Book Plunge: Enlightenment Now Conclusion

How shall we conclude Enlightenment Now? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Starting at around p. 420, Pinker goes into theistic morality and says it has two flaws. The first is that there’s no evidence God exists. This certainly would deal with theistic morality, but his case is weak. He relies on his wife in her work Thirty-Six Arguments For The Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. Call me a masochist, but I have ordered it from the library anyway.

Pinker says these claims also often lead to different gods and different Scriptures and different miracles. That is because there is a limit to metaphysics. Metaphysics can show you that some being like God exists. Metaphysics cannot show you how He has revealed Himself. Reason alone can only tell you so much. A man can sit in an armchair all day with nothing but reason and he will never learn historical claims about Alexander the Great.

Pinker then repeats about Scriptures and how they’re human products. (Obviously, everyone in the Middle Ages believed they fell from the sky) There is no interaction with any historical scholarship on this matter. So what about other arguments for God?

The cosmological and ontological arguments are logically invalid. Evidence or demonstration of this? Not a bit. That’s all that’s said. Design was refuted by Darwin. Again, not a bit. Even granting Darwinism, design classically has been about things working towards an end and not internal make-up. He also comes up with some ludicrous escape hatch such as people saying the resurrection was too cosmically important for God to allow to be empirically verified. (In meeting with Mike Licona yesterday, I asked him if he had ever read such a bizarre statement and he had not.)

He goes on to say many theistic beliefs came about as explanations of the weather and other such phenomena. No evidence is given of this. He also says that God of the Gaps is always there for Christians. As one who does not use scientific apologetics, I find this incredibly weak. In the Middle Ages, it was the Christians filling in the gaps and they never once thought they were putting God out of a job. They were thinking more about how God did things. The whole mindset assumes God cannot act through secondary instrumental means.

Naturally, something is said about theodicy. There is no recognizing that the logical problem of evil has been defeated and this to the satisfaction of atheistic philosophers. That is not to say there is not a problem of evil advanced by them, but it is not the logical problem. Pinker does not seem aware of any of this.

He speaks also about fine-tuning. I am not an advocate of it, but his replies are quite lacking. He says we are in a universe we can live in not because it was tuned for life, but because we exist it shows it is that kind of universe. Well, yes. That’s the question. Why is it that kind of universe and not another? This is the sharpshooter fallacy on Pinker’s part.

The multiverse is also brought forward as an explanation. I find it bizarre to say you will answer the question of how one universe got here by saying that you know how a potentially infinite number got here. Imagine a police officer investigating a homicide with one dead body in one place. Another officer comes to him and says he’s solved it. The answer is there are 500 altogether in another place. That would not explain the one. If you cannot explain one, how would you explain 500?

We also don’t have access, but notice an atheist will want to go this either way. If we could access these and find they had life, “Well see. Life is nothing really special. God doesn’t exist.” If they do not, we will be told “Well see. Life is a fluke thing. God doesn’t exist.” This is one reason I find this approach so problematic. The objections are not really scientific but theological. It’s saying that if God designed a universe, He would make it full of life for some reason that is unknown. How is this known?

There is some material on consciousness as well. There is no interaction with Near-Death Experiences. It is as if Pinker did not really do any research, except perhaps reading people who already agree with him.

Of course, Pinker brings up the Euthyphro dilemma in talking about theism. The second problem with the morality to him is Euthyphro. He says the main benefit theistic morality has is its enforcement. It does have that, but I think it’s main benefit it has is it provides a grounding.

I have written before on Euthyphro and the problem applies just as much to the skeptic. Is behavior good because society says it is or does society say it is because it is good? Is behavior good because it benefits mankind or does it benefit mankind because it is good? Pinker needs some grounding for goodness. It’s not there. How is it that this universe that is supposedly an accident has these standards of goodness?

Pinker also talks about the nones. The problem is he equates all nones with agnostics or atheists. That’s a simplistic way of looking at them. The Nones are an incredibly difficult group to pin down. More can be found here and here. Much more in-depth is the work by Bradley Wright.

As we conclude Pinker’s book, I walk away disappointed. On the plus side, there is a lot of good material in the middle. It is material that is fine with either worldview for the most part. It is the claims he makes in parts 1 and 3 that are the most problematic. We’ll see what we find when the book he recommended on the existence of God comes in at the library.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Enlightenment Now—Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 8

What are we to make of good and evil or love and indifference? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

By far, this is the longest chapter we have come across yet in David Pye’s book. I will not cover everything, but I will cover the main points. There’s a lot here, but sadly, it’s not really substantial.

Pye is right that good and evil are central to Christianity, but they are indeed as well, something I think he acknowledges, something every worldview has to explain. That there are a number of atheist philosophers out there who think objective moral truths do not exist should be cause for concern. These are people who could not agree that rape is evil for instance. They don’t support it, but they can’t make an objective statement about it.

Pye then goes on to ask, sadly predictably, does God say murder is wrong because it is, or is it wrong because God says it is? This is the Euthyphro dilemma. I keep wondering how long it’s going to be before people realize that Aristotle himself answered the dilemma. Aristotle did so by giving a definition of goodness and then we see if something fits that definition.

Note that if we go the route Pye goes, atheists have just as much a problem. Does X lead to human progress because it is good or is it good because it leads to human progress? Is X wrong because society says it is or does society says X is wrong because it is?

The solution then is to define what the good is first, which Aristotle gave a basic definition of that at which all things aim, and went on from there. Now some might say “So is God unnecessary to know good and evil?” In a sense, yes. One can know what good and evil are without having knowledge of God. The question to ask though is that if these are real metaphysical realities, what is the grounding for them. That is what requires God. One does not need to know about the builder of Washington D.C. to follow a map to get there, but there had better be a builder before the map works.

Pye also says many of us will live with a fear of no arbiter of good and evil without God. In a sense, that is wellfounded. Pye strangely in this chapter leaves out anything about 20th century regimes that were atheistic massacring millions of their own people. For these people, they were the highest authority and there was no judge after them so why fear?

Pye gives an analogy of being on a park bench next to a woman who is blind and her purse is open right there. Do you take it? Some people could be tempted to. Now imagine there’s a camera there watching it all. It suddenly changes. Pye says many people he thinks treat God like the camera.

But let’s face it. In reality, fewer people will steal because of the camera. We might prefer a better starting point for doing good than “I want rewards” or “I don’t want to be punished”, but that is where most of us start. Most of us start with parents disciplining us or rewarding us for our behavior.

He gives Weinberg’s quote that for good people to be really bad, that takes religion. One wonders what religion was being followed in the atheistic regimes that massacred so many. One could say the leaders were the villains, but they had to rely on ordinary citizens to carry out their orders.

As we move on, Pye gets to events in history that show the evil that Christianity has done. First is the Crusades. No recognition is paid to the fact that the Crusades started out as defensive wars. We suspect that Pye appreciates that Charles, The Hammer, Martel defeated the Muslims in battle centuries before or else he’d likely be Muslim today. The first Crusades were the people of Jerusalem asking for help to be freed from their Muslim captors and the West went at great expense to them.

Does that justify everything done in every crusade? Not at all. Unfortunately, few people will ever pick up a real history of the Crusades and read it. They instead will read popular ideas about them not realizing how many myths they are taking in.

Predictably, next is the Inquisition. Again, you will not find a real historian like Henry Kamen cited. It will not be pointed out that the worst Inquisition was the Spanish one that lasted 300 years and killed 3,000 people. 3,000 too many sure, but nothing like what is described in popular literature. It is also ignored that the Inquisition was also a secular program with the State behind it as well. The churhc was involved, but they were not the only ones involved.

Next is the witch trials. Absent is that in Salem, immediately afterward reparations were made to the family when possible and they were provided for. This does not justify what happened, but the church owned up to its mistake. The trials ended also because of more level-headed people in the church.

We could go on, but these are the main ones I know the most about. Those interested in the rest of his list can go elsewhere. Let’s also consider something. When people act like this, they are acting in contradiction to the teachings of Christ. Now let’s take an atheist regime that murders its people. What tenet of atheism are they violating? Nothing in atheism necessitates that one must see human life as good and valuable. Many atheists do, thank God, but they don’t have to.

From there, he goes to more recent history with the Holocaust and how so many people involved were Christian. There is no mention of how the Germans so ripped up the New Testament to remove Jewish influences that even Marcion would have been stunned. There’s nothing about how German Christianity was not so much about Christianity as it was about Germany and nationalism for Germany. Hitler saw this as a way to vindicate his own desires and Christians were not present in the top offices he had.

From there, he goes to Bush and Blair invading Iraq. Much is made of the idea that these were Christians doing what they thought God was leading them to do. I say at this that this is the problem with pop Christianity. Bush and Blair might in general be good Christian men and seeking to be faithful, but that does not mean they are the greatest authorities on what Christianity teaches. I do not take seriously the majority of these claims about what God tells people to do in that still small voice kind of way. It’s not anything I see in Scripture.

There’s also the Catholic priest sex scandal. It’s a hope then that Pye will go after the public school system since they have an even worse track record. It would also help him to read something like Jenkins’s The New Anti-Catholicism which I reviewed here.

From there, he goes on to talk about the lack of transformation in Christians today. A few things need to be said. First, Pye lives in a U.K. that has a thoroughly Christian background. Christian values have so steeped the culture that they seem commonplace. What he thinks is an obvious moral truth today would not have been before Christianity. Let Pye go talk to a first century Roman about the evils of slavery and see how far he gets. Today, it would be just as bizarre to try to convince a Westerner that slavery is good. (And to be clear, it isn’t.)

Second, for individuals, we need to see what they were often like before Christianity. Some changes might be more drastic. My wife and I attend Celebrate Recovery here and I can say I have met some people who have done some awful things and as a result the change Jesus has made in them is radical. Some people have not done such awful things and so you might not see as much of a change.

There is no doubt we need more. Any words from Pye that we need to be more Christlike and more showing the fruit of the Spirit should be heeded as should anything on the importance of evangelism. None of this shows that Christianity is not true. It shows that people are not true to Christianity.

Pye also gives something about people receiving words of knowledge and ask “Why doesn’t God give words of knowledge about X?” In this case, a woman who had been in her place of residence dead for two years is the example. Pye here is going after a very Westernized modern form of Christianity where such things are thought to be commonplace. It is nothing I see in Scripture and even when things happen, it is not to satisfy personal curiosity but to improve our holiness. Would Pye want to live in a world where God answered our scientific questions instead of having us work for the answers?

Pye also thinks that if we were noting a religion by its successes, Christianity would be at the bottom. Obviously, reaching about 2 billion people in the world isn’t a success. Being an utterly shameful religion at the start and yet dominating isn’t a success. The spread of literacy, medicine, education, economic improvement, and science is not a success.

Let’s have some quotes from Bruce Sheiman in An Atheist Defends Religion.

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

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

“Recent research cited by Cass Sunstein, for example, has shown that people with a particular political orientation who join a like-minded group emerge from that group with stronger political leanings than they started with. “In almost every group,” Sunstein writes, “people ended up with more extreme positions …. The result is group polarization, which occurs when like-minded people interact and end up in a more extreme position in line with their original inclinations.” And with the Internet added to the fundamentalist equation, it is now easier than ever for extremists of all types to find their ideological soul mates and reinforce their radical thinking.”
― Bruce SheimanAn Athiest Defends Religion

 

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

Another worthy read is this piece by Brian Stewart.

Much of what else is said is about how we need to take evangelism seriously and change the culture. There will be no argument here against that. I will say that I consider myself a conservative because I am interested in conserving many of the Christian values we have now in America.

We’ll continue later on.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 2

Is the moral argument a failure? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The next argument Jelbert goes after is Paul Copan’s moral argument. Now as the moral argument is framed, I’m not much of a fan of it. I see it as too limited in fact. Why do we talk about moral actions and behaviors only? Why not try to cover goodness entirely. There are good actions, but there are also good books, good foods, good people, etc. Why not take on all goodness at once?

Most all of us know how the moral argument goes. It can be something like this:

If objective moral values exist, then God exists.
Objective moral values do exist.
Therefore, God exists.

Or

If there is no God, there are no objective moral values.
But there are objective moral values.
Therefore God exists.

Jelbert’s first objection is that Copan is wrong. Not everyone has a conscience because there are people like Psychopaths. I don’t think Copan would dispute this. I think you could easily change the argument to say most everyone has a conscience just like most everyone has a body system that registers pain, though CIPA we can see is an exception to the rule.

He also contends that Copan says there is not a behavior a Christian could do that an atheist could not that is moral. Even if this was true, so what? I have argued that forgiveness has been done uniquely because of the impact of Christ. Jelbert goes on to say that warped behavior has been allowed because of religious books. Yet what would he say to something like this?

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

Or

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

So is this a dyed-in-the-wool conservative Christian saying this? No. It’s an atheist. It’s Bruce Sheimon in his book An Atheist Defends Religion. What I would ask at this point is that if an atheist murders someone, is he acting inconsistently with atheism? He could be violating his own moral beliefs, but atheism doesn’t necessarily entail any particular moral beliefs. You can be an atheist and be a saint or an atheist and be a scoundrel and still be a consistent atheist. On the other hand, if you do murder someone as a Christian, you are violating the teachings of Christ. Should Christianity be judged on when it has not been applied consistently?

Jelbert also says that the commandment against violating the Sabbath in Exodus 35 and that whoever does this shall be put to death is obviously a warped commandment. Is it really? This was part of the covenant between YHWH and Israel. In showing their trust in God, they were to not work on Saturday. Doing otherwise for a person would be known as the sin of the high hand, where a person goes against what the one in charge of them says and says they’ll go their own way.

In the terms of Israel, they were in a suzerainty type covenant. That covenant was a king would put his clients under a relationship where the king (or patron) would give benefits of protection and such to the clients in exchange for their loyalty. A person who goes against this is risking the welfare of the community for their own benefit.

Secondly, Jelbert says that if Christians don’t persecute him for his beliefs, it’s because their religion no longer overwhelms their basic humanity, but it is a wonder which religion he is talking about. This is an idea that would be far more fitting for Islam. He contends that this was the case a few centuries ago, but has he really looked at the instances he speaks about? If we looked at the Crusades, while some of the Crusades were horrendous, should we remember that it was a defensive war at first where the West, at great expense to themselves, went to help the people in Jerusalem that had already been conquered by the Muslims who had been using the sword to spread their ideology for centuries? Should we consider that the Inquisition was seen as a force of good by even many non-Christians? The worst one of all, the Spanish Inquisition, left 3,000 deaths in 300 years. 3,000 too many to be sure, but not the numbers you would get from atheistic literature. Perhaps he should familiarize himself with historians of the time like Thomas Madden and Henry Kamen.

Furthermore, what is this basic humanity? Is he implying that there is something about humanity that means that we automatically know right from wrong? Then if so, then that would mean that there are objective moral truths and that we are capable of knowing them and in fact do know them and if we don’t know them, there’s something wrong with us. That might seem like a small point to some, but as we will see, it is an important one.

Finally, if we are talking about persecution like this being immoral, then what about the rampant killing done by atheist regimes that specifically targeted Christians in the 20th century and still to this day. Do they get a free pass? We can say again that Christians are acting inconsistently with Christianity. Are atheists violating any central moral tenets of atheism?

It is important because in the very next paragraph, Jelbert says we get our morality from evolution. We might want there to be objective morality, and maybe science and peer-review can get us there, but the case is far from made that morality is necessarily objective. If Jelbert is right, then why is he talking about an obviously warped law with the Sabbath? A law in the moral sense is something that is meant to help you to do the good, but if there is no good to do, then there can be no such thing as a flawed law. It is just a law that you do not like.

Suppose for the sake of argument I grant evolution to Jelbert, which I really happily do with no problem. Saying that evolution provided us the features to come across certain knowledge does not explain how that knowledge itself exists. Perhaps evolution gave us minds capable of discovering the truth of mathematics, but to discover the truth of mathematics, the truth of mathematics must exist. If morality is something that we use just because it works, then perhaps we could say the same about mathematics, but nothing is objectively true in mathematics. If Jelbert says there are moral truths to be discovered, then it doesn’t matter if one comes to them by evolution or divine revelation. They’re still there and need an explanation. If he says there are no moral truths to be discovered, then evolution is leading us to believe something that is false and Jelbert has no reason to hold an argument from evil or talk about flawed laws or activities he deems immoral, such as persecution.

Jelbert then replies to the claim of Copan that if there is no God, there is no objective morality. Jelbert remarkably says that humans are masters of believing in things that do not exist. Indeed, many are. Yet now we have a problem. In this very paragraph, Jelbert himself talks about moral problems and sectarian violence. Perhaps Jelbert himself in arguing against objective morality has convinced himself that somehow it still exists.

Jelbert ends this section saying it might be difficult to see how valuable and thinking humans came from valueless and unguided processes, but that does not make it impossible. Indeed, it does not, but who said anything about that? How did a paragraph starting about objective moral truths end with talking about the origins of human beings?

We could go further and say that it looks like Jelbert holds to some objective goodness, even if not objective morality supposedly, since he affirms that humans are valuable. Is this an objective statement or not? Does it apply to all humans? If so, we hope Jelbert is opposed to abortion. If not, then who does it apply to? If they are valuable, on what basis? What is it about humans that separates them from all other beings in the universe?

Jelbert also says that Copan says subjective morality would undermine moral motivation, but Jelbert contends that this is not so. He says that natural theories better explain things like moral gray areas and an evolving sense of morality and that religious opinions have been on the wrong side of morality often throughout history. It is incredible to see something like this written.

Just at the start, Jelbert is obviously arguing for subjective morality, but if all we have is subjective morality, there are no moral gray areas because that implies a moral truth. There is also no evolving sense of morality, because that too implies a moral truth. All that there is is just changing opinions on how people want society to function, but to what end is to function? If there is any desired goal, then it is automatically implied that this is a desired goal which lo and behold, leads us to objective goodness which would entail objective morality.

As for religions being on the wrong side, it is inevitable that with a nebulous term like religions, some will get things wrong and some will get things right so you can point to any religion that you want and find an error then somewhere either in its teachings or its history, but again, we could consider that the 20th century was one of the bloodiest centuries of all and a lot of this came from atheist regimes. Further, Christians have long opposed practices like murder, lying, theft, adultery, etc. Does Jelbert think that Christians are on the wrong side?

If we wanted to see much motivation for the good in the world, it comes from Christianity. Christians originally ended the slave trade. Does Jelbert consider this a wrong? Christians ended widow burning in India. Is this a wrong? Christians have regularly gone out into the world and brought about literacy, medical care, and other such goods. It is quite unfair for Jelbert to take what he doesn’t like and ignore all the positive. As Frederick Douglass said in his own account of his life.

What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the  slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference–so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.

Jelbert then says that Sam Harris wrote a book defending objective morality and that it is discovered through science. Much of my review you can see starting here. A scathing review of that book by Michael Ruse can be found here. Jelbert speaks about the debate Craig had with Harris and says at the end that Craig admits he could not see how objective morality could arise without God, but if Jelbert thinks this is a point somehow, perhaps he would like to show how it could come about. Still, I once again wonder. Jelbert has spent much time arguing against objective morality. Has he suddenly switched here?

Amazingly, Jelbert himself questions if science is objective. Maybe a society could have arisen that could have skipped Newton’s understanding and gone straight to Einstein’s. Perhaps, but if we say a Newtonian view is wrong in some way, then it is objectively wrong and not subjectively wrong. One wonders really if Jelbert knows what he’s really writing here. For someone who is said to have a Ph.D. in physics, it has to be wondered if his degree is in something true or just subjective.

Jelbert concludes saying that the discussion is fascinating, but says it is far from true that morality is objective. Again, if so, then what are all these warped laws and evils that Jelbert is writing about? If all it is is Christians even being inconsistent, so what? That even assumes that hypocrisy is an evil which gets us back to objective morality.

Second, he says it is not clear that objective morality could only come from God. Perhaps it isn’t, but it is entirely consistent with the idea and a reasonable case has been made. Jelbert would need to, if he accepts objective morality, show where it comes from and how it exists. If he does not, then again, much of what he says is deflated.

Third, he says it cannot be connected to any specific God. By itself, no. Jelbert should note the argument is an argument for God. It is not an argument for the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ. If the argument works, all we get is some form of theism and we have to go further to see which one is true, but theism is still established and atheism refuted. It is hard to say an argument is faulty for not showing what it was never meant to show.

Let’s hope that things improve from here on for this chapter is certainly lackluster.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

 

Book Plunge: Why There Is No God. Part 1

What do I think of Armin Navabi’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone in an apologetics group I belong to asked if anyone had read this book. Myself, being the type who wants to be there to help my fellow apologists out, decided to get it at the library. Who knows? Maybe I have some masochist streak in me. The book goes through twenty arguments for God’s existence from an atheist who used to be a Muslim.

It describes itself as a thorough examination, yet the book is just about 125 pages long and looks at, as I said, twenty arguments. I have no idea how you can give a thorough treatment with that. In fact, it’s so short that you could easily read it in a day’s time.

Of course, don’t be expecting to find anything of real substance in here. Much of it is the modern fundamentalism relying on today’s atheist heroes who are just as much fundamentalist. If you’re also expecting to have him interact with the best arguments, like those of Aquinas, well you know without my saying it the answer to that.

I have decided to investigate five arguments a day. Keep in mind a lot of these arguments are arguments that I would not use. Still, even when critiquing a bad argument, we can learn much about Navabi’s approach. Let’s go ahead and dive in.

Argument #1: Science can’t explain the complexity and order of life; God must have designed it this way.

Many of you know I’m not one up for Intelligent Design arguments. If I go with design, it’s the teleological design in the fifth way of Aquinas. (btw, Navabi shows his ignorance here by saying Paley introduced the design argument in 1802 when really, arguments of design go all the way back to even the time of Christ.) Navabi starts with a claim that it used to be that many natural forces were attributed to deities. While this is so, I think many atheists make a false assumption here. Since these were explained by deities, the deities were invented to explain these. That doesn’t follow. Why not that the deities were already thought to be there and that they were assigned these by their worshipers in order to explain how they take place?

Many of you also know that as a Christian apologist, I have no problem with evolution. If you just say evolution explains it, I’m not going to bat an eye. That’s because a question is being answered that I think doesn’t answer the main question for Christianity in any way. Before we go to the next question, we have to address the main argument that Navabi puts forward that we were all expecting.

“If complexity requires a creator, who created God?”

This is Richard Dawkins’s main argument and so many atheists bounce around this Sunday School question as if no one in Christian history ever thought about it. When we talk about something needing a cause, what we really mean is potential being made actual.

What?

Okay. As I write this now, I am sitting at my computer. Suppose my wife calls me and wants something from me. If I agree, I will stand up and go to her. I can do that because while sitting, I have the potential to stand. Once I stand, I have the potential to sit, or lie down, or jump, or do any number of things. Actuality is what is. Potentiality can be seen as a capacity for change.

When any change takes place in anything, that means a potentiality has been turned into an actuality. As I write this, my wife is in the living room watching Stranger Things for the third time. The change is happening on the screen because of signals that are being received from somewhere else through Netflix. (Don’t ask me to explain how it works.)

Now many of us could see this cause and effect going on and say it makes sense. (In fact, it’s essential for science.) Still, we might ask about our own actions. Aren’t we the cause? Do we need anything beyond us? A Thomistic response is to say yes. What we do we do because of something external to us driving us towards it and that is the good. We either want the good and pursue it or refuse it and rebel against it.

What does this have to do with God? For us to say God has a cause, we would have to show that there was some change that took place in the nature of God. If there wasn’t, then there is nothing in Him needing a cause. The universe we know undergoes change so something has to be the cause of the change in the universe.

But isn’t God complex? Actually, no. Note that I am talking about complexity in His being. I am not talking about God being simple to understand. In Thomistic thought, God is the only being whose very essence is to be. There is no distinction between being and essence. You and I are all human. There is a human nature that is given existence and then that for us is combined with matter that separates us from one another. Angels, meanwhile, are each all their own nature and that nature is granted existence. There is no matter that separates them so they differ by their nature. God alone is no combination. Because of this, He doesn’t need a cause.

That’s pretty complex. If you want to read more about this, I really recommend the writings of Edward Feser. He’s quite good at explaining Thomistic concepts for the layman, and I’d say much better than I am at it.

Argument #2: God’s existence is proven by Scripture.

Navabi gives many of the same fundamentalist arguments here that we’ve come to expect. Naturally, it begins with talking about inconsistencies in Scripture. After all, many times the way that a Christian approaches inerrancy can be the same way that a fundamentalist atheist does.

A favorite one to start with is creation. After all, no one ever noticed that the sun comes after plants in the creation account. You don’t really need to ask if Navabi will interact with any arguments. Young-Earthers and Old-Earthers both have said something, but for people like Navabi, just raise the objection. That’s enough. For what it’s worth, I prefer John Walton’s stance.

Let’s also look at some supposed controversies on the resurrection accounts. Here is the first one.

Matthew 27:57-60.

57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

58 He went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.

59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.

Acts 13:27-29.

27 For they that dwell at Jerusalem and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.

28 And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain.

29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a sepulcher.

Did you see the contradiction?

Navabi wants us to say that in one account, Joseph buries Jesus. In another, the people do. It’s amazing that this one is put forward as anything serious. Joseph was among the people who did crucify Jesus, though he was a secret sympathizer. His action of burying Jesus would be seen as the Sanhedrin providing for his burial. How is this a contradiction?

There’s also how many figures were seen at the tomb and how many women there were. The basic replies work well enough here that some writers chose to focus on one man or angel instead of pointing out two. I think the women mentioned were the ones alive at the time who could be eyewitnesses.

To be fair, the dating of the crucifixion between John and the Synoptics is a live one. I have no firm conclusion on this, but also it doesn’t affect me either way. The basic facts about the historical Jesus do not hang on this. Scholars do not doubt that Jesus was crucified at the time of Passover.

I will have no comment on what Navabi says on the Quran. I will leave that to the experts in Islam.

When we go back to the Bible, Navabi throws out that the writings were based on oral tradition and written decades or centuries later. Well with the New Testament, I don’t know any scholar who says centuries later. Navabi also doesn’t bother to investigate oral tradition and how well it works or how much later other ancient works were then the events they describe. Neither will many of his atheist readers, you know, the people who talk about loving evidence so much. (Except for claims that agree with them of course.)

And then there’s the claim that the books are anonymous and we don’t know who wrote them. His source for this is Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted. I have written a reply to that here. It would be good for Navabi to explain how he knows how other anonymous works in the ancient world were written by the people they’re ascribed to and to actually investigate the arguments for traditional authorship, but don’t be expecting that.

Argument #3. Some unexplained events are miraculous, and these miracles prove the existence of God.

This chapter is quite poor, which is saying a lot for a work like this. A miracle is described as an improbable event. You won’t find any interaction with Craig Keener’s Miracles even though this came out after that did. We’re told that a problem with miracles is that they’re unfalsifiable, which is quite odd since so many skeptics make it a habit of disproving miracle claims.

Suppose someone walks into your church service who has been blind all their life. A member of your church comes forward and says to them “God told me to come and pray for you” and ends a prayer saying “In the name of Jesus, open your eyes” and the person has their eyes open. Are you justified in believing a miracle has taken place? I think you definitely are.

These are the events that we want to be explained. If Navabi wants to say miracles cannot happen, then he needs to make a real argument for that. If he wants to say they have never happened, then he needs to be able to show his exhaustive knowledge of all history. Can he do that? After all, his claim is quite grand and could be hard to “falsify” since we don’t have access to all knowledge of all history.

Argument #4. Morality stems from God, and without God, we could not be good people.

While the moral argument is a valid one, never underestimate the ability of atheistic writers to fail to understand an argument. Navabi’s first point is that morals change. However, if morals change, can we really speak of objective truths? Those are unchanging things. If morality just becomes doing whatever people of the time say is good, then congratulations. We do what we think is good and congratulate ourselves on doing what we already agree with.

As expected, Navabi trots out Euthyphro. This is the question of if something is good because God wills it, or does God will it because it’s good. Again, atheists bring up this argument found in Plato completely ignoring that it was answered by Aristotle, his student, in defining what the good itself is. When atheists bring this forward, I never see them define what goodness itself is. We could just as well ask “Is something good because we think it is, or do we think it is because it is good?” Everyone has to answer Euthyphro unless they define goodness separately.

This is followed by the problem of evil. There are more than enough good resources out there for someone wanting more. I am including some interviews I have hosted on my show about the topic that can be found here, here, and here.

Navabi concludes with a natural explanation of morality to the tune that it evolved. Unfortunately, this doesn’t explain things because there has to be a standard of good we have in mind by which we recognize a good action. Goodness is not a material property that comes about through evolution. It is something we discover much like laws of nature or logic.

Argument #5 Belief in God would not be so widespread if God didn’t exist.

This is not an argument I would make, but there are some examples of bad thinking here. Navabi says that if God was revealing the world religions, wouldn’t we expect them to have more in common? Unfortunately, why should I think God is revealing all of them. Could man not believe and make up his own easily enough?

Navabi also says that if these religions are describing the physical world, they can’t all be right, but they could all be wrong. Of course, this isn’t really an argument. One needs to show that all of them are wrong.

Finally, while I don’t use the argument, it does have to be acknowledged that theism is widespread. Given this is the case, why is it that the theistic claims are treated by the atheists as extraordinary claims? Wouldn’t it be the opinion outside of the ordinary, namely that God does not exist, that should be considered as extraordinary?

We’ll go through the next five next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Good Without God

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

Epstein’s book Good Without God is an odd read. It’s written by an atheist no doubt, but it’s not the same shrill angry rant against religion that you encounter. Epstein does strike me as someone I could have a reasonable conversation with, even though at times Epstein does make many of the same mistakes about religion.

Consider how he says that religious people like to say that Hitler was an atheist to avoid talking about the Crusades and the Inquisition. Hitler wasn’t an atheist, but there’s no doubt that Stalin, Mao, and Pol-Pot were. I also think we should talk about the Crusades and Inquisition. He also points out that the Nazi belt buckles had “God with us” written on them.

Which is what they’d had long before. It was a motto that was made and not made specifically for the military. It just carried over to the Nazis. By this standard, all of our wars have to be specifically religious wars because we have “In God We Trust” written on our money. (Wait. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. A lot of atheists might run with that.)

Epstein’s book surprisingly is a lot of self-help for atheists and thinking about many different issues. He does at least think that atheists shouldn’t be seeking to destroy religion. He does think some have been too ardent in their war on religion. Still, as you read the book, you get the impression that a lot of atheists are trying hard on so many issues that don’t make sense. Can you speak of being fortunate in anything for instance? What happens when you want to thank someone and there’s no one to thank?

Epstein also doesn’t really answer the main question. What does it mean to be good? At one point, he says that there is a knockout blow to theism on this. It’s the Euthyphro dilemma from Plato. If you don’t know this, it’s where Socrates questions Euthyphro on goodness and says “Is something good because the gods will it, or do the gods will it because it is good?”

This is supposed to be a killer to the moral argument because how is it known what is good? Just replace gods with God. Now some might say “God’s nature is the good.” I have just as much a problem with that. The problem is the same. It still doesn’t tell us what the good is. “The good is God’s nature.” Okay. How does that fit?

The sad thing is that this question was answered not too long after Plato. Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics wrote about what goodness is and said that the good is that at which all things aim. Thus, he answered this by giving a definition of goodness. He spent some time fleshing that out of course, but he did answer the question. Unfortunately, atheists are a little over 2,000 years behind the times.

In fact, Epstein after this seems to take an approach of moral relativism, but if there is no truth to a moral issue, how can you have a debate over which view is true? You’re just discussing preferences. How can anyone even be good without God if good itself has no real meaning?

Now Epstein later on, does try to answer this question more by saying that things are only good in relation to human beings. In other words, if we weren’t here, there wouldn’t be anything good. I dare say this strikes me as a bizarre position. Either we discover goodness in these things and they are good, or goodness is an idea we throw onto them but they don’t essentially possess.

At this, we could just as well throw the Euthyphro dilemma back at Epstein and have him answer it. Is something good because of how it relates to us, or does it relate to us the way it does because it is good? Without a proper foundation for goodness, Epstein will be caught in his own dilemma. He could escape by postulating an objective goodness beyond human beings, but then he has a problem with what this will be ground in.

What this means is that in the long run, Epstein has written a book to address a question and never really addressed it accurately himself. Not only that, we could just as well ask who is asking this question? Who is the theist out there making a claim that you can’t be good without believing in God? Perhaps there are a few laypeople making this claim, but most of the scholars and academics in the field would never make such a claim.

Epstein’s book can be an interesting read to see just how it is a lot of non-religious people think, but it’s still desperately lacking. In fact, if anything, Epstein’s book shows me even more that goodness makes no sense without God. Hopefully Epstein will see that same way soon.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Shermer’s Greatest Hits

What did I think of what Michael Shermer said at his debate with David Wood? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night, I attended the David Wood vs Michael Shermer debate. To be fair, I did not find David Wood’s argument the most convincing. I really don’t find arguments from science too convincing. I understand why they’re made, but I just don’t think they work as well. Still, I think he did a lot better than Shermer did. Shermer tended to come out with a shotgun approach and hoped that something hit.

Shermer also confirmed something to me. Here we have someone with a Ph.D. and the arguments he has are all arguments that you can find on atheist memes anywhere. The new atheists have indeed dumbed down atheism. We can hope that this keeps up.

By the way, I also find it interesting that Shermer starts off with his personal testimony of how he used to be a Christian. It’s like these guys never move out of their fundamentalist days. They still always go with personal testimony.

So let’s look at some of the claims Shermer made as I was making a list on my Kindle at the time.

We have the usual idea on the meaning of atheism. Atheism is said to be a lack of belief. I don’t plan to spend so much time on this except to say what good is it to on a most fundamental question say something that doesn’t tell you anything about reality outside of your own head?

Just to be sure, I’m not the only one saying atheism is not just a lack of belief.

“Atheism is the position that affirms the non-existence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.”

William Rowe The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy p.62

“Atheism, as presented in this book, is a definite doctrine, and defending it requires one to engage with religious ideas. An atheist is one who denies the existence of a personal, transcendent creator of the universe, rather than one who simply lives life without reference to such a being.”

Robin Le Poidevin Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion p.xvii

Next Shermer told us that we can’t prove a negative. I find this an odd claim to make. Is this statement proven? If so, then it is a negative proof that you can’t prove a negative. It contradicts itself. Is it unproven? Then perhaps you can prove a negative. Besides, we can prove negatives. There are no 100 pound elephants in my office. I just looked. They’re not here. Negative proven.

Shermer says that there are 1,000 different religions. Why should ours be the right one. Good question. There are also 1,000 different worldviews. Why should atheism be the right one? How would we decide? We could just look at the evidence. Could it be those religions often died out due to a lack of evidence? (Or we could say that Christianity brought that about ultimately by establishing monotheism.)

We have the whole idea of “You’re all atheists with regard to many deities. I just go one god further.” Sure. A lawyer in a court could say “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. You all believe everyone else in this room is innocent of the murder of Smith. Why not just look at my client and go one person further?” Again, it comes down to the evidence.

Wood’s argument was that science rose in a Christian culture. Shermer says that this is just because everyone in that culture was a Christian. This leaves the question though of why didn’t it happen elsewhere like it did here? Why not in South America or Australia or the East?

Shermer also said that the theists are the ones who have the burden of proof. Not necessarily. Anyone making any sort of claim has a burden of proof. If Shermer says he’s an atheist, it’s up to him to tell us why he finds other claims unconvincing. Suppose we couldn’t make a strong argument for theism. This would not be an argument for atheism in itself. If atheism is making a claim, and it is, that claim has to be defended. Hence, my position is whoever makes a claim has a burden to back that claim.

Shermer also said we have a God of the Gaps claim going on. I find this odd since Christians were the ones who started the scientific revolution that sought to fill in the gaps. If Christians were enforcing this kind of argument, why would they have bothered doing science to begin with? It’s also worth noting that you can have an atheism of the gaps just as much. I have a huge problem with God of the gaps anyway and when people say “If evolution is true, does that put God out of a job?” I always say that if God is just a stopgap you have for your worldview when things don’t fit, you have a low view of God.

Shermer also said a being like God can’t be simple. A lot of people misunderstand this and think that it means God is easy to understand. Not at all. When we say He’s simple, we mean that He has no parts. In classical Thomistic metaphysics, God is a being where what He is does not differ from that He is. Essence and existence are the same. In angels, essence and existence are separate. In humans, this is even more so especially since we are composed of matter as well.

This leads to “Who created God?” which assumes God is created. Shermer asks why the universe can’t be the uncreated. The classical theologian like myself answers because the universe is composed of essence and existence and matter. It doesn’t have within itself the principle of its own existing.

I don’t really want to spend time on the problem of evil. There are more than enough great resources in dealing with this. I instead recommend listening to my interviews with Clay Jones, Greg Ganssle, and David Wood himself.

Shermer also has the usual bad understanding of the Trinity. God sends Himself to sacrifice Himself to Himself. Shermer can say Christianity is ridiculous all He wants to, but at least try to understand it. These straw men might win over people who don’t understand the issues, but those who do just roll their eyes at it.

Shermer also said there is no physics for any religious system particular to it. Of course not. This is part of general revelation. No one ever said otherwise. It’s just that Christians were the ones who took the most steps finding this out.

Shermer also said that if you were born in a different place, you’d be a different religion. Sure. And if you were born in a different place, you might not believe in what is said to be modern science. If you were born an eskimo in Alaska, you might think whale blubber was the healthiest food to eat. So what?

Shermer also did say we have no explanation for why the laws of nature are the way they are. Of course, this assumes that there are laws of nature. I’m honestly not sold on this point yet. Of course, I would want to know in an atheistic universe, why should we expect any sort of uniformity? (This is getting to the fifth way of Aquinas.)

Shermer also wants us to have empirical evidence for God. I fear by this he means scientific. If so, then this is a category fallacy. If not, then I say I begin by sense experience like all good empiricists do and the five ways of Aquinas work just fine.

Shermer also said we should be able to measure a miracle and see how God did X when He does a miracle. Why should we? Right now, My brain is telling my fingers what to type and somehow I am willing this and I have no idea how I am doing it. Why should I know how God does something?

And of course, why doesn’t God heal amputees? We wait to see how it is that Shermer has exhaustive knowledge of all events around the world today and in the past to know that this has never happened. If he saw a claim, we can be sure he’d say it’s a false report or a fake or something like that. He’s already said in the talk that magicians can do great things (Though illusions) and quite likely aliens could too. We would also like to see Shermer handle the material put forward by Keener.

Shermer went on to say about what it means to be made in God’s image. I would disagree that it means that we are rational, though that is part of it. It means that we bear the authority to represent God and rule over His creation. We need to be rational for that, but that does not sum up what it means to be in His image.

He also says that God is jealous. That doesn’t sound like a good trait. Perhaps not to Shermer, but in the ancient world it was. Jealousy was realizing one had exclusive rights to that which they were owed those rights. As a husband, I have exclusive rights to my wife’s body. No one else has that and I am jealous for that privilege. In the same way, God has a people and their loyalty is to be to no one else. He is jealous for that privilege.

When Shermer started talking about morality, he said “Ask a woman who’s been violated. They don’t like it.” Of course they don’t, but does that mean it’s wrong. Ask a child who doesn’t get ice cream and/or pizza for every meal. They don’t like it. Ask a person who gets laid off from work. They don’t like it. Ask a guy who gets dumped by a girl. They don’t like it. So what?

He also said that if you left tonight an atheist when you had come in a theist, would you cheat on your wife or something like that? Well why not? If morality is all just a social contract and I can get away with it and get in some extra jollies, why wouldn’t I? Why do I not do that? Because I’m convinced good and evil are realities and I ought to be good even when I don’t want to be at times.

And of course, no presentation would be complete without talking about slavery. Unfortunately, the question is much more complicated than Shermer wants it to be. We could just say we would like Shermer to go back to the ancient world and point out where all these other jobs were at that people could use to support their families instead of working for another. Was there a local Wal-Mart or 7-11 around and we all missed it?

Shermer also said we should step outside of our Christian bubbles and see other cultures and other ideas. I have done that. I’m still a devout Christian. Perhaps Shermer should step out of his fundamentalist bubble and read the best scholarship out there disagreeing with him.

I really hope that in the future atheists will get far better arguments. No doubt, Shermer is educated, but it looks like he hasn’t really studied the other side all that well. He still has the fundamentalist understanding that he abandoned years ago.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Everybody Is Wrong About God?

What do I think of James Lindsay’s book published by Pitchstone Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Remember the old days when Peter Boghossian was heavily pushing the idea of street epistemology? Good times. Good times. Well now his main fan James Lindsay has decided to follow in his footsteps. Lindsay’s book even has a foreword by Boghossian as well (And I did review Boghossian’s book here.). Unfortunately, Lindsay’s book falls drastically short of Boghossian’s, which is saying a lot since Boghossian’s was a train wreck to begin with.

Lindsay’s main idea is that everyone is wrong about God because we’re talking as if theism even makes any sense whatsoever and that we know what we’re talking about when we talk about God. Of course, one would expect at this point to see interaction with sophisticated systematic theologies such as those in the past of people like Augustine and Aquinas, or even today people like Erickson or Grudem or McGrath. If you are expecting that, you are going to be disappointed. Actually, if you’re expecting any engagement with contrary opinion, you are going to be disappointed.

The laugh riots really begin on page 17. What we are told there is that the New Atheists succeeded in their quest. It defeated theism at the level of ideas and destroyed the taboo of atheism. At this, we can see that James Lindsay is in fact the Baghdad Bob of atheism. The new atheists can’t hold a candle to the old atheists of the past. All we got from the new atheists was a rant largely about topics they did not understand, much like people who critique evolution without bothering to read the best works in science.

Of course, in all of this, don’t expect Lindsay to do anything like, you know, actually interact with the arguments for theism. If you expect to see the ways of Thomas Aquinas interacted with or a refutation of Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument or a response to the twenty ways listed in Kreeft and Tacelli, you will be disappointed. For new atheists, it’s enough to declare victory and then stand up and have the celebration.

From this point on, rather than actually engage in arguments and evidence, which like many atheists I encounter Lindsay doesn’t seem to care for, it’s best to jump straight to psychology. Why do we believe in something that’s so utterly obviously false? (A step forward I suppose. Boghossian wanted us to be listed as having a mental illness.) The problem here is you can psychologize anything. We could come up with psychological reasons for atheism, and they could apply to some people, but that does not refute atheism any more than psychological reasons for theism refutes theism.

Well let’s try to find some interesting parts and see what can be said about them.

On p. 60, we are told that many theologians and apologists will argue that theism has evidence, but that is false. There is a note here and one would expect to see some reply to some arguments or perhaps at least a book dealing with these arguments. Well, one would expect that were we dealing with a real sophisticated argument for a position. Considering we’re dealing with a fan of Boghossian, we’re not surprised to find another assertion.

Lindsay’s main argument is that we might have some arguments for theism and even if we did succeed at that, how do we get to what religion is true? Yes. You read it. That’s his argument.

Of course, Maimonides, Aquinas, and Avicenna would have all used the same arguments for general theism. That’s because theism itself is a metaphysical and philosophical claim so metaphysics and philosophy work there. First point to establish is that if theism is established, then atheism is false. Even if we could go no further, we would still have refuted atheism.

Second point is that Lindsay’s argument is just weak. Maimonides, Avicenna, and Aquinas could all then point to historical reasons for their faiths since all of them claim that events happened in history. I as a Christian would face my “All but impossible” task, in Lindsay’s words, by pointing to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. A Muslim could point to why he thinks the Koran is the Word of God and a Jew could point to the Torah while showing problems with the New Testament. It could be that any of the arguments would work, but it shows that it is not all but impossible.

Again, if we were dealing with a real case, we would see some interaction. We are not, so we do not. High schoolers just starting apologetics study could have answered the question of Lindsay.

On p. 70, Lindsay says we have a right to shoot bull wherever we see it. Indeed we do. I make it a habit of doing such and I make it a point to shoot it down from atheists as well as theists. That’s one reason I’m doing this review. There’s a whole lot to shoot at.

On the very next page, he writes about a debate Sean Carroll had with William Lane Craig. This is a debate that I really didn’t care for. For one thing, as a non-scientist, I suspect most people in the audience spent a lot of time during the debate saying “What the heck are they talking about?” Lindsay is convinced Carroll won. Maybe he did. For Lindsay, this is a huge victory.

Well, let’s go to another debate. This is the one that took place between Peter Boghossian and Tim McGrew. In fact, someone with an interesting opinion on that was James Lindsay himself. What does he say?

“I also won’t comment about winners because I think the idea of winning a conversation is stupid to the point of being embarrassing for people that we make a sport of it.”

Well Unbelievable? is a debate show with a moderator so apparently, it’s stupid when we talk about a victory on Unbelievable? It’s not when we talk about it between Carroll and Craig. Got it.

“(Full disclosure: I think the debate was a draw because the substantive point of the matter could not be settled because the relevant data concerning how Christians and other religious believers use the word “faith” is not available.)”

It certainly is available. You just have to be able to, you know, go out and research and study it. Unfortunately, Boghossian did not do that. He had anecdotal evidence. McGrew actually went to scholarly sources. We’re sorry to hear that Lindsay does not consider that good enough.

“McGrew, the far more experienced debater, came off tighter in what he had to say and hid his weaknesses well, better than did Boghossian.”

And Tim McGrew’s other debates prior to this that we have are…

ummmm….

errrr…..

uhhhh…..

I think he told me he did some debating in high school. I suppose that counts in Lindsay’s book. Obviously, McGrew had to have more experience. I mean, how else can we explain what happened? It couldn’t be that (SHOCK!) McGrew actually had better arguments and Boghossian was uninformed? Nah! Can’t be that! Let’s look for an excuse!

The comments section, which I participated in, is immense damage control. If I think a theist lost a debate, and I think they do sometimes, I can admit it. It doesn’t change the truth of theism. It just means we had a bad debater at that point.

On page 87, Lindsay refers to Harris’s work of The Moral Landscape. The book is hardly what Lindsay thinks it is. All of my reviews can be found here. Michael Ruse, who I consider to be a much better thinker, trashes the book as well here. Strange also that considering how Lindsay wanted to show a debate earlier, he said nothing about Craig’s debate with Harris.

Naturally, we soon come to faith. Ah yes. The favorite weapon of the new atheist. Just pick your bogus definition that you have no evidence for other than anecdotal experience and run with it! A real researcher would go to the Lexicons and the study of the Greek language and see what the New Testament writers meant by faith. Lindsay does no such thing. Lindsay has studied the meaning of faith in the New Testament about as much as I have studied Brazilian soccer matches. For my take on faith, go here.

On p. 100, Lindsay talks about Poseidon falling away as we gained more knowledge of how the world works. Well this is odd. I thought science didn’t really get started supposedly until we got out of those horrible dark ages. (That is in fact false. Go here.) Is it really scientific knowledge that destroyed Poseidon?

No. What actually destroyed it was Christianity. As Larry Hurtado shows us in Destroyer of the Gods (For my interview with him, go here.), the reason we speak about asking if you believe God exists and not the gods is because of Christianity. Christianity became a dominant worldview and with it monotheism. When monotheism dominated, Poseidon died out. It was known then that the true God was in charge of this and science started to take off as we sought to understand how God works in the world.

This helps deal with a common misnomer. Skeptics like Lindsay think that Christianity is in danger the more gaps science fills in. The early Christian scientists saw no such danger. They thought they were establishing theism more by filling in the gaps. They sought to know how God did His work. Lindsay will need to search the medieval literature to see where a gap exists and they just plugged in “Goddidit” for an answer. One could say their answers were bad and wrong as science was just getting started, but they were still trying to be scientific.

One such case of this is with evolution on p. 118. Lindsay is convinced that if you establish evolution, well you destroy Adam and Eve and you destroy original sin and then everything else falls apart. Sadly, Lindsay is just as fundamentalist as the fundamentalists he wants to argue against. The ludicrousness of this can be shown in that I can have a case for the resurrection of Jesus and be told “Well, that can’t be true because of evolution.” How does that explain the data? It doesn’t.

Meanwhile, I and many other Christians have no problem whatsoever if evolution is true. I don’t argue for it or against it. I just don’t care either way. It doesn’t mean that Adam and Eve were unreal figures and the fall never happened. If I am wrong on Adam and Eve, then oh well. At the most, I only lose inerrancy. I still have the resurrection of Jesus and my Christianity is just fine. That’s the benefit of not being an all-or-nothing thinker, like Lindsay is.

p. 120 tells us that Jefferson in his writings referred to Nature’s God and the Creator and not to YHWH or Jesus or something specific. Of course. Jefferson was a deist and he was not wanting to establish a theocracy. That doesn’t mean that God was seen as an add-on. God was essential. Jefferson himself even held worship services in the White House.

On p. 122 we start to explain concepts like goodness finally. Interestingly, Lindsay points to how we feel about these things, almost as if they’re intuitive to us. Perhaps they are, but absent in any of this is even if they are, why should we think those feelings explain reality? Some people strongly feel God, and yet Lindsay would disagree that they are feeling God. If the God feeling is a falsehood of sorts, why not the feeling of goodness?

The real question one should ask at this point is “What is goodness?” Here, we come up empty again. Lindsay doesn’t begin to answer the question. If there is goodness, how do we know it? No answer once more. Even stranger, in an atheistic universe where we just have matter in motion, why should there be such a thing as goodness to begin with? If Lindsay praises the new atheists, why not go with Richard Dawkins in River Out Of Eden?

“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

After all, as Dawkins goes on to say, our DNA neither knows nor cares. It just is and we dance to its music. If it doesn’t know or care, why should we?

These are the kinds of questions one would want to have answered, but Lindsay comes nowhere close. If he wants to accuse theists of jumping too quickly to “Goddidit” (And no doubt some do), then we can say he jumps too quickly to “Goddidn’tdoit). The evidence does not matter. There has to be an explanation without theism.

On p. 156 he defines a delusion as “a belief held with strong convictions despite superior evidence to the contrary.” This is quite fitting because on p. 154, he talks about the problem of evil and says “no amount of theological mental gymnastics has or ever can satisfactorily surmount the problem of evil.” It’s bad enough to say that it has not been surmounted. Most atheistic philosophers would even concede that the logical problem of evil has been defeated. It’s even stranger to say that it never can. Where did Lindsay get this exhaustive knowledge? Never mind the question of not being able to define good and evil which is still another hurdle. It would be nice to see if Lindsay has responses to people like Clay Jones or Alvin Plantinga or any other works on the problem of evil. He doesn’t.  Sadly, this doesn’t shock me any more. I’ve reached the point where I expect atheist works to not interact with their opposition. Lindsay does not disappoint.

On p. 180, Lindsay wants to point to the historical record of what religion has done. Absent is any mention of what atheism did in the 20th century. One supposes that Lindsay just wants us to have faith that atheism if established today would be different. All of a sudden, we would all unite in love and harmony and be singing Kum-Bu-Yah.

On p. 181, he tells us that the responses from the peanut gallery that say that faith means something more akin to trust is irrelevant. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s certainly not because of interaction. It’s certainly not because of researching the evidence. Lindsay just wants us to take him on faith that this is so. It’s a shame he provides no evidence. Could we just say this is what Boghossian would call “a deepity”?

On p. 184, we get to something that could be considered an argument. This is that the Bible lists bats as birds. That’s nice. It would be also nicer if Lindsay looked up the words. We translate it as birds often today, but the word really refers to a winged creature. There was not a modern taxonomical idea of bird then. There were just creatures that were not insects but had wings. Last I checked, bats had wings. Now maybe Lindsay has come across some scientific research that shows bats don’t have wings. Still, by the ancient standards, we are just fine. If they were just referring not to a modern idea of taxonomy but to the ancient definition of a creature with wings, then bats qualify.

At 185, Lindsay says street epistemology is for inducing doubt to foster intellectual honesty. Those of us who are apologists are not doing the same thing. We create doubt to manufacture vulnerability and perhaps fear to lead to a conclusion. Nice that Lindsay believes in mind reading. I in fact want to encourage better thinking as well. I just think better thinking leads to Christianity, but hey, apparently Lindsay believes in mind reading. Who knew?

If street epistemology wasn’t bad enough to promote, Lindsay also promotes John Loftus’s “Outsider Test for Faith.” Lindsay says no sources have passed this test. His note reference for this? Just do a google search. None of them are worth citing. Well there you have it! Lindsay has spoken. The case is closed! Of course, he could have interacted with a case, such as the book by David Marshall directly written on this. My interview with Marshall can be found here.

It’s also amusing to find that on p. 198-99 that the Inquisition and radical Islam are put right in line with Stalin and Mao. One would hope for historical sources, but alas, there are none. He could find one such source here. Of course, Islam is central to radical Islam and I would argue a consistent outworking of it. What about Stalin and Mao? Does Lindsay just consider atheism incidental to them? Hard to think that since they were on a warpath against religion entirely.

On p. 210, he points to the opinion of the National Academy of Sciences. After all, very few are theists. Unfortunately, Rob Bowman responded to Victor Stenger on this point here. I will quote a relevant part.

Assuming that’s true, how does one get into the NAS? Here’s what the National Academy of Sciences website says: “Because membership is achieved by election, there is no membership application process. Although many names are suggested informally, only Academy members may submit formal nominations.” In other words, it’s an exclusive club that decides who may even be considered for membership. According to a 2010 article in Scientific American, about 18,000 American citizens earn PhDs in the sciences or engineering every year. There are only about 2,200 members in the NAS, and no more than 84 new members are inducted each year. Even the geniuses in the NAS can figure out that its membership does not represent an adequately representative sampling of well-trained scientists.

In conclusion, Boghossian’s book at least had something redeemable in it about political correctness, which I agreed with. Lindsay’s book has no such feature. The main benefit we get from it is that we see further the bankruptcy of the new atheists. Apparently, it is a mark of pride to not interact with your opponents and not treat their arguments seriously. Lindsay can keep up his position. I hope he does. It’ll just further dumb down the atheist community while theists in the academy will be doing our further research and strengthening our position. With the idea of movements like Jesus mythicism and such being jumped on by atheists on the internet, I would not be surprised to see them intellectually bankrupt in a generation or two.

Thanks for helping the cause Lindsay.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How To Be An Atheist

What do I think of Mitch Stokes’s book published by Crossway? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many atheists have long said it is time to move past religion. We need to be people of reason and evidence. (As if in all the history of religion no one ever thought about those) Once we don’t act so gullible and accept these religious beliefs, we will instead find some beliefs that stand up to scrutiny. We will see science bringing us into a brave new world.

Or will we?

Now to be fair, not all atheists have fallen for the myth of scientism, but a good deal have. They will not fall for the beliefs put out by religious people. (Although speaking historically, they will be gullible with regard to the existence of Jesus and believe the Christ myth theory wholeheartedly quite often) They believe in following the evidence where it leads.

Stokes challenges that and he does that by suggesting the atheists apply their skepticism and standards to the science they love so much. The book is divided into two parts. Those are science and morality. In the first, Stokes looks at claims related to science and asks if it can really deliver the goods that we are often promised it will.

Now no doubt, we owe much good to science, but the problem with scientism is that it says all good is owed to science and only science can tell us the truth. Stokes relies largely on Hume pointing out that by scientific standards, you can’t detect basic ideas like even causality. You do not see cause taking place. You assume some connection that cannot be detected.

For instance, you see a brick fly through a window. You see the brick shattering the window and think that that means that the brick shattered the window. That makes sense, but does it follow? We could point out that Hume said that a stone falling when dropped 1,000 times does not mean that it is going to fall when dropped the next time. The same applies for the brick and the window.

Science can tell us about events that happen and can give us some functional truth, but can we know it’s ultimately true? We could all be brains in a vat after all. In fact, science does not give us ultimate and absolute knowledge as it can be overturned at any time. Sometimes, this is much harder to do as Stokes points out, looking at the work of Kuhn mainly.

In the end, it looks like science doesn’t deliver the good of absolute truth. In the end, the atheist needs to frankly say he doesn’t know Unfortunately, this also means for him that science cannot disprove God. Yes. It could be that new atheists proudly proclaiming the death of God with science are just wrong.

What about morality? Stokes starts off by dealing with the supposed claim that we are saying that atheists cannot be good people. Not at all. What is said is that this goodness is often assumed to be a given in the universe. Yet how can we detect goodness? How can we have a standard of it? Stokes points out that Harris regularly just begs the question in arguing for his theory. I did wish Stokes had quoted Ruse’s review here, but that did not happen.

To get to the point, in the end, Stokes argues that atheism doesn’t really have a coherent theory of morality yet and it will ultimately boil down to nihilism. Therefore, to be a consistent atheist, you will need to be doubtful of knowledge and need to be a moral nihilist.

Or could it be atheists just aren’t really being consistent? Of course, we could say none of us are fully consistent, but we need to ask more if it is the case that our beliefs are not consistent or if we are not consistent with them? There is a world of difference.

Stokes’s book is written on a lay-level, though it could be a little bit deep at times. Still, it does give food for thought and is something worth thinking about. I would like to see one coming out sometime on historical claims as well.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Some Necessary Areas In Apologetics

What do you study when you study apologetics? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One of the mistakes that can be made in apologetics is to think you have to be able to answer every objection out there. You can’t. You won’t. There are too many new religious movements rising up and too many scientific discoveries being discussed and too many ethical quandaries and too many philosophical topics that no one can study it all.

It’s okay to not have an answer to something. In fact, many times someone will send me a question and I’ll happily refer them to someone else. It’s not my specialty area. I might give them a little something to tide them over and then say “But if you want a better answer, I recommend you contact XYZ.” If you think otherwise and that you will be able to answer everything, you need to really rethink your position on apologetics.

Still, there are some areas that I think you will definitely need to have at least a basic grounding in even if it isn’t your specialty.

First, you definitely need something on the resurrection of Jesus. This is the central claim of the Christian faith. You need a reason beyond “The Bible says so.” Look into the resurrection of Jesus. Fortunately, there exist books today like Gary Habermas and Mike Licona’s The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.

Second, you need something on basic Biblical reliability. How do you know that the Bible has been handed down accurately? How do you know that the information in there is reliable. You are again fortunate. You have works such as Craig Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe The Bible? and The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

Third, you need some reason for believing that God exists. Again, there are books that can help you with even this. An excellent recent read that also has the benefit of being incredibly funny is Andy Bannister’s The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist.

Fourth, you need something on the deity of Jesus and why He is unique. Again, I have a recommendation. Get your hands on Bowman and Komoszewski’s Putting Jesus In His Place.

Fifth, you need something that can help you with moral issues. I happen to think the writings of J. Budziszewski are incredibly good at this one. A favorite mine of his on this topic is The Line Through The Heart.

sixth, I recommend that you get something on sound thinking. The rules of logic are quite helpful and there’s an old classic that I still love. I can’t think of a better work now than Peter Kreeft’s Socratic Logic.

Some of you might be wondering about some issues that I did not include in this. Why did I not include anything on creation? That is because creation can become a debate that gets us caught in an idea of science vs. religion all too easily and some people focus so much on the first few chapters of Genesis that they never get to the resurrection.

Of course, in all of this, you will need to definitely do Bible study. Don’t become someone who reads other books so much that you never read the book. It will be important as you go along this path that you come to learn more about the Bible. There are many many issues that are worthy of discussion, but these are major ones that I would make sure I have some basics on.

We’ll be discussing more about apologetics next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters