The Cop Out

When faced with the awkward problem that there is absolutely no evidence for the existence of God, some theists will claim that God exists in a realm outside of space and time, and therefore will remain elusive and immeasurable. This is all very well in a sense (other than the fact that there is no reason whatsoever to believe that such a being exists), but it is in direct contradiction to other attributes often ascribed to God.

Omnipresence would imply that on some level God exists everywhere in spacetime, whether or not this would be detectable to us is another matter entirely, but according to this God would be everywhere you look, woven into the very fabric of space as it were. How can a God exist outside of space and time, yet exist everywhere in space? That would be like saying I am inside a room whilst also not being inside it at the same time. It’s not logically consistent to assert that God is omnipresent and outside of space and time.

To move water molecules, you’d need some kind of input energy – an arm moving a paddle, for example. In order to part the red sea, God would either have had to transfer some energy from somewhere in order to move the water molecules, or God would have had to have broken the laws of energy conservation and created some energy out of nothing. Again it is not logically consistent to assert that a being that exists outside of space and time could have that level of interaction with matter and energy within space and time. Also, whether or not God himself is directly detectable, had we established some kind of measuring devices during the supposed parting of the red sea we would have seen an input of energy either being transferred inexplicably or coming from nowhere – in other words evidence for God would be within the grasp of science.

The Judeo-Christian God doesn’t just input energy into moving water molecules either, he inseminates a young lady, and then is born into a human body. It is ludicrous to assert that a being that exists outside space and time could do such a thing, and again if such a thing did happen and there were people around to observe it, some more indirect evidence of God would be available.

The reason that theists assert that God is beyond space and time is because this gets them out of the awkward predicament of their being absolutely no evidence in favour of the existence of God, by stating that you never will be able to find the evidence. However the central tenants of their beliefs are in direct contradiction to this. Their God very much has a role within space and time, and should thus be at least indirectly observable. It is logically inconsistent to state the God can be omnipresent, and have an active role in events within the universe if he exists outside of it. Either God is outside of space and time, and cannot interact with matter or be omnipresent, or God is within space and time and thus at least indirectly observable. Theists use the ‘outside space and time’ notion as a cop out to avoid the awkward lack of evidence, however it doesn’t really make sense. Theists need to face up to the fact that their God should have evidence, but doesn’t….

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32 Comments

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32 responses to “The Cop Out

  1. The big issue here is that you pre-suppose naturalism and saying that God doesn’t exist because the things He is claimed to have done don’t make sense naturalistically. How can he be in the world and not move water molecules, or leave evidence of how Mary became pregnant? I will admit these are puzzles that would be difficult to solve if naturalism was all there is.

    But in order to consider the evidence for God’s existence, you have to allow that if God exists, then the supernatural realm by definition would also have to exist. So to say that if God exists as part of this world He must conform to natural standards is illogical, because the definition of the God we are talking about is that He exists supernaturally.

    For the record, even naturalistically it’s possible to be in a room and not in a room at the same time, if we use your analogy from the second paragraph. If I were to open the door to the room and speak to someone in it while standing outside of it, I am actually both in the room and not in the room at the same time. The presence of my voice is in the room, while my body is not. Or you can use an intercom to the same effect. So it’s not even a good analogy naturalistically, which gives it no basis in an argument where supernaturalism MUST be part of the equation if it were to be discussed honestly.

    A cop-out it’s not. A failure on your part to understand the full implications of God’s existence is what it is.

  2. Doctor Bad Sign

    “The big issue here is that you pre-suppose naturalism and saying that God doesn’t exist because the things He is claimed to have done don’t make sense naturalistically. How can he be in the world and not move water molecules, or leave evidence of how Mary became pregnant? I will admit these are puzzles that would be difficult to solve if naturalism was all there is.”

    I didn’t claim anywhere in this post that God does not exist. I do not make a positive claim either way. What I am saying is this; if God can interact in the universe by miraculously parting waters, or impregnating someone then supposing we could have observed these events with state of the art equipment we would see something that would be evidence of God’s interaction with physical matter, perhaps not directly but indirectly.

    “But in order to consider the evidence for God’s existence, you have to allow that if God exists, then the supernatural realm by definition would also have to exist. So to say that if God exists as part of this world He must conform to natural standards is illogical, because the definition of the God we are talking about is that He exists supernaturally.”

    I didn’t deny any of this per se. My point is that it is illogical to say that God exists outside of space and time, whilst at the same time claiming that he has an active role within it. How can you be omnipresent (everywhere in space) and outside of space and time (i.e not everywhere in space), it’s like me saying I am both inside and outside my room right now, it’s a logical contradiction. In order to perform miracles, some kind of interaction with matter must occur, whether it breaks the laws of nature or not it would be detectable to science because of it’s interaction with matter. This is not to say that a supernatural God does not exist, I didn’t make that claim, I am saying that if a supernatural God exists, and he, she, them or it, interacts with matter by performing miracles then we would be able to detect those interactions with science were we to be in the right place at the right time.

    “For the record, even naturalistically it’s possible to be in a room and not in a room at the same time, if we use your analogy from the second paragraph. If I were to open the door to the room and speak to someone in it while standing outside of it, I am actually both in the room and not in the room at the same time. The presence of my voice is in the room, while my body is not. Or you can use an intercom to the same effect. So it’s not even a good analogy naturalistically, which gives it no basis in an argument where supernaturalism MUST be part of the equation if it were to be discussed honestly.”

    Your attempt at finding fault with my analogy doesn’t really do anything to refute my argument. I can use a different analogy if you like; claiming that God is outside of space and time, yet is omnipresent would be like me claiming that I am inside my body, but outside of it at the same time. You can’t be outside of space and go moving water molecules around inside space it doesn’t work, no matter how supernatural you are that is a logical contradiction. I don’t have a particular problem with a person arguing one way or the other, either God can exist within space and interact with matter, or he is outside of space and thus cannot interact with matter in space. Omnipresence means literally everywhere in space, you cannot claim that a being is everywhere in space, yet exists outside of space (which implies that being is not inside space, i.e. cannot be omnipresent).

    I didn’t say anything about supernaturalism in this post, my point was to highlight that logical contradiction. Even if the supernatural exists, and God exists, I’d posit that being could not break the laws of logic. If you are claiming that God exists above, beyond, or outside of space yet is omnipresent and capable of interacting with matter in space then that God is a logical contradiction.

    It’s not the only logical contradiction applied to God there is plenty of others. A perfect being that wants to be worshipped is a logical contradiction. By definition a perfect being would have no wants or desires, and would therefore not have any desire to be worshipped. A perfectly just and merciful being is a logical contradiction. Just means giving out the exact punishment or reward that is deserved, mercy means suspending just punishment out of pity or compassion, mercy is by definition not just. Then there are all the old classical contradictions; can God do something that he didn’t know he was going to do? etc. etc.

    This post isn’t about naturalism vs supernaturalism, its about resorting to logical contradictions in order to defend the existence of God.

  3. Doctor Bad Sign

    In fact I’ve got an even better analogy. To claim that God exists beyond space and time, yet can interact with matter in space is like me claiming to have swept the floor inside a room that I’ve never been in.

  4. I think the big confusion here is what omnipresence actually means. If God and the supernatural realm exist, then omnipresence extends to both the natural AND the supernatural. Again, pre-supposing only the natural leaves your definition and argument a bit short-sighted.

    • Doctor Bad Sign

      Even so, how can God be everywhere within the natural realm, yet be outside of the universe at the same time?

      Do you accept that this is illogical? If so then which God do you believe in, one which is outside of the universe, or one which is omnipresent?

    • It would be illogical for a completely natural being. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. A God who is supernatural and created the universe is not bound to natural law, so it’s not illogical for Him to be both transcendent and omnipresent.

      • Doctor Bad Sign

        So basically ‘the supernatural’ is just another cop-out that allows you to have logically inconsistent beliefs without having to justify them…

        ‘It’s magic’ is not a reasonable way to explain something contradictory if you ask me.

      • Not at all. When you’re talking about space-time you have to understand the rules. When you’re talking about the supernatural you have to understand the rules.

        An OK analogy (albeit a naturalistic one and so fatal in some respects) would be to think of God as a computer designer. Because He built the thing, He certainly has working knowledge of all of its parts and is able to tinker with any piece of it that He needs to in order for it to fulfill its purpose.

        What you are expecting of God is for Him to be the computer designer, but only able to work and tinker if He were physically inside the computer itself. A designer can work on the inside of a computer either in the midst of all of the parts (think hardware production) and/or outside of them (think software). It’s not simply an either/or proposition, and I think trying to make it fit into that mold is short-sighted and merely a pre-disposition to ignore the full reality about what omnipresence actually means.

        It’s not an “it’s magic” idea, unfortunately. And it certainly sounds a lot better than “I have no answer.”

  5. Doctor Bad Sign

    “Not at all. When you’re talking about space-time you have to understand the rules. When you’re talking about the supernatural you have to understand the rules.”

    How do you understand the rules of something that you can’t even demonstrate? Can you list some rules that apply to the supernatural and give some evidence as to why that should be so?

    If I were to say that the rules of logic apply to the supernatural, and you say that they don’t, how can you demonstrate that your assertion is any more valid than mine?

    • It’s an if-then statement. If God (and the supernatural realm) exists, then the logical implications are that certain other circumstances would have to be present. I touched on this in my response to you on my blog just a few minutes ago.

      I fully believe that God adheres to the laws of logic. But I do not believe that God fully adheres to the laws of nature. And that’s the distinction you’ve failed to make. You’re putting God inside a naturalistic box and saying it doesn’t add up. You’re right; it doesn’t add up naturalistically. But you can’t discuss the implications of supernaturalism (or a lack thereof) and only use the rules of naturalism. It’s shortsighted and mis-informed.

      • Doctor Bad Sign

        The God you posited in your post does not adhere to the laws of logic.

        To use two of the terms you stated; omnipotence, and omniscient. If God can do anything then, he’d be able to do something that he didn’t know he was going to do – which would mean that in order to do so he cannot be all-knowing. But if he can’t do it this means that he cannot do anything. So according to some very simple logic God cannot be omnipotent and omniscient.

        Either God adheres to the laws of logic, and is not omnipotent and omniscient or he does not adhere to the laws of logic.

      • No, God is logically omnipotent and logically omniscient. You’re betraying the nature of these concepts without a full understanding of their meaning. God can do anything that is logically possible, and can know anything that is logically knowable. But what you’re stating here is logically impossible, and so you’re submitting a logical conclusion based on an illogical premise. It’s a false dilemma and a bad understanding of the laws of logic.

  6. Doctor Bad Sign

    It is logically possible to do something that you didn’t know you were going to do. I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow, so tomorrow I will do something that I didn’t know I was going to do. Does that mean I can do something that God can’t?

    The premise isn’t illogical, it’s perfectly logical that one might do something that one didn’t know one was going to do. It only becomes a dilemma when it is claimed that one knows everything, and can do anything.

    So in essence I can and do, do something all the time, that God supposedly can’t do. If it is within my power to do it, why can’t God?

    • 2 problems with your argument:

      1) You’re not omniscient. There are some things you don’t know about at all, let alone in advance. So it’s logically possible for you, but not for an omniscient Being. Again, it’s placing a naturalistic box around a supernatural entity, which is a fatal flaw.

      2) There are quite a few things that you can do that God can’t. Change something about yourself, for one. Lie, for another. That doesn’t mean God is not omnipotent, nor does it mean that you are. It means He is able to do anything that is possible in accordance with His nature. That’s logical omnipotence. Your definitions here are shortsighted.

      So ultimately you are still using an illogical premise to satisfy a logical conclusion, which is absurd.

  7. Doctor Bad Sign

    I made this point in my reply on your blog. The God you’re talking about here is not the God that is depicted in the Bible:

    You say God cannot lie, but the God of the Bible does deceive people:

    “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:” – 2 Thessalonians 2:11

    “And if a prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet. ” – Ezekiel 14:9

    “O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived.” – Jeremiah 20:7

    Are you arguing for this God or some other God?

    • Well done cherrypicking these verses and taking them out of context. I’ll just pull the one from 2 Thessalonians 2 to discuss here. Whose lie are these people believing? Is it God’s? I would encourage you to read the preceding 3 verses and decide again. What is the charge against these people? Refusing to believe and be saved. It’s not ignorance; it’s rejection. Wonder if you might consider yourself to be in that boat, or are you willfully seeking out the truth about God?

      I tend to go with the consistency between here and Hebrews 6:16-20, which more explicitly states the qualities of God’s nature. God doesn’t lie, but He permits people to make their choice and see delusion as truth. Look at the amazing consistency between this passage and Romans 1:18-32.

      So the God I’m arguing for fits perfectly in line with what you’ve given here.

      Did you ever read the book of John like I asked? Or are you still being disingenuous in your Biblical references?

      • Doctor Bad Sign

        Jesus lies when he says that:

        “Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.””
        – Matthew 21:21-22

        If this were true then you could pray for me to become a Christian tomorrow and I would. If it doesn’t come true then it was a lie to say that whatever you ask for in prayer you will receive.

        Wanna carry on playing the cherry picking game? All it really shows is that the Bible has no consistent message. In one place it says God can’t lie, in another place God (Jesus) lies…

        I haven’t read John yet no, I have more interesting things to read at the moment.

      • Look at the context of the whole passage. Jesus showed them a miracle and when they asked how it was done, Jesus said if they believed in Him they could do miracles to.

        What happened in the book of Acts after Pentecost? The disciples were able to perform miracles in the name of Jesus, because they believed in Him as the living God and used His authority.

        So Jesus’ teaching here was prophetic, and was fulfilled by the disciples. Makes clear sense in the context of the passage, and internally consistent with the Bible.

        Interesting that you’ve abandoned the omnipresence argument and have simply gone to cherrypicking Biblical text. I think anyone who reads your blog is clear on your intentions and mis-representing of the facts, based on our little encounter here.

        When you read John sincerely, then maybe we can discuss this further. Until then, I see no reason to continue to pursue this line of debate.

  8. Doctor Bad Sign

    I was simply pursuing the logical contradictions of the God concept, of which omnipresence is merely one, inability to lie is another.

    I’d say that’s a far more honest debating tactic than moderating the comments on your posts, so you can decide not to approve whenever it suits you, so you can come across as having won the “debate”. What happened to the last couple of comments I wrote here: http://sabepashubbo.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/evidence-for-gods-existence-the-argument-for-intangible-soul/ for example? I made a follow up comment to the last post you made and posted several links to books/articles demonstrating the evolution of language – the posts don’t even appear as ‘awaiting moderation’ any more, so I can only assume they were deleted… If that is not the case then I apologise and ask that you allow those comments to be seen.

    I hope the same fate doesn’t befall my comments on your other post simply because I showed that your assertions were wrong…

    • I don’t think I ever got those comments, to be quite honest. If you posted something and it didn’t get up, sorry. I don’t make a habit of running from a debate, because my belief in God is sound and entirely defensible.

      Omnipresence and the inability to lie are not logical contradictions, as I’ve shown. Perhaps I ought to write a blog on the subject to try and consolidate my position, because it seems you’re set on mis-characterizing the God you don’t believe in.

      • Doctor Bad Sign

        Omnipresence, omniscience etc are logical contradiction if you exclude the caveat ‘within the bounds of what is logically possible for God to do’, but this is very much a post hoc line of reasoning. This shows another weakness of the God concept. People didn’t start out by adding that caveat, they simply asserted ‘God can do anything’ – it was only when people showed that this idea was ridiculous by asking ‘well can God make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it?’ then they introduced a caveat ‘well of course what we mean is God can do anything that is logically consistent with his nature…’

        This is exactly like the example I was using earlier when I was talking about the dragon. When it is pointed out that no body else sees it, I just assert ‘well of course you can’t he’s invisible!’ – the fact that this is logically consistent with the events doesn’t mean that it is really there. To be honest logical consistency doesn’t make something true. Harry Potter is logically consistent, and that isn’t true.

        So we could sit and discuss this till we’re both blue in the face, but logical consistency or not, the fundamental flaw is that you cannot demonstrate that God exists. Just as I could go on all day about the logical consistency of my dragon, and how he doesn’t contradict himself or the laws of nature, the fundamental, and fatal flaw is that I cannot demonstrate unequivocally that I actually have a dragon in the first place.

      • But see, you’re arguing the negative of what you argued before. Initially, your argument was, “It can’t be true because it’s logically inconsistent.” When I pointed out that the argument made was not about the classical theistic God, you switched to the negative: “Even though its logically consistent, that doesn’t make it true.” Do you see how when the terms and boundaries are correctly defined your original position doesn’t hold any weight?

        I agree with you that logical consistency doesn’t mean truth. Your dragon analogy demonstrates this. But if you start to see evidence of a dragon (i.e. scorch marks, dragon-esque footprints, an animal-like odor), even though you can’t see a dragon, there seems to be evidence that supports the conclusion that the presence of a dragon is at least a reasonable hypothesis given the evidence. So you take all of the possible hypotheses for the scorch marks, footprints and odor and pit them against each other and see which one is the most causally adequate explanation of the evidence.

        And that’s the evidentiary method that historical scientists use when piecing together the past: the method of inference to the best explanation. Again, read my post on the teleological argument for a description of this method. This method is scientifically sufficient to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence.

        So all the theist is tasked with is showing that the most causally adequate explanation of the data is the existence of God. And as you well know, there is no shortage of arguments and scientific data that theists believe demonstrate a supernatural Being like the classical theistic God as the best explanation of the evidence we have.

        Again, it’s only a fatal flaw if you pre-suppose naturalism and place God inside of your framework, instead of yourself in His, if He exists. That’s why the logical inconsistency isn’t about God, it’s about the naturalistic position.

  9. Doctor Bad Sign

    Well I still think that an omnipresent being who is transcendent is illogical, but you introduced a caveat that with the introduction of the supernatural realm these two properties are logically consistent with each other. Which I can grant you if you like, but that is exactly what I’m talking about when it comes for introducing post hoc caveats to make your position logically coherent, which is exactly like my example of asserting that the dragon is invisible when faced with the awkward fact that no one can see it…

    There is a major difference between science and theology. Imagine that all the scientific knowledge about the world disappeared entirely, and we were back to square one. Eventually, assuming that we remain endowed with the same level of intelligence and curiosity, we would arrive at the same conclusions about the world using the same methods. This is the strength of naturalism, reality is the way it is, and that doesn’t change whether you believe in it or not.

    Now imagine if all knowledge of religion disappeared. Do you think it is possible that over time we’d end up with exactly the same doctrines and beliefs that we have today? I would be willing to bet that we’d end up with completely different conclusions (with some superficial similarities perhaps) on the nature of the supernatural. Why is that? Because the supernatural does not correspond with anything measurable, and unchanging, it is simply a set of ideas that become accepted as truth using nothing more than blind faith.

    This is why there is so much disagreement over the nature of the supernatural, because there are no experiments, no observations, people don’t check their results against each other because there are no results. If theological claims were self-evidently true then all religions would agree, and all scientists would too.

    The truth of the matter is that there is no empirical evidence in favour of any supernatural claim, and there is no convincing philosophical arguments in favour of them (that is the central tenant of atheism). This is why no religions can agree with each other, and this is why there are such a thing as atheists.

    I personally don’t care what people wish to believe about the world, I reserve every right to disagree, but I strongly dislike the implication of many theists which is that there must me something rationally inept about someone who doesn’t accept their outlandish claims. If you have your faith then that’s fine, but it is faith, and that is all that it is. I don’t accept it because it is not self evidently true, that is all.

    Naturalism provides a cohesive explanation of everything from why males are colour blind far more often than females, to how light behaves every time you turn on the switch in your room, and it does so without assuming anything supernatural.

    I do not accept the claim that the initial cause of the universe was an author who had a human son. That is all. If you wish to believe that then fine, be my guest, but you have to concede that this is not some self-evident truth that I am completely oblivious to.

    I don’t wish to seem hostile, I actually enjoy our discussions, but I wanted to lay my cards on the table and stake out my position with as much clarity as I can muster (hence the rant). I grant you your right to believe what you want, but I resent the implication that I am somehow inept because I do not share that belief.

    • Your point is well taken, and I completely respect your right to disagree and/or disbelieve. I’m simply trying to make two points clear in this discussion, and they are connected together:

      1) These caveats are not post hoc, because if they were they would be my invention. But they clearly existed before our discussion. They are also based on claims made in the Bible, which of course is very old. So it’s not like theists introduced something new to ward off the challenge; rather, it’s a challenge made with limited understanding and/or awareness of the previously-given Biblical truths, from which these qualities and characteristics of God are derived.

      2) That the statements made in your original post were based on a pre-supposition of naturalism as all there is. I think in your scenario about the elimination of knowledge of science and religion, it’s not nearly as cut and dry as you would have it be. If that were the case, then before science really began people like Plato and Aristotle, as philosophers, would not have remarked that the universe appears designed (I found this in Craig’s book “On Guard,” which I apologize for not having with me so I can give direct quotations). Since science was not pervasive in that culture, they drew these conclusions based on awareness of their surroundings, so an elimination of knowledge such as you’re saying would likely cause the same results we see today, because the innate conclusion based on simple revelation to nature is to attribute it to something higher than ourselves. Only a suppression of such an instinct by limiting the scope to pure naturalism would result in such an effect as you claim, in my opinion.

      I’m not saying that it makes you rationally inept to dis-believe in God. I just see it as intellectually dishonest to consider it an unreasonable hypothesis given the data we have. If the data were really so poor, it wouldn’t be such a hotly-debated topic, because there would be no leg to stand on.

      I would ponder to reason that you might think me rationally inept for not granting naturalism given the data that you’ve presented. But I hope that’s not the case, because I’ve tried repeatedly to show you that the theist’s claim is not based on whim or hope of magic. It’s grounded in logical arguments with evidentiary support from science, mathematics, philosophy and properly basic experience. The theist position isn’t based on absurdity, but is very carefully laid out so that the objections made to it are rationally defensible, as I feel I’ve demonstrated here.

      So my invitation is to check it out for what it is, which is why I continue to ask you to read John. It’s a launching point for understanding why Christians believe that a belief in Jesus is both a rational and emotionally satisfying perspective to have. I’d love to accompany you on that journey; would you join me?

  10. Doctor Bad Sign

    “These caveats are not post hoc, because if they were they would be my invention. But they clearly existed before our discussion. They are also based on claims made in the Bible, which of course is very old. So it’s not like theists introduced something new to ward off the challenge; rather, it’s a challenge made with limited understanding and/or awareness of the previously-given Biblical truths, from which these qualities and characteristics of God are derived.”

    I grant that those caveats might not be your invention, my point was that in all likelihood they were invented because of people spotting the logical flaws, rather than being considered a necessity from the start.

    In my opinion, and from what I’ve read the Bible is not a consistent text containing one theology, rather it is a book written over centuries containing the theological views of a diverse range of people over a diverse range of times. For example some passages such as Jacob’s wrestling with God depict a very anthropomorphic being who could appear in flesh to interact with people in a very physical manner. Other passages depict a more ethereal being who is distanced from the more anthropomorphic depictions. Then we have the Christian theology adding to and changing the context of the older Jewish texts – for example original sin is derived from Genesis, but not actually mentioned explicitly in the book itself. I don’t know whether or not you’d agree with that, but in my opinion the Bible contains a diverse collection of different people’s interpretations of God, and this makes it difficult to derive a consistent picture of God.

    Then of course we have things such as the KCA which as far as I am aware are relatively modern theological arguments which have arisen since advancements in cosmology depicted a universe with a beginning (I might be wrong, it might well pre-date the big bang theory, but my point is that we don’t find the KCA explicitly stated in the Bible).

    The point I’m trying to make is that God is a changing concept, and over time it branches into different areas, I’m sure you’re aware of Christians who have different theological views to those you hold…

    “That the statements made in your original post were based on a pre-supposition of naturalism as all there is. I think in your scenario about the elimination of knowledge of science and religion, it’s not nearly as cut and dry as you would have it be. If that were the case, then before science really began people like Plato and Aristotle, as philosophers, would not have remarked that the universe appears designed (I found this in Craig’s book “On Guard,” which I apologize for not having with me so I can give direct quotations). Since science was not pervasive in that culture, they drew these conclusions based on awareness of their surroundings, so an elimination of knowledge such as you’re saying would likely cause the same results we see today, because the innate conclusion based on simple revelation to nature is to attribute it to something higher than ourselves. Only a suppression of such an instinct by limiting the scope to pure naturalism would result in such an effect as you claim, in my opinion.”

    As I said I think in the scenario I mentioned there might be superficial similarities in the redevelopment of religion over time, and I think the notion of design would be one of those. But would the doctrine of original sin arise again independently after the Bible and all knowledge of religion had been forgotten? Would people view Jesus as the saviour if no trace of him was remembered? I don’t doubt that something like the notion of a soul, or design would arise again, because those things are common to most religions – which suggests that they are ideas that people can arrive at independently, I think it would be stretching it to say that Christianity as it is today would arise again, if the slate was wiped clean and people had to develop religion all over again.

    “I’m not saying that it makes you rationally inept to dis-believe in God. I just see it as intellectually dishonest to consider it an unreasonable hypothesis given the data we have. If the data were really so poor, it wouldn’t be such a hotly-debated topic, because there would be no leg to stand on.”

    The idea of some kind of designer is not something I would discount entirely as being an unreasonable hypothesis, my view is that there is no reason to postulate it without empirical evidence. In my opinion a philosophical argument does not constitute empirical evidence. So far everything we know of and can measure in the universe works, and makes sense without the assumption of God. For the things that we currently don’t know, such as: what happened before the big bang, or what the unifying theory of everything is there is, in my opinion no reason to posit God. It might well turn out to be the case that one day we find that God is necessary to solve these unknowns, on the other hand we may not. In my opinion it is better to suspend judgement on the matter until the evidence is in. In essence I don’t believe that there is no God, I merely see absolutely no reason to believe it given the current state of the evidence.

    Furthermore, if we were to find one day that there was some kind of supernatural mind behind the universe this would take us to deism, or some form of pantheism perhaps, as I’ve said before the cosmological arguments for God’s existence only ever take us that far, so even if I did accept them, it is still a huge leap of logic to go from there to a God who has a special fondness for circumcised males from Israel.

    “I would ponder to reason that you might think me rationally inept for not granting naturalism given the data that you’ve presented. But I hope that’s not the case, because I’ve tried repeatedly to show you that the theist’s claim is not based on whim or hope of magic. It’s grounded in logical arguments with evidentiary support from science, mathematics, philosophy and properly basic experience. The theist position isn’t based on absurdity, but is very carefully laid out so that the objections made to it are rationally defensible, as I feel I’ve demonstrated here.”

    I don’t think that you’re rationally inept, I think that you and I have different standards by which we judge evidence and logical arguments etc. I study science, so I have an idea of the kinds of standards of evidence required to make a claim about reality, and I find that much of the evidence and arguments presented by theists falls short of that. Perhaps you think that I hold too high a standard of evidence, or that the scientific standard of evidence doesn’t work for said claims, however I have good reason to think that the scientific method is the best means that we have for discerning reality (this is evidenced by the advancements made by science over the last 300 years) and I hold that standard as a means for judging all claims. Its not that I decide, ‘well its not scientifically supported therefore its false’ its that I see no reason to believe something without a scientific standard of evidence.

    “So my invitation is to check it out for what it is, which is why I continue to ask you to read John. It’s a launching point for understanding why Christians believe that a belief in Jesus is both a rational and emotionally satisfying perspective to have. I’d love to accompany you on that journey; would you join me?”

    I would like to respectfully decline your invitation, as I feel it may be better to agree to disagree on the matter rather than invite more debate. Perhaps I will read through it one day, but I am busy reading lots of material for my essay at the moment.

    • I understand your point on the caveats, but to say they were “invented” suggests that the truths were not available prior to the logical objections, which is simply not the case. I can’t argue for a characteristic of God that has no Biblical support if I am to believe Christianity to be true.

      I also can take your opinion of the Bible, but let me ask you this: what do you think is the purpose of the Bible? Regardless of whether it was divinely inspired and who wrote it, what is its purpose or message?

      On the fantastic scenario: I think this is a mis-conception of the argument. What you’re suggesting is not that we eliminate religion in this sense; what you’re asking is that we eliminate history. Jesus was not just a religious figure–he was a historical figure as well. We could make the same argument for any historical figure that had influence. Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, you name it. I would dare to say that if you took only the things that Jesus said and removed his miracles, you would still see religion like Christianity come forth from this, because his claims to divinity were unprecedented and his teachings backed up his claims. So I don’t think I can concede this argument because it’s not predicated on the initial assumptions.

      On design: I feel like in my related post on my blog I’ve shown that there is empirical evidence that points to design. Post hoc lottery argument aside, the precision with which the fundamental forces are aligned to permit life is astronomically unlikely given the possible scenarios. We can play the “what if” game all day long about the odds or the possible number of other universes, but the probability of these things arising by chance are far more astronomical than the probability of design. On such assumptions alone it is far more reasonable to assume design than chance, given the empirical evidence and the probability statistics.

      I know that you judge things on scientific merit, but as I’ve tried to show you before I find that method to be wholly insufficient due to its naturalistic bias. The scientific method is the preferred method for what I call “operation science,” and I don’t dispute that. But for “origin science,” the scientific method cannot be used due to its inability to measure or repeat original events. See my blog post on “nature of the gaps” for a more in-depth explanation of these terms and why the scientific method must be used in conjunction with the method of inference to the best explanation.

      I sincerely hope you will one day read the book of John with the intent of deriving its meaning and purpose. Perhaps then, if nothing else, you will better understand the perspective of Christians and our beliefs. And maybe, just maybe, your eyes might be opened to the wonderful truth that I believe lies within those very pages, and we might be able to have a discussion instead of a debate. 🙂

  11. Doctor Bad Sign

    “I also can take your opinion of the Bible, but let me ask you this: what do you think is the purpose of the Bible? Regardless of whether it was divinely inspired and who wrote it, what is its purpose or message?”

    I’d say that just as it has many different ideas of God, it also has had many different purposes over the years. Furthermore, I’d say that the purpose of the book is most likely in the eye of the reader.

    “On the fantastic scenario: I think this is a mis-conception of the argument. What you’re suggesting is not that we eliminate religion in this sense; what you’re asking is that we eliminate history. Jesus was not just a religious figure–he was a historical figure as well. We could make the same argument for any historical figure that had influence. Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, you name it. I would dare to say that if you took only the things that Jesus said and removed his miracles, you would still see religion like Christianity come forth from this, because his claims to divinity were unprecedented and his teachings backed up his claims. So I don’t think I can concede this argument because it’s not predicated on the initial assumptions.”

    Well the argument would require that the religious texts would be lost/forgotten, and thus the only accounts of the historical Jesus’ deeds/words etc would also be lost. Without these I don’t think Christianity would arise independently if Christianity had been forgotten. However if Charles Darwin had been forgotten and his findings lost, we would still have the same evidence available to arrive at the same conclusion that he did. Indeed the theory of natural selection was arrived at independently by Alfred Russell Wallace – which goes to show that science isn’t down to the revelations of an individual, its down to what the individual can discover about nature. If evolution and natural selection were forgotten and Charles Darwin were lost to memory, someone would eventually arrive at the same conclusions about nature, the same could not be said for Jesus and his revelations about the nature of God.

    “On design: I feel like in my related post on my blog I’ve shown that there is empirical evidence that points to design. Post hoc lottery argument aside, the precision with which the fundamental forces are aligned to permit life is astronomically unlikely given the possible scenarios. We can play the “what if” game all day long about the odds or the possible number of other universes, but the probability of these things arising by chance are far more astronomical than the probability of design. On such assumptions alone it is far more reasonable to assume design than chance, given the empirical evidence and the probability statistics.”

    We don’t have a theory of everything yet. At the moment we have no explanation as to why the fundamental constants are the way they are, however it could well be that they are a product of a more fundamental law that we have yet to understand, one day we may come to understand with precision how they came to be, and whether or not they could be any other way.

    Improbability does not make God the only reasonable explanation. Incredibly improbable things happen all the time, and we don’t feel the need to invoke some kind of purpose to explain them. I was out walking the other day an a leaf fell off a tree and landed right in front of me just as I happened to be walking past it. This event is staggeringly improbable, of all the leaves on that tree it happened to be that particular leaf that fell at that particular moment as I happened to be walking past, and landed in that particular spot out of all the spots it could have landed at all the different times it could have fallen, yet it fell just as I was walking past, right in front of me. Then I could add to that the likelihood of my deciding to take a walk that day at that time out of all the other things I could have done… If I were to put all those numbers into an equation the likelihood of it happening would be astronomically improbable. Improbable doesn’t mean the same as impossible.

    The other thing that makes using improbability completely pointless is because we simply aren’t aware of all the factors. Say for example the theory of everything predicts that the laws of the universe can only be one way. Well that changes the odds somewhat doesn’t it? Or if there are countless other universes all coming into being all the time, then this changes the odds somewhat as well doesn’t it? You can’t calculate the probability of something when you have no idea of what the variables are.

    “I know that you judge things on scientific merit, but as I’ve tried to show you before I find that method to be wholly insufficient due to its naturalistic bias. The scientific method is the preferred method for what I call “operation science,” and I don’t dispute that. But for “origin science,” the scientific method cannot be used due to its inability to measure or repeat original events. See my blog post on “nature of the gaps” for a more in-depth explanation of these terms and why the scientific method must be used in conjunction with the method of inference to the best explanation.”

    I think the scientific method is perfectly applicable to past events for two reasons: 1. Past events leave traces in the present, which we can measure and observe (such as the cosmic microwave background radiation) and 2. Experiments can replicate the conditions of past events (the LHC for example creates conditions similar to those after the big bang). In light of this I think science is a perfectly suited method for analysing past events.

    Also the inference to the best explanation in my opinion would be inference to a natural explanation. Say you find an ancient manuscript that claimed the king of whichever country descended from the sun on a golden ship carried by winged virgins. Which of the following conclusions does the inference to the best explanation take you:

    1. The story is made up, and never really happened
    2. The only explanation is that it did happen

    Going by what we know about the universe, we can say ‘well people don’t tend to descend from the sun in a golden ship carried by winged virgins’ therefore we can conclude that in all probability the story was invented rather than the laws of the universe being suspended.

    Replace this story with Jesus rising from the dead and you see what I’m getting at.

    Even if Jesus did rise from the dead, going by the evidence that we currently have available to us, any naturalistic explanation would be more likely. A man rising from being dead after 3 days is far less likely than his body being moved to an unmarked grave, or his followers going to the wrong tomb or any other naturalistic explanation you can think of. So even with inference to the best explanation, the supernatural doesn’t come across too well.

    • so3man

      I was starting to think you had forgotten about me. Where do we begin?

      On the Bible: I think it’s important to know what it’s intent is, don’t you? I only say this because you’re making implications about what isn’t there (in your mind cohesion and a rational framework for God) without understanding what is there. So I’m trying to get at what you believe the intent of the text is.

      On your fantastic scenario: I think making a post hoc assumption about whether or not religion would show up in these circumstances doesn’t really apply to the argument or to your original post. However, prior to Jesus, we still had belief in the supernatural from unrelated, non-religious sources (as I’ve shown with Plato and Aristotle). And this is based on perceived evidence, same as natural selection. So I don’t think science really gets the edge here, particularly when religion was a much more prominent factor than science was initially. In fact, many have tried to make the case that science was spawned out of a desire to know more about the world so that God could receive even more glory based on our knowledge of His power and love for us. When the deck’s not stacked, both science and religion come into play, I think.

      On design: Not having an explanation yet is not a satisfactory answer, scientific method or not. We don’t place stock in naturalism on this in hopes that it will one day answer the question. We can only make an assessment given the data that we have, and that data supports intelligent design, particularly on this issue.

      The only issue with probability is when you look at it post hoc, as you are doing here. On naturalism, it doesn’t matter how improbable the event as long as it happened. It’s taking a lottery approach, where a 49 million to 1 chance becomes 1 to 1 as soon as a winner is found. With the supernatural hypothesis, the odds were always 1 to 1. It makes the supernaturalistic hypothesis therefore not a post hoc assumption, and rather an observation of the data we have.

      On methods: I encourage you to re-read my posts on both the teleological argument and nature of the gaps. When I talk about an original event, it is what I call an unobservable singularity. For instance, the birth of George Washington can’t be observed or repeated; therefore, it is an original event. So by using the scientific method (which requires observation, measurability and repeatability) alone, we can’t determine George Washington was ever born. So how do we know he even existed? We use abductive reasoning.

      And that’s why I say the scientific method is insufficient for explaining such events. Effects can be measured, and post hoc conditions can be replicated, but the event itself cannot on either front, which means the scientific method falls short of the standard for explaining the event.

      On inference to best explanation: I think your analogy is a bit short-sighted. I would read up somewhere on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. If people previously timid and scared of the police at the time of the ship were suddenly proclaiming the truthfulness of the ship and willing to die for the belief in the ship, what do you think? If skeptics about the ship and enemies of the ruler who rode in on the ship suddenly changed their tune and said that the ship’s existence was quite real, and dedicated their life anew to teaching about the ship, what would you think about the ship then? If at the time of the ship story it would be shameful to admit that women first reported the sighting of the ship, yet the story was told that way anyway, what would the most reasonable conclusion be? Now take all of that information pieced together, realize you can’t observe, measure or repeat such an event, and what reasonable hypotheses could you derive?

      1. Everyone in this scenario was completely deluded.
      2. The event actually happened.
      3. People planted evidence and information to make it seem like this happened, when it actually didn’t.

      Take a look at some historians’ accounts and information of the available data we have on Jesus. The “stole the body” or “wrong tomb” theories have been blown out of the water. The “everyone was deluded” theory has been similarly shot down. The most reasonable explanation based on this method is that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.

      The method makes sense to use for these unobservable singularities, and is completely consistent with the best explanation of Jesus as rising from the dead. The supernatural comes across just fine when you use the correct method and don’t pre-suppose naturalistic assumptions.

      P.S. Sorry for the novel.

  12. Sorry, the above was me. Don’t know why it had me logged in as that.

  13. Doctor Bad Sign

    “I was starting to think you had forgotten about me. Where do we begin?

    On the Bible: I think it’s important to know what it’s intent is, don’t you? I only say this because you’re making implications about what isn’t there (in your mind cohesion and a rational framework for God) without understanding what is there. So I’m trying to get at what you believe the intent of the text is.”

    I don’t think it is possible for a book that was written over so many centuries by so many different people to have consistent intentions behind it as a whole.

    “On your fantastic scenario: I think making a post hoc assumption about whether or not religion would show up in these circumstances doesn’t really apply to the argument or to your original post. However, prior to Jesus, we still had belief in the supernatural from unrelated, non-religious sources (as I’ve shown with Plato and Aristotle). And this is based on perceived evidence, same as natural selection. So I don’t think science really gets the edge here, particularly when religion was a much more prominent factor than science was initially. In fact, many have tried to make the case that science was spawned out of a desire to know more about the world so that God could receive even more glory based on our knowledge of His power and love for us. When the deck’s not stacked, both science and religion come into play, I think.”

    I granted that certain aspects of religious belief would persist, however the point of the scenario is to highlight that if religion started again, the end point would be different, whereas if science started over again the end point would be the same.

    I don’t deny that religion is prevalent, I think that is down to a mixture of psychological, neurological and evolutionary factors, and I don’t doubt that those factors would cause a belief in the supernatural to arise again – however the whole point of the scenario is that Christianity would not arise in the exact same way again.

    “On design: Not having an explanation yet is not a satisfactory answer, scientific method or not. We don’t place stock in naturalism on this in hopes that it will one day answer the question. We can only make an assessment given the data that we have, and that data supports intelligent design, particularly on this issue.”

    Not having an explanation is the most intellectually honest position to take given the evidence. I am very confident that naturalism will one day be able to answer our deepest questions, one only has to look at it’s track record over the last 300 years. Look at the increased life expectancy, the technology that we have these days and the quality of life that comes with it, these didn’t come about because we decided that ‘God did it’ was the best answer to all our questions, we arrived where we did because we thought ‘well, I don’t know the answer to that, let’s roll up our sleeves and find out’. The very fact that we are sitting here talking, and have a life expectancy of 70+ years is because we assumed naturalism, over supernaturalism.

    The data simply does not support intelligent design. If it did then there would be consensus on the issue. The data supports that the Earth is round, and everyone agrees, if there was similar support for the notion of design then there would be similar consensus. In fact the consensus in biology points away from intelligent design. The overwhelming consensus among biologists is that life is the result of non-random survival of randomly mutating replicators, rather than intelligent design.

    “The only issue with probability is when you look at it post hoc, as you are doing here. On naturalism, it doesn’t matter how improbable the event as long as it happened. It’s taking a lottery approach, where a 49 million to 1 chance becomes 1 to 1 as soon as a winner is found. With the supernatural hypothesis, the odds were always 1 to 1. It makes the supernaturalistic hypothesis therefore not a post hoc assumption, and rather an observation of the data we have.”

    Well in terms of the universe you simply cannot make a probability judgement on the likelihood that it would have been one way or another. In order to make such a judgement we’d need the following info, that we currently do not have:

    1. Knowledge of whether the fundamental constants could vary (if they cannot then the odds of them being the way they are, are exactly 1 in 1)
    2. If the fundamental constants can vary, we’d need to know how much they can vary (if there are 10 different ways they can vary, the odds would be different to if there are 1000 million ways that they can vary)
    3. Whether or not there are a number of different universes (the odds would vary depending on the number)

    Without any knowledge of these three things it is pointless to talk about the probability of the fundamental constants being this way or that, because we don’t know if the chances are 1 in 1 or 1 in 84039530342834 billion.

    In light of this there is no way that you can say with any confidence that the universe is too unlikely to have arisen by chance alone. Any attempt to do so would either be mistaken or dishonest. It would be analogous to trying to predict the probability that I will throw a 6 without any idea how many sides the dice has, how many dice I’m going to throw, or how many times I’m going to throw them. You simply cannot make a probability judgement without all the info.

    “On methods: I encourage you to re-read my posts on both the teleological argument and nature of the gaps. When I talk about an original event, it is what I call an unobservable singularity. For instance, the birth of George Washington can’t be observed or repeated; therefore, it is an original event. So by using the scientific method (which requires observation, measurability and repeatability) alone, we can’t determine George Washington was ever born. So how do we know he even existed? We use abductive reasoning.”

    There are plenty of legitimate fields of science that deal with historical events that cannot be repeated:
    Cosmology
    Astronomy
    Palaeontology
    Geology
    Evolutionary Biology
    Genetics
    and so on.
    This doesn’t mean that they fail the criteria of being science, or that they cannot use the scientific method.

    “And that’s why I say the scientific method is insufficient for explaining such events. Effects can be measured, and post hoc conditions can be replicated, but the event itself cannot on either front, which means the scientific method falls short of the standard for explaining the event.”

    The scientific method is perfectly valid for explaining many things that we have not observed directly. Astronomers have never sat and watched the entire life cycle of a star, but they can explain how the life cycle of a star works by observing stars in different stages of development. Scientists never observed therapod dinosaurs developing into birds, but we can observe the anatomical similarities, and we have numerous transitional fossils with a mosaic of anatomical features between the two groups (my avatar being one of those). To say that we had to be there in order to explain something is ridiculous.

    It’s even more ridiculous to say that if we can’t explain something using science, then supernaturalism can step in instead.

    “On inference to best explanation: I think your analogy is a bit short-sighted. I would read up somewhere on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. If people previously timid and scared of the police at the time of the ship were suddenly proclaiming the truthfulness of the ship and willing to die for the belief in the ship, what do you think? If skeptics about the ship and enemies of the ruler who rode in on the ship suddenly changed their tune and said that the ship’s existence was quite real, and dedicated their life anew to teaching about the ship, what would you think about the ship then? If at the time of the ship story it would be shameful to admit that women first reported the sighting of the ship, yet the story was told that way anyway, what would the most reasonable conclusion be? Now take all of that information pieced together, realize you can’t observe, measure or repeat such an event, and what reasonable hypotheses could you derive?”

    Willingness to die for a belief does not prove that said belief was accurate. People are willing to blow themselves up because they really believe that they will be rewarded in heaven – this, I’m sure you will agree has no impact on the validity of their belief.

    Also all those things you mention do not make the supernatural the most likely explanation. Firstly it is only the Bible that documents these supposed events, it could quite easily be the case that the biased authors decided to include skeptics being convinced as a way of attempting to validate the beliefs. In much the same way that someone selling a phoney product might put a testimonial on the back saying “I really didn’t believe that this stuff could ever work, but I tried it and it really did!”

    Even so, even if skeptics were convinced that doesn’t mean anything, because they could easily have been wrong.

    “1. Everyone in this scenario was completely deluded.
    2. The event actually happened.
    3. People planted evidence and information to make it seem like this happened, when it actually didn’t.”

    4. The authors of the only documents describing the events were not eyewitnesses, they wrote their accounts many years after the proposed event, their accounts differ from each other, their authors are biased, there is no independent contemporary sources corroborating their accounts… Therefore we can cast reasonable doubt on the information they contain…

    “Take a look at some historians’ accounts and information of the available data we have on Jesus. The “stole the body” or “wrong tomb” theories have been blown out of the water. The “everyone was deluded” theory has been similarly shot down. The most reasonable explanation based on this method is that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.”

    This paragraph is meaningless without any citations, you say that these historians blow the alternative theories out of the water, well I’ve read at least one book by a respected Bible historian who doesn’t think so (Bart Ehrman), and I’ve heard talks from many others who’d disagree (Robert Price: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gouJ1_mYtDo). Blown out of the water? I think that is a slight exaggeration…

    • “I don’t think it is possible for a book that was written over so many centuries by so many different people to have consistent intentions behind it as a whole.”

      Why not? Do you have some evidence of the impossibility?

      “I granted that certain aspects of religious belief would persist, however the point of the scenario is to highlight that if religion started again, the end point would be different, whereas if science started over again the end point would be the same.”

      Again, how could you possibly know this? It’s pure speculation given the information we’ve both demonstrated here.

      “Not having an explanation is the most intellectually honest position to take given the evidence.”

      Is this the advice one gives to a cancer patient? “We don’t have an answer on how to cure cancer, so we just go with that and hope for the best”? Or do we recommend treatment based on the best knowledge we have at the current moment? Why choose one standard for one and a completely different standard for another? That seems rather arbitrary.

      “The data simply does not support intelligent design. If it did then there would be consensus on the issue.”

      And yet there is no data supporting M-Theory, the multiverse hypothesis or an eternal universe. So why is there scientific consensus that one of these is most likely to be true? Sounds like a naturalistic bias, which goes against proper evidentiary discovery.

      “There are plenty of legitimate fields of science that deal with historical events that cannot be repeated: This doesn’t mean that they fail the criteria of being science, or that they cannot use the scientific method.”

      It does when you understand that the ability to repeat an event is a piece of the classical scientific method. Need to repeat an event that can’t be repeated means another method must be used. Inference to the best explanation is a historical science method, but its standards are different. We’re talking about the classical definition of the scientific method here.

      “The scientific method is perfectly valid for explaining many things that we have not observed directly. Astronomers have never sat and watched the entire life cycle of a star, but they can explain how the life cycle of a star works by observing stars in different stages of development.”

      Repeatable and observable events. Not apples to apples.

      “Willingness to die for a belief does not prove that said belief was accurate.”

      No, but a complete 180 from previous line of thought goes to evidence. Surely you understand this.

      “Firstly it is only the Bible that documents these supposed events, it could quite easily be the case that the biased authors decided to include skeptics being convinced as a way of attempting to validate the beliefs.”

      The problem is that most of the Bible is corroborated from external sources, most of which historians don’t dispute. So there is no reason to disbelieve the stories of the Bible unless you have a pre-disposition to, because historians at the time like Josephus and Tacitus only affirm the New Testament accounts.

      “4. The authors of the only documents describing the events were not eyewitnesses, they wrote their accounts many years after the proposed event, their accounts differ from each other, their authors are biased, there is no independent contemporary sources corroborating their accounts… Therefore we can cast reasonable doubt on the information they contain…”

      Ask secular and theological historians about the dates and authorship of these books. You’ll find this hypothesis to be most invalid based on what you find.

      I feel like most of your arguments are red herrings, though. How does any of this contribute to your initial argument on the supposed illogical nature of omnipresence? That is what I’d like to discuss, but you seem to have dropped that argument.

  14. Doctor Bad Sign

    I’d recommend the video I linked in the above comment and the following:

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