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4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The same ol' same ol', 6 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist (Paperback)
Having read London Matt's review I must say that most of his comments come very close indeed to my own thoughts as I was reading this book. As a Christian with one or two brain cells still functioning I make it a habit to read up on what non-believers have to say, and if this were one of the best books on atheistic thinking then believers (of almost any god-centered religion, monotheistic or not), would have nothing whatever to worry about.

Since Matt has already covered several aspects of the book very competently I will restrict my comments to the quality of the argumentation in the book, using as examples just 3 or 4 sections from Chapter 17, "Refuting God".

1. Barker argues that the argument that "there are many scientists who believe in God [so] belief in God must be sensible" is invalid because it is an "appeal to authority" (page 129).

On the face of it this response is correct. What Barker apparently failed to notice is that his subsequent statement - "Academicians, as a group, are much less religious than the general population" - as used by self-styled New Atheist Professor Emeritus Victor Stenger, for example, is hoist on the same petard.

Barker tries to imply that it is only "religion" that offers "irrational seduction" which "no one, not even a scientist, is immune from". But atheism is also based on beliefs rather than proofs. So just as scientists who are believers in some religion cannot "scientifically demonstrate their faith" (?), neither can atheists, scientific or otherwise, scientifically demonstrate the validity of their *lack* of religious faith.

2. Inevitably (?) Barker includes the "First cause" argument and rebuttal (page 126). Apparently without understanding the basic flaw in the atheistic version of the argument:

Everything that exists has a cause
So if God exists he must have a cause
Therefore a God who created EVERYTHING does not exist

The flaw is a failure to observe an important category distinction which becomes glaringly obvious if an authentically Christian version of the reasoning, based on John 1:1-3, is used:

Everything that has been created has a creator
God, by definition, has not been created
Therefore God the creator of EVERYTHING that has been created CAN exist

In short, because of their very limited conception of God, atheists do not recognise that there is one category of "created things" and another of "non-created beings", consisting of a single being: God.

Were it not for the kind of "christian" group that Barker belonged to we should be surprised to find that overlooks two key issues behind the fake version of this argument.

(a) In authentic Christian teaching God created the universe. Logically, then, God must have existed before the universe he created, and
(b) Therefore he is not bound by whatever restrictions apply to his creation, like the need to have been created in order to exist.

3. Then we come to the ontological argument (pages 127-128).
In this case Barker argues that it is incorrect to treat "existence" as an attribute instead of as a "given".
But in that case why do philosophers still bother with St Anselm's ontological argument, as in "The Impossibility of God" (Martin & Monnier, Prometheus Books. 2003, especially Chapter 3, pages 31-34), when all they actually needed to do - according to Barker - is point out that Anselm misunderstood the nature of "existence"?

4. In fact even Barker could have greatly abbreviated his own discussions of "Pascal's Wager" (which actually appears twice (pages 104-105, 127) by simply pointing out that he (Pascal) had misunderstood the nature of "existence".

In short, whilst setting the author seeks to present himself as yet another "expert" on the alleged illogicality and unreasonableness of religious belief, especially Christian beliefs, the contents of the book are in fact themselves frequently poorly argued, illogical and/or unreasonable.

But then again, as Matt says in his review, and as I have unfortunately witnessed firsthand, the "happy clappy" groups, as they are often referred to, are renowned for being high on emotionality and intellectually too shallow to bathe a gnat in.
The book does indeed reflect that kind of background experience, in my opinion, of course.
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Showing 1-10 of 15 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Jul 2012 22:46:09 BDT
Last edited by the author on 2 Jul 2012 23:18:26 BDT
James Taylor says:
Hello Theresa Green - I'd recognise those relational processes anywhere! Good post here, but I'm not voting either way because I feel that the explications of the arguments have not been fully realised. Read on and let me know what you think - your post is an interesting discussion. For the record I am agnostic because I feel that religion generates a certain `in group' feel which causes positive appraisal of people within the group, but negative appraisal of people outside the group. However, I think it quite possible that a God does exist, but if he does, his being is beyond our understanding in every way. If we understood God, then we would not have religious wars and we would not judge each other, because only God is in a position to judge. I digress with another argument, so I'll hush the rhetoric and discuss a few of your points:

1. An appeal to authority is not fallacious if the authority is genuine. Scientists are likely to be in a better position to make a judgment therefore they are more likely to know.

You say that academics as a group are less religious than average. In relation to the argument this is inconclusive because opinion is divided. Unless you choose to follow some sort of argument based on popularity!

You say religion is a belief rather than something that can be proved. This is saying that believers are arguing from a position of not knowing, which, in relation to the argument, is also inconclusive. Ditto atheists. We agree here.



2. First premise: Everything that exists has a cause
Second premise: So if God exists he must have a cause
Conclusion: Therefore a God who created EVERYTHING does not exist

Here is a fuller explication of this argument:

If something exists then there exists a cause
If God exists then God must have a cause
God is something therefore he must have a cause.

If there is a God then God caused everything,(presupposed in the conclusion)
If God caused everything then he must have preceded everything,
Therefore God preceded everything.

C.Therefore God must have had a cause and must have preceded everything


This is the correct conclusion, which, as you can see, doesn't actually address whether or not God exists. The argument is actually one of irrelevant conclusion (Therefore a God who created EVERYTHING does not exist). All it says is that if there is a God, he was around before anything else. However, your next argument, which you claim is of parallel form, is actually a different beast. Here is an explanation:

P: Everything that has been created has a creator
P: God, by definition, has not been created
C: Therefore God the creator of EVERYTHING that has been created CAN exist

If something has been created then it must have a creator
God is not something therefore God was not created
Therefore God is not something

This brings up the question of whether or not something that is not something can exist. On the surface this is a contradiction, but the secrets of the universe are full of contradictions, so this is still inconclusive.

If God is not something then God can exist
God is not something
Therefore God can exist

So this argument is actually valid, so long as we accept that something that is not something can exist.

Would you like to discuss these explications?

(PS, T.G. was a pretty low thing to do. I suggest that as fellow authors we should be supporting each other. It doesn't pay to go around trashing other author's work. I've sometimes been tempted myself, after all, there is some atrocious work which is being well marketed and is making pots of cash. Apart from my review of `The secret', which I know will have no negative effect because of the size of the campaign, all my other reviews have been supportive of fellow authors. Let's have a good discussion about the existence of God and make a fresh start!)

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jul 2012 01:21:56 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 Jul 2012 07:27:28 BDT
Hi James

The short answer to all that you wrote is that it is based on faulty logic.

1. I obviously don't know where you actually get your ideas from, but the "ingroup"/"outgroup" thing *looks like* pure Dawkins, to me, (though he may have borrowed it from an earlier source).

2. I agree that as humans we can only know God in part, but your claim about what we would or wouldn't do if we understood God seems like very poor psychology. If the Bible is correct then Lucifer knew God very well, but he still rebelled against Him and caused a war in heaven. The notion that a creature with free will might decide that it would be preferable to reign in Hell rather than be ruled in Heaven DOES make psychological sense.

I wonder if you might find C.S. Lewis' book "The Great Divorce" interesting? It includes some intriguing ideas related to how people react to a knowledge of God.

3. You wrote:

"Scientists are likely to be in a better position to make a judgment therefore they are more likely to know."

Firstly, I think you maybe got that back to front. Surely one's ability to make valid judgements relies to what knowledge one has?

Anyway, if you meant what I think you meant, if we're talking about science, the answer will often be yes,. But if we're talking about subjects outside any given scientist's own speciality, why should we suppose that they are able to make better judgements than anyone else? For relevant evidence see Stenger ("God: The Failed Hypothesis") and/or Dawkins ("The God Delusion").

4. As to your supposedly logical arguments, no cigar on that count.

"If something exists then there exists a cause
If God exists then God must have a cause
God is something therefore he must have a cause."

But the first premiss is not valid. This becomes clearer if we change the wording to the more familiar form:

Everything that exists has a cause
God exists
Therefore God must have a cause.

But obviously the argument is still faulty. You are assuming, in premiss 1, that EVERYTHING has a cause, but you don't support this premiss. In fact you make a category error in making an *a priori* assumption that God is in the same category as everything else.
You're welcome to think that your version is correct, but in that case you should realise that you are no longer discussing the God identified in the Bible. Only some hypothetical being of your own devising.

By the way, God - even when His existence is being questioned - is more usually recognised as being "someONE" rather than "someTHING".

Anyway, from this point on the arguments only enlarge the hole they're in. For example:

"If something has been created then it must have a creator
God is not something therefore God was not created
Therefore God is not something"

This is one of the tricky bits.

In practice premiss 2 is both a premiss AND a conclusion, so the argument as offered by you should (for the sake of clarity) look like this:

"If something has been created then it must have a creator
God is not something
Therefore God was not created
Therefore God is not something"

But where does premiss 2 come from? God is definitely "someone", from a Christian perspective, or a "something" from your perspective. You're actually still relying on the assumption that "Everything that exists has been created". Since that premiss contradicts the definition of the Christian God it is still invalid here, and the argument has already failed BEFORE we get to the first conclusion.

What has actually happened is that, whether deliberately or through error, you have failed to correctly modify premiss 2 in light of your modification to premiss 1, thus missing a vital qualification in premiss 2. The correct premisses are:

"If something has been created then it must have a creator
God is not something THAT HAS BEEN CREATED
Therefore God was not created ..."

And of course that leaves the second conclusion, that "Therefore God is not something", dangling in the wind.

And clearly that in turn means that the whole argument utterly fails to warrant the final conclusion:

"So this argument is actually valid, so long as we accept that something that is not something can exist."

Since none of the syllogisms offered in your post successfully demonstrate that "God is not something" the conclusion bears no relevance to the existence or non-existence of God.

Posted on 3 Jul 2012 14:18:54 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Jul 2012 15:02:12 BDT
James Taylor says:
I'm sorry if my assertions in the first paragraph offended you, in hindsight this was politically insensitive. I don't see any point in responding to your reasoning, I'll leave that for other readers to evaluate for themselves. I've not read Dawkins or the other books on the topic, but I am interested in argument structure, and this is why I responded. My arguments are all fairly straightforward, at least I think so. If you would like me to respond, please let me know. I would do so now, but it would be a long task, and I don't think we would ever manage to agree on anything. The discussion can't go anywhere except the bin because our views are too different, but I'll wish you all the best anyway.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jul 2012 17:46:10 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 Jul 2012 07:44:03 BDT
James

1. I see you have edited your post, removing your claim that "premise" is the correct name for a clause in a logical argument. In fact, as far as I can tell from my dictionary, "premise" and "premiss" are both acceptable spellings. I was simply using the spelling I was taught when I did a philosophy minor at university.

2. "I'm sorry if my assertions in the first paragraph offended you"

Not in the least. They made as much/as little sense as anything else in your post.

3. "My arguments are all fairly straightforward, at least I think so."

Hmmm. If I think I'm Chines does that MAKE me Chinese?

4. "I don't think we would ever manage to agree on anything. The discussion can't go anywhere except the bin because our views are too different."

I'm afraid I don't follow. I thought that one point in favour of creating "logical" arguments is that it minimises reliance on purely personal views to a large extent.

5. If you think you can answer my comments please do so. It shouldn't take long, in fact, because the key issue is this:

In the two premisses:

"If something has been created then it must have a creator
God is not something"

The second premiss does NOT address the same proposition as we find in the first. That is to say,

"... something [that] has been created ..."

Is clearly NOT the same as:

"... something ..."

Put as simply as possible, in premiss #1 the word "something" is qualified by the verb phrase "[has] been created". In premiss #2 there is no such qualification. Therefore the two premisses are NOT the same, and what applies in premiss #1 therefore cannot be assumed to also apply in premiss #2, despite the attempt to imply that it does.

Since your conclusions were all based on the assumption that the two premisses refer to the same phrase, which in fact they clearly don't, your conclusions are equally clearly NOT supported by the preceding arguments, regardless of your personal views on the matter.

If you don't understand something that basic I don't see how I can make it any clearer.

Posted on 3 Jul 2012 18:18:02 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Jul 2012 18:23:52 BDT
James Taylor says:
I do understand what your post is saying, only I am a busy man. Yes, my post did raise the spelling issue, but was corrected after less than a minute. You are very keen to 'win' this argument! Similarly, no surprises this end. I'll get back to you when I've more time.

Posted on 3 Jul 2012 22:32:38 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Jul 2012 22:44:24 BDT
James Taylor says:
I've got 5 mins only! As I said, our views are too different. The problem is not one of logical argument, the problem is one of agreeing on the definitions of the terms we are using in our arguments. By shifting the definitions I had wrongly assumed you would share, the arguments do indeed fall apart. We would have to agree on what/who 'God' is, what 'something' is, what a 'scientist' is, etc, and then start all over again.

Definitions, as I'm sure you know, are best agreed before the argument begins, otherwise, as is happening here, we have to painfully argue every definition in turn after presenting conclusions. I can see that reaching agreement on definitions could take rather a long time, and unless we had an evening to discuss these in a pub, more time than I've got.

My sincere apologies for the Theresa issue. You have a certain style that fitted the profile but, okay, you aren't Theresa. Sorry.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jul 2012 06:51:41 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 Jul 2012 07:39:14 BDT
James

I'm sorry, I don't understand why this would require much time to resolve.
You say:

"The problem is not one of logical argument, the problem is one of agreeing on the definitions of the terms we are using in our arguments."

This has got nothing to do with point scoring or with definitions (it was you who asked for feedback on your original post, and what terms do you think require definition?)
In practice this is ONLY feedback on whether the set of arguments in your post were logical or not.

Let me put it like this:

The valid form of a syllogism (the kind of argument used in your post) goes like this:

1. All men are mortal
2. Socrates is a man
3. Therefore Socrates is mortal.

Which can be generalised as:

1. Present a category "A" and a characteristic "B"
shared by all members of that category
2. Identify something or someone "X" as belonging to category "A"
3. And logically conclude that therefore characteristic "B" also applies to "X"

Or more simply:

All As are B
X is an A
Therefore X is B

What you created was the equivalent of:

All red-headed men (A) are mortal (B)
Socrates (X) is a man (C)
Therefore Socrates (X) is mortal (B)

or:

All As are B
X is a C
Therefore X is B

This is clearly a mismatch because whilst all red-headed men are men, NOT all men are red-headed, or:

All As are Cs
But not all Cs are As

Since the second version of the syllogism doesn't tell us that either:

(a) all non-redheaded men also die, or
(b) Socrates has red hair.

we cannot claim, on the basis of premiss 1 and premiss 2, that the conclusion follows logically from their contents. It does NOT follow that characteristic "B" also applies to category "C."

Unfortunately the whole argument in your original post relied on the validity of the claim that "a created something" is the same category as "a something".
Which implied that the category "ALL somethings" was equal to the category "created somethings", though there was no evidence *in the syllogism itself* that this was true.

Posted on 4 Jul 2012 14:24:36 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 4 Jul 2012 14:26:51 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jul 2012 14:57:09 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 Jul 2012 15:02:42 BDT
For what it's worth, and I apologise if I'm telling you something you already know, my comments apply equally if a syllogism is structured in an "If ... Then" format, as in:

*If* all As are B
*And* X is an A
*Then* X is B

And will still be incorrect if set out as:

If all As are B
And X is a C
Then X is B

JAT

Posted on 4 Jul 2012 21:19:21 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 Jul 2012 21:21:26 BDT
James Taylor says:
Isn't it called 'Modus Ponens'? Can't remember. Again I've got limited time. Seriously I would like to sit down and think this through, but meanwhile, I wrote that your argument was

P: Everything that has been created has a creator
P: God, by definition, has not been created
C: Therefore God the creator of EVERYTHING that has been created CAN exist

If something has been created then it must have a creator
God is not something therefore God was not created
Therefore God is not something

Okay, so this follows that if A then B. C is not A therefore C is not B.

I think this is logical, correct me if it's not.

next

This brings up the question of whether or not something that is not something can exist. On the surface this is a contradiction, but the secrets of the universe are full of contradictions, so this is still inconclusive.

If God is not something then God can exist
God is not something
Therefore God can exist

If A then B. A therefore B.

The problem here is what we conceive God to be. You see God as the biblical figure: I see God as something outside our understanding. This clash of definition is at the heart of the problem. In the sense of God being the biblical figure, well yes, you are right, I won't argue with that.
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