Book Plunge: Most People Believe in God. Can They All Be Wrong?

What do I think of Jim Hall’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There was a day and age when atheist books had substance to them. You could read Antony Flew or J.L. Mackie or others and get arguments. Then the new atheists came out and the bar got lowered. Right now, it seems like each atheist is trying to see if they can lower the bar more and more.

Enter Jim Hall’s book. Hall’s work is meant to be a counter-apologetics, but one wonders what apologetics it’s countering. A course in high school apologetics could equip one to thoroughly demolish anything in here. It’s a shame too because at the start, Hall does give some good advice, but there’s no indication in the work that he followed his own advice.

In the foreword, Jon Pierson speaks out against indoctrination, but it is a mystery if he knows what it is. Hint. Parents sharing their beliefs with their children is not indoctrination. By this kind of standard, having kids be taught multiplication tables is indoctrination. To be fair, I do grant fully what he says on p. 6, and that’s that children should be taught how to think and not what to think.

Yet sometimes, you have to teach them what to think before they know how to think properly. You tell a child to look both ways before crossing the street or not to touch a hot stove or to be careful of strangers even if he doesn’t know why. Of course, a child should eventually learn why, but it depends on the child’s age and intellectual capabilities.

When we get to Hall, like I said, he does give some good advice. One such case is on p. 14 where he urges you regardless of your worldview to not accept anything in his book without doing research. Excellent. I say the same thing about my blog. Little difference. I think if you research a lot on this blog, you will find I have done my homework. Even if you don’t agree with my views, I do support them. I cannot say the same for Hall who has numerous problems in his work.

Hall says if you are a Christian and want to see what the other side says, put down the book and go read the Bible first. Hall thinks you have only heard the verses your pastor has cherry-picked for you. Now I do agree that every Christian should read the Bible. Hall is convinced reading the Bible will make you an atheist.

First off, I have read it through numerous times. Nowhere near an atheist. Second, if that makes you an atheist, then you are not a very good thinker to begin with. All it could do is bias you against one brand of theism if that. It doesn’t mean all theism is ipso facto false. The best arguments for theism do not depend on Scripture at all.

On p. 15, Hall says Christians can’t stand a “calm, soft-spoken, confident, articulate, and well-informed atheist.” Not sure which Christians he’s talking about. I’d like to meet one like that sometime, and from my interactions with Hall on Facebook, he’s not one of those atheists. His book definitely shows that he is not well-informed.

On the next page, he says to ask a Christian that if irrefutable proof became available that the God of the Bible did not exist, would you renounce your faith? Hall says he hasn’t met one who can answer honestly and convincingly.

Okay! Here goes!

Yes!

I only want to believe what is true. If I am shown Christianity is not true, I will not believe it. Of course, any such claim I would want to check and verify very well before just believing willy-nilly, but to quote Ravi Zacharias, what I believe in my heart must make sense in my head.

Hall also rightly encourages atheists to not only read atheist books, but read books by apologists. That’s good, but sadly nothing was said about books by scholars. Well half a loaf I suppose. Still, I question how much Hall really read. Looking at this book, I think it’s like he just went through and skimmed some things.

Hall also encourages doing your homework. Be open to new information and allow an opponent to enter into your waters. Be aware of the Biblical history and be willing to look up the original languages. Again, this is good advice. Again, I have no reason to think Hall actually followed it.

Hall also says something about the idea that it’s possible to be a good person without being a Christian. Duh! As an apologist, I think I have to keep refuting this argument that no one on my side I know of is presenting, and I know plenty of people on my side who are in this field, including many scholars.

Hall also says to bring out all the variations in Biblical translations and editing over time. It’s amazing that Hall really thinks this is the case. It’s the idea that the Bible we have is a translation of a translation of a translation, etc. Not at all. The overwhelming majority of translations go back to the oldest and best manuscripts we have.

What? You don’t believe me that we have the Bible handed down accurately? That’s fine. But would you be willing to believe Bart Ehrman?

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

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

Hall says that if your opponents wants to talk science, remind them that by definition, faith is independent of fact. No evidence is given that this is the definition. Now remember, Hall did say to go back to the original languages. It would be nice to see a Greek source that says that pistis, the word translated as faith, means what Hall says it does. If you do your homework, like Hall encourages, you will find that he’s quite wrong.

For starters, I have an article here on what does faith mean? He could also listen to my interview with Matthew Bates on Salvation By Allegiance Alone. I simply challenge Hall to find one Lexicon of Greek that will say that the way he understands faith is how the word pistis was used in the ancient world. How Christians define faith today (And sadly very ignorantly) has no bearing on how it is used in the text.

He goes on to quote Stephen Hawking who says religion is based on authority and science is based on observation and reason. Science works as well. Well, there’s a few problems here. For one thing, much of science is also authority. Heck. Hall expects us to treat Hawking as an authority, and there’s no problem with that. Most scientists will never be able to repeat the CERN experiments going on. They have to go by the authority of what has been said and trust their work.

As for working, what does it mean? Do science and religion have the same goal? We could ask how literature works. Literature works by seeking to convey information through the written word. Good literature does that well and even better literature conveys true information. Science is meant to tell us how the material world works all things being equal. Science is the best tool for that. Religion is meant to tell us about the ways of God and how He has revealed Himself and how one can please Him. One can say they don’t think there is a god, and that’s fine, but religion does to be fair have the burden of backing their beliefs, one I happily accept. If that is done, the study of religion is the best way to go.

Oh. Not only that, religion is notoriously difficult to define anyway. Does classical Buddhism which is atheistic count as a religion? What exactly constitutes a religion? It’s a difficult question.

I also agree with Hall on definitions. I would never accept his definition of faith for instance. Hall also asks that a person define God. Sure. Every Christian should. Our highest thought should be on God and who He is.

Well, I would say the triune being who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, omnisapient, simple, eternal, immutable, impassible, infinite, and many other such omni attributes. A good example would be found in the prima pars of the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. I’m sure this is a shock to Hall who says an intelligible definition cannot be found. Hall has simply not looked hard enough and any good Systematic Theology could have helped him.

Later on, Hall repeats what faith is in defining terms. When he repeats about God, he defines God as a psychological construct invented by man when he became aware of his mortality to give comfort in the face of death. Any evidence of this given? Not a lick. Not a single scholar of the history of religions is mentioned. There’s no interacting with the work of Wilhelm Schmidt which I have reviewed here, and no interacting with a modern scholar like Winfred Corduan, who I interviewed here on his book In The Beginning God.

He also says that none of the authors of the books of the Bible ever met Jesus. Evidence of this claim? Not a bit. There is no interaction with Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, who I interviewed here, at all. Hall also asks if one should give a literal interpretation or an allegorical. How about a true idea of literal? According to the intent of the author.

Brace yourselves also. While Hall says he is not a mythicist, he says there is no historical evidence at all that supports the historical Jesus. Not even the overwhelming majority of atheist and Jewish New Testament scholars would accept this nonsense. Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey are both non-Christian scholars (Casey has since died) and both have taken this to task. Also, for Hall’s idea that Nazareth didn’t even exist when Jesus lived. Mr. Hall. Bart Ehrman would like to have a word with you.

Hall also says religious thinking is Dark Ages nonsense. Once again, Hall parades around a myth about Dark Ages, one aptly dealt with by atheist historian Tim O’Neill. As for the commands of Jesus about not planning for the future and such, Hall once again does not go back and look at history. Most of Jesus’s audience would be day-wage earners who had no option of saving up money. Jesus is telling them simply to not panic. God is looking out for them and cares for them. If one has money, there is no problem with saving it, although Jesus would encourage giving to the poor and helping out your fellow neighbor still. One hopes Hall would not argue against that.

When talking about why there is something rather than nothing, Hall says it gets to the problem of the infinite regress. Well, what created God? Hall does not understand that there are two kinds of infinite regresses because he does not understand the cosmological argument. Of course, he could go to a professional philosopher like Edward Feser, but that would be too hard I’m sure. This is followed by the claim that the existence of the universe cannot possibly be used to support the existence of God.

This is easily refuted. Here’s how. The cosmological argument uses the existence of the universe to argue for God. Now you could say that it’s wrong and God is not the proper conclusion, but all Hall says is the existence of the universe cannot possibly be used to support the existence of God, but as long as the argument is being used, then it is possible to use the existence of the universe this way.

Hall also asks why God waited 13.7 billion years to create humans, but this is not a scientific objection, but a theological one. What is Hall’s basis for this? How does He know that if God exists, He would operate on Hall’s timescale? Unless Hall can give that reason and how he came to that knowledge, this is not a refutation. It’s just saying “I don’t understand why God would do this.” Okay. That doesn’t disprove that He did.

The next point I wish to interact with is Hall’s pointing to Pascal’s wager. Hall rightly says that we can assume Pascal was arguing about Roman Catholicism as his option that the person was unsure of. Of course, never let the truth of the matter stand in the way. Hall proceeds to argue about many other gods and such, not paying attention to the fact that Pascal is not speaking to someone like that. He is speaking to someone who is considering Christianity, but is just unsure. Pascal says to just try it. Fake it until you make it if you really want to believe it.

Hall later has a definition of Christianity as the idea that a Jewish lich will grant you immortality if you eat his flesh and drink his blood and telepathically communicate with Him. This will wipe away the sickness of your soul because your great great grandmother was tricked to eat from a magical tree by a talking snake. The lich loves you, but Hell is waiting if you don’t love Him back.

Of course, none of this is any serious representation of Christianity. We will get into different parts of this throughout the review, but I want to share it here. It’s important that we see the low caliber of atheist that we’re dealing with here.

Hall now gets into history and starts with the story of Jesus’s resurrection. He presents a case where some followers of Jesus, but not His disciples, stole the body and removed it to another location. Is this likely? No, but it’s more likely than a resurrection because a miracle is the least likely explanation. Unfortunately, this definition of a miracle falls prey to a problem which is based on a question I asked Bart Ehrman when he did a live debate.

He also says there is no evidence that Joseph of Arimathea buried the body of Jesus or that the Romans would have allowed it. No evidence, except, you know, all four of the Gospels repeat that. You can say they’re wrong, but it is evidence. That is the earliest burial tradition. It’s up to Hall to say why this tradition is wrong. Also, in peacetime, Jews were allowed to follow their laws. See my interviews with Craig Evans and Greg Monette on this topic. Btw, Hall is wrong that this would be an honorable burial. Jesus’s burial was shameful.

He also says the empty tomb is not in the earliest account of Paul, which I think is nonsense sense saying that a person is buried and then raised again has a heavy implication of an empty tomb. The word for raised is egeiro which MacGregor argued would mean the body came up again. Don’t expect also to see any interaction here with a work like Gundry’s on the body being physical.

Hall also trots out the idea that the Gospels are all anonymous. Yes. As are many works from the ancient world, such as the biographies of Plutarch, that we don’t dispute authorship on. Are we to say that Hall will say all thirteen epistles claimed to be Pauline are by Paul since they have a name on them? Doubtful. Hall does not interact with any internal or external evidence for authorship of the Gospels. Again, see Bauckham above.

As for dating, he dates John to 115 A.D. No evidence given of this. Most scholars date it to around 95 A.D. I date it earlier though since I think the language in John 5 points to the architecture in that passage being a present reality, which would not be the case after 70 A.D. I realize I am in a minority, but I don’t know of many serious scholars saying second century. As for Mark, even some skeptical scholars like James Crossley date it very early. He dates it to the 40’s. No mention is made also about other works and biographies being written centuries after the person they talked about died and yet we accept them as reliable.

Hall also tells us that Paul admits he never met Jesus. You will look in vain for a reference to this. Hall never explains this. I suspect he means a passage like 2 Corinthians 5, but if so, that is just a bad interpretation of it.

But brace yourselves guys! Hall has his trump card to play! According to the Bible, Jesus is not the only person who was resurrected!

GASP! We had no idea!

Hall goes through a list of people who were raised from the dead. One pictures him gleefully pasting these references into this book with delight, thinking he is stomping Christianity into the ground and showing Jesus is not unique. Yet then someone asks,

“Um. When were any of these people brought back to life in a new eschatological body that was immune to death never to die again?”

Yeah. Hadn’t thought of that. It wasn’t just that Jesus came back from the dead, but He came back in a new and glorified body. Every other resurrected person died again.

Next, Hall says that in Matthew 1:18-25, Joseph wants to divorce Mary at first. Hall asks why would he want to do that if he believed her story? Well, geez. Let me take a shot at it. How about this? He didn’t believe her story. That’s why he did it. He thought Mary had been unfaithful to him. It took a dream message from God to convince him otherwise. Joseph was a logical thinker. He knew what it took to make a baby and he knew he hadn’t done that.

Hall also asks if it would give you pause to know that miraculous or virgin births were not unusual in religion? Well, no. Why would it? If we have an account of a deity coming down and living among humanity, I would think his entrace into the world would be unique. Why is this a problem?

Hall also says that Flavius Josephus is the earliest extra-Biblical source to write about Jesus and the large paragraph about him is commonly believed to be a forgery. I presented Hall on Facebook with this in response. He was not able to refute it. He did ask why would Josephus say Jesus is the Christ and not be a Christian. I simply pointed out that that part was an interpolation, as the article listed above shows.

Hall then goes on to list a number of deities with miraculous conceptions. He also includes Hercules, Horus, and Dionysus all being born on December 25th. No evidence is given of any of these. For all of these births, not a single primary source is given. I asked for them on Facebook and I was never given any.

Hall concludes this part with a homework assignment. Compare the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew 2 to the events around the life of Moses. How are the obvious similarities accounted for? Then he makes a claim about a lack of extrabiblical information on both.

Again, I account for the similarities, by saying Jesus is the new Israel. The slaughter of the infants makes Jesus like Moses in avoiding the evil king and like Israel in escaping through the plague on the firstborn in the Passover. Israel then passes through the waters (Baptism), is tempted in the wilderness, and then Jesus goes up on the mountain and delivers the Law. Matthew is framing His material this way to present Jesus as the new Moses.

As for the census, one could consider the arguments of Ben Witherington as well as Ted Wright of Epic Archaeology. For the Exodus accounts, good luck expecting to see Hall interact with the work of someone like Hoffmeier here and here. Keep in mind, Hall tells you to research and do your homework. If only he had followed his own advice.

On p. 61, we are told a bit about Adam and Eve. One point I’d like to focus on is the idea that the fruit supposedly gave the couple the ability to know good from evil. Well, how were they supposed to know eating the fruit was evil in the first place? Naturally, you won’t find any interaction with John Walton, who I have interviewed on Adam and Eve, or his The Lost World of Adam and Eve.

One point to get is that good and evil are a merism. It is saying two opposite things (Heaven and Earth, North and South, East and West) in order to illustrate everything between them. Good and evil is a statement that refers to moral knowledge, but to wisdom. The gaining of wisdom is not wrong, but it was wanting to be wise on God’s terms and have wisdom apart from Him, a form of treason.

We move on from there to a number of statements about Intelligent Design and evolution. About these, I do not care. I am not a supporter of ID. As for evolution, I really don’t care. I can happily grant evolution as a non-scientist. My interpretation of Scripture is not affected and my theistic and Christian arguments aren’t touched by it. I also encourage Christians that if you are not a scientist, do not debate these issues. If evolution ever does fall as science, let it fall because it is somehow revealed to be bad science. I am not saying it is, but I am giving a hypothetical.

We also have the whole just one God further. It’s easy to picture a defense lawyer in a courtroom. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. We all have multiple people in this room we believe didn’t commit the murder. I just ask that you look at my client and go one person further.” Hall says as soon as I understand why I reject all other religions, I’ll understand why he rejects mine. Really? He rejects all others because he has a strong case that there is one God and that Jesus rose from the dead and so that all that contradict that must be false? Fascinating!

Why doesn’t God heal amputees comes up as well. Naturally, don’t expect Hall to go looking for any work that argues for miraculous healings, including some amputee healings. Looking up Craig Keener, who I have interviewed, and his work Miracles would obviously be too difficult.

He also goes with Hume saying that a miracle is a supernatural act that violates the laws of nature. Well, it sure is nice to define everything in your favor automatically. I question the whole idea of the term supernatural anyway. I also think he should pay attention to Earman’s Hume’s Abject Failure who argues that Hume’s argument against miracles would also stop science. Oh. Earman is also an agnostic.

He also wants an answer to a passage like Mark 11:24. Why don’t we get everything we ask for in prayer? Ask and you shall receive in this case!

There’s a brief statement on marriage and why Christians get divorced at the same rate as everyone else. Sadly, to no one’s surprise, Hall has bought into a marriage myth. A few years ago Shaunti Feldhahn exploded this myth. Well, we can’t blame internet atheists for sharing it. They are the greatest people of faith after all.

I will grant though that I agree with Hall on the next part about God speaking to me personally. If it happens to some people, as I think it does, it is extremely rare. Too many people treat it like a common everyday practice and expect God to be in constant communication with them.

There’s also a section on the Laws applying to the Old Testament and not to us. Hall says that they are said to be everlasting, but doesn’t seem to have bothered to interact with any opposing viewpoints and interpretations. For my part, I can say the Law was never given to Gentiles. It was given to the Jews so we have technically never been subject to it. Why think we suddenly are?

Hall asks then why the Old Testament is part of the Bible? Because this is still the revelation of God and how He used His people Israel to establish the true Israel and reveals God to us. He brings up the crazy idea that without the Old Testament, there is no reason for Jesus’s sacrifice. Um. Geez. How about sin as a good enough reason? I don’t need the Old Testament to know I’ve lived less than a perfect life.

We move on from there to inerrancy. Inerrancy is not a hill I’m willing to die on, but many of the objections of Hall are absurd. We have ideas like the Earth is not 6,000 years old and there was no worldwide flood. On the former, I have interviewed John Walton on his work on The Lost World of Genesis One.

On the latter question, I have interviewed Tremper Longman on the book he co-wrote with Walton, The Lost World of the Flood. Hall is definitely going after a minority position in scholarship. Again, we have to ask if he’s really read anyone like he recommends.

Hall then goes on a piece about how the Trinity wasn’t established until 200 years later. Unfortunately for Hall, this isn’t much of an establishment. We have the deity of Christ from the very beginning. Hall does not avail himself of anyone in the Early High Christology Club like Hurtado, Tilling, Bird, Bauckham, and others. He brings up the point we’ve already discussed about how much copying and editing was done before Nicea. There is no doubt that Hall is thoroughly ignorant of church history. He really should read a book on it.

Hall also says that the Bible was supposed to be written by men moved by God. Muhammad and Joseph Smith and others made the same claim. Well, let’s do something then. Let’s compare the information granted by non-Christian scholars in the Bible to be true and compare it to the same for non-Mormon scholars in the Mormon Scriptures and non-Muslim scholars in the Koran and see how they hold up.

Hall then goes to an objection that you need to have an open mind. He says that atheists have education and intellect and accept facts and reality and while they deny the existence of gods (Really? I thought it was just a lack of belief. This is something different) they can still discuss the subject matter. Some can. Most I see cannot. As for education, I just encourage people to go through a post like this and see how educated Hall is and how much reading he’s done on this topic.

He also asks why Christians are unable to contemplate the non-existence of God. I am willing, but the difficulty is that if you have a theology where God is the ground and basis of existence, non-existence is difficult to think about. It’s kind of impossible. Hall is free to give another ground for being. Good luck with that one as most atheists I meet don’t have a doctrine of existence or understand the concept.

We move on to New Testament history. Hall considers it a defeater that no original documents exist. If so, then Hall has to reject all of ancient history as no originals exist. If there is one out there, it is definitely in the minority. He says all of the manuscripts we have differ. Indeed, as do all other ancient documents, but the differences, for the most part, are minor. Again, refer to my above quotations of Bart Ehrman. Naturally, he repeats the claim about the Gospels being anonymous which I have already addressed. Don’t expect him to be familiar with what E.P. Sanders said as well.

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

He also says Mark was written 50 years after Yeshua’s death. I eagerly await seeing the scholars who think it was written around 80. In my personal research I did on this topic, I found that most date the work to between 65-70 A.D. He also says the oldest copy we have is from 200 A.D. Imagine how oral tradition changed it. If Hall wants to say that the manuscripts we have of Mark have a vast difference from what the original would have said, that’s his burden to prove.

He also says that the Gospels weren’t by eyewitnesses, which we have addressed above. He also adds in that the Gospel writers were illiterate. Well, not necessarily. When in Acts it says they were uneducated, that does not equal illiterate. It just means that they had no formal education. Even if they were, most writing even by the literate was done by secretaries so the authors would just have to orally share their stories.

Hall also asks what’s so special about Jesus’s teachings anyway? They weren’t unique. If we mean on morality, quite so. Jesus is not the savior though because He was a great moral teacher, but because He rose from the dead.

In the next section, Hall tells a story about his work to impress a girl. As it turns out, he says they’re coming up on their 17th wedding anniversary. I always see this as something worth celebrating and I did tell that to him in our dialogue. I was told to not give false platitudes. Apparently, atheists engage in mind reading. It’s a wonder why Hall gets a compliment like this and assumes a Christian must be insincere in saying it.

He then gets to an objection saying that if you have no moral compass, what stops you from preventing crimes. Hall considers it a big objection that morality predates the Bible. Well of course it does! This is like saying you can show the Declaration of Independence to be silly since human equality predates that.

I have no wish to get into long debates on moral issues. These have been addressed plentiful elsewhere by others like Copan. I will put this up on slavery and I don’t expect Hall to interact with it.

Hall shoots himself in the foot when he says that morality is subjective. If so, then there can be no complaining about the Old Testament Laws. After all, this was the morality for that time and place. There can be no complaining about evil either. Why should our morality be superior if it’s just subjective?

From there we move on to fine-tuning and science and such. Again, I have no interest in refuting evolution or anything like that. Hall does say that critics of evolution won’t crack open books or read web sites against their position. I have given Hall several books in this post. I wonder if he’ll read them.

Hall later on gives a testimony of going to Vacation Bible School and asking questions. He was asked that he not return next time. This is indeed a great failing on the part of the church. No child should ever be scolded for asking questions. EVER!

That’s all I really want to comment on. To correct every error would require a book in itself. I have no real interest in doing that, but I was recommended I read this one for some humor. We will see what interaction comes from a response like this.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Atheist Manifesto Part 1

What do I think of Michel Onfray’s book published by Arcade Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ever since the new atheists, atheism has been going downhill. It looks like each time someone has to write to try to come up with something even more ridiculous than the last guy. On the internet, one deals with the internet atheist, a special breed of atheist that seems to believe anything provided it argues against Christianity. For those who call themselves, free-thinkers, they all seem to think alike. Well free-thinker, you get what you pay for.

Popular also among internet atheists is the meme. Now I enjoy a meme as a humorous illustration of an argument, but sometimes they are meant to convey something so profound, and it kind of is. It’s profoundly dumb. Such is the case when I saw shared a meme quoting a book that has to be one of the most ridiculous quotes I have ever read.

Yes. I find this hilarious as a man who makes it a point to use reason everyday and tries to be as sound in my thinking as possible and a lover of the mind sitting among books aplenty. I am a great lover of freedom and as for a hatred of sexuality, women, and pleasure, well, I am a happily married man so go ahead and draw out your own conclusions.

I could go through the meme more and more but you get the idea. Onfray is someone who has not really interacted with great Christian thinkers. I got his book and sadly, the quote is indeed very real. As I started going through it, I figured I’d check the bibliography to see what works he cited.

Problem there.

He has none.

Oh he will mention books throughout his own book, but he won’t give page numbers or anything like that. He will make claims just floating in the air. The vast majority of them are completely bogus. The book really reads as if it’s a childish rant.

So let’s look some at part 1. We’re going to start near the end because if everything was documented, the response would be as long as the book itself. I’d like to highlight a few areas.

Let’s go to page 50.

Onfray says we would not consider locking someone up who has a brain tumor, which is no more of a choice than a pedophilic fixation. One can dispute that pedophilia is a fixation that one has no choice over, but let’s suppose for the sake of argument that it is. If I know someone who has a brain tumor and that brain tumor causes them to act violently toward people around them, then yes, I think they need to be locked up in some way.

In the same sense, someone who is a pedophile and is going to actively be a threat to small children needs to be dealt with in a way that he won’t harm people around them. It is amazing that Onfray treats this as if it is something just as innocuous as a brain tumor. Perhaps he should speak to many of the people who have been damaged by pedophiles. (And we can expect he will make no remark about Catholics either!)

On 52-53, Onfray speaks about the ignorance of many Christians. While this is true, it says nothing about the truth of Christianity. He says believers will listen to Saint Paul but have never heard of Gregory of Nazianze. Well, strike one here. He says they set up the infant creche, but they know nothing of the founding quarrels of Arianism or the council on iconophila. Strike Two. He talks about communion, but papal infallability is unheard of. Strike three. I do know about these, so what then?

Onfray goes on to get worse. He says that believers attend Christmas mass but don’t know that the church picked this date to coincide with the winter solstice and Sol Invictus. No source is given for this claim. The winter solstice would have never fallen on December 25th anyway. He also says death by stoning was the standard punishment for what Jesus was charged with. Stoning, however, was not really to be done by the Jewish populace at the time and crucifixion was done to shame the person more. Jesus was meant to be a public example.

He then says you can talk to a Christian about the neglect of the work of taking care of the poor. The Christian will ask about liberation theology. Not this one. This one will accept that the church is not perfect and will point to ways we need to improve but will still show that Christians are giving more to the poor and doing more charity work. I have no wish to endorse liberation theology.

He goes on to say that Paul decries the pleasures of the flesh and despises women. Onfray thinks you will hear that mystical ecstasy is a higher pleasure. No. Hear you will be told what passages you have in mind and then let’s discuss them.

He then says that if you mention the massacre of indians you will be told about Bartolome de Las Casas. Again, not here. I will ask for your historical sources and if the Christians are in the wrong, that’s something horrible and we need to own up to it, but it doesn’t change that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s a shame that Onfray did not go out and dialogue with real Christians or look at real Christian writings on the topic.

On page 60, we get much of what is predicted. He has earlier said in the book that there is no evidence Jesus existed and now we can know when he was forged with certainty. You have to wonder what’s with all these people thinking like this? Creationists are often mocked for going against the overwhelming consensus in science, and perhaps rightly so, but atheists definitely go against it.

By the way, he also talks some about the tree of knowledge in the book. The idea is apparently that Christians hate knowledge and the great sin was getting knowledge. No. The sin was the knowledge of good and evil in which what is really meant was trying to usurp divine wisdom. It was trying to rule on one’s own what they had really been given to rule. It was a defiance.

When we return, we will look at what he has to say about monotheisms.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

36 Arguments For The Existence of God — A Work of Fiction: Appendix

How do the arguments stand? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Okay. I kind of cheated. I saw that all the arguments are in the appendix and that’s why I ordered the book from the library so I decided to skip the novel since I have many other books waiting to be read and get to the meat of the issue. How does Rebecca Goldstein handle the arguments?

Goldstein lists 36 arguments. I have been in apologetics for nearly 20 years and some of these arguments I have never before seen used. Many are left out, such as the arguments of Thomas Aquinas and the argument from the resurrection of Jesus.

Let’s start with the first argument she deals with, the Cosmological Argument. The first premise she has listed in the argument is “Everything that exists must have a cause.” When seeing that, it’s hard to not think about Edward Feser’s epic takedown of this kind of nonsense. Note Feser also includes “What caused God?” as a dumb objection.

Feser rightly points out that no prominent defender of the Cosmological argument in history has ever said the argument is that everything has a cause. Maybe your local pastor who doesn’t know the argument well might say that, but it is not said by serious philosophers. How did Goldstein make such a basic mistake?

If this is the first objection also, we have to wonder how seriously one should take Goldstein on the others since this is a basic mistake. It leaves one considering that Goldstein has never read any serious work on the cosmological argument. If she has, that could be even worse because she badly misunderstood whatever it is she read.

Many arguments from this point on are scientific and I have no wish to look at those as I am not a scientist, or they are arguments that I would never use and have not seen anyone else use. The next one I want to look at is the argument from miracles. However, to really look at that, I have to leapfrog ahead to another argument. That’s the argument from holy books.

Of course, it is a fallacious argument to assume that the book can only be the Word of God if God exists. but I am interested instead in dealing with the flaw in her look at flaws in the argument. The second one has her saying that all the books contradict, which they do. Goldstein says that one has to have arrogant provincialism to believe that the documents held sacred by the clan one was born in are true and the others false.

Apparently, it never occurs to her that one could, I don’t know, look for evidence that one of the books is true and make a decision based on evidence. If one is convinced the book is true, it is not arrogance to accept it. It would be arrogance rather to not accept it.

So when we return to miracles, Goldstein sees a similar problem. Miracles are used for any number of religions. How do we know any of them are true?

Technically, Christianity is the one that is founded on a miracle, the resurrection of Jesus. Muhammad does no miracles in the Koran. Miracles would not fit in Hinduism or Buddhism. Miracles could be added in later traditions, but they are not foundational.

Goldstein also says a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. She does not tell where this comes from. Certainly, some people describe it this way, but not all.

Finally, she of course appeals to Hume. Hume’s argument has been critiqued several times over. One of the best critiques is by the agnostic Earman in his book Hume’s Abject Failure. For my own purposes, Hume was arguing in a circle. How does he know that a miracle has never occurred? Hume mainly relied on his own elite companions who like him did not believe in miracles, but he has no basis to demonstrate that no miracle has ever occurred.

The next argument is the argument from morality. Once again, as if on schedule, Goldstein trots out Euthyphro. Does God have a good reason for what He does? If He does, then we can use that same reasoning for ourselves. If He doesn’t, then His choices are arbitrary. It never occurs to Goldstein to define goodness itself. After all, if she doesn’t, she will have to live with the dilemma herself. Is something good because it benefits society, or does it benefit society because it is good? I have dealt with this elsewhere.

Naturally, there’s also criticism of the God of the Old Testament. As expected, there is no interaction with the scholarly work in this field or looking at life in an ANE culture. No doubt, Goldstein would not want creationists who never study evolution critiquing that, but I guess she gets a free pass.

These are the only ones I really want to look at. Most of the others are outside of my area of expertise or are just weak. It’s a shame to see so many atheists praising a work like this. On the other hand, it also shows us that the atheists are not becoming informed on these matters and likely just believing something because it argues what they want to believe.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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