Deeper Waters Podcast 9/8/2018: Greg Cootsona

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

Do any apologetics for awhile and you will find adults who talk about science as disproving Christianity. Because they invested in science, they came to see that religion is bogus. However, if you want to get an adult that thinks that way, don’t be surprised if you first have a teenager that thinks that way.

Sadly, the church can often be the culprit.

The church can often go to young people and tell them they can either believe science or the Bible. So, they look at these teenagers who often drive to church in cars and enter buildings with modern light and air conditioning and when these kids look up from their iPhones, they’re told that either science or Christianity is true. Geez. Which one are they going to go with?

Now I am not a scientist, and I don’t even play one on TV, and I have often decided that I won’t say yea or nay on science issues. I do not debate evolution, for example. If evolution falls, let it fall because it’s hypothetically bad science, but it’s not my call to say if it is bad science. Still, I find the history of science and the interplay between science and religion quite fascinating.

So does Greg Cootsona. He also has a great concern for our young people, especially the millennials, who are falling away from Christianity and often times, it’s because of science issues. How can we best reach these people? What steps should we take to interact with them? Is it really true that science and Christianity aren’t the polar opposites they’re seen to be?

But before that, let’s ask a more basic question.

Who is Greg Cootsona?

According to his bio:

Greg Cootsona directs Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries (or STEAM), a $2 million grant funded by the John Templeton Foundation and housed at Fuller Seminary to catalyze the engagement of faith and science in Christian ministries with 18-30 year olds. He also is also Lecturer in Religious Studies and Humanities at Cal State Chico. He has written Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging AdultsCreation and Last Things: At the Intersection of Theology and Science, and C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian. Greg served for 18 years as Associate Pastor for Adult Discipleship at Bidwell Presbyterian Church in Chico and Fifth Avenue Presbyterian in New York City. Greg has written for several periodicals such as the Wall Street Journal and Christianity Today online;has been interviewed by CNN, the Wall Street Journal, BBC,and The New York Times; has spoken at university campuses throughout the United States such as Columbia and Rice Universities; andhas appeared on the Today Show three times. He and his wife, Laura, live in Chico and have two emerging adult daughters. Besides hanging out with his family, he loves to bike, read (and write), and drink good coffee.

I’m looking forward to this discussion and I hope you are too. Please also consider going on iTunes and leaving a positive review for the Deeper Waters Podcast. It means so much to me to see them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 26

Is ID caught in the vise? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The good news as we return to Glenton Jelbert’s work is that this is the final science chapter before moving to history. (Well, good news for me at least.) The bad news is this is probably the most tedious chapter in the book as Jelbert responds to the claims of William Dembski. Dembski in this one is speaking of putting a naturalist in an intellectual vise. I think Jelbert treats this uncharitably as he implies Dembski is like an inquisitor applying torture. Dembski is more of a lawyer grilling the opposing witness.

As I have said, I am not a supporter of ID, but I am a supporter of good argumentation. So what is said?

Jelbert at one point says we cannot find design in nature because that would be looking at nature that is not nature, but this is begging the question. It is saying that nature is undesigned and if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be nature, but who says this is so? I can hold to design, but not in the ID sense, but in that of classical teleology.  Can Jelbert demonstrate that nature has no design to it? Dembski may mean something different, but for me, I mean order and that is relatively abundant. Per Edward Feser’s classic example, an iceberg floating through the water makes any water around it colder. It does not turn it into cotton candy.

Jelbert also says there is no precise criteria that tells you what science is and isn’t. Surely this is not so! For one, we can say that science deals with what is material in nature. We do not need to do an experiment everyday to see if 1 + 1 = 2. This is true for all times and all places. When it comes to metaphysical questions, such as God, science is not much help. It’s the opposite. Science needs the grounding of metaphysics to be of use.

Jelbert also says that methodological naturalism is saying that science should limit itself to material causes. No evidence is given for this claim. Why should I accept it? Furthermore, isn’t Jelbert again begging the question? If the cause of an event is non-miraculous, such as God for instance, then science will be unable to find the answer and NOT lead us to the truth.

I have no problem with wanting to try to find material causes first, but if evidence builds up that something extra-material has acted, then we should accept it. Not only that, this I think puts much of science in a bind. As a theist, I can happily accept evolution and if God did it that way, that’s how He did it. For the naturalist, it HAS to be a materialistic process like evolution. Note that I am not arguing against evolution in saying this. I am saying as Alvin Plantinga says, for the naturalist, it’s the only game in town.

It is true that some Christians see evolution as a killer to Christianity, but I think this is highly mistaken. On the other hand, evolution is often seen as a necessary staple for atheism. As Dawkins says, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Who then has the most at stake? Prove evolution to me and I go to church just fine the next Sunday. Disprove it to an atheist and could there be a major gap in their worldview?

Jelbert also says that numerous tests have been done to try to disprove materialism such as the efficacy of prayer and the experiments have failed. Later on, Jelbert will say excuses are made such as “We can’t test God.” Well, yeah. We can’t.

The problem with the prayer experiments is not bad science I think so much as bad theology. It is saying that if God is real, then He will respond in such and such a way to prayer. How do we know this? God could have any number of reasons for healing someone or for not healing someone and God is under no obligation to answer X number of prayers. There are so many variables I never consider such things reliable.

Yet you have someone like Craig Keener produce his massive work on miracles, and this gets no interaction. These are cases where I think one can justifiably think an extramaterial agent has interacted. Note this again is a problem for the atheist. If all of Keener’s examples were disproven, theism would still be safe with metaphysical arguments and Christianity safe with the resurrection of Jesus. If atheism is true, none of the miracles can be true miracles.

Jelbert also says one of the problems with ID is it knew what it wanted to find before it started and did the work that way. Yet Jelbert says that there are many clues to materialistic pathways to the origin of life. He has also said earlier that science should be limited to materialistic causes. If it is wrong to assume an extramaterial cause, it is not just as wrong to assume a material cause? Note I am not saying that there is no material explanation for the origin of life. I am saying that isn’t Jelbert guilty of what he is condemning ID for? This is especially ironic since Jelbert says a problem with ID is that it claims to know an origin event with certainty.

Again, I think this is a tedious chapter and doesn’t flow well at all. I don’t think Jelbert has made the case and if anything, he has far more at stake than I do. Modern science is great, but it is not something to build a worldview on. I consider it better to go with metaphysics and I think that is firmly in the theist camp.

Now I eagerly look forward to getting into the history around Jesus.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Mere Science and Christian Faith

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

I am not a scientist, but I am always interested in books about the intersection between science and religion. When IVP sent me this one, it was one I was eager to read. Cootsona’s book is different in some ways. It’s not so much because of content, but because of the approach.

Cootsona writes his book largely with emerging adults in mind, the kind of people we would call millennials. These are young people who have a lot of questions about science and religion. What is the relationship between the two? Is there conflict or dialogue or what?

Cootsona answers these questions and often shows information on the side about conversations that he’s had with young people and little statements that they say. People involved in youth ministry need to be reading something like this. These are the very issues that young people are dealing with and as Cootsona sadly shows at the end, many people walk away because they committed the great sin of asking questions.

Cootsona deals with questions not only about creation and evolution, but also about technology. What are the effects that it’s having on society? There is some good of course, but there is also some bad. Are we having too much screen time? Could we actually bear to put the phones down?

He also spends some time with the new atheists. For the most part, the new atheists aren’t really an issue any more, but the mind set is still there. Dawkins is still seen as being on the side of science and religion is seen as the opposite. This leaves many people wondering if they have to choose between science and religion. It doesn’t help Christians out when we tell young people that they just need to have faith and not bother with their questions.

Some of you might be wondering if in all of this if Cootsona has a high view of Scripture. He does. Cootsona upholds orthodoxy and upholds inerrancy in the book. He presents viewpoints to help people understand the questions such as evolution and the age of the Earth. It’s a snapshot in the book as it were, but in the back he provides resources for further study. Cootsona’s book is meant to be an introduction to the questions. It is not an end-all.

There is also a section on climate change and sexuality. Now I am a skeptic of the idea of climate change. I haven’t invested in the study, but I am skeptical. Still, there is good information to consider here even if I am not convinced. As for sexuality, our changing approach to sexual culture is going to need to be addressed. How do we answer questions about transgenderism and homosexuality? Is Christianity behind the times?

These questions about science and Christianity are entirely relevant today. I get many questions from Christians with doubt today. If there is any topic that seems to come up the most, it is questions about Genesis 1-11. It is amazing how many people contact me and say they’re scared that Christianity might not be true and yet they have no questions about the resurrection. It’s all about Genesis. We need better resources on this.

Youth ministers then should definitely read this book! If you’re not a scientist, that’s okay. It’s written in a style laymen can understand. Parents concerned about teenagers and college-age students should read this book. Young people themselves searching should also read it.

Cootsona has given us a good gateway book to the issue of science and Christianity. He has also sounded a clarion call that we need to be listening to the emerging adults today to know how to better reach them. We can answer all the questions we want to, but if we don’t answer the questions they’re asking, we don’t get them any closer to Jesus.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 23

Is there a problem with bad design? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Chapter 23 looks at work done by Jonathan Witt on the idea of bad design. I see this as a defensive work on Witt’s part. It’s not theism going on the offensive, but on the defensive. If theism is true, why do we see instances of what is thought to be bad design?

As a non-scientist and a non-IDist, there is not much for me to respond to. However, one point I do want to address is something Jelbert says about Witt’s work. Jelbert does show that Scripture speaks about creation as the work of God such as in Psalm 139, Genesis 1:31, and Romans 1:20. However, we must remember the Biblical authors are not blind. Yes. Humans are fearfully and wonderfully made, but they knew more about child mortality from experience than we do. When a child is born today, it’s generally assumed the mother will survive and that all things being equal, the child will grow up and live a natural life.

Not so for them. Many times a mother would die in childbirth and you would want to have many kids because not all of them would live long lives. The authors are not writing though to give an answer to the problem of evil, but because there is still something grand to them in creation.

Jelbert says that God’s involvement appears to be capricious. Things look to be callous and random. Events happen that do no good and bring no redemption and don’t appear to fulfill a grand plan. They do not show that God is in charge of this drama. Jelbert says Witt will fall on God’s mysteriousness again or some other divine attribute.

Let’s notice something here. Not a single objection here is scientific. It is all theological. It is saying that if the God of the Bible existed or even the God of classical theism, He would not allow this or there is no good reason why He should allow it. How is this known? Where does Jelbert get this theological knowledge?

Something else sad about this is that this is part of the logical problem of evil that even the majority of atheist philosophers will admit has been answered. Alvin Plantinga did it decades ago with a little book called God, Freedom, and Evil. It’s important to note that one does not need to demonstrate the answer to why a certain event happened. One has to show that it is just possible that God has a good reason for allowing it. We don’t have to know what that reason is. Jelbert has the burden of proof here. It’s up to him to show that there is no good reason for this to happen.

Jelbert can call it a cop-out to say God is mysterious or something like that, but why think any of us should know all that God knows? If God is real, He has far more knowledge than we could ever have of why events are happening. Jelbert has simply said that things seem a certain way. He has to demonstrate it or else his argument fails.

Now he could go another route and say that it seems unlikely that a good God would exist and that is something else altogether, but it is no longer the hard case. If he went that route, I would reply with the Thomistic arguments, which are not addressed in the book it looks like, and of course the resurrection of Jesus, which we will get to later. I just have to answer one and it is not a deductive argument. The Thomistic arguments are deductive and thus more powerful.

I walk away from this chapter unconvinced. Jelbert has not demonstrated his theological claims. It’s interesting that in a section purported to be about science, we have more about theology instead.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 22

Does what’s inside a cell make a case for God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to Glenton Jelbert’s work again to see what he has to say about the inside of the cell. In this chapter, he responds to a young molecular biologist named Bill Wilberforce. Wilberforce seems especially enthralled with something in the cell called Kinesin. As readers know, I, not being a scientist, will not comment on the science, but let’s see what I think of Jelbert’s response.

Jelbert starts by saying he thinks the author is in conflict as he seems to be admiring science but also undermining it. His explanation of why he thinks this is that he says before some tools existed, scientists thought the cell was a blob of protoplasm surrounded by a thin membrane. Jelbert says this is nonsense and scientists have appreciated how complex cells are for a long time.

Unfortunately, Jelbert never tells us when this is. Was there a time when scientists thought what Wilberforce says they did? After all, we have improved microscope technology so was there a time we could not see in the cell that much and that was what we thought? Jelbert gives no indication that Wilberforce is right, but he also doesn’t show that he is. If all Wilberforce has done is make a claim, Jelbert has done the same. There’s not any reason alone to think anyone of them is right.

Jelbert also says that there is no meaningful prediction coming out of Intelligent Design that can be tested. Before this, Jelbert seems to say that the stuff Wilberforce has found was predicted by evolutionary biologists. He gives several places to look, but sadly, he gives no articles himself. I would have liked to have seen him done this.

To get back to ID, I am not convinced this is true. I believe that ID made a prediction about Junk DNA that happened to be right. I say this not as a supporter of ID, but I say it simply as one wanting to be fair with the evidence.

At a later point, Jelbert makes an admission I find troubling. He says, “Rationally, we will always search and go on searching for natural causes for any unknown, preferring to admit that we do not know than to give the non-explanation of an ill-defined supernatural being.”

I find this quite troubling. For one thing, he says that this is rational. Why? Is it a sign of rationality that someone doesn’t believe in the miraculous? Is it a sign of rationality that everything can be explained by materialistic causes?

Second, what about miracles? Sure, Jelbert doesn’t believe in them, but if he saw one in his presence, does that mean he would try to find a natural cause? Suppose it was even the favorite of an amputee growing a limb back. Will Jelbert say it is rational to find a cause?

Third, I find it hard to believe we are talking about an ill-defined being. If we went to the arguments of Classical Theism, Jews, Christians, and Muslims could all use them. This being was not ill-defined but many characteristics of Him were given.

As I wrap this up, I think what Jelbert is missing is this drives many people to theism not because of irreducible complexity, but because of wonder. People see what looks like a little factory in the cell and it leaves them in awe. Thinking it is irreducibly complex does not make them think of a creator so much as just thinking that the thing itself exists and is working towards an end. (This is in fact the classical argument from design.) When atheists argue for something natural and seek to remove God, many people see this as a way to remove the wonder. I am not an expert in the sciences, but many times something I see talked about in the sciences does leave me with a strong sense of wonder that makes me think that God is a brilliant mind behind all of it. Whether He did it through an evolutionary process or not doesn’t matter. Either way God is awesome with His creation.

We will continue later.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Atheism On Trial

What do I think of Louis Markos’s book published by Harvest House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Markos’s book is an interesting read. He writes as a philosopher with a pastor’s heart. He clearly has a great love for many of the literary classics that have been shaping our culture. This work is a look at how many of those from the past dealt with the atheism that we see today. It’s nothing new. It has already been answered every time. There may be some different arguments, but many of them have the same kind of presuppositions.

The pastoral side of the work is that Markos wants to take us beyond just the God of the Philosophers. I do think that the arguments of classical theism that get you to the God of the Philosophers are just fine. I try to establish classical theism before I establish Christian theism. Still, there is something unique about Christian theism.

Markos rightly points out the importance of miracles for a Christian worldview and finds arguments against them wanting. He also has a section on the good, the true, and the beautiful. I find this to be an important distinction to make because too many of us don’t know the point of those ideas. Many people today might not have even heard of that saying.

There are also responses to such things as the problem of pain. This really came about in the Enlightenment time and one of the chief events talked about in Voltaire’s Candide is the earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal that murdered a large number of people. Evil is probably the most understandable argument against theism, but logically, it no longer works. It can still be used as an emotional or existential argument.

If there were some things I would change, one is that Markos decided to not have notes in order to make things friendly for the layman, but instead included a brief summation of each chapter in the back of the book that did include where to find the information. I would have preferred the notes. Notes have not been a problem in books for laymen. Consider the Case books by Lee Strobel for example. They have been filled with notes and yet they are incredibly reader-friendly.

I also notice that Markos really likes his Plato and so he has a lot to say about empiricism. I do not think empiricism was properly defined since I consider myself a classical empiricist in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. I do realize that there are many who are atheists who consider themselves empiricists, but empiricism does not rule out the immaterial realm at all. (Note that I do not say supernatural realm as I don’t use that term.)

Markos also has arguments against evolution. As a Thomist again, I have no problem with evolution and as a non-scientist, I tend to stay out of it. I would not be bothered at all if I found irrefutable proof that evolution is true nor would I if I found the same that it is false. It does not affect my arguments for theism or my understanding of Genesis one iota.

I still do think that this will be an enjoyable read for many people. Atheism has been with us longer than we realize and in every age, it has been refuted. There is nothing new under the sun.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Enlightenment Now—Part Two

Do I have further thoughts on Steven Pinker’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I say part two, I don’t mean part two of the book but of the review. Part two really doesn’t have much that is objectionable, although there are a few things. He’s mainly talking about improvements in various areas over the centuries and there’s no reason to object. Some are questionable, such as equality since he throws in the redefinition of marriage and interestingly, leaves out the idea of if a baby in the womb counts as an equal human being.

Also, I question knowledge. No doubt, our knowledge as a whole has increased, but I question many times if people today are more knowledgeable. Keep in mind we’ve recently seen young people today eating tide pods and snorting condoms. Wikipedia is a favorite cite to use for informing oneself as well despite not knowing who wrote it and being able to Google is a substitute for research.

Now if there are problems in part two, I mainly leave that to others who have looked at those areas a lot more. I do not have the information nor do I wish to take all the serious investment in it when there are other things. I do wish to point out that there is no necessary connection established yet to the Enlightenment since Pinker presents ideas like science and reason as coming from them while ignoring that these were going on actively in the Middle Ages as well.

So let’s move on to the final part and objectionable material I’ve found since then.

Pinker talks often about how we can be blinded to one side and mocks conspiracy theories, which is good, but I think he buys into his own. He has a large anti-Trump rant where pretty much anything that is said is included, even making a point about being investigated for Russian collusion. One wonders what he thinks of this section now considering things like tax cuts and peace talks with North Korea.

On page 359, he talks about how we maintain ideas to maintain standing with a group. The example he gives is one must think like this to say that God is three persons and yet one person. One would hope that someone who wants to do great research over history would bother to have done a smidgen on religion and what a Trinitarian means when he says God is a Trinity. Apparently, Pinker did not.

That having been said, there is some truth to the idea about ideas having social standing and this is a mistake I think atheists have made with evolution. It has been made the case that to accept science you must accept evolution and to accept evolution, you must disavow God. It’s not that people are anti-science. It’s just that if told to choose God or evolution, they will choose God. In their minds, they often have more reason to believe in God and less to believe in evolution. As long as atheists (and Christians as well) frame the debate this way, it will always be science vs. religion, which is a shame.

On p. 364, he talks about moral progress saying that before the Enlightenment there was starvation, plagues, superstition, maternal and infant mortality, marauding knight-warlords, sadistic torture executions, slavery, which hunts, genocidal crusades, conquests, and wars of religion. He leaves out there were also hospitals being built, literacy being spread, ancient texts being copied, science being done, etc.

Pinker also doesn’t say much about gas chambers for the holocaust or the slaughter of millions by their own rulers in atheistic regimes. If we are to define the Middle Ages by events that are questionable, why not do the same with post-Enlightenment times? if the Enlightenment is only to be defined by the good that has happened, why not the Middle Ages?

Also, many physical problems were being worked on and the science that has dealt with them is a continuation of the Middle Ages science. It would be like saying cancer is around today because we don’t care about science. We do care, but we just don’t have a universal cure yet.

In talking about science on 393, he says that the traditional causes of belief were faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, hermeneutic parsing of texts, and the glow of subjective certainty. Sadly, there is no citation of people from the Middle Ages showing any of this. It is also true that no doubt these sources get things wrong at times, but so does science. If we claim a belief such as “Murder is wrong” is revelation, does Pinker question that?

There’s also a great irony that this takes place just after talking about the causes of World War I and that it should not be explained in scientific terms. Could it be you might have to go and parse those texts that we have about the war to see what happened? Could it be some questions just aren’t scientific?

Also, in this chapter, Pinker is pointing out science as the greatest accomplishment of man. Is it? It’s a great one, but science is a means towards an end. Do we want to know how the world works just ot know how it works? Or, do we want to us those to bring about human flourishing, something Pinker talks about often. If we do that, why? Do we want our species to flourish because we really like our species? What is special about humanity? These are questions that aren’t answered by science, but in finding the true greatest good, the sunnum bonum, of humanity.

He says on 394 that a scientifically informed person cannot have religious conceptions of meaning and value. His basis for this is that we know more about our origins than religious people did back then based on their writings. There is no attempt to really wrestle with Genesis. There are multiple ways to interpret the text, but the only one Pinker sees is one that denies an Earth that is 4.5 billion years old. Pinker makes no attempt to wrestle with the meaning of the texts.

On p. 397, Pinker tells us that scientists have been responsible for misdeeds throughout history. He proceeds to tell us how that should not be used as a weapon against science. But wait a second, if that’s the case with science, should it not be that way for religion? We judge religion based on what it does wrong, but we judge science based on what it does right? What a wonderful system!

We’ll continue looking further at Pinker’s book next time. I do plan to finish it today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Part 21

What do I think of Jelbert’s critique of Richard Spencer? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Glenton Jelbert of Evidence Considered is now looking at Richard Spencer’s essay on if Intelligent Design necessitates Optimal Design. As readers know, I have no interest in the science portion. It doesn’t bother me and I have no reason to support Intelligent Design. Still, I am interested in the philosophy and theology involved.

For instance, Jelbert says Spencer is trying to explain why the world looks as if it did if there was no God by positing natural causes. This isn’t a scientific objection, but a theological one. It is saying that if God exists, then He will not work through what Aristotle called instrumental causes. He will work directly. How does Jelbert know this?

In the Middle Ages when science really began to take off, they had no problem with filling int he gaps. Jelbert’s argument might work for a God of the Gaps style approach, but that is really a historical latecomer. The medievals actually believed they were showing the genius of God by showing how He went about working the universe.

Consider also a miracle like the Jordan river stopping when it did for the Israelites to pass through. Treat the story as true for the sake of argument. Does it cease to be a miracle when it is found that this event has happened with the waters of the river stopping before? Not at all. The miracle is not just that it happened but that it happened when it happened and resumed when it did.

Later on, Spencer says that we do not fully understand the mind of God and why He does what He does. This should be a given on theism and atheism. If God exists, it should be granted no one can know His mind entirely. Jelbert says that this is also theistic agnosticism. God cannot be known. But why? Jelbert points to terms like omnipotence and omniscience and such being meaningless. His source is George Smith’s Atheism: The Case Against God.

Smith does agree that a contradiction should be impossible regardless, but how does he establish a problem with omnipotence. An omnipotent being is one who is said to be capable of violating His nature. For a Thomist though, this is not a sign of power, but a sign of weakness. We are left wondering what this would entail. This also means God does not violate His other attributes like goodness and love. Omnipotence cannot make evil to be good.

For omniscience, we have the old chestnut that if God knows the future, God causes the future. Most Arminians will grant that God knows the future. I will certainly agree to that. That does not mean that God’s knowledge is the causal factor in what I will do.

Now if anyone really wanted to study the doctrine of God and see how he works, pick up some good tomes on systematic theology. My favorite, of course, is the Summa Theologica. Saint Thomas Aquinas goes in-depth on the doctrine of God and what each attribute means.

Another part worth talking about is how Jelbert looks at cases of design such as food going down the same area we breathe through. Spencer says he does not know what God does and why. This should really be an unproblematic statement. Of course not. Unless God tells us something directly, we don’t know why He does things. We can guess, but we cannot know for certain.

Yet Jelbert makes an interesting statement. Spencer says that often in suffering, we find a greater closeness to God. Jelbert says he cannot see how this comes about through watching your baby choke on a grape.

Sure, Jelbert can’t see it, but how does it follow that it cannot happen? Jelbert said earlier that the mind of God isn’t known and yet Jelbert seems to imply that there can be nothing in that mind that can use that for good. Not only that, there is a greater problem here.

Jelbert says if you remove theism, the problem disappears. After all, sometimes bad things will just happen. There is no purpose in the baby choking to death on a grape.

On atheism, that’s true. There is no purpose in a baby choking on grape. We could say that the solution has come until you also realize that in atheism, there is no purpose in the baby to begin with. There’s no purpose in the baby choking, but there’s no purpose in the baby having healthy breathing either.

In essence, the problem is dealt with, but it’s dealt with by saying not that there is just no purpose to the choking, but there’s no purpose to anything. Now a pair of atheist parents can have purposes for why they want children and purposes they want for their children, but in the words of Linkin Park, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. The whole universe is without purpose and just making one up won’t change reality.

One cannot help but think of what Bertrand Russell said in A Free Man’s Worship.

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

All he needed to say after that was “Oh, and have a nice day.”

I recommend Jelbert simply read the accounts of Christians who have gone through great tragedy, including the death of a child, and see how it is used for good. Now, this stuff is not good to be sure, but it is used for good. Jelbert can want to say all day long that there is no purpose or good that can come from it, but he needs to show that, not just assert it.

We’ll continue later.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 20

What do I think of a critique of Dembski? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we return to the work of Glenton Jelbert with Evidence Considered, we get to the work of William Dembski. Readers of this blog know that I’m not on the whole Intelligent Design bandwagon. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe there’s an intelligent designer. I just don’t think He’s shown the same way. So let’s look at what Jelbert has to say here.

At the start, Jelbert says that Dembski’s view does not conform to the scientific method. Alas, I think here Jelbert has fallen for a great myth. There is no scientific method. There are scientific methodologies instead. A good read on this is Newton’s Apple And Other Myths About Science. Take a botanist, a physicist, a pathologist, and an astronomer and put them all in the same room. They will all have different scientific methodologies they use. There will be some similarities, but they will be different.

Jelbert’s critique of this is that we don’t search for intelligence but an intelligent agent. Perhaps so, but to find an intelligent agent, don’t we have to have signs of intelligence first? If we have signs of intelligence, can we not properly infer that there is an agent with that intelligence?

He also says Dembski is asking us to accept non-answers to real questions and abandon evolutionary searches. Why should anyone think this is necessary? A proponent of ID can say he wants to know how this came about and why it came about that way. That does not preclude an evolutionary origin. I don’t know of anyone in the ID community who wants us to just say “God did it!” and abandon all questions of origins.

Jelbert also says one could say that the idea of specified complexity is neither complex nor specified so it shows no signs of intelligence. If Jelbert wants to think that, then feel free to produce the animals in the animal world who are talking about complex specified information. Perhaps it doesn’t require high intelligence, but abstract thinking of any kind involves some intelligence.

Jelbert also says Dembski does not explicitly disagree with evolution, yet Jelbert wants to know how this works. How did things evolve? What did God do? This position apparently assumes that if God was involved, it could only have been through miraculous means instead of overseeing. Why should anyone think that? Could God have intervened? Yes. I am not sure how that would look either which is another reason I don’t really do scientific apologetics.

Sometimes it is thought that this looks like what a world without a creator would look like, but how could we compare such a thing? Do we have a world that everyone knows has a creator and one everyone knows doesn’t to compare? I still would like to know how an atheist grounds existence itself in their world.

I also want to comment on how Jelbert says he had a problem with ID as a Christian. After all, Paul says he resolved to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified in 1 Cor. 2:2. Jelbert claims Dembski is relying on the human wisdom condemned in that same passage and is superseding Paul.

This is really a bizarre reading of the text. Paul is saying not that he resolved to know nothing except that Jesus was crucified, but rather the crucified one. The wisdom he condemns is not wisdom across the board, but wisdom that refuses to submit to the ways of God and follow a shameful crucified king. Proverbs tells us regularly to seek out wisdom and Solomon was held in esteem because his knowledge and wisdom were greater than the pagans.

Finally, Jelbert does the same thing he regularly does at the end. Dembski has not proven a theistic being let alone the Christian God. Why is it a theistic argument must always prove Christianity? Can’t it be a stepping stone?

We’ll look at chapter 21 when we return to this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 18

Does evolution lead to evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to the work of Glenton Jelbert with Evidence Considered. This chapter looks at an essay by Richard Weikart on eugenics and evolution leading to that. I do agree that this does not establish that evolution is false. However, I do think there is a danger that one can take evolution in science and apply it everywhere else. When applied to morality, I do think it leads to great suffering.

Jelbert acknowledges this. There is a shameful history associated with eugenics. It did lead to forcibly sterilizing many people. Let’s also keep in mind Margaret Sanger of Planned Parenthood was a leaning proponent of this and the abortion crisis today is continuing this legacy. Now we don’t sterilize the people. We just kill the offspring.

Jelbert does say eugenics is not science and the scientific establishment was far from unanimous in supporting it. Yet if it is not science, then why was the scientific establishment involved? We could say perhaps it is not true science, but it is still a scientific topic.

Jelbert points to Peter Kropotkin speaking in 1912 at the first international eugenics congress in London.

Who were unfit? workers or monied idlers? Those who produced degenerates in slums or those who produced degenerates in palaces? Culture casts a huge influence over the way we live our lives, hopelessly complicating our measures of strength, fitness, and success.

Now I don’t know much about Kropotkin, but I look at this and think that this is just one opinion. Why should I take him as the main one? It would be like saying the existence of Jesus is far from settled in scholarship because Richard Carrier once spoke at the Society of Biblical Literature arguing for mythicism.

Jelbert also says that the Bible has been used to lead to great evil. He points to the Salem Witch Trials. This is true. However, I would contend that the witch trials misused the Scripture about a witch not being allowed to live since that applied to the Theocracy of Israel and not America. Also, it’s worth noting those lasted a short time and restitution was made.

In January 1697, the Massachusetts General Court declared a day of fasting for the tragedy of the Salem witch trials; the court later deemed the trials unlawful, and the leading justice Samuel Sewall publicly apologized for his role in the process. The damage to the community lingered, however, even after Massachusetts Colony passed legislation restoring the good names of the condemned and providing financial restitution to their heirs in 1711. Indeed, the vivid and painful legacy of the Salem witch trials endured well into the 20th century, when Arthur Miller dramatized the events of 1692 in his play “The Crucible” (1953), using them as an allegory for the anti-Communist “witch hunts” led by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.

Of course, anyone who died wrongfully is still one person too many. Also, as Bruce Sheiman says in An Atheist Defends Religion

“Militant atheists seek to discredit religion based on a highly selective reading of history. There was a time not long ago—just a couple of centuries—when the Western world was saturated by religion. Militant atheists are quick to attribute many of the most unfortunate aspects of history to religion, yet rarely concede the immense debt that civilization owes to various monotheist religions, which created some of the world’s greatest literature, art, and architecture; led the movement to abolish slavery; and fostered the development of science and technology. One should not invalidate these achievements merely because they were developed for religious purposes. If much of science was originally a religious endeavor, does that mean science is not valuable? Is religiously motivated charity not genuine? Is art any less beautiful because it was created to express devotion to God? To regret religion is to regret our civilization and its achievements.” —An Atheist Defends Religion

And

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

And one more

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

Jelbert also says the Bible purports to be a moral guide. I would like to know where this is. I do agree the Bible has some morality, but I don’t think the purpose of the Bible is to just make us good people. It is to make us Christian people who serve King Jesus and when we do that, we will be good people.

Jelbert goes on to say that Weikart paints scientists with a broad brush, but Weikart does not do this. He says many today often sound similar to the eugenics movement when talking about genetic technologies. This is true. Many do. Not all.

Jelbert also says he does not think there is a Christian ethic. If he means there are issues that Christians can disagree on in ethics, that’s understandable, but not all are. I don’t know many Christians willing to defend pornography or murder or rape. Most all of us condemn abortion as well. Christian ethics are founded on Christian principles such as mankind being in the image of God and the resurrection of Jesus.

I will say at the end I understand the concern of Weikart and we should take it seriously. Scientists can too often seek to play gods. At the same time, this doesn’t show evolution is false. It does show that that which works in science might not work in morality and perhaps if evolution is true, we still should not seek to take it into our own hands.

In Christ,
Nick Peters