Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 5

What are we to make of the cosmology of the Bible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s an odd world I live in where I actually find reading Edward Babinski more refreshing than I do the other writers I have read so far. Not that I’m a big fan of Babinski, but at least he had an approach that was simply just the facts. So what were the facts in this case? This time, it was all about Biblical cosmology.

So in preparing to see what I would write about in this chapter that I thought was worthwhile, I decided to go back through and see what all on my Kindle I had highlighted. I started at the beginning of the chapter and went straight through. What did I find?

Nothing.

You see, Babinski’s work might be troublesome to someone who thinks the Bible has to speak in precise scientific language but to the rest of us, it really isn’t a problem. I don’t have a problem with the language being used any more than I have a problem when I hear the weather forecast and hear when sunrise and sunset will be.

Consider when we are told to seek the Lord with all of our heart. Most of us realize that the organ that handles the blood flow in our bodies does not lead the way in our love. Still, we have this kind of mindset today. We just had Valentine’s Day and you can find boxes of candy shaped like hearts at the store on discount that weren’t bought.

It’s my contention that God was not interested in teaching the ancients the proper science. That material would not be useful to them. It would also distract from the message that was wanting to be given at the time. We might consider that the most important information ever, but that’s our own prejudice kicking in and telling us how the work should be read.

This is a mistake I think both atheists and Christians often make with the Bible. Many people who go to Genesis 1 make the exact same mistake. They read it as a scientific account and think it has to be that way. It makes sense because when we think about an origins story of the universe, we think of how it came to be. The Bible is not interested in how it came to be or when it came to be, but it is more interested in who brought it to be the way that it is and why did He do it that way?

I do think at times Babinski is too quick to quote things in a literalistic way still, such as when the Bible speaks about the ends of the Earth. We can still use that saying today. There is also the fact that the Bible speaks about the circles of the Earth and the four corners of the Earth and John was certainly not ignorant of what Isaiah said. When a figure of speech is used and when it is not is up to hermeneutics. I also think Matthew would know very well that there was no mountain in Israel from which you could see all the world. I’m inclined to think that Jesus was given a vision.

So those who are greatly troubled by this chapter, you might want to check your hermeneutic. The rest of us could find things about ancient cosmology from surrounding cultures that was interesting, but nothing that troubled us. We don’t approach the Bible as concordists.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 1

Does the cosmological argument stand up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’ve had sitting on the backburner for awhile another book besides Seeing Through Christianity to go through and that’s Evidence Considered by Glenton Jelbert. Jelbert has decided to go after Mike Licona and Bill Dembski’s book Evidence For God. Jelbert is a former Christian and it is interesting to go through what he has.

The first chapter is on the cosmological argument which was written by David Beck. It’s noteworthy that there is no distinction between what kind of cosmological argument is used. Craig uses one kind that is called the horizontal argument. This one goes with the beginning of the universe and largely relies on Big Bang Cosmology. The vertical kind does not require any science at all and is more philosophical and asks what is the basis for the existing of the universe.

Imagine you wake up tomorrow and you hear some weird music playing. You ask “What is causing this sound?” It doesn’t seem to make sense to ask “What caused this sound?” since the sound is going on in the present. The music is continually playing so you ask what is causing it.

Now another day, you wake up and you go outside to do a morning walk and you find when you open the front door a giant crystal orb is blocking your path. You ask “What caused this?” because it’s being put there is an event that happened in the past. It is often missed that you could just as much ask “What is causing this?”

Why could you ask that? Because too often, the existence of these things is treated like a given. It’s as if things can exist by their own power. One could say that we could commit suicide by our own power, but none of us can by our own power say “I don’t want to exist!” and just poof out.

Jelbert begins his response by saying we could grant the argument and it doesn’t really get us close to theism. He says that all religions are able to use this shows this, but can they all use it? For instance, Mormonism would not use this argument since matter is really eternal in Mormonism with gods begetting gods that create their own planets where the denizens can become gods.

The Abrahamic religions can use this because the vertical form definitely depends on one uncaused cause. Using natural theology and Aristotelian metaphysics, Aquinas can tell us plenty about the god that can be found. There is a false notion that to say that since natural theology alone can’t tell us what god there is, then there can’t be a god. In the Middle Ages, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian philosophers could all agree on the arguments of natural theology. They’d determine which form of theism is true by looking at special revelation.

From there, Jelbert goes on to talk about how Jeopardy recently defined atheism as “The active, principled denial of the existence of God.” Jelbert refers to this an absurd definition. Jelbert says “A definition of atheist as someone who does not believe there is a god, is the equivalent of saying that since the case has not been made, the burden of proof lies with the theist/deist.”

First off, this sentence is incredibly unclear. Thinking it was just me, I showed it to one of my friends who’s much more familiar with English and grammar only to get a similar response. My rule with the burden of proof argument is that anyone who makes a claim has a burden. If you come up and say “I am an atheist,” and I ask why, you need to back that. It doesn’t work to say “Unless you can demonstrate your case, atheism is true.” It could be that I am a theist who has terrible reasons for believing in God and yet God still exists. If I come to you and say I’m a theist, it’s not up to you to disprove theism. It’s up to me to demonstrate theism.

As for the idea about it being absurd, perhaps Jelbert would like to speak to these others.

“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

Jelbert goes on to say that the argument proves nothing about Jesus, virgin births (Which I do affirm), the resurrection, or any creed. Indeed it doesn’t. It is hardly a fault of an argument that it does not prove what it was never meant to prove. The argument could be entirely valid and Islam is true. Either way, atheism is false.

Jelbert goes on to argue that maybe the cause is itself physical. The problem with this is that in the horizontal form, the being is beyond space, time, and matter, which means it is not limited by any of those and thus it is not spatial, it is eternal, and it is immaterial. In the vertical form, it is a being that is not capable of change from another agent. Anything material is capable of such change. This is because in Thomistic and Aristotelian metaphysics, these kinds of things have what is called potential, which is capacity for change. Matter essentially has this. Thus, physical beings are ruled out.

Jelbert also argues that an infinite chain could possibly exist. This would be a problem for a horizontal version perhaps, but not a vertical one. There are two kinds of chains. In one chain, consider my wife and I. Suppose in a tragedy our parents all died through car accidents or some other means today. That would not mean that we suddenly go out of existence. In fact, we could have our own children still without our parents. (Obviously, we don’t want anything to happen to our parents of course.)

If this kind of chain is what the universe is, then an infinite chain could be possible. I leave that to the mathematicians. Yet what if our universe is not like this? Aquinas gives the example of a stick pushing a rock and the rock pushing a leaf while the stick is pushed by a hand. This is a short chain, but in this chain, if you remove any part, all activity ceases. All present activity is continuously dependent on past activity. If that is the case for our universe, then an infinite chain is not possible.

A Thomistic argument gives a chain where existence depends on something else existing. If all existing depends on another existence, then you have such a chain going on as with the rock being moved, then there’s no reason to think any existing would be going on right now. This is not chronological either. If it was, it would be the former chain. Too many atheistic arguments treat existing as if it was a given. It’s quite odd to think that so many atheists who want to talk about how God doesn’t exist don’t really say much about what it means to exist.

Jelbert then says that the third point is that there must be a single uncaused or infinite being. Jelbert sees a switch between cause and being, but it’s a wonder what we’re supposed to see. If anything is causing any change, it must be something that exists in some way, that is, it is. It’s a being.

Jelbert also says that Beck says that “We cannot make sense of the universe, the reality in which we live, apart from there being a real God.” Jelbert says that this is an admission that the feeling of not knowing is something Beck doesn’t like and he heals it with the idea of God. It’s a wonder how this is read. Beck just gave a statement of fact. Nothing is said about personal feelings in the matter.

Jelbert then goes on to say that this is what has been done for millennia, but this is indeed too much of a leap. The first leap is to assume an emotional case for Beck. The second is to assume that everyone thinks in modern individualistic psychological terminology.

If we want to play this game, then we could say that many people find a God distasteful who will judge them for their sins, require repentance, or disagree with their political views. This causes psychological discomfort. The way to quiet this is to argue that this God doesn’t exist to give emotional solace.

Does this apply to some people? Sure. Are some people also Christians for emotional reasons? Sadly so. Does this tell us about the truth? Not at all. Instead, Jelbert has given a reason that cannot be known. Saying that you have an explanation that explains something is not necessarily addressing something emotional. It could provide emotional solace as a plus, but that does not mean that it is false.

We will later on look at another chapter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/26/2017: Gerard Verschuuren

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Science has taken many twists and turns throughout the centuries. From the ancient Greeks through the medievals to the time of the Reformation and the Enlightenment and up to modern times. Today, science is the language of the day. It is the force that most people take the most seriously. We are in the age of progress and have no need of the ideas of the past that bear no relation to modern science.

But what if they do?

Nearly 800 years ago, a monk was born named Thomas Aquinas. His intellectual tradition had a major impact on the world as he formed a bond between Aristotelianism and Christianity. Aquinas had some interest in the science of his time, but if we were talking about great scientists of the past, his name would not likely come up as he’s much more known for his philosophical and theological conventions. To change Tertullian’s statement, what has Aquinas to do with modern science?

He could have quite a bit actually. The philosophy of Aquinas could have severe ramifications for science and how it is done. As one who considers myself a Thomist, I was alerted about the book Thomas Aquinas and Modern Science. I decided to get a review copy of it and the author of it, Gerard Verschuuren, will be my guest.

So who is he?

Gerard wears many hats. He is a scientist, a speaker, a writer, and he serves as a consultant. He has a doctorate in the philosophy of science and today serves as a human geneticist. As of 1994, he lives in the southern part of New Hampshire.

We’re going to be talking about what role Thomas Aquinas has for modern science. Perhaps it the case that old Aquinas should not be forgot. What does Aquinas have to say for modern cosmology and genetics? Could it really be that scientists might actually need to study some metaphysics? Could it be that if they don’t, that are possibly doing metaphysics and just doing it very poorly and their science could actually improve with metaphysics?

What about questions we have today? Did the universe have a beginning? Would a multiverse be a problem? Should we even be using the metaphysics of Aquinas since we know he got them from Aristotle and Aristotle has been shown to be wrong in his physics hasn’t he? If so, why should we care about his metaphysics?

Evolution is sometimes seen as a defeater by many Christians and atheists. Is it? What would Aquinas think of the work of Darwin? What would he think of by contrast of the Intelligent Design movement? Does Aquinas have something that both sides can learn?

What about our minds and bodies? How do the two of them interact? Does Aquinas have something to say about that as well? What would Aquinas think of Near-Death Experiences? Would he support a dualism?

Also, what about our modern government? How does Aquinas say about how we should all function together? Does he have anything to say about our economic struggles today?

I hope you’ll be looking forward to the next episode. Aquinas was a fascinating thinker in his day and still deserves to be listened to today. Please be watching and consider leaving a positive review on ITunes of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: God’s Crime Scene

What do I think of Jim Wallace’s latest book published by David C. Cook publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deepest Waters and find out.

I consider J Warner Wallace a friend of mine and I was pleased to see he wrote a new book. Upfront, I’ll say scientific apologetics for the most part I don’t really find very interesting. I find science items quite interesting at times and I find I have questions raised when I read things about science for both sides of the atheism/theism debate, but for the most part, I just don’t get convinced. I also have a concern that we live in a scientism culture and if we marry everything to science, what will happen when the science changes? Hence, I prefer to go with metaphysics that has lasted through the years to demonstrate theism, but let’s talk about Jim’s book.

Jim’s book is written in an attractive format and for the most part it’s easy to follow. While it has a lot of pages, many of these also have illustrations so the book is not as large as it first appears. It’s written in a good chronological format that will help the reader go step by step. I suspect if one had just one issue in mind, that each chapter could be read in a stand-along fashion. Wallace also does not ignore the opposition and he does cite the people who disagree with him and includes them as expert witnesses.

Yet one of the best aspects is that each chapter starts with a story that will draw the reader in. Many of us love mysteries. I know I do. I have been disappointed for instance to find that he Monk mystery series has apparently come to an end. Wallace begins each chapter talking about a crime case that he’s covered and uses that to explain the data. It’s a wonderful illustration, although be warned that there are some crime scenes that you don’t want to hear the description of. Some will also just break your heart especially, like hearing about the deaths of children to violent crime.

Also, while I do not care much for science, there are other areas talked about such as a case for dualism or the case for the argument of objective morality. There’s also the answer to the problem of evil. These are definitely areas that I find more interesting and was pleased to see them discussed.

Now here are some things I would like to see improved if a second edition comes out.

I would like to see more emphasis on the metaphysical arguments that demonstrate God’s existence. I think it’s a shame that Protestants have tended to remove themselves from the classical arguments used by Aquinas. These are excellent arguments that have stood the test of time and do not depend on the science of the day. Another area I would like to see is the addressing of the question that I always get from atheists that I never saw mentioned in the book and that would be “Well you’re telling me God created the universe. Well who created God?” Now I think this is a question that needs to be answered, but not the defeater that many atheists think it is and yes, I think the Thomistic arguments answer it well.

Still, I would hope that Wallace’s book would do what I think he most wants it to do. Start the conversation. That’s why Wallace includes resources on both sides of the argument at the end of the book. Not convinced by your immediate reading? I think he would understand that and in some ways appreciate it. By all means go and look at the evidence, but consider this a book that can get your foot in the door. Again, while I do not speak as an authority on matters of science as science, I think the discussion is interesting and while I am not one much for scientific apologetics, if you are, this is a book you will want in your library. Wallace has done extensive research to make his case just like any good investigator. Being a good juror, you owe it at least a listen.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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