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Richard Carrier’s Deeply Flawed Argument To Show God Is Unlikely

Richard Carrier

In the comment section to an earlier piece of mine on Strange Notions, Richard Carrier invited me to “interact” with him through his article “Neither Life nor the Universe Appears Intelligently Designed”, found in The End of Christianity, edited by John W. Loftus. This article is the “interaction” Carrier requested. I apologize for its delay.

Introduction

 
Richard Carrier’s argument to show that God probably didn’t create the universe, and therefore He probably doesn’t exist, in Carrier’s “Neither Life nor the Universe Appears Intelligently Designed”, like many attempts to use probability in defense of atheism or theism, is invalid and unsound, and based on fundamental misunderstandings of who God is and of the proper role of probability.

It is also a maddening, rambling screed, little more than bluff, bluster, and bullying, as well as an endless source of egotistical phrases, pace “critics know (and when honest, admit)”, “what any rational person would conclude”, “everyone else who’s rational and sane”, and “no rational person can honestly believe”. Nevertheless, let us “set aside ignoramuses who don’t know what they’re talking about and don’t even try to know” and analyze his main errors (it would take a monograph to examine every mistake).

His argument, repeated in different contexts, is essentially this. If God did not exist, life, the universe, and everything in it (including our minds) would look just the way they do. But if God exists, He could have created life, the universe, and everything in innumerable ways and, Carrier conjectures, surely not in the fractured, imperfect, pain-guaranteeing way we see. Therefore, because “the probability that a ‘designing’ god exists but never intelligently designed anything is likewise virtually zero, since by definition that’s also not how such a god behaves” and for other reasons Carrier creates, it is likely God does not exist.

The first and last parts are pure bluff. We have no idea what a “designing god” would do for a living, nor what the universe would look like had God not created it. To say we do assumes we have (absent God) an explanation of why there is something rather than nothing, which we do not have. Note carefully that “something” includes quantum fields, the “laws” of the universe, mathematics, anything you can think of. To say we know what the universe would look like had God not created it, is to claim one knows precisely why whatever physical, mathematical, mental, and philosophical foundations exist, exist the way they do, without circularly drawing on those foundations for their explanation. And that is impossible.

The second part is bluster. Call it the Carrier-as-God thesis, which essentially reads like this: “If I, Carrier the god, were to design the universe, it would be pink and happy with ‘bodies free of needless imperfections’. Since the Christian God obviously did not create this delightful world, he must not exist.” But how can Carrier presume to know why God did what He did? Carrier never explains.

The last part is bullying, probabilistic persiflage. Carrier thinks that by thumping the reader with (unnecessary, as it turns out) mathematics that science is happening, and thus nothing else need be said.

Carrier’s Main Argument

 
Carrier first defines “nonterrestrial intelligent design”:

“By ‘intelligent design,’ I mean design that is not the product of blind natural processes (such as some combination of chance and necessity), and by ‘nonterrestrial,’ I mean neither made by man (or woman) nor any other known life-form.”

Anything that happens by necessity must happen; necessary events are determined, i.e. caused, to happen in the way they did.

But nothing happens because of chance: chance is measure of knowledge and not a cause; it is not an ontological force and thus cannot direct events. Chance cannot be creative, though necessity, which implies design, is creative by definition. “Natural processes” cannot therefore be “blind.”

God is not a “life-form”. He nowhere takes up physical residence, nor does He live amorphously in some outer reach of the universe. God is not a creature, nor is He the same as the universe. In his inadequately described “designing god”, it’s clear Carrier doesn’t understand he is rejecting a god classical theologians also reject. Carrier’s god is not the ground of being, He whose name is I Am, existence itself, a necessary being who sustains all creation in each and every moment. Carrier’s god is instead a smart, long-lived creature possessed of fancy toys, perhaps made of pasta, who occasionally likes to tinker with bits and pieces of the universe but who is subject to the wiles and rules of the universe like other beings, though perhaps not to the same extent, an extent which Carrier always left vague.

Bayes' Theorem

 
Carrier then introduces Bayes' probability theorem, but only as a club to frighten his enemies and not as a legitimate tool to understand uncertainty. Bayes’ theorem is a simple means to update the probability of a hypothesis when considering new information. If the information comes all at once, the theorem isn’t especially needed, because there is no updating to be done. Nowhere does Carrier actually need Bayes and, anyway, probabilistic arguments are never as convincing as definitive proof, which is what we seek when asking whether God exists.

Here's a simple illustration. Suppose we accept the prior evidence (a proposition) "A standard deck of 52-playing cards, from which only one card will be pulled, and only one of which is labeled eight-of-clubs" and we later learn that "Jack removed the Jack-of-hearts from the deck." Conditional on these facts, we want the probability of the proposition, "I pull out an eight-of-clubs." This probability is obviously 1/51 whether we start with the first proposition and update with the second using Bayes, or just take both propositions simultaneously. Incidentally, this example highlights the crucial distinction that all probability is conditional on evidence which is specifically stated (there is no such thing as unconditional probability).

The problem is that Carrier artificially invents for himself various sets of “prior” information which he later tries to update using Bayes. Just like in the cards example, nowhere did he actually need Bayes for any of his arguments. Carrier further shows he misunderstands his subject when he says, “Probability measures frequency”. This is false: probability measures information, though information is sometimes in the form of frequencies, as in our card example. Suppose our proposition is, “Just two-thirds of Martians wear hats, and George is a Martian.” Given that specific evidence, the probability “George wears a hat” is 2/3, but there can be no frequency because, of course, there are no hat-wearing Martians.

Probability Errors

 
There is more than ample evidence Carrier is confused about the difference between probabilistic and philosophical argument. Here are some examples.

In order to form his priors, Carrier says the frequency of observed designed universes “is exactly zero.” A statement which, of course, assumes what he wants to prove, a classic error in logic, an error he duplicates when he insists he knows “full well” that intelligent extraterrestrials must, somewhere or at some time, exist. In both places, Carrier has substituted his desire for proof.

Again, “Yet any alien civilization selected at random will statistically be millions or billions of years more advanced [at designing life than we are].” Which alien civilizations are we selecting “at random”? What proof beyond conjecture and desire is there that (a) any other alien civilization exists and (b) that if any does exist it will be technologically and “statistically” more advanced than we, and that (c) even if they are more advanced, they would want to use their technological prowess to build lifeforms? This statement is nothing but an unproven science-fiction argument from desire. There is no set of premises which all can agree on that would allow us to deduce a probability here.

Carrier then writes:

“You cannot deduce from ‘God exists’ that the only way he would ever make a universe is that way. There must surely be some probability that he might do it another way. Indeed, the probability must be quite high, simply because it’s weird for an intelligent agent of means to go the most inefficient and unnecessary route to obtain his goals, and ‘weird’ means by definition ‘rare,’ which means ‘infrequent.’ which means ‘improbable.'”

Carrier constantly assumes he knows not only what God would do, but what various lesser gods would do. His case would have been infinitely strengthened had he given the evidence for these beliefs, rather than merely stating them.

He continues:

“Conversely, the probability that a ‘designing’ god exists but never intelligently designed anything is likewise virtually zero, since by definition that’s also not how such a god behaves.”

Who says? Has Carrier conducted a survey among deistical gods and their designing proclivities? Or is he merely assuming, without proof, that the gods must need design (maybe it scratches some intergalactic itch)? Anyway, Carrier’s god can’t create a universe (defined as everything that exists). That level of heft requires the God of infinite ability, the only way to get something from nothing.

“Hence it’s precisely the fact that God never does things like that in our observation that makes positing God as a causal explanation of other things so implausible.”

So much for miracles, then; and a rather dogmatic dismissal at that.

Design and Intelligence

 
Carrier misunderstands other aspects of probability, too. He appears to believe, like many, that evolution occurs “randomly” and is a “product of chance”. That’s impossible. Nothing is caused by “chance” or occurs “randomly” because chance is not a cause and neither is randomness. Chance and randomness are measures of our ignorance of causes, and are not themselves ontological realities. It is always a bluff to say that “randomness” or “chance” caused some effect. You either know the cause or you do not. If you know it, state it. If you do not, then admit it (using probability).

Intelligent design enthusiasts make the same mistake, and when they do, Carrier is there to show us, to his credit: “Michael Behe’s claim that the flagellar propulsion system of the E. coli bacterium is irreducibly complex and thus cannot have evolved”. The system’s evolution, to Behe, was completely “improbable.” Yet improbability arguments don’t work for or against evolution. If a thing has happened—and the propulsion system happened—it was caused. That we don’t know of the cause is where probability enters, but only as a measure of our ignorance of the cause. Whether we know or don’t know of the cause, there is still a cause. Things don’t “just happen.” That’s why when we see that organisms have evolved, which is indisputable, we know there must be some thing or things causing those changes.

What about the start of all life, i.e. biogenesis? Carrier says, “by definition the origin of life must be a random accident.” Thus does hope replace reality. Life could not have sprung up “randomly”, for randomness isn’t a cause. As it is, there is no direct evidence of how life arose, a gap which Carrier replaces with bluster, a science-of-the-gaps theory. I have no idea how life got here. God might have done it directly, or merely designed the system so that it had to arise. But something caused it. To say “I don’t know what the cause was” is not proof that “God was not the cause”.

How about the start of the universe? Carrier says:

“Suppose in a thousand years we develop computers capable of simulating the outcome of every possible universe, with every possible arrangement of physical constants, and these simulations tell us which of those universes will produce arrangements that make conscious observers (as an inevitable undesigned by-product). It follows that in none of those universes are the conscious observers intelligently designed (they are merely inevitable by-products), and none of those universes are intelligently designed (they are all of them constructed purely at random)...
 
Our universe looks exactly like random chance would produce, but not exactly like intelligent design would produce.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t even wrong. It is impossible—as in not possible, no matter what—for “random chance” to create even a mote on the speck of a quark let alone an entire universe. Anyway, how would Carrier or anybody know what a designed universe looks like? Again, no guidebook exists. To say this one isn’t designed is stunningly bold, a belief without evidence of any kind—except the desire that it not be so.

Motivations

 
Perhaps the following sentences reveal how Carrier so easily fooled himself: “Hence I have demonstrated with logical certainty that the truth of Christianity is very improbable on these facts. And what is very improbable should not be believed. When enough people realize this, Christianity will come to an end.” And, contradicting himself in the matter of certainty of Christianity, he later says, “Christianity is fully disconfirmed by the evidence of life and the universe.”

Carrier nowhere in the body of his argument spoke of Christianity, but only vaguely of ETs, gods, and some curious ideas of what God would act like if He were Richard Carrier. Strange, then, that he should be so confident he has destroyed all of Christianity.

And no other religion.

 
 
(Image credit: Daily Kos)

Dr. William M. Briggs

Written by

Dr. William M. Briggs is an Adjunct Professor of Statistics at Cornell University, where he acquired both an M.S. in Atmospheric Science and a Ph.D. in Statistics. In addition to teaching, William works as a consultant with specialties in medicine, the environment, and the philosophy of, and over-certainty in, science. He blogs at wmbriggs.com.

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  • "We have no idea what a “designing god” would do for a living, nor what the universe would look like had God not created it."

    If you accept this as the case, you must also accept that nothing we observe in the universe allows us to place any kind of probability on the existence of any god. I think, as I expect Carrier does, that theists believe they do know something about the nature of God and how he would maintain the world, namely that he would never allow any gratuitous suffering. Since there seems to be rampant unnecessary suffering, it also seems very unlikely that such a god exists. This is the evidential problem of evil re-framed with Bayesian analysis.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Brian, I think Briggs is making the exact point you are making when you say, "nothing we observe in the universe allows us to place any kind of probability on the existence of any god."

      Your own argument is not a scientific one based on probability but a philosophical one. I think there is a flaw in the assumption that there is rampant unnecessary or gratuititous suffering because that means we actually can see the reason for that suffering.

      • Does the suffering caused by natural disasters and disease seem justified and necessary to you, give a god who could prevent all of it?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I don't like them.

          I don't have a problem with continental drift so I probably should not complain too much about earthquakes. I don't have a problem with oceans and it seems tsunamis are a natural consequence, as destructive as they are. I like to and must eat other living things, so I should not be surprised if something tries to eat or live off me.

          Things like these seem to be necessary for the kind of world we inhabit, so if they are necessary, that is a kind of justification.

          A maxim of the Catholic faith is that God would not permit evil unless he could bring a greater good out of it. If that is the case, it would justify the necessary suffering of living in an imperfect world now.

          • David Nickol

            A maxim of the Catholic faith is that God would not permit evil unless he could bring a greater good out of it. If that is the case . . . .

            That seems to me purely a statement of faith along the lines of, "Everything happens for a reason." There is no way to know it is true. (In fact, there is no way to know that God even exists.) There is no way that I can think of to even begin to demonstrate that God intervenes to prevent evil, if when that evil occurred, he could not bring a greater good out of it.

            And if God is truly omniscient and omnipotent, it seems highly doubtful that there is any evil so monumental that God could not bring a greater good out of it. Consequently, I can't see that there would ever be any reason God would be compelled to intervene and prevent something evil from happening.

            Also, and interestingly, it is a maxim of the Catholic faith that evil may never be done so that good may come of it. But it may be permitted (although only apparently by God) so that good may come of it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > That seems to me purely a statement of faith along the lines of, "Everything happens for a reason."

            "Everything happens for a reason" is not a statement of faith but of reason. Everything that happens is an effect of some cause and that cause is the reason.

            "God would not permit evil unless he could bring a greater good out of it" *is* a statement of faith but it is reasonable if he exists and is good.

          • David Nickol

            "Everything happens for a reason" is not a statement of faith but of reason. Everything that happens is an effect of some cause and that cause is the reason.

            I am talking about situations where some calamity befalls a person (death of a child or spouse, diagnosis of cancer, etc.), and another person tries to reassure them by saying, "Everything happens for a reason." (Did you really not understand that?) For Catholics, it is equivalent to saying, "This is part of God's plan for you, and it wouldn't have happened if it weren't supposed to . . . ultimately for your good."

            It seems to me that this is self-evidently not true whether or not one believes what the Church teaches. If a terrorist's bomb blows up a plane with my entire family on it except me, I don't think it can be looked at as part of God's plan for me, for all the people on the plane, and for their families. And it is certainly not a part of God's plan for the terrorist who planted the bomb. The whole point of positing free will is to explain why things happen that God would not want to happen.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree with your interpretation. Those examples are likely not part of God's plan but he still can bring a greater good out of it in the next life.

          • George

            is there a way to know that for sure before we die?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Do you mean can we know for sure there is a heaven before we die?

          • Doug Shaver

            he still can bring a greater good out of it in the next life.

            So says your dogma. If I'm not a member of your religion, I have no reason to believe it.

          • Doug Shaver

            "Everything happens for a reason" is not a statement of faith but of reason.

            It is not a statement of reason. It is an assumption. It cannot be deduced from the axioms of logic.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > there is no way to know that God even exists

            Sure there is. If any of the rational arguments work, then reason would be a way.

          • David Nickol

            If any of the rational arguments work, then reason would be a way.

            But they don't work.

          • Phil

            Hey David,

            There is no way that I can think of to even begin to demonstrate that God intervenes to prevent evil, if when that evil occurred, he could not bring a greater good out of it.

            I think you are correct that there is no philosophical or experimental way to show that God has lessened or not allowed some suffering. Knowledge of this can only come through an actual encounter with the living God through prayer (of which the Catholic tradition has many saints up and down the centuries given great gifts of infused prayer by God so as to directly contemplate and reveal God in some way).

            Philosophically, the "bringing about a greater good" discussion is simply brought up to show that it is not logically incoherent for omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence to exist in a single "entity". Obviously this answer moves into different territory when theologically addressing the issue of suffering.

            [On a side note, as clarification on what the Catholic tradition means by "intervening". Usually to "intervene" means that something is now stepping in where it previously was not. Well, God as the ground of all being cannot in principle not be somewhere. God, as ground of being, is just as present in a tsunami as he is in a person suffering from the greatest illness as he is in the greatest work of charity. (Now, there are other ways for God to be spoken of as not being as "present" as when he could withhold protection from something so as to bring about a greater good, where it is very possible He could have granted that protection in that instance.)]

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > I can't see that there would ever be any reason God would be compelled to intervene and prevent something evil from happening.

            How said he would?

            God could choose to prevent an evil from happening--in fact, I think he does prevent or mitigate evils all the time as answers to prayers, but there is no way to demonstrate that is the case.

            At the Battle of Lepanto, millions of Catholics were praying the Rosary for the victory of the Christian armada against the superior Muslim fleet. Catholics are free to believe their victory was an answer to their prayers but there is no way to prove it.

          • David Nickol

            Who said he would?

            Unless I am missing something, the statement, "God would not permit evil unless he could bring a greater good out of it," implies that God would intervene to prevent specific evils if he could not bring a greater good out of them. Or are you saying that God permits any and all evils, because he can always bring a greater good out of any evil?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The only evils we know about are the evils we know about, and so, if God exists, he is permitting all the ones we know about. So I agree with both statements, although it is impossible to know if God has prevented a particular evil.

          • Doug Shaver

            I am just as free as any Catholic to believe that Christians won the battle because of Catholic prayers. But I don't want my beliefs to be an exercise of my freedom. I want them to be based on evidence.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The belief that God helped the Christian armada win the battle is of a different sort than belief in, say the Creed.

            The evidence which leads Catholics to believe that God helped them win the battle (no one is required to believe this--not even Catholics) is that the pope asked the faithful to pray the Rosary, the Christian forces were greatly outnumbered, and Europe was in great peril. Since they won and bought a long period of safety from the on-going Muslim threat, it is understandable that people were grateful and thanked God for the victory.

            Anyway, belief is always an exercise of freedom based on evidence. You make the decision that you have enough evidence to believe something to be true. Even a jury does this. They find the defendant guilty or innocent based on evidence but they can never be certain. Each juror votes based on the weight of the evidence--unless the jurors are corrupt.

          • Doug Shaver

            the pope asked the faithful to pray the Rosary, the Christian forces were greatly outnumbered, and Europe was in great peril. Since they won and bought a long period of safety from the on-going Muslim threat, it is understandable that people were grateful and thanked God for the victory.

            Is it also understandable that some of us think post hoc ergo propter hoc is not a good reason for believing something?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes.

          • Michael Murray

            The evidence which leads Catholics to believe that God helped them win the battle (no one is required to believe this--not even Catholics) is that the pope asked the faithful to pray the Rosary, the Christian forces were greatly outnumbered, and Europe was in great peril. Since they won and bought a long period of safety from the on-going Muslim threat, it is understandable that people were grateful and thanked God for the victory.

            I wonder if Obama has thought of using drones to drop rosaries on ISIS ?

          • Phil

            Hey Michael,

            I wonder if Obama has thought of using drones to drop rosaries on ISIS?

            I know it was said in jest, and I did get a good chuckle out of it, but prayer and an overall turn to trust in God is exactly what we need in these times. That doesn't mean it doesn't lead to action, but when we believe we can solve everything through our own power we are going to only dig our hole deeper; especially when it comes to bringing peace. Obviously we are dealing with the age-old problem of good old human pride.

            We must realize that these problems are ones we cannot solve ourselves and must rely on the Spirit to ultimately guide our actions, which can only happen when we open ourselves in the silence of prayer.

            The interesting thing is I think it is proper to see these great worldwide issues, that will only be getting worse over the next several years, as the Father allowing us to be woken up to the fact that we have forgotten God and many believe that they can "save" them self and the world. In only the dark, deep valley will many be woken up to true faith.

          • Michael Murray

            I hadn't read of the battle of Lepanto before. Is it regarded by a consensus of historians that the European victory was remarkable ?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No. The Christians had better ships, more guns, and other advantages. The Ottomans had a numerical superiority.

            Of course, it is interesting to note that when God intervenes a lot of people die. He couldn't end the war any other way?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > it is a maxim of the Catholic faith that evil may never be done so that good may come of it. But it may be permitted (although only apparently by God) so that good may come of it.

            Human beings rightly permit or tolerate evils all the time because to attempt to stop every evil would bring about a greater evil or would just be impossible to accomplish.

          • David Nickol

            Human beings rightly permit or tolerate evils all the time because to attempt to stop every evil would bring about a greater evil or would just be impossible to accomplish.

            Human beings are not omniscient and omnipotent. Also, there are any number of situations in which human beings are morally obliged to prevent evil if they can.

            And while human being may tolerate or permit evil, I don't think it would ever be morally permissible for a human being to say, "I could easily prevent this evil, but I am going to tolerate it because I am convinced I can bring a greater good from it."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > Human beings are not omniscient and omnipotent. Also, there are any number of situations in which human beings are morally obliged to prevent evil if they can.

            Of course. No one is disputing this.

            > And while human being may tolerate or permit evil, I don't think it would ever be morally permissible for a human being to say, "I could easily prevent this evil, but I am going to tolerate it because I am convinced I can bring a greater good from it."

            I don't know. Don't cops do this all the time in sting operations? They let people commit crimes so they can lock them up.

            Or people who give vaccines. They could easily prevent the pain of the needle prick by not giving the shot, but they are certain the vaccine will bring about immunity from some disease.

          • David Nickol

            Or people who give vaccines. They could easily prevent the pain of the needle prick by not giving the shot . . . .

            I am talking about moral evil.

            In the case of sting operations, I think if the police induce or facilitate a crime (that is also a moral evil or "sin"), they have done something wrong. There was a furor some years ago about an anti-abortion group that filmed Planned Parenthood counselors giving advice to individuals telling false stories. Some Catholics argued that it was acceptable to lie to expose Planned Parenthood. Others argued that it was never permissible to lie. I thought those who argued that it was immoral to lie had the better case.

          • Roman

            I always find that people who don't believe in God repeat the same errors every time there's a discussion on the problem of evil. I'll list just four of these...1) You forget that if there is a God (at least a Christian God), then the years we spend on earth are insignificant compared to an eternity with God. I prefer the way St. Catherine of SIena put it : "In the light of heaven, the worst sufferings on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on earth will be seen as no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel". 2) You assume that suffering has no value. Really? You have never learned anything from a bad experience? I'd be willing to bet you learned some very important lessons from some bad experiences. 3) You don't see that suffering is God's megaphone. What is one of the first things that happens when we experience tragedy in our life personally or among family or friends? We turn to God. I still remember going to Mass the week after 9/11. The church was packed - standing room only. That lasted about 3 weeks, and then gradually the attendance went back down to pre-9/11 levels. That is so typical of human nature. Once the memory of the tragedy fades, we're back to our old ways. And who knows human nature better than the one who created us. Lastly and perhaps most importantly...4) NO SUFFERING....NO LOVE. That's right. In a perfect world where there is no suffering, there is no opportunity to demonstrate through your actions your love for another human being. No starving people in Africa - no need for volunteers to feed them and no need to donate. No sick elderly parent - no need to care for them. No burning building - no need to risk your life to save the people inside. No homeless man being beaten up - no opportunity for you to demonstrate your love by stepping in to save his life. If God is Love, if God is omniscient, then surely he can see what should be obvious to any open-minded intelligent human being, i.e., suffering provides an opportunity for us to perform the greatest good of all....love.

          • Michael Murray

            You miss the point. It's not that we haven't heard these excuses before it's just that we don't understand what they have to do with your God being benevolent and loving.

          • Roman

            Lets just take the last point I listed above, no. 4. You are telling me that you can't see how God who on the one hand is forced to leave us with a less than perfect world as a result of justice due to sin, still finds a way to use the suffering in the world as an opportunity to generate not just any type of love, but the most profound type of love, i.e., sacrificial love, Agape, the essence of Christian love?

          • Michael Murray

            You are telling me that you can't see how God who on the one hand is forced to leave us with a less than perfect world as a result of justice due to sin,

            God is forced ? Remember that omnipotent thing ?

          • Roman

            You misunderstand what omnipotence means with respect to God's nature. His omnipotence is relative to his Divine nature. See my comment below to Brian.....

          • Michael Murray

            Ah so not real omnipotence.

          • Roman

            Michael, Michael..you have much to learn. See no. 2 under the "Meanings" section in Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnipotence

          • Michael Murray

            The problem is I tend to think "the Emperor is naked" means the Emperor is naked. I just lack a subtle appreciation of modern clotheseology.

          • Michael Murray

            NO SUFFERING....NO LOVE. That's right. In a perfect world where there is no suffering, there is no opportunity to demonstrate through your actions your love for another human being. No starving people in Africa - no need for volunteers to feed them and no need to donate.

            Imagine you had a large property and you filled it with dogs. Everyday you throw about a quarter of the food they need into a central location so they have to fight over it. After 6 months or so the police and animal welfare arrive. It's a grim scene. Malnourished dogs, rotting dog cadavers, dogs that have been mauled and savaged, dogs with gangrenous wounds. They charge you with neglect and mistreatment. What is your defense ? Are you really going to try: "I just wanted them to learn to share"?

          • Roman

            I don't see what rotting dog cadavers and sharing has to do with our discussion. And your example kinda made me nauseous.....thanks a lot

          • Michael Murray

            The point is God's failure to act to prevent suffering in His creation is well past what we as humans would call neglect. I am interested to see that discussions of theodicy make you nauseous. That is one thing we have in common.

          • The challenge to you is to explain why God does not intervene to lessen or avoid some of the rampant devastating suffering that occurs daily all over the world.

            These issues are not ignored, they are raised all the time and easily defeated.

            I'm afraid the promise of a much longer afterlife doesn't explain God's inaction in relieving this suffering. It's like a parent of a small child refusing to help his injured child once, purporting to justify ignoring some of thief suffering and trying to justify it by saying they will be a loving and helpful parent for many more years, so much longer that these few minutes. It is irrelevant, we'd want to know why the parent doesn't always help there child. It is hard to understand gods inaction when he has unlimited resources and love.

          • No suffering, no love? I don't grant this, but for the sake of argument I will grant that God could have excellent reasons to allow some suffering for contrast and teaching.

            It would seem to me that this would be an arguable justification for not intervening in human caused suffering, which is also rampant. War, murder, rape, child molestation,torture and so would all exist. This would make sense as generally these things are caused by immoral actions. But why let a statue of the pope topple and kill someone who went to it to praise god?

            3) suffering is god's megaphone? So God uses the death of millions and millions of small children to get his message out? The all loving god stands by while millions of children die of disease, so that their parents and friends will spend a little more time worshipping before going back to their old ways? You really think this is the plan of an all-powerful all-loving deity?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            1) You forget that if there is a God (at least a Christian God), then
            the years we spend on earth are insignificant compared to an eternity
            with God. I prefer the way St. Catherine of SIena put it : "In the light
            of heaven, the worst sufferings on earth, a life full of the most
            atrocious tortures on earth will be seen as no more serious than one
            night in an inconvenient hotel".

            What about all of those people who burn forever in hell? Or is that evil necessary so that in the words of Aquinas:

            “That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the
            grace of God more abundantly they are permitted to see the punishment
            of the damned in hell.”

          • Roman

            For starters, its unlikely that anyone actually "burns" in Hell. For one thing, they don't have bodies, only souls. Fire or burning is a metaphor for hell. According to Catholic theology, hell in simplest terms is simply life without God and all the things that go with God, e.g., light, warmth, love, beauty, and goodness. Everyone has an opportunity to choose either to be with God or not. Regarding the quote supposedly from Aquinas, I'd like a reference if you have it. I've heard that this "quote" is all over atheist websites but no one ever provides a reference. This sounds more like a commentary on something Aquinas wrote, perhaps in the Summa. I would interpret this to mean that the Saints "appreciate" their beatitude all the more when they can see the plight of the damned.

          • Michael Murray

            I don't think it would ever be morally permissible for a human being to say, "I could easily prevent this evil, but I am going to tolerate it because I am convinced I can bring a greater good from it."

            Or "I'm going to give this child cancer so her parents can show their love". But I guess it's one rule for God and other rules for His creations. I've often got the theodic excuse here that God can do anything to His creations because He made them. Still waiting for that to pop up this time around.

          • I'm not asking whether you like them or not or whether you think they are gratuitous. I am asking whether you think the suffering they cause seems gratuitous.

            Can you think of a good reason to decline to save the 105,000 people who died in the Kanto earthquake and the thousands who suffered terrible burns and injuries?

            God could have created any universe he wanted, couldn't he? One where continental drift simply doesn't occur. Or leukaemia simply did not develop. That is, unless you think God was restrained by other laws over which he has no control.

            I'm not saying there isn't a good justification for this suffering, just that I cannot think of any. It seems gratuitous.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know the reasons either.

            Everyone suffers and dies. It is the next life which has the qualities you think the first one should.

          • So I take it you agree with me that the suffering seems gratuitous?

            I don't think this life should be one way or the other. I am saying an all good god who loves all of the humans he created, would not allow the level of suffering we observe to occur. Given the abundance of this suffering, I think it is reasonable to accept that some of it is gratuitous. This leads to a conflict which leads either to atheism of the Christian God, or skeptical theism.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            How do you know any of it is gratuitous (without reason, cause, or justification)? Seeming does not make it so.

          • I'm saying the the volume of seemingly gratuitous suffering leads to the inference that some of this is actually gratuitous.

            You are correct, skeptical theism defeats this, but making that move has other implications. Specifically, you must admit ignorance of the most vital aspects of the universe: namely the facts of why god does not intervene.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think for a similar reason to why Shakespeare does not intervene in KING LEAR.

          • The analogy isn't clear to me, but if you are saying that Shakespeare had a justification for not saving Cordelia, Gloucester's eyes and so on, I would agree. The Bard was trying to make certain points and I believe none of the violence in that play is gratuitous.

            However, if Shakespeare were to stage the play and actually poke out Gloucester's eyes, and kill the boy playing Cordelia, I would consider this gratuitous.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The analogy is that in real life, the actors (us) do poke out people's eyes and kill one another. We do it, not the author of the play, although the author has decided each one of us has to leave the stage eventually.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            And what was Gloucester's reaction to all this violence:

            “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.
            They kill us for their sport.”

            He seems to think its much worse than gratuitous. The gods do it deliberately for their amusement.

          • Guest

            I want the reasons then. Causes, justifications, explanations. the mouthpieces should put up if we are to believe there is really a person running the universe.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What do you mean by "mouthpieces" who should "put up"?

          • Doug Shaver

            Seeming does not make it so.

            Why should I believe it is other than as it seems?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You might believe it is other than it seems because you see reasons that it is NOT as it seems.

          • Doug Shaver

            OK, but if I don't see those reasons . . . ?

        • Roman

          Did it ever occur to you that the same nature that causes volcanoes, storms, and disease, also gives us rain so we have water to drink, sun light to warm us, oxygen in the atmosphere to fuel our metabolic processes, tectonic plates that allow the earth to shrink from cooling without exploding, etc. etc. Just as good and evil are like two sides of a coin called free will, the natural world that is capable of causing human beings harm is the same nature that sustains our very life. Perhaps we can't have one without the other. Maybe that is a direct consequence of the particular laws of physics and chemistry that are required to create the conditions necessary for complex life to exist.

          • Michael Murray

            Perhaps we can't have one without the other.

            I think you mean "Perhaps an omnipotent God can't have one without the other." Which rather brings us back the basic problem of suffering which is your supposed God's supposed omnipotence. Even humans have managed to create a world with less suffering than your supposed God did.

          • Roman

            Wait a minute........you've contradicted yourself. You don't believe God exists. Therefore all of the suffering in this world (outside of natural causes) is caused by human beings. Maybe you forgot about the 120 million people that died from wars during a 70 year stretch in the 20th century.

          • Are you saying that God is constrained by the laws of nature, that he could not create a place for us where we have water, food and so on, but not Ebola and volcanoes?

          • Roman

            Are you saying that God was constrained by the laws of nature

            Not by the laws of nature but by God's own nature. The laws of nature, including the natural moral law, are a consequence of his divine attributes (e.g., his goodness gives us the moral law, his logic and intellect gives us the laws of science, etc.) I am sensing from some of the comments on this article that there are some misconceptions about what it means to call God Omnipotent. His omnipotence is relative to his divine nature. He is pure goodness, therefore he cannot do evil. He is all knowing, therefore he cannot be ignorant. He is perfectly just, therefore, he cannot be unjust. He is perfectly logical, therefore, he cannot be illogical. etc. Are these limitations on his Omnipotence? In a sense they are. God cannot do what is not in his nature. So, if he created a world that includes the possibility of suffering as a side effect, his just, moral, and loving nature played a role. The question is how and why? I can think of a common example that is analogous to this. Let's say your son breaks your neighbors window by throwing a rock at it. You apologize to your neighbor and pay him for the damages. Is that it or do you punish your child. If you're like most good parents, you punish your child in some way so he learns to respect other people's property. Ground him, have him work part time and save up the money. But wait a minute...I thought you loved him. How can you punish him? You do love him. You took the heat from your neighbor. You paid with your money. You taught him an important lesson. You even forgave your son. But justice demands he pay somehow. Now why wouldn't God who is infinitely loving and perfectly just act similarly to the human behavior that offends him? Did you ever stop to think how much more upset you would be if your mother or father lied to you versus a stranger lying? Why? Because we expect more from those we love. Multiply this love an infinite amount and maybe you can start to see why God would react to human sin by giving us a world that allows for suffering. He showed us love, because despite the sin in the world he still gave us the gift of life and a chance at eternal happiness. But he also acted according to his sense of justice, because a sinful human race that was given the ultimate gift of love, i.e., life, misused that gift by disrespecting life through violence and murder.

          • Roman

            I'll leave you with one final thought to chew on that is not from me but from one of the greatest western philosophers, Plato. In the Republic, he said" No evil can happen to a good man". What did he mean by this? He believed that we are not essentially this visible hunk of material stuff, but a soul, a spirit, an I, a self, a personality, a character. When someone harms your body, they do not harm your soul but their own soul. According to Plato, the cancer that has stricken the sick infant girl dying in a hospital cannot harm her, i.e., the essence of who she is. Her soul lives on. In fact, in a strange way, she has been protected from the possibility of losing her soul because her material body dies before she knows what sin is.

          • Michael Murray

            I'll leave you with one final thought to chew on that is not from me but from one of the greatest western philosophers, Plato.

            Plato was wrong about us having souls.

            In fact, in a strange way, she has been protected from the possibility of losing her soul because her material body dies before she knows what sin is.

            Now you really are making me feel ill. Have you ever tried this on anyone whose child has cancer ? I assume you would advise them not to seek treatment but get her off to heaven as quickly as possible.

          • Roman

            Don't shoot the messenger. I'm just giving you Plato's take on the subject

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm just giving you Plato's take on the subject

            OK. He was a smart person. So? Lots of people who are just as smart as he was disagree with quite a bit of what he had to say.

            one of the greatest western philosophers

            He was great for his time. In the 24 centuries since his time, we've learned a thing or two that he didn't know.

          • Michael Murray

            The reality is that if any human parent treated their children as badly as God treats His human creations they would be a long, long time in jail.

      • Mike

        BINGO: because that means we actually can see the reason for that suffering.

      • Doug Shaver

        I think there is a flaw in the assumption that there is rampant unnecessary or gratuititous suffering because that means we actually can see the reason for that suffering.

        If everything we can observe makes some suffering look unnecessary or gratuitous, and if we have no reason to believe in the existence of reasons that would make the suffering necessary or justified, then where is the mistake in my supposing that some suffering is unnecessary and unjustified?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          That's all on the level of abstraction. What would be a concrete example?

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm not sure what you're asking for an example of. Could you be a little more specific?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            An example of suffering which could not possibly be seen as necessary or justifiable.

          • Doug Shaver

            I made no reference to that kind of suffering. Why do I need to provide an example of it?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You wrote: "If everything we can observe makes some suffering look unnecessary or gratuitous, and if we have no reason to believe in the existence of reasons that would make the suffering necessary or justified, then where is the mistake in my supposing that some suffering is unnecessary and unjustified?"

            What kind of suffering were you talking about, then?

          • Doug Shaver

            I was talking about suffering that appears to be unnecessary and unjustified.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            And I was asking for an example, because then we could look at if appearance and reality are the same.

          • Doug Shaver

            We could argue forever about specific instances if we take them one at a time. I am claiming to be justified in believing that unnecessary and unjustified suffering exists. Are you claiming that it does not exist?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Doug it appears that you are making a claim but are unwilling to provide reasons for it.

            I am claiming that it is reasonable to think that every instance of suffering has a reason, cause, or justification.

          • Doug Shaver

            Doug it appears that you are making a claim but are unwilling to provide reasons for it.

            If you can do it, I can do it.

            I am claiming that it is reasonable to think that every instance of suffering has a reason, cause, or justification.

            OK. What are your reasons for thinking so?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The good of human freedom is what allows for moral evil which causes in so much suffering.

            The laws of nature, such as they are, is the cause of physical evils.

          • Doug Shaver

            Will there be suffering in heaven, and will the people who go there still have their freedom?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There will be no suffering in heaven and we will freely choose among goods.

          • Doug Shaver

            So, if our choices do not include any options for doing evil, that is not a restriction on our free will?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Do you imagine that free will is free to do *anything* now?

            Right now, we have free will to choose means to happiness, but we are not free to aim for anything but happiness.

            It would be great if we could now only choose means to happiness that were all and only good, but that is not the cue now. This is a fallen world.

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you imagine that free will is free to do *anything* now?

            I'm not claiming anything about free will. You're the one who said it justifies the existence of moral evil. I don't see it can do that, if it is possible for free will exist in the absence of moral evil

          • David Nickol

            Being decapitated by a terrorist, with a video of your death being made for distribution on the Internet?

            Being an infant "accidentally" left in a car on a hot, sunny day by your father, to get rid of you?

            If God always brings greater good from every evil, shouldn't we be grateful to the evildoers? They are unwittingly helping make things better than they would otherwise have been.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            These happen because human beings have freedom.

            If this is the only life there is, then I would agree with you, but I don't think that is the case.

            Who is to say that people in heaven are not grateful for the evil done to them that got them there?

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me you are coming close to saying that nothing that happens is unfortunate or regrettable. Every evil act that someone commits actually makes things better, because God uses it to bring about good that more than outweighs the evil. The more evil the better!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What did St. Paul say about this?

          • George

            why do bad things happen to people if they have free will for that matter?

            "my will is for this torture to not happen to me." say the victim is also chained up and can't move. why does the torturer get his free will unobstructed?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            We are interdependent persons unequal in our powers with a tendency to evil. That is the obvious reason why the evil man has his day.

          • Michael Murray

            There was a couple here in Australia whose two young children were on MH17 with the women's father. The point of their suffering is ? There is a nearly endless list of diseases I can't see that are necessary or justifiable. Harlequin babies ?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            They are evils: physical evils that cause innocent human suffering and moral evils that cause human suffering.

            God's answer, according to Christianity, is John 3:16.

      • Michael Murray

        I think there is a flaw in the assumption that there is rampant unnecessary or gratuititous suffering because that means we actually can see the reason for that suffering.

        If there is suffering and we can eliminate it must be unnecessary. Or it is has been created for some immoral purpose like making us try to relieve it. Like breaking your dogs leg so your kids get practice at caring for a sick animal. Not a nice thing to do. Unless you are a God apparently.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          God does not break people's legs but he has created a world in which gravity can. Do you think gravity is a bad idea?

          • Michael Murray

            No I think deliberately breaking people's legs so someone else can practice being nice is a bad idea.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree.

          • Michael Murray
          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't interpret what he said the way you do. I don't think he is saying God breaks legs so we can learn compassion but that the fact that legs break give human beings a chance to care for one another. It is an example of a way that good can come out of evil.

          • Michael Murray

            Legs were actually just an example to put it in the context of something a human could do. God has far more scope to cause suffering and His omnipotence in my book would make Him always responsible for what happens. There is no moral difference between letting it happen and doing it.

          • Roman

            Even our civil and criminal law system differentiates between actively committing a crime versus letting it happen.

          • Michael Murray

            Have you seen many Gods on trial in our civil and criminal law systems ?

          • Michael Murray

            Actually going back to legs what about this slight modification of the situation you agreed to. Say I see our cat about to make a leap it can almost certainly not make. I could easily stop it or I could let it try and it will suffer some damage like a broken leg. I think my son needs the opportunity to learn to care for a sick animal. So I let the cat jump and the situation unfolds as I predicted. Is that morally OK ? I think you have already said no to this. Unless you like dogs but not cats.

            How is this scenario any different to the idea that God lets old people, starving Africans and burn victims suffer so we can learn to love them or kills thousands of people in burning buildings to achieve a slightly higher church attendance for a couple of weeks ? Other than the scale of course. I lack God's ability to spread joy to so many.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I reject the idea that God lets these things happen so he can bring some good out of them. Rather, (to adopt a New Apologetics argument) God is completely opposed to them and brings a good from them despite their evil.

          • Roman

            Exactly. Well put

          • Michael Murray

            So you didn't mean it when you said

            NO SUFFERING....NO LOVE.

            Because that is a lot stronger than Kevin's claim on your behalf. Kevin is just saying that suffering allows us to demonstrate love. Not that without suffering there can be no love. Your statement is a universe in which there has to be suffering. Kevin's is a universe in which for some reason there is suffering and we have to make the most of it.

          • Roman

            I am saying essentially the same thing as Kevin when I say no suffering, no love I'm not excluding the feeling of love or any loving act. I'm primarily talking about what Jesus called, in the Greek language, Agape, a deep, devotional, sacrificial type of love. If you look at the examples I gave I think you can see that in a perfect world you wouldn't have those type of opportunities to demonstrate your love for another. fYI , my headline was meant to generate some discussion

          • David Nickol

            God does not break people's legs but he has created a world in which gravity can.

            Are you saying that when God caused the weaker Christians to defeat the stronger Ottoman forces in the Battle of Lepanto, He did it without injuring anybody?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'd say the things that always go wrong in battle went less wrong for the Holy League and more wrong for the Ottomans.

          • David Nickol

            So God gets credit for the glorious victory, but no Ottoman casualties are attributable to Him?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I like the prayer that ends this clip from WE WERE SOLDIERS (beginning at the 2 minute mark).

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLaTyNe8mg0

          • David Nickol

            I don't see anything Christian in this at all.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What do you think that is un-Christian? Wanting to kill your enemy who is trying to kill you and those under your responsibility when you are fighting a just war?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Vietnam was not a just war.

          • Michael

            "A war of aggression is intrinsically immoral." - Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

          • David Nickol

            Wanting to kill . . . .

            I think wanting to kill anyone is un-Christian. I don't think you can train and maintain a competent combat force without training men (and women) to want to kill, but that doesn't mean it is right. My understanding of the Catholic notion of self-defense is that one's intent must be to use the minimum force to stop the aggressor. If nothing less than lethal force will suffice, then it is permitted, but I think, technically, having the will to kill (rather than merely stop) the attacker is considered wrong.

            I think it is perfectly possible to fight in a just war, obey valid orders to kill the enemy, and to be guilty (morally) of murder. I am not saying anyone who kills the enemy in battle is guilty of murder. I am saying attitude and intent matter.

            I do wonder how anyone can interpret the teachings of Jesus to support anything other than pacifism, but of course (for better or for worse) the teachings of the Church on killing are not derived solely from what Jesus said.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            By "want" I mean when the soldiers are in the heat of battle.

            Just war doctrine and legitimate self-defense are part of the natural law, which is man's participation in the divine law, and so taught to us indirectly by Jesus.

          • David Nickol

            By "want" I mean when the soldiers are in the heat of battle.

            But the clip you approving brought to our attention is not of soldiers in the heat of battle. It is of a soldier at prayer saying, "Oh, yes, and one more thing, dear Lord. About our enemies? Ignore their heathen prayers and help us blow those little bastards straight to hell."

            It is reminiscent of, "Kill a Commie for Christ," or, "O Lord, bless this thy hand grenade, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemy to tiny bits, in thy mercy."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The Mel Gibson character has been there many times and knows what it is like, so he says what he says.

  • Dr Briggs attacks Carrier's definition of a nonterrestrial intelligent designer but explaining that it is inconsistent with the kind of god he believes in. This is strange as the quote he is criticizing says nothing about any god.

    It is even stranger because none of the characteristics Carrier ascribes to a nonterrestrial intelligent designer are inconsistent with Briggs' definition of God. There is nothing about the "the ground of being, He whose name is I Am, existence itself, a necessary being who sustains all creation in each and every moment." that is a blind natural process or a human or any known life form.

    I honestly fail to see the point.

  • "Carrier then introduces Bayes' probability theorem, but only as a club
    to frighten his enemies and not as a legitimate tool to understand
    uncertainty."

    This is the kind of personal attack that I think is unsuited to this website. I have read part Carrier's book on Bayes theorem. He spends page after page explaining the theorem and providing examples of how he is using it. This is the total opposite of "using it as a club to frighten his enemies".

    • David Nickol

      I recently got the following slap on the wrist for criticizing one sentence ("If the body had not been buried why did Jesus’ enemies ask Pilate for guards for the tomb?") in a piece by Fr. Longenecker:

      First of all, per our commenting policy, there's no need to describe someone's serious argument as "extremely weak to the point of being humorous." That's simply a cheap shot meant to mock. There's no need for it here.

      Of course, it is a commenting policy, and there is nothing to say it must apply to contributors.

      Still.

      • The Ubiquitous

        Comments are the cesspools of the Internet, so erring on the side of strictness in comments, though it may be a double standard, is a fair double-standard as long as there is not too wide a gap between the standards set for contributor and commenter.

    • The Ubiquitous

      If you'll notice, Briggs is bringing up a response not in reference to "Proving History" but to "The End of Christianity". Your source is not Briggs' source, and if you have not read Briggs' source --- which he was explicitly invited to critique, as by the first paragraph of this essay --- then you are not really in a position to challenge the assessment. Keep in mind that the Carrier's contribution to "The End of Christianity" is article-length, and presumptively he does not spend "page after page" on it, though theoretically he could.

    • Garbanzo Bean

      "He spends page after page explaining the theorem and providing examples of how he is using it."

      "Page after page" is exactly why it is a "club meant to frighten": Bayes is no more relevant to the question than is Pythagoras or Toroidal Topology or the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. I did find the author a little over the top with the criticisms of Carrier, but mostly when he turned Carrier's own blather back on Carrier himself, eg., "set aside ignoramuses."

  • "In order to form his priors, Carrier says the frequency of observed
    designed universes “is exactly zero.” A statement which, of course,
    assumes what he wants to prove, a classic error in logic..."

    Hang on a minute. I have not read the pieces Briggs is criticizing here, but I can't help but think there is more to this quote about "exactly zero". This goes towards our ability to assign a prior probability to whether a given universe is designed or not. In order to assign a probability to this we would need a sample of universes, and we must be able to confirm if they were designed or not. We have exactly one universe and I would say we do not have the ability to determine if it is designed or not. So I assume Carrier means that we have no sample to use to assign probabilities of design.

  • At the end of reading this article I am afraid I do not have a clear idea of what Carrier's argument was or of Briggs' criticism.

    From what I can glean, Briggs is responding to two arguments against a designed universe. One is the evidential problem of evil which I touch on below.

    The other seems to be the counter-apologetic that design advocates are arguing from ignorance. When we identify design we contrast it to naturally occurring things which we consider to be not designed. We simply do not have the ability to make this contrast when it comes to the cosmos. On the theistic view everything is designed, both the rocks arranged on the beach to spell out "hello" and all of the other rocks appear to be designed. We do have a basis to distinguish human-design, because we have millions of examples of human design, we can investigate the processes and mechanism employed and we actually observe the designers designing. We have no way of distinguishing intelligently designed evolution, bio-genesis, or the origin and nature of matter/energy. We have a sample of one for this and, being charitable, we don't know what the respondent is saying to our question "are you designed". It is a fallacious argument to say we can assign probabilities to whether these things "naturally occurred" or were "intelligently designed". The argument from ignorance is to suggest that because we are ignorant of the probabilities, it is more likely than not that an intelligence or a god designed these things.

    Being uncharitable, if we look at what we observe and break it down into designed or natural, the only things we identify as designed, are the things we humans design. Even things like the Giant's Causeway or the Virgin Mary's face in toast which appear to be designed are shown to be naturally occurring. To me, the objects and processes that we distinguish as non-human designed are properly considered naturally occurring and not designed. To me the cosmos does not appear, on balance to be designed.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Naturally occurring and designed are not mutually exclusive. Note Aquinas on Aristotle: "Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship"

      The things we observe in nature are replete with information and self-organizational abilities. There is incredible potential in the most basic elements so that they can build up to incredibly complex beings like us.

      • When I say natural in this sense I am saying non-designed by an intelligence.

        I fully agree with you that very basic elements can evolve into incredibly complex beings like us, it is because of this and that I see no intelligent or theistic design in such processes.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          The fact that these simpler natural things have such amazing potentialities in them is where the intelligence would seem to come in. Are we just lucky that a few kinds of quantum fields can by their own innate powers be build up into everything, including human animals who can know all that?

  • Steven Miller

    Great line: To say “I don’t know what the cause was” is not proof that “God was not the cause”. Does anyone know the history of "spontaneous generation" disproved by Louis Pasteur?

    • George

      yet I hear it implied many times that we should believe God or Fulton Sheen or whoever is the answer because scientist X and doctor X couldn't explain a given situation. when is it really appropriate to bring in the god/saint hypothesis?

      • Steven Miller

        I don't believe I'm familiar with the "god/saint hypothesis." Is this a response to Pasteur? Is the doctor remark concerning the documentation of medical miracles in the Catholic Church?

    • Alden Smith

      I'm learning about him in Micro and learning more about the Catholic Church in RCIA

      • Steven Miller

        I love Louis Pasteur as he gives me one of many scientific justifications for my faith. (So many of the truly great scientists were Catholic.) RCIA is certainly the place to learn more about what the Church actually teaches, versus what people claim the Church teaches. Most attacks on Catholicism, I have found, must begin with a fundamental misunderstanding of Her teachings. For instance, I can't count the amount of times a dismissal of the Church has begun with a description of an early heresy: Manichaeism (the Church hates the flesh) or Donatism (the Church is supposed to be all saints, no sinners) or most recently Sola Scriptura (that we are bound by the bible alone, no reason, no science, no tradition).

        Another great resource, as you consider conversion, is this website: http://www.whyimcatholic.com/ There you can find personal stories from all sorts of converts: Baptist, Agnostic, Pagan, you name it!

        Good luck on your journey! You will be in my prayers :)

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I never occurred to me before that chance and randomness are not causes but measures of our ignorance of causes. Add that to one more thing I didn't know I didn't know.

    • Mike

      It's like predicting the probability of such and such event absent a model that encompasses the events, which is impossible bc there is NO prob w/o a model to begin with.

  • David Nickol

    It seems to me that the Catholic religion itself acknowledges that this is not the world that God would have created. It solves the problem by positing "the Fall." The world as we see it is not what God intended. It is badly damaged by the sin of the "parents" of the human race, who threw human history off track at the very outset.

    Indeed, some even argue that the effects of "original sin" are among the most obvious and persuasive pieces of evidence for the truth of Christianity, since it is apparently a common feeling that something is wrong with human beings and with the world.

    For those who find the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall convincing, it is a neat solution to explain why the world is not the way for God intended it to be. Nevertheless, it does assume on the part of believing Catholics a conclusion that the world as we see it is not the world God intended. So it is (in my opinion) a case of the pot calling the kettle black to criticize those who are not Catholic for having the chutzpah to say, when they look at the world, "This is not the way an omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent God would have created the world."

    • Mike

      How do you know he "would'nt've" we only assert he didn't?

    • Roman

      "This is not the way an omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent God would have created the world."

      Close, but no cigar. There is a small but important difference in how Catholics would put this. We would add to the end of that sentence " if human beings had not introduced sin into the world". As section 1871 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "Sin is...a deed or desire contrary to the eternal law. It is an offense against God". When we break a civil or criminal law there are consequences, punishment, justice. When there is an offense against God, i.e., contrary to eternal law, it only follows that there should be a just punishment for that as well. That just punishment is that we don't live in a perfect world, but still one in which God can bring good out of evil.

      • Michael Murray

        That just punishment is that we don't live in a perfect world, but still one in which God can bring good out of evil.

        So all the Jews who died in the Holocaust. Is going bringing good out of that suffering now or is their situation complicated by their Jewishness ?

        • Roman

          I don't think that's a good example of the connection between sin and suffering. It is always difficult to see where justice fits in with suffering when you look at one particular tragic case, especially one that is personal. But the mistake you make is in thinking that there is a one to one correspondence between someone's suffering and THEIR sins. We suffer for each other's sins. There is a sense in which we're in this together. Suffering is also random for the most part. Which is why we often see decent people or the most innocent and vulnerable suffer as much as anyone else. The randomness of suffering and the sense that we are in this together may be a way of encouraging us to help one another, i.e., to act as a close-knit community instead of every one for himself (for more on this topic, see my comment to Dave Nichols below)

          • Michael Murray

            So you are not willing to back your previous claim that the child's suffering is so the parents can express their love ?

          • Roman

            So you are not willing to back your previous claim that the child's suffering is so the parents can express their love?

            I'm not backing away from my original statement. You're interpretation of what I said is fundamentally different. You appear to be saying that God purposely gave us a suffering world specifically so that we have opportunities to demonstrate our love. I am saying that given the fact that we have suffering in the world (for whatever reason) I can think of ways that some good can result from it. Please read my original comment again.

          • Michael Murray

            I understand what you are saying but I think God's omnipotence rules out Him being allowed to say "well there is suffering, I don't know where it came from but let's make the best of it". God is the omnipotent creator. Everything is His choice and His decision. Of course you can argue that He wanted to allow us free will. Still His decision and I have lots of problems with the amount of free will He did and didn't allow. But let's just accept that for now. Then we are back to the long list of causes of suffering which are unrelated to human free will.

            It's still just a complicated, and to my mind rather unpleasant, rationalisation of a situation which has a far simpler explanation. There are no gods. There is no purpose in our lives beyond what we make ourselves. Once you accept that there is no need relieve your existential angst with Cuban cigars!

      • Michael Murray

        Close, but no cigar.

        While we are on the topic what about cigar's ? Sure a tri-omni God could have made cigar's non-carcinogenic ?

        • Roman

          I'm going to ask him about that one next time he calls. But you gotta give him credit for coming up with the Cuban cigar. The taste makes up for the death sentence.

    • Garbanzo Bean

      So it is (in my opinion) a case of the pot calling the kettle black to criticize those who are not Catholic for having the chutzpah to say, when they look at the world, "This is not the way an omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent God would have created the world."

      Many people want to rationalize the issue away, and it is hard to blame them. But folks like that are no comfort when tragedy strikes. On the other hand, "bad stuff happens but it is irredeemable and meaningless" is no great comfort either.
      You might enjoy David B Harts "The Doors of the Sea", it is an extended rant against Christians who try to defang evil; it came out his arguments with other writers after the Indonesian tsunami.
      Jesus himself says regarding divorce (one of the most painful things to have hit our family in the last 20 years) "because of the hardness of your hearts this was permitted by Moses, but it was not this way from the beginning". So he himself acknowledged that things now are not what they are supposed to be.

  • David Nickol

    Anything that happens by necessity must happen; necessary events are determined, i.e. caused, to happen in the way they did.

    But nothing happens because of chance: chance is measure of knowledge and not a cause; it is not an ontological force and thus cannot direct events. Chance cannot be creative, though necessity, which implies design, is creative by definition. “Natural processes” cannot therefore be “blind.”

    In the Catholic view, does this mean that everything that happened from the Big Bang to the ensoulment of our "first parents" (and their consequent possession of "free will") was determined and happened of necessity? And that everything that happens in the world and the universe that is not a matter of a freely made choice by a being with free will is determined?

    • Mike

      Who knows? Christianity only says there's a divine plan for salvation of souls if they want it; but what is "Determined" geez who knows...but at least a reasonable conclusion is that the physical universal "laws" were set in place by an intelligence which i believe is God.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Briggs is only talking about the (non-real) distinction between chance and necessity. He's not saying the only events that happen are necessary. There are also acts of free will.

      • David Nickol

        There are also acts of free will.

        In my question, I deliberately excluded acts of free will.

        It sounds very much to me like Briggs is saying nothing happens by chance (for example, random mutations that cause evolutionary change). Once you rule out acts of free will and chance, what is left but necessity (i.e., determinism)?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          He *was* saying nothing happens by chance.

          But nothing happens because of chance: chance is measure of knowledge and not a cause; it is not an ontological force and thus cannot direct events.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      You are making a distinction between events that are determined and events that occur from the exercise of free will. I don't think that is a good distinction. Every "deterministic" event is determined by the exercise of free will. The only question is, whose free will we are talking about.

      In Catholic world, free will can be exercised by (at least) God, angels, and humans. The "deterministic" models that we use in science are models for some of the orderly ways that God freely expresses his will.

  • Mike

    This is excellent; delightful to read, insightful, clear and most of all funny! It's just awesome; thanks for this Dr.

    PS Does Carrier really not see the IRONY in an intelligent unique person like him denying the existence of intelligence/design inherent in some way in existence itself? Really.

  • Albert Fiedeldey

    Carrier is right; a loving God would not use the "selection of the fittest" to create His world. The Darwinian principle is cruel and a result of Satan's influence in this world. It is from this cruelty, the inevitable destruction of everything that is weak, that we need to be saved. For this reason Jesus made Himself weak to overcome the source of cruelty i.e. Satan.

    • Michael Murray

      Is this really the Catholic position on evolution by natural selection ? That it is the work of Satan ? Even though evolution by natural selection started some 4 billion years before Eve could have bitten the apple ?

      • Garbanzo Bean

        "Is this really the Catholic position on evolution by natural selection?"

        No. John Paul addressed the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences on the subject in 1996. It can be found here:
        http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp961022.htm

        The post about it being evil sounds more like a reference to "social darwinism", Nietzsche, eugenics and the Nazi "solution", or something along those lines?

  • GCBill

    When reading this article, I couldn't help but compare it to the standard laid out in your About section:

    "Our goal is not to defeat anyone, embarrass them, or assault their character. Our goal is only the Truth, and to pursue it through fruitful discussion. Like Socrates, like Jesus, we embrace healthy dialogue as the path to Truth, even and especially with people we disagree with. That's why the comboxes at Strange Notions are so central and important."

    It seems this article isn't even trying to meet your standards, or else I forgot the dialogue in which Socrates flatly accuses his opponents of engaging in "little more than bluff, bluster, and bullying." I can happily say most others have been better, but from time to time these anomalies crop up.

    Please let me know if you intend to continue posting content of similar tone. If you do, then I will respectfully spare you my presence in the future. If not, then I will gladly return here, as it is (sometimes) better than my other combox haunts in terms of productive dialogue.

  • Peter

    "If God did not exist, life, the universe, and everything in it (including our minds) would look just the way they do."

    This premise is wrong, but not because without God there would be something instead of nothing which needs explaining such as quantum fields or laws of the universe. These can be created reversedly in a manner whereby they create themselves, as scientific hypotheses increasingly show.

    Does not the Church say that the universe is drawn out of nothingness? Therefore these hypotheses which show the universe self-creating out of nothingness are entirely consistent with Church teaching. The claim that there is something instead of nothing which would need explaining is not a good argument for God.

    Why the premise is wrong is because without God nothing, not the universe or anything in it, including our minds, could have existence, since God is the principle of existence. It is ironic that we use our minds which depend for their existence on a principle of existence to argue that such a principle does not exist, because in that case our minds would not exist to do the arguing.

    This is not a hazy notion but concrete fact. Even if everything can be shown scientifically to self-create out of nothing, the fact that it does so instead of not doing so implies a fundamental principle of existence which underlies reality. God is the reason why the universe exists instead of not existing, the reason why existence exists.

    • Michael Murray

      God is the reason why the universe exists instead of not existing, the reason why existence exists.

      Therefore no condoms. Got it. It's all starting to make sense to me.

  • Michael Murray

    God is not a “life-form”. He nowhere takes up physical residence, nor does He live amorphously in some outer reach of the universe. God is not a creature, nor is He the same as the universe.

    There was a time when I liked this sort of mysticism. When I was in my recovering from Catholicism phase. But it sounds much better like this

    The Tao that can be told is not the Eternal Tao.
    The name that can be named is not the Eternal Name.

    Nothingness is the Origin of Heaven and Earth.
    Beingness is the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      That Taoist expression is beautiful and true.

      • I suggest you are projecting a feeling on these passages. They aren't really saying anything at all. Everything is nothing and nothing is everything. Deep? Deepity, actually.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          How much do you know about the concepts of wu wei and wei wu wei ? There is a lot more to it than "everything is nothing and nothing is everything".

          I find that wei wu wei is highly resonant with the concept of completely humble, self-giving love that Jesus was trying to illustrate with his own life, and also very resonant with the idea of gratuitous creation ex nihilo. You can come to your own conclusions, but I don't think I'm projecting that. If I am projecting it, I am at least doing so after a good deal of thought and learning about both Christianity and Taoism.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Not expecting this to be a convincing argument, but I wonder if you would agree with anything in my Catholic reflection on that Taoist poetry:

      If an all-nourishing nothingness were to be revealed in human form, it seems to me that human would need to so completely empty himself (becoming "nothing") as to allow his own crucifixion. That human would have to offer his own body in order to originate a new Heavens and a new Earth.

      Also, if beingness were to be revealed in human form, that human would have to willingly receive the originating gifts from that nothingness. That human would have to humbly bear the gift of being into the world, as mothers do (hence the unsurprising gender of beingness in the Taoist expression). Mary, for example.

      Finally, if the Eternal Name cannot be named, I would expect elliptical self-declarations from the nothingness such as, "I AM", and I would find it appropriate to use elliptical writing to refer to it, such as "YHWH".

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