Quotes on atheism

Some quotes on atheism, from the March/April 2008 issue of Modern Reformation magazine:

A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. — Francis Bacon

If there were no God, there would be no atheists. — G.K. Chesterton

A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It amazes me to find an intelligent person who fights against something which he does not at all believe exists. — Mohandas Gandhi

To sustain the belief that there is no God, atheism has to demonstrate infinite knowledge, which is tantamount to saying, “I have infinite knowledge that there is no being in existence with infinite knowledge.” — Ravi Zacharias

Grace and Peace

Picken an alternative

The over-dependence of the United States on foreign oil is bad for our economy and for our national security. This week, I read several plans for significantly reducing our oil imports. One of these was from billionaire T. Boone Pickens. He would have us invest a trillion dollars in wind energy, installing thousands of wind turbines in the high plains, stretching from Texas to North Dakota. The electricity generated by these windmills would replace power plants that produce electricity by burning natural gas. This natural gas would then be used to power automobiles, reducing our dependence on imported oil. The United States has large reserves of natural gas, and natural gas burns more cleanly than other fossil fuels, which adds to the attractiveness of this plan.

This plan would not only make Pickens an even wealthier man (he has large investments in both wind power and natural gas), it might be good for America.

Los Angeles Times story: T. Boone Pickens could gain from his energy plan, but so might we

Pickens Plan web site

There are weaknesses, but his plan is much better than the status quo. Pickens has lots of money, and he will be actively promoting his plan.

(HT: geology.com/news, Be Bold, Be Gentle)

Grace and Peace


Here’s another great image from Astronomy Picture of the Day. Mercury is a rather drab planet, without a whole lot of color variation. By using computers to enhance this image taken by the Messenger probe as it flew by Mercury in January, features of various compositions stand out much more clearly. The colors are no longer natural, but the images become much more valuable for scientific interpretation. The small, bright orange areas, for example, may indicate rocks of volcanic origin.

Grace and Peace

1006 Supernova Remnant

This was the Astronomy Picture of the Day for July 4th. Here’s the description from APOD:

A new star, likely the brightest supernova in recorded human history, lit up planet Earth’s sky in the year 1006 AD. The expanding debris cloud from the stellar explosion, found in the southerly constellation of Lupus, still puts on a cosmic light show across the electromagnetic spectrum. In fact, this composite view includes X-ray data in blue from the Chandra Observatory, optical data in yellowish hues, and radio image data in red. Now known as the SN 1006 supernova remnant, the debris cloud appears to be about 60 light-years across and is understood to represent the remains of a white dwarf star. Part of a binary star system, the compact white dwarf gradually captured material from its companion star. The buildup in mass finally triggered a thermonuclear explosion that destroyed the dwarf star. Because the distance to the supernova remnant is about 7,000 light-years, that explosion actually happened 7,000 years before the light reached Earth in 1006. Shockwaves in the remnant accelerate particles to extreme energies and are thought to be a source of the mysterious cosmic rays.

Grace and Peace

More thoughts on the cosmological argument

In my previous post, I wrote about William Lane Craig’s presentation of the cosmological argument for the existence of God.

I like the cosmological argument and think it is the strongest of the traditional arguments for the existence of God. I usually state it as follows:

1. The universe exists, and there must be an explanation for why it exists.
2. There are only three possible explanations for why the universe exists: 1)It has always existed. 2)It created itself. 3) It was created by something outside of itself.
3. Explanation 1 has serious scientific and philosphical problems; Explanation 2 is absurd. Therefore the universe was created by God.

I think my wording is related to a subset of the cosmological argument called the kalam cosmological argument. Premise 1 can be stated as a question: Why is there something rather than nothing? This has been called by some the greatest question in philosophy. I run into some who deny the truthfulness of this premise and who say that there doesn’t have to be an explanation for why the universe exists, but I don’t think they are being intellectually honest. As Craig discusses the cosmological argument, he states:

Imagine that you’re walking through the woods and come upon a translucent ball lying on the forest floor. You would find quite bizarre the claim that the ball just exists inexplicably. And increasing the size of the ball, even until it becomes co-extensive with the cosmos, would do nothing to eliminate the need for an explanation of its existence.

Premise 2 is hard to dismiss; there are no other alternatives. Either the universe has always existed, it created itself, or it was created by something outside of itself. The universe has not always existed. Cosmologists (astronomers and physicists who study the history of the universe) almost universally accept the concept of the Big Bang, which implies a beginning to not only matter and energy, but to space and time as well. There are additional scientific and philosophical arguments against an infinitely old universe.

As I stated already, the idea that the universe created itself is absurd. We cannot help but come to the conclusion that the universe was created by something outside of itself. It is not enough to say that the universe was created naturally by a larger “multiverse,” which somehow spawned off the universe in which we live. This just puts the question back one step and doesn’t really answer anything. Where did the multiverse, and the laws by which it operates, come from? The most reasonable explanation for the origin of the universe–perhaps the only reasonable explanation–is that there is a being outside of the universe that is bigger than the universe who created it. We call that being “God.”

The cosmological argument won’t lead someone to faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world. But philosophical reasoning like this could break down some intellectual barriers and open doors for presentation of the truths of the Gospel.

Grace and Peace

God is alive and well

From Christianity Today: God is Not Dead Yet, by William Lane Craig.

This article explores the resurgence of belief in a personal God among professional philosophers. The classic arguments for the existence of God–the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological arguments–have come back into favor in philosophy departments in American and British universities.

The opening paragraph reads:

You might think from the recent spate of atheist best-sellers that belief in God has become intellectually indefensible for thinking people today. But a look at these books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, among others, quickly reveals that the so-called New Atheism lacks intellectual muscle. It is blissfully ignorant of the revolution that has taken place in Anglo-American philosophy. It reflects the scientism of a bygone generation rather than the contemporary intellectual scene.

Craig gives a brief history of the rise of the scientism and verificationism that reigned in secular philosophy for decades, and how the dismissal of these philosophies has led to a comeback for Christian and theistic philosophies. He then outlines these four time-honored arguments for God’s existence. My favorite is the cosmological argument, which Craig outlines as:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.
4. Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

The logic of this argument is sound. If premises 1, 2, and 3 are true, then the conclusion has to be true. Number 3 is obviously true, so Craig lists some arguments for the truthfulness of premises 1 and 2. He then goes through the other philosophical arguments in a similar fashion.

Part two of the Christianity Today article asks the question “Why Bother?” Some would say that that in our postmodern age, philosophical arguments don’t carry much weight. Craig’s answer is surprising, but I believe it is powerful:

The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology; rather, they are relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But, of course, that’s not postmodernism; that’s modernism! That’s just old-line verificationism, which held that anything you can’t prove with your five senses is a matter of personal taste. We live in a culture that remains deeply modernist.

Otherwise, how do we make sense of the popularity of the New Atheism? Dawkins and his ilk are indelibly modernist and even scientistic in their approach. On the postmodernist reading of contemporary culture, their books should have fallen like water on a stone. Instead, people lap them up eagerly, convinced that religious belief is folly.

Seen in this light, tailoring our gospel to a postmodern culture is self-defeating. By laying aside our best apologetic weapons of logic and evidence, we ensure modernism’s triumph over us. If the church adopts this course of action, the consequences in the next generation will be catastrophic. Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality. Meanwhile, scientific naturalism will continue to shape our culture’s view of how the world really is.

Christians who depreciate natural theology because “no one comes to faith through intellectual arguments” are therefore tragically shortsighted. For the value of natural theology extends far beyond one’s immediate evangelistic contacts. It is the broader task of Christian apologetics, including natural theology, to help create and sustain a cultural milieu in which the gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women. It thereby gives people the intellectual permission to believe when their hearts are moved.

Wow. Let us think clearly for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and Peace

Hot air and thin ice

One of the reasons I accept the idea that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, is contributing to global warming beyond the Earth’s natural rhythms is that I find most arguments given by the opponents of this concept to be faulty. This is especially true, unfortunately, in the conservative Christian media. In my daily web browsing this morning, for example, I came across an article on a widely-read, conservative Christian magazine site which had some really bad science on global warming.

The article was based on two recent news reports. The first of these was a report of record melting of Arctic sea ice, to the point that the North Pole might be ice-free for part of the summer this year. The melting of polar ice, of course, has been in the news frequently, and this thawing could have many consequences, environmental and political. The second report was that scientists recently discovered that the rate of volcanism along the mid-ocean ridge, deep on the floor of the Arctic Ocean, is much higher than had been previously predicted. The author of the article jumped to the conclusion that it is obviously the volcanism that is causing the melting of sea ice. After all, volcanoes not only release a lot of heat, they release carbon dioxide. This double-whammy, according to the author, was a sufficient explanation for the thinning of the ice in the Arctic.

There are two major problems with this argument.

First, the volume of the water in the Arctic Ocean is immense compared to the volume of lava extruded. The author of this article doesn’t realize that heating the Arctic Ocean by mid-ocean ridge volcanism would be like heating an Olympic sized swimming pool by occasionally lighting a match. In addition to the huge volume of water—the Arctic contains about fifteen million cubic kilometers of water—one needs to take into account the heat capacity of water. Heat capacity is a measure of how much heat it takes to increase the temperature of a substance. One of the important physical properties of water is its unusually high heat capacity, which means that it takes a tremendous amount of heat to make water change its temperature by a small amount. If one places an empty pan on a hot burner, the metal will heat up very quickly. On the other hand, if one places a water-filled pot on the same burner, it will take much longer to heat up (a watched pot never boils!). Likewise, the small amount of heat added to the Arctic by mid ocean ridge volcanism isn’t sufficient to have a measurable effect on the overall temperature of the polar ocean.

Another point of confusion in the article was the thought that the carbon dioxide released by these submarine eruptions somehow dwarfs CO2 that is released by human activity,  and perhaps even stays concentrated over the Arctic ice pack. This is part of the urban legend that floats around conservative web sites that says that the amount of CO2 released by a single volcanic eruption is greater than what humans release to the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels. The truth is that the carbon dioxide released by these Arctic eruptions is tiny compared to the CO2 released worldwide by volcanoes, and the amount of CO2 released by volcanoes is tiny compared to the amount of CO2 released by human activities. According to the US Geological Survey:

  • Annual volcanic production of CO2: 130-230 million metric tons
  • Annual human production of CO2: 27 billion metric tons
  • Therefore, human production of CO2 is at least 100 times greater than volcanic production

Additionally, the CO2 released by seafloor Arctic volcanism will either stay in solution in the water, or become evenly mixed and dispersed in the atmosphere.

The record melting of Arctic sea ice has absolutely nothing to do with seafloor volcanism. It is one thing to be skeptical of global warming, but the poor scientific reasoning expressed in this article does no one a service.