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Theism

The Incompatibility of Naturalism  and Scientific Realism

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Whenever philosophers bother to offer a defense for philosophical naturalism, they typically appeal to the authority of natural science. Science is supposed to provide us with a picture of the world so much more reliable and well-supported than that provided by any non-scientific source of information that we are entitled, perhaps even obliged, to withhold belief in anything that is not an intrinsic part of our our best scientific picture of the world. This scientism is taken to support philosophical naturalism, since, at present, our best scientific picture of the world is an essentially materialistic one, with no reference to causal agencies other than those that can be located within space and time. This defense of naturalism presupposes a version of scientific realism: unless science provides us with objective truth about reality, it has no authority to dictate to us the form which our philosophical ontology and metaphysics must take. Science construed as a mere instrument for manipulating experience, or merely as an autonomous construction of our society, without reference to our reality, tells us nothing about what kinds of things really exist and act. In this essay, I will argue, somewhat paradoxically, that scientific realism can provide no support to philosophical naturalism. In fact, the situation is precisely the reverse: naturalism and scientific realism are incompatible.

Dallas Willard on Jesus’ Worldview

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Jesus’ good news about the kingdom can be an effective guide for our lives only if we share his view of the world in which we live. To his eyes this is a God-bathed and God-permeated world. It is a world filled with a glorious reality, where every component is within the range of God’s direct knowledge and control — though he obviously permits some of it, for good reasons, to be for a while otherwise than as he wishes. It is a world that is inconceivably beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it. It is a world in which God is continually at play and over which he constantly rejoices. Until our thoughts of God have found every visible thing and event glorious with his presence, the word of Jesus has not yet fully seized us.

Dallas Willard on the Life of God

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We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that he is full of joy. ¶ We pay a lot of money to get a tank with a few tropical fish in it and never tire of looking at their brilliant iridescence and marvelous forms and movements. But God has seas full of them, which he constantly enjoys. ¶ Human beings can lose themselves in card games or electric trains and think they are fortunate. But to God there is available, in the language of one reporter, "Towering clouds of gases trillions of miles high, backlit by nuclear fires in newly forming stars, galaxies cart wheeling into collision and sending explosive shock waves boiling through millions of light-years of time and space." These things are all before him, along with numberless unfolding rosebuds, souls, and songs, and immeasurably more of which we know nothing.

Judith Hayes on God

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Life can be beautiful, profound, and awe-inspiring, even without an irate god threatening us with eternal torment.

Thomas Nagel on the Fear of Religion

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In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehood. I am talking about something much deeper — namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that… My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind.

Thomas Nagel on Darwinism and Subjectivism

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How is it possible that creatures like ourselves, supplied with the contingent capacities of a biological species whose very existence appears to be radically accidental, should have access to universally valid methods of objective thought? It is because this question seems unanswerable that sophisticated forms of subjectivism keep appearing in the philosophical literature…

Michael Martin on God, Mystery, and Evil

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On most interpretations of the theistic God, He desires His creatures to love Him. However, the mystery of evil conflicts with this desire. It is difficult for rational humans to love God when they do not understand why there is so much evil. If the reasons for evil are beyond humans’ ken, God could at least make THIS abundantly clear. Why does He not do so? Moreover, why does not an all-powerful God have the power to raise human intelligence so humans can understand why there is so much evil? If there is reason for not doing this, then why is THIS not made clear? There is mystery on top of mystery here which seems to conflict explicitly with God’s desire to be loved.

The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality

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William Lane Craig argues first that objective morality is indefensible apart from the existence of God, and second, therefore, that the evident fact of objective morality is evidence for the existence of God. If not A (no God) then not B (no objective morality), then conversely, B therefore A. Craig justifies his thesis by noting the inability of atheism to account for moral evaluation, moral responsibility, and moral accountability. He is careful to stipulate that he is not arguing that belief in God is required for moral action and character, as the argument is sometimes misconstrued. Rather, "that if God exists, then the objectivity of moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability is secured, but that in the absence of God, that is, if God does not exist, then morality is just a human convention, that is to say, morality is wholly subjective and non-binding." ~ Afterall

The Blind Watchmaker

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Oxford zoologist Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype) trumpets his thesis in his subtitle almost guarantee enough that his book will stir controversy. Simply put, he has responded head-on to the argument-by-design most notably made by the 18th century theologian William Paley that the universe, like a watch in its complexity, needed, in effect, a watchmaker to design it. Hewing to Darwin’s fundamental (his opponents might say fundamentalist) message, Dawkins sums up: “The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the evolution of organized complexity.” Avoiding an arrogant tone despite his up-front convictions, he takes pains to explain carefully, from various sides, why even such esteemed scientists as Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould, with their “punctuated equilibrium” thesis, are actually gradualists like Darwin himself in their evolutionary views. Dawkins is difficult reading as he describes his computer models of evolutionary possibilities. But, as he draws on his zoological background, emphasizing recent genetic techniques, he can be as engrossing as he is cogent and convincing. His concept of “taming chance” by breaking down the “very improbable into less improbable small components” is daring neo-Darwinism. ~ Publishers Weekly

David James Duncan on the Problem of Evil

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Beside a Scientist, Marion is also a Pacifist and an Atheist. This means she is basically against most things, such as War, Sports, and God. Don’t get me wrong here. She is a fine woman in her way. Just a bit too serious and cynical, we feel … This weird outlook must of started up because her two brothers or maybe three were either all three or both killed during WW1, which Marion calls The Great War, in spite of WW2 being Greater. It also probably never helped when both her parents died shortly thereafter of a combination of broken hearts and the Spanish Inflewenza.

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

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Darwin’s idea is very very simple; it goes like this. 1) Organisms pass their characteristics on to their descendants, which are mostly but not completely identical to their parent organisms. 2) Organisms breed more descendants than can possibly survive. 3) Descendants with beneficial variations have a better chance of surviving and reproducing, however slight, than those with non-beneficial variations. 4) These slightly modified descendants are themselves organisms, so repeat from step 1. (There is no stopping condition.) That’s it. That’s all there is to Natural Selection: a simple four step loop; a mindless algorithm that displays no intent, no design, no purpose, no goal, no deeper meaning. This simple algorithm has been running on Earth for four billion years to produce every living thing, and everything made by every living thing, from the oxygen atmosphere generated by plants to the skyscrapers and music created by man. Dennett writes that it is the algoritm’s complete mindlessness that makes Darwin’s idea so dangerous. Dennett devotes the major portion of his book to aggressively arguing the above. He reviews how the algorithm could have “primed life’s pump” eons ago and spends some time on describing evolution and biology. He argues that biology is engineering and thus reducible to algorithms. He also explains how simple algorithms can lead to computers that play brilliant chess and here he makes an important distinction: brilliant chess doesn’t have to be perfect chess. ~ Vincent Poirier at Amazon.com

The Evidential Argument from Evil

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Is evil evidence against the existence of God? Even if God and evil are compatible, it remains hotly contested whether evil renders belief in God unreasonable. “The Evidential Argument from Evil” presents five classic statements on this issue by eminent philosophers and theologians and places them in dialog with eleven original essays reflecting new thinking by these and other scholars. The volume focuses on two versions of the argument. The first affirms that there is no reason for God to permit either certain specific horrors or the variety and profusion of undeserved suffering. The second asserts that pleasure and pain, given their biological role, are better explained by hypotheses other than theism. Contributors include William P. Alston, Paul Draper, Richard M. Gale, Daniel Howard-Snyder, Alvin Plantinga, William L. Rowe, Bruce Russell, Eleonore Stump, Richard G. Swinburne, Peter van Inwagen, and Stephen John Wykstra. ~ Product Description

Robin Le Poidevin on Theistic Arguments

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The probabilistic teleological argument exploits the idea that it is extremely improbable that the laws of the universe should be so balanced as to permit the development of life unless we adopt the hypothesis that these laws were fixed by a creator who desired the development of life. The argument, however, faces the same kind of objection as the one we brought against the cosmological argument in the previous chapter: it takes a certain concept out of a context in which it is obviously applicable, and applies it to a context in which that concept is not applicable. In the case of the cosmological argument, the crucial concept is that of causation; in the case of the teleological argument, it is statistical probability. Neither argument carries conviction because we can plausibly deny that the concept in question can be extended to cover extraordinary contexts.

Stewart Guthrie on Anthropomorphising God

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‘But if oxen (and horses) and lions…. could draw with hands and create works of art like those made by men, horses would draw pictures of gods like horses, and oxen of gods like oxen. … Aethiopians have gods with snub noses and black hair, Thracians have gods with grey eyes and red hair.’ Like many later critics of anthropomorphism, Xenophanes evidently did not question the gods themselves but only their human attributes. Later Western writers think the Greek gods especially anthropomorphic, but gods in many other religions are equally so.

R. Douglas Geivett on the Hiddenness of God

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We cannot foreclose on the question of God’s willingness to disclose himself and his purposes in some concrete, particularized way without first looking into the evidence for the authenticity of an alleged revelation from him; even if a quest for some particular truth of the matter is scandalous by today’s ephemeral standards, It will hardly do to accuse God of hiding from us if we have not sincerely sought him in appropriate ways, or if we have insisted on prescribing for God the conditions under which we would approve a revelation of himself.

Evil and the Evidence for God

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Many have thought that the reality of evil in the world makes the existence of God unlikely and religious belief irrational. The most influential contemporary solution to this problem has been offered by philosopher John Hick: God is responsible for evil, using it as a soul-builder to make human beings into morally perfect creatures. This book is an appraisal of Hick’s work on the specific topic of theodicy — his effort to cope philosophically with the problem of evil from within the Judeo-Christian tradition. R. Douglas Geivett seeks to show why any adequate response to the problem of evil must begin with the positive reasons one might have for believing in God. Geivett begins with a survey of three influential figures who grappled with this question: St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Gottfried Leibniz. Hick’s approach to the problem of evil is then contrasted with their views. The author makes a case for the possibility of natural theology and he defends the view that it is rational to believe in the existence of God, even given the reality of evil in the world. Geivett takes issue with Hick’s approach to the significance of evil, the nature of human freedom, and the character of the afterlife. He argues for a return to the Augustinian free-will tradition: that creatures with free wills are responsible for evil. This discussion of one of the most challenging questions in the philosophy of religion concludes with an afterword by John Hick in which he responds to the author’s thesis.

R. Douglas Geivett on Design

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If the conditions in our universe were not what they are, within a very small margin of flexibility, no life of any kind would be found in this universe. Thus, while the present universe is a fit habitat for human and other forms of life, the initial probability of there being such a universe is quite small. The confluence of so-called “cosmic constants” is improbable enough on the assumption that the universe is uncaused and undesigned; it is even more improbable on the supposition that we owe our existence to Creator who has it in for us. If, on the other hand, our lives are special, and if what makes our lives special has anything to do with the physical condition in which we come to have our lives, then the good of human life depends upon the Creator as well. This is cause for considerable comfort, for it offers an important clue concerning the Creator’s good intentions for humans. Our bodies locate us in a physical world of astonishing complexity, apparently ordered by its Creator to the goal our physical well-being.

The Problem with the Problem of Evil

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Current discussions of the ‘problem of evil’ vary greatly in at least two ways. First, those involved in such discussions often differ on the exact nature of the problem. Some see it as primarily logical (deductive), some as primarily evidential (inductive), and still others as primarily psychological (personal, pastoral). Second, those involved in such discussions differ radically on what is required of the theist in response. Some claim that unless the theist can offer an explanation for evil (a theodicy) that is satisfying to rational individuals in general, theistic belief is rendered unjustified. Others agree that the theist must offer a theodicy, but deny that such an explanation must be found convincing by most if theistic belief is to remain justified. And still others deny that the theist is required to offer any sort of explanation (theodicy), arguing instead that the theist need only defend the logical consistency of simultaneous belief in the existence of evil and God.

Does God Exist?

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In a lively debate, which includes questions from the audience, Christian philosopher and ethicist J.P. Moreland and Kai Neilsen, one of today’s best-known atheist philosophers, go head to head on the fundamental issues and questions that have shaped individual lives, races, and nations throughout history. The book is divided into three sections: (i) the transcriptof the oral debate on the existence of God between Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland and atheist philosopher Kai Nielsen; (ii) commentaries on the debate by two Christian philosophers (William Lane Craig and Dallas Willard) and two atheist philosophers (Antony Flew and Keith Parsons); and (iii) concluding thoughts by Moreland and Nielsen.

Brennan Manning on the God of Grace

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This is the God of the gospel of grace. A God who out of love for us, sent the only Son he ever had wrapped in our skin. He learned how to walk stumbled and fell, cried for his milk, sweated blood in the night, was lashed with a whip and showered with spit, was fixed to a cross and died whispering forgiveness on us all. The God of the legalistic
Christian, on the other hand, is often unpredictable, erratic, and capable of all manner of prejudices. When we view God this way, we feel compelled to engage in some sort of magic to appease him. Sunday worship becomes a superstitious insurance policy against his whims. This God expects people to be perfect and to be in perpetual control of their feelings and thoughts. When broken people with this concept of God fail — as inevitably they must — they usually expect
punishment. So, they persevere in religious practices as they struggle to maintain a hollow image of a perfect self. The struggle itself is exhausting. The legalists can never live up to the expectations they project on God.

Brennan Manning on the Love of God

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This chapter began with a paean of praise of the power of God manifested in the works of creation. The gospel of grace ends any apparent dichotomy between God’s power and his love. The God who flung from his fingertips this universe filled with galaxies and stars, penguins and puffins, gulls and gannets, Pomeranians and poodles, elephants and evergreens, parrots and potato bugs, peaches and pears, and a world full of children made in his own image, is the God who loves with magnificent monotony.

William Dembski on the Origin of Life

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Dawkins, to explain LIFE apart from a designer, not only gives himself all the time Darwin ever wanted, but also helps himself to all the conceivable planets there might be in the observable universe (note that these are planets he must posit, since no planets outside our solar system have been observed, nor is there currently any compelling theory of planetary formation which guarantees that the observable universe is populated with planets). Thus Barrow and Tipler, in order to justify their various anthropic principles, not only give themselves all the time and planets that Dawkins ever wanted, but also help themselves to a generous serving of universes (universes which are per definition causally inaccessible to us).

Brennan Manning on the Fine-Tuned Universe

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The slant of the earth, for example, tilted at an angle at 23 degrees, produces our season,. Scientists tell us that if the earth had not been tilted exactly as it is, vapors from the oceans would move both north and south, piling up continents of ice. If the moon were only 50,000 miles away from earth instead of 200,000 the tides might be so enormous that all continents would be submerged in water, even the mountains would be eroded. If the crust of the earth had been only ten feet thicker, there would be no oxygen, and without it all animal life would die. Had the oceans been a few feet deeper, carbon dioxide and oxygen would have absorbed and no vegetable life would exist. The earth’s weight has been estimated at six sextillion tons (that’s a six with 21 zeros). Yet it is perfectly balanced and turns easily on its axis. It revolves daily at the rate of more than 1,000 miles per hour or 25,000 miles each day. This adds up to nine million miles a year. Considering the tremendous weight of six sextillion tons rolling at this fantastic speed around an invisible axis, held in place by unseen bands of gravitation, the words of Job 26:7 take on unparalleled significance: “He poised the earth on nothingness.” The earth revolves in its own orbit around the sun, making the long elliptical circuit of six hundred million miles each year — which means we are traveling in orbit at 19 miles per second or 1,140 miles per hour. Job further invites us to meditate on “the wonders of God” (37:14). Consider the sun. Every square yard of the sun’s surface is emitting constantly an energy level of 130,000 horse power (that is, approximately 450 eight-cylinder automobile engines), in flames that are being produced by an energy source much more powerful than coal. The nine major planets in our solar system range in distance from the sun from 36 million to about 3 trillion, 6,664 billion miles; yet each moves around the sun in exact precision, with orbits ranging from 88 days for Mercury to 248 years for Pluto. Still, the sun is only one minor star in the 100 billion orbs which comprise our Milky Way galaxy. if you were to hold out a dime, a ten-cent piece, at arm’s length, the coin would block out 15 million stars from your view, if your eyes could see with that power.

Steven Weinberg on Life as Tragedy or Farce

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It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more or less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we were somehow built in from the beginning. As I write this I happen to be in an airplane at 30,000 feet, flying over Wyoming en route home from San Francisco to Boston. Below, the earth looks very soft and comfortable — fluffy clouds here and there, snow turning pink as the sun sets, roads stretching straight across the country from one town to another. It is very hard to realize that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless. … The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.

Arno Penzias on the Delicate Balance for Life

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Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan. Thus, the observations of modern science seem to lead to the same conclusions as centuries-old intuition.