bookmark_borderKy. law requires Homeland Security to credit God

I did a double-take when an article came in through the News Wire containing this:

State Rep. Tom Riner, a Southern Baptist minister who was instrumental in establishing that requirement in 2006, disapproves of the fact that Homeland Security doesn’t currently mention God in its mission statement or on its Web site …

The law that organized the Homeland Security office first lists Homeland Security’s duty to recognize that government itself can’t secure the state without God, even before mentioning other duties, which include distributing millions of dollars in federal grants and analyzing possible threats.

My first thought actually was that the article was a hoax, but sure enough, Kentucky Code 39G.010(2)(a) requires the Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security to:

Publicize the findings of the General Assembly stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth by including the provisions of KRS 39A.285(3) in its agency training and educational materials. The executive director shall also be responsible for prominently displaying a permanent plaque at the entrance to the state’s Emergency Operations Center stating the text of KRS 39A.285(3)

If you’re wondering what KRS 39A.285(3) says, here it is:

The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God as set forth in the public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln’s historic March 30, 1863, Presidential Proclamation urging Americans to pray and fast during one of the most dangerous hours in American history, and the text of President John F. Kennedy’s November 22, 1963, national security speech which concluded: “For as was written long ago: ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’ “

I don’t think I need to comment; all of this speaks for itself.

bookmark_borderAn Argument for Atheism – Part 5

In Chapter 2 of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins gives an argument for atheism. The argument is a chain of reasoning consisting of five inferences. The first inference is a non sequitur, but I have attempted to rescue the argument by making explicit an unstated assumption, and by clarifying the first two premises:

1a. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of at least one million years of gradual evolution.

A. The process of the evolution of a creative intelligence cannot have started until after the universe began to exist.

Therefore:

2a. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, necessarily arrives no earlier than at least one million years after the universe began to exist.

The meaning of the phrase “the universe” in premise (A) and conclusion (2a) is unclear. In my last post on this topic (10/15/08), I considered three possible interpretations of this phrase:
Interpretation 1: everything that has ever existed
Interpretation 2: our universe (see TGD p.59, 81-82, 174, and p.169)
Interpretation 3: the multiverse (a collection of many universes, including our universe)
Interpretation 1 will not work, because it makes the existence of God a necessary falsehood, but a central claim by Dawkins is that the question of the existence of God is an empirical question which can be resolved by scientific investigation, which will show that God’s existence is probable or improbable to some degree. According to Dawkins, the existence of God is neither a necessary truth nor a necessary falsehood.
Interpretation 2 seems most likely to be what Dawkins intended, but on this interpretation the truth of assumption (A) is highly doubtful. Dawkins takes seriously, and even advocates, the view that there are multiple universes (TGD, Mariner Books edition, p. 173-174), and if this is so, then there might well have been some other universe in existence prior to our universe. But if our universe was not the first universe, then a creative intelligence could have evolved in a previous universe and then brought our universe into existence. On Dawkins’ own view that there are mulitple universes, and interpreting “the universe” to mean “our universe”, assumption (A) appears to be false.
On Interpretation 3, assumption (A) appears to be true, but then the significance of (2a) is seriously diminished, because on this interpretation (2a) leaves open the possibility that our universe was designed and brought into existence by a creative intelligence that evolved in a previously existing universe.
We can toss out Interpretation 1, because it simply will not fit into Dawkins basic views about nature of the question of God’s existence. At this point, I don’t see any plausible interpretations other than Interpretation 2 and Interpretation 3. So, it appears that our choice is between an argument with a false assumption (if we go with Interpretation 2) or an argument that leaves open the possibility that our universe is the product of a creative intelligence (if we go with Interpretation 3).
Let’s consider how Dawkins or a supporter of his viewpoint might reply to these objections. First, lets look at the inference on Interpretation 2 and how this might be defended:
1a. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of at least one million years of gradual evolution.

B . The process of the evolution of a creative intelligence cannot have started until after our universe began to exist.

Therefore:

2b. Any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, necessarily arrives no earlier than at least one million years after our universe began to exist.

The objection that a creative intelligence could have evolved in a universe that existed prior to when our universe began to exist could be replied to as follows: No universe could have existed prior to our universe, because time itself came into existence when our universe began to exist. On this view, there was no point in time prior to the existence of our universe in which any events occurred, including the origin of some other universe and the evolution of a creative intelligence in some other universe. If time began with our universe, then no events occurred prior to the origin of our universe.
This is an interesting line of reasoning, but if someone takes this approach, then we might as well toss out Dawkins’ argument for atheism and use the assumption here for a completely different argument for atheism:
7. Time itself began when our universe came into existence.
Therefore:
8. No events took place prior to the beginning of our universe.
Therefore:
9. No creative intelligence existed prior to the beginning of our universe.
Therefore:
10. Our universe is not the product of a creative intelligence.
This is an interesting line of reasoning, but it is clearly not the reasoning of Dawkins. Dawkins does not claim that time began with our universe, nor does he rely on the assumption that no events occurred prior to the beginning of our universe. So, if the only way to rescue Dawkins’ argument for atheism, is to make the assumption that time began when our universe came into existence, then we might as well set his argument aside and focus on this alternative argument for the impossiblity of the creation of our universe.
Another reply that a defender of Dawkins’ argument might make is this: Yes, it is possible that a creative intelligence evolved in some other universe that existed prior to our universe, but this is just a logical possibility; the real issue is whether this is probable, and you have not shown that this possibility is probable. I don’t think this reply works, because Dawkins takes the idea of multiple universes seriously, so he, at any rate, believes there is a significant chance or probability that there are other universes besides our universe.
Determining a probablity that one of these other universes is older than our universe and is capable of supporting the evolution of intelligent life forms is not something that we can do with our current state of knowledge, but the burden of proof rests on Dawkins to show that assumption (B) is true, or to show that it is highly unlikely that a universe that could support the evolution of a creative intelligence existed prior to our universe. Dawkins has not done this, and I don’t see how he could do this, given our current state of knowledge (or ignorance) about other universes.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderMyths of Islam

As with any other religion, there is plenty of material critical of Islam available on the web today. Some of it is even pretty decent as an introduction to problems with Islam.

For example, there’s the “Myths of Islam” page, part of the thereligionofpeace.com web site. It aims to get beyond some of the pro-Islamic propaganda that is easily available. And the web site of a whole seems like a good place to visit, if for some reason you enjoy staying up to date on outrages committed by the violent streams within political Islam.

So, yes, “Myths of Islam” type pages are accurate enough, if you take the more conservative versions of Islam to define the religion. But you also have to keep in mind that this is much like condemning Christianity by describing the follies of fundamentalist Protestantism. It’s useful in the right context, but it is hardly comprehensive. Focusing on one species of outrage or stupidity is questionable, since such anti-religious sites regularly buy into the claims of one faction to represent “True Christianity” or “True Islam.” Religions are a lot more complicated than that.

bookmark_borderScandinavian secularity

Phil Zuckerman, author of the very interesting Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment, has an article online, “The Religious Support Behind Proposition 8.” There, he uses Scandinavian secularity and social success as a counterexample against religious worries that deviations from God-given policies invite social calamity.

Now, Society without God is a good book. It’s hard to argue with how it presents Scandinavian countries (focusing on Denmark) as very secular societies who remain culturally Christian in some sense but where ordinary people have lost interest in God and very regularly have no explicit theistic belief. It’s also hard to argue that by most secular measures of societal health and quality of life, the Scandinavians are doing very well indeed. (I spent a few days in Denmark a year ago, and was very impressed.) And the data and interview excerpts Zuckerman presents are very useful in giving some depth to these observations.

I am not, however, so sure what more general conclusions can be drawn from the Scandinavian example. These are small, ethnically homogeneous countries with a very particular history. It may well be that many different factors promoting secularity happened to come together there, and that this is not to be expected elsewhere, certainly not beyond Western Europe. And Zuckerman leaves many important questions unanswered. This is no defect of the book; no one can do everything. But it’s not just unclear whether the Scandinavian example has more general implications. It’s also unclear whether the current situation in Scandinavia has much long-term stability. Maybe twenty years later we’ll see a Christian revival, perhaps in reaction to Muslim immigration. Changing economic and environmental conditions may undermine the prosperity that undergirds Scandinavian worldliness. The diffuse, unorganized supernatural beliefs that remain very much alive among Scandinavians may yet be channeled in a more coherent religious direction.

So I’m somewhat dubious about Zuckerman using his Scandinavian research as an example for Americans to ponder. He hasn’t really even given a proper counterexample to religious concerns that lack of religion means societal ruin, because the long-term stability of Scandinavian-style secularity is still open to challenge. I hope Zuckerman is right, but I’m still not completely convinced.

bookmark_borderPurtill’s Definition of “Miracle” – Part 7

A miracle is an event (1) brought about by the power of God that is (2) a temporary (3) exception (4) to the ordinary course of nature (5) for the purpose of showing that God has acted in history. (“Defining Miracles” in In Defense of Miracles, IVP, 1997, p.72).

I have proposed two improvements to Purtill’s definition so far:

A miracle is an event that is (1a) brought about by the power of a person who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good, and that is (2) a temporary (3) exception (4) to the ordinary course of nature (5) for the purpose of showing that God has acted in history.

I have noted that this definition does not accurately reflect the ordinary use of the word “miracle”, because we do not require that God be the cause of an event in order for an event to be called a miracle. In fact miracles can occur even if God does not exist, given the ordinary use of the word.

But narrower definitions of “miracle” which do require that God be the cause are acceptable in the context of discussion and debate between Christian believers and skeptics, because this concept provides a clear and relevant target for the defender of Christianity to aim at. It clarifies what is at issue between the Christian believer and the skeptic (also between Jewish believers and skeptics, and between Muslim believers and skeptics).

It is now time to consider the acceptability of conditions (2), (3), and (4). It appears to me that there are some plausible counterexamples to these conditions. Here are some examples that suggest these conditions make the definition too broad:

Example 1: A solar eclipse occurs and lasts for a few minutes.

Example 2: A snow storm occurs in the summer and snow falls for just half an hour.

Example 3: A woman uses birth control pills for the first two months of a sexual relationship.

Each of these examples seems to involve a “temporary exception to the ordinary course of nature”, but each of these events can occur without a miracle occuring. Furthermore, adding God into the equation does not automatically turn any of these events into a miracle.

The point of these examples is that there can be a “temporary exception to the ordinary course of nature” without there being a violation of a law of nature, or a supernatural event. Natural events can sometimes be temporary exceptions to the ordinary course of nature. But such events are not considered to be miracles.

There also seem to be plausible counterexamples that show that the conditions Purtill proposes make the definition too narrow:

Example 4: God creates a hot meal ex nihilo each morning and evening for ten years to feed a poor orphan child.

Example 5: God grants a saintly person the power to instantly heal any disease or injury simply by touching a sick or injured person on the forehead. The saintly person then procedes to heal thousands of people over a period of five years.

Example 6: God causes a mountain in California to rise up above the earth, to fly out over the Pacific Ocean, and to levitate one hundred feet in the air over the surface of the water for a period of three years.

I would be inclined to use the word “miracle” to describe each of these events, but condition (2) excludes each of these examples, because in each case the “exception to the ordinary course of nature” is hardly “temporary”.

So, it appears that conditions (2), (3), and (4), when taken together make Purtill’s definition of “miracle” both too broad and too narrow.


To be continued…

bookmark_borderEvil Atheist Parsons Exposed!

If you want all the dirt on that evil atheist Keith Parsons you should check here:

http://lifeanddoctrineatheism.blogspot.com/2007/12/regarding-keith-parsons-on-meaning-and.html

The author of this blog has decided to smite me in the name of the Lord for some comments I made in a debate with William Lane Craig ten years ago. Here, you will learn that in my remarks I committed numerous fallacies, though, curiously, the author fails to identify any. You also learn that I think that people who commit heinous crimes should not be punished. Curiously, again, though, there is nothing in my quoted remarks that states or implies this. Surely, though, I must have stated or implied these things, for the author certainly would not have borne false witness against me. Actually, I might be able to reassure the author. He says that he certainly hopes that he has misunderstood my worldview. He also says that he hopes he is mischaracterizing and misapplying my statements. Perhaps the author will allow me to assure him that these hopes are abundantly fulfilled.