Tag Archives: Logic

How is Christianity different from other world religions?

Peter Sean Bradley comments on the Hindu/Christian debate I posted yesterday. The debate really showed the difference between how Hindus view religion and how Christians view religion. I thought one of his points was particularly interesting.

Peter Sean Bradley writes:

According to Professor Philip Carey, Christianity is unique in the religious-sphere because of its obsession with the person of Jesus.  Because Christianity is about a person, it is essential to know who that person is, which therefore puts a heavy emphasis on doctrine, specifically correct doctrine, about the person of Jesus.  Christianity is thus a faith rather than simply a practice and faith – being intellectual adherence to ideas – are by definition exclusive.  One can, for example, be faithful to many things, until there is a conflict among those things, and then the true faith has to be determined. This is the reason for the Christian obsession with orthodoxy, i.e., “correct belief,” rather than some Christian proclivity for hair-splitting.

The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:12-14:

12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

Basically, Christianity is the only religion that stands or falls on a historical event: the resurrection. Either it happened or it didn’t. And the job of every individual is to test for themselves and act accordingly. Christianity is about truth – what really happened. If people are just interested in religion to comfort them, or to spur them towards good deeds, or as a cultural/ethnic identity, or as a set of rules and rituals, then they cannot be Christians.

Consider the words of Jesus from John 18:36-37, when he is being questioned by Pilate:

36Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

And it turns out that Hindus are not the only ones who tend to think that religion is not about propositional truth. Peter Sean Bradley cites this interview with Paula Fredricksen, a Jewish historian who specializes in ancient history. Paula says that even Judaism is not exclusive in the sense that it required pagans to abandon other gods in order to worship in the Jewish synagogue.

My experience dealing with Jewish believers is that they have one of two views. The ones I’ve met were either cultural Jews who are functional atheists, or they believed that a religion is “true” so long as it results in good works. In my experience, debates and apologetics are not emphasized in Judaism, (or in Hinduism). Two of my favorite radio talk show hosts are Jewish. Michael Medved (orthodox) and Dennis Prager (Reformed), have both stated this point of view on air many times.

Does being a nice person make your religious beliefs true?

I used to really enjoy listening to Dennis Prager and Michael Medved back when I wasn’t writing all the time. And one of the things I noticed about these two famous Jewish radio talk show hosts is that they believed that the test of whether a religion is true is whether it results in good behavior.

I agree with Dennis and Michael on many topics, but not on this topic. When it comes to religious epistemology, I am solely and completely concerned with only one question. Is it true?

The Pugnacious Irishman posted recently on this topic of whether 1) subjective experiences and “good” works, or 2) correspondence to reality, should be the standard for choosing a religion.

He writes:

For Christian public school teachers, the most interesting opportunities happen in the staff lounge at lunch.

As I sat down to eat lunch on Friday, a few of the teachers were talking about Mormonism.

“My pastor calls Mormonism a cult. That pisses me off. Why doesn’t he just leave them alone? The Mormon kids in my classroom are such nice and dependable kids.”

[…]“You know, I’ve got a better question to ask. Rather than asking, ‘does a certain religion make nice and conscientious followers’ (which is a plus in some ways), a more fundamental question to ask is, ‘is the religion true‘?”

One of the teachers at the table balked, “That can be kind of hard to determine, can’t it?”

“Not necessarily. If a religion makes historical and scientific claims, it can be verified or not. Most of the monotheistic religions make these types of claims, so they can be tested in that regard.”

A religion that is verifiable has a distinct advantage over religions that are not.

[…]It was a good conversation. And that is the fundamental question, isn’t it? A certain religion can produce nice people and still be wholly false. Of course, you need to figure ‘what kind of person it produces’ into the equation–if a certain religion, followed accurately, routinely produced a Charles Manson, that would most definitely be a strike against it–but that isn’t the most fundamental issue. It’s necessary, but not sufficient.

Rather, the most fundamental question you should ask is, “is the religion true?” Asking such a question doesn’t make you intolerant or bigoted.

When it comes to choosing a religion or talking about religion, the first and only rule is to focus on public, testable, propositional truth. The reason why so many Christians struggle to get into the kinds of conversations that Rich gets into is because they are not taking Rich’s approach. Find the claims of a religion that can be tested, then test them.


Vote on who had the best opening speech in the Craig-Ahmed debate

This post is part of a series of posts on the subject of a debate that occurred at Cambridge University between Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Arif Ahmed. The topic is “Does God Exist?”.

The full MP3 is here. (H/T Brian Auten of Apologetics 315)

Please listen to the first two speeches (at least) before voting.


I closed the poll after 1 week.

Wiliam Lane Craig, by a landslide
Wiliam Lane Craig, but it’s close
Too close to call
Arif Ahmed, but it’s close
Arif Ahmed, by a landslide

Please leave your comments about who you think about who is winning and why. Please keep comments SHORT – less than 300 words, please.

I am especially interested in hearing from young earth creationists and their response to Craig and Ahmed’s views on the big bang theory, and what it implies. (I am not a young earth creationist – I think the big bang is based on reliable science, including the red-shifting of light from distant galaxies, the light element abundance predictions and the cosmic background radiation predictions)

Note: I wrote an e-mail to Dr. Ahmed to follow up with him, and got a very gracious reply. He thought that the fine-tuning issue was the most interesting, and he did not change his mind about the intellectual viability of Craig’s worldview as a result of the debate. Anyway, try to be nice. Nicer than me, I mean!

I will not be available to approve comments on Thursday night from 6 PM to about 2 AM on Friday morning.


Debate summary: Craig vs Ahmed on “Does God Exist?” – Ahmed’s first speech

I thought that I would summarize a debate that occurred at Cambridge University between Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Arif Ahmed. Craig is by far the foremost defender of Christianity in the world, and Ahmed won his previous debate against the venerable Dr. Gary Habermas by a landslide. Could Dr. Ahmed repeat his previous victory?

The full MP3 is here. (H/T Brian Auten of Apologetics 315)

Craig’s opening speech is in the previous post. I am sorry but I cannot help but inject a little snark into my summaries of atheist speeches. I apologize in advance for being snarky. The snark is in italics.

And here is my summary of Dr. Ahmed’s first opening speech: (22:10)

Rebuttal to Craig’s case for God.

0) Craig is wrong about faith and reason (25:20)
– Craig’s book Reasonable Faith, he makes a number of statements about faith and reason
– He writes that Christianity is not accountable to reason if reason goes against Christianity
– He writes that the truth of Christianity is knowable without rational arguments
– He writes that even if there are no reasons to believe, and many reasons to disbelieve, humans are still obligated to believe
– Question for Craig: is Christianity reasonable or isn’t it? Do reasons matter or don’t they?

1) Response to Craig’s first argument: the origin of the universe (28:27)
– what mathematicians say about the contradictory nature of subtraction and division for actual infinities is wrong
– what cosmologists and physicists say about the beginning of time is wrong, every event follows another one, there is no first event
– even if the universe is 15 billion years old, the act of Creation requires time and there was no time prior to the supposed beginning of the universe for God to act in
– the cause of the universe need not be a personal agent
– all minds are made of matter so a mind cannot be the cause of the universe, because all the people who pre-suppose materialism like me think that minds must be made of matter
– it is impossible for a person to act outside of time, because all the persons I know act in time
– why did God wait 15 billion years before creating humans and relating to them? – i wouldn’t have done it that way

2) Response to Craig’s second argument: the fine-tuning of the creation (32:38)
– where do these probabilities that Craig is using come from?

3) Response to Craig’s third argument: the moral argument (34:07)
– I have personal preferences about what counts as right and wrong, and they are superior to God’s preferences
– moral intuitions are not a good way of discovering objective moral values, so therefore objective moral values don’t exist

4) Response to Craig’s fourth argument: the resurrection (36:00)
– the number of eyewitnesses is not enough, because groups number of eyewitnesses can be fooled by illusions, as in David Copperfield illusions
– the Gospels contradict themselves, e.g. – the story of Matthew’s earthquake and walking dead isn’t in Mark – so that’s a contradiction, so the Gospels are not reliable sources for Craig’s 3 minimal facts

5) Response to Craig’s fourth argument: personal experience (37:30)
– there are many different religious experiences because there are many different religions
if lots of people disagree about something, then no one can be right

Ahmed’s case against God.

1) Absence of evidence is evidence of absence (39:00)
– if there is are no reasons to believe in God, then this alters reality to make it true that he doesn’t exist

2) The inductive argument from evil (40:04)
– some evil is gratuitous – events cause people to suffer, and has no benefit that I can see, based on my limited knowledge in time and space and my personal preference of what counts as a benefit and what doesn’t
– God would not have allowed people to suffer, because God’s job is to make us feel happy in this life

3) Belief in God makes people evil (41:52)
– all genuinely religious people are very immoral, according to my personal preferences about what counts as right and wrong

Please only comment on the content of Dr. Ahmed’s arguments, there will be a poll at 6 PM to vote in and then you can comment on who is winning, too. This was a very entertaining debate to listen to, and the audio is crystal clear! If I get lots of comments, I summarize the rest of the debate for Friday!

In case you are wondering about his inductive argument from evil, please read this summary on the problems of evil and suffering, which is taken from my list of arguments for and against Christian theism.  Keep in my mind that I am a software engineer with two degrees in computer science… not philosophy!

Craig mentions a paper by the late William P. Alston of Syracuse University in his rebuttal to the inductive problem of evil. The paper lists six limitations on human cognitive capacities that make it difficult for humans to know that some instance of  apparently gratuitous evil really is gratuitious – that God has no morally sufficient reason for permitting this specific instance of evil.  Since Ahmed is making the claim that some evil is gratuitous, he bears the burden of proof.


Debate summary: Craig vs Ahmed on “Does God Exist?” – Craig’s first speech

I thought that I would summarize a debate that occurred at Cambridge University between Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Arif Ahmed. Craig is by far the foremost defender of Christianity in the world, and Ahmed won his previous debate against the venerable Dr. Gary Habermas by a landslide. Could Dr. Ahmed repeat his previous victory?

The full MP3 is here. (H/T Brian Auten of Apologetics 315)

Here is Dr. Craig’s opening speech: (1:24)

Craig’s case for God.

1) The origin of the universe (3:10)
– an eternal universe is not compatible with mathematics
– the impossibility of an actual infinite in nature (cites David Hilbert)
– an eternal universe is not compatible with science
– the big bang theory requires space and time to come into being out of nothing (cites PCW Davies)
– even radical alternative theories require an absolute beginning (cites Stephen Hawking)
– atheists must believe that the origin of space and time came from nothing and by nothing (cites Anthony Kenny)

P1.1) Whatever begins to exist requires a cause
P1.2) The universe begin to exist
C1.3) Therefore, the universe requires a cause

What can the cause be:
– it must be eternal, because it caused time to exist
– it must be non-physical, because it caused space to begin to exist

Why must the cause of the universe be a person instead of a force?
Only minds can exist non-physically
– the only non-physical entities we know of are abstract objects and minds
– but abstract objects can’t cause physical effects
– therefore, the cause universe is a personal mind

Only minds can cause effects in time without antecedent conditions
– causally prior to the universe’s beginning, there were no antecedent conditions
– the only entity capable of acting freely, not based on antecedent conditions, are free agents
– therefore, the cause of the universe is a free agent

2) The fine-tuning of the initial conditions of the universe (9:15)
– the fine-tuning of the universe is supported by science
– the constants and quantities given in the big bang can take any of a range of values
– the actual values are within a extremely narrow range that supports the requirements of life
– he gives the example of the fine-tuning of the gravitational constant
– he gives the example of the fine-tuning of the weak force

P2.1) The fine-tuning is either due to law, chance or design
P2.2) It is not due to law, because the numbers are independent of the law
P2.3) It cannot be due to chance, the life-permitting band is tiny compared to the possible values
C2.4) Therefore, the fine-tuning is due to design

3) Objective moral values are plausibly grounded in God (12:41)
– objective moral values are values that exist and are binding regardless of what individuals think
– objective moral values cannot be rationally grounded on an atheistic worldview (cites Michael Ruse)
– atheists can recognize moral values and act on them, but they cannot explain their origin and existence
– atheists can only appeal to personal or cultural preferences to say what is right and wrong
– the existence of objective moral is undeniable

P3.1) If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist
P3.2) Objective moral values do exist
C3.3) Therefore, God exists

4) The resurrection of Jesus implies that God exists (16:04)
– if the resurrection of Jesus happened, then it would be a miracle, implying that God exists
– three facts are recognized by the majority of scholars
– the tomb was found empty after his death (cites Jacob Kramer)
– individuals and groups saw Jesus after his death (cites Gerd Ludemann)
– the belief in the resurrection of Jesus was totally unexpected (cites N.T. Wright)
– naturalistic explanations of these facts have been rejected by the consensus of scholars

P4.1) The 3 minimal facts are established
P4.2) The hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation for these facts
P4.3) The hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead entails that God exists
C4.4) Therefore, God exists

5) God can be known directly by personal experience (20:02)
– God can be experienced just like you experience a relationship with human persons

I’ll summarize Dr. Ahmed’s opening speech in my next post, which comes out at 4 PM. Please only comment on the content of Dr. Craig’s arguments, there will be a poll at 6 PM to vote in and then you can comment on who is winning, too. This was a very entertaining debate to listen to, and the audio is crystal clear! If I get lots of comments, I summarize the rest of the debate for Friday!