour, an expert on chemical synthesis, on the subject of the chemical prerequisites for abiogenesis.

According to Dr. Tour, chemists have absolutely no idea how enzymes developed that allowed for the synthesis of molecules. Among many other interesting things Dr. Tour said was this:

 We have no idea [emphasis added] how the molecules that compose living systems could have been devised such that they would work in concert to fulfill biology’s functions. We have no idea how the basic set of molecules, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids and proteins were made and how they could have coupled in proper sequences, and then transformed into the ordered assemblies until there was the construction of a complex biological system, and eventually to that first cell. Nobody has any idea on how this was done when using our commonly understood mechanisms of chemical science. Those that say that they understand are generally wholly uninformed regarding chemical synthesis.

Now if I didn’t know better, I might have assumed “wholly uninformed regarding chemical synthesis” was a direct reference to me. Yet after listening to Dr. Tour, I can’t see how GUT for the universe could possibly make the origin of life within the universe a foregone conclusion.

No matter how we sincerely we reach for knowledge and proof, at some point, assumptions must be made on faith. Even my “ace-in-the-hole” argument that I alternately refer to as corroborated veridical NDE episodes (or a slight variation) or quantum consciousness, meaning the metaphysical, abstract mind learns and remembers new, accurate information while independent of the physical brain, must assume that the apparent reliability of the new memory validates the anecdotal evidence of the account as well. My friend then elaborated further:

Let me try to put it a different way. If the “extended Standard Model”/GUT is correct (and so far the evidence indicates it is), then there is only one possible configuration of relationships between the fundamental forces because the “constants” (forces) are all related in a fixed way. That part is science. Are there *other* universes? The GUT based theories don’t require them AFAIK (the various string “theories” do mathematically) and even if they did, they would behave (from a physical matter/chemistry standpoint) the same way this one does. BUT, as noted above, even if there are “other” universes, no information can be exchanged between them, so you can’t test that hypothesis, therefore it’s not a scientific question. So, given the present state of modern science, despite all the sound and fury of both the gnu atheists and those like you who want to argue there is scientific support for an intelligent creator trying to use the same (flawed!) reasoning they do, we’re actually in the same place we’ve been for a very long time. The physical state of the universe, and how it works, has no obvious direct evidence of any supernatural interventions since the “big bang”. We can’t speak to probabilities of this universe because its the only one we can look at, and from what we can tell about how it behaves, there is no reason to assume or even speculate there are more than one of them. That leaves both sides with plenty to be uncomfortable about. Yes, the atheist can argue there is no evidence for “sky wizards” and other straw-man deities, but is left with the very uncomfortable fact we have no explanation, and no *way* to apply science, to the ultimate question of first cause. The Theist is also stuck. The “first cause” question is unanswered (and unanswerable) scientifically since we can’t see past the singularity at the start of the big bang, and a universe that has fixed, logical laws governing its operation since. That screams for a supernatural explanation. Yet there is nothing since that event that indicates “divine intervention” – all the rest is explained as a result of natural processes.

At great risk to my pride (after my friend gleefully destroys this retort) I must humbly submit that my Big Picture argument for God, as presented in my book Counterargument for God, seems to survive both GUT and TAG due to what I’ve called the contingent probabilities. These are dependencies that strongly indicate that for life to exist this universe must exist, and that it confirms I’m alive and able to write this sentence, and the reader must be alive in order to read it.

My scientist friend’s closing words also resonated with me:

I don’t care about being “right”. The only thing I care about is being correct. Big difference . . . Facts are what they are. They don’t care what I or anybody else wants. I also try to draw a bright line between what the facts show, and the *conclusions* I draw from those facts. I think that last paragraph about both sides being in bad situations is “fact”, based on science. But you’ll notice that in none of that discussion did I say which “side” I’m on, because as long as it’s consistent with the “facts”, what I believe doesn’t matter. I’m happy to denigrate Theist and Atheist equally if they stray from the science . . .

On that final sentiment, we are absolutely on the same page. It’s more important to seek truth than be “right” or win an argument.

I’m not the least bit upset by my scientist friend’s assessment that Matt Slick’s TAG argument, Alex Malpass’s philosophical rebuttal, and my Big Picture argument all fail to meet a burden of proof.

We must all take calculated risks of faith and make assumptions in the course of seeking answers to our existential questions. These assumptions will naturally conform to our pre-existing personal bias toward theism or atheism.

The atheist will never see evidence of supernatural intelligence, and theists will never accept that this world could exist because there was no other choice, according to some abstract “laws of nature.”  The existence of laws certainly seems to imply the existence of a Lawgiver.

But nothing that approaches proof. And that’s an assumption on my part.

Q.E.D.

The secret of evolution

Pokemon[WARNING — People who are humor impaired should not read this article, especially if you have a strong aversion to dripping sarcasm.]

Almost a decade ago, I became a professional writer because Richard Dawkins basically said that the theory of evolution had rendered belief in God into delusional thought.

I spent the next several years of my life reading everything I could find in the library on the subject of evolution, looking for a book that might explain the missing secret ingredient that allowed macro evolution to occur. Most biologists have seemed to agree on the belief that evolution from an existing species into a new type of creature requires three things: sexual reproduction, isolation of the gene pool in a small breeding population, and time. But that isn’t really enough to explain the diversity of life on earth, is it?

Let’s look at a few of these alleged factors that allow evolution to occur:

Isolation of a small breeding population — think about the diversity of life in an ocean. We can cast our lines into the water and possibly catch trout, bass, flounder, mackerel, shark…and the list continues for quite a while. How did all of those different species of fish (and don’t forget mammals, etc.) evolve into different types of creatures from a single common ancestor?

If the theory of evolution really is true, humans aren’t just related to monkeys because of sex, isolation of a gene pool, and time. We’re also related to every other living organism on the planet by those same three mechanisms.

Sexual Reproduction — here it gets a little tricky, because sexual reproduction can only be observed in perpetuating existing species. The emergence of a new species cannot be observed due to time constraints…we can observe reproduction, but not production.

New life can be created one of two ways: either two sexually compatible members of the same species mate and produce fertile offspring, or two individuals that are members of closely related but different species (horse and mule, zebra and donkey, etc.) mate and give birth to living but sterile offspring, a biological dead end.

Time — how much time is needed for one species to metamorphose into a new species with a completely different body plan? Was there a rhyme or reason to the reversal of certain dominant and recessive genes that allowed monkeys to evolve into humans?

For nearly a decade, I’ve been asking the same question to anyone who will listen, over and over…what environmental factor, besides sex, isolation, and time, creates a new creature by random chance?

I’ve penned open letters to Jerry Coyne, Francis Collins, and Ken Miller asking the experts on biology what the missing ingredient might be.

Who could have ever guessed that I’d find the answer to my question in a silly game originally (intelligently) designed for children?

While I sit around all day writing books and thinking about what to write next, my wife earns the majority of the income that pays our bills. Recently on a business trip to New York, she downloaded the game Pokemon Go on her cell phone on orders from her boss, so that she might participate in a team building exercise.

My wife has an obsessive-compulsive personality and returned home addicted to walking around trying to catch silly cartoon characters with her cell phone. Initially I went along  the exercise, because we walked more in one month than we had in the previous year — logging an astonishing total distance of 100 kilometers in under 30 days.

The only problem for our walks would occur when a virtual Pokemon character would appear on her cell phone, and she wanted to stop long enough to catch it. More interested in the exercise, I tended to continue walking and found myself frequently leaving her behind.

The solution, naturally, was for me to load the silly game on my phone in order to play along with her. However, while playing I’ve discovered that the game models the real world perhaps better than one might think at first glance.

For example, to make yourself more attractive to Pokemon, you can put out lures or burn incense to draw them near.

All of the elements of evolution theory are there…survival of the fittest? Got it covered. Pokemon gyms are places where these mythical creatures engage in mortal combat. IMG_6738.0

Entropy? Yep, you bet. Pokemon typically “spawn” in the wild, but they only hang around for a limited time before disappearing. Creatures that sort of look like rats or rabbits tend to spawn in the wild like, well, rats or rabbits. Other Pokemon characters are considerably more rare — not easy to find, catch, or hatch.

Pokemon can also be collected in eggs that must be incubated and hatched. Creatures that have already evolved cannot be hatched from eggs, however. Just like evolution in the real world, rules do seem to apply, but no one fully understands them or can even say what those rules are.

Most importantly, the game teaches us how evolution really works — you simply press a button that says “Evolve” and your Pokemon changes into a completely new creature, right before your very eyes.

It’s like a miracle! Of course, in order to successfully evolve a Pokemon requires just a tad more than the simple push of a single button.

First you must collect stardust — the complex chemical compounds that comprise all matter formed from stardust created by the death of a star. Just like the song Woodstock (written by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) says:

We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon.

Who could have guess that Pokemon are too, apparently. These cartoon creations require virtual stardust to evolve in their intelligently designed world.

And what was the other special “secret” ingredient that causes evolution of one Pokemon species into a completely different one?

Special Pokemon candy.

Apparently that’s the real secret of evolution.

SarcasmSociety

 

Waxing philosophical

Dr. Alex Malpass (photo YouTube)

Dr. Alex Malpass
(photo YouTube)

[To shorten this to a somewhat more palatable length, the original post was split in half. Because my intention was to present a solid philosophical argument to a philosopher, I decided to recruit an honest-to-God scientist to “moderate” the discussion and keep all of us honest. It turns out that my scientist friend didn’t really like anybody’s effort to make a coherent argument for God. Our correspondence will be included in the followup post, to be titled “The Philosophical Argument for God.”]

Some questions have easy, straightforward answers:

What is the sum of three plus four? How old are you? What did you have for dinner? Do you like chocolate?

How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man? 

Okay, so maybe that last question wasn’t that easy or straightforward, but it turns out the answer is 42.*

Other questions, for example such as our existential questions, may not have one clear and correct answer to existential questions such as:

Does God exist? What happens when we die? How did this universe originate from nothing? What existed prior to the Big Bang? How was life created from inanimate matter?

However, just because these other questions are extraordinarily more difficult to answer doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even bother to put out any effort looking for the answers. These are some of the most consequential questions we could ever seek to answer, because the truth could change the way we live our lives from day to day.

Philosophy professor Dr. Alex Malpass recently caused a minor sensation on the internet when he tackled the presuppositional Transcendental Argument for God (TAG) championed by Matt Slick, the founder of an organization known as the Christian Apologetics (&) Research Ministry, or CARM. Dr. Malpass is an expert applying logic to thought and writes a blog called UseOfReason.

Om that website Dr. Malpass revealed what he identified as a logical fallacy (a false dichotomy) in Slick’s TAG argument.  Dr. Malpass was then invited to appear on a podcast with Matt Slick and several others, something  called The Bible Thumping Wingnut Show (seriously, that really is the name of the show, which shall be abbreviated hereafter to the acronym BTWNS).

Matt Slick introduced the “laws of logic” into what is known as a disjunctive syllogism in an attempt to put forth an unbeatable argument for the existence of God, paraphrased in the following steps:

  1. God exists, or does not exist.
  2. If God does not exist, we have no explanation for the laws of logic.
  3. Logic exists. Therefore, God exists.

According to Dr. Malpass, Matt Slick has attempted to directly connect the laws of logic to the existence of God, using only logic and reason.

In my (never humble enough) opinion, logic and reason alone could never produce an argument that inspires any degree of confidence in any conclusions drawn — the scientific evidence currently available to us to use for evaluation purposes is much too important to be totally ignored.

Dr. Malpass said that it is perfectly copacetic to state a true (valid) dichotomy such as “God exists, or doesn’t exist.”

This is wonderful information. Boolean (binary) logic truly exists in the real world!

That’s very reassuring to know, because it often proved to be quite useful in the sterile, artificial world of computer programming, where software developers endeavor to simulate the real world as much as possible. A valid dichotomy gives us an opportunity to look for some common ground for a starting point.

Jumping into this debate will probably be a rather sticky proposition…unlike both of these gentlemen, I don’t hold any sort of advanced degree. My formal education ended with a BBA specializing in Management Information Systems from the University of Georgia.

Not to mention nobody asked for my opinion, but that’s never stopped me before.

Mr. Slick’s goal was far too optimistic, and Dr. Malpass’s rebuttal not very ambitious. Dr. Malpass only seeking to refute the argument of Slick on a technical argument, not a superior argument exposing the logic of atheism. Matt Slick sought to prove his own answer to an existential question was indisputably true, which is a most difficult proposition for that type of question.

I can’t conceive of a way to prove that so-called laws of logic could not exist independently of God — what would be the test? Likewise, pointing to a perceived weakness in the argument of Matt Slick does not really articulate a positive case for atheism, the logical alternative to any argument (or Counterargument) for God.southernprose_cover_CAFG

I never studied philosophy at any point during my formal education. The closest I’ve ever come was I read my son’s college textbook from his philosophy class to read on my own, which unfortunately lacking the instructor’s insights, opinions, and analyses.

The odds are very, very high that Dr. Malpass will find a minor technical flaw in the considerably more complicated philosophical argument I’d like make in the the place of TAG, but it is an argument which does not reach a definite conclusion about whether or not God exists. This alternate disjunctive syllogism to TAG merely asserts that the probability of God is extremely high, given logic, reason, common sense, and scientific evidence, of course.

This was the original dichotomy from TAG that Dr. Malpass suggested was true — God exists, or no God exists.

We immediately find ourselves with a problem to solve: what is the definition for “no God”? We cannot say the alternative to God is nothing, because that’s simply not accurate. God is literally indescribable, as far as physical attributes are concerned. We are given metaphysical descriptors such as omniscient and omnipotent, but all that really means is intelligence and power beyond human comprehension.

God is neither man nor beast nor object — God is no thing.

So what is a good definition of God? The best short answer I’ve come up with for the lack of a better one is “supernatural intelligence.” But what does that mean? What does supernatural intelligence represent? Nothing is God, except (possibly) God.

Instead of saying “God or nothing exists”, it seems that we must say something else. Using the helpful example given by Dr. Malpass, we can substitute another proper noun for God and clearly see the problem with our tautology as constructed: “Either Fred or nothing created the universe.”

Nothing makes for a lousy causative agent, however. The most logical alternative to supernatural intelligence that immediately comes to mind is random chance, or extraordinarily good luck.

A brief aside before continuing– many amateur evangelists for atheism like to describe as an “invisible man in the sky”, which is ludicrous for this reason — God is not a man nor in the sky. God would not merely be an extra terrestrial, either. If a supernatural God created this universe, by definition God would be extra universal, meaning not an occupant of this universe.

(Proposed) New Dichotomy — God exists, or extraordinary good luck exists.

Another way of saying this might be to say that God represents order, and good luck represents chaos. We can recognize the existence of complex systems and observe order that occurs within our universe.

The question is this: can order emerge from chaos?

The introduction of scientific evidence into our revised existential question should prove most helpful in building a logical justification for our attempt to eventually contrive a new, more accurate disjointed syllogism.

First, we need to establish few simple statements of fact which are not open for debate.

Axiomatic statements

  1. The universe exists.
  2. Life exists within the universe.
  3. Intelligence exists.
  4. Good luck exists.

Axiom #1 — the universe exists.

This is an easy scientific observation, pretty much a no-brainer. However it’s quite important to note that if this particular universe did not exist, then life as we know it would almost certainly not exist.

Axiom #2 — Life exists.

Rather obvious.

Axiom #3 — Intelligence exists.

We know that intelligence exists because we are able to use language to communicate. Humans think intelligence is so important, we’re trying to create an artificial form.

Axiom #4 — Good luck exists.

And we can observe enough examples of normal good luck to know it also “exists”. Several rather prominent atheists have even claimed that miracles have occurred, which in lieu of a belief in a supernatural God requires some unusually good luck.

But is that the kind of luck we’re talking about? Nope. The type of good luck we’re talking about to compete with a supernatural God as an explanation for existence virtually inconceivable good luck.

Now we need a set of generally accepted scientific claims to justify the previous paragraph.

Scientific claims

  1. The universe had an origin.
  2. The universe was fine tuned as it was created.
  3. Life had an origin.
  4. The origin of life was contingent on the origin of this universe.

Scientific Claim #1 — the universe had an origin.

The Big Bang became a widely accepted scientific theory for the origin of the universe after Edwin Hubble discovered red shift that showed the universe was expanding, confirmed in 1965 by the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) by Penzias and Wilson.

The logical argument for intelligence would typically cite the First Cause argument to improve the odds of success for this universe, .

The logical argument for extraordinary good luck probably uses a multiverse hypothesis to improve chances for a successful Big Bang, but the multiverse hypothesis actually tries to remove luck from the equation, not to improve odds of success.

Scientific Claim #2 — The universe was fine tuned.

Sir Martin Rees has published work describing the origin of the universe as “fine-tuned”, meaning six different cosmological values have been calibrated with extraordinary precision, so that the universe could exist and support complex living organisms, at least on our planet. Sir Roger Penrose has performed calculations that have lead scientists to conclude this universe was a highly unlikely product of random chance. To allow for an alternative to supernatural creation, multiverse hypotheses have been proposed to address the statistically unlikely nature of the fine-tuning problem.

However, the origin of the universe was not the only fine tuned process…immediately after the Big Bang, an event cosmologists refer to as inflation occurred, also with incredible precision, which Stephen Hawking speculated that had the timing and duration of inflation varied as little as 1 in a million million, the universe would have collapsed.

The logical argument for intelligence would be that an intelligent entity acting as tuner “fine-tuned” the universe and managed inflation for the purpose of creating a universe just right for complex living organisms to inhabit earth.

The logical argument for extraordinary luck again relies on a multiverse hypothesis to explain away the improbability of the Big Bang and then the improbability of inflation, without explaining how the hypothetical multiverse might manipulate the laws of physics inside our universe once the Big Bang occurred and it began to exist.

Scientific Claim #3 — Life had an origin.

Because the universe has not always existed and life only exists within this universe (as far as we know) it is safe to assume that at some point, inanimate matter transformed into a living organism.

Chemists call this hypothesis abiogenesis. Dr. James Tour, an expert on the subject, has said this:

We have no idea how the molecules that compose living systems have been devised in concert so they wold work in concert to fulfill biology’s functions. We have no idea how the basic set of molecules, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins were made and how they could have coupled in proper sequences and then transformed into the ordered assemblies until there was a construction of a complex biological system and eventually to that first cell. Nobody has any idea about how this was done when using our commonly understood mechanisms of chemical science.

The logical argument for supernatural intelligence submits that a Creator created life. DNA is much too complex to exist as a result of random chemicals assembling to form information.

The logical argument for unbelievable good luck says “Hey, we are here. Our proof that life could form by random chance is self evident, merely because we exist.”

In other words, with enough time, anything is possible.

Scientific Claim #4 — Life required this universe to exist.

In order for the universe to exist, first the Big Bang and then inflation had to occur, both in proper sequence and with perfect timing. According to experts on the subjects, the probability of either of these events was infinitesimally  low.

The probability of the origin of life could not possibly be greater than the probability of the origin of the universe, because life exists within this universe.

Illustrating with an example, let’s pretend the probability of the Big Bang and inflation randomly creating the fine-tuned universe is as high as 1 percent (we know it isn’t anywhere close to that because of Penrose and Hawking, but we’re pretending, so it’s okay.)

The probability of the origin of life could never be any greater than 1 percent, because life requires the universe to exist.

The logical argument for supernatural intelligence says that the probability for each future contingency becomes worse than the preceding events on which the new event depended.

In other words, evolution depends on successful abiogenesis, which depends on a successful Big Bang immediately followed by successful inflation. The reason animals appear to be designed to fulfill a specific role in the environment is because they are designed. DNA is biological software code more complex than computer code.

The logical argument for ridiculous good luck is that no matter how unreasonable the odds of good luck might be, the alternative — a supernatural God, is simply unthinkable. It doesn’t matter how improbable the Big Bang would be fine-tuned, inflation perfectly timed, and all the other factors involved might be.

However, I suspect that Dr. Malpass would agree that this last argument for extraordinary good luck commits the same fallacy allegedly made by Matt Slick with his TAG argument.

Finally, our attempt at a disjunctive syllogism to attempt an answer to an existential question using our new dichotomy.

Either supernatural intelligence created life and the universe on purpose, or incredible good luck created life and the universe by accident, due to random chance.

Fine tuning cannot be random if the universe and life are both contingent upon its necessary success.

Therefore, supernatural intelligence exists.

* With apologies to the late Douglas Adams

Arguments about God

Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer

One of the most frequent criticisms I receive is that I’m accused of being arrogant, a charge I will not deny. When one becomes extremely confident in the logic of his or her argument, it often comes across as arrogance. And to be brutally honest, I’ve gotten bored with responding to the average atheist’s arguments against God, because they usually aren’t very good and don’t require a great deal of effort to refute. To those aspiring to become evangelists of atheism (after all, Dr. Richard Carrier offers online courses in “counter apologetics” for atheists) my best advice would be to learn how to think critically — merely parroting Richard Dawkins, Richard Carrier or Sam Harris won’t win the competition for ideas against the likes of John Lennox or William Lane Craig. Or my own arrogant self, for that matter.

Quite frankly, the gladiator-style duels with amateur atheists that pass for debate on the internet have become old hat and really don’t present much of a challenge for me anymore. They are extremely tedious and very predictable. And after making the same basic argument for the existence of God about a decade now, I’ve yet to encounter a better argument coming from an atheist trolling the internet.

On the other hand, a debate against a serious, well known and well respected nontheist like Michael Shermer could prove to be very interesting and worth the effort for me.  Of course, the first challenge will be to engage Mr. Shermer in dialogue, unless I look for an argument to destroy that he’s made in the past. He’s got plenty of material available on the internet.

When former president of American Atheists Ed Buckner and I met to debate,  he also came prepared with a methodical argument for atheism that he’d polished over the years. The problem for Ed was that I had anticipated every argument he might possibly make in our debate beforehand, because he apparently follows the same script every time. Slated to begin the debate (because Ed wanted the final word), I enumerated the same seven bullet points that Ed would cover in his spiel in my opening remarks, and proceeded to eviscerate them before he ever got a chance to speak. That debate was fun to preparation and a great experience, but the most disappointing aspect of it was that we barely scratched the surface of my argument for God. We were both so focused on our battle of wits over Ed’s argument for atheism that we ran out of time to even mention my best scientific arguments for theism, my Big Picture argument.

Back to Michael Shermer, in one of the atheist-versus-theist “discussion” groups on Facebook (debate is obviously the wrong word to describe the immature trading of insults, standard fare for this sort of social media platform) someone posted an article by Derek Beres from Big Think titled “Understanding (and Refuting) the Arguments for God,” which claims to present ten arguments for God and the rebuttal arguments by Michael Shermer, from his book How We Believe: The Search for God in the age of Science.southernprose_cover_CAFG To avoid rather than exploit the same disadvantage I had over Ed Buckner, where I knew his argument but he didn’t know mine, I would be more than happy to provide Mr. Shermer (and Mr. Beres) with a free digital copy of my book Counterargument for God, so that they might fully understand the actual arguments that would need to be refuted, and not those straw man arguments suggested by Beres’s article.

At this point, I have less interest in “winning” another debate as much as seeing if any argument for atheism can actually demonstrate superior logic and reason that is supported by scientific evidence.

Assuming that Mr. Beres has accurately conveyed the work of Mr. Shermer, the title of his article immediately becomes problematic as it becomes painfully obvious from the very first bullet item that Mr. Shermer actually does not understand the arguments for God, so it would be virtually impossible for him to successfully rebut them.

For example, the first two arguments that Mr. Shermer proposes to refute are the Prime Mover and First Cause arguments, which Mr. Beres curiously asserts “rephrased, (means) God either must be in the universe or is the universe.”

With all due respect, that isn’t what the First Cause argument says at all. The First Cause argument simply says that everything that comes into existence must have had a cause.

Furthermore, theists more commonly will offer the Kalam cosmological argument, which uses the principle of First Cause as follows:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist (The Big Bang event.)
  3. The universe has a cause.

By this point Mr. Shermer’s rebuttal argument to the First Cause argument has already failed miserably and completely, because he never correctly understood the argument he proposed to defeat.

The supernatural Creator of this universe would neither exist within this universe, nor be the sum of everything in the universe (which is pantheism.)

This seems to correspond with the old atheist’s canard that God is nothing but “an invisible man in the sky” when in fact God is not human nor even part of this universe.

God is not merely an extra terrestrial; by definition created through an understanding of physics, God would be extra universal.

There are also problems with the very first sentence of the next argument, which Beres/Shermer refer to as the Possibility and Necessity Argument, which was asserted to be: “Not everything is possible, because that admits the possibility there could be nothing. If nothing had once existed, the universe could not have come into existence.”

The problem with that bit of pretzel logic is physicists have made exactly the opposite claim — this universe is believed to have had an origin, commonly called the Big Bang. And prior to the Big Bang, nothing existed — not even a single atom.

There simply is no evidence that a multiverse or quantum foam exists.

One of the atheist’s favorite arguments against God, that lack of evidence is also evidence of absence, can be applied here equally well to the atheist’s arguments that something always had to exist — it is an assumption.

While it might seem logically impossible for an entire universe to be created from absolutely nothing, nevertheless that certainly appears to be the opinion shared by most experts in physics and cosmology on the origin of the universe. We know this universe exists. We also know it hasn’t always existed.

But that’s about all we know for sure.

Looking over the rest of the ten so-called arguments for God listed by Michael Shermer, some were arguments I would never offer in a formal debate, such as Pascal’s Wager or fideism.  Faith is certainly important, but it isn’t an important part of my argument for God.

Shermer defines the moral argument as this question: “How can there be morals without God?” and then says that it would be ludicrous to assume everyone would turn into murderers, rapists, and robbers if God did not exist.

But again, that isn’t really the moral argument for God, at least not the one I would make: “Is morality objective, or relative?” is the better question, in my opinion. If morality is objective, it can only come from God. If morality is relative, it will differ from person to person.

13912628_10154376767664253_5250380521307257561_nBesides, not all atheists even agree about the existence of morality.

If God exists, adultery is morally wrong. Always. Period. No exceptions. If God exists, abortions would be immoral because having sex outside of marriage is immoral. Rape, robbery, and murder are criminal offenses, both illegal and immoral. Behavior as such is objectively understood to be morally wrong, which is why it was codified into law as punishable criminal activity.

To successfully refute an argument, one must first understand it. Either Shermer or Beres or both of them have misrepresented the moral argument. In fact, they don’t seem to have gotten any of the arguments for God right.

Not to mention, there are much better arguments for the existence of God than the moral argument.

What Shermer calls the “mystical experience” argument, which is about mystical or spiritual experiences that Beres dismisses because they can artificially be caused by ingesting LSD or some other hallucinogen. It should come as no surprise that hallucinogenic drugs can cause hallucinations, though. And there are several problems with the Shermer/Beres description of the argument as well as their rebuttal.

The first problem with atheists claiming that miracles don’t occur is that several other prominent atheists have described personally witnessing, investigating or experiencing miracles themselves. It would be presumptuous and unkind of me to assume Dan Barker or Jerry DeWitt were lying about their past experiences. The other significant problem with the atheist’s rebuttal to the miracle argument is a type of scientific evidence called corroborated veridical NDE information. This evidence describes accurate new information learned by the human mind independently of a functioning brain tissue, communicated after physical recovery, and then investigated and verified by independent researchers to be true.

Mr. Beres also wrote that he saw no reason to attribute chemistry to a creator, but that only tells me that he’s never listened to a lecture by Dr. James Tour speaking on the subject of abiogenesis. Life cannot evolve until it exists.

Shermer’s most pitiful effort was his “anti” teleological argument, the argument for intelligent design. Quite predictably, he cited perceived design flaws in living organisms and referred to purported “vestigial organs” such as the alleged hind legs in pythons.

The biggest problem with this particular argument against intelligent design is the simple fact the critics themselves can’t produce the superior design.

Atheists posing as neuroscientists will quickly tell anyone who will listen that the human eye is poorly designed. However, where is the artificial eye produced by humans with superior function and capabilities? If the organic eye created by nature really is so terrible, why don’t we manufacture our superior artificial eyes that are intelligently designed by humans?

Because we can’t…which reminds me of an old cliche I learned in my very first year as a professional software developer: those who can, do. Others criticize.

All that said, the real argument for intelligent design is a very logical and all encompassing one that I like to call “The Big Picture.”

The Big Picture argument for intelligent design primarily focuses on all the statistical probabilities related to analyzing and attempting to answer existential questions. It begins with improbability associated with a fine-tuned Big Bang anomaly, and what we know about inflation of the early universe based on the work of physicists such as Martin Rees, Roger Penrose, and Stephen Hawking. The Big Picture also includes what we’ve learned from chemists such as Ilya Prigogine and James Tour about the improbability of an accidental, unplanned origin of life event known as abiogenesis.

In short, Mr. Shermer barely scratched the surface of my argument for design, which for the record does not lack scientific evidence. Complimentary systems and food chains are but a very small part of that argument. The very same scientific evidence alleged to show proof for the theory of evolution — meaning DNA analysis, comparative anatomy and the fossil record are used in the design hypothesis I’ve dubbed “iterative creation.”

Once statistics are introduced into the design argument and applied to every facet of science involved to answer the existential questions, it becomes painfully obvious that by all logic and reason, we should not exist.

This fine-tuned universe should not exist. This universe is so highly improbable that the only way it can be deemed possible is if an infinite number of alternate universes that were not fine-tuned were also created at the same time by random chance, but failed to develop. This is known as the multiverse hypothesis. The only reason we’re having this discussion, though, is because this universe does indeed exist. Before the Big Bang advanced from hypothesis to become theory, it was common for people to assume the universe had always existed, because a universe with an origin creates some very serious logical problems. A universe with an origin can only have two options: it came into existence as the result of an extraordinarily serendipitous, perfectly timed sequence of events, or the universe was created by an astounding form of intelligence, for a specific reason (although we may not recognize or understand the logic behind that reason within the confines of our own mortality.)

There is no third alternative. We’re either here by accident, or we exist on purpose.