Posts Tagged ‘logic’

Theism or Atheism – Which is More Logical?

In having several different discussions, something that just became evident to me is how much the debates between theists and atheists rely on logic. Truthfully, I hadn’t heard terms like special pleading, begging the question or non sequitur until I jumped into the fray. And yet they are constantly being tossed around in these arguments, knocking down arguments and providing objections and rebuttals.

That got me thinking a bit. If logic and philosophical arguments are such a big piece of the issue, then what logical arguments are being discussed. In all of my time here on WordPress, I’ve seen many positive arguments for theism, like the Kalam cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the moral argument, the argument for soul, the argument from desire, the argument for the veracity of the resurrection of Christ. I’ve made many of these arguments myself on this blog.

But for atheism, the positive arguments are scarce to non-existent. Shouldn’t a worldview that predicates itself on being “critical thinkers” and using “logic and reason” to show people the light of the day have more positive arguments on its side? I mean, realistically the only positive argument I can think of for atheism is the problem of evil, and that’s not even really a positive argument for atheism so much as a negative argument against theism.

So maybe someone can help me out here, but are there really any good positive arguments for atheism? My feeling is that if a worldview is true, there will be reasons to believe it is true. Just like if I believe that atheism is false, that doesn’t mean that theism is true. I need reasons to believe in favor of theism.

If there are no good positive arguments for atheism, then can atheists really contend that they come from the more logical position? Perhaps this is why atheism argues so hard for methodological naturalism, because that is really all it has to stand on if it can’t use philosophy or logic in favor of its position.

It’s just one more thing to make me (and hopefully any fence-sitters out there) convinced that theism has a much firmer foundation as a worldview, and I have solid justification in my belief in God. 🙂

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The Problem of Evil: Just Who Is Responsible?

I recently discussed the problem of evil, which is a popular topic of debate between theists and atheists. For those unfamiliar, the general notion is that if God exists, why is there evil or suffering in the world? Surely God could have created a world without evil, because He is all-powerful and all-loving. The fact that evil exists suggests either that God is not all-powerful or He is not all-loving, and would therefore cease to be God. The atheist then concludes that because there is evil, God almost certainly does not exist.

I’ve posted on this elsewhere, but to me it seems theists often jump to free will and the permission of evil to accomplish a greater good. While this is definitely a component of the theist’s defense, it appears to me that we often miss the initial step: who is responsible for evil?

As a theist, to me it seems like we need to clarify this responsibility before we can discuss further. If an atheist poses to you the problem of evil, the first question ought to be this: “Can evil exist without man?” That is to say, if man did not exist, would there still be evil?

In reply, the atheist can really only go two ways. The initial implied assumption here is that the atheist is a naturalist, and as such believes that nature is amoral and indifferent. Nature doesn’t care about the plight of man, and so it applies no value to man. Since evil is a moral value judgment, and nature has no values, nature is amoral and incapable of evil on its own.

So the atheist can say either of the following:

1) Yes, evil can exist without man, or
2) No, evil cannot exist without man.

If the answer is the first option, then the atheist is stipulating to the existence of the supernatural realm, and the entire framework of the atheist’s worldview is shattered. Why is this true? Because the only realms that could exist are the natural and the supernatural, by definition. If nature is amoral and man doesn’t exist, then the only way a moral value judgment like evil could exist in such a situation is within the supernatural realm. So the atheist has just admitted their own worldview is irrational!

Realistically, this means the only option for the atheist is #2, where the existence of evil is predicated on the existence of man. However, this also poses a problem for the atheist, as we are then able to construct a logical argument based on the premises laid out from the atheist’s worldview:

1) If evil exists, then someone or something is responsible for evil. (P1)
2) If man does not exist, then evil does not exist. (P2)
3) Nature on its own is amoral. (P3)
4) Evil exists. (P4, denying the consequent)
5) Therefore, someone or something is responsible for evil. (C1 –> P1, P4)
6) Also therefore, man exists. (C2 –> P2, P4)
7) Nature existed before man existed. (P5) [This is the naturalist’s assumption based on the theory of evolution.]
8) Therefore, there was a time before man where evil did not exist. (C3 –> P2, P3, C2, P5)
9) But evil exists now. (P6)
10) Therefore, the someone or something responsible for evil didn’t exist before man, but exists now. (C1, C3, P6)

Based on these ten steps, the only reasonable conclusion is that man is responsible for the evil we see in this world. So the atheist is really assuming that the problem of evil begins with man, unless he relinquishes his entire worldview and commits to supernaturalism.

So the issue then becomes the following: couldn’t God have created a world where man didn’t exist? I suppose it’s logically possible, but we as humans are in no position to make any assumptions about such a world where we didn’t exist–namely, that it would be a world that is better than the one we are currently experiencing. Surely it wouldn’t be better for us, because we wouldn’t exist. So we have no basis on which to judge God based on the existence of evil.

Without even discussing free will, any theist can make a reasonable assertion that the problem of evil is a poor and invalid objection to the probability of God’s existence. If you are faced with such a task, don’t worry! You have the answers!

Evidence for God’s Existence – The Argument for Intangible Soul

As we wrap up the series of arguments, we get to my own argument. I haven’t really heard this one posited anywhere else, and so I tentatively step out on my own here. I am honest enough with myself to admit that there may be holes in this argument that could come to light. If any of the four arguments bears attack, this one is probably it.

Now that I’ve tipped off any skeptics to lick their chops, let me explain the main point of the argument, give the hypothetical syllogism for the logic of the argument, then give the supporting evidence.

The main point of the argument is this: intangible concepts, such as ideas, words, emotions, moral characteristics, etc. cannot be reasonably shown to have material origins. The intangible soul, described plainly by theists and more specifically Christian theists, is the best explanation for the origin of intangible concepts.

The logical argument is this:

1) If intangible concepts exist, then the best explanation for the origin of these concepts is the soul.
2) Intangible concepts exist.
3) Therefore, the best explanation for the origin of these concepts is the soul.

Now the only objections to the second condition in the argument might come from the New Age movement, where some believe that our entire existence is illusory. I can’t really respond to that objection without going into all of the fundamental flaws with an illusory existence, so I’m going to put that possible objection aside and focus on the biggest potential problem with the argument: that the best explanation for the origin of intangible concepts is the soul.

For our purposes, I’m only going to take the argument far enough as to suppose the inference to the best explanation of soul. I think the logic would follow that the best explanation for the existence of soul is that it is created by God and instilled in us from birth, but that is not the goal of this post. If there is an objection at this level, perhaps we will address it in the comments. But I tend to believe that the greater number of possible objections will come in the initial step, rather than this second level. So let’s stick to the top level and reason it out first, then work our way down if necessary.

Now, the basis for the argument is rooted in taxonomy and genetics, with the simple scientific belief that something that originates from something else must contain the markers of its predecessors. A baby deer, for instance, will gather its genetic code from its parents. And deer are classified with other animals that have similar features into one family or genus, or phylum, etc., so the taxonomy tree is completed.

Now if we apply the same scientific method to intangible concepts, they must be similar to the thing from which they originate, right? So when we look for where intangible concepts come from, ought not that thing also be intangible? For where else in science or nature do we see something tangible produce something intangible? There is no evidence of this anywhere in science, so if we apply the same scientific method used to explain taxonomy and genetics, which point to the furthering of species, it makes sense that the origin of intangible concepts is itself intangible.

Now this raises a dilemma for the materialist. The materialist would say that such things as soul do not exist, and that things like emotions, words, ideas, come from the brain. But how do you explain the origin of such concepts in the brain using the scientific basis we’ve already discussed? The second issue with the brain being responsible for these is that the brain is not a creating entity, but rather a processing entity.

From the National Institute of Health: “The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. It is the major information-processing center of the body. The spinal cord conducts sensory information (information from the body) from the peripheral nervous system to the brain. After processing its many sensory inputs, the brain initiates motor outputs (coordinated mechanical responses) that are appropriate to the sensory input it receives. The spinal cord then carries this motor information from the brain through the PNS to various locations in the body (such as muscles and glands).” (emphasis mine) So the only initiation done by the brain is in response to a sensory input; it does not create anything by itself. Think about it this way–the eye processes light and sends information to the brain to tell you what you are looking at. But the eye did not create the light, it merely processed and necessitated a response. The brain is the same way.

Now the materialist would say, “Well words evolved just like other natural things. Similar grunts were processed by the brain and became associated with things, and over time they developed into words and that’s how we got language.” While that is entirely possible, this explanation does nothing for other intangible things like morality and emotions. The evidence for this is fairly rational–think of an emotion like love. Say your kid wanders into traffic. As a parent, you rescue them and can either hug them tightly or give them a swat on the rear for doing that. Both things are done out of love, but it is expressed different ways. The brain shouldn’t by nature process two opposite reactions to the same instance and arrive at the same conclusion, because the output must be appropriate to the input (i.e. my parent is inflicting pain, therefore she does not love me, versus my parent holds me tight and kisses me, therefore she loves me).

So for these intangible concepts, we need an entity that creates and generates them, rather than a responsive entity like the brain. Based on the taxonomy and genetics explanation above, it makes most sense that this entity also be intangible. So what is an intangible creative entity? Well, supernaturalism (and more specifically theism) has long posited the existence of such an entity called soul, by which things are created innately in us and our brain initiates motor outputs in response to express these things. Existence of soul would also mean that things like language, morality and emotions have been ingrained in us since the beginning of time, and while they have adapted due to different natural environments, they have always been present in one form or another.

Again, this poses a huge problem for the materialist, and more specifically for the evolutionist, because it would then make evolution the least plausible explanation for the existence of life. If language has existed from the outset, then humanity has existed from the outset, and did not evolve from some other life form.

So I feel like there’s a compelling case here that the existence of soul is the best explanation for intangible concepts. To make a reasonable objection, one must first tear down all of the arguments I’ve made here and provide positive evidence for the best alternative. I welcome your questions and objections.

Evidence for God’s Existence – The Moral Argument

Continuing with the series of evidence for God’s existence as the most plausible explanation for how things are, we get to the moral argument. This one is not born of scientific reasoning, but again using the inference to the best explanation. What I will do is give the logical argument for objective moral law, then look at some of the possible hypotheses for what moral law is actually like. Once we decide between subjective and objective moral law, then we will look at what is the most likely standard for objective moral law–in other words, is there an objective Moral Lawgiver?

The logical argument reads this way:

1) If objective moral law exists, then the best explanation for moral law is an objective Moral Lawgiver (i.e. God).
2) Objective moral law exists.
3) Therefore, the best explanation for moral law is an objective Moral Lawgiver.

The obvious issues are with both initial conditions in the hypothetical syllogism. First, it must be shown that objective moral law exists. So let’s talk about that first.

The simplest way to determine if objective moral law exists is to find a situation where there is no possible way you can look at it as either completely right or completely wrong. One common example used is rape. This has come up in another discussion I’ve been having recently, and there has still been no evidence to show that there is anything right about rape, no matter if it’s humans, animals, etc. It is decried as a completely wrong event, no matter how apathetic some people might be to it in certain instances.

Another hypothetical example: a mother murders (not kills–either by accident or a gun to the head, etc.–, but actually murders) her 3-day old baby for no reason. The baby has no ability to discern right from wrong, and so could not have committed a wrong against the mother for which it is self-defense or retaliation. There is no instance in which the murder of this baby could be considered right, so it is objectively wrong in every instance.

So in order to show that morality is not objective, one must break down such situations and show an instance where it is not only socially acceptable, but truly right to do so. Otherwise, this satisfies the burden of best explanation for morality being based on objective value judgments.

Once objective moral values have been determined, we continue with the same method (inference to best explanation) to determine the tertium quid, or measuring stick for moral values. So we look at the hypotheses available, and make the best judgment given the information we have. So let’s take a look at some of the potential measuring sticks:

1) Promotion of life=right. Not a bad measuring stick, but incomplete. This would mean such things as killing someone in self-defense would be considered immoral, or an act of altruism to save someone else would also be considered immoral. A police officer killing the criminal in a hostage situation to save hundreds of lives would be immoral. While the goal SHOULD be to promote life, it doesn’t provide a satisfactory explanation to an objective standard of moral values.

2) Causes suffering=wrong. Again, not bad, but still insufficient, because any act that causes suffering would be deemed immoral. So again, killing someone in self-defense would be considered immoral. Breaking up with someone would be considered immoral. Hitting a home run would be immoral. And so on to the absurd.

3) Minimizing suffering=good. This one gets a bit closer, but what is the definition of minimal suffering? The best way to minimize suffering is to eliminate it, and how do we go about doing that on our own? While we can try our best to do good, ultimately doing what is perceived to be a good act might involve causing someone to suffer. For example, social programs are seen as largely good, because they are attempting to help people that can’t help themselves. Yet in order to fund these programs, the government must tax its constituents at-large. This almost definitely would cause suffering for some segment of the populace, if for no other reason than that it forces them to give up money they would not give up otherwise. So it seems like a naturalistic view of minimal suffering is insufficient.

4) An individual responsible for determining right and wrong. This is where it gets considerably better. Finally it gets down to one unique standard of determining right and wrong. If this person is responsible for guiding moral law, then all choices come down to whether it falls on the right side or wrong side depending on how that one person sees it.

So the question then becomes this: who is that individual? If it is a human, would it be possible for him/her to govern all cultures at the same time with the same moral law? Technically it’s possible, but only if that person’s own considerations couldn’t be called into question. What I mean is that the person who affects moral law would also be bound to it, so if that person says lying is wrong but has lied, then there is a serious problem with their position as objectively moral.

So the individual must be someone who is bound to moral law but has no possibility of doing wrong. And what is the best explanation for that individual? First, the individual must be omni-benevolent, so good is embodied in them. Second, the individual must be omniscient, so that they have a perfect knowledge of the good. Third, the individual must be omnisapient, so that they have a perfect understanding of the best means to achieve that good. Fourth, the individual must be transcendent, so as to not be susceptible to the natural instincts that unfortunately cause us to sometimes do wrong. Fifth, the individual must be immanent, so as to be able to enforce the moral law.

I think if you look at all of the necessary attributes, the theistic God is clearly the best explanation for an objective standard of moral law. To break down the argument, one must either show that a better objective moral standard exists, or show that God does not possess at least one of the above attributes. It’s a very difficult challenge, because the biggest hurdle to overcome is a complete understanding of what is good; of course, I believe it to be impossibly difficult because I feel it cannot be demonstrated, but I’m willing to entertain objections to objective morality and counter-arguments to the best objective moral standard.

EDIT: Due to the comment made on this post, I feel it also necessary to note that the objective moral standard must also be immutable, for if the standard for moral law changed it would not be objective. Since the theistic God also possesses this attribute, the argument is still in good shape.

Gasking’s Proof – What Does It Prove?

I came upon this great breakdown of Gasking’s Proof, which is probably the most well-known parody to the theist’s Ontological Argument. For a full breakdown on the “counter-counter apologetics” of the Ontological Argument, check out the blog from whence it came. I’m going to post basically word for word because I think it spells it out pretty good why such a proof actually doesn’t prove anything.

The final attempt at invalidating the Ontological Argument is another parody, known as “Gasking’s Proof”:

1. The creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable.
2. The merit of an achievement consists of its intrinsic greatness and the ability of its creator.
3. The greater the handicap to the creator, the greater the achievement. (Would you be more impressed by Turner painting a beautiful landscape or a blind one-armed dwarf?)
4. The biggest handicap to a creator would be non-existence.
5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the creation of an existing creator, we can conceive a greater being — namely, one who created everything while not existing.
6.Therefore, God does not exist.

There are many problems with this attempt to parody the Ontological Argument and prove God doesn’t exist. These are all problems with the premises. Premise 1 states that the creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable. How so? Are there not achievements that could be greater? Could not the greatest achievement be creating infinite universes? For the sake of argument, however, I’ll concede step 1. Premises 3 and 4, I believe, have the greatest problems. Premise 3 assumes that doing things with a handicap makes something logically greater. I’d love to see a proof of this. The premise makes an appeal to common sense, but that is invalid in logic. I’m not at all convinced that having a handicap and doing something makes that achievement itself greater. This is made more problematic by the fact that premise 1 points to the universe as being the greatest achievement. This would seem to mean that an achievement is a finished product, not the steps leading up to the product.

For example, the Cubs winning the World Series after over a century without doing so may seem a greater achievement than the Yankees doing so, but it would be hard to show that logically, for both have the World Series as the finished product. I’m willing to grant premise 3, however, just for the sake of argument.

Premise 4 is where the argument really breaks apart. How is it that non-existence is a handicap? Handicaps can only be applied to things that do exist. To imply that something has a handicap assumes implicitly that it exists. Thus, premise 4 essentially says that a being both exists and does not exist, which is logically impossible. I assume that this premise was in order to counter the idea that existing-in-reality is greater than existing-in-understanding, but note that both of these are existing. In other words, the choice in the Ontological Argument is not saying that something that doesn’t exist exists, just that something that exists-in-the-understanding rather exists-in-reality. Premise 4 is therefore completely invalid both logically and in relation to the Ontological Argument.