Many sane, educated and generally trustworthy people claim not only that God exists but also that they have genuine knowledge, including justified true belief, that God exists. Because claims are typically cheap and easy, however, the claim to know that God exists will prompt the following response, usually sooner rather than later: How do they know? ¶ This common four-word question, although irksome at times, is perfectly intelligible and even valuable, as far as it goes. It seeks an explanation of how the belief that God exists exceeds mere belief, or opinion, and achieves the status of genuine knowledge. In particular, this question typically seeks an explanation of how, if at all, the belief that God exists is grounded, justified, reasonable, or evidence-based regarding affirmations of truth. ¶ A plausible goal behind our four-word question is, at least for many inquirers, to acquire truth in a manner that includes an adequate indication of true belief. These truth-seeking inquirers aim not only to avoid false belief and lucky guesswork, but also to minimize the risk of error in their beliefs (at least in a way befitting to the acquisition of truth). We should aim for the same, as people who seek truth but who are faced sometimes with facts and other realities at odds with our opinions. In seeking truth about God’s existence, in particular, we thus should seek truth based on evidence for God’s reality. Such evidence, if available, would indicate that it is true that God exists, or (in other words) that God is real rather than fictional.
In October 2001 there was an incident reported in the local news that tipped my perspective farther from deism toward an atheistic-leaning agnosticism. A driver struck a pedestrian on a freeway in Fort Worth and continued the journey home, parking in the garage with the victim still on the hood of the car. The victim was conscious and pled for help, but the driver simply left him there for four days until he died, then with the help of a friend, dumped the body in a local park. The universal reaction to this incident was one of shock and outrage. Yet as I considered the millions of children who have died of starvation, wasting disease, and natural disasters, knowing that an omnipotent god could have come to their rescue in response to their pleas but did not, it was difficult not to see a parallel between God and the negligent driver. The more I contemplated the world in which we live, the harder it became to identify any clues that a benevolent, omnipotent Personality intervenes and orchestrates any of the events in our lives.
Defenders of materialism usually use three types of arguments to criticize the family of arguments I presented earlier. They use Error replies if they think the item that the antimaterialist is setting up for explanation can be denied. They use Reconciliation objections if they suppose that the item in question can be fitted within a materialist ontology. Moreover, they also use Inadequacy objection to argue that whatever difficulties there may be in explaining the matter in materialist terms, it does not get us any better if we accept some mentalistic worldview such as theism. We can see this typology at work in responses to the argument from objective moral values. Materialist critics of the moral argument can argue that there is really no objective morality, they can say objective morality is compatible with materialism, or they can use arguments such as the Euthyphro dilemma to argue that whatever we cannot explain about morality in materialist terms cannot better be explained by appealing to nonmaterial entities such as God.
Everything we care about — and, more significantly, everything we should care about — is something the universe of “blind physical forces” just doesn’t care about. A materialist view of reality turns morality and goodness into the idiosyncratic concerns of a single species that might never have existed (and if we hadn’t, the universe wouldn’t have cared a whit). When we are gone (as we will be), the universe will once again just be a world of meaningless facts and events. The world of things without life, without personality, without a capacity to care — this, according to the scientific picture endorsed by Dawkins and Stenger and others, is the ultimate reality. ¶ Juxtaposed against this picture, there is the hope that the essence of the universe is characterized by something else — what Martin Luther King called “a loving purpose.” It is the hope that there is something fundamental that eludes empirical investigation and which is essentially on the side of goodness. In such a universe, the moral agent who cares about the good is in tune with the fundamental truth about the universe in a way that the sociopath is not.
Atheism—and contra-atheism—is a much overpublished topic, and Reitan, a professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University, is late to the party. Nonetheless, he makes an elegantly argued response to Christopher Hitchens et al. that is refreshing in several respects. Neither polemical nor defensive, he writes primarily as a logician, rather than a believer. He brings into the contemporary fray many philosophers who reasoned well about God long ago: Anselm, Aquinas, Leibniz, Schleiermacher. He explains so many arguments so clearly that the book could function as an introductory philosophical text on the perennial subject of God’s existence. He also looks squarely in the face of the contemporary horrors that many have used to argue for God’s non-existence and still comes off the theodicy battleground with a sense of God as ethico-religious hope, the substance of things hoped for. The clarity of his presentation should make this book useful after atheism has finished its moment in the sun. ~ Publishers Weekly
I happen to think we can discover in the Bible a God worthy of worship — the God of radically universal love attested to by Martin Luther King, Jr. But we can’t discover this God if we think of the Bible as a monolithic treatise written by God himself. When the Bible is read in that way, we don’t derive a picture of a God worthy of unfettered devotion. What we get is a picture of a capricious deity, sometimes merciful and loving, at other times jealous and tyrannical. If this way of reading the Bible is the only legitimate one, then the proper conclusion to draw — given God’s essential goodness — is that the biblical god is not God. ¶ But there are other ways to read the Bible. We can read it as a human testament to the encounter with God, one that evolves as human misconceptions crash up against a divine reality that transcends our understanding. In short, we can treat it as a rich historical archive unified by a common struggle: the struggle of flawed human beings to understand and respond to the divine, and to live as the people of God. We can see this struggle as ongoing, and the voices recorded in the Bible as participants in an enduring conversation that we ourselves have every right to participate in — rather than as a blunt authority intended to silence conversation.
Can the fact that there are theists who seem to be intelligent and morally sensitive be explained on the assumption that these theists are exercising their intelligence and moral sensitivity in the formation of their theistic beliefs? For Dawkins to assume that the answer is no — and for him to declare, "It must be selective stupidity!" — just because he hasn’t been able to figure out how the exercise of intelligence and moral sensitivity can generate religious belief… well, why isn’t that intellectually responsible? … For the sake of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Simone Weil and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as too many personal friends and inspirations to name, I hope that Dawkins and the other cultured despisers of religion are wrong. I hope, in other words, that theistic religion can be, and often is, a vital constituent of a life lived with compassion and intellectual integrity. ¶ To say that the religious faith of these rare individuals springs from their intelligence and moral sensitivity is not to say they all have carefully worked out philosophical arguments demonstrating the reasonableness of theistic faith. Their intellects and compassion may operate on a more intuitive level. It’s the job of philosophers to trace out carefully the rational pathways that intuitive insight often surges through too quickly for plodding intellects to follow.
A sublime cosmic mystery unfolds on a mild summer afternoon in Palo Alto, California… The day seems ordinary enough. Cyclists maneuver through traffic, and orange poppies bloom on dry brown hills near Linde’s office on the Stanford University campus. But everything here, right down to the photons lighting the scene after an eight-minute jaunt from the sun, bears witness to an extraordinary fact about the universe: Its basic properties are uncannily suited for life. Tweak the laws of physics in just about any way and — in this universe, anyway — life as we know it would not exist. ¶ Consider just two possible changes. Atoms consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons. If those protons were just 0.2 percent more massive than they actually are, they would be unstable and would decay into simpler particles. Atoms wouldn’t exist; neither would we. If gravity were slightly more powerful, the consequences would be nearly as grave. A beefed-up gravitational force would compress stars more tightly, making them smaller, hotter, and denser. Rather than surviving for billions of years, stars would burn through their fuel in a few million years, sputtering out long before life had a chance to evolve. There are many such examples of the universe’s life-friendly properties—so many, in fact, that physicists can’t dismiss them all as mere accidents. ¶ Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us. ¶ Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multi verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.
It’s a mystery. That’s the first thing that interests me about the idea of God. If there is one, it’s mysterious and powerful and awesome to even consider the concept, and you have to take it seriously. I understand where Bill Maher is coming from when he says, basically, the world is destroying itself over a bunch of fairy tales about talking snakes and men who are alive inside fishes. I’m very sympathetic to it, but at the same time, given the cosmos that we’re living in, it’s very persuasive, the idea that there is some kind of first cause that’s running things. It might not be the god of Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, it might not be the god of al-Qaida, and it might not be the god of Abraham, but something very well could be running things. The order of the universe as we see it, the interlocking nature, and the way things work together, are persuasive of the idea that there may be some overarching first cause.
It is possible that a materialistic explanation of consciousness might be found, but that does not make the claim that consciousness is non-physical an argument from ignorance… At any given time, scientists should infer the best current explanation of the available evidence, and right now, the best evidence from both neuroscience and rigorous philosophical analysis is that consciousness is not reducible to the physical. Churchland’s refusal to draw this inference is based not on evidence, but on what Karl Popper called “promissory materialism,” a reliance on the mere speculative possibility of a materialistic explanation. Since this attitude can be maintained indefinitely, it means that even if a non-materialist account is correct (and supported by overwhelming evidence), that inconvenient truth can always be ignored. Surely the project of science should be one of following the evidence wherever it leads, not of protecting a preconceived materialist philosophy. Isn’t it that philosophy — the one that constantly changes its shape to avoid engagement with troublesome evidence, either ignoring the data or simply declaring it materialistic — that most resembles a virus?
The subject of atheism has been much in the news recently with the highly publicized release of radically atheistic books. This helpful book highlights points of agreement and disagreement between Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett on the topic of the present status of atheism and which worldview, atheism or Christianity, is preferable. American philosopher Daniel Dennett is currently the Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Oxford theologian Alister McGrath is Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford and directs its Centre for Christian Apologetics. A transcript of the dialogue featuring McGrath and Dennett on the subject allows the reader to see in print how both men present their positions in light of the other’s.
This witty and learned exploration of the many views of the nature and existence of God, as expressed by the major philosophers of the Western world from the medieval period to the present day, is the last work of noted philosopher Paul Edwards. In his unique tradermark style, laced with erudition and acerbic humour, Edwards addresses how the concept of God has changed over the centuries, in large part due to the analyses of such sceptical thinkers as David Hume, Thomas Paine, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell. A long-time critic of theistic arguments, Edwards demonstrates a masterful understanding of the ways in which the scientific revolution of the 17th century, the Enlightenment of the 18th century, the evolutionary materialism of the 19th century, and the rise of analytic and existentialist philosophies in the 20th century prepared the way for the growing role of atheism in the 21st century.This work is a tour-de-force – a master storyteller’s idiosyncratic evaluation of the views of dozens of Western thinkers on perennial topics in the philosophy of religion. Though not all of the philosophers discussed were non-believers or anti-religious, they can be considered to be – like Edwards himself – ‘freethinkers’. They pursued the cause of knowledge wherever their thinking led them, often to iconoclastic positions. Editor Timothy Madigan, who gave Edwards thoughtful feedback over the years on various drafts of this work and complied it for publication after Edwards’ death, has written an appreciative and informative introduction. ~ Product Description
In Search of a Confident Faith is an excellent comprehensive apologetic for establishing trust in God "for real." I wanted to review this book due to my own interest in Christians becoming confident in their faith. The book reaffirms the Christian faith as one of propositional knowledge confirmed through personal experience; but does so at a very accessible level. Moreland and Issler address many helpful points concerning the influence of Western culture in creating doubt in Christians’ faith. First, the authors address the misuse of the term "faith" in today’s culture as a "blind leap" or as in place of reason. The term historically entailed a much richer meaning of trust and confidence, which crucially required the proper exercise of reason, evidence, and knowledge. Second, they describe the essential role of knowledge in the Christian faith; through a look at the Biblical view of knowledge, through breaking down the concept of knowledge, and through addressing our plausibility structures (explained more thoroughly later). Third, the authors attend to intellectual and emotional doubts: both through logical arguments and then through practical steps in handling these doubts. Fourth, Moreland and Issler handle doubt caused by low expectations of God’s intervention into a believer’s life and make practical suggestions for increasing trust in God. Their writing systematically and carefully treats each area without losing interest or bogging down in terminology. ~ Mary Jo Sharp @ Amazon.com
Morality and religion: intimately wed, violently opposed, or something else? Discussion of this issue appears in pop culture, the academy, and the media ? often generating radically opposed views. At one end of the spectrum are those who think that unless God exists, ethics is unfounded and the moral life is unmotivated. At the other end are those who think that religious belief is unnecessary for ? and even a threat to ? ethical knowledge and the moral life. This volume provides an accessible, charitable discussion that represents a range of views along this spectrum. The book begins with a lively debate between Paul Kurtz and William Lane Craig on the question, Is goodness without God good enough? Kurtz defends the affirmative position and Craig the negative. Following the debate are new essays by prominent scholars. These essays comment on the debate and advance the broader discussion of religion and morality. The book closes with final responses from Kurtz and Craig.
In Consciousness and the Existence of God, J.P. Moreland argues that the existence of finite, irreducible consciousness (or its regular, law-like correlation with physical states) provides evidence for the existence of God. Moreover, he analyzes and criticizes the top representative of rival approaches to explaining the origin of consciousness, including John Searle’s contingent correlation, Timothy O’Connor’s emergent necessitation, Colin McGinn’s mysteries “‘naturalism,” David Skrbina’s panpsychism and Philip Clayton’s pluralistic emergentist monism. Moreland concludes that these approaches should be rejected in favor of what he calls “‘the Argument from Consciousness.” ~ Product Description
In the third chapter of The God Delusion, Dawkins takes aim at many of the arguments that have been offered through the ages for an affirmative response to the “God Hypothesis”. At times, especially in response to the argument from religious experience, his critique is cutting and enlightening. However, in many cases he misses the point, basing his refutations on incorrect understandings of what each argument is supposed to establish. Additionally, he doesn’t bother to engage the work done in Philosophy of Religion in the last fifty years or so which has, incidentally, been characterized by a resurgence of serious consideration of theism. Instead he mostly deals with the arguments only in their nascent form. Since Dawkins is taking on intrinsically philosophical arguments here, it is a serious oversight to have overlooked all but his neighbor, Richard Swinburne. Although, considering his brutal treatment of Swinburne, perhaps other proponents of philosophical theism are glad to have been ignored. Here’s a closer look…
In the second chapter of The God Delusion, Dawkins argues that the “God Hypothesis” is a scientific question, susceptible to the weight of scientific evidence, both for and against. He strongly rejects the approach of those like Eugenie Scott and Stephen Jay Gould who would relegate the question of God to its own category, immune from the methods of scientific inquiry. Science and religion just aren’t talking about the same thing, they say. But in Dawkins’ view, “God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice.” (p. 73) Dawkins argues that, “the moment religion steps on science’s turf and starts to meddle in the real world” (p. 84, emphasis mine), any supposed demarcation between questions of science and questions of theology is erased. I agree, provided that we deal with Dawkins’ strong, implicit scientism. The Judeo-Christian religions are historical religions whose scriptures make countless claims about history in particular, but also to some extent about biology, cosmology, psychology, anthropology, and even God’s supposed interventions in the natural world. As such, this “God Hypothesis” is indeed open to critical inquiry, including scientific inquiry, and many Christian thinkers through the centuries have welcomed it and pursued it. The problem is Dawkins’ view that the answer to the God Hypothesis will be a “strictly scientific answer. The methods we should use to settle the matter […] would be purely and entirely scientific methods.” (pp. 82-83, emphasis mine) Here Dawkins is voicing a problematic epistemology that has been called “strong scientism”.
I know I’m late to the party, but I’ve finally gotten a chance to begin reading Dawkins’ celebrated best-seller, The God Delusion. It’s been a very engaging read so far and I’m hoping to post a number of reflections here as I stumble across provocative passages. In the first chapter, Dawkins aims to embolden beleaguered atheists who have been cowed into silence by societal and familial pressures. I second his call to transparency, to being our authentic selves in the public square. However, along the way, he paints a picture of the plight of atheists in the Western world, and in America in particular, that to me seems off. He suggests that, “the status of atheists in America today is on a par with that of homosexuals fifty years ago.” And, it is only “slightly exaggerating” to say that “making fun of religion is as risky as burning a flag in an American Legion Hall”. Dawkins makes some good observations about the very real prejudices that atheists do face, but this second claim is absurd. I know Dawkins is a Brit, looking in from afar, but has he ever: 1) Watched The Simpsons, The Family Guy, or The Daily Show; 2) Read The Onion, a college newspaper, or a big city’s “independent” paper; 3) Hung out in the Humanities department of any major American university; 4) Opened a Bible in West Hollywood or Manhattan?1 Ironically, many Christians also complain that it is they who are persecuted and prevailed upon to keep their beliefs in the closet. And the truth is, they’re both right.
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about consciousness and how it might contribute to evidence for the existence of God in light of metaphysical naturalism’s failure to provide a helpful explanation. Some of my thinking has culminated in the recently released Consciousness and the Existence of God (Routledge Studies in the Philosophy of Religion) (Routledge, 2008). Consciousness is among the most mystifying features of the cosmos. Geoffrey Madell opines that "the emergence of consciousness, then is a mystery, and one to which materialism signally fails to provide an answer."i Naturalist Colin McGinn claims that its arrival borders on sheer magic because there seems to be no naturalistic explanation for it: "How can mere matter originate consciousness? How did evolution convert the water of biological tissue into the wine of consciousness? Consciousness seems like a radical novelty in the universe, not prefigured by the after-effects of the Big Bang; so how did it contrive to spring into being from what preceded it?"ii Finally, naturalist William Lyons argues that "[physicalism] seem[s] to be in tune with the scientific materialism of the twentieth century because it [is] a harmonic of the general theme that all there is in the universe is matter and energy and motion and that humans are a product of the evolution of species just as much as buffaloes and beavers are. Evolution is a seamless garment with no holes wherein souls might be inserted from above."iii
Many books that challenge religious belief from a skeptical point of view take a combative tone that is almost guaranteed to alienate believers, or they present complex philosophical or scientific arguments that fail to reach the average reader. Guy P. Harrison argues that this is an ineffective way of trying to encourage people to develop critical thinking about religion. In this unique approach, Harrison concisely presents fifty commonly heard reasons that people often give for believing in a god. Then he raises legitimate questions regarding these reasons, showing in each case that there is much room for doubt. From religion as the foundation of morality to the authority of sacred books, the compelling religious testimony of influential people, near-death experiences, theories from intelligent design, and much more, Harrison respectfully describes each rationale for belief and then politely shows the deficiencies that any good skeptic would point out. He also offers something in return — a hopeful and optimistic view of science, the universe, and humanity without the divisiveness, prejudice, and hatred caused by conflicting religious doctrines. Drawing on his experiences as a nonbeliever and his extensive travels around the world, Harrison makes poignant arguments that are sure to inspire thought-provoking discussions. Whether you’re a believer, a complete skeptic, or somewhere in between, you’ll find his review of traditional and more recent arguments for the existence of gods refreshing, approachable, and enlightening. ~ Product Description
For about two decades John W. Loftus was a devout evangelical Christian, an ordained minister of the Church of Christ, and an ardent apologist for Christianity. With three degrees in philosophy, theology, and philosophy of religion he was adept at using rational argumentation to defend the faith. But over the years, as he ministered to various congregations and taught at Christian colleges, doubts about the credibility of key Christian tenets began to creep into his thinking. By the late 1990s he experienced a full-blown crisis of faith, brought on by emotional upheavals in his personal life as well as the gathering weight of the doubts he had long entertained. In this honest appraisal of his journey from believer to atheist, Loftus carefully explains the experiences and the reasoning process that led him to reject religious belief. The bulk of the book is his "cumulative case" against Christianity. Here he lays out the philosophical, scientific, and historical reasons that can be raised against Christian belief. From the implications of religious diversity, the authority of faith vs. reason, and the problem of evil, to the contradictions between the Bible and the scientific worldview, the conflicts between traditional dogma and historical evidence, and much more, Loftus covers a great deal of intellectual terrain. For every issue he succinctly summarizes the various points of view and provides references for further reading. In conclusion, he describes the implications of life without belief in God, some liberating, some sobering. This frank critique of Christian belief from a former insider will interest freethinkers as well as anyone with doubts about the claims of religion.
It is generally supposed that the fact that the world contains a vast amount of suffering, much of it truly horrible suffering, confronts those who believe in an all-powerful and benevolent Creator with a serious problem: to explain why such a Creator would permit this. Many reflective people are convinced that the problem, the problem of evil, is insoluble. The reasons that underlie this conviction can be formulated as a powerful argument for the non-existence of God, the so-called argument from evil: If there were a God, he would not permit the existence of vast amounts of truly horrible suffering; since such suffering exists, there is no God. Peter van Inwagen examines this argument, which he regards as a paradigmatically philosophical argument. His conclusion is that (like most philosophical arguments) it is a failure. He seeks to demonstrate, not that God exists, but the fact that the world contains a vast amount of suffering does not show that God does not exist. Along the way he discusses a wide range of topics of interest to philosophers and theologians, such as: the concept of God; what might be meant by describing a philosophical argument as a failure; the distinction between versions of the argument from evil that depend on the vast amount of evil in the world and versions of the argument that depend on a particular evil, such as the Lisbon earthquake or the death of a fawn in a forest fire; the free-will defense; animal suffering; and the problem of the hiddenness of God. ~ Product Description
According to classical theistic belief — classical Muslim and Jewish as well as Christian belief — first of all there is God, the chief being of the universe, who has neither beginning nor end. Most important, God is personal. That is, God is the kind of being who is conscious and enjoys some kind of awareness of his surroundings (in God’s case, that would be everything). Second (though not second in importance), a person has loves and hates, wishes and desires; she approves of some things and disapproves of others; she wants things to be a certain way. We might put this by saying that persons have affections. A person, third, is a being who has beliefs and, if fortunate, knowledge. We human beings, for example, believe a host of things… Persons, therefore, have beliefs and affections. Further, a person is a being who has aims and intentions; a person aims to bring it about that things should be a certain way, intends to act so that things will be the way he wants them to be… Finally, persons can often act to fulfill their intentions; they can bring it about that things are a certain way; they can cause things to happen. To be more technical (though not more insightful or more clear), we might say that a person is a being who can actualize states of affairs. Persons can often act on the basis of what they believe in order to bring about states of affairs whose actuality they desire. ¶ So a person is conscious, has affections, beliefs, and intentions, and can act… First, therefore, God is a person. But second, unlike human persons, God is a person without a body. He acts, and acts in the world, as human beings do, but, unlike human beings, not by way of a body. Rather, God acts just by willing: he wills that things be a certain way, and they are that way. (God said “Let there be light”; and there was light.)
Is belief in God epistemically justified? That’s the question at the heart of this volume in the Great Debates in Philosophy series, with Alvin Plantinga and Michael Tooley each addressing this fundamental question with distinctive arguments from opposing perspectives. The first half of the book contains each philosopher’s explanation of his particular view; the second half allows them to directly respond to each other’s arguments, in a lively and engaging conversation. Knowledge of God offers the reader a one of a kind, interactive discussion. “It’s difficult to locate this book, since, in the series, there is already a book entitled Atheism and Theism. The difference is that this book is more focused on the rationality of theism — is it reasonable to believe in God — than the question of God’s existence (though the latter obviously informs the former). The book is divided into six sections. Both authors get a 75 page opening statement, a 35 page response, and a final 15 page rejoinder.” ~ Timothy Perrine at Amazon.com