Will the real god please stand up?

Blogging inspiration hasn’t struck me that often over the last few months, so I’ve been sticking to blog discussions here and there.  Lately, however, I’ve been coming across a theistic error so glaring, it cries for comment.  The curious thing about this error is that it’s being committed by some of the more prominent religious apologists, highly educated theologians you’d least expect to make such an elementary logical blunder – apologists like Oxford University professor John Lennox and Timothy Keller, author of the New York Times bestseller The Reason for God.

In a nutshell, the error these theists make is to take general philosophical god arguments (e.g., the cosmological argument or the argument from design) and cite them as grounds for the existence of their particular god.  Finely-tuned universe, ergo Jesus.  But whether through myopia or intentional smoke-and-mirrors sophistry, what these apologists fail to acknowledge is that the philosophical god arguments apply just as well to other gods that people both believe and don’t believe in.  Apologists for Islam make the same arguments for why you should believe in Allah.  So do Hindus.  As well as the believers of thousands of other religions.  What’s more, the arguments are wholly compatible not just with theism, but with deism and polytheism!  One god, for example, may have been responsible for creating the universe, while another for life on our little spec in it.

So, even if the arguments are persuasive, they don’t get you to Jesus, or Allah, or Yahweh, or Thor, or Brahman, or Mazda, or Zeus.  At best, they get you only to…something.  You may call it Aristotle’s “prime mover”, and it could be any one of the aforementioned gods, or none of them.  Until it (or they) actually shows up and demonstrates its existence conclusively and exclusively (meaning, there can be no mistaking it with the billion other imagined deities out there people have worshipped), these arguments are for all intents and purposes useless to the believer.  They need to succeed not just on the merits of the god arguments, which I don’t believe they do, but also prove those arguments apply only to their god(s), and no others, which is something they don’t even attempt.

21 thoughts on “Will the real god please stand up?

  1. Before I start disagreeing, I would first like to concede to your main point. The cosmological argument and the argument of design does not offer evidence in favor of a particular religion.

    That being said, I think your statements regarding Lennox and Keller, suggesting that they make such an argument, is a misrepresentation. I remember John Lennox addressing this directly (I think it was in his debate with Richard Dawkins but I wasn’t able to find the specific spot), though I can’t say the same for Keller.

    The real point of the cosmological argument is to give evidence for the existence of a deity (because based on this evidence alone, multiple deities would be ruled out by Occam’s Razor). The move from atheism to deism is a very important step. It may not get you to Christianity, but the step from “no god exists” to “a god exists” is probably the biggest obstacle in the process.

    If you listen to Lennox directly (I think in the debate with Dawkins) he suggests that the rest of his argument from deism to christianity comes from the history surrounding Jesus himself.

  2. I took the liberty of fixing the link. I mess up the HTML on occasion as well.

    That being said, I think your statements regarding Lennox and Keller, suggesting that they make such an argument, is a misrepresentation.

    With regards to Keller, I retract. 🙂 I re-read the chapter of his book that introduces these arguments and he concedes they don’t necessarily lead to the existence of the Christian god.

    Still, I cannot find where Lennox makes a similar concession. I watched his debate with Dawkins some time ago, and it was from this that I recognized the flawed reasoning.

    In general, however, I think my primary point stands: religious apologists have a tendency to make an unwarranted leap to their particular god from general god arguments.

    (because based on this evidence alone, multiple deities would be ruled out by Occam’s Razor).

    Would you elaborate? I came across this claim before, and I think it’s based on a misunderstanding of that principle.

    1. Lennox is one of my favorite christian apologists. I’ve listened to several of his speeches and debates. I can’t seem to remember when he conceded that the cosmological argument leads us only to a deistic god, but I was pretty sure it was with Dawkins. Since Lennox and Dawkins have had several debates together, it may have been in one of the others. Either way, I assure you that he does and that your claim in regards to Lennox is a misrepresentation.

      Aside from that, I think it doesn’t really matter anyway. Your point as you wrote above does not stand because it is an unwarranted claim. If you make the assertion that Lennox argues for the christian god from the cosmological argument, then you should supply some sort of evidence for your conclusion. Just because Lennox uses the cosmological argument and argues in favor of the christian god doesn’t mean that he uses the cosmological argument in order to argue in favor of the christian god.

      Also, even if your claim regarding Lennox was true, I still think your point fails. Above you have made a claim that religious apologists in general make this logical mistake. Your generalization is unwarranted, even if your one example was valid.

      —————–

      Occam’s razor is a principle that says we should not multiply entities beyond necessity. If your only evidence is the cosmological argument, then polytheism does just that. Polytheism would multiply deities without any gain in explanatory power. One god can explain the origin of the universe just as easily as multiple gods can. Occam’s razor leads us to deny the existence of more than one deity without having evidence that would be better explained in a polytheistic setting.

  3. Eric, as I mentioned, I’ve heard Dawkins and Lennox debate (I’m fairly positive it was this one), and it’s clear Lennox is utilizing general god arguments to make the case for the Christian god’s existence. He references the Bible multiple times, for instance. At the very least, he does not admit, as you did above, that “the cosmological argument and the argument of design does not offer evidence in favor of a particular religion.”

    Above you have made a claim that religious apologists in general make this logical mistake. Your generalization is unwarranted, even if your one example was valid.

    As you might imagine, I’ve had many, many discussions with theists in general, and Christians in particular. Always, when they’re raising the general god arguments, they’re using them as arguments for their particular god (a recent example can be found here, discussion continued here). William Lane Craig, in his exposition of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, concludes that not just a creator, but a “personal Creator” was behind it, which he calls God, and not merely “a god”. Finally, many sites devoted specifically to this question, such as this one and this one commit the same error. So I think I’m on solid footing with my claim.

    Occam’s razor is a principle that says we should not multiply entities beyond necessity.

    I believe you make two errors in your argument:

    1) You’ve elevated the principle to a logical imperitive.
    2) You’ve “literalized” (is that a word?) entities.

    Regarding the first error, what Occam’s Razor says is that we should tend towards simpler theories, not that we must, as if it was a rule of logic. Thus, it does not – and cannot – “lead us to deny” polytheism as an explanation.

    Regarding the second error, the principal is really about explanations for empirical facts, not literal “entities” like me, you, or a god. As we know, complex explanations are sometimes the true ones, superseding previously simpler explanations.

  4. Okay, I had to go back and listen to the debate once again. I think that you may be reading conclusions into the fact that Lennox argues from a position of christianity. Lennox rightly gives the cosmological argument as evidence in support of christianity. However, the conclusion reached by the argument as presented by Lennox is the existence of God, not the truth of christianity. There is a big difference between offering evidence in support of christianity and drawing a conclusion of christianity.

    As for Bill Craig, I believe that you are the one making leaps in the argument, not him. Craig freely admits that his choice to refer to the cause of the universe as “God” is an arbitrary one from the perspective of the argument itself. Also, just because he argues for a “personal God” doesn’t mean that he is concluding christianity. Again, evidence in support of christianity is not the same as a conclusion of christianity. I would say the same thing about your last two links.

    I do see that this is not the case for Prayson Daniel. He is, in fact, drawing a conclusion of christianity from the cosmological argument. I believe that your objections in this case are warranted and that his conclusion is does not carry its weight logically. That being said, a sample size of 1 doesn’t seem sufficient for your generalization.
    ———————————-

    I would suggest that your understanding of Occam’s razor is flawed. I did not suggest that Occam’s razor is a logical imperative, but rather said that the principle leads us to deny polytheism. The principle is a practical one that should be followed, and is much more than just a suggestion. It was Occam’s razor that led to the scientific communities acceptance of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Relativity offers the same amount of explanatory power as Lorentzian physics. The difference is that Lorentzian physics required the existence of ether, while relativity did not. Lorentzian physics violates Occam’s razor because it multiplies entities (in this case ether) without necessity. In the case of relativity, as well as the example of polytheism above, the entity in question is literal.

  5. Eric, you wrote:

    Lennox rightly gives the cosmological argument as evidence in support of christianity.

    But originally you wrote:

    The cosmological argument and the argument of design does not offer evidence in favor of a particular religion.

    These two statements seem in conflict to me. Could you clarify?

    In any case, I still maintain that Lennox and Craig want you to regard these arguments as arguments for the Christian god. If that’s not something they wanted, they would admit at the outset that the arguments don’t get you to the Christian god. At the least, they should simply say, “a god” or “gods”. Instead, they use the proper name “God”, argue from the Bible, and go so far as to call it “personal”.

    The principle is a practical one that should be followed, and is much more than just a suggestion.

    If Occam’s razor should be followed, then it seems that would make it an imperitive, no?

    About the best article on Occam’s razor I was able to find comes from Wikipedia, primarily because it’s the best sourced. The article states:

    “As a methodological principle, the demand for simplicity suggested by Occam’s razor cannot be generally sustained. Occam’s razor cannot help toward a rational decision between competing explanations of the same empirical facts.”

    Further on, the article offers examples in which the principle was actually an impediment to scientific understanding, that the less simple explanation turned out to be the accurate one.

    Could multiple gods, rather than a single god, be responsible for the beginning of the universe? Certainly yes. Merely because a single god could be responsible doesn’t lead us to conclude that only a single god did it. That might be the preferred explanation, but the multiple gods hypothesis cannot be ruled out, because it too is compatible with the god arguments.

  6. Evidence used to support a given position is used in order to distinguish that position from an opposing position. The cosmological argument does distinguish christianity from atheism and can therefore be used as evidence in support of christianity over atheism. That is the reason why Lennox and Craig use this as evidence of christianity over atheism. The cosmological argument does not distinguish between theistic religions. It would be pretty ridiculous if a christian proposed the cosmological argument as evidence for christianity in a debate with a muslim; however, that is not what we have.

    Lets go back to the relativity example. If you look for evidence in support of relativity, you will find that time dilation and lorentzian contraction are offered as supporting evidence. The reason why this is evidence in support of relativity is because it distinguishes between relativity and newtonian physics, even though it doesn’t distinguish between relativity and lorentzian physics.

    The primary reason why Lennox and Craig use the cosmological argument is to argue for christianity over atheism and so their use of the evidence is valid. What you seem to be suggesting is that they argue as such:
    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
    2. The universe began to exist.
    3. Therefore, the universe was created by the christian god
    As I have already suggested, this is a misrepresentation of the argument proposed by either of these men. Craig makes his argument very clearly:
    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
    2. The universe began to exist.
    3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
    ————————————–

    Occam’s razor is not an imperative because it is not a strict requirement, but it is still a practical principle that should be followed.

    Your quote has no reference and I have already supplied an example in which Occam’s razor was used to distinguish between competing explanations of the same empirical facts. It was Einstein himself who used Occam’s razor to suggest that relativity was superior to lorentzian physics.

    Science is built in order to resist change. That’s the way that it works and that is why occam’s razor is such an important part of the process. If a more complicated theory is to be accepted, then it must prove itself first. This may serve as an impediment, but that doesn’t mean that it is wrong. While slowing the advance of some theories that are true, it leads us to resist the acceptance of a multitude of theories that would ultimately be rejected.

    The principle is not used to conclude that only a single god did it. Rather it leads us to reject polytheism on the grounds that there is no evidence to support more than one god creating the universe. As I said, Occam’s razor leads us to reject polytheism as long as the cosmological argument is our only evidence. If you choose to reject Occam’s razor, then that is a different issue.

    1. Shetty bahi:i wont say this is out of his insecurity, it is just that he is having the best phase in his career and coming to be taken seriously by everyone after spending almost 15 years.so why not utilize the best times and maximize the potential?

  7. Eric, you wrote,

    Evidence used to support a given position is used in order to distinguish that position from an opposing position. The cosmological argument does distinguish christianity from atheism and can therefore be used as evidence in support of christianity over atheism.

    Well, not really. The cosmological argument may be used only as an argument against atheism (and I’m not sure it can even do that). If Lennox and Dawkins were debating creationism and evolution, and Lennox provided evidence of the co-habitation of some species that evolution suggests lived millions of years apart, it would be evidence only against evolution, not “evidence in support of creationism over evolution”.

    That one theory is less likely, or even falsified, doesn’t translate into evidence in support of a competing theory.
    ———

    Your quote has no reference and I have already supplied an example in which Occam’s razor was used to distinguish between competing explanations of the same empirical facts.

    And as the Wiki article makes clear, there are instances where the more complex theory turned out to be true, thus contradicting Occam’s razor.

    Rather it leads us to reject polytheism on the grounds that there is no evidence to support more than one god creating the universe.

    There’s your error. There’s no evidence to support that just one god created the universe either. The cosmological argument only states “the universe has a cause of its existence, external of its own existence.” That cause may have been a single being, or two, or twenty (or a natural process we don’t understand yet). It’s telling that Craig doesn’t introduce his “personal Creator” into the argument formally, but merely says, “In fact, I think that it can be plausibly argued that the cause of the universe must be a personal Creator. ” (emphasis mine)

    That’s the relevance of my quote. Just because one god is “simpler” than twenty in explaining the cause of the universe, doesn’t “lead us to deny” twenty gods.

  8. How exactly does one offer evidence against the non-existence of something? It seems to me that the only way one can give evidence “against atheism” is to give evidence “for theism.”

    I understand the point of your evolution example, though ironically the example itself fails to illustrate your point. Young earth creationism predicts that all living creatures once lived together. The evidence you refer to would supply evidence against evolution while also offering evidence in support of creationism (Lennox is not a creationist BTW).
    ————————————
    I don’t really know where to go with this discussion of Occam’s razor because you still don’t seem to understand the principle in itself. The point is not to reject all complicated theories in favor of simpler ones. The point is to not increase complexity beyond necessity. The more complex scientific theories that were eventually proven correct did not “contradict Occam’s razor.” Rather, the theories were accepted because they finally showed that the increased complexity was necessary in order to fully explain the data. If you only look at the simplicity or complexity of a theory, then you are missing the point of Occam’s razor.

    Ultimately, if you accept the principle of Occam’s razor, then you would reject polytheism as an explanation for the origin of the universe.

  9. How exactly does one offer evidence against the non-existence of something? It seems to me that the only way one can give evidence “against atheism” is to give evidence “for theism.”

    That’s one way. Another way is to show that atheism is untenable or impossible. That wouldn’t be evidence “for theism”, per se, because deism, polytheism, and pantheism are not ruled out.

    Young earth creationism predicts that all living creatures once lived together. The evidence you refer to would supply evidence against evolution while also offering evidence in support of creationism (Lennox is not a creationist BTW).

    Not necessarily. Suppose there was a theory that some agent (e.g., demi-gods, an alien race) populated the earth with creatures at various points in its history – a theory called “Seedism”. Lennox’s hypothetical evidence would support that theory too. While Lennox in our example might be tempted to declare victory for Creationists, Seedists would rightly say, “Not so fast!”

    I don’t really know where to go with this discussion of Occam’s razor because you still don’t seem to understand the principle in itself…Ultimately, if you accept the principle of Occam’s razor, then you would reject polytheism as an explanation for the origin of the universe.

    With respect, it seems you don’t seem to understand the principle. Allow me to return again to the Wikipedia article.

    “Occam’s razor”, the article defines, “is a principle that generally recommends selecting the competing hypothesis that makes the fewest new assumptions, when the hypotheses are equal in other respects.”

    Notice the words “generally recommends”. You’ve elevated the principle to a priori reject competing hypotheses that are equally compatible with the data. Until we have data that falsifies those other hypothesis – or buttresses your own – you’re preferred theory (theism) cannot be regarded as the default winner.

    You seem to believe arguments like the cosmological argument essentially establish theism, but it doesn’t. Craig doesn’t even make that claim. As I said above, he merely “thinks it can be plausibly argued”…Guess what? I think deism can be plausibly argued…or polytheism (dual gods, for example, one purely good, one purely evil). A mere heuristic like Occam’s razor doesn’t grant you the license to automatically exclude them. (Edit: In fact, if were merely took the general god arguments, according to your understanding, we should reject theism as increasing complexity beyond necessity because deism explains them just as well, no?)

  10. Again, how would one go about showing that atheism is untenable or impossible? How does one provide evidence against the non-existence of something? You seem to be caught up on my choice to use the word “theism,” but that is not at all my point. The assertion of the atheist is that no god exists. The only way to provide evidence against atheism is to provide evidence for the existence of a god.

    You also seem to be under the impression that evidence that supports two theories actually supports neither. The fact that your “Seedest” claims that the evidence also supports his view does not remove the support that it offered to creationism in the first place. The same is true for the cosmological argument. It provides evidence in favor of any system of beliefs that claims the existence of a god.

    I have repeatedly stated that Occam’s razor is not a hard and fast rule, but rather a practical principle that should be followed. You are choosing to reject that principle and that’s fine.

    I believe that now you are misrepresenting my view as well. I never made a claim that the cosmological argument establishes theism. As I said in my first post, the point of the cosmological argument is to give evidence for the existence of a deity. The argument establishes the existence of a cause for the universe. It demonstrates a supernatural entity, outside of space and time, with sufficient power to create our universe.

  11. You seem to be caught up on my choice to use the word “theism,” but that is not at all my point.

    Very well, I understand your point, but you did say earlier, “It seems to me that the only way one can give evidence ‘against atheism’ is to give evidence ‘for theism.'”

    What I mean by showing atheism to be impossible is similar to how scientists have shown that it’s impossible that visible matter can account for the total mass of the universe. They don’t know exactly what the other matter is, but there’s got to be something else.

    You also seem to be under the impression that evidence that supports two theories actually supports neither.

    I’m not sure how you arrived at that understanding. I wrote, “Lennox’s hypothetical evidence would support [“Seedism”] too.” My point is that while evolution might be debunked, creationism wouldn’t be the default winner, as someone like Lennox in my hypothetical example would lead us to believe.

    I have repeatedly stated that Occam’s razor is not a hard and fast rule, but rather a practical principle that should be followed. You are choosing to reject that principle and that’s fine.

    I believe the citations I’ve provided support my view, and you’ve provided no alternative authority. The cosmological argument, as I’ve stated, is compatible with polytheism; it makes no claims that “the cause” is the theist’s god or even just one entity; that is merely the “thinking” of theistic apologists like Craig. Finally, per your understanding of the principle, why is theism not rejected since it increases complexity over deism?

  12. But we aren’t really talking about dark matter here, we’re talking about atheism. The only “something” that would show atheism to be impossible is a divine “something.”

    Perhaps I have misunderstood your position. In your original post, you claim that the cosmological argument is useless unless it can be shown to apply only to one religion. You seem to have denied the fact that the cosmological argument offers evidence in favor of Christianity because it also offers evidence for other religions. When I suggested that organisms cohabiting would support creationism, you said, “not necessarily,” because it would also support “seedism.” Perhaps you can clear this up for me. Does the cosmological argument offer evidence in support of christianity or not?
    —————————————-

    Perhaps this article will help with our discussion of Occam’s razor. If you wish to read some more, I will gladly provide more links or references to books, but I found that this article is most relevant to our current discussion.

    With regards to your last question, I would first like to clarify something. How exactly is a deistic god less complex than a theistic god? The difference between the two is not in their essence or their attributes. The two gods are qualitatively identical with only a difference in behavior.

  13. But we aren’t really talking about dark matter here, we’re talking about atheism.

    I was merely making an analogy between how scientists conclusively demonstrated that visible matter cannot comprise all existing matter (but aren’t sure what the rest of the stuff is) – thus defeating any theories that held such – and how it might be demonstrated that natural entities cannot comprise the entire set of all existing entities – thus defeating atheism.

    Does the cosmological argument offer evidence in support of christianity or not?

    No, it doesn’t (and I’m not even sure you could call the argument evidence, either). You seemed to agree, at least initially, when you wrote, “The cosmological argument…does not offer evidence in favor of a particular religion.” Now it appears you’re backing off that concession. In any case, allow me to further explain by way of analogy why it doesn’t.

    Suppose you wake up one morning to find a large gash on the side of your car. A neighbor, examining your car, remarks: “It appears to me a bear did that.”

    Do you now suppose the gash is evidence in support of bear vandalism? Obviously, it’s not outside the realm of possibility, but you wouldn’t (at least I hope you wouldn’t) now go around railing against bear vandalism, posting pictures of your car all over tarnation as evidence. Your attitude should instead be, “Well…maybe…”

    Your conundrum is deepened when another neighbor comes over and says, “That’s obviously the work of Bart, the no-good Simpson boy from Springfield”. Your brow furrows even further when yet another neighbor (you live in one of those small towns where everyone’s business is everyone else’s too) comes over and states with absolute certainty, “Oh no! Government agents did that!”

    So, in sum, we have a gashed car (i.e., the cosmological argument), and multiple theories about what’s behind it (i.e., Christianity, Islam, Hinduism). Your evidence is compatible with each of the theories, but you wouldn’t regard it as “in support” of any particular one of them. The best you can say that is that some agent (e.g., bear, Bart, bureaucrat, or maybe even Bozo the Clown!) likely gashed your car. Or maybe just something (e.g., a flying branch or piece of metal).

    Perhaps this article will help with our discussion of Occam’s razor.

    Thank you. But the article speaks of new entities beyond those currently known. That’s not the case for “the Cause” behind the cosmological argument, in which we don’t definitively know of an entity. As I’ve said before, “the Cause” could be a two gods, each with attributes in direct opposition to the other (good/evil; dark/light, etc.).

    How exactly is a deistic god less complex than a theistic god? The difference between the two is not in their essence or their attributes. The two gods are qualitatively identical with only a difference in behavior.

    No, there is a difference in their essence and attributes. Deists don’t regard their god to possess emotions like anger, jealousy, love, etc. It would also not have a human form. It’s even quesionable whether the deist’s god would embody perfect justice and mercy.

  14. I was merely making an analogy between how scientists conclusively demonstrated that visible matter cannot comprise all existing matter (but aren’t sure what the rest of the stuff is) – thus defeating any theories that held such – and how it might be demonstrated that natural entities cannot comprise the entire set of all existing entities – thus defeating atheism.

    But Robert, demonstrating that natural entities cannot comprise the entire set of all existing entities does not defeat atheism, only ontological naturalism. Theoretically, supernatural entities could exist without the existence of a god. The only way to “defeat atheism,” would be to show sufficient evidence for the existence of a god.
    ————————————–
    You have rightly pointed out that I said that the cosmological argument does not offer evidence in support of a particular religion. I hope you will forgive me for altering my position a bit.

    I think the real issue comes down to a difference between evidence that supports a given belief and evidence that is conclusive of that belief. A gash in your car may not be sufficient to conclude that a bear vandalized your car but the gash certainly supports that belief. If a man comes to a forest ranger to complain that a bear has vandalized his car, then a gash in the side of his car would certainly be good evidence to support his claim.

    The cosmological argument functions as an argument for the existence of a god. The existence of a god is a central to Christianity as well as other religions. As such, evidence for the existence of a god, though not conclusive of Christianity, certainly supports that belief.

    Thank you. But the article speaks of new entities beyond those currently known. That’s not the case for “the Cause” behind the cosmological argument, in which we don’t definitively know of an entity. As I’ve said before, “the Cause” could be a two gods, each with attributes in direct opposition to the other (good/evil; dark/light, etc.).

    It is postulated that “the Cause” behind the cosmological argument is a divine entity. The desire to minimize the number of individual new entities postulated is quantitative parsimony. Do you not agree that one god is more quantitatively parsimonious than two? The physicists used as an example of the paper did not first identify the neutrino and then postulate that only one neutrino was emitted by each electron in each beta decay. It was the data itself that led to postulate for the neutrino in the first place. They did not definitively know of an entity behind “the Cause” of the lost mass-energy in beta decay. The cosmological argument is no different.

    No, there is a difference in their essence and attributes. Deists don’t regard their god to possess emotions like anger, jealousy, love, etc. It would also not have a human form. It’s even quesionable whether the deist’s god would embody perfect justice and mercy.

    You are mistaken. A theistic god is not required to have emotions. A theistic god is also not required to have a human form. In fact, for Christians, God is spirit and so he does not have a human form (though he is able to take on a human form). Also, a theistic god is not required to embody perfect justice or mercy, or anything else for that matter. The greek gods are perfect examples of theistic gods who were not just or merciful.

    The distinction between a god who is deistic and a god who is theistic is only whether or not they interact with the universe.

  15. I think the real issue comes down to a difference between evidence that supports a given belief and evidence that is conclusive of that belief. A gash in your car may not be sufficient to conclude that a bear vandalized your car but the gash certainly supports that belief.

    In my example, the gash “supports” belief in a wide variety of theories. To privilege one over the others, it seems to me, is an unwarranted leap. You need something more specific, e.g., long, thick hairs, to begin to justifiably argue for your bear theory. What do you say to the guy who claims the gash supports his Bart-did-it theory?

    If a man comes to a forest ranger to complain that a bear has vandalized his car, then a gash in the side of his car would certainly be good evidence to support his claim.

    If the car was in the forest, then our other theories would be less likely, but the forest ranger would be justified in asking what about the gash makes him believe it was a bear, rather than, say, a mountain lion, a dear, or a wolf.

    Say, rather than a gash in your car, your chicken coup had been raided. Now a raided chicked coup, according to your reasoning, supports a bear-did-it theory. Do you then go out and start shooting bears? I hope not. Absent other evidence, there’s a good chance you’re mistaken.

    The existence of a god is a central to Christianity as well as other religions. As such, evidence for the existence of a god, though not conclusive of Christianity, certainly supports that belief.

    Evidence for the existence of a god also supports deism. If deism is true, Christianity is false. Consequently, I continue to maintain that citing the cosmological argument to support Christianity is an unwarranted leap.

    The cosmological argument only supports Christianity in conjunction with a whole host of other arguments and evidences, but it doesn’t support it in isolation, as its proponents like yourself infer. I think you would certainly object if a Hindu apologist cited the cosmological argument in support of Hinduism. Both Hinduism and Christianity both can’t be true; one or both are in error. The cosmological argument would then be used to support error, would it not?

    It is postulated that “the Cause” behind the cosmological argument is a divine entity.

    “It is postulated…” Right! It’s not demonstrated or proven. Essentially, you’re taking a hypothesis and elevating it to the level of a certainty.

    Why can’t “the Cause” be two (or more) gods? This is a question that has not gotten a good answer.

    The physicists used as an example of the paper did not first identify the neutrino and then postulate that only one neutrino was emitted by each electron in each beta decay. It was the data itself that led to postulate for the neutrino in the first place.

    Data which we do not possess about a god or gods.

    In any case, what justifies applying a case about neutrinos (or anything in the natural world) to the supernatural? The author of the article you cited admits that the principle can have exceptions; he states quite clearly that quantitatively parsimonious explanations are merely preferred. No where does he state that such explanations are a rule to eliminate rival explanations.

    In sum, while a single deity may be the preferred explanation for “the Cause”, nothing rules out or “leads us to deny” other deities, such that we can say with assurity “there is only one god.” More data are needed, which we don’t have.

    The distinction between a god who is deistic and a god who is theistic is only whether or not they interact with the universe.

    Regardless of the specific attributes (if any) that differentiate a deistic god and a theistic god, interaction with the universe itself adds complexity. Such interaction implies goals, intention, and desire.

  16. In your example, a gash in your car is evidence in support of bear vandalism. What that really means is that the presence of the gash makes the “bear theory” more likely to be true than if the gash were absent. In more specific logic terms: Pr(H|G&B)>Pr(H|B), the probability of our hypothesis (H) is more likely given the gash (G) and background information (B) than the probability of our hypothesis with the background information alone. Whether or not something can be used for evidence in support of a given theory does not depend on other theories that may also claim support. Your gash may support other theories as well, but that is irrelevant to the fact that it supports bear vandalism.

    The same is true for the cosmological argument and Christianity. The reality is that the probability of Christianity being true is higher given the cosmological argument, and so we can accurately say that the cosmological argument supports Christianity. The fact that the evidence also supports deism (or a myriad of other theisms) does not take away that support for Christianity. Your accusation that I am inferring that the cosmological argument supports Christianity in isolation is a straw man and a misrepresentation of my position.

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    “It is postulated…” Right! It’s not demonstrated or proven. Essentially, you’re taking a hypothesis and elevating it to the level of a certainty.

    Again, you get caught up in the words I am using and not the point that I am making. There is a duality in which we speak of knowledge in science. Something that is “postulated” is not necessarily something that is less likely to be true than something that is “demonstrated” or “proven.” My choice to use that word is because it is the same word that the author applies to the examples of his paper. The “postulated” neutrinos are something that we are certain about because their existence has been demonstrated through a loss in mass-energy. Likewise, the existence of a deity is something we can be certain about because the beginning of the universe necessitates the existence of an atemporal, aspacial, supernatural entity with sufficient power to create our universe.

    Perhaps the wording that I used was too forceful. If you wish to say that Occam’s razor leads us to “prefer” monotheism over polytheism, than so be it. I wasn’t trying to claim that Occam’s razor led to the conclusion that there is only one god. But when we talk about a preferred theory in science we are talking about the currently accepted model, a model that is treated as truth unless an opposing model can adequately replace it.

    Regardless of the specific attributes (if any) that differentiate a deistic god and a theistic god, interaction with the universe itself adds complexity. Such interaction implies goals, intention, and desire.

    Doesn’t the creation of the universe itself imply goals, intention, and desire? Without being able to sufficiently argue that a theistic god is more complex in itself (i.e. in attributes or essence), Occam’s razor does not apply. You don’t prefer one theory over another merely because of the complexity of the behavior of an entity. For example, you can’t assume that everyone you meet is unemployed merely because that behavior is less complex than an engineer or a lawyer.

  17. Eric, this has been a great discussion (and I say that will all honesty), but it seems clear we have different understandings of what it means to support. To me, it’s nonsensical to say argument or evidence support a given theory when the same argument and evidence can be employed to support a number of other theories, particularly when those theories can contradict each other. Allow me another scenario which I hope will put my reasoning in starker relief. This will be my last reply, but I do look forward to your own.

    Suppose Ken Ham, Michael Behe, and Ken Miller are having a debate over, respectively, Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Theistic Evolution.

    Ham starts the debate with the usual litany of Creationist arguments and then says, “As well, the cosmological argument supports Creationism!”

    Behe follows with ID arguments, and also says, “The cosmological argument supports ID!”

    Miller is last, and not to be outdone, says, “The cosmological argument supports theistic evolution!”

    According to your reasoning, all would be perfectly correct in making their respective assertions, but you can imagine the confusion of the audience! It’s being told the cosmological argument supports not just three theories, but contradictory ones to boot. At this point, they would likely laugh Ham, Behe, and Miller out of the chamber. No one (normally) argues this way.

    The reality is that the probability of Christianity being true is higher given the cosmological argument, and so we can accurately say that the cosmological argument supports Christianity.

    Higher relative to what? That’s my question. It’s certainly not higher relative to most other religions, yet that’s the only correct comparison. In my view, and in general practice, argument and evidence need to be specific to a particular theory for it to be said to support such theory.

    The “postulated” neutrinos are something that we are certain about because their existence has been demonstrated through a loss in mass-energy. Likewise, the existence of a deity is something we can be certain about because the beginning of the universe necessitates the existence of an atemporal, aspacial, supernatural entity with sufficient power to create our universe.

    Oh, not at all. If it was so certain, why do theoretical physicists and cosmologists like Stephen Hawking, Victor Stenger, and Martin Reese fail to be convinced? Almost all cosmologists are atheists, according to Sean Carroll of CalTech. His explanation concludes: “adding God would just make things more complicated, and this hypothesis should be rejected by scientific standards.” Sounds like we can dismiss God based on Occam’s Razor, right?

    I wasn’t trying to claim that Occam’s razor led to the conclusion that there is only one god.

    But you stated earlier, “Rather [Occam’s razor] leads us to reject polytheism on the grounds that there is no evidence to support more than one god creating the universe.”

    But when we talk about a preferred theory in science we are talking about the currently accepted model, a model that is treated as truth unless an opposing model can adequately replace it.

    Theism is the preferred theory or accepted model in science? (Occam’s Razor and quantitative parsimony are neither theories nor models).

    Doesn’t the creation of the universe itself imply goals, intention, and desire?

    I’m not so sure. Creation may merely be part of the god’s essence, similar to how producing seeds is an essence of a plant’s. Yet plants, as far as we’re aware, do not possess a desire to interact with their environment in meaningful and intentional ways, like humans do. This is why it seems to me a theistic god is more complex than deistic one.

  18. To me, it’s nonsensical to say argument or evidence support a given theory when the same argument and evidence can be employed to support a number of other theories, particularly when those theories can contradict each other… In my view, and in general practice, argument and evidence need to be specific to a particular theory for it to be said to support such theory.

    This is what I meant when I said that you consider that evidence in support of multiple theories actually supports none. This is not actually true. While the cosmological argument may support Ham, Behe, and Miller, the nonsensical part is that any of them would be offering points that they all agree with. The same is not true for a debate between a Christian and an Atheist because this is a point of contention between the two. We would never get anywhere if it were required that evidence must support one theory in isolation in order to be considered valid. All evidence can be used to support more than one theory.

    The probability that Christianity is correct given the cosmological argument is higher in comparison to the probability that Christianity is correct without considering the cosmological argument. That is what it means to have supportive evidence.

    Oh, not at all. If it was so certain, why do theoretical physicists and cosmologists like Stephen Hawking, Victor Stenger, and Martin Reese fail to be convinced? Almost all cosmologists are atheists, according to Sean Carroll of CalTech.

    Classic association fallacy. Carroll’s statement represents nothing more than his opinion on the issue. He attempts to get around the cosmological argument with two possible scenarios, both of which are flawed. His first is to appeal to Hawking and his theory of the universe being finite, but not having a beginning; however, Hawking’s theory requires that the universe would somehow exist in “imaginary time.” Although this may appeal to the mathematics of imaginary numbers, there is no reason to believe that a mathematical system invented to deal with square roots that don’t exist could every be applied to an imaginary timeline that does. Hawking seems to have abandoned this explanation in his newest book, but of course we can’t fault Carroll for not knowing that in 2003. The other explanation that Carroll provides is one of an oscillatory universe, which he admits has problems of its own, not least of which is the fact that all data suggests that the density of the universe is less than the critical density required to ever recollapse. Without having a sufficient explanation for the origin of the universe, it seems that Carroll’s conclusion is premature.
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    Occam’s razor does lead us to reject polytheism as a theory, but that’s not the same as saying that Occam’s razor leads us to conclude that only one god exists. Because Occam’s razor is more of a mode of operations than anything else, it doesn’t tell us the truth value of different theories. Rather, the razor is used to decide how to treat certain theories until new evidence is provided.

    I wasn’t saying that theism is a preferred theory in science. I was suggesting to you how the scientific community treats theories which are “preferred.” If we are to prefer monotheism over polytheism, than I would suggest that we treat monotheism the same way.

    Again, Occam’s razor is applied to entities themselves, not the behavior of postulated entities. Without being able to sufficiently argue that a theistic god is more complex in itself (i.e. in attributes or essence), Occam’s razor does not apply. You are welcome to look for a source that would suggest otherwise, but I am unaware of any at the moment.

    As always, Robert, it has been a pleasure. I enjoy our discussions and I wish you the best.

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