What do I think of Armin Navabi’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Someone in an apologetics group I belong to asked if anyone had read this book. Myself, being the type who wants to be there to help my fellow apologists out, decided to get it at the library. Who knows? Maybe I have some masochist streak in me. The book goes through twenty arguments for God’s existence from an atheist who used to be a Muslim.
It describes itself as a thorough examination, yet the book is just about 125 pages long and looks at, as I said, twenty arguments. I have no idea how you can give a thorough treatment with that. In fact, it’s so short that you could easily read it in a day’s time.
Of course, don’t be expecting to find anything of real substance in here. Much of it is the modern fundamentalism relying on today’s atheist heroes who are just as much fundamentalist. If you’re also expecting to have him interact with the best arguments, like those of Aquinas, well you know without my saying it the answer to that.
I have decided to investigate five arguments a day. Keep in mind a lot of these arguments are arguments that I would not use. Still, even when critiquing a bad argument, we can learn much about Navabi’s approach. Let’s go ahead and dive in.
Argument #1: Science can’t explain the complexity and order of life; God must have designed it this way.
Many of you know I’m not one up for Intelligent Design arguments. If I go with design, it’s the teleological design in the fifth way of Aquinas. (btw, Navabi shows his ignorance here by saying Paley introduced the design argument in 1802 when really, arguments of design go all the way back to even the time of Christ.) Navabi starts with a claim that it used to be that many natural forces were attributed to deities. While this is so, I think many atheists make a false assumption here. Since these were explained by deities, the deities were invented to explain these. That doesn’t follow. Why not that the deities were already thought to be there and that they were assigned these by their worshipers in order to explain how they take place?
Many of you also know that as a Christian apologist, I have no problem with evolution. If you just say evolution explains it, I’m not going to bat an eye. That’s because a question is being answered that I think doesn’t answer the main question for Christianity in any way. Before we go to the next question, we have to address the main argument that Navabi puts forward that we were all expecting.
“If complexity requires a creator, who created God?”
This is Richard Dawkins’s main argument and so many atheists bounce around this Sunday School question as if no one in Christian history ever thought about it. When we talk about something needing a cause, what we really mean is potential being made actual.
Okay. As I write this now, I am sitting at my computer. Suppose my wife calls me and wants something from me. If I agree, I will stand up and go to her. I can do that because while sitting, I have the potential to stand. Once I stand, I have the potential to sit, or lie down, or jump, or do any number of things. Actuality is what is. Potentiality can be seen as a capacity for change.
When any change takes place in anything, that means a potentiality has been turned into an actuality. As I write this, my wife is in the living room watching Stranger Things for the third time. The change is happening on the screen because of signals that are being received from somewhere else through Netflix. (Don’t ask me to explain how it works.)
Now many of us could see this cause and effect going on and say it makes sense. (In fact, it’s essential for science.) Still, we might ask about our own actions. Aren’t we the cause? Do we need anything beyond us? A Thomistic response is to say yes. What we do we do because of something external to us driving us towards it and that is the good. We either want the good and pursue it or refuse it and rebel against it.
What does this have to do with God? For us to say God has a cause, we would have to show that there was some change that took place in the nature of God. If there wasn’t, then there is nothing in Him needing a cause. The universe we know undergoes change so something has to be the cause of the change in the universe.
But isn’t God complex? Actually, no. Note that I am talking about complexity in His being. I am not talking about God being simple to understand. In Thomistic thought, God is the only being whose very essence is to be. There is no distinction between being and essence. You and I are all human. There is a human nature that is given existence and then that for us is combined with matter that separates us from one another. Angels, meanwhile, are each all their own nature and that nature is granted existence. There is no matter that separates them so they differ by their nature. God alone is no combination. Because of this, He doesn’t need a cause.
That’s pretty complex. If you want to read more about this, I really recommend the writings of Edward Feser. He’s quite good at explaining Thomistic concepts for the layman, and I’d say much better than I am at it.
Argument #2: God’s existence is proven by Scripture.
Navabi gives many of the same fundamentalist arguments here that we’ve come to expect. Naturally, it begins with talking about inconsistencies in Scripture. After all, many times the way that a Christian approaches inerrancy can be the same way that a fundamentalist atheist does.
A favorite one to start with is creation. After all, no one ever noticed that the sun comes after plants in the creation account. You don’t really need to ask if Navabi will interact with any arguments. Young-Earthers and Old-Earthers both have said something, but for people like Navabi, just raise the objection. That’s enough. For what it’s worth, I prefer John Walton’s stance.
Let’s also look at some supposed controversies on the resurrection accounts. Here is the first one.
57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:
58 He went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.
27 For they that dwell at Jerusalem and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.
28 And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain.
29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a sepulcher.
Did you see the contradiction?
Navabi wants us to say that in one account, Joseph buries Jesus. In another, the people do. It’s amazing that this one is put forward as anything serious. Joseph was among the people who did crucify Jesus, though he was a secret sympathizer. His action of burying Jesus would be seen as the Sanhedrin providing for his burial. How is this a contradiction?
There’s also how many figures were seen at the tomb and how many women there were. The basic replies work well enough here that some writers chose to focus on one man or angel instead of pointing out two. I think the women mentioned were the ones alive at the time who could be eyewitnesses.
To be fair, the dating of the crucifixion between John and the Synoptics is a live one. I have no firm conclusion on this, but also it doesn’t affect me either way. The basic facts about the historical Jesus do not hang on this. Scholars do not doubt that Jesus was crucified at the time of Passover.
I will have no comment on what Navabi says on the Quran. I will leave that to the experts in Islam.
When we go back to the Bible, Navabi throws out that the writings were based on oral tradition and written decades or centuries later. Well with the New Testament, I don’t know any scholar who says centuries later. Navabi also doesn’t bother to investigate oral tradition and how well it works or how much later other ancient works were then the events they describe. Neither will many of his atheist readers, you know, the people who talk about loving evidence so much. (Except for claims that agree with them of course.)
And then there’s the claim that the books are anonymous and we don’t know who wrote them. His source for this is Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted. I have written a reply to that here. It would be good for Navabi to explain how he knows how other anonymous works in the ancient world were written by the people they’re ascribed to and to actually investigate the arguments for traditional authorship, but don’t be expecting that.
Argument #3. Some unexplained events are miraculous, and these miracles prove the existence of God.
This chapter is quite poor, which is saying a lot for a work like this. A miracle is described as an improbable event. You won’t find any interaction with Craig Keener’s Miracles even though this came out after that did. We’re told that a problem with miracles is that they’re unfalsifiable, which is quite odd since so many skeptics make it a habit of disproving miracle claims.
Suppose someone walks into your church service who has been blind all their life. A member of your church comes forward and says to them “God told me to come and pray for you” and ends a prayer saying “In the name of Jesus, open your eyes” and the person has their eyes open. Are you justified in believing a miracle has taken place? I think you definitely are.
These are the events that we want to be explained. If Navabi wants to say miracles cannot happen, then he needs to make a real argument for that. If he wants to say they have never happened, then he needs to be able to show his exhaustive knowledge of all history. Can he do that? After all, his claim is quite grand and could be hard to “falsify” since we don’t have access to all knowledge of all history.
Argument #4. Morality stems from God, and without God, we could not be good people.
While the moral argument is a valid one, never underestimate the ability of atheistic writers to fail to understand an argument. Navabi’s first point is that morals change. However, if morals change, can we really speak of objective truths? Those are unchanging things. If morality just becomes doing whatever people of the time say is good, then congratulations. We do what we think is good and congratulate ourselves on doing what we already agree with.
As expected, Navabi trots out Euthyphro. This is the question of if something is good because God wills it, or does God will it because it’s good. Again, atheists bring up this argument found in Plato completely ignoring that it was answered by Aristotle, his student, in defining what the good itself is. When atheists bring this forward, I never see them define what goodness itself is. We could just as well ask “Is something good because we think it is, or do we think it is because it is good?” Everyone has to answer Euthyphro unless they define goodness separately.
This is followed by the problem of evil. There are more than enough good resources out there for someone wanting more. I am including some interviews I have hosted on my show about the topic that can be found here, here, and here.
Navabi concludes with a natural explanation of morality to the tune that it evolved. Unfortunately, this doesn’t explain things because there has to be a standard of good we have in mind by which we recognize a good action. Goodness is not a material property that comes about through evolution. It is something we discover much like laws of nature or logic.
Argument #5 Belief in God would not be so widespread if God didn’t exist.
This is not an argument I would make, but there are some examples of bad thinking here. Navabi says that if God was revealing the world religions, wouldn’t we expect them to have more in common? Unfortunately, why should I think God is revealing all of them. Could man not believe and make up his own easily enough?
Navabi also says that if these religions are describing the physical world, they can’t all be right, but they could all be wrong. Of course, this isn’t really an argument. One needs to show that all of them are wrong.
Finally, while I don’t use the argument, it does have to be acknowledged that theism is widespread. Given this is the case, why is it that the theistic claims are treated by the atheists as extraordinary claims? Wouldn’t it be the opinion outside of the ordinary, namely that God does not exist, that should be considered as extraordinary?
We’ll go through the next five next time.