God or no God? – a cumulative case
A man is on trial for the brutal murder of his wife. You sit on the jury and attentively consider the various pieces of evidence as they are presented by the prosecutor:
- The man’s fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime.
- The victim’s blood was discovered in the man’s vehicle.
- A witness reported seeing the man running from the scene around the time of the murder.
- The victim’s stolen credit card was used to purchase clothing the defendant was wearing at the time of his arrest.
- The victim made a 911 call as she lay dying, breathing out her husband’s name just before she expired.
- The man had been having an affair with his secretary who was pressuring him to leave his wife.
- The man recently bought life insurance on his wife.
- The bullet recovered from the victim’s body matches a gun the defendant owns.
- And the glove fits.
The defense attorney then rises and proceeds to cast doubt on the applicability of several of the items in determining his client’s guilt or innocence. The man regularly used his wife’s credit card, he says. Nothing damning about that. His name was spoken with her last breath because she wanted him there. And fingerprints, though a reliable identifier, only put one at the scene but give no evidence of time or activity.
Once you and the other jurors are free to deliberate, you acknowledge that none of the evidences taken individually are enough to confidently conclude that the man is guilty of murder. There are possible explanations for each that have nothing to do with the crime. Yet the weight of their totality, including the defendant’s lack of a convincing alibi, his failure to demonstrate any genuine grief at the loss of his wife, his cell phone records showing a call made to his mistress shortly after the time of the murder, and her testimony that he told her his wife would never divorce him but there might be another way….leave you with the determination that his guilt is beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the same way that the whole body of evidence in a criminal case is greater than the sum of its parts, so too is the case for the existence of God. As I wrote about in my post from a few weeks ago, attempts to discredit particular arguments for theism or Christianity, without providing a more rational explanation of all the evidence, do nothing to convince anyone who wasn’t already predisposed to your position.
The evidences for God are multitudinous, and though possible alternate explanations may exist for each individually, the case must be considered in its totality if one is to be fair and objective. These evidences, or Exhibits A and following, if you will, in the case for the existence of God and Christianity in particular include:
- the scientific evidence for a beginning of the universe from nothing
- the argument from the fine-tuning of the universe
- the obvious appearance of design in biological life
- the existence of objective moral values and duties
- evidence of the immaterial
- the historical reliability of the Bible
- Jesus’ self-identification as the Son of God
- the well-attested reports of the empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and his disciples’ belief in his resurrection
- the high unlikeliness of the rise of Christianity apart from the above reports being true
If weighed on a balance, they combine to form a substantial case for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. Casting doubt on one or two may tip the scales a bit, but disregarding the rest still leaves the Christian worldview as the best explanation of all the evidence.
“the scientific evidence for a beginning of the universe from nothing”
Read Lawrence Krauss. Not really ‘nothing’ in the colloquial sense.
“the argument from the fine-tuning of the universe”
Which is an argument than many, many people disagree with.
“the obvious appearance of design in biological life”
“the existence of objective moral values and duties”
Also not obvious, depending how you mean ‘objective’.
“evidence of the immaterial”
Isn’t good or convincing.
“the historical reliability of the Bible”
Isn’t reliable when dealing with fantastic claims.
“Jesus’ self-identification as the Son of God”
Big old ‘so what?’
“the well-attested reports of the empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and his disciples’ belief in his resurrection”
Aren’t well attested. Written decades later. Even if they weren’t, we have immediate eye witness testimony of alien abduction. Is that good evidence?
“the high unlikeliness of the rise of Christianity apart from the above reports being true”
Popularity does not equal truth.
LikeLiked by 5 people
There is no “evidence for a beginning of the universe from nothing.” That is not even a cogent statement. “Nothing” cannot be a state or point of origin. What the scientific evidence tells us is that it is possible that the universe had a first moment. It certainly does not tell us that there was ever a time when the universe did not exist.
The Fine-Tuning Argument is an argument from ignorance camouflaged in pseudoscience.
To what “obvious appearance of design” are you referring?
This begs two separate questions: first, that objective morality actually exists; and second, that objective morality can only be explained by deity. Neither has been suitably demonstrated.
What “evidence for the immaterial?” I don’t even know of a cogent manner in which to define what it means for an entity to be “immaterial,” let alone a means for demonstrating that entity’s existence.
The historical reliability of the Bible is an issue which is highly contested even amongst Christian Biblical scholars. The vast majority of Biblical scholars around the world would reject the claims of, say, the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy regarding the historical reliability of Biblical accounts.
Certainly, you are not claiming that anyone who self-identifies as “son of god” should therefore be worshiped as a deity, right?
“Well-attested” is a bit of an overstatement, but since I tend to believe that each of these likely has its origin in historical events, I’ll simply move on. The fact that people make certain claims does not, itself, validate those claims.
This is an argumentum ad populum fallacy. The fact that people believe a claim does not infer that the claim is true. I would assume that you do not believe the claims of Islam or Mormonism or Scientology, despite the meteoric and continued rises of these religions since the founding of each.
None of these 9 points is even close to being analogous to fingerprints or a victim’s blood splatter insofar as representing convincing evidence.
LikeLiked by 3 people
Hey, BP. I’ll say thanks for reading and commenting to you as well. I imagine you’re hoping for a good fight, but I’m not interested in fruitless endeavors. As the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9, “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” I’ll be praying for you as well.
Thank you for your cordial and friendly response!
I honestly wasn’t looking for a fight, when I posted. I do know that quite a number of Internet atheists are rather vitriolic, so I certainly don’t fault you for the assumption; however, I truly am interested in an honest and edifying dialectic. My comment was offered in the spirit of Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.”
If your goal in discussing these matters is simply self-assurance for those who already believe, then perhaps my input is extraneous. If that’s the case, then please feel free to ignore my comments. However, it had seemed that you intended this discussion to be thought-provoking, or even convincing, to those who do not believe. If this sort of Evangelism was the goal of your blog post, then I would seem to be your target demographic: a non-believer who is honestly an earnestly interested in learning the Truth of things.
Again, thank you for your reply, and I completely understand if vitriolic Internet atheists have turned you off to such discussions; but if you would like to sharpen the iron of your apologetics with an honest conversant, I’d be happy to have the discussion!
Well, then…I appreciate your friendly return response BP, and you are correct that it often seems pointless to engage with the average atheist who simply seems to be interested in only endless arguing. So I will take the time to address your comments, but there’s a lot to cover so I may direct you to other posts or sites for more information.
1. I’m not a scientist neither (that’s a reference to my other atheist friend above;-)), but from my research I have learned that the Big Bang model of the origin of the universe is still the most widely accepted theory among scientists. And it states that the universe had a beginning…all space, matter, and time. So before it began there was no space, matter, or time. No, it didn’t begin from nothing…I probably should have worded that differently. But in the naturalist worldview, without God, it might as well have, and that’s not even coherent.
2. As for the fine-tuning argument, no one I know describes it better than William Lane Craig: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/design-from-fine-tuning
3. How one can not see design in just the human hand is beyond me. But we have so much more than that, specifically the information code in DNA and all the intricacies of even a simple cell. We would never believe that a 747 could have arisen/been assembled/evolved without a designer, and the human body is more complex than that.
4. If you don’t believe that objective morality exists, than you are compelled to admit that what Hitler, Stalin, ISIS and others have done is not objectively wrong. And I have yet to hear or read a convincing argument for how else to ground objective morality if God is denied.
5. Our thoughts, emotions and memories are not equal to the brain waves that may show up on a brain scan when we think or feel them. They are something different and cannot be located or observed in the physical.
6. Whether or not the Bible is inerrant is a different matter than whether it is a reliable historical document. The “vast majority of biblical scholars” agree that it is historically reliable.
7. Because the Bible is a reliable ancient document, we can be confident that Jesus was an actual historical personage and that he claimed to be God. For him to have claimed divinity but be lying or mentally deranged makes little sense in light of the record of his wisdom, goodness, and teachings.
8. As for the well-attested acceptance of the facts of the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances of Jesus, and the disciples belief in his resurrection, I’ll refer you again to WLC: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/contemporary-scholarship-and-jesus-resurrection
9. My last point was not appealing to the popularity of Christianity but to the fact that it arose in the first place. If the disciples did not actually believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and they were in a position to know if what they were preaching was false, unlike today’s Muslims or Mormons, they would not have gone to their deaths because of it, and spent their lives until then preaching it and suffering because of it. Islam was spread by the sword and continues to be, or at least by a thirst for power. Mormons preach that you can be a god yourself, and that appeals to some people. The disciples preached dying to yourself and submitting to God and offered a faith that was marginalized and persecuted with no earthly rewards. And people received it then and receive it now because it rings true.
That’s all convincing to me.
Thanks, again, for engaging with me! I hope we can both learn from one another! Please forgive me, as this is likely to be another long one.
I have absolutely no qualms with citing other sources for your replies! I plan on doing the same, as I’ve actually discussed a number of your points in far more detail on my own blog, previously.
Big Bang Cosmology does not, necessarily, state that the universe had a beginning. There are a number of temporally past-infinite models of space-time which are being discussed and explored by cosmologists. However, I will certainly grant that the most popular view of Big Bang Cosmology is that it points to a first moment in time.
That said, the phrase “before it began” is completely nonsensical in reference to the universe. “Before” is an inherently temporal concept. It only makes sense in the presence of time. When we say that “X came before Y,” we are stating that there exists some time in which X exists but Y does not, followed by some time in which Y exists.
The best analogy is with the North Pole. What exists north of the North Pole? The question is nonsensical. There is no such thing as “north of the North Pole.” That is a logically incoherent statement. Similarly, there is no such thing as “before time began;” that statement is entirely incoherent.
I have responded to Dr. Craig’s particular formulation of the Fine-Tuning Argument on my own blog, if you are interested. You can read it, here:
There is no “information code” in DNA. There are chemical interactions in DNA for which humans have created symbolic codes to enable us to more easily understand their effects. While the chemistry underlying DNA is certainly fascinating, it is no more indicative of intelligent design than any other natural chemical interaction.
I agree. If there is no objective morality, then one cannot argue about the objective moral valuation of any set of things.
I have similarly yet to hear or read a convincing argument for how to ground objective morality on God.
I agree that the measurements which we use to observe mental activity are not equivalent to the phenomena being measured– in exactly the same way as the photographs taken by radio telescopes do not equate to the stars and nebulae which they describe. This does not imply that mental activity is not physical any more than it implies that stars and nebulae are not physical.
Again, this is not the case. The vast majority of Biblical scholars agree that the Bible is textually reliable; but they don’t agree that it is historically reliable. For example, the majority of scholars find the account of the Exodus to be historically dubious. Similarly, the historicity of the conquest narratives is largely doubted by scholars. A great many of the pericopes of Jesus’ life are doubted by Historical Jesus scholars. Even the very claims of authorship made by many of the epistles in the New Testament are doubted by most scholars.
While I completely agree that we can be confident that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical person, I disagree that we can be confident that he claimed to be God– as do a great many Historical Jesus scholars. Jesus does not claim to be God in any of the synoptic gospels. It is not until the much later traditions recorded in the Gospel of John that Jesus makes an explicit claim to be God, and the historicity of these Johannine descriptions is greatly contested by Historical Jesus scholars.
Furthermore, once again, even if Jesus had claimed to be God, the fact that a person makes a claim does not show the veracity of that claim. There are quite a number of wise, good people throughout history who have made otherwise dubious claims. This does not require them to be Liars– they may honestly and sincerely believe the claim. Nor does it require them to be Lunatics– one can believe even extravagant and fantastic claims without being mentally ill. Nor does it require their belief to be accurate– a person can simply be mistaken in their sincerely held beliefs.
Again, I actually agree that the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the disciples’ believe in the Resurrection likely trace back to historical events. I simply don’t find an empty tomb to be very convincing evidence of Resurrection. Nor do I find even sincere claims of post-mortem appearances to be very convincing. And I’ve already mentioned that sincerity of belief does not equate to veracity of that belief.
I understood this, which is why I chose the analogies which I chose. Islam arose, in the first place, because the earliest followers of Mohammed believed in the miracle claims which he had made. Mormonism arose, in the first place, because the earliest followers of Joseph Smith believed in the miracle claims which he had made. Scientology arose, in the first place, because the earliest followers of L. Ron Hubbard believed in the fantastic claims which he had made. In exactly the same way, Christianity arose, in the first place, because the earliest Christians believed in the miracle claims made by disciples of Jesus.
Exactly the same sort of evidence exists for a great deal of other religions, as well, and yet you do not find it convincing in those cases.
You’re forgiven. 🙂 Let’s see how much I can get down before dinnertime.
I understand that “before it began” is a temporal concept, but as the most widely-accepted cosmological model of the universe precludes the existence of time without space and matter, it’s something we have to wrestle with. And more so, we must wrestle with (or box, if that’s your preferred mode of engagement) the reality of the beginning of all matter. Lawrence Krauss doesn’t have a good explanation. He is inclined to believe the universe had a beginning but his “nothing” in A Universe From Nothing is really something.
If fine-tuning was not a recognized reality in the scientific community, why have scientists felt compelled to propose the multiverse? I scanned your post, but am not scientifically educated enough to grasp the details. 😦 If you believe the fine-tuning argument is just “God of the Gaps dressed up with pseudoscience,” what do you make of Stephen Hawking’s and others’ acknowledgement of it? “As Stephen Hawking has noted, ‘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.’” [from Wikipedia, referencing his “A Brief History of Time”]
As for the lack of footnotes in these videos, they are for popular use, and he doesn’t directly produce them, I’m sure. He has plenty of articles that include footnotes, such as this one here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/still-more-reflections-on-the-sean-carroll-debate, in which he mentions a list of “just some of the scientists who have published works in defense of the reality of fine-tuning.”
That’s going to have to do for today. I’ll pick up on the rest of your arguments tomorrow (I hope).
LikeLiked by 1 person
Continuing from yesterday…
“There is no “information code” in DNA.“
I don’t know how you can say this. Consider this quote from the site linked following it: “Since the genetic code was deciphered in the 1960s, scientists have assumed that it was used exclusively to write information about proteins. UW scientists were stunned to discover that genomes use the genetic code to write two separate languages. One describes how proteins are made, and the other instructs the cell on how genes are controlled. One language is written on top of the other, which is why the second language remained hidden for so long.”
For morality to be objective an unchanging standard must exist totally separate from any human individual, group of individuals, any culture or society, any generation. An unchanging God who IS the standard is the best explanation for the reality of objective morality that we virtually all recognize.
No one would assert that photographs equate with stars, but folks do assert that thoughts equate with brain activity. The brain is certainly being utilized in the processing of thoughts, ideas, and emotions, but since these mental entities cannot be found in the brain, nor anywhere else, they must be immaterial.
Regarding the reliability of the Bible, I should have said New Testament. But I can’t find any specific numbers for you. I would be interested to see any evidence that “the very claims of authorship made by many of the epistles in the New Testament are doubted by most scholars.” Numbers aside, it’s clear that the NT has much about it that lends itself to being taken seriously as a valid historical collection of documents.
It’s not true that, “Jesus does not claim to be God in any of the synoptic gospels.” Consider Mark 14:61-62, “But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” After the high priest heard that he tore his clothes, accusing Jesus of blasphemy. He understood Jesus to be identifying with the Son of Man from Daniel 7, who was “given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” In other words, equal to God the Father. Jesus identifies himself as this Son of Man frequently.
In Matthew 4 Jesus tells the devil who was tempting him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” In Luke 22:69-71, “But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.”Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”
In many other verses he identifies himself as the Messiah, who is equated with God in Isaiah 9:6, and accepts worship as God from others. It’s beyond believable to imagine that Jesus was “simply mistaken” in his “sincerely held” belief that he was God.
The best explanation for the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the disciples’ believe in the Resurrection is that Jesus actually rose from the dead. No other theory, in light of the evidence we have, is really plausible.
The crucial distinction between the rise of Christianity and the other religions is that though people my die for what they believe to be true, few will die for what they know to be false. And the disciples were in a position to know if what they were professing was false.
“Exactly the same sort of evidence exists for a great deal of other religions,…” This is simply not true.
The most widely-accepted model doesn’t posit the existence of time without space. Space-time is a single, four-dimensional manifold on all of the most popular models of cosmology, whether temporally past-finite or past-infinite. I am not aware of any cosmological models in modern physics which posit the existence of time separately from space.
Dr. Krauss is an excellent scientist and a wonderful popularizer of science, but he is a fairly awful philosopher. His attempts to shoehorn cosmological models into popular misconceptions about the nature of causality are an excellent illustration of this fact.
The idea of a Multiverse was not introduced as a means of resolving the fine-tuning problem. The idea already existed, as a prediction of other models, when some scientists noted that a Multiverse would make a profound difference in the question of fine-tuning. If you’re interested in the history of the development of different Multiverse ideas, I would highly recommend Max Tegmark’s book, Our Mathematical Universe.
The Fine-Tuning Problem is absolutely real. It is basically the question, “Why does our universe present with certain properties rather than others?” and that is a very legitimate question for cosmologists to discuss.
The Fine-Tuning Argument, however, is not the same as the Fine-Tuning Problem. The Fine-Tuning Argument essentially states, “There exists a Fine-Tuning Problem, therefore God exists.” To claim that ‘God must be the answer to a question simply because that question has no known answer’ is the textbook definition of a God of the Gaps argument.
Looking forward to it!
I can say it because it is true. The phrase “genetic code” is a reference to the symbolism which humans invented as a shorthand for understanding the chemical interactions in DNA. The simple fact of the matter is that DNA is a collection of chemicals which interact with one another according to well-understood properties of chemistry. This is not indicative of intelligent design any more than any other natural chemical interaction.
I would disagree. If such a moral standard were to exist, the simplest explanation for that standard’s ontology would be its own self-existence. It would not be to attach that standard so some other entity.
Nor do we “virtually all recognize” the reality of objective morality. There are a great number of people who do not believe that “objective morality” is even a coherent concept, any more than “objective deliciousness.”
Brain activity is not the same as the measurement of brain activity, just as stars are not the same as photographs of stars. The fact that we have not found these entities in the brain does not show that they cannot be found in the brain; and it most certainly does not follow that they must therefore be immaterial.
Honestly, this isn’t even a very controversial statement. You’d be hard-pressed to find an Introductory college-level course on New Testament Studies which doesn’t address this fact. Most NT scholars believe that the authors of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Peter falsely attributed those epistles to Paul and Peter. Other epistles– Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Peter, and Jude– are hotly debated, but a great many scholars are convinced that these works are also pseudepigraphical.
This is fairly anachronistic. There is no evidence that any Jews believed that the “one like unto a son of man” from Daniel 7 was equivalent to Yahweh. In fact, the earliest known usage of “Son of Man” as a title comes from Mark, and it was not until centuries later that even Christians came to a consensus view that the “Son of Man” was equal with God the Father.
It’s clear that the synoptics understand the Son of Man to be the Messiah, and identifying oneself as having been Anointed by God (the literal meaning of Messiah) would certainly have been considered blasphemous. However, the Jews had never believed that the Messiah would be equal to God. That concept only arose after Christianity had established it. I see no reason to think that Jesus identifies himself as God in any of the synoptics.
I completely disagree with this. There are numerous other explanations which are far more plausible than an actual Resurrection. For my part, it seems the most plausible explanation is that the discovery of an empty tomb contributed to grief-induced pareidolic visions of Jesus which underwent exaggeration and accrued into legendry in the decades following the event, before they were set to page.
For a moment, let’s say that a man named Egill dies. After his death, his gravesite is found to be empty. The people who followed him while he was alive claim to have seen him after his death, and sincerely believe that this means that Egill is equal to God. Would you therefore think that the most plausible explanation of these facts is that Egill was actually Resurrected?
Once again, I completely agree that the earliest Christians sincerely believed their claims. I am not suggesting that they knew them to be false. The earliest Christians truly believed the claims of Christianity, just as the earliest Muslims truly believed the claims of Islam, and the earliest Mormons truly believed the claims of the LDS Church, and the earliest Scientologists truly believed the claims of Scientology.
It really is. I could point you to exactly the same sort of evidence for Germanic Neopaganism, for example. I could point out the textual and historical reliability of the texts associated with the religion. I could list the numerous miracle claims attributed to the Norse gods, both in antiquity and modernity. I could note that no alternative answers can be proven true. I could baldly assert that the best explanation for belief in Rune magic is that Odin actually gave the Runes to Mankind for that purpose. I could purport that the Fine-Tuning Problem is evidence that Odin, Vili, and Ve deliberately carved Midgard from the corpse of Ymir. I could point to the countless followers of the Old Way who were persecuted, tortured, and killed because of their firm belief during the Christianization of Scandinavia.
I daresay you would not find any of this very convincing, just as I do not find it convincing when the exact same sorts of arguments are presented by Christians.
Sorry it’s taking me so long to respond. I’m helping out with Vacation Bible School this week.
DNA contains information…messages that instruct the cell mechanisms what to do. Even Richard Dawkins is impressed by the complexity and information contained in even the simplest cell: “Some species of the unjustly called ‘primitive’ amoebas have as much information in their DNA as 1,000 Encyclopædia Britannicas.” Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, p. 116 You can call it shorthand or symbolism, but so is the English alphabet. So are numerals. It’s when these symbols are configured to convey a message that information and intelligence is seen.
If such a moral standard were to exist, the simplest explanation for that standard’s ontology would be its own self-existence.
This seems an incoherent assertion to me. How is that the simplest explanation? How does that even make sense? And if a moral standard exists apart from any entity, what obligation would we have to follow it? Do you believe objective morality exists?
The fact that we have not found these entities in the brain does not show that they cannot be found in the brain;
I struggle to believe that anyone expects that someday we might actually locate and observe thoughts in the brain. Is this not just a “science of the gaps” argument?
About the support for NT historicity and traditional authorship, I don’t deny that there is disagreement. What I believe you and I should at least be able to agree on is that the evidence is good that there was a man in first-century Palestine, Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be God, performed miraculous deeds, was crucified by the Jewish and Roman authorities, died and was buried, and 3 days later was reported alive by his followers. If he wasn’t actually God and didn’t rise from the dead, one needs a better explanation of the evidence than that he was and did. Your theory that “the discovery of an empty tomb contributed to grief-induced pareidolic visions of Jesus” is not at all plausible. The Jewish authorities would have been stepping over themselves to get Jesus’ body to parade it around Jerusalem and nip this new sect in the bud. But even if they hadn’t, you’re talking about frightened men and women who still did not understand and believe that Jesus would rise from the dead. It’s just not reasonable to believe that these leaderless followers would have become fearless evangelists who willingly went to their deaths for their belief in the resurrection because in their grief they thought they saw him alive.
Once again, I completely agree that the earliest Christians sincerely believed their claims. I am not suggesting that they knew them to be false.
I understand you’re not suggesting that. What I am suggesting is that if they had not actually seen Jesus after he died and was buried, they would still believe he was in the tomb. If someone told them he had risen, they would have gone to the tomb, as several of them were reported to have done, to see if it was true. If he had not risen, they would have seen his body there and that would have been the end of that. But to then go around Judea and beyond proclaiming he had risen when they knew he hadn’t, and refuse to recant and save their lives, is just not believable.
I could point you to exactly the same sort of evidence for Germanic Neopaganism…
Feel free to point, list, note, and assert. The evidences are simply not comparable. You’re not convinced by any religion, I assume. What worldview do you hold? How do you explain the origin of the universe and, unless you reject it, the existence of objective morality?
Not a problem! The beautiful thing about the Internet is that we can conduct these conversations as we get time for them. Thank you, again, for spending the time to engage with me!
This is a common misconception brought about by the differences in meaning of the word “information” as used commonly and the word “information” as utilized by biologists and geneticists. DNA does not contain “messages” which instruct cell mechanisms. DNA contains chemicals which interact with other chemicals to produce certain results. A different arrangement of the chemicals in DNA will result in different interactions, producing different results. This is a largely deterministic process. It is not at all analogous to a person receiving a note from someone else and interpreting the message written on that note.
DNA no more “instructs” cell mechanisms to perform actions than gravity “instructs” bodies to be attracted to the Earth’s surface.
It is the simplest explanation because it does not posit any entities beyond those necessary to the proposition. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what about that explanation seems nonsensical to you, so I’m afraid I can’t elucidate further on that point without a bit more from you there.
If a moral standard exists in conjunction with any entity, what obligation would we have to follow it?
I do not. “Objective morality” seems to make just as little sense as “objective deliciousness.”
Neuroscientists certainly expect that “someday we might actually locate and observe thoughts in the brain,” and continue to do research toward that goal every day.
However, that is honestly irrelevant to my point. Even if we are never able to “actually locate and observe thoughts in the brain,” that does not mean that thoughts are therefore non-physical. Our inability to perceive a thing does not define the properties of that thing.
I do not agree that Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be God or performed miraculous deeds. However, I do agree that Jesus of Nazareth was a man who lived in First Century Palestine and was crucified by the Roman authorities. I think it is quite possible that he was buried after his execution, and I certainly believe that he was later reported to have been seen alive by his followers.
There are two reasons why this is completely untrue. Firstly, the Jewish authorities would have had distinct religious proscriptions against parading a corpse around Jerusalem. This would have been an incredibly impure and unclean act, and would have been completely anathema to the Jews of that time.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there was no “new sect” to nip in the bud for quite a while after Jesus’ purported Resurrection. It would be years, possibly even decades, before Christianity became large and influential enough for anyone to give it any real interest. By that time, even if some anti-Christian group had found Jesus’ body, how could they prove it had belonged to him? It would have been desiccated and decayed to the point of unrecognizability. Furthermore, only a tiny handful of the earliest Christians had ever actually seen Jesus, while he was alive, and wouldn’t have recognized his corpse even if it had been in pristine condition.
Why is that not reasonable to believe? Are you saying that no one would ever go willingly to his death for spreading a belief which he held sincerely, but which was nonetheless false?
Again, I completely agree that many of the earliest Christians sincerely believed that they had actually seen Jesus post-mortem. I have not made any suggestion that they didn’t believe they saw Jesus. They need not have actually seen him in order to believe they had seen him.
Are you familiar with the texts, miracle claims, and faith proclamations of Germanic Neopaganism? If not, how can you honestly make the assertion that they are not comparable, since you’ve never actually compared them? If you are familiar with them, what do you find lacking in them but present in those of Christianity?
Actually, I am a Germanic Neopagan, though I practice an atheistic (rather than polytheistic) form of the religion.
I’m not sure the universe had an origin, as such; and, as previously mentioned, I reject the existence of objective morality.
Thank you again for reading and conversing with me!
You seem like quite the congenial chap, BP. I’m happy to continue this conversation, to a point anyway. Other responsibilities and blog posts may require longer stretches between replies. I know you understand.
“The genome is like a library of instructions. A gene is a sequence of A’s, T’s, G’s, and C’s that usually provides the instructions for a single protein component of an organism.The letters of the genetic alphabet – A, T, G, and C – are meaningless on their own, but they are combined into useful instructions in genes.” https://www.koshland-science-museum.org/sites/all/exhibits/exhibitdna/seq04.jsp [from a link on the National Academy of Sciences website]
“Instructions” are a type of message.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure what about that explanation seems nonsensical to you,
Moral values and duties…love, honesty, and generosity, for example…are meaningless without someone to love and be honest with or generous to. To be self-existent, at least as I understand it, means that it can exist alone without anything or anyone else. So a self-existent moral standard is illogical in my book.
If a moral standard exists in conjunction with any entity, what obligation would we have to follow it?
I suppose, like my friend John Zande does, one could conceive of a being who established a moral standard that he knew we couldn’t live by and didn’t really care if we did, other than it gives him perverse pleasure to watch us fail. But I don’t think that makes much sense. It’s much more plausible to believe that if there is a moral law, there is a moral lawgiver, and the essence of a law entails obligation.
“Objective morality” seems to make just as little sense as “objective deliciousness.”
Okay then. Do you believe it could ever be acceptable to torture a child for fun?
Our inability to perceive a thing does not define the properties of that thing.
No. But when things that we do perceive have properties that are wholly different from physical ones, and none that are the same, it is reasonable to believe that they are not physical.
About what the Jewish authorities would or would not have done, I’m no expert so I can’t say confidently that their laws at the time would have proscribed such a parade. But the New Testament records them being fearful of losing their power and influence if enough people believed in Jesus, of trying to trap him in his words so as to diminish his influence, and concocting a story that the disciples had stolen his body. And of course, they had no reason to kill him if they were unconcerned about how “the world has gone after him.” – John 12:19
If they felt constrained from parading his body around, their concern about their own position and power was such that they would have at least opened his tomb and invited the disciples to come have a look.
there was no “new sect” to nip in the bud for quite a while after Jesus’ purported Resurrection.
The book of Acts, which was likely written within a few decades of Jesus’ death and records the events just after his death, reports of persecution that the church was receiving then. The apostle Paul was on the giving end of that persecution for awhile, then after his conversion on the receiving. There would have been no persecution if the authorities had not had “any real interest”
I have not made any suggestion that they didn’t believe they saw Jesus. They need not have actually seen him in order to believe they had seen him.
I feel like we’re talking past each other with this point. What I am saying is that it is not plausible that they all thought they saw Jesus risen but hadn’t. We’re not talking about one or two people here. But if one or two of them said they saw him, the others would have gone to the tomb and found his body there. So the problem is not that they didn’t really see him alive but thought they did and died for that belief. It’s that they didn’t see him alive, knew he was dead, yet preached that he had risen and died for that belief.
Are you familiar with the texts, miracle claims, and faith proclamations of Germanic Neopaganism?
No. Yet I am confident that if the evidences for it were comparable to Christianity there would be a lot more Germanic Neopagans today. I’m familiar enough with the other better known and more widely-practiced religions to say that none have the evidential support that Christianity does.
May I ask…what is it about your religion that attracts and convinces you?
I’m very thankful for the compliment! And, of course, I completely understand if other priorities come ahead of answering me.
The key word in the quote you provided is “like.” The comparison to a “library of instructions” is metaphorical. It is not meant to be taken as an accurate and complete description. Nor is a gene actually a sequence of A’s, T’s, G’s, and C’s. Rather, a gene is a section of the DNA molecule composed of adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine in a particular order. Again, these chemicals do not “instruct” anything, in actuality. They simply interact with other chemicals. Those interactions are governed by physics and are largely deterministic.
Using the “instructions” metaphor can help one to visualize and better understand the process, but it is a very bad mistake to therefore attempt to derive otherwise unsubstantiated properties of that process based on the properties of the metaphoric object.
I would completely disagree that those moral values and duties are meaningless without someone to love, be honest with, et cetera. Abstract concepts need not have actual referents in the real world in order to have meaning. For example, I’m sure that you would agree with me that 52,867,299,000,147,919,333,001 is a number, and that this number has real meaning whether or not I have a real world example of that particular quantity of objects. I see no reason why moral abstracts need to have an actual referent any more than numerical abstracts need such a thing.
I’m not even proposing we need to go that far. Let’s suppose, for a moment, that there is some being which created the universe and continues to interact with it. Now, let’s suppose that this being dictates some moral standard to us. Or, if you are not a fan of Divine Command theology, let’s suppose that this being’s very nature seems to imply some moral standard.
What obligation do we have to follow such a moral standard?
This question is incomplete. Acceptable to whom? Could I ever conceive of a situation in which it would be acceptable to me to torture a child for fun? Certainly not. But that simply invokes my own subjective view of morality. It does not speak to any objective standard. The fact that we happen to agree on this particular moral point is not evidence that objective morality exists, any more than the fact that we disagree on other moral issues is evidence that objective morality does not exist.
This is an interesting tack. What properties do we observe in mental actions which are “wholly different from physical” properties?
This still begs many questions. It presumes that Jewish leaders would have known where Jesus’ tomb was. It presumes that the New Testament reports of Jewish concern were accurate, and not inflated or exaggerated by the biases of a rising, struggling new religion. It presumes that producing an occupied tomb would have been at all convincing to Christians. None of these presumptions should be taken without support.
Generally, scholars date the Acts of the Apostles to around 85 CE, about a half-century after Jesus’ death. However, the Acts of the Apostles doesn’t record any sort of general persecution of “the church.” Rather, it records the actions taken against some very specific preachers.
But more importantly, this doesn’t actually address my point. By the time Christian preachers were being addressed by Jewish leaders, it is fairly safe to assume that any corpse which may have been present in Jesus’ tomb would have been wholly unrecognizable to those who had known him in life, and completely irrelevant to those who had not known him in life, and would therefore not have any frame of reference for recognizing him. Even if the Jewish leaders produced a body which they claimed had come from Jesus’ tomb, do you really think any Christians would have believed them?
Once again, I have already granted the Empty Tomb narrative, so there is no reason to think that they would have found Jesus’ body in the tomb. In fact, it is my opinion that the discovery of an empty tomb would have been a rather strong driving force in any grief-induced pareidolia which these men might have experienced.
So, again, I am granting that the tomb was empty. And I am granting that these men sincerely believed that they had witnessed Jesus alive afterwards. If someone died, today, and in a week, that person’s friends discovered his grave was empty and sincerely believed that they had seen the man alive, would you consider that to be a good reason to think that the person had been Resurrected and was divine?
That is an argumentum ad populum fallacy. The number of people who believe a proposition has absolutely no bearing on the veracity of that proposition.
I would heartily disagree.
The culture, ethics, and the metaphysical view of Time.
I understand that the genome is not REALLY a library of instructions. Yet, if the “interactions” of the chemicals results in specific biological mechanisms being formed in intricate ways, something is being communicated by the sequences that qualifies as information.
I don’t agree with your number analogy. Though we can conceptualize a large number without referring it to specific items, I believe the only reason we can is because we know there are real world items that can be counted. So too, we can conceptualize moral values and duties without specific referents, but only because we exist and understand how they apply to relationships.
“Let’s suppose, for a moment, that there is some being which created the universe and continues to interact with it.” Yes…let’s “suppose.” 😉 We have an obligation to abide by the moral standard founded on this being by virtue of our relationship to him. He is our creator and master and has the right to command and expect our obedience.
Regarding torturing children…I believe you are dancing around my question that was not incomplete, but I will try and make it more plain. Do you believe it could ever be acceptable for anyone in any culture at any time to torture a child for fun?
“What properties do we observe in mental actions which are “wholly different from physical” properties?”
What I am envisioning in my mind right now cannot be observed, measured, or described by any other person or scientific or technological apparatus. I cannot even see it with my own physical senses.
“None of these presumptions should be taken without support.” But there is support for all of them.
“By the time Christian preachers were being addressed by Jewish leaders…” I think perhaps we should just agree to disagree on this point. I believe the evidence is good that the Jewish authorities were threatened enough by the infant church…the Way, as it was known then…to have produced evidence that Jesus was still in the tomb if he had not actually risen and his disciples were saying he had. You do not.
“If someone died, today, and in a week, that person’s friends discovered his grave was empty and sincerely believed that they had seen the man alive, would you consider that to be a good reason to think that the person had been Resurrected and was divine?” This analogy is omitting so much that is important to the understanding of the facts. Jesus was not an ordinary man. He performed miracles, claimed divinity, and predicted his death and resurrection. His disciples did not understand or believe that he would rise and a mass hallucination is so unlikely as to be unbelievable. It is not plausible that they would have worked and suffered as they did, preached and defended the faith as powerfully and determined as they did, worked miracles themselves as they did, if their faith was founded merely on psychological distress.
“The number of people who believe a proposition has absolutely no bearing on the veracity of that proposition.” I agree. Still, one can reasonably expect that something with good evidence would be more widely embraced.
Not in any way which implies the interdiction of an intelligent agency. Again, this is not at all analogous to a person interpreting symbols on a page which were written by another person. Rather, it is analogous to any other natural chemical reaction. When Hydrogen and Oxygen encounter each other in nature, no one feels the need to invoke the idea of an intelligent designer in order to explain the water which their interaction produces.
I’m a Nominalist, so I personally agree with you on this. However, I will note that Platonists would rather ardently disagree, and would argue that abstracts exist independently of the real-world examples or uses of those abstracts.
You seem to be simply assuming the consequent, here. Why would being our creator imply that such a being “has the right to command and expect our obedience?”
I’m not dancing around your question. I’m attempting to point out that it is malformed. Asking me what I believe about a moral question only serves to reveal my own subjective view of morality and does nothing to establish the existence of objective morality. The fact that I think it could never be acceptable does not imply that there exists some objective standard of morality.
The processes occurring on the surface of Jupiter, right now, cannot be observed, measured, or described by any person or scientific or technological apparatus. Does this mean that those processes are non-physical?
What support do you have that Jewish leaders would have known where Jesus’ tomb was? Certainly, there is no support for this claim in the New Testament. According to the gospel accounts, custody of Jesus corpse passed from Roman authorities to a secret follower of Jesus. At no point do the gospels say that Joseph of Arimathea revealed the location of Jesus’ tomb to other Jewish authorities– nor even that they were aware Joseph had taken Jesus’ body.
What support do you have that the New Testament reports of Jewish concern were accurate, and not inflated or exaggerated by the biases of a rising, struggling new religion? We do not have any other sources to corroborate the NT reports, and it is fairly normal, expected behavior for accounts written by proponents of a rising, struggling new religion to fall prey to their own biases.
What support do you have that producing an occupied tomb would have been at all convincing to Christians? Imagine, for a moment, that you are one of the very earliest Christians, living even just a few months after Jesus’ death. You are absolutely convinced that Jesus was Resurrected. A leader of the men you believe were responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion presents a desiccated and decayed corpse, claiming that it was Jesus’ body and that he therefore wasn’t Resurrected. Would you believe those claims?
Alright, then let’s add to my analogy that these followers not only claim that the man they followed came back to life, but they also claim that he performed miracles, claimed divinity, and predicted his own death and resurrection while he had been alive.
Now, would you believe them?
I didn’t say that it was good evidence. I said that it was evidence comparable to that of Christianity. Whether or not such evidence constitutes “good” evidence is another question, entirely.
Thanks for reading and weighing in, NAS. I don’t believe you tipped the scales at all but I don’t want to debate each item here. I’ve addressed most if not all of them in previous posts, and it’s unlikely either of us would sway the other, don’t you think?
I choose instead to pray for you, that God reveals himself and in his mercy and love draws you into a saving relationship. Because we were all meant to know him, but he will not force himself on you. But only those who choose to receive his love will be able to eternally enjoy it.
I see some earlier commentators have replied quite well to these “proofs.” I can’t really add anything to their critiques, except perhaps to draw your attention to the fact that any teleological survey of this world reveals a malevolent hand far more easily than a benevolent one. The naturally self-complicating nature of creation is itself perfect proof of this, tumbling forward forever towards greater and greater expressions of suffering. That spells malevolence to the truly impartial observer.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hi, John. I don’t believe their retorts were at all convincing, and of course I disagree with your interpretation of the teleological evidence. But I love that I have a reader in Brazil. 🙂 And I’ll add you again to my prayer list.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I found this part of your response BP above interesting: …but from my research I have learned that the Big Bang model of the origin of the universe is still the most widely accepted theory among scientists. And it states that the universe had a beginning…all space, matter, and time. So before it began there was no space, matter, or time
Is this not certain and thoroughly unambiguous proof for the Omnimalevolent Creator?
Before there was light there was, after all, only darkness. Before there was light there was only what the Greek poet Hesiod called the “yawning nothingness,” and from within this perfect eclipse the uncaused First Cause moved, constructively interfering with a portion of that eternal void which existed before space and time were named with a temperature. This unending, infinite bleakness—a blackness that the authors of the Vedas collectively identified as a type of swirling chaos, a darkness concealed in darkness—is the Creator’s ancestral home. It is where He resides, within what human minds can only comprehend as the deepest of detestable disorders.
That, to Him, is home.
He—the Creator—did not move on the darkness, vanquishing it and by doing so annihilating His supernal hearth, His residence, rather this universe was fashioned from within and by the material that had never known a morning. Darkness is the parent, the cinderblock, the mortar, and the paint. From this shadow-material colours were shaped and this universe was stretched out, but it will forever be of its parent, dependent and loyal to the end.
The light man and beast alike see is only fleeting. It is a visitor, like temperature and time, which answers to an antipodal, cardinal realm where the Creator dwells: the immortal, unremitting darkness. Darkness preceded the light. Darkness is the source of what men consider the All. From darkness the All came, diseased and corrupted from before the beginning, and to the darkness all things will one day return.
Pingback: God’s love – a case from reason | a reasonable faith
Pingback: # 4 God’s love – a case from reason | a reasonable faith