The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth after his unjust death stands at the very heart of the Christian faith.
If materialism is true, it goes without saying that the prior plausibility of a corpse coming back to life through random physical processes is extremely small.
However, some atheist apologists go farther than that and argue that even if God existed, the probability of His raising Jesus from the dead would be incredibly low.
Atheistic philosopher Jeffery Jay Lowder (who is a nice, respectful, well-articulated, intelligent and decent man) put it like this:
B3: Approximately 107,702,707,791 humans have ever lived. Approximately half of them have been male. B4: God, if He exists, has resurrected from the dead at most only one person (Jesus).
B3 and B4 are significant because they summarize the relevant evidence about God’s tendency to resurrect people from the dead (assuming God exists). They show why the resurrection has a low prior probability even for theists. Once we take B3 and B4 into account, the prior probability of the resurrection is less than or equal to 5.0 x 10-12. In symbols, Pr(R | B1 & B3 & B4) <= 5.0 x 10-12.
I shall reformulate his argument in a simpler way while emphasising a most problematic hidden assumption.
From the 100 000 000 humans who have ever lived under the sun, none has been resurrected by God’s mighty hands.
Consequently, the probability that a human being chosen at random gets raised from the dead is less than 10-11.
3. God would be as interested in resurrecting Jesus as he would be in resurrecting a random human being.
4. Hence the prior probability of Jesus’ resurrection is less than 10-11.
Although premise 1) might be begging the question against claims of miracles, I shall accept it as true.
Premise 2) is totally uncontroversial. So what truly stands in the way of the conclusion is premise 3).
Why on earth should we assume that Jesus was only a random human being to God? This probability seems unknown to me unless one makes assumptions about the divine Being, i.e. one engages in theology.
(The are good articles written by professional philosopher of science John Norton explaining why epistemic ignorance cannot be represented by a probability distribution , , )
Lowder seems to be aware of this. A (godless) commenter wrote:
“Your estimate of 5.0 x 10-12. assumes that Jesus is a typical human. But if not, if B1A: Jesus is the second person of the Trinity is true, P(B2) becomes much higher, possibly of order 1. In that case the relevant unknown is P(B1A | B1). While that may be small, I doubt if it’s anywhere near as small as 5.0 x 10-12.”
His response was:
“There are not any reliable statistics for the reference class of men who are the second person of the Trinity. Thus, the reference class that must be used is the broadest one for which we have reliable statistics, viz., men.”
But this is clearly begging the question.
Why should we assume that Jesus was a random human being to God?
Because this is the only way we can approximately calculate the prior probability of his resurrection.
And why should we assume that this value approximates anything if we don’t know whether or not he was just an ordinary man to God?
So I think that unbelievers cannot argue from ignorance here. They should instead give us positive grounds for thinking that Jesus wasn’t special to God.
Materialism is the belief that matter is the ultimate reality, that is to say that everything is material so that there are no such things as souls or numbers.
In a previous post, I argued that materialism seems to be self-contradictory because the concept of “everything” appears to be irreducible to anything more fundamental.
In the following blog post, I want to reformulate my argument in a way that makes it easier to be analysed and criticised.
It basically goes like this:
1) According to materialism, every truth corresponds to a material state of affairs independent of human language, i.e. a combination of interacting particles located in space and time.
2) But the truth of materialism itself cannot correspond to any such combination of spatially and temporally located interacting particles.
3) Hence materialism cannot be true.
3) is entailed by 1) and 2).
Consequently, you have to reject at least one of these to avoid the conclusion.
Can the truth of materialism correspond to a material state of affairs?
First of all, readers might be astounded by my assertion in 2). I shall try to lay out here what I mean by it.
The truth of materialism means that ALL things are material. This in itself consists of two conditions.
A) Entity 1, entity 2…entity n (whereby n can be infinite) are material, that is to say combinations of interacting particles located in time and space.
B) Entity 1, entity 2…entity n (whereby n can be infinite) are everything that exists.
This is illustrated in the following figure.
Materialism cannot just depend on condition A). For it not only entails that the entities in the circle are material but also that they are ALL THERE IS, so that there is NOTHING outside the circle.
And that very property can neither be located in space nor in time. Nor can it consist of 100,00; 10E+34 or any other number of particles.
What are truths under materialism?
This naturally leads us to examine claim 1).
All materialists are nominalists which means that they reject the existence of abstract objects (such as numbers) that they view as useful human conventions aiming at describing the natural world.
They also believe that truths such as “It is dangerous to drive after having drunk a bottle of Vodka in five minutes” are ultimately nothing more than the product of human language describing material states of affairs, i.e. a representation in our brains of facts of the external world.
In that particular case, there is nothing over and above the fact that almost every actual human being having ever been in that state is totally incapable of coordinating a complex activity such as steering a car.
Now, what would it mean to reject claim 1)?
A first option would be to reject my assertion that a material state of affairs has to be a combination of particles located in time and space. It is certainly true that materialism itself isn’t well defined. But all materialists I know believe there are no objects outside of time and space and I think that any view denying this would deserve another name altogether.
Finally, you can reject my claim that materialism implies that every truth corresponds to a material state of affairs. That might perhaps be the best way to defeat my argument.
But at the moment, I fail to see how this could make any sense. Basically, this would amount to saying: “Everything is material but certain truths go beyond the material world” which sounds self-contradictory to me.
So I am under the impression that materialism cannot possibly be true.
I’d certainly be glad to learn where you think my reasoning is mistaken.
Could material facts account for the non-existence of any immaterial realms?
Someone objected that I haven’t proven that “there exists no immaterial realms” cannot correspond to a complex set of material states of affairs.
For materialism to be true, there must not be any immaterial parallel realm which has never been and will never be connected with our universe and has no common origin with it.
Could the particles in our universe along with their physical properties render the existence of such a realm impossible ?
Now, the state of the elementary particles making up our universe can have no logical consequence on a realm of existence that has never interacted and will never interact with them and that does not share any common origin with them.
This just isn’t possible unless the particles have some metaphysical power and would, thus, cease to be physical particles.
So I think that premise 2) is the safest part of my reasoning. Regardless of their spatial distribution and energy levels, the elementary particles our universe (or multiverse) is composed of cannot account for the fact of there not being anything else.
Why can’t “everything is material” just be such a material fact?
Someone said that my argument is fundamentally flawed because “everything is material” is a perfectly fine material fact.
At this point, it is important to reflect on the role of language and truth. For a materialist, concepts such as numbers, triangles, everything or nothing are only useful human conventions aiming at describing the empirical world. According to materialism, every truth corresponds to a material state of affairs independent on human language such as the temperature distribution on the surface of the sun.
So the sentences “there are no immaterial realms“, “The material multiverse is all there is” etc. aren’t physical facts as explained in premise 2).
Instead, if they were true they would be metaphysical facts as they would go beyond the physical world.
Whenever we imagine that the universe (or multiverse) is all that there is, we consider “everything” and “nothing” to be real features of the external reality rather than mere human conventions.
In a previous post, I explained why I believe that materialism (the belief that matter is the only reality) cannot make sense of the truth of materialism.
My reasoning was hard to follow and this prompted me to try to reformulate my argument.
Platonism and Nominalism
According to Platonism, abstract objects not existing in space and time (such as numbers, mathematical operations, concepts such as “everything“, “nothing” etc.) are real and necessary to talk about the world.
For instance, while considering the sentence
“All roses in my garden are red”
a Platonist will consider the words “all” and “red” as examples of abstract objects (or universals) which determine its truth or falsehood.
A Nominalist rejects the existence of abstract objects which are considered to be useful human conventions.
According to them, the above sentence can be rephrased as
“Rose number 1, 2, 3…. and N have roughly the same colour as tomatoes”
thereby seemingly doing away with the indispensability of abstract concepts.
It is important to realise that the plausibility of Nominalism stands and falls with its ability to reformulate such statements without the use of any abstract objects.
If abstract objects can be shown to be indispensable to give a meaning to a true sentence describing the real world, Nominalism is false.
What is the truth of materialism?
Materialists MUST be Nominalists as they reject the existence of anything not located in space and time.
At face value, the truth of materialism can be expressed in different equivalent ways:
“Everything is material”
“There is nothing immaterial”
“If (any object)* A exists, A is material”
“If (any object)* A is real, A is material“.
But is there a way to formulate this proposition without (explicitly and implicitly) appealing to any abstract entities?
It seems to me that in that specific context, all words I have underlined are abstract entities or require the meaning of abstract entities such as existence.
The sentences “there exists no such thing as the concept of existence” or “the concept of reality is not real” appear self-contradictory to me.
Note that I am not saying that the underlined words cannot be interpreted nominallistically in other situations.
But here it seems impossible to me to express the truth of materialism while only appealing to material entities.
If I’m right about that, whenever we assert the truth of materialism, we must resort to non-material concepts. In other words, if the truth of materialism is meaningful, non-material concepts must be meaningful as well.
Conversely, if non-material concepts are meaningless, so is the truth of materialism.
Are materialists cutting off the branch they are sitting on?
Another way of looking at this is to consider the truth-value of materialism, that is to say the state of affairs of the world that would make it true.
Suppose that 2 billions years later, our highly advanced descendants feel confident that they know everything that exists.
Would the state of affairs corresponding to materialism simply be: “Object 1 is material, object 2 is material…object N is material“?
No, for it must also include “And objects 1 to N are everything that exists” or ‘”there is nothing else than objects 1 to N”.
It thus appears that as an ensemble, objects 1 to N must have a non-material property (namely that of exhaustiveness) that is not localised in time and space and cannot be identified with any set of interacting primary particles.
Therefore, the impossibility of defining materialism without relying on immaterial concepts goes hand in hand with the impossibility of it being true.
I’d be interested to learn if you think I’m wrong and that you know such formulations which do not merely shift the problem. Of course, one solution of the issue might be to use more modest definitions of materialism that do not try to convey the idea of “nothing else”.
*Some might object that the sentence
If (any object) A is real, A is material
can simply be formulated as
If A is real, A is material.
This clearly raises questions about the implicit meaning of A.
If love exists, love is material
If telepathy exists, telepathy is material
can obviously not serve as the definition of materialism, although they naturally follow from its truth.
Nor can this role be played by the sentence
If Lyurmur exists, it is material
which concerns a specific entity called “Lyurmur“.
It is because of mathematical conventions and our use to them that we automatically assume that “A” in the original sentence means “any object having that property“.
It thus follows that we cannot do away with that concept in such a manner.
A creation of human brains
Someone answered that this isn’t a problem as “everything” can be viewed as an abstraction created by human brains.
If that is the case, without conscious lives in the cosmos, materialism couldn’t be true! Materialism would be a fact of the external world that would not be true if there were no consciousness. That’s certainly a very odd position to hold. Many would say it is plainly absurd as one of the main claims of materialism is the denial that consciousness is anything fundamental.
Moreover, if the concept of “everything” is only a useful convention to simplify our daily talks and theory building, then what does it mean in such a situation where it cannot be reduced to anything else?
I think that the following argument can be developed:
1) If the sentence M “everything is material” is true, then the concept of “everything” must exist either as such or as something reducible to other concepts or objects and not *merely* as a creation of the brain.
2) In that specific context, “everything” cannot be reduced to more fundamental objects.
3) Hence, if M (materialism) is true, “everything” exists as a fundamental object.
I have argued for 2) above and believe it is very implausible that anyone could reduce “everything” to something more fundamental and do away with abstract objects.
I shall thus take it for granted.
Denying 1) would mean that “A is…” can be true even though A does not carry any external meaning and is only correlated to a bunch of neurons. That too seems very implausible as the proposition “The fountain of youth is material” and “The fountain of youth is immaterial” are both false if the fountain of youth does not refer to a putative object.
Consequently, it is very hard to see how a materialist can consider that “everything” is nothing more than neural currents without meaning while believing that the sentence “everything is material” is true.
Not a noun?
Another person asserted that “everything is material” is perfectly fine for a materialist as “everything” is a pronoun and not a noun. I don’t think this is the case.
For an abstract object not existing in time and space does not have to be a noun in a specific language. Consider for example the sentences:
0 roses are red
3 roses are red
7 roses are red
9 roses are red
NO rose is red.
ALL roses are red
EVERY roses are red.
“No”,”All” and “every” are as much abstract objects as “3”, “7” and “9” are.
If “0”, “3”, “7”, “9” have no meaning, neither do the four first sentences.
If “no”, “all” and “every” have no meaning, neither do the three last sentences.
“all” and “every” depend on the concepts of everything in the same way as “something” depends on the concept of something.
The sentence “Fijhfhdfgx is blue” is meaningless without a concept of “Fijhfhdfgx“.
What is more, everything in that context can only mean “every OBJECT” as opposed to “every pineapple or “every wild bears”.
So, I still don’t see how “everything” (every thing) can have a meaning here without the concept of everything and the concept of object.
Replacing “every” by an enumeration
Someone suggested I could just replace “every” by an enumeration of all elements making up reality.
I also first thought of “everything” as a summation (U).
If all the materialist was claiming were that the objects KNOWN TO US are material, an enumeration such as
– This laptop is material
– This rose is material
– Donald Trump’s brain is material
would indeed be perfectly correct. The problem is that most materialists also include all potentially unknown object.And as such, the summation (U) will also have to explicitly mention
“and all potential objects we know nothing about are material“
so that the problem does remain the same.
This seems to be inevitable. Our descendants in 200 000 000 million years would also face the same problem as they too could not rule out the existence of unknown objects in, say, parallel universes.
So I remain convinced that phrases such as “and nothing else exists” cannot be replaced by any combinations of concrete objects.
Actually, in order to avoid a tautology (such as ‘all material things are material’), it appears to me that you must allow for the possibility that the object A could be non-material. And as such, A cannot be considered a physical thing of our universe from the outset without begging the question.
I am all too aware that both liberals and conservatives are unlikely to like this post as it was written by someone who sorts of stands in the middle and doesn’t adhere to the dogmas of either side.
Are liberal Christians all the same?
Are conservative Christians all the same?
No, and I sing the praises of some. A short list, admittedly. And I intensely dislike some ‘conservative’ Christians.
However, if I described the key aspects of liberal Christians that I firmly regard as being essentially anti-Christian, I suspect you’ll find quite the overlap of the Venn diagrams.
By the way, Marc. I recall years ago over at your blog was some snarky little German atheist who used to talk about how the irreligious Germans didn’t really have much of a ‘racism’ problem (compared to the more religious US). I warned at the time that there was quite a lot of people ready and willing to immigrate to Europe, given half a chance, and that the perceived lack of problems wasn’t going to last forever. I recall being laughed at and being told how the only problems were the Turks, and that’s under control.
If ever the opportunity arises, let ’em know that I am laughing my ass off whenever I think of that conversation now.
I recognise at your tone you feel extremely frustrated and angry.
I don’t think this is doing you any good and I honestly don’t believe that this state of mind honours Christ.
I know only few things about your background, life experiences and what you went through.
But I think you’d be better off praying to God that He shows you if certain things you consider to be right might be wrong.
And I shall certainly do the same.
I haven’t got any news from Andy for a long time.
I do believe that we, as Christians, have a duty to welcome and shelter anyone whose live is really threatened.
But Angela’s Merkel decision to accept more than two MILLIONS of migrants was crazy. Many of them are pseudo-refugees. Many of then have no willingness to integrate themselves into the German society.
I am critical of “Black Lives matter” and I just published this blog post.
My opposition to this movement has caused many progressives to call me a “racist” and “white supremacist”.
I am now convinced that liberal cultural warriors aren’t any better than conservative culture warriors.
But I always try to be gracious and respectful towards respectful opponents.
Best wishes and blessings.
Credit where it’s due, Marc. You’re unusual.
That said, I really do what I think is right. Do keep this in mind: you’re coming around to show some sympathy with a point of view that I’ve long occupied. I used to be more moderate. I tried to have a ‘At least we’re all Christian’ attitude with leftist Christians.
Then I started to notice that the leftists didn’t care about God at all. The resurrection? A side-belief at best. No, what was really of interest was motivating the Church to subscribe to whatever the important secular social issues of the day were, with a bit of God-language thrown on them.
I notice, from afar, that the principal opponents to Merkel’s insanity tend to be people holding crosses and having a far more traditional view of Church and State. It’s the liberal Christians and (especially) atheists urging her on.
Besides, the appalling rise of Donald Trump makes it abundantly clear that there are still many Americans of Europeans descent who hate, resent or disdain Afro-Americans.
Why do I even bother?
And just like that, I’m reminded yet again of why I disown the Christian Left. Enjoy your Muslims, Marc. May the liberal parts of Europe give way to sultans, and may the rest be blessed by God.
If black people don’t want me resenting them, they should probably stop all of that rioting and extreme violence.
It would also help me resent them less if there were less black gang-bangers and if they actually made some sort of attempt to form families instead of breeding like rodents.
But what do I know. I’m just a racist.
“If black people don’t want me resenting them, they should probably stop all of that rioting and extreme violence.”
What disturbs me about that sentence is that it involves one hell of an over-generalisation.
“Black” people aren’t a monolithic group. There are as many differences between blacks as there are between “whites”.
Many blacks are appalled by the violence of “Black Lives Matters” and do not feel they represent them.
I agree with you that such acts are indefensible and also completely counter-productive.
But I think you should have written:
“If proponents of Black Live Matters don’t want me resenting them, they should probably stop supporting all that rioting and extreme violence.”
If an Afro-American wrote:
“If white people don’t want me resenting them, they should probably stop discriminating and hating us.”
I would disagree with him for the same reason.
Crude: I don’t expect you to become a liberal Christian.
I don’t expect you to start believing that gay marriage is a good thing.
I don’t expect you to support abortion, all the more so since I believe it should be avoided if the health of the woman isn’t threatened.
But I think that if you call yourself a Christian (and are aware of the Sermon on the Mount), you ought to make a conscious effort to respectfully treat respectful opponents regardless of their ideas.
I’ve always tried to be kind towards you, even when you wrote things I totally disagree with and even when you were insulting towards other commentators on my blog.
“Enjoy your Muslims, Marc. May the liberal parts of Europe give way to sultans, and may the rest be blessed by God.”
You are being quite nasty here. Apart from lumping together all Muslims as raping terrorists, you are assuming that I am happy about the current situation, even though I told you that a (small) part of the migrants are violent pseudo-refugees (who are a threat to Westerners, liberal Muslims, homosexuals, and Arab Christians alike).
By the way, Germany and France didn’t invade Iraq. Without American imperialism, there wouldn’t have been such atrocious destructions in Syria and in the Middle East.
So, I do believe that it is the US who should have welcomed the large majority of them.
Let us not forget that most of them aren’t criminals but people who have lost everything because of us Westerners.
What disturbs me about that sentence is that it involves one hell of an over-generalisation.
What disturbs me about that is that you don’t realize that I’m generalizing.
I’m tired of people pretending they don’t understand that that’s what I’m doing. They do. So I’m not going to apologize for it.
I agree with Malcolm. The need to constantly self-police and forever parse one’s words to exactitude is nonsensical. Especially when Marc himself will talk about how Trump’s rise obviously shows how wickedly horrible and racist towards black the country is.
That said, the black culture is – for a number of reasons – rife with single moms, who are increasingly copping an attitude of ‘I didn’t do nothing wrong!’ and ‘Oh my God for some reason my kids turned out rotten, it’s not my fault’. White culture has its own mass of problems, but I believe in addressing them, and being clear about their racial realities.
As for Marc, well, that warrants a post of its own.
Yeah. When you realize that the one group you actually made an effort to play nice with is ALSO not, and never going to be, willing to give you a fair hearing, you stop caring about what they think of you at all.
Crude, I want to be clear about one thing.
I wouldn’t have commented on your blog if you were just a nasty conservative to me. I think you have been being consumed by anger and hatred for too long. And I really believe this is doing you no good at all.
Malcolm, while some folks might understand it this way, many others will feel insulted.
Whenever liberal culture warriors write: “White men cannot bear the idea of a female leading the mightiest country in the world” I feel really offended and angry.
This is why I think *all* such over-generalisations should be avoided.
This is a straightforward application of the Golden Rule you probably know.
Best wishes, Marc.
“I think you have been being consumed by anger and hatred for too long. And I really believe this is doing you no good at all.”
‘Consumed by anger and hatred’ cashing out to… what? Snarky comments? Openly saying I have no patience for a segment of Christianity which was marking me and people like me as a monstrous hateful person even when I was noticeably more delicate and forever trying to be appeasingly careful with my words?
I express contempt for people who despise me or collude with those who do, and I am ‘consumed by anger and hatred’. You buddy up with people who think the failure to service a same-sex wedding is a criminal act, worthy of firing, fining and jailing, but what, you’re better because in direct conversation you’re civil? No, that’s not even in the realm of sensible.
As for ‘many others will feel insulted’ – they’ve turned feelings of insult into a policing weapon. And when we feel insulted or angry, we’re told – and have been told – to shut up and deal with it, because freedom. We offend, innocently or not, and the rules change; our offense is ‘hate’, which freedom is incompatible with.
You should understand why so many people have decided that the politeness game is no longer one they wish to play.
“Malcolm, while some folks might understand it this way, many others will feel insulted.”
You used an example of people of other races making similar generalizations about whites, and you’re quite correct: When that becomes taboo to say, I’ll stop generalizing about blacks.
I decided not to further engage them as the confrontation was starting to wear me down.
It goes without saying I completely reject their assertion that it is permissible to be nasty towards a respectful opponent because other people holding similar ideas have bullied you.
Nor do I believe that liberals making racist over-generalisations against whites can justify you making racist over-generalisations against blacks. For this is a form of collective punishment.
As a side note, if anyone is interested in learning the reasons why I don’t think that Black Lives Matter is the right way to tackle the undeniable reality of anti-black racism in America, I am certainly willing to talk about that.
But if you believe there cannot possibly be any such reasons, I am probably not worth your while.
I just listened to a talk given by Richard Dawkins.
For those who do not know him, he is the most influential “new atheist” (anti-theist) whose deepest wish would be to rid the world of all religions. Besides that, he is a very gifted evolutionary biologist and writer.
Given his track record and his habit of constantly lumping together all Christians and Muslims and his failure to appreciate the historical and religious contexts in which the Bible and the Koran were written, I expected a highly biased presentation of the facts.
I was pleasantly surprised by his (relatively) moderate tone and even ended up enjoying his show.
The same cannot be said of his followers and the person who titled the video. As we shall see, Dawkins did not “debunk” deism and the “simulation hypothesis”.
At best, he only showed that some arguments for these views are flawed.
In what follows, I want to offer my thoughts about several things he said, albeit not necessarily in a chronological order.
The origin of life and intelligent design
Dawkins recognises that at the moment, we don’t know how life originated. There are several theories out there but they all have their problems and no consensus has been reached.
Of course, our current ignorance cannot be used to argue that no natural phenomena could have been responsible for the appearance of the first self-replicating system.
Dawkins is ready to seriously consider the possibility that life has been seeded on earth by space aliens, which shows a certain mind-openness.
But he is adamant that such creatures could only have evolved through a slow process because the probability of their being formed spontaneously is extremely low.
This begs the question against people holding a religious world view who would say that the creator(s) of life are God(s) who always existed.
This also doesn’t fit in with his beliefs about the origin of the universe, as we will see later on.
Extraterrestrial intelligences and Fermi’s paradox
Dawkins endorses the principle of mediocrity which stipulates that we shouldn’t suppose there is anything special about us.
Thus, since we know there is (advanced) life on earth, we should assume it is widespread across the whole universe.
While being still popular among mainstream scientists, the Principle Of Mediocrity (POM= has grown more controversial over the last years.
Basically, the principle of mediocrity is justified through the principle of indifference (POI), according to which if we know nothing about a situation, we should attribute the same probability to each possibility.
I explained what I consider to be fatal objections to the POI here and here.
As Norton demonstrated, the principle of indifference conflates the difference between knowledge and ignorance and very often leads to arbitrary results (depending on the prior probability distribution one uses).
There is a fundamental distinction between
Situation A) We know that life on earth wasn’t the result of a fluke but that of non-random natural processes
Situation B) We know (almost) nothing about this.
Dawkins went into a paradox mentioned by nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi.
If advanced life is so common in the cosmos, why don’t we see any trace of it?
Several explanations (such as the near impossibility of interstellar travel, the short duration of technological civilisations or their reluctance to interact with such primitive beings as we) have been offered to solve the paradox.
To my mind, while these may be plausible reasons why ten or even hundred extraterrestrial races never approached the earth, they seem extremely far-fetched when applied to millions (let alone billions) of civilisations.
Therefore, I believe that Fermi’s paradox strongly calls in question the conviction that the universe is teeming with advanced life forms.
The fine-tuning argument and the multiverse
Physicists have long since been puzzled by the fact that the constants of nature must lie in a very narrow domain in order to allow for advanced life to exist.
Many theistic philosophers reason like this
All sets of parameter values must have the same probability of being true (applying the Principle Of Indifference mentioned above)
Therefore, the probability of their belonging to a small region is extremely (if not infinitely) small.
It is very unlikely that we are the products of purely natural processes not involving God.
While mainstream cosmologists agree with steps 1 and 2, they then go on to postulate the existence of a (nearly) infinite number of parallel universes covering all intervals of parameter values. A natural consequence of this is that the appearance of a universe such as ours is bound to happen even if no supernatural creator intervenes.
Dawkins considers this the most plausible explanation of the problem.
I have come to the realisation that the whole concept of a fine-tuning problem is misguided because of its reliance on the principle of difference.
The fallacy of doing so has been demonstrated by Norton.
Miracles in an infinite multiverse
According to Clarke’s law, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Dawkins believes there are probably creatures out there who are so superior to us that we could only regard them as gods if they were to visit us. But he insists that they would have been created through evolutionary processes and would not be supernatural beings.
But this means that in order for him to dismiss out of hand the testimonies of witnesses of paranormal events and miracles, he would have to either show that they violate the laws of physics or give us plausible reasons as to why such creatures would not visit us.
He also faces another problem stemming from his belief in an infinite number of parallel universes.
In an infinite space, any event which is physically possible is bound to happen somewhere.
This has led physicists to consider the possibility of so-called Boltzmann’s brains which would pop into existence because of random fluctuations.
While physicists disagree about the frequency of their appearances in a vast multiverse, they all think they will at least exist somewhere.
Actually, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has been able to convincingly demonstrate they would be very rare.
Anti-theists like to mock Christians by comparing their belief in God to the belief in a flying spaghetti monster.
But if we truly live in an infinite multiverse, flying spaghetti monsters too will necessarily exist somewhere.
What is more, physically very improbable events (such as the resurrection of a man from the dead) are also going to happen somewhere through random processes.
As a consequence, the atheist can no longer say “your belief in the miracles of the New Testament is silly because they violate the law of physics”.
The best he could say would be: “While such events really occur somewhere, their relative frequency is so low that it is unreasonable for you to believe they really took place.”
This is no doubt a weaker position which has its own problems.
Finally, I want to go into how Dawkins considers the possibility of being judged by a God he didn’t believe in.
Dawkins says he would react like the late British philosopher Bertrand Russel:
“Confronted with the Almighty, [Russell] would ask, ‘Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?’“
This assumes that God would be mostly offended by Dawkins’ and Russel’s unbelief.
I have argued elsewhere against the notion (held by fundamentalist Christians) that atheism is immoral and that people dying as atheists will be punished because of their unbelief.
I think it is incompatible with the existence of a supreme being which would necessarily be more loving, just and gracious than any human.
But what if the dialogue between God and Dawkins went like that:
“Dawkins: So, you really exist after all! I did not believe in you because I couldn’t see enough evidence.
God: Fair enough. The universe I created is ambiguous and it leaves people the choice to develop a solid moral character or not. I won’t condemn you because you did not believe in me. Yet, we do have a score to settle.
Dawkins: What do you mean then?
God:I gave you a conscience and the knowledge of good and evil. You knew in your heart that you ought to treat your neighbour as you would like to be treated. But you often disregarded this principle. You and your followers have frequently bullied, mocked and ridiculed respectful opponents. You even loudly proclaimed this was the right thing to do.”
Of course, this conversation is completely fictional. I don’t know the content of Dawkins’ heart and cannot rule out the possibility he will be in heaven.
I find that this video of Dawkins is really intellectually stimulating.
I did not feel challenged in my faith/hope there is a supreme being.
On the contrary, this strengthened my belief that atheists cannot confidently assert that “there are probably no gods and miracles.”
Of course, I must recognise there are many atheistic philosophers who are far more sophisticated than Dawkins out there.
But it is worth noting that Dawkins’ books (especially the God delusion) caused many people to lose their faith.
I think that their conversions to atheism are due to his rhetorical skills and not to the strength of his arguments.
I found an interesting post written by an American atheist reporting about her negative experiences with religiously conservative members of her family.
Musings on the Eve of a Family Reunion: Things not to say to your atheist relatives if you want them to continue to enjoy your company
This weekend, we’ll be traveling for my family reunion. Usually, it’s one of the highlights of my summer, but this year…feels different.
I don’t like conflict. It’s not enjoyable for me at all. It makes me feel shaky, to the point where sometimes, I will physically shake. My head will spin a bit. In bygone times, I sometimes backed down from it for just that reason–it felt insurmountable. Nowadays, I’m not so apt to back down, in part because I usually formulate my beliefs based on reasons that I can defend if I need to. That doesn’t mean that I want to, though.
Looking down the barrel of this weekend, I’m incredibly stressed at the prospect of interacting with my family as someone who’s “out and proud” as a nonbeliever. I am afraid of having to constantly defend myself–not because I can’t, but because I don’t want to. I want to be accepted with the same acceptance that I have for them. Unconditionally.
I work best when I can take these worries put them down somewhere outside of my own head, so here’s my list of things you should never say to your atheist relatives if you want them to enjoy your company and not dread having to interact with you. Enjoy.
1. This isn’t how you were raised.
2. You’re just going through a dark time.
3. You’re just rebelling.
4. You just want to be able to sin.
5. Can’t you see God all around you?
6. *any variation of “But Christians really believe this…” or “That person is not really a Christian…”*
7. What does your life mean?
8. What if you’re wrong?
9. How can there be morality without God?
10. Why do you hate something you don’t believe in?
11. You’re just mad at God.
12. You’ve just encountered bad Christians.
13. You really believe.
14. You do have faith. You have to have faith in (science/evolution/etc).
15. Don’t you want to believe? Just in case?
16. God doesn’t believe in atheists.
17. You can’t prove that there’s no god.
18. You’ll be back to God when you need him.
19. Why don’t you give your children a choice?
This is just a brief list, some of which is compiled from personal experience and some from wider stories and interactions online.
Basically, what I’d like to see in interactions with my family is the same lack of ulterior motives that was there before I left religion. I’d like to believe that all of our interactions are in good faith.
I have reason to believe that’s not the case–if there’s one thing our family does well, it’s gossip, and there’s definitely plenty of it circulating right now. I suppose my other wish would be, if I can’t have that lack of ulterior motives, to have brash, bald-faced honesty. I’d rather put it all out there, no half-truths or veiled questions.
If I can’t have no conflict at all, I’d rather just have it out and get it over with.
Instead, I’m stuck somewhere between the two, imagining conversations that might be, and hoping that they won’t be, and wishing that I didn’t have all of this knocking about in my brain. And fully realizing, of course, that it’s just as likely that I’ve blown all of this up in my head because I’m simply an anxious person.
No way to know at the outset. As the cliché goes, the only way out, is through, and so through I go.
Here is my answer to her post where I draw on similar experiences.
I’m an European progressive Christian and really love this post of yours:-)
“I want to be accepted with the same acceptance that I have for them. Unconditionally.”
I truly like that part. I can very well relate to this and hope that things will get better in your case.
Many atheist philosophers would answer that no such thing is possible.
I also want to react to
“19. Why don’t you give your children a choice?”
I am all in favour of giving children a choice. I think that good enlightened Christian parents should always say something similar to that to their offspring: “Look, we’re Christians, we think this is the best worldview and we believe that atheism is wrong and flawed. Yet, we do recognise there are reasonable and lovely people among other religious communities and atheists. Therefore, we really encourage you, our beloved child, to make up your own mind. If you sincerely conclude that atheism is true based, for example, on the problem of evil, then you should follow your conscience and Reason and give up your faith. God will never punish a sincere person following his or her honestly acquired convictions. Either way, stay always kind, loving and humble.”
Since your relatives would most likely never say that to their kids, they’re probably hypocrites ,
Now I wanna share my own experience.
I’m a Germanic Frenchman born in secular France and I often went through an ordeal similar to the one you’ve described.
In France, the reigning ideology is called Jacobinisme and it can be summarised as follows: “French is the only language of the country. All dialects and other languages ought to disappear from the public sphere. Religion is a relic of the past which ought to disappear completely or at the very least become insignificant“.
I fell away from Jacobinisme by beginning to proudly speak and defend the declining German dialect of my region and becoming a Christian.
I then began to hear the following things from relatives and acquaintances:
1) You’re an old-fashioned fossil
2) You’re religious just because you’re “a weak animal”
3) (mocking my German accent)
4) You shouldn’t speak in dialect in the presence of French people
(after I had just whispered something to my father in our Germanic dialect)
5) What a religious brain-washing you underwent!
6) You speak German because you’re a Nazi!
(forgetting that my half-Jewish motherly grandfather could have perished in a Nazi death camp)
I usually also base my beliefs on reasons I can defend and a while ago I decided to react to these claims while trying to remain as kind and respectful as possible.
As a rule, I have no problem defeating their weak arguments and the discussions evolve in other directions 🙂
I wish you good luck with your relatives.
I hope we’ll have opportunities to interact with each other in the future.
Best wishes from Lorraine / Lothringen (my homeland).
(Disclaimer: Let me say from the start, I’m an atheist . . . I consider the Bible a literary fraud and that the characters discussed below never existed.)
Based on a general reading of the Bible, especially the section labeled the Old Testament, the Hebrew god Yahweh (given the Christian title God from the LXX) is portraited as a debauched immoral character, often lacking any ethical conscious while theologically (not Biblically), the figure of Satan unjustly condemned.
To illustrate my point, I’ll breakdown the Bible’s own characterizations God and Satan so the reader can see for him or herself who is really morally debauched (I have left out the Book of Revelation due to the fact that the narratives in this Biblical Book have not taken place, being projected to some apocalyptic future which is theological speculation). Below, is a short list, though any student of the Bible who has a concordance or Bible dictionary will be able to find many more.
Murders men, women, children, babies and the unborn indiscriminately (The Flood of Noah: Genesis 7) God: Yes Satan: No
Commands the Israelites to rape, slaughter, steal / pillage and enslave men, women and children. (The attack on the Midianites in Numbers 31) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands sexual mutilation as a sign of an agreement (Exodus 4:24 – 26 = Genesis 17: 11 -14) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands rape of female children and babies. (Numbers 31: 18 “But all the young (טף) girls ( נשים) who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.” God: Yes Satan: No
Loves precious metals over the lives of humanity. (Joshua 7: 15 & Joshua 7: 25) God: Yes Satan: No
Attacks and curses a talking snake for telling the truth then lies to Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands individual human sacrifice. (The AkedahGenesis 22:1-2; The murder (sacrifice ?) of Jesus; See Gospels) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands the burning of entire cities (שָׂרַף בָּאֵשׁ” or “to burn with fire”) so he can enjoy smelling the smoke of human flesh. (Thus Joshua 6: 21 makes it a point to tell the Jewish reader of this epic that death was to be by “the edge of the sword” before the ritual / sacrificial burning in Joshua 6: 24 could take place.) God: Yes Satan: No
Is never presented in the Bible as a murderer. (Despite Jesus’ assertion in John 8: 44. In Job, (in Job 1: 6 ) tells us that fire fell from God and destroyed Jobs animals. In verse 19, wind causes the house to fall on Job’s young people and, just like the fire from Heaven, God controls all these acts of nature. While Job clearly states in 42: 11 thatit was God who did all the harm to Job, his wealth and his family: “Then came there to him all his brothers, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him,and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought on him.” This is again backed up by Job’s statement in 1: 21: Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there.The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”) God: No Satan: Yes
Commands a following spirits (be they Angels or Demons) to carry out the mass murders in a nation. (The Passover: Exodus 12:29) God: Yes Satan: No
Will torture people forever in the name of love. (Mark 9: 44, 46, & 48) God: Yes Satan: No M. Lies to his own believers in order to kill off anyone stupid enough to to trust him. (The longer ending of the Gospel of Mark 16: 9 – 20). God: Yes Satan: No N. Presented generally in the Bible as a known lair and murderer. God: Yes Satan: No
I think that in order to show that a Biblical passage is immoral, you’ve got to engage in a thorough exegesis (interpretation) of the text revealing that all likely meanings are morally problematic.
It is worth noting that Harry did nothing of the sort: he rather assumed that his interpretations portraying God as deeply evil are the correct ones without explaining us how he got there.
I find his other examples (which I left in black) much more questionable.
For instance, I don’t believe that male circumcision is necessarily harmful. There are many ways of interpreting Genesis 3 and I see no reason to believe that the silliest meaning (involving a speaking snake being cursed) is the correct one.
I did not, however, chose to go into an endless dispute over the meaning of the passages I do not view as immoral.
Instead, I decided to point out the main flaw in Harry’s logics, namely his fundamentalist assumption that the Bible must be judged as an inerrant self-consistent Scripture rather than as a set of religious books written under various historical, cultural and theological contexts.
If we were born under the same circumstances, we’d certainly have thought and behaved like them.
I did mock some beliefs of ancient Greeks as I was an immature teenager. But since then I’ve fortunately grown up.
I find your response very odd.
First off, there is no proof that the Biblical history from Genesis to Solomon is pure fiction. William Propp’s commentaries on Exodus, along with the works of John Van Seters and TL Thompson on the Patriarchs with the fate of King David and Solomon sealed by the Tell Dan Inscription (reading it correctly using the supplied word dividers proves it does not mention “House of David”) has re-enforce the fact that (unlike an ancient Greek texts), the Hebrew alphabetic Semitic script is late; thus there is no trace of one Old Testament verse prior to 250 BCE.
Tom Stark is little more than a liberal Christian as both his writings and lectures reveal (after all, he still teaches at Emanuel School of Religion . . . ). If Stark comes down too hard on the Hebrew Bible, he’ll find that a secular job will be his only finical salvation. His Seminary clearly states: “Emmanuel Christian Seminary is affiliated with the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. These churches are known for their continued commitment to biblical preaching and teaching.”
Though Stark’s book was published in 2011, he fails (more likely, refuses) to cite Propp’s Anchor Bible Commentary on Exodus (final volume published, 2006) or any of TL Thompson’s or John Van Seter’s works from the 1970’s and 80’s. More importantly, while his book deals with human sacrifice in chapter 5, he seems to be totally unaware of Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s major 2002 Oxford dissertation: King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities, Walter de Grutyer, Berlin, 2004. I could go on, but I’ll let these books expose his real methodology . . . how to keep his God (with egg / evil on his face) looking good. Stark is a good P.R . man, but not good enough!
You stated, “I really think you’re giving atheism a bad name.” How would you know? From your comments on other blogs, and, like Thom Stark, you seem to be a liberal Christian. The last minister I talked to who was a member of Stark’s Churches of Christ was dogmatic in telling me that his church is the only true church founded by Jesus himself! Since Thom Stark links himself with this church on his book’s website ( http://humanfacesofgod.com/ ), he and Father Tom of the Greek Orthodox Church should fight it out for a cash first.
If you have a problem with my post, then, using the Biblical text, I would challenge you to point out where it’s wrong; after all, I simply based it on the Bible.
Finally, this blog is called Debunking Christianity for a reason. I rest my case.
Hey, thanks for your answer.
Sorry if I sounded rude.
My main problem with your writing is that you keep talking about THE God of the Bible which entails that the Biblical authors never contradict each other about the moral character of God.
For example, I consider it very far-fetched to pretend that vindictive psalms where the authors pray for the violent demise of the children of their foes are compatible with the command to love our enemies in the New Testament.
To the best of my knowledge, Christian fundamentalists and anti-theists are the only ones who make that claim.
Finally, I consider it very problematic to judge ancient people according to our modern criteria. As theologian Randal Rauser put it:
“I’m willing to concede that there are vestiges of tradition in the ancient Hebrew scriptures that take an affirmative position toward human sacrifice. Does it follow, as Loftus (a militant atheist leading the blog DebunkingChristianity) claims, that we can learn nothing from the cumulative Hebrew tradition as recorded in Scripture? Of course not. Indeed, the claim is completely ridiculous.
To see why, switch your focus from the ancient Hebrews to the ancient Greeks. Let’s take one Greek, the great Aristotle, as our example, and let’s just consider a couple of his beliefs from science, politics and ethics. To begin with, Aristotle believed that the human brain functioned to cool the blood, venting heat like the radiator in a car. Today we would consider this belief wildly false, even laughable. Second example, Aristotle also defended the use of slaves, describing them in his Politics as useful in the manner of domestic animals. This is a shockingly crude and immoral position. Does it follow that we should conclude we can learn nothing from Aristotle? Of course not. The very notion is absurd. What we do, instead, is judiciously read Aristotle, appropriating the wheat and sweeping away the chaff.
Sadly, it is common to find atheists like Loftus crudely dismissing the Hebrew tradition, even as they selectively read and appropriate the Hellenistic tradition. This is completely inconsistent and shows a deep bias against the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
Do Aristotle’s wrong beliefs about slavery mean he didn’t have deep moral insights in other respects?
Anti-theists engage in propaganda and emotional bullying with the hope of deconverting as many religious believers as they can. But if you manage to separate their real arguments from the hateful rhetoric enveloping them, they often prove to be incredibly weak.