Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

New study: Crows capable of analytical reasoning

Male normal gray cockatiel preens his wife's crest

Aww! Male cockatiel preens his wife’s crest

Melissa Cain Travis who blogs at Hard Core Christianity sent me news of this wonderful, wonderful study of crow intelligence. I love birds SO MUCH, so I have to blog any story that helps my readers to see why they should love birds, too.

First, read the story from Scientific American.

A recent research collaboration has discovered that crows exhibit strong behavioral signs of analogical reasoning — the ability to solve puzzles like “bird is to air as fish is towhat?” Analogical reasoning is considered to be the pinnacle of cognition and it only develops in humans between the ages of three and four.

[The research team] first trained hooded crows on several tasks in which they had to match items that were the same as one another. The crows were presented with a tray containing three cups. The middle cup was covered by a card picturing a color, a shape, or a number of items. The other two side cups were also covered by cards — one the same as and one different from the middle card. The cup under the matching card contained food, but the cup under the nonmatching card was empty. Crows quickly learned to choose the matching card and to do so more quickly from one task to the next.

Then, the critical test was given. Each card now pictured a pair of items. The middle card would display pairs AA or CD, and the two side cards would display pair BB and pair EF. The relation between one pair of items must be appreciated and then applied to a new pair of items to generate the correct answer: the BB card in the case of AA or the EF card in the case of CD. For instance, if the middle card displayed a circle and a cross, then the correct choice would be the side card containing a square and a triangle rather than the side card containing two squares.

Not only could the crows correctly perform this task, but they did so spontaneously, from the very first presentations, without ever being trained to do so.

Now watch this 2-minute video and see if you can find the answers faster than the crow. I was slower than the crow at the beginning, then faster at the end.

Well, are you impressed? I was impressed!!!!!

Now I have an absolutely silly thought to share with you.

I was thinking about these birds and science posts that I put up and the thought occurred to me about what Christians did to demonstrate the existence of God in debates before we knew about the origin of the universe, the cosmic fine-tuning, galactic habitability, stellar habitability, origin of life, biological information, Cambrian explosion, molecular machines, and blah blah blah de blah.

So what would the William Lane Craig of those days do for his five arguments? Well, the fourth argument would still be the resurrection, and the fifth point would still be religious experience. But the first three would be… BIRDS! Argument one would be some parrot who had learned to talk and do tricks. Argument two would be some parrot who was particularly good at flying and hunting. And argument three would be some particularly beautiful bird. And that’s how you would prove the existence of a Creator and Designer before we had telescopes and microscopes to do it with. Pretty sure.

Anyway, that’s my (silly) idea. Birds are so wonderful, I just say silly things about them!

Filed under: News, , , , , , , ,

Atheist Christopher Hitchens’ case against the existence of God

I thought that I would go over an opening statement from a previous debate featuring Christopher Hitchens to find out what atheists are like in debates. I used his opening speech from his debate with Frank Turek. The audio from that debate is here, at Brian Auten’s Apologetics 315 site.

Now the important thing to remember about a generic debate on whether GOD EXISTS is that there should be no mention of any particular God, such as the Christian God, and no mention of the history of any particular religion. All arguments that assume specific theological or moral doctrines or specific religious history are irrelevant to a debate on generic theism.

The question being debated is: does a God who created and designed the universe, who has all the traditional properties of God, such as omniscience, omnipotence, omni-benevolence, etc. exist? That is the question being debated in a “Does God Exist?” debate.

Frank Turek’s case for theism:

Frank Turek made 4 relevant arguments for theism, each of which alone would support his conclusion, that God exists:

  • the origin of time, space, matter and energy out of nothing
  • the fine-tuning of the physical constants to support the minimum requirements for life of any kind
  • the origin of the biological information in the first self-replicating organism
  • objective, prescriptive moral rules need to be grounded by the designer of the universe

And he also listed 4 features of the universe that are more consistent with theism than atheism (= materialism).

  • non-material minds that allow rationality that would be impossible on materialism/determinism
  • the mathematical structure of the universe and its intelligibility to the scientific method
  • free will, which is required for moral responsibility and moral choices, requires a non-material mind/soul
  • our first person experience of consciousness is best explained by a non-material mind/soul

Hitchens’ case against theism

To counter, Hitchens has to argue against God using arguments in one of two forms:

  1. The concept of God is logically self-contradictory
  2. An objective feature of the world is inconsistent with the attributes of God

The claim that God does not exist is a claim to know something about God, namely, that he does not exist. This claim requires the speaker to bear a burden of proof. In a debate on “Does God Exist?”, Hitchens must deny that God exists. Let me be clear: Hitchens must defeat the arguments for the claim that God exists, and then defend the claim that God does not exist, and support that claim using arguments and evidence.

Hitchens makes 2 basic claims:

  • There are no good reasons to believe that theism is true
  • There are good reasons to believe atheism is true

So far so good. But what are his good reasons for atheism?

  1. I personally don’t like Christianity, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I personally don’t like Catholicism getting rid of limbo
    – Premise: I personally don’t like Hell
    – Premise: I personally don’t like some episodes in church history
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  2. The plurality of religions means that no religious claims can be correct, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: There are lots of religions
    – Premise: The religions all disagree in their truth claims about the external world
    – Conclusion: No religion’s claims can be correct, therefore God doesn’t exist
  3. I believe in one less God than you, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: You disbelieve in every God I do, except one
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  4. Religious people are stupid and evil, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Religious people are ignorant
    – Premise: Religious people are fearful
    – Premise: Religious people are servile
    – Premise: Religious people are masochistic
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  5. Evolution explains how life progressed from single cell to today’s bio-diversity, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Modern theists like Turek believe in Paley’s argument, and argued it in this debate
    – Premise: Paley’s argument was refuted by evolution
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  6. God wouldn’t have made the universe this way, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: If God exists, then he would have made the universe my way
    – Premise: The heat death of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The extinction of species wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The size of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The amount of open space wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The large number of stars wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The age of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  7. Religion makes people do things that I don’t like, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Some religions do suicide bombing
    – Premise: Some religions do child abuse
    – Premise: Some religions do genital mutilation
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  8. If you speak a sentence, I can repeat the same words as you said, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Anything that you say is good, I can say is good too
    – Premise: Anything that you say is bad, I can say is bad too
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  9. Atheists are morally superior to religious people, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I act in a way that is consistent with my personal, arbitrary moral preferences
    – Premise: You don’t act in a way that is consistent with my personal, arbitrary moral preferences
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  10. If I believe in God, I would have to submit to an authority
    – Premise: If I believe in God, then I can’t do whatever I want
    – Premise: But I want to do whatever I want
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  11. I don’t like certain Christian doctrines, therefore arguments for God from science fail and therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I don’t like the atonement
    – Premise: I don’t like the virgin birth
    – Premise: I don’t like the incarnation
    – Premise: I don’t like original sin
    – Premise: I don’t like the resurrection
    – Conclusion: Arguments that are built on recent discoveries from the progress of science like the big bang, fine-tuning, origin of life, etc. are incorrect, and therefore God doesn’t exist

General comments about Hitchens’ case:

  • The form of all of these arguments is logically invalid. The conclusions do not follow from the premises using the laws of logic, such as modus ponens and modus tollens.
  • Hitchens cannot complain about morality because he has no foundation for objective moral facts. What he is really expressing is that he personally does not like such-and-such a state of affairs, based on his own arbitrary personal preferences, and the arbitrary social customs that evolved in the place and time that he finds himself in. On atheism, “morality” is just describing what people do – either individually or as groups living in different times and places. There is no objective right and wrong, and no objective way we ought to be. All statements are subjective. They describe what the speaker personally likes and dislikes. Just like taste in foods or taste in dress – which varies by individually, and is influenced by time and place ARBITRARILY.

Specific comments about each argument:

  • Argument 1 tries to disprove God by arguing from Hitchens’ personal preferences about specific Christian doctrines. Christian doctrines are irrelevant to a debate about generic theism. And there is no reason why God should be bound by the personal, subjective preferences of one man. In fact, the concept of God entails that his unchanging nature is the standard of good and evil. So, this argument doesn’t disprove God, it’s just a statement of personal, subjective preference.
  • Argument 2: Just because there are different truth claims made by different groups, doesn’t mean no one is correct. Mormons believe that matter existed eternally, and Jews believe it was created out of nothing. The big bang theory shows that the Mormons are wrong and the Jews are right.
  • Argument 3: First of all, the debate is a about a generic Creator and Designer, not any particular religious conception of God. So the argument is irrelevant. Moreover, Christians reject Zeus, for example, because Zeus is supposed to exist in time and space, and therefore could not be the cause of the beginning of time and space.
  • Argument 4: This is just the ad hominem fallacy. Hitchens is attacking the character of the theist, but that doesn’t show theism is false.
  • Argument 5: This argument can be granted for the sake of argument, even though it’s debatable. The point is that it is irrelevant, since it doesn’t refute any of Turek’s actual scientific arguments like the big bang, the fine-tuning of the physical constants, the origin of information in the simplest living cell.
  • Argument 6: Again, there is no reason to think that God should be bound by Hitchens’ personal opinion of how God should operate.
  • Argument 7: This is the ad hominem fallacy again. The good behavior of religious believers is not a premise in any of Turek’s FOUR arguments for theism. Therefore, Hitchens’ point is irrelevant to the debate.
  • Argument 8: The fact that the atheist can parrot moral claims is not the issue. Being able to speak English words is not what grounds objective, prescriptive morality. The issue is the ontology of moral rules, the requirement of free will in order to have moral responsibility and moral choices, ultimate significance of moral actions, and the rationality of self-sacrificial moral actions.
  • Argument 9: This is just the ad hominem fallacy again.
  • Argument 10: This is not argument so much as it reveals that the real reason Hitchens is an atheist is emotional. One might even say infantile.
  • Argument 11: Again, these specific Christian doctrines are irrelevant to a debate about generic theism. And Hitchen’s subjective, personal preferences about Christian doctrine certainly do not undermine the objective scientific support for the premises in Turek’s 3 scientific arguments.

So Frank Turek talked about facts in the external world, and Christopher Hitchens mistakenly thought that his opinions and preferences about what he would do if he were God were interesting to us. They might be interesting to his psychiatrist, but they are not interesting to us.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , ,

William Lane Craig explains the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement

Probably one of the most common questions that you hear from people who don’t fully understand Christianity is this question: “why did Jesus have to die?”. The answer that most Christians seem to hold to is that 1) humans are rebelling against God, 2) Humans deserve punishment for their rebellion, 3) Humans cannot escape the punishment for their rebellion on their own, 4) Jesus was punished in the place of the rebellious humans, 5) Those who accept this sacrifice are forgiven for their rebelling.

Are humans rebellious?

Some people think that humans are not really rebellious at all, but it’s actually easy to see. You can see it just by looking at how people spend their time. Some of us have no time for God at all, and instead try to fill our lives with material possessions and experiences in order to have happy feelings. Some of us embrace just the parts of God that make us feel happy, like church and singing and feelings of comfort, while avoiding the hard parts of that vertical relationship; reading, thinking and disagreeing with people who don’t believe the truth about God. And so on.

This condition of being in rebellion is universal, and all of us are guilty of breaking the law at some point. All of us deserve to be separated from God’s goodness and love. Even if we wanted to stop rebelling, we would not be able to make up for the times where we do rebel by being good at other times, any more than we could get out of a speeding ticket by appealing to the times when we drove at the speed limit, (something that I never do, in any case).

This is not to say that all sinners are punished equally – the degree of punishment is proportional to the sins a person commits. However, the standard is perfection. And worse than that, the most important moral obligation is a vertical moral obligation. You can’t satisfy the demands of the moral law just by making your neighbor happy, while treating God like a pariah. The first commandment is to love God, the second is to love your neighbor. Even loving your neighbor requires you to tell your neighbor the truth – not just to make them feel good. The vertical relationship is more important than the horizontal one, and we’ve all screwed up the vertical relationship. We all don’t want God to be there, telling us what’s best for us, interfering with our fun. We don’t want to relate to a loving God if it means having to care what he thinks about anything that we are doing.

Who is going to pay for our rebellion?

The Christian answer to the problem of our rebellion is that Jesus takes the punishment we deserve in our place.

However, I’ve noticed that on some atheist blogs, they don’t like the idea that someone else can take our punishment for us to exonerate us for crimes that we’ve committed. So I’ll quote from this post by the great William Lane Craig, to respond to that objection.

Excerpt:

The central problem of the Penal Theory is, as you point out, understanding how punishing a person other than the perpetrator of the wrong can meet the demands of justice. Indeed, we might even say that it would be wrong to punish some innocent person for the crimes I commit!

It seems to me, however, that in other aspects of human life we do recognize this practice. I remember once sharing the Gospel with a businessman. When I explained that Christ had died to pay the penalty for our sins, he responded, “Oh, yes, that’s imputation.” I was stunned, as I never expected this theological concept to be familiar to this non-Christian businessman. When I asked him how he came to be familiar with this idea, he replied, “Oh, we use imputation all the time in the insurance business.” He explained to me that certain sorts of insurance policy are written so that, for example, if someone else drives my car and gets in an accident, the responsibility is imputed to me rather than to the driver. Even though the driver behaved recklessly, I am the one held liable; it is just as if I had done it.

Now this is parallel to substitutionary atonement. Normally I would be liable for the misdeeds I have done. But through my faith in Christ, I am, as it were, covered by his divine insurance policy, whereby he assumes the liability for my actions. My sin is imputed to him, and he pays its penalty. The demands of justice are fulfilled, just as they are in mundane affairs in which someone pays the penalty for something imputed to him. This is as literal a transaction as those that transpire regularly in the insurance industry.

So, it turns out that the doctrine of substitionary atonement is not as mysterious or as objectionable as everyone seems to think it is.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New book “Counting to God” discusses seven arguments against atheism from science

Evolution News has a summary of the book – they recommend it.

Excerpt:

A lot of books — many of them very good — have been written about the debate over intelligent design. But rarely does one come along that combines a compelling story of the author’s personal journey to faith with a well-written, comprehensive, easy-to-read presentation of the scientific evidence. Lee Strobel’s 2004 Case for a Creator comes to mind, but that is now ten years old and it’s never too soon for an update. As a result, I’m pleased to recommend an outstanding new book: Counting to God: A Personal Journey through Science to Belief, by Douglas Ell.

Doug Ell is an attorney in Washington, D.C., with an undergraduate degree in math and physics from MIT, and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland in theoretical math. You’ll have to read the book to learn Doug’s entire story. He was born into a religious home, but by the time he started college, he had drifted away from his upbringing, which he came to see as outdated superstition. As an undergraduate student, he embraced scientism — the view that scientific investigation is the only means of discovering real truth. Sometime later, however, Doug was introduced to the scientific theory of intelligent design, and everything began to change.

Counting to God tells Doug’s story, but it also recounts key lines of evidence that support the theory of intelligent design and challenge materialist explanations of cosmic and biological origins. Ell presents what he calls the “seven wonders” of science of the new millennium:

  • The universe had a beginning, and a first cause, some 14 billion years ago.
  • The universe is finely tuned for life.
  • The complexity of life could not arise through unguided processes.
  • DNA contains information and biological machines.
  • New species appear suddenly in the fossil record.
  • Earth is a special planet, uniquely suited to life.
  • Quantum physics points to a reality outside of space and time.

Ell surveys the evidence in each of these areas, discussing other intriguing topics along the way, including the multiverse, junk DNA, irreducible complexity, orphan genes, and near-death experiences.

I think we’ve discussed all seven of those arguments on this blog before, depending on what he means by them.

The hardcover is a lot more expensive than the Kindle edition, but I felt that this was one book I wanted to put on my desk. So I took a chance and ordered it. I hope it’s as good as this review says it is!

UPDATE: The woman I am mentoring and I have both read the book, and we both liked it a lot and agree it’s a good introduction to the scientific arguments. I bought a copy for my friend Dina, as well, so we’ll get an opinion from her soon, since she is a reading machine.

Filed under: News, , , , , , ,

How much affection and approval should come from God vs from a woman

Let’s start with a quote from the introduction to Dr. Laura’s “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands”:

I have never gotten a complaint from a male listener in twenty-five years on the radio over my assertion that men are very simple creatures. They agree. I have explained time and again on my radio program that men are borne of women and spend the rest of their lives yearning for a woman’s acceptance and approval. Unless you’ve got a man with a frank mental or personality disorder (the exception, not the rule), men admittedly are putty in the hands of a woman they love. Give him direct communication, respect, appreciation, food, and good lovin’, and he’ll do just about anything you wish — foolish or not.

Out of all the men in the world, I am probably the one whose life experiences most incline him to appreciate receiving approval, attention and affection from a woman. I was stuck in daycare after 6 weeks with a relative, never had any sisters, and my mother was entirely focused on her career and making money. She remained distant or even antagonistic to everyone in our home until the day she retired from work. The shouting and abusive language stopped almost overnight, but by then it was too late for any of us kids. So I never had the affection, approval and attention from my mother that most people just take for granted.

I always felt that the Holy Grail of my childhood was to get affection from one of these apparently unattainable women. It did not help that I was colored, growing up in neighborhoods that were mostly white – that just seemed to me to make the women even more unattainable. And in my case, it could never be just any woman who would give me these things – it had to be one who had listened to my plan to serve God and who was giving me these things because of what I was doing as a Christian. And unfortunately, there are precious few Christian women who have come along to give me what any man needs from a woman just because of who I am in Christ – forgiven, and dedicated to serving him effectively with apologetics and charity.

Those women that do come along sometimes find that my desire for approval, affection and attention can be overwhelming at times. On the surface, I function great as a Christian. Work gets done, money gets saved, chastity and chivalry, million page views per year on the blog, and lots of donations to Christian scholars and apologetics events. But that’s because everything emotional is turned off inside – it has to be, in order for me to function like this. But when a woman comes along who values what I have done, and what I am doing, that’s when the vulnerability comes out. I am going to look to her for attention, affection and approval.

This New Year, my friends Blake and Dina decided that I was going to not just go to church almost every week like I am already, but that I was also going to do daily prayer, Bible reading, Psalm reading, meditation on the meaning of what I read, and praise hymns. They know I don’t like taking time away from work or apologetics or blogging for any of those things, but they think I need to come back to the things I used to do, in order to be more balanced. And since they are my friends, I really cannot say no to them, because we all have the same Boss.

Dina has asked me to read a chapter out of Paul Tripp’s “New Morning Mercies” every day, and here is today’s very relevant devotion:

JANUARY 11

If you have been freed from needing success and acclaim to feel good about yourself, you know grace has visited you.

It is an intensely human endeavor. It is the quest we all pursue. We all want to feel good about ourselves. We all want to think that we are okay. It is a fearful and anxious quest from which only grace can free you. Here’s what happens to us all—we seek horizontally for the personal rest that we are to find vertically, and it never works. Looking to others for your inner sense of well-being is pointless. First, you will never be good enough, consistently enough, to get the regular praise of others that you are seeking. You’re going to mess up. You’re bound to disappoint. You will have a bad day. You’ll lose your way. At some point, you’ll say or do things that you shouldn’t. Add to this the fact that the people around you aren’t typically interested in taking on the burden of being your personal messiah. They don’t want to live with the responsibility of having your identity in their hands. Looking to people for your inner self-worth never works. The peace that success gives is unreliable as well. Since you are less than perfect, whatever success you are able to achieve will soon be followed by failure of some kind. Then there is the fact that the buzz of success is short-lived. It isn’t long before you’re searching for the next success to keep you going. That’s why the reality that Jesus has become your righteousness is so precious. His grace has forever freed us from needing to prove our righteousness and our worth. So we remind ourselves every day not to search horizontally for what we’ve already been given vertically. “And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever” (Isa. 32:3.7). That righteousness is found in Christ alone.

For further study and encouragement: 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

What I got out of this devotion is that I should try to remember what my primary source of attention, affection and approval should be, and then it would be easier to treat a Christian woman’s affection, attention and approval as extra – sort of like dessert after the main course.

Filed under: Personal, , , , , , ,

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