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, §45) 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.
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.
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.