Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 6

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

Christianity is a revealed faith in that some things we know only because God has revealed them to us. In this section, we’ll look at Bill Zuersher try to take on revelation in his train wreck Seeing Through Christianity. If you’ve been with us this far, you know to not expect much.

The first thing he says is one person’s revelation is just as valid as another’s. At any time a new revelation can show up that will overturn the others. It would have been nice of course to see some substance to this claim. All he says is determining the truth is undeniably a political process. Perhaps he should engage in political processes more often then. 1 Thess. 5 in fact tell us to test everything and hold to what is true and it is done in the context of speaking about prophecy.

Zuersher also asks why God would allow competing revelations. Once again, apparently Zuersher is too lazy to bother examining the claims and wants to blame his laziness on God and say “You should have clearly answered me.” Obviously, something like binge watching The Walking Dead is of more importance, or at least taking time to write a book without bothering to understand the substance of what one writes about.

His other solution is God should have made His revelation overwhelmingly true if He wanted people to come freely. Had Zuersher bothered to look at the evidence, maybe he would have found that. If someone will not look for truth, then they cannot expect to find it.

He also says God could have come up with a better technique than books. Apparently, we’re back to the idea of a fairy on one’s shoulder constantly telling them the truth. This would destroy any real seeking of the truth and have one become a Christian just because God is a belligerent nag. Zuersher apparently lives in a world where intellectual assent is the most important thing.

He also says the Bible hardly seems like a stellar book. He says it should be equally accessible to every culture. While I hold to understanding the original culture, without that understanding, one can still grasp the basic message of the Bible. He says the meaning should be unambiguous. Why? Who knows? He says it should remain unchanged over time. Perhaps some looking at textual criticism would have helped him out. As Bart Ehrman says (And no, it is not Barton Ehrman as Zuersher consistently says):

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

He also says we would expect consistency. I would argue we do have consistency. The same story is told throughout the Bible of the Kingdom of God coming on Earth based on the ministry of Jesus. He also says it would possess the highest moral and scientific content. While I would say the Bible contains many moral teachings, it also does so starting out from a specific point. A book like Slaves, Women, Homosexuals would have helped Zuersher out. (Unfortunately, research is something he’s not interested in.)

As for scientific truth, why? Seriously. Why? Are we to think Scripture is concerned with turning us into scientists? Zuersher just takes what he thinks is the most important truth and makes it central.

Of course, his favorite way to demonstrate the latter is to point to the fact that the Bible says the Earth is 6,000 years old. Naturally, he will acknowledge there are Old-Earth creationists, but he won’t bother to look at their arguments. It all comes down to “You’re not taking the Bible literally.” It’s amusing to me where we have this idea that because the Bible is Scripture, it’s to be “literal.” What we most often mean is literalistic. No one does that. Like any other literature, the Bible contains metaphor, simile, allegory, hyperbole, satire, sarcasm, figures of speech, irony, etc. We can also be sure that Zuersher won’t bother with the fine work of John Walton on Genesis 1 nor consider scholarship on the genealogies from which he makes his case.

And of course, Zuersher still says the problem is the deity didn’t make Himself clear. I would have to ask again clear to who? There are many cultures and times that we know of. Somehow, something was supposed to be clear to every single person ever? This is quite a stretch.

Naturally, Zuersher has a whole problem with what he calls the supernatural realm. Readers of this blog know I don’t use that term. Zuersher says that if God wanted to make His presence known, He would be successful. He actually says “If such a deity wanted me to know something, I would know it. Period.”

Translation: Since I’m not bothering to do the research and study of a claim, I’m just going to blame my lack of belief on God.

How does Zuersher know this about God? How does he know that God’s great goal is to get people to give him intellectual assent? From whence does he get this knowledge?

As we can expect, Zuersher says that if there were sufficient evidence, we would not need faith. I have written on this in another post. Zuersher will go after faith in another chapter so we will save that for then. He also says the fact is that the God of the Bible does not make himself known to billions of sincere seekers.

I had no idea that atheists were mind readers. This is quite astounding. Somehow, Zuersher knows all these people out there are sincere seekers? People might think they are, but Zuersher is not. Zuersher is one that is demanding that God show Himself on Zuersher’s terms. A sincere seeker will move Heaven and Earth to find the truth and will be willing to sacrifice anything he holds dear for it. In fact, few of us who are Christians would qualify at this point as we all still have little idols in our own hearts.

Still, Zuersher uses this in the end to make his formal argument. If the Christian God existed, He would make Himself known to sincere seekers. He has not done this. Therefore, He does not exist. Doubtless, Zuersher will discount any who say they were sincere seekers and found Christianity to be true. Zuersher looks to be one who blames his own unbelief on anyone else he can, except the person he sees in the mirror.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 5/20/2017: Matthew Bates

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

What must I do to be saved? This was the question of the Philippian jailer and yet today, it’s still a debated question. Believe on the Lord Jesus. Okay. What does that mean? What all does it entail? Can you just walk down the aisle and say a prayer one time and boom, you’re good? On the other hand, we don’t want anything legalistic to say you must always be doing XYZ. What of Christians who have a habitual struggle with sin?

A recent book on this topic is by my guest on this week’s episode. The book is called Salvation by Allegiance Alone. It is a look at what it means to believe and how that relates to salvation and what all salvation entails. Is it just about making sure my sins are forgiven or is it something more? The book’s author is my guest coming back for the second time to the show and his name is Matthew Bates. Who is he?

According to his bio:

Matthew W. Bates is Associate Professor of Theology at Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois. Bates holds a Ph.D. from The University of Notre Dame in theology with a specialization is New Testament and early Christianity. His books include Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Baker Academic), The Birth of the Trinity (Oxford University Press, 2015), and The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation (Baylor University Press, 2012). He also hosts OnScript, a popular biblical studies podcast.

We’ll be discussing what it means to be saved and what it means to show allegiance. Are there some flaws in our popular evangelism message? Could it be we need something more than tracts and such? Are we lulling people into a false sense of salvation based on saying a prayer one time?

Why also is there so much talk about going to Heaven when we die? To hear many sermons, you would think the whole purpose of salvation was to make sure that people get to go to Heaven when they die. Is it? What purpose does this world serve in understanding salvation?

And what about our nature? What does it mean when we are said to be in the image of God? How does creation affect our final reality? Is this world a lost cause? Are we meant to live in new and glorified bodies forever? When we are in eternity, what kind of activities are we going to be doing? Could it actually be that there is work to do in “Heaven”?

Bates’s book is a fascinating look at an important topic and one I urge you to read. We’ll be discussing what we need to do for salvation and what difference it makes. I hope to also discuss matters related to those who have regular doubts about their salvation. How can we have allegiance and assurance at the same time? Be listening then for the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. Also, please go to ITunes and leave a positive review of the show!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Dear Freethinkers

What do I have to say to those espousing freethinking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dear Freethinkers,

I want to write to you today because I’m frankly confused by what I see of you. You see, you claim to hold to no statements of faith. You claim that by being a skeptic, the only position you have to have is to not affirm the existence of God. You claim that there are no doctrines to your position. Despite all of this, most all of you seem to think remarkably exactly alike.

You all come right out of the gates often with one of your favorite mantras. “No evidence.” Are you really thinking this? Are you thinking that every theist and Christian in history has just never considered that they have no evidence for what they believe? Sure, you might meet a layman like that, but do you really think everyone is like that?

When it comes to talking about God, we are told there is no evidence. Is that really supposed to convince us? You see, some of us read these things called “books.” We don’t rely on Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia. We also read books that disagree with us. When we say we believe in God, we do so because we are convinced that that is where the arguments lead. In fact, while we agree on the conclusion, we can disagree on the arguments. Some people like the ontological argument. I don’t. I like the Thomistic arguments. Some don’t. Some people think scientific apologetics works well. I disagree. That’s okay.

In fact, this is what real thinking is all about. Real thinking is not just seeing if you find a conclusion that agrees with you. Real thinking is asking if the argument really does have evidence for it that leads to the conclusion. Just because I agree with the conclusion that God exists, it doesn’t mean I agree with the argument given for it. In fact, I daresay I have gone after more Christian apologists using bad arguments than many of you have.

Another favorite one of mine is when you say that there’s no evidence Jesus ever existed. Now perhaps in some cases, atheism could be understandable, such as with the problem of evil, though I do not see that as a defeater at all, but this one really takes the cake. You know what makes this even funnier? So many of you naturally agree among yourselves that creationism is nonsense and we need to listen to the consensus of modern science. Fair enough, but you do the exact opposite with history. You don’t listen to the consensus of modern historians and mock Christians for not listening to the consensus of modern scientists.

You see, your position is even more of a joke because I can find you a list of scientists who dissent from Darwin. Are they right? Beats me. I don’t argue that issue. If you want to find historians who dissent from the base existence of Jesus, you can count the number on two hands at the most. Note that by historians, I mean people with Ph.D.s in a field relevant to NT studies. I don’t mean just any Joe Blow you can find on the internet.

You may not like it, but as soon as you start espousing mythicism, I immediately have no reason to take you seriously anymore.  I know I’m dealing with someone who doesn’t read the best material. I know this will be a shock, but outside his internet fanbase, Richard Carrier just isn’t taken seriously. You can guarantee you won’t be by hanging on his every word. In fact, as a Christian apologist, I thank God for Richard Carrier. He’s doing a great service by dumbing down his fellow atheists to accept the conspiracy theory of mythicism, and yes. That’s all it is. It ranks right up there with saying the moon landing is a hoax or that 9/11 was an inside job.

Since we briefly spoke about science, let’s go on with that topic. You all seem to think that if something cannot be demonstrated by science, then it is nonsense. It’s as if mankind had no knowledge whatsoever and never knew anything until science came along. This gets even funnier when you talk about miracles. “We know today that virgins don’t give birth, that people don’t walk on water, and that people don’t rise from the dead.” You really think people didn’t know that stuff back then? You think they were just ignorant? Sure, they weren’t doing experiments and such, but they knew basic facts that we wouldn’t disagree with. You don’t have to be a world-class scientist to know that when someone dies, you bury them, or that it takes sex to make a baby. They all knew this.

The fact is that we don’t really have a beef with science. We might disagree on what is scientific and what isn’t. There are Christians who have no problem with evolution. There are Christians who do. There are Christians who think the world is billions of years old. There are Christians who don’t. We debate this amongst ourselves. None of us though say that science is bunk and should be disregarded. Perhaps we are misinformed on what is and isn’t science, but we are not opposed to science.

In fact, you never seem to think about what you say about the scientific method. You never pause to ask if the claim that all truth must be shown by the scientific method is itself shown by the scientific method. You don’t even consider that science is an inductive field. Sure, some claims might have more certainty than others, but none of them are absolute claims proven.

I also find it so amusing when you talk about the Bible. You all have the hang-ups that fundamentalist Christians that you condemn do. You think that the Bible absolutely has to be inerrant. Many of us hold to inerrancy, but some of us actually do not, and we debate that. Still, even many of us who hold to inerrancy do not see it as an essential and think Christianity can be true and inerrancy false. For you, the Bible is an all-or-nothing game. Either everything in it is true or none of it is. This is remarkably similar to your position on Jesus where either He was the miracle-working God-man Messiah who rose from the dead or He never existed. Your positions are entirely black and white. There is no shade of gray.

You then throw out 101 Bible contradictions and expect us to keel over immediately. We don’t. Many of these, you’ve never even studied yourself. You’ve just gone to a web site, got a list, and then suddenly thought you were an authority. It never seems to occur to you that in thousands of years of studying the Bible no one has ever seen these before.

When it comes to interpretation, you have a big hang-up on literacy. You think that everything in the Bible has to be “literal” although you have not given any idea of what that means nor have you even bothered to tell us why that must be so. The Bible is a work of literature like many other books and it uses all manner of ways of speaking. It uses metaphor, simile, hyperbole, allegory, etc.

You also seem to think that the Bible has to be immediately understandable to 21st century Western English speakers. God should be clear. Well, why should He? It’s as if you think you are part of the only people who ever lived and God should have made things clear to you immediately without having to do any work whatsoever.

In all of this, you’re just like the fundamentalists you condemn. The difference isn’t your mindset. It’s only your loyalties. You think everything in the book is wrong. They think everything in it is right. None of you really give arguments. It’s just a personal testimony and faith.

And yes, you do have personal testimonies. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard “I used to be a Christian, but”. I mean, do you want me to break out a chorus of “Just As I Am” at that point? It’s like all you used in your Christian days was a personal testimony and today, that’s still all you have. All I normally see is you went from an uninformed Christian to an uninformed skeptic.

As for faith, you never seem to understand it. You’ve bought into all the new atheist gunk that says that faith is believing without evidence. You never bother to consult scholars of the Greek and Hebrew languages to see what the Bible means by the term. What we mean is a trust that is based on that which has shown itself to be reliable.

You would be greatly benefited by going to a library sometime. You see, if all you read are the new atheists, you’re not going to make a dent. You might get some of what is called low-hanging fruit, in that people as uninformed as you are will be convinced, but not people who actually do study this kind of stuff seriously. You think that Google is enough to show you know everything. It isn’t. You don’t know how to sift through information and evaluate it. All you do is look and see if it agrees with you. If it makes Christians or Christianity look stupid, it has to be 100% true.

You should also know this doesn’t describe all atheists and skeptics out there. There are atheists and skeptics that do actually read scholarly works that disagree with them. I can have discussions with them. We can talk about the issues. They can agree easily that Jesus existed without thinking they have to commit ritual suicide at that point. They can have no problem discussing scholarly works. Many of these would even say that while they disagree with Christians, that a Christian can have justification for his belief and is not necessarily an idiot for being a Christian. You could learn a lot from them. Be like them. Don’ live in the bubble of just reading what agrees with you and buying everything you read on the internet. Study and learn.

Until you do this, freethinkers remind me of a slogan someone used years ago that I have taken. It’s not original to me, but I like it. With freethinking, you get what you pay for. Why not pay the price of being an informed thinker by reading and studying. You’re not hurting us by your actions. You’re only hurting yourself and your fellow skeptics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why There Is No God. Part 2.

What do I think of arguments 6-10? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we continue through Navabi’s book Why There Is No God, we find that the arguments don’t get any better. If anything, they’re getting worse. It’s as if Navabi is just wanting to go after any statement that he can find and make an argument out of it. I wonder if he just tried to fill his book up to get to twenty arguments without, you know, actually researching real arguments.

#6 “God Answers Prayer; therefore, he must be real.”

I don’t really use the prayer argument. For one thing, I find the studies on prayer to be problematic. God is treated like some machine in them where if you do X, then God will do Y. There are so many variables I don’t know where to begin. Are we to say that anyone in the hospital has absolutely no one praying for them? Do we have a method of somehow canceling out the prayers of others who are not part of the prayer experiment? These are many of the questions. I have never found these cases convincing.

What do I find convincing? Accounts such as in Keener’s book Miracles where someone is prayed for in the name of Jesus and suddenly a miraculous healing takes place. That is far more convincing. I also trust when some people tell me they have prayed for some very very specific things and got them. Of course, for that latter one, it’s something that I find curious, but not a final clincher. It’s something good that does back what I already have plenty of reason to believe.

Argument #7 “I feel a personal relationship with God, so I know that he is real.”

Definitely, this is not an argument to use. Remember the old hymn? “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.” Yeah. That’s what we need to get past. The lesson that should be got from this is that Christians need to stop relying on their feelings and personal testimony.

On the other hand, Navabi does say we often see what we want to see, but this works both ways. For instance, Navabi doesn’t pay attention to the really good arguments that are out there and for the huge majority, his sources are just people who agree with him. You will not find him interacting with powerful representatives of those who disagree with him. This is a problem I have with many atheist works.

Argument #8 “It’s safer to believe in God than be wrong and go to Hell.”

This is looking at Pascal’s wager and I am sure of one thing. Navabi has never read Pascal. A lot of people have this idea that Pascal was saying to just anyone, “Just believe because you’ve got nothing to lose.” Then they want to bring in the question of other religions and matters of that sort. That’s not what Pascal is saying.

Pascal had plenty of arguments in his day he could use, but he was talking to the man who was tottering between Christianity and unbelief. If you were in a sort of 50/50 position and not sure what way to go, why not just give it a try? Now does this seem like faking? Not really. If you do the behavior required, you can find the attitude follows.

For instance, some wives have a hard time having sex with their husbands because they don’t feel it. The solution given to them many times is to just go along with it. The feelings will often follow once you act. Many of us know many activities in our own lives where we don’t want to do them at first, but then we get into them when we start doing them.

People like Navabi just see Pascal as saying you should just believe anyway. That’s not his position. If you’ve looked at the arguments and you see both sides and you don’t know, why not take a chance with Christ? What have you got to lose?

Argument #9 “God isn’t defined. God cannot be comprehended or described. One must simply have faith.”

Let’s start with the bad faith argument first, as if this one hasn’t been answered ten million times already. Faith is not as is often thought, believing without evidence. Navabi says it’s invoked when a person runs out of rational explanations. In many cases, I don’t doubt that’s true, but we don’t need to see what laypeople think faith is but what the Bible and the leading scholars in the field of Biblical studies say that it is. For more on this, look at my article here.

One aspect of this argument is right.  God cannot be comprehended. Navabi says “If you cannot comprehend or describe something, you can’t possibly have a rational justification for believing in it.” This sounds good, but it’s just bogus. Many great scientific theories today are not really fully comprehended, and yet we believe in them. That’s not to down science, but to show there is always an element of human ignorance.

Argument #10 “There’s no evidence that God doesn’t exist.”

Again, this isn’t an argument I use, but at the same time, when someone does want to establish atheism, in that there is no God and not just that they lack God belief, they need to put forward an argument. The burden of proof really works like this. Whoever makes any claim whatsoever has a burden to prove it. As long as you’re just questioning an atheist without making a claim, you have no burden. Once you make a claim, you have a burden.

Still, looking at these arguments today, it looks like Navabi is dealing with low caliber information. If he really wants to make a case, let him take on the greatest thinkers in theism. Unfortunately, this will not be done.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Atheism and the Case Against Christ Chapter 11

(We do hope to have something soon on Saturday’s guest.)

Does McCormick have faith right? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

McCormick’s eleventh chapter is all about the f-word, which for him is faith. As I came here, I was expecting more of the same. No actual interaction with scholarship on the concept of faith. No bothering to find out what the Biblical authors would have meant by the word. Just the same usual old canards about faith that have been trotted out time and time again.

McCormick did not disappoint in that area.

As expected, he starts wondering about how many believers would have made it this far through the book. I can understand it. It’s not because the arguments are so good but because they’re so bad that pushing myself through this was a labor of love at times. (Meanwhile, at other times it was so outright hysterical I wanted to see how much more he could get wrong.)

Unfortunately, McCormick has hit on one important note here that many new atheists like to hit on. Faith. There is a great misconception about what faith is in the world today and sadly, Christians give that false impression. It’s quite problematic that atheists who love to go back sometimes and see what a text means when it’s convenient to them and show how Christians don’t understand what they’re talking about at this point don’t bother to go back to the text to see if Christians even have faith right. Hint. They don’t.

McCormick gives a definition that says “To take something on faith or to believe by faith is to believe it despite contrary or inadequate evidence.” Of course, this is a false misunderstanding of the word held by Christians today and atheists do themselves no favor if they justify their mistake by pointing to the mistakes of Christians. If McCormick wants to knock it down, let him, but treating it as the true position with inadequate evidence or despite contrary evidence is an action of faith.

Naturally, McCormick quotes Martin Luther about reason being the greatest enemy faith has. Again, McCormick doesn’t go to the primary sources. When Luther speaks about reason, he’s not speaking about the thinking capacity. He’s speaking about a mind unaided by the Holy Spirit and regenerate and seeking to go about and follow its own desires. Has McCormick done any investigation into Martin Luther and his understanding of reason? No. Instead, he just found a quote he liked and put it up assuming it meant everything he thought it did.

Of course, I should in all of this give my view of faith. That can be found here. This also applies to areas today where we have faith. Those are areas where there is good reason to believe the proposition under question, but there is some element of risk. Such a proper use would be an airplane for instance. Statistics show that air travel is safe, but we all have an element of risk when we get in. There’s no guarantee the plane will land safely.

McCormick says we do not invoke faith for something we don’t want to happen. Indeed, we don’t. That is because faith is when we put trust in something and we often can combine it with hope. Again, none of this shows an interaction with the Biblical material. McCormick has simply condemned the Christians for thinking foolishly yet kept up the act by thinking foolishly himself.

McCormick tells us that many believers have said it is faith and evidence. McCormick says this is a mistake based on what he said earlier, but pointing to mistaken evidence does not make a valid conclusion. McCormick could have asked why they think the way that they do, but he does not. He says that if there is sufficient evidence to justify the conclusion, then faith is not needed, but it can be. Faith is needed in order to act on the proposition. Knowledge is not enough.

People with phobias like myself understand this. When it comes to my phobia, all the knowledge in the world doesn’t seem to faze it. Instead, what is needed is to be able to act. That is then when faith comes where I say “I believe the knowledge I have is sufficient to justify doing something I think is risky.” In the case of Scripture, it’s trusting myself to the risen Christ.

In fact, this all leads to a great irony. Most of McCormick’s criticisms of faith in this chapter I would agree with. If he wants to destroy this kind of faith, more power to him. I want him to do that. I agree that Christians need more than just “faith” to justify the most important question of all. I agree that Christians should have evidence for their beliefs or at least know where the evidence is. (For instance, I would point to a specialist on Islam for instance while I have sufficient reasons for believing the resurrection of Jesus.)

Yet in a great bit of irony, at 3603, McCormick says the following:

The difference is that we often approach the world with a preformed conclusion already in mind. Then, as we consider new information that is relevant to that cherished doctrine, we are receptive to the arguments, evidence, and reasoning that corroborate it and are hostile to arguments that run counter to it. Sometimes we are not aware of it, but our real purpose is to defend the preferred belief. Our faculties of reasoning get put into the service protecting a belief instead of seeking the truth.

This is in fact a great description of McCormick’s book. Now if someone wants to say to me “Maybe you’re guilty of the same” then I say “Maybe I am. If you think I am, present the evidence. Show it.” We should all always be open to being wrong.

McCormick also asks an important question at 3650. He wants to know if there is anything that would dissuade you of the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus. This is a good question. Of course, McCormick couldn’t answer it for us since we must give the answer, but I’d be glad to.

For God, you could show a necessary contradiction in the essential nature of God. Not a paradox mind you, but a contradiction. That would defeat the idea of God. If not that, then you could also refute all the arguments given for the existence of God. This at this point would only show agnosticism. It could be God exists and we just had stupid reasons for believing in Him. You still need to put together a categorical disproof to get to atheism.

For Jesus, it’s quite simple. Some people say the bones of Jesus. I don’t go that route since we have no guarantee that they would have survived had no resurrection taken place which puts us in an unfair position. I just ask people to provide a better scenario that explains the data we have other than the one the church gave.

Next I would ask McCormick what it would take. Unfortunately, what I usually see from this is something like this piece from Jerry Coyne.

The following (and admittedly contorted) scenario would give me tentative evidence for Christianity. Suppose that a bright light appeared in the heavens, and, supported by winged angels, a being clad in a white robe and sandals descended onto my campus from the sky, accompanied by a pack of apostles bearing the names given in the Bible. Loud heavenly music, with the blaring of trumpets, is heard everywhere. The robed being, who identifies himself as Jesus, repairs to the nearby university hospital and instantly heals many severely afflicted people, including amputees. After a while Jesus and his minions, supported by angels ascend back into the sky with another chorus of music. The heavens swiftly darken, there are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, and in an instant the sky is clear.

If this were all witnessed by others and documented by video, and if the healings were unexplainable but supported by testimony from multiple doctors, and if all the apparitions and events conformed to Christian theology—then I’d have to start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity. Faith vs. Fact p. 118-119

Please note that this is “tentative” evidence. Boghossian says similar with saying he’d borrow from Lawrence Krauss that he wants all the stars in the sky one night to say something like “I am YHWH. Believe in me.” This would still not be conclusive enough. We could all be experiencing a mass hallucination.

If McCormick gives something similar in answer, what does this mean? It means no reasoning in philosophy or historiography would convince him. Instead, only a personal experience that we could not give would convince him. By the way, this is all the way while complaining about Christians who go by their personal experience. If McCormick says historiography and philosophy can convince him, I want to know in advance. I want to know he’s not expecting a personal miracle. If he is expecting a personal miracle, then dialogue to convince him is ridiculous. It is only relevant for a watching audience.

We conclude then that McCormick still sadly buys into the same atheist myths that you can find anywhere. One would think a Ph.D. in philosophy would do better. Alas, we are disappointed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

Neil deGrasse Tyson Embarrasses Himself Again

Is Tyson speaking out of his area again? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Neil deGrasse Tyson of Cosmos has had a history of not getting his facts right when speaking to public audiences. I found out yesterday while browsing on Facebook that he had spoken to Bill Moyers on Moyers and Company. The Friendly Atheist gave a report on the interview here. Unfortunately, when Tyson spoke, he again revealed that he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about and this time it was done when talking about the second coming of Christ.

At the start, Tyson doesn’t realize apparently that there’s much debate about what is called the second coming. There are some Christians that see the discourse in Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation as referring to a future scenario. Then there are some who like myself see it more referring to a past event. We look forward to the future bodily return of Christ, but Matthew 24 is really talking about the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Probably the best work you can read on Matthew 24 from that perspective now is Dee Dee Warren’s It’s Not The End Of The World. You can also listen to my interview with her on that book here.

Of course, Tyson doesn’t know about any of this. What I first was confronted with was a meme that someone made meant to show that the Bible cannot be trusted on anything, which is already itself a strange statement to make. Because the Bible was supposedly unscientific at one point, we cannot trust it on anything whatsoever? You can always count on fundamentalists to have all-or-nothing thinking, but let’s take a look at the meme itself.

starstoEarth

Once again, I would have liked to have thought that this was a misquote. I would like to have thought that he did not say this. Unfortunately, the link from The Friendly Atheist shows otherwise. Of course, Tyson in all of this is showing that faith and science are supposedly incompatible. Towards the end of the article, he makes statements that could help indicate the cause of his misconception.

So, this whole sort of reinterpretation of the, how figurative the poetic passages of the Bible are came after science showed that this is not how things unfolded. And so the educated religious people are perfectly fine with that. It’s the fundamentalists who want to say that the Bible is the literally, literal truth of God, that and want to see the Bible as a science textbook, who are knocking on the science doors of the schools, trying to put that content in the science room. Enlightened religious people are not behaving that way. So saying that science is cool, we’re good with that, and use the Bible for, to get your spiritual enlightenment and your emotional fulfillment.

Unfortunately, Tyson doesn’t realize that his hang-up on literalism is not one that was shared by the early church. The fathers, for instance, had a great love of allegory. This was also long before the rise of modern science. Saint Augustine wrote a book where he argued that all of creation happened instantly and did so in a book about the literal meaning of Genesis. In fact, you can find here a great statement from Augustine:

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

Keep in mind this is long before modern science.

The irony is that Tyson is doing to religion exactly what he accuses of religion doing to science. Tyson is knocking on the doors of religion trying to get to insist on a literalist interpretation of Scripture and saying that this is how it should be done. You can be a strong conservative holding to positions like inerrancy and reject the idea of the Bible as a science textbook and insist that not everything has to be interpreted “literally.” Tyson thus wants to treat the idea that taking the Bible “literally” is ridiculous when not only does he do it himself, but he shows no indication that there are other understandings of the passages under question held by even conservatives.

It could be understandable why Tyson interprets the data of Scripture the way that he does given the modern context that we live in. On the other hand, Tyson could also recognize that when it comes to claims like evolution, for a number of people, it could be said that they just look at the data of the complexity of nature and the beauty of the universe and find that’s an inadequate answer. Tyson would probably say they need to study the evidence of evolution before dismissing it so quickly, and he would be right. I say the same thing back. Before Tyson speaks on interpretation, he needs to actually study it and how the text has been interpreted throughout the centuries and what some interpretations are of such passages.

Of course, he also ends with saying that many of us can go and still get our emotional and spiritual fulfillment. Tyson is unaware that many of us go that route for intellectual fulfillment. We believe in Christianity because it actually answers the questions of the mind. Whether or not it gives spiritual or emotional fulfillment is irrelevant, and frankly, many of us will often say that it does not. The Christian life is not always rainbows and roses. I like how C.S. Lewis said years ago that he didn’t go to Christianity to be happy because he knew a bottle of port would do that just fine. If we were searching for emotional and spiritual fulfillment, many of us would go elsewhere.

Now of course, I recognize Tyson is a scientist, but the problem is scientists like him are speaking about how much religious people who do not understand science are trying to speak on the topic without knowledge. I agree. I have a problem with that going on. I would join Tyson in that. The problem I have is that has to be a two-way street. Tyson does not get to speak on religion just because he is a scientist. If Tyson wants to make his audience more friendly to what he has to say, then he needs to learn to not speak on areas where people who do know what they’re talking about will only roll their eyes.

Will he and others like him ever learn?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Faith vs Fact Conclusion

What are our concluding thoughts on Coyne’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s time to wrap up our look at Coyne’s book with asking why this matters. Now I do agree on this point. This does matter. As you can imagine, I disagree greatly with the conclusion of Coyne.

Coyne does list a number of evils that have been done by religious people. This cannot be denied. What can be denied is that Christians themselves aren’t doing anything about this. When I lived in Charlotte, I worked at the Christian Research Institute. Hank Hanegraaff who ran it is quite well-known for dealing with the prosperity Gospel movement, including such ideas as that healing is guaranteed in the atonement. The overwhelming majority of Christians would look at the events that Coyne talks about and say that they condemn them as well. Now some could say that this is based on promises of Scripture, but such promises are read through modern lenses instead of understanding the social and linguistic context of the first century. For instance, ask anything in my name is not a blank check. It means that you will receive anything you ask for that is in line with the will of the Master, and sometimes healing frankly isn’t in line with that.

If Coyne wants to say the kind of thinking done by these people should be stopped, I wholeheartedly agree. The reason it got this way is sadly, anti-intellectualism did sneak into the church. Such a view is really the exception to what has gone on in church history. I also contend that it has made its way into atheism, especially in the age of the internet where we live in a soundbite culture where someone thinks if you just put up a meme, the meme itself is an argument. Memes can be hilarious illustrations of arguments, but they should never be used as arguments themselves.

On page 229, Coyne warns about missionizing, which is an attempt to force your unsubstantiated beliefs on others.

The irony is so rich….

For one thing, I would really like to know how anyone can force a belief or even attempt to. We can only attempt to persuade. Some people will do a terrible job because frankly, they haven’t done their homework and don’t know about the historical evidence for their claims. (People like Jerry Coyne for instance and people like fundamentalist Christians) These people want to argue for what they believe but they don’t read the best scholarly works out there that disagree with them. (Again, people like Jerry Coyne and fundamentalist Christians.) When they meet people who know what they’re talking about, it’s quite apparent that the person wanting to make the argument just isn’t prepared.

So if I wanted to point to a clear example of missionizing, I’d point to Coyne’s book. Remember everyone, this is someone speaking on philosophical terminology who says

Another problem is that scientists like me are intimidated by philosophical jargon, and hence didn’t interrupt the monologues to ask for clarification for fear of looking stupid. I therefore spent a fair amount of time Googling stuff like “epistemology” and “ontology” (I can never get those terms straight since I rarely use them).

https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/sean-carroll-assesses-the-stockbridge-workshop/

And as for theological arguments he says

This is an area about which I’m completely ignorant, and happy to remain so, because it sounds like a godawful cesspool of theological lucubration. It of course begins with three completely unsupported premises: that there is a God, that that God has a mind that has “beliefs,” and that how we act now somehow influences God’s beliefs about our actions long before we performed them. It sounds as if what we do now, then, can go back in time and change God’s beliefs. (That, at least, is how I interpret the gobbledygook above.)
Given those three bogus assumptions, the candidate will then spend many dollars ruminating about how God’s prior beliefs relate to the philosophy of time and metaphysics of dependence, whatever that means.
In other words, all the money is going to work out the consequences of a fairy tale. So much money for so much “sophisticated” philosophy!

https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/templeton-funds-inquiry-into-how-god-remembers-stuff/

So here we have someone who has to google basic terms in philosophy and who confesses to being ignorant in theology and happy to remain so, but yet wants to teach us on both of these.

Seriously?

Coyne also says that Natural Law on page 245 refers to innate morality supposedly vouchsafed to Catholics by God and understood by reason.

This from the one who complains about missionizing.

Natural Law is a rich tradition that goes back to the Greeks prior to Christianity. It is the simple idea that there is good and evil and we can all know them by virtue of being human beings and learning. We don’t need any divine revelation for that. It’s also not just a Catholic thing. Muslims and Jews could argue the same. So could Protestants. Perhaps it would have helped Coyne had he, you know, actually read something on Natural Law.

I’d also like to share how on page 250 ending a section on global warming, he talks about how the Vatican has an observatory, which is surprising to most people, and how Father Guy Consolmagno of it says it serves “to make people realize that the church not only supports science, literally….but we support and embrace and promote the use of both our hearts and our brains to come to know how the universe works.” Coyne takes this as a clear expression that people believe what they like to be true rather than what science tells us. How is that so?

It’s hardly necessary to add that the heart is not an organ for thinking, and that we can never understand ‘how the universe works’ by using our emotions, via faith, instead of reason. Father Consolmagno’s heart, for example, has convinced him that if extraterrestrial beings exist, that they have souls like ours.”

It’s hardly necessary to point out to most people on planet Earth, which sadly do not include Coyne, that it’s quite clear that Consolmagno is using metaphorical language here. He is not at all saying that he thinks with the heart any more than someone is denying science when they tell their wife “I love you with all of my heart.” We can easily picture Coyne saying “The heart is not an organ for loving!”

For anyone out there who thinks like Coyne, the claim is simply that with our very beings we can work to know the universe. While it could include emotions, the quote does not refer to them. (It would be a mistake also to say love is an emotion. It can result in powerful emotions we call love, but love itself is not an emotion.) I am sure if Coyne was to debate Consolmagno, he’d find Consolmagno actually has reasons for what he believes, including about aliens.

So where does this all end? Coyne’s big mistake here is the same one that many people make on the Christian side. By making the debate to be science vs. the Bible, most people in America will actually choose the Bible. God does more for them in their minds than science does. God gives them more wonder and purpose in their lives than science does. This is also tragic because Coyne would have to be able to admit that many Christians do have wonderful minds (Who wants to say people like Francis Collins are idiots?) and yet if he makes it an either/or proposition, then he is keeping some of those minds out of science.

Unfortunately, the way many Christians have handled issues like evolution has perpetuated this. Perhaps evolution will fall as bad science some day like some other theories have. I cannot say, but let us be open to the possibility. If it does, let it fall because it is bad science. There is no place for making it be the Bible vs. Science. If you believe the Bible, then you should believe that it won’t contradict science. If that is the case, then the way to show something is wrong in the world of science is to do so scientifically. Using the Bible to do this just perpetuates the stereotype.

Coyne then in wanting to end the problem is in fact making it worse by his works. This is especially so when he writes about topics that he does not know about. It’s really ironic that someone who wants to talk about evidence-based belief takes such a light approach to evidence in what he critiques. The objections that Coyne thinks are stumpers could be seen as parallel to what evolutionists think when they’re told “Well if we came from apes, why are there still apes?” Now could I answer that question? No, because I’m not a scientist and I won’t even try. That’s why I don’t speak on it. I do trust that regardless of my stance on evolution, it would be a bad argument anyway.

This gets us to the tragedy that in one sense, Coyne is right. Faith is opposed to fact. How? Because if science is really that evidence-based belief including history, had Coyne actually read the evidence, he would see a strong case that Christianity is true and Jesus rose from the dead. Since he does not treat evidence seriously but only cherry-picks what is in line with what he already believes without interacting with the best scholarship on the other side, then Coyne is acting on faith. In that case, had Coyne done a proper scientific inquiry, he would have seen that Christianity is true, but as a priest of his religion of scientism, Coyne cannot allow evidence that goes against his faith. The religion of Coyne and the science that demonstrates that Christianity is true are certainly incompatible. It looks like Coyne has decided to be a person of faith instead of a person of science in this case.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Part 1 can be found here.

Part 2 can be found here.

Part 3 can be found here.

Part 4 can be found here.

Book Plunge: The Passionate Intellect

What do I think of Alister McGrath’s book? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Passionate Intellect

First, my thanks to IVP for sending me a copy for review purposes of this book. IVP I have found to be an excellent publishing company and their books consistently meet a high standard of excellence.

The Passionate Intellect is a look at the life of the mind from the viewpoint of Alister McGrath, himself a former atheist heavily interested in the sciences who became a theologian after his conversion to Christianity.

In some ways, I got a lot of good out of the book, but I’m not sure it was the good I was wanting to get. I would describe myself as one who has a passionate intellect. My wife would be more likely to connect to God through art and music and things of that sort. For me, I connect more through apologetics and through study of the historical Jesus.

Something I had been hoping for was a look at how exactly study was to be done with a passionate intellect. What do you do if you do not connect the most through music? After all, for me, one time I like to hear in a church service is “You may be seated.” I want to jump right into the study of Scripture and see what it has to say. This is not intended to disrespect the band at our church. They do a great job much of the time, but I can only stand and hear the songs for so long.

McGrath doesn’t do that as I would have liked. Still, he does bring out the importance of theology. Theology should definitely inform our worship and then in turn our worship will inform our theology. Too often we have worship going on in the church that has no real content to it and ends up focusing on us and our emotional experiences.

McGrath recommends studying the minds of the past and seeing how they deal with different circumstances, such as the problem of suffering. Here we see a contrast between Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis. What would these two have thought of each other? Could it be that we can have an idea of what the solution is to suffering but then we suddenly see how difficult it is when the real suffering takes place?

The second part of the book does focus largely on apologetics. Those who are interested in the question of the relationship between science and religion will always find something interesting to read in McGrath. You will find discussions on Darwin as well as looking at what has happened when atheism comes to power. McGrath even has a little bit on suicide bombers and asking if they’re primarily religious or if they instead happen to be more political.

So in conclusion, while I did not get what I was necessarily wanting, I did get something that was helpful and I do agree with McGrath that we need some passionate intellects in the church. Those who would see themselves as having a passionate intellect are encouraged to get this book and see if it helps them on their Christian journey.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Church History Matters

What do I think of Robert Rea’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Let’s be blunt. For many of us, history isn’t always the most exciting topic, which is quite really a shame since it impacts our lives so much. If we’re Christians, we love the Bible and we think it’s important to know what happened in it, but aside from perhaps something like the Reformation, many of us don’t know what happened in church history. Go to your average church and ask the people who know their Bibles well to name a single early church father. Most likely, you’ll get blank stares and some might say “Martin Luther? John Calvin? John Wesley?”

It’s a shame that those of us who have such a great love of Scripture so often do not bother to understand how our own history that went before us turned out. We act as if Jesus came and then perhaps something like the Reformation happened and lo and behold, we are here now and now we must live our lives.

Part of this is the individualism in our culture that places each of us in our own little vacuum of existence where what went before us doesn’t matter and what’s happening outside of us doesn’t really matter. It is our personal universe that is of the supreme importance. What difference can the Donatist controversy make? How can I be repeating the errors of the Gnostics today, whoever they were? Why should I care about those old arguments Thomas Aquinas put forward for God? Do I really need to care about how John Chrysostom interpreted Scripture?

Rea tells us that in fact church history does matter and if we are students of Scripture, we should be students of that history. We should be learning about the great men and women who came before us and realize that the lessons we learn from them in the past can be highly influential in our day and age and keep us from repeating their errors and help us to repeat their successes.

C.S. Lewis years ago gave the advice to read old books because when you do, you read another time and place that critiques yours and can see blind spots in your position that you do not see because of the unspoken assumptions you accept in your culture. Meanwhile, you too can see blind spots in the work that you are reading that they would miss for the same reasons.

In fact, the author suggests we read outside of the circle of our own faith tradition, our own time, our own location, and our own culture. In doing so, we will interact with areas we would never have considered before. If we are wrong, we can correct our view. If we are right, we are still the better for getting to see why others think differently.

The first part of the book is about tradition. How is it understood? The reality is Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox (By orthodox, unless stated other wise, I mean branches of the church such as Eastern Orthodox) all place some value on tradition. Some place it on the same level as Scripture. Some don’t, but they see it as important to consider and insofar as it agrees with the Scripture, should be accepted. Bible-Focused Christians, as Rea prefers to call them regardless of where they land on the church spectrum, would all tend to accept statements like the Nicene Creed for instance.

Regardless of your position, tradition should not be ignored. Even if you think it is wrong in a certain place, it is helpful to learn how it is that that tradition came about, why it was held to in its day, and what the reasons were for believing in it. It would not be as if people just woke up one day and said “Hey! Let’s believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary!” There would be reasons for holding to it, rightly or wrongly, and a context that it was discussed in.

This part also includes a little bit about church history and how we got to where we are. As stated earlier, too many of us really have no idea even though we claim to be Bible-focused. This is interesting in an age where many of us like sites like ancestry.com where we want to see where our families came from, and there is no wrong in doing so of course, but our very Christian faith does not get the same treatment.

The second part is about the way we interact with the past. Can you form friendships as it were with those who went before. I am thinking of a debate I had with an atheist not too long ago where I stated that we do have the works that we can read by the past and we should critique them today and learn from them today. We can interact with the philosophers and others who went before us rather than leave reality up to only people today who happen to get a voice just because they’re conveniently alive at the time. There is a well of wisdom before us and we need to drink from it.

This includes finding mentors and accountability partners. No. You can’t communicate with them the same way you would with a friend, but you can still learn from them and let their lives be a blessing to you. I think of Aquinas for instance whose arguments I use today. When properly understood, they are incredibly powerful in our day and age. Too often, we have dismissed ideas just because they are old. Some ideas will stand the test of time and we will find we have just reinvented the wheel when we are done if we ignore them.

Finally, we have a section on how this affects us today. Can we bring the past into the present? What this deals with is how to interpret Scripture, such as by learning from the methodologies used in the past to interpret Scripture, and also how learning history affects our practices of worship and compassion and missionary service.

I will say I was a bit disappointed that despite being academic, when it came to this last section, nothing was really said about apologetic approaches. It would have been good to see how those of us who are in the apologetics ministry could look to the past for valuable mentors and friends in the field. Other important areas were mentioned, but this one was left out. I hope a future edition will include that as well as we can learn from great defenders of the faith in the past such as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas.

Still, this is a recommended read and got me thinking about the importance more of learning from the past and learning how to interpret Scripture as they did. You won’t find out much about church history per se, but you will find out much about why you should find out about it.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Faith Is Not A Virtue

Does it really help you out if you are said to believe something? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

So many times in church services I often hear that the point of Jesus doing such and such or God telling us such and such is that we will have faith. In one sense, this is true and noble, but in the sense that I suspect most people use this term, I do not think that it is noble at all. Most people think of faith as just believing in something. As I have argued, faith is really more akin to an active trust in someone.

Imagine a person who said they believed entirely that travel by airplane was safe, yet when it came a time that this person needed to make a long trip, he refused to act on that and instead chose to drive or take some other means of transportation. Picture someone who said he believed that his doctor was right on what was necessary for his health, but at the same time refused to ever act on the advice of the doctor. Would we count any of those as good positions to have?

In the same way, let’s suppose that you believe God exists. Let’s suppose you believe the Bible is the Word of God. Let’s suppose you believe Jesus has all the attributes of God. Let’s suppose that you believe Jesus rose from the dead. Does that count anything to your credit?

Nope.

It doesn’t? Look at what James tells you! James tells us that the demons believe that there is one God, and they tremble! The sad reality is that many who claim to be Christians do less about the reality of God than the demons do. Isn’t it a shame that according to Scripture, demons take the reality of God more seriously than Christians do?

Of course, all Christians should believe those truths, but that does not mean that believing those truths alone will make a difference. What good will it do you to believe in a truth that you will not act on? If anything, your situation is made worse by your believing those claims. After all, what benefit does it do you to believe in a truth and then act as if that is not really true or that it does not matter. You believe that Jesus is the resurrected Lord? Okay. What good does that do if you don’t live like He’s the resurrected Lord?

When faith is seen as trust, then we are getting to what it is that we need. When Christians start not just saying that they believe something but start living like they believe something, then the differences that need to take place will occur. You believe Jesus is Lord? Then live like you’re supposed to spread the Kingdom? You believe God is the one who you should seek to know the most? Then actually consider learning more about him than your favorite TV show or sports team. You think the Bible is the greatest book of all? Then do yourself a favor and actually study it and treat it like a a piece of literature instead of treating it simplistically.

If you can get someone to believe something, then that is good. Life does not stop with just belief though. We must get people to learn to act according to belief and learn all the ramifications of what it is that they believe and what difference it makes. When belief itself is treated as a virtue, people are tempted to stop right there. Belief is not a virtue. Living in active trust, true faith, is.

In Christ,
Nick Peters