Posts Tagged ‘atheism’

Book Plunge: So Many Christians, So Few Lions

February 23, 2015

What do I think of George Yancey and David Williamson’s books published by Rowman and Littlefield? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

SomanyChristians

George Yancey got in touch with me wondering if I’d be willing to go through his book. I thank him for sending me a review copy. I do think this is an important book, though at the start, I want to make some caveats about my opinion here.

To begin with, if you are not familiar with sociology, as I am not, then some of the terms in the book will be confusing to you. My eyes didn’t really register what I was seeing in the sections on the percentages and such. This is a downside and I suppose in some ways, it’s one that’s kind of unavoidable. Still, the sections that you can understand are some of the most revealing ones.

Second, the writings did not invent the term Christianophobia. It has been around already. They simply utilize it. Personally, with my disdain for terms like homophobia and Islamophobia and such, I would have preferred something else. Yet still, my choice of “antichrist” would have probably been seen as more problematic. (In my eschatology, there is no one antichrist figure, though some can certainly embody an antichrist spirit well. Anyone who is not for Christ is quite simply antichrist.)

That having been said, this is an important book to read on what is going on in our culture around us. Yancey and Williamson trace this to a culture war that each side thinks the other is wanting to destroy something great on the other side. For instance, many who are the progressives against Christianity are thinking that Christianity is anti-science and anti-reason. To be fair, many Christians can give this kind of viewpoint. Those Christians are often an embarrassment to many of us who do not share a similar viewpoint. Historically, reason and Christianity have not been opponents at all. They’ve been allies together.

On the other hand, as Yancey and Williamson point out, there are many atheists and others out there who would disagree with my worldview and while they are wiling to discuss it with me, they’re not going to be people that are out there actively arguing for their position and against mine and actively seeking to destroy Christianity or any other faith for that matter. Many atheists out there could be quite embarrassed by the actions of their fellow atheists. But yet, there is that vocal percentage out there that is not content with that.

Yancey and Williamson sent out questionnaires to such groups of atheists who are very much opposed to Christianity to get their viewpoints. These included questions such as the way they saw Christianity interacting on the political sphere and how they felt about not only Christians but other people groups out there such as Muslims or Mormons or atheists or agnostics. This also included questions about if any legal actions should be taken.

The answers that came back did in fact show often a great antagonism to Christianity. Some people would not mind laws that helped stop Christians from doing evangelism or removed tax-exempt status from churches. Some would not want to make new laws, but if enforcing a law could have the benefit of making the church be hampered in what it does, then that was all well and good.

Many respondents also claimed a view that Christianity was anti-intellectual and anti-science and of course, sexual morals came up many times. As I read the comments that were put out, I couldn’t help but think of too many non-Christians that I interact with online who have a straw man of Christianity built up and who sadly have not really looked too much at the main issues. It is the mindset that I call presuppositional atheism.

The best chapter was one where this went beyond respondents and looked at figures in public media who were against Christianity and the open statements that they would make and many of them would make such statements without fear of repercussion. I would have liked to have seen more statements like this. Also noteworthy were cases of people who were sued because they were seeking to practice Christian behavior, such as someone who wanted their new roommate to be a fellow Christian.

The book also seeks to argue as to what should be done to help curb this antagonism to Christianity. One suggestion I’d make is that Christians should be better witnesses to what Christianity is. If a lot of people have a viewpoint that Christianity is anti-science and anti-reason, we have to honestly ask, did we do something to help contribute to that viewpoint? If so, what can we do to help eliminate that viewpoint. This is not asking us to back down on our standards at all or compromise our beliefs, but it is asking us to watch and see what kind of Christianity we are showing the world.

This book is just the start on a journey as the authors themselves realize. More research is needed on this topic and hopefully it will be coming in the future. This book while not the final word, as the authors themselves would state entirely, is the one that starts the discussion. Even if you’re not a Christian, you should find the antagonism towards Christians just because they’re Christians to be disturbing.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 4

February 18, 2015

Where does a preacher go after they apostasize? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So now that Barker is no longer a preacher, what’s he to do with himself? Part of what he does he says is to continue growing with nicely pointing out that religious conservatives don’t want to move on. This is after saying that for some, growth and progress are a threat. You see, those of us who are religious conservatives have always resisted progress because we’d rather hold on to tradition.

Okay Barker. Just because you were like this does not mean the rest of us are. It’s a comment like this that makes me sure that Barker holds to the Dark Ages myth as well. If you’re a religious conservative like myself and reading this blog, this I hope means you are interested in growth and progression.

Of course, the word progress is tricky. Yet I think it is trickier for the atheist than for the theist. Progress implies a goal, a purpose, something to move towards. That also implies that each of us has a nature and progress is befitting that nature. This is much easier to account for on theism where such things can be grounded in an eternal mind. For many, progress is defined as just going where you want. But what if man has a specific nature and a specific end and it might not be based on what we want but what we need? Could that not change things?

To get back to Barker, Barker is clear that he is still in essence a preacher. He just preaches a different gospel, though it could hardly be called a gospel. He now does this as part of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He talks about doing several debates, with most notably saying that his first one was in Nashville and it was on the topic of the historicity of Jesus. It’s revealing to know that when Barker pulled a 180, he immediately went to the total fringe extreme on the opposite side of the spectrum. (As we’ll find later in the book, he has a whole chapter devoted to arguing Jesus never existed.)

Barker also has a statement in here saying “Faith is what you need when you don’t have certainty. The more you learn, the less you need to believe.” This would be news to all the epistemologists out there who hold that whatever knowledge is, it is at least justified true belief. Even if we bring up the Gettier Problem, there is still agreement that knowledge is at least these three things. Why so many atheists like Barker want to put this radical dichotomy between knowledge and belief up is a mystery.

As will be no shock to anyone, Barker also does not have any clue what faith is. For all the talk that I hear about definitions like this and that faith is believing something without evidence, I just wish that I could get some evidence for this position. I guess those who espouse it just want me to take it on faith and ignore all the evidence to the contrary. Again, Barker is just assuming his old mindset is the same as Christians today. Sorry, but most of us are not that fundamentalist as Barker was and still is.

One other point is that during a debate, Barker asked a Christian “If God told you to kill me, would you?” What Barker misses is that when Christians are to think God is telling them something, it’s not because we’re driving down the road and get an impression that we should turn in various directions until we realize we’re in the middle of nowhere and then think God is congratulating us for testing our faith. (Incidentally, this happened to Barker.)

In fact, in their book Did God Really Command Genocide?, Copan and Flannagan spend a chapter on this. They point out that there must be strong evidence that God is behind it, this evidence needs to be public, and it needs to be verified by miracles of such a scope that they call them G2 miracles. These are miracles that you can be sure are not just sleight of hand but are actually the work of a supreme being.

In describing his debate with Swinburne, he states that he argued that God is not a simple being but infinitely complex. Barker makes the same mistake that Dawkins does. He assumes God must be like a material being and thus have composition, such as a massive brain that connects this part of God to that. This has not been the historical view of the church. Indeed, we have said God is simple. He is simple in that He is not made of parts. It is not that He is easy to understand.

Barker also tells of another debate where he says theistic claims are not falsifiable and if a statement is to be seen as true, there must be other statements that if true would make that false. Does this follow? Is the principle of falsifiability falsifiable? If so, then perhaps the principle is wrong. If not, then the principle itself cannot be true. Barker could not have it be both ways. Besides, it seems odd to show that he thinks it is not falsifiable when he has done debates on the existence of God.

But besides that, it still doesn’t matter. Theism is falsifiable. You can show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God or give another positive disproof for his existence. You can also try to show that there are fallacies in all of the theistic arguments. The latter would not show that theism is false, but it would show that theism was believed for poor reasons. Yet it gets worse for Barker’s case as he goes on to say

“Falsifiability cuts both ways, of course. I am often asked what would cause me to change my mind. “What would you accept as proof that there is a God?” I can think of dozens of examples. If you were to tell me that God predicted to you that next March 14 at 2:27 a.m. a meteorite composed of 82 percent iron, 13 percent nickel and 3 percent iridium, approaching from the southwest and hitting the Earth at an angle of 82 degrees, would strike your house (not mine, of course), penetrating the building, punching a hole through your Navajo rug upstairs and the arm of the couch downstairs, ending up 17.4 inches below the basement floor and weighing 13.5 ounces, and if that happened as predicted, I would take that as serious evidence that atheism is falsified. If Jesus would materialize in front of a debate audience, captured on videotape, and if he were to tell us exactly where to dig in Israel to find the ark of the covenant containing the original stone tablets given to Moses—well, you get the idea. Atheism is exquisitely vulnerable to disproof. Theism is not”

So please note this. Barker wants theists to tell some evidence that would change their mind. What evidence does he say would change his mind? Something no theist could provide. That means already that if I were to debate Dan Barker, he’s already set the bar for what would count as falsifiable evidence of atheism and it’s not rational argument. Instead, it’s dependent on his having an experience.

As I have said before, this is atheistic presuppositionalism.

Barker also claims at one debate that he had a list of 75 highly qualified Bible scholars, most of them believing Christians with at least one Ph.D. in biblical languages and other subjects related to the topic. He also showed where they taught at and that each of them is convinced the resurrection is a legend or a myth.

One would like to see such a list. For one thing, if they’re Christians, they do not hold that stance. A believing Christian is one who believes Jesus rose from the dead. I cannot help but be suspicious of this and wonder if this is anything like Ken Humphreys had in his debate with me. When he told me he had a list of scholars who upheld his view of the Gospels, I asked him for that list. Knowing what list he was speaking of, I asked his definition of a scholar. That’s when the wiggling really started.

Maybe someday I’ll get to see this list.

For now, we’re going to let this be a wrap-up. Next time we post on this, we’ll have a look at why Barker is an atheist.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 2

February 10, 2015

How shall we continue our review of Godless by Dan Barker? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We now get to the part about Barker’s fall. He starts out by telling us it was 1979 and Jesus still hadn’t returned. (Yes. Barker was caught up in last days madness. Perhaps he could have avoided that had he had access to a work like DeMar’s at the time.) This again is a reminder of the hyper-fundamentalism of Barker. Jesus is returning and well, you know, every other generation was wrong about them being the generation, but we are the ones! Really!

Barker is visiting a church and he’s told that there are some members of the congregation that don’t think Adam and Eve were historical people. The pastor doesn’t deny that they’re Christians. This was a shock to Barker who was surprised they were allowed to be members. Barker goes on to describe how some people think some events in the Bible are not fully historical but meant to teach us lessons. Of course, Barker was just thinking it was liberal talk.

This experience for Barker would be akin to the experience Bart Ehrman regularly talks about where he got back a paper on Mark 2 trying to deal with what he saw as a Bible contradiction and was told “Maybe Mark just made a mistake.” Now yes, Ehrman says the problem of evil was the real clincher for his deconversion, but it cannot be denied that the breaking down of inerrancy in his mind had a lot to do with it and prepared him for that deconversion.

Barker tells us this was a big deal and started his slide towards where he is today. As he says “Those initial and timid movements away from fundamentalism were psychologically more traumatic than the intellectual flying leaps that came later. When you are raised to believe that every word in the bible is God-inspired and inerrant, you can’t lightly moderate your views on Scripture.”

Some of you wonder why it is that I have a problem with inerrancy being treated the way it is in the church as if it was the fundamental doctrine of the church.

This is why.

What happens if the resurrection of Jesus is made your focus? What happens if you can say Jesus rose from the dead even if the Bible is just a collection of ancient documents? Is something like Adam and Eve not being historical going to shake your trust? Nope.

Now Barker goes on to say he had read a lot of Christian writers, but had not interacted with the other side at all so he began reading everything he could. Now this part I do not condemn at all. However, there is one danger that I do stress to people. We cannot all be sufficient in every field. There are areas I do not read on because these are not my areas of interest. I do not study them. Oh I know the basics, but I am in no way a specialist. I know enough psychology that I could counsel someone in a pastoral way if need be. I know the basic science that most of us know, but that does not mean I am an authority in these areas.

Too many people can often jump into waters they know nothing about and they are very impressionable at that point and they get overwhelmed. If you do not know the field well, you really have no way of accurately judging the claims in that field and you can just believe whatever you are told. Barker says he did not get the liberal arts education he would have got at a real college. (And yes, there are Bible Colleges that teach these matters as well. Mine did.)

So again, could it be that the lack of education in the church is a problem? People don’t know how to interact with the other side and aren’t prepared in their own side?

Barker talks about visiting other congregations and seeing that they can all open the Bible and prove that theirs is the correct interpretation of the text.

No. No they can’t.

What it would mean if they could do that is that a text could mean in fact two contradictory things. The person can argue that theirs is the correct one, but proof is something else. What this does is raises the question of “Is there a correct interpretation of the text?” Unless Barker wants to go all postmodern on us (And it’s doubtful he does since he argues later on in the book for what the text says which seems to indicate the text can be understood) then it must be accepted that the text has a meaning. Maybe we don’t know it. Maybe we do. Maybe in some cases there is data missing that we can’t know it. It does not mean the text can mean anything or has no meaning and it does not mean the original recipients would not have understood the meaning.

Barker, like many others, uses the “God is not the author of confusion” at this point, though the text is about order in worship and saying when it comes to worship, God is not responsible for confusion. Yes. Barker is still a fundamentalist. He has just switched sides.

Barker also says when he preached, he talked less about hell and more about love and spent time talking about this life instead of an after-life. You can’t help but wonder what kind of preacher Barker really was and probably the only ones that would really like that style that is hinted at of hellfire and brimstone would be the rabid fundamentalists. As I’ve said before, we can too often create little safety bubbles in the church in an escapist mentality

On page 37, he talks about the fall more saying his experiences did not get weaker and that even today he can produce those feelings that he had. (He also says elsewhere that he can still speak in tongues and just practices every now and then to see if he still has it.) This is a reminder once again that too many Christians are rooting their faith in their own personal experience. Your faith is ultimately all about you then. This is why I get concerned when I meet Christians who only have their personal testimony. That is something that will hamper your evangelism in this day and age.

Barker goes on to say that it was beginning to look like there was no personal God. He ends the paragraph saying “What a strange and wonderful thing to realize.”

I must agree with my friend Jerry Walls. Why would anyone hope this?

Exactly how awful was Barker’s personal God?

Later on, Barker says he realized the counter-response to the information he says he was “learning” is just faith. For Barker, faith is a way to believe something. Biblically, faith is really a response to what you already believe. Let’s consider a scholarly source on the matter.

Faith/Faithfulness

“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.

It’s noteworthy that Barker admits that while he was an atheist, he was still preaching. To be fair, he did go and get a job doing something else, but it is a concerning issue to know that someone would go on preaching while still being an atheist. Barker talks about being invited to go to Mexico to do some ministry there while still an atheist and while there looking at the stars out the window, he says he realized that he was utterly alone and there was no “supernatural” realm. There was no one watching and judging him. He was all alone in the world in a universe that would burn out after it lost its fuel.

His thoughts?

“It was simultaneously a frightening and liberating experience.”

Okay. Frightening makes sense, but again, why liberating, unless Barker did have the god who was really a tyrannical judge all along and he hadn’t realized it? Why would anyone consider it liberating to be a universe where you are alone and that all you want will die eventually and any dreams will die with them? As Bertrand Russell said in a Free Man’s Worship:

“Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

All he needed to do was end this with a cute little smiley face.

Again, as Walls says, it’s understandable that someone can be convinced this is true intellectually and come to that conclusion with regret, but this strange speak of hope and liberation is just baffling.

But thus ends the story of the fall at this point. We’ll look at the fallout next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 1

February 9, 2015

What are my thoughts on Dan Barker’s book published by Ulysses Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Godless

I’m working on something right now studying the atheism of Dan Barker. He’s well known for being a minister who became an atheist and for his influential position with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. When you read a book like Godless, you won’t learn a lot about atheism really, but you’ll sure learn a lot about Dan Barker and you’ll learn a lot about how the fundamentalist mindset works.

To correct everything wrong in the book would require a whole volume in itself. The foreword by Richard Dawkins doesn’t really help make the volume better. If anything, it just feeds into the mindset because when it comes to studying religion, Dawkins is often just as fundamentalist. A point I wish to look at is how Dawkins describes Barker’s mother who having been a Christian for practically all her life in a fundamentalist background threw it out shortly after Barker told her about his atheism. Dawkins says

“In his mother’s case, it only took her a few weeks to conclude that “religion is a bunch of baloney” and a little later she was able to add, happily, “I don’t have to hate anymore.”

Many will be wondering what style of fundamentalism Barker grew up with. If so, consider someone like Pat Robertson or Bob Jones.

Now multiply that by about 100.

Even supposing that religion is a bunch of baloney, it is not a simple subject and why should one think that just a few weeks is enough to conclude? Let us suppose I said this instead.

“Yeah. I had a relative who tried to convince me of evolution. I just went out and studied it and in a few weeks, I knew it was a bunch of baloney.”

That’s the kind of conclusion not reached in a few weeks. That requires much more time, but in our generation, we too often think the answers are quick and easy.

Consider the case of an atheist who I am sure would love to be mentioned but is someone who really likes to try to make a habit of debunking the faith he once says to have defended. He had a post talking about a man who went into a Barnes and Noble browsing and picked up this atheist’s book. He looked at some arguments about the Bible and then went to look up the verses in the Bible in the store in their context. He then says that hours later he renounced his faith.

Again, maybe the arguments were valid, but you really think a few hours qualifies you to make such a huge decision?

And as for not having to hate any more, we can’t help but wonder what it is being talked about. First off, there are some things you ought to hate. You ought to hate all manner of evil for instance. You ought to hate that people are abusing children right now and that women are being sold in the sex slave market. You also ought to hate that there are people living in poverty.

So this blanket statement is hard to understand and an odd focus as well. But then, such is the way it goes in fundamentalism.

Dan Barker starts the book off largely with his personal testimony. (Some things never change do they?) As we go through it, we see a young man with a lot of passion, but not a lot of information, which is a disaster waiting to happen. Unfortunately, it’s also a formula we have too often with our own youth. We send them out on youth retreats and such where they get a lot of entertainment and a lot of personal motivation, but they get very little in content.

Barker also talks about the moral differences between believers and nonbelievers. Somehow in his environment, he got the impression that atheists must just be wicked people somehow. I don’t know any Christian intellectual who holds to such a position. The moral argument is one constantly misunderstood as if it is being argued that an atheist cannot be moral. It’s a straw man made over and over despite it being answered time and time again. The moral argument argues that atheism has no ontological basis for morality. The moral truths are still there and they’re still followed, but they’re just not explained.

Much of Barker’s life relied on what he thought was a personal experience of God. On page 22, he says it’s interesting that God called Him so often exactly where he wanted to go. This is not a shock. I have noticed the same phenomenon. It seems interesting that the call of God seems to match so well for some preachers with where they can go and get a bigger church and a bigger paycheck.

Barker also gives us a good look at the fundamentalist mindset on page 33. “To the fundamentalist there is no gray area. Everything is black or white, true or false, right or wrong. Jesus reportedly said: “I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16, and not a very nice image.”

It’s also worth pointing out it’s a false interpretation of the passage. The city had hot water that served a purpose and cold water that served a purpose. Lukewarm water was useless. Jesus is not referring to spiritual condition here at all, as if He would prefer they be cold. Is the image pleasant? No, but it’s not supposed to be. This is yet another part of the fundamentalist mindset. “If it’s from God, it should not offend me.”

Barker’s story is one that most every feeling and inclination was seen as from God and every event that was happening was the hand of God at work. Now of course, every event is used by God for the Christian, but it is not directly caused by Him. It’s like the story of the woman who drives in a parking lot and sees a spot near the door and thinks God has blessed her. (And sometimes she drove for twenty minutes in the parking lot before she found that spot)

Barker talks about not accepting money for his services even though he had a family to take care of and about the music that he wrote. Any intellectual development however is not really talked about. This is one reason that it’s so important for churches to be preparing the people intellectually. If a pastor cannot be prepared intellectually and thus fall away, how much more the laity? How many apostates is someone like Barker making because no one took the time to train him up properly and if he was not willing to listen to others, why give a place of authority?

There was a man once who made a statement about the danger of zeal not in accordance with knowledge…

Godless has a lot in it that needs to be taken care of. This is just the start. We’ll continue our look at this book later.

Do Religious People Have Shaky Foundations?

January 2, 2015

Are you standing on shaky ground if you’re a theist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, an article showed up at Salon.com by John Messerly. In it, the author claims that those who are religious have a shaky foundation for what they believe in and was trying to explain the religious mind. Naturally, I saw no citation of people who would consider themselves religious to ask why we really believe what we believe and think what we think. I have no doubt that many do so for flimsy and superficial reasons. I have spent much time at this blog condemning such a mindset. (You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!) I’ve long said our intellectual foundations need to be strong and we need to wrestle with the big questions of life.

The article starts by pointing to a survey stating that 14% of professional philosophers are theists. However, I do think the data is not really as conclusive. Nearly 2,000 faculty members at various institutions were asked what they thought and less than half of that number actually responded. That means more than half of them did not respond and that’s out of only the number surveyed. What institutions were asked as well?

For instance, let’s suppose that there was a survey sent to the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic university. There you’ll find Alvin Plantinga. Do you think you’ll find others like him there who are theists? Absolutely. It’s not a shock that many Christian philosophers might want to teach at Christian seminaries because they want to educate fellow Christians. Were such institutions excluded? If so, could that also not just as much show a bias? Does that mean you should only examine Christian institutions? Absolutely not! Examine all of them.

So right at the start, color me suspicious. I want to see more data.

What about the claim that 7% of the National Academy of Sciences are theists? Rob Bowman in an excellent article answering Victor Stenger nearly a year ago said the following about that:

“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.”

So again, we have the same sort of problem. If you have a good ol’ boys association, they can choose who gets in and gets out and can conclude that real scientists aren’t theists so don’t accept them. We are regularly told how Christians do this at Seminaries and such where you have to have such and such beliefs to get in the door. Does it seem ludicrous to think other people could do the same thing?

Messerly is certainly right when he says this doesn’t say anything about the truth of theism or atheism, but it could cause believers discomfort. But why? Is this supposed to be something we don’t know? For those of us who are Christians, we expect people today to not accept the Gospel just as has often been the norm. Messerly attributes the disbelief to a rise in modern science as well as claims that the traditional theistic arguments don’t work.

Well both of those need to be shown rather than just asserted.

For instance, if we are told science has disproven theism, then how? When was this done? What branch of science did it? What experiment? Can we point to a conclusive date? Now someone might ask me if science has proven theism. Absolutely not. This is not the realm of science. I happen to agree with Francis Beckwith. Science can provide interesting data and it is useful in many areas, but it is not the final arbiter on the theism debate. The arguments I use for believing in God and establishing His existence do not depend on modern science. Suppose tomorrow an eternal universe is proven beyond the shadow of a doubt,. So what? My arguments are safe. Suppose evolution is shown to be false beyond the shadow of a doubt tomorrow. So what? My arguments are safe.

Science however does make sense in a Christian context. If there’s a rational God behind the world establishing order and acting with purpose, we can expect to find his purpose. This is why so many of the scientists in the Middle Ages and beyond were Christians and never saw a conflict between Christianity and science. The supposed warfare between science and religion has been a myth foisted on us by post-enlightenment thinkers. James Hannam gives an excellent look at this myth here. You can also listen to my interview with him here.

I know a lot of atheist readers are ready to scream “Bias” at this point. If so, because a lot of them like to look at supposed bias instead of looking at the data, then how about Tim O’Neill? How does his bio on his page describe him?

“Wry, dry, rather sarcastic, eccentric, occasionally arrogant Irish-Australian atheist bastard.”

How about also a book edited by the agnostic Ronald Numbers that deals with many of these bogus claims as well? That would be Galileo Goes To Jail.

Now if Messerly meanwhile wants to say theistic arguments have failed, okay. How about listing them and going through them? How about pointing to references that show where this has happened? Peter Boghossian has done the same thing in his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists. On page 28, he says all the arguments have been refuted. Demonstration? None. The endnote he gives points to no works on the topic at all. It’s simply a statement of faith.

Which at this point is all Messerly has given.

So now we get to how to explain religious belief, and right at the get-go there’s a problem here. What is religion exactly? Does Messerly ever define it? Not at all.

So what is it? Is it something that believes in God? Does anyone want to say classical Buddhism which denies a creator is a religion? It is hard to think of something that all religions would have in common, except perhaps ethical practice, which atheists today regularly say they follow. In America, atheists even have 501c3’s for their organizations, just like various religious groups do. Could we consider atheism a religion?

If Messerly wants to say religion is problematic for smart people, it would be smart of him to tell us what exactly religion is.

But alas, it looks like Messerly has already concluded without sufficient evidence that theism is just not held by smart people so let’s treat it like an anomaly and see how it arose. Maybe it arose because people wanted social cohesion!

So let’s get this straight. Atheists that tell us how often it is that people have been killed in the name of religion and how many wars have supposedly been fought in the name of religion want to tell us that people believe in religion because it helped to provide social unity?

Chesterton wrote years ago on how Christianity was blamed for different things. It was blamed for being too pacifist by people and then it was blamed for being too aggressive and hungry for war. It was blamed for people wanting to attribute money and wealth and it was blamed for keeping us in poverty. When Christianity was blamed for both ends, Chesterton started wondering how this was possible. It was looking at Christianity then that got him to come to Christ. He would say he became a Christian based on reading the skeptics of Christianity.

Let’s also look at the three great monotheistic systems.

Judaism came first. Judaism is said to have committed genocide on the Canaanites, (though that can be disputed) and was seen as an anomaly in the Roman world. The only reason it was granted any leeway was because it was an old belief. Christianity comes next. Christians could have cohesion with themselves, but the rest of society saw them as deviant. In fact, Judaism itself saw them that way. If they wanted to create a belief for social cohesion, they went entirely wrong with that one!

And how about Islam? Islam was also deviant at the start. Why was Muhammad rejected at first? What provided the unity? Muhammad went to war and there were great benefits for being a Muslim then. You got wealth and women for instance. Now don’t we think most men would like to have those things? But do we see Islam today really providing the social unity that we see? If you want to say that people of like mind establish unity with one another, sure, but this also happens in atheist churches, which do exist, and we could say it can happen in anti-theistic scientific communities. One does not need a religion for social cohesion.

How about coming up with deities to explain natural causes? What would be good for this is if we have some evidence that this was so instead of a just-so story. (It’s amazing that those who scream for evidence so much seem to think they’re excluded from it.) Why should I think that god was made to fill in the gaps? Why not think that people were theistic at the start? Since we have found so many remnants of ancient practices that were theistic or polytheistic or animistic, shouldn’t we consider that that was the original belief? What about the work of scholars in this area like Win Corduan that also argue that monotheism was the original belief?

But alas, if you are looking for evidence for Messerly’s position, you will be waiting for awhile. It’s just a look at the start that say “The really smart people are the ones that agree with me and they say you’re wrong so now we’ll just study why you believe the way you do.” You kind of get the idea that religious people, again whatever those are, are being treated like lab rats whose strange views must be explained.

Messerly also wants to say that much of what is believed in religious circles is influenced by where we are born. This is true. Of course, many non-religious beliefs are also affected. You are more likely to believe in evolution if you grew up in the modern west than if you grow up an Aborigine in Australia. If you grow up an Eskimo, you are quite likely to believe that whale blubber is extremely healthy for you. If you grow up in a Christian culture, you are more likely to believe ethical statements like “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We could ask is it possible that if you grow up in a society that believes strongly in social conditioning, could not then be socially conditioned to believe that beliefs rise up from social conditioning? How does that belief not refute itself? Note again I do agree you are more likely to believe X if you grow up in a culture that teaches X. That says nothing about whether X is true or not and that applies to non-religious beliefs as well. Why should religious beliefs be treated differently? My same parents who taught me about Jesus also taught me about mathematics and the value of reading and the moral system that I hold to. They taught me the world really exists and that it is not an illusion and that evil is a reality in the world. Should I reject all those other beliefs as well?

We’re also told religion could result from a lack of a good social safety net. Yet how would this follow? It again never occurs to people that religious belief could develop for intellectual reasons. This is especially so since so many of us are screaming out that we believe in God for intellectual reasons. The reply is “Be quiet! That can’t be the answer! We want to find out why you really believe! We’ve already decided it’s not intellectual!” Atheistic presuppositionalism at its finest.

Interestingly, we are also told religious belief is responsible for social dysfunction resulting in homicides, incarcerations, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, STD’s, abortions, etc. Now this is quite amazing. We are told that religion is there for social cohesion and in the same article we are told that it causes social dysfunction. Once again we have the paradox of Chesterton taking place.

The reference cited in the article contains a number of straw men, including the idea that it’s important to point out that atheists can be moral without believing in God. It gets so tiring to see this straw man. I don’t know a single Christian intellectual that has argued that belief in God is necessary to be moral. We have in fact all argued against it and said that this is not the statement. It is being said instead that God provides a necessary foundation for moral truths and this is so whether one believes in Him or not. If God is real and God is necessary for moral truths to be real, then that is so. Those moral truths can still exist and be observed if one does not believe in God. In fact, Romans 2 and other passages like it make it clear that those who do not know God still have the moral law written on their hearts. Knowledge of God is not necessary for the knowledge of moral truths.

But if he wants evidence of what Christians are doing differently, he can see this piece by Brian Stewart.

As for other countries, many of these still have a Christian background. Perhaps the government is not religious, but the government is not the culture. What we need to see is what’s going to happen more and more when the background is removed and how will the country be in comparison to where it was. For saying America is a religious country, why should I really think that? Many pay lip service to Christianity here for instance, but is it really followed? Perhaps we should compare to societies in the past where Christianity was taken seriously and see what their crime rates and such were like.

We’re also told believers in scientific ideas don’t take public opinion polls to see if their beliefs are true. I would like to know though who the religious people are that determine if a religion is true by looking at public opinion polls. If I saw a poll that indicated belief in Scientology was rapidly increasing in America, does that mean I’m jumping on the Scientology bandwagon? Not at all. I need the data. For someone who is stating about not needing polls to defend a belief, why is it that he’s pointing to polls of the NAS and polls of professional philosophers and a poll indicating more people believe in the virgin birth than biological evolution?

We are told science attests to its own truth. It works. Why yes. Yes indeed.

Science works!
That’s a photo of Hiroshima after the bombing. Note that that took place in Japan which the article cited stated had very little Christian influence and Christianity is in the minority and that’s the country we were at war with. Was it a religious war? Hardly. Still, we dropped the bomb and you know what? The bomb worked! It caused the devastation it was meant to. I’m not arguing whether it was the right or wrong decision. I’m just arguing that it worked.

Did “religious people” fly the planes into 9/11. Yes. Atheists could just as easily have done the same. We could just as well say science still works when Mengele performs his twisted experiments on Jews. Science is a tool and it can be used for good or for evil. In the hands of the good, it can do tremendously good things, and this includes good people who are religious. In the hands of the evil, it can do greatly evil things, and this includes non-religious people who are evil.

Note also that for many of us who are religious per se, the claim has never been that we believe in Christianity because it works. The concept doesn’t even make sense. Works for what? Is it meant to make us good people? It does that, but that’s not the purpose. We believe in Christianity because it’s true. Interestingly, Messerly himself in the same paragraph drops this little gem.

“The simplest answer is that people believe what they want to, what they find comforting, not what the evidence supports: In general, people don’t want to know; they want to believe. This best summarizes why people tend to believe.”

Why should Messerly be excluded?

I could argue it could be very comforting to some people to know that there is not a God who is going to judge them one day. It could be comforting to know you don’t have to risk exclusion from intellectual circles for believing in a deity. Because of that then, you can dismiss the claims of evidence (You know, like saying that the arguments are unconvincing without telling why and making claims like science has disproven theism without providing evidence) and go on with your life.

Maybe Messerly wants to believe that there is no higher power and wants to believe he is one of the intellectual elite. Why not?

Let’s suppose Messerly replies saying I believe in God because I want to believe in Him. Okay. That’s false, but let’s suppose it was true. If I give intellectual arguments, how does pointing to insincere motives disprove the argument? The argument works or it doesn’t. Let’s suppose there is an atheist who wants to live a sexually promiscuous lifestyle and in doing so, knows he needs to exclude God, so he argues for evolution because he wrongly thinks that if he demonstrates evolution, then he has proven God does not exist.

Would it disprove evolution if any of us said “Well see here now! You do not believe in God because you want to live a sexually promiscuous lifestyle. Your arguments are invalid because you are believing what you want to believe because of emotional reasons.” Not at all. This is the old weak excuse of bias. The atheist could have all the bias in the world and his argument could still be true.

But people like Messerly like to point to insincere motives because it just blows their mind to think that people could believe on the basis of evidence.

So what else do we have? I think it’s important to quote this next section entirely.

“Why, then, do some highly educated people believe religious claims? First, smart persons are good at defending ideas that they originally believed for non-smart reasons. They want to believe something, say for emotional reasons, and they then become adept at defending those beliefs. No rational person would say there is more evidence for creation science than biological evolution, but the former satisfies some psychological need for many that the latter does not. How else to explain the hubris of the philosopher or theologian who knows little of biology or physics yet denies the findings of those sciences? It is arrogant of those with no scientific credentials and no experience in the field or laboratory, to reject the hard-earned knowledge of the science. Still they do it. (I knew a professional philosopher who doubted both evolution and climate science but believed he could prove that the Christian God must take a Trinitarian form! Surely something emotional had short-circuited his rational faculties.)”

A number of us can come to beliefs for non-smart reasons at the start. Suppose you believe in heliocentrism and your reason is your parents told you so. That would hardly be an intellectual reason, but then you later study astronomy and find more reasons to believe in heliocentrism. That you find later reasons for a belief you held as a child for less than stellar reasons is not a proof that you held the belief falsely.

Second, this also doesn’t explain how many people come to believe in God later on after a search and that is one based on finding evidence. What of people like Alister McGrath, John Polkinghorne, C.S. Lewis, Chuck Colson, Francis Collins, and others?

Messerly writes of the hubris of those who know little of biology and physics and yet denies the findings of those sciences. Sure. That’s a problem. Those who don’t know those areas should not argue them. What of the atheist who knows little of history and philosophy and argues Christ-mythicism and says philosophical theistic arguments do not work? Should I accept Richard Dawkins as an authority on history or philosophy? Not at all, yet how many atheists eat up his work on the topic and pass it off as Gospel?

This hubris works both ways. The difference is I’m willing to leave areas of science to those who study science. Would that atheists would return the compliment! Practically every NT scholar and ancient historian out there says it’s certain Jesus existed, yet how many atheists tout out his non-existence regularly on the internet and instead point to those who are seen as the fringe. (If you want to say ID is the fringe, you must be fair and do the same with Christ-mythicism.)

Messerly then points to a professional philosopher who doubts evolution and climate change but is convinced that he can show God must be Trinitarian. Okay. Who is he? What were his reasons for thinking such? Messerly does not tell us. Is it a crime to ask questions of biological evolution? What kind did he doubt? Did he doubt evolution without any guiding hand whatsoever? As for climate change, there are plenty today who do doubt climate change. It’s not written in stone. Meanwhile, perhaps theism is a specialty area of his. Should Messerly not follow his own advice and listen to someone who is a professional in this area? It is quite amusing to hear Messerly argue that one should listen to the professionals and then disregard a professional and claim that there must be some emotional reason. Does he give any evidence for this? Nope. It just must be there.

Could it be Messerly is just believing what he wants to believe instead of really looking at the evidence?

The next reason?

Second, the proclamations of educated believers are not always to be taken at face value. Many don’t believe religious claims but think them useful. They fear that in their absence others will lose a basis for hope, morality or meaning. These educated believers may believe that ordinary folks can’t handle the truth. They may feel it heartless to tell parents of a dying child that their little one doesn’t go to a better place. They may want to give bread to the masses, like Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor.”

This must be it! They’re just lying! They don’t believe the claims are true. The claims are just useful! We cannot take their words at face value.

Yes. That’s a great attitude to have. Enter the debate assuming your opponent must be lying about what he believes! He has deep emotional reasons! Okay. Let’s do that.

Messerly has deep emotional reasons for not wanting theism to be true. I do not know what these are, but hey, who needs evidence? Now he can say all he wants to that this is not so, but we cannot take his words at face value! He might present a lot of arguments, but we must realize those can’t be taken at face value because those arguments were made after the fact and are just written to support what he already believes. Truly we must study Messerly and find out what the deep emotional reason he has for not supporting theism is.

Would anyone accept this? Doubtful. Should anyone? Hopefully not. Yet this is exactly what Messerly has done. He has chosen to think that it’s more probable that people like me are lying about what we say and should not be taken at face value.

Gotta love that kind of attitude.

The next reason is control. One does not want to look bad in the face of others.

Because, dude, we all know the totally cool thing in our American society today is to say you’re a Christian! Don’t you know how awesomely we are treated? I mean, look at how respectfully we’re treated on American television and in movies. Look at how we’re proclaimed as the champions of tolerance and reason! Society just so regularly goes out and celebrates Christianity.

I wonder what color the sky is in Messerly’s world because he sure isn’t living in mine.

Moving on….

Third, when sophisticated thinkers claim to be religious, they often have something in mind unlike what the general populace believes. They may be process theologians who argue that god is not omnipotent, contains the world, and changes. They may identify god as an anti-entropic force pervading the universe leading it to higher levels of organization. They may be pantheists, panentheists, or death-of-god theologians. Yet these sophisticated varieties of religious belief bear little resemblance to popular religion. The masses would be astonished to discover how far such beliefs deviate from their theism.”

Once again, the person is not being honest. Now of course, Messerly has not defined what religious is, but perhaps the person is really a process theologian or a pantheist. Of course, these are the “sophisticated” versions of religious belief. (It’s so nice of Messerly to tell us what is and isn’t sophisticated isn’t it?) Messerly just can’t bring himself to say “Some people do believe in a monotheistic God for intellectual reasons.” There HAS to be something else. There just HAS to be.

“But we shouldn’t be deceived. Although there are many educated religious believers, including some philosophers and scientists, religious belief declines with educational attainment, particularly with scientific education. Studies also show that religious belief declines among those with higher IQs. Hawking, Dennett and Dawkins are not outliers, and neither is Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.”

So let’s get this straight. If you go to an institution of higher education where atheism is normally taught, then lo and behold, you become an atheist. This from the same person who said that religion is socially conditioned. Is it not possible that atheism could be conditioned just as much and that by intelligentsia? If you say intelligent people don’t believe in God and then exclude those who do and don’t let them teach at such institutions, what a shock that such institutions produce atheists!

This just in. Catholic Universities have a tendency to produce graduates who believe in God! Seminaries have a tendency to produce graduates that are theists! Shocking! Details at 11!

Instead, we get an appeal to popularity with people with higher IQs. Naturally, these are atheists. Again, what about people like Polkinghorne or Swinburne or McGrath or Collins? Do these people just not count? It’s really easy to make the game work in your favor when you decide what evidence you will include and only mention smart people who don’t believe in God.

“Or consider this anecdotal evidence. Among the intelligentsia it is common and widespread to find individuals who lost childhood religious beliefs as their education in philosophy and the sciences advanced. By contrast, it is almost unheard of to find disbelievers in youth who came to belief as their education progressed. This asymmetry is significant; advancing education is detrimental to religious belief. This suggest another part of the explanation for religious belief—scientific illiteracy.”

Anecdotal evidence. Now if a believer stands up and gives a personal testimony, that’s anecdotal and not accepted, but when an atheist stands up and gives a personal testimony of how he abandoned theism and came to be an atheist, that is not anecdotal and that works. It looks like many atheists just can’t seem to escape a “religious” mindset and want to give a a personal testimony. All Messerly needed after this section was a YouTube clip of “Just as I am” for all ready to deconvert.

And as for scientific illiteracy, yes. We can be sure that Francis Collins, Alister McGrath, John Lennox, and John Polkinghorne must simply be scientifically illiterate. Could it be the problem of atheism is that too many atheists are philosophically and historically illiterate? Why assume that science is the supreme arbiter? Has Messerly given any argument for that?

“If we combine reasonable explanations of the origin of religious beliefs and the small amount of belief among the intelligentsia with the problematic nature of beliefs in gods, souls, afterlives or supernatural phenomena generally, we can conclude that (supernatural) religious beliefs are probably false. And we should remember that the burden of proof is not on the disbeliever to demonstrate there are no gods, but on believers to demonstrate that there areBelievers are not justified in affirming their belief on the basis of another’s inability to conclusively refute them, any more than a believer in invisible elephants can command my assent on the basis of my not being able to “disprove” the existence of the aforementioned elephants. If the believer can’t provide evidence for a god’s existence, then I have no reason to believe in gods.”

Of course, we naturally have the natural/supernatural dichotomy, a belief some of us question. Interestingly, the same article that says that these polls do not indicate the truth of a belief system and that scientists don’t go to polls to establish belief, has now used those same polls and said that religious belief is probably false. It’s just so amusing to see this take place.

Naturallythere’s the claim that the burden of proof is on the believer always. Why should this be so? How about this bizarre idea? Anyone who makes a claim should have a burden of backing it. If I make a claim of theism and can’t demonstrate it, that does not prove theism is false, which is the claim that Messerly is making. If he makes the claim of atheism and cannot back it, does that prove theism is true? Nope.

Oh. He might be tempted to say that atheism is not about denying God but rather is a lack of God-belief. Not going to work.

“Atheism is the position that affirms the non-existence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.”

William Rowe The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy p.62

“Atheism, as presented in this book, is a definite doctrine, and defending it requires one to engage with religious ideas. An atheist is one who denies the existence of a personal, transcendent creator of the universe, rather than one who simply lives life without reference to such a being.”

Robin Le Poidevin Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion p.xvii

Of course, the burden of proof argument is one too many atheists like to make so they can make the theists do all the work and feel justified at the end of the day since they don’t have to put forward actual arguments. Thankfully, there are atheists who do not accept this, but on the internet, they are too often in the minority. The simple solution is that anyone who makes any claim has the obligation to back that claim.

“In response to the difficulties with providing reasons to believe in things unseen, combined with the various explanations of belief, you might turn to faith. It is easy to believe something without good reasons if you are determined to do so—like the queen in “Alice and Wonderland” who “sometimes … believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” But there are problems with this approach. First, if you defend such beliefs by claiming that you have a right to your opinion, however unsupported by evidence it might be, you are referring to a political or legal right, not an epistemic one. You may have a legal right to say whatever you want, but you have epistemic justification only if there are good reasons and evidence to support your claim. If someone makes a claim without concern for reasons and evidence, we should conclude that they simply don’t care about what’s true. We shouldn’t conclude that their beliefs are true because they are fervently held.”

Of course, one wonders what things unseen are being talked about since many of us believe in things unseen. I believe in triangularity. I have never seen it. I have seen examples of triangularity in triangles, but I have never seen triangularity itself. I have never seen morality or goodness itself. I have seen things that are good and moral, but not goodness and morality. I have never seen numbers. I have never seen existence itself. I have seen things that exist, but never existence. I have also never seen laws of nature. I have seen things acting according to so-called laws of nature, but I have not seen the laws themselves.

Is Messerly a total nominalist?

But yet, Messerly again goes to faith, a favorite canard of skeptics. Does he show any understanding of faith? Nope. He just assumes his definition. Meanwhile, some of us have a counter-definition of faith. Messerly assumes that it is belief without reason or evidence, but this is a nonsense claim. No one can truly believe anything without reason or evidence. It could be poor reason or insufficient evidence or some other combination, but it is still some reason and some evidence.

“Another problem is that fideism—basing one’s beliefs exclusively on faith—makes belief arbitrary, leaving no way to distinguish one religious belief from another. Fideism allows no reason to favor your preferred beliefs or superstitions over others. If I must accept your beliefs without evidence, then you must accept mine, no matter what absurdity I believe in. But is belief without reason and evidence worthy of rational beings? Doesn’t it perpetuate the cycle of superstition and ignorance that has historically enslaved us? I agree with W.K. Clifford. “It is wrong always, everywhere and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Why? Because your beliefs affect other people, and your false beliefs may harm them.”

Yes. The cycle of superstition and ignorance. It’s so amusing that those who complain about emotional reasons for belief often give their own emotional reasons. Could Messerly point to this time of superstition and ignorance? Will he use the Dark Ages myth dealt with already in the links above?

“The counter to Clifford’s evidentialism has been captured by thinkers like Blaise Pascal, William James, and Miguel de Unamuno. Pascal’s famous dictum expresses: “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” William James claimed that reason can’t resolve all issues and so we are sometimes justified believing ideas that work for us. Unamuno searched for answers to existential questions, counseling us to abandon rationalism and embrace faith. Such proposals are probably the best the religious can muster, but if reason can’t resolve our questions then agnosticism, not faith, is required.”

Of course, the people he cites as responding to Clifford first off, have all been dead for decades so he points to no contemporary replies, and in fact, Pascal had been dead long before Clifford was even born. How was Pascal replying to Clifford then? Pascal was hardly anti-evidence either. He did base a lot on a personal experience, but he was also a champion of reasoning and a genius in his time with many inventions including in the area of mathematics. To base all of Pascal’s arguments on one statement of his is frankly dishonest.

Messerly also says these statements are probably the best religious people can muster. Probably the best? Probably? How about going out and actually interviewing people who are “religious” and intellectual and even believe in monotheistic deities, you know, those less sophisticated forms of religion, and see why it is that they believe what they believe? How about reading their works and grappling with their arguments?

But for someone like Messerly, this is not required. Just pull up three different people and assume that represents the whole of theistic defense and then say that’s the best. There is no interaction with an Alvin Plantinga or William Lane Craig or Richard Swinburne or Edward Feser. Could it be that an anti-religious person like Messerly is just comforting himself with what he wants to believe. For someone who says you should not believe based on insufficient evidence, and he’s totally right in that by the way, it looks like he gathered insufficient evidence to believe what he believes about religious people.

Like too many of the anti-religious, it is foreign to the mind of Messerly to talk to modern scholars in the field who actually hold to theistic belief and ask them why they believe. Of course, if he did, he would just say he couldn’t take what they say at face value anyway so he always has an out.

“Besides, faith without reason doesn’t satisfy most of us, hence our willingness to seek reasons to believe. If those reasons are not convincing, if you conclude that religious beliefs are untrue, then religious answers to life’s questions are worthless. You might comfort yourself by believing that little green dogs in the sky care for you but this is just nonsense, as are any answers attached to such nonsense. Religion may help us in the way that whisky helps a drunk, but we don’t want to go through life drunk. If religious beliefs are just vulgar superstitions, then we are basing our lives on delusions. And who would want to do that?”

If religious answers are untrue, yes. They’re worthless. So it is also with non-religious answers. If they’re not true, they’re worthless. Yet it is those of us who are said to be “religious” who need to comfort ourselves. Could I not just say that Messerly writes a piece like he does because he needs to get social approval from his anti-religious kin and provide comfort and try to convince himself? I could, but I would have insufficient evidence, yet this does not stop Messerly from doing the same kind of thing to his critics.

“Why is all this important? Because human beings need their childhood to end; they need to face life with all its bleakness and beauty, its lust and  its love, its war and its peace. They need to make the world better. No one else will.”

It is strange that Messerly ends this piece talking about things unseen. Has he seen bleakness and beauty? I don’t doubt he’s seen things he calls bleak and things he calls beautiful, but has he seen the things themselves? Does he have a material measurement by which he can measure beauty? Could he take some beauty and put in a jar for me and scientifically study it?

How about lust and love? Why not be consistent and believe like the Churchlands do? There is no love or lust. It’s all just chemical reactions taking place. If Messerly wants to point to an unseen reality called love, perhaps he should give some evidence that it exists, unless he just has faith.

And we need to make the world better? What does that mean? Has he given evidence of this unseen thing called good? As for making the world better, the article by Brian Stewart shows that Christians are doing just that. Many of us who happen to believe in another world treat this world so seriously because it is the creation of God and it is to be treated as a great good that He has provided.

By contrast in atheism, what about what Bertrand Russell said?

“Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

Or someone like Alex Rosenberg who when answering questions in his book says

“Is there a God? No.

What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.

What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.

What is the meaning of life? Ditto.

Why am I here? Just dumb luck.

Does prayer work? Of course not.

Is there a soul? Is it immortal? — Are you kidding?

Is there free will? Not a chance!

What happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.

What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no difference between them.

Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.

Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes.”

Interesting with those last bits since we were just told about how religion makes those worse and a modern atheist like Rosenberg says “anything goes.”

In conclusion, Messerly is just writing from the position of atheistic presuppositionalism not wanting to actually engage in any arguments and hand wave away that which disagrees with him. It would be nice to see Messerly do some real research asking contemporary minds what they believe and why they do, but we know he will just not take them at face-value. He has reached his conclusion already and who cares what the future data is.

And of course, too many internet atheists will eat it all up.

Perhaps those who are believing what they want to believe could actually be in the other camp.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godbuster

November 17, 2014

What do I think about Elliot George’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Godbuster

When I heard Elliot George debate Jonathan McLatchie on Unbelievable? I wanted to see exactly how bad George’s book was for myself. Maybe what happened on the show was a fluke after all. I wasn’t expecting that, but hey, hope springs eternal. So I bought the book and proceeded to go through it.

It wasn’t at the level of the debate he had with Jonathan I must confess.

No. It went far lower.

Even the art work on this book is ridiculous with a challenge of “Dare To Read This?” Well I did read it and I can say that if you ever have an urge to kill a few hours of your life, you can consider going through this book. Like another bad book I read recently, It left me tempted to be an environmentalist. Why? Because I have great pity for trees that have to die to print this kind of stuff.

So what’s so bad about this book?

A foreword by John Loftus should have told me enough and everything that I thought from that point was confirmed as I got in. Reading George is like reading the rant of a small child and one who by his own admission does not know the subject that he talks about. Yet for a follower of atheistic presuppositionalism this is no excuse! After all, if you know about science, that’s all that matters!

For George, science is at the centerpiece of his worldview. Everything revolves around science. Why is it that we are suffering? We are ignorant of science! This must be news to people who were suffering in Communist Russia under poverty where there was a great interest in science so much so that we were in a race with them on studying space.

You can know plenty about science and live in a culture that knows science and still be suffering for any number of reasons. Having said that, I do not think a society should be ignorant of science. Science is extremely important and we need people who will learn it. I will say at the start it is not something I study. I can read many things on science with great fascination. (Reading material about space, for instance, is quite incredible) Still, it is a subject I do not invest serious study in. I prefer historical questions far more. I leave questions of science as science to those who study it.

George starts at location 132 (I got the Kindle format so I at least spared some trees) with saying that religions have been fighting against accepting science since the acceptance of the scientific method. It would be nice to know what evidence there is of this. George doesn’t give any. He said on the show that he wanted it to be simple that even an 8 year old could read it and they wouldn’t be interested in citations. (Because we know a little number after a claim would just really go against an 8 year-old’s reading)

Color me skeptical of this claim and it’s not just a Christian theist like me. Even an atheist like Tim O’Neill says the same thing. Have there been interpretations of Scripture that have disagreed with science? Yes. Does that mean there is a fundamental essential disagreement? No. More on this when we get to discussions of science.

But unfortunately at this point, George has fired an opening shot without evidence other than his say so and the unsuspecting reader is just going to go along with it. It’s amusing considering how repeatedly he speaks about claims with no evidence throughout the book and regularly fails to give evidence for his claims.

He in the same area tells us that believers tend to seek material that backs what they believe and avoid opposite opinions. Belief is then put in a locked safe of sorts in the mind of the believer.

This is certainly true of many Christians.

This is also certainly true of many atheists.

In fact, I would wish to ask George when the last time was that he read a work of scholarship that disagreed with him. For my part, I’m constantly encouraging Christians to read both sides of the argument and learn from it. I have more respect for an atheist that argues for atheism and has read the best in Christian scholarship, than a Christian who argues for Christianity and does not read atheistic and skeptical scholarship.

George tells us also that science has the best method for investigating and understanding the world around us. I wish to know how he knows this. Now I do not doubt that it is an excellent method, but the best? For many of us, the most important questions we have cannot be answered by science.

What is the good? Who do I marry? Do I marry? What am I here for? How do I raise my children right? Is there a God? Does my life have any meaning? Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Why do we suffer? These are all important questions and before dismissing any of them, let’s pause to realize they are all real questions. Most of us have at some time in life asked ourselves these kinds of questions. Science can help with some of them, but it does not give the final answer.

George has much to say about belief which quite frankly is bizarre. He is certainly right that believing in something doesn’t make it true, but no one is arguing that. Belief is just giving intellectual agreement to a claim. It is saying “Yes, I hold that the claim stated is true.” George keeps thinking his idea of belief is the true one and imposes that on every claim that he sees.

Starting on location 234, he says

Raising such speculation to the level of a ‘belief’ is where religions come into the picture. Since this sort of belief is not supported by evidence, religious leaders have found it necessary to counter the inevitable difficult questions by claiming immunity from questioning.

He goes on to say

They have even managed to elevate unquestioning to a position of virtue and ‘righteousness’ in our societies by calling it ‘Faith.’

Well Mr. George, you might be surprised to hear that at my church, we have a saying. “Come as you are. Text in your questions.” Yes. We want people to ask questions. If you come to our church and during the service have a question, there’s a number you can text it in to that we tell you before the service starts. When you do, the pastor will receive it at the end of the service and come out and answer your question. If it’s a question that is rather extensive, he will say that he will make a video log that week where he will answer your question.

By the way, all questions are welcome. We’ve had questions on evil, if Scripture has been changed, sexual ethics, homosexuality, etc. No question is forbidden.

Second, as for faith, George is simply wrong on this. George does not bother to interact with any evidence on this position. He could have at least cited Hebrews 11:1. That would have been the start of an argument, though it would still be wrong. In fact, I have argued elsewhere that faith spoken of in the sense used by most atheists is not a virtue.

Faith instead is trust in what has been shown to be reliable. It is loyalty. Suppose you live in the ancient world and want to open a bakery. You don’t have the funds to do it. You go to someone who does. They give you a gift of money. That gift is called charis, which is translated as grace in the New Testament. In turn, you live your life in loyalty to this patron giving thanks for them and letting everyone know who it is that supplied you with the bakery. That loyalty is called faith. The word in Greek is Pistis.

Faith involves an element of risk. It’s easy to say you believe that the doctor can perform the surgery on you and that you’ll wake up. It’s faith when you act on it. You don’t have faith that 2 + 2 = 4 because there’s no element of risk involved with it. You don’t have faith that you exist for the exact same reason.

George says that the church benefits by keeping the flock in a juvenile mode. He gives a quote from John Shelby Spong, though he doesn’t give a reference of course, and says Christianity is in the business of guilt and control. This is interesting since in the ancient world the internal concept of personal guilt was a misnomer just as it is in many societies around today. A man in a church in Indonesia for instance can have an affair and have no guilt until someone calls him out on it, and then he has guilt. Spong and others assume a modern individualism and then push that on the rest of the world and on the Biblical text.

When talking about why people believe in a deity, George gives reasons such as desire for an afterlife, a sense of belonging, etc. For some, this could be true, but he ignores the reason of many of us. We believe that there is good evidence. Again, you are free to say that there is not good evidence, but that is not the same as saying we are believing without evidence.

On location 401 he says

Dogma is the repeated, arrogant, stubborn assertion of opinion as though it is fact. It is no credible substitute for evidence, and the enlisting of it by religions should be a clue to their weakness, their lack of foundation. Worse than that, believers put their beliefs in a strong box in their heads and secure it with the padlock of ‘faith’. We must guard against dogma and ‘faith’; together they outlaw freethinking and compel conformity and submission.

In many cases, I agree with this. I agree with it so much I think Elliot George should stop it. He regularly repeats in his book a dogma of “no evidence” without interacting with the disagreement against his position. It is as if he is teaching a dogma. That gives me a clue to the lack of foundation for his atheism. In fact, he has padlocked his position in a box called reason. Does that mean I am opposed to reason? Absolutely not! I am opposed to someone saying that atheism = reason. It doesn’t. There are atheists that can reason. There are Christians that can reason. There are atheists that can’t reason. There are Christians that can’t reason. The danger of atheism is a sort of presuppositional atheism that assumes that it is the true worldview from the outset without interacting with the best arguments against its position.

You know, like George’s.

George speaks about a time of profound ignorance when men thought the sun went around the Earth. This is a strange position since it was originally Christians that challenged this and since the reason people believed this was the science showed it at the time. The people were just going with the science of the time. If this is the standard that George wants to use, then perhaps people can disregard him even 100 years from now and say “George’s atheism should be disregarded. It was written about in that time where people were ignorant and believed X” which is whatever scientific dogma we have today that will be falsified by then.

Is George against people going against the science of the time? If so, then why is he complaining about Christians going against evolution? If not, then he should have no complaints whatsoever. For the time being, we had the system of Ptolemy and it worked. In fact, even in Galileo’s time we did not have the evidence we needed yet. That came later on.

Starting on Location 432, George argues that the argument of believing by tradition is that lots of people held a belief for a long time and they can’t all be wrong.

I would like to know very much who is making this kind of argument. Now I will say if a stance is traditional to experts in the field, it takes a lot to overcome it. Still, it is possible to do so if you have a strong enough case.

On Location 477, he says there are about 41,000 denominations. Did we really survey the whole field? This is a misunderstanding of denominations. For one, the claim is just false. There aren’t that many (The number is changing so much) and most denominations are really just fine with each other for the most part. Denominations really refers to a self-governing entity.

By this standard, there could be two independent Baptist churches in a town but on opposite ends of the town since not everyone wants to drive all across town. These churches could have the exact same beliefs, but since they’re independent, they’re each counted as a denomination. George does not realize this. (Probably because he doesn’t really do research in this field and believes claims without evidence.)

He also asks if a person could become a Jain if they wanted to or worship any other number of gods and ask if we have a full working knowledge of all the beliefs. Did we really make a fully informed decision?

We could ask George the same. He has chosen that all of them are wrong. Does he know the ins and outs of every system out there? If not, then has he made a fully informed decision? Has he examined all of them to say that there is no evidence for all of them? This seems like a strange case to make.

And can anyone have exhaustive knowledge in any field? No. Can one have sufficient knowledge to make a decision. Yes. George talks about having a wife in the book, though apparently he has been divorced before. Should we say this “George. Before you decide to marry a woman, did you go and meet every other woman on the planet? Can you say you are fully informed that this is the person you want to be with?” That would be ridiculous. None of us who are married check with everyone. We just have sufficient knowledge to choose the one we have.

George also asks if your faith position is an accident based on the location of birth and faith of your parents.

Since I know many Christians who were born in non-Christian households and are devout Christians today, then no. It is not. I could just as well say if I was born in a third world country today, i would likely believe the sun goes around the Earth. Since I was born in a culture that values science and can do it, I don’t. Should I doubt that belief because of where I was born?

George also says that since we can be fickle and change our beliefs, they can’t be very important. Right? This is an incredible statement. It is as if George believes all beliefs were created equal. At one point, I did not know my wife. At another point, I said I know her and I believe she could be a person I can marry so I kept dating her. Then I believed she is a person I can marry so I proposed. Now I believe I love her today and she loves me. That is not fickle. If I am to change my mind on anything, it is not just because I want to. It is because I have a reason. No one can change their mind just because they want to.

Suppose I had a brain scan device that could actually read your mind. I hooked it up to you and said “I can tell what you’re believing right now, so I want you to really believe there’s a pink elephant flying over your head and if you do, I will give you a million dollars.” Suppose you knew I had the money and that I was reliable and would do so. You still would walk out without the money because you could not just force yourself to believe it.

George meanwhile says scientific facts are believed because they are
supported by evidence, but religious beliefs are not like that and are just personal choices. This again is a false notion of belief. It’s not what any of us mean by the statement. If I say “I believe the Earth is 13.7 billion years old” I mean that I give intellectual agreement to the proposition even though it is supported by evidence as far as I’m concerned.

He also argues that since mankind has had a number of deities that have gone away and aren’t believed in, surely one shouldn’t think any one is true. We might as well say since man has believed in many scientific theories, then surely since those were seen as defunct, we shouldn’t believe in the ones today.

He also says

Imagining that your beliefs, your ideas, your opinions, your choices are important is the height of arrogant conceit, Isn’t it?

This from a man who published a book with his beliefs, ideas, opinions, and choices, that we should think are important enough to buy and read about. I guess George is guilty of arrogant conceit.

Interestingly, he rightly has the quote in the book by Feynman that the first principle is not to fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool. It looks throughout the book like George has fooled himself.

Location 601 has two pargaraphs together worthy of full quoting.

‘Scientists understand that it’s acceptable to change their minds.’ Just think what that means: scientific facts are not fixed and ‘true’ forever. They are simply the best current understanding of reality. If new evidence comes in, the model may have to be revised. Scientists are prepared to listen to opposing opinions; they do not claim to have perfect answers or even be able to provide proof, only probability.

How unlike the unbending culture prevalent in most faith based organisations. Believers tend to make unfounded assertions, stifle opposition and try to strength their doctrine by unceasing repetition. Do you think they have to dogmatically protect their doctrine because they perceive that the lack of supporting evidence makes it vulnerable to dissent?

This from a man who makes numerous unfounded assertion in his book, as we will see, tries to stifle the opposition by making false statements about them regularly, and goes by unceasing repetition of the mantra of “No evidence.” Do you think George has to dogmatically protect this doctrine because the lack of supporting evidence makes it vulnerable to dissent? If he actually studied Christianity, for instance, he might find out people have reasons beyond feeling and emotion for believing in it.

To which, now we can start getting into some of these facts. How about Mithras being born on December 25th? That would be news to the scholars of Mithras I’ve read! None of them have said that! How about 3000 years ago the Romans believe in Dionysus who was also born on December 25th? First off, no he wasn’t born on that date. Second, the Romans weren’t even around at that time. The Roman World which is an Oxford classic, dates the start of the Roman Empire to 753 B.C. and that’s when it’s a fledgling state.

Next he says that 2,000 years ago in Judea there was a man who was claimed to have many of the same characteristics of these pagan gods.

Congratulations to George for having some of the best scholarship of the 19th century.

Of course, George has the Stephen Roberts quote of how he just goes one god further than us and when we understand why we dismiss those other gods, we’ll know why he dismisses ours.

It’s really a shame atheism has fallen for such soundbite thinking. Imagine being on a jury and hearing the defense attorney say this.

“Men and women of the jury. You all believe that many people did not commit the crime and I agree with you. I just ask that you go one person further with my client. When you realize why you believe the others didn’t commit the crime, you’ll know why you should not think my client committed the crime.”

No lawyer on Earth should be stupid enough to try such an argument.

Yet atheists think it’s a powerful stumper.

George also says that there are billions of people on the planet and there were billions before us. Numerically, each of us is insignificant like an ant. From there, he draws the conclusion that we are as unimportant as ants. How does this follow? Does this mean that if we had more people born today, our lives are somehow less important? If instead a meteor hit the planet and killed half of us, our lives would somehow be more important? Shouldn’t our value be based not on how many of us there are, but what we are?

George says repeated observations are the strongest form of evidence. It’s the gold standard.

Can George give me any evidence of this? If he does, he needs to repeat that, then he needs to repeat it again and again and again. Repeated evidence is a good standard in science where you can repeatedly test claims, but it does not work in other areas. You cannot repeat history for instance. You do not do this in Math. You do not do this in philosophy. There are other ways.

George also argues against experience as evidence because there is no way of telling one from another. There is however. The evidence! In fact, we have to use experience. If we are doing some testing on a patient, we sometimes have to ask how the patient feels. The only way we know that is the experience of the patient and what they tell us. Does George really think we learn nothing from experience?

George also says we can’t trust testimonies because people giving a testimony are performing before an audience and naturally making the story more gripping by embellishing it and thus it gets less accurate.

It would be nice to see our court system learn this fascinating truth. It’s a wonder George believes it himself. Does it not occur to him that some people will want to make their statement as true as possible and thus not embellish it so that people will take them seriously? This assumes on George’s part that people will lie and be dishonest. No doubt some will, but why think everyone will?

Amusingly in his very book, he says books should be viewed with suspicion. After all, he is modifying his text right now. They are records and not evidence unless verified.

This from a book that avoids citations and telling us that we should not trust books.

I can’t help but wonder how the publisher passed this book on….

With religious books, he asks if we’ve ever heard of Chinese Whispers, which we also know in America as the game of telephone with an example. A captain says to a messenger in the trenches to tell the general to send reinforcements. We’re going to advance. The messenger says to the general to send three and four pence. We’re going to a dance. Because of this, we can’t trust oral tradition, just watch breaking news.

Or you could do something unusual and actually study oral tradition, unless you want to make claims without evidence. (Well that’s not accurate. George has evidence, but it’s poor ignorance based on a lack of knowledge of the kind of society he’s critiquing. Isn’t it arrogant of him to think he knows how these societies function without studying them?)

Has he considered reading ANYTHING on oral tradition, such as The Lost World of Scripture? Does he not know that in these societies, memory was much better due to not being able to write things down? Stories weren’t just told one time as in Chinese Whispers without the ability to go back and ask again what was said. Stories were repeated and there were select gatekeepers who guarded them. The stories were told in group settings. Some minor variations were allowed, but you could not change the thrust of the story.

This is why people who do not study these things should not write about them. No scholar of oral tradition would take George seriously. George is to religious scholarship what he thinks Christian fundamentalists are to evolution.

He then tells us that different Scriptures disagree and events in them contradict the Laws of Physics. There is no interaction with Craig Keener’s Miracles. There is no interaction with the agnostic John Earman’s look at Hume’s Abject Failure. Does George not know the kinds of things ancient people did believe in with a rudimentary science? They knew it took sex to make babies. They knew people don’t walk on water. They knew that if no one intervened, dead people stay dead.

On location 899 he says

The Bible was edited in the 4th century AD under the command of Emperor Constantine and it has been translated, transcribed, and re-edited many times since.

Not even Bart Ehrman would support this nonsense.

No. Constantine did not order the editing of the Bible. We have manuscripts of the Bible pre-dating the fourth century that can easily demonstrate this. Again, this is scholarship of the 19th century. Constantine ordered the printing of fifty Bibles, but he had nothing to do with any editing and had zip to do with choosing what books went into the canon. If George thinks the Bible has been edited so many times since then, then he is free to take a modern translation, compare it to the ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts we have, and then tell us what the drastic difference is.

We are all eagerly awaiting it.

He also says the Koran dates to the 6th century. This is false. The revelations to Muhammad would have come in the 7th century. A basic Google search even could have shown that.

On 927, he argues no one can prove a negative.

Really?

Has he proven that? If not, then why should I take it seriously. If so, then a negative has been proven. Either way, he is taking this as a proof and in any case, cannot demonstrate it.

On 935, he goes after Constantine again saying he sent one of his women to the holy land to search for evidence to support Christianity. Why? Because Constantine adopted it as the state religion of the Roman Empire.

This is false. Constantine’s mother did go searching for famous Christian sites, but not at the order of Constantine. Constantine also made Christianity a legal religion, but he did not make it the official religion. That happened decades after his death. Again, this was basic knowledge George could have easily checked on. Could it be he didn’t read anything that disagreed with him but read some rubbish from skeptical sources? Why would he do that? Is he trying to protect his faith? Did he not bother to verify? He must be a man of faith!

But most hysterical along these lines is that George has the quote of Pope Leo X of how profitable the fable of Christ has been.

Oh please George! Please do tell me the source for this quote! I so eagerly anticipate that!

On location 984, he says that before science, when a question was asked, someone just guessed and told their children. The answer got passed down and that’s how religions originate.

Well first, I’m wondering what question was asked with the answer of “A divine Messiah was crucified and rose again.” Second, I’m wondering if George has read ANYTHING on the history of science and philosophy? Even in the Middle Ages, questions were answered with scientific answers. Many times, they were bad answers since science was just coming into its own, but they were not God-of-the-Gaps answers.

On location 1019, he says the scientific method has provided us with everything we know.

Okay….

Can you show that using the scientific method?

After all, George says we know that. Surely he can show it.

Can he use the method to show there is a real world external to his mind? Maybe we live in Berkeley’s world or even the Matrix. Can he use it to show that reason is valid? Can he use it to show the scientific method is valid?

It is a tragedy such nonsense like this is printed.

In case you’re wondering, since George believes this and he believes science can only provide probabilities, then there is no absolute truth.

Yes. He really says that….

On location 1100, he says external truth is relative. It’s subjective. He even says your truth may be different from mine.

Okay George. It’s my truth that God exists and it’s yours that He doesn’t. Why are you arguing against my relative truth?

He then tells us what the truth is somehow. That is that we live in an illusion created for us by our sense organs and brain.

This is the point where my wife asked me if I had a headache or something.

Moving into creation accounts, no shock that George reads them like a fundamentalist thinking that everything happened in one week of 24 hour days and that God really needed to rest. It would be nice to see him interact with works like The Lost World of Genesis One or on a more scientific note to consider Hugh Ross and Reasons To Believe. Alas however, if you’re a presuppositional atheist, you have no need of evidence of what your opponents believe. It’s no wonder he thinks the light being made on day one and the sun on day four is a major stumper.

It’s quite amusing then when he has a little diatribe about double-standards and how they aggravate him. You know, like the double-standard of Christians better study evolution before the speak about it, but atheists don’t need to study Christianity before they speak about it. And George, in case you ask, yes. I do think Christians who don’t study evolution and argue against it need to be quiet.

Naturally, he has a list of beliefs with no evidence such as God (Did you bother reading any theistic arguments whatsoever) or the resurrection (Did you bother reading Mike Licona or N.T. Wright?) and a few miracles. (Did you bother reading Craig Keener?)

It’s easy to say there’s no evidence when you just ignore what your opponents say.

On 1321, he argues that a view today seems to be God kick-started life and left it to evolve and asks how that works with a Bible that is ‘gospel truth’ and the ‘word of god’ and ‘inerrant.’

It works just fine. Thanks!

He also says that according to a creation account, creatures must be made fixed and unchanging. This isn’t according to any account I’ve heard. Now some might put limits on evolution, but no one I know doubts there is some degree of evolution. George also has a hang-up on a perfect creation. Some might say that, but I have for a long time been a contender of the idea that this world was not created perfect, nor was it meant to be. In fact, considering what perfection is, I don’t see how that is even possible.

On 1342, he says believers tend to have a distorted view of evolution. This is compared to the way politicians misrepresent the ideas of their opponents.

Oh the irony….

This from someone who extensively misrepresents Christianity in his book.

Oh by the way, he hates double standards….

And FYI, on 1372 he says he doesn’t believe in evil. He prefers the word heinous, though one wonders what the difference is.

Of course, on 1389, George thinks the evidence of science produces cognitive dissonance.

It’s a wonder to think what atheists would do without the words “cognitive dissonance.” It’s become a mantra practically. But hey, what can you say about people who believe in dogma?

George also says that Christian apologists claim the word day can refer to a longer unit of time and asks if we hear the bottom of a barrel being scraped.

Well, he could just look at linguistic evidence. Did he consult any Hebrew works on the meaning of ‘yom.’? Not a bit.

By the way George, with my interpretation, since mine is not a scientific reading but a functional reading, I can believe in the Earth being 4.5 billions of years old, even in evolution, and still hold to 24 hour days and a traditional week. Again, try reading Walton sometime.

On 1546, he says that sadly most believers just haven’t read the latest facts and their information is from sources with bias, like the creation museum.

Oh please do tell us your sources on Christianity, George! You’re not up to the latest facts since you use 19th century arguments! Please tell me also your sources are not “biased.” Every source has a bias. Your own book has a bias. Bias is an excuse.

Well he does give us one source. For missing links, he directs us to a Wikipedia article.

That’s right. Wikipedia.

He then asks why no one questions missing links in faith? Isn’t it a leap to go from “The Bible is true” to “There is a supernatural creator.”

Well first off, I don’t accept this natural/supernatural distinction. Second, the answer to the question itself is no, it is not a leap. If the Bible is true, then all that it says is true and that means that it is true that there is a God. That’s not a leap of logic. That’s just basic facts. Watch.

Whatever the Bible says is true.
The Bible says God exists.
It is true that God exists.

This is basic logic George….

On 1674, he tells us that we are taught in houses of worship that morality comes from the Scriptures.

Sorry George. Not my position again. I hold the Scriptures have teachings on morality, but not that the Bible creates morality. You can know morality apart from the Bible. Even Romans 2 shows that.

Yet of course, George thinks the Bible has awful teachings. He of course thinks no one has said anything about these, such as slavery, or stoning children to death. With passages like marrying a rapist, he does not realize that was to punish the rapist and to protect the woman who would be seen as not worthy to be married by others. Again, some basic study of the Ancient Near East would have helped.

With the Ten Commandments, he actually uses Wikipedia as a source and says rape is not mentioned nor is assault and the text is obviously misogynistic.

Rape would be included under adultery and the later law worked out assault. The Ten Commandments are a start and in a didactic society are not meant to be exhaustive. George just keeps showing his ignorance.

He also says that many Christians will say the quotes atheists use of Scripture are taken out of context and not read in their proper historical context. That’s true. George just sees this as ridiculous and then says so many in the next breath say the Bible should be interpreted literally. This is one reason I think we should just kill the word “literal.”

With forgiveness, he actually thinks it means you are released from your responsibility on Earth. No. It doesn’t It means you are put in right relation again with the person that was wronged. There could still be consequences. He even says the Catholic church has made a business out of forgiveness.

Hate to tell you George, but indulgences died out centuries ago.

He tells us that in the Crusades, 9 million were killed. Half were Christians.

Let’s see. We have George saying this without a quote. What do we have here?

We have a statement like

The information required to answer this question was not recorded, and so it is impossible to know how many people died. In general, contemporary commentators recorded only the names of leading crusaders who were killed, and gave large rounded estimates of the numbers of ordinary knights and other soldiers who died. They usually did not mention non-warriors at all, except in a sweeping and vague statement. The writers would sometimes record, for example, that the crusaders had killed everyone in a city, but they gave only round figures for the numbers of dead. We may suspect that in fact they were boasting about how wonderful their warriors were and what a fantastic victory they had won (which they interpreted as a sign that God was on their side), but that in fact many people had escaped.

We only have a professor here. I guess she needs to be acquainted with George’s work.

George also tells us to beware of men who are certain that God is backing them. Doubters are much more harmless!

You know, doubters like Stalin, Mao, Pol-Pot, etc.

He also gives us a Telegraph article that was published on what readers thought were the ten worst Bible passages.

1 Tim. 2:12. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.

George. You might want to do what I did. I interviewed a female scholar on this, Dr. Lynn Cohick. You can start listening around 46:51 to see what she says.

1 Samuel 15:3. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

This is said without any knowledge of the history of Amalek and Israel. He could consider Paul Copan’s book and of course, my interview with Copan on the topic.

Exodus 22:18 “You shall not permit a sorceress to live.”

In a society like Israel where you were to remain loyal to YHWH, going to outside powers would be an act of divine treason in the community. Treason has been punishable by death in America. Sorcery was a dangerous practice then.

Psalm 137:9 Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
    and dashes them against the rock!

George is unaware that in ancient societies, this was the trash talk of the day where you were open with your emotions and feelings. The Jews sang this in reply to the Babylonians who had captured them and were tormenting them and had done this to them and saying “May God judge you as you have treated us.” It was not at all saying they were doing it!

Judges 19:25-28.

25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. 26 And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.

27 And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said to her, “Get up, let us be going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey, and the man rose up and went away to his home.

George claims this says the Bible permits group rape of servants. No. It records it. In fact, Judges treats this as one of the darkest times in Israel’s history. The whole passage is saying “Don’t become like this Israel!” This part of Judges tells us that in those days Israel had no king and each person did what was right in his own eyes.

Romans 1:27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

For George, this is the start of Homophobia. Is he unaware that Plato condemned homosexuality in the laws? Some ancient doctors who were pagans condemned the practice as well. Sure, some Greeks had no problem with it, but some did. Only someone ignorant of the ancient world would say this. Perhaps he should consider Robert Gagnon and his book on the topic.

Judges 11:30-1, 34-35 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord‘s, and I will offer it[b]up for a burnt offering.”

34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.”

George again is unaware of how this passage has been interpreted. A number of Christian interpreters of the text say that the daughter was instead sold into temple service. No priest would have accepted her as an offering. That’s why she mourned not that she would never die, but that she would never marry, which would also mean she would not have to share the inheritance….

Genesis 22 is the passage of Abraham offering Isaac which George takes to mean God wants your sons burnt. He ignores that this passage was a sign of the faith of Abraham and loyalty and the sacrifice never went through as Abraham had planned. Again, no scholarship read.

Ephesians 5:22. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

Yes George. It was obviously written by a misogynist. Did you just ignore everything a man is to do for his wife? Oh yes. You did. Fortunately, not all of us do.

1 Peter 2:18 “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.”

We’ve already addressed slavery in this post. No need to do so further.

Perhaps George should have read about “study to show yourself approved” and if you do you need not be ashamed.

And of course, why can’t God express Himself clearly? Clear to whom? What person? What culture? What time period? Isn’t it arrogant to think the Bible should be clearly written to you instead of everyone else.

Also, in the books, he cites Brian Flemming. I guess this tells us where he gets the pagan copycat stuff from.

Getting back also to atheist regimes that kill as he talks about how religions aren’t peaceful, he says those weren’t inspired by ‘supernaturally’ authored Scriptures.

I’m sure that’s a great comfort to all the people that were killed in the Gulag! Hey! Sorry you were killed, but at least it wasn’t because of Scriptures!

Nope. It was because some people took George’s argument to its conclusion.

There is no good. There is no evil. There is no Heaven to gain or Hell to shun. There is no God to judge me. I have power here. I have enemies. Why not do something about them?

In 2225, George says to not believe it when believers say that atheists are immoral, cold, empty, etc.

Again, I’m not sure who’s saying this….

He also says it’s necessary to use a pen-name for this book to avoid damaging the Christian market for his other books.

No George. It’s good that you used a pen name because if other people found out your writing was so bad in this one, they wouldn’t want your science books. If I wrote material this embarrassing, I’d want to use a pen name also.

He says why would knowing more about something detract from it?

I agree. That’s why I have no hesitancy to letting people study science. I want them to learn as much as they can. Perhaps you should try it George in the area of religion. Why would knowing more about it be so harmful, especially if you want to argue against it? If your belief is true, the best scholarship will show that. Right?

On 2249, he says if you want a purpose, make your own.

Again, like Stalin, Mao, Pol-Pot, and others did.

Of course, he also says 98% of criminals in jail call themselves Christian.

This ignores that if you call yourself a Christian, you can get perks like air conditioning and getting out of a cell for chapel services. You’re told to list a position when you go in. Why not list one that will give you perks?

On 2273, he says

To those who accuse me of stepping outside my own specialism to take on religion, a subject they like to think I know little about, I say “It’s you who are stepping on my turf with your ‘explanations’ of the origins of the universe and everything in it.”

Christians speaking on science without knowledge? Bad!

Atheists speaking on Christianity without knowledge? Good!

Keep in mind, George hates double-standards.

Sorry George. I’m saying squat about the origins of the universe. I don’t study it. You are saying a lot about what I believe and you don’t study it. Don’t step on my turf. Okay?

He also says atheist should not be taken to mean no god. This is false. It comes from the Greek word as he rightly says. Theos is God and alpha is the negative. It’s simple. No God. If he wants to say it just means belief, then he needs to say theism is just God belief and you don’t need to prove it. What would you do to prove you believe something? He should want this since he hates double-standards.

But consider this. Imagine that God exists and there are atheists. By this standard, atheism (Lack of belief in God) would be true and theism (God exists) would be true. But this would mean two contradictories were true. The result is nonsense.

He then gives another howler with

We are all born without a faith so we all start life as atheists and, until evidence for the existence of a god is produced, we will all be living ‘without god’ – we are all atheists! Tell that to your theist friends!

What a powerful argument! We are also born crying and gurgling and peeing and pooping on ourselves as well and until we’re taught otherwise, we will continue to do so! Tell that to your atheist friends!

And this man used to be a teacher. I pity those students. I really do.

George wraps things up with some unholy questions as he calls them.

Does God give us free will?

Yes?

How can He have a plan then?

God is like a stage master that knows where the plot of the play is going but lets His actors ad lib some and can work everything to that plan still.

Is God in Hell?

No.

He’s not Omnipresent then!

Actually, this is a misnomer. Hell is not a place. Hell describes a relationship. 

Is God omniscient?

Yes.

Well if He knows everything, including the future, He can’t be omnipotent because He won’t be able to change known things.

Omnipotence means power to do that which power can do. If God knows He will do something, that will not change as He eternally knows it and eternally does it and no new information is coming in. God could have done otherwise but chose not to.

Is God omnipotent?

Yes?

Well, he can’t be omniscient then because he can alter what he was supposed to know.

See above.

Did God make Eve from Adam’s rib?

Yes?

She had the same DNA then and must have been male! It was Adam and Steve!

Specifics of how this were done are not given. We can be sure she had different DNA since she was female and if God can make a universe, creating female DNA should not be a problem.

Did God create light on the first day?

Yes?

But the sun wasn’t created until the fourth day!

See Walton again per above. This one doesn’t make me blink at all.

Did God create plants on day three?

Yes?

What powered their photosynthesis on day three then? There was no sun until day four!

See Walton again.

Seriously George. Do you think these are stumpers?

Such brings us to the conclusion of George’s book, and I didn’t even touch everything I highlighted.

If you are a self-respecting atheist, please disavow this and tell George to stop writing this material as it is an embarrassment. Please learn instead to do some real research into Christianity and learn what we really believe. People like George only make atheism look bad in the end.

There’s a reason even atheists on the Unbelievable page are not defending George. He’s embarrassed himself and only shown his ignorance.

He could have prevented that if only he really didn’t practice a double standard, which you know he hates.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Richard Dawkins: A Gift From God.

August 22, 2014

Are all human lives valuable for what they are? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Richard Dawkins is well-known today as a leading contemporary spokesman for atheism. If you asked most people today to name a famous living atheist, Dawkins would likely be on top of the list. In fact, according to this site, he’s the #1 leading atheist in the world. Perhaps in some ways we could describe Richard Dawkins as the Pope of atheism.

PopeDawkins

This is actually more fitting than most realize. The idea is that in the so-called Dark Ages, you went to the priests who were the bearers of all knowledge. The correct view on that is that the religious leaders likely were some of the most knowledgeable people around. The false view is that it’s because the only knowledge they had was knowledge of the Bible. No. Active learning was going on in many areas. Not all would have a specific interest in “natural philosophy” as science was called, but all would know something about it.

Today, science has become the new priesthood with a scientism that says science is the only way you know anything and that all knowledge must be scientific and if you can’t establish something scientifically, it can’t be true. Never mind that this criteria has never once met its own standards. It is an undercurrent in our society. Whenever an opinion comes on an issue, if it is said that “a scientist says” that is automatically the most valid opinion, never mind that it could be something the scientist has never really studied. His opinion matters because he is a scientist.

None of this is to knock science. No one should want to. Science is our friend. Scientism is our enemy. The putting of science in the supreme place as the supreme guide to knowledge is also our enemy. It is no desire to belittle scientific knowledge, or any knowledge for that matter. It is a desire instead to deal with the practical worship of science.

Many of us know about Dawkins’s recent outrage that has been sparked due to twitter remarks. It would be bad enough if that was the only embarrassing story of the week, but it is not. Consider this story from just last Saturday. In it, Dawkins is compared to an evangelist who develops a following if you donate to his circle. Reality is Dawkins is even more expensive than the evangelists that he would criticize. Let’s look at some highlights. A lengthy quote will suffice.

the Richard Dawkins website offers followers the chance to join the ‘Reason Circle’, which, like Dante’s Hell, is arranged in concentric circles. For $85 a month, you get discounts on his merchandise, and the chance to meet ‘Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science personalities’. Obviously that’s not enough to meet the man himself. For that you pay $210 a month — or $5,000 a year — for the chance to attend an event where he will speak.

When you compare this to the going rate for other charismatic preachers, it does seem on the high side. The Pentecostal evangelist Morris Cerullo, for example, charges only $30 a month to become a member of ‘God’s Victorious Army’, which is bringing ‘healing and deliverance to the world’. And from Cerullo you get free DVDs, not just discounts.

But the $85 a month just touches the hem of rationality. After the neophyte passes through the successively more expensive ‘Darwin Circle’ and then the ‘Evolution Circle’, he attains the innermost circle, where for $100,000 a year or more he gets to have a private breakfast or lunch with Richard Dawkins, and a reserved table at an invitation-only circle event with ‘Richard’ as well as ‘all the benefits listed above’, so he still gets a discount on his Richard Dawkins T-shirt saying ‘Religion — together we can find a cure.’

The website suggests that donations of up to $500,000 a year will be accepted for the privilege of eating with him once a year: at this level of contribution you become a member of something called ‘The Magic of Reality Circle’. I don’t think any irony is intended.

I can suspect that this will be met with zealous opposition where this is shared by internet atheists and their followers, which will really demonstrate the case. Those who are followers of Dawkins really study the issues just as little as he does, if not less, which might be surprising seeing as it’s hard to imagine studying religious issues less than Dawkins. Thankfully, there are some atheists who are thoughtful and seek to understand the issues that realize Dawkins is an embarrassment to their cause and want him to just go away. The more atheists keep upholding Dawkins however and referring to works like “The God Delusion” as if it was a philosophical masterpiece, the more Christians who know what they’re talking about will see no reason to take them seriously. In fact, if I meet anyone who considers “The God Delusion” to be recommended reading to show why Christianity or theism should not be taken seriously, I know that this is a person uninformed on the issues. Actually, that applies to anyone who recommends any of the new atheists.

Many of you might not have noticed that story about Dawkins because frankly, he’s done something even more embarrassing than that. In fact, this is something I would even say is downright wicked. What Dawkins has done is sparked a controversy based on what he said in his twitter feed. You see, Dawkins heard from someone that they don’t know what they would do if they were pregnant with a child with Down’s Syndrome. It was described as an ethical dilemma.

Before we focus on what Dawkins had to say in response, isn’t it a shame we live in a world where even knowing your baby will have Down’s Syndrome leaves you with a dilemma of if you should kill it or not? You see, the reality is that as soon as that child is conceived and they have Down’s Syndrome, you are already the parent of a child with Down’s. The question you have to ask is if you’re going to be the parent of a dead one or a living one. Not only that, are you going to be the parent of a living child that you and your spouse brought into the world together, or are you going to be the parent of a dead child that died at your own hands.

In fact, I know and have known a number of people with Down’s Syndrome children. Are the children hard to care for? Yes. Can it be frustrating? Yes. Does it cost a lot of money? Yes.

You know, like all children do.

Of course, Down’s children come with extra hurdles, but you know what? They also come with extra joys. They tend to be far more honest and genuine in their love and the parents who take the time to love them see them as the gift that they are and how much they should be appreciated. One friend of ours in fact when she found out the child she was carrying had Down’s was told “There are other options” to which she immediately responded that there were not. That was her baby and she was going to love her baby and Down’s was not going to be an obstacle.

Well done.

So right at the start, we have a problem. We are being told that we really need to consider if people with Down’s Syndrome have lives that are really worth living. Exactly how far will this go? Are we not participating in a eugenics program at this point where we decide only those with desirable traits will live?

Well hopefully Pope Richard was able to give some advice to point out to this person that lives are valuable by the nature of what they are and that yes, things could be difficult, but you know, with the wonders of science we can do so much to ease the burdens that really are there and maybe even find a cure for Down’s someday! Surely this was said!

Or maybe not.

What was said?

“Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

Dawkins is in an even worse position than the questioner. He sees no ethical dilemma. It is said so easily. Abort it and try again. In fact, it would be immoral. Why?  Well Dawkins later said in his response to the outrage that:

“If your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down’s baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.”

Now none of us would object to increasing happiness and reducing suffering, but what we ask is if the ends justify the means. Is it ever justifiable to do an evil act because you think there is a good result? That is in fact something that I wish to keep pressing when it comes to the abortion debate. The question we need to ask is “Is the act of willfully terminating your own pregnancy wrong?”

You see, in reality, we can agree with many of the reasons that someone would want an abortion. We can agree they should be financially stable. We can agree many are not ready to raise a child yet. We can agree that many need emotional security. We can agree that it is fine for a woman to have a career. No one is saying any of these things are evil in and of themselves.

What we are saying is that none of those justifies the murder of an innocent child.

Dawkins has decided in advance that these children cannot be happy and that they can only be suffering and they cannot bring happiness to their parents but only bring suffering.

Interestingly, this same person who wondered about a child with Down’s also admitted to being on the autism spectrum (like my wife and I) and asked about that. Dawkins’s response?

People on that spectrum have a great deal to contribute, Maybe even an enhanced ability in some respects. DS not enhanced.

Well thank you Dawkins for saying I have a great deal to contribute. Apparently, the reason you think I’m valuable to the human race is that I can contribute something worthwhile. In other words, I am valuable for what I do. Too bad those babies with Down’s Syndrome don’t have enough value in being, you know, human beings.

The response to all of this was as expected and even included this satirical piece. (Warning: It does have language, but it was the greatest laugh I had all day yesterday.) The sad part is too many internet atheists were defending Dawkins as if his point was obvious. Sure. Why not abort a baby with Down’s Syndrome?

Now Dawkins did apparently issue an apology, though it was quite a backhanded one. It would be like a man saying to his wife “I’m sorry I had an affair, but you have just been so frigid lately, and this woman was just so hot, and I have these needs that I have to have met, and it was meant to be a private thing between her and I and you were never meant to find out.” We could go on and on with it. 

Dawkins has no apologies for the comment. In fact, his clarifying comment said he would still recommend abortion for the same reason. What he is sorry for is that it started a twitter war. In the above analogy, it would be like the husband issuing an apology not because he cheated on his wife, but rather because he got caught doing so. From this point on Dawkins, went to make statements about the people who were complaining about what he had to say.

It never occurs to Dawkins that what he said was utterly reprehensible. Dawkins has before said

It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

Let it be said in response that if you meet someone who seeks to justify the murder of an innocent child in the womb, wicked should in fact be one of the first things in your mind. It looks like in the world of Dawkins, denying evolution would be a worse crime against humanity than aborting a baby with Down’s Syndrome.

It will be a wonder to see what happens if Dawkins or those like him were truly ever in charge. He has already made a statement about what children he thinks bring suffering into the world. Perhaps he’d also team up with his friend Peter Boghossian. This is the same Peter Boghossian who has a chapter in his Manual for Creating Atheists (A book that I reviewed here and keep in mind that Tim McGrew massacred Boghossian’s chickens here) that lists containment protocols.

That’s right. What can we do to “contain” people of faith? This included such steps as treating faith (A term Boghossian does not know the meaning of) as a public health crisis and to remove the religious exemption for delusion from the DSM, which is the diagnostic rule book for psychological disorders.

Dawkins might say he would not want to impose his beliefs on others, but would his followers have that same belief? Boghossian seems fine with treating those of us who are Christians or believers in any deity as if we have a disease. 

The sad part is technically, Dawkins is not contradicting his atheism in any way. For a Christian, to think it okay to abort a baby with Down’s Syndrome would be a contradiction of their view of life, but for Dawkins, it does not have to be. Of course, there are many individual atheists who are pro-life and thank God for them, but the only requirement for being an atheist is “Don’t believe in God.” You can not believe in God and be a psychopath or be a philanthropist and both of them are consistent with the statement “God does not exist.” You cannot be living a life of sin in Christianity and have that be consistent with “I am a follower of Christ.”

Well Professor Dawkins, the sad reality is that you don’t see children with Down’s Syndrome as a gift to the world, which indeed they are as many parents with Down’s Syndrome children would tell you, but we can certainly say that you, Professor Dawkins, are a gift to the church. You are a great example of what will happen the more and more we move away from God and let people like you have the most say in what goes on in our culture.

Let’s just hope most people have enough moral sense to know not to like it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/2/2014: Clay Jones

July 31, 2014

What’s coming up on the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVIIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! Evil is a favorite playing card of many an atheist on the internet as well as prominent atheists in public debate. If there is a God, why is there so much evil in the world? In fact, many times, isn’t God the cause of all this evil in the world?

Of course, this is a serious objection for many to theism and in order to help address it, why not talk to a serious authority on the issue? That’s why I’m having Dr. Clay Jones of BIOLA come on my show this Saturday to talk about the problem of evil.

So who is Clay Jones?

cbj

According to his bio:

Clay Jones holds a doctor of ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is an associate professor in the Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics Program at Biola University. Formerly, Clay hosted Contend for Truth, a nationally syndicated call-in, talk-radio program where he debated professors, radio talk show hosts, cultists, religious leaders, and representatives from animal rights, abortion rights, gay rights, and atheist organizations. Clay was the CEO of Simon Greenleaf University (now Trinity Law and Graduate Schools) and was on the pastoral staff of two large churches. Clay is a contributing writer to the Christian Research Journal and specializes in issues related to why God allows evil. You can read his blog at clayjones.net and find him on Facebook.

So what are we going to be talking about when it comes to the problem of evil?

There will be four parts to this. The first one is why is it that we suffer for the sin of Adam. Why is it that because one man and woman ate a piece of fruit so long long ago that the rest of us have to suffer for it today? How can it be that a good God would allow this? Why put us in a situation where already we’re in a deficit?

Second, what about the nature of humankind. What does it mean to be a human and what difference does this make to the problem of evil? Why is it that we see human beings as moral agents but we don’t tend to view animals in the same light?

Third, free-will. This often comes up in these debates but what about the nature of free-will. Does it make a difference? Why should God even allow free-will if it will lead to all this evil? Could God not have created a world where we would be free but there will not be all this evil?

Finally, what about the after-death? Does Heaven play any role whatsoever in what we are experiencing in this life? What about the fact that some people will not make it to Heaven in fact?

All of these are important aspects of dealing with the problem of evil so if this is a question that interests you, be listening to the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday, and please leave a positive review of the show on ITunes! I would greatly appreciate it!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response to Joseph Mattera

May 19, 2014

Is “God’s Not Dead” built on a faulty foundation? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Now it’s not a secret that I did like the movie “God’s Not Dead.” In fact, I wrote a positive review of it that can be found here. Does that mean the movie was perfect? Absolutely not! Does it mean it uses the arguments that I would use? Absolutely not! If I had been the one doing the writing, I would have used different approaches and arguments. For instance, I would not use science but I would use metaphysics and I would make the emphasis also be on the resurrection of Christ.

Still, as I said in my review, I am thankful that the conversation got started. Some people have critiqued the movie, but one critique that really points to a problem not in the movie but in some of the apologetics community is that of Joseph Mattera, the overseeing bishop of resurrection church in Brooklyn. His review can be found here.

Let’s go through and see what is said.

“The problem with this movie is that it bases the defense of Christianity on the false modern (Enlightenment) assumption that human reason is the final and highest arbiter of truth, thus setting it above God’s revelation of Himself in the Scriptures. Hence, this movie illustrates how the basic assumption of contemporary apologetics is faulty, because if our faith is upheld and proven by human reason, then unlearned Christian students attempting to use the arguments in this movie are also vulnerable in the future to an atheistic professor who could easily take advantage of their scientific and philosophical ignorance and poke holes through these basic arguments.”

Already, I hope many readers are realizing that there is a presuppositional bent here that is going to be more strongly seen as we go through this piece. So how does it start? It is the claim that human reason is the final arbiter of truth.

This is false. To begin with, what is meant by human reason? There is simply reasoning. Now someone might say “but God says that His thoughts are not ours nor are His ways our ways.” Yes. Do you know what that passage is about? It is about how God does forgive the wicked and love them, which is not the way that we do. It’s contrasting moral behavior. It’s not making a claim about knowledge.

I know a number of things that God knows. So do you. I know 2 + 2 = 4. So does God. I know that the world exists. So does God. I know that Jesus rose from the dead. So does God. I know that God exists. So does God. If God does not know these things, then we certainly cannot say that they are true for if they are not true in the mind of God, they are not true period. Truth seeking is ultimately just thinking God’s thoughts after Him.

Note also the irony here. The whole piece is in fact then saying “Your human reason cannot be the arbiter of truth and I am going to make a case that I want you to examine with your reasoning to see if it is true.” Now of course, there will be Scriptures presented, but how does one study the Scriptures? Does one study them reasonably or unreasonably? You cannot escape reason under any circumstances! Reason is not the enemy! Bad reasoning is the enemy!

Furthermore, we are not the arbiter of truth. If I reach the conclusion “God does not exist”, that does not mean that I have made it the case that God does not exist. It means I have made it the case that as far as I’m concerned, God does not exist. I do not determine truth, but I do determine what I will believe to be true.

Now could an atheistic professor poke holes through some philosophical and scientific arguments. Sure. Yet notice this. Any argument that is true cannot truly have a hole poked through it. A bad argument for that position could, but not a true argument. It could be of course that the person cannot defend the argument well or does not understand it, but the problem is not with the argument, but it is with the presenter and the critic of the argument.

What does that mean then? That we give up on arguments? Not at all! It means that we better study our arguments and that means that yes, we critique our own arguments. We who are apologists need to point out arguments that do not work. I don’t want to send someone out into the evangelism field with an argument that I think is faulty. That embarrasses the Gospel. I want to send them with an argument I think works.

“However, even more troubling is that even if a Christian wins a debate in apologetics, they really lost in the realm of ultimate truth, since they placed the foundation of the Bible upon modern empirical science, which means their presuppositions are actually the same as atheistic humanists. Christians who try to prove their faith by human reason have fallen into the false modern assumption that ultimate truth can be proven empirically by the five senses. Can you picture Jesus, the apostle Paul or the Old Testament prophets trying to bring conversions about by making a case for God based on contemporary human reason and science?”

Well actually, yes. Yes I can. Mattera’s inability to do so I think only shows a lack of imagination on his part. Jesus used parables and the events of the weather to talk about His generation and convey truths to them. He used truths they understood to explain truths they didn’t understand. Paul used the illustration of a seed in the ground to explain the resurrection. Rudimentary science of the day to be sure, but science nonetheless.

In fact, we can go further with Paul. Paul says the existence of God is made clear and how is that so? By the things that are seen. How do you get the knowledge of things that are seen? That’s done empirically, meaning with your five senses. One of the big mistakes of our age is assuming that empirical means scientific. All scientific thinking is empirical, but not all empirical thinking is scientific.

I also do think some ultimate truths can be known through the five senses. I think the existence of God can be known that way, such as through the five ways of Aquinas. Yet even Aquinas himself said that if it were not for special revelation, few would reach this knowledge and even then they would have it mixed with many errors. Practically the only one who got really close was Aristotle.

Yet Aquinas was an empiricist in the same tradition as Aristotle. He believed human reason could reach these truths, but he did not for a second discount the role of special revelation. His first section in the Summa is in fact on sacred science. Now Mattera is free to say he does not find the five ways convincing. He is also free to try to give a reason why and I am free to respond.

However, there are things that Aquinas would also agree could not be known through human reason and I would agree with him. Aquinas said human reason alone could not tell you that the universe had a beginning. While I might be iffy on that one, we would both agree that human reason could not tell you that God is a Trinity or that Jesus died for you. I may look historically and know Jesus died on the cross. History alone cannot tell me He died on that cross for my sins. I need God to say that to me.

It is part of Mattera’s mistaken dichotomy to think all knowledge of God comes through human reason or it comes through special revelation. I think the case of Paul in Romans 1 and 2 clearly rule out the latter position. Some knowledge comes through both places.

As for our presuppositions, my presupposition is that there is a world outside of my mind that exists and that human reason is generally reliable. If you doubt any of these, there is no other place to go for escape. You can never establish the material world exists if you start with being doubtful that it does. You can try to claim special revelation to say that it does, but why choose one revelation over another? If you deny reason right at the start, then you have no means by which to examine any case whatsoever. These must be granted or there can be no discussion. These are the same truths that are made clear to an atheistic thinker as much as a theist thinker.

“The innate and creational evidence for God is so great that the Bible never even attempts to prove His existence but starts the Scriptures by saying “In the beginning, God …” Psalm 14 says that the fool has said in his heart there is no God. Romans 1:21 teaches us that all professed unbelievers are really secret believers. The prophets of the Old Testament, along with the New Testament apostles, were able to spread faith due to the incredible power they had with God, due to earnestly seeking His face and speaking to people with prophetic power and conviction (1 Thess. 1:4-5). When Paul spoke at the Areopagus in Acts 17, he didn’t bother debating with his audience on their own philosophical grounds but assumed the biblical worldview, preached the risen Christ, and disparaged their prevailing polytheistic assumptions. Even when he quoted their poets, he quoted them in the context of the vortex of the biblical story without subsuming the biblical story to Greek philosophy!”

Much of this is true, but what if Paul had encountered a Richard Dawkins in his day. Are we to assume he would have just got out the Bible and preached to him from it? I suspect Paul would do what he did at Mars Hill. He would speak the language of Dawkins. Paul in speaking at the Areopagus never claims his audience is in denial. He instead makes a case based on evidence that they could see (Empirical) and leaves it to them to decide. (Human reason.)

Yes. The Bible never makes an argument for God’s existence, but technically, it never makes an argument for the resurrection, which is the central doctrine of Christianity. The Gospels are written to record that which was already known about Jesus for the church to have. They were meant to provide further certainty and not new information. 1 Cor. 15 starts off with the resurrection not to convince the Corinthians who already believed Jesus was risen, but rather to start off with the common ground in authorities that were trusted.

Nowhere in Paul do we find that people are suppressing the truth about the resurrection of Christ. That is not part of common knowledge and it would be bizarre to say the ancient Amalekites were suppressing the truth that Christ would rise from the dead.

“Furthermore, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:21 that the world through its own wisdom cannot know God. When we, as Christians, try to borrow from modernity and science to prove our faith, we actually lose the ultimate debate even if we win the temporary debate! At the end of the day, apologetics and science are OK as long as they are limited in their scope and their purpose is to understand the language of Babylon and inform our bridge-building conversations with humanists and atheists.”

Mattera unfortunately is unaware that Paul is using rhetoric very well in this passage to counter the claims of his opponents. What where those claims? They were the claims that a true Messiah would not be crucified and a true king would not be crucified. This is foolishness, but Paul says God uses what is foolish to instead shame the world and says Jesus is the Wisdom of God. (Which is quite a bit more since Jesus would be seen in Paul’s theology as the figure in Proverbs 8.)

Note also that I do not see the text as saying the world through its wisdom cannot know God but rather does not know God. It is not claiming knowledge of the existence of God can be known, but knowledge of the plan of God. With this, there would be no disagreement. If all you had was reason, you would not know God’s plan. That requires special revelation. Mattera is mistakenly thinking this passage is talking about the existence of God.

It’s nice to know that Mattera says apologetics and science are okay, but only as bridge builders. Now in part, I would say science cannot by itself get to the ultimate truth about God, because God is a metaphysical claim and not a physical one. Science can provide information, but the final gap is bridged by metaphysics. Apologetics can help get you there and that would be philosophical apologetics in this case. Yet keep in mind with the resurrection, apologetics is in fact defending what it is that God has already revealed. No historical apologist would say that by history alone, you could know the plan of God. You would need information from God’s side as well.

“If our faith rests upon ungodly Enlightenment presuppositions, we could be robbed of our prophetic power and could end up losing our faith since we are framing our beliefs on human reason, which assumes that logic has more weight than divine revelation. This also perpetuates human autonomy, which is the antithesis of both our faith and the biblical worldview.”

It presupposes nothing of the sort. With my metaphysical backing, I realize that my very existing lies in the hands of God. I cannot exist apart from Him. Without Him, I am nothing. In saying this, I am not saying logic has more weight than divine revelation. I am saying that divine revelation is logical and that if we use logic properly, we can understand it better. Note that logic by itself cannot get you truth. Logic can point out what is false, but it does not determine what is true. You need knowledge from the senses for logic to act on.

Mattera also says we could be in danger of losing our faith. If we do things wrongly, yes. If we also assume a presuppositional stance, we could be in just as much danger. Why not be a presuppositional Mormon? Why not be a presuppositional Muslim? Both groups would point to their Scriptures and could use analogous arguments.

“Lest anyone think I am promoting a form of fideism (faith without reason), I believe Christianity has a worldview that is the most logical and rational of all other worldviews. (Even an atheist has to assume theism when attempting to prove atheism since they have to borrow from the Christian worldview to function and even to debate, which is why some atheists admit they are “cultural Christians.”) One of the greatest proofs of the Bible is the impossibility of the contrary—that is to say, biblical Christianity makes the most sense in this world because it comports the closest to reality.”

And as anyone in the field knows, impossibility of the contrary is a code term that indicates a presuppositional approach. The problem is how many contraries are there? There is a potentially infinite number. He also says Christianity makes more sense because it comports the closest to reality. To this, I agree, but why should the atheist? The atheist obviously holds his view because he thinks it comports closer to reality. Doesn’t everyone? Who holds a worldview and would say “Yes. I am a Christian, but I do think the Koran has a better explanation of reality.” That would be bizarre.

But the question is, why should the atheist think this? The impossibility of the contrary? The atheist sees several several contraries and all of them have religion in common so hey, why not just chuck religion and go and be an atheist?

Furthermore, how does Mattera know this? He knows it by looking at reality and comparing it to the Bible, which is using reason and an empirical approach. How does he know his Bible is accurate? Using reason and textual criticism. How does he answer the objections the Bible is inaccurate? Using reason and historical criticism. In the end, I would say that Mattera actually uses my approach far more than he realizes.

Do I also agree the atheist has to borrow from the Christian worldview? Absolutely. Do I think that they do so knowingly? That would be nonsense. Contrary to what might be though, presuppositions do play a part in thinking. We must always watch ours. The problem with the presuppositional approach is it makes this central. Presuppositions are changed by evidence, which is why I take a more evidence-based approach.

“In spite of this, at the end of the day, all of our logic is circular since human reasoning is finite and subjective. (Only God is absolutely objective.) Thus, no one can prove or disprove the existence of God; the best a Christian can do is show probabilities. (God cannot be proved empirically. However the arguments for design and the supernatural make Christianity’s teachings the most likely to be true of all competing religions and humanistic beliefs.)”

And with this, Mattera shoots himself in the foot big time. If all our logic is circular, then his whole argument is circular and why should I care about it? Of course, this is also presuppositionalism at work. I do not at all hold that logic is circular. You are not using logic to prove logic. You are starting with logic because that is where we all must start.

And by the way, I do not think all a Christian can do is show probabilities. The five ways of Aquinas, for instance, are deductive arguments that if the premises are followed through will end in certainty. Historically, the arguments are probable, but if Christianity is true, the best research will end with Christian cases being far more likely.

“At the end of the day, if a person can be talked into becoming a Christian by clever logic-based apologetics, then someone else (e.g., an atheist) with more knowledge and skill in logic could come along and talk the new Christian out of their faith. This is why, according to John 3:3-5 and John 6:44, all humans need a personal/experiential encounter with the risen Lord Jesus in order to be truly converted!”

Yes. That is a danger. What is the solution? To abandon logical arguments? No. The solution is the Scriptural command to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. The solution is serious discipleship. If Christianity is true, a true look at evidence will support that. If someone reasons me out of it because it is false, I owe them my thanks and gratitude.

Ultimately also, Mattera’s position rests on something I cannot provide for myself. I cannot make Jesus act in an encounter with me. I cannot make myself have a grand experience with Jesus. I can however reason to the conclusion. I can assure Mattera there was a day and time I did confess to Christ my need for forgiveness and ask Him to be my savior. My certainty of that encounter however was greatly enriched by my study of philosophy and history. Could someone have talked me out of it in that time? Perhaps, and I can show him many ex-Christians who have been talked out of it. (And I consider it a cop-out that all of those Christians were conveniently never Christian to begin with. By that standard, I don’t think any of us could know we’re Christians today.)

I conclude that the problem with Mattera lies in his approach that is really contrary to Scripture and would be fine at convincing people who agree with him, but will not work outside of that. I find that presuppositionalism too often spends more time defending itself than Christianity. I certainly hope one day Mattera realizes this and goes for a more classical approach that has served the church well for centuries.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

On Interacting With Street Epistemologists

March 26, 2014

What’s been my experience so far interacting with Street Epistemologists? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was asked by an apologetics group I belong to to describe what has been my experience thus far dealing with street epistemologists. You see, I was thrilled when I heard Peter Boghossian, author of “A Manual For Creating Atheists” (which I have reviewed here and interviewed Tom Gilson on here) had decided to come out with a show called the Reason Whisperer where he plans to have live conversations with people of “faith” and get them closer at least to deconversion.

I think this is a Godsend really.

I’ve long been waiting to see if there is something that will wake up the church from its intellectual slumbers and this I hope is it! We’ve had more than enough warnings and yet too many Christians are too caught up in themselves to realize they’re to do the Great Commission.

So I wanted to see what these street epistemologists were made of. Myself and some others with the same interest went to the Facebook page of Peter Boghossian. There we began asking questions and challenging what was said. It’s noteworthy that Boghossian himself never responded to us.

In fact, one post at least was a practical dare on Boghossian’s part when he linked to Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman and said the apologists won’t post on this one. He sure was wrong! More of us posted than ever before!

I’d like to report on how that has kept going and that Boghossian is being answered every day, but alas, I cannot.

Why? Because he banned us all.

Keep in mind, this is the same one who sees a great virtue in “doxastic openness.”

What I did find from the interactions I had is that street epistemologists are woefully unequipped. They read only that which agrees with them. They will buy into any idea if it goes against Christianity. The Earth was believed to be flat? Sure! I’ll believe that! Jesus never existed? Sure! I’ll believe that! Not having the originals of an ancient document is a problem? Sure! I’ll believe that! I still think about the person who recommended I read “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross”, a book so bad that even the publisher apologized for it.

For street epistemologists also, science is the highest way of knowing anything. Now this is something understandable. If matter is all there is, then the best way to understand the world is to use a process that studies matter specifically. The problem is science can never determine that matter is all that there is any more than it could have determined that all swans were white. Science is an inductive process and while one can be certain of many of the claims, one cannot say they have 100% certainty.

Edward Feser has compared the use of science to a metal detector at the beach. Let’s suppose I was looking for a treasure map I’d heard had been buried at the beach. I go all over the local beach with a metal detector and say “Well I guess the map isn’t here. The detector never pointed it out.” Sure. I found several other objects that had some metal in them, but I never found the treasure map.

You would rightly think this is bizarre. After all, a map is made of paper and while a metal detector does a great job of picking up objects that are metal, it simply will not work with paper. This is not because a metal detector is a terrible product. It is because it is not the right tool for the job.

So it is that in order to determine if matter is all that there is or if there is a God, science is not the tool for the job. Now some might think science can give us some data that we can use, but it cannot be the final arbiter.

Yet for street epistemologists, it seems enough to just say “Science!” and that rules out everything else that’s religious. This would be news to many scientists who are devout Christians and see no disconnect between science and their worldview.

Yet here, the street epistemologists once again have an out. It is why I in fact call them atheistic presuppositionalists. They will simply say that these people are experiencing a kind of cognitive dissonance. They are compartmentalizing themselves and not seeing that their worldviews contradict.

This would be news to someone like Alister McGrath, Francis Collins, or John Polkinghorne.

As I said, these only read what agrees with them. They will read Bart Ehrman on the Bible, but they will not read Metzger or Wallace in response. They will read Boghossian and follow him entirely, but they will not bother to read his critics. They will read about how people in the Middle Ages thought the Earth was flat, but they will not read James Hannam’s book on the matter, see Thomas Madden’s scholarship there, or even read the atheist Tim O’Neill who disagrees with them.

Street epistemologists will also go with extreme positions. They will tout on and on about how Jesus never existed and only say “Richard Carrier” or “Robert Price” in response. They will not acknowledge that the majority of scholarship, even scholarship that ideologically disagrees with Christianity, says it’s certain that Jesus existed. They do not realize that biblical scholarship is an open field where anyone of any worldview can join and writings go through peer-review.

Interestingly, these same people will go after Christians for not believing in evolution because, wait for it, there’s a consensus that this happened! The consensus of scientists is to be trusted. The consensus of scholars in the NT and ancient history is not to be trusted!

Also, if you do not hold to their view, well you are obviously emotional in nature in some way since you only believe because you want to believe and because of how you feel. It never occurs to some people that there could be intellectual reasons. In fact, it follows the pattern that if they don’t think the reasoning is intelligent, then it is just emotional.

It’s in fact a direct contrast to what is often said in many religious circles. “Well you’re just living in sin and are blinded to the truth.” Now I don’t doubt for some atheists, they don’t want to give up an immoral lifestyle. Also, I don’t doubt that for too many Christians, their only basis for being a Christian is how they feel and an emotional experience. Both of these groups have reached their conclusions for the wrong reasons.

Yet psychoanalyzing is seen as an argument to street epistemologists. If they can say you just believe for emotional reasons, then they can dismiss what you say. Note that it is dismissal. It is not a response.

I consider this a form I see of what I call atheistic hubris. Note please as well that this does not mean all atheists are this way. It just means that there’s a sizable portion of what I call “internet atheists” that are this way. The idea is that if someone is an atheist, then they are rational and intelligent. Therefore, all their thinking is rational and intelligent and all their conclusions are rational and intelligent.

The reality is we must all be constantly watching ourselves and one of the best ways to do this is to read our critics. Our critics will show us our blind spots and if we are wrong, we are to change our minds accordingly with the evidence.

An excellent example of something Boghossian and others constantly get wrong is faith. Boghossian says it is believing without evidence or pretending to know something that you do not know. Now in a modern vocabulary, I don’t doubt this. Too many Christians use faith this way and treat this kind of faith as if it is a virtue. It isn’t.

The question is, when the Bible uses the word faith, does it mean this? The answer is no.

In all of the writings I’ve read by the new atheists speaking this way about faith, not one of them has ever consulted a Greek or NT Lexicon in order to make their case. They have just said that this is what the word means. Oh they’ll sometimes quote Hebrews 11:1, but a text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext. I have also given my own exegesis of what the passage means here.

Also, I do have another great source on what faith is.

Faith/Faithfulness

“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.”

As it stands, the most I get told to this is that it is an appeal to authority, which indicates that street epistemologists don’t even understand the appeal to authority. Strange for people who claim to champion logic.

Sadly, they’re just following in the footsteps of Boghossian himself. Boghossian’s techniques will not work for any Christian who is moderately prepared to defend his worldview. It’s a shame that he who teaches so much about doxastic openness is so often incapable of doing what he teaches.

I conclude that if this is what we can expect from street epistemologists, then we really have nothing to be concerned about with them. Street epistemologists are just as unthinkingly repeating what their pastor, in this case Boghossian, says to them, as the fundamentalist Christians that they condemn. They are really two sides of the same coin.

In Christ,
Nick Peters