Category Archives: Polemics

William Lane Craig on the unexpected applicability of mathematics to nature

You might remember that Dr. Craig used a new argument in his debate with Lawrence Krauss in Melbourne, Australia.

My notes on the debate record it thus:

The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics:

  • The underlying structure of nature is mathematical – mathematics is applicable to nature
  • Mathematical objects can either be abstract objects or useful fiction
  • Either way, there is no reason to expect that nature should be linked to abstract objects or fictions
  • But a divine mind that wants humans to understand nature is a better explanation for what we see

And now Dr. Craig has expanded on it in the Q&A section of his Reasonable Faith web site.

The question:

Dear Dr Craig

Firstly can I thank you for all your work. My faith in Christ has been enormously strengthened through studying your work in apologetics in particular and I have grown in confidence in my Christian witness.

My question relates to numbers and mathematics as a whole. On the Defenders podcast you state that as God is the only self-existent, necessary being, numbers and mathematical objects, whilst being useful, don’t actually exist as these too would exist necessarily and independently of God. If this is the case, how can it be that mathematics is so easily applied to the natural world? Surely if mathematics only existed in our minds, we would expect to see no correlation between it and how the physical world actually is?

Michael

United Kingdom

Excerpt from the answer:

As philosopher of mathematics Mary Leng points out, for the non-theistic realist, the fact that physical reality behaves in line with the dictates of acausal mathematical entities existing beyond space and time is “a happy coincidence” (Mathematics and Reality [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010], p. 239). Think about it: If, per impossibile, all the abstract objects in the mathematical realm were to disappear overnight, there would be no effect on the physical world. This is simply to reiterate that abstract objects are causally inert. The idea that realism somehow accounts for the applicability of mathematics “is actually very counterintuitive,” muses Mark Balaguer, a philosopher of mathematics. “The idea here is that in order to believe that the physical world has the nature that empirical science assigns to it, I have to believe that there are causally inert mathematical objects, existing outside of spacetime,” an idea which is inherently implausible (Platonism and Anti-Platonism in Mathematics [New York: Oxford University Press, 1998], p. 136).

By contrast, the theistic realist can argue that God has fashioned the world on the structure of the mathematical objects. This is essentially what Plato believed. The world has mathematical structure as a result.

This argument was also made by mechanical engineering professor Walter Bradley in a lecture he gave on scientific evidence for an intelligent designer. You can read an essay that covers some of the material in that lecture at Leadership University.

Excerpt:

The physical universe is surprising in the simple mathematical form it assumes. All the basic laws of physics and fundamental relationships can be described on one side of one sheet of paper because they are so few in number and so simple in form (see table 1.1).

[…]It has been widely recognized for some time that nature assumes a form that is elegantly described by a relatively small number of simple, mathematical relationships, as previously noted in table 1.1. None of the various proposals presented later in this chapter to explain the complexity of the universe address this issue. Albert Einstein in a letter to a friend expressed his amazement that the universe takes such a form (Einstein 1956), saying:

You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world to the degree that we may speak of such comprehensibility as a miracle or an eternal mystery. Well, a priori one should expect a chaotic world which cannot be in any way grasped through thought. . . . The kind of order created, for example, by Newton’s theory of gravity is of quite a different kind. Even if the axioms of the theory are posited by a human being, the success of such an enterprise presupposes an order in the objective world of a high degree which one has no a priori right to expect. That is the “miracle” which grows increasingly persuasive with the increasing development of knowledge.

Alexander Polykov (1986), one of the top physicists in Russia, commenting on the mathematical character of the universe, said: “We know that nature is described by the best of all possible mathematics because God created it.” Paul Davies, an astrophysicist from England, says, “The equations of physics have in them incredible simplicity, elegance and beauty. That in itself is sufficient to prove to me that there must be a God who is responsible for these laws and responsible for the universe” (Davies 1984). Successful development of a unified field theory in the future would only add to this remarkable situation, further reducing the number of equations required to describe nature, indicating even further unity and integration in the natural phenomena than have been observed to date.

The whole paper that started this off is called “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics”, and it is a must read for advanced Christian apologists. You can read the whole thing here.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

MIT physicist Alan Lightman on fine-tuning and the multiverse

Apologetics and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

Here’s the article from Harper’s magazine.

The MIT physicist says that the fine-tuning is real, and is best explained by positing the existence of an infinite number of universes that are not fine-tuned – the so-called multiverse.

Excerpt:

While challenging the Platonic dream of theoretical physicists, the multiverse idea does explain one aspect of our universe that has unsettled some scientists for years: according to various calculations, if the values of some of the fundamental parameters of our universe were a little larger or a little smaller, life could not have arisen. For example, if the nuclear force were a few percentage points stronger than it actually is, then all the hydrogen atoms in the infant universe would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to make helium, and there would be no hydrogen left. No hydrogen means no water. Although we are far from certain about what conditions are necessary for life, most biologists believe that water is necessary. On the other hand, if the nuclear force were substantially weaker than what it actually is, then the complex atoms needed for biology could not hold together. As another example, if the relationship between the strengths of the gravitational force and the electromagnetic force were not close to what it is, then the cosmos would not harbor any stars that explode and spew out life-supporting chemical elements into space or any other stars that form planets. Both kinds of stars are required for the emergence of life. The strengths of the basic forces and certain other fundamental parameters in our universe appear to be “fine-tuned” to allow the existence of life. The recognition of this fine-­tuning led British physicist Brandon Carter to articulate what he called the anthropic principle, which states that the universe must have the parameters it does because we are here to observe it. Actually, the word anthropic, from the Greek for “man,” is a misnomer: if these fundamental parameters were much different from what they are, it is not only human beings who would not exist. No life of any kind would exist.

If such conclusions are correct, the great question, of course, is why these fundamental parameters happen to lie within the range needed for life. Does the universe care about life? Intelligent design is one answer. Indeed, a fair number of theologians, philosophers, and even some scientists have used fine-tuning and the anthropic principle as evidence of the existence of God. For example, at the 2011 Christian Scholars’ Conference at Pepperdine University, Francis Collins, a leading geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health, said, “To get our universe, with all of its potential for complexities or any kind of potential for any kind of life-form, everything has to be precisely defined on this knife edge of improbability…. [Y]ou have to see the hands of a creator who set the parameters to be just so because the creator was interested in something a little more complicated than random particles.”

Intelligent design, however, is an answer to fine-tuning that does not appeal to most scientists. The multiverse offers another explanation. If there are countless different universes with different properties—for example, some with nuclear forces much stronger than in our universe and some with nuclear forces much weaker—then some of those universes will allow the emergence of life and some will not. Some of those universes will be dead, lifeless hulks of matter and energy, and others will permit the emergence of cells, plants and animals, minds. From the huge range of possible universes predicted by the theories, the fraction of universes with life is undoubtedly small. But that doesn’t matter. We live in one of the universes that permits life because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to ask the question.

I thought I was going to have to go outside this article to refute the multiverse, but Lightman is honest enough to refute it himself:

The… conjecture that there are many other worlds… [T]here is no way they can prove this conjecture. That same uncertainty disturbs many physicists who are adjusting to the idea of the multiverse. Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.

Sound familiar? Theologians are accustomed to taking some beliefs on faith. Scientists are not. All we can do is hope that the same theories that predict the multiverse also produce many other predictions that we can test here in our own universe. But the other universes themselves will almost certainly remain a conjecture.

The multiverse is not pure nonsense, it is theoretically possible. The problem is that the multiverse generator itself would require fine-tuning, so the multiverse doesn’t get rid of the problem. And, as Lightman indicates, we have no independent experimental evidence for the existence of the multiverse in any case. Atheists just have to take it on faith, and hope that their speculations will be proved right. Meanwhile, the fine-tuning is just as easily explained by postulating God, and we have independent evidence for God’s existence, like the the origin of biological information, the sudden appearance of animal body plans, the argument from consciousness, and so on. Even if the naturalists could explain the fine-tuning, they would still have a lot of explaining to do. Theism (intelligent causation) is the simplest explanation for all of the things we learn from the progress of science.

We need to be frank about atheists and their objections to the progress of science. Within the last 100 years, we have discovered that the physical universe came into being out of nothing 15 billion years ago, and we have discovered that this one universe is fine-tuned for intelligent life. I don’t think it’s like that the last 100 years of scientific progress on the origins question are going to be overturned so that science once again affirms what atheists believe about the universe. Things are going the wrong way for atheists – at least with respect to science.

See it in action

To see these arguments examined in a debate with a famous atheist, simply watch the debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens, and judge which debater is willing to form his beliefs on scientific progress, and which debater is forming his beliefs against the science we have today, and hoping that the good science we have today based on experiments will be overturned by speculative theories at some point in the future. When you watch that debate, it becomes very clear that Christian theists are interested in conforming their beliefs to science, and atheists are very interested in speculating against what science has shown in order to maintain their current pre-scientific view. That’s not what rational people ought to do when confronted with evidence.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

If you find a discrepancy in the Bible, does that mean Jesus didn’t exist?

Let's think clearly about Christianity
Let’s think clearly about Christianity

Even if we don’t know whether there was one angel or two angels at Jesus’ tomb, we can still know things about whether God exists and whether Jesus rose from the dead.

First, we can know that the universe was created and designed because of reliable, experimental evidence that the universe came into being and is finely-tuned for life. And second, we can know that Jesus was buried, that his tomb was found empty, that a variety of people had experiences of him appearing to them after his death, and that the Christian movement had an early belief that he was resurrected from the dead. We know those core things like we know anything – because we have good evidence. Other things that are more peripheral may not be as supported by evidence. We can remain agnostic about those peripheral things, but that agnosticism about peripheral things doesn’t undermine the things that we know.

William Lane Craig answered a question related to this problem for a person who accepted the minimal facts case for the resurrection but then though that someone this case couldn’t work unless he accepted inerrancy as well.

Here’s the question:

After re-evaluating my Christian faith and pruning it for two years, I can’t shake what seem like two disparate conclusions. One is that the evidence for Jesus resurrection is impecable. But the other is that there seem to be some very awkward realities about the composition of scripture (like errors or authors claiming to write by another name). Yet, the authors of the New Testament, including Jesus, seem to use Scripture in a way that assumes it is word for word from God.

While inductive logic is used to arrive at a strong historical case for the resurrection of Jesus, inductive logic can also be used to arrive at a strong case for many of the peculiaraties about Scripture previously mentioned.

It seems that the approach which many apologists take at this point is that, having established the authority of Jesus by the resurrection, if the argument being raised against scripture contradicts an opinion expressed by Jesus in the Gospels, then the argument for a contradiction must have no possible harmonizations for it to really stick. But I don’t see how this is fair to say, since (1) it seems unfair to use inductive logic to evidence Jesus’ resurrection but then not use it for criticisms against the Bible and (2) an inductive argument can be strong despite what Jesus as recorded in the Gospels says, especially since we cannot assume the precision with which many of the saying were recorded. And (3), anybody can cook up a harmonization of some verse that is possible but not plausible, which I am sure you have seen first hand many times.

Yet, holding these two positions in tension tends to be corrosive to my faith and ultimately leads to a certain bitterness against God for allowing the biblical writers to play fast-and-loose with his words and for not providing a clarity that brings more certainty about what is from him and what isn’t. Any help you can give to relieve this tension would be greatly appreciated.

Now Dr. Craig has a long response on his Reasonable Faith web site, but I just want to quote you this:

But secondly, suppose you’ve done all that and are still convinced that Scripture is not inerrant.  Does that mean that the deity and resurrection of Christ go down the drain?  No, not all.  […]As you recognize, we have a very strong case for the resurrection of Jesus.  That case in no way depends on the Bible’s being inerrant.  This became very clear to me during my doctoral studies in Munich with Wolfhart Pannenberg.  Pannenberg had rocked German theology by maintaining that a sound historical case can be made for the resurrection of Jesus.  Yet he also believed that the Gospel resurrection appearances stories are so legendary that they have scarcely a historical kernel in them!  He did not even trust the Markan account of the discovery of the empty tomb.  Rather his argument was founded on the early pre-Pauline tradition about the appearances in I Corinthians 15.3-5 and on the consideration that a movement based on the resurrection of dead man would have been impossible in Jerusalem in the face of a tomb containing his corpse.

Evangelicals sometimes give lip service to the claim that the Gospels are historically reliable, even when examined by the canons of ordinary historical research; but I wonder if they really believe this.  It really is true that a solid, persuasive case for Jesus’ resurrection can be made without any assumption of the Gospels’ inerrancy.

By contrast, the case for Jesus’ belief that the Old Testament Scriptures are inerrant is much weaker.  I think there’s no doubt that (5) is the premiss that would have to go if biblical inerrancy were to be abandoned.  We should have to re-think our doctrine of inspiration in that case, but we needn’t give up belief in God or in Jesus, as Bart Ehrman did.  Ehrman had, it seems to me, a flawed theological system of beliefs as a Christian.  It seems that at the center of his web of theological beliefs was biblical inerrancy, and everything else, like the beliefs in the deity of Christ and in his resurrection, depended on that. Once the center was gone, the whole web soon collapsed.  But when you think about it, such a structure is deeply flawed.  At the center of our web of beliefs ought to be some core belief like the belief that God exists, with the deity and resurrection of Christ somewhere near the center.  The doctrine of inspiration of Scripture will be somewhere further out and inerrancy even farther toward the periphery as a corollary of inspiration.  If inerrancy goes, the web will feel the reverberations of that loss, as we adjust our doctrine of inspiration accordingly, but the web will not collapse because belief in God and Christ and his resurrection and so on don’t depend upon the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

We have mainstream scientific evidence for God’s existence, and a mainstream historical evidence for a minimal facts case for the resurrection. None of that evidence depends on inerrancy being true.

So can we please just accept what can be known from experimental science and standard historical methods, and work our lives around that, and not nitpick about peripheral issues so much? I am inerrantist, and so is Dr. Craig. But you don’t have to be in order to accept that the mainstream evidence that shows that universe was created and fine-tuned, and that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead. Don’t let “one angel vs two angels “stop you from accepting things we can know. You can just stay agnostic about the things you think we don’t know.

Stephen Baskerville: five myths about no-fault divorce

From the Catholic News Agency.

Introduction:

Almost four decades after the “no-fault” divorce revolution began in California, misconceptions abound. Even the many books about divorce, including myriad self-help manuals, are full of inaccurate and misleading information. No public debate preceded the introduction of no-fault divorce laws in the 1970s, and no debate has taken place since.

Yet divorce-on-demand is exacting a devastating toll on our children, our social order, our economy, and even our constitutional rights. A recent study estimates the financial cost of divorce to taxpayers at $112 billion annually. Recent demands to legitimize same-sex marriage almost certainly follow from the divorce revolution, since gay activists readily acknowledge that they only desire to marry under the loosened terms that have resulted from the new divorce laws. Divorce also contributes to a dangerous increase in the power of the state over private life.

Here are the five myths about no-fault divorce:

  • No-fault divorce permitted divorce by mutual consent, thus making divorce less acrimonious
  • We cannot force people to remain married and should not try
  • No-fault divorce has led men to abandon their wives and children
  • When couples cannot agree or cooperate about matters like how the children should be raised, a judge must decide according to “the best interest of the child”
  • Divorce must be made easy because of domestic violence

And the details about number three:

Myth 3: No-fault divorce has led men to abandon their wives and children.

Fact: This does happen (wives more often than children), but it is greatly exaggerated. The vast majority of no-fault divorces — especially those involving children — are filed by wives. In fact, as Judy Parejko, author of Stolen Vows, has shown, the no-fault revolution was engineered largely by feminist lawyers, with the cooperation of the bar associations, as part of the sexual revolution. Overwhelmingly, it has served to separate large numbers of children from their fathers. Sometimes the genders are reversed, so that fathers take children from mothers. But either way, the main effect of no-fault is to make children weapons and pawns to gain power through the courts, not the “abandonment” of them by either parent.

Al Mohler wrote about the history of no-fault divorce a while back, and I think it’s worth reviewing why we have this lousy law.

The story behind America’s love affair with no-fault divorce is a sad and instructive tale. As Baskerville documents, no-fault divorce laws emerged in the United States during the 1970s and quickly spread across the nation. Even though only nine states had no-fault divorce laws in 1977, by 1995, every state had legalized no-fault divorce.

Behind all this is an ideological revolution driven by feminism and facilitated by this society’s embrace of autonomous individualism. Baskerville argues that divorce “became the most devastating weapon in the arsenal of feminism, because it creates millions of gender battles on the most personal level.” As far back as 1947, the National Association of Women Lawyers [NAWL] was pushing for what we now know as no-fault divorce. More recently, NAWL claims credit for the divorce revolution, describing it as “the greatest project NAWL has ever undertaken.”

The feminists and NAWL were not working alone, of course. Baskerville explains that the American Bar Association “persuaded the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws [NCCUSL] to produce the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act.” Eventually, this led to a revolution in law and convulsions in society at large. This legal revolution effectively drove a stake into the heart of marriage itself, with inevitable consequences. In effect, no-fault divorce has become the catalyst for one of the most destructive cultural shifts in human history. Now, no-fault divorce is championed by many governments in the name of human rights, and America’s divorce revolution is spreading around the world under the banner of “liberation.”

And note that Democrats oppose any effort to reform laws that make it easy to break up marriages:

A basic dishonesty on the question of divorce pervades our political culture. Baskerville cites Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm as referring to divorce as a couple’s “private decision.” Granholm’s comments came as she vetoed a bill intended to reform divorce law in her state. The danger and dishonesty of referring to divorce as a couple’s “private decision” is evident in the fact that this supposedly private decision imposes a reality, not only on the couple, but also on children and the larger society. Indeed, the “private decision” is really not made by a couple at all–but only by any spouse demanding a divorce.

So, no-fault was pushed by two groups: feminists and trial lawyers.

There’s a lot of talk these days about gay marriage and how it undermines marital norms and normalizes raising children without either their biological father or biological mother. But before there was gay marriage, there was no-fault divorce, which deprives children of their biological father. There is no provision for no-fault divorce in the Bible, so it seems to me that Christians should be against frivolous divorce just like we are against same-sex marriage.

New paper from Michael Licona on historical methods and miracle claims

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson about to do some historical inquiry

I hope that all my readers know who Michael Licona is!

The PDF of his new paper is here. It was just published in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. It talks about how the pre-suppositions of ancient historians can mess with their ability to investigate the past.

Here’s the abstract:

Most biblical scholars and historians hold that the investigation of a miracle report lies outside of the rights of historians acting within their professional capacity. In this essay, I challenge this position and argue to the contrary. A definition of history should not a priori exclude the possibility of investigating miracle claims, since doing so may restrict historians to an inaccurate assessment of the past. Professional historians outside of the community of biblical scholars acknowledge the frequent absence of a consensus; this largely results from conflicting horizons among historians. If this is the present state among professionals engaged in the study of non-religious history, it will be even more so with historians of Jesus. Finally, even if some historians cannot bring themselves to grant divine causation, they, in principle, can render a verdict on the event itself without rendering a verdict on its cause.

Here’s a bit that I found interesting:

It is clear that the horizon of atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann is a driving force behind his historical conclusions when he a priori rules out the  historicity of the ascension of Jesus reported in Acts 1.9–11 ‘because there is no  such heaven to which Jesus may have been carried’. Ontological naturalism similarly guides James Tabor.

He writes:

Women do not get pregnant without a male—ever. So Jesus had a human father… Dead bodies don’t rise… So, if the tomb was empty the historical  conclusion is simple—Jesus’ body was moved by someone and likely  reburied in another location.

Not so obvious is Geza Vermes in his 2008 volume The Resurrection: History and Myth. With hardly a comment, Vermes simply dismisses both ‘the out-of-hand rejection of the inveterate skeptic’ and the hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead since it can only be made from ‘the blind faith of the fundamentalist believer’.

I thought these were interesting because Ludemann and Vermes still agree with some of the minimal facts in a case for the resurrection case, such as Craig, Habermas or Licona might make. Ludemann gives you the post-mortem “visions” of Jesus, and Vermes gives you the empty tomb – yet both are naturalists, as you can see. They both rule out miracle as an explanation of the minimal facts a priori, but they both allow for useful minimal facts because the historical case is there to support them. Isn’t that interesting?

So what would you call a detective who ruled out some causes of death but not others, before looking at the evidence?

More:

Second, methodological naturalism may handicap historians, preventing them in some cases from providing a fuller and more accurate account of the past. Molecular biologist Michael Behe provides a relevant challenge to this approach in his discipline. He writes:

Imagine a room in which a body lies crushed, flat as a pancake. A dozen detectives crawl around, examining the floor with magnifying glasses for any clues to the identity of the perpetrator. In the middle of the room, next to the body, stands a large, grey elephant. The detectives carefully avoid bumping into the pachyderm’s legs as they crawl, and never even glance at it. Over time the detectives get frustrated with their lack of progress but resolutely press on, looking even more closely at the floor. You see, textbooks say detectives must ‘get their man’, so they never consider elephants.

In context, Behe is contending that when scientists limit their considerations exclusively to unguided natural causes they will forever keep themselves from discovering the actual cause if a Designer of some sort was responsible. A similar admonition may be issued to historians who a priori exclude a non-human agent as the cause behind a past event. Those who do so could actually be placing themselves in a position where they cannot appraise history accurately.

The rest of the paper discusses two options for historians who want to resolve this problem.

So, I’m impressed that Mike Licona reads Mike Behe (that quote is from “Darwin’s Black Box”). Pretty cool that he reads across disciplines, and that he reads people who disagree with him. We one-dollar apologists all need to be like that.

Back to his paper. I see this presupposition of naturalism come up in debates on the historical Jesus, where the naturalist will just assume naturalism and then proceed to do history – even at a time where we have so many scientific arguments to undermine naturalism. It’s a bad philosophical view, and we shouldn’t let it influence how we do history.

If you run into these historians who are committed to naturalism, it might be worth it to make them defend it. You ask them – do you believe in naturalism? If they say yes, ask them for scientific evidence for naturalism. And when they finish not giving you any, then you can go on a long monologue on the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the habitability (galactic and stellar), and so on. Then tell them to stop bring their blind religious faith into their historical investigations.