Book Plunge: Transcending Proof

What do I think of Don McIntosh’s book published by Christian Cadre publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Don for sending me this book to see what I thought. As I read through, there were some parts I really did like, and some that I wasn’t so sure about it. I definitely did like seeing a foreword by Stephen Bedard, someone I have a great respect for. Since I said it was a mixed bag, I’ll go with what I did like and then mention ways I think a future edition could be better.

McIntosh makes an interesting beginning by starting with the problem of evil. One would think this is not where you would begin your case for theism, but it is for him. McIntosh I think spends the most time on this part of the book. He looks at evil and all the explanations for it. At times, I found myself thinking an objection from the other side could be easily answered, but then he answered it later on.

I also like that McIntosh is willing to take on popular internet atheists such as Richard Carrier. Again, this part is a case for theism and relies highly on the usages of the problem of evil. McIntosh makes a fine dissection of Carrier’s argument, though it’s quite likely you won’t follow along as well if you don’t know the argument of Carrier.

The same applies to Dan Barker. Of course, Dan Barker is about as fundamentalist as you could get and is a poster child for fundamentalist atheism. McIntosh replies to an argument he has against theism based on God having omniscience and free-will both and how Barker thinks that is contradictory. Again, it’s good to see popular atheists that aren’t as well known being taken on because you do find them often mentioned on the internet and many popular apologists don’t deal with them.

It was also good to see a section on the reliability of Scripture, which is quite important for Christian theism, and a section on Gnosticism. I see Gnosticism often coming back in the church. This includes ideas like the body being secondary and a sort of add-on. (Think about sexual ethics. People who think sex is dirty and a sort of necessary evil and people who think “It’s just sex and no big deal what you do with it” are both making the same mistake.)  I also see Gnosticism with the emphasis on signs and the idea of God speaking to us constantly and personal revelation being individualized.

That having been said, there are some areas that I do think could be improved. One of the biggest ones is it looked like I was jumping all over the place when I went through. It was as if one chapter didn’t seem to have any connection to the next one. I would have liked to have seen a specific plan followed through. If there was one, I could not tell it.

I am also iffy on critiques I often see of evolution. I am not a specialist in the area to be sure, but yet I wonder how well these would do against an actual scientist and I still think this is the wrong battle to fight. I also found it troublesome that the God of the living could not be the same as the one described as the abstract deity that was Aristotle’s prime mover of the universe. I do not see why not. I think Aristotle’s prime mover is truly found in the God of Scripture and that God is more living and active than any other being that is. I am not troubled by God using an evolutionary process to create life than I am by God using a natural process to form my own life in the womb and yet I can still be fearfully and wonderfully made.

I also would have liked to have seen a chapter focusing solely on the resurrection and giving the best arguments for and against it. I think it’s incomplete to have a look at Christian theism without giving the very basis for specific Christian theism. It’s good to have the reliability of Scripture, but there needs to be something specific on the resurrection.

Still, I think McIntosh has given us a good start and there is plenty that could be talked about. I do look forward to a future writing to see what it will lead to. We need more people who are not known willing to step forward and write on apologetics and especially those willing to engage with the other side.

In Christ,
Nick Peters



Was Eusebius a Liar?

Did the father of church history lie? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

“Bishop Eusebius, a close ally of the emperor, was instrumental in crystalizing and defining the version of Christianity that was to become orthodox, and he is the first person known to have quoted this paragraph of Josephus. Eusebius once wrote that it was a permissible “medicine” for historians to create fictions–prompting historian Jacob Burckhardt to call Eusebius “the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity.” (P. 255 of Godless by Dan Barker.)

So says Dan Barker about Eusebius. Now this is naturally a serious charge if it is true, but is it in fact true? Well, not really. For one thing, the description comes from a chapter heading. The heading could have come from Eusebius, but not necessarily. It could have been a summation by a medieval copyist of what Eusebius wrote. Still, even if we grant it, do we have a dangerous case? Well no. In fact, if you just spend a few minutes looking up quotes, you can see what’s going on.

Let’s go and see what Eusebius said in the chapter in entirety.


[PLATO] ‘But even if the case were not such as our argument has now proved it to be, if a lawgiver, who is to be of ever so little use, could have ventured to tell any falsehood at all to the young for their good, is there any falsehood that he could have told more beneficial than this, and better able to make them all do everything that is just, not by compulsion but willingly?

‘Truth, O Stranger, is a noble and an enduring thing; it seems, however, not easy to persuade men of it.’

Now you may find in the Hebrew Scriptures also thousands of such passages concerning God as though He were jealous, or sleeping, or angry, or subject to any other human passions, which passages are adopted for the benefit of those who need this mode of instruction.

Yes. That’s the entire chapter. Note that this is not at all about creating history. Eusebius writes about the Old Testament and I don’t know any skeptic who thinks Eusebius created that. (But hey, give it time and I’m sure someday some crazy skeptic will say that.) So what is going on?

Eusebius is writing about the use of anthropomorphisms in the Old Testament and saying that although these descriptions of God aren’t literally true, they can be helpful for those who need to be instructed in this way. Note that this does not mean it is a lie. It means it’s being explained in terms that can be understood. We should not expect the Old Testament to be the Summa Theologica for instance.

In fact, we have a parallel to this saying. That shows up in the Contra Celsum of Origen.

Others, then, may concede to Celsus that God does not undergo a change, but leads the spectators to imagine that He does; whereas we who are persuaded that the advent of Jesus among men was no mere appearance, but a real manifestation, are not affected by this charge of Celsus. We nevertheless will attempt a reply, because you assert, Celsus, do you not, that it is sometimes allowable to employ deceit and falsehood by way, as it were, of medicine?

Could this then be a sort of saying at the time? It’s possible. We don’t have enough evidence. Note in all of this, we’re not likely talking about lies, but talking about fictions. That is, it is beneficial to tell things that might not be true but serve for edification. Think of the parables of Jesus that don’t necessarily tell of true events, but are edifying, or of Aesop’s fables.

So again, we have an example of how modern day atheists too often do not check the original sources. Instead, most of them get in second hand from people who probably never checked either. (Jacob Burckhardt lived in the 19th century for instance.) The church fathers weren’t infallible and they needed a savior like we do, but always ask the person who gives a quote where it comes from and find it in its original context.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


Book Plunge: Godless Part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I have said before, this is atheistic presuppositionalism.

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

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

Maybe someday I’ll get to see this list.

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 3

What was the fallout on Barker’s relationships with coming to atheism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and fall out.

Barker writes in his book about how he decided to mail everyone he had a significant relationship with and let them know he had abandoned Christianity and become an atheist. The sad reality in this chapter is that this is not one that is revealing of Barker, but rather is revealing of the church at large. As I read many of the letters that came back, I too felt great frustration, though no doubt for different reasons than Barker.

You see, too many Christians argued from their worldview back. Now in a sense, we all who are Christians argue from the position that our worldview is true, but when you meet an opponent, you don’t start with what you believe. You start with what he believes. Consider someone who says “It’s the devil! He’s out there trying to steal your joy!” Can you really imagine any atheist just saying to that “My gosh! I hadn’t realized that! I must go and repent right now! Please tell me where the nearest church is!”

And an emotional reaction is quite likely because of an emotional panic. This is because these people have never been trained to go this route. I would have preferred to have heard someone say “Wow Dan. That’s quite a remarkable choice that you’ve made. Can we maybe arrange a meeting or at least a few phone calls and talk about this decision and why you’ve made it and I can tell you why I think you should reconsider Christianity?” (And of course, be sure to give actual reasons there that show that you’ve done your homework.)

Then of course, there were the responses of indignation. I’m sure there were also quite likely some along the lines of “You were never a Christian to begin with.” This is one that I really don’t think we should make. After all, if any of us asked if we were a Christian today, we’d likely point to the same kinds of evidences. We remember when we gave our lives to Christ. We do our Christian service and we grow in holiness. Yet apparently someone can have those and still not be a Christian supposedly because of this rule that if you apostasize, you never were one. It gives the impression that you can never know unless you make it all the way. In the end, it will make us more followers of works-salvation.

Also, Barker says he received numerous letters asking how he was hurt. Now I do think there are emotional reasons for atheism, but that does not mean they are immediately apparent. Still, I don’t appeal to those unless there’s some reason that I think it necessary and I have evidence of those reasons. The data is what matters. Christians like this were trying to psychologize Barker instead of actually dealing with the data of what was being said to them.

Of course, there’s also the question of Barker asking two people “If I go out and get hit by a car and die, will I go to Hell.” For the talk about emotional appeals, this is about as emotional as it gets. Whether the answer is liked or not does not change it. It does not even say if the judgment is deserved or not. The truth of the matter is being determined by how one feels about it.

One interesting conversation he talks about is with his Uncle Keith.

“One day as we were driving back to southern California from a computer show in Las Vegas, he pointed to a huge rock formation in the landscape and said, “Isn’t that beautiful!” I looked at it for a moment and said, “Yes, it is beautiful. You can see how the multicolored ancient sedimentary sea beds were thrust upward after millions of years of tectonic pressure and are now tilted at an improbable angle.” He turned to me and snapped, “Do you have to ruin everything?”

And I read this wondering “How is this ruining?” Barker and Keith both have the wrong idea here. Barker thinks that if you provide a natural explanation for how it happened, then that means there cannot be any deity involved. Keith thought that if you gave a natural explanation, then you had killed the wonder of it. Both can be true. You can have a God who sets in play wonderful magnificent processes that produce beautiful things like rock formations.

So there’s not much to say about this chapter really. Before too long, we will be getting into the main arguments, the part I look forward to the most.

In Christ,
Nick Peters