Do we have free choice?

Freeing inconsistency

According to philosopher, Douglas Groothuis, one of the foundational aspects of a worldview is coherency. A worldview needs to internally make sense before it can hope to stand up to external scrutiny and be considered worthy of adherence.

In an article in The Atlantic, a philosopher called Stephen Cave revealed a glaring inconsistency in the naturalistic worldview that dominates Western civilisation. In There’s No Such Thing as Free Will (But we’re better off believing in it anyway), Cave describes a logical conclusion of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Executive summary – your brain is hardwired in a certain way which you inherited from your ancestors. Your thoughts, desires, dreams, and the actions they precede, are all the creations of firing neurons dictated by your inherited genetic structure. This, combined with the impact your surroundings have, determines you. Nature and nurture shape you and you have no more control over the inner workings of your brain (and therefore, your actions) than you can will your heart to beat. Therefore, there really is no such thing as free will.

This form of scientific determinism is gaining popularity among scientists and skeptics alike, where human responsibility is significantly reduced, even removed. When caught red-handed, they can simply point to their skull and say, “My brain made me do it”. According to Cave, “when people stop believing they are free agents, they stop seeing themselves as blameworthy for their actions”. No wonder, when all my bad habits and predispositions have been programmed by my ancestors and environment. But this isn’t even the shocking part of the article from a worldview perspective.


Despite appealing to science and reason to conclude that free will is indeed an illusion, Cave then turns around to defend the very thing he has tried to bring down. Through various experiments, it became clear to Cave that denying free will may not be a good idea:

“…Believing that free will is an illusion has been shown to make people less creative, more likely to conform, less willing to learn from their mistakes, and less grateful toward one another. In every regard, it seems, when we embrace determinism, we indulge our dark side.”

If denying in thought and deed that free will exists can have such a negative impact on society, should we perhaps think harder about this? Saul Smilanksy, a philosophy professor at the University of Haifa, in Israel, apparently has:

“Smilansky advocates a view he calls illusionism—the belief that free will is indeed an illusion, but one that society must defend. The idea of determinism, and the facts supporting it, must be kept confined within the ivory tower. Only the initiated, behind those walls, should dare to, as he put it to me, “look the dark truth in the face.” Smilansky says he realizes that there is something drastic, even terrible, about this idea—but if the choice is between the true and the good, then for the sake of society, the true must go.”


Freeing inconsistency

I admire Cave’s integrity in acknowledging the logical conclusion of Darwinist materialism. At the same time, I am dumbfounded that he then holds back and clings to free will. He knows that abandoning free will would lead to societal chaos but he can’t bring himself to declare this. Instead, he whispers and recommends these facts, too truthy for the masses, remain in the brave world of academia.

Perhaps there is a better way. Tim Keller, author of The Reason for God, may have found it. If we believe we all make choices we are responsible for then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. If we insist on a secular view of the world and yet we continue to live as though free will is a reality, then we begin to see the disharmony between the world our intellect has devised and the real world (and God) that our heart knows exists. This leads us to a crucial question. If a premise (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion that we know isn’t true (“I don’t have free will”) then why not change the premise?

Who knows – perhaps in the near future, people will click that they are living on borrowed capital and acknowledge the God who makes them responsible. Or maybe history will turn once again into a dark corridor where any semblance of guilt and culpability are forsaken.

For now, thank God for this inconsistency.

Audio: William Lane Craig and Peter Millican Debate the Existence of God

Premier Christian Radio have posted the audio from the debate between William Lane Craig and atheist Peter Millican:

[pk_icon_link icon=”download” icon_type=”dark”]Does God Exist? WL Craig v Peter Millican[/pk_icon_link]

The exchange took place at Birmingham University on October 21 and was organized by the Philosophy Society as a part of the Reasonable Faith UK tour.

William Lane Craig is the Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California. Peter Millican is the Gilbert Ryle Fellow and Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford University. The tour is co-sponsored by UCCF, Damaris, and Premier Christian Radio.

The Cynical Anti-Intellectualism of Dawkins

Daniel Came:

[pk_box width=”600″ align=”center” text_align=”left”]”… it is quite obvious that Dawkins is opportunistically using these remarks as a smokescreen to hide the real reasons for his refusal to debate with Craig – which has a history that long predates Craig’s comments on the Canaanites.

As a sceptic, I tend to agree with Dawkins’s conclusion regarding the falsehood of theism, but the tactics deployed by him and the other New Atheists, it seems to me, are fundamentally ignoble and potentially harmful to public intellectual life. For there is something cynical, ominously patronising, and anti-intellectualist in their modus operandi, with its implicit assumption that hurling insults is an effective way to influence people’s beliefs about religion. The presumption is that their largely non-academic readership doesn’t care about, or is incapable of, thinking things through; that passion prevails over reason. On the contrary, people’s attitudes towards religious belief can and should be shaped by reason, not bile and invective. By ignoring this, the New Atheists seek to replace one form of irrationality with another.”[/pk_box]

James Barham:

[pk_box width=”600″ align=”center” text_align=”left”]”Now, it is understandable that Dawkins should disdain to debate someone so far below his own celebrity star-power as Professor Craig. On the other hand, by that criterion, he really ought to limit himself to appearing with other bona fide media stars, like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (not that they would find much to disagree about).

If, however, Dawkins’s principal concern were the truth, as opposed to protecting his celebrity status, then he ought to jump at the chance to debate Craig. If modern science really has put the question of the existence of God to rest once and for all, then what better forum to get this across to the public than Oxford’s venerable Sheldonian Theatre next Tuesday? It really is a pity, because for many of us interested in the question of the existence of God, such a match-up would have the quality of a real clash of the titans.”[/pk_box]

HT: Uncommon Descent

How Stephen Law Failed in His Debate with William Lane Craig

Several others have already offered their reviews of the recent Craig/Law debate (see Wintery Knight’s post, J.W. Wartick’s analysis, Randal Rauser’s comments, or Stephen Law’s own thoughts here) and so I’ll restrict my comments to Law’s debating strategy. In my opinion, his line of argument was totally inadequate to the task. Here’s a few reasons why:

1) He only gave the briefest and most perfunctory of treatment to the cosmological argument and the historical case for the resurrection, focusing almost exclusively on the moral argument and his own evidential argument from evil for the probability of atheism.

2) He didn’t understand what a cumulative argument is or how it works. It’s simple to understand really. Argument 1 gives reason to think there is a being with properties A B and C. Argument 2 gives reason to think there is a being with properties C, D and E. Argument 3 gives reason to thing there is a being with properties C, F, and G. The fact that argument 2 doesn’t give any reason to think that the being in question has property B is not an indictment of that argument, nor a weakness of the whole case.

3) These two failures, combined with the way he proceeded, meant he was really not on the atheistic side of the debate. The totality of his arguments (even if successful) allowed room for a type of theism, such as Deism.

4) His strategy of comparing the problem of evil for a good God with the problem of good for a ‘malevolent God’ (a ‘square circle’ makes just about as much sense – let’s say he meant ‘malevolent creator’) relies on Manichaeism, which is false if Christianity is true. Thus the Christian has no reason to entertain Law’s counterargument.

On the Christian view, there is no such THING as evil. Evil is rather a privation – an absence of a good that should be there. Evil is ontologically posterior to goodness, thus for there to be evil, there must be a good. Christians not only believe that God does good, but that God’s very nature is goodness itself. He IS the standard. But when evil and goodness is understood this way (and not as a Manichean would conceive of good and evil: as two forces opposing one another), you can see that there cannot be a evil being comparable to a good God. Such a being would have no being.

5) He was totally inconsistent in his use of mystery, allowing it to feature particularly in his own answer to the problem of the origin of the universe (and also in his explanation of the existence of objective moral values and his dismissal of the resurrection as the best explanation for the historical facts about Jesus and the disciples), but not allowing Craig to ostensibly have it in his answer to the problem of evil.

6) More to the point, Craig was not using mystery to answer the problem of evil. He was saying that it is not unreasonable to expect, given the nature of our situation (a transcendent God and human beings with cognitive limitations in time and space), that we would be unable to perceive God’s sufficient reasons for allowing evil. The atheist therefore is in no position to assess the probability of a good God allowing the evil he sees in the world. Thus, it was Laws that failed to carry his argument.

7) Finally, it was noticeable how Law mentioned in his first speech that he would respond to Craig’s arguments in his next rebuttal, but deferred responding to Craig’s arguments until his third speech. This only allowed Craig the opportunity to rebut Law’s counter-arguments in his closing remarks. If Law wasn’t so soft spoken and didn’t have all the appearances of a genuinely nice guy, I’d suggest this deferral was an intentionally underhanded debating trick. Whether or not this was the case, it was evident that Law, although he had done careful research beforehand (unlike so many of Craig’s interlocutors), could not respond effectively to Craig’s cosmological and historical arguments, as well as Craig’s own response to the problem of evil.


A String of Bad Objections

Reformation 21 have posted a shortened version of Steve Hay’s response to The End of Christianity, the third book in a series, edited by John Loftus, against Christianity.

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Christopher Hitchens, Atheism, and Evil

Douglas Wilson, writing at The Gospel Coalition, discusses Christopher Hitchen’s recent Slate article on 9/11:

[pk_box width=”600″ align=”none” text_align=””]All this is Hitchens doing what Hitchens does best, and he does it for most of his article. And then, fulfilling the promise of the title (“Simply Evil”), he veers into incoherence at the very end when he only had about two column inches to go. It was like watching a bicycling Tour de Something rider, 50 yards ahead of the nearest competitor, anticipate the finish line by raising both hands above his head, at which point he triumphantly bites it.

“The regimes of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fully deserve to be called ‘evil.’”

Evil? Since the 2009 publication of God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens has spent a great deal of energy trying to persuade all of us that the idea of God is a false and pernicious one. But now he ups and calls these bad guys . . . evil. Given the premises, what might the definition of that be? Who determines what is evil and why? By what standard? But there may be a wiggle-room word in there. Hitchens only said they deserve to be called evil. But that generates the same questions. By whom? And whoever that person is, how did he wind up in charge of our moral lexicon?

We have to grow up, Hitchens has said. We have to reject outmoded concepts. We have to get rid of the idea that there is a God in heaven, telling us the difference between right and wrong. But if these things be true, then there are other things that follow. For some reason, Hitchens is willing to affirm the premises but will not own any of the obvious conclusions. You cannot throw away your suitcase at the beginning of your journey, and then, as you are nearing the end of the trip, pull out all the things that you packed in it. There may be shrewd ways of avoiding baggage handling fees, but that’s not one of them.

If there is no God, then Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have no God. But if they have no God, then it follows that Hitchens is not their god either. And if Hitchens is not their god, why should they care what he calls them? There is no god, and Hitchens is not his prophet.

Evil? Unless such men are treated as evil men, there is no justice. And if there is no actual justice (not paper justice, not name-calling justice, but actual justice), then there really is no such thing as evil. If there is no such thing as final justice, then how can we manage to define the concept of injustice? Hitchens wants to call them evil after they are largely out of ear shot. Let us all agree to call Stalin evil. On Hitchens’s account of things, does Stalin care?

Hitchens may counter that he fully intends to fight them. He fully intends to treat them as evil, and his article was a call to arms. All right then. Is evil then determined by who wins that fight? Does this fight have a referee? Is there a rulebook? Who wrote it?”[/pk_box]

And his conclusion:

[pk_box width=”600″ align=”none” text_align=””]I for one am glad that Hitchens wants to repudiate the big lies. I am glad that he stands against vicious totalitarian ideas. Thus far I can applaud him. But in order to stand against anything, however obviously bad it is, you must have something to stand on.[/pk_box]

Read the whole thing here.

Tauranga Event: Faith & Reason in a Broken World

This weekend, Christian Philosopher Trent Dougherty will be in Tauranga to speak at two events on the problem of evil and suffering.

Here are the details:

SATURDAY 9th July – 7pm: Faith & Reason in the face of Evil and Suffering
Bethlehem Community Church, 183 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem, Tauranga
What reasons can the Christian Faith give when faced with the horrendous evil we see in the world around us?  In this lecture Trent will give guidelines for the integration of faith and reason and how they apply to the problem of evil and suffering.

SUNDAY 10th July – 7pm: Exposing Atheistic Naturalism’s Answer to Evil
Bethlehem Community Church, 183 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem, Tauranga
Atheists claim that naturalism (the view that only matter, energy and time exist – with no God intervening from the outside) gives a better explanation of suffering in the world.  But in this lecture Trent will show that at every turn, naturalism’s attempt to answer the problem of evil and suffering backfires.

Both events are free, but donations are welcome.

Trent Dougherty is the Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University in the US.  He has a PhD in Philosophy of Religion, Epistemology and Probability Theory from the University of Rochester and an MA in Philosophy from the University of Missouri-Columbia.  He has published articles and book reviews in many journals including Religious Studies Review, Notre Dame Philosophical Review, Philosophia Christi and many others.


Has origin-of-life research reached an impasse?

That’s exactly what John Horgan suggests. Writing for Scientific American, the science journalist argues that, twenty years since he first wrote about the topic, atheistic explanations have not moved any closer to establishing how life first emerged.

The Atheistic Argument from Evolution

It is a common taunt among combative non-theists (henceforth called atheists) that evolution, because it is a well-established scientific fact, somehow provides positive proof that God does not exist. God, as the title of the evolutionary zoologist Richard Dawkin’s book proclaims, is a delusion. If this is so it then follows that belief in God is the same as belief in Santa Clause, which directly opposes our best scientific knowledge. Read more

Video from the Bradley v Flannagan Debate

The video footage of the Bradley & Flannagan Debate entitled “Is God the Source of Morality? Is it rational to ground right and wrong in commands issued by God?” is now available for viewing on Youtube. Held at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, on 2 August, 2010, many people have been eagerly anticipating watching this entertaining and important debate between atheist philosopher, Raymond Bradley and Christian philosopher and blogger, Matt Flannagan. (over 100 people have viewed Part 01/12 before the Part 12/12 is loaded and anyone pointing out it was there.)

Apologies to those to whom the wait has been unbearable.

Flannagan vs Bradley Debate “Is God the Source of Morality” Part 01/12

Flannagan vs Bradley Debate “Is God the Source of Morality” Part 02/12

Flannagan vs Bradley Debate “Is God the Source of Morality” Part 03/12

Flannagan vs Bradley Debate “Is God the Source of Morality” Part 04/12

Flannagan vs Bradley Debate “Is God the Source of Morality” Part 05/12

Flannagan vs Bradley Debate “Is God the Source of Morality” Part 06/12

Flannagan vs Bradley Debate “Is God the Source of Morality” Part 07/12

Flannagan vs Bradley Debate “Is God the Source of Morality” Part 08/12

Flannagan vs Bradley Debate “Is God the Source of Morality” Part 09/12

Flannagan vs Bradley Debate “Is God the Source of Morality” Part 10/12

Flannagan vs Bradley Debate “Is God the Source of Morality” Part 11/12

Flannagan vs Bradley Debate “Is God the Source of Morality” Part 12/12

This debate was brought to you by the Evangelical Union and the Reason and Science Society with the support of Thinking Matters. Written forms of the opening statements and first replies can be found at MandM.

God, Absence of Evidence, and the Atheist’s Teapot

Brian Garvey, a lecturer in the philosophy of mind and psychology at Lancaster University, has written an article exploring Russell’s famous celestial teapot. The article, Absence of Evidence, Evidence of Absence, and the Atheist’s Teapot, appears in in the latest volume of Ars Disputandi, a philosophy of religion journal hosted by Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Here’s the abstract:

Atheists often admit that there is no positive evidence for atheism. Many argue that there is nonetheless a prima facie argument, which I will refer to as the ‘teapot argument’. They liken agnosticism to remaining neutral on the existence of a teapot in outer space. The present paper argues that this analogy fails, for the person who denies such a teapot can agree with the person who affirms it regarding every other feature of the world, which is not the case with the atheist vis-a-vis the theist. The atheist is committed to there being an alternative explanation of why the universe exists and is the way it is. Moreover, the analogy relies on assumptions about the prior plausibility of atheism. Hence, the teapot argument fails.

And a quote:

“There is, I want to argue, a significant di fference between denying the existence of a teapot orbiting the sun, and denying the existence of God. When two people disagree over whether or not there is a teapot orbiting the sun, they are disagreeing over whether the world includes that particular item or not. For all that that particular disagreement implies, the two people agree about every other feature of the world: the tea-ist believes in a world that is exactly the same as the one the a-tea-ist believes in, with the single difference that it contains one item that the a-tea-ist’s world doesn’t contain. Since, as I have argued in the previous section, the only thing that could count as evidence for the teapot orbiting the sun is that someone has seen it, it is in one way analogous to a situation where one person says: ‘there’s a postbox at the end of the high street’ and the other person says ‘no there isn’t, go and have a look’, and the first person goes and looks and doesn’t see one. If that person is reasonable, that will be the end of the argument. The two situations are not quite analogous, however, in that no-one has gone and looked to see whether there is a teapot in outer space. But the situations are disanalogous in a second way too, and a way which helps to illuminate why, in the absence of evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that there is no such teapot. That is, that there is nothing manifestly far-fetched in the idea of there being a postbox at the end of the high street. In the absence of seeing one (leaving aside the possibility of more indirect evidence, such as seeing a map of where all the postboxes are at the GPO) one is hardly being unreasonable if one doesn’t come down on one side or the other. And this difference between the postbox and the teapot tells us something about why it is unreasonable to suspend judgement regarding the teapot, even though we have not only failed to see one, but failed to carry out anything remotely approaching an exhaustive search. Because of its manifest far-fetchedness, or what amounts to the same thing, because it’s reasonable in the absence of prior evidence on the specific hypothesis to estimate that it’s highly unlikely, we can say that, when it comes to teapots orbiting the sun, absence of evidence is evidence of absence. The atheist’s argument attempts to gain persuasiveness by ignoring this issue of prior plausibility. It is true that we cannot (at present) conclusively prove that there’s no teapot in outer space in the way that we could conclusively prove that there’s no postbox on the end of the street by going there and looking. But part of the reason why, despite not being able to do this, it is still reasonable to conclude that there isn’t, is that prior to any investigation the hypothesis is manifestly far-fetched. In the postbox case it is not, and thus we can see that absence of evidence, as far as rendering it reasonable to deny something’s existence goes, has different force depending on the case in hand. Unless the existence of God is taken to be also manifestly far-fetched, the argument to the effect that if we don’t suspend judgement regarding the teapot then we shouldn’t suspend it regarding God, doesn’t get off the ground.”

Read the whole thing on the Ars Disputandi website.

(Source: Z)