Book Plunge: Why There Is No God Part 4

Anything new as we conclude? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

Today, we’re going to wrap up looking at Why There Is No God. So far, we haven’t really seen anything convincing or that shows us that any real research has been done. Navabi has been your run-of-the-mill atheist fundamentalist that treats every argument for atheism as Gospel and ignores the strongest arguments for theism. So anything new today?

Argument #16. So many people died for God/religion. Surely, it must be real.

This is another case of one of those arguments that you see in the book that no one really uses. Now to be fair, some do point to the disciples being willing to die for Christ. One difference here is that these people were in a position to know more about what they saw and were firsthand witnesses. Their dying for their belief doesn’t mean it is true, but it means they at least were convinced it was true and we need to ask why they were.

Argument #17. Atheism has killed more people than religion, so it must be wrong!

While it’s not my argument, Navabi argues that there is no direct connection between atheism and what was done and that atheism has no doctrines. For the first, I’m not convinced. There’s a reason atheist dictators sought to dynamite churches and remove any hint of God. One could say that an atheist is not required to be an evil person in the moral sense, and that is true, but neither are they required to be a good person.

This gets into atheism having no doctrines. Sure. That just means that Stalin was consistent in his atheism just as is someone who is practically a saint and an atheist. Neither one is doing anything against atheism. The same cannot be said for a Christian. A Christian who lived like Stalin would have us all seriously questioning his Christianity. (Except for fundamentalist atheists who would hold him up as a key example of how Christians live.) In the end, I think it’s just easier for a dictator in atheism to live as if there’s no one above him his is accountable to, so why not do what he wants?

Argument #18. You’ll become a believer when you are desperate for God’s help!

Again, I wouldn’t use this. No doubt, some people who are atheists when they are in trouble do even find themselves praying in hope. Could some convert this way? Sure. Not all will. It’s hard to make a case based on what should be supposed guaranteed emotional reactions. People are different and they do react differently.

It is true also that we need to watch claims of deathbed conversions. Consider for instance the Lady Hope story that spread about Darwin on his deathbed. Unless you know the person very well and they would be in a position to know, be very skeptical.

Argument #19. Smart people and renowned scientists like X, Y, and Z believe in God, so it must be true!

This is no doubt true. There are a lot of very smart people that are theists and in fact Christian theists. There are a lot who are atheists as well. What this should show us is that this is not a case of intelligence alone. Smart people can be fully convinced in both ends. There are other factors at work. Believers should not use an argument like this, but neither should atheists go with presuppositional atheism where it is assumed that atheism means someone is rational.

Argument #20. How can we really know anything?

At this point as we conclude, you wonder who these theists are that Navabi is arguing against. Not much to say here again on this one. I would agree with Navabi in many counts that skepticism about everything is ridiculous. There are also beliefs that we can demonstrate. Some are easier than others. Christians just need to make sure they have the best arguments they can.

In conclusion, anyone who gets something out of this work and calls it informative, was not really informed to begin with. Navabi doesn’t deal with the best arguments against his position. It’s quite ludicrous to dare to suggest that this is a thorough treatment. Unfortunately, this is the way many atheists are going. It will only hurt them in the end.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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

Book Plunge: Everybody Is Wrong About God?

What do I think of James Lindsay’s book published by Pitchstone Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Remember the old days when Peter Boghossian was heavily pushing the idea of street epistemology? Good times. Good times. Well now his main fan James Lindsay has decided to follow in his footsteps. Lindsay’s book even has a foreword by Boghossian as well (And I did review Boghossian’s book here.). Unfortunately, Lindsay’s book falls drastically short of Boghossian’s, which is saying a lot since Boghossian’s was a train wreck to begin with.

Lindsay’s main idea is that everyone is wrong about God because we’re talking as if theism even makes any sense whatsoever and that we know what we’re talking about when we talk about God. Of course, one would expect at this point to see interaction with sophisticated systematic theologies such as those in the past of people like Augustine and Aquinas, or even today people like Erickson or Grudem or McGrath. If you are expecting that, you are going to be disappointed. Actually, if you’re expecting any engagement with contrary opinion, you are going to be disappointed.

The laugh riots really begin on page 17. What we are told there is that the New Atheists succeeded in their quest. It defeated theism at the level of ideas and destroyed the taboo of atheism. At this, we can see that James Lindsay is in fact the Baghdad Bob of atheism. The new atheists can’t hold a candle to the old atheists of the past. All we got from the new atheists was a rant largely about topics they did not understand, much like people who critique evolution without bothering to read the best works in science.

Of course, in all of this, don’t expect Lindsay to do anything like, you know, actually interact with the arguments for theism. If you expect to see the ways of Thomas Aquinas interacted with or a refutation of Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument or a response to the twenty ways listed in Kreeft and Tacelli, you will be disappointed. For new atheists, it’s enough to declare victory and then stand up and have the celebration.

From this point on, rather than actually engage in arguments and evidence, which like many atheists I encounter Lindsay doesn’t seem to care for, it’s best to jump straight to psychology. Why do we believe in something that’s so utterly obviously false? (A step forward I suppose. Boghossian wanted us to be listed as having a mental illness.) The problem here is you can psychologize anything. We could come up with psychological reasons for atheism, and they could apply to some people, but that does not refute atheism any more than psychological reasons for theism refutes theism.

Well let’s try to find some interesting parts and see what can be said about them.

On p. 60, we are told that many theologians and apologists will argue that theism has evidence, but that is false. There is a note here and one would expect to see some reply to some arguments or perhaps at least a book dealing with these arguments. Well, one would expect that were we dealing with a real sophisticated argument for a position. Considering we’re dealing with a fan of Boghossian, we’re not surprised to find another assertion.

Lindsay’s main argument is that we might have some arguments for theism and even if we did succeed at that, how do we get to what religion is true? Yes. You read it. That’s his argument.

Of course, Maimonides, Aquinas, and Avicenna would have all used the same arguments for general theism. That’s because theism itself is a metaphysical and philosophical claim so metaphysics and philosophy work there. First point to establish is that if theism is established, then atheism is false. Even if we could go no further, we would still have refuted atheism.

Second point is that Lindsay’s argument is just weak. Maimonides, Avicenna, and Aquinas could all then point to historical reasons for their faiths since all of them claim that events happened in history. I as a Christian would face my “All but impossible” task, in Lindsay’s words, by pointing to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. A Muslim could point to why he thinks the Koran is the Word of God and a Jew could point to the Torah while showing problems with the New Testament. It could be that any of the arguments would work, but it shows that it is not all but impossible.

Again, if we were dealing with a real case, we would see some interaction. We are not, so we do not. High schoolers just starting apologetics study could have answered the question of Lindsay.

On p. 70, Lindsay says we have a right to shoot bull wherever we see it. Indeed we do. I make it a habit of doing such and I make it a point to shoot it down from atheists as well as theists. That’s one reason I’m doing this review. There’s a whole lot to shoot at.

On the very next page, he writes about a debate Sean Carroll had with William Lane Craig. This is a debate that I really didn’t care for. For one thing, as a non-scientist, I suspect most people in the audience spent a lot of time during the debate saying “What the heck are they talking about?” Lindsay is convinced Carroll won. Maybe he did. For Lindsay, this is a huge victory.

Well, let’s go to another debate. This is the one that took place between Peter Boghossian and Tim McGrew. In fact, someone with an interesting opinion on that was James Lindsay himself. What does he say?

“I also won’t comment about winners because I think the idea of winning a conversation is stupid to the point of being embarrassing for people that we make a sport of it.”

Well Unbelievable? is a debate show with a moderator so apparently, it’s stupid when we talk about a victory on Unbelievable? It’s not when we talk about it between Carroll and Craig. Got it.

“(Full disclosure: I think the debate was a draw because the substantive point of the matter could not be settled because the relevant data concerning how Christians and other religious believers use the word “faith” is not available.)”

It certainly is available. You just have to be able to, you know, go out and research and study it. Unfortunately, Boghossian did not do that. He had anecdotal evidence. McGrew actually went to scholarly sources. We’re sorry to hear that Lindsay does not consider that good enough.

“McGrew, the far more experienced debater, came off tighter in what he had to say and hid his weaknesses well, better than did Boghossian.”

And Tim McGrew’s other debates prior to this that we have are…

ummmm….

errrr…..

uhhhh…..

I think he told me he did some debating in high school. I suppose that counts in Lindsay’s book. Obviously, McGrew had to have more experience. I mean, how else can we explain what happened? It couldn’t be that (SHOCK!) McGrew actually had better arguments and Boghossian was uninformed? Nah! Can’t be that! Let’s look for an excuse!

The comments section, which I participated in, is immense damage control. If I think a theist lost a debate, and I think they do sometimes, I can admit it. It doesn’t change the truth of theism. It just means we had a bad debater at that point.

On page 87, Lindsay refers to Harris’s work of The Moral Landscape. The book is hardly what Lindsay thinks it is. All of my reviews can be found here. Michael Ruse, who I consider to be a much better thinker, trashes the book as well here. Strange also that considering how Lindsay wanted to show a debate earlier, he said nothing about Craig’s debate with Harris.

Naturally, we soon come to faith. Ah yes. The favorite weapon of the new atheist. Just pick your bogus definition that you have no evidence for other than anecdotal experience and run with it! A real researcher would go to the Lexicons and the study of the Greek language and see what the New Testament writers meant by faith. Lindsay does no such thing. Lindsay has studied the meaning of faith in the New Testament about as much as I have studied Brazilian soccer matches. For my take on faith, go here.

On p. 100, Lindsay talks about Poseidon falling away as we gained more knowledge of how the world works. Well this is odd. I thought science didn’t really get started supposedly until we got out of those horrible dark ages. (That is in fact false. Go here.) Is it really scientific knowledge that destroyed Poseidon?

No. What actually destroyed it was Christianity. As Larry Hurtado shows us in Destroyer of the Gods (For my interview with him, go here.), the reason we speak about asking if you believe God exists and not the gods is because of Christianity. Christianity became a dominant worldview and with it monotheism. When monotheism dominated, Poseidon died out. It was known then that the true God was in charge of this and science started to take off as we sought to understand how God works in the world.

This helps deal with a common misnomer. Skeptics like Lindsay think that Christianity is in danger the more gaps science fills in. The early Christian scientists saw no such danger. They thought they were establishing theism more by filling in the gaps. They sought to know how God did His work. Lindsay will need to search the medieval literature to see where a gap exists and they just plugged in “Goddidit” for an answer. One could say their answers were bad and wrong as science was just getting started, but they were still trying to be scientific.

One such case of this is with evolution on p. 118. Lindsay is convinced that if you establish evolution, well you destroy Adam and Eve and you destroy original sin and then everything else falls apart. Sadly, Lindsay is just as fundamentalist as the fundamentalists he wants to argue against. The ludicrousness of this can be shown in that I can have a case for the resurrection of Jesus and be told “Well, that can’t be true because of evolution.” How does that explain the data? It doesn’t.

Meanwhile, I and many other Christians have no problem whatsoever if evolution is true. I don’t argue for it or against it. I just don’t care either way. It doesn’t mean that Adam and Eve were unreal figures and the fall never happened. If I am wrong on Adam and Eve, then oh well. At the most, I only lose inerrancy. I still have the resurrection of Jesus and my Christianity is just fine. That’s the benefit of not being an all-or-nothing thinker, like Lindsay is.

p. 120 tells us that Jefferson in his writings referred to Nature’s God and the Creator and not to YHWH or Jesus or something specific. Of course. Jefferson was a deist and he was not wanting to establish a theocracy. That doesn’t mean that God was seen as an add-on. God was essential. Jefferson himself even held worship services in the White House.

On p. 122 we start to explain concepts like goodness finally. Interestingly, Lindsay points to how we feel about these things, almost as if they’re intuitive to us. Perhaps they are, but absent in any of this is even if they are, why should we think those feelings explain reality? Some people strongly feel God, and yet Lindsay would disagree that they are feeling God. If the God feeling is a falsehood of sorts, why not the feeling of goodness?

The real question one should ask at this point is “What is goodness?” Here, we come up empty again. Lindsay doesn’t begin to answer the question. If there is goodness, how do we know it? No answer once more. Even stranger, in an atheistic universe where we just have matter in motion, why should there be such a thing as goodness to begin with? If Lindsay praises the new atheists, why not go with Richard Dawkins in River Out Of Eden?

“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

After all, as Dawkins goes on to say, our DNA neither knows nor cares. It just is and we dance to its music. If it doesn’t know or care, why should we?

These are the kinds of questions one would want to have answered, but Lindsay comes nowhere close. If he wants to accuse theists of jumping too quickly to “Goddidit” (And no doubt some do), then we can say he jumps too quickly to “Goddidn’tdoit). The evidence does not matter. There has to be an explanation without theism.

On p. 156 he defines a delusion as “a belief held with strong convictions despite superior evidence to the contrary.” This is quite fitting because on p. 154, he talks about the problem of evil and says “no amount of theological mental gymnastics has or ever can satisfactorily surmount the problem of evil.” It’s bad enough to say that it has not been surmounted. Most atheistic philosophers would even concede that the logical problem of evil has been defeated. It’s even stranger to say that it never can. Where did Lindsay get this exhaustive knowledge? Never mind the question of not being able to define good and evil which is still another hurdle. It would be nice to see if Lindsay has responses to people like Clay Jones or Alvin Plantinga or any other works on the problem of evil. He doesn’t.  Sadly, this doesn’t shock me any more. I’ve reached the point where I expect atheist works to not interact with their opposition. Lindsay does not disappoint.

On p. 180, Lindsay wants to point to the historical record of what religion has done. Absent is any mention of what atheism did in the 20th century. One supposes that Lindsay just wants us to have faith that atheism if established today would be different. All of a sudden, we would all unite in love and harmony and be singing Kum-Bu-Yah.

On p. 181, he tells us that the responses from the peanut gallery that say that faith means something more akin to trust is irrelevant. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s certainly not because of interaction. It’s certainly not because of researching the evidence. Lindsay just wants us to take him on faith that this is so. It’s a shame he provides no evidence. Could we just say this is what Boghossian would call “a deepity”?

On p. 184, we get to something that could be considered an argument. This is that the Bible lists bats as birds. That’s nice. It would be also nicer if Lindsay looked up the words. We translate it as birds often today, but the word really refers to a winged creature. There was not a modern taxonomical idea of bird then. There were just creatures that were not insects but had wings. Last I checked, bats had wings. Now maybe Lindsay has come across some scientific research that shows bats don’t have wings. Still, by the ancient standards, we are just fine. If they were just referring not to a modern idea of taxonomy but to the ancient definition of a creature with wings, then bats qualify.

At 185, Lindsay says street epistemology is for inducing doubt to foster intellectual honesty. Those of us who are apologists are not doing the same thing. We create doubt to manufacture vulnerability and perhaps fear to lead to a conclusion. Nice that Lindsay believes in mind reading. I in fact want to encourage better thinking as well. I just think better thinking leads to Christianity, but hey, apparently Lindsay believes in mind reading. Who knew?

If street epistemology wasn’t bad enough to promote, Lindsay also promotes John Loftus’s “Outsider Test for Faith.” Lindsay says no sources have passed this test. His note reference for this? Just do a google search. None of them are worth citing. Well there you have it! Lindsay has spoken. The case is closed! Of course, he could have interacted with a case, such as the book by David Marshall directly written on this. My interview with Marshall can be found here.

It’s also amusing to find that on p. 198-99 that the Inquisition and radical Islam are put right in line with Stalin and Mao. One would hope for historical sources, but alas, there are none. He could find one such source here. Of course, Islam is central to radical Islam and I would argue a consistent outworking of it. What about Stalin and Mao? Does Lindsay just consider atheism incidental to them? Hard to think that since they were on a warpath against religion entirely.

On p. 210, he points to the opinion of the National Academy of Sciences. After all, very few are theists. Unfortunately, Rob Bowman responded to Victor Stenger on this point here. I will quote a relevant part.

Assuming that’s true, how does one get into the NAS? Here’s what the National Academy of Sciences website says: “Because membership is achieved by election, there is no membership application process. Although many names are suggested informally, only Academy members may submit formal nominations.” In other words, it’s an exclusive club that decides who may even be considered for membership. According to a 2010 article in Scientific American, about 18,000 American citizens earn PhDs in the sciences or engineering every year. There are only about 2,200 members in the NAS, and no more than 84 new members are inducted each year. Even the geniuses in the NAS can figure out that its membership does not represent an adequately representative sampling of well-trained scientists.

In conclusion, Boghossian’s book at least had something redeemable in it about political correctness, which I agreed with. Lindsay’s book has no such feature. The main benefit we get from it is that we see further the bankruptcy of the new atheists. Apparently, it is a mark of pride to not interact with your opponents and not treat their arguments seriously. Lindsay can keep up his position. I hope he does. It’ll just further dumb down the atheist community while theists in the academy will be doing our further research and strengthening our position. With the idea of movements like Jesus mythicism and such being jumped on by atheists on the internet, I would not be surprised to see them intellectually bankrupt in a generation or two.

Thanks for helping the cause Lindsay.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Marshall/Buckner Debate Thoughts

What did I think of a theism/atheism debate last night? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night, I had been invited to attend a debate put on by an apologetics group called Why Should I Believe?. The debate was between the Christian Wallace Marshall, a Christian apologist with Reasonable Faith, and between Ed Buckner. My friend Cody who I went with told me he had seen Buckner debate some on a Ratio Christi panel and had heard him put forward “Who created God?” as if this was the great stumper of our times. I was preparing myself for something similar and hoping that he would say something about the historical Jesus, like mythicism, that I could speak about in the Q&A.

When Buckner got up to speak as the first speaker, it was pretty much entirely an appeal to pragmatism. The life he described as the way Christians live I can say did not resonate with me at all. I do not live in constant fear that I will be severely judged for my actions and thoughts and I do not have to go to the Bible to know right from wrong. Buckner also started off talking about his own experience, to which I was amazed once again how many atheists seem to start with a personal testimony in their evangelism.

When Marshall got up, it was a much better presentation as he was quoting philosophers, scientists, and others. He had done his homework. Buckner left me thinking that all he had done was read popular objections on the internet and put them all together. I did not really see any detailed refutation from Buckner and unfortunately he did not respond to anything Marshall said about the historical Jesus.

There was a Q&A which unfortunately was all too short, but afterwards when I was speaking with Marshall about doing some work with Reasonable Faith, I managed to get myself engaged in some debates including many of the usual claims. For instance, there was the idea that Christianity copied from Egypt. Some questions were obviously points of concern, such as the young black woman who wanted to know what the Bible was really talking about with slavery.

Of course, most memorable for me was engaging with someone who was advocating the Jesus myth theory and saying that scholars don’t even know if Jesus existed. When I asked for the scholars who doubt this, well we all know who came up. None other than polyamorous Richard Carrier. I asked what accredited university he was teaching at now to get the reply of “Well he teaches at…” and then leaning over to ask his friend “Where is he teaching at?” Carrier isn’t teaching anywhere except online to internet atheists. There’s a reason for that. (It’s also a reason why I think polyamorous Richard Carrier is a great gift to the church.)

Unfortunately, trying to talk to mythicists about anything in history is incredibly difficult since the standards change for Jesus and Carrier’s words are treated like Gospel. When asked if any of us had ever read his works, I was able to reply that I had in fact read his latest book already on the historicity of Jesus. Do I think Carrier has made a serious case there? No. Not really. Perhaps those who hold him up as the cream of the crop with NT scholarship might think so, but no one else does.

If there was one critique I’d have of the Christian case, it would be that too often I think we are marrying our apologetic to the modern science. Consider how so many are building their apologetic on Big Bang cosmology. Well what if that ever changes? What about those who are building their apologetic on problems with abiogenesis. What happens if that question is answered one day? (I know there are hypotheses, but at this point I know of no clear accepted answer in the scientific community.) This is one reason I think it’s best to go with metaphysical arguments, especially since the science is incomplete without metaphysics. Why not just go straight to the main force? Could we be inadvertently feeding into the scientism of our day?

Still, I try to be fair and objective, but I have to say that Marshall carried the day in this one. He had a better grasp of the subject matter and had more than just pet sayings that you can find on an internet search. I was hoping for a more impressive show from the atheist to get a real debate going, but I was disappointed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Measuring McAfee

What do I think of Tyler Vela’s new book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Most people have never really heard of David McAfee. I try to keep up with most of the atheists out there and I hadn’t heard of him, until someone mentioned him in the Christian Apologetics Alliance, which is how I came across my friend Tyler Vela. Before too long, I found myself engaging on his page and really, the level of ignorance among his atheist followers was just staggering. I can’t help but wonder how this person has any following whatsoever.

McAfee is someone who does no research and makes wild claims that will only affect one subset of Christianity and yet he thinks he’s attacked the whole. He will regularly take out snippets of conversations on his page and elsewhere where he thinks he’s demonstrated the ignorance of his opponents without bothering to look and see what’s really going on.

I recall immediately the time that he posted a claim about there being a large number of denominations, which is usually a number thrown out like 30,000 or something of that sort. My reply in the thread was to ask “What’s a denomination?” McAfee took this reply and made a whole thread out of that on its own as a demonstration of theist ignorance supposedly. In reality, had he really bothered to interact with the question, he would have known that the question of what a denomination is is precisely the question that needs to be asked since even some Catholic apologists are against using this kind of argument because it’s just false.

Of course, seeing events like this take place, I decided to see if McAfee would be willing to do a debate. That challenge is still open and he still has not accepted. I’m not the only one he’s turned down. He’s turned down everyone, and yet somehow he has over 120,000 likes on Facebook and seems to be recognized as some authority to speak on disproving Christianity. (Which happens to be the title a book of his which I have also reviewed.)

Yet if there was one thorn in McAfee’s side constantly, it would be Tyler Vela. Vela has somehow chosen to focus on McAfee which is a good thing. With the rise of internet atheism, we need people who are dealing with even those who are not so well known. Vela’s book is a look at McAfee’s that is in-depth and covers practically everything.

Ultimately, reading this is like picturing a spider and using a tank to squash it. McAfee is entirely out of his league. Vela and I do come from different viewpoints in Christianity. He’s a reformed guy with a support of presuppositionalism. I differ on both counts, and yet I can agree with a good deal of what Vela says in this book. If there are times that I think he is wrong on something, he is certainly not nearly as wrong as McAfee is. In fact, there were times when reading I think it’s more of a compliment to say McAfee is wrong. We could say that McAfee’s argumentation is so bad you can’t even call it wrong. It misses the mark that much.

As one who read McAfee’s book, he uses no footnotes or endnotes and he does not cite scholars. He might make a reference to what Biblical scholars say, but there’s no indication that he has ever read one. The material he has could be found just by searching internet atheist blogs. If this is what passes for an authority on Christianity in atheism today, then Christianity is in good hands. This is especially so since Tyler Vela is well-read and quotes regularly and has footnotes that point to further sources on areas he doesn’t want to spend as much time on.

McAfee has this challenge hanging over his head and he does know about it as shown by a post on his page. Naturally, he decided to go with a vulgar joke instead of, you know, actually making a response. That McAfee can still act like he knows what he’s talking about with something like this out there unanswered at all should be a mark of shame to him and to his followers.

Alas, it will not be. We are often told that Christians will believe anything if it supports what they already believe. This is a human problem that affects Christians and atheists are just as prone. If you want to be an atheist, be one, but certainly try to be a few thousand steps above McAfee.

If I had some criticisms, I would have first off liked to have seen more of an emphasis on the resurrection. This is the foundation stone of Christianity, though McAfee sadly thinks it’s Inerrancy. I would have preferred for Vela to include at least a brief apologetic for the resurrection if only in an appendix. The next is that I wish Vela would have had someone proofread his book first. There are several typographical errors in there and some of them can affect the meaning of the sentences very much.

Still, this is an excellent work and even if you don’t care about McAfee, you will find valuable information in here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Resurrections on the Internet

What happens to bad ideas when the internet comes around? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christian Vision For Men (CVM) has a video up today on the idea that Jesus is copied from dying and rising gods of the time. The concept isn’t taken seriously by scholars, but you go on the internet and you will find this touted around like it’s an obvious fact. I just did a quick search in fact and didn’t take long to find an example of an image that goes around with this.

Copycat Jesus

This is just one of many.

Will you find scholarly support for this idea? Nope. Well not unless you redefine scholar to mean something like anyone who can write a blog and put forward an argument. If you’re talking about people in the field with actual Ph.D.’s, good luck. I’ve in fact done a show on this topic interviewing Joe Mulvihill. Of course, right along with this goes the idea that Jesus never existed. Frankly, if any atheist wants to say young-earth creationism should be rejected because it goes so against the grain of the scientific community (And I am not a YEC), then they have no grounds for using the Christ Myth theory because it goes even more against the grain of scholarship in the field.

All this goes to demonstrate is that resurrection is certainly a reality on the internet, because ideas that have no basis in reality come up time and time again and they are believed and embraced because, hey, they argue against Christianity.

It’s really hard to take internet atheism seriously when I see the same canards thrown out time and time again.

“The church was anti-science in the Dark Ages!”

“Christians used to believe the Earth was flat!”

“There are X number of denominations out there!” (X has to be used because the number changes in range from 22,000 to 42,000)

“Look at all these writers of the time who never mentioned Jesus!”

“The New Testament was formed at the Council of Nicea!”

These are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I’m sure many more could be added. Even sadder is the idea that every time statements like this are made up, it’s as if no Christian has ever thought about them before and we’ve never heard of them. At this rate, we could easily make an internet atheist drinking game.

Now let’s be fair also. Christians can be just as gullible sadly. I’ve written on this before with internet quotes and such. I hate to do that because most of my Facebook friends are Christians and sadly, they’re the ones that I usually see spreading misinformation. My own wife could tell you that if she reads something on the internet that I haven’t heard, the first reply I always give is “Source?” Most of us don’t bother to check because the claim goes with what we already believe so surely it must be true.

Debates will be going on and on until the return of Christ I am sure, but we can all seek to do what we can to improve the quality of the debates. One such way is by checking the claims that we come across. If we are not sure of a claim, we dare not share it as fact. This is especially so for Christians who are called to be people of the truth. After all, if people cannot trust us with the mundane things they can easily check, why should they believe us on grander claims, like the resurrection?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist

What do I think of Andy Bannister’s book by Monarch Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As I have studied apologetics more and more, sometimes reading apologetics books now gets boring. It’s a lot of the same-old, same-old. You’ve heard it all several times before and there’s nothing new so what’s the big deal. Honestly, getting Bannister’s book, I was expecting I’d get a good primer on some apologetics issues and put it down thinking that I had had a decent enough read and that’d be it. I don’t mean that in a snide way at all. Many of these books are fine for beginners after all and I read them wanting to learn how well this would help someone who was starting out in the field.

I could not have been more wrong.

As I started going through Andy’s book, from the very beginning I saw that it was different. Now the content is still a good basic start for most people. You’re not going to get into the intensely heady stuff here. You will discuss the issues, but it is just a start. What makes this book so radically different and in turn one of the best that I’ve read on this kind of topic in a long time is the presentation. Bannister is quite the comedian. His humor shines throughout the book and this is one book where I had great joy whenever I saw there was a footnote. Normally, you tend to just pass those over. Do not do that with this book! You will find some of the best humor.

That makes the content all the more memorable. Bannister deals with a lot of the soundbite arguments that we deal with in our culture such as “You are an atheist with regards to many gods. I just go one god further.” He deals with scientism and what faith is and can we be good without God and can we really know anything about the historical Jesus? If you spend time engaging with people who follow the New Atheists on the internet, then you need to get your hands on this book. With humor and accuracy, Bannister deals with the nonsense, which tells us that in light of all the work he invested in this that first off, Bannister is highly skilled as an apologist and second, that Bannister has way too much free time on his hands to be thinking so much about this stuff.

I really cannot say much more because it would I think keep you from enjoying all the surprises in this book. There were many times my wife had to ask me as I read “What’s so funny?” Some parts I even read to her. If there was one thing I would change, it was the chapter on the question of goodness. I don’t think Bannister really answered the question of what it means to be good. He said we need a God to ground it in, and I agree, but that does not tell me what good is. Even if we say the good is God’s nature, that still does not tell me what the good is, yet we all know that people know the good and the evil without knowing who God is.

Still, do yourself a favor. Get this book and then sit down and prepare for a fun and worthwhile time. You’ll laugh and you’ll enjoy yourself so much you could lose track of how much good apologetics is sinking in.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Andy Bannister’s book can be purchased here.

Book Plunge: Faith Vs Fact. Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. Part 1

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

It’s hard to really describe Coyne’s book on Faith vs. Fact. Two sayings that I was given fit it well. The first is that every page is better than the next. The second is that it is not to be tossed aside lightly but hurled with great force. It would be difficult to imagine a more uninformed writing on a topic unless one had read the rest of modern atheists today like Dawkins and Harris and others. I had even made a number of predictions before reading Coyne’s book that I was sure would take place. Lo and behold, my predictions were right. While the modern atheists consider themselves to be clear and rational thinkers, they pretty much just copy and paste what everyone else says.

It’s also important to point out that looking up references in this book is quite difficult. Coyne does not give page numbers or titles often and the end notes do not even have the page numbers nor are they numbered. Hopefully this will be taken care of in future editions.

It’s hardly a shock to see that Coyne starts early off with the works of Draper and White to show the conflict of science and religion. Of course, many of the claims in the book are known to be just plain false by historians of science. Some of them in White’s book for instance remain entirely unverified today. For much of this, I will rely on the work of James Hannam. It is noteworthy that Coyne never once brings up a book such as Galileo Goes To Jail. Numbers is a real scholar in the field and an agnostic. The book contains a number of agnostic writers and while there are Christians and other faiths as well, you cannot tell by looking at the chapters who is writing what. Coyne is holding on to a myth for atheists that should have been dispelled years ago, but like all people of faith, he has to hold on to those myths to support his belief system.

Now some might want to ask me about my own personal opinions at this point. That’s fine. I’ll clear it up. I am not a scientist and I do not discuss science as science. When it comes to evolution, it makes no difference whatsoever to me and I oppose Christians who have not studied evolution commenting on it. If they want to criticize it, well God bless them, but make sure that if they do, that it is a scientific critique. We do not need a critique of “The Bible says X.” I think too often we have read Genesis as if it was meant to be a scientific and material account instead of the functional account I believe it would have been seen to be by the ancient Israelites and others. If evolution is to fall, and that is not my call at all, it will fall because it is bad science. Either way, the question matters not to me. I am not saying it is unimportant, but that I do not have the time to study it and my interpretation of Genesis doesn’t care about the question.

It’s a shame however that Coyne and other atheists do not pay the same courtesy. While I am not an authority on science and do not thus speak on science, Coyne and others who are not authorities in the relevant field think they can speak on philosophy and history and theology. It is certainly amusing to read a book where it is claimed that Christians have overstepped their bounds (And indeed, too many do and I have strong words for them just as much) and yet Coyne regularly does this where he speaks on topics he has no expertise on and as we shall see later on, he quite frankly makes embarrassing statements that would make any scholar in the field shake their head in disbelief.

Coyne tells us on page 6 that it is off limits to attack religion. I must admit this was a newsflash to me. I suppose it must be news to the rest of the world. The new atheists have been publishing books since shortly after 9/11. Most every Easter you can see a new article or theory coming out claiming something crazy about Jesus that we’re just now discovering. I can go on Facebook and YouTube and see numerous people speaking out against religion. We have seen homosexual activists targeting people of faith, as we are often called. If it is taboo to go after religion, it is apparent that most of the world didn’t get the memo.

I am also confused as to what percentage of Americans are atheists. On page 9, we are told that nearly 20 percent of Americans are either atheists or agnostics or say their religion is nothing in particular. On page 12, we’re told that 83 percent of Americans believe in God and only 4 percent are atheists. Color me confused as to which one it is.

Coyne points to the National Academy of Sciences containing a large number of atheists, but why should this be a surprise? The question of God as we will see is not a scientific question, but is rather a philosophical and metaphysical question. Why should a scientist hold any sort of authority there? Of course, I will not accept the redefinition of science that Coyne gives later on. But why does the NAS statistic not trouble me? Let’s look at what their web site says.

Because membership is achieved by election, there is no membership application process. Although many names are suggested informally, only Academy members may submit formal nominations. Consideration of a candidate begins with his or her nomination, followed by an extensive and careful vetting process that results in a final ballot at the Academy’s annual meeting in April each year. Currently, a maximum of 84 members may be elected annually. Members must be U.S. citizens; non-citizens are elected as foreign associates, with a maximum of 21 elected annually.

The NAS membership totals approximately 2,250 members and nearly 440 foreign associates, of whom approximately 200 have received Nobel prizes.

So let’s be clear. 84 members are elected a year. If we count Americans alone, how many scientists and engineers get Ph.D.’s a year? 18,000. Considering that’s from Scientific American Coyne should not have any trouble with that. What that amounts to is that NAS can become a sort of exclusive club where people can get other people who agree with them to come on board, which makes it hardly representative of all scientists. Consider it a sort of good ol’ boys club. That does not mean that the work they do is not valid, but it does mean it should hardly be considered a fair representation of all scientists.

On page 15-16, we have the notion from Coyne that we are increasingly realizing free-will does not exist. Supposing this was true, while Coyne says it would eliminate much of theology, it would also eliminate much of everything else. After all, if there is no free-will, Coyne does not believe what he believes because he is a champion of reason or anything of the like. That’s just the way that the atoms have worked together to make him think. He has no say in the matter. None of us should be convinced by anything he says either and if we are, it is not because of reason but because that is how our atoms responded to something somehow.

Coyne on page 20 refers to teleology as an external force driving evolution, at least from a more theistic perspective. Yet when we use the term teleology, this is not what we mean. Teleology comes from the four causes of Aristotle. The last is the final cause. The final cause was the purpose for which something existed or why it did what it did. Final causality exists throughout our world and it is the reality that an agent acts toward an end, be it intentionally or unintentionally. If an iceberg floats through water and cools the water around it, that is final causality. Aristotle considered this to be the most important of the causes.

In fact, as Gilson shows, this is a necessary aspect of evolution. Evolution did not dispense with final causes but itself has a final cause. The final cause is so the most fit species can survive for the passing on of their genetic information. Evolution, like any kind of competition, has the goal, and again this is not necessarily consciously, of producing the best end product. Unfortunately, Coyne does not possess a basic understanding of Aristotelianism at all so it’s not a shock that he makes a mistake like this. The sad part is his faithful followers who do not possess this knowledge will eat this up thinking that Coyne is right in what he says and not bother to check. I see it happen too often with all the bogus claims that atheists spread on the internet about the fields that I do study in.

As predicted, much of what Coyne says depends on his misuse of the term faith. It’s so easily predictable that Coyne will use this. Of course, absent is any interaction with Biblical lexicons or any study of the Greek language to see what the Bible means when it encourages us to have faith. Faith is for Coyne on page 25, the acceptance of things for which there is no strong evidence and of course, throughout the implication is any belief without evidence is faith. Is this what the writers of Scripture meant by faith? Not at all. For a man who later says fields like history are a science, one would have thought he would be more scientific in his approach, but he is not. Coyne has accepted yet another atheist myth. Had he consulted an actual work of scholarship he might have found this definition:

Faith/Faithfulness

“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.

What this means is that faith is really a response to what has been shown. Aristotle would even use the work pistis, which is translated as faith, to refer to a forensic proof. Faith was the loyalty that was owed someone based on the evidence that they had given you. Okay. Well how does that comport with Hebrews 11:1? Very well, thank you. The notion that it is belief without evidence that the Bible espouses is really a myth that atheists throw around without evidence. It is apparent then who the real people of “faith” are.

Now do many Christians have a faulty view of faith? Absolutely, but are those the people Coyne should really go to to get the best of the other side, especially if he wants to be scientific and gathering evidence? Why not study what Christians throughout history have meant by faith? Unfortunately, this seems to be out of bounds for Coyne. Coyne will keep perpetuating this myth throughout his book as if when science came along that all of a sudden people decided that they should have evidence for their beliefs. Sorry Coyne, but numerous people, including Christians, reached that conclusion long before you did.

We can be pleased to see that Coyne says history is a science, but unfortunately as it will be shown later on, this is because Coyne deems to be scientific, any system that relies on gathering evidence for its claims. It’s easy to say that something is scientific in that sense if you just change what the words mean. In doing this, Coyne hopes to show the superiority of science later by saying that history is included under the rubric of science. Not really. History is its own field and it has a historical method just as much as there is a scientific method.

This is all the more amusing since in the book also Coyne says he was practicing science for thirty years and he had never thought about what science was. In fact, he tells us that until he started writing this book, his definition was false. Well it’s nice to know that Coyne is writing to tell us that science and religion are incompatible when before even starting the book he didn’t know what science was. Somehow he knew that whatever science was, it had to be incompatible with religion. Perhaps Coyne should have invested more thought into what it was that he was doing all these decades.

Coyne also speaks against those who claim we shouldn’t accept evolution because we do not see in in our time, to which he says we ignore the massive historical evidence in the fossil record and such. He tells us that if we only accept as true what we see with our own eyes in our own time, we’d have to regard all of human history as dubious. It’s amusing to know this same person will later say we have to be suspicious of miracles because we do not see them around the world today. (However, this claim is also false. Coyne has not shown any interaction with Craig Keener’s massive two-volume work Miracles. One would think that being scientific, Coyne would have wanted to look at the best work of evidence on the topic presented and no, when it comes to miracles there also isn’t even any response to John Earman’s refutation of Hume’s argument. Coyne should have been interested in this since Earman is himself an agnostic and says that Hume’s argument, which Coyne endorses, would be a science stopper if followed through consistently.) Of course, we will find that Coyne’s understanding of historical miracle claims is incredibly lacking, in fact, no doubt one of the worst moments of ignorance in the book.

I am also quite sure that David Bentley Hart would be surprised to find that he is listed as a liberal theologian. I am quite sure it’s because Coyne does not understand what Hart would mean by referring to God as the ground of being. While Coyne does have listed in the back Hart’s book The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, he might have been better served by going to a book like Hart’s Atheist Delusions. But then again, never let not understanding what someone is talking about be a reason to stop you from speaking on what that person is saying.

Coyne also tells us that the Nicene Creed contradicts other faiths, which it does, as if there is some point to this. It seems odd to say that it’s an argument against a worldview that it contradicts all other worldviews. Of course it does. Coyne does tell us that the creed tells us Jesus is the Messiah and other faiths don’t accept this, including Islam. In fact, Muslims believe that those who accept Jesus as the Messiah will go to Hell. Well, this would certainly be news to most Muslims. As we find in Sura 3:45

(Remember) when the angels said: “O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allah gives you the glad tidings of a Word [“Be!” – and he was! i.e. ‘Iesa (Jesus) the son of Maryam (Mary)] from Him, his name will be the Messiah ‘Iesa (Jesus), the son of Maryam (Mary), held in honour in this world and in the Hereafter, and will be one of those who are near to Allah.”

Did Coyne not do any fact checking? The Muslims are opposed to saying Jesus is the Son of God or the second person of the Trinity, but not opposed to saying that He is the Messiah.

Coyne also says literalism is not a modern offshoot, but rather is the historical way of reading Scripture. The only way Coyne could believe this is if he had no experience with the way the ancients read Scripture. Even before the New Testament, we have works like Longenecker’s showing the various ways many passages of the Old Testament was read by the apostles and their contemporaries at the time, such as the Qumran community. Had he moved on to later times, Coyne would have been able to find that the church fathers happened to love allegory, including Augustine who he refers to as a literalist. (For Coyne, it looks like if you believe in a historical Adam and that Jesus died and rose again, you must be a literalist, a rather naive way of approaching a claim.) Origen, for instance, was all over the place with his use of allegory. He could have also read Mark Sheridan’s work about how God was spoken of in the patristic tradition and passages were often not read in their literal sense because they had to be read in a way that was fitting of God, meaning He had no body or no emotions so those passages had to be read differently. A work like Robert Rea’s would have shown him that in the medieval period, there were four different styles of reading a text.

But since Coyne mentioned Augustine, let’s use a quote of his on interpretation.

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]

Augustine would probably be disappointed at the way many lay people handle the Scriptures today. By the way, if Coyne wants to know where this comes from, it comes from Augustine’s The Literal Meaning of Genesis. Augustine’s literal meaning was also that everything was created all at once instantly and that the days are laid out more in a framework type of hypothesis.

If this is so, why the hang-up on literalism today? To begin with, Coyne never defines literalism and if he means that every passage is read in a wooden sense, no one does that. Much of the Bible does have metaphorical language and figures of speech and hyperbole and the like. Yet one cause of it today is that we are seen as a Democracy and every man should be able to understand the basic position of Christianity and that means the Bible should be readily understandable by everyone. Well it’s not. As my friend Werner Mischke says in his book, “Culturally speaking, the Bible does not ‘belong’ to you; It’s not your book.” Coyne could have benefited by reading other works like The New Testament World or Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes. Ironically, the real enemy here is a more fundamentalist approach to Scripture, and yet it is the exact same approach Coyne takes. He is a victim of the problem he sees in his opposition. Were we to get past much of our anthropological elitism, we’d start studying the Bible and trying to fit ourselves into the worldview of its authors. We might disagree with it still, sure, but we’d have a better informed disagreement.

This kind of material leads up to where we’ll continue next time, with what I consider to be one of the most embarrassing paragraphs in Coyne’s book.

Part 2 of the review can be found here.

Part 3 can be found here.

Part 4 can be found here.

Part 5 can be found here.

Book Plunge: An Atheist Defends Religion

What do I think of Bruce Sheiman’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s hard to know what to think when you see a title of An Atheist Defends Religion. You might think a similar title could be A Jew defends Adolf Hitler or A Christian defends Muslim terrorists. The two seem so antithetical. Why on Earth would an atheist want to defend religion? Isn’t religion the bane of the atheist’s existence? Unfortunately, if we start thinking out that way, we start thinking out wrong. In fact, we are thinking in a fundamentalist way that Sheiman in his book condemns that has created an us vs. them climate. Ironically, as Sheiman argues, this only makes the situation worse for atheism and in turn for science (Which is not to be equated with atheism either) since generally, for most of the public, if they’re asked to choose between religion and science, they’ll go with religion.

Sheiman does not hold back in saying he is an atheist in the book, but he also considers himself an aspiring theist. He does not like the worldview presented by atheism. I do appreciate greatly his honesty at this point. Sheiman wants to follow the evidence where it leads and while he would like to believe in God, he says he just cannot bring himself to do it now. I do not know what is holding him back and that could be another conversation some day to have, but I do know that belief is not a lightswitch that you can just turn off and on. We need to have people believe because they think something is more likely than not to be true.

Sheiman also does not see atheism as a form of intellectual triumphalism. I find this to be an excellent point to make as well. There are intelligent people on both sides, but I find way too often that the atheists I meet have the attitude that if you don’t believe in God, you’re automatically rational. My wife saw yesterday as we were leaving church a billboard for rationalists.org saying that if you don’t believe in God, you’re not alone. Now I have no problem with unbelievers getting together and discussing atheism and agnosticism. I have a problem with that being labeled as rational, as if if you are a theist, you are automatically irrational. This mindset I have come to call presuppositional atheism.

That having been said, if you’re interested in the God debate, you won’t find much in the book. Sheiman is not going to take you through the arguments pro or con and weigh them out. Instead, he’s going to defend religion as a cultural phenomenon. God might not be around in Sheiman’s world to do us good, but the belief in God is doing good. This will come out in ethics, in giving to charity, in the health of people who are religious, and even in the advancement of civilization and science. Atheism does not have this. It is bankrupt as an ideology. It does not inspire like religion does and it has a gloomy picture of the world, despite what many atheists say.

At this point, atheists might want to trot out the evils done in religion, but on location 186, Sheiman has an answer:

“Religion’s misdeeds may make for provocative history, but the everyday good works of billions of people is the real history of religion, one that parallels the growth and prosperity of humankind. There are countless examples of individuals lifting themselves out of personal misery through faith. In the lives of these individuals, God is not a delusion, God is not a spell that must be broken—God is indeed great.”

It’s easy to speak about all the evils brought about by theism if you just ignore all the good things and look at only what you think is evil (And much of that is misunderstood!). The same atheists who often do this tend to ignore the millions killed by atheist leaders such as Stalin, Mao, and Pol-Pot, all of which must boil down to a coincidence. When atheists want to see the real legacy of theism, they too often want to exclude any possibility that the Dark Ages idea is a myth, Christianity did nothing to bring about civilization, and want to happily ignore that as they drive down the street they can pass so many hospitals with religious terminology in their names. Have theists many times done evil? Absolutely. That is not because theism is evil, though it could be, but because of another belief we all have strong empirical evidence for. Humans are very prone to doing evil.

As we go through, the start is that religion gives some people meaning to life. Sheiman admits this saying he thinks religion is false and therefore he cannot embrace that meaning. He believes science is true, but it lacks that meaning. Science can tell us many fascinating and wonderful things, and then what? We can also learn that all that we have is going to die in the cold death of a universe that neither knows nor cares. As Bertrand Russell said

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

(A Free Man’s Worship)

The caveat I have at this point, which will be expanded on later, is to say “Could not both stories be true?” As a Christian, I have no problem saying that science gives us loads of factual information about the world. On the other hand, I have no problem saying God has revealed Himself in Scripture, in Christ, in creation, and in morality. I just wish readers to keep this in their mind as we will discuss it later.

Sheiman also argues that religion leads to greater care of humanity. This is not because religious people want a “Get out of Hell free card” or want to earn bonus points with God. We know God would see right through such things after all. We do this because they see the ultimate example in God. This is especially so for Christians like myself who believe in the incarnation and see the way God lived among us. Who after all would be foolish enough to deny the impetus to good living that the life of Jesus has left on this world? (Unfortunately, I know many who would I think be foolish enough to do just that.)

Sheiman considers it a shame that while religion could motivate some people to do evil, that that is emphasized while all the simple small deeds done in the name of religion are ignored. Most of these will in fact go unnoticed because a lot of religious people who do them do not like to claim recognition for their good deeds. I myself have made it a point often to do a kind act for someone when they can’t see it and then to get away as soon as I can before they find out that I did it for them. It’s nice to be praised for something, but you should not do something because you will be praised for it.

Sheiman also argues that religious people give far more and he has the data to back it up. He gives an example of a Methodist bishop asking for $10 donations to help African children facing malaria. They wanted to buy nets to protect them from mosquitoes. Within minutes, $14,000 had been raised. Atheists can argue that they can give just as much, and no doubt they can, but the same incentive and motivation is not there. Sheiman humorously says on page 40 that militant atheists want the benefits of religion without religion, just like wanting the taste of chocolate without wanting to have the calories.

If someone wants to point to science here, Sheiman has no reason to listen to them. Science paints a dismal picture of selfish genes and the survival of the fittest and that we come from a blind evolutionary process that did not see us coming. The thinking of Harris and Dawkins that morality can be derived from science escapes Sheiman. He is not the only one it escapes. In fact, his chief example of this kind of thinking is Peter Singer. Sheiman says in response to Singer that while he likes the idea of treating animals more like humans, he just can’t have the enthusiasm for the idea of treating humans more like animals.

The next chapter is about religion being union with the divine. I do not have much to say here as I do not really have experience with mystical experiences.

Next we move to mental happiness and health. Those who are religious according to Sheiman tend to be healthier. They also tend to have better marriages. Both of these can be seen to fit because religious belief can often be optimistic. (Despite still many of my fellow Christians who I think are pessimists when it comes to prophecy.) Many of us believe the most awesome being of all loves us unconditionally. With our marriages, if we’re Christians, we believe that we have an example in Jesus Christ. Husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church and wives love their husbands as the church loves Christ.

Of course, there will be people who struggle in their marriages and who struggle with issues like depression who are theists, but the odds of being one are less if you are a theist. In fact, if you do struggle in these areas, your struggle could be made easier because of your theistic beliefs. You can always have someone to fall back on, namely God. Recently I started reading Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. He points out that if you enter marriage expecting your spouse to provide what only God can provide, you’re going to have a marriage that suffers. Those who look to God to be their savior instead of their spouse will have happier marriages. Overall, theism will mean a better life with marriage and health.

We next move to religion being a force for progress. In our day and age on the internet, it’s common to see the graph that is meant to indicate the hole left by the “Dark Ages.”

stupidchart

An atheist like Tim O’Neill has thankfully helped to shatter this into a million pieces. Despite what atheists think, science was on the rise in that period. I really do not think the Enlightenment contributed much new to the situation. Do we have any reason to think Christian scientists would have stopped studying creation? In fact, if religion has been a driving force in the world, then that we are here now and got to the point where science was possible should show that religion has not been the impediment it is said to be.

Sheiman also attributes to this the rise in the belief in equality of humanity and the abolition of slavery. The reason these came to be accepted was because of a religious belief in the equality of humanity, including passages like Galatians 3:28. If all mankind is in the image of God, should we not treat each person that we meet as if they were indeed someone who bore the image of God?

The sixth chapter is on fundamentalism and violence, and this is quite an amusing one as I contend there are fundamentalist atheists just as much as there are fundamentalist Christians. When it comes to the violence, Sheiman argues that much of the violence is political in nature rather than religious. It could use religion to push it further, but it could just as easily use, say, belief in evolution to push it further. This would not argue that evolution is false, so why should religion being used to promote violence be seen as an indicator that religious beliefs are false? Those stand or fall on other grounds. As Sheiman says on page 117:

“The militant atheists lament that religion is the foremost source of the world’s violence is contradicted by three realities: Most religious organizations do not foster violence; many nonreligious groups do engage in violence; and many religious moral precepts encourage nonvio lence. Indeed, we can confidently assert that if religion was the sole or primary force behind wars, then secular ideologies should be relatively benign by comparison, which history teaches us has not been the case. Revealingly, in his Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips chronicled a total of 1,763 conflicts throughout history, of which just 123 were categorized as religious. And it is important to note further that over the last century the most brutality has been perpetrated by nonreligious cult figures (Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong-Il, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic, Robert Mugabe—you get the picture). Thus to attribute the impetus behind violence mainly to religious sentiments is a highly simplistic interpretation of history.”

Sheiman also argues that those who are violent and we would think psychotic tend to be some of the most normal people. The difference is they’re just constantly surrounded by like-minded people. Keep in mind the 9/11 terrorists blended in quite successfully with the American culture they were hiding in. Unfortunately, when these people get together, they tend to reinforce each other’s own radical ideas. This is not just the area of religion. Atheists can do the exact same thing. Atheists can even have their own Messiahs, such as a Utopian idea brought about through fascism, or the idea that science is the guiding light that is going to save us all. Consider these statements as well, On page 124 we read:

“Recent research cited by Cass Sunstein, for example, has shown that people with a particular political orientation who join a like-minded group emerge from that group with stronger political leanings than they started with. “In almost every group,” Sunstein writes, “people ended up with more extreme positions …. The result is group polarization, which occurs when like-minded people interact and end up in a more extreme position in line with their original inclinations.” And with the Internet added to the fundamentalist equation, it is now easier than ever for extremists of all types to find their ideological soul mates and reinforce their radical thinking.”

Consider this with one of my favorite groups to show as an example, Jesus mythicists. It’s on the internet that you get this crazy idea being popularized that Jesus never existed and it relies on some of the worst conspiracy theory thinking. I put these people in the same group as 9-11 truthers or anti-vaccination people. Still, internet atheists can get together and applaud themselves as being rational people who see past the smoke and mirrors. Interestingly, these people who are often opposed to Intelligent Design (And I am not advocating that) because it is “on the fringe” do not realize that their belief systems are even more on the fringe. At least with ID, you have a number of PH.D.s in the field who hold to this, though definitely a great minority. In the field of mythicism, you could count them on one hand.

In fact, Sheiman in speaking of these fundamentalists say they’re often just as closed-minded as their counterparts. One difference is that I have met many conservative Christians, like myself, who actually read the other side and seek to understand it. I do not meet many atheists who have done likewise. (Sheiman is obviously an exception.) In fact, one question I usually ask is “When was the last time you read a work of scholarship in this field that disagreed with you?” Usually, I get just crickets and in fact if any such work is recommended, it is discounted immediately because the author has “bias.”

For now, let’s move on to science. I am interested in the philosophy of science and the history of science, but I do not speak about science as science. I could not, for instance, give you an argument that would show you should believe in evolution, nor would I give much of one that would show you shouldn’t. I choose to debate on questions that I know. If I woke up tomorrow and saw a headline that said “SBC all agrees macroevolution is a fact,” I would say “Cool” and move on. If I saw instead “National Academy of Sciences says evolution is proven false,” I would say “Cool” and move on. It doesn’t matter to me. My interpretation of Genesis does not hang on evolution.

In fact, I like the description I heard best of science and religion this way. Science and religion are opposed, much like a thumb and a finger are opposed, so that they can grasp everything between them. Unfortunately, if they are made opponents, atheists will only lower themselves. After all, if you say you cannot be a scientist if you are a religious person, then people will see science as the enemy. Sadly, there are a lot of great minds who are religious and these people will be excluded from the discussion of science and who knows what they could contribute to the field?

I am one of those who thinks science cannot offer the final proof on theism. It cannot prove or disprove theism. Hence, my wondering with what Sheiman says earlier. Could you not believe in both stories? There are many Christian scientists who do. Could not you not say both stories give truth about reality instead of having this idea perhaps unknowingly that the two stories are opposed? Science on its own would tell you that we will die in a cold death, but that’s assuming there is no outside interference. A religious person can believe that if God does not interfere, this will happen. (Note I am not using the term supernatural. I do not use it as I find it inaccurate.)

One response to this could be the one one often finds on the internet of science being either the only way to truth or the best way to truth. Sheiman says that this is scientism and not science, and rightfully so, and that this is just atheism masquerading as science. I agree wholeheartedly and such people do a disservice to science and religion both. It is as indicated earlier a belief in the salvation of science. Such people often treat scientific conclusions the way their Christian counterparts treat the Bible. I often refer to such people as not daring to question the words of prophets Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Dennett, and anyone else who comes along. The new atheists have spoken. The case is closed.

Many atheists look at the world of science and speak of wonder, but for those of us who are religious, science alone does not bring that wonder. It is wonderful what we see, but we consider it all the more wonderful to think about the mind behind this creation. I can drive down the road and think “Wow. God made all of this.” I am amazed at that point. In reality, we are often looking at the same data. It is the belief that we bring to the data that is changing matters.

As we go on looking at this topic, I do see Sheiman talk about the literal interpretation of Scripture. This is a term I do wish many times would just die. The word “literal” has come to be in some ways meaningless. Literal often refers to a hard wooden interpretation of a text instead of a look at the text as the author intended. I happen to agree with John Walton and think that the text should not be read in light of modern scientific understanding when it comes to Genesis 1-3, but should rather be read in light of the way ancient Israelites saw the world around them.

I also disagree with Sheiman that if theism and atheism was a matter of evidence, people would be converted all the time. I think there are many other factors that influence why people believe what they believe. People in cults, for instance, are given a mindset by the cult that affects how they view and interpret evidence, including counter-evidence to their position. We could look at many Christians who get such emotional solace from their beliefs that they really cannot handle anything that goes against them. We could look at atheists who would face a social stigma if they went against their atheism or even some who would not want to abandon atheism because a belief like Christianity has something to say about their sexual lifestyles. We all know people who believe what they believe for less than intellectual reasons. Pascal years ago said that if you take the most astute philosopher and put him on a plank of sufficient size and suspend that plank over a large chasm, watch and see how quickly his emotions overtake his reason.

I did find myself disappointed by Sheiman’s argument of “Who created God?” as a question he often asks. I hold to a Thomistic view which in essence sees this as asking “What created existence?” To ask who created God becomes a question that doesn’t make sense on that since God’s nature is to be.

I also did not find the last chapter convincing with Sheiman’s way on getting the universe we have that seems to have some design without God. I kept wondering in it why this should be the case, but to be fair, I will not claim to understand all the science involved.

If there’s one thing that would definitely improve this book, it would be seeing where the quotes can be found that Sheiman gives. Many times he can give a quote and give just an author who said it without being able to know where the quote can be found. If a book is given, many times a page number is not given. I saw a number of quotes I would like to have been able to look up, but I would not be as easily able to.

Still, this is a fascinating read and one that I wish more atheists would read. We could probably have better debates if we did.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/30/2015: George Yancey

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

Many Christians today find their opinions aren’t exactly welcome in America. There is an increasing hostility towards Christians, which can certainly be seen on the internet, and Christians are often written off as if they were idiots who just believed everything based on blind faith. Of course, it could be that this is just a misconception on the part of Christians. Maybe we’re looking at the information wrong. Maybe we’re taking some of the personal experience that we’ve had and extrapolating it to a level that is not justified. Perhaps that is really what is going on. One could think that, but it would be more difficult to think that after reading So Many Christians, So Few Lions, and this Saturday one of the co-authors of that book will be on my show. Meet George Yancey.

george-yancey

According to his bio:

“Dr. George Yancey is a Professor of sociology at the University of North Texas. He has published several research articles on the topics of institutional racial diversity, racial identity, academic bias and anti-Christian hostility. His books include Compromising Scholarship (Baylor University Press), a book that explores religious and political biases in academia, There is no God (Rowman and Littlefield), a book that investigates atheism in the United States, and So Many Christians, So Few Lions (Rowman and Littlefield) a book that assesses Christianophobia in the United States. He currently is working to create the first Christian Studies center on a secular campus.”

We’ll be talking about his book on Christianophobia. Upfront, it’s not the term I would prefer to use as I really don’t care for describing an attitude as a phobia, such as in the case of so-called homophobia. (A point I actually agree with Peter Boghossian on!) I do think Yancey got the term from somewhere else. Still, the meaning that is put behind the term is something that he documents by sending out surveys to atheistic groups themselves and having them answer questions about their attitudes towards religious people and especially towards Christianity. The results are quite disturbing.

We’ll be talking with him on the subjects and how he did his research and what it means for us. How did he take the necessary steps to avoid bias in his research? Has his research been recognized by anyone else outside of the field? Has he received any feedback since the time of the writing to show that what he is talking about is going on? What does he think Christians need to do in order to make sure that they are doing their best to change the attitude that the popular culture has towards Christians?

I hope you’ll be here to join us and we are currently working on updating the latest episodes and getting them on the site for those of you who are concerned. As the summer gets closer I suspect that we will have a lot more time. Please do leave an ITunes review of the show also!

In Christ,
Nick Peters