Can a person be good without God?

A common theme among Christian writers is that God is the ultimate source of morality, often called “the moral argument”. Probably the pithiest expression of this idea is from Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, in which one of the characters argues that “if God does not exist, … everything is permitted.” Many readers quickly see where this is going and consider the reverse; if morality is not just a matter of personal taste, then God must exist. Of course this is only a superficial treatment; a more thorough presentation of the moral argument, along with responses to some common objections, is found in the first chapters of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. It’s available in a YouTube version here which I recommend highly.

However one puts it, claiming that morality comes from God is a good way to pick a fight. There is a widespread belief Continue reading “Can a person be good without God?”

Can a computer be conscious?

I recently watched the film Ex Machina, which explores questions surrounding the nature of consciousness.  I will comment briefly on some of the philosophical issues it raises, but I won’t describe the entire plot.  Nonetheless, if you’re worried about “spoilers”, now’s the time to stop reading, and I hope you’ll come back here after you see the film.

The premise of the film is that there is a robot (Ava), and its creator (Nathan) wants to know whether it is conscious or not, but doesn’t know how to test this proposition.  He invites a young programmer (Caleb) who is somewhat knowledgeable about such questions to participate in an experiment.  It isn’t, we are told, the classic Turing Test, Continue reading “Can a computer be conscious?”

Is Christianity falsifiable?

In the philosophy of science, one of the big questions is what criteria are used to distinguish the scientific from the non-scientific. One prominent view, often attributed to Karl Popper, is that falsifiability is the key characteristic of scientific claims. I’m not going to explore that the topic directly here. My interest is not in labeling particular claims as “scientific” or “non-scientific” in a technical sense, but in exploring in more general terms the perceived conflicts between reason and faith in the search for truth.

I often hear non-believers (and many believers too) speak of statements of faith as if they are completely divorced from or immune from the process of reason or the consideration of evidence. From this perspective, Continue reading “Is Christianity falsifiable?”

Does free will exist?

I believe that yes, I do have free will.  By this, I mean I make genuine choices, not predetermined either by God, by the laws of physics, or by some combination of nature and environment.  I felt it was an important question to answer on this blog (because other questions I’ve addressed, such as this one, are related to it), but I’m not going to attempt a comprehensive exploration of this question here, for three reasons.

First, the question has been around so long and so much has already been written about it (for example, start here and branch out), and I don’t think my thoughts on it are especially original.

Second, most of the evidence Continue reading “Does free will exist?”

Do people believe in God just because their parents did?

Occasionally I’ve heard a simplistic argument against belief in God that goes something like this: “You believe in God just because your parents did.”  The usual implication (either explicit or left unstated) is that any arguments in favor of God’s existence that I might offer would be biased, and therefore do not need to be considered by the listener on their merits.  This type of argument is commonly classified as ad hominem circumstantial, and labeled fallacious because one’s disposition to make a certain argument does not make the argument false.  (In an essay on this topic, Continue reading “Do people believe in God just because their parents did?”

Is religion always losing ground to science?

Religion and science are often presented as being in conflict, causing many people to feel that they have to choose one or the other.  The conflict is often described in terms of a historical narrative, which I will paraphrase briefly here in my own words (not following any specific author, but drawing from the observations of various people I’ve spoken with over the years who think this way):

First, there was ancient man, who was ignorant and believed in all sorts of local gods living on places like Mount Olympus, or inhabiting stone or wooden idols.  He couldn’t explain anything, and saw miracles and supernatural events everywhere. The Norse, for example, attributed thunder and lightning to the actions of Thor. Over time, the wiser among men, through reason and observation of a common-sense but not scientific sort, concluded that there were no gods actually living on Olympus and the stone and wooden idols in fact were powerless and lifeless.  Yet the still couldn’t explain most of what they saw, so they attributed Continue reading “Is religion always losing ground to science?”

Is evolution in conflict with Christianity?

According to my own definitions of each term, no, evolution and Christianity are not in conflict. However, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is rejected by approximately half of self-described Christians in the U.S. (according to surveys).  The most conservative churches take explicit stands against the theory.  The Catholic Church and most mainline Protestant denominations, however, find evolution and Christianity to be compatible (for example, a vast number of Christian clergymen and women have signed here).  In general, those individuals and churches who Continue reading “Is evolution in conflict with Christianity?”