Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

Finding Jesus in your Philosophical Toast

On a blog called Theolocast, Christian apologist Todd Clay recently published an article entitled “31 Reasons to Believe in the God of the Bible.” In the article, Mr. Clay discusses a plethora of different ideas by which he claims that “the God of the Bible has made himself obvious to the world.”

Despite Todd Clay’s assertions, God’s existence is still not obvious to me. In fact, the arguments which he presents are quite bad. Indeed, it seems to me that he is claiming to have found Jesus in his philosophical toast.

  1. The Fine Tuning Argument: Scientists have determined that life in the universe would be impossible if more than about two dozen properties of the universe were even slightly different from what they are. In short, the universe is “fine-tuned” for life.

The universe has properties which account for why the universe is the way it is. This does not imply, in any way, that these properties could have been any different than they are. Even if they could have been different, that in turn does not imply that those properties were– or even could have been– deliberately designed by an intelligent being.

2. Earth’s Perfect Size: Earth is the only known planet with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.

This is not a different argument, but rather a specific example of one of the properties mentioned in #1. Nothing in this datum implies anything at all about the existence of deity.

3. Irreducible Biological Complexity: There are a number of biochemical systems that are irreducibly complex. Like the functions of a mousetrap, a cilium cannot perform its function unless its components are arranged and structured in precisely the manner in which they are.

The concept of “irreducible complexity” is immensely popular among Christian apologists. It is, however, not a concept which holds any sort of weight in biology scholarship. Regarding the specific case mentioned, there have been numerous discussions from biologists regarding the manner in which cilia could have evolved. While it is true that definitive and conclusive answers to the issue are elusive, the fact that it remains an open question does not imply that the answer is that they therefore cannot have evolved. To assert otherwise is a blatant argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy.

4. DNA’s Function as Life’s Blueprint: DNA instructs the cell like your smartphone is programmed. DNA is a three-billion-lettered program telling the cell to act in a certain way. It is a full instruction manual for life.

DNA is a molecule. Just like every other molecule, DNA is a composition of atoms which interact with one another according to well-understood processes of physical chemistry. It is simply untrue to claim that “DNA instructs the cell like your smartphone is programmed.” Despite talking points from apologists, the processes are highly dissimilar. They bear a superficial resemblance which allows software programming to stand as an interesting metaphor for DNA’s biological function. However, it’d be a mistake to think that the metaphor therefore implies that DNA must share all of its properties with software programming.

5. The Human Brain’s Capacity: The human brain processes more than one million messages a second. Your brain weighs the importance of the data and allows you to focus and operate effectively in your world.

6. The Eye’s Complexity: The human eye has automatic focusing and handles an astounding 1.5 million messages simultaneously. In addition, it can distinguish between seven million colors making it a highly complex organ.

I fail to see how either of these has anything to do with whether or not deity exists, at all.

7. Chaos Never Creates Order: Since everything in the universe tends toward disorder, it is a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics if things become more orderly and complex by themselves. Hence, something must have put everything together originally.

Contrary to what Christian apologists seem believe, the Second Law of Thermodynamics does not say, “everything in the universe tends toward disorder.” Such a statement is rather obviously untrue, and as such would make for a fairly ridiculous law of physics. The actual Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the entropy of a closed system is unlikely to decrease and rather tends to increase or remain steady. “Entropy” is not a measure of disorderliness. Entropy can decrease over time in an isolated system; it is simply unlikely that it will do so. Furthermore, in an open system, entropy can quite easily decrease over time. Local regions of the universe, such as our little planet, are most certainly open systems.

8. Quantum Mechanics Analogy to God: John Polkinghorne suggests the nearest analogy to the existence of God in physics is the ideas of quantum mechanics. This field makes sense of a great deal of disparate data.

This statement is, at best, curious. At worst, it is utter nonsense. In what way is quantum mechanics analogous to God? Simply because it makes sense of a great deal of disparate data? So does physical chemistry, and stellar mechanics, and Relativity, and literally every other field of physics. Presumably, Mr. Clay has omitted every part of John Polkinghorne’s claim which is actually relevant and meaningful.

9. Human Consciousness: The workings of human consciousness are similarly miraculous. Consciousness has no physical presence in the world; the images and thoughts in our consciousness have no measurable dimensions which begs the question where it actually resides.

This claim would appear quite silly to a neuroscientist. Human consciousness can be measured in numerous different ways– for example, through electroencephalography or functional magnetic resonance imaging. Memories, which Mr. Clay mentions specifically, are quite well known to be intrinsically linked to the hippocampus. Damaging the hippocampus can lead to a loss of memory, or even to the loss of the ability to form new memories. Furthermore, physical changes to other parts of the brain– including simply altering the amounts of certain chemicals in the system as well as actual damage or structural alteration– is well known to have significant effects on the way a person thinks. Quite the contrary to Mr. Clay’s assertion, everything we’ve learned in neuroscience seems to assert that consciousness most certainly is a physical process.

10. The Transcendental Argument:
– Logical absolutes (Laws of Logic) exist.
– Logical absolutes are conceptual by nature–are not dependent on space, time, physical properties, or human nature.
– They are not the product of the physical universe (space, time, matter) because if the physical universe were to disappear, logical absolutes would still be true.  Logical Absolutes are not the product of human minds because human minds are not absolute.
– Since logical absolutes are always true everywhere and not dependent upon human minds, it must be an absolute transcendent mind that is authoring them.
– This mind is called God.

There’s quite a bit wrong with this argument. Unless one subscribes to a Platonist philosophy, it is not the case that logical absolutes “exist” in the same way that, for example, the sun “exists.” In reference to concepts (such as “logical absolutes”), the phrase “exists” means that the concept is descriptive of something true, in reality. It does not mean that the referent has a distinct instantiation in reality. It is not the case that such concepts exist apart from the universe, as they are– in fact– descriptive of the universe.

If, on the other hand, one does subscribe to a Platonist philosophy, then concepts such as logical absolutes do have distinct instantiation in reality, and that instantiation is not dependent upon anything else. There is no need for a mind to author them in order that they exist.

11. Argument From Truth: Our limited minds can discover eternal truths about being. Truth properly resides in a mind. But the human mind is not eternal. Therefore there must exist an eternal mind in which these truths reside.

“Truths” are concepts, just like “logical absolutes.” As such, the same discussion applies here. There is simply no way to logically imply the existence of an “eternal mind” from the fact that we can describe things– even “eternal” things– about the world.

12. The Laws of Math: It takes the existence of some kind of a God to make the mathematical underpinnings of the universe comprehensible.

Preposterous. There is nothing about mathematics which necessitate “the existence of some kind of a God.” The comprehensibility of mathematics is expressly due to the fact that human beings created mathematics to be comprehensible. It would not make much sense to create a system to describe the world which was incomprehensible.

13. Ontological Argument: Anselm argued that God was a being who possesses all conceivable perfection. But if this being “existed” merely as an idea in our minds, then it would be less perfect than if it actually existed. So it wouldn’t be as great as a being who actually existed, something that would thus contradict our definition of God — a being who’s supposed to be all-perfect. Thus, God must exist.

This argument wasn’t even convincing to other Christians when Anselm first offered it. One cannot simply define a thing into existence. For example, if I were to say, “Dragons are defined as existent magical creatures,” no one would therefore conclude that dragons must exist. Similarly, one cannot simply assert that a definition for God which includes existence therefore implies that God exists.

14. Cosmological Argument (First-Cause Version):
– Things exist.
– It is possible for those things to not exist.
– Whatever has the possibility of non-existence, yet exists, has been caused to exist. Something cannot bring itself into existence since it must exist to bring itself into existence, which is illogical.
– There cannot be an infinite number of causes to bring something into existence. An infinite regression of causes ultimately has no initial cause, which means there is no cause of existence. Since the universe exists, it must have a cause.
– Therefore, there must be an uncaused cause of all things.
– The uncaused cause must be God.

I think we can all agree that things exist. We can also agree that it is possible for at least some of those things to not exist. However, it is far from clear that it is possible for all things to not exist. Nor is it clear that something which has the possibility of non-existence has been caused to exist. Nor is there any good reason to think that there cannot be an infinite regress of causation. Faulty premises piled upon one another do not make for a very convincing argument.

15. Contingency Argument (Something Rather Than Nothing):
– Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence.
– If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
– The universe exists.
– Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

This is quite obviously a fallacious attempt to simply presume one’s conclusion. No justification is offered for the claim that the explanation of the universe must be God. A person could just as easily and just as accurately replace the word “God” in the above argument with the word “cheese.” I doubt anyone would agree that this logically implies that cheese must therefore be the explanation of the universe’s existence.

16. Teleological Argument (Design): Every complex human creation (like a painting or a jumbo jet) demands we explain it’s existence through an intelligent, skillful creator – not random processes. The universe is billions of times more complex than any human creation. Therefore a creator made it: God.

Yes, every complex human creation is a thing created by a human. That’s a fairly uninformative tautology. It is the fact that it is a human creation which causes us to draw the conclusion that it was created by a human, not the fact that it is complex. Complexity does not imply the necessity of design.

17. Argument from Change: If there is nothing outside the material universe, then there is nothing that can cause the universe to change. But it does change. Therefore there must be something in addition to the material universe.

This does not follow logically, at all, nor is it even coherent. The word “change” describes different spatial states over successive moments of time. Both the spatial states and the moments of time, in question, are subsets of the universe. The concept of change doesn’t even make sense when considering the universe as a whole.

18. Argument from The Mind: Philosopher J. S. Mill summed up where we have now come to: “It is self-evident that only Mind can create mind.” The only reasonable conclusion is that an eternal Creator is the one who is responsible for reality as we know it.

There is nothing, at all, self-evident about the claim that “only Mind can create mind.” It’s not even clear what it is supposed to mean. I see no reason at all to think that biological chemistry cannot produce a mind. Quite the contrary, it seems that every mind with which I am familiar has been produced by biological chemistry, and not with any apparent direct guidance from a mind.

19. Moral Argument: All people recognize some moral code. Right and wrong imply a higher standard or law, and law requires a lawgiver. Because the Moral Law transcends humanity, this universal law requires a universal lawgiver. This lawgiver is God.

This argument tends to skip over the fairly obvious: if the disparate moral codes followed by human beings have been created, what reason is there to think that they have not been created by human beings? There’s no reason to invoke deity.

20. Existence of Evil: A corollary to the Moral Argument: the problem of evil presents a question not only for the person trying to give an answer to the problem, but also for the questioner. The problem is that it presupposes a standard of goodness, and that presupposes a design plan. If true, these objections then both point to God whose character is the very standard of goodness.

This is a complete misunderstanding of the Problem of Evil. Yes, the Problem of Evil presupposes a standard of goodness. It does so in order to show that a position under discussion is self-contradictory, inconsistent, and irrational. Christians claim that there exists a God who is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, with his benevolence being according to some universal and transcendental standard. The Problem of Evil presupposes those premises in order to attempt to demonstrate that these things are incompatible. In one of his famous dialogues, Plato had the philosopher Euthyphro voice this incompatibility with a widely known dilemma. If God wants to stop evil but cannot do so, then God is not omnipotent. If God can stop evil but does not want to do so, then God is not omnibenevolent.

21. Argument from Miracles: A miracle is an event whose only adequate explanation is the extraordinary and direct intervention of God. There are numerous well-attested miracles. Therefore, there are numerous events whose only adequate explanation is the extraordinary and direct intervention of God. Therefore God exists.

This, like the Ontological Argument from #13, is yet another attempt to simply define God into existence. Yes, there are numerous events which have occurred which people claim to be miracles. That does not therefore imply that the only adequate explanation for any of these events is the extraordinary and direct intervention of God.

22. Argument from Beauty: Peter Kreeft explains Von Balthasar argument: “Beauty reveals God. There is Mozart, therefore there must be God.”

This argument is entirely nonsensical. Beauty is a completely subjective quality. One might as well claim, “Putridness reveals God. There is vomit, therefore there must be God,” or even, “Beauty reveals four-sided triangles. There is Mozart, therefore there must be four-sided triangles.”

23. Argument from Degrees of Perfection: If degrees of perfection pertain to being and being is caused in finite creatures, then there must exist a “best,” a source and real standard of all the perfections that we recognize belong to us as beings. This absolutely perfect being—the “Being of all beings,” “the Perfection of all perfections”—is God.

The fact that we have standards which define the perfect example of a particular quality does not imply that there must therefore exist something which instantiates that perfection. We do not need an actual example of a perfect circle which exists in reality in order to coherently compare something to a perfect circle.

24. Argument from Religious Experience: Many people of different eras and of widely different cultures claim to have had a “divine” experience. It is inconceivable that so many people could have been so utterly wrong about the nature and content of their own experience. Therefore, there exists a “divine” reality.

It is entirely conceivable that so many people could have been so utterly wrong about the nature and content of their own experience. Many people of different areas and of widely different cultures claim to have experienced the sun circling around an unmoving Earth. Surely we can agree that it is conceivable that so many people could have been so utterly wrong about the nature and content of their own experience. Why should one think that claims about the divine are any different?

25. Other Minds Analogy: Technically not a theistic proof, this analogy illustrates how difficult it is for a determined atheist to apostatize. Alvin Plantinga compares the question of the existence of God to the question of the existence of other minds, claiming both are notoriously impossible to “prove” against a determined skeptic.

These two positions are not analogous. In fact, they are complete opposites. The solipsist thinks that all which is observable is not actually real. On the other hand, the atheist rejects the claim that a particular thing which is completely unobservable– that is, God– is real. I daresay Alvin Plantinga rejects claims that land wights exist. Would he consider his own rejection of that claim to be analogous to solipsism?

26. The Historicity of the Old Testament: “The historicity of the OT should be taken seriously. As for the OT text itself, the Dead Sea Scrolls (ca 150 b.c.- a.d. 70) provide good evidence of a carefully transmitted core-text tradition through almost a thousand years down to the Masoretic scribes (ca eighth-tenth centuries a.d.) Thus, the basic text of OT Scripture can be established as essentially soundly transmitted, and the evidence shows that the form and content of the OT fit with known literary and cultural realities of the Ancient Near East.”

I agree that the historicity of the OT should be taken seriously. I also agree that the OT has been carefully– though certainly not perfectly– transmitted through millennia. However, it does not follow from the fact that the text has been reliably transmitted that the text therefore recounts historical facts.

27. The Historicity of the New Testament: “Historiography is a branch of study which focuses on the logical, conceptual, and epistemological aspects of what historians do. Critical historiography studies, among other things, the different tests which should be applied to a document to determine whether or not it is historically reliable. When many of these tests are applied to the New Testament documents, they show themselves to be as reliable as, or superior to, most other ancient documents.”

Well, considering “most other ancient documents” includes quite a bit of legendry, mythology, and fiction, this isn’t really saying much. However, even if I were to assume the author meant to specifically compare the NT to other ancient histories, this still isn’t really that bold a claim. There are quite a number of things in other ancient histories which modern historians strongly doubt have any basis in actual history. Epimenides, Eudoxus, and Xenocrates all report that a woman was impregnated by the god, Apollo, in order to give birth to Pythagoras. From other historians, we have reports that Pythagoras had a thigh made of solid gold, that he flew great distances by means of a magic arrow, that he appeared in two different cities at the same time, and that a river greeted Pythagoras verbally, by name.

Pythagoras is just one of thousands of examples. Ancient histories are replete with legendary accounts which no modern historian would accept as being actually historical.

28. Survival of the People of Israel: French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote at length about the marvel of Jewish survival. Powerful kings have tried to destroy them, yet the Jews survived whereas the nations of Greece, Italy, Athens and Rome have long perished. It is said that when King Louis XIV of France asked Pascal to give him proof of God’s existence, he replied, “Why, the Jews, your Majesty ― the Jews.”

The fact that a particular culture was able to survive huge amounts of adversity does not, in any way, imply that the religious beliefs of that culture accurately represent reality. In fact, if this was the case, it would pose some rather serious problems for Christianity.

29. Biblical Miracles: “We have now studied more than 35 miracles described in the Bible, and many more could be discussed. These were done by God at the hands of at least ten different prophets. They were recorded by at least ten Bible writers in at least 15 books of the Bible. In addition, the accounts cite more than 15 individuals or groups who were opponents of God’s people but who directly or indirectly acknowledged that Bible miracles really did occur. In addition another 15 individuals or groups (who were not necessarily opposed to the message) are also cited as having acknowledged Bible miracles. That makes a total of more than forty individuals or groups who admitted Jesus or Bible prophets really did miracles.”

The fact that some people accept– or, at the very least, do not outright reject– claims regarding certain events does not imply that those events are historically accurate. Once again, Pythagoras was claimed by numerous people to have performed many miracles, and those claims were believed by countless more people. Does that imply that Pythagoras actually performed those acts?

30. Fulfilled Messianic Prophecies: Jesus was the promised Messiah from the Old Testament (or Tanach). There were hundreds of prophecies he fulfilled including that he would be the seed of a woman (Genesis 3:15), a descendant of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16), called God’s son (Psalm 2:1-12), and many more.

It’s quite easy to try to retroactively shoehorn a leader into vague prophetic literature. Look! Genesis 3:15 says that a descendant of Eve will oppose the evil serpent! Well, Jesus is a human being and Jesus opposes evil! No one else could POSSIBLY fit that description. Oh, the Messiah is supposed to be born of the line of David? Well, here’s a genealogy showing that David was one of the ancestors of Joseph, father of Jesus. Not convincing enough? What if I gave you a second genealogy of Joseph, one which is entirely different from the first except that it also says David was one of his ancestors? The Messiah will be called God’s son! It’s absolutely impossible that anyone other than the Messiah could be called God’s son– except for all those hundreds of other people from numerous different cultures who have been called God’s son, of course.

Oh, but all those prophecies about how the Messiah is supposed to topple the political oppressors over the Jewish people so that they might re-establish an earthly kingdom? It doesn’t matter that Jesus of Nazareth didn’t fulfill any of those.

31. The Resurrection of Jesus: The Apostle Paul once implied that Christianity was worthless if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:14). Brian Chilton outlined 10 reasons why Jesus actually rose from the dead including how the first eyewitnesses were women (a woman’s testimony was not admissible in court in the first century), embarrassing details about the resurrection, and the disciples willingness to die believing in the. (sic)

The claim that a woman’s testimony was not admissible in court in the first century is a very common lie, but a lie nonetheless. It is true that it was considered rude or unseemly to ask a woman to appear before a court unless absolutely necessary; however, in those times that it was necessary for a woman to testify, her testimony was not trusted any less than that of a man. Cicero famously shamed Gaius Verres after the famous Roman orator had to ask several women to testify against Verres in court. The testimony of those women was not doubted on account of their gender. Outside of the courtroom, Josephus relied on the testimony of women when compiling his historical accounts of Gamala and Masada. Even in the New Testament, itself, the testimony of women is not only trusted, but quite often lauded. John 4:39 recounts that a great many Samaritans came to believe in Jesus on the basis of a woman’s testimony. Paul’s letters name quite a number of women who were well respected and whose testimony was presumably trusted, particularly in Romans 16 where he mentions a number of woman who were teachers and leaders in the Church– Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Junia, Julia, and the sister of Nereus. In particular, he explicitly states that Phoebe is a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, and that Junia was a prominent apostle (Gk., ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις).

As for the disciples’ willingness to die for their belief in (presumably) the Resurrection, even if we accept that this was the case this does not imply that their belief must therefore reflect a true fact about reality. Many people are willing to die for sincerely held beliefs which are, nonetheless, wrong. With all that said, I see very little historical evidence to believe that the disciples were willing to die for this belief, in the first place. Even in the New Testament, the only person explicitly threatened with death for his belief in the Resurrection was Stephen, a deacon in Jerusalem and not a disciple who had witnessed Jesus’ death and Resurrection. James, son of Zebedee, was executed by Herod, and Peter was arrested around the same time, but the specifics of their offense are left to the reader’s imagination. Paul was threatened with arrest for inspiring Jews to abandon ritualistic Law, not for preaching that Christ was risen. The purported martyrdom of each of the Twelve (besides James bar Zebedee and ignoring Judas Iscariot) are all later traditions, formed well after the New Testament had been written, and each is historically dubious. There is no good reason to believe that all of the men who purportedly witnessed the risen Jesus died or were even threatened with death for that belief.

 

Seeing Jesus in your philosophical toast…

Jesus-toast

Christians and atheists, alike, quite often laugh at those people who claim that the image of Jesus appeared on their breakfast or in a random stain or in some other odd pattern. The arguments which Todd Clay highlights in his blog article are the philosophical equivalent of this. These arguments jump from vagaries or illusory patterns to the claim that God must therefore exist.

There are better arguments for the existence of God (better in that they are more well-formed, though not necessarily any more convincing than the ones Mr. Clay presents). Some of those arguments have been the subject of discussion on Boxing Pythagoras in the past. I’ve chosen to discuss Todd Clay’s article, today, because it is a very good example of the manner in which talking points often get passed from one apologist to the next like a theological game of telephone, to the point where the person spouting them off has not likely spent much time actually thinking them through, let alone conversing with those who might oppose such positions. They are presented as if they are cold, hard truths and brute facts of reality when in fact they are highly contentious and extremely debatable.

Even if you are the type of Christian that believes the Bible to be the infallible Word of God, you most certainly should not think that Christian apologists are similarly infallible. Question their arguments. Think them through. Are they truly even valid arguments? Do they use logical rules of inference to proceed from assumptions to valid conclusions? If they do, are those assumptions questionable? What counter-arguments might be brought against them? Do not simply regurgitate the half-understood positions which have been presented to you by other people who happen to have similar beliefs.

Stop trying to tell me that your philosophical toast looks like Jesus.

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One thought on “Finding Jesus in your Philosophical Toast

  1. Earth is the only known planet with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.

    Has he not heard of the Great Oxygen Catastrophe 2.5 billion years ago, killing off virtually all life that had happily existed for 1.3 billion years?

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