Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Delusion Confusion 7

* Below is part 7 of a response to Richard Dawkins book "The God Delusion"
**I'm dealing with pages 100-136 here

In this chapter, Dawkins is basically attempting to dismantle a number of arguments for God's existence. Below I will list the 'proofs' he deals with, describe his problem (P) with them, and respond (R) with my own feedback:

1. There must be a first cause
P- Even if true, it doesn't tell us anything about the cause
R- Clearly Dawkins avoids the strength of the argument (that it shows there must be a first cause) by simply dismissing it with critical words (dubious, arbitrary) apart from actual argument. He then points out that nothing about this 'cause' can be learned from the argument. While this is an overstatement (certainly the idea that the cause resulted in this particular kind of creation tells us something about the cause), every Christian apologist would agree that the first cause argument doesn't give us much information. It isn't intending to. Agreeing with your opponent is not winning a debate! He quickly switches enemies and attacks and apparent contradiction b/w God's omniscience and omnipotence. Thus, I found his response to this argument very weak.

2. The universe appears designed
P- Darwin shows how things can appear designed without actually being designed
R- Even if Darwinian evolution is true it only shows how complex life (that appears designed) could possibly come from simple life (that, we know now, also appears designed). Dawkins is avoiding the subject of the appearance of design in non-living things (laws of nature). He himself is willing to admit that life may have been placed here by design (aliens).

3. A perfect being must exist
P- A big chunk of the chapter is spent showing the weakness of the ontological argument.
R- I think the ontological argument is worthless too. I wonder why he spent so much time on it. At least the section gives us the chance to hear Dawkins say he doesn't like (and doesn't really get) philosophy.

4. Life is beautiful
P- The existence of beautiful things in culture proves culture, not God
R- The argument from beauty is not really a proof (for the brain), but for the heart. I don't think it is even worth arguing over this point.

5. People have experienced God
P- Dawkins claims that all such experiences are delusions.
R- Certainly some religious experiences are delusions. But since we are dealing with many throughout human history, we certainly should not dismiss them as quickly as Dawkins has done here.

6. Scripture is of divine origin
P- He says that scholarship has shown that the Scriptures are unreliable and written long after Jesus
R- To be honest, Dawkins is so misinformed in this section that this paragraph would get way too long to read comfortably. I will make a list below, but will save further comments until we deal with his later chapter on the Bible's supposed faults.

- He starts with rhetoric by making it sound like there are just a few holdout believers in the divine origin of Scripture. False, the majority of the world probably believes divine texts exist.
- He thinks the historical evidence that Jesus claimed divinity is minimal. False, this could only be stated by someone very ignorant of how Jesus spoke, acted, and related to people and the institutions of his day.
- He thinks that even if Jesus did claim it, he could have been honestly mistaken (and yet implies this wouldn't make him a crazy person). False, if Jesus thought he was God and wasn't, he was crazy.
- The scholarly case against the reliability of Scripture is overwhelming. False, it's reliability has stood the test of time.
- The NT was written long after Jesus. False, it was written within a generation.
- Paul mentions almost none of the alleged facts of Jesus' life. False, Paul writes to people with a previous understanding of who Jesus was/is.
- The Gospel is borrowed from the myth religions. False, this was proven false a hundred years ago.
- The genealogies of Jesus contradict each other. False, I believe one is Mary's and one is Joseph's.
- The 4 Gospels were chosen arbitrarily. False, there was intense criteria. They were recognized early on and only institutionalized later on.
- The authors of the Gospels never met Jesus. False, the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses or associates of eyewitnesses.
- A serious case can be made that Jesus never existed. False, there is plenty of evidence outside of the Bible for the basic features of Jesus' life. Only if we hold this bit of history to a totally different standard due we arrive at such a conclusion. Dawkins even dismisses this (so why mention it?).
- The Christians changed OT passages (like Isaiah's young maiden) to fit their theology (like the virgin birth. False, the Jews translated it virgin long before the 1st century.

7. Some smart people believe
P- Dawkins dismisses most of this by saying that most of the 'Christian' scientists of the past would be atheists if they lived today. He then states that many apparently religious scientists today are only religious in the Einsteinian sense. He then admits that some are genuinely religious and simply says such cases baffle him! He later states the, nevertheless, the best scientists are not religious.
R- The first point is worthless and arbitrary. I'd agree with the second point. The third point is telling. The fourth point is circular.

8. It's a better bet to believe
P- Pascal's Wager could only ever be an argument for feigning belief in God.
R- I generally agree.

9. Theism is highly probable
P- If you put reality into an equation it becomes obvious that God is more likely real than not.
R- I don't think this type of proof has much substance or worth either.

Questions for Discussion:
1. Which of the above arguments do you consider the strongest argument for God's existence?
2. Which of the above arguments do you consider the weakest argument for God's existence?
3. Are there arguments for God's existence that you wish he would have dealt with?

Friday, July 16, 2010

How many times...

This video tests your observation skills. How many times does the white shirted team pass the ball?

Friday, July 09, 2010

Delusion Confusion 6

* Below is part 6 of a response to Richard Dawkins book "The God Delusion"
**I'm dealing with pages 85-99 here

Just a few odds and ends to deal with at the end of chapter 2. Dawkins writes briefly about prayer, evidence & the probability of E.T. life.

Dawkins speaks of various studies of prayer that demonstrate that prayer doesn't actually work. I think any thinking person would recognize the many stupidities involved in the experiment described in the middle of page 86. I, myself, really struggle with prayer. That might seem strange for a pastor to say, but I find it to be a very difficult subject to think about. But one thing I do know is that prayer is not powerful in and of itself. It's not like a vending machine in which we're guaranteed B3 b/c we put in our 50 cents. Nor is God like Santa Claus. Prayer must be thought of carefully and not in such childish manners.

Dawkins has a real problem with Swinburne's statement that "Too much evidence [of God] might not be good for us" (89). But again, I'm not sure how deeply Dawkins is willing or able to think on these issues. Perhaps there is something of 'free will' which is negated by an over-abundance of evidence. These are deep issues worth thinking about, but I see no reason to deny God because of them.

Dawkins says that science chips away at agnosticism on various fronts. The more we utilize science to chip away at the unexplained, the less we should feel the need to resort to God. This leads to a growing naturalism. Using this naturalistic worldview, our agnosticism about alien life is also chipped away. It is becoming more and more probable, according to Dawkins, that life exists on other planets. He thinks it is probably superhuman life (to the point of being god-like). Indeed, he states that these aliens are god-like "in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine" (98). That strange statement aside, I can certainly see how a naturalistic worldview leads to belief in aliens.

Questions for Discussion:
1. Do you believe there is any power in prayer? In what sense(s)?
2. Do you think experiments trying to prove/disprove prayer are valid? Why?
3. Do you agree with Swinburne that too much evidence might not be good for us in matters of religion? Or do you agree with Dawkins that if there is a god(s) he/she/it should overwhelm us with evidence? Would this chip away at free will?
4. Do you think alien life exists? Why?
5. Dawkins has claimed that life on earth might have been intelligently placed here by extra-terrestrials. Do you find this to be a startling admission? If true, does this solve the dilemma of the origins of life or just push it further into the galaxy?