Adelaide Chapter

Archive for the ‘Philosophical Issues’ Category

Do we have Free Will?

Most naturalists or atheists believe that the mind is totally the result of the physical operation of the brain. If this is true, then all of our thoughts, emotions and choices are due to the physical movements of atoms and molecules within the brain and are ultimately solely due to the laws of physics. It then it seems to strongly imply that all our thoughts and choices are determined by the motion of particles within the brain and that our perception that we have free will is an illusion. (more…)

Should we argue for God’s Existence?

On Thursday the 21st of November Mike Russell spoke on “Should we argue for God’s existence?”  Mike believes that we should presuppose God’s existence in apologetic discourse. He calls his apologetic approach ‘no-excuse intuitionism’. The dividing line between what we should argue for using evidence and what we should presuppose is governed by the principle of no excuse. Any element of moral truth that a person needs to know to live a blameless life, he ought to know, and can know by intuition. However, the Holy Spirit works through the arguments and evidences from the Scriptures. Thus any other element of truth that a person needs to know to be saved through Jesus can and should be argued for using evidence and arguments.

So, according to Mike, if you do not believe in God, then you ought to, without requiring any evidence.

Some were convinced and others were not. Mike has provided us with his Power Point Slides and the presentation and discussion has been recorded on You Tube. The full content of his talk is the subject of his current Master’s thesis and so cannot be published. However, he is happy to provide the full text through Reasonable Faith Adelaide, provided that it is not published or passed on. Please email me if you would like a copy. We are also hoping that Mike will provide a brief summary that we can provide with this post.

mikeally

Mike is married to Ally, and they have four children.  He has been a Christian for around 20 years, and is Associate minister at St. George’s Magill. He is currently writing an MTh thesis in the area of apologetics.

Krauss Versus Craig

Why is there something rather than nothing?

Introduction

On Thursday 26th of September, Reasonable Faith Adelaide reviewed the “dialogue” between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss on the topic “Why is there something rather than nothing?” This dialogue was held on the 13th of August in Sydney.

William Lane Craig is the director of Reasonable Faith in the US and is a leading apologetics debater. He spoke at two functions in Adelaide via the City Bible Forum and many of us had the opportunity to hear him and meet him personally. However, his main activity in Australia was the series of “dialogues” with Lawrence Krauss.

Craig

Lawrence Krauss is a high profile New Atheist. He has spent a significant time in Australia and has appeared on Q&A on two occasions.

 krauss

There were 3 dialogues held in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Krauss chose a dialogue format rather than a debate. This enabled a highly interactive discussion that was quite volatile. For instance, in Brisbane Krauss launched a personal attack on William Lane Craig. He accused him of being a dishonest charlatan. He later softened his line a little and admitted that Craig was a gentleman who sincerely believed in his cause but still accused him of presenting deliberate distortions to bolster his arguments.

I highly recommend that you watch each dialogue and judge for yourself who the honest man really is. They are all now available from the City Bible Forum site at:

http://citybibleforum.org/city/melbourne-brisbane-perth-adelaide-sydney/news/videos-life-universe-and-nothing

The topic “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is closely related to Krauss’ most recent book “A Universe from Nothing”, which was reviewed by Mark Worthing on the 15th of August.

The dialogue format consisted of a 15 minute talk by each speaker followed by a discussion, moderated by Rachael Kohns, the presenter of “The Spirit of Things”, which is an ABC radio show.

Krauss’s Presentation

Krauss spoke first and his main points were:

  • Craig presents deliberate distortions
  • We are not the centre of the universe. There is no special place.
  • We live in flat universe, which has a total energy of zero. This suggests that the universe could come into existence from nothing without any “divine shenanigans”.
  • The Bible claimed that the universe had a beginning before science did. However, so did many other creation myths, so what is unique about the Bible? It is often claimed that the Bible is not a scientific book so why suddenly make a switch and claim that Genesis 1:1 is a scientific statement?
  • The fine tuning of the laws of physics is a source of fascination. However, a multiverse may explain the fine tuning and the fine tuning could be better. So the fine tuning is not evidence of divine design.

One of Craig’s commonly used arguments is the Kalam Cosmological Argument. He uses this argument to show that the cosmos had a beginning, which requires a transcendent cause by a necessarily existent being. One of the evidences to support a physical beginning is the Borde, Guth and Vlenkin (BGV) Theorem. In response, Krauss’s displayed the following personal email from Vilenkin:

Hi Lawrence,

Any theorem is only as good as its assumptions. The BGV theorem says that if the universe is on average expanding along a given worldline, this worldline cannot be infinite to the past. A possible loophole is that there might be an epoch of contraction prior to the expansion. Models of this sort have been discussed by Aguirre & Gratton and by Carroll & Chen…Jaume Garriga and I are now exploring a picture of the multiverse where the BGV theorem may not apply. In bubbles of negative vacuum energy, expansion is followed by contractionHowever, it is conceivable (and many people think likely) that singularities will be resolved in the theory of quantum gravity, so the internal collapse of the bubbles will be followed by an expansion. In this scenario,… it is not at all clear that the BGV assumption (expansion on average) will be satisfied… Of course there is no such thing as absolute certainty in science, especially in matters like the creation of the universe. Note for example that the BGV theorem uses a classical picture of spacetime. In the regime where gravity becomes essentially quantum, we may not even know the right questions to ask.

Alex

Krauss used this email to argue that the BGV theorem did not necessarily indicate a beginning. Krauss reused this email during the Melbourne dialogue.  In Melbourne Craig questioned Krauss on the missing bits indicated by the ellipsis markers. Krauss claimed that these were “technical bits”.

Subsequent to the dialogues, Craig wrote to Vilenkin, who supplied the full text of the email, as given below. The sections in bold are the “technical bits” that Krauss omitted.

Hi Lawrence,

Any theorem is only as good as its assumptions. The BGV theorem says that if the universe is on average expanding along a given worldline, this worldline cannot be infinite to the past.

A possible loophole is that there might be an epoch of contraction prior to the expansion. Models of this sort have been discussed by Aguirre & Gratton and by Carroll & Chen. They had to assume though that the minimum of entropy was reached at the bounce and offered no mechanism to enforce this condition. It seems to me that it is essentially equivalent to a beginning.

On the other hand, Jaume Garriga and I are now exploring a picture of the multiverse where the BGV theorem may not apply. In bubbles of negative vacuum energy, expansion is followed by contraction, and it is usually assumed that this ends in a big crunch singularity. However, it is conceivable (and many people think likely) that singularities will be resolved in the theory of quantum gravity, so the internal collapse of the bubbles will be followed by an expansion. In this scenario, a typical worldline will go through a succession of expanding and contracting regions, and it is not at all clear that the BGV assumption (expansion on average) will be satisfied.

I suspect that the theorem can be extended to this case, maybe with some additional assumptions. But of course there is no such thing as absolute certainty in science, especially in matters like the creation of the universe. Note for example that the BGV theorem uses a classical picture of spacetime. In the regime where gravity becomes essentially quantum, we may not even know the right questions to ask.

Alex

The missing bits don’t seem all that technical to me and they do throw a different light on Vilenkin’s views. A more extended record of the discourse between Craig and Vilenkin can be obtained from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/honesty-transparency-full-disclosure-and-bgv-theorem.

If you have been reading this summary carefully, you may have noticed that Krauss’s arguments are not particularly relevant to the topic. However, he did show a short video clip that explained how nothing is more complicated than previously thought. Craig subsequently provided a summary of Krauss’ claims about nothing, which I have listed below.

In 1922, William Hughes Mearns published the following poem.

The other day upon the stair

I met a man who wasn’t there

He wasn’t there again today

Oh, how I wish he’d go away

Mearns is guilty of calling nothing something. However, Krauss seems to be guilty of the opposite sin. He calls something nothing; and this was the main thrust of Craig’s argument.

Craig’s Presentation

“Nothing” is not a different type of something. It is “not anything”. However, Krauss defines something to be nothing. Here are some quotations from Krauss:

  • There are a variety of forms of nothing, they all have physical definitions
  • The laws of quantum mechanics tell us that nothing is unstable
  • 70% of the dominant stuff of the universe is nothing
  • There is nothing there, but it has energy
  • Nothing weighs something
  • Nothing is almost everything

The above quotations were almost identical with Krauss’s video clip. They all illustrate that Krauss is being misleading in his use of the word “nothing”. In all instance his use of nothing is really something, whether it be a quantum vacuum or quantum mechanical systems.

Craig further supported Krauss’s misrepresentation of nothing with a quote from “On the origin of everything” by David Albert, a philosopher of science.

Vacuum states are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff…the fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings…amount to anything even remotely in the neighbourhood of a creation from nothing. Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right.

See http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/a-universe-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 for the full text.

Craig then presented Gottfried Leibniz’ argument for the existence of God based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason:

  1. Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1 and 3).
  5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God (from 2 and 4).

I suggest you watch the video to see how Craig supported this argument.

Discussion

The interesting part of the discussion was on Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument. The central point of discussion was premise 2, “If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.” During Craig’s talk, he had presented arguments to support premise 2. Krauss’s question was, “If there is an explanation, why does it have to be God?” More importantly, what type of explanation are we talking about? Is it a causal explanation or is it about purpose? This is extremely important to the argument and Craig was about to explain. However, at this stage, Rachael (the moderator) was obviously out of her depth and so interrupted the argument with a silly question about aliens. So, all was lost and now we will never know. Thank you Rachael.

Conclusion

Some of the discussion was confusing and difficult to follow. In all 3 dialogues the discussion was hindered by Krauss’s frequent interruptions and shouting over the top of Craig to prevent him from completing his explanations. However, in my opinion one observation was clear from the Sydney dialogue. Krauss is equivocating in his use of nothing. He is confusing something with nothing to argue how the universe could arise from nothing, when it is really something. He has conceded that it is likely that the physical cosmos has a beginning, but has not in reality provided any explanation for its origin or the reason why it exists. Science attempts to explain how the physical world can be transformed from one physical state into another. However, it always presupposes a prior physical state. To explain how the physical world can arise from absolutely nothing is inherently beyond the scope of physics. That is what “meta-physics” is all about.

Kevin Rogers

Miracles, Weeping Statues and Aliens

This is a summary of Brian Schroeder’s talk on miracles, presented at Tabor College on 12 September 2013. The video recording is available on You Tube. His power point slides are available at Miracles.

Purpose/Aim

There are people who believe in miracles and people who don’t. There are people who want to believe in miracles and people who want to disbelieve in them. Many others – both denying and supporting ‘miracles’ – have come before me and produced much greater and more thorough efforts than me. (eg. see Kevin Rogers’ article on the RFA website).

The purpose of this article is to:

  • demonstrate that non-belief in miracles is a philosophical decision, not a rational or scientific one
  • define what “miracle” is
  • promote rational scepticism – a guarded open mind
  • differentiate between atheist and Christian apriori rejections
  • demonstrate the belief in miracles is perfectly rational

I will not look in detail here at specific Biblical miracles. My aim here is to promote rational thinking, to show that a proper examination of the evidence (and of the accounts of witnesses) is reasonable, rational and worthwhile. If miracles are real they can stand rigorous examination. If the are not then they need it. The claims, ramifications, and evidence are great enough that they deserve it and leave no basis, wishful thinking aside, for simply burying heads in the sand and chanting the mantra ‘miracles don’t exist’.

Issues

  • Are miracles possible?
  • Can miracles happen?
  • Have miracles happened?
  • Do miracles happen?
  • What exactly is a miracle?
  • What do we mean by the word?

What are Miracles?

Are they:

  • Something that cannot happen?
  • The least probable explanation for any given event?
  • A happening contrary to the laws of nature?
  • A highly unlikely good event (eg. winning the lottery)

Chambers Concise Usage Dictionary

  1. Something which man is not normally capable of making happen and which is therefore thought to be done by a god or God: Christ’s turning of water into wine was a miracle.
  2. A fortunate happening that has no obvious natural cause or explanation: It’s a miracle he wasn’t killed in the plane crash

David Hume

Of Miracles” is the title of Section X of David Hume‘s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (1748).

Hume starts by telling the reader that he believes that he has “discovered an argument […] which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion”.

Hume first explains the principle of evidence: the only way that we can judge between two empirical claims is by weighing the evidence. The degree to which we believe one claim over another is proportional to the degree by which the evidence for one outweighs the evidence for the other. The weight of evidence is a function of such factors as the reliability, manner, and number of witnesses.

Now, a miracle is defined as: “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.” Laws of nature, however, are established by “a firm and unalterable experience”; they rest upon the exception-less testimony of countless people in different places and times.

“Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happens in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country.”

As the evidence for a miracle is always limited, as miracles are single events, occurring at particular times and places, the evidence for the miracle will always be outweighed by the evidence against — the evidence for the law of which the miracle is supposed to be a transgression.

There are, however, two ways in which this argument might be neutralised. First, if the number of witnesses of the miracle be greater than the number of witnesses of the operation of the law, and secondly, if a witness be 100% reliable (for then no amount of contrary testimony will be enough to outweigh that person’s account). Hume therefore lays out, in the second part of section X, a number of reasons that we have for never holding this condition to have been met. He first claims that no miracle has in fact had enough witnesses of sufficient honesty, intelligence, and education. He goes on to list the ways in which human beings lack complete reliability:

  • People are very prone to accept the unusual and incredible, which excites agreeable passions of surprise and wonder.
  • Those with strong religious beliefs are often prepared to give evidence that they know is false, “with the best intentions in the world, for the sake of promoting so holy a cause”.
  • People are often too credulous when faced with such witnesses, whose apparent honesty and eloquence (together with the psychological effects of the marvellous described earlier) may overcome normal scepticism.
  • Miracle stories tend to have their origins in “ignorant and barbarous nations” – either elsewhere in the world or in a civilised nation’s past. The history of every culture displays a pattern of development from a wealth of supernatural events – “prodigies, omens, oracles, judgements” – which steadily decreases over time, as the culture grows in knowledge and understanding of the world.

Hume ends with a new theme: the argument from miracles. He points out that many different religions have their own miracle stories. Given that there is no reason to accept some of them but not others (aside from a prejudice in favour of one religion), then we must hold all religions to have been proved true — but given the fact that religions contradict each other, this cannot be the case.

(Wikipedia Article: “Of Miracles”)

Refuting Hume

According to the naturalistic view of the age and size of universe – human observations are minuscule in comparison (both time and space), negligible Þ not relevant. Thus Hume’s definition of natural laws coming from “the exception-less testimony of countless people in different places and times” is rather suspect.

Looking at the assumption that a miracle is something that is contrary to the laws of nature (David Hume) – how do we know?
We can define a law of nature as a repeated observation that something always happens the same way. For example, the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. But just because we have never observed something different does not of itself make that something different impossible.

The Fremantle Football Club has never been known to win an AFL premiership. Does that mean it is contrary to the laws of nature for them to do so? That it would be a miracle (ie. an impossibility) for it to happen? “Maybe” you may think. But none of us truly believes that. Even if they never win a premiership, we still believe it is naturally possible for them to do so.
Similarly, according to our observations dead people are not resurrected. That observation by itself is not proof that it cannot happen. It could be that it simply requires a specific set of (natural) circumstances for it to happen.

Another problem with Hume’s argument is that if any ‘miracle’ IS proven to have occurred then, according to his definition, it automatically ceases to be a miracle and becomes an intrinsic part of ‘nature’. Thus his argument distils down to: Anything that is impossible is impossible; anything that cannot happen will not happen. A tautology we can all agree with whole-heartedly. It is, however, meaningless and fails completely in its purpose.

Atheist Miracles

Despite all that, atheists believe in miracles too. According to Hume’s definition, the following examples are miracles:

  • “big bang” – once-only, unobserved creation of everything from nothing – all by itself and contrary to the laws of physics (ignoring attempts by some to redefine “nothing”)
  • spontaneous generation of life from non-life
  • the ability of randomly generated aggregations of matter to develop consciousness with the capacity to observe and reason validly
  • quantum mechanics – “spooky” action at a distance. Schrödinger’s cat… ? ERP Paradox
  • The greatest believed miracle: a material impersonal random non-rational universe created itself out of absolutely nothing and then, through totally random unthinking means created personal thinking rational sentient beings able to make sense of it all.
  • That the random arrangements and movements of material objects (eg. electrons, atoms) are able to provide objective trustworthy truth.
  • That there is actually believable meaning in our existence from all this.

If ‘miracle’ is the least likely explanation of any given phenomenon, then if the only available explanations are all miracles – the least unlikely miracle would seem to be the logical choice. Creation by an intelligent personal being seems the best such option.

Trusting our faculties

Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. And our senses are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion.” (CS Lewis – Miracles). Which leads to the obvious question: What basis do we have to trust our senses on anything?

So after viewing some optical illusions we face the question: what basis do we have to trust our senses on anything? From a purely naturalistic point of view – none. “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” ? J.B.S. Haldane, Possible Worlds

Scepticism

Scepticism is a good thing! The problem with most sceptics is that they limit their scepticism to a collection of their pet hates or personal biases. They rarely, if ever, question their own pre-suppositions. It is important that we question everything. That doesn’t mean we never accept anything, but it does mean we have good reason for what we believe, that we are less likely to get taken in by scams, less likely to be swayed by every glib-talking charlatan, “every wind of doctrine”, …

Sceptics criticize those who choose to believe in God because they (desperately) want a God to believe in; who cling to their belief despite all evidence to the contrary; who will not consider the evidence; who will not countenance any challenge to their deeply held beliefs/position/dogma.

Personally I agree. That is simply not a good enough attitude, or basis for anything. BUT most sceptics seem to cling to their position in exactly the same way. They so desperately want their beliefs/position to be true that they refuse to honestly consider the evidence.

In any society there are prevailing dogmas which one must believe, and which being sceptical of can be dangerous and bring swift retribution. Eg. (1) 14th century Europe: Christianity; (2) 20th century Iran : Islam; (3) Us here and now: global warming, evolution; etc.

It is important to recognize and acknowledge that we all have incomplete knowledge & evidence.

Christian De-mythologising

Some theologians have been convinced by the naturalists that miracles are simply not possible. They have therefore created a new theology to conform to that belief by ‘de-mythologising’ the Bible. Thus any miracle recorded there must be interpreted in some other way – eg.

  1. fiction with a moral,
  2. a later insertion by someone wanting to “sex up” the story,
  3. Primitive superstition from people who didn’t know better.

Unfortunately the Christianity they are left with bears little resemblance to historical Christianity, and contains very little to differentiate it from pure naturalism. It thus poses the question : On that basis, why associate themselves with such a religion? Why call/consider themselves Christians?

Apriori rejections

Atheists (and others) dismiss out of hand any possibility of miracles. They refuse to even consider the evidence. “Why waste time and effort on something when there is only one possible outcome anyway?”

Christians tend to take offence at such an attitude, But – What about:

  • fairies at the bottom of the garden?
  • “The Great Pumpkin”
  • Easter bunny?
  • Perpetual motion:
  • Horoscopes?

Are we any different? It is very important to examine our motives and our reasons. The approach of many (most?) Christians is no more valid than that of atheists, based on unthinking unexamined biases (whether or not those biases be true or false is another matter, and requires proper examination.) An open mind combined with proper scepticism is needed. (‘guarded open mind’)

False Miracles

There have been many false claims from both ‘Christians’ and others. Some have been outright frauds, some genuinely believed. Eg.

How on earth do they know it is Mary? How do they know what she looks like? Etc.

(Mostly of Mary – Why? If it is of God then why not Jesus? Good questions!)

Miracles and Magic

Any god we can control is, to some extent at least, acceptable. The big problem with the Christian God (and Muslim and Jewish) is that he wants to be in charge. He thinks he is God! And we can’t handle that.

The difference between miracles and magic is that miracles are done by this divine being who acts as if he is in charge. Magic, so we believe, is done by ‘me’, under my control, as I choose.

For Miracles the power resides in God. For Magic, the power resides in me.

Miracles are always presented as being good (even, for example, the plagues of Egypt are presented as an exercise of justice and the gracious offer of salvation). Even in popular thinking: ‘It is a miracle he survived the plane crash’. ‘It is a fluke he was killed in that freak accident’ – only the good is a miracle. Magic can be good or evil (“black magic”?) because it comes from the human heart. And “magic always comes with a price” – Once Upon A Time (TV series) – comes with a sting in its tail.

Magic, ESP, psychic powers, etc. are similar in nature to miracles, and so official scepticism is very high. But since they are believed to be intra-universe (if real) then the imperative to deny or debunk them is less. Thus some genuine scientific attempts to study these have been made.

Christians and Magic

God is Spirit (“Spirit” – not nebulous and less than real, but a whole other dimension > physical existence) {consider the analogy of 4D beings in a 3D world}

Christians also believe that God created other spirit beings, some of which rebelled against God. Like sceptics, Christians believe that magic is not a part of this naturalistic universe, and so, if it exists, must be due to the actions of these malevolent spirit beings.

Aliens

It is those who are most eager to find extra-terrestrial life who seem to be the most opposed to believing in God or in any sort of supernatural. They are so keen to define man as the measure of all things. They are at the forefront of the fight for equality – animals, the sexes, homosexuals, the disabled, and so on.

How would they feel if we discovered real aliens and they turned out to be genuinely superior to us in every way? Intelligence, strength, knowledge, wisdom, skill, appearance. Would ‘we’ worship them: Try to drag them down to our level? Try to destroy them? Fight to be accepted as equals, despite not being? Live in denial? What? How would they cope?

UFOs

Many people believe in UFOs – spacecraft piloted by aliens who come to visit our planet. There are stories and pictures (always blurry, never clear) of such incidents. Most such cases can be easily explained away (eg. weather balloon, meteorite). Some people, however, refuse to believe the simple explanations and continue to insist aliens are real and that official denials are just a cover-up. All this is despite the fact that according to the best physics at our disposal, if aliens DO exist they would/could never come here.
Do Christian (and other) claims of miracles fall into the same category?

Christians and Aliens

Christians who believe that God created the universe and us in it would readily accept that such a God could also have created other beings on other planets. However for various reasons not worth discussing here we consider such a possibility HIGHLY unlikely. According to all we know of science (incomplete as that is), one inter-stellar alien visit would be impossible, thousands on a regular basis even more so.

Still, Aliens if they do exist are a part of this naturalistic universe. So once again they do not present so significant a challenge to the sceptic. In fact the whole idea of aliens, despite their incredible unlikelihood, has so gripped popular imagination that SETI has garnered plenty of support, and anything that can be even vaguely interpreted as pointing to aliens is eagerly grasped at.
Aside from the general belief in aliens and UFOs, there is also a very small, but not insignificant, group of people who claim to have been kidnapped by aliens for various purposes (strangely, such people all seem to belong to so-called “western” nations – esp. USA – where alienism has a cult following – in contrast to belief in ‘miracles’ supposedly being predominant in primitive cultures). Not every such report, however, can be dismissed as insanity, hallucination, drug-induced, deliberate deception, or the like. Christian belief in malevolent spirit beings (as applied to magic above) would then be appropriate here too.

Miracles, God, Christianity

Performance magic (ie. illusions created by performers) appear impossible; appear to be magic; but that is only because we don’t know the trick, how it was actually done. Similarly miracles which appear to violate (what we think are) the laws of nature may just be so because we don’t know what is actually happening behind the scenes.

Note: this does not in any way deny the miraculous nature of the ‘event’, merely the claim that it is contrary to ‘the laws of nature’ and thus that it is unreasonable/unrational/wrong to believe that they can/do/may occur.

If you define ‘miracle’ as something that cannot happen, then miracles don’t happen. Simple. But that’s not what people mean by the word. A ‘miracle’ is generally considered to be a rare event (irrespective of the probability), a good event, and something requiring external input of some sort – where “external” => beyond the control of anyone involved.

If God exists, he may or may not perform “miracles”. Ie. He may or may not intervene to alter the course of events such that they are (noticeably) different to what would have happened anyway. BUT if miracles are real, then this implies that God must be also (since miracles come from God).

Just as atheists cannot countenance ID – irrespective of the evidence – because it implies an intelligent designer, so miracles must be rejected because they imply a (supernatural) miracle worker. Thus if your position is that “God does not exist” – that being one of the basic apriori assumptions on which your world view is built – then miracles MUST be rejected out of hand, no matter what the evidence.

Even one genuine miracle is enough to obliterate the foundation of everything you believe in, causing the entire structure of all you have built to collapse. Since this cannot be allowed, miracles must be denied no matter what.

 “Miracle” in the Bible

The Greek words translated “miracle” in our Bibles are ??????? and ??????? (dunamis and s?meion). These are generally translated as “power” and “sign” respectively. Thus what we call miracles were then considered to be acts of power, and/or signs to verify the status or claims of the one displaying them. Thus a miracle is something that would not or could not happen by itself in the normal course of events but requires the input of power from some external source. Similarly we have countless examples of things that require the input of power to happen – whether it be the conversion of small hard corn kernels into big fluffy pop-corn, enabling us to see when it is dark (electric lights), or the sending of men to the moon – contrary to the scientific law of gravity. So a miracle is no more contrary to the laws of nature than any of these ‘normal’ things, it simply has a different source for that input of power.

If God exists (in a theistic sense), then it stands to reason that he would take an interest in his creation (unlike a deistic god) and involve himself in it. It also stands to reason that a God sufficiently powerful to create the entire universe from nothing is not lacking in the where-withal to tweak things here or there. It is also perfectly possible that we may be totally unaware of much of what he does. (Whether or not such a God exists is another subject entirely. I am merely postulating here how such existence would outwork itself if true.)

Some interventions (tweakings) may be apparent to human observation. Some may even correspond to or follow human intercessions or requests. We may call these miracles.

Why he would do some things and not others we may think are equally or even more worthy we do not know. But we do know that his grasp of the big picture must be incomparably greater than ours (by definition), and that he always does what is right and best (see my previous discourse on Good and Evil for more info).

Examples

Multitudes of claims exist world-wide; some written up. Some are very doubtful, some highly credible, some extensively documented. Just because “you” claim to have never seen one doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I personally believe in many things I have never seen (eg. Moscow, Grand Canyon, neutrons, …).

Examining Miracles

According to Stephen Jay Gould the “non-overlapping magisteria” of science and religion must be kept distinct. Miracles would fall into the realm of religion and thus are a valid topic for religious discussion, but should be excluded from any empirical or rationalistic study since they are not a part of the real or material world in which we dwell. Just as fairies (or orcs and elves) may be a valid topic of discussion in literature circles, but not in history or science circles.

Related to this are the claims of the effects of prayer, since prayer is clearly a request to a deity. One problem with the idea of running ‘live’ studies is that it assumes ‘we’ can control God (assuming he exists) with our prayers. But if God is truly God then we can never control him. Consider Aslan in CS Lewis’s “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” – “He is not a tame lion. But he is good!” He is mighty and powerful, and does whatever he pleases.

However Candy Gunther Brown has ignored Gould’s view, and found ways to overcome the inherent problems to conduct successful and rigorously valid clinical trials that have shown much more significant results than expected from such a study. Her book, published by Harvard University Press is called “Testing Prayer, Science and Healing”.

Miracles and Coincidences

Some ‘miracles’ are not so much considered miraculous by their nature as by their timing or high degree of unlikelihood. (Eg. In “Vanya” – story of soldier granted leave contrary to all expectations). Consider the Biblical plagues of Egypt – All of these can be explained naturally (eg. see Immanuel Velikovsky “Worlds in Collision” – I am not endorsing his work, merely using it to demonstrate the possibility) – but for them to happen as and when they did with perfect timing verges on impossibility.

Thus some miracles are dismissed as merely coincidences. And the basic principles behind so doing are generally valid. Christians who believe in miracles also acknowledge readily that many unlikely events that take place are in fact genuine coincidences. Coincidences are real. None-the-less there are definite situations where the circumstances point so clearly to an external influence that, aside from apriori assumptions that this is not possible, “miracle” is clearly the best and most reasonable explanation.

Summary / Conclusion

  • If God does NOT exist and the material universe is all there is, then no matter what the evidence, miracles do not exist / are not real. They are merely natural phenomena which we do not (yet) understand. This is, however, begging the question and assumes the conclusion. (especially since, if true, we have no basis whatsoever to place any faith at all in our abilities to so determine.)
  • If God DOES exist then it stands to reason he has every right and all necessary power to influence/affect/engage with his creation in any way he sees fit.
  • Any such action would be in keeping with the natural order, laws which he created, and not “contrary to the laws of nature”. But, clearly, it would also result in a different effect than if he had not so acted – just the same as when any of us does anything.
  • This is thus (a) an exercise of power and (b) a sign to us of his existence and involvement.
  • Thus for anyone prepared to honestly and with guarded open mind to properly examine the evidence, belief in both miracles and the miracle worker is rational, reasonable, and easily the best interpretation and conclusion.

Post Modernism

Often, Christians are concerned about the dangers of “postmodernism”, while still being unsure what it actually means. On 29 August 2013 Matt Gray took us through the core aspects of postmodernism, including where and how they emerged. This included the high scholastic debates of the middle ages, through to the angry anti-imperial protests of the early 1990s.   A central issue in the discussion is how much of our culture is actually POST modern? What was so bad about modernity that people would want to move away from it? What about modernity are they moving away from? And how much of this cultural phenomena is a movement AWAY from modernity, and how much is it the ultimate fulfilment of modernity’s promises? Is it not POST modernity, but HYPER modernity?   In exploring these questions, we start to understand the cultural underpinnings that uphold many of the conversations we have in our society today, including apologetical discussions, such as sexuality, technology, and relativism.

mgray

Matt is one of Adelaide’s main thinkers on integrating Christian history into contemporary life. He has a wide grasp of the Christian story, and seeks to apply it to the individual Christian’s discipleship, and to the mission of the Church as a whole. In his teaching, he has a reputation for passion, humour, relevance and practicality. He is currently doing a PhD in history with Adelaide University; is a senior member of the missional Christian community of Glen Osmond Baptist; and regularly writes for an apologetics magazine online.

His talk was video recorded and is available on You Tube. The text of his talk can be accessed from Postmodernism PDF. See also his Power Point Presentation on Postmodernism.

Kant’s Critique of the Traditional Arguments for the Existence of God

This is a summary of the presentation given on the 4th of July. Unfortunately we were not able to video record the meeting. However, there were power point slides (see Kants Critique).

1         Kant for Dummies

When I was a young engineer, a senior manager at the Electricity Trust told me, “If you really understand something, then you can explain it simply”. I believe this is largely true. So, I am going to attempt to provide a simple explanation of Kant’s Critique of the traditional arguments for the existence of God. Unfortunately the converse does not apply. If you explain something simply, this does not necessarily mean that you really understand. Anyway, here we go.

After reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, the German Lutheran Pietist J. G. Hamann wrote “If it is fools who say in their heart there is no God, those who try to prove his existence seem to me to be even more foolish.” However, are Kant’s arguments correct and was Hamann right in his assessment? In fact, Kant’s arguments have not been universally accepted. So, at the risk of being a fool, I will reconsider Kant’s arguments and assess whether it is sound and valid to argue for the existence of God.

So, what were his arguments, are they valid, are they relevant to contemporary arguments and how do they affect the scope and usefulness of arguments for the existence of God?

1.1       Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a major philosopher during the period of the Enlightenment, which is a supposedly anti-Christian movement. However, Kant is not necessarily anti-Christian. He was brought up in a devout Lutheran family and never rejected that faith. Although he is famous for having launched a critique against the traditional arguments for the existence of God, he still believed in God. In fact he believed that atheism was dangerous to society and also developed an argument for the existence of God based on morality as outlined in his Critique of Practical Reason. Thus we can consider Kant’s critique as “friendly fire”. His intent was to clarify the limitations of the traditional arguments so that their claims were not overstated.

Immanuel Kant

During the Enlightenment the 2 major epistemological movements were rationalism and empiricism. The chief originator of empiricism was John Locke, who believed that all of our knowledge came through the senses. Rene Descartes was the father of rationalism. Descartes’ aim was to gain certain knowledge from a foundation of indubitable beliefs and to derive certain conclusions from that foundation using “Pure Reason”.

1.2       Critique of Pure Reason

Kant’s major work was the Critique of Pure Reason (1787). Kant was primarily an empiricist and his critique was an attempt to unite empiricism with rationalism, which he referred to as Pure Reason. In this work Kant also provided a critique of the traditional arguments for the existence of God. Kant’s critique has been highly influential.

Kant’s analysis of the arguments for the existence of God are contained in Transcendental Doctrine of Elements, Second Part, Second Division, Book 2, chapter 3, sections 3 to 7 of the Critique of Pure Reason.

2         Definitions of Terms

Before we review the traditional arguments we should be careful to define out terms, especially regarding existence. At least 3 types of existence have been identified. These are:

  • Impossible existence
  • Contingent existence and
  • Necessary existence.

Impossible existence refers to entities that cannot exist. These are usually entities that are logically impossible, such as square circles and married bachelors.

Contingent objects are those that we typically observe. They have a beginning, they are caused and we can imagine a world in which they do not exist. In other words they do not have to exist.

When we talk about God it is generally assumed that God is a Necessary Being. This may come in a number of flavours. It may mean that he is uncaused or has no beginning and is the cause of all other things. However, there is an even stronger sense. It may also mean that he exists necessarily. In other words it is impossible for God not to exist and that he must exist in all possible worlds. However, when we say that God is eternal and uncaused, are we necessarily asserting that God is necessary in this last and strongest sense?

Let us keep this in mind as we review Kant’s objections.

3         The Traditional Arguments for Existence of God

According to Kant (1787), there are only 3 arguments that need be considered. These are the Teleological (Design), Cosmological (First Cause) and Ontological arguments. “More there are not, and more there cannot be.” Why is this so? He does not say, but let’s just see what he says.

The Cosmological and Teleological arguments have been around since Plato and Aristotle. They depend on observations about the actual world and even have some basis in scripture, since Paul claims that God’s eternal power and divine nature is clearly perceived in what he has made.

The Ontological Argument, however, is of a quite different nature. It was invented much later in the 11th century. Nobody had thought of it before. It is nearly a purely logical argument with no reference to any particular thing in the actual world, except perhaps our minds.

Although the Cosmological and Design Arguments are much older than the Ontological Argument, Kant considers the Ontological Argument first. He argues that the Ontological Argument is a poor argument. He then argues that the other 2 arguments are ultimately dependent on the Ontological Argument and thus fall with it.

Thus firstly we will consider the Ontological Argument.

4         Ontological Argument

We have already considered the Ontological Argument 4 weeks ago (see http://reasonablefaithadelaide.org.au/the-ontological-argument/). However, I will give an overview. This will be an introduction for those who were not present at that meeting and some revision for those who were. I will provide an overview of the historical development of the Ontological Argument prior to Kant. This will cover Anselm, Gaunilo and Descartes. I will then summarise Kant’s Objections to the Ontological Argument, then compare modern Ontological Arguments and then give assessment of the relevance of Kant’s critique.

4.1       Anselm

The Ontological Argument was first developed by a Benedictine monk called Anselm (1033-1109), who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. The Ontological Argument is contained in the Proslogion, which means “discourse on the existence of God”. Even if his argument is not correct, it really is a stunning piece of original thinking.

AnselmCanterbury2

Psalm 14 states that “The fool says in his heart ‘There is no God’”. Anselm alludes to this passage and argues that even a fool has a concept of God. He states,

Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater. Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.

This passage is quite verbose, but we can simplify it a bit. Anselm reasoned that, if “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” existed only in the intellect, then it would not be “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”, since it can be thought to exist in reality, which is greater. Thus it follows that “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” must exist in reality.

Alvin Plantinga has provided a summary of Anselm’s argument in a more logical form:

  1. God is defined as the greatest conceivable being
  2. To exist is greater than to not exist
  3. If God does not exist then we can conceive of a greater being that does exist
  4. Thus if God does not exist then he is not the greatest conceivable being
  5. This leads to a contradiction
  6. Therefore God must exist

4.2       Gaunilo of Marmoutiers

In Anselm’s own time, his argument was opposed by Gaunilo of Marmoutiers. He parodied the argument by applying it to other entities, such as “A greatest conceivable island” or “a greatest conceivable lion”. This tactic has often been used to parody the ontological argument. However, this was not the approach taken by Immanuel Kant.

Gaunilo

4.3       Descartes

The Ontological Argument was developed further by philosophers such as Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz.

descartes

Descartes’ simplified argument can be summarised as:

  1. The very conception of God includes the possession of all perfections.
  2. Existence is a perfection.
  3. Therefore, it is inconceivable that God does not exist.

4.4       Kant’s Ontological Argument Objections

It is difficult to summarise Kant’s critique of the Ontological Argument simply. However, it seems that Kant is mainly targeting Descartes’ version, although he does not make this clear. The major points that he seems to be raising are.

  • The Ontological Argument confuses existence and essence
  • Existence is not a Predicate
  • Negation of the proposition “God exists” does not result in a contradiction
  • You cannot establish God’s existence merely from our conceptions of God

Kant’s critique of the Ontological Argument has not gone unchallenged. For each of Kant’s objections, I will mention counter objections that have been raised.

4.4.1     Confusing Existence and Essence

Descartes’ version of the Ontological Argument can be summarised as

  1. The very conception of God includes the possession of all perfections.
  2. Existence is a perfection.
  3. Therefore, it is inconceivable that God does not exist.

Descartes claims that existence is a perfection. However, Kant believes that Decartes is confusing essence with existence. The essence of God answers the question, “What is God like?” and describes God’s properties or characteristics, such as omniscience. However, the existence of God answers the question, “Does God exist?” Essence and existence are 2 different things. When Descartes claims that existence is a perfection, he is confusing or conflating essence with existence. On this issue Kant may well be right.

4.4.2     Existence is Not a Predicate

Kant’s main critique of Anselm’s and Descartes’ version of the Ontological Argument is that existence is not a predicate. Propositions consist of a subject and a predicate. For instance, in the sentence “A dog has four legs”, the dog is the subject and “has four legs” is the predicate. The predicate describes properties of the subject. By claiming that existence is not a predicate, Kant is challenging the claim that existence is a perfection, or that to exist is greater than to not exist.

4.4.3     Negation is not a Contradiction

Kant claims that “God exists” is not a necessary truth. Some statements are necessarily true, since their negation entails a contradiction. A couple of examples are:

  • All bachelors are unmarried
  • All squares have 4 sides

If we negate the predicate we get a contradiction, eg

  • All bachelors are married
  • All squares do not have 4 sides

However, consider the statement “God exists”. If we negate the predicate we get “God does not exist”. However “God does not exist” is a coherent statement that does not entail a contradiction. Thus Kant argues that “God exists” is not a necessary truth. In this respect I think Kant is right. The statement “God exists” is not a necessary truth. However, I think Kant confuses “necessary truth” with “Necessary Being”. The Ontological Argument is not arguing that “God exists” is a necessary truth. It is arguing that God exists necessarily, and that is different.

4.4.4     Conceptual Conundrum

Anselm argues for concepts in our minds to the objective existence of God. However, Kant argues that we cannot establish God’s existence merely from our conceptions of God. How can a conceptual conundrum in the mind affect a being’s objective existence?

4.4.5     Kant’s Conclusion

Thus Kant concludes his discussion with the cutting assessment that the Ontological Argument “neither satisfies the healthy common sense of humanity, nor sustains the scientific examination of the philosopher.”

This all sounds very damning, but are Kant’s objections valid?

Kant claims that he is targeting Ontological arguments in general, but he seems to be mainly targeting Descartes’ version rather than Anselm’s.

4.5       Response to Kant’s Ontological Argument Objections

Two objections to Kant’s critique of the Ontological Argument are that

  1. His Predicate Argument is irrelevant, and that
  2. Necessary Existence is indeed a Property

4.5.1     Predicate Argument is Irrelevant

Kant’s most famous objection to the Ontological Argument is his claim that existence is not a predicate. However, even this has been challenged by eminent philosophers. Alvin Plantinga has claimed that Kant’s predicate argument is irrelevant to Anselm’s Ontological Argument.

Alvin_Plantinga

He states:

Kant’s point, then, is that one cannot define things into existence because existence is not a real property or predicate in the explained sense. If this is what he means, he’s certainly right. But is it relevant to the ontological argument? Couldn’t Anselm thank Kant for this interesting point and proceed merrily on his way? Where did he try to define God into being by adding existence to a list of properties that defined some concept? …If this were Anselm’s procedure … then indeed his argument would be subject to the Kantian criticism. But he didn’t, and it isn’t. The usual criticisms of Anselm’s argument, then, leave much to be desired. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the argument is successful, but it does mean that we shall have to take an independent look at it.

Plantinga’s counter objections are not universally accepted (Robson 2012). However, they do illustrate that Kant’s predicate critique of Anselm’s version of the Ontological Argument is not universally considered to be watertight.

4.5.2     Necessary Existence is a Property

One of Kant’s key claims is that existence is not a property and the Ontological Argument fails because it assumes it is. However, he then proceeds to apply this to necessary existence. The idea of necessary existence is not the same thing as the idea of a being whose properties include existence. A being exists necessarily if it is impossible for that being not to exist. This need not involve the inclusion of a property called existence. Necessary existence is a type of existence and hence necessary existence is indeed a property.

4.6       Does it apply to Modern Arguments?

Alvin Plantinga has been critical of Kant’s arguments regarding Anselm’s formulation of the Ontological Argument. However, he has also proposed a revised form of the ontological argument called the Modal Ontological Argument, which goes as follows:

  1. It is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists
  2. If it is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists, then a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world
  3. If a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world, then a Maximally Great Being exists in every possible world
  4. If a Maximally Great Being exists in every possible world then a Maximally Great Being exists in the actual world
  5. Therefore a Maximally Great Being exists

Plantinga believes that his argument avoids Kant’s fire. He claims:

Now we no longer need the supposition that necessary existence is a perfection; for obviously a being can’t be omnipotent (or for that matter omniscient or morally perfect) in a given world unless it exists in that world… It follows that there actually exists a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect; this being, furthermore, exists and has these qualities in every other world as well.

However, Plantinga concedes:

But obviously this isn’t a proof; no one who didn’t already accept the conclusion, would accept the first premise. The ontological argument we’ve been examining isn’t just like this one, of course, but it must be conceded that not everyone who understands and reflects on its central premise — that the existence of a maximally great being is possible — will accept it. Still, it is evident, I think, that there is nothing contrary to reason or irrational in accepting this premise. What I claim for this argument, therefore, is that it establishes, not the truth of theism, but its rational acceptability. And hence it accomplishes at least one of the aims of the tradition of natural theology.

4.7       The Essence of the Ontological Argument

To me the essence of the Ontological Argument is that if it is possible that a Necessary Being exists, then a Necessary Being must exist in all possible worlds. This seems quite logical. However, the following issues still need to be resolved:

  • Is a Necessary Being possible?
  • Can we show that the Necessary Being is maximally perfect and is God?

4.8       Conclusion on the Ontological Argument

There seems to be an essential difference between Anselm’s version of the Ontological Argument and Plantinga’s. Anselm seems to be arguing that it is impossible for God not to exist, whereas Plantinga is arguing that if it is possible for God to exist, then he must exist. However, he leaves the possibility of God’s existence as an open issue that people will debate. Thus Plantinga concludes that it is rational to believe in God but the Modal Ontological Argument is not a proof.

Personally I am not convinced by either Anselm’s or Decartes’ version of the Ontological Argument and so I am not overly perturbed by Kant’s critique. However, I am more interested in his critique of the Cosmological argument. Has Kant undermined the Cosmological Argument in all of its possible forms?

At first sight it seems strange that Kant can possibly claim that the Cosmological Argument and Design Argument are dependent on the Ontological Argument. After all the Cosmological Argument and Design Argument have been around for over a thousand years before the Ontological Argument was ever thought of (or conceived – pun intended).

However, Kant believes that the cosmological and design proofs presuppose the ontological proof since these proofs conclude that a Necessary Being must be a most real or most excellent being. Thus even if the Cosmological Argument or Design Argument can show that a Necessary Being must exist, they then rely on the Ontological Argument to show that the Necessary Being is God.

Kant then argued that the Cosmological Argument is dependent on the Ontological Argument. Thus he believes that, if the Ontological Argument fails, the Cosmological Argument and the Design Argument fall with it.

Firstly we will consider the Cosmological Argument.

5         Cosmological Argument

Kant’s main attack on the Cosmological Argument is that it is dependent on the Ontological Argument. The Ontological Argument argues God is a Necessary Being. Kant claims that the Cosmological Argument argues for the existence of a Necessary Being, which it then identifies as God. Kant accepts that there must be a Necessary Being in order to avoid an infinite regress. However, he disputes that it can be proven that the Necessary Being is God. He believes that the Cosmological Argument relies on the Ontological Argument to make that association. Thus if the Ontological Argument fails then the Cosmological Argument falls with it. However, is Kant right about this dependency?

5.1       Dependency Arguments

Kant seems to use 3 arguments to show the dependency of the Cosmological Argument on the Ontological Argument.

Kant’s key arguments for making the Cosmological Argument dependent on the Ontological Argument are that the Cosmological Argument assumes that:

  1. a Necessary Being is Possible
  2. the Necessary Being is Actual
  3. the Necessary is God

5.1.1     Necessary Existence is Possible

Firstly the Cosmological Argument seems to presuppose that necessary existence is possible and then shows that it is actual, since if it is not possible then it cannot be actual. Kant’s argument goes something like this:

  1. The concept of a Necessary Being appears in both arguments.
  2. The Cosmological Argument assumes that necessary existence is at least possible since if it is not possible it cannot be actual.
  3. This is a conclusion of the Ontological Argument.
  4. Thus the Cosmological Argument is dependent on the Ontological Argument.

However, the Cosmological Argument does not assume that necessary existence is possible. Instead, the argument tries to show that necessary existence is actual, from which we can infer that it must be possible. This practice is currently used in science. Cosmologists have proposed the existence of Dark Matter and Dark Energy to explain the motion of galaxies. They have little idea what they are and so cannot directly prove that they are possible. However since they are actual, they must be possible.

5.1.2     The Necessary Being is God

The second reason that Kant provides for the dependency of the Cosmological Argument on the Ontological Argument is that the Cosmological Argument relies on the Ontological Argument to associate the Necessary Being with God. Kant claims that the Ontological Argument shows that God is a Necessary Being and therefore exists. The Cosmological Argument shows that a Necessary Being exists, but then relies on the Ontological Argument to infer that the Necessary Being is God.

However, this is not necessarily so. William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument does not go via this route. We will discuss the Kalam Cosmological Argument later.

5.2       Additional Objections

As well as claiming that the Cosmological Argument is dependent on the Ontological Argument, Kant raises additional objections to the Cosmological Argument itself.

Kant thinks that space and time are absolutely necessary and are examples of some things that are necessarily existent apart from God. However, Kant’s views are simply dated and have been overtaken by recent scientific discoveries.

One of Kant’s aims was to define appropriate limits for the exercise of pure reason. He does not disparage pure reason altogether as much of his critique is pure reason. However, his belief that space and time were infinite and existed independently of God was, he believed, a valid conclusion based on pure reason. It was this belief that caused him to claim that a finite past led to contradictions. However, it appears he was wrong. Later empirical evidence has led to the conclusion that space and time are finite, which means that there is no contradiction if the universe has a finite past. In this case, it seems that Kant has overstepped the use of pure reason, which probably illustrates his point.

5.3       Kalam Cosmological Argument

William Lane Craig is a current proponent of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

I will cover:

  1. The argument
  2. Justifying the premises
  3. The conclusions drawn

5.3.1     The Argument

Craig’s formulation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument can be summarised by the following syllogism (2008):

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore the universe has a cause.

5.3.2     Justifying the Premises

For the most part, premise 1 is usually accepted as being intuitively obvious. Most of his effort goes into justifying premise 2. Premise 2 is justified using 2 philosophical arguments and 2 arguments from scientific discoveries during the last 100 years, which are:

  1. Philosophical Arguments
    1. It is impossible to instantiate an actually infinite set. Thus there cannot be an infinite sequence of causes.
    2. It is impossible to traverse an infinite sequence of causes.
  2. Scientific Arguments
    1. The second law of thermodynamics implies that there cannot be an infinite past.
    2. The expansion of the universe implies that the universe cannot be past infinite and originated in an event 13.3 billion years ago, referred to as the Big Bang.

5.3.3     Argument Conclusions

Craig then uses information about the Big Bang to derive various attributes of the initial cause. The Big Bang marked the beginning of matter, energy, space and time. Thus the cause must at least be transcendent, timeless and powerful. These attributes are not derived from any a priori argument.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument does not argue that the cause of the universe is a Necessary Being or even God. It limits itself to those properties that are directly implied by the empirical and logical evidence.

6         Design Argument

Kant (1787) says that the Design Argument may demonstrate a designer who modifies the form of matter but not a creator of matter. To demonstrate the existence of a creator, we must rely on the Ontological Argument and the Cosmological Argument, which he regards as spurious. This proof can at most, therefore, demonstrate the existence of an architect of the world, whose efforts are limited by the capabilities of the material with which he works, but not of a creator of the world, to whom all things are subject.

In other words, the Design Argument may still be valid, but it is just limited in scope. However, this is not of serious concern. The aim of the arguments for the existence of God is mainly to establish God’s existence, not to completely define God’s attributes, and if the Design Argument is sound, then it is also decisive. The main challenge to the Design argument came much later with Darwin’s theory of evolution, which provided a naturalistic explanation of design within living creatures. To overcome this, the Design Argument has been revived in the form of the Fine Tuning Argument, which highlights design in the laws of physics, which are not subject to a Darwinian explanation. Craig’s formulation of the Fine Tuning Argument can be summarised by the following syllogism:

  1. The fine tuning of the initial conditions of the universe and of the constants in the laws of physics are due to law, chance or design.
  2. They are not due to law or chance.
  3. Therefore they are due to design.

Craig then uses this syllogism to argue for a designer of the universe.

7         Craig’s arguments

From all of the above arguments it is deduced that God is maximally great, exists necessarily, is transcendent, timeless, powerful and the designer of the universe. The Plantinga version of the Ontological argument is not subject to the critique that existence is a perfection. The Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument do not rely on any support from the Ontological Argument. Thus these arguments are immune from the main thrust of Kant’s critiques. However, these arguments still have limitations. They are arguments, not proofs. An atheist can always choose not to believe the premises, although the intent is to make the atheist pay an intellectual price for doing so. If well presented, they should demonstrate that it is rational and reasonable to believe in God. In addition, these arguments do not specifically point to the Christian God and are used by Jews and Muslims as well. Specifically Christian arguments must rely on evidence from the New Testament.

I personally do not find the Ontological Argument to be particularly compelling, but I do find the Kalam Cosmological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument to be quite convincing. I believe this has Biblical warrant, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what he has made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Here Paul seems to be agreeing with the main thrust of the Cosmological and Design Arguments by saying that the observable world provides compelling evidences for some of the properties of the invisible God. If Paul is correct, then well-constructed Cosmological and Design Arguments should provide reasonable evidence for the existence of God.

8         Conclusion on Validity

Kant was also a man of his own time. He lived during the peak of the Enlightenment and many of his views reflect that influence. For instance, Kant claims that the Cosmological Argument is based on the “spurious transcendental law of causality”. It is not certain whether Kant is deriding the law of causality in general or just the notion of a transcendent cause. However, this statement reflects Hume’s scepticism regarding cause and effect, but should we concur with Kant that the principle of cause and effect is spurious? The Enlightenment project aimed to achieve certainty either by rationalism or empiricism. However, it failed to provide assurance even on the principle of cause and effect. However, this principle is the basis of science and is intuitively accepted to be true. After all, according to Francis Bacon, “science is the study of secondary causes”. Kant’s scepticism should be borne in mind when evaluating his critique of the Cosmological Argument. Kant is working from a standard of rigour and a desire for certainty that most scientists and ordinary people would consider to be unrealistic.

There have been a number of critics that have shown that there are numerous weaknesses in Kant’s arguments. However, his arguments have still been widely accepted, even amongst Christian theologians and apologists. Why is this so? Joyce (1922) provides a possible explanation:

It is not to be denied that ever since Kant’s time an impression has prevailed widely that the old proofs are no longer defensible. Possibly the mere fact that an eminent thinker had ventured to call in question such seemingly irrefutable arguments seemed by itself almost equivalent to a disproof. But another reason also, extrinsic it is true to the merits of the criticism, but none the less effective, operated in favour of this result. During the last century, rationalism, in the form either of naturalism or of idealism, had become strongly entrenched in the great centres of learning. It was only natural that thinkers who had discarded belief in a personal God should applaud Kant’s conclusion, even if they might hesitate to affirm that his criticism of the proofs was in all respects sound. Thus it came about that those who admitted the value of the traditional arguments were regarded as out of date. Often the validity of Kant’s objections is simply taken for granted, and the proofs of God’s existence dismissed without more ado. Even some of the apologists of revealed religion, eager not to be behind the fashion, discard them as untenable.

9         Assessment

Probably the strongest point that Kant made was that existence is not a predicate, which (to some degree) undermined the Ontological Argument, as formulated by Anselm and simplified by Descartes. Prior to Kant the arguments were regarded as proofs. One of the themes that came out of the Enlightenment was that this level of certainty is just not possible. On the other hand, I believe that Kant’s arguments on the dependency of the Cosmological Argument and Design arguments on the Ontological Argument are highly dubious.

I believe it is beneficial to be aware of Kant’s arguments and to be careful not to overstate the effectiveness and scope of Craig’s arguments. They are arguments, not proofs. However, people like Craig and Plantinga are well aware of Kant’s critique and their arguments are well crafted to avoid Kant’s fire. I have not seen any debate where Craig has been attacked directly on the basis of Kant’s critique, but occasionally some of Kant’s arguments do reappear without Kant being directly invoked.

Thus, in conclusion, I believe we can thank Kant for his interesting points and then proceed merrily on our way.

10    References

Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd edition, Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008.

Joyce, G.H., Principles of Natural Theology, Longmans, Green and Co., New York, Toronto, Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras, 1922.

Kant, I. The Critique of Pure Reason, 2nd edition, 1787, translated by J.M.D. Meiklejohn, A Penn State Electronic Classic Series Publication, Pennsylvania State University, 2010.

Koons, R.C. Western Theism, Lecture notes and bibliography from Dr. Koons’ Western Theism course (Phl 356) at the University of Texas at Austin, Spring 1998, http://www.leaderu.com/offices/koons/, in particular Lectures 5&9.

Plantinga, Alvin, God, Freedom and Evil, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1974. The pertinent section on the ontological argument is quoted at http://mind.ucsd.edu/syllabi/02-03/01w/readings/plantinga.html.

Robson, Gregory, The Ontological Proof: Kant’s Objections, Plantinga’s Reply, KSO 2012: 122-171, posted August 26, 2012 www.kantstudiesonline.net.

Worthing, M., Apologetics Intensive Lecture Notes, Section 05, Apologetics, proofs and science, 2012.

http://www.scandalon.co.uk/philosophy/philosophy.htm

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/

http://www3.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/pnt.htm

 

Molinism

Arminianism and Calvinism are 2 views on the sovereignty of God and human freedom over which Christians have been divided. Arminianism emphasizes the freedom of the human will and responsibility in choosing to follow Christ, whereas Calvinism emphasizes God’s sovereignty in choosing the elect in accordance with His own free and unmerited favour.

On Thursday the 20th of June John Quin provided a presentation on Molinism. Molinism is named after the 16th Century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina. It is a doctrine that attempts to reconcile the providence of God with human free will and supposedly is a middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism. Molinists hold that God knows what His creatures would freely choose if placed in any circumstance in addition to knowing everything that does or will happen. William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga are some of its best known advocates today and use its principles to address the problem of evil.

Unfortunately video recording equipment was not available on the night. John seemed quite delighted. However, here are John’s Power Point slides on Molinism.

Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument

The Principle of Sufficient Reason

By Kevin Rogers

1         Introduction

Why does anything at all exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? These were the questions that Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) raised, and from them he developed an argument for the existence of God based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). The PSR is one form of various cosmological arguments.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)

Leibniz was a German mathematician and philosopher. In mathematics, he was the co-inventor (with Isaac Newton) of calculus, the first inventor of a mechanical calculator and the inventor of the binary number system. In philosophy, he suggested that we live in the “best of all possible worlds”, he was a key thinker in the development of rationalism and also a forerunner of modern logic and analytic philosophy. In his latter years, he fell out of favour due to disputes with Newton on whether he had copied Newton’s ideas on calculus. His writings were largely forgotten, but were revived in the 20th century, and he is now highly regarded.

2         The Argument

Leibniz’s argument consists of 3 premises and 2 conclusions, as follows:

  • Premise 1: Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence
  • Premise 2: If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God
  • Premise 3: The universe exists
  • Conclusion 1: The universe has an explanation of its existence
  • Conclusion 2: Therefore the explanation of the universe’s existence is God

However, is it a good argument? A good argument must satisfy the following criteria:

  1. The premises must be true, and
  2. The conclusions must follow logically from the premises.

In this article, I will work backwards. I will firstly discuss the logical structure of the argument (its validity) and then consider the premises. We will firstly assume that the premises are true and verify whether the conclusions follow from the premises.

3         Logical Structure

Conclusion 1 is justified by Premise 1 and 3 as follows:

  • Premise 1: Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence
  • Premise 3: The universe exists
  • Conclusion 1: The universe has an explanation of its existence

Thus if everything that exists has an explanation of its existence and the universe exists, then it follows that the universe has an explanation of its existence.

Conclusion 2 follows from premise 2 and conclusion 1 as follows:

  • Premises 2: If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God
  • Conclusion 1: The universe has an explanation of its existence
  • Conclusion 2: Therefore the explanation of the universe’s existence is God

I think it is fairly self-evident that the logical structure of the argument is valid. Now we will look at the premises.

4         Are the Premises True?

4.1       Premise 3

Premise 3 states that the universe exists. I think this is fairly self-evident. I am sure that there have been extreme sceptics that have questioned this claim, but I will not concern myself with them.

4.2       Premise 1

4.2.1       Objection 1 – How do we explain God?

Premise 1 states that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence. This has prompted the following objection:

If premise 1 is true, then God must have an explanation of his existence. The explanation of God’s existence must be some other being greater than God. That’s impossible; therefore, premise 1 must be false.

However, this objection is a misunderstanding of what Leibniz meant by “explanation”. According to Leibniz, there are 2 kinds of explanations:

  1. Beings that exist necessarily (necessary beings), or
  2. Beings that are produced by an external cause (contingent beings).

Necessary beings are those that exist by a necessity of their own nature. In other words it is impossible for them not to exist. Some mathematicians believe that abstract mathematical objects, such as numbers, sets and shapes (e.g. circles and triangles) exist necessarily. Necessary beings are not caused to exist by an external entity and necessarily exist in all possible worlds.

On the other hand, contingent beings are caused to exist by something else. They do not exist necessarily and exist because something else produced them. This includes physical objects such as people, planets and galaxies. It is easy to imagine possible worlds in which these objects do not exist. Thus we could expand premise 1 as follows:

Premise 1: Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either due to the necessity of its own nature or due to an external cause.

It is impossible for God to have a cause. Thus Leibniz’s argument is really for a God who must be a necessary, uncaused being. Thus the argument helps to define and constrain what we mean by “God”.

4.2.2       Objection 2 – Does the Universe need explaining?

Some atheists have objected that premise 1 is true of everything in the universe, but not the universe itself. However, it is arbitrary to claim that the universe is an exception. After all, even Leibniz did not exclude God from premise 1.

4.2.3       Objection 3 – An Explanation of the Universe is Impossible

Some atheists have suggested that it is impossible for the universe to have an explanation of its existence. Their argument goes something like this:

The explanation of the universe would have to be a prior state of affairs in which the universe did not exist. This would be nothingness. Nothingness cannot cause anything, Therefore the universe exists inexplicably.

This objection assumes that the universe includes everything and that there is nothing outside the universe, including God. The objection has excluded the possibility of God by definition. However, an alternative definition is that the universe contains all physical things, but that God exists apart from the universe. This objection assumes that atheism is true and argues in a circle. It is clearly begging the question.

4.3       Premise 2

Premise 2 states that if the universe has an explanation of its existence, then that explanation is God. This appears controversial at first, but in fact it is not. This is because atheists typically argue that if atheism is true, then the universe has no explanation of its existence. Thus if there is an explanation of the universe, then atheism must be false (i.e., God is the explanation of the universe). This conclusion follows from the following rule of logic: If p => (implies) Q, then “not Q” => “not P”. An example is, “If it is raining, then there are clouds. Thus if there are no clouds, then it is not raining.”

One may object at this point that the word “explanation” is ambiguous. An explanation for something may be due to either an intelligent agent or a mindless, unintelligent prior event or cause. For example, suppose we have a rusty car. The existence of the car was due to intelligent agents, but the rusty degradation was due to mindless, unintelligent causes. If the ultimate explanation of the universe is mindless and unintelligent, then the argument does not take us very far. However, could the existence of the universe be ultimately due to mindless causes?

However, I don’t think that the LCA necessarily demands that the observable universe has an intelligent explanation of its existence. For example, suppose that this universe was birthed by some other universe. Well, that other universe would be the explanation of its existence. Of course, that would simply push the problem back one step further. Even if an atheist wants to appeal to an infinite past succession of universes, we can still ask of that infinite succession, “Why does it exist, rather than nothing and what is its explanation?” But at that point, what kind of explanation can there be other than some transcendent, necessary cause? So a rational atheist is forced to either concede the argument or claim that the cosmos exists inexplicably (without explanation).

4.4       Objection 4 – The Universe exists Necessarily

All atheistic alternatives now seem to be closed, but not quite. Some atheists have claimed that the universe exists necessarily (i.e., the universe is a necessary being). If that were the case, then the universe would not require an external cause. However, this proposal is generally not taken seriously for the following reason. None of the universe’s components seem to exist necessarily. They could all fail to exist. Other material configurations are possible, the elementary particles could have been different and the physical laws could have been different as well. Thus the universe cannot exist necessarily.

However, is it valid to resort to God as the explanation of the universe? Are there other possibilities? The universe consists of space, time, matter and energy. The cause of the universe must be something other than the universe. Thus the cause of the universe must be non-physical, immaterial and beyond space and time. Abstract objects are not possible candidates as they have no causal relationships. Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that the cause of the universe must be a transcendent, unembodied mind.

5         Conclusion

Leibniz’s argument from the Principle of sufficient reason is an interesting argument for the existence of God, but it goes beyond just God’s existence. It also constrains the attributes of God to be a transcendent, uncaused, unembodied mind, who necessarily exists. In other words, this being is what the major monotheistic religions traditionally refer to as “God”.

1         Introduction

All of the major religions address the problems of evil, suffering and death. However, the problem of evil is mainly a problem for the monotheistic religions, i.e., Judaism, Islam and Christianity, since they assert that there exists an all-loving, all powerful God. The problem of evil is the major argument against an all-loving, omnipotent God. David Hume provided a succinct and colourful summary of the problem of evil as follows:

  1. Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent.
  2. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent.
  3. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” (Hume 1779)

David Hume (1711-1776)

Evil can come in two forms: moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is due to human evil acts, whereas natural evil is due to non-human acts that occur in nature, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods or fire. It is also possible for moral evil and natural evil to overlap. For example, the interception of food aid may cause others to starve. Any complete theodicy must account for both types of evil. Most theodicies tend to

  1. deny the reality of evil,
  2. redefine the goodness of God, or
  3. limit God’s omnipotence.

I will now review some of the historical responses to the problem of evil.

2         Historical Responses

2.1       Irenaeus

Irenaeus (130 AD – 202 AD) believed that evil was a means for growth in human character and has a valuable role to play in God’s plans.

An engraving of St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (now Lyons, France)

An engraving of St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (now Lyons, France)

This view has also been developed further in recent times by John Hick. Humanity is created incomplete and must make free choices in the face of evil in order to obtain completeness. Genuine perfection cannot just be bestowed on humanity; it must be developed through our choices. This necessarily entails the risk of making wrong choices. In addition, an experience of evil is necessary in order to understand and appreciate the good. Effectively, Irenaeus is saying that evil may seem real to us, but it is not ultimately. Thus this theodicy is a denial of the full reality of evil. For instance, is pain evil? In fact it helps us avoid further damage and thus pain provides us with a warning signal.

There is some truth in Irenaeus’ view. God can certainly use evil for good purposes. This is illustrated in the life of Joseph (Genesis 50:20) and also when Jesus was delivered up by the hands of wicked men in accordance with God’s plan (Acts 2:23). If Irenaeus’ view is correct then this provides an explanation of how God can be loving and yet allow evil. Irenaeus also went on to teach that all will be ultimately saved and he reduced Christ’s atonement to an example rather than the objective means for our salvation. Both of these propositions are un-biblical but, apart from his un-biblical propositions, Irenaeus’ argument seems to have a great deal of merit. However, the argument from pain is not complete. The normal experience of pain is quite functional but, if pain is used as a means of torture, then this defeats its functional purpose and the pain experience seems to have no redeeming properties. I don’t think it is necessary to infer that evil is not real from Irenaeus’ argument. If God uses evil for his own good purposes how does that necessarily infer that the evil is not real?

2.2       St Augustine

St Augustine proposed what is now called the free-will defence.

Portrait by Philippe de Champaigne, 17th century

Portrait by Philippe de Champaigne, 17th century

He taught that God’s creation was good and that God gave free will to both angelic beings and humanity.  Some angelic beings rebelled against God and chose evil. They became the source of temptation to Adam and Eve. Moral evil is the result of our choices and natural evil is the punishment for moral evil. Evil is the privation of good and so God could not have created evil, as evil is when something is missing from God’s creation.

The free will defence is an objection to Hume’s first premise: “If God is willing to prevent evil, but is not able, then is he impotent”. The free will argument is that it is unreasonable to claim that God is impotent if he cannot perform the logically impossible. For instance, it is logically impossible to create a square circle. If God cannot create a square circle, then this does not mean that God is not omnipotent. The free-will argument is that God has determined that it is better to create creatures with free-will rather than creatures whose behaviour is determined. However, it is logically impossible to give creatures free will without preventing the possibility of these creatures from choosing evil. Thus evil is an unavoidable consequence of giving humanity free will. Thus the free-will argument places limitations on God’s power.

Now human choice obviously accounts for a large portion of the evil that is present in this world. If bad human choices were eliminated, then this world would be a much better place. However, the free-will argument seems to have a number of limitations. The argument from free will does not obviously account for natural evil, as natural evil is usually not the result of human choices. Some natural evils are preventable. For example, we have some measure of choice over where we live and some places are safer than others. On the other hand, there is no place that is absolutely safe and we are always susceptible to some harm, no matter what precautions we take. Thus the Bible teaches us not to rely just on our own resources but to trust in God. The notion of free-will also requires qualification. In what sense are our wills free? Once we get to know a person, then their choices can be quite predictable. Our wills are free in the sense that our choices are not being forced by an external agent but they are substantially determined by our character, and conversely our choices also shape our character. Another complicating factor is that the Biblical writers claim that our wills have been affected by the fall such that we are predisposed to rebel against God. The free-will defence also raises questions regarding our future destiny. What about heaven? Will heavenly creatures have free-will? If so, then can evil be re-introduced into heaven? Appealing to free-will also appears dissonant relative to the Bible. The Bible certainly assumes human responsibility, but there is barely any mention of free will in the Bible at all except for a few references to free will offerings. Why appeal to a philosophical category that is basically missing from the primary Christian source document?

2.3       Leibniz

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz suggested that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)

He contended that “the present state of the universe exists because it follows from the nature of God that he should prefer the most perfect” (Leibniz 1890). Thus this theory limits God’s power. This was effectively refuted by Voltaire in Candide, which was a satire wherein Voltaire created a fictional sequence of tragedies for Candide, the hero.

Voltaire at 24, by Catherine Lusurier after Nicolas de Largillière's painting

Voltaire at 24, by Catherine Lusurier after Nicolas de Largillière’s painting

In the end, Candide survives and Dr Pangloss, the spokesman for Liebniz, implausibly concludes:

There is a concatenation of all events in the best of possible worlds; for, in short, had you not been kicked out of a fine castle for the love of Miss Cunegund; had you not been put into the Inquisition; had you not travelled over America on foot; had you not run the Baron through the body; and had you not lost all your sheep, which you brought from the good country of El Dorado, you would not have been here to eat preserved citrons and pistachio nuts (Voltaire 1759).

However, were all these circumstances really necessary for Candide to arrive at his final destination? The notion appears ridiculous; so how could this be the best of all possible worlds? An additional weakness in this theory is that it is pastorally insensitive and unhelpful.

In latter times Leibniz has received some support from a scientific perspective. For example, the movement of tectonic plates results in earthquakes and volcanoes, but this may be necessary to replenish the gaseous state of the atmosphere and so support life. Thus God’s hands may be tied. From a Biblical perspective, this theory seems implausible. If this is the best of all possible worlds, then what about heaven? Will that be constrained such that evil is still present?

2.4       Process Theodicy

Process theodicy is the belief that God is not fixed but is undergoing development. Thus the presence of evil is due to the fact that God has not yet got things sorted out. Process theodicy is a denial of the power and omnipotence of God. It certainly does not reflect the Biblical God who knows the end from the beginning.

3         Objections to Premises

Having completed the summary of historical theodicies, I will now discuss objections to Hume’s argument.

One objection to Hume’s argument is to challenge his second premise: “If God is able to prevent evil but is not willing, is God necessarily malevolent?” How do we know whether God does not have some good reason for allowing or even ordaining suffering that may seem evil to us? For instance, a parent may allow their child to suffer the consequence of their actions in order for them to learn, or may punish their child for their better good. How do we know whether this is not the case for all forms of human suffering?

No doubt there is some validity in this objection. In many instances, a greater good may emerge from suffering. Even in those instances where this is not obviously so, we do not see the full picture and are not in a position to know with certainty that any suffering is pointless or does not have a higher purpose. In arguments for the existence of God the onus of proof is on the theist, but for the problem of evil the onus of proof is on the anti-theist. For this case, it is impossible for the anti-theist to prove that any instance of suffering or evil is pointless. This argument constitutes a reinterpretation of the goodness of God.

The main problem with this objection is the issue of plausibility. Some instances of evil appear to be pointless and inexplicable, even though the case cannot be proven. In the recent Japanese tsunami (11 March 2011), thousands of Japanese were killed. No doubt, the humanitarian response was encouraging and the source of great good. However, the result for those who were killed seems somewhat final. Within Christian theology there is also the problem of hell. The way is narrow that leads to life and only a few find it. The majority are destined for eternal suffering. What benefit can come from eternal suffering if there is no resultant ultimate good? Why is there infinite suffering for a finite offence? Certainly God gives humanity the dignity to make choices that have eternal consequences. Perhaps our choices are only meaningful if they do have eternal consequences.

Since God is our father, it is instructive to consider the corresponding issues for human parenting. Our children are born with wills of their own. Would we have it any other way? We would rather have children who make their own choices rather than robots that did everything we said. This entails risk and sometimes our children disappoint us, even permanently, and yet we still think this is preferable to the deterministic alternative. A good parent will sometimes cause their children pain and suffering if it is just or is for their long term good. Imagine that there existed a harmless happiness drug that guaranteed perpetual happiness. Would we as parents want our children to take it? Most would not. It is a greater good for our children to grow through making choices regarding good and evil and experiencing suffering in order to grow in maturity. The analogy is not perfect. Most parents love their children but they are not omnipotent. However, they have some power and, when there are problems, the lack of power is usually not the issue.

4         Biblical Perspective

So far I have discussed the problem of evil mainly from a philosophical perspective. However, the Biblical perspective should also be considered when considering the foregoing arguments in relation to the Christian God. The following is a summary of various Biblical teachings that are relevant to the problem of evil.

4.1       The Origin of Evil

In accordance with Genesis 1, God created a world that was good. Romans 5:12-15 states that sin and death entered the world through one man. However, God placed the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden, and Adam and Eve were subsequently confronted by the tempter. These 2 factors indicate that evil existed, in some way, prior to the fall, but its origin is not explained. Revelation 13:8 states that the lamb was slain from the creation of the world. When Adam sinned God didn’t say, “Oops!” Thus it seems that the origin of evil is somehow incorporated within the plan of God.

4.2       God as Judge

The Old Testament clearly depicts God as judging humanity. This is exhibited in the flood, the judgements on Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues against Egypt, the eviction of the Canaanites and numerous judgements against the nations. It is popularly thought that God undergoes a conversion from sternness to love between the Old and New Testaments, but this is not borne out by the evidence. The wrath of God is still being revealed against unrighteousness and numerous judgements and plagues are prophesied in the book of Revelation. God is not afraid to punish evildoers, and he says so repeatedly.

4.3       The Book of Job

The book of Job provides an extensive treatment of the problem of evil and suffering. In the first 2 chapters Satan claims that Job is only good because God blesses him. Thus Job’s suffering is supposedly to test Job’s sincerity. Job’s friends subsequently propose various unsatisfactory rationales for Job’s sufferings. However, when God appears to Job, no explanation is provided and there is no reference back to Satan. God does not use Satan as an excuse for Job’s suffering. God mainly states that his knowledge goes beyond Job’s understanding. Job is answered in the act of meeting God, and this experience is a total answer as far as Job is concerned. In addition, even though he never received an answer to his questions, God rewarded him such that he is more than compensated for his sufferings.

4.4       Jesus and the Purpose of Evil

There are several instances in the New Testament where Jesus had the opportunity for explaining the purpose of evil or suffering. One man was born blind, not because of anyone’s sin but “that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:1-3). However, it seems that this explanation cannot be generalised to all other cases. The Galileans who Pilate slaughtered and the eighteen who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them were not unusually sinful but “unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5). However, Jesus still provides no explanation for these tragedies.

4.5       The Atonement

The atonement provides a solution to the problem of evil. Jesus’ death bore the punishment due to our sin, and he laid the foundation for the destruction of all evil and the creation of the new heaven and the new earth. The atonement is also an emotional solution to the problem of evil since God so loved the world that he sent his only son who shared in our condition. God has done something about the problem of evil that was enormously costly. However, this still does not provide a rational explanation of why God allowed evil into the world in the first place.

4.6       Election

The doctrine of election creates a problem for theodicy. Even though election is a controversial subject, it seems to be plainly taught within scripture. No-one can come to the son unless the father draws him (John 6:44) and all that are given to the son will come to him (John 6:37). The purpose of election is to teach us that our salvation is entirely of grace rather than due to merit in our choice. However, what about those who are not chosen? As Calvin says, those whom God has not chosen “he reprobates”. Why damn those who cannot respond? The Calvinist may respond that the reprobate still makes a deliberate choice. However, many Christians respond to election by rationalisations that diminish its force.

4.7       Christian Suffering

Universal suffering is difficult to explain, but Christian suffering is more explicable. Peter says that we are to arm ourselves to suffer as Christ suffered and to follow in his steps (1 Peter 4:1); and Paul strangely says that we are to fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24). Righteous suffering is not just inevitable; it also has a redemptive purpose. For the Christian, suffering is not just permitted by God; it is ordained.

4.8       Explanatory Biblical Doctrines

The Bible does not provide us with an explanation of how evil can co-exist with a good, all-powerful God. God knows, but he hasn’t told us. However, William Lane Craig has suggested that various Christian doctrines make it more likely that suffering and evil can coexist with a good omnipotent God (Craig, 2010).

  1. The chief purpose of life is not happiness, but the knowledge of God. The goal of utilitarianism may be to maximise happiness and minimise suffering for the majority of people over the long run, but this is not God’s goal. God’s goal is that we come to know him and grow in maturity towards the image of Christ, and this will entail suffering.
  2. Man is in rebellion against God and so the evil that we observe in the world is not unexpected.
  3. God’s purpose is not restricted to this life, but is completed in the next life. Our earthly existence may seem unfair but God will administer true justice at the judgement.
  4. The knowledge of God is an incommensurable good that is not worth comparing with our earthly sufferings (2 Corinthians 6:4-5).

5         Summary

5.1       An Atheistic Answer

The problem of evil is not a problem for the atheist. The world is as it is and any natural evils are just bad luck. Human selfishness is simply a by product of the survival of the fittest. If the problem of evil was the only argument related to the existence of God then it would be simpler to conclude that God did not exist.

5.2       Summary of Theodicies

A number of theodicies have been proposed that provide some explanation of how God can be omnipotent and omni-benevolent and yet allow evil. There are elements of truth in most of these theodicies. They open up possible explanations but do not provide definitive solutions. God can use evil for good purposes and the pain or suffering that we experience can have educational or redemptive purposes. Much of our suffering is also due to our choices and may be inevitable considering the nature of our choice faculty. Thus neither of Hume’s premises is necessarily true. However, the Bible does not provide an explanation for the origin of evil, it does not resort to a free will defence to explain how God cannot prevent humans from choosing evil and it does not provide an explanation of how God can have morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil. God does not justify himself to us.

5.3       The Final Revelation

However, the Biblical writers do maintain that God is just, merciful and righteous altogether and that he knows the end from the beginning. It is the Christian belief that at the final judgement God will be revealed as being just in all of his acts and decisions even though we cannot see how it all works out now:

After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments” (Revelation 19:1-2).

In Genesis 18:24 Abraham challenged God with, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” It is implied that he will. This is a faith position, but not a blind faith position. It is based on what we already know about God from special revelation and our own experience. It is still reasonable to believe that God can resolve things in a loving and just manner even though we currently cannot understand all of the details. He is omniscient, but we are not. In the meantime this world is not the best of all possible worlds but it may be the best way to the best of all possible worlds.

6         Bibliography

Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd edition (Crossway: Wheaton, Illinois, 2008)

Craig, W.L. On Guard: Defending your faith with Reason and Precision, 1st edition (Crossway: Wheaton, Illinois, 2010)

God, Reason and Religion Manual (Tabor College Adelaide).

Hume, D. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, first published 1779.

Leibniz, G. W. The Philosophical Works of Leibniz, ed. G. Duncan (London, 1890), 101.

McGrath, A.E. Christian Theology: An Introduction, 4th edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007).

Voltaire, Candide, first published in 1759 (New York: Random House, 1956), 188f.

1      Introduction

David Hume (1711-1776) was an important figure in the Scottish Enlightenment. He was a sceptic and is noted for his arguments against the cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God.

David Hume (1711-1776)

His article “On Miracles”  in chapter 10 of “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” (published in 1748) has also been highly influential. Chapter 10 can be found at:

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/9662/9662-h/9662-h.htm#section10.

The conclusion of his article on miracles is that no amount of historical evidence can warrant belief in a miracle. To quote Hume from section 87, “I flatter myself that I have discovered an argument of a like nature, which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures.”

Hume’s first and primary argument is:

  1. Miracles are of necessity very rare and improbable.
  2. It is much more probable that the historical testimony is false than that the miracle actually occurred.
  3. Therefore a wise man will not believe the historical testimony to the miracle since no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle.

Hume’s ultimate target is the New Testament miracles, especially Jesus’ resurrection. However, he does not attack them directly, but uses indirect arguments. Hume is not saying that miracles are impossible and do not happen. What he is saying is that the evidence will always be insufficient to warrant belief.

2      Bayes Theorem

It has been said that one of the problems with Hume is that he was born before Bayes’ Theorem. He wrote at a time when the mathematics of probability was in its infancy. Thus his argument is qualitative rather than quantitative. By a strange coincidence, Bayes’ Theorem was proposed by Thomas Bayes (1702-1761), who was a British mathematician and a Presbyterian minister. Bayes’ Theorem can be stated as P(A/B) = P(B/A) * P(A) / P(B), where P(A/B) means the probability that A will occur given that event B has already occurred. Bayes’ Theorem is most easily understood by an example. I have taken this example from Wikipedia, but altered it slightly to reflect modern trends.

Suppose there is a school with 60 boys and 40 girls. 50% of girls wear trousers and 50% wear skirts. 5/6 of the boys wear trousers and (you guessed it) 1/6 boys wear skirts (that was the modern trend).  If a student (of unknown gender) is wearing trousers, what is the probability that it is a girl?

Let A be, “The student is a girl” and B be, “The student is wearing trousers”.

P(B/A) is that probability that a student is wearing trousers given that the student is a girl, which is 0.5 or 50%.

P(A) is the probability that a student is a girl, which is 0.4 or 40%.

P(B) is the probability that a student is wearing trousers. This is the probability that:

  • A student is a boy (0.6) * the probability that a boy is wearing trousers (5/6) +
  • A student is a girl (0.4) * the probability that a girl is wearing trousers (0.5).

Thus P(B)  is the probability that a student is wearing trousers = 0.6 * 5/6 + 0.4 * 0.5 = 0.7.

Thus according to Bayes’ Theorem P(A/B) = 0.5*0.4/0.7  = 2/7. I.e., the probability that a student is a girl given that the student is wearing trousers is 2 in 7.

This can be verified by the following table:

 

Trousers Skirts Total
Boys

50

10

60

Girls

20

20

40

Total

70

30

100

There are 60 boys and 5/6 wear trousers; therefore 50 boys wear trousers. There are 40 girls and 50% wear trousers; hence 20 girls wear trousers. Therefore, 20 out of 70 students who wear trousers are girls. Therefore P(A/B) = 2/7 as derived by Bayes’ Theorem. So, loweth and beholdeth, it worketh.

Now I will apply Bayes’ Theorem to miracles.

3      Application of Bayes’ Theorem to Miracles

Let M be the event that a miracle occurred. Let R be the event that a report has been received that a miracle occurred. Then P(M/R) is the probability that a miracle occurred given that a report is received. According to Bayes’ Theorem P(M/R) = P(R/M) * P(M) / P(R).

People tell the truth most of the time but occasionally what they say is wrong, either deliberately or unintentionally. Let us be uncharitable and denote an incorrect report by the event L (for Lie), and let T be a true report. Therefore, P(T)  = 1 – P(L).

P(R/M) is the probability that a miracle is reported given that a miracle actually occurred. This is simply P(T), ie the witness reported truthfully.

P(M) is the probability that the miracle occurred in the first place.

P(R) is a bit trickier. This is the probability that a report of a miracle was received, whether true or false. Let M’ (not M) be the event that the miracle did not occur. Then P(R) = P(M)*P(T) + P(M’)*P(L).

For the purpose of this example, I will adopt Hume’s assumptions on probabilities, although I will argue against them later. Hume argues that a miracle, by nature of the case, is highly improbable just based on the relative frequency of occurrence. Thus P(M) is a very small positive number. Hume would argue that there is at most one person who has risen from the dead (the rest being resuscitations). Thus, as far as the resurrection is concerned, P(M) is approximately 10-10 (based approximately on the total number of people who have existed during recorded history). Hume allows that people tell the truth much more often than not. So let us be generous (like Hume) and suppose that people lie less than 1% of the time. Then the application of Bayes’ Theorem yields P(M/R) = 9.9*10-9, which is a very small number. So Hume seems to be right. If a single witness reported that a random person was raised from the dead, then it is highly improbable that the event actually occurred. This is Hume’s core argument that the improbability of a miracle outweighs the reliability of human testimony.

However, what if multiple (n) independent witnesses reported the same event? The probability that they were all lying is P(L)n, which I will denote as Pn(L), which becomes vanishingly small as n increases. Conversely, Pn(T) asymptotes to 1 as n increases.

Another problem with David Hume was that he was born before Microsoft Excel. The following graph shows a plot of the probability that the miracle actually occurred against the number of independent witnesses (for the assumed values of P(M) and P(L)).

Probability versus number of witnesses

For this example, a wise man would believe that the miracle occurred if there were more than 5 independent witnesses.

You can argue all you like about appropriate values for P(M) and P(L). However, provided P(M) is non-zero there is always a value for the number of witnesses above which it would be wise to believe the report.

The above example is simplistic. Many factors contribute to an actual historical argument and these factors may be independent or interdependent. In most historical arguments it is difficult to assign agreed probabilities to each factor and derive a reliable result. Thus most historical arguments end up being qualitative rather than quantitative. However, the example demonstrates that multiple attestations may be sufficient to warrant belief in an improbable event. Thus Hume’s core argument fails.

What I am saying is only common sense. It is something that is happening in our courts every day. There is a low probability that a random individual has committed a crime, but the weight of evidence may still be sufficient to secure a conviction beyond reasonable doubt.

4      The Probability of Miracles

In chapter 90 Hume states, “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.” From this Hume seems to be implying:

  1. A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.
  2. The laws of nature are derived from our uniform experience and are a description of what always happens.
  3. Thus by definition miracles never happen.

However something smells about this argument. It simply illustrates that the term “miracle” can be defined in such a manner as to be logically incoherent, such as a “married bachelor”. On the contrary, the above argument could be modified as follows:

  1. A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.
  2. The laws of nature are a description of what usually happens.
  3. Thus a miracle is an unusual event.

Hume also seems to assign probabilities just based on relative frequencies. However, this approach is simplistic. For example, more people die from playing lawn bowls than from hang-gliding. Does that make lawn bowls a more dangerous sport? The context (e.g., age of participants) will affect the probability. In the same manner, the probability of Jesus’ resurrection should not be based just on relative frequencies. It will be affected by background issues/beliefs, such as whether God exists and if He is interested in us. In this case, a person may well believe that P(M) is much greater than 10-10.

5      Witness Reliability

Hume’s second argument is that no miracle has been attested by a sufficient number of reliable witnesses. In paragraph 92 Hume states, “For first, there is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good-sense, education, and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves; of such undoubted integrity, as to place them beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit and reputation in the eyes of mankind, as to have a great deal to lose in case of their being detected in any falsehood; and at the same time, attesting facts performed in such a public manner and in so celebrated a part of the world, as to render the detection unavoidable: All which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance in the testimony of men.”

A couple of comments can be made on this argument.

  1. Firstly, he sets the bar very high. I doubt whether Hume would qualify himself. If we required the same witness credibility in court then the court system would get nowhere.
  2. Secondly, he does not consider examples. What about the apostle Paul and Luke? I haven’t got space to go into detail, but I think they come close.

6      Conflicting Miracle Claims

In his final section Hume claims that there are competing and conflicting historical miracle claims that essentially defeat one another. He cites a number of examples. I have not space to consider them all, but I will only discuss the example of the Roman emperor Vespasian. Hume states in section 96, “One of the best attested miracles in all profane history, is that which Tacitus reports of Vespasian, who cured a blind man in Alexandria, by means of his spittle, and a lame man by the mere touch of his foot; in obedience to a vision of the god Serapis, who had enjoined them to have recourse to the Emperor, for these miraculous cures.”

There are 2 issues with this example:

  1. How strong is the historical attestation for Vespasian’s miracles?
  2. Would this miracle be in conflict with Biblical miracles?

Vespasian (9AD to 79AD) led the Roman army in subjugating the Jewish rebellion in 66AD. He became emperor in 69AD. While in Alexandria in Egypt in 69 AD Vespasian is purported to have healed a blind man and a lame man. These miraculous events were reported by the Roman historians:

  1. Tacitus (56AD to 117AD) in Book 4 of his Histories (written about 100AD to 110AD),
  2. Suetonius (69AD to 130AD) in Book 8 of the Lives of the Caesars (written about 119AD), and
  3. Dio Cassius (about 155AD to 229AD) in book 65 of his Roman History (written after 200AD).

You can access these accounts at:

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Histories_(Tacitus)/Book_4

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Vespasian*.html

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/home.html

Hence we have 3 records by credible historians. Tacitus even records, “Persons actually present attest both facts, even now when nothing is to be gained by falsehood.” Most historians agree that something unusual happened. However, there are causes for doubt. Tacitus elsewhere records that he did not believe it was a miracle and that he believed that the healings occurred by natural means. Dio Cassius records that the Alexandrians were unimpressed.

The Roman emperors were purported to be divine figures and any miraculous associations assisted an aspirant in obtaining power. Modern historians surmise that it was a setup by Vespasian’s followers to enhance his aspirations for power. If we consider P(M) and P(L), we discover things are not so good. The Egyptian god Serapis has long since packed his bags and departed from public interest. So a coherent basis for the miracles is lacking. Thus P(M) is inordinately low. The historians were probably honest in their 2nd hand reports of the stories but the promoters and witnesses at the time had a strong motivation for a positive account. Thus P(L) is high and the witnesses were probably not independent. So, do I believe it? Probably not.

The other issue is whether this is a conflicting miracle claim. In Matthew 24:24 Jesus is reported to say, “False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect — if that were possible.” This opens the possibility for miracles originating from “profane” sources.

Doubtless there have been many spurious claims regarding miracles. However, if 2 miraculous claims are inherently incompatible then at least one of them must lack sufficient evidence, but the fact that they conflict does not mean that both claims are false.

7      Conclusion

Hume states, “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.” That is reasonable. However, Hume goes on to conclude that the consideration of historical evidence for a miracle is pointless, as a matter of principle.

Hume’s article is quite long and I have by no means covered all of his arguments. I have only covered his central arguments.

In this article I have not attempted to prove that miracles do occur. My purpose has been more modest. I have only attempted to show that a historical argument for the occurrence of a miracle can potentially be sufficient to warrant belief. I believe my argument has shown that multiple attestations can in principle provide sufficient evidence to warrant belief in a miracle.

Thus I flatter myself that I have discovered an argument that will, if just, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check against Hume’s objection to miracles, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures.

Kevin Rogers (1951-)