XFiles Weekend: Thinking on purpose

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 2: “What difference does it make if God exists?”)

Imagine I give you a dire warning: five hundred years from now, a man is going to come up to your current residence and threaten to kill you unless you pay him one million dollars, cash, on the spot. How would you respond? If your first reaction would be an astonished, “Eh? So what? I’ll have been dead for centuries by then!” then you’re probably a sane, reasonable, and not unduly paranoid person. On the other hand, if your immediate reaction is “Oh my God, I have to start saving a million dollars!”—well, William Lane Craig would like to talk with you about purpose.

And what of the universe? If its destiny is a cold grave in the recesses of outer space, the answer must be, yes—it is pointless. There is no goal, no purpose for the universe. The litter of a dead universe will just go on expanding and expanding—forever.

And what of man? Is there no purpose at all for the human race? Or will it simply peter out someday, lost in the oblivion of an indifferent universe? … [In The Time Machine, H. G.] Wells’ time traveler journeys far into the future to discover the destiny of man. All he finds is a dead earth, except for a few lichens and moss, orbiting a gigantic red sun…And Wells’ time traveler returned.

But to what?—to merely an earlier point on the same purposeless rush toward oblivion.

Vanitas vanitatum indeed, eh?

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Here’s a petition I can sign whole-heartedly

Via the Al Franken campaign website, a petition to repeal the dishonestly-named “Defense of Marriage Act.”

It’s time.

There’s no good argument against marriage equality. There’s no good argument in support of the Defense of Marriage Act. And there’s no reason we should wait one more day to repeal it.

He might also hit you up for a campaign contribution, but there’s lots worse things you could do with your money. Here’s the URL again:

Petition to repeal the DOMA


William Lane Craig and substitutionary atonement

One of the biggest problems with Christian theology is that the core of the Gospel is based on “substitutionary atonement,” the idea that criminal guilt is like some kind of negotiable debt that can be legally transferred to others. If you think about it, that’s a truly horrible and corrupt idea that lends itself to all kinds of injustice and abuse. Well, someone at the Wintery Knight blog is trying to defend the doctrine, and he’s pulling out the big guns to help him.

I’ve noticed that on some atheist blogs, they don’t like the idea that someone else can take our punishment for us to exonerate us for crimes that we’ve committed. So I’ll quote from this post by the great William Lane Craig, to respond to that objection.

Since we’re currently reading through Dr. Craig’s book On Guard, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at this topic as well.

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XFiles Weekend: Reality check

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 2: “What difference does it make if God exists?”)

Let’s do a quick reality check. Suppose I told you that I once heard William Lane Craig speaking in person, and that I overheard him say, “I thank God, even though He is just a myth invented by superstitious men, that I am smart enough to deceive these foolish believers, and to enslave them with my deceits, so that I can profit from their ignorance and gullibility.” How many of you would be willing to just take my word for it that this actually happened?

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Can Christians Escape the ‘Hate’ Label in Gay Marriage Debate?

Over at The Christian Post, contributor Jeff Shapiro wonders,

Can Christians ever escape being labeled as “hateful” people while standing firmly on the pro-family side of the gay marriage issue?

The answer seems to elude him, but I can spell it out in just a few short words: “Hateful is as hateful does.” If a bunch of secularists got together and passed amendments defining marriage as the union of two non-Christians, would any mealy-mouthed language about “defending secular marriage” succeed in hiding the blatantly anti-Christian sentiment behind such actions? Of course not. Christians can blather all they want about how they’re motivated by “love” for gays, or by “pro-family” sentiments, but even if such motives were sincere, it would not change the fact that their actions are oppressive, and a deliberate violation of human rights.
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XFiles Weekend: The absurdity of “ultimate meaning”

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 2: “What difference does it make if God exists?”)

Last week, Dr. Craig tried to argue that, without God, life has no meaning, no value, and no purpose. In doing so, however, he seems to have overlooked the fact that meaning, value, and purpose are all subjective qualities that only exist relative to the person perceiving them. That’s important, because it raises the possibility that we can be wrong about the meanings, values, and purposes we perceive in life. As even the Bible says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Just because we find some “meaning” that we find pleasant, or satisfying, or reassuring, doesn’t guarantee that our meaning accurately reflects what’s really true in real life.

It’s rather sad to watch Dr. Craig in this week’s installment, as he tries to cloud our reasoning with scare tactics, emotional appeals, and some rather blatant appeals to the fallacy of wishful thinking. He’s trying to zoom in on the idea of “ultimate meaning,” which in his view means a meaning that exists for all eternity. It’s a rather illogical concept, because unless people themselves are eternal, it’s nonsense to talk about eternal meaning, since the meaning will not last longer than the people who perceive it. And if we assume that people are eternal, then it’s pointless to try and use this argument to show that people are eternal, because that’s just circular reasoning. But Dr. Craig’s argument is even worse, because he’s not just arguing immortality, he’s using it to try and prove the existence of God, which is a complete non sequitur.

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Alan Roebuck and the “obvious” delusion

It seems as though we may have exhausted Prof. Roebuck’s arguments against atheism, and he himself seems to have reached the same conclusion.

Mr. Duncan,

It is now my opinion that you are more of a provocateur than a representative of typical atheistic thought. It may be that your beliefs are just unusual, or that you wish to irritate theistic apologists. Whatever the reason, I don’t find our dialog to be fruitful. I have accordingly decided not to continue making any more posts here (other than this one.)

I’m a bit sad to see him go. Despite the rather limited range of his rhetorical resources, he has been a fruitful source of blogging material, not so much for his own contributions, but for the topics he has provided us with an opportunity to discuss. One of the more interesting of these is the way he uses the word “obvious,” because he clearly does not use it the same way I do.

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Alan Roebuck and the Covert Materialism

Alan Roebuck replies to my post about the nature of evidence, but unfortunately, he begins by misreading what I wrote about naturalism.

You question my assertion that most public atheists are materialists, and my use of the word “naturalism” as a synonym for materialism. Most atheists argue as if they are materialists even if they have not formally decided that that’s what they are, and for most people naturalism is more or less equivalent to materialism. Naturalism is generally a more fully worked out system based on materialism. There may be a sophisticated difference, but it’s not germane to my basic point. My basic point is about what most atheists say publicly, which is to apply materialistic standards to all arguments and evidence.

If you go back and re-read the post, you will see that at no point did I question Prof. Roebuck’s assertion that most public atheists are materialists (or naturalists, or some variation thereon). What I said was that he is using an incorrect, straw-man definition of materialism which fails to recognize that the properties and processes of material reality are also part of the material domain, despite not being physically made of matter. That’s why consciousness fails to refute materialism: it is an emergent property arising from the biochemical processes taking place in the brain, and is therefore solidly within the material realm, rather than being something materialism cannot explain. To say that materialism cannot explain consciousness is a bit like saying basketball cannot explain free throws. Consciousness is a material phenomenon, entirely dependent on material mechanisms and processes, as can be trivially observed in real life.

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XFiles Weekend: Skipping ahead

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 2: “What difference does it make if God exists?”)

We’ve been in Chapter 1, looking at the question of why apologetics is important, and we’re up to reason #3: winning unbelievers. Frankly, though, there’s not much there. He grants that people are not converted by arguments (without mentioning that social factors are the big reason people become religious), but insists that apologetics does work on a few, and therefore believers should use it anyway. Then he closes his chapter with some instructions on how to use his book as a study guide. Not much to argue with, so let’s just move on.

Chapter 2 is entitled “What difference does it make if God exists?”

Part of the challenge of getting American people to think about God is that they’ve become so used to God that they just take Him for granted. They never think to ask what the implications would be if God did not exist. As a result they think that God is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether God exists or not.

So before we share with people evidence for God’s existence, we may need to help them see why it matters in the first place. Otherwise they just won’t care. By showing them the implications of atheism, we can help them to see that the question of God’s existence is so much more than merely adding another item to our inventory of things—rather it’s an issue that lies at the very center of life’s meaning.

The key word here is “meaning.” Dr. Craig is going to try to argue that, for the atheist, life has no meaning and no purpose. Unfortunately (Sartre and Camus notwithstanding), he has it exactly backwards.

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Alan Roebuck and the material nature of consciousness

I’m grateful to Alan Roebuck’s continued contributions to our comments area, because he is providing us with such a wealth of material to work with.

For instance, consider this quote.

There is at least one non-physical thing that you know exists: Your consciousness. Don’t say “Consciousness is caused only by the functioning of brain cells.” Even if that were true, consciousness itself, the thing you experience, is obviously not brain cells, nor is it functioning of brain cells. Your consciousness does not have weight or a chemical makeup, so consciousness does not equal brain cells. And your consciousness cannot be measured in volts and amps, so consciousness does not equal brain cell activity. Your consciousness is an irreducible thing, and non-material.

So at least one non-material thing exists. (Technically, I’m claiming it’s a “substance,” that is, something that exists in and of itself, and not as a property of something else.) Therefore other non-material things may exist.

This is something we can work with. This is a claim that can be examined in the light of the real world and tested for consistency with objective fact. This is good stuff.

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