Theists often claim that the "fine-tuning" of the universe indicates that it was created especially for man by a divine benevolence. Doesn't the fact that the earth will eventually be incapable of supporting any life (when the sun eventually runs out of energy) disprove this hypothesis? And what of the fact that the entire universe it seems will one day be incapable of supporting intelligent life (the big-freeze)?

It's an interesting question, but for many theists it's not obviously a problem. Think about the traditional Christian idea of the Day of Judgment, for instance. If that's set for some finite time in the future, the fact that the universe might wind down sometime thereafter isn't an issue; by then the material world will already have served its purpose. Whether one finds such a plausible is another discussion, of course. But on the narrower question of whether the Big Freeze freezes out the Fine Tuning Argument, the answer is that it depends on the associated eschatology, and for many such, the answer is no.

Is it illogical to be agnostic (as defined as someone who thinks the existence of "God" is unknown or unknowable)? My problem with it is that it seems to lack historical perspective and in particular a knowledge of how other cultures conceive of the divine. For example, an agnostic from a western country typically claims that she doesn't know whether "God" (as conceived of in Judeo-Christian theology) exists. But what about someone who was born into the Buddhist tradition? It wouldn't make much sense for them to claim that they are "agnostic" in the sense that someone from a Christian country is; because Buddhism has no god. Perhaps a "Buddhist agnostic" would be uncertain about the truth of reincarnation. So does being an "agnostic" show that the person is still thinking from a Christian mindset?

My little bit of googling suggests that the word "agnostic" was coined by Thomas Huxley in the mid-19th century. Huxley had grown up in a largely Christian society, but it seems that what he meant by the word was not tied to Christianity; it seems that he was describing a skeptical attitude toward "spiritual matters" in general. Even if that's not the real story, it doesn't matter much. We've come to use the word "agnostic" to mean either skepticism about the existence of a God (skepticism as opposed to outright rejection of the claim) or more generally, lack of commitment one way or another about some claim, as in "I'm agnostic about string theory,"meaning "I neither believe nor disbelieve string theory." Could a Buddhist be an agnostic in either sense? The answer is pretty clearly "yes" on both counts. Even if we define a Buddhist as someone who accepts a certain set of doctrines (not a good definition, by the way), the core "doctrines" would presumably be the Four Noble Truths. Since none of...

I really don't understand what the big deal is with the apparent 'fine tuning' of the constants of the universe, or even if 'fine tuning' is even apparent! The conditions have to be just right for life to emerge, sure, but so what? Conditions have to be just right for many things in the universe to occur, but we don't always suspect an outside agent as responsible for setting them up that way just so they'll happen. Is this the final refuge of the 'god of the gaps' habit the humans tend to fall in to? I also don't get the need for a multiverse theory either. To me it's a bit like saying, because I rolled a six on a die there must be five others each rolling the other possible numbers in order to explain it. Okay, much bigger die....

It's quite right that more or less any detailed fact is improbable in its detail, but not automatically in need of explanation on that account. But we need to be careful lest we turn that point into a rejection of the need to explain anything. I don't have a set of criteria to offer, but we do take some cases of apparently improbable structure to call out for explanation. We don't always say: well things had to be arranged in some way; might as well be this way as any other. We also tend to see the fact that some hypothesis makes sense of apparently diverse facts in a unified, elegant way as a scientific virtue (though hardly the only one.) Whether we should say anything of this sort about the "fine-tuning" hypothesis is another matter; it may well be that we shouldn't. But let's consider a comparison: we could say that morphological similarities among species are a brute fact, needing no explanation. But we take the fact that evolution makes sense of these similarities to count in favor of...

If there is no proof that god exists, is there any evidence that he does and what form would this evidence take to be worthy of philosophical examination?

If by "proof" you mean something like "sound a priori " argument, then there are no uncontroversial examples. But then, there are few things that can be shown to exist that way, so lack of proof in that sense doesn't mean much. If you mean something like "purported good argument for the existence of God," there are plenty of those, but people disagree over their merits. The paragraph-length caricatures one sometimes encounters in Phil 101 aren't up to the task, but that's no surprise either. But there are serious people who offer extended defenses of the claim that God exists, as a look at any good Phil of Religion text will make clear. Needless to say, people differ on the question of how good those defenses are. As for what would count as evidence, I take you to be asking what we might observe that could raise the probability of God's existence. Some would say the kind of order we find in the universe -- and others would disagree. Some would say the existence of apparent miracles, but others...

Suppose I agree with theists that "God exists" is a necessary proposition, and so is either a tautology or contradiction. That seems to indicate that the probability of "God exists" is either 1 or 0. Suppose also that I don't know which it is, but I find the evidential argument from evil convincing, and so rate the probability of "God exists" at, say, 0.2. But if the probability of "God exists" is either 1 or 0, then it can't be 0.2 - that would be like saying that "God exists" is a contingent proposition, which I've accepted it isn't. How then can I apply probabilistic reasoning to "God exists" at all? If I can, then how should I explain the apparent conflict?

I'd like to offer a rather different take on this than my co-panelist. Many theists don't think that "God exists" is a necessary proposition. However, some famously do. St. Anselm is the most well-known example, but he's not the only one. The contemporary philosopher Alvin Plantinga apparently does as well. Now we can grant that it's not obviously a contradiction to say that the world contains only a single pencil, but people who think God exists necessarily may not think that metaphysical necessity is the same as logical necessity. If I understand Plantinga correctly, he doesn't think it's a contradiction to say "God doesn't exist," though he does think that God's existence is metaphysically necessary. All of that is throat-clearing. We could make a similar point in a different way. Mathematical truths are necessary if true at all, or at least so we'll suppose. But it's famously hard to argue that mathematical truth is the same as logical truth. So the more interesting question is this:...

Is it possible for any legitimate science to prove, if not now at least someday, that God indeed exists? Or is Richard Dawkins more intuitively right in saying that "someday we would have to understand the whole of the universe without anymore referring to a supernatural being"?

It's hard to give a simple yes-or-no answer to the question, not least because it's by no means clear that if there is a God, this is the sort of thing that science can establish. Atheists such as Dawkins often treat belief in God as though it were simply on the same playing field as evolution, for example -- as though it's a sort of science-like hypothesis intended to explain something about the empirical facts. There are several problems with that view, but one important problem is this: to the extent that religious claims are meant to "explain" things, it's not clear that they're intended to do it at the same level or in the same way as scientific hypotheses. Rather, they seem to function as views about what's necessary to make sense of things at all. A comparison may help here. Consider mathematical truths. Some philosophers think that the only way to account for them is to say that there really are such things as numbers. Other philosophers try to show that we can make sense of mathematics...

Is there a problem for atheists to explain, for example, the laws of logic and objective morality. How could we really account for either if the material realm is all that exists?

Interesting question, but the illusion here is to think that atheists face any special problem. Let's take the issues in turn. On morality: suppose God exists. How would that make morality objective? Someone might think that if God commands something, that makes it morally right. But it's long been pointed out (at least since Plato's Euthyphro ) that this way of thinking about things is problem-ridden. What if God commanded torturing all blue-eyed babies? Would that make it right? Hard to see why anyone should agree. Someone might say that God would never command any such thing. But why not? Presumably because God, if there is one, doesn't command evil deeds. In fact, if the theist wants to make sense of the idea that God is praiseworthy partly because he is good, there will have to be a standard of good and bad, right and wrong, separate from what God happens to will. This may still leave it puzzling how there can be objective moral truths. That's too big an issue to tackle here, but it...

Presuppositional apologetics arguments attempts to show the logical inconsistencies in non-Christian world views. Is it not the case that, by beginning with the the presupposition that the Christian world view and the bible are the absolute truth, thereby beginning with the desired conclusion as part of the premise, this form of apologetics commits the fallacy of circular reasoning or begging the question?

Not necessarily. On the one hand, if a world view disagrees with Christianity, then it's obviously inconsistent with Christianity . However, it need not be internally inconsistent. And if it is internally inconsistent, then this can be shown without assuming Christianity. A bit more generally, however: a Christian apologist might have more than one logical goal. One goal might be to show that some rival view is incoherent, thereby eliminating it from contention. Another goal might be to point out some not-so-obvious inconsistency between some claim of a rival view and the core doctrines of Christianity. The second sort of enterprise doesn't beg the question either, though the inconsistency by itself wouldn't have to count in favor of Christianity.

This question is just a few days out of season, but is it ethical to celebrate christmas (Christmas?) if you are an atheist?

I guess it depends on what you mean by "celebrate Christmas." Suppose the atheist likes the traditions of exchanging gifts, getting together with family and so on and that's why s/he "celebrates" Christmas. I dare say there are a good many people who fit that description. Hard to see any ethical problem so far. Suppose the atheist pretends to be an observant Christian in her celebrations. Is that a problem? Perhaps. But the atheist needn't pretend and even if she does, just how "bad" the deceit is would depend on the reasons and circumstances. Perhaps the worry is that the atheist's celebrating helps add stature or credibility to religion, which she rejects. But being an atheist doesn't have to mean being hostile to religion. An atheist might be indifferent about other people's theism. So if there's an ethical problem here, it would seem not to be a very obvious one nor -- most likely -- a very deep one.

Recently I read an article in a newspaper about belief in God. The author was quite disparaging about atheists, maintaining that they have some essential flaw in their make-up. The author could not understand how anyone would chose to not believe in God. I am a Catholic and was always taught that "you must believe in God" and that "disbelievers would be punished". I was frightened by this and by the story of Doubting Thomas who didn't believe that Christ had risen from the dead as I knew that I wouldn't have believed that purported fact either. My question is can you choose to believe? I would think not.

An interesting question. On the one hand, we can't simply choose to believe or not believe things. I couldn't simply decide to believe that Paraguay is in Africa, for example. But there are things we can do that make it more or less likely that we'll end up with certain beliefs. Pascal famously suggested that one might be able to become a religious believer by going to mass, hanging out with believers, and so on. To some extent and for some people, this strategy probably works. We can also go out of our way to avoid hearing about evidence that counts against what we want to believe, and to hear only things that count in favor of the belief. To whatever extent strategies like this work, they amount to indirect ways of "choosing" our beliefs, though I'd be reluctant to drop the shudder quotes. On the specific question, however, many people become atheists because belief in God becomes hard to sustain. They don't decide to become atheists; they simply find that at some point, their theism gives...

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