Brilliant piece by His Grace on Richard Dawkins’ refusal to defend his ideas in debate with William Lane Craig
For many atheists the argument goes something like this; unless overwhelming evidence can be presented for the existence of a god the default position of a thinking person should be NOT to believe in gods.
Essentially, we should presume atheism.
However, the Ontological argument for God, first proposed by Anselm in the eleventh century, challenges that assumption.
Anselm argues that we should believe in a perfect being unless such a perfect being is impossible (note not unlikely but impossible).
So how does the argument work?
There are a number of ways of stating the argument. Read Richard Dawkins God Delusion and you will find a superficial response to just one form.
We’ll focus on the one that’s most accessible. I take it from Douglas Groothuis’s new book Christian Apologetics.
The thing to bear in mind as we start out is that there are two types of proof for God arguments.
A posterioi arguments are those which look at evidence for the existence of God. For example the cosmological argument uses the scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning from big bang cosmology to argue that whatever has a beginning must have a cause and that cause is God.
A priori arguments are not seeking to establish the existence of God from any appeal to evidence at all. They are arguments from reason or logic alone.
Anselm begins his argument with the following statement ‘God cannot be conceived not to exist. That which can be conceived not to exist is not God.’
What does Anselm mean?
He’s NOT saying it’s impossible to think that there is no God. Clearly lots of people are quite capable of that.
What he is saying is that God has unique properties that make him unlike any other kind of being. Other things might happen to exist but God, by definition, must exist unless his existence is proven to be logically absurd. God is a necessary being meaning if he could exist he would have to exist.
You wouldn’t say that of anything else. Everything else that we think about might exist or might not. Everything else is contingent. Groothuis gives the example of a saxophone. Someone may have invented the saxophone but it’s quite conceivable to imagine a world in which the saxophone never existed.
God would not be God if he only might exist. God being God is ‘maximally great’ he is a ‘perfect being’ and perfect beings don’t just happen to exist they necessarily exist.
So Anselm argues;
If God could exist he would exist. It is inconceivable, irrational and illogical to argue that like a saxophone he may or may not exist.
Therefore to argue that he does not exist we must argue that it would have to be because he could not exist.
The only reason for rejecting the notion of a perfect being, the only reason to posit his non-existence is therefore that the concept of a perfect being is in itself flawed. There is no other reason as to why a perfect being would not exist.
So Norman Malcolm in Knowledge and Certainty writes that God’s ‘existence must be logically necessary or logically impossible. The only intelligible way of rejecting Anselm’s claim that God’s existence is necessary is to maintain that the concept of God, as a being greater than which cannot be conceived, is self-contradictory or nonsensical.’
Here is Groothius’ formal structure for the argument:
1. God is defined as a maximally great or Perfect Being
2. The existence of a Perfect Being is either impossible or necessary (since it cannot be contingent).
3. The concept of a Perfect Being is not impossible, since it is neither non-sensical nor self-contradictory
4. Therefore (a) a Perfect Being is necessary
5. Therefore (b) a Perfect Being exists.
Consequences of the argument
Once we accept that the existence of God is possible, that is not inherently nonsensical, we should accept that if possible he is in fact necessary.
So we move from the possibility of God to the presumption of the existence of God.
The onus is therefore on the atheist to demonstrate that God is self-contradictory or nonsensical rather than on the theist to prove that he is there.
Why should we believe in God rather than unicorns?
The idea of a unicorn is logically possible, since it is understood to be an animal that does not possess incompatible properties. Unicorns do not exist in our world. Nevertheless, they could exist, that is, they exist in a possible world. But a unicorn is not conceived as a necessary being, a being that must exist given its very nature. God is considered as such. And there is the rub metaphysically. It the concept of God is not im-possible, then God must exist in at least one possible world, and in that possible world God’s existence is necessary. That is, God cannot not exist. So, if God exists as a logically necessary being in one world, he exists in all such worlds.
Very much looking forward to hearing William Lane Craig debating in Birmingham on October 21st.
If you did might well have shared a general and growing frustration that Dawkins keeps getting away with writing bad books and making quite a bit of money from it in the process (including another £10 from me for this new book).
In one sense, Dawkins is a great help in the Christian cause because he helps to ensure that ‘God’ and ‘religion’ are centre-stage. Having said that I did enjoy this review in the Independent which does a good demolition job of the weak arguments presented in the book.
The Guardian described David Foster Wallace as ‘the most brilliant American writer of his generation.‘ Novelist, essayist and Professor of Literature at Pomona College, Claremont California he tragically committed suicide after struggles with depression in 2008.
He is most famous for a commencement speech given to graduation students at Kenyon College, Ohio in which, as you will see below, he describes the reality of idolatry in the lives of all of us and their devastating impact.
In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — the trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
Recognise that as a reality in your own life? If you want to explore the dangers of idolatry then ‘Counterfeit Gods; When the Empty Promises of Love, Money, and Power Let You Down’ by Tim Keller and Idols by Julian Hardyman are both well worth a read.
Richard Dawkins, the champion of the New Atheism, argues that we should base our lives only on that which is empirically verifiable or rationally provable and yet in this devastating interview Dawkins admits that;
a) He has no idea how likely it is that God doesn’t exist and wouldn’t want to put a figure on it
b) He has no idea how the universe was created
c) He has no idea how life began on earth
d) He suggests that we might be here because aliens put us here!
We are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures – NASA Astronomer
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4)
“We are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures.. .. If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the universe was created for man to live in.” John O’Keefe (astronomer at NASA)
“Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say ‘supernatural’) plan.” Arno Penzias (Nobel prize in physics)
“It seems to me that when confronted with the marvels of life and the universe, one must ask why and not just how. The only possible answers are religious. . . . I find a need for God in the universe and in my own life.” Arthur L. Schawlow (Professor of Physics at Stanford University, 1981 Nobel Prize in physics)
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honour.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:5-9)
William Lane Craig is arguably the foremost Christian apologist in the world and he is coming to the UK this autumn on a debating and lecture tour. You would think that leading atheists and representatives of the British Humanist Association, Polly Toynbee, Richard Dawkins and A.C.Grayling would have readily accepted the invitation to debate him and given that they think they have the knock-out arguments, with some relish. Yet, one by one, they have either refused or withdrawn from a debate.
New Atheist, Sam Harris, said of William Lane Craig in his introductory comments at their recent debate;
I’m very happy to be debating Dr. Craig, the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists. I’ve actually gotten more than a few emails this week, that more or less read, “Brother, please, don’t blow this.” So, you will be the judge.
Christopher Hitchens said ahead of his debate with Craig;
I can tell you that my brothers and sisters, my co-thinkers, in the unbelieving community take him very seriously. He’s thought of as a very tough guy; very rigorous, very scholarly, very thoughtful. I say that without reserve. Normally I don’t get people saying to me ‘good luck tonight’ or ‘don’t let us down’ but with him I do.
Given that Dawkins, Grayling and Toynbee claim to have all the arguments why don’t they run William Lane Craig out of town?
Perhaps, as ‘commonsenseatheist‘ conceded having witnessed a debate between Craig and Christopher Hitchens;
The debate went exactly as I expected. Craig was flawless and unstoppable. Hitchens was rambling and incoherent, with the occasional rhetorical jab. Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child.
I’m not a great one for Youtube videos that mock the views of others and I’m certainly not suggesting that Christians ought to mock or insults all humanists but I do think that the double-standards and hypocrisy (as well as down-right rudeness in some cases) of those who claim to speak in the name of Atheism but refuse to debate Craig should be subject to a degree of mild ridicule.
‘Enjoy’ the video and buy a ticket for one of the debates. Who knows maybe Dawkins will turn up!
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