Sunday, February 13, 2011
Thursday, February 3, 2011
If the universe began to exist, this entails that something brought it into existence. Since an effect is dependent upon its cause, and in the case of the universe, the effect includes time itself, its cause must be timeless. The only candidate is God. God, unlike the universe, would not require a cause, if only because God is not held by time.
Of course, if the atheist can provide an explanation which better fits the facts, he is welcome to propose it. However, Ben did not give a reasonable answer to how the universe could begin to exist without God. Thus, he was not able to show that atheistic answers are better or have more explanatory power than theistic ones. The universe still began to exist, and God did not. At the end of the day, only one of these requires an explanation of what caused it, and I don't see that such an explanation was successfully provided by the opposing viewpoint.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Monday, January 31, 2011
In order for Premise 2 of the Leibnizian Cosmological argument to hold—the premise that requires an agent with will to bring the universe into existence—does one have to postulate that the Big Bang is an event in time rather than the explosion of time and space into existence?
I would say that the Big Bang is the first event in time. God creates the universe at moment of time T=0, or, stated differently, the act of creating is simultaneous with the universe beginning to exist. So the moment of creation is the first event in time. If the universe is genuinely temporal, it would require a first moment-- a beginning. Things which begin are caused. Eternal causes without wills (like a timeless vacuum as in a vacuum fluctuation model) necessarily have eternal effects. Only a timeless being with a will can account for a universe with a beginning.
Hawking admits that on real time models, there is in fact a beginning, and that this could suggest a Beginner: “So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator” (A Brief History of Time, p. 140-141). This is why his quantum gravity model is so important-- it curves time to get around the beginning point. Of course, numerous physicists, including Roger Penrose of the Penrose-Hawking Singularity Theorems, do not find Hawking's system of explaining the universe to be correct or even, in the case of Penrose, scientific.
How can you reconcile the omnipotent nature of god—which would require that he be able to end his own existence if he so chose—and traits god possesses like emotion and thought—which are contingent upon neurology and evolution in every instance we can examine—with your claim that god exists necessarily, and therefore must not be able to cease his own existence or possess traits that are contingent?
I think this problem stems from you defining omnipotence in a way which Christian theologians do not. I take omnipotence to mean that God can do anything at all which does not deny His nature. (such as things which are irrational, immoral, etc.) For instance, because God is the ground of rationality, and God is consistent with Himself, He will not deny Himself by behaving in irrational ways. For example, God could not draw a square circle or make a rock so heavy that He couldn't lift it. Of course, these are anthropomorphisms which make God material, but even with this flaw aside, God could not do these things because they are irrational. If God cannot deny Himself by behaving irrationally, but can still be called omnipotent in a meaningful sense by being able to do anything which is right and rational to do, it follows that He also cannot cease existing because to do so would be an act of denying His nature and doing that which is not rationally possible.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Ben created three basic categories which all of his arguments fell into.
The first category of his arguments sought to prove that:
"1. A theistic worldview cannot account for many features of our universe that an atheistic worldview can account for."
His central argument on this point was that the universe was far too big and unreachable to have been made with humans in mind. Ben argues:
“The Christian claims the universe was created for the benefit of us, the creation. So why the excess? Why, if the universe is a gift to us, are we limited to just one of a hundred billion trillion planets? Why is most of the universe constructed of empty space that is deadly to us? Why are all of the planets within our reach also deadly to us, with their crushing gravity, sulfuric acid rain or freezing temperatures? Why is everything outside our solar system kept off-limits to us by overwhelmingly vast distances and the laws of physics?”
I could point out that this is really a side-point. If the universe requires a cause, and design requires a designer, then the question of the importance of human beings cannot overturn the positive case for a Creator. However, I am arguing as a Christian here, and it is also my goal to demonstrate that Christianity, not just theism, contains the answer for why something exists rather than nothing. Speaking as a Christian, I would ask Ben what he means by benefit. Certainly if there was a verse in the Bible which said that God made all of the planets specifically for us to dwell upon, this would contradict our experience, and Ben's argument would be a valid one. Of course, the Bible doesn't claim this, as Psalm 115:16 demonstrates:
"The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to mankind" (NIV).
Instead, the Psalmist claims that, "the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge" (Psalm 19:1-2, NIV). In other words, one of the chief purposes that the universe serves for human beings is to point us to the beauty, majesty, and brilliance of its Creator, not to give us real estate to build a restaurant at the end of the universe.
All of that being said, one can't help but wonder if the problem with this argument is that it suffers from an inability to consider options outside of a non-atheistic framework. In truth, one could turn this objection upon itself. Instead of asking, "why is most of the universe constructed of empty space that is deadly to us?" one might just as easily ask, "why is it that earth is oddly habitable?"
For instance, Earth resides in the small habitable circumstellar “Goldilocks Zone” at just the right distance from our sun. The type and size of sun we have, the distance we are away from it, and numerous other characteristics of Earth, the sun, and our moon, all work together to make life possible on Earth. While Ben could ask why God would create a sun we can't build condominiums on, a more pressing question might be, "how is is that Earth's precise relationship to the sun is such that it allows for not just life (which seems tough enough), but highly complex thinking beings to exist?" Similarly, Earth's location in the Milky Way Galaxy, about half-way between the center and the edge, is also in a life-permitting “galactic habitable zone.”
Ben could retort by saying we are here by chance and that pointing out how bad the odds were for us getting here doesn't change the fact that we are, possibly without the aid of God. This is a fair criticism, but it's beside the point. My goal in responding to this particular claim is not necessarily to make a positive case for God, but to show that Ben's argument is not only a straw man, but a false dichotomy. There are other reasonable options which Ben has excluded because of his bias.
Ben also made a sidepoint in this section, but I think it's important to point it out. He said, "life is not the goal of the universe, just a quirk of it, like the storms on Jupiter or the methane lakes on Titan."
Ben's statement here asserts that human life is comparable to a methane lake on Saturn's moon Titan. As a necessary result of this, the universe did not intend to endow Ben with reason. If Ben is able to reason at all, this is an unintentional “quirk.” As such, it would obviously be highly unlikely that Ben's reason is trustworthy. Ben attempts to attack God using a tool that could only have reasonably originated from God. In other words, it is his atheist worldview which can't account for this very important feature in our universe. He can either admit that his reason is untrustworthy (thus rendering logical discourse pointless), or else he must assert by faith that it came about unintentionally.
Ben's second type of arguments fell into this category:
However, this is false. Particles don't come into being out of nothing but out of the quantum vacuum, which is, according to philosopher William Lane Craig, "a sea of fluctuating energy. [An] arena of violent activity, and it is governed by physical laws." According to Craig, on the Copenhagen model of quantum mechanics (which is the model Ben is probably appealing to), the energy in the vacuum fluctuates and spontaneously spins off particles which then dissolve back into the energy of the vacuum. This stands in marked contrast to a universe which comes out of nothing.
After this, Ben paraphrased a claim Hawking made in his new book:
Ben is correct that Hawking and Mlodinow say this. On page 180, they claim that, "because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing... Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist." Of course, this sentence taken plainly is nonsensical. When someone argues that X causes Y, they are presuming the pre-existence of X to bring about Y. But what of an argument where X causes X? How can X pre-exist itself to bring itself into existence? It obviously can't. Thus, the universe cannot create itself, and it certainly can't do so through gravity, which requires a pre-existent natural universe for its own existence.
This is a worthwhile point to bring up in this discussion. I think there are different ways to answer this challenge. First of all, it could be argued that a complicated hypothesis with far-reaching explanatory power is better than a simple hypothesis with little to no explanatory power. The hypothesis that, "in the beginning nothing blew up for no reason and here we are," is certainly simple, but it hardly explains everything that it's supposed to. In contrast, the God hypothesis can easily account for the appearance of design and order in the universe, the existence of complex life which can reason, irreducibly complex biological structures, moral facts, and even the existence of the universe itself. So even if God were more complex than His effect, the God hypothesis would still be preferable to the allegedly simple naturalistic atheistic hypothesis. However, I think Ben may be mistaken in assuming that God is complex, if I am correct that this is his contention. Unlike the universe, God does not consist of multiple, complex parts. In fact, as a non-physical mind, God would actually be quite simple, even though His thoughts and creation are complex. If God's mind is the standard for truth, reason, and goodness, this most certainly makes Him a remarkable Being, though not necessarily a complex one.
Click here to read Ben's rebuttal to my opening statement.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Why does something exist rather than nothing? There are two categories of things which exist: those which exist necessarily (those things which don't depend on a certain set of circumstances to exist, but rather must exist) and those which exist contingently (those things which don't have to exist, and must have been caused by something outside of them). In this debate, we will be focusing on why the universe exists instead of not existing. It must have an explanation for itself-- either it necessarily exists, or something else caused it.
A way of reasoning through the question of the universe's explanation is a form of the Leibnizian cosmological argument from contingency:
"1) Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. 2) If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God. 3) The universe exists. 4) Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence. (from 1, 3) 5) Therefore, the explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (from 2, 4)"
This argument points out that everything has an explanation for its existence, either in its necessity or in being caused. As a result, something which is contingent requires that it is grounded by something which is necessary. If the universe is contingent it requires a necessary cause. According to Leibniz, this necessary cause could only be God.
The other alternative is that the universe is necessary. However, big bang cosmology has shown us that the universe began to exist at a finite point in time, which suggests that it could have not come into existence at all. In other words, it does not have to exist. Furthermore, if the universe is said to be necessary, what could this mean? Does it mean that every single quark which composes all of the matter in the universe is necessary? There could be no more or less? This seems absurd.
It is obvious that since the universe began to exist and could have not come into existence at all, it is contingent. All contingent things require a cause, and must ultimately go back to a necessary cause-- something which must exist because of its nature. Otherwise, things would simply pop into existence out of nothing without a cause. As the kalam cosmological argument puts it:
A. Anything which begins to exist has a cause.
B. The universe began to exist.
Thus, the universe has a cause.
While some atheists may counter Leibniz's assertion that the only explanation for the universe would be God by saying that this universe may have simply emerged out of another, this doesn't solve their problem. If what caused the universe is also material and thus contingent, then THAT would necessarily require a transcendent cause, or else the atheist is faced with having an infinite regress. As philosopher William Lane Craig argued, paraphrasing Liebniz in his book Reasonable Faith:
"imagine that a series of geometry books has been copied from eternity; such an infinite regress would still not explain why such books exist at all. But the same is true with regard to past states of the world: even should these be infinite; we have yet to discover a sufficient reason for the existence of an eternal universe. Therefore, the reason for the universe's existence must be found outside the universe, in a being whose sufficient reason is self-contained; it is its own sufficient reason for existing and is the reason the universe exists as well. This Sufficient Reason of all things is God, whose own existence is to be explained only by reference to Himself. That is to say, God is a metaphysically necessary being."
Since the universe consists of all space, time, and matter, that which caused it must be spaceless, timeless, and immaterial. This cause must also have a will capable of bringing the universe into existence, for although abstract things like numbers are spaceless, timeless, and immaterial, they stand in no causal relation to anything else and have no wills by which to bring anything about, let alone a complex, highly organized universe governed by strict laws and capable of producing highly developed life.
The only alternative for the atheist is to assert that the universe exists with NO explanation at all. For obvious reasons, he/she will not want to admit this. To do so is to make a mockery of logic and the obvious truth that everything which exists requires an explanation for its existence. After all, we do not genuinely worry that a giant sperm whale might simply appear in the earth’s atmosphere and land on our house (infinite improbability drive aside).
When asking why something exists rather than nothing, it's also important that we ask what kind of thing this "something" is. I have demonstrated that in the case of the universe, it is contingent and came into existence at a finite point in time, and so the explanation for it must then be God. However, I could go a step further and point to the obvious marks of design and fine-tuning in this universe, which further demonstrates that there must be a mind behind it. While I cannot claim any expertise in physics, I will take Stephen Hawking at his word when he says:
"The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron... The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life" (A Brief History of Time, p. 125).
Similarly, Dawkins admits in his book The God Delusion that, "one of the greatest challenges to the human intellect... has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises," and that, "the natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself" (p. 188 paperback edition). These atheistic scientists provide further corroboration for the premise that the “something” which exists exhibits hallmarks of design, and thus strengthens the argument that it was caused by an immaterial, timeless, causeless, spaceless intelligence.
So why does something exist rather than nothing? God exists because He must. He can’t do otherwise. The universe, which began to exist, exists because it was caused, and the only good candidate for the cause of the universe is God.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Both debaters will post on their respective blogs an opening statement making a positive case for their viewpoint not exceeding 1,200 words.
Within 72 hours, both debaters will post rebuttals not exceeding 1,600 words.
Within another 72 hours, both debaters will post a three question cross-examination they have done of the other debater, questions not exceeding 50 words and answers not exceeding 200 words.
Within another 72 hours, 400 word conclusions will also be posted by each debater.
Links to the post responded to and the response posted (when they are submitted) will be placed in text of each post.
Ben Doublett is the owner of a small business and a British citizen living in the United States. He spends his free time volunteering with the business program at Mason High School, mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs and, most relevantly, as an amateur atheist and rationalist polemic.
In his new blog, Fool of Psalms, he criticizes all kinds of irrational belief, including alternative and faith-based healing practices and (coming soon) astrology, but mainly he focuses on dispelling the reasons given for religious belief and providing reasons for disbelief. This blog has attracted nearly a thousand unique visitors from all over the world in less than three weeks.
While he is definitely not reserved in his criticisms of beliefs he considers irrational, Doublett always tries to remain as respectful as possible in debates with the faithful. He is a strong advocate of the notion that one should attack the belief and not the believer.
To read more about Doublett’s positions on religious faith and other issues, check out his blog at http://foolofpsalms.blogspot.com/
Cody Cook is a theology student specializing in apologetics. He seeks to follow the biblical command to, "sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" and seeks to dialogue with non-Christians about the truths of the Christian faith. He believes that since reason and morality come from God, they cannot be consistently used against Him by the atheist/agnostic/skeptic. As a result, he seeks to demonstrate circular reasoning, unfounded assumptions, and faulty reasoning in atheistic thinking, while at the same time seeking to maintain a friendly and generous spirit. He has two blogs which he uses to encourage dialogue with fellow Christians as well as non-Christians: http://arguewithachristian.blogspot.com/ andhttp://codysblackbox.blogspot.com/