Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On The Catholic Church and Sinners In Her Ranks

On occasion I get sent a link of some scandalous action done by some individual within the Church.  Some sister from an out of control order openly states heresy or holds an grossly inappropriate job in the secular world.  The question I get from the (rightly) scandalized person is "Why doesn't the Church do anything?"

I think such a question is a valid one of course.  What I think is invalid is when the scandalized person uses the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent.

The structure of such a fallacy is:

  1. If A then B
  2. B
  3. Therefore A

This can be put into the usual challenge of:

  1. If the Church approves of Sister Mary Heretic, they will not discipline her
  2. They are not disciplining her
  3. Therefore the Church approves of what she does

This is not a logical conclusion however.  It is like saying if Bill lives in Los Angeles he lives in California.  He lives in California.  Therefore he lives in Los Angeles.  Just because one condition is met does not mean all do.

So why does the Church not act in the cases of some public scandals?

There can be some reasons to explain this, and no, not all of them are flattering to the shepherd of the local Church.

First of all, we do need to remember some of the teachings of Jesus:

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. (Matt 13:47ff)

Also from Matt. 13:24-30

24 Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

We have in these parables, Jesus speaking of His Church.  There are good and bad fish in them, wheat and weeds.  Quite frankly we cannot expect to have a Church which is free of bad men, because Our Lord told us to expect it.

Ultimately we need to realize that those who do live in a way contrary to Christ will have to answer for it.

We also need to remember that not all bad actions are from malice.  One can delay from over cautiousness for example, or one misunderstanding the situation, or using bad judgment.  Or one can simply be a bad administrator, or deceived by underlings.  These are not things we want to see in a priest or a bishop of course, but these things do indeed happen, and these are things where wrong actions can be done without malice or intending to condone the wrongdoing.

This is not saying we must condone the acts of wrongdoing in the Church.  We do need to keep expressing our concerns, though we must do so in a charitable manner.  There are sinners in the Church and we do need to pray for them that they may have a change of heart.  There are some shepherds in the Church who are by action or inaction allowing some harm to the Church, and we do need to pray for them that they might be shepherds who follow the example of their masters.  That those who do not understand, might gain understanding; that those who are deceived might be shown the deception, that those who used bad judgment might gain wisdom and so on.

But let us not fall into a false despair that the Church is in danger of collapsing as a whole.  We know Jesus promised to be with us until the end of the world and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On Witness: Two Quadrilemmas

How are we to understand the attacks made by some atheists against the reliability of the Disciples of Jesus as witnesses to what He said and did?  Christians of course believe that cases against their credibility are dubious at best, but what are they to do when they encounter claims which seek to deny the value of their witness?

The False Revelation Argument

One of the objections given to the witness of the Apostles, is the claim that other people (Mohammed, Joseph Smith, etc.) claim to have had divine revelation.  The problem with the argument is that it generally concludes to the effect of "Those claims were false so it is also likely that the claims of the Apostles are false.

You can't Prove a Universal from a Limited Case

There are several problems with this sort of an argument.  First of all, it argues from a specific case to reach a universal conclusion.  If what Mohammed or Joseph Smith claims is not true, that speaks against their specific case, not the case of anybody else.  If Bill and Jack both claim to have been robbed, and Jack lied about it has no bearing on whether Bill was lying.

What that argument has as an enthymeme (an unspoken assumption) is the claim that God does not exist so any claims of a form of revelation are false.  So the full argument would run like this:

  • God does not exist (Enthymeme)
  • Person X claims to have had a revelation from God
  • Therefore Person X is lying or deceived

The problem of course is the enthymeme needs to be proven logically if it is to be used as the basis of a logical argument.  If the premise needs to be established as valid, the conclusion is not proven to be true.  So as it stands, the argument cannot be used as a challenge to the case of witnesses.

The False Analogy

The second common problem with the claim is it is a false analogy.  People like Mohammed and Joseph Smith claimed to have private revelation from God, and convinced people to follow them out of largely material promises of a physical afterlife.

The case of the Apostles was different.  Who they followed was a specific person who did not make promises of physical rewards.  Indeed, the Jesus they followed made clear that political liberation and wealth were not the message He was teaching.  Those who followed Him (which were more than "Twelve men" as some have misrepresented) attested to what He said and the works He performed to back them up.  These are not merely accounted for in the Gospels.  The Talmud mentions these acts, though it calls them "magic."  So do the secular Roman accounts.

Two Quadrilemma and Atheistic Claims

The problem the atheist has to address is why they hold what they hold.  We can study by breaking this down into categories.  There are two ways we can look at it: One is whether Jesus spoke truthfully and the second is whether Jesus said what was claimed.

The First Quadrilemma

The first quadrilemma is based on whether or not Jesus spoke truthfully over what He said

  1. Jesus either was what He claimed or He was not
  2. The Apostles either believed what He claimed or they did not.

This leaves us with a quadrilemma. 

  1. Jesus was what He claimed to be and the Apostles believed His claims (What the Christians believe)
  2. Jesus was not what He claimed but the Apostles believed His claims (Apostles Deluded)
  3. Jesus was not what He claimed and the apostles did not believe His claims (Apostles Lying)
  4. Jesus was what He claimed and the Apostles did not believe His claims (Apostles Lying)

Of these claims, the Christians hold #1, atheists tend to be divided over #2 and #3, and with #4 in the past some Gnostics held to it, and some New Agers hold a variant of this sort of view.

The theology of Christianity (#1) holds that Jesus was what He claimed to be and the Apostles witnessed these claims and believed.  Christian apologetics comes from this perspective, and the one seeking to understand this should look to these sources.

The Gnostic view (#4) holds that Jesus was God, but the Apostles did not believe what He really said He was.  The problem with this view is, how do they know what was claimed without the witness of those who knew Jesus personally?

This leaves us with the two remaining views which atheists claim: Jesus did not speak truthfully and the apostles were deceived about what He said and did (#2) or Jesus was not what He said He was and the apostles lied about what He said.

The problem with both assertions is: On what basis can this be held?

Let's look at #2 first.  If Jesus lied or was deluded about what He claimed, on what basis do we assert this?  Is there evidence for this claim?  Or is it based on the assumption that Jesus could not be God because there is no God.  This assertion cannot be claimed as fact without evidence.

See how the assumption that atheism must be true keeps showing up in all arguments?  Yet atheism is the conclusion.  It can't be the premise as well.  So from a logical perspective this claim cannot stand on its own until the premise (Jesus was not who He said He was) is proven true.

Of course in this case the atheist who makes this claim [and to be fair, not all do] is arguing from a universal negative.  Such a case cannot be proven true unless actual evidence is produced which attests to this.

Such is the problem with the "Deluded disciples" argument.

In case #3, we have another level of proof needed.  Not only did Jesus lie (or was deluded), but the Apostles did not believe what they were teaching.  In other words, the Apostles lied about what Jesus said and did. 

This is the case where the counterargument of cui bono? (Who benefits?) comes into play.  How did the apostles benefit from the lie?  They were not rich or powerful.  They were executed for their beliefs, hated by their own ethnic groups.

Case #3 not only has to establish that Christ was not who He said He was, but also has to establish why these "false witnesses" would rather die than recant what they lied about.

Therefore Case #3 also requires evidence to impeach the credibility of the disciples.  Yet again, the argument is based on the belief that God does not exist and seeks to find an alternate motive for the Apostles.

Ultimately, the Christians present their case for #1.  Those who hold it false need to provide their evidence for why they hold #'s 2,3 or 4.

The Second Quadrilemma

Some might find this a bit redundant, but it is necessary to investigate an alternate claim made by some atheists, and that is the claim that Jesus did not even say what the Apostles claimed He did. Again we need two divisions of two groups:

  1. Either Jesus said what is attributed to Him or they did not
  2. The disciples either understood what Jesus said or they did not

With these categories, we again have four groups:

  1. Jesus did say what is attributed to Him and the disciples understood it
  2. Jesus did say what is attributed to Him and the disciples did not understand it
  3. Jesus did not say what is attributed to Him and the Apostles understood it
  4. Jesus did not say what is attributed to Him and the Apostles did not understand it

Now in these cases, it seems the atheist dodges the horns of having to prove Christ was lying or deluded, but it does open more problems as well.

Case #1 is what Christians believe

Case #2 is not too common.  Some heresies would hold that the Church misunderstood the Bible for example and their version is accurate.

Case #3 again assumes the Apostles knew what Jesus did teach but lied about it.  (Some Muslims say this about St. Paul for example)

Case #4 is what is argued by those who claimed that Jesus had a human message but the disciples misunderstood his language (taking it over literally).  A variant of this is the Muslim claim that the Scriptures were altered and misrepresented by the Apostles who did not understand Christ was teaching Islam.

With case #1 of course, one would look to the writings of the apostles as true.  This is what Christians believe, and the defense of such a view would be found in the Christian writings.

With case #2 we have some of the early Christological heresies of the Church which held that certain biblical passages were in contradiction to what the Apostles claimed and therefore they got it wrong.  This gets into the concept of How do we interpret the New Testament?

With case #3, we have an alternate expression of the third case in the first quadrilemma: The apostles lied about what Jesus said.  Again, cui bono?  What did they gain?

In case#4, we would find most atheists who want to say that Jesus was merely misunderstood and His disciples did not understand what He was trying to say.  There are some problems with this reasoning however.

First, such a view assumes Jesus was a wise teacher, but merely misunderstood.  Yet a wise teacher seeks to make sure his students understand him before he goes on.  He does not use metaphorical language if it is clear that his students are taking it literally.

Second, such a teaching has to be taken into context of the culture: The teachings of the disciples was that Jesus Christ was God made man.  Yet to the Jews, such a view would be blasphemous, and His first disciples were Jews.  It would have been easier for a pagan to accept it than a Jew.  Yet they did either accept His claim or mistakenly thought He taught it and believed it.  How can this be reconciled, and what evidence exists for such a view?

Third: If Jesus did not teach what the Disciples claimed He taught, then what did He teach?  How can we know the disciples misunderstood what was said without evidence of what was said.  Without this, we do not have anything factual, but merely a counter-theory based on the idea that whatever Jesus was, it could not be God.

The Endless Circle

Notice how these claims all return back to the central atheistic conclusion: There is no God.  The claims made about what "really" must have happened are based on this conclusion.  But for an atheist to appeal to science or to doctored texts or falsehood or delusion as a reason to object to the Christian claim needs to demonstrate that his view has basis in fact if it is to be taken as a reasonable objection.

What it Leads To

I don't doubt some atheists will read this and think I am arguing that "atheism is false, so Christianity is true."  I am not.  Rather I am examining certain claims made by some atheists which are used to state that Christianity is "unreasonable."  In doing so, I show the logical flaws in their case and that the argument in question cannot be reasonably used against the Christian belief.

Now of course the demonstrating the flaws in the atheistic claim does not yet prove Christianity true, but it does show certain attacks against Christianity are without a solid basis and can reasonably be dismissed.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

On Perception and Science: A Reflection on Some Claims Made by Certain Atheists

[Author's note to the atheistic reader: As a preliminary, I think I need to make this clear to certain atheists who may be following what I write. This post (like the predecessors in the series) are not written with the goal in mind of disproving atheism once and for all.  Nor do I assume that what I write here proves Christianity once and for all.

Rather, the subjects I have been writing on have been approached with the intent of looking at certain claims of made by some atheists who make them with the assertion these claims show Christianity is unreasonable.  The purpose of my writing on these certain claims is to investigate whether the argument made in each case is reasonable or flawed.

It stands to reason that if a argument is fallacious, it does not prove the claimed conclusion and cannot be used as a reasonable objection to the faith.

Please keep this in mind and keep to the topic if you wish to respond]

Preliminary: The Understanding of Assertion

Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) once wrote in his work Grammar of Assent:

1. PROPOSITIONS (consisting of a subject and predicate united by the copula) may take a categorical, conditional, or interrogative form. 

  1. An interrogative, when they ask a Question, (e.g. Does Free-trade benefit the poorer classes?) and imply the possibility of an affirmative or negative resolution of it. 
  2. A conditional, when they express a Conclusion (e.g. Free-trade therefore benefits the poorer classes), and at once imply, and imply their dependence on, other propositions.
  3. A categorical, when they simply make an Assertion (e.g. Free-trade does benefit), and imply the absence of any condition or reservation of any kind, looking neither before nor behind, as resting in themselves and being intrinsically complete.

These three modes of shaping a proposition, distinct as they are from each other, follow each other in natural sequence. A proposition, which starts with being a  Question, may become a Conclusion, and then be changed into an Assertion; but it has of course ceased to be a question, so far forth as it has become a conclusion, and has rid itself of its argumentative form that is, has ceased to be a conclusion, so far forth as it has become an assertion. A question has not yet got so far as to be a conclusion, though it is the necessary preliminary of a conclusion; and an assertion has got beyond being a mere conclusion, though it is the natural issue of a conclusion. Their correlation is the measure of their distinction one from another.

We need to keep these distinctions in mind when studying a topic.  Which category does a statement fall into?  Treating a interrogative as a assertion demands proof of something which is itself seeking proof by nature.

So, we need to look at the topic from these perspectives.

  • An interrogative statement would be "Does God exist?"  This is something open to the possibility of the answer being either yes or no.
  • A conditional statement would be "if these propositions are true, God does not exist."  The conditional depends on the propositions made.  If the assumptions err, the conclusion is not established to be true (which is different from saying it is established to be false).
  • A categorical statement would be "God does not exist" or "There is no reason to believe God exists."  Such a statement assumes the position contrary to the assertion is not valid.

One of the problems with the discussion of the concept of the existence of God is people do overlook these three situations or confuse one for the other.  The one who questions is not the same who asserts.

So when one asserts something categorically when another believes the categorical assertion is not justified the proper thing to do is to look at the prepositions which the individual uses to make their categorical claim.

Looking at some of the Propositions and Claims of made by some atheists

Atheism, in general, professes a disbelief that God exists, though it is commonly professed in two ways, though with variations in phrasing:

  1. A positive statement that there are no divine powers (The "Science has disproved God" argument fits in here) and everything happens in an undirected and unguided manner.
  2. A hedged statement that there is no evidence for God, so it is unreasonable to believe He exists.

The problem of course in Statement #1 is evidence for such a claim has to be provided and evaluated.  It tends to be an argument from silence when looked at.  The case on Statement #2 is used by those who hedge their bets, yet this supposedly "more reasonable" approach also contains some logical problems.

The Logical Problems with the "No evidence" claim

I've already dealt with the first statement and the problems it has with invoking science.  So lets look at he second.  The problem I have is with how I have seen it expressed.  Put into a syllogism, it follows this pattern:

  • Either A or B
  • Not A (or no evidence of A)
  • Therefore B (or B is more likely)

The problem is "Not A" or "No Evidence of A" does not lead to the conclusion that "B is true" or "B is more likely."  (The logical term is "non sequitur" which is Latin for "it does not follow").  The lack of proof for one has no bearing on whether the other is true.

Take the case for a hypothetical case, an alien race exists.  Whether we could detect such a race would depend on where they were located in relationship to us and where they were technologically in relation to us.  If for example a pre-technological race existed on another world, we would not find evidence of it through SETI (which is based on detecting communication symbols in space), yet conclusions that they do not exist, though a "best guess" of science would be wrong.

The Case Of Phlogiston

Or if you don't want a hypothetical case, consider a real one.

Phlogiston was a scientific theory (first appearing in 1667) used to explain combustion and oxidation prior to the discovery of oxygen as an element.  Phlogiston was believed to be a substance which caused combustion, and once burned out, the pure material was left.  Respiration was seen as the process of removing phlogiston from the body (which is why a match would be extinguished if dropped  in a bottle of the stuff you exhaled).

So let us look at the theory of Phlogiston using the syllogism above:

  • Either Phlogiston or Oxygen
  • There is no evidence for Oxygen
  • Therefore Phlogiston is more likely

Up until the late 18th century, this would have seemed like a reasonable argument.  However, the lack of evidence for oxygen did not mean oxygen did not exist.  Rather we had a misinterpretation of the data we had which led to a scientific conclusion which was false.  The scientific community of the time might have thought phlogiston was proven, but in such a case the theory was wrong in interpreting what it knew.

The Issue of Assumption

From this, we can see that the assumption something must be, or likely be, so because of a lack of support for the opposite is the wrong way to argue.  One needs to be certain no possibility of error exists before making a categorical claim.

Now yes, some assumptions are safe bets, though the reasoning is not always formed correctly.  "The sun rose yesterday, the sun rose today, the sun will rise tomorrow" is commonly considered a safe bet, but really the past performance is no guarantee of future results.  The sun could theoretically go nova tomorrow and obliterate our world.

Occam's Razor

Occam's Razor might be invoked here, saying that when it comes to whether or not God is involved in the universe, the simpler conclusion is usually more valid.  The argument often used is that Science can explain the universe without the need for a God, so a conclusion making use of a God is not logical.

The problem is this is a misquoting of what the Razor in fact was "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity."

The example of Geocentrism

Now, there is indeed some use to the Razor.  For example, with the dispute over a geocentric solar system and a heliocentric solar system, we had a problem with the geocentric system which had to explain why the planets moved backwards during their orbit, and the result was calculations trying to explain how planets could move in orbit this way.  The Heliocentric system could explain these retrograde motions in a much simpler way.

Now the fact that the heliocentric view was simpler did not make it true, though the fact that the geocentric system required so many exceptions to what was being observed in physics that these added complexities needed to be looked at.

Occam's Razor is a tool, and not a law, but some people treat it as a law.  The fact that it can be used to question complex theories does not mean that the simpler is always correct.  For that matter, it does not always mean that our perception of what is simpler is always correct.  Let's face it, for the ancients the evidence seemed pretty clear: The sun rose in the east and set in the west every day.

From that perspective, the heliocentric view would have seemed implausibly complex because full knowledge was not available.

Science is Complex

When I was in school, we were taught that the atom was made up of the Proton, the Neutron and the Electron, and the electron was the smallest part of the atom.  A few generations before I was born, it was still assumed the atom could not be split.

Yet nowadays, we know of gluons and bosons and hadrons and quarks.  Science has shown the atom to be more complex than it was understood to be in earlier times.

Now, if we were to take Occam's Razor and apply it to the atomic theory, one might want to reject modern theory because it seems more complex than the earlier theory, yet we do not.  Why is this?

A Lack of Knowledge does not mean a Lack of Existence

The reason this is is because our observations have shown us more about the universe… information we did not have at earlier times.  Because of these observations we realize that what we thought was a cut and dried observation about science in fact did not go deep enough due to the lack of ability to observe the very minute things of the universe.

I have no doubt of course that science will continue to make deeper observations over things as time goes on.

But What Will It Learn?

One of the arguments that has been put forth in favor of "debunking" religion works along these lines:

  1. Science has shown the Greek Myths to have no basis in fact
  2. Science will some day show that the claims of Christianity have no basis in fact either.

It is a comparison which presumes that the Christian claim is no more valid than the claims of Greek myth.  It often presumes that:

Any supernatural claim has to be false and science will some day produce the evidence to justify this claim.

Replace that claim with this one:

Any supernatural claim has to be true and God will some day produce the evidence to justify the claim.

Many atheists I have encountered would accept the first claim as reasonable and mock the second.  Yet the argument is identical.

If the atheistic premise is false, the conclusion that science will be able to show miracles cannot happen is false. 

Yet even if the atheistic premise were true, it is still not reasonable to speculate on what science may be able to discover.  We may also discover our current knowledge on a subject was as erroneous as Phlogiston or that discovering the cure to cancer is as likely as discovering how to transmute lead into gold.

(In case you're wondering the case does indeed work the other way as well.  Just because God exists does not mean He will explain all some day).


I believe we do need to keep these sort of assumptions in mind when we evaluate arguments against our faith.  Not all scientists are atheists, but in general atheists tend to use science to shore up their claims.  So when arguments promoting atheism are made in the name of science, the question is on what basis such a claim can be made.

A claim from science needs to have the standards of science applied to it for example.  Is it science to speculate on what science will know in the future?  No.  It is not science, but science fiction, and the person who says this says so not from scientific knowledge but from faith in what he thinks science will discover.

Ultimately we need to remember that what we think science is showing us may be the perception which we later discover that science shows us the former perception was wrong.  We cannot anticipate these things though.  Learning truth of the natural and physical world through science requires observation, study and theory to help us understand it, not guessing as to whether we will be flying to work in rocket cars

Thursday, October 22, 2009

On Logical Fallacies

Note to the atheists who read this: While I have referred to "atheists who hold" and the like, please do not consider this a statement that "all atheists hold to all these positions."  I am quite aware there are differences of what is held and how it is expressed.  However the positions I discuss have in fact been made by certain atheists in various places, and so it is valid to discuss what was said as examples.

While I planned to move on to the next topic of assumption made by some atheists, I think I will need to take a brief detour to talk about logic and logical fallacies here in general.

I think the Christian blogger needs to be aware of them for two reasons:

  1. So as not to be fooled by an argument which may sound intimidating but is really nonsense
  2. Not to make the same errors themselves.

Remember, logic is not our tool.  It is not the tool of those who opposes us.  Believers and unbelievers alike can be logical or illogical in how they present their argument.

What is a Logical Argument?

A logical argument requires a Major premise, a Minor premise and a conclusion.  For example, in math, if A=B and B=C, then it follows that therefore A=C.  However there are rules in logic, which one needs to follow if they want to prove their argument to be true.  The conclusion has to be supported by the premises (A=B, B=C, Therefore A=D is not supported by the premises)

What is a Logical Fallacy

A logical fallacy is an error in reasoning which invalidates the argument.  That does not mean the conclusion is automatically false of course (something can be true but the person explaining it botches the job for example), but it does mean the argument itself has not been proven true and cannot be validly used to support a position.

I would now like to look at some of the popular ones employed on the internet

The Straw man argument

The straw man argument is a distortion of the argument made by a person.  The tactic is to attack this distortion giving the illusion of defeating the argument.  The problem is that the straw man is not what the argument actually said, so demolishing it means exactly nothing.

If you find a person misrepresenting you and making comments on what he misrepresents you as saying, this is a straw man.  All you can do is to point out the error of understanding.  If it is an honest mistake, the individual will acknowledge it.  If not, you can expect them to harp on it over and over.

The Ad Hominem

This is Latin for "to the person."  This fallacy does not answer the argument made, but rather makes an attack on the person.  If you've ever been labeled "stupid" or "myopic" or the like, you have been the victim of an ad hominem.  Another version of this is when an atheist responds to an argument made by a Christian by pointing out the actions done by some Christians as evil.  This is also an ad hominem and does not answer the argument (just because some Christians do evil things does not mean Christianity is false)

This has nothing to do with the truth of the argument.  I usually feel least threatened by a person who uses the ad hominem however.  If this is the best they can do, it doesn't speak well for their case.  Generally they have nothing more to say and we are seeing a sort of "blaze of glory" they wish to go out on.  The important thing is not to get angry.  Keep your responses calm, and it will be the attacker who looks bad.

The Argument from Silence

This one runs along this kind of reasoning: A person says "There is no evidence for you (or against me) therefore I am right."  The problem is, this does not mean anything.  A lack of evidence does not mean the contrary is true.  Rather it means  simply that there is no evidence which speaks on the issue one way or the other.

One common Argument from Silence is to say "Science cannot prove God exists, therefore He does not."  The problem is, if science is unqualified to speak on the existence of God, the lack of scientific proof means nothing.  It merely means arguments for and against the existence of God cannot invoke science to prove them, but must use other methods.

Shifting the Burden of Proof

This one is often used by atheists.  Some of them will make an absolute statement, and then when asked to back it up respond by saying "You prove God exists."  This the avoidance of the argument.  Unfortunately some Christians use this one.  When one is challenged to prove God exists, responds with "prove he doesn't."

A sneakier version some atheists I have encountered will use a variant, saying: "The person making the greater claim is the one who needs to prove their point."  This is nonsense.  The person making the claim period is the one who needs to prove their point.  if an atheist says "There is no God," then the atheist is making the claim and the atheist has the burden of proof.  If the Christian says "God exists," then the Christian has the burden of proof.

With this in mind, remember that if you are the one to make an assertion, you will be the one required to back it up.

However, pointing out that an objection has nothing to do with what you said is not a shifting the burden of proof.  If you are arguing topic A, and your opponent introduces point X, and you point out this is irrelevant, you are not shifting the burden of proof if you say it is irrelevant and insist the opponent gets back on topic.

Appeal to Emotion

There are several subsets: pity, fear, etc. to make people accept a view which has no value.  For example one attacking religion makes an appeal to 9/11.  This is irrelevant, because it would only speak about a religion which sanctions it.  The fear of radical Muslims is used to attack all religions.  Never mind the fact that there is a vast difference between Osama Bin Laden and Mother Teresa.  The attack is to appeal to the fear of extremists, then labeling your own opponent as an extremist.

The problem is emotional appeals do not change the truth of the case.  It's like the story of the child who murders his parents and then asks for pity because he is an orphan.  The appeal to a woman infected with AIDS by her husband does not change the issue of whether or not it is licit to use contraceptives.

Tu Quoque

Latin for "And you too."  You'll see this one as a response to many things:

Father: You shouldn't smoke. 

Daughter: Why not?  You do.

The problem is pointing to a bad example of another does not prove something is acceptable.  A person can make a bad example from personal life without invalidating what he says.

Of course not all counter-examples are tu quoque.  One common exchange is an atheist pointing to the Crusades to express the violence of religion compared to the peacefulness of atheism.  The counter example that Nazis and Communists were responsible for more deaths is not being used to justify the bad behavior of Christians, but rather to show that the atheistic premise (religion is more violent than atheism) is not true.

No True Scotsman

This one is used a lot by atheists and unfortunately frequently by a lot of Christians as well.  An atheistic example would be:

Atheist: No scientist believes in God

Theist: What about X, Y and Z?

Atheist: They're not really scientists.  No true scientist believes in God.

A Christian example would be:

Christian: If you are saved, you will not sin

Skeptic: What about Pastor X who was arrested for Y?

Christian: Well, he wasn't really saved.

In both cases the person faced with a counter example tries to negate it by redefining what they hold to exclude things that refute it.

However, the No True Scotsman does not mean a clarification to avoid misunderstanding.  For example:

Christian: Christian faith supports love of fellow men.

Skeptic: What about the Inquisition?

Christian: The inquisition was unfortunate, where people acted in a way contrary to what the faith taught.  I don't condone it of course, but the point is the people who were Christians there did act in a way against the requirements of Christian teaching

This is not a Straw Man argument, but a clarification of what was intended against a misunderstanding.  Of course, we need to "do unto others" when an atheist clarifies too.

These are not the only logical fallacies out there, but they are the ones I have most frequently encountered.

Moving the Goalposts

When a person has refuted a position, sometimes the response is "that doesn't matter, what about X?"  In other words, it doesn't matter how many times you show a claim is false, the person who disagrees with you will reject your proof as "not enough" and insist you address another issue.

This differs from saying "I have several issues, which I would like to discuss," and then moving on from topic to topic in a reasonable manner.

Other Logical Errors

There are some other errors of presentation which need to be addressed as well:

The Universal Negative

Atheist: "God does not exist."

Yes, some atheists do state it this bluntly, so this is no straw man argument to deal with it.  A universal negative requires full knowledge about the objects discussed.

To say God does not exist requires knowledge of everything that exists.  Otherwise, we cannot be sure that God does not exist in a place outside of what we do know.

A classical Greek example was the statement: "No swans are black."  Now, no matter how many white swans one sees, this does not prove the claim.  However the first sighting of a black swan does disprove it.

Now unfortunately Christians do make this error too, so we do need to pick our words with care, because logical truths do not belong to one group alone.  A logical error made by a Christian can be shot down by logic just as much as one by an atheist can.

A variant of this is when your opponent makes a universal negative claim and then demands you to disprove him, on the grounds that "you can't be asked to prove a negative."

Well, yes you can.  If your opponent makes a mistake so foolish as to express his opinion in a universal negative, he has shown impossible grounds to defend.

Of course the Christian should not make a universal negative statement either.  Don't be drawn into a statement requiring you to prove something virtually impossible to prove.

Drawing a Universal Conclusion from a Limited Example

Atheist: 9/11 proves religion is violent

No, it doesn't.  What it proves is a certain subset of one religion is violent.  But when considering the actions of one subset of one religion, even if it establishes that one religion violent (say we hypothetically find 100% of Muslims think 9/11 was a great idea), this says nothing about what Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism says about it.

Basing a conclusion of the whole based on the behavior of a part goes by many names: Racism, Bigotry, etc.

The Double Standard

Some atheists, recognizing the danger of the universal negative, will seek to hedge their bets by saying that No, Science doesn't prove the existence of God, but God is unlikely.  They then go about and say "But Christianity doesn't prove God exists either."

The thing is, if they insist that atheism is reasonable based on probability and the like, the Christian has equal rights to explain their beliefs from the same reasoning.  These atheists are in effect arguing: "I don't have to prove factually what I believe, but you do."

If the case for the reasonableness for atheism involves a lack of proof against it, the atheist can say nothing against a Christian who invokes the same argument without being hypocritical.

This does NOT mean it is acceptable for Christians to use the same logical fallacies that are applied against them of course.  If we are walking in the Light, we are not to use the tools of darkness.

What it does mean is that the atheist either has to apply to himself the measure of proof he applies to other or he becomes hypocritical. 

Of course, Christians need to apply the same standards to atheism they apply to themselves too.  This does not mean we cannot show the error of the double standard the atheist uses by applying his own standards against him (just make sure you avoid the straw man fallacy in doing so).

Remember, They Executed Socrates…

One thing also to be aware of is that people don't like to admit they are wrong.  Logic can show the flaws in an argument, but it doesn't mean it will make you popular.  indeed, if you can show why an argument is false, but a person is unwilling to concede their position, usually hostility will be directed to you.  You'll be called "condescending" and "intolerant" and "narrow minded" when you show that their position is not as strong as they thought.

So don't be surprised by the acrimony you receive.

Also Remember the Command to Love

Certainly in the times of my debating and blogging, I have come across several whom I would be tempted to describe as something uncharitable.  We are human of course.  We do get annoyed and frustrated.  We cannot set aside our emotions, and so certain respondents may anger us.  However, "going off" on the opponent may feel good, but it does not establish the proof of what you say.  Rather it makes your argument seem irrational through association.

Christ tells us to love those who hate us, and so, while we may fall short at times, we are not to choose to behave in a hateful manner.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Proving the Existence of JC

There is an individual claimed to have lived close to the first century, of whom books were written and monuments made.  We have accounts of the deeds he did and how they changed the course of history in Europe, and much of the known world.

Yet how do we know that this man existed in fact?  How do we know he was not invented by a group of men seeking to force a view on the world?  How do we know the words he said, the deeds he did were not taken out of context or even invented?  After all, we have no original copies of the works written about him… the only existing copies were written centuries later.  So how do we know the things attributed to him are true and were not added later?

Yes, how do we know Julius Caesar really existed?

On Knowledge of the Past

The case I presented above is of course ridiculous, yet it is an argument used by some atheists against a different JC, namely Jesus Christ.  Of course the atheist would object by saying: We have works speaking of him and monuments of him, and reports of his actions as a military and political leader.  Yet if we apply the burden of proof insisted on establishing the truth of Jesus Christ to Caesar, we cannot prove Julius Caesar even existed.

Yet we would consider it obstinate and willful ignorance to deny the existence of Caesar under these circumstances.  History attests to the accounts of people who existed in time and point to the time they existed.  Yet we have works attesting to Christ too.  Yet why do we behave so skeptically here?

The Circular Argument

One of the objections against the accounts of Christ is that the miracles either demonstrate the falsity of the accounts or else that the miracles were added later.  It is a circular argument here.  The texts are doubted because of the miracles, and miracles are doubted because one believes they cannot exist.  Because miracles cannot exist, texts which mention them must be doubted.

Thus we have a claim that assumes something not proven, and passes judgment on the texts as not being proven because they make assertions which go against the unproven premise.

Again, I would remind the reader, this is not an argument from silence or a God in the Gaps claim.  We are now merely looking at the idea of the claim against the historicity of the accounts of Christ.

On Legend and Myth

When the accounts of Christ are considered, sometimes myth and legend are terms used.  The analogy made is that Accounts of Zeus are myths, the Gospels are accounts of God.  Therefore accounts of the Gospels are myths.

This is a false comparison.  Accounts of Zeus tell us of things long ago with no historical dating.  We have no accounts of when Heracles lived historically, no link to real historical figures if when Mithras was supposedly on the Earth.  In contrast, Luke tells us, of who was the governor of certain provinces when Christ was born, with names of places and events which can be verified outside the gospel accounts.

So unlike myth, which cannot be tied to history, the accounts of the Christians about Christ are specifically tied to a place and time.

The idea of legends is also raised as an objection.  We hear of the example of the unicorn mentioned in medieval times and legends of the first century saints in places like England etc.  Is this not the same thing?

The answer is no.  In investigating a legend, the thing to be done is to trace back how far the reports go.  In regards to the story of, for example St. Martha in France, we do not have accounts from those times of these people going there (or rather the accounts of the times do not mention them). but only accounts written centuries later.  So to argue X was a myth so the accounts of Christ too were a myth does not follow.

On Doctored Texts

The next question is how we can discern altered texts.  If we were to find an account of Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars claiming he was walking on water, how would we tell if this were true or false?  By looking at other copies from varied areas and seeing if the accounts remained consistent, or if glosses were added.  If we found one account of Caesar performing a miracle and ten not even mentioning such events, it would be reasonable to assume an addition from a later time.

However the accounts of Christ remain consistent.  Copies found in the West as well as in the East attest to the same facts and the same words of Christ.

In the time of Xeroxing and Cut-and-Paste this does not seem so amazing, but prior to the printing press, all writing was manually done, and every copy was done by hand.  The fact that accounts in Greek and Hebrew, and translations in Latin and Syrian all make the same statements of Christ and attest to the same miracles.  We have no accounts of this time which removes these miracles.

Yes, we occasionally find glosses in single instances of manuscripts, but we do not believe these glosses are part of the authentic text.

So whether or not one believes these texts to be factual, there is no evidence of "miracles added later."

On Non-Christian Accounts

Josephus, a Jew who lived in the time of Christ gives an account of Jesus in two places.  The first, found in Antiquities 18, Chapter 3 mentions a description of Jesus.  Admittedly certain words are debated as to whether they are authentic, but even the removal of those words and we have an account of Jesus (The debated phrases are put in brackets and in red):

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, [if indeed it is lawful to call him a man], for he was a performer of wonderful deeds, a teacher of such men as are happy to accept the truth. He won over many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. [He was the Christ, and] when Pilate, at the suggestion of the leading men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him at the first did not forsake him; [for he appeared to them alive again on the third day, as the prophets of God had foretold these and ten thousand other wonders about him]. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.

Even if we accept the text in red as added in later, what is agreed upon as authentic speak of many of the tenets of the Christian faith: That he existed, that he performed wondrous deeds, was crucified by Pilate and his followers continued to follow him after his death.

Josephus mentions Jesus again later on in Antiquities [Book 20: Chapter 9], in a passage experts do not dispute the authenticity of, saying:

Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent.

Notice in this account, we have some secular confirmation of what the Christians were saying of Christ, identifying James as the brother of Jesus, that Jesus was called the Christ (Messiah) by them and that he was executed during the time after the governor Festus died and before the successor Albinus had arrived (about AD 62), and some Jews were appalled by the action of Ananus.

Other pagan accounts exist (Pliny, for example) which, while denying the divinity of Christ, attest to his existence.  We have other accounts (such as Celsus in the early third century for example) of people trying to write defamatory things about Christ seeking to explain away what was attested to about him.  The thing is, an attempt to debunk [Celsus' claims were not even factually correct] acknowledges what was said and believed.

Will Men Die for a Lie?

[Consider this a placeholder here.  The discussion of the reliability of witnesses deserves fuller treatment.  I merely put this here to acknowledge objections based on whether the witnesses were credible]

The accusation of doctored texts and the like also need to consider this: Of the apostles, eleven of them were martyred for their beliefs, which they refused to recant from.  If they spoke falsely, why were so many of them willing to die rather to deny what they claimed?

When witnesses are found for a topic, of course they must be investigated as to what they claim.  Even setting aside whether or not what they claimed was actually true, we can see that they believed it to be true, as whatever they experienced, motivated them to carry out tasks of great hardship.

The Circular Argument redux

The objection rises again that the apostles and others must have been deceived, but on what is this objection based?  On what evidence can this be claimed?  There is none.  But we are back to the circular argument of the texts being doubted because of the accounts of miracles.

The argument is that Miracles cannot exist, therefore the actions of these disciples must have a natural explanation.  But the problem here is that this is not based on seeking to discover what happened, but rather on the assumption that there cannot be a God, so accounts about this God must be false or have a natural cause.  The atheist then seeks to find some natural phenomena which could theoretically be mistaken for a miracle.

Looking with Reason at the Objections of Natural Phenomena

The problem with these natural phenomena is that the people of the time were aware of them too, and yet did not consider them to be these phenomena.  Manna in the desert, as described, for example did not look like the sugary substance of beetle excretions sometimes offered as an alternate explanation.  Fishermen in the Sea of Galilee would not find a person walking on a sandbar to be miraculous.  Boats were expensive after all, and a sailor would not want to risk wrecking it.  So attempts at explaining away accounts of miracles with natural phenomena needs to account for the knowledge of the ancients.

Indeed, these sort of actions are actually a form of "chronological snobbery," thinking that the ancient knew less than we do because of the progression of Science.  We assume the man of the twenty first century knows more than the man of the First Century.  However, this overlooks practical knowledge.  A farmer of the first century knew more than a "desk jockey" of the 21st century about how the weather and climate will affect his crops.  A first century fisherman would know more about how to sail a boat in a storm or to find fish than a 21st century anthropologist.

Oh yes, they might not have had the same knowledge as we do as to why the weather behaves as it does for example and of course this knowledge would have benefitted them, but they knew more as to how to interact with the weather than the city dweller of today.

Unfortunately today, we look to the past with a view of "ignorant savages," failing to remember that what we do know of science depended of the practical knowledge of the past.  Also we need to remember that in the Roman Empire, skeptics and atheists existed then too.  The "ignorant savage" argument assumes a belief that all ancients were superstitious and had no knowledge whatsoever about nature.

Not an Argument from Silence

Again this does not prove the existence of God in a scientific way.  However, we have again shown problems with modernistic thinking, which assumes claims which need to be proven.  So while this article does not prove the existence of God, we have removed an objection used to claim the belief in God is unreasonable, by looking at the underlying assumptions the atheist accepts without scrutinizing them.

In this case, there is no evidence to justify their objections which cannot also be used against the secular figures of antiquity.  We have sources of writings which attest to the claims made of Christ, and have looked at some of the objections to them.  These objections are not founded in the texts or the times, but on an application of 21st century assumptions of what can and cannot be possible.  Yet these assumptions need to be proven and not accepted as a given before they can be considered a refutation of the authenticity of the texts.

So we do have a problem of credibility with the claims of the atheist who states that it is "proven" the texts were altered.

So What We Have So Far

However, what we have now are reasonable grounds to reject two assumptions made by certain atheists:

  1. Science "proves" God does not exist
  2. Accounts of Christ are "myths"

In both cases the atheist's claims are based on a priori assumptions which need to be investigated in itself.  Since the assumptions have not been established, the argument made by them have not been proven true.

From this, it cannot be said these claims "prove" religion is irrational

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reflections on Existence, Truth and Science

When the Christian and the Atheist debate on the existence of God, there needs to be some sort of common ground of course.  Otherwise we end up talking past each other.

I think from this assumption we need to look at what Existence and truth are.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines exist as: have objective reality or being.

It defines true as: in accordance with fact or reality.

It is with these definitions, I wish to bring to attention some considerations.

Existence and Truth In Relation to God

The atheist generally argues that God does not exist, while the Theist argues there God does exist.  Unfortunately, what is often forgotten is the fact that this debate ignores a prior consideration.  When the atheist and the Theist dies, one of them will be wrong.  If the theist is wrong, there will be no God on the other side.  However, if the atheist is wrong, there will indeed be some sort of God on the other side.

In other words, there is an objective answer which is in accordance with fact or reality regarding the existence or non-existence of God.

With this in mind, all of the arguments on one side are futile.  They may be arguments which make sense to the one who holds them, but ultimately all persons should be seeking what is true, and the greater the truth claimed, the more important it is to seek to understand it.

One commenter on a blog of mine wrote (in reference to an example of Oxygen not being discovered until the 18th century):

You've pointed out a valid gap in knowledge, but what you've filled it with is arbitrary. Oxygen existed before the 18th century, but without evidence to show that it did, it would have been foolish to believe that it did.

I think the problem with this view is that the previous view of oxidation involved a belief of a substance called "phlogiston."  We know this view is false, and contributed nothing to the truth of understanding oxygen or rust.  Moreover, science had to unlearn this in order to progress.

So despite what science of the time believed was the best theory, it was false and objectively it was an error to hold to it.

This isn't to say "Science is bunk," but rather I wish to point out that what scientists may think on a subject may be entirely wrong if they approach it from the wrong perspective.

What Science Does

The Concise OED defines Science as:

the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

I have no objections to this definition.  Now, I believe it is crucial to note what Science does study: the physical and natural world.  It stands to reason that whatever is not a part of the physical and natural world cannot be measured by science.

Because of this, science in seeking to study the existence of things can only do so in the physical and natural realm.

The Definition of God

I don't like the definition in the Concise OED as it is too vague (a superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity).  The problem is it so broad it could encompass a pagan Greek concept of anthropomorphic physical beings as well as the Christian concept of God which is Spirit. 

However, we can say this, a definition of God which makes a deity a physical being could (theoretically) make that concept of a god observable by Science.  A concept of a god which is not physical cannot be measured by science.

What Science can do In Relation to the Concept of God

Science can only deal with the physical and natural realm, so it can speak of a god only to the extent that a god is physical and natural.  However, if a god exists which is not physical or natural, we need to recognize that whether or not this god does exist, science is inadequate to establish or deny this existence.

Not "God in the Gaps"

It should be understood here that this is not an argument from silence fallacy, nor a "God in the gaps" argument.  I am not saying that because science cannot speak at all on the existence of God in the Christian concept, it proves the Christian God exists.

Right now I am merely speaking on the limits of physical (scientific) knowledge.  if something cannot be observed by science, this does not mean by itself that the thing cannot exist.

Things which we can establish exist that Science cannot explain

Consider the works of Mozart.  Science can explain music as the striking of certain tones of soundwaves in a certain rhythm, but it cannot explain why the music of Mozart is considered beautiful to people of quite different cultures and geographical regions.

Science can explain the idea of brainwaves and chemical interactions involved in emotions, but it cannot explain the idea of consciousness or cogito ergo sum.

I would advise the reader here that this does not prove science is useless.  I think science is in fact a very important thing for the physical well being of humanity.  What it does do though is to establish that "one size does not fit all."

The Right Tool for the Right Job vs. Scientism

I don't use a telescope to observe microbes and I don't use a microscope to practice astronomy.  I use a telescope to study the stars and a microscope to study microbes.  The failure of the microscope to show me the stars does not mean a microscope is useless.  Nor does it mean the stars do not exist.  It means that it is the wrong tool for the job.

Likewise, science which deals with the natural and physical world cannot answer the questions which go beyond the physical world.

Scientism is defined as "the view that natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations, and over other fields of inquiry, such as the social sciences."

The problem with Scientism is that it insists on reducing everything to the natural and physical.  Something has to be testable to be true.  Yet if something is not natural and physical, science will not be able to have authority over it.

Of course the problem, as I pointed out earlier, one cannot determine the Scientific Method through science alone.  It is a theory which self-destructs when applied to itself.  Empirical testing cannot prove the scientific method true, so under the theory of scientism, the scientific method must be rejected.

What We Need to Remember

Again, what I have laid forth here is not an argument for the existence of God.  Rather it is a statement reminding people of what Science is and what it is intended to do, as well as remind people what truth is.  The attitude of scientism bases existence on the ability to be detected and tested scientifically.  Yet this is what needs to be proven before science can be accepted as the arbiter of all things.

This is the First Lesson

Some atheists may be wondering where are the proofs for God.  They exist, but they are not yet presented here. Before we can move on to them, we need to unlearn scientism.  Otherwise a person who applies scientism to the proofs for God will argue that these do not "prove" anything.

Once one accepts that science cannot be the judge of all things, we can go on to discussing how we can know non-physical and supernatural things.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Reflections on a Flawed Assumption in Atheism

Recently I've had an atheist take me to task over a post I wrote regarding Creationism and Evolution being the wrong issue to debate.  It's interesting to see the common errors held which are blind spots, and may sound reasonable on the outside but are not.

The issue I wish to reflect on is an argument made from probability.  In this case, it is argued as:

Science doesn't prove things in the sense that it provides absolute knowledge. Science is a process of observation and experimentation that provides a best guess about how things work. By the same token, we except the scientific method because through the process of observing and experimenting with different methods, it seems to be the one which works best. Science is only a best guess, but it is the best guess.

From this it is commonly argued by atheists that the knowledge of science disproves religion by providing a more "likely" explanation than the existence of God.

The problem is this argument presupposes that Theist = creationist.  This of course would be a surprise to many religious scientists who accept the idea of evolution yet retain their religious beliefs.  We see here a condescending and patronizing view from one atheist: Christians are ignorant of science or they would be atheists.

Problems with this Reasoning

I would of course object to his reasoning.  A scientific guess is no better than a guess that it was "done by elves" if the guess is wrong.  A scientific "guess" would be good or bad to the extent it was "true."  So a belief in ether, a belief in phlogiston, a belief in a geocentric universe, a belief in the transmutation of lead to gold were all errors which were scientifically the "best guess" of the times… yet they were errors which were a false turn which required undoing, and did not lead to the advancement of science, but the hindrance of the proper understanding.

The point is, science can sometimes err, and scientists can sometimes err.

The Ramifications of Erring Scientific Theories

If they can err, this does not of course mean "all science is bunk."  However, it does mean we do need to be wary about the social and moral conclusions drawn from science.  Evidence and experiments do need to be reviewed to see whether they prove what is alleged.

The argument which claims that there is no proof from science for religion, therefore it is probable there is no God is in fact against the requirements of science.  Since Science is done with things observable and experimental, the question is, what sort of experiments can be done to test the supernatural, from a strictly natural standpoint when by definition the supernatural is above the natural order?

This is the error the atheist makes about science, thinking that science can say anything (positive or negative) about the existence of God.  It is like using a telescope to try to see microbes… using a tool that is not designed to carry out the task.

Proof and Lack Thereof… and what it means

Atheism, or the quasi-atheistic agnosticism of today assumes that an absence of physical proof of something is de facto positive proof there is no God.  The charge is that science alone can explain what happens in nature, therefore a god is unnecessary.  The problem is that whether or not the best guess of science can find out the physical causes of certain events, it cannot find out the supernatural causes of events.

To argue that the non existence of God can be deduced through probability through what we now know of science is illogical.

To "prove" their point, the atheist has often sought to provide a false analogy making use of some mythical creature, saying "we can't disprove the existence of a flying spaghetti monster either, but we can be fairly sure it does not."

The reason this does not work is that the invention of a story about one fictional construct does not mean all things which cannot be observed physically do not exist.  To say it is probable the Flying Spaghetti Monster does not exist has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not God exists.

The atheist who argues that because science does not directly show a god in the physical observations of the material realm it does not exist fails because of this: That we do not have knowledge of something does not the lack of existence of something

Atheism, to avoid abusing science, has to demonstrate that what we do know and what we will know in the future will in fact be everything which exists.  A thing exists or does not exist regardless of whether it is known.  If nobody had discovered Mt. Everest, it would have remained the tallest mountain in the world in actuality, even if we misidentified another mountain as "the tallest."

What Do We Know, What Can We Know and What Bearing Does it Have On Actual Existence

So for atheists to claim that God cannot exist, even when hedging bets by using the word "probability," requires a knowledge that everything that exists (B) falls into the category of things that are or will be known in the future (A). In other words, A=B.

Since we do not even know everything which will be known, we cannot reasonably say we know what will fall into group A. Since we do not know this, we cannot know whether A=B.  We could discover in the future that all our research into AIDS or Cancer was a waste.  Alternately we may discover things we thought impossible were true.  The point is we neither know all there is to know or that whether all that exists ever will be known

Therefore we cannot say God does not exist based on what we know by science.  We can only say Science cannot speak to whether or not God exists.

God in the Gaps?  Or Science in the Gaps?

It is about here the atheist trots out the "God of the gaps" argument.  This claim is a straw man argument which holds that Christians explain away what they can't explain by saying "God did it."  This is false however.  It is not incompatible with Christianity to believe that the actions of science are set into motion by God.

We believe God can act directly or He can set natural things into motion.  If God can set natural things in motion, one can believe in God without believing in "gaps."

Unfortunately, atheists who use science do fall into the idea of "Science in the gaps" where anything pertaining to a miracle or the like will eventually be explained away by science.  What is the basis of this?  Nothing more than a belief that there is no God and no miracles so there must be a physical and natural cause.

This is of course begging the question.  The unspoken assumption needs to be proven, but the problem is we do not know what science will discover in the future.  I have no doubt science will discover many things of course.  But some of our areas of investigation may come up blank.  The claim that someday science will find answers to these things is based on the assumption there is a natural cause and that it will be knowable.

The Error of The Enlightenment

For an atheist who mocks the faith of Christians, this is irony indeed.  They profess faith in Science, and do not base their claims scientifically.  Indeed, if one were to apply the same standards the atheists apply to Christianity to the beliefs of atheists, we would soon see that their claims have no scientific basis, and would have to be considered in terms of philosophy, truth, data, methods of knowledge and so on.

The problem with the atheistic use (or more accurately abuse) of science is that it is artificially limited to the actions of the Enlightenment, which in effect decreed (irrationally) that only that which could be observed physically could be known.  In other words, All Knowledge is Scientifically verifiable.

To test this, try to prove the beauty of Mozart's works through Science.

We can indeed have experience and knowledge which cannot be verified by science, but exists.  For example: Take your height.  Are you aware of the fact of your height?  OK, now, are you aware of the awareness of your height?

Good, now prove that awareness exists, scientifically.

Not the Argument from Silence

The atheist may object here that this is an argument from silence.  That we are saying "You can't disprove the existence of God, therefore He exists."  We are not.  We are at this stage merely pointing out that to claim that only scientific knowledge is knowledge is false.  For the Christian to point out the limitations of science is not the proof of God.  We are not even at that stage yet.  We are on chapter 1 and that is around chapter 20.

In pointing out the limitations of science, the Christian apologist does not seek to deny science or the value of science.  Rather he or she wishes to point out that it is irrational to insist on scientific proof for something science cannot measure.

Once we grasp that, we can move on to what we can know.

What This Indicates

What this indicates is that the atheist who seeks to browbeat the believer "In The Name of Science" has no basis for his claims.  Quite frankly the Emperor has no clothes here.  The atheist's point is not proven to be true in terms of logic, and if it is not proven, it is not irrational to hold a belief in God.

Of course, as I said above, this does not mean the work of the Christian is done.  We have yet to show the truth of the faith.  We have only pointed out why atheism is not a reasonable belief, and we do have to show why the faith is rational.

However, before this can be demonstrated to the atheist, the atheist needs to recognize the errors of his personal interpretation of science to make it say what it cannot say.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thoughts on Jefferson and the so-called Wall of Separation

I notice articles by atheists tend to run in themes: "Islam is bad, so religion is bad," "Science disproves religion" and so on.  One of the recent themes is on Thomas Jefferson and his calling for a "Wall of Separation," citing the Danbury Letter.

The key point of this letter is:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

The argument tends to be "Jefferson said we need to keep a wall between Church and State.  Religions are trying to change laws.  Therefore religion needs to be controlled."

The problem is twofold.  First, the Danbury Letter is not  legally binding document or the like.  Second, the modern interpretation is one of bifurcation: "Either we control religion or religion controls us," which simply is not the case.

The letter Jefferson was responding to (from the Danbury Baptists) expressed a concern that certain sectarian groups might seek to attack members of the government being "irreligious,"  based on their own views.  Now this is a legitimate concern.  Certainly Catholics in Maryland in the 17th and 18th century before the founding of America knew of groups which, once in power, sought to strip them of their rights to religious freedom which they granted to others.  However, we remain with the problem of a wall of separation properly understood.

Now the first amendment to the Constitution does tell us:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This means of course that the state may not impose any specific religion on the people true, but it also forbids the prohibiting of the free exercise of religion.  It seems the dangerous part of Jefferson's letter is when he says:

I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties

The dangerous part of this sentiment is this potentially opens the door to the negation of the First Amendment if misapplied.  It's not completely wrong of course: The Church holds that freedom is not license to do what we wish, but rather the freedom to do what we ought before God, for example.  The problem is when the state decides a certain group acts contrary to undefined "social duties" not because of actual acts which are unlawful but because they practice a religion which is not well received.

As the old saying goes, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?  If the state defines what is intrusion on the Establishment of Religion, what prevents it from defining social duties in such a way to harass a religion or the like?

This is the problem of the modern understanding of the separation of Church and State.  The claim is that something benefits religion in general is a violation of the separation of church and state.  The problem is such a view de facto defines religion as being in opposition to social duties when it speaks out against the state.

We do need to remember that the view of atheism also falls under this criteria.  The atheist who seeks to remove public expression of prayer or the like is in fact violating this so-called wall of separation in a way which denies the rights of the first amendment.

The atheist who wishes to cite the Danbury Letter as excluding religion from political life needs to remember that the first amendment also grants to citizens the rights of the freedom of press, speech,  to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances.

This of course means that a Church has a right to speak out in word and in print about the ways the nation is bringing harm to members or harm to itself.  Yet churches do not have this right.  If a church wishes to say "What this government official is doing is wrong," they cannot without legal repercussions.

It is a paradox of course set about by a phrase with no legal bearing.  Separation of Church and State means a state cannot dictate how an individual may practice religion or to infringe of the practices of a religion, and certainly this is what popes like Leo XIII praised about the American way.  However, on the other hand, going from "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" to "Religion shall have no say in government" is certainly a contradiction, because it denies or limits members of religion their right to free speech, press, assembly and redress.

Things like the Danbury Letter or claims like saying "The Founding Fathers were not Christians" is in fact a Red Herring.  Certainly the Declaration of Independence shows that the understanding of America had some understanding of God, who had an authority above the state:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In other words, these are not rights the state can arbitrarily give and take away.  Rather they are things people possess which are beyond the ability of the state to regulate.   We now come to a problem with the claims of the atheist over America.  If we do not hold that our rights come from a creator, from what do they come from?  What makes them binding so that tomorrow Obama cannot say "I'm taking away your right to the free press"?

The choices for where our rights come from are: God, or Nothing. If they come from God, then no person can take them away from us… certainly a government can compel us so we cannot exercise our rights, but in doing so, they act in an unjust manner.

However, if they come ex nihilo (out of nothing), they are not rights, but tolerances from the government, as what one man can say is good for him, another might disagree with.  One government administration might decree we have the right to property, another which follows the first might claim we exploit people by the existence of private property and it may not be allowed.

Some atheists and agnostics do not like where this leads.  They recognize that some actions are wrong, but reject the idea as the source of what is good, so they seek to find a source which is not absolute to give us these rights, such as instinct or some undefined sense of justice.

The problem is our rights are only as absolute as the source which grants them. What binds a nebulous force like "justice" or "instinct" to do something we must obey?  What part of it prevents a Hitler or a Stalin from saying "I reject these values and replace them with another which I find superior for me."

Either we recognize that our rights as human persons come from a binding force outside of us (which, if one does not call it God, must define what it is) or we are forced to concede that we have no rights at all, but merely the tolerance of a government.

This latter view of course would be against the Constitution, and this is the paradox of Jefferson's Danbury Letter

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Evolution vs. Creation: The Wrong Battle Waged

Someone notified me recently I was being cited as a source against the claims of an atheistic individual who holds to Evolution and rejects Creationism.  While I am flattered that someone considers me authoritative, I think it is important to spell out what I do hold, lest someone think I am championing a cause I do not.

As I have stated in the title, I do believe the laying out of battle grounds between evolution and creation is the wrong battle for Christians to fight, putting some allies on the "enemy" side of the fence.  The issue is not whether to take the account of creation in Genesis literally or figuratively.  The issue is whether the creation of the universe is on account of an uncontrolled undirected cause or on account of God.

Unfortunately I think some Christians choose to fight the wrong battle on account of believing that science (as opposed to some erring scientists) must teach in opposition to the Christian faith.  The problem is the confusing a belief that God could work through evolution as His means of creation with the atheistic belief that claims of science means God does not exist.  The Christian who fights the "evolution vs. creation" battle when they think they are fighting the "God vs. atheism" battle do not assist in the battle against atheism.

The result of this wrong battle being fought is we see certain groups of Christians accusing other Christians who accept the possibility of evolution as the means God used to create as being heretical or being secret atheists or being deceived by atheists.

This is the fallacy of bifurcation.  Arguing that unless a man believes in creationism, the man is not a believer ignores the possibility of a faithful Christian who does not hold a fundamentalist view of Scripture.  The argument in this case is missing the point.

The point is whether or not God created the universe or whether the universe came together by chance.  If it was created by God, there is indeed purpose in the universe, and life has meaning.  If it was created by chance, there is no meaning to the universe and it is a matter of indifference whether we live in a manner called evil or a manner called good.

The issue of evolution is misused by the atheist to argue that because evolution happened, God is not necessary and therefore does not exist.

The problem is, the evidence pointed at to claim evolution is true does not prove the non-existence of God.  The other side of this coin is to show that the cell or the embryo is complex beyond imagining does not mean it could be done by God only through directly acting.

Now the problem with relying on the physical explanation of evolution alone and denying the existence of a creator is it cannot provide proof to explain certain steps (which is Begging the Question):

  • From no life to life
  • From single cell creatures to multi cell creatures
  • from creatures without organs to creatures with organs they did not need before but now cannot exist without
  • From non-sentience to sentience

The law of casualty holds that we cannot get a result which is greater than the sum of causes.  For example, we do not simply go from Acorn –> Tree.  We have acorn + water + soil + nutrients + sunlight –> Tree.  The believer tells us God –> Universe (with the "—>" being whatever means of creation used).  The atheist needs to explain: no life –> Life, Single Cell –> multi cell and so on, and why the law of casualty does not apply (or how it does apply).

Thus going from the so-called "primordial soup" to a single cell animal cannot be explained.  (The amino acid experiment was based on a false idea on what the primordial atmosphere was based on).  The evolution theory can say it did happen, but the atheistic view does not say how it happened.

Really this is the issue here.  If the atheist wishes to assert evolution sans God is true, the question is how do we know it is true, given the practical impossibility of proving a universal negative and the lack of scientific evidence showing these transitions taking place?

The syllogism of the atheist is:

  1. God does not exist
  2. The Universe exists
  3. Therefore the Universe was not created by God.

This is where I come in to the dispute.  Science is claimed to be logical and reasonable.  Religion is accused of being irrational and illogical.  Yet the claims of scientists who argue science proves there is no God cannot put together a logical and rational argument to establish their claim.

The argument that since God cannot be studied scientifically means there is no God is in fact a bad logical argument.  It is based on the unproven assumption that only that which is observable exists.  (All A is B).  The problem of course is that no matter how much we know about A (things that are observable), it does not prove there is not B (something that exists) which is not in B.

As a syllogism:

  1. All things which are observable exists (all A is B)
  2. God is not observable (Not A)
  3. Therefore God does not exist (Therefore not B)

We can show the error of this argument by replacing what A and B stand for:

  1. All people in Los Angeles are in California (All A is B)
  2. Bill is not in Los Angeles (Not A)
  3. Therefore Bill is not in California (therefore not B)

(If Bill lives in San Francisco, the argument is false)

In this case "All A is B" does not mean "All B is A." (All people in Los Angeles are in California does not mean all people in California are in Los Angeles).  In fact (going back to the syllogism of existence and observation), since we do not know what we will be able to observe in the future, we cannot even say we know everything currently in A (things observable) is all that will ever be in A

To challenge this is the "Emperor has no clothes" comment we should be presenting to the world against atheism.  In contrast, to argue the "Creationism vs. Evolution" is a distraction from the truth to be evaluated at this time.  Whether one believes in Creationism or Evolution as a Christian, the individual is still saying "God did this."  (Not as a way to avoid complex explanations as Dawkins so ludicrously put it, but because if the existence of God is true, we will eventually wind up with the "Uncaused cause" of Thomas Aquinas). In contrast atheism says "All this was set into motion by purely physical causes," with no basis but a faith that someday science will find the answer.

Science can validly look at evolution from a purely physical point, without being wrong per se, when it asks "how it works."  However when it looks at the purely physical and says "this is all there is," it goes beyond what Science can say and the proponents of such a view are in fact leaving reason and logic behind.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On the Errors of Obama

Source: The White House - Press Office - Remarks by the President at Human Rights Campaign Dinner

Many people are of the impression that Obama is really friendly and willing to listen to people of faith.  Then Obama does something which shows this faith in this impression is groundless.  That what he really stands for is light years away from what the Christian faith requires.

In this address, posted on the White House web page and not on some right wing blog, Obama tells the audience that those of us who believe in the authenticity of Christian teaching are the intolerant bigots which he is trying to save America from.

He starts off by telling his audience:

Thank you so much, all of you. It is a privilege to be here tonight to open for Lady GaGa. (Applause.) I've made it. (Laughter.) I want to thank the Human Rights Campaign for inviting me to speak and for the work you do every day in pursuit of equality on behalf of the millions of people in this country who work hard in their jobs and care deeply about their families -- and who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. (Applause.)

For nearly 30 years, you've advocated on behalf of those without a voice. That's not easy. For despite the real gains that we've made, there's still laws to change and there's still hearts to open. There are still fellow citizens, perhaps neighbors, even loved ones -- good and decent people -- who hold fast to outworn arguments and old attitudes; who fail to see your families like their families; who would deny you the rights most Americans take for granted. And that's painful and it's heartbreaking. (Applause.) And yet you continue, leading by the force of the arguments you make, and by the power of the example that you set in your own lives -- as parents and friends, as PTA members and church members, as advocates and leaders in your communities. And you're making a difference.

The fact is, homosexuals have the same rights as Heterosexuals in America.  They can vote, can own property, can hold jobs.  They can even marry… people of the other gender.  The issue of course is what marrying someone of the same gender means.

Obama makes use of a logical fallacy right off the back, that because an argument is old, it is invalid.  This is a false and dangerous way of looking at things.  What matters is whether the argument is true.  Obama is operating under the following reasoning:

  1. Marriage is about sex
  2. There is no difference between enjoying heterosexual or homosexual activity
  3. Therefore anyone opposed to homosexual marriage does so out of intolerance of homosexuality.

Except the proponents of traditional marriage would reject proposition #1.  Marriage is not about sex.  It is about family and unity of two spouses.  Laws about marriage are to protect the institution of the family, the right of the spouses to generate life from each other and to raise children according to their beliefs.

The so-called "Homosexual marriage" carries none of these elements.  Without an outside third party, procreation is not even biologically possible (which differs from the infertile heterosexual couple who can at least perform the act of procreation as it was intended to be), which means both the elements of procreation and unity of spouses would be absent in a homosexual "marriage."

St. Thomas Aquinas recognized the fact that the marriage act required marriage to be valid:

Now the marriage goods are the cause of rectitude in the marriage act. Therefore the marriage act cannot be excused without them.

Further, the aforesaid act does not differ from the act of fornication except in the aforesaid goods. But the act of fornication is always evil. Therefore the marriage act also will always be evil unless it be excused by the aforesaid goods.

I answer that, Just as the marriage goods, in so far as they consist in a habit, make a marriage honest and holy, so too, in so far as they are in the actual intention, they make the marriage act honest, as regards those two marriage goods which relate to the marriage act. Hence when married persons come together for the purpose of begetting children, or of paying the debt to one another (which pertains to faith) they are wholly excused from sin. But the third good does not relate to the use of marriage, but to its excuse, as stated above (A3); wherefore it makes marriage itself honest, but not its act, as though its act were wholly excused from sin, through being done on account of some signification. Consequently there are only two ways in which married persons can come together without any sin at all, namely in order to have offspring, and in order to pay the debt. otherwise it is always at least a venial sin. (Summa Theologica: Supplement Q49 A5)

We would be wise to consider the 13th century, and not make the fallacy of the argument from time as Obama does.  Certain acts, such as Rape, Child Abuse, Prostitution and fornication etc. do indeed involve the same physical act as the marriage act but they are not under the same meaning of the marriage act.  St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that what makes these acts good are the openness to life (one cannot help if one is infertile, but one needs to be open to the possibility of life) and as an act of love for the spouse (which is what "marriage debt" means).  Acts of lust, using one's spouse for sexual gratification etc, are an abuse of the marriage act.

Obama acts under the assumption that opposition to homosexual marriage is the same thing as opposition to the civil rights of racial minorities in America, but this is a false analogy.  The racial laws of America were unjust because they denied to a person of a different ethnicity to do the same things as another ethnicity.  It is quite possible for a white man and a black female to marry and to raise a family, and laws denying this are in fact unjust.

However, Gender is not the same as race and homosexual marriage is not the same thing as interracial marriage.  Whether a man be Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic or Black, he is still a man.  Whether a woman be Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic or Black, she is still a woman.  A man of one race and a woman of another race are still a man and a woman.  Two women "marrying" or two men "marrying" are not a man and a woman.

As I said above, homosexuals are free to vote regardless of their sexual orientation.  However during America's racial discrimination, blacks were not free to vote.  The opposition to interracial marriage was unjust because it restricted which men could marry which women.

A ≠ B

Since A does not equal B, Obama's attempting to equate opposition to homosexual marriage to opposition to civil rights is fallacious.

The problem we as Christians now face with Obama is that he stands in opposition to what we in fact believe.  Now he is free to reject the teachings of the Christian faith of course.  But since he has set himself in opposition to what we believe, we do need to stand up for our faith as Christians and withstand him to his face.

We believe that what God commands, He does not for a sense of being nasty or petty but for our own good.  We believe that what God commands is rational, and can be understood from reason.  We must pray for his conversion of course, but we must also be willing to suffer for the truth.  If Obama calls us intolerant, if he equates us with segregationists, it is of course a slander of us.  We may be persecuted, or we may not.  However, we know who our Lord and Master is, and our duty is to Him first, and to the state only to the extent that the state does not contradict God.