That thing about contingency

AquinasOne version of the cosmological argument relies, among other assumptions, on the following:

Every contingent being has a cause.

Leaving aside the necessity of defining what we mean by "cause", and of explaining how such an inductive statement could reasonably apply to a unique object such as the universe, I want to focus in this post on the concept of contingency.

How do we know that anything is contingent? How do we know that anything could have turned out to be different?

Like free will, contingency is useful, and even essential to our human experience. The idea that we can make choices, and that these choices may result in different outcomes is how we survived and evolved. Without it, the notion of probability seems to become absurd, and human experience seems to lose its meaning. This is in itself an interesting discussion, but what we would like or perceive reality to be is not what determines it.

As far as we know, and given the laws of physics as we know them, if we know the state of a system at a given time, we can in principle derive its state at all times. There is no room for contingency, except for those so-called initial conditions. I'm saying "so-called" because those are only initial if one extrapolates to the future: if one extrapolates to the past, those conditions are final rather than initial. Even in quantum mechanics, the wave function is deterministic, and the wave function might be all there is.

In light of this, we are left to wonder how contingent those initial conditions and the laws of physics can be. Many scientists, until the end of the 20th century, thought we would eventually be able to understand why the physical constants have the values they have. Today, more and more are agreeing with Leonard Susskind that we might never know because there is nothing to know.

Does this mean that science now points to a contingent universe after all? Not at all. In fact, it's quite the reverse: the idea of a multiverse, which comes out quite naturally of string theory and inflation, indicates that the physical constants are only locally constant, and that there is a landscape of universes where all the possible values can be taken. Locally, within a universe, all that can be seen looks contingent or arbitrary, but the whole landscape possibly contains all that is possible. This is similar to the idea that the solutions to a symmetrical problem may not be symmetrical, but the set of solutions always is.

And here is the interesting idea: if all that is possible by virtue of being consistent exists, contingency disappears. This constitutes a unification between the sort of necessary existence that mathematical entities enjoy (the only kind of necessary existence that we know for sure is valid, by the way), and empirical, "contingent" existence.

Of course, this all doesn't seem falsifiable, and it probably isn't. But here is my point: the mere possibility that contingency might not actually exist is enough to kill the premise of a cosmological argument for god that "every contingent being has a cause". In order to use that premise, you first have to prove that there are contingent beings, and that may end up being a lot more difficult than one may have thought at first. And that is the problem with most of metaphysics: it holds as self-evident what in subtle ways isn't.


Can God appear in a puff of logic?

Saint AnselmLogic is a tricky thing. Any sound argument must rely on it, but it is easy to build seemingly sound and logical arguments that are still wrong or fail to apply to the real world. Fuzzy or wrong premises, shortcuts in reasoning, as well as plain fallacies such as circular reasoning, are easy to obfuscate, and apologists are kings at this game. It's what they do: take the conclusion they want to reach, and then build the rationalization for it. A prime example of this is the age-old ontological argument for the existence of God, that I will be looking at in details in this post.

The argument is that because we can conceive of a perfect being (defined by the impossibility to improve it), then it must exist for surely existing is better than not existing. Really? We'll see.

But first, let me quote Douglas Adams...

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non existence of God.
The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.
"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

What Douglas Adams articulates so brilliantly here is that with badly defined premises and "pure logic", you can prove anything and its opposite, and that therefore you can prove nothing. There is no such thing as a puff of logic of course, as puffs are physical, and logic is mathematical, independent of the physical world, and therefore utterly unable to puff. Of course, I could have quoted Hume and Kant to pretty much the same effect, but this is a lot more fun, isn't it?

To drive the point home, let me paraphrase a reverse formulation of the argument I found in the comments of Ambrose's recent post on the subject:

We can conceive of maximal evil, for which one cannot possibly imagine anything more evil. Surely, it must exist, as something maximally evil would be quite benign if it didn't exist, and would assuredly be more evil if it existed. Therefore, it exists.

Oops. Putting empirical credibility aside, it doesn't look any more or less logically sound than the original argument. So where's the flaw?

What most people call "pure logic" is actually much trickier to define than they may think. I learned that in France a little more than 20 years ago when I was preparing the entry contest for college. One of the students in my class was an orthodox Jew, convinced that the world was 6000 years old, but also a genius, who had already explored Mathematics way farther than any of us. What he taught me was that words are not appropriate to do mathematics. One must be absolutely formal in order to avoid talking nonsense. Here is the example he used, also known as Russel's paradox:

A mathematical set is a pretty simple entity, right? It is defined by its elements. OK, so now consider the set of  non-auto-inclusive sets, defined as the set of all sets that do not contain themselves. Well, that set cannot include itself, by definition, because all its elements are non-auto-inclusive. Therefore, it must include itself since it doesn't.

Uh? Yeah, exactly. Mathematics don't have paradoxes, they only have reductio ad absurdum. This so-called paradox only proves that the naïve concept of set we used here is inconsistent. In particular, the notion of a set of all sets can't be rigorously defined, although an English formulation of it seems to present no challenge. This is known as the naïve set theory, and it had to be replaced by something much more rigorous, which eventually led to a re-foundation of all of Mathematics by the Bourbaki group. This is an eminently modern idea that  Anselm of Canterbury, Kant, Leibniz, Descartes or Plantinga could not possibly have known. We need to apply formal logic in order to determine what in the ontological argument is valid formal logic and what constitutes its premises and hidden assumptions.

Several people have done exactly that with varying success, but the attempt that I find the most interesting consisted in feeding the argument into a computer algorithm that automatically proves mathematical theorems. If that wasn't awesome enough, the good news is that the algorithm not only showed the logical soundness of the argument, it was actually able to simplify it and reduce the assumptions to a single one. The bad news is that this remaining assumption is not trivial. Here it is:

If the conceivable thing than which nothing greater
is conceivable fails to exist, then something greater than it is conceivable.

Makes sense? Suffice it to say that this still needs independent justification that cannot be reduced to formal logic. Back to square one are we? You can still argue one way or the other, but you are outside of the realm of logic doing so, which pretty much means that the argument, while quite subtle and logically sound, is not a complete proof of the existence of God.

Before I conclude this post, I'd like to point out that such attempts to make God appear in a puff of logic are not only doomed logically, they also constitute poor theology (assuming for a second there is such a thing as good theology). For really, doesn't it degrade the idea of God to reduce it to something that can be described and constrained by mathematical expressions? Doesn't that bring him down to the realm of the natural?


Metaphorical? But why?

Dürer: the fall of manMost modern believers interpret their sacred texts as mostly metaphorical. Only the most hard-core fundamentalists maintain that Genesis for example is an accurate historical account of the origin of Humanity.

In order to maintain such a hard stance, they must reject most of what the modern world has to offer, in particular empirical science and its discoveries.

The myth of Adam and Eve as the two ultimate ancestors for the whole of humanity for instance has been destroyed by genetic evidence and by population genetics in general.

It is unfortunately an extremely important myth as without it there is no original sin, and without original sin there is no need for a universal redeemer.

Faced with the evidence, believers resort to a number of techniques to salvage their faith. Some reject empirical science as a whole, some misrepresent the evidence and twist it to fit their pre-established conclusions, and some revise their interpretation of the text by declaring it "metaphorical".

I'm not too interested about the first two, which have willingly moved beyond reason. The third is more intriguing, but I think not much more consistent.

If the god of the Bible exists, he had the power of making the world exactly as it is described in the books he supposedly inspired. Why didn't he then?


I care that everyone can get married

Holy MatrimonyThis post started as a comment on my friend Ambrose's blog but it was getting long enough to justify a post. Check it out for context.

Let's start with this: marriage cannot be defined by the biological prospect of having children, because that would rule out sterile couples and menopausal women. As simple as that.

On adoption, Ambrose said:

"it seems likely that the child raised by a homosexual couple will have at least some issues similar to other children who are raised without a mother or without a father"

What are those issues? Is there evidence of that? Rigorous studies on those problems exist, we don't have to guess.

I'm glad that Ambrose does mention that:

"It is [commitment] not infatuation, not sex, not even children--that is essential to marriage and is also its primary joy."

That I can agree with if we are speaking of marriage in our time and regions, but we should also not forget that in the past, and in many regions of the world, marriage has been and still is mostly arranged and more a matter of business than consensual commitment. But let's pass on that.

Then Ambrose says:

"it must be understood that this is an unbreakable, unquestionable lifetime commitment that no one, not even those who enter into it, can break".

That, I must say, sounds to me like an archaic and patriarchal vision of things. Surely Ambrose would agree that if a woman is routinely beaten by her husband, that marriage should be broken? I agree on the commitment, but I also think that a commitment can only be meaningful if it is consensual and if there is a way out. Otherwise, you have built a prison, not a marriage. At least not a modern one (oh, yes, I do think these concepts must evolve as our understanding of ethics does (and it does)). That does not mean it's subject to the "whims of passion" as Ambrose says. Actually, I find this slightly insulting: I do not remain my wife's partner because we're married. That's backwards. I am married to my wife because we have had and continue to have an adult relationship based on love, trust and shared values. That marriage will last because we don't see an end to these things, not because marriage is sacred. That commitment that Ambrose speaks of is not coming out of nowhere. It's not marriage that is creating it, marriage is only the representation and consequence of it, it existed before.

I would go so far as attributing the higher rate of divorces in the most religious parts of the US to sexual repression (if you can't experiment freely with sex, you are more likely to confuse lust with love), silly notions about contraception and an archaic notion of ownership of women by men that still permeates religious thought (but that I'm not accusing Ambrose of personally, of course).

Back on topic: even if Ambrose was right that marriage is fundamentally a granting of privilege and not a right (and I don't think he is), there exists a right to this privilege, and I don't think any privileges should be granted on anything that does not boil down to merit. He did not show why these privileges should be granted only to some. Gay people can commit to each other and adopt children just as well as, say, a sterile couple.

I also do not share his view that marriage should be translated into quasi-economic terms of cost and benefit to society. The state does guarantee all kind of rights on their own merits (plus it's quite tricky to define the "common good"). Reading the Declaration of Human Rights or the Bill of Rights should convince anyone of that.

Finally, if those civil unions that religious people so generously grant gay people (after having fought them), if those civil unions were enough, why does the gay community still insist that they aren't? Simply because the recognition they provide is not enough, yes.

Looping back to Ambrose's original point, yes, it's about recognition, the recognition that gay people are just as capable of commitment and love as anybody. Anything less is insulting and discriminatory.

Let's not forget that it's also about the happy couple being able to show their commitment to friends and family. We haven't talked about the ceremony and the celebration, but they are essential. You *can* do them with a civil union contract, of course, but it's clearly not the same thing to celebrate the "civil union" of Pierre and Paul or of Susan and Amy as it is to celebrate their marriage. There is a symbol here for which no substitute will do.

There are privileges associated with marriage for sure, but that's only one more reason why it should be a universal right.


Left behind

The RaptureThe date and time have come and gone and you are still here. As we are waiting for the rationalization from Harold Camping, it is time to ponder what this means for you. A few possibilities:

  • You are not a True Christian. You should probably enjoy life while you still can.
  • Rapture is postponed to another date. Redo Harold Camping's calculations and prepare new signs for whatever date you come up with.
  • The whole thing was the crazy ravings of a religious nut. What else could turn out to be a house of cards built on extremely bad premises without any regard for reality?


Rees, ethics, aesthetics and religion

Sir Martin Rees said this right after receiving a huge pile of money from the Templeton Foundation:

[…]I think just as religion is separate from science, so is ethics separate from science. So is aesthetics separate from science. And so are many other things. There are lots of important things that are separate from science.

"Just as"? When is the last time you heard a philosopher of ethics or aesthetics make a claim about the origin of life or of the universe? Or, for that matter, make any claim that directly contradicted hard science?

This insistence that religion and science are non-overlapping magisteria is decidedly strange. Science's magisterium is very clearly defined: it's everything that is a natural phenomenon. If religions want to stop overlapping with that, it's fine by me but are they prepared to do that?


Apologetics is not a proper form of reasoning

Apologetics is the systematic defense of a position. It's usually done by religious people in defense of their dogma.

We are all biased, but embracing bias as the starting point of your reasoning is not going to help you find any reliable truth.

Contrast that with scientifically obtained information. All scientists have their own bias, but scientific methods are designed to eliminate that bias. That's what they do: neutralize subjectivity. Imperfectly, but better than anything else we know. As a consequence, they are our best chance to discover objective truth.

When a new idea emerges in science, the very first thing scientists do is attempt to destroy it. That is not in defense of any kind of orthodoxy, it's to verify that the idea really is a good.

Can apologists reach any form of truth? They could, by chance, but even if they did, what they find would be of no value until it's been scrutinized and verified by a wide community of independent researchers. Why not start with that? Are you interested in finding the truth or in defending your position?


Of taste and right

Portrait of James MadisonWhen a Dutch cartoonist drew the prophet Muhammad, the world split between those who thought that was a serious crime that deserved death, and those who thought freedom of speech was more important than anybody’s susceptibility.

The cartoons in question might have been of poor taste, maybe. But taste is by definition subjective and shouldn’t be made into law.

Only in a theocracy is speech against Scripture repressed (by definition). Even if you pursued the bizarre claim that all speech against all sacred texts should be repressed, you wouldn’t go very far with it. Why? Because those texts are contradictory and exclusive. The Qur'an is explicitly saying that both Jews and Christians are wrong (for example Al-Baqarah 2:120). So just by being a Christian or a Jew, you are contradicting the Qur’an and expressing opinions that go against a sacred text. Before you think you can talk yourself out of this one by saying that as long as religious practice remains private that’s not a problem, also remember that all those texts also have extensive sections ordering their followers to proselyte (sometimes through the use of force).

In consequence, unless you want to live in a theocracy, you have to realize that prohibiting the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion is a necessity. This is not repression against religions. To the contrary, this is protecting religions against each other and guaranteeing that all religions can coexist.

Now if you’re a follower of the dominant religion in any country, you might be tempted nonetheless, thinking you’ll be fine. Well, first that’s not a very charitable position for those who aren’t, and it goes a long way to show your ideas of tolerance and social life. Second, any given religion is in reality split into a multitude of currents (especially here in the States). What makes you think it’s your particular current that will be in power? Given how the people who seize power in the name of a religion are rarely the moderates, aren’t you just a little afraid?

It should be obvious then that the reasonable position is that we should live in democracies rather than theocracies (I’m not mentioning other grotesque forms of power here) and that those democracies should guarantee freedom of speech, including against religion.

Given that, you may or may not find caricatures of a prophet distasteful, but that does not entitle you to anything. It is your problem and nobody else’s.

Now move this out of the religious sphere into the political sphere. Let’s talk about Wikileaks. That is another case where we should refrain from desiring laws that would prevent such leaks into the public sphere lest we want to live in a dictatorship where the government is judge and party. There is no fundamental difference between Wikileaks and a press outlet. In many ways, Wikileaks is one of the modern evolutions of the press, for good or bad. Freedom of the press is another fundamental promise and guarantee of democracy.

We may find Wikileaks revelations distasteful or irresponsible, but that does not entitle us to anything. It’s our problem and nobody else’s. What I do find in very poor taste are the threats of legal action for espionage or terrorism. In even poorer taste are calls for assassination.

Careful what you wish for...


Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design

A model of the universeMany silly things have been written and said about this book, mostly by people who haven’t read it. Too bad, it’s a very short and easy read...

The central claim of the book, the one on which the marketing campaign has been centered, is that God is not necessary in order to explain the universe. That’s nothing new: when Napoleon asked Laplace about two hundred years ago why he wasn’t mentioning the Creator in his work, he famously answered:

“I had no need of that hypothesis”

In 1670, Spinoza also hypothesized that the world could be understood without God having to play any role in it.

Hawking’s claims are not very different. Never in the book does he say that there is no god. This hasn’t stopped most clueless commenters to assume that he did but he simply did not. Concluding that God exists or not is left as an exercise to the reader. The shrinking relevance of the concept is of course nothing new, it has been going on for centuries but the erosion has never seemed to be an obstacle to the true believer.

To be fair, there are jabs at religion in the book (which is not the same as jabs at God), such as this one:

“In 1277 Bishop Templier of Paris, on the instructions of Pope John XXI, published a list of 219 errors or heresies that were to be condemned. Among the heresies was the idea that nature follows laws, because this conflicts with God’s omnipotence. Interestingly, Pope John was killed by the effects of the law of gravity a few months later when the roof of his palace fell in on him.”

What Hawking does claim is that the relatively recent discovery that the total energy of the universe is zero, coupled with the existence of a law such as gravitation, are enough to explain the creation of our universe. There is actually not much here that isn’t already familiar to people who have been following the progress of physics.

Many commenters have pointed out that he doesn’t explain why there is a law of gravitation. Well, they either haven’t read the book or haven’t been paying attention. He does give an explanation, which is that a quantum cosmological model such as the one from superstring theory he’s using, has to include all possible physical laws. Still, I would agree with those commenters that he’s not going deeply enough to explain the origin of physical laws. That doesn’t mean that there are no naturalistic explanations, just that the book does not provide a fully satisfactory one. In that way the central claim of the book is a little overblown as it really only pushes God into a smaller gap.

Hawking in general does not enter into too many details and that would be my main grief against the book. There is a lot of hand-waving going on, which too bad as the science behind what he’s saying is worth explaining. Because he doesn’t explain, many readers may think he’s just making things up.

There is an insistence in the book on adopting what the authors call model-dependent realism, which is a philosophical parti-pris that because all we know of reality is through our sensations, we cannot have tests of reality that are completely independent of the models we build to account for observation. This is actually not very controversial but it has already been misinterpreted by the likes of Deepack Chopra as validation of their own crazy ideas that the mind was somehow creating reality. Hawking could have been more precise: he could have predicted that pitfall and avoided it by clearly stating what he was not saying.

I’ve been focusing in this review on the negatives (oh, did I mention the lame attempts at humor that could have been entirely avoided?). Still, I recommend the book as the positives vastly outweigh my nitpicking. It is a good and pleasant read. It does present solid arguments (although they could be supported by more actual scientific contents) and does push back the role of God in creation. It is also a good introductory text for those who want to understand the current state of cosmology. A modern and honest person should read it, if only in order to be able to speak of it intelligently.


What that guy believes

Fig. 68Michael Egnor has now answered his own questions so we can now review his answers and discover in amazement how they make a lot more sense than what non-theists and scientists could come up with. Or not. His new post can be found here. My own answers to those same questions can be read here.

The first thing I noticed in Egnor’s new piece is that while atheists are often accused of arrogance, Egnor also assumes that they are ignorant:

“these explanations have largely been forgotten by atheists and by scientists with a dogmatic materialistic view of nature”

They have not been ignored of course, they have just proven to be useless or obsolete and it’s the likes of Egnor who have been largely oblivious of the progress of science over the last centuries. Which is why they clutch at multi-century-old notions that the rest of the world has dismissed for good reasons.

“Dogmatic”? How pretentious! The essence of science is to be the opposite of dogmatic thinking. It is a set of methods that we have devised in order to discover truth about the natural world despite our preconceptions thereof. Scientific thinking cannot be dogmatic, otherwise it’s not scientific. It’s a common technique to accuse your adversary of your own faults so this is hardly surprising from the apologists of Dogma.

Also make note of the pretensions of Egnor:

“these beliefs are entirely compatible with modern science; in fact, classical philosophy and classical theism is the source for modern science”

We’ll see about that...

1. Why is there anything?

“God created the universe as a free act of creation. God is Spirit and is not created; The Thomist paradigm of essence (what a thing is) and existence (that a thing is) can be applied by analogy to God: God's essence is existence. His existence is necessary.”

That is an entirely circular definition of God. It is essentially different from my own argument which was based on the intrinsic existence of real mathematical objects that have a rigorous definition. The argument from instability of nothing also is a well-established discovery of 20th century physics.

Hand-waving and play on words on the other hand are not considered a proper form of reasoning. The only thing whose essence is existence is existence itself. Not God. You might as well say “the essence of the universe is existence. Its existence is necessary.” The reasoning isn’t any more valid but there is at least one thing that is verifiable in there. Not so of Egnor’s argument.

2. What caused the Universe?

“1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause 2) The universe began to exist 3) The universe has a cause. A super-natural cause in necessary for the creation of nature ex-nihilo. 'Nature created itself' is nonsense- it's a contradiction. From nothing comes nothing.”

Again, Egnor demonstrates his ignorance of modern science. Causality is a notion that presupposes time, which may not have existed as we know it at the “beginning” of the universe. The argument that everything has a cause only applies to the contents of a universe where causality exists, but not necessarily to the universe in its entirety nor to any kind of universe. It’s hard for us to imagine anything else, because our whole existence would be impossible in a universe that wouldn’t have causality, but it isn’t otherwise a necessity and in particular it probably breaks down near the “beginning” of the universe. It’s also assuming there needs to be something outside of the universe. A real Universe is entirely self-contained: by definition it’s the total sum of everything that exists. We can conceive in cosmology of universes that have no boundary and no beginning, just a smooth form. Think of a sphere (which we know how to construct without plunging it into a 3D space by the way). Where is the beginning of the sphere? There is no such thing. Any definition of one is arbitrary.

Also, from nothing comes something all the time, everywhere. Another discovery of 20th century science was that void is unstable. Combine that with a force like gravity, which has negative energy, and you have the absolute necessity for a material universe to emerge.

Finally, please show me the cause for the existence of the mathematical group Z2.

Egnor is almost right on one thing though:

“This Pure Act is uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless”

Replace “Pure Act” with the universe and there you have it: a modern view of the universe. Except for one essential difference: modern cosmology is based on and verified by observation, whereas Egnor’s Pure Act is just hand-waving.

3. Why is there regularity in nature?

“Teleology is the goal-directedness of nature.”

There is no such thing as the goal-directedness of nature, except in the twisted minds of ID-proponents.

4. Of the four causes in nature proposed by Aristotle, which are real?

“the four causes were truncated to two or three by enlightenment philosophers, who didn't like the theistic implications of classical philosophy […] Moderns generally don't understand any of this, and accept merely material and truncated efficient causes as adequate to describe nature. They are mistaken.”

It’s not that they didn’t like them. That does not matter in the least. What matters is that they discovered that the harder they looked, the less final causes seemed necessary (science does not bother with unnecessary hypotheses, as famously illustrated by Laplace). Worse: they were counter-productive in that they were getting in the way of finding objective truth. This is all very well understood and not the product of ignorance. Quite the contrary.

5. Why do we have subjective experiences?

“humans have spirits, which are created in God's image. We are subjects and not just objects because of the powers of our rational souls and the fact that we are spiritual creatures. […] Nothing in materialism predicts or explains the emergence of 'I' from 'it'”

Again, failure to recognize the achievements of science and even philosophy. For instance, read Nietzsche and his idea of consciousness as a grammatical fiction or Hofstadter’s I am a strange loop. Neuroscientists have been able to study the brain with ever-increasing precision and have obtained some extremely curious and important results, such as consciousness of an act happening after the act is performed, reversing our assumption on which causes which. The way consciousness, sensations, feelings, states of mind, memories or even religious experiences can be induced or suppressed by physical and chemical stimulation of the brain also point to a materialistic explanation of our subjective experiences. There is plenty of science dealing with the emergence of ‘I’ from ‘it’, and it suggests that our consciousness is more after the fact story-telling than causation and free-will agency.

There is one question I’ve always wanted to ask dualists: where does the soul go when you sleep and when you don’t dream?

6. Why is the human mind intentional? How can mental states be about something?

“Intentionality is no problem from the classical hylemorphic understanding of nature and of man. It is inexplicable by materialism. Materialism, which acknowledges only material and efficient causes, founders on intentionality”

Here, Egnor is lying. He has read Dr. Novella’s answers to his posts on that subject but ignores it.

7. Does Moral Law exist in itself?

“Moral Law is "written in the heart" of men, and each of us feels an obligation to comply with it. […] Moral Law is the manifestation of Divine Law, and compliance with the Moral Law represents a telos (final cause or purpose) of man's life.”

More hand-waving. Here is another thing that is written in the heart of men, quite literally: genetic information, the results of hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Seriously, read Sam Harris.

“if Moral Law doesn't exist independently to men, then it is the moral law of the strongest of men that will rule”

Ah, that old canard that if morality does not come from God, everything is permitted. And that other canard that evolution is about the law of the strongest.

Never mind that the evolution of altruism is well understood since George Price. Never mind that modern evolutionary theories deal with populations much more than with individuals.

8. Why is there evil?

“Evil is the privation of good. It exists because we are a fallen race in a fallen world.”

This, I must say, may be the most disgusting and dare I say evil part of the Christian dogma: that we somehow all have to pay for the Sin of our long-dead ancestors is plainly immoral. Compound that with the nature of the Sin in question and you get a doctrine that I could never, ever swallow (pun intended). There are plenty of very obvious and perfectly good explanations for the existence of evil, and God is not one of them. Quite the contrary, if God were to disappear in a puff of logic (to quote Douglas Adams) it could be from the existence of evil, and Egnor is well aware of it:

“there are still aspects of natural evil (children with cancer, etc) that I find very hard to understand”

Indeed. but he also says:

“The traditional theodicy that natural evil provides opportunity for courage and faith makes sense to me”

What a horrible, twisted way to induce virtuous behavior. Aren’t there ways to inspire courage other than the horrible suffering and death of children? Especially when you are an omniscient and omnipotent being? Does Egnor even realize the enormity of what he’s saying?

“atheism and materialism offer no solutions at all. If mankind evolved by natural selection, we wouldn't even perceive the death of unrelated others as evil. It would be a real win- more offspring for me!”

And once again, we see the use of a straw-man version of evolution that only exists in the minds of ID proponents. See above, this is very well understood.


A few things should be clear from all this.

Far from resulting from ignorance, at least some atheistic views are constructed on the accumulation of centuries of philosophy, science and even theology. They also take into account results from modern science and are open to revision as new evidence is discovered.

Egnor, by comparison, ignores -probably maliciously- centuries of progress. And he doesn’t take comments on his blog, which says a lot about his open-mindedness.

Make your own conclusions...