Evidence Considered Chapter 16

What about limits of evolution? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our work at the look of Glenton Jelbert and Evidence Considered. This time we look at a chapter on the limits of evolution. As a non-scientist, there is not much I can really say.

I do agree with Jelbert that rejecting evolution does not make you a Christian or even a theist. That is true. Also, just because you are a Christian or a theist does not mean that you have to reject evolution. This is why I suggest Christians not try to make this a strong point. I contend that both Christians and atheists are often making the same mistake when evolution is made a central point.

The Christian can often think that if God made the world, He had to make it through a certain methodology. Of course, He could have and maybe He did make life through a non-evolutionary means, but is this necessitated? If every life formed in the womb is formed through a process, could not all life come through such processes? Is God only there if you can find gaps for Him?

Meanwhile, atheists say they don’t care for God of the gaps arguments, and rightfully so, but they often make it that the more we gain knowledge about the world, the less need there is for God. They too have the same kind of mindset. If God created the world, He had to do it this particular way and had to bring about life this particular way. Maybe not.

Both sides also hurt one another because they perpetuate the conflict hypothesis that there is necessarily a conflict between science and religion. Both sides will lose out. For the theist, many times their religion means much more to them. They are happy to accept many things in science, but if accepting evolution as science means they have to ditch God, who is much more central in their lives, forget it.

I’d also say it’s understandable for the theist. The theist looks at the world and sometimes his mind is just blown by the way things are and thinks it just couldn’t possibly happen by chance. Call it incredulity if you want, but there is a certain sense to it that the theist thinks this world didn’t just happen. There is some sort of purpose. He doesn’t want to lose that wonder.

The atheist meanwhile can accept sometimes many good things that religion has done, and if anyone thinks religion has only brought about evil, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Still, if accepting religion means he has to ditch science, forget it. Why should he come to God if that means he has to live in a world where he denies what he sees in the laboratory? As long as the two are seen in conflict, each side will go with what is most important to them. Each side will also miss out on the full benefits of the other.

I also agree with Jelbert that if natural selection is true, it has the aim of getting the most fit species out there and will do so even if without intent. This is actually excellent for theism. It fits in perfectly with the fifth way of Thomas Aquinas. Many people look at the fifth way and think it means everything must act with intent. Not so. It just means that there is a correlation with things working towards an end even if not intentionally.

I also agree with Jelbert that if we go with God of the Gaps, new information can damage the argument. This is a reason why while science is fascinating, I don’t really go with scientific arguments. I don’t think Christianity or science should be married to either.

One small thing, Jelbert does talk about limits and says that zebras haven’t evolved machine guns to survive the lions. I would be amiss to say that if that ever happened, it would be truly one of the coolest things ever.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 15

Has evolution dumbed us down? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we’ve looked at the work of Glenton Jelbert and his book Evidence Considered. We’re going to return today with looking at his chapter in reply to Nancy Pearcey. The theme is that evolution dumbs us down. Pearcey argues that Darwinism eventually leads to pragmatism and postmodernism since all our ideas are products of evolution. This is reminiscent of Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. I have no wish to defend or critique the argument here.

Let’s get to what I do disagree with. Jelbert says that Pearcey gets wrong what atheism is. Atheism is not saying that there is no God. It is saying that a person does not believe there is a god. He goes on to say that this is important because it determines the burden of proof. One supposedly can’t prove that there is no God, just like you can’t prove there is no tooth fairy.

Well, these people disagree:

“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

Ultimately, I find this a dodge. The atheist is just saying that he doesn’t believe and the burden is automatically on the theist and if the theist doesn’t prove his claim sufficiently, the atheist is justified. Would the same be said to a person who is leaning towards a flat Earth and says “I’m not saying the world is flat. I’m just saying I don’t find sufficient reason to believe that it’s round.”? Would the same be said to the person who is arguing against evolution? Jelbert’s position should be considered more agnosticism, but then the burden needs to be placed on the atheist and the theist both. Whoever makes a claim has a burden.

It’s also a problem because let’s suppose that the claim “God exists” is true. In this case, theism is true, being the proposition that “God exists” is an accurate description of reality. On the other hand, let’s suppose that there are still atheists who say they lack God belief. In this universe, Theism could be true, in that God exists, and atheism could be true, in that people still lack God belief. This is something nonsensical though since atheism and theism are contradictories and contradictories cannot be be true. Theism is not making a statement about a subjective belief but about reality. If that is so, the denial of that statement is not making a statement about subjective belief, but reality.

And also, yes, God can hypothetically be disproven. One could show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God. That’s the way we disprove the idea of a square circle. That’s why there are such things also as the problem of evil that if they don’t disprove God, they at least try to show that God is highly unlikely.

Jelbert goes on to say that the big revolution of science was the freedom to say you don’t know something. Thus, you can try to find it out empirically. At this, one has to wonder if Jelbert has done any real looking into the medieval period. Empirical investigation was nothing new. It was being done. Scientists were trying to find natural explanations for most everything.

Jelbert then says that until God presents Himself for experimentation, we have no other recourse than naturalism, but why should I think that? This isn’t a scientific explanation but a theological one. If there is a God, then He would present Himself for scientific experimentation to us. Why should anyone think that?

“Doesn’t God want us to know He exists?” Why? What if God’s stance is sufficient evidence has already been given? What if He wants people to come to Him who want to know Him and not just treat Him like an object of trivia? What if He’s looking for people who are disciples?

But Jelbert has an example of this! Prayer experiments! Prayer experiments have not found prayer to be effective. Somehow, theists always have an excuse for God’s indolence!


That’s an odd way of putting it. The word refers to laziness or sloth. I’m sorry. We performed an experiment and God was obligated to play along? God is not like a machine where if you push A, B happens. There are no guarantees. Any married man should understand this. What your wife will like one time, she could find just annoying the next time.

Besides that, there are always too many variables. How do you know no one else is praying for a person in an experiment? How is the faith of each person involved in praying for a sick person? There is too much we don’t know, and from what we don’t know, we’re able to somehow make great leaps in logic. I’ve never been impressed by the idea of prayer experiments and having those tested. (Not to mention, there’s this little thing in the Bible about not putting God to the test.)

Pearcey goes on to say that each worldview gives an account of origins. Jelbert says that this is not correct. Scientists are fine with saying they don’t know and do not have undue concern for the origins of the universe. This must be news to Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking. He also says theists had ages to preach their truth with fervor only to adjust their position because of science. With this, Jelbert is perpetuating the myth of the warfare between science and religion. Yes. The conflict hypothesis is a great myth. It is recommended that Jelbert look at resources like Newton’s Apple And Other Myths About Science.

Pearcey also says that morality is always derivative from one’s worldview. Jelbert says this seems to contradict chapter 2 where absolute morality could demonstrate that there is a God. Pearcey is, however, right. What one believes about morality involves their whole worldview. Also, I don’t think Copan is saying morality proves that there is a God, but rather it gives strong evidence and he thinks God is the best explanation.

In closing, I have to say that yes, this isn’t meant as a proof of God, but a part of a cumulative case. I do agree that if the science is that evolution is true, we have to accept that and not just look to the consequences, but i think many times in his response Jelbert has made a number of philosophical and historical errors. Largely, having so many chapters endorsing the conflict hypothesis doesn’t really help. (And in all fairness, scientific apologetics doesn’t really impress me anyway.)

In Christ,
Nick Peters


Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 14

Can we learn anything from the Scopes Monkey Trial? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return again to the work of Glenton Jelbert in Evidence Considered. The next response is to Edward Sisson on the Scopes Monkey Trial. Like Jelbert, I consider the trial itself irrelevant. Evolution does not stand or fall on it. (And if that is the case, then in fairness, ID doesn’t stand or fall on the Dover trial.) However, there is a sort of Inherit The Wind mentality about the ignorance of the Christian side as opposed to the calm rationality of the agnostic side.

The trial arose because someone thought the teaching of evolution was undermining belief in the Bible and another person decided to take advantage of that politically to help his career. At the start, I consider this a mistake. If a teaching is problematic for the Bible and that teaching is true, then we dare not propose a double-theory of truth. We need to be consistent. There are a number of steps that could have been taken.

One could have taught evolution for instance and yet pointed out problems with the theory. How would it not explain scientific data well in its time? What were the best critiques of the theory? What were the best evidences proponents of the theory used?

You could also go back and look at your interpretation of Scripture. This was a mistake in the Middle Ages to think that some texts were meant to be read scientifically. Maybe the same is happening here. Maybe these texts aren’t really scientific texts but instead are teaching something else.

Or, you could say right now we just don’t know, but we do have other grounds for believing in Christianity. You could then go to the classical theistic arguments (Which I have yet to see Jelbert touch) and then to the historical arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. There is often this strange idea we have that we must be able to answer every question and know how every piece of data fits into our worldview to be coherent. This is simply false. We are not omniscient like that.

Jelbert points out that Sisson said the law the trial was over merely barred teaching Darwinian evolution.” I agree with Jelbert that saying merely barred is not a good idea if the youth were to be up on current science. What would be said of saying “The Dover trial merely barred the teaching of Intelligent Design.”? Of course, it could be now that Jelbert would have been saying in Scopes, “Teach the controversy”, but not so much here.

Jelbert goes on to say that the Intelligent Design movement is trying to put Christianity on a firmer scientific footing. I agree with Jelbert that this can be a bad move. In fact, it’s a bad move for atheists. If you hold to atheism for modern scientific reasons, I think that’s a bad idea. The science of today can often be the junk of tomorrow. Certainly much has stood the test of time, but much hasn’t.

This is one reason I don’t really do scientific apologetics. It’s too easy to base your worldview on the science of the day so much so that the Biblical accounts have to be read as scientific accounts. It’s the old mistake of Concordism. When it comes to Scripture and theism, science is not the final decider.

At the same time, I think in this day and age, Jelbert is too highly optimistic when he speaks about education getting a student to think and read for themselves. That is just not happening. Too many young people out there are believing stupid things because of what they read on the internet. They are uninformed in never learning anything and their hobbies dominate their lives. If they want an informed opinion, they use wikipedia or they google and believe the first thing they read.

I am a gameshow junkie. On New Year’s Eve, my wife and I were watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and it was a college week. A student came out and was asked as a question where the Middle East was. I think his choices were southwest Asia, southeast Asia, Southwest Europe, or Southeast Africa. The student had to ask the audience. The most popular answer was the right one, but over 60% got it wrong, and these are the same students who are going to be voting for leaders based on what goes on in the Middle East.

Later, this same student had to have someone come down and help him with a question, and it was his uncle. The question was stating that two presidents had resigned in office during their terms and the second took place in the 1970’s. Which president was this? Yes. This student needed help to know about Richard Nixon.

Excuse me then if I don’t share Jelbert’s optimism about students informing themselves and giving theories a fair hearing.

Jelbert also says that scientists love to tear down an existing paradigm and replace it with one of their own. That may be so, but other scientists aren’t so crazy about others doing it. This is what Kuhn said in his book on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. New data is taken and put into the old paradigm as much as possible until it just can’t take it any more and then a new paradigm must be found, but that new paradigm is hard to come by. Other scientists are resistant to it, much as many Christians are resistant to doing new things in church. (But we’ve always done it that way!)

Sisson does say that since eugenics was taught, it shows that we should not let those teaching be slavishly bound to what is popular science today. I’m not sure that this is saying the government should handle it as Jelbert says, but I would have a problem here as well because while eugenics is evil, could it have helped if differing opinions on it had been taught? Why not confront the idea rather than hoping it will just go away? Of course, the movement was evil and wrong, but it was still there and it needed to be dealt with.

Something interesting about Jelbert’s response is a sort of postscript at the end. He says Sisson was questioning the moral character of Darwinists and Jelbert realized he was doing the same with Sisson. Sisson is just as interested in truth. Jelbert says he had reacted emotionally to a perceived attack on his children’s well-being. Sisson could very well say the same as could many Christians today concerned about evolution. I definitely agree with Jelbert that an idea stands or falls on the data and not the people who hold to it.

We’ll continue another time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 12

Should we teach the controversy? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our look at the work of Glenton Jelbert continues as we look at chapter 12 of his book Evidence Considered and this time he’s responding to Michael Newton Keas who has an essay about what high school students need to know about science. I would certainly say our high school students don’t know enough about science. To be fair, our education is lacking so much that too many today don’t really know enough about anything unless they’ve been through private school or homeschool. Just look at the snowflake population today.

We are normally told to teach the controversy. Jelbert says that they can teach his children the view of Intelligent Design when they can convince scientists of it. Now I do honestly have some understanding here. I am not someone who is a promoter of Intelligent Design. Like many Thomists I think it produces a view of the universe that is still too mechanical.

I also understand that some controversies that take place on the internet do not take place in the academy. I certainly hope that Jelbert will be consistent and not treat mythicists seriously for you have more Ph.D.s in the field that hold to ID than you do Ph.D.’s in the field that hold to mythicism. If Jelbert does not do this, then he will be guilty of being inconsistent.

That being said, I do understand ID has made some contributions, such as their prediction that junk DNA would have some usages. Also, if information in Expelled is right, then a number of people have published papers with reference to intelligent design and lost their job for it. If that does happen, then excuse the public if they get suspicious about the claim.

Finally, if we look at an organization like the National Academy of Sciences, they do vote their own members in and we can understand a selectiveness to it. If there is a supposed bias, it does undercut Jelbert’s claim. For the classroom itself, I would say that if a student thinks ID is true, then here’s a suggestion. Let the student make a presentation to a classroom and he has to present his case and defend it.

Some people have said, “Well would that mean that everyone from another religion gets to give their account?” If so, what’s the problem? Everyone has the same task. Get up and make your case and defend your view in the face of opposition. Not only do students learn different views, they learn how to examine and critique them as well.

Also, for someone who referenced Galileo earlier saying that Christians should keep it in mind, perhaps Jelbert should keep him in mind more. Galileo came with the minority position and the majority position did shut him down. Now we know that Galileo was right. Does this mean that ID is right? Not my call to make there, but it does mean that the claim is certainly one to be explored.

Jelbert tells us that Keas does not define science and then tells us that a simple Google search could come up with a definition. He gives us one of “The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” Perhaps this is a good definition, but I wonder why Jelbert goes with a Google search. Would it not have been better to look up a qualified philosopher of science for this? This is a difficult term and when it comes to Google, I have no way of knowing who the source of this quote is and what this person’s authority is.

Jelbert speaks about how Keas says that geologists study one large object. Namely, the Earth. Jelbert says that Keas apparently wants to undermine the sciences that he does not like. I am unsure how Jelbert reaches this conclusion. I would have said geologists study the Earth as well and I have no wish to undermine geology. (Aside from the every now and then Big Bang Theory joke that geology isn’t an actual science.)

Keas then goes on to say that different motivations shape how we do science. Jelbert quotes him as saying

The ancient Babylonians produced the longest sustained scientific research program in human history (twenty centuries). Although their motivation was based in religion and astrology, their resulting mathematical astronomy wielded great predictive power.

Keas goes on to say that naturalism

amounts to atheism. Naturalism in science has guided many scientists to limit themselves to material causes to explain the world.

Jelbert tells us that Keas is criticizing methodological naturalism and upholding the ancient Babylonians as how science should be done. It is difficult to see how Keas is doing this. Keas is just making a statement about motivations. I don’t see him saying Babylon shows how it is done. It is just saying that even with motivations less than fully scientific, the Bablyonians gave us great success. He also says then that we should beware of our own presuppositions, which I think most of us would agree with and this is how scientific revolutions take place. There has to be a whole shift of the paradigm overtime because all data is interpreted under the current paradigm.

Jelbert tells us that the triumph of the scientific revolution was that it studied nature as nature which gave us much more success in five centuries than the Babylonians had in twenty. I think Jelbert is missing several factors here. These factors undermine his claim greatly.

For one thing, there was hardly the time to spend properly in science in the time of Babylon. Many people were more focused on survival and leisure time was unheard of. It was only the immensely wealthy who could do this. It was through the Middle Ages where science was really starting to take off that we developed better agricultural procedures to better enable people to survive and then the printing press better allowed the dissemination of materials relevant to the field.

Furthermore, Jelbert started talking about methodological naturalism, but methodological naturalism is not only a difficult term to define, and both parts at that, but it does not necessarily equal science. At least if it does, Jelbert has not given us an argument for that. It also does not work to say that this is what we do today, so this is what they did for five centuries. Atheism as a major worldview is still a latecomer. There have been atheists throughout history to be sure, but it has never reached the popularity level it has today.

Finally, Jelbert is ignoring the history of science as it began in the Middle Ages. Through this, he perpetuates what is known as the conflict hypothesis, that there is a necessary conflict between science and religion. This is not a view among most historians and philosophers of science today. It’s one largely shared in the public viewpoint, but not really so much in the academy, kind of like other ideas, like Intelligent Design.

Jelbert then tells us of how Keas says that scientists studying origins study presently existing things and use this to develop their hypotheses. Jelbert says they could hardly be expected to study things that do not exist, but with this it looks like Jelbert is saying something just to be argumentative. I don’t think Keas is presenting this as a problem.

Jelbert says further on that religion is fascinating and was humankind’s first attempt to understand the world it lives in, but if the Judeo-Christian view coincides with science in this instance, it is not of scientific interest. Maybe not of scientific interest if it does, but should it not be of philosophical and theological interest?

He also says it is clear that Keas is using science to confirm religious claims rather than the other way around. He says there are many ways that Judeo-Christian claims blocked science, but unfortunately gives no examples. The same can be said of atheism. How many atheists were hesitant to accept the big bang theory due to not liking the idea of the universe having a beginning? Everyone will approach the science from their own worldview and often interpret the data to fit that. No worldview is exempt.

Jelbert then says that Keas makes a distinction between how things work and how they originated and says he doesn’t know anyone who says says our origins affects the way we view our purpose. Really? Is he serious? How about Stephen Jay Gould?

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because comets struck the earth and wiped out dinosaurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise available (so thank your lucky stars in a literal sense); because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a “higher” answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers for ourselves…

One wonders about this. What is liberating exactly here? Gould doesn’t say, but one wonders. It leaves me thinking about Jerry Walls’s article on the hope of atheism. He quotes from Thomas Nagel in The Mind and the Cosmos.

The conflict between scientific naturalism and various forms of antireductionism is a staple of recent philosophy.  On one side there is the hope that everything can be accounted for at the most basic level by the physical sciences, extended to include biology.  On the other side are doubts about whether the reality of such features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, purpose, thought,and value can be accommodated in a universe consisting at the most basic level of physical facts—facts, however sophisticated, of the kind revealed by the physical sciences.

Walls rightly asks why anyone would hope that this is true. He understands that one can be a regretful atheist, but why would one discover there is no meaning in life and rejoice? You can realize that your wife is a jumble of atoms and be sad but hey, that’s reality. Why would you rejoice?

This is one problem I do have with evolution. It is not the science, but the philosophy. That we are animals in a sense is certainly true as Aristotle called us the rational animal. If we use evolution to say that we are mere animals, then I have a problem. It’s not the fault of evolution if this happens and it doesn’t change if evolution is true or false, but evolution in itself cannot show us if naturalism is true. Unfortunately, this kind of philosophy can lead our youth to especially act like animals, hence we can have a crisis with teen sex.

There are many things here I think are valid in Jelbert’s critique and I have not touched the science as science. He could be right. Unfortunately, in many areas, I think he takes a simplistic approach. He could be right on the science. I do not know. Yet when it comes to philosophy, theology, and history, there is a grave lack.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


Evidence Considered Chapter 11: The Origin of Life

Does the difficulty of the origin of life provide evidence for theism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our look at Glenton Jelbert with chapter 11 of his book Evidence Considered. In this chapter, he looks at Walter Bradley and his arguments concerning the origin of life. As many of you know, my area of expertise is not the sciences so I will not be speaking on science as science.

I also do have a problem when Christians look at this as a necessity in that if we find a materialistic way that life can come about, then it’s game over. If that is the case, then God’s role in our system is to be a gap-filler and the only way he can create is through direct fiat creation. We already have a way where he does not do that which we will be commenting on later. When I reviewed Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation this was something I noticed from Fuz Rana.

If evolutionary mechanisms possess such capabilities, then believers and nonbelievers alike wonder, what role is a Creator to play? For example, evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins quipped, “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” I debated developmental biologist Paul Zachary “PZ” Myers, a well-known atheist and author of the award-winning blog Pharyngula, at North Dakota State University on Darwin Day, February 12, 2015, on the question of God’s existence. One of the key points Myers made was, in effect, evolution can explain everything in biology, so why do I need to believe in God?” (P. 129)


The key lesson from my interaction with Myers (and other atheists) is that to make a case for a creator and the Christian faith, it is incumbent on us to (1) distinguish our models from those that are materialistic and (2) identify places where God has intervened in life’s history. If we cannot, it is hard to convince skeptics that a creator exists. (Ibid.)

Rana, as well as his opponents, are both doing theology. Notice in this that there is nothing about the resurrection of Jesus. There is also nothing about metaphysical arguments. This feeds the whole conflict hypothesis where there is a conflict between science and religion necessarily and that science is the arbiter of if God exists or not. I have no wish to concede that ground.

This isn’t a scientific stance. It’s a theological one, and one has to ask the atheist especially how he scientifically establishes what it is that God would do? I contend that such is impossible and it’s really just bad theology. This doesn’t show that God exists, but it is important to show that science cannot determine that.

So let’s look at the chapter now.

Jelbert makes the claim early on that deism is much closer to theism. He will give an argument for this later on. This is said because Bradley says the origin of life problem is causing atheists and deists to become theists. I am sure this happens with some, but I have no reason to question what Jelbert says about the majority not converting to theism.

Jelbert also says the difficulty to account for this makes it an argument from incredulity. Jelbert later says in this chapter that there are many arguments Bradley does not interact with, but in fairness to Bradley, there are places where he has. One example is in Lee Strobel’s The Case For Faith. I don’t say this to say that Bradley’s arguments work or are persuasive. I leave that to the scientists. I say it to say that he has covered these elsewhere and an essay in a book with 50 such essays cannot be expected to give a full synopsis.

If one is presented with several materialistic hypotheses and does find them all lacking and one thinks they have positive evidence of intelligence, then this is not an argument from incredulity. I think an argument like that is much more like what is said by many atheists on the problem of evil with “Why would God allow evil X to occur?” If one does not know, it does not follow that there is no reason. It only follows that we are not omniscient.

As he goes on, he gets to deism being closer to atheism than theism. I am not convinced of this. Deism also provides an ontological foundation for the origins of the universe and for the transcendentals like goodness, truth, and beauty. Jelbert regularly looks to God’s functions instead of His nature to make his case.

There’s also this idea that if it is God, we have no need to search. He points to embryology as an example since David speaks about being formed in his mother’s womb. We know so much about embryology so this is false apparently. I do not see how. This is the example I was speaking about earlier. Aside from the virgin birth, which I do affirm, there is no instance of fiat creation and even in the former case, once the conception took place, the normal materialistic processes took over.

The idea seems to be then that if we can show a materialistic way that something came about, God did not bring it about, with the implication being that God could not or would not use materialistic means to do something. No reason is given for this claim. To give examples, let’s take some scenarios.

Picture the Red Sea event during the Exodus. Let’s suppose for argument’s sake that this is a true historical event which an atheist will not grant. The sea parts and the Israelites pass through and it closes over the Egyptians. Suppose you find out that this happened because of a wind and this has happened before. Therefore, it is no miracle. Not at all! The miracle is not just that it happened, but when it happened.

Jelbert later says about Bradley that he is claiming certainty where it does not exist and searching for God in arenas that have little evidence available. Yet if this is so, why is there so much about science here and so many theological claims built around science? If science has little information available for the debate, why should it be the arbiter of the debate? Would it be better for us to go through philosophical and especially metaphysical evidences?

Again, note the position I am in. You could dispatch of Bradley’s argument and I’m fine because the metaphysical arguments for God and the historical argument for Jesus will still stand. Yet what about Jelbert? What if Bradley was right? Would Jelbert be in trouble? If so, Jelbert is letting science be the arbiter as said, and this in an arena with little evidence.

Jelbert is also then doing what he accuses Bradley of. Bradley is in essence marrying theism to science if he bases his case on this. (I do not know if he does or not.) If that is problematic, what if Jelbert does the same and makes his atheism dependent on the gaps being found out supposedly? It was said years ago that he who marries the spirit of the age is destined to be a widow. If Jelbert wishes to base atheism on the science of the day and if a Christian wishes to base his theism on it, that’s their choice, but I think I’ll stick with philosophy and metaphysics that have been faithful to their cause for millennia.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 10

Is the makeup of the cell a case for God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return again to the work of Glenton Jelbert. This time, we look at a chapter by a Joe Francis. The chapter is about oxygen, water, and light. Somehow, these are all toxic to some extent to parts of a cell, but they all are essential to the make-up of a cell. I do not claim to understand it. Many of you know my position. I do not talk about science as science. I leave that to the scientists.

Having said that then, there might not be as much I dispute in this chapter because I do not know the science behind it. I would be happy to give Jelbert the benefit of the doubt on it. There are areas where he does say something that I do think I have a say on and I plan to speak on those.

Jelbert starts by saying that this is an argument from incredulity. It’s along the lines of thinking I do not know how this could have happened naturally, therefore I think there is a theistic cause. Sometimes this can be an argument from incredulity. Sometimes not.

What makes the difference is if any positive evidence can be put forward why this is unlikely. If that is the case, then it could switch to where it’s much more likely on theism. I will contend in some of this today that Jelbert is not making scientific statements but philosophical ones, which we should expect, but even theological ones.

Jelbert says that Francis says his view is consistent with creation in a short amount of time. Jelbert then asks a series of questions about what this means. What was the first life form? How do we know it didn’t evolve from something else? Also, did God have to keep tinkering to make things evolve?

Jelbert says these contradict one another, but what does? Jelbert has not presented ideas but questions. Francis could have a consistent answer entirely for them. It’s difficult to think that Jelbert can take one statement and then say it entails a bunch of claims that contradict when he makes no claims but asks questions.

He also says it is only consistent in that God could do anything in nature which includes making it look like He wasn’t involved at all. This is a statement I find quite problematic and this is one of the theological claims Jelbert makes. A hidden premise would be that if God is involved, there is no natural process that takes place in the event.

Let’s take a few counter-examples. Scripture teaches us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in our mothers’ wombs. There is no doubt that we know a whole lot more about what goes on inside the womb than King David did. Because of this, does this mean that we deny that we are fearfully and wonderfully made even though it is a naturalistic process? Not a bit.

Let’s take another example. The Exodus. Now I know my skeptical friends are saying that it didn’t happen historically. Let’s suppose for a moment that it did. Just when the Israelites get to the shores of the sea, the waters part so they can pass through and then they happen to converge again on the Egyptians afterward drowning them all.

Suppose now that you find out there is a perfectly natural explanation for this, say a wind that comes through and parts the waters. Does this mean it ceases to be a miracle? Is it just the event that’s a miracle, or is it also the timing of the event? That it happened could be explained naturalistically. When it happened is the amazing part.

I also am troubled with the idea that Jelbert has of how it would look when there is no creator involved at all. If as I do, you take God as the grounding of existence and say that nothing can exist apart from Him and if He withdraws His breath, nothing would be, then the claim is nonsense. If there is no God, there would then be nothing existing to develop or evolve or anything of that sort.

It would also be nice to know what universe Jelbert is comparing this to. Does he have a universe where God does intervene and one where He doesn’t so He can compare? The problem is this comes down to a hidden idea of Jelbert’s. If God is involved, there must be regular divine intervention somehow.

Later in the chapter, Jelbert after talking about all that he can about the make-up of the cell and how it came about says that this came about through decades of research. Does Francis want us to just stop and say God did it? I do not see why Francis would want that. The medieval scientists in trying to figure out how the universe works never thought they were dishonoring God by figuring out how He did things.

Again, this comes down to the problem. It’s a way that God is expected to act which is an assumption. If God creates through an evolutionary process, I can sit back and say “I find it amazing the way God creates a whole process to make things on their own.” It also doesn’t touch the arguments of teleology.

Now some people are thinking this is a teleological argument, but Intelligent Design is different from classical teleology. Classical teleology is about a system set up to work towards a common goal. That is also an amazing system and I think shows a designer even better.

Consider the postal service. When I take my wife to an appointment on Tuesday, I stop at the Post Office to see if I have anything there. Now picture publishers who send me books at their publishing houses. I respond to a catalog and send them something stating what books I would like them to send me. They put something in the mail.

How many other places could the mail go to? Countless other places! There are post office boxes and mailboxes all over the world. Despite this, with great regularity, the mail shows up at my mailbox on a regular basis. This is a finely designed system.

In creation, we have a system set up to bring about life that seeks to survive and ends up producing creations like us. It could have been a multitude of other things, but it was us. This is an incredibly designed system. All of it works towards a goal!

This is even the case with evolution. Evolution relies on teleology. In evolution, things seek to survive and pass on their genetic material to produce the most fit species. This isn’t intentional on the part of the agents any more than arriving in the mailbox is intentional on the packages I am sent, but yet it happens anyway!

Jelbert also asks what it will mean to Francis if a naturalistic process is ever found. This is a good question. It’s also why I don’t build my theism on such arguments. Yet does Jelbert have an answer to this question for himself? Implicit here is a claim that Francis would not be wise to build his worldview on this aspect of reality. I agree.

Yet has Jelbert done the same? What if it is found after decades of research that it truly is impossible for this to happen naturalistically? Will Jelbert concede theism then or some form thereof? If it is wrong for Francis to build his worldview on these discoveries, does Jelbert get a free pass?

I think I especially am in a good position here. For me, if a naturalistic process is found, cool! I can marvel at a mind who creates like that and since for me, God is the basis for existing itself, then I have no problem as my arguments are metaphysical. What about Jelbert? As Alvin Plantinga has said, for the naturalist, evolution is the only game in town. Prove to me evolution and I have no problem. What do you do with Jelbert if evolution is disproven? Must he change his worldview? What of Dawkins’s quip that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist?

The problem for Jelbert then is he chides Francis for building his argument on an appeal to scientific ignorance, when Jelbert himself needs to ask if his worldview is relying on the science? Of course, parts of our worldview do rely on science. Parts such as what constitutes a healthy diet, how to use a computer, beliefs about astronomy, etc. What about the foundation? What is the foundation? If it is science, then it is always subject to change with the latest discoveries. If it is something else, then one can be much more certain.

Finally, Jelbert says that even if Francis makes his case, it does not establish any of the major religions. At this, I want to remind Jelbert that the book he’s critiquing is about evidence for God. It is not evidence for Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other religion. If the case is made for God, then theism is established and atheism is out.

It also can get us closer to a major religion. Is this concept more in line with a pantheistic understanding or a monotheistic one? Would polytheism be out? Etc. Jelbert again disagrees with an argument because it doesn’t demonstrate what it was never meant to show.

We’ll see what Jelbert has to say next time.

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 9

What can we learn looking at the pale blue dot? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we last looked at the work of Glenton Jelbert. It hasn’t been because of lack of desire, but because of other reading requirements that I have had. Today, we return to look at a chapter on the pale blue dot.

Like all chapters, this one is a response chapter. The original writers are Jay W. Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez. Jelbert points out that both of them work for the Discovery Institute which we should all know is pretty much the thinktank for the Intelligent Design movement.

I will also state that I am not a promoter of the Intelligent Design movement. I prefer the traditional teleological argument of Aquinas that does not rely on scientific knowledge and I think the current ID makes the universe more of a machine which still gives us the problem of materialism. It was said long ago that he who marries the spirit of the age is destined to be a widow, and I really don’t want to build a worldview on modern science.

That said, there is some history. Richards and Gonzalez are certainly correct about the false narrative given in our schools today about science and Christianity in the so-called dark ages. Most people grow up hearing that Columbus sailed west to prove the Earth wasn’t flat, when this is entirely false as no serious thinker was suggesting that it was.

So also we are told that people would want the Earth to be at the center of the universe, but this wasn’t so. The center was not where God was after all. With this, I stand firmly in support of Richards and Gonzalez.

This then goes on to the idea that science has established our insignificance. We have moved from a place of honor to a place where we really don’t matter. We are just a pale blue dot in the universe. As you would expect, I do not find this convincing. C.S. Lewis said years ago there was a problem that any position would be argued against Christianity. If our planet is the only one with life, well that shows that life really doesn’t matter to the universe and there is no God. If there is life elsewhere out there, well that shows that life really isn’t that rare and unique so there is no need for God. This is a heads I win, tails you lose, approach and is based on an entirely subjective criteria.

Jelbert does say that the big challenge for religion is coming not from science but from history. While this will be looked at later in the third section, I find it quite amusing. The things liberal scholars even will grant today about the historical Jesus are things that would not even be thought about a century ago. We have more and more cemented information so much so that a minimal facts approach can be taken to the resurrection.

Jelbert in going further is absolutely right that how we feel about a proposition in science (Or any other field for that matter!) doesn’t matter. Reality doesn’t care how you feel. If Jelbert says that all that matters is the data, then I agree.

Jelbert says then that this is a slippery slope because it led to the establishment in science of our insignificance. Jelbert says he does not see how this is so, but it does not take much to see. It’s not Christians that demoted man. It’s man that demoted man. If there is nothing special about us, then let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Many people are not persuaded after all by the facts of science so much as by the story of science. Few people will ever read the scientific journals, but many of them will go along with the story that is given. It’s the narrative today that matters.

Jelbert says the Catholic Church resisted heliocentrism for theological reasons. This isn’t accurate. Galileo was not the first to posit that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Several people had come beforehand and done so and they weren’t persecuted for it. So what was the big deal? Galileo was trying to teach theology and this without the necessary theological training.

There’s an irony that Jelbert thinks this case of resisting a claim for theological reasons should be ringing in the ears of those supporting ID. As I said, I do not support ID, but I think it would honestly be the opposite. Galileo was right and Galileo was the one challenging the reigning dogma of the day and insisting that he was right. That should be ringing in the ears of more of the scientific critics than anything else.

Jelbert also disputes that materialism does not enjoy a scientific pedigree. He rightly says that heliocentrism is independent of materialism, which is true, but I suspect Richards and Gonzalez have a lot more in mind than just that.  What is being spoken of lightly is the idea of the scientific revolution from then on and that supposedly materialism has been the great driver of it.

Jelbert also says what matters is not the historical success of an idea but what the evidence of it is. I contend that if you want to know if materialism is true or false, science is not the place to go to. It cannot answer those questions. The question is a philosophical one and not a scientific one.

Jelbert says we accept materialism because of its empirical success. I wonder what he would think about what Lewontin said:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

The problem is that the philosophy does not dictate how the science is done. Christians have been doing the science the same way for centuries. In the lab, a Christian, an atheist, a Muslim, a Jew, a Wiccan, or whoever, does not follow a different set of rules for the science. It’s done the same way. Jelbert says the science cannot establish the case but then claims science is automatically an endeavor of materialism. I find this odd.

He concludes by saying that we have here no evidence of God. The problem is at the start he says that this was not meant to be. Saying the narrative is wrong does not mean God exists, but it should plant a seed of doubt. Why is it that materialists seem so eager to rewrite history? What else could they be wrong about?

In Christ,
Nick Peters


Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 8

Does the universe present a problem for atheism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return now to Evidence Considered by Glenton Jelbert. We’re now entering into the more scientific aspects here. Now I’m someone who does not really get into scientific apologetics. I don’t speak the language of science and I think it’s too often a mistake to think that science is either the final or ultimate arbiter on questions of theism, miracles, etc.

The first chapter will be the response to Robert Kaita. I do not plan on arguing against much of the science in this and other chapters, but I do plan on dealing with philosophical and historical claims that rise up. I gather this time the question is about why the universe is comprehensible. Kaita says this is a question scientists have not been able to answer.

In reality, they shouldn’t be able to, at least not as scientists. John Polkinghorne has used this kind of example. Suppose my wife goes into the kitchen and notices a saucepan of water boiling on the stove and asks “Why is the water boiling?” I explain, “My Princess, when water gets heated, the molecules in it break apart and go from a liquid state to a gas state.” Would that be a true answer? Absolutely. It would not be the main answer and that is an answer science cannot get at because it points to intentions of the will. It would be “I am wanting to make a glass of tea.”

I consider the question about why the universe is comprehensible to be not a question of science but of philosophy. Science provides the data, but many times scientists like to go beyond the data and make pronouncements on what the data means. All worldviews do this. This is fair to an extent, but it should be recognized the person is not speaking from their field.

Another question raised is the sustaining of the universe. This is an important question, and yet, it’s a secondary one. The universe can be seen as part of something else. It can be seen as part of existence. The universe does not have to be. One day, it will not be. It will die in a cold death. Existence though has to be. Existence cannot not exist. I want to know why anything exists at all. What keeps existence itself going?

Kaita does speak about how we’re ungrateful for the gifts of God that we have. This is certainly true and we’re all guilty to an extent, but it doesn’t answer the scientific questions. Of course, it shouldn’t. It really surprised me how much meant to be scientific here was not scientific really.

Jelbert starts by saying this argument is fascinating for showing the state of mind of the intelligent Christian. I find this quite a fascinating statement in itself. You take one writing from an intelligent Christian and that shows the state of mind of the intelligent Christian? I consider myself an intelligent Christian and my state of mind is quite different here.

Jelbert also says that Kaita has divided the world into the good and the chaotic and focuses on the good. I could not help but think about this passage from Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday describing the meeting of the man Sunday.

“Have you noticed an odd thing,” he said, “about all your descriptions? Each man of you finds Sunday quite different, yet each man of you can only find one thing to compare him to — the universe itself. Bull finds him like the earth in spring, Gogol like the sun at noonday. The Secretary is reminded of the shapeless protoplasm, and the Inspector of the carelessness of virgin forests. The Professor says he is like a changing landscape. This is queer, but it is queerer still that I also have had my odd notion about the President, and I also find that I think of Sunday as I think of the whole world.”

“Get on a little faster, Syme,” said Bull; “never mind the balloon.”

“When I first saw Sunday,” said Syme slowly, “I only saw his back; and when I saw his back, I knew he was the worst man in the world. His neck and shoulders were brutal, like those of some apish god. His head had a stoop that was hardly human, like the stoop of an ox. In fact, I had at once the revolting fancy that this was not a man at all, but a beast dressed up in men’s clothes.”

“Get on,” said Dr. Bull.

“And then the queer thing happened. I had seen his back from the street, as he sat in the balcony. Then I entered the hotel, and coming round the other side of him, saw his face in the sunlight. His face frightened me, as it did everyone; but not because it was brutal, not because it was evil. On the contrary, it frightened me because it was so beautiful, because it was so good.”

“Syme,” exclaimed the Secretary, “are you ill?”

“It was like the face of some ancient archangel, judging justly after heroic wars. There was laughter in the eyes, and in the mouth honour and sorrow. There was the same white hair, the same great, grey-clad shoulders that I had seen from behind. But when I saw him from behind I was certain he was an animal, and when I saw him in front I knew he was a god.”

“Pan,” said the Professor dreamily, “was a god and an animal.”

“Then, and again and always,” went on Syme like a man talking to himself, “that has been for me the mystery of Sunday, and it is also the mystery of the world. When I see the horrible back, I am sure the noble face is but a mask. When I see the face but for an instant, I know the back is only a jest. Bad is so bad, that we cannot but think good an accident; good is so good, that we feel certain that evil could be explained. But the whole came to a kind of crest yesterday when I raced Sunday for the cab, and was just behind him all the way.”

You see, everyone has to explain the same data and it depends on how we do see it. One can say this world is mostly good and evil is the exception, or mostly evil and good is the exception, or it is evenly divided. Now based on Jelbert’s writing on morality, I have no idea where he comes from, although as I have said goodness is a lot more than just morality. I do say that he has to explain the data that we have. Christianity I don’t think has any problem with it. In fact, evil is an essential part of our worldview. If there were no evil, there would be no point in the death of the Son of God, or a death of the Son of God for that matter!

Jelbert responds to the idea that it takes as much faith to be an atheist as it does a theist. Jelbert says it takes no faith to say you don’t know. Perhaps, but is that what an atheist is saying? Is atheism not a claim about the way the world really is? I know a lot of atheists say it is just describing a lack of God belief, but I frankly consider this silly. Atheism then becomes nothing more than a statement of personal psychology and nothing about the way the world is. If atheism makes no claims about objective reality, it should not be treated as a serious worldview.

Jelbert also says you can’t take the scientific data, put a few Bible verses in, and say your worldview alone explains it. I agree. However, in the book of Licona and Dembski, I am sure Kaita is well aware there are other people handling those questions and is just saying how this works for him as a Christian. It does not mean that I agree with his exegesis, but it does mean that I think leeway can be granted.

Jelbert says there is no reason the laws and constraints of physics would change with time. Perhaps. There is also no reason that they wouldn’t. I am eager to see if when we get to the question of miracles if he uses Hume’s objection since that assumes that everything works the same way always when Hume himself said that if you drop a rock 1,000 times, that will not prove it will fall when you drop it the 1,001st time. Past experience for Hume could be a good indicator, but not an iron-clad proof. The point is though that your average physicist will not do an experiment every day to see if lead still sinks when placed in water. They will take it for granted and they are justified provided they believe in a universe of order. On atheism, I have no reason to believe that is the case.

Jelbert concludes that this isn’t evidence for God since we have to split the universe, but I really don’t see this as a problem. I don’t think anyone who thinks this world is perfect. Those who think there is nothing worthwhile in this universe end up with suicide. Most of us are not like that. The question is which side are we on? Then, how do we explain that side.

It is also true that this cannot point to any one world religion, and I agree, but it can start to point away from atheism. The fact that there is order can lead one to think there is something beyond the order, and note that is not scientific. That is metaphysical. Why is there order and sustenance at all? I know as a Christian I have an answer, but I see none for atheism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered, Chapter 7

Does atheism account for the data? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 7, Jelbert responds to another essay of David Wood on explanatory scope of worldviews. It’s about God, suffering, and Santa Claus. Many children believe Santa Claus puts presents under the tree because our parents say so and we tend to think they’re reliable. Okay. Some of us might have better reasons for believing in such phenomena than others.

Wood’s main point is that atheism is not an explanation and when the gifts show up, who do you think? Theism has great explanatory power on the other hand and if the only problem is suffering, there are more than enough reasons for that. So what does Jelbert say?

His first paragraph in response is worth quoting in full:

The ancient Egyptians saw the brute fact of the sun rising each day. They explained that this occurred because Khepri, the scarab god, would push the sun across the sky ahead of him like a beetle pushing a ball of dung. It is unclear whether the ancient Egyptians ever took this “explanation” seriously, but the point is clear; a divine explanation is no explanation at all.

It really is a wonder that a paragraph such as this is typed. Jelbert wants us to look and say that this is obvious nonsense, but is it really? If you are an ancient Egyptian, do you not want to explain things some way? If you know of no other explanation, what is wrong with a divine one?

Jelbert says that a divine explanation is no explanation at all, but this is most certainly false. There are plenty of arguments for atheism. I do not consider them true arguments and fewer still are good arguments, but they are at least arguments. There are many explanations for how life came from non-life and while it is quite likely that some of them are false, they are still explanations. Even if something is seen as a bad explanation, a bad explanation is still by definition, an explanation.

If Jelbert wants to say that it is clear that this doesn’t explain things, he would need to show how. Has he demonstrated that there is no god named Kherpi pushing the sun? Perhaps Kherpi is invisible and has a superpower that we mistake to be a natural law like a character in a comic book. Do I think this is true? Not at all. Could Jelbert prove that it is isn’t? Doubtful.

Furthermore, this assumes that all divine explanations are equal. Why should I think that? Could it be some cases of theism have more explanatory power than do others? Is it a stretch to say that there’s more evidence backing the New Testament being true than there is backing the Book of Mormon being true? If Aristotle’s natural theology can end in a deity very similar to that of the three great monotheistic faiths, could it be because there was some explanatory power to that and the evidence led that way?

Not only this, if Jelbert is saying that divine explanations are not explanations, then is he not begging the question? He would like to say he’s open for evidence of God, but God would certainly have to explain something if He existed. Yet if Jelbert says that an explanation of God would explain nothing, then He is asking us to give something that doesn’t exist, mainly an explanation that cannot explain and yet have it be something that explains the data to him.

To base this on one example would be like looking at a fossil that has been seen to be a fraud in defense of evolution and then say, “Well as you can see, an evolutionary explanation is no explanation at all.” Jelbert would rightly say “Yes. That was wrong, but look at all this other data here for this better explanation!” I agree, and I will do the same for theism.

Jelbert goes on to say that for thousands of years, humans thought they had all the answers and all the explanations. No scientific advance was needed. That’s why they were resisted. I wish to know what history Jelbert is reading. If he thinks that during the medieval period they were only discussing theology and philosophy, he is badly mistaken. Often, the argument he’s using comes with this graphic:

Such a graphic though shows an abject ignorance of the medieval period and one that I suspect Jelbert has never really looked into. We cannot know because Jelbert cites no historians of the period here. All of this is just asserted, it’s almost like Jelbert wants us to take him by faith. I reserve the faith for the atheists. I prefer to check to see the evidence first.

Tim O’Neill is quite good at dealing with this. As he says on his blog:

It’s not hard to kick this nonsense to pieces, especially since the people presenting it know next to nothing about history and have simply picked this bullshit up from other websites and popular books and collapse as soon as you hit them with some hard evidence. I love to totally stump them by asking them to present me with the name of one – just one – scientist burned, persecuted or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists – like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa – and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents have usually run away to hide and scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong.

Jelbert here could complain that I have just pulled into the debate another Christian apologist so why take the claim seriously? He could say that, but he would be wrong. O’Neill is no Christian apologist. In fact, he’s actually an atheist.

The point is the Christians in the medieval period were indeed busy trying to find explanations. Sometimes they were right explanations. Sometimes they were not. I would like Jelbert to find the time where the medievals explained scientific conundrums simply by saying “God did it.” If he can’t, then Jelbert has bought into a theory of history without any evidence. Perhaps by his standard he has an explanation that is no explanation at all.

Jelbert does take this kind of approach as he says that science comes to explain things that we used to explain with deities. Perhaps some did, but where are the Christians doing this? He does say that many Christians just move on to the next scientific difficulty. Right now, the big argument is that God tunes the universal constants. What happens when another explanation is found for that?

Dare I say it, but I agree here. I do not use the fine-tuning argument because first off, I do not understand the science behind it. If someone does, they are free to use it. However, even if I did understand the science, if I used it, I would not use it alone. I would never hang my theism on a scientific argument. I think it’s wrong to hang any worldview on any scientific argument. This is why I use the metaphysical arguments of Aquinas that are untouched by science.

Jelbert goes on to look at Wood’s question asking if we should reject an explanation that explains the data. Jelbert says that the answer is yes. He points to pseudo-science. Unfortunately, he does not give any examples and this is just a way of begging the question. Jelbert says we reject hypotheses when they make predictions that fail, but what failing prediction does he have in mind? Furthermore, if it fails at a prediction, it’s not really an explanatory hypothesis so Wood is still safe.

Jelbert’s next statement is again worth quoting in full.

And what of Wood’s idea that atheism explains nothing? If we include all scientific discovery in this (Which is reasonable because science is a naturalistic endeavor), it is hard to imagine a more wildly inaccurate statement.)

The reality is it’s hard to imagine a more wildly inaccurate statement than Jelbert’s! Why should we say science is a naturalistic endeavor? What about atheism is essential to science? A Christian and an atheist can do the exact same experiment in the lab. Their worldview does not affect the outcome. We could easily imagine a world where there are only Christians and the science would work the same way. We could easily imagine a world where there are only atheists and the science would work the same way.

Jelbert is also confusing methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism. The use of the former does not entail the latter and even still the former is a difficult term to define. Can it be that if any scientist looks at the data and thinks that it looks like a deity has been involved, that he has ceased to do science? What would he think of Fred Hoyle’s statement that

“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”

If a scientist says something like this, are they automatically excluded? It’s hard to not think of Lewontin’s statement.

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

It amazes me that so many atheists ask for scientific evidence for God, which I consider to be a category fallacy really, and then rule out any science that points to God. It’s also a problem because what if God is the explanation? If so, then we are doing science at the outset that cannot reach the truth because we have ruled out the truth in advance based not on science, but on philosophy, and bad philosophy at that.

Still, Jelbert will look at the questions and one question is why is there a world at all? Jelbert says that if we want to ask the purpose, we have to consider everything, including the evil in the world, which Wood thinks is better explained by a good God. I find this quite fascinating.

You see, when Jelbert looks at Wood’s claim, Wood has to look and consider all the data and consider all possible explanations. When Wood gives a claim, Jelbert is only willing to consider naturalistic explanations. Why does Jelbert say we have to consider everything, but he himself doesn’t?

We also have to ask is evil an exception or is it the norm? Dare I say it, but quite likely Jelbert wakes up in a warm bed every morning, has food in his refrigerator, drives from place to place, has a home where he has air conditioning and heating and cable TV and the internet, and goes through every day not fearing for his life. Does he really want to say that good is the exception and not evil?

As I have said also, if we go to other cultures where suffering is much more prevalent, they do not really talk about the problem of evil. I suspect more of us do because we have a sort of entitlement mindset. We think that we are owed a certain kind of life.

Jelbert then says that if it’s individual purpose, we have to create our own, but he prefers his as an atheist more than as a Christian. Conclusion? By most measures atheists have a better explanation. Ah yes. We used the great sample of one and came to a conclusion of all atheists. Well let’s go with this.

I as a Christian have a great purpose in my life that is a Christian purpose. If I went and asked my wife and she agreed with me for herself, then that would be two. By Jelbert’s standards then, Christians have a better explanation. Does that seem ridiculous to you? It is.

Something Jelbert never seems to ask is why do we ask the question anyway? Why do we think that there is a purpose? What is this longing in us that thinks that we are actually supposed to matter? Do we really matter? If we don’t really, why live like we do? Why deny reality?

He then goes on to the question of why the universe is fine-tuned. He chalks it up to selection bias, but this seems odd. Nature has a bias? Jelbert in doing this has just taken nature and made it his deity. He also presents the fallacious argument that if we are here to observe it, then the universe must be fine-tuned to evolve and support life. This is like the case of being sentenced to death tied to a stake and facing you are fifty sharpshooters with laser scopes on their rifles. Somehow, they all miss and the official in charge says that divine favor must be on your side and lets you go. When asked why it happened you say “Well of course it did, because I wouldn’t be here if it didn’t!” Yet this is the very thing to explain. Most of us would think the game had to be rigged somehow.

As for diversity, that is explained by evolution. Now here’s another problem for Jelbert. I could happily accept evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life. Evolution is not a problem to my theism. The problem is as has been said, Jelbert has to accept it. It’s the only game in town.

You see, for me, I happen to think that we know a lot more about the gestation process than our ancestors did. We know that there is no divine intervention involved every time a woman gets pregnant. Does that change the truth of the Psalms that we are fearfully and wonderfully made? Not at all. God using a naturalistic process does not change Him being behind the process and the great mind that developed it. I consider evolution in the same light.

Jelbert says that Wood has no explanation, but Wood does. Jelbert can’t just throw out God as an explanation entirely. Wood could easily say “I do not know the specifics of how God brought about the diversity of life, but I see enough evidence for Him so I know He did it and if He does exist, then He is behind it somehow.”

Jelbert goes on to ask that if scientists discovered how abiogenesis takes place, where would that leave the theist? For me, it would leave me in the exact same place. It would not be a problem. God is never meant to be a stopgap. I could instead ask Jelbert, what if it doesn’t come up? Jelbert has a lot more hanging on the science than I do.

What about miracles? Does God explain those? Jelbert says that there are conflicting miracle claims in many religions. It would have been nice if we had been told these claims. For instance, Christianity would happily accept the miracles of Judaism. They’re part of our Old Testament. Islam meanwhile claims no miracle except the Koran. Miracles that show up in the hadith later on are quite likely not historical and the Koran admits many miraculous things about Jesus.

What about other religions? Pantheistic systems like Hinduism don’t explain miracles because all is God. What is behind the miracles? Is God changing God? This certainly doesn’t work where the extra-material world is an illusion. What of Buddhism? Buddhism seeks to break people away from attachment to the world. Miracles make no sense here either.

It’s also worth pointing out that I do not rule out miracles in other religions because they are in other religions. I actually have this strange idea. Let’s go with a case by case study and look at the evidence for a claim before we decide if it’s true or not. I realize this goes against the atheistic position of ruling them out a priori, but that is just what you do when you go by the evidence. Chesterton said years ago that the theist believes in the miracle claim, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The atheist disbelieves in it, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.

What about the idea that some miracles are the work of demonic powers such as the devil? Jelbert says that we need to be able to scribe to the devil a very devious mind if we hold this. I don’t think it will take a lot to convince Christians of that. This is someone Jesus said in John 8 was a liar from the beginning and is a murderer and no truth is found in him.

Jelbert also says it’s amazing so many people were born into the right religion, but does this not go against his science? Jelbert just happened to be born in the right part of the world where they have scientific explanations instead of theistic ones. Isn’t that a wonderful coincidence? This is simply the genetic fallacy.

Jelbert does present the evidence of Sai Baba as a miracle worker. He says that we dismiss the claims and say he was just a con man. I have not looked at the claims so I cannot say. I can say I would not just dismiss them. If evidence can be shown that he was a con man, then that does damage the evidence for miracles. He goes on to say that the Gospel writers were not witnesses of what they wrote, but reported other traditions uncritically. In later chapters he looks at the historical Jesus, so we will deal with this then. Shortly here, we could simply recommend the newest edition of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham.

It’s also worth pointing out that Jelbert does give a source here some and that source is Wells. Wells was not and is not a New Testament scholar. In fact, for some time, he held to mythicism. It is a wonder why Jelbert takes someone like that seriously, but it is quite likely any port in a storm.

Jelbert does say the New Testament has Jesus doing miracles such as raising the dead and feeding miraculously which were done by Elisha. Well of course! What does he expect? Jesus is doing reenactment and showing that He is greater than Elisha while staying in the tradition of Elisha. Of course, Jesus healed the blind as well and that didn’t happen in the past, but I suppose we just speak where it did happen and ignore where it didn’t.

He goes on to quote Wells saying that the letters of Paul don’t mention miracles. Why should they? The letters are not biographies. They are written to tell of the life of Jesus. The only reason to mention a miracle is that it is relevant to the needs of the people. Are we to think that telling the story of the multiplication of food would somehow help the Corinthians deal with food offered to idols?

We do need to go into some more New Testament as Jelbert does look at the appearances. Jelbert points to an evolutionary development based on the number of appearances, but how does this mesh? The account with the most experiences by far is the first one, the found in 1 Cor. 15. Still, this is discussed more in later chapters so we will deal with it then.

Jelbert then concludes that atheists can be thankful for their existence, their families, their friends, and all that these entail, but I want to know, thankful to whom? Jelbert has no one to thank for his existence and if he wishes to say the universe, then the universe has become the deity. If the universe needs an explanation, who could the universe thank?

In the end, I have to agree with Mike Licona on this, that methodological naturalism can often be a safe space for atheists. I, meanwhile, as a Christian theist can accept science happily and have no problem. I could accept the explanations of evolution and such given in this chapter and my worldview in Christian theism is not altered one iota. Jelbert could not say the same about theism.

We’ll continue next time looking more at science itself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered, Chapter 6

Does David Wood have a good argument against evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re continuing our look at the work of Glenton Jelbert and his book Evidence Considered, which looks at the 50 reasons for God in an edited book by Michael Licona and William Dembski. This time, we’re looking at the problem of evil again. David Wood has an essay here on responding to the argument from evil.

Jelbert rightly points out that the argument is a disproof of theism. In this case then, the burden of proof is on the atheist. The theist has the much easier task considering of just showing that something is possible. He does not bear the burden of proof.

He also rightly points out that good could mean something different to a theist than it does to an atheist. Indeed, I think many of the problems we have in the debate is we never really define our terms. Good is an idea that is left floating in the air, which is why I always prefer to ask someone what is meant when they say good.

In his response, Jelbert starts by saying that he notes four definitions of evil. I wonder if these are all definitions or rather different ways of viewing something. There is moral evil and natural evil for instance and both are talked about, but both are not the same.

Wood has gone also with the argument from design. With the problem of evil, the atheist says that it probably isn’t likely that there is a good reason for evil, so we shouldn’t accept that there is. When it comes to design, the problem is that it is not probable that life arose by purely naturalistic processes, so we shouldn’t think that it did. The situation is indeed reversed. Please note also I say this as someone who doesn’t use the design argument.

One difference I can see is that if theism is true, then we should expect that God’s knowledge will be vastly superior to ours. In any event that happens be it an atheistic or theistic universe, there is probably knowledge about most events that we cannot know because we do not know all things. Most of us have a hard time with truth about ourselves let alone truth about greater realities.

As I write this, it was not too long ago that we had a mass shooting take place here in Las Vegas in America. This was over a week ago, and we’re still picking together pieces of what happened. ISIS has claimed responsibility, but I have not seen anyone definitively say that ISIS is involved. Here we have numerous investigators working on something and we don’t have definitive answers and yet with much less investigation and skilled investigation at that, we expect to know about other kinds of suffering?

Jelbert says that if we cannot think of a moral justification for this suffering, then we should not quash our morality. The problem is that Jelbert then starts to just beg the question. Sure. I can’t think of a reason, but the burden of proof is on the atheist to show that there is no good reason. Unless this has been shown, then the argument has not reached its conclusion. If I throw in other arguments for theism, then the case is much more firmly stacked in my favor.

This also assumes that God is the efficient cause behind everything that happens. Even many Calvinists would not accept this. This would be akin to the idea that since God is the one behind the reproductive system, that He automatically guides every cell that goes into life. If it is the case that God is not the efficient cause, then God is not the one doing things directly.

Also, I think it’s just wrong anyway to apply moral categories to God. This assumes that God is an agent like any of us with responsibilities like any of us. He isn’t. God doesn’t owe us anything. God does not owe you or I a good life. If God wanted to just take my life right now, He could. He does not owe me anything.

If someone thinks God is wrong in taking a life, I want to ask on what grounds is it that God owes them life? The only thing God owes people is that which He’s promised to give them. No one can place an obligation on God that He has to give X to them.

Jelbert also has another argument that if God existed, He would help people develop virtues and seek God. Peopel do not do this, therefore God does not exist. Even if I granted the first premise, I can still say that this is true. God has done this. It’s called the incarnation. The life of Jesus has been the greatest impetus to virtue of all time. It has caused more and more people to seek God as well. To say God will help people will not mean that God is forcing people.

Jelbert also has an offhand remark about atrocities committed in the name of God from the previous chapter. Our look at that saw much of this lacking and don’t see why it should be expected that God will intervene every time. If Jelbert has a chapter later on on the Crusades or the Inquisition or anything like that, we will deal with it then.

Jelbert also says the argument of Wood is a call to distrust your moral judgment and senses and just trust God has it all worked out. I don’t see how. If one has prior grounds for believing that God exists, then one can indeed think justifiably He has it worked out. Furthermore, God has to remain in the paradigm in the objection and if there is such a God, then it is quite likely He knows more about the situation. The burden is squarely on the atheist. Jelbert even agrees that if there was good evidence for God, you would be forced to assume He has secret reasons for the evil we see. I would not say forced, but Jelbert here grants my point.

Yet how do I have to deny my senses? I can affirm that there is great suffering in the world. I can affirm that this is not the way the world is meant to be. I can affirm that there is something wrong here. In fact, Christianity demands that I affirm these. Jesus did not die because the world was perfect. He died because it is highly imperfect.

Jelbert says that this contradicts Copan’s chapter where our morality is a clue to God’s existence and here we are supposed to suppress our morality. Again, I still do not see how we are to do that. I can look at events and say that these are instances of evil, such as the Las Vegas shooting, or suffering that will be gone in the new Heaven and Earth, such as hurricanes and earthquakes. I don’t have to change my moral stance one iota.

Jelbert says that Wood says that humans are at war with God so that explains poor morality. Jelbert counters by saying that most of us do so purely out of selfishness. The problem here is, why not both? Wood’s definition works fine as does Jelbert. The difference is on Jelbert’s view, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be selfish. On Wood’s, I do.

Jelbert goes on to say that the problem of evil is a serious blow to the idea of God and any free-thinking person will acknowledge that. Sorry. I consider myself a free-thinking person. I don’t acknowledge that. I don’t find the problem of evil persuasive at all. In fact, this is largely seen as a Western problem. Go to other countries that aren’t as affluent as ours and you’ll find people rarely talk about the problem of evil.

I also note something else here I don’t think was said. Evil is a problem for everyone. How does Jelbert explain it and how does he hope to resolve it? For theism, we have not only an explanation for evil, but a hope that evil will be defeated ultimately based on the resurrection of Jesus. Can atheism give me anything comparable?

In Christ,
Nick Peters