Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Another Parody of the Ontological Argument that Fails

This is a photo that I've seen making the rounds, which is supposed to parody the Ontological Argument (which is just the Argument from Being). This meme conceives of Eric the God-Eating Magic Penguin, and apparently since he is "God-eating" by definition, he has no choice but to eat God. Cute.

The person who formulated this argument has missed several key points of the Ontological Argument. When Anselm formulated the Ontological Argument, he argued that God is, by definition, a being greater than which none can be conceived. Why? Because if a greater being could be conceived, that being would be God. God just is, by definition, the greatest conceivable being.

So why can the Christian get away with this definition but the "God-Eating Magic Penguin" Eric can't? Because in God's case, it is a logical definition. What do we mean that God is the greatest conceivable being by definition? It doesn't mean that we're trying to arbitrarily define God into existence (as atheists who constantly misunderstand this argument allege). Think of a square. A square, by definition, has four equal sides and four corners. Now does that mean that we're trying to arbitrarily define a square as having four equal sides and four corners in order to distinguish them from triangles? Of course not. It just is the case that all squares have four equal sides and four corners. That is the concept of squarity. That just is what it means to be square.

So God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being. That just is what it means to be God, because if there was a being that was greater, that being would be God.

So what do we make of this claim that it logically follows that God doesn't exist whether or not Eric does? Pure hogwash. First, God must exist. He is a necessary being. Every one of us, and all things in the universe, are contingent. This means that we do not have to exist, and cosmology has shown that the universe had a beginning (and that the universe is winding down and will eventually result in a heat death). Since everything in the universe is contingent, there must be a necessary being that is not contingent to have created the first contingent thing, otherwise we would be left with an infinite regress of causes which is a logical impossibility.

Second, the argument against Eric is not the same against God, as I have demonstrated. God is a necessary being (as part of his maximal greatness), and Eric is not. There is nothing in the nature of Eric which shows that he *must* exist, if he does.

Third, God could not possibly cease to exist, since he is a necessary being. This means nothing could eat God, so a "magic God-eating penguin" could not possibly exist because it is a contradiction in terms. This provides a positive argument against Eric.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Book Review: God or Godless? One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions. by John W. Loftus and Randal Rouser

Special thanks to Baker Books for the free copy to review.

This book has a very interesting premise. Instead of a book with one long debate about whether or not God exists, this book contains twenty short debates on a variety of topics, everything from whether or not life has meaning apart from God and whether science is a substitute for religion to whether or not God cares about women or if He is ignorant of the future. The book can be consumed in large quantities or in bite-sized chunks, reading one or two debates at a time.

It should be stated that since the debates are short (this was by design), then not everything taht can be said on these topics are said. So this should really be treated as more of an introduction to these topics, and each debater does give books for further reading on all of the topics if you wish to look more into them.

This is actually my first experience with Randal Rauser. I have read one of Loftus' books where he quotes Rauser, but I am unfamiliar with his writings or his stances on certain issues. So I was looking forward to this book, not only because of the back and forth exchange, but so that I can familiarize myself with another Christian philosopher.

Admittedly I am no fan of John Loftus. He's simply a poor philosopher, despite having once taught a class on the subject. The fact that in the very first argument of the very first debate he starts taking potshots at Christians makes me very hesitant to take him seriously, especially since his argument is just dead wrong (the argument is that since Christians are deluded and Christianity offers a false hope, it motivates Christians not to care about social ills. This is simply patently false, especially since Christians have consistently been on the forefront of opposing and ending human rights violations, everything from slavery to civil rights, to opposing the current human rights violation of abortion. Loftus also makes the ridiculous assertion that religion has never solved any problems or answered any questions, whereas science has. This is simply uneducated nonsense. Before the 900's, science was a Christian pursuit. Scientists were motivated by their faith in God to study the universe that God created, because by studying it they would learn about God. Religion motivated the development of science as know it today. Plus, philosophy has sometimes preceded science. When Al Ghazali formulated the Kalam Cosmological Argument, he argued that the universe had a beginning using philosophical arguments that an actual infinity of time couldn't exist. It was later that a Belgian monk discovered the Big Bang.

Les you think I am harsh on Loftus because he's an Atheist, that's certainly not the case. I just think a much better thinker could have been selected to support the Atheist side. For every poor Atheist philosopher like Loftus, Richard Carrier, or Richard Dawkins, there are good Atheist philosophers like Graham Oppy, Kai Nielsen, or Quentin Smith.

The debate remains very cordial, which is refreshing for such a controversial topic which has the capacity for turning very ugly (although the debate on whether or not the Biblical God cares about slaves seemed to get a little bit heated near the end). However, as I have read many of the reviews on Amazon, it seems that many people are put off by Randal's style. John has a more upfront approach, just giving his arguments. There's nothing wrong with this. Randal prefers a more literary style, telling a story or giving an analogy to illustrate his point. There is also nothing wrong with this. In fact, authors have a long tradition of using works of fiction to illustrate philosophical points. Take George Orwell's 1984, Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, and Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, to name but a few. Randal's story-telling doesn't detract from his arguments, it elucidates them.

John does have a frustrating habit of ignoring Randal's arguments altogether and just repeating his earlier points. As I stated earlier, I do view that many of these debates are one-sided just because Randal's points are so strong and most of John's arguments are just not well-reasoned at all, as becomes apparent early on. John rejects Randal's arguments just because he's an Atheist and he needs to find any reason to support his Atheism, not because Randal's points are bad. That being said, I do think John makes some good points, so they're not all bad. As I mentioned earlier, Randal does make some major mistakes in his theology, such as supposing that a perfect God, one who cannot lie, would allow false statements about himself into the Scriptures that he supposedly inspired. And while I believe Randal was the clear winner in most of these debates, I think John did have the upper hand in a few of them.

I obviously have many gripes about John Loftus. But while fewer, I do have some about Randal Rouser. First is his rejection of Biblical inerrancy. I think this is dangerous for a Christian to do and is why I don't think I could recommend him as a philosopher, and this is something that John does call him on a few times. Second, Randal apparently doesn't know what "begging the question" is (it's an informal logical fallacy). Randal keeps saying "that begs the question" when he obviously means "that raises the question." It's a common, and possibly understandable, mistake for a layman, but one that a professional philosopher shouldn't make.

You should look elsewhere if you're looking for a more academic treatment of these issues. However, I did find the book an enjoyable and easy read, and I think it's a good book to introduce yourselves to many of the topics presented here.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Apologetics? An Introduction

Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which means "to give a reason or defense." Apologetics come in many forms:

Classical Apologetics: Classical apologetics is so-called because it was the apologetic method practiced by the first thinkers who studied and practiced the application of reason to the defense of Christianity. These pioneer apologists included Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas. Modern classical apologetics is represented by William Paley, John Locke, C.S. Lewis, B.B. Warfield, John Gerstner, R.C. Sproul, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, and Norman Geisler.

Classical apologetics stresses rational arguments for the existence of God and historical evidence supporting the truth of Christianity. Stress is placed on miracles as a confirmation of the claims of Christ and the biblical prophets and apostles. [1]

Experiential Apologetics: Experiential apologetics is the form of defending the Christian faith that appeals to Christian experience as evidence for the truth of Christianity. In its appeal to internal, as opposed to external, evidence, it contrasts sharply with other apologetic systems. Some proponents of experiential apologetics have been Meister Eckhart, Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, and Elton Trueblood. [2]

Historical Apologetics: Historical apologetics stresses the historical evidence as the basis for demonstrating the truth of Christianity. At this point it overlaps with classical apologetics. The crucial difference between the two is that historical apologetics does not believe that it is necessary to first establish the existence of God. Historical apologists believe that the truth of Christianity, including the existence of God, can be proven from the foundation of historical evidence alone. Some proponents of historical apologetics have been: Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, including classical apologists such as Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas.

What sets historical apologetics apart is the belief that one can defend the whole of the Christian faith, including the existence of God and the fact of miracles, strictly from the historical evidence, without the necessity of any prior appeal to theistic arguments (although some use theistic evidences in a supplementary way). [3]

Presuppositional Apologetics: Presuppositional apologetics is the apologetic system that defends Christianity from the departure point of certain basic presuppositions. The apologist presupposes the truth of Christianity and then reasons from that point. One basic presupposition is that the non-Christian also has presuppositions that color everything he or she hears about God. Another is that in some fashion the person encountered is, as Augustine said, "doing business" with God and, as Romans 1 puts it so damningly, suppressing knowledge of the truth. It is the apologist's role to present the truth of Christianity and the falsehood of any worldview opposed to Christ. Some proponents of presuppositional apologetics have been: Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, Edward John Carnell, and Carl F.H. Henry. [4]

As we can see, the field of Christian apologetics is very diverse and many theologians overlap into other areas of apologetics, and there are likely more types of apologetics than even these. Personally, I think there is value in all fields of apologetics, but my personal preference is in classical apologetics. I believe an excellent case can be made for the existence of God using reason and observation of the universe around us.

We even have Biblical precedent for pursuing apologetics as a way of defending the faith. God says, in Isaiah 1:8, "Come now, let us reason together" (emphasis mine). Peter exhorts us in 1 Peter 3:15 to "always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within you, with gentleness and respect." In fact, we see people using apologetics all over the Scriptures (from Moses confronting Pharaoh's magicians to Paul arguing with Greek scholars on Mars Hill). All over Scripture we are encouraged to use apologetics.

The Scriptures are an excellent tool to bring someone to the knowledge that they need Christ. But sometimes a non-believer has a stumbling block that must first be removed before they can see why Christianity makes the most sense of the world around us. The way to remove that stumbling block is through apologetics. Sometimes apologetics alone can convince someone of the Christian worldview. Two intelligent atheists who were convinced of the claims of Christianity through the evidence alone were C.S. Lewis (author of The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity, as well as one of the most respected Christian thinkers of the 20th century) and Lee Strobel (author of The Case for Christ and the resulting series of books).

I will give reasonable arguments for the Christian faith, and argue against atheistic arguments (including some atheists, themselves), and I will attempt to do so in a gracious manner. After all, we're all on a search for truth, and if atheists are truly as open minded as they claim, then that entails taking the other side's arguments seriously and being open to the possibility they may be correct. I invite people who disagree with me to comment, as well as people who agree, but understand that certain comments will not be tolerated and will be promptly deleted. Do not insult anyone on this page, whether it be someone who has made a mistake or someone who holds a contrary belief. Also, no profanity. Intelligent people do not need to resort to profanity to prove their view. Please use your words carefully and intelligently.

That being said, I hope you enjoy the blog. Feel free to offer any feedback.


[1] Geisler, Norman L., The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books, p. 154.
[2] ibid, pp. 235-236.
[3] ibid, pp. 318-319.
[4] ibid, p. 607