Nice video about the Kalam Cosmological Argument

Just a quick post… I posted a new video I came across on our local congregational website concerning the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God’s existence. I have commented on that argument before here on the blog (specifically, here: “The Kalam Cosmological Argument and Unwin’s Pursuit of P(G)”), and I thought the video by Dr. William Lane Craig’s organization was very well done. It’s concise, it gets the point across without getting lost in minutia, and it is pleasantly and professionally produced.

Feel free and watch it for yourself. And you might use it as a spur to do what I recommended to my congregation: Take advantage of this Sabbath to ask someone why they personally believe that God exists and share your own reasons, as well.

The video is here, below. (And, as with all such links and embeds, the standard caveat applies.)

(And for those who have never read it, please consider our booklet: “The Real God: Proofs and Promises”)

Our prayers are with those in Oklahoma

The scenes showing on the news of the tornado in Oklahoma are just heart breaking. As a child growing up in Texas, I only experienced one tornado while I was at school, and it was nothing like these poor little ones have gone through.

We got a commentary up on and on the Oklahoma tornado, and my hats are off to our editorial, legal, and internet folks for working so fast to get it out today. My apologies for taking so long to write it. I did not find out about the tornado until late last night (actually early this morning) and was in a bit of a “news-free bubble” before that. On finding out, it was hard to go to sleep. What a horrible world this is. It is not the world our Father would have it to be, which was part of the theme from the resulting commentary. The commentary can be found here: “This Is Not Our Father’s World.” But rather than reproduce it here (though, please do read it), I thought I would add some additional thoughts.

Although the logical “problem of evil” is generally considered by those in philosophical circles to be an ultimately unsustainable argument against God’s existence with many paths available for resolving the problem (among them, importantly, the one God reveals to be true!) and the ends of theodicy (sounds like a book by Homer, doesn’t it?) have generally been successfully achieved, it doesn’t diminish the emotional problem of evil… It may be fairly easy to understand, intellectually, how such things can happen, it is still hard to grasp emotionally. And part of me wonders if that should always be a struggle. Perhaps it should take us to our edges, which is where struggles take place, as long as it doesn’t take us beyond them. Perhaps that reflects a dissatisfaction with the way things are and is a reflection of our desire that it be otherwise. I’m not sure, and I will have to think about that a bit more.

Regardless, I personally believe that God feels–in a real way–the same way we do, only more so. The apparently machine-like pseudo-consciences of those like the Westboro Baptist crowd are a mockery of how God feels about suffering and His sense of justice, and I can’t but imagine that the “hands off” policy His plan requires of Him during this time is so much harder for Him than we can grasp, even as His knowledge that it is necessary is more sure than ours. By “harder” I mean more painful to go through, not harder to accomplish, and I don’t think that is a contradiction, even if it seems so at first. (I’m open to being shown where I’ve messed up, by the way.) While we reel at the pictures and the video footage, God was so much more acutely and intimately aware of the suffering. He heard every cry–indeed, every fleeting, scared, panicked thought–of every victim, and every anguished sob from a devastated parent is known to him in its incomprehensibly staggering fullness. I truly can’t imagine that He does not want to bring His kingdom and end this madness infinitely more than we do, let alone the passionate desire He must have to raise those lost back to life and to see them once again in their family’s arms in a world where no such things will ever happen again.

Knowing that there will be more of these things–only more so–as pointed out by prophecy, it should truly make us sigh and cry. It is my understand that no Living Church of God members were harmed in this outbreak, for which I am so thankful, though we know that will not always be the case, and it is there but for the grace of God that we go, ourselves. The next one could come right down my own street, and that could be me pulling my children out of the rubble. The thought is almost too much to bear. I pray that I could have the presence of character and walk with God that Job must have had even before his trials such that when those trials did come he could respond in the way he did:

Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong. (Job 1:20-22)

While I would know this to be true in my head, how hard it would be to be a parent in Oklahoma and have that come truly from my heart as it did for Job. To be honest, I don’t know if I am there yet in my walk with God, though, should he choose my family for such a trial, I pray that I would be. And, of course, I know Philippians 4:13 is mercifully true.

Sorry for being a bit rambly (“A bit?” you ask…), but I just wanted to post a few thoughts and to highlight the new commentary. In addition, while I don’t normally talk about other Church of God organizations, let me add just one more thing. I don’t know what other organizations may have congregations out there, but I do know that one, in particular, certainly does–namely PCG, the headquarters of which is, I believe, in part of the affected area. I don’t know if any of the few of you who happen to quietly read this blog outside of my own congregations are in PCG, but if you are and if there is anyway in which any of our members can help, please let us know. I know many of the LCG folks in that area, and I believe any of them would be more than willing to do what is necessary to help you and ensure you are safe and out of harm’s way without pressing you with questions or disrespecting your desire to maintain your distance otherwise. I’m not trying to sound magnanimous, because I believe that if any of us were in a similar spot you, too, would reach out. I’ve known just a few people who went to your organization, but all of them were friends and good people. In particular, those brethren in my congregations who have come to us from your organization are some of the most wonderful people I know. I have come to care for them deeply, and they reflect very well on you. Regardless, we’re praying for you and for everyone impacted by these tragic events.

May God bring His kingdom quickly that such events are never experienced again. Again, my apologies for rambling a bit, and I return you to your regularly scheduled surfing.

The unscientific Victor Stenger

Note: I actually wrote most of this for myself a while back after receiving and reading the “God Issue” if New Scientist magazine, which I mentioned here in the blog at the time. I found it sitting in my documents folder and thought I would post it here after a little freshening up. While I believe Victor Stenger is a sharp-minded fellow, his article in the magazine seemed to me to be little more than a parade of his biases and unscientific thinking that was more disappointing than educational. It seemed to demonstrate that, indeed, all of us are at the mercy of what I tend to call the Tyranny of Assumptions–even those who are sharp-minded fellows.

A recent issue of New Scientist which I commented on recently, dubbed by its editors “The God Issue,” contains an article by Victor J. Stenger that I found to be a real disappointment: “The God Hypothesis.” I really expected better from Dr. Stenger, a professor of physics and an outspoken atheist—or at least I expected good science. But it wasn’t to be had (at least not in this article). Before reading this article, I was tempted to read his book God: The Failed Hypothesis (tagline: “How science shows that God does not exist”), but I must say: If this article offers some of the best Stenger has to offer, I think I will probably reserve my time for reading better critics.

The point of the article is that God’s existence should be a scientifically testable hypothesis. More specifically, he says that if God exists, there should be consequences of His existence in the world, and, if so, then science should be able to discover and examine those consequences.

That’s true as far as it goes, and, of course, Stenger attempts to take it farther than it goes. However, he displays the real problem within his last paragraph:

“Finally, I would like to comment on the folly of faith. When faith rules over facts, magical thinking becomes deeply ingrained and warps all areas of life. It produces a frame of mind in which concepts are formulated with deep passion but without the slightest attention paid to the evidence. Nowhere is this more evident that in the US today, where Christians who seek to convert the nation into a theocracy dominate the Republican party. Blind faith is no way to run a world.”

Here, Stenger displays his true feelings and demonstrates how untrustworthy his conclusions should be considered.

Really? The US provides him the most evidence on planet earth that faith blinds one to facts and “warps all areas of life”? And the Republican party is dominated by Christians seeking to convert the nation into a theocracy? I suppose that explains why Mitt Romney is doing so well these days: His desire to convert America into a theocracy. Or perhaps Stenger is looking at the surprising success in the primaries (closer to the time when his article was written) of Rick Santorum, whose voting record not only shows that he planned no theocracy, but whose claims about the connection between the sexual revolution and damage to women’s well-being has been picked up and supported by non-theists, as well, as an observation worth its salt.

Stenger likes the pretensions of an untainted commitment to truth, but his words reveal that his “commitment” plays second fiddle to his personal bias and inclinations.

It’s visible enough in the rest of his article, and—nothing personal against Mr. Stenger—it is a problem shared by many. Let’s take a look at that problem, using some quotes from his article as anchor points.

“If a properly controlled experiment were to come up with an observation that cannot be explained by natural means, then science would have to take seriously the possibility of a world beyond matter.”

Well, this really doesn’t happen, does it? Generally the position is taken that a “natural” answer will be found eventually, so let’s not worry about it. (Look at the faith many have in RNA world.) I’m not disagreeing with the idea inherent in what is being said; rather I am questioning whether many scientists really think this way. I’ve seen many more willing to simply go on faith that nature will eventually provide an explanation, and many have explicitly expressed their willingness to allow such questions to go unanswered eternally before they would “take seriously the possibility of a world beyond matter.”

And it should be said that “cannot be explained by natural means” is one incredibly elastic umbrella. Stenger’s statement sounds oh-so-reasonable, when it is truly not too far from this infamous statement from biologist and geneticist Richard Lewontin:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

“It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

Before it is taken as a concession to fair play, Stenger’s comment should be read with Lewontin’s eloquent professio fidei in mind.

Here’s another statement of Dr. Stenger in the article that was a real hoot: “Scientists have empirically tested the efficacy of intercessory prayers.”

This comment was funny, not only treating God as if He were a rat in a maze, but as if all religions believe in the same rat.  If all religions were somehow tapping into some odd, impersonal force in the world through intercessory prayer, then I could see these experiments producing results. But given that He is a person with goals and purposes—as opposed to a magical gumball machine, with which we put in magical quarters (prayers) and receive magical gumballs (healings)—Stenger’s comment that the results showed no impact is surprising to… whom?

(Next he moves on to Near Death Experiences, which is a non-starter for me. I have no dog in that hunt, since I do not believe the Bible teaches an immortal soul that leaves the body at death, so no surprises there. So, we’ll move on…)

When Stenger gets into scientists’ “seeking evidence against a god’s existence in the world around us,” he has to qualify himself:

“Here we must be clear that we are not talking about evidence against any and all conceivable gods. For example a deist god that creates the universe and then just leaves it alone would be very hard to falsify. But no one worships a god who does nothing.”

True, no one worships a god who does nothing, and yet, the creation of all that is—potentially with purpose and design and meaning and destiny—is hardly “nothing,” even if that is as far as things went. (It isn’t, by the way.) Understandably, part of what opens many people up to the idea that God, in some form or fashion, exists is the creation of the universe. One would be very justified in wondering why that God did so, and what His purpose was in creating the universe, regardless of His activity in or out of it since its creation. After all: A God who was present at the beginning may, indeed, show up at the end, His (imagined) absence of the moment notwithstanding. Is not the scientist, himself, the perfect picture of one who begins a process with a set purpose, allowing it to take its course so that the purpose is achieved by the time he returns to it at its conclusion (knowledge, cures, weapons, what have you)? [And, please, don’t get me started on the “falsificationism” fallacy he trots out there.]

And given the impotence physicists such as Mr. Stenger have experienced in explaining the cause behind the universe’s creation, his comment must be understood in that context. It’s an aside that reveals more than it seems.

Here’s another statement from the article: “If God is the intelligent designer of life on Earth, then we should find evidence for intelligence in observation of the structure of life. We do not. The Intelligent Design movement failed in its effort to prove that the complexity found in some biological systems is irreducible and cannot be explained within Darwinian evolution. Life on Earth looks exactly as it should look if it arose by natural selection.”

Yeah… except that it doesn’t. Evolution by natural selection simply does not explain what we see in the life of Earth, and it is a myth that all biologists think so (though I will not pretend that most of them do not). Even a leading light such as the late Lynn Margulis, though she had her own natural cause to champion, claimed that “The critics [of natural selection], including the creationist critics, are right about their criticism.”  Then there is James Shapiro, who apparently steamed evolutionist grand inquisitor Jerry Coyne when he pointed out that neo-Darwinism and “natural selection über alles” just isn’t cutting it anymore and that what he calls purposeful, targeted “natural genetic engineering” may play a larger and more important role than natural selection. (In other words, life on earth does not look exactly as it should if it arose by natural selection.)

Truthfully, Stenger’s pithy “we do not” comments (which pepper the entire paper) say more about his personal confidence and faith than they do about the actual facts.

No, the Intelligent Design movement appears to be doing just fine and, if anything, making headway. When there has been no successful “unintelligent” explanation for origin of DNA—the heart and soul of every life form on earth—it is rather arrogant to say that life on earth is exactly as we should expect it to be if there were no designer, all other considerations aside.  And when one begins to throw in the many additional considerations (e.g., the observations of James Shapiro previously mentioned, genetic entropy and papers such as Alexey Kondrashov’s “Why Aren’t We Dead 100 Times Over?”, et al.) it almost seems to go further than arrogance. Though, perhaps arrogance is enough.

Next in the article, Stenger attacks the idea of an immaterial component of the mind (he says “soul” but I would say “spirit”), by saying, “If that were true [that an immaterial component exists], we should be able to observe mentally induced phenomena that are independent of brain chemistry. We do not.”

This simply isn’t true, assuming I understand him correctly. What’s often referred to as “downward causation” has been seen in the laboratory before. Individual will has been seen to affect brain chemistry, rather than the other way around. (By the way, I assume he really does mean “independent of” and not “unassociated with” which would be different and irrelevant.)  If he is claiming that upward causation from chemistry to thoughts has been established beyond reasonable doubt, he is without real support.  His approach could be mimicked by saying, “If it were true that the mind is purely and completely a physical phenomenon produced by uncaring chemicals, we should be able to observe a chemical cause for every mental phenomenon. We do not.”  I would be happy to grant that this statement is faulty, but it is no more faulty than Stenger’s, which is more advocacy than science reporting.

(And, again, I take “independent of” not to mean “unassociated with.” I believe the evidence shows the human mind to be a product of both the non-physical human spirit and the physical human brain, so an association between mental phenomena and brain chemistry should be expected.)

More could be said, but this should be enough. I do encourage you to read the article over at New Scientist. (I’m not sure if a subscription is required; it might be, though often a limited number of free reads are allowed.) It’s title claims that “God is a testable hypothesis.” However, reading critically you will find that the article places its author under the microscope more than its supposed Subject.

Related Posts

The Kalam Cosmological Argument and Unwin’s Pursuit of P(G)

A pretty spiral galaxy (Courtesy NASA & STScI). It had a beginning, so does that mean it had a cause?

Recently I wrote a post highlighting a form of Leibniz’s cosmological argument and mentioning how nice it was to see him get some press. Actually, he appeared recently in another book I am currently reading that was just about irresistible at the local Half Price Books when I saw it: The Probability of God, by Stephen D. Unwin. Dr. Unwin is a former theoretical physicist and risk analyst who decided to perform a Bayesian analysis of the probability that the statement “God exists” is true (that is, he calculates P(G)). While, on one hand, I don’t fully agree with all of his points so far–in the spirit of the book, I should say that my confidence in the truth of some of the points he asserts is less than 100%–on the other hand, I understand why, for the sake of the analysis he is trying to do, he makes those points. And it’s amazing to me someone happened to stumble on a recipe for a book that my nature virtually requires me to purchase it. (Theoretical physicist? Risk analyst? Bayesian probability calculations? God’s existence? Can my debit card come out of my wallet fast enough?)

His mention of Leibniz is hilarious in a “wow, what a crazy historical tale the discovery of calculus is, huh?” sort of way.  It went like this in a early passage where he is discussing quantum theory:

Isaac Newton didn’t hear of it, since he was already long dead, but if he had, he would have claimed to have invented it. (This is from my pro-Leibniz joke repertoire and is not really relevant.)

Ha! Not that I side with the Leibniz bunch (the Bernoullis and the gang) on the Newton vs. Leibniz matter, since history has shown the matter to be a draw, but the humor is still appreciated, and the book has quite a bit of that so far. (This really does tempt me to write about the role Calculus has played in empowering the end-time Beast power. I’ve got to write that post one day.)

However, that isn’t really what I intended to write about this morning. Having mentioned Leibniz’ cosmological argument, I thought I would follow up and mention the Kalam cosmological argument, which William Lane Craig (a huge fan of the argument) highlights in his book On Guard to which I referred last time. It’s pleasant and clean in its simplicity and well worth a look for those who enjoy such things:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The third statement follows unavoidably from the first two, so the truth of the conclusion boils down to whether or not the first two premises are true. (Note: If one of the premises is false, it does not mean that the conclusion is false, but if both of the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true, as well.)

Of course, the conclusion is not a conclusion that many like, so most will argue against one or both of the premises to even extreme limits, but at least the discussion is properly focused. And the two premises have the benefit of seeming reasonable on the surface to most reasonable people: Our common experience in life gives us ample evidence of the likelihood that premise 1 is true (indeed, it is the basis for virtually the entirety of scientific enterprise), and ever since the Big Bang revolutionized thinking in astrophysics, premise 2 has become very reasonable, as well. It is, however, the premise which seems to be debated the most.

Of course, no argument is a “knock down, drag out” winner, because there is always something to debate. Even fulfilled prophecy as evidence for God could be argued by some who are of a mindset like that of unsound thinker Michael Drosnin of “The Bible Code” shame who might claim that the scriptures were inspired not by a prophecy-fulfilling God but, instead, by super-advanced, time-traveling aliens from Zeta Reticuli — an argument-ender if I ever heard one. But arguments can still highlight what is reasonable to conclude, and I think the Kalam argument gives a very strong argument that belief in an eternally existing Creator is entirely reasonable.  (Concerning the groupings in our The Real God: Proofs and Promises booklet, I think it falls under the “Creation Demands a Creator” category.)

Arguments and theological premise-wrangling aside, I really am getting a kick out of Unwin’s The Probability of God, and the math teacher/actuary/minister in me hopes it continues to be as good as it has been so far.  Any guy who ends his book (yes, I’ve peaked ahead, but just a bit!) by helping the reader to create their own spreadsheet to calculate their own probability of God’s existence is a special breed.

Leibniz’s argument for God’s existence

250th day of death of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibni...
Image of Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz on a stamp (Image via Wikipedia)

My sermon last Sabbath was about what the Bible teaches about the purpose of man (we have a great booklet on that: Your Ultimate Destiny), and in it I spoke a bit against the abuse of logic and philosophy. But that does not mean I’m anti-logic or anti-philosophy in general. Actually, I’m very pro-logic, and even pro-philosophy as it’s most simply defined (courtesy of “the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct”). I’m currently working on a Tomorrow’s World telecast tentatively titled “Why Believe in God?” (offering The Real God: Proofs and Promises) and the logic behind concluding that there is a God is very much on my mind these days.

Recently I’ve enjoyed some podcasts from William Lane Craig’s website, and I think his book On Guard is pretty good. Being a debater and popularizer of philosophy, Craig has crafted his book with a focus on the practical side of logical argumentation, with some convenient charts explaining his arguments’ flow and illustrating how some objections are handled. For someone new to logical argumentation, the book is a good starter I think, and I might add it to my kiddos’ reading list (at least the older boys). While Dr. Craig and I would passionately disagree on a number of items concerning biblical doctrine, I appreciate the thinking he’s done on matters of proving the truth of God’s existence, the nature of time and knowledge, and defending the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On the matter of arguing that God exists, I appreciate that he includes in his books an argument from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz — not because the argument is special to me or anything like that. Rather, being the former Calculus teacher that I am, Leibniz is one of my old heroes and it’s nice to see his work on something even more important than Calculus (believe it or not) given some credit. (The crucial, uncredited role that Leibniz played in bringing about the end times Beast Power of Revelation is something I enjoy explaining on occasion–with tongue firmly planted in cheek, of course–and I may add that tale here to the blog one day.)

Here’s the essence (as I understand and summarize it) of Lane’s presentation of Leibniz’s argument for the existence of God, for your viewing pleasure…

  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. The universe has an explanation of its existence.
  5. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

The premises 1 & 3 lead to the conclusion 4, and 4 combined with premise 2 leads to the conclusion 5.

It’s a valid argument, in the sense that it is structurally solid and its conclusion would follow from its premises, but is it a sound argument–that is, is it also true?  Clearly, that depends on the truth of its premises.  No one would question premise 3–if they would, you could simply call it a day and take them out for some non-existent coffee. Consequently, the truth of the conclusion boils down to whether or not premises 1 and 2 are true.

The obvious objection one could bring up (and Craig mentions this) is that if one says that everything that exists has an explanation and if you are claiming God exists, then God, too, must have an explanation. (If you already thought of that, treat yourself to a cookie!)

However, this glosses over a subtlety in Leibniz’s argument that goes unstated in the formulation above–namely, that there are things that exist due to external causes and things that exist of necessity. God is not “caused” by anything–by nature, He exists necessarily.  This leads Craig to refine his statement of Leibniz’s argument making these claims explicit:

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

This narrows possible disagreements to arguing against premise 1–say, by claiming, say, that nothing can exist necessarily (essentially assuming God does not exist from the start), disagreeing that everything has an explanation of its existence (specifically, disagreeing that universe has an explanation for its existence)–or arguing against premise 2–say, by claiming that the universe exists necessarily.

Again, I’m fond of Leibniz (and look forward to meeting him one day), and it was nice to see him featured in this way. I prefer Dr. Craig’s Kalam argument, which I might mention in another post sometime, but here I thought I would give Leibniz some props. After the whole Newton/Calculus affair, it’s nice to give him some credit where he’s earned it. 🙂