Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Are these the best arguments they can come up with?

Disclosure:  I found 3/4 of a 1.5L bottle of Yellow Tail Merlot in my bar, and I was in the middle of doing my best to recycle the glass bottle when I came across this article which does its best (I'm assuming) to counter atheistic claims.  What follows are my thoughts while thoroughly toasted on the claims made by the article.  The reactions and rebuttals I came up with are from the hour or so after I read it.  Any changes made from my initial reactions are only to clean up spelling, grammar and mechanics. 

I came across this website through the Stumble-upon add-on on FirefoxSomehow, it was listed as an "atheist/agnostic" site even though it is obviously a Christian apologist website.  Meh.  No big deal.  I'll read it anyways.  I'm always interested in apologetics.  This one comes under the banner of The Christian Research Institute.  I've never heard of it before, but the author purports to being a Ph. D. candidate, so perhaps this one will actually do more than give the same tire old arguments that have been refuted ad nauseum for years.

Here's the first refutation the author gives regarding atheism:
First, even if the theist could not muster good arguments for God’s existence, atheism still would not be shown to be true.  The outspoken atheist Kai Nielsen recognizes this: "To show that an argument is invalid or unsound is not to show that the conclusion of the argument is false.... All the proofs of God’s existence may fail, but it still may be the case that God exists."
Cthulu working on his tan while relaxing at the beach
My reaction:  So?  With very few exceptions, atheists don't claim to know for a fact that gods don't exist.  All they state is that without evidence that he/she/it does exist, there is simply no reason to assume he/she/it does.  If there is no reason to presume he/she/it does exist--we don't.  Why don't Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or Jews assume the Great Cthulhu exists?  Simply because there's no evidence that he does exist doesn't prove he doesn't, right?  For that matter, why don't Hindus accept the existence of Yahweh, the Christians the existence of Shiva, and the Muslims the position of Jesus as the Son of God?  Without evidence to refute those claims, they should be accepted, right?  This argument depends upon atheists claiming to know that no gods exist.  By and large, we don't.  The burden of evidence is still on the theists.
Second, the "presumption of atheism" demonstrates a rigging of the rules of philosophical debate in order to play into the hands of the atheist, who himself makes a truth claim. Alvin Plantinga correctly argues that the atheist does not treat the statements "God exists" and "God does not exist" in the same manner. The atheist assumes that if one has no evidence for God’s existence, then one is obligated to believe that God does not exist — whether or not one has evidence against God’s existence.
My reaction:

You are not "obligated" to believe gods do not exist.  A rational person would ask, however, why one should believe in a god or gods without evidence.  Take gods out of the equation--why would anyone believe in anything that is absolutely lacking in evidence?  You certainly can do so, but doing so couldn't readily be called a rational thing to do.
Third, in the absence of evidence for God’s existence, agnosticism, not atheism, is the logical presumption. Even if arguments for God’s existence do not persuade, atheism should not be presumed because atheism is not neutral; pure agnosticism is. Atheism is justified only if there is sufficient evidence against God’s existence.
 My reaction: This is definitely a misuse of terms, though I can't speak to whether it is an unintentional error or an intentional obfuscation. 
Therefore, a person who claims to have no certain knowledge of the existence of a god is an agnostic.  A person who simply does not believe in gods is an atheist.   I can be agnostic in that I don't claim to be 100 percent certain that there is no god, but because I don't believe in gods due to lack of evidence, I am still an atheist.  Belief and 100 percent certainty are not dependent upon each other.  Similarly, a person who believes in a god but don't claim to be 100 percent certain can still be an agnostic theist.  While there are gnostic atheists (and gnostic theists), most atheists tend to be of the sort that don't claim special knowledge of the lack of godly beings, but still don't believe.  Thus, this point is also moot.
Fourth, to place belief in Santa Claus or mermaids and belief in God on the same level is mistaken. The issue is not that we have no good evidence for these mythical entities; rather, we have strong evidence that they do not exist. Absence of evidence is not at all the same as evidence of absence, which some atheists fail to see.
My reaction:  Really?  Interesting, I notice there is no presentation of what that evidence for the non-existence of Santa Claus is.  Normally, when making a claim of evidence to prove your point, it is customary to actually, y'know, present it. We are left to our own devices to decide what that evidence might be.  It can't be the fact that no one has seen him, or that he defies the laws of physics because one could go in to the same rational contortions theists do to explain their gods and say that he simply exists outside the natural universe and is there somehow exempt from the rules that govern all matter and energy that we know of.  Any refutation of Santa based on physics, logic, and rationality could also be used to refute gods, so we have to steer clear of those.   I would say that the most damning piece of positive, provable evidence against St. Nick is that it is easily provable that parents and family give the gifts that are credited with being given by him.

Okay, if that's what Mr. (soon to be doctor) Copan is referring to as evidence, then what is the response to watching machines devised from modern technology and the diligent efforts of hundreds of volunteers strive to rescue the Chilean miners then being attributed as "a miracle"?  God didn't float those guys out while celestial trumpets blared and the glow from angels turned the site into a perpetual, glorious day.  We didn't even get a Terry Gilliam illustration of god parting the clouds.  All we got were some very dedicated human beings using the tools created using the principles of science to rescue their fellows.  I am open to anyone who can logically explain the differences. can argue that the contingency of the universe — in light of Big Bang cosmology, the expanding universe, and the second law of thermodynamics (which implies that the universe has been "wound up" and will eventually die a heat death) — demonstrates that the cosmos has not always been here. It could not have popped into existence uncaused, out of absolutely nothing, because we know that whatever begins to exist has a cause. A powerful First Cause like the God of theism plausibly answers the question of the universe’s origin.
My reaction:  One could certainly argue that, but one would instantly be rebutted by asking how one determines that "beginning to exist" must have a "cause."  Define "cause" please.  Do you mean "intelligent creator"?  If so, what is the evidence that this is always the case?   Stephen Hawking very recently elucidated on how the universe could have come about without a deity in his book The Grand Design.  To say that it must have happened because of a creator because we don't know of instances when it hasn't is purely an example of the logical fallacy of an argument from ignorance. 
The existence of objective morality provides further evidence for belief in God. If widow-burning or genocide is really wrong and not just cultural, then it is difficult to account for this universally binding morality, with its sense of "oughtness," on strictly naturalistic terms.
My reaction: Either I've been drinking a LOT (always a possibility) or he somehow leaped over evidence that there is an objective morality.  I can literally think of dozens of examples of how biblical morality is not only subjective, but contradicts itself. 

Conclusion:  Okay, here I am, a lowly public school teacher only halfway through a masters program and sporting an exuberant buzz, and the most research I had to do to put this rebuttal together is google some clip art for entertainment purposes.

Seriously, is this an example of the type of best arguments the educated theists can put forth?

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