Monday, January 14, 2013

Does size matter? An argument for atheism

A redated post.

John Loftus takes this argument from Nicholas Everitt. Lewis always included responses to the argument that the size of the universe gives us a good reason to reject Christianity. In the first place, he maintained that, contrary to popular legend, we have known since Ptolemy that the universe is pretty big. Second, if the universe were smaller, wouldn't atheists complain that God should have made a bigger one?

156 comments:

Anonymous said...

Samuel Skinner
A better way to put the arguement is that we are not the physical center or focus of the universe and so claiming that everything we see in the universe was made for us and just us- seem a little arrogant and odd. It is so huge that it extends beyond what we can ever see and explore- what makes you think that it was designed for humanity?

Victor Reppert said...

Does Christianity claim that everything in the universe was made for our sakes? Or did Christ redeem us because, perhaps unlike critters on other planets, we needed it.

thechristiancynic said...

It was quite amusing to read that entry and what ensued. I especially thought it was funny that Loftus argued on the basis that the argument made it into an anthology edited by Michael Martin, as if Martin's credentials really establish the soundness of the argument (I thought atheists didn't like appeals to authority when it came to philosophical arguments).

This is in my opinion one of the worst atheist arguments I've ever heard. And the Columbus references...I thought everyone was aware of the fact that Irving's biography was not to be considered an especially reliable source. Usually Loftus does a lot better than this.

Robert said...

The bible says that the "Heavens declare the glory of God . . ." What that means is that the physical universe, created by God displays God. Now if God is what the bible reveals then He is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient etc. etc., then you would think a universe displaying Him would have to be extremely huge. Beyond our understanding and comprehension like He is.

If you make this point then some will come back with: then why create something so big, a bit wasteful isn't? Without going into specific examples, the evidence suggests that the size and dimensions are necessary for life to be present on this earth. The technical term is the anthropic principle, or just-right universe.

When people thought the universe was much smaller and we were at the center, some objected that God did not do much of a job. Now we know it is vastly larger and others complain that God is wasteful. What these criticisms suggest is that the problem is not with the universe or with God creating it, but some just aren't happy **that** God created it and so must make some objection to it.

Robert

John W. Loftus said...

I like defend arguments I find persuasive that others don't. I have convinced several skeptics of the force of the problem of evil. Let's see what I can do with Everitt's argument...

I'll learn from others how to best defend it, and others will learn from how I do.

Stay tuned.

Philip said...

It seems to me the point is not in terms of physical size, but comprehensive size. Because if it were really our small size that made it seem like humans were of less importance, then it would follow that God cared about elephants more than us.

Rather, it seems like the incomprehensibility (even the vast incomprehensibility) of the universe is really the point. Thus, it is about the scope of what our minds can grasp. For what if we were the same physical size and yet had extraordinary vision that allowed us a natural ability to see far beyond our galaxy? Again, this makes it seem like the point is about comprehensibility.

But would we expect God to make a comprehensible or incomprehensible universe? According to Paul, nature reveals God, and this means an incomprehensible universe comports well with the idea of an incomprehensible God.

And in terms of God's purposes, I've heard that humility is high on the list, and almost nothing humbles me more than witnessing the overwhelming universe surrounding me at night. And if the size of the universe humbles me, and God wants me to be humble, then it looks like God did create the size of the universe with humans in mind.

Anonymous said...

Why the "size of the universe argument?" Why not "the depth of the ocean argument?" Or, how about the "size of the library of congress argument?" Perhaps if fleas had minds they would argue that god doesn't exist because of the size of the dog they're on?

What a joke!

Anonymous said...

John Loftus said:

“Christians think humans are so valuable to God that he created it all just for us. “

Why must I as a Xian believe that God created the entire universe for me?

I really believe that it is the atheist who must hold to a geocentric view of humanity. Nature doesn’t prefer humans to fleas. It is the atheist who gives humans a lofty (no pun) status. Is killing a human more wrong than killing a flea? There is no rule in nature that makes one more severe than the other. Usually the appeal is to survival, as Lewis says in The Four Loves, “The things that give value to survival are not to be rated below the things that enable us to survive.” But as John correctly notes, all human actions are futile, “When I look at pictures of the universe I conclude that human beings live on a mere small pale blue dot that will last a short while and then cease to exist.”

Pretty damned depressing.

“Then God visited us, died for our sins, and accepts the saints into heaven and casts sinners into hell.”

Why can’t I as a Xian believe that God has created other morally conscience creatures within the universe that have no need of redemption?

This could be the worst argument I have ever heard.

Ilíon said...

"This could be the worst argument I have ever heard."

Consider the source; there is more what that came from.

Bjørn Are said...

John revealed that he is more driven by prejudices than serious study when insisting that "Still the question to be answered is why it rocked the church to the ground when it was discovered that the earth was not the center of the known universe. “To be a Copernican was tantamount to atheism.” "

This view is one of the "Icons of Modernity" (my term)- a broad collection of myths forming an outline of History which has led so many to become atheists since the 1800's.

When Lofthus takes them up, alarm bells should start ringing.

I have written on this in some books (unfortunately in Norwegian) the last years, latest when dealing with Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and co.

Bjørn Are said...

BTW, Loftus' argument here seems extremely out of date - and wrong. It is a rehack of allegations from the late 1700's that have been kept alive in atheist circles since then (as parts of the Icons of Modernity).

To give just a few historical examples on how Christians have perceived the universe:

In medieval times the earth was considered very small compared to the rest of the universe ("The Earth, in relation to the distance of the fixed stars, has no appreciable size, and must be treated as a mathematical point." - Ptolemy).

Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa wrote in the 1400's about the universe being boundless (though not infinite;-)

Thomas Chalmers showed in a series of widely published lectures in the early 1800's that it was the infidels who belived that God had created the universe for man's sake only. It was simply a distortion of Christian faith.

It is all in "A series of discourses on the Christian revelation viewed in connection with the modern astronomy" (1817).

And Lewis, of course, wrote in the same informed Christian tradition.

What do they teach in schools these days.

John W. Loftus said...

Bjørn Are, please remember, I am adding evidence to Everitt's argument from what the Medieval church believed. What people thought in the 1800's is completely irrelevant. Stating them undermines your attempts to defend the defenseless, for if you must go to such lengths it becomes obvious you are not seriously interested in the truth about Medieval Christian beliefs.

Besides, Everitt's argument does not depend on what I'm adding to it. You must still deal with what he says regardless of what I say, okay? And I haven't seen you do that.

While there were disagreements in the Medieval church about such things, have you seriously considered Dante's Divine Comedy, known as one of the greatest and most influential books in Western culture? I do not think you can reasonably deny that that book codified and taught for centuries what the overwhelming number of Christian people believed about the universe, despite a figure or two here and there who suggested otherwise. This is one of the major reasons why Richard Tarnas said what he said about what it meant to be a Copernican. Here is my defense of Everitt.

Cheers.

Ilíon said...

Bjørn Are: "John revealed that he is more driven by prejudices than serious study when insisting that "Still the question to be answered is why it rocked the church to the ground when it was discovered that the earth was not the center of the known universe. “To be a Copernican was tantamount to atheism.” "

Because, of course, to learn that the earth was not the cosmic sump (after all), as had been one of the most basic committments of Western natural philosophy for well over 1500 years was surely to question *Christianity*

'Atheists' can be so amusing, at times, don't you find?

Jason Pratt said...

Moreover, Copernicus didn't even _learn_ that; he ported it over from his philosophical convictions about how the best and brightest place (i.e. the Sun) ought to be the center instead of the crudest place (i.e. the Earth).

Plus he had a notion that epicycles 'ought' to be as simple as possible to calculate, which heliocentrism helped with.

The real problem wasn't that Copernicus was scientifically more plausible (he wasn't and couldn't possibly have been--no fault to him). And the problem certainly wasn't that the universe was so-huge-after-all.

The real problem was that the scriptures incidentally spoke in terms of geocentrism, which happened (less importantly but still importantly to the Church at the time) to synch up better with Aristotelianism rather than neo-Platonism. Any attack on geocentrism would be prima facie at least something of an attack on scriptural testimony; yet the same Church had no problem going to heliocecentrism once it had decided to go with neo-Platonism. Not least thanks to Galileo, as it happens (despite his political trial for printing satires about his friend and ally the pope.)

If J'oftus wants to try an argument from heliocentrism, that's fine; he'd be better off (slightly) to stick with that. But let's not confute the arguments here--this has nothing to do with scale-arguments.

JRP

Ilíon said...

"The real problem was that the scriptures incidentally spoke in terms of geocentrism, which happened (less importantly but still importantly to the Church at the time) to synch up better with Aristotelianism rather than neo-Platonism."

As I understand it, the Catholic Church never did have a problem with understanding "sunrise," etc (whither in Scripture on in common speach) as a mere speaking in terms of appearance/point-of-view.

Jason Pratt said...

Which is why the same Church had no problem going with heliocentrism once they decided neo-Platonism worked better as a philosophy. {s} They were flexible, and could go either way. However, neither were they going to go out of their way to diss geocentrism before then, without good grounds to do so, especially since it would still cause initial problems among the groundlings (so to speak). That being said, there's a reason why the Pope all of a sudden decided after Galileo's trial that umpty-seven monestaries and cathedrals in Europe should be converted over to solar trackers. (Hint: not because Christianity is actually a sun-god religion or worshiping the divine woman or whatever Dan Brown read somewhere. {g})


Now, all that having been said: I need to add in fairness that the Everitt quotes being used by John, are not making the kind of argument Purtill is shooting against. (Or Lewis either, for the most part, though some of the things he says do still have relevance to Everitt's argument as reported by John.) It still isn't a very good argument, but it isn't the same kind of argument.

I haven't caught up yet with what John is doing in his new article today, but I have tentative plans to do a Cadre Journal entry on it. (It depends on how 'work' work goes today.)

JRP

John W. Loftus said...

Pratt said...this has nothing to do with scale-arguments.

Nothing, eh?

Nothing?

Hmmmm.

Did you visit DC and read my argument? Have you read Everitt's argument? Do so, okay?

Jason Pratt said...

Addendum in fairness to John: he and I were apparently composing our comments at about the same time, and mine showed up first. He isn't replying to that one, but to the previous one.

JRP

Bjørn Are said...

John, when I mentioned the early 1800's it was just as an example of an on ongoing tradition, as the arguments it dealt with is the same you are proposing.

However, when you set up Dante as proof of "The truth about Medieval Christian beliefs", I have to say I am even more amazed. You are using a fictional and poetical drama, filled with allegory, as proof of an astronomical model relating to size?!

"While there were disagreements in the Medieval church about such things, have you seriously considered Dante's Divine Comedy, known as one of the greatest and most influential books in Western culture? I do not think you can reasonably deny that that book codified and taught for centuries what the overwhelming number of Christian people believed about the universe, despite a figure or two here and there who suggested otherwise."

We are not talking about a "figure or two" who "suggested" otherwise. Ptolemy's Almagest was the standard astronomical text book in Dante's days - taught to thousands of students for several centuries.

Tim said...

Bjørn,

We should swap notes -- I didn't know anyone else was reading Chalmers these days.

This is indeed an old argument, but it has been recognized as wretched for ages. Even Everitt has to admit that it hasn't been discussed in the [contemporary] philosophical literature about the implications of science for theism (The Non-existence of God, p. 226), though he doesn't seem to realize that there is a reason for this neglect. For some people, any stick will do to beat a dog ...

From Thomas Chalmers, Discourses on the Christian Revelation Viewed in Connexion with Modern Astronomy (1817), p. 6:

In my first Discourse, I have attempted a sketch of the Modern Astronomy -- nor have I wished to throw any disguise over that comparative littleness which belongs to our planet, and which gives to the argument of Freethinkers all its plausibility.

This argument involves in it an assertion and an inference. The assertion is, that Christianity is a religion which professes to be designed for the single benefit of our world; and the inference is, that God cannot be the author of this religion, for he would not lavish on so insignificant a field such peculiar and such distinguishing attentions as are ascribed to him in the Old and New Testament.

Christianity makes no such profession. That it is designed for the single benefit of our world, is altogether a presumption of the Infidel himself -- and feeling that this is not the only example of temerity which can be charged on the enemies of our faith, I have allotted my second Discourse to the attempt of demonstrating the utter repugnance of such a spirit with the cautious and enlightened philosophy of modern times.


"When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?" -- Psalm 8:3,4

Victor Reppert said...

It has always surprised me that Lewis even bothers responding to this argument at all, but it is testmony to its emotional force that it does.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, it doesn't take much theology to see that mankind is the apex, or most important reason for creation. When it comes to why God created in the first place, the Biblical reason given is that he did so to bring glory to himself. What theology teaches us is that the love and companionship of human free-willed creatures made in his image are what gives God the most glory, as seen in the story of Job and the redemption of man in Jesus. I might do a more in-depth study of this but in just opening three books on it I found the following quotes:

"The biblical view starts with the assertion that the eternal God has created man, the most significant of all his created works." “Man is not only God’s creation, but the pinnacle of his creative effort…man is distinct, the high point of God’s creative work, the apex of his handicraft. The progression of the created things in Genesis 1 is climatic; all of God’s created work culminated in his fashioning of man.” Ronald B. Allen "Man, Doctrine of" Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible.

"Having first called the earth into existence with its various requisites for human life, God then declared for the making of man. The impression that the Genesis account gives is that man was the special focus of God's creative purpose. It is not so much that man was the crown of God’s creative acts, or the climax of the process, for although last in the ascending scale, he is first in the divine intention. All the previous acts of God are presented more in the nature of a continuous series…Then God said, ‘Let us make man.’ Then--when? When the cosmic order was finished, when the earth was ready to sustain man. Thus while man stands before God in a relationship of created dependence, he has also the status of a unique and special personhood in relation to God." H. D. McDonald "Man, Doctrine of." Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.

"Man reflects God in a unique manner. Man is thus different from other forms of created organic life, over which he has been given dominion...he reflects the Creator in a way unparalleled by anything else in creation." R.K. Harrison, "Old Testament Theology" Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.

"Genesis 1:26-30 shows human beings as the crown of creation...the image of God...probably means that God makes beings with whom he can communicate and who can respond, because, in contrast to the rest of nature, they are like him. So humanity receives the divine blessing and is given the role of God's vice-regent...to have dominion or control over the future course of the world." J.R. Porter "Creation" The Oxford Companion to the Bible.

Now I'm sure that if the first three books I opened said this that there would be many others saying the same thing.

According to the Bible the creating of human beings is the culmination of creation itself, the crown of creation, the apex of creation and as vice-regents over it they are surely to be considered the reason for creation itself, if not the most important reason for creation. That's why when Adam & Eve sinned it affected creation itself, as seen in Paul's theology in Romans 8:18-19. So according to the Bible if human beings were not created, then God’s intentions for creation would not be fulfilled.

Now while the following words are not found in the Bible they are used by theologians to describe the importance of the creation of mankind. What does the dictionary say about them?

Apex

1. "highest point: the highest point of something
2. most successful point: the most successful part of something, especially somebody's career or life

Culmination

1. highest point: the highest, most important, or final point of an activity
2. act of culminating: the arrival at, or the bringing of something to, a climax

Climax

1. vti reach key point: to reach the most important or exciting point in something such as an event or a story, or bring something to its most important or exciting point

Crown

3. top-ranking title: a title or distinction that signifies victory or supreme achievement
4. uppermost part: the top part of something, especially a hill
5. pinnacle: the highest point of quality, achievement, or fame

Pinnacle

1. highest point: the highest or topmost point or level of something at the pinnacle of her career

2. mountain peak: a natural peak, especially a distinctively pointed one on a mountain or in a mountain range
3. architecture pointed ornament: a pointed ornament on top of a buttress or parapet

Now, does this suggest that the sole reason for creation was to create humankind? I think so, for according to the Bible if the pinnacle, or apex, or crown, or climax of creation, humankind, was not created, then it would not be "good."

Where did YOU learn YOUR Biblical theology? From a mail order course?

Would you please provide some theological quotes or Biblical verses that say otherwise? Psalms 8:3-4 is irrelevant, for it is entirely consistent for man to be the reason for creation and at the same time for God to be so above him that the Psalmist can wonder why God even bothers with him.

Sheesh.

John W. Loftus said...

One more thing Tim, if you do not agree with what these authors wrote, then fine, you don't. I have long ago ceased telling professing christians what they should believe. But until I can lock them in a room and tell them not to come out until they settle all of these issues, then I can only say that if the theological shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn't, then tell me what you do believe and I'll try to debunk that with a different argument later on.

My defense of Everitt's argument, like his argument, doesn't show Christianity to be false by itself. It only argues that the scale of the universe is evidence against the theistic hyposthesis because that hypothesis ddid not, and does not lead us to think the universe astronomy found is that large and that old. That's all. I find it interesting that in order to deflect the evidential force of this argument you find yourself at odds with Biblical theology. Must you chose between them?

Bjørn Are said...

Indeed Tim, we should compare notes;-)

You'll find my blog in English at http://b-a-d-blog.blogspot.com/

Tim said...

John,

It may not take much theology -- but it does take some bad theology. Congratulations on having found three people incautious enough to be identified as your fellow-travellers on this one.

I'm always touched when someone tries to clinch an argument by quoting from the dictionary. If, as Psalm 8 tells us, man is "a little lower than the angels," how can he be the pinnacle of creation?

My own theological views have been formed partly by formal education and partly by extensive reading after I completed my doctorate. One of the benefits of studying the field in this fashion is that it brings with it a sense of the history of theology. This, in turn, insulates one to some extent against idiosyncratic and parochial views.

My own view, which you are welcome to try to debunk, is that neither theism nor atheism gives us any traction on the scale of the universe -- neither view furnishes us with any particular expectations about its size or duration. Vide Chalmers for details.

John W. Loftus said...

Like I said Tim, the first three books I pulled out said what they did. Theological dictionaries and encyclopedias are a great source of information about theology, since they usually state the prevailing consensus on such matters. Two of them were evangelical and the other one was liberal. They all said the same thing. They all offered good arguments too, which you never disputed or showed otherwise.

I guess you can disagree, but what are your reasons for doing so apart from mere assertion to the contrary?

Regarding Psalms 8, the word means "gods" Elohim. Man was created a little lower than the gods, which reflects a polytheistic religious viewpoint. In order to soften the polytheistic implications of this the translators do some interesting things with this Hebrew word. There is dispute over this, granted, but a disputed passage cannot dismiss the rest of the clear Biblical teachings.

430 אֱלֹהִים [’elohiym /el·o·heem/] n m p. Plural of 433; TWOT 93c; GK 466; 2606 occurrences; AV translates as “God” 2346 times, “god” 244 times, “judge” five times, “GOD” once, “goddess” twice, “great” twice, “mighty” twice, “angels” once, “exceeding” once, “God-ward + 4136” once, and “godly” once. 1 (plural). 1a rulers, judges. 1b divine ones. 1c angels. 1d gods. 2 (plural intensive—singular meaning). 2a god, goddess. 2b godlike one. 2c works or special possessions of God. 2d the (true) God. 2e God.

And the passage, even if it refers to angels, you should also know that in Biblical theology angels are the servants of men. Do I need to do your work for you here too, or can you look this up on your own? Try a dictionary, okay?

Besides, what could it mean to be created "a little lower" than angels mean? One possible interpretation, the one I favor, is that man was created on earth which is lower than heaven, and that he does not presently have the powers that angels do. But having power does not equate with status. After all, the God-man did not die for angels, nor will angels presumably rule over man in heaven.

One way to raise my hostilities is to treat me as if I'm ignorant. I'm calling your bluff. I have the equivalent of a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Theology.

Tim said...

John,

I am tempted to encourage you (if only by silence) to continue your advocacy of the argument from the scale of the universe. But that would be unkind.

As you point out, the translation of "Elohim" taken in isolation is a matter of decision. But the verse is rendered using αγγελους in the quotation in Hebrews 2, and given the context both in the Psalm and in Hebrews the word makes better sense if it is rendered as "angels."

Theologically, angels are the servants in the first instance of God, not of men. In traditional theology they occupy a place in the scale of being above that of man, and any care they have toward him is a result of delegation. See, e.g., Augustine, City of God, Book 11, ch. 16; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, q. 108, art. 8; John Calvin, Institutes, Book 1, ch. 14; Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, part 3, ch. 3; A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, ch. 4, sec. 4. Calvin expressly argues that angels are also created in the likeness of God, on the basis of Matthew 22:30; see the Institutes, Book 1, ch. 15, sec. 3.

The creation of man is the culmination of the narrative of the creation given in Genesis 1. But it does not follow either that man is the greatest of God's creations or that the rest of the creation was solely for his benefit. As you said, the biblical reason given for creation is that God created the universe to glorify Himself; to this, all other ends are subservient. See Jonathan Edwards, A Dissertation, Concerning the End for which God Created the World; Strong, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, ch. 4, sec.1, etc.. Theological extrapolations beyond this are tenuous; extrapolations to an expected size of the cosmos, on theological grounds, are utterly unwarranted. Nothing in any of the quotations you have provided supports this contention. But this is the pivot of the argument you are trying to defend.

Your remaining comments do not merit a response.

Victor Reppert said...

If Christians taught at one time that humans were the highest creation of God (perhaps excluding angels) perhaps on the evidence that we don't see any higher level beings about, what does the size of the universe have to do with proving or disproving that? Do any central doctrines of Christianity depend epistemically on the universe not being very big. What is more, as Bjorn-Are says, Ptolemy was the astronomical authority for the medieval world. If he taught a big universe, then Christianity didn't face this challenge with the rise of modern science.

So far, we haven't met the Tralfalmadorians, unless Loftus has been in secret communication with the mother ship. That would raise some theological issues if we were to discover that there is intelligent life on other planets. But I'm not sure that couldn't be answered by saying that if there is intelligent life out there God loves them too and has a wonderful plan for their lives. Why in the world should we be privy to it?

Of course one could say that God is wasting a lot of space if he just created humans on earth and there's all the rest of space with no intelligent life. Kind of like the silly "wasted time" argument that says that God should have got down to the business of creating humans right away instead of wasting time on dinosaurs and wooly mammoths. The answer is the same: waste is only an issue where scarcity is present.

Further, there seems no reason to suppose that atheism would have led us to expect a vast cosmos. In my view, without God the cosmos shouldn't even exist at all.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim,

The NT writers repeatedly mistranslate twist and distort the OT text. I could offer you example after example after example. If you want to hang your hat on a mistranslation of Psalms 8 to make a point when you would never allow me or anyone else to do so, be my guest.

I don't have access to the books you quote from so I guess you can get away with proof texting and gerrymandering from them by acting as if they totally agree with you on the matters you relate. You are defending your view by 1) using a mistranslation; 2) acting like Jack Van Impe by claiming you're quoting from relevant texts that say what you claim they say without actually quoting them in context. However, if you think a mistranslation is good, then without seeing what those other texts say I'll remain skeptical. For after all, just like people can misquote the Biblical texts, so also they can misquote from Aquinas, and Calvin.

I do find it very interesting that you must insist on claiming that human beings are not more valuable to God, and that the rest of God’s creation was not for our benefit. You do this in order to escape the conclusion that the scale of the universe is not what we would expect given the status of human beings.

But as I said, I have long ago stopped telling professing Christians what to believe. You can ask ten of them and you’ll get ten different answers all claiming to be the correct one. If you disagree with the theology expressed by Porter, MacDonald, and Harrison then so be it. As I said, if the theological shoe fits, wear it. If not, then don’t. But don’t get on some high horse of yours and claim that simply because I’m an atheist that I don’t understand what a great majority of Christians think about such issues. I do. YOUR view is in the small minority. You refuse to make the necessary reasonable connections. But they are easy to make. Your theological view does not place human beings any higher in status than the rest of creation. Trees, dogs and slugs are all equally valuable to God in your eyes. If that’s your view you can espouse it, I suppose, but I know most Christians would disagree, just as they have believed down through the centuries.

Your remaining comments do not merit a response.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic said…Do any central doctrines of Christianity depend epistemically on the universe not being very big.

The central doctrines of Christianity keep getting smaller and smaller. But at one time the location of the earth in the universe was indeed viewed as a central doctrine which was derived from science and theology. If what Christians expect does not pan out then this is considered evidence against what they believe. The argument is that the scale of the universe was not/is not expected based upon Christian theology.

Vic said…What is more, as Bjorn-Are says, Ptolemy was the astronomical authority for the medieval world. If he taught a big universe, then Christianity didn't face this challenge with the rise of modern science.

Of course, as astronomy progressed the universe kept getting bigger. But no one could have imagined the impact from the images coming from the Hubble Space Telescope. We ourselves are stunned by them and we live in this era! Besides, Ptolemy said the earth was the center of the universe. This viewpoint was written into Dante's masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, which was so popular it defined the language of their day.

Vic said…So far, we haven't met the Tralfalmadorians…But I'm not sure that couldn't be answered by saying that if there is intelligent life out there God loves them too and has a wonderful plan for their lives.?

Christians continually respond to scientific discoveries with these types of ex post facto explanations. But when it comes to expectations prior to these discoveries, Christian theology has had a miserable record.

Vic said...Why in the world should we be privy to it?

I think you miss the point. We should be privy to that which would provide a reason to doubt if we were not privy to it. Case in point here is that God did not tell us something about the scale of the universe, so when modern science discovered it, such a discovery undermined the credibility of the Bible and the church. It's one of the major reasons why I reject Christianity today. The Genesis creation accounts are myths. There is nothing in them about how or why the universe began to exist. If God existed then he could've provided us with some truth about this, but he didn't because the Bible is not from God. The evidence is that there is nothing in the Bible that could not have been said by a human being living in that day and time…NOTHING. It a human product coming from superstitious ancient people. There is no evidence of anything written in the Bible which leads us to think that it comes from God and not man.

Vic said…Of course one could say that God is wasting a lot of space if he just created humans on earth and there's all the rest of space with no intelligent life. Kind of like the silly "wasted time" argument that says that God should have got down to the business of creating humans right away instead of wasting time on dinosaurs and wooly mammoths. The answer is the same: waste is only an issue where scarcity is present.

So, you’re saying it’s a “silly” argument to argue that rather than creating the nasty law of predation in the natural world which lasted for hundreds of thousands of years before the arrival of mankind, that God should’ve created a world full of vegetarians, or speeded up the time of this carnage so that there was less of it? Really? Silly? Here folks, is Christian apologetics at its best. Step right up and for a quarter you can watch this spectacle for yourselves. Standing before you is a person who has never seen Killer Whales in action, or a pack of wolves eating out the guts of a deer while still standing on its feet, or a cat playing with a mouse. This is an amazing sight. Here is a person who thinks it’s just silly that God should’ve done something differently. But why is it so silly? I think rather, that Vic’s heart is cold, cruel, and callous, just like his God. No wonder Vic writes about the problem of evil so much. Suffering does not trouble him!

Vic said…Further, there seems no reason to suppose that atheism would have led us to expect a vast cosmos.

On the contrary. It demands it. Furthermore, evolution best explains the “silly” fact of why there is this nasty law of predation in the natural world, whereas Christianity does not, nor did it provide any expectations of what we’d find.

Vic said…In my view, without God the cosmos shouldn't even exist at all.

And in my view, a God for whom it is believed never had a beginning who existed forever as three-in-one, who never chose his own nature and never learned a new truth should never have existed in the first place. Your explanation explains nothing…NOTHING! You’d be better adopting my stance by saying with me that we really don’t know why something exists rather than nothing, but since it does then the simpler explanation is the best one. And a fully formed triune omniscient being is simply too explanatorily large of a being requiring too big of a brute fact to be correct.

John W. Loftus said...

"The Genesis account of creation accords to man a supreme place in the cosmos." "Man" New Bible Dictionary.

"...the creation of humanity is surely accented as the climactic achievement of God’s creative activity." The Anchor Bible Dictionary (1:1166)

Like I said, anyone with a mail order catalog type theological degree can disagree with the overwhelming Christian consensus if he wants to, and even deny the validity of dictionaries and accurate translations to evade the evidence that stares him in the face.

"Dictionaries? Bah, Humbug. Accurate translations? Who needs them? Why confuse me with the facts? I have my mind made up."

As I said, be my guest. ;-)

Tim said...

John,

I am sorry that you do not have the works of Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Edwards, Hodge, and Strong available to you. Put to a choice, I would rather have their works than any number of theological dictionaries. But then, I do not claim to have "the equivalent of a Ph.D." in theology.

If the question is one of biblical theology, then Hebrews 2 cannot be dismissed out of hand.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, I have portions of those books available to me. I sold some of them. As I said, I am no longer in the habit of trying to convince Christians what theology they should hold to. In your case I tried to make a brief exception, I suppose. But even when you referenced those particular texts they had nothing to do with whether or not mankind is the apex of this universe and the creatures in it. Even if angels are higher in status than mankind, they are not higher in status with regard to the creation of this universe. We are not told when angels were created. Genesis speaks only about the universe of things that God supposedly created. And of them mankind is the highest creation, the climatic reason for it all, which was my point with regard to what we should expect when thinking about the scale of this universe.

Sheesh.

You major in irrelevancies, slender reeds, inaccurate translations and ad hoc explanations. What did you say your Ph.D was in? Not logic, I can tell ya that.

And if three master's degrees and two years of work in a Ph.D. degree at Marquette University isn't the equivalent of one, then I don't know jack.

Tim said...

John writes:

Your theological view does not place human beings any higher in status than the rest of creation. Trees, dogs and slugs are all equally valuable to God in your eyes.

I am trying to think of a way for John to demonstrate more persuasively his inability to read and interact with what his opponents actually say.

So far, nothing is coming to mind.

John W. Loftus said...

Touche' Tim. I hang my head in shame. Nothing I wrote shows any awareness I can interact with what my opponents actually say. This is all the proof one needs. It's indicative of everything I said here, and proof I don't know what I'm talking about. I guess you're right about everything and I'm wrong about everything, eh?

I was mistaken about what you believe. If we were talking over a beer I would've spent a long time asking you what you believe before offering any criticism of it. We don't have that luxury here, do we? But when you denied mankind was the apex of creation I jumped to the conclusion that all of creation glorifies God equally. Not knowing what you believe personally and not having the luxury of a one-on-one conversation I jumped to a conclusion, and you're now telling me I'm wrong. Well, I have been wrong more times than I've been right about things in my life, so it's no surprise.

But you've pointed out one thing. I jump to conclusions. Yep. That's me. All of the time. About everything. ;-)

How is that relevant to what I've been arguing for here? Remember, relevance? That's what I'm interested in seeing from you. I just haven't seen it yet.

Victor Reppert said...

John: Why don't you read carefully. The "silly" argument is the argument from wasted time, not the argument from suffering. The charge is a charge of inefficiency, not one of allowing unnecessary suffering.

It is somewhat disturbing that you equate the belief that God may be justified in allowing suffering is tantamount to wanting that suffering to exist. But I'd rather keep this discussion on the argument from the size of the universe. There is no reason to suppose that a larger universe will contains more suffering than a smaller one.

Tim said...

Vic,

It looks like the argument from size needs three theological claims in order to get off the ground:

1. Man is the pinnacle of God's creation.

2. Given that man is the pinnacle of God's creation, the rest of the creation would be designed principally for the benefit of man.

3. Given that man is the pinnacle of God's creation and that the rest of the creation is designed principally for the benefit of man, the universe would be designed "on a human scale," in the sense that the universe would be not many orders of magnitude greater than the size of the earth.

Since P(S|P&~B&T) ≈ P(S|~P&B&T) ≈ P(S|~P&~B&T) ≈ 0, more or less the whole weight of the argument comes down on P(P&B&S&T) -- which is to say, the only hope for P(S|T) to rise much above zero is for P(P|T) x P(B|P&T) x P(S|B&P&T) to be non-negligible.

But the only sense in which P can be made plausible is a local sense -- the creation of man is the culmination of the narrative in Genesis 1 -- and this is insufficient to raise P(B|P&T) significantly above zero. Even if it did, there are so many different ways to satisfy (B&P&T) without S that P(S|B&P&T) remains nearly zero. Hence, P(S|T) ≈ 0.

How does this strike you as a first-approximation analysis?

Tim said...

Vic,

I should add, for clarification, that the values I'm giving are what I take to be lower bounds -- that is to say, we have no reason for assuming that the probability is anything higher.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic said...The "silly" argument is the argument from wasted time, not the argument from suffering.

I understood what you meant. I really did. But this so-called wasted time argument involves what takes place during that time.

What you said was this: Kind of like the silly "wasted time" argument that says that God should have got down to the business of creating humans right away instead of wasting time on dinosaurs and wooly mammoths.

God should have "gotten down to the business of creating humans right away instead of wasting time on dinosaurs and wooly mammoths" precisely because of the nasty manner in which he supposedly created it all. I see an obvious connection with what I had said, and it by no means is a silly argument. It's one I focus on. Yes, it was a waste if man is the pinnicle of creation, AND if there was so much needless suffering due to what transpired during this time.

Vic said...It is somewhat disturbing that you equate the belief that God may be justified in allowing suffering is tantamount to wanting that suffering to exist.

No, I know you don't think this at all. I say it for persuasive effect, for in effect you dismiss the argument from evil because you are so sure about the Argument From Reason. For me the argument from evil trumps the AFR in so many ways, but like you said we won't go there further.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, Everitt's argument depends on just one important theistic premise

1. Man is the most important, pinnacle, or apex of God's creation.

From which the argument follows.

What I'm curious is your own view of man in the universe, the so-called Imago Dei, and how important and valuable mankind is to God and his purposes. That is, given this physical universe of beings where does man stand? We are, after all, talking about the physical universe, and where one might expect the earth to be in this physical universe.

Care to expound on this?

Tim said...

John,

I'm interested in discussing the structure of the argument with Vic, who has some expertise in probability theory. That is why I directed my last two posts to him.

Victor Reppert said...

John: I would have thought that from the context it should have been clear that I was referring to an inefficiency claim rather than to some version of the argument from evil. I suggest that you refrain from making scurrilous accusations against people just to make a point, when you know that the accusation is based on a false interpretation.

It looks to me though, that if you factor evil out of the equation the reply to Job pretty much takes over. I mean that unless we can see that it is harmful to humans to have the universe so large, then it looks as if it's up to God to make it large, small, medium-sized or what have you. Intelligent creatures made in God's image have a certain special status, whether we are the only ones made or whether there are more elsewhere. And, we don't know of any others.

JL: The central doctrines of Christianity keep getting smaller and smaller. But at one time the location of the earth in the universe was indeed viewed as a central doctrine which was derived from science and theology. If what Christians expect does not pan out then this is considered evidence against what they believe. The argument is that the scale of the universe was not/is not expected based upon Christian theology.

VR: Or unexpected. Christianity is hardly a scientific hypothesis per se. We should ask, what did ancient atheists believe about the size of the universe? Weren't there plenty of beliefs about matter held by the ancient atomists that were overthrown by subsequent physical theory? If so, we could make a case against atheism that ancient atheists found out that the universe wasn't what they expected.

VR: What is more, as Bjorn-Are says, Ptolemy was the astronomical authority for the medieval world. If he taught a big universe, then Christianity didn't face this challenge with the rise of modern science.

JL: Of course, as astronomy progressed the universe kept getting bigger. But no one could have imagined the impact from the images coming from the Hubble Space Telescope. We ourselves are stunned by them and we live in this era! Besides, Ptolemy said the earth was the center of the universe. This viewpoint was written into Dante's masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, which was so popular it defined the language of their day.

VR: Actually we used to think the universe was infinite and now we don't think so. So it gets bigger and then smaller according to science. What science giveth, science taketh away. Nobody is good at plotting the future trajectory of science.

JL: Christians continually respond to scientific discoveries with these types of ex post facto explanations. But when it comes to expectations prior to these discoveries, Christian theology has had a miserable record.

VR: Who would have predicted quantum mechanics before it became dominant science? Who would have predicted special or general relativity? Everyone sucks at predicting future science. That's why it's future science. I am saying that even though we haven't met space aliens, this wouldn't make much of any theological difference for the reason given. That's not an ex post facto explanation, that's a theological response prior to a possible scientific discovery that hasn't happened yet and maybe never will.

The Bible isn't a book of science. That's not what it exists to do. Going all the way back to the 4th century, Augustine was something of a proto-evolutionist, showing how it is possible to reject literalism about Genesis 1. The idea that Christians were all 6-day creationists before Darwin is crap. I will say that the idea of a God who loves order and reason made science possible, while cultures who don't have that kind of God never developed science.

JL: On the contrary. (Atheism) demands (a large universe). Furthermore, evolution best explains the “silly” fact of why there is this nasty law of predation in the natural world, whereas Christianity does not, nor did it provide any expectations of what we’d find.

Victor Reppert said...

JL: On the contrary. It demands it. Furthermore, evolution best explains the “silly” fact of why there is this nasty law of predation in the natural world, whereas Christianity does not, nor did it provide any expectations of what we’d find.

VR: The absence of God demands no such thing. It's compatible with the existence of a small, medium, or large universe, or even a supersized one with french fries and a drink.

Tim said...

Vic,

The absence of God demands no such thing. It's compatible with the existence of a small, medium, or large universe, or even a supersized one with french fries and a drink.

You beat me to the punch: that's where I was going to go next in the analysis of the structure of the argument from scale.

Steve Lovell said...

Surprised no one has quoted Chesterton here yet. He encouraged us to ask the following startlingly obvious question about the size of the universe: "If it is large, it is large is comparison to what?"

Well, on the atheist’s usual terms, there is nothing other than the universe with which we can compare it in size. The only things we can compare the size of the universe with are the sizes of its parts ... but anything is large compared with its parts. So calling the universe large for that reason wouldn't help us much. For much these reasons, Chesterton said we might as well call the universe small. He liked to refer to it using diminutives.

There are several other striking facts about the discussion so far. First, it is rather bizarre to point out that the Earth isn't in the centre of the universe, when on most current theories there is no centre. This seems rather like complaining that my glasses aren't well suited to my face because they do not accommodate my non-existent third eye.
Second, as Ilion said, on the Ptolemy's model the Earth was not regarded so much as the centre of the universe as the bottom of it; as, in Ilion's phrase, the cosmic sump. To claim first that this puts man in a very grand position is one absurdity, to then claim that the discovery that the Earth is not at the (nonexistent) centre has somehow dethroned man is simply ridiculous.

Steve

Bjørn Are said...

Well put, Steve!

John is so far out on most counts that he's worth quoting. The whole issue of the Copernican revolution dethroning man is a myth, based on 17th century playwriters.

The myth grew and kept going. It was all in the air in the 1700's, and it is no surprise that Enlightenment pholosophers like Kant believed it (and used it as a metaphor for his philosophical revolution). It has since been one of the icons of modernity.

Using it today shows little understanding of earlier thought, and is usually a strong hint of an agenda.

jnkslagle said...

Lewis addresses these issues fairly extensively in The Discarded Image. Regarding the size of the universe, he writes, "the fact that the height of the stars in the medieval astronomy is very small compared with their distance in the modern, will turn out not to have the kind of importance you anticipated. For thought and imagination, ten million miles and a thousand million are much the same. Both can be conceived (that is, we can do sums with both) and neither can be imagined; and the more imagination we have the better we shall know this."

And regarding the claim that man was considered to the pinnacle of creation, Lewis writes,"as Dante was to say more clearly than anyone else, the spatial order is the opposite of the spiritual, and the material cosmos mirrors, hence reverses, the reality, so that what is truly the rim seems to us the hub... We watch ‘the spectacle of the celestial dance’ from its outskirts. Our highest privilege is to imitate it in such measure as we can. The medieval Model is, if we may use the word, anthropo-peripheral. We are creatures of the Margin."

I wrote about this at http://agentintellect.blogspot.com/2008/01/discarded-image.html.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim I suspect you don’t want to articulate your theory because your view is probably inconsistent with either the Bible or itself. But I could be wrong, like I have been before. Still, it’s your prerogative to insinuate that my understanding is ignorant without being willing to tell us yours. If the Bible does not claim that mankind is the pinnacle or apex of creation in the accounts in Genesis, and if Tim refuses to tell us what he thinks, then would someone else take a stab at it?

Looks like the troops have arrived and I must look ignorant in the face of so many educated people who disagree, even though I’m pretty sure if I stood up to Bible quoting slave masters they could make me look the same way even though I had some good arguments to the contrary. It’s hard to know what to make of this. I do know that we are now talking about more topics than I can have well-informed opinions about. But here I am nonetheless.

Paul’s interpretation of the fall is that it adversely affected all creation (Romans 8:19-21): “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Paul also wrote that Christ is reconciling all things unto himself “whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” (Col 1:20).

I think Paul’s theology of the fall and of reconciliation demand that what happens on earth through human beings as the apex of God’s creative handiwork and through the God-man Jesus affects all of creation, which includes the whole universe. If such passages as these (and others) do not indicate that what happens on earth by humans is the most important game in all creation, or that Christians who believed the Bible before the rise of modern astronomy should‘ve known better than to believe what this implies, then I simply am at a loss for words. The word “delusionary” comes to mind. Or perhaps I misunderstand what you’re saying, because you refuse to say.

Who am I as an atheist to tell Christians what to believe about this, right? All I know is that a great many Christians did and still do. For you to deny that this is so and to tell me that I’m ignorant about what Christians believe is disingenuous. You are the ignorant ones if you think otherwise. You’ve been living in ivory towers for so long as to not know what many Christians believe about these things.

VR: Weren't there plenty of beliefs about matter held by the ancient atomists that were overthrown by subsequent physical theory? If so, we could make a case against atheism that ancient atheists found out that the universe wasn't what they expected.

JWL: Sure, but when we consider that your God knew the truth about the universe and supposedly had the means to reveal it but didn’t, that’s a horse of a different color, especially in light of the fact that because there is nothing in the Bible that shows any evidence that it is from God, people like me walk away from such a faith and lead others away with me. Maybe your God should see a shrink, for on the one hand he wants people to believe, and on the other hand does not offer the evidence, which is not just my opinion, but the opinion of most people who live on this planet since they are not Christians.

VR: Actually we used to think the universe was infinite and now we don't think so. So it gets bigger and then smaller according to science. What science giveth, science taketh away. Nobody is good at plotting the future trajectory of science.

JWL: Yep, not even your God, which is the point. Like Paul Simon sang, “God only knows. God makes his plan. The information’s unavailable to the mortal man.” [Slip Sliding Away] Can God plot the future at all? Could he not have predicted any natural disaster in human history such that before it happened believers could save themselves and also know that only God could’ve known? Like when Mt. St. Helens erupted, or the December 2004 tsunami which killed a quarter million people? There are so many things God could’ve done but didn’t that with each failure to do so completely destroys the whole idea that the theistic God exists.

VR: Who would have predicted quantum mechanics before it became dominant science? Who would have predicted special or general relativity? Everyone sucks at predicting future science.

JL: Yep, and because your God didn’t tell us one thing about what we can expect then that’s evidence he doesn’t even exist. He not only did NOT create our bodies with a stronger immune system, he didn’t even give us instructions from the get-go on how to discover penicillin, much less even tell us that such a thing is possible and that we should look for it while perhaps millions of people died before we discover it, and that’s just one such discovery. There are so many things your God did not tell us in advance that it sometimes amazes me you think he exists. Name me one thing that is in the Bible that could not have been merely written by a person of that age. One thing. But what we find instead is nothing. There is nothing in the Bible that stands as evidence that the Bible is from God by revealing something that no person of that day an age could known.

VR: The Bible isn't a book of science.

JWL: It’s not only NOT a book of science, it’s based on superstitious ancient thinking which goes against the rigorous scientific methods used today to confirm and/or deny what we believe.

VR: Going all the way back to the 4th century, Augustine was something of a proto-evolutionist, showing how it is possible to reject literalism about Genesis 1. The idea that Christians were all 6-day creationists before Darwin is crap.

JWL: If you want to talk about early Christianity, according to Bart D. Ehrman it was more diverse than the diversity we find in Christianity today. Regardless, because of the advances in knowledge, Christians of later years claim that the Christians of earlier years believed stuff that they never would’ve believed, and they also jump on any sign that a Christian might have maybe had a modern thought as if that Christian of the past thought just like modern Christians do and/or spoke for whole large segments of the church. I’ve had enough of that crap too.

VR: I will say that the idea of a God who loves order and reason made science possible, while cultures who don't have that kind of God never developed science.

JWL: And I will say that Christianity slowed the progress of science down or tried to stop it dead in its tracks every single hard-earned step of the way.

VR: The absence of God demands no such thing. It's compatible with the existence of a small, medium, or large universe, or even a supersized one with french fries and a drink.

JWL: The larger the universe the easier it is to believe there isn’t a God. Given the complexity of the human brain I don’t think I would be an atheist with just small or medium French fries. I find what you said to be a mere unsubstantiated assertion.

Chesterton’s comments are irrelevant, for even though he’s correct when we talk about small compared to large, we’re comparing what the ancient Hebrews thought of heaven which was just above the mountains, with Ptolemy’s and Dante’s universe which was not much bigger than the solar system, with the modern universe that is 13.5 billion years old. These models are indeed comparable even if this whole creation could fit into God’s palm.

Steve Lovell said... First, it is rather bizarre to point out that the Earth isn't in the centre of the universe, when on most current theories there is no centre.

JWL: Irrelevant, for while this is true, it didn’t have to be if there was a God. Besides, if this turned out to be the case then why didn’t God say so in the first place? And did he mislead people knowing that science would undermine this picture of the universe and thus undermine the credibility of the Bible and the church?

Steve Lovell said...On Ptolemy's model the Earth was not regarded so much as the centre of the universe as the bottom of it. To claim first that this puts man in a very grand position is one absurdity, to then claim that the discovery that the Earth is not at the (nonexistent) centre has somehow dethroned man is simply ridiculous.

JWL: There would quite naturally be an ascending order to the universe, yes, given that understanding, with earth on the bottom and the heavenly bodies above the earth leading up the Blessed Rose which is pre-eminent above all. But how this diminishes the role God grants to mankind to direct the course of the universe itself is not warranted. On that bottom world called earth mankind rules, is granted pre-eminent status in the universe as the apex of creation, kind of like gods in training. What happens on that planet affects everything else.

Bjørn Are, I know nothing about your credentials to assess whether you know what you’re talking about. When you say I’m “so far out on most counts that” I’m worth quoting, what do you mean? I’ve said a hell of a lot here. Most counts, eh? Really? Which ones? Please quote me directly and don’t assume I implied something that I have not implied. And even if the French philosophes and playwrights got it wrong, remember it came on the heels of the horrific inquisitions and witch hunts which terrorized people for centuries with the threat of torture and death if they dared express themselves, under which Galileo was put under house arrest and made to recant. While your God slept. What exactly have I said or implied about the Copernican Revolution that you can say I am far out about? I know it was more complicated than any easy description calls for. But the bottom line was that the church took a stand on Aristotelian science and pronounced that science to be Christian and it threatened the authority of the church if for no other reason than that the church had already embraced Aristotelian science. There were many other reactions. I have a chapter in my book about it.

Tim said...

John,

Though it may come as a surprise to you, I have more things to do than to discuss theology with someone whose idea of such a discussion is (a) quoting from dictionaries, (b) quoting from bible dictionaries, (c) refusing to look up references I give to him from Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Edwards, Chalmers, Hodge, and Strong that contradict what he has said, (d) asserting confidently that I am taking those references out of context, (e) trying (incoherently) to reword his claim about the relative standing of men and angels in the order of being so as to avoid being contradicted if it turns out that my references are not taken out of context after all, (f) arrogantly challenging me to a comparison of academic credentials, (g) repeatedly insulting me by phrases like "mail order course," "get a dictionary," "you major in irrelevancies," and (h) trying to pick a fight over my Ph. D. by saying "What did you say your Ph.D was in? Not logic, I can tell ya that."

If I wanted to have a serious discussion of theology, John, the last person I would choose to do it with would be an amateur freethinker who thinks the size of the universe is an argument against theism, who cannot argue like a man, and who cannot keep a civil tongue.

Victor Reppert said...

I;m afraid that in order to get any traction for this argument you have to borrow from the argument from evil. God owes all sorts of scientific information to us since he's supposed to be good. Since we are on our own getting the facts of the universe, and God doesn't whisper the answers in our ears, God must not exist. Would the human race have been better off with an intellectual nanny to tell us everything we were curious about? That's just another version of the argument from evil.

Or else you pull out the old Warfare between Science and Religion stuff which I happen to think is based on a highly oversimplified perspective on the history and philosophy of science. In any event, I don't see any good reason to think that reflecting on the size of the universe gives us any independent reason to reject God or Christianity that isn't covered, and covered better, by those types of arguments.

In short, the Everitt argument, at the end of the day, relies on atheist arguments with which we are familiar. We may think them good or bad, but talking about the size of the universe adds nothing whatsoever to the discussion.

Bjørn Are said...

John, asking for credentials when meeting critique is always an interesting sign...

My background is Science and Technology, including the history of both, from one of Norway's top universities. Besides, I have done formal post graduate studies in these and other areas (from Cultural Antropology to Innovation).

I have also written books and articles on aspects of this, and have some published in a rather serious scientific journal.

John asked: "When you say I'm “so far out on most counts that” I’m worth quoting, what do you mean? I’ve said a hell of a lot here. Most counts, eh? Really? Which ones?"

Let me take one of the latest, which perhaps has become my favorite:

"Christianity slowed the progress of science down or tried to stop it dead in its tracks every single hard-earned step of the way."

I find it also interesting, that you rather than looking up facts about why French philosophers and playwrights misunderstood the Copernican revolution, end by saying "remember it came on the heels of the horrific inquisitions and witch hunts which terrorized people for centuries with the threat of torture and death if they dared express themselves".

Reading real authors and natural philosophers from the middle ages and up to the late 1700's reveals a bit different picture than the myths you are building on. Of course, official policies influenced debates and the range of ideas being promoted. Still, most people writing really dared to express themselves. Some a bit too much, though, like rather hot headed personalities like Bruno who it seems ended up in disgrace in whatever country he lived in.

In most countries (especially large ones like Italy, Spain and France) the number of witchtrials were low compared to other trials (e.g. for theft, assault or murder). In France we are talking of less than one victim per year per million inhabitants, which did not exactly make the threat seem very big (and there were far fewer cases in Italy and Spain). As 75 % of the convictions were overturned by the central authorities (the "Paris Parlement"), even being convicted was not that much of a threat.

And remember, it was the Spanish Inquisition that put a stop to witchtrials in Spain.

Well, as the blog topic is not about witchtrials or inquisitions, I'll stop here

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, you and I have gone round this kind of bush before. I have a tendency not to forget such things. You write as if the reason I am an atheist is because I’m ignorant, and I bristle at such a suggestion for so many reasons, one of which is that I’m not ignorant. No one can master all knowledge, of course. Far from it. Me included. But whatever version of Christianity you adhere to it is not, I repeat NOT rationally superior to other ways to interpret the existence of this universe. I could be a completely uninformed dish washer at McDonald’s and be rationally justified in disbelieving by simplistically claiming that since God knows what it would take for me to believe, if he wants me to believe, he should show me.

You started those old hostilities when you came to my blog and insinuated I and others there were ignorant. You wrote: “Phrases like "God decides to create a universe in which human beings will be the jewel" (Everitt, p. 215) simply distort both what Scripture says about the place of man in the cosmos (below the angels, insignificant in comparison to God, etc.) and what most educated Jews and Christians have believed throughout the centuries.” Then Tim said, “This does make me curious, though: did the various ex-Christians who contribute to this site really take the position, back when they were Christians, that the universe was created solely for human beings and that every aspect of it, including its scale, must somehow be accommodated directly to human benefit?”

These statements are utterly ignorant on at least three counts, 1) The Bible clearly speaks differently, as I think I have briefly shown; 2) You are incorrect to suggest that educated Jews and Christians believed otherwise. 3) You are ignorant if you do not know what many if not most Christians believe about such things. The reason I pulled quotes out of dictionaries and encyclopedias, both conservative and liberal is because that is what is required when dealing with statements such as yours. They usually express the prevailing consensus on such matters, and each one of them were written by scholars in their own right who had published articles and books on these topics. Then when it came to the status of angels I think I showed how irrelevant that question is to the status of mankind in this universe, and thus while Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Edwards, Chalmers, Hodge, and Strong could probably believe angels have a more important status than mankind I’ll bet you that when it comes to Genesis 1-2 and Paul’s theology they would agree with the dictionaries in claiming man is the apex of God’s creation.

Yes, I believe the scale of the universe is evidence against theism, Biblical Christian theism, along with Nicholas Everitt, amateur freethinkers, we.

Again, if the Bible does not claim that mankind is the pinnacle or apex of creation in the accounts in Genesis, and if Tim refuses to tell us what he thinks, then would someone else take a stab at it?

John W. Loftus said...

VR: I;m afraid that in order to get any traction for this argument you have to borrow from the argument from evil. God owes all sorts of scientific information to us since he's supposed to be good.

JWL: If you’re correct then you can see why I like the argument from scale since I like the argument from evil.

VR: Since we are on our own getting the facts of the universe, and God doesn't whisper the answers in our ears, God must not exist.

JWL: I think earlier you had asked me not to mischaracterize your arguments for rhetorical effect. I adjure you to do the same. Let me see if I can do better. “Since we are on our own getting the facts of the universe, and God doesn't tell us anything at all to help us, then this is evidence God does not exist."

VR: Would the human race have been better off with an intellectual nanny to tell us everything we were curious about?

JWL: Let me try this one on for size too. "Would the human race have been better off if God had told us at least something, even one thing, that could help us know the Bible comes from him, and which would also keep many of us away from death and disease?"

VR: That's just another version of the argument from evil.

JWL: Even though we are "amateur freethinkers," Everitt’s argument does not reduce to the argument from evil, otherwise it might be possible to reduce every single skeptical argument to the same problem. He’s asking us what we would expect to find before we had any scientific knowledge about the universe, given the fact that mankind is the pinnacle of creation in that universe. It concerns what one would predict based upon what one believes, since being able to accurately predict something confirms what one believes (whereas not being able to do so, is disconfirming evidence). And although you say the Bible is not a scientific textbook, surely if there is a God, he knew the scale of the universe long before we humans did and so he could’ve indicated this in some way or another as evidence that he exists prior to the fact.

VR: In any event, I don't see any good reason to think that reflecting on the size of the universe gives us any independent reason to reject God or Christianity that isn't covered, and covered better, by those types of arguments. In short, the Everitt argument, at the end of the day, relies on atheist arguments with which we are familiar. We may think them good or bad, but talking about the size of the universe adds nothing whatsoever to the discussion.

JWL: I think it is a good example of these other problems. We need examples. Without examples, or instances of problems there are no problems. We need examples of suffering for us to begin talking about the problem of evil. In the same sense we need examples of the lack of evidence that the Bible is from God. In this particular example God failed, once again, to provide any evidence inside its pages, that he exists. In this particular example we find some rather intuitive things, along with Biblical passages that would lead pre-scientific people in a different direction than what scientists actually found, and which in turn the social critics of that day maligned the credibility of the church and the Bible using the Galileo affair as fodder whether their critic was true or not (which is the point!).

John W. Loftus said...

BA: John, asking for credentials when meeting critique is always an interesting sign...

JWL: Of what? Thanks for sharing though. You seem to know some stuff I don’t know, being the “amateur freethinker” that I am.

JWL: When you say I'm “so far out on most counts that” I’m worth quoting, what do you mean? I’ve said a hell of a lot here. Most counts, eh? Really? Which ones?"

BA: Let me take one of the latest, which perhaps has become my favorite:


JWL: Just one? I thought you had said “most counts?” Okay. If I’m wrong on something I’ll admit it. Will you, or will Tim?

"Christianity slowed the progress of science down or tried to stop it dead in its tracks every single hard-earned step of the way."

Are you truly being fair with the facts, or arguing to defend something? The church put Galileo’s book on the banned list, and Descartes refused to publish his book “The World” after Galileo was arrested and tried. Does that not count as slowing down the progress of science, or will you turn things around and claim it had the reverse unintended affect? When it came to surgeries, the medical need for cadavers, and every INNOVATIVE type of advance, I think Christianity either slowed the progress of science or tried to stop it. Remember, every INNOVATIVE type of progress. Stem cell research is just a recent example. Are you actually denying this? Since you seem to have a much better background than I do about such matters, would you be so kind as to give me some examples that support what I said (so I know you can be fair) along with some examples where the church did not try to slow down or stop any innovative cutting edge progression of science. I’m curious. And if my blanket type statement is incorrect, which it surely must be, what statement would be a fair representation of the facts? Surely the situation is not reversed where the church encouraged every new innovative scientific advance. [Of course, in situations where the church had no power to stunt the growth of science then that’s a different matter].

BA: I find it also interesting, that you rather than looking up facts about why French philosophers and playwrights misunderstood the Copernican revolution, end by saying "remember it came on the heels of the horrific inquisitions and witch hunts which terrorized people for centuries with the threat of torture and death if they dared express themselves".

Well, I have read some things on this, but surely when freethinkers could actually begin expressing themselves without the fear of boiling water being poured into steel boots where their feet were lodged you’d expect there to be some rage. Rage doesn’t always lead to a fair discussion of the ideas, as I know all too well. But my beef is not about whether or not they properly understood the Galileo affair, but in the case of Everitt’s argument whether or not a God such as yours would knowingly withhold information from his people knowing that by doing so he misled them (not just about the scale of the universe, but also about witches and heretics and black people who had “The Curse of Ham.” Any idiot would see potential problems about such things, so how much so should an omniscient God. Why, as one instance, didn’t your God ever say, “Thou shalt not own, buy, sell, or trade human beings as slaves,” and say it as often as needed?)

BA: In most countries (especially large ones like Italy, Spain and France) the number of witchtrials were low compared to other trials (e.g. for theft, assault or murder). In France we are talking of less than one victim per year per million inhabitants, which did not exactly make the threat seem very big (and there were far fewer cases in Italy and Spain). As 75 % of the convictions were overturned by the central authorities (the "Paris Parlement"), even being convicted was not that much of a threat.

JWL: What in the hell are you reading? Have you read Brian P. Levack’s “The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe”? Or “American Slavery 1619-1877" by Peter Kolchin, to name just two. And have you ever thought what it would be like to be terrorized to express yourself freely because even one person was burned alive at the stake in public view? The church terrorized people and all you can do is to use the lowest possible number of people being killed? Holocaust deniers would like how you count too.

BA: And remember, it was the Spanish Inquisition that put a stop to witchtrials in Spain.

You mean the fact that people just got fed up with the whole excesses of torturing people who disagreed? Big F*cking deal! According to Levack (pp. 233ff) the decline of the witch-hunts was multifaceted.

I've spent far too long here, so I'll probably listen from now on, as I must get some things done.

Jason Pratt said...

Well, I was going to blog about this today, but it looks as though the discussion has already reached the annoyance threshold all the way around. {s} I may do something on it later, though.

JRP

John W. Loftus said...

Jason, if and when you do, you might help us out on one issue.

If the Bible does not claim that mankind is the pinnacle or apex of creation in the accounts in Genesis, and if Tim refuses to tell us what he thinks, then would you please take a stab at it?

I mean really, surely you don't think that in order to escape from Everitt's argument you have to deny this solid theological truth do you? And surely you are not unaware that this is the overwhelming dominant theological position with regard to man in this universe.

Or there is some misunderstanding that you could clear up for us.

Cheers.

Bjørn Are said...

This is very much passing the annoyance treshold, yes.

A good advice John, calm down a bit and check your facts better, before you jump even more to the wrong conclusions.

"JWL: Just one? I thought you had said “most counts?” Okay. If I’m wrong on something I’ll admit it. Will you, or will Tim?"

What kind of question is this? Of course I will admit it. Wouldn't you? And I mentioned just one example to avoid too long wided a discussion. And as I knew, that one sentence was more than enough to fill the comment field to the brim again and again - imagine if I had mentioned another;-)

OK, some "quick and dirty" comments:

When you defend your view that
"Christianity slowed the progress of science down or tried to stop it dead in its tracks every single hard-earned step of the way" it is interesting to note that you do no such thing. You just mention the Galilei affair, and something about Descartes and surgery and human cadavers.

This is, to put it mildly, not how Historians of Science would describe it. Noone denies the case against Galilei, of course, however Historians tends to put it into perspective. And to say that it was one of the very few cases where the Church opposed a scientific theory (which BTW, Galilei neither had proven nor very good evidence for, he even used wrong evidence).

When it comes to witchtrials, Levack's book is far from the latest on the research. Comparing me to Holocaust deniers is a very cheap trick. I have not given the "lowest possible" numer at all, check e.g. (for easy access) wikiepedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch-hunt for Hutton's figures on this. You will see that France had not many executions, and Italy and Spain far less.

And it was in fact the Spanish Inquistion that stopped the processses in Spain (not in other countries, of course, which you seem to imply I had said?!), ref. again http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_witch_trials.

" For some time the central office of the Inquisition had been sceptical about claims of magic and witchcraft, and had only sanctioned the earlier burnings with considerable reluctance, and only because of the reported mood of panic from Logroño. In August 1614 it ruled that all of the trials pending at Logroño should be dismissed. At the same time it issued new and more rigorous rules of evidence, that brought witch-burning in Spain to an end, long before the Protestant North."

OK. nuff said. Please doublecheck your sources, John, before jumping to conclusions. Also regarding surgery. It was not illegal to perform dissections in Europe in the Middle Ages. Public dissections were done at least from the late 1200's, and teaching material produced from the early 1300's, though corpses was a bit hard to find (relatives didn't like their beloved ones to be cut up).

The challenge was too much belief in Galen's medical work (based on dissections of aninals, as human dissection was illegal in the Roman empire, BTW also in Arab countries and China), not any Church authority.

Victor Reppert said...

Does the size of the universe give us a reason for denying that human beings are the pinnacle of creation, unless intelligent life is found elsewhere in the universe?

John W. Loftus said...

I'm trying not to respond, but I just can't stop.

Somebody help me. [a bit of humor, if that's allowed]

BA: BTW, Galilei neither had proven nor very good evidence for, he even used wrong evidence).

Yes, I understand that.

BA: When it comes to witchtrials, Levack's book is far from the latest on the research.

Well, I’m not a scholar on witch-hunts, this is true, but I figured a 2006 book was about as close as a non-specialist could get on the topic.

BA: You will see that France had not many executions, and Italy and Spain far less.

Yes, so why choose to relate what happened just in France?

BA: And it was in fact the Spanish Inquistion that stopped the processses in Spain

That’s what I understood you to say.

BA: Please doublecheck your sources, John, before jumping to conclusions.

Naw, why start now? ;-)

As I said, this discussion has widened to the point where I alone with my meager understand of the issues involved cannot defend them all. Why, I’m not up to date on the witch hunts even though I only have one of the most widely recognized scholarly books on the topic because it is nearly 2 years old! I’m sure some new and drastic information has surfaced since that time to call into question his most important points, right?

Now it’s time for us all to go back to reading up on those areas where we are interested in and are not that knowledgeable about.

Oh, and Vic, I thought we were looking at what God purportedly said in the Bible. What does the Bible say about the status of human beings? Paul said all of creation (i.e. the universe itself and all creatures living in and depending on that universe) was adversely affected, so that means if Paul is correct, and if there are aliens, then they were also adversely affected by what Adam and Eve did. This would strongly suggest that aliens are also under our rule and that their status before God is below ours.

Bjørn Are said...

Sorry, I was thinking about the second edition (1995?). I had not noticed a new.

What then is the difference between my points and his, regarding the country YOU mentioned, France (related to why their playwrights and philosophers went wrong)?

Jason Pratt said...

As I’m sure you’re aware, John (or you should be if you aren’t), Genesis 1-3 neither states that mankind is the pinnacle or apex of creation, nor necessarily requires this. (Though admittedly I’m inclined to think of Woman as the crown and the jewel of creation itself. {g} Neverthless, that isn’t stated in the story either.) The story details and contexts are rather more complex than what you’ve been talking about, both in Gen 1-3 and in later portions of scripture (both OT and NT).

That being said: theologians have certainly been in the habit of treating Man (and not infrequently ‘Man’ for that matter {s}) as being the pinnacle and apex of all creation, with nothing else mattering much. You aren’t wrong to point out that this has been frequently done. Whether this position, simpliciter, constitutes “solid theological truth” or even constitutes “the Biblical view” is a far more complicated debate; and you’re mixing it together with many other topics that have to be discussed more-or-less on their own merits. (e.g. the cosmology represented by Dante, despite what you seem to think from a not-to-scale illustration sheet, was absolutely not considered to be a ‘small’ universe: you’re reading that lack of scale back into the data through tacit comparison with your own “post hoc post-scientific perspective”, despite having insisted that we should not be doing that. Incidentally, the Medieval synthesis in which Dante was operating very clearly recognized that there were scads and oodles of created entities meandering around which trumped humanity per se.)

That makes it tactically difficult to reply to your argument; there are a good dozen topics in there, all of which would be an essay or two in themselves, and the dismantling of several of them wouldn’t necessarily undercut other portions (or vice versa). And that’s only in connection with the two entries on Everitt’s argument you put up recently (have there been others since then?) The topical spread in this thread goes very far beyond that.

JRP

PS: you probably aren't going to like what I have to say about those Rom 8 verses you keep bringing up, btw. {s} The "sons of God" being mentioned there aren't necessarily restricted to humans, including in the Jewish religious milieu Paul was working within. Even in Gen 3 (and Gen 1 for that matter), the rebellion doesn't start with humans.

Victor Reppert said...

Oh, and Vic, I thought we were looking at what God purportedly said in the Bible. What does the Bible say about the status of human beings? Paul said all of creation (i.e. the universe itself and all creatures living in and depending on that universe) was adversely affected, so that means if Paul is correct, and if there are aliens, then they were also adversely affected by what Adam and Eve did. This would strongly suggest that aliens are also under our rule and that their status before God is below ours.

VR: First I argued that only if alien species exist is there even a problem here, and we have yet to see any evidence that intelligent alien species even exist. Second, it is not a terrible shock to my belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture if certain biblical passages have a narrower application than would be initially supposed on a naive reading, i.e., the human race turns out to be the pinnacle of earthly creation rather than the creation of the entire universe. But maybe that's because I spent too much time growing up in the United Methodist church and reading flaming liberals like C. S. Lewis.

John W. Loftus said...

BA: Sorry, I was thinking about the second edition (1995?). I had not noticed a new.

No problem. I can’t compare these books to know what the differences are and I cannot locate the specifics you relate, but there is a big difference in what you chose to tell us. Different areas did different things with regard to witches at different times, as you know. There’s so much data that the best way to look at it is to say that Levack estimates about 100,000 people were tried for witchcraft, and that European communities executed 60,000 of them, most by strangulation, but many were also burned alive. I’m sure that is in your edition too. The number of people brought to trial does not tell us how many people lived under the suspicion of witchcraft or were informally accused because there were many more accusations than actual prosecutions, Levack tells us. And it does not give us the full terrorizing power that the church had over the thought life of people. The church was a terrorist organization, pure and simple. Anyone accused of being a witch was subject to all kinds of things to prove their innocence, including being stripped, shaved, and even tortured. Horrible, absolutely horrible things, as you know…while your God slept. Along with theologian John Roth, I shame your God for this just in case he does exist after all. Roth argues for “A Theodicy of Protest,” whereby he shames God into doing what is right since he apparently doesn’t do it unless shamed. [Found in Encountering Evil, ed. Stephen T. Davis]

I abhor the mere counting of dead bodies as if fewer murders makes what GOD DID any better. A murderer is a murderer even if he only kills one person, right? And I do accuse your God of being an accomplice to murder. Have you ever heard the screams of someone being slowly burned to death when the wind kept the fire from burning the victim quickly? Have you smelled their burning skin? Thankfully neither have I. But the buck stops with your loving God who said “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” instead of saying, “Thou shalt not kill people who disagree with you, nor shall you kill, torture or burn witches.” He could’ve said that as often as he needed to so that believers would get the point just as they got the point about murder itself.

As an “amateur freethinker” I feel very strongly about this type of argument because I could’ve been killed by Christians for heresy or being a witch in those days.

John W. Loftus said...

Jason, said, "I’m inclined to think of Woman as the crown and the jewel of creation itself."

Very much agreed! Except that it's troubling how believers have marginalized women and beaten them down based on the story of the fall. But if God does exist, women definitely are the beautiful crown of his creation, not those ugly bastard men who by brute force subjugate, kill, maim, steal, and make war on lesser creatures (kinda like how evolution works with the fittest surviving, eh?). Thanks for your thoughts whether we agree or not.

Again, I shouldn't get into the habit of telling Christian what to believe. If the shoe fits wear it.

But I would be very interested in your take about Paul's theology of the fall. I actually haven't studied that out. I don’t hang my hat of your interpretation, but I am curious.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic said...Second, it is not a terrible shock to my belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture if certain biblical passages have a narrower application than would be initially supposed on a naive reading...

Yes, I figured you might say this because you've said it before about whether or not God commanded genocide in the Bible.

I have no dispute with you about this. I too decide what to believe and what to reject when reading the Bible.

Tim said...

Jason,

Obviously, I think you're right not to agree with John regarding man's status in the cosmos. You'll find the thoughts of the luminaries of theological history in the references I gave higher up in the thread.

Jason Pratt said...

{{not those ugly bastard men who by brute force subjugate, kill, maim, steal, and make war on lesser creatures (kinda like how evolution works with the fittest surviving, eh?).}}

Kinda like it's ethically wrong for men (or women either) to be behaving in such a mere survival-of-the-fittest way, eh? {g} At least against other conscious entities. A bit odd, that. But a whole other discussion.

{{Again, I shouldn't get into the habit of telling Christian what to believe. If the shoe fits wear it.}}

Not entirely sure what the second sentence there means in context with your reply, although it does look rather like you're telling a Christian what to believe by writing it. {shrug}

{{But I would be very interested in your take about Paul's theology of the fall.}}

It's pretty complicated. Among other things, though, God shares the responsibility for the Fall and its effects--and indeed accepts primary responsibility for it. (That's stated in the section of Rom 8 you've been referencing, btw.)

{{I don’t hang my hat on your interpretation}}

That might be a good idea, since after all I'm an orthodox universalist--not exactly a majority position among exegetes. {s} Incidentally (or perhaps not), I'd argue that the Rom 8 section you've been referencing is a fairly strong statement in favor of that.

JRP

Bjørn Are said...

I would say your interpretation of the witch craze is way off, John.

It seems you are looking for evidence to support your negative attitude toward "the Church", rather than reading what scholars actually say.

Calling it a "terrorist organisation" may go well home among some of your fellow atheists, however, it would be considered a sign of paranoia (pardon the French) among researchers on the witch trials in Norway.

Until you provide me with quotes from Levack or other scholars who conclude like this, I find it a highly pseudoscientific view, to put it mildly. And even then I would have to check it with serious (non Christian) scholars I know at universities.

I have not at hand any of Levack's editions, however, his 1995-edition is considered (by Norwegian leading scholar in this area, an atheist historian I know, who has published at the Norwegian Secular Humanist Press) to be off by about 20 000 victims (the actual number seems to be around 40 000 - BTW, the same as Ronald Hutton's).

And the same historian is also pointing out that the whole issue of the church's role has been exaggerated, sometimes dramatically.

The church was in fact opposed to witch trials for about a millenium, the early medieval Canon law insisted simply that belief in witchcraft was heresy.

The whole issue started mainly in the 1400's due to a change in social conditions, it seems. Which led to local panics and sometimes conspiracy theories among people in power, and an elaborate demonology (the Malleus Maleficarum, which the pope actually put on index). Of course the church was involved (though in different ways in different countries, and many church authorites spoke against the whole thing, e.g. the Spanish Inquisition even stopping the processes in Spain, as I have mentioned twice already), however most cases was led by secular courts. And most cases from places far from ecclestical centres (like Rome), maybe except from Geneva.

Half of the cases were in the German borderlands, in places with little central authority. In Norway most of the cases were in the far north.

A good web article (written by a neopagan (not a Christian) and recommended on the web site of the secular historian I mentioned - at http://ansatte.uit.no/rha003/hekser.html), on myths (including forgeries of medieval cases) about the witchcraze is found at http://www.draeconin.com/database/witchhunt.htm.

If Levack's new edition has different conclusions or numbers, please inform me.

John W. Loftus said...

Don't confuse me with the facts, BA. My mind is already made up! ;-)

*ahem* It seems you are looking for evidence to support your POSITIVE attitude toward "the Church", rather than understanding the true nature of the case. Sure it's complicated, I think I said as much.

The bottom line is that the church was a terrorist organization plain and simple.

Christian scholars label certain writings with the term "pseudonymous," too. But the fact of the matter is that the best term to descibe them is that they were "forgeries" which were intent on deception, and Bart Ehrman is right to label such things correctly.

I'm calling what the church was during the Inquisition and witch hunts correctly. It was a terrorist organization plain and simple.

You fail to understand, as I said, earlier, that "I abhor the mere counting of dead bodies as if fewer murders makes what GOD DID any better." All it would take is for one idiot witch-hunter to accuse my wife, strip her, inspect her all over, torture her, and have her prosecuted in front of any court, be it secular or otherwise, and strangle her or burn her at the stake, and that would be enough for me to want to kill the priest and your idiot God who did not accurately communicate to his followers what he wanted them to do.

Now surely some Christians will try to claim that I'm being emotional here. You bet'cha I am. Because that's what happened to 40,000 families (your count, it doesn't matter). The power of this simply must be felt. You not only need to hear the screams of people being burned at the stake, you need to smell their burning flesh, witness the "celibate" priests in action.

Numbers? What's that? We're talking about people, and it makes me angry enough to want to go back in time and slap some people around.

Bjørn Are said...

OK John, thanks for showing your real face. Then I understand you're not looking for facts at all. Whether one witch or 40 000 (or 9 million as was the myth some years ago), it doesn't matter. As long as you can blame it on God.

Your views are so obviously agendaridden, and your response so emotional, that it is extremely difficult to take your writings seriously.

Tim said...

Bjorn-Are,

Well, you see, John has it all covered.

1. It's all very complicated (in some non-specified way) -- so you can't accuse him of being simplistic. And

2. It's all very simple (the Church was a "terrorist organization") -- so he's right and you're wrong. And

3. Getting the facts straight, particularly things like numbers and who was responsible for what, is irrelevant -- so he doesn't have to look up what the scholars actually say. And

4. He doesn't have to change his mind about the Big Issue, no matter what the evidence is (because his "control beliefs" have changed) -- so any attempt at an actual intellectual exchange is short circuited at the outset.

Which explains a lot.

But remember: Christians are the ones with the unfalsifiable metanarrative.

John W. Loftus said...

Well, well, BA and Tim. You've got me. I'm not interested in the facts, am I? No matter what you say, in my mind God is always to be blamed. Thanks for pointing this out to me. I’m oblivious.

Listen, I’m very interested in learning about the church during the Galileo affair. I’m also interested in learning about the Inquisition, the witch hunts and American slavery. There is much to learn about each of these issues. I’m confident I don’t know enough about any of them. Unless someone is a scholar in one of these areas he or she would have to say the same thing I just did. You too don’t know enough about these things. You too are learning, just like me. And even scholars disagree on these issues, right?

That being said, I think we know enough about these issues to make an informed judgment about whether they count as evidence for or against a loving, knowledgeable God, who purportedly revealed himself in the Bible.

The common denominator in our widened discussion here is whether there is evidence that God, a good God, revealed himself to human beings in the Bible. I claim not only that there is not enough evidence to support your theistic hypothesis. I claim there is overwhelming evidence against it. Evidence which you ignore. Evidence which I take seriously and you discount as much as you can.

When it comes to the scale of the universe, along with Everitt I claim that believers who were misled by the Bible to think humans are the apex of God’s creation would've expected something different than what was found. This is especially true since the Bible clearly and obviously reflects a pre-scientific cosmology where a flat earth was pictured with the stars hung in a firmament that held back and sent the water. It was this false pre-scientific Biblical cosmology that was a major factor in my affirming science and denying the Bible as coming from God (Don’t go jumping to conclusions about this. I do enough of that myself. This process took me several years of study and thought).

With Ptolemaic astronomy believers then viewed the earth as a round sphere with a much larger universe than the Hebraic universe. The Bible was subsequently reinterpreted to fit this schematic. Dante’s magnificent poem both reflected and codified this picture of the universe, which was startling and extremely problematic to the overwhelming majority of church people when Galileo’s experiments showed otherwise.

The witch hunts, Southern slavery, and the inquisition are all seen as part of this same problem. My question is this one: Why did a good, knowledgeable, revealing God, communicate nothing to help us, especially when doing so would’ve also provided us with evidence he existed, which in turn would help us believe, which in turn would help us escape the horrors of hell for the joys of heaven?

You'll never entertain the remote possibility that your God did anything wrong will you? If you did it would be the very last thing you would entertain when all other remote and even implausible explanations have already been exhausted. In fact, you would be more likely to accept an implausible remote possibility than believe your God did anything wrong. Say this isn’t so!? In this sense it’s truer to say that “Your views are so obviously agendaridden…that it is extremely difficult to take your writings seriously.”

You apparently think that by reducing the numbers of witch killings from 9 million to 40,000 you have justified your belief in a good God. Hardly. Surely if the numbers could be reduced to 10 to 100 and the blame laid squarely in the lap of human beings who rejected God’s repeated commands not to kill or torture people who disagreed, including witches, then there would be no force to this argument at all. BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT WE FIND!

That being said, I know and admit something you don’t seem willing to do. I do not believe human beings are logical machines. We are influenced to believe what we do by our social backgrounds, peer pressure groups, dreams, aspirations and emotions. And as such there can be no complete separation from what one feels and what one thinks. There will always be a component of emotion included in our logical evaluations of these matters, and vice versa. I know people, smart people, who can logically defend something that they believe entirely for emotional reasons. How else can those of us who disagree with the Mormons or the Muslims explain what they believe any other way?

Jason Pratt said...

{{We're talking about people, and it makes me angry enough to want to go back in time and slap some people around.}}

Me too, John, when I dwell on it. In fact, I don't have to think in terms of past atrocities, or present ones in some far country (like the rogue 'evangelicals' encouraging their followers to exorcise 'demon-possessed' 'witch-children' in Africa right now.) I can think in terms of people I know and love who are hurt by Nature and by other people. I myself live in constant chronic pain that flares sometimes to the point where I pray God to just kill me and be done with it.

Nevertheless: I am a Christian, and remain one--not because of emotion, but despite my emotions. Emotions properly follow the action of believing (whether the beliefs concern religious or anti-religious or a-religious propositions), and that can be a good thing; but emotions cloud our sight, too, unless we train them where to get off. I can incoherently yell as loudly as Lewis in A Grief Observed (and for much the same reason), but he and I both know where our reasoning leads us back to in the end.

Other people's reasoning leads them different places; I'm not disrespecting that. (On the contrary, my beliefs are largely predicated on respecting the proper responsibility and credit of even opponents in their reasoning. {s}) And analytical duels can be honorably fought with hope of reaching settlement (or in the worst case with hope of iron sharpening iron). But there is no dueling in emotionalism. Only bashing.

And that isn't what I'm here for.


{{that would be enough for me to want to kill... your idiot God}}

It's been done. {s} He took responsibility, and paid for it, and showed us (in doing so) that He continually pays for it even when we cannot see Him doing so.

There is a sign that's popular among more heated secular humanists, especially when they're placarding somewhere: "If Jesus returns, kill him again." In reality, He is constantly giving His life for us; and that includes for those people you and I both want to slap around violently. (Or in my own case, thrust three feet of steel into. Slapping is inefficient. {s})

That's something necessary for me to keep in mind when I'm tempted to hate people who (as far as I can see) probably should be zorched asap. The zorching may have to be done, but those people are loved by God, too, and I had better remember that: because I myself am an enemy of God and of my fellow man. I have no advantage over a murderer or other abuser of grace. Do those people have to be fought? I might need to be fought, too, to the blood. Does God act to forgive me and show me mercy? Then I had better be prepared to do the same thing.

All of us have been shut up into stubbornness, so that God may show mercy to all. The creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but by God--Who does take responsibility for that, and pays for it--but He subjected it in hope of a day to come when we all, together, would be set free. God does pay His part of the bill, and was doing so from the beginning of the universe at all: the Word submits Himself to death so that something not-God can come into existence.

Anything after that, is likely to be messy. It could be (and has been) horribly so.

But He keeps paying for it--for the times when I do things wrong (however 'small' those may seem), and for the times when other people do things wrong (however large those may be), and for a neutral field of endeavor where we can live but which goes about its own not-God business regardless of us--He does in fact pay for all that, and He always will.

We may legitimately hope for a day when we can all put the pains of creation's childbirth behind us. But God forever willingly bears the suffering of all of us, and will continue to do so forever.


I honestly don't expect you to believe that (and I mean that as no fault of yours). But that's the hope I have for you, too; and for our pale blue dot; and for all creation.

JRP

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Jason. It's hard to argue against someone who shares his painful struggles and yet still believes.

I still think you believe against the evidence, but at least you admit that it is a struggle to believe. I wish you well.

Tim said...

John writes:

You've got me. I'm not interested in the facts, am I? No matter what you say, in my mind God is always to be blamed.

I realize you're trying to be ironic, but your candid confession that you would not now be persuaded of the truth of Christianity in the face of any evidence to the contrary does put them in a rather different light.

Unless someone is a scholar in one of these areas he or she would have to say the same thing I just did. You too don’t know enough about these things. You too are learning, just like me. And even scholars disagree on these issues, right?

Bjorn-Are can answer for himself. I suppose everyone who hasn't shut off his brain is learning throughout his lifetime. But with respect to the Galileo affair, I've put in the time to read the primary sources, write about the issue for professional publication, and teach the material at the undergraduate and graduate levels. So with respect to that one, I think "... just like me" doesn't really apply.

The common denominator in our widened discussion here is whether there is evidence that God, a good God, revealed himself to human beings in the Bible. I claim not only that there is not enough evidence to support your theistic hypothesis. I claim there is overwhelming evidence against it. Evidence which you ignore. Evidence which I take seriously and you discount as much as you can.

I've heard this altar call before, John. Having looked into the issue for myself, I think I'll slip out the back door while others come streaming forward.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim said...your candid confession that you would not now be persuaded of the truth of Christianity in the face of any evidence to the contrary

Aoes anyone really think this, one way or another? Do you think this way in reverse? I know of no one who says this. Do you actually think I alone am the exception? What makes you think that?

Tim said...with respect to the Galileo affair, I've put in the time to read the primary sources

Congratulations. I wish I could do so as well. Do you also claim that if someone, anyone, would read all of what you have read on it that they would see it exactly the way you do? I'd be very curious if you said "yes."

Maybe like BA, with the eyes of faith you too see what you want to see while reading. That's my honest judgment about him and the witch trials. Why should I not think likewise about you and the Galileo affair?

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, you make a false unstated assumption. You assume, without argument to the contray, that our disagreements concern the facts, the evidence. While they do, the big picture is what provides meaning to the facts.

I've argued for the primacy of my control beliefs here. Let me know if and when you'd like to argue for your control beliefs over mine.

Jason Pratt said...

{{I wish you well.}}

You too, John.

There's evidence, and there's evidence. I've said before that my belief in you (as well as in other people, whether or not they are my opponents or even outright enemies), is my primary evidence. And I mean that (and meant that all the times I've told you that before) in an affirmative way, in your favor, personally.

It is, of course, emotionally easier for me to keep this in mind when I think on the one here in the world whom I love the most, or on anyone else I happen to be emotionally fond of other than her. But it's more important as a matter of self-discipline for me to keep this in mind when I'm thinking of you. Much moreso when I'm thinking of people I outright hate. (I don't like you, as I've said before, but I don't hate you. {s}) Their existence, as evidence, outweighs in my most soberly rational moments, the evidence of what they do and are allowed to do.

But that's the same principle as what I recognize for myself, too. I do evil things; and God lets me do them, too. They may not seem as large as those of people I am inclined to hate for their crimes, but in principle the size makes no difference. (In that regard I actually go further than you do in your principle, which obviously I agree with: the numbers aren't the salient point. But I apply that against myself; wishing evil or disaster in any degree, wishing for the death of hope of someone, counts just the same as murdering him, whoever he is.)

I wouldn't want my most beloved (who isn't a Christian by the way, or even specifically religious), to get near most churches, for what it's worth. I'd rather she stay out among the hills where she was born. I think, and pray, and hope, she'll live happier there. {s}

And the Good Shepherd knows where she is.

I trust and hope for God's grace to you, John, as much as I do for her.

JRP

Tim said...

John,

You write:

Tim, you make a false unstated assumption. You assume, without argument to the contray, that our disagreements concern the facts, the evidence. While they do, ...

Ahh, so perhaps that "false unstated assumption" wouldn't be false after all?

While they do, the big picture is what provides meaning to the facts.

I've argued for the primacy of my control beliefs here. Let me know if and when you'd like to argue for your control beliefs over mine.


I'm not an epistemic relativist, so I don't believe in the existence of high-level contingent "control beliefs" in that sense. Some high-level beliefs are better entrenched for some people than others. And some people are unwilling, for various sociological and psychological reasons, to hold some of their beliefs open to modification. That's all.

John W. Loftus said...

I meant that you assume, without argument to the contray, that our disagreements concern the facts alone, the evidence alone.

Thanks for the chance to clarify.

Tim said...

John,

In the end, if there are no such things as "control beliefs," as I maintain, then our disagreements will come down to one of two factors: (1) differences in the evidence available to each of us, and (2) inferential errors made by one or both of us.

On the other point: I was alluding to a comment you had made in a blog conversation recently (I thought it was on DC but I'm having trouble locating it in a hasty search) to the effect that you would not, now, become a Christian regardless of the evidence, because it would be filtered though your control beliefs; it might cause you to change some other beliefs, but not that one.

If I am mistaken and you did not make a comment to this effect, then of course I withdraw my claim -- with my apologies.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, perhaps you're referring to the comments immediately after this post. I hope I explained myself.

I don't think you know what it's like to get attacked nearly every single day for something. That's what happens to me. Sometimes it makes me hard to deal with, but that's not who I want to be. It's not who I really am. All I've ever wanted was a reasonable discussion, but I rarely get it, as you will see.

Tim said...

John,

I found that comment of yours, here. It was a response to someone who asked:

Burt Pena said...
John, you say we must follow the evidence, but haven't you said elsewhere that even if you were to admit that Christianity were proved to your satisfaction that you would not follow it?

Could you explain how that is following the evidence.


You replied:

Pena, the belief system that the initial evidence supports is to be considered part of the evidence itself, and as such, it should be included when examining the whole case. If, for instance, the evidence supported accepting militant Islam, where I am called upon to kill people who don't believe, then I must make a choice between the initial evidence that led me to believe and that belief system itself. And such a belief system, even if the evidence initially supported it, renders that evidence null and void. I would have to conclude that I misjudged the initial evidence, or that I'm being misled, or something else. In other words, a rejection of such a belief system like militant Islam trumps the evidence, for I cannot conceive of believing it unless the evidence is completely overwhelming, and there is no such thing as overwhelming evidence when it comes to these issues. So I don't see a problem at all. Why do you?

I took the Islam example to be just a way for you to make your point to your interlocutor. But I am not sure how this fitst together with some things you say further along in that discussion thread. Clarification would be welcome.

John W. Loftus said...

I'm not sure what you mean Tim, but this discussion has gone way beyond the initial issue(s) we were discussing. I hope you'll pardon me if I take my leave.

C'ya round next time.

Cheers.

Tim said...

John,

Fine with me. I was just trying to figure out the scope and limits of your comments regarding control beliefs.

If you think that evidence-based evaluation of all contingent high-level beliefs is possible, we're on the same page.

If not, ... well, that's one of the reasons that I never could accept presuppositionalism in apologetics, whether of the Van Til sort or of the Gordon Clark sort.

Be well.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, are you an evidentialist? If so, we are on different pages. I think Plantinga, Wolterstorff, and even Geisler are on to something when it comes to a critique of evidentialism, and I share their critique.

But that's for another time, okay?

Are there truly such things as uninterpreted facts when it comes to human beings who are so prone to emotional, social, and psychologically related influences about issues where there is no mutually agreed upon reliable test to determine between alternative theories? I think not.

Tim said...

John,

Yes, I am a thoroughgoing evidentialist both in apologetics and in epistemology -- moreso than William Lane Craig, in fact. I would call myself a "Christian Rationalist" were it not for the fact that some goofy group has already laid claim to the name. My intellectual heroes are Chillingworth, Wilkins, Tillotson, Locke, Butler, Doddridge, Campbell, and the like.

In his Analogy of Religion, Book II, ch. v, Butler writes:

Let reason be kept to: and if any part of the Scripture account of the redemption of the world by Christ can be shown to be really contrary to it, let the Scripture, in the name of God, be given up: ...

Frame, Craig, and even Habermas cringe and back away from this statement. I stand up and cheer, realizing that Butler is here distancing himself quite deliberately from William Law. But it is important to see the quotation in its full context:

It is indeed a matter of great patience to reasonable men, to find people arguing in this manner: objecting against the credibility of such particular things revealed in Scripture, that they do not see the necessity or expediency of them. For though it is highly right, and the most pious exercise of our understanding, to inquire with due reverence into the ends and reasons of God’s dispensation: yet when those reasons are concealed, to argue from our ignorance, that such dispensations cannot be from God, is infinitely absurd. The presumption of this kind of objections seems almost lost in the folly of them. And the folly of them is yet greater, when they are urged, as usually they are, against things in Christianity analogous or like to those natural dispensations of Providence, which are matter of experience. Let reason be kept to: and if any part of the Scripture account of the redemption of the world by Christ can be shown to be really contrary to it, let the Scripture, in the name of God, be given up: but let not such poor creatures as we go on objecting against an infinite scheme, that we do not see the necessity or usefulness of all its parts, and call this reasoning; and, which still further heightens the absurdity in the present case, parts which we are not actively concerned in.

I am fully persuaded that the criticisms of epistemic evidentialism coming from the Reformed Epistemology camp are deeply, even desperately, mistaken. Among the prominent Christian philosophers in the contemporary philosophical milieu, probably Richard Swinburne comes closest to articulating the sort of apologetic position I hold.

Among the non-Christian epistemologists, I have the most in common with BonJour, Feldman, and Fumerton.

As you say, though, that's a conversation for another time.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, do you think Swinburne falls prey to Plantinga's "Principle of Diminishing Probabilities"? [Warranted Christian Belief, pp. 268-280].

Tim said...

John,

No: Plantinga has been refuted on this point and has essentially admitted that his critique was a failure. See The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford, 2003), pp. 30-31, Faith and Philosophy 4 (2004): 541-42, Phil Christi 6 (2004): 7-26 and the exchange in Phil Christi 8 (2006): 7-38.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, believe it or not I was aware of these crtiques, and saw one or two for myself, although I didn't read through them extensively. I'll have to do that. "Refuted" is a strong word. I think Plantinga's PDP can be salvaged depending on the type of cumulative case argument offered. Whether or not Swinburne's case survives that critique is the question, for the PDP itself is a solid principle. I argue in my book that it does apply to Geisler's approach and that it doesn't apply to mine. I also think despite the criticisms and Plantiga's concession that aspects of Swinburne's cumulative case does fall prey to Plantiga's initial critique. After all, just because J.L. Mackie conceded that Plantinga's rebuttal of his argument from evil worked doesn't mean that Mackie should have done so. I'm one who doesn't think he should've done so, and I'm not alone.

But I'll have to look at these closer. Maybe I'll agree with them in the end. It's a fascinating argument nonetheless.

Tim said...

John,

Have fun reading. The critique of Plantinga is stone cold: if you understand the math and the epistemic issues the math is supposed to model, there really isn't anything more to say. That doesn't prove, of course, that Swinburne's argument is strong; but it does show that Plantinga's argument does nothing to show that it isn't.

I don't keep track of Geisler's work so I have no idea whether he has opened himself to criticism regarding his formulation of his own case. Perhaps so. But I would be surprised if the principle of dwindling probabilities could be used against him. The conditions for its application are so restrictive as to make it nearly useless.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi all,
I've made comments here before and got ignored.
I attack the foundations and get ignored.
That is why I hate debating theology because once you grant the initial premise, then you are in a slippery slope of trying to trump values, and inference, and "what's more important", and this philosopher says this and this philosopher says that, all these are intangibles. It goes no where. You can say anything when there is no evidence to back it up. I love philosophy but I realize that Philosophy without evidence is just pure speculation. Even birds have to come down some time. Grounds are more important.

My refutation to you is,
On one hand christians say god exists outside space and time, and in another, we'd expect the universe to be so big if it represents god,
but who said it represents god? Did god say there is a link between him and the universe? did god say "the universe represents how big I am and how tiny you are? " I don't see any mention of any huge universe in the bible. This is a human construct. What I see in the bible is a god that could step in poop if its not buried and is afraid of a Zuggarat 500 feet high. A god that comes from scripture that is similar to the other cultural writings of the near east.

and if you want to say the universe represents god, then he's got to play by the rules he set up or we wont be able to perceive it or understand it, then its meaningless,
But if god is all powerful, there is no need for a huge universe unless the universe needs to be so big to get us here, then at that point, what do you need god for? you might as well admit that it occurred naturally because that theory matches the rest of the evidence for everything else that is governed by the laws of physics.

The first thing anyone that argues for god needs to justify is why the assumption that god exists to get him in a position to write the bible is anymore valid than the presumption that Brahma exists and inspired the vedas and the bagavadgita. Then you can talk about the rest.

Explain why there is no evidence for Adam or Eve or any mechanism for anything to have happened as it did in genesis. Explain why god concentrated on that relatively small band of people instead of the whole world. Pretty small minded for "the allmighty". Even the christian argument for freewill is trumped by biological bases for behavior.

the whole christian experience is based on the Old Testament being true, but the OT belongs to the jews and was hijacked by christians. The jews say the christians got it wrong. The jews were the experts.

making man from the earth is a shared myth in the region, the flood is a shared myth in the region, the King being blessed by god is a shared myth in the region, the fertility of blood, the king as god is shared, the death and rebirth of god is a shared myth, the battles with dragons is shared, even the stories in the bible share traits with each other showing characteristics of folklore typology. You want to say the bible is metaphorical, fine, then you have a huge problem in interpretation between yourselves and why the allmighty chose to violate the sound principle of clarity in communication.

the body of christ as a principle is not as sound as UNITED WE STAND DIVIDED WE FALL.

this argument that the universe is too big is a good one, especially when the christian has no justification better than the Hindu for assuming thier god exists.

Chris Helton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will Hawthorne said...

Lee,

Everitt was not advancing his argument against particular interpretations of Judeo-Christian scripture. He was advancing it against classical theism. You assert:

"... if god is all powerful, there is no need for a huge universe unless the universe needs to be so big to get us here..."


And your argument for this is, where?

Will

Lee Randolph said...

okay,
I'll give it a shot, but I'm just going to regurgitate this once and then let you all pick it apart if its worth the effort. Forgive me that I didn't read all the comments. I noticed they got off track in some places so I just skimmed over them looking for relevant comments.

I'll just use some 'nutshell' arguments here. you can find my assertions laid out on DC. Just find one of my article and click on "lee" at the bottom in the label and it will show you all my articles.
anyway,

first what I presume we agree on.
* We can use logic to gain knowledge about God.
* That you buy into the 'fact' that god is all powerful as in all mighty.
* That it is incumbent on us to trust god.
* That you buy into something similar to the ontological argument and the first cause argument.

Stipulating that god created the universe and everything in it,
he created it in a way where everything is interdependent on everything else. This allows us to form principles of inference about things which allow us to create defeasible notions which I'll call knowledge.

Since he knows how we think and that we can only gain knowledge according to the algorithms hardwired in our brains with which we understand principles of logic, he must relate to us using that method. In fact the creation of the bible is an exercise in logic of which it is assumed that he exists since it says that he inspired it. He must be assumed to exist in the same way he is assumed to exist by the unwarranted leap that it is 'more perfect' to exist than to be imagined. And that, without any precedent, to rely on the assumption that he was the first cause.

anyway,
God must limit himself to be understood by us. If he describes himself or allows himself to be described as good, or loving or all powerful or in any other way in the bible, he implicitly agrees to act that way. To not do so would betray our trust because it would violate the only means of reasoning at our disposal. It is incumbent on us to trust God. To act in a way that betrays that trust and punish us for our natural reaction of distrust would be unjust. And please don't straw man that argument by telling me that praying for ponies that never come is not a good reason not to trust God.

So Since logic results as by product of the creation of the universe and it is how we gain knowledge, and we know that God is perfect and all powerful, then the question of the principle of efficiency necessarily comes into view when looking at the size of the universe.

Logic works in science, medicine, engineering, law, philosophy, and I suppose in appologetics. An efficient argument is an elegant one. One with sound premises and sound links to supporting data. Efficiency is logical. I would argue that various degrees of efficiency result from any given task and can be considered a measure of the quality of any given logical process, whether it is in engineering or medicine. In terms of Elegance and Efficiency "Less is more".

Now how does this relate to the universe. Since the universe is so big, we can have at least two competing hypothesis about how it got that way.
1. Since God is assumed to exist, and the universe is 'known' to exist, then since God is perfect, it exists as it does as a result of some perfect process, and must necessarily be the way it is, even if it appears to be inefficient, it only appears that way because we don't have enough information about it. An argument from ignorance with no obviously effective mechanism to lessen the scope of ignorance.

2. Since empiricism and observation lead us to discover mechanisms for how the universe behaves, we extrapolate backwards using mathematical models and logical inference to make predictions about the behavior of the universe of which when they come true, increase the likelihood that our hypothesis accurately describes what we observe. In this model, we don't need to assume God exists because we can see that it is plausible that our method will lead us to the explanation for how the universe got the way it is. An argument from ignorance with a sound mechanism for gaining knowledge and decreasing the scope of ignorance.

Both hypotheses are valid. Both are more or less arguments from ignorance.
Hypothesis number one is fine as far as it goes.
But hypothesis number two calls into play our inborn God made process for understanding and gaining knowledge. It is leading us away from God rather than toward him. This would seem to be inefficient and deceptive. If we don't trust god because we infer that the Universe (if it is here for us) is inefficient then using sound principles that span categories of discipline we can say that what we see because it is inefficient is not consistent with what an all powerful god could potentially do.

Hypothesis number one should be considered blasphemy because it underestimates what an all powerful god can do and It is not consistent with sound principles. In fact I think that any given argument for the evidence of the existence of God underestimate Gods potential and I don't see why a real God would let them get away with it.

Number two could potentially lead to God if God exists, however, inference about natural mechanisms do not seem to depend on a God. God doesn't seem to be a dependency in the Universe as far as we can tell. God seems to be hiding. This does not nurture a belief in God in some Humans and defeats Gods stated purpose for us. It undermines many of Gods stated goals as they appear in the Bible.

Science should bring us closer to God, but for most people, it doesn't. Considering that only 30% of the world are christians, and some of those christians are not considered real christians by other christians, then that number is lower. For example, if you ask a mormon or jehovah's witness if they are christian they will say yes, but if you ask a baptist if mormons or jehovah witness are christian a good part of them will likely say no.

Thats a terrible and inefficient result. That kind of result will get you fired in real life. Just ask Hillary's manager. ;-)

so on one hand if it is more perfect for god to exist than not to exist, then it is more perfect to have a tiny efficient universe that leaves no doubt about gods existence.

In fact I would argue that it is silly to posit that a God would create us in any case. What would be the point? All things considered can be nullified by Gods properties of being all powerful. He should be fat, dumb and happy like a rock by a bubbling brook.

Scott said...

Based on our current knowledge, the universe consists of mostly inhabitable space which has taken billions of years to form. And, in the grand scheme of things, the small regions that are habitable will not remain that way for long due to it's volatile nature of birth and death.

For example, If God's build his kingdom here on earth, he'll either need to prevent the sun from consuming our planet when it becomes a red giant 5.4 billion years from now or pack up his kingdom and move it elsewhere.

Matthew 7:24 comes to mind. "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock." Except here we have a being with infinite knowledge building his kingdom on a fragile planet that will eventually fall prey to the very same universe he himself would have created.

However, we might not even have to wait that long. All life on earth could be could be destroyed by a impact with a interstellar meteor, a cosmic fender bender with a near by galaxy or blasted by x and gamma rays from a near by black hole. Why would an omniscient being would create such a massively complex universe in which so many thing can go wrong?

Instead, the Bible depicts a three story universe which provides a simpler, more hospitable environment for human beings and God's kingdom. In Genesis 1:17, God hung the sun moon and stars in the sky to give light to the earth by day and guide people at night. The sun is a light fixture, not a third generation star whose formation may have been triggered by shockwaves from one or more nearby supernovae.

As we discover how vast and complex our universe really is, the more of a liability it becomes to God's plan. As such, it appears that even God himself has underestimated the impact of his own creation.

Anonymous said...

I think the size of the universe is great proof that God exists. The universe is so vast and extensive that I wonder how it could have all just accidentaly happened. As someone posted on another comment, it's size so incomprehensible that it could only have been created by an incomprehensible God.

Anonymous said...

Jesus seemed to think humans were important:

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" Matt 6:26

Tim said...

Anon,

The question is not (pace John's insinuation, which he later admitted was hasty) whether humans are relatively more important than birds, but whether they are so important that the scale of the cosmos has to be accommodated to them, and whether, if they were, this would mean that the cosmos would be not many orders of magnitude greater than the earth.

The "three story universe" of the Hebrews is, as far as I can see, badly undersupported by hard data. But even if we were to discover better evidence of it, I'm not the sort of literalist who would think it mattered. Neither, I imagine, is Vic; but he can speak for himself.

Scott said...

The "three story universe" of the Hebrews is, as far as I can see, badly undersupported by hard data. But even if we were to discover better evidence of it, I'm not the sort of literalist who would think it mattered. Neither, I imagine, is Vic; but he can speak for himself.

I don't see how hard data or a literalist interpretation is required.

If we take the Biblical description of the universe at face value, anything beyond it's simple description is unnecessary. But in the case of our universe it's not just unnecessary, it's a significant liability.

Why would an omniscient being use such a lengthy, impermanent process when he could have simply created his kingdom in final form? Why would he build his kingdom in the middle of a vast and complex universe of shifting "sand" instead of a simple universe of "rock?"

Is this what you'd expect from a omniscient being?

Tim said...

Scott,

The three story universe isn't in the text; it's a classic case of eisegesis.

I actually don't consider myself competent to say, a priori, what an omniscient and omnipotent being would choose to do in the way of worldmaking.

Doesn't anybody read Butler these days??

Lee Randolph said...

From Wikipedia,

The Sun and Moon were thought to move in and out of the Firmament dome through a series of openings (reflecting the apparent movement of their rising and setting points throughout the year). This is explained in considerable detail in the Book of Enoch (the following is an excerpt):

This is the first commandment of the luminaries: The sun is a luminary whose egress is an opening of heaven, which is (located) in the direction of the east, and whose ingress is (another) opening of heaven, (located) in the west. I saw six openings through which the sun rises and six openings through which it sets. The moon also rises and sets through the same openings, and they are guided by the stars; together with those whom they lead, they are six in the east and six in the west heaven. All of them (are arranged) one after another in a constant order. There are many windows (both) to the right and the left of these openings. First there goes out the great light whose name is the sun; its roundness is like the roundness of the sky; and it is totally filled with light and heat. The chariot in which it ascends is (driven by) the blowing wind. The sun sets in the sky (in the west) and returns by the northeast in order to go to the east; it is guided so that it shall reach the eastern gate and shine in the face of the sky (1 Enoch 72:2-5)."


why should we care about the book of enoch?
again from wikipedia
"While this book today does not form part of the Canon of Scripture for most of the Christian Churches, it was quoted as a prophetic text in the New Testament (Letter of Jude with also a probable reference in I Peter 3:19,20 to Enoch 6-36, especially 21, 6; 2 Enoch 7:1-5) and by many of the early Church Fathers, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church regards it to be inspired Scripture."

why should we care about wikipedia? Because it is peer reviewed, has been determined by a committee that when compared to Brittanica it is at least or more reliable in some areas, even though it is subject to Hoaxes, but that is why peer review works, because the hoaxes are discovered and removed.

Tim said...

Wow, that's a whole new use of the term "peer review," Lee. S'pose the folks at the Discovery Institute might have a lot of fun with that.

As to the book of Enoch, your point is that a book that is not considered canonical by 99.9% of the Christians anywhere, throughout the centuries, contains language from a vision that, if taken literally, would mean that there are gates in the sky. Clue there, possibly? Or do you also think that the only consistent Christians are those who reach for a knob when they read "I am the door"?

Scott said...

The three story universe isn't in the text; it's a classic case of eisegesis.

Tim,

My argument doesn't depend on an explicit description of a three story universe in the text.

Based on the face value description of the "world" in Genesis, a three story universe appears to meet the requirements for God to fulfill his plan. As such, anything else appears to be unnecessary. However, I'm not saying that the universe we actually find ourselves in is simply unnecessary for God's plan. I'm saying it strongly appears to be in active opposition to God's plan.

While I think it's a fairly accurate representation of how early Christian's pictured our universe, a three story universe could be completely off base from a theological perspective. This does not change the fact that a three story universe wouldn't have light fixtures that expand 200 time their size and turn everything into molten rock. It wouldn't have black holes which can consume entire stars and solar systems. Nor would it have meteors that could wipe out all human life. It's not that we wouldn't expect these things because they are unnecessary - we wouldn't expect these things because they are clearly counter productive to God's plan to establish his kingdom in a universe he himself would have created.

I actually don't consider myself competent to say, a priori, what an omniscient and omnipotent being would choose to do in the way of worldmaking.

But you know, a priori, that an omniscient and omnipotent being exists, that he has a specific plan for your life and all of mankind and that he is not the not the Hindu God, or the Muslim God, but the God of the Bible?

You're simply avoiding the obvious questions that I'm posing here.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Tim,
Wow, that's a whole new use of the term "peer review," Lee. S'pose the folks at the Discovery Institute might have a lot of fun with that.
would mind fleshing out your 'out of hand' dismissal of why wikipedia is not a good example of peer review? I guess the key point here is what is meant by "peer", right?

As to the book of Enoch, your point is that a book that is not considered canonical by 99.9% of the Christians anywhere, throughout the centuries, contains language from a vision that, if taken literally, would mean that there are gates in the sky. Clue there, possibly? Or do you also think that the only consistent Christians are those who reach for a knob when they read "I am the door"?
Context is everything. To say that Enoch is metaphorical would be to imply that it is an analogy for something else. What is it that Enoch is comparing the analogy to? If nothing then it appears that it is not an analogy therefore not metaphorical. In the case of the other 'dreamy' prophecies in the bible, Christians seem pretty clear about what they mean, ambiguous or not. Take OT prophecies about Jesus for example. When its convenient for them to validate Jesus, there is no doubt about thier meaning, Jews be damned (so to speak ;-) ).

Congratulations you have just validated inconsistencies in scripture and not missed an inconsistency in your own reasoning.

A. wikipedia is not a valid source for information about scripture.

B. lee's conclusion rests on A.

C: Lee's conclusion is false.

Not A therfore Not C.

A. Enoch is not a valid source for intepretation of scripture

B. "Letter of Jude with also a probable reference in I Peter 3:19,20 to Enoch 6-36, especially 21, 6; 2 Enoch 7:1-5) and by many of the early Church Fathers, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church regards it to be inspired Scripture"

C: "Letter of Jude with also a probable reference in I Peter 3:19,20 to Enoch 6-36, especially 21, 6; 2 Enoch 7:1-5) and by many of the early Church Fathers, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church regards it to be inspired Scripture" are false.

Not A therefore not C.

So it seems that either scripture is justifiably dubious or there is evidence that the ancients believed incorrectly and is reflected in the bible that the earth was effectively the whole universe.

Tim said...

Scott,

So you have no textual evidence for a three story universe as being the cosmology of the ancient Hebrews, but you still think it was. And you're confident that this, in turn, underwrites an argument from the scale of the universe against the existence of God. I don't think I can help you there.

The "this is all they would have needed" argument will make complete hash out of the history of science.

You write:

But you know, a priori, that an omniscient and omnipotent being exists, that he has a specific plan for your life and all of mankind and that he is not the not the Hindu God, or the Muslim God, but the God of the Bible?

This problem the DC denizens have of jumping to conclusions and misrepresenting their dialectical opponents is apparently a communicable disease. I have never claimed, and would not claim, to know this a priori.

It would be a good idea for you not to throw around the term "a priori" until you figure out what it means and whether it applies to the views of your opponents.

Tim said...

Lee,

"Peer review" normally means "a process of subjecting an author's scholarly work, research or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field."

At least, that's the definition given in Wikipedia.

Now, the word "experts" has to mean something there. Are you claiming that every kid with a PC and DSL is an expert? Because if you're not, then your claim that Wikipedia is "peer reviewed" doesn't even meet Wikipedia's own definition of "peer review."

Nice try on changing the subject to prophecy, but the topic was the "three story universe."

As for your reasoning, you write:

A. wikipedia is not a valid source for information about scripture.

B. lee's conclusion rests on A.

C: Lee's conclusion is false.

Not A therfore Not C.


I never said that A; I said only that your calling Wikipedia "peer reviewed" was a novel use of the term.

Insofar, however, as you intend your final line to be a rebuttal to (your misrepresentation of) my line of reasoning, your reasoning is invalid: A can be false and B true without its being the case that C is false.

But back to the OP -- do you really think the scale of the universe, either in space or in time, is an argument against the existence of God? I'm curious, because I think that this has the potential to be the definitive jump-the-shark moment for DC.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim you are one of the smartest-evasive-ignorant people I've met yet. When I ask what you believe you are evasive or don't answer. When I ask you to place your beliefs into somewhat of a context for discussion you won't do it. When you criticize someone's views it's usually couched in language that can be taken two ways, and thus misinterpreted. For instance, do you accept or reject the notion that the Hebrews held to a three-tiered notion of the universe? Answer the question. I think you're completely ignorant to think they didn't, or in complete denial, even if no one can convince you that you're wrong (by way of comparison no one could convince a Muslim or Mormon scholar that they are wrong either). And do you or do you not think that the creation accounts specify that human beings are the vice-regent, or apex of God's PHYSICAL creation? If you want to discuss these issues then answer the questions. Otherwise I'm simply no longer interested.

Sheesh.

Michael Ejercito said...

Size does not matter. Using the size of the Universe as an argument to debunk theism is pretty foolish. But then what kind of arguments do you expect from John Loftus?

The Universe had to be made for us, otherwise we would not be arguing over this now. But if we mere humans can have multiple reasons for a single act, how much more for an Almighty Creator?

Tim said...

John,

I, in turn, think you're one of the rudest people I've ever had a discussion with. I suppose we'll just have to live with the fact that each of us finds something dislikeable about the other.

You ask:

For instance, do you accept or reject the notion that the Hebrews held to a three-tiered notion of the universe? Answer the question.

The phrase "answer the question" here is simply juvenile. You are not in a position of authority, either intellectually or interpersonally.

The OP here was about the argument from scale. My own views aren't pertinent, and your repeated attempts to draw me into a tarbaby discussion are simply beside the point. You made the argument, following Everitt: it's up to you to defend it. So far, the only thing you've persuaded me of is that you, personally, may once have held a position that was vulnerable to this argument. I think that says something interesting about you, but nothing of any interest about Christianity or theism.

That aside, to gratify your curiosity: your question is a false dilemma. I neither accept nor reject it; I doubt it, as the evidence that I have seen for the claim, including what you offered in your post, seems too weak to underwrite serious belief. But as nothing of significance rides on the matter, I cannot muster the enthusiasm to lay down other research projects and study it more deeply.

If you want to discuss these issues then answer the questions. Otherwise I'm simply no longer interested.

There you go again. Actually, John, I do not want to discuss these issues -- with you. But that has nothing to do with the interest of the issues. It is just that I think you're not a person with whom one can have a constructive discussion. You are unbelievably arrogant, personally abusive, hopelessly biased, and generally unwilling or unable to keep to the normal protocols of civil discussion.

That's just my assessment from our interactions here, where you've resorted to name calling, refusal to read reference provided, changing your position, denegration of my credentials, false assumptions about my views, putting words in my mouth, and petty rhetorical high-handedness of the sort you've illustrated twice in this most recent post alone.

Will Hawthorne said...

John,

You have asserted that there is no reason God would have for making the universe so vast. How did you arrive at this knowledge?


Will

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, why thank you. Why should I care what you think if I also think your beliefs are as wacko as those of David Koresh or Jim Jones? And I do.

Will, will you please explain to me whether you think your God created logic or whether he must abide by it? As I said, we're in the same boat. What's the problem?

Will, you probably assert that there is a reason God would have for making the universe so vast. How did you arrive at this knowledge?

Tim said...

John,

You write:

Why should I care what you think if I also think your beliefs are as wacko as those of David Koresh or Jim Jones? And I do.

Thanks for the compliment. I don't think much of your views either, and less of the grounds you've offered for them. But it is interesting, in an odd sort of way, to see someone seriously trying to defend the view that the universe is too big for God to have made it.

As far as I know, that's something David Koresh never tried.

Lee Randolph said...

Lee,
Okay, I'll admit that I took 'liberties' with the term peer-review. My point was that wikipedia is a community effort to provide information. Experts in their field are as free to update wikipedia as anyone else that gets an account with them. I tried to update wikipedia to add some info but the process was difficult enough to make me lose interest. so while it is true that wikipedia is not peer-reviewed in the sense that is contained and maintained in a sphere of experts, its sphere does encompass experts.

Nice try on changing the subject to prophecy, but the topic was the "three story universe."
nice try at avoiding the dilemma you put yourself in when you claim that one scripture is more valid than another even though it draws from sources you don't find valid. Invalid premises weaken arguments. And my example was not all inclusive, by saying that c could be true you included qualifiers that I didn't intend. But as a logic example from the top of my head it sucked anyway, I'll give you that.

But back to the OP -- do you really think the scale of the universe, either in space or in time, is an argument against the existence of God? I'm curious, because I think that this has the potential to be the definitive jump-the-shark moment for DC.
"jump-the-shark" eh? Okay I'll play, but do it soon because I am going offline for a while to concentrate on a project.

The argument from size is one more fact that weakens the validity of the bible. It is clear, whether you want to admit it or not, that as the ancients expanded the scope of their knowledge, their perception of god expanded. You can trace in scripture. It is a data-point that refutes some claims in the bible. Proving god exists, as you know, is probably never going to happen as long as one mind can conceive the idea. But, for reasons that i stated in my first post, until someone can show a warrant for the assumption of any god, any conclusions made about them are invalid. To say the universe exists or creation is a warrant is begging the question.

But it is interesting, in an odd sort of way, to see someone seriously trying to defend the view that the universe is too big for God to have made it.
after this comment to john it is clear to me you are just trying to win an argument at the cost of principles. No one is arguing that that the universe is too big for god to have made it. The argument as I understand it is that the size of the universe is not consistent with how it is described in scripture. God not using the principle of clarity, No QA in the bible. To say that a god can do anything is not in question. But to say that god wants to communicate with us and does not exercise the principle of clarity is ridiculous. Refer back to the dilemma you put yourself in with references in scripture to the book of enoch.

This is my last post. Its been fun. See ya 'round.

Will Hawthorne said...

(Readers will notice that this is the third attempt to get John to support the assumption in his argument.)

John

You have asserted that there is no reason God would have for making the universe so vast. How did you arrive at this knowledge?

-Will

John W. Loftus said...

Will, you assert there is a reason for God having made the universe so vast. How did you arrive at this knowledge?

[Readers will notice that this is the third attempt to get Will to support the assumption in his rebuttal.]

Sheesh. Haven't I already made myself clear such that we shouldn't have to repeat ourselves?

What specifically do you want from me? Am I missing something? If so, tell me and I'll answer. Otherwise, what I have written is an answer.

Tell me this, must God follow the dictates of logic, or can he create any logic he wants to do?

You are attempting to make a different argument here, and that's for another time, or must you continually bring it up no matter what I write?

From now on just say *ditto* after everything I write, and I'll do likewise, okay?

*ditto*

Actually, I plan on dealing with your argument to put it to rest once and for all if I can. We'll see.

Will Hawthorne said...

Will, will you please explain to me whether you think your God created logic or whether he must abide by it?

I don't know.

How is this relevant to the truth or falsity of any of the premises in the argument you've tried to defend?

As I said, we're in the same boat. What's the problem?

Unclear.

Will, you probably assert that there is a reason God would have for making the universe so vast.

No. Unlike Everitt, I don't pretend to know what an omniscient and infinitely creative being, if it were to exist, should have done with the exact size of the universe. For all I know, the being would have created a multiverse. It'd be safe to describe myself as an agnostic about this.

But you seem to have the truth of the matter in your back pocket. I'm still waiting for you to support your claim.

John W. Loftus said...

Will said...I don't pretend to know what an omniscient and infinitely creative being, if it were to exist, should have done with the exact size of the universe.

What other things do you not pretend to know about what an omniscient God would of wouldn't do?

Are you agnostic about this God?

Besides, Everitt's argument is about what one might expect prior to knowing about the universe. you live in the 21st century so you would expect something different given your Bayesian background knowledge. But you are not being honest with the facts.

Next you'll deny that you would've supported the Inquisition or witch burnings or the Crusades or slavery in the South if you lived in the south. Sheesh.

The odds are against you, and that's what the argument seeks to establish. The interesting thing is that all you have to do to deny the force of the argument is to simply affirm you wouldn't expect this. But you're in denial once again. That's what it takes to be a Christian...to be in denial of so many things, just like the Mormons and muslims do.

None of the theists in this argument have been honest with what they would've expected, what the Bible says and how this is relevant to a God who should communicate his intentions better to human beings.

But that's par for the course. If theologians were politicians and gerrymandered the districts, then they would never lose an election.

Tim said...

Lee,

You use the word "valid" in a lot of different ways. I don't think that term means what you think it means.

You write:

The argument as I understand it is that the size of the universe is not consistent with how it is described in scripture.

Everitt's argument is that the scale of the universe, both in space and in time, is less strongly to be expected if theism is true than if theism is false. Full stop. He brings in quotations from Genesis only because he thinks that the account there, as he (mis)interprets it, is "among the more likely scenarios" if there is a God at all. (p. 215) They are purely illustrative.

I do think that this aspect of Everitt's argument has been obscured in some of the discussion heretofore. Since I don't think the argument works against Christianity or Judaism either, it doesn't much matter to me how you want to cast it -- but it would be better to keep the versions distinct.

My view is that the only way to create a problem with the Genesis description is to read Gen 1 in an aggressively YEC way. I agree that that view faces grave problems from cosmology and geology. But that particular sort of interpretation was on its way out among otherwise unimpeachably orthodox Christians long before the science of the 19th and 20th centuries gave us a better appreciation of the scale of the universe in space and time.

I realize that it may have been the interpretation you favored when you were a Christian. To that extent, perhaps your position was vulnerable to this sort of argument. But that's really a YEC issue, not an issue for Christianity per se.

Will Hawthorne said...

Readers will notice that, once again, John completely dodged the question, and instead tried to play the roll of an armchair psychoanalyst.

John. Please address the question in your next reply. You asserted that there is no reason God would have for creating the universe this way. How did you arrive at this knowledge?

Eric D said...

I didn't notice if anyone else has mentioned this, but the best wording of the argument I've seen comes from Richard Carrier, and can be found here. The argument as I see it comes down to plausibility. If there were no deity, we would expect the universe to be massive, extremely old, that life would have evolved from simpler life, that we wouldn't see many occurrences of life in the universe, etc. If there were a deity and he loved us as a parent loves their child, then there's no reason we would expect a universe like this one. You can invent ad hoc reasons why a deity might create a universe like this one, but unless you present evidence that indicates that those reasons are plausible, the atheistic hypothesis is more plausible.

The "money quote" from Carrier:
"After all, what need does an intelligent engineer have of billions of years and trillions of galaxies filled with billions of stars each? That tremendous waste is only needed if life had to arise by natural accident. It would have no plausible purpose in the Christian God's plan. You cannot predict from "the Christian God created the world" that "the world" would be trillions of galaxies large and billions of years old before it finally stumbled on one rare occasion of life. But we can predict exactly that from "no God created this world." Therefore, the facts confirm atheism rather than theism. Obviously, a Christian can invent all manner of additional "ad hoc" theories to explain "why" his God would go to all the trouble of designing the universe to look exactly like we would expect it to look if God did not exist. But these "ad hoc" excuses are themselves pure concoctions of the imagination--until the Christian can prove these additional theories are true, from independent evidence, there is no reason to believe them, and hence no reason to believe the Christian theory."

Tim said...

Eric D,

Thanks for that link. Yup, it looks like Carrier has also signed on to this argument -- there's even a reference to Everitt's book in one of his footnotes.

So here's the big question.

Carrier writes:

After all, what need does an intelligent engineer have of billions of years and trillions of galaxies filled with billions of stars each? That tremendous waste is only needed if life had to arise by natural accident. It would have no plausible purpose in the Christian God's plan.

That's the assertion, freighted with some loaded language about "waste," but recognizable nonetheless. Where is the argument to back it up?

It isn't here:

You cannot predict from "the Christian God created the world" that "the world" would be trillions of galaxies large and billions of years old before it finally stumbled on one rare occasion of life.

Aside from the tendentious use of "stumbled," it wouldn't follow from the fact that one could not predict this sort of universe from the existence of the Christian God that one could predict against this sort of universe.

And the second premise -- also required for the argument to go through -- is similarly asserted without being defended:

But we can predict exactly that from "no God created this world."

Suggestion for those who want to persuade Christians and other theists that this argument has a prayer: Take out a pencil and a blank sheet of paper and, with "No God created this world" as your only premise, derive this prediction. Show your work. Remember that since you are deriving an a priori probability, you are not allowed to make any use of information regarding this actual world, its size, its scale, or its contents.

Michael Ejercito said...

After all, what need does an intelligent engineer have of billions of years and trillions of galaxies filled with billions of stars each?
This assumes that the onl;y purpose of the universe was to create life.
You cannot predict from "the Christian God created the world" that "the world" would be trillions of galaxies large and billions of years old before it finally stumbled on one rare occasion of life.
You can not predict anything from "the Christian God created the world".

Why is it that the Roman Catholic Church, considered by some to be the one true church, never made an issue of why God created other planets? After all, one can not predict from "the Christian God created the world" that there would be other planets. None of them ever thought that the existence of other planets was a problem. Nor did they consider it a problem that the solar system is so large that Earth could be considered a mathematical point for all practical purposes.

And centuries before, Muslim astronomers studied the solar system. Why didn't the existence of other planets so far away cause them to doubt the existence of Almighty Allah?

Scott said...

So you have no textual evidence for a three story universe as being the cosmology of the ancient Hebrews, but you still think it was.

Again, whether it actually was the cosmology of the ancient Hebrews is irrelevant. and not requirement for my argument. I'm not sure why you're having difficulty with this point. In the case of our universe vs. God's plan as laid out in the Bible, less is more. I'm simply using the proposed Hebrew universe as a model of 'less' that meets the story of Genesis at face value.

I have never claimed, and would not claim, to know this a priori.

A priori:

Relating to or denoting reasoning or knowledge that proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience : a priori assumptions about human nature.

Are you suggesting that you've had an "experience" that explicitly pointed to the Christian God? How exactly did he single himself out from the Hindu God, the Jewish God and the Muslim God? Or did you come to this conclusion thru reasoning and deduction? And does God's plan for the human race not depend on which God you choose?

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Tim!

This will require some thinking on your part, so get your thinking cap on...

Tim said...

Scott,

You brought up the three story universe in your post marked 9:01:

Instead, the Bible depicts a three story universe which provides a simpler, more hospitable environment for human beings and God's kingdom. In Genesis 1:17, God hung the sun moon and stars in the sky to give light to the earth by day and guide people at night.

If you want to back off from this, fine, but that was your original line of argument, which is what drew my response on the topic of the three story universe.

In your post marked 11:13, you write:

Based on the face value description of the "world" in Genesis, a three story universe appears to meet the requirements for God to fulfill his plan. As such, anything else appears to be unnecessary.

How the heck would we know all of God's purposes and be able to tell all that He saw fit to use to achieve them? It isn't often that I find myself in thoroughgoing agreement with Robert Farrar Capon, but some paragraphs from The Third Peacock do come to mind here.

You write:

Are you suggesting that you've had an "experience" that explicitly pointed to the Christian God? How exactly did he single himself out from the Hindu God, the Jewish God and the Muslim God? Or did you come to this conclusion thru reasoning and deduction? And does God's plan for the human race not depend on which God you choose?

I am persuaded, after a considerable amount of study of the works of scholars on both sides of the issue across several centuries, that the public historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is quite strong. So my reasoning proceeds a posteriori, not a priori.

Tim said...

[Cross-posted from DC]

John,

Sigh ... and here I thought for a fleeting moment that you might actually have said something interesting. Bait and switch, man!

(1) Everitt’s argument from scale is an argument against generic theism, not an argument against Christianity. He brings in the Genesis story only for illustration. So whatever you’re doing now, it isn’t defending Everitt’s argument.

(2) Another version of the argument from scale would be to say that, from some specific information contained in special revelation, we have some reason to believe that the Judeo-Christian God does not exist. This is not an argument from what a god would do, but from what the Judeo-Christian God is supposed actually to have done. Scale here comes in two forms: size and age.

(2a) The probability of YE/YUC (young earth/young universe creationism), given our present scientific background knowledge, is essentially zero. (I suspect we agree here.) Therefore, the only viable forms of Christianity are non-YE/YUC. The argument against Christianity from the age of the universe, as an argument, gains no traction from the fact that large numbers of people are enamored of the YE/YUC position.

(2b) Even the YE/YUC position isn't vulnerable to the argument from the size of the universe. And that is what you pressed first in your original post, including the lovely picture of distant galaxies.

(2c) For you to claim now that this is what you meant all along is a pretty sorry retreat. Does this mean that you, too, have given up trying to defend what Everitt actually said and are simply going to fall back on the fact that YE/YUC is scientifically insupportable? If so, maybe this post should be retitled. I would suggest something along these lines:

“John Loftus admits that Everitt’s argument was lousy: quickly changes the subject.”

Over on DI a few hours ago I pointed out that Everitt's argument, to be cogent, requires a defense of another premise as well. Since you may not have read it, here you go:

Suggestion for those who want to persuade Christians and other theists that this argument has a prayer: Take out a pencil and a blank sheet of paper and, with "No God created this world" as your only premise, derive this prediction [that "the world" would be trillions of galaxies large and billions of years old before it finally stumbled on one rare occasion of life]. Show your work. Remember that since you are deriving an a priori probability, you are not allowed to make any use of information regarding this actual world, its size, its scale, or its contents.

If you are still trying to defend Everitt's argument, you may want to give it a try.

Scott said...

Scott: Instead, the Bible depicts a three story universe which provides a simpler, more hospitable environment for human beings and God's kingdom. In Genesis 1:17, God hung the sun moon and stars in the sky to give light to the earth by day and guide people at night.

Tim: If you want to back off from this, fine, but that was your original line of argument, which is what drew my response on the topic of the three story universe.

Are you suggesting that the the Bible did not depict God setting the moon and the stars in the firmament of heaven? Was there not a star that shined down on the very birth place of Jesus, guiding the wise men directly to his manger? Yet the nearest star in our galaxy is 4.2 light years away. How is this possible? Even if we ignore the problem of illuminating a specific location from this distance, light from the closest star would take 4.2 years to arrive on earth. This means that God would have need to start the star shining on that very location, at the very least, 4.2 years ahead of the exact time of his birth. In a three story universe, stars are close enough to illuminate specific locations and their light doesn't take years to reach the earth.

Nor did I claim that the Bible painstakingly documented a three story universe. I'm referring to what the Bible left out of the picture, such as the impact of several massive asteroids which would have had devastating consequences to life on earth and likely blocked out the sun for several years. In the Bible, there are no solar systems, black holes and the sun is simply described as a way to divide the light from the darkness. Instead, God describes the sun, which we have significant evidence to suggest will eventually destroy his kingdom, as "good."

How the heck would we know all of God's purposes and be able to tell all that He saw fit to use to achieve them? It isn't often that I find myself in thoroughgoing agreement with Robert Farrar Capon, but some paragraphs from The Third Peacock do come to mind here.

Again, I'm not just suggesting our universe is merely unnecessary or somehow evil. I'm saying our universe, and the very laws of physics that cause it's continual process of birth and death, appear to be counter productive to God's purpose. There is no cosmic happy ending for our planet.

Our sun is a star like any other in the universe. Stars of the size of our sun will become a Red Giant before eventually cooling to become a White Dwarf or they will be destroyed by some other violent cosmic incident. Unless God explicitly takes action to prevent his from happening, our planet will either be destroyed or displaced from it's orbit after becoming completely inhabitable. Yet the Bible says the earth was set onto it's foundations and will not be moved. If the sun is just a light fixture hung in the sky, it is incapable of causing this outcome. How can every human being see the return of Jesus if they have all been wiped out by a cosmic disaster. How can Jesus sit on a throne in Jerusalem and rule the nations of the world if the earth has been vaporized or is a molten ball of rock?

I am persuaded, after a considerable amount of study of the works of scholars on both sides of the issue across several centuries, that the public historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is quite strong. So my reasoning proceeds a posteriori, not a priori.

Of what importance is the virgin birth of Jesus in God's plan and your salvation?

Tim said...

Scott,

You write:

Are you suggesting that the the Bible did not depict God setting the moon and the stars in the firmament of heaven?

That depends on what you mean by "setting."

Was there not a star that shined down on the very birth place of Jesus, guiding the wise men directly to his manger?

Not according to the Gospels -- and if you’re able to make this error, you might want to brush up on those. Matthew 2 and Luke 2 are the passages you’re looking for.

But even assuming your muddle here were correct, I still don’t see your problem. You point out:

This means that God would have need to start the star shining on that very location, at the very least, 4.2 years ahead of the exact time of his birth.

What’s your point? Are you suggesting that this is just too hard for an omnipotent and omniscient being who created the whole universe in the first place?

I'm referring to what the Bible left out of the picture . . .

Arguments from silence are almost always weak.

such as the impact of several massive asteroids which would have had devastating consequences to life on earth and likely blocked out the sun for several years.

If the Bible purported to be a comprehensive meteorological and cosmological catalogue, your argument would have some point. But it doesn’t.

In the Bible, there are no solar systems, black holes ...

This phrase is ambiguous. If all you mean is that these things aren’t mentioned, then I’ll give you black holes. No model of the solar system is proposed, though the Morning Star is mentioned. On the other hand, if you mean that the Bible commits one to denying the existence of these things, you’re going to have to cite chapter and verse.

... and the sun is simply described as a way to divide the light from the darkness. Instead, God describes the sun, which we have significant evidence to suggest will eventually destroy his kingdom, as "good."

Yet here we are, enjoying the daily benefits of the sun. I agree that in the ordinary course of events the sun, left to itself, will go nova. What’s your point? Are you suggesting that an omnipotent being who has created stars and galaxies is unable to think far enough ahead to see that the sun, left to itself, will go nova? Or that if he can see that far ahead, he is too wimpy to do anything about it?

Again, I'm not just suggesting our universe is merely unnecessary or somehow evil. I'm saying our universe, and the very laws of physics that cause it's continual process of birth and death, appear to be counter productive to God's purpose. There is no cosmic happy ending for our planet.

Kind of depends on whether God exists or not. If you assume he doesn’t, then yes, it’s crispy critter time when the sun goes nova, unless we’re out among the other stars by that time. If God exists, on the other hand, then this doesn't follow at all.

But you seem to be using the "no cosmic happy ending" line as a premise in an argument against the existence of God. Since you need the non-existence of God in order to provide a rationale for the premise, you cannot rely on that premise as part of a case against the existence of God without circularity.

Yet the Bible says the earth was set onto it's foundations and will not be moved. . . .

You should read Kepler’s introduction to his Astronomia Nova and see what he has to say about this sort of scripture interpretation.

How can every human being see the return of Jesus if they have all been wiped out by a cosmic disaster. How can Jesus sit on a throne in Jerusalem and rule the nations of the world if the earth has been vaporized or is a molten ball of rock?

Apart from the fact that you seem to be limiting an omnipotent being’s resources to swinging the earth out of orbit, I think you have made some remarkable assumptions about the timeline for these sorts of events. Are you suggesting that you have some sort of key to eschatology that puts another 5 billion years between our present age and the return of Christ? That would be really ... um ... curious.

Of what importance is the virgin birth of Jesus in God's plan and your salvation?

Considerable. But if your suggestion is that this is an internal problem for Christianity, then once again you need to be reminded that it isn’t exactly a difficult thing for the maker of all things, life included, to pull off. To insist that it is and then try to wield that claim in an argument against Christianity is just begging the question.

Scott said...

Matthew 2:9-11 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.

I fail to see how a star, which is at least 24,690,226,567,371.162 miles away from the earth, can "go ahead" of the Magi so that they loose sight of it, only for them to visually acquire it again 5-6 miles later above the very specific home where Mary and her child is located.

Between a light fixture hung in the sky and a massive ball of hydrogen light years away, the simpler interpretation was far better suited for the role it was given.

What’s your point? Are you suggesting that this is just too hard for an omnipotent and omniscient being who created the whole universe in the first place?

I'm not debating possibility.

If you want to back off from this, fine. But the original argument here is what we would expect, not what would be "too hard" for an omnipotent being. This could include a vast universe filled with billions of hydrogen bombs and death ray machines which fire in random directions but are deflected by God if they get to close to the earth. Possible? Yes. What you'd expect? No.

Arguments from silence are almost always weak.

Do you have a point here or ?

If the Bible purported to be a comprehensive meteorological and cosmological catalogue, your argument would have some point. But it doesn’t.

You're misrepresenting my argument. Again.

If there was no vast universe that manufactures other galaxies, meteors and black holes in the first place, they're would be no risk of them wiping out all life on our planet. Nor do we need to believe in the existence of galaxies, meteors or black holes to be saved. As such, they strongly appear to be a unnecessary liability. A three story universe would have no such problems.

Kind of depends on whether God exists or not. If you assume he doesn’t, then yes, it’s crispy critter time when the sun goes nova, unless we’re out among the other stars by that time. If God exists, on the other hand, then this doesn't follow at all.

Again, you're referring to possibilities, not what we'd expect. And if we're out among the stars, then Jesus will return to earth and find his kingdom is empty.

On the other hand, if you mean that the Bible commits one to denying the existence of these things, you’re going to have to cite chapter and verse.

Never claimed this, nor is it necessary for my argument.

Yet here we are, enjoying the daily benefits of the sun.

Do you include skin cancer as one of these benefits?

I agree that in the ordinary course of events the sun, left to itself, will go nova. What’s your point? Are you suggesting that an omnipotent being who has created stars and galaxies is unable to think far enough ahead to see that the sun, left to itself, will go nova? Or that if he can see that far ahead, he is too wimpy to do anything about it?

God's abilities are not in question here. In fact, I'm counting on them as part of my argument. Why would God, having such knowledge and ability create the equivalent of a dooms day device which he'd eventually have to defuse to prevent his plan from being derailed. Is this really what we'd expect?

You should read Kepler’s introduction to his Astronomia Nova and see what he has to say about this sort of scripture interpretation.

If our sun survives long enough become a Red Giant, it will expand to 200 times it's size, which is roughly the orbit of Mars. This will either cause the earth to be pulled into the sun, vaporizing it, or the sun's reduced gravitational pull will cause the earth's orbit to expand further out into our solar system. This verse seems to keep retreating further and further back in the face of scientific discovery.

Are you suggesting that you have some sort of key to eschatology that puts another 5 billion years between our present age and the return of Christ? That would be really ... um ... curious.

Um..last time I checked, eternity is significantly longer than 5 billion years. If our sun becomes a white dwarf, he'll eventually have to create another way to light and heat the his kingdom. Again. That is, unless his kingdom isn't supposed to be here on earth after all. And then there's the possibility that the entire universe will eventually become inhabitable due to the Big Rip, the Big Crunch or heat death. By creating our universe with it's specific set of fixed laws, It appears that God has painted himself into a corner, from which he'll have to use his omnipotent power to resolve.

Would you expect God to create another temporarily solution that only lasts another 10 billion years after Jesus returns? Perhaps God enjoys spending his spare time keeping the universe from destroying his kingdom like we humans enjoy working in the backyard? Everyone needs a hobby, right?

Considerable.

If you assume that God is omnipotent, then anything is possible. However a virgin birth, is much more difficult to prove from a historical perspective.

For example, while there were supposedly dozens of people who claim to have witnessed Jesus after his death in the Bible, there are no references to any witnesses when the angel told Mary she will be with child. Nor would it be difficult for people to accept a the time because no one really understood how conception happened in the first place. And the idea of a virgin birth wasn't exactly unique to Christianity, either.

Since God has reportedly worked miracles thru other figures in the Bible, and Jesus wasn't the only one witnessed after being raised from the dead, what basis did you decide that he really was the son of God and that his death and resurrection really did pay for the sins of all mankind?

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, I believe my argument just got better.

Tim said...

John,

To borrow a line from the original Star Wars movie, that doesn't sound too hard. I'll look at it later if I have time. But don't get your hopes up.

Tim said...

Scott,

Matthew 2:9-11 After they had heard the king, they went on their way ...

Did you get the bit from Matthew 2:1-8 about their having to stop in Jerusalem for directions? Because what you actually said was

...guiding the wise men directly to his manger

Additionally, there is no mention of the manger in Matthew 2: the setting is later, as Joseph and Mary are in a house by that time and not in a cave behind an inn.

I fail to see how a star, which is at least 24,690,226,567,371.162 miles away from the earth, ...

Note on ancient astronomical terms: the term used for “star” was also often used for other heavenly objects including what we would now call planets -- basically, a celestial light source. Possibilities for the star of Bethlehem include a nova (see the famous Arthur C. Clarke story “The Star”), a planet or conjunction of planets, and a comet.

... can "go ahead" of the Magi so that they loose sight of it, only for them to visually acquire it again 5-6 miles later above the very specific home where Mary and her child is located.

Then you obviously need to read Owl at Home. Pay special attention to the story “Owl and the Moon.”

As for losing sight of celestial objects, either you haven’t done much backyard astronomy or you’re blessed with a consistently clear sky that I can only envy.

I'm not debating possibility.

If you want to back off from this, fine. But the original argument here is what we would expect, not what would be "too hard" for an omnipotent being. This could include a vast universe filled with billions of hydrogen bombs and death ray machines which fire in random directions but are deflected by God if they get to close to the earth. Possible? Yes. What you'd expect? No.


I don’t think that, from the sole supposition that there is an omnipotent, omniscient creator, we’re in a position to infer much of anything about what was or wasn’t to be expected. Time to recur to experience instead of arguing a priori.

Do you have a point here or ?

Looked to me like you were making the argument that since black holes exist and the Bible doesn’t mention them, the claims that are made in the Bible are false. If not, we can move on.

If there was no vast universe that manufactures other galaxies, meteors and black holes in the first place, they're would be no risk of them wiping out all life on our planet. Nor do we need to believe in the existence of galaxies, meteors or black holes to be saved. As such, they strongly appear to be a unnecessary liability.

I have absolutely no idea why you think this. The “risk of getting wiped out” bit is a non-issue, and the liability part seems to me to be entirely your invention. Are galaxies, meteors, and black holes giving you some kind of grief that they’re not giving me? Or does the thought of them keep you awake in panic at night?

... if we're out among the stars, then Jesus will return to earth and find his kingdom is empty.

I’m assuming you didn’t notice that this was the description under the supposition that God does not exist.

Do you include skin cancer as one of these benefits?

Nope. But it doesn’t seem to me that the existence of skin cancer renders it wrong to say that it’s good to have the sun. If we didn’t, all else being equal, you and I wouldn’t be here to be having this conversation.

Why would God, having such knowledge and ability create the equivalent of a dooms day device which he'd eventually have to defuse to prevent his plan from being derailed. Is this really what we'd expect?

I really don’t see any ground for having any expectations in advance. Let’s wait and find out.

This verse seems to keep retreating further and further back in the face of scientific discovery.

I just don’t see an argument here. Does it sound like the author of Psalm 104 is trying to write a treatise on astronomy?

... eternity is significantly longer than 5 billion years.

... and according to Revelation the elements will melt with a fervent heat, and God will create a new heaven and a new earth. Damn -- looks like John was ahead of you there.

However a virgin birth, is much more difficult to prove from a historical perspective.

I agree. Without the massive historical evidence for the resurrection, we would not have good reason to believe it.

Since God has reportedly worked miracles thru other figures in the Bible, and Jesus wasn't the only one witnessed after being raised from the dead, what basis did you decide that he really was the son of God and that his death and resurrection really did pay for the sins of all mankind?

There is a whole library of works written to explain the answer to this question. For starters, I suggest N. T. Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God.

Solon said...

>>the best wording of the argument I've seen comes from Richard Carrier, and can be found here.

The claims made by Richard in his article you link to are obviously absurd.

A little animal on one little rock in space for a brief moment of time apparently has complete knowledge of all possible forms of the universe and how absolutely everything must comply with it's particular species schema for power called "reason." It's amazing, really:

"if there is no God then this universe is the only kind of universe we would ever find ourselves in, the only kind that could ever produce intelligent life without any supernatural cause or plan."

or

"There is no good reason God would need any of these things to create and sustain life."

or

"evolution requires billions of years to get from the first accidental life to organisms as complex as us"

and, especially,

"Therefore, the facts confirm atheism rather than theism."

It's quite stunning what the human animal can come up with after drugged with a little bit of self-importance.

In general, I don't know why anyone wastes his time trying to prove god does not exist, least of all a philosopher.

Bjørn Are said...

Tim, your link to Wright's book doesn't work.

Nice reply, anyhow;-)

Tim said...

Scott,

My slip: the bit about the elements melting with a fervent heat is actually from an apocalyptic passage in 2 Peter. But you get the point.

Bjørn Are,

Oops! The smart quotes didn't port well from Word. Try this link.

Scott said...

Did you get the bit from Matthew 2:1-8 about their having to stop in Jerusalem for directions?

Which is why they only had to travel 5-6 miles to reach their destination. Yet the star still "went ahead of them" in this short distance.

Because what you actually said was ...guiding the wise men directly to his manger

I stand corrected. Guess I've seen one too many Christmas cards and nativity scenes that depict this very scene.

Comets do not stop moving and the closest any planet has come to earth in nearly 60,000 years was Mars at 34,646,418 miles on August 27, 2003.

Then you obviously need to read Owl at Home. Pay special attention to the story “Owl and the Moon.”

So you're comparing Matthew with a children's story? Or have we retreated to a metaphorical interoperation as how the moon "followed" the Owl home and made him feel better?

As for losing sight of celestial objects, either you haven’t done much backyard astronomy or you’re blessed with a consistently clear sky that I can only envy.

I'm not sure how you're connecting the phrase "[the star] went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was" with with an atmospheric obstruction. That is unless the star itself was actually in the atmosphere and was blown out of sight.

I don’t think that, from the sole supposition that the re is an omnipotent, omniscient creator, we’re in a position to infer much of anything about what was or wasn’t to be expected. Time to recur to experience instead of arguing a priori.

Is being omnipotent and omniscient the only characteristics you associate with God. Are they the only characteristics depicted in the Bible?

Again, would you expect a universe full of hydrogen bombs and death ray machines of God own creation that he would have to deflect?

I have absolutely no idea why you think this. The “risk of getting wiped out” bit is a non-issue, and the liability part seems to me to be entirely your invention.

So then why exactly did congress ask NASA to come up with a plan to track killer asteroids and comets in 2005? Unfortunately, the cost to track 90 percent of the 20,000 potentially hazardous objects in the cosmos would cost about $1 billion dollars.

And it's not just a matter of if it will happen. Statistics have show the earth has been hit by a .5 - 1km astroid on an average of once every 1,000 years. Larger astroids in the 2 -5km range every 1-2 million years. A 250km astroid struck Yucatan Mexico 65 million years ago and shrouded the earth in darkness for years.

Are galaxies, meteors, and black holes giving you some kind of grief that they’re not giving me? Or does the thought of them keep you awake in panic at night?

Groups of scientists have begun work on a way to deflect asteroids so we're prepared when it does occur - even if it it's not in our lifetime. This is compared to groups of Christians who are more concerned about what going on right now in the bedrooms of consenting adults.

Nope. But it doesn’t seem to me that the existence of skin cancer renders it wrong to say that it’s good to have the sun. If we didn’t, all else being equal, you and I wouldn’t be here to be having this conversation.

So you're saying that an omnipotent, omniscient being couldn't find a way to heat and light his creation without causing skin cancer? Do you really believe this?

Scott: Why would God, having such knowledge and ability create the equivalent of a dooms day device which he'd eventually have to defuse to prevent his plan from being derailed. Is this really what we'd expect?

Tim: I really don’t see any ground for having any expectations in advance. Let’s wait and find out.

The questions is: are you really looking or putting your head in the sand?

... and according to Revelation the elements will melt with a fervent heat, and God will create a new heaven and a new earth. Damn -- looks like John was ahead of you there.

To expand your quote....

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.[a]

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.


What does the way they earth will be destroyed have to do with what kind of person you should be?

Seems pretty clear this is a metaphor for the uncovering and revealing of man's soul and the purity of God's kingdom. Those who live Godly lives will have nothing to hide when they are "laid bare" on the day of the Lord.

I agree. Without the massive historical evidence for the resurrection, we would not have good reason to believe it.

Again, I don't see the connection between what you perceive as historical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus and historical evidence of his virgin birth. Perhaps you can enlighten me?

John W. Loftus said...

I emailed Biblical scholar Hector Avalos about the translation of Elohim and this whole discussion.

Here is his response:

The translation of 'elohim’ as "god(s)" in Psalm 8:5 (English; verse numbers may differ in some translations) is not controversial anymore, and is accepted in the following translations:

NRSV: "lower than God."
REV: "less than a god"
NAB: "less than a god"
NJB: "less than a god."

To be more literally accurate, "less than the gods" would be better because Elohim is plural.

This is also the opinion of Mitchell Dahood, the Catholic biblical scholar, in his commentary on the Psalms I:-1-50 (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1965), p. 51. He translates ("Yet you have made him a little less than the gods.") on p. 48.

Another useful text to use in the arguments about the purpose of our cosmos is Isaiah 45:18, where it seems the author is saying the purpose of creation is an inhabited
earth.

John W. Loftus said...

Here's my final defense of this argument . I know with more study it could be bettered, but I seriously doubt anything of significance would be changed.

Thanks to everyone who helped me think through it. Like I said at the start, I like seeing what I can do in defending an argument, and here is the result.

Cheers.

Scott said...

A more recent simulation strongly indicates the earth's orbit will collapse when it encounters atmospheric gases around our sun when it becomes a red giant.

However, scientists estimate life on earth will already have disappeared a billion years from due to the heat produced as the sun expands.

If we manage to survive this simulations indicate, our galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy in 3 billion years from now.

So it appears that God has created at least two cosmic doomsday devices he'll need to defuse to prevent his kingdom from being destroyed. And these are just the two that we know of.

Is this what you'd expect from an omnipotent, omniscient being?

Nor do I see how the universe could have "fallen" along with the earth and the animals when human sinned as the very processes and physical laws that makes our universe so dangerous are what created the earth and our sun. The universe would have had to have "fallen" long before we even existed as estimated our sun is a third generation (population I) star that was born from the remains of two earlier stars that died billions of years earlier.

Michael Ejercito said...


So it appears that God has created at least two cosmic doomsday devices he'll need to defuse to prevent his kingdom from being destroyed. And these are just the two that we know of.

God can easily relocate His kingdom.

Scott said...

God can easily relocate His kingdom.

If God exists and is omnipotent, then this wold be an effortless task. I'm not debating this. However, what is possible and what is plausible are two different things. God could have created the universe 2 minutes ago, given us false memories and make the planet appear to be billions of years old. it's possible, but is is plausible?

If you think the universes reveals aspects of God's character, then what does God's creation of at least two dooms day devices he'll either need to disarm or cause the relocation of his kingdom to a different planet, say about God?

Personally, I think it reflects poorly on God's character.

If God is omniscient, he'd know we'd uncover these issues and could have done things differently because he is omnipotent. Claiming the universe fell because of man does not add up since the properties of our current universe were required to create our sun, which eventually created the earth. We didn't even exist then.

The more we learn about the universe, the less it appears to be the creation of a perfect being.

Sean OLeary said...

The entire universe is connected. Life on earth is influenced by and may even depend on cosmic radiation from as far away as the Crab Nebula and even beyond that. There would be no universe without humanity, and vice-versa. All things are connected. There would be no planet in the universe and no universe at all without humanity. Similarly, of course, there would be no humanity without the universe though human souls could exist without the universe, and of course God would exist too.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

FYI: I've written a series of blog posts regarding the argument from scale; an index of those posts is available.

Syllabus said...

Everyone knows that it's not the size, it's how it's used. :)

B. Prokop said...

145 comments are a lot to read through, but I noted this gem right near the top. Loftus writes:

Still the question to be answered is why it rocked the church to the ground when it was discovered that the earth was not the center of the known universe. “To be a Copernican was tantamount to atheism.”

Is Loftus not aware that Copernicus was a Catholic bishop?

C.S. Lewis demolished the whole faux "argument from scale" in his essay Religion and Rocketry. So did I in my own book, pages 78-80. (Don't buy it on Amazon - get a free digital copy from me by e-mailing dmproko@hotmail.com)

This argument is one of the easiest to knock over - I wish they were all so easy!

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Since Victor has redated his post, I'm going to take this as an opportunity to provide links to my objections to Everitt's argument. See here and here.

John W. Loftus said...

For anyone interested I took down my links because I put the final text of what I learned four years ago in this thread in my book.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Here is a link to the latest version of my critique of Everitt's version of the argument from scale.

BenYachov said...

Didn't Hugh Ross once remark that Atheists in the 19th century (back when we thought the Universe consisted of just the Solar System)complained the Universe was too small?

They asked rhetorically if God was Infinite wouldn't He have at least made a near infinite bigger universe or at least something more grand?

Of course in the late 20's Hubble discovered the Universe.....a near infinite grand universe.

It's too small? It's too big?

Geez make up your mind!

Lowder gets it. It's a dumb argument from the get go even if God does not exist.

Good grief Loftus! Why is this the beach you want to die on?

Are you so insecure if this argument from Size turns out to be bogus then the God you don't want to exist must exist?

Geez I believe in God of Abraham and Aquinas & I don't think that.

B. Prokop said...

Ben,

Like all fundamentalists, Loftus cannot cede a single point, lest his entire house of cards come crashing down. He knows that is defending a paper thin wall, and that any breach in the lines invites complete collapse.

And don't ever forget that Loftus has a huge financial investment in his position. He quite literally can't afford to back down - his income depends on it. Hardly a disinterested party now, is he?

BenYachov said...

If there is money to be made in Atheism I'm sure Lowder can make a buck without this argument.

There is no reason why Loftus can't either.

You guys remember a short while ago when I started an asinine fight with Angra Manya?

I made all those reckless personal attacks on him and he deftly defended himself and made me look like a fool(mind you I maintain my charge against him that he interprets scripture using a fundamentalist mentality. He disagrees but I digress...).

What could I do faced with that? Well I could have either dug in or own my mistake.

I choose the later. I felt it did me good & it showed me I was turning into the very thing I despise in both Religious Fundies and Gnus.

If you want to be a grat apologist for either Atheism or Theism then own your mistakes.

People will trust you more.

B. Prokop said...

"I could have either dug in or own my mistake. I choose the latter"

Ben,

The reason you were able to do that is you don't have a fundamentalist mindset.

Loftus, however, is trapped in the same dilemma that Biblical literalists are. Neither can admit to the tiniest failing. The entire worldview of both is predicated on being 100% correct 100% of the time.

BenYachov said...

>"To be a Copernican was tantamount to atheism.”

That is just silly. There was no reason back then why one couldn't hold to the Copernican view as, an as of then unproven theory.

It wasn't until that brain dead ponce Galileo declared it a fact and said Scripture "lied" he got in trouble. That and the possibility he plagiarized some of his work from a Jesuit Astronomer & naturally that put him in their crosshairs.

Scientifically Galileo did not prove at the time the Earth moved and all the then existing science pointed to an unmoved Earth.

A Positivist living at that time would, if he was consistent have had no choice but to conclude Galileo was an extremist.

It's true for a brief time the Church forbade any suggestion the Earth moved but She never forbade any scientific investigation of the matter.

Had Galileo scientifically & successfully proven the Earth moved then the Church would have left him alone.

But it wasn't until the late 18th and early 19th century science(lead by many Catholics FYI) advanced enough to make that possible.

Gee we dealt with that when Atheist philosopher Jesse Parrish was taking Loftus to task over the OTF.

Why is this crap always repeated?

cl said...

Well, not that I needed to even read it -- because even a cursory glance should reveal the fallacious nature of the argument -- but the link in the title post didn't seem to work. Or, did Loftus take the page down??

Either way, can someone share the correct link or shine some light on the mystery at least?

Hope you're all well.

B. Prokop said...

CL,

It's a redated post (from 2008). The link is probably long dead. But the gist of Loftus's argument is basically that the universe is so big that Christianity is absurd. (His "reasoning" - certainly not mine!)

Good to see you posting again. Did you ever get around to reading that book on the Early Church Fathers that I recommended?