bookmark_borderScalar Connection to Meaning of Life?

Because I’ve written so much about arguments from scale lately, the following statement in Dennis Prager’s op-ed on atheism and consolation caught my eye.

“‘And we promise to work for more gun control. But the truth is we don’t
have a single consoling thing to say to you because we atheists
recognize that the human being is nothing more than matter, no different
from all other matter in the universe except for having
self-consciousness. Therefore, when we die, that’s it. Moreover, within a
tiny speck of time in terms of the universe’s history, nearly every one
of us, including your child, will be completely forgotten,
as if we
never even existed. Life is a random crapshoot. Our birth and existence
are flukes. And you will never see your child again.'” (emphasis mine)

This sounds very similar to the temporal aspect of arguments from scale: humans do not enjoy a temporally privileged position in the universe’s history.

Continue reading “Scalar Connection to Meaning of Life?”

bookmark_borderThe Purposes of God

Whether a theist says “God created all living things” or “God created the universe” or “God raised Jesus from the dead” the point is to give a personal explanation for some facts (or alleged facts) as opposed to a physical or scientific explanation. When giving a personal explanation for some fact, information about motivations or purposes is obviously relevant evidence.

If we know that just one person committed the murder of a rich man, and if we know that it was either the butler or the maid who killed him, a good question to investigate would be, “Who had a strong motive for killing the rich man?” If the butler had a strong motive but the maid did not, that would make the butler the primary suspect. That would make it more probable that the butler committed the murder than that the maid did, other things being equal.

In addition to motive, there are also considerations of means and opportunity. If the rich man was shot to death, we could ask some other relevant questions: “Did the gun used in the killing belong to the butler or to the maid or to someone else? Did the butler have access to that gun? Did the maid have access to the gun? Are there fingerprints on the gun? If so, do those fingerprints match the fingerprints of the butler or the maid?”

Such evidence, however, is not relevant in the case of God. If God were to kill someone, God would not need a gun, even to kill someone by “shooting them to death”. God can create speeding bullets out of thin air by simply willing them into existence. If God did choose to use a gun to kill someone, God would not leave her fingerprints.

If God did leave fingerprints, it would not be prints from her own fingers, since God is a bodiless spirit who has no hands and no fingers. God has access to all guns and can create a gun of any kind instantaneously, fire the gun, and then instantly make the gun cease to exist. So, when it comes to God, means are irrelevant. God needs no means or tools to do something, and if God chooses to use some means or tools to achieve some end, God can instantly create and instantly destroy any means or tools she wishes to use.

In the case of the butler and the maid, we should ask, “Was he/she in the vicinity of the victim about the time that the murder was committed?” If the butler was ten miles away picking up dry cleaned clothes at the time of the murder, then the butler is off the hook. Such questions of opportunity don’t apply to God. God is, by definition, all-knowing and all-powerful, so God is, in effect, present at all places and all events. God, unlike finite human beings, always has opportunity in all times and at all places. God can bring about any logically possible event at any time or place God chooses.

Therefore, since means and opportunity are irrelevant in determining whether or not God performed some action, motive is of great significance in questions about what God did or did not do.

Did God raise Jesus from the dead? There appears to be a big hurdle to jump before this question can be answered: Did Jesus rise from the dead? As Dianelos points out, there are good reasons to doubt claims about events that involve violation of the laws of nature. If Jesus did rise from the dead, that would rule out naturalism, or would at least be a good reason for doubting naturalism. One could reasonably claim that the probability of Jesus rising from the dead given naturalism is a fairly low probability.

But as my refinement of Dianelos’ formulation of the logic of theistic arguments shows, there is a comparison being made between the relative merits of theism and naturalism:

r: Jesus rose from the dead.
t: Theism is true.
n: Naturalism is true.

1. P(r//t) = x
2. P(r//n) = y
3. x > y
4. r is true.
5. P(t) > P(n) …other things being equal.

Premise (2) means: The probability that Jesus rose from the dead given that naturalism is true is equal to y.

It seems reasonable to believe that y is going to be a fairly low probability. Naturalism is not very compatible with resurrections.

But in order for this argument to work, we need to show that the probability of this event is greater on the assumption that theism is true. Premise (1) means: The probability that Jesus rose from the dead given that theism is true is equal to x. The theist needs to establish that x is significantly larger than y for this argument to carry some weight.

I don’t see how one could establish this apart from establishing some theory about the likely motivations and purposes of God. If we don’t know what God’s motivations and purposes are (or what they would be if there were a God), how can we have any confidence that raising Jesus from the dead is the sort of thing that God might do? The mere fact that God (if she exists) had the power to raise Jesus from the dead does not show it to be at all likely that God would do so. I have the power to burn my own feet off with a blow torch, but it is very unlikely that I will chose to do so.

If my thinking about the logic of resurrection is correct, then the next question to consider is whether the alleged motivations and purposes of God are similarly critical to design arguments that infer the activity of God based on the existence and nature of the universe.

bookmark_borderThe Miracle of Creation?

To clarify how Richard Swinburne thinks about the question “Did God create the universe?” I think it might be helpful to consider how Swinburne thinks about the question “Did God raise Jesus from the dead?” In The Resurrection of God Incarnate, Swinburne distinguishes his thinking from that of “a typical New Testament expert”:

To start with, we need to take into account what I shall call ‘the general background evidence’, evidence (the data) about whether or not there is a God able and likely to intervene in human history in a certain kind of way. (ROGI, p.2)

Clearly, if there is an omnipotent God, there is a God able to bring about a miracle such as the resurrection of Jesus. …If the evidence suggests that there is such a God, then it will give some probability to the occurrence of such a miracle insofar as God has reason to bring about such an event. I shall argue that he does have such a reason. (ROGI, p.2)

Swinburne gets fairly specific about God’s reasons (or purposes) for raising Jesus:

Chapter 2 considers reasons which God might have for becoming incarnate, that is, acquiring a human body and a human nature. The relevance of this is brought out in Chapter 3, where I argue that, if he did become incarnate, he would need to live a certain sort of earthly life and God would need to put his signature on that life by culminating it with an event which (if it occurred) would be evidently a miracle—what I shall call a super-miracle, such as the Resurrection. So God has a reason for bringing about the Resurrection if it is the Resurrection of God Incarnate… (ROGI, p.4)

To those who are skeptical about the existence of God and about other religious beliefs, Swinburne appears to have great confidence in conclusions that appear to be rather wild speculations (or heavily biased opinions) about the plans and purposes of God.

But setting that aside for the moment, I think Swinburne has an important insight here, and that he is pointing to a general weakness in the thinking of other theologians and apologists who have argued in defense of the resurrection: In order to show that it is likely that God did X, one needs to show that God has specific plans or purposes such that God’s doing X would be a reasonable way for God to achieve (or partially achieve) those plans or purposes.

I think the same sort of reasoning applies to the claim “God created the universe.” In order to show this to be true or probable, one needs to show not only that there is a God who was able to create this universe, but also to show that this God has certain plans or purposes such that the creation of this universe would achieve (or partially achieve) those plans or purposes.