Book Plunge: Enlightenment Now Conclusion

How shall we conclude Enlightenment Now? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Starting at around p. 420, Pinker goes into theistic morality and says it has two flaws. The first is that there’s no evidence God exists. This certainly would deal with theistic morality, but his case is weak. He relies on his wife in her work Thirty-Six Arguments For The Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. Call me a masochist, but I have ordered it from the library anyway.

Pinker says these claims also often lead to different gods and different Scriptures and different miracles. That is because there is a limit to metaphysics. Metaphysics can show you that some being like God exists. Metaphysics cannot show you how He has revealed Himself. Reason alone can only tell you so much. A man can sit in an armchair all day with nothing but reason and he will never learn historical claims about Alexander the Great.

Pinker then repeats about Scriptures and how they’re human products. (Obviously, everyone in the Middle Ages believed they fell from the sky) There is no interaction with any historical scholarship on this matter. So what about other arguments for God?

The cosmological and ontological arguments are logically invalid. Evidence or demonstration of this? Not a bit. That’s all that’s said. Design was refuted by Darwin. Again, not a bit. Even granting Darwinism, design classically has been about things working towards an end and not internal make-up. He also comes up with some ludicrous escape hatch such as people saying the resurrection was too cosmically important for God to allow to be empirically verified. (In meeting with Mike Licona yesterday, I asked him if he had ever read such a bizarre statement and he had not.)

He goes on to say many theistic beliefs came about as explanations of the weather and other such phenomena. No evidence is given of this. He also says that God of the Gaps is always there for Christians. As one who does not use scientific apologetics, I find this incredibly weak. In the Middle Ages, it was the Christians filling in the gaps and they never once thought they were putting God out of a job. They were thinking more about how God did things. The whole mindset assumes God cannot act through secondary instrumental means.

Naturally, something is said about theodicy. There is no recognizing that the logical problem of evil has been defeated and this to the satisfaction of atheistic philosophers. That is not to say there is not a problem of evil advanced by them, but it is not the logical problem. Pinker does not seem aware of any of this.

He speaks also about fine-tuning. I am not an advocate of it, but his replies are quite lacking. He says we are in a universe we can live in not because it was tuned for life, but because we exist it shows it is that kind of universe. Well, yes. That’s the question. Why is it that kind of universe and not another? This is the sharpshooter fallacy on Pinker’s part.

The multiverse is also brought forward as an explanation. I find it bizarre to say you will answer the question of how one universe got here by saying that you know how a potentially infinite number got here. Imagine a police officer investigating a homicide with one dead body in one place. Another officer comes to him and says he’s solved it. The answer is there are 500 altogether in another place. That would not explain the one. If you cannot explain one, how would you explain 500?

We also don’t have access, but notice an atheist will want to go this either way. If we could access these and find they had life, “Well see. Life is nothing really special. God doesn’t exist.” If they do not, we will be told “Well see. Life is a fluke thing. God doesn’t exist.” This is one reason I find this approach so problematic. The objections are not really scientific but theological. It’s saying that if God designed a universe, He would make it full of life for some reason that is unknown. How is this known?

There is some material on consciousness as well. There is no interaction with Near-Death Experiences. It is as if Pinker did not really do any research, except perhaps reading people who already agree with him.

Of course, Pinker brings up the Euthyphro dilemma in talking about theism. The second problem with the morality to him is Euthyphro. He says the main benefit theistic morality has is its enforcement. It does have that, but I think it’s main benefit it has is it provides a grounding.

I have written before on Euthyphro and the problem applies just as much to the skeptic. Is behavior good because society says it is or does society say it is because it is good? Is behavior good because it benefits mankind or does it benefit mankind because it is good? Pinker needs some grounding for goodness. It’s not there. How is it that this universe that is supposedly an accident has these standards of goodness?

Pinker also talks about the nones. The problem is he equates all nones with agnostics or atheists. That’s a simplistic way of looking at them. The Nones are an incredibly difficult group to pin down. More can be found here and here. Much more in-depth is the work by Bradley Wright.

As we conclude Pinker’s book, I walk away disappointed. On the plus side, there is a lot of good material in the middle. It is material that is fine with either worldview for the most part. It is the claims he makes in parts 1 and 3 that are the most problematic. We’ll see what we find when the book he recommended on the existence of God comes in at the library.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 7

Does God exist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return again to David Pye’s book and this time he has a chapter on the existence of God. Pye is not ready to say he’s an atheist yet, but he does lean more towards that side. This isn’t a really long chapter, though it does seem longer than others. The downside is that real evidence is not engaged. There’s more thought experiments than anything else.

Pye starts by talking about how The God Delusion came out which presented the case for atheism with great force and clarity. With great force, we can agree. With clarity, we cannot. Dawkins did not write a convincing work at all and a number of atheists even agree with that one. It will be agreed that he at least brought a debate mainstream, but even now the new atheists seem to be a thing of the past.

One of the first pieces of evidence for theism that Pye presents is people saying that they know God. “Jesus indeed rose from the dead. I spoke with Him this morning!” I really do not take arguments like that seriously any more than I take the Mormon claim of the burning in the bosom seriously.

I agree with Pye also that this seems to be the inside language in the church. I don’t think it does any good and wish that older Christians would stop because I think it just confuses younger ones. Go look in your Bible and see all the passages where it tells you how to hear the voice of God. Oh wait. They’re not there.

From here, Pye goes on to the rise of science. He says that over time religious explanations have been replaced by scientific explanations. It’s a shame no examples are given. We can be sure that there were many people in a polytheistic context who tried to explain such things, but did they invent deities to do that, or were the deities already there believed to do the things that needed explaining?

As for Christianity, the Christians were the ones trying to find the scientific explanations many times. Science was being done often in the Middle Ages. Finding a natural explanation for something was not seen as removing God from the picture. It was seen as a way of demonstrating how the mind of God works.

The idea of science removing faith might work if you have an idea of a God who must be constantly doing miracles or such to maintain reality. That is not the Christian position. It is true that God upholds all existence by His power, but He also does it through many instrumental means and not through a constant working of the miraculous.

He tells a story about a little boy seeing the sun and realizing no man made that. He points out this story would be convincing 30 years ago, but not today, but why? What did we discover? There is often this idea that if you find a natural explanation for something, there can be no greater explanation. I see no reason to think such a thing. A natural explanation can show the genius of the creator.

Pye then goes on to ask if disbelief in God is evil. He compares it to the Loch Ness monster. Perhaps someone is not convinced by the evidence. Does that mean their denial is evil? Unfortuantely, the Loch Ness monster comes with no moral requirements of such a nature. If God exists and especially the Christian God, one is called to live a life of dying to one’s self and self-surrender.

This leads to Pascal’s Wager. He quotes Dawkins as saying that Pascal must have been joking. We can be sure that Dawkins has never read Pascal. Pascal in the wager was speaking to the man who has heard both sides and is just sitting on the fence and has his emotional doubt creeping in.

Pascal in this case does advise what is called “Fake it until you make it.” Pye says God would not be fooled, but such a person is not trying to fool God. Such a person really wants to believe. It is like the person in exposure therapy who tries to face his fears. He really does want to face them. He doesn’t feel like it the first time, but he wants to get there. A woman who has gone through abuse can have a hard time trusting her husband, especially sexually, but if she wants to, she will face even if she doesn’t feel like it.

Pye also says that the criterion listed is that God will judge based on belief, but this is assuming Pascal would not encourage a holy life anyway. Of course, he would. This is kind of like people who say an argument for God does not work because it does not prove the Christian God. So what? God is shown and theism is shown to be true then.

By the way, earlier in this chapter, Dawkins is quoted saying the non-existence of God cannot be shown. This is nonsense. This is not to say it can be established, but if one could show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God, then God could not exist.

Pye also has some material about word associations. We often associate good things with theism and bad things with atheism. This is interesting, but it really says nothing about the existence of God.

From there we get into discussions about omnipotence. The classic question is brought forward of if God can create a rock so heavy He can’t lift it. I will gladly answer this.

No.

What? Isn’t that a denial of omnipotence?

Not at all. What it is saying is God cannot make a contradictory state of affairs. God cannot make it be that something surpasses His power over the physical world. Pye can often quote Lewis. He should remember Lewis also said nonsense doesn’t become sense just because you add the words “God can” to it.

Pye thinks it’s nonsensical to say “I believe God was able to raise Jesus from the dead” and then say “I believe God can heal your Psoriasis.” Why is it nonsense? Just becuase the greater entails the lesser? The person who says this is saying it because the other person really does have doubts and they want to encourage. Whether it’s the right thing to say is another matter. That it entails a problem with doubt is not established.

Finally, Pye ends with a note on solar eclipses. He notes that our planet is the only one we know of in such a relationship to its moon that it has solar eclipses. He has not seen this argument he says used for theism. Pye has not looked hard enough.

If you’ve been paying attention, you notice a few problems here overall. The only evidence really given for theism other than personal experience at the start is solar eclipses. No Kalam argument is given or interacted with. Moral arguments are not. Thomistic arguments are not. The arguments from desire and beauty are not.

As I think about it, it looks like we have a lot of psychology. There is much more thinking about why people believe things instead of the evidence for those beliefs. Hopefully in the future Pye will interact with the best arguments on both sides.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Enlightenment Now Part 1

What do I think of Steven Pinker’s book published by Viking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone recommended I get this book saying it could be the next version of The God Delusion. It’s over 400 pages worth. I picked it up at the library yesterday and went to work immediately. It didn’t take long to realize how bad this book will be.

Well, if he’s wanting to extol the Enlightenment and show how bad the so-called Dark Ages were, I’m curious what he has to say about some of the great thinkers of the time. Let’s start with my favorite, Thomas Aquinas. I’ll just check the index.

Hmmmm. Must be an oversight. He’s not mentioned.

How about Augustine?

Anselm?

Maimonides?

Avicenna?

Averroes?

Boethius?

That’s odd. None of the great thinkers are mentioned. Of course, Donald Trump and Al Gore and others get mentioned, but you would think if you were going to say something about the “Dark Ages” you might interact with people from the “Dark Ages.”

Heck. We could go back further. Paul isn’t mentioned. Not even Jesus is mentioned. Okay. In fairness, Muhammad isn’t mentioned either, but still….

So yeah. This is another book where apparently Pinker wasn’t interested in doing any primary research to see what people before him actually thought about things. It’s best to just read what people today think about what people back then thought. One wonders if Pinker will begin swallowing pre-chewed food before too long.

I’m only going to be looking at part 1 for now because first off, I have not finished with the book. Second, there is so much wrong in part 1 that I want to make sure I have room. If this is the new God Delusion, we can expect atheists to be setting themselves back intellectually even more.

The very first page talks about the Enlightenment and how mankind saw it as his coming to maturity. Let us remember also that the age where when people first come to maturity is when they’re teenagers. At that point, they think they know everything and don’t need to listen to anyone else because they are the best. We can be sure Pinker and his ilk are the teenagers. They just have not come to full maturity yet.

According to Pinker, the battle cry was “Dare to understand!” After all, no one before had really ever bothered to try to understand anything. Nope. Everything was just believed blindly and there were no arguments and debates of any kind.

Pinker goes on to talk about the recent bloodshed from wars about religion. Absent of course is any mention of the French Revolution or anything of that sort. He speaks of the scientific revolution, ignorant that that really started in the “Dark Ages” when science began. We can safely conclude that Pinker has never really done any study of this period of the science done in it.

Pinker talks about the importance of reason and how applying reason showed that miracle reports were dubious and that writers of holy books were all too human and that people believed in incompatible deities. I do find this utterly amazing. I find it amazing that Pinker didn’t know that people in the past were just as skeptical. There have always been people like Lucian wanting to disprove miracles. Of course, the writers of holy books were human. Does Pinker think we think they were Reptilians? And finally, people believed in incompatible deities? Was this supposed to be news? As for miracles, Pinker never tells us how reason disproves them. Is it some assumption that if you’re a thinking person, you obviously don’t believe? Does Pinker mean to say that only people who are stupid and don’t use reason believe in miracles?

Pinker goes on to talk about how science delivered us from fears of the natural world. He quotes some writers talking about what the people believed back then, but as expected, he never quotes from that time period itself. He never gives any instances where these things are believed. If this is what people believed, surely Pinker could easily have gone and found some references? Not a one is found.

Pinker goes on to humanism which he says is based on a universal human nature, but how can this be? A universal human nature is not scientific. It is not material and you cannot take universal human nature and put it in a jar and study it. This is actually looking at essences and natures which is a metaphysical idea that started back in Greece and really got going in the, wait for it, DARK AGES!

Pinker tells us about how this understanding led to us answering the moral call with sympathy. Thus an end was brought to such forces as slavery. Apparently no one knew about this sympathy thing until the Enlightenment came along. No mention is made of William Wilberforce and no, he’s not in the index either. No mention is made of Christians who in the first few centuries A.D. bought slaves just to set them free. No mention is made of how Clovis II and Bathilda both worked together and ended slavery in their time. Nope. Forget what people in the past did.

The final idea is progress and while most of us support progress, we all define it in different ways. I would consider America returning to Christian values and a deeper understanding of Jesus Christ to be progress. Pinker would consider it just the opposite. Muslims could consider going to Sharia Law to be progress. Who is to determine who is right on this?

The next chapter deals with much of science. Speaking of science as science, I have no wish to touch it. I have no desire to challenge evolution. I have a desire to challenge a false implication of it, but not the science itself. That is for the scientists.

On p. 24, Pinker speaks of the idea that if bad things happen, some agent wanted them to happen. That is the only reason they would. This is a common idea, but one repudiated in even the oldest book of the Bible, the book of Job. This book dealt with the idea that was believed that if you’re good, good things will happen, and if you’re bad, bad things will happen. Job’s purpose is not to deal with the problem of evil. It’s to answer the question, “Will a man remain faithful to God even when there seem to be no benefits to it?”

On p. 26 he speaks about how pre-scientific people thought words and thoughts could impact the world in thoughts and prayers. Not exactly. If anything, we are the unscientific ones today when we tell someone we are sending them “good thoughts.” Sending a thought alone cannot affect reality. What the people in the past did was pray to God who they believed could affect reality. Sure, they could be wrong in that, but there is nothing illogical or unreasonable in thinking that if God as existed in either Islam, Christianity, or Judaism was asked something that He had the power to do something.

On p. 27, Pinker said communities came up with rules of debate. You can point out flaws of beliefs of others and you’re not allowed to force others to shut up if they disagree with you. You can even show if your beliefs are true or false and we call that science.

Again, Pinker has never read any from the past. They regularly interacted with one another and showed they thought the other was wrong and did so peaceably. As for saying that this is what science is, this is what any branch of knowledge does. It’s not exclusive to science. It’s as if Pinker wants to claim that any thinking done is science.

On the next page, he talks about free speech, nonviolence, cooperartion, cosmopolitanism, human rights, and acknowledging human fallibility, as well as science, education, media, democratic government, international organizations, and markets. All of these were brainchilds of the Enlightenment.

Well, no. They weren’t. It was the Christians who were building the first universities and establishing criteria of education. (Oh yeah, they also made that darn printing press which is a mystery since obviously Christians didn’t like to read or learn anything). Democracy goes all the way back to ancient Greece. Capitalism and the market really gained a rise in the Middle Ages and we speak today of the Protestant Ethic. Our Constitution finds much in the Magna Carta which was, wait for it, in the Middle Ages.

On p. 30, Pinker writes about the problem of faith as an opponent of Christianity. Of course, there’s no attempt to really interact with NT scholarship to see what faith is. Pinker says to take something on faith is to take it without good reason. It would be nice if some of these guys would provide good reason to think that’s what it really means. Apparently, all they do is look at what they think is modern popular usage and decide that it must have been that way for all time.

Pinker tells us that this clashes with humanism when we put some good above the good of humans such as accepting a divine savior or proselytizing. Absent is any notion that if these things are true, then these are indeed the best goods for humanity. If Christianity is true, the best thing a human can do is submit his life to Jesus Christ.

Pinker tells us that incompatibilities with science are the stuff of legend like Galileo, the Scopes Trial, stem cell research, and climate change. Yes. Many legends also have no basis in reality. Galileo was a firm believer in Christianity and the dispute was more about science than it was about religion. Galileo did not have enough scientific backing to establish his theories. Pinker would do well to read many of the works of Ronald Numbers on myths about science. (Big shock. Numbers isn’t referenced either.)

On p. 31, he tells us many of his colleagues were eager to see his book done for talking points against the right. If so, then we on the right are greatly blessed because Pinker’s “reasonable” friends will simply believe what Pinker says without evidence and further embarrass themselves. Apparently, Pinker’s colleagues just can’t be bothered with going and reading the primary sources, which sadly, Pinker couldn’t be bothered to do either.

He talks about scientism on p. 34 saying it is the intrusion of science into the territories of the humanities. Well, no. Not really. Scientism is instead the idea that science is the only way that any truth can be known.

Pinker says he wants to bring us out of the Dark Ages, but if anything he is leading us to a Dark Age. This would be an age where mankind is ignorant of the past which means not only their successes but also their failures. This is an age where man is trapped in his own culture and generation and doesn’t know how we got here which will impede us from knowing where we are going.

I will have more to say in future installments and even still I have not come anywhere close to covering everything. Pinker is writing about things that he does not know about. The sad thing is many of his followers will join him in his ignorance.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Secret Battle of Ideas About God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

Or

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

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

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

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

Or

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 1

Does the cosmological argument stand up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve had sitting on the backburner for awhile another book besides Seeing Through Christianity to go through and that’s Evidence Considered by Glenton Jelbert. Jelbert has decided to go after Mike Licona and Bill Dembski’s book Evidence For God. Jelbert is a former Christian and it is interesting to go through what he has.

The first chapter is on the cosmological argument which was written by David Beck. It’s noteworthy that there is no distinction between what kind of cosmological argument is used. Craig uses one kind that is called the horizontal argument. This one goes with the beginning of the universe and largely relies on Big Bang Cosmology. The vertical kind does not require any science at all and is more philosophical and asks what is the basis for the existing of the universe.

Imagine you wake up tomorrow and you hear some weird music playing. You ask “What is causing this sound?” It doesn’t seem to make sense to ask “What caused this sound?” since the sound is going on in the present. The music is continually playing so you ask what is causing it.

Now another day, you wake up and you go outside to do a morning walk and you find when you open the front door a giant crystal orb is blocking your path. You ask “What caused this?” because it’s being put there is an event that happened in the past. It is often missed that you could just as much ask “What is causing this?”

Why could you ask that? Because too often, the existence of these things is treated like a given. It’s as if things can exist by their own power. One could say that we could commit suicide by our own power, but none of us can by our own power say “I don’t want to exist!” and just poof out.

Jelbert begins his response by saying we could grant the argument and it doesn’t really get us close to theism. He says that all religions are able to use this shows this, but can they all use it? For instance, Mormonism would not use this argument since matter is really eternal in Mormonism with gods begetting gods that create their own planets where the denizens can become gods.

The Abrahamic religions can use this because the vertical form definitely depends on one uncaused cause. Using natural theology and Aristotelian metaphysics, Aquinas can tell us plenty about the god that can be found. There is a false notion that to say that since natural theology alone can’t tell us what god there is, then there can’t be a god. In the Middle Ages, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian philosophers could all agree on the arguments of natural theology. They’d determine which form of theism is true by looking at special revelation.

From there, Jelbert goes on to talk about how Jeopardy recently defined atheism as “The active, principled denial of the existence of God.” Jelbert refers to this an absurd definition. Jelbert says “A definition of atheist as someone who does not believe there is a god, is the equivalent of saying that since the case has not been made, the burden of proof lies with the theist/deist.”

First off, this sentence is incredibly unclear. Thinking it was just me, I showed it to one of my friends who’s much more familiar with English and grammar only to get a similar response. My rule with the burden of proof argument is that anyone who makes a claim has a burden. If you come up and say “I am an atheist,” and I ask why, you need to back that. It doesn’t work to say “Unless you can demonstrate your case, atheism is true.” It could be that I am a theist who has terrible reasons for believing in God and yet God still exists. If I come to you and say I’m a theist, it’s not up to you to disprove theism. It’s up to me to demonstrate theism.

As for the idea about it being absurd, perhaps Jelbert would like to speak to these others.

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

William Rowe The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy p.62

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

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

Jelbert goes on to say that the argument proves nothing about Jesus, virgin births (Which I do affirm), the resurrection, or any creed. Indeed it doesn’t. It is hardly a fault of an argument that it does not prove what it was never meant to prove. The argument could be entirely valid and Islam is true. Either way, atheism is false.

Jelbert goes on to argue that maybe the cause is itself physical. The problem with this is that in the horizontal form, the being is beyond space, time, and matter, which means it is not limited by any of those and thus it is not spatial, it is eternal, and it is immaterial. In the vertical form, it is a being that is not capable of change from another agent. Anything material is capable of such change. This is because in Thomistic and Aristotelian metaphysics, these kinds of things have what is called potential, which is capacity for change. Matter essentially has this. Thus, physical beings are ruled out.

Jelbert also argues that an infinite chain could possibly exist. This would be a problem for a horizontal version perhaps, but not a vertical one. There are two kinds of chains. In one chain, consider my wife and I. Suppose in a tragedy our parents all died through car accidents or some other means today. That would not mean that we suddenly go out of existence. In fact, we could have our own children still without our parents. (Obviously, we don’t want anything to happen to our parents of course.)

If this kind of chain is what the universe is, then an infinite chain could be possible. I leave that to the mathematicians. Yet what if our universe is not like this? Aquinas gives the example of a stick pushing a rock and the rock pushing a leaf while the stick is pushed by a hand. This is a short chain, but in this chain, if you remove any part, all activity ceases. All present activity is continuously dependent on past activity. If that is the case for our universe, then an infinite chain is not possible.

A Thomistic argument gives a chain where existence depends on something else existing. If all existing depends on another existence, then you have such a chain going on as with the rock being moved, then there’s no reason to think any existing would be going on right now. This is not chronological either. If it was, it would be the former chain. Too many atheistic arguments treat existing as if it was a given. It’s quite odd to think that so many atheists who want to talk about how God doesn’t exist don’t really say much about what it means to exist.

Jelbert then says that the third point is that there must be a single uncaused or infinite being. Jelbert sees a switch between cause and being, but it’s a wonder what we’re supposed to see. If anything is causing any change, it must be something that exists in some way, that is, it is. It’s a being.

Jelbert also says that Beck says that “We cannot make sense of the universe, the reality in which we live, apart from there being a real God.” Jelbert says that this is an admission that the feeling of not knowing is something Beck doesn’t like and he heals it with the idea of God. It’s a wonder how this is read. Beck just gave a statement of fact. Nothing is said about personal feelings in the matter.

Jelbert then goes on to say that this is what has been done for millennia, but this is indeed too much of a leap. The first leap is to assume an emotional case for Beck. The second is to assume that everyone thinks in modern individualistic psychological terminology.

If we want to play this game, then we could say that many people find a God distasteful who will judge them for their sins, require repentance, or disagree with their political views. This causes psychological discomfort. The way to quiet this is to argue that this God doesn’t exist to give emotional solace.

Does this apply to some people? Sure. Are some people also Christians for emotional reasons? Sadly so. Does this tell us about the truth? Not at all. Instead, Jelbert has given a reason that cannot be known. Saying that you have an explanation that explains something is not necessarily addressing something emotional. It could provide emotional solace as a plus, but that does not mean that it is false.

We will later on look at another chapter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

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