Does Religion Make You Stupid?

Does your brain improve if you get rid of religion? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was recently sent this article by Caroline Beaton about religion and what happens to one’s brain when they stopped believing in God. Of course, Beaton describes it as an improvement. Does her argument hold water?

It’s interesting that Beaton begins this with a personal testimony. She talks about losing her virginity at 16 and then living a life of disobeying the rules. I find it amazing that many skeptics of religion who used to be Christians always seem to start with a personal testimony. It’s like they can’t get away from their upbringing.

It also looks like for parents and throughout this article, that much of Christianity in particular is all about morality. Christianity has things to say about morality, but the purpose of Christianity is not to be a moral philosophy but a historical faith with moral implications. On a related point, the word true, or some variation of it, never shows up in the article. Apparently, that question didn’t really seem to matter.

Beaton says that 35% of youth show no religious affiliation. These are called the nones, but it’s a misnomer to think they’re necessarily non-Christians. Many people in a higher power. Many pray. Many have high views of the Bible. They just don’t care for something along the lines of “organized religion.” I recommend anyone wanting information on that read this book.

She quotes a radiology professor who says that religion acts like a drug. For some people, that is no doubt true. There are many people who will use their religion as a way to get spiritual highs. The goal of the religion then is to feel good about one’s self or to feel that one is close to God. In that case, the idea that religion can act like a drug is certainly true. That’s also part of the me-centered aspect of Christianity today. It’s my contention that true Christianity at times can make you feel good, but it can also make you feel miserable. In fact, it should make you feel miserable at times. You should feel sad about the suffering of humanity or the realization of your own sin or knowing that your friends and family are lost.

Beaton also says she believed in young-earth creationism and evolution for awhile both. At this, it never seems to occur to Beaton that maybe she was the problem and not the religion. Had she ever really thought deeply about her religion? She talks about losing interest in a picture Bible. What did she expect? Of course it wouldn’t bring the same interest. We can’t all be children forever and we need increasing awareness of our religion.

Beaton goes on to say

As I tried to reconcile my belief in God with my growing knowledge of the natural world, I drew arbitrary distinctions. God couldn’t see me poop but he could hear me pray, I decided. Eventually I couldn’t figure out how, physically, he could do either.

Absent is any mention of doing any real research. Instead, the lines are arbitrary. What were the grounds for this? You don’t want God to see you poop but you want Him to hear you pray? It sounds like Beaton had her religion for personal comfort. Beaton goes on to say

This scientific descent from religion is common. Pew’s 2016 survey on why now-unaffiliated Americans lost faith yielded explanations such as, “Rational thought makes religion go out the window,” “Lack of any sort of scientific or specific evidence of a creator,” and “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.”

Part of the problem here is a scientism that has taken over much of our thinking. In fact, I would say the fact that we have debates on if the Bible teaches YEC or OEC is a demonstration that we read even the Bible through a scientific lens. It never seems to occur to some people that maybe science isn’t the best place to go to for this question. I also notice the idea of rationality. Let’s say something about that.

There are stupid Christians and there are stupid atheists. There are genius Christians and there are genius atheists. It’s not the point that you “become rational” and suddenly you change your worldview. One of the big problems I have with many atheists today is that they deem automatically that anyone who believes in anything religious is automatically irrational. This contributes nothing to a good debate.

She continues

When we get to college, however, cultural testimony changes. An analytical, scientific view reigns, and there’s little room for God. We staggered home from parties pontificating on the pointless evil of Western religion. We made friends by cynically confessing our doubt. College is “very likely to challenge the more conservative belief systems we have in our brains,” Grafman says. It deflates our adolescent faith.

Of course, parties where you stagger home, no doubt from drinking too much, are the perfect places to be thinking on Western religion. Apparently, the college library isn’t of much use. Beaton is accurate when she says that an adolescent faith is deflated. Perhaps it needs to be. Perhaps they need to look at these doubts and move onto an adult faith where they actually think about what they believe.

When we finally break up with religion, we rebound. Eventually, non-religious people who once had religious epiphanies get those same feelings from being in nature, or from seeing profound scientific ideas expressed, Anderson says. “The context changes but the experience doesn’t.” Most non-religious people are “passionately committed to some ideology or other,” explains Patrick McNamara, a neurology professor at Boston University School of Medicine. These passions function neurologically as “faux religions.”

And once again, there you have it. It’s all about the feelings. You could have feelings and emotional experiences with a religion based on your own temperament and such. For me, they don’t happen often because I am not a man of emotional passion like that. That’s okay. Still, if the purpose of your religion is to make you feel good or have pleasurable sensations, you’re doing it wrong. Your religion is meant to inform your life about who you are and the way the world is and your place in it.

Ultimately, Beaton doesn’t really give us anything here. There is no question of truth. There is no question of research. All we have is really a long personal testimony with some scientific statements thrown in. It’s good to know that just by entering college Beaton thought she had all that she needed. Hopefully, Beaton will in the future visit a library and learn something about these systems she has been freed from. Until then, I do not know what happens when your brain gets freed from religion, but I know what happens when it gets stuck on your own experiences and doesn’t understand religion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Faith vs Fact Part 4

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

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

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

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

Okay. So he didn’t deal with those.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hume goes on to say

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet he quotes Bonhoeffer saying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s kind of cute isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth as conformity to fact.

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

Knowledge is the public acceptance of facts.

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

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

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

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

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

These are all questions I have concerning the claim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps Coyne should have stuck with science….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Fact Vs. Value

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

factvsvalue

John Lepp was looking for people to read this book. A friend recommended me so I figured I’d give it a look. I am someone who is not really interested in science as science, but I am interested in the philosophy of science and the supposed history of the warfare between science and religion. Because of that, I figured I would give this one a look and see what I could find out as I am always interested in learning more about this area.

Now my position on this is unusual to some. I am not one who can say yet that I support the movement of Intelligent Design. I think it still ends up with a too mechanistic universe and I do think there are better arguments out there, arguments that hinge on final causality which I consider much more important. When I use the Kalam, I do not use the version of Bill Craig. Frankly, I don’t care if the universe had a beginning or not, though it is my understanding that scientific evidence today does lean that way.

I can’t say I really found what I was looking for here. I found some arguments against Dawkins and Harris and Hawking and others, but these are also found in several other places. I also would have liked to have seen more emphasis on the real enemy here and why there is no real conflict between Christianity and science. The real enemy is not science. Science is to be our friend and ally. The main enemy is scientism, which shows up quite frankly everywhere on the internet.

You see, it’s believed that in medieval times, the priesthood controlled everything and theology was seen as having all the answers. This is simply false. When explanations were given for natural phenomena, natural explanations were preferred. It could be that those answers were wrong many times, and in fact they were, but this was before advanced means of research was around to answer such questions. The point is that attempts were made and these did not run to “God did it!”

In fact, the medievals were people who were looking constantly for scientific explanations and when it was found, it was not like God was less out of a job. In fact, God was held in greater awe. It was the way of saying “I never would have thought of doing it that way.” The medievals expected to find explanations for the phenomena. That is why it was that they were looking in the first place.

Despite this, it is believed that the priesthood was seen as the group that could answer every question. Today, there is a new priesthood and that consists of science. Now not all of the scientists today hold to what is thought to be the classical priestly vows of the scientist. Not all of them believe that science is the answer to everything. Some do believe that there are questions that science cannot answer.

Unfortunately, the group that speaks the loudest often gets the most attention, and that is the group that holds to scientism, the belief that either all questions must be answered scientifically, or else that the only way to know something for certain is through science. Both of these of course are self-refuting positions, but they are still the real enemy that is around today.

Today then, science has become a new priesthood and the scientists are the bearers of all knowledge. Keep in mind this is not saying anything about science. This is saying something about some views of science. An example of this kind of scientism is found in JT, an opponent that John Lepp has a debate with at the end of the book. An example of this is a statement like this JT makes in the debate:

“The bible makes numerous claims that conflict with the way science has revealed the universe to work over a long list of different disciplines. For instance, the idea of somebody rising from the dead could not be more offensive to our understanding of biology and medicine. We have established this so completely that virtually nobody opposes interring the deceased, regardless of how loved they were in real life, for fear that they will reanimate”

This kind of statement is so incredibly hysterical. Does JT really think that ancient people didn’t know this? Does he really think that people were hesitant to bury the dead because they thought the dead would return to life? The Jews were the ones that had sects that believed in resurrection and even they buried their dead. That the dead don’t naturally come back to life is not a discovery of modern science. It has been a well-known fact for ages before.

resurrectionmostinteresting

JT goes further with this kind of statement saying that walking on water is offensive to physics. It is as if JT does not know that ancient people built boats. Why did they do this? It’s really quite simple. They knew that people don’t naturally walk on water. This is not a discovery of modern science. This is something that those stupid ancient people who did not have modern science already believed. Contrary to what might be thought, ancient people were not stupid.

Yet people like JT believe that we can no longer believe in miracles because, hey, we live in an age of science. It is in fact because of basic rudimentary science that people could believe in miracles if they happened. Why? Because in order to recognize something outside of the normal realm of nature, you have to know what the normal realm is. You won’t consider a virgin birth a miracle unless you know people don’t get naturally pregnant on their own. You won’t consider walking on water a miracle unless people naturally don’t walk on water. You don’t consider a resurrection a miracle unless you know that dead people stay dead.

Unfortunately, I think Lepp on his end of the debate focused too much on science and not enough on scientism, the real problem, not just for religion but also for science. I did not see in the debate with JT an argument made for the existence of God or the reliability of Scripture or the resurrection of Jesus. JT’s problem was not really bad science, and I am not to say if he had it or not, but bad metaphysics, a metaphysics that holds to scientism and does not then answer basic questions on our existing.

So in the end, I found the book to be an okay read, but not what I was expecting. I will say that the book does end on a happy note, and one that I was pleased to read, and also one that I will not share on this blog. It is not part of the main thesis of the book, but it is a story that should be heartwarming still.

If the author wrote a second edition or a sequel, I would like to see more on scientism. I would look to see more on showing why the claim about the Dark Ages is frankly a myth. I would also like to see more quotations from leading scientists on how they are not opposed to religion to show that the viewpoint that says they are at war is a loud and ignorant mythology.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Reading The Bible As Literature

Is there a reason so many debates about the Bible just miss the point? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Okay. We get it in the atheism/theism debates. Some people believe the Bible is reliable. Some do not. That’s fine and until the return of Christ, that’s not going to change. Yet I have been pondering lately that the way we talk about the Bible is part of the problem, and this isn’t just how atheists talk about it, but also how theists talk about it.

It seems while we speak about if the claims of the Bible are true, which we should, there is a lack of the recognition that the Bible is a piece of literature. It speaks with allegory, hyperbole, metaphor, simile, etc. It uses poetry and narrative and proverbs and apocalypses to make its point. The Bible exists in one book, but it is itself a collection of many books, books written by different authors in different times and locations.

Considering all of this, the Bible is not going to be an easy book to understand! Add in that it comes from languages different from our own, a culture different from our own, a time different from our own, and a place different from our own.

I started pondering this the most recent time I saw someone describe the Bible as a book of fairy tales. This is a common claim, but quite frankly a strange one. Fairy tales are really wonderful works of literature that show a richness of imagination and insight into the human predicament. What kind of person would laugh at a fairy tale for being a fairy tale? Yet this kind of statement is not an insult to the Bible alone, but it is also a lowering of the kind of writing that is a fairy tale.

Now why do many atheists say this? I suspect it’s because our culture has been heavily influenced by scientism. We have this idea that all truth should be amenable to the sciences and that science is the highest way of knowing anything if not the only way of knowing anything. We expect then the Bible to speak in scientific language because we are a scientific people.

It doesn’t, and that’s not because the Bible is anti-science. Many of us are not anti-science and we don’t speak in scientific language. The Bible has a totally different purpose. Even if you don’t think it is from God, the authors at least were really trying to make a message about God and they did not have to do it in a way that is convenient to modern listeners. They would write in ways their immediate audience would understand.

Besides, how many of us would really like to have many events described in scientific language? Consider for instance the union of man and woman in the act of sex. Which account would you rather here to describe what happens in the event? Would you prefer a purely scientific account or would you prefer to get an account perhaps from the lovers themselves? (Naturally after they’re done. There won’t be much desire to explain in the midst of the act.)

If you choose the first one, I pity you. I really do.

What needs to be done is to wrestle with the literary forms of the Bible and see if maybe our modern ideas of what the text means are wrong. Perhaps the Bible is not interested in the questions we are interested in. Perhaps one really needs to wrestle with the text to understand it. Still want to disbelieve it? Fine. At least do your part to really try to understand it as a text.

I’ve spoken about the atheists, but frankly, I think the theists are just as guilty. In fact, in many ways, I think my fellow theists are more guilty than the atheists are because we’ve set the standard that the atheist will follow.

For us, it really boils down to one word.

Literal.

Immediately, some people reading this who are Christians are going into a defensive stance because I have just made a statement that is going to dare to suggest that we don’t take the Bible literally. Why I must just be a liberal Christian who rejects miracles and inerrancy and everything else.

On the contrary, I believe we should ALWAYS take the Bible literally.

Why?

Because literal really means “According to the intent of the author.” If the author meant the text to be taken straight forwardly, then do so. If he meant it to be a narrative, then do so. If he meant it to be a metaphor or an apocalypse or a generality, then take it that way as well.

Too often, we have taken literal to mean something more like a wooden reading of the text. That’s not what a literal meaning is. That’s why in today’s parlance if I was asked if the Bible is the Word of God to be interpreted literally, I would say no, because sometimes the Bible is not straight forward.

Why should this surprise us? Jesus told his own parables in a confusing manner. In fact, he did so purposely. Job in his book talked about the search for wisdom and compared it to mining and digging deep for great wealth. It would not be easy to understand and considering all we’ve said about the Bible, why should it be?

Thus, when we hear Christians talk about the literal interpretation, too often it sets up atheists who think that this is always the way the Bible should be read and when read in that sense, they reject most of it as nonsense, and who can blame them? In fact, none of us take it that way or else in reading the words of Jesus, we’d all be blind and have no hands. (Too many people heavy into inerrancy fall into this trap of literal interpretation.)

In fact, when I put a short form of this up on Facebook, what happened immediately but a debate started about Genesis 1, which shows the problem! It’s immediately jumped to that Genesis 1 must be read in scientific terms! Surely this is what the author of the text meant to convey!

But maybe it wasn’t! Could it be someone like John Walton is right with his interpretation of Genesis One. Of course he could be wrong, but isn’t it worth listening to to consider first instead of assuming our presupposition is correct?

The theist, you see, is often guilty of not treating the Bible as literature as well and not really being able to wrestle with the text and ask the hard questions of the text. Some of us have this idea that we should not question the Bible. I disagree entirely. We should question the Bible with every question we can bring to it. In doing so, we can best find out what it is the text is saying.

Ironically, the two sides mentioned both have similar mindsets. Both of them tend to view the Bible always in a straight forward sense and both assume the Bible was written in a way that is directly fitted for modern 20th and 21st century people in a Western civilization.

Maybe it isn’t.

That’s not the fault of the Bible then. That’s the fault of us for wrestling with the text.

If you are on a debate site and you are arguing about the Bible, then for this part, it doesn’t really matter what side you’re on. You owe it to yourself to wrestle with the text as literature and seek to find out what it means and why you think it means what it means. If someone questions that, then it’s up to you to defend your position and if you can’t, be open to changing your mind.

Will we still disagree about the truth claims of the Bible? Absolutely! Yet if we follow a procedure like this, hopefully some of us will have instead better informed disagreements as to the nature of the text and what it is saying rather than a quick dismissal of it all or a quick embrace of it all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 6/14/2014: How Do We Know?

What’s coming up when I record the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

For those wondering when the episodes will be up soon for your listening pleasure, we are working on that. I will be meeting a techie friend of mine tonight who is going to show Allie and I everything that we need to know to get them online. We are working to do all that we can, but we would appreciate any support from those of you who do like the podcast and want it to keep going.

But for now, let’s move on to this Saturday’s show. What are we talking about?

Epistemology.

Dang. That sounds exciting. Some of you might be wondering what that is.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. What is knowledge and how do we know anything at all? In fact, the book we’ll be looking at is by two Christian authors named James K. Dew Jr. and Mark W. Foreman. The book is “How Do We Know?” It is an introduction to epistemology.

So who are these guys?

Let’s start with James Dew since he’s listed first on the book.

“Dr. Jamie Dew grew up in Statesville, NC but moved to Raleigh, NC in 1994. Through the witness of some of his friends, he came to Christ when he was 18 years old and surrendered to vocational ministry shortly thereafter. He earned a B.S. in Biblical Studies from Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa, GA in 2000 and then moved to Wake Forest, NC to work on his graduate degrees. He earned his PhD in Theological Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2008, and is working on a second PhD in Philosophy from the University of Birmingham in England. He is the author of Science and Theology: An Assessment of Alister McGrath’s Critical Realist Perspective (Wipf & Stock, 2010), co-author of How Do We Know?: A Short Introduction to the Issues of Knowledge (IVP, 2013), and co-editor of God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain (IVP, 2013). Dr. Dew pastored in NC for 10 years, and also served in various churches as a Youth Pastor and Minister to Adults. Now, Dr. Dew is the Vice President for Undergraduate Studies and Academic Support and is the Dean of the College at Southeastern. He has been married for 13 years to his wife Tara and they have two sets of twins: Natalie & Nathan (6) and Samantha & Samuel (3).”

Dew_2

And who is Mark Foreman?

“Mark W. Foreman is professor of philosophy and religion at Liberty
University where he has taught philosophy, apologetics, and bioethics for 25 years. He has an MABS from Dallas Theological Seminary and an MA and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. He is the author of Christianity and Bioethics (College Press, 1999, [reprint Wipf and Stock, 2011] ), Prelude to Philosophy: An Introduction for Christians (InterVarsity Press, 2014), How Do We Know: An Introduction to Epistemology (with James K. Dew,Jr., InterVarsity Press, 2014) and articles in the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Harvest House, 2008) as well as chapters in Come Let us Reason: New Essay in Christian Apologetics (B&H, 2012) Steven Spielberg and Philosophy (with David Baggett, University of Kentucky Press, 2008) and Tennis and Philosophy (University of Kentucky Press, 2010). Mark has been a member of Evangelical Philosophical Society for over 20 years and is currently serving as vice-president of the society. His specializations are Christian apologetics, biomedical ethics and ethics.”

Foreman

Please be looking for this broadcast as we discuss their books and questions related to it such as “Is faith an epistemology” as Peter Boghossian claims, and “Is science the only way or the highest way of knowing?” as many internet atheists claim.

I hope to have everything up shortly. Be watching!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Neil DeGrasse Tyson Should Stick To Science

Is science unique for the reason Tyson thinks it is? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

How many of you have seen this meme in some form around the internet?

goodthingscience

The sad reality is that this gets shared in several places since some atheists seem to actually think this is an argument in some way. In fact, the reason Tyson himself said the quote is because he believes it is a powerful statement about a unique aspect of science. Of course, this is why he has been called a Philistine.

The reality is that about 10 seconds worth of thought on this quote would be enough to show that it is a terrible argument, but since there’s a meme of it it sadly seems to have some rhetorical power. How is it nonsense? Simple. Substitute anything in for science and see how it works.

“The good thing about astrology is that it’s true whether you believe in it or not.”

“The good thing about the Book of Mormon is that it’s true whether you believe in it or not.”

“The good thing about the moral acceptance of genocide is that it’s true whether you believe in it or not.”

Tyson’s claim should not be read as a claim about science per se, but rather a claim about the nature of truth. If anything is true, and that includes science, it is true whether or not anyone believes in it. If it’s true that Julius Caesar sneezed after he had lunch on his 21st birthday, it’s true whether you believe in it or not.

“Well we can’t prove that that’s true.”

Doesn’t matter. If it’s true, it’s true whether you believe in it or not.

“Well we have no evidence.”

Doesn’t matter. If it’s true, it’s true whether you believe in it or not.

Now Tyson could say that science can be done repeatedly in experiments so we can test a truth claim. Indeed it can and this is something that is unique, but it still doesn’t lend support to his earlier claim. This is just one way that distinguishes science but it doesn’t distinguish the nature of the claims themselves. All claims about reality that are true are true whether they’re believed in or not.

The real problem is a sort of scientism here that science is the highest way of knowing truth and sometimes the only way of knowing truth. Both of these should be rejected by everyone. Now if materialism was true and everything that was in the universe was matter, then you could perhaps have a start of a case, but that is not known through science. That is known by doing philosophy instead.

When it comes to understanding the way nature behaves in the material world, then science is without a doubt the best tool that we have. If you want to know what makes water what it is or how an internal combustion engine works or what the nature of planets in other galaxies are, then science is the way to go!

In fact, if anything can be demonstrated scientifically, the Christian should have no fear of it. After all, all truth is God’s truth and if Jesus rose from the dead, not a single fact established by science can ever overturn that. In fact, this is why I recommend that when you argue against a scientific position, don’t bring Scripture into it. That makes it the Bible vs. Science and guess which way your atheist opponent is going to go.

Honestly, if you’re not well-read in science, I wouldn’t even argue science at all. If you are, then if a claim about science is false, then that is simply bad science being done. How do you overturn that? You do good science instead!

Suppose you don’t believe macroevolution is true. Okay. That’s fine. If that’s what you think then you don’t need to go to Genesis which your opponent does not accept. It means as much to him as it does when a Muslim quotes you the Koran.

Instead, if macroevolution is false, then those who believe in it are somehow doing bad science. How will you demonstrate this? You’ll do what you think is good science. Now whether macroevolution is bad science or not is not my call to make, but if it is, it will only be overturned by good science. If it is not, then it will not be overturned.

While we should be thankful and celebrate people getting a more scientific education, let’s be wary of philosophy going around masquerading as science and not just philosophy, but bad philosophy (Which needs to be overturned by good philosophy). Tyson certainly has authority in his field of science, but when talking about the nature of truth, he is outside of his field and should not be taken as an authority.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sense and Goodness Without God: Part 8

Is there a place for the paranormal? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’re returning now to Sense and Goodness Without God by Richard Carrier. I’m skipping over a couple of chapters because there’s not much I really want to cover in them other than some minor details. I’d just say on the chapter of reason that I trust in reason because of a good Thomistic common sense realism.

I use paranormal in the opening line because that is the term Carrier uses, but it is not a term I prefer to use. I do not even prefer to use supernatural. I go by the terms suprahuman and supranatural instead. To say supernatural often implies that nature is just fine on its own and needs no deity sustaining it. This is a point that I disagree with so why should I use a term that automatically grants credence to a position I find highly questionable?

As we go through the chapter, on page 213, Carrier says that there is an approach that bypasses science altogether by pointing to a superior metaphysics and going under the name of first philosophy. Carrier is never clear on what this is. Does he mean all of metaphysics in general? This is the only conclusion I can reach. If so, there is a great problem here as metaphysics is never defined.

As one who has studied metaphysics, I often find this to be the case. People dispute metaphysics, but they don’t really know what it is. Metaphysics is simply the study of being as being. This does not go against science as the sciences often study being in a certain condition. Physics studies material being in motion. Angelology would study angelic being. Biology would study material living being. Astronomy studies being in space. Zoology studies animal beings. We could go on and on.

Interestingly, Carrier places metaphysics dead last, but on what authority? Why should I accept that? Am I to think studying the nature of being itself is dead last in understand the nature of truth, that is, in understanding that which is? It looks like knowing what “is” would come first.

The first method of finding truth that Carrier speaks about is, SHOCK, the scientific method. Now as readers know, I am not opposed to science, but I am opposed to a scientism approach that places the natural sciences as the best means of determining truth. Now if everything is purely matter and there are no essences to things, then this would follow, but that is the very aspect under question.

On page 215, Carrier says

“But htis is another strength of science: science is not only about testing facts for truth, but testing methods for accuracy. And thus science is the only endeavor we have that is constantly devoted to finding the best means of ascertaining the truth. This is one of the reasons why science is so successful, and its results so authoritative. Yet metaphysics has no room for means of testing different methods for accuracy, and if it ever started producing surprising predictive successes, it would become science.”

The problem I see here is yes, metaphysics is not done the same way the natural sciences are. So what? The whole idea starts off presuming the natural sciences are the best way to know something. Yet the natural sciences are more inductive than deductive while metaphysical arguments are designed to be more deductive. The conclusions are to be known with certainty. Metaphysical arguments also do for most of us start with sense experience and what we see.

Yes, science is successful, but as has been pointed out earlier with using the analogy of Feser, a metal detector is the best tool for finding metal objects at the beach, but that does not mean that the only objects to be found are metal objects. Science is the best tool for finding truths about nature, but that does not mean those are the only truths to be found.

On the next page he says

“And science does not simply undergo any arbitrary change, as religious ideology or clothing fashions do, nor does it hold out long against contrary evidence, asserting that the facts must surely be wrong if they do not fit the going dogma.”

Now this is interesting since any changes that were made would not be arbitrary. I am not Catholic, but it isn’t as if the Pope woke up one morning and said “What a beautiful day. I think I’ll declare the perpetual virginity of Mary.” There were historical debates and discussions. I do not think the perpetual virginity claim is true, but it did not just happen arbitrarily. The same with fashion tastes. People change tastes in fashion for a reason.

Yet the great danger in Carrier’s statement for him is that the sword cuts both ways. For me, for instance, if macroevolution is true, cool. I’m fine with that. What happens to the atheist position if macroevolution is not true? I do not doubt there will still be atheists, but an extremely important beliefs of theirs being gone would cause some doubt I suspect.

Another example is the case of miracles. Let’s take a work like Keener’s book “Miracles.” Let’s suppose it has 500 miracles in it. I haven’t counted. Let’s suppose only 50 of those are shown to be real honest miracles. Okay. I’m disappointed some, but hey, I have 50 miracles right here. My worldview is still fine. I have evidence of miracles which backs Jesus rising from the dead.

What about the atheistic worldview? Can the atheist say the same if he has to admit that there is no known natural explanation for what happened and that the event did indeed happen? He can say “Well we’ll find a natural reason.” He’s entirely allowed to do such, but if he is assuming there has to be one, is he not then using a naturalism-of-the-gaps? Could it not be that just as much, the fact of a miracle must be wrong if it does not fit the dogma?

And no, I am not going to deny that too many Christians think this way as well. There are too many Christians who stick their heads in the sand and don’t even bother to interact with different evidence. This is what I call the escapist mentality.

Before moving on, it’s worth noting that Carrier says on page 217 that metaphysics sets the lowest bar for credibility, but yet has not defined metaphysics once.

Carrier says that if faith is placed before truth, it will lead to conflict. With this, I agree. Everyone should. Truth must be paramount. Yet Carrier goes on to say that if faith is what someone has because something is true, then science becomes the one true faith.

Why should I think this?

I believe several claims that are not established by science and act on them. I believe in the laws of logic. I believe in rules of mathematics. I believe that there is a world outside my mind. I believe propositions about morality and beauty. Can there be knowledge outside of the natural sciences? Yes there can be. If so, why think the scientific method is the best method?

Before moving on, once again on page 219, metaphysics is denigrated and once again, it is not defined. The same happens on page 221.

Carrier then goes on to talk about how science was in the medieval period. Yet this is not an accurate history at all. I would like to know his sources, but unfortunately, he never gives them. I will instead give some counter sources. First off is my interview with James Hannam on this topic that can be found here. Atheists can also consider the work of Tim O’Neill, an atheist himself who disputes this dark ages claim. An example can be found in his look at Hannam’s book here. In fact, he has a graph there that is common on the internet that is supposed to show the lack of scientific endeavors in the period and refers to it as “The Stupidest Thing on the Internet Ever.”

And once again, worth noting, is that on page 222, again metaphysics is secondary to science, but again, no definition.

On page 223, Carrier asks why it is God supposedly packed up his bags and stopped doing miracles when he had supposedly been doing them in abundance.

Well first, there has never been a period of abundant miracles.

“Wait! Don’t you believe in the Bible?”

Yes. Yes I do. And the miracles are actually sparse in it as well. There are three times where miracles become more abundant but they never reach the kind of idea Carrier has. Those are the time of the Exodus wandering, the time of Elijah and Elisha, and the time of Jesus and the apostles.

Yet miracles have not ceased. Indeed, Keener indicated earlier has made a strong case they are still ongoing. You can find my review of his book here and listen to the interview that I did with him here.

Carrier expects a world where guns turn into flowers and churches are protected by mysterious energy fields. Why should we expect any of this? Because God exists and can work miracles, He should work miracles in the way we think He should? Why?

Much has been said today, but there is more coming on history. I prefer to save that for a fuller approach and will do that next time I blog on Carrier’s book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Demon-Haunted World

What do I think of this work of the man who brought us Cosmos? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Carl Sagan is famous for saying “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” While as a Christian I disagree with this sentiment, there is a debt of gratitude owed to Sagan as Sagan was one of those people wanting to popularize science for a non-scientific audience and open them up to scientific thinking.

I read Sagan’s book after an atheist recommended I read it in response to my suggesting he read Keener’s “Miracles.” I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw in Sagan’s work. While Sagan is definitely an atheist, one does not find the usual vitriol one has come to find in the works of the new atheists. I often had the impression that Sagan would have been the kind of atheist I could sit down and reasonably chat with concerning why I hold the position that I do.

In fact, much of what is in this book should be amenable to Christians easily and if some of it is not, that could point to a great insecurity that exists in the mind of the Christian who has that fear. Why should we who think God revealed Himself in Jesus in this world think that further study in this world will somehow disprove that truth? (And besides, if it did, we should be thankful. Who wants to go through life believing what is untrue?)

We should be applauding the work of Sagan to get science into the mainstream and support scientific research. I also wholly agree with him that our young people are not thinking enough, though that does not just extend to science, and need to have a greater education rather than just being entertained all day. I would support entirely seeing shows on TV that would grab the interest of young people so they could learn about areas such as science.

When I was in school, for instance, we would watch 3-2-1-Contact. I know several others who grew up watching people like Bill Nye, the Science Guy. While I am against just purely entertaining our children, I think there are ways we can do education that are attractive to students and make them want to learn. I know today a number of adults that still remember rules of grammar and math by thinking of old episodes of Schoolhouse Rock.

Yet there are some concerns. I think too often Sagan puts all the eggs in the science basket. Science is an important piece of the puzzle, but it can too often be made the whole deal. This could be understandable however since science was the passion of Sagan and it’s easy to see everything in light of that passion and think it is the most important.

Sagan is certainly right to go after the gullibility in our culture with pseudoscience, as he should, but when it comes to him stepping out of his field, he is too quick to also buy into gullibility. We must all check ourselves for bias and it’s too easy to think a story or claim meshes with our worldview and is therefore reliable. i will not thus comment on Sagan’s science. I am not an authority there. But there are areas I do consider myself an authority in that I think Sagan gets wrong. It is a warning to all of us.

For instance, on page 37, Sagan sees metaphysics as philosophy or as he says “Truths you could recognize just by thinking about them.” This is not an accurate description. Metaphysics is really the study of being as being. It is true to say that metaphysics has no laboratory while physics does, but this is the problem of saying that a branch of knowledge is not as valid because it does not go about the same way another one does. History has no laboratory. Mathematics has no laboratory. Literature has no laboratory, yet we would not say that those are less valid branches of knowledge. It is a mistake to see the way that science does what it does and think every other way is insufficient.

Also, Sagan makes the claim that Deuteronomy was a forgery found in the time of Josiah. Considering works have been written on Deuteronomy showing that it fits in perfectly as a Suzerain treaty which dates to the time it is traditionally thought to have been written in, this is problematic. In fact, one could hardly say it agrees with Josiah. Why would Josiah write a document that would put his kingship thus far in a bad light by showing how far he had failed?

I also think Sagan should be taken with a huge grain of salt when talking about the medieval period, especially since his main source seems to be Gibbon. (Another problematic area comes in when one would like to check Sagan’s sources. He does say what books he uses, but no page numbers are cited so one cannot know where the claims are found.) This is especially with regards to Witch Trials and the Inquisition. More modern readers would be benefited by seeing a work like Kamen’s on the Spanish Inquisition or seeing the research of James Hannam on the medieval period.

There are other areas where Sagan just gets facts wrong such as thinking the transmission of the biblical accounts would be like a telephone game (page 357) or that the Bible teaches a flat Earth (300) or claims of genocide in the Bible. (290)

Also, on page 278, Sagan thinks an infinite universe would be a problem for Christian theism. I do not see why this is. It would mean changing one’s interpretation of Genesis perhaps (Though I hold to Walton’s view so that would not be much of a problem) but from a Thomistic perspective, an eternal universe still depends on God.

Commendable in all of this also is the fact that Sagan does not deny the failures of science. Science has brought us cures for diseases, but it has also brought us weapons of mass destruction. The solution to this is not to teach more science, but rather to teach more morality. Science can be just as badly used as religion can be. One can say science works by pointing to launching a man to the moon, but one could also say it works by pointing at a missile hitting a city. A difference with religion of course is that the man who launches a missile on innocents is not violating any principles of science, but a Christian who murders an innocent man is violating a principle of Christianity.

Despite all this, I found myself rather pleased ultimately by Sagan’s work. While I do think he puts too much in the science basket, it is understandable and one would hope that today’s new atheists would learn to be a bit more like Sagan. I can thus commend this work to others in understanding the importance of science for our society.

In Christ,
Nick Peters