Friday, May 13, 2005

Chapter 2: Since miracles contradict science, they cannot be true

Interviewee: William Lane Craig, Ph. D. in philosophy and theology

I’ve noticed that although the wording of this objection is misleading (see the pre-read impressions) the issue is cleared up in the chapter. I think this chapter started off very well, with a good definition of the word miracle. Craig defines a miracle as “an event which is not producible by the natural causes that are operative in the place and time the miracle occurs.” He is also straight on the point that miracles do not contradict science, but that science is the pursuit of natural causes and not supernatural ones. And he notes that miracles should not be difficult for even a scientifically minded person to believe—assuming that they believe in the Christian God. If God exists, it is not unthinkable that he would intervene in nature from time to time. Fair enough. He even, to my surprise actually (I thought maybe Strobel would just assume that his audience believed in God), outlines a few of the arguments for the existence of God in the chapter.

There is one point made in the chapter about the necessity of extraordinary evidence to back up extraordinary claims, such as the resurrection. He tries to disprove the idea that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” by comparing the improbability of the resurrection with the improbability of a set of six numbers in a lottery. After all, that any particular set of six numbers should come out of the lottery is very improbable. And the news source needs to show no extraordinary evidence that is was indeed those six numbers that popped out of the machine! Therefore an extraordinary event does not need to be backed up with extraordinary evidence. There is a serious flaw in this argument. It was a perfectly ordinary event for six random numbers to pop out of the machine, and unless the lottery was a fraud any set of six numbers should be equally improbable. I can say with some confidence that it is a whole lot more improbable for a person to rise from the dead than it is for them to stay dead (or for his followers to be mistakenly convinced that he had risen from the dead--just take Elvis sightings as an example!) And the news people should have nothing to gain in lying about it either, so it’s perfectly rational to trust that they are not deceiving us about lottery numbers. Now, if there was a physic who claimed that she could predict what numbers would come out beforehand, that would be an extraordinary claim which would require extraordinary evidence! We do not have extraordinary evidence regarding the resurrection, only the records of claims.

Next Craig gives us another definition of faith. He defines it as “trust or commitment to what you think is true.” He has an idea of a very rational faith. Anyone who is committed to an idea has faith. Maybe what many of the more intellectual Christians believe (such as C. S. Lewis) but this definition is often not what is meant by the word faith. In a rational way, may Christians call ‘faith’ what is more accurately called ‘justified belief.’ But faith in the Bible is irrational faith—belief without evidence, belief without ‘sight’. At least, this was the faith argued for by St. Augustine—as to distinguish the faith of demons—whose faith is rational because they have seen lots of signs and know that God is real—from the belief of Christians, which is supposedly voluntary. As Kreft said in Chapter 1: “Unlike reason, which bows down faithfully to evidence, faith is prejudiced.”

Next, Craig offers five of the classic arguments for the existence of God. The arguments he gives are as follows.

The First Cause Argument

This argument, as presented by Craig goes as such:

P1: “The universe and time itself had a beginning at some point in the finite past”

P2: “But something cannot come out of nothing”

C: “there has to be a transcendent cause beyond space and time which brought the universe into being”

Predictably, Craig equates the “transcendent cause” with the evangelical Christian conception of God. He rather glosses over the issue of where God came from, by saying that God never had a beginning, therefore he was uncaused.

I have some major problems with this argument, and that is that it appeals to the “God of the Gaps” theory, which basically states that “What we know we call science; what we don’t, we call God.” We just don’t know what came before the Big Bang, and it could be that we will never know. Perhaps there is some sort of “uncaused cause” out of which the Big Bang came, but it’s quite a leap to assume that it is a god, much less a particular conception of God. For all we know, it was some sort of catalyst that was destroyed in the process of creation. Until we have pushed the frontiers of science to the time before the Big Bang (or until, possibly, the Big Bang is overthrown by a better theory) the possibilities will be limited only by human imagination.

The Fine-tuning Argument

Craig presents this argument as follows:

P1: “The Big Bang was . . . a highly organized event which required an enormous amount of information.”

P2: “At the very moment of its inception, the universe has to be fine-tuned to an incomprehensible precision for the existence of life like ourselves.”

C: There must have been an Intelligent Designer.

I have a few observations to make on this argument. First, had the factors involved in the creation of the universe not been favorable to life, we would not be here to contemplate the reasons for our existence. I wonder how he defines “highly organized” in P1 above. Strobel suggests the possibility that there are other universes, but Craig simply dismisses the idea because even if it were true we have no way to verify it. He claims that the only reason the skeptics form such hypothesis was to avoid the idea of an intelligent designer of the universe. This is after he agreed, earlier in the chapter, that science is interested in natural explanations to phenomena—not supernatural ones. Interestingly we can’t verify the existence of his God either, though he holds this as self-evident.

The Argument from the Existence of Morality

Craig’s presentation of this argument:

P1: Objective moral values exist

C: God must exist

When Strobel asks for a definition of objective moral values, Craig replies that “Objective moral values are valid and binding independently of whether anyone believes them or not.” If God didn’t exist, Craig asserts, then “moral values are simply the product of socio-biological evolution.” I find it interesting that he does, at least, acknowledge that moral values could evolve naturally. But then he states that if that were the case, then moral values would be no more than opinions and tastes, like “Broccoli tastes good.” He doesn’t say much to support this assumption (that evolutionary morals would only be a matter of individual taste), however. I don’t have time or incentive here to explore the evolution of morality, though much has been written on the subject elsewhere.

Actually, the idea that moral values come from God faces a problem that is not mentioned in this book. It is the classic challenge that Socrates thought up: “Is an action good because the gods (God) command it, or do the gods (God) command it because it is good?” Take, for example, the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. According to the account, as a test of his faith God commands Abraham to take his son Isaac up onto a mountain and kill him as a burnt offering. As the story goes, Abraham gets to the point where he is holding the dagger above his son, preparing to slaughter him—but the angel intervenes right at the last moment. Now as far as Abraham knew, there would be no intervention. Would it have been morally wrong to murder his son because God commanded him to do it? If so, then morality really does not come from God, because God commanded Abraham to commit a morally reprehensible act. And this would mean that there is a standard of morality external to God, to which he is subject. If not, then the very notion of “objective moral standards” is meaningless, because morals would be relative to the will of God.

That being said, how do you judge the actions of a woman who is deluded into thinking that God wants her to, say, drown her children in the bathtub? She knows that to do such a deed would be reprehensible evil, and yet she thinks that God said to do it. Should she follow her own judgment—that the act is wrong and she shouldn’t do it—or should she follow what she perceives as the will of God? How do you judge such an act?

The Argument from the Resurrection

Here is Craig’s Argument:

P1: If we can believe in God, then we can believe in miracles.

P2: Miracles point toward the existence of God.

P3: If Jesus was raised from the dead, miracles exist.

P4: Ancient documents testify to the resurrection of Jesus.

C: God exists.

Nevermind the testimony of many Biblical scholars, most of them theists, who doubt the reliability of these ancient documents (all of which make up New Testament material.) Even assuming the authenticity of the documents themselves, it does not follow that the claims made in the documents are accurate. This argument suffers from both circular reasoning (prior assumption that God exists), and begging the question (of the accuracy of biblical documents).

The Argument from Personal Experience

P1: People have experienced God in their personal lives

C: God exists.

Logically, this argument is begging the question (that it is actually God that the people experience.) However, I don’t think that this is even intended to be a logical argument. It’s an emotional appeal. As I’ve decided that I’m not even going to try and argue about the authenticity of others’ personal experiences, there is not much I can say about this. I can’t believe on the basis of someone else’s supposed experience of God. Most Christians I know will likely agree with me on this point.

Closing and Verdict

The chapter concludes with an appeal to the certainty of Craig as to the truth of his beliefs, and an appeal to Revelation 3:20 (“Behold I stand at the door and knock . . .”). Backing this certainty is the evidence of lives changed by Christianity. Actually, I would be greatly astonished if a dramatic change in a person’s beliefs and worldview did not greatly change their life. In fact, I would wonder about the honesty of their belief if there were no change. This effect is seen regardless of the actual truth of the beliefs, as shown by the fact that this claim of changed lives is not limited to Christianity, or even religion itself.

At least, Strobel does recognize that atheists may very well be good and moral people in this during the discussion of “objective morality.” I guess he did not fit this category as an atheist, as shown by his reference to his “living in the mire of immorality as an atheist” near the end of the chapter. But at least he recognizes that atheism is not equivalent to immorality.

I’m not convinced by the arguments in this chapter. I did however, find it to be a worthwhile challenge to read and respond to it.

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