Response to Bad Idea

As Bad has stated, him and I are having a bit of a debate about wether or not the answer of God explains anything.  It started on “Response to ‘The Atheist Is A Thief’” and continued on his blog.  It has taken me several days to respond to him because, frankly, I didn’t want to debate his entire readership (which jumped on me when I posted on his blog) and just wanted to debate with him.  So here is my post regarding his response on his blog (scroll down a bit and you’ll see his response in full).

Bad

You repeat “strawman” a lot, but there’s more to fallacies than merely alleging them left and right.”

Actually, I only accused you of a strawman fallacy twice and it fit both times.  You did not repeat your strawman here so I am not repeating it again.

First of all, I never said anything about you using cosmological arguments. My point is simply that you offerred God as explaining something that the lack of God, supposedly, cannot.”

You stated that I was using God as an explanation for the beginning of the universe, I was doing no such thing.  I was stating that an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator God accounts for the uniformity of nature while the lack of that God cannot.  There is a subtle difference there, but it’s an important one.

But as I have argued, your “explanation” isn’t: it doesn’t actually explain anything. When I say that you can offer it, I am noting that it is not contradicted by anything (indeed, you could claim that God does everything all the time: how can this be contradicted?). But it also does not accomplish anything.”

So which is it?  Is it that a God explanation is not an explanation or is it that the God explanation can’t be contradicted?  You can’t have it both ways.  Is it that a God explanation isn’t an explanation or that it’s not a USEFUL explanation?  You made both statements here.  I just want to clarify what it is that we’re actually discussing.

[In response to Bad’s assertion that “God” doesn’t enhance knowledge, I had previously stated that “God accounts for the uniformity of nature” DOES explain certain things to us.  Such as that the universe: had a Cause, took knowledge and therefore sentience to form, was a God choice and therefore has a purpose, if the Universe has a purpose then so do we]

How do you know that causing a universe requires knowledge? Have you created one recently? Are you going to let us all in on the process, and the specific steps, including how and when forethought is necessary to do it? What are the constraints one faces when creating a universe? What are the ranges of possibility? Can things simply exist uncaused, or not?”

Those are not the questions I am asking.  You may ask them, and that’s fine, but we’re discussing wether or not a God answer explains anything, not “everything”.  You could ask endless question that I wouldn’t have the answers to and then you could say, “See!  God isn’t an answer!” but that wouldn’t really be honest of you.  If I remember correctly, you are the only one saying that “we can’t really know anything about the beginning”.  Asking question after unanswerable question just to prove your “we can’t know anything” statement might make you feel better about your position, but it doesn’t refute that a God answer DOES tell us something!  That the universe has a cause and purpose for example. 

Again, asserting God allows you to simply bypass every single substantive question about how the universe came to be the way it is (nor does it answer the question of whether it even came to be in the first place).”

But I thought you stated that we CANNOT know anything substantative about the beginning of the universe, period.  So which is it, can we know something substantative and the God answer is hindering us?   Or is it that we can’t know anything about the beginning but God is an explanation?  How does the God answer NOT tell us that the universe exists?

Also, you are assuming that there CAN BE a naturalistic answer for the beginning of the universe, something you cannot know. 

“It’s as if you were given a multiple choice question, and you claimed that you’d gotten it right because you’d chosen EVERY option, and thus, chosen the right answer in the process. That still doesn’t tell us anything about which answer was, in fact, the right one.”

That is NOT what we’re doing at all.  Not even close.  By saying that every answer in a multiple choice question is the right answer is to violate the Law of Non-Contradiction.  To say that the only way to explain the uniformity of nature is through God who created nature uniform, and sustains it uniform, does NOT violate the Law of Non-Contradiction.

“The difference between you and I is simple: you are jumping to a very particular and extremely extravagant philosophical assumption on how and if the universe came to be, while I am remaining honest in admitting that we don’t know.”

We are comparing worldviews here, that’s all we are doing.  I have a simple premise;  Science requires that nature is uniform.  I have a simple question;  Which worldview is able to explain this uniformity?  A naturalistic atheistic worldview definetly cannot explain it, only have faith that it is so while the Christian worldview is able to explain why we expect and believe nature to be uniform. 

“But talking about anyone “trusting” that nature is uniform is to completely misunderstand things. We don’t trust this at all: I don’t at least.   It’s an axiom: an assumption we inevitably make because without some basic assumptions we cannot even acknowledge the existence of our common reality, much less learn anything about it.”

An assumption is something you believe to be true without evidence.  To say that “we assume it but we don’t trust it’s true” is to redefine the word “assumption”.  But I agree with you, without the assumption that nature is uniform we wouldn’t be able to function.  Christianity can explain that assumption while atheism cannot.  In fact, it’s no longer assumption for Christians, it’s something we expect based on the nature of God and His revelation to us.

But you’re situation is worse than that.  If you followed our your “we can’t know anything for sure about the laws of nature” position to it’s logical conclusion, you’d actually have to expect that nature would NOT be uniform. 

Let me ask you a question:  Why were the early scientific fathers able to assume that nature was uniform without anyone having assumed it before them and without any testing done to suggest it might be?  Also, did their old-world, dogmatic, YEC belief in God hinder them from doing great science?

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4 Comments on “Response to Bad Idea”

  1. Bad Says:

    I would love to have an “entire readership!” 🙂

    I would put “uniformity of nature” down as simply a subset of the ontological nature of the universe. All my criticisms are exactly the same for all such claims: there’s no actually explanation going on in this explanation. You keep getting hung up on me calling it an “explanation” and then saying that it’s not really one: my meaning is that it is an alleged explanation (i.e. you call it an explanation, and I refer to it like that), but one that does not actually do what an explanation needs to do. It fails as an explanation of anything.

    Yes, you list all sorts of various hypothetical motives behind your purported cause of uniformity, and further implications of that cause existing. But that’s just fleshing out your story: none of that actually explains the nature of uniformity or how it came to be in a way that parallels what you are demanding of “natural” explanation. It doesn’t even answer the question whether or not it’s even possible to NOT have uniformity. Nor is your story anything but arbitrary. Maybe God’s purpose for uniformity is entirely different than you think. Maybe there is no actually uniformity at all: it’s just a trick played on you by a god you can’t, in fact, trust.

    If “these are not the questions” you are asking, then it looks to me that you aren’t really even asking for an explanation of anything in the first place. You are just giving answers to outstanding questions like “does the apparent uniformity of the universe have a cause?” You say yes. But so what? Anyone else can say no. Neither of you are shedding any light on the question by saying so. How does that “explain” anything in terms of the nature of uniformity?

    But I thought you stated that we CANNOT know anything substantative about the beginning of the universe, period. So which is it, can we know something substantative and the God answer is hindering us? Or is it that we can’t know anything about the beginning but God is an explanation? How does the God answer NOT tell us that the universe exists?

    You keep posing these questions that allege a contradiction, but they never make any sense. What I said is that we don’t know the answers to those questions, and we don’t even know if we can know. That’s not the same thing as definitively saying that we cannot know, and it’s not any sort of contradiction in any case.

    And what I argued was not that the God explanation is hindering us, but that it isn’t accomplishing anything: it isn’t actually explaining how the universe came to be, if it came to be, and so on. It doesn’t explain uniformity. It just restates that uniformity exists (which just assumes, without warrant, that it could be some other way), which we already knew, and says that a being that can make anything happen made it happen (after which you go on to tell some stories about why it might have wanted things that way, all of which are utterly arbitrary). Well, how does that inform us about anything? We already know that the universe exists, and that it appears uniform in the sense we are talking about. We want to know how these things came to be the way they are, or even if they came to be at all. If it was caused, then it must have had a particular cause.

    But “God” is the very opposite of a particular cause: it’s potentially every and any cause. It’s a way of getting out of having to explain which cause, not an answer in and of itself.

    And no: I am NOT assuming that there is a “naturalistic” answer to these questions. In fact, I don’t even recognize that “naturalistic/non-naturalistic” means anything as a distinction amongst types of answers. I just want an answer, period. Ideally, it would be the right answer (something we haven’t even touched on yet), but even just some hypothetical insight into the issues would be nice as a start.

    Let’s use another example to illustrate: I want to know how it is that parasites like liver flukes can navigate around a host. How does something with almost no brain and very few sensory abilities map out where to go and thus travel to where it needs to get to?

    Your answer? “God does it.” To which I say: “uh, what?” Well, you say, God just does it: there is no possible other explanation (since it seems like a mystery to us), and God can do anything, so He just makes them go where they need to go. “Uh, how?” And you reply “don’t bother me with such questions, that’s not relevant. But I have greatly enhanced our knowledge, because God loves liver flukes, as it happens, which explains why they get to where they need to go, right?”

    But later on, we find out what’s actually going on with liver flukes. And, as it turns out, the original question was wrong. Liver flukes DON’T navigate at all: they don’t need to know where they are going. Instead, they react instinctively to certain environmental triggers that cause them to move in a certain fashion that, since all hosts are basically laid out the same, ends up getting them to where they need to get to.

    THAT is what a real explanation does: clears up a mystery, maybe even disabuses us of some unnoticed assumptions we had been making in our very questions.

    By saying that every answer in a multiple choice question is the right answer is to violate the Law of Non-Contradiction. To say that the only way to explain the uniformity of nature is through God who created nature uniform, and sustains it uniform, does NOT violate the Law of Non-Contradiction.

    You quite misrepresented the point here. I didn’t say that every answer was the right answer at all. I said instead that there is only one right answer, and marking every answer is not the same thing as identifying which one is the correct one. “God” as an answer is like marking every choice (because God is defined as being able to do anything at all), and then saying that you got the answer correct because, by definition, the bubble next to the right answer is filled in. It’s a rhetorical trick, not a passing grade.

    The problem remains: we still don’t know what the actual right answer is. We haven’t learned anything about the phenomenon we were trying to explain. We don’t know how uniformity is brought about: what specific capacity is necessary. Saying “by God” isn’t an answer: how does God bring it about? What specific capacity is god exercising to do it? Your answer is “The power to do anything at all” which isn’t actually an answer to the question.

    Let’s say that the universe wasn’t uniform. I have no idea how to imagine that, but you seem to assume that it could have been non-uniform (and thus we should be surprised that it is), so let’s run with that. We could then ask “why isn’t the universe uniform?”

    And your answer could just as easily be “because God wants it that way and thus makes it so”: the very same answer you are giving here in our uniform universe! Still not knowing anything about how or why or even what this uniformity is, you have an answer that basically works no matter what the question is. That’s a sure sign that your explanation… well, isn’t one.

    We are comparing worldviews here, that’s all we are doing.

    You are trying to make a case that your worldview explains something better than any other. But you can’t deliver the goods, because your explanation has no content, and no explanatory advantage over simply asserting that “that’s just the way things are, apparently.”

    I have a simple premise; Science requires that nature is uniform.

    Only in the sense that we could not do science without that being true. But if it wasn’t true, then we couldn’t do science. So what?

    I have a simple question; Which worldview is able to explain this uniformity?

    No one has explained it period, so how can we judge which “worldview” fits the explanation better?

    In any case, I don’t concede that your beliefs are a “worldview.” They are simply your beliefs: a hypothetical assertion that you a) can’t provide any reason to believe is true and b) can’t provide any reason to believe is useful for explaining any mysteries about the natural world.
    Here I am, sitting here, looking at the world around me. I want to understand it. Not just sum it all up with “a being that can do anything for any reason did it, and I’ll just imagine a reason for it doing it after the fact.”

    A naturalistic atheistic worldview definetly cannot explain it, only have faith that it is so

    Either it is so or it isn’t. Neither “worldview” demonstrates THAT it is so. Your worldview merely claims that it is so, but so what? Anyone else can make equally baseless claims. The only real difference is that everyone else but yourself refrains from doing so, because they don’t see the point. But if you insist that we play by your rules, then, sure, okay. We’ll play by them too.

    while the Christian worldview is able to explain why we expect and believe nature to be uniform.

    Telling a story about God’s motives for causing uniformity and explaining what uniformity is and how it comes to be are two very different things. I could tell a story in a “non-Christian worldview” that simply says that a non-sentient uniformity engine exists which produces uniformity. So what? If you want to play the game with a being that can do anything, I’ll just counter with a universe in which anything can happen. So what? That doesn’t really explain anything either.

    What you are doing is no different than people who cited God to explain when and why it rained. But this belief didn’t actually explain how rain works or is formed, or what influences when it falls. All it does is add yet another inexplicable entity on top of not explaining rain, and then tells an arbitrary story about its motives and hopes and dreams, all of which are just tagged on pointlessly.

    But you’re situation is worse than that. If you followed our your “we can’t know anything for sure about the laws of nature” position to it’s logical conclusion, you’d actually have to expect that nature would NOT be uniform.

    You seem to be using “logical conclusion” as a synonym for “non-sequitur” here. The only logical conclusion from “we don’t know,” or even “we can’t know,” is that we wouldn’t have any idea what to expect, not that we could then jump to the conclusion that we should expect this or that.

    Let me ask you a question: Why were the early scientific fathers able to assume that nature was uniform without anyone having assumed it before them and without any testing done to suggest it might be?

    Nearly every human being on earth makes the same basic assumptions as a matter of basic functioning. The early scientists essentially formalized this basic, and frankly unavoidable, assumption.

    Also, did their old-world, dogmatic, YEC belief in God hinder them from doing great science?

    Nope. But neither does their science validate their other dogmatic beliefs, anymore than Newtons math validates his belief in alchemy. Nor does the fact that those beliefs sometimes motivated them or gave them associative insights into things validate those beliefs either. Since you’re fond of quoting fallacies, I’ll leave it to you as an exercise to note which logical fallacy that asserting otherwise would be.

    An assumption is something you believe to be true without evidence.

    No, that’s not what an assumption is at all. Assumptions can perfectly well be provisional or even hypothetical. We don’t need to think they are true to use them.

    Christianity can explain that assumption while atheism cannot.

    No, Christianity can do nothing more than simply assume it as well. You can tell a story about why you think an all-powerful God would have chosen to make it that way, but that’s just another assumption on top of the first. Anyone can tell such a story. In fact, you need to make the original assumption even to get to your “worldview” in the first place. Unless you assume uniformity, then there’s no necessary reason why there’s any world out there to have questions about in the first place: there’s no longer anything that has to be explained.

  2. Mike Says:

    Science is not concerned with what IS (“what exists”). It’s concerned with measuring the attributes, properties and processes of what IS. A atheist can simply say “it just IS” and get on with studying it. A believer in God may say, “it IS, and God made what IS”, and get on with studying it.

    But the problem is that some (and only some) believers studying the IS (or, ‘the Creation’), bring tools that are more suited to studying the existential. They bring in the supernatural, metaphysical, and revelation (the Bible). Mainstream science doesn’t accept these as accurate measuring tools because they are subjective. They are theologies. But it doesn’t mean the believer’s conclusions may not be brilliant. It’s the tools that science rejects (and not belief in God per se, just belief as a scientific tool). Just like a believer will think it’s ridiculous to use science to “disprove” God exists. It’s just the wrong tool for the job. (sidenote: of course before science does that, it has to have a consensus first on what God IS, so that it can be disproved!).

    But there are many more tools in common – like logic and reason, as well as a shared space-time experience in this material reality. So, for instance, I can say I am a believer in God, but I reject the theory of biological evolution (the ‘rat can turn into a man’ kind) solely based on the evidence science has offered, and my own common sense. It has nothing to do with the Bible or my own personal theology. I think there is general misunderstanding on the part of science advocates. They assume that believers don’t use these common tools. And it seems they are always ready to “throw God in our faces” when we haven’t even mentioned God, but are simply questioning their assumptions.

  3. Eric Kemp Says:

    Bad

    “I would love to have an ‘entire readership!’ ”

    I don’t know man, five people immediately agreed with your post and then five MORE immediately jumped on me once I posted a response. That sounds like a pretty good readership to me!

    “I would put “uniformity of nature” down as simply a subset of the ontological nature of the universe. All my criticisms are exactly the same for all such claims: there’s no actually explanation going on in this explanation. You keep getting hung up on me calling it an “explanation” and then saying that it’s not really one: my meaning is that it is an alleged explanation (i.e. you call it an explanation, and I refer to it like that), but one that does not actually do what an explanation needs to do. It fails as an explanation of anything.”

    Ok, I see what’s going on here. My response to this paragraph will respond to most of the post, so I apologize if it seems like I’ve skipped over some of your points.

    Let’s briefly define some terms first. If you disagree with any of these definitions we can, of course, discuss them. Empericism: the idea that the only true knowledge can be gained through the studying of our sense experience. Scientific results are “emperical” results. Metaphysical: describes phenomena that cannot be viewed with our senses or tested as a sense experience. Worldview: a set of presuppositions that cannot be emperically tested that are the basis for one’s beliefs. Everything we reason through is filtered through the basic presuppositions of our worldview. See “Worldviews are for Everyone”.

    When I state the premise, “Science requires the uniformity of nature”, this is a metaphysical premise. We can’t test it empirically. When I ask the question, “What worldview (set of presuppositions) better explains our collective presupposition that nature is uniform?”, this is metaphysical question. When I say, “God explains the uniformity of nature”, this is a metaphysical answer. When you say, “Well that’s not an explanation at all, it doesn’t do what explanations should do,” you are expecting an empirical answer to a metaphysical question. In fact, you reject all of my “explanations” as not being explanations. You are correct, they are NOT empirical explanations. But I’m not asking empirical questions. I’m not putting forth empirical evidence. There can be no empirical explanations for metaphysical issues such as the uniformity of nature and the existence of God.

    Now, what you might be thinking is something along the lines of, “Well, if metaphysical issues cannot be tested empirically then there is no point in discussing them, they are useless” (I have gathered you lean in this direction, if I’m wrong then please let me know). You’ll have two problems, #1: You’ll have to define your idea of “utility” and prove that metaphysics are indeed useless but #2, (and this is the big one) EVERY SINGLE empirical result REQUIRES a metaphysical assumption. As you’ve touched on, in order to get an empirical result you must first assume that matter exists (a metaphysical assumption). You must also assume that nature is uniform, which is the point of this discussion.

    To pass over your metaphysical assumption and focus on the empirical results based on it, is to be irrational and inconsistent. To expect empirical explanations to metaphysical issues (Does God explain the uniformity of nature or the beginning of the universe?) is to be disingenuous.

    I said: “I have a simple premise; Science requires that nature is uniform.

    You responded: “Only in the sense that we could not do science without that being true. But if it wasn’t true, then we couldn’t do science. So what?”

    EXACTLY. Every single empirical result you get is useless without the metaphysical assumption that nature is uniform.

    “They are simply your beliefs: a hypothetical assertion that you a) can’t provide any reason to believe is true and b) can’t provide any reason to believe is useful for explaining any mysteries about the natural world.

    Ok, here’s the problem. You have a worldview too. The most basic presupposition of your worldview is that “God doesn’t exist”. You can say, “No, I just haven’t seen enough evidence to convince me…”, but you start your reasoning with the assumptions that God doesn’t exist. “God doesn’t exist” is what you believe; if you didn’t believe that you wouldn’t be an atheist. You can’t provide any empirical reason that this is true, and “God doesn’t exist” isn’t useful for emperically explaining the mysteries about the natural world.

    But, here’s the MAIN POINT: Atheism can’t provide any METAPHYSICAL explanations EITHER. Your atheistic metaphysics has no explanation for the uniformity of nature, because, by definition, the universe was a chance occurance and is unguided by anything, nothing sustains the universe and causes it to be ANY certain way. You have no reason to believe that nature is uniform, you must simply have blind faith that it is so.

    “If you want to play the game with a being that can do anything, I’ll just counter with a universe in which anything can happen. So what? That doesn’t really explain anything either.”

    But see, that’s the problem, you have no metaphysical or empirical reason to think that “anything can happen” in the universe. And if you do postulate some all powerful universe that can do “anything”, you have merely replaced the word “God” with the word “universe” because the word “God” doesn’t allow you to be an atheist anymore. Also, again you are expecting an empirical explanation for metaphysical statements and you are incorrect that Christians believe God can do “anything”.

    “Nearly every human being on earth makes the same basic assumptions as a matter of basic functioning. The early scientists essentially formalized this basic, and frankly unavoidable, assumption.”

    Why were the early scientists during the 15th and 16th centuries the first to form this basic assumption? And how did anybody before this function without making this assumption (because they weren’t)?

    I said: “Also, did their old-world, dogmatic, YEC belief in God hinder them from doing great science?”

    You admitted: “Nope.”

    Thank you for being honest. So the next time you state that Christians say “Godidit” and leave it at that without exploring the empirical answers I’ll bring you back to this point.

    “No, that’s not what an assumption is at all. Assumptions can perfectly well be provisional or even hypothetical. We don’t need to think they are true to use them.”

    You have just redefined the word “assumption”. You might want to call the “American Heritage Dictionary” people and tell them to change their #3 and #4 definitions of the word. They read as, “The act of taking for granted” and “Something taken for granted or accepted as true without proof; a supposition”, respectively.

    “You can tell a story about why you think an all-powerful God would have chosen to make it that way, but that’s just another assumption on top of the first.”

    No, it’s a reason. All of our sense experience tells us that nature is uniform. I’m giving a reason, an metaphysical explanation, for why this is true. The explanation isn’t, “I imagine that a god would have made it this way,” the explanation is this:

    God made His existence obvious to us by creating a Universe with order, making the uniformity of nature not only a reality but giving our senses the ability to observe that order and our minds the ability to contemplate it’s existence or non-existence. On the other side of the coin, only a God who made the Universe in such a way EXPLAINS what our sense experience tells us and why we are able to contemplate it.
    My faith in God allows me to explain my sense experience while you must have faith that your sense experience is telling you what actually exists.

  4. Eric Kemp Says:

    Mike

    I agree, pure science cannot contemplate the metaphysical. But we, as thinkers, must. If we do not contemplate the assumptions made that make science viable, then we are sticking our head in the sand and simply having blind faith that empiricism is true without a doubt. Either way, the faith is there, but if we are able to explain it, at least it’s not blind.

    I agree that the theological and the metaphysical are just different paths to knowledge. However, I don’t think they are all mutually exclusive from one another. Without the metaphysical and theological conclusion that the Christian God exists, we cannot explain the basis of science (the uniformity of nature).

    You’re right Mike! It’s ironic that the atheist believes they can logically stand on the statement, “Well I just don’t see enough conclusive evidence for a god” while finding it ludicrous that we would do the same for molecules-to-man evolution! Hypocrisy!


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