December 26, 2006

Of Unicorns and Straw MenWhy God Must Exist

Note: The following is an Open Letter to Mr. Edwin Kagin, Director, Camp Quest

Dear Mr. Kagin,

Recently a friend told me about your camp, Camp Quest, an unique camp for children of secular humanists. I visited your website[1] and noted that, according to your 2005 Camp Director's letter, you offer a prize of a "godless (without "in god we trust" on it — made before 1954) one hundred dollar bill" to any camper who can prove that two invisible unicorns do not reside at your camp. I assume this challenge is to develop critical thinking skills in your campers, helping them understand that believing in something that can't be seen is irrational. Therefore, belief in an unseen God also is irrational.

In your Director's letter regarding the unicorn challenge, you state that "Campers come up with the oddest refutations — like [the camp director] Edwin should have to prove that the two invisible unicorns are there. How ridiculous! It is pointed out that I have faith, and that is all that is needed? Isn't it?" Later in your letter, you mention that campers are assigned a project to offer advice to inhabitants of another planet to consider "whether or not their emerging society should be encouraged to develop along lines of critical inquiry or along faith and belief in the supernatural."

Knocking Down a Straw Man

The way these examples are worded assumes that critical inquiry is incompatible with faith in God. I assume from the context of your letter that you define faith as "blind" belief, devoid of reason or evidence. However, claiming that belief in God is based solely on "blind" faith is a straw man argument — one that, as you point out in your letter, is easily knocked down.[2]

May I suggest that by presenting belief in God in this way you actually are doing a disservice to your campers. By providing a refutation based on a flimsy caricature of theism, instead of developing critical thinking skills in children you provide them with a false sense of security for their atheism. A more robust approach would teach children about the actual reasons theists claim a belief about God and then go about refuting those reasons.

I propose that your campers would be better instructed by explaining to them that everyone, whether theist or atheist, begins by making a foundational assumption about the nature of reality. As it turns out, when it comes to beginning assumptions, there are not many options. You identified two in your letter, either nature is all that exists (atheism), or both nature and the supernatural exist (theism).[3] Since that's the case, a proper starting point for teaching critical thinking skills would be to evaluate these two assumptions in light of our experience.

Applying Reason To Real Life

May I offer the following example for applying empirical reasoning to life experience. Everyone senses a concept we call justice. We may quibble over exactly what is just and what is not, but deep down we all intuitively know that some human actions are right and others wrong. So the question is: Which beginning assumption, atheism or theism, provides a sufficient basis for this common human experience?

On the atheistic worldview, the beginning assumption is that only nature exists — molecules in motion, if you will. These initial molecules did not have a sense of justice. Then, it is further assumed that, over time, molecules bumping into each other developed the capacity for moral reasoning. But how can something (molecules with a sense of justice) come from nothing (molecules with no sense of justice)? Given a cause/effect universe, that's a stretch, isn't it? All of our experience suggests this cannot be because every effect must have a sufficient cause.

The science of socio-biology offers a response to this impasse. Social biologists suggest that evolutionary theory explains how molecules gradually developed into living organisms, and over time, those organisms which developed a "cooperating" gene were naturally selected for their ability to better survive and reproduce. This resulted in homo sapiens inheriting this cooperating gene, what we refer to as moral behavior.[4]

However, this scenario, while an interesting story, is unconvincing on two counts. First, we all tend to look up to people who sacrifice themselves for someone else. This ultimate form of morality, called altruism, is completely out of sync with evolution's focus on the struggle for survival. If the goal is to pass on your genes, helping someone else pass on theirs makes no sense. It's not just that evolutionary theory has not yet provided a satisfactory explanation for altruism. It's much more than that. The insurmountable problem is that Darwinism is counter to our experience.

And second, the Darwinian story does not provide a satisfactory explanation because evolutionary theory is driven by random, chance mutations. But actual laboratory experiments have never shown that point mutations of DNA are able to add any new information content to the genetic code.

In other words, what geneticists have found is that mutations either delete information or rearrange information that is already there, but genetic mistakes never add new content. And significantly new information in the genetic code is needed if we expect to begin with a non-moralizing molecule and end up with a descendent having a sense of moral justice.

By beginning with atheistic assumptions we find that we cannot adequately explain a fundamental experience of human life, our sense of justice. Let's turn to the alternative to see if we fare any better.

The Assumption of Theism

On the other hand, if we start from the other assumption, the idea that God exists and has the attribute of moral reasoning, and we further assume that God created man with a moral capacity, we have a sufficient cause to explain what we all experience, those pesky moral notions. This is the only logical position. No "blind" faith at work here. Just some good ol' deductive reasoning.

Ah, but the objection may be raised, "If God is the cause of everything, then what caused God?" Interesting question, but it's not pertinent to the discussion. That's because every worldview begins with assuming something is real and this reality is, by definition, eternal, therefore having no cause.

Either we begin with assuming matter is eternal or God is eternal. So there is no going further back to any other "causes." Either "In the beginning, Matter" or "In the beginning, God." Both views are equally religious, since they answer an ultimately "religious" question, "What about God?" Additionally, each position is equally a starting point from which to construct a worldview. The question is which assumption is more logical, given other things we know about the universe, life, and ourselves.

Please note, I am not suggesting that just because we can't explain how something comes into being we insert the phrase "God did it" to fill in our lack of scientific knowledge. My argument is not this so-called "God of the gaps" argument. It is the opposite. I'm basing this line of reasoning on what we do know. We know we all experience a sense of justice. We know that every effect must have a sufficient cause. We know genetic mutations do not offer a sufficient cause to produce moral notions, thus eliminating a naturalistic explanation. Therefore, we should consider another explanation that better fits the facts.

So, once again, the issue is, how can non-moral molecules develop the ability to sense moral concepts? Or, for that matter, what about love — does love come from non-loving molecular interaction? Or, along the same line of reasoning, how can we arrive at rational thought, given non-rational matter and randomness as the only building blocks?

Over one hundred years ago Nietzsche correctly concluded that in a universe devoid of God, there is no morality, nor love, nor rational thought. So how can anyone use rational thought to make claims about the nature of reality or the non-existence of God? This is quite a quandary, given an atheistic worldview!

I wish you the best as you seek to develop critical thinking skills in the lives of the next generation. The fact that you have that desire demonstrates the imprint of an Intelligent First Cause, the only rational explanation for a very human sensibility.

Chuck Edwards

P.S. May I suggest the following as staples for your camp library:

  1. Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity by Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman
  2. Unshakable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions about the Christian Faith by Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino
  3. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Lane Craig
  4. Philosophical Foundations for A Christian Worldview by J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig
  5. Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga
  1., accessed 11/15/2006.
  2. The idea that faith in God is non-rational, known as fideism, does have adherents in the Christian tradition, beginning with the second century theologian Tertullian, through the writings of Luther, Pascal (a Catholic), and more prominently displayed in the works of Kierkegaard, Barth, and more recently in Donald Bloesch. However, the more extreme views of Kierkegaard and Barth are not the view of the majority of current evangelical apologists, who hold to some form of rational evaluation of evidences for basing belief in God. For that reason, defining faith as a "blind" belief without reason is offering a weak argument for theism, a view not defended by many today, and is therefore a straw man argument.
  3. Actually, there is a third option: only the supernatural exists (pantheism), but for the sake of simplicity, I'll just evaluate the first two options, atheism and theism, since, you would agree that any form of supernaturalism, including the pantheistic variety, is irrational.
  4. Richard Dawkins champions this idea in his book, The Selfish Gene (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1989).

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