Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Boy in the Manger

Doctor William Lane Craig has sent a Christmas greeting to atheists, entitled Five Reasons Why God Exists. His friendly message is found here at this link:

 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
The entity you are proposing to be unembodied is a mind. The first definition of mind would be a contradiction, there being no unembodiment of an entity that is part of (embodied in) another. Therefore you must be referencing the second definition of mind, that of the faculty of consciousness and thought. Consulting the dictionary, we have:
 faculty: an inherent mental or physical power
mental: of or relating to the mind.
You cannot be referencing the first definition of faculty (Mental) because the definition of mental circles back to the word you trying to define (Mind). Therefore, you must be referencing the second definition of faculty, that of physical power. Consulting the dictionary, we have:
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.
You cannot be referencing the first or third definition of physical, (related to the body, tangible), because you are proposing the existence of an unembodied mind. Therefore you must be referencing the second definition of physical (things perceived through the senses). But here your argument meets the resolute and final brick wall of the dictionary:
 sense: a faculty by which the body perceives an external stimulus; one of the faculties of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.
Your argument has circled into a world of the external stimulus and bodies you are trying to leave behind with ‘transcendent’ and ‘unembodied’ To avoid this circular reasoning, I suggest you adjust the argument to propose a mind that is NOT unembodied, in other words a mind that is embodied in some way, a physical entity.

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.

We are for now postulating a thinking entity. You use the name "God" however that term is already laden with centuries of dogma that has never in fact been supported. We will use the term "prime thinker" instead. We will observe the evidence and determine if this 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.
Above you claim that existence is fine tuned to produce interactive life given that the universe is the term used to label all that exists. You object to what you deem to be an infinitesimal chance of this happening on its own. However, you offer no proof that existence cannot be eternal.  If existence can be eternal, there is no such thing as an infinitesimal chance for any possible physical configuration of existence. It is bound to happen.

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 of us is left standing, mortally wounded, thus ending intelligence conscious life on the planet. To choose to fight is therefore a choice of 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.
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 actions.

If this is true then Jesus was indeed a wonderful man, beautiful in spirit, although sadly confused by his parent’s religion like so many in our world today. He was later crippled with the title of the sacrificial Christ and then slaughtered in the tradition of blood sacrifice demanded by scriptures 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.  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, so let us raise and educate them in truth.
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 gods n the bible and Quran, the mythical beings that have 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  malevolent non-existing gods. 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 those who we thought were prophets, indeed we dishonor all who have labored before us when we carry forward their mistakes 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 no longer see each other as condemned by sad mythological gods.