In the spirit of the holidays I send this friendly greeting in return.
Happy Jesus Birthday Dr. Craig. I enjoyed your message and thought I should respond. I believe you raise important points to consider in our labor for peace on earth. Your five reasons follow below indented in italics. My comments appear below each one of them.
1. God provides the best explanation of the origin of the universe. Given the scientific evidence we have about our universe and its origins, and bolstered by arguments presented by philosophers for centuries, it is highly probable that the universe had an absolute beginning. Since the universe, like everything else, could not have merely popped into being without a cause, there must exist a transcendent reality beyond time and space that brought the universe into existence. This entity must therefore be enormously powerful. Only a transcendent, unembodied mind suitably fits that description.Without conceding that the requirement for an ‘absolute’ beginning has been proven, we will take it at face value and continue. It is proposed that God provides an explanation for the origin of the universe, and so we read ahead to learn your definition of God. You conclude with "...a transcendent unembodied mind provides the explanation." So, you are defining God as a transcendent, unembodied mind. To understand this, we have to turn to the dictionary:
- transcendent: beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience.
- unembodied: not having a material body
- mind: the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought
- faculty: an inherent mental or physical power
- mental: of or relating to the mind.
- physical: of or relating to the body as opposed to the mind; of or relating to things perceived through the senses as opposed to the mind; tangible or concrete.
- sense: a faculty by which the body perceives an external stimulus; one of the faculties of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.
Your argument should also be held to the following logical restatement: "Since the universe, like everything else, including a physical mind, could not have popped into existence,..." This would require an explanation for the origin of the physical mind.
However, we can for now allow a postulation that a thinking entity, possibly of transcendent (unknown to us) but physical (in some sense) form, was engaged in decisions leading up to the beginning of the universe we see. It does seems to be a gross violation of the principal of Occam’s razor to speculate that a thinking, decision making agent is included in the primordial state. We are however looking for a first cause and, whether proposing thinking or non thinking elements of a first cause, the burden remains on the postulant to outline the evidence for its proposed constitution. Science acknowledges, and any rational theism should as well, that there is a good deal of work ahead of us in this regard.
So, we can theorize that a prime cause included a thinking entity but even in that case, it is dishonest to use the term "God" because, to remain rigorously honest, we must acknowledge that we are encumbered psychologically with that term having had it introduced into our consciousness when we were children and hardly capable of dealing with it intellectually. Indeed, children subjected defenselessly to teachings about "God” have neither the political nor the cultural freedom to object to the meaning of the term.
It is therefore a serious abuse of the trust of youth to teach them concepts of “God” before they are fully educated and free to speak without fear of reprisal. To do otherwise risks the crippling of his psychological and/or mental faculties for decades, if not his entire life. If there is any merit at all in a theory of “God”, the child will be able to judge as much when he is an adult, just as we are doing right now, as free adults, in considering your arguments. Let us all become repositories of the trust of our children and rigorously protect them from prejudicial prodding while they gain their educations. Let us extend this protection as a human right to all of the children of the world.
So, to continue an honest, unprejudiced inquiry, we should for now avoid the usage of the term "God" when hypothesizing a thinking agent acting to cause events leading up to and/or within the universe we see. We shall instead conduct our inquiries and if we find sufficient evidence, we might have reason to circle around and use the term "God". So, for the balance, I suggest we replace the term “God” with, what is hopefully a non-prejudiced term: “prime thinker”. I am sure you will agree that in this postulation we have put forth no reason, yet, to suggest the character of “god” described in the bible and the Quran. We are for now postulating a thinking entity. We will observe the evidence and determine if the prime thinker has the characteristics and indeed, the character, described by our ancestors as written in the scriptures.
2. [The prime thinker] provides the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe. Contemporary physics has established that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent, interactive life. That is to say, in order for intelligent, interactive life to exist, the fundamental constants and quantities of nature must fall into an incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range. There are three competing explanations of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design. The first two are highly implausible, given the independence of the fundamental constants and quantities from nature's laws and the desperate maneuvers needed to save the hypothesis of chance. That leaves design as the best explanation.The jury is out on how many universes exist. If we allow ourselves to speculate on a transcendent thinker, we can also speculate on other, transcendent universes. If the number of them is high enough, then we can no longer say the odds are incomprehensively small. Chance can work very well as an explanation for the local fine tuning.
We can also derive a fine tuned universe by postulating a simple law. For example, we can say that, in order for ANYTHING to exist, consciousness must, eventually, exist. We should digress and try to derive this law from simpler laws but let us for now take it at face value. If this is a true law, then, of necessity, we came into existence in a universe tuned for our existence.
We should also observe that in other, differently tuned universes, different forms of consciousness might exist. Indeed, in your first argument, you are speculating on a differently tuned state of existence prior to this universe in which a conscious thinking entity is postulated to exist. So, necessity works well as a reason for fine tuning in many scenarios.
A thinking entity also works as an explanation, leaving us to ask the question, if the thinking entity exists, why did she so move to enable our existence?
(I use the feminine pronouns here, in rigorous honesty, to avoid the universally acknowledged prejudice of the masculine descriptions of “god” in the world’s cultural impact on our youthful psychological states. We could also use the impersonal pronouns, however rigor demands that we do whatever we can to eliminate prejudice form our inquiry and so perhaps the feminine has a greater effect in this regard, like changing tack when sailing into the wind in order to end up on a straight path. If, in our history, the speculations about the character of “God” in the bible and Quran and other books had used the feminine pronouns, I would be obliged to use the masculine here).
3. [The prime thinker] provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties. Even atheists recognize that some things, for example, the Holocaust, are objectively evil. But if atheism is true, what basis is there for the objectivity of the moral values we affirm? Evolution? Social conditioning? These factors may at best produce in us the subjective feeling that there are objective moral values and duties, but they do nothing to provide a basis for them. If human evolution had taken a different path, a very different set of moral feelings might have evolved. By contrast, [the prime thinker] serves as the paradigm of goodness, and [the prime thinker’s] commandments constitute our moral duties. Thus, theism provides a better explanation of objective moral values and duties.The objective basis for moral values is quite evident in the universe. I invite you to close your book and open your eyes.
In any universe, created or evolved, in any rollout of evolutionary processes or any process of creation, where conscious thinking life begins to exist, where thinkers are capable of aiding and abetting each other’s existence or of ending each other’s existence, objective moral principles are clearly evident for all to see, without regard to the existence of a creator. We see we can choose to fight or choose to live in peace. If the former, only one is left standing, mortally wounded, thus ending intelligence conscious life on the planet. To choose to fight is to choose to value death over life. If instead we choose to live, then life itself is seen to be the moral value and we who choose life will create the rules to aid and abet the capabilities and qualities of life for each other.
This is what we are doing in our world today. We have a long way to go, but we shall never cease our labor until it is complete. We will build a world of peace and create the rules and mechanisms required to restrain and educate those who choose to fight. We will free all of the people of the world.
4. [The prime thinker] provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Historians have reached something of consensus that the historical Jesus thought that in himself [the prime thinker’s] Kingdom had broken into human history, and he carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms as evidence of that fact. Moreover, most historical scholars agree that after his crucifixion Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty by a group of female disciples, that various individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death, and that the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection despite their every predisposition to the contrary. I can think of no better explanation of these facts than the one the original disciples gave: [the prime thinker] raised Jesus from the dead.I have discussed the fallacies in the arguments for Jesus resurrection at length in this posting. I will only add here that if indeed Jesus existed, as one of the religious zealots in that region of the world during that period of time, then he too was prejudiced from birth by the scriptures. If we strip out the nonsense from the stories, if we try honestly to discover the man, we find a man who tried to help his people, indeed, who loved his people, knowing full well the eventual consequences of his activities.
If this is true then Jesus was indeed a wonderful man, beautiful in spirit, although sadly confused, like so many in our world today, by his parent’s religion. He was later crippled with the title of the sacrificial Christ and then slaughtered in the tradition of blood sacrifice then so demanded by the seething mythical god in the sky, a mythology of blood and death that enslaves our world even to this day.
It is all a sad mythology Dr. Craig: that is all it has ever been. We are healing ourselves from this sadness, slowly, but steadily. We are embracing the gifts of reason we have been given, by the creation or by the cosmos, we will know the universe and sing out our ecstatic joy of existence.
You might find it sad to think, after all of these years, that God does not exist, but if she exists at all we can clearly see her benevolence and her intent in her daily entrusting us with newly created children. She shall know the tearing joy of our loving response at how we taught ourselves to love each other, how we enabled our children to thrive to populate the cosmic beauty she has created. If she exists we can see she has never been interested in our worship or even our belief. She entrusts us with her children, she is interested in how we raise them.
In other words, Dr. Craig created or evolved, we see the same universe and the same moral truths. We awaken to find ourselves entrusted with children, let us raise them well.
5. [The prime thinker] can be personally known and experienced. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Down through history Christians have found through Jesus a personal acquaintance with [the prime thinker] that has transformed their lives. The good thing is that atheists tend to be very passionate people and want to believe in something. If they would only put aside the slogans for a moment and reexamine their worldview in light of the best philosophical, scientific, and historical evidence we have today, then they, too, would find Christmas worth celebrating!It is not at all inappropriate for the atheist to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the man who loved and tried to help his people, who gave his life in that endeavor. Why not allow the mythology of the story of the manger and the shepherds and astrologers? We do not have to take it as literal truth, we can take it as our form of celebration for the life of youth, the beautiful spirit that tries to shine out before us in our children, the spirit we so maddeningly crush with imagery of the angry god of blood in the bible and Quran, the mythical being that has never existed at all, at any time.
So yes, atheists, do lay out the stable and the manger, the shepherds and the sheep and then gently rest the boy in his swaddling clothes. The boy is Jesus, as beautiful as any child can be, before he was crippled by the world’s sad mythologies. He grew up strong and brave in spite of this and labored for the poor and downtrodden. We celebrate him, and we celebrate Moses and Mohammed, when we faithfully correct the mistakes they made, when we acknowledge they were all prejudiced by theories of an angry god that has never existed. Their descendants, our children shall be born free and receive the full and complete unprejudiced education that was denied to them. To do anything less than this is to dishonor all of them we thought were prophets, indeed we dishonor all who have labored before us when we carry forward their prejudices uncorrected.
So Happy Jesus Birthday Dr. Craig. We eagerly wait for you to join us, the atheists in building a world of peace, where men do not see each other as condemned by sad mythological gods.