Posts Tagged ‘Richard Dawkins’

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.

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/11/2014: Graham Veale

October 9, 2014

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

First off, some people have asked about where the podcast is showing up on their ITunes feed. We had to switch carriers due to my last one deciding to drop the show after I disagreed with him on a secondary doctrine. We are now working with the Universal Pentecostal Network and had our first show with them last Saturday, but the process is still having kinks worked out of it and such. Bear with us. I want to get things back up on ITunes as soon as possible.

That having been said, let’s discuss what’s going on. The New Atheism has made itself known in the public square for the past decade and longer. The ideas of atheists have really gone public, but unfortunately, the new atheists have put forward a lot of heat but they really haven’t put forward very much light.

There have been many books addressing them. One such book is The New Atheism: A Survival Guide. We’ll be meeting with the author, Graham Veale and chatting with him this Saturday from 2-4 PM EST.

Graham Veale photo

The following is Veale’s information about himself:

Graham Veale is co-founder of saintsandsceptics.org, a web ministry for apologetics. A theology graduate of Queen’s University Belfast, he has been teaching religious education for 15 years in Armagh, Northern Ireland. He and his wife, Nicola, are parents of two children. With a particular interests in the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, and the design and moral arguments for God’s existence, Graham is author of the book New Atheism: A Survival Guide.

On the show, we’ll be discussing everything from science and religion to what to do about pasta. Yes. There is actually a topic discussing the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s quite amusing to realize that atheism has come to such a level where this kind of argument is put forward and it is supposedly seen as a valid one.

Definitely science will be a topic of discussion. Is it true that if you become a scientist, you must reject Christianity? Or on the other hand, if you are a Christian, should you avoid science? It’s my opinion that both of these are highly errant positions and when we present a dichotomy between the two worlds, we do a disservice to both of them. It ends up only feeding the false notion of a warfare going on between science and religion.

The new atheism has arrived of course, but what kind of impact will it have? Too many Christians have been unprepared for this, especially those of our youth who are going off to college. We cannot faithfully serve Christ to the fullest without being aware of the strength of the foundation upon which our worldview is built. That’s why I’m thankful to have books out like those of Graham Veale and I look forward to his appearing on my show this Saturday to talk about it and I hope you will be a part of it as well.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: New Atheism: A Survival Guide

August 27, 2014

What do I think of Graham Veale’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

newatheism

First off, my thanks to Graham Veale for having me sent his latest book and the interest of being on my podcast to talk about it. Having said that, let’s get straight to the book.

The new atheism has come, but already, it’s starting to look like a flash in the pan, which isn’t really too surprising. If anything, this has been a benefit to Christianity and an embarrassment to atheism as numerous writers have written works critiquing the new atheism which is incredibly easy to critique. If you want to see a lot of empty rhetoric with little or no research of the ideas that are being argued against, just pick up a book by the new atheists. (And yes, sadly, that does apply to some works of Christian apologetics as well. No problem saying that.)

Graham Veale has added to this and the benefit of his work is it deals with a lot of the latest incarnations that have come about. For instance, there is a chapter dedicated to dealing with the idea of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It should be an embarrassment to the new atheists that this is really considered an argument. I can’t picture writers like Kai Nielsen, J.L. Mackie, and Antony Flew before becoming a theist using arguments like this. 

The next chapter is about science and the problem with scientism, the idea that science is the only way to establish what is true and if anything is true about reality, it must be scientifically true. Veale rightly points out that it is not the case that scientific explanations and theistic explanations contradict. They can work together and for the early pioneers of science, they indeed did.

From there we go to Dawkins and the problem of a big big brain. He starts off writing about the Courtier’s Reply, which should be a reply that simply shows the massive ignorance of the person giving it. It is a result of what I call “atheistic presuppositionalism.” The idea is that we know these other stories are nonsense, such as leprechauns and fairies, and God is in the same category. But that’s the very question under discussion! Is God nonsense like the others? You don’t demonstrate that by just asserting it. You demonstrate it by interacting with the best your opposition has to offer. 

From there, we move on to design. Now I’m not going to say anything about the design argument insofar as it is the design argument. I don’t hold to it in the ID sense, but I do think it’s important to point out Dawkins’s hilarious claim that if this universe is designed, then its designer must be even more amazing and thus, He must be designed. This is the point of the big big brain in the title. Dawkins treats God as if He was a physical being with a physical brain and thus having a designer. This is certainly not the God of Scripture, nor of Aquinas, nor of most any Christian theologian throughout the centuries but hey, evidence. Who needs it? If this is what you think your opponents believe in, well you don’t need to show that they do by actually researching them. Just make assertions!

This is also one way I know that when Dawkins wrote his critique of the five ways of Aquinas, that he never read Aquinas himself. If he had, he would have known the very next chapter was on divine simplicity. Now you may think that idea is nonsense and makes no sense. So what? That is the idea that Aquinas held to and has been the traditional idea for centuries. If you want to argue against God, you must argue against the idea given you and the data given you. You don’t get to make up your own idea. (In some circles, this is known as a straw man fallacy)

The chapter after this deals with the moral argument mainly as a way that we know right from wrong. While I do not think the argument from a personal experience that’s also presented is the best argument, for some people, it does count as data. I could say it is certainly a part of our experience that needs to be explained.

We move on then to questions of miracles and who Jesus was in the eyes of His contemporaries. This is the main chapter that focuses on the resurrection which is absolutely essential. I do think Veale has done some excellent interaction with some of the latest scholarship and that includes the scholarship that is not friendly to his position. He interacts with the ideas of Second Temple Judaism using sources like Hurtado and Bauckham as well.

Next we move on with a section on the Insider Test for Faith. This is certainly a response as is said to an atheist who would love to be mentioned.

Anyway, the point of the Insider Test for Faith is asking from an internal approach if theism does explain the data well that we have. Now this would of course not prove that theism is true, but it would at least demonstrate that it is coherent and if it is to be true, then it must certainly be at least found coherent. (Incidentally, it’s hard to not read the story about holocaust denier David Irving at the start and laughing when you get to the end of it.)

The last chapter is about how the Gospel is for all people. This also deals with the problem of evil and rightly points out that the solution to the problem of evil is the Gospel. Now some might be hearing that and thinking that it means accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior answers why God allows evil. That’s not what’s being said. The answer to evil is that God is reclaiming this world and reshaping it in Christ and that includes evil.

I don’t agree with all Veale says in this book (I don’t think Jesus was honorably buried for instance) but those points of disagreement are mainly on secondary matters. I do find the style to be engaging. If you have read much on the new atheism on both sides, you might not find much new material here, but if you’re looking for an engaging one that deals with style as well as “arguments”, you should enjoy this one.

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

Book Plunge: The Last Superstition

July 23, 2014

What do I think of this book by Edward Feser? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

TheLastSuperstition

As I finished this book, I must say I was disappointed.

I was thoroughly disappointed since I knew that when I went on Amazon I could only give it five stars. Just five! If only I could have somehow doubled that number!

Now that doesn’t mean I agree with everything Feser says. I don’t think he would even want me to after just a read of his book, but I do think he argues his case very well and quite humorously. As a Protestant Thomist, there are differences, but with much of his philosophy and metaphysics I am right there on his side.

Feser is quite angry in this volume, and he has all right to be. The new atheists are a symptom of the way that our thinking is going downhill. It is not because we are becoming more scientific. No no no. That is all well and good. There is no problem with that. It is because we are becoming more and more anti-philosophical.

This despite the fact that there are some philosophers amongst the new atheists. Yet when they do any philosophy, the results are atrocious. It would have been interesting to see what Feser would have written had “The Grand Design” come out already and there had been a response to Hawking saying “Philosophy is dead.”

With this anti-philosophical bias coming in, we are rapidly losing our ability to think well and becoming a more and more immoral people. Feser also ties this in with the cultural acceptance of redefining marriage and also about how he considers abortion one of the most wicked of all evils.

Feser also brings in some strong polemics to this. Why? He is responding to the new atheists with what they have been dishing out and it adds a nice punch to the work. It’s hard to not be amused when you read that Richard Dawkins would not know metaphysics from Metamucil or that Daniel Dennett should have realized that anyone walking around saying “I’m a bright!” looks like an idiot. Also noteworthy is being told that the sophists are still with us today except they’re called lawyers, professors of literary criticism, and Michael Moore.

Surprising to most atheists will be the bare interaction with Scripture or church tradition that Feser has. The only place I recall Scripture being used is in a section talking about the resurrection. This is really the only place in the book that emphasizes Christ as well. Why is there so little mention of Christ and Scripture? Because Feser is showing that if all you have is just the tools of reason, you still have more than enough reason to hold to the existence of God and deal with the new atheism. It could be that Christianity is false and the new atheists are still wrong after all.

Readers of this book will also see a sustained argument that gives you a brief history of philosophy and why people like Parmenides, Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas matter. Feser throughout the work shows that the arguments of the new atheism do not hold water and also lack explanatory scope.

Feser also argues that the teleology that Aristotle says exists in reality is inescapable and the more we deny it, the more and more absurd that we become, including describing a couple known as the Churchlands. This is a pair of philosophers who are husband and wife and wish to speak of us as material beings entirely and I mean entirely.

““She said, ‘Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.’ ”

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/02/12/two-heads

Feser does point out that as the article says, the Churchlands claim to have shared a lot of Oxytocin over the years, yet I’m guessing this is a claim that doesn’t exactly scream romance. Although, it is humorous to imagine being in a singles bar and going up to a lady and saying “Hey babe. How would you like to have a little Oxytocin tonight?

Feser says that this will be the end result of the thinking of the new atheists. In the end, we will lose morality, we will lose free-will, and in fact, we will lose science itself.

If the new atheists have been looking for a powerful opponent, they have found one in Feser and one who can roll with the punches just as good as they do, if not better. Feser’s sharp wit and powerful argumentation provide a powerful counter to the new atheist movement.

If you want to read the best response I have seen to the new atheists, do yourself a favor and pick up this book. You won’t regret it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/19/2014: Is God A Moral Monster?

July 17, 2014

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

One of the most common charges today leveled against Christianity is the God of the Old Testament. One of the most memorable lines against Him comes from Richard Dawkins in “The God Delusion.”

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Is this really the case?

In order to investigate this question, I’ve decided to invite on the show a Biblical scholar who has written a response directly to such a claim and shown how the battles in the OT do not show that God is in fact a moral monster. He should know since he wrote the book “Is God A Moral Monster?” I of course mean none other than Dr. Paul Copan.

PaulCopan

According to his bio:

“Paul Copan (Ph.D. Philosophy, Marquette University) is Professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, and he has served as president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He is author and editor of thirty books including The Rationality of Theism, The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Issues, The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics, Is God a Moral Monster? and “True for You, But Not for Me.” He has contributed essays to over thirty books, both scholarly and popular. Paul and his wife, Jacqueline, have six children, and they reside in West Palm Beach, Florida. His website is http://www.paulcopan.com.”

Paul Copan has been writing several excellent books aimed at a general audience to deal with popular objections, a much-needed niche if there ever was one. This started largely with his book “True For You But Not For Me” and has progressed all the way to his book “When God Goes To Starbucks.” I have never been disappointed by a Copan book and “Is God A Moral Monster?” is no exception.

So we’ll be spending our time talking about the charges that God does in fact inflict genocide in the Old Testament as well as getting into other issues that seem to paint the God of the Old Testament in a highly negative light. We could also be discussing the critiques that Thom Stark has brought towards Copan based on the book and see what he thinks about them.

Also, this will include a lesson on how we are to read the Old Testament. Is it really a straight forward narrative every time or does it use terminology that would have been recognizable to an ancient reader but is not so recognizable to us today?

And of course, is it really justified for God to take life in this way? Surely there could have been something else to be done besides using the Israelites as a force of war. Right?

I really look forward to having Dr. Copan come on to discuss this important topic and I hope you’ll be listening. Remember, we’ll have the link up on ITunes as soon as possible for you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Trouble With Internet Debates

May 27, 2014

What’s so problematic about having debates on the internet? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I love debate. Okay. I can’t deny that. A good argument can get me really excited. I love the back and forth exchange of ideas. (Well supposedly the back and forth exchange.) Yet there’s something also irksome about it. In some ways, it can be like receiving a new gift at Christmas. It’s fun and exciting for a few days, but after awhile, the excitement just wears off.

What’s the problem with internet debates? Well very rarely do people talk about ideas that they really study. Instead, they talk about ideas that they have opinions on. Now opinions are fine and we all have them, but some opinions are to be more authoritative than others. I can have an opinion on evolution and cosmology. Don’t take it seriously. Why? Because I have not done the necessary reading on the topic. I am not an authority.

A word of warning at this point to my apologist friends out there and to other Christians. Reading the apologists on a topic does not make you an authority. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to read the scholars on the topic. You want to know what your opponents are arguing even better than they know it.

Now before atheists start thinking they’re not guilty of the same thing, they are. If you want to make an argument against the existence of God, don’t read someone like Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is just fine when talking about evolution, but he is not trained in the arguments for God’s existence.

Don’t go thinking that people like Jerry Coyne (Who Peter Boghossian refers to profusely) are authorities on Christianity. They’re not. When I go to his blog and see people arguing that Jesus never even existed, I know this is not something to take seriously. (And yes, no one who says Jesus never existed should be considered authoritative in the field. There are more PH.D.s in science who hold to YEC, a view I do not hold to at all, than there are PH.D.s in ancient history who say Jesus never existed.)

The new atheist movement has done this to atheism today. If you want to be a well-informed atheist, do not read the new atheists. Believe it or not, just because you are an atheist, it does not mean that you’re automatically a clear thinker. Christian and atheists both have fools and geniuses on their side.

Another problem both sides have is incredulity has become an argument. For an atheist, yeah. I get it. It seems incredible to you that a miracle occurred. Frankly, I don’t have any problem with you thinking it is incredible. It really is. I understand the skepticism. The problem is skepticism is not an argument. It is a position that one holds. Today, you will need to do more than quote David Hume. Have you read the critiques of Hume? Have you considered a work such as Miracles by Craig Keener?

It also won’t work to say “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” Why should your position be the one that determines what claim is and isn’t extraordinary? The term is just way too subjective. How do you even recognize extraordinary evidence? Does it have some property like glowing in the dark?

extraordinaryevidence

And once again, to turn to the Christians, your incredulity does not count as an argument. Okay. Many of you are skeptical of evolution. I get that. Yeah. Now I have no firm opinion on the matter, but your incredulity does not count as an argument. It also will not work to say “The Bible says X.” Yeah. You accept the Bible as an authority, but your opponent doesn’t. Why should he care?

Now if you want to argue against evolution by all means be my guest. Just make sure you make the case scientific. If evolution is to fall, it will fall because it happens to be bad science. If it is bad science, then it can be refuted scientifically. Being incredulous will not count as an argument.

The problem with both of these positions is both sides can remain incredibly fundamentalist in nature. Many Christians will say automatically that they must be right because they agree with the Bible and the Word of God cannot be wrong. Now it could be true the Bible is the Word of God and cannot be wrong. (And I do hold to Inerrancy in fact) That is not to be assumed. If you’re debating a Christian who holds to that position, then fine. Use the Bible all you want to as an authority. It won’t work outside of that. It has no more effect on an opponent than my hearing what the Koran says from a Muslim has on me despite him insisting he’s telling me the words of the creator.

For the atheist, too often there is an engagement in what I call “atheistic presuppositionalism.” This is where you start off with the assumption of atheism, but you also start with the idea that because you are an atheist, you are reasonable and anyone who does not accept atheism is just irrational.

Now of course, if atheism is true, it is irrational to not accept it, but none of us are purely rational in all our thinking. We all make mistakes. You can be rational in many areas and irrational in others for any number of reasons. There could be a lack of study, reading the wrong resources, pride, or emotional or volitional barriers. Atheists often warn us about bias. They’re right. We should all be seeking to have our biases checked, but that includes atheists as well. The best way is to go out and read people who disagree with you and really interact with them.

But for too many atheists, the position is that they are rational and therefore any comment that they make is rational. Want to say Jesus never existed? That’s rational because you’re an atheist! Have an opinion on any topic you’ve never studied? It’s rational because you’re an atheist!

This also leads to too often a lack of serious engagement with religious ideas for atheists. For most, it is just a Google search and Google while a valuable tool for those who use it well, is an aid also to the laziness of our day and age. Why go out and read a scholar of a position? Just go find something in a Google search.

Want to claim Jesus is a copycat Messiah and there were several dying and rising deities? No problem! Just do a Google search! Sure! The source might not quote any scholars whatsoever and would not be taken seriously in the scholarly world, which it isn’t, but hey! It’s found on Google!

Now of course, a Christian should want to have an answer to that objection, but the question needs to be asked why it should be taken seriously as an objection in the first place? Is finding it on a Google search a good enough reason? I can find evidence on Google right now that the moon landing never took place! I can find evidence that the holocaust never happened! Now it’s faulty evidence to be sure (You can have evidence for false opinions), but it is evidence! Who would like to see something put up saying the moon landing never happened and expect to have to give an answer for that?

In fact, the reality is that 99.9% of us would say that it happened I predict. I have no doubt it happened. The reality is that most of us at the same time could not give an argument for it. Most of us do not know the physics and such of the matter to give an answer. That does not mean we’re irrational for holding it. We hold it on other grounds. Most of us could not give an argument for heliocentrism. Does that mean if someone put forward a web page claiming geocentrism that you would want me to take it seriously?

On the internet, anyone can put forward an opinion and it doesn’t have to be examined by critical minds. If you wanted to, you could start a blog right now for free and put out your opinion on whatever you want. That does not mean you’re an authority. It means you have an opinion.

Some of you might be thinking “What about your blog?” What about it? If you want to be skeptical, go ahead. I do not claim to be a scholar yet, but I do claim to rely on the works of leading scholars. If you think my opinion carries merit, feel free to share it. If not, then ignore it and just go and read the people who have actually reached the level of scholar.

Google is a tool for too many people who want instant information but are not wanting to do a real study. So many people don’t want today to do the real research required in learning a topic. Instead, they just want you to lay everything out front instead of doing the basic groundwork for what you wish to say. That’s another problem with internet discussions. If you’ve read the scholars, it’s very irritating to talk to people who haven’t and have them think they’re an authority.

And this gets us into another area as well. When people are contested, they can turn nasty. Now I am not one who says all satire and sarcasm is wrong. In fact, I think in many cases it’s necessary. Sometimes you need to call a spade a spade. Some arguers on the internet are just bullies who have not studied and want to present themselves as authority. They do not respond to sound argumentation.

Yet if all you have is just sarcasm and satire and you cannot back it with arguments, then you do not have an argument. Mocking Christians for being Christians is not an argument. Mocking atheists for being atheists is not an argument. If you’re one who does not have a problem with mockery, and to be fair, the Bible has no problem with it in many cases, then be sure that you also have the arguments to back it. Mockery, sarcasm, and satire are not to be your arguments. They are meant to be used, if you use them, as tools of argumentation but not the data itself.

Hopefully on both sides we can learn better argumentation. I have this strange dream that someday we’ll have debates where we only talk about topics that we’ve really seriously studied in debate. Unfortunately, as long as we think we are authorities because we have opinions, this will not happen. Yet I expect this most from the Christian community. I expect that we most of all will be fulfilling the life of the mind and engaging in areas where we have done our homework. It is no honor to our Lord to come to the debate not having done at least basic research. God is not obligated to give us knowledge because we have not done our part. That would in fact be encouraging laziness.

I also expect that too many people on both sides will hear this kind of advice on internet debates and ignore it entirely. This again is part of our modern problem as we consider ourselves exceptions to every rule out there.

If you want to honor Christ, be a student. Be a disciple. Be learning. Be reading both sides of the positions that you hold and love God with your mind. Sloppy thinking is no honor for the Christian to have.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

How Not To Debate a Christian Apologist

March 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

Towards the start, Stenger says

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

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

But then he says

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

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

Later he also says

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

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

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

Stenger goes on to say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next argument:

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

Stenger answers that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next claim Stenger deals with?

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

Stenger’s response?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next?

Many Christians believe in evolution.

Stenger’s answer?

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

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

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

How can there be objective morality without God?

Stenger answers saying

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

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

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

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

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

Next question we’ll address?

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

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

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

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

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

But now we get to a really fun one!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well maybe Tacitus was going by hearsay?

Really? The same Tacitus who said this?

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

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

As for Jesus’s moral teachings, Stenger says

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

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

Stenger goes on to say

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

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

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

With Near-Death experiences, Stenger says

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: True Reason

February 28, 2014

What do I think of Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

TrueReason

True Reason is being released today as a response to several of the new atheists. Why? Because the new atheists have championed themselves as the heroes of reason and as a result of reason, they’re atheists, and those who are reasonable will also be atheists.

Yet as I have observed, those same atheists making that claim are usually guilty of the greatest crimes against reason. This was best exemplified to me recently when a street epistemologist on Peter Boghossian’s Facebook page was asked if she’d read any books on logic and she replied by naming the new atheists that she had read.

This also consists in what I call “The Jesus Allergy” where atheists are afraid to admit anything whatsoever could be true in Scripture or that there could be anything good about religion or that intelligent people can be within their epistemic rights while being Christians. Want to see this best shown? Look at how many atheists are Christ-mythers. Even those who aren’t can often say that a reasonable case can be made that Jesus never existed.

No. No it can’t.

True Reason is meant to expose this. Now to be sure, this is a volume that I think is meant to be an introduction to people who are not familiar with the apologetics world. For those of us who have been in it for years, there won’t be much new here, but there will be a new formatting of it and a new presentation.

The book certainly has its range of excellent authors. William Lane Craig, David Wood, Sean McDowell, David Marshall, Matthew Flannagan, and Tim McGrew, for instance, each have their own say in it. There are also several chapters by people that you might not have heard of, which is fine to me because I think the apologetics community does need to promote from within.

Many of the chapters do cover subjects that I am pleased are being discussed. Slavery in the OT, for instance, is not often addressed in apologetics books. Flannagan’s chapter on the genocides of the OT will be extremely helpful as well. I enjoyed as well Tim McGrew and David Marshall’s chapter on the history of reason in Christianity and I appreciated that Marshall had a chapter devoted entirely to John Loftus’s “Outsider Test for Faith.”

There are areas I would like to see some more on for another edition of the book.

I think despite it being absolutely bunk, there needs to be a section on Christ-myth thinking and why historians and scholars view it as a joke. That could be a good focus on Richard Carrier and Robert Price. The Christ-myth idea is I think one of the greatest examples of the lack of reason in the new atheist movement.

I also think that since the new atheists target Christianity, we need a chapter on the central claim, the resurrection. There is one on the reliability of the NT overall, but we need something that is devoted to solely defending the resurrection and answering criticisms of it.

Yet since this one is also engaging several apologists together and some of them being new, I think that gives readers plenty of places to go to and I encourage that. We need to be building up others and it’s excellent to see noted names in the field working with names that haven’t been as well established yet, but are well on their way.

If there is someone out there who is wanting a good case against the new atheists claim to be the bearers of reason, I recommend this one. It will be a good start to demonstrating that the emperor truly has no clothes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Thoughts on Joseph Atwill

October 14, 2013

Did the Romans invent the Christians? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

There has been much talk lately about Joseph Atwill and his claim that Jesus was invented by the Romans. It’s still bizarre to think the Romans would create a religion that they would go out and persecute. Still, many are claiming that Atwill is a biblical scholar as even the press release about the announcement said.

Reality? He’s not.

Is that the opinion of someone like me, a Christian who believes strongly in the reliability of the NT? No. That’s even the opinion of a Christ myther himself like Richard Carrier. Unfortunately as Carrier points out, news of this has not reached Richard Dawkins. Carrier also adds that Robert Price and Acharya S. disagree with this idea. As Carrier says about these people like Atwill:

They make mythicism look ridiculous. So I have to waste time (oh by the gods, so much time) explaining how I am not arguing anything like their theories or using anything like their terrible methods, and unlike them I actually know what I am talking about, and have an actual Ph.D. in a relevant subject from a real university.

If those three, some of the biggest names in Christ-mythicism, say that your theory is bunk, it’s quite likely that it is.

Now it’s rare to find scholarly talk about an idea such as this. Why? Because by and large scholarship ignores crank theories like this. In fact, most people if they really thought they had something would want to take their idea to the scholars first. Larry Hurtado has said that

I haven’t heard of the guy before either (Joseph Atwill), largely because, well, he’s a nobody in the field of biblical studies. No PhD in the subject (or related subject), never held an academic post, never (so far as I can tell) published anything in any reputable journal that’s peer-reviewed, or in any reputable monograph series, or presented at any academic conference where competent people could assess his claims. Instead, per the flimflam drill, he directs his claims to the general public, knowing that they are unable to assess them, and so, by sheer novelty of the claim he hopes to attract a crowd, sales, and publicity. It’s a living, I guess (of sorts).

In saying why he doesn’t bother with it that much, Hurtado says that

It’s not necesssary to engage something so self-evidently unfounded and incompetent. If his press releases at all reflect his stance, it’s not worth the time. We scholars have enough to do engaging work that is by people with some competence. There isn’t time or value in dealing with nonsense. And Atwill and his ilk don’t really want scholarly engagement anyway. Again, let it go.

And when told Atwill would want scholarly engagement Hurtado says

No. He wouldn’t. Otherwise, he wouldn’t avoid the normal scholarly venues to test theories. These people know that they would be shredded by competent scholars.

And yet, it’s making a buzz. Fortunately, even some atheists like P.Z. Myers are condemning it. Myers does not hold back.

I think a few too many atheists are seeing “Scholar Says Jesus Was Fake” and are not thinking any more deeply than that. The whole idea is ridiculous.

If you’re one of the many atheists who gleefully forwarded this to me or credulously mentioned it on twitter…hello, there. I see you’ve already met the good friend of so many half-baked wackos in the world, Confirmation Bias.

That many atheists did in fact spread this immediately and treated it seriously shows that there is indeed a great deal of ignorance in the atheistic community. “Well what about your Christian community?!” I’ve been saying for years the church has failed to educate its members and their fear at something like this is a prime example of it. Our tendency to want to protect ourselves more than anything else keeps us from really isolating with these issues going on in the real world. As I told one skeptic recently, I condemn ignorance on all sides.

Here are some of my problems with the whole theory.

First off, it will HAVE to deal with all the counter-evidence. Can he deal with Tacitus? Can he deal with Josephus? (I know his theory claims to rely on Josephus, but will scholars of Josephus support it?) Can he deal with Mara Bar-Serapion? How about a question of the reliability of the NT? Can he deal with claims for that?

Second, what about the Pauline epistles. The earliest epistles come before Josephus wrote. These epistles also include a creed such as in 1 Cor. 15 that comes to within a few years at most of the resurrection event. Can Atwill’s theory deal with this?

Third, can he demonstrate that the gospels in the genre of Greco-Roman biographies would be able to be read in this way? This theory has been tried over and over by so many people and it has never ended well. Why give Atwill any credit?

Fourth, does he have any evidence from the Roman perspective? Does he have some ancient mention of Jesus that we have never found even though scholars have been looking through works of ancient society? What would this say for Christ mythers who say that there is no mention of Jesus? Why mention Jesus if Jesus was not being talked about?

Fifth, can his theory account for the dating of the NT? Would this not presuppose that the gospels were written after the writings of Josephus? Has he made a case for that? If Josephus based his account on the gospels, which he didn’t, then Atwill’s theory is in trouble. Atwill will require a late date. It would also require the writings of Josephus to also be in Jerusalem at the time already and being read, which will be problematic enough even if just Mark dates to before 70 A.D.

Now by all means, let Atwill present his evidence, but keep in mind he’s trying to bypass the scholarly community and go straight to the sensationalist route. That might be a more popular approach, but it’s not the proper approach to academic work of this nature. The reason one seeks to bypass the scholarly community is most likely because one cannot survive scrutiny under that community.

Check the sources always on claims like this. That so many atheists have passed this on shows that there is just as much blind faith and lack of biblical scholarship in the atheistic community as in the Christian community they rail against. That so many Christians get scared of something like this is an important demonstration of why the church needs a good education in basic apologetics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters