Tuesday, March 16, 2010

You Tubing on Tuesdays

I can't believe that March is half over and this is my first blog entry since November of the previous year! It is so hard to keep updating with new material. Oh well, perhaps I'll do better for the remainder of the year.

While totally ignoring my text blog, for the last several months, I've been very busy on my video blog which is on You Tube. There I go by the moniker "evangelical1" because "evangelical" was already taken. That last symbol is a one, not an elle. a elle one.

I've really enjoyed being part of the You Tube community and hope to continue in the future. I haven't been very active for the last week or two, though. This is because my computer more or less died. While my friend, who is going to college for that sort of thing, is trying to fix it, I've been reduced to using a public computer and, there is no webcam or microphone here.

At any rate, once I get home internet access up and running again I plan to co-ordinate some of the stuff from the vlog with my Blogspot account. So be watching for that in another week or two.

And, there is actually a vibrant community on You Tube, of amateur philosophers who debate back and forth the question of God's existence-or lack thereof--or relevance vs irrelevance thereof. We even use formal deductive arguments at times. Its quite fun and stimulating.

Recently there has been an interesting exchange. The two leading Christian apologists on You Tube (together with a Muslim proselyte who is quite sound in his philosophical acumen) joined forces on a project on the presumption of atheism. Together, the triad has come to be known as "The Rational Dawn". I'm not quite sure how this name originated but I think it was derogatory. In phase one they merely explained that atheists can't get away with the old "We don't really believe anything so the burden of proof is on you Christians" trick any longer. Atheists are making a positive truth claim and so bear the burden of proof for their own contentions just like everyone else. Then in phase two, Rational Dawn was to simply sit back and listen to the best skeptical You Tubers had to offer. Most of the response videos I watched, arguing on behalf of positive atheism were really disappointing. I don't know how people can actually believe this stuff. The arguments against the existence of God I find normally only serve to establish what they are trying to deny. The arguments for atheism are so bad that the case for faith in God is even stronger.

At any rate, half way through, three pagans conspired to short-circuit the project. They formed a triad called "Rational Tuesday Afternoons." Their own stated purpose was to catalogue all the atheological arguments they could get their hands on. In the process they turned up their noses at Rational Dawn and said they would just ignore them. Its not totally clear to me, but I believe Rational Dawn discussed the presumption of atheism project with those who would later become Rational Tuesday Afternoons. They mutually agreed, I think, to have a civil and intelligent discussion which would be enlightening to all viewers whether they believe in God or not at the beginning of the project, and whether anyones mind is changed at the end.

I'm not sure how the catalogue project is going. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Having a readily available reference, or catalogue, on You Tube of positive atheism would be a valuable service to the world. However, the back-stabbing/mocking genesis of the Rational Tuesdays project was not the way to go about it.

About the only argument that I've seen so far (but I haven't been looking so there could be others) is by a young man who's handle is "Urbanelf". He calls this "The Forbidden Argument." The argument is manifestly unsound because it realise on the mistaken assumption that Muslims and Christians follow the same God. Urbanelf himself has since admitted, though I think for a different reason, that the forbidden argument as originally stated is unsound.

My own take on the original project, that of Rational Dawn, is that it was a success. I don't mean that it was successful in getting atheists to defend their position, though many thoughtful skeptics tried to do just that. Rather, it brought to the fore a confirmation of what I've strongly suspected all along. Namely that professing atheists are either unable or unwilling to defend themselves intellectually. This is not a universal statement, for, as I've said, many atheists did offer arguments and even Rational Tuesdays and co at least made the claim they would offer evidence of their position. Still, it seems that a large percentage of squeaky wheels who claim that they are so rational and the Christians and other theists have made a blind leap into irrational faith have been shown to really be full of hot air. To be honest, it seems atheism is rather presumptuous after all.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Divine Hiddeness: A Problem?

A less popular argument for atheism, than the problem of evil, is the problem of divine hiddeness. God's existence, it is said (even by believers), is not as clear as it could be. But yet God wants us to believe in Him. This problem may be expressed more formally, as a reductio ad absurdum, as follows:

0. God exists.
1. God wants all men to believe He exists.
2. Since God wants this, He would have made Himself clearly known.
3. There are educated-rational men, who do not believe in Him.
4. Therefor, there is no God.

So then, a reduction to absurdity, such as the above, starts out assuming the truth of what is to be disproved, the zeroth premise, then shows a contradiction is derivable from the original hypothesis. The conclusion, (4), contradicts the original assumption, (0), and so, if the proof is sound, we must reject the original assumption. In other words, if the above proof succeeds, God does not exist.

But, I do not think the above proof is sound. Let's take a closer look to find out why. First, in premise 1, the term "believe" is ambiguous. According to the letter of James, in the Bible, Satan himself believes in God. But we would hardly expect that the actions of the devil are pleasing to God. There is certainly a difference between mere mental ascent, such as devils possess, and saving faith such as Christians possess. It seems that saving faith is what is in view in premise one.

The reformers distinguished three distinct components of saving faith. They even had fancy Latin verbiage to label said components. I don't recall off hand what those terms are but no matter. What is sufficient for our purposes here is that saving belief is more than mere mental ascent. The something more includes an accepting trust. It is not enough to say, "I know God exists, so I guess I'll just have to make the best of it." We have to like the fact that God exists, and willingly follow Him.

But here is where the real problem comes in. Does God want everyone to choose to follow Him? I think He does. But what if we choose, of our own free will, to not 'trust and obey'? God cannot make us freely choose to follow Him. We saw this when looking at the problem of evil. So then, if God first wants us to have free will (and He does) He cannot then make us choose to follow Him of our own free will, even against our own free will, for that is self-contradictory and, hence, meaningless.

But we can go further. Premise two is demonstrably false. God could (and "could" is all we need to defuse a deductive premise) have had over-riding reasons for not making His existence more clear. God's thoughts are as high above ours as the heavens are above the earth. So maybe (and "maybe" is all we need to defuse a deductive premise) He knows something, in His omniscience, which we, in our limited knowledge, do not know.

What is more, premise two rests on a false assumption. Namely, the assumption God has not made His existence abundantly clear. At least, this idea seems to be lurking unstated somewheres within the above proof. But this assumption is patently false. The cosmological, teleological, ontological, and axiological proofs for the existence of God, individually and collectively, make it literally undeniable that there is a God. So God has made His existence unmistakable. If the people in premise three suppress this knowledge, that is their problem, not God's.

Could God have made His presence more clear? I suppose He could have, in some sense. He could have written "God exists" on every cell, for example. However, natural theology has given us apodictic certainty that God exists. Nothing can be more plain than what been rigorously demonstrated to be absolutely certainly true.

The argument against the existence of God, then, from divine hiddeness, is manifestly unsound as we have just seen. Still, it is a helpful argument. What I mean is that when we are exposed to the argument, we are immediately reminded of all the sound arguments for the existence of God. In this respect only, the atheistic argument succeeds.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Shrouded in Mystery

Well, its not even anywhere near Easter time and the press is already coming out with yet another "debunking Christianity" story. This time about the Shroud of Turin.

An Italian scientist, funded by a group of unbelievers, was able to reproduce the shroud using entirely natural means, available in the middle ages (there is no earlier record of the shroud than, if I remember correctly, the late medieval period).

A few thoughts on this development:

1. Why is this news? I remember seeing an article in "Skeptical Inquirer" years ago which claimed anyone could easily make their own Shroud replica.
2. Even if the replica is sufficiently similar to the original, that, in-and-of-itself, does not mean the original was a fake.
3. Besides, I've heard that there were enough "slivers of the cross" sold by snake-oil peddlers to rebuild Noah's Ark. I mean back during the hey day of relics. Finding a sliver of wood was much easier than going to all the trouble of creating a fake resurrection cloth which baffled scientists, as to how the image arose thereon for over hundreds of years. Why go to all the trouble to create such an elaborate fraud?
4. Whomever allegedly faked the original would have to know details about the crucifixion of Jesus which, one could argue, were implausible for him to know. For example, if the nails were driven through the hands of Jesus (as they are traditionally portrayed) the weight of His body would have been to heavy so the body would have fallen off the cross. Instead, the nails went through the wrists as accurately portrayed on the Shroud.
5. Classically speaking, the case for the Resurrection never even appeals to the Shroud. So even if the Shroud is a fake that says absolutely nothing about the historicity of the Resurrection. If authentic, the Shroud is interesting and important but, at the end of the day, of secondary significance. If we have good independent evidence for the Resurrection-and we do-then the Shroud becomes apologetically superfluous. It is, if authentic, just more evidence on top of already sufficient evidence.
6. As mentioned above, the Shroud was unknown for centuries, so far as we can tell. During those centuries, Christians had no trouble believing in the risen Savior without a Shroud.
7. Authentic or not, it is hard to believe there would be a Shroud without there having first been a historical Jesus. What is more, it is hard to accept that there would be a Shroud of Turin at all, even supposing it is a demonstrable hoax, if the historical Jesus did not, in fact, rise from the dead.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Miracle of Atheism

The late J.L. Mackie published a book, right as he was at the end of his life, about atheism. More precisely, a book about philosophy of religion which favored atheism. Unlike Dawkins and other so-called new atheists, he actually knew about the arguments he was trying to refute. So the book actually wasn't that bad (though not very good either, if by "good" one means "rationally compelling"). The name of the book is "The Miracle of Theism."

So the basic outline of the book is that Mackie sets out a cumulative case for belief in God, then critiques it. He also sets out a cumulative case for atheism. He sets them side by side and concludes the latter is on much more solid ground than the former.

All the classical arguments, for and against God, are laid out critically. The heart of the case for atheism, in the book, seems to me to be the problem of evil. As I understand, Mackie died just as that problem, the problem of evil, was itself dying, so we may forgive him for overlooking the obituary. Nevertheless, he does interact with Plantinga's freewill defence. At any rate, it seems to me that Mackie's statement of the problem is fairly unique and, therefor, as well as for other reasons, worthy of examination.

As one may gather from the title of his book, Mackie views belief in God as miraculous, in some sense of the term. He does not find theism very plausible in other words. Still, various philosophers down through time have given what purport to be rational support for their religious beliefs and Mackie does take this fact seriously by giving the classical arguments a fair hearing.

He really does explain them, the arguments for God's existence, accurately, so far as I can tell. He does not misrepresent them. He then proceeds to give his concerns against their cogency. I disagree with his analysis here, but that is besides the point. If the cosmological, teleological, and ontological arguments are all logically unsound, that does not mean, in-and-of-itself, that theism is a false view. It could be that there really is a God. And why disbelieve in a God Who may really exist, if all one has to appeal to is the absence of evidence?

Of course, Mackie goes beyond this by offering a positive case for atheism. But here is the problem. His case revolves primarily around the problem of evil, which, if unsound, totally destroys his positive case. What is incomprehensible is that Mackie himself admits that the problem of evil, as a deductive argument, is unsound! He admits this in his book, in the very chapter on the problem of evil! So theism is the miracle here? Perhaps the a-key was stuck on his typewriter as he was writing the book.

Here, then, is Mackie's argument:

1. It is either logically possible, or else it is impossible, that God (who may or may not actually exist) could have created human beings such that they always freely choose the good.
2. It is not impossible, that God could have created human beings such that they always freely choose the good. We know this, for example, because any human can and does freely choose the good on at least one occasion so, it is certainly at least possible that he do so on every other occasion as well.
3. Therefore, God could have prevented evil from occurring but He did not so. And this is so, even taking man's putative freewill into account.

What I think Mackie is getting at here is that invoking freewill does not nullify the problem of evil. To say that it is logically possible that God could have created humans who always freely choose the good is, I suppose, true enough, but, only insofar as it goes. It kind of misses the whole point. I mean, logically possible or not, it need not be logically actual. In other words, if a man is created with genuine libertarian freedom, then it must be possible for the said man to choose evil. So if we find evil in the world, as a result of libertarian human freedom, we should not be surprised. Even God cannot, I submit, create a truly free agent who cannot, of his own accord, choose evil in a truly free way.

It is important to reiterate, at this juncture, that the problem of evil is the major and main part of Mackie's cumulative argument for atheism (keep in mind that this argument is one of the best cases for atheism by one of the best atheists in one of the best books on atheism, to date). Yet we see here that it, Makie's problem of evil, fails miserably. So the cumulative case for atheism as a whole fails miserably. And as I said before, even if all the arguments for religious belief are faulty, that does not, in-and-of-itself, establish atheism. So why be an atheist? Could it be that Mackie, and others, have less than rational reasons?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Keep On Rockin' In the Free World... We Salute You

I've always been a bit disappointed that documentaries aren't more readily available from the movie industry. I recently had the privilege of watching "Heavy Metal in Baghdad."

I thought the metal scene where I live was bad. Apparently it is even worse in Iraq (more specifically, in Baghdad). There was only a single metal band in the entire country-that is, before all the members of this band moved to Turkey-and the documentary was just going there to chronicle their experiences and interview them.

It goes without saying that the situation in Iraq, under Saddam's regime and since then, is bad. Which goes a long ways toward explaining why the metal scene is essentially non-existent there.

The Black Scorpions, as the band is called in English (actually, their official name is in Latin, as opposed to Arabic or whatever language/s is spoken in Iraq), cut their teeth by listening to Metallica and Slayer. And the Metallica influence is very clear on their song "Massacre" which is available for listen on their MySpace page. It deals with the massacre of civilians in war torn Iraq.

My heart was really going out to the guys in this band as I was watching the documentary. All they wanted to do was to be free and express themselves through their music. For example, the bassist repeatedly complained that they were not able to grow long hair in Iraq even after the capture of Saddam.

On a more personal note, a young man (not in The Black Scorpions but friends with them) in the documentary was asked if he believes in God. Of course, that whole area is saturated with Islam and heavy metal gets a bad rap sometimes from certain religious folks. In America from ultra-orthodox Protestants but in Iraq from certain Muslims. So the interviewer discussed belief in God (presumably Allah) with the band. They all are Muslims, I think. At any rate, the gentleman not in the band said that he did believe in God but it is hard because He allowed the suffering in Iraq. Why didn't He intervene to stop it, the young man asked. You see how practical apologetics can be? Of course, a person in his shoes probably isn't looking for analytic philosophy but compassion, emotional support, and prayer. Nevertheless, if he was looking for solid intellectual answers, they are there. Thoughtful reflection on, and response to, the problem of evil is practically synonymous with apologetics.

At any rate, the program, produced by MTV, was eye-opening and informative. And I think any fan of harder music might wish to check out the movie if they are able to get ahold of it. Not for the kiddies though as there is mature content including much swearing.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Blog Continues... The Vlog Begins

Greetings y'all! Now yours truly has a presence on You Tube. Be sure to check it out. "evangelical" was already taken so I am "evangelical1" there. That last symbol is a numeral one not a letter elle. I hope to eventually post a semi-professional movie there in which several people are discussing natural theology. It will be a while before that happens but, be looking for it. Shalom out.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Spoofernatural (NOT that Christian parody band)

I have a confession to make. One of my favorite genre's of movies is the spoof. One problem with this aesthetic preference is that there have never really been a lot of spoofs to watch. Until recently, of course. Now there are a plethora of them.

I had high hopes for "Epic Movie" and was let down. Much of fantasy literature, at least in the early days, had definite Christian connotations. Even something modern like "Harry Potter", perhaps, has echoes of the Christian influence much more explicit in "The Chronicles of Narnia", for example. Some of the Christian influenced fantasy literature of yesteryear was recently made into movie form. And "Epic Movie" satirised it. I hope they did not realise that Aslan is really Jesus because, in it, they portray Him as having sex with multiple persons at once, male and female, and all underage. That is blasphemy.

But there is not stink in all of Denmark. I recently purchases "An American Carol" at my local video retailer. It was directed by David Zucker of "Airplane" and "Naked Gun" fame. I was totally shocked as I noticed a very Christian like vibe to the flick. I am not saying that Zucker, or whomever wrote the script, was a true believer-but there was a definite odor of Christian sensibilities to the picture.

Two parts of the movie particularly stick out in this regard.

One was while Bill O'Rielly was interviewing a character, on his Fox News show, who was supposed to be Rossie O'Donnell. He showed a clip from her new documentary. It was all about how fundamentalist Christianity was, on Rosie's view, just as bad as fundamentalist Islam. Seeing as how the movie is a spoof-and 'spoof' is practically synonymous with 'satire'-the message was clear. Remember, satire is bringing something to ridiculous extremes to paint a negative portrait of it. But I guess you'd have to see the clip from the fictional documentary to really grasp the satirical force of it. That message can best be stated rhetorically. How many present-day nuns or priests have committed acts of terrorism or performed suicide bombings? In contrast, how many Muslim terrorists are there? It is politically correct to say that Islam is a religion of peace. And many in Islam are peace loving, I understand. But the idea of jihad comes straight out of the pages of the Koran itself. Fundamentalist Christians believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. Fundamentalist Muslims believe "death to the infidels". These are harsh words that may hurt your ears, but somebodies got to say it.

The second part of note, of the movie, was the one musical number. The spirit of general Patton brings the main character-who is supposed to be Michael Moore-to a college campus. While the Professors are lecturing they break out into song. In the lyrics to the song, the teachers explain they were hippies back in "1968!". As they became yuppies they got teaching jobs to indoctrinate the younger generation with there liberal, left wing, propaganda. They got their dogma, as they continued to sing, from "1968!".

What is so uncanny about the song-and-dance in the secular movie, is that Bill Craig, a Christian apologist, was just talking about this very same thing on his audio blog (he presumably has not seen the movie). On his blog he was talking about the idea that the counter-culture movement of the 60's failed. But the protesters didn't give up their cause. Instead, many of them got teaching degrees so they could brainwash tomorrow's generation through the back door. A less direct, and more subtle (and successful) approach. And since many in colleges are themselves soon-to-be teachers in elementary and secondary schools, the entire educational system has long since collapsed. The prophecy of men without chests has finally become fulfilled. Once the Logos has been crucified, logic (not to mention ethics and aesthetics) is soon to follow. Looks like Nietzsche wasn't so mad after all.

But I digress. Back to the main point of this entry. I was so unbelievably surprised, in a good way, by "An American Carol". It was so much more than Leslie Neilson enacting corny puns. There was actually a moral behind it! A good moral!! The moral was more political than religious. Nevertheless, the moral is one that can resonate with more explicitly Christian ones. Kudos to Dave Zucker and company.