Shermer’s Greatest Hits

What did I think of what Michael Shermer said at his debate with David Wood? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night, I attended the David Wood vs Michael Shermer debate. To be fair, I did not find David Wood’s argument the most convincing. I really don’t find arguments from science too convincing. I understand why they’re made, but I just don’t think they work as well. Still, I think he did a lot better than Shermer did. Shermer tended to come out with a shotgun approach and hoped that something hit.

Shermer also confirmed something to me. Here we have someone with a Ph.D. and the arguments he has are all arguments that you can find on atheist memes anywhere. The new atheists have indeed dumbed down atheism. We can hope that this keeps up.

By the way, I also find it interesting that Shermer starts off with his personal testimony of how he used to be a Christian. It’s like these guys never move out of their fundamentalist days. They still always go with personal testimony.

So let’s look at some of the claims Shermer made as I was making a list on my Kindle at the time.

We have the usual idea on the meaning of atheism. Atheism is said to be a lack of belief. I don’t plan to spend so much time on this except to say what good is it to on a most fundamental question say something that doesn’t tell you anything about reality outside of your own head?

Just to be sure, I’m not the only one saying atheism is not just a lack of belief.

“Atheism is the position that affirms the non-existence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.”

William Rowe The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy p.62

“Atheism, as presented in this book, is a definite doctrine, and defending it requires one to engage with religious ideas. An atheist is one who denies the existence of a personal, transcendent creator of the universe, rather than one who simply lives life without reference to such a being.”

Robin Le Poidevin Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion p.xvii

Next Shermer told us that we can’t prove a negative. I find this an odd claim to make. Is this statement proven? If so, then it is a negative proof that you can’t prove a negative. It contradicts itself. Is it unproven? Then perhaps you can prove a negative. Besides, we can prove negatives. There are no 100 pound elephants in my office. I just looked. They’re not here. Negative proven.

Shermer says that there are 1,000 different religions. Why should ours be the right one. Good question. There are also 1,000 different worldviews. Why should atheism be the right one? How would we decide? We could just look at the evidence. Could it be those religions often died out due to a lack of evidence? (Or we could say that Christianity brought that about ultimately by establishing monotheism.)

We have the whole idea of “You’re all atheists with regard to many deities. I just go one god further.” Sure. A lawyer in a court could say “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. You all believe everyone else in this room is innocent of the murder of Smith. Why not just look at my client and go one person further?” Again, it comes down to the evidence.

Wood’s argument was that science rose in a Christian culture. Shermer says that this is just because everyone in that culture was a Christian. This leaves the question though of why didn’t it happen elsewhere like it did here? Why not in South America or Australia or the East?

Shermer also said that the theists are the ones who have the burden of proof. Not necessarily. Anyone making any sort of claim has a burden of proof. If Shermer says he’s an atheist, it’s up to him to tell us why he finds other claims unconvincing. Suppose we couldn’t make a strong argument for theism. This would not be an argument for atheism in itself. If atheism is making a claim, and it is, that claim has to be defended. Hence, my position is whoever makes a claim has a burden to back that claim.

Shermer also said we have a God of the Gaps claim going on. I find this odd since Christians were the ones who started the scientific revolution that sought to fill in the gaps. If Christians were enforcing this kind of argument, why would they have bothered doing science to begin with? It’s also worth noting that you can have an atheism of the gaps just as much. I have a huge problem with God of the gaps anyway and when people say “If evolution is true, does that put God out of a job?” I always say that if God is just a stopgap you have for your worldview when things don’t fit, you have a low view of God.

Shermer also said a being like God can’t be simple. A lot of people misunderstand this and think that it means God is easy to understand. Not at all. When we say He’s simple, we mean that He has no parts. In classical Thomistic metaphysics, God is a being where what He is does not differ from that He is. Essence and existence are the same. In angels, essence and existence are separate. In humans, this is even more so especially since we are composed of matter as well.

This leads to “Who created God?” which assumes God is created. Shermer asks why the universe can’t be the uncreated. The classical theologian like myself answers because the universe is composed of essence and existence and matter. It doesn’t have within itself the principle of its own existing.

I don’t really want to spend time on the problem of evil. There are more than enough great resources in dealing with this. I instead recommend listening to my interviews with Clay Jones, Greg Ganssle, and David Wood himself.

Shermer also has the usual bad understanding of the Trinity. God sends Himself to sacrifice Himself to Himself. Shermer can say Christianity is ridiculous all He wants to, but at least try to understand it. These straw men might win over people who don’t understand the issues, but those who do just roll their eyes at it.

Shermer also said there is no physics for any religious system particular to it. Of course not. This is part of general revelation. No one ever said otherwise. It’s just that Christians were the ones who took the most steps finding this out.

Shermer also said that if you were born in a different place, you’d be a different religion. Sure. And if you were born in a different place, you might not believe in what is said to be modern science. If you were born an eskimo in Alaska, you might think whale blubber was the healthiest food to eat. So what?

Shermer also did say we have no explanation for why the laws of nature are the way they are. Of course, this assumes that there are laws of nature. I’m honestly not sold on this point yet. Of course, I would want to know in an atheistic universe, why should we expect any sort of uniformity? (This is getting to the fifth way of Aquinas.)

Shermer also wants us to have empirical evidence for God. I fear by this he means scientific. If so, then this is a category fallacy. If not, then I say I begin by sense experience like all good empiricists do and the five ways of Aquinas work just fine.

Shermer also said we should be able to measure a miracle and see how God did X when He does a miracle. Why should we? Right now, My brain is telling my fingers what to type and somehow I am willing this and I have no idea how I am doing it. Why should I know how God does something?

And of course, why doesn’t God heal amputees? We wait to see how it is that Shermer has exhaustive knowledge of all events around the world today and in the past to know that this has never happened. If he saw a claim, we can be sure he’d say it’s a false report or a fake or something like that. He’s already said in the talk that magicians can do great things (Though illusions) and quite likely aliens could too. We would also like to see Shermer handle the material put forward by Keener.

Shermer went on to say about what it means to be made in God’s image. I would disagree that it means that we are rational, though that is part of it. It means that we bear the authority to represent God and rule over His creation. We need to be rational for that, but that does not sum up what it means to be in His image.

He also says that God is jealous. That doesn’t sound like a good trait. Perhaps not to Shermer, but in the ancient world it was. Jealousy was realizing one had exclusive rights to that which they were owed those rights. As a husband, I have exclusive rights to my wife’s body. No one else has that and I am jealous for that privilege. In the same way, God has a people and their loyalty is to be to no one else. He is jealous for that privilege.

When Shermer started talking about morality, he said “Ask a woman who’s been violated. They don’t like it.” Of course they don’t, but does that mean it’s wrong. Ask a child who doesn’t get ice cream and/or pizza for every meal. They don’t like it. Ask a person who gets laid off from work. They don’t like it. Ask a guy who gets dumped by a girl. They don’t like it. So what?

He also said that if you left tonight an atheist when you had come in a theist, would you cheat on your wife or something like that? Well why not? If morality is all just a social contract and I can get away with it and get in some extra jollies, why wouldn’t I? Why do I not do that? Because I’m convinced good and evil are realities and I ought to be good even when I don’t want to be at times.

And of course, no presentation would be complete without talking about slavery. Unfortunately, the question is much more complicated than Shermer wants it to be. We could just say we would like Shermer to go back to the ancient world and point out where all these other jobs were at that people could use to support their families instead of working for another. Was there a local Wal-Mart or 7-11 around and we all missed it?

Shermer also said we should step outside of our Christian bubbles and see other cultures and other ideas. I have done that. I’m still a devout Christian. Perhaps Shermer should step out of his fundamentalist bubble and read the best scholarship out there disagreeing with him.

I really hope that in the future atheists will get far better arguments. No doubt, Shermer is educated, but it looks like he hasn’t really studied the other side all that well. He still has the fundamentalist understanding that he abandoned years ago.

In Christ,
Nick Peters