Book Plunge: Jesus Among Secular Gods

What do I think of the book by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale published by FaithWords? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been doing apologetics for a little over fifteen years. When I first started, one of the shaping books for me was Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ followed by The Case For Faith. It was in the latter that one mind I read particularly gripped me with his story, personality, and reasoning style and that was Ravi Zacharias. One book of his quite popular at the time was Jesus Among Other Gods. I remember devouring that book and thoroughly enjoying it. Now here we are years later and we have Jesus Among Secular Gods.

This might surprise some people. Secularists don’t have gods! In the sense of real entities that are deities that have their own being, sure, but there are a number of isms out there like scientism and hedonism. Can the claims of Jesus stand up to secular thought? Does secular thought really answer the deep questions of life?

Ravi has a story early on about dialoguing with someone in the Middle East who drew two circles. For most Middle Easterners, their faith is the outer rim of the circle and their life is a little dot in the center. We have it reversed. It’s easy for us to compartmentalize our faith. This is what the Middle Easterner believed would lead to the fall of Western civilization. One’s religious walk is a secondary part of their life instead of becoming what influences their whole life.

Ravi goes on from there to interact with Stephen Hawking who suggested that we need to find extraterrestrial life if it’s out there before it destroys us. I appreciated Ravi’s cynicism at first in wanting to say that since we’re having a hard time finding intelligent life here, let’s find it elsewhere, but his next thought was even better. Isn’t it fascinating that intelligent life is something we are to be looking for outside of our Earth, unless that intelligent life happens to be theistic.

Richard Dawkins isn’t safe either. Many of us remember him saying that

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.

Yet if God is a fiction, then we have a problem. The actions attributed to him are really to be attributed to some really gullible people who in turn did some evil things. If so, then where does the evil lie? If Dawkins has it that God is a fiction and in turn there is no fall away from him but man living by his own nature, then aren’t we the source of the evil? Isn’t it the problem man playing God? Should we not strive to avoid that?

I like a story he tells about Billy Graham visiting Disneyworld and telling Walt Disney that he had created an amazing world of fantasy. Disney replied that Graham had it backward. He had shown the real world. Everything else was fantasy. What did he mean by that?

In Disney’s world, one of the greatest gifts is children are children. They laugh and play and have utter delight. Go out there and what do you find? You find children attacking other children. You find children cutting themselves and harming themselves. You don’t find white knights coming along to save them and you find dragons roaming in the real world that no one will fight.

Of course, Ravi and Vince contrast this with answers from other faiths. A story is told about talking to a man from a Muslim country asking the difference between the Christian God and the Muslim God. He was told that if you want to know what the Christian God is like, read the life of Jesus. If you want to know what the Muslim God is like, read the life of Muhammad. That was enough to settle the question for him.

Vince also shows himself to be taking on the thinking of Ravi. I liked how he described that we talk about the intellect of God and how He knows everything immensely and we can’t compare, but when we talk about His love, we downplay it. We make God’s love very human and act like it’s just as prone to being broken as ours is.

I also appreciated the story about Matthew Parris writing on how Africa needs God. God gives the people hope. Following God helps them to be provided for and keeps them away from other gods such as the infusion of Nike, or the witch doctor, or the machete. We need to have evangelism going on in Africa and not let it be stopped.

By the way, Matthew Parris is an atheist.

Vince when taking on hedonism starts with the idea of the experience machine. Imagine a machine you could plug into and feel the sensation of any experience you wanted. You could be making love to a supermodel or going into battle in whatever time period you want or you could be making a scientific breakthrough. You can have whatever you want. Should you plug into the machine?

No. We don’t want just the feeling of doing these things. We want to be able to do these kinds of things. We don’t want to just feel loved. We want to be loved. We don’t want to just have dreams. We want to accomplish them.

Vince also tells about the Christian view of sex here. I like the story he tells about seeing a testimony in the past with someone saying “I used to drink. I used to party. I used to have sex. But now I’m a  Christian and I don’t do these things any more.” If this is your testimony, please stop. Everyone who isn’t a Christian is saying “It sounds like your life was better before.”

Vince reminds us that sex is something sacred and meant for a covenant of two people. The action means something and it is special when saved for that covenant relationship. Our world treats sex as something common and the results have been horrid for us.

That being said, God is not anti-pleasure, but he calls us to more than just living for ourselves in this moment. In fact, he tells us our greatest joy is in denying ourselves and following Him. Lewis would say this is really having us be more ourselves than we ever were before. Christianity is not opposed to pleasure, including sexual pleasure, but that pleasure is not to be a god.

The writers also point out the importance of disagreement. We have reached an age where to disagree with someone is to devalue them as a person supposedly. To be sure, there are wrong ways to disagree with people, but that doesn’t mean all disagreement is the problem. Disagreement can mean we value the person’s opinion and we think the subject itself is really important.

The book overall is a good look at the thinking we have in the West and how we need to contrast that with Christ. Ravi I have found consistently is a writer who touches the heart as well as the head. Vince follows along very well in that pattern and hopefully we’ll see more of him in the future. I recommend you go out and go through this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Dear Freethinkers

What do I have to say to those espousing freethinking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dear Freethinkers,

I want to write to you today because I’m frankly confused by what I see of you. You see, you claim to hold to no statements of faith. You claim that by being a skeptic, the only position you have to have is to not affirm the existence of God. You claim that there are no doctrines to your position. Despite all of this, most all of you seem to think remarkably exactly alike.

You all come right out of the gates often with one of your favorite mantras. “No evidence.” Are you really thinking this? Are you thinking that every theist and Christian in history has just never considered that they have no evidence for what they believe? Sure, you might meet a layman like that, but do you really think everyone is like that?

When it comes to talking about God, we are told there is no evidence. Is that really supposed to convince us? You see, some of us read these things called “books.” We don’t rely on Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia. We also read books that disagree with us. When we say we believe in God, we do so because we are convinced that that is where the arguments lead. In fact, while we agree on the conclusion, we can disagree on the arguments. Some people like the ontological argument. I don’t. I like the Thomistic arguments. Some don’t. Some people think scientific apologetics works well. I disagree. That’s okay.

In fact, this is what real thinking is all about. Real thinking is not just seeing if you find a conclusion that agrees with you. Real thinking is asking if the argument really does have evidence for it that leads to the conclusion. Just because I agree with the conclusion that God exists, it doesn’t mean I agree with the argument given for it. In fact, I daresay I have gone after more Christian apologists using bad arguments than many of you have.

Another favorite one of mine is when you say that there’s no evidence Jesus ever existed. Now perhaps in some cases, atheism could be understandable, such as with the problem of evil, though I do not see that as a defeater at all, but this one really takes the cake. You know what makes this even funnier? So many of you naturally agree among yourselves that creationism is nonsense and we need to listen to the consensus of modern science. Fair enough, but you do the exact opposite with history. You don’t listen to the consensus of modern historians and mock Christians for not listening to the consensus of modern scientists.

You see, your position is even more of a joke because I can find you a list of scientists who dissent from Darwin. Are they right? Beats me. I don’t argue that issue. If you want to find historians who dissent from the base existence of Jesus, you can count the number on two hands at the most. Note that by historians, I mean people with Ph.D.s in a field relevant to NT studies. I don’t mean just any Joe Blow you can find on the internet.

You may not like it, but as soon as you start espousing mythicism, I immediately have no reason to take you seriously anymore.  I know I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t read the best material. I know this will be a shock, but outside his internet fanbase, Richard Carrier just isn’t taken seriously. You can guarantee you won’t be by hanging on his every word. In fact, as a Christian apologist, I thank God for Richard Carrier. He’s doing a great service by dumbing down his fellow atheists to accept the conspiracy theory of mythicism, and yes. That’s all it is. It ranks right up there with saying the moon landing is a hoax or that 9/11 was an inside job.

Since we briefly spoke about science, let’s go on with that topic. You all seem to think that if something cannot be demonstrated by science, then it is nonsense. It’s as if mankind had no knowledge whatsoever and never knew anything until science came along. This gets even funnier when you talk about miracles. “We know today that virgins don’t give birth, that people don’t walk on water, and that people don’t rise from the dead.” You really think people didn’t know that stuff back then? You think they were just ignorant? Sure, they weren’t doing experiments and such, but they knew basic facts that we wouldn’t disagree with. You don’t have to be a world-class scientist to know that when someone dies, you bury them, or that it takes sex to make a baby. They all knew this.

The fact is that we don’t really have a beef with science. We might disagree on what is scientific and what isn’t. There are Christians who have no problem with evolution. There are Christians who do. There are Christians who think the world is billions of years old. There are Christians who don’t. We debate this amongst ourselves. None of us though say that science is bunk and should be disregarded. Perhaps we are misinformed on what is and isn’t science, but we are not opposed to science.

In fact, you never seem to think about what you say about the scientific method. You never pause to ask if the claim that all truth must be shown by the scientific method is itself shown by the scientific method. You don’t even consider that science is an inductive field. Sure, some claims might have more certainty than others, but none of them are absolute claims proven.

I also find it so amusing when you talk about the Bible. You all have the hang-ups that fundamentalist Christians that you condemn do. You think that the Bible absolutely has to be inerrant. Many of us hold to inerrancy, but some of us actually do not, and we debate that. Still, even many of us who hold to inerrancy do not see it as an essential and think Christianity can be true and inerrancy false. For you, the Bible is an all-or-nothing game. Either everything in it is true or none of it is. This is remarkably similar to your position on Jesus where either He was the miracle-working God-man Messiah who rose from the dead or He never existed. Your positions are entirely black and white. There is no shade of gray.

You then throw out 101 Bible contradictions and expect us to keel over immediately. We don’t. Many of these, you’ve never even studied yourself. You’ve just gone to a web site, got a list, and then suddenly thought you were an authority. It never seems to occur to you that in thousands of years of studying the Bible no one has ever seen these before.

When it comes to interpretation, you have a big hang-up on literacy. You think that everything in the Bible has to be “literal” although you have not given any idea of what that means nor have you even bothered to tell us why that must be so. The Bible is a work of literature like many other books and it uses all manner of ways of speaking. It uses metaphor, simile, hyperbole, allegory, etc.

You also seem to think that the Bible has to be immediately understandable to 21st century Western English speakers. God should be clear. Well, why should He? It’s as if you think you are part of the only people who ever lived and God should have made things clear to you immediately without having to do any work whatsoever.

In all of this, you’re just like the fundamentalists you condemn. The difference isn’t your mindset. It’s only your loyalties. You think everything in the book is wrong. They think everything in it is right. None of you really give arguments. It’s just a personal testimony and faith.

And yes, you do have personal testimonies. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard “I used to be a Christian, but”. I mean, do you want me to break out a chorus of “Just As I Am” at that point? It’s like all you used in your Christian days was a personal testimony and today, that’s still all you have. All I normally see is you went from an uninformed Christian to an uninformed skeptic.

As for faith, you never seem to understand it. You’ve bought into all the new atheist gunk that says that faith is believing without evidence. You never bother to consult scholars of the Greek and Hebrew languages to see what the Bible means by the term. What we mean is a trust that is based on that which has shown itself to be reliable.

You would be greatly benefited by going to a library sometime. You see, if all you read are the new atheists, you’re not going to make a dent. You might get some of what is called low-hanging fruit, in that people as uninformed as you are will be convinced, but not people who actually do study this kind of stuff seriously. You think that Google is enough to show you know everything. It isn’t. You don’t know how to sift through information and evaluate it. All you do is look and see if it agrees with you. If it makes Christians or Christianity look stupid, it has to be 100% true.

You should also know this doesn’t describe all atheists and skeptics out there. There are atheists and skeptics that do actually read scholarly works that disagree with them. I can have discussions with them. We can talk about the issues. They can agree easily that Jesus existed without thinking they have to commit ritual suicide at that point. They can have no problem discussing scholarly works. Many of these would even say that while they disagree with Christians, that a Christian can have justification for his belief and is not necessarily an idiot for being a Christian. You could learn a lot from them. Be like them. Don’ live in the bubble of just reading what agrees with you and buying everything you read on the internet. Study and learn.

Until you do this, freethinkers remind me of a slogan someone used years ago that I have taken. It’s not original to me, but I like it. With freethinking, you get what you pay for. Why not pay the price of being an informed thinker by reading and studying. You’re not hurting us by your actions. You’re only hurting yourself and your fellow skeptics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Good Without God

What do I think of Greg Epstein’s book published by Harper Collins? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Epstein’s book Good Without God is an odd read. It’s written by an atheist no doubt, but it’s not the same shrill angry rant against religion that you encounter. Epstein does strike me as someone I could have a reasonable conversation with, even though at times Epstein does make many of the same mistakes about religion.

Consider how he says that religious people like to say that Hitler was an atheist to avoid talking about the Crusades and the Inquisition. Hitler wasn’t an atheist, but there’s no doubt that Stalin, Mao, and Pol-Pot were. I also think we should talk about the Crusades and Inquisition. He also points out that the Nazi belt buckles had “God with us” written on them.

Which is what they’d had long before. It was a motto that was made and not made specifically for the military. It just carried over to the Nazis. By this standard, all of our wars have to be specifically religious wars because we have “In God We Trust” written on our money. (Wait. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. A lot of atheists might run with that.)

Epstein’s book surprisingly is a lot of self-help for atheists and thinking about many different issues. He does at least think that atheists shouldn’t be seeking to destroy religion. He does think some have been too ardent in their war on religion. Still, as you read the book, you get the impression that a lot of atheists are trying hard on so many issues that don’t make sense. Can you speak of being fortunate in anything for instance? What happens when you want to thank someone and there’s no one to thank?

Epstein also doesn’t really answer the main question. What does it mean to be good? At one point, he says that there is a knockout blow to theism on this. It’s the Euthyphro dilemma from Plato. If you don’t know this, it’s where Socrates questions Euthyphro on goodness and says “Is something good because the gods will it, or do the gods will it because it is good?”

This is supposed to be a killer to the moral argument because how is it known what is good? Just replace gods with God. Now some might say “God’s nature is the good.” I have just as much a problem with that. The problem is the same. It still doesn’t tell us what the good is. “The good is God’s nature.” Okay. How does that fit?

The sad thing is that this question was answered not too long after Plato. Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics wrote about what goodness is and said that the good is that at which all things aim. Thus, he answered this by giving a definition of goodness. He spent some time fleshing that out of course, but he did answer the question. Unfortunately, atheists are a little over 2,000 years behind the times.

In fact, Epstein after this seems to take an approach of moral relativism, but if there is no truth to a moral issue, how can you have a debate over which view is true? You’re just discussing preferences. How can anyone even be good without God if good itself has no real meaning?

Now Epstein later on, does try to answer this question more by saying that things are only good in relation to human beings. In other words, if we weren’t here, there wouldn’t be anything good. I dare say this strikes me as a bizarre position. Either we discover goodness in these things and they are good, or goodness is an idea we throw onto them but they don’t essentially possess.

At this, we could just as well throw the Euthyphro dilemma back at Epstein and have him answer it. Is something good because of how it relates to us, or does it relate to us the way it does because it is good? Without a proper foundation for goodness, Epstein will be caught in his own dilemma. He could escape by postulating an objective goodness beyond human beings, but then he has a problem with what this will be ground in.

What this means is that in the long run, Epstein has written a book to address a question and never really addressed it accurately himself. Not only that, we could just as well ask who is asking this question? Who is the theist out there making a claim that you can’t be good without believing in God? Perhaps there are a few laypeople making this claim, but most of the scholars and academics in the field would never make such a claim.

Epstein’s book can be an interesting read to see just how it is a lot of non-religious people think, but it’s still desperately lacking. In fact, if anything, Epstein’s book shows me even more that goodness makes no sense without God. Hopefully Epstein will see that same way soon.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Moral Arc

What do I think of Michael Shermer’s book published by Henry Holt and Company? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Michael Shermer’s book is a massive work on the topic of morality. Unlike many atheistic writings today, this one isn’t a total rant on the topic. It also actually has a serious bibliography. There are several interesting points in fact that theists could agree with. Some stories in the chapters on forgiveness can be incredibly moving and remind those of us who are Christians of what we need to be doing.

While there is plenty of food for thought, there are some major areas of concern. I do not plan on touching on all of them. I do find it interesting that Shermer will say infanticide isn’t the worst evil and will state there are some cases where it could be understandable and spends a couple of pages doing this. When he comes to the holocaust though, he talks about how the Germans and others convinced themselves that the Jews had been effectively dehumanized and killing them wasn’t that big a deal. For all Shermer’s talk about how we can fool ourselves, you think he would speak more on this.

Shermer also thinks that having more science (And by fiat he throws reason in there as being under the rubric of science without an argument) will lead to more morality. All these nations that were engaging in evil had pseudo-science, under which he includes creationism. That would be fascinating to see in a country like Russia, that were our competitors and with their pseudo-science managed to launch a satellite and send a man into space before us. Sure, we landed on the moon first, but it was a tight race. Russia was also highly atheistic with that. Germany also was a highly intellectual society. It’s not just a matter of reason that leads to morality.

Still, there is one chapter I want to focus on. It’s noteworthy that when he does a chapter asking if religion is responsible for morality, that this is the one that does not have interaction hardly with the best authorities. Shermer will meticulously document everything in other chapters, In this one, it is just pretty much throwing out everything that has been thrown out in other atheist books.

Shermer rightly points out the good that has been done in the name of Christianity. Not only has the good been done, but Jesus has been the greatest exemplar for living a moral life. No one else has had such an impact on the morality of mankind as Jesus has. One thinks Shermer is too quick to discount this.

Immediately Shermer shifts to moral problems of the church. No doubt, the church has not been perfect, but Shermer would have you think these issues are cut and dry. The Crusades are first brought up, although Shermer says nothing about them being wars to liberate people who had been held captive by Muslims for hundreds of years prior. The Inquisitions are brought up, although nothing is said about them being supported by the state and even by people who weren’t Christians as a way of providing law and order. Not a single scholar of the Crusades or the Inquisition is cited. Again, the silence of references is deafening.

After that, there are a list of wars that are supposed to be all about religion. (Because we know that the English Civil War was fought over the proper method of baptism.) The American Civil War is also included although that was fought over far more than just slavery. World War One is also somehow turned into a religious war. How? Beats me.

Naturally, Shermer says that German soldiers even had God With Us on their belt buckles. By this logic, Americans having “In God We Trust” means that every war we’ve engaged in has automatically been a religious war. Apparently, Shermer is unaware of the effects of political slogans.

Shermer also talks about the idea of loving your neighbor meaning to only love someone of your own tribe. He cites the exact same person that Dawkins cites in The God Delusion. He also makes the exact same mistake that Dawkins makes. He never brings up how Jesus interpreted this passage and how that’s mandatory for Christians today.

Shermer of course brings up Numbers 31. He says that at one point one can imagine the virgins who were spared saying “God told you to do that? Yeah right.” Of course, a specific order from God is not mentioned in the text. Furthermore, Shermer will complain if God kills everyone. Then if God spares the innocent, well He’s still responsible. Shermer also assumes the only reason they would spare a virgin is for sexual reasons. Hardly. Sex-crazed Israelite soldiers would not be cutting themselves off from the community for fighting in war before engaging in any intercourse.

Shermer also argues that the Bible is one of the most immoral works in all of literature. Shermer claims the Bible mistreats women, yet in the Bible, men and women are said to be equally in the image of God. You have women making an impact like Ruth, Deborah, Rahab, and Esther. Women increasingly gain more and more favor in the Bible. Perhaps Shermer could familiarize himself with a book like Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals.

Shermer then says that God banished Adam and Eve for choosing knowledge over ignorance. Not really. What the crime was was trying to claim the wisdom of God outside of God. To say one would have knowledge of good and evil, was a way of saying you would in fact be like God in knowledge. You could practically usurp Him. God was holding out on them supposedly. Again, Shermer does not bother looking at any commentaries or Old Testament scholars.

Of course, you have the usual rant about the flood, but after that Shermer says YHWH gave his favorite warlords multiple wives. It would be good to see where this happened. If we look at the patriarchs, Abraham had a concubine but after that, he was a one-woman man. Isaac we are told only had Rebekkah. Jacob had the most with four different partners in his lifetime. Joseph we are told of only one lover.

In fact, when polygamy shows up in the Bible, it usually does not end well. It leads to more chaos and is thoroughly done with by the time we get to Jesus. Shermer also says the women are never asked how they feel about the arrangement. Probably because the question would be nonsensical to them. “How do we feel about it?” The women were not internalists who spent their lives analyzing their inner being. They were more focused on survival.

Shermer says believers have to cherry pick what we will do from the Bible. Not really. We just have to know how to interpret it. Shermer doesn’t and he doesn’t show any interaction with Biblical scholars on this. This would be like me writing a chapter in a book critiquing evolution and not citing a single evolutionary biologist. You can make any position look ridiculous if you only give one side of the story.

Shermer also has statements about crimes for which YHWH ordered the death penalty. What is forgotten is that Israel had these laws and Israel was to be a nation sold out to YHWH and living to honor Him, just like any nation would honor its gods and its rulers. A little bit of leaven works through the whole dough as it were and ignoring the covenant was treated severely.

Let’s look at a favorite passage of Shermer’s. That’s Deuteronomy 22:28-29.

“If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”

Shermer asks if anyone would want to do this today. Nope. I wouldn’t. So what? Shermer would have you think that the purpose of the OT Law was to bring Utopia and that things could never get better. No. The Law was great for the time and a step forward, but there was still work to do. What is happening here is that a woman had been violated and because of that, few would want to take her. Being with the person who violated her could be something that she’d want to maintain some honor. (See Tamar when she was raped for instance.) The father would be paid because he would have lost a dowry. The man meanwhile would have to provide for this woman forever. In other words, if you really want this woman, you’d better be prepared to have her for all time.

Shermer then goes to the great Biblical scholar, comedienne Julia Sweeney. For her, the story of Abraham offering up Isaac was a truly wicked story. Of course, Sweeney talked about reacting like this in childhood and seems to have not moved past a childhood understanding at all. Abraham’s test was asking “Do you believe I’m able to complete my promise to you if you offer up Isaac?” The result of God stopping Abraham is also a way of saying to all the other people “I am not like the pagan gods. I will stop you from offering up your children.”

Sweeney goes on to list other preposterous commandments. One is that if two men are in a fight and the wife of one grabs the genitals of the other, cut off her hand. Of course, Sweeney doesn’t realize that cutting off ones ability to reproduce was cutting off their livelihood in being able to produce for their family and provide and destroying their honor. It’s enough to say “I find this offensive!” and not bother to understand it.

Shermer says some will say some laws have been revoked, but Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law and not destroy it. In fact, He did do just that. That’s why it’s basic NT to understand the Old Testament Law doesn’t apply to us today and we were never under it. Shermer incredibly says Jesus’s morality is even worse than the OT.

For instance, Jesus says that if you hate your brother in your heart, you deserve the death penalty. Shermer misses why Jesus is so hard on such hatred. He is because it really means that if you thought you could get away with it, you would murder someone. That’s where hatred gets you. You don’t do it often because the costs outweigh the benefits. Turn that around and you are quite likely to do it. Shermer says similar about Jesus’s commandment on lust and says Jesus has a practical solution about plucking out your eye. Is Shermer so blinded by his anti-religious stance that he can’t understand that Jews spoke in hyperbole? This is an extreme measure and Jesus is not recommending one literally do this.

Shermer also says Jesus never married and had a family but turned away his own mother, such as in John 2. Of course, he ignores that Jesus did do what His mother asked. He just latches on Jesus referring to her as woman, which in Josephus is a term used to refer to a beloved wife and the way Jesus typically addressed women. It can be a term of disrespect sometimes, but the context tells you whether it is or not.

Shermer also tells of a story where Mary and his family wants to see him and Jesus says to His disciples “Send them away. You are my family now.” I must have missed that part. I don’t remember Him ever saying to send her away. Naturally, we also have the same misunderstanding about Luke 14 and hating your mother and father. It always amazes me when atheists lambaste literalism and then engage in it themselves.

Shermer of course buys into the Dark Ages myth and acts like Christianity had nothing to do with the advancements of that time since Homer and the seven wonders of the world knew nothing about Christianity. Of course, these achievements of theirs weren’t done in an effort to better understand the world. Christians were interested in that. Since the world was made by a rational God, we could expect it to be rational. Shermer will also ignore how during this time slavery was abolished for the first time and not just by Galatians 3:28, but because men and women were in the image of God.

Shermer also finds capitalism to be opposed to the Bible. Why? Well Jesus sent away the rich young ruler. Jesus never though condemned the owning of wealth. He condemned being owned by wealth. Jesus Himself was supported by some wealthy patrons, such as in Luke 8. Jesus spoke warnings to the rich often because the rich were assumed to have the blessing of God, but Jesus said this was not necessarily so. You can have money, but you should not have the love of money.

Finally, let’s look at Shermer’s look at the Ten Commandments.

The first one is to have no other gods before Him. Now in all of these, Shermer ignores that this was part of the society of the time and not meant to be applied everywhere. He starts by saying this one violates the first amendment and restricts freedom of religion. It’s unbelievable to see someone say something like this. Sorry Shermer, but this isn’t the way ancient societies wrote and God started where His chosen people were. If you are under His patronage, you are to be loyal to Him.

The second is about idols and again Shermer, says this violates freedom of religious expression, but also what about Christians who have crosses on their necklaces? What about it? Last I saw we aren’t worshiping them. Shermer then says if Jews had little golden gas chambers the reaction would be shocking. Indeed. That’s the point. Christians took an emblem of shame and turned it into one of victory.

He then looks at God as a jealous God saying this explains all the bloodbaths that took place. Actually, jealousy could be an honorable trait. It meant that one was to be recognized as having exclusive rights to what they were jealous for. This is what a husband is supposed to be for his wife. He alone has exclusive rights to her. Would Shermer consider me to be noble if I wanted to share my wife with my neighbor?

The third is about not taking God’s name in vain. Of course, Shermer sees this as the same violation and probably relates it to profanity. Instead, it means to treat YHWH honorably. It wasn’t about cussing, but about taking the name of God lightly and dishonoring His reputation.

The fourth is the Sabbath. Shermer says this has nothing to say about morality. Assuming that is correct, what of it? The Sabbath was a great way Israel was to set themselves apart from others. They would be saying that they were trusting that YHWH would provide on that one day they didn’t work, quite a big deal for a day-laborer society.

The fifth is about honoring your father and mother, and yet Shermer finds this one problematic. Why? Because one is commanded to honor. Shouldn’t that come about naturally? Well let’s see if Shermer would want to live this way. Don’t tell your children right from wrong and tell them what to do and not to do. Let it come about naturally. See how well that works.

The sixth one is not to kill for Shermer and here he finds a problem. Isn’t it arbitrary about when killing is allowed and not. Actually, the word is murder and it refers to an attitude and way of killing specifically. The Hebrews had several words for different actions that constituted killing. That doesn’t mean that each counted as murder. Shermer speaks about several biblical scholars and theologians here. Unfortunately, he never cites one.

The seventh is adultery. Shermer says this is rich coming from a deity who knocked up someone else’s fiance, but it doesn’t take into account the lifestyles people find themselves in. Should we limit what two adults want to do together? Perhaps we should because sex is something sacred and to be honored. This is one problem of Shermer’s Moral Arc. He assumes where he is is good and it’s good entirely by focusing on saying “We are more tolerant” to the disregard of other virtues, like honoring one another sexually.

The eighth is to not steal and Shermer says “Do we need a deity to tell us this?” No. Who said we did? This is just an example of something that is to be followed. We can say these are defining characteristics of Israel.

Finally with the commandment to not lie, at least here Shermer agrees with this one. Of course, his reason is about how it is for us to be lied to or gossiped about. Perhaps it should have been something about the love of truth.

We conclude with coveting. Shermer says this goes against capitalism. Not really. Coveting is saying you want the specific good your neighbor has and not just one of your own. Of course, he says a man’s wife is thrown in with everything else. This is like saying that when you go to the store if you have a list that says “Eggs, bread, soap, butter, fish, and bananas” that that means that soap is included as something edible. The list in the Bible is a list of things that are coveted and yes, it is possible to covet the wife or husband of your neighbor.

Shermer’s book is better than some, but still lacking overall. I do not think he makes a case and one of the big problems is no major foundation ontologically or metaphysically is given for goodness at all. Still, I have chosen to focus on this one chapter. One would hope Shermer would interact with biblical scholars here and Natural Law theorists elsewhere, but he does not.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Everybody Is Wrong About God?

What do I think of James Lindsay’s book published by Pitchstone Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Remember the old days when Peter Boghossian was heavily pushing the idea of street epistemology? Good times. Good times. Well now his main fan James Lindsay has decided to follow in his footsteps. Lindsay’s book even has a foreword by Boghossian as well (And I did review Boghossian’s book here.). Unfortunately, Lindsay’s book falls drastically short of Boghossian’s, which is saying a lot since Boghossian’s was a train wreck to begin with.

Lindsay’s main idea is that everyone is wrong about God because we’re talking as if theism even makes any sense whatsoever and that we know what we’re talking about when we talk about God. Of course, one would expect at this point to see interaction with sophisticated systematic theologies such as those in the past of people like Augustine and Aquinas, or even today people like Erickson or Grudem or McGrath. If you are expecting that, you are going to be disappointed. Actually, if you’re expecting any engagement with contrary opinion, you are going to be disappointed.

The laugh riots really begin on page 17. What we are told there is that the New Atheists succeeded in their quest. It defeated theism at the level of ideas and destroyed the taboo of atheism. At this, we can see that James Lindsay is in fact the Baghdad Bob of atheism. The new atheists can’t hold a candle to the old atheists of the past. All we got from the new atheists was a rant largely about topics they did not understand, much like people who critique evolution without bothering to read the best works in science.

Of course, in all of this, don’t expect Lindsay to do anything like, you know, actually interact with the arguments for theism. If you expect to see the ways of Thomas Aquinas interacted with or a refutation of Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument or a response to the twenty ways listed in Kreeft and Tacelli, you will be disappointed. For new atheists, it’s enough to declare victory and then stand up and have the celebration.

From this point on, rather than actually engage in arguments and evidence, which like many atheists I encounter Lindsay doesn’t seem to care for, it’s best to jump straight to psychology. Why do we believe in something that’s so utterly obviously false? (A step forward I suppose. Boghossian wanted us to be listed as having a mental illness.) The problem here is you can psychologize anything. We could come up with psychological reasons for atheism, and they could apply to some people, but that does not refute atheism any more than psychological reasons for theism refutes theism.

Well let’s try to find some interesting parts and see what can be said about them.

On p. 60, we are told that many theologians and apologists will argue that theism has evidence, but that is false. There is a note here and one would expect to see some reply to some arguments or perhaps at least a book dealing with these arguments. Well, one would expect that were we dealing with a real sophisticated argument for a position. Considering we’re dealing with a fan of Boghossian, we’re not surprised to find another assertion.

Lindsay’s main argument is that we might have some arguments for theism and even if we did succeed at that, how do we get to what religion is true? Yes. You read it. That’s his argument.

Of course, Maimonides, Aquinas, and Avicenna would have all used the same arguments for general theism. That’s because theism itself is a metaphysical and philosophical claim so metaphysics and philosophy work there. First point to establish is that if theism is established, then atheism is false. Even if we could go no further, we would still have refuted atheism.

Second point is that Lindsay’s argument is just weak. Maimonides, Avicenna, and Aquinas could all then point to historical reasons for their faiths since all of them claim that events happened in history. I as a Christian would face my “All but impossible” task, in Lindsay’s words, by pointing to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. A Muslim could point to why he thinks the Koran is the Word of God and a Jew could point to the Torah while showing problems with the New Testament. It could be that any of the arguments would work, but it shows that it is not all but impossible.

Again, if we were dealing with a real case, we would see some interaction. We are not, so we do not. High schoolers just starting apologetics study could have answered the question of Lindsay.

On p. 70, Lindsay says we have a right to shoot bull wherever we see it. Indeed we do. I make it a habit of doing such and I make it a point to shoot it down from atheists as well as theists. That’s one reason I’m doing this review. There’s a whole lot to shoot at.

On the very next page, he writes about a debate Sean Carroll had with William Lane Craig. This is a debate that I really didn’t care for. For one thing, as a non-scientist, I suspect most people in the audience spent a lot of time during the debate saying “What the heck are they talking about?” Lindsay is convinced Carroll won. Maybe he did. For Lindsay, this is a huge victory.

Well, let’s go to another debate. This is the one that took place between Peter Boghossian and Tim McGrew. In fact, someone with an interesting opinion on that was James Lindsay himself. What does he say?

“I also won’t comment about winners because I think the idea of winning a conversation is stupid to the point of being embarrassing for people that we make a sport of it.”

Well Unbelievable? is a debate show with a moderator so apparently, it’s stupid when we talk about a victory on Unbelievable? It’s not when we talk about it between Carroll and Craig. Got it.

“(Full disclosure: I think the debate was a draw because the substantive point of the matter could not be settled because the relevant data concerning how Christians and other religious believers use the word “faith” is not available.)”

It certainly is available. You just have to be able to, you know, go out and research and study it. Unfortunately, Boghossian did not do that. He had anecdotal evidence. McGrew actually went to scholarly sources. We’re sorry to hear that Lindsay does not consider that good enough.

“McGrew, the far more experienced debater, came off tighter in what he had to say and hid his weaknesses well, better than did Boghossian.”

And Tim McGrew’s other debates prior to this that we have are…

ummmm….

errrr…..

uhhhh…..

I think he told me he did some debating in high school. I suppose that counts in Lindsay’s book. Obviously, McGrew had to have more experience. I mean, how else can we explain what happened? It couldn’t be that (SHOCK!) McGrew actually had better arguments and Boghossian was uninformed? Nah! Can’t be that! Let’s look for an excuse!

The comments section, which I participated in, is immense damage control. If I think a theist lost a debate, and I think they do sometimes, I can admit it. It doesn’t change the truth of theism. It just means we had a bad debater at that point.

On page 87, Lindsay refers to Harris’s work of The Moral Landscape. The book is hardly what Lindsay thinks it is. All of my reviews can be found here. Michael Ruse, who I consider to be a much better thinker, trashes the book as well here. Strange also that considering how Lindsay wanted to show a debate earlier, he said nothing about Craig’s debate with Harris.

Naturally, we soon come to faith. Ah yes. The favorite weapon of the new atheist. Just pick your bogus definition that you have no evidence for other than anecdotal experience and run with it! A real researcher would go to the Lexicons and the study of the Greek language and see what the New Testament writers meant by faith. Lindsay does no such thing. Lindsay has studied the meaning of faith in the New Testament about as much as I have studied Brazilian soccer matches. For my take on faith, go here.

On p. 100, Lindsay talks about Poseidon falling away as we gained more knowledge of how the world works. Well this is odd. I thought science didn’t really get started supposedly until we got out of those horrible dark ages. (That is in fact false. Go here.) Is it really scientific knowledge that destroyed Poseidon?

No. What actually destroyed it was Christianity. As Larry Hurtado shows us in Destroyer of the Gods (For my interview with him, go here.), the reason we speak about asking if you believe God exists and not the gods is because of Christianity. Christianity became a dominant worldview and with it monotheism. When monotheism dominated, Poseidon died out. It was known then that the true God was in charge of this and science started to take off as we sought to understand how God works in the world.

This helps deal with a common misnomer. Skeptics like Lindsay think that Christianity is in danger the more gaps science fills in. The early Christian scientists saw no such danger. They thought they were establishing theism more by filling in the gaps. They sought to know how God did His work. Lindsay will need to search the medieval literature to see where a gap exists and they just plugged in “Goddidit” for an answer. One could say their answers were bad and wrong as science was just getting started, but they were still trying to be scientific.

One such case of this is with evolution on p. 118. Lindsay is convinced that if you establish evolution, well you destroy Adam and Eve and you destroy original sin and then everything else falls apart. Sadly, Lindsay is just as fundamentalist as the fundamentalists he wants to argue against. The ludicrousness of this can be shown in that I can have a case for the resurrection of Jesus and be told “Well, that can’t be true because of evolution.” How does that explain the data? It doesn’t.

Meanwhile, I and many other Christians have no problem whatsoever if evolution is true. I don’t argue for it or against it. I just don’t care either way. It doesn’t mean that Adam and Eve were unreal figures and the fall never happened. If I am wrong on Adam and Eve, then oh well. At the most, I only lose inerrancy. I still have the resurrection of Jesus and my Christianity is just fine. That’s the benefit of not being an all-or-nothing thinker, like Lindsay is.

p. 120 tells us that Jefferson in his writings referred to Nature’s God and the Creator and not to YHWH or Jesus or something specific. Of course. Jefferson was a deist and he was not wanting to establish a theocracy. That doesn’t mean that God was seen as an add-on. God was essential. Jefferson himself even held worship services in the White House.

On p. 122 we start to explain concepts like goodness finally. Interestingly, Lindsay points to how we feel about these things, almost as if they’re intuitive to us. Perhaps they are, but absent in any of this is even if they are, why should we think those feelings explain reality? Some people strongly feel God, and yet Lindsay would disagree that they are feeling God. If the God feeling is a falsehood of sorts, why not the feeling of goodness?

The real question one should ask at this point is “What is goodness?” Here, we come up empty again. Lindsay doesn’t begin to answer the question. If there is goodness, how do we know it? No answer once more. Even stranger, in an atheistic universe where we just have matter in motion, why should there be such a thing as goodness to begin with? If Lindsay praises the new atheists, why not go with Richard Dawkins in River Out Of Eden?

“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

After all, as Dawkins goes on to say, our DNA neither knows nor cares. It just is and we dance to its music. If it doesn’t know or care, why should we?

These are the kinds of questions one would want to have answered, but Lindsay comes nowhere close. If he wants to accuse theists of jumping too quickly to “Goddidit” (And no doubt some do), then we can say he jumps too quickly to “Goddidn’tdoit). The evidence does not matter. There has to be an explanation without theism.

On p. 156 he defines a delusion as “a belief held with strong convictions despite superior evidence to the contrary.” This is quite fitting because on p. 154, he talks about the problem of evil and says “no amount of theological mental gymnastics has or ever can satisfactorily surmount the problem of evil.” It’s bad enough to say that it has not been surmounted. Most atheistic philosophers would even concede that the logical problem of evil has been defeated. It’s even stranger to say that it never can. Where did Lindsay get this exhaustive knowledge? Never mind the question of not being able to define good and evil which is still another hurdle. It would be nice to see if Lindsay has responses to people like Clay Jones or Alvin Plantinga or any other works on the problem of evil. He doesn’t.  Sadly, this doesn’t shock me any more. I’ve reached the point where I expect atheist works to not interact with their opposition. Lindsay does not disappoint.

On p. 180, Lindsay wants to point to the historical record of what religion has done. Absent is any mention of what atheism did in the 20th century. One supposes that Lindsay just wants us to have faith that atheism if established today would be different. All of a sudden, we would all unite in love and harmony and be singing Kum-Bu-Yah.

On p. 181, he tells us that the responses from the peanut gallery that say that faith means something more akin to trust is irrelevant. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s certainly not because of interaction. It’s certainly not because of researching the evidence. Lindsay just wants us to take him on faith that this is so. It’s a shame he provides no evidence. Could we just say this is what Boghossian would call “a deepity”?

On p. 184, we get to something that could be considered an argument. This is that the Bible lists bats as birds. That’s nice. It would be also nicer if Lindsay looked up the words. We translate it as birds often today, but the word really refers to a winged creature. There was not a modern taxonomical idea of bird then. There were just creatures that were not insects but had wings. Last I checked, bats had wings. Now maybe Lindsay has come across some scientific research that shows bats don’t have wings. Still, by the ancient standards, we are just fine. If they were just referring not to a modern idea of taxonomy but to the ancient definition of a creature with wings, then bats qualify.

At 185, Lindsay says street epistemology is for inducing doubt to foster intellectual honesty. Those of us who are apologists are not doing the same thing. We create doubt to manufacture vulnerability and perhaps fear to lead to a conclusion. Nice that Lindsay believes in mind reading. I in fact want to encourage better thinking as well. I just think better thinking leads to Christianity, but hey, apparently Lindsay believes in mind reading. Who knew?

If street epistemology wasn’t bad enough to promote, Lindsay also promotes John Loftus’s “Outsider Test for Faith.” Lindsay says no sources have passed this test. His note reference for this? Just do a google search. None of them are worth citing. Well there you have it! Lindsay has spoken. The case is closed! Of course, he could have interacted with a case, such as the book by David Marshall directly written on this. My interview with Marshall can be found here.

It’s also amusing to find that on p. 198-99 that the Inquisition and radical Islam are put right in line with Stalin and Mao. One would hope for historical sources, but alas, there are none. He could find one such source here. Of course, Islam is central to radical Islam and I would argue a consistent outworking of it. What about Stalin and Mao? Does Lindsay just consider atheism incidental to them? Hard to think that since they were on a warpath against religion entirely.

On p. 210, he points to the opinion of the National Academy of Sciences. After all, very few are theists. Unfortunately, Rob Bowman responded to Victor Stenger on this point here. I will quote a relevant part.

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.

In conclusion, Boghossian’s book at least had something redeemable in it about political correctness, which I agreed with. Lindsay’s book has no such feature. The main benefit we get from it is that we see further the bankruptcy of the new atheists. Apparently, it is a mark of pride to not interact with your opponents and not treat their arguments seriously. Lindsay can keep up his position. I hope he does. It’ll just further dumb down the atheist community while theists in the academy will be doing our further research and strengthening our position. With the idea of movements like Jesus mythicism and such being jumped on by atheists on the internet, I would not be surprised to see them intellectually bankrupt in a generation or two.

Thanks for helping the cause Lindsay.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Embarrassment of Mythicist Milwaukee

Exactly how embarrassing is Jesus Mythicism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday on Facebook my friend Tyler Vela tagged me in a thread that was started by the group Mythicist Milwaukee (MM). Now if you’re not familiar with the term mythicist, a mythicist refers to someone who says that Jesus never existed. They’re not saying there was a Jesus but He never claimed to be divine or that He never rose from the dead. No. They’re out there saying that there never was a historical Jesus. The whole idea is a myth. Now how many scholars in NT and classics teaching at an accredited university hold to this position? None. It’s a joke in academic circles. You might as well tell a geology convention that the Earth is flat, but alas. MM is in the position of having to defend a ludicrous position and sadly marrying it to atheism.

You see, a few days ago I made this meme along the lines of Be like Bill:

BelikeBillHistoricalJesus

Now I’m not saying be like Bill in his atheism of course, but be like Bill in that you can at least recognize the evidence points to a historical Jesus. As it would be, just a few days later came the incident with Tyler Vela and normally, I wouldn’t bother, but I decided to respond. What happened? I wrote out a short response but one with substance to make my case as did Albert Mcilhenny who I have interviewed before on this topic. So we both make our responses and what happens?

Deleted! MM just didn’t want to deal with us and so they blocked us from commenting. Now perhaps some of you are thinking I’m being paranoid and making it up. No. I am not. I am not because they themselves said that’s what they did.

MMSmotestrolls

Of course, this didn’t stop them from putting up a link to the debate I had with Ken Humphreys that’s on YouTube and saying how they loved the comments section on this (After they had banned us!) Yes. Of course. In other words, we went on YouTube and saw that there are a bunch of people that agree with us and they are typing what we think as well.

well-isnt-that-special-300x211

To make the movement even more ludicrous, they also have a link up to a birther challenge for Jesus. Now of course, we could all understand wanting evidence for the historical Jesus, of which there is plenty, but what is not understood is making the standards so unreasonable that no one from ancient history hardly would pass the cut. That is exactly what has been done. You can see that challenge here.

So what are the criteria of their challenge?

A.) A contemporary 1st century person who has been proven to be historical, that lived between the years of 6 B.C.E. – 36 C.E., who was a first-hand eye-witness, who actually saw, met, spoke to, and knew jesus personally.

B.) Provide this person’s original and authentic: secular, non-christian, non-religious, unbiased, non-bible, non-gospel, and non-scripture writing, that is directly about jesus, with references/citations to prove that this person actually wrote the work in question. The writing has to be independently and Scientifically radiocarbon dated between the years of 6 B.C.E. – 53 C.E. Additional religious or christian writings that can’t be used: papyri, uncials, minuscules, lectionaries, didache, apocrypha, gnostic, catechism, and pseudepigrapha.

It’s a wonder why no one has done this. Well no, it isn’t. It’s because this would eliminate the existence of 99.99999% of people who existed in the ancient world and whose existence we have zero doubts about, and yet this is considered some way to do history. If the Jesus Birther Movement is so convinced, let them instead of just punting to Richard Carrier, present this to historians in a peer-reviewed process to see how well it will work.

At this some of you might be wondering about my statement about marrying this to their atheism. Alas, I am not making it up. I do not think atheism is a true position, but there are great thinkers who do come to that conclusion and that is a position held by many in the academy. Such is not the same with mythicism. So how does MM marry mythicism to their atheism? Look at the meme they shared with the challenge.

Jesusbirtherchallenge

Note the “claimed” atheists with the implication that an atheist could not believe in a historical Jesus. Well they certainly could and not only that, they certainly should. Why? Because while the existence of Jesus has religious overtones, it is not at its heart a religious question. It is a historical question. What that means can be religious, but if you look at history, then the case is that Jesus existed. An atheist could use most of the arguments I use against Jesus mythicism. It’s just so sad that MM will call someone’s atheism into question for not supporting mythicism.

To all of this I say if you are an atheist, okay. I disagree with you, but please have some sense enough to not be a mythicist. If someone thinks young-earth creationism (And I am not a YEC) is a crazy position, there are more ph.d.’s in related fields that hold to YEC than there are to mythicism. The reason is that is just where the evidence leads. Atheists that are mythicists are just serving to dumb down atheistic thinking and weaken their stance.

Ironically then, I consider people like Richard Carrier and MM to be gifts to the church. We should thank God every day that these people are doing what they’re doing to atheism. It can easily be argued that mythicism is a conspiracy theory for atheists. I could not sum this up better than what Bart Ehrman himself said.

Be an atheist if you wish, but do not add being foolish to it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Does Jesus’s Prayer Show Christianity is false?

Is disunity a disproof of Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s always interesting to me the arguments skeptics of Christianity will present. I prefer to always go back to the case of the resurrection to show Christianity is true, but too many skeptics go everywhere else. It could be something such as “Well geez, in the OT it looks like slavery was allowed and I don’t like that so Christianity is false”, though this doesn’t show how Jesus rose from the dead. Some think that if they can show an error in the Bible, then this means all of the Bible is thrown out and Christianity is false. Some think that if we can’t explain starving children in Africa, then Christianity is false, though this does not show Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Now I’m not saying that those are unimportant questions and objections. They are and we should be ready to answer them, but if you want to prove that Christianity is false, you have to go for the main point. You have to demonstrate Jesus did not rise from the dead. Unfortunately, Neil Carter did not get that memo.

Carter starts off his argument by saying that Christians love to move matters of faith from objective matters to subjective ones. For too many Christians, I sadly agree this is true. There are too many Christians that look at their lives and their emotions and experiences as proof that Christianity is true. Unfortunately, Mormons are also very good at saying the exact same things and Mormonism and Christianity are directly opposed to one another. Christians must move their arguments to objective matters. After that, it is fine to show what a difference Christianity has made in your life, but Christianity is not true because it produces good results for you. It produces good results because it is true. It’s quite revealing also that Carter says he himself was one of these people. (Think you see the problem showing up already?)

Carter then goes on to say that

These folks always seem to want to attribute our skepticism to ulterior motives because that fits what they were taught from the pulpit. This interpretation also reassures them that our reasons for disbelieving cannot be truly rational ones. If they are rational, then they themselves might have to do a major overhaul of how they see the world, and let me tell you that’s no cake walk. I guess I can’t say I blame them. The social repercussions alone can be devastating, depending on where you live.

I find this quite amusing. Carter wants to accuse other people of knowing other peoples’ motives for disbelieving. He could be right or wrong, but the point is in the very next sentence, Carter does this himself! He says that Christians do this because they want to believe they are the truly rational ones. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t bring up a motive unless someone paints a very vested interest in something. Are there improper motives for being an atheist? Yes. Are there improper motives for being a Christian? Yes. What matters is the data.

Let’s go on.

Christian apologists insist that, strictly speaking, one cannot prove that God does not exist. But that depends on which God we’re discussing, doesn’t it? They rarely seem to understand why that detail matters so much. See, if we’re arguing whether or not a generic Supreme Being exists, devoid of any attributes whatsoever (is it a person? is it male? does it want things? does it tell us what they are?), then there’s not really much to debate. Generic Supreme Beings don’t make any testable claims.

At the start of his article, Carter had spoken of a claim as being unfalsifiable and here he is speaking of it not being testable. In this, Carter is likely turning the question into a scientific question when it is not. It is a metaphysical question. Could we do any scientific testing to demonstrate that the square root of 4,096 is 64? Could we do scientific testing to determine if a husband and wife love each other? Could we do it to determine that it is wrong to torture babies for fun? Could we even do scientific testing to demonstrate that the material world exists? None of these are questions answerable by science, but all of them are answerable.

I also find it odd that Carter says we insist that God’s existence cannot be disproven. I know many apologists who would disagree, including myself. What Carter would need to do is to show a disproof of all of the arguments, including the classical ones, and then a disproof, such as in showing a necessary contradiction in the nature of God. Thus, this is something that could hypothetically be doable. It just hasn’t been done yet.

As Carter goes on, he is right to say that the God of Christianity does make claims, but unfortunately, it looks like he uses the same kind of fundamentalist reading as the Christians he critiques. We will see this more as we go on, but he speaks about messages shared on Facebook walls. Now I have no problem with someone sharing inspirational messages and such, but there are many of these that Carter should also realize we think are just horribly ripped out of context or misunderstood. You can see examples of that with Jeremiah 29:11 both here and here. That’s just a start.

So we go on.

If the Christian faith were true, we shouldn’t have to endlessly debate the historical reliability of religious texts written centuries ago. If the Christian faith were true, there would be evidence of it everywhere, here and now, not just buried under thousands of years of sediment, or between the pages of an onion skin book.

Okay…..

Why?

Is it because it would be easier to deal with instead of doing things like, you know, actual historical research. (Which would get us into that objective stuff instead of subjective material.) Despite this, I do think there is plenty of evidence of it everywhere. As Chesterton would say, if Christianity is true, everything is relevant to it. If it is not true, then it is of no relevance whatsoever. As I said though, Carter uses a fundamentalist reading of the text and we see that coming up now.

Hospitals and prisons should have fewer Christians in them than they have people of any other faith. Why? Because both Jesus and James said that if the church prays for its sick, they will be healed, and the apostle Paul claimed that the indwelling Holy Spirit would not let any temptation befall you without providing “a way out so that you can endure it.” If either of these things were true, there would be a statistically significant difference between the outcomes of one religion versus another. The cold, hard fact is: There isn’t.

I would like to know where Jesus said this. I suspect he is referring to the discourse in John 14-16, but even there we do not really see a blank check. This is a common misunderstanding of people who live in a modern individualistic society instead of interacting with the culture Jesus lived in. In Jesus’s time, if you wanted to get a blessing, it was up to the generosity of the patron and if it furthered his honor overall, he would be likely to give. To ask in His name would mean in accordance with the will of Jesus. Sometimes what we want is not really along those lines. I suspect one such passage he has in mind is this one from John 14:

13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

If this was to be a blank check, how do we explain these?

John 16:33“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.

John 15:20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

Unfortunately, many lazy skeptics will look and just say “Contradiction!” and then conclude Jesus did not rise from the dead. The researcher though tries to understand what is being said. Could it be Jesus is using terminology that is understandable in His day and not as much in ours? Indeed. Removed from the system of Jesus, the message makes far less sense to us. (Unfortunately at this point, the same lazy skeptics will say Jesus should have been clearer and spoken in Ancient Israel with a modern 21st century American audience in mind.)

The James quote no doubt refers to this:

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

This prayer however is more connected with sickness. After all, the same James who said that also said in James 1:2 to

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.

Forgiveness and sin are however tied together in this passage which refers to a sickness due to sin in the life of the believer. Why go to the church? One good reason is doctors were expensive. You might as well go to a church. Oil was a medicine that was more available and nothing wrong with prayer.

Naturally of course, we have repeated the myth about more Christians being in prison. Carter also says that when we are tempted, there will be a way out. Indeed, there will be. Does that mean we will always take it? It’s as if in Carter’s world if everyone is not living a perfect Christian life, then Jesus did not rise. Maybe it’s just me, but it looks like this is a subjective disproof. I say the same about his main disproof in John 17:20-23.

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me… (emphasis his)

Now this raises a number of questions, but first can we establish that this wish has most certainly not been granted? The church has done many things down through the centuries, but maintaining unity has not been one them. Jesus here likens the unity he wishes for the church to the unity of the triune God (a concept you won’t see so clearly in any other gospel, which is a problem in itself). But to date the Christian church has splintered into thousands (some would say tens of thousands) of non-cooperating traditions. Oh sure, they still read the same Bible (mostly), but they have proven incapable of worshiping under the same roof with anyone who believes or practices the Christian faith “the wrong way.”

We’ll ignore the thing about the Trinity for now since that will take us off course, though we could say Carter has not done any of the reading necessary in NT scholarship to realize that there are other ways to state something other than explicitly and Jesus’s actions would be definitely showing who He was in the other Gospels. As for the splintering into tens of thousands, this also is an internet myth. I would contend there is in fact more unity than Carter realizes. I happen to attend a Lutheran church and do the writing of the curriculum for them. Do I identify as a Lutheran? Nope. I don’t identify with any denomination honestly. I do ministry quite often alongside Catholics and people in the Orthodox traditions. I have zero problem whatsoever with this. I am happily married to a woman who I disagree with on some doctrinal issues. Are there always going to be people who major on the minors? Sadly yes, and such people need to look at Jesus’s prayer more.

Of course, this unity would be a way of showing the world that Jesus came from the Father, but that does not mean that if the unity is not reached that Jesus did not come from the Father. The ultimate establishment of that was in the resurrection of Jesus. What Carter would need to show is Jesus saying “If they are not in unity, then I am not the one you sent.” That is not what was said. (Let’s also not forget that Jesus had hoped for any way also to avoid the cross and yet He didn’t.) Carter goes on to say

That was a really, really bad move. Maybe even worse than the time when he promised that the people standing there in front of him would witness the Second Coming and the Judgment Day before the end of their lifetimes (see Matt. 16:27-28 and 24:34). Whoops. Lots of theologians have worked hard to explain that one away, and they can manage to cover some of it by referencing stuff that happened around the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But some of the events Jesus foretold there most certainly did not happen within the lifetimes of his original listeners. It doesn’t matter how much you try to chalk up to apocalyptic language and metaphor.

It’s worth pointing out that neither of those passages are about the return of Christ. One is about seeing the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom. That does not say return. It is a fundamentalist reading Carter has thrown onto the text. The same with Matthew 24:34. Jesus hadn’t even left and His disciples would have thought He was becoming king. They had no concept of Him leaving so why would they ask about a return? No. This is also talking about the same thing and I would contend that both of those happened in 70 A.D. Carter says it doesn’t matter how much you try to chalk it up to apocalyptic language or metaphor. Yes. Because obviously Jesus should have spoken for modern 21st century Americans and if He didn’t, then we can just throw it out. Sounds again like a subjective criteria….

Now we get to what Carter says the excuses are. (None of them speak of reading good scholarship on the material of course.)

One could perhaps argue that this prayer of Jesus shouldn’t count as a “testable promise” in the same vein as the other things I mentioned above. But then why was it recorded for us in the first place, if not to be communicated to the world along with the rest of their message? Clearly we were meant to know of this request, so recalling it here is completely appropriate. Often the Bible says that Jesus went off alone to pray, and presumably we shouldn’t know the content of those prayers since no one would have been around to record them (and yet we still are privy to some of them even though Jesus didn’t write any of this stuff himself). But in this case we are told what he prayed because he did it out loud in front of his followers.

Again, I question the testable claim, but how about saying this is shown because we are to know how Jesus handled the most important week of His life, the passion week. We are also to know Jesus’s prayer so we as good followers of His can do what we can to fulfill His desires. Carter assumes a modern scientific understanding of testing the claim, which again puts us in a bizarre world. It could be that there is sufficient evidence that God raised Jesus from the dead vindicating His claims and yet somehow Christianity is false? Huh?

What about the second one?

One could also argue that there’s still time for God to answer this prayer in the affirmative. After all, doesn’t the Good Book say that “with him a thousand years is like a day?” Isn’t that the very rationalization used by Peter after decades had gone by with none of the apocalyptic predictions coming to pass (see 2 Peter 3:3-9)? He argues there that God is holding off on incinerating the earth out of a patient desire to allow as many to change their minds as possible. Isn’t that gracious of him?

Never mind that Carter’s literalism is coming in again, but I also don’t take this passage in that way. Do some things take time? Yes. No need to jump to 2 Peter 3 for that. Carter will contend as he does that that means that people for 20 centuries had no reason to not buy into Christianity, but this assumes that Carter’s idea is true that this is the clinching proof of Christianity, and it is not. The clinching proof is the resurrection. (Again, Carter seems to like to use subjective criteria. Looks like not much has changed in his thinking. It’s only his loyalty that’s different.)

Perhaps the saddest part of all to me is how the more self-aware Christians will take a post like this and just use it as yet another tool for beating themselves up. If the Christian message teaches people anything, it’s to be responsive to guilting. But beating up the church for its inability to maintain unity down through the centuries doesn’t make sense, either, because aren’t prayers supposed to be asking God to make things happen that only he can do? If this is something miraculous, something which requires divine provision, then why are you guilting yourselves for the failure of this prayer? Which one of you is God, now?

No. This is not said to be something miraculous. If anything, for the time of Jesus, everything was thought to come from God or the gods. You were to give thanks in all things and there was no divide between the natural and the supernatural for them, which is another reason I don’t accept the distinction. The divine was involved in everything. The same would go with obedience. You were to pray to be faithful, to not be led into temptation, etc. This does not involve God shooting you with a magic power to make you do His will. This is just your prayers become a way of actively subjugating yourself to God and thus changing your will to work with His.

Does this mean there is no grounds by which the church should speak to itself? Of course not. We are to motivate one another to good works and this prayer should raise a desire for all of us to try to come together. Will we agree on everything? No. Can we agree on the essentials? Yes.

Now let’s hope internet skeptics up their game and try to go after the resurrection instead of, you know, this subjective stuff.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/15/2015: Andy Bannister

What’s coming up on the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The new atheists have had their share of responses to them and many times, it’s more of the same, but this Saturday I’m discussing a guest who gave a quite different response. It’s a different one in that the work is hysterical. It’s not because it’s a bad book, but because it’s filled with humor in looking at this topic. This is one book that you actually look forward to having footnotes show up. The footnotes are the best part. The book is The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist and its author is Andy Bannister, who will be my guest. Who is Andy Bannister then?

AndyBannister

And according to his bio:

Dr. Andy Bannister is the Director and Lead Apologist for RZIM Canada. He speaks and teaches regularly throughout Canada, the USA, Europe and the wider world. From churches to universities, business forums to TV and radio, Andy regularly addresses audience of both Christians and those of all faiths and none on issues relating to faith, culture, politics and society.

With a background in youth ministry before studying theology and philosophy (focussing especially on Islam), Andy was previously based in Oxford, from where he worked with churches and organisations across the denominational spectrum.

Andy holds a PhD in Islamic studies, a topic on which he has taught extensively, especially since 9/11 and the huge interest that was sparked in the subject by the events of that day. He has spoken and taught at universities across Canada, the USA, the UK and further afield on both Islam and philosophy and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths at Melbourne School of Theology.

Andy is the author of An Oral-Formulaic Study of the Qur’an, a groundbreaking and innovative study that reveals many of the ways the Qur’an was first composed. His latest book, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (or: The Terrible Consequences of Really Bad Arguments) is a humorous engagement with the New Atheism.

When not travelling, speaking, or writing, Andy is a keen hiker, mountain climber and photographer. He lives in Toronto and is married to Astrid and they have two children, Caitriona and Christopher.

This Saturday, we’ll be talking about this book and looking at some of the popular arguments that especially get shared on the internet. We’ll be looking at what these bad arguments are and why they not only don’t work, but we’ll also see why it is that they have such disastrous consequences if they are followed through. I’ll also be interested in discussing why so much humor in a book on such a serious topic.

This is a great book to read and even if you disagree with Bannister, I’m sure you’ll have fun going through the book and if you pick it up an atheist and put it down still an atheist, hopefully you’ll be an atheist who is better informed on what are some arguments to not use. I hope you’ll be joining us for this next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast to discuss this great book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Science Does Not Disprove God

What do I think of Amir Aczel’s book published by William Morrow? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The New Atheists have by and large appeared to agree that if they’re going to disprove Christianity, they’re going to go the route of science. It’s a quite strange route really, but it’s the route taken because today most people do think scientifically, or at least think that they do. Unfortunately, a lot of people who make science their forte and ignore all the other areas tend to have that show in their argumentation. Richard Dawkins is no philosopher, but that doesn’t mean he has no grounds to take on the Thomistic arguments obviously. Victor Stenger isn’t a historian, but that won’t stop him from talking about the historical Jesus as if he was an authority. In our day and age, the scientists have become the new priesthood. This is not to disparage science, but it is to say that when scientists speak outside of their field on areas they have not studied, we have no reason to take them as authorities.

Aczel will not take them as authorities either and has written a work demonstrating the fallacies in their thinking. When reading the work, it is unclear also what side Aczel falls on. He does not write like a Christian. In many ways, he does not even write like a theist. Still, his main contention is that the new atheists are doing a disservice to the arguments. He knows the material well and has spoken to many of the best scientific minds out there on the topic. Due to his different positions in the area of religion, it will be difficult for opponents of his to play the bias card.

The downside is that the work is largely a defensive work in that sense and thus does not really touch on the positive arguments for the existence of God. Of course, it does have some areas in science that certainly can seem to point to a deity, but at this point the idea of “God-of-the-Gaps” is trotted out. (Strangely enough, the critics of theism never consider they are going with a “naturalism-of-the-gaps.”) Of course, Aczel could say that these are positive evidences such as the fine-tuning of the universe, and in that case he would indeed be right. The question is not “What is the best explanation of what we don’t know?” but rather “What is the best explanation of what we do know?”

Absent are the great philosophical arguments for the existence of God, which I think are ultimately the way to go. Science can give evidence, but it is not the final authority, despite what many will think and some will think I am attacking science simply by saying that. I instead prefer to think I am giving science its proper field, which is the study of material objects and the material world. The ramifications that one draws from that study are indeed philosophical and the sad reality is that many scientists do turn out to be poor philosophers, but that has never really stopped them from trying!

Ultimately, people who are advocating that science has disproven God are in fact doing science a disservice and limiting people in the field by saying that if you are going to be a serious scientist, you cannot be religious. A lot of great minds who are religious also could be dissuaded from entering the field and who knows what benefits they could bring? From a Christian standpoint, we have too often made it be science vs. religion and when that happens, people will go with whatever they think makes the most important contributions to their lives. Some scientists would be shocked to hear religious people think religion makes the most contribution, but indeed most do. Most think of the morals that they ascribe to their religion and the sense of meaning they find and the wonder of the universe. The scientific view of atheism frankly doesn’t offer an appeal to them and sadly they think “If it’s science or the Bible, so much the worse for science.”

Now I am not of this standpoint as I think it’s not either/or but both/and and the problem is a fundamentalism on both sides that thinks because you know something in one field, you know all fields. Having a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology does not qualify you to speak on Aristotelian philosophy or the study of the New Testament. Believing that your Scripture is the Word of God and that you have an infallible and inerrant message does not mean that you are therefore in the right on everything that you speak about. Both sides are making the same kind of mistake. Consider what one Christian authority said on this:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field in which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

Who said that? Augustine did, about sixteen centuries ago. It still stands today.

Aczel’s book will be a good read for those interested in this debate, though at times if you’re not familiar, the terminology can get difficult to follow, but it does for the most part tend to be readable. If you’re interested in this kind of debate, this is a book you should seriously consider.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist

What do I think of Andy Bannister’s book by Monarch Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As I have studied apologetics more and more, sometimes reading apologetics books now gets boring. It’s a lot of the same-old, same-old. You’ve heard it all several times before and there’s nothing new so what’s the big deal. Honestly, getting Bannister’s book, I was expecting I’d get a good primer on some apologetics issues and put it down thinking that I had had a decent enough read and that’d be it. I don’t mean that in a snide way at all. Many of these books are fine for beginners after all and I read them wanting to learn how well this would help someone who was starting out in the field.

I could not have been more wrong.

As I started going through Andy’s book, from the very beginning I saw that it was different. Now the content is still a good basic start for most people. You’re not going to get into the intensely heady stuff here. You will discuss the issues, but it is just a start. What makes this book so radically different and in turn one of the best that I’ve read on this kind of topic in a long time is the presentation. Bannister is quite the comedian. His humor shines throughout the book and this is one book where I had great joy whenever I saw there was a footnote. Normally, you tend to just pass those over. Do not do that with this book! You will find some of the best humor.

That makes the content all the more memorable. Bannister deals with a lot of the soundbite arguments that we deal with in our culture such as “You are an atheist with regards to many gods. I just go one god further.” He deals with scientism and what faith is and can we be good without God and can we really know anything about the historical Jesus? If you spend time engaging with people who follow the New Atheists on the internet, then you need to get your hands on this book. With humor and accuracy, Bannister deals with the nonsense, which tells us that in light of all the work he invested in this that first off, Bannister is highly skilled as an apologist and second, that Bannister has way too much free time on his hands to be thinking so much about this stuff.

I really cannot say much more because it would I think keep you from enjoying all the surprises in this book. There were many times my wife had to ask me as I read “What’s so funny?” Some parts I even read to her. If there was one thing I would change, it was the chapter on the question of goodness. I don’t think Bannister really answered the question of what it means to be good. He said we need a God to ground it in, and I agree, but that does not tell me what good is. Even if we say the good is God’s nature, that still does not tell me what the good is, yet we all know that people know the good and the evil without knowing who God is.

Still, do yourself a favor. Get this book and then sit down and prepare for a fun and worthwhile time. You’ll laugh and you’ll enjoy yourself so much you could lose track of how much good apologetics is sinking in.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Andy Bannister’s book can be purchased here.