Chapter 3: Why I Believe in God

(Non Causa Pro Causa)

The first two chapters dealt with Biblical history as it relates to prophecy and archaeology. This chapter veers away from history and enters the realm of theology, a much more nebulous subject. As theology, I cannot address the main thrust of this chapter: that God as defined by Christianity exists. Why can't I? Because personally, I have no opinion on the matter of God's existence. The question does not occupy my thoughts. I find that people adopt beliefs that maximize their happiness and fulfillment in life. To that end, if someone chooses to believe in God, that's fine.

However, Kennedy slants his arguments toward science and logic, and those are subjects I can deal with. While I do not argue against his belief in God, he does make several erroneous statements and bad assumptions. First let me comment on the key messages in this chapter; afterwards I will write on the value of worshipping the Judeo-Christian god; and lastly, I present a few pro and con arguments that Kennedy doesn't mention.

Key points in this chapter

The question of God's existence eclipses all others that mankind might ask.

How arrogant. Dr. Kennedy forgets that Western culture does not equal all of humanity. Even in Western cultures, many people like myself don't consider the question worth thinking about. In non-Western cultures dominated by religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc., the concept of God as defined by Christians never enters the human mind.

As the old Newtonian physics gave way to the new sciences of quantum mechanics and relativity, new discoveries of science established more and more the teaching of the Scripture.

As shown in the last chapter on archaeology, new scientific discoveries, as often as not, cast doubt upon Scripture.

Newtonian physics describes an objective, orderly reality; in the newer science of quantum mechanics, reality depends upon the observer, and it is subject to random events requiring statistical interpretations. This led Einstein to make his famous objection to quantum theory: "God does not play dice." Certain symmetries do exist at the subatomic level, but Dr. Kennedy grasps at straws to suggest that new advances in physics "establish" the existence of a god. And I can't see how relativity relates to Kennedy's reasoning.

The book fails to mention, of course, the newest of the sciences, known simply as Chaos. Rarely have humans been fortunate enough to witness the birth of a whole new field of science during their lifetime, especially one that applies to so many natural phenomena, such as weather, planetary distances, stellar distributions, population growth, and cardiac cell dynamics, to name a few. Chaos is highly theoretical. God does not enter into the picture anywhere; indeed, although chaos science can detect underlying order in seemingly random phenomena, one could say it repudiates the notion of an omniscient deity, for it explains how most natural phenomena are unpredictable because their future outcomes have extremely sensitive dependencies on initial conditions. Cosmologist Stephen Hawking has said regarding Einstein's objection to quantum mechanics, not only does God play dice, but he throws them where you can't see!

I find it difficult to comprehend how Kennedy can function accepting a contradiction as a basis for his faith. On one hand he credits various scientific disciplines with validating Christian concepts, and on the other hand, in the next chapter he condemns those scientific disciplines for daring to discover evidence that his theology might be faulty. He should remember that science doesn't care! Science does not require a "god hypothesis" to explain the phenomena of our universe. It is therefore meaningless to claim that science validates this or that religious concept. If he wants, he can re-interpret his religion to fit science, but he can't have it the other way.

Denial of God leads to every civil evil we have today. Moral values such as justice, mercy, kindness, tolerance, and self-sacrifice are incompatible with materialism.

Humans are social animals. They must cooperate with each other to maximize their success at living. This is a good enough reason to discourage nonbelievers from antisocial behavior, purely for self-preservation. My own moral behavior clearly demonstrates that God is completely unnecessary for moral values to exist. I find that morality is something created by humans, according to the way humans feel the world ought to work. I don't see it as a set of rules decreed by a supernatural being.

Many nonbelievers behave in a moral or compassionate way simply because they feel a natural tendency to empathize with other humans. Many are guided by the Empathy Principle: Feel what others feel in response to your actions. This statement speaks more powerfully than the Golden Rule (which doesn't require empathy). It is more difficult to apply, but it is also more rewarding. It also doesn't require believing in God.[1]

If, as Kennedy claims, denial of God leads to civil evils, then what about the acceptance of God? How does accepting God modify moral behavior?

 

A survey conducted by the Roper Organization found that behavior deteriorated after "born again" experiences. While only 4% of respondents said they had driven intoxicated before being "born again," 12% had done so after conversion. Similarly, 5% had used illegal drugs before conversion, 9% after. Two percent admitted to engaging in illicit sex before salvation; 5% after.[2]

It seems religion certainly does not have a monopoly on moral behavior! One might even conclude instead, that being saved and forgiven gives a believer license to commit sinful acts. Nonbelievers have no such convenient release from the responsibility of their actions.

I imagine one could also make a case that the civil evils of today represent a backlash against a resurgence of oppressive right-wing fundamentalist Christian dogma. One could also argue convincingly that a belief in God has led to every great evil that has plagued our history. As one small example, consider the following quotation:

The folkish-minded man, in particular, has the sacred duty, each in his own denomination, of making people stop just talking superficially of God's will, and actually fulfill God's will, and not let God's word be desecrated.
For God's will gave men their form, their essence, and their abilities. Anyone who destroys His work is declaring war on the Lord's creation, the divine will. Therefore, let every man be active, each in his own denomination if you please, and let every man take it as his first and most sacred duty to oppose anyone who in his activity by word or deed steps outside the confines of his religious community and tries to butt into the other.[3]

A believer wrote this as justification for one of the many great evil events occurring in our history. His name was Adolf Hitler. Human history is positively tarnished with the blood of Christian sin, committed by the pious doing God's will. To protest "Those aren't real Christians!" as Kennedy does in a later chapter, is a transparent attempt to shift blame. The perpetrators sincerely believed their devotion to the will of God; they were Christian according to the way Christians define themselves. They were hardly engaging in "denial" of God.

Astronomers study God's handiwork more than anybody else, and 90% of them believe in God.

Kennedy doesn't say where this statistic comes from, but even so, it's both irrelevant and fallacious, and he conveniently ignores the fact that unlike him, many astronomers have no problem with evolution science.

This is a good example of the false-cause fallacy known as non causa pro causa. It occurs when one identifies something as the cause of an event, when actually it may not be the cause. Dr. Kennedy implies falsely that studying astronomy compels one to believe in God. This is plainly not the case.

First, a recent Gallup poll showed that 95% of Americans believe in God.[4] Astronomy, then, boasts a smaller proportion of believers than the U.S. population as a whole. (It is safe to assume here that Dr. Kennedy's statistic concerns only Western culture in light of bias displayed elsewhere in the book.)

Second, even if the proportion of god-believing astronomers did equal or exceed the proportion of god-believing Americans (18.5% of Americans consider themselves nonreligious, although some of them believe in God), another conclusion is still possible: The science of astronomy may attract those who already believe in God, a reverse of the cause-effect relationship implied by Dr. Kennedy. Astronomy has long been a traditional hobby of the clergy, and some significant discoveries have been made by priests. Astronomy has ancient ties to religion, when religious leaders studied the heavens to predict eclipses and identify seasons. A remnant of ancient religious-oriented astronomy still exists today in the form of astrology. And much of what became modern-day astronomy can be credited to early Muslim astronomers. It is perfectly natural for a religious person to become fascinated by the cosmos.

Atheists and evolutionists are almost invariably one and the same.

This is ridiculously false. It is easy to find evolutionists who are not atheist (like those god-believing astronomers mentioned above). He forgets that many other religions besides Christianity exist in this world. Some of those religions are compatible with evolution. Theists who follow other faiths would therefore be labelled "atheist" by Kennedy - a contradiction. Of the world's religions, Christianity probably has been the most hostile to scientific progress, which the next chapter clearly demonstrates. It is hardly surprising that Kennedy would lump atheism together with a large body of science he disagrees with, for no other reason than it contradicts his faith.

Cosmological argument: Natural order and symmetry show that God exists.

Here the chapter briefly mentions a classic non causa pro causa Design Argument which concerns itself with order, symmetry, or perfection to "prove" the existence of God. This argument takes many forms. See Appendix 3 for a detailed analysis of these kinds of arguments.

For enlightenment on any philosophical argument for God's existence, try reading The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. Also see Paul Davies, God and the New Physics.

Teleological argument: The evidence that things are designed for a purpose, for an end, proves there is a God. All this could not have appeared here just by chance.

This Design Argument is another example of non causa pro causa, but the author attempts to show a causal connection. Those who believe that the complexity and diversity of living creatures on the earth is evidence of a creator are best advised to study some scientific explanations of origins. One will find that there is no scientific evidence in favor of so-called scientific creationism; indeed, a creation theory based on real science has yet to be advanced. Furthermore, a large body of evidence, observation and theory exists to explain many of the complexities of the universe and life on earth.

Kennedy uses this Design Argument as follows: The existence of something as amazingly intricate as, say, a human is so improbable that surely it cannot have come about by chance, therefore there must be some external intelligence directing things so that humans emerge from the chaos deliberately.

Makes sense, no? But if human intelligence is so unlikely, surely the existence of a mind capable of constructing an entire universe complete with conscious beings must be immeasurably more so? We can turn the argument around and apply it to Kennedy's position.[5]

The chapter then goes on to provide environmental and biological examples supporting the Teleological Argument.

Teleological argument based on environment:

a. The earth is just the right size, is just the right distance from the sun, has just the right tilt, has just the right tides caused by the moon, and has just the right atmospheric components to support life. This unique combination of attributes cannot be coincidence. God must be responsible.

The flaw in this example should be obvious: It misses the point of the weak anthropic principle, which says that we cannot observe our universe in a state which does not enable our existence. Dr. Kennedy presents us with a tautology, saying in effect, life will flourish where life can flourish.

Certainly life as we know it could not exist if conditions were different. What's the evidence to support the claim that life on Earth would be impossible if those conditions varied? The only examples we have of life are those on this planet; it is presumptuous to infer that the conditions here must apply universally to all life in the entire universe.

But suppose life really could not exist on earth under different conditions. If the Earth were not the perfect distance from the sun, then we simply would not exist here on this particular earth. That is, any earth that we live on must be that perfect distance from the sun. See? If life exists somewhere, then that place must be able to support life. The universe contains a wide variety of conditions, and we of course must exist in a condition favorable to our life. If our local conditions were any different, we would not exist here. But if we exist at all, then we must exist somewhere.

Suppose we have fifty different petri dishes. Each one represents different randomly-chosen conditions: some have toxins, some are exposed to ultraviolet light, some are baked in ovens. All are exposed to the bacteria and fungi that float in the air. What happens? Only on those dishes where conditions are just right do the bacteria flourish. Is it a miracle? Of course not. Life flourishes in conditions that enable it to flourish. I should also point out that, if we run many experimental trials and record only the successes, we shouldn't be impressed by the improbability of a success if we don't know the number of trials.

Another problem is that Kennedy assumes life should arise on this earth only, as opposed to somewhere else. The universe is mind-bogglingly huge, containing trillions of solar systems and even more planets. Any intelligent creature anywhere could wonder why its particular planet seems so well-adapted to life, whereas the answer is that the universe supports a wide range of conditions, of which a small fraction are just right. If the conditions are correct only on our planet, that would be a miracle indeed! But even that would not point to a special, deliberate design. If only one planet had the conditions favorable for life, then that planet simply would have life on it, and the living inhabitants ought not to be astonished that the conditions are right for them. In any case, at this time we know nothing about planets around other stars.

Kennedy's reasoning resembles another argument for the existence of God, which points to accounts of people who "miraculously" survived disasters, as proof of God's existence. The argument says nothing about those who did not survive. Why not? Because they didn't survive, of course, thereby leaving no account behind. Similarly, pointing to the conditions of our planet as proof of God's existence says nothing about the possibility of planets in other solar systems having comparable conditions. Why not? Because we cannot observe them yet.

This argument that conditions on earth are exactly right for life is like a puddle of water pointing to the fact that it fits its whole shape exactly, as evidence of purposeful design.

b. The unique chemical properties of water help make life possible. It exists on earth in greater abundance than anywhere else in the universe. This is evidence of God's design.

This says only that the earth happens to have water. Dr. Kennedy misrepresents the truth. Since we have essentially no detailed knowledge of planetary systems other than our own, we do not know how much water exists elsewhere in the universe. Furthermore, since the book was published, space probe flybys have indicated that the moons Callisto and Ganymede are composed of about half water ice. Their surfaces are completely covered by water.

There is no reason to assume that life needs water. If there were no water on earth, there might be non-water-based life instead. Or maybe not. Possibly other fluids can promote life also. You wouldn't expect life to develop the way it has, if this world was different, would you?

c. Dust particles are necessary for rain to condense around. That we happen to have dust in our air to aid the earth's water circulation is also evidence of God's existence.

Dust particles exist in the atmospheres of other planets, and we have no reason to believe that dust would be rare in other solar systems.

Teleological argument based on biology:

a. Red blood cells can actually live without a nucleus, enabling them to carry more oxygen than they normally could. This is evidence of God's design.

Evolution theory explains how red blood cells adapt to a "purpose" without a real purpose. Many creationists make no distinction between a consciously held goal and an apparent purpose. Water appears to "want" to flow downhill. It appears to choose, purposefully, the best way down, but we know this is not true "purpose" but simply the action of inexorable natural laws.

b. The amazing complexity of the human eye shows that God exists.

c. The amazing complexity of the human brain shows that God exists.

Or, as said before in the first part of this Teleological Argument section, it shows that God's existence is even more unlikely than these things evolving. Other books, (e.g. Dawkins) treat this kind of argument more thoroughly than I could. However, I'll mention that a recent computer simulation, using the most pessimistic and conservative assumptions, showed that a fishlike eye with a retina and lens could evolve from a light-sensitive flat skin, in under 400,000 generations. Considering that the typical generation time for small animals is less than a year, the time required for a complex eye to evolve turns out to be too short for geologists to measure.[6] Our planet today hosts a huge variety of creatures having eyes at every evolutionary stage, from primitive light-sensors to the eyes of eagles.

Dr. Kennedy's discussion of the eye is a good example of what Dawkins calls the Argument From Personal Incredulity. This is a very weak kind of argument, for it is based in ignorance. Dr. Kennedy's personal inability to grasp a concept is irrelevant to its validity.

As a counter to the "intelligent design" argument, one can reasonably claim that certain biological design features embody sloppiness on the part of the creator:

  • Babies can swallow and breathe simultaneously, until the larynx descends after two or three months, making us prone to choking. Why would a supposedly intelligent creator combine our breathing and eating channels into one single orifice? Think of the lives this slipshod design has cost.
  • How about the appendix and tonsils? Leaving such useless and dangerous components in the final-version human speaks ill of the creator's intelligence.
  • In human males, the urethra passes right through the prostate gland, a gland prone to infection and subsequent enlargement, which blocks the urethra. A better plumbing design requires little intelligence.
  • Most any man, when questioned, would agree that having a scrotum, leaving his reproductive organs in an extremely vulnerable position, might not have been a particularly good idea.
  • Other creatures have unnecessary features also, such as vestigial structures in whales and some snakes, or nonfunctional wings on some insects. An example of suboptimal design is also obvious in the African locust, in which the abdomen nerves are co-opted in flight because they connect to the wings located in the thorax.

If God made us out of whole cloth, wouldn't he be capable of conceiving better plans? It's easier to blame these biological puzzles on an evolutionary process.

I believe in God because the presence of God and Jesus in people's lives helps them, and can transform them into better persons.

Here we see yet another rhetorical device known as ignoratio elenchi, or the fallacy of Irrelevant Conclusion, which consists of claiming that an argument supports a particular conclusion when it actually has logically nothing to do with that conclusion. He first asserts that God exists. Then he says belief in God is of great help to people. This does not mean that God exists. It's like saying "I believe in Santa Claus because Santa Claus helps young children become better people via a system of rewards for good behavior." Such fallacious arguments are often successful because they arouse emotions which cause others to view the supposed conclusion more favorably.

God is necessary for a happy, fulfilled life. Unbelievers are unhappy.

Most non-Christians would disagree with both statements. George Bernard Shaw said it best: "The fact that a believer may be happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunk is happier than a sober man." Nonbelievers don't believe, simply because the kind of "happiness" offered by religion appears hollow to them, as a drug-induced high.

God's morals and manners

Even if the Christian God of the Bible does exist, one must consider his actions and decide whether or not he warrants respect, much less worship. There is no reason to feel that being the creator earns perfect rights. Does a child owe an abusive parent perfect obedience? Let's look at some examples of God's behavior, as described in the Bible.

Capricious:

  • God commands Moses to plead with the Pharaoh to release the Jews from Egyptian bondage, while at the same time bragging that he will harden the Pharaoh's heart to prevent the Jews from leaving. (Exodus 7)
  • God then visits plagues upon the Pharaoh and his people (Exodus 7-12) as punishment for the newly-heart-hardened king, as if the Pharaoh's recalcitrance was his own doing.
  • God commands king David to take a census (2 Samuel 24:1), and then shortly thereafter (24:10) prepares to punish David for having taken a census.
  • In Genesis 19, Lot offers up his two virgin daughters to be gang-raped by a mob, in an effort to protect two angels who don't even need that kind of help - they strike the men blind. Did the angels truly apply themselves to their task of spotting the righteous, and was this the best they could do? God accepts this scum as a "righteous" man, and spares him and his family from the destruction of Sodom.

Petulant:

  • Achan, one of Joshua's soldiers at Jericho, violates divine prohibition by keeping some of Jericho's sacred objects as souvenirs. God not only turns his anger toward Achan, but he also puts to death Achan's sons, daughters, oxen, asses, and sheep, though they were innocent of complicity in Achan's offense.
  • Jesus pronounces a withering curse upon a fig tree for not bearing fruit (Matthew 21:18-19); he apparently considers this behavior acceptable, even though, Mark adds, "it was not the season for figs." (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21) (By the way, Mark and Matthew disagree about when the tree died: immediately, or the next day.)
  • The God of infinite mercy and wisdom sends two bears to rip apart 42 children after Elisha cursed them for mocking his baldness. (2 Kings 2:23-24)

Lying:

  • Who really sinned? Eating of the tree was not forbidden to the serpent. God lied to Adam about the consequences of eating the fruit, whereas the serpent told Eve the truth. One might also notice that Adam and Eve couldn't know it was wrong to disobey God's command until they learned of right and wrong via the forbidden fruit.
  • "And Samuel said, How can I go? If Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the LORD said, Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the LORD." (1 Samuel 16:2)

Sanctioning slavery:

All of the Bible takes slavery for granted. Exodus 21:2-6 describes rules of indenture for slaves, and Deuteronomy 20:12-14 might be interpreted as God ordering slave-capturing expeditions. In Ephesians 6:5, slaves are supposed to obey their masters almost as if they were Jesus Christ himself. The only concession in the opposite direction is that masters should be good to their slaves (6:9). Elsewhere, (1 Peter 2:1318) we find that everyone should simply obey their superiors because God wills it.

Genocidal:

  • Apparently incapable of reforming anyone, God concludes that humanity is wicked beyond redemption and decides to slaughter all but eight in a great flood.
  • Similar to the story of Achan where the innocent are exterminated, God commands the total destruction of the troublesome Amalekites - ". . . kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." (1 Samuel 15:2-3) Samuel found fault with King Saul because he did not try to kill all the sheep and cattle; killing all the people evidently was not enough.
  • Other examples abound. In Deuteronomy we learn that the Promised Land is for the Israelites, and not for the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, or the Jebusites; these peoples are to be exterminated without mercy. The Israelites proceed accordingly (by their own account); they kill the Amorites of Heshbon (Numbers 21:25, Deuteronomy 2:34), the followers of Og (Numbers 21:34,35), practically all the people of Jericho (Joshua 6), all the people of Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, and the surrounding landscape (Joshua 10:2840), the people of Gaza, Askelon, and Ekron (Judges 1:1819), 10,000 Moabites (Judges 3:29), 10,000 Perizzites and Canaanites (Judges 1:4), "all the hosts of Sisera" (Judges 4:16), 120,000 Midianites (Judges 8:10), the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:12, 13, 20), the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:11), and so on, in an endless orgy of bloodshed.

One finds an interesting exception to this vile pogrom in Numbers 25:16-17 and 31:7-8. Here the Israelites were supposed to kill all the men and married women of the Midianites, but keep the virgins around for themselves.

I am disappointed that some people attempt to defend this carnage described in the Bible. The "justifications" given (often related to wickedness) certainly do not warrant killing the innocent people among the groups massacred. Consider that the Nazis had similar justifications for their genocidal activities - that Jews were the enemies of civilization, that they were loansharking bankers, that lecherous Jewish boys liked to seduce virtuous Nordic girls, etc.[7]

God commanded the Israelites, "Thou shalt not murder." Then he told them to go and kill everyone in the land of Canaan. Christians will argue that God and the Israelites understood the difference between murder and warfare. But the injunction from God went far beyond going to war! It was an order for genocide - execution of everyone including women and children. That's murder, any way you look at it; evidence that the Bible does not represent the word of a loving god.

Other Arguments and Counter-arguments

Just for fun, let me look at some other arguments concerning the existence or nonexistence of God, or the validity of a belief in God. Someone has to do this; Dr. Kennedy certainly ignores these challenges, although his book claims to provide information to help the faithful face attacks from unbelievers. First let me dispense with two ridiculously trivial ones I have seen:

Argument 1: The Bible says "There is no God."

Indeed it does! (Psalms 14:1 and 53:1) However, this quote is presented grossly out of context. Proper context: The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God."

Argument 2: God is corrupt, and should not be worshipped.

1. Power corrupts.

2. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

3. God is all-powerful.

4. Therefore, God is absolutely corrupt.

This argument is valid, but it relies on clichés as its premises. The conclusion is sound only if you agree that the premises are true always.

Now let's move on to more legitimate arguments.

Argument 3: God's defining attributes lead to contradictions.

The typical form of the argument, as it relates specifically to omnipotence, goes like this: If God is omnipotent, he can do anything. This means he must be able to create a rock too heavy for him to lift. But being unable to lift it means that God cannot be omnipotent! And being unable to create such a rock means also that God cannot be omnipotent. Either way, omnipotence leads to contradiction. Therefore an omnipotent god cannot exist.

Let me try to lay out a more general version of this argument:

Knowledge of God's existence must consist of evidence, and a definition of what God is. No evidence has been observed that cannot be explained without the God hypothesis, therefore the only logical default position to take is that of nonbelief. Furthermore, Christians define God as a logical impossibility: God is unlimited, yet limited by his own limitless attributes. God is all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing, and still is unable (not omnipotent) or unwilling (not omnibenevolent) to do certain things like stopping needless suffering. Having no evidence of God's existence, and faced with the logical impossibility inherent in the definition of God, one is left with no other conclusion than "belief in God makes no sense."

Having reached this conclusion, some are willing to accept a new definition of God, a God that still can't be shown to exist or not-exist. But any new definition would not describe the same entity; saying, in effect, that a rose is not a rose.

One way to escape from this logical snare is to declare that God is not constrained to logic; or God's logic is not human logic. This position has one nasty little problem that many Christians overlook: If God is not constrained to logic, then God's promises, as recited in the Bible, cannot be trusted either! If "God's logic" means that "thou shalt not murder" is not a commandment for God, then God can murder at will. If "God's logic" means that he can say one thing and then do something else (see "Capricious" above), who is humanity to complain? A God not constrained by logic is also not constrained by any apparent promises, because God can then fulfill them in ways that seem like swindle to us! Caveat emptor. The argument cuts both ways. Most theologians have this one figured out, but the "God's logic" rationale remains popular among Christian laity.

Sillier versions of this contradiction argument have God creating square circles or spherical blue cubes that are red. A better way out of these logical dilemmas is to devise more precise definitions of attributes like omnipotence, so that contradictions don't enter the picture. See Argument 6 below for further details.

Argument 4: The ontological first cause argument.

This Design Argument is derived from the Cosmological Argument. Here's how it goes: "Given any acceptance of reality, you cannot take the position that God does not exist. Something created reality. Even if the universe did begin with the Big Bang, there had to be something there in the first place to create it. If it wasn't created then where did it come from?"

Why is it that theists never see the problem with this? One does not solve anything by introducing a superior being. This only introduces an intermediate, which begs the question, where did God come from? Who was his creator? Do you honestly believe that God just came into existence from nothing?

This leads to the question: If a creator created the universe, what created the creator? Defining "what" only carries one deeper into a spiral of improbability, an infinite regression of gods creating gods, all purely speculative. The only escape is to declare that the creator was not created and just "is" (or "was"). From here we must ask what is wrong with saying that the universe just "is" without introducing a creator? Indeed Stephen Hawking, in his book A Brief History of Time, explains his theory that the universe is closed and finite in extent, with no beginning or end. And Kennedy claims that new advances in science support Scripture?

If the known universe began with a singularity, we cannot know what came before. We can't assume that the universe as a whole appeared in that instant; introducing such a need for a god's existence would require violating the law of conservation of energy. Since no exceptions to the law of conservation of energy are known, why assume the universe did not exist before the Big Bang?

Certainly, it is possible that some mysterious being external to the known universe may have existed before the Big Bang, and may have even initiated it, but this tells us nothing about the nature of this being or its existence. This being doesn't need to be a god in any meaningful sense of the word, not even a deist god.

Argument 5: The failed test.

 

And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have Faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that these things he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. (Mark 11:22-23)

Here the Bible can actually be tested. Can we be shown this bona-fide miracle like Jesus promised us merely by lacking doubt? Either one can fulfill the promises Jesus said are possible, or no Christian can. And none can. So if we cannot trust the specific and testable promises from the son of God in a divinely inspired Bible, why should we trust promises of things not so readily testable, such as the promise that only those who declare Jesus is the son of God and believe in him will go to heaven?

Argument 6: The Problem of Evil.

The Problem of Evil has bedeviled conventional western monotheism (primarily Judeo-Christian-Islamic beliefs) since before such beliefs gained preeminence. Many questions arise in this vein: Was there no good or evil prior to creation? If so, then how can a God who created evil be perfect and good? If good and evil existed before creation, and he didn't do something about evil, then how can God be omnipotent and omnibenevolent? If God just chose to ignore the problem, wouldn't that make him culpable for all evil that has ever occurred?

Formally, the Problem of Evil goes something like this:

1. Premise: There exists a God.

2. Definition: God is by definition omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent.

3. Hence God would know about all evil that exists (being omniscient), have the ability to end all evil (being omnipotent), and have the utmost desire to do so (being omnibenevolent).

4. Premise: Yet, evil exists.

5. This fact (premise 4) contradicts the logical conclusion from premise 1 and its attendant definition.

6. Conclusion: God, as defined above, cannot exist.

This argument is tough to break. Many theists avoid it by redefining "God" to exclude or diminish omnipotence or omnibenevolence. However, this approach doesn't quite jibe with the Christian concept, and it begs the question of evil itself. Note that this argument does not prove that no gods can exist - it works only for a narrowly-defined idea of the divine. The Problem of Evil cannot be applied to many eastern religions, Hinduism for example. Pre-Christian paganism and animism also have no Problems of Evil either.

There are other ways the Christian theist can try to avoid this problem. One way proposes that the world we live in is the best of all possible worlds. This seems rather unlikely, and it's easy to counter. Another strategy is to posit that evil serves a purpose. That is, God "so loved us" that he gave us a choice and hence has "allowed" evil to exist. One can use a moral argument against this approach, by pointing out that if we were to love our children in such a "benevolent" fashion, no one would consider us very loving. How then can you make such a claim about a supposedly perfect being? Finally, a Fundamentalist might take the position that "evil is God's will" (i.e. don't question it). This position cannot be debated because there is nothing rational here to debate.

There are two counters to the Problem of Evil that actually seem to work. One is used by educated theists and the other is used by positivists. First, let's introduce more refined definitions of omniscience and omnipotence:

 

Omniscience
Knowledge of all things that can be known (without engendering a logical contradiction)

 

Omnipotence
The ability to do all things that are logically possible.

 

Educated Judeo-Christian-Islamic theists typically use these definitions. The "logic" limitation to these attributes means logical contradiction is outside of God's power or knowledge (for example, God cannot create a rock too heavy for him to lift). Does this restrict such a being? No. Logical contradictions, according to conventional logic, occupy the empty set, so nothing is actually excluded. Given this, a theologian might offer the following defense against the Problem of Evil argument:

1. Premise: A universe with free will is more valuable than any universe without it.

2. Premise: God gave Man and the Angels free will.

3. Since both Angels and Man have free will, God cannot know what actions either will take beforehand, and cannot force either to perform only good actions (otherwise this would engender a logical contradiction with free will.)

4. Hence both the Angels and Man are free to commit both good actions or evil actions, by individual choice.

5. Therefore social evils are the moral responsibility of humans, while natural evils (famine, pestilence, etc.) are the moral responsibility of the fallen Angels.

The crux of this defense is obvious: God cannot be held responsible for evil. We are! If we do in fact have free will, then this defense almost works. However, it suffers from ontological extravagance: To make it work, you need to introduce a whole race of superbeings (fallen angels) that no empirical test can prove or disprove. Although this does not invalidate the defense per se, it does make it seem a bit silly to a skeptic, for whom the argument was designed to convince.

The positivist attacks the Problem of Evil argument by questioning premise 4 of the original argument ("Yet, evil exists"). You need to show a positivist what "evil" is outside a human/social context for the argument to have any meaning at all. If one has no concept of "evil" or "sin" in a non-ambiguous religion-independent way, then the argument is a non-issue. Needless to say, a Christian cannot take the positivist position.

Argument 7: You cannot prove that God does not exist.

Which god? Shiva? Odin? Poseidon? Jehovah? Zeus? The various religions of the world cannot prove that the gods of other religions don't exist either.

The point here is, the burden of proof of Jehovah's existence rests on the shoulders of believers in Jehovah who make the claim. Many nonbelievers have no interest in proving the nonexistence of God; after all, why prove something you never said? They simply feel the question is irrelevant to their lives, so they have no belief concerning God. These nonbelievers often become understandably impatient with Christians who can't substantiate their claims, who demand proof of a negative instead.

Argument 8: Believing in God is a safe bet (Pascal's wager).[8]

Blaise Pascal is presumably the first to have proposed this rationale for believing in God. It goes something like this: "If you believe in God and turn out to be wrong, you have lost nothing. If you don't believe in God and turn out to be wrong, you will suffer for eternity. Therefore it is sensible to believe in God." I hear this argument quite often. Theists who offer it seldom realize its flaws:

  • Which religion should you follow, and which hell should you avoid? You can choose from many mutually exclusive and contradictory religions. A follower of one religion might end up in another religion's version of hell.
  • The statement that "If you believe in God and turn out to be wrong, you have lost nothing" is false. If you choose to believe in the one God, you risk punishment from another God. Also, note that those who reject medicine in favor of prayer often do lose something - their lives.
  • This argument rashly assumes that the two possibilities of existence or non-existence are of comparable likelihood. If God's existence is in fact near zero probability, the argument becomes much less convincing.
  • Belief is not a matter of will or cost-benefit analysis. For intellectually honest people, belief is based on evidence, with a dash of intuition.
  • I won't go into a formal logical analysis here, but suffice it to say that such an analysis shows that this argument either violates information entropy by creating information from no information, or one of the premises turns out to state the Christian position, which does little to convince a nonbeliever.
  • If God is omniscient, he will certainly know who really believes and who believes as a wager. He will spurn the wagerer, if God actually cares at all whether people believe in him. And if God would instead favor hypocritical piety over honest disbelief, he is not worthy of worship. Either way, Pascal's wager when combined with God's omniscience leads to the conclusion that it is better to doubt honestly God's existence - a contradiction of the original argument.

Argument 9: Liar, Lunatic or Lord?

C. S. Lewis presented this argument rather eloquently in Mere Christianity (book II, chapter 3). In short, it goes something like this:

1. The Bible says Jesus called himself Lord.

2. If Jesus is not Lord, then Jesus either lied intentionally, or he must have been a madman to make such a claim.

3. We know from his morals as described in the Bible, that he likely was not a liar, and his behavior certainly does not seem like that of a lunatic.

4. Therefore, we must conclude that Jesus is Lord.

This is a good logical argument. However, it demonstrates a fallacy which we might call a "trifurcation" or a "false trilemma." It restricts the conclusion to one of only three unlikely choices, when in fact there are more. One possible alternative is that Jesus was misquoted in the Bible. Another is that early Christians embellished or made up stories about him.

Note that in the New Testament, Jesus never actually says he is Lord (and such a concept is blasphemous to other Jesus-believing faiths such as Islam). The godhood of Jesus was declared only after the deaths of Jesus and his twelve disciples. It is true that John 10:30 has him saying "I and my Father are one," but the ambiguity of this phrase leads to serious diverging opinions about what it means. Does it mean "We are the same person" or "We have exactly the same approaches and goals"? The Bible also says that when a couple marries, the two become one. Should we take this to mean, then, that a husband and wife are literally the same person?

Other arguments.

How do you know that your god exists? Why do you think he's not lying to you? What proof, besides circular reference to the Bible, do you have that your god is the only god there is, as opposed to, say, Odin or Zeus? Interestingly, in the Bible Jehovah occasionally acknowledges the possible existence of other gods, for example Genesis 3:22 ("the man has become like one of US") and Exodus 20:3 ("no other gods before Me").

Conclusion

Dr. Kennedy writes much of this chapter on the wonders of nature, and concludes that one must credit God with designing it all. There is another, different, religious viewpoint to this. As someone who is not a member of any established religious faith, I nevertheless cannot call myself non-religious. The following quote from Albert Einstein echoes my own feelings on the wonders of the universe we live in:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. This insight into the mystery of life, coupled as though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men.[9]

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For more information about the Teleological Argument, see this chapter's appendix, "Analysis of the Teleological Argument by Eric Sotnak.

 


NOTES

[1] Some of this discussion on nonbelievers' morals can be found in the "Frequently Asked Questions" articles posted monthly to the alt.atheism newsgroup on usenet.

[2] Freethought Today, September 1991, p. 12.

[3] Adolf Hitler, from Mein Kampf, translation by Ralph Mannheim.

[4] Time magazine "State of the Union" report, January 30, 1995, p. 72.

[5] This short line of reasoning on the Design Argument was paraphrased from the "Frequently Asked Questions" in the alt.atheism usenet newsgroup.

[6] Richard Dawkins, "The Eye in a Twinkling," Nature vol. 368, p. 690.

[7] The numerous examples of genocide and following editorial comment was paraphrased from Loren Petrich (email removed), "Biblical Satanic Verses."

[8] Discussion of Pascal's wager adapted from the alt.atheism "Frequently Asked Questions" article.

[9] Albert Einstein, Living Philosophies (1931) Simon & Schuster.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The following people made some enlightening comments in the public usenet discussion forum alt.atheism. These comments contributed to this commentary, mostly to the section on counter-arguments.

Bryan Ayers (email removed)
William Barwell (email removed)
Ian Chapman (email removed) - "Problem of Evil"
Larry Loen (email removed) - "constrained by logic"
Lawrence McKnight (email removed)
James L. Miles (email removed)
Herman Miller (email removed)
Patrick Rogoschewsky (email removed)
Damion Schubert (email removed)
David Sumner (email removed)
Von Draco (email removed)

And these individuals provided input to the Cosmo/Teleological argument discussion:

John Hoerr (email removed)
S. Joel Katz (email removed)
Keith A. Schneider (email removed)
Jeffrey Shallit (email removed)
Evan W. Steeg (email removed)

 

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