Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Part 24

Does agency prove a problem for materialism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this entry, we’re looking at what Glenton Jelbert has to say about what Angus Menuge says about the role of agency in science. What it is saying is any there any goal-oriented behavior in the sciences? If so, then this is a problem for materialism as who is behind these goals?

I actually also disagree with the take of Menuge, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with Jelbert. Menuge is quick to jump to the Intelligent Design community. At this point I want to remind Christians that it was possible to make empirical arguments for the existence of God based on the observance of nature before Intelligent Design ever became a thing.

I have a great concern that too many of us are putting all of our eggs into the Intelligent Design basket and if that basket ever falls, well what then? As a Christian, I do believe there is an intelligent designer, but that doesn’t mean that I uphold the ideology behind Intelligent Design. I think it rests way too much on modern science that could be subject to change.

Why not go back in the past and see how people argued for God then and see if that includes agency? Two ideas come to mind. It won’t be a shock to readers of my work that both of them come from Aquinas.

The first relies on two kinds of causes in Aristotelian-Thomistic thought. The first one is known as the efficient cause and the second as the instrumental cause. Suppose you are building a house. You are the efficient cause of that house. You are the one behind it making it. Now what do you use to make it? Tools, cement, wood, brick, etc. Those are the instrumental causes. That through which you make something is an instrumental cause.

The problem is instrumental causes do not act on their own. There is someone that is behind them or something that is behind them. To say an instrumental cause can be its own cause is like saying a paintbrush can paint the picture itself if the handle is really long. A secondary cause works with the help of a primary cause.

Another way for Aquinas would be the fifth way. This one can be readily misunderstood. Some people think it is Intelligent Design, but it is not. All you need is a connection between A and B. If an iceberg floats through water and makes water around it consistently colder, you have this at work.

Why does this consistently happen? Acorns become oak trees and not puppy dogs. If you pull the bow back to fire the arrow, the arrow does not fly backwards. Planets do not go chaotic in their orbits but maintain a consistent pattern. These patterns are so consistent we can measure them accurately and predict major events with pinpoint accuracy. When we had the solar eclipse last year, everyone knew when it would be.

Aquinas reasons that it is because an eternal mind has put this into nature. The argument is much deeper than this. I recommend the work of Edward Feser on this. If you can’t afford his book Aquinas then you can go to his blogspot and read up on it.

Again, I find Glenton’s work lacking. The case for theism is still there and even if I don’t agree with one approach, there is still another that works.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Mere Science and Christian Faith

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

I am not a scientist, but I am always interested in books about the intersection between science and religion. When IVP sent me this one, it was one I was eager to read. Cootsona’s book is different in some ways. It’s not so much because of content, but because of the approach.

Cootsona writes his book largely with emerging adults in mind, the kind of people we would call millennials. These are young people who have a lot of questions about science and religion. What is the relationship between the two? Is there conflict or dialogue or what?

Cootsona answers these questions and often shows information on the side about conversations that he’s had with young people and little statements that they say. People involved in youth ministry need to be reading something like this. These are the very issues that young people are dealing with and as Cootsona sadly shows at the end, many people walk away because they committed the great sin of asking questions.

Cootsona deals with questions not only about creation and evolution, but also about technology. What are the effects that it’s having on society? There is some good of course, but there is also some bad. Are we having too much screen time? Could we actually bear to put the phones down?

He also spends some time with the new atheists. For the most part, the new atheists aren’t really an issue any more, but the mind set is still there. Dawkins is still seen as being on the side of science and religion is seen as the opposite. This leaves many people wondering if they have to choose between science and religion. It doesn’t help Christians out when we tell young people that they just need to have faith and not bother with their questions.

Some of you might be wondering if in all of this if Cootsona has a high view of Scripture. He does. Cootsona upholds orthodoxy and upholds inerrancy in the book. He presents viewpoints to help people understand the questions such as evolution and the age of the Earth. It’s a snapshot in the book as it were, but in the back he provides resources for further study. Cootsona’s book is meant to be an introduction to the questions. It is not an end-all.

There is also a section on climate change and sexuality. Now I am a skeptic of the idea of climate change. I haven’t invested in the study, but I am skeptical. Still, there is good information to consider here even if I am not convinced. As for sexuality, our changing approach to sexual culture is going to need to be addressed. How do we answer questions about transgenderism and homosexuality? Is Christianity behind the times?

These questions about science and Christianity are entirely relevant today. I get many questions from Christians with doubt today. If there is any topic that seems to come up the most, it is questions about Genesis 1-11. It is amazing how many people contact me and say they’re scared that Christianity might not be true and yet they have no questions about the resurrection. It’s all about Genesis. We need better resources on this.

Youth ministers then should definitely read this book! If you’re not a scientist, that’s okay. It’s written in a style laymen can understand. Parents concerned about teenagers and college-age students should read this book. Young people themselves searching should also read it.

Cootsona has given us a good gateway book to the issue of science and Christianity. He has also sounded a clarion call that we need to be listening to the emerging adults today to know how to better reach them. We can answer all the questions we want to, but if we don’t answer the questions they’re asking, we don’t get them any closer to Jesus.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Rationality Rules On The Unmoved Mover

Is the unmoved mover a bad argument? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been dialoguing with an atheist via text message a local pastor told me about. Last night, we were talking about Aquinas’s argument for the unmoved mover. He wanted to send me a video arguing against it to get my thoughts. He told me the video was by someone who went by “Rationality Rules.” I have noticed that so many people who identify themselves by rationality or reason or logic often honor the idea with their lips, but their heads are far from it. I asked him to send it so I could see it. It can be found here.

Fortunately, it comes with a long description to show many of the main points. I found it amusing that towards the start we have Aquinas and Peter Kreeft both having dunce hats put on their heads. Yes. Aquinas, one of the greatest minds in Western civilization should have a dunce cap on. It’s amazing the arrogance that these guys have.

Anyway, RR says he’s not going to deal with Aquinas’s, but Kreeft’s, because, you know, the arguments are basically the same.

No, they’re not.

But hey, apparently it would be too hard to, you know, go and look online and actually read the original argument and actually work to understand it and see what it’s really arguing. Nope. Just go for someone you think is giving the argument. Kreeft is a wonderful philosopher, but here he is also speaking for laymen and not giving the argument in its full sophistication. Unfortunately, I think he also gets it wrong, but let’s see what is said.

Anyway, this is how RR sums up the argument syllogistically.

• Everything that exists is in motion.

• Everything in motion is caused to be in motion by something else.

• Something must’ve existed without a cause.

• We call this first-cause (or unmoved mover) god.

• Therefore, god exists.

This isn’t the argument.

For one thing, we have to ask what is motion. Motion is not just movement, but movement is a type of motion. All movement is motion but not all motion is movement, at least in the physical sense. We know this because Aquinas would talk about movement in angels and angels are not physical. Your atheist friend can say he doesn’t believe in angels. Irrelevant. Aquinas does and Aquinas knows they are not physical so his argument is not limited to the physical.

What is being talked about is potential becoming actuality. Potential is the capacity for change that something has. Actuality is the way that it is. I am sitting right now as I type this. I have the potential to stand, kneel, lie down, jump, etc. If I do any of those, such as stand, then I am actualized my potential to stand and from there, I have the potential again to sit.

This is indeed caused in some respect by another. I do something because I want something outside of myself, which is what would be called The Good. My will is driven towards this. Every one of us desires what we think of as The Good. We can disagree on what we think The Good is, but all of us do want it and when we do something, we are doing it for something we perceive to be a good.

Aquinas is also talking about objects that have no will. A hand moves a stick which moves a rock which moves a leaf. Remove any piece of the chain and the leaf doesn’t move.

So what is the cause of this change? Aquinas says we have to find what it is to avoid an infinite regress. What kind of regress is he talking about? It’s either per accidens or per se. In the former, suppose mine and Allie’s parents both die suddenly. Could we still have children together? Absolutely. All things being equal, there is nothing about our reproduction that is hindered or helped by our parents being alive. That is irrelevant.

Now consider a chain that’s more per se. Each event is dependent on what came before it. Consider a Rube Goldberg machine. That is what it is like. This is the point of Aquinas. This means that everything in the chain is being used as an instrument, but if there are secondary causes, there must be a primary cause. The chain has to find its origin somewhere.

Note that this is also not saying it has to start there chronologically, as the universe being eternal is at this point irrelevant to Aquinas. It’s saying that there must be some great source, such as a gear that all the other gears have to move around and if the big gear stops, the little ones do as well. For Aquinas though, this place where the buck stops must be unmoved itself. If it is not, then it is part of the chain and the chain still needs to be explained.

If we see anything that is in motion, then we need to explain that. That would include the universe because I think it’s quite uncontroversial to say the universe undergoes change. We can all agree to that one. What needs to be at the root is something unchanging in its nature.

RR says the first flaw with this argument is that it does not prove that Christianity is true.

It would not prove that this Unmoved Mover still exists, that it’s a being, that it’s conscious, or that it impregnated a virgin, in order to sacrifice itself to itself so that it could forgive you for your ancestors’ actions… or in other words, it would not prove that Kreeft’s very specific interpretation of the Christianity is true.

This is the common silly objection that so many atheists have. You have not proven that this God is the Christian God, therefore the argument fails. Yes. What a great rejoinder, except the argument was never meant to prove the Christian God. Aquinas knew this. Every defender of the argument knows it. Aquinas could use this argument, but so could the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides. So could the Muslim philosopher Avicenna. Put these three in a room together and they will not dispute this argument. They will agree to it. That’s when the disputes start. Who is this mover?

Also, to say that it doesn’t show the mover still exists is just fallacious because once Aquinas establishes God, he goes on to establish things that can be known about God from reason and natural theology and that includes His eternality and immutability among other things. People who argue against the argument like this are just intellectually lazy. Of course, we knew that when we saw the bad representation of the Trinity anyway.

The second fallacy is that of special pleading. Something must have existed without a cause. That’s not the argument though. It’s that something must have existed that is not in motion like everything else is. God is not moved by anything else. He moves all other things. Aquinas does say why as well. Special Pleading fails.

The last two objections deal with the Big Bang Theory. Unfortunately for RR, these are irrelevant. Aquinas’s argument is not about the origins of the universe. The Big Bang Theory could be disproven tomorrow and Aquinas would be unfazed. The universe could be shown to be eternal and Aquinas will still be standing. Aquinas would ask why you’re talking about all this stuff about how the universe came to be when his argument says nothing about that.

In conclusion, it will be good when RR deals with the real argument. If he wants to do so, I suggest for a good understanding he consider something like reading Edward Feser. Feser’s “Aquinas” would be a great introduction for him. As it stands, RR has dealt with a straw man and the dunce cap needs to be removed and put on the head of the rightful owner.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 23

Is there a problem with bad design? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Chapter 23 looks at work done by Jonathan Witt on the idea of bad design. I see this as a defensive work on Witt’s part. It’s not theism going on the offensive, but on the defensive. If theism is true, why do we see instances of what is thought to be bad design?

As a non-scientist and a non-IDist, there is not much for me to respond to. However, one point I do want to address is something Jelbert says about Witt’s work. Jelbert does show that Scripture speaks about creation as the work of God such as in Psalm 139, Genesis 1:31, and Romans 1:20. However, we must remember the Biblical authors are not blind. Yes. Humans are fearfully and wonderfully made, but they knew more about child mortality from experience than we do. When a child is born today, it’s generally assumed the mother will survive and that all things being equal, the child will grow up and live a natural life.

Not so for them. Many times a mother would die in childbirth and you would want to have many kids because not all of them would live long lives. The authors are not writing though to give an answer to the problem of evil, but because there is still something grand to them in creation.

Jelbert says that God’s involvement appears to be capricious. Things look to be callous and random. Events happen that do no good and bring no redemption and don’t appear to fulfill a grand plan. They do not show that God is in charge of this drama. Jelbert says Witt will fall on God’s mysteriousness again or some other divine attribute.

Let’s notice something here. Not a single objection here is scientific. It is all theological. It is saying that if the God of the Bible existed or even the God of classical theism, He would not allow this or there is no good reason why He should allow it. How is this known? Where does Jelbert get this theological knowledge?

Something else sad about this is that this is part of the logical problem of evil that even the majority of atheist philosophers will admit has been answered. Alvin Plantinga did it decades ago with a little book called God, Freedom, and Evil. It’s important to note that one does not need to demonstrate the answer to why a certain event happened. One has to show that it is just possible that God has a good reason for allowing it. We don’t have to know what that reason is. Jelbert has the burden of proof here. It’s up to him to show that there is no good reason for this to happen.

Jelbert can call it a cop-out to say God is mysterious or something like that, but why think any of us should know all that God knows? If God is real, He has far more knowledge than we could ever have of why events are happening. Jelbert has simply said that things seem a certain way. He has to demonstrate it or else his argument fails.

Now he could go another route and say that it seems unlikely that a good God would exist and that is something else altogether, but it is no longer the hard case. If he went that route, I would reply with the Thomistic arguments, which are not addressed in the book it looks like, and of course the resurrection of Jesus, which we will get to later. I just have to answer one and it is not a deductive argument. The Thomistic arguments are deductive and thus more powerful.

I walk away from this chapter unconvinced. Jelbert has not demonstrated his theological claims. It’s interesting that in a section purported to be about science, we have more about theology instead.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 22

Does what’s inside a cell make a case for God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to Glenton Jelbert’s work again to see what he has to say about the inside of the cell. In this chapter, he responds to a young molecular biologist named Bill Wilberforce. Wilberforce seems especially enthralled with something in the cell called Kinesin. As readers know, I, not being a scientist, will not comment on the science, but let’s see what I think of Jelbert’s response.

Jelbert starts by saying he thinks the author is in conflict as he seems to be admiring science but also undermining it. His explanation of why he thinks this is that he says before some tools existed, scientists thought the cell was a blob of protoplasm surrounded by a thin membrane. Jelbert says this is nonsense and scientists have appreciated how complex cells are for a long time.

Unfortunately, Jelbert never tells us when this is. Was there a time when scientists thought what Wilberforce says they did? After all, we have improved microscope technology so was there a time we could not see in the cell that much and that was what we thought? Jelbert gives no indication that Wilberforce is right, but he also doesn’t show that he is. If all Wilberforce has done is make a claim, Jelbert has done the same. There’s not any reason alone to think anyone of them is right.

Jelbert also says that there is no meaningful prediction coming out of Intelligent Design that can be tested. Before this, Jelbert seems to say that the stuff Wilberforce has found was predicted by evolutionary biologists. He gives several places to look, but sadly, he gives no articles himself. I would have liked to have seen him done this.

To get back to ID, I am not convinced this is true. I believe that ID made a prediction about Junk DNA that happened to be right. I say this not as a supporter of ID, but I say it simply as one wanting to be fair with the evidence.

At a later point, Jelbert makes an admission I find troubling. He says, “Rationally, we will always search and go on searching for natural causes for any unknown, preferring to admit that we do not know than to give the non-explanation of an ill-defined supernatural being.”

I find this quite troubling. For one thing, he says that this is rational. Why? Is it a sign of rationality that someone doesn’t believe in the miraculous? Is it a sign of rationality that everything can be explained by materialistic causes?

Second, what about miracles? Sure, Jelbert doesn’t believe in them, but if he saw one in his presence, does that mean he would try to find a natural cause? Suppose it was even the favorite of an amputee growing a limb back. Will Jelbert say it is rational to find a cause?

Third, I find it hard to believe we are talking about an ill-defined being. If we went to the arguments of Classical Theism, Jews, Christians, and Muslims could all use them. This being was not ill-defined but many characteristics of Him were given.

As I wrap this up, I think what Jelbert is missing is this drives many people to theism not because of irreducible complexity, but because of wonder. People see what looks like a little factory in the cell and it leaves them in awe. Thinking it is irreducibly complex does not make them think of a creator so much as just thinking that the thing itself exists and is working towards an end. (This is in fact the classical argument from design.) When atheists argue for something natural and seek to remove God, many people see this as a way to remove the wonder. I am not an expert in the sciences, but many times something I see talked about in the sciences does leave me with a strong sense of wonder that makes me think that God is a brilliant mind behind all of it. Whether He did it through an evolutionary process or not doesn’t matter. Either way God is awesome with His creation.

We will continue later.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Saving Truth

What do I think of Abdu Murray’s new book published by Zondervan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Murray is writing about a situation that I have thought for a long time has plagued the church. It is that we live in a post-truth society. Nowadays, the truth doesn’t even matter. How someone feels about a claim matters or how well it serves an end-game is what matters.

This isn’t the fault of the world alone. The church is also to blame. The church determines truths based on feelings just as much as the world does. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard about doing something as you “feel led.”

There’s also the fact that Christians can just as easily spread false information. Last night, I had to deal with a family member who shared a news story that I could tell in less than a minute was false. Going further, I found that the website also held to the idea that 9-11 is an inside job. Yep. Real reliable source there.

I get greatly bothered when I see something like this happen. We have the job of trying to convince people that Jesus rose from the dead, a fact that they cannot check the veracity of immediately, but we will so easily share stories that can be easily seen as fake? Doesn’t that damage our witness of the Gospel?

Murray also writes about our misunderstanding of freedom. We think by freedom that there is a certain something that has no hold on us. That is true to an extent, but it like saying being literate means that you can decipher symbols in an alphabet. Yes, you can, but you need to able to do more. You read so you can learn much more that there is to learn. You read so that you can be a better person.

In the same way, you are free not to pursue whatever you want to do, but you are free so that you can pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful. You are free to live for something greater than yourself. Freedom is not about you get to do whatever you want, but you are free to do as you should.

Murray also talks about issues of human dignity, what does it mean to be a human? Do we treat human beings as objects more in this day and age? What about issues of abortion?

Issues of sex and gender are definitely on the stage. Murray begins this chapter with a question a woman asked in an open forum about Christianity and homosexuality. It dominates the landscape in this chapter as Murray keeps thinking about it. Murray deals with the purpose of sexuality and questions relating to transgenderism as well. What does it mean to be a man or a woman?

Murray also deals with questions of science and of pluralism. Both of these are issues that strike our epistemology. Science is seen today as the only way to truth. Pluralism is seen as rude and exclusive.

There are many issues discussed in Murray’s book. Each of them in itself is worthy of a book-length work. Murray’s book is a good look at these topics and often shared from the perspective of an ex-Muslim who had to realize that truth mattered more than anything else.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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: Enlightenment Now—Part Two

Do I have further thoughts on Steven Pinker’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I say part two, I don’t mean part two of the book but of the review. Part two really doesn’t have much that is objectionable, although there are a few things. He’s mainly talking about improvements in various areas over the centuries and there’s no reason to object. Some are questionable, such as equality since he throws in the redefinition of marriage and interestingly, leaves out the idea of if a baby in the womb counts as an equal human being.

Also, I question knowledge. No doubt, our knowledge as a whole has increased, but I question many times if people today are more knowledgeable. Keep in mind we’ve recently seen young people today eating tide pods and snorting condoms. Wikipedia is a favorite cite to use for informing oneself as well despite not knowing who wrote it and being able to Google is a substitute for research.

Now if there are problems in part two, I mainly leave that to others who have looked at those areas a lot more. I do not have the information nor do I wish to take all the serious investment in it when there are other things. I do wish to point out that there is no necessary connection established yet to the Enlightenment since Pinker presents ideas like science and reason as coming from them while ignoring that these were going on actively in the Middle Ages as well.

So let’s move on to the final part and objectionable material I’ve found since then.

Pinker talks often about how we can be blinded to one side and mocks conspiracy theories, which is good, but I think he buys into his own. He has a large anti-Trump rant where pretty much anything that is said is included, even making a point about being investigated for Russian collusion. One wonders what he thinks of this section now considering things like tax cuts and peace talks with North Korea.

On page 359, he talks about how we maintain ideas to maintain standing with a group. The example he gives is one must think like this to say that God is three persons and yet one person. One would hope that someone who wants to do great research over history would bother to have done a smidgen on religion and what a Trinitarian means when he says God is a Trinity. Apparently, Pinker did not.

That having been said, there is some truth to the idea about ideas having social standing and this is a mistake I think atheists have made with evolution. It has been made the case that to accept science you must accept evolution and to accept evolution, you must disavow God. It’s not that people are anti-science. It’s just that if told to choose God or evolution, they will choose God. In their minds, they often have more reason to believe in God and less to believe in evolution. As long as atheists (and Christians as well) frame the debate this way, it will always be science vs. religion, which is a shame.

On p. 364, he talks about moral progress saying that before the Enlightenment there was starvation, plagues, superstition, maternal and infant mortality, marauding knight-warlords, sadistic torture executions, slavery, which hunts, genocidal crusades, conquests, and wars of religion. He leaves out there were also hospitals being built, literacy being spread, ancient texts being copied, science being done, etc.

Pinker also doesn’t say much about gas chambers for the holocaust or the slaughter of millions by their own rulers in atheistic regimes. If we are to define the Middle Ages by events that are questionable, why not do the same with post-Enlightenment times? if the Enlightenment is only to be defined by the good that has happened, why not the Middle Ages?

Also, many physical problems were being worked on and the science that has dealt with them is a continuation of the Middle Ages science. It would be like saying cancer is around today because we don’t care about science. We do care, but we just don’t have a universal cure yet.

In talking about science on 393, he says that the traditional causes of belief were faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, hermeneutic parsing of texts, and the glow of subjective certainty. Sadly, there is no citation of people from the Middle Ages showing any of this. It is also true that no doubt these sources get things wrong at times, but so does science. If we claim a belief such as “Murder is wrong” is revelation, does Pinker question that?

There’s also a great irony that this takes place just after talking about the causes of World War I and that it should not be explained in scientific terms. Could it be you might have to go and parse those texts that we have about the war to see what happened? Could it be some questions just aren’t scientific?

Also, in this chapter, Pinker is pointing out science as the greatest accomplishment of man. Is it? It’s a great one, but science is a means towards an end. Do we want to know how the world works just ot know how it works? Or, do we want to us those to bring about human flourishing, something Pinker talks about often. If we do that, why? Do we want our species to flourish because we really like our species? What is special about humanity? These are questions that aren’t answered by science, but in finding the true greatest good, the sunnum bonum, of humanity.

He says on 394 that a scientifically informed person cannot have religious conceptions of meaning and value. His basis for this is that we know more about our origins than religious people did back then based on their writings. There is no attempt to really wrestle with Genesis. There are multiple ways to interpret the text, but the only one Pinker sees is one that denies an Earth that is 4.5 billion years old. Pinker makes no attempt to wrestle with the meaning of the texts.

On p. 397, Pinker tells us that scientists have been responsible for misdeeds throughout history. He proceeds to tell us how that should not be used as a weapon against science. But wait a second, if that’s the case with science, should it not be that way for religion? We judge religion based on what it does wrong, but we judge science based on what it does right? What a wonderful system!

We’ll continue looking further at Pinker’s book next time. I do plan to finish it today.

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: Evidence Considered Part 21

What do I think of Jelbert’s critique of Richard Spencer? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Glenton Jelbert of Evidence Considered is now looking at Richard Spencer’s essay on if Intelligent Design necessitates Optimal Design. As readers know, I have no interest in the science portion. It doesn’t bother me and I have no reason to support Intelligent Design. Still, I am interested in the philosophy and theology involved.

For instance, Jelbert says Spencer is trying to explain why the world looks as if it did if there was no God by positing natural causes. This isn’t a scientific objection, but a theological one. It is saying that if God exists, then He will not work through what Aristotle called instrumental causes. He will work directly. How does Jelbert know this?

In the Middle Ages when science really began to take off, they had no problem with filling int he gaps. Jelbert’s argument might work for a God of the Gaps style approach, but that is really a historical latecomer. The medievals actually believed they were showing the genius of God by showing how He went about working the universe.

Consider also a miracle like the Jordan river stopping when it did for the Israelites to pass through. Treat the story as true for the sake of argument. Does it cease to be a miracle when it is found that this event has happened with the waters of the river stopping before? Not at all. The miracle is not just that it happened but that it happened when it happened and resumed when it did.

Later on, Spencer says that we do not fully understand the mind of God and why He does what He does. This should be a given on theism and atheism. If God exists, it should be granted no one can know His mind entirely. Jelbert says that this is also theistic agnosticism. God cannot be known. But why? Jelbert points to terms like omnipotence and omniscience and such being meaningless. His source is George Smith’s Atheism: The Case Against God.

Smith does agree that a contradiction should be impossible regardless, but how does he establish a problem with omnipotence. An omnipotent being is one who is said to be capable of violating His nature. For a Thomist though, this is not a sign of power, but a sign of weakness. We are left wondering what this would entail. This also means God does not violate His other attributes like goodness and love. Omnipotence cannot make evil to be good.

For omniscience, we have the old chestnut that if God knows the future, God causes the future. Most Arminians will grant that God knows the future. I will certainly agree to that. That does not mean that God’s knowledge is the causal factor in what I will do.

Now if anyone really wanted to study the doctrine of God and see how he works, pick up some good tomes on systematic theology. My favorite, of course, is the Summa Theologica. Saint Thomas Aquinas goes in-depth on the doctrine of God and what each attribute means.

Another part worth talking about is how Jelbert looks at cases of design such as food going down the same area we breathe through. Spencer says he does not know what God does and why. This should really be an unproblematic statement. Of course not. Unless God tells us something directly, we don’t know why He does things. We can guess, but we cannot know for certain.

Yet Jelbert makes an interesting statement. Spencer says that often in suffering, we find a greater closeness to God. Jelbert says he cannot see how this comes about through watching your baby choke on a grape.

Sure, Jelbert can’t see it, but how does it follow that it cannot happen? Jelbert said earlier that the mind of God isn’t known and yet Jelbert seems to imply that there can be nothing in that mind that can use that for good. Not only that, there is a greater problem here.

Jelbert says if you remove theism, the problem disappears. After all, sometimes bad things will just happen. There is no purpose in the baby choking to death on a grape.

On atheism, that’s true. There is no purpose in a baby choking on grape. We could say that the solution has come until you also realize that in atheism, there is no purpose in the baby to begin with. There’s no purpose in the baby choking, but there’s no purpose in the baby having healthy breathing either.

In essence, the problem is dealt with, but it’s dealt with by saying not that there is just no purpose to the choking, but there’s no purpose to anything. Now a pair of atheist parents can have purposes for why they want children and purposes they want for their children, but in the words of Linkin Park, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. The whole universe is without purpose and just making one up won’t change reality.

One cannot help but think of what Bertrand Russell said in A Free Man’s Worship.

Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

All he needed to say after that was “Oh, and have a nice day.”

I recommend Jelbert simply read the accounts of Christians who have gone through great tragedy, including the death of a child, and see how it is used for good. Now, this stuff is not good to be sure, but it is used for good. Jelbert can want to say all day long that there is no purpose or good that can come from it, but he needs to show that, not just assert it.

We’ll continue later.

In Christ,
Nick Peters