Friday, May 25, 2007

Logical/philosophical/historical/moral arguments by Victor Stenger

Seminar V. Logical/philosophical/historical/moral arguments.

T: I have heard theologians argue that God exists because he necessarily exists.
A: Why necessarily?

T: As St. Anselm explained, things that exist in reality must be greater than things that exist in the mind. So, the fact that we can conceive of an all-perfect being means that such a being, even more perfect than we can imagine, has to exist.
A: I can imagine a perfect pizza. Does that mean that a perfect pizza exists?

T: You can always make a better pizza, but you can never make a better God.
A: But how does any of this make God necessary?

T: Let me present the argument as a series of propositions:
1. The existence of God is not a logical contradiction;
2. If God exists, he must exist necessarily;
3. Therefore God must exist.
A: Let me present an alternative series of propositions:
1. The non-existence of God is not a logical contradiction;
2. If God does not exist, he does not exist necessarily;
3. Therefore God does not exist.

T: Let us look at the world around us. Everything that exists was caused to exist by something else. Someplace that chain of causes must end. God, is by definition, the First Cause, Uncaused.
A: Not everything is caused, but let me not get into that but rather accept your first statement as a working assumption. Why does the First Cause have to be God? Why can't it be the universe itself?

T: You can't show me how the universe caused itself.
A: You can't show me how God caused the universe.

T: What about morality? God must exist as the source of morality.
A: Humanity could be the source.

T: But, then, morality is relative. Everyone can do what they want.
A: Humans societies have developed of moral rules and expect their members to conform as part of the price paid for the benefits of society. Everyone cannot do what they want.

T: Those rules have arisen out of religion.
A: That is a questionable historical assertion. Religions may have adopted them from society. In any case, even if some moral notions were introduced by religious leaders, that does not mean their origin is supernatural.

T: Justice is another concept that could not exist without God.
A: Where in the Bible can you find justice, democracy, human rights or other enlightened social concepts?
T: Noble ideas such as truth, justice, beauty, love are spiritual. They cannot have arisen out of matter alone.
A: You have too low an opinion of matter. How do you know it is not capable of such achievements?

T: Why would so many people down through the ages believe if it weren't true?
A: Many people down through the ages believed the earth was flat.

T: How can one possibly be happy without religion, without life after death?
A: By ridding themselves of self-love. Religion is supposed to teach humility but, except for Buddhism, most teach that humans are special creatures destined to live forever. These religions thus thrive on human arrogance and self-centeredness. I submit that people would be happier if they tossed off their fantasies and lived their lives as individuals free from any imaginary strings hanging down from heaven.

T: But why not practice religion anyway? You have everything to gain if it that belief is right and nothing to lose if it is wrong.
A: That's called Pascal's wager. I have my self-respect to lose. And would a just God prefer to be joined in paradise by an honest, brave person who believed what his eyes and reason told him about reality or a dishonest, cowardly one who did whatever was necessary to gain immortality?

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