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Theism

Victor Stenger on Interpreting Quantum Mechanics

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While the many-worlds interpretation has many adherents, and the associated mathematical formalism has great merit, other viable interpretations of quantum mechanics remain with no consensus on which, if any, is the correct one … In fact, the highly successful theory of quantum mechanics does not predict the occurrence of these events, just their probabilities for taking place. While we leave open the possibility that causes may someday be found for such phenomena that allow for their prediction, we have no current basis for assuming such causes exist.

Dallas Willard on Causation

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We should keep in mind that we have a vast amount of experience of things, with relative degrees of order, coming into existence, and no one has every yet experienced anything, or has plausible empirical evidence of anything, coming into existence from nothing or from “something” with no order — which really means no nature, no character — at all. In this sense the emergence of something from nothing or from chaos has a probability of exactly zero relative to our data. Now it is true that probability, like “logic,” can be interpreted in numerous ways. But it would be refreshing to hear the naturalistic cosmologist admit that all of our empirical evidence is against order emerging from disorder and something emerging from nothing, and to confess that his metaphysical necessity of such emergences rest on the assumption of a naturalistic world view, rather than proving such a view.

John A. T. Robinson on Proving God

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Traditional Christian theology has been based upon the proofs for the existence of God. The presupposition of these proofs, psychologically if not logically, is that God might or might not exist. They argue from something which everyone admits exists (the world) to a Being beyond it who could or could not be there. The purpose of the argument is to show that he must be there, that his being is ‘necessary’; but the presupposition behind it is that there is an entity or being ‘out there’ whose existence is problematic and has to be demonstrated. Now such an entity, even f it could be proved beyond dispute, would not be God: it would merely be a further piece of existence, that might conceivably not have been there — or a demonstration would not have been required. ¶ Rather, we must start the other way round. God is, by definition, ultimate reality. And one cannot argue whether ultimate reality exists. One can only ask what ultimate reality is like — whether, for instance, in the last analysis what lies at the heart of things and governs their working is to be described in personal or impersonal categories. Thus, the fundamental theological question consists not in establishing the ‘existence’ of God as a separate entity but in pressing through in ultimate concern to what Tillich calls ‘the ground of our being’.

J.L. Mackie on Mind Creating Matter

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On the other side, the hypothesis of divine creation is very unlikely. Although if there were a god with the traditional attributes and powers, he would be able and perhaps willing to create such a universe as this, we have to weigh in the scales the likelihood or unlikelihood that there is a god with these attributes and powers. And the key power … is that of fulfilling intentions directly, without any physical or causal mediation, without materials or instruments. There is nothing in our background knowledge that makes it comprehensible, let alone likely, that anything should have such a power. All our knowledge of intention-fulfillment is of embodied intentions being fulfilled indirectly by way of bodily changes and movements which are causally related to the intended result, and where the ability thus to fulfill intentions itself has a causal history, either of evolutionary development or of learning or of both. Only by ignoring such key features do we get an analogue of the supposed divine action.

Our Idea of God

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Many people, even within the ranks of devout religious believers, have only the haziest conception of God. A significant number of such people admit that this vagueness about God bothers them deeply, but that they don’t know how to go about getting clearer on this important idea. Our Idea Of God assists in dealing with this problem. Thomas V. Morris provides an example of how simple, straightforward philosophical methods of thinking can shed some light on theological matters that might otherwise remain obscure. Morris challenges his reader, stimulating deeper thinking about matters of religious conviction. He offers a basic introduction to philosophical theology. The philosophical issues that can arise concerning the concept of God can become very complex. Recent treatments of these issues by philosophers have been as technical and demanding as pioneering work in any other field of serious human intellectual inquiry. In contrast, Morris’s discussions, while containing much original material, are streamlined, and as accessible as possible to non-philosophers. There are many more technical treatises available for those readers who want to pursue these topics further, but Our Idea Of God provides a place to begin. ~ Product Description

God Matters

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God Matters is a state-of-the-art, accessible anthology of the major issues in philosophy of religion. Its accessibility is due to its mix of classic readings and brand new readings about contemporary issues, commissioned specifically with an undergraduate student in mind. These commissioned readings make the difficult concepts of contemporary philosophy of religion easy to understand, and are complemented by key excerpts from more technical philosophers’ writing on the same subjects. The result is an engaging, comprehensive reader that introduces students to the most important ideas in classical and contemporary philosophy of religion, to the most important thinkers, and even to excerpts from the key texts in which these thinkers presented their groundbreaking theories. ~ Product Description

Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology

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This textbook/anthology maps out the major controversies and key positions in the philosophy of religion. The traditional arguments for the existence of God are presented and critiqued (one is tempted to say, refuted), as is the argument from religious experience. The book then moves on to those other, equally thorny, problems — evil, the attributes of God, miracles, revelation, death, and immortality. Chapters also consider the relationship between faith and reason (currently a trial separation, with visitation rights), scientific and religious perspectives on evolution, the possibility of religious pluralism, and the connection between religion and ethics. The historical heavyweights are well represented, with excerpts from Aquinas, Hume, Anselm, Kant, James, Freud, Leibniz, Augustine, Plato, Russell, Pascal, Wittgenstein, and Kierkegaard. ~ Booknews

Rethinking Evil: Contemporary Perspectives

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This innovative volume will be welcomed by moral and political philosophers, social scientists, and anyone who reflects seriously on the twentieth century’s heavy burden of war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other evidence of people’s desire to harm one another. Mar’a P’a Lara brings together a provocative set of essays that reexamine evil in the context of a "postmetaphysical" world, a world that no longer equates natural and human evil and no longer believes in an omnipotent God. The question of how and why God permits evil events to occur is replaced by the question of how and why humans perform radically evil acts. ~ Product Description

The Hiddenness of God

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With the publication of J.L. Schellenberg’s Divine Hiddeness and Human Reason, in recent years philosophers of religion have focused their attention on the problem of the “hiddenness of God”, the evident fact that, if God exists, he is not as overtly obvious as he could be. The psalmists and prophets often lamented this apparent absence of God. And Bertrand Russell, imagining a possible meeting with God in the afterlife, famously said he would explain his atheism by the lack of sufficient evidence. A good place to start exploring the problem is in a recent collection of essays: Divine Hiddenness: New Essays. On a more pedestrian level, Phillip Yancey has wrestled with this question at length in his typically poignant and honest style. See his Disappointment with God and Reaching for the Invisible God.

In Defense of Natural Law

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In Making Men Moral, his 1995 book, Robert George questioned the central doctrines of liberal jurisprudence and political theory. In his new work he extends his critique of liberalism and goes beyond it to show how contemporary natural law theory provides a superior way of thinking about basic problems of justice and poltical morality. It is written with the same combination of stylistic elegance and analytical rigor that distinguishes his critical work. Not content merely to defend natural law against its cultural critics, he deftly turns the tables and deploys the idea to mount a stunning attack on predominant liberal beliefs about such issues as abortion, sexuality, and the place of religion in public life. Readers interested in law, political science, and philosophy will find George’s arguments both challenging and compelling. ~ Product Description

Quentin Smith on Philosophical Theism

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Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism, most influenced by Plantinga’s writings, began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians. Although many theists do not work in the area of the philosophy of religion, so many of them do work in this area that there are now over five philosophy journals devoted to theism or the philosophy of religion, such as Faith and Philosophy, Religious Studies, International Journal of the Philosophy of Religion, Sophia, Philosophia Christi, etc. Philosophia Christi began in the late 1990s and already is overflowing with submissions from leading philosophers. If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that ‘no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,’ although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upperhand in every single argument or debate. God is not “dead” in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.

Quentin Smith on the Existence of God

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A hand waving dismissal of theism, such as is manifested in the following passage from Searle’s The Rediscovery of the Mind, has been like trying to halt a tidal wave with a hand-held sieve. Searle responds to about one-third of contemporary philosophers with [a] brush-off… Searle does not have an area of specialization in the philosophy of religion and, if he did, he might, in the face of the erudite brilliance of theistic philosophizing today, say something more similar to the non-theist Richard Gale (who does have an area of specialization in the philosophy of religion), whose conclusion of a 422 page book criticizing contemporary philosophical arguments for God’s existence (as well as dealing with other matters in the philosophy of religion), reads ‘no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith.’

Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God

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When confronted by horrendous evil, even the most pious believer may question not only life’s worth but also God’s power and goodness. A distinguished philosopher and a practicing minister, Marilyn McCord Adams has written a highly original work on a fundamental dilemma of Christian thought — how to reconcile faith in God with the evils that afflict human beings. Adams argues that much of the discussion in analytic philosophy of religion over the last forty years has offered too narrow an understanding of the problem. The ground rules accepted for the discussion have usually led philosophers to avert their gaze from the worst “horrendous” evils and their devastating impact on human lives. They have agreed to debate the issue on the basis of religion-neutral values, and have focused on morals, an approach that — Adams claims — is inadequate for formulating and solving the problem of horrendous evils. She emphasizes instead the fruitfulness of other evaluative categories such as purity and defilement, honor and shame, and aesthetics. If redirected, philosophical reflection on evil can, Adams’s book demonstrates, provide a valuable approach not only to theories of God and evil but also to pastoral care. ~ Publisher’s Description

Carol Zaleski on Dualism

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As for dualism, much has been said of the violence it does to our unity as psycho-physical creatures, but this is questionable. Multiplicity and disunity are as strong a feature of our existence as psychosomatic unity. We are legion, as the demons say. It is a marvel that all our different parts work together. At best, we are a symphony; but the second violins have quarreled with the wind section, and as we age these quarrels increase. Why should it surprise us if at death the soul separates from the body? Separating is the order of our lives as we tend toward death. If a man’s jowls can sink down while his brow stays up, why can’t his soul rise up when his body sinks down? All of our flesh is being pulled downward by the gravity of the grave; every day our skin is sloughing off cell by cell; at each stage of life we slough off the skin of a previous stage; and at death we lose what was left of those skins. Perhaps that will be the chance to emerge as the person one was meant to be.

A Debate on the Existence of God

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Copleston: As we are going to discuss the existence of God, it might perhaps be as well to come to some provisional agreement as to what we understand by the term “God.” I presume that we mean a supreme personal being — distinct from the world and creator of the world. Would you agree — provisionally at least — to accept this statement as the meaning of the term “God”?

Abraham J. Heschel on Death in Judaism

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Paradoxically, the problem of man arises more frequently as the problem of death than as the problem of life. It is an important fact, however, that unlike other Oriental religions, where the preoccupation with death was the central issue of religious thinking, the Bible rarely deals with death as a problem. There is no rebellion against death, no bitterness over its sting, no preoccupation with the afterlife. In striking contrast to its two great neighboring civilizations — Egypt with its intense preoccupation with the afterlife, and Babylonia with the epic of Gilgamesh who wonders in search of immortal life, the story of the descent of Ishtar, and the legend of Nergal and Ereshkigal — the Bible is reticent in speaking about these issue. The Hebrew Bible calls for concern for the problem of living rather than the problem of dying. It’s central concern is not, as in the Gilgamesh epic, how to escape death, but rather how to sanctify life.

Alvin Plantinga on Theistic Arguments

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In God and Other Minds, I argued first that the theistic proofs or arguments do not succeed. In evaluating these arguments I employed a traditional but wholly improper standard: I took it that these arguments are successful only if they start from propositions that compel assent from every honest and intelligent person and proceed majestically to their conclusion by way of forms of argument that can be rejected only on pain of insincerity or irrationality. Naturally enough, I joined the contemporary chorus in holding that none of the traditional arguments was successful. (I failed to note that no philosophical arguments of any consequence meets that standard; hence the fact that theistic arguments do not is of less significance than I thought.) I then argued that the objections to theistic belief are equally unimpressive; in particular, the deductive argument from evil (the argument that there is a contradiction between the existence of God and the existence of evil), I said, is entirely unsuccessful. So I saw, as I thought, that neither the arguments for the existence of God nor the arguments against it are conclusive.

Martin Rees on Universes Coming from Nothing

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Cosmologists sometimes claim that the universe can arise "from nothing". But they should watch their language, especially when addressing philosophers. We’ve realised ever since Einstein that empty space can have a structure such that it can be warped and distorted. Even if shrunk down to a "point", it is latent with particles and forces — still a far richer construct than the philosopher’s "nothing". Theorists may, some day, be able to write down fundamental equations governing physical reality. But physics can never explain what "breathes fire" into the equations, and actualised them into a real cosmos. The fundamental question of "Why is there something rather than nothing?" remains the province of philosophers

William Lane Craig on the Unnecessary Universe

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Both cosmology and philosophy trace their roots to the wonder felt by the ancient Greeks as they contemplated the universe. The ultimate question remains why the universe exists rather than nothing. This question led Leibniz to postulate the existence of a metaphysically necessary being, which he identified as God. Leibniz’s critics, however, disputed this identification, claiming that the space-time universe itself may be the metaphysically necessary being. The discovery during this century that the universe began to exist, however, calls into question the universe’s status as metaphysically necessary, since any necessary being must be eternal in its existence. Although various cosmogonic models claiming to avert the beginning of the universe predicted by the standard model have been and continue to be offered, no model involving an eternal universe has proved as plausible as the standard model. Unless we are to assert that the universe simply sprang into being uncaused out of nothing, we are thus led to Leibniz’s conclusion.

The Art of God

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Renowned landscape photographer Ric Ergenbright here turns his attention to the holiness reflected in the beauty of the natural world. Combining scriptural passages with photographic and scientific observations relating to the elements of nature, Ergenbright uses his dramatic, often astonishing photographs as a testament to the power and perfection of God. Though he recognizes that “if all Scripture were lost, we could still know something of [God’s] character by carefully studying the works of his hands,” Ergenbright uses the book to emphasize how God’s Word can illuminate the world around us. This beautiful coffee-table book is a wonderful addition to any nature-lover’s collection, and the detailed notes throughout are an education to any aspiring photographer.

The Evidential Power of Beauty

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The physicist who knows nothing about Scripture and the theologian ignorant of calculus may yet see eye to eye on the remarkable power of beauty to manifest the presence of truth. It is this probative force of beauty that drives Dubay’s impressive reflection on how the perception of harmony instills a sense of conviction among honest seekers in both science and religion. With the help of testimony from a wide range of scientists, Dubay discerns a pattern of elegance and symmetry uniting everything from the astrophysics of the cosmos to the biology of the cell. Disdaining the crabbed literalism of creationist science (which he dismisses as fallacious), Dubay uses the metaphysical intuition of beauty to challenge neo-Darwinian dogmatists who deny the existence of design in our curiously fine-tuned universe. Non-Catholics may protest that Dubay overextends his argument when he concludes with a defense of Catholicism as the supreme depository of truth and beauty, but readers need not endorse Dubay’s Catholic orthodoxy to benefit from his philosophic insights. Bryce Christensen for Booklist

Gene Edward Veith on Cosmology

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Scientific evidence for the "Big Bang" becomes more and more theological. According to "cosmic inflation" cosmology, as Mr. Easterbrook explains it, "the entire universe popped out of a point with no content and no dimensions, essentially expanding instantaneously to cosmological size. Now being taught at Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other top schools, this explanation of the beginning of the universe bears haunting similarity to the traditional theological notion of creation ex nihilo, "out of nothing".

Brothers Judd on Science, Reason, and Turtles on Fenceposts

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It seems to me that modern man, with our touchingly naive belief in reason and science and our delusion that we can understand existence, has lost sight of how miraculous existence truly is. Science, with button-bursting pride, offers us explanations for the history of the universe, but has not even begun to dream of what might have preceded the Big Bang. Science assures us that we are not unique, that there must be myriad planets with intelligent life on them, intelligence that is similar or even superior to ours, but can not answer the Fermi Paradox: “where are they?” Science assures us that Darwinism explains away the rise of humans and that had this or that element of evolution been just slightly different, we may never have existed, and that there must be other planets where life is quite different. And yet, with all of these scientific explanations, the fact remains that to the best of our knowledge: we exist; alone among the creatures of creation, we can comprehend our existence; and our creation seems to have been a goal of the universe. I know, I know, that’s far too anthropomorphic, yadda, yadda, yadda… Well, there’s an old saying down South, maybe it’s even popular down near where Mr. Price lives and teaches: if you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, it’s safe to assume he didn’t get there by himself. You can, of course, concoct all kinds of theories, maybe even prove some of them scientifically, that’ll show that the turtle got there naturally, but, as for me, I’d tend to assume that someone placed him there. As you look around the universe, we damn sure seem to resemble that turtle.

Does the Many-Universes Hypothesis Really Explain the Fine-Tuning?

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The last thirty years have witnessed a major revival in the philosophical, theological, scientific, and popular literature of the traditional design argument for theism. Probably the most convincing and widely discussed of these arguments is based on the so-called “fine-tuning” of the cosmos, which refers the fact that the parameters of physics and the initial conditions of the universe are balanced on a razor’s edge for life to occur. For example, calculations by Brandon Carter indicate that if the force of gravity had been stronger or weaker by one part in 1040, then life-sustaining stars could not exist (Davies, 1984, p. 242); similarly, calculations indicate that if the strong nuclear force, the force that binds protons and neutrons together in an atom, had been stronger or weaker by as little as 5%, life would be impossible. ( Barrow and Tipler, p. 322.) As the eminent Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson notes, “There are many . . . lucky accidents in physics. Without such accidents, water could not exist as liquid, chains of carbon atoms could not form complex organic molecules, and hydrogen atoms could not form breakable bridges between molecules” (1979, p. 251) — in short, life as we know it would be impossible.

The Fine-Tuning Design Argument

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Suppose we went on a mission to Mars, and found a domed structure in which everything was set up just right for life to exist. The temperature, for example, was set around 70o F and the humidity was at 50%; moreover, there was an oxygen recycling system, an energy gathering system, and a whole system for the production of food. Put simply, the domed structure appeared to be a fully functioning biosphere. What conclusion would we draw from finding this structure? Would we draw the conclusion that it just happened to form by chance? Certainly not. Instead, we would unanimously conclude that it was designed by some intelligent being. Why would we draw this conclusion? Because an intelligent designer appears to be the only plausible explanation for the existence of the structure. That is, the only alternative explanation we can think of — that the structure was formed by some natural process — seems extremely unlikely. Of course, it is possible that, for example, through some volcanic eruption various metals and other compounds could have formed, and then separated out in just the right way to produce the “biosphere,” but such a scenario strikes us as extraordinarily unlikely, thus making this alternative explanation unbelievable.