The Fine-Tuning Argument for God’s Existence, Part One

A while back on this web site I posted a series in which I debated with myself about the existence of God. “Pastor Chris” and “Dr. Schriner” argued about various aspects of this topic, including the claim that the laws of the universe are fine-tuned for intelligent life. Continue reading

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Divine Inspiration: Living Reality or Decrepit Dogma?

Those who are interested in communication between theists and atheists may want to check out Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. If you do not believe in God, you may have friends or relatives who quote Scripture. How do you respond to them? And if you are a believer, you may have wondered to what extent sacred writings reveal divine inspiration. Possible answers include not at all, somewhat, mostly, or entirely:

  1. Not at all. Sacred texts are not based on divine inspiration, either because there is no God or because God doesn’t lead people to write holy books.
  2. Somewhat. God has influenced the Scriptures, but these writings were also shaped by human weakness and prejudice.
  3. Mostly. Taken as a whole, Scripture reflects divine inspiration.
  4. Entirely. Every word of the Bible is divinely inspired.

We could add an option 4A: Entirely, with minor exceptions, such as human errors in copying texts. But God prevents serious errors from corrupting the divine message.

A great many people accept 4 or 4A. But in Did God Really Say THAT!? I try to conclusively prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the only possible options are 1, 2, or 3. Browse through the site and tell me if you think I’ve succeeded.

Roger Christan Schriner

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Wrapping Up a Case for Atheism

For the past few weeks I’ve been sharing the text of a presentation in which I debate with myself about whether a personal God exists. In the previous installment, the theist, “Pastor Chris,” concluded by saying that “Dr. Schriner”

“never denies that the vast majority of people have sensed the presence of this sturdy support [theistic religion]. The overwhelming testimony of this ‘great cloud of witnesses’ speaks far more eloquently than the outdated arguments of atheism.”

Now the atheist, Dr. Schriner, replies:

That “great cloud of witnesses” is a whole lot smaller than Pastor Chris thinks. I realize that the vast majority of Americans believe in God. However in Canada around 20 or 30% are atheists or agnostics. In the U.K. it’s 30-45%, and 65% in Japan.* Besides, he is supposed to prove there’s a personal God. But in a survey of sixty countries, only 45% thought a personal God exists, so those who believe in a personal deity are actually in the minority.** Continue reading

The Pastor Strikes Back

My recent posts are based on a presentation I sometime make in which “Pastor Chris” debates “Dr. Schriner” about whether God exists. (I take both sides, wearing an ecclesiastical stole when Pastor Chris speaks.) So here is the pastor once again:

How sad that such a smart fellow as Dr. Schriner has to fall back on such outdated atheistic ideas. It is so “Twentieth Century” to proclaim that the grand march of science is closing every gap in our knowledge. Today new discoveries are opening up astonishing new mysteries! At one time we had no idea that the laws of nature are fine-tuned for the existence of life. Not all scientists have realized this is so, but it is revolutionary to hear brilliant physicists say the cosmos seems precisely designed to make our existence possible. Schriner quotes Bradley Monton to dispute this idea, but Monton himself is an atheist, so he’s hardly unbiased! Continue reading

More from the Atheist

This is the third post in a series in which I debate with myself about whether God exists. Skeptical “Dr. Schriner” has just spoken, and now the atheist gets to speak again. Why? Because in a debate, the negative side has an inherent advantage. It’s almost always easier to poke holes in some theory than to prove that this theory is true. To compensate for this handicap, the affirmative side needs some compensating advantage. One way to do this is to let the affirmative begin and end the contest. It’s very helpful to have both the first word and the last word on some topic. To make this possible, Dr. Schriner, who denies the existence of deity, makes his initial presentation and his first rebuttal in sequence, one after the other.

Returning to the lectern, Dr. R. C. Schriner will offer his first negative rebuttal:

Pastor Chris thinks the laws of the universe are “fine-tuned” to support intelligent life. But physicists say there may be other universes, perhaps even an infinite number of universes. Only a few of these systems might happen to be suitable homes for living creatures. If these creatures didn’t know about all the other universes, it would seem as if “the” universe was specifically designed for their benefit. “Wow, how come everything is arranged so precisely for dear little me? I guess there must be a God!” These creatures would be very lucky to live in a cosmos that supports life, but someone has to live there and be amazed at their good fortune. Besides, the fine-tuning argument is speculation on top of speculation, because we still have so much to learn about cosmology. Continue reading

Dr. Schriner’s Case for Atheism

(I recently made a presentation at a Unitarian Universalist church in which I debated with myself about whether God exists. I’m posting it here, one speech at a time. For details, see my post from September 29. At this point “Pastor Chris” has already spoken in favor of deity, and here are opening remarks by “Dr. Schriner.”)

Thank you for your interest in this vital issue. Today I will show that there are no sound reasons for believing in an invisible cosmos-creator, and that there are good reasons to reject this theory. And my first argument is simple. The concept of God is superfluous. We don’t need it. People used to explain everything they didn’t understand by saying God did it, but this gives us a “god of the gaps.” As the gaps in our knowledge keep getting smaller, there is less and less reason for the God-hypothesis.

But even beyond this obvious point, I want to make a more daring claim. We can tell that there is no personal God by looking at the behavior of those who believe in God. Continue reading

The Theist-Atheist Continuum

At this point I’ve made over 30 presentations focusing on communication and common ground among theists, atheists, and agnostics. In lecturing or leading workshops on this theme I try to sense what people find interesting and meaningful. One item that often strikes a responsive chord is a spectrum from very traditional theism to emphatic atheism, from Bridging the God Gap: Finding Common Ground Among Believers, Atheists and Agnostics.

In the book I emphasize that in thinking and talking about God, there is no clear dividing line between literal and metaphorical language. Poetry and factual description shade off into each other. With that in mind, here’s the continuum:

God is a person who looks like us . . .
      God is a person but does not have a human body . . .
            Calling God a person is a human way of speaking
            about something far beyond our understanding . . .
                  The Ground of All Being is trans-personal,
                  but we can metaphorically think of it as a Thou . . .
                        The universe is physical but it has personal qualities . . .
                               The universe does not actually have such qualities, but
                               we can speak poetically as if it does . . .
                                      The universe, and whatever caused or created it,
                                      should never be thought of as personal.

People often shift and drift among these levels, sliding up or down this continuum as their moods change or when they move among their various social circles. Furthermore, there are also subtle gradations between these seven levels.

I want to emphasize the inevitable vagueness of our beliefs about all-that-is. Each person’s belief-complex is a pastiche of factual information, informed and uninformed speculation, and poetic imagery. A theist, for example, might believe that a person-like God exists, realize that in at least some respects “person” is a metaphor, but be unable to say in what ways and to what extent God is literally a person. Similarly, some atheists see the universe as a mixture of personal and non-personal features.

How many theists have carefully thought about whether and in what respects God is “really” a person? And how many atheists and agnostics have carefully considered whether the cosmos (or whatever gave rise to the cosmos) has personal qualities? I suspect the answer to both questions is “very, very few.” If they did contemplate these questions in depth, how often would believers and non-believers come to similar conclusions? I don’t know, nor does anyone else, and that is the point. We simply have no idea how much similarity is hidden by divisive theological labels. Without in-depth dialogue about religion, we can never hope to understand each other.

Roger Christan Schriner

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