Book Plunge: Science and Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why God?

What do I think of Rodney Stark’s book published by Templeton Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Religion has been told it’s on its last legs. Atheists today are predicting its demise and many are getting set to celebrate a world without religion. Could it be that their cries of triumph are a bit early? Could it be that despite the best efforts of atheists, religion is not on its way out?

Rodney Stark has written this book recently to analyze religion, what it is, and why it is that it stays with us. The book is loaded with propositions and definitions put forward. It does not argue for the truth or falsity of any religious position whatsoever, including theism. It just tries to state the facts about religion, what it is, and why it seems to endure, and what difference it makes to its followers.

There is plenty of helpful information and food for thought in here. I think the first chapter is one of the best with defining what religion is and especially helpful is the differentiation between many religious practices and magic. Stark describes as well in the book how people approach God and the way that religious growth takes place in a society.

On the other hand, sometimes I thought things weren’t given the time they needed. 87 definitions can be understood, but in a book with 236 pages, 192 propositions about religion means that many of these propositions will not be given the attention that they deserve. Some of them will seem to be thrown out without as much backing as one would like.

I also wondered how much of this relies on modern sociology. We could look at how new religious movements start today, but would it have been the same in the past? Has Stark compared how a religion grows in an honor-shame context as opposed to our more Western guilt-innocence context? How would that affect religions like Christianity? How does it change the dynamics for Islam when one realizes that Islam spread by the sword?

What about people coming to a religion because they think that it is true? While Stark is not wanting to defend the truth of any one religion, it seems hard to avoid the notion that many people come to a religion not just for sociological reasons, but also because they think the religion is true. No doubt, many do join because their friends and family have joined the religion, but not all of them do. How do these people affect our study of religion?

There is also information about how for many young people, their friends today are not necessarily part of their same religious heritage. Perhaps what is needed the most for today is a study on religion in the age of the internet. How does something like Facebook affect the way that a religion is spread? Today, we can even hear people talking about the church of Facebook. Are internet debates changing the way we view religion?

Stark’s book is worth reading, but at the end, while I got some helpful definitions and such, I couldn’t help but think that I was given a quick tour. I would have liked to have seen the question of truth raised more often. That doesn’t mean I expect Stark to defend or attack any one religion, but deal with the idea please about people who come to a belief because they think it’s true. Still, those wanting to understand religion should try to understand this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 1

 

What do I think of Bill Zuersher’s book published by Xlibris US? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So while browsing Facebook, I’d regularly see this book offered on the side. I first went to the library site here and didn’t find it, but then I looked again one day to see if it was there for Kindle. $3.99? That’s not too bad. I decided that since this book was being advertised, maybe others were getting it so I’d better read it.

Whoever is behind advertising for this book either needs to learn about what is worth advertising, or else they’re a Christian and want to advertise how bad a book arguing against Christianity is.

I’m going through it still and it’s a labor of love to do this. There are so many things wrong with this book that one entry will not be sufficient. Therefore, I’m going to go through piece by piece. The book starts with the beliefs Christians hold to and then the second part looks at the evidence.

The first belief is about the world being created by a good and loving God. That is accurate. We believe that. Then it immediately leaps into the problem of evil. Now don’t get me wrong here. The problem of evil is something that really should be addressed. There is a problem in looking at it when you only look at the problem and don’t look at the counter-arguments.

Yesterday was a fun day for our cat. It was his time for his yearly check-up at the vet. So what happens? We take our cat sleeping peacefully on our bed, pick him up and force him in a carrier and lock it up, take him across town to a strange place where people will hold him and look at his ears and teeth and put needles in him and cut his nails.

If our cat were a philosopher, he would have been looking at this and saying that this is an example of great evil. If these people really loved me, they would not be doing this. They would realize it is better for me to be sleeping on the bed. How can people who really love me do this?

In fact, if you didn’t know about our culture and how we treat our cats and heard that we had done this, you would likely think we were abusive pet owners. Most of us know better. Most of us know we did this for little Shiro because we do love him immensely and want him to be healthy.

That’s one thing that has to be said about evil. We come from a limited perspective by definition. Even if you’re an atheist, your perspective is limited because you don’t know the whole story. I’m happy to admit there are things I don’t know. The problem with the problem of evil is that I have to act like I know things I don’t know for it. For instance, I have to know that any evil that takes place is pointless and meaningless. This is something that cannot be known.

The solution also doesn’t make sense. Get rid of God. Okay. The evil is still there. The problem is still right there. If anything, all that has been eliminated is the only hope of ever truly resolving the problem, unless atheists think they can re-engineer the planet so that lions no longer eat gazelles and plants no longer have to die. Good luck with that one.

Another problem is that if Zuersher wants to argue the logical problem of evil, well even a number of atheist philosophers admit that that has been answered. As Mackie says in The Miracle of Theism.

Since this defense is formally [that is, logically] possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another. But whether this offers a real solution of the problem is another question. (Mackie 1982, p. 154)

Note that last part. This is a possible solution. It does not mean that it is the true solution. The point is that if there is a way the two can exist together, then it is not a contradiction. Mackie is not alone in this. What is usually argued more is the emotional problem of evil.

Zuersher also says that we would expect a human being to mitigate evil whenever he could and if he had superpowers, we would expect success. Why don’t we see it when we have a God even greater than a superhero? It’s worth noting that his source for this argument is the prominent polyamorous internet blogger Richard Carrier.

Again, the problem is how does Zuersher know which suffering is pointless and which isn’t? Most of us know that if you try to remove all suffering from someone’s life, that that person will not lead a good life really. Most of our greatest lessons we have learned in life have come through suffering.

Zuersher also says about the free will defense that if a deity can make a world where people will have free will and not do wrong, why not make that world? He is of course talking about the Christian concept of the afterdeath. I really don’t understand this argument because it seems so simple. Who is it that’s going to enjoy the loving presence of God then? It’s those who chose it. No one is forced to be in that place. Everyone who is there will be there BECAUSE of free-will.

The final defense he speaks of is the retreat to the possible with not knowing the reasons. It must be admitted though that if we’re dealing with a deity, then no, we don’t know the reasons. We don’t know the end from the beginning. Zuersher can say that we don’t know it so it doesn’t work, but the problem is the shoe is on the other foot. For Zuersher’s case to work he has to know that there is no good reason. It is his claim. It is his argument. If he cannot back that argument, then it fails. If it doesn’t work for the defense to say there is possibly a good reason, then it doesn’t work for the offense to say there is possibly no good reason. You can’t say possibles don’t make arguments and then use one yourself.

He also says animals do not participate in the next life, but this is an open question. In fact, Dan Story has recently written a great book arguing that indeed animals will be in the afterdeath. This isn’t a hill I’m willing to die on, but it’s an important question anyway.

Finally, the great fault of this is that Zuersher only looks at one side of the story. (We’ll see this throughout the book. He regularly cites critics of Christianity but hardly ever cites the opposite side all the while telling us constantly what apologists argue.) I on my side have a number of positive arguments for theism. Do I need to answer evil? Yes. Just as much Zuersher needs to answer the Thomistic arguments that I use. He never bothers. No theistic arguments are mentioned whatsoever. It is what I call the sound of one-hand clapping.

Evil is a big subject and that’s the first chapter and a very brief one. Zuersher will regularly give just a picture and a paragraph. Hopefully next time we’ll be able to cover more than one chapter.

Book Plunge: Why There Is No God Part 4

Anything new as we conclude? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

Today, we’re going to wrap up looking at Why There Is No God. So far, we haven’t really seen anything convincing or that shows us that any real research has been done. Navabi has been your run-of-the-mill atheist fundamentalist that treats every argument for atheism as Gospel and ignores the strongest arguments for theism. So anything new today?

Argument #16. So many people died for God/religion. Surely, it must be real.

This is another case of one of those arguments that you see in the book that no one really uses. Now to be fair, some do point to the disciples being willing to die for Christ. One difference here is that these people were in a position to know more about what they saw and were firsthand witnesses. Their dying for their belief doesn’t mean it is true, but it means they at least were convinced it was true and we need to ask why they were.

Argument #17. Atheism has killed more people than religion, so it must be wrong!

While it’s not my argument, Navabi argues that there is no direct connection between atheism and what was done and that atheism has no doctrines. For the first, I’m not convinced. There’s a reason atheist dictators sought to dynamite churches and remove any hint of God. One could say that an atheist is not required to be an evil person in the moral sense, and that is true, but neither are they required to be a good person.

This gets into atheism having no doctrines. Sure. That just means that Stalin was consistent in his atheism just as is someone who is practically a saint and an atheist. Neither one is doing anything against atheism. The same cannot be said for a Christian. A Christian who lived like Stalin would have us all seriously questioning his Christianity. (Except for fundamentalist atheists who would hold him up as a key example of how Christians live.) In the end, I think it’s just easier for a dictator in atheism to live as if there’s no one above him his is accountable to, so why not do what he wants?

Argument #18. You’ll become a believer when you are desperate for God’s help!

Again, I wouldn’t use this. No doubt, some people who are atheists when they are in trouble do even find themselves praying in hope. Could some convert this way? Sure. Not all will. It’s hard to make a case based on what should be supposed guaranteed emotional reactions. People are different and they do react differently.

It is true also that we need to watch claims of deathbed conversions. Consider for instance the Lady Hope story that spread about Darwin on his deathbed. Unless you know the person very well and they would be in a position to know, be very skeptical.

Argument #19. Smart people and renowned scientists like X, Y, and Z believe in God, so it must be true!

This is no doubt true. There are a lot of very smart people that are theists and in fact Christian theists. There are a lot who are atheists as well. What this should show us is that this is not a case of intelligence alone. Smart people can be fully convinced in both ends. There are other factors at work. Believers should not use an argument like this, but neither should atheists go with presuppositional atheism where it is assumed that atheism means someone is rational.

Argument #20. How can we really know anything?

At this point as we conclude, you wonder who these theists are that Navabi is arguing against. Not much to say here again on this one. I would agree with Navabi in many counts that skepticism about everything is ridiculous. There are also beliefs that we can demonstrate. Some are easier than others. Christians just need to make sure they have the best arguments they can.

In conclusion, anyone who gets something out of this work and calls it informative, was not really informed to begin with. Navabi doesn’t deal with the best arguments against his position. It’s quite ludicrous to dare to suggest that this is a thorough treatment. Unfortunately, this is the way many atheists are going. It will only hurt them in the end.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Everybody Is Wrong About God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ummmm….

errrr…..

uhhhh…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for helping the cause Lindsay.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Atheism and the Case Against Christ: Chapter 13

How does McCormick conclude? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We have come to the end of our journey and what do we find? McCormick’s book is extremely lacking. In fact, I find it one of the most lacking books out there for someone of the education level of McCormick who should know better. Even when it comes to his subject of philosophy, McCormick still makes numerous blunders.

In this chapter, McCormick tells us that it should have been a trivial matter for God to make the resurrection believable for reasonable people. (Loc. 4220) Of course, note that McCormick never defines what a reasonable person is. Are people who believe in the resurrection unreasonable? It would seem so since we believe in the resurrection. If we believe in it, then it can be believed by reasonable people. If we are not, on what grounds? Is it that anyone who believes in it is unreasonable, but then McCormick’s criteria could never be met because any atheist who came to believe in it would become ipso facto unreasonable.

So what does he mean?

McCormick also has something on the kinds of atheism that are out there. Thankfully, he says an atheist is someone who affirms the non-existence of God. (None of this lack of belief nonsense) McCormick thinks in fact that ultimately, all religious systems collapse when his kind of analysis is used. I suppose that if you treat a religious question in a haphazard way and ignore the best positive evidence and build up straw men constantly against the belief then, yeah, it would collapse pretty easily. We could say the same way that macroevolutionary theory easily collapses. Just define it how you want, build up some straw men, ignore the positive evidence, and presto! You have outdone the scientific community.

What evidence then does he think is left for God? Well of course, you could deal with the Thomistic arguments, the ontological argument (Which I don’t accept but include in the interest of being thorough), the argument from beauty, the argument from conscience, Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Intelligent Design argument, the moral argument, the argument from religious experience, etc.

Or you could just ignore them and hope they go away.

McCormick wishes to do that by pointing to a survey that showed most philosophers find the arguments for God’s existence unconvincing. Do they? The survey certainly looks convincing. Unfortunately, closer analysis shows some problems, as William Lane Craig points out.

He doesn’t footnote his claim, but undoubtedly what he has to be referring to is the Chalmers and Bourget survey of philosophers that has gotten a lot of press. When this survey came out I was immediately puzzled because I thought, “I never received any such survey.” Neither did any of my colleagues at Talbot. There are seventeen professional philosophers on our campus. None of them were surveyed. I wondered exactly who received this survey. Well, when you look into it what you find is that this survey only was sent to 1,972 philosophers – less than 2,000 philosophers. It was sent to faculty only from 99 selected departments of philosophy. Just 99. Only 62 out of the 99 were in the United States. The rest are foreign – in Europe and Australia and so forth. Of the 1,972 that were surveyed, do you know how many actually responded? Less than half. Only 931 philosophers completed this survey. Yet this is supposed to be a comprehensive study of the belief of philosophers about God.

Rodney Stark, who is a sociologist at Baylor University, has pointed out that in his professional training for sociology he says that unless a survey has a response rate of 85% you are not to trust the results of that survey. This survey had a response rate of less than 48%. A mere 931 philosophers. If you look at the list of institutions to which this survey was sent, it was almost entirely secular universities. It wasn’t sent to places like Talbot, or Wheaton, or Westmont, or even many Catholic institutions. So far from exposing the intellectual deficiency of Christian philosophers, the appeal to this survey, I think, shows the intellectual deficiency of John Messerly’s argument. Here he just cites some survey without looking into it in any detail to see whom it was sent to, how many people it was sent to, how many responded to it. Instead he just cites something that confirms what he already wanted to believe. It really shows the intellectual deficiency of his own argument.

One could say that you don’t want to send this to evangelical and religious institutions because they’re biased, but then you’re just saying you’re going to include all professional philosophers who are not religiously inclined and then ask them if theistic arguments are convincing. How is this a fair examination? Is it that again, religious people don’t count?

Of course, McCormick thinks that even if you find a proof of God convincing, how do you close the circle to say which God is the real one? Christians and Jews and Muslims all have answers for this. McCormick doesn’t like the answers, but he needs to show that they are false.

McCormick thinks the teleological argument fails because of the problem of evil. Of course, this is not the classical teleological argument but the modern one. He tells us that in debates, theists have been at great pains to establish that the creator of the universe is possibly good willing or benevolent or morally perfect. (Loc. 4367.)

Really? It would be nice to see an example of this. Do I just need to take it on faith?

McCormick also tells us that centuries ago, God showed Himself regularly. Now, He hides Himself so we can believe by faith. Really? God showed Himself regularly.

God showed Himself to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, after that, there was 400 years of silence. He was there during the Exodus and the conquest, but in the time of many of the kings of Israel and Judah, there was often silence. After the return from Babylon, there was another 400 years of silence and then Jesus came. Most of history after that has had some miracles taking place and such, but nothing like the time of the apostles.

McCormick’s claim is a misnomer. It seems to be happening everywhere in the Bible because those are the points worth talking about. Imagine reading a book about the history of war in America. You’ll find a historian writing about every time America went to war. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear America was perpetually at war and we never stopped fighting. That would be false. The historian is often just focusing on the times of war instead of the times of peace because those are the times worth writing about.

As we conclude, it has to be said that there is nothing in McCormick’s book that presents a real challenge. McCormick has ignored the best evidence against his position and built up straw men regularly. It’s amazing anyone takes this seriously.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

McCormick’s Gaffe

 

Atheism and the Case Against Christ: Chapter 9

Would God do miracles? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Keep in mind when we come to something like this and we’re asking if God would do miracles, we’re dealing with a question of theology. If this is theology however, where does McCormick get his information from? He rejects natural revelation as giving us knowledge of the existence of God so how could it tell us the attributes of God? What does he know about God that the rest of us do not?

Also, the question could have an odd answer. It could be that God can do miracles but has never done one. I don’t hold to this, but it’s possible. Whether God can do miracles is theology and metaphysics. If he has is a question of history.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but at one point as I go through this chapter, I notice McCormick talking about Job. Job supposedly lose his wife and his children to death. This makes me wonder if McCormick really has studied the Bible at all. I am to trust him on the extra scholarship when he can’t check to see that Job’s wife never died in the text?

McCormick more has a problem with what kinds of miracles take place. Christine Overall he says wants to know why Jesus was hanging out at a party turning water into wine when He could have been healing lepers. Of course, leave out that Jesus did do plenty of healings, though we can be sure these won’t be accepted anyway. Jesus had not yet really started a ministry and was at a party I think just to be a good guest and not shame the person who invited him and his disciples. Why would he turn water into wine? To keep a party going. More than that. This was a big event in the life of the family and the couple. Running out of wine would bring great shame to them that would last. Jesus ensured their honor.

McCormick tells us that many Christians familiar with the problem of evil point out that there could be some absolving reasons why God doesn’t do a certain miracle. McCormick says this is correct, but there may not be. Unfortunately, as long as there could be, then the problem of evil is not a necessary defeater for theism or Christianity. If all we had was the data on the problem of evil, it would be difficult to say, but fortunately the informed Christian has many more positive arguments for God, like the Thomistic ones I prefer.

McCormick also talks about evils of the kind that William Rowe refers to as intense instances of suffering that someone like God could prevent without losing some greater good or permitting something equally evil. Okay. Rowe wants to say there are instances like this. I have two questions. #1. What are they? #2. Can he demonstrate that he knows this?

This would be a difficult question. How could you demonstrate that if one evil did not occur, no greater good would be lost or some other kind of evil would not occur? Some may think I’m switching the burden of proof. I’m not. I’m just asking if Rowe could back his claim. If he can’t, then it’s a statement of faith and it could be true, but we can’t know it.

McCormick also says it’s a problem for omniscience if God does a miracle because He’s changing something. Of course, it could be God in His omniscience knew all along that He would do a miracle and God in His omniscience knew all along who would be praying about an event and took that into consideration. I’m not about to fully enter into such a discussion, but again, the positive arguments for theism and the resurrection still stand strong. McCormick hasn’t touched those and possible ignorance on one area does not overpower that.

Also of course, McCormick nowhere interacts with Craig Keener. If one miracle has happened in the past, then this chapter is defeated. It’s not a shock McCormick says nothing about that.

There really isn’t much to talk on in this chapter. McCormick does have an argument about God would not do something that would be able to be done by a magician, but we’ve seen how flimsy his resurrection argument is and he has no real counter-explanation of the data accepted by critical scholars. In fact, he has no knowledge that can be seen of that data. Until then, that is the only miracle to explain and if he wants to, he can try to show me a dead man who came back to life by his own power.

There’s also the question of could it have been another power that did a miracle. God doesn’t have to be omnipotent, omniscient, etc. Sure, but this is why I use the Thomistic arguments. They do end in a being that must be omni in everything. Of course, I have no problem with some miracles being by dark powers, but I think giving life to the dead is only in the realm of God. Only He could be behind the resurrection.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

Atheism and the Case Against Christ: Chapter 8.

What do I think of chapter 8? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

 

One would hope that as we moved past history into philosophy, which would be more of McCormick’s forte, the arguments would get better. I honestly came here expecting to see some good arguments for atheism, arguments against classical theistic arguments, and material that I would have to really wrestle with. I know. I know. It’s so foolish to expect this after atheist books fail so often to get things right. McCormick unfortunately doesn’t exert any more skill here in his main area than he does in an area he’s not skilled in.

This chapter is about asking why all the gods are hiding. Of course, this presumes that they are hiding. It’s all about really how the evidence is interpreted. I contend that one problem with many atheists is that reality is taken as a given, as if it could just exist and continue to exist on its own. Once we have it here, there’s no need to explain how it stays here. Both need to be explained.

Something McCormick wants is better miracles than what we have. For him, many miracles just seem like magic tricks. (Okay. Well, let’s have him go out to a field with no supplies whatsoever and feed 5,000 men not counting women and children with a few loaves of bread and some fish) For most magicians, to get to do a lot of their tricks requires a lot of equipment. Jesus didn’t have that, but let’s go on anyway.

A requirement McCormick thinks we should have for this is objective and impartial observers. Of course, how we will know this is something I wonder about, especially since we’ve already had talk about people with low IQs and people without knowledge of science. Does he mean atheists like himself? (Which obviously are totally impartial and objective.) Who does he have in mind?

Interestingly, when I read this I thought of a quote from Chesterton about the jury system and ordinary men.

Our civilisation has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. It wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things that I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind it uses up its specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing round. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity.

He also suggests that miracles should be bigger and grander. After all, if the goal was bringing Jesus back from death to demonstrate His deity to all humanity, why show Him to just His devoted followers for a few moments?

There’s that darn word if again. If. If. If. But what if it isn’t? McCormick approaches the text as if the question of a modern atheist is what is being addressed. Last I checked, the Jews and most others at the time weren’t questioning that God existed. In fact, it wasn’t entirely over the deity of Christ. This was about the Kingdom of God and that would be for the Jews.

Besides, what does McCormick want? For the once and for all sacrifice to happen multiple times in history to multiple people in every generation because that would be more convincing? Does he really think this would help anyway? If he thinks we have differences now, imagine all the differences we’d have with each culture having their own tradition of Jesus coming and dying and then debating over those traditions where they differ any.

What McCormick wants is a God who is continually working to show Himself, but apparently, nothing about making real disciples who will really do the work because, hey, God is already doing all of that. Why bother with evangelism? It’s all on God’s head.

Finally, Jesus didn’t just appear to His followers. James and Paul were both skeptics. Of course, this is evidence that McCormick never really interacts with. As we saw, McCormick’s evaluation of the resurrection leaves out key pieces of data and there is of course even more that he never touched.

He also says make it something an Almighty being would do. At this point, it’s important to note that McCormick is doing theology so I have to ask one question. How does he know? How does he know what an Almighty being would do? What is his source on this material? Does he have experience in dealing with Almighty beings and knowing how they would and would not act?

He also thinks you should pick a better audience because for these people, their lives were filled with spirits, scary events, supernatural action, etc. None of the facts about nature we take for granted were part of their knowledge base. These are all fascinating claims to make. Unfortunately, there is no demonstration of them. It’s as if McCormick has bought into the whole “Ancient People Are Stupid” line entirely.

He seems unaware that the miracles they saw they knew to be miracles because this doesn’t happen naturally. Even today if most of us saw someone touch a leper and saw them instantly have their skin healed, we would be justified in thinking a miracle took place. Ancient people also built boats, because they knew people didn’t walk on water, and they worked to grow food and catch fish, because they knew these did not just multiply instantly on their own.

He continues this by asking what if you were God and were trying to convince an audience of your existence and communicating your desires. Who says that’s the goal? McCormick keeps playing this card over and over and doesn’t demonstrate it. Atheism wasn’t the question and the Jews already knew the desires of YHWH in their Scriptures.

In looking at all of these reasons and others, McCormick concludes by saying that the problem is that not a single miracle in all of history passes this criteria.

Really?

Not a single on.

It’s worth noting that when this book came out, Craig Keener’s Miracles was already out, but of course, you won’t see McCormick interacting with that. Apparently, he can easily say every miracle included in that book is false. It’s amazing how atheists seem to have this absolute knowledge of all history and all miracle claims all over the world.

McCormick says that the problem is divine hiddenness. I contend that the whole term isn’t a misnomer. I think the problem is on our end of not knowing how to evaluate evidence. (And McCormick has shown he’s not good at it with history so why trust him now?) A lot of people have given reasons why God doesn’t just appear suddenly to everyone or something of that sort. These include free-will and creating disciples and things of that sort. McCormick says these are fascinating but they fail for a number of reasons.

Inquiring minds want to know what those reasons are.

Inquiring minds will be disappointed.

He goes on to say that if you want to argue for the resurrection, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have it that God is the reasonable outcome of the resurrection and endorse arguments for divine hiddenness. This is quite the claim.

What is missing is any reason to believe it. Why not? McCormick doesn’t tell me.

He also says that the fact that the arguments for God and the resurrection are weak even to other believers and unconvincing makes the problem more difficult. Well again, this is a statement I have to take on faith. McCormick gives no evidence. Nowhere in here does he interact with the classical arguments for theism. I don’t care frankly if the lay person finds them unconvincing. What I care about is if they’re true or not.

Of course, McCormick seems to be an authority on unconvincing.

McCormick then says God could have given us much more if He wanted us to believe. Again, who says that’s the goal? Just believe? I can get several people to get married easily. Getting them to have a marriage is different.

McCormick goes on to say that you can’t hold that the best explanation of the historical evidence is the resurrection and that there is room for us to believe or not believe. Again. Why not? Why can’t you? What argument has been given? None whatsoever. It’s amazing to me how many times atheists are people of faith. They think they can make an assertion and well, that settles it.

McCormick does point to some people who did have some direct interaction. Abraham still chose to sacrifice Isaac. (Didn’t say anything about him stopping it) The problem is what is the situation with Abraham? Abraham still had a great deal of free will as if you just read his story in Genesis, he still did some stupid things. He lied about his relationship with his wife and he got his concubine pregnant to help God with the promise. Abraham’s event with Isaac happened after a lifetime of foolish choices.

We could say this for most anyone else. It’s most ironic since he mentions the devil and the devil no doubt made the most foolish choice of all. Of course, this assumes God owes everyone a personal appearance and even still in what context? Jesus’s event isn’t just a random event in history but based on a long history of promises to Israel.

McCormick also says that if Allah is real, it would be “perverse, capricious, and unjust for Allah to then judge you and condemn you for failing to believe.” (Loc. 2624) Sorry, but I have to disagree with this. If Islam is true, I deserve all the judgment I get because I have been teaching just the opposite about God Himself. I have no problem saying that because I am convinced Islam is not true, but God doesn’t owe me anything. If I am wrong, I deserve the judgment.

This all gets amusing when McCormick sets up a fake dialogue where a critic asks why the resurrection evidence isn’t better only to be told God wants X. McCormick then has the critic ask “How do we know that God wants X?” (Loc. 2639) Keep in mind, this is the same person who throughout this chapter has been saying “If God wants X.” McCormick is making the claim. Not I. Yet apparently, if a Christian did do that, that would be foul.

Next time we look at miracles and no, it doesn’t get any better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

Marshall/Buckner Debate Thoughts

What did I think of a theism/atheism debate last night? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night, I had been invited to attend a debate put on by an apologetics group called Why Should I Believe?. The debate was between the Christian Wallace Marshall, a Christian apologist with Reasonable Faith, and between Ed Buckner. My friend Cody who I went with told me he had seen Buckner debate some on a Ratio Christi panel and had heard him put forward “Who created God?” as if this was the great stumper of our times. I was preparing myself for something similar and hoping that he would say something about the historical Jesus, like mythicism, that I could speak about in the Q&A.

When Buckner got up to speak as the first speaker, it was pretty much entirely an appeal to pragmatism. The life he described as the way Christians live I can say did not resonate with me at all. I do not live in constant fear that I will be severely judged for my actions and thoughts and I do not have to go to the Bible to know right from wrong. Buckner also started off talking about his own experience, to which I was amazed once again how many atheists seem to start with a personal testimony in their evangelism.

When Marshall got up, it was a much better presentation as he was quoting philosophers, scientists, and others. He had done his homework. Buckner left me thinking that all he had done was read popular objections on the internet and put them all together. I did not really see any detailed refutation from Buckner and unfortunately he did not respond to anything Marshall said about the historical Jesus.

There was a Q&A which unfortunately was all too short, but afterwards when I was speaking with Marshall about doing some work with Reasonable Faith, I managed to get myself engaged in some debates including many of the usual claims. For instance, there was the idea that Christianity copied from Egypt. Some questions were obviously points of concern, such as the young black woman who wanted to know what the Bible was really talking about with slavery.

Of course, most memorable for me was engaging with someone who was advocating the Jesus myth theory and saying that scholars don’t even know if Jesus existed. When I asked for the scholars who doubt this, well we all know who came up. None other than polyamorous Richard Carrier. I asked what accredited university he was teaching at now to get the reply of “Well he teaches at…” and then leaning over to ask his friend “Where is he teaching at?” Carrier isn’t teaching anywhere except online to internet atheists. There’s a reason for that. (It’s also a reason why I think polyamorous Richard Carrier is a great gift to the church.)

Unfortunately, trying to talk to mythicists about anything in history is incredibly difficult since the standards change for Jesus and Carrier’s words are treated like Gospel. When asked if any of us had ever read his works, I was able to reply that I had in fact read his latest book already on the historicity of Jesus. Do I think Carrier has made a serious case there? No. Not really. Perhaps those who hold him up as the cream of the crop with NT scholarship might think so, but no one else does.

If there was one critique I’d have of the Christian case, it would be that too often I think we are marrying our apologetic to the modern science. Consider how so many are building their apologetic on Big Bang cosmology. Well what if that ever changes? What about those who are building their apologetic on problems with abiogenesis. What happens if that question is answered one day? (I know there are hypotheses, but at this point I know of no clear accepted answer in the scientific community.) This is one reason I think it’s best to go with metaphysical arguments, especially since the science is incomplete without metaphysics. Why not just go straight to the main force? Could we be inadvertently feeding into the scientism of our day?

Still, I try to be fair and objective, but I have to say that Marshall carried the day in this one. He had a better grasp of the subject matter and had more than just pet sayings that you can find on an internet search. I was hoping for a more impressive show from the atheist to get a real debate going, but I was disappointed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Do Religious People Have Shaky Foundations?

Are you standing on shaky ground if you’re a theist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, an article showed up at Salon.com by John Messerly. In it, the author claims that those who are religious have a shaky foundation for what they believe in and was trying to explain the religious mind. Naturally, I saw no citation of people who would consider themselves religious to ask why we really believe what we believe and think what we think. I have no doubt that many do so for flimsy and superficial reasons. I have spent much time at this blog condemning such a mindset. (You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!) I’ve long said our intellectual foundations need to be strong and we need to wrestle with the big questions of life.

The article starts by pointing to a survey stating that 14% of professional philosophers are theists. However, I do think the data is not really as conclusive. Nearly 2,000 faculty members at various institutions were asked what they thought and less than half of that number actually responded. That means more than half of them did not respond and that’s out of only the number surveyed. What institutions were asked as well?

For instance, let’s suppose that there was a survey sent to the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic university. There you’ll find Alvin Plantinga. Do you think you’ll find others like him there who are theists? Absolutely. It’s not a shock that many Christian philosophers might want to teach at Christian seminaries because they want to educate fellow Christians. Were such institutions excluded? If so, could that also not just as much show a bias? Does that mean you should only examine Christian institutions? Absolutely not! Examine all of them.

So right at the start, color me suspicious. I want to see more data.

What about the claim that 7% of the National Academy of Sciences are theists? Rob Bowman in an excellent article answering Victor Stenger nearly a year ago said the following about that:

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

So again, we have the same sort of problem. If you have a good ol’ boys association, they can choose who gets in and gets out and can conclude that real scientists aren’t theists so don’t accept them. We are regularly told how Christians do this at Seminaries and such where you have to have such and such beliefs to get in the door. Does it seem ludicrous to think other people could do the same thing?

Messerly is certainly right when he says this doesn’t say anything about the truth of theism or atheism, but it could cause believers discomfort. But why? Is this supposed to be something we don’t know? For those of us who are Christians, we expect people today to not accept the Gospel just as has often been the norm. Messerly attributes the disbelief to a rise in modern science as well as claims that the traditional theistic arguments don’t work.

Well both of those need to be shown rather than just asserted.

For instance, if we are told science has disproven theism, then how? When was this done? What branch of science did it? What experiment? Can we point to a conclusive date? Now someone might ask me if science has proven theism. Absolutely not. This is not the realm of science. I happen to agree with Francis Beckwith. Science can provide interesting data and it is useful in many areas, but it is not the final arbiter on the theism debate. The arguments I use for believing in God and establishing His existence do not depend on modern science. Suppose tomorrow an eternal universe is proven beyond the shadow of a doubt,. So what? My arguments are safe. Suppose evolution is shown to be false beyond the shadow of a doubt tomorrow. So what? My arguments are safe.

Science however does make sense in a Christian context. If there’s a rational God behind the world establishing order and acting with purpose, we can expect to find his purpose. This is why so many of the scientists in the Middle Ages and beyond were Christians and never saw a conflict between Christianity and science. The supposed warfare between science and religion has been a myth foisted on us by post-enlightenment thinkers. James Hannam gives an excellent look at this myth here. You can also listen to my interview with him here.

I know a lot of atheist readers are ready to scream “Bias” at this point. If so, because a lot of them like to look at supposed bias instead of looking at the data, then how about Tim O’Neill? How does his bio on his page describe him?

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

How about also a book edited by the agnostic Ronald Numbers that deals with many of these bogus claims as well? That would be Galileo Goes To Jail.

Now if Messerly meanwhile wants to say theistic arguments have failed, okay. How about listing them and going through them? How about pointing to references that show where this has happened? Peter Boghossian has done the same thing in his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists. On page 28, he says all the arguments have been refuted. Demonstration? None. The endnote he gives points to no works on the topic at all. It’s simply a statement of faith.

Which at this point is all Messerly has given.

So now we get to how to explain religious belief, and right at the get-go there’s a problem here. What is religion exactly? Does Messerly ever define it? Not at all.

So what is it? Is it something that believes in God? Does anyone want to say classical Buddhism which denies a creator is a religion? It is hard to think of something that all religions would have in common, except perhaps ethical practice, which atheists today regularly say they follow. In America, atheists even have 501c3’s for their organizations, just like various religious groups do. Could we consider atheism a religion?

If Messerly wants to say religion is problematic for smart people, it would be smart of him to tell us what exactly religion is.

But alas, it looks like Messerly has already concluded without sufficient evidence that theism is just not held by smart people so let’s treat it like an anomaly and see how it arose. Maybe it arose because people wanted social cohesion!

So let’s get this straight. Atheists that tell us how often it is that people have been killed in the name of religion and how many wars have supposedly been fought in the name of religion want to tell us that people believe in religion because it helped to provide social unity?

Chesterton wrote years ago on how Christianity was blamed for different things. It was blamed for being too pacifist by people and then it was blamed for being too aggressive and hungry for war. It was blamed for people wanting to attribute money and wealth and it was blamed for keeping us in poverty. When Christianity was blamed for both ends, Chesterton started wondering how this was possible. It was looking at Christianity then that got him to come to Christ. He would say he became a Christian based on reading the skeptics of Christianity.

Let’s also look at the three great monotheistic systems.

Judaism came first. Judaism is said to have committed genocide on the Canaanites, (though that can be disputed) and was seen as an anomaly in the Roman world. The only reason it was granted any leeway was because it was an old belief. Christianity comes next. Christians could have cohesion with themselves, but the rest of society saw them as deviant. In fact, Judaism itself saw them that way. If they wanted to create a belief for social cohesion, they went entirely wrong with that one!

And how about Islam? Islam was also deviant at the start. Why was Muhammad rejected at first? What provided the unity? Muhammad went to war and there were great benefits for being a Muslim then. You got wealth and women for instance. Now don’t we think most men would like to have those things? But do we see Islam today really providing the social unity that we see? If you want to say that people of like mind establish unity with one another, sure, but this also happens in atheist churches, which do exist, and we could say it can happen in anti-theistic scientific communities. One does not need a religion for social cohesion.

How about coming up with deities to explain natural causes? What would be good for this is if we have some evidence that this was so instead of a just-so story. (It’s amazing that those who scream for evidence so much seem to think they’re excluded from it.) Why should I think that god was made to fill in the gaps? Why not think that people were theistic at the start? Since we have found so many remnants of ancient practices that were theistic or polytheistic or animistic, shouldn’t we consider that that was the original belief? What about the work of scholars in this area like Win Corduan that also argue that monotheism was the original belief?

But alas, if you are looking for evidence for Messerly’s position, you will be waiting for awhile. It’s just a look at the start that says “The really smart people are the ones that agree with me and they say you’re wrong so now we’ll just study why you believe the way you do.” You kind of get the idea that religious people, again whatever those are, are being treated like lab rats whose strange views must be explained.

Messerly also wants to say that much of what is believed in religious circles is influenced by where we are born. This is true. Of course, many non-religious beliefs are also affected. You are more likely to believe in evolution if you grew up in the modern west than if you grow up an Aborigine in Australia. If you grow up an Eskimo, you are quite likely to believe that whale blubber is extremely healthy for you. If you grow up in a Christian culture, you are more likely to believe ethical statements like “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We could ask is it possible that if you grow up in a society that believes strongly in social conditioning, could not then be socially conditioned to believe that beliefs rise up from social conditioning? How does that belief not refute itself? Note again I do agree you are more likely to believe X if you grow up in a culture that teaches X. That says nothing about whether X is true or not and that applies to non-religious beliefs as well. Why should religious beliefs be treated differently? My same parents who taught me about Jesus also taught me about mathematics and the value of reading and the moral system that I hold to. They taught me the world really exists and that it is not an illusion and that evil is a reality in the world. Should I reject all those other beliefs as well?

We’re also told religion could result from a lack of a good social safety net. Yet how would this follow? It again never occurs to people that religious belief could develop for intellectual reasons. This is especially so since so many of us are screaming out that we believe in God for intellectual reasons. The reply is “Be quiet! That can’t be the answer! We want to find out why you really believe! We’ve already decided it’s not intellectual!” Atheistic presuppositionalism at its finest.

Interestingly, we are also told religious belief is responsible for social dysfunction resulting in homicides, incarcerations, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, STD’s, abortions, etc. Now this is quite amazing. We are told that religion is there for social cohesion and in the same article we are told that it causes social dysfunction. Once again we have the paradox of Chesterton taking place.

The reference cited in the article contains a number of straw men, including the idea that it’s important to point out that atheists can be moral without believing in God. It gets so tiring to see this straw man. I don’t know a single Christian intellectual that has argued that belief in God is necessary to be moral. We have in fact all argued against it and said that this is not the statement. It is being said instead that God provides a necessary foundation for moral truths and this is so whether one believes in Him or not. If God is real and God is necessary for moral truths to be real, then that is so. Those moral truths can still exist and be observed if one does not believe in God. In fact, Romans 2 and other passages like it make it clear that those who do not know God still have the moral law written on their hearts. Knowledge of God is not necessary for the knowledge of moral truths.

But if he wants evidence of what Christians are doing differently, he can see this piece by Brian Stewart.

As for other countries, many of these still have a Christian background. Perhaps the government is not religious, but the government is not the culture. What we need to see is what’s going to happen more and more when the background is removed and how will the country be in comparison to where it was. For saying America is a religious country, why should I really think that? Many pay lip service to Christianity here for instance, but is it really followed? Perhaps we should compare to societies in the past where Christianity was taken seriously and see what their crime rates and such were like.

We’re also told believers in scientific ideas don’t take public opinion polls to see if their beliefs are true. I would like to know though who the religious people are that determine if a religion is true by looking at public opinion polls. If I saw a poll that indicated belief in Scientology was rapidly increasing in America, does that mean I’m jumping on the Scientology bandwagon? Not at all. I need the data. For someone who is stating about not needing polls to defend a belief, why is it that he’s pointing to polls of the NAS and polls of professional philosophers and a poll indicating more people believe in the virgin birth than biological evolution?

We are told science attests to its own truth. It works. Why yes. Yes indeed.

Science works!
That’s a photo of Hiroshima after the bombing. Note that that took place in Japan which the article cited stated had very little Christian influence and Christianity is in the minority and that’s the country we were at war with. Was it a religious war? Hardly. Still, we dropped the bomb and you know what? The bomb worked! It caused the devastation it was meant to. I’m not arguing whether it was the right or wrong decision. I’m just arguing that it worked.

Did “religious people” fly the planes into 9/11. Yes. Atheists could just as easily have done the same. We could just as well say science still works when Mengele performs his twisted experiments on Jews. Science is a tool and it can be used for good or for evil. In the hands of the good, it can do tremendously good things, and this includes good people who are religious. In the hands of the evil, it can do greatly evil things, and this includes non-religious people who are evil.

Note also that for many of us who are religious per se, the claim has never been that we believe in Christianity because it works. The concept doesn’t even make sense. Works for what? Is it meant to make us good people? It does that, but that’s not the purpose. We believe in Christianity because it’s true. Interestingly, Messerly himself in the same paragraph drops this little gem.

“The simplest answer is that people believe what they want to, what they find comforting, not what the evidence supports: In general, people don’t want to know; they want to believe. This best summarizes why people tend to believe.”

Why should Messerly be excluded?

I could argue it could be very comforting to some people to know that there is not a God who is going to judge them one day. It could be comforting to know you don’t have to risk exclusion from intellectual circles for believing in a deity. Because of that then, you can dismiss the claims of evidence (You know, like saying that the arguments are unconvincing without telling why and making claims like science has disproven theism without providing evidence) and go on with your life.

Maybe Messerly wants to believe that there is no higher power and wants to believe he is one of the intellectual elite. Why not?

Let’s suppose Messerly replies saying I believe in God because I want to believe in Him. Okay. That’s false, but let’s suppose it was true. If I give intellectual arguments, how does pointing to insincere motives disprove the argument? The argument works or it doesn’t. Let’s suppose there is an atheist who wants to live a sexually promiscuous lifestyle and in doing so, knows he needs to exclude God, so he argues for evolution because he wrongly thinks that if he demonstrates evolution, then he has proven God does not exist.

Would it disprove evolution if any of us said “Well see here now! You do not believe in God because you want to live a sexually promiscuous lifestyle. Your arguments are invalid because you are believing what you want to believe because of emotional reasons.” Not at all. This is the old weak excuse of bias. The atheist could have all the bias in the world and his argument could still be true.

But people like Messerly like to point to insincere motives because it just blows their mind to think that people could believe on the basis of evidence.

So what else do we have? I think it’s important to quote this next section entirely.

“Why, then, do some highly educated people believe religious claims? First, smart persons are good at defending ideas that they originally believed for non-smart reasons. They want to believe something, say for emotional reasons, and they then become adept at defending those beliefs. No rational person would say there is more evidence for creation science than biological evolution, but the former satisfies some psychological need for many that the latter does not. How else to explain the hubris of the philosopher or theologian who knows little of biology or physics yet denies the findings of those sciences? It is arrogant of those with no scientific credentials and no experience in the field or laboratory, to reject the hard-earned knowledge of the science. Still they do it. (I knew a professional philosopher who doubted both evolution and climate science but believed he could prove that the Christian God must take a Trinitarian form! Surely something emotional had short-circuited his rational faculties.)”

A number of us can come to beliefs for non-smart reasons at the start. Suppose you believe in heliocentrism and your reason is your parents told you so. That would hardly be an intellectual reason, but then you later study astronomy and find more reasons to believe in heliocentrism. That you find later reasons for a belief you held as a child for less than stellar reasons is not a proof that you held the belief falsely.

Second, this also doesn’t explain how many people come to believe in God later on after a search and that is one based on finding evidence. What of people like Alister McGrath, John Polkinghorne, C.S. Lewis, Chuck Colson, Francis Collins, and others?

Messerly writes of the hubris of those who know little of biology and physics and yet denies the findings of those sciences. Sure. That’s a problem. Those who don’t know those areas should not argue them. What of the atheist who knows little of history and philosophy and argues Christ-mythicism and says philosophical theistic arguments do not work? Should I accept Richard Dawkins as an authority on history or philosophy? Not at all, yet how many atheists eat up his work on the topic and pass it off as Gospel?

This hubris works both ways. The difference is I’m willing to leave areas of science to those who study science. Would that atheists would return the compliment! Practically every NT scholar and ancient historian out there says it’s certain Jesus existed, yet how many atheists tout out his non-existence regularly on the internet and instead point to those who are seen as the fringe. (If you want to say ID is the fringe, you must be fair and do the same with Christ-mythicism.)

Messerly then points to a professional philosopher who doubts evolution and climate change but is convinced that he can show God must be Trinitarian. Okay. Who is he? What were his reasons for thinking such? Messerly does not tell us. Is it a crime to ask questions of biological evolution? What kind did he doubt? Did he doubt evolution without any guiding hand whatsoever? As for climate change, there are plenty today who do doubt climate change. It’s not written in stone. Meanwhile, perhaps theism is a specialty area of his. Should Messerly not follow his own advice and listen to someone who is a professional in this area? It is quite amusing to hear Messerly argue that one should listen to the professionals and then disregard a professional and claim that there must be some emotional reason. Does he give any evidence for this? Nope. It just must be there.

Could it be Messerly is just believing what he wants to believe instead of really looking at the evidence?

The next reason?

Second, the proclamations of educated believers are not always to be taken at face value. Many don’t believe religious claims but think them useful. They fear that in their absence others will lose a basis for hope, morality or meaning. These educated believers may believe that ordinary folks can’t handle the truth. They may feel it heartless to tell parents of a dying child that their little one doesn’t go to a better place. They may want to give bread to the masses, like Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor.”

This must be it! They’re just lying! They don’t believe the claims are true. The claims are just useful! We cannot take their words at face value.

Yes. That’s a great attitude to have. Enter the debate assuming your opponent must be lying about what he believes! He has deep emotional reasons! Okay. Let’s do that.

Messerly has deep emotional reasons for not wanting theism to be true. I do not know what these are, but hey, who needs evidence? Now he can say all he wants to that this is not so, but we cannot take his words at face value! He might present a lot of arguments, but we must realize those can’t be taken at face value because those arguments were made after the fact and are just written to support what he already believes. Truly we must study Messerly and find out what the deep emotional reason he has for not supporting theism is.

Would anyone accept this? Doubtful. Should anyone? Hopefully not. Yet this is exactly what Messerly has done. He has chosen to think that it’s more probable that people like me are lying about what we say and should not be taken at face value.

Gotta love that kind of attitude.

The next reason is control. One does not want to look bad in the face of others.

Because, dude, we all know the totally cool thing in our American society today is to say you’re a Christian! Don’t you know how awesomely we are treated? I mean, look at how respectfully we’re treated on American television and in movies. Look at how we’re proclaimed as the champions of tolerance and reason! Society just so regularly goes out and celebrates Christianity.

I wonder what color the sky is in Messerly’s world because he sure isn’t living in mine.

Moving on….

Third, when sophisticated thinkers claim to be religious, they often have something in mind unlike what the general populace believes. They may be process theologians who argue that god is not omnipotent, contains the world, and changes. They may identify god as an anti-entropic force pervading the universe leading it to higher levels of organization. They may be pantheists, panentheists, or death-of-god theologians. Yet these sophisticated varieties of religious belief bear little resemblance to popular religion. The masses would be astonished to discover how far such beliefs deviate from their theism.”

Once again, the person is not being honest. Now of course, Messerly has not defined what religious is, but perhaps the person is really a process theologian or a pantheist. Of course, these are the “sophisticated” versions of religious belief. (It’s so nice of Messerly to tell us what is and isn’t sophisticated isn’t it?) Messerly just can’t bring himself to say “Some people do believe in a monotheistic God for intellectual reasons.” There HAS to be something else. There just HAS to be.

“But we shouldn’t be deceived. Although there are many educated religious believers, including some philosophers and scientists, religious belief declines with educational attainment, particularly with scientific education. Studies also show that religious belief declines among those with higher IQs. Hawking, Dennett and Dawkins are not outliers, and neither is Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.”

So let’s get this straight. If you go to an institution of higher education where atheism is normally taught, then lo and behold, you become an atheist. This from the same person who said that religion is socially conditioned. Is it not possible that atheism could be conditioned just as much and that by intelligentsia? If you say intelligent people don’t believe in God and then exclude those who do and don’t let them teach at such institutions, what a shock that such institutions produce atheists!

This just in. Catholic Universities have a tendency to produce graduates who believe in God! Seminaries have a tendency to produce graduates that are theists! Shocking! Details at 11!

Instead, we get an appeal to popularity with people with higher IQs. Naturally, these are atheists. Again, what about people like Polkinghorne or Swinburne or McGrath or Collins? Do these people just not count? It’s really easy to make the game work in your favor when you decide what evidence you will include and only mention smart people who don’t believe in God.

“Or consider this anecdotal evidence. Among the intelligentsia it is common and widespread to find individuals who lost childhood religious beliefs as their education in philosophy and the sciences advanced. By contrast, it is almost unheard of to find disbelievers in youth who came to belief as their education progressed. This asymmetry is significant; advancing education is detrimental to religious belief. This suggest another part of the explanation for religious belief—scientific illiteracy.”

Anecdotal evidence. Now if a believer stands up and gives a personal testimony, that’s anecdotal and not accepted, but when an atheist stands up and gives a personal testimony of how he abandoned theism and came to be an atheist, that is not anecdotal and that works. It looks like many atheists just can’t seem to escape a “religious” mindset and want to give a a personal testimony. All Messerly needed after this section was a YouTube clip of “Just as I am” for all ready to deconvert.

And as for scientific illiteracy, yes. We can be sure that Francis Collins, Alister McGrath, John Lennox, and John Polkinghorne must simply be scientifically illiterate. Could it be the problem of atheism is that too many atheists are philosophically and historically illiterate? Why assume that science is the supreme arbiter? Has Messerly given any argument for that?

“If we combine reasonable explanations of the origin of religious beliefs and the small amount of belief among the intelligentsia with the problematic nature of beliefs in gods, souls, afterlives or supernatural phenomena generally, we can conclude that (supernatural) religious beliefs are probably false. And we should remember that the burden of proof is not on the disbeliever to demonstrate there are no gods, but on believers to demonstrate that there areBelievers are not justified in affirming their belief on the basis of another’s inability to conclusively refute them, any more than a believer in invisible elephants can command my assent on the basis of my not being able to “disprove” the existence of the aforementioned elephants. If the believer can’t provide evidence for a god’s existence, then I have no reason to believe in gods.”

Of course, we naturally have the natural/supernatural dichotomy, a belief some of us question. Interestingly, the same article that says that these polls do not indicate the truth of a belief system and that scientists don’t go to polls to establish belief, has now used those same polls and said that religious belief is probably false. It’s just so amusing to see this take place.

Naturallythere’s the claim that the burden of proof is on the believer always. Why should this be so? How about this bizarre idea? Anyone who makes a claim should have a burden of backing it. If I make a claim of theism and can’t demonstrate it, that does not prove theism is false, which is the claim that Messerly is making. If he makes the claim of atheism and cannot back it, does that prove theism is true? Nope.

Oh. He might be tempted to say that atheism is not about denying God but rather is a lack of God-belief. Not going to work.

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

William Rowe The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy p.62

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

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

Of course, the burden of proof argument is one too many atheists like to make so they can make the theists do all the work and feel justified at the end of the day since they don’t have to put forward actual arguments. Thankfully, there are atheists who do not accept this, but on the internet, they are too often in the minority. The simple solution is that anyone who makes any claim has the obligation to back that claim.

“In response to the difficulties with providing reasons to believe in things unseen, combined with the various explanations of belief, you might turn to faith. It is easy to believe something without good reasons if you are determined to do so—like the queen in “Alice and Wonderland” who “sometimes … believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” But there are problems with this approach. First, if you defend such beliefs by claiming that you have a right to your opinion, however unsupported by evidence it might be, you are referring to a political or legal right, not an epistemic one. You may have a legal right to say whatever you want, but you have epistemic justification only if there are good reasons and evidence to support your claim. If someone makes a claim without concern for reasons and evidence, we should conclude that they simply don’t care about what’s true. We shouldn’t conclude that their beliefs are true because they are fervently held.”

Of course, one wonders what things unseen are being talked about since many of us believe in things unseen. I believe in triangularity. I have never seen it. I have seen examples of triangularity in triangles, but I have never seen triangularity itself. I have never seen morality or goodness itself. I have seen things that are good and moral, but not goodness and morality. I have never seen numbers. I have never seen existence itself. I have seen things that exist, but never existence. I have also never seen laws of nature. I have seen things acting according to so-called laws of nature, but I have not seen the laws themselves.

Is Messerly a total nominalist?

But yet, Messerly again goes to faith, a favorite canard of skeptics. Does he show any understanding of faith? Nope. He just assumes his definition. Meanwhile, some of us have a counter-definition of faith. Messerly assumes that it is belief without reason or evidence, but this is a nonsense claim. No one can truly believe anything without reason or evidence. It could be poor reason or insufficient evidence or some other combination, but it is still some reason and some evidence.

“Another problem is that fideism—basing one’s beliefs exclusively on faith—makes belief arbitrary, leaving no way to distinguish one religious belief from another. Fideism allows no reason to favor your preferred beliefs or superstitions over others. If I must accept your beliefs without evidence, then you must accept mine, no matter what absurdity I believe in. But is belief without reason and evidence worthy of rational beings? Doesn’t it perpetuate the cycle of superstition and ignorance that has historically enslaved us? I agree with W.K. Clifford. “It is wrong always, everywhere and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Why? Because your beliefs affect other people, and your false beliefs may harm them.”

Yes. The cycle of superstition and ignorance. It’s so amusing that those who complain about emotional reasons for belief often give their own emotional reasons. Could Messerly point to this time of superstition and ignorance? Will he use the Dark Ages myth dealt with already in the links above?

“The counter to Clifford’s evidentialism has been captured by thinkers like Blaise Pascal, William James, and Miguel de Unamuno. Pascal’s famous dictum expresses: “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” William James claimed that reason can’t resolve all issues and so we are sometimes justified believing ideas that work for us. Unamuno searched for answers to existential questions, counseling us to abandon rationalism and embrace faith. Such proposals are probably the best the religious can muster, but if reason can’t resolve our questions then agnosticism, not faith, is required.”

Of course, the people he cites as responding to Clifford first off, have all been dead for decades so he points to no contemporary replies, and in fact, Pascal had been dead long before Clifford was even born. How was Pascal replying to Clifford then? Pascal was hardly anti-evidence either. He did base a lot on a personal experience, but he was also a champion of reasoning and a genius in his time with many inventions including in the area of mathematics. To base all of Pascal’s arguments on one statement of his is frankly dishonest.

Messerly also says these statements are probably the best religious people can muster. Probably the best? Probably? How about going out and actually interviewing people who are “religious” and intellectual and even believe in monotheistic deities, you know, those less sophisticated forms of religion, and see why it is that they believe what they believe? How about reading their works and grappling with their arguments?

But for someone like Messerly, this is not required. Just pull up three different people and assume that represents the whole of theistic defense and then say that’s the best. There is no interaction with an Alvin Plantinga or William Lane Craig or Richard Swinburne or Edward Feser. Could it be that an anti-religious person like Messerly is just comforting himself with what he wants to believe. For someone who says you should not believe based on insufficient evidence, and he’s totally right in that by the way, it looks like he gathered insufficient evidence to believe what he believes about religious people.

Like too many of the anti-religious, it is foreign to the mind of Messerly to talk to modern scholars in the field who actually hold to theistic belief and ask them why they believe. Of course, if he did, he would just say he couldn’t take what they say at face value anyway so he always has an out.

“Besides, faith without reason doesn’t satisfy most of us, hence our willingness to seek reasons to believe. If those reasons are not convincing, if you conclude that religious beliefs are untrue, then religious answers to life’s questions are worthless. You might comfort yourself by believing that little green dogs in the sky care for you but this is just nonsense, as are any answers attached to such nonsense. Religion may help us in the way that whisky helps a drunk, but we don’t want to go through life drunk. If religious beliefs are just vulgar superstitions, then we are basing our lives on delusions. And who would want to do that?”

If religious answers are untrue, yes. They’re worthless. So it is also with non-religious answers. If they’re not true, they’re worthless. Yet it is those of us who are said to be “religious” who need to comfort ourselves. Could I not just say that Messerly writes a piece like he does because he needs to get social approval from his anti-religious kin and provide comfort and try to convince himself? I could, but I would have insufficient evidence, yet this does not stop Messerly from doing the same kind of thing to his critics.

“Why is all this important? Because human beings need their childhood to end; they need to face life with all its bleakness and beauty, its lust and  its love, its war and its peace. They need to make the world better. No one else will.”

It is strange that Messerly ends this piece talking about things unseen. Has he seen bleakness and beauty? I don’t doubt he’s seen things he calls bleak and things he calls beautiful, but has he seen the things themselves? Does he have a material measurement by which he can measure beauty? Could he take some beauty and put in a jar for me and scientifically study it?

How about lust and love? Why not be consistent and believe like the Churchlands do? There is no love or lust. It’s all just chemical reactions taking place. If Messerly wants to point to an unseen reality called love, perhaps he should give some evidence that it exists, unless he just has faith.

And we need to make the world better? What does that mean? Has he given evidence of this unseen thing called good? As for making the world better, the article by Brian Stewart shows that Christians are doing just that. Many of us who happen to believe in another world treat this world so seriously because it is the creation of God and it is to be treated as a great good that He has provided.

By contrast in atheism, what about what Bertrand Russell said?

“Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

Or someone like Alex Rosenberg who when answering questions in his book says

“Is there a God? No.

What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.

What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.

What is the meaning of life? Ditto.

Why am I here? Just dumb luck.

Does prayer work? Of course not.

Is there a soul? Is it immortal? — Are you kidding?

Is there free will? Not a chance!

What happens when we die? Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.

What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no difference between them.

Why should I be moral? Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.

Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory? Anything goes.”

Interesting with those last bits since we were just told about how religion makes those worse and a modern atheist like Rosenberg says “anything goes.”

In conclusion, Messerly is just writing from the position of atheistic presuppositionalism not wanting to actually engage in any arguments and hand wave away that which disagrees with him. It would be nice to see Messerly do some real research asking contemporary minds what they believe and why they do, but we know he will just not take them at face-value. He has reached his conclusion already and who cares what the future data is.

And of course, too many internet atheists will eat it all up.

Perhaps those who are believing what they want to believe could actually be in the other camp.

In Christ,
Nick Peters