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!

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

 

Does Evolution Destroy Christianity?

If evolution is true, is Christianity in trouble? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As readers know, I am a layman in the sciences. Much of the material is fascinating and I like the history and the philosophy, but I do not discuss how it is done. I am not trained in that area and I respect the field too much to speak about it where I don’t know.

This is also why when it comes to evolution, I do not say yea or nay either way. I am not a scientist so who am I to speak? For this, I actually owe the new atheists some thanks. When I saw how badly they botched areas that they hadn’t bothered to really understand, it got me to realize I needed to make sure I don’t do the same thing to be consistent.

I also got much of this doing some research in seminary on the relationship between science and Christianity. I found that many of the theistic arguments we use today are dependent on science, yet people were making strong theistic arguments before the rise of science. Could it possibly be a danger to marry an argument for theism or an interpretation of Scripture to a particular scientific viewpoint? What happens if that science changes? Besides, is this the way the ancients read it?

Genesis had been something I had a hard time understanding. If this isn’t a scientific account, how should it be understood? You see, I think in our modern age we are so scientific that we read science into everything. John Walton was the one who cleared away the chaos for me and allowed me to see it in a whole new light.

I have thought about this for years now and arrived at the position I am at. I can still hold to inerrancy, though I do not see it as an essential, and still hold to a historical Adam and Eve, though I question them being the only humans alive at the time, and still hold to all the essentials of Christianity. It’s not a big deal to me then. I can go to an atheist and grant them evolution and ask them then to tell me their real arguments against theism or Christianity. The Thomistic arguments had become the best arguments for my theism and those do not rely on modern science at all.

I have said that if I woke up tomorrow and saw a headline that said, “National Academy of Sciences Now Convinced Evolution is Pseudo-Science” I would say “Cool” and move on. On the other hand, if I saw one that said “Southern Baptist Convention Now Convinced Evolution Must Be Accepted As Fact” I would say “Cool” and move on. I really mean it. The resurrection and theism are still the same.

Imagine then my delight in seeing someone post in the Unbelievable? forum on Facebook that evolution destroys the Adam and Eve myth and thus invalidates Christianity. There is so much wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin. This is something that is the case of two fundamentalisms arguing against one another.

Two fundamentalisms? How is that so? Simple. A fundamentalist Christian and a fundamentalist atheist. Let’s look at how both of them have approached the text and the issue.

Believe that it must be either evolution or creation and not somehow both? Check.

Believe that the text must be interpreted literalistically? Check.

Believe that the text is best understood by what a modern individual reader in the West would think today about the text? Check.

Believe that Genesis must be a scientific account? Check.

Believe that Adam and Eve must absolutely be historical? Check.

Believe that even if they are, they must absolutely be the only human beings alive? Check.

Believe that Christianity has to necessarily have inerrancy? Check.

Believe that one problem in a text invalidates all of it? Check.

Believe that somehow the resurrection of Jesus is called into question if there is a problem with Adam and Eve? Check.

Believe that there’s no need to read any scholarship on the Bible to better understand it? Check.

The only difference between these two is really their conclusion. It’s not their methodology.

I have a problem also with a theology also that says that the only way God can be God is if He creates by divine fiat. This is often God-of-the-gaps. If another way is found, then somehow God is out of a job, as if God’s only role is to create. It’s almost as if you’d think that the Bible has nothing to say about God having a sustaining role in the universe in constantly holding all things together by His power.

Let’s use another Biblical example. Conception and birth. The Bible says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. The ancients knew as well as we do that sex makes babies. This is not in dispute. They knew the basics, but there’s no doubt we know a whole lot more about the process and what goes on inside the womb than they ever did. If you hold to a traducian concept as well, then you hold that the soul of the child comes from the parents as well somehow. This means that you can have a birth take place without God directly intervening at any step of the process.

Does that mean that we are not fearfully and wonderfully made? Not at all. It just means the way we thought we were fearfully and wonderfully made might have been inaccurate at one point.

Let’s also consider that the case for the resurrection does not depend on Adam and Eve. You still have all this data for the resurrection of Jesus that you have to explain. You might have to change your interpretation of passages like Romans 5 some, but it’s not a defeater.

I have met some who say that if there is no Adam and Eve, then there is no original sin. If no original sin, no need for the atonement. If no need for the atonement, no need for Jesus’s death. If no need for Jesus’s death, then Christianity is false.

Well, let’s suppose that there was no Adam and Eve. I don’t agree, but let’s go for the sake of argument. I don’t need them to know the reality of sin. I just need to turn on the evening news. Unless you can convince me that humanity is living in a world where everyone acts perfectly, my argument still stands. This is not a defeater.

As for Genesis, part of the reality of learning to interpret a text is to realize that your first natural reading might not be the proper one. It could be, but you need to establish that. This is especially so with a text from another culture, time, place, and language.

Let’s also remember that there are several devout Christians out there that accept evolution and are thoroughly orthodox and sincerely love Jesus. In this debate within Christianity often, one’s orthodoxy and commitment to Christ and Scripture should not be called into question without cause. A different interpretation does not mean you are a better Christian than someone else.

As I said at the start, I am not saying at all that evolution is true. I am just saying it doesn’t matter to me. If you are a Christian and you want to argue against evolution, God bless you, but I give this advice. Make your argument a thoroughly scientific one. If evolution falls, let it fall because it is shown to be bad science. If you’re someone who doesn’t know how to do something like work out a Punnett Square, you really have no basis arguing against evolution. If you make it the Bible vs. science, you will not convince anyone unless they are already convinced the Bible is reliable. You won’t find atheists like that.

None of this is to say Genesis or any part of the Bible is unimportant, but remember the foundation of Christianity is in new creation. It’s the resurrection of Jesus. Go there to establish Christianity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Newton’s Apple And Other Myths About Science

What do I think of Ronald Numbers’s and Kostas Kampourakis’s book published by Harvard University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This is an excellent book looking at a number of claims that have been made about science throughout the centuries. Many of these claims are taught even in textbooks today, but they really don’t bear any semblance with reality. Some are complete nonsense. Others have a grain of truth, but they’re mixed in with a great deal of error.

I knew the book was going to start off well when it had the first myth being that Christianity held back the progress of science. To give an example of someone postulating the myth, they quote someone and I won’t say who he is, but I will say he’s a certain unemployed polyamorous prominent internet blogger who’s banned from Skepticon. At that point, I knew I was going to like this one.

The book also deals with other myths I found personally interesting such as that Columbus refuted the idea that the Earth is flat or that science and religion have always been at conflict. These are myths that have so permeated our society that it’s hard to find people who disagree with them and consider it something that all educated people know. Well, no. A lot of educated people know just the opposite.

Others that caught my attention were the idea that there really is no scientific method. So many people claim to go by one, but there are vast and different fields in the scientific enterprise and no one method works for all of them. Get in a room with ten scientists and ask them to describe the scientific method they use and you’ll likely get eleven different opinions.

Another one was that there is not a wide gap between science and pseudoscience. Many ideas have been popular in science history and are pseudoscience today. It’s hard to really set out a line on what constitutes real science and what doesn’t. Even if you have falsifiability as one, then many end-times speculations and faith healings and such could be considered real science. (I do believe that there are actual miraculous healings, but I think many of the so-called faith healers are frauds.)

Another interesting aspect was a chapter about Paley. Paley in his watch was pointing more to teleology than internal make-up. Darwin only mentioned Paley once in his massive work and even then it was favorable. Much of what we call ID today would not be at all what Paley had in mind.

Other readers will find many other aspects interesting, especially if they’re interested in the sciences, but if you’re not, those chapters can be confusing. Some are historically enlightening, such as that the launch of Sputnik did not create a battle cry to start upping our science education. I recommend those who are curious to just look at the book on Amazon and see what myths are covered in there and if that is something that is of interest to you.

It’s also amazing how many scientists fall for these myths. Many scientists are great at science, but they are not great at history and philosophy and they went through school likely being taught these myths and it wasn’t the main focus of their education and they saw no reason to question them. Unfortunately, now they are propogators of those myths and it’s up to the historians and those of us interested in science to set the record straight.

This is a very enjoyable read. I often enjoy reading not so much about science itself, but the philosophy and history behind it. Ronald Numbers has had his hand in a number of great books like this and I look forward to more coming.

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 13

What do I think of Jelbert’s look at Phillip Johnson? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to our look at the work of Glenton Jelbert now. Jelbert is still in a section about science and this time looking at the work of Phillip Johnson. Johnson is largely known for his writings on evolution and in support of intelligent design. He thinks the whole system of evolution is problematic and is due to fail. He could be right. It’s not mine to say.

There’s not much in this chapter that I think needs to be said. It starts with the fact that many ID proponents don’t get their work in peer-reviewed journals. It could be because it’s bad science. I don’t know. It could also be that there is a bias in the field. I don’t fault IDists though for thinking that there is something else afoot. Too many well-known atheists use science and seem to have a God allergy as it were.

There is one main point I do want to comment on. Jelbert says what would be the point in studying origins naturalistically if it were assembled by a great designer and did not come about naturalistically at all? He says that if we knew what ID purports to know, there would be no point at all.

I do not say any of this as a proponent of ID. If the ID movement fell tomorrow I simply would not care. Still, I do think the idea that there is a God behind it all does not mean that science has to end.

For one thing, saying that something came about through a designer does not mean that the designer did not use naturalistic means. My favorite example of this is the Psalms. We are fearfully and wonderfully made in our mothers’ wombs. I do not dispute this just because we know more about the gestation practice and what happens when a man and a woman have sex together.

Second, if we find there is a designer, that can lead us to asking questions of how He made things and why He made things. It’s my understanding that the ID movement was right on this when it came to junk DNA. The thought was that if a designer made this, it had to be made with a reason. If a designer even set up the evolutionary process, it had to be set up for a reason.

Unfortunately for Jelbert, saying that X is a science stopper does not mean that X is false. We could say by that that if we find any explanation for anything, then we have come across a science stopper. The point of science is to find the answers to the questions. More questions do come on the way, but we are on the quest of finding the answers.

Jelbert also says that even if accurate, this would only give us deism and not theism. Perhaps, though it is a stepping stone to theism. At any rate, giving us deism shows us that atheism is not true.

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)

And

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.

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/2/2017: Old-Earth vs Evolution

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

Many Christians do agree today that the Earth is old, but then they hit an impasse. What about evolution then? It does seem to be the reigning theory and there are a lot of Christians that hold to it, but is that really what the science shows and how does that mesh with Scripture? Christians who aren’t scientifically informed can be confused.

Recently, the book Old Earth Or Evolutionary Creation was published. It was edited by Kenneth Keathley and J.B. Stump. I got a copy of the book and when I finished it figured the discussion should continue. Since the dialogue was between Biologos and Reasons To Believe, I spoke to both ministries to get representatives to come on to talk about the book. Kenneth Keathley as well is coming on. J.B. Stump is coming from Biologos and from Reasons to Believe we have Fuz Rana.

So who are they?

Kenneth Keathley

According to his bio:

Ken Keathley is Senior Professor of Theology and the Jesse Hendley Chair of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina where he has been teaching since 2006. He also directs the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, a center that seeks to engage culture, present and defend the Christian Faith, and explore its implications for all areas of life. He is the co-author of 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (Kregel, November 2014) and co-editor of Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation?: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos (IVP, July 2017).  Ken and his wife Penny have been married since 1980, live in Wake Forest, NC and are members of North Wake Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina.  They have a son and daughter, both married, and four grandchildren.

Jim Stump

Jim Stump is Senior Editor at BioLogos. As such he oversees the development of new content and curates existing content for the website and print materials. Jim has a PhD in philosophy from Boston University and was formerly a philosophy professor and academic administrator. He has authored Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017) and edited Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (Zondervan 2017). Other books he has co-authored or co-edited include: Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction (Routledge, 2010, 2016), The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), How I Changed My Mind About Evolution (InterVarsity, 2016), and Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos (InterVarsity, 2017).

And Fuz Rana

Fazale Rana is the vice president of research and apologetics at Reasons to Believe. He is the author of several groundbreaking books, including Who Was Adam, Creating Life in the Lab, The Cell’s Design and Dinosaur Blood and the Age of the Earth. He holds a PhD in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry from Ohio University.

I hope you’ll be listening to this episode as we discuss science and theology and how it all comes together. What is the evidence for evolution? How should one interpret Scripture? What is the relationship between faith and science? Please be looking for the next episode and consider leaving a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast on iTunes.

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