Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Three Arguments Against Atheism from Pope Benedict

According to Dr. Mark Gray at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), an astonishing 70% of those raised as atheists won't be atheists as adults.  Some will leave for organized religion, others for agnosticism, and still others for a vague theism detached from any church.  Of those who continue to identify as atheists, over a fifth say that they believe in the existence of God or a universal Spirit.  And Dr. Gray does a good job of showing that atheists, agnostics, and those with no affiliation really are three very different groups.  

What I found even more interesting was a link in the article to a 2007 meeting with Pope Benedict, in which the Holy Father made three very strong points against atheism:

I. Without God, Life is Meaningless

Benedict's first point is that the famous atheist philosopher Nietzsche was right that, without God, life is inherently meaningless:
At first sight, it seems as if we do not need God or indeed, that without God we would be freer and the world would be grander. But after a certain time, we see in our young people what happens when God disappears. As Nietzsche said: "The great light has been extinguished, the sun has been put out". Life is then a chance event. It becomes a thing that I must seek to do the best I can with and use life as though it were a thing that serves my own immediate, tangible and achievable happiness. But the big problem is that were God not to exist and were he not also the Creator of my life, life would actually be a mere cog in evolution, nothing more; it would have no meaning in itself. Instead, I must seek to give meaning to this component of being.
This was illustrated well in Alan Moore's graphic novel (and atheist apologia) Watchmen.  In the series, seemingly every character is both an atheist and a nihilist, and the connection between the two is made particularly clear in a particular scene involving a psychiatrist, Dr. Malcolm Long:


If you can't read that, Long says,
“I sat on the bed. I looked at the Rorschach blot. I tried to pretend it looked like a spreading tree, shadows pooled beneath it, but it didn’t. It looked more like a dead cat I once found, the fat, glistening grubs writhing blindly, squirming over each other, frantically tunneling away from the light. But even that is avoiding the real horror. The horror is simply this: in the end it is simply a picture of empty meaningless blackness. We are alone. There is nothing else.
Fittingly, the chapter closes with a quote from Nietzsche: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”  In other words, if atheism is true, nihilism is true, too: life is a meaningless black abyss, and the meaning that we project on to it is just self-delusion to escape that horrible reality.

Friedrich Nietzsche
Let’s be clear about what this argument is (and isn’t) saying. Certainly, atheists can experience joy and even beauty (itself an argument for the existence of a loving God, but that’s an argument for another time and place).  But what they can’t credibly claim is that they have any absolute purpose, that their lives have any inherent meaning, that they’re here for any reason beyond random chance, etc.

This distinction between whether life is enjoyable and whether life is meaningful is an important one, and one that plenty of people muddle, atheists and theists alike.  For example, the atheist Daniel Florien takes issue with this claim by Gene Edward Veith:
[The atheist's] worldview lacks all appeal. They get hung up on the last remaining absolute: Atheism is not beautiful. It is so depressing. 
If there is no God and this physical realm is all there is, life is pretty much pointless. A person might believe such a bleak worldview, but no one is going to like it.
That's explicitly an argument about whether or not life is meaningful within atheism: in fact, it's almost identical to what both Moore and Nietzsche say for themselves.  But look at how Florien characterizes Veith's argument: “A Christian’s worldview makes life beautiful and exciting, but an atheist’s worldview makes life depressing and meaningless. At least that’s what Gene Edward Veith says…”  See what he did there?  He turned an argument about whether or not an atheist's life is meaningful into one about whether or not it was exciting or beautiful.

Even more strikingly, Florien admits: “It is true I do not have an absolute purpose in life — I am not dedicated to ‘glorifying God’ anymore. But I find creating my own purpose thrilling. I am the author of a novel, and the book is my life. The freedom is exhilarating.”  In other words, he actually concedes Veith’s (actual) point. He just claims not to have a problem with it. Or put another way, he might as well concede that life is as inherently bleak and meaningless as an inkblot, and amuse himself imagining what the inkblots look like to him.

Here’s why that matters. First, because it provides a possible explanation for why so few atheist children remain faithful to their unbelief later in life. While it might be diverting fun to imagine that the clouds form specific shapes, or to veg out in front of meaningless (but enjoyable) television, a life where that’s all there is is inherently unsatisfying.  As Pope Benedict explained above, it's fun for a while, but the fun runs out.  Second, it presents an implicit argument for God: if our lives aren’t meaningless, then God exists. That is, if each of us is correct in feeling that we exist for a reason, we have to recognize that this is an argument against atheism.

II. Evolution Doesn't Disprove Theism

Pope Benedict rightly criticizes the silly debates over evolution as being a red herring in the question of whether or not God exists.  While Creationists insist that since Christianity is true, evolution is false, and atheists insist that since evolution is true, Christianity is false, Benedict bluntly rejects both of these arguments as “absurd”:
Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called "creationism" and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance.
In other words, there's absolutely no reason why a Christian can't simultaneously affirm that we have a natural and a supernatural origin.  There's no evasion here: in fact, Christians frequently acknowledge that we are both individually created by God (Jeremiah 1:5), and created by union of sperm and egg.  If sexual reproduction doesn't disprove the idea that God creates us, neither does evolution.  Or put another way, if we can individually have a supernatural and natural origin, we can collectively have a supernatural and natural origin, too.  

Dr. Gray notes that this hang-up about evolution is an argument that really only works against Evangelicals, and relies on assuming that the Bible should be read the way that Fundamentalists or Evangelicals read it (even though this wasn't the historical way the Bible was understood):
It’s interesting that so much of the rhetoric of New Atheism seems to really be directed at Evangelical Christians—those specifically who take the Bible literally word for word. Many New Atheists seem to think anyone who is religious holds similar beliefs. Yet, this cannot be equated with the mainstream Catholic point of view. After all St. Augustine wrote about allegorical interpretations of Genesis in the 4th Century CE.
In fact, the entire process of evolution points to an ultimate beginning, and thus, to a Creator.  So the entire debate over evolution is worse than a red herring, because it starts from the completely inaccurate assumption that if evolution is true, religion is false (and vice versa).  In fact, the opposite is true: if everything in time and space originated at a single point, and grew and developed and evolved, tracing the line backwards gets you to a place where a Timeless, Spaceless Cause is necessary to set the whole chain in motion... that is, evolution should be considered a proof for our Eternal, Immaterial God, rather than against Him.

III. Scientific Inquiry Points to God

The final point that Benedict made so well is that the very existence of reason, and an intelligible universe points to the existence of an Intelligent Creator.  This is his argument from intelligibility, which I like:
This is what I wanted to say in my lecture at Regensburg: that reason should be more open, that it should indeed perceive these facts but also realize that they are not enough to explain all of reality. They are insufficient. Our reason is broader and can also see that our reason is not basically something irrational, a product of irrationality, but that reason, creative reason, precedes everything and we are truly the reflection of creative reason. We were thought of and desired; thus, there is an idea that preceded me, a feeling that preceded me, that I must discover, that I must follow, because it will at last give meaning to my life. This seems to me to be the first point: to discover that my being is truly reasonable, it was thought of, it has meaning. And my important mission is to discover this meaning, to live it and thereby contribute a new element to the great cosmic harmony conceived of by the Creator.
In other words, it isn't just that this or that scientific discovery or fact points to the existence of God.  It's that the very fact that we live in a universe that is governed by immutable laws of science, and that is capable of being discovered and understood and discussed, is itself a sure sign of an Intelligent Author.  You can tell a book from a series of randomly-pressed buttons on a keyboard (“oiafnsafkdnsafo aosdifdofsdaf,” for example): one makes sense, the other doesn't.  You may love or hate the book, you may adore or despise the author, but you're not left with any serious question that an author does, in fact, exist.

Even to say, “that plot twist makes no sense,” you have to concede that there’s an intelligibility in the thing that you’re reading, that there is a plot, and things should have happened in a certain way (in your opinion), and didn’t. Likewise, the criticisms of God’s designs for the universe begin by conceding that the universe is intelligible, and makes enough sense even to us that we can speculate about how things should operate. None of this is consistent with a meaningless randomly-created universe.

In discovering that the universe shows clear signs of Authorship, Benedict draws us back to his original point.  Once we discover that we've been authored, we can know at once that our lives do have meaning.  He chose to create us, and He could have chosen not to.  This begins the next phase of our journey, a phase that will last us until the day we die: seeking to understand and cooperate with the Author's plans for us.

26 comments:

  1. Well-summarized, and a great source of hope to me personally: I am sympathetic to the Church, but have painted myself into a corner where my children are being raised with a more or less agnostic worldview. But I am teaching them to think critically, and I hope that they will be receptive to the Truth when they come across it someday.

    I read somewhere that Chesterton was raised by "free thinkers" too, and that he credited his conversion to Catholicism partly to that upbringing.

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    1. Great blog entry! I recently returned to the Church, and evolution actually was part of my foundation for finding it easier to take a leap of faith that God existed. If there is no supernatural, why can we conceive of it? Why would natural selection select for a species that could conceive of something that cannot be detected with the senses if no such thing actually existed? If the supernatural doesn't exist, how can it be relevant to our survival or reproduction? And therefore why would nature select for such a species instead of against it? That is, why did we human beings come into existence and flourish instead of going extinct, especially since having such abilities gives us a high-maintenance brain, and all the problems that means for our bodies. What possible counteracting good could there be in that case?

      I couldn't answer that question, and that suggests to me (assuming evolution as true, which I already believed) that not only does the supernatural in fact exist--there is a God--but that He is personal, not deistic. He interacts supernaturally with His creation, and desired it that we could conceive of His existence so that we could do the same. God is a Person (three Persons, but this argument didn't go that far) with a will, and willed it that we also be the same.

      Also, why would we assign meaning if there is inherently no meaning? How do we have a concept of "meaning" at all? Why not just go with the flow and not bother trying to assign meaning to anything? One thing I loved about Catholic Christianity once I bothered to learn about it was how consistent it is (and therefore likely to be true).

      In other words, the existence of atheists does more to prove God exists than to prove He does not.

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  2. "You have seen Hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world, devotion to My Immaculate Heart." -Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima

    What is worse, not believing in God, or being the Pope and refusing to save millions of souls just by establishing devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary throughout the world?

    The Pope doesn't want to upset the ecumenical apple cart. So the Jews and Protestants can rest easy right up until they take their last breaths and find out that even the Pope doesn't have the power to change infallible dogma - NO SALVATION OUTSIDE THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

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  3. Joe,

    I hate to reference George Carlin, but he once said something I found interestig and was wondering what the Church says about it. Here is what Carlin said...

    Remember that? The Divine Plan. Long time ago, God made a Divine Plan. Gave it a lot of thought, decided it was a good plan, put it into practice. And for billions and billions of years, the Divine Plan has been doing just fine. Now, you come along, and pray for something. Well suppose the thing you want isn't in God's Divine Plan? What do you want Him to do? Change His plan? Just for you? Doesn't it seem a little arrogant? It's a Divine Plan. What's the use of being God if every run-down shmuck with a two-dollar prayerbook can come along and f-ck up Your Plan?

    And here's something else, another problem you might have: Suppose your prayers aren't answered. What do you say? "Well, it's God's will." "Thy Will Be Done." Fine, but if it's God's will, and He's going to do what He wants to anyway, why the f-ck bother praying in the first place? Seems like a big waste of time to me! Couldn't you just skip the praying part and go right to His Will? It's all very confusing."

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    1. Well, you might just get something out of it. Maybe God has some provisions in His plan which could be changed, altered or amended depending on our requests, readiness or disposition.

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    2. Kens,

      One of the explanations for prayer that Christ gives us is in Matthew 7:9-11, in which He compares us praying to a child asking their parent for something. This analogy seems to neatly solve the problem that you're having.

      Do children get everything that they ask for? Hopefully not. Do parents know what's best for their kids, even without them asking? Hopefully so. But there's still room for parents to train their children to ask for things, and kids who do so are likely to be rewarded for this over those who don't. Specifically, if what the kids ask for is good for them, their parents are likely to give it to them.

      As another analogy, a girl may decide that she'll go to a dance with a guy if he asks her. Her "plan" would then be to go with him to the dance if he asks, but not if he doesn't. So her plan wouldn't be violated by him asking at all. Likewise, God's plans appear to have several similarly contingent options, where He's willing to give us things if we ask for them.

      The trouble that Carlin (and others) really seem to have is this: why, if God is all-knowing, would He require us to pray for things, when He already knows what's best? Jesus doesn't shy away from this at all: when He introduces the Lord's Prayer, He does so by explaining that "your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray:..." (Mt. 6:8-9).

      The answer seems to be related to our own wills. The process of praying intently teaches us to trust God, teaches us that He knows what's best more than we do (and wants what's best for us more than we do), and slowly conforms our wills to God. It's also a recognition of our relationship to God, and is the right thing to do for this reason, just as a guy should go ahead and ask a girl to a dance, even if both of them know they want to go together. Does that make any sense?

      I.X.,

      Joe

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    3. Honestly, yes. By the way, Joe, did you get my other emails? Just asking cause you haven't replied to them. Just making sure they made it to you. I am the one that earlier sent the email about the God particle that you replied to.

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    4. Yes, sorry - I've been swamped this week. I'll try to respond to you soon.

      I.X.,

      Joe

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    5. Joe, no worries. I was just making sure you got them.

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    6. Joe, how do we reconcile God's divine plan and unchanging will with statements that say we will receive when we ask, or when God says if we trust in him, he will give us the desires of our hearts? Why tell us this if these desires might interfere with His plan?

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    7. I kept missing a point and I finally remembered it. God has a plan, but it seems like it can be changed, yet God is changeless, His will eternal. But, take Sodom and Gomorrah. God willed and had a plan that the city be destroyed, all of them. But Abraham convinced him not to if he could find so many righteous people in it. True, he didn't find that many, but God did agree to change his plan if certain conditions were met. The same with Jesus, he prayed for the Father to take the cup away from him. If His will is eternal, why ask? Or when it is said God repented or regretted making the earth when it became corrupt. He changed his mind? See, this confuses me about an eternal Divine plan/will. It doesn't seem very eternal. Thoughts?

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  4. Joe,

    This post is NOT meant to assign meaning; however, it is meant to question the assumed answer to "where does everything come from?" posed by Pope Benedict. Please (if you have time) view http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo (1.1 hours long video). This video shows that our universe could have come from nothing. (Please ignore the slights at religion/Catholicism). So, this question of "Where did the big bang's "stuff" come from" is answered by physics. i.e.- The question of where did the big bang's stuff come from is moot due to physics. Thus, Pope Benedict's question is meaningless.

    Again, this is not meant to answer purpose, but rather to question origin. He admits in the video around 43:27 "We are more insignificant than we ever imagined." "We are completely irrelevant."

    In this sense, we can assume we are meaningless. We can commit murder because it is thrilling, commit rape because it is fulfilling, etc. (This ignores the modern theory of morality such as Kant, etc.). So, assuming these theories hold, and this video is correct (which our physical observation confirms) why believe in purpose?

    Just as a side note, I am a fierce Catholic. However, faith seeks understanding. Just curious.

    Your blog is awesome, I pray your time in seminary is fruitful.

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    1. Toenail,

      Glad you asked. Krauss’ entire argument is that the universe could have spontaneously come into being under certain natural conditions. Without even debating the accuracy or likelihood of these claims, it's sufficient to say that even if true, this argument doesn't prove that Creation could have created itself ex nihilo.

      Krauss' entire argument requires the pre-existence of certain natural conditions: do you see why this is a problem? First, that’s not the universe coming into existence from “nothing,” since a pre-universe with governing laws isn’t “nothing.”

      The difference is like the difference between having a bank account with a balance of $0, and not having a bank account.  The latter is having nothing, but the former is having something, even if the account is empty.  Consider: under the right conditions, money could be added to your account.  Perhaps a kindly old aunt wires you $10 for your birthday. But money couldn't be added to a bank account that doesn't exist. The creation of a bank account must precede someone adding money to the account (obviously). In fact, evidence that your aunt had added $10 to your account would prove that you had previously set up an account.  So Krauss' “nothing” isn’t “nothing” at all. It’s “something,” just without matter.

      The second problem with Krauss' argument is that he can't explain where the natural forces that would give rise to the universe come from. As I explained to Alex below, you simply can’t explain away the existence of natural forces by saying that natural forces caused them, since that argument is baldly self-refuting. For a lengthier treatment, Feser has responded to Krauss specifically.

      I.X.,

      Joe

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  5. The first point is purely a semantics argument. "Meaning" here is defined as some sort of extrinsic purpose, which I have to note shows an incorrect usage of "intrinsic" in the argument. If meaning comes from God, it is not then an intrinsic meaning, unless life itself was the source of the meaning and/or value. And if life is by itself valuable, it doesn't matter whether or not a God created it.

    The second point isn't actually a point against atheism. One can always make the argument that just because natural thing X exists, doesn't mean supernatural (invisible) thing Y doesn't. It's unsubstantial.

    The third point is simply wrong. The existence of natural laws does not imply an intelligent law-maker. In fact, "natural laws" are simply a precise, predictive observation of patterns that occur in reality. The book analogy is flawed for two reasons: 1) a God-less world need not be inherently random, so a God-less universe wouldn't be like a book of random gibberish; 2) a book (in this case referring to the story within) need not have an intelligent creator. A story is simply a series of events that are usually tied together. Those events can naturally occur without them being planned in advanced. Absorbing and understanding a story may require an intelligent being, but the story itself does not.

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    1. Alex,

      Regarding terminology, you’re right: I wrote “intrinsic purpose” where I meant “inherent purpose.” But what exactly is your response, other than to squabble over semantics? You don’t seem to deny that life is inherently valuable only in the theist worldview. Do you agree or disagree with this point? Additionally, as I said in the comment below, if life has meaning, atheism is false. Conversely, if atheism is true, the appropriate response is nihilism.

      I agree with you that evolution doesn’t disprove the existence of a Divine Creator, for the very reasons that you point to with the natural/supernatural distinction. A number of atheists and Fundamentalist Christians stumble over this point, believing that the answer must be God or evolution.

      My argument (spelled at out some greater length in the comment below) is that the opposite is true. To the extent that inorganic evolution requires a Timeless, Immaterial First Cause, it’s a proof against atheism, not against Christianity.

      Finally, to the third point, you simply assert that “the existence of natural laws does not imply an intelligent law-maker.” You don’t appear to provide an argument for this claim at all, and in any case, it is incorrect. The four fundamental forces cannot be explained through any merely materialist explanation. Put another way, you can’t explain away the existence of natural forces by saying natural forces gave rise to them. So these natural forces actually serve as a testament to the existence of super-natural forces.

      I.X.,

      Joe

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    2. Joe,

      I simply do not see how life that is created is inherently valuable if life that occurs naturally is not. I mean, this is why I consider it an argument over semantics. By what definition can anything be "inherently valuable"? You seem to imply that a creator is a required trait for "inherent value". I mean, using that definition, I have to agree, but then I seriously fail to see the "value" in something that is "inherently valuable". And the same goes for your statement about meaning. My life easily has meaning without God. It is derived from my friends and my family, my experiences and accomplishments, my goals and ambitions. And I consider all of these things valuable.

      Now on to your second point: let's just assume that your premise (cosmic evolution requires a Timeless, Immaterial First Cause) is correct. I fail to see any reason that this first cause need be what any person would consider God or a god or supernatural.

      This leads up to third point, why do all natural forces need to have a beginning? I mean, let's go to one of the most basic laws here: energy cannot be created or destroyed, only converted into another form. So let's take all of reality as a closed system; all energy contained in all of reality is conserved. This is easily a timeless, immaterial trait, as the energy contained within the universe is zero, so there is no measurable change in energy resulting from the creation of the universe (and also the creation of time as we know it). No supernatural explanation required.

      So, no, natural forces do not serve as a testament to the existence of supernatural forces. In fact, any discovery ever made about or surrounding natural forces has itself been natural.

      -Alex

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  6. Your first point rests on the unproven assumption that life must have meaning. Until you prove that life must have meaning, you've done nothing more than say "If I believe in a figure who lives in the sky that will forgive me for the things it accused me of if I promise to love it, then life is nicer". Atheism says "There's no evidence for that, and I find evidence important before I see reason to believe something."

    The second point is a non-sequitir. Evolution makes no claims about the existence or non-existence of a God. It makes claims about the gradual changes in species over many generations. It has been observed, documented and tested. The final paragraph of point two is also a terrible argument - "evolution points to a beginning, therefore that beginning must have been God." That is exactly akin to finding a dead body, stating "Something must have caused this death, therefore John Davidson of 27 Cherry Tree Gardens, Seven Oaks must have killed this person using a knife he bought on the 13th of January 2003 at 9:20pm in Asda Aisle Six." - you've jumped far far ahead of what the evidence supports and have offered no justification for how you got there. I'm reminded of the underpant gnomes of South Park fame.

    The third point: there are laws of physics, therefore... God. Exactly the same horrendous logical fallacy that exists in point two. Christians invariably put forward such poor arguments for the existence of God that undergraduate law students would be able to have ruled inadmissible were the debate to be held in such a manner that the same standards of evidence were applied as one might see in a court of law.

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    1. Characterizing Christians’ belief in God as a belief “in a figure who lives in the sky that will forgive me for the things it accused me of if I promise to love it,” suggests that you either don’t remotely understand what Christians mean by “God,” or aren’t committed to debating the question honestly.

      In response to the first point (that if atheism is true, life is meaningless), you appear to concede the argument. You answer that theists haven’t proven that life must have meaning. But that’s not the argument I’m making, or one that theists are required to make. It is sufficient for now to say that if life has meaning, atheism is false. Conversely, if atheism is true, the appropriate response is nihilism. Do you agree or disagree? Ignoring the argument by trying to force theists to prove that all life must have meaning is evasion and burden-shifting.

      To the second point, you say that “[e]volution makes no claims about the existence or non-existence of a God.” Unfortunately, a great many of your atheist peers seem to believe that the truth of evolution disproves (or at least, renders unnecessary) the existence of God. This is inaccurate, as you appear to concede.

      However, to the extent that evolution (including inorganic evolution) proceeds from the beginning of time and space at the Big Bang (or an alternative origin point), it does require a Creator. And that Creator, by definition, must be outside of time and space, for reasons that I hope are obvious.

      You grossly mischaracterize this argument by claiming that I wrote, “evolution points to a beginning, therefore that beginning must have been God.” False. What I actually said was that “if everything in time and space originated at a single point, and grew and developed and evolved, tracing the line backwards gets you to a place where a Timeless, Spaceless Cause is necessary to set the whole chain in motion.” You didn’t answer this argument: you just made up a stupid version of the argument to rebut instead.

      In response to your “John Davidson” analogy, let’s concede it for the sake of argument. Let’s assume that evolution merely points to a god, and not our God. What then? Christians have lost nothing, but atheism is debunked. Even if you disagree that the Judeo-Christian God is the Timeless, Spaceless Cause that set the universe in motion, that doesn’t escape the fact that the argument disproves atheism, which necessarily denies the existence of a Timeless, Spaceless Creator.

      But the translation from a god to our God is not particularly hard to make here. After all, Judeo-Christianity stands along among theisms in articulating a specific and coherent explanation of creation ex nihilo and the immateriality and eternity of God.

      To the third point, you simply repeat your same line of argumentation: that it’s not specifically the Judeo-Christian God that is proven. So what? If the argument merely disproves atheism, and making Christianity significantly more likely (but not proving that it, specifically, is correct), it’s still probative evidence. It proves you wrong, even if it (by itself) doesn’t prove me right. As for the idea that this would be inadmissible evidence in court, you’re wrong. Per FRE 401, “(a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Here, if we can show that the universe requires a Timeless, Eternal Creator, that is directly relevant in the sense that it disproves atheism, and in the sense that it makes the truth of Christianity more probable than it would be without the evidence.

      You’re in way over your head, and I don’t think you know very much about legal procedure or the Christian understanding of God. Perhaps an ounce of humility would do you good here.

      I.X.,

      Joe

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  7. OSV's Robert P. Lockwood on "The World's Funniest Atheist":
    http://www.osv.com/tabid/7621/itemid/9384/A-good-Catholic-read.aspx

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  8. How about some advocatus diaboli to change things up a little bit...

    Couldn't one make the counter argument that without God, life could be even more meaningful than with a belief in a God/afterlife?

    Every individual would be that much more unique and irreplaceable because absolutely nothing of that individual can or will survive after death, and that once they are gone, they are gone for good.

    Without a belief in God and an immortal afterlife, one could move in the other direction, and work like crazy to get as much out of this one short existence as they can before it all goes dark, which would push one into hedonism eventually...

    Kind of ironic that I was watching this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssf7P-Sgcrk

    (Alan Watts discusses Nothing)

    When I came upon this post.

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  9. That "something" in that video is quite beautiful. The land, light, music, even Mr. Watts voice. I can understand the human desire to be freed from the burden of the will or conscience, but can we truly live in a world where we are not held accountable for our actions? If nihilism is true, wouldn't justice be unnecessary?

    I think it's worth noting that in the comments of that video someone stated that they decided not to commit suicide after watching it. Praise God. If the whole message of that video is that we are nothing, why would anyone listening to it be afraid of the unknown? What surely is known is that this life will bring on more suffering. I'm not convinced that Mr. Watts is the savior of that poor wounded soul, but rather God and the beauty of His creation.

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  10. Point 3 is particularly well phrased. Thank you for writing!

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  11. Atheist here. I'm relatively harmless. I have no interest in changing your personal religious beliefs, but from our perspective, since we're the assumed 'other' here...

    1. Regardless of the philosophical pondering, what is comfortable is not synonymous with what is true. I have all sorts of beliefs regarding what "meaning" is relevant to the individual, but even if the only possible conclusion is depressing and nihilistic (which I don't believe it is), that says only "Our belief makes you feel better". Cancer is depressing and horrible, yet it demonstrably exists. Imagine yourself in a position where someone argued to you that you shouldn't believe in cancer because cancer is awful. I am not equating the positions, by the way, since cancer is scientifically demonstrated and the absence of God isn't (I just have no specific reason to believe in one, so I default do not), just merely demonstrating a more tangible notion of depression rather than "meaninglessness" which is an abstract notion.
    2. Evolution supports neither atheism nor theism. When theists attempt to disprove it as evidence of God, it makes their arguments extremely easy to crush, but this is not most theists, and certainly not most Catholics that I've encountered. If you tell an atheist once that you are not a young earth creationist and do not wish to be characterized as one, if they keep belaboring the point, I would recommend giving up as certainly as I do when faced with an actual young earth creationist. You'll go nowhere and be annoyed trying.
    3. "It's that the very fact that we live in a universe that is governed by immutable laws of science, and that is capable of being discovered and understood and discussed, is itself a sure sign of an Intelligent Author." -This is an unsupported statement that requires a more cogent series of logical steps before you're going to convince anyone other than fellow-theists of its truth.

    "You can tell a book from a series of randomly-pressed buttons on a keyboard (“oiafnsafkdnsafo aosdifdofsdaf,” for example): one makes sense, the other doesn't." - this assumes the universe has a set point to it (which is a key difference between us) and see it as attempting to logically arrive there versus interpreting the end results of what we see. This argument seems to be "things are as they are therefore God". I would ask what would act as evidence against God? If universal laws can be violated, one could make the argument that the only thing that could violate them was the thing that deliberately set them in motion. If universal laws cannot be violated, one can make the argument that they can't be violated because they were deliberately set in motion. At no point is there a sentient prime necessary for what we observe. The only reason we *can* observe it is because we're here to do so. If the universe were devoid of life, but everything else existed as it currently does (orbits, planets, etc), would that still be evidence of a creator?

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  12. Great post Joe, very enjoyable! :)

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