This is part of a series of posts in response to "The Agnostic Inquirer" by Menssen & Sullivan.
Another "meaty" section of Menssen and Sullivan's book includes a discussion of "CUE facts," that is facts that are true "conditional upon explanation." They list a slew of them that they imply favor theism:
- humans have a special place in the universe
- the beatitudes are original
- the Judaeo-Christian doctrine of omniscience is resilient
- the Judaeo-Christian doctrine of omniscience, as well as the Christian doctrine of incarnation, are fertile
- consciousness has a function
- humans have libertarian freedom
Now, recall that Menssen and Sullivan aim only to show that revelatory claims deserve studying prior to dismissing theism as implausible outright. They hold that if it's not altogether infeasible that an all-good creator exists, then one cannot walk away from revelations prior to investigation, or as having no merit whatsoever. I'll bite, though I'm a bit skeptical concerning the magnitude or implications of the argument, as I think many agnostics are taking into account potential revelatory content (e.g. the Bible's claims). So, here are some brief responses to some of these CUE facts.
Humans have a special place in the universe
This seems like a no-win approach to anyone. Non-believers can't really say we don't because a believer can always come up with explanations for why things are they way they are. For example, while we may be in a very unique situation with respect to our location in the galaxy, why be so wasteful as to create a universe with almost unanimously hostile-to-life conditions everywhere else? The believer can simply say that this is the only type of universe that can support life -- one that has mostly non-life and a small proportion of life. Perhaps. I just don't see how one can know one way or the other. There's too much uncertainty with respect to what exists "outside" or exited "before" our universe. How can we know that our specialness is something to look into? Moreso, how can we know that our specialness is the result of the most powerful human-like non-physical mind that's ever existed?
The beatitudes are original
I don't really have any issues with this. Jesus could have been real and an insightful man. The Tao Te Ching is also original. We can rejoice at the message in Jesus' teachings without considering that he was speaking via a channel with god. I'd also add that recent additions like Mormonism, Scientology, and the Course in Miracles are also original and have gained many followers. The uniqueness of a thing and it's attractiveness obviously do not signify truth content.
The doctrine of omniscience is resilient
All Menssen and Sullivan do here is suppose that a hypothetical world creator may not know things like we know them, and thus our concept of omniscience as simply "knowing everything" obviously falls short. Unfortunately, they haven't laid out what, exactly, omniscience is. They simply point out that because it is radically different ("For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord," they quote), omniscience is resilient to scrutiny. Sure, it's possible. I've heard other explanations such as "God knows that which can be known," which is an effort to get around the oddities created by omniscience and free will/the future. This, again, falls into my bucket of "Who knows?" and "So what?"
Omniscience and the incarnation are fertile doctrines
This means that omniscience and the idea that Jesus was both all god and all man gives us a lot to think about. I'm not sure how to respond to this section. I suppose they have a point -- no one else in the theism game thought to unify god and man in an ineffable 100%+100% = 100% combo pack.
Consciousness has a function
Consciousness is a weird one. I admit that I don't know much about this. Can it all be just running "software running on hardware"? I really don't know. Here's another great example of where Messen and Sullivan appeal to common sense:
Could one of the most important things in our universe just have happened? The commonsense answer is "no," and that is the answer most scientists give as well.
I get this attitude, I just don't think it's correct. Yes, one of the things in our universe we think is most important (because we're the ones how have it), might have just happened. We really don't know. I'd be interested in how much "consciousness" other creatures have as well. Are we so sure they don't have anything like it? Again, is the fact that we can meta-think (be aware of what someone else might be thinking about someone else who's thinking about us?), think "outside" ourselves, discuss, and seek greatness a sign that a conscious, bodiless being with the perfection of what a mind is implanted such capabilities within ourselves? What always gets fascinating to me is how one supposes this came about. Coming from a Catholic background, the Catholic Church supports evolution. Is this is the one time god intervened and did something radical? Or was consciousness evolved? If it evolved, then yes, it just happened -- a mutation like everything else. If it didn't, Christians are in the position of needing to say why they need to posit an intervention of some kind, just this once in this history of biological evolution.
Humans have libertarian free-will
Again, this is another reliance on what we feel.
Looking within, it surely seems to us that we can do or refrain from doing; and there is little by way of direct evidence to show that it is an illusion, to predict human behavior in a great variety of circumstances, and human behavior is notoriously difficult to predict.
This is another one that I completely get. It's really weird to think that my sense that I can do something else isn't real. Again, though, this doesn't mean that my sense of it is accurate. This is going to take a really long time to figure out. There are some interesting writings on the subject. How would we know if we were truly free or if we were really determined? I'm not really sure. Also, as a friend of mine pointed out...
- If I could definitvely prove that we had no free will, how would you act differently?
- If I could definitely prove that we had free will, how would you act differently?
I will admit that the hypothesis, "We do what we do because we will it" seems a little non-predictive. Libertarian free-will simply injects mystery into the concept of action. We trace back the "why" of action only to find a "because he/she did." On determinism, we have a complex network of inputs that while not understood completely, would have produced the same result every time. This, in actuality, seems to make more sense to me than pure acausal free-will.
I don't have all the answers. I simply wanted to walk through some of the reasons Menssen and Sullivan think that religion has some things going for it. In the end, it doesn't seem that one could establish any of these claims. If one could, there would be no debates. Especially if one could establish specifically Christian variants/twists on these claims with objective facts and data... it would seem that other religions would fail to flourish in today's world. The fact that other religious not only flourish, but have done so for hundreds of years in the face of competition tells me that non can yet prove any of the others wrong.