Theistic critiques of atheism, Part 5

Continuing our critique of William Lane Craig’s “Theistic Critiques of Atheism,” we come now to his treatment of the problem of evil, aka “theodicy.”

Undoubtedly the greatest obstacle to belief in God is the so-called problem of evil. During the last quarter century or so, an enormous amount of philosophical analysis has been poured into this problem, with the result that genuine philosophical progress on the age-old question has been made.

I think it’s interesting that Dr. Craig begins by trying to pre-emptively dismiss the issue, designating it merely a “so-called” problem. If theologians have been wrestling with this “age-old” difficulty for thousands of years, and only in the last couple decades or so have started making genuine philosophical progress, it’s a real problem. One suspects that if Dr. Craig wants us to think it’s only a “so-called” problem, it’s because all he has to offer is a “so-called” solution. And so it proves.

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Theistic critiques of atheism, part 4

We’ve barely scratched the surface of Dr. William Lane Craig’s “Theistic Critiques of Atheism,” but we’re already seeing a pattern develop: in the rarified heights of philosophical theism, they dispense with any obligation to find God in the real world, and instead impress each other with the complexity and subtlety of the characteristics they can imagine that a perfect God might possess. To their credit, they do manage to think some deep thoughts, but without that connection to the real world (which they dismiss as “Verificationism”), they risk ending up like the fellow who grew so obsessed with fantasizing about the Perfect Lover that he lost all interest in real women.

The problem with philosophy is that, if you’re really good at it, you’re tempted to forget that genuine reality is a bit too vast and complex to be contained by a finite human mind. You forget that you are dealing with abstractions—details that have been separated from their real-world context so as to simplify the task of considering their characteristics. You forget that, by isolating the details from their context, you are working with facts that are, to some degree, false. You’ve broken their connection to the rest of reality, and thus interrupted the perfect self-consistency that is the characteristic of truth.

The solution to this particular philosophical problem is to continually refer back to the real world in your philosophizing—to verify your findings against the gold standard of reality itself. Non-Alethian theologians, however, cannot do this, since there is no real-world God for them to observe and check their speculations against. They end up like Craig, building relatively small, locally-coherent thought castles that are amazing for their intricacy and thoughtfulness but that, due to their disconnect with verifiable reality, fail to unite into a broader and more comprehensive coherence. Each sounds good on its own, and is more than enough to consume the entire attention of even the most intelligent individual, but when you try to put them all together and find an overall, real-world consistency, they have conflicts.

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TIA Tuesday: An even deeper hole

There’s no hole so deep that you can’t get yourself into even more trouble by digging deeper. I could stop there and have pretty much summarized the next part of TIA Chapter 15, but where would be the fun in that? Last week, Vox admitted that God isn’t really omniscient, but then used an equivocation fallacy to try and argue that God’s omniscience (or “tantiscience,” as Vox calls the inferior omniscience he personally ascribes to God) is merely a potential knowledge, and not actual knowledge.

His excuse for this substitution is that the “capacity” for an action is not the same as the action itself. Thus, since genuine omniscience leads to some intractable problems for theologians, Vox opts to retreat to the idea that God’s omniscience consists merely of the capacity for knowing, not actually knowing. Knowledge, however, is not an action; it’s a state. Learning what you know, and remembering what you know, are actions that involve knowledge, but the knowledge itself is data—a noun, not a verb. To equate knowledge with action is to fall into a serious category error, and it’s an error that Vox uses as the foundation for the next phase of his argument.

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Now that’s an honor!

JP Holding of Sunday Toon fame is holding a contest for “Platinum Screwball of 2008,” and yours truly is currently in the lead with 45% of the vote. If you’ve read some of the “Screwball” threads over at theologyweb.com, you know what an honor it is for me to be held in such high esteem by a scholar of Holding’s calibre.

Maybe some of y’all could drop by and help him out with the voting, though. So far he’s only found twenty people interested enough to cast a ballot.

 
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Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 3

Yesterday we looked at Dr. William Lane Craig’s rather remarkable suggestion that we ought not to expect to have any more evidence of God’s existence than we do because we ought to assume that God would only provide valid evidence to those who, in His foreknowledge, are certain to respond to this evidence by becoming Christians. Dr. Craig was not entirely clear as to why we ought to make this particular assumption, nor did he explain why a deliberate suppression of vital information on God’s part should count as a flaw in the reasoning of atheists. Nor are these the least of the flaws in what we might call the Presumption of Selective Magical Infallibility—the assumption that God necessarily intervenes with just the right magic to ensure that True Believers (and only True Believers) are divinely protected against being wrong about the Gospel. But we ought to leave our criticism at that for now, because you could write a modestly-sized book about all the errors, inconsistencies, and distortions explicit or implicit in that one.

Dr. Craig next turns to the problem of the coherence of theism, or lack thereof. He admits that this has been a problem historically, and says that, for example, it was not until about 25 years ago that someone thought up a definition of “omnipotence” that was sufficiently reduced in scope that a genuine deity might reasonably be said to possess the attribute. He then lays out for us the process of reduction, which is rather fascinating to watch.

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Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 2

We’re reading “Theistic Critiques of Atheism,” by William Lane Craig (available online, registration required), and yesterday we saw some of the problems an apologist gets into when trying to explain why evidence for God is missing whilst simultaneously claiming to have the missing evidence. Having begun by assuming that the burden of proof is on atheists, Craig now turns to his argument for why the evidence should not be there.

The debate among contemporary philosophers has… moved beyond the facile presumption of atheism to a discussion of the so-called “Hiddenness of God” —in effect, a discussion of the probability or expectation that God, if He existed, would leave more evidence of His existence than what we have… [S]ome atheists have argued that God, if He existed, would have prevented the world’s unbelief by making His existence starkly apparent. But why should God want to do such a thing? On the Christian view it is actually a matter of relative indifference to God whether people believe that He exists or not. For what God is interested in is building a love relationship with us, not just getting us to believe that He exists. There is no reason at all to think that if God were to make His existence more manifest, more people would come into a saving relationship with Him.

Do you know, there are apparently positions in the Philosophy departments of certain universities where you can be paid and even tenured for overlooking such obvious difficulties as the fact that you can’t have a relationship with someone if you don’t even know they exist! Why can’t I get a job like that?

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Theistic Critiques of Atheism

Impartiality is when you judge all things by a single standard of truth. If you have a double standard, that’s called hypocrisy. And if you have three or more standards, it’s called theology. Or at least, that’s the impression I got while reading “Theistic Critiques of Atheism,” by William Lane Craig (available online, registration required).

Craig starts by attributing a recent renaissance of theistic philosophy to a decline in the the belief that “truth” ought to have some sort of verifiable connection to what we actually find in the real world.

The collapse of the Verificationism was undoubtedly the most important philosophical event of the twentieth century. Its demise meant a resurgence of metaphysics, along with other traditional problems of philosophy which Verificationism had suppressed. Accompanying this resurgence has come something new and altogether unanticipated: a renaissance in Christian philosophy.

Personally, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that Christianity, languishing under the burden of having to supply empirical verification for its claims, would enjoy a rebound if and when that particular burden were lifted. But when an apologist begins by rejoicing that his philosophy prospers best when its obligation to the facts is the least, then we’re off to something of an inauspicious start.

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XFiles Friday: Ain’t necessarily so

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 12.)

Geisler and Turek open chapter 12 with a quote from Gary Habermas that seems intended to stifle any criticism of New Testament apologetics.

“Skeptics must provide more than alternative theories to the Resurrection; they must provide first-century evidence for those theories.”

Since modern day skeptics haven’t got a time machine to travel back to the first century in a search for clues, it would seem this argument would pretty well insulate the Gospel from any kind of skeptical criticism. Or would it? Is it possible that the evidence we already have is sufficient to demonstrate that Jesus did not, in fact, return to literal, physical, biological life after his crucifixion, death and burial?

Indeed it is, and we can readily demonstrate this from Geisler and Turek’s own answer to the question, “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?”.

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Postmodern Christians

One of the biggest challenges facing rational people today is the rise of a peculiar form of self-imposed ignorance known as “post-modernism,” the notion that there is no such thing as truth, and that everyone lives in a kind of mutual solipsism where reality is whatever you think is true. It’s a philosophy rooted in certain “softer” sciences like literary criticism and philosophy, and a certain number of Christians are rather fond of decrying the liberalism and relativism it seems to project.

The irony is that Christians themselves are among the leading proponents of postmodernism. For example, PZ Myers had a post a while back in which this illustration appeared, copied from the Answers in Genesis web site.

The illustration’s intent is to show that the Christian and the scientist live in two different worlds, despite observing the same facts. This is postmodernism: facts are not the truth, because “truth” is something you create for yourself based on how you choose to interpret the facts. AiG would like to be able to prove that Darwin was factually wrong, but failing that, they at least want to sell you the alternate reality of the Christian “worldview.”

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