Archive for the ‘Victor Stenger’ Category

How Not To Debate a Christian Apologist

March 3, 2014

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

“God: The Failed Hypothesis” Review: Conclusion

October 17, 2010

Hello everyone. It’s good to be back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! I had a highly enjoyable time at the Conference and I hope some of you were there. Tonight, we’re going to wrap up our look at Victor Stenger’s book “God: The Failed Hypothesis.”

My conclusion to this is that this book should be called instead “Stenger: The Failed Philosopher.” Now some of you might be saying “But he’s a scientist! He’s not writing philosophy! False. There is scientific data but the interpretation of that data is working out inferences to the best possible explanation. Now if he’s studying natural causes, then yeah, science is being done. He’s not. He’s talking about realities beyond matter. Now granted, he doesn’t believe those realities exist in actuality, which is his point, but to speak beyond matter is to speak out of his area. He is no longer doing science at that point, but philosophy.

Note this. I am not against science. I am also not against philosophy. However, I believe whichever one we do, we should do well. Our ability in one area does not necessarily lead to skill in another. Atheists often wish theists who are ignorant of science would stay out of the debates on science. I agree entirely. The problem is, as I have said before, that the atheists don’t return the favor. They in fact often speak on Christian theology without any understanding of it.

Do you think this is a baseless assertion? If you do, then simply go to a bookstore and get a book by the new atheists. You don’t even have to purchase it. Just open it up and look in the bibliography. Go through and see how many evangelical scholars you see listed. Contrast this by going to many an evangelical Christian work questioning atheism and see how many non-Christians they cite.

Stenger’s research methods I believe are poor. Now it could be his skill in physics is better, but as a philosopher, I question the very idea of something coming from nothing. The reason for his poor research I believe is that he is dealing with pop Christianity. If atheists think Christians believe things without evidence, we Christians must admit that it could be because several Christians have sadly given that impression.

Unfortunately, this has also led to atheists thinking Christianity is nonsense prima facie. I don’t just mean that they think it’s wrong. They think it’s nonsense. There’s really no content to it that’s worth studying. If you were an intelligent person, you’d just look and realize that it’s nonsense.

Unfortunately for them, this is not the case. I do not believe Islam is true for a second, but at the same time, I also believe that it’s important to study Islam if you want to evangelize Muslims. In fact, one of the strangest religions I know of is Mormonism, but yet, I don’t ignore the arguments of them. I have a number of books here so that when I dialogue with the Mormons, I can get their beliefs right.

The new atheists like Stenger don’t do this. This lets them go after the gullible who sadly could be Christians, Christians who have not been raised well and do not know better. This is also the fault of the Christian church. After all, if we say “Our children are not being raised Christian” who are we going to blame that on? We may not control what goes on in the school system, but we surely have some control over what goes on in our own households.

It also affects atheists who seem to repeat without considering it what the new atheists say. I don’t know how many atheists I’ve met who are skeptical that I’ve read The God Delusion. Why be skeptical? Because if you had, how could your faith survive? Isn’t Dawkins devastating? You just didn’t understand it if you read it.

The problem is I did understand it. I understood it was terrible argumentation, but the atheist has often written this off prima facie. The Christian cannot have a good answer. He just can’t! Why? Because atheism is true! Everything else is just nonsense on its face and so there’s no point in studying it!

In the end, atheism is a position of faith and frankly, the kind of faith Stenger believes in.

And in the end, Stenger is a failed philosopher and his case does not hold.

“God: The Failed Hypothesis” Review: Living In The Godless Universe

October 14, 2010

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! Tonight, we’re going to go through the final chapter of Victor Stenger’s book “God: The Failed Hypothesis” looking at the chapter on living in a godless universe. Don’t expect blogs tomorrow or Saturday night. I’ll be at the National Conference on Christian Apologetics. When I return I plan on a final summary.

How is an atheist like Stenger to live? (I find this interesting. If this is the way we all naturally are, why not just go with the song and just “act naturally”) Well, Stenger thinks apparently that he has to explain how to live. In a sense, he does, since life ultimately will have no meaning. However, let’s see what he says in this chapter.

He early on tells of theories about a God module in the brain or a God gene. My problem with this is that even if such was the case, that says nothing about the truthfulness or falsity of the belief. This also gets into Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism. If evolution gave us the belief in religion to help us survive, then why should we not believe the same now? It is not about true beliefs then. It would be evolution is helping atheists like Stenger survive now, but we have no way of knowing if that belief is true. The only way is to look beyond the brain. Could we have a God module? Sure. I’m open to it. It doesn’t affect God’s existence either way.

He also says that if religion is a naturally evolved trait, we have an argument against God. How? No reason is given. Could it be that if God used evolution, he arranged it so that our brains would work in such a way that we would come to believe in him? If that is the case, could it be the atheists are the ones then with the faulty brains? Evolutionary belief in God could then be an argument against God. Of course, the atheist could counter that our brains are meant to give us true beliefs, but then he is bringing teleology into the picture and where does he get that from?

He goes on to condemn Justice Scalia for the belief that government gets its authority from God saying that Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence was a deist and not a Christian.

And the point is?

Even deists believed that God was a necessary foundation for morality. Jefferson would have agreed with Scalia on that point.

Stenger also says most Americans believe the constitution is a living document that evolves as society evolves and tells us Scalia sees that as a fallacy. He says “For him, the text is fixed in meaning what it always meant.”

Well geez. You know what? That kind of makes sense. Maybe Stenger I should just say the Bible doesn’t mean what you say it means and call it a living document, or could it be you think the meaning of the text is in the text? Maybe a few years from now, I can call your book a living book and say it was written as an argument for theism in that it was a mock atheist apologist work.

Stenger even goes on to say that if slavery which was not forbidden in the Constitution still existed today, Scalia would probably vote against its abolition. This is simply an ad hominem that is entirely tasteless for someone wanting to produce a serious argument.

He finally says that Scalia believes that God rules over a society that must remain unchanged because change implies perfection in the original creation.

I have no idea where he gets this stuff…..

When asking about charitable giving, Stenger says that perhaps religious people who give would just give anyway. “Perhaps.” In other words, “Let’s just hope that that’s true because it fits in with our conceptions of the world even if there is no evidence for it.” When a Christian does that, it’s blind faith. When an atheist does it, it’s good science.

As for meaning, Stenger says that what happens now is what matters. Okay. Why? Why should this block of time be more important than the next? Why should tomorrow matter less than today and why should yesterday also matter yes. This present moment matters. For what? For what purpose?

We are told that Aristotle believed that the life of contemplation was the best because that matches those of the gods. Stenger says he supposes that he wasn’t thinking of the gods in the Iliad.

Well, no. All you have to do is read Aristotle to find he was a monotheist and he got darn close to the Judeo-Christian idea of God. You know Stenger? The one you’ve been railing against?

Stenger also tells us of the advice of Peter Singer of “We can live a meaningful life by working towards goals that are objectively worthwhile.” Who says they are? Why should I believe any goal is objectively worthwhile?

Overall, there really isn’t much that Stenger offers that isn’t simply self-help that could be true for anyone. I as a Christian could agree with much of it. I do think it’s more difficult for an atheist who accepts that as “good” without any basis.

We shall conclude Sunday.

“God: The Failed Hypothesis” Review: Possible and Impossible Gods

October 13, 2010

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, where we are diving into the ocean of truth! Lately, we’ve been going through some books of Victor Stenger to see what the other side has to say in defense of atheism. So far, it hasn’t been much. Tonight, we’re going to continue that look by examining the ninth chapter of “God: The Failed Hypothesis” which is called “Possible and Impossible Gods.”

Early on this chapter, Stenger says “Belief aside, at the very minimum the fact that a specific God does not agree with the data is cause enough not to assume the existence of that God in the practices of every day life.”

I agree. I agree 100%. The problem is, Stenger thinks the only way people believe in God is they just assume that he exists. It is his false definition of faith. I believe in God because I do believe the reasons for belief are sound and any alternatives fail to give explanations for what we see. I believe our belief systems should be based on good evidence and able to be lived out practically. Christianity has both.

Stenger also reviews past chapters and there are some highlights to point out. For instance, he says that there could have been given as evidence someone who would be given a date for the end of the world and it happens right on schedule. It seems however that if that happened, it would be a bit too late for everyone to suddenly believe in the God this man is a prophet for. Surely Stenger could have thought of a better example than that!

He also has this highlight:

The void might have been found to be absolutely stable, requiring some action to bring something rather than nothing into existence.

Bringing nothing into existence?

Do I really need to comment on that?

Stenger goes on to say later that:

Serious theologians not committed by faith to their own dogma have gradually begun to accept the absence of objective evidence for God and have been forced to conclude if a god exists, he must purposely hide himself from us.

Who are these serious theologians? What are their names? What writings of theirs can I read? I would love to know, but unfortunately, I can’t. Why? The same reason again. Stenger does not list any sources. As he so often does, these are referred to as some realities out there that we must simply accept by faith. For me, it’s just simply accepting that Stenger is not wanting to do proper research into the beliefs of Christians, as his work shows.

In speaking about evil, Stenger says:

The problem of evil remains the strongest argument against a beneficent God, one that theologians have grappled with for centuries without success.

Again, I want to know the names of these theologians who have tried to argue without success. Instead, I am referenced to two atheist books. I have no idea which books Stenger himself has personally read on the topic. Does he know about Augustine’s debates in his age? Does he know about Aquinas’s equating goodness with being? Does he really know about Plantinga?

Or does he only know what he reads in the atheists about them?

To continue his blind faith, Stenger says:

God does not wish to spend eternity with all human souls, but only the chosen few who, by blind faith, in the absence of all evidence, accept a Jewish carpenter who may or may not have lived two thousand years ago as their personal savior. Of course, this is hardly a new idea but was essentially the teaching of John Calvin.

What we have is once again a total straw man. One wonders also that faith is believing something without evidence, what good does it do to say that it is blind and to say that it is in the absence of all evidence, unless Stenger likes redundancies for some reason? Also, this is not just the teaching of John Calvin. The teaching of belief in Christ for forgiveness of sins is something Calvinists and Arminians can agree on. Christ is the savior of all who believe.

Stenger also says:

To Christians of this persuasion, Mahatma Gandhi is burning in hell, along with the six million Jews killed by Hitler and the billions of others who have died without accepting Jesus.

This is simply an appeal to emotion, but let’s suppose we said “Alright Stenger. We’ll play your game. You can go to Heaven if you live a life as good as Mahatma Gandhi. Any less and you go to Hell. Do you measure up? Are you as selfless as he was? Are you willing to do all that he did?

Let’s set up a point system. How many points should be allowed to receive forgiveness? How many points will you get for each action that’s good? How many will you lose for each action that’s bad? Why should the count be set where it is? Exactly how good is good enough and how will you know?

God doesn’t ask you to be better than Mahatma Gandhi. He doesn’t ask you to be better than your neighbor. He asks you to be perfect and he also realizes you can’t reach that. That’s why he actually provides a simple way for you. All you have to do is accept the work of His Son on your behalf. Essentially, for us, God made salvation easy. All it costs us is the pride we relinquish when we bow down and admit that He is God and we are not.

Personally, I’m thankful the system’s that way. If I had to be as good as Mahatma Gandhi, I would worry if I’d qualify and frankly, atheists would be saying that God is setting the standard way too high. The reality is, God set the standard as high as it could go, but he also provided the way for us to freely make it.

And if God sets the rules of the game, complaining about that won’t change it. The best thing to do is see if He exists. It’s not about whether you like that He exists or whether you agree with His system or you think He’s running the show right. It’s about if He exists and if He has revealed Himself in Christ. If He does and He has, then the best thing to do is trust Him on what you can know instead of refusing to believe based on what you don’t know.

A wise man would make a decision based on what he knows and not on what he doesn’t know.

Be wise.

We shall continue tomorrow.

“God: The Failed Hypothesis” Review: The Argument From Evil

October 12, 2010

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! We’ve lately been going through a couple of books of Victor Stenger. Tonight, we’re going to continue our look at “God: The Failed Hypothesis” as we look at chapter 8, “The Argument From Evil.”

This is the most common argument given against God, and that is understandable, as we tend to think more emotionally than anything else. Stenger in describing this rightly calls the defense of God’s existence in the face of evil as theodicy. However, he then goes on to say:

So far, this attempt has proven unsatisfactory in the judgment of the majority of philosophers and other scholars who have not already committed themselves to God as an act of faith.

First obvious problem; Stenger gives no sources whatsoever for this claim. Who are these philosophers and scholars? Where can I read their writings? I don’t know. Stenger doesn’t tell.

Second, I thought this was about science. Interestingly, Stenger does not refer to scientists but to philosophers and scholars. Now some scholars could include scientists, but if this work is supposed to be about science, then shouldn’t we see arguments from scientists instead?

Third, his statement implies that if the non-believers are not convinced by the arguments of theodicy, then those arguments are not good. Okay. Believers are unconvinced by the arguments of unbelievers. Does it follow that those arguments are invalid? When you look at an argument, a valid appeal to authority can be done based on who believes or doesn’t believe an argument or why, but most important is the argument itself.

Fourth, he poisons the well by saying that some have committed themselves by an act of faith. Implicit in this would be his belief that faith is believing something without evidence. I believe in the existence of God based on evidence so that even if I don’t understand evil in the world, I understand there is primary evidence for God’s existence. For instance, because I might not be able to explain something like the Haitian earthquake, it does not follow that God did not raise Jesus from the dead. Those are separate questions. If God raised Jesus, Christianity is true and even if I can’t think of an answer to the question of the earthquake, I know there is one. Even if I knew of a good reason for the earthquake in reverse, it would not follow that God raised Jesus from the dead. When dealing with this argument, the burden is on the atheist as the one saying this is a defeater and he must prove that there is no good reason to allow an evil.

Stenger tells us that the argument from evil begins with an empirical fact. First, evil exists, which he defines as “bad stuff.”

Very good definition….

I wonder if I could define good as “good stuff.”

Second, he considers the existence of evil a scientific statement.

What is scientific about it? It is a philosophical statement, unless Stenger wants to posit evil as a material reality such as a property of matter or a way of describing relationships between matter qua matter. I agree that evil exists, but that is a metaphysical statement. It is not scientific.

Let’s look at the reasons he gives why people believe in God in the face of evil and how he responds. The first is that evil is a result of human free will. Stenger however says not all evil falls under this category and there is unnecessary suffering as a result of natural disasters.

Unnecessary? Really? Is Stenger going to demonstrate that there is no good reason to allow some suffering? Remember, the burden is on him to prove this. For a look at my answer to natural evil, I recommend this.

The second is that some suffering is necessary to help us develop. Some moral values exist only in response to suffering. Stenger’s answer is “This could be accomplished with a whole lot less suffering than exists in the world.”

To begin with, not all suffering is of this type. However, if Stenger wishes to have this as his viewpoint, then by all means, let’s see it demonstrated.

The third is that good and evil exist as contrast and one cannot exist without the other. This is not a Christian position so it will be skipped. The fourth is like it and will be skipped as well.

The fifth is that perhaps God has different concepts and what we think of as evil is really good.

This is not a view I would put forward and I don’t think Christians should, as God has told us His views. I want to note what Stenger says in the response however.

“Good” and “evil” are our words and they name our concepts. It is confused thinking to suppose that some God’s opinion would make any difference in our concepts.

These are our words, yes, but are the concepts ours? Do the concepts derive from us or from something beyond ourselves? Also, if God exists and is omniscient, which is the view Stenger is arguing against, what sense does it make to speak of God’s opinion? He does not have opinion. He has facts.

The sixth is that perhaps there is some purpose and we don’t know it. Have faith.

This is a straw man. We should not ask people to believe blindly. Believe based on the miracles that have taken place and the evidence of the empty tomb. However, Stenger asks why God would give us a nature that finds His actions so reprehensible? The truth is, He didn’t. The problem lies with our falling from what we were meant to be. Also, despite what Stenger says, we are not to blindly believe there is no good reason. We believe there is good reason because we have independent evidence outside of this that God exists.

The final arguments speak of the devil as the cause of evil or as God being limited somehow. I do not think any of these arguments are plausible and so I will skip them.

Stenger continues to describe God as evil in the Bible. We saw this yesterday so there’s no need to repeat much here. He does bring up Isaiah 45:7 in the RSV saying “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe. I am the Lord, who do all these things.”

Well yes, it says that. The idea is of a parallel. God can bring blessing on a city or judgment. It’s always the same with the problem of evil it seems. People like Stenger complain about why God doesn’t do anything about evil. Then, when He’s done something about it, they accuse Him of genocide.

This chapter is surprisingly short. Stenger has claimed to make a scientific case, but there is nothing scientific in this chapter. That’s fine with me because I don’t believe it’s a problem of science. Stenger may wish to say it’s science, but saying it is doesn’t make it so.

We shall continue tomorrow.

“God: The Failed Hypothesis” Review: Do Our Values Come From God?

October 11, 2010

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, where we are diving into the ocean of truth! We’ve been going through some books of Victor Stenger lately. Right now, we’re on “God: The Failed Hypothesis.” Tonight, we get to discuss the topic of morality, one of my favorites!

The chapter is titled “Do Our Values Come From God?” In a sense, I’m going to agree with Stenger. No. Our values don’t often come from God. Values is a more subjective term. I value many things that I ought not to value, I value some things more than I ought to value them, I value some things less than I ought to value them, and I don’t value some things that I ought to value. We’re all in that boat. Values refers to our subjective stance on the world outside of us. Of course, I value something because I perceive it as a good, but that is very different from it being good in itself.

However, if you ask “Does our morality come from God?” then I will answer “Yes.” By our morality, I do not mean American morality or Western morality, but the objective moral law that we all submit under, even if we don’t know every in and out of it. We all know that some actions are good and some are not.

Stenger first looks at public data and says that the Federal Bureau of Prisons says that Christians make up 80% of the prison population

Now I will grant this for the sake of argument, but I see a number of problems anyway with such a statistic. To begin with, the number of Christians is vastly more than the number of atheists in America. It makes sense that in a general look at the population, there would be more Christians.

Second, we are not told here about the religious lives of these Christians. Are they ones that are devoted to their faith or are they Christians in the sense that they grew up in a church and would just if they had to choose a religion to identify themselves with, would choose Christian?

And third, and probably most important, how many of these became Christians while in prison? I did at one time work for a ministry that interacted with prisoners and I found that a number of prisoners come to Christ after they come to prison, as they have often hit rock bottom and are willing to put their faith in Christ.

Finally however, this would not say anything about the truth of objective moral laws being based on God. Stenger could easily win the battle here and lose the war. It could prove a lot of Christians are hypocrites. Very well. (To some extent, we all are) What does that have to say about the source of the objective moral law? If we found that 80% of accountants cheated on tax forms, would we conclude the problem was with the tax laws?

Stenger next goes to common standards and says that preachers tell us that morals can only come from one source, and that’s God. He then goes on to say “The data, however, indicate that the majority of human beings from all cultures and all religions or no religion agree on a common set of moral standards.”

I’m sorry. Is that actually supposed to address the argument? In fact, there is a great source that agrees with Stenger’s argument. It’s called “The Bible!” Here’s what Paul said in Romans 2:

14(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

So thank you Stenger for agreeing with the Bible! No one is saying you have to be aware of God in order to know the moral law. It is being said instead that morality comes from Him even if one does not know of Him. How we know the moral law does not say anything about the source of the moral law. We expect people to have agreement on general revelation. It’s special revelation that we have exception on.

Stenger tells us that stealing and lying were seen as virtues, then the results to society would be terrible. I agree. He tells us that this knowledge does not require divine revelation. I also agree. The problem for Stenger is he thinks he’s making a point, but he isn’t because he doesn’t know the side he’s arguing against. This is especially evident when he says “The only precepts unique to religion are those telling us not to question their dogma.”

No source is listed for this. Let’s see what Scripture says. Why were the Bereans in Acts 17 considered more noble than others?

11Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

What about 1 Thessalonians 5:21?

21Test everything. Hold on to the good.

And Proverbs 1? Why was Proverbs put together?

1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;

3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair;

4 for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young-

5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance-

6 for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.

7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

No Stenger. My religion tells me in fact to examine everything and think critically. I have no problem with questions. In fact, I don’t have a problem with people who question Christianity. I have a problem with people who don’t question it.

Stenger also says that when Christians decide what is right and wrong. They go to the Bible. Well that’s true Stenger, but we are not saying morality comes from the Bible. We are saying moral statements are found in the Bible. It would be like saying that mathematical truths come from Math textbooks. They can be FOUND in those books, but those books are not the source of the truths. The truths exist independently of the books. A lot of it comes from sound moral philosophy.

Stenger in looking specifically at the Bible however says that many killings were performed under God’s orders. He says the only way that can be squared with the sixth commandment is to say assume that the command must be restricted, such as don’t kill within your own tribe instead of applying it to all of humanity.

Or we could try the other route which two minutes of research would have given and said that killing and murder are two different things. Murder is an act of hatred. It is also the taking of life where there exists no right to take that life. Killing is often restricted to just war, self-defense, and capital punishment.

Stenger moves on to the second commandment and asks how many believers realize they are breaking that commandment when they take a photograph or draw a picture.

Stenger is apparently unaware that great workers of art were commissioned to do work for the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple of the Lord. No Christian has a problem with that. The only time your camera is a problem is if you take a picture of something and bow down and worship that picture. If you’re not doing that, you’re okay.

What about slavery? Slavery was a staple in the society at the time and was akin to our job agency. Jesus did not speak out against it because His message was about spiritual salvation and not political salvation. His teachings would however lead to the establishment of a society that would eventually abandon slavery, as they did with Clovis II. For more on the issue of slavery, I recommend this.

Stenger also says the church taught oppression of women. His prooftext? It’s from Ephesians 5:

22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

When I told my wife I was oppressing her and cited the text Stenger used, she just laughed.

Did Stenger look at what the passage said for the men?

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

So as a husband, what am I to do?

I am to LOVE my wife. (Hint Stenger. If I am truly loving her, I won’t do anything she won’t mind submitting to and I won’t use submission as a bludgeon.)

How? As Christ loved the church. How did he love the church? He was willing to die for the church and indeed did.

I am also responsible for the holiness of my wife. If she is falling into sin, I am somehow responsible. If she has unholy attitudes, I am somehow responsible. Granted, she has her own role, but the Word says I am the spiritual leader of my family. I’m not only responsible for my spiritual well-being but hers as well.

I am also to present her to the throne. That’s right. I don’t have to give an account to God of just how I did in my own life. I am to give an account of my family and how well I did.

And finally, my love again is to be compared to the love of my own body. When I look at that, that is a serious call and I am very much daunted by it because I honestly see how fall I far short.

By the way Stenger, my wife believes in biblical submission and she knows I do not use submission as a bludgeon. I can’t think of anything I’ve done in fact that she’s had trouble submitting to.

Stenger also wants to bring up biblical atrocities, saying that Jesus said he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. This is the problem with Stenger being a wooden literalist. The sword was not a literal sword. It was saying his message was divisive and people would divide in families based on how they responded to Him.

There is one issue worth looking at. Stenger says “Of course, no one of conscience today would think it moral to kill everyone captured in battle, saving only the virgin girls for their own pleasure.”

Stenger refers to Numbers 31. Some problems.

First off, the Midianites had seduced Israel earlier in Numbers 25 and come from a great distance in order to do it. They literally went out of their way. This was judgment on a people whose only purpose in doing what they did was to lead Israel astray from their God.

Second, this was also not a total annihilation. In fact, the Midianites were still around in the time of the Judges to war against Gideon.

Third however, nowhere does the text speak of the women being captured as sex slaves. The virgins were spared because they obviously weren’t responsible for seducing the Israelites seeing as they hadn’t had sex. How was it known they were virgins? Because virgins wore special garments back then to identify themselves.

For an in-depth treatment, I recommend this .

Stenger’s explanation of morality is to look to natural morality. What does he say?

Vampire bats share food. Apes and monkeys comfort members of their group who are upset and work together to get food. Dolphins push sick members of a pod to the surface to get air. Whales will put themselves in harm’s way to help a wounded member of their group. Elephants try their best to save injured members of their families.

I’m not going to dispute any of this. However, notice some traits Stenger left out? Cats, for instance, can eat their own young. Would Stenger like us to adopt this practice as well? Animals will also urinate in public places and eat their own waste. Would Stenger like us to adopt this?

It is fascinating that Stenger is suggesting we look to the animals for examples of morality. If he says they come from our common humanity, which he does, then why point to animals?

Also Stenger, what makes us all common in our humanity?

Stenger says we have taught ourselves right and wrong. Hold on to that for now. I wish to comment on it at the end.

Stenger refers to the fourth way of Aquinas which says “There must be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection, and this we call God.”

Now let’s bring that point about teaching ourselves right and wrong. Aquinas is not giving the traditional moral argument. He’s not talking about goodness. He’s talking about perfections, that is, grades of being. There must be one who is pure being who embodies what it means to be. For him, goodness, truth, and beauty were identical with being. As far as you are, you are good, true, and beautiful.

Morality then is based on what IS good in itself first and then the proper response to that goodness in relation to how it stands in the chain of goodness.

I support this simple idea. Let’s take this position.

“It is wrong to torture babies for fun.”

Now I want to examine the truth-content of this claim. It is either true, false, or nonsensical. How could it be nonsensical? It would be if a term was not understood.

If there is no objective morality, it is nonsensical because wrong really has no meaning. If there is however, the statement is either true or false. If you say “It is wrong!” you are appealing to an objective morality since wrong has meaning. If you say “It is not wrong!” you are doing the same since wrong also has meaning. (You also need to seek counseling.)

These are moral truths and we either create these truths or discover them. If we create them, then like any other rules we create, such as rules of a game, we can change them. If we discover them, they exist independently of us.

Truths exist in a mind.

Which mind would you say they exist in Stenger?

We shall continue tomorrow.

“God: The Failed Hypothesis” Review: The Failures of Revelation

October 10, 2010

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, where we are diving into the ocean of truth! We’ve lately been going through Victor Stenger’s book “God: The Failed Hypothesis.” Tonight, we look at the title called “The Failures of Revelation.

Stenger’s point in this chapter is the failure of revelation in Scriptures to give information that can be empirically verified. He states that there are three areas. He first states that no information has ever come through a religious experience that could not have been known beforehand by the individual. Second, there are gross errors of scientific fact. Third, not a single risky prophecy can be objectively shown to have been fulfilled. Unfortunately, the term “risky” is not defined.

The first problem is that Stenger says he’s going to use scientific criteria to measure these. That might have some possibility with the first, but with the second, he’ll also need to make sure he has good skill in studies of literature to make sure he’s not reading like a fundamentalist. As we have seen however, he usually is. The third one is not scientific however but is rather historical and he will need historical information to determine the truthfulness or falsity of the claim that a Bible prophecy has been fulfilled.

Stenger even says “Personal testimonials and anecdotal stories have little or no value as evidence for the truth of extraordinary claims.” Why should this be the case? For instance, suppose I played the same lottery numbers every week and a friend knew those numbers and he came up to me one week and said “I was watching the news! Your numbers got picked!” That would be just his personal testimony on what has happened, but I would accept it and be ready to cash in my ticket.

Now to an extent, I don’t think testimonies alone can seal the deal. I think there is something definitely to the power of Christ to change a life, but several people can point to Buddhist teachings changing their lives or a self-help seminar. I believe in what C.S. Lewis recommended. Let your arguers go forward first in evangelism to break down the walls blocking belief, and then send forth people with testimonies to show the practical value of Christianity.

Stenger’s look at religious experience is lacking. Discussing such stories of foretelling the future he says “Despite many stories, however, no such report has stood up under scientific scrutiny.”

I wonder at this point if I was to write a chapter in a book defending inerrancy how it would be if I just said “Despite many objections, no supposed biblical contradiction has stood up under scrutiny.” Then, I just left it at that. No sources. Nothing. Would Stenger accept it? No. I wouldn’t blame him. Would you? I hope not! Stenger however does just that here. He gives no sources for these claims. Where were these studies done? Who was studied? Who did the studying?

There is nothing. Stenger doesn’t even cite a single source. If I wrote the above in a chapter and at least provided a footnote or endnote with books listed, you could grant me that I at least pointed to references. With Stenger’s work, I don’t even know where to go for more information.

In looking at creation stories, Stenger says there are several but just a few will be selected, to show the Bible is not the sole source of creation narratives.

I wasn’t aware any apologist was making that claim….

That Stenger doesn’t know something like that tells me that he is indeed not researching his opponent’s opposition.

It’s a fair objection seeing as when Stenger even goes on to list some folk narratives from other cultures, he does not give a single source.

So what about the biblical account? Stenger tells us that the Bible teaches the world was created around ten thousand years ago and all kinds of things were created that remain immutable and the universe sits as a firmament above a flat, immovable, Earth.

His source here is to point to various Scripture passages. Gone is any mention of a commentary. In fact, the first reference early in this chapter was a quote from Gleason Archer in the Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties. Naturally, Stenger did not consult said encyclopedia on these passages.

To begin with, the firmament does not refer to some metal canopy, but rather to an expanse, as Archer himself says. Stenger did not bother to check and likely is banking on the hopes that his readers are ignorant. Other passages do not speak of the Earth being unmovable in a physical sense, but rather that God’s intention will take place.

For example, 1 Chron. 16:30 (Stenger only has Chronicles. One wonders if he knows there’s a first and second of that book.) says that the Earth cannot be moved. However, before that, it is speaking about it being established. The Psalm is not speaking about geographical movement but about God’s sights as it were being set in a favored position on our planet and how God is focused on what’s going on in our world. It would not make much sense for David to say “Praise God! The Earth is not moving through the universe!” It would have been nonsensical to those around him. The same is going on in Psalm 93 and 96 and 104 is clearly full of symbolism, seeing as the Hebrews did not believe God literally rode in a chariot. I frankly do not see the issue with Isaiah 45:18. As for Isaiah 40:22 describing the Earth as a circle, the Hebrews simply had no word necessarily for a sphere at the time. The same word was used for any circle.

It seems more likely that Stenger just went to a website like Skeptics’ Annotated Bible and didn’t bother doing his own research on the topic.

Not like such hasn’t happened before.

As for these references to immutability in species, again, I would love to see the references for that.

Stenger later goes on to cite the objection of how the Bible says the value of pi is 3. Ironically, in the same paragraph we find the following:

Ancient peoples cannot be expected to have understood the language of modern science or have needed an exact value of pi (except for the builders of great monuments like the pyramids).

Here, Stenger is actually correct, but then he fails to apply this to all he said. It gives the impression that Stenger is more interested in having a certain interpretation that he can easily prove wrong, rather than seeing if there might be a truer interpretation that fits with the literary and historical context of the passages. The Bible must be taken in a wooden literal sense for that is the only way it can be debunked so easily. Let’s not risk actually studying it.

For more information on Pi, I refer the reader to this.

For prophecy, Stenger believes that there should be something esoteric in the Bible that is not understood until a future date when it becomes true. (Yet ironically, he says prophecies have never been fulfilled. By his demands, maybe he should just wait longer?) He gives this example. Suppose the Bible said:

Before two millennia shall pass since the birth of our Lord, a man will stand on another world within the firmament and he will smite a tiny orb with his staff such that it will fly from sight.”

Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what Stenger was referring to until he went on to talk about how men in Jesus’s day could have anticipated men being on the moon nor known anything about golf.

So Stenger would have a saying remain in Scripture for 2,000 years that would be absolutely nonsensical and handed down. Personally, I prefer Jesus’s idea. Speak to the people in language that they understand so that when the events happen, they can be sure of their fulfillment.

Stenger cites Genesis 3:15 as its often used a fulfillment of the birth of the Messiah and says “I am not sure what the prediction is here; that Jesus was to be born of a woman?”

Any commentaries cited? Not a one. Stenger says “I’m not sure.” There’s nothing wrong with being unsure of what a passage means. The best way to remedy that is to go to those learned in the Bible and find out what they say about what the passage means. Stenger doesn’t do so. Had he done so, he could have found out that seed is often attributed to a man and Jesus is said to be of the seed of woman rather than the seed of a man, a hinting at his virgin birth.

In a statement even more humorous, Stenger says “I would not be too far off base to note that Jesus sitting on God’s right hand has not been verified scientifically.”

It’s hard to imagine how someone can even think that way.

Heck. Whether I’m sitting in my own chair is not verified scientifically. You don’t have to do repeated experiments to see if I’m sitting at my computer as I write this. I wonder since Stenger is married if he says the same thing. “Well, when I scientifically verified that I loved my girlfriend at the time, I proposed to her and today, she is my wife.” Does he say “I know my children are special because I’ve scientifically verified it.” ?

The statement of Jesus at the right hand of the Father is not a scientific statement. It is a theological statement and a specifically ontological one as it describes a relationship between the Son and the Father. Of course, a literalist like Stenger is probably wondering if anyone has counted the number of fingers on God’s right hand.

In looking at fulfilled prophecies, he brings up the account of Jesus being born in Bethlehem and says “We have no reason outside the New Testament to believe Jesus was born in Bethlehem.”

There’s this great double-standard in history that if any other source makes a claim, that claim can stand on its own, but if that claim is found in the Bible, it has to be backed by something else in order to be verified. The gospels were written in the time of the eyewitnesses. Had Luke and Matthew made it up, witnesses could have said “You’re changing the story! We know where he was born!” Stenger needs to have a reason for thinking the Bible is wrong other than “It’s the Bible!”

His source for his criticism is Randall Helms’s “Gospel Fictions.” Helms is not accepted as an authority among mainstream historians. For more information on Helms, I recommend a start with this particular book here.

Stenger also brings up the slaughter of the innocents of Bethlehem and asks why it wasn’t mentioned elsewhere. The reason is that Herod was simply a bloodthirsty king who regularly murdered possible threats to his throne. This slaughter would have killed about a dozen boys. With all that was going on at the time with Roman occupation and the Jewish wars, this was something small not worth mentioning.

Stenger also treats seriously the pagan copycat thesis. His source for this? “The Jesus Mysteries.” This is a book I have as well and a critique of it has been written by the Bede that can be found here and also includes other links within it. It’s sources like these that tell me Stenger is just looking for sources that agree with him and going on from there. The above books mentioned are cited again by Stenger throughout the rest of this chapter. He will not cite mainstream historians, Christian or non-Christian.

In conclusion, Stenger does not make his case. There is nothing scientific in this chapter, odd for a book supposed to be about science.

We shall continue tomorrow.

“God: The Failed Hypothesis” Review: The Uncongenial Universe

October 9, 2010

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, the blog where we dive into the ocean of truth! We’ve lately been going through Victor Stenger’s book “God: The Failed Hypothesis.” Tonight, we’re looking at the chapter on the Uncongenial Universe.

Most of you reading this are probably reading it on a computer assuming someone didn’t print it out for you. It is traveling around the world to reach you, likely as you sit in your own homes with heating and air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and a steady supply of food. Many of you sleep safely and have cars to drive you around. You live your life without major worries of life and death.

That’s not all. There are some exceptions, but by and large, life is usually good. We tend to get around well on this planet and so now having said that, I’m going to start discussing Stenger’s chapter meant to show the bad thinking behind such productions as “The Privileged Planet.”

To which, Stenger had a problem with the Discovery Institute wanting the Smithsonian to show the film. The Smithsonian did eventually, but they did not accept payment. Why is this a problem? Because the sectarian motives of the film were not overtly made known and we sure can’t show religious material.

It’s something that’s rather confusing. Whether you like the Discovery Institute or not, I always thought that science was supposed to be based on the evidence and not the motives behind a worldview. Sure. DI could be entirely wrong, but they are not wrong ipso facto because they could have “religious motivation.”

Of course, if we accepted religious motivation as a standard, we would have to throw out Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, etc. None of these men saw religion as a hindrance to science but rather saw it as a great aid to science, or rather believing in God gave them reason to do science, but that science benefited their religion overall by showing the glory of how the creator created.

The next section to deal with is life in the universe and how common is it. Naturally,we know for sure of no other life, at least life as we know it, beyond ourselves. Often we can be told that this is a cause to not believe in God for if God existed, surely he would not create a universe of just empty space! On the other hand, if there were life on other planets, we can be sure we would be told that this is why we can see how easy it is for life to arise up by natural processes and therefore there is no need for God. The argument can work both ways.

It’s for reasons like that that I prefer other arguments. Now if someone can argue the science well, by all means go for it. I believe Christianity is established on better grounds, but I would hope atheists would at least be consistent.

Stenger in this section tells of how we hear the sun is a typical star, but this isn’t true, and I agree with him on the sun. I disagree with him on how we hear it is a typical star. For his ranting against The Privileged Planet, you’d think he’d know that in the book, a good portion of chapter seven is spent arguing that this is not the case. The writers want to stress that the sun is no ordinary star.

Stenger goes on speaking of the authors of the book to say “The very reasons that Gonzalez and Richards give for Earth being ‘privileged’ make it very unlikely that humans could survive without extensive life support, even on those planets that might otherwise be suitable for some kind of life.”

Why, yes. I do believe that’s what they mean when they say our planet is privileged. The book is called “The Privileged Planet.” It’s not “The Privileged Planets.”

So I suppose Stenger thinks stating the case of Gonzalez and Richards is somehow an argument against them.

Stenger goes on to say:

Obviously, if the physical parameters of our environment were just slightly different, life as we know it on Earth would not have evolved here.

Note: This is something obvious. You should obviously know that life being here as it is is something unique and incredible.

Last I checked, That’s what DI is saying.

Stenger goes on to explain this however that since the universe contains so many planets, we would expect one of them to have life. We just happen to live on that planet!

Earlier, Stenger had gone after Hugh Ross for mentioning the probabilities of factors of our universe that make it unlikely that we are an accident and increases the likelihood of theism. Stenger said that Ross did not give a probability of divine design itself being right or wrong however.

Yet when Stenger gives a probability here, he can say “Pretty good” and that counts.

The claim of Ross and others is not a God of the Gaps argument. Instead, it is saying that God has explanatory power because there’s reason to believe there is a God behind it since there are marks of intelligence. Ross is not positing God because he is stumped on life. He is positing God based on positive evidence.

As for Stenger, he has given the problem Richard Swinburne spoke of. Swinburne asks us to imagine ourselves sentenced to death. We are tied to a post and blindfolded and before us are one hundred sharpshooters with laser sights on their rifles. At the command of “Fire!”, they shoot. If something goes wrong, it is considered justice that we can go free.

So you are there and you hear the command and you hear one hundred rifles go off. However, you realize you have not lost consciousness. Someone comes and undoes your blindfold and your ropes and you find out that while the guns went off, somehow, you didn’t die. A friend later sees you and comments on your luck to which you say “Nothing lucky about it. Surely sometime all of them would miss!”

If you said that, your friend would rightfully find you crazy. We all know that the reason one hundred of them would miss is because of some intelligence wanting them to miss. Maybe they were all given blanks or maybe they were all bribed. Either way, it wouldn’t just happen. That’s the point. To say “We just happen to be on the right planet” is to come up with an excuse. We are wondering if there is a why as to why we are on the right planet. Now it could be this is a fluke, but the more evidence we can find, the more that will seem unlikely.

Now Stenger goes on to discuss fine-tuning, to which I think in the examples, he more indicates fine-tuning than goes against it. I will not argue the points however since that is in the area of physics and I am not a student of physics. I study philosophy, theology, and history. Thus, let us move ahead to the parts where he discusses theology and philosophy.

To begin with, he speaks of waste, which is again implying a theology. It is saying that if God existed, he would surely have planted life on all these planets. To have waste however is to have something not fitting its purpose, to which Stenger never gives the purpose. As for an example of waste, Stenger says “Why would God send his only son to die an agonizing death to redeem an insignificant bit of carbon.”

Now maybe I’m mistaken on this, but Stenger has said that Sam Harris started writing because of 9/11 and the new atheists are worried about the dangers religion brings. I wish I had known earlier that these dangers were simply dangers to an insignificant bit of carbon. That’s a good question then Stenger! Why should anyone care if all we are is an insignificant bit of carbon?

Of course, it could be we are not, and that could be based on the belief that man is more than just the material that makes him up. There is something in humanity that is inherently good and this is not based on just his material. It is based on his very existence. Man is not insignificant. In fact, the biblical view says just the opposite. Man is that who bears the image of God.

Stenger goes on to tell of how the universe bears no resemblance to what is described in Genesis. Genesis tells of Earth as a flat and immovable circle at the center of a firmament or vault of fixed stars, circled by the sun, moon, and planets.

I wonder what translation Stenger is reading. I don’t see that. Of course, these are the people who complain about people who take the Bible literally and whenever it comes their time to interpret the text, they always interpret it literally. Never mind that we could actually try to understand the historical context, the words used, the way knowledge was communicated, etc.

With reasoning like this, it’s a wonder if any of the new atheists could ever pass a class on literature.

Continuing his bad theology, Stenger says:

In fact, when you think of it, why would an infinitely powerful God even need six days? Wouldn’t he have the ability to make everything in an instant? And, why would he have to rest when it was all done?

There are times it’s hard for me to imagine how someone could be more ignorant of his opponents’ views while writing against them.

To begin with Stenger, you’re not the first to think this. Augustine himself knew that God didn’t need six days. He believed in an instantaneous creation. Why six days then? (I am not at this point discussing if they were literal 24-hour days or long periods of time) God need not do everything immediately simply because He can. I would argue that God was getting the Earth ready for life and using a gradual process rather than an instant one. I would also point to poetical ideas in the first chapter. For instance, in the first three days, the habitats are made and in the corresponding last three days, they are inhabited. An excellent look on this can be found in the book “The Genesis Debate.”

Why rest? That is not to be taken literally but to show the importance of taking time out from work. The Jews were commanded to do this. It was a time to appreciate what was done. Stenger takes this text literally and thus creates a straw man. I do not know of any evangelical, young-earth or old-earth, who would say God literally needed to rest because He was tired.

Maybe Stenger could point me to them.

In conclusion, I see Stenger again as unfamiliar with what he critiques and I am left once again believing that the Earth is designed and in fact, Stenger has given me more reason to think such.

We shall continue tomorrow.

God: The Failed Hypothesis Review: Cosmic Evidence

October 8, 2010

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! We’ve lately been reviewing some of Victor Stenger’s books and tonight, we’re dealing with chapter 4 of “God: The Failed Hypothesis” on the case of cosmic evidence.

This chapter is a search of the cosmos for evidence of God’s existence and it right off starts with miracles. Now I would think a chapter like this should have started with a discussion of the cosmos, but okay. Stenger claims that cosmological evidence should show evidence of well-established laws of nature or a causal ingredient not understandable in material or natural means alone.

To begin with, why should there necessarily be miracles throughout the history of the cosmos in order for God to exist. Is Stenger saying that if there are no miracles, there is no God? A deist would have just said “Of course there are no miracles, but there is still God.” This is not science then but theology. It is saying that if God exists, He must act in such and such a way and to say how He must act is theology. As for whether the universe itself needs a cause, we’ll look into that as we go on.

So let’s do that. The first is the creation of matter. Stenger tells us that matter can be created out of energy and disappear into energy. Where does energy come from? Stenger does grant that it has to come from somewhere. Stenger doesn’t say where. He just says that the positive and negative energies in the universe cancel each other out. Once again, the question is where did those energies come from? Stenger doesn’t say. Instead, that the universe is so finely balanced seems to argue more for an intelligence than anything else.

What about order? Stenger tells us that since we have a universe starting in a Big Bang, then there wasn’t order. It started as chaos and then turned to order.

However, Stenger is again doing theology. Upon what basis does he argue that God must begin with everything orderly instead of God using laws of physics to bring order to the universe? Why must God create the exact way Stenger wants Him to create to exist? Stenger should keep in mind the title “Big Bang” was at first a pejorative title for the theory. This wasn’t a chaotic explosion but an orderly event.

Does the universe have a beginning? Most of us use the Kalam argument to demonstrate that and we use the horizontal version (Although I prefer the vertical one). The argument includes the point that if the universe existed for an infinite number of moments in the past, we would never reach today because we would have completed an infinite number of moments and an infinite set can’t be completed.

Stenger’s answer is that we can always have one event precede another and one event come after another.

This is why people who do physics should stick to physics instead of philosophy. Stenger doesn’t even get the point that it is being argued that an infinite set can’t be completed. To say “We can add one more before that” does not deal with the Kalam argument

Stenger also gives us the syllogism for the Kalam argument.

Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
The universe began to exist.
Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Stenger tells us that William Lane Craig, famous for defending this argument, takes the first premise to be self-evident. He also says Craig does this with no justification other than common every day experience. This is the same experience that teaches us that the world is flat. In reality, events at the atomic and subatomic level are observed to have no evident cause.

First off, anyone who has actually read Craig notes that Craig is well-aware of objections to the first premise and defends against them. Many Christians have read the Lee Strobel books and this is an argument that Craig even deals with in “The Case For A Creator.” That Stenger is unaware of this indicates to me he hasn’t really read Craig’s material.

Second, common experience teaches us many beliefs that we hold to be true that we would be hard-pressed to prove. For instance, I believe there is a world outside of my mind and I believe that matter is real. I believe it’s self-evident that it’s wrong to torture innocent children for fun. To say that common experience is not a good teacher is simply false. It is where most of us learn our most basic beliefs.

Third, Stenger is again falling for this flat Earth myth which shows me just what kind of researcher he is when he steps out of his field. Aristotle taught the Earth was a sphere. The ancient Greeks knew it well. The medieval church continued the tradition. However, we have known for some time that Stenger is a man of faith.

Finally, to say that the events at the atomic and subatomic level have no evident cause is not the same as to say they are uncaused. Either causality, a principle we’ve understood for years, is in error, or else we are lacking in our understanding of a field that’s still relatively new. I’ll wager for the latter.

Stenger asks that even if the universe is caused, why does that cause have to be something other than a natural cause? That’s the point however. The argument is that nature itself needs a cause and nothing is self-caused. Not only that, matter is always in a state of potential moving from one mode of existence to another. It has limited existence and not pure existence. It is limited by something greater than itself. We have covered this in our look at simplicity in our study of the doctrine of God in the Summa.

Stenger eventually gets us to where the laws of physics came from. What’s his explanation? I’ll quote him here.

“They came from nothing!”

Hard to believe Christians are supposed to have the absurd position when Stenger believes laws can just come into existence from non-existence. I am even more amazed that some people find this to be an explanation. Let me spell something out Stenger. Nothing is non-existence and it is incapable of causing anything.

Why is there something rather than nothing? Stenger comes to this question and quotes a philosopher who says the answer is “There has to be something.” Why? Why does there have to be anything?

Stenger asks about conceptual problems. How do we speak of nothing. What are its properties? This has already been answered. Nothing is non-existence. It does not have properties. It has no causal power, aside from in the atheist universe where apparently it can somehow make everything.

Stenger also asks why is there God instead of nothing? The answer is that God is the basis of existence itself because He is being without limits. God’s existence is not caused but rather He is His existence. His unawareness of history answering this objection or even presenting any arguments shows me the lack of research on Stenger’s part.

Stenger instead tells that the transition from nothing-to-something is a natural one because nothing is instable. Again, it isn’t. It is just nothing. You cannot say what nothing is other than describing it as nothing. However, for Stenger, that something exists is evidence enough that there is no God.

Because if there was a God, there would obviously be nothing…..

Except God is something…..

We shall have to see if the rest of the work is more pleasing> For now, Stenger just gives cop-outs and has lazy research on his topic. Let him stick to physics, for he cannot do philosophy or theology.

We shall continue tomorrow.

“God: The Failed Hypothesis” Review: Searching For A World Beyond Matter

October 7, 2010

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! We’ve lately been looking at the work of Victor Stenger, one of the new atheists. Tonight, we’re looking at the chapter of “Searching For A World Beyond Matter.”

As is normal for Stenger, we have the usual problem of a lack of sources. For instance, Stenger said that the ancients believed the heart was the center of being and intelligence. Now it could be that this is the case. I’d be willing to grant it for the sake of argument. However, he gives no sources. For a man who raises a battle cry against blind faith, he expects his readers to have blind faith in what he says.

For Stenger, the ancient view of man began to change around the time of Descartes. Once that was done, Europe abandoned blind obedience to authority that had stifled progress for centuries. Instead, people began to rely more on empirical data.

This isn’t really the case. Aristotle was an empiricist and Aquinas followed that tradition. It was around this time that some began to complain against empiricism. Descartes himself was a rationalist. Authorities were also not followed blindly. The teachings that had been handed down had worked for years.

Consider Stenger in his own field. Is it likely that most physicists today have read Ptolemy’s Almagest or works of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton? It’s quite unlikely, and in some ways, understandable. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Most scientists want to read the latest work in their fields that can be found in their journals and work is built on the foundation of the great scientists of the past.

Philosophy is based on principles more and these are the principles of thinking that tend to trace back to either Plato or Aristotle. There are two competing schools of thought with variations in between them. In theology, it is important to read the ancient texts of the deity one worships and older can be better.

Science on the other hand was not held back. People just did not have the resources or finances to do science until some practical issues were dealt with. These included agriculture and medicine. Knowing the motion of the planets just wasn’t relevant to someone who had little leisure time and simply wanted to keep his family alive.

Going through this chapter, much of what is said isn’t relevant to our purposes until we get to the studies on prayer. Now I will grant I am skeptical of these prayer studies because I do not believe a free-will agent such as God is required to act in such and such a way. However, I also disagree with Stenger that God does not exist based on these studies.

To begin with Stenger, tells us that published findings showing prayer has a positive value have been found unconvincing. He simply points to another book of his to demonstrate this. No reason otherwise is given. It would have been nice to have seen somewhat of an argument.

The numerous problems are ones such as we cannot control all the people praying. Different people are praying for people even if they are not in a “prayed-for” group. These people surely know some other people who are praying for them. You might find one or two who don’t, but it’s likely most people today know a Christian who is praying for them, especially in America where these studies often take place or other developed nations.

Second, God is not forced to answer any prayer and his refusal to do so says nothing about His existence or non-existence. God’s existence is best established by sound argument rather than by experiments of this nature. I believe Christians should stick to the traditional arguments.

Finally, prayer’s greatest benefit will not be seen in the miraculous healing, but in the changing of lives. Prayers may not always change external circumstances, but they will change our relationship to those circumstances. They can change us more than they change the world. Growing in holiness is the best purpose of prayer.

Much of the case showing Stenger’s problems with Near-death experiences and the existence of the soul I have written about elsewhere. I recommend the reader go here

We shall review the next chapter tomorrow.