Book Plunge: Evidence Considered, Chapter 7

Does atheism account for the data? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 7, Jelbert responds to another essay of David Wood on explanatory scope of worldviews. It’s about God, suffering, and Santa Claus. Many children believe Santa Claus puts presents under the tree because our parents say so and we tend to think they’re reliable. Okay. Some of us might have better reasons for believing in such phenomena than others.

Wood’s main point is that atheism is not an explanation and when the gifts show up, who do you think? Theism has great explanatory power on the other hand and if the only problem is suffering, there are more than enough reasons for that. So what does Jelbert say?

His first paragraph in response is worth quoting in full:

The ancient Egyptians saw the brute fact of the sun rising each day. They explained that this occurred because Khepri, the scarab god, would push the sun across the sky ahead of him like a beetle pushing a ball of dung. It is unclear whether the ancient Egyptians ever took this “explanation” seriously, but the point is clear; a divine explanation is no explanation at all.

It really is a wonder that a paragraph such as this is typed. Jelbert wants us to look and say that this is obvious nonsense, but is it really? If you are an ancient Egyptian, do you not want to explain things some way? If you know of no other explanation, what is wrong with a divine one?

Jelbert says that a divine explanation is no explanation at all, but this is most certainly false. There are plenty of arguments for atheism. I do not consider them true arguments and fewer still are good arguments, but they are at least arguments. There are many explanations for how life came from non-life and while it is quite likely that some of them are false, they are still explanations. Even if something is seen as a bad explanation, a bad explanation is still by definition, an explanation.

If Jelbert wants to say that it is clear that this doesn’t explain things, he would need to show how. Has he demonstrated that there is no god named Kherpi pushing the sun? Perhaps Kherpi is invisible and has a superpower that we mistake to be a natural law like a character in a comic book. Do I think this is true? Not at all. Could Jelbert prove that it is isn’t? Doubtful.

Furthermore, this assumes that all divine explanations are equal. Why should I think that? Could it be some cases of theism have more explanatory power than do others? Is it a stretch to say that there’s more evidence backing the New Testament being true than there is backing the Book of Mormon being true? If Aristotle’s natural theology can end in a deity very similar to that of the three great monotheistic faiths, could it be because there was some explanatory power to that and the evidence led that way?

Not only this, if Jelbert is saying that divine explanations are not explanations, then is he not begging the question? He would like to say he’s open for evidence of God, but God would certainly have to explain something if He existed. Yet if Jelbert says that an explanation of God would explain nothing, then He is asking us to give something that doesn’t exist, mainly an explanation that cannot explain and yet have it be something that explains the data to him.

To base this on one example would be like looking at a fossil that has been seen to be a fraud in defense of evolution and then say, “Well as you can see, an evolutionary explanation is no explanation at all.” Jelbert would rightly say “Yes. That was wrong, but look at all this other data here for this better explanation!” I agree, and I will do the same for theism.

Jelbert goes on to say that for thousands of years, humans thought they had all the answers and all the explanations. No scientific advance was needed. That’s why they were resisted. I wish to know what history Jelbert is reading. If he thinks that during the medieval period they were only discussing theology and philosophy, he is badly mistaken. Often, the argument he’s using comes with this graphic:

Such a graphic though shows an abject ignorance of the medieval period and one that I suspect Jelbert has never really looked into. We cannot know because Jelbert cites no historians of the period here. All of this is just asserted, it’s almost like Jelbert wants us to take him by faith. I reserve the faith for the atheists. I prefer to check to see the evidence first.

Tim O’Neill is quite good at dealing with this. As he says on his blog:

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.

Jelbert here could complain that I have just pulled into the debate another Christian apologist so why take the claim seriously? He could say that, but he would be wrong. O’Neill is no Christian apologist. In fact, he’s actually an atheist.

The point is the Christians in the medieval period were indeed busy trying to find explanations. Sometimes they were right explanations. Sometimes they were not. I would like Jelbert to find the time where the medievals explained scientific conundrums simply by saying “God did it.” If he can’t, then Jelbert has bought into a theory of history without any evidence. Perhaps by his standard he has an explanation that is no explanation at all.

Jelbert does take this kind of approach as he says that science comes to explain things that we used to explain with deities. Perhaps some did, but where are the Christians doing this? He does say that many Christians just move on to the next scientific difficulty. Right now, the big argument is that God tunes the universal constants. What happens when another explanation is found for that?

Dare I say it, but I agree here. I do not use the fine-tuning argument because first off, I do not understand the science behind it. If someone does, they are free to use it. However, even if I did understand the science, if I used it, I would not use it alone. I would never hang my theism on a scientific argument. I think it’s wrong to hang any worldview on any scientific argument. This is why I use the metaphysical arguments of Aquinas that are untouched by science.

Jelbert goes on to look at Wood’s question asking if we should reject an explanation that explains the data. Jelbert says that the answer is yes. He points to pseudo-science. Unfortunately, he does not give any examples and this is just a way of begging the question. Jelbert says we reject hypotheses when they make predictions that fail, but what failing prediction does he have in mind? Furthermore, if it fails at a prediction, it’s not really an explanatory hypothesis so Wood is still safe.

Jelbert’s next statement is again worth quoting in full.

And what of Wood’s idea that atheism explains nothing? If we include all scientific discovery in this (Which is reasonable because science is a naturalistic endeavor), it is hard to imagine a more wildly inaccurate statement.)

The reality is it’s hard to imagine a more wildly inaccurate statement than Jelbert’s! Why should we say science is a naturalistic endeavor? What about atheism is essential to science? A Christian and an atheist can do the exact same experiment in the lab. Their worldview does not affect the outcome. We could easily imagine a world where there are only Christians and the science would work the same way. We could easily imagine a world where there are only atheists and the science would work the same way.

Jelbert is also confusing methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism. The use of the former does not entail the latter and even still the former is a difficult term to define. Can it be that if any scientist looks at the data and thinks that it looks like a deity has been involved, that he has ceased to do science? What would he think of Fred Hoyle’s statement that

“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”

If a scientist says something like this, are they automatically excluded? It’s hard to not think of Lewontin’s statement.

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

It amazes me that so many atheists ask for scientific evidence for God, which I consider to be a category fallacy really, and then rule out any science that points to God. It’s also a problem because what if God is the explanation? If so, then we are doing science at the outset that cannot reach the truth because we have ruled out the truth in advance based not on science, but on philosophy, and bad philosophy at that.

Still, Jelbert will look at the questions and one question is why is there a world at all? Jelbert says that if we want to ask the purpose, we have to consider everything, including the evil in the world, which Wood thinks is better explained by a good God. I find this quite fascinating.

You see, when Jelbert looks at Wood’s claim, Wood has to look and consider all the data and consider all possible explanations. When Wood gives a claim, Jelbert is only willing to consider naturalistic explanations. Why does Jelbert say we have to consider everything, but he himself doesn’t?

We also have to ask is evil an exception or is it the norm? Dare I say it, but quite likely Jelbert wakes up in a warm bed every morning, has food in his refrigerator, drives from place to place, has a home where he has air conditioning and heating and cable TV and the internet, and goes through every day not fearing for his life. Does he really want to say that good is the exception and not evil?

As I have said also, if we go to other cultures where suffering is much more prevalent, they do not really talk about the problem of evil. I suspect more of us do because we have a sort of entitlement mindset. We think that we are owed a certain kind of life.

Jelbert then says that if it’s individual purpose, we have to create our own, but he prefers his as an atheist more than as a Christian. Conclusion? By most measures atheists have a better explanation. Ah yes. We used the great sample of one and came to a conclusion of all atheists. Well let’s go with this.

I as a Christian have a great purpose in my life that is a Christian purpose. If I went and asked my wife and she agreed with me for herself, then that would be two. By Jelbert’s standards then, Christians have a better explanation. Does that seem ridiculous to you? It is.

Something Jelbert never seems to ask is why do we ask the question anyway? Why do we think that there is a purpose? What is this longing in us that thinks that we are actually supposed to matter? Do we really matter? If we don’t really, why live like we do? Why deny reality?

He then goes on to the question of why the universe is fine-tuned. He chalks it up to selection bias, but this seems odd. Nature has a bias? Jelbert in doing this has just taken nature and made it his deity. He also presents the fallacious argument that if we are here to observe it, then the universe must be fine-tuned to evolve and support life. This is like the case of being sentenced to death tied to a stake and facing you are fifty sharpshooters with laser scopes on their rifles. Somehow, they all miss and the official in charge says that divine favor must be on your side and lets you go. When asked why it happened you say “Well of course it did, because I wouldn’t be here if it didn’t!” Yet this is the very thing to explain. Most of us would think the game had to be rigged somehow.

As for diversity, that is explained by evolution. Now here’s another problem for Jelbert. I could happily accept evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life. Evolution is not a problem to my theism. The problem is as has been said, Jelbert has to accept it. It’s the only game in town.

You see, for me, I happen to think that we know a lot more about the gestation process than our ancestors did. We know that there is no divine intervention involved every time a woman gets pregnant. Does that change the truth of the Psalms that we are fearfully and wonderfully made? Not at all. God using a naturalistic process does not change Him being behind the process and the great mind that developed it. I consider evolution in the same light.

Jelbert says that Wood has no explanation, but Wood does. Jelbert can’t just throw out God as an explanation entirely. Wood could easily say “I do not know the specifics of how God brought about the diversity of life, but I see enough evidence for Him so I know He did it and if He does exist, then He is behind it somehow.”

Jelbert goes on to ask that if scientists discovered how abiogenesis takes place, where would that leave the theist? For me, it would leave me in the exact same place. It would not be a problem. God is never meant to be a stopgap. I could instead ask Jelbert, what if it doesn’t come up? Jelbert has a lot more hanging on the science than I do.

What about miracles? Does God explain those? Jelbert says that there are conflicting miracle claims in many religions. It would have been nice if we had been told these claims. For instance, Christianity would happily accept the miracles of Judaism. They’re part of our Old Testament. Islam meanwhile claims no miracle except the Koran. Miracles that show up in the hadith later on are quite likely not historical and the Koran admits many miraculous things about Jesus.

What about other religions? Pantheistic systems like Hinduism don’t explain miracles because all is God. What is behind the miracles? Is God changing God? This certainly doesn’t work where the extra-material world is an illusion. What of Buddhism? Buddhism seeks to break people away from attachment to the world. Miracles make no sense here either.

It’s also worth pointing out that I do not rule out miracles in other religions because they are in other religions. I actually have this strange idea. Let’s go with a case by case study and look at the evidence for a claim before we decide if it’s true or not. I realize this goes against the atheistic position of ruling them out a priori, but that is just what you do when you go by the evidence. Chesterton said years ago that the theist believes in the miracle claim, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The atheist disbelieves in it, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.

What about the idea that some miracles are the work of demonic powers such as the devil? Jelbert says that we need to be able to scribe to the devil a very devious mind if we hold this. I don’t think it will take a lot to convince Christians of that. This is someone Jesus said in John 8 was a liar from the beginning and is a murderer and no truth is found in him.

Jelbert also says it’s amazing so many people were born into the right religion, but does this not go against his science? Jelbert just happened to be born in the right part of the world where they have scientific explanations instead of theistic ones. Isn’t that a wonderful coincidence? This is simply the genetic fallacy.

Jelbert does present the evidence of Sai Baba as a miracle worker. He says that we dismiss the claims and say he was just a con man. I have not looked at the claims so I cannot say. I can say I would not just dismiss them. If evidence can be shown that he was a con man, then that does damage the evidence for miracles. He goes on to say that the Gospel writers were not witnesses of what they wrote, but reported other traditions uncritically. In later chapters he looks at the historical Jesus, so we will deal with this then. Shortly here, we could simply recommend the newest edition of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham.

It’s also worth pointing out that Jelbert does give a source here some and that source is Wells. Wells was not and is not a New Testament scholar. In fact, for some time, he held to mythicism. It is a wonder why Jelbert takes someone like that seriously, but it is quite likely any port in a storm.

Jelbert does say the New Testament has Jesus doing miracles such as raising the dead and feeding miraculously which were done by Elisha. Well of course! What does he expect? Jesus is doing reenactment and showing that He is greater than Elisha while staying in the tradition of Elisha. Of course, Jesus healed the blind as well and that didn’t happen in the past, but I suppose we just speak where it did happen and ignore where it didn’t.

He goes on to quote Wells saying that the letters of Paul don’t mention miracles. Why should they? The letters are not biographies. They are written to tell of the life of Jesus. The only reason to mention a miracle is that it is relevant to the needs of the people. Are we to think that telling the story of the multiplication of food would somehow help the Corinthians deal with food offered to idols?

We do need to go into some more New Testament as Jelbert does look at the appearances. Jelbert points to an evolutionary development based on the number of appearances, but how does this mesh? The account with the most experiences by far is the first one, the found in 1 Cor. 15. Still, this is discussed more in later chapters so we will deal with it then.

Jelbert then concludes that atheists can be thankful for their existence, their families, their friends, and all that these entail, but I want to know, thankful to whom? Jelbert has no one to thank for his existence and if he wishes to say the universe, then the universe has become the deity. If the universe needs an explanation, who could the universe thank?

In the end, I have to agree with Mike Licona on this, that methodological naturalism can often be a safe space for atheists. I, meanwhile, as a Christian theist can accept science happily and have no problem. I could accept the explanations of evolution and such given in this chapter and my worldview in Christian theism is not altered one iota. Jelbert could not say the same about theism.

We’ll continue next time looking more at science itself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered, Chapter 6

Does David Wood have a good argument against evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look at the work of Glenton Jelbert and his book Evidence Considered, which looks at the 50 reasons for God in an edited book by Michael Licona and William Dembski. This time, we’re looking at the problem of evil again. David Wood has an essay here on responding to the argument from evil.

Jelbert rightly points out that the argument is a disproof of theism. In this case then, the burden of proof is on the atheist. The theist has the much easier task considering of just showing that something is possible. He does not bear the burden of proof.

He also rightly points out that good could mean something different to a theist than it does to an atheist. Indeed, I think many of the problems we have in the debate is we never really define our terms. Good is an idea that is left floating in the air, which is why I always prefer to ask someone what is meant when they say good.

In his response, Jelbert starts by saying that he notes four definitions of evil. I wonder if these are all definitions or rather different ways of viewing something. There is moral evil and natural evil for instance and both are talked about, but both are not the same.

Wood has gone also with the argument from design. With the problem of evil, the atheist says that it probably isn’t likely that there is a good reason for evil, so we shouldn’t accept that there is. When it comes to design, the problem is that it is not probable that life arose by purely naturalistic processes, so we shouldn’t think that it did. The situation is indeed reversed. Please note also I say this as someone who doesn’t use the design argument.

One difference I can see is that if theism is true, then we should expect that God’s knowledge will be vastly superior to ours. In any event that happens be it an atheistic or theistic universe, there is probably knowledge about most events that we cannot know because we do not know all things. Most of us have a hard time with truth about ourselves let alone truth about greater realities.

As I write this, it was not too long ago that we had a mass shooting take place here in Las Vegas in America. This was over a week ago, and we’re still picking together pieces of what happened. ISIS has claimed responsibility, but I have not seen anyone definitively say that ISIS is involved. Here we have numerous investigators working on something and we don’t have definitive answers and yet with much less investigation and skilled investigation at that, we expect to know about other kinds of suffering?

Jelbert says that if we cannot think of a moral justification for this suffering, then we should not quash our morality. The problem is that Jelbert then starts to just beg the question. Sure. I can’t think of a reason, but the burden of proof is on the atheist to show that there is no good reason. Unless this has been shown, then the argument has not reached its conclusion. If I throw in other arguments for theism, then the case is much more firmly stacked in my favor.

This also assumes that God is the efficient cause behind everything that happens. Even many Calvinists would not accept this. This would be akin to the idea that since God is the one behind the reproductive system, that He automatically guides every cell that goes into life. If it is the case that God is not the efficient cause, then God is not the one doing things directly.

Also, I think it’s just wrong anyway to apply moral categories to God. This assumes that God is an agent like any of us with responsibilities like any of us. He isn’t. God doesn’t owe us anything. God does not owe you or I a good life. If God wanted to just take my life right now, He could. He does not owe me anything.

If someone thinks God is wrong in taking a life, I want to ask on what grounds is it that God owes them life? The only thing God owes people is that which He’s promised to give them. No one can place an obligation on God that He has to give X to them.

Jelbert also has another argument that if God existed, He would help people develop virtues and seek God. Peopel do not do this, therefore God does not exist. Even if I granted the first premise, I can still say that this is true. God has done this. It’s called the incarnation. The life of Jesus has been the greatest impetus to virtue of all time. It has caused more and more people to seek God as well. To say God will help people will not mean that God is forcing people.

Jelbert also has an offhand remark about atrocities committed in the name of God from the previous chapter. Our look at that saw much of this lacking and don’t see why it should be expected that God will intervene every time. If Jelbert has a chapter later on on the Crusades or the Inquisition or anything like that, we will deal with it then.

Jelbert also says the argument of Wood is a call to distrust your moral judgment and senses and just trust God has it all worked out. I don’t see how. If one has prior grounds for believing that God exists, then one can indeed think justifiably He has it worked out. Furthermore, God has to remain in the paradigm in the objection and if there is such a God, then it is quite likely He knows more about the situation. The burden is squarely on the atheist. Jelbert even agrees that if there was good evidence for God, you would be forced to assume He has secret reasons for the evil we see. I would not say forced, but Jelbert here grants my point.

Yet how do I have to deny my senses? I can affirm that there is great suffering in the world. I can affirm that this is not the way the world is meant to be. I can affirm that there is something wrong here. In fact, Christianity demands that I affirm these. Jesus did not die because the world was perfect. He died because it is highly imperfect.

Jelbert says that this contradicts Copan’s chapter where our morality is a clue to God’s existence and here we are supposed to suppress our morality. Again, I still do not see how we are to do that. I can look at events and say that these are instances of evil, such as the Las Vegas shooting, or suffering that will be gone in the new Heaven and Earth, such as hurricanes and earthquakes. I don’t have to change my moral stance one iota.

Jelbert says that Wood says that humans are at war with God so that explains poor morality. Jelbert counters by saying that most of us do so purely out of selfishness. The problem here is, why not both? Wood’s definition works fine as does Jelbert. The difference is on Jelbert’s view, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be selfish. On Wood’s, I do.

Jelbert goes on to say that the problem of evil is a serious blow to the idea of God and any free-thinking person will acknowledge that. Sorry. I consider myself a free-thinking person. I don’t acknowledge that. I don’t find the problem of evil persuasive at all. In fact, this is largely seen as a Western problem. Go to other countries that aren’t as affluent as ours and you’ll find people rarely talk about the problem of evil.

I also note something else here I don’t think was said. Evil is a problem for everyone. How does Jelbert explain it and how does he hope to resolve it? For theism, we have not only an explanation for evil, but a hope that evil will be defeated ultimately based on the resurrection of Jesus. Can atheism give me anything comparable?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/7/2017: Ross Clifford

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Did Jesus rise from the dead? This is the question upon which the Christian faith rests. Of course, to answer a question like this, you need evidence, and if there are a group of people that love evidence and arguing from it, it’s lawyers. So how would the resurrection stand up in a court of law? Could you make a legal case for the resurrection of Jesus?

To answer this, I have decided to bring on someone who does specialize in legal apologetics. He is someone trained in the area of law and decided to use his legal skills on the case for the resurrection of Jesus to see if it would hold up. It did, and in his book Leading Lawyers’ Case For The Resurrection, he looks at seven lawyers and one thought to be a lawyer who also made a case for the evidence surrounding the death and the resurrection of Jesus and came out believers. His name is Ross Clifford and he’ll be joining us.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Ross Clifford is Principal of Morling Theological College, Sydney.  Prior to entering the Baptist ministry he practised as a solicitor and barrister.  He was the pastor of two Sydney Baptist churches each of which grew dramatically.  He is the author of nine books including The Cross is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection. He co-pioneered outreaches into Mind.Body.Spirit festivals.  He is a former President of the Baptist Union of Australia, former and current President of the NSW Council of Churches, President of the Asia Pacific Baptist Federation, recent Chair of the Australian Lausanne Committee, and is a Vice President of the Baptist World Alliance for 2010-2015.  In the Queen’s Birthday Honours List of 2010 he was made a member of the Order of Australia (AM).  He is married to Beverley and they have two children.  His passions include legal crime novels, cricket and all brands of football.

What makes a legal case distinctive from a historical case? How strong is it? Could it really stand up in a court of law? After all, we supposedly have these accounts that wildly contradict and differ from one another. They are supposed to be late as the skeptics say. Isn’t that a problem?

And what about hearsay? Isn’t that all that the accounts are? If so, then how can they possibly be used in a court of law to make the claim that Jesus rose from the dead? We certainly can’t get Paul and the writers of the Gospels to take the stand and get to question them. How do we do it when all we have is pretty much ancient documents?

In looking at the legal cases provided, I found them quite fascinating and I hope you will as well. Please be watching your podcast feed for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. If you like the show also, please go on ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Special Edition Deeper Waters Podcast: Sean McDowell

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Evidence. It’s a favorite word of the apologist. Many skeptics think we don’t want to talk about evidence, but in reality we do. We would love it if more conversations revolved around evidence. The question is, do we have the evidence that we need?

Josh McDowell’s books on Evidence That Demands A Verdict has long been a staple for many. Now, he has a new updated one out that he has done with his son Sean. Recognizing the need, I asked to be part of the launch team and so I have indeed gone through most of it and this Friday, in a special edition of the show, I will be interviewing one of the authors, Sean McDowell, on this book.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Dr. Sean McDowell is a gifted communicator with a passion for equipping the church, and in particular young people, to make the case for the Christian faith. He connects with audiences in a tangible way through humor and stories while imparting hard evidence and logical support for viewing all areas of life through a Biblical worldview. Sean is an Associate Professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. And he is the Resident Scholar for Summit California.

Sean still teaches one high school Bible class, which helps give him exceptional insight into the prevailing culture so he can impart his observations poignantly to fellow educators, pastors, and parents alike. In 2008 he received the Educator of the Year award for San Juan Capistrano, California. The Association of Christian Schools International awarded Exemplary Status to his apologetics training. Sean is listed among the top 100 apologists. He graduated summa cum laude from Talbot Theological Seminary with a double Master’s degree in Theology and Philosophy. He earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2014.

Traveling throughout the United States and abroad, Sean speaks at camps, churches, schools, universities, and conferences. He has spoken for organizations including Focus on the Family, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Backyard Skeptics, Cru, Youth Specialties, Hume Lake Christian Camps, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Association of Christian Schools International. Sean has also appeared as a guest on radio shows such as Family Life Today, Point of View, Stand to Reason, Common Sense Atheism, and the Hugh Hewitt Show. Sean has been quoted in many publications, including the New York Times.

Sean is the author, co-author, or editor of over eighteen books including The Fate of the Apostles (Routledge, 2015), A New Kind of Apologist (Harvest House, 2016), The Beauty of Intolerance (Barbour 2016), Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, with John Stonestreet (Baker, 2014), Is God Just a Human Invention? with Jonathan Morrow, and Understanding Intelligent Design along with William A. DembskiSean has also written multiple books with his father, Josh McDowell, including The Unshakable Truth, More Than A Carpenter, and an update for Evidence that Demands a Verdict (2017). Sean is the General Editor for The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. He has also written for YouthWorker JournalDecision Magazine, and the Christian Research Journal. Follow the dialogue with Sean as he blogs regularly at seanmcdowell.org.

In April, 2000, Sean married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie. They have three children and live in San Juan Capistrano, California. Sean played college basketball at Biola University and was the captain his senior year on a team that went 30-7.

We’ll be having an hour-long discussion about this book, the impact the series has had through the years, and why you should get the new version. Sean has been a great guest before and I look forward to having him back on again. This will not cancel out the Saturday show. We will still have that. Please also consider going on ITunes and leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 5

Does Jelbert have a refutation of why we suffer? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This chapter is a response to Bruce Little’s essay on why Christians suffer. At the start, Jelbert (Whose work can be found here.) says “You could say that this is evidence for the consistency of God, rather than evidence for God in the first place.” I agree. In this chapter, we are looking to see if Christianity can provide an adequate explanation for why we suffer.

Now Jelbert says this, but does he go there? I am not convinced he does. For one thing, one of the first things pointed out is that indeed, not all things happen the way we want to. Jelbert talks about prayer studies and other such things. I have never been convinced by prayer studies. You have to ask who is praying for who and assume that God is going to answer like a machine would. If any husband has a wife out there, they understand this. What will make your wife happy and please her one day will thoroughly annoy her the next. There are way too many variables with prayer studies.

Jelbert can also speak about the No True Scotsman fallacy for people who aren’t Christians. The thing is, I think this can be the case sometimes. If someone says it every time, it is indeed a cop-out, but there are many people who have a said faith rather than a lived faith. I think people can openly apostasize and such, but we should not use the claim too easily that they weren’t a real Christian. Real Christians can do evil. All I need to know that is to look in the mirror.

The problem with objections here is that the Christian position is that God does know data that we shouldn’t. Why on Earth should this be a surprise? If there is a God, I suspect He knows loads more about reality than I do. I suspect He knows more than all humans that have ever lived combined. What Jelbert needs to do is show that there is no good reason for what seems to be needless suffering. This is one reason in fact that the logical problem of evil is not really debated. The emotional and existential one is, but not the logical one. It is granted there is no logical inconsistency between the existence of God and evil.

Jelbert also says that the idea that evildoers will be punished seems to hopeful, but this seems odd grounds for rejecting an idea. You reject it because it seems too hopeful? Jelbert says this is common sense to want this and thus not evidence for God, but he said at the start this is not about evidence for God, but rather consistency for God. One of the great things about Christian theism is that it does explain that evil will be judged.

In fact, I consider this a major point. Evil is a problem for every worldview and not just Christianity. Atheism needs to explain the existence of real evil and based on Jelbert’s chapter on morality, I do not think Jelbert has an explanation. I say that with some hesitancy because in this chapter it looked to me like Jelbert was jumping all over the map. My point still is that we all have to explain it.

As I write this, it was just yesterday that we learned about a shooting in Las Vegas that killed and injured several. This was evil. In my worldview, I have no hesitancy saying that. Now I need to explain this evil. I think a lot of Christians who had no room to explain evil in their worldview due to not thinking about it were left reeling.

Atheism also has to explain it. One major difference is that Christianity I think can provide hope. It’s a wonder that evil should be seen as a problem for Christianity since evil is one of the things Christianity is meant to address. It’s why we have the cross.

Jelbert spends the rest of the chapter talking about abuse in the church as a result of the Scriptures. He goes to Romans 13 and says that people in the pew view what is said from the pulpit as the commandment from God. That is indeed part of the problem. People in the pew do not educate themselves enough to know how to assess what a pastor is saying.

Jelbert then says that because of this, we have a group of people who think they are ordained by God to dictate the behavior of their subordinates. Overall, I think Jelbert is being too harsh here. I have been to many bad churches, but I don’t think any of them really match what I see here. Still, there are cases, so let’s get to them.

Bill Gothard is one. I recommend that people go to Midwest Outreach like I did. There, you can do a site search like I did and find numerous critiques of Bill Gothard. Mark Driscoll is another one, but again, the church quickly did point out that we have numerous problems with this kind of behavior.

I just want to know that if Jelbert wants to do this, will he be consistent? Will he say that Stalin and Mao and Pol-Pot were being consistent with atheism? Sure, not all atheists are murderous dictators just like not all Christians are power-hungry leaders, but does Jelbert really think that the kind of leadership being done in some churches is really what Jesus had in mind? On the other hand, there is no one to have anything in mind for the murderous dictatorships of atheist rulers. All they have to say is that there is no God and then what tenet of atheism are they violating?

Jelbert goes on to say that if you take the theology seriously, then you believe that all is of God and God is good so that everything that happens must be good. You can then call evil good. Unfortunately (For Jelbert), the Bible doesn’t do this. It calls some things evil and wicked. All that God created is good, but not all that happens is good. Even Romans 8 pointed to at the start does not say all things are good. It says all things work together for good, and even then, only for good to them that love the Lord.

As someone who takes theology seriously, let me be clear.

Evil is real.

Jelbert also writes about situations where the church seems to forgive the abusers and abuse the victims. This does happen, but it’s not just in the church. How many women have been blamed for rape because what they were wearing was asking for it? To say we are all sinners doesn’t work. Even sinners have to accept consequences here. David was forgiven of his sin, but there were still consequences. I wholeheartedly condemn abuse and I am stalwart in my insistence that the church needs to get its act together.

I also agree with Jelbert that if all we do is pray, we have to wonder about what we’re really doing. Now in some cases, yes, prayer is all you can do, but if you can do more, then you’re in error to not do so. Interestingly, James would say the same. If you just go to your brother and say “Be of good cheer” and do nothing to meet his needs, you have not helped him.

Jelbert ends by saying that he is not trying to show that God does not exist here, but that the evidence is insufficient to accept it. Once again, it looks like he has forgotten that the chapter is not about the positive case but rather a consistent case. Jelbert has not shown an inconsistency in Christianity. He has shown an inconsistency in how it is lived out. That does not show it to be false at all. If he wants to say Little neglected to point out the suffering in the church caused by bad leadership, then I say Jelbert can be dismissed similarly because he failed to mention the suffering caused by wicked atheist leadership. If that does not work for Jelbert, then neither is it an argument against Little.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 4

What do I think of the response to naturalism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our look at the work of Glenton Jelbert continues. This time it is a response to an essay on the problems of naturalism. He starts by pointing out that methodological naturalism does not equal metaphysical naturalism. Sure, but even still, this is a hard subject to discuss. Just recently, I read a work that had a chapter on this very topic.

Part of the problem is scientific methodology has thoroughly changed. Jelbert’s first time given on this is the 1550’s after the scientific revolution had begun. However, this assumes that there was a scientific revolution. In reality, science had been being done for centuries on without any sort of peep of objection from the church. The church itself was a driving force behind science.

While this is certainly the case in a work like God’s Philosophers, someone could be skeptical and say that that’s by a Christian. Indeed it is, but what if the same was being said by a non-Christian? How about Tim O’Neill? O’Neill is an atheist who would be one of the first to come out against this idea.

Did science get a jump start at a certain point? Yes. For all manner of reasons, but this is not because science was a neglected enterprise. This was a continuation. Industry had been an enterprise before the Industrial Revolution. We had plenty of technology before the technological revolution. There were plenty of things that were digital before the digital revolution.

The medievals were also quite often looking for “natural” explanations of what happened. Did they get the answers wrong many times? Sure. They at the same time weren’t making stuff up theologically and they weren’t doing God of the Gaps arguments. If anything, they wanted to fill in all the gaps. The more gaps they filled in, the more they wondered at the glory of God with a sort of “Wow. It’s really incredible how He did this.”

While we can say methodological naturalism has had some success, we still have to question it. What is methodological naturalism? Both of the terms are hard to define. If we mean that science cannot admit any extramaterial realities whatsoever, when we will have a problem. What if the universe was made by extramaterial realities? Then we have a definition of science that can never get us to the truth.

And what of naturalism? Has this naturalism been scientifically verified? If not, are we not begging the question? Why should a Christian have to go into the lab and bracket their beliefs but an atheist shouldn’t? Why not have both go with their beliefs?

As for no explanatory power behind extra-material realities, I could agree, provided we are not talking about everything that is. You may not need to posit God in an interaction that combines hydrogen and oxygen and gets water, but you do need Him to posit how the hydrogen and oxygen and anything else exists to begin with. The fine-tuning argument itself does point to many people to a designer of the universe. I’m not saying I use it as I’m not a scientist, but if one looks at the universe and thinks it’s the result of a mind, it’s not hard to think there is a mind behind it.

There is also the field of teleology where we look at the purpose behind things. It has often been thought that modern science has killed this, but this is false. Modern science in fact depends on it. Let’s consider evolution for instance. What does evolution do? It allows the most fit to survive so that they can pass on their genes and the creatures that are the most fit do indeed survive. That is teleology in itself. The reality of things acting for an end does not have to posit an intentional acting on their part, much like the arrow doesn’t intentionally fly towards the target, but having a mind as the connection behind things certainly does explain data very well. Those interested in more of this are invited to check the work of Edward Feser on the fifth way of Thomas Aquinas.

Another example could be the ID movement saying that junk DNA has a purpose. I do not say this as a supporter of ID, but if a claim is made, why not consider looking into it? It is my understanding that it has been found that it does have a purpose and why did they think that? Because they posited that there is an intelligence who would not waste in that way.

Besides that, Christians for the most part do not think that this universe requires constant direct intervention. It doesn’t change our looking at it is the work of God. One of my wife’s favorite Bible passages is about being fearfully and wonderfully made. Granting David wrote the Psalm, we can be sure that he knew the basics of modern biology, in the sense that it takes sex to make a baby. There is no indication that David thought all would be well after the Bathsheba incident because the ordinary peasants had no idea what made babies. They knew it very well.

The modern gynecologist today certainly knows a lot more about what happens when the sperm enters the female body, but that doesn’t change anything about humans being fearfully and wonderfully made. The process is deep and intricate, but we are still that. This is also in fact why saying we are the products of evolution would not bother me. The methodology does not change the end result.

Jelbert goes on to say that the rise of modern science led us to be able to say “I don’t know.” It’s something to think that this is something no one ever said before. Obviously they did, because they were seeking answers to the questions. It would also be strange to say that this is because of Christian theism. Do we need to suggest that Aristotle, who did get a lot of things wrong, was opposed to doing investigation?

Jelbert’s main piece of information on this is to compare a map with the 1490’s and that of the 1550’s. The maps are from the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. The claim is the earlier one was beautiful and complete in every detail, but wrong because guesses were seen as an adequate substitute for knowledge. Meanwhile, the later one is blank where the mapmaker does not know what is there.

Sadly, without seeing the maps, it’s hard to comment on them. In each case, we are dealing with one cartographer and it’s hard to point to one and see them as representative of the whole of the time. It’s also quite hard to read motives. Guesses were seen as knowledge? How is this known? Has Jelbert looked to see how beliefs were arrived at the time? Does he have any sources from the medieval period that show this?

Jelbert goes on to say that naturalism explained things better than theism. Once again, naturalism does explain things very well, unless you ask it to explain everything to which it fails miserably. Naturalism still has the basic question of why is there something rather than nothing at all? Naturalism can explain how one existent thing becomes another, but it can’t seem to explain why there is any existent thing at all.

Jelbert also says that every technological advance and improved understanding of our universe comes from science. Once again, this is fine, unless you think of anything that is not scientific. If we were talking about moral living for instance, what has been the greatest impetus to moral living except the life of Jesus of Nazareth? If we even want to talk about science, what caused the rise of science but the rise of Christianity itself? If we are talking about the study of the material world, I am not surprised that science does the most there since that is what science is to study, but do most people really think the goods and knowledge of the material world are the best? When it comes to questions of how to be a good spouse, how to love your neighbor, what kind of lessons you want to leave behind, etc., I doubt few of us head to the sciences.

I will not comment on the evolution of personality and such. That’s a topic I have not studied and one I deem irrelevant. To say that we have evolution, therefore God is not needed, is to still have a God-of-the-Gaps theology. If Jelbert wishes to condemn that kind of thinking, he needs to avoid it himself.

He does get into some that evolution cannot guarantee us true beliefs, seeing as many people today are superstitious and such, and I do not mean religious by that. This is in fact the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism put forward by Plantinga. Evolution could give us beliefs that helps us survive, but that does not entail that those beliefs are true.

Jelbert says that reason has provided better results and there is no alternative. Indeed, but why is this so? Is this not a good question to ask? We are often told so much that we should be exploring the questions and this is scientific. If the universe is a result of a cosmic accident, why should it be reasonable and why should we be able to relate to and understand one another? Why does it seem that the mathematics that we have and have developed on our own works so well?

It is quite odd that Jelbert has a chapter on how important it is to ask the questions and explore, but when he comes to the big one, which is about everything, that one doesn’t seem to be as worthy of exploration. As I have said throughout, naturalism is very good at explaining some things, except everything. Jelbert strikes me as pointing to some points and thinking that all points are explained. Also, without looking further at medieval and other sources, I do not think I can accept the claims about the medieval period. I just do not find the arguments in this chapter convincing.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Secret Battle of Ideas About God

What do I think of Jeff Myers’s book published by David C. Cook? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Jeff Myers’s latest book certainly starts off getting your attention. How can it not with talking about people who were directly tied in to 9/11? This then gets directly linked to virus outbreaks that have taken place which is finally compared with the idea of mind viruses. Myers doesn’t mean some disease you need to go see your doctor about, but rather ideas that spread and people don’t have much defense for, including and especially, younger Christians.

Myers work is to deal with a problem which is that many of our younger Christians believe things that are entirely at odds with orthodox Christianity and they don’t even realize it. They’ve been made victims in a war that they don’t even realize that they’re fighting in, something immediately reminiscent of The Green Book is Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. These people have not been given a Christian worldview. As I’ve said many times before, it might be shocking to realize that to develop a good Christian lifestyle, you might need to have more than concerts and pizza parties at church.

Myers says that there are essentially five other kinds of worldviews, though no doubt there is some overlapping. These are secularism, Marxism, postmodernism, New Spirituality, and Islam. As I write this, I know Christian friends who have fallen especially for New Spirituality and Islam. Myers contrasts these worldviews with Christianity in the book.

One good aspect about the book is Myers is very open about himself and his own struggles and mistakes. When he writes about a failed marriage, he doesn’t hide it. When he talks about anger with God, that’s out there in the open. When he talks about mistakes in the past in the area of sex, that’s right there. When he says that counseling drains him, he means it. That kind of openness I admire.

Those questions are relevant because what Myers is really dealing with in the book is existential questions. Am I loved? Why am I hurting? Does life have any meaning? Can’t we all just get along? Is there hope for the world? Does God matter? Many of us in apologetics would like to leap straight to the questions of if God exists or if Jesus rose from the dead, but many people are not starting with those questions. They’re starting with these. We need to get to those questions, but how does Christianity answer these questions in contrast to other worldviews?

Myers’s book is clear and easy to read. You don’t have to be a professional philosopher to understand his arguments. There’s about 200 pages of content, but it’s still a relatively short read and it’s one that you could present to someone who is exploring Christianity and wondering about these kinds of questions.

If there was something I would like to see more of, it is that while the book is clear that Christianity does answer these questions, that doesn’t show Christianity is true. It’s fine to have a book dedicated to existential questions, but I would have liked to have seen a section at the end that would include apologetics books for further reading on the other questions that can show that Christianity is true. Perhaps it could point to other authors like J. Warner Wallace and Lee Strobel.

Still, this is a good book to read to help with the questions. It’s easy to read that when I finished, I put it in a stack of books for my wife so that she could go through it as she’s been learning a lot about these questions as well. If she does go through it, I am sure she will be blessed by it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?

What do I think of this book edited by Kenneth Keathley, J.B. Stump, Joe Aguirre, and published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you want to see chaos break out on Facebook, just join a discussion with Christians and ask how old the Earth is. Before too long, you’ll find a lot of bickering going on, but sadly very little listening. While this book is not about the age of the Earth, as both sides hold to an old Earth, it is about a contentious topic, but thankfully, you will not find bickering, but you will find listening dialogue back and forth.

In this book, representatives from Reasons To Believe, a leading old-earth creationist ministry, and Biologos, a leading evolutionary creation ministry, join together with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to discuss issues related to evolution and origins. The SBC representative will ask a question. Both organizations will have their own representative respond with an essay. The SBC leader will then comment on the essays and ask questions to both. Both will respond and possibly respond to what the other side said. Then the SBC representative comes back and gives his final analysis.

Skipped is information that is agreed on by both sides. Instead, what is discussed is what is not agreed on. This includes areas like the sciences and Scriptural interpretation. I found that in both cases, I can’t come down 100% on each side. On my own podcast, I have interviewed people from both camps. I cannot come down and say I’m an evolutionary creationist yet, although I am certainly open to it, but as for RTB, I don’t think I could sign in good faith the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, not because I disagree with inerrancy, but because I see the statement has been too badly misused.

A major criticism meanwhile of Biologos would be that too often to some people, it can seem like the science of evolution must be accepted, but a high view of Scripture is negotiable. Fortunately, it looked like the Biologos representatives in this volume did all have a high view of Scripture. Many could reject evolution if they think it means one must scrap Inerrancy or a historical Adam and Eve.

A major criticism of RTB could be that they seem to accept the majority opinion in science except with evolution. Could this be seen as picking and choosing? Could the same criticism given to YECs on science be given to an extent to RTB? This is another issue that needs to be dealt with.

The book covers 11 different topics including methodology, Adam and Eve, how God interacts with the world, and if humans are in the image of God and what that means. The exchange is informative, but at the same time easy to get lost in.

One concern I do have sometimes is with an approach that does look to be like a God-of-the-Gaps approach with evolution. If your view of God makes God to be out of a job if evolution is true, then you do have a God-of-the-Gaps. Sadly, Fuz Rana of RTB I did see fall into this trap.

If evolutionary mechanisms possess such capabilities, then believers and nonbelievers alike wonder, what role is a Creator to play? For example, evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins quipped, “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” I debated developmental biologist Paul Zachary “PZ” Myers, a well-known atheist and author of the award-winning blog Pharyngula, at North Dakota State University on Darwin Day, February 12, 2015, on the question of God’s existence. One of the key points Myers made was, in effect, evolution can explain everything in biology, so why do I need to believe in God?” (P. 129)

and

The key lesson from my interaction with Myers (and other atheists) is that to make a case for a creator and the Christian faith, it is incumbent on us to (1) distinguish our models from those that are materialistic and (2) identify places where God has intervened in life’s history. If we cannot, it is hard to convince skeptics that a creator exists. (Ibid.)

The problem I see with this is that first off, this makes the case for the existence of God dependent on the sciences. This would be news to our forerunners in the medieval period who saw God as a metaphysical reality and the arguments were metaphysical. It also I think will ultimately stop science because it says “Well if science goes too far, God is out of a job.” It doesn’t seem to see that God is the one who is behind the system entirely and keeps it help us in existence. This is really a weak god if all He does is fill in the gaps.

Consider if we applied the same to what happens in birth. We are told in the Psalms that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Does any Christian really think that because we can explain all that happens in conception and on up to birth, that God is not involved in the process and is out of a job? Is God no longer needed because we know that this comes about naturally without God miraculously creating a baby in the womb every time? Of course not.

This is the case whether or not evolution is true. If we think science can put God out of a job, then we have married our Christianity to scientific research. An atheist who says science puts God out of a job has done the same. Neither is a wise position as today’s reigning science could be in tomorrow’s cemetery. As Chesterton said, “He who marries the spirit of the age is destined to be a widow.”

The people behind this volume hope there are many more such interactions. As do I. These kinds of good and respectful discussions back and forth are what should be happening between Christians. While I am not a scientist and not an expert in the sciences, these volumes are interesting to read and I always do learn something.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 3

Do Near-Death experiences give evidence of theism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In Chapter 3, Jelbert goes after Gary Habermas’s essay on near-death experiences. Near-death experiences are fascinating events being talked about now and some are even talking about post-death experiences and shared near-death experiences. In these, a person somehow experiences what they say is a separation of their soul from their body. While you can often have visions of seeing a tunnel or angels or things like that, sometimes there are things seen that can be independently verified.

Of course, if we have experiences where all one sees are such things as angels and the like, then we cannot verify that any of that has been seen. What are interesting are the cases that have people seeing things that they could not see any other way. Naturally, this information has to be gathered immediately before they can talk to people who would tell them the events. For this reason, I place further huge suspicion on something like Heaven Is For Real.

Jelbert looks at one prime example of Habermas which was a case told by Melvin Morse. The girl nearly drowned and was without a pulse for nineteen minutes. When Katie came too, she gave a description of many of the events that happened, including the two physicians who worked on her and events that were going on in her home. We could try to think of other ways someone could gain such information, but good luck finding them.

Habermas also gives accounts that Jelbert says he thinks could be NDEs, such as the account of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Stephen’s sighting in Acts 7, and Paul in 2 Cor. 12. Of these, I only think Paul could likely be a near-death experience. I think Stephen was granted a vision and I don’t see an NDE at all in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

Jelbert’s response starts by saying that the view that consciousness can be separated from the brain goes against the dominant neuroscientific view. The first problem with this is that his source for this is Wikipedia which he does say is very thorough and has lots of other research. Readers here know about my thoughts on Wikipedia. It is the abomination that causes misinformation.

Jelbert goes on to cite Kenneth Ring on NDEs, but none of it deals with the more evidential cases. He then cites Jansen who says many of these sensations could be produced by Ketamine. Perhaps some cases are like this, but when you get to evidential cases, it is far harder.

Jelbert looks at this case and says that Morse is the only doctor there and he has interest in NDEs. He also points out that Morse has been found guilty of some crimes such as waterboarding his wife’s 11 year-old daughter and was sent to prison for three years. Even if this is so, we have to look at Morse’s claims and ask if they pass peer-review and if any fraud can be found in them. To not do so is to commit a genetic fallacy.

Even if we went without Morse, there are others like Moody and Sabom and many more who are collecting these stories. Jelbert is looking at one case with one doctor and dismissing the whole based on this. Even his look at how Morse could investigate is found wanting.

He describes Morse talking to a mother and asking if they had chicken like the daughter said and the mother replying “Yes, that sounds right. Which night did you mean? It was a few days ago now, but I think so.” Morse then replies with “Wow, so she saw you eating chicken!”

It’s amazing that we are to reject Morse’s view, but we should accept the view of Jelbert, who wasn’t there at all, that this is how Morse’s interviews went. A doctor wanting to follow proper procedure and not embarrass himself will want to follow through accurately, especially if he’s publishing something to be peer-reviewed. Jelbert just thinks he can tell a story and that explains it all.

Jelbert also tells about figures being placed in areas of hospital operating rooms that are not visible from the floor to see if anyone can read them during an NDE. No one has yet. Perhaps not, but some things have been cited and why should we think someone having an NDE will automatically want to go and read some strange writing somewhere instead of going to see his family?

Finally, Jelbert tells us that experiences happen regardless of religion (I’d also add lack there of considering A.J. Ayers had one), but that does not provide evidence for any deity of specific religion. Habermas I am sure would agree. NDEs cannot prove any religion. Again, Jelbert faults an argument for not doing what it was never meant to do. What it does do is show naturalism has a problem. If it does, then we should be more open to theism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 2

Is the moral argument a failure? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The next argument Jelbert goes after is Paul Copan’s moral argument. Now as the moral argument is framed, I’m not much of a fan of it. I see it as too limited in fact. Why do we talk about moral actions and behaviors only? Why not try to cover goodness entirely. There are good actions, but there are also good books, good foods, good people, etc. Why not take on all goodness at once?

Most all of us know how the moral argument goes. It can be something like this:

If objective moral values exist, then God exists.
Objective moral values do exist.
Therefore, God exists.

Or

If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.
But there are objective moral values.
Therefore God exists.

Jelbert’s first objection is that Copan is wrong. Not everyone has a conscience because there are people like Psychopaths. I don’t think Copan would dispute this. I think you could easily change the argument to say most everyone has a conscience just like most everyone has a body system that registers pain, though CIPA we can see is an exception to the rule.

He also contends that Copan says there is not a behavior a Christian could do that an atheist could not that is moral. Even if this was true, so what? I have argued that forgiveness has been done uniquely because of the impact of Christ. Jelbert goes on to say that warped behavior has been allowed because of religious books. Yet what would he say to something like this?

The militant atheists lament that religion is the foremost source of the world’s violence is contradicted by three realities: Most religious organizations do not foster violence; many nonreligious groups do engage in violence; and many religious moral precepts encourage nonvio lence. Indeed, we can confidently assert that if religion was the sole or primary force behind wars, then secular ideologies should be relatively benign by comparison, which history teaches us has not been the case. Revealingly, in his Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips chronicled a total of 1,763 conflicts throughout history, of which just 123 were categorized as religious. And it is important to note further that over the last century the most brutality has been perpetrated by nonreligious cult figures (Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong-Il, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic, Robert Mugabe—you get the picture). Thus to attribute the impetus behind violence mainly to religious sentiments is a highly simplistic interpretation of history.

Or

Militant atheists seek to discredit religion based on a highly selective reading of history. There was a time not long ago—just a couple of centuries—when the Western world was saturated by religion. Militant atheists are quick to attribute many of the most unfortunate aspects of history to religion, yet rarely concede the immense debt that civilization owes to various monotheist religions, which created some of the world’s greatest literature, art, and architecture; led the movement to abolish slavery; and fostered the development of science and technology. One should not invalidate these achievements merely because they were developed for religious purposes. If much of science was originally a religious endeavor, does that mean science is not valuable? Is religiously motivated charity not genuine? Is art any less beautiful because it was created to express devotion to God? To regret religion is to regret our civilization and its achievements.

So is this a dyed-in-the-wool conservative Christian saying this? No. It’s an atheist. It’s Bruce Sheimon in his book An Atheist Defends Religion. What I would ask at this point is that if an atheist murders someone, is he acting inconsistently with atheism? He could be violating his own moral beliefs, but atheism doesn’t necessarily entail any particular moral beliefs. You can be an atheist and be a saint or an atheist and be a scoundrel and still be a consistent atheist. On the other hand, if you do murder someone as a Christian, you are violating the teachings of Christ. Should Christianity be judged on when it has not been applied consistently?

Jelbert also says that the commandment against violating the Sabbath in Exodus 35 and that whoever does this shall be put to death is obviously a warped commandment. Is it really? This was part of the covenant between YHWH and Israel. In showing their trust in God, they were to not work on Saturday. Doing otherwise for a person would be known as the sin of the high hand, where a person goes against what the one in charge of them says and says they’ll go their own way.

In the terms of Israel, they were in a suzerainty type covenant. That covenant was a king would put his clients under a relationship where the king (or patron) would give benefits of protection and such to the clients in exchange for their loyalty. A person who goes against this is risking the welfare of the community for their own benefit.

Secondly, Jelbert says that if Christians don’t persecute him for his beliefs, it’s because their religion no longer overwhelms their basic humanity, but it is a wonder which religion he is talking about. This is an idea that would be far more fitting for Islam. He contends that this was the case a few centuries ago, but has he really looked at the instances he speaks about? If we looked at the Crusades, while some of the Crusades were horrendous, should we remember that it was a defensive war at first where the West, at great expense to themselves, went to help the people in Jerusalem that had already been conquered by the Muslims who had been using the sword to spread their ideology for centuries? Should we consider that the Inquisition was seen as a force of good by even many non-Christians? The worst one of all, the Spanish Inquisition, left 3,000 deaths in 300 years. 3,000 too many to be sure, but not the numbers you would get from atheistic literature. Perhaps he should familiarize himself with historians of the time like Thomas Madden and Henry Kamen.

Furthermore, what is this basic humanity? Is he implying that there is something about humanity that means that we automatically know right from wrong? Then if so, then that would mean that there are objective moral truths and that we are capable of knowing them and in fact do know them and if we don’t know them, there’s something wrong with us. That might seem like a small point to some, but as we will see, it is an important one.

Finally, if we are talking about persecution like this being immoral, then what about the rampant killing done by atheist regimes that specifically targeted Christians in the 20th century and still to this day. Do they get a free pass? We can say again that Christians are acting inconsistently with Christianity. Are atheists violating any central moral tenets of atheism?

It is important because in the very next paragraph, Jelbert says we get our morality from evolution. We might want there to be objective morality, and maybe science and peer-review can get us there, but the case is far from made that morality is necessarily objective. If Jelbert is right, then why is he talking about an obviously warped law with the Sabbath? A law in the moral sense is something that is meant to help you to do the good, but if there is no good to do, then there can be no such thing as a flawed law. It is just a law that you do not like.

Suppose for the sake of argument I grant evolution to Jelbert, which I really happily do with no problem. Saying that evolution provided us the features to come across certain knowledge does not explain how that knowledge itself exists. Perhaps evolution gave us minds capable of discovering the truth of mathematics, but to discover the truth of mathematics, the truth of mathematics must exist. If morality is something that we use just because it works, then perhaps we could say the same about mathematics, but nothing is objectively true in mathematics. If Jelbert says there are moral truths to be discovered, then it doesn’t matter if one comes to them by evolution or divine revelation. They’re still there and need an explanation. If he says there are no moral truths to be discovered, then evolution is leading us to believe something that is false and Jelbert has no reason to hold an argument from evil or talk about flawed laws or activities he deems immoral, such as persecution.

Jelbert then replies to the claim of Copan that if there is no God, there is no objective morality. Jelbert remarkably says that humans are masters of believing in things that do not exist. Indeed, many are. Yet now we have a problem. In this very paragraph, Jelbert himself talks about moral problems and sectarian violence. Perhaps Jelbert himself in arguing against objective morality has convinced himself that somehow it still exists.

Jelbert ends this section saying it might be difficult to see how valuable and thinking humans came from valueless and unguided processes, but that does not make it impossible. Indeed, it does not, but who said anything about that? How did a paragraph starting about objective moral truths end with talking about the origins of human beings?

We could go further and say that it looks like Jelbert holds to some objective goodness, even if not objective morality supposedly, since he affirms that humans are valuable. Is this an objective statement or not? Does it apply to all humans? If so, we hope Jelbert is opposed to abortion. If not, then who does it apply to? If they are valuable, on what basis? What is it about humans that separates them from all other beings in the universe?

Jelbert also says that Copan says subjective morality would undermine moral motivation, but Jelbert contends that this is not so. He says that natural theories better explain things like moral gray areas and an evolving sense of morality and that religious opinions have been on the wrong side of morality often throughout history. It is incredible to see something like this written.

Just at the start, Jelbert is obviously arguing for subjective morality, but if all we have is subjective morality, there are no moral gray areas because that implies a moral truth. There is also no evolving sense of morality, because that too implies a moral truth. All that there is is just changing opinions on how people want society to function, but to what end is to function? If there is any desired goal, then it is automatically implied that this is a desired goal which lo and behold, leads us to objective goodness which would entail objective morality.

As for religions being on the wrong side, it is inevitable that with a nebulous term like religions, some will get things wrong and some will get things right so you can point to any religion that you want and find an error then somewhere either in its teachings or its history, but again, we could consider that the 20th century was one of the bloodiest centuries of all and a lot of this came from atheist regimes. Further, Christians have long opposed practices like murder, lying, theft, adultery, etc. Does Jelbert think that Christians are on the wrong side?

If we wanted to see much motivation for the good in the world, it comes from Christianity. Christians originally ended the slave trade. Does Jelbert consider this a wrong? Christians ended widow burning in India. Is this a wrong? Christians have regularly gone out into the world and brought about literacy, medical care, and other such goods. It is quite unfair for Jelbert to take what he doesn’t like and ignore all the positive. As Frederick Douglass said in his own account of his life.

What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the  slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference–so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.

Jelbert then says that Sam Harris wrote a book defending objective morality and that it is discovered through science. Much of my review you can see starting here. A scathing review of that book by Michael Ruse can be found here. Jelbert speaks about the debate Craig had with Harris and says at the end that Craig admits he could not see how objective morality could arise without God, but if Jelbert thinks this is a point somehow, perhaps he would like to show how it could come about. Still, I once again wonder. Jelbert has spent much time arguing against objective morality. Has he suddenly switched here?

Amazingly, Jelbert himself questions if science is objective. Maybe a society could have arisen that could have skipped Newton’s understanding and gone straight to Einstein’s. Perhaps, but if we say a Newtonian view is wrong in some way, then it is objectively wrong and not subjectively wrong. One wonders really if Jelbert knows what he’s really writing here. For someone who is said to have a Ph.D. in physics, it has to be wondered if his degree is in something true or just subjective.

Jelbert concludes saying that the discussion is fascinating, but says it is far from true that morality is objective. Again, if so, then what are all these warped laws and evils that Jelbert is writing about? If all it is is Christians even being inconsistent, so what? That even assumes that hypocrisy is an evil which gets us back to objective morality.

Second, he says it is not clear that objective morality could only come from God. Perhaps it isn’t, but it is entirely consistent with the idea and a reasonable case has been made. Jelbert would need to, if he accepts objective morality, show where it comes from and how it exists. If he does not, then again, much of what he says is deflated.

Third, he says it cannot be connected to any specific God. By itself, no. Jelbert should note the argument is an argument for God. It is not an argument for the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ. If the argument works, all we get is some form of theism and we have to go further to see which one is true, but theism is still established and atheism refuted. It is hard to say an argument is faulty for not showing what it was never meant to show.

Let’s hope that things improve from here on for this chapter is certainly lackluster.

In Christ,
Nick Peters