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Theism

Missing the Point

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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…

What Is a “Scientific Fact”? Won’t Plain Ol’ Facts Do?

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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”.

Argument from Consciousness

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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

The Problem of Evil

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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

Why I Became an Atheist

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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.

Alvin Plantinga on God and Personhood

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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.)

Knowledge of God

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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

Philip Yancey on Pain as a Design Feature

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Theologians blithely attribute pain to the Fall, ignoring the marvelous design features of the pain system. Every square millimeter of the body has a different sensitivity to pain, so that a speck of dirt may cause excruciating pain in the vulnerable eye whereas it would go unreported on the tough extremities. Internal organs such as the bowels and kidneys have no receptors that warn against cutting or burning—dangers they normally do not face — but show exquisite sensitivity to distention. When organs such as the heart detect danger but lack receptors, they borrow other pain cells (“referred pain”), which is why heart attack victims often report pain in the shoulder or arm. The pain system automatically ramps up hypersensitivity to protect an injured part (explaining why a sore thumb always seems in the way) and turns down the volume in the face of emergencies (soldiers often report no pain from a wound in the course of battle, only afterwards). Pain serves us subliminally as well: sensors make us blink several times a minute to lubricate our eyes and shift our legs and buttocks to prevent pressure sores. Pain is the most effective language the body can use to draw attention to something important.

The Triumph of God over Evil

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Noted philosopher William Hasker explores a full range of issues concerning the problem of evil. Having taken account of the current state of the discussion and squarely facing some of the most trenchant arguments marshaled by John K. Roth and D. Z. Phillips, Hasker forges a constructive answer in some depth showing why the evil in the world does not provide evidence of a moral fault in God, the world’s creator and governor. A fresh and provocative contribution to the ongoing discussion of theodicy. "Hasker’s book is a model of first-rate philosophy. Beginners are unlikely to get a better introduction to the problem of evil; Hasker is a master at summarizing and getting hold of the core of the issues at stake. Veterans will be brought up to speed on the current debate; Hasker is sure-footed and fair in his assessment of friend and foe. Through it all there shines a beautiful mind that manifests a heart on fire with honesty, compassion and robust faith." ~ William J. Abraham

The Elusive God

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Three questions motivate this book’s account of evidence for the existence of God. First, if God’s existence is hidden, why suppose He exists at all? Second, if God exists, why is He hidden, particularly if God seeks to communicate with people? Third, what are the implications of divine hiddenness for philosophy, theology, and religion’s supposed knowledge of God? This book answers these questions on the basis of a new account of evidence and knowledge of divine reality that challenges skepticism about God’s existence. The central thesis is that we should expect evidence of divine reality to be purposively available to humans, that is, available only in a manner suitable to divine purposes in self-revelation. This lesson generates a seismic shift in our understanding of evidence and knowledge of divine reality. The result is a needed reorienting of religious epistemology to accommodate the character and purposes of an authoritative, perfectly loving God. An interview with Moser is available on the Evangelical Philosophical Society blog.

Retrieving the Natural Law

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Restating what all people intuit and what this means in moral, specifically bioethical, discourse is the raison d’être for this volume. J. Daryl Charles argues that a traditional metaphysics of natural law lies at the heart of the present reconstructive project, and that a revival in natural-law thinking is of the highest priority for the Christian community as we contend in, rather than abdicate, the public square. Nowhere is this more on display than in the realm of bioethics, where the most basic moral questions — human personhood, human rights versus responsibilities, the reality of moral evil, the basis of civil society — are being debated. With his timely application of natural-law thinking to the field of bioethics, Charles seeks to breathe new life back into this key debate. ~ Product Description

Kludge

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Why are we subject to irrational beliefs, inaccurate memories, even war? We can thank evolution, Marcus says, which can only tinker with structures that already exist, rather than create new ones: “Natural selection… tends to favor genes that have immediate advantages” rather than long-term value. Marcus, director of NYU’s Infant Language Learning Center, refers to this as “kluge,” a term engineers use to refer to a clumsily designed solution to a problem. Thus, memory developed in our prehominid ancestry to respond with immediacy, rather than accuracy; one result is erroneous eyewitness testimony in courtrooms. In describing the results of studies of human perception, cognition and beliefs, Marcus encapsulates how the mind is “contaminated by emotions, moods, desires, goals, and simple self-interest….” The mind’s fragility, he says, is demonstrated by mental illness, which seems to have no adaptive purpose. In a concluding chapter, Marcus offers a baker’s dozen of suggestions for getting around the brain’s flaws and achieving “true wisdom.” While some are self-evident, others could be helpful, such as “Whenever possible, consider alternate hypotheses” and “Don’t just set goals. Make contingency plans.” Using evolutionary psychology, Marcus educates the reader about mental flaws in a succinct, often enjoyable way. ~ Publishers Weekly

Theism and Ultimate Explanation

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An expansive, yet succinct, analysis of the Philosophy of Religion – from metaphysics through theology. Organized into two sections, the text first examines truths concerning what is possible and what is necessary. These chapters lay the foundation for the book’s second part – the search for a metaphysical framework that permits the possibility of an ultimate explanation that is correct and complete. A cutting-edge scholarly work which engages with the traditional metaphysician’s quest for a true ultimate; explanation of the most general features of the world we inhabit; Develops an original view concerning the epistemology and metaphysics of modality, or truths concerning; what is possible or necessary; Applies this framework to a re-examination of the cosmological argument for theism; Defends a novel version of the Leibnizian cosmological argument. ~ Product Description

Philosophy of Religion

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A comprehensive and authoritative overview of the most important ideas and arguments in this resurgent field. The text moves beyond the borders of Western theism to more accurately reflect the nature of the twenty-first-century world. Featuring eighteen original essays from leading scholars, this collection offers a wide variety of viewpoints for a well balanced perspective on both traditional and cutting-edge topics in philosophy of religion. Designed for course use, this accessible text includes study questions and annotated further reading lists to stimulate reflection and provide opportunities for deeper exploration of the fundamental questions of the nature of religion.

There Is a God

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A wave of modern atheists have taken center stage and brought the long standing debate about the existence of God back into headlines. Spearheaded by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, this “new atheism” has found a powerful place in today’s culture wars. Although this movement has been billed as “new” the foundation of its argument is indebted to philosopher Anthony Flew and his groundbreaking paper “Theology and Falsification,” the most widely reprinted philosophical publication of the last half century. Flew built his highly acclaimed academic career publicly debunking the existence of God. But now the renowned philosopher has arrived at the opposite conclusion and officially joined the other side. ~ From the Publisher

Alvin Plantinga

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Few thinkers have had as much impact on contemporary philosophy as has Alvin Plantinga. The work of this quintessential analytic philosopher has in many respects set the tone for the debate in the fields of modal metaphysics and epistemology and he is arguably the most important philosopher of religion of our time. In this volume, a distinguished team of today’s leading philosophers address the central aspects of Plantinga’s philosophy – his views on natural theology; his responses to the problem of evil; his contributions to the field of modal metaphysics; the controversial evolutionary argument against naturalism; his model of epistemic warrant and his view of epistemic defeat; and his recent work on mind-body dualism. Also included is an appendix containing Plantinga’s often referred to, but previously unpublished, lecture notes entitled ‘Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments’, with a substantial preface to the appendix written by Plantinga specifically for this volume. ~ Product Description

Is God Good?

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A number of recent books making the case against God have hit the best-seller list, most notably Christopher Hitchens’ God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. If you follow the argument closely, you’ll notice that the gravamen of the case against God is their judgment that God, and specifically the Christian God, as he is commonly understood, is not good after all. Whatever its status as a logical proof against theism, the argument is existentially forceful because we meet a God in their arguments that is deserving of their unmistakable disdain. The argument against the goodness of God usually advances on three fronts:

  1. God cannot be good because the world is rife with evil and suffering;
  2. The God we meet in the Bible, especially in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, is repugnant to our moral sensibilities; and,
  3. Those who claim to follow this God are responsible for epic evils like the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the “troubles” in Northern Ireland as well as for more quotidian evils like intolerance, anti-intellectualism, and being bores.

While it’s almost impossible not to relish Hitchens’ and Dawkins’ turns of phrase, it is hard to get past their exceedingly strident tones. Nonetheless, the basic thrust of their arguments should be, and is in fact, troubling to believers. LeaderU.com has collected a number of articles wrestling with the first question. Marilyn McCord Adams’ well regarded, Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God also deals honestly and poignantly with this difficult question at greater length. The second concern about the biblical God is largely a theological question. The attributes of God, including the Goodness of God, are enumerated without much in the way of soul-searching at Grace’s Online Library and at The Christian Courier. As for the third contention, Robert Royal’s, The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West and James Kennedy’s What if Jesus Had Never Been Born consider the impact of Christianity on history. Finally, Christianity Today is featuring a conversation between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson regarding Hitchens’ accusations against God and religion. It is truly a clash of the Titans.

Does God Exist? Debates

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The age old question of the existence of God has made headlines recently with Al Sharpton’s debate with Christopher Hitchens and ABC’s, Does God Exist? The Nightline Face-off. In the latter, Ray Comfort, a street preacher who is a regular fixture on Santa Monica’s 6th Street promenade, and Kirk Cameron, of Growing Pains fame, argued in the affirmative. Brian Sapient and Kelly of the Rational Response Squad argued for the irrationality of belief in God. One could have hoped, considering the import of such a momentous question, that ABC might have sought out philosophers more up to the task, but that probably wouldn’t have made for “good TV”. Instead, the viewer was treated to a foursome of philosophical lightweights. There were some high points. Despite his malapropism, calling fundamentally philosophical arguments “scientific proof”, Ray Comfort’s articulation of the complexity of the human body as a part of his argument from design was eloquent enough. And Brian and Kelly delivered a number of zingers that left Ray and Kirk speechless. But mostly, at best, both sides offered sophomoric versions of the arguments that need to be reckoned with when considering the evidence for and against the existence of God. Fortunately, more capable thinkers have addressed this question more profitably. William Lane Craig is well known for arguing for the rationality of belief in God and a number of his debates with worthy opponents can be found online. His debate with Michael Tooley at the University of Colorado is especially worth reading. JP Moreland’s and Kai Nielsen’s debate, published in the volume, Does God Exist?, is still an excellent read and features commentary from a number of thinkers who add valuable insight. Many other relevant volumes line the shelves at Amazon.com, including Richard Swinburne’s, The Existence of God, and George Smith’s classic, Atheism: The Case Against God. Online, Wikipedia provides a helpful catalog of the arguments for the Existence of God. Tim Holt makes the argument for the existence of God in summary form at Existence-of-God.com as does All About God, weighing both philosophical and scientific considerations. The Secular Web provides the counterpoint with a roundup of logical arguments for atheism.

Alex Vilenkin on a Universe Out of Nothing

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The concept of a universe materializing out of nothing boggles the mind. What exactly is meant by “nothing”? If this “nothing” could tunnel into something, what could have caused the primary tunneling event? And what about energy conservaton? … The initial state prior to the tunneling is a universe of vanishing radius, that is, no universe at all. There is no matter and no space in this very peculiar state. Also, there is no time. Time has meaning only if something is happening in the universe. We measure time using periodic processes, like the rotation of the Earth about its axis, or its motion around the Sun. In the absence of space and matter, time is impossible to define. ¶ And yet the state of “nothing” cannot be identified with absolute nothingness. The tunneling is described by the laws of quantum mechanics, and thus “nothing” should be subjected to these laws. The laws must have existed, even though there was no universe. … A quantum fluctuation of the vacuum assumes that there was a vacuum of some pre-existing space. And we now know that the “vacuum” is very different from “nothing”. Vacuum, or empty space, has energy and tension, it can bend a warp, so it is unquestionably something. As Alan Guth wrote, “In this context, a proposal that the universe was created from empty space is no more fundamental than a proposal that the universe was spawned by a piece of rubber. It might be true, but one would still want to ask where the piece of rubber came from.”

Alex Vilenkin on a Cosmic Beginning

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It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape: they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.

Daniel Dennett on the Cosmological Argument

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If something can be self-caused, why can’t the universe as a whole be the thing that is self-caused? This leads in various arcane directions, into the strange precincts of string theory and probability fluctuations and the like, at one extreme, and into ingenious nitpicking about the meaning of “cause” at the other. Unless you have a taste for mathematics and theoretical physics on the one hand, or the niceties of scholastic logic on the other, you are not apt to find any of this compelling, or even fathomable.

The Cambridge Companion to Atheism

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In this volume, eighteen of the world’s leading scholars present original essays on various aspects of atheism: its history, both ancient and modern, defense and implications. The topic is examined in terms of its implications for a wide range of disciplines including philosophy, religion, feminism, postmodernism, sociology and psychology. In its defense, both classical and contemporary theistic arguments are criticized, and, the argument from evil, and impossibility arguments, along with a non religious basis for morality are defended. These essays give a broad understanding of atheism and a lucid introduction to this controversial topic. Michael Martin is Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Boston University. He is the author of over 150 articles and reviews as well as several books including Atheism, Morality and Meaning, The Impossibilty of God with Ricki Monnier, and Atheism: A Philosophical Justification ~ Publisher’s Description

Christ and Horrors

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Who would the Saviour have to be, what would the Saviour have to do to rescue human beings from the meaning-destroying experiences of their lives? This book offers a systematic Christology that is at once biblical and philosophical. Starting with human radical vulnerability to horrors such as permanent pain, sadistic abuse or genocide, it develops what must be true about Christ if He is the horror-defeater who ultimately resolves all the problems affecting the human condition and Divine-human relations. Distinctive elements of Marilyn McCord Adams’ study are her defence of the two-natures theory, of Christ as Inner Teacher and a functional partner in human flourishing, and her arguments in favour of literal bodily resurrection (Christ’s and ours) and of a strong doctrine of corporeal Eucharistic presence. The book concludes that Christ is the One in Whom, not only Christian doctrine, but cosmos, church, and the human psyche hold together. ~ Product Descritption

Graham Oppy on the Cumulative Case for God

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If we have two valid arguments, each of which entails the conclusion that a particular monotheistic god exists, then we can form a disjunctive argument that also entails the same conclusion. More generally, if we have a large collection of valid arguments, each of which entails the conclusion that a particular monotheistic god exists, then we can form a multiply disjunctive argument that also entails that same conclusion. However, it should not be supposed that a ‘cumulative’ argument that is formed in this way is guaranteed to be a better argument than the individual arguments with which we began (even if we are properly entitled to the claim that the arguments with which we are working are all valid). For, on the one hand, if all of the arguments are defective on grounds other than those of validity — for example, because they have false premises, or because they are question-begging — then the cumulative argument will also be defective. But, on the other hand, if even one of the arguments with which we began is not defective on any other grounds, then it is a cogent argument for its conclusion, and the cumulative argument is plainly worse (since longer and more convoluted). So, at the very least, we have good reason to be suspicious of talk about a cumulative case for the claim that a given monotheistic god does — or does not — exist that is based upon a collection of (allegedly) valid arguments for the claim that the god in question does — or does not — exist. …

The Principle of Sufficient Reason

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The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) says that all contingent facts must have explanation. In this volume, the first on the topic in the English language in nearly half a century, Alexander Pruss examines the substantive philosophical issues raised by the Principle Reason. Discussing various forms of the PSR and selected historical episodes, from Parmenides, Leibnez, and Hume, Pruss defends the claim that every true contingent proposition must have an explanation against major objections, including Hume’s imaginability argument and Peter van Inwagen’s argument that the PSR entails modal fatalism. Pruss also provides a number of positive arguments for the PSR, based on considerations as different as the metaphysics of existence, counterfactuals and modality, negative explanations, and the everyday applicability of the PSR. Moreover, Pruss shows how the PSR would advance the discussion in a number of disparate fields, including meta-ethics and the philosophy of mathematics.