Friday, June 27, 2014

God did not write the Bible

The title of the post should be self-evident if taken in a literal sense, since, to quote the perfect grammar of Russell Brand, “the Holy Spirit ain’t got a pen.” That is, it seems quite obvious, even to fundamentalists, that God didn’t literally take up the task of writing the Bible. So, why did I take up the task of writing a post that asserts the obvious? Because, although many Christians wouldn’t claim that God literally wrote the Bible, they do claim that the Bible is the written Word of God. That is to say, many Christians believe that because of revelation and inspiration, scripture is “wholly and verbally God-given” and that God “caus[ed the] writers to use the very words that He chose.” (See the Chicago statement on Biblical Inerrancy.) Thus stated, such Christians adhere to the claim that God is the author of the Bible, though not in a direct sense.
My claim is that God cannot be said to have authored the Bible in this sense. What better way to demonstrate this, then to survey the Bible itself, and I believe the best way to do this, is to quote passages from the Psalms:

Hear me, Lord, my plea is just; listen to my cry. Hear my prayer-- it does not rise from deceitful lips.--Psalm 17:1
Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked—Psalm 3: 7

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.—Psalm 63:1

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.—Psalm 51:1-2

I chose these Psalms—there are many more like them--for a specific purpose. You see, these Psalms are all prayers and pleas to God himself; they are the pleas of pious hearts and souls crying out for their creator. As such, it seems quite obvious that God did not author these verses in any sense, for then that would imply the absurdity that God is praying and pleading to Himself. So, we see that these verses cannot be preceded by “The Lord says.” Thus stated, we have direct evidence from the Bible that not all of its verses were “wholly and verbally God-given”.

All it takes is simple examples like these to collapse the foundation of inerrancy. For if we can find verses where God clearly did not author them, then we cannot say with any certainty that the rest of the Bible was authored by God. Now this is not to say that the Bible isn’t inspired by God in some sense, but it puts to bed the idea that the inspiration of God somehow controls the words written on the page.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Why something rather than nothing? Part III

In the last part of our series regarding naturalistic answers to the question “Why there is something rather than nothing?”, we shall survey the arguments of atheist Richard Carrier. Carrier’s explicit answer to this question can be found on his blog in a post entitled Ex Nihilo Onus Merdae Fit. Carrier begins by defining what he means by nothing:

[Nothing] can only mean that nothing whatever exists except anything whose non-existence is logically impossible. That latter caveat is unavoidable for the obvious reason that if it is logically impossible for something not to exist, then there can’t have ever been a state of being where it did not exist. So if by “absolutely nothing” you mean even the non-existence of logically necessary things, then “absolutely nothing” is logically impossible, and thus there can’t ever have been “nothing” in that sense.

A few caveats here. First, when someone begins the definition of nothing with “nothing, except…” then they have already gotten off on the wrong foot. Nothing, by definition means the absence of anything, at all. Period. It does not, contrary to Carrier, mean nothing except X,Y, and Z. For then, one is indeed talking about something.

Now, obviously Carrier has reasons for this definition, which he explains in the passage following the above quote. Carrier claims that logically necessary things must, by definition, always exist, and, therefore, there cannot be a state of reality without them. Is it just me, or is this the very answer that theists give for the existential question—namely, that since God is a necessary being, absolute nothing is not a possible state of affairs.(Now, this already demonstrates how ridiculous Carrier’s definition is. For if God did exist, even by himself, then by Carrier’s definition, this would still constitute “nothing”. But, I digress.) However, Carrier obviously does not adhere to this answer—and his reasons for it are given elsewhere. So, he must be talking about some other necessary thing:

[A]ll the fundamental propositions of logic and mathematics are necessarily true[…]and therefore there can never have been a state of being in which they were false.

 Carrier is claiming, then, that the laws of logic and mathematics are these necessary things that must exist. Fair enough. While it is not clear that these laws could be predicated in a state of “nothingness”—since these laws only describe the way existence behaves—it seems harmless to allow this premise in Carrier’s argument. Carrier continues:

Now, when nothing exists (except that which is logically necessary), then anything can happen (whose happening is logically possible). Because the only way to prevent something from happening, is to have some law or force or power or object or agency, in other words some actual thing, that prevents it. If you remove all obstacles, you allow all possibilities.

This is where Carrier goes off the deep end, and subsequently where his argument collapses. He is claiming that since nothing exists (that is, nothing is actual), then there are infinite possibilities (that is, infinite potential). This is completely incoherent. Why? Because actuality is ontologically prior to potentiality—that is to say, only something already existing can have potential. For example, water has the potential to become ice, but this potential is dependent on the already existing substance, namely, that of water. This potential would not exist by itself. Yet, this is what Carrier would have us believe, namely, that a big state of “nothing” has infinite potential! (Note: this objection was brought to Carrier's attention by individuals in the comment section of Carrier's post, but his reply boiled down to exclaiming "prove it".)

Another way to think of the problem here is the following. Potentiality must be predicated of something. That is to say, for potentiality to be a predicate, you must have a subject. To say “(x) has potential” one must substitute some thing for (x). Yet, Carrier can only substitute “nothing” for (x), which renders such a proposition nonsensical. Just ask the question “What has potential?” to which the reply will be “nothing.” So, not only is Carrier’s claim here silly, it is logically incoherent.

 But, wait, Carrier’s not finished:

Therefore, in the beginning, nothing existed to prevent anything from happening or to make any one thing happening more likely than any other thing.[…] Of all the logically possible things that can happen when nothing exists to prevent them from happening, continuing to be nothing is one thing, one universe popping into existence is another thing, two universes popping into existence is yet another thing, and so on all the way to infinitely many universes popping into existence[…]Therefore, the probability of some infinite number of universes having popped into existence is infinitely close to one hundred percent.

 So, Carrier has basically argued that from “nothing”, everything comes, multiple universes and all. There are many problems with Carrier’s argument here. First, Carrier has still given no metaphysical explanation of how “nothing” can spontaneously pop into something. This is seen to be metaphysically impossible—hence the old adage “from nothing, nothing comes”. For something to go from one state (nothing) to another (something) would be for potentiality to be reduced to actuality. But, 1) we’ve already seen that potential must be a potential of some actual thing, which is not nothing, and 2) something can only be reduced from potentiality to actuality by something already actual, which, again, cannot exist in nothing; that is, potentiality cannot move itself to act because mere potential is not actual.

Thus stated, we have seen that Carrier begins his argument with a dubious definition of “nothing”. Then he tried to predicate metaphysical concepts of this “nothing”, yet, said concepts can only be coherently predicated of something, not nothing. Third, even after all this ridiculous argumentation, Carrier has given no metaphysical explanation of how this ‘nothing” can produce anything at all. Rather, it is simply flatly asserted that this “nothing” can pop into multiple universes. Taking all of this into consideration, we can see that Richard Carrier has not given a coherent and tenable answer to the existential question.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Jesus and Thales, a historical comparison

As many readers (all two of them) familiar with my blog know, I find Jesus-mythicism—the position that Jesus of Nazareth never existed—to be quite laughable. It is mostly promulgated by dogmatically “skeptic” individuals who aren’t properly knowledgeable regarding historical epistemology. They tend to believe that their skepticism geared towards Jesus of Nazareth gives sufficient warrant for doubting his existence, all the while being completely oblivious to the fact that if their extreme skepticism was likewise employed towards other figures of antiquity, we would have to deny the historicity of a majority of well-known individuals.
It is one of these well-known figures of antiquity that I would like to take as my focal point. And in doing this I intend to show that the reasons for believing he actually existed are similar to reasons for believing in Jesus’ existence. Conversely, and more importantly I think, I intend to show that the (ridiculous) reasons given for doubting Jesus’ existence can also be predicated of this man. Yet, no historical scholar of academia, that I’m aware of, doubts this man’s existence. This man is Thales of Miletus.

Thales of Miletus (ca. 624-546 BC) is regarded as one of the first substantial Greek philosophers, and he is well-known for his novel and idiosyncratic ontology that the structure of nature boiled down to one specific substance, namely that of water. He was also one of the first individuals to make significant mathematical discoveries and calculations—e.g., he is credited with discovering five Euclidean theorems. Thales is recorded as being the first person to predict an eclipse of the sun. He was also regarded as one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece.

So, based on many of these accomplishments predicated of Thales, it would probably be assumed that he has a wealth of reliable and contemporary sources that attest to his existence. Well, that assumption would be incorrect. First, the sources of Thales’ life come way, way after he lived. The earliest sources that attest to Thales are Herodotus, Plato and Aristophanes. Now, all of these men lived in the fifth century, that is, about two centuries after Thales lived! And some of the sources with the most information about Thales—e.g., Aristotle and Diogenes Laetius--wrote three-hundred to nine-hundred years after he lived. So, while Thales had a multitude of sources attesting to his existence, these sources are not what you would call contemporary by any means.

Now, what’s notable is not only the chronology of the sources, but the tradition whereby the sources received their material. You see, historians know that the sources that attest to the Thales tradition received said tradition orally—that is, through hundreds of years of oral tradition. Herodotus and Diogenes were not able to consult any eyewitnesses of Thales, or anyone who knew him personally. They could only consult the tradition handed down throughout Greece. (Note:  It should also be mentioned that Thales was quite revered in Greece, and was even regarded as a sage.)

But, what about the actual material of the sources? Well, due to the variety of sources and their varied chronology, we have different and sometimes contradictory pictures of Thales, as can be expected. Moreover, we have trouble deducing specifics of his life. We cannot even pinpoint his birth and death to an exact year; nor do we know if he was single or married; nor do we know if he even penned any writings.

Now, let us compare this evidence with the evidence we have for Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus had multiple sources which date within a few decades of his life--much, much better than the timeline we have for Thales. And though the Jesus tradition was received orally, it went through far less people in a far less amount of time than the Thales tradition. Similar to Thales, we lack specifics on Jesus’ life—e.g., when he was born and when he died. Also, like Thales, those who carried on the Jesus tradition held a high bit of reverence for him, which might have given way to some legend. Yet, just like Thales we can say very, very much about Jesus with a good amount of historical plausibility. And no scholar in academia waves the flag of skepticism and denies the historicity of Thales of Miletus.

So, should we, as the flawed reasoning of Jesus-mythicism necessitates, regard one of the most influential and catalytic individuals from antiquity as non-existent; merely the imagination or fabrication of Greek philosophers and mathematicians? Or should we abide by historical common sense and parsimony?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Model-Dependent Realism: An untenable epistemology

All the metaphysical discussion as of late on this blog has left my mind racing on many things. Yet, one thing I felt in particular that needed to be tackled was the epistemological framework known as Model-Dependent Realism (henceforth MDR). This epistemology is a favorite of Mike D over at The-Aunicornist. Frankly, I get quite tired of having this idea thrown around when it is so blatantly ridiculous, and thus I felt the need to demonstrate such.

So, let us first expound this epistemology—only to be found promulgated in The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking, which should already make said epistemology suspect, since the book is, to be blunt, quite terrible. 
[O]ur brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world[…] If two such physical theories or models accurately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other; rather we are free to use whichever model is most convenient.
 There is no picture-or theory-independent concept of reality. […] These mental concepts are the only reality we can know. […] [A] well-constructed model creates a reality of its own.
 It should be obvious upon first glance how extreme and ridiculous MDR is. It is an amalgam of previously known philosophical positions such as pragmatism, constructive empiricism, and some type of idealism—all, at least to me, untenable philosophies in themselves.

Nothing is “real”, except my theory

Probably one of the most extreme promulgations in MDR is that one’s “model” cannot be said to be more real than another’s. This is pure nonsense. First, let it be understood that MDR does not claim that if two theories can both accurately describe or predict the same observations, then we cannot, at the moment, determine which theory actually conforms to objective reality. No, MDR is claiming that neither theory conforms to reality more than the other—that is, neither theory is more real than the other.

To illustrate the depravity of such a position, let’s take two well-known models of reality: realism and solipsism. The realist states that an objective reality exists independent of observers, while the solipsist states that only his mind exists. Surely these models are mutually exclusive, and either one or the other has to be predicated of reality—that is, either only I exist, or a reality exists which I am a part of; there is no middle ground here. However, on MDR we cannot say that one is true while the other is false. Rather, neither is true. Yeah…this is the intelligence blooming from the mind of Hawking, and this is why Einstein said, “the man of science is a poor philosopher”.

That being said, MDR has much bigger problems than this. You see MDR, though denying the objective reality of theories, must uphold the reality of at least one theory to be valid. Remember the following foundational claim of MDR: There is no picture-or theory-independent concept of reality. Now, is this assertion true or false—that is, can it be predicated of reality, or not? If so, then MDR has just made an objective claim about the nature of reality, the very thing it claims cannot be done. If not, then MDR is false. Either way, MDR refutes itself.

Pragmatic, for whom?

Remember that MDR asserts that if two models of reality are equally on par at describing our observations, then we can use whichever model we find most valuable or convenient. This is pure pragmatism—and MDR, just like any philosophy founded on pragmatism, runs into problems because of this. First, if one can adopt any model based on its utility, then the validity of models is subject to the whims of individuals. For what’s pragmatic for me will not necessarily be pragmatic for you. But wait. I personally find it ridiculous, and therefore, not pragmatic, to hold to MDR; and my worldview, which excludes MDR, makes the same observations of reality as any other. So, since it is convenient for me to reject MDR, then, on MDR, I am free to do so and no one can claim that what I have done is invalid. Thus stated, MDR has led to the rejection of itself!

Second, MDR again pulls the rug out from underneath itself. Pragmatism is a theory of truth which explicitly rejects the correspondence theory of truth—i.e., a statement is true if it corresponds to reality. But, the only way to do this is to make an objective claim about reality—that is, truth as such is illusory. However, to make such an objective claim is to go against MDR—which rejects objective claims. MDR once again must do the very thing it claims cannot be done.

There are many more problems with MDR, but I do believe its untenability has hitherto been demonstrated. Advocates of MDR seem to make their case solely on the basis of how our sensory organs take in datum and relay it to our brain. This seems, to them, to demonstrate that only the appearance of reality is accessible to us, as opposed to reality in itself. But, notice that this is once again an objective claim regarding what really goes on when we abstract concepts from the observed. More importantly there are many epistemologies out there that take such cognitive facts into account while still proclaiming that reality in itself can be known. And who are model-dependent realists to say they’re wrong? They can’t, because their epistemology doesn’t allow them. On the contrary, it is much more convenient to affirm an epistemology that promulgates the reality of the observed, and therefore we see one more instance of MDR shooting itself in the foot. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Why something rather than nothing? Part II

Let us continue our survey regarding naturalist answers to the existential question of why something exists as opposed to nothing. We will now turn our attention to esteemed physicist Sean Carroll. Carroll’s answers will be pulled from two articles he’s written (here and here) —one written as a direct answer, and the other only written as an answer indirectly--over at his blog Preposterous Universe.

 Carroll articulates his answer:
First, we would only even consider this an interesting question if there were some reasonable argument in favor of nothingness over existence.[…] Ultimately, the problem is that the question — “Why is there something rather than nothing?” — doesn’t make any sense. What kind of answer could possibly count as satisfying? What could a claim like “The most natural universe is one that doesn’t exist” possibly mean? As often happens, we are led astray by imagining that we can apply the kinds of language we use in talking about contingent pieces of the world around us to the universe as a whole. It makes sense to ask why this blog exists, rather than some other blog; but there is no external vantage point from which we can compare the relatively likelihood of different modes of existence for the universe. So the universe exists, and we know of no good reason to be surprised by that fact.

Carroll also states the following related remarks:
[T]hat’s just how things are. There is a chain of explanations concerning things that happen in the universe, which ultimately reaches to the fundamental laws of nature and stops.

The question—“Why there is something rather than nothing?”—other than: something (the universe) exists, because it just does. There is no reason why it does, since reasons are only pragmatic inside the universe, and applying them to the universe itself is superfluous.

Such modesty by Carroll is refreshing but, alas, his answers are not only unsatisfying, they are fallacious. First of all, Carroll completely misinterprets exactly what the existential question is getting at. The question is not interesting only if there were an argument in favor of nothingness. The question is interesting because the universe seems to be contingent—a point that Carroll will later admit, interestingly enough—and contingent things require something else that explains their existence. So the question is really asking “What is it that keeps the universe from being nothing at all?”

 Now Carroll’s answer is obviously unsatisfying because it amounts to saying nothing at all—e.g., “That’s just how things are.” Analogously, imagine my Calculus students asking me why the definition of a derivative involves a limit, and I answered, “there’s no reason, it just does.”  Obviously this is no answer at all, and this is tantamount to Carroll’s answer. But Carroll knows this, and further justifies his argument by claiming that the type of existential explanations we’re looking for here will only lead us to a dead end--because such explanations cannot be applied to the universe itself, since the universe “[is] not embedded in a bigger structure; it’s all there is.” So, since the universe is “all there is”, there is no framework whereby we can expect an explanation for the existence of it.

 Good answer, right? Wrong. There’s a few problems. First, Carroll is blatantly begging the question here by claiming the universe is all there is. It is not clear that the universe is all there is, and Carroll would first have to demonstrate such a proposition before he used it as an out in this discussion. It might very well be the case that there is an ontologically higher realm than the universe of which the universe participates in an explanatory chain. Thus stated, inherent in Carroll’s answer is a blatant unsubstantiated assumption of naturalism.

 Second, even if the universe were the whole shebang, this does not mean it cannot have an explanation. That is to say, the universe could be self-explanatory. You see, an explanatory chain must end somewhere, and it can only end in something that is self-explanatory, otherwise the explanations, along with the chain, continue. So Carroll is actually incorrect that our inquiry into explanations must stop with the universe itself which has no explanation. For the universe could indeed be self-explanatory, and therefore provide a much satisfying answer to our existential quandary.

 But even Carroll concedes, indirectly, that this is not the case, that is, that the universe is contingent, and therefore not self-explanatory:
[One possible reason why the universe is the way it is] is logical necessity: the laws of physics take the form they do because no other form is possible. But that can’t be right; it’s easy to think of other possible forms. The universe could be a gas of hard spheres interacting under the rules of Newtonian mechanics, or it could be a cellular automaton, or it could be a single point.

What’s crucial here is that Carroll is admitting the universe did not have to be this way—this way being the way the universe has actually been configured. But, that means that there must be a reason why the universe is this way as opposed to another possible way. Which means that the universe is contingent, since this is literally one of the definitions of contingency. But if something is contingent, then it cannot be self-explanatory, since the reason for its existence is not sought within itself.

 Thus stated, we see that Carroll’s attempt to relieve the universe of explanation has failed. He has not answered the existential question, and even where he has tried, he has only put the case for naturalism in jeopardy.