Tag Archives: Moral Argument

A Harvard University student explains how evidence changed her mind about God

Harvard University student discovers apologetics
Harvard University student discovers apologetics

Here’s a must-read article  about the effectiveness of apologetics on college campuses in Christianity Today.

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

Now, I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but I think that if you are a Christian and you are in a secular university, then you really need to have put in the effort to study the areas of science, history and philosophy that are relevant to the Christian faith. This is regardless of your personal abilities or field of study. We must all make an effort regardless of how comfortable we are with things that are hard for us to learn.

Granted, most people today are not interested in truth, because we just have this cultural preoccupation with having fun and feeling good and doing whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it. Most atheists I’ve met are like that, but some are more honest, open-minded, and they just have never encountered any good reasons or evidence to think that God exists and that Jesus is anything other than a man. There are a lot of atheists like that who are just waiting to hear some decent evidence. Our job is to prepare for them and then engage them, if they are willing to be engaged.

I think that definition of love she cited – self-sacrifice for the true good of another person – is important. I don’t think that ordinary Christians like you or me spends time on apologetics because we “like” it. I know lots of Christians who are in tough, expensive academic programs trying to get the skills they need to defend truth in areas that matter. They do this because they know that there are people out there who are interested in truth, and who are willing to re-prioritize their lives if the truth is made clear to them. We need to be willing to serve God by doing hard things that work.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

William Lane Craig lectures on naturalism at the University of St. Andrews

Lets take a closer look at a puzzle
Lets take a closer look at a puzzle

Note: even if you have heard Dr. Craig’s arguments before, I recommend jumping to the 48 minutes of Q&A time, which starts 72 minutes in.

About Dr. William Lane Craig:

William Lane Craig (born August 23, 1949) is an American analytic philosopher, philosophical theologian, and Christian apologist. He is known for his work on the philosophy of time and the philosophy of religion, specifically the existence of God and the defense of Christian theism. He has authored or edited over 30 books including The Kalam Cosmological Argument (1979), Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology(co-authored with Quentin Smith, 1993), Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (2001), and Einstein, Relativity and Absolute Simultaneity (co-edited with Quentin Smith, 2007).

Craig received a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from Wheaton College, Illinois, in 1971 and two summa cum laudemaster’s degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, in 1975, in philosophy of religion and ecclesiastical history. He earned a Ph.D. in philosophy under John Hick at the University of Birmingham, England in 1977 and a Th.D. underWolfhart Pannenberg at the University of Munich, Germany in 1984.

Dr. Craig was in Scotland to lecture at a physics conference, but a local church organized this public lecture at the University of St. Andrews.

Here is the full lecture with Q&A: (2 hours)

Summary:

  • Naturalism defined: the physical world (matter, space and time) is all that exists
  • Dr. Craig will present 7 reasons why naturalism is false
  • 1) the contingency argument
  • 2) the kalam cosmological argument
  • 3) the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life
  • 4) the moral argument
  • 5) the ontological argument
  • 6) the resurrection of Jesus
  • 7) religious experience

Dr. Craig does mention an 8th argument early in the Q&A – the argument from the non-physicality of mental states (substance dualism), which is an argument that I find convincing, because a materialist conception of mind is not compatible with rationality, consciousness and moral agency.

Questions and Answers

He gets a couple of questions on the moral argument early on – one of them tries to put forward an evolutionary explanation for “moral” behaviors. There’s another question the definition of naturalism. There is a bonehead question about the non-existence of Jesus based on a Youtube movie he saw – which Craig responds to with agnostic historian Bart Ehrman’s book on that topic. There’s a question about God as the ground for morality – does morality come from his will or nature.

Then there is a question about the multiverse, which came up at the physics conference Dr. Craig attended the day before. There is a good question about the Big Bang theory and the initial singularity at time t=0. Another good question about transfinite arithmetic, cardinality and set theory. One questioner asks about the resurrection argument. The questioner asks if we can use the origin of the disciples belief as an argument when other religions have people who are willing to die for their claims. One of the questioners asks about whether the laws of nature break down at 10^-43 after the beginning of the universe. There is a question about the religious experience argument, and Craig has the opportunity to give his testimony.

I thought that the questions from the Scottish students and faculty were a lot more thoughtful and respectful than at American colleges and universities. Highly recommended.

Can atheist Louise Antony rationally ground objective morality?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

The debate on video:

I read Dr. Craig’s report of his debate with Louise Antony on the topic of God and morality. My impression from his review was that she hadn’t prepared for the debate and didn’t understand the moral argument at all.

My impressions of her were confirmed by J.W. Wartick’s blog post.

Summary:

Recently, I listened [again] to the debate between William Lane Craig and Louise Anthony. Some have lauded this debate as a stirring victory for secular ethics. (See, for example, the comments here–one comment even goes so far as to say “I swoon when someone evokes the Euthyphro Dilemma and frown at the impotent, goal-post-moving, ‘Divine nature’ appeal.”) In reality, I think Louise Anthony did indeed present the case for secular metaethics. The problem is that this case is utterly vacuous. 

I’ll break down why this is the case by focusing upon three areas of development in secular and theistic ethics: objective moral truths, suffering, and moral facts.

Here’s the snarkiest part:

Louise Anthony seems to be just confused about the nature of objective morality. She says in response to a question from the audience, “The universe has no purpose, but I do… I have lots of purposes…. It makes a lot of difference to a lot of people and to me what I do. That gives my life significance… The only thing that would make it [sacrificing her own life] insignificant would be if my children’s lives were insignificant. And, boy you better not say that!”

Craig responded, “But Louise, on atheism, their lives are insignificant.” Anthony interjected, “Not to me!”

But then she goes on to make this confused statement, “It’s an objective fact that they [her children] are significant to me.”

Note how Anthony has confused the terms here. Yes, it is an objective fact that according to Louise Anthony, her children matter to her. We can’t question Anthony’s own beliefs–we must trust what she tells us unless we have reason to think otherwise. But that’s not enough. What Craig and other theists are trying to press is that that simple fact has nothing to do with whether her children are actually valuable. Sure, people may go around complaining that “Well, it matters to me, so it does matter!” But that doesn’t make it true. All kinds of things can matter to people, that doesn’t mean that they are ontologically objective facts.

It matters to me whether the Cubs [an American baseball team] win the World Series. That hasn’t happened in 104 years, so it looks like it doesn’t matter in the overall scheme of the universe after all. But suppose I were to, like Anthony, retort, “But the Cubs matter to me! It’s an objective fact that them winning the World Series is significant to me!” Fine! But all the Cardinals [a rival team] fans would just laugh at me and say “SO WHAT!?

Similarly, one can look at Anthony with incredulity and retort, “Who cares!?” Sure, if you can get enough people around Anthony who care about her children’s moral significance, you can develop a socially derived morality. But that’s not enough to ground objective morality. Why should we think that her values matter to the universe at large? On atheism, what reason is there for saying that her desires and purposes for her children are any better than my desires and purposes for the Cubs?

She doesn’t even understand the difference between objective and subjective morality! Sigh. For her, it’s enough that people have feelings about what they like and don’t like, and that they have the feeling that they ought to act in line with their feelings. And if you challenge her about obviously evil people, e.g. – radical Islamists blowing up innocent children for their ideology, well she has no reason to say that their feelings-based morality is any more rationally grounded than her own. The problem with atheists is that they approach morality with the goal of explaining it away. They want to avoid having to comply with objective, prescriptive morality, but they also want to justify themselves to theists  by saying “look at me, I have standards too, I’m not a sociopath!” So, they invent a subjective morality based on their need to feel good and get the praise of their peers and congratulate themselves about acting according to a subjective standard. Problem solved! The fact is that there is no way to get to an objective moral standard that applies in all times and places on atheism. Accidental universe = anything goes. Period. End of issue.

Is asking “Am I going to Hell?” a good rebuttal to scientific arguments for theism?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

I want to use this woman’s story to show how sensible atheists reach a belief in God.

Excerpt:

I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.

As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.

It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.

And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”

Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.

By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.

I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.

So, I want to point out the progression of her beliefs from atheist to deist to Christian. First, she listened to the scientific arguments for God’s existence, which took her to deism, which is a variety of theism where God just creates the universe and then doesn’t interfere with it after. Those arguments, the Big Bang and the cosmic fine-tuning, were enough for her to falsify atheism and prove some sort of theism. After that, she remained open to the evidence for Christian theism, and finally got there after looking at other evidence.

But this makes me think of how some of the atheists that I talk to do the exact opposite of what she did. I start off by explaining to them scientific evidence for a Creator and Designer. I explain the mainstream discoveries that confirm an origin of the universe (e.g. – light element abundance predictions and observations), and I cite specific examples of fine-tuning, (e.g. – the gravitational constant). I explain protein sequencing and folding, and calculate the probabilities of getting a protein by chance. I explain the sudden origin of the phyla in the Cambrian explosion, and show why naturalistic explanations fail. I talk about the fine-tuning needed to get galaxies, solar systems and planets to support life. But many of these atheists don’t become deists like the honest atheist in the story. Why not?

Well, the reason why not is because they interrupt the stream of scientific evidence coming out of my mouth and they start to ask me questions that have nothing to do with what we can know through science. See, evangelism is like building a house. You have to start with the foundation, the walls, the plumbing, the electricity, etc., but you can’t know all the specific details about furniture and decorations at the beginning. But militant atheists don’t care that you are able to establish the foundations of Christian theism – they want to jump right to the very fine-grained details, and use that to justify not not building anything at all. Just as you are proving all the main planks of a theistic worldview with science, they start asking “am I going to Hell?” and telling you “God is immoral for killing Canaanite children”, etc. They want to stop the construction of the house by demanding that you build everything at once. But, it is much easier to accept miracles like the virgin birth if you have a God who created the universe first. The foundation comes first, it makes the later stuff easier to do.

So rather than adjust their worldview to the strong scientific evidence, and then leave the puzzling about Hell and Old Testament history for later, they want to refute the good scientific arguments with “Am I going to Hell?”. How does complaining about Hell and unanswered prayer a response to scientific evidence? It’s not! But I think that this does explain why atheists remain atheists in the face of all the scientific evidence against naturalism. They insulate their worldview from the progress of science by focusing on their emotional disappointment that they are not God and that God isn’t doing what they want him to do. That’s the real issue. Authority and autonomy. In my experience, they are usually not accountable to science, although there are, thank God, exceptions to that rule.

William Lane Craig debates Lawrence Krauss in North Carolina: Does God Exist?

Two Rams butting heads: may the best ram win!
Two Rams butting heads: may the best ram win!

Would you like to hear a debate featuring the least intelligent atheist ever? Well, this is a good candidate.

The full transcript of the debate is here at the Reasonable Faith web site.

Audio of the William Lane Craig vs. Lawrence Krauss debate at North Carolina State University has now been posted at Apologetics 315. The people who recorded it did not do a good job, though.

And I also posted some background information on Craig’s arguments.

And now for one of my snarkiest summaries, which is fitting for Lawrence Krauss. A less snarky summary is at J.W. Wartick’s blog. And if you want to see a summary of a debate with a smart atheist, then here is the Craig-Millican debate summary.

William Lane Craig’s case

William Lane Craig made 5 arguments for the existence of God:

  • the contingency argument
  • theargument from the origin of the universe (kalam)
  • the argument from cosmic fine-tuning
  • the moral argument
  • the argument from the miracle of the resurrection

These arguments went unrefuted during the debate.

Lawrence Krauss’s case

Lawrence Krauss made the following arguments in his first speech:

  • Dr. Craig is a professional debater
  • Dr. Craig is not a scientist
  • Dr. Craig is a philosopher
  • Disproving God’s is a waste of my valuable time
  • Dr. Craig has the burden of proof to show evidence
  • My job is not to present any evidence
  • I think that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is a nice slogan, but I have no evidence for it
  • I don’t like that God doesn’t appear on Youtube, therefore he doesn’t exist
  • I don’t like that God didn’t appear to humans until recently, therefore he doesn’t exist
  • I don’t like that the stars didn’t come together to spell “I am here”, therefore God doesn’t exist
  • Dr. Craig has to supply extraordinary evidence, because my favorite slogan says he has to
  • Dr. Craig talks about logic, but the universe is not logical
  • Dr. Craig doesn’t have any arguments, just things he doesn’t like
  • Dr. Craig doesn’t like infinity, and that’s why he believes in the Big Bang cosmology
  • Dr. Craig doesn’t like chance, and that’s why he believes in cosmic fine-tuning
  • Dr. Craig doesn’t like rape, and that’s why he believes in the ontological foundations of morality
  • If people believe in logic, then they can’t do science
  • The things that science discovers contradict the laws of logic
  • For example, Dr. Craig doesn’t like infinity, so he believes in the experimental measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation
  • For example, Dr. Craig doesn’t like chance, so he believes in the fine-tuning of the gravitational constant for the formation of stable stars
  • Quantum mechanics shows that the universe is stranger than you think, therefore all of Craig’s arguments are false
  • My t-shirt says 2 + 2 = 5, therefore all of Craig’s arguments are false
  • Atheism may look ridiculous, but it’s true, and if you don’t like it, too bad – because the universe is very strange
  • Accidents happen all the time, so that explains the cosmic fine-tuning
  • We all have to convince ourselves of 10 impossible things before breakfast, and atheism is impossible, so you need to convince yourself of it
  • I don’t know about the Big Bang, so Dr. Craig cannot use the Big Bang to to prove the universe began to exist
  • I don’t know about the cosmic fine-tuning, so Dr. Craig cannot use the fine-tuning of cosmological constants to prove the fine-tuning
  • I don’t know anything about science, so Dr. Craig cannot use science in his arguments
  • Dr. Craig says that the universe is contingent because it began to exist 13.7 billion years ago based on the state-of-the-art scientific evidence for the Big Bang creation out of nothing from 1) red-shift of light from distant galaxies, 2) cosmic microwave background radiation, 3) helium-hydrogen abundances, 4) experimental confirmation of general relativity, 5) the second law of thermodynamics, 6) radioactive element abundances, etc., but how does he know that? I don’t know that
  • It’s fine not to know the answer to scientific questions like whether the universe began to exist, it’s more exciting
  • Thinking that the universe began to exist based on 6 pieces of scientific evidence is the “God-of-the-Gaps” fallacy, it’s intellectual laziness
  • But all kidding aside, the universe actually did begin to exist 13.72 billion years ago, exactly like Craig says in his argument
  • I could argue that God created the universe 4.5 seconds ago with all of us sitting believing that we heard Dr. Craig, and how could you prove me wrong? It’s not falsifiable
  • Universes can spontaneously appear out of nothing, and in fact they have to appear out of nothing
  • Nothing is unstable, and space and time can come into existence out of nothing, so that’s not a problem
  • Our universe could have appeared out of a multiverse, an unobservable, untestable multiverse that I have no way of observing or testing
  • The universe is not fine-tuned for life, and no scientist says so, especially not Martin Rees, the atheist Astronomer Royal, and every other scientist
  • What if God decided that rape was OK, would it be OK? God can change his moral nature arbitrarily, can’t he?

Here are the arguments in Krauss’ second speech:

  • We don’t understand the beginning of the universe
  • We don’t understand whether the universe had a cause
  • Steven Weinberg says that science makes it possible to be an atheist, so therefore the universe didn’t begin and didn’t have a cause
  • It’s just intellectual laziness to say that the universe came into being 13.7 billion years ago, and that things that come into being of nothing have a cause
  • Dr. Craig is an expert on nothing, ha ha ha!
  • There are multiple versions of nothing, there’s nothing, and then there is something, which is also nothing if I want it to be
  • There was no space, there was no time, and then the space create the empty space
  • I’m going to give Dr. Craig a break
  • At least in the nothing there were laws like F=ma, and those laws created the empty space, because descriptions of matter that does not even exist yet can create space out of nothing
  • Alan Guth and Alexander Vilenkin are good friends of mine and I talk to them all the time, unlike Dr. Craig
  • Alan Guth and Alexander Vilenkin don’t mention God in their scientific papers, therefore the universe didn’t begin and didn’t have a cause
  • Maybe there is a multiverse that cannot be observed or tested? And my unscientific speculations are a refutation of Craig’s scientific evidence for the fine-tuning
  • Dr. Craig just doesn’t like my speculations about the unobservable, untestable multiverse, and that’s why he believes in the Big Bang cosmology
  • And if you let me speculate about an unobservable, untestable multiverse, then maybe the inanimate invisible universes reproduce and compete for food and mutate like animals and then there is natural selection so that the finely-tuned universes survive and now we’re in one!
  • My cool animation of blue goo mutating proves that the multiverse is real! Empty space is not empty!
  • Darwinism, which is a theory about the origin of species, explains the cosmic fine-tuning that occurred at the moment of creation
  • The unobservable, untestable multiverse universes all have different laws, I believe
  • We don’t know what the right answer is, but we are willing to look at any possibility, as long as the possibilities we look at are not supernatural possibilities
  • The discovery of the origin of the universe could be an accident, I don’t know if the universe began to exist or not, maybe all the six scientific evidences are wrong because if I don’t like the evidence we have, so I’ll just wait for new evidence to overturn the evidence we have which I don’t like
  • Maybe there are other forms of life that are unobservable and untestable that are compatible with a universe that has no stable stars, no planets, no elements heavier than hydrogen, no hydrogen, no carbon, etc.

Here are the arguments in Krauss’ third speech:

  • Dr. Craig is stupid
  • Why should we even care about Dr. Craig’s arguments and evidence, we can just count the number of scientists who are atheists and decide whether God exists that way – I decided everything based on what my teachers told me to believe
  • I actually know general relativity, not like Dr. Craig who co-wrote a book on general relativity published by Oxford University Press
  • What quantum mechanics shows is that virtual particles come into being in a quantum vacuum, and then go out of existence almost immediately – and that is exactly like how a 13.7 billion year old universe came into being in a quantum vacuum, and we’re going to disappear very soon
  • Space and the laws of physics can be created, possibly, if you accept my speculations about an unobservable, untestable multiverse
  • I don’t like the God of the Old Testament, therefore he doesn’t exist
  • Groups of people can decide what they think is good and evil, like the Nazis and slave-owners did, and then that becomes good for them in that time and place, and that’s what I mean by morality
  • Here’s something I studied that wasn’t fine-tuned, therefore there is no fine-tuning of the universe
  • Not knowing things is really exciting! Dr. Craig is not really exciting because he knows things – phooey!

Here are the arguments in Krauss’ fourth speech:

  • If you will just grant me an observable, untestable multiverse, then there must be some universe where intelligent life exists
  • Infinite numbers of things exist everywhere in nature, you can see lots of infinite collections of things, like jelly beans and bumblebees and invisible pink unicorns
  • I don’t like the fine-tuning, but if my speculations about the multiverse are proven true, then I won’t have to learn to live with the fine-tuning
  • Inflation, the rapid expansion of the universe which occurs at some time after the the origin of the universe (t = 0), explains the absolute origin of time, space, matter and energy out of nothing that occurred at t = 0
  • Physical processes that develop subsequent to the creation of the universe at t > 0 can explain the fine-tuning of quantities that are set at t = 0
  • Morality is just a bunch of arbitrary conventions decided by groups of people in different times and places by an accidental process of biological and social evolution, but that practice over there by those people is objectively wrong!
  • 1 Cor 15:3-7, which most scholars, even atheists like James Crossley, admit is dated to within 3 years of the death of Jesus, is actually dated to 50 years after the death of Jesus
  • The historical case for the resurrection made by people like N.T. Wright in their multi-volume academic works is on par with the story of Mohammed ascending to Heaven on a horse

If you liked this, please check out my snarky summary of Christopher Hitchens’ speeches in the Craig-Hitchens debate.