Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Theistic Reemphasis

The following is a brief argument why popular atheistic criticisms of religion are ultimately mute, uninteresting, and do not justify being an atheist.

1. If God can be a religiously neutral term, then no criticism of religion can disprove God's existence.
2. God can be a religiously neutral term.
3. Therefore, no criticism of religion can disprove God's existence.

The first premise, expressed in the form of a conditional statement, is more plausibly true than its negation. If one can show that the subsequent does not follow from the truth of the antecedent, then the argument becomes unsound. However, it is de facto the case that for any concept P, if P is irrelevant to the truth of Q, then falsifying P does nothing to the truth value of Q. For example, the proposition "1+1=2" is true regardless of whether I ate breakfast today, because my eating breakfast has nothing to do with whether 1+1=2. Likewise, if God can be a religiously neutral term, that is, is independent of religious concepts, then refuting religions is not the same as refuting God's existence.

The second premise is true, I argue, because of the relationship between theism and deism, and the fact that God's existence can be derived independently from religious concepts. The word 'theist' is an umbrella term (a genus), and one is a theist if they have a belief in a god of the universe. This is not the same as a pantheist (that God is in all things, and is the universe) or a polytheist (i.e. there are gods of the universe, and/or in the universe). Deism is the simplest form of theism because it states that there is a god of the universe. However, deism does not believe that God has revealed himself, or answers prayers, forgives sins, or ever gets involved with the universe (besides creating it). In short, under deism, we can never know 'who' God is, even if we know 'what' God is. Moreover, the fact that one can infer God's existence without ever opening a holy book shows that God can be a religiously neutral term. The premises of the Kalam cosmological argument, for example, are true or false regardless of whether Jesus is the Son of God.

Atheism is the belief that God does not exist. This can embody agnosticism (since technically they don't believe in God) or naturalism (the belief that ultimate reality is physical, therefore excluding theism). The relationship between agnosticism and positive atheism (naturalism) is easy to see by entertaining a brief hypothetical. If a room full people of varying beliefs was told, "If you don't believe in God, please move to the left side of the room" then to the left side of the room the naturalist and agnostic would go. Now if it were clarified that 'God' here meant 'God of the universe', then the pantheist and (most likely) the polytheist would join the agnostic and naturalist (positive atheist). However, it would be silly to suggest from this that polytheists and pantheists were really atheists because they had a 'lack of belief in God'. So there must be more to being an atheist than what has been presently discussed, otherwise these categorical mistakes become prominent.

This is resolved when one separates 'god' (the substance) from God (the person). [It may be an unfortunate thing that, in English, God (person) is the same word as the substance 'god'. It's similar if there was a human named Human.] Clearly, 'god' is a higher order concept than 'God', in the sense that if 'god' is false, then so is God. Why? Because God is a god with a specific set of personal properties. For example, if a husband and wife walked into their house and, upon hearing the shower trickling, concluded that someone other than them was in the house, then they might very well form two opinions of the intent of that person. The husband might say that the person in the shower is malevolent. The wife might say, "No, the person in the shower is our son home early." Either way, if there was no person in the shower at all, then their deciding the intent of the person is pointless (for no truth value could be assigned to either the husband's or wife's claim). Likewise, if the substance 'god' is shown to be false, then there is no point in saying, for example, that God forgives sins.

From this, I argue, atheism must be rejecting the substance 'god', and not simply God the person. If they maintain that they are only rejecting God the person, then they create unnecessary atheistic categories that would conflate with other interpretations of reality, some of which include divine, supernatural, categories. It would follow that there are atheists who believe in a divine substance, which is complete nonsense and a misuse of the term. Atheism would amount to the word 'nonChristian', which is a useless term that only tells us what you aren't and not what you are. This interpretation of 'atheist' would serve no purpose in civil philosophical discussions.

Since 'atheism' must (in order to be proper) reject the substance 'god' (the nonpersonal properties like omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, immaterialness, timelessness, etc), then it follows that mocking the plausibility of miracles in the Bible, for example, does not warrant belief in atheism. Even the atheist's prized argument from evil does not refute the substance god, for revealing that God is malevolent does not contradict deism. As irony would have it, most religious criticisms by atheists (e.g. how miracles are unrealistic) presuppose that God doesn't exist, and hence beg the question (i.e. are circular) if used to support the idea that God doesn't exist. At the end of the day, atheists are left with very little relevant arguments which justify their position. In fact, they would have to show that some property within the god concept is contradictory (i.e. perhaps being 'immaterial' is a contradiction). But very few atheists, let alone academic atheists, ever shoulder this burden of proof.

Atheism, then, is an epistemically weak position to hold.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Islam's Fatal Flaw: A Deductive Refutation

     In my previous blog entitled Is Allah Responsible for the Rise of Christianity?, I offered a commentary on what I thought was a problem for Islam, namely, how it accounts for the claims of the earliest Christians if there was no resurrection (let alone a crucifixion). I argued that the Quran's account lacked explanatory power no matter how they explain the 'appearance of Jesus being crucified'. In this blog, however, I've taken to heart the Quran's challenge to unbelievers to find "much discrepancy". I've formulated a valid and, I will soon argue, sound deductive argument which reveals that Islam is self-refuting.

The argument is as follows:

1. The Quran claims that God's words can never be changed.
2. The Quran claims that the Gospel (Injil) is God's word.
3. If the Gospel (Injil) has not changed, then Islam is false.
4. If the Gospel (Injil) has changed, then Islam is false.
5. Consequently, Islam is false.

    Premise 1 comes directly from the Quran:

"There is none that can change the Words of Allah. Already hast thou received some account of those Apostles" (Sura 6:34).

"No change can there be in the Words of Allah." (Sura 10:64)

Premise 2 also comes directly from the Quran:

"If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness." (Sura 5:69)

"Believe in Allah and His Messenger and the Scripture which He hath revealed unto his Messenger, and the scripture which He revealed aforetime. Whoso disbelieveth in Allah and His Angles and the Last Day, he verily hath wandered far astray." (Sura 4:136)

Premise 3 is true if there is at least one contradiction between the Gospel and the Quran. I will offer a devastating example:

"So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them." (John 19:17-18)

"And [for] their saying, "Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah ." And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain." (Sura 4:157)

So here we see a passage from the Quran contradicting the Gospel. It is a blatant contradiction in the form of 'P and not P'.  It follows that the Quran contains a crippling error and consequently is false.

     Premise 4 anticipates the common defense against premise 3, namely that the Gospel has in fact changed over time and has become a corrupt text.  From my experience, Muslims always use this explanation to evade the blatant contradictions between the two texts. However, the Quran never claims that the Gospel (or Torah) has changed. Some take the view that the Gospel has not changed, but that Christians are misinterpreting the text. Fair enough. However, how does a Christian misinterpret such a simple and direct claim such as "and they crucified him"? This is not theological poetry or a parable which hangs directly on context. Moreover, there are various sayings in the New Testament that claim this simple and historically accepted truth, that Jesus was crucified by the Romans under Jewish pressure. Finally, another possible explanation that a Muslim could give is that the 'true' Gospel has been lost, and that the Gospel that we have today is simply false and arose as a competing text along side the 'true' Gospel. But not only does the Quran claim that the Gospel has not changed, but that the Gospel the Christians had at the time of Muhammed was accurate. Consider Sura 21:7, "Before thee (i.e. Mohammed), also, the Apostles we sent were but men ... If you realize this not, ask of those who possess the message."  This would be a silly challenge if Christians had a corrupted text. Moreover, one would expect to find verses condemning these pseudo-Christians for creating a false Gospel along side the 'true' Gospel. Yet no such verses of condemnation exist. They are simply referred to as Christians. Therefore, it's reasonable to conclude that the Quran presupposes an accurate Gospel, otherwise its various challenges to believers and unbelievers are silly. Consequently, then, Islam is false.

Do they not ponder on the Qur'an?
Had it been from other than Allah,
they would surely have found therein much discrepancy.
(Sura 4:82)

Additional Commentary

    So how should Christians view the Quran? As beloved as the Quran is to millions of Muslims, Christians cannot maintain that it is inspired. It follows that we believe Muhammed was a false prophet. In fact, the Quran is at its weakest when it deals directly with Christians. It makes all sorts of false claims about Christian belief. For example, the Quran claims that the Trinity consists of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Mother (Mary). Yet no Christian, not even back then, not even with those that practice high adoration of Mary, believes this. It's assumed that God the Father needed God the Mother in order to have Jesus the Son. Again, no Christian views Jesus as the 'biological' son of God, or that God needed a female to make a son. There are many other examples of the Quran misrepresenting Christians.

    I explain these discrepancies by pointing to the fact that Muhammed most likely conversed with both Jews and Christians on his caravan journeys. Since it's obvious that he had no first hand knowledge of the Scriptures, it's safe to assume that he received watered down versions of the story that he misunderstood. As for Muhammed's inspiration, here I can only appeal to delusion, Satanic powers, or both. I know this won't sit well with Muslims, but I can only follow the evidence where it leads. The Quran asks me directly, as a Christian, to check MY scriptures to confirm the truth of the Quran. I did so and found the Quran lacking. After all, when I read in the Bible, "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (Galations 1:8), then I get highly suspicious when it is claimed that Muhammed received this revelation from an angel, a revelation that is very different from what I received.

     It is my sincerest prayer that Muslims read the Gospel for what it is. Many of them have been indoctrinated by intense religiosity, which makes it difficult for them to be objective. When you're taught that Christians are deceived liars, that you will go to hell for thinking Jesus is anything other than a prophet, then the likelihood of a young Muslim exploring alternatives is unlikely. Although indoctrination is unavoidable, Muslims, I feel, are given doses higher than any group of people. It also doesn't help that some form of harsh punishment is given to those who leave Islam, and in some cases that penalty is death. Again, it isn't hard to see that the incentive for conversion isn't very high. But truth should be sought no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. This is the philosopher's virtue, and I hope Muslims take it to heart.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. He is risen! Hallelujah! 


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

God and Our Absolute Relation: A Postscript to 'A Murderer in the Forest'

  In my previous blog entitled "A Murderer in the Forest: An Exercise in Moral Philosophy", I proposed a hypothetical situation which explored the conditions necessary for the statement 'murder is wrong' to hold true independent of human subjectivity. I wish to add to the themes set out in that blog and perhaps pave the way for future topics. I argued from philosophical principles, but I now wish to make some theological points as well.

    If you remember, I concluded that God satisfies the conditions of the hypothetical question, such that the statement 'murder is wrong' is true independent of human subjectivity. Secular explanations either equivocate on what 'wrong' means, or simply distract the issue all together. But so much more follows than a mere utterance of some theistic conclusion. God's existence and your authentic 'self' stand in an infinite relation together. Yes, it follows that a real moral law exists, but it's how it should affect our lives that matters most.

     One of the main themes of the blog, which this is a postscript to, was the theme of dueling subjective experiences in relation to one another. To be brief, a subjective experience causes relational properties between the subject (self) and object. My tasting the 'sweetness' of an apple is a relational property; sweetness doesn't properly belong to me, nor of the apple intrinsically, but exists 'in between' them as if to emerge. Likewise, my being left of my bookshelf is a relational property, for I do not possess 'left' and neither does the bookshelf. A subjective statement presupposes a relation and emphasizes the subject's preference or position. Saying, "Strawberry ice cream is the best there is!" is an example of a subjective preference at play. Or course, strawberry ice cream lacks the property 'best', so the statement is meaning to say "I think that strawberry ice cream is the best there is."

    A dueling subjective experience is simply these relational properties at work with one object and multiple human beings. If one person says, "This beer is awful!" and another person says, "No, this beer is not awful", then no apocalyptic tear in space and time will occur from a seemingly contradictory state of affairs. Remember, relational properties don't properly belong to either the subject or object, so no true contradiction is formed since no contradictory property is added to anything.

     However, this adds severe difficulties to secular morality. In the hypothetical situation, one man murders another man. They both stood as each other's object, while having subjective relations to each other. One man operates under the belief that 'murder is wrong' and the other man thinks that 'killing another human being can be warranted for maximization of utility.' But which is right? I argued that if this dual subjective relation is all there is, then the murderer is all that is left in the equation, for the victim is now dead and consequently has no opinion on the matter. Clearly, societal 'law' is not omnipresent, and so stands in a superficial relation to the murderer (i.e. it is only as good as it is present, and in this situation in the woods, it wasn't). This is the dilemma for the anti-theist.

     Leaving the dilemma behind, I will explain how God's existence changes things. God, as a mind and person, can also stand in relation with other things (more accurately with ALL things). Therefore, when a murderer fulfills his wicked act, he stands before an all-aware Witness, namely God. Yet this relation is an absolute relation, for God is the necessary absolute. Therefore, when you sin against an infinitely holy and just God, you sin infinitely against Him, for at no point does God cease to exist. It follows that one sin against God is to make one a sinner in relation to God absolutely.

     This stands in sharp contrast with religions or worldviews that espouse a 'utilitarian' or quantifiable morality. I argue that morality cannot be quantifiable because it contains that which has no beginning or end. If this is confusing, or dubious, ask yourself the following: At what point does giving money to a homeless person become good? The answer is that any 'point' is not to be found in the actions themselves, since all actions stem from some prior action. Thus I argue it is proper to think of morality as a 'state', rather than a sum total of good and bad deeds. It also follows that there can be no 'canceling' of bad deeds with good deeds, because there are no units to cancel. Such moral units are illusory.

     Since our good deeds flow downstream from our previous actions, it follows that one sin taints the entire stream in relation to a perfectly good and just God. In other words, our good deeds are worthless in changing the verdict against us, for a tainted deed is not acceptable to God. The only way to rid ourselves of this unfortunate relation to God is for God to forgive us. However, forgiveness cannot be achieved without an act of justice, otherwise it is a mere dismissal, a mere indifference, to sin. A perfectly good and just God can neither dismiss or be indifferent to sin. But humans, as we exist in this state, can never offer what is required for justice.

    Only God is holy enough to satisfy the penalty against man. Yet it is man who owes the penalty, who must pay the penalty. Perhaps it starts to make sense when we read John's Gospel:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was GodHe was with God in the beginning. [...]The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (John 1: 1-2,14)
Jesus becomes highly relevant. But this also calls us to answer the question Jesus asked long ago: "Who do you say I am?" (Mark 8:29) Answering this will determine whether you have faith in Jesus. But that is for another time.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Is Allah Responsible for the Rise of Christianity?

"And [for] their saying, "Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah ." And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain." --- Surah 4:157

Since this passage is vague, there are a few possible explanations as to who swapped Jesus:

1. The Jewish Sanhedrin swapped the real Jesus for a look-alike once they got him behind closed doors and away from the eyes of his disciples.

Response: It seems as though the Quran forgets about the events leading up to Jesus' arrest. The Sanhedrin were not fond of Jesus' teachings, and were especially not fond of his going to Jerusalem during the Passover. Since Jesus had a large following, and to avoid any riots, they wanted to arrest Jesus in secret. According to the Sanhedrin, Jesus was guilty of the highest blasphemy and guilty for threatening to destroy the Temple. Why, we must ask in light of the Quranic passage, would they swap Jesus for a look-alike? Moreover, why would they then proceed to execute this look-alike for the sole purpose of making his disciples think that Jesus had been crucified? And who was this look-alike? Did he volunteer to do this? And where was the real Jesus during all of this?

     The chances of finding a genuine look-alike is extremely rare. Jesus made many appearances prior to his march up to Golgotha, and it seems more plausible that his disciples would have noticed that this was a fake. Some Islamic traditions say that it was Judas Iscariot who was put in his place. However, this is even more unbelievable given that the disciples knew what Judas looked like, and would have noticed when he didn't return among their number. It's possible that this look-alike was very bloody, which would obscure his face better. However, Jesus was presented before the crowd prior to his flogging. Are we to believe that the swap took place after this? Then this would involve the Romans, as if to assume that Pontius Pilate was in on the gig too. Already we have strayed into a nonsense conspiracy theory.

    With the former considered, the question of why an impostor was necessary remains problematic. It seems highly counter-intuitive to not execute the man who you claim is an evil blasphemer. It's as though they were sparing Jesus' life. If they did this for mercy, then why need an impostor to put on a bloody show for the crowd? Why not just arrest Jesus for an extended period of time? Is it because once his sentence was served that Jesus would just return to his so-called blasphemous teachings? Then execute him! If they wanted to give him a life sentence, then why need an impostor to put on a show? The need for an impostor would not serve the Jewish interests, especially given how unlikely it would be to pull off.

2. The disciples offered the impostor when they found out that soldiers were coming to arrest Jesus.

Response: Given the extreme public life Jesus lived,especially his confronting many of the Jewish leaders face to face, it is doubtful that nobody would notice the fake. Again, the likelihood that a convincing look-alike was available is extremely low. But let's say that the disciples had, among their number, someone who looked very much like Jesus and was well acquainted with his teachings. Let's further imagine that this fake convinces both the Jewish leaders and the Romans that he is indeed Jesus of Nazareth. The impostor is crucified and buried in a tomb, all the while the real Jesus is hiding in Jerusalem.

    The problem with this account is obvious: There would have been no empty tomb. Should the real Jesus have made a public appearance again, when things cooled down, then the confused and angry Jewish leaders would simply have to walk to the tomb and find the body still inside. The Jews would have concluded that the man they killed was an impostor. Then it would go back to square one with the Jews attempting to arrest the real Jesus, this time killing the disciples too. A Jesus who remained hidden would be forced into retirement, thus ending his strange and paradoxical ministry. So the disciples saved Jesus' life, but in effect forced him into retirement, thus giving the victory to the Jews in the end. It's all counter-productive.

3. It was Allah who miraculously offered a look-alike, thus fooling the Jews and Jesus' followers.

Response: This explanation would be folly for the Muslim to use, for it is filled with theological problems that turn Allah into a deceiver and trickster akin to the devil himself. Allah couldn't have come up with any other way to spare Jesus' life? Why not send a legion of angles to fight off the soldiers attempting to arrest Jesus? Why not cause the eyes of the soldiers to go blind in the garden, making them unable to reach Jesus?

    The account would go something like this: While Jesus was praying alone in the garden of Gethsemane, Allah created an identical clone of Jesus while exalting the real Jesus into heaven. The clone, upon returning to the disciples, is arrested in their view. Led into the presence of the Jewish Sanhedrin, this clone is charged with blasphemy (with regards to what is a mystery) and sent to Pilate. After a back and forth with the Jews, Pilate agrees to have this clone crucified. As the crucified clone dies, the disciples are convinced that their leader is dead and the Jews are convinced that they executed an evil blasphemer.

    The problem with this account is, again, obvious: What of the empty tomb? Despite the clone dying on the cross, his body must have been placed in a tomb. There would have been no Christianity if there was an occupied tomb, for as soon as the disciples said that the tomb was empty, right to the tomb the Jewish leaders would go to point out the disciple's embarrassing mistake. If Jesus was a prophet of Allah, then why wouldn't Allah comfort the disciples by explaining what he did? Why keep them in the dark about the plan? Moreover, even if Allah did explain what he did, then it wouldn't do the disciples any good, for preaching that Allah exalted Jesus into heaven would not be very convincing given that a body was still in the tomb. Are we to believe that Allah vanished the body inside the tomb too, and rolled away the stone? I could hear the Jewish response: "Are you telling me that God made a clone of Jesus that we killed, and that God exalted a dead corpse into heaven?" 


    All three explanation share in a blunder. How do any of these explanations give rise to Christianity? The earliest claims by the disciples were, "He (Jesus) has risen from the dead" and "Jesus is the messiah". People back then knew the difference between exaltation and resurrection. In fact, no Jew believed that anyone would be raised from the dead prior to the Last Day. So if Allah really did do this, then we would expect to hear the disciples claiming that Jesus was a prophet who was exalted into heaven, not that he was raised from the dead and is Lord. There are no records of Christians claiming anything other than Jesus' resurrection and Lordship. If the Jews offered the impostor, then why would the disciples claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead when a body occupied the tomb? If the disciples offered the impostor then the same problems occur as the former: an occupied tomb means that no resurrection has occurred. Moreover, the real Jesus was there the entire time, so any talk of resurrection would be done with the knowledge that they were lying. The disciples would have to steal the body of the impostor (despite the fact that it was guarded by Roman soldiers), and then give the signal to the real Jesus to 'appear' to them. Only then could the disciples claim 'resurrection' (ignoring the fact that only 'resuscitation' would follow since resurrected bodies became immortal and glorified, not a body that could decay and age). But then this would make Jesus into an accomplice, selling these lies, rather than a holy prophet that Muslims want Jesus to be. Finally, if Allah made a clone to fool both Jew and Christian, then Allah is responsible for Christianity, the same Christianity the Quran claims is blasphemous. It's all nonsense.

    For this, and other reasons, I can never become a Muslim.

* It should also be noted that this Surah could be interpreted to mean that not even the impostor was crucified! If they deny the crucifixion, then the absurdities really take flight!