Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Internet Vandalism and Cyber Stalking

Sad to say, but we've experienced an incident of Internet Vandalism and cyber-stalking.  In response I've updated the moderation of this blog such that all comments must be approved by me.  I didn't want to have to do this, but the person who posted here (whose posts have now been removed) is not a reasonable person on any terms.  He's dangerous, as those from other blogs connected with UD know full well.  Right now he's displaying pent up anger and the vilest (in a juvenile sort of way) attacks on individuals, but such pent up anger has a potential to get worse.

I obviously welcome views of those who disagree with me, and as Elizabeth has done with her blog, The Skeptical Zone, I will create a certain area where more objectionable posts are placed for those who desire to read them.  However, certain people will not be welcome if they show signs of stalking and/or attacking persons, rather than signs of interest in opposing viewpoints.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ontological Arguments Part Three: The Flip

Back to Stoebenau (I don't have any references on who he is apart from the website - The Ontological Argument: an assessment):

From there we read (again):
Anselm first gave what has become known as the ontological argument in his Prosologion. He used the definition that God is that being than which no greater can be conceived. Using this, he gave a reductio ad absurdum, that if one claimed that this being did not exist, then there exists a being which is greater than the being which no greater can be conceived. A major assumption of Anselm’s was that whatever exists in both the mind and in reality is greater than that which exists only in the mind. However, it is tough to see why one should accept this premise as sound. Is five dollars actually being in my pocket greater than 100 dollars existing in my mind? Can we even make such a comparison? This does not seem likely. One cannot claim that an old worn down coin is greater than a hypothetical brand new one of the same date, just because it exists. Furthermore, the premise that if one denies the existence of God, that there is a being greater than the being which no greater can be conceived, presupposes the actual existence of that being, so the argument runs in a circle. Hence, Anselm’s original argument fails.

Anselm is not, as Stoebenau claims, presupposing the actual existence of God, but that if God exists, by definition, He is "that being than which no greater can be conceived."  That is not a presupposition, but the premise of who God would be by definition.  Again, it's important to understand the reasoning behind the use of a reductio ad absurdum.  He's attempting to show, based on scripture from Psalm 14:1 "The fool says in his heart 'There is no God'" as a valid assessment of the logic of the whole statement and the illogic of the internal statement: "There is no God;" while in the process, he's able to show that such a statement is illusory not because a person cannot know that there is no God, but because there is in fact a God.  It is not presupposition that states God's existence, but the argument itself, starting with the premise that God would be by definition "that being than which no greater can be conceived."  And again, as Plantinga has pointed out, it's a problem of the properties of existence and between what can be conceived of and what we already know exists(from the Ontological Argument section of the Kindle version of God, Freedom, and Evil - page numbers do not correspond to the hard copy version).  Everything that we already know exists contains properties that are not contradictory in the sense of a square circle: Cats are cats, and are not also dogs, and we define things according to their recognizable properties, not according to any contrary properties.  The properties that we can conceive about God (by definition) are not contradictory.

Allow me to illustrate a point: Recent Cosmologists have proposed a multiverse as either a finite number of other universes outside our own, or an infinite number of universes outside our own.  The concept of a finite number does not immediately conjure up a problem with logical conception.  There do not immediately appear to be any contradictory properties of such a conception.  However when one considers an infinite number of universes outside our own, there's an immediate absurdity based on what we understand about actual infinite numbers of things, and based on what we understand about our own universe as existing in a finite space.

The issue with God is not in the 2nd example; an absurd infinite number of universes: no contradictory properties come to mind when one conceives of God.  God does not represent an infinite number that is absurd; rather, we understand God as one immaterial being who is eternal.  Eternal is not in the sense of possessing an infinite number of years or other units of time, but actually the condition of being timeless or outside of time.  Time is only meaningful in reference to space and motion.  By definition God is not within the limits of space, time and motion.  So a conception of God is closer to a conception of a finite number of universes, our first example; as in not immediately contradictory.  Now while I believe for other reasons that the concept of a finite multiverse is problematic, it can be conceived without the immediate absurdity of an actually infinite set.  The idea of other universes, finite or otherwise in my understanding, is that it contradicts the definition of a universe as being all that physically or metaphysically exists, with the exception of that which caused all that exists; getting back to Cosmological Arguments.

So Stoebenau's disagreement is not with the logic of the argument, but with Anselm's insistence on the definition of God; as he sees it, to define God is to presuppose God.  That is not the case.  We could not work out the reductio without knowing what we are attempting to refute.  The fool says "there is no God," so we must begin with what or who God is.  We are not attempting to show that "the fool says in his heart 'there is no something that we cannot and must not define.'"  That in itself would be illusory.  No argument could deal with that.  I find it interesting that Stoebenau recognizes the argument as a reductio ad absurdum,  "a form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications logically to an absurd consequence," but does not allow it to be so.

I want to leave off with some things to ponder:

If we go back to Hartshorne's Modal Cosmological Argument, and then approach Plantinga's own Modal Cosmological Argument, Stoebenau has a few things to say, which I would like to examine in my next post:

Hartshorne’s ontological argument is based on Anselm’s second argument and claims that God’s existence is logically necessary. Hartshorne’s argument is given here, where ▯A means it is logically necessary that A, ~A means it is not the case that A, → is strict implication, ∨ means or, and g means God exists:
1. g → ▯g

2. ▯g ∨ ~▯g

3. ~▯g → ▯(~▯g)
4. ▯g ∨ ▯(~▯g)
5. ▯(~▯g) → ▯(~g)
6. ▯g ∨ ▯(~g)
7. ~▯(~g)
8, ▯g
9. ▯g → g
10. g
This argument is valid. Furthermore, given an Anselmian conception of God, premises one and five are sound. Premise two is just the law of the excluded middle, and premise three is a law of the modal logic S5. Premise nine is obviously sound, so this leaves premise seven as the only premise to question. Premise seven says that it is logically possible that God exists. If you were to change it to:
7′. It is possible that God does not exist.
Then using premise one, and 7′, one gets this conclusion:
10′. God does not exist.

That's the flip. Thinking that we can simply flip the elements of the argument around by using contrary premises we can arrive at a contrary conclusion. It all seems quite sound; but is it? It ought to be from the structure of the argument; but is the premise "It is possible that God does not exist" quite the same as the premise "It is possible that God exists?" Is the argument designed to deal with the premise: "it is possible that God exists," but not with "it is possible that God does not exist?" Apparently it is, but is there any logical reason why it should be different for the two opposing premises given the other elements of the argument?  This is something that I've been grappling with and I'm not certain that I'm quite done with it.  Stay tuned.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ontological Arguments Part Two: Anselm and the Fool

So I'm reading about Ontological Arguments, and several of them sound very reasonable and then I get to this site, where the author, Ed Stoebenau attempts to pick apart the elements of several ontological arguments by doing the flip that I mentioned in the last post, and coming to the opposite conclusion that "therefore God does not exist."  Not that the author believes that he has proven that God does not exist; but that he believes the argument is not sound.

He begins with Descartes' Ontological Argument, which I believe (agreeing with the author) that it can be easily refuted as an argument.

Descartes' Ontological Argument:

1. God contains all perfections
2. Existence is perfection
3. Therefore God contains existence
4. Therefore God exists

Stoebenau points to the 2nd premise as problematic, but I think there are other problems here as well.  I think the word contains is problematic in this context.  I could use this same argument to "prove" that pink unicorns exist.

1. Pink unicorns contain all beauty
2. Existence is beauty
3. Therefore Pink unicorns contain existence
4. Therefore pink unicorns exist

So apparently it's the premises that are problematic here.  Obviously pink unicorns do not contain all beauty (which some would point out is in the eye of the beholder, so is subjective).  And that's where the argument is mostly problematic in using subjectives to attempt to prove an objective.

The argument works whether something we know exists, or something we know does not exist, like square circles:

1. Square circles contain all absurdity
2. Existence is absurdity
3. Therefore square circles contain existence
4. Therefore square circles exist

I think there is something problematic with the first premise: God contains all perfections.  I don't think anyone could argue against the proposition that by definition God is perfect, but God could impart perfection upon something that is not God.  There could be perfect triangles, for example, and that would not diminish God's perfection.  So that God contains all perfections would be a faulty premise along with "existence is perfection."  You would have to define perfection in such a way as to mean what is only common with God.  I think that can be done, but it isn't done here.

Well I want to get back to this, but I want first to go back as far as Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), who was the author of the first significant ontological argument upon which the more well known ontological arguments find their inspiration.

Anselm begins where I believe all ontological arguments should begin, and that is with scripture's own statement regarding the necessity of God's existence.  While Genesis begins with the assumption of God's existence:  "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," There is another passage of scripture, which suggests that God's existence stands to reason such that "The fool says in his heart 'There is no God.'" (Psalm 14:1, NIV)  In his thinking and recognition that as scripture and the word of God, there must be something about that statement such that it would stand the test of reason.  Or else to state "There is no God," one could be within reason and not a fool,  since Anselm believes that God gives understanding to faith.  This appears to be the issue that Anselm seeks to work out.  Keep in mind that he  is not arguing directly that God exists, but that belief that "There is no God" is absurd.  So his argument is known as a reductio ad absurdum.   Many subsequent ontological arguments have attempted to take from Anselm's reductio and form an argument for God's existence.

And so we have Anselm's Ontological Argument in his own words:

And so, Lord, do thou, who dost give understanding to faith, give me, so far as thou knowest it to be profitable, to understand that thou art as we believe; and that thou art that which we believe. And indeed, we believe that thou art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. Or is there no such nature, since the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God? ...But, at any rate, this very fool when he hears of this being of which I speak – a being than which nothing greater can be conceived – understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding, although he does not understand it to exist.  
For, it is one thing for any object to be in the understanding, and another to understand that the object exists. When a painter first conceives of what he will afterwards perform, he has it in his understanding, but he does not yet understand it to be, because he has not yet performed it. But after he has made the painting, he both has it in his understanding, and he understands that it exists, because he has made it.
Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone; then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.
Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.

To break it down in modern terms we get from Alvin Plantinga:

1) God exists in the understanding but not in reality [that is what he seeks to disprove]
2) Existence in reality is greater than existence in the understanding alone. (premise) 
3)  God's existence in reality is conceivable.  (premise)
4) If God did exist in reality, then He would be greater than He is. [from 1 and 2]
5) It is conceivable that there is a being greater than God is. [3 and 4]
6. It is conceivable that there be a being greater than the being than which nothing greater can be conceived. [5 by the definition of "God"]

But surely 6 is absurd and self-contradictory; how could we conceive of a being greater than the being than which none greater can be conceived?  So we may conclude that:

7) It is false that God exists in the understanding but not in reality.
(God, Freedom and Evil - 1974, Eerdmans Publishing Company) The bracketed text in italics is mine.

Now back to Stoebenau:

In response to Anselm's Ontological argument, he states:

Anselm first gave what has become known as the ontological argument in his Prosologion. He used the definition that God is that being than which no greater can be conceived.Using this, he gave a reductio ad absurdum, that if one claimed that this being did not exist, then there exists a being which is greater than the being which no greater can be conceived. A major assumption of Anselm’s was that whatever exists in both the mind and in reality is greater than that which exists only in the mind. However, it is tough to see why one should accept this premise as sound. Is five dollars actually being in my pocket greater than 100 dollars existing in my mind? Can we even make such a comparison? This does not seem likely. One cannot claim that an old worn down coin is greater than a hypothetical brand new one of the same date, just because it exists. Furthermore, the premise that if one denies the existence of God, that there is a being greater than the being which no greater can be conceived, presupposes the actual existence of that being, so the argument runs in a circle. Hence, Anselm’s original argument fails.

Well I think this argument is problematic and I didn't see it at first.  I had to read through it several times.  If I have an actual $5.00 bill in my pocket, but would rather have a $100.00 bill, I am conceiving of something that I already know exists.  If I have an old $1.00 coin in my pocket but would rather have a shiny new one of the same date, I am conceiving of something that I already know exists. So these are not only things that are conceived, but things that I already know exist - or at least I should know can exist.  Anselm is talking about something that can be conceived but I don't have any concrete example of or any experience with a concrete example of.  At first sight this might seem like a illusory distinction, but it is not when considering the existence of God.  Let's put it this way; suppose I desire rather than the $5.00 bill in my pocket, a bill that represents an infinite amount of dollars in reality.  Or to make it more concrete, how about if I desire an actual infinite number of $5.00 bills in my pocket.  Absurd right?  So what I can imagine being in my pocket can only be that which I know is possible.  It is possible to have 10,000 $5.00 bills in my pocket (given that my pocket is large enough to hold them), but it is impossible to have an infinite number of $5.00 bills in my pocket.

Anselm is saying that the existence of God is logically conceivable, but the atheist claims that God can be conceivable but only be in the imagination and not in reality.  Well there are other things that can be conceivable but not exist in reality, so why should it be any different with God?  Well as I understand Anselm, the difference lies in the nature of God as being both conceivable and the greatest being that can be imaginable.  I can conceive of pink unicorns, and they might not exist, or I can conceive of pink unicorns that don't exist, but which are greater than the pink unicorns that might exist.  And there is no logical contradiction in believing either.

But God is different in that by definition He is a being which nothing greater can be conceived logically, yet He still can be conceived logically.  An infinite number of $5.00 bills cannot be conceived to exist in reality logically.  I can conceive in an abstract way an infinite number of $10.00 bills, which would be greater than an infinite number of $5.00 bills, but again, I could not conceive of them existing logically in reality.

So Anselm's reductio works against the charge "There is no God."  Scripture (Psalm 14:1) is sound when it states "The fool says in his heart 'There is no God.'"  But furthermore, it is false that God exists in the understanding but not in reality.

Plantinga states:

...although the argument certainly looks at first sight as if it ought to be unsound, it is profoundly difficult to say what exactly, is wrong with it. Indeed, I do not believe that any philosopher has ever given a cogent and conclusive refutation of the ontological argument in its various forms. (God, Freedom, and Evil – Eeardmans Publishing Company, 1974)

More on Stoebenou's objections in the next post.

Ontological Arguments (54 years of fun ahead)

I thought I'd take a break from William Lane Craig for a bit (I'll get back to the Kalam Cosmological Argument post in the near future), but I want to at least show that my interests in the subject of God's existence are varied, and I'm not a WLC worshiper, even though I admire the man very much, while I might be able to pick out some areas where we are in disagreement.

I'm trying to get my head around some very difficult Modal Ontological Arguments, and I've posted some outlines in the Outlines of Arguments Tab at the top of the home page, or you can simply click here.

*Note - some of you may probably notice that I've begun thinking of a logical structure for this blog, and I'm attempting to get some simple reference information to everyone as quickly as I can.  I feel the best way to do that is through stand-alone pages that are linked through tabs at the top of the page; something I'm sure others are familiar with, but which I've never done before.  So as the blog develops I will set up as many pages as I can with various information that might need to be easily accessed so we can all follow some of the more complicated arguments.  Therefore, a glossary of terms will be started shortly, and I will continue to add arguments for and counter to God's existence in the  Outlines of Arguments Tab.

Please also keep in mind that I'm including information that I am not completely familiar with as well; as this blog for me is an exercise of study and grappling with difficult issues.  As I stated, I'm no expert on any of this stuff, but I hope to be more of one (or closer to being one) as this blog develops.

Ontological arguments are difficult because they require some rather in-depth understanding of a way of thinking that does not come natural to us by intuition.  Modal thought is thus, quite complicated, but highly logical, as I've discovered.

My initial thought several years ago when confronted with Ontological Arguments for God's existence, was that they were entirely unnecessary.  I did not view them as bearing as much weight as for example design arguments or cosmological arguments.  They appeared to me as rather simple, while Cosmological arguments seemed to have more substantive proofs.  I think a lot of that has to do with the manner in which formal ontological arguments are drawn out; which could be somewhat deceiving.  And I think a first rule in looking at argumentation, which seems to aline with Occam's Razor, is that simple does not always mean less meaningful or warranted than what might appear more complicated.  For in Ontological arguments, it's not the arguments themselves that are complicated, but the background information and terminology required to understand them.  I think once the background is understood the arguments themselves can be rather easily grasped.  At least that's what I've come to understand from looking into just a few of such arguments; Alvin Plantinga's Modal Ontological Argument, and just recently, Charles Hartshorne's Modal Ontological Argument.

Well my current thinking is that some Modal Ontological Arguments actually prove (by logical proof) God's existence, while some of the other types of arguments merely make God's existence more (far more) probable than His nonexistence.  This is so because the very nature of modal thought deals with the issues of probability (or more precisely possibility), impossibility, necessity and contingency, upon which many of the other arguments depend - particularly the Kalam and some moral arguments.

Now I am in complete awareness that many atheists and skeptics of theism are not too fond of ontological arguments, which is understandable.  It is also my understanding that many atheists and skeptics of theism simply don't understand the operations of modal thought with regard to such arguments as is seen in the ways they attempt to rebut modal arguments simply by flipping them around (and we will get into that more in-depth later on when the concepts and modes are understood).

Some of my own barriers

I hesitate to mention this, but I think it might be helpful if you understand some of the barriers to my own thinking.  I did not know this as a child, but I've recently come to understand that I have some autistic "tendencies," and while I haven't been formally diagnosed (working on that now), It looks as though I fit very clearly into what is called the Autistic Spectrum, which simply means that a person substantially meets certain and specific personality and social difficulty diagnostic criteria in order to substantially form a diagnosis.  As such, I tend to be rather long-winded and detailed in my writing and in speech; but much more in my writing.  So if you can keep that in mind, and maybe if you could suggest to me ways that I could condense some of the detail without losing the communication altogether, I think that would be helpful.

But it also becomes a barrier to me as I don't have the ability to pull complex arguments together in my thinking without some rather long pondering of what is meant.  This is the reason I had so much trouble in college and ended up dropping out (but also due to the social pressures).  I'm a person who tends to learn better by doing rather than by reading or studying.  I often find myself reading several chapters of a book and not being able to recall anything of what I had just read.  This is also common when I must listen to someone speak for a long period of time.  Some of that may be ADHD, but a lot of it for me is social.  I guess that's why after many years of my family believing that I couldn't think logically due to my somewhat awkward speech, communication patterns and behavior, they finally came to see that I could be highly logical when my thoughts are written out as opposed to spoken.  As I understand it, this is a characteristic that is common to mildly autistic people.

With that said, back to the lesson, discussion, presentation, whatever you want to call it.

Here's a proposition I'm dealing with now:

1) God can be analytically conceived without  contradiction.

If that is a true statement I can move on.

I can analytically conceive of God without contradiction

Here's my conception:

He is a being who is immaterial, unchanging, eternal and with maximal power.

Now someone might be able to argue that somehow his being eternal is logically in conflict with his being immaterial, or any other such conflict within just that conception of God.  That would cause that one particular conception of God to be contradictory but it would not cause all possible conceptions of God to be contradictory.  If any two of those elements are not contradictory, then those two could form a concept of God themselves that is not contradictory.

However, I don't believe that there is any conflict between the elements of that conception of God that I have just named:

Something could be unchanging and immaterial. There's nothing about immateriality that would in the sense of a square circle be impossible if it was also unchanging.  There is nothing about being eternal that would in the sense of a square circle be impossible if it was also unchanging.  I can apply that to all possible combinations of those four elements of the conception of God and they do not cause a contradiction in conception such as with a square circle.  I can add other such elements, and none of them would contradict.

Therefore I hold that it is true that God can be analytically conceived without contradiction.  It is a true statement and I can move on.

2) Therefore God is not impossible.

The first premise is true, so the conclusion is also true.

3) By definition God cannot be contingent.

That's an easier one because we simply need to know that by definition God would be necessary and not contingent or He wouldn't be God by definition.  The only objection I can think of to this would be the proposal that God could by definition be contingent; but that would be an absurdity, since God is not by definition contingent.  It would be like saying squares by definition could be circles.

4)  Therefore God is either necessary or impossible.

Yup, that's a sound conclusion based on the premise that he cannot be contingent. 

5)  God is not impossible as established in 2, therefore God is necessary.

6) Whatever is necessary by force of Becker's theorem must necessarily exist.

If you want to know what Becker's theorem is you can check here.

7) Therefore God exists.

What you have just seen is an application of Charles Hartshorne's (1897-2000) Modal Argument.  Keep in mind it's not his argument, but my application of it, trying to work out all of the premises and conclusions so that I'm satisfied that it's sound.  The one thing is clear to me though, Charles Hartshorne had a lot of time to spend on this.  He lived to 103.  How's that for longevity?

I'm not done yet, but give me another 54 years and I should have it wrapped up.  Seriously though, is there a counter argument that could pick it apart?  Is there a way I can apply similar but counter premises and reach the opposite conclusion?  

That's where I'm going next with this.

Welcome to modal arguments.  And that's just a cursory look, like visiting Greece, but we haven't left the airport yet.  Have you ever been in Athens Airport?  No? Then you have no idea.  But as you can see it looks pretty simple, but there's so much more to it.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Debates: Are they Useful?

I have in my personal library, a book entitled Does God Exist? The Debate Between Theists and Atheists, (1993, Prometheus Books).  It's a book in which several philosophers from both sides of the debate contribute; primarily J.P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen, with contributions from Peter Kreeft, Antony Flew, William Lane Craig, Keith Parsons and Dallas Willard.  In the course of some 300 pages several arguments for God's existence, as well as arguments for atheism along with rebuttals are presented.

Since I've read much larger individual works from several of these authors, I would have to say that the book is a much condensed version of the larger arguments these gentlemen prepared prior to and since it's publication some 18 years ago.

Such is the very essence of live debates of this nature.  They are necessarily brief and condensed versions of larger arguments.

Recently at Uncommon Descent there has been much discussion centered around WL Craig's recently completed speaking tour of the UK in October, and the reasons why some materialist atheists have declined invitations to join Craig in debate.

One of those invited to a debate in Oxford was the well known British Zoologist Richard Dawkins.  Dawkins has had several opportunities to debate Craig over the years and he has declined.  Last year Dawkins was involved in a panel discussion involving Craig in South America, but he has never debated Craig in the common one-on-one format for which Craig is known.

I sense the real reason some of these materialists don't want to debate Craig is due to the one-on-one format.  It requires being able to condense an argument into an hour and a half or two hours.  Craig has been at it for a while and so he knows how to condense his argument, and he does so by both researching the views of his opponents and planning to address some of their views as well as preparing the best argumentation for his primary argument.  He doesn't go in there unprepared.

Dawkins' reason for not joining in the debate is peculiar.  Allegedly blogger Greta Christina of Alter Net alerted Dawkins to a piece she wrote back in April of this year, in which she accuses Craig of defending genocide and infanticide due to his views defending the Israelite slaughter of the Canaanites as depicted in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.

Her article was in response to a question and answer piece from Craig's site Reasonable Faith, wherein Craig answers in-depth two questions, one from an anonymous reader of his site and one from an identified reader, concerning his views in defense of the charge that God is a "moral monster:" a charge that many of the new atheists have made, including Dawkins in his book The God Delusion.

Dawkins here responded to Craig's article in May of this year, stating:

She [Greta Christina] has a devastating exposé of William Lane Craig, exploding the myth that he is a sophisticated 'theologian' rather than some fundamentalist nutbag. Or, actually, maybe it exposes the greater myth that there is such a thing as a sophisticated theologian at all. It is worth following the link to Craig's own post, which lays bare Craig's truly shocking Christian 'morality'. I knew he was over-rated, but I didn't know quite how evil his 'theology' is.

As vjtorley of Uncommon Descent has pointed out however, Richard Dawkins knew about Craig's views on the matter as early as 2008, and blogged about it on his blog.

So his statement from May of this year: "I knew he was over-rated, but I didn't know quite how evil his 'theology" is." seems rather out of place.

And then in mid-October of this year, Dawkins wrote this piece in The Guardian, explaining why he "took pleasure in refusing" to debate Craig in Oxford and further explaining that he "turn(s) down hundreds of more worthy invitations every year."  And then this little ditty in response to Craig's intention of placing a chair on stage symbolizing Dawkins' absence: 

In an epitome of bullying presumption, Craig now proposes to place an empty chair on a stage in Oxford next week to symbolise my absence.  The idea of crashing in on another's name by conniving to share a stage with him is hardly new.  But what are we to make of this attempt to turn my non-appearance into a self-promotion stunt?  In the interests of transparency, I should point out that it isn't only Oxford that won't see me on the night Craig proposes to debate me in absentia: you can also see me not appear in Cambridge, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and, if time allows, Bristol.

His reason?  Because:

You might say that such a call to genocide could never have come from a good and loving God. Any decent bishop, priest, vicar or rabbi would agree. But listen to Craig. He begins by arguing that the Canaanites were debauched and sinful and therefore deserved to be slaughtered. He then notices the plight of the Canaanite children.
I'm not convinced that this is the real reason why Dawkins wont debate Craig.  If that was the case it would seem more reasonable that he had responded in the Guardian much earlier, and soon after he received the invitation.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Society recently chimed in on Craig's presence in UK, and why many humanists, atheists, materialists are uncomfortable with debating Craig.  I recently blogged what I call Copson's cop out.  Copson stated:

Well I understand why a lot of people don’t want to debate him one-on-one. The one-on-one occasions that he does uh, micromanage, really in terms of format to his advantage; they’re often set up occasions with largely Christian audiences who come to see him, and a lot of people find his arguments contradictory and contorted and very obscure, but plausible to the untrained eye, so really, they take a lot of refuting, and it’s (something you have to?) refute in writing afterwards. Live, it’s quite difficult. So a lot of people don’t like to debate him one-on-one and I completely understand that.

My response:

Copson in particular thinks that the one-on-one debate format does not leave enough room for effectively addressing the arguments. Well too bad. It’s called research. Research that is done prior to the debate. A debate is not held in a vacuum. Craig’s writings are available. If one hasn’t done the necessary research (as Craig has done) to know what the opponent is arguing, then yes, I can see how a one-on-one debate will not have an outcome to one’s advantage. So it’s a Copson cop-out

What is it about these debates that causes such a rumble over the internet and in other media?  They seem to me like rather simple affairs, and they're over in a matter of hours.  I would imagine that with his many books Dawkins has spent much more time in strenuous study to prepare a piece that would attract much more attention from his followers and others than a  two hour debate. So it couldn't be that he simply didn't have the time to prepare.  I really believe that Dawkins is intimidated by Craig.  With his insulting tone and diminished (or rather non-existent) respect for Craig's credentials as a philosopher, there seems to be an almost subconscious avoidance of anything Craig-related.  The late response in The Guardian would seem to also lend credence to the observation that Dawkins is afraid to debate Craig.  What would it do to his image; his following, his CV?  I would propose that it would do very little.  He would still have his image, his following and his impeccable CV, and added respect for his courage to at least face those he has accused of being supporters of a moral monster.

Would such a debate be useful?  Perhaps, perhaps not, but I doubt that it would do anything to diminish respect for Dawkins.  If anything, not debating will have more negative repercussions on Dawkins' respectability than simply showing up and giving his hours worth of argumentation.

But it's over now.  The debate was held in his absence, and the chair sat empty on the stage as a testament to a man who is so concerned apparently with his own image, that to fill it would have in his mind meant intellectual doom.

Following are two very recent debates (involving those who did show up) - specifically between William Lane Craig and Peter Millican, and between Craig and Stephen Law  Both debates are featured on the website for UK's Premier Christian Radio show Unbelievable with Justin Brierley.

The first is embedded as a video, but includes only audio.

The second is a link, since no video was provided, only an audio player.

Craig/Law Debate - Monday, October 17th, 2011 - Westminster Central Hall

Additional thoughts:

I was more engaged in the Craig Millican debate.  I thought Millican was a very worthy opponent, and that he was well prepared.  I plan on looking into some of his writings.

Thoughts?  Contrary views?

Update - during the Sheldonian Theater debate in Oxford, Craig responded to Dawkins' charge during the Q&A portion.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What is Kalam?

Kalam is an Arabic term meaning word.  It is very similar in meaning to the Greek word logos.  In contemporary Islamic usage it has come to mean and/or refer to the Islamic scriptures, the Quran, in a similar way as the word (logos) in Christian circles can refer to the Christian and Hebrew scriptures.

The Kalam began, it appears as an Islamic appeal to what is known as natural theology; the philosophical attempt to argue the existence of God by reason alone, and without reference to sacred scripture.  So in Islamic thinking Kalam can have two somewhat  or apparent contradictory meanings, as an appeal to scripture, or to the discipline of natural theology.

This leaves us with two possibilities when placed in the context of Christianity: Kalam can mean to argue the existence of God from natural theology as well as to argue the finer points of Christianity through an appeal to scripture as the Word of God; which allows for a harmony of the apparent contradictory meaning.  In that sense I would say that Kalam "stands to reason."

In the 9th through the 10th Century AD Islamic thought developed to the point of invoking arguments outside the Islamic scriptures, for the existence of God.  The primary argument in that realm became known as the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  Christian philosopher and apologist Dr. William Lane Craig is perhaps the best known Western supporter/proponent of the argument.

As the information in this post develops, it will become a separate page of the blog, and will have it's own tab at the top of the home page.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

William Lane Craig on the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's Existence

I wanted to find the best argument in a video format for the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  I refer here to a YouTube video series covering a presentation by Philosopher and Christian Apologist William Lane Craig.  The poster of the videos has included a very useful outline of the argument from Craig's perspective, which I've quoted below the videos.  It's a rather long presentation.  Each video is 30 or more minutes in length.  I will open this up to discussion on the basic premises of his argument.  The video presentation is in Eight parts:

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

Part Five:

Part Six: 

Part Seven:

Part Eight:

The poster of the videos included the following outline of Craig's argument, which I believe is helpful:


1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

2.1 First Philosophical Argument

2.11 An actually infinite number of things cannot exist.

2.12 A beginningless series of past events involves an actually infinite
number of things.

2.13 Therefore, a beginningless series of past events cannot exist.

2.2 Second Philosophical Argument

2.11 An actually infinite collection of things cannot be formed by
successive addition.

2.12 The series of past events is a collection of things formed by
successive addition.

2.13 Therefore, The series of past events cannot be actually infinite.

2.3 First Scientific Confirmation

2.4 Second Scientific Confirmation

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

4. If the universe has a cause, it is uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, unimaginably powerful, and personal.

4.1 The cause is uncaused.

4.2 The cause is beginningless.

4.3 The cause is changeless.

4.4 The cause is immaterial.

4.5 The cause is timeless.

4.6 The cause is spaceless.

4.7 The cause is unimaginably powerful

4.8 The cause is personal.

5. Therefore, a personal Creator of the universe exists, who is uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful.

Thoughts on Part One:

"Nothing comes from nothing, " or Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

That's the very first premise in the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's Existence.

I want to point out some very important statements by Craig in this video.

First off, he states that "common experience and scientific evidence" confirm premise one.  More importantly, he addresses one common objection from materialists and atheists: that the premise is an a priori theistic assumption.  Pay particular attention to what Craig states in response:  that materialists initially contended that the universe had no beginning.  So they argue from the same premise, that if the universe had no beginning it did not come into existence.  It was uncaused.  So the premise is at least common to both theists and non-theists alike.  It's not something that just popped into theistic thinking in order to have a basis for an argument.

One thing he doesn't address here though is the argument (or rather rhetorical question) "Who created God?"  

This is another reason why premise one is carefully worded: "Whatever begins to exist...;" Thus the question becomes absurd in light of the premise, and is also maintained as absurd given that the premise is invoked by both materialists and theists.  If the rhetorical question is invoked towards the materialist it would go something like this: "Who created the universe?"  The materialist would insist that this is absurd, since the universe had no beginning.  We are then left with the question:  "Did the universe have a beginning?"  To state otherwise is to beg the question.  Craig maintains that science and common experience confirm the premise.  Science in that we know that the universe had a beginning, and experience in that we know that things that begin to exist have a prior cause.

Another important distinction he makes is in regard to things as opposed to events.  Things require a cause, but events do not necessarily require a cause.

Thoughts on Part Two:

This seems more like a question and answer presentation than an at length speech presentation.  

I did particularly find a problem with part of what Craig presented regarding the infinite hotel, that does not in any way as far as I can tell, detract from the overall argument regarding the untenable nature of actual infinites in space and time.  That one illustration regarding moving people from one room to another to make room for one more is rather confusing and I believe unnecessary.  The stronger argument is in removing just one or any number of an infinite quantity of guests from a hotel containing an infinite quantity of rooms.

It seems to me that if we had a "finite" hotel; that is a hotel with a finite quantity of rooms, a manager couldn't simply move one person from one room to another to make space; given that all the rooms are full.  So logically speaking, it shouldn't work for a hotel with an infinite quantity of rooms.  I think this may be the area where some of his students were confused; which shows that they are not about to accept an explanation simply because their professor asserts that it is true.

However, you begin to get a grasp of the absurdity of an actual infinite once you propose subtracting just one or any other number of members from an infinite set.

This becomes the premise for arguing that the universe is necessarily finite, and thus, had a beginning.  The argument also works for time as well as for matter or space.

The time argument usually goes like this.

Suppose that time is infinite.  This would mean that the amount of time prior to the present moment we find ourselves in is infinite.  Yet the time we find ourselves in - the present moment seems to be finite in that we can account for moments in our lives that came before.  An exercise in refuting actual infinite time would have one count from 0 (zero) to negative infinity.  Since passed time would be symbolized by a negative, while the future would by symbolized by a positive number.

If we can account for finite events in time, then time is itself necessarily finite or we would not be able to account for finite events in time.  In fact, the now would never be arrived at, since it would require traversing an actual infinite spans of time.

Another way of looking at it would be to divide a finite period of time; for example, divide an hour into two equal parts and we get a half hour.  Divide an infinite span of time into two equal parts and we don't get a half an infinite span of time.  What we get are two spans of time that are equally infinite; which is logically untenable.

Thoughts on Part Three:

Infinite Possibilities of Time and Space?

Here Professor Craig seems to have more fine-tuned his arguments regarding infinity and space/time.  I'm certain there are more in-depth philosophical presentations of these issues elsewhere, but I think he does a good job of summarizing some of the thought.  His focus is on the views of Abu Hamed Mohammad ibn Mohammad al-Ghazali (1058-1111), who was a proponent of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

I found the discussion regarding the question of an infinite future to be most interesting.

Two Theories of Time

A-Theory: The future does not exist, but is a pure potentiality.  It is potentially infinite.

B-Theory: The past, present and future are real and stretched out like a line.  Time is only finite, and illusory or subject to one's standpoint.

al-Ghazali, Craig, as well as scripture support an A-Theory view of time.

B-Theory of time would of necessity impart some rather problematic theological views regarding freedom and responsibility.  If time is illusory, or subjective to one's standpoint, then it could be interpreted that we are different persons from one point in time to another; such that the person (me) 20 minutes ago who might have  committed a particular sin at that time, would not be the same person (me) that is in the present (now).  Therefore the person (me) that now exists could not be held responsible for the  acts of the person (me) that existed 20 minutes ago.  Confusing?  Yeah.  For some it might up a whole new world of possibilities, but from a logical standpoint it just doesn't seem tenable.