Book Plunge: Impossible Love

What do I think of Craig and Medine Keener’s book published by Chosen books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you’re married, do you remember dating your current spouse? Like so many relationships, there were barriers to overcome. There are many events in life that can present so many challenges for a couple just to spend time together. We’ve all seen them.

Take my own relationship. My wife and I had it so that one of us had to travel about 250 miles to get to go on a date together. What a burden! Or take the Keeners! They had to overcome divorces from previous painful marriages, international war, and travel through a war-torn region where you had to eat bugs and scrounge for food and water to survive.

Okay. Now that I think about it, those two aren’t exactly comparable.

This is the love story of Craig Keener and his wife Medine. I have had Craig on my podcast before and he is a real individual. He has responded promptly many times when I have emailed him about something and reading this was a fascinating look into his life.

When I read this, I saw someone who strove to please God, but many times was broken and insecure. I suspect that that played a part probably in his diving into scholarship and producing excellent works, but it didn’t change that there was something he was lacking in his life, which I remember from my own experience, a woman to love.

Many of us who know Craig have not got to know his wife Medine, and yet her story is fascinating as well. You get introduced to Medine’s family and her parents in the book are such incredible people especially. Many people who complain about suffering and evil today can’t begin to imagine what Medine and her family went through and yet her parents had more faith and joy than many of us do today. We are truly a shameful people.

I cannot tell much about the story, but it involves Craig meeting Medine when she came to America as a student and never losing touch with her. Always there was a physical and romantic draw between the two of them, but both of them were hesitant. Also, many people around them were making prophetic statements about their lives and they inevitably led to the two of them coming together.

That being said, I do have this concern about that in that so many people might come away as we often do today thinking that this is how it should be for all of us. We should all receive messages of prophecy telling us who we are to marry and thus make the right choice. I doubt the Keeners would agree with such a sentiment. I think sometimes there are some individuals that need a specific spouse for a specific task and God does the work to bring them together, but I don’t think that’s the case for everyone.

One addition I thought would have helped would to have as much as possible a timeline of what happened. I was wondering when the events took place and one clue I did find was when 9/11 was referenced. Most of us don’t know about when a Civil War hit the area of the Congo. I am sure the Keeners did not take explicit notes of when everything happened, but some idea of chronology would be helpful.

This story is incredibly touching and will leave you thinking of the love that you have. It’s also helpful for those who often are perceived as living in the ivory towers to come out from time to time and speak to us on their own inner lives. It is good to know Craig the scholar, for instance, but it is better to know Craig the man, and now I have a deeper knowledge of his wife as well.

Congratulations to the Keeners on their impossible love and may all who read this be blessed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: A New Dawn For Christianity Part Two

What do I think of the second part of this book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In the second part of this book, we have the contributions from “Rev.” Michael Macmillan. I use the Reverend in quotation marks because I wonder what exactly he is a reverend for. I mean, the first part of this book argued that all gods are human constructs, so why should his construct be treated any differently? Perhaps the authors are saying that all gods are human constructs, except for theirs.

Macmillan lists his problems with supernatural theism and one part is the violence, such as the people God kills in the Bible. It’s interesting to see this in light of the idea that he has a problem with God not always intervening in cases of people with cancer and such. I find this an interesting juxtaposition. If God doesn’t intervene every time in the evil of cancer, He doesn’t exist. When He does intervene when it comes to evil people, He also doesn’t exist. If something is arbitrary, it is when Macmillan wants God to intervene and when he doesn’t.

Of course, there will be no interaction with scholars like Copan and others who have written on the topic of the God of the Old Testament. It’s enough for Macmillan to say he doesn’t like it. There’s nothing here arguing that God is obligated to keep anyone alive or that He owes life to anyone.

I also think it’s odd to say God is evil because He doesn’t always intervene with cancer. If that God isn’t worth believing in, well what is Macmillan’s god doing about cancer? It’s still going on. People are still dying. Macmillan says that it doesn’t fit with progressive Christianity to do petitionary prayer or intercessory prayer, even if those are natural.

If the Christian God is evil, what excuse does Macmillan’s god have? Could we apply the standard questions to him to ask if he is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent? Does this god really care? Why is Macmillan worshipping him? What is this god worth?

He also talks about Paul in Acts 17 as moving away from supernatural theism by saying God doesn’t dwell in temples made by human hands and such. It’s interesting he says this while having Paul say that God is unknowable. To an extent, He is as we cannot know everything about Him, but we can know some things about Him. If He was unknowable entirely, Paul could not even say this about Him.

As for saying in Him we live and move and have our being throws supernatural theism right out the window (And keep in mind I don’t use the term supernatural but Macmilland does so I use it for that reason here), how exactly? He gives no explanation. This is really part of classical theism and has been for a long time.

Macmillan says to ask any fundamentalist and he will tell you that the Bible contains the literal truths of Acts of God. This includes a six-day creation and a worldwide flood. He also adds in the virgin birth (Which I do affirm) and the deliverance of Israel. While I do not agree with young-Earth creationism or the flood being worldwide in reach, I do support the other two. Macmillan shows no interaction with the scholarship on these issues unfortunately.

In talking about Jesus, Macmillan says that the creeds of Christianity, and he has in mind the Nicene Creed, are dangerous since they turn Jesus into a being to be worshipped rather than someone whose life is to be emulated. Macmillan says that is a long road from rabble rouser to true God from true God. Indeed, it would be, but how was this point even reached?

I honestly don’t even know how Macmillan’s Jesus got crucified and for sedition as even Macmillan says. Jesus is apparently going around Israel teaching to give to the poor and have compassion on your fellow man. This Jesus would not be noticeable. He would not be crucified anymore than a Mr. Rogers would be crucified.

Macmillan also says that the message of the Kingdom of God has been lost. This is interesting since evangelical scholars have no problem with the message. Namely among them is N.T. Wright. Perhaps we can forgive Macmillan since it looks like he limit his reading to people like Borg, Ehrman, and Spong. I’m not saying to not read them, but read both sides!

Many of us won’t be surprised when he says how the journey ends. He tells his audience, as these are all sermons given, to point to themselves and say “I am the Christ!” and to point to their neighbor and say “You are the Christ!” and then to say “We are the Christ together!” At this point, it is clear that the deity Macmillan believes in is ultimately himself.

Macmillan’s Jesus will present no challenge to him. He will not call him to die to himself. He will not call him to take up a cross. He will not call him to repent of sins. He will instead build him up so much that he thinks that he is the Christ.

Macmillan further says that through the experiences he describes, we will meet and experience Jesus like never before. Of course, if Jesus is yourself this would follow. Macmillan and his audience will not get a deeper understanding of Jesus, but of themselves. Now we should understand ourselves, but worship is not about realizing who we are but realizing who God is.

Why also should we trust this experience is reliable? What about my fellow evangelicals who experience Jesus as described in orthodox Christianity? Do our experiences not count? How will we determine whose experiences count? What if two people in progressive Christianity disagree?

He also says that one of the greatest crimes and sins is the message of salvation. It is a horrible idea to say we need salvation and has robbed death of its meaning. No idea how this is possible, but it’s amazing that Macmillan will freely list out the sins of God, but when it comes to his own he has no need to be made righteous.

When talking about prayer, he asks what meaning it has if there is no God up there to hear us. I agree. What meaning does it have? Unfortunately, he never really answers that. Macmillan cannot beseech his god for anything apparently. What good does Macmillan’s god do? Better to have the God who heals some people of cancer instead of none. If the God of Christianity is evil for allowing anyone to die of cancer, what about Macmillan’s?

Macmillan in a message towards the end says that anyone who reads his book wins even if they don’t agree, because they know the rest of the story. Now we know about 200 years of science and Biblical scholarship. Well, no. We don’t. We know about a one-sided message that has been given.

He tells me it is likely I have never heard a pastor say the Easter story is metaphorical or that God is a human construct. Well, actually, not pastors, but I have heard plenty saying such things. I have spent years reading the scholarship which is why I’m convinced Macmillan is flat wrong on these issues. He has shown no interaction with the other side at all.

He tells me also that if I don’t believe, what makes me think I know better than the world’s leading Christian scholars? I don’t. The thing is, Macmillan does, because I have read the world’s leading Christian scholars. I think their arguments are far better than those on the other side.

Macmillan may claim the title reverend, but to quote another book, his god is too small. I see nothing in his good worthy of worship. It is rather a sort of amorphous blob who in the end will be made in the image of Macmillan instead of the other way around.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Check The Bibliography

Where do you go when you open a book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Most of my time is spent reading non-fiction. The rule I am giving does not apply to fiction and does not necessarily reply to material that is more devotional or self-help in nature. However, if you read a book arguing that another position is wrong, I want to make a recommendation on how to start.

Recently a skeptic I have interacted with wanted to send me a book he wrote on Christianity. I agreed to this. The book will be reviewed when I finish it so I won’t say what it is for now, but I did pick it up and check recently the bibliography. That was a section that confirmed many of my concerns.

When I went, for the most part, I pretty much just saw the Bible quoted over and over. If there was any Christian scholarship interacted with, it was certainly the very rare exception and right now, I can’t remember any of it that I saw. I could be mistaken, but that is what I saw.

Now some atheist who wants to apparently claim some piety might say “But isnt’ the Bible the Word of God? Shouldn’t quoting it be sufficient?” Well, of course not. You see, if you’re arguing that the Bible is wrong, you really need to take it on in the most serious way possible. It’s ridiculous to think you can take a book written in another context, place, language, and culture, and just quoting it in your English translation is enough to show you seriously understand all of those aspects that affect it.

You don’t.

If you say God should make it that way, then your objection is really a theological one and I want to know how you know this. Who told you that God should do it this way because it would be easier on you? Who said that He should be beholden to follow your rules?

By the way, I hold Christian books to the same standard. When I read a Christian work like this, I expect it to argue with that which is on the other side. There are a number of “apologetics” books that I have gone after because the author did not do this. If we want our opponents to take us seriously and really interact with the scholars on our side, we should do the same with them.

This doesn’t apply to just Christians and atheists. A Christian writing against any position should quote the other side regularly. This even includes more debates that are in-house. I have been reading on Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy more lately and I would think a Christian writing about the other side being incorrect on something should be quoting that other side often. Show me that you have seriously interacted with the material.

When you get that book then, go look at the bibliography. If you’re at the bookstore and want to get a serious investment, do the same thing. Of course, you will need to know the scholars on the sides you’re talking about in order to examine this claim, so again, you have to study as well. Perhaps you want to read a book with a bad bibliography just for amusement or some other reason. That’s your choice, but don’t expect a serious argument.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: The Syrian Christ

What do I think of Abraham Rihbany’s book published by Bridges Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Today, we have the context group of scholars. These are scholars looking into the culture of Christ and seeing how someone from a more honor-shame society would see Jesus? This is an area I have had a strong interest in and one that greatly impacts how you read the Biblical text.

Before our modern look, there was Ribhany. Ribhany wrote to tell us about how he looked at the life of Christ growing up in Syria. The book is over 100 years old now and yet many of the insights are still right there. Ribhany writes with the utmost passion and love of Christ and seeks to explain Him to our culture today.

Along the way, it’s not just Jesus that is explained, but many other aspects of Syrian culture. Of course, the culture has changed since the time of Ribhany no doubt in many ways, but many ideas would still apply and we can be thankful for the scholars doing the work today. Our great danger in the world of Biblical studies today is that we will be tempted to read our own culture into the Bible and fill in the “gaps” that we see with our own cultural ideas.

When we read Psalms that call for death and destruction on the enemy, we can be aghast. For the Syrian, this makes sense. Ribhany says that the people over there will say a lot and do a little. After some time of trash talking and such, the combatants have often released their emotions so much that there is no need to take them out on each other physically. Over here, we tend to think it’s best to control one’s emotions and not share them out in public. This certainly is not an idea we get from Jesus, who could clean out the temple, curse a fig tree, and weep openly when his friend Lazarus died.

The relationship of women is something else as well. In that culture, women are put in arranged marriages and women do tend to stay at home and take care of the house, but there is for Ribhany no idea that Syrian women envy American women. They can be just as happy in their marriages as we are here. The idea of women being silent in churches is also not something hurtful to them. It has an idea that the woman does not have to look ignorant out in public and can honor her spouse that way. What many of us read with disgust could be just throwing our own culture onto the text and assuming that our culture is superior. It’s odd that in accusing others of bigotry, we cold be the real bigots.

The book is an old book, but like I said, much of it can seem new today. It would be worth going and picking up a copy of this classic just to see how matters are different for the Syrian mind and even if some matters have changed, there can be no doubt that Jesus lived in a vastly different culture than we do. Perhaps we should start trying to understand that culture and how Jesus fits into it before finding out how to fit the life of Jesus into our culture.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Is Life Better Without God?

If you remove God from your life, will it be better? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, someone on twitter sent me a link to an article by Skeptic Mom on the question of if life is better without God. I took a look and saw a whole lot of issues that I deal with in the modern day church and figured this would be a good example. Now looking at the post, I don’t see Skeptic Mom at this point as some anti-theist, but just someone who is skeptical of religious claims, which is just fine, but I wonder how many of these claims she’s skeptical of are Christian claims and how many are cultural Christian claims. Let’s start with the first one.

For Skeptic Mom, the first benefit is that her life is more her own. What does that mean? Let’s look at what she says about this:

At church, we were taught stories about biblical characters, such as Jonah, who were punished for putting their own desires over God’s. Stories such as Jonah and the whale (or great fish or sea monster) were told to remind us that God had a plan for each of us and that we must follow his plan. Our job was to discover God’s plan and to follow the path he had chosen for us. We were told to trust that God knew best.

Now that I am an atheist, I no longer have to try to determine what God wants for me. I feel free to determine what I want out of life. I can set my own goals and make my own decisions. The realization that we create our own purpose in life has been a very freeing experience for me.

This is an example of how far our church education has gone. I do not fault Skeptic Mom for this. I fault our churches and the teaching curriculum that we often have. Let’s take a story like Jonah. Do we really think the writer of Jonah sat down and wrote the story hoping that the end lesson for his audience would be “God has a plan for your life.”? Unfortunately, too many of us are taught that. I still remember being in the Sunday School class at a church once and hearing that Joshua wrote the book of Joshua so that the Israelites would learn to obey God. This was in fact not a children’s class. This was the college class of which I was a member.

Our college students are getting simplistic teaching at their churches and Ph.d. atheism in the universities (Along with a culture of wanton sexuality) so why are we surprised that so many are falling away into atheism? It’s not really a contest.

If I was starting to teach on the book of Jonah, I’d want to ask some questions first. For instance, do we have any idea of who wrote it? Maybe it was Jonah. Maybe it wasn’t. Do we have any idea of when it was written? What was the context it was written in? Do we know who the audience is? For some books, we might have better answers then others. Then I’d want to know the historical situation going on. Why is this book important enough to be in the canon? For the Old Testament, what did it mean to the early Jews? For the New Testament, what did it mean to the early Christians?

Then I’d want to see what is going on in the book. For Jonah, this isn’t a book about following the will of God, though one certainly should. This is a book about the grace of God. God is a gracious God who desires to see all people come to Him, even a pagan nation like Assyria. In fact, Jonah tells us the reason he did not want to go to Nineveh is because he knew of the grace of God. This is a preacher who has a massive revival after a few days of preaching and he is upset about it. The point we have to ask from the story is who is the God described in the book of Jonah and how are we to live in response?

Much of what Skeptic Mom has here unfortunately comes from a rabid individualism that we have in the text that we center on what the text means for me. We often jump straight to application instead of doing a rich and rewarding look at the text. This also fits in with the idea of “God has a plan for your life” which is something not really taught in Scripture and no, do not dare try to individualize Jeremiah 29:11 on me. Try to look up the context of what is going on in that passage first.

Sometimes people come to me with what they think is a difficult question. They want to know what God’s plan is for their life. I tell them that’s really a simple question and they’re usually surprised. I tell them every time that the answer is to conform them to the likeness of Christ?

“Well what does that say about who I marry?”

“Well you need to marry a Christian of the opposite sex, but the more important question is not what kind of spouse will you marry, but what kind of spouse will you be?”

“What does that say about my career?”

“Don’t work somewhere immoral, but it’s not who will you work for but what kind of worker will you be?”

“Where should I live?”

“It’s not a question of who will be your neighbors, but what kind of neighbor will you be?”

Notice how many times we ask these questions, it’s about what the world and others can do for us instead of the other way around?

So as it turns out, I have great freedom here and so do you. I tire of the idea that we have to find God’s will as if it’s an Easter Egg Hunt and God will give us clues that we’re getting warmer or colder. #1 then is a belief of cultural Christianity. It is foreign to the Bible. Let’s move on to #2. This is about intellectual growth. Skeptic Mom writes that:

When I was a Christian, I did not often think deeply about religious issues. One reason for this was because I didn’t view religion as complex. I thought it was a matter of finding the true religion and the right answers. Often, I simply looked to an authority, such as a trusted minister or the Bible to find answers. The other reason I rarely thought deeply about religion was because my beliefs were rarely challenged. Almost everyone I knew was religious, and those who were not did not challenge my beliefs. It was a subject that was rarely discussed on anything more than a superficial level.

Now that I have become an atheist, I think more deeply about religious issues. Because the majority of people I interact with are people who do not share my perspective on these issues, I am forced to confront another point of view. Even when my beliefs are not directly challenged, I often hear people stating an opinion that differs from my own. This forces me to think about my position on issues to determine what I really think and to determine if I have a good reason for holding my position. Even when I am speaking with another atheist about issues that we agree on, I find the conversations tend to be deeper because we often look at the issues from other points of view to determine if our opinions and assumptions are correct. I think that the reason we can more easily look at different perspectives and possibilities is because neither of us believe that there is a right answer given to us by a deity.

This one really saddens me in particular. As many readers know, I have been on a long crusade to stop anti-intellectualism in the culture. Now do I think in many cases this has hit the atheist movement. Absolutely. Most arguments I see on the internet from atheists are quite frankly embarrassing to look at. I think many in the movement who claims to be “brights” and intellectuals are anything but. Yet if it happened there, I believe it happened because it started with the church first.

And this is the anomaly. You go back and look at the early church and the medieval period and the Reformation era and these were guys who took the life of the mind very seriously. The abandonment of intellectualism in the church around the late 19th century and the early 20th century was one of the worst choices the church ever made. Too many Christians live in a climate of anti-intellectualism where any real thinking is seen as going against the virtue of “faith.” This faith however is certainly not any kind of faith that the Bible endorses. That I have written about elsewhere.

In fact, I would say when I get together with my Christian friends, we have rich intellectual discussions. It’s not “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” When we do quote the Bible, we also have a great discussion on what the various passages mean and how best to apply them today. My own wife could tell you that if I need to tell her something, I could quote Scripture. I could also quote Lewis or Chesterton or Aristotle or Epictetus. I believe in having a rich intellectual reservoir to draw from and that includes those outside of the church. Christianity provides me a wellspring of knowledge to draw from.

For #3 Skeptic Mom says that the world makes more sense because:

When I was a Christian, there would be times I would learn something that did not fit with my Christian worldview. Often, I would have a brief moment of thinking, “if this is correct, Christianity is not.” Instead of revising my worldview, I would find a way to rationalize my beliefs, decide the information must be incorrect, or ignore that piece of information. For example, I used to believe that our personality was contained within our soul. When we went to the afterlife, our personality would be intact. When I learned how after Phineas Gage suffered a severe head injury his personality changed so drastically that his friends said he no longer seemed to be the same person, I began to see personality as a function of the brain and not the soul. For a moment, I questioned my religious teachings about the soul, but I quickly dismissed this thought and tucked it away in a corner of my mind.

Once I allowed myself to truly consider that my Christian beliefs might be wrong, thoughts I had dismissed came flooding back to my mind. Once I looked at the information without my lens of Christianity, it made more sense. It is very freeing to know that now as I come across new information, I can accept it without trying to make it fit into a preconceived worldview.

I can’t really buy this last part, because we all have a worldview and we will all try to interpret new data in light of that worldview first. Few of us would see a piece of data and decide to chuck our whole worldview at that point. For that to happen, it must be an incredibly convincing piece of data and if you trade in your faith lightly, then it was a faith that you took lightly to begin with.

Now I would like to state that I do not attempt to answer questions really on the relationship of mind and body or dualism like that. That’s not my area. I know many people who do and they happily address objections like this one. This I think is an important part of worldview thinking. You cannot be a master or authority in everything, so you need to learn to be an authority on select issues and seek to learn as much as you can about those. Still, this is a secondary question for Christianity. The primary questions are “Is there a God?” and then “Did He Raise Jesus from the dead?” If one is convinced of these, then one can look at an objection and say “I do not understand that, but I see it does not touch these primary issues so I am willing to think about it, but I am not willing to base my worldview on it.”

I would in fact argue that the world makes more sense on theism. I think theism best explains morality, existence itself, statements of truth, and the life and resurrection of Jesus. I do not think atheism really explains anything. This is part of the problem. I hold my worldview because it makes the most sense. Someone holds the opposite for the same reason. I advise those curious to read the best scholarship on both sides. From there we move on to #4 which is about having a morality that makes sense. Skeptic Mom writes:

I used to assume that whatever God said was right was good. And, anything God said was wrong was a sin. However, there were several Bible stories that I learned in Sunday school where it seemed that God was wrong. For example, I thought it was wrong for God to test Abraham to see if he would sacrifice his beloved son. Even though God did not make Abraham go through with the sacrifice, I thought that the experience had to have been horrifying for both Abraham and Isaac. I also thought it was wrong for God to demand that his subjects be so loyal that they would even be willing to sacrifice their own children. I would not have wanted my parents to be willing to sacrifice me to God and I knew I would never be willing to sacrifice children I might have one day. I struggled to understand how God was right in this and other Bible stories. My Sunday school teachers taught us that when we could not understand God’s ways it was simply because human beings were not smart enough to understand. Assuming that must be the case, I tried not to think too deeply about those stories. Later in life, I also began to question if everything I was taught was a sin was really a sin. Some things that I was taught was a sin, such as premarital sex, did not seem really wrong, at least not all of the time. I had a tough time reconciling how certain things could really be sins worthy of eternal hellfire. Yet, somehow, I assumed they must still be sins if god said they were.

Now that I am an atheist, I no longer believe in the concept of sin. I am not concerned with what the Bible says is right or wrong. I decide for myself whether something is right and wrong based on whether the action is harmful or whether it promotes human flourishing. My judgments are now based on my values. And, when I learn of immoral acts that are by the Bible, I condemn them.

The start is a basic version of Divine Command Theory, which I do not hold to. Still, even a holder of that viewpoint would want to flesh it out even more beyond that. I understand the problem with stories in Sunday School. One key part is that when difficulties were raised, students were told humans are just not smart enough to understand. While there could be some truth to this, in that surely the way a deity could act would be hard for me to understand, let us not dare make a statement that will dissuade the asking of questions and the seeking of answers! When we do that, we are creating atheists.

Just like Skeptic Mom.

Looking at the story of Abraham, it’s important to note that Abraham was told to do this for Isaac was not just a random child, but was the son of the promise. The way to know that Abraham believed the promise was to see if Abraham would act in a way that would put the promise itself in jeopardy. Abraham had himself interacted with God many times and seen miraculous events in his own life, so it wasn’t that he just heard a voice in his head and that had no bearing in reality. He had even spoken to God when God came before him in the form of a human messenger to discuss the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Abraham was also an old man and Isaac would have been a much younger one. Anyone really think an old man like Abraham could force Isaac to get on an altar? Isaac was seen as a willing sacrifice, and Isaac lived in a culture where many would die at a young age and death could come from wild animals, enemy raids, or disease at any moment. Finally, let’s not forget that God STOPS the action from taking place. We also see how shocking this must have been for Abraham because the request is so unusual and out of character for God that we think that something has to be up in this whole story. Indeed, there is. This was the way of showing Abraham really believed the promise.

Yet I do not think morality makes sense in atheism. What is the good? What is the evil? To say that which promotes human flourishing is too vague. No doubt many slave owners thought human flourishing was benefited by owning slaves. No doubt many Nazis believed human flourishing was benefited by the final solution. No doubt many communists believed that human flourishing was established by removing those who were impediments to the rule of Communism. We can even ask it on a smaller level. Did the refrigeration industry cause human flourishing when it put many in the ice industry out of a job? Why should we care about human flourishing anyway? What makes us so special? Maybe we should stop having bacon and put pig flourishing primary?

Then of course, what is goodness itself? How does it exist? Is it a reality that is found in things and actions, or is it just this idea that exists in the mind that we apply to those things and actions? Those are two very different positions. One ends in objectivism. One ends in relativism.

I also do not think for a moment that we should take the position that we need the Bible to know right from wrong. I think the Bible teaches many great moral truths, but these could be known apart from Scripture. In fact, passages like Romans 2 that speak of the Law written on our hearts agree with this. The only reason the people in Romans 1 can be held accountable is that they already do have an idea of right from wrong. It is also not like that the Israelites got the Ten Commandments and said “Wow! We have to stop this murder thing! Turns out that’s not a good thing to do!” Christian morality should be informed by the Bible, but also by sound thinking in the study of philosophy and metaphysics.

The last part is a focus on life and here I will quote just the first paragraph.

When I was a Christian, I spent a great deal of time trying to make it to heaven and avoid being sent to Hell. I spent time trying to avoid activities that would bring the condemnation of God, feeling guilty over being a sinful human being, and begging for forgiveness from God for displeasing him. Instead of trying to make this life the best one it could be, I spent a lot of time worrying about the next life.

At this point, I have to wonder what kind of environment Skeptic Mom was in. It sounds like one that was highly legalistic and very anti-intellectual. This is a kind of Christianity that should be abandoned. Let’s consider something interesting about guilt. Recently I did a search on Bible Gateway after a guest on my show noted that guilt is never talked about in Romans. I went to the search tool and put in the word guilt. It was not in Romans, but I noticed something about every time guilt was used. It never once referred to a feeling of guilt. It referred to guilt in the legal sense. The same with innocence. Yet guess what we focus on here in America? Yep. The feeling of guilt, something not talked about at all in the text.

Are there some feelings talked about? Yep. Honor and shame. These permeated the Biblical worldview and yet how often in churches do you hear sermons on honor and shame? If you’re like me, never. In fact, a search for these terms in the Bible show that they showed up far more in the NT than their Western counterparts.

I also see in Skeptic Mom an idea that Christianity should be focused on the next life. To be sure, Christians should be heavenly-minded, but not at the expense of Earth. Earth is not an afterthought. It is not a mistake. It is the place God designed to dwell with His people. We might have interrupted the plan, but we did not ruin it. That is still His plan. The hymn is true that this is my Father’s world. We should focus on Christ, but never lose sight of this life that He has given us. This is the world we live and serve and worship in. This is the world that we are to seek that His will be done here as it is in Heaven. This is the world that we seek to have brought to Christ that He will rule over it.

Too many churches do have this idea that this world doesn’t really matter. Christ does not share that idea. This is the world that He loves.

In the end, I conclude that I have all the things that Skeptic Mom says she has and in fact, I think I have overall a better explanation of reality. Now to get into the arguments for that, there are many other posts on my blog here that can go into each of those, but I especially think Christianity best makes sense of the life and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It looks like Skeptic Mom got a legalistic and anti-intellectual version of Christianity and sadly threw the baby out with the bathwater. I wonder if she has ever considered reading someone like N.T. Wright and the depths of his knowledge on such subjects.

I also think this is a warning to the church. The Christianity Skeptic Mom abandoned is rampant and people see it as real Christianity. It is not. I do not doubt people in it are real Christians, but it is not because they are following the Bible well and the long Christian tradition. Our churches could all be benefited by better equipping the saints with good theology and doctrine and teaching them how to think and examine both sides of the argument.

Hopefully in fact, both sides of this argument will do that. We could have much better debates.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Google Research Is A Problem

Does having more access to information mean we’re more informed? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Two times this week, I have seen an interesting event happen. In both cases, I have been discussing with an atheist on Facebook. In both cases, I have seen them make a claim that’s completely false. In both cases, I saw them Google for a resource to use. In both cases, the link they provided that they said backed their case in fact did not back their case. In fact, in both cases, they used the same web site and seeing as it’s a web site where I know the guy who runs it, I know the quality is excellent and my opponents didn’t realize what they had done.

In the first case, I was told that it was at the Council of Nicea that the Bible had been edited. The excellent site that was used to demonstrate this claim was www.Tertullian.org and the specific page was this one. This site is run by Roger Pearse who is a Christian and an excellent researcher so I knew something was wrong immediately. With this, it didn’t take too long. All I had to do was read the first paragraph. I will bold in the important parts.

There seem to be a number of legends about the First Council of Nicaea (325AD) in circulation on the internet, presented as fact.  Some people seem to think that the council, which was the first council of all the Bishops of the Christian Church, either invented the New Testament, or edited it to remove references to reincarnation (or whatever) or burned large numbers of heretical works, or whatever.  These are in error.  This page documents the problem and provides links to all the ancient source material in order to allow everyone to check the truth for themselves.

In the next case, it was someone trying to tell me a pagan deity like Mithras was born on December 25th. Even if Jesus was not born on this day, it is a false claim to say all these pagan deities were born on that same day. The page I was linked to was this one. Yet had the person even bothered to read, he would have seen that again, it wasn’t friendly to his claims.

Cumont stated that the birthday of Mithras was 25 December, on the basis that a solar feast took place on that date and Mithras would, of course, be included. The idea was only speculation, but has been widely taken up. Clauss repeats the claim. But Beck states that this is not the case. In fact he calls this assertion ‘that hoariest of “facts”‘. He continues: “In truth, the only evidence for it is the celebration of the birthday of Invictus on that date in the Calendar of Philocalus. ‘Invictus’ is of course Sol Invictus, Aurelian’s sun god. It does not follow that a different, earlier, and unofficial sun god, Sol Invictus Mithras, was necessarily or even probably, born on that day too.”

But later Clauss states; “the Mithraic Mysteries had no public ceremonies of its own. The festival of natalis Invicti [Birth of the Unconquerable (Sun)], held on 25 December, was a general festival of the Sun, and by no means specific to the Mysteries of Mithras.”

Steven Hijmans has discussed in detail the question of whether the general “natalis Invicti” festival was related to Christmas but does not give Mithras as a possible source.

Please note this. For the sake of argument, it could be Pearse is wrong in his claims. I’m quite confident he isn’t, but let’s suppose he is just for the sake of argument. What matters is that in both cases, the person had likely just typed something in on Google and just copied the first few links without bothering to even read what they said confident that what they put up had to prove their point.

And this is the problem.

There are too many people today who think just being able to Google is all they need to make an argument and if they can find a link that says something, then that establishes it.

News flash to some of you. Not everything on the internet is true.

You see, one of the problems of the internet is anyone whatsoever can set up a blog, web site, YouTube channel, write an Ebook, etc., and be seen as an authority. Now of course I’m not going to deny there is some excellent work out there by non-scholars. I would hope some of you reading this blog think that this is the case here. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who have pseudo-research but just look impressive.

If you know how to use Google, it can be an excellent tool. If you don’t know how, it can give you the appearance of knowledge without the substance thereof.

If you want the best knowledge, you will need to read the books by leading authorities in the field you want to learn. These authorities also do not produce their material for free. Every now and then, you can find some resources that are free, such as the podcast that I host regularly.Yet despite that, there is no replacement whatsoever for reading the books that you need to read.

Imagine going to a doctor and as you describe your symptoms you see him on his computer. Now this isn’t always an unusual scene. Sometimes he’s entering in data on your case. Yet what would happen if you asked him what he was doing and he said “Oh. I’m googling in your symptoms to see what you have and what the best treatment would be?” I hope all of you would be going to find a new doctor.

In Japan, one of the delicacies you can get is Puffer Fish. The problem with the meai is that the fish contains a deadly poison so if you want to serve it, you have to cook it in just the right way so that it is no longer a threat. In fact, you have to be specially licensed in order to prepare this meal. How many would be willing to have the meal at a Japanese restaurant if you knew the cook was instead just using Google to learn how to do it?

Google can too often just allow a person to be lazy and look like they know something when they don’t. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for work. There is no shortcut on the path of knowledge. If you want to learn something, you will have to work at it. You can use Google as a tool, but do not expect it to do all the work for you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Google Generation

Is it possible to be a recipient of the information age and be uninformed? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

With Christmas coming up, I’m wanting to upgrade some of my technology, and so yesterday while the Mrs. was at a Pinterest party, I decided to go to an AT&T store after some grocery shopping to talk to someone there about upgrades. One thing I want upgraded is my Kindle. I’d like to be able to read books on audio much more easily with a Kindle and I’ve been told I could just consider an IPad and with that I could use a Kindle App and have access to a tool I can use for powerpoint.

The guy who was telling me about the products heard me go on and on about books and then saw the books I had with me, apologetic books in nature, which led to a discussion about certain issues and I was told that in the past people believed the Earth was flat.

I quickly pointed out that this is a myth. “On The Heavens” by Aristotle has the teaching that the Earth is a sphere and you would be hard-pressed to find one intelligent thinker after that including Aquinas and the church fathers who thought otherwise.

I was told that the intelligentsia believed that, but not the masses. The masses all thought you would fall off. I simply replied that I would need evidence to believe such a thing.

So what happens? Well we’re there looking at IPads so he suggests that we just look it up.

How does the argument go? Well one of the first things found is this:

TheWorldisFlat

Except it’s worse than that.

You see, my salesman didn’t even look at the book. In fact, he never got to the picture. All he saw was a link with the title of the book and how it was a history of the 21st century and said “See? Even up until our time that’s been believed.”

Amazing what you can learn about a book just by seeing a title. Not only can you learn about the book, but you can learn about what a whole group of people have believed. No research required.

Now in our next vast tour of internet research, what’s the next thing we come across? This:

shipfallsoffEarth

Is there any attempt to see who did this painting? Nope. Is there any attempt to see when it was done? Nope. For all we know, it could be after the myth was popularized that people used to believe that the Earth was flat, which I pointed out Washington Irving popularized that myth about why Columbus sailed West. (It’s worth pointing out as well that Ingersoll helped popularize it.)

By this mindset, the musical group Kansas must have included flat-Earthers in it. Take a look at this album cover:

Kansas_-_Point_of_Know_Return

Now let’s suppose something. Let’s suppose that I am wrong for the sake of argument. Even if I was, is it sufficient to look at a web link and a picture and do nothing further beyond that and decide that your opponent’s position is refuted? Not at all.

Yet this is exactly what we’re up against.

You see, we live in an age where people think they are authorities because they can use Google. I can’t help but think of what my friend Tim McGrew, professor of philosophy at Western Michigan, says about this:

“One of the most disastrous illusions of the internet age is that an amateur plus Google is equivalent to a scholar. A search engine offers information, more or less relevant according to the skill of the searcher. But it does not sift that information; it does not sort fact from fancy, wheat from chaff. It does not explain which facts are relevant and which are beside the point. It does not weigh the merits of competing arguments and tell the user where the balance of evidence lies. A bright amateur armed with the internet may at best be better informed than he would otherwise have been, and he may occasionally catch a real scholar in a factual error. But it will not turn him into a scholar himself. There is no such thing as effortless erudition.”

Google is a fantastic tool when used appropriately, but when used inappropriately, it can give the illusion of knowledge without research.

Yet this is what we see happen in our age. I am involved in debates often with Christ-mythers for instance who when presented with several works of scholarship just instead put up a Google link by a non-scholarly source and then march off triumphantly convinced they’ve defeated their enemy.

Of course, I am not telling you to avoid using Google. I am also not telling you that all sources must be scholarly, but I do think sources for arguments should interact with scholars and while Google can be a tool in your research, it should not be the whole thing.

The sad part is unfortunately, the side relying entirely on Google has fooled itself with an illusion that real research has been done, when it has not been done. This is also why those of us who argue MUST read and study that which disagrees with us. If not, we can lull ourselves into a sense that we are automatically right by virtue of our position and have nothing to learn from our opponents.

And yes, both sides are guilty of this. The Christian side can too often consist of people saying “We have the Inerrant Word of God! What need have we to study anything else?” Meanwhile, the atheist side consists of people who will say “Courtier’s reply!” and think they have made a substantial reply.

Recently on my show, I interviewed my father-in-law Mike Licona. We’re quite different intellectually. He was the one who struggled in school and worked and when he did, got C’s. Meanwhile, I was the student who went to school, did all the assignments, came home and played video games all day, and then got A’s and elected Most Studious in my class. Study was not a necessity for me in school.

Now Mike is an academic, though he says it’s not his natural bent. How many of you in apologetics want to be like Mike? Then he would tell you this too. Study, study, study. There is no shortcut on this path. You must do the work.

Now some of you could be saying “Well that’s him, but what about you? Do you have it easy as one inclined to academics?”

Nope. Not a bit. Despite our differences in school, in this field, I too have to study, study, study. Now could it be I might have some advantages? Sure. But those advantages themselves do not present results. Those results only come from sacrifice. There are many times I’d frankly like to do other things, but in order to be informed, I have to study. It is work, but to be informed, it is worth it.

Also, if you get to the point where you think you no longer need to read the other side, then you are not really studying. By all means reach a conclusion. I have concluded Christianity is true, but I still read what I disagree with. Perhaps someone will show me an argument I have not considered. I can be skeptical, and you can be too, but we must always be open.

In our age, Google cannot take the place of real learning and research. Google if used properly will be an excellent tool for learning, but when used improperly, it can convince someone that they are learned when they are not, and when they speak on an issue, those who know it better will be left shaking their heads wondering how such a person thinks their point is valid.

Be a researcher. Don’t rely on just Google.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Some Tips On Research

Is there a proper way to go sifting through claims and separate the wheat from the chaff? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As Christians, we are to be people of the truth, and therefore we need to check as much as we can and find out if it is true or not. If we say something that is false on a major issue at one point or something that is easily disproven, then it damages our testimony when we proclaim Christ as the risen Lord.

Of course, this also applies to too many atheists who don’t bother to do proper research either. There can easily be confirmation bias going on on both sides. Christians can too often readily believe anything if it meshes with their view of reality, such as an interpretation of Scripture. Atheists can believe many claims just because they happen to go against Christianity despite being seen as jokes in scholarship of the day.

So let’s give some tips.

First off, when you’re doing internet research, be extremely careful. Anyone can set up a blog or a web site today and look authoritative.

“Well don’t you have a blog here? Shouldn’t I be suspicious of what you say?”

Please do.

Seriously. Please do.

If you don’t think I’m a trusted authority, by all means look up what I say. If I’m wrong about something, I want to know about it and if you make a persuasive enough case with good evidence and scholarship, then I will be able to change my mind.

The source is something that must always be considered. No. This is not the same as a genetic fallacy. The claim can be right or wrong regardless of the source, but the source tells you the degree of credibility you need to give it at the start.

Want an example? Sure. Unfortunately, this is a real one. A Muslim actually posted in a Muslim debate group I used to frequent that modern scholars knew the stories about there being ancient Greek civilization were mythical. I’m not talking about Atlantis or believing in Greek gods or anything like that. I’m talking about the civilization period. This lady posted a video to show the professors talking about it.

Source?

The Onion.

For those who don’t know, the Onion is a satire. The articles are entirely jokes not meant to be taken seriously. I’d like to say this only fools crazies on the internet. I’d like to, but I’d be wrong. Huffington Post lists several examples here.

There are several sources out there like that that are satirical. Be on the lookout for them. If you read on a web site something that seems bizarre, there is no harm of just doing a simple Google search to see if the site you are reading this on is satirical.

A place Christians can often make this mistake at is end-times hysteria.

Too many things have been reported to be the Mark of the Beast and every time that they’ve been shown to be false, another one just rises up. There is a new sensation going on constantly in many dispensational circles. If you’re one of those dispensationalists who is not jumping at everything called prophecy fulfillment, I have no problem with you. In fact, I’m quite pleased that one of the best criticisms of The Harbinger is actually by a dispensationalist.

Definitely shame on you if you buy into these people that are certain they can tell you when Jesus is coming back. They can’t. They won’t. Guess what it does to the cause of Christ when people sell all they have and travel across the country proclaiming the end because of what someone like Harold Camping said?

This gets us into moving past considering the source and then really looking at the claim. A claim can seem plausible and from a source that could be reliable, but it could also be false. This kind of event happens on Facebook constantly. Someone will put up a news story and then everyone will share it and talk about it except for that one problem.

The story isn’t true.

A famous occurrence of this happening is when an email was going around several years ago about NASA finding Joshua’s last day. NASA had to respond to calls from people wanting to know more about it and unfortunately being told that the claim wasn’t true.

In politics, this can happen often. I’ve had someone in the past who would regularly email me something about Obama that was a highly negative story that would be such a great exposing of who he really was.

Except for that same problem. It wasn’t true.

And keep this in mind. Politically, I am no supporter of Obama. I am so conservative in my politics I prefer to fly on planes that have two right wings. Obama politically to me is an opponent, but if I want to expose my opponent, I want it to be on true grounds, and not false grounds. We should not want those who we are in opposition to to be spoken of falsely.

This is also why when someone says “Dr. X says such and such” you should ask some questions.

Who is this person?

What is their doctorate in?

Do they teach at an accredited university?

Are they respected in the field by those who agree with them and those who disagree with them?

Is their doctorate in a relevant field?

If those questions are answered in a way that gives credibility to the person then you need to look at the claim more. Unfortunately, too many videos that present these claims do not include proper citation. For instance, I just got done watching a video by some Christ-mythers who would say “X said this.” Where? Who knows! Rarely was anything ever said.

Christ-mythers, by the way, are excellent examples of people who do not do research. The Christ-mythers will fail in the field of NT and history at the questions above as none of them will be respected in the field by people they disagree with.

Consider Richard Carrier for instance. Carrier is highly respected and admired among internet atheists. Take that crowd away and there’s nothing. Most people in Europe have never even heard of him. Compare that to someone like N.T. Wright who teaches at an accredited university and is recognized as a top-notch biblical scholar by even his opponents.

I am interested in seeing what’s going to happen in the future for all the internet atheists who have put all their eggs in the Carrier basket.

This brings us to the next point. See what the opposition has to say. Read the best scholarship that you can on the other side. A question I often ask internet atheists nowadays is “When was the last time you read a work of scholarship that disagreed with you?”

Let’s return to the Christ-myth theory as my favorite example. How many times do I meet internet atheists who say “We don’t even know that Jesus existed.” Yeah we do. Scholarship across the board has held he does for years and theories that he did not exist have been found to be extremely lacking.

The reply will often be that these are a bunch of Christers trying to save their faith. The answer is that this is simply false. A large segment of the Society of Biblical Literature is non-Christian for instance. Bart Ehrman is a member of the SBL as are others who would say they’re atheist, agnostic, or liberal. (Some could say they’re Christian, but only in the sense that they follow the ethics of Christ without believing in anything miraculous about him.)

Also, even Christian scholars have to have their work pass peer-review. It won’t necessarily mean that their reviewers agree with their conclusion, but it will mean that they’ve shown they’ve done their research and are able to defend their view.

When you read this opposition, try to read scholarly opposition as much as you can and read it when published by an academic publisher. Of course, not everything is like that, and I say that as the co-author of two ebooks. A claim being in a non-scholarly source does not make it false, but it does mean you should always be willing to check the source of the claim and make sure that the person is interacting with the best in scholarship on the issue.

For an example of interacting with the best scholarship on the issue, consider the new atheists. The new atheists regularly have a habit of NOT interacting with the best of their opposition. I believe I have demonstrated that in this post.

By and large also, I do prefer books to videos and blog posts and such. Don’t discount those entirely, as I am a blogger after all, but try to see them as stepping stones. That’s why on my podcast I try to bring the best in scholarship and hope that it will be a stepping stone getting you to want to go look at the works of the scholars that I interview.

This also applies across the board. Don’t think I don’t practice what I teach either. Of course, I will make mistakes, but I spend plenty of time reading and studying. You can follow me on Goodreads if you want to see what it is that I’m reading. There is no such thing as being knowledgeable in the field without doing the research. There is no shortcut to learning. There are many ways to learn, but all of them require work.

Do good research. I don’t care what position you have. Just research it. In fact, I would rather talk about theology with an informed atheist more than an uninformed Christian. My standards are the same on both ends. I respect people who do the research about what they argue and know the other side well. I don’t respect those who are dogmatic on their side without doing any background research.

Be a part of the former. Study.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Trouble With Internet Debates

What’s so problematic about having debates on the internet? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I love debate. Okay. I can’t deny that. A good argument can get me really excited. I love the back and forth exchange of ideas. (Well supposedly the back and forth exchange.) Yet there’s something also irksome about it. In some ways, it can be like receiving a new gift at Christmas. It’s fun and exciting for a few days, but after awhile, the excitement just wears off.

What’s the problem with internet debates? Well very rarely do people talk about ideas that they really study. Instead, they talk about ideas that they have opinions on. Now opinions are fine and we all have them, but some opinions are to be more authoritative than others. I can have an opinion on evolution and cosmology. Don’t take it seriously. Why? Because I have not done the necessary reading on the topic. I am not an authority.

A word of warning at this point to my apologist friends out there and to other Christians. Reading the apologists on a topic does not make you an authority. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to read the scholars on the topic. You want to know what your opponents are arguing even better than they know it.

Now before atheists start thinking they’re not guilty of the same thing, they are. If you want to make an argument against the existence of God, don’t read someone like Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is just fine when talking about evolution, but he is not trained in the arguments for God’s existence.

Don’t go thinking that people like Jerry Coyne (Who Peter Boghossian refers to profusely) are authorities on Christianity. They’re not. When I go to his blog and see people arguing that Jesus never even existed, I know this is not something to take seriously. (And yes, no one who says Jesus never existed should be considered authoritative in the field. There are more PH.D.s in science who hold to YEC, a view I do not hold to at all, than there are PH.D.s in ancient history who say Jesus never existed.)

The new atheist movement has done this to atheism today. If you want to be a well-informed atheist, do not read the new atheists. Believe it or not, just because you are an atheist, it does not mean that you’re automatically a clear thinker. Christian and atheists both have fools and geniuses on their side.

Another problem both sides have is incredulity has become an argument. For an atheist, yeah. I get it. It seems incredible to you that a miracle occurred. Frankly, I don’t have any problem with you thinking it is incredible. It really is. I understand the skepticism. The problem is skepticism is not an argument. It is a position that one holds. Today, you will need to do more than quote David Hume. Have you read the critiques of Hume? Have you considered a work such as Miracles by Craig Keener?

It also won’t work to say “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” Why should your position be the one that determines what claim is and isn’t extraordinary? The term is just way too subjective. How do you even recognize extraordinary evidence? Does it have some property like glowing in the dark?

extraordinaryevidence

And once again, to turn to the Christians, your incredulity does not count as an argument. Okay. Many of you are skeptical of evolution. I get that. Yeah. Now I have no firm opinion on the matter, but your incredulity does not count as an argument. It also will not work to say “The Bible says X.” Yeah. You accept the Bible as an authority, but your opponent doesn’t. Why should he care?

Now if you want to argue against evolution by all means be my guest. Just make sure you make the case scientific. If evolution is to fall, it will fall because it happens to be bad science. If it is bad science, then it can be refuted scientifically. Being incredulous will not count as an argument.

The problem with both of these positions is both sides can remain incredibly fundamentalist in nature. Many Christians will say automatically that they must be right because they agree with the Bible and the Word of God cannot be wrong. Now it could be true the Bible is the Word of God and cannot be wrong. (And I do hold to Inerrancy in fact) That is not to be assumed. If you’re debating a Christian who holds to that position, then fine. Use the Bible all you want to as an authority. It won’t work outside of that. It has no more effect on an opponent than my hearing what the Koran says from a Muslim has on me despite him insisting he’s telling me the words of the creator.

For the atheist, too often there is an engagement in what I call “atheistic presuppositionalism.” This is where you start off with the assumption of atheism, but you also start with the idea that because you are an atheist, you are reasonable and anyone who does not accept atheism is just irrational.

Now of course, if atheism is true, it is irrational to not accept it, but none of us are purely rational in all our thinking. We all make mistakes. You can be rational in many areas and irrational in others for any number of reasons. There could be a lack of study, reading the wrong resources, pride, or emotional or volitional barriers. Atheists often warn us about bias. They’re right. We should all be seeking to have our biases checked, but that includes atheists as well. The best way is to go out and read people who disagree with you and really interact with them.

But for too many atheists, the position is that they are rational and therefore any comment that they make is rational. Want to say Jesus never existed? That’s rational because you’re an atheist! Have an opinion on any topic you’ve never studied? It’s rational because you’re an atheist!

This also leads to too often a lack of serious engagement with religious ideas for atheists. For most, it is just a Google search and Google while a valuable tool for those who use it well, is an aid also to the laziness of our day and age. Why go out and read a scholar of a position? Just go find something in a Google search.

Want to claim Jesus is a copycat Messiah and there were several dying and rising deities? No problem! Just do a Google search! Sure! The source might not quote any scholars whatsoever and would not be taken seriously in the scholarly world, which it isn’t, but hey! It’s found on Google!

Now of course, a Christian should want to have an answer to that objection, but the question needs to be asked why it should be taken seriously as an objection in the first place? Is finding it on a Google search a good enough reason? I can find evidence on Google right now that the moon landing never took place! I can find evidence that the holocaust never happened! Now it’s faulty evidence to be sure (You can have evidence for false opinions), but it is evidence! Who would like to see something put up saying the moon landing never happened and expect to have to give an answer for that?

In fact, the reality is that 99.9% of us would say that it happened I predict. I have no doubt it happened. The reality is that most of us at the same time could not give an argument for it. Most of us do not know the physics and such of the matter to give an answer. That does not mean we’re irrational for holding it. We hold it on other grounds. Most of us could not give an argument for heliocentrism. Does that mean if someone put forward a web page claiming geocentrism that you would want me to take it seriously?

On the internet, anyone can put forward an opinion and it doesn’t have to be examined by critical minds. If you wanted to, you could start a blog right now for free and put out your opinion on whatever you want. That does not mean you’re an authority. It means you have an opinion.

Some of you might be thinking “What about your blog?” What about it? If you want to be skeptical, go ahead. I do not claim to be a scholar yet, but I do claim to rely on the works of leading scholars. If you think my opinion carries merit, feel free to share it. If not, then ignore it and just go and read the people who have actually reached the level of scholar.

Google is a tool for too many people who want instant information but are not wanting to do a real study. So many people don’t want today to do the real research required in learning a topic. Instead, they just want you to lay everything out front instead of doing the basic groundwork for what you wish to say. That’s another problem with internet discussions. If you’ve read the scholars, it’s very irritating to talk to people who haven’t and have them think they’re an authority.

And this gets us into another area as well. When people are contested, they can turn nasty. Now I am not one who says all satire and sarcasm is wrong. In fact, I think in many cases it’s necessary. Sometimes you need to call a spade a spade. Some arguers on the internet are just bullies who have not studied and want to present themselves as authority. They do not respond to sound argumentation.

Yet if all you have is just sarcasm and satire and you cannot back it with arguments, then you do not have an argument. Mocking Christians for being Christians is not an argument. Mocking atheists for being atheists is not an argument. If you’re one who does not have a problem with mockery, and to be fair, the Bible has no problem with it in many cases, then be sure that you also have the arguments to back it. Mockery, sarcasm, and satire are not to be your arguments. They are meant to be used, if you use them, as tools of argumentation but not the data itself.

Hopefully on both sides we can learn better argumentation. I have this strange dream that someday we’ll have debates where we only talk about topics that we’ve really seriously studied in debate. Unfortunately, as long as we think we are authorities because we have opinions, this will not happen. Yet I expect this most from the Christian community. I expect that we most of all will be fulfilling the life of the mind and engaging in areas where we have done our homework. It is no honor to our Lord to come to the debate not having done at least basic research. God is not obligated to give us knowledge because we have not done our part. That would in fact be encouraging laziness.

I also expect that too many people on both sides will hear this kind of advice on internet debates and ignore it entirely. This again is part of our modern problem as we consider ourselves exceptions to every rule out there.

If you want to honor Christ, be a student. Be a disciple. Be learning. Be reading both sides of the positions that you hold and love God with your mind. Sloppy thinking is no honor for the Christian to have.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

On Interacting With Street Epistemologists

What’s been my experience so far interacting with Street Epistemologists? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was asked by an apologetics group I belong to to describe what has been my experience thus far dealing with street epistemologists. You see, I was thrilled when I heard Peter Boghossian, author of “A Manual For Creating Atheists” (which I have reviewed here and interviewed Tom Gilson on here) had decided to come out with a show called the Reason Whisperer where he plans to have live conversations with people of “faith” and get them closer at least to deconversion.

I think this is a Godsend really.

I’ve long been waiting to see if there is something that will wake up the church from its intellectual slumbers and this I hope is it! We’ve had more than enough warnings and yet too many Christians are too caught up in themselves to realize they’re to do the Great Commission.

So I wanted to see what these street epistemologists were made of. Myself and some others with the same interest went to the Facebook page of Peter Boghossian. There we began asking questions and challenging what was said. It’s noteworthy that Boghossian himself never responded to us.

In fact, one post at least was a practical dare on Boghossian’s part when he linked to Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman and said the apologists won’t post on this one. He sure was wrong! More of us posted than ever before!

I’d like to report on how that has kept going and that Boghossian is being answered every day, but alas, I cannot.

Why? Because he banned us all.

Keep in mind, this is the same one who sees a great virtue in “doxastic openness.”

What I did find from the interactions I had is that street epistemologists are woefully unequipped. They read only that which agrees with them. They will buy into any idea if it goes against Christianity. The Earth was believed to be flat? Sure! I’ll believe that! Jesus never existed? Sure! I’ll believe that! Not having the originals of an ancient document is a problem? Sure! I’ll believe that! I still think about the person who recommended I read “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross”, a book so bad that even the publisher apologized for it.

For street epistemologists also, science is the highest way of knowing anything. Now this is something understandable. If matter is all there is, then the best way to understand the world is to use a process that studies matter specifically. The problem is science can never determine that matter is all that there is any more than it could have determined that all swans were white. Science is an inductive process and while one can be certain of many of the claims, one cannot say they have 100% certainty.

Edward Feser has compared the use of science to a metal detector at the beach. Let’s suppose I was looking for a treasure map I’d heard had been buried at the beach. I go all over the local beach with a metal detector and say “Well I guess the map isn’t here. The detector never pointed it out.” Sure. I found several other objects that had some metal in them, but I never found the treasure map.

You would rightly think this is bizarre. After all, a map is made of paper and while a metal detector does a great job of picking up objects that are metal, it simply will not work with paper. This is not because a metal detector is a terrible product. It is because it is not the right tool for the job.

So it is that in order to determine if matter is all that there is or if there is a God, science is not the tool for the job. Now some might think science can give us some data that we can use, but it cannot be the final arbiter.

Yet for street epistemologists, it seems enough to just say “Science!” and that rules out everything else that’s religious. This would be news to many scientists who are devout Christians and see no disconnect between science and their worldview.

Yet here, the street epistemologists once again have an out. It is why I in fact call them atheistic presuppositionalists. They will simply say that these people are experiencing a kind of cognitive dissonance. They are compartmentalizing themselves and not seeing that their worldviews contradict.

This would be news to someone like Alister McGrath, Francis Collins, or John Polkinghorne.

As I said, these only read what agrees with them. They will read Bart Ehrman on the Bible, but they will not read Metzger or Wallace in response. They will read Boghossian and follow him entirely, but they will not bother to read his critics. They will read about how people in the Middle Ages thought the Earth was flat, but they will not read James Hannam’s book on the matter, see Thomas Madden’s scholarship there, or even read the atheist Tim O’Neill who disagrees with them.

Street epistemologists will also go with extreme positions. They will tout on and on about how Jesus never existed and only say “Richard Carrier” or “Robert Price” in response. They will not acknowledge that the majority of scholarship, even scholarship that ideologically disagrees with Christianity, says it’s certain that Jesus existed. They do not realize that biblical scholarship is an open field where anyone of any worldview can join and writings go through peer-review.

Interestingly, these same people will go after Christians for not believing in evolution because, wait for it, there’s a consensus that this happened! The consensus of scientists is to be trusted. The consensus of scholars in the NT and ancient history is not to be trusted!

Also, if you do not hold to their view, well you are obviously emotional in nature in some way since you only believe because you want to believe and because of how you feel. It never occurs to some people that there could be intellectual reasons. In fact, it follows the pattern that if they don’t think the reasoning is intelligent, then it is just emotional.

It’s in fact a direct contrast to what is often said in many religious circles. “Well you’re just living in sin and are blinded to the truth.” Now I don’t doubt for some atheists, they don’t want to give up an immoral lifestyle. Also, I don’t doubt that for too many Christians, their only basis for being a Christian is how they feel and an emotional experience. Both of these groups have reached their conclusions for the wrong reasons.

Yet psychoanalyzing is seen as an argument to street epistemologists. If they can say you just believe for emotional reasons, then they can dismiss what you say. Note that it is dismissal. It is not a response.

I consider this a form I see of what I call atheistic hubris. Note please as well that this does not mean all atheists are this way. It just means that there’s a sizable portion of what I call “internet atheists” that are this way. The idea is that if someone is an atheist, then they are rational and intelligent. Therefore, all their thinking is rational and intelligent and all their conclusions are rational and intelligent.

The reality is we must all be constantly watching ourselves and one of the best ways to do this is to read our critics. Our critics will show us our blind spots and if we are wrong, we are to change our minds accordingly with the evidence.

An excellent example of something Boghossian and others constantly get wrong is faith. Boghossian says it is believing without evidence or pretending to know something that you do not know. Now in a modern vocabulary, I don’t doubt this. Too many Christians use faith this way and treat this kind of faith as if it is a virtue. It isn’t.

The question is, when the Bible uses the word faith, does it mean this? The answer is no.

In all of the writings I’ve read by the new atheists speaking this way about faith, not one of them has ever consulted a Greek or NT Lexicon in order to make their case. They have just said that this is what the word means. Oh they’ll sometimes quote Hebrews 11:1, but a text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext. I have also given my own exegesis of what the passage means here.

Also, I do have another great source on what faith is.

Faith/Faithfulness

“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.”

As it stands, the most I get told to this is that it is an appeal to authority, which indicates that street epistemologists don’t even understand the appeal to authority. Strange for people who claim to champion logic.

Sadly, they’re just following in the footsteps of Boghossian himself. Boghossian’s techniques will not work for any Christian who is moderately prepared to defend his worldview. It’s a shame that he who teaches so much about doxastic openness is so often incapable of doing what he teaches.

I conclude that if this is what we can expect from street epistemologists, then we really have nothing to be concerned about with them. Street epistemologists are just as unthinkingly repeating what their pastor, in this case Boghossian, says to them, as the fundamentalist Christians that they condemn. They are really two sides of the same coin.

In Christ,
Nick Peters