Friday, August 29, 2008

Historical Jesus vs Historical Muhammad MP3

This is a recording of a lecture comparing the historical Jesus and the historical Muhammad. Further information from their website:

This seminar will compare and contrast the methods and results of the extensive historical work that has been done on ‘the historical Jesus’ with the somewhat less thorough scholarly exploration of 'the historical Muhammad’. Concerning Jesus it will aim to demonstrate two things: first, that what we can know about Jesus using historical criteria is much more than we can ever know about Muhammad. And second, it will demonstrate that the Jesus set forth in the Qur’an and the Muslim sources is utterly unhistorical. The seminar will help delegates to engage with the latest in New Testament Jesus-scholarship and demonstrate how it can be applied to outreach to Muslims.

Concerning Muhammad, because of the importance of Muhammad today as a paradigm for all Muslims everywhere, it is important that we look at his life and teachings, and ascertain whether or not he was a true prophet, whether he can be acknowledged as a paradigm for today, and whether there are any references to him in the previous scriptures, as so many Muslims (and the Qur’an) claim. We will also look at some of the newest historical critical work being researched on Muhammad in Europe today.

The lecturers are Andy Bannister and Jay Smith.

Download MP3

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Richard Dawkins' Central Argument in the God Delusion

By Dr. William Lane Craig

On pages 157-8 (pages 188-9 of the 2008 edition) of his book, Dawkins summarizes what he calls "the central argument of my book." It goes as follows:

  1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
  2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.
  3. The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.
  4. The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.
  5. We don't have an equivalent explanation for physics.
  6. We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.
  7. Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.

This argument is jarring because the atheistic conclusion that "Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist" seems to come suddenly out of left field. You don't need to be a philosopher to realize that that conclusion doesn't follow from the six previous statements.

Indeed, if we take these six statements as premises of an argument implying the conclusion "Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist," then the argument is patently invalid. No logical rules of inference would permit you to draw this conclusion from the six premises.

A more charitable interpretation would be to take these six statements, not as premises, but as summary statements of six steps in Dawkins' cumulative argument for his conclusion that God does not exist. But even on this charitable construal, the conclusion "Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist" does not follow from these six steps, even if we concede that each of them is true and justified.

What does follow from the six steps of Dawkins' argument? At most, all that follows is that we should not infer God's existence on the basis of the appearance of design in the universe. But that conclusion is quite compatible with God's existence and even with our justifiably believing in God's existence. Maybe we should believe in God on the basis of the cosmological argument or the ontological argument or the moral argument. Maybe our belief in God isn't based on arguments at all but is grounded in religious experience or in divine revelation. Maybe God wants us to believe in Him simply by faith. The point is that rejecting design arguments for God's existence does nothing to prove that God does not exist or even that belief in God is unjustified. Indeed, many Christian theologians have rejected arguments for the existence of God without thereby committing themselves to atheism.

So Dawkins' argument for atheism is a failure even if we concede, for the sake of argument, all its steps. But, in fact, several of these steps are plausibly false. Take just step (3), for example. Dawkins' claim here is that one is not justified in inferring design as the best explanation of the complex order of the universe because then a new problem arises: who designed the designer?

This rejoinder is flawed on at least two counts. First, in order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn't have an explanation of the explanation. This is an elementary point concerning inference to the best explanation as practiced in the philosophy of science. If archaeologists digging in the earth were to discover things looking like arrowheads and hatchet heads and pottery shards, they would be justified in inferring that these artifacts are not the chance result of sedimentation and metamorphosis, but products of some unknown group of people, even though they had no explanation of who these people were or where they came from. Similarly, if astronauts were to come upon a pile of machinery on the back side of the moon, they would be justified in inferring that it was the product of intelligent, extra-terrestrial agents, even if they had no idea whatsoever who these extra-terrestrial agents were or how they got there. In order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn't be able to explain the explanation. In fact, so requiring would lead to an infinite regress of explanations, so that nothing could ever be explained and science would be destroyed. So in the case at hand, in order to recognize that intelligent design is the best explanation of the appearance of design in the universe, one needn't be able to explain the designer.

Secondly, Dawkins thinks that in the case of a divine designer of the universe, the designer is just as complex as the thing to be explained, so that no explanatory advance is made. This objection raises all sorts of questions about the role played by simplicity in assessing competing explanations; for example, how simplicity is to be weighted in comparison with other criteria like explanatory power, explanatory scope, and so forth. But leave those questions aside. Dawkins' fundamental mistake lies in his assumption that a divine designer is an entity comparable in complexity to the universe. As an unembodied mind, God is a remarkably simple entity. As a non-physical entity, a mind is not composed of parts, and its salient properties, like self-consciousness, rationality, and volition, are essential to it. In contrast to the contingent and variegated universe with all its inexplicable quantities and constants, a divine mind is startlingly simple. Certainly such a mind may have complex ideas—it may be thinking, for example, of the infinitesimal calculus—, but the mind itself is a remarkably simple entity. Dawkins has evidently confused a mind's ideas, which may, indeed, be complex, with a mind itself, which is an incredibly simple entity. Therefore, postulating a divine mind behind the universe most definitely does represent an advance in simplicity, for whatever that is worth.

Other steps in Dawkins' argument are also problematic; but I think enough has been said to show that his argument does nothing to undermine a design inference based on the universe's complexity, not to speak of its serving as a justification of atheism.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Ontological Argument

By Ryan Hemelaar

Where would an archive of the 'Proofs for God' be without the good old ontological argument? St Anselm developed the argument in 1074 and it can be summarised as follows:

  1. God is, by definition, a being greater than anything that can be imagined.
  2. To exist in reality is greater than to solely exist in one's imagination.
  3. Therefore, God must exist in reality: if He did not, He would not be a being greater than anything that can be imagined.

Soon after developing his argument, Gaunilo objected to it because he said if someone thinks of the greatest conceivable island, that too must exist. However, Gaunilo's example of the greatest conceivable island is not equivalent, as Alvin Platinga points out:

No matter how great an island is, no matter how many Nubian maidens and dancing girls adorn it, there could always be a greater — one with twice as many, for instance. The qualities that make for greatness in islands — number of palm trees, amount and quality of coconuts, for example — most of these qualities have no intrinsic maximum. That is, there is no degree of productivity or number of palm trees (or of dancing girls) such that it is impossible that an island display more of that quality. So the idea of the greatest possible island is an inconsistent or incoherent idea; it's not possible that there be such a thing.[1]

Over the centuries there has been many objections to Anselm's argument, yet no conclusive defeater has been found. That is why Anselm's argument lives on even to this very day.

But there have been other ontological arguments developed throughout the centuries, one of which bases itself on modal logic, such as below:

1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
3. To have necessary existence is greater than to have contingent existence.
4. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
4a. If a maximally great being exists only in some possible worlds and not all possible worlds, then the maximally great being's existence is contingent.
4b. A maximally great being however cannot be both necessary and contingent in their existence (law of non-contradiction).
5. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

A possible world does not refer to a planet or even a universe, but rather to a way reality might be.

It might surprise you to learn that premises 2-6 of this argument are relatively uncontroversial[2]. Most philosophers would agree that if God's existence is even possible, then he must exist. So the whole question is: Is God's existence possible? The atheist has to maintain that it's impossible that God exists. He has to say that the concept of God is incoherent, like the concept of a married bachelor or a round square. But the problem is that the concept of God just doesn't appear to be incoherent in that way. The idea of a being which is all-powerful, allknowing, and all-good in every possible world seems perfectly coherent. And so long as God's existence is even possible, it follows that God must exist.

[1] Platinga, A. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) God, Freedom and Evil, p. 90 – 91.
[2] Craig, W. (Illinois: Crossway, 2008) Reasonable Faith, p. 185.