The Party of Reason

Does any side own reason? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I was listening to Unbelievable? and one of the guests was from a British Humanist Association. I noticed how it was said by the guest something alone the lines of the belief in reason and that they are advocates for reason. Every time I hear something like this, I always get amazed that so many atheists and such out there want to advocate reason as if it was some new discovery that they made and the rest of the world doesn’t know about it.

Part of that has been that in our day and age, many atheists, especially on the internet, like to claim that they are the people of reason. This is usually in contrast to the theists who are the people of faith. Naturally, this is not an accurate understanding of faith, but a faith that is looked at as blind belief. If any internet atheist wants to think that this is what Christians have always believed, I just urge them to go and read the most educated Christians of today and the past.

This doesn’t mean that you will agree with the conclusion that the Christian makes. It would be great if you would, but I doubt it will happen immediately, but at least see that the people are using reason. They are presenting arguments and giving evidence and asking you to follow that evidence. You can disagree, but it is still the position of using reason.

Is this to say that all Christians are like this? Of course, but this would be like saying that all atheistic philosophers are like the ones that you encounter on the internet. There are too many Christians that are very anti-reason and do say there’s no evidence and you just have to have faith. There are too many atheists as well who claim reason but will believe many of the most unreasonable positions because they argue against Christianity, such as the nonsense idea that Jesus never even existed.

The problem also is that if one thinks they have reason and the other side doesn’t, then anything the other side says is discounted automatically. When I was engaged to Allie, a friend and I went to an event in Charlotte where Gary Habermas was speaking and in the Q&A an atheist tried to stump him at the microphone. Gary answered all of the questions and as the questioner was walking to his seat, my friend tells me he said, “At least I have logic on my side.”

Say all you want about logic, but there is nothing in logic that says God does not exist or that miracles cannot occur. No law of logic excludes those. Unfortunately, someone like this will just think that they are ipso facto a man of reason and they automatically are because, well, they’re an atheist and they’re the party of reason and so anything the opponent says must be false. Obviously, they’re a person of faith and they’re using reason after the fact. Even if that were so, that in itself does not discount the arguments.

Reason is a great tool and everyone should use it more and more and there are people who are people of faith on both sides. When I meet an atheist who makes a statement about how much they are the people of reason, I find it hard to take seriously. If you use reason, I certainly applaud you, but you are not different from the other people who are serious debaters in this field. In fact, the constant misunderstanding of faith from a Christian perspective means I just don’t take you seriously at all.

Reason is great, but it has been used by Christians for ages. It’s nothing new. Today too many atheists act like teenagers who have been given keys to the car and think that no one else has discovered driving. Sorry, but you’re not the only ones on this highway.

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

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/18/2016: Paul Vitz

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

Father’s Day is almost here, a time for us to stop and think about how important all of our fathers really are to us. Many people have good relationships with their fathers and the day is a special day. Many have poor relationships or maybe through an untimely death do not have a possibility of a relationship with their fathers. We all know of impacts that this can have on a child, but what if you were told that the possibility of a child being a theist or an atheist could be influenced by their relationship with their Dad?

Well it’s not just me saying it. It’s Paul Vitz saying it. He’s the author of Faith of the Fatherless and he will be on my show this Saturday. Who is he?

Paul summer 2011 at St. Patrick's Retreat House

Paul C. Vitz, Ph.D.

Senior Scholar and Professor, Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Arlington, Virginia; Professor Emeritus, New York University

(Ph.D., Stanford University)

 

Dr. Vitz’s teaching and research is focused on the integration of

Christian theology, especially Catholic anthropology, with psychology. This requires breaking from the modern secularism and post-modern relativism prevalent today. He is presently also addressing the following special topics: the psychology of hatred and forgiveness, the psychological importance of fathers and the relevance of psychology for understanding atheism and the psychology of the virtues.

Dr. Vitz’s books include: Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship, 2nd ed; Sigmund Freud’s Christian Unconscious; Modern Art and Modern Science: The Parallel Analysis of Vision; Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism (which came out in a revised edition in fall 2013 from Ignatius Press); and The Self: Beyond the Post-modern Crisis. He is also Professor of Psychology Emeritus at New York University where he taught for many years prior to joining IPS.

He is married to Evelyn Birge Vitz, best known as Timmie, who is a Professor of French at NYU; they recently moved down to Arlington, VA after living 44 years in downtown Manhattan. Dr. Vitz commuted to Arlington for over 10 years but now walks to work; Timmie is still a Professor at NYU so she commutes up to NY City. It is her turn now! They have six grown children and 18 grandchildren.

It’s important to note that Vitz’s claim is not that a good father necessitates having a child grow up a theist and a bad or absent father does not necessitate that a child grow up an atheist, but there is an interesting connection. As we think about Dads this week, we’ll talk about how that relationship can influence a child. We’ll discuss why it is that there seems to be this connection between the two and what Christian parents need to know about the importance of a father and what we can consider in our own interaction with atheists that we meet.

I hope you’ll be tuning in this Saturday to the Deeper Waters Podcast to hear this important discussion on Dads. Please also consider going to ITunes and leaving a positive review!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 4/30/2016: Luke Cawley

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

Evangelism is sometimes said to be a lost art among evangelicals. We live in a world where we don’t really interact as much with people and make evangelism the focus. The early Christian church spread in an empire where there was no internet, few people writing apologetics works, and great persecution. We have so much more than they and we do so much less than they did. What can we do to improve our track record? How can we better reach those around us?

In order to discuss that, I have decided to bring onto the show Luke Cawley. Who is he?

me on stage

According to his bio:

I am a writer, speaker, trainer and the director of Chrysolis, an organization I helped start in 2012 with the aim of enabling others to better communicate the Jesus story.

Much of my time is spent in contexts where God is not typically discussed in depth. I love interacting with skeptical audiences in universities, schools, bars, cafes and theaters, and anywhere else I’m invited.

I also enjoy enabling individuals and Christian communities to better engage those around them with the story of Jesus.

I have spent most of my adult life founding and developing (missional) Christian communities on university campuses in Britain and Romania and am a regular speaker at conferences and outreach events in different countries.

I was previously part of the writing team at InterVarsity Evangelism and a columnist at the Church of England Newspaper. My first book, The Myth of the Non-Christian: Engaging Atheists, Nominal Christians and the Spiritual but not Religious, was published by InterVarsity Press in 2016.

I have an MA in Evangelism & Leadership from Wheaton College and a Certificate in Theological and Pastoral Studies (concentrated in Christian Apologetics) from Oxford University. I’m married to Whitney, a lovely South Carolinian school teacher, and we have three young children.

Luke is the author of The Myth of the Non-ChristianThis book is not about some kind of idea of universalism. No. It’s a book about how to do evangelism and reach three different types of people. Those people are the ones who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, atheists and agnostics, and then nominal Christians.
Cawley’s book is one that certainly got me thinking about evangelism and does so still to this day and with my wife and I having a new church here in the area we’re attending, I’m thinking of implementing some ideas if given the chance. Cawley’s book does have apologetics in it, but those are more resources in the back. Instead, consider it a book to be more like Greg Koukl’s Tactics in that Cawley teaches you more how to do apologetics and it depends on the person that you meet.
We’ll be discussing these kinds of matters. Why is it that some evangelistic encounters can fall so incredibly short? Is there a proper time to answer someone’s questions and a proper time to just cut through the questions? How does apologetics play a role in the process of evangelism? What do you do when you encounter people who say they are Christians but who do not really live lives that seem to match Christianity and you fear that they could be Christians in name only?
I hope you’ll be joining me this Saturday for the Deeper Waters Podcast. Please also leave a positive review on ITunes.
In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Myth of the Non-Christian

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

I was recommended by a friend that I should get this book and review it and have the author on my show. Since then, I have got and read the book, I am reviewing it and yes, he will be on the Deeper Waters Podcast. I found the book to be an interesting look at how to do evangelism.

Cawley deals with three types of people in the book mainly. The first group is the one that identifies as Spiritual But Not Religious and frankly, there hasn’t been a lot of material I’ve seen in most apologetics books dealing with this group. The next is that of atheists that you encounter. Finally, he goes with people that we know are nominal Christians.

Cawley’s main idea is to do a lot of relational apologetics and draws you into the story of the people that you’re interacting with. He points out rightly that sometimes, it does take more than just correct answers. Sometimes bridges need to be built to help people relate.

I also think some of these ideas were just excellent. I’m intrigued by the idea of starting up what he called an Agnostics Anonymous where you have people meet together somewhere and just discuss the questions that they have about Christianity. Perhaps when we get some more funding in, I’ll start doing that so we can order pizza for everyone or something. It did sink in for me the importance of having a safe place where people can discuss the issues. Unfortunately for many, that will not be a church because sadly, the church has often closed the door to questioners.

If you come to this book wanting apologetics arguments, you really won’t find a lot of them. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about learning how to connect with the people that you’re interacting with on a regular basis. It did leave me with a reminder of the importance of evangelism, something that can ironically get lost in the apologetics world.

If there were some matters I’d change, I wish more had been said for some who are struggling on the section about nominal Christians. There are a lot of Christians I meet who are doubting their salvation and when I ask them, I find they don’t really have much reason to do so. They’re emotional doubters and some could read sections like the one on nominal Christians and worry that they themselves are the nominal Christians.

I also frankly do not understand the title still and I wish that that had been explained. You could say that authors regularly don’t get to choose the titles of their books, but Cawley does refer to it from time to time. I do not think he is advocating a position of universalism, but I was still unclear at the end what exactly was being advocated. I wish that this had been spelled out more.

Still, this is a book that I think will be helpful for those wanting to learn not apologetics but a method of how to do apologetics. I recommend it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Envy Is Not Jealousy

Can God be loving and jealous both? Let’s plunge into Deeper Waters and find out.

If you ever want to know how not to read the Bible, one of the best things to do is to just go to an atheist web site and look at the attempts to show Bible contradictions. Most of them are outright hysterical. It’s so bad that you can even find satire illustrating the position, and this one is so excellent. I’ve sadly found several people who don’t even realize it’s satire, some of them commenting on the piece itself.

One of the latest fundamentalist atheist hits is this little image going around:

jealousyisnotenvy

It’s incredible to see how much this image has spread and that anyone finds it to be a convincing argument shows how badly our thinking capacities are being damaged in this day and age.

Let’s start out with something that should be a simple point but is apparently not.

Envy is not jealousy.

You see, when a person is envious, that means that they want something that someone else has that they do not have and they resent the person for having it. Many of us can want something someone else has and so we go out and buy it or work hard to get it or something of that sort. That’s not what’s being talked about. An example in the OT is King Saul and David. David was getting more honor than Saul and Saul thought he had a right to that honor. He decided he needed to kill David to get that honor. This is especially so when the ancient world had the concept of limited good. That meant that all goods were seen as limited, including honor. If you had honor, that meant someone else lost it. David gaining honor would mean Saul was losing it. It’s also the same reason the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus. Jesus was getting honor and taking it away from the Pharisees.

Now God does desire honor, but He also has the right to all honor for He is the greater good. God is also jealous. This will not be denied as it is said in the Old Testament. God’s jealousy is geared towards His own people and in the ancient world, this would have been seen as something honorable. If you had exclusive rights to something, it was shameful to let it be used for a contrary reason. Many of us today still practice this. I would be more than willing to let you borrow a book from my library. Do you want to enjoy the same rights to my wife that I enjoy? Better not even think about that one!

The jealousy a husband nobly has for his wife is like that which God has for His people. God is in an exclusive covenant relationship with His people and He does not want anyone else intruding on that and in fact, it is for the good of His people. It is because He loves and honors them. The reason I do not let anyone else sleep with my wife is not because I want to ban her from having any pleasure. It is because I do not treat her like a common good and know that she has an exclusive relationship with me and I have one with her and in turn, I do not sleep with any other women.

Once again, we see pitiful fundamentalist atheist hermeneutics at work. I will believe fundamentalist atheists are people of evidence when I see some evidence they learn how to actually research the topics they argue against.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Do We Really Know More?

In the age of the Internet, it’s easy to say we have more access to knowledge than anyone else today, but does that mean we’re smarter?

I’d like you to imagine you live in the ancient world. In fact, you live next to a great bastion of learning, the Library of Alexandria. Within walking distance from where you are is a great collection of knowledge from all over that you can read when you want to. Here is the question then. Does that mean that you automatically know better than anyone else out there?

No. No you don’t. You might have more access to information than the average person, but it doesn’t mean you know better. One person who could make it to the library perhaps once a year, but knows how better to sift through information, will be more informed on topics than you will be. This person will know what books they need to read, how to read them, and how best to process new information when they get it in.

Today, we live in the age of the Internet. Most everyone can have access to the knowledge of the world immediately. It is sitting right at our fingertips. (Though often we miss it while looking at pictures of cats and debating what color a dress is.) There is no doubt that the Internet is a vast reservoir of knowledge overflowing and that a person can give themselves a decent education on a topic by doing some good looking on the net.

And yet, therein lies the danger.

Many of us remember seeing this commercial:

Funny? Indeed. We all laugh at the gullibility of the girl. How could someone possibly believe anything that they read on the Internet? We laugh, but don’t realize that too often, that describes many of us. In the age of the net, it’s easy to have anyone set up a blog or a web site or a podcast or anything of that sort and be seen as an authority. Many of us can self-publish EBooks and have us look like people who know what they’re talking about.

At this point, an obvious rejoinder comes up. “Well you’re not a scholar in the field and you have a blog and web site and podcast! Why should we listen to you? Couldn’t you be wrong?”

I absolutely could be wrong. I would hope you would listen because I do think I read profusely and seek to find out whatever I can in my field. Plus, when I interview someone, they are usually a scholar in the field and that means they are definitely worth listening to. When it comes to my own opinions on here, I will admit it’s really awesome to have so many people respecting and liking what I have to say, but I am not Scripture. I am not infallible at all. I would not want you to believe something just because I say it. Please feel free to research what I say. Even N.T. Wright has said that he can be sure 1/3 of the stuff he teaches is wrong. I would be quite the anomaly if I had everything that I taught be correct.

Too often on the net, people just hear what they want to hear and there is always a voice speaking loud enough on this. Recently for instance, I reviewed David McAfee’s Disproving Christianity. Quite simply, this is a terrible book, but if you go to his Facebook page, his followers, and it looks like there’s a lot of them for some strange reason, are just so impressed by what is being said. All I conclude is that people hear what they want to hear. The claims are not questioned. Rarely can you expect the other side to be read.

Christ mythicism is another example of this. While this position is a joke in the world of NT scholarship, it is seen as if it’s a hotly debated theory on the Internet. See for instance this quote by McAfee as well concerning John 14:6.

“This verse is, however, only one of the many indicating the necessity not of moral behavior to be saved, but of accepting Jesus Christ—who, according to doctrine, is supposed to have lived thousands of years ago and for whose existence we have little to evidence, neither as a man nor as part of the divine Christian God-head”

The tragedy in the atheist community is that this is fallen for hook, line, and sinker. It’s quite interesting that so many people who claim to be freethinkers tend to think exactly alike. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Many of you out there know who you are. For too many atheists, it is as if anything in the Bible is shown to be true, then at this point, one must commit ritual suicide. It cannot be allowed that a worldview like Christianity got anything historically accurate.

Okay. Someone might say I’m picking on the atheists. Christians do the same thing.

Yes. The sad thing is that too many atheists who tend to be all about the evidence will often believe something despite the evidence for it being flimsy and the scholars in the field rejecting it. Too many Christians meanwhile who claim to follow the one who said He is the way, the truth, and the life, and who are told to be on their guard against false doctrine, will too often not bother to do any of the research either. They will believe something just because it already fits in with what they already believe.

To an extent, that does make sense. The problem is our worldview is just often not informed enough to see if we have any reason to believe what we come to the data believing. So you’re a Christian who has grown up all your life believing Jesus is the Son of God and the Bible is God’s infallible and inerrant word. You have not really looked at the evidence, but you believe it. So you have someone email you a story about how NASA scientists had their calculations wrong until someone on a team told a story about Joshua’s missing day. Wow! How incredible! This just confirms what you believe! Unfortunately, that story if you believed it, is bogus.

If you don’t know how to process the information you have already, then any discovery that comes along that fits in with what you already believe will be believed by you. On the Internet, this is especially so if it comes in a nice-looking package, such as a well-designed web site. It can also happen if a speaker knows how to speak persuasively even if his points are nonsense. This is in fact one reason I consider debate helpful. If both participants are well-informed, you can get to hear the views all critiqued. It’s also way counterpoint books can be so fascinating to read.

If what I’m saying is accurate, then having knowledge there to us will not helpful to us if we don’t know how to process it and question it. This is one reason especially churches need to be encouraging their members to ask questions and they need to discuss those questions openly. People who are not questioning what they believe and asking about it quite frankly are not growing as disciples of Christ.

For my non-Christian readers, while you might deplore Christians sitting and just believing everything their pastor says, something I also deplore, make sure you’re not doing the same thing. Have you set your own authorities up as people who are going to be correct on whatever they say? Too often from our perspective, it looks like that is exactly what is happening. There’s a great danger I see, especially in the atheist community, where it is assumed that if you are an atheist, you are a person of reason and evidence. If someone is a Christian, they are a person of faith. Why should anyone listen to faith and why should anyone go against reason and evidence? Therefore, anyone who is rational will be an atheist. I refer to this as presuppositional atheism.

The best antidote to this is to learn how to interact with the opposite viewpoints and check up on the claims. You read something on the net? Go and check and see if it is true first. Don’t just believe something. In all honesty, if my own wife tells me about a story she’s read, I always ask what the source of that story is first.  When I have seen people post interesting stories on the Internet, I have often been the bearer of bad news by saying “It’s a good story. Unfortunately, it’s false.”

For Christians, this is especially the case. We claim to be followers of Christ. If people cannot trust what we say on mundane ordinary matters that could be shown to be false by five minutes of research, why should they trust us on ultimate life-changing issues that five minutes worth of research would not be sufficient for?

(btw, along those lines, Christian issues such as the resurrection are deep issues. I do not trust anyone who thinks that a major decision like this can be decided after a brief time of research. There are Ph.D.’s who study these subject in depth and simplistic answers will just not work. This is also why I oppose using memes as arguments. Memes can be humorous illustrations of arguments, but they should not be the arguments themselves.)

It’s easy to pride ourselves as thinking we possess knowledge in the age of the Internet, but let’s be careful about it. We could very well fulfill the Scripture where it says that proclaiming ourselves to be wise, we became fools. Rest assured, every side does have fine and intelligent minds on it, but every side also has their share of fools. Be sure to investigate what you believe. We should not desire to be fools.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 3

What was the fallout on Barker’s relationships with coming to atheism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and fall out.

Barker writes in his book about how he decided to mail everyone he had a significant relationship with and let them know he had abandoned Christianity and become an atheist. The sad reality in this chapter is that this is not one that is revealing of Barker, but rather is revealing of the church at large. As I read many of the letters that came back, I too felt great frustration, though no doubt for different reasons than Barker.

You see, too many Christians argued from their worldview back. Now in a sense, we all who are Christians argue from the position that our worldview is true, but when you meet an opponent, you don’t start with what you believe. You start with what he believes. Consider someone who says “It’s the devil! He’s out there trying to steal your joy!” Can you really imagine any atheist just saying to that “My gosh! I hadn’t realized that! I must go and repent right now! Please tell me where the nearest church is!”

And an emotional reaction is quite likely because of an emotional panic. This is because these people have never been trained to go this route. I would have preferred to have heard someone say “Wow Dan. That’s quite a remarkable choice that you’ve made. Can we maybe arrange a meeting or at least a few phone calls and talk about this decision and why you’ve made it and I can tell you why I think you should reconsider Christianity?” (And of course, be sure to give actual reasons there that show that you’ve done your homework.)

Then of course, there were the responses of indignation. I’m sure there were also quite likely some along the lines of “You were never a Christian to begin with.” This is one that I really don’t think we should make. After all, if any of us asked if we were a Christian today, we’d likely point to the same kinds of evidences. We remember when we gave our lives to Christ. We do our Christian service and we grow in holiness. Yet apparently someone can have those and still not be a Christian supposedly because of this rule that if you apostasize, you never were one. It gives the impression that you can never know unless you make it all the way. In the end, it will make us more followers of works-salvation.

Also, Barker says he received numerous letters asking how he was hurt. Now I do think there are emotional reasons for atheism, but that does not mean they are immediately apparent. Still, I don’t appeal to those unless there’s some reason that I think it necessary and I have evidence of those reasons. The data is what matters. Christians like this were trying to psychologize Barker instead of actually dealing with the data of what was being said to them.

Of course, there’s also the question of Barker asking two people “If I go out and get hit by a car and die, will I go to Hell.” For the talk about emotional appeals, this is about as emotional as it gets. Whether the answer is liked or not does not change it. It does not even say if the judgment is deserved or not. The truth of the matter is being determined by how one feels about it.

One interesting conversation he talks about is with his Uncle Keith.

“One day as we were driving back to southern California from a computer show in Las Vegas, he pointed to a huge rock formation in the landscape and said, “Isn’t that beautiful!” I looked at it for a moment and said, “Yes, it is beautiful. You can see how the multicolored ancient sedimentary sea beds were thrust upward after millions of years of tectonic pressure and are now tilted at an improbable angle.” He turned to me and snapped, “Do you have to ruin everything?”

And I read this wondering “How is this ruining?” Barker and Keith both have the wrong idea here. Barker thinks that if you provide a natural explanation for how it happened, then that means there cannot be any deity involved. Keith thought that if you gave a natural explanation, then you had killed the wonder of it. Both can be true. You can have a God who sets in play wonderful magnificent processes that produce beautiful things like rock formations.

So there’s not much to say about this chapter really. Before too long, we will be getting into the main arguments, the part I look forward to the most.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Some Tips On Research

Is there a proper way to go sifting through claims and separate the wheat from the chaff? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As Christians, we are to be people of the truth, and therefore we need to check as much as we can and find out if it is true or not. If we say something that is false on a major issue at one point or something that is easily disproven, then it damages our testimony when we proclaim Christ as the risen Lord.

Of course, this also applies to too many atheists who don’t bother to do proper research either. There can easily be confirmation bias going on on both sides. Christians can too often readily believe anything if it meshes with their view of reality, such as an interpretation of Scripture. Atheists can believe many claims just because they happen to go against Christianity despite being seen as jokes in scholarship of the day.

So let’s give some tips.

First off, when you’re doing internet research, be extremely careful. Anyone can set up a blog or a web site today and look authoritative.

“Well don’t you have a blog here? Shouldn’t I be suspicious of what you say?”

Please do.

Seriously. Please do.

If you don’t think I’m a trusted authority, by all means look up what I say. If I’m wrong about something, I want to know about it and if you make a persuasive enough case with good evidence and scholarship, then I will be able to change my mind.

The source is something that must always be considered. No. This is not the same as a genetic fallacy. The claim can be right or wrong regardless of the source, but the source tells you the degree of credibility you need to give it at the start.

Want an example? Sure. Unfortunately, this is a real one. A Muslim actually posted in a Muslim debate group I used to frequent that modern scholars knew the stories about there being ancient Greek civilization were mythical. I’m not talking about Atlantis or believing in Greek gods or anything like that. I’m talking about the civilization period. This lady posted a video to show the professors talking about it.

Source?

The Onion.

For those who don’t know, the Onion is a satire. The articles are entirely jokes not meant to be taken seriously. I’d like to say this only fools crazies on the internet. I’d like to, but I’d be wrong. Huffington Post lists several examples here.

There are several sources out there like that that are satirical. Be on the lookout for them. If you read on a web site something that seems bizarre, there is no harm of just doing a simple Google search to see if the site you are reading this on is satirical.

A place Christians can often make this mistake at is end-times hysteria.

Too many things have been reported to be the Mark of the Beast and every time that they’ve been shown to be false, another one just rises up. There is a new sensation going on constantly in many dispensational circles. If you’re one of those dispensationalists who is not jumping at everything called prophecy fulfillment, I have no problem with you. In fact, I’m quite pleased that one of the best criticisms of The Harbinger is actually by a dispensationalist.

Definitely shame on you if you buy into these people that are certain they can tell you when Jesus is coming back. They can’t. They won’t. Guess what it does to the cause of Christ when people sell all they have and travel across the country proclaiming the end because of what someone like Harold Camping said?

This gets us into moving past considering the source and then really looking at the claim. A claim can seem plausible and from a source that could be reliable, but it could also be false. This kind of event happens on Facebook constantly. Someone will put up a news story and then everyone will share it and talk about it except for that one problem.

The story isn’t true.

A famous occurrence of this happening is when an email was going around several years ago about NASA finding Joshua’s last day. NASA had to respond to calls from people wanting to know more about it and unfortunately being told that the claim wasn’t true.

In politics, this can happen often. I’ve had someone in the past who would regularly email me something about Obama that was a highly negative story that would be such a great exposing of who he really was.

Except for that same problem. It wasn’t true.

And keep this in mind. Politically, I am no supporter of Obama. I am so conservative in my politics I prefer to fly on planes that have two right wings. Obama politically to me is an opponent, but if I want to expose my opponent, I want it to be on true grounds, and not false grounds. We should not want those who we are in opposition to to be spoken of falsely.

This is also why when someone says “Dr. X says such and such” you should ask some questions.

Who is this person?

What is their doctorate in?

Do they teach at an accredited university?

Are they respected in the field by those who agree with them and those who disagree with them?

Is their doctorate in a relevant field?

If those questions are answered in a way that gives credibility to the person then you need to look at the claim more. Unfortunately, too many videos that present these claims do not include proper citation. For instance, I just got done watching a video by some Christ-mythers who would say “X said this.” Where? Who knows! Rarely was anything ever said.

Christ-mythers, by the way, are excellent examples of people who do not do research. The Christ-mythers will fail in the field of NT and history at the questions above as none of them will be respected in the field by people they disagree with.

Consider Richard Carrier for instance. Carrier is highly respected and admired among internet atheists. Take that crowd away and there’s nothing. Most people in Europe have never even heard of him. Compare that to someone like N.T. Wright who teaches at an accredited university and is recognized as a top-notch biblical scholar by even his opponents.

I am interested in seeing what’s going to happen in the future for all the internet atheists who have put all their eggs in the Carrier basket.

This brings us to the next point. See what the opposition has to say. Read the best scholarship that you can on the other side. A question I often ask internet atheists nowadays is “When was the last time you read a work of scholarship that disagreed with you?”

Let’s return to the Christ-myth theory as my favorite example. How many times do I meet internet atheists who say “We don’t even know that Jesus existed.” Yeah we do. Scholarship across the board has held he does for years and theories that he did not exist have been found to be extremely lacking.

The reply will often be that these are a bunch of Christers trying to save their faith. The answer is that this is simply false. A large segment of the Society of Biblical Literature is non-Christian for instance. Bart Ehrman is a member of the SBL as are others who would say they’re atheist, agnostic, or liberal. (Some could say they’re Christian, but only in the sense that they follow the ethics of Christ without believing in anything miraculous about him.)

Also, even Christian scholars have to have their work pass peer-review. It won’t necessarily mean that their reviewers agree with their conclusion, but it will mean that they’ve shown they’ve done their research and are able to defend their view.

When you read this opposition, try to read scholarly opposition as much as you can and read it when published by an academic publisher. Of course, not everything is like that, and I say that as the co-author of two ebooks. A claim being in a non-scholarly source does not make it false, but it does mean you should always be willing to check the source of the claim and make sure that the person is interacting with the best in scholarship on the issue.

For an example of interacting with the best scholarship on the issue, consider the new atheists. The new atheists regularly have a habit of NOT interacting with the best of their opposition. I believe I have demonstrated that in this post.

By and large also, I do prefer books to videos and blog posts and such. Don’t discount those entirely, as I am a blogger after all, but try to see them as stepping stones. That’s why on my podcast I try to bring the best in scholarship and hope that it will be a stepping stone getting you to want to go look at the works of the scholars that I interview.

This also applies across the board. Don’t think I don’t practice what I teach either. Of course, I will make mistakes, but I spend plenty of time reading and studying. You can follow me on Goodreads if you want to see what it is that I’m reading. There is no such thing as being knowledgeable in the field without doing the research. There is no shortcut to learning. There are many ways to learn, but all of them require work.

Do good research. I don’t care what position you have. Just research it. In fact, I would rather talk about theology with an informed atheist more than an uninformed Christian. My standards are the same on both ends. I respect people who do the research about what they argue and know the other side well. I don’t respect those who are dogmatic on their side without doing any background research.

Be a part of the former. Study.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Trouble With Internet Debates

What’s so problematic about having debates on the internet? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I love debate. Okay. I can’t deny that. A good argument can get me really excited. I love the back and forth exchange of ideas. (Well supposedly the back and forth exchange.) Yet there’s something also irksome about it. In some ways, it can be like receiving a new gift at Christmas. It’s fun and exciting for a few days, but after awhile, the excitement just wears off.

What’s the problem with internet debates? Well very rarely do people talk about ideas that they really study. Instead, they talk about ideas that they have opinions on. Now opinions are fine and we all have them, but some opinions are to be more authoritative than others. I can have an opinion on evolution and cosmology. Don’t take it seriously. Why? Because I have not done the necessary reading on the topic. I am not an authority.

A word of warning at this point to my apologist friends out there and to other Christians. Reading the apologists on a topic does not make you an authority. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to read the scholars on the topic. You want to know what your opponents are arguing even better than they know it.

Now before atheists start thinking they’re not guilty of the same thing, they are. If you want to make an argument against the existence of God, don’t read someone like Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is just fine when talking about evolution, but he is not trained in the arguments for God’s existence.

Don’t go thinking that people like Jerry Coyne (Who Peter Boghossian refers to profusely) are authorities on Christianity. They’re not. When I go to his blog and see people arguing that Jesus never even existed, I know this is not something to take seriously. (And yes, no one who says Jesus never existed should be considered authoritative in the field. There are more PH.D.s in science who hold to YEC, a view I do not hold to at all, than there are PH.D.s in ancient history who say Jesus never existed.)

The new atheist movement has done this to atheism today. If you want to be a well-informed atheist, do not read the new atheists. Believe it or not, just because you are an atheist, it does not mean that you’re automatically a clear thinker. Christian and atheists both have fools and geniuses on their side.

Another problem both sides have is incredulity has become an argument. For an atheist, yeah. I get it. It seems incredible to you that a miracle occurred. Frankly, I don’t have any problem with you thinking it is incredible. It really is. I understand the skepticism. The problem is skepticism is not an argument. It is a position that one holds. Today, you will need to do more than quote David Hume. Have you read the critiques of Hume? Have you considered a work such as Miracles by Craig Keener?

It also won’t work to say “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” Why should your position be the one that determines what claim is and isn’t extraordinary? The term is just way too subjective. How do you even recognize extraordinary evidence? Does it have some property like glowing in the dark?

extraordinaryevidence

And once again, to turn to the Christians, your incredulity does not count as an argument. Okay. Many of you are skeptical of evolution. I get that. Yeah. Now I have no firm opinion on the matter, but your incredulity does not count as an argument. It also will not work to say “The Bible says X.” Yeah. You accept the Bible as an authority, but your opponent doesn’t. Why should he care?

Now if you want to argue against evolution by all means be my guest. Just make sure you make the case scientific. If evolution is to fall, it will fall because it happens to be bad science. If it is bad science, then it can be refuted scientifically. Being incredulous will not count as an argument.

The problem with both of these positions is both sides can remain incredibly fundamentalist in nature. Many Christians will say automatically that they must be right because they agree with the Bible and the Word of God cannot be wrong. Now it could be true the Bible is the Word of God and cannot be wrong. (And I do hold to Inerrancy in fact) That is not to be assumed. If you’re debating a Christian who holds to that position, then fine. Use the Bible all you want to as an authority. It won’t work outside of that. It has no more effect on an opponent than my hearing what the Koran says from a Muslim has on me despite him insisting he’s telling me the words of the creator.

For the atheist, too often there is an engagement in what I call “atheistic presuppositionalism.” This is where you start off with the assumption of atheism, but you also start with the idea that because you are an atheist, you are reasonable and anyone who does not accept atheism is just irrational.

Now of course, if atheism is true, it is irrational to not accept it, but none of us are purely rational in all our thinking. We all make mistakes. You can be rational in many areas and irrational in others for any number of reasons. There could be a lack of study, reading the wrong resources, pride, or emotional or volitional barriers. Atheists often warn us about bias. They’re right. We should all be seeking to have our biases checked, but that includes atheists as well. The best way is to go out and read people who disagree with you and really interact with them.

But for too many atheists, the position is that they are rational and therefore any comment that they make is rational. Want to say Jesus never existed? That’s rational because you’re an atheist! Have an opinion on any topic you’ve never studied? It’s rational because you’re an atheist!

This also leads to too often a lack of serious engagement with religious ideas for atheists. For most, it is just a Google search and Google while a valuable tool for those who use it well, is an aid also to the laziness of our day and age. Why go out and read a scholar of a position? Just go find something in a Google search.

Want to claim Jesus is a copycat Messiah and there were several dying and rising deities? No problem! Just do a Google search! Sure! The source might not quote any scholars whatsoever and would not be taken seriously in the scholarly world, which it isn’t, but hey! It’s found on Google!

Now of course, a Christian should want to have an answer to that objection, but the question needs to be asked why it should be taken seriously as an objection in the first place? Is finding it on a Google search a good enough reason? I can find evidence on Google right now that the moon landing never took place! I can find evidence that the holocaust never happened! Now it’s faulty evidence to be sure (You can have evidence for false opinions), but it is evidence! Who would like to see something put up saying the moon landing never happened and expect to have to give an answer for that?

In fact, the reality is that 99.9% of us would say that it happened I predict. I have no doubt it happened. The reality is that most of us at the same time could not give an argument for it. Most of us do not know the physics and such of the matter to give an answer. That does not mean we’re irrational for holding it. We hold it on other grounds. Most of us could not give an argument for heliocentrism. Does that mean if someone put forward a web page claiming geocentrism that you would want me to take it seriously?

On the internet, anyone can put forward an opinion and it doesn’t have to be examined by critical minds. If you wanted to, you could start a blog right now for free and put out your opinion on whatever you want. That does not mean you’re an authority. It means you have an opinion.

Some of you might be thinking “What about your blog?” What about it? If you want to be skeptical, go ahead. I do not claim to be a scholar yet, but I do claim to rely on the works of leading scholars. If you think my opinion carries merit, feel free to share it. If not, then ignore it and just go and read the people who have actually reached the level of scholar.

Google is a tool for too many people who want instant information but are not wanting to do a real study. So many people don’t want today to do the real research required in learning a topic. Instead, they just want you to lay everything out front instead of doing the basic groundwork for what you wish to say. That’s another problem with internet discussions. If you’ve read the scholars, it’s very irritating to talk to people who haven’t and have them think they’re an authority.

And this gets us into another area as well. When people are contested, they can turn nasty. Now I am not one who says all satire and sarcasm is wrong. In fact, I think in many cases it’s necessary. Sometimes you need to call a spade a spade. Some arguers on the internet are just bullies who have not studied and want to present themselves as authority. They do not respond to sound argumentation.

Yet if all you have is just sarcasm and satire and you cannot back it with arguments, then you do not have an argument. Mocking Christians for being Christians is not an argument. Mocking atheists for being atheists is not an argument. If you’re one who does not have a problem with mockery, and to be fair, the Bible has no problem with it in many cases, then be sure that you also have the arguments to back it. Mockery, sarcasm, and satire are not to be your arguments. They are meant to be used, if you use them, as tools of argumentation but not the data itself.

Hopefully on both sides we can learn better argumentation. I have this strange dream that someday we’ll have debates where we only talk about topics that we’ve really seriously studied in debate. Unfortunately, as long as we think we are authorities because we have opinions, this will not happen. Yet I expect this most from the Christian community. I expect that we most of all will be fulfilling the life of the mind and engaging in areas where we have done our homework. It is no honor to our Lord to come to the debate not having done at least basic research. God is not obligated to give us knowledge because we have not done our part. That would in fact be encouraging laziness.

I also expect that too many people on both sides will hear this kind of advice on internet debates and ignore it entirely. This again is part of our modern problem as we consider ourselves exceptions to every rule out there.

If you want to honor Christ, be a student. Be a disciple. Be learning. Be reading both sides of the positions that you hold and love God with your mind. Sloppy thinking is no honor for the Christian to have.

In Christ,
Nick Peters