Intelligent Design

But Mr. Myers…!

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The philosopher William Lane Craig has written a short piece titled, A Christmas gift for atheists — five reasons why God exists over on the Fox News Website. Evolutionary biologist P.Z. Myers has written a humorous response on his Pharyngula blog, titled, But Mr Craig…! This post is a short counter-response to Professor Myers. As a matter of politeness, I normally use titles when addressing or referring to other people in my posts, but since I see that P.Z. Myers has chosen to address Professor Craig as “Mr Craig,” I have decided to dispense with formalities in my reply.

William Lane Craig’s original article contained five very brief arguments for the existence of God, to each of which P.Z. Myers appended a pithy reply. Each argument and reply is reproduced below, followed by a short response of mine.

Argument #1

Craig:

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.

Myers’ reply to Craig:

But Mr Craig! Where’s the math? I know you don’t like any kind of evidence and are a being operating on pure logic, but you could at least provide the mathematical foundation for your assertion. You know your holy book just baldly states that a god did it, with no backing rationale, right? It makes for a very unsatisfactory explanation. There’s no meat to it.

And don’t you think it’s a bit of a leap to jump from a necessary first cause (which I don’t necessarily grant you) to the conclusion that it required an “unembodied mind”? Maybe it required an unembodied anus to poop out the universe, no brain needed.

My reply to Myers:

But Mr. Myers! Aren’t you applying a double standard here? The verdict of science is in: It now seems certain that the universe did have a beginning. (“The universe” in this context isn’t just our observable universe; as cosmologist Alex Vilenkin has argued, the multiverse itself must have had a beginning, even if, as physicist Leonard Susskind has argued, that beginning was an awfully long time ago.) Now, logic dictates that there are only two possibilities here: either the universe had a causeless beginning, or it had a Cause. You reject William Lane Craig’s argument for God, on the grounds that “It makes for a very unsatisfactory explanation.” But to say that the universe had a causeless beginning is to say that it has no explanation. And even a very unsatisfactory explanation is better than no explanation at all. Surely you don’t need a mathematical demonstration to see that, Mr. Myers. But if you’d like to see some maths relating to the claims for God’s existence, then look no further, Mr. Myers: here it is, courtesy of the astronomer Hugh Ross.

You then ask Craig how he gets from a necessary being to an unembodied mind, and you add: why not an unembodied anus too? Mr. Myers, you’re a biologist, so I presume you know what an anus is: “the opening at the end of the alimentary canal through which solid waste matter leaves the body” (emphasis mine). But the verdict of science is that matter had a beginning. Ergo, the necessary being doesn’t have an anus. QED.

But how to we know that the First Cause is “an unembodied mind”? It turns out that Craig has already answered your question in a recent post (Question 184) on ReasonableFaith.org:

Why could not the cause of the universe be indeterministic yet impersonal? Again, you need to recall what has already been established prior to this point. If the argument so far is correct, then we have proved that there exists an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, enormously powerful, indeterministic cause of the universe. Now the question is, what is it? What entity fits this description? The answer, it seems to me, is clear: a person, an unembodied mind…

We’ve yet to see any evidence that the notion of an unembodied mind is incoherent or even any evidence against mind-body dualism in human beings…

We can think of this conclusion as an inference to the best explanation. In inference to the best explanation, we ask ourselves, what hypothesis, if true, would provide the best explanation of the data? The hypothesis that there is a personal Creator of the universe explains wonderfully all the data. By contrast, as I said, there’s nothing like this in a naturalistic worldview. Even given quantum indeterminism (itself a moot point), such indeterminacy is a property of changing, spatiotemporal, physical systems. I don’t know of any competing explanation to, much less better explanation than, the hypothesis of a personal Creator… Saying that the cause of the universe is an … indeterministic, impersonal being is … not to offer an explanation at all. Therefore, it could never be the better explanation. Similarly, it is no good appealing to unknown entities. That just is to admit that one has no explanation, no alternative hypothesis to offer.

In a trenchant review of Leonard Krauss’s bestseller, A Universe from Nothing, physicist David Albert explains why the much-ballyhooed quantum fields of modern physics shed no light on the question of why there is something rather than nothing:

The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.

Another possibility that has been suggested is that the cause of the universe could be an abstract object, such as a law of physics. But as Craig has argued in another post (Question 182) on ReasonableFaith.org: “The problem with abstract objects is not just that they are beyond space and time, but that they are not agents and therefore literally can’t do anything. They have no powers or ability to act.” Physicist David Albert handily disposes of the suggestion that the laws of physics can explain the existence of the universe in the review I cited above: “the fundamental laws of this theory [relativistic quantum field theory – VJT] take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of those fields are physically possible and which aren’t, and rules connecting the arrangements of those fields at later times to their arrangements at earlier times, and so on — and they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place.”

I realize that the notion of a disembodied mind may sound intellectually uncongenial to you, Mr. Myers, given your scientific training. But even you would have to concede that at least it’s a better explanation than the notion of a mathematical equation causing the universe to pop into existence.

Finally, Mr. Myers, if you want a fully developed argument as to why a personal free agent is a better explanation of the cosmos than any alternative explanation, I suggest you have a look at philosopher Paul Herrick’s online article, Job Opening: Creator of the Universe—A Reply to Keith Parsons (2009) at Infidels.org.

Does that answer your question, Mr. Myers?

Argument #2

Craig:

2. God 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.

Myers’ reply to Craig:

But Mr Craig! The universe isn’t finely tuned. The overwhelming bulk of it is inaccessible to us, and even on this one planet we inhabit, 70% is underwater, vast swathes are icy wastes or deserts, and those toasty warm damp tropics, which are otherwise paradisial, are heaven for parasites and diseases. You even admit this yourself when you say our nature requires an environment that falls within an “incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range”. Do you think that range is everywhere?

Also, without other universes to compare, you can’t claim that ours has optimal parameters. Don’t you also claim the existence of a heaven which is perfect? Therefore, we can obviously see that the Earth is a much inferior place.

My reply to Myers:

But Mr. Myers! It seems to me that you didn’t even bother to read William Lane Craig’s argument. You object that “without other universes to compare, you can’t claim that ours has optimal parameters.” But Craig never claimed that our universe was optimal, and I’m sure he’d be the first to concede that it’s much inferior to Heaven. What Craig claimed was that “the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent, interactive life.”

You might not like the fact that our universe is mostly inhospitable to life, and that the areas that do support life also support parasites and diseases. Neither do I. But the key fact that needs to be explained here is that the universe is fine-tuned, in such a way that even slight changes in its fundamental constants or initial conditions would render it incapable of supporting life anywhere – which means there would be no life on Earth. We can whinge all we like about the fact that our Earth is no Heaven, but the singular fact that our universe’s constants and initial conditions are balanced on a knife’s edge still cries out for an explanation.

With reference to Craig’s “incomprehensibly narrow life-permitting range,” you ask: “Do you think that range is everywhere?” Yes, Mr. Myers, that “narrow life-permitting range” applies everywhere in this universe. That’s because the finely-tuned constants of Nature are the same throughout the cosmos – even in those regions which don’t support life.

If the vast size of the universe and the absence of life in space bothers you, Mr. Myers, then you might like to read a post of mine titled, “The universe is too big, too old and too cruel”: three silly objections to cosmological fine-tuning (Part Two) in which I address this problem. In a nutshell: “The main reason why the universe is as big as it currently is that in the first place, the universe had to contain sufficient matter to form galaxies and stars, without which life would not have appeared; and in the second place, the density of matter in the cosmos is incredibly fine-tuned, due to the fine-tuning of gravity.”

If you think the multiverse refutes the fine-tuning argument, Mr. Myers, please see here and here.

Finally, you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve written a cogent defense of the fine-tuning argument in my recent post, Is God a good theory? A response to Sean Carroll (Part Two), which I think should answer just about every objection that’s commonly raised against it – including the criticisms of physicist Victor Stenger, who suggests that random selections of the constants of physics generally produce viable, life-permitting stars, and suggests that life in other universes might not be so rare after all. Dr. Luke Barnes’ paper, The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Intelligent Life (Version 1, December 21, 2011) offers a pretty decisive rebuttal of those claims.

Craig’s conclusion still stands: “That leaves design as the best explanation.”

Argument #3

Craig:

3. God 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, God Himself serves as the paradigm of goodness, and His commandments constitute our moral duties. Thus, theism provides a better explanation of objective moral values and duties.

Myers’ reply to Craig:

But Mr Craig! Atheists do have an objective source for morality: ourselves. I can strive to create a society which provides a good moral framework that makes me happy, keeps my family safe and productive, builds communities and nations that work cooperatively, and just generally makes life better for my species over the long run. I don’t need a god to do that. And besides, your god doesn’t provide moral guidance to anyone.

And yes, people can have different objective moral values. For instance, a person could decide that the well-being of a broader spectrum of organisms than just one species is an important value, and dedicate themselves to maintaining life everywhere it exists. I can respect that. It doesn’t take a god to acquire that moral code, just an appreciation of beauty and a greater empathy.

My reply to Myers:

But Mr. Myers! Before you can construct an ethic that’s based on making life better for people, you need to decide which individuals count as “people” in the first place. I notice, Mr. Myers, that you don’t regard babies as persons, and don’t think they’re fully human. So babies don’t count as people? I think most people in the United States of America – or any other country, for that matter – would be utterly appalled by such an attitude. And I notice that atheists themselves disagree on this question (see my survey, in the post linked to above).

Now, I’ve written an e-book titled, Embryo and Einstein – Why They’re Equal, arguing that one can still demonstrate that embryos are people too, without making any theological presuppositions. Very briefly, my argument was along the lines: why shouldn’t a human organism which is already running its own developmental program that enables it to assemble itself, over the next 18 years, into a rational adult human being, be regarded as just as important as the adult it becomes? As far as I could tell, nothing which is inherently valuable – be it nutrients or information – is added to this developing human during the course of its development, so its inherent moral value at the start of its development (call it V) must be equal to its value as a rational adult. But my argument assumed that persons (such as you and I) possess an inherent moral value of their own. Kantians and Aristotelians might be fine with that assumption; and there are a few atheists who fall into these ethical camps. Most atheists, I’m sorry to say, are utilitarians, who define morality in terms of “the greatest good of the greatest number.”

Mr. Myers, you may dislike William Lane Craig’s God because you regard Him as a capricious bully, but one thing is clear: He utterly abhors both female infanticide (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 18:10; 2 Kings 21:6) and child rape, as abominations. My beef with utilitarianism is that it could justify either practice, if it were absolutely necessary in order to save the human race.

If you would like to see proof of the depravity of utilitarianism, please have a look at the following Youtube video:

Atheist Dan Barker Says Child Rape Could Be Moral in Extreme Situations, in Order to Save Humanity (August 2, 2010).

The scenario Barker is considering here is one where an evil and technologically advanced alien says he’ll destroy humanity if you don’t rape a child. Because Barker is an act utilitarian, he says he would comply with the alien’s request, although to his credit, he admits that he’d hate himself for doing so. I have to say I was deeply impressed with Dan Barker’s intellectual honesty and his obvious aversion to the idea of performing such a hideous deed. Nevertheless, his moral principles are perverse if they lead him to adopt the conclusion that child rape could be moral in an extreme situation. The same logic would of course justify the killing of a female infant, in order to save humanity.

It gets worse. What if the evil alien in Barker’s example commanded people to rape and brutalize children repeatedly, over a period of years, and also said that he would destroy humanity if everyone didn’t comply? On Barker’s logic people would have to comply. It gets worse. What if the evil alien commanded people to do this to all the children, and then finally kill them, and do the same to all the adults, except for a few who would be left alive and allowed to breed in peace and have a very large number of descendants? If you were to take the interests of future generations into account – as global warming activists insist we should – then the interests of the vast number of descendants would outweigh the suffering endured by the 99.9% of the human race that would get tortured and killed, in order to save the rest of the human race.

Now, I should point out in all fairness that not all utilitarians would accept the above conclusion: rule utilitarians (unlike act utilitarians) would argue that since the general rule of surrendering to the demands of blackmailers would be a bad one in the long run for society as a whole to adopt, then we should not yield to the evil alien’s demand. But it seems to me that this version of utilitarianism is no better than act utilitarianism. We are supposed to always refrain from killing and raping infants, not because they have any inherent moral value of their own, but solely because it would be bad for society as a whole to adopt these practices. Well gee, thanks. This is an “ant-hive morality” if ever I heard one. What it really says is that you and I don’t matter in our own right: we’re just cogs in the Great Wheel of Society. “And this is a damnable doctrine” – if I may be so bold as quote Charles Darwin’s words out of context. It’s also profoundly demotivating: why should you bother being loyal to a society which values you merely as a means to its greater ends? Rebellion and anarchy would be more noble. After all, there is a certain dignity in rage – especially when it’s moral outrage.

The fundamental problem with utilitarianism, then, is that it makes the greatest good of the greatest number its supreme good. Once you accept that premise, then it automatically follows that the killing of an infant or the rape of a child becomes less important by comparison. In extreme circumstances, it might even be morally necessary, in order to promote the greatest good of the greatest number; and even if it is not deemed necessary, it is only because the interests of the greatest number are not served thereby.

Finally, Mr. Myers, I’d like to address your suggestion that “a person could decide that the well-being of a broader spectrum of organisms than just one species is an important value, and dedicate themselves to maintaining life everywhere it exists.” Now here is where your ethics gets very tricky, Mr. Myers. For what if I adopt an “Earth-first” ethic of biocentrism, and decide to make the welfare of all living things my paramount ethical concern? Given the concerns raised by many scientists that our present way of life is unsustainable, coupled with the historical fact that each generation of human beings in modern history has had a greater environmental impact than the previous one, and that this trend is accelerating, a person adopting a biocentrist ethic might conclude that human beings are a cancer upon the face of the Earth, and that the biosphere would be better off without them. (Ever heard of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, Mr. Myers?) What’s more, such a person might even go further, and argue that destroying civilization is actually doing Gaia a favor, and that acts of sabotage which shut down the infrastructure of our modern society are a moral duty.

Here’s my question for your Mr. Myers: given that you don’t believe that God has given us stewardship over this Earth, how would you argue with such an eco-vandal? It seems to me that you don’t have an ethical leg to stand on.

Craig, on the other hand, could tell the vandal that inflicting cruelty on animals and causing unnecessary damage to the environment are wrong because God has entrusted Nature to the care of the human beings who are made in His image, which means that animal cruelty and environmental pollution are tantamount to a breach of trust. Indeed, Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676) argued against animal cruelty in precisely such terms in his book, Contemplations Moral and Divine (1676). As he put it:

I have ever thought there was a certain degree of justice due from man to the creatures, as from man to man. (p. 117)
I have always esteemed it as part of my duty, and it hath always been my practice to be merciful to beasts. And upon the same account I have ever esteemed it a breach of trust, and have accordingly declined any cruelty to any of thy creatures, and as much as I might, prevented it in others, as a tyranny, inconsistent with the trust and stewardship that thou hast committed to me. I have abhorred those sports that consist in the torturing of the creatures: and if either noxious creatures must be destroyed, or creatures for food must be taken, it hath been my practice to do so in that manner, that may be with the least torture or cruelty to the creature; and I have still thought it an unlawful thing to destroy those creatures for recreation sake, that either were not hurtful when they lived, or are not profitable when they are killed; ever remembering that thou hast given us a dominion over they creatures; yet it is a law of justice, prudence and moderation; otherwise we should become tyrants, not lords, over thy creatures: And therefore those things of this nature, that others have practiced as recreation, I have avoided as sins. (pp. 117-118)

From where I stand, Mr. Myers, it’s advantage Craig. Ready for some more action?

Argument #4

Craig:

4. God 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 God’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: God raised Jesus from the dead.

Myers’ reply to Craig:

But Mr Craig! Does your god also provide the best explanation for how Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse, or how Odin lost his eye, the divinity embodied in every noodly appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, how Breatharians can live without eating, or how the Amazing Randi did that really amazing card trick?

Does your god blind you to the possibility that there are better explanations? Say, that the entire story of the empty tomb was a legend invented well after the fact, or that if there were a tomb, a Roman surgeon had the body stolen for the purposes of his anatomical studies, or that a bear dragged the corpse away for a little snack? There are many simpler and explanations, and it seems to me to be a bit of a deficiency on your part that you can’t think of them.

My reply to Myers:

But Mr. Myers! There’s no need for William Lane Craig to explain how Odin lost his eye. All he needs to do is explain why some people believe he did. Ditto for the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Randi’s amazing card tricks.

There are, however, certain claims that cannot be explained in this fashion – namely, those in which the claimant publicly appeals to background knowledge which she and her audience share. If this background knowledge refers to a remarkable fact which is nowhere contested, then outsiders judging the veracity of a person’s claim are entitled to take that background knowledge as a given fact.

Skeptics and believers alike agree that St. Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians in 57-58 A.D. In chapter 15 of that letter, St. Paul appealed tothe Gospel he had previously preached to them: that Jesus Christ “appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living.” I might remind Mr. Myers that Jerusalem was a mere 800 miles from Corinth, and that sea travel would have easily allowed St. Paul’s audience to check out his remarkable claims. Twenty-five years after the death of Christ, no-one had exposed him as a fraud. A rational investigator would have to conclude that regardless of whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, a very large number of people claimed to have personally seen Jesus alive again, after His death. That’s the singular fact you have to explain, Mr. Myers. (Explaining an empty tomb is trivially easy, by comparison.)

No problem, you say: mass hallucination, caused by audience hysteria. Fine, except that there aren’t any such cases of mass hallucination in the literature; they’re a cheap skeptic’s myth. Indian rope trick, you say? Come on, Mr. Myers, you’re going to have to do better than that. Fatima, you say? No good; it was witnessed by people 30 miles away, and their sworn testimonies are on the record. If you were trying to explain Fatima away, you’d have better luck explaining it an optical illusion caused by people looking at the sun for too long, as Professor Auguste Meessen has attempted to do (I’m not saying I buy his explanation, but it’s a much better one than mass hallucination). In other words, the witnesses didn’t observe the event under normal viewing conditions. By contrast, the apparitions of Jesus are alleged to have occurred under a variety of conditions (e.g. indoors and outdoors, night and day).

At the very least, then, the resurrection apparitions of Jesus were a singular historical occurrence, witnessed by a large number of people. Make of them what you will, but please, don’t try to minimize them by pigeon-holing them. Examine the evidence and draw your own conclusions.

Argument #5

Craig:

5. God 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 God that has transformed their lives.

Myers’ reply to Craig:

But Mr Craig! Every god-believer claims that about their god, not just yours. Atheists do not deny that believers experience subjective psychological phenomena that can affect how they see the world. What we deny is that there is an objective, external super-being that is diddling their brains or making the moon orbit the Earth or making people healthy if they beg hard enough. You’re avoiding addressing the nature of the phenomenon that is “experienced”, which is ultimately the whole question, so your little essay completely misses the mark.

My reply to Myers:

But Mr. Myers! It seems to me that you missed a vital phrase in William Lane Craig’s argument. “The proof of the pudding is in the tasting.” So let’s look at the fruits of the Judeo-Christian concept of God. (I’m drawing heavily here on a post which I addressed to evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, back in 2011.)

You can tell a lot about a society by how it treats its under-privileged. In this post, I’d like to focus on women. Among the many rights that women enjoy, surely the most fundamental is the right to life. Sadly, this right was routinely violated in every society, up until the appearance of Judaism.

If we examine the record of history, we cannot help being impressed by the fact that each of the world’s three great monotheistic religions – and none of the others – succeeded in eradicating the barbarous social practice of female infanticide. The first people to throw off this detestable practice were the Jews, who finally managed to eliminate female infanticide in ancient Israel and Judah after a period of several centuries, whereas the much more refined and cosmopolitan civilizations of ancient Greece, India and China all failed to do so. Indeed, to this day, female infanticide is still commonly practiced in India and China, as shown by the skewed sex ratios of males to females in those countries.

Much later on, the Christians, who continued to follow the Ten Commandments despite doing away with the Mosaic dietary and ceremonial regulations, spread the Jews’ ethical code across the Roman Empire. According to the laws of the Roman Empire, the male head of the household could order any female living in his household to have an abortion. What’s more, a married woman who gave birth had no legal right to keep her child unless the male head of the household picked it up and set it down on the family hearth. Otherwise the child had to be placed outside in the street, where it would either die of exposure or be picked up by some unscrupulous rogue and sold into slavery. Girls were exposed far more often than boys: research has shown that the ratio of men to women in the Roman Empire was at least 120:100. Given these facts, it’s not hard to see why Christianity, a religion which inherited from Judaism an ethic which was utterly opposed to infanticide, proved immensely popular among Roman women.

Centuries later, Islam also succeeded in drastically curtailing female infanticide in Saudi Arabia and North Africa. The social status of women in Saudi Arabia is poor, but the sex ratio of boys to girls clearly shows that female infanticide is nowhere practiced in that country. (I might point out that even in a Muslim nation such as Pakistan, which is very unfriendly to women’s rights, the sex ratio for children at birth is 1.05 males per female, which is the same as in the United States, while in largely Hindu India, it’s still 1.12 males per female at birth and 1.13 males per female for children aged 0-14, while in Communist China it’s 1.12 males per female at birth, and 1.17 males per female for children aged 0-14).

“So what’s your point?” I hear my readers ask. Here’s my point. Population of the Roman empire: about 60 million people. Annual number of births (assuming say, 40 births per 1000 people per year): about 2.4 million, or 1.2 million boys and 1.2 million girls, of whom 200,000 were killed. Enter Christianity: up to 200,000 girls’ lives saved per year, or 20 million per century, or 200 million over a period of a millennium (say, from 400 A.D., when nearly everyone in the Empire was Christian, to 1400 A.D.). Do the same math in Arab countries as well, and you get even more girls’ lives saved.

Of course, Mr. Myers, you may object that the reduction in female infanticide almost certainly didn’t happen overnight. Fair enough. But even if we suppose that it was a gradual, stepwise reduction occurring over a period of, say, 1,000 years, then we still get more than 100 million girls’ lives saved in Christian Europe over the period of a millennium – not counting the girls saved in Muslim countries. And let’s not forget, the original impetus came from Judaism.

Here’s my question for Mr. Myers: does he really believe that a subsistence society which didn’t fear the wrath of an angry God could have eradicated the barbarous practice of female infanticide? If so, how? And why didn’t it happen?

Over 100 million girls’ lives saved. Can you understand, Mr. Myers, how people from the Judeo-Christian tradition might feel when they hear skeptics associating Christianity with the 50,000-odd innocent people who were put to death in the witch hunts between the 15th and 18th centuries, despite the fact that belief in witchcraft had long been condemned by the Christian Church, whose attitude towards witchcraft was elaborated in the Canon Episcopi, written about 900 A.D., which stated that witchcraft and magic did not really exist, and that those who believed in such things “had been seduced by the Devil in dreams and visions into old pagan errors.” That, I have to say, is a classic instance of not seeing the wood for the trees.

Well, Mr. Myers? Do you still think the Judeo-Christian ethic and its way of life hasn’t borne fruit?

I respectfully submit that The proof of the pudding is indeed in the tasting, and that belief in the Judeo-Christian God has indeed transformed people’s lives in a way that secularism could never have done.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Myers.

11 Replies to “But Mr. Myers…!

  1. 1
    Shogun says:

    I’ve heard many times that overused cliche when atheists cite the overall hostility of the universe as an argument against fine-tuning. But isn’t the very existence of delicate biological life forms in such a harsh universe a testimony to the fact that a precise balance and fine-tuning exists to sustain them?

    But suppose the opposite was true? What if the universe was a very gentle life-permitting paradise. Would this convince the atheist that a creator exists? I don’t think so, because in such a scenario fine-tuning becomes meaningless and the atheist would argue: “since the universe is such a life-friendly place it is easy to imagine how life can arise on its own without any need of fine-tuning and design!”.

  2. 2
    Shogun says:

    In other words, which is a more extraordinary feat of design: creating delicate life in a gentle universe or in a hostile universe?

    Obviously the latter is more extraordinary.

  3. 3
    Barb says:

    Atheists clamor for hard evidence that God exists, and when it’s directly put in front of them, they ignore it or hand-wave it away. That, everyone, is what stupidity looks like.

  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT:

    Quite good response to Myers’ dismissals and distractions.

    KF

    PS: Onlookers may also want to look at the worldview- building approach here on.

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    PPS: There is video of Dr Craig in action here, and also an animation of C S Lewis on miracles vs naturalistic scientism.

  6. 6
    Box says:

    Torley, I believe, should have argued that moral relativism is incoherent. Instead he argues against abortion and utilitarianism.

    The scenario Barker is considering here is one where an evil and technologically advanced alien says he’ll destroy humanity if you don’t rape a child. Because Barker is an act utilitarian, he says he would comply with the alien’s request, although to his credit, he admits that he’d hate himself for doing so. I have to say I was deeply impressed with Dan Barker’s intellectual honesty and his obvious aversion to the idea of performing such a hideous deed. Nevertheless, his moral principles are perverse if they lead him to adopt the conclusion that child rape could be moral in an extreme situation. The same logic would of course justify the killing of a female infant, in order to save humanity.

    How is this different in principle from steeling a loaf of bread in order to safe one’s children from starvation? Yes, steeling is wrong, but it obviously doesn’t outweigh the greater wrong of doing nothing. Sometimes it is simply a matter of addition and subtraction.
    The crucial question is of course: is there a limit? However I don’t think that there is an easy answer to Barker’s scenario.

  7. 7
    scordova says:

    My reply to Myers:

    But Mr. Myers! There’s no need for William Lane Craig to explain how Odin lost his eye. All he needs to do is explain why some people believe he did. Ditto for the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Randi’s amazing card tricks.

    There are, however, certain claims that cannot be explained in this fashion – namely, those in which the claimant publicly appeals to background knowledge which she and her audience share. If this background knowledge refers to a remarkable fact which is nowhere contested, then outsiders judging the veracity of a person’s claim are entitled to take that background knowledge as a given fact.

    Skeptics and believers alike agree that St. Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians in 57-58 A.D. In chapter 15 of that letter, St. Paul appealed tothe Gospel he had previously preached to them: that Jesus Christ “appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living.”

    Well said. That’s inspiring to hear it articulated so well. Wish more of my pastors would share that from the pulpit.

    When so many were martyred by Nero, it was evident some were still alive who had witnessed the miracles of Jesus and his apostles. Why die for your faith if you really didn’t believe it was true? So many other deities one could latch onto and be spared a cruel death.

    If the martyrs in Nero’s time were real then the Apostle were real. If the apostles were real, then Jesus was real.

    Added to this is Paul’s keen secular insight in that 15th chapter:

    If the dead are not raised, And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile
    ….

    “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”

    1 Cor 15

    Why die for an obvious lie? The truth of the gospel was tied to the truthfulness of real people in the time of Nero. It might be understandable that people die for a mythological idea today, but that explanation doesn’t hold water for the martyrs in the early Christian church. Especially when Paul said, if Jesus isn’t real, better to live it up. The Christian martyrs felt “living it up” was not an option for them. They, like PZ Myers of today, could have chosen a secular, pagan lifestyle. Why didn’t they? 😉

  8. 8
    Phinehas says:

    I haven’t seen the following discussed here (though to be fair, I’ve been away for a bit), but doesn’t it tend to give away the store?

    The Third Vatican Council concluded today with Pope Francis announcing that Catholicism is now a “modern and reasonable religion, which has undergone evolutionary changes. The time has come to abandon all intolerance. We must recognize that religious truth evolves and changes. Truth is not absolute or set in stone. Even atheists acknowledge the divine. Through acts of love and charity the atheist acknowledges God as well, and redeems his own soul, becoming an active participant in the redemption of humanity.”

    “Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God” Pope Francis declared.

    In a speech that shocked many, the Pope claimed “All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there?”

    If the above is true, then what is left to argue about?

  9. 9
    B.C. says:

    Phinehas you are absolutely correct, but…

    In order to understand where Pope Francis is coming from you actually have to study New Age Movement, not Catholicism or Christianity. The NAM has infiltrated just about every organization out there that matters- education, science, govt- even the church. It is the same religion that latched onto the theory of evolution when it was first proposed.

    Astrologist G. Kumar gives a nice unbiased overview here- please note the similarities to the Pope’s statement:

    http://ezinearticles.com/?The-.....8;id=29479

    The NAM has in its ranks heads of state the world over, U.N. officials, Nobel Prize winners, educators and entertainers. The following link is to a NAM organization called The World Commission on Global Consciousness and Spirituality and should provide an idea of the scope- their list of council nominees is impressive to say the least:

    http://www.awakeningmind.org/d.....ilnoms.pdf

  10. 10
    Barb says:

    The Pope claims “all religions are true,” but this contradicts scripture.

    Even many who profess faith in the Bible believe that absolute truth is not attainable. U.S. clergyman John S. Spong commented: “We must . . . move from thinking we have the truth and others must come to our point of view to the realization that ultimate truth is beyond the grasp of all of us.” A Roman Catholic author, Christopher Derrick, gives one reason for such negative views concerning finding truth: “Any mention of religious ‘truth’ implies some kind of claim to know . . . You imply that somebody else may possibly be wrong; and that would not do at all.”

    As a thinking person, however, you would do well to consider some pertinent questions. If truth were not attainable, why would Jesus Christ say: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”? And why would one of Jesus’ apostles say that God’s will is that “all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth”? Why does the word “truth” occur over a hundred times in the Christian Greek Scriptures in connection with faith? Yes, why, if truth is unattainable?—John 8:32; 1 Timothy 2:3, 4.

    Actually, Jesus not only pointed out that the truth is attainable but showed that finding it is required if our worship is to be approved by God. When a Samaritan woman wondered what the true form of worship was—the worship practiced by the Jews in Jerusalem or that practiced by the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim—Jesus did not answer by saying that truth is unattainable. Rather, he said: “True worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him. God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.”—John 4:23, 24.

  11. 11
    B.C. says:

    What the Pope is in effect doing, is denying the concept of sin. To sin, in Christianity, is to act against the nature of the creator. Similarly, all art is a reflection of the artist. When we sin we inaccurately reflect our creator and, as the artist is always the perfect standard of his work, all inaccuracies must be corrected. No artist will allow his work to reflect poorly on himself. I would also similarly describe it as a germ that enters the body- it goes against the nature of the body and must be eliminated. This happens no matter what one feels about germs- cute little guys. Punishment for sin shouldn’t really be seen as punishment but rather justice- as in justification, right column equals left column, creation must be an accurate reflection of the creator. Emotions such as love are present yet entirely separate. For God so loved the world that he gave his Son that none may perish. Through the death of our creator, we are justified if we claim his death as our own. Perfection was exchanged for all non-perfection by the creator dying in our place.

    On the other hand sin, in the NAM, is defined as one being ignorant of one’s own divinity. You’ll notice that the Pope no longer acknowledges God as truth but the individual as truth. God is no longer the standard of perfection, the individual is his own standard of perfection, his own light and his own salvation. The individual has quite literally taken God’s place. This is straight out of New Age doctrine.

    “If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.”

    — G.K Chesterton, Orthodoxy

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