18 really dumb (and not-so-dumb) objections to arguments for the existence of God

On Thursday, I received two books which I had previously ordered from Amazon: Five Proofs of the Existence of God by philosopher Edward Feser, and The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry by Michael Alter, a Jewish author who claims to have discovered no less than 120 contradictions in the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection. I’ve also ordered Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead?: A Surgeon-Scientist Examines the Evidence by Dr. Thomas Miller (a surgeon who is also the author of more than 200 scientific papers and the editor of three textbooks on surgical physiology), but that book hasn’t arrived yet. I’m going to blog about all of these books, but today, I’d like to begin by discussing Dr. Edward Feser’s book. Just to be clear: Feser’s five proofs are not the same as St. Thomas Aquinas’ Five Ways. They are taken from the writings of five different philosophers: Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas and Leibniz. Feser refers to the arguments put forward by Aristotle and Plotinus, in particular, as cosmological or “First Cause” arguments, although Aquinas also advances a First Cause argument of his own. Leibniz argues to the existence of an ultimate explanation for the existence of contingent beings, using the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Augustine’s argument is the odd one out: it seeks to establish the existence of a necessarily existing intellect which grasps all abstract objects.

Feser’s book has received glowing reviews from four professors of philosophy, one of whom (J.P. Moreland) described it as “a must-read for anyone interested in natural theology.” Over at Secular Outpost, Bradley Bowen seems to agree. He concludes Part 1 of his ongoing review of Feser’s book as follows:

I don’t know at this point whether any of Feser’s arguments are good or bad, valid or invalid, sound or unsound, but even if they are all weak and defective arguments, I am still very grateful to Feser for providing a case for God that meets some basic intellectual requirements for making a reasonable case for God. Unlike the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft, Feser’s case is NOT a Steaming Pile of Crap, and it is a great pleasure to consider a case that at least has the potential to be a reasonable and intelligent case for God.

Instead of reviewing Feser’s book from start to finish, I’m going to begin with the final chapter, where Feser refutes eighteen common objections to the arguments he presents for the existence of God. Philosopher Stephen T. Davis described this chapter as a gem, adding that “it alone is worth the price of this excellent work.” I’m going to enumerate these objections and quote some very brief excerpts from Feser’s replies. As we’ll see, most of these objections are puerile and idiotic, but a couple of them are not so ridiculous, and warrant further examination.
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Finally some good news: U.S. Belief in Creationist Views at New Low

Highlights from Gallup News:

-38% say God created man in present form, lowest in 35 years
-Same percentage say humans evolved, but God guided the process
-Less-educated Americans more likely to believe in creationism

Higher education levels are associated with less support for creationism and higher levels of belief in the evolutionary explanation for human origins.


Getting beyond abstruse theorems to science

Joe Felsenstein recently posted a rebuttal of a critique of Fisher’s fundamental theorem of natural selection (FTNS).  The authors, Basener and Sanford, argue that if new mutation (missing from the original FTNS) is taken into account, the theorem shows that Darwinism is impossible rather than inevitable.  I agree with each point of Joe’s rebuttal.

Yet, I think that no discussion of this topic is complete without explaining that Fisher’s view, and more generally the original Modern Synthesis, is inadequate precisely because of the rejection of mutation-limited dynamics.

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Thomas Metzinger on ‘mental autonomy’

An interesting article in Aeon by Thomas Metzinger:

Are you sleepwalking now?

Given how little control we have of our wandering minds, how can we cultivate real mental autonomy?

He develops a metaphor of conscious thoughts as dolphins that leap from the water of unconscious processing into the air of conscious awareness, and asks:

The really interesting question then becomes: how do various thoughts and actions ‘surface’, and what’s the mechanism by which we corral them and make them our own? We ought to probe how our organism turns different sub-personal events into thoughts or states that appear to belong to ‘us’ as a whole, and how we can learn to control them more effectively and efficiently. This capacity creates what I call mental autonomy, and I believe it is the neglected ethical responsibility of government and society to help citizens cultivate it.

Why I disagree with Cardinal Dolan’s remark that “no country is a ‘hole.'”

This is not intended as a post about President Trump’s recently reported remarks about “s**thole countries,” but about what a Catholic cardinal, Timothy Dolan, said in response to those remarks. The Cardinal tweeted that Martin Luther King Jr., were he alive today, would remind people that “no country is a ‘hole,’ no person unworthy of respect.” In this post, I’d like to explain why I think the Cardinal is perfectly right on the second point and absolutely wrong on the first. I’m also going to try to define a “hole,” and make a tentative list of countries which I think would qualify, at the present time. Readers are welcome to disagree, of course.

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PZ Myers smears Steven Pinker

Via a post by Jerry Coyne, I learned of an egregious smear by PZ Myers of Steven Pinker. PZ posted the following on his Facebook page:

He is referring to the following remarks by Pinker.  Watch this clip — the entire clip —  and ask yourself, as I did: How could any honest and rational person view this and then paint Pinker as “a lying right-wing shitweasel”?

What the hell has happened to PZ over the years?  Wasn’t he rational at one point?

Is origins research actually a subject of the invisible? Yes!

why is there so much disagreement in origin subjects when they are claimed to be based on scientific methodology? Who is messing up here in making/rejecting conclusions where othewise science subjects never have such contentions.?

I suggest and conclude that this is because origin subjects are about invisible processes and events. it’s not intellectual failure of one side or the other in presenting or understanding positions.

In fact like religious ideas, or physics, or even atomic levels of biology, like germs etc etc EVERYTHING investigated is not clear to the human eye. germ theory was rejected well into the 19th century because they couldn’t see the germs. physics gain its prestige as more complicated because it was about invisible forces. So proving how these forces existed and worked was lauded as a brilliance above visible discoveries. Continue reading

Dr. Lydia McGrew on Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars (and how to avoid them)

NOTE: Some readers have asked me for a transcript of Dr. Lydia McGrew’s webinar. Good news: I have now completed the transcript (see below). Additionally, the points Dr. McGrew raised in her talk can be found here. In her talk, Dr. McGrew was responding to an e-interview given by Dr. Michael Licona, a leading Christian apologist for the Resurrection, who is an Associate Professor of theology at Houston Baptist University, and who is also the author of Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017). In his book, Dr. Licona defended the historicity of the Gospels but endorsed the view, common among New Testament scholars, that the authors of the Gospels would have considered it perfectly legitimate to deliberately alter historical details of events, relating non-factual claims as if they were factual, because back in those days, writers of biographies were more concerned with Truth than with mere facts. Dr. McGrew is a conservative Christian writer, but not a Biblical inerrantist. Nevertheless, she felt that by acknowledging the existence of what she terms “fictionalizing compositional devices” in the Gospels, Dr. Licona had conceded too much to skeptics such as Bart Ehrman (whom Licona debated on the reliability of the New Testament back in 2016), and that such a concession undermined his whole case for the historicity of the Resurrection. For this reason, Dr. Grew decided to respond to Dr. Licona by presenting the webinar shown below.

Dr. Lydia McGrew’s webinar is titled, “Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars and How to Avoid Them.” Her host for the webinar was Jonathan McLatchie, an Intelligent Design proponent who is currently a Ph.D. student in cell biology and a contributor to various apologetics websites, as well as being the founder of the Apologetics Academy. I’m happy to report that Dr. Lydia McGrew’s Webinar is now available on Youtube. I commend it to viewers, and I can promise you it’s a very thought-provoking presentation, whatever your theological perspective may be. Comments are welcome from people of all faiths and none.

For the benefit of those readers who don’t know her, Dr. Lydia McGrew has a Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University (1995), but nearly all of her published work has been in analytic philosophy, with specialties in epistemology and probability theory. Her curriculum vitae is here. Dr. McGrew is also a home schooling mother living in the Midwest, who is married to the philosopher, Dr. Timothy McGrew, Chair and Professor of the Department of Philosophy at Western Michigan University (C.V. here).

UPDATE: I’ve now transcribed the whole of Dr. McGrew’s talk, which can be viewed below. I invite readers to peruse it at their leisure. Comments are welcome.

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Do Atheists Exist?

This post is to move a discussion from Sandbox(4) at Entropy’s request.

Over on the Sandbox(4) thread, fifthmonarchyman made two statements that I disagree with:

“I’ve argued repeatedly that humans are hardwired to believe in God.”

“Everyone knows that God exists….”

As my handle indicates, I prefer to lurk.  The novelty of being told that I don’t exist overcame my good sense, so I joined the conversation.

For the record, I am what is called a weak atheist or negative atheist.  The Wikipedia page describes my position reasonably well:

Negative atheism, also called weak atheism and soft atheism, is any type of atheism where a person does not believe in the existence of any deities but does not explicitly assert that there are none. Positive atheism, also called strong atheism and hard atheism, is the form of atheism that additionally asserts that no deities exist.”

I do exist, so fifthmonarchyman’s claims are disproved.  For some reason he doesn’t agree, hence this thread.

Added In Edit by Alan Fox 16.48 CET 11th January, 2018

This thread is designated as an extension of Noyau. This means only basic rules apply. The “good faith” rule, the “accusations of dishonesty” rule do not apply in this thread.

Are Social Justice Warriors denying science? Is either Sex or Gender fluid?

Consider a heresy which contradicts the Gleischshaltung of Political Correctness: Gender is NOT a social construct, and both Gender and Sex are in fact binary.

How is this possible? Some sceptics suggest that both gender and sex are determined by chromosome status: Males are XY and females are XX. End of story.

The truth is not so simple. From my understanding of Biology: the default setting for embryonic development is female. Female fetuses can become male if two events occur:

1 – The activation of the SRY gene (controlling events such as differentiation of gonads into testes/ovaries)

2 – Testosterone Receptors bind to appropriate levels of Bio-available testosterone in utero.

So far, we have described a Binary situation:

Where can Biochemistry proceed differently? (I do not imply that “pathology” occurs anywhere during this discourse) Continue reading

Why consciousness must be electric

Nested hierarchies have been discussed adequately, one should think. So here is an alternative matter.

I would propose that consciousness must be electrical in nature, due to two crucial facts:

1. The information that becomes conscious is some of the information being carried by the action-potentials of the nerve cells. It is not any other kind of information, such as quantum states of molecules, it is simply the information that nerve cells are known to carry via action-potentials.

2. Electric fields are the only physical phenomenon in the brain that have both the ability to extend in space significantly beyond nerve conduction itself and to be able to change and interact exceedingly swiftly, just as we experience conscious changes occurring “instantly.”

There are many other issues involved, of course, however, the fact remains that the physical phenomena underlying consciousness must be able to account for how consciousness appears to have the kind of extension and interactivity that creates consciousness, as electric fields would seem to be able to do. And that physical phenomenon must be tied to the information being carried as nerve impulses, as the electric fields of the nervous system ineluctibly are.

There does not seem to be a realistic option of a different sort of phenomenon that can unify that information encoded in the nerves into a conscious whole, and to do so exceedingly swiftly and surely. Certainly quantum physics offers nothing beyond electric fields interacting that could magically account for consciousness, no matter how much hocus-pocus people try to coax out of quantum phenomena. In the end it can’t be strange loops or the “illusion of consciousness” either, as one has to explain the difference between the consciousness and the unconscious (I would propose that the amount of, and type of, interaction of electric fields is what is crucial).

A great many issues could be discussed, however it seems to me that beginning with the basics is appropriate. There really is only one good candidate for consciousness in the physics of the brain at all, which is the electric fields that are unquestionably a necessary part of nerve conduction in the first place. If consciousness simply is what it is to be like a highly structured and unified (always becoming unified) electric field from the inside, so to speak, then it is the one phenomenon that we know not just abstractly, but as reality itself.

Lysenko Returns

The Soviet Era’s Deadliest Scientist Is Regaining Popularity in Russia
Trofim Lysenko’s spurious research prolonged famines that killed millions. So why is a fringe movement praising his legacy?

Wheat, rye, potatoes, beets—most everything grown according to Lysenko’s methods died or rotted, says Hungry Ghosts. Stalin still deserves the bulk of the blame for the famines, which killed at least 7 million people, but Lysenko’s practices prolonged and exacerbated the food shortages. (Deaths from the famines peaked around 1932 to 1933, but four years later, after a 163-fold increase in farmland cultivated using Lysenko’s methods, food production was actually lower than before.) The Soviet Union’s allies suffered under Lysenkoism, too. Communist China adopted his methods in the late 1950s and endured even bigger famines. Peasants were reduced to eating tree bark and bird droppings and the occasional family member. At least 30 million died of starvation.

Lysenko’s grip on power began to weaken after Stalin died in 1953. By 1964, he’d been deposed as the dictator of Soviet biology, and he died in 1976 without regaining any influence. His portrait did continue to hang in some institutes through the Gorbachev years, but by the 1990s, the country had finally put the horror and shame of Lysenkoism behind it.

Until recently. As the new Current Biology article explains, Lysenko has enjoyed a renaissance in Russia over the past few years. Several books and papers praising his legacy have appeared, bolstered by what the article calls “a quirky coalition of Russian right-wingers, Stalinists, a few qualified scientists, and even the Orthodox Church.”

There are several reasons for this renewal. For one, the hot new field of epigenetics has made Lysenko-like ideas fashionable. Most living things have thousands of genes, but not all those genes are active at once. Some get turned on or off inside cells, or have their volumes turned up or down. The study of these changes in “gene expression” is called epigenetics. And it just so happens that environmental cues are often what turn genes on or off. In certain cases, these environmentally driven changes can even pass from parent to child—just like Lysenko claimed.


What’s wrong with this paper?

Taking a new tack with the common descent/common design theme, I’d like to sneak up on it. As Sal Cordova likes to do, I offer a hypothesis for critique. Here’s an old phyogenetic analysis of mine. Does it show common descent? If not, what’s wrong with it?

Harshman J., Huddleston C.J., Bollback J., Parsons T.M., Braun M.J. True and false gharials: A nuclear gene phylogeny of Crocodylia. Systematic Biology 2003;  52:386-402.

This one is about crocodiles. Are crocodiles all the same kind? How do you know? If they aren’t how many kinds are there within the group and how do you know? If they are, are they a whole kind or just part of a larger kind? And if the latter, what is the larger kind?

Craniopagus twins revisited: A response to Professor Egnor

Professor Michael Egnor has kindly responded to my post, The craniopagus twins from British Columbia: A test case for Thomistic dualism (TSZ, November 25, 2017), in a new post, titled, The Craniopagus Twins and Thomistic Dualism (ENV, December 10, 2017). In my earlier post, I had argued that “the twins’ ability to share thoughts without speaking weakens the case for Thomistic dualism, and lends support to a subtle variety of materialism which incorporates top-down causation.” In his response, Professor Michael Egnor gets to the heart of our disagreement and explains why he does not think that the experiment I proposed would serve to test whether dualism or materialism is true. Egnor proposes another test of his own, relating to mathematical abilities. In this post, I’d like to explain why I object to Professor Egnor’s test, before putting forward another one, very similar to it, which I believe could experimentally resolve whether dualism or materialism is true. Finally, I offer a few reflections on the philosophical argument which, Egnor contends, makes materialism logically untenable.

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