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Revisiting The Causal Principle

In which an atheist tries to rebut the Causal Principle by presenting this dialogue:

 Christian: When you see a building, you know it had a builder.  When you see a painting, you know it had a painter.  When you see the universe, you know it also had a maker.  This is God (of course it must be the Christian form of the many Gods). It is IMPOSSIBLE for something to come from nothing

Atheist: A builder and a painter takes existing materials and uses them to make the end product such as a building or a painting.

What existing materials did God use to make the universe?  What?  Are you telling me God made the universe out of NOTHING?  I thought you said that was impossible?

Here, the atheist tries to fashion a hypothetical discussion between a Christian and an Atheist which he hopes would seriously undercut if not rebut the Causal Principle. After reading that brief dialogue, the atheist hopes you would at least be persuaded to believe that the Christian is advocating a position which could be proven to be logically inconsistent or perhaps metaphysically unnecessary. At any rate, does the atheist’s objection actually defeat the Causal Principle?

The answer is NO.

The problem I suspect is that the atheist has not fully understood what the Causal Principle or the causal premise is actually saying.  In my experience talking to many atheists, they usually attack a rather flippant or overly simplistic version of the argument without actually attempting to understand the full explication of that premise.

Let us briefly examine what the Causal Principle is actually saying. The proper way to understand what the Causal Principle is saying is to read it thus: “Being can only come from Being; something cannot come from non-being”.  This would be the same as saying that “nothing (no something) comes from or of nothing/non-being”. This is not only intuitively and philosophically valid, it has also been confirmed constantly through science. There are no serious objections to this principle.

The common objections you hear from people claiming to anchor their objections on science is nothing but a grave misunderstanding of what nothing actually means. When you talk to people who pretend that this premise can be shown to be false, all you need do is try to talk to them about what they understand NOTHING to mean, and you will see quite clearly that in most cases they treat NOTHING as if it were SOMETHING indeed.

What about this atheist above who misconstrues the argument for why the universe has a maker?  Well, I am not sure that this atheist understands the logical conclusion of his argument. It is one thing for an atheist to suggest that we may not currently have the full explanation of how the universe came about; or where the universe came from (considering the recent forays into multiverse theories). Nevertheless, it is another thing altogether to say the universe created itself out of nothing, or that it spontaneously popped into being. This is where many atheists indeed have to bite the bullet if they have to escape the logical inference to theism. But why would the atheist risk rationality and even common sense to stake out the absurd claim that the universe created itself? For the universe to spontaneously pop into being, or to create itself as it were, the universe would already have to be existing!  This is clear nonsense.

So how do we apply the Causal Principle to the universe? Well, here’s the simple answer. The universe has already been proven to have a finite past. In other words, the universe was not eternal in the past. For the universe which shows a finitude in the past to begin to exist, it had to have a cause which brought it into existence. Even if you posit a multiverse (an unproven fantasy at the moment) which gives rise to this universe as one of several billion possible universes, you have not escaped or avoided the specter of cosmic beginnings. It simply pushes the question back as to how that parent or mother universe came to be. The atheist would be forced to declare that there is no naturalistic explanation for that, or else assert that this unproven figment of the imagination called the multiverse is simply eternal and uncaused.

The statement “God caused the universe to exist” does not furnish us with anything other than the realization that God preceded the universe and was the efficient cause of the universe. Consider the sculpture called The David, for instance. This sculpture didn’t pop into existence uncaused out of nothing from nothing and by nothing. It had a cause. The efficient cause of that sculpture is the sculptor Michelangelo. He is the one that thought it up and fashioned it albeit from a material cause (the marble). It is useful to understand the difference between efficient and material causes. When someone says that God is the cause of the universe, that statement does not furnish anyone with the physics of the event because the said event was clearly above naturalistic physics. When a Christian says that the universe did not spontaneously pop out of nothing, they are quite plainly saying that the universe came from something. That something is God. How God chose to do it is what science is trying to unravel.

So what stuff did God create the universe from? This is a very good question. God is held to be the maximal possible being. As a maximal being, he possesses maximal power. So, only a maximally powerful being can act on a state of affairs causally prior to the universe to produce the universe. Only a maximally powerful being can create the universe that now exists out of literally no stuff (nothing). The claim the Christian is making is simple: God is the explanation or the efficient cause of the universe—and this he did or fashion ex nihilo, or literally out of nothing; which simply means that he did not use any supposedly pre-existing material substance to create the universe.

At this juncture, the atheist may be tempted to disagree, with the hope that there may come a time in the future when some scientists that are deeply uneasy about the logical inference to theism, which comes out of the realization that the universe was not past-eternal, would succeed in showing a completely naturalistic account for the origin of the universe. Indeed, many of such theories purporting to establish a past-eternal universe have been advanced in the past and ultimately defeated.

If I may suggest, there is possibly no way that I see to get around the specter of cosmic beginnings. Any thinking atheist who purports to actually follow the science involved will sooner or later realize that the issue of the origin of the universe cries out powerfully for an explanation. The only explanation that makes sense of all the relevant philosophical and scientific knowledge at our disposal is the case made for a creator God.

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Islamic Fundamentalism in Northern Nigeria: Bombings In Jos

 

Bomb Blasts in Jos: Victims of Islamic Extremism

The orgy of violence has continued in Jos. If you can remember, on Christmas Eve, an Islamic fundamentalist group called Jama’atu ahlus sunnah lid da’awati wal jihad detonated some bombs in Jos the capital city of Plateau state. This horrific act of violence claimed 80 innocent lives and injured about 120 people. The report making the rounds is that there are also smaller scale and continuing acts of terrorism by this terrorist group. This spate of Islamic extremism has lately become an intermittent fixture in Jos even as one notes its resonance in other parts of the Muslim-dominated Northern Nigeria.

According to this report, here is how the leader of this terrorist outfit justified their actions:

If you don’t know us, we are Jama’atu ahlus sunnah lid da’awati wal jihad which was falsely labelled Boko Haram, and we did this because our Creator has ordered us to wage war on everyone who does not embrace the religion of Islam after preaching to them. And (another) one of the reasons why we are doing this in this country is because of the way we are being killed in this country. Through evil machinations, plans are orchestrated to achieve desired goals (against us) and we are continuously being killed, just as the Arabs say ‘what the eye sees is better than a story that is told’. Everyone knows how our Muslim brothers and sisters were massacred in different towns in this country; Lagos State has witnessed it, so has Ibadan, the town called Zangon Kataf in Kaduna has also witnessed it, Bauchi has witnessed it and so has the town Suldaniyya known as Plateau or Jos, where we have carried out our attack being a witness to the killings of our Muslim brothers and even the abduction of our Muslim sisters and children whose locations are not known until now. It has also happened in Kano State at Sabon gari area. These happenings including what we have not even witnessed or heard of, only God knows their magnitude (and) God shall judge (in these matters) on the Day of Judgment. These are some of the reasons why we are waging this war because God has ordered us to go to war when our brothers and sisters are killed, and now we are even denied our rights to practice our religion. God knows best.

This is the message I want to pass to people, and finally I want to tell the Muslims in this country and the whole world that they need to know this is a war between Muslims and non-Muslims. So wherever you are, you should be weary; this is not a tribal war, nor is it similar to the wars of the pre-Islamic era, it is not a war for financial gains, it is solely a religious war. We did not start this war so it would end in one week, or one month or one year. Only when we are completely annihilated and nobody chooses to continue with our struggle, maybe that could be the end. Or (we establish a system where) religion has the final say or religion determines everything, that will be the end of this war. And definitely, this war will not end just because we are visibly present anywhere. This is a war between Muslims and non-Muslims. We are ready for anyone willing to face us, whether it’s a group of people or even the government because we know who supports us, God the Creator of the universe, praise be to God. Therefore, we are warning every Muslim who believes in the religion of Islam that he should never help a non-Muslim in this war. If he helps any non-Muslim and in so doing, a fellow Muslim suffers due to that, he should know that he is a dead person.”

 

After reading that, I had a few observations:

A) The leader of this terrorist group claims that the loss of Muslim life in other parts of the country was the motivating factor for the Jos violence which was primarily directed at Christians. As far as I can tell, religiously-inspired clashes are not the norm in the southern part of the country. Skirmishes in the south are either politically-motivated or based on ethnicity; they are not primarily religiously-inspired. So the claim that Muslims were being victimized in Lagos and Ibadan doesn’t hold much water. If there were clashes in Lagos and Ibadan, it would rather be a clash or confrontation between the Yoruba and the Hausa-Fulani. That means that the nature of that conflict was ethnocentric and not necessarily religious. It is only coincidental that the majority of the injured or killed Hausa-Fulani in such a clash are Muslims. There is no way for this terror kingpin to verify the diabolical insinuation that there was some sort of Christian plot to kill Muslims. That is arrant hogwash.

B) It is also useful to remember that there is a sizeable Yoruba Muslim population in the Southwestern states. So if there is anyone or group that ought to be incensed over the loss of innocent Muslim lives in the Yoruba South-West, it would indeed be the Yoruba –amongst which would be the Yoruba Christian relatives of such persons. So it is rather ludicrous to read about some terrorist group in faraway Jos, some of whom never had any affiliation with Lagos and Ibadan, use the possible loss of lives in those places as justification for their religiously-inspired violence against the Christians in Jos.

C) The rest of the places that the terrorist mastermind spoke of were places in the North with a Muslim majority. It is rather odd to hear these places cited as a reason for the attack. Who exactly, if not the Muslim radicals in these Northern enclaves, are responsible for the sporadic orgies of religious violence? The fact is that time and time again, the Christian minority in the Northern states have had to fend off, nay endure unprovoked attacks at the hands of a super-radicalized Islamic majority. To then use the scant, disproportionately smaller reprisal attacks against the Muslim perpetrators of violence in the Middle Belt and Core Northern states as justification for unprovoked orgies of violence against innocent Christians in other parts of the North smacks of revolting duplicity.

D) Now that I have debunked the vacuous and fictitious reasons adduced for this horrific attack, it is useful to reach out to sensible and peaceful men and women everywhere regardless of what faith or creed they hold to. If indeed there are concerns for the wanton loss of innocent lives, would it not have been better if concerned citizens pressured their respective local or state governments for concrete actions to arrest chaos? Would it not have been better for citizens to demand for more arrests and more trials, convictions and incarcerations? In what way can anyone justify the senseless slaughter of the innocent who were never in support of any religiously-mandated war?

E) Some analysts may conclude yet again, that this was just one isolated fringe group acting out their own twisted agenda. They may suggest that people should simply sweep this under the rug and continue living their lives like nothing happened. Some analysts may manage to twist and bend the harsh reality of religious violence staring us in the face and somehow exhume some buried or hidden political agenda. I will caution that people should not swallow such shoddy analyses wholesale. The ugly truth staring everyone in the face, and which has been spoken of in no lesser terms by the perpetrators of this mindless bloodbath, is that Nigeria should quit pretending that there is any sort of unity or cord that binds all together. It is high time people stopped drinking the “One Nigeria” coolaid because from the actions of the people tied together in that giant cage, there is very little that unites the people in the country. The animals that committed these heinous acts are telling anyone who cares to listen that they are waging a religious war targeting anyone who does not subscribe to the faith. It is rather idiotic to spin something tame and political from clearly worded warnings of impending religious carnage.

F) Perhaps it is time to stop rationalizing away this menace and start addressing the real issues here. It appears to me, that something has to be done about this volatile and extremely radicalized version of Islam that is currently being practiced in Nigeria and in other parts of the world. I am not going to make the silly assumption that all Muslims condone this senseless slaughter, nor am I even going to insinuate that Muslims (no matter how moderate) are secretly comfortable with such barbarity perpetrated in their names. But frankly, why does it seem like in many parts of the world, wherever there are incidences of barbaric communal, regional or localized violence and terrorism, in most cases, it always appears to involve Muslims and others? What can be done about this propensity for religiously-motivated bloodshed that is increasingly morphing into an Islamic narrative? Isn’t it time that people actually admitted to themselves the obvious truth about this global menace? When will political correctness allow people to correctly address the monster of Islamic fundamentalism especially that breed ravaging Northern Nigeria and many parts of Africa?

G) Finally, I am going to make a cynical prediction. This unprovoked attack on the Christians in Jos will engender an outcry from the Christian communities in these places and in parts of the South. It will attract a few headlines in the dailies or some commentary on radio or television. It will propel some despondent self-professing Christians to engage in a milder version of some retaliatory attacks which will also be unequivocally condemned. There will be assurances given from state and national-level law enforcement promising to arrest the chaos and to prosecute the masterminds of this assault. Christians in the north will be begged by seemingly peace-seeking politicians to return back to their daily lives with promises of swift and decisive action. Then, this unfortunate Christmas eve butchery will be swept under the rug. That is until, the next round of religious violence flares up again and engulfs some city in the North.

H) This is a vicious cycle. If I seem very cynical of placid reassurances from state-level actors or of hypocritical demands for restraint on the part of the victims without commensurate strong words of condemnation for the perpetrators, it is only because this is a familiar recurrent decimal in Nigeria’s theatre of horrors. Yes, this seasonal mass murder of Christians in the North, followed by vain promises of arrests and detentions, followed by a season of calm before the next religious storm erupts has been going on in Nigeria for as far back as 1953. Go figure. One thing is certain—there is absolutely no honesty in denying that Nigeria is without question a hotbed of Islamic extremism. If left unchecked, it may be the catalyst for a sustained war which would mark the end of that geographical namespace as we currently know it.

Spread A Little Cheer

It is already the 20th of December. It won’t be long now before this year will be over; the first decade of this new century will be gone—gone forever. In the remaining time you have, try to find something to cheer about. Try to find a way to get into a Christmas holiday mood. Try and find a way to be humbler, friendlier, more empathetic, and more resourceful. Do the right thing by your wife or girlfriend; do something memorable for your husband or boyfriend. Don’t forget your children. Say a kind word to a stranger. Remember your good friends who were there for you in times of great need. Spread a little cheer if you can.

Why? Times are hard. It doesn’t matter what part of the world you are currently in—times are really hard. There is much want and deprivation all over and people are really struggling to stay afloat. This calls for a little understanding. A kind word to a stranger or even a friend can go a long way in these times of distress.

In the US, for example, despite being the number one economy in the world, unemployment stands at 9.8% nationally. In some states the unemployment rate is already up to 12%. People are losing their mortgages and thus their homes. There are roughly 5 people for every job out there. Thousands of manufacturing jobs have already been shipped overseas. Some people have already lost their pension and life savings. Despite what you may have been told, there are still millions without access to proper health care. Small businesses are closing shop either because they cannot  secure  health coverage for their workers or because they don’t even have the capital for the operational costs of staying in business. And let’s not forget, the banks aren’t lending like they should even though they were bailed out specifically to make this happen. Insurance premiums are rising daily, but this is not met by increasing wages.  To summarize: the economic depression continues to exert its heavy toll on Americans.

But once there is life there is hope, or so they say. It may be hard to provide for your loved ones like you really want to, but take heart. Above all, remember that this is the season that Christians remember the birth of a savior. Forget the over commercialized Christmas celebrations; it is not really about the gifting. A world steeped in spiritual darkness and without hope of being reconciled to the maker has finally been transformed by the birth, in remote and lowly places of one who will save the people from the natural consequences of their sins. Let that very thought keep you warm in these cold winter months as you expect a bright tomorrow.

I am wishing you a merry Christ-filled Christmas now; I am not going to wait till the 25th to say it. And if my well-wishes and friendly salutation rubs you the wrong way because you are not a Christian, or because you are an atheist, please don’t be cross. Just disregard my sincere well-wishes. And no, I am not going to dabble into another one of those silly debates that pop up around this time. Let me concede to you early that Christ may not have been born on December 25 to begin with. Even if the December 25 day was arbitrarily chosen, what anyone should bear in mind is that it is the remembrance of the birth that is significant. He could have been born on the Ides of March—that will not rob the day of its special meaning.

Like I said earlier: spread a little cheer.

On Divine Omniscience and Freewill

Trite, superfluous and mundane as internet chat room discussions usually are, there are occasionally flashes of real serious and interesting debate or dialogue. It is usually at times like that that I would start paying very close attention to what different people often say when they start waxing philosophical.  It is usually at times like this that you would be truly impressed or disappointed at the astonishing depth or shallowness of arguments or viewpoints that one may not have bothered to contemplate closely.

One of such discussions was taking place recently, when a usually infrequent but popularly known regular of the chat room started a much-needed and thematic deconstruction of Christian Theism. If you asked him, he would deny that he was launching any personal attacks – as a matter of fact he simply maintained that he was just philosophically analyzing popular belief and pointing out the fatal flaws and inconsistencies of the positions advocated by Christians. This sort of critical analysis of faith-based or religious claims are usually seen by the majority Christian theists in the room as a premeditated attack on their faith, but I beg to differ. I welcome such philosophical ruminations, because it helps to strengthen and bolster theistic belief when it is properly understood and seen to be free of some self-referential incoherence.

At any rate, the young man – I’ll just call him Kendoll – made a statement to this effect:

God’s Omniscience negates Free will. They cannot both exist. It is either human beings have free will or God is not omniscient for both cannot exist at the same time.

That statement was very confusing to many people at the time, as I noticed.  Indeed, it was of a sufficiently complex nature to many people that he actually had to stop typing his viewpoints in order to get on the room’s audio feature to speak on it. When he did, he seemed to be quite passionate about the topic that he set out to discuss.

Before he got up to speak though, I had been partially engaging him on the subject to get a feel for how he would actually explicate the position. I have to say, in retrospect, that his answers to me were unusually brief and curt, and lacked the enthusiasm which I had expected of one who had decided on a philosophical interjection in a room dominated by theological banter.

But if we examine the claim critically, is it really the case that God’s Omniscience negates human free will? Is it really true that if God knows everything in the past, present and future then it is not possible for human beings to exercise their choice as free moral agents? Read the rest of this entry

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