The New Atheism: The Way Of Nature

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, where we dive into the ocean of truth! Right now, we’re going through Victor Stenger’s book “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science And Reason.” So far, not much of a stand has been made yet. Tonight, we’re looking at the chapter called “The Way of Nature” which is simply a look at the way we should live.

A bulk of this is spent looking at the way other worldviews have treated the way of life. How have great thinkers suggested we should live. Stenger will then contrast that with the atheistic worldview and tell us how it is that an atheist should live. Of course, he’s not too far in the chapter before another statement of faith shows up. Stenger says the following about the time of the Jews in and around the exile:

Having lost everything that was external, the people of Israel began to turn inward. The exiles in Babylon also reoriented their view. The book of Job may have been written there. Since YHWH behaved so badly in that story, this may indicate that the exiles were losing faith in him. Other parts of the Old Testament may also have been written then–almost certainly Genesis, which is at least partially based on the Babylonian creation myth.

Sources cited? Not a one. Again, Stenger would not put up with deep scientific claims being made without some backing behind them. He’s quite fine however with making claims about history, and particularly religious history, without bothering to tell a source for the information.

To begin with, if the exiles were losing faith in YHWH, it’s a wonder that when they returned, the first thing they did was begin to build a temple starting with the altar so that they could offer sacrifices. Does he have any indication that the Jews decided to abandon their heritage in this time?

Also, what evidence is there that Genesis was written at this time? Absent is any look at biblical archaeology with data on dating the Old Testament books. No mention of the work of evangelical scholars like Walter Kaiser or Meredith Kline. There isn’t even a mention of the JEPD theory which Stenger seems to be alluding to, nor is there any response from those who contend against it.

Furthermore, if Genesis was written then, why would the book include commands about what Abraham’s children were to do which Israel failed to do? Why would it focus on YHWH entirely when the people were supposedly losing faith in YHWH? This doesn’t mention the other books ascribed to Moses that repeatedly chronicled the failures of Israel and how they were to be holy.

Why say God performed badly in Job? Does Stenger know that Job is commonly said to be the oldest book there in the Bible? Does he refer to any scholarship in the book of Job so that he can understand what is going on? No. It is enough for Stenger to just assert.

But he is a man of faith after all.

Finally, what evidence is there that the Genesis account of creation was a copy of the Babylonian account? Stenger does not give any sources. Not only does he not give any sources, he acts as if there were no rebuttals. It’s hard to take Stenger’s side seriously when he seems ignorant of what his opponents are saying.

Stenger also says science would have continued on the rise had it not been for the dark ages. First off, what historians today refer to the period as the dark ages? Second, the reason many sciences were not on the rise was that they were not seen as practical. Medicine continued well because medicine had an impact on day to day life for people. Knowing how the planets moved, on the other hand, did not. Now I’m not saying that’s unimportant. There is much we can learn. However, most of us would prefer that if any money be invested, it would be invested in the medical field more than other fields since we rely on medicine so much more.

The church was not hostile to science and many great scientists rose up in the church, but that was after the church made it possible to have more leisure time. Prior to that, most families spent the majority of their time just trying to survive. Progress was made in agriculture that enabled people to get a good supply of food with less time and effort on crops. The printing press came which allowed for the distribution of ideas faster and more efficiently. Thus, more people were educated and able to study.

For further research, I recommend Rodney Stark’s “The Victory of Reason.” I also recommend the material that can be found at the site of the Bede here .

Stenger goes on to write about other worldviews but of course, his worst criticisms are saved for the monotheistic faiths of the West. He says:

In the West, this emphasis on the ego is even more pronounced. Jews continue to regard themselves as the chosen people of God. And who could be more self-centered than Muslims and Christians, who believe that for a few simple duties for a short period on Earth they will live forever in perfect bliss!

Do Jews regard themselves as the chosen people of God? Sure they do. That proves they’re not how. Now if there is no God, of course they’re not. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean they believe that for self-centered reasons. They could believe the Old Testament texts are reliable for various reasons and if that’s what they say, then they are to believe them.

However, where does he get his view of Christian faith? Stenger is making the mistake of thinking what the believers believe is supposed to be all about them. Now in a sense, the modern church can grant that impression and I will give Stenger that. That is the fault of the modern church however.

The offer of God is not meant to show how incredible His followers are. It is meant to show how awesome and wonderful His love and grace are. When the Christian speaks of the way God loves him, it is not meant to emphasize the Christian, but God. God loves someone so much who does not deserve that love. The proper response to the love and grace of God is not pride. It is humility.

In going on to talk about spirituality, Stenger brings up psychic phenomena briefly, which he doesn’t believe in. He brings up the question of how a mind is possible in a material world. Stenger replies “As we saw in chapter 8, while we do not know the answer yet, there does not seem to be any obstacle to a purely material mind.”

Now it could be that there is a purely material mind, but Stenger has evoked a naturalism of the gaps in contrast to a God of the gaps. What evidence has Stenger presented for his naturalism? I could grant all he says about physics and still not have a problem (I do not grant his inferences of course). We’ve seen repeatedly that Stenger is also lacking in his criticisms of theism, and particularly Christian theism. Stenger does have faith indeed, and it is a faith that is built on sand.

Stenger continues to say that being an atheist, it means that one is free to live their life as they wish without anyone telling them what to do or think. Since there is one life, they live it to the fullest.

Meaning what?

There is a best way to live life? How can that be unless there are ways that are better than others? Who is to say Stalin did not live his life to the fullest? Stenger will require an objective moral standard in order to make this claim and thus far, he has yet to give one or seriously interact with theistic arguments for one.

He also says the observable facts are that atheists are at least as moral as theists. Maybe so. But on what grounds? I contend that a lot of atheists still live this way because we live in a world that has been Christianized with morals that our ancestors in pagan times did not observe.

Furthermore, the claim theists make is not an argument about “Who lives better?” although I think we as Christians are put to shame when those without the Holy Spirit live better than we do as a whole, but who has the basis for morality. This is the same mistake often made by both sides when they ask “Who’s the most educated?” or “Who’s the happiest?” Those are interesting areas to study, but they do not change the truth content of the beliefs.

Stenger can enjoy his life, but even to enjoy means that there is something good to enjoy, and he has yet to establish that.

Tomorrow, we shall finish the book with his final chapter.

The New Atheism: The Nature Of Mind

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, a blog where we dive into the ocean of truth! Tonight, we’re still tangling with a shark but so far, it hasn’t been much of a battle. We’re looking at Victor Stenger’s book “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science and Reason.” Thus far, I conclude if Stenger was truly standing for science and reason, those two would be in a lot of trouble. Tonight, we’re looking at his chapter on th nature of the mind called simply “The Nature of Mind.”

Stenger gives a brief history of the doctrine of the soul. Of course, he has a lack of sources as he always does when dealing with religious topics. However, I do not wish to nit-pick at that point. It is when he gets to the content of the chapter on the arguments for an immaterial aspect of man that I wish to raise objections.

To begin with, he asserts that theologians believe that religious experience is evidence for a soul. Stenger doesn’t seem to treat this seriously, but I will first off say that this is something that should be considered. It wouldn’t be my first argument, but if one wants to make it, then let them feel free to.

However, absent from that part are any arguments put forward by dualists. I realize some readers might be Christian physicists here (Not in the profession of physicists but in believing that there is not an immaterial aspect to man). However, I also realize that such would admit that there are arguments for dualism. They just don’t think the arguments work. That is quite different from just ignoring the arguments. If the best Stenger has is “religious experience”, then he’s lacking.

His first response is about near-death experiences. Now this is one of the first pieces of evidence I would present to a non-believer for the existence of the soul (Naturally, I could point to biblical passages for a Christian, but this is dealing with the non-believer so we will use the grounds that philosophy recognizes, reason).

Absent in this from Stenger is any example of a near-death experience. He tells us to take such reports of NDE’s with a large bag of salt and then just says “Every such report that has been examined by skeptics has a simple, natural explanation.” No argument given. No link. We are told later to look at another one of his books for his sources, but why can’t Stenger give us some source here? He could have at least pointed to the work of Keith Augustine.

Absent is any reference also to any work by those studying in the field of near-death experiences. There is no looking at Melvin Morse or Michael Sabom or anyone else. None of the cases brought forward by Gary Habermas or J.P. Moreland are mentioned. Apparently, Stenger wants us to take what he says by faith. One wonders what he would think if I simply said “All examples of transitional fossils have been investigated by skeptics and found to be false.” Now I am not asserting that, but surely he would call foul if I just said that, and rightly so.

Now I am also not against being skeptical of near-death experiences. I think we should always be questioning people who have them, but there are cases that have great evidential value and again, I refer the reader to the works of people like Habermas or Sabom for reference.

Stenger goes on to talk about thoughts and matter citing the theologian Thomas Crean who says he cannot think of how thoughts could come from matter. Crean asks how a material thing could cause an immaterial thing to exist.

Stenger first off says this is an argument from ignorance. Second however, he says that a computer is a material thing that can solve mathematical problems and write poetry indistinguishable from that by humans. It can also produce beautiful art and music.

What’s also amazing is that Stenger thinks this is a valid analogy.

Computers are also programmed by human beings with immaterial information and they act on that information. I do see information as immaterial. It is just often transmitted through material means. Right now, I am transmitting information to you. If it was something entirely physical, my giving it to you would mean that I am losing it. I am still retaining the information that I have which you are gaining as well.

The computer does not produce new information. It simply churns out in an altered form that which was already programmed into it. It is not a produce but a transmitter more than anything else. One wonders how Stenger’s worldview even explains the existence of anything immaterial.

If matter is all there is, then matter must act on matter according to the laws of nature. Are the laws of nature capable of bringing out of matter that which is not material? It would be interesting for Stenger to tell us how this would come about. It would seem to be a miracle, which his system cannot allow.

However, while Stenger says Crean uses the argument from ignorance, he goes after theistic philosophers Goetz and Taliaferro because they do not know how exactly it is that an event in the brain that is nonphysical can bring about a physical action. Stenger argues that they don’t even have a model.

So note this everyone. When a theologians says he cannot see how matter can produce the immaterial, therefore matter is not all there is, he is using an argument from ignorance. When Stenger says he does not see how the immaterial can affect the material, therefore matter is all there is, he is not using the argument from ignorance.

There is no doubt that both sides have difficult questions to answer, but to chide one’s opponent for what one is guilty of himself is a huge double-standard. This is especially evidence since Stenger attacks Crean on one page for doing something and then defends himself against Goetz and Taliaferro the same way on the next page.

Stenger also says that theologians just say “God did it.” Scientists say “We don’t know, but we’ll try to find out.” This is simply false however. The history of science has been loaded with numerous theists who wanted to figure out how God did it. They always asserted God as the efficient cause somehow, with good reasons for believing in the existence of God, but they also sought to know the instrumental cause. How is it that God does what he does? Newton thought his system of mechanism did not detract from God but rather increased the glory of God. Kingsley praised Darwin for a mechanism that produced machine-making machines.

Theists are not against mechanism. They are simply saying that mechanism does not rule out God as an efficient cause nor does it eliminate the possibility of final causes. I as a non-scientist will say of creation that God did it, because I believe he is a divine creator. I leave it to the scientists to find out the instrumental means. However, my lack of knowledge of an instrumental cause or maybe even a final cause does not rule out knowing the efficient cause. An example of this would be to watch or read a mystery sometime. You can know who did the crime without knowing how or why.

Stenger then mocks mind-body dualism as a common sense belief. He asks us if we know what those are and tells us that those are the same beliefs that tell us that the world is flat. Ironically, that common sense did not seem to be for those in the ancient and medieval period. They knew the world was a sphere and most could tell you its circumference.

Stenger quotes Goetz and Taliaferro again who say the following:

If a person is convinced that his reasons for believing that he is a non-spatial entity and that he causally interacts with a physical body are better than any reasons he is given for believing that there can be no non-causal pairing relations between a non-spatial soul and a physical body that makes possible causal interactions between the two, then he will be justified in asserting the existence of such a relation even though he does not know what it is.

How does Stenger interpret this? “In other words, a person can believe whatever he wants to believe even if he doesn’t know what it is he believes.”

It is a wonder how Stenger gets that out of that.

What Goetz and Taliaferro are saying is that one can have reasons that are primary for believing in something without knowing all the secondary reasons. For instance, I believe there are strong arguments for the existence of God, such as the existence/essence distinction and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In light of this, I’m allowed to believe despite secondary problems that I don’t know all about, such as why God allows possible evils to occur. I believe if a naturalist thinks he has reasons to believe in naturalistic evolution, he’s allowed to do that even if he doesn’t have an explanation yet for the origin of life. He believes answers will come to secondary questions because primary ones have been answered.

Stenger believes an immaterial force acting on the brain violates laws of conservation of energy and asks why these laws can be violated but not other laws such as the forbidding of homosexual marriage or condoms.

First off, not all evangelical and orthodox Christians think the use of condoms is a sin. Orthodox Catholics do, but not all Protestants. Second, let’s suppose somehow physical laws are broken. I’m not convinced they are. Stenger gives me no reason to think such. Why is it that those can be broken but not moral laws?

It is because moral laws refer to something that is unchanging, God’s nature which is goodness itself. Physical laws do not as they apply only to the universe and could have been other than they are. Goodness could not be other than it is. Stenger’s reply could have been answered at the level of high school apologetics. This is basic stuff.

Stenger goes on to ask that if we have a soul and it is that which sins, then shouldn’t the soul be punished? His thought after this is that the more we learn, the more incoherent religious beliefs become.

It only takes a moment’s reflection to see the nonsense in this reply. The soul sins through the medium of the body and through the information it receives in the body. The sin of lust is a sin of the mind for instance, but it is a sin done through the information received through the body. The soul is punished and often through the medium of the body. I assure you when I feel pain, I do reflect on it and a lot of the agony is my mental awareness of what I am going through physically.

Stenger asks why the soul isn’t punished. The Christian response is “IT IS!”

Stenger also goes after Mario Beauregard saying that Beauregard relies on the argument from ignorance. I simply defy and reader to go get a copy of Beauregard’s “The Spiritual Brain” and see if he is simply using an argument from ignorance. Stenger repeatedly thinks he can just hand-waive away anything that he disagrees with with one statement. It doesn’t work here.

Now none of this is proof of the existence of the soul. That would be a whole other work. My point here is to show that Stenger’s arguments here simply do not work and his argumentation is simply shoddy. He is following reductionistic thinking with the idea that everything must be reduced to scientific means. Now it could be that everything is physical in nature and science can explain all, but Stenger gives no reason to believe that.

We shall continue tomorrow.

The New Atheism: The Nature of Nature

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, a blog dedicated to diving into the ocean of truth! Right now, we’re going through Victor Stenger’s book “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science And Reason.” Tonight, we look at chapter 7, “The Nature of Nature.”

We begin with a quote Stenger gives of Thomas Edison saying “Nature made us–nature did it all–not the gods of the religions. Religion is all bunk and all Bibles are man-made.”

This was a quote that struck me as odd thinking that something about it doesn’t seem like something Edison would say and indeed, no record can be found that he did say it. Of course, if someone can find the quote, I will be glad to retract it. I will want to see it in an original source from Edison’s own writings.

Stenger goes on to speak of the nature of the universe and says “According to our best current knowledge, the substance of the universe is matter and nothing else.”

I wouldn’t have a problem really with this statement. The universe is material and thus, it’s material cause will be matter. The question is, “Is the universe all that there is?” That is a question science cannot answer as science can only be authoritative on matter. Now inferences can be drawn, yes, but as soon as inferences are drawn, one is entering the areas of philosophy and theology. It is fine for scientists to make such statements, provided they realize they are stepping outside of the authority of science and are speaking as lay-philosophers, as it were.

Now much of what Stenger goes on to say in this chapter is in his area of expertise, physics. If some physicists wish to comment on that, that is fine. I will not attempt to refute the claims of physics for I am not a physicist. However, when they step outside of their bounds into my area of philosophy, that is where I will deal with them.

Stenger takes part of this time to go against miracles seeing them as violations of the laws of nature with the statement of “No reliably documented miracles have ever been reported in history or science.”

One wonders what is meant exactly by reliably documented. There are several cases were miracles have been documented. It does not mean they are true. One cannot doubt however that they have been documented. To check whether the miracle happened or not is not the area of science. It is the area of philosophy and theology.

When Stenger speaks against miracles, he is not speaking as a physicist, but as a philosopher, and let us remember that C.S. Lewis said that he believed good philosophy needs to exist if for no other reason, than that bad philosophy needs to be answered. Philosophy is unavoidable as is theology and science and history. We will all participate in these fields in some way. The question is, are we going to do bad at them or good at them? Stenger is repeatedly showing, he is a bad philosopher. (As well as bad at theology and history to buy Dawkins’s argument on the nature of God and to buy into the Christ-myth hypothesis)

Were I to speak to Stenger, I would point to the resurrection of Christ from the dead, documented in numerous sources. Now we could dispute those sources and if they happened, but it would be the one I would point to to see if he could give a naturalistic explanation for why Christ rose from the dead.

Stenger is correct when he says matter does not perform miracles but spirit does and if we ever saw a miracle, that would confirm a spiritual being exists. However, the lack of a miracle does not prove the non-existence of a spiritual being. Now I do believe in miracles of course, but I just wish for readers to know that a lack of miracles does not mean a lack of God.

In explaining the origin of the universe, Stenger says there is no need to violate any physical law to account for the universe. Again, I really don’t have much problem. I believe God could use a mechanism that would work by entirely natural means to create the universe. Of course, I also believe he set in place those laws of the universe by which the universe runs, but I have no problem with the early origin of the universe not having to have miracles. (Although I would say the coming into existence of the universe would be a miracle)

Stenger claims to give an account on where the laws of physics come from, but he never does. He simply says they’re not handed down by God but are human inventions. Now it could be I’m being too nit-picky, but the laws themselves aren’t human inventions. The descriptions of them are. The laws themselves are not. Stenger’s poor wording here however I find revealing. He does not understand the way his greatest critics will think about what he has to say.

Stenger’s position is still that the universe came from nothing and it is a point I cannot help but wonder why people think it. Nothing can mean something different to a physicist I’ll grant. However, nothing properly understood is simply non-existence. non-existence is incapable of causing existence. Non-existence cannot be acted on nor can it act on anything else. To say something just popped into existence is not a claim we’d accept for anything else, but we’re to accept it for the universe?

I am amazed that this is supposed to be the rational position. Nothing does not have any properties as has been said so how can science begin to say anything about it. We are always asked how God created the universe, but I would like to know how nothing brought about the universe. At least when understood God has a mind and power. Nothing has, well, nothing.

His final conclusion then on the laws of physics? “They can very well have come from nothing.” Now if you go to our study on the Summa Theologica and the existence/essence distinction, I will argue why God does not need a cause seeing as He is His own being. I bring this up because to many atheists, to say God is the first cause is nonsense, but why on Earth should I posit nothing as the first cause?

I find it amazing that the idea of taking a stand for science and reason means believing in the power of nothing.

We shall continue tomorrow.

The New Atheism: Suffering and Morality

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, the blog where we dive into the ocean of truth! The ocean diving sometimes means dealing with sharks. Right now, we’re dealing with Victor Stenger in his book “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science And Reason.” Unfortunately, this shark doesn’t have much of a bite. Tonight, we’ll see what he says on suffering and morality.

Stenger starts with the story of Bart Ehrman. (And you’ll notice whenever someone is referred to by the new atheists on the matter of biblical criticism, it is always Ehrman) Ehrman also wrote the book called “God’s Problem: How The Bible Fails To Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer.”

Now maybe it’s just me, but that has not been the most important question to me and I see that as a question that makes everything to be all about me. It’s saying “What I want to know about the universe is why do I have to suffer in it?” Why not seek the nature of the universe first or if there is a God behind the universe?

For Ehrman, it was really the problem of evil that led him away from his faith, and Ehrman himself would say this. It is a poignant question and very often, it is more emotionally driven than it is logically driven. Why is it that we are going through X suffering? We can think of no good reason and therefore we conclude that there is no good reason.

I will also add that while I believe Christians should give general reasons, it is the burden of proof of the objector on this one. They must show that there is no good reason. They must also deal with all the positive arguments for Christianity and the existence of God. I can say “I do not know the answer to that, but I do see this positive evidence for God’s existence and it overpowers what I see in evil.”

Ehrman points to God judging in Amos 3 and says that this is not the God of love. This is a fierce God who will punish his people for not worshiping Him. In his words, “God is a fierce animal who will rip His people to shreds for failing to worship Him.”

Well, yeah.

These were the people of the covenant. They had bound themselves to Him. This was compared to committing adultery on your spouse. It was the height of betrayal and for that, God abandons his people and leaves them to their other gods to save them, which they are incapable of.

God is a judge. He is never said to be one who sits up in Heaven and lets us get away with whatever we want to get away with. God is a serious judge because sin is a serious matter. If someone doesn’t realize that they don’t realize the holiness of the God Scripture tells of, the heinousness of sin, or both. These same people are thankful we have prison systems I’m sure to lock away criminals who would seek to harm us, but when it comes to our own personal sins, God better not judge!

To make a case on how the Bible treats the threats and promises of God, Stenger first cites Proverbs 11:19.

The truly righteous man attains life,
but he who pursues evil goes to his death.

He then cites Proverbs 12:21.

No harm befalls the righteous,
but the wicked have their fill of trouble.

Stenger then says we can scientifically test both of these and see that the good sometimes suffer while the wicked go through, therefore, the Bible is falsified by the data.

Stenger is a fundamentalist with the Bible.

Proverbs were not meant to be ironclad promises. None of the Jews interpreted them in such a way. They were general principles for how one was to live their life. It is better to live a life of good than a life of evil. If you seek God, you will be benefited by that. If you don’t, it is the way that leads to destruction. It might not be in this life, as Stenger expects, but it will be in the after-death.

Stenger brings up the free-will defense but also asks about natural evil. Why is there that kind of suffering? Once again, Stenger must make the case. He will chide the Christian when they plead ignorance and say “Therefore God”, but he will find it just fine to not know a reason for an evil and say “Therefore atheism.”

Natural evil I find to be a misnomer. Nature is not a moral agent. Still, why should I expect the world to be perfect? From what I see in Scripture, God created this world good, but he did not create it perfect. This is because he knew about the coming fall and created the world knowing what was coming and I would say as the battleground between good and evil to determine who would and who wouldn’t choose God.

A lot of natural evil is also the result of human evil. Consider the Haiti earthquake as an example. Similar earthquakes have hit similar cities and not done as much damage. This one did because of the poor living conditions due to the wickedness of the government keeping the people in poverty. With the tsunami, there were people who knew that it was coming in the area because they understood nature and could identify the signs. Some natural disasters are also essential. Earthquakes help replenish topsoil. Hurricanes held deal with carbon dioxide and bring nutrients to the surface for plants. An excellent look at the question of pain and why it is allowed can be found also in C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain.”

Stenger then looks at redemptive suffering and says that perhaps some suffering can be redemptive. Then says “Let us again adopt the scientific perspective and look at the data.” The first problem is, that’s not the scientific perspective. Philosophers look at the data. Mathematicians look at the data. Ethicists look at the data. Theologians look at the data. Historians look at the data. There is no scientific test you could do on suffering in this case.

Stenger then goes on to say “What was the redemptive value of the Crusades or the Black Plague or the Holocaust? What is the redemptive value of one child dying of leukemia or millions of children starving to death?” The implication is that first off, if you don’t know it, then there can’t be any redemptive meaning.

However, Stenger is making an error which he should realize. He spoke of this kind of suffering as redemptive suffering meaning he knows there are other kinds. Not all suffering is redemptive suffering. He is wanting to say that if this suffering is not redemptive suffering, then it is not just suffering, while he has admitted that there are other kinds of suffering.

Some of these kinds are free-will suffering. Evil people are doing evil things. We have enough resources right now to end world hunger for instance. Often, it’s evil governments that keep people from getting the food that they need and greedy people elsewhere not distributing as they ought. (I am not speaking in government-forced distribution but generous giving for the sake of giving)

We can also say that any time someone commits an evil act, the evil act itself is never justified. Sinners are justified. Sin never is. However, the evil act itself can be allowed because there is a greater good to come about by that evil. It is not a greater good for God, but for his creation. God cannot be improved in any way. It could bring Him glory, but that is not so He will be better, but also so His creation will see Him as He is.

Stenger also tells about the solution in the Bible is ultimately that God will judge the world and make everything right. Of course, Stenger raises the question here of if Jesus even existed. However, when it comes time to reply, he asks what a scientist is to make of all of this.

Once again, Stenger does not want us to think he is an advocate of scientism, but when he keeps saying this kind of statement over and over, one cannot help but think that he is. A scientist is not an ethicist or a theologian or a literary critic. He can be all of those in some form, but it is not insofar as a scientist, but it is rather in being human.

Stenger says that actually the good suffer sometimes and the wicked don’t and therefore the Bible is falsified. He also says the predictions of the Second Coming are wrong. There is no interaction with different perspectives on interpreting the passages. Nothing about a preterist or futurist response to these passages. It is just assumed without any examination of contrary material.

Stenger goes on to discuss how other religions answer the question, but that is not relevant to our purposes here. (And isn’t it again interesting that while the New Atheists keep saying that Islam is the biggest threat, they spend most of their time pointing their guns at Christians)

Stenger then moves on to morality itself and says “First, it is a tautology to say God is good and defines for us what is good and bad.”

This is a view some hold, but it is not my view. My view is I start with Aristotle and say that the good is that which is desirable for its own sake. Everything desires its own perfection. The ultimate good then is the ultimate perfection and the ultimate perfection is found in God who is goodness in essence. (See my series on the goodness of God in the Summa Theologica) Again, Stenger does not interact with different positions on the matter. He just assumes one.

Second, he tells us that there aren’t any moral principles that are not also embraced by atheists and agnostics. By and large, I would agree with this and wonder “Who claimed otherwise?” In fact, Scripture itself says otherwise as Scripture speaks of the law written on our hearts and that we all know the first principles of right and wrong. This is a position held strongly in Christianity throughout the ages. Stenger is unaware of this. He does not understand the Natural Law tradition and thinks that he has raised an objection. In fact, I would say he has given evidence of my view. There is a morality that transcends us all so much that we all know it. We all know moral truths.

If there are moral truths, then where do these truths reside? Truth is a relationship between the intellect and reality when the intellect has grasped reality as it is. It is saying that there really are moral facts that exist independently of us. We can know them. What is the basis for these facts however? If we create them, they do not transcend us and we can change them. If we do not, then we submit to them and they come from a source beyond us.

Stenger does not understand the debate. His third problem is that despite doctrinal differences, religions all seem to agree on some moral principles. Well of course they do! Morality is not considered under special revelation. You do not need special revelation to know it’s wrong to torture babies for fun. That is general revelation so all religions should have that.

Stenger tells us that the Bible tells us to love our neighbor, but does not point out how one’s neighbor refers to one’s own tribe only supposedly. Where does he get this? There’s no source, but it’s quite likely he’s reading the same article that Richard Dawkins referred to in The God Delusion.

No reference of course is given to the Good Samaritan where Jesus clearly indicated that it is beyond one’s tribe that one is to love. The neighbor was the one that a good Jew at the time would have despised the most. It’s just another example of the limited study of Stenger.

So what’s Stenger’s source for morality? Evolution.

But what is evolution? We are often told that evolution in the atheistic sense is purposeless, in that it only brings about the survival of the fittest without having an end goal in mind, but how can we say that society is progressing through evolution then? Evolution cannot be about progress as that implies progress towards a goal. It is simply change. It would be the same way with morality. Moral principles may change, but how can they become better or worse without the standard?

When we hear from atheists that society is evolving, we understand it to mean that morally we are becoming better and better. We are progressing. Progressing towards what? Where is the ultimate perfection? Is it better for us to love one another, but at the same time for the animals to kill one another? We may say it will result in dysfunctional societies, but that implies also a right way for society to function. What is the basis for such a way?

The problems are manifold. Evolution can explain how we act and some reasons for why we act that way. It cannot tell us however if we are acting the right way. It cannot answer the question of truth because moral claims are about truths of the universe as a whole. It is saying that this is a moral universe and in this universe are moral truths. If you come about them through evolution, fine. However, just saying evolution does not explain the existence of the truths but only the discovery of the truths.

If someone wishes to state the goal, they will need to demonstrate how an amoral universe can have moral truths in it, these truths can be eternal and unchanging, and at the same time reside ultimately in something that is not eternal and unchanging. If the good is constantly changing, we are progressing perhaps, but only towards different targets. There is nothing good in itself. It is just the direction we are going at the time.

We shall continue tomorrow.

The New Atheism: Holy Smoke

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, the place where we constantly dive into the ocean of truth! We’re going through Victor Stenger’s book “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science And Reason.” Tonight, we’re going to be going through the fifth chapter, “Holy Smoke.”

Stenger begins by saying that the Roman world was not steeped in sin prior to Christianity. Core values of polytheism were religious liberty and diversity.

Which explains the testimony of Tacitus about what Nero did to the early Christians and the testimony of Pliny the Younger on what he was today with the Christians he had captured.

Sources Stenger gives on the first-century world? Not a one. Nothing is mentioned about how families would have little girls left out in the wild to die simply because the father did not want to raise a girl. Nothing is said about how it has been said that one of the great miracles was that there even was a church in Corinth. Nothing is said about the sexual practices of the mystery religions.

We are told polytheism did not have holy wars, inquisitions, and crusades.

Although I would have thought crusades and holy wars were the same….

The world prior to Christianity had war just like any other time and it would often have been seen as the gods of one nation fighting against the gods of another nation. The very actions that Stenger will condemn in this chapter are the ones that were actually commonplace back then.

Stenger cites Jonathan Kirsch on the history of warfare between polytheism and monotheism. Kirsch says the following:

The men who hijacked and crashed four civilian airliners were inspired to sacrifice their own lives, and to take the lives of several thousand “infidels,” because they had embraced the simple but terrifying logic that lies at the heart of monotheism: if there is only one god, if there is only one way to worship that god, then there is only one fitting punishment for failing to do so: death.

In a way, Kirsch is right. If there is one God and one way to worship Him, the fitting punishment for failing to do so is death. The part where he errors is where he assumes that a religion will have its followers take that judgment into their own hands rather than waiting on God to judge.

The logic that lies at the heart of monotheism is simply this: There is one God. That doesn’t necessarily mean “Kill all who oppose.” In fact, for Christians, it means the opposite. Gather as many as you can into the fold of the one God so that all can find shelter in his arms.

We can readily show several examples of Islamic terrorism, but how numerous are the examples of Christian terrorism? When an abortion doctor gets shot, it makes headline news. One reason it can do so is because it is something that is extremely rare. Christian charities being formed around the world however don’t get any mention. In fact, speaking of the Crusades as Stenger does, there were people know as Hospitalers then who made it their goal to help the sick. In fact, reading about them in Jonathan Riley Smith’s “A Short History of the Crusades,” I can imagine some people would want to be injured for the fine cuisine and the excellent sleeping conditions. (I am not using sarcasm at all in this.)

Keep in mind that it’s not even brought up if this belief is true or not. It’s simply a belief with a consequence that is not even true that isn’t liked. I am a monotheist because I believe that is true and not because I necessarily like the view. I also see problems with atheism and polytheism.

Stenger claims that religious terrorism is found in the Bible. His first citation is Deuteronomy 13:6-11.

6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. 9 You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

This isn’t terrorism. Terrorism is one group trying to strike fear in another group. By this standard, a police force could be considered terrorist. Israel however lived in a theocracy and to live in the covenant with YHWH meant to live by the rules of YHWH. Anything against that was seen as treason. This was a charge that is still taken seriously today, and all the more seriously in a society ruled by God. The Israelites were not told to go out and slay the pagan nations around them for being pagan and engaging in polytheism. Preach against them? Prophecy against them? Sure. They were instead told to be priests for all the nations.

Stenger would have his readers believe this is to be a precedent for all time that all Christians are to take someone who comes into their home telling them to worship the Mormon god or the Islamic god outside and stone them. This is not the case. This is only for a theocracy.

Stenger then says Israel’s enemies were given no mercy, not even the innocent. Consider Exodus 12:29-30.

29 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

Okay boys and girls. What is Stenger leaving out? That’s right! He’s not mentioned that the Israelites were in Egypt at that time suffering under conditions of slavery. He also does not mention that this was after nine other plagues where God had shown his power to Pharaoh. He completely misses as well that God had even said that anyone could avoid the effects of this plague by the blood of a lamb on their door.

But no, Stenger just says Israel’s enemies were given no mercy, not even the innocent. Absent is any context. Had Stenger spent a few minutes looking at the surrounding context, he might have had a clue.

Stenger next tells of how the people of Betshe’mesh weren’t spared. What did they do? They looked into the Ark of the Lord. Stenger has a text that says the number killed was 50,070. It is questionable whether this is the actual number. However, these were Israelites also (Stenger places this right after Israel’s enemies not being spared so it’s unclear whether he’s ignorant that this was part of Israel). They would have known about the holiness of the Lord and how such actions were to be avoided.

Stenger also tells about how the Israelites suffered when a plague was sent when King David had a census. The plague took the lives of 70,000.

Absent from this is any mention that censuses were to be avoided. Absent is any mention on how plagues were normally far more devastating so what happened was light in comparison. Absent is any mention that the king suddenly dying with enemies all around would have been far worse for the nation as a whole. No. YHWH takes a life and he is automatically in the wrong. (It is amazing that those who often complain about evil complain just as much when God judges evil)

And of course, there’s a classic account these types always love to bring up. That is the judgment on Midian in Numbers 31. The text cited is as follows:

15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

Obviously, the Israelites were keeping the women alive who were virgins so they could be sex slaves.

Or maybe not….

Could it be that in Numbers 25 this nation had tried to bring about ruin for Israel by bringing about the judgment of God through seducing them sexually and leading them to worship other gods? Could it be that the virgins were spared because they had not taken part in the act? There is no context given to the statements by Stenger.

For a fuller look, I recommend the excellent article by Glenn Miller of the Christian-thinktank that can be found here.

After all of this, Stenger gives his source. What is it?
See for yourself.

Any scholarly material? Any commentaries? Any real attempts to study the text? Not at all. Stenger would not appreciate it if we treated his science as light-heartedly as he treats the Bible.

Moving on to the New Testament, we see the constant reference is Dan Barker’s “Godless” and Luke 12:47-48 is used to show that Jesus approved of slavery.

Or it could be Jesus was using a practice at the time in the Roman world that would have been understood.

We’re also told Jesus never spoke out against poverty. (Despite all he told about how money can lead to much evil and one should not be bound to their possessions and condemned those who robbed the poor and said that when we threw a banquet we should invite the poor) Stenger tells of the time ointment was sacrificed on Christ that could have been sold for a year’s wages. Stenger says in reply to Jesus’s words that we would not have Him with us always but we would the poor, “Pretty selfish and arrogant for a benevolent God, wouldn’t you say?”

Yes. After all, we should not honor God as God while He is with us. It is the kind of mindset at work that thinks it’s egotistical for God to expect us to worship Him. Instead, it is simply that we are to treat Him as the highest good because He is in fact the highest good.

Stenger then uses the example of Luke 19:27 and the slave to be beat in the presence of the king and tells us that Jesus is comparing Himself to that king. He precedes this by saying that this is the opinion of Dan Barker “who has studied the Bible far more deeply than I have.”

Nothing like second-hand research is there? Any contrary opinions cited? Not a one.

It’s the same situation however. This is referring to a king Israel had recently gone to protest being their king and was made their king anyway. Jesus is indeed making a comparison and speaking of judgment coming on those who oppose Him as the ruler He is. He is not advocating going out and beating with many blows political dissidents.

In defending the notion that atheism does not lead to deaths of innocents, he talks about the holocaust and says the reason that six million Jews died was because they were Jewish. If there were no religion, no one would be killed for being Jewish. Therefore, it is the fault of religion that six million Jews were killed.

So I suppose that if Muslims wanted to blow up a country of atheist infidels, it would be the fault of the atheists for being infidels. No. In this case, it would be the fault of the Muslims for being Muslims.

Thus, the deaths in the holocaust are blamed on religion.

Amazing the twisted logic that takes place.

Stenger also wants to talk about the atrocities of the Dark Ages. First off, no historian today would call that period the Dark Ages. It was a name given to set it in contrast to the Enlightenment. The so-called Dark Ages actually had a lot of light to them and were the foundation of what we have today.

For a look at supposed atrocities, I recommend the Christian crimeline found here . Naturally, I also have no problem with further study on any of these topics. A local library can be of great help here.

Stenger goes on to list atrocities that took place with Mormonism, and I do not deny those. I think there is clear evidence of the Mountain Meadows Massacre and I have a number of problems with the Mormon church. Stenger’s approach however is to show one case in the Mormon church that is by nature extreme, and then think that all other cases must be like this.

On a sidenote, he has a statement in this section about choosing a Mormon event since Mormonism is about 180 years old and ancient history is harder by comparison. He states that we know Joseph Smith existed but “We cannot be anywhere near as sure for Muhammad and Jesus, for whom there is really little if any historical evidence, and we can almost say for sure that Abraham and Moses are not historical figures.”

Again, no source listed on this. No citation of a scholar in history who really takes the Christ-myth hypothesis seriously.

Stenger says that the extreme example above however is “a detailed demonstration of how anyone who thinks he possesses absolute truth is capable of any horrible act, which is justified in his mind by that belief.”

First off, notice that Stenger does not say “absolute religious truth” but “absolute truth”, which would mean that the problem is not being religious but rather with having a truth claim. Of course, not all truth claims are created equal. I believe absolutely you should love your neighbor as yourself. Does that mean that I will commit horrible acts as a result?

Second, all people believe claims to be absolutely true. Statements like this just make me not take Stenger seriously. If he doesn’t think his position is the absolute truth, why on Earth is he writing a book trying to promote it?

Stenger does however make a statement eventually that I can sadly agree with.

Christians do not read the Bible either. If they did, they wouldn’t be Christians. They listen to selected verses read from the pulpit and taught in so-called “Bible Study” sessions.

I will say I have read my Bible. I have read it a number of times. However, I do agree that most Christians do not. Most Christians only know the verses their pastor reads. Most do in fact have so-called “Bible Study” sessions where it’s more studying our interpretations of the text rather than the text itself.

And these Christians don’t have a clue what to do when someone like Stenger or Barker comes up to them with the nonsense that we find in this chapter. The only reason Stenger can get away with this in any sense is because he is counting on his audience to be ignorant, and sadly, they usually are.

Let this be a call to Christians. We don’t need to be ignorant. A lot of these passages are tough. No doubt We need to look at them however and realize saying “I don’t like it, therefore it didn’t happen” isn’t an argument (For an excellent look at different views on the kind of texts spoken of here, I recommend “Show Them No Mercy.”).

The only reason atheism is gaining a foothold here is because Christians dropped the ball and got more interested in studying ourselves than studying the God who we claim to worship. We can do better.

We shall continue tomorrow.

The New Atheism: The Design Delusion

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, a blog where we dive into the ocean of truth! We’re right now reviewing the book of Victor Stenger’s called “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science And Reason.” Tonight, we review chapter 4, The Design Delusion.

Upfront, I will say I am not a scientist and do not intend to enter in any depth into the scientific areas. I believe that is supposed to be the area of those with that kind of expertise. Would that the new atheists did the same with philosophy and theology.

To begin with, Stenger quotes Richard Dawkins for the chapter header saying the following:

We are trying to understand how we have got a complicated world, and we have an explanation in terms of a simpler world, and we explain that in terms of a slightly simpler world and it all hangs together down to an ultimately simple world. Now, God is not an explanation of that kind. God himself cannot be simple if he has power to do all the things he is supposed to do.

Those like Dawkins can only think in terms of science and everything is scientific. That Stenger gives this any authority shows me the kind of thinker I’m dealing with. Dawkins’s argument assumes that God must be a physical being. He must be highly complex in order to do the things that he is able to do.

If you think back to our look at the doctrine of God based on the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, you’ll recall that we constantly spoke of the simplicity of God. God is being by nature and therefore not composed of parts. He can do all things for he can do all that being is capable of doing and he can know all the ways that being can be.

Hard to understand? Yes. Dawkins’s objection however is not a scientific objection but a theological one, and it is built on very bad theology. We could attempt to excuse Dawkins for ignorance, except in “The God Delusion” Dawkins does go through the five ways of Thomas Aquinas and the very next section after the five ways is on the simplicity of God.

Looking through this chapter, much of what Stenger says is scientific. As I said, I will not get into that. However, he comes to history and says that evolution immediately came under attack from religious spokesmen because it clearly conflicted with Genesis.

Source please?

In contrast, a good friend of Charles Darwin’s was the botanist Asa Gray, who was also a devout Christian. Charles Kingsley, a minister, wrote to congratulate Darwin on his theory because it brought great glory to the creator who built machines capable of building more machines.

Richard Dawkins in his own work on “A Devil’s Chaplain” wrote of his education and his teacher Sanderson, who happened to be an evolutionist and a devout Christian. The new atheists readily list examples of Christians who find no conflict between evolution and science, but they still play the same card over and over. Now as for me, I don’t personally believe the theory on a macro scale, but if I was wrong, it wouldn’t matter to me. It’s not a major issue.

The problem however for the atheist is what Alvin Plantinga pointed out. As it stands right now, evolution is the only game in town so naturalistic evolution must be true then. I, as one who believes in creation, can say that I can think of any number of ways God could have created and whichever one is right is fine with me.

Stenger goes on to explain why Intelligent Design should not be taught in schools. Stenger says it is a science, but it is a wrong science. It should not be taught any more than that the Earth is flat should be taught, which he says that the Bible implies.

Any reference given? Not a one. It’s amazing atheists like Stenger chide Christians for taking the Bible literally and what do they do? They turn around and take the Bible literally. The Bible uses language to describe phenomena in ways people can understand. I have no more problem with the four corners of the Earth than I do with the idea of the sun rising.

Stenger ends the chapter with Dawkins’s argument about how God must be more complex than anything else if he created this world.

Now this I find interesting as evolutionary theory always has it that complex things come from simpler things and even simpler things. If Dawkins was being consistent, he would say that God is absolutely simple since he brought about the most complex things of all. If he said that, he would actually be right.

Instead, he goes against what he has taught about evolutionary theory and instead says that in this case, what is complex must have come from something even more complex. If he wishes to believe that that is the case, then I will say “Fine. Show me the more complex things that the complex things we have today came from.” If he does not, then I will say he has no objection.

To say God is not an answer however is not to do science, (Remember science? It’s what Stenger said Collins should have based his argument for belief in God on. Apparently, you’re supposed to use science to believe in God, but it’s okay to use philosophy to disbelieve in God. Amazing how Stenger picks and chooses.) but it is rather to do theology and this kind of understanding involves philosophy as well.

In this case, it is bad theology and philosophy. Why should I assume God has a body? Now it could be the case that he does, but Dawkins gives no reason to think such. Does he cite any theologians who believe such a thing? Does he give any biblical references? Not a one. He assumes his scientific understanding and applies that to theology and philosophy. As has been said, the scientific method is an excellent way of discovering truth….if you are doing science. It is not the way to do philosophy or theology.

I will conclude then with my own thoughts on the matter of design. I am a believer in design and in that case also believe in teleology. There is a purpose behind this universe and a reason why things are the way they are. Some things are wrong in this world because of the fall. I accept that.

I believe that to know something is designed, you don’t have to know who designed it, or how, or for what purposes. I’m not against finding the answers to those questions, but it should not be that we eliminate design because we do not know the answers to those questions. In fact, not knowing those answers gives us all the more grounds for further inquiry. It allows science, philosophy, and theology to work together.

I accept simply that I have numerous wonders around me that are technological that I do not doubt were designed. I also realize however that the most amazing work I see around me is that which I see in the mirror. Not me specifically, but humanity. I realize the uniqueness of the human mind and the DNA sequence and think “No. This is not an accident.”

I also realize the implications of it being an accident. There is no teleology then to anything and therefore no purpose. Such is not the world we live in for we do things with purpose regularly and believing that we are serving a purpose beyond ourselves. Evolution is about the survival of the fittest, but for what purpose? That their genes may be passed on. For what purpose? Even evolution has creatures seeking an end, the end of survival.

But if that survival is pointless, then why even bother? It makes no difference whether you die out or not. If however we have a purpose, then our survival is good and it is on a scale above other animals and the bacteria that we wash off of ourselves whenever we take a shower.

If you believe you are here for a reason, even if you don’t know that reason, I see enough reason for you then to believe in design. I see the only reason someone denies design to be that they have a worldview prior that cannot allow for that.

We shall continue tomorrow.

Review Of The New Atheism: The Sword Of Silence

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! Right now, we’re reviewing Victor Stenger’s book “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science And Reason.” Tonight, we’ll be looking at the chapter on the sword of science.

Stenger early on quotes a Christian apologist named David Marshall who says the new atheists don’t recognize the limits of science. Stenger replies that Marshall quotes no atheist who holds such a view.

I’ll quote one. How about Victor Stenger? What did he say on page 63 just five pages prior?

“And again, science is belittled. ‘Scientific method by definition has nothing to say about God, meaning, values, or purpose.’ By whose definition? I will have a lot more to say about science and God in this book. But for now let me comment that science and reason can be applied to anything and everything that involves some sort of observation. This includes the ‘inner’ observations we make in our minds.”

Maybe it’s just me, but it sounds to me that Stenger is saying that if anything is observable, even if only mentally, it’s the topic of science somehow. If the universe is all there is and there is nothing other than matter ultimately, then somehow, everything is observable and everything is scientific.

Now if there are some realities that are immaterial in nature, Stenger will need to explain those realities and how they exist.

Even if I am incorrect, one cannot blame Marshall for the viewpoint with the constant trumpeting that we have of science by the new atheists as if it was the final field of study, which is the exact opposite of thinking beforehand. Science studied a type of existence in the past but not existence itself. Stenger may say “I am not a belief in scientism”, but everything he types says otherwise. He wants to eat his cake and have it too.

In writing about the benefits of science, (To which he doesn’t deny the negative realities we have that I listed yesterday) Stenger lists the internet which has become invaluable to writers and scholars as an easily retrievable information source.

Now I will admit of course there is a lot of good stuff on the internet, such as this blog. It should not be our main resource however. I have a library with several books. There is much good on the internet, but with that, I highly recommend checking authoritative works and good internet sites will often point to such works for further reading.

This is important in an age where Wikipedia is cited as a source. Google is good for basic checking, but it is not good for building a foundation. However, as we will see, Stenger relies on web sites that are not authoritative far too much.

Stenger soon quotes the Christian apologist Tertullian who said “I believe because it is absurd?”

Wait. Did he?

Maybe Stenger should have done some checking. First, I refer the reader to the work of Roger Pearse at Tertullian.org that can be found here . Pearse says the following:

This is usually misquoted, “Credo quia impossibile” (I believe it because it is impossible), and used together with the Athens/Jerusalem quote as evidence of Tertullian’s irrationalism, and advocacy of blind faith as a reason to believe. But neither idea is under discussion. The context is actually an argument with the heretic Marcion, who believed in the resurrection, but didn’t believe Christ had a real body, and that the flesh was shameful. Tertullian points out that Christ himself said that worldly wisdom was not to be trusted on such things, so if Marcion was following it, he must be in the wrong. The idea of irrationalism as such, as opposed to ‘the wisdom of the world is foolishness’ does not arise. See also Sider, R.D., Credo quia absurdum?, Classical World, 73, 1980, pp.417-9 (reviewed CTC 80, ยง45) briefly discusses both ‘quotes’ and puts them in context, with an interesting suggestion that Tertullian was here using Aristotle.

And he also refers to another page here .

Stenger should surely have been able to find such information. He’s just told us how great the Internet is after all.

Stenger also writes about the detrimental effects of religion supposedly, such as supporting slavery (Which Aristotle said some were slaves by nature and Christianity ended slavery twice in history), the oppression of women (How he demonstrates this at a later time is hysterical), ethnic cleansing, serfdom, the divine right of kings, and extraction of testimony by torture.

Sources cited? Not a one.

Now I’ll grant that several Christians I’m sure did do such things. The question is, does Christianity? Is it in line with the teachings of Christ? Can Stenger demonstrate this?

On the other side, Stenger says religion has opposed anesthetics, lightning rods, sanitation, vaccination, eating meat on Friday, and birth control.

Source given? Not a footnote is listed. Just what a colleague says. I would not be surprised to see a work behind this view however such as that of Andrew Dickson White’s, which is now highly outdated. If Stenger would just give some sources for some of these, that would be great.

I’ll also grant that some are opposed today. The Catholic Church and some protestants do oppose birth control, but they also have their reasons for doing so. Whether one agrees or disagrees with that stance, it should be realized that there are reasons for holding that stance.

Later, Stenger asks about why we haven’t found any evidence that God exists. (The Christian answer is that we have and Stenger represses it.) He says the trying to explain why we haven’t found such evidence is called “apologetics” and that Christians have a lot to apologize for.

Stenger needs to apologize for a terrible sense of humor. With a remark like this, he is hoping his readers don’t know what apologetics really is and will never pick up a book on apologetics at all lest they find out that Stenger doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

The word apologetics comes from the Greek word “apologia” and refers to a defense. Plato has a dialogue called the Apology that is Socrates’s trial before the government of Athens. Justin Martyr wrote a defense of Christians that was called “The First Apology.” Stenger himself is participating in apologetics. He is doing apologetics for atheism.

And Stenger has a lot to apologize for considering how badly he misrepresents his idealogical opponents.

The next point to touch is that Stenger responds to the theistic claim that the new atheists have an unjustifiable faith that the world is rational. His reply is “What’s the alternative? An irrational world.”

Why yes. I would believe that would be the case.

And Stenger gives no reason why we should think the world irrational. He asks how irrationality can lead us to any knowledge. Of course it can’t, but how can he know he has any knowledge at all unless the world is somehow rational. Stenger entirely misses the point. Yes. Either the world is rational or irrational. Why should it be rational instead of irrational? It’s not “Which option do we prefer?” It’s “Which option is true?”

Why should it be that these ideas I have in my mind that is supposedly the result of an accident can correspond to a universe outside of my mind that is also the result of an accident? If these mathematical laws are accidents, why is it that they seem to work so wonderfully?

In the next section, Stenger answers if we can trust our minds and says “The new atheists do not trust any minds, including their own.”

Yes folks. I’m not making this up. He says that.

To which I say, “If you don’t trust your conclusions that your mind is reaching, why publish them and why should I keep reading?”

But I do because someone has to and it is amusing.

Stenger tells us however that that is in fact why we need the objective standards of science and reason.

How did he come to know that science and reason are objective standards? I suppose he used his mind, that tool that he says we can’t trust. How is it he thinks he has performed experiments rightly? I suppose by using his mind, that tool that he can’t trust. How is it he is sure he has interpreted his conclusions rightly and drawn them out to the best inference?

You see the pattern.

Stenger says that his theistic critic however gets his values the same way, by using his mind.

Um…..yeah.

The difference is, we have a basis for reason being objective and able to tell us information about the world. Stenger’s reply is that we don’t listen to the Bible about stoning disobedient children.

Unfortunately, Stenger did no research and did not note that that takes place in the theocratic society of Israel. It was not just six year old Joseph failing to clean his room. It involved a child who was a drunk and glutton and constantly rebellious. (Last I checked, most little children don’t have a problem with being drunks) A child was a valuable part of the work force of the family that kept them sustained and this would have been the last resort in dealing with a child who was a threat not only to the family but society as a whole.

But hey, the new atheists never have cared about research in religion.

Later, Stenger goes on to write about the warfare between science and religion and who does he cite? You guessed it! Andrew Dickson White, along with the other writer of his time who did the same, J.W. Draper. He states that there have been many attempts to minimize or eliminate the conflict. What’s his source? Paul Kurtz’s book he edited on the topic. Let’s look at what Amazon’s summary of the book said:

Over the past two decades, science and religion have been seeking common ground through ongoing dialogue. The contributors to this volume provide a dimension to the conversation that has seldom been heard. Most of these essays originated as papers delivered at a 2001 conference in Atlanta sponsored by the Center for Inquiry, which is committed to the use of science and reason to conduct free inquiry into all areas of human interest. The very simple thesis of the collection is that science and religion can never be compatible. Rich and suggestive essays by such well-known thinkers as Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Arthur C. Clarke range over topics from intelligent design to sociobiology and creationism. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg opens the book by declaring that a dialogue between science and religion cannot be constructive, for science has made it possible for people to be not religious. Botanist Massimo Pigliucci argues that the newly popular theory of intelligent design is a kind of “neocreationism” trying to get into public school curricula by the back door. Finally, philosopher and editor Kurtz (Skeptical Odysseys, etc.) contends that science and religion are minimally compatible, for where science has provided an understanding of the vast and mysterious cosmos, religion is “dramatic existentialist poetry,” a product of humankind’s creative imagination designed to overcome fear and uncertainty with hope and love. Although some will dismiss most of the essays as arrogant and contentious, they nevertheless present important and provocative voices too often drowned out by the move to assert complete compatibility between science and religion.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

In other words, his source for the reply was a book with articles by atheists and published by Prometheus. You would think if he was getting the counter-reply, he would recommend books that were actually by theists who disagreed with the claim. Not one is listed. For a response to Draper and White (Yes Stenger, in over 100 years there have been responses, see the work of the Bede here .

Stenger goes on to refer to the philosophy of Hume and says “We cannot use our experience in this universe, with its laws and constants, to infer what is possible in another universe with different laws and constants. The universe is not fine-tuned for life. Life is fine-tuned for the universe.”

It would be great if Stenger actually followed this rule, but in the next book we will review, he constantly makes a contrast between what the universe would be like if there was a God. How he came to this knowledge? I have no idea.

Stenger then says “Why would a perfect God make a universe so uncongenial to life that he would have to then turn around and fine-tune it? Earth-like planets should be everywhere.”

This is not a statement of science however but of theology. Not one basis is given for it. To begin with, no one says God created the universe and then he altered it by fine-tuning it. It was created with the fine-tuning built in.

Furthermore, why should we expect Earth-like planets everywhere? Are we saying that if God creates a large universe, he has to fill every inch of it with life? Why? What is the theological basis for such? There is nothing in Christianity that demands such a thing and there is nothing in the claim that contradicts a single doctrine of Christianity.

He then speaks about Francis Collins who was converted in part through the writings of C.S. Lewis. He chides Collins because his primary piece of evidence was not scientific but was the belief in the moral law written on the heart.

Keep in mind everyone. Stenger does not believe in scientism. He just wants all your arguments to be scientific in nature. What a catastrophe that you make a decision on any other grounds but science!

Stenger’s reply? Nothing about the moral argument here but saying Collins should have read the latest on cosmology and evolutionary psychological and to consult theological sources besides an author of children’s literature.

Way to treat an Oxford Don who was a great philosopher in his own right.

Stenger then says “While a favorite among Evangelical Christians, Lewis is not highly regarded today by either theologians or philosophers.”

It was no shock when I saw that Stenger’s only source for this was John Beversluis’s work on C.S. Lewis. This is a work that Peter Kreeft, a Lewis enthusiast, referred to as the worst biography on C.S. Lewis that he had ever read. It wasn’t a shock to see this because to the atheists I know, this is the only book on C.S. Lewis that there is.

Sorry Stenger. I do know theologians and philosophers and we do still take Lewis seriously.

He then gets to the question of if science can disprove God’s existence. Stenger speaks of the definition of proof and of God but then says “I won’t get too pedantic and ask for the definition of existence. We all have a pretty good idea what that means.”

No Stenger. We don’t.

As a Thomist, I take the doctrine of existence seriously. Did Stenger ever consult a work like Joseph Owens’s “An Interpretation of Existence?” Are any books on metaphysics cited? What does it mean to be really? Stenger takes the most important question here and then just waives it away.

Stenger tells us the best theologians and philosophers can do is show some assumptions about God are logically coherent or incoherent. For thousands of years logical proofs have been offered to demonstrate God’s existence, but all they do is show that there is consistency in presumed attributes of God.

Really?

Of which arguments do you speak Stenger?

I don’t know. Why? You never list any. There’s nothing about the Kalam Cosmological Argument. There’s nothing about the five ways of Aquinas. There’s nothing about the moral argument. There’s nothing about Augustine’s argument from mind. There’s nothing about the argument from beauty. There’s nothing about the ontological argument.

Stenger is a man of faith.

Of course, Stenger does say this isn’t useless. You can prove an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God doesn’t exist by the gratuitous suffering in the world.

Okay. I like proofs. Prove that gratuitous suffering exists Stenger. In order to do this, you must demonstrate somehow that there is no good reason whatsoever to allow evil X to occur. In fact, since your standard is the sciences and that should be our primary piece of evidence as you chide Collins for going against, then please scientifically demonstrate that X evil is gratuitous.

If you can’t, then I mark you down again as a man of faith.

Of course, for more amusement, we can see how Stenger shows the first cause argument has been refuted. His source is John Allen Paulos. Paulos says the following:
“If everything has a cause, then God does too, and there is no first cause.”

That’s not the first cause argument however. The first cause argument does not say everything has a cause. It says that everything that begins to exist has a cause.

Paulos asks why the physical world can’t be the uncaused cause. The theist answers that it is because this world is in a state of flux seeing as it has matter and matter has potential and thus has various modes of existence. Since it moves from one type of existence to another type, it is not its own basis for existence.

That Stenger thinks such an argument is convincing shows how easily he is convinced by bad argumentation.

It also shows why I shouldn’t trust his reasoning, but that’s okay because he’s said earlier he doesn’t trust his own mind.

In conclusion, if Stenger has a sword, it’s a plastic one he bought at a fair. The pen of the philosophers and theologians throughout the years is definitely mightier than a scientist who tells me to not even trust his mind.

We shall continue tomorrow.

The New Atheism: The Folly of Faith

Welcome back to Deeper Waters, where we are diving into the ocean of truth! Right now, we’re dealing with the work of Victor Stenger. At the moment, it’s his book “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science And Reason.” Tonight should be an entertaining look at the chapter on the folly of faith.

In the very first paragraph, Stenger asks why people of faith should be deemed worthy of esteem. After all, he says “Faith is belief in the absence of supportive evidence and even in light of contrary evidence.”

Which makes me think the chapter could more refer to Stenger’s definition of faith. If there is a folly here, it’s on Stenger’s part. Well, let’s play Stenger’s little song and dance. Let us condemn any belief that is wished to be held in the absence of supportive evidence or in light of contrary evidence.

First, do we have any supportive evidence given for this claim?

Well, Stenger says that’s what it means, but he gives no source. I suppose he wouldn’t object on those grounds to my saying “Jesus was a historical person” and give no source.

Consider the following here

What do we see listed?

conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the NT of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervour born of faith and joined with it
relating to God
the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ
relating to Christ
a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God
the religious beliefs of Christians
belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence) whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same
fidelity, faithfulness
the character of one who can be relied on.

I also recommend the excellent work of James Patrick Holding on “What is faith?” available here

Based on this, I consider Stenger a man of faith. He has no supportive evidence and there is contrary evidence to his viewpoint.

By his standard, he is not a person to be held in high esteem then.

A few pages later, Stenger goes on an economic rant on how neocons dismantling the New Deal policies of FDR leading to the economic fall in 2008. Also, the neocons had a movement of anti-intellectualism that only benefited the rich.

It’s nice, but as one who does read on economic theory, I still have one question.

Evidence?

Stenger gives no footnotes. No sources that state what economists agree with his position. He is not an economist. He is a physicist. Since he is speaking on economics, he should cite some authorities in economics. He merely wants to make an assertion and hope the assertion counts as evidence.

Sounds like a man of faith.

He goes on to write later about philosopher Michael Novak’s opinion of the new atheists where Novak says that the new atheists are “difficult to engage” on religion since “all of them think that religion is so great a menace that they do not show much disposition of dialogue.” Stenger replies “This enables him to make sure the dialogue is on his terms.”

Kind of like giving a definition of faith that can’t be found in any authoritative source on the topic.

If anything makes the new atheists difficult to engage, it is not their understanding of theological matters. It is their lack of understanding. They are blinded by their own ignorance so much so that they refuse to look up that which is contrary to their view, all the while condemning their opponents of doing the same. They think they know all about the other side simply by reading their own partners.

Stenger goes on to complain of faith-based organizations who are allowed to break the law and the constitution by hiring only those of their faith.

This is a violation how?

Again, Stenger doesn’t say.

That’s a pattern showing up consistently. It’s because the new atheists are men of faith.

Stenger goes on to talk about the Seventh-Day Adventist church founded by William Miller.

Um. Not exactly.

The SDA church is an off-shoot of the Millerite movement. It would trace its origins to Miller in a sense, but its foundation really lies more with its alleged prophetess Ellen G. White.

On page 58, Stenger starts talking about evidence and the laughs really take off. In talking about Jesus he says “There is not a single piece of independent historical evidence for the existence of Jesus or the veracity of the events described in the New Testament.”

While Stenger relies on Ehrman, even Ehrman would tell Stenger at this point he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. No one takes the Christ-myth seriously in scholarship. Stenger talks about the reference in Josephus and how almost all scholars accept it as a forgery.

Evidence given? Not a one.

I refer the reader to the work by the Venerable Bede found here

Completely absent is any mention of the second passage in Josephus that is not considered questionable. There is no mention of Tacitus, or Pliny the Younger, or Seutonius, or Mara Bar-Serapion, or anyone else.

There is no reason given that the gospels or the testimony of Paul cannot be seen as eyewitnesses.

But as we’ve said, Stenger is a man of faith.

He later refers to Remsberg’s book asking why Philo doesn’t mention Jesus.

Yes. Remsberg. This is the guy who has a list of all these people who lived at the time of Jesus that don’t mention him and internet skeptics love to throw this around as if it was a trump card. Instead, most of these had good reasons for not mentioning Jesus, especially since some were not even historians! Philo’s case is likely because he wasn’t in Judea at the time but was rather living in Alexandria and would have remained as skeptical of the claims of Jesus if he heard of them as Stenger is.

For more on Remsberg’s list, I recommend the following .

Stenger goes on to say that science flies us to the moon. Religion flies us into buildings.

Science also enables us to fly over cities and drop bombs on them. It enables us to release biological warfare. It enables any one with evil intent to pick up a gun and rob a store. It enables someone to use the internet to commit crimes. It makes it possible for someone to do identity theft.

Religion meanwhile has also promoted the spread of morality. It has helped with the teaching of literacy and its spread. It has made people want to study the world and learn all about it that they can. It has taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves and seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

The new atheists never give both sides of the picture. Yes. Science gives us good things. It also gives bad. Yes. Religion has brought about some bad things. It’s also brought about good.

Maybe it’s a strange leap, but could it be that good people use good science and good religion for good means and evil for evil means?

Could it be the problem is not religion or science but people?

And if it comes to people, personally, religion has a better method for transforming evil people into good.

Stenger replies also to the claim that Christianity says that God has revealed Himself in creation, our hearts, and history. He seems to think it a defeater to ask “Then why are there any non-Christians?”

The biblical claim is not that it’s a lack of evidence. It’s a repression of evidence. It is not as if you present the evidence and people automatically act accordingly. We have much evidence today that smoking is harmful to your health, but how many people do you know who know that and still smoke?

The Bible tells us that the real problem is in the heart of man. He is a sinner. Man doesn’t want to bow a knee to God but would prefer to be his own God.

Stenger replies to an argument later that comes more from Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Stenger seems unfamiliar with Plantinga however. The argument is that evolution could give us beliefs that help us survive, but there’s no reason to think those beliefs are true. You cannot use reason to prove reason. (This argument is also found in C.S. Lewis’s “Miracles.”) What says Stenger to this?

“On the contrary, every successful scientific experiment that results in a practical application demonstrates the utility of basing our theories on empirical evidence. As explained above, whether or not it is “true” in some metaphysical sense is irrelevant, as long as it works.”

There are some things these guys say that I wonder I even have to respond to them.

So basically, Stenger has told us that with science, it doesn’t matter if the results are true, so long as they work.

Which is the very problem Plantinga is saying. Based on the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, one cannot know that one’s beliefs are true. They can only know that they work.

And yes, the quotation marks in the quote around the word true are found in Stenger’s own words.

Finally, Stenger complains that one apologist has belittled the scientific method by saying it has nothing to say about God, meaning, and purpose.

Well, yeah.

For the new atheists, it’s just unthinkable to say that there’s an area that science is not an authority on.

Science is great for studying matters that are scientific, such as beings that are material. Beyond that, it’s not so great. It can provide data that helps in other areas, but it’s no longer the final arbiter in those areas.

I conclude this chapter the way I began. If there is any folly here, it is on the part of Stenger, who is, by his definition, a man of faith, someone not to be held in esteem.

The New Atheism Review: Atheism On The Offensive

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we dive into the ocean of truth! We’re right now going through one of the books of Victor Stenger. Right now it’s “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science And Reason.” We’re going to review the first chapter tonight on atheism on the offensive.

In this chapter, Stenger makes it clear that he wishes to go after the God most often seen is some variation of the God of the three great monotheistic faiths. Interestingly, he traces their origin to Abraham who he describes as a mythological figure who probably lived 4,000 years ago.

He follows this by saying that if Abraham lived at all, he would have been polytheistic, as were all the people in Canaan at the time. He also states that Judaism did not become monotheistic until after the return of the Jews from exile in 530 BCE. (Of course, he says BCE. I have no problem saying B.C.)

There is no source given for this. Whose scholarship should I go to to see about Abraham? Where is the evidence that Judaism was polytheistic until the return from the exile. (You know, for guys that are supposedly so big on evidence, you think they’d actually learn to use some.)

Instead, Stenger is relying on JEPD theories that were popular at the time of Welhausen in the 19th century with the idea that writing didn’t show up until the time of Amos which was when the Pentateuch was written. I am once again reminded that atheists sadly usually only study biblical ideas only to find something to disagree with and then go from there. The difficulty is that I have no idea which sources Stenger is using for this claim that is certainly not a scientific claim. Maybe he just wants me to take it on faith.

Stenger says that atheists view science as the best means humanity has yet come up with for understanding the world. To an extent, this is correct. If you want to study geology or astronomy or botany or biology, science is great. That’s what it’s designed for. If you want to study history or philosophy or theology however, science is only a secondary source.

Stenger routinely denies that the new atheists are believers in scientism. However, while this claim is made repeatedly, the opposite is shown the most. There is a constant reminder of how scientific evidence is needed and that a claim is not scientific. The problem is some claims are not scientific in fact and so no scientific evidence is there. My wife loves me. That is not a scientific claim. You could not find scientific evidence for it. Jesus rose from the dead is not a scientific claim. The date of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon is not a scientific claim. Now that one definitely used a lot of science, but the date itself is not scientific.

Stenger claims that his fellow scientists who are believers compartmentalize their thinking into scientific and religious. When they go to church, they enter a compartment that shuns critical thinking and devil’s advocacy that came with their scientific training. Once again, it’s simply an either/or fallacy. The new atheists just can’t imagine anyone with any critical thinking would be religious.

Which rules out several of the great philosophers in history and many great thinkers today. If Stenger actually interacted more with the great thinkers of the day, he might realize this. It is assertions like these that get me to the point where I can’t really take the new atheists seriously.

Stenger says that science just makes models anyway and does not require nor does it use any metaphysics. As far as science can tell, the universe is matter and nothing more.

Science however is used to study matter and cannot tell about anything beyond matter. To make such a statement is to overstep the bounds of science. Also, science does require metaphysics. The very statement that the universe is matter and nothing more is in fact a metaphysical statement. It is saying that the nature of all being is material in some way.

Metaphysics is properly understood as the study of being as being. The sciences study one type of being. Biology studies matter that is living for instance. Physics studies matter in motion. Astronomy studies matter that is heavenly in nature. Botany studies plant matter. All of these contribute to our study of types of being, but metaphysics studies what it means to be, which encompasses all of them.

Stenger states that atheists appreciate the beauty of art, music, and poetry as much as believers. They also appreciate the joys of love, friendship, parenthood, and other human relationships. I have no doubt that atheists do enjoy these. My question to Stenger is first off, what are the bases for these realities? What is the standard of beauty, for instance? Second, why should these be appreciated.

It is ironic that Stenger ends the paragraph stating that a claim about the world should be tested by science and reason. Reason can study these things, but science cannot study anything just mentioned. It can study some qualities of the things, but it cannot study the things in themselves.

It is my contention that atheists are too often falling back onto theistic standards when their worldview has no basis for such standards. Now you can value those things, yes, but what is the basis for valuing them? I have no problem with saying they can be enjoyed, but can their existence be explained?

Stenger also argues that religion is given an exemption from the requirement of rationality applied in other areas of discourse.

I’m not sure where he’s getting his information from. Especially since I as a theist often do get chided for being irrational. Now I don’t mind this at all. If someone thinks I’m irrational, better for them to go ahead and say it. I happen to think atheism is irrational and I make no bones about it.

Stenger says that atheists are pilloried for hurting people’s feelings when deepest doubts are cast that somebody born of a virgin rose from the dead 2,000 years ago or question that a book contains all the truths that anyone will ever need to know.

First off, people like Stenger do not hurt my feelings. Instead, they tickle my gag reflex. If someone is having their feelings hurt, then they need to get tougher. I do think Christians should be able to answer Stenger and frankly, they should be able to answer him easily.

Second, the use of the virgin birth and resurrection as automatic nonsense only work if all miracles are prima facie nonsense. That is the atheist worldview however and it does no good for Stenger to go to the theist and say “Your worldview does not match with the atheist worldview and is therefore false.” Now if the atheist worldview is true and mine does not match, then yes, my worldview is false. That must be demonstrated. It is this kind of technique that shows the bankruptcy of the arguments of the new atheists. They do not see the presuppositions which they approach theistic arguments with and thus do not take them seriously.

Now do I believe in every miracle claim that has happened? No. Not at all. It is not because they are miracle claims however, but it is because they have insufficient evidence. This includes claims that could back my own Christian beliefs. I have often been accused also of only allowing miracles in my own religion. That is also false. I am open to miracles taking place in other religions. It’s just that just like my own religion, I like to see the evidence.

Finally, it is a straw man to say the Bible contains all the truths that anyone ever needs to know. If you want to study science, I do not believe in picking up the Bible first. Now I do not think the Bible will contradict with truth claims found outside of it, but it is not the source. If I was teaching someone math for instance, I would not go to the Bible to begin. I would get a math textbook. Christians do not deny there is great truth to be found outside the Bible. I do not want my doctor to prescribe a psalm if I am sick. I want him to prescribe medicine.

Much of what comes after this is simply a look at points and counterpoints in the literature of the new atheists. However, I again pick up my interest when he talks about a review in the Times of the work of Dennett. Stenger says of the choice of reviewer “The Times should not be asking a literary editor to review a book on science any more than they should ask a scientist like myself to review a book on Shakespeare.

I have no problem with that.

I just have a problem with Stenger thinking however that he’s still qualified to speak on theology and philosophy. The new atheists make a big deal out of someone without the proper training commenting in the area of science and I agree, but they don’t seem to give the same respect to theology or philosophy. A classic example is a work Stenger defends in this book, The God Delusion.

As one trained in theology and philosophy, I find it amazing that anyone takes that book seriously. Dawkins wrote on an area he is not skilled in. It shows through and through.

However, Stenger wishes to allow himself to comment saying that religion is a social phenomenon that is observable and thereby amenable to study by scientific means just as tribal customs in the Amazon or the culture of the Internet.

The scientific aspects? Perhaps. You can study the physical interaction that takes place between a husband and wife and study their brains to see what happens in their love for one another, but you cannot use science to determine their love for one another or what that love is.

I could just as well also say that I can observe seeing an apple somewhere and then another one and realizing that there are two apples. I am observing that, but the counting of the apples is mathematical. It is not something that is testable by science. Science cannot tell me about the nature of numbers. It uses numbers, but it is not about numbers.

Statements that Stenger makes like that however are the reasons why I do believe he really does hold to scientism. Everything can be broken down to science, which would make sense if matter was all there was. However, that is what he is presupposing and it has yet to be shown.

Interestingly, Stenger partially realizes this as he says “Certainly science is not in a position to answer metaphysical questions about the nature of God, such as whether he exists outside of time.”

I agree, but somehow, Stenger has no problem with Dawkins’s aforementioned book where he made a metaphysical claim about the nature of God being complex. We will look more at the idea of the testing that can be done when we study another of Stenger’s works, but Stenger should realize he is commenting outside of his area.

Such does not stop the new atheists however. It is because of the belief that science is the ultimate authority and all knowledge must bow to the scientific method. The scientific method I affirm is an excellent method….when you’re studying science! To say it applies to every area is the problem.

Tomorrow, we shall get into more content of actual claims, but for now, Stenger might have given a nice history lesson, replete with errors on other topics along the way, but so far, there has yet to be anything demonstrating that theism is opposed to science and reason. Don’t be surprised when we uncover nothing that indicates that and find out that really, it is the new atheists who are people of “faith.”

We shall continue tomorrow.

The New Atheism — A Review: Preface

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we continue our dive into the ocean of truth! Tonight, we finally begin that project I spoke of which will involve tangling with one of the so-called sharks. As far as I’m concerned, this shark really has no bite and not even much bark. We’ll be looking at two books by Victor Stenger. The first one will be “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science And Reason.”

You know it’s going to be good when even the title is logically fallacious.

For one thing, Stenger has begun by poisoning the well. The conclusion he wants the readers to follow is that defending atheism is the same as defending science and reason. In turn then, to defend that which is contradictory to atheism, namely theism, one is going against science and reason. So, if you are a theist, you are automatically opposed to science and reason.

Now I will grant that sadly, this is the approach that a lot of Christians do take and I even more sadly grant that a lot of these Christians are in the ministry. It is fine to oppose some proposed truths of science and reason, but these should be opposed on the grounds of science and reason. For too many, there’s just “The Bible tells me so” which leads us to a supposed battle between science and religion, which is exactly what the new atheists want.

Even more, the title will make someone who is exceptionally religious not want to go into science. The new atheists might think that all the better, except there can be no doubt that many of the greatest minds who have ever lived have been people who are theists. If it is stated that one either has science or one has religion, then those who think religion to be a greater good, and I think all Christians should, will not go into science and science will be diminished for this.

Nevertheless, let’s start getting into the book some. We will simply start with the preface tonight. In this, Stenger gives a history of some of the books that the new atheists have written. It is interesting to note that while the first mentioned is Sam Harris who wrote after 9/11 and seeing the destruction caused by followers of Islam, Harris decided to include Christianity and in fact, most of the book, The End of Faith, was devoted to attacking Christianity instead of Islam.

After all, the fruit of Christianity has been an increased spread of literacy, increased study of medicine, the scientific revolutions, the teaching that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, the belief in the equality of human beings ontologically, praying for your enemies, and giving to those less fortunate.

Yep. Definitely Christianity is the worst of the two.

Now some could object that in recent history there have been attacks on abortion clinics by Christians.

Yes. There have been. There have been so many you could count the number on one hand.

Meanwhile, how many attacks have their been by Islamic terrorists in the same time frame?

You could also note that Christians routinely condemn those attacks on abortion clinics. How many Muslims are doing the same? Have we seen statements from terrorist organizations denouncing the attacks on innocents?

Of course, you could also bring up the Crusades and the Inquisition. Absent from mention of the Crusades usually is the point that they were often defensive and the Muslims made the first attack. Now granted, not all that went on in the Crusades was good. At the same time, not all was evil, but rare is the atheist that has read anything scholarly on the Crusades. As for the Inquisition, it too was not the bloodbath it is often painted to be as recent looks at the period show. The reader is referred to the work of Henry Kamen as an example. Some reports have the Spanish Inquisition, the greatest of them all, having around 3,000 deaths. Indeed, 3,000 too many, but not the hundreds of thousands we’re normally told about.

To get back to Stenger, he goes on with the history of the movement of new atheism and writes the following:

All of us have been criticized for not paying enough attention to modern theology. We are more interested in observing the world and taking our lessons from those observations than debating finer points of scriptures that are probably no more than fables to begin with.

To begin with, if all of you are criticized for this, could it be because there is some truth to the criticism? I challenge the reader to go through a book by the new atheists and see how often they really tangle with the best ideas that theologians have put forward. Even a look at the bibliography of Sam Harris’s work “The End Of Faith” would be enough to see there is little or no interaction. It is almost as if no one is opposing atheism. Granted, Stenger does make some attempts to do such, but they are poor attempts as he seems to have chosen the weakest defenses.

If you want to criticize a worldview, you need to know the reasons the leading minds in that worldview hold to that worldview. One wonders if Stenger would accept it if I decided to go after evolution but said “I have been criticized for not paying enough attention to modern arguments for evolution. I am more interested in observing the world and taking my lessons from those observations rather than debating finer points of a scientific theory that’s probably a fable to begin with.”

I don’t care what your stance on evolution is. That would not be a valid approach to take. Stenger, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens would all condemn such an approach and rightly so. However, it is the exact same approach that the new atheists take to theology. Even if you think it’s nonsense, it’s not enough to just assert that. You have to demonstrate that.

Note also that they think all the points are made from the Scriptures. Leading Christian philosophers will argue for the existence of God without the use of Scripture. Now there are times you have to use Scripture. If you are arguing for the historicity of Scripture, you will need to use Scripture. However, that is not the topic mainly in the works of the New Atheists. Absent however is serious interaction with members of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. Arguments are waived away as if they’re nonsense on their face.

Why assume the only recourse these thinkers have is to say “The Bible says so?” Probably because Stenger and others have not interacted with these thinkers to really know what they say. They have simply written them off as nonsense because these thinkers are religious.

Finally, Stenger says the accounts are probably no more than fables to begin with. Absent is any reason to think this is the case. Now it could be the Scriptures are fables, but why presuppose that? It is once again a bifurcation that has been drawn. If you believe in the Bible, you must be irrational.

In writing later on about morality, Stenger says “Furthermore, we do not see morality as god-given but rather the result of humanity’s own social development.”

Development into what?

A better community? But we can only have a better community if we have some standard outside ourselves that we are progressing towards? As soon as Stenger sets up an ideal for the way humanity should be, he is positing something beyond humanity that humanity is to attain, which is the very reality he is denying.

If there are no ideals, then Stenger and his ilk need to drop their condemnation of the Old Testament and any other teachings they don’t like. They need to drop how some Christians supported slavery. They need to drop any supposed evils of the church. That was just the way society was at the time.

Of course, it could be that one society is better than another.

But then, that would only be determined by some standard outside of societies by which that can be determined.

We cannot even say modern society is better. Which one? The society of the Christian church in America? The society of secularism in England? The society of Catholicism in the Vatican? The society of atheism in Russia? The society persecuting Christians in China? Which one is better? By what standard?

But we will have more on this when we get to the chapter on morality.

Harris also says that the most unique position of the New Atheists is that faith, which is belief without supporting evidence, should not be given the respect and even deference it obtains in modern society.

Question Mr. Stenger.

Do you have any evidence that that is the definition of faith?

I challenge you to find one biblical dictionary that cites “Belief without supporting evidence” as the definition of faith. I cite you to find any authoritative source on the Greek language that tells me that that is what the word “pistis” means. If you cannot do this, then the conclusion I reach is that you are believing something without supporting evidence, the very act that you condemn.

Indeed, this will be pushed again on Stenger when he defines faith in another chapter. It is not only false, it is again poisoning the well, a logical fallacy. It’s quite odd that there are so many logical fallacies from those who think that they are the champions of reason. As we shall see, the new atheists are hardly reasonable and are in fact more emotional than anything else.

There have been several words written so far, and we are just in the preface! It will be interesting to see just how much we have to say about the new atheism as we continue going through. Keep in mind I’m also trying to only hit highlights. Much more could be said and I hope many will read the works of the new atheists, simply in to see how pathetically weak they are.

We shall continue tomorrow.