Book Plunge: A New Dawn For Christianity

What do I think of Barry Blood and Rev. Michael MacMillan’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A friend of mine gifted me this book thinking I’d enjoy it. I did last night finish the main story part which I take it to be the contribution by Barry Blood. I have started the application by Macmillan, but I wanted to at least start with the main part now. There are many arguments in there, but most of them are sadly quite outdated.

The story involves two college students named Greg and Lea. Greg is a Christian, though I would say a nominal one, and Lea is a foreigner who is not familiar with Christianity. He takes her home for the holidays to meet his parents and that includes going to church. She asks him questions about Christianity to which he says he’s not a preacher and she says “Sure, but you ought to know to explain it enough to someone.”

Give credit where credit is due. Lea is right here. If someone wants to tell someone about Jesus, they ought to know enough to explain it.

Unfortunately, Greg doesn’t know enough so it’s recommended they go to Professor Tracy at the college. Tracy is glad to teach them about Christianity provided they get other students involved, which they do. Note that Tracy wants to also teach them “factual” information about Christianity.

Tracy teaches the group the difference between popular and academic Christianity. Popular is what is usually heard in churches. Academic is what is taught in colleges and seminaries. However, as we see what Tracy thinks is academic, it will be a wonder how he ever got his job at all with all the misinformation he has.

Tracy has a statement that some people think the age of the Earth can be proved with the Bible, but scientific knowledge has disproven that just as it has disproven that the Earth is flat. I don’t wish to enter into the age of the Earth debate, but I would like to challenge Tracy fo find the educated person in the Middle Ages who believed the Earth was flat. They knew it was a sphere since Aristotle. Anyone who taught otherwise would be the exception and not the rule.

Tracy also talks about the origins of religion. Of course, there will be no mention of the work of people like Andrew Lang or Wilhelm Schmidt. At one point even, Freud’s Future of an Illusion is relied on.

He also says there are stories of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of ancestors to acquire their special skills and knowledge. No source is given for this kind of claim and I suspect it’s from Freud. This is also supposed to be tied into the Eucharist, despite the Eucharist being rooted in a specific Jewish rite known as Passover and Jews condemning cannibalism, but hey, details. Who needs them?

From here, Tracy tells the students that the God of Christianity is just as much a human construct of the imagination as other gods are. Naturally, Tracy does spend time looking at the philosophical arguments for the existence of God and….oh wait. Of course, he doesn’t. Readers wanting to hear about the five ways of Aquinas, the argument from morality, from beauty, the ontological argument, the argument from conscience, Near-Death experiences, the resurrection of Jesus, properly basic theology, intelligent design, etc. will be disappointed. I am not saying I endorse all of these arguments. I don’t. I am saying they should be taken seriously as scholarly arguments.

Tracy also says Christian scholars have known these are constructs for years. Of course, he ignores many leading philosopher scholars who specialize in arguments for the existence of God, such as Feser, Kreeft, Moreland, and others. No no no. Christian scholarship is best represented by Bishop John Shelby Spong, who I don’t have any reason to think is a scholar anyway. The character of Professor Tracy is just redefining Christianity to mean what he thinks it means and then it sounds like there are Christians agreeing with him.

The students go off to investigate in books, but apparently never learned the lesson of reading both sides of an argument and they insist the books are by Christian scholars and not just atheists. Unfortunately, Greg exemplifies many Christians when he says that he was always taught to not question the existence of God or the Bible and that such is a sin. This is indeed an attitude we need to eliminate from modern Christianity.

Sadly, if Greg is unquestioning of one paradigm, Tracy and the others are unquestioning of the other. Apparently, you are not to question Karen Armstrong, Grant Allen, and others.

Greg goes back to talk to his pastor about what he has learned to see what is true. His pastor says it is all true, as will a second pastor he talks to in the book. Apparently, Blood and Macmillan live in a world where pastors really know the truth but aren’t telling it to their flocks. What we have is just a conspiracy theory for atheists.

As we go on we find interaction with Marcus Borg, Jack Good, and Paul Tillich. Naturally in New Testament, you will find zero interaction with N.T. Wright, Craig Keener, Ben Witherington III, Craig Evans, Mike Licona, Darrell Bock, Daniel Wallace, or a number of others. Sadly, these students are as unskilled at research as is Professor Tracy.

Tracy also talks about the savior motif, which is the idea that Jesus is a copycat of other religions. Let’s start with Hesus of the druids. Oh wait. That doesn’t work well. What about Mithras? Well, Mithras was born from a rock wearing a cap and carrying a knife and slew a great bull and threw it to the Earth and there’s no record of a resurrection of Mithras let alone him dying. You won’t see any interaction with someone like David Ulansey here. Others like Thulis of Egypt and Indra of Tibet are mentioned. Good luck finding any real scholars who agree with these claims.

The writers Tracy recommends here are Thomas William Doane and Kersey Graves. This would be enough to make Tracy a laughingstock in modern scholarship. Even Richard Carrier, who is certainly no friend to Christianity, says that one should not use Kersey Graves. Tracy also thinks the best comparisons are with Krishna. Perhaps Tracy should do what Mike Licona did and interview a scholar like Edwin Bryant on it.

Naturally, Tracy will talk about Bible contradictions, but why waste time? He tells his students to just go and Google, which of course is the best way to gain historical information. He also says this is hardly what one would expect if the Bible were the literal Word of God! Of course, there’s no explanation of what literal means here and no defense of the idea that the Bible is supposed to be the only book in existence that apparently is meant to be always read in a wooden literal sense.

He also tells us that inerrancy is a new doctrine from Charles Hodge. Not at all. This has always been the position of the church that the Bible is without error. All Tracy would need to do is read a book on the history of inerrancy. I’m not saying inerrancy is true. It’s not a hill I’m willing to die on. I am saying Tracy just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

He also says he would have to defer to Spong who in debating a preacher about the inerrancy of the Bible asked the preacher, “Have you read it?” Well, if Mr. Spong wants to ask me, yes. Yes, I have. I have read it several times.

When Tracy talks about answered prayer, he says that in every case the answer is ambiguous. It could have occurred in more than one way and every time somehow, God fixed it. Seriously though? Every single case? Tracy is simply an amazing man. Apparently, he has gone all over the world and all of time and seen every single claim of an answered prayer. What a marvel this man is!

He also tells us that answered prayers are always coincidences. Keep in mind that this is his claim. It would be fascinating to see him back it. Tracy would have to have knowledge of every prayer said and what happened as a result. Now I have no problem saying coincidence happens sometimes and people do treat prayer in a way such as parking lot prayers. (I prayed for a close spot and it was there the 7th time I drove around the lot!)

He also tells us that there has never been in the history of the world a miracle healing of a case of cancer. Never? Really? This is quite a strong claim. How does Tracy know this? One would hope that there would be interaction with Craig Keener on miracles, but alas, there isn’t. It would be horrible to have both sides interacted with.

Tracy goes back to the New Testament saying Paul made a massive leap in referring to Jesus as the Passover lamb and this has been called the centerpiece of the Christian faith? The centerpiece? Seriously? By who? The centerpiece has been the resurrection of Jesus.

As for a massive leap, well let’s see. It’s generally agreed that Jesus was crucified and He was crucified around the time of Passover. Could it be that this was known historically? Could it be Paul saw the connection there and that it was part of the Jesus tradition that is passed on in 1 Cor. 11?

Tracy also tells us that in all thirteen books attributed to Paul, there is nothing about the teachings of Jesus, unless you ignore passages like 1 Cor. 7 and 11 or 1 Tim. 5. As for other teachings, there wasn’t any need to really. This would be part of the background knowledge in a high context society. Paul is writing incidental letters to answer questions people have about the teaching of Christianity at the time.

Tracy also says the word Trinity isn’t in the Bible and the idea didn’t even show up until the 4th century. Well then, congratulations to Tertullian for mastering time travel and speaking about the Trinity in the third century! What a marvel that was to have accomplished that!

Tracy talks about his own realization of this and how he found out that the word Trinity isn’t in the Bible. Wow. What a shock. One reference he gives is the Catholic Encyclopedia. He’s free to read the account from the Catholic Encyclopedia online all he wants to.

He could have also bothered to interact with the Early High Christology Club which includes scholars like Michael Bird, Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, Chris Tilling, and others. Edmund Fortman is quoted with his book Our Triune God, but no page number is given and it is doubtful the authors of this book have ever truly read Fortman.

When someone asks about who decided this stuff, Tracy reminds her that this was the worldview of a people who believed the Earth was flat. First off, they didn’t believe that. Second, let’s suppose that they did. If the only way that they could have known this was through modern scientific knowledge, so what? That means they didn’t know anything about anything because they didn’t know something only a modern person could hypothetically know?

Tracy says there was no substantiation of the doctrine whatsoever. It’s amusing to hear him talk about DNA tests. One wonders what DNA tests one would do to verify the Trinity. Tune in tomorrow when Professor Tracy uses DNA tests to discover the mass of Pluto!

One of the students upon hearing all of this says “Poof, poof, there goes another doctrine out the window!” Yes! Let’s not dare go out and question the professor and research the other side. Mr. Bright here has enough information after one lecture to decide that an entire worldview is wrong and people embracing it have no reason whatsoever.

Fortunately, as one of the students says, the teachings of Jesus remain in place. Why yes. A Jesus who goes out and teaches love and compassion and giving to the poor is certainly prime to be crucified. Those people were such scandals that Rome was greatly threatened by them. If this was the Jesus that existed, He would never be crucified. We would never know anything about Him.

This also assumes that this was all of the teaching of Jesus. Jesus was a revolutionary teaching the Kingdom of God and most of it centered around His own identity. You won’t find talk about the Kingdom from Tracy.

You will find talk about the Second Coming. Here, Tracy appears to think that only modern dispensationalism truly embraces the second coming of Jesus. Apparently, it has not been taught in reputable seminaries for decades. This is a nice escape hatch for Tracy. What is a reputable seminary? One that agrees with him and lo and behold, all seminaries and universities that teach what he teaches are reputable! Those that disagree are not.

He also talks about the afterlife and says that Freud put it best in saying that the afterlife can be dismissed because it’s wish fulfillment. For some, it could be. Atheism could also be wish fulfillment because some people want to avoid the judgment of God. Wish fulfillment could be used to avoid anything. A husband should perhaps despair on Valentine’s Day or his anniversary because he had this idea that he would be getting lucky with his wife, but hey, that’s a wish so such thinking is absurd.

Tracy also says there is no evidence of an afterlife. There is no interaction with arguments from Near-Death experiences and nowhere in the book do you see a look at arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. It’s easy to say there’s no evidence. It’s quite another to demonstrate it.

Tracy also says that there is no purpose to life at all. We each determine our own purpose. Tracy would not want to follow this out. Suppose one of the students was angry about this and decided his purpose in life from then on was to murder professors who taught such claims. This is his purpose. Tracy cannot say it is right or wrong.

Tracy also says we can live a life that will benefit others or in self-indulgence. Well, why shouldn’t I choose the latter? Maybe I want to stay home and play video games all day and not educate myself at all. Why not? The universe neither knows nor cares. I should give to others? Why? It is for their good? So what?

Tracy also says historically religions have been used as a means of control and most of it centered around fear. This would be a way of ignoring the spread of early Christianity. No one would be scared of the message of judgment unless they had reason to believe the threat had meaning. If you come up to me with what is clearly a water pistol and threaten to shoot me if I don’t give you all of my money, don’t expect to get a cent. The threat has no meaning.

Tracy looks at the Gospel of Mark also saying scholars have no idea who wrote it. This is false. I personally did research on this at Emory University getting all the commentaries from the last fifty years on Mark. The majority position is the work can be traced back to Mark. The date generally is around 70 A.D., though I would place it earlier.

In talking about any Gospel, Tracy gives no reason for the dating and says nothing about early attestation both external and internal to the authorship of the text. There are many other works from the ancient world that are anonymous, such as the works of Plutarch, that we are sure who wrote them. Without a methodology, Tracy is just giving us statements of faith.

Tracy also says none of the Gospel is history. Really? Jesus wasn’t even crucified for instance? That’s normally a no-brainer in historical talk about Jesus. Scholars like Ehrman, Crossan, and Ludemann have zero problem with it. There is no interaction with archaeological findings supporting the New Testament at all.

Tracy says that all three Synoptic Gospels were written by people who didn’t know Jesus and never heard Him speak and were written 40-60 years later. If he doesn’t know the authors, how does he know they never met Jesus or heard Him speak? There is no bothering to interact with scholarship like that of Burridge showing they’re Greco-Roman biographies intending to be a historical life of Jesus.

Tracy also says the fasting growing community today is the nones. These are people with no religious affiliation. However, no religious affiliation does not mean no religion. As Bradley Wright shows in his book, the Nones are not necessarily atheists. Many of them attend church regularly, pray, and have a high view of Scripture. They just don’t identify with one particular Christian movement.

Tracy also says orthopraxy comes before orthodoxy. Many people will say in the church you can be a good person and not believe the right things and still go to Hell. That’s because the worst thing you can do is to tell God you don’t need Him. If God has provided a way and you ignore it, that is a dishonor To God. Where did Tracy get this theology anyway that being a good person is enough? How good? What would be the standard?

I am beginning the second part of this book now by the Reverend *cough cough* which focuses on application. I am not expecting it to be any more historically accurate than this part was. With the bad resources Professor Tracy uses, he would not be teaching at any academic institution. It is not because he is an atheist or anything like that. It is because of his poor research methods.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Atheism On Trial

What do I think of Louis Markos’s book published by Harvest House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Markos’s book is an interesting read. He writes as a philosopher with a pastor’s heart. He clearly has a great love for many of the literary classics that have been shaping our culture. This work is a look at how many of those from the past dealt with the atheism that we see today. It’s nothing new. It has already been answered every time. There may be some different arguments, but many of them have the same kind of presuppositions.

The pastoral side of the work is that Markos wants to take us beyond just the God of the Philosophers. I do think that the arguments of classical theism that get you to the God of the Philosophers are just fine. I try to establish classical theism before I establish Christian theism. Still, there is something unique about Christian theism.

Markos rightly points out the importance of miracles for a Christian worldview and finds arguments against them wanting. He also has a section on the good, the true, and the beautiful. I find this to be an important distinction to make because too many of us don’t know the point of those ideas. Many people today might not have even heard of that saying.

There are also responses to such things as the problem of pain. This really came about in the Enlightenment time and one of the chief events talked about in Voltaire’s Candide is the earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal that murdered a large number of people. Evil is probably the most understandable argument against theism, but logically, it no longer works. It can still be used as an emotional or existential argument.

If there were some things I would change, one is that Markos decided to not have notes in order to make things friendly for the layman, but instead included a brief summation of each chapter in the back of the book that did include where to find the information. I would have preferred the notes. Notes have not been a problem in books for laymen. Consider the Case books by Lee Strobel for example. They have been filled with notes and yet they are incredibly reader-friendly.

I also notice that Markos really likes his Plato and so he has a lot to say about empiricism. I do not think empiricism was properly defined since I consider myself a classical empiricist in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. I do realize that there are many who are atheists who consider themselves empiricists, but empiricism does not rule out the immaterial realm at all. (Note that I do not say supernatural realm as I don’t use that term.)

Markos also has arguments against evolution. As a Thomist again, I have no problem with evolution and as a non-scientist, I tend to stay out of it. I would not be bothered at all if I found irrefutable proof that evolution is true nor would I if I found the same that it is false. It does not affect my arguments for theism or my understanding of Genesis one iota.

I still do think that this will be an enjoyable read for many people. Atheism has been with us longer than we realize and in every age, it has been refuted. There is nothing new under the sun.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Enlightenment Now Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 7

Does God exist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return again to David Pye’s book and this time he has a chapter on the existence of God. Pye is not ready to say he’s an atheist yet, but he does lean more towards that side. This isn’t a really long chapter, though it does seem longer than others. The downside is that real evidence is not engaged. There’s more thought experiments than anything else.

Pye starts by talking about how The God Delusion came out which presented the case for atheism with great force and clarity. With great force, we can agree. With clarity, we cannot. Dawkins did not write a convincing work at all and a number of atheists even agree with that one. It will be agreed that he at least brought a debate mainstream, but even now the new atheists seem to be a thing of the past.

One of the first pieces of evidence for theism that Pye presents is people saying that they know God. “Jesus indeed rose from the dead. I spoke with Him this morning!” I really do not take arguments like that seriously any more than I take the Mormon claim of the burning in the bosom seriously.

I agree with Pye also that this seems to be the inside language in the church. I don’t think it does any good and wish that older Christians would stop because I think it just confuses younger ones. Go look in your Bible and see all the passages where it tells you how to hear the voice of God. Oh wait. They’re not there.

From here, Pye goes on to the rise of science. He says that over time religious explanations have been replaced by scientific explanations. It’s a shame no examples are given. We can be sure that there were many people in a polytheistic context who tried to explain such things, but did they invent deities to do that, or were the deities already there believed to do the things that needed explaining?

As for Christianity, the Christians were the ones trying to find the scientific explanations many times. Science was being done often in the Middle Ages. Finding a natural explanation for something was not seen as removing God from the picture. It was seen as a way of demonstrating how the mind of God works.

The idea of science removing faith might work if you have an idea of a God who must be constantly doing miracles or such to maintain reality. That is not the Christian position. It is true that God upholds all existence by His power, but He also does it through many instrumental means and not through a constant working of the miraculous.

He tells a story about a little boy seeing the sun and realizing no man made that. He points out this story would be convincing 30 years ago, but not today, but why? What did we discover? There is often this idea that if you find a natural explanation for something, there can be no greater explanation. I see no reason to think such a thing. A natural explanation can show the genius of the creator.

Pye then goes on to ask if disbelief in God is evil. He compares it to the Loch Ness monster. Perhaps someone is not convinced by the evidence. Does that mean their denial is evil? Unfortuantely, the Loch Ness monster comes with no moral requirements of such a nature. If God exists and especially the Christian God, one is called to live a life of dying to one’s self and self-surrender.

This leads to Pascal’s Wager. He quotes Dawkins as saying that Pascal must have been joking. We can be sure that Dawkins has never read Pascal. Pascal in the wager was speaking to the man who has heard both sides and is just sitting on the fence and has his emotional doubt creeping in.

Pascal in this case does advise what is called “Fake it until you make it.” Pye says God would not be fooled, but such a person is not trying to fool God. Such a person really wants to believe. It is like the person in exposure therapy who tries to face his fears. He really does want to face them. He doesn’t feel like it the first time, but he wants to get there. A woman who has gone through abuse can have a hard time trusting her husband, especially sexually, but if she wants to, she will face even if she doesn’t feel like it.

Pye also says that the criterion listed is that God will judge based on belief, but this is assuming Pascal would not encourage a holy life anyway. Of course, he would. This is kind of like people who say an argument for God does not work because it does not prove the Christian God. So what? God is shown and theism is shown to be true then.

By the way, earlier in this chapter, Dawkins is quoted saying the non-existence of God cannot be shown. This is nonsense. This is not to say it can be established, but if one could show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God, then God could not exist.

Pye also has some material about word associations. We often associate good things with theism and bad things with atheism. This is interesting, but it really says nothing about the existence of God.

From there we get into discussions about omnipotence. The classic question is brought forward of if God can create a rock so heavy He can’t lift it. I will gladly answer this.

No.

What? Isn’t that a denial of omnipotence?

Not at all. What it is saying is God cannot make a contradictory state of affairs. God cannot make it be that something surpasses His power over the physical world. Pye can often quote Lewis. He should remember Lewis also said nonsense doesn’t become sense just because you add the words “God can” to it.

Pye thinks it’s nonsensical to say “I believe God was able to raise Jesus from the dead” and then say “I believe God can heal your Psoriasis.” Why is it nonsense? Just becuase the greater entails the lesser? The person who says this is saying it because the other person really does have doubts and they want to encourage. Whether it’s the right thing to say is another matter. That it entails a problem with doubt is not established.

Finally, Pye ends with a note on solar eclipses. He notes that our planet is the only one we know of in such a relationship to its moon that it has solar eclipses. He has not seen this argument he says used for theism. Pye has not looked hard enough.

If you’ve been paying attention, you notice a few problems here overall. The only evidence really given for theism other than personal experience at the start is solar eclipses. No Kalam argument is given or interacted with. Moral arguments are not. Thomistic arguments are not. The arguments from desire and beauty are not.

As I think about it, it looks like we have a lot of psychology. There is much more thinking about why people believe things instead of the evidence for those beliefs. Hopefully in the future Pye will interact with the best arguments on both sides.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Should God Appear To Me?

What if an atheist requires a personal appearance? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times when I ask someone who is an atheist or an agnostic what it would take to get them to change their mind, they tell me that God would need to appear to them. This sounds like something that makes sense on the face of it. After all, doesn’t God want people to come to know Him? Why wouldn’t He do this?

Unfortunately, the problems with this are legion. First off, when I encounter someone like this, they are telling me that an argument would not convince them. It would take a personal experience. Therefore, any arguments that I make are ineffective to them. Somehow, these people expect me to be open to argument at the same time, which I am.

Second, God owes us nothing if He is real. It is a presumptuous height to think God owes anyone a personal experience. God could do it, but He could just as easily strike someone with a lightning bolt. That doesn’t mean that He would do it or that He should do it.

“But doesn’t God want to see me saved?”

Yes. That doesn’t mean that God will do anything to cater to you. It doesn’t mean that God treats His existence like the answer to a question in Trivial Pursuit. God is not looking for people who will believe that He exists. He is looking for people who are willing to believe the truth about Him and want to know the truth about Him not just to answer an academic question, but because He really matters.

If you are a wife, imagine a husband who says he loves you, but when he does so, he is just going through the motions. It doesn’t really mean something to you. If you are a husband, you want your wife to want to have sex with you, but husbands don’t really enjoy duty sex. They’ll take it because some sex beats no sex, but what they want the most is to be wanted.

God is looking for disciples. Disciples are people who care about truth claims. They are willing to investigate. If someone is not willing to investigate, then they are not willing to be a disciple.

Also, this would ultimately lead to chaos. For one thing, it would destroy much of free-will en masse. Not only that, imagine any number of people wanting to claim something because God told them in their personal appearance. What would a dictator do with this kind of claim? We have enough denominational differences without these appearances. How many more would we have with? Would we become an even lazier culture?

“But Nick. You believe that in eternity, we will all have a personal appearance of God and this won’t go on.”

Right. We will also be living in a world where we do not have sinful natures. As long as we have those, we will often twist everything we can to our advantage. This includes the truth of God. We have abundant evidence of people using anything to their own advantage today. How much more so with personal appearances of God being known around the world and the fact of personal appearances not in dispute?

If you want to know if God exists, God could show Himself to you, but it’s not to be expected. Granted, it has been happening to Muslims in dreams and to people like Paul, but if God isn’t appearing to someone, if He is real, He has a good reason for it. It doesn’t invalidate the arguments at all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Evidence Considered Chapter 11: The Origin of Life

Does the difficulty of the origin of life provide evidence for theism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We continue our look at Glenton Jelbert with chapter 11 of his book Evidence Considered. In this chapter, he looks at Walter Bradley and his arguments concerning the origin of life. As many of you know, my area of expertise is not the sciences so I will not be speaking on science as science.

I also do have a problem when Christians look at this as a necessity in that if we find a materialistic way that life can come about, then it’s game over. If that is the case, then God’s role in our system is to be a gap-filler and the only way he can create is through direct fiat creation. We already have a way where he does not do that which we will be commenting on later. When I reviewed Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation this was something I noticed from Fuz Rana.

If evolutionary mechanisms possess such capabilities, then believers and nonbelievers alike wonder, what role is a Creator to play? For example, evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins quipped, “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” I debated developmental biologist Paul Zachary “PZ” Myers, a well-known atheist and author of the award-winning blog Pharyngula, at North Dakota State University on Darwin Day, February 12, 2015, on the question of God’s existence. One of the key points Myers made was, in effect, evolution can explain everything in biology, so why do I need to believe in God?” (P. 129)

And

The key lesson from my interaction with Myers (and other atheists) is that to make a case for a creator and the Christian faith, it is incumbent on us to (1) distinguish our models from those that are materialistic and (2) identify places where God has intervened in life’s history. If we cannot, it is hard to convince skeptics that a creator exists. (Ibid.)

Rana, as well as his opponents, are both doing theology. Notice in this that there is nothing about the resurrection of Jesus. There is also nothing about metaphysical arguments. This feeds the whole conflict hypothesis where there is a conflict between science and religion necessarily and that science is the arbiter of if God exists or not. I have no wish to concede that ground.

This isn’t a scientific stance. It’s a theological one, and one has to ask the atheist especially how he scientifically establishes what it is that God would do? I contend that such is impossible and it’s really just bad theology. This doesn’t show that God exists, but it is important to show that science cannot determine that.

So let’s look at the chapter now.

Jelbert makes the claim early on that deism is much closer to theism. He will give an argument for this later on. This is said because Bradley says the origin of life problem is causing atheists and deists to become theists. I am sure this happens with some, but I have no reason to question what Jelbert says about the majority not converting to theism.

Jelbert also says the difficulty to account for this makes it an argument from incredulity. Jelbert later says in this chapter that there are many arguments Bradley does not interact with, but in fairness to Bradley, there are places where he has. One example is in Lee Strobel’s The Case For Faith. I don’t say this to say that Bradley’s arguments work or are persuasive. I leave that to the scientists. I say it to say that he has covered these elsewhere and an essay in a book with 50 such essays cannot be expected to give a full synopsis.

If one is presented with several materialistic hypotheses and does find them all lacking and one thinks they have positive evidence of intelligence, then this is not an argument from incredulity. I think an argument like that is much more like what is said by many atheists on the problem of evil with “Why would God allow evil X to occur?” If one does not know, it does not follow that there is no reason. It only follows that we are not omniscient.

As he goes on, he gets to deism being closer to atheism than theism. I am not convinced of this. Deism also provides an ontological foundation for the origins of the universe and for the transcendentals like goodness, truth, and beauty. Jelbert regularly looks to God’s functions instead of His nature to make his case.

There’s also this idea that if it is God, we have no need to search. He points to embryology as an example since David speaks about being formed in his mother’s womb. We know so much about embryology so this is false apparently. I do not see how. This is the example I was speaking about earlier. Aside from the virgin birth, which I do affirm, there is no instance of fiat creation and even in the former case, once the conception took place, the normal materialistic processes took over.

The idea seems to be then that if we can show a materialistic way that something came about, God did not bring it about, with the implication being that God could not or would not use materialistic means to do something. No reason is given for this claim. To give examples, let’s take some scenarios.

Picture the Red Sea event during the Exodus. Let’s suppose for argument’s sake that this is a true historical event which an atheist will not grant. The sea parts and the Israelites pass through and it closes over the Egyptians. Suppose you find out that this happened because of a wind and this has happened before. Therefore, it is no miracle. Not at all! The miracle is not just that it happened, but when it happened.

Jelbert later says about Bradley that he is claiming certainty where it does not exist and searching for God in arenas that have little evidence available. Yet if this is so, why is there so much about science here and so many theological claims built around science? If science has little information available for the debate, why should it be the arbiter of the debate? Would it be better for us to go through philosophical and especially metaphysical evidences?

Again, note the position I am in. You could dispatch of Bradley’s argument and I’m fine because the metaphysical arguments for God and the historical argument for Jesus will still stand. Yet what about Jelbert? What if Bradley was right? Would Jelbert be in trouble? If so, Jelbert is letting science be the arbiter as said, and this in an arena with little evidence.

Jelbert is also then doing what he accuses Bradley of. Bradley is in essence marrying theism to science if he bases his case on this. (I do not know if he does or not.) If that is problematic, what if Jelbert does the same and makes his atheism dependent on the gaps being found out supposedly? It was said years ago that he who marries the spirit of the age is destined to be a widow. If Jelbert wishes to base atheism on the science of the day and if a Christian wishes to base his theism on it, that’s their choice, but I think I’ll stick with philosophy and metaphysics that have been faithful to their cause for millennia.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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