Friday, November 27, 2009

God and the Tooth Fairy, Pt. 3

We've been examining the claim, central to Richard Dawkins' and Christopher Hitchens' attack against Christianity, that belief in God is like belief in the Tooth Fairy. We have seen that any supposed similarity between the two is extremely superficial.

Though we have not discussed whole sets of evidence (historical, existential, philosophical, and others), we have seen that the scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the existence of the personal, self-existent God described in the Bible. The most obvious such evidence comes from the disciplines of astronomy and physics, but it is nonetheless hard to believe that Dawkins is unaware of those greatest discoveries of the last century. It seems inexcusable, though, that he is unaware of some other evidences--which come from his own discipline of biology--such as the recognition that all living things share the same information code in their DNA and that that code is (and has been since the first life appeared) extremely well designed.

But the point of this post is to leave behind the alleged superficial similarities between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy, and to look instead at the significant differences between the two. As we do, we will see not only that Dawkins and Hitchens are guilty of a faulty analogy but that, in fact, it is belief in no God--atheism--that has significant similarities to belief in the Tooth Fairy.

Belief in the Tooth Fairy--like belief in atheism--has not led to the establishment of a single hospital or orphanage. Belief in God has led to the founding of hospitals and orphanages on every continent.

Belief in the Tooth Fairy--like belief in atheism--has not resulted in the establishment of any universities. Belief in a transcendent God was behind the founding of all the institutions of higher learning, at least until the late 19th century, when the first secular (theology-neutral) school was founded.

It was belief in the God described in the Old and New Testaments that led to the founding of modern science, not belief in the Tooth Fairy or belief in naturalism.

Belief in God--unlike belief in atheism or the Tooth Fairy--provides the logical justification that makes science a worthwhile endeavor. Theism justifies (among other things) the expectation of finding order in the universe and the expectation that our senses and reasoning should be relaible in discovering that order.

Neither belief in the Tooth Fairy or belief in atheism provide an explanation for the existence/origin of the universe--monotheism does.

Theism offers a satisfactory explanation for the fact that mathematics and logic apply to this universe; naturalism and ToothFairyanism cannot.

Theism explains the existence of morality, of the universal sense of oughtness, and of the human experience of guilt. Atheism does not.

Indeed, all of the big questions that science addresses are satisfactorily explained by Christian theism and not by atheism or belief in the Tooth Fairy. These include (not only the existence of and the order in the universe already mentioned, but) the anthropic principle (the recognition that the universe, galaxy, and solar system are extremely, exquisitely designed for intelligent life on Earth), the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, and the origin of human consciousness.

Dawkins' and Hitchens' claim seems really silly when you get past the sound bite and spend a little time considering it. In truth, it takes a whole lot of blind faith to believe in no God, whereas all of the evidence and reason lead to the conclusion that God exists.

But other differences abound. No one has seen their life transformed by coming to believe in the Tooth Fairy or in atheism. But thousands, even millions of people credit their coming to believe in God for saving their marriage, turning them from alcohol, or drugs, or a life of crime, for transforming their children and families. Whole tribes, villages, regions, and even nations trace life-altering positive change to the power of the living God at work in their midst. No one so credits the Tooth Fairy, evolution, or no God with improving or transforming their lives.

This has been just a short list, and I've missed many of the ways in which belief in God is different from belief in the Tooth Fairy. But it should be obvious that in all these important ways and more, it is belief in no God that has a great deal in common with belief in the Tooth Fairy. So the next time you read or hear this vacuous faulty analogy, I hope you'll be prepared to refute it with the truth about the world in which we live.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

God and the Tooth Fairy, Pt. 2

So, we're discussing the argument made by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens that belief in God is like belief in the Tooth Fairy. I have made the claim that it is fallacious, that despite its centrality to what Hitchens and Dawkins are trying to do, it commits the informal logical fallacy called the faulty analogy.

We have dismissed several of the possible similarities between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy--the shared word 'belief,' that fact that both are invisible, the fact that both are immaterial. But before I discuss (in the next post) the significant and central differences between the two, I need to deal with one other alleged similarity--the epistemological one.

Probably what Dawkins and Hitchens are really claiming here is that the similarity between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy is that there is no evidence for either one.

Now, it should be obvious, right out of the gate, that there's a huge difference on this score. And that is that while no one over the age of 6 has ever seriously argued that there is evidence for the Tooth Fairy, millions of people have argued and continue to argue that there is overwhelming evidence for God. Indeed, universities and nations have been founded based on belief that there is sufficient evidence for the existence of God to make following Him one's life work.

So making the grand claim that there is no evidence for God is to deny virtually all of human history, much of the philosophy of Western thought, and some of the most important scientific discoveries of the last few decades. Dawkins does mention some of these evidences, but his dismissal of them invariably depends upon other fallacies, mischaracterization, deliberate dishonesty, or just plain ignorance. While I could camp on all sorts of different types of evidence--historical, experiential, and others, I'll just briefly mention two sets of scientific evidence.

The first powerful set of evidence for the existence of a transcendent Creator-God is the universe itself. Philosophers recognize only four options for explaining the universe. The first, that the universe is entirely illusory, is not held by many in Western culture, and Dawkins would also reject it. The second is that the universe created itself, and this is easily seen to be illogical. That leaves two options, both involving something existing eternally.

The view that was most popular (at least among non-religious people) in Darwin's day was that the universe itself was eternal and static. (This view flowed out of Newtonian physics and Kantian philosophy.) It gave to Darwin's theory a nearly infinite amount of time in order to work the wonders of diversity exhibited by extinct and extant life. Monotheists--and many philosophers--nonetheless maintained that this was unlikely. They argued for the 4th option, that there exists an uncreated, eternal Being (what we call God) who created the universe.

The philosophical debate has long since been answered by science. Einstein's general relativity has replaced Newtonian physics, and we now know that the universe is not eternal, that its personal Cause exists outside the matter, energy, space, and time of the universe. This conclusion (known as the space-time theorem of relativity) follows necessarily if only two things are true: 1) the universe contains mass and 2) general relativity accurately describes the universe.

Because of the obvious theological implications of the expansion of the universe (and big bang cosmology and the space-time theorem), the history of astrophysics in the 20th century is a long litany of attempts to disprove these ideas. The result is that general relativity--and the consequent finitude of the entire universe--are the most rigorously tested and proven law of physics.

But a further set of startling scientific evidence for God's existence has accumulated within the last three decades. It is the recognition that the laws of nature (of physics and chemistry) are extremely fine-tuned to make life possible in even one location in the universe. Further, we now know that the characteristics of the Milky Way Galaxy, of our solar system, and of the Earth-moon system likewise fall within an extremely narrow range of possible values that makes life on Earth possible. Known as the 'anthropic principle,' this evidence of design is recognized as powerful scientific support for the philosophical postion known as the teleological (design) argument.

Together, these two recent scientific discoveries provide strong, quantitative evidential support for the existence of God previously unavailable, support sufficient (in the eyes of reasonable people) to refute the atheism that became popular in the late 19th century. Here's what a few modern physicists and astronomers familiar with the evidence have to say...
Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say "supernatural") plan. (Arno Penzias, Nobel Prize-winning physicist)

The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine. (Vera Kistiakowsky, MIT physicist)

As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency--or, rather, Agency--must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit? (George Greenstein, astronomer)

It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us. (Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time)
Dawkins admits (in The God Delusion) that he has been accused of having a 19th-century worldview, and his subsequent discussion makes it clear that he doesn't understand what such critics are alluding to. Well, it's just this... that in his very small world of philosophically naive, like-minded atheist scientists, he seems blissfully unaware of the most important scientific discoveries of the century that followed his adored Darwin, evidence that has largely refuted the assumptions of the evolutionary theory to which he (Dawkins) gives God-like creative powers.*

* The modern intelligent design movement began in 1966 at a conference at Wistar, convened by mathematicians and probability theorists who tried to apprise Darwinists that the finitude of the universe (and the now-recognized complexity of even the simplest living cell) provided serious problems to evolutionary theory. More than 40 years later, Darwinists (like Dawkins) have yet to respond to the evidences that modern science has brought to bear against their favorite theory.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

God and the Tooth Fairy

Central to the 'argumentation' of New Atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens is the claim that belief in God is no different than belief in the Tooth Fairy. The logic here is so sophmoric (and so embarrassing to clear-thinking atheists) that it seems silly to have to address it. But we live in a culture in which edgy sound bites and nonsense that panders to our self-centeredness seem to trump reason every time. So I guess it would be worthwhile to spell out what's wrong with this popular claim, for the sake of the few out there who still care about truth.

The central informal logical fallacy being committed here is the faulty analogy.* When one argues by analogy, he points to similarities between two things, and then argues that on the basis of those similarities, we ought to draw the same conclusion about the one that we have already drawn about the other.

There are ways in which, claim Dawkins and Hitchens, belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy are quite similar. And since we all realize that belief in the Tooth Fairy is silly, we ought to come to realize that belief in God is also silly.

Such an argument is deemed faulty (and fallacious) when the similarities between the two things are insignificant and unimportant relative to their differences. And such is clearly the case here.

What similarities are there between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy?

Well, first of all, there's the word 'belief.' But that can't be argued as a similarity, since that word apllies to everything we might discuss. That is, atheism shares the same thing, in that it is belief in no God.

To put it another way, every truth claim (every statement) is the expression of belief. And knowledge is a particular kind of belief, namely justified, true belief. And where no one ever argues that belief in the Tooth Fairy is either true or justified, there are millions throughout human history who have argued persuasively that belief in God is both justified and true. (Indeed, it is much more difficult to make a case for atheism as justified or true, and that is partly why that belief has always been a minority belief.)

Second, both God and the Tooth Fairy can't be seen. But here again, this similarity seems rather trivial. We take as justified, true belief, a host of beliefs about things that can't be seen. Scientists claim knowledge of such things as protons and electrons, quarks (and even Higgs' boson), and dark matter, none of which can be seen. So invisiblity is not a worthwhile criterion for accepting or rejecting the existence of something.

Perhaps what Dawkins and Hitchens have in mind is that both God and the Tooth Fairy are immaterial. But this is unsatisfactory as well. There exist a great number of things that are likewise immaterial, things such as thoughts, emotions, memories, desires, and yes, even minds and souls. And if the claim is made that these things do not exist or are in fact (somehow) material, that claim itself involves circular reasoning
(the conclusion can only be reached by first denying even the possibility of the existence of immaterial things, that is, by first adopting a naturalistic, materialistic worldview).

The list of possible, significant similarities (between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy) has dwindled to nearly nil. There remains one other possibility.

Perhaps the similarity that would make this analogy meaningful is that neither the existence of God nor the existence of the Tooth Fairy can be proved. Unfortunately, this idea also has a number of problems. In fact, so many are the problems with this claim, that they warrant a separate post.

For now, though, we have seen that there is no meaningful and significant similarity between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy (with the possible exception of the idea--to be addressed next--that the existence of each is similarly unprovable). It remains to examine the important and significant differences between the two things. We'll address those in the second post following, and will see that Dawkins' and Hitchens' claim here is a glaring and absurd example of the fallacy of the faulty analogy.

* It's also, of course, a straw-man argument, in which the God being argued against is not (as the claimants imply) the God of the Bible but a gross mischaracterization of that God, one that is easy to knock down.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More about Slippery Slopes

A reader commented on my last post, in which I asserted that those--like John MacArthur--who claim that belief in an old Earth and universe leads invariably to loss of faith are guilty of committing a fallacy, the slippery slope fallacy. This reader suggested (if I understood him aright) that such a slippery slope does, in fact, exist, not as a logical necessity but as a pattern of occurrence:
In reality for most young people who take science courses, the slippery slope of Bible interpretation about creation slides from doubt about a 6,000-year-old earth, to doubt about Josiah's long day, to doubt about Jesus walking on water, to doubt His miraculously feeding the 5,000 and the 4,000 to doubting Jesus' bodily resurrection.
Perhaps such a path of doubt does occur. But if so, it has almost nothing to do with any logical link between an old Earth and denial of Resurrection. Rather, it has everything to do with poor hermeneutics, poor Bible teaching, and poor training in critical thinking.

Creation, walking on water, feeding 5,000, and rising from the dead are all miracles. The possibility or probability of miracles (and more particularly of the miracles recorded in Scripture) depends entirely upon whether we live in a world accurately described by Christian theism or one more accurately described by scientific naturalism ('the universe is the whole show; no god exists'). For the purposes of this argument, I'm talking about and to only those people who acknowledge God and the accuracy of the Bible's accounts of miracles.

Now, one possible problem--for those many young people taking science courses--is that they have never been taught to recognize worldview differences. That is, they go into science class expecting their professor to teach them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth without any worldview bias when, in fact, that professor begins by adopting a naturalistic worldview and discounting the possibility of a Creator. Worse, if the Christian young person has wrongly been taught that the Bible somewhere claims that the universe is only 6,000 years old, then the naive young person's doom is sealed because the professor has overwhelming evidence from virtually every scientific discipline to demonstrate the absurdity of that view.

Let me spell it out as simply as possible...

Scripture claims that Jesus walked on water.

Scripture claims that Jesus fed 5,000 people by multiplying a small number of loaves and fishes.

Scripture claims that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.

Scripture claims that God (through Jesus) created the entire universe and everything in it.

Scripture nowhere claims that the Earth and universe were created only thousands of years ago. This is merely one interpretation of how to understand Genesis 1 and the other relevant passages. By my count, there are at least 13 different interpretations of Genesis 1 that are held or that have been held by Christians committed to the inerrancy and reliability of the Bible. Only two of these 13 interpretations lead to the view that the Earth is only thousands of years old. To put it the other way around, the vast majority of the interpretive positions about Genesis 1 held by committed Christians now and throughout church history either allow for or demand the vast age of the universe and Earth that the creation itself indicates.

The young-earth interpretation does not--as its very vocal modern proponents claim--involve a straightforward reading of the text. It involves at least 5 assumptions, each of which is either quite controversial among Hebrew linguists and Bible scholars or even demonstrably false.

What's more, while Christians throughout the ages have wrestled with the proper understanding of the creation accounts, belief in a young Earth and universe simply has never been a part of historical Christian belief. It is not found in any creeds, and has never (except by those in the last 60 years who have spent their careers promoting this young-earth interpretation) been seen as necessary to salvation or to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.

There is a very clear logical link between belief in the miracle of Resurrection and belief in the miracle of creation. And belief in the latter is more reasonable today than it ever has been,* as the latest evidence from nearly every scientific discipline overwhelmingly supports the Biblical understanding of the universe in which we live. Unfortunately (for some), none of that evidence supports the view made popular only last century, that the Earth and universe are only thousands of years old.

If our young people begin to doubt the truth of historic Christianity when faced with evidence from science, then the main problem is that they have not been taught to think well, not been taught to interpret Scripture well, or--worst of all--been taught a modern mischaracterization of historical Christianity and what the Bible teaches (and doesn't teach) about creation.

By the way, it was Joshua--not Josiah--for whom "the sun stood still."

*That is, for the person who hasn't already had a personal, life-transforming encounter with the living, risen Lord and Creator.