bookmark_borderThe Unmoved Mover Argument – Part 4: Finite Changing Things Exist?

In his book When Skeptics Ask (1990), Norman Geisler presents a Thomist Cosmological Argument for the existence of God (although he FAILED to conclude the argument with the claim that “God exists”!).  I am now going to start evaluating the first premise of this argument:

1. Finite, changing things exist.  (When Skeptics Ask, p. 18; hereafter: WSA.)

Here is the argument Geisler gives in support of this premise:

For example, me. I would have to exist to deny that I exist; so either way, I must really exist.  (WSA, p. 18)

That is the entire extent of Geisler’s defense of premise (1), at least in WSA.  Geisler also has a much older book called Philosophy of Religion (1974; hereafter: PoR), and in that older book he provides three and a half full pages of argumentation in support of premise (1).  So, after I examine his very brief argument for premise (1) from WSA,  I will turn to the arguments that he presents in Chapter 9 of PoR, in support of premise (1) of his Thomist Cosmological Argument.
Pronouns are the devil’s workshop.  They should be avoided whenever possible in carefully-stated philosophical arguments, to avoid UNCLARITY and AMBIGUITY and EQUIVOCATION.  So, let’s revise Geisler’s brief argument in support of premise (1) to make it more clear:

I would have to exist in order to deny that I exist… (WSA, p.18)

==> Norman Geisler would have to exist in order to deny that Norman Geisler exists.

==>Norman Geisler would have to exist in order to deny the claim that Norman Geisler exists.

==>IF Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”, THEN Norman Geisler exists.

10. IF Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”, THEN Norman Geisler exists.

That is a key premise in this argument in support of premise (1).  I take it that (10) is TRUE; it is obviously true.  So, that is a good start, at least. What is the immediate conclusion of this argument?  Here is how Geisler states the conclusion:

…I must really exist.   (WSA, p.18)

Words like “must” and “necessarily” are sometimes used as inference indicators, like the words “thus” and “therefore”.  Such words should be stripped out of carefully-stated philosophical arguments (they are about the logic of the argument, the inferences in the argument, not about the content of the claims in the argument).  Also the word “really” is superfluous here.  Premise (1) makes no distinction between “really existing” and just plain “existing”, so there is no need for such a distinction within an argument supporting premise (1):

…I must really exist. (WSA, p.18)

==> I really exist.

==>I exist.

==>Norman Geisler exists.

11. Norman Geisler exists.

We now have a clear statement of Geisler’s brief argument in support of premise (1):

10. IF Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”, THEN Norman Geisler exists.

THEREFORE:

11. Norman Geisler exists.

THEREFORE:

1. Finite, changing things exist.

Just in case you did not notice,  this argument is a piece of SHIT.  It is a stinking philosophical TURD.  Both of the inferences in this argument are clearly and obviously INVALID.  This is NOT rocket science.  So, the fact that the initial premise (10) is TRUE is not enough to make this piece of SHIT argument worth anything.
If I were teaching a Philosophy 101 course, and a freshman turned in a paper that presented this argument,  I would not hesitate for a moment to give that paper an F.    I would expect more out of a freshman taking an introductory philosophy course than what Geisler (a professor of philosophy who has published dozens of books on Christian apologetics, philosophy of religion, and theology) has provided us here.
It seems easy to fix the first part of this argument.  We need to add another premise, one that Geisler neglected to mention:

10. IF Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”, THEN Norman Geisler exists.

A. Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”

THEREFORE:

11. Norman Geisler exists.

By adding premise (A), we turn Geisler’s INVALID first inference into a VALID inference (called modus ponens). But premise (A) is clearly and obviously FALSE.  So, if this is the argument Geisler had intended, then he has provided an argument that is clearly UNSOUND, and that FAILS to support premise (1).
There is a short phrase in Geisler’s statement of this argument that gives us a clue about how we might be able to fix this first INVALID inference:  “…so either way, I must really exist.”  What is he talking about when he says “either way”?
The phrase “either way” comes out of nowhere and has no clear reference.  However, I suspect that he is talking about the possibility of EITHER accepting the claim “Norman Geisler exists.” or denying the claim “Norman Geisler exists.” Let’s assume that these are the alternatives he had in mind in writing the phrase “either way”.  In that case, we could revise his initial inference this way:

B. EITHER Norman Geisler accepts the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.” OR Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”

C. IF Norman Geisler accepts the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”, THEN Norman Geisler exists.

10. IF Norman Geisler denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”, THEN Norman Geisler exists.

THEREFORE:

11. Norman Geisler exists.

This argument is not obviously INVALID, like the original argument.  In fact, this revised argument is logically VALID, and premise (C) is clearly and obviously TRUE, as well as premise (10).  So, in order to determine whether this revised argument is SOUND, we need to determine whether premise (B) is true.
Upon reflection premise (B) is FALSE, or at least its truth it problematic.  There is a third possibility not mentioned in (B), and also a fourth possibility as well:

  • Norman Geisler neither accepts nor denies the claim that “Norman Geisler exists.”  
  • Norman Geisler does NOT exist.

Failing to notice the first possibility is similar to making the assumption that everyone must either believe the claim “God exists.” or deny the claim “God exists.”  But some people have never heard about the idea of “God” and have no opinion either way (for example, infants are neither theists nor atheists).  Also, some people who have heard about the idea of “God” remain undecided on the question “Does God exist?”.  Agnostics often neither accept nor deny the claim that “God exists.”
A fourth possibility is that there is no such person or being as “Norman Geisler”.  In order to eliminate this fourth possibility, one would have to assume that “Norman Geisler exists”.  But that is the VERY CONCLUSION that is being argued for here.  Such an assumption would BEG THE QUESTION in the very first premise of this revised argument.
So, Geisler has FAILED to establish his first intermediate conclusion:

11. Norman Geisler exists.

But there are still more problems with this stinking philosophical TURD that Geisler has provided for us:

11. Norman Geisler exists.

THEREFORE:

1. Finite, changing things exist.

There are four words in premise (1), and Geisler has completely IGNORED three of those four words:  “Finite”, “changing”, and “things”.  He did make an attempt to show that “Norman Geisler exists“, but, as we just determined:

  • He has FAILED to show that Norman Geisler exists.

This second inference from (11) to (1) is not merely INVALID; it is TRIPLY INVALID!  It is illogical in three different respects:

  • He has FAILED to show that Norman Geisler is “finite”.
  • He has FAILED to show that Norman Geisler is “changing”.
  • He has FAILED to show that Norman Geisler is a “thing”.

So, there are four different claims that he needs to prove in order to support premise (1), and he FAILED to prove EACH of those four different things.  That is why Geisler’s argument in support of (1) in WSA is a stinking philosophical TURD.  It would be difficult to locate an argument by a professor of philosophy that was so awful and that so obviously FAILED.

bookmark_borderThe Unmoved Mover Argument – Part 3: Norman vs. Bradley

I’m having fun with critical examination of Norman Geisler’s Thomist cosmological argument in When Skeptics Ask.  There is also a more detailed and in-depth presentation of this argument in Chapter 9 of Geisler’s much older book The Philosophy of Religion (1974).
I previously thought that the first premise of his Thomist cosmological argument was obviously true, but now I’m not so sure.  I now think there are problems of UNCLARITY in the key terms “finite thing” and “changing thing.”
Below is a short fictional dialogue that I quickly constructed to explore some of my thoughts about what it means to say something is a “finite thing”.
I will return to my usual, more pedantic style in future posts.
=====================
Bradley: This pebble in my hand is INFINITE!
Norman: No it isn’t. It is a small object. I can plainly see that it is less than 1″ in diameter.
Bradley: True. It is not INFINITE in its size. However, it might still be an INFINITE thing. It might have INFINITE mass.
Norman: Nope. Plainly you are able to hold the pebble up with just one hand, so it must weigh less than 200 pounds. Since you are not straining at all to hold the pebble up with just one hand, it probably weighs less than 10 pounds. Assuming it is an ordinary pebble, given its size, it probably weighs less than 1 pound.
Bradley: OK. All right. The pebble has a finite size, and a finite mass. Perhaps it contains INFINITE energy.
Norman: If it contained INFINITE heat energy, you would not be able to hold it in your hand. It would instantly burn a hole through your hand.
Bradley: What if it had INFINITE electrical energy?
Norman: Then it would electrocute you and instantly fry your entire body like a billion lightning strikes hitting your hand all at once.
Bradley: You have a point there. Maybe it contains INFINITE kinetic energy.
Norman: I don’t think so. Kinetic energy depends in part on the mass of the object, and we have already established that the pebble has only a small amount of mass, and it clearly isn’t moving very fast, if at all.
Bradley: How about the past age of the pebble? Perhaps this pebble has existed for an INFINITE amount of time.
Norman: I doubt that. The earth is supposed to be about 4.5 billion years old, so the pebble is probably less than 4.5 billion years old (according to your godless evolution-infected geology).
Bradley: But you don’t know the history of this specific pebble. Maybe it came from another planet or from another galaxy. Can you prove that this pebble has only existed for a finite number of years?
Norman: Well, according to the Kalam Cosmological Argument, there cannot be an actually infinite number of days or years that have elapsed in the past.
Bradley: But if you need the Kalam Cosmological Argument in order to demonstrate the first premise of your Thomist Cosmological Argument, then you don’t have two independent arguments. Both arguments in that case would depend on the key claim in the Kalam argument that an actually infinite number of days or years cannot have elapsed in the past.
Norman: I’m confident of the truth of that premise of the Kalam argument, so I’m OK with making the success of both of my cosmological arguments depend on that premise.
Bradley: We have been discussing various common and easily observable physical attributes. Aren’t there lots of other possible physical attributes possessed by this pebble? In addition to being composed of molecules and atoms, it is also composed of sub-atomic particles, like: quarks, leptons, and bosons. Perhaps one of the properties of one of the sub-atomic particles in the pebble is INFINITE.
Do we know ALL of the kinds of sub-atomic particles that exist in this universe? I doubt it. Do we know ALL of the various properties of the sub-atomic particles that are currently known to exist? I don’t think so. Given that we still have a lot to learn about sub-atomic particles, I don’t see how (at this point in time) we can be sure that no sub-atomic particles in this pebble have any INFINITE properties.
Norman: I’ll admit that there is probably much that we have yet to learn about the kinds and characteristics of sub-atomic particles.  But based on all of the ordinary physical properties that we are familiar with, which the pebble possesses in only finite amounts and degrees, and based on the properties of sub-atomic particles that we know about now, we should expect that new properties that will be discovered about the sub-atomic particles in pebbles, will also be possessed by the pebble in only finite amounts and degrees and NOT in INFINTE amounts or degrees.
Bradley: Perhaps all future discoveries about the properties of sub-atomic particles will be limited to properties that exist in only finite amounts and degrees, but we cannot know this ahead of time.  Since there still appear to be some mysteries to unravel in the world of sub-atomic particles, what about the possibility that this pebble has an INFINITE number of physical properties? I don’t see how we can be certain that the number of physical properties possessed by this pebble is a finite number.  Perhaps there is no end to the discovery of natural physical properties of this pebble.
Furthermore, since you believe that there is also a SUPERNATURAL realm, could it be that this pebble has some SUPERNATURAL properties, in addition to the natural physical properties it has? If so, then one of its SUPERNATURAL properties could be INFINITE.  Can you prove that this pebble has no INFINITE SUPERNATURAL properties?  Can you prove that you know ALL of the SUPERNATURAL properties that this pebble possesses?  I don’t think so.

bookmark_borderThe Unmoved Mover Argument – Part 2: Geisler’s Thomist Argument

I plan to analyze and evaluate Ed Feser’s Aristotelian proof of the existence of God (in Five Proofs of the Existence of God).  But first I want to analyze and evaluate Aquinas’s Unmoved Mover proof.  And before I do that,  I wanted to warm up by doing an analysis and evaluation of Peter Kreeft’s Unmoved-Mover proof, which I did in the first post of this series.
I could get started on Aquinas’ First Way (Unmoved Mover Proof) right now, but I think I will warm up a bit more by doing an analysis and evaluation of Norman Geisler’s version of a Thomist cosmological argument.   Geisler does not state his argument in terms of motion, nor does he say that he is re-stating Aquinas’s First Way or Unmoved Mover proof.  However, Geisler does indicate that the cosmological argument that I will be examining here is based on the cosmological arguments of Aquinas.
Geisler distinguishes between horizontal and vertical types of cosmological arguments. He categorizes the Kalam argument as a horizontal cosmological argument, and he categorizes four of Aquinas’s Five Ways as vertical cosmological arguments:

There are two basic forms of the cosmological argument: the horizontal or kalam cosmological argument and the vertical.  The horizontal cosmological argument reasons back to a Cause of the beginning of the universe.  The vertical cosmological argument reasons from the being of the universe as it now exists.  The former, explaining how the universe came to be, was championed by Bonaventure (1221-1274).  The latter, explaining how it continues to be, flows from Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274).  The first calls for an originating Cause, and the latter for a sustaining Cause.  (“Cosmological Argument” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p.160)

In the same article, Geisler summarizes four of Aquinas’s Five Ways, and then presents a more general cosmological argument that he thinks reflects “a basic form behind all of these arguments [by Aquinas]”.  Geisler provides such a generalized Thomist cosmological argument in his book When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA).
In WSA, Geisler distinguishes two different types of cosmological argument, and gives one argument of each type.  He does not use the terms “vertical” and “horizontal”, but the distinction he makes in WSA appears to be the same one he makes in the above article, just minus the terminology:

There are two different forms of this argument, so we will show them to you separately.  The first form says that the universe needed a cause at its beginning; the second form argues that it needs a cause right now to continue existing.  (WSA, p.16).

The first cosmological argument Geisler presents in WSA is the Kalam cosmological argument, which asserts that the universe needed a cause at its beginning (a horizontal cosmological argument).  The second cosmological argument that Geisler presents in WSA asserts that the universe needs a cause right now to continue existing (a vertical cosmological argument).   So, it is reasonable to infer that the second cosmological argument in WSA is Geisler’s generalized version of a Thomist cosmological argument:

1. Finite, changing things exist.

2. Every finite changing thing must be caused by something else.

3. There cannot be an infinite regress of these causes.

THEREFORE:

4. [There is]…a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists.

(WSA, p. 18 & 19. I left out the text defending each of the premises; we will get into that later.)
Geisler draws one further conclusion from (4):

This argument shows why there must be a present, conserving cause of the world, but it doesn’t tell us very much about what kind of God exists. 

(WSA, p.19)

So, I take it that there is another key claim that is inferred from (4):

4. [There is]…a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists.

THEREFORE:

5. There is a present, conserving cause of the world.

Geisler’s cosmological argument FAILS right off the starting line, just like Kreeft’s Unmoved Mover argument FAILED right off the starting line.  There is NO MENTION OF GOD in the conclusion of Geisler’s argument!
There is no mention of God in any of the premises, and no mention of God in the conclusion.  If a freshman taking Philosophy 101 turned in a paper that was an attempt to prove the existence of God, but provided the above argument,  I would give that paper an F, and that student would fail the course, unless and until the paper was revised so that the conclusion of the argument was this:

(G) God exists.

Geisler is a professor of philosophy, and he has published dozens of books in Christian apologetics and theology.  You would think that he could manage to produce arguments for God that had “God exists” as the conclusion.   This is not rocket science! This is Philosophy 101, or Critical Thinking 101.  Twelve of Kreeft’s twenty arguments for the existence of God, also do NOT conclude that “God exists”.  So, both Kreeft and Geisler are unclear on the concept that an argument for the existence of God should conclude that “God exists”.
We could repair Geisler’s obviously defective cosmological argument by adding a missing premise to his argument:

5. There is a present, conserving cause of the world.

A. IF there is a present, conserving cause of the world, THEN God exists.

THEREFORE:

G.  God exists. 

Now we can see the basic structure of Geisler’s argument:
There are a couple of reasons why I’m not sure that adding premise (A) is the best way to represent Geisler’s Thomist cosmological argument.  First, premise (A) seems obviously to be FALSE, so this re-construction of Geisler’s argument might be thought to be a Straw Man.
Second,  Geisler understands that none of his arguments show that “God exists”, given the ordinary meaning of that statement (i.e. There exists a bodiless person who is the creator of the universe, and who is eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, and eternally perfectly morally good.).
So, in WSA after Geisler presents five basic arguments, he then attempts to cobble his various arguments together into an overall case for the conclusion that “God exists”.  He fails utterly and pathetically at this attempt, but that is the general structure of his reasoning.  In short, Geisler’s case for the existence of God requires that ALL FIVE of his arguments be SOUND, so that he can use different arguments to show different divine attributes (e.g. cosmological arguments to show divine power and the existence of an eternal creator, an argument from design to show divine intelligence, a moral law argument to show divine goodness).
We can, however, alter the content of premise (A), so that it asserts a conjunction of the conclusions of Geisler’s other arguments, in order to more accurately represent his case for God:

A1.  There exists a very powerful creator of the universe, and there exists a very intelligent designer of the universe, and there exists a perfectly good moral law giver.

Premise (A1) is clearly a very strong claim, and we would be perfectly reasonable to reject this premise unless all of Geisler’s other arguments were solid.  So, if any of Geisler’s other arguments FAIL or have significant problems, then Geisler’s argument/case for the existence of God FAILS.
Geisler’s argument/case for God works only if ALL of his lower-level arguments are SOUND, only if both of his cosmological arguments (Kalam and Thomist), and his argument from design, and also his moral law argument are all SOUND arguments.  Note: Geisler also has an Ontological Argument, but he doesn’t use it to show the existence of a necessary being.  He uses this argument to show a conditional claim, something like this: “If there is a creator of the universe, then that creator is a necessary being”. This conditional statement plays a role in his overall case for God.
In the next post of this series I will evaluate Geisler’s Thomist cosmological argument, at least the part of it that supports premise (5).  I’m not planning to evaluate premise (A1), because that would require evaluating all of the other lower-level arguments Geisler presents in WSA.

bookmark_borderPeter Kreeft’s Case for God

KREEFT’S CASE FOR GOD

In September of 2017, I began to analyze and evaluate Peter Kreeft’s case for the existence of God in Chapter 3 of his book Handbook of Christian Apologetics  (co-authored with Ronald Tacelli).  In July of 2018, I finished examining his case for God, which consists of 20 arguments for God.
Here are three blog posts where I summarize my critique of Kreeft’s case:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/07/16/kreefts-case-for-god-summary-of-my-critique-part-1/
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/07/26/kreefts-case-for-god-summary-of-my-critique-part-2/
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/07/31/kreefts-case-for-god-summary-of-my-critique-part-3/
Here is an INDEX which provides links to my more specific blog posts on Peter Kreeft’s case for the existence of God:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/07/13/index-kreefts-case-for-god/

bookmark_borderGeisler’s Case for the Existence of God

GEISLER’S CASE FOR GOD
In October of 2016,  I began to analyze and evaluate Norman Geisler’s case for God in his book When Skeptics Ask, and to present my criticism of his case in posts here at The Secular Outpost.

Over a period of several months, I wrote 18 posts focused on various phases and arguments in Geisler’s case.  In September of 2017, nearly a year after beginning to examine Geisler’s case, I wrote a 19th post summarizing a number of my key objections to his case:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/09/07/geislers-five-ways-part-19-whole-enchilada/
For a more detailed analysis and critique of Geisler’s case, or of a specific argument in his case, see the previous 18 posts in this series:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2017/05/25/index-geislers-five-ways/

bookmark_borderIf Jesus Rose from the Dead, then God does NOT Exist

The following are two central beliefs of Christianity:

(1) Jesus is the divine Son of God.

(2) God raised Jesus from the dead to show that (1) is true.

If (1) is FALSE, then that implies that (2) is FALSE as well.  If Jesus was NOT the divine Son of God, then God would NOT have raised him from the dead.
If Jesus was an ordinary and morally flawed human, God would NOT have raised Jesus from the dead, because that would be a GREAT DECEPTION.  God being all-knowing would see that raising Jesus from the dead would lead his initial followers to reasonably but wrongly conclude that Jesus was the divine Son of God, and that billions of human beings would be influenced by Jesus’ initial followers to adopt this FALSE and UNHEALTHY belief.
If Jesus was an ordinary morally flawed human being, then the belief that Jesus is the divine Son of God is a FALSE belief. The claim that Jesus is the divine Son of God implies that Jesus possesses the perfections of God. This claim is clearly FALSE because Jesus was a mortal, subject to death, but God is eternal and immortal, so Jesus clearly cannot be God, nor possess all the perfections of God.
Also, Jesus had a physical body, but God is eternally an omnipresent spirit, so God is a person who has no physical body, so Jesus cannot be God nor possess all of the perfections of God.
However, there are some characteristics and perfections of God that it was possible for Jesus to possess. It seems logically possible for a human being to be all-powerful, and all-knowing, and to be a perfectly morally good person. So, although it is clearly NOT the case that Jesus was God, and clearly NOT the case that Jesus possessed all of the divine attributes and perfections, it was possible for Jesus to possess at least a few of the most important divine attributes and perfections. If so, then the belief that Jesus is the divine Son of God would be partially true (as well as partially false).
But if Jesus was an ordinary morally flawed human being, then the belief that Jesus is divine Son of God would NOT even be partially true, but would be clearly and fully FALSE, because then not only would Jesus NOT be an omnipresent bodiless spirit, and NOT be an eternal and immortal person, but Jesus would also lack three other important divine attributes or perfections: omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect moral goodness.
It is clear and certain that Jesus was a morally flawed human being, so we can eliminate perfect moral goodness from the list of potential divine attributes of Jesus. This still leaves open the possibility that Jesus possessed two of the most important divine attributes or perfections: omnipotence (all-powerful) and omniscience (all-knowing).
The Gospels provide sufficient evidence that Jesus was neither omnipotent nor omniscient. However, I’m not going to argue that point here. Instead, my argument is that a morally flawed human who was all-powerful and all-knowing would be a MONSTER, a great threat to humanity and to the existence of planet Earth and the entire universe.
A morally flawed all-powerful person could become angry or depressed and with a single thought could annihilate the entire human race, or even the entire universe in an instant. Such a MONSTER could NOT with any justice be called “the divine Son of God”. Thus, if Jesus was a morally flawed human being, then it would clearly be FALSE to claim that Jesus was the divine Son of God, even if Jesus did possess the divine attributes of omnipotence and omniscience.
I would not argue that Jesus was an evil person. Jesus was a person who showed concern about truth and justice and love and kindness. There is much to admire about Jesus. But Jesus was clearly a morally flawed human being who lacked the divine attribute of being a perfectly morally good person.

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gibeon by John Martin

 
Let’s start with his NAME.  If Jesus was a perfectly morally good person, then he would have rejected his own name and chosen a new name for himself. But Jesus did not do this, so he was a morally flawed person.

The word Jesus is the Latin form of the Greek Iesous, which in turn is the transliteration of the Hebrew  Jeshua, or Joshua, or again Jehoshua, meaning “Jehovah is salvation.”  (Catholic Encylopedia: “Origin of the name Jesus Christ“)

The name Yeshua derives from the Hebrew name Yehoshua, a name that belonged to a very famous Old Testament warrior of  Israel.  In English translations of the Old Testament, this very famous warrior is called Joshua.  So, Jesus was named after Joshua, one of the most famous warriors of Israel.
Joshua was the Old Testament version of Adolf Hitler.  Joshua was a bloodthirsty bigot who, according to the OT, led the army of Israel to mercilessly slaughter thousands of men, women, teenagers, children, elderly people, in genocidal warfare.  As soon as Jesus learned that he was named after this bloodthirsty murderer, he would have rejected his name and chosen a new name IF Jesus was a perfectly morally good person.
If a perfectly morally good person was born to German parents in the 1940s and given the name “Adolf” by his parents, then as soon as that boy learned that he was named after a bloodthirsty bigot who led the German people to mercilessly slaughter millions of men, women, teenagers, children, and elderly people in a genocidal program, he would reject that name, and choose a new name for himself.
The same reasoning applies to Jesus. Since Jesus never changed his name, and since Jesus, to the best of our knowledge, never criticized the grossly immoral behavior of Joshua, the very famous warrior of the Hebrew nation, we can conclude that Jesus was NOT a perfectly morally good person.
There are other reasons based on the NT for the conclusion that Jesus was NOT a perfectly morally good person.  There is plenty of  evidence to support this conclusion.  Because Jesus lacked that basic divine attribute, it is both a FALSE and UNHEALTHY belief that Jesus was the divine Son of God.  Thus, it is also the case that God, if God exists, would NOT raise Jesus from the dead, because doing so would involve God in a GREAT DECEPTION.
TO BE CONTINUED…

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 4: Engage in Religious Activities

In my humble opinion, the question “Does God exist?” is best answered by taking a ride on the PHILOSOPHY BUS:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.

However, this is NOT the only way to approach the question “Does God exist?”. There are alternative ways of answering this question that involve engaging in religious activities:

4. Try praying to God, to see if God answers your prayers.

5. Try prayer, meditation, and worship, to see if you feel the presence of God or hear the voice of God.

6. Try reading the sacred texts of various religions, to see if you sense divine wisdom in any of them.

Part of the idea here is that skeptics and atheists don’t come across evidence for God because they don’t engage in religious activities, activities that would provide them with experiences and evidence that support the existence of God. Prayer to God, worship of God, and study of the (supposed) words of God are religious activities that many people think provide them with experiences of God and evidence for God.
 
APPROACH #4: ASK GOD TO DO SOMETHING FOR YOU
This appears to be a simple and straightforward test for the existence of God. God, by definition, is all-knowing, so if you pray to God and ask God to do something for you, say to heal an illness or injury that you have or that someone you care about has, then God, if God exists, KNOWS that you have asked God to do this. God, by definition, is all-powerful, so God can heal any disease or injury completely and instantaneously.

Jesus praying in Gethsemane. Depicted by Heinrich Hofmann.

 
Answering your prayer by doing what you asked God to do would be a very easy thing for God to do, and if God does instantly grant your request, then you would have some dramatic evidence for the existence of God.
 
 
If you pray asking God to do something for you, say to heal an illness or injury that you have or that someone you care about has, and nothing happens (i.e. the illness or injury gets worse or takes the usual amount of time to run its course or to heal up), then you have evidence that God does NOT exist.
 
PROBLEMS WITH ANSWERED PRAYER AS CONFIRMATION OF GOD’S EXISTENCE
However, as with the previously considered practical approaches, the use of prayer requests to determine whether God exists is not as simple and straightforward as it initially seems.
One problem is that confirmation of the existence of God by means of an answered prayer involves the POST HOC FALLACY:

First X happened, then Y happened so X must have caused Y.

First I prayed for John to get well, then John got well, so my prayer for John must have (through God’s response to my prayer) caused John to get well.
This is a very dubious way of reasoning about cause and effect. Perhaps John has a strong immune system which can fight off diseases rapidly, and your prayer had NOTHING to do with John’s recovery. Perhaps John took a prescribed medication (like an antibiotic), and that was what caused him to get well, not your prayer for John. Perhaps John was just lucky and got over this particular illness quickly, but not because of any supernatural intervention by God, not because of your prayer for John.
How can we know whether a particular instance of getting well quickly is the result of divine intervention as opposed to being a coincidence or as opposed to being caused by an ordinary means, such as the activity of a person’s immune system or the influence of a prescribed medication?
An “answered” prayer does not provide clear proof or confirmation of the existence of God. Other causes and explanations could account for the event in question. This approach is NOT as simple and as easy as it initially seems.
We should think of prayer as similar to a drug that is being tested for safety and effectiveness. It is unreasonable to infer that drug X is a safe and effective way to treat disease Y just because one person took a large dose of drug X for a week, and then their disease Y went away. No medical scientist would accept this as anything close to being confirmation that drug X is a safe and effective treatment for disease Y.
We expect there to be double-blind experiments where hundreds or thousands of people who have disease Y are randomly assigned to either take drug X or to take a placebo pill, and to carefully monitor and measure and record the results of this experiment. We expect that a careful mathematical analysis be performed on the results to confirm that, if the people who took drug X tended to get well more often or more quickly than the people who took the placebo pill, this result was very unlikely to be a chance coincidence. That is what reasonable intelligent people expect to be persuaded that drug X is an effective treatment for disease Y (and similar evidence is required to show that drug X is safe to take).
An “answered” prayer might well be the result of an ordinary physical cause, such as the activity of a person’s immune system. But if we are to allow for the possibility of a supernatural cause (such as God intervening and directly causing a person to be healed), then we must allow for all sorts of different possible supernatural causes:

  • psychic healing power of the person who prayed
  • psychic healing power of the person who was sick
  • a fairy healed the sick person
  • a witch or wizard healed the sick person
  • an angel or demon healed the sick person
  • a finite deity (Zeus, Venus, or Neptune) healed the person who was sick
  • astrological forces connected to the current position of the sun, moon, and stars caused the sick person to be healed

In ordinary scientific investigation of the efficacy of drug X to treat disease Y nobody is concerned with eliminating various supernatural causes or forces. The assumption is that the cause of people who have disease Y getting well is some sort of physical or biological cause. But in the case of investigating the existence of God by means of prayer, we have opened the door to a huge number of possible supernatural causes and forces.
This means that prayer works as confirmation of the existence of God only AFTER we have eliminated a large number of potential alternative SUPERNATURAL causes. It seems to me that there is no established scientific way of doing this. So, in order for prayer to provide confirmation of the existence of God, we must first engage in METAPHYSICS:

  • What sorts of supernatural beings and forces besides God exist or are likely to exist?
  • What sorts of knowledge and power do these beings have?
  • Could any of these other beings or forces be the cause of the healings in question?

In short, in order to use prayer as a means to confirm the existence of God one must FIRST take a ride on the PHILOSOPHY BUS and arrive at various conclusions about the likelihood of various supernatural beings and forces and the likelihood of those beings and forces causing observable effects in human lives.
The prayer test is clearly NOT a simple and straightforward way to confirm the existence of God, but requires a degree of intellectual sophistication and some philosophical investigation in order to have any chance of being successful.
 
PROBLEMS WITH UNANSWERED PRAYER AS DISCONFIRMATION OF THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
The same is true of using UNANSWERED prayer as a way to DISCONFIRM the existence of God. It seems unreasonable to expect that God would act like a magic Genie in a bottle and grant whatever request anyone asks. What about evil prayer requests? What if a Nazi asks God to annihilate the entire Jewish population of a city, or nation, or of the entire planet? Surely, a perfectly morally good creator would NOT grant such an evil request.
Also, there are common circumstances where it would be logically impossible for God to grant BOTH a prayer request by one person AND an opposing request by another person. For example, Tom is a player on his high school’s basketball team, and he prays for God to make his team win the game tonight against the team of another high school. Jack is a player on the basketball team of the other high school, and he prays for God to make them win the game tonight against the team that Tom is on. God cannot make both teams win. Only ONE TEAM can win the game, so God cannot grant these two opposing prayer requests.
Furthermore, if God were to grant every prayer request (at least those that were not evil, and not contrary to some other prayer request), then this would remove all incentive for people to work, to take care of their children, to take care of themselves, to take care of their possessions. If you lose your job, you could just ask God to pay all of your bills or to fill you bank accounts with thousands of dollars. If you don’t feel like feeding your children, you could just ask God to feed them, and to take them to school. If you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day for ten years and then get lung cancer, you could ask God to heal your lungs and go right back to smoking a pack a day. If you don’t change the oil in you car and the engine breaks down, you could just ask God to fix the engine or make you a brand new car.
These are the sorts of considerations that arise when philosophers discuss the PROBLEM OF EVIL, a basic question in the philosophy of religion. Before the failure of God to answer a prayer by granting the prayer request can be viewed as DISCONFIRMATION of the existence of God, one must engage in some challenging philosophical investigation into the PROBLEM OF EVIL, and make some reasonable conclusions about what it would be reasonable to expect out of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly morally good creator of the universe.
In short, in order for prayer to be used as a means to DISCONFIRM the existence of God, one must take a trip on the PHILOSOPHY BUS. Approach #4 is thus NOT as simple and straightforward as it seemed initially to be. For this approach to have any significant chance of success, one must FIRST engage in some serious philosophical investigation.
So, just as with the two practical approaches discussed in Part 3 of this series, this approach is NOT an alternative that will allow one to proceed without engaging in philosophical investigation, investigation that requires a degree of intellectual sophistication and skill in critical thinking.

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 3: Believe Whatever Makes You Happy

In my humble opinion, the question “Does God exist?” is best answered by taking a particular approach:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.

However, this is NOT the only way to approach the question “Does God exist?”.  Here are a couple of alternative ways of answering this question:

2. Believe whatever religious or ideological ideas make you feel happy and content.

3. Try out different religions/worldviews to see which one works best for you.

If the point or purpose of a religion or ideology is to make one’s life better, then why not take the very practical approach of trying out different religions and worldviews, to determine which one does a better job of improving one’s life?
People often assume that happiness or contentment is what makes a life good.  The more happiness and contentment a person has, the better the quality of his or her life.  On this assumption one could experiment with different religions and worldviews, and determine which one resulted in the most happiness and contentment in one’s life.  The principle this thinking supports is approach #2:

2. Believe whatever religious or ideological ideas make you feel happy and content.


But happiness and contentment are not the only goals for life.  These are not necessarily what everyone is seeking in life.  Some people want fame and honor, and some people seek acheivment of difficult goals in sports, science, engineering, music, literature, or other areas.
People who seek acheivement of difficult goals are often willing to sacrifice happiness and contentment for the sake of acheiving their chosen goals.  For such people a life that involves sacrifice of their chosen goals in order to obtain happiness and contentment would NOT be a good life, at least NOT a better life than one where there was less happiness and contentment but where their chosen goals were acheived.   So, a slight modification of approach #2 would be to focus on what “works for” the person who is trying out various religions and worldviews:

3. Try out different religions/worldviews to see which one works best for you.

A life with lots of success at acheiving difficult chosen goals would be one that “works for” some people, even if that life does not maximize their happiness and contentment.
 
APPARENT ADVANTAGES OF THESE PRACTICAL APPROACHES
One advantage of approaches #2 and #3 is that one might be able to find an acceptable religion or worldview after exploring only a few alternatives.  This appears to be a practical approach, one that does not demand perfection of a religion or worldview, but only that a religion or worldview helps one to be happy or that it works for a person, given his/her primary goals in life.
A more philosophical approach appears to be seeking “the TRUE religion” or “the TRUE worldview”,  and to do so in a careful and objective manner.  That would seem to require examination of all religions and worldviews, or at least a large sample of religions and worldviews, in order to avoid bias and to increase the likelihood of discovering the one TRUE point of view.
The more practical approaches referenced above don’t assume that there is only ONE religion or worldview that will “work for” a person, nor that there is one religion or worldview that will work for EVERY person.  Different strokes for different folks.  We have different needs and desires, so why not have different religions and worldviews for different people?  A religion that makes one person happy and content might not make some other person, who has different needs and desires, happy and conent.
A worldview that works for one person might not work for another person.  John Stuart Mill praised LIBERTY for individuals because each of us is, in general, the best judge of what makes us happy.  I know best what makes me happy, so I am the best judge of which religion or worldview makes me happiest, or which religion or worldview works best for me.  A more philosophical approach seems to be in search of the ONE TRUE worldview, a worldview which it would thus be tempting to force everyone to accept.  A philosophical approach appears to seek a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem.
Another advantage of these practical approaches to religion/ideology is that it does not require that one be intellectually sophisticated.  To base the choice of a religion or worldview on analysis and evaluation of philosophical arguments, requires that one be somewhat intellectually sophisticated, requires one to have some knowledge and skill in logic and critical thinking, and some knowledge of philosophy and conceptual analysis.
But to determine whether a religion or worldview makes one feel happy or content seems like a simpler and less demanding task.  Aren’t we all naturally good and figuring out whether we are happy and content?  We don’t need any special knowledge or skills in order to figure out whether a religion works for us, or helps us to acheive our main goals.  The practical approaches seem to be easier and less demanding that a philosophical approach to religion and ideology.
 
SOME DISADVANTAGES OF THESE PRACTICAL APPROACHES
We can already see disadvantages just by the previous comparison of approach #2 with approach #3.  Using happiness and contentment as the standard will incline people towards the path of least resistance.  For example, who would want to be a supporter of liberal democracy if born into a nation filled with Nazis or fascists?  Your fellow citizens would beat you silly, throw bricks through the windows of your house, and kill your cat or dog, so there would be very little happiness or contentment for supporters of liberal democracy in such circustances.
There is more happiness and contentment to be had in just going along with the crowd, at least in that sort of situation.  So, if you happen to be born in a fascist country, or a country filled with mindless and spineless followers of “dear leader”, then if happiness and contentment is your goal, you will probably just follow the herd and learn to praise and obey “dear leader” (and watch only Fox News).   This is, at the least, a moral problem with approach #2.
Conversely, although approach #3 does not incline a person so strongly to conformity with the masses, it does have the disadvantage that one might well end up miserable following this approach.  The best chance of success at most difficult to acheive goals is to focus almost exclusively on the goal(s), and sacrifice all other aspects of one’s life, including happiness and contentment.  Most high-acheivers are never satisfied with any particular success or acheivement.  They are driven for perfection and excellence, and set their sights higher than what they can realistically acheive.
Really big goals and projects require multiple generations of effort, so when one kicks off such a grand project, there is little hope of actually seeing the project completed in one’s lifetime.  Personal relationships are often sacrificed by people who are focused on obtaining a difficult-to-acheive goal.  Health and safety are often sacrificed by people who strive to acheive a lofty goal.  Comfort and pleasure are often sacrificed by high achievers.  So, it is not unusual for a person who is focused on acheiving a difficult goal to be a sad, lonely, and generally miserable person.
Although it seems like we are naturally good at figuring out what makes us happy and content, and naturally good at figuring out what “works best” for ourselves,  these practical approaches are not as easy to carry out as it might intially seem.  First of all, you can try out a dozen different flavors of ice cream in one day, but you cannot try out a dozen different religions or worldviews in one day, nor in one week.  You have to learn about the religion/worldview.  You have to learn about its various concepts, beliefs, and practices.  You need to get to know some people who live their lives in accordance with that religion/worldview.  You have to experience a wide variety of events and circumstances over a significant amount of time, to be able to make a reasonable assessment of how living and thinking in accordance with that religion/worldview makes you feel and helps or hinders your plans and goals.
I don’t see how being a Christian or a Buddhist for a week or a month would give one enough information and experience to make any sort of reasonable assessment of how those religions impact one’s life.  But if you have to spend a year or two trying out a religion or worldview in order to have “walked a mile” in someone else’s shoes, then these “practical approaches” are actually very demanding on a person.
Even if one were to spend just one year as a Christian, one year as a Muslim, one year as a Jew, one year as a Buddhist, and one year as a Hindu, that would just scratch the surface of the world of religions.  There are also secular worldviews to try out, like Secular Humanism, and Marxism.   One could easily devote one’s entire adult life to exploring different religions and worldviews, so that even if one was able to determine that religion X or worldview Y “works best for me” or “makes me happiest and most content”, there might be only a few years left of one’s life to fully embrace and enjoy that religion or worldview.
Another difficulty with these practical approaches is that the central aspect of a religion or worldview is what one believes, but beliefs are not easily changed or altered, especially not the basic sorts of beliefs involved in religions and worldviews.   An atheist cannot simply decide to believe in God for a week or a month or a year, nor can a Christian simply decide to stop believing in God and in Jesus for a week or a month or a year.  We don’t have that kind of control over our most basic beliefs and values.  We can try chocolate ice cream and then try vanilla ice cream without any effort or hesitation, but we cannot try out atheism and then immediately switch to trying out faith in God and Jesus.
Furthermore, to the extent that a person does manage to switch temporarily from one religion to another religion, or from one religion to a secular worldview, or from a secular worldview to a religion, the seriousness and legitimacy of that person’s beliefs are cast into doubt.  If you can change your basic beliefs and values on a whim, then presumably you never really had much commitment or involvement with those beliefs and values.
Religious and worldview beliefs are supposed to be part of a person’s character and self-identity.  A person who can simply decide to stop believing in God and stop following Jesus is not much of a Christian believer.  So, someone who “tries out” Christianity for a year, and then on the very last day of the year, immediately stops believing in God and stops praying to Jesus, and stops following Jesus, is NOT someone who has sincerely and seriously been a Christian believer for a year.  It is not clear that it is really possible to “try out” a religion or worldview, at least not as an intentional experiment.
Another difficulty with making “happiness and contentment” the standard by which to judge a religion or worldview, is that it is far from clear what “happiness and contentment” means.  The question “What is happiness?” is a PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION, and it is NOT a particularly easy question to answer.  So, although it seemed initially that no particular knowledge or skill or intellectual sophistication was required to follow approach #2, this may not actually be the case.  It makes no sense to spend years of one’s life trying out different religions and worldviews in order to determine which one does the best job of producing “happiness and contentment” if one is UNCLEAR about what “happiness and contentment” mean.  So, a degree of philosophical and intellectual sophistication may be needed just to get this project started, to get it headed in the right direction.
Similarly,  approach #3 assumes some goals or purposes that are cherished by the individual who is setting out to investigate various religions and worldviews.  But what if a peson’s goals or purposes are bad or foolish?   Suppose a scientist wants to make a bomb so powerful that it could destroy our galaxy? or destroy the entire known universe?  Do we really want to encourage that scientist to find a religion or worldview that HELPS him or her to acheive this horrible goal?  So, it seems like there is an additional first step needed with this approach as well: determining whether the goals or purposes that a person seeks to acheive are truly good and valuable and reasonable goals or purposes.  But this is, once again, a deeply PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION, one that requires some intellectual sophistication to have any chance of arriving at a solid and thoughtful conclusion.
Approach #2 is of little use if one is UNCLEAR about what “happiness and contentment” mean, but that is a PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION requiring some intellectual sophistication.  Approach #3 is of little use if one is UNCERTAIN about the wisdom or value of the basic goals that one seeks to acheive in life, but evaluation of basic goals in life is a PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION requiring some intellectual sophistication.  So, the initial appearance that these practical approaches do not require any intellectual sophistication, in contrast with my favored philosophical approach, was misleading, and now it appears that the practical approaches also require a degree of intellectual sophistication in order to have some reasonable chance of success.
 
ONE BIG DISADVANTAGE
Perhaps the most important problem with these two practical approaches is that they are UNCONCERNED with truth.  False ideas can be comforting and make one feel good.  The truth is often painful and unpleasant.  So, if we judge religions and worldviews in terms of what makes us feel happy or content, then we are very likely to FAIL to discover what is TRUE or FALSE in terms of religious beliefs and worldview beliefs.
Similarly, ideas and beliefs that help one to acheive a particular goal might well be FALSE.  There is not a direct and constant connection between true beliefs and beliefs that help one to achieve a particular goal.  In any case, even when people focus their best and most intelligent efforts at figuring out what is TRUE and what is FALSE, they still often fail, so if we focus on some other goal besides figuring out the truth, then we are almost guaranteed to FAIL to arrive at the TRUTH.  So, the main problem with these two practical approaches to evaluating religions and worldviews, is that they give up on the search for objective truth.
If there is no such thing as OBJECTIVE TRUTH in matters of religion and ideology, then I suppose a practical approach is as good as any other approach.  But before one gives up on OBJECTIVE TRUTH in religion and ideology, one should first put some serious thought into the question “Is there such a thing as OBJECTIVE TRUTH in matters of religion and ideology?”  This, of course, is a PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION, and if you want to have any chance of arriving at a solid and well-considered conclusion on this issue, you will need a degree of intellectual sophistication, a degree of skill and knowledge in logic, critical thinking, and philosophy.
So, it makes no sense to jump on board the “happiness and contentment” bus, nor the “it works for me” bus, at least not in order to avoid getting onto the PHILOSOPHY BUS, because you are going to have to take a ride on the PHILOSOPHY BUS before you can reasonably decide whether to get onto one of those practical-approach busses.

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 2: Believe What You Were Raised to Believe

In my humble opinion, the question “Does God exist?” is best answered by taking a particular approach:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.

However, this is NOT the only way to approach the question “Does God exist?”.  Here is an alternative way of answering this question:

1. Believe whatever religion or worldview you were raised to believe.

Although this may seem like an obviously UNREASONABLE way of answering this question, this is the way that almost everyone (or at least most people) initially forms political, religious, and ideological beliefs.
Usually, the parents of a child, if they raise the child together, share similar political and religious beliefs or share a similar worldview.  In that case, the child grows up and is socialized with those political and religious or worldview beliefs constantly operating in the background, and sometimes those beliefs are directly asserted or referenced by the parents.
In recent years marriage between two people who identify with a different religious group has become more common in the USA; nevertheless, about 60% of marriages in recent years are between people of the same religious group, and an even larger portion of marriages from previous decades were between people of the same religious group:

…almost four-in-ten Americans (39%) who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group. By contrast, only 19% of those who wed before 1960 report being in a religious intermarriage.

Many of these recent interfaith marriages are between Christians and the religiously unaffiliated (sometimes called “nones”). Of all U.S. adults married since 2010, almost one-in-five (18%) are in marriages between a Christian and a religiously unaffiliated spouse.

(“Interfaith marriage is common in U.S., particularly among the recently wed” by Caryle Murphy, JUNE 2, 2015)
In the USA people who identify as Democrats and marry or live with a partner are usually married to or live with a Democrat, and people who identify as a Republicans and marry or live with a partner are usually married or live with a Republican:

While many Republicans and Democrats have politically diverse networks of friends, the vast majority of those who are married or living with a partner say their spouse or partner belongs to the same political party. Fully 77% of Republicans who are married or living with a partner – and an identical percentage of married Democrats – say their spouse belongs to the same party.

(Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016, June 22, 2016, p. 26)

By Capt. John Severns, U.S. Air Force - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8822138
Schoolgirls sit in the girls’ section of a school in Bamozai, near Gardez, Paktya Province, Afghanistan. The school has no building; classes are held outdoors in the shade of an orchard.

So, in the USA, children are usually raised by parents who share the same religion, and children are usually raised by parents who belong to the same political party.  (However, there is probably a large portion of children in the USA whose parents were EITHER of different religions OR of different political parties).
In the case that the parents of the child do NOT share similar political or religious beliefs, or do NOT share a similar worldview, then the child will have early exposure to opposing or alternative political or religious views, or to alternative worldviews.  In that circumstance, the child cannot simply accept what they “were raised to believe” because their parents influence them in different ideological directions.  The child could take sides, and adopt either one parent’s view or the other parent’s view (or adopt one parent’s religion and the other parent’s political party), and that would partially but not completely follow this approach.
If one’s parents do share a similar ideology or worldview, then there are some advantages to following this way of answering the question “Does God exist?”, especially while the child remains under the care and supervision of his/her parents.   Adopting the ideology or worldview of one’s parents makes it easier to get along with, to cooperate with, and to communicate with, one’s parents.  It is generally a good thing to get along with, to cooperate with, and to communicate with one’s parents, so adopting the ideology or worldview of one’s parents, can make one’s family life smoother and more enjoyable.
Furthermore, in some cultures and countries, it can be dangerous and even deadly to reject the ideology or worldview of one’s parents.  In a totalitarian country, for example, if one’s parents have drank the cool-aid and adore the dictator or the “dear leader” of their country, there might be risk of physical punishment or even death to openly oppose the beliefs and practices promoted by “dear leader”.  Sometimes, sacrificing one’s intellectual integrity and accepting the dominant ideology is necessary to avoid homelessness, starvation, prison or even death.
Also, not only do most of us initially form our political and religious or ideological beliefs based on what we were raised to believe, but there isn’t really much of an alternative to this, especially for young children.
Although I share Richard Dawkin’s concern about children being indoctrinated into Christianity or Islam or other religions, the ideal of individual freedom of thought and of freedom to explore a wide range of alternative ideologies and worldviews is NOT directly applicable to young children.
In order to be ABLE to rationally and intellectually analyze and evaluate an ideology or worldview, one needs to (a) learn how to read, (b) learn how to write, (c) learn how to reason, (d) learn some history, (e) learn some math, (f) learn some science, and (g) learn about different cultures, religions, worldviews.  This takes time.  This takes years of education.  A three or four-year-old child does not have the intellectual ability and the knowledge necessary to make reasonable judgments about alternative ideologies and worldviews.
I’m not opposed to young children learning about how to think rationally about political issues, religious issues, about ideological issues or worldview issues, but they need knowledge and skills to do this well, and the knowledge and skills they need take years for them to learn.  We cannot simply present a wide variety of worldviews to three or four-year-old children, and just let them loose to choose their favorite ideology or worldview.
Furthermore, the minds of young children would be too easily influenced and manipulated by teachers and other authorities, even if those teachers and authorities appear to be or try to be “objective” and “fair” in presenting the various alternative viewpoints.
However, we should do a better job of preparing children to take on this project of choosing an ideology or worldview or of creating their own ideology/worldview, so that when they are in high school and college, they can do a good job of rationally evaluating alternative ideologies and worldviews, and make good choices on these matters.
Setting the issue of young children to one side, is there any reason why teenagers or college-age young adults should take the approach of simply believing what they were raised to believe?  One problem here is that, assuming a teenager already has more or less adopted the religious and political views of one or both of their parents (or guardians), it does not seem possible for that teenager to simply let that point of view go and start all over with a blank slate.
We might want teenagers to have the freedom to explore alternative points of view, and we might want them to have good guidance as to how to do this kind of investigation in an honest, rational, logical, fair-minded, and well-informed way, but it seems psychologically and logically impossible to toss out all of one’s previous ideological beliefs and start from scratch.  Realistically, we can only question and challenge one or two aspects of one’s current point of view, because if we set aside our entire point of view, then we have no adequate basis for forming rational conclusions about any given religion or ideology.
But there are obvious problems with simply sticking with what we learned from mom and dad (or from mom and mom, or dad and dad).  First, many parents do NOT have well-thought-out and well-informed views on religion or politics.  If one’s parents both have PhDs in philosophy or comparative religion or political science, then maybe sticking with what mom and dad believed would not be a bad option, because their opinions (in the areas they have studied) are likely to be well-thought-out and well-informed.
But most of us are not born to such parents.  Some people have parents who have college degrees in literature or history or drama or engineering or biology, and those parents, though well-educated, might not have well-thought-out or well-informed views on religion or politics.  Some people are born to parents who did not graduate from college with any degree.  Some people are born to parents who only graduated from high school.  Some people are born to parents who never graduated from high school.  So, in simply adopting the views of one’s parent or parents, many people will be adopting views that were not well-thought-out or well-informed, at least not by their parents.
Another obvious problem with the believe whatever your parents raised you to believe approach is that alternative religious and political viewpoints contradict each other on many important points, so they cannot all be correct.  In other words, we can see from the start that MOST religions are FALSE or at least contain a number of significant false beliefs.  We can see from the start that MOST political viewpoints are FALSE or at least contain a number of significant false beliefs.  If there is a TRUE religion or a TRUE worldview, then if we all just follow in the footsteps of our parents, MOST of us will be adopting a FALSE religion, or a FALSE worldview, or a religion or worldview that contains a number of significant false beliefs.
On the other hand if there is a TRUE religion or a TRUE worldview, or a worldview that does not contain a number of significant false beliefs, then careful consideration of arguments and evidence will presumably help people to find or discover that religion or worldview.   So, at least potentially, people who are raised with very different religious or ideological or political points of view, could come to agreement about which religion or ideology or worldview is TRUE, because they could be pointed the same direction by examination of relevant evidence and reasoning.  If we all stick stubbornly to the beliefs of our parents, then human beings will remain divided and in disagreement on a number of our most basic beliefs and values.
The main objection against the use of arguments and evidence in the evaluation of religions, ideologies, and worldviews is that some believe that these are purely subjective ideas and values and thus that there can be no objective and rational way of determining that one religion or ideology or worldview is any better or “more true” than another.  If there is no such thing as objective truth in these matters, then I suppose that dogmatically sticking with the beliefs of your parents is no worse than some other arbitrary way of selecting a religion, worldview, or ideology.

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 1: How Should We Answer this Question?

ANSWERING THE QUESTION “DOES GOD EXIST?” THROUGH PHILOSOPHY

How should we answer the question “Does God exist?” ?  Having studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Sonoma State University, and having studied philosophy as a graduate student at the University of Windsor, and then having studied philosophy for a number of years more at UC Santa Barbara, the way to approach this question seems obvious to me:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.


 
But, given that my educational background has been focused on philosophy, one might suspect that my view of this matter is a bit biased, and that other ways of arriving at an answer to this question should be considered before hopping onto the PHILOSOPHY BUS, and spending a lot of time and energy learning about and evaluating philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.
 
One objection that has been raised against the philosophy of religion in recent years is that it is too focused on CHRISTIANITY.  There are many religions and religious worldviews that one could investigate and evaluate by means of philosophy and philosophical argumentation, but philosophy of religion has traditionally been focused on the basic beliefs of the Christian faith, to the exclusion of philosophical investigation of other religions and religious worldviews, and non-religious worldviews (such as Marxism and Humanism).
There are MANY different religions and worldviews competing for our allegiance, so it seems question-begging, narrow-minded, and sociocentric to focus all (or even most) of one’s time and energy on evaluation of basic beliefs of CHRISTIANITY.  What about Islam? Hinduism? Buddhism? Taoism? and what about secular worldviews, like Marxism and Humanism?
I think this is a legitimate and significant criticism of philosophy of religion, as this sub-discipline of philosophy has been practiced in recent centuries.  However, if one is interested in the question “Is Christianity true?” there is a lot of philosophical investigation in the philosophy of religion that is helpful in answering that question.  And since the question “Does God exist?” is concerned with a basic Christian belief, there is a lot of philosophical investigation in the philosophy of religion that is helpful in answering that question.
Furthermore, the question “Does God exist?” has implications beyond the evaluation of Christianity and the Christian worldview.  Jews also believe in the existence of God.  Muslims also believe in the existence of God.  Some Hindus believe in the existence of God, and a number of Indigenous religious traditions (such as a number of Native American tribes) include a belief in the existence of God, or of a supreme being who has many of the characteristics of God as conceived of by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  So, the question “Does God exist?” is NOT purely and strictly a question about a basic Christian belief.  It is also about a basic Jewish belief, a basic belief of Islam, a basic belief of at least one form of Hinduism, and a basic belief of many forms of Indigenous religious traditions.
Another way of putting this point is that arguments for and against the existence of God are, in general, applicable to evaluations of not only Christianity, but also of Judaism, Islam, some forms of Hinduism, and of a number of Indigenous religious traditions. If there is a solid argument for the existence of God, this would provide support not only for Christianity, but for many other theistic religious traditions, and if there is a solid argument against the existence of God, this would (in most cases) provide a good reason to doubt or reject not only Christianity, but also Judaism, Islam, some forms of Hinduism, and many Indigenous religious belief systems.
In short, it is true that the philosophy of religion has tended to be focused primarily on the basic beliefs of the Christian religion, and has not paid much attention to other religions, nor to the non-religious worldviews that compete with various religious traditions for our allegiance; however, when it comes to the question “Does God exist?”, this is a question that the philosophy of religion is well-suited to help us answer.

OTHER WAYS OF ANSWERING THE QUESTION “DOES GOD EXIST?”

Before we all hop onto the PHILOSOPHY BUS, let’s consider the alternative ways of answering the question “Does God exist?”.  Some people think they know about God’s existence through ordinary experience, and some people think they know about God’s existence through religious experience, and some people think they know about God through intellectual investigations outside of philosophy.
Here are ten common ideas about how one might answer the question “Does God exist?” apart from philosophical investigation of this question:

1. Believe whatever religion or worldview you were raised to believe.

2. Believe whatever religious or ideological ideas make you feel happy and content.

3. Try out different religions/worldviews to see which one works best for you.

4. Try praying to God, to see if God answers your prayers.

5. Try prayer, meditation, and worship, to see if you feel the presence of God or hear the voice of God.

6. Try reading the sacred texts of various religions, to see if you sense divine wisdom in any of them. 

7. Try experiencing nature and natural beauty, to see if you feel the presence of God that way.

8. Try experiencing and appreciating art, music, and literature, to see if you sense the presence or influence of God in those human artifacts.

9. Study human history, to see if you can discern the influence of God on human cultures and societies.

10. Study nature scientifically, to see if you can discern the handiwork of God in nature.

In Part 2 of this series, I will begin to consider and evaluate these alternative ways of arriving at an answer to the question “Does God exist?”  If you have any other alternatives that are widespread or that seem promising or interesting, please point them out in a comment to this post.