Monday, January 31, 2011

Blog Wars! Round 3: The Cross-Examination

Here is the third round of my debate with theology student and Christian blogger, Cody Cook.  In this round, Mr. Cook presented me with three questions, which I answer below.  His questions were in response to my opening statement and rebuttal, both of which can be found below:

Question 1)  A question sometimes considered by medieval theologians was whether God could create a rock so heavy that He couldn't lift it. Assuming for a moment that God had physical characteristics, this would be a paradox involving God's omnipotence. If God is omnipotent, the objector asks, why couldn't He make a rock so heavy that even He couldn't lift it; and if He couldn't lift it, how could He be omnipotent? Most Christian theologians would answer by saying that God's omnipotence only extends to doing those things which are not irrational to do (and since God would be the source of rationality, this means that God is consistent with, and does not deny, Himself). So, for instance, God could not draw a square circle. Do you think that your argument regarding God's omnipotence and necessity being in conflict is based upon making a straw man of the Christian doctrine of omnipotence? If not, why not?

  1. Your question assumes that god would be the source of rationality, which he could not be even if he did exist.  Rationality, or logic/logical absolutes exist transcendentally and necessarily.  Rationality would apply to god (as you admit) and therefore could not come from god. 
  2. The difference between my paradox and the Paradox of Omnipotence is that mine contrasts two qualities that contradict one another and therefore cannot exist in the same being.  The Paradox of Omnipotence makes the assertion that omnipotence is inconsistent with itself. 
  3. God cannot draw a square circle because it would violate the law of self-contradiction.  There is no such violation if god were to choose to end his own existence.  In fact there is an entire branch of Christian theology that contends that god did just that at the crucifixion—that god literally died.  As Thomas J. Altizer writes in The Gospel of Christian Atheism: 

“Every man today who is open to experience knows that God is absent, but only the Christian knows that God is dead, that the death of God is a final and irrevocable event, and that God’s death has actualized in our history a new and liberated humanity”

Question 1)  You argued that logical absolutes exist necessarily, but that thoughts are the unintended product of chance (evolution). You also argued that necessary beings cannot help but exist, but that the universe began to exist, so I take you to be saying that the universe is contingent. If the universe begins to exist with nothing before it, then it would seem that the laws of logic also would have begun to exist alongside the universe. If the laws of logic are dependent upon the universe (because they would have nothing to refer to, nor could principles hold, in nothingness), but the universe is contingent, it would seem that the laws of logic are also contingent, meaning that they could be different. So the law of non-contradiction, for instance, does not have to be true. Thus, logic would be arbitrary. As an atheist, would you argue that there is grounding for these laws of rational thinking, or are they simply standards of protocol that humans, who were not intended to think rationally, use to attempt to explain the activity of the material universe? 

  1. Your use of the terms unintended/unintentional when referencing logical thought in humans is a form of begging the question. 
  2. Logical absolutes exist necessarily not contingently, and would exist regardless of whether or not a universe exists.  They would exist even in a perpetual state of nothingness.  For instance, a state of nothingness would not also be a pink unicorn (law of non-contradiction.)  Therefore, the premise of your question completely fails. 
  3. Human perception of these laws is the result of the nonrandom cumulative process of evolution by natural selection.  The hunter who was able to think coherently enough to assemble a plan to take down a wooly mammoth was able to survive and reproduce more than the ones who were not.  This is the grounding for logic in human thought. 
Question 3)  Is it correct that Hawking and Dawkins, both of whom I referred to as atheists who would obviously not agree that the evidence supports theism, made statements pointing out that there is a striking appearance of design in the universe? If so, did I do any more than make the accurate claim that they did so, or did I go further than what they said by claiming that they were “puzzled” or that they had no atheistic interpretations of this data?

I would not agree with your assessment.  The way both of these authors construct their books is generally like this:  “It does seem like X was the product of design by a god.  However, we know that natural process Y explains this without invoking a god, so we shouldn’t believe that a god exists for that reason.” 

What you did in your opening statement was take the “It does seem like X was the product of design by a god” part, remove it from the explanatory part, and present it as if it were a legitimate problem for which these scientists have no explanation

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