Sunday, September 12, 2010

Response to Common Sense Atheism's Response to 'Does God Exist?'

Five months ago, Apologetics 315 published a series of blog essays on the question, “Is Christianity True?” I submitted a brief essay on the existence of God (Does God Exist?) as a prelude to the series. After all, if there is no God, it is somewhat irrelevant to argue for the existence of God. The blog essays have also been released on iTunes and as an e-book (also available from There was considerable interaction and discussion following the publication of each essay – from Christians of various stripes as well as skeptics and atheists of various stripes. It was a wonderful exercise in apologetic dialogue. Apparently, the essay series also attracted Luke’s attention, from ‘commonsenseatheism’. He has just begun publishing blog essays promoted as ‘refutations’ of the original Apologetics 315 essays. On Saturday, he released the first essay, his response to my original essay. You can read his full response here -

I have no intention of entering into a lengthy call-and-response, but nonetheless I think it is worthwhile to respond to some of the points that Luke raises – several of them are insightful and worthy of deep consideration. I do not propose to give full answers to them (any more than I intended to give full versions of any of the arguments I provided in my original essay) – but hopefully enough food for thought.

(1) Luke disapproves of my quotation of Ecclesiastes, insisting that “Ecclesiastes actually says life is meaningless with God.” I would argue that the author of Ecclesiastes speaks throughout of his attempt to find joy, satisfaction, purpose, pleasure, and fulfillment in every which way possible – and yet finds it all ultimately disappointing. How does the book conclude? “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Eccl. 12:13-14) His citation of Eccl. 3:14 does not demonstrate what he wants it to. Let me re-emphasize: Ecclesiastes tells of the meaningless of life without God, the fruitlessness of human pursuits; it does not argue that life is meaningless even with God.

(2) I must say that I would share Alonzo Fyfe’s disdain and rebellion if that was how I pictured God – but his picture of God is inimical to mine. Fortunately (from my perspective), God calls us to “promote cooperation and well-being over conflict and suffering,” so we do not need to try to “thwart” God in such efforts. Nonetheless, there may be something concrete to the expressed intention to work “against the purpose of my Creator.” Of course, one cannot thwart a non-existent deity, nor work against the purposes of a Creator who didn’t make the heavens and the earth; but from my perspective, the human condition today is indeed one of rebellion against the good purposes and intentions of our loving Creator. Be that as it may …

(3) Luke did not appreciate my ‘existential argument’ for God’s existence – if you followed the dialogue on Apologetics 315, you will note that several others did not either. However, most countered my argument without calling it “shameless, cult-like, … lies … [and] childish,” and suggesting that I (and Christianity) thrive on “insecurity … poverty and ignorance and fear and instability and risk.” I wonder whether Luke would insist that everyone who embrace Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is “insecure” or “superstitious” or otherwise somehow deficient (morally? intellectually?).

(4) Luke asserts (without justification or supporting evidence) that “The poorest nations in the world are the most religious.” He concludes that when people have “stability and safety and education and health care and job security,” they no longer “need gods.” I’m sure that comes as quite a shock to the tens of millions of Americans (and the millions of Canadians) who have both “stability and safety and education and health care and job security” and a vibrant Christian faith. Indeed, it comes as quite a shock to me! Let me also briefly note the rising prosperity of China, which is contemporaneous with the massive growth of the indigenous Chinese church. Furthermore, even though traditional Christianity has been on the decline across the Western world for the past two centuries, there has been a simultaneous rise in alternative religious expressions – paganism, new Age, breakaway Christian sects, Eastern mysticism, etc. The religious state of the world does not support Luke’s cherished secularization thesis; indeed, a rising number of sociologists of religion (generally not friendly to Christianity, I might add) argue (as I do) that religion (including the desire to know and touch the transcendent) is inherent to humanity. I would also point you to the classic work “Amused to Death” (set to music by ex-Pink Floyd singer Roger Waters as well, I might add), which brings Blaise Pascal’s penetrating insights (from the mid-1600s) into the 20th and 21st centuries – modern man (in the stable, educated, wealthy west) is seeking ever-greater escapism and diversion. Oh – and as an aside, Luke asserts that I set forth an “empirically false” claim, but then does nothing to demonstrate its falsity.

(5) Luke sets two arguments up as equally false. On the one side is his “yearning to be the next Matthew Bellamy.” On the other side is what I posited as the (nearly-)universal human yearning for eternal life. [I also posited the universal human yearning to know and to touch the divine reality.] He concludes: “Wishful thinking does not indicate truth.” That certainly applies to the first side of the equation (as well as my own childhood yearning to be Wayne Gretzky), but he does absolutely nothing to show how it applies to the second … because it doesn’t. The universal human desire to know and to touch the divine is not wishful thinking; it is real. Yes, we can deny it is there, we can seek to suppress and quench it. But it rises up unbidden. It is a natural desire – it comes even if nobody teaches it to us. Desiring to be like Matthew Bellamy, on the other hand … well, that’s not natural. Nor is it even remotely universal. The desire for God and the desire for eternal life are much more like the desire for sex and the desire for food than they are like the desire to be like somebody else – that was the heart of my argument. Taking these first points together, the experiential argument for God’s existence remains intact.

(6) Luke does not spend much time on the Kalam Cosmological argument – for those who desire to read someone who does, I recommend William Lane Craig’s work on the subject. But four brief comments are in order:
[a] Luke very misleadingly suggests that the A-theory of time is false, and that its falsity is old news. That assertion is just plain wrong: there is by no means a consensus (from any group, physicists, philosophers or otherwise) that the B-theory of time is true and the A-theory false. I’m not sure whether he is simply unaware of that, but I am honestly not sure how he could have arrived at the conclusion that the A-theory of time has been ‘disproven’ or the B-theory of time ‘proven’ or ‘established’.
[b] Even if the A-theory of time was mistaken (which it is not, in my humble opinion – rather, it is by far superior explanatorily and conceptually; at any rate, Luke has done nothing to convince anyone it is mistaken), Luke has not indicated how that would pose a problem for my argument.
[c] In a severe understatement, Luke admits that “it’s hard to see how the universe could be self-caused or a necessary being.” But then he adds that positing God as the creator is somehow a “far worse problem,” again without showing how this is the case. Naked assertions are pretty easy to make; substantiating them is much harder – but Luke has done only the former, not the latter.
[d] Luke accuses the KCA of employing “intuitions and language in a slippery and sneaky way,” but yet again does not demonstrate how. I fail to see the power of his argument – the rhetorical name-calling is quite effective when preaching to the choir, but Luke has certainly not given me any reason to take this part of his response seriously.

(7) I’m not sure why Luke wants to be shown “evidence that life has intrinsic value;” I take this to be self-evident to reflective human beings. Furthermore, I wonder whether there could ever be anything that anyone would accept as empirical evidence that life does indeed have intrinsic value. Luke is simply setting up an impossible ideal. Neither have I ever seen any evidence that ‘love’ exists, but I don’t doubt that one bit either. It’s a sad world that never embraces the insights of human intuition and feeling.

(8) Is fine-tuning an air-tight argument for the existence of God? No. Did I present it as such? No. Does the exquisite fine-tuning of the universe make more sense within a theistic universe than an atheistic universe? Yes - and even agnostic (atheist?) physicists like Paul Davies and Stephen Hawking admit that. That’s the simple extent of the argument. On both the Kalam and fine-tuning side of the cosmological argument, then, Luke has not effectively countered my claims – the argument stands intact.

(9) Luke properly constructs my moral argument, but incorrectly identifies the way that we know objective morality does exist. Yes, it is true (as I said) that “deep down everyone knows that morality is objective;” but that’s not where the argument ends. The deep intuition that we all have that morality is objective constantly wells up in our actions and words. If you want to read more on that particular topic, check out my blog post on the moral argument for the existence of God - Luke, along with everyone else, theist or not, acknowledges in his words and actions that he too believes in objective morality – indeed, he believes that “cooperation” and “well-being” are objectively better than “conflict” and “suffering”. I agree whole-heartedly, and would insist that those who disagree have consciously or unconsciously repressed the moral sensitivities that God created us with.

(10) I like Luke’s example of the “giant alien” telling us that moral sensibilities were grounded in the alien! Good stuff. Of course there is a qualitative difference between the giant alien and the Christian God. God is not just ‘out there’ or ‘in the sky’ – rather, he is our benevolent Creator. He made us; the alien didn’t. Again, the example is amusing, but it is not applicable. And as an aside, I haven’t seen the Euthyphro dilemma as a problem for years. So on the moral argument for God, again, Luke has left my argument intact.

Just to summarize, then: I presented experiential, cosmological, and moral arguments that point towards the existence of God. While Luke shared various thoughts, and made numerous assertions, he has done nothing to refute any of those three arguments.

(11) I appreciate Luke’s warning against bowing down “to your feelings and intuitions.” I want to close with a similar warning. Don’t be moved by strong rhetoric and moving words alone. Only accept arguments if there is substance and content within them. Use logic, critical thinking, science, and yes, even well-grounded common sensical intuition to evaluate the arguments that are laid before you.

(12) On a personal note. Luke – you have some good things to say; while I do not agree with you on much, it is obvious that you have thought things through. You’re an intelligent and articulate man. I found it unfortunate that you frequently descend to name-calling and mudslinging in your response. (I hope I haven’t done the same in my response to your response, and if I do come across as at all condescending or dismissive, please point it out to me so that I can apologize.) I understand that many people (atheist, Christian, and otherwise) prefer to hear their apologetic champions ridicule and demean the other side. “If you can make fun of my opponent and make them look stupid, then it helps me feel better about my intellectual position.” It’s an effective rhetorical strategy. But I am more interested in dialogue and pursuit of truth, and I find that respect is more fruitful. Furthermore, rhetorical name-calling may help keep the choir convinced, but it’s not likely to persuade those who are not already committed to your perspective.