The Cambridge Companion to Atheism ed. Michael Martin - A Critique

This book (Cambridge Companion on Atheism, ed. Michael Martin, CUP, Cambridge 2007) is a thoughtful work which deserves a careful response.

The resurgence of belief in God amongst philosophers

Professor William Lane Craig, a Christian philosopher, quotes Quentin Smith, an atheist philosopher, lamenting that since the late 1960s theism (belief in God) has grown within the philosophical community until now a quarter or one third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians. Smith concludes: “God is not ‘dead’ in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.”1 Craig adds that Philo, a secular journal of philosophy has become a journal for general philosophy of religion.2

Craig goes on to what he calls the “Presumption of Atheism” and quotes a saying from forensic science: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” He argues that atheists have to prove that if God existed he would have to provide more evidence of his existence than we have. He writes: “Unsatisfied with the evidence we have, some atheists have argued that God, if he existed, would have prevented the world’s unbelief by making his existence starkly apparent. But I would respond by asking why should God want to do such a thing? On the Christian view it is actually a matter of relative indifference to God whether people believe he exists or not. God wants to draw out faith and trust in him in order to build a love relationship with us, rather than just getting us to believe that he exists.3

ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

The idea that belief in God is biologically determined

Professor Phil Zuckerman writes in his chapter that in recent years, atheists have argued that belief in God is biologically determined, neurologically based, or genetically inborn, growing out of the "natural" processes of the human brain.

However he continues that the facts he presents in his chapter “deliver a heavy blow to this new explanation of theism. First of all, the sheer numbers; with between 500 million and 750 million nontheists living on this planet today, any suggestion that belief in God is natural, inborn, or a result of how our brains are wired becomes difficult to sustain. Second, innate/neural theories of belief in God cannot explain the dramatically different rates of belief among similar countries.4

The problem of evil

Andrea Weisberger refers to the argument that the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good God is inconsistent with the existence of evil. But she adds: “Most philosophers today agree that an inconsistency is not readily apparent.”5

Weisberger argues that since “God does not have the freedom to commit morally wrong actions” he could have peopled the earth with beings who similarly could not commit evil actions.6 She continues that “according to Christian, Judaic, and Islamic doctrine, angels exist. Angels are creatures who perform only morally correct choices (else they are classified as demons). If God could populate the world with only these creatures rather than morally fallible humans - and it would not seem logically impossible for God to do so - then the argument succeeds. A world full of angels, instead of the current one, would eliminate evil. This would bring about the contradiction needed for the logical argument from evil to prevail.7

However this is a self-contradictory statement since Weisberger allows that in the Christian tradition angels can be evil (so becoming demons).8

She continues that the theist might argue that there could be sufficient reason for God allowing evil, though we simply do not know what it is. So apparently gratuitous (unjustified) evil might not actually be gratuitous. But, she argues, “if God is believed to have unknown reasons for apparent gratuitous evil (making it no longer gratuitous), even though these reasons remain inscrutable to us, then one might as well believe that God deceives in other areas.

However, to say that we do not understand why God does or allows certain things is clearly not the same as saying that God deceives us. Weisberger’s argument here is plainly illogical. She then lists various theodicies (vindications of God's goodness and justice in the light of the existence of evil):

  • Evil is necessary as a counterpart to good
  • Evil is necessary as a means to good
  • Evil is necessary for short- or long-term good
  • Evil is necessary as punishment for sin
  • Evil is necessary as a warning system in nature/for humankind
  • Evil is a necessary by-product of causal laws

She concludes that if good and evil are related in such a way that it is impossible to create one without the other, then a limitation is placed on God's omnipotence.9

Weisberger is correct that God could have created human beings who automatically obeyed him. He chose not to do. He could create good without allowing the possibility of evil. He chose not to do. This is not relevant to the idea of God’s omnipotence being limited.

However, later Weisberger refers to Professor John Hick’s view that our environment must include hardship, danger, and suffering to generate the higher order goods of strong moral character. It is not enough for people to have higher order character traits, such as charity, compassion, and sympathy for those less fortunate, but it is the development of these traits that is so valuable, all of which require that we make wrong choices and inflict harm. This requires the existence of evil.10

Wesiberger responds that this does not account for the massive amount of evil in the world, e.g. the Holocaust. I think this is fair comment and, ultimately the amount of serious evils in the world is a mystery.

William Lane Craig argues that Christian Theism entails doctrines that increase the probability of the coexistence of God and evil ... If God exists then:

  • The chief purpose of life is not happiness but the knowledge of God. Many evils occur in life that may be utterly pointless with respect to producing human happiness; but they may not be pointless with respect to producing a deeper, saving knowledge of God
  • Mankind has been afforded significant moral freedom to rebel against God and his purpose. God created human beings with freedom because love - for God or neighbour - requires a free choice. This logically allows freedom to rebel
  • God’s purpose spills over into eternal life. So there will not be a compensation for every evil in this life
  • The knowledge of God is an incommensurable good so, whatever evil we experience, the Christian can say “God is good to me.” 11

Gale argues that the process of evolution which frequently portrays nature red in tooth and claw is hard to square with the alleged goodness of the designer-creator.12

However Gale seems to imply that the complex, messy process of evolution bringing about nature as we know it does not logically rule out a divine cause and purpose for it. A parallel may be drawn with how Christians see God working with human beings in history and the present. On that subject, I wrote the following (see “The Problem of War in the Old Testament”):

God works on the principle of incarnation. In other words, God pledged himself to work with human means and even through human weaknesses, just as the Son of God became incarnate and subject to the pressures and temptations of human life. He worked out the divine purposes through becoming human. It seems to be a principle that God, in his infinite love, works in partnership with human beings. He relates to where people are, rather than whisking them away to some ideal environment. God limits himself to working within history and culture. This involves working with and through human weakness and failing. In the incarnation of Jesus he shows what perfect humanity is like. But that perfect human being endures human envy, intrigue, ambition and cruelty. He was fully incarnate in the real world, and suffered accordingly. Because God works with and through human beings, within particular historical limitations, this involves him working in and through their failings. This includes their violence and war-like tendencies. One might draw a parallel with the way God worked in creation. It seems he has worked through nature red in tooth and claw.

The creation and maintenance of world essentially involves suffering and death. One day God will remove all this, but until then, in his wisdom, he allows it to continue and uses it in his purposes.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century essayist summed it up: “Let us not deny it up and down. Providence has a wild, rough, incalculable road to its end, and it is of no use to try to whitewash its huge, mixed instrumentalities, or to dress up that terrific benefactor in a clean shirt and white neckcloth of a student of divinity.”

The same may be said about evolution. It appears that God decided to bring about his purposes through “nature red in tooth and claw” and all the blind alleys of natural selection, rather than constantly intervening in the process like some cosmic puppet master.

IMPOSSIBILITY ARGUMENTS

The “impossibility of omnipotence”

Patrick Grim examines the impossibility arguments against the existence of God including such hoary chestnuts as “Could God create a stone too heavy for him to lift?” and “Could God create a square circle?” He quotes Aquinas as saying such contradictory statements do not refer to genuine tasks. He then goes on to say: “The task of defending a full notion of omnipotence - as an ability either to perform any (consistently specifiable) task or to bring about any consistently specifiable state of affairs - seems to have been abandoned. In that sense a traditionally omnipotent God seems to have been given up as indefensible.”13

It seems to me that Grim does not understand the theistic view of sovereignty. What he says in the first paragraph above undermines the point he is making here. God cannot deny his perfect nature and it is ludicrous to say he is not omnipotent because he cannot do self-contradictory things.

The impossibility of omniscience

Grim writes: “If God is a being without a body, he cannot know how to juggle, how to balance on the parallel bars, or how to compensate for a strained muscle in the right calf. If omniscience demands knowing everything that can be known, therefore, no disembodied being can be omniscient .... Among those feelings that non-omniscient beings know all too well are lust and envy, fear, frustration, and despair. If a God is without moral fault, he cannot know lust or envy, and thus cannot qualify as omniscient. If a God is without limitation, he cannot know fear, frustration, or despair.14

I have two problems with this argument. Firstly, how do we know God doesn’t know what these actions are like? Grim is merely showing a low view of God’s omniscience. Secondly, Christians believe in the incarnation and this means God does know what these things are like. Grim shows remarkable ignorance of the Christian faith.

Grim also writes: “If God cannot act wrongly, it is impossible for him to face any real moral choices. If so, he cannot be praised for making the correct choices, and if he is not morally praiseworthy, he can hardly qualify as morally perfect. Necessary moral perfection seems to exclude the possibility of precisely those choices that genuine moral perfection would demand.”15

However Grim’s argument implies that objective morality is outside God and that he is subject to it. Morality is grounded in God’s perfection and he cannot deny or contradict himself.

ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

The contingency (explanation) argument

William Lane Craig argues that anything that exists must have an explanation why it exists. It may exist because of an external cause or it may necessarily exist of its own nature. Nothing exists without any explanation. The universe cannot exist without explanation. But theists argue that God necessarily exists of his own nature.16

The cosmological argument

The cosmological argument states that everything needs a cause (unless it is self-existent) hence the universe requires a cause which brought it into existence, namely God who, alone, is self-existent.

More than one contributor to the book criticises the way theists use mathematics to prove that the existence of the universe logically requires the existence of God as First Cause. Quentin Smith claims that when theists try to use mathematical “Set Theory” they actually misuse it and he concludes that it doesn’t prove what they are trying to prove. So he points out that a mathematical set is an abstract object so it cannot be in a causal relationship, including with God.17 This is not to say that God’s existence as First Cause cannot be established but that, they claim, attempts to prove it using mathematics fail.

Gale criticises the following theistic arguments:

a. An actual infinity of past events or times is impossible.

Craig says that an infinite sequence of past events cannot exist. He says that the actual infinite of Set Theory cannot be transposed into the world of space and time because it leads to “intolerable absurdities” illustrated by Hilbert’s Hotel. This illustration is of an hotel where there are infinitely many rooms, numbered 1, 2, 3, and so on, and where even if all rooms are occupied, space can always be found for a new visitor by shifting the occupant of room 1 to room 2, moving room 2,'s occupant to room 3 and so on.

David Hilbert, late Professor of Mathematics, University of Gottingen, stated: “The infinite is nowhere to be found in reality. It neither exists in nature nor provides a legitimate basis for rational thought. … The role that remains for the infinite to play is solely that of an idea.” 18

David Hume wrote: “An infinite number of real parts of time, passing in succession, and exhausted one after another, appears so evident a contradiction, that no man whose judgment is not corrupted, instead of being improved, by the sciences, would ever be able to admit of it.”19

Immanuel Kant wrote: “If we assume that the world has no beginning in time, then up to every given moment an eternity has elapsed and there has passed away in the world an infinite series of successive states of things. Now the infinity of a series consists in the fact it can never be completed through successive synthesis. It thus follows that it is impossible for an infinite world–series to have passed away, and that a beginning of the world is therefore a necessary condition of the world's existence.”20

Craig continues that if the universe is eternal then there has been an infinite number of events in the past. But this is not logical:

  • It is impossible to reach infinity by addition. You never reach infinity because you can always add more.

 

  • It is therefore equally impossible to count down from infinity to zero. You can always subtract more.
  • An infinite task could never be completed because that would require there to have been an infinite number of steps preceding it (which contradicts points 1. and 2. above). Infinite time would mean that there was always time for more steps in the task.

 

  • If the universe is eternal then there must have been an infinite number of days before now. But this too contradicts points 1. and 2.

Richard Gale asks why is it impossible for there to be an actual infinity of past events or times as opposed to  there being a first cause, namely God. He dismisses the argument that if there were an actual infinity of past events, then our world has traversed an infinite set of events by pointing out that the universe “does not go through a set of events in the sense of planning which to go through first, in order to get through the second, and so on.” Just because it is impossible to go through an infinite set of events does not mean that an infinite set of events does not exist.21

Gale also disagrees with the idea that the very concept of infinity is incoherent as some theists argue. He points out that this is based upon faulty mathematics.

It seems to me that Craig’s arguments make a great deal of sense and are not undermined by Gale’s rather technical mathematical arguments.

b. There is no such thing as an uncaused event

Craig asks that if anything can come into being uncaused then why doesn’t everything come into being uncaused? It is impossible that certain things have a particular nature which means they come into being uncaused. The problem is that before they exist they would have no nature at all. He adds that before these things existed the laws of physics did not exist. In any case these laws are descriptive and cannot create anything. How could space-time come into existence uncaused? If there were prior conditions which brought about space-time then space-time was not uncaused.

Some people argue that particle pair production in quantum physics shows that things can come into being without cause. This is incorrect because the particles are not created out of nothing but are the result of a conversion of pre-existing energy and matter.

David Hume challenged those who claim that the idea of an uncaused event is inherently impossible to prove why it is. He claims that we can conceive of an uncaused event and that whatever can be conceived is possible in reality. Others have argued that Hume is confusing the important distinction between what can be conceived and what can actually exist. I find it impossible to conceive of an uncaused event and the physical world surely contradicts such an idea. Even if theists cannot prove why an uncaused event is impossible, that doesn’t prove it is possible. In fact, it seems to me that it is self-evident that uncaused events are impossible.

c. The past is necessarily finite and the universe must begin to exist

Quentin Smith points writes that many theists do not accept this argument, and many theists are not as confident as Craig that the first premise is "obviously true," the first premise being "whatever begins to exist has a cause."22 Smith himself believes the “universe's beginning to exist is self-caused.”23

He adds that “according to contemporary physical science, in particular, big bang cosmology, there is no first instant t = o. If there were such a first instant, the universe would exist in an impossible state at this time; the whole spatially three-dimensional universe would occupy or exist in a point that had no spatial dimensions. Such a state of affairs would be described by nonsensical mathematical statements.”24

If the universe is conceived of as a sequence of events then there has to be a first event, if the sequence has any kind of beginning. But modern cosmologists speak of time as the fourth dimension and they claim this means the universe does not need to have a first event.

It seems to me that the idea of the universe as a sequence of events is legitimate. Furthermore, modern cosmology thinks in terms of the universe beginning some 13 billion years ago in the Big Bang. Steven Hawking writes: “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang.”25

The second law of thermodynamics indicates that the universe will eventually degenerate into a cold, dark, dilute and lifeless state. So it cannot have existed for ever.

Even if the universe is eternal that still leaves the legitimate question “Why does the universe exist?”

d. To explain the cause of all individual beings/events in the universe does not explain the cause of the universe as a whole.

Gale refers to David Hume’s argument that if each constituent part of a set of events is explained this explains the whole set and there is no need to look for a separate cause of the whole set.

However, this does not mean that the question “Why is there anything at all?” is irrelevant or meaningless. Smith writes “Why is there such a thing as a universe that causes itself to begin to exist? The reason is that this universe's existence is logically required by the existence of its parts and its parts exist because each of them is caused to exist by an earlier part.”26 However he acknowledges that Gale has argued against this view and that Gale’s argument is sound, but he claims that it is logically irrelevant to his (Smith’s) current argument.

Craig writes that the existence of a non-eternal universe requires an uncaused, eternal, changeless, timeless and immaterial cause otherwise it would be capable of non-existence, which is self-contradictory.

The universe began to exist and so does not have necessary existence, which would require it to be eternal. Professor Richard Swinburne states that since nothing existed before the Big Bang there cannot be any scientific explanation for it. Therefore it requires a personal explanation. On the other hand, if everything were caused by an eternal impersonal cause, why would the effect not be eternal too, rather than coming into being at the Big Bang?

Craig points out that various modern theories about the universe actually fit in with the argument that the universe has a cause.27

The Teleological Argument

The teleological argument states that the abundant evidence of design and purpose in creation requires a Great Designer.

Richard Gale rejects this argument by saying that it is based on drawing an analogy between the universe and a machine. The universe is not a machine, he says, therefore it can have no purpose.28

However, the theist would argue that there is a great deal of purpose shown in many parts of the universe, e.g. the purpose of promoting and preserving life. He would also argue that it has a great purpose of pointing human beings towards God as the Psalmist puts it: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”29

Some people reject the teleological argument because of the problem of evil. They ask how an omnipotent, benevolent creator could allow such evil. We looked at this issue above. 30

Others argue that we do not need a great designer because the process of evolution provides an adequate and satisfactory explanation. This seems to me to be a particularly short-sighted argument. It does not answer the questions: “Why is there anything at all?” and “Why did evolution happen?” Gale says: “It might well be that both a theistic and a naturalistic explanation are true, but in the presence of a naturalistic one, the theistic one may not be needed or may not be the best one.”31

Craig writes: “The physical laws of nature, when given mathematical expression, contain various constants, such as the gravitational constant, whose values are independent of the laws themselves; ..... the actual values assumed by the constants and quantities in question are such that small deviations from those values would render the universe life-prohibiting or, alternatively, that the range of life-permitting values is exquisitely narrow in comparison with the range of assumable values.”32

Craig (in line with modern scientific thinking) admits that it is not impossible that there are other universes governed by different laws of nature but that “among possible universes governed by the same laws (though having different values of the constants and quantities) as the actual universe, life-permitting universes are extraordinarily improbable.33

He goes on to criticise the modern multi-verse (multi-universe) or many worlds hypothesis which suggests there are many different universes of which ours is just one. The hypothesis is that, with so many universes, it just so happens that our universe works as it does. It is all a matter of statistical chance.

Craig responds that the design hypothesis is simpler, and it is a principle of science (Occam's razor) that we should not multiply causes beyond what is necessary to explain the effect. He adds there is no evidence for the existence of a many worlds apart from the fine-tuning itself, but the fine-tuning is equally evidence for a cosmic designer.

Finally, he argues that the many worlds hypothesis faces a severe challenge from evolutionary biology because modern biology indicates that if intelligent life appears it does so late in the life-time of its star. However our sun is relatively young.34

The Moral Argument

David Brink writes that our human conviction that moral principles are objective (undistorted by emotion or personal bias) may be mistaken but, until proved mistaken, we should treat them as objective.35 However he goes on to say “Had God not condemned genocide and rape, these things would not have been wrong, or, if God were to come to approve these things, they would become morally acceptable. But these are awkward commitments, inasmuch as this sort of conduct seems necessarily wrong.36

The theist would say that objective moral standards are ultimately rooted not in God’s commands or some cosmic moral law, but in the very nature of God. He is perfection, utter holiness and purity and has revealed to us (through special revelation and conscience) what is required of us.

Craig writes: “Atheistic moral realists affirm I that objective moral values and duties do exist but are not grounded in God..... What does it mean to say, for example, that the moral value justice just exists?”37

But, says Craig, if values like mercy, justice, forbearance, etc., just exist as abstract objects, presumably so vices such as greed, hatred, and selfishness. Why am I obligated to align my life with one set of these abstractly existing objects rather than any other?

Finally he points out that it is fantastically improbable that blind evolution would just happen to produce those sorts of creatures who accept as objective the existing moral values.

The Mystical Experience Argument

Michael Gale refers to mystical experiences as “apparently direct, nonsensory perceptions of a very powerful, wise, and benevolent being who gives counsel, comfort, and the like” 38

He continues that there are two tests of the validity of sense experiences:

  • That they are caused in the right way (the person being normal and in the right circumstances)
  • That they have the right effects on the person concerned

He concludes that there is no way of testing i., and there are difficulties with ii., not least because there seem to equally viable but contradictory effects accepted by different religions.

There is, however, a mass of evidence that many people of different eras and of widely different cultures claim to have had an experience of the "divine." It includes awe, joy, a feeling of creatureliness, etc. It is inconceivable that so many people could have been so utterly wrong about the nature and content of their own experience. It seems therefore, that there is a "divine" reality which many people of different eras and of widely different cultures have experienced.

The Argument that Theism is a Basic Belief

Keith Parsons states: “A belief is basic if it is not inferred from any other belief or beliefs. A belief is non-basic if it is inferred from some other belief or beliefs.”39

Parsons continues that the proposition "God exists" is not self-evident or evident to the senses, so it is not a properly basic belief. He also argues that it cannot be inferred from beliefs that are self-evident or evident to the senses. So he concludes that theism cannot be justified and rationally believed. There are, of course, various alleged explanations of religious belief in terms of neuroscience, anthropology, and evolutionary theory.

Theists argue that that the chain of justifying beliefs cannot go on forever. It must end somewhere in properly basic beliefs.

Parsons quotes Professor Alvin Plantinga who claims that Christians are justified in regarding theistic belief as basic, and so it is rational for them to believe in God even if they can offer no arguments, reasons, or evidence for that belief. He adds that it is entirely right and proper for Christians sometimes spontaneously to form the belief that God exists. ... For instance: “Upon reading the Bible one may be impressed with a deep sense that God is speaking to him. Upon having done what I know is cheap, or wrong, or wicked, I may feel guilty in God's sight and form the belief God disapproves of what I have done. Upon confession and repentance I may feel forgiven, forming the belief God forgives me for what I have done.”40 Parsons rejects this criterion as so absurdly easy to meet that it could justify anything including the belief that there is a Great Pumpkin in the sky.

Theists would respond by pointing out that such religious experience is too widespread to be utterly mistaken. Unlike the Christian community there is no Great Pumpkin community. There are, of course, lots of bizarre beliefs but one cannot dismiss the massive and highly consistent evidence of Christian belief just because there are such minority bizarre beliefs.

However, Parsons points out that in the 1990s Plantinga adopted the view that a belief is rational if and only if it is "warranted." i.e. “produced by the proper functioning of a cognitive [rational] faculty in the circumstances in which that faculty was designed (by God or evolution) to operate effectively.” Plantinga believes that humans have a sensus divinitatis [sense of God], which, when operating properly and in an appropriate circumstance, will provide us with the warrant basic belief that God exists.41 He explains that not everyone is aware of the sensus divinatis because it has been corrupted by sin.

Parsons writes that Professor Richard Swinburne refers to questions which, in principle, science cannot give:

  • Why is there a universe at all (why not nothing instead of something)?
  • Why this universe, this kind of physical reality with these kinds of entities and laws, and not something entirely different?

Swinburne concludes that such questions are evidence for the existence of God.

The reason, says Swinburne, that theism has such an advantage over all its rivals, even far outweighing their cumulative probabilities, is that theism is a uniquely simple hypothesis.42

Parsons disputes this statement and asks why greater simplicity should make theism more probable. He adds that theism actually introduces complicated concepts.

Parsons records that Swinburne offers this argument: Universally in scientific practice the hypothesis that, all other things being equal, provides the simplest explanation of the phenomena is the one accepted by scientists. “In holding simpler theories to be more probable than complex theories, the inquirer is holding it to be more probable that the world as a whole is simple than that it is complex."43

However, Parsons responds: “But nothing justifies this last claim. ... we have no way of knowing ahead of time when nature will require us to complicate our theories, and, if the history of science is any guide, this happens pretty often. Much less do we have any grounds for saying, purely in the abstract and apart from any evidence, that what is likely to exist as an uncaused brute fact is more likely to be simple than complex.

The upshot is that the scientific practice of selecting the relatively simplest hypothesis vis-a-vis a given body of data does not underpin a metaphysical claim about theism versus naturalism. ..... The allegedly greater simplicity of theism over its rivals is not established, and, even if it were, there is no reason to think that it would thereby be more intrinsically probable.”

It seems to me that the last two paragraphs are a weak response to Swinburne’s arguments and don’t answer them.

Atheism and Evolution

Daniel Dennett refers to Darwin’s new and wonderful way of thinking. He describes evolution almost in the language of religious devotion: “Between the richly detailed and ever-ramifying evolutionary story and the featureless mystery of God the creator of all creatures great and small, there is no contest. This is a momentous reversal for the ancient conviction that God's existence can be read off the wonders of nature. Anyone who has ever been struck by the magnificent intricacy of design and prodigious variety of the living world and wondered what - if not God - could possibly account for its existence must now confront not just a plausible alternative, but an alternative of breathtaking explanatory power supported by literally thousands of confirmed predictions and solved puzzles.”

“Undermining the best argument anybody ever thought of for the existence of God is not, of course, proving the nonexistence of God, and many careful thinkers who have accepted evolution by natural selection as the explanation of the wonders of the living world have cast about for other supports for their continuing belief in God. The idea of treating mind as an effect rather than as a first cause is too revolutionary for some. .....”

Dennett then refers to physicist Paul Davies’ opinion human minds are “no minor by-product of mindless purposeless forces.”44 Dennett asks why not?45

In my opinion, Dennett’s comments are, in themselves, an argument for theism. The language is religious, full of awe and wonder. I appreciate the description but no logical argument is included against the existence of God. The argument is emotive rather than logical. Dennett is simply not asking enough questions here. He has not explained why anything exists.

Dennett continues that Darwin says “Give me order and time, and I will give you design. Let me start with regularity - the mere purposeless, mindless, pointless regularity of physics - and I will show you a process that eventually will yield products that exhibit not just regularity but purposive design. ..... According to the second law, the universe is unwinding out of a more ordered state into the ultimately disordered state known as the heat death of the universe.”46

However, again, this paragraph does not logically undermine theism. He does not deal with the question why anything exists. Natural Selection over aeons of time does not logically do away with the need for God. For the theist such processes are the means by which God brought creation into existence.

Dennett refers to the theist’s question: “‘What else but God could possibly explain it?’ .... If we follow the Darwinian down this path, God the Artificer turns first into God the Lawgiver, who then can be seen to merge with God the Lawfinder, who does not invent the laws of nature, but just eventually stumbles across them in the course of blind trial and error of universe. God's hypothesized contribution is becoming less personal - and hence more readily performable by something dogged and mindless!”47

In my opinion this statement begs many questions and ignores the many other evidences of God’s existence. God’s sovereign purposes do not require that he is the cosmic puppet master. His sovereignty is more complex – and more wonderful – than that. The massive amount of religious experience and motivation are a huge evidence of God’s activity in the world. The fact of objective, fairly universal moral standards – not only in theists – is another evidence, as we have seen.

Dennett himself admits: “Since belief in God cannot be justified by any scientific or logical argument, but is nevertheless a nearly ubiquitous ingredient in human civilization, what explains the maintenance of this belief? This is an oft-neglected part of the atheist's burden of proof ....”48

Conclusion

Having read some of the rantings of the new atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, etc), it is refreshing to read reasonable, thoughtful and respectful papers by atheists. However, having read them very carefully and sought to be as open as possible to their arguments, I have to disappoint the authors. They have not provided any reason to discard intelligent Christian faith. On the contrary, reading what a dozen or so contemporary atheist scholars write in this Cambridge Companion has the potential to strengthen one’s faith.

© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page

1 Craig, chapter entitled “Theistic Critiques of Atheism, p. 69 quoting Smith: The Metaphysics of Naturalism” Philo 4, no. 2 (2001): 196-97.
2 Ibid p.84 note 3
3 Ibid p.71
4 Phil Zuckerman, chapter entitled “Contemporary Numbers and Patterns” p. 60
5 Andrea Weisberger, chapter entitled “The Argument from Evil” p. 167
6 Ibid p. 169
7 Ibid p. 170
8 See Jude 6 “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.”
9 Ibid, p. 171
10 Ibid p. 173
11 Ibid p. 74
12 Richard Gale, chapter entitled “The Failure of Classical Theistic Arguments” p. 98.
13 Patrick Grim, chapter entitled “Impossibility Arguments” p. 201
14 Grim, op. Cit., p. 205.
15 Grim, op. Cit., p. 211.
16 Ibid p. 75
17 Ibid., p. 188
11
18 David Hilbert, "On the Infinite," in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. with an Introduction by Paul Benacerraf and Hillary Putnam (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964), pp. 139, 141.
19 Hume, Enquiry, Chapter 12, Section II, paragraph 125.
20 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, pp. A 426-429.
21 Richard Gale, chapter entitled “The Failure of Classical Theistic Arguments” p. 92
22 Quentin Smith, chapter entitled “Kalam cosmological arguments for atheism” p. 183
23 Ibid p. 184
24 Ibid., p. 185
25 Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time, The Isaac Newton Institute Series of Lectures (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996), 20; cited in William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 478.
26 Ibid., p. 193
27 “Theories, such as the oscillating universe or the chaotic inflationary universe, do have a potentially infinite future but turn out to have only a finite past. Vacuum fluctuation universe theories cannot explain why, if the vacuum was eternal, we do not observe an infinitely old universe. The no-boundary universe proposal of Hartle and Hawking, if interpreted realistically, still involves an absolute origin of the universe even if the universe does not begin in a singularity, as it does in the standard big bang theory. Recently proposed ekpyrotic cyclic universe scenarios based on string theory or M-theory have also been shown not only to be riddled with problems but to imply the very origin of the universe that its proponents sought to avoid. There is no doubt that one who asserts the truth of (2) rests comfortably within the scientific mainstream.”
Op. Cit., p. 78.
28 Gale, op. Cit., p. 97.
29 Psalm 19:1-4
30 p. 2-3
31 Gale, op. Cit., p. 97-98.
32 Craig, op. Cit., p. 80
33 Craig, op. Cit., p. 80
34 Craig, op. Cit., p. 81-2.
35 David Brink, chapter entitled “The Autonomy of Ethics”, p. 150.
36 Brink, op. Cit., p. 152.
37 Craig, op. Cit., p. 83.
38 Gale, op. Cit., p.98.
39 Keith Parsons, chapter entitled Some Contemporary Theistic Arguments”, p. 103.
40 Plantinga 1983: 80; emphasis in original) in Parsons, op. Cit., p. 106
41 Plantinga 2000: 167-86, in Parsons, op. Cit., p. 109
42 Parsons, op. Cit., p. 113-114.
43 Swinburne 1997: 42). Quoted in Parsons, op. Cit., p. 116
44 Davies, The Mind of God (1992) p. 232
45 Daniel Dennett, chapter entitled “Atheism and Evolution” p. 138-139.
46 Op. cit., p. 141.
47 Op. cit., p. 145.
48 Op. cit., p. 147.
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Life-long atheist philosopher Antony Flew embraces belief in God – a summary of