Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Science and Religion

What do I think of Joshua Moritz’s book published by Anselm Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A reader of Deeper Waters recommended that I look into the work of Joshua Moritz and see if I’d like to interview him on my show. The book recommended was Science and Religion. I got in touch with Moritz who got in touch with his publishers and a copy was sent my way.

I read the book and I was in many ways, surprised. The book was extremely thorough. At times, you wouldn’t even know a Christian was behind it because very little place would be given to religion. It would be just looking at the science itself.

Moritz starts with the obvious place in a book like this, namely Galileo. The information in here is quite good as he brings out pieces of the account that I had not read elsewhere. He does rightly show that this was never science vs. religion. Everyone in the debate held the same view of religion and would believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. Everyone also believed that science told us truth about the world and that science and Scripture would not contradict.

Indeed, the big problem was that Galileo was speaking on areas where he was not authorized to speak and where he had even agreed to not speak. I ultimately view it as an ego conflict. It also didn’t help that he had a dialogue written depicting the pope as a simpleton. Not only that, Galileo’s case was ultimately right, but he did not at the time have the evidence for it and the church was ready to change its interpretation of Scripture if it had to, but it needed really good grounds to do that. Galileo did not have that yet.

From there, we move on to evolution and especially a case like the Scopes trial. Again, the narrative is hardly the same as the real story. Bryan who was arguing against evolution supposedly was hardly a fundamentalist and Darrow was hardly the brilliant attorney on the other side. He had his own skeletons in his closet. As for evolution itself, a number of devout Christians at the start had no problem with it. Even Warfield, known as Mr. Inerrancy, did not have a problem with it.

From there, we get a look at the history of the topic and look at questions like the Big Bang Theory and other such subjects. Sometimes the work can get a bit technical, but for the most part it’s easy to go through. We also look at some questions like the age of the Earth.

There is also talk about the limits of science. Are there some things that science cannot do? Is it possible to have science without faith? Is it possible to have faith without science? Could it actually be that both need each other?

He also goes to places many don’t go to. Miracles are somewhat understandable, but there is a different take given on them, though I do not wish to spoil for the reader. He also looks at the problem of evil, including animal suffering, and seeing if this is compatible with religion, and finally ends with a chapter more on eschatology and if there is any redemption for our world for if we all we have is science, the story does not end well.

Moritz’s book is a good and fascinating read and worthwhile for anyone interested in this subject. I highly recommend it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Controversy of the Ages

What do I think about Theodore Cabal and Peter Rasor II’s book published by Weaver Book Company? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When it comes to the views on the age of the Earth, by and large, you have three views. You have the YEC (Young-earth creationism) view which places Earth to be at about 6-10,000 years old. You have the OEC (Old-earth creationism) view which says Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, but that macroevolution didn’t take place. Then you have the TE (Theistic evolution) view that agrees that the Earth is old but says that God used evolution to bring about His purposes.

The authors start off this book with a look at another case that supposedly presented an opposition between science and Christianity, which was the debate about heliocentrism and geocentrism. They argue that Galileo did have the right idea with the approach to the problem in that he was fine with upholding inerrancy, but said we must not hold to the inerrancy of interpretation. Meanwhile, his opponents while skeptical of the new science were also justified in their hesitancy. Why should they suddenly abandon a position they had held for well over a thousand years in a position that had not been verified yet?

From here, we get to the conservatism principle. If you hold to inerrancy, hold to it, but be open to the possibility that you could be wrong and when sufficient evidence is presented, then be willing to change your mind. This is a principle that it would be great if we followed instead of assuming that inerrancy means you must hold certain interpretations to be true.

From there, the writers go on to look at the history of the controversy over Darwinism and how evangelicals responded. This led to a rather staunch position in some circles for young-earth creationism. Most notably was the publication of The Genesis Flood and how holding a young-earth and a global flood became essential staples of the young-earth position.

All of this was done to protect a high view of Scripture and avoid compromise with science. However, as the writers point out, at certain points, even the YECs were agreeing with the science and not going with the “literal” interpretation that they praised. The example is brought forward again of geocentrism. Many times a “literal” reading of the text would lead to geocentrism, but few hold to that today, although there are a small number who do.

The writers then look at what they recommend to each of the groups. For YECs, the main issue is that they have often put too narrow a boundary on inerrancy and Christianity and looked at others as compromisers and claimed to know the intentions of their heart. Someone can believe the Earth is old and/or in evolution without being a God-hater or a compromiser or something of that sort. I have seen the YEC community often times hold to a dogmatism that practically includes YEC in the Gospel which is a problem.

OECs meanwhile are encouraged to not be too targeting of YECs and to be careful about the models they put forward. TEs can often say about OECs what OECs say about YECs. TEs easily claim that OECs accept science to a point and then deny what disagrees with them. OECs need to be working to make sure their models do hold fast to the evidence.

TEs meanwhile often have the problem of being seen as more theologically liberal. It can often be seen as evolution being what must be accepted, but we can get a bit iffy on Scripture. Not all TEs are like this, but there are a number who are which will only make evangelicals skeptical of the movement.

What needs to be remembered by all is that the Gospel does not include the age of the Earth. It shows up in none of the creeds and does not need to be an issue. We can talk about it and debate it, but by all means let’s remember we are in Christian fellowship with one another on the essentials of the Gospel.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Scripture and Cosmology

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

I always have an interest in books on science and faith and books I think could be related to inerrancy and books about the worldview of people who lived in Biblical times. With Kyle Greenwood’s work, I have all three. The heavy emphasis is on the third part with a still sizable portion on the first and just a touching on the second, but the reader who goes through this book will be informed on the topic under consideration better.

One of the great problems we have today is people trying to read modern science into the Bible. Christians want to act as if so much of modern science was predicted by the Bible long ago, as if God had a great interest in teaching people scientific principles. That He does not does not mean that He does not care about science, but it does mean that He was wanting to get across a major message and was willing to leave the rest for us. After all, God told us things that we could not know on our own and left what we could discover for ourselves to be discovered by ourselves.

For non-Christians, there is this idea of course that if God spoke, God would speak in agreement with our modern science. One can only wonder what would happen if we were living 1,000 years from now and how much of our science might be different. Would we need a whole new Bible at that point because the science had changed? If the Bible supposedly does not speak about modern science and in scientific language, then it should not be treated seriously.

Greenwood writes to first off show how the ancients viewed the world with the main elements being land, heavens, and sea. Was their worldview primitive by comparison? Yes. What of it? God did indeed speak in that world and used the terminology that the people would be familiar with. Rather than give a whole discourse on the scientific nature of reality, something that would be largely unintelligible to the people back then and would have no way whatsoever to be discovered and backed back then, He instead chose to use the terminology of their time and culture in order to give His revelation.

Of course, in some ways, the Hebrews did not borrow from their pagan neighbors as much as they might have shared similar cosmology. This wasn’t attributed to the gods and there wasn’t sacred space for various deities out there. Everything was attributed to the one God and it was the one God who kept everything in motion by His wisdom and by His power. Naturally, this continues in the New Testament where Jesus Himself is included in this creative force as being the agent of God’s creation.

Greenwood also interacts with how the worldview of cosmology was changing. The first major change was brought by Aristotle and then more change came later on through minds like Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. Through this, interpretations had to be changed and could it be they had to be changed because we were reading science into the text to begin with and had removed it from its original context? This is why I have been especially pleased with the work of scholars like John Walton as well that point out that works like Genesis 1-3 are not written to answer scientific questions but to answer questions on the nature of God.

To be fair, while I have not been an extensive reader on the medieval period and history, I have done some and there were a few parts that I thought I wanted to check up on. I would certainly want to make clear that the time was not really a dark ages time. There was indeed great scientific advancement going on and I think the work that Greenwood cites illustrates some fine examples of that going on.

Now we come to today. What can we learn? It’s not that science and faith don’t mix. Of course they do. I think Greenwood would mainly agree with Galileo. It is the role of creation to tell us how the heavens go and the role of Scripture to tell us how to go to heaven. Many times when we have married a scientific interpretation to the Bible, it has led to embarrassment mainly because that’s not what the text was trying to teach us in the first place. Does this mean the Bible errored? No more than there’s an error when we talk about sunrise and sunset today. We simply have God speaking in the language of the people at the time. The nature of their cosmological claims does not alter the truth being conveyed. (The glory of God reaching to the ends of the Earth does not change depending on the size and shape of the Earth. God is still the most glorious.)

This will be a fine book in anyone’s library working to understand the worldview of people of the Bible and how better to interpret the text today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Faith vs Fact Part 4

How does Coyne handle it when faith strikes back? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Today we’re going to cover chapter 4 where Faith Strikes Back as Coyne says. I was very pleased to see that he dealt with the Kalam Cosmological Argument of Bill Craig by…

Well, okay. He didn’t deal with that. But hey, you can’t expect him to deal with everything.

Instead, he chose to focus on the Thomistic arguments and he dealt there with…

Okay. So he didn’t deal with those.

About the only arguments you see are ID and the moral argument. Even then, the moral argument is definitely misunderstood. As I am not someone who considers myself a proponent of ID, I will leave that to those who are.

Naturally, we start with a god of the gaps argument, yet I wonder why this is always brought up. In the medieval period, people were looking for natural arguments for why things happened just as much as we were. Did they get them right all the time? No. Of course not. Just like we don’t. In fact, when they filled in a “gap” that led them to have more of awe. It was a mindset that would look and say “I never would have thought about doing it that way.” I suspect this is also one reason why that a requirement for a law I understand a scientist uses is that it is to be beautiful.

On page 153, Coyne tells us that natural theology represents the attempts to discern God’s ways, or find evidence for His existence, by observing nature alone. It does not rely on revelation or Scripture. I do not agree with Philipse who says it’s an attempt to argue for a specific religious view. Let’s consider the Thomistic arguments for instance, the main arguments I’d use in natural theology that all come from an Aristotelian worldview. Could Aquinas use those to argue for the Christian deity? Yes. Averroes and Avicenna could use them to argue for Allah. Moses Maimonides could have used them to argue for a Jewish concept. This is not a problem.

You see, you’re not going to sit down in an armchair and just ponder reality and stand up and conclude “Yes! I get it! God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ!” You won’t stand up and say “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet!” You won’t exuberantly shout “Moses is the greatest prophet of all.” All of these take not just philosophical understanding, but historical understanding as well. Just thinking by itself cannot get you to Christianity just like it could not get you to any scientific theory in itself. You won’t sit down and stand up elated to find out that we all evolved from a lower species. (You could come up and think that after pondering evidence you’d read recently, but without scientific evidence, you won’t reach a scientific conclusion.)

Natural theology was said to be extremely popular after science arose according to Coyne, which leaves me wondering what kind of reading he has really done. Aristotle and Aquinas are both in this tradition and their ways of thinking were extremely popular. Coyne considers the most famous argument to be the Watchmaker one of Paley. This is quite likely true to be the most famous one, but that does not mean that it was the best one. I personally think that after Descartes natural theology started going the wrong way by viewing the universe in a mechanistic sense. (It would help Coyne to read the rest of Paley beyond the Watchmaker argument. It’s a shame that Paley’s entirely brilliant legacy has been reduced to one argument.)

Coyne also tells us that Hume refuted the case for miracles and Kant the logical arguments for God. Unfortunately, examples are lacking here. How did Kant refute these arguments? Which arguments were refuted? We don’t know. I have already said with Hume that Coyne has not bothered to check a work like Earman’s Hume’s Abject Failure. In this one, the agnostic Earman says that if Hume’s argument was followed consistently, that it would lead to not just the negation of miracles, but the negation of marvels as well. In other words, modern science would be killed if followed consistently. Hume’s own argument was dealt with in his day also by the story of a tropical prince who lived in a world where the climate was always warm and being told to believe that there was such a thing as ice. Also, as said before, Coyne ignores the work of Keener. David Johnson of Cornell University Press says about Hume’s argument that:

“The view that there is in Hume’s essay, or in what can be reconstructed from it, any argument or reply or objection that is even superficially good, much less, powerful, or devastating, is simply a philosophical myth. The most willing hearers who have been swayed by Hume on this matter have been held captive by nothing other than Hume’s great eloquence.” (Page 169)

As I said further in my review of Keener, Hume had a problem with racism that affected his argument too.

On pages 223-4, we have a quote from Hume:

“I am apt to suspect the Negroes and in general all of the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No indigenous manufacturers amongst them, no arts, no sciences.”

Some could answer “Okay. Hume was a racist. It doesn’t mean he’s wrong.” On its face, no. It doesn’t. There is something important here. Hume is automatically excluding the testimony of anyone that is not amongst his circle of people he considers educated. Who are the educated? Those are the ones who don’t believe in miracles. If anyone believes in them, surely he cannot be educated. He must be some backwater person. Therefore, all educated people don’t believe in miracles. It is a lovely piece of circular reasoning.

Hume goes on to say

“Not to mention our colonies, there are Negro slaves dispersed all over Europe, of which none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity, tho’ low people without education will start up amongst us [whites], and distinguish themselves in every profession. IN Jamaica indeed they talk of one Negro as a man of parts and learning, but ’tis likely he is admired for very slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.”

To say “‘Tis likely” indicates that Hume has heard a claim and has not bothered to really investigate it. He has just made an assumption based on his prior notion of the black race. Keener, however, does know who the Jamaican is and says “The Jamaican whom Hume compares with a parrot stimulating speech was Francis Williams, a Cambridge graduate whose poetry in Latin was well known.”

Sound like an uneducated parrot with slender accomplishments to anyone else? I didn’t think so.

With Kant, well without getting any specific arguments from Kant, it’s hard to respond. I guess Coyne just wants us to take Kant by faith. All the arguments have been refuted because Kant says so even though we’re not told where he says so or in what work.

To return to the God of the Gaps, Coyne ironically had started off this section with a quote by Ingersoll.

No one infers a god from the simple, from the known, from what is understood, but from the complex, from the unknown, and incomprehensible. Our ignorance is God; what we know is science.

And yet he quotes Bonhoeffer saying

How wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (And that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not what we don’t know.

Bonhoeffer was a theist and was pointing out the problem with the argument. Coyne is speaking about what laymen think and do, but he is not dealing with the real scholars in the field who are arguing otherwise.

On page 157 when he talks about natural theology, he says it is always used to give evidence for that person’s God. He applies this to morality asking how can we know who the origin of this morality is and that he has never seen advocates of natural theology answer this question.

I can only think he’s never asked someone who is a serious advocate of natural theology. I think Edward Feser would answer this question quite easily. I’ll go ahead. You don’t know. All you know is that it is consistent with what you believe. To find out which religion is true, you go to history. Feser himself does this in The Last Superstition. He makes a brief apologia for the resurrection of Jesus to establish Christianity while pointing to William Lane Craig as someone more authoritative.

On page 162, Coyne gives a criticism of fine-tuning when we argue that the universe is designed well for life as we know it here. He asks why life should be based on matter at all. Why not simply souls? The answer is that He in fact did that. He created countless angels, but if He wanted to create another kind of being, it needed to be something beyond being+spirit. That’s where matter comes in and material beings need a material place to live.

For the multiverse theory, I am open to the possibility of a multiverse, but I do not see how this is a defeater for theism. Theists have long been asking to have this one universe explained. How does it explain one to say that there are many? It would be like saying you had solved a case of one murder by saying “Oh. There are a hundred other murder victims over here as well. Case closed.” If there’s more than one universe or even a system producing universes, then I want to know what is responsible for that. How did that come about? That just pushes the problem back further.

Coyne also goes to Philipse again who tells us that if we can’t answer a question, that undermines all of natural theology, but why should this be? This would be like saying we can’t answer a scientific question undermines all of science. If you have ignorance in theology, that means your whole enterprise is doomed, but if you have ignorance in science, that’s okay and is in fact a virtue. Coyne is wanting to treat theology like natural science saying that it should have predictive power. Well why should that be the case? It’s not as if God is a material being that will respond to events in a mechanistic way.

Let’s say something along those lines about prayer experiments. They’re bogus. Even if they come out positive, you could never control all the variables. You can say one group of patients isn’t being prayed for by people, but how could you know that? In our day and age, most everyone in the hospital could have loved ones who will pray for them and then put up requests on the internet to have others be praying for them. We can’t know who all is praying and who is devout and sincere in their prayers and matters of that sort. I consider it a curiosity to discuss, but God is a free-will being and we don’t know all the variables nor could we possibly control for them.

I’d like to start looking at his arguments concerning morality on page 170. Before we read about Coyne on philosophy, let’s remember this quote of his:

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/

So remember, you’re getting your philosophy here from someone who is intimidated by philosophical jargon and doesn’t interrupt for fear of looking stupid and googles stuff like epistemology and ontology.

This is also the same guy who has spoken about religion stepping outside of its field….

When he talks about universal morality, Coyne tells us that there are some people who do lack empathy. (He has not made an argument yet saying that empathy is the basis for morality. You do not need empathy to have morality or to know morality.) He also argues that there are still many great evils that go on and that have gone on. That we have changed shows that universal morality does not come from God.

It’s kind of cute isn’t it?

No Coyne. The claim is not that moral customs are unalterable, but that there are moral truths that exist. (This is called ontology by the way, the study of being) We can be inaccurate in our knowledge of them and how we know them. (This study of knowledge is called epistemology.) In fact, this would be upheld Biblically as the greatest passage on this is found in Romans 2 and this just after Romans 1 telling how humans transgressed the moral law. The idea is there are some things you can’t not know. As soon as you come to know what a human being is and what the taking of an innocent life is, you know murder is wrong. This is not based on a feeling about murder but on the action of murder itself. The way around this is to redefine the terms.

Sure. I don’t kill innocent human beings, but those unborn in the womb aren’t human beings, so it’s okay to kill them. Sure. I don’t kill innocent human beings, but those Jews in the holocaust are not only not human, but they are not innocent because they are responsible for all the suffering in our society. In these ways, people can avoid saying that they are breaking a moral law that they find because their victims just don’t count. Let’s finish this portion on morality for now with one piece he has on page 177.

He says the God hypothesis doesn’t explain why slavery, disdain for women, and torture were considered proper but are now seen as immoral.

Perhaps he’s never heard of a doctrine called sin.

They were because as Romans tells us, man fell from what he knew he ought to do. Want to see why women are lifted up? Look at the book that says men and women both are in the image of God. Look at the group also that went against slavery in the Roman Empire. Christians would regularly buy slaves just for the purpose of setting them free. What united both of these? The idea that mankind is in the image of God. Can Coyne offer us anything on materialism that will be a basis for equality?

For now, let’s move on to the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Keep in mind that Coyne has told us he has to google terms like epistemology and yet he wants to tackle an epistemological argument from Alvin Plantinga, and you can think he’s wrong in his argument, but he is no slouch in the field. For Coyne to enter into this is like saying because you’ve googled the rules of Chess, you’re ready to take on the grand master. Yet Coyne is convinced that Plantinga’s view is so clearly wrong it’s a wonder why it’s popular.

Coyne says we could never have true beliefs according to Plantinga’s argument without God’s interference. That’s not the argument. We could have true beliefs, but we would have no reason to think that they are true. Evolution programs me for survival and not necessarily true beliefs. If those beliefs help me with survival, then fine if they happen to be true, but the goal is still survival. If so, then I have a defeater for thinking that my beliefs are true, including the belief that I am a product of mindless evolution.

Coyne also thinks the most important truth we can be aware of in Plantinga’s argument is the existence of the Christian God and Jesus, yet I am skeptical of a claim that Plantinga would consider Jesus to be among our properly basic beliefs. I think Plantinga is making an argument for theism that is indeed consistent with his version of theism, but is not specifically meant for that version. Much of what we have is just mockery of it as if sin is a ludicrous concept to affect our view of God. Why should I not think this? If Scripture is true, there is a righteous judge that will judge us. Which of us would like to accept that?

There are many more who have looked at Plantinga’s argument and can say more about it. I have no reason to think Coyne has treated it well. At this, let’s return to morality and we’ll start that with a look at scientism. Let’s start with some definitions he gives on page 186.

Truth as conformity to fact.

Fact as something confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.

Knowledge is the public acceptance of facts.

So much wrong here, but the centerpiece is facts so let’s go there.

In the time of Galileo we could not say it was a fact that the Earth goes around the sun. (We couldn’t say we evolved is a fact either.)

If truth is conformity to fact, we could not say that it’s true that the Earth goes around the sun.

And since it was not a fact, then no one could have knowledge of that. Now in essence, the last part could be accurate, but Coyne overlooked the definition as justified true belief. Even if you include the Gettier problem, knowledge is at least that.

Also, Coyne says knowledge must be factual and publicly recognized so private revelation can’t count. This seems over the top. If I wake up before Allie and start reading the Bible, do I need public verification to say I have knowledge that I read Scripture this morning?

These are all questions I have concerning the claim.

It gets worse. On page 189 we are told there are no objective moral truths. Morality rests on preferences. (And in the same paragraph we have a condemnation of slavery in the Old Testament and the conquest of the Canaanites. Never underestimate the fundamentalist ability to contradict so quickly.)

But if truth is conformity to fact then to say there are no moral facts is to say there are no moral claims confirmed to such a degree it would be perverse to deny them.

So do we want to say that don’t murder innocent humans has not been established? It is wrong to rape has not been established? Coyne wants to say the Canaanite conquest is wrong, but He can’t. He can’t speak of moral progress or even an evolved morality. His basic argument would be God is wrong because He does stuff I don’t like, which could be just as valid as saying “Christianity is wrong because it teaches monogamy while I prefer polyamory.” (I am using that as a for instance and not at all saying he either condemns monogamy or favors polyamory.)

So we have epistemological and moral relativism both, and this in a book about faith vs fact.

Keeping this going on 190, he says he disagrees with Sam Harris and says “If there are no objective truths, then morality isn’t a way of knowing, but simply a guide to rational behavior.”

But how can it be a guide to rational behavior? Isn’t rational behavior that which is in accordance with reason? And if there are no moral truths to reason to, how can it be more rational to throw a life preserver to a drowning child than it is to throw a boulder at him? Rational entails there are behaviors that lead to acting in accordance to these truths, but Coyne has denied these truths. Huh?

Perhaps Coyne should have stuck with science….

Naturally, in all of this Coyne thinks Euthyphro is a great defeater showing that people derive morality not from God but from secular institutions.

This would have been interesting since Euthyphro was charging his father with impiety, a crime against the gods. Nice to know a secular institution was concerned about this. In the ancient world, this separation of church and state did not exist. Every action was religious and it affected the state. There were state gods to be worshiped, namely later on the Emperor himself. Euthyphro is not a question about how we come to moral knowledge, but rather what that moral knowledge itself is, and it is never denied that there is a holy. (And I would add it was answered by Aristotle who chose to define the good in the Nicomachean Ethics.)

It’s like Coyne just wants to toss out every pet objection without studying it.

Kind of like he wants to reply to objections he hasn’t studied either.

So what about claims that there are other ways of knowing like saying “My wife loves me” and that’s not based on science. Well Coyne wants to say it is. Why? It’s evidence-based. Unfortunately, the claim of love from my wife is more like the claim of love from God. Both are claims that we receive a claim and we judge it to be true based on the evidence that we see and we live accordingly. Coyne is still living in this world where he thinks that faith means belief without evidence so no wonder he gets everything else wrong.

On page 200 in defending scientism (Since every claim that is evidence-based is supposedly science) he says the claim only comes from the faithful that atheists practice scientism.

Massimo Pigliucci would be very surprised to learn he became one of the faithful.

On 209, Coyne quotes his friend Dan Barker (That explains a lot) in saying theology is a subject without an object.

But wait.

If that’s true, then critiques about how God should have made the universe or revealed Himself or the very problem of evil no longer work because this is all theology. It doesn’t mean God exists, but it means there must be some knowledge of what he’d be like if He did. I can have knowledge of what a unicorn would be like without believing they exist.
We all do theology. Some of us, like Coyne, just do it poorly.

He’s also wrong that it’s just theologians quoting other theologians. Metaphysics studies God for instance and all of Aquinas’s arguments are empirical.

There is an attempt to show Christianity is not responsible for the rise of science. Naturally, he refers to everyone’s favorite historian, Richard Carrier. Perhaps he should have mentioned how with Carrier, this science in ancient Greeks also rose as monotheism was becoming a more viable worldview. Science fits in just fine in a monotheistic context. It doesn’t do so well in a polytheistic context. The Christian church carried this on as soon as they were not being persecuted by the emperor. It’s just anathema to Coyne to think that Christianity could possibly be responsible for science.

Finally, to say the church impeded free inquiry, I would challenge Coyne with what one thinker on the topic says when he’s presented with this idea that the medieval church was anti-science.

I love to totally stump them by asking them to present me with the name of one – just one – scientist burned, persecuted or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists – like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa – and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents have usually run away to hide and scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong.

So Coyne will say I’ve just found another Christian fundamentalist who agrees with me. Not quite. The quote is from Tim O’Neill and is found here. How does he describe himself?

Wry, dry, rather sarcastic, eccentric, occasionally arrogant Irish-Australian atheist bastard.

Yes. This is an atheist kicking this nonsense to the curb. Coyne can talk about the persecution of Galileo and Bruno, but there is more going on in both cases. Galileo was demanding that his ideas be accepted immediately and was a scientist speaking on theology. It also didn’t help that he wrote a dialogue where he pictured the Pope as a simpleton. Galileo lived in a house arrest for the rest of his life where he freely pursued his studies and had a pension paid for him. Bruno was a tragedy, but it was more for his crazy theology than for his crazy science. (Yes. He was right about the Earth going around the sun, but much more of his stuff was just bizarre.) Now should that have happened? No. But it was not because of doing science. Also, this is already out of the medieval period so it can’t be based on the Dark Ages.

It’s a shame Coyne never really took on any major arguments for faith of any kind. If you come here and you’re a new atheist, you’re left thinking a devastating blow has been given. If you come here and you’re a historical and philosophical reader, you leave scratching your head wondering how on Earth Coyne thinks this is a response.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/8 2013, Lighting Up Dark Ages Science

What’s coming up on this Saturday’s episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We had hoped to get Mike Licona to join us, but he is with his mother who is in the final stages of brain cancer. We ask for your prayers for her and the rest of our family in this time.

Instead, it looks like our guest is going to be James Hannam. James Hannam is the author of the book “God’s Philosophers”, also known as “The Genesis of Science.” In this book, Hannam takes a look at the period of time known as the Dark Ages where the church led the world and as a result, science and education languished while people dwelt in superstition, until finally came Galileo along to renew an interest in science.

That’s the popular belief, and as is often the case with many such beliefs today, it is entirely false. Hannam goes to great lengths in this book to demonstrate that the Christian church not only encouraged science, but carried it forward so that people like Galileo were just standing on the shoulders of those who came before them.

We will hopefully be talking about people such as Andrew Dickson White who kept going the myth that in this time there was a warfare between science and religion. This could include also discussing how modern disciples of ignorance, such as the new atheists, keep these claims going.

We will find that certainly not everything the medievals believed about science and nature was accurate, but it wasn’t because they were blinded by religion. If anything, it was because they did not have the best information available, yet for what means that they did have to obtain knowledge, they made several excellent observations that we still hold today.

We will be looking at the way Scripture did play a role in this. Did it hinder the learning that took place or did it encourage it? Was it a rule that the Scriptures had to be interpreted “literally” or did the church allow for a variety of ways in which a passage could be translated? Were there any real conflicts going on between science and religion?

Were those who were doing science supported by the church or where they doing their work in isolation? If you had a sickness, could it have actually been better for you to go to your local priest rather than to the actual medical doctor? Were cadavers allowed to be used for the study of the body?

And of course, some time will have to be spent on Galileo. Was he really the victim of persecution from the church trying to put a stop to his science, or was there something more going on?

In the end, I suspect you will be surprised to find that the so-called dark ages were not really dark at all. If anything is actually in the dark today, it is the idea that is spread perpetually by those who wish to paint the time period as a time of great ignorance.

Please join in from 3-5 EST this Saturday to listen to the podcast here

In Christ,
Nick Peters