Book Plunge: Evidence Considered, Chapter 7

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

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

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

His first paragraph in response is worth quoting in full:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 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

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/1/2017: Ted Cabal

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

Christians have never been without controversy. Many of the Pauline letters were written to deal with controversies. We can be sure that once one controversy gets answered, we will move on to a whole new one. Nowadays, a great controversy of the ages for Christians is the, well, controversy of the ages.

How old is the Earth? How did God create? To be sure, this is an issue that we should debate and we should debate heartily, but we should not divide over it. When we do, we have a whole lot more heat than light. Sadly, this sort of division has often occurred.

My guest this week is the co-author of the book Controversy of the Ages. He has written not to settle the debate, but to encourage us in how we frame the debate. How is it that a Christian approaches questions of faith and science? If we believe that the two can never contradict, what happens when it looks like they do? How can each side learn to listen to the other to have better dialogues than we are often having right now?

So who is this co-author? He’s Dr. Ted Cabal. Who is he?

According to his bio:

Theodore James Cabal has taught philosophy and apologetics at Dallas Baptist University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and for the last 20 years at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to numerous journal articles and book chapters, he is the general editor of The Apologetics Study Bible (2nd ed. summer 2017) and co-author with Peter Rasor of The Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should not Divide over the Age of the Earth (2017).

We’ll be looking at the relationship between Christianity and science in the past. What was going on when the Galileo affair took place? Was it really a tension between faith and science or was something else going on there? How does it parallel to today? Are we in danger of the same mistake today?

We’ll be discussing the three main camps when it comes to the age of the Earth. You have the young-earth creationists who think the Earth is 6-10,000 years old. You have Old-earth creationists who have an Earth about 4.5 billion years old yet don’t accept evolution, and you have the theistic evolutionists who have an old Earth and think that God did use evolution to create.

What divides these camps in such a heated way so often? How do each of these camps view science? What can each of these camps learn from one another? We’ll be looking at this question and hopefully this interview will shed more light than heat on this important topic.

I hope you’ll be listening for this next episode and I hope regardless of which stance you take, you’ll learn something about your side and something about how you can learn to view your opponents in a better light. Please also leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. It’s always a joy to hear that you like the show!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Skepticism Is Not An Argument

Do you need a reason for your doubt? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times I get caught up in debates on miracles and that leads to an automatic skepticism by many people. After all, we live in an age of science and in this age of science, we know things the ancients didn’t know. Therefore, we know that miracles don’t happen.

I like to point out to these people that they even knew back then that dead people stay dead, people don’t walk on water, food doesn’t instantly multiply to feed 5,000+ people, it’s not expected for blind people to see and paralyzed people to walk, and of course, virgins don’t give birth. (Although I do affirm the virgin birth.) If people insist at this point, I ask when it was that science made these great discoveries that they didn’t know about. It’s also helpful to ask which branch of science has disproven miracles.

The problem that often comes up is that someone will just say I’m a skeptic but without giving any basis for their own position. If we as Christians are often obligated to give a reason for the hope that lies within us, why should our intellectual opponents not give a reason for the doubt that lies within them. Please note that I am not saying all doubt is wrong. I am suggesting instead that we talk about a reasonable doubt.

For instance, let’s suppose you say that you will not believe in miracles because you have never experienced one. Of course, if you did experience one and you knew it, you would likely believe in miracles, but if you haven’t, do you really want to say the only way you will believe in a miracle is if you yourself witness one? If that’s the case, then no amount of arguing and persuasion is going to work with you. You’ve already decided at the outset a miracle can’t happen because you’ve never experienced it. (It’s also interesting that other people’s experience in the case of miracles is invalid, but your experience of not having one is completely allowable!)

It also won’t help then if it’s automatically decided that any story that you hear is just someone being gullible or mistaken or lying. No doubt, people are often mistaken about miracles, but the argument against miracles depends on every single case being an error in some way. Chesterton told us years ago that the theist believes in the miracle, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The skeptic disbelieves, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.

So let’s take a work like Craig Keener’s massive two volumes on miracles documenting miracles done all over the world. For the skeptic, every single miracle in there has to be false. For myself, all of them could be false and I could still have a case for miracles because I have arguments for theism and I have arguments for the resurrection.

So when pressed, what needs to be asked is why is someone being skeptical? What is behind the skepticism? Note also this can go both ways. Christians can be unreasonable in their skepticism of positions that disagree with them. I do not encourage Christians to say you will only disbelieve in the resurrection if you see the bones of Jesus. If Jesus did not rise, his bones are likely long gone and even if they aren’t, you really don’t have much way of identifying them. Set the bar reasonable. I just ask for a better explanation for the rise of the early church than the one the church itself gave that better explains the data.

Skepticism can be good. We should not be gullible and credulous, but at the same time, we need to be reasonable even in skepticism. If we demand our own personal experience, we’re not really entering into the discussion fairly and saying that intellectual arguments won’t convince us. That’s hardly being reasonable.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Aquinas and Modern Science

What do I think of Gerard Verschuuren’s book published by Angelico Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

What did Aquinas know about modern science. Very little no doubt. If you asked Aquinas his opinions on general relativity, he would not know what you were talking about. What about the Big Bang Theory? What about evolution? Oh he would know some basic ideas of what we call physics and such today, but this was a man who was a monk and lived when people thought the Earth was the center of the universe. What hath Aquinas to do with modern science?

Quite a lot actually.

You see, part of the problem is we enter into the discussion thinking often that science is the supreme field. Why not? It’s what’s been ingrained into us. “People in the past today believed in miracles, but we know that they didn’t happen. We live in a world of science.” If you want an expert on any subject for a TV show, bring in a scientist. A scientist is automatically assumed to be the beacon of knowledge and wisdom.

None of this is meant as anti-science. Many scientists are no doubt very knowledgeable and wise people. The problem is that science has its limits. Bring it out of its area and put it where it has no business and it does a lot of damage. Much of the problems in discussions about science today are not so much about the data as they are the metaphysics behind the data.

That’s a dirty word today. Metaphysics is often seen as “Studying things that are nonsense” or just a catch-all term for “the supernatural” or something of that sort. Those who mock metaphysics though have their own metaphysics that they are doing, and it’s quite normally a bad one in that case. Metaphysics is the study of being as being. How does existence work and function?

All that is science is a part of this existence and so Aquinas, the great metaphysician, has something to say. He can’t tell you about evolution, but he can tell you about substances and potential and change. He can’t tell you about the Big Bang Theory, but he can tell you about potential and actuality. He can’t tell you about DNA, but he can tell you about formal, material, efficient, final, instrumental, and exemplar causes.

If we study science with all of those in mind, then Aquinas can believe it or not shed a lot of light. Thankfully, Verschuuren has written a great book on this. The knowledge he brings is highly impressive. He has a great love of Aquinas and familiarity with him and his metaphysics, yet also looks to be highly read in the scientific literature.

But isn’t Aquinas’s view all about faith? Not at all. Faith and reason were not opposed to Aquinas. He would say that there are things known by revelation and things known without, but we must never make the two contradict. While Aquinas did believe the Earth was the center of the universe, he was going with the science of his time. If he thought the science today was overwhelming, he would also agree with that.

Verschuuren gives us an introduction to the metaphysics that is simple enough for the layman to understand. My only puzzle here was when talking about causes why the instrumental cause was left out. I consider this one highly important to understanding many cosmological debates and such, but it seemed to be forgotten.

While many will see a war between science and religion, Aquinas would not. What about evolution? If it is true, Aquinas would have no problem. Evolution is one thing becoming something else. It is not nothing becoming something, which is entirely different.

There is also the question of areas like neurology and such. How does the brain work? What about the mind-body problem? Aquinas has something to say in each case. Even something like NDEs receive something from Aquinas.

Finally, what about government? Here, Aquinas might have some more experience. What would Aquinas say about our constitutional freedoms today? What would he say about the role of money in our culture? What would he say about our rights?

I leave Aquinas’s positions for the readers to find in this book that should be read. Today, scientists are trying to understand our world by looking through telescopes and microscopes and other such tools, which they should do. Maybe they should look through old Aquinas as well and see if they can bring out treasures of old instead of just new.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Born This Way?

What do I think of J. Alan Branch’s book published by Weaver Book Company? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you debate any with people and homosexuality is brought up, you will find people saying that they are “born this way.” In the movie Religulous, Bill Maher interviews someone who is a Christian saying that there is no gay gene. In the middle, we get a cut to a scene of Maher asking Dean Hamer, “Have you found a gay gene?” “Yes.” That’s it. No context. Nothing more. It was settled.

Are homosexuals really born this way? J. Alan Branch takes us on a tour of psychology and science to see what can be found out. He starts off with looking at the minds that have fundamentally shaped the debate for us all. The first starting place is Freud and seeing what he said, which wasn’t really as much as one would think.

We get a lot more when we get to Kinsey. Today, Kinsey is seen as one of the greatest authorities, but in reality, his work was significantly flawed. In fact, it was so flawed that one could even see it got information from those who had to be guilty of child molestation. Kinsey accepted information from volunteers, interviewed people in prison, and other such problems. Kinsey himself was quite clear about his goals in doing away with Christian morality.

Finally, what happened with psychology and psychiatry in the 70’s? The truth is, not a lot of science but a whole lot of politics. This cleared the way for normalization and then for opposition. The movement already had an agenda in mind with the publication of After The Ball which they played perfectly.

From there, we move on to the possible scientific explanations for someone being born homosexual. This area is often dense in scientific thought so it can be hard to understand. That could be the unavoidable nature of the beast. Still, Branch is conversant with the literature and knows what those arguing the position are talking about.

One area he looks at that many people will be pleased to see is about animals. He does say that animals do sometimes engage in homosexual acts, but this is not a new discovery. Our ancestors knew about this long ago and the only reason it’s a shock to so many today is that we are far more cut off from nature. Branch points out that if we went by this, then we should also justify people eating their children since animals often devour their young in the wild.

After looking at all manner of studies, Branch then takes on a more pastoral position. How are we to help people in the church who legitimately struggle with same-sex attraction? They are indeed there. We don’t need to think they’re lying. We don’t need to treat them like a disease. One great way is that men need men who are friends with them and can say they love them, but not have it be sexual. Likewise, women need similar with women.

Branch concludes that homosexuality is likely caused by a multiplicity of factors and no one factor can settle the deal. This is also a predisposition to behave a certain way. It does not necessitate that one act on that impulse. One can choose to be celibate or one can choose to marry someone of the opposite sex and form a loving relationship with them.

Christians wanting to understand the debate will want to read this book. Branch is thorough and at the same time, more brief than you would think as the book has just a little over 150 pages of content. It will be a helpful addition to anyone’s library who cares about this issue.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Arguing What You Don’t Understand

When should you speak and when should you be silent? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I notice many times in debates with skeptics that they are often not really attacking Christianity as it is, but rather as they perceive it. If they want to critique the Bible on faith, they look at what they think people mean by the word faith today. What has happened that people have discussions like this?

The great problem we have is that people no longer read what they argue about. Instead, in the age of the internet, it is too easy to believe things that agree with you and be a skeptic of everything that disagrees with you. As a conservative in the last election, I saw many people sharing myths about Obama and Hillary that I could show were false with some brief searching. No one seemed to care. It’s not just conservatives. Liberals do the exact same thing.

Tell a Christian that there are chariot wheels at the bottom of the Red Sea despite it being of highly questionable credibility and it will be believed and trumpeted as proof immediately. Tell them that there could possibly be evidence for evolution, and it will be ruled out automatically. Tell an atheist that Jesus is a copycat of Mithras, even though you found it on a website of someone with no credentials in the field and it will be believed. Tell them that there’s archaeological evidence backing the book of Acts, and here comes the skepticism.

I dare say that as a Christian, I think I am more of a skeptic than many skeptics that I meet. I will happily investigate claims that benefit my own viewpoint before sharing them. My father-in-law is a New Testament scholar who is a Christian and yet I have investigated many of the things that he’s told me before going off and sharing them. That’s just basic fact-checking.

This can also be seen by how willing you are to read. Suppose you’re like me and on a tight budget. If I get told about a book that argues against Christianity, normally, I go to the library and see if I can order it immediately. I have often asked skeptics when was the last time they read an academic work on Christianity that disagreed with them. I don’t remember the last time I got an answer.

Here’s a basic rule of thumb. If you are not willing to seriously study an issue, don’t argue it. If you are a Christian not willing to study evolution, but you want to argue against it, then don’t. You will end up saying things that are not taken seriously by your critics and damaging your witness to them. In the same way, skeptics wanting to argue against the New Testament need to read the best scholarship they can on both sides of the New Testament. If they’re not willing to do that, then they should not argue against it.

The reason we have this is that we live in an age that we think being fair means everyone has equal authority in their opinion and there is no specialized knowledge. If you think this is true, next time you’re sick, go see your mechanic instead of going to your doctor and let him perform an examination on you. If you think that sounds utterly ridiculous, then congratulations on waking up.

I hope to someday soon see a world where people will read and then argue. At least if we disagree, we can then have better informed disagreements. I am instead seeing too many people think they are authorities by virtue of having an opinion and saying things that make the experts cringe, on both sides.

In Christ,
Nick Peters