Tuesday, November 14, 2006

An argument for the reasonableness of belief

The argument for the reasonableness of theistic and Christian belief can be framed in many terms. Here I choose to focus on samples from the fields of philosophy, history and science.

From philosophy I choose the kalam, or cosmological, argument because as an engineer it appeals to my mechanistic mind.

The argument is framed thusly.

1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause

2) The universe began to exist

3) Therefore the universe has a cause

The first proposition cannot be proven, but it is also indisputable. Even David Hume, renowned Scottish philosopher, who raised an objection to the proposition, also acknowledged that any suggestion that something could happen without a cause was complete nonsense.

The second proposition agrees with everything we know about physics. From the first and second laws of thermodynamics it is possible to deduce that if energy cannot be created or destroyed by any process we know of, and that all energy in the universe is tending towards a low order "heat death" state of maximum entropy, there was a point of minimum entropy in the past. Before this point there would have been no energy exchange and hence essentially nothing could exist as we define existence.

Flowing from these propositions we conclude that the universe has a cause that cannot itself be part of the four dimensional universe.

Further information can be found at:

From history we have the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was an individual born about 6-4BC during the reign of Herod the Great, in the town of Bethlehem of Judea. He lived for most of his life in the town of Nazareth in Galilee where he worked as a builder/carpenter.

He began a ministry as an itinerant teacher about 27-30AD and while relatively conventional in his beliefs (in the details he wasn't that far from Pharisaic Judaism) he made some astounding claims about himself. He claimed that ultimately everyone on Earth would be judged by him, and based on their allegiance to him. He claimed also that he would be betrayed, executed, and he would rise again on the third day.

At the culmination of his ministry Jesus was betrayed by one of his followers, the infamous Judas Iscariot, handed over to the temple authorities and put on trial for his life. He did not speak in his own defence but the lying witnesses that were brought against him contradicted each other to such an extent that finally the High Priest put him under oath and asked him if he was the Son of God. When Jesus said that it was as they said; which was an honourable way of responding in the affirmative in a world where just saying "yes" would have been considered shameful, they concluded that he was guilty of blasphemy which was traditionally a capital crime. However at this point Judea was a vassal state and only the Roman governor could authorise an execution.

Bringing him before the Procurator Pontius Pilate they sought to have him sentenced to death as a rabble-rouser. Pilate however resisted because he didn't care much for the Jewish leaders, and perhaps also because he believed Jesus to be innocent of the crime. Finally they threatened Pilate with a complaint to Caesar and he gave in to their demands. His soldiers took Jesus, flogged him, and then led him to the place of execution and crucified him.

Over the next few hours Jesus committed the care of his mother to one of his disciples and forgave his killers. Finally he gave up the ghost and died. He was placed in a tomb borrowed from Joseph of Arimethea, a member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish court) but not an accomplice in Jesus' death.

On the third day after, the first day of the week which for the Jews was the Sunday, a party of women including Mary Magdalene and Salome came to see Jesus' body. It must be said that they probably weren't thinking too clearly because they had no idea how to remove the stone that had been placed in front of the tomb. However that proved to be an unnecessary concern as the stone had been removed. To their greater concern so had Jesus' body although his grave clothes had been left behind. However as Mary hung around the tomb and the other women ran to tell the apostles they each had an encounter with Jesus alive, well, but subtly different. He appeared able to conceal his identity and to move about undetected. He also had the injuries of his crucifixion but they didn't impair him at all. When his apostles encountered him he ate with them. This indicated that he was not a spirit which would have been the first assumption that the apostles would have made.

After a short period of time Jesus departed from his apostles, his exit being described as ascension into the clouds, leaving them with a commission to preach the message of the coming of the kingdom of God to the ends of the Earth. A couple of years after this Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee and fierce persecutor of the Jesus people, now called Christians, claimed to have experienced a meeting with the risen Jesus. This encounter changed his motivation from that of persecutor to ally and he became perhaps the foremost theologian in the early Church. As a symbol of this he changed his name to Paul.

It is from Paul's writing that we have our earliest formulation of the resurrection appearance. That is in 1 Corinthians chapter 5 verses 3-8. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas (Peter), then by the twelve (a colloquialism that indicates the Apostles). After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep (died). It is universally agreed by Biblical scholars that this is a tradition that can be traced right back to the beginning of the Jesus movement, that is within 5 years of the crucifixion and resurrection.

By the standards of historical research the gap between the events and the record is so infinitesimal that we can be sure that it accurately records what was believed by the very first Christians. Although I do not call this "proof" the evidence does make it reasonable to believe that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact.

Further information can be found at:

From the fields of science I choose the problem of the origin of life. The thorny question of "where did we come from?"

There are at present two players on the field. The evolutionary, "it just happened through chance acting on natural chemical processes", or the creationary, "a power beyond our own brought us into existence", alternatives.

It should be noted that some evolutionists claim that the origin of life is not part of evolutionary teaching because the evolutionary process only acts on existing organisms. While this is partly true the fact remains that evolutionists like Dr Gerald A. Kerkut defined evolution as "the theory that all living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which in turn arose from an inorganic form." That he could do this 40 years ago whilst the modern evolutionist attempts to avoid such statements suggests that the origin of life from non-life has provided little or no joy to the naturalists. The other problem with this evasion is that logically if a process cannot start it cannot continue which concedes the entire field to the creationist.

At its most basic level cells are constructed from non-living components that work together to produce a living organism. Organization, rather than chemical processes, is the basis of life. You can test this yourself. Squash a mosquito, it still possesses the chemicals it had before but it is now dead. Its organization is gone and so is its life.

The information used to produce and organise these components comes from the genetic code stored on DNA. DNA is the most efficient information storage mechanism in the world, a pinheads volume of DNA holding enough information to fill a 40 gigabyte hard drive 100 million times. Like any program capable of duplicating itself the DNA in the cell requires a mechanism for reading it, a mechanism for writing it and a further mechanism for utilizing it. This causes it to fulfill Dr Micheal Behe's definition of irreducible complexity. Each part of this tiny factory must be in place or there can be no living cell.

The basis of life is information; a bacterium has a certain quantity of information sufficient to produce more bacteria, a horse has a quantity of information sufficient to produce more horses. It is obvious that if the horse were descended from bacteria it would require the bacteria to somehow gain the information necessary for multi-cellular organisation, bones and hair and the information for gender. Dr Lee Spetner observes that no change recorded in the scientific literature demonstrates an increase in the information within the genome. Rather changes display either reshuffling or loss of information.

The only observed source of information is intelligence. It is reasonable to infer therefore that the source of the information within living organisms is also intelligence. Sir Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA concurred. However because of his atheistic belief system he rejected the idea that we could be the product of divine creation and instead professed a belief that extra-terrestrial aliens somehow seeded Earth with life. This idea, called panspermia, suffers from the aforementioned problem. If aliens created us then what created the aliens? Either they somehow evolved which we have already seen to be unlikely, or another group of aliens created them. If another group of aliens created them then what created that group? This is the problem of infinite regression and is the most obvious reason why panspermia was rejected as an explanation of life.

In the complete absence of any naturalistic mechanism to explain the origin of the living cell, or the accumulation of information necessary for a single celled bacteria to become a multi-cellular organism like a horse, it is reasonable to propose an uncreated (therefore eternal) intelligence responsible for the creation of life on this planet.

Further information can be found at:

I do not claim that these arguments provided absolute proof of the existence of deity; however I propose that the cumulative force of these arguments is sufficient to provide a reasonable basis for a belief in theism in general and in Christian theism in particular.