Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dawkins' Fatal Flaw

It has been a long time since I have been able to blog. The truth is that things have been really busy around here between completing a Masters Degree, applying for PhD programs, and taking care of a newborn. However, I have a really good reason to start again.

Last night I had the opportunity to go watch a lecture by Richard Dawkins here in Charlotte. It was a short lecture in which he read sections from his new book, The Greatest Show on Earth. However, it was long enough for him to introduce what I think is a fatal error for his whole claim that evolution is a fact beyond a reasonable doubt.

You see, Dawkins admits that the evolution of species (the adaptation of one species to another) is not something that is seen firsthand. Instead, it is the conclusion drawn by means of a forensic investigation. That is, he says that solving the question of descent is much like solving a murder, one need only look at the traces of evidence left behind. Now, I believe that this places him in an interesting dilemma. Let me explain.

Based on the forensic nature of the evolutionary claim, I turned my attention to the evidence itself. The first and primary evidence that he offered was the fossil evidence. His claim was that there are no "missing links" in this evidence. Now, contrary to the typical "Christian response" I have no problem granting that this is true. In fact, I am willing to accept that not only do all the actual fossils exist, but lets hypothesize that every conceivable fossil evidence also exists. This would make Dawkins body of evidence perfectly complete. But what does this get him? I don't think it helps his case one iota. Why? Just think about what can be learned from a fossil. I fossil can give you size, shape, kind, temporal order, and age. However, a fossil cannot give you what evolutionists claim it can. It cannot give you descent. Thus, while the fossil record is a necessary condition for the truth of evolution it is not a sufficient condition for the truth of evolution.

For those of you who are not familiar with this distinction, a necessary condition is a condition that must be true in order for another condition to be true. For example, the existence of oxygen is necessary for the existence of fire.

On the other hand, a sufficient condition is a condition that guarantees the truth of another condition. For example, the existence of fire guarantees the existence of oxygen.

Now lets understand this better. A necessary condition is not enough to prove that the condition that it links to is true. Consider the fire and oxygen examples. It is true that oxygen is necessary for fire. But that says nothing as to whether there actually is any fire. The only way that one can determine if there is fire is to see it. In the same way, if the fossil record is only a necessary condition, its existence does nothing to say whether or not evolution has occurred. The most that one can say is that it is possible. But it is just as possible that the fossil record is the way it is for any other logically sound reason.

The same can be said for other apparent "evidences" such as similarity of DNA, the geological spread of fossil evidence, etc.

Thus, by admitting that evolution is known forensically, Dawkins has cut himself off from being able to prove his case. Now, he could possibly answer this criticism. All he has to do is provide a sufficient condition for evolution to be true. I would love to see this attempt. Any takers?

Oh, one last thing. Lest any of you be tempted to argue that the current evidence provides a cumulative case for evolution, it will not work. Each piece of evidence at best provides a 50/50 probability for evolution. Thus, whatever is held to be contrary to evolution maintains the equal possibility of being the case. For example, similarity of DNA structure does not by itself in any way support common descent more than common creator. One could just as easily make the case that the evidence presents a cumulative case for a design theory.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Review: The Message Behing the Movie by Douglas Beaumont


I recently received and have read a new book written by a good friend of mine whose name is Douglas Beaumont. This book, The Message Behind the Movie, attempts to explain how the tendency of Christians to take one of two extreme positions regarding Christianity and the culture—either they tend to be Christian anti-culturists who disavow all things Hollywood or they tend to be naïve advocates of all things Hollywood, considering all content to be harmless in light of its fictional nature—is a problem that needs to be addressed. After offering a short critique of these positions, Doug attempts to fill the apparent hole with a median position that is at the same time both Christian and relevant. As I have already mentioned, I am good friends with Doug, as well as a very grateful student of his. Nonetheless, I will consider his position and will do my best to maintain objectivity. That being said, I will consider this book in accordance with its own threefold division.

Synopsis of the Book

Act One: Watching and Understanding Movies

In the first part of his book, Beaumont gives a general introduction to the aforementioned problem of shallow Christian movie-reviewing and proceeds to build his replacement. He starts by considering the anti-Hollywood position. Here, Doug does an interesting job of building a historico-philosophical backdrop by tying this failing position to the Platonic assumption that art is bad for the soul. (I will not mention the criticisms of this, or any other position that he offers, for spoilers suck just as much for an argumentative read as they do for a suspenseful movie.) Next he considers the opposite position of naïve unconcern for the content of movies and offers some criticisms. After presenting the problem, he gives his solution and proceeds to give the tools needed to implement it.

In the remainder of this first section, Beaumont considers many elements of a movie, including its story, style, worldview, and message. The book has a section on each element. Within each section he describes the element and offers how this each element may be susceptible to unfair criticism or under-criticism by the two extreme camps, offering solutions where he does this.

Act Two: Evaluating and Discussing Movies

In this second section of The Message Behind the Movie, Beaumont addresses the religious issues that often are involved in the storylines of movies, whether explicitly or implicitly. Such issues include the nature of salvation, the nature of ultimate reality, the existence of God, and the Bible. Beaumont’s approach is to give examples of how these issues show up in movies, explain the error often associated with the movie’s claims, and to give a defense of the historic Christian faith. Finally, at the end of every section, he gives a scenario which involves fictional characters discussing these themes in light of actual movies.

Act Three: Applauding and Avoiding Movies

In this short final section, Beaumont considers some popular biblical arguments that would seem to counter his mediating position on the matter of entertainment, and he explains that they are based on a poor understanding of the text. He then concludes with a contrast between legalism and spiritual maturity.

My Assessment

Act One

Overall, I am very appreciative of the intention of this section of the book. Until recently, I had never been one to consider a movie (and other forms of entertainment such as music) as much more than a medium for rest—a psychological nap. Having been a person like this I easily found myself falling into that camp that treated movies as ineffectual on one’s disposition—just harmless entertainment despite the content. After finding this to be a failed position, I found myself in the other camp, ready to discount all movies that had a portrayal of evil. Not to my surprise, I quickly found this position to be untenable, and rather boring. However, as of late I have found myself more critical (in the good sense) of those movies that I watch. For example, this weekend I watched two movies (prior to reading this book), The Wrestler and The Uninvited.

The first movie had as a major element of its story repeated visitations to a strip club. While in the past I would have simply thought that this fact should result in turning the movie off immediately, I found myself less than bothered by it, and even understanding of its purpose there (to portray the despair of the protagonist). However, I still chose to redirect my eyes when any nudity appeared, evidencing the fact that my rejection of the anti-Hollywood attitude did not leave me in the naïve position. Now, I was rather unreflective into these reactions, but The Message Behind the Movie did a good of giving an explanation as to why I had them. It flows from my being a more reflective person to begin with (which has been developed in my philosophical training). So, whereas I was rather consciously unreflective in my watching of the movie, some of my speculative habits spilt over, which made the movie watching experience more fulfilling. Now this was only accidental for me, and without my philosophical training it would most likely have been completely missed. But what about those people who lack such training? These people may be discounting movies with good messages because they do not see the purpose of a “strip club scene” or something similar. Beaumont’s book helps to understand how to evaluate such content.

The second movie was different. It wasn’t a movie that included such scenes. Instead, it was a suspenseful movie. And, as with any decent suspense movie, there was a twist. Now, once the twist occurred, the movie went back and tied it to a seemingly unimportant scene in the beginning of the movie. I found it to be quite surprising, yet gratifying. I was really able to appreciate the director’s arrangement. Now, had I read The Message Behind the Movie prior to watching this, I would have possibly been able to pick up on this fact, since it occurs within the first thirty minutes (which Doug explains would include no “filler” in a well done movie). Thus, I would have been able to be more active in my consideration of the plot, which would have made for a richer movie watching experience.

Now that I have read this book, I look forward to future movie watching where I can expect a new appreciation for the art. However, there is one element of this section that I was left confused about. In the very beginning, Beaumont compares the anti-Christian attitude to the Platonic attitude of looking down upon art. However, I do not think that this analogy is the correct one for his message. I do not think that these Christians view art as bad because it stirs the emotions and supersedes the intellect, as Plato did. I think that most Christians are worried about the depiction of evil in films simply because it is evil. Thus, I think the real problem is not that Christians are Platonic; I think that it is because they are Kantian. Such Christians will tend to think that it is always wrong under all circumstances to depict sin. This is what is known as moral absolutism. I think that this is the philosophical foundation for this error, not the faulty Platonic ontology. That said, I think that Doug’s turn to Aristotle is still a move in the right direction, though I believe that a consideration of his virtue-theory of ethics will bring forth the real solution that he ultimately advocates. Knowing Doug, I am sure that he would agree with me about this psychological description of these critical believers and I am sure that he is completely aware that what he is advocating is a sort of virtue-theory of movie watching. Thus, this critique is not about his message, which I wholeheartedly agree with, it is simply about his corollary.

Act Two

As I began reading act two, I found myself a bit confused. I have to say that I was not at all expecting a section that focused on speculative apologetics. I think that a large part of my problem here was the complete lack of mention in the book title, the section heading, or the chapter headings that instilling tools for evangelism was a goal for this book. Now, I know that Beaumont discusses the importance of engaging the culture through the medium of movies in Act One; however I thought that this meant that the book was going to consider the mechanics of doing that. I do not think that this necessarily takes away from the book; in fact I think that Beaumont was wise in choosing to include this information, considering the obvious fact that the church has not been adequately exposed to the reasons why Christianity is properly considered to be a rational belief system. I just think that titling the section and chapters differently could have gone a long way in preparing me for the move.

That having been said, the apologetic arguments offered by Beaumont are instances of the standard arguments historically used by classical apologists. There is little in the way of anything new in his arguments, nor should there be since this is clearly a book aimed to convey the information in a summary fashion for those who have never heard it before. This is exactly the kind of information that I was thankful for when I first discovered apologetics, and for his recognition as to what the church needs, Beaumont should be praised. I know first hand how easy it is to want to go deeper into these issues because I know just how detailed the discussion can get. Good for him for remembering that this book is a tool for educating neophytes. Finally, I really appreciated the dialogical section at the end of every chapter. It is in this section that I think Beaumont demonstrably evidences his petition that the culture needs to be accessed in order for evangelism to be relevant and effective.

Act Three

There is little to say regarding the final section. I thought that it was very appropriate and well put. Some may wish that Beaumont had given a list of dos and don’ts for a Christian movie watcher, but if they had they would be missing the whole point (and should buy another copy and start over . . . . j/k).

Concluding Thoughts

Upon completion of this book I am especially happy that I read the first section, pleased that the second section is included, and glad at the open door left in the third section. The problems that I have with the book are circumstantial, for the most part, and do not relate to the overall argument presented. Being a book which appears to have been intended as an introduction, I think it succeeds wonderfully in its goal. When all is considered, I will give this book 4.5 out of five, the half point being taken for the confusion regarding the second section. Nonetheless, that confusion would not inhibit me in the least from recommending The Message Behind the Movie to any Christian who wishes to be a successful evangelist, whether to millions, or simply to their friends. This is a terribly important message that could not be released at a better time.

Finally, I hope for the author and the publisher to consider a series of sequels, and to dive deeper into these topics discussed. I would like to see the first section expanded into its own volume, if not multiple volumes. It would also be neat to see a volume aimed at detailed evaluation, to show what that would look like.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Will the True Liberal Please Stand Up?

In this blog, I have decided to bring together two of my most dominant interests, politics and philosophy. I have been reading Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics and I just finished the section on the moral/social virtues. If you know anything about Aristotle, a virtue is a mean (middle quality) between a vice of excess and a vice of defect. One of the moral virtues is liberality. Liberality is that virtue that lies between the excess of prodigality and the defect of meanness. While I was reading on this topic, some things stuck out to me regarding what we now tend to call liberalism. Hear what Aristotle has to say:

A liberal man is liberal because it is virtuous, not because he can gain anything else. He will give the right amounts to the right people at the right times and with pleasure (or without pain). In addition, the liberal takes from the right sources. He goes on to say that it is rare for a liberal to become rich because he views wealth as an object for giving, and thus does not hold onto it long enough to accumulate it.

A prodigal, on the other hand, will often exhaust their resources since they exceed in giving and lack in taking. Such a man is to be considered as foolish, though not necessarily wicked. A major problem is that many prodigals take from the wrong sources. They will often make those who should be poor to be rich and ignore those who are noble in character.
I think that there is one element that needs to be clarified here. It is generally clear what Aristotle means when he says right amounts, right times, etc. (not necessarily the number values, but the concepts; the number values will change dependant on the circumstances). However, it is unclear thus far as to what he means by "taking from the right sources." He states that the true liberal "will take from the right sources, e.g. from his own possessions, not as something noble but as a necessity, that he may have something to give."

Finally, I love what Aristotle says here. "Liberality resides not in the multitude of the gifts but in the state of character of the giver, and this is relative to the giver's substance. There is therefore nothing to prevent the man who gives less from being the more liberal man, if he has less to give those are thought to be more liberal who have not made their wealth but inherited it; for in the first place they have no experience of want, and secondly all men are fonder of their own productions."

Given all of this, what category would modern liberalism fall under?
They give the wrong amounts to the wrong people at the wrong times with pain. And to kick it off, they take from the wrong people and for the sake of re-election. Each of these will be exampled below.

From the wrong sources: They tax the rich instead of using their own money.

To the wrong people: They give much to those who should be poor because of their decisions (the girl with four children out of wedlock, the person who did nothing to prepare for a retirement, etc.).

In the wrong amounts: They spend more than they bring in. For the wrong reasons: They pride themselves on funding the most special interest groups. But he who gives the most is not the most liberal.

At the wrong times: When the economy is hurting the most.

With pain: Just watch and see.

All this said, according to Aristotle, those whom we deem to be liberal are in fact more representative of the foolish, though not necessarily wicked, prodigal. The true liberal is the ideal fiscal conservative, of course this says nothing about whether we have any of those left in office.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Leibniz' Cosmological Argument

William Lane Craig sets Leibniz' cosmological argument as follows (Cosmological Argument, 274):

1. Something exists
2. There must be a sufficient reason or rational basis for why something exists rather than nothing.
3. This sufficient reason cannot be found in any single thing or in the whole aggregate of things or in the efficient causes for all things.
a. Things in the world are contingent, that is determined in their being by other things such that if matter and motion were changed, they would not exist.
b. The world is simply the conglomeration of such things and is thus itself contingent
c. The efficient causes of all things are simply prior states of the world, and these successive states do not explain why there are any states, any world, at all.
4. Therefore, there must exist outside the world and the states of the world a sufficient reason for the existence of the world.
5. This sufficient reason will be a metaphysically necessary being, that is, a being whose sufficient reason for existence is self-contained.

Premise one is undeniable; for in order to deny the existence of something, one must first exist. Thus, such a denial would be self-defeating. Likewise, in order to affirm the existence of something one must exist. Leibniz is making an affirmation here. Thus something certainly exists.

Premise two is a bit ambiguous. What does Leibniz mean by rational basis? It seems to me that this premise can be taken in two ways. Either it means that there is a knowable explanation for why the "something" from premise one exists or it means that there is a purpose for its existence. I think that taking "rational basis" in the second way will explicitly beg the question for the existence of God. However, there is a sense in which taking the premise in the first way implicitly begs the question—since it assumes an order to the universe. And order is not a given in a materialistic world. Nonetheless, to be charitable, I will grant that the order of the universe is a brute fact and allow the second premise on the first understanding, that "rational basis" applies to our ability to know the efficient (material) cause of something, rather than the purpose.

But then we find that Leibniz, in premise three, tells us that the reason cannot be found in the order of efficient causes. Thus his "rational basis" is premise two must be an appeal to a purpose. But this seems to beg the question. You cannot have a purpose without having an intelligent agent. Thus the very assumption that a purpose is a necessary condition for existence implies a necessary intelligent agent, or God.

Thus the rest of the argument put forth by Leibniz is mute. The whole "proof," since it relies on this assumption, fails.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Kalam Argument for God's Existence

The Kalam Cosmolog-ical Argument is one of the most basic and effective proofs for the existence of God. It is also one of the most highly challenged proofs. It can be stated as follows:

Premise 1: Everything that began to exist had a cause.
Premise 2: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe had a cause.

This argument carries a logical form that guarantees the conclusion is true if the premises are true (modus ponens). Therefore, a successful defense of this argument need only prove the two premises to guarantee its soundness. My goal here will be to briefly mention some criticisms of each premise, then to defend each premise, and finally to draw some implications of this proof.

Premise 1: Everything that began to exist had a cause.

For the most part, this premise is a generally accepted one. However, some have challenged whether or not we can know this to be true. To defend it against such doubt, I would like to point out that—for things that began to exist—there are only three possible explanations:

1- It was uncaused
2- It was caused to exist by itself
3- It was caused to exist by another

Now to say that a thing that began to exist was uncaused seems to go against all reason. Indeed this explanation is one that must rely on pure faith and that goes against everything in our experience. Some may argue that research in Quantum Mechanics supports the idea that things can be uncaused, but this hypothesis is highly questionable and there has not been given a demonstrable proof of it to this point.

The second option is absurd, seeing as the thing would have to exist before it existed in order to cause itself. I have never heard of this option defended.

Thus, the third option is by far the most plausible. In all of our experience, we can say that of all things that have begun to exist that they have had a cause.

One final note that should be made here regards an objection that has been around since Kant. It is the claim that, if everything needs a cause, then so does God—thus the first premise is half of an antinomy. But this argument is based on a clear misreading of the claim. The first premise states that everything that begins to exist must have a cause. Not that everything needs a cause. Thus the objection is misplaced.

Premise 2: The universe began to exist.

This premise can be defended in two different ways. One by a priori reasoning (reasoning that comes in a way that is separate from experience) and one by a posteriori reasoning (reasoning that comes by way of experience). The a priori defense of this premise argues from the impossibility of an infinite number of moments. The main claim is that one cannot traverse an actual infinite. Consider this: if today is here, could it be possible that an infinite number of days were prior to today? If so, then how did we reach today? Wouldn't there always be at least one more day prior to this day? Some will argue that an infinite can be shown to exist in the fact that all measurements are infinitely divisible. Take for instance a line 3 inches long. Mathematically, there are an infinite number of points on this line—thus within an apparent finite measurement there are an infinite number of length-moments. Therefore there is no reason to believe that within an apparent finite amount of time there are an infinite number of time-moments.

So can this problem be solved? Yes. In response to the skeptic here, it needs to be pointed out that the example fails. It is treating the mathematical points as if they were units of measurement, when in fact they have no actual dimension in the space-time world. It is because they are dimensionless beings of reason that one can say that they total an infinite number of possibilities. If points were real beings of which can be equated with length, then the total number of them that would fit into a 3 inch line would be finite. The same thing can be said with regards to time. A moment cannot be considered as a timeless measurement, because each moment, as they are considered in this argument, actually spans time. In conclusion, the mental-existence of potential infinites is not sufficient to prove that it is possible for an actual infinite to exist, let alone to be traversed. Therefore, this premise is demonstrable on an a priori basis.

Now, for those who are earthier and lovers of the evidence from the senses—like me—there is the a posteriori evidence for this argument. Simply put- Big Bang cosmology and the Laws of Thermodynamics support that the universe had a beginning. A full defense and explanation of this right here is not possible, so if anyone desires the particulars of this evidence, please ask. Otherwise, I will move right into the objections. Some say that the First Law of Thermodynamics proves that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; thus implying that the universe is eternal. But this is a misreading of the Law, which states that in a closed system the amount of energy is a constant unchangeable value. Some will say that the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that the amount of useable energy in a closed system is always decreasing, does not apply since the universe may be an open system. But this is ad hoc, since there is no reason to accept the hypothesis except to reject the implication that the universe was created. Likewise, appeals to other theories such as the ever expanding-contracting universe are also ad hoc. In the end, the most reasonable interpretation of the scientific evidence points to a beginning of the universe.


Hence, since the premises both appear to be true, the conclusion must also be true. The most rational belief is that the universe must have had a cause. It is often at this point that many theists stop and many atheists will admit a cause but reject that the cause is God. But I would like to show that the cause demonstrated can ultimately be shown to be a theistic God, fully compatible with the picture of God described by Christianity.


There are many conclusions that can be drawn from this argument. First, because the cause is the cause of time, it must be eternal. Second, if Einstein's Theory of General Relativity is correct—as is generally accepted by most scientists—then the cause must also be non-spatial and non-material as well since time, space and matter are correlative. In other words, the cause is unlimited omnipresent spirit. Third, since time is the measurement of befores and afters and since the cause is non-temporal then there can be no befores and afters for the cause. Thus the cause must be unchanging. And since the cause is unchanging, then all that it is is all that it could ever be. Thus the cause must be Pure Actuality, with no potentiality. Fourth, given the existence of this cause, it is apparent that it is a necessarily existing thing. This is not to say that it is logically necessary, as the Ontological Argument wrongly tries to prove, but that it is actually necessary. We can know this because it exists and could not not-exist since it could not change. Fifth, the cause must be super-powerful since it created space, time, and matter out of no space, no-time, and no matter—or nothing. Finally, since the being is unlimited, then it must be one—for if there were two unlimited spirits, they would have to differ by something. But to differ, one must be lacking in something had by the other. But a lack implies a limit, thus one would not be the cause, but an effect of some sorts.

In summary, the Kalam argument can be used to demonstrate that a single super-powerful eternal, unlimited, omnipresent, unchanging, actually necessary spirit being exists. And, in the words of Thomas Aquinas, this being we call God.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Incompatibility of Materialism and Science

I have science on my mind this week, well more properly I have the philosophy of science on my mind. First I went and saw Expelled (which was pretty good and I recommend it to everyone . . . it is not so much a blast on evolution as much as a call for academic freedom). Then, I read John Loftus' Why I Rejected Christianity. For the most part, the book consisted of the same old arguments that have been answered. Not to say that the questions he raised aren't important--they are. But most had been answered ad infinitum. There were a couple of things that he has brought up that are in need of more dialogue though, especially regarding historical knowledge. Nonetheless, I am not here to rave about the movie or blast the book. I am here to talk about something the book got me thinking about.

On page 93, Loftus says "There are four assumptions of science: 1) The belief of an external world independent of the perceiving subject as the basis of all natural science . . . 2) The intelligibility of nature . . . 3) The uniformity of nature . . . 4) The adequacy of scientific language and math to adequately describe the world." Now, I agree with these claims. I am an empiricist (meaning I believe that all knowledge is derived from the physical world). But I think that it is my belief that all physical things are material/immaterial compositions that allows for all these beliefs. Let me explain.

You see, for the materialist, there are no immaterial objects. Only physical objects and physical processes. Now, it is because they believe this that I think that they cannot affirm these points. First, the assumption number one is fine. There is no reason that this cannot be assumed. But assumption number two is a problem. I'll explain.

First, a rational assumption is one where there seems no reason to deny the claim, but it remains difficult, if not impossible to prove. But I think that there is good reason to deny this claim, given a materialist metaphysic. You see, if all external reality is purely matter, then the object of one's knowledge is not at all identical to the object in reality. The object in one's knowledge would be identical to whatever chemicals, electric pulses, and whatnot are involved in the act of the thought. But the object in reality is not identical to those factors; it is identical to whatever elements, compounds, accidents, and characteristics of extension that it maintains. In fact, if one were to line up all the characteristics of either object next to one another, they would find that they share not a single one in common.

This means that, of everything we know about the two objects, they are wholly different from one another. So is it even rational to assume that the objects are even similar? No. There is too much of a reason to doubt it. Thus there is good reason to deny the intelligibility of nature. But then assumptions three and four are worthless. Therefore, the materialist is left with assumption number one, which now is nothing but an article of blind faith. So science, if it is considered to be knowledge of all physical reality, is incompatible with materialism, since no physical reality may really be known.

So how do I avoid this? Well, it is my position that the only way to explain sameness through change (which includes the sameness of an object in reality to a changed state in my mind) is to postulate an immaterial aspect to all reality. Now this is not a mere assumption, since sameness through change is demonstrable (for instance, I am the same person that I was 20 years ago, and that is rationally undeniable--but none of the physical elements of me are the same). Therefore, belief in a material/immaterial composition is necessary for science and is such a belief is demonstrable and thus not ad hoc.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Some Minor Theodicies," "Conclusion," and "Appendix"


In this final section of Dr. Martin’s book he critiques some lesser advocated theodicies, concludes his entire argument, and offers an appendix. I really enjoyed this final section and gleaned a lot of good insights from it. Overall, I have been satisfied with the way that this endeavor has turned out and I am confident that I have shown Martin’s case, while he has made some strong points that should be addressed by theists, is not sufficient to destroy the rational foundations for theism. I hope those of you who have had the patience to bear with me through this long series have been edified.

Summary of Martin’s Claims

Martin’s final chapter of his argument for positive atheism continues and completes his section based on the problem of evil. Since he has already evaluated the strongest theistic positions, he chooses to at least make mention and critique of some lesser known theodicies. He states that these are less compelling and usually used by those who are not theologians or philosophers of religion.

He begins with the "Finite God Theodicy." As an example of this, Martin presents Rabbi Kushner’s position that God is not all powerful and, thus, cannot prevent all evil. Kushner believes that some evil is the result of chaos that God has been trying to get in order; other evils are the result of natural law. Martin critiques Kushner’s finite view by pointing out that: (1) Kushner has given no examples of evils resulting from uncaused events; (2) there is no evidence that some natural laws are newer than others, which would be the case if God was getting the chaos in order; (3) Kushner doesn’t explain why a god powerful enough to establish laws didn’t make them with fewer possibilities for evil; and (4) Kushner doesn’t explain why God doesn’t help some people. In response to four, Martin notes, some argue that God is preoccupied with preventing greater evils. But he answers that, if God could create the entire universe simultaneously, then why can’t he attend to all parts of it simultaneously.

Next, Martin assesses "The Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy." This attempt to answer the problem of evil claims that the evil in this world is necessary since this is the best of all possible worlds. Martin offers two primary challenges to this answer. First, he says, it is improbable that this world could not be made better. Second, the notion of the best of all possible worlds is incoherent. In support of this second criticism, Martin offers arguments from Alvin Plantinga and Patrick Grim. Alvin Plantinga relates such a concept as "the best of all possible worlds" to "the greatest number." It seems to him that whatever object you conceive of can be upped one. Thus the concept is incoherent. Grim, on the other hand, claims that all possible worlds are equally good. He says that, since God is morally perfect, He could not create any worlds inferior to others. Thus all the possible worlds are morally equal. Now, if Grim is right, then there are many difficult implications—e.g., (1) this world would be as perfect as God Himself; (2) ethical fatalism; (3) counterfactual problems. Thus this theodicy also fails.

The next theodicy that Martin looks at is the "Original Sin Theodicy." This is the Judeo-Christian answer regarding the fall from grace (Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden). Martin objects to it saying that: (1) science shows that death and disaster came before human sin; (2) it is unjust, since to punish the descendants because of their parents’ sins is unjust; and (3) it is incoherent that perfect creatures in a perfect world could sin. This amounts to creating evil ex nihilo.

The fourth theodicy offered by Martin is the "Ultimate Harmony Theodicy." This answer claims that what seems like evil is not really evil from God’s perspective; or it is evil but has good consequences and, thus, it is justified. Martin offers four criticisms of this view: (1) if evil is an illusion, then moral fatalism results; (2) It seems to imply that God has a different morality than us. Then how can He be an object of worship or a moral guidance to us? (3) If God is omnipotent, then why not limit the evil and still have good consequences? Or, even if the amount is necessary, is it really worth the price? And (4) Heaven as a compensation for suffering cannot solve the problem since compensation doesn’t make the action right.

Finally, Martin offers four lesser known theodicies. The first is "The Degree of Desirability of a Conscious State Theodicy." This is a complex theodicy that I will not explain here. The second is the "Reincarnation Theodicy. He offers four criticisms to this view: (1) the implications are absurd and morally appalling; (2) it is morally empty; (3) it contradicts the scientific discovery that life began a finite time ago; and (4) it still doesn’t explain why God allowed the evil in the first place. Next Martin presents the "Contrast Theodicy," which claims that evil is allowed to make the good more appreciable. Martin offers two criticisms: (1) why then is it experienced rather than simply seen? And (2) this doesn’t explain the extent of evil. Finally, Martin offers the "Warning Theodicy," which is a proposed solution to the problem of natural evil that views pain and disaster as warnings. To this solution, he asks "couldn’t God warn human beings without causing them harm?"

Next, Martin moves on to his Conclusion. Here, he gives a short summary of what he has claimed and then proceeds to expound what he believes would happen if disbelief in God became prevalent. He says that if disbelief in God became the prevalent belief, moral standards would not necessarily change. He also says that people would still join religious groups for the social benefit or aesthetic value. Further, it is conceivable that religious freedom could still reign. He then gives a list of things that would change, including: (1) the religious right would lose much of its power and moral education and legislation would change; (2) there would be fewer wars; and (3) the birthrate would drop. He concludes with his belief that such changes are not likely since people are tempted to believe in the transcendental.

Lastly, Martin gives us an Appendix where he makes distinctions between positive and negative, broad and narrow, and atheism and alienated theism. Then he gives the differences between atheism and agnosticism, skepticism, naturalism, rationalism, positivism, humanism, communism, the Freethought Movement, and the Ethical Culture Movement.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

I had many agreements and appreciations for this section of Martin’s book. First, I agree with Martin’s overall assessment of the "Finite God Theodicy," though there are a couple points of disagreement that I will note in my critique. Second, I agree with Martin’s rejection of the "Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy," and I have only one disagreement which I will mention later. Third, I will grant Martin’s critique of "The Degree of Desirability of a Conscious State Theodicy," and will add that I reject the idea that God is obligated to any creatures. I don’t think this is so regardless of their degree of desirability. Fourth, I agree with each point of the "Reincarnation Theodicy." Fifth, regarding the "Contrast Theodicy," I agree with Martin. I will add that a contrast is not needed if one realizes that evil is not a thing to be compared but a privation. On this understanding, the "Contrast Theodicy" would seem to be saying that it is easier to appreciate an imperfect thing than a perfect thing, which seems silly. Sixth, I think that Martin’s Appendix was extremely helpful and should be read by all theists and atheists alike.


Now for my final critique. First, I have two criticisms from Martin’s critique of Kushner. (1) Martin complains that Kushner doesn’t explain why a God powerful enough to establish laws didn’t make them with fewer possibilities for evil. But I would like to ask Martin: "Why should God be obligated to do this?" If He wouldn’t be, then there is no problem. If He would be, then Martin needs to show how. (2) Martin then faults Kushner’s God for not helping some people. But how does Martin know that He doesn’t? Second, I have a single critique from the section on "The Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy." Martin quotes Patrick Grim who claims that, since God is morally perfect, He could not create any worlds inferior to others. Thus all the possible worlds are morally equal. But this assumes that God is a moral being. Further, it seems to be ambiguous as to what is meant by "possible." A distinction between "logically possible" and "actually possible" needs to be made to clarify what he is saying.

My most extensive critique relates to Martin’s criticism of the "Original Sin Theodicy," which I wholly disagreed with. First, Martin claims that science shows that death and disaster came before human sin. But I ask, "Death and disaster of what?" There is no science that says that human death came before human sin. And since humans are the only known moral creatures, then there is no problem with the kind of death that occurred beforehand. Further, there is no evidence that disaster had any affect on humans who did not sin. Thus this argument fails. Second, Martin claims that it is unjust to punish the descendants because of their parents’ sins. But this is implying that God is actively punishing His creation. This is false. What He has done is allow the human race to choose to live outside of His grace. The blame is not on God in any way, but on humanity. Furthermore, He has not been content to just let things be, but He has made a way back into His grace, through Jesus Christ. So not only is God not responsible for the effects of humanity’s choice to separate itself from Him, but He has gracefully given us a way back if we admit our fault. Third, Martin claims that it is incoherent that perfect creatures in a perfect world could sin since this amounts to evil being created ex nihilo. But this is a confused concept of evil. Evil is not a thing to be created. It is a privation in a good thing. Thus evil can exist only in virtue of a good thing existing.

Next, I have a few criticisms of the "Ultimate Harmony Theodicy." First, one of Martin’s criticisms was that it seems to imply that God has a different morality than us. So he asks, "How can He be an object of worship or a moral guidance to us?" I answer that God doesn’t have a morality. He is worshipped in virtue of His ontology, i.e., what He is. Finally, He is not a moral guidance for us. He is the lawmaker, not its greatest keeper. Second, Martin asks "If God is omnipotent, then why not limit the evil and still have good consequences? Or, even if the amount is necessary, is it really worth the price?" But these arguments presume that the accuser knows more than God. If God is all knowing and all powerful, He has taken all possibilities into account and there is nothing to question here. Third, Martin critiques the picture of Heaven as a compensation for suffering since compensation doesn’t make the affliction right. But Heaven is not compensation, it is a gift. Further, God doesn’t inflict the evils, He allows them.

Next, I have a couple of criticisms regarding Martin’s handling of the "Warning Theodicy." Martin asks, "Couldn’t God warn human beings without causing them harm?" Maybe this would not be effective. Pain makes the warning existentially relevant. Other messages, due to our limitations, may not appear as relevant. Overall, the other criticisms offered in this section by Martin are unfounded because they assume that God has an obligation to warn people in a better way. In fact, God has no obligation to warn us in the first place. It is an act of grace when He does.

Finally, I have a few criticisms of Martin’s conclusion. First, Martin claims that, if disbelief in God became the prevalent belief, moral standards would not necessarily change. But they would if people lived consistently with their beliefs. I know that I would act way differently if I believed that God did not exist. I would act as I did before I became a Christian, if not worse. Second, Martin claims that the religious right would lose much of its power and moral education and legislation would change. I say that if people were consistent, moral education and legislation would end. Third, Martin claims that there would be fewer wars. But contrary to the popular assumption, most wars have no religious significance. They are political and economic in nature. Further, this assumes that religious beliefs are not active deterrents to war. This assumption needs to be demonstrated. Finally, Martin says that such changes are not likely since people are tempted to believe in the transcendental. I would add to this that they are likely due to the fact that the arguments of this book are insufficient for demonstrating that God does not exist. In fact, in light of the criticisms raised here, I think that it is safe to say that theism remains the most rationally defensible position.