How Not To Debate a Christian Apologist

Does Stenger need to be the teacher that teaches himself? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Victor Stenger is one of the new atheists who has written books such as “God: The Failed Hypothesis” and “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science and Reason.” (No. That’s really the title. Please try to stop laughing.) Now he has written an article for the Huffington Post called “How to debate a Christian apologist.”

Mark Twain once said it’s better to be silent and have people think you’re a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Stenger apparently doesn’t realize that that rule also applies to keyboards.

Towards the start, Stenger says

In the latest debates I have watched, as well as many others I have witnessed over the years, including several of my own, the Christians are almost always very smooth and well prepared. The reason is not that their arguments are so persuasive but that they generally have spent years in front of religion classes, lecture audiences, and church congregants, polishing the same old arguments.

And, after you have watched or participated in a number of these events, you find there very seldom is a new argument. All have all been refuted many times, but most in the audiences do not know that.

But then he says

During their opening statements and throughout the debate, apologists are likely to make arguments with which atheists may not be so well versed. So, when the time comes for rebuttals, atheists often cannot provide cogent responses, or any responses at all, and so lose debating points.

Wait. I thought we weren’t making any new arguments and all of them have been refuted. If all of these arguments are old-hat, how is it that there is no preparation for them? I would figure that this would be rather simple. So which is it Stenger?

Later he also says

An experienced debater will make note of every point his or her opponent makes and try to provide at least a one sentence response.

Which shows once again that Stenger is part of this culture of sound-bite atheism. This consists of these little sayings like “You’re an atheist with all others gods. I just go one God further,” or “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” or “The Gospels are anonymous and not by eyewitnesses.”

Of course, it would be nice to see the reasoning and evidences behind these claims, but the group promoting reason the most is often too busy with throwing out soundbites to actually practice the Gospel that they preach.

Stenger goes on to say

If you are a non-expert on any subject, you should not say anything about it beyond your competence. Your opponent may call you out on it. I have seen that happen.

And as we’ll see, Stenger, a physicist, does not follow his own advice. So yes, you’re about to see it happen.

Fortunately for me, I will not be going with the idea that I can speak on everything Stenger says. Many science questions will be left for scientists to answer. This is, after all, a mistake of the new atheists and sadly, many apologists. They think that they are experts on everything and for too many new atheists and internet atheists, they’re right by virtue of being an atheist. Since because of that they’re automatically rational, well then obviously their conclusion must be rational.

The first argument Stenger wants to deal with is the following:

God can be proved to exist by logic alone. For example, we have the ontological argument, which appears in many forms. It was first proposed by St. Anselm in the 11th century. He defines God as “a being than which no greater can be conceived.” If such a being only exists in the mind, then we could conceive of a greater being. But we cannot imagine a greater being than God, so God must exist in reality.

Stenger’s reply is at the start to say that this could be applied to a perfect pizza.

Now let me state something upfront. I do not think the ontological argument works. I do not use it. Yet at the same time, I realize the perfect pizza is a sophomoric response to it. After all, with a material object, one could always make it bigger and bigger. For Anselm, this greatness would apply to the transcendentals for God and would not apply to anything material.

Again, I don’t think the argument works, but it’s worth noting that someone like Plantinga who does think it works would take an argument from someone like Stenger and in fact, do the opposite of what Stenger does. He would polish up the argument and make it the best that he could, and then still proceed to show that it doesn’t work.

For Stenger, a sound bite without really thinking on the issue will work.

Next argument:

Science and religion are compatible as evidenced by the fact that many scientists are believers.

Stenger answers that:

They are actually a relatively small minority. Only 7 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences, the elite of American science, believe in a personal God. Believing scientists compartmentalize their brains, leaving their critical thinking skills at the lab when they go to church and leaving their Bibles at home when they go the lab. God is not a coherent part of the scientific model of any believing scientist.

Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible because of their contradictory views on the source of knowledge. Science assumes that only by observation can we learn about the world. Religion assumes that, in addition, we learn by revelations from God.

Rob Bowman has written an excellent article here and I will quote what he says regarding the National Academy of Sciences.

Assuming that’s true, how does one get into the NAS? Here’s what the National Academy of Sciences website says: “Because membership is achieved by election, there is no membership application process. Although many names are suggested informally, only Academy members may submit formal nominations.” In other words, it’s an exclusive club that decides who may even be considered for membership. According to a 2010 article in Scientific American, about 18,000 American citizens earn PhDs in the sciences or engineering every year. There are only about 2,200 members in the NAS, and no more than 84 new members are inducted each year. Even the geniuses in the NAS can figure out that its membership does not represent an adequately representative sampling of well-trained scientists.

If Bowman is correct, then Stenger is indeed taking a small small sample from an elite group who will make sure like-minded people get in. Now I have no problem with doing that if that’s what they want, but don’t take a small minority and act like that represents the majority.

Meanwhile, Stenger claims that they are compartmentalizing and leaving their critical thinking skills behind, but this is just an ad hominem. Could it be that when it comes to religion, Stenger is compartmentalizing and leaving his critical thinking skills at home? (In fact, I would contend that he is and it will not be an ad hominem because I intend to demonstrate it.)

Stenger also says we believe in contradictory sources of knowledge. No. We believe in complementary sources of knowledge. Christians do not disavow the idea that we learn information through the senses. In fact, this is the best way to learn about the world. If I want to teach someone Algebra, I don’t go to the Bible. I go to an Algebra textbook. If I want to teach them about the life of Jesus or the history of Israel or who God is, then the Bible is a fine place to go to.

I’m sure Stenger’s opinion however would be news to the numerous scientists out there who are Christians, including Francis Collins. Does it really require that Stenger has to smear every scientist out there who is a Christian in order to make his point? Apparently it does.

The next claim Stenger deals with?

Science was the result of Christianity, which introduced the use of rational thinking. Galileo, Newton, and other early scientists were Christians.

Stenger’s response?

Science was well on its way in ancient Greece and Rome. But the Catholic Church muffled science when it took over the Roman Empire in the 4th century, ushering in the 1,000-year period known as the Dark Ages. This ended with the Renaissance and the rise of the new science, when people could once again think and speak more freely. So it is ludicrous to argue that science was a product of Christianity.

While it is true that great Christian theologians, notably Augustine and Aquinas, applied rational thinking to their theology, they viewed science as a means to learn about God’s creation. They always insisted that revelation rules over observation. Galileo was the first true scientist of the modern age when he insisted that observation rule over revelation. That got him into trouble.

Of course Galileo and Newton were Christians. Their only other choice was to be burned at the stake. Atheism did not appear openly until the French Enlightenment a century later. That light was produced by the mind, not the flames engulfing a heretic.

Stenger is, sadly, uninformed on history. The Dark Ages is a great myth often thrown about today. Of course, Stenger gives no sources whatsoever. Obviously, he expects his readers to just take him by faith. Apparently, Stenger is wanting to sound just like the preachers he condemns then.

One of my favorite resources for dealing with this is the web site of Tim O’Neill that can be found here. I value this so much because Tim and I are ideologically opposed. He’s an atheist. Still, he’s honest with the data unlike many atheists today. I will quote a small part of the article.

It’s not hard to kick this nonsense to pieces, especially since the people presenting it know next to nothing about history and have simply picked this bullshit up from other websites and popular books and collapse as soon as you hit them with some hard evidence. I love to totally stump them by asking them to present me with the name of one – just one – scientist burned, persecuted or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists – like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa – and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents have usually run away to hide and scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong.

Also, people are free to listen to my interview with James Hannam, author of “God’s Philosophers” here. The book is all about science and scientific advancements in the Middle Ages.

For the claim that revelation always trumped observation, it would be nice if we had some sources here. Unfortunately, we don’t.

And as for scientists being burned at the stake, As Tim O’Neill shows above, it would be interesting to see one named. The ones that were burned at the stake were not burned for science, but for having views that were heretical. Now is that too many burnings? Yes. But let’s be clear what the crime was.

As for Galileo, Galileo was riding off of the work of Copernicus. Does Stenger really think Copernicus did no observation when he came up with heliocentrism? No. He based it on observation. The problem was the evidence was not in. Had Stenger been around in those days, he would just as likely have been one of those condemning Galileo for bad science. The evidence at the time DID point to geocentrism. Galileo’s strongest argument was the rise of the tides. It wasn’t a convincing one.

It also didn’t help that Galileo was not a theologian, but yet ended up speaking on theology. Furthermore, he wrote a little dialogue where the Pope was pictured as a simpleton. Galileo wanted immediate recognition of his views and that was the main problem. He had an ego. Still, he did not die a painful death at the hands of the church. He was allowed to do science for the rest of his life and the church paid his pension.

I am skipping the question on design since the design I hold to is the fifth way of Aquinas which Stenger doesn’t touch.

Next?

Many Christians believe in evolution.

Stenger’s answer?

Not really. Surveys indicate that what most believe in is God-guided evolution. That is not evolution as understood by science. That is intelligent design. There is no room for God in evolution.

Now readers of this blog know I don’t comment on if evolution happened or not, but what Stenger is doing here is question-begging. It is assuming that if evolution happened, only naturalistic processes were involved, but how could that be known? Could He demonstrate it? Has he interacted with any of the scientists who are Christians who hold to such a position?

The next several questions are about science. I will leave those to more scientifically minded people. The next one I can deal with is

How can there be objective morality without God?

Stenger answers saying

Socrates proposed what is called the Euthyphro dilemma: Either (a) God wills us to do what is good because certain acts are good, or (b) an act is good only because God wills it. If (a), then moral values are independent of God. If (b) then there is no morality because God can will whatever he wants. In this case, if he asks you to kill a baby, would you do it? If you answer, “That would be against God’s nature,” then you are adopting (a), admitting that there is an objective morality that does not depend on God. If that is the case, then atheists can be just as objectively moral as theists.

This is another one of those pet objections atheists like to toss out. Do any of them bother to notice that Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics actually defined what the good is? He did not refer to God’s nature. He referred to just goodness itself. Now did he provide a foundation for goodness? No. That is a problem with his system, but he did show that goodness can be known. That it can be known however does not explain how it is that this goodness exists.

Stenger has simply said theists can have a hard question to answer. Sure. They need to answer this. Yet Stenger has not given an argument for the existence of goodness itself. What is his ontological foundation for it? Does he believe that it just exists out there? How in a universe where matter is all there is?

Note also that it ends with saying that atheists can be just as objectively moral as theists. The argument from morality has never once argued that an atheist cannot be a moral person. It has argued that there is no ontological foundation for their morality.

Once again, Stenger demonstrates that he doesn’t understand the arguments he argues against.

Next question we’ll address?

What about all the millions of people murdered by atheists: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot?

Hitler was not an atheist. The rest did not kill in the name of atheism while throughout history Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others have killed millions in the name of their gods. Pope Innocent III alone was responsible for a million innocent deaths during the Fourth Crusade. Now, if there ever was a historical figure who was misnamed, it is Pope Innocent III.

It is certainly true that Hitler was not an atheist. The rest were, however, and I’m sure it brings great comfort to the families of those who were killed to show they didn’t kill in the name of atheism. In reality, their atheism has a direct connection with what they did. If there is no outside force to bring about Utopia on Earth and you are the highest power, you are in fact God, and you cannot tolerate any dissidents. Why did Stalin seek to destroy so many churches in Russia? Why are so many Christians being persecuted even today in China?

As for the Pope, it would again be good to see a source on this. Stenger is not a historian so why should I take his opinion seriously? One million innocents were killed. Who were these innocents? How did he get the numbers? How about we use a real source, such as a professor of medieval history when she’s asked how many people were killed in the Crusades? You can find that here.

Who do I trust then? A physicist who cites no sources or a professor of medieval history? Decisions, decisions….

But now we get to a really fun one!

There is convincing evidence that Jesus was a historical figure who performed miracles and rose from the dead.

Try not to laugh as you read the following answer of Stenger.

There is absolutely no evidence that the Jesus of the gospels even existed. He is only mentioned in the New Testament, which was written long after his death by people who did not know him. St. Paul says little that suggests a historical Jesus. He also did not know Jesus. His “evidence” for Jesus is just his own mystical visions. He said, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preach is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1: 11-12).

The fact that Jesus is not mentioned by any of the many Roman historians of the time, some living in Jerusalem and who wrote voluminously, proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the Jesus described in the gospels is largely of not totally a fictional character. However, secular scholars disagree on whether Jesus is a historical figure. Bart Ehrman thinks he did exist, as an apocalyptic preacher. Robert Price think’s he is not historical.

This is the compartmentalization that Stenger displays. When it comes to that which disagrees with him, he uses a completely different standard. Let’s note some figures.

Socrates was certainly an important person in his time. One of his contemporaries was Thucydides. How many times does Thucydides mention Socrates? None. Not once. In fact, Thucydides’s works are not named by anyone until Polybius which takes place 250 years later.

How about Hannibal, the great general who nearly conquered the Roman Empire? How many of his contemporaries talk about this important figure? I’ll give you a hint. The number who mention him is less than one.

These figures are not mentioned, yet a traveling rabbi seen as a fraud since he did “miracles” and was yet another “Messianic claimant”, yet never traveled as an adult outside of his country, a bizarre part of the world to the Romans, nor went into battle, nor ran for office, and above all died a death of crucifixion, the most shameful death of all, should have somehow been mentioned by all these guys in Rome. I have expounded on this in my piece “Jesus Is Not Worth Talking About.”

Now Stenger could be trying to get a way out by saying the Jesus of the Gospels never existed, but it’s quite clear he’s not wanting to go that route. He’s going with all-out mythicism. Keep in mind that you will not find a scholar in the field who teaches at an accredited university and has a piece defending the idea in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal anywhere. Professor Craig Evans in his appearance on my show talked about these kinds of people in the midst of our conversation.

Stenger will complain about a belief that goes against the National Academy of Sciences. Can he find the scholars at the Society of Biblical Literature who still think the existence of Jesus is debated today?

Stenger says Jesus is only mentioned in the NT which was written long after his death by people who did not know him.

No scholarly sources are cited whatsoever. There is no interaction whatsoever with a work like Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.” Again, why should I take Stenger seriously on this topic or consider him an authority?

He also says Paul shows little interest. Paul is not writing to give a biography of Jesus but to correct problems in the churches. Yet in all of this, there are many places where scholars are convinced that there is a Jesus tradition. Also, we have numerous facts about him. We would know that Jesus was crucified and that he was buried and that his disciples claimed to see him again. We would know that he was of the lineage of David. We would also know that he instituted a Last Supper with His disciples. These are the essentials that we need.

He also claims Paul only knows about Jesus through visions. Absent is any interaction with someone like N.T. Wright on this. Paul’s own account in 1 Cor. 15 corresponds with those who thought they saw Jesus bodily. Paul knows about visions of Jesus after this event, but He considers himself the last to have seen the risen Christ as one out of time. It means these kinds of appearances should have stopped, but an exception was made for him. I recommend definitely a work like N.T. Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God.”

Stenger also tells us about the voluminous writings of Roman Historians, some living in Jerusalem at the time.

It would be nice to know who these Roman historians would be, especially since most Romans would look down their nose at Jerusalem. The only one could possibly be Josephus, who was in fact a Jewish historian who came to live in Rome.

Stenger also presents this as a debate that secular scholars agree on citing Bart Ehrman vs. Robert Price. No. This is not a debate. Scholars treat the Christ-myth idea as a joke and most don’t even give it a footnote. Stenger just doesn’t know how history is done. For that, I recommend my interview with Paul Maier for someone who wants to learn how to do history properly.

The next question is about Josephus and Tacitus. Stenger answers that

Both were born after Jesus’s supposed crucifixion, so obviously they were not eyewitnesses and wrote long after the fact. Furthermore, the frequently quoted passage from Josephus: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man,” is now recognized to be a much later forgery. Tacitus and Josephus, at best, were writing about a new death cult called Christianity, which certainly existed by that time.

If Stenger wants to demonstrate that an account being not by an eyewitness means it’s invalid, then what of the biographies of Alexander the Great written 400 years after the fact at least? What about the numerous biographies of Plutarch that he was not an eyewitness of? For more of a double-standard, I recommend my piece where I deal with Carrier’s arguments on the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar

For the scholars who think Josephus is a total forgery, it would be nice to see them named. The most well-known ones in the field see it as a partial interpolation. Note also that there are TWO references to Jesus in Josephus. Stenger, great historian that he is, does not even touch the second one.

As for Tacitus, he is indeed writing about Christianity, but incidentally, he mentions Christ. He also mentions this other figure named Pontius Pilate. It’s worth pointing out that this is the ONLY TIME Tacitus mentions Pilate as well.

Well maybe Tacitus was going by hearsay?

Really? The same Tacitus who said this?

My object in mentioning and refuting this story is, by a conspicuous example, to put down hearsay, and to request that all those into whose hands my work shall come not to catch eagerly at wild and improbable rumours in preference to genuine history.
(Tacitus, Annals, IV.11)

There is a claim about Socrates having more evidence than Jesus for his existence. Stenger says that Socrates was written about by people who knew him. Again, no interaction with Bauckham whatsoever so I see no need to reinvent the wheel here.

As for Jesus’s moral teachings, Stenger says

More important, you can dig around and find many of Jesus’s pronouncements that are immoral by modern, objective standards. In Matthew 10:34-35 he says, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” And in 10:37: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Yet this is not a moral teaching. Jesus is not teaching people to pick up swords and go through their families. He is saying that His message is divisive. The Kingdom of God has come in Him and family lines will be divided on that.

Stenger goes on to say

But what makes Jesus one of the most unpleasant characters in all of fiction, along with the Old Testament God Yahweh (quoting Richard Dawkins), is that he dooms everyone on Earth who does not worship him to an eternity in hell. The six million Jews who died in the holocaust just moved from one furnace to another.

Of course, the only source cited is a fellow atheist who is not a scholar in the field as well. Stenger gives no argument that Hell is unjust. If someone does not want to be in the presence of YHWH and rejects Him, YHWH will let Him have His way. This includes Stenger. If Stenger thinks YHWH is so horrible, why complain that He doesn’t spend eternity in His presence?

And for one furnace to another, this is a literalistic view of Hell few evangelicals hold. Of course, being a fundamentalist atheist, Stenger is a literalist.

With Near-Death experiences, Stenger says

How can you prove they where not just hallucinations, all in the head of the person claiming the experience? I can tell you how! All that has to happen is the subject returns with some knowledge that she could not have possibly known prior to the experience. For example, suppose she meets Jimmy Hoffa in heaven and he tells her where he is buried. When she reports that location, authorities go to the site and dig up a body that they identify as Hoffa by its DNA.

Nothing like this has ever happened in the thousands of religious experiences that have been reported over the centuries.

Stenger has obviously never done any reading on Near-Death experiences and noted how many people see events that take place while they were “dead.” Does Stenger interact with someone like Sabom on the topic? Not a bit.

The others are arguments that by and large, I would not use, so I will not address them.

Of course, there have been some replying on the Huffington Post page itself to correct Stenger. Their posts have been deleted and moderated to not show up. Apparently, this is the other way to debate a Christian apologist. Just silence them.

Hopefully, Stenger will one day realize that he should not speak outside of his field or else he will be called out on it. But alas, new atheists are really slow to learn. The Scripture is fulfilled in them with saying “Proclaiming themselves to be wise, they became fools.”

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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36 Responses to “How Not To Debate a Christian Apologist”

  1. Toasty McGrath Says:

    “Stenger has obviously never done any reading on Near-Death experiences…”

    Uh, Nick? You do realize that Dr. Stenger dedicated an entire chapter in his book “The End of the Christianity” (Chapter 13: “Life After Death: Examining the Evidence”) to the subject of near-death experiences, right?

    (http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/BookChapters/LADLoft.pdf)

    You might be taken seriously, Nick, if you improved your reading comprehension before you fire off your typical short quips and complaints to random quotes. There’s a certain hypocrisy in you of all people accusing someone else of having “obviously never done any reading…”

    • Derek_M Says:

      That is not his book but a compilation by John Loftus. Did you read it Toasty? It is a response to Dinesh D’Souza’s book on NDEs and since neither he or Stenger are experts in that field it is a pretty pointless article. I am glad you linked it though because it is a long example of how badly Stenger cannot reason about things he likes to write about. Take a look at his citations at the end of the article…pathetic.

      • Toasty McGrath Says:

        In other words… A book he helped write. Yes Derek, this was clearly the most important thing you could have gotten out of my post.

        So basically, you fell for the same stumbling block that Nick does in everything he writes, and picked out one small point to whine about. I suppose it figures that you would have the same intellectual shortcomings. But the fact that you decided to obsess over this minor detail instead of the actual point of my comment tells me much. You are just looking for any distraction to avoid addressing Nick’s poor writing abilities and intellectual dishonesty. Like a small child looking for any toy to play with when his parents tell him that play time is over.

        You and Nick will chase any Idiot Ball, will look for any distraction, to avoid dealing with the real issues of the things you respond to. This is not the behavior of scholars or experts, this is the behavior of children.

      • Derek_M Says:

        You nitpicked Nick’s article and then get your arse chapped when you can’t even do that properly and then respond to my response by nitpicking it and complaining about nitpicking…nice job Toasty.

      • Toasty McGrath Says:

        Well, I’ll just ask you the same thing I asked Cornell: “Stenger has obviously never done any reading on Near-Death experiences…” Accurate, or did Nick fire off another complaint to a random quote before he had actually done any research about his claim?

        Do you deny that Nick completely failed to do his homework (again) and actually check to see if what he said was even true?

      • Derek_M Says:

        If Nick’s quote is taken literally then it is inaccurate because Stenger has at least read a few popular books on NDEs. That is all that could be concluded from his remark if crass literalism is demanded. None of the other loaded questions you ask are relevant because they are filled with your own fetishes that make them impossible for someone else to answer.

        In light of reading Stenger’s article that you linked I would say that Nick’s comment stands in that Stenger didn’t understand what he read and needs to go back to the drawing board.

      • Toasty McGrath Says:

        One needs not take the sentence literally to show that it was dishonestly added to the article. It was either done in bad faith or in inexcusable ignorance, and since Nick apparently is reluctant to address which, it seems we’re stuck speculating.

      • Derek_M Says:

        Loaded questions before and now a juicy false dilemma…I can’t wait to see what you reply with next.

      • Toasty McGrath Says:

        Then let’s try this again, since you somehow appear to have missed it the first time:

        “Stenger has obviously never done any reading on Near-Death experiences…” Was this statement accurate, or did Nick fire off another complaint to a random quote before he had actually done any research about his claim?

        Do you deny that Nick completely failed to do his homework (again) and actually check to see if what he said was even true?

      • Derek_M Says:

        I already answered the part of your question that was relevant and not loaded Toasty. If you don’t like it that is fine but your fetish for painting Nick in the worst possible light is becoming more obvious with every post. Perhaps you would like to interact on something of substance?

    • cornelll Says:

      Yeah Derek, I’ve noticed that Toasty brings his pom poms with him everywhere, anyways remember that chapter in Loftus’ garbage book. Stenger treated anecdotal evidence as unscientific, I wonder what Stenger thinks of paleontology

      • Toasty McGrath Says:

        So Cornelll: “Stenger has obviously never done any reading on Near-Death experiences…” Accurate, or did Nick fire off another complaint to a random quote before he had actually done any research about his claim?

        Do you deny that Nick completely failed to do his homework (again) and actually check to see if what he said was even true?

      • cornelll Says:

        Well have you actually read the chapter in Loftus’ book or do you just post links without reading what’s in the links? Did you see HOW Stenger was arguing against NDE’s? Anyone can write up a critique and make gullible people like yourself THINK that they know whatt they are critiquing. Stengers biggest point was knocking anecdotal evidence, which is fine, but he needs to be consistent.

      • Toasty McGrath Says:

        I noticed that you didn’t answer my question, Cornell.

      • cornelll Says:

        Ah the cat and mouse game, you avoid a few of my points, and are justified in doing so, because you think I can’t answer a question. well your question is easy to answer, if Nick meant it as I think he meant in the context that I’m using then Nick is fine. Why would Stenger feel the need to even cite a scrub like Deepok Chopra if Stenger is making a case against NDE’s at the academic level? Stenger spends way too much time on Dsouza and not enough onMario Beauregard. I don’t defend NDE’s and even I know who their best defenders are. I do give credit to Stenger for citing Janice Holden’s ‘Handbook of Near Death experiences’ but that doesn’t mean he did his homework.

      • Toasty McGrath Says:

        If you have no interest in answering my questions, then you clearly have no interest in an actual discussion. Thank you for your input and feedback, Cornell.

      • cornelll Says:

        “If you have no interest in answering my questions, then you clearly have no interest in an actual discussion. Thank you for your input and feedback, Cornell.”

        Nice Cop-out, I give it a 1/10

        Tell your hero Stenger that I think he is very brave to take on Deepok Chopra, and Dinesh Dsouza! Those are some heavy hitters

      • cornelll Says:

        Actually after skimming through the book again, it wasn’t Chopra, though he did spend virtually all of his time on Dsouza, and I must ask where is Mario Beauregard?

      • cornelll Says:

        Wait nevermind, Stenger DID cite Chopra’s book lol on page 14 of the article that Toasty posted. Though Chopra was using Stevenson as a reference.

      • Toasty McGrath Says:

        I noticed that you still didn’t answer my question, Cornell.

      • cornelll Says:

        Oh maybe I should I go check with the experts, should I go to Deepak or Dinesh?

  2. tildeb Says:

    As for Galileo, Galileo was riding off of the work of Copernicus. Does Stenger really think Copernicus did no observation when he came up with heliocentrism? No. He based it on observation. The problem was the evidence was not in. Had Stenger been around in those days, he would just as likely have been one of those condemning Galileo for bad science. The evidence at the time DID point to geocentrism. Galileo’s strongest argument was the rise of the tides. It wasn’t a convincing one. The main argument against heliocentrism, Obler’s Paradox, wasn’t even solved until the 19th century.

    There’s a lot wrong with this paragraph. As per Copernicus’s wishes On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres was not to be published or released until after his death. His motives – as a priest – for doing so was to avoid direct confrontation. So he wrote the work as if addressing the Pope and explained that he presented this model based on his knowledge of mathematics for the greater glory of God. In contrast, Galileo has carefully plotted the the appearances of the moons of Jupiter for their cycles and the face of the moon for its mountains and valleys and presented his evidence. Apples and oranges. Copernicus insisted that all heavenly bodies, save the Earth, were perfect spheres according to God’s design that orbited the sun in perfect circles, and that the universe itself aligned with God’s wishes and was also spherical. The universe and the bodies it contained reflected this divinely designed ‘nature’ by being perfect and operated by the machinery of the “Best and Most Orderly Workman of all.” Copernicus was following in the footsteps of his predecessors, assuming that motion required agency. In stunning contrast, Galileo’s central contribution was to recognize that things didn’t have natures but contained properties that were equivalently affected by exterior natural forces. He demonstrated this by calculating the rate of descent of two bodies of different masses. He dropped different weighted rocks from masts to demonstrate they fell straight to the base of the mast regardless of the speed of the ship and at the same rate (and not curved towards the stern as presumed, nor at different rates according the different ‘natures’ of heaviness they presumably contained. But his thought experiment of the inclined plane forever altered our perception of reality and the cause for motion, for the first time. This is why he’s famous in science, elevating evidence adduced from world to describe how the world operated. This was the thread that began to unravel the theological world based on an erroneous metaphysics. That’s why this man at that time is now considered the father of the modern scientific method. That he was persecuted by the Church for the order of this justification is without question. That one of his daughters was a nun and died mysteriously after Galileo’s refusal to retract his Dialogue may have played a part in his later recantation. Remember, the Pope and Galileo were by modern standards the best of friends and this played no small role in how other senior cardinals persecuted Galileo.

    It is inaccurate if not inexcusable to try to portray the sloshing of the bathtub analogy he used for his tidal explanation analogy as Galileo’s ‘strongest’ argument for heliocentrism. The main argument against heliocentrism was the sensory data available to everyone: we see the night sky revolve around us! To suggest otherwise was counter-intuitive and, in addition, did not seem to present a stronger case than Ptolemy’s model. Obler’s Paradox is about the night sky filling up with light which (having to do with an infinitely old universe filled with stars, in all my studies of Galileo’s correspondence and Vatican archives, I’ve never encountered this as a contrary argument to heliocentrism.
    His tide model was wrong,

    • Derek_M Says:

      If I recall correctly Galileo’s daughter died of a common disease after his trial and during his time under house arrest. I see nothing mysterious about it but perhaps you could correct me.

  3. apologianick Says:

    I would be more than happy to rescind on Olber’s paradox, but I don’t see anything about Copernicus relating to what I said. All I said was that Copernicus did observation as well. I’d also like to see some more documentation on the idea of Galileo dropping different weights. I understand there is some skepticism in regards to that account.

    As for persecution, Galileo was indeed persecuted, but not to the extent often portrayed today and the reason this case is brought up so much is because there really aren’t other examples that work.

    Still, I’ll be glad to do some checking and if I find nothing on the paradox, I’ll be glad to amend it.

  4. apologianick Says:

    If Stenger has done reading on NDE’s, then I must say his argument is the one that is dishonest since he shows no indication of any knowledge of NDEs that claim experiences that can be verified. Also, saying he has a chapter does not convince me. Stenger hardly interacts with biblical scholars on such themes in his books that I’ve read and it was no surprise to me when he said on Unbelievable? that on the Bible, he said he relies on Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is certainly a scholar, but does Stenger read others who are qualified scholars on the other side? I see no reason to think he does.

    As was said earlier, someone like Plantinga would present the argument in the best possible light. Stenger doesn’t.

  5. apologianick Says:

    Very amusing. I just called it as I saw it. Stenger’s response to a difficult subject was glib, which is part of the problem. He gives canned responses. It is only dishonest if I think he has done the study and say instead that he has not.

  6. tildeb Says:

    Sorry for the length, and feel free to skip it entirely, but it might be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about the Galileo Affair

    @Derek M,

    You’re quite right. Galileo’s daughter died the year following his house arrest of dysentery. All I meant to suggest was that the Church’s authority over her was a factor in Galileo’s response to his On the World Systems and the ensuing trial. The condition of her treatment was used as leverage against Galileo to cooperate, even after he had carefully followed all the rules and regulations and licensing set out and enforced by the Vatican for the publication of this work.

    It is hard for modern people to grasp the scope and extent and depth of Church authority during this period over which we now call the world of science. People doing what we call science lived in a very tightly controlled and rarefied world of correspondence, understanding that the publication of any work was subject to the approval and licensing by the Vatican if it was to be distributed… but, like most large organizations, the Church was divided into many competing factions for political influence. It was not uncommon for these factions to use support or condemnation for different intellectuals (and their ideas by allowing or restricting publication) as a means to affect the political influence of another Vatican faction. Galileo thought his following the rules and gaining licensing indicated strong support from his friend the Pope and that all of this would suffice (in spite of specific warning correspondence by some Vatican officials), and there’s good documentation that this was a reasonable assumption; however, it’s important for us to understand that the best way to undermine the authority of a Pope from within the organization was to undermine those outside the organization the Pope supported, and so Galileo can be seen as an object used by Church factions for their own political ends. His daughter – and her living conditions – was used by some cardinals as a pawn in this political game. Yes, she died of dysentery but this was as much an end result of her treatment as it was a (relatively) common and often fatal disease… usually of the destitute and not very often of a healthy 34 year old nun in a well respected convent in which she had lived for the past 21 years. I’m not saying the Church killed her, but that the role the Church played in the Galileo Affair was not just about a theology vs science confrontation but really all about the Church doing what the Church had always done: exercising its political games regardless and in spite of not just the human cost but to uphold its domination of determining which faction within the Church had the authority to determine what constituted approved knowledge.

    @apologianick

    I understand the temptation all of seem to exercise at one time or another to want to discredit big brained folk from the past with whom we disagree by our modern understanding. Atheists do this all the time but so do theists. It’s a human trait – a convenience that tends to harm our appreciation of and for our remarkable ancestors.

    But even I – as a ‘militant’ New Atheist – appreciate the tremendous contribution devout religionists (and by that, I mean supporters of various religions generally, Christianity particularly, and the Roman Catholic Church specifically) have made to our enquires into the world we inhabit and models of how it seems to work. That many ideas from these folk are, to be blunt, factually wrong (and demonstrably so… now) does not reduce the tremendous effort they made.

    Regarding Galileo, I urge you to remember that Newton himself called Galileo if not the giant, certainly one the trio upon whose shoulders he stood. Appreciating why Newton would claim this goes a very long way to criticizing any assumption we may make today that Galileo did ‘bad’ science because one or more of his ideas do not stand up to modern understanding. Au contraire…

    A case in point is that the heliocentric model put forth by Copernicus seemed to be refuted by common, everyday motion here on earth. If the world circled the sun as this militant Copernicus wanted us to believe using something called ‘mathematics’, then there must be some effect we can easily see here on Earth from this rotation. Copernicus never addressed actual data from reality; rather, he – like almost everyone else – assumed that, say, why when we throw something up in the air (and we are standing on a rotating body that is moving), it should come down not where we were standing when we threw it but in a slightly different location… because we’ve moved by way of this rotating body on which we stand, you see. Casual observation seemed to support this assumption. Galileo tested it – vigorously – hundreds of times in many different ways and detailed these accounts. And he did so for more than ten years! That’s not bad science if we’re talking about methodology (even if we create a model to explain our observations that doesn’t later work out… like Galileo’s tide model)!

    He spent time with hunters of birds, and asked how they aimed. Seems rather obvious, right? It isn’t. The most respected marksmen did not aim ahead of their target – as many people even today presume we must do so that our shot reaches the spot where the target will be. (I see computer games today that mirror this misunderstanding of physics!) My father – a tail gunner in WWII – was taught to aim this way but, as a hunter from the woods of Canada, he knew from his experience to do something counter-intuitive (and far more simple): to follow the trajectory of the bird with the barrel and pull the trigger when aiming at it! Aiming at the target while the barrel is moving along the same trajectory as the target will send the shot on an intercept course. Galileo found this out from the good hunters he asked five hundred years earlier!

    But how to explain why this seems to work if the Copernican model was correct… because it seemed to indicate that earth did in fact stand still? He worked with the firing of mortar shells and carefully calculated their arcs and where they should land if the Earth rotated and made detailed notes when the shells actually landed. He also dropped a lot of different things from different heights (duplicated by David Scott of Apollo 15 on the moon with a hammer and feather) and discovered the same rate applied to everything. This was in direct contradiction to Aristotelian ‘natural philosophy’ that assured us things fell according to their different weights and taken as ‘true’ for more than a thousand years. Astounding what reality reveals when we look to it and not our assumptions about it, n’est pas? The more work he did, the more he realized that the Copernican model didn’t seem to work for a rotating body (and that Aristotelian physics was fundamentally wrong). But his tracking of the moons of Jupiter fit the orbiting model perfectly. That’s when his brilliance came to the forefront with his model deduced from a thought experiment of a ball rolling down an inclined plane… why shouldn’t it continue to roll forever unless a force acts against it? This is the central thesis of the On the World Systems for which he was later convicted of ‘gravely suspect of heresy’.

    I know Galileo never formalized his work on inertia (Newton did) but this little thought experiment really did profoundly alter and fatally undermine Aristotelian physics that the Church endorsed. It did this by showing that motion did not require agency (and that things did not possess natures that caused effect); it required force to cause effect and this was the birth of classical physics. If things didn’t have natures imbedded by a creator (water with a nature of wetness, rocks with a nature of heaviness, the eye with the nature to see, and so on) then how could we explain how the world operated?

    Many in the Church recognized the danger such publications as Galileo’s would do to the authority (based entirely on Aristotelian physics) by which the Church operated. After all, if we allowed reality to arbitrate claims made about it – as the pious Galileo insisted we must do to better understand God’s world – then certain claims from scripture would be… wrong. And scripture could not be wrong and survive as the supreme authority for claims made by Church about how reality operated. The fallout from this clash of incompatible claims for authority – what started out between the supremacy of scriptural theology versus reality to justify beliefs we hold about how the world operates – has since evolved into a clash between religion and science generally… based on these two methods of enquiry.

    The clash today only occurs, of course, when each produces incompatible explanations. But upon a deeper understanding, we realize that it’s really a clash between methodologies. This is really what Stenger is trying hard to explain: that Galileo – like many other people – was persecuted (he goes way too far to suggest burning at the stake was the usual punishment) because he questioned the authority of the Church… not to be a militant against the Church per se but because he thought reality deserved to be understood for the way it really was.

    As for the burning at the stake, the odious papal bull (1486) Malleus Maleficarum utilized Aristotle’s 7th book of Physics to justify bodily alterations of ‘natural’ changes (remember the metaphysical understanding of this term ‘natural’ pertaining to the object’s ‘nature’) as being caused by the influence of the stars… stars that cannot be interfered with by devils and demons because they are kept in order by God. Unnatural behaviours could then be attributed to demonic agencies and justify actions against people who possessed them. To introduce changes to Aristotelian physics used to explain astronomy (supported by Ptolemy’s model of how the heavenly bodies move) was always of great interest and concern to the Church because it not only was the basis for various calendars and calculating religious events but affected so much policy! The Vatican has always been particularly interested in astronomy and control of this particular science has been a very long and arduous battle… one that it has only recently (1992 apology to Galileo) admitted to have not handled as well as it could have.

    Again, I apologize for the length but if a greater appreciation of Galileo’s contribution and payment can be promoted, then the effort to write – and read! – this missive will have been worth it.

  7. apologianick Says:

    Hi Tilde,

    Actually, I don’t have too much of a problem with much of what you’ve said. The goal was never to lower Galileo, but to seek to be realistic about him. Was Galileo right? Certainly. Does that mean he had the best case at the time? No it doesn’t. Being right does not mean that you have all the evidence to show that you are right. For instance, Darwin proposes his theory and says “The fossil record will later show X, Y, and Z.” Does it? Well that’s for the scientist to decide, but it does show that he knew he didn’t have all the evidence yet that he wanted. He had some, but not all.

    On the other hand, did Galileo have an ego? Yes, I believe he did. That does not go against him being right. Someone can be right of course and have an ego. Did Galileo speak on theology without training in the field? Yes. Yes he did and that was also something the church frowned on, and understandably so I think.

    Of course, I agree the church always had an interest in astronomy. It started with astrology but then morphed into astronomy. The Vatican had its own telescope. What made Galileo so incredible was that he had a better one.

    As for the hunting, I’m not sure if it was as revolutionary as you think it was. Those kinds of questions were being asked even in the time of Roger Bacon with understanding how trebuchets worked. One great myth is that before Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler came along there was no interest in science. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    I do appreciate the information shared. I find it fascinating. I make it a point to not comment on the science as science, but the history of ideas is incredible.

    • tildeb Says:

      Thanks for reading through my long comment.

      I sometimes try to imagine how it must have been for some of these folk and the price they had to pay (or the benefits they earned). Yes, I think many like Galileo must have possessed a very great ego – and much of it (unfortunately) deserved! But I continue to encounter it in many of the great thinkers… perhaps an essential ingredient I only partly share.

      I mention the hunting because it showed a couple of things: Galileo didn’t sit on his assumptions but actively engaged with others to find out if they seemed to work. Again, many people assume a huge ego or a strong opinion necessarily means one doesn’t listen to others, but even an ego like Galileo actively sought out expertise beyond his own and allowed them a voice in his own considerations. It also showed that he wanted to better understand motion and so came at it from literally dozens of angles… like hunting.

      Also, the written discussion he had with his daughter, for example, about the slight variance in rates of descent he encountered unrelated to weight of the objects dropped reveals a willingness to consider seek and listen to other opinions, and I find that notion appealing. I do that, too, in my many encounters with religiously inspired or motivated claims and continue to read hundreds if not thousands of posts about what people believe and why they say they believe them. I may disagree with the methodology or find easy criticisms in fallacies and so on, but the dissenting voices are important to help me inform my own, too. In an age of blogs where the urge to create an echo chamber is so tempting and easily obtained, I have to remind myself that it’s never a way to be introduced to earnest contrary opinion. In my own case, I don’t think I’ve ever learned much if anything useful from someone who agrees with me all the time (unless they introduce me to something novel). In comparison, I’ve learned so much more from people with whom I disagree the most vehemently.

      I was sad to read, for example, that the Vatican Observatory was being shut down. It has always played an important role in astronomy with various talk by world-renowned experts. I would like to think (and I don’t know if this is even remotely likely) the Vatican funded astronomy in reaction to Galileo’s unsupervised but excellent detailed work about the moons of Jupiter and wanted some independent means to verify this kind of ‘revolutionary’ work.

      And for anyone who has bothered to read many of the great works prior to the modern era – especially Aristotle – I don’t know how anyone can come to the conclusion that ‘science’ wasn’t being done and done widely. Identifying the problem and fixing a broken pipe is science in action; we, like our ancestors, have used scientific models all the time and always have. The difference in so much of today’s conflict between science and religion is a willingness to understand why and how a model deserves to be replaced with a better one. Sticking with one that doesn’t fit the contrary data is not a way to increase knowledge, I don’t think, but I assume better knowledge makes available a deeper understanding upon which wisdom can find more secure footings (but not its only source, of course). And this process is like building a ladder to gain new sight lines: those who assume the lower rungs are worth less than the upper have kind of missed the point where gratitude and appreciation are due – not necessarily for the accuracy of a model but for the influence of its attempt and the new avenues of enquiry they tend to expose.

      • apologianick Says:

        Once again, I agree with much that has been said and think there is too much misunderstanding and unfortunately, Stenger perpetuates the stereotype by feeding a myth of the Dark Ages. No. Science was being done and people were seeking to understand the natural world? Were their answers always right? Of course not, and based on such a criteria, people 100 years from now might look back on our “science” and mock us because of our ideas that we hold to be fact. Which ones? Beats me, but I seriously doubt we have them all right.

        Nor was the church opposed to science. It wasn’t. It in fact encouraged the study of natural philosophy, as it was called back then. The main catalysts saying there has been a war between science and religion were the works of Andrew Dickson White and John Draper. People like Stenger help feed it and unfortunately, many dogmatic Christians do this too.

        This does a disservice to both sides. An atheist can automatically write off anything a Christian says and presume they are the people of reason and who knows, but the Christian could be right on something? They could even be right on something scientific.

        For Christians, great minds could be dissuaded from going into science lest they be busy serving a “godless enterprise.” How many great minds might be kept out of the scientific community simply because of this stereotype?

        And as a Christian, I see it as a threat to the Gospel that we make it be that people must choose to believe science or Scripture. Believe what is true wherever it is found and if someone truly believes in Inerrancy, as I do, they need not fear science. The book of science won’t trump the book of Scripture in any case, though the book of science might certainly make us rethink some of our interpretations. The book of Scripture can of course do the same with science. We should include all the data we can.

  8. Jin roh Says:

    You know what would help? If we could find primary source material for the whole Galileo drama. You know, what he wrote, what other people wrote, what people wrote about him, any papal papers that came about during that time…

    That would help a lot.

    I don’t know where to find that stuff.

    • tildeb Says:

      It’s been several decades since I did a Masters thesis on Galileo but I had to look all over the place (which suited my bibliography requirements quite easily). No doubt books have been written on it since, but probably contain an contentious approach more acceptable to book sellers than historical accuracy.

  9. A Response to “How to debate a Christian apologist” | Legacy Academic Consulting Says:

    […] Last week atheist physicist Victor Stenger blogged on Huffington Post a series of principles and counterattacks for atheists who are going to debate Christian apologists. His hope is to provide instructions for how to effectively debate common Christian arguments on such topics as the existence of God, creation versus evolution, and the historical existence of Jesus. Nick Peters has provided a (mostly) point-by-point response to Stenger here). […]

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