• The ‘Why I am a Christian’ series – Vincent Torley of Uncommon Descent (Part 3)

    After having looked at Randal Rauser’s reasons for being a Christian, and having had my reasons and his defences intensely debated on his blog, I have in a previous post offered Dr Vincent Torley’s account. Some readers may know Vincent from the Uncommon Descent website which attempts to refute evolution. I have argued with him at length when I used to write for John Loftus more often at Debunking Christianity. Here is his bio:

    Vincent Torley is originally from Geelong, Australia. After obtaining a B.Sc., a B.A. and a B.Ec. from the AustralianNationalUniversity (all at no cost to himself), he worked for several years as a computer programmer in Melbourne, during which time he obtained an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Melbourne. In 1999, he moved to Japan to take up a job as an English teacher, returning to Australia for a year in 2001 to complete a Dip. Ed. in high school teaching before going back to Japan, where he has resided ever since. He obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Melbourne in 2007, while studying in Japan. He currently teaches English in high schools, as well as teaching English conversation and business English. He is married and the father of a seven-year-old son. His personal Web page is at http://www.angelfore.com/linux/vjtorley/index.html

    I have split this up into multiple parts as it is very lengthy (whilst he didn’t have that many paragraphs, he made them massive!). I have also taken it upon myself to split it into Points so that it makes it easier to reference. I hope both of these actions are OK with Vincent.

    Please make every effort to have a civil and discursive back-and-forth. I hope some interesting discussion can be had. Thanks to Vincent, as it takes some guts to put your beliefs in the firing range, but it is what we should all do. Over to Vincent for the second part of his account:

    Point 9

    I’d now like to say why I believe in God. The short answer is: because the universe, for all its faults, is the kind of thing that only God could have made. There are certain regularities that hold everywhere in Nature, which we call laws. They share several traits: first, they are reliable; second, they are contingent; third, they are expressible in the language of mathematics; fourth, they are beautiful in a way that only a mathematician can fully appreciate; and fifth, they are exquisitely fine-tuned for life. The reliability of these laws shows that they are prescriptions for how the universe ought to behave rather than mere descriptions of how it actually behaves. The reason is that mere regularities can never warrant justified beliefs about the future: for no matter how often these regularities may be repeated, it remains true that possible futures in which these regularities break down at some point are always infinitely more numerous than possible futures where they don’t. So either reality has built-in prescriptive properties or we have no scientific knowledge about the future. But prescriptions are very odd things: while things may conform to them, only minds can issue them in the first place. The world, then, is already starting to look like “one giant thought”, to use Sir James Jeans’ memorable phrase. However, the laws of Nature lack any kind of mathematical or logical necessity, and although we trust that they will continue to hold in the future, we can certainly conceive of the possibility that they will not. Thus if the laws of Nature come from a Mind, they are best conceived as free choices made by that Mind, rather than as decisions that it is constrained to make. Further confirmation of the claim that laws are issued by an Intelligent Being comes from the fact that they are written in the language of mathematics – and very elegant mathematics at that. Physicists who investigate the laws of the cosmos frequently express their amazement at the beauty of these laws, even if they are atheists. Mathematical beauty is not a property that we would expect laws to exhibit, unless they issued from a Mind. Additionally, the fine-tuning of the laws of Nature, the constants of physics and the initial conditions of the universe for life is best explained by the fact that the laws of Nature were designed by a Mind with the intention of producing a world populated by living things – and in particular, sentient and sapient beings. Positing a multiverse fails to eliminate the fine-tuning problem, for as Dr. Robin Collins has cogently argued, a multiverse would itself need to be fine-tuned, in order to be able to generate a universe like ours. When we enter the realm of biology, the impression of a Mind at work in Nature is unmistakable. For instance, we find digital codes in living things. We even find programs. Codes and programs are the sorts of things that only a Mind can make. Smart-aleck atheistic retorts about laryngeal nerves and prostate glands overlook the fundamental question: if the biosphere is not the product of a Mind, then why do we find codes and programs in Nature? Finally, psychology furnishes us with still more proof of the irreducibility of mind to matter: our thoughts not only have a subjective feel (which is odd enough) but also an intrinsic meaning of their own, as they possess propositional content. Meaning is a formal rather than a material property; matter as such is incapable of possessing any inherent meaning.

    Point 10

    We have thus arrived at a Mind that generated the cosmos with its laws, as well as the fundamental biochemical features of living things, and Whose thoughts are not grounded in matter. This is a very important conclusion: if there is a Mind behind everything, then it is no use objecting that all the minds we have observed to date are embodied. This One can’t be. A body is something whose behavior is characterized by laws; and the Mind whose existence we’ve inferred is prior to those laws, for it created them. Consequently it must be bodiless. What’s more, it must also be simple: for anything composite would stand in need of a further explanation: it would need something to hold its various parts together. Only a metaphysically simple Mind could be self-explanatory. What can we say of such a Mind? The only activities we can meaningfully ascribe to this Mind are understanding, love and choice: for only these activities are not intrinsically dependent on having a body, and we have already provided grounds for arguing that the Maker of the cosmos possesses understanding (otherwise it could not generate mathematical beauty) and makes choices (as shown by the sheer contingency of our fine-tuned cosmos). What about love, you ask? Good question. All I will say is that the Mind behind Nature must serve as the explanation of all other minds, and a Being devoid of love could not produce minds like ours, for whom love is ethically fundamental (think of the Golden Rule). The evil in the world may appal us; but the more fundamental fact is that we live in a world in which we possess moral obligations, including the obligation to love our neighbour. The existence of these obligations is as objective a fact as the nose on your face. We cannot be obliged to love one another, unless there be a Being Who is Love itself.

    Point 11

    On an autobiographical note, I should say that despite my Catholic upbringing, I came to reject belief in a personal God when I was 28, after a period of prolonged philosophical doubt. But even after rejecting belief in a personal God, scientific materialism never struck me as a viable worldview. It could not provide a remotely satisfactory explanation for: (a) the fact that I was able to have conscious and meaningful experiences; (b) the fact that I was able to enjoy beauty, and experience it as being somehow transcendent to myself; or (c) the fact that I knew that I was capable of making genuine moral choices, and there were things I should and shouldn’t do. Over the fifteen years that followed, I gradually came to realize that only a personal God could satisfactorily account for these facts.

    Again, we are still not there! So, onwards and upwards:

    Point 9

    I am not going to express my objections directly here as I have done so elsewhere within this context. Suffice to say that my objections to the fine-tuning argument can in some part, though not exclusively, be see here – Problems with the FIne-Tuning Argument.

    And I also have another counterpoint to Vincent’s claims about laws: The Argument from Format.

    Vincent also needs to spend some time explaining whether he thinks laws are prescriptive or descriptive. If prescriptive, he needs to give an account of some kind of (Platonic) realism.

    Point 10

    We have thus arrived at a Mind that generated the cosmos with its laws, as well as the fundamental biochemical features of living things, and Whose thoughts are not grounded in matter. This is a very important conclusion: if there is a Mind behind everything, then it is no use objecting that all the minds we have observed to date are embodied. This One can’t be.

    Have we? Eh? Did I miss something? I think it is rather difficult to establish that we can have a mind without a brain. There is no evidence for such, and rather a lot of evidence for the mind supervening on the brain. I think he needs to do a lot more work to establish this.

    What’s more, it must also be simple: for anything composite would stand in need of a further explanation: it would need something to hold its various parts together. Only a metaphysically simple Mind could be self-explanatory. What can we say of such a Mind? The only activities we can meaningfully ascribe to this Mind are understanding, love and choice: for only these activities are not intrinsically dependent on having a body, and we have already provided grounds for arguing that the Maker of the cosmos possesses understanding (otherwise it could not generate mathematical beauty) and makes choices (as shown by the sheer contingency of our fine-tuned cosmos).

    There appears to be a rather large contradiction here. How can something be that simple and then cover love, understanding, choice-making and so on? To make divine choice, one must have total understanding of everything that is, was and will come to be. Vincent has already claimed that the most complex computer on earth is nowhere near the complexity of a human brain and resulting mind. Surely the mind he is describing is the greatest conceivable mind. And he still hasn’t explained how you can have a mind without a body, especially since ALL the evidence we have is that minds depend on bodies.

    And then he talks of love. Here is a quote from a book chapter I have been working on, about morality. I had to be very concise here, so there is probably much to expand upon:

    One highly contentious view that most everyone hears about God is that he is love. God is love. This view is somewhat controversial in the context of much of what you have read in this book. What the authors have established is an evidential problem of evil argument against God. Christianity and Christians have contributed harm to this world; how is this fact coherent with an all-loving, morally perfect God? The Epicurean paradox usually provides one of the most bruising encounters for embattled theologians. And it is in this context that this book sits.

    If we can establish, and I think we have quite forcefully, that Christianity has created more harm than good, then Christians have even more pressure to answer the ubiquitous problem of evil. Seeing Christianity as the problem of evil has a certain ironic ring to it.

    God is love is a truth claim. It is a hypothesis that is being put to the test. Moreover, we can actually use the dirty linen of the Bible and of Christianity since biblical times to make the bed; and we can see if the Bible lies comfortably in it. We can use the morality of the Bible to be its own judge, jury and executioner. And let’s face it, the Bible won’t be averse to meting out the most final of punishments: there is rather a lot of execution therein.

    Something to which I will return to later revolves around the idea that if God is love and morality is a set of commands for us to obey (Divine Command Theory) then the theist has a problem. This might take on the guise of an argument such that if God loves us then we should love God back, or even take that idea and apply it to the rest of the world (we should love each other). Or, indeed, God’s love is like parental, paternal love. But this is a non sequitur. That I love my children is not reason enough for me to expect them to live exactly as I would wish or that they must love me in return (given that they are free agents).

    As such, God is love is a problematic claim on many levels.

    I contest the idea that God is love entirely. It is a bald assertion resting on absolutely no evidence, and rather a lot of counter-evidence. This is problematic for Vincent to say the least.

    Vincent continues:

    The evil in the world may appal us; but the more fundamental fact is that we live in a world in which we possess moral obligations, including the obligation to love our neighbour. The existence of these obligations is as objective a fact as the nose on your face. We cannot be obliged to love one another, unless there be a Being Who is Love itself.

    Really? Well, only if by obligation you mean threat of hell or promissory note of heaven. But then, what what kind of motivation for morality is that? A little self-serving to say the least.

    All I can see Vincent doing is asserting left, right and centre here. There is no real substance to this, I feel.

    Point 11

    a) consciousness

    b) existence of aesthetic qualities

    c) free will

    On a) – we might not be able to cover this here as it is massive and still at an impasse. Suffice to say that every bit of neuroscientific evidence appears to point towards either monism or some kind of supervenience (and one can even have a naturalistic dualism a la Chalmers).

    b) This certainly does not warrant recourse to God. See my post here.

    c) We’ve been here before. Check my many posts on this or my book. There is no recourse other than assertion and intuition to defend libertarian free will. It is not supported either by philosophy or by empirical data.

    So, what are the readers’ thoughts? More to come from Vincent in the 4th and final instalment.

    Category: ApologeticsEpistemology

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    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    • Torley’s argument to me sounds like nothing more that I haven’t already heard dozens of times by apologists like William Lane Craig. I.E. It’s all based on logic derived primarily from faulty human intuition and leaps of faith aided by confirmation biases motivated by emotion. That’s why apologetics ultimately fails.