Should we throw out the pro-life position due to being religious? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
When I have seen debates going on about abortion now, something that seems to come up consistently is that this is a religious position. We have separation of church and state. We are not to be controlled by religious laws.
Is this the case? After all, many people who are explicitly religious are pro-life. Would these people be pro-life if they abandoned their religion? If their reasoning is religious in nature, can we rule it out? Even if it isn’t, surely that is their motivation. Right?
To begin with, there are many laws that we have today that are found in religious texts. Most of us seem to think that murder and stealing are wrong and to some extent, lying, such as in cases of perjury, lying under oath. While there are people who are more loose than I think should be with sex, we generally tend to think you shouldn’t cheat on the person you’re with and condemn adultery.
Who among the most radical atheist would like to abandon the law against murder because it is found in the Ten Commandments? Anyone? Do you think it should be allowed for people to steal what belongs to you? Do you think your partner should be just fine with cheating on you?
Christians are often falsely accused of picking and choosing, but atheists do the same thing. They don’t want us to be ruled by ancient laws in the Bible, but they don’t seem to mind some of those laws. Let’s also keep in mind that those laws are not given as if they are new information.
Before the Ten Commandments, we see murder being condemned, even at the very beginning with the story of Cain and Abel. The Ten Commandments were not giving new information for the most part. They were giving beliefs that the Israelites already knew of and understood. It’s not as if they got the commandments and said “Whoa! Turns out murder is wrong!”
Now let’s suppose though that my motivation is largely religious, even if my argument is not. So what? That doesn’t matter. Imagine if you had myself here and with me was atheist Albany Rose. She is a well-known pro-life atheist on social media.
Let’s suppose that we each give the same argument for why abortion is wrong. Now my perspective you could believe was religious and that was my motivation. The same could not be said of Albany Rose. Is the argument valid when it comes from her but not when it comes from me?
Of course not. Arguments stand or fall on the merit of the argument and not on the merit of the person giving it. Now if you think that someone is untrustworthy and a liar, you can be possibly rightly suspicious of their evidences. However, suppose that those evidences do turn out to be true. If that is so, then the argument stands or falls on its own.
If it is the case that the person is not one who has a reputation of being untrustworthy, then pointing out the motivations of the person doesn’t matter a bit. Arguments are either true or false. They don’t have motives. Only the people presenting them do.
Saying someone is religious in their argument is not a refutation. It is just a dodge. Sure, if I quote the Bible and you don’t believe it, then you could say you reject on those grounds, but if I give a more natural law or scientific argument, that still stands or falls on the data itself. Dealing with the person will not deal with the argument.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)
What do I think of Steven Pinker’s book published by Viking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Someone recommended I get this book saying it could be the next version of The God Delusion. It’s over 400 pages worth. I picked it up at the library yesterday and went to work immediately. It didn’t take long to realize how bad this book will be.
Well, if he’s wanting to extol the Enlightenment and show how bad the so-called Dark Ages were, I’m curious what he has to say about some of the great thinkers of the time. Let’s start with my favorite, Thomas Aquinas. I’ll just check the index.
Hmmmm. Must be an oversight. He’s not mentioned.
How about Augustine?
That’s odd. None of the great thinkers are mentioned. Of course, Donald Trump and Al Gore and others get mentioned, but you would think if you were going to say something about the “Dark Ages” you might interact with people from the “Dark Ages.”
Heck. We could go back further. Paul isn’t mentioned. Not even Jesus is mentioned. Okay. In fairness, Muhammad isn’t mentioned either, but still….
So yeah. This is another book where apparently Pinker wasn’t interested in doing any primary research to see what people before him actually thought about things. It’s best to just read what people today think about what people back then thought. One wonders if Pinker will begin swallowing pre-chewed food before too long.
I’m only going to be looking at part 1 for now because first off, I have not finished with the book. Second, there is so much wrong in part 1 that I want to make sure I have room. If this is the new God Delusion, we can expect atheists to be setting themselves back intellectually even more.
The very first page talks about the Enlightenment and how mankind saw it as his coming to maturity. Let us remember also that the age where when people first come to maturity is when they’re teenagers. At that point, they think they know everything and don’t need to listen to anyone else because they are the best. We can be sure Pinker and his ilk are the teenagers. They just have not come to full maturity yet.
According to Pinker, the battle cry was “Dare to understand!” After all, no one before had really ever bothered to try to understand anything. Nope. Everything was just believed blindly and there were no arguments and debates of any kind.
Pinker goes on to talk about the recent bloodshed from wars about religion. Absent of course is any mention of the French Revolution or anything of that sort. He speaks of the scientific revolution, ignorant that that really started in the “Dark Ages” when science began. We can safely conclude that Pinker has never really done any study of this period of the science done in it.
Pinker talks about the importance of reason and how applying reason showed that miracle reports were dubious and that writers of holy books were all too human and that people believed in incompatible deities. I do find this utterly amazing. I find it amazing that Pinker didn’t know that people in the past were just as skeptical. There have always been people like Lucian wanting to disprove miracles. Of course, the writers of holy books were human. Does Pinker think we think they were Reptilians? And finally, people believed in incompatible deities? Was this supposed to be news? As for miracles, Pinker never tells us how reason disproves them. Is it some assumption that if you’re a thinking person, you obviously don’t believe? Does Pinker mean to say that only people who are stupid and don’t use reason believe in miracles?
Pinker goes on to talk about how science delivered us from fears of the natural world. He quotes some writers talking about what the people believed back then, but as expected, he never quotes from that time period itself. He never gives any instances where these things are believed. If this is what people believed, surely Pinker could easily have gone and found some references? Not a one is found.
Pinker goes on to humanism which he says is based on a universal human nature, but how can this be? A universal human nature is not scientific. It is not material and you cannot take universal human nature and put it in a jar and study it. This is actually looking at essences and natures which is a metaphysical idea that started back in Greece and really got going in the, wait for it, DARK AGES!
Pinker tells us about how this understanding led to us answering the moral call with sympathy. Thus an end was brought to such forces as slavery. Apparently no one knew about this sympathy thing until the Enlightenment came along. No mention is made of William Wilberforce and no, he’s not in the index either. No mention is made of Christians who in the first few centuries A.D. bought slaves just to set them free. No mention is made of how Clovis II and Bathilda both worked together and ended slavery in their time. Nope. Forget what people in the past did.
The final idea is progress and while most of us support progress, we all define it in different ways. I would consider America returning to Christian values and a deeper understanding of Jesus Christ to be progress. Pinker would consider it just the opposite. Muslims could consider going to Sharia Law to be progress. Who is to determine who is right on this?
The next chapter deals with much of science. Speaking of science as science, I have no wish to touch it. I have no desire to challenge evolution. I have a desire to challenge a false implication of it, but not the science itself. That is for the scientists.
On p. 24, Pinker speaks of the idea that if bad things happen, some agent wanted them to happen. That is the only reason they would. This is a common idea, but one repudiated in even the oldest book of the Bible, the book of Job. This book dealt with the idea that was believed that if you’re good, good things will happen, and if you’re bad, bad things will happen. Job’s purpose is not to deal with the problem of evil. It’s to answer the question, “Will a man remain faithful to God even when there seem to be no benefits to it?”
On p. 26 he speaks about how pre-scientific people thought words and thoughts could impact the world in thoughts and prayers. Not exactly. If anything, we are the unscientific ones today when we tell someone we are sending them “good thoughts.” Sending a thought alone cannot affect reality. What the people in the past did was pray to God who they believed could affect reality. Sure, they could be wrong in that, but there is nothing illogical or unreasonable in thinking that if God as existed in either Islam, Christianity, or Judaism was asked something that He had the power to do something.
On p. 27, Pinker said communities came up with rules of debate. You can point out flaws of beliefs of others and you’re not allowed to force others to shut up if they disagree with you. You can even show if your beliefs are true or false and we call that science.
Again, Pinker has never read any from the past. They regularly interacted with one another and showed they thought the other was wrong and did so peaceably. As for saying that this is what science is, this is what any branch of knowledge does. It’s not exclusive to science. It’s as if Pinker wants to claim that any thinking done is science.
On the next page, he talks about free speech, nonviolence, cooperartion, cosmopolitanism, human rights, and acknowledging human fallibility, as well as science, education, media, democratic government, international organizations, and markets. All of these were brainchilds of the Enlightenment.
Well, no. They weren’t. It was the Christians who were building the first universities and establishing criteria of education. (Oh yeah, they also made that darn printing press which is a mystery since obviously Christians didn’t like to read or learn anything). Democracy goes all the way back to ancient Greece. Capitalism and the market really gained a rise in the Middle Ages and we speak today of the Protestant Ethic. Our Constitution finds much in the Magna Carta which was, wait for it, in the Middle Ages.
On p. 30, Pinker writes about the problem of faith as an opponent of Christianity. Of course, there’s no attempt to really interact with NT scholarship to see what faith is. Pinker says to take something on faith is to take it without good reason. It would be nice if some of these guys would provide good reason to think that’s what it really means. Apparently, all they do is look at what they think is modern popular usage and decide that it must have been that way for all time.
Pinker tells us that this clashes with humanism when we put some good above the good of humans such as accepting a divine savior or proselytizing. Absent is any notion that if these things are true, then these are indeed the best goods for humanity. If Christianity is true, the best thing a human can do is submit his life to Jesus Christ.
Pinker tells us that incompatibilities with science are the stuff of legend like Galileo, the Scopes Trial, stem cell research, and climate change. Yes. Many legends also have no basis in reality. Galileo was a firm believer in Christianity and the dispute was more about science than it was about religion. Galileo did not have enough scientific backing to establish his theories. Pinker would do well to read many of the works of Ronald Numbers on myths about science. (Big shock. Numbers isn’t referenced either.)
On p. 31, he tells us many of his colleagues were eager to see his book done for talking points against the right. If so, then we on the right are greatly blessed because Pinker’s “reasonable” friends will simply believe what Pinker says without evidence and further embarrass themselves. Apparently, Pinker’s colleagues just can’t be bothered with going and reading the primary sources, which sadly, Pinker couldn’t be bothered to do either.
He talks about scientism on p. 34 saying it is the intrusion of science into the territories of the humanities. Well, no. Not really. Scientism is instead the idea that science is the only way that any truth can be known.
Pinker says he wants to bring us out of the Dark Ages, but if anything he is leading us to a Dark Age. This would be an age where mankind is ignorant of the past which means not only their successes but also their failures. This is an age where man is trapped in his own culture and generation and doesn’t know how we got here which will impede us from knowing where we are going.
I will have more to say in future installments and even still I have not come anywhere close to covering everything. Pinker is writing about things that he does not know about. The sad thing is many of his followers will join him in his ignorance.
Does any side own reason? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Yesterday, I was listening to Unbelievable? and one of the guests was from a British Humanist Association. I noticed how it was said by the guest something alone the lines of the belief in reason and that they are advocates for reason. Every time I hear something like this, I always get amazed that so many atheists and such out there want to advocate reason as if it was some new discovery that they made and the rest of the world doesn’t know about it.
Part of that has been that in our day and age, many atheists, especially on the internet, like to claim that they are the people of reason. This is usually in contrast to the theists who are the people of faith. Naturally, this is not an accurate understanding of faith, but a faith that is looked at as blind belief. If any internet atheist wants to think that this is what Christians have always believed, I just urge them to go and read the most educated Christians of today and the past.
This doesn’t mean that you will agree with the conclusion that the Christian makes. It would be great if you would, but I doubt it will happen immediately, but at least see that the people are using reason. They are presenting arguments and giving evidence and asking you to follow that evidence. You can disagree, but it is still the position of using reason.
Is this to say that all Christians are like this? Of course, but this would be like saying that all atheistic philosophers are like the ones that you encounter on the internet. There are too many Christians that are very anti-reason and do say there’s no evidence and you just have to have faith. There are too many atheists as well who claim reason but will believe many of the most unreasonable positions because they argue against Christianity, such as the nonsense idea that Jesus never even existed.
The problem also is that if one thinks they have reason and the other side doesn’t, then anything the other side says is discounted automatically. When I was engaged to Allie, a friend and I went to an event in Charlotte where Gary Habermas was speaking and in the Q&A an atheist tried to stump him at the microphone. Gary answered all of the questions and as the questioner was walking to his seat, my friend tells me he said, “At least I have logic on my side.”
Say all you want about logic, but there is nothing in logic that says God does not exist or that miracles cannot occur. No law of logic excludes those. Unfortunately, someone like this will just think that they are ipso facto a man of reason and they automatically are because, well, they’re an atheist and they’re the party of reason and so anything the opponent says must be false. Obviously, they’re a person of faith and they’re using reason after the fact. Even if that were so, that in itself does not discount the arguments.
Reason is a great tool and everyone should use it more and more and there are people who are people of faith on both sides. When I meet an atheist who makes a statement about how much they are the people of reason, I find it hard to take seriously. If you use reason, I certainly applaud you, but you are not different from the other people who are serious debaters in this field. In fact, the constant misunderstanding of faith from a Christian perspective means I just don’t take you seriously at all.
Reason is great, but it has been used by Christians for ages. It’s nothing new. Today too many atheists act like teenagers who have been given keys to the car and think that no one else has discovered driving. Sorry, but you’re not the only ones on this highway.
What do I think of Curtis White’s book published by Melville House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
White is really tired of the arrogance of the scientists today. He loves the science, but his big problem is that many times scientists think that they’re doing science when really, they’re not. They will make statements such as Hawking’s that philosophy is dead, then make philosophical statements and not even realize it. Often this is done without a look at all at the great philosophical stances. (Consider how Krauss redefines nothing from the definition understood for some 2,500 years by theologians and philosophers and then blames them for changing the terms.)
One of his favorite examples is when he talks about how scientists say science is beautiful and amazing. White doesn’t argue against this, but what does it even mean? Are these scientific statements? Certainly not. These are statements of a personal opinion that can’t be objectively measured.
I have personally seen this. When I lived in Charlotte, Richard Dawkins came to nearby Queens university and gave a talk on his book The Greatest Show On Earth. His last chapter was all about the beauty of the universe and science. Now I am not denying the beauty of the universe or of science, but I got in line for the Q & A. When I got up, I asked Dawkins about that chapter and asked if he had any metaphysical or scientific basis for beauty.
I suspect most of the audience consisted of atheists at the time who had been throwing softballs and this time, he was flummoxed. He gave an answer that went on various tangents for about three or four minutes and then finally ended with “We don’t really know.” So here we have Dawkins telling an audience about this beauty and he hasn’t really even thought about how this beauty is known.
White also notices that scientists and others regularly use other words without telling about them. It’s just assumed “Well everyone knows what that means.” Consider how Hitchens writes about the life of reason. Sounds good. I mean, we all believe in reason don’t we? Don’t we see atheists having the Reason Rally and the Christmas signs that say “This season, celebrate reason.”? Indeed we do, and yet they never seem to define this word. What exactly is meant by reason? Your guess is as good as mine because it is never stated.
In all of this, White doesn’t want scientists to stop doing science, but he doesn’t want us to lose sight of the humanities. Art and philosophy and other topics are not dead. Scientists have too long put themselves up as the pinnacle of knowledge and others should be silent because “Hey! We’re scientists!” Maybe other fields can pick up some of the scraps, but science is where the real knowledge is.
White’s book is a really good critique of this system of thought and of the scientism of our age. It is a call to not abandon philosophy and art and other fields and to not give pat answers to big questions. Those questions need to be asked even if science is not the answer to them. Perhaps there are some questions that science just can’t answer.
How do you go about studying the topic of logic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I’ve been discussing lately with some fellow Christians the study of logic. We’ve often discussed the main ways that people study logic, such as reading the books on logic and listening to great teachers on logic. This is essential to the study and you should do this, but at the same time, I want to point out some fun ways you can put into practice what you are studying.
One place to go to is advertising. Someone is selling you a product. Why should you buy it? What claims do they make? Do they really convince you that this is a worthwhile exchange for your money, or do they do something else, say have a bikini wearing model advertise a burger for you? (And let’s face it, we all know that model never ever eats anything like that.)
Sometimes, businesses are less forward than that and try to sneak in an attitude. When we lived in Tennessee, a local bank would have commercials with a touching country setting emphasizing the goodness of home. Nothing was said about the bank itself, but the feeling you got thinking about the homey atmosphere was meant to carry over to the bank. Car insurance companies have been doing this as well using humor. How many of us laugh at the “Jake from State Farm” commercials or the GEICO commercials about cats, mothers, and the band Europe? You know what? They work, because we talk about these commercials, but many times you don’t really wind up knowing much about the product.
I have also been a stickler for pointing out to my wife Allie what it means when someone is referred to as a liar. Because someone gets a claim wrong does not mean that they are a liar. If that is so, every student who gets a false answer on a math test is a liar. A liar is someone who knows the truth about what they are saying and says the opposite fully intending what they say to be believed as the truth. We have to be clear because someone could say the exact opposite in sarcasm not intending to be believed at all. This kind of thing happens often in politics. It’s too easy to say someone is a liar for providing information that is false. Maybe they are, but it takes more than false information to show that someone is lying.
Speaking of politics, let’s look at the presidential debates we have going on now. This is a great place to go to to study logic because you can look at a question a candidate is asked and then look at the answer and ask “Did they really answer the question?” You can also ask how they did that with a question or challenge they receive from an opponent.
By the way, when you do this, it’s important to try to be as impartial as you can. Let’s say you’re a Ted Cruz supporter in the Republican primary. You might be looking to see what Donald Trump says that is an example of bad logic or an answer that does not follow or dodges the question. That’s fine. Do the same for Cruz also. If you’re a Trump supporter, you will do the opposite. You should also be willing to admit when your opponent does answer the question satisfactorily. You can debate how good the answer is how effective a strategy would be, but does he answer the question?
Humor is also a good place to go to. Comedians don’t try to be logicians, but they do try to point out the humor in our thinking. If you like puns, puns rely on ambiguity largely. That’s what makes them so funny. Much of our humor relies on taking people literally. My wife and I were just seeing someone and getting set to make another appointment and they said we can make it for whenever we want. I replied midnight would work just fine for us. Of course, that wouldn’t work for them, but that was the humor of it. On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper regularly does this sort of thing.
Finally, if you’re doing this from an apologetics perspective, consider watching to and listening to debates. One of my favorite programs for debates is Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley. Try to be impartial. Ask and see what side really makes the better case. I have heard debates where I had to say the non-Christian made a better case and some where sadly, the Christian case was just embarrassing in its defense. It does not mean that I think the non-Christian was right, but it does mean that I think they did a better job presenting their case. One mistake it’s easy to make is to think that if an argument agrees with your conclusion, it must be a good one. Christians and atheists both sadly have a habit of going to Google, finding the first thing that they think agrees with them, and sharing it because they think it agrees with what they already believe and so it must be a good argument.
Studying logic in this can be fun and eye-opening and prepare you for a world where people are going to be consistently trying to snow you. Many will do this unintentionally. Some will do it intentionally. If you can learn to think through what people say better, you will be a step ahead of the game. Even if you don’t know a topic well, you can at least see how well conclusions follow.
Is Tyson speaking out of his area again? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Neil deGrasse Tyson of Cosmos has had a history of not getting his facts right when speaking to public audiences. I found out yesterday while browsing on Facebook that he had spoken to Bill Moyers on Moyers and Company. The Friendly Atheist gave a report on the interview here. Unfortunately, when Tyson spoke, he again revealed that he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about and this time it was done when talking about the second coming of Christ.
At the start, Tyson doesn’t realize apparently that there’s much debate about what is called the second coming. There are some Christians that see the discourse in Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation as referring to a future scenario. Then there are some who like myself see it more referring to a past event. We look forward to the future bodily return of Christ, but Matthew 24 is really talking about the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Probably the best work you can read on Matthew 24 from that perspective now is Dee Dee Warren’s It’s Not The End Of The World. You can also listen to my interview with her on that book here.
Of course, Tyson doesn’t know about any of this. What I first was confronted with was a meme that someone made meant to show that the Bible cannot be trusted on anything, which is already itself a strange statement to make. Because the Bible was supposedly unscientific at one point, we cannot trust it on anything whatsoever? You can always count on fundamentalists to have all-or-nothing thinking, but let’s take a look at the meme itself.
Once again, I would have liked to have thought that this was a misquote. I would like to have thought that he did not say this. Unfortunately, the link from The Friendly Atheist shows otherwise. Of course, Tyson in all of this is showing that faith and science are supposedly incompatible. Towards the end of the article, he makes statements that could help indicate the cause of his misconception.
So, this whole sort of reinterpretation of the, how figurative the poetic passages of the Bible are came after science showed that this is not how things unfolded. And so the educated religious people are perfectly fine with that. It’s the fundamentalists who want to say that the Bible is the literally, literal truth of God, that and want to see the Bible as a science textbook, who are knocking on the science doors of the schools, trying to put that content in the science room. Enlightened religious people are not behaving that way. So saying that science is cool, we’re good with that, and use the Bible for, to get your spiritual enlightenment and your emotional fulfillment.
Unfortunately, Tyson doesn’t realize that his hang-up on literalism is not one that was shared by the early church. The fathers, for instance, had a great love of allegory. This was also long before the rise of modern science. Saint Augustine wrote a book where he argued that all of creation happened instantly and did so in a book about the literal meaning of Genesis. In fact, you can find here a great statement from Augustine:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field in which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”
Keep in mind this is long before modern science.
The irony is that Tyson is doing to religion exactly what he accuses of religion doing to science. Tyson is knocking on the doors of religion trying to get to insist on a literalist interpretation of Scripture and saying that this is how it should be done. You can be a strong conservative holding to positions like inerrancy and reject the idea of the Bible as a science textbook and insist that not everything has to be interpreted “literally.” Tyson thus wants to treat the idea that taking the Bible “literally” is ridiculous when not only does he do it himself, but he shows no indication that there are other understandings of the passages under question held by even conservatives.
It could be understandable why Tyson interprets the data of Scripture the way that he does given the modern context that we live in. On the other hand, Tyson could also recognize that when it comes to claims like evolution, for a number of people, it could be said that they just look at the data of the complexity of nature and the beauty of the universe and find that’s an inadequate answer. Tyson would probably say they need to study the evidence of evolution before dismissing it so quickly, and he would be right. I say the same thing back. Before Tyson speaks on interpretation, he needs to actually study it and how the text has been interpreted throughout the centuries and what some interpretations are of such passages.
Of course, he also ends with saying that many of us can go and still get our emotional and spiritual fulfillment. Tyson is unaware that many of us go that route for intellectual fulfillment. We believe in Christianity because it actually answers the questions of the mind. Whether or not it gives spiritual or emotional fulfillment is irrelevant, and frankly, many of us will often say that it does not. The Christian life is not always rainbows and roses. I like how C.S. Lewis said years ago that he didn’t go to Christianity to be happy because he knew a bottle of port would do that just fine. If we were searching for emotional and spiritual fulfillment, many of us would go elsewhere.
Now of course, I recognize Tyson is a scientist, but the problem is scientists like him are speaking about how much religious people who do not understand science are trying to speak on the topic without knowledge. I agree. I have a problem with that going on. I would join Tyson in that. The problem I have is that has to be a two-way street. Tyson does not get to speak on religion just because he is a scientist. If Tyson wants to make his audience more friendly to what he has to say, then he needs to learn to not speak on areas where people who do know what they’re talking about will only roll their eyes.
Does Coyne get any better? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Last time, I spoke of a big blunder coming up in Coyne’s book. It was one paragraph I definitely had to type out immediately because it shows what is so symptomatic of the problem. Note that Coyne would not be happy with someone like me who does not study science seriously speaking on something like evolution. He would be right in that. Yet somehow, Coyne thinks he has justification to speak on history and Biblical interpretaton. How? Let’s take a look.
The following paragraph is one that is so full of mistakes it is hard to know where to begin. If I had to say what is the most ignorant part in this book, it would be this paragraph:
“If you want to read much of the Bible as allegory, you must overturn the history of theology, rewriting it to conform to your liberal, science-friendly faith. Besides pretending that you’re following in the tradition of ancient theologians, you must also explain the way you can discern truth amid the metaphors. What is allegory and what is real? How do you tell the difference? This is particularly difficult for Christians, because the historical evidence for Jesus—that is, for a real person around whom the myth accreted—is thin. And evidence for Jesus as the Son of God is unconvincing, resting solely on the assertions of the Bible and interpretations of people writing decades after the events described in the Gospels.”
Internet atheists will eat this up as if its a powerful indictment of their enemy. Anyone who has bothered to study any sort of history of the New Testament or taken a single course on hermeneutics will just be shaking their head wondering how someone can consider themselves an intelligent person and write something like this.
Let’s start at the beginning. Reading the Bible as allegory will not overturn much of history. Before the rise of modern science, Origen and Augustine were already doing the same. Some of the ways the early church read Scripture was indeed quite creative. The reason Coyne does not know about this is that quite simply, he has not read them. Coyne asks us how can we tell which is allegory and which is not as if this is a stumper question. Well geez. How about we use the same kind of methodology we’d use when we study any ancient document. Heck. Just use what you’d use for modern documents. Look at this review of Super Bowl XXII. Here are some key phrases:
Like worthless documents the Denver Broncos were cut up, torn apart and scattered about San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium by Olle North’s favorite team.
The Washington Redskins’ Sunday massacre was 42-10.
The slaughter was on.
A tremor started Super Bowl week in San Diego. A Washington earthquake ended it.
How do you know what’s literal? How do you know what isn’t? Now to be fair, sometimes you see terms like “like” which are a clue, but sometimes you don’t, and this is common in this kind of writing. How does Coyne tell? Most of us have a good rule. We use our brains and figure it out. In Coyne’s world, it is all-or-nothing. Either the whole Bible is literal or it’s all allegorical and metaphors. There’s no attempt to try to understand the genre of a passage. (For instance, most Old Testament scholars note a difference between Genesis 1-11 and the rest of Genesis and most New Testament scholars agree the Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies.) When you read wisdom literature, you are reading a lot of heavy poetry. When you read the prophets, you can expect many times to see apocalyptic imagery that is not to be read literally. This problem was also confronted by C.S. Lewis in his day who said in Mere Christianity that:
“There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.”
I do not have to agree with all of Lewis’s interpretation, but I think he is treating the text better than literalists like Coyne.
But it gets worse for Coyne.
Coyne actually says the evidence for a historical Jesus is thin. This is another case of Coyne stepping outside of his field and probably relying on people like Dan Barker and Richard Carrier. Carrier is at least a scholar in the field, and he’s on the fringe. He does not teach at an accredited university for instance. There are thousands of NT and classical scholars out there and the number that hold that Jesus never existed can be counted on one hand. You can find more people with doctorates in the relevant field who hold to geocentrism than you can people who hold to Christ mythicism. For a man who write so much about the lunacy of ID in his mind, he should not speak here because there are far more credentialed scientists in the field of ID than there are credentialed historians of the time who hold to Christ mythicism.
Do I have any works to show Jesus existed? One that shows up in the bibliography of Coyne’s is actually Bart Ehrman’s. He could also consider these videos:
He will in fact find few scholars writing on this simply because it really isn’t on the radar and most scholars don’t waste their time with arguments on the internet. From a non-scholarly perspective, he could go here or to the series of Ebooks on the topic here.
Of course, we also have the decades later claim. Of course, the writings are decades later, but in the ancient world, so is practically everything. Our biographies of Alexander the Great are centuries after his time. Coyne lives in a world where you write things down immediately so everyone can hear about them. Not so then. Oral tradition was more reliable to the people and it was absolutely free. Writing the Gospels was incredibly expensive and would have in fact reached fewer people since fewer people could read. Coyne could have been better served by reading a work like Walton and Sandy’s. Robert McIver’s work would have done him well as well.
Oral tradition was hardly like a game of telephone. The stories were told in community and repeated often and there were people branded gatekeepers as it were who would make sure the story was being told accurately. Minor details could be changed provided the whole thrust of the story stayed the same. We do this in our own storytelling today where we recount a story and we will change minor details in a story while still maintaining the basic truth or we will omit a part for one audience. If Mormons come to visit me, my parents will get an account of how the discussion went. If I call my in-laws, who are much more apologetically inclined, they will get a much fuller account.
Coyne also writes about the life of Jesus and how historians of the time did not write about it, particularly the events surrounding the crucifixion. This is more of a Remsberg’s List type of approach to the matter which probably came from Barker, yet even atheists have a problem with it. Jesus in His time was a nobody from a town called Nazareth, which no one cared about, in an area of the world valued mainly for its path for trade but whose customs were viewed as bizarre by others, who never traveled outside of his country as an adult, never went to battle, never wrote a book, never ran for office, and didn’t establish a philosophy. To top it off, He was crucified, the ultimate shame and disgrace in the ancient world. What would a Roman say far off in Rome who heard about Him? “Not worth talking about.” Oh! But He did miracles. This would make it worse. Jesus would be seen as a huckster then much like Benny Hinn is today. The stories about what happened would be seen to non eye-witnesses as Old Wives’ Tales.
In fact, if we want to talk about historians of the time, let’s talk about Hannibal. This was the guy who was Rome’s great opponent and nearly conquered them and who trampled over most every army Rome sent after him. This was a master general. In light of his great achievements, how many of his contemporaries talk about him? Answer? Zero.
How about Queen Boudica who raised an uprising against Rome. How many contemporaries talked about her? Zero.
How about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed two cites killing 250,000? How many accounts do we have? (Not allusions. Accounts.) We have one off-the-cuff remark in an exchange between Pliny and Tacitus. We don’t even hear about the other town from a historical account until Dio Cassius writes later on.
If we focus it in on Judea and ask how many historians we have writing about Messiah figures, that is an easy number.
We have one.
And he did talk about Jesus, despite what many internet atheists would have you think. The Testimonium account is seen by scholars largely as only partially interpolated. It’s a wonder Jesus is even mentioned. For other Messiah figures, you had to call out Roman troops. Jesus didn’t have anything requiring a massive army. Pilate seems to have no idea who Jesus is in the Gospels when he first sees Him.
On page 67 Coyne says
Theologians intensely dislike the definition of faith as belief without — or in the face of — evidence, for that practice sounds irrational. But it surely is, as is any system that requires supporting a priori beliefs without good evidence. In religion, but not science, that kind of faith is seen as a virtue.
Here’s why we dislike it. It’s for the same reason atheists don’t like being identified as God-haters. We don’t see it as an accurate description. Theologians go by evidence just as much. Coyne might want to say the Bible doesn’t count, but the reality is theologians have evidential reasons for believing the Bible is what it claims to be, and that’s because we study the claims from a historical perspective. It’s not because of some nebulous feeling. For theology alone, we also use philosophy and specifically metaphysics to study the nature of God. This was the exact way Aristotle did and I don’t think we want to say Aristotle was anti-evidential. He, like his intellectual descendants, the Thomists (Including myself) was an empiricist.
Coyne also wants to go after Tertullian for saying “The Son of God died: it is immediately credible—because it is silly. He was buried, and rose again: it is certain—because it is impossible.” Interestingly, there is no primary source cited which tells me that Coyne never read the original source. Not very scientific really. The reference comes from On The Flesh of Christ, which is a response to Marcion and a refutation of a more docetic position which denied that Christ came in physical flesh. All this is in the fifth chapter.
There are, to be sure, other things also quite as foolish (as the birth of Christ), which have reference to the humiliations and sufferings of God. Or else, let them call a crucified God “wisdom.” But Marcion will apply the knife to this doctrine also, and even with greater reason. For which Is more unworthy of God, which is more likely to raise a blush of shame, that God should be born, or that He should die? that He should bear the flesh, or the cross? be circumcised, or be crucified? be cradled, or be coffined? be laid in a manger, or in a tomb? Talk of “wisdom!” You will show more of that if you refuse to believe this also. But, after all, you will not be “wise” unless you become a “fool” to the world, by believing” the foolish things of God.” Have you, then, cut away all sufferings from Christ, on the ground that, as a mere phantom, He was incapable of experiencing them? We have said above that He might possibly have undergone the unreal mockeries of an imaginary birth and infancy. But answer me at once, you that murder truth: Was not God really crucified? And, having been really crucified, did He not really die? And, having indeed really died, did He not really rise again? Falsely did Paul “determine to know nothing amongst us but Jesus and Him crucified; ” falsely has he impressed upon us that He was buried; falsely inculcated that He rose again. False, therefore, is our faith also. And all that we hope for from Christ will be a phantom. O thou most infamous of men, who acquittest of all guilt the murderers of God! For nothing did Christ suffer from them, if He really suffered nothing at all. Spare the whole world’s one only hope, thou who art destroying the indispensable dishonour of our faith Whatsoever is unworthy of God, is of gain to me. I am safe, if I am not ashamed of my Lord. “Whosoever,” says He, “shall be ashamed of me, of him will I also be ashamed.” Other matters for shame find I none which can prove me to be shameless in a good sense, and foolish in a happy one, by my own contempt of shame. The Son of God was crucified; I am not ashamed because men must needs be ashamed of it. And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And He was buried, and rose again; the fact is certain, because it is impossible. But how will all this be true in Him, if He was not Himself true-if He really had not in Himself that which might be crucified, might die, might be buried, and might rise again? I mean this flesh suffused with blood, built up with bones, interwoven with nerves, entwined with veins, a flesh which knew how to be born, and how to die, human without doubt, as born of a human being. It will therefore be mortal in Christ, because Christ is man and the Son of man. Else why is Christ man and the Son of man, if he has nothing of man, and nothing from man? Unless it be either that man is anything else than flesh, or man’s flesh comes from any other source than man, or Mary is anything else than a human being, or Marcion’s man is as Marcion’s god. Otherwise Christ could not be described as being man without flesh, nor the Son of man without any human parent; just as He is not God without the Spirit of God, nor the Son of God without having God for His father. Thus the nature of the two substances displayed Him as man and God,-in one respect born, in the other unborn; l in one respect fleshly in the other spiritual; in one sense weak in the other exceeding strong; in on sense dying, in the other living. This property of the two states-the divine and the human-is distinctly asserted with equal truth of both natures alike, with the same belief both in respect of the Spirit and of the flesh. The powers of the Spirit, proved Him to be God, His sufferings attested the flesh of man. If His powers were not without the Spirit in like manner, were not His sufferings without the flesh. if His flesh with its sufferings was fictitious, for the same reason was the Spirit false with all its powers. Wherefore halve Christ with a lie? He was wholly the truth. Believe me, He chose rather to be born, than in any part to pretend-and that indeed to His own detriment-that He was bearing about a flesh hardened without bones, solid without muscles, bloody without blood, clothed without the tunic of skin, hungry without appetite, eating without teeth, speaking without a tongue, so that His word was a phantom to the ears through an imaginary voice. A phantom, too, it was of course after the resurrection, when, showing His hands and His feet for the disciples to examine, He said, “Behold and see that it is I myself, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have; ” without doubt, hands, and feet, and bones are not what a spirit possesses, but only the flesh. Howdo you interpret this statement, Marcion, you who tell us that Jesus comes only from the most excellent God, who is both simple and good? See how He rather cheats, and deceives, and juggles the eyes of all, and the senses of all, as well as their access to and contact with Him! You ought rather to have brought Christ down, not from heaven, but from some troop of mountebanks, not as God besides man, but simply as a man, a magician; not as the High Priest of our salvation, but as the conjurer in a show; not as the raiser of the dead, but as the misleader of the living,-except that, if He were a magician, He must have had a nativity!
Looking at the quote in its context, one can see that Marcion is trying to say that to have Jesus do the things Jesus did if He was deity is silly because no God would do that. Tertullian’s point is “Right. No one would make this up. That’s how we can be sure it’s credible.” Historians do the same thing today with the criterion of embarrassment. If a document contains information that’s embarrassing for the claimant or the side he represents, it has a greater likelihood of being true.
Coyne also is confused about the spirit of curiosity that is condemned, but that is not intellectual learning being condemned. It is looking into matters we have no business looking into for they serve no practical purpose and I would add, this includes occult knowledge.
German theologian, professor, pastor, and church reformer. Luther began the Protestant Reformation with the publication of his Ninety-Five Theses on October 31, 1517. In this publication, he attacked the Church’s sale of indulgences. He advocated a theology that rested on God’s gracious activity in Jesus Christ, rather than in human works. Nearly all Protestants trace their history back to Luther in one way or another. Luther’s relationship to philosophy is complex and should not be judged only by his famous statement that “reason is the devil’s whore.”
Given Luther’s critique of philosophy and his famous phrase that philosophy is the “devil’s whore,” it would be easy to assume that Luther had only contempt for philosophy and reason. Nothing could be further from the truth. Luther believed, rather, that philosophy and reason had important roles to play in our lives and in the life of the community. However, he also felt that it was important to remember what those roles were and not to confuse the proper use of philosophy with an improper one.
Properly understood and used, philosophy and reason are a great aid to individuals and society. Improperly used, they become a great threat to both. Likewise, revelation and the gospel when used properly are an aid to society, but when misused also have sad and profound implications.
On pages 70-71, Coyne seems shocked that issues at Nicea was settled by a vote.
Well what would he have preferred?
After all the evidence was presented, would he have preferred that Constantine open up the coliseum and let both sides duke it out and the winner would get to establish the view of Christ for the future? Would he have preferred that one side just claim a revelation from above as to the nature of Jesus and everyone else submit? (We can be sure Coyne would have been thrilled with that.) What was done was the same methodology we use today. I do not see Coyne complaining about using a jury system to establish if a man should get life in prison or not today. That’s also a pretty major issue, at least for the defendant. Coyne should also know that this was not a close vote at all. It was about 300+ to 2. That’s how serious the evidence was in favor of the orthodox position.
On page 83, Coyne asks why believers in Islam and Christianity and other mainstream faiths are not as critical of their own religion as they are of new beliefs like Mormonism and Scientology. First off, this is just false. Many people do study other belief systems. I have read all of the Scripture of Mormonism. (Not all the statements of their president for sure, but I have done much reading.) I have also read the Koran and I have read the Tao Te Ching and the Analycts of Confucius. I happen to think it’s important to be informed on other belief systems. Do I have the time to investigate all of them? Not at all, but I do watch critically my own. That’s why I read books like Coyne’s regularly.
Coyne’s ultimate explanation though is that because Christianity and Islam are old, we can’t readily critique their claims of divine origin. One can’t help but wonder what world Coyne is living in with this kind of claim. Does he not know that New Testament scholarship regularly discusses this kind of claim for Christianity? What does he think Crossan is writing about in a book like The Birth of Christianity? What does he think Ludemann is interested in when he’s writing about What Really Happened To Jesus? These questions are discussed regularly. Once again, Coyne is just demonstrating his own ignorance on the subject matter. He needs to get back to evolutionary biology instead of embarrassing himself here.
Naturally, there must be the myth again of all the different denominations. Unfortunately, Coyne does not know what he’s talking about again. It is not as if all these denominations have wildly different beliefs. Some could be denominations of a specific people group, such as Koreans wanting to establish their own Korean churches where doctrinally, they’d agree with many Christians. Others could have different styles of worship. Even where there are doctrinal differences, Christians across the board tend to hold to the first four church councils.
But the biggest problem is that most people don’t know what counts as a denomination. For the purposes of the research done, a denomination is usually defined as a self-governing entity. Let’s suppose you live in a large town. There are two independent Baptist churches on each side of town because people want them and people on each side need to go there. These Baptist churches have identical worship styles and identical doctrinal statements. Okay. How many denominations do you have?
Why? They both worship the same way and believe the same thing. Yes. They’re also both self-governing.
Coyne, like many atheists, takes a brief statement and runs with it and doesn’t bother doing any research on the topic. Strange for someone who wants his beliefs to be evidence-based.
Of course, Coyne would probably exclude his own beliefs from any real research by studying the other side anyway. He naturally quotes with favor the Outsider Test for Faith by John Loftus, yet one wonders if he’s read David Marshall’s masterful response. Would Coyne be willing to read the best the other side has to offer to critique his view? He certainly hasn’t done so here. Perhaps the advocate of skepticism should practice the gospel that he teaches before suggesting we all join his movement.
He speaks disparagingly of J.P. Moreland on page 89 of his book asking Moreland to tell us which worldview is true and which is false out of all the faiths out there. Coyne might think this is a proper taunt to make to Moreland, but as one might expect, nowhere is Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City anywhere interacted with and it certainly does not make a mention in the bibliography. For one wanting to know what Moreland’s views are, perhaps Coyne would have been well served by going to a library and looking for them.
That’s enough for us to deal with today. Tomorrow, we’ll dive in even more. We’re only about 2/3rds in and already found this much problematic. Who knows what we’ll find next?
If you remove God from your life, will it be better? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Recently, someone on twitter sent me a link to an article by Skeptic Mom on the question of if life is better without God. I took a look and saw a whole lot of issues that I deal with in the modern day church and figured this would be a good example. Now looking at the post, I don’t see Skeptic Mom at this point as some anti-theist, but just someone who is skeptical of religious claims, which is just fine, but I wonder how many of these claims she’s skeptical of are Christian claims and how many are cultural Christian claims. Let’s start with the first one.
For Skeptic Mom, the first benefit is that her life is more her own. What does that mean? Let’s look at what she says about this:
At church, we were taught stories about biblical characters, such as Jonah, who were punished for putting their own desires over God’s. Stories such as Jonah and the whale (or great fish or sea monster) were told to remind us that God had a plan for each of us and that we must follow his plan. Our job was to discover God’s plan and to follow the path he had chosen for us. We were told to trust that God knew best.
Now that I am an atheist, I no longer have to try to determine what God wants for me. I feel free to determine what I want out of life. I can set my own goals and make my own decisions. The realization that we create our own purpose in life has been a very freeing experience for me.
This is an example of how far our church education has gone. I do not fault Skeptic Mom for this. I fault our churches and the teaching curriculum that we often have. Let’s take a story like Jonah. Do we really think the writer of Jonah sat down and wrote the story hoping that the end lesson for his audience would be “God has a plan for your life.”? Unfortunately, too many of us are taught that. I still remember being in the Sunday School class at a church once and hearing that Joshua wrote the book of Joshua so that the Israelites would learn to obey God. This was in fact not a children’s class. This was the college class of which I was a member.
Our college students are getting simplistic teaching at their churches and Ph.d. atheism in the universities (Along with a culture of wanton sexuality) so why are we surprised that so many are falling away into atheism? It’s not really a contest.
If I was starting to teach on the book of Jonah, I’d want to ask some questions first. For instance, do we have any idea of who wrote it? Maybe it was Jonah. Maybe it wasn’t. Do we have any idea of when it was written? What was the context it was written in? Do we know who the audience is? For some books, we might have better answers then others. Then I’d want to know the historical situation going on. Why is this book important enough to be in the canon? For the Old Testament, what did it mean to the early Jews? For the New Testament, what did it mean to the early Christians?
Then I’d want to see what is going on in the book. For Jonah, this isn’t a book about following the will of God, though one certainly should. This is a book about the grace of God. God is a gracious God who desires to see all people come to Him, even a pagan nation like Assyria. In fact, Jonah tells us the reason he did not want to go to Nineveh is because he knew of the grace of God. This is a preacher who has a massive revival after a few days of preaching and he is upset about it. The point we have to ask from the story is who is the God described in the book of Jonah and how are we to live in response?
Much of what Skeptic Mom has here unfortunately comes from a rabid individualism that we have in the text that we center on what the text means for me. We often jump straight to application instead of doing a rich and rewarding look at the text. This also fits in with the idea of “God has a plan for your life” which is something not really taught in Scripture and no, do not dare try to individualize Jeremiah 29:11 on me. Try to look up the context of what is going on in that passage first.
Sometimes people come to me with what they think is a difficult question. They want to know what God’s plan is for their life. I tell them that’s really a simple question and they’re usually surprised. I tell them every time that the answer is to conform them to the likeness of Christ?
“Well what does that say about who I marry?”
“Well you need to marry a Christian of the opposite sex, but the more important question is not what kind of spouse will you marry, but what kind of spouse will you be?”
“What does that say about my career?”
“Don’t work somewhere immoral, but it’s not who will you work for but what kind of worker will you be?”
“Where should I live?”
“It’s not a question of who will be your neighbors, but what kind of neighbor will you be?”
Notice how many times we ask these questions, it’s about what the world and others can do for us instead of the other way around?
So as it turns out, I have great freedom here and so do you. I tire of the idea that we have to find God’s will as if it’s an Easter Egg Hunt and God will give us clues that we’re getting warmer or colder. #1 then is a belief of cultural Christianity. It is foreign to the Bible. Let’s move on to #2. This is about intellectual growth. Skeptic Mom writes that:
When I was a Christian, I did not often think deeply about religious issues. One reason for this was because I didn’t view religion as complex. I thought it was a matter of finding the true religion and the right answers. Often, I simply looked to an authority, such as a trusted minister or the Bible to find answers. The other reason I rarely thought deeply about religion was because my beliefs were rarely challenged. Almost everyone I knew was religious, and those who were not did not challenge my beliefs. It was a subject that was rarely discussed on anything more than a superficial level.
Now that I have become an atheist, I think more deeply about religious issues. Because the majority of people I interact with are people who do not share my perspective on these issues, I am forced to confront another point of view. Even when my beliefs are not directly challenged, I often hear people stating an opinion that differs from my own. This forces me to think about my position on issues to determine what I really think and to determine if I have a good reason for holding my position. Even when I am speaking with another atheist about issues that we agree on, I find the conversations tend to be deeper because we often look at the issues from other points of view to determine if our opinions and assumptions are correct. I think that the reason we can more easily look at different perspectives and possibilities is because neither of us believe that there is a right answer given to us by a deity.
This one really saddens me in particular. As many readers know, I have been on a long crusade to stop anti-intellectualism in the culture. Now do I think in many cases this has hit the atheist movement. Absolutely. Most arguments I see on the internet from atheists are quite frankly embarrassing to look at. I think many in the movement who claims to be “brights” and intellectuals are anything but. Yet if it happened there, I believe it happened because it started with the church first.
And this is the anomaly. You go back and look at the early church and the medieval period and the Reformation era and these were guys who took the life of the mind very seriously. The abandonment of intellectualism in the church around the late 19th century and the early 20th century was one of the worst choices the church ever made. Too many Christians live in a climate of anti-intellectualism where any real thinking is seen as going against the virtue of “faith.” This faith however is certainly not any kind of faith that the Bible endorses. That I have written about elsewhere.
In fact, I would say when I get together with my Christian friends, we have rich intellectual discussions. It’s not “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” When we do quote the Bible, we also have a great discussion on what the various passages mean and how best to apply them today. My own wife could tell you that if I need to tell her something, I could quote Scripture. I could also quote Lewis or Chesterton or Aristotle or Epictetus. I believe in having a rich intellectual reservoir to draw from and that includes those outside of the church. Christianity provides me a wellspring of knowledge to draw from.
For #3 Skeptic Mom says that the world makes more sense because:
When I was a Christian, there would be times I would learn something that did not fit with my Christian worldview. Often, I would have a brief moment of thinking, “if this is correct, Christianity is not.” Instead of revising my worldview, I would find a way to rationalize my beliefs, decide the information must be incorrect, or ignore that piece of information. For example, I used to believe that our personality was contained within our soul. When we went to the afterlife, our personality would be intact. When I learned how after Phineas Gage suffered a severe head injury his personality changed so drastically that his friends said he no longer seemed to be the same person, I began to see personality as a function of the brain and not the soul. For a moment, I questioned my religious teachings about the soul, but I quickly dismissed this thought and tucked it away in a corner of my mind.
Once I allowed myself to truly consider that my Christian beliefs might be wrong, thoughts I had dismissed came flooding back to my mind. Once I looked at the information without my lens of Christianity, it made more sense. It is very freeing to know that now as I come across new information, I can accept it without trying to make it fit into a preconceived worldview.
I can’t really buy this last part, because we all have a worldview and we will all try to interpret new data in light of that worldview first. Few of us would see a piece of data and decide to chuck our whole worldview at that point. For that to happen, it must be an incredibly convincing piece of data and if you trade in your faith lightly, then it was a faith that you took lightly to begin with.
Now I would like to state that I do not attempt to answer questions really on the relationship of mind and body or dualism like that. That’s not my area. I know many people who do and they happily address objections like this one. This I think is an important part of worldview thinking. You cannot be a master or authority in everything, so you need to learn to be an authority on select issues and seek to learn as much as you can about those. Still, this is a secondary question for Christianity. The primary questions are “Is there a God?” and then “Did He Raise Jesus from the dead?” If one is convinced of these, then one can look at an objection and say “I do not understand that, but I see it does not touch these primary issues so I am willing to think about it, but I am not willing to base my worldview on it.”
I would in fact argue that the world makes more sense on theism. I think theism best explains morality, existence itself, statements of truth, and the life and resurrection of Jesus. I do not think atheism really explains anything. This is part of the problem. I hold my worldview because it makes the most sense. Someone holds the opposite for the same reason. I advise those curious to read the best scholarship on both sides. From there we move on to #4 which is about having a morality that makes sense. Skeptic Mom writes:
I used to assume that whatever God said was right was good. And, anything God said was wrong was a sin. However, there were several Bible stories that I learned in Sunday school where it seemed that God was wrong. For example, I thought it was wrong for God to test Abraham to see if he would sacrifice his beloved son. Even though God did not make Abraham go through with the sacrifice, I thought that the experience had to have been horrifying for both Abraham and Isaac. I also thought it was wrong for God to demand that his subjects be so loyal that they would even be willing to sacrifice their own children. I would not have wanted my parents to be willing to sacrifice me to God and I knew I would never be willing to sacrifice children I might have one day. I struggled to understand how God was right in this and other Bible stories. My Sunday school teachers taught us that when we could not understand God’s ways it was simply because human beings were not smart enough to understand. Assuming that must be the case, I tried not to think too deeply about those stories. Later in life, I also began to question if everything I was taught was a sin was really a sin. Some things that I was taught was a sin, such as premarital sex, did not seem really wrong, at least not all of the time. I had a tough time reconciling how certain things could really be sins worthy of eternal hellfire. Yet, somehow, I assumed they must still be sins if god said they were.
Now that I am an atheist, I no longer believe in the concept of sin. I am not concerned with what the Bible says is right or wrong. I decide for myself whether something is right and wrong based on whether the action is harmful or whether it promotes human flourishing. My judgments are now based on my values. And, when I learn of immoral acts that are by the Bible, I condemn them.
The start is a basic version of Divine Command Theory, which I do not hold to. Still, even a holder of that viewpoint would want to flesh it out even more beyond that. I understand the problem with stories in Sunday School. One key part is that when difficulties were raised, students were told humans are just not smart enough to understand. While there could be some truth to this, in that surely the way a deity could act would be hard for me to understand, let us not dare make a statement that will dissuade the asking of questions and the seeking of answers! When we do that, we are creating atheists.
Just like Skeptic Mom.
Looking at the story of Abraham, it’s important to note that Abraham was told to do this for Isaac was not just a random child, but was the son of the promise. The way to know that Abraham believed the promise was to see if Abraham would act in a way that would put the promise itself in jeopardy. Abraham had himself interacted with God many times and seen miraculous events in his own life, so it wasn’t that he just heard a voice in his head and that had no bearing in reality. He had even spoken to God when God came before him in the form of a human messenger to discuss the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Abraham was also an old man and Isaac would have been a much younger one. Anyone really think an old man like Abraham could force Isaac to get on an altar? Isaac was seen as a willing sacrifice, and Isaac lived in a culture where many would die at a young age and death could come from wild animals, enemy raids, or disease at any moment. Finally, let’s not forget that God STOPS the action from taking place. We also see how shocking this must have been for Abraham because the request is so unusual and out of character for God that we think that something has to be up in this whole story. Indeed, there is. This was the way of showing Abraham really believed the promise.
Yet I do not think morality makes sense in atheism. What is the good? What is the evil? To say that which promotes human flourishing is too vague. No doubt many slave owners thought human flourishing was benefited by owning slaves. No doubt many Nazis believed human flourishing was benefited by the final solution. No doubt many communists believed that human flourishing was established by removing those who were impediments to the rule of Communism. We can even ask it on a smaller level. Did the refrigeration industry cause human flourishing when it put many in the ice industry out of a job? Why should we care about human flourishing anyway? What makes us so special? Maybe we should stop having bacon and put pig flourishing primary?
Then of course, what is goodness itself? How does it exist? Is it a reality that is found in things and actions, or is it just this idea that exists in the mind that we apply to those things and actions? Those are two very different positions. One ends in objectivism. One ends in relativism.
I also do not think for a moment that we should take the position that we need the Bible to know right from wrong. I think the Bible teaches many great moral truths, but these could be known apart from Scripture. In fact, passages like Romans 2 that speak of the Law written on our hearts agree with this. The only reason the people in Romans 1 can be held accountable is that they already do have an idea of right from wrong. It is also not like that the Israelites got the Ten Commandments and said “Wow! We have to stop this murder thing! Turns out that’s not a good thing to do!” Christian morality should be informed by the Bible, but also by sound thinking in the study of philosophy and metaphysics.
The last part is a focus on life and here I will quote just the first paragraph.
When I was a Christian, I spent a great deal of time trying to make it to heaven and avoid being sent to Hell. I spent time trying to avoid activities that would bring the condemnation of God, feeling guilty over being a sinful human being, and begging for forgiveness from God for displeasing him. Instead of trying to make this life the best one it could be, I spent a lot of time worrying about the next life.
At this point, I have to wonder what kind of environment Skeptic Mom was in. It sounds like one that was highly legalistic and very anti-intellectual. This is a kind of Christianity that should be abandoned. Let’s consider something interesting about guilt. Recently I did a search on Bible Gateway after a guest on my show noted that guilt is never talked about in Romans. I went to the search tool and put in the word guilt. It was not in Romans, but I noticed something about every time guilt was used. It never once referred to a feeling of guilt. It referred to guilt in the legal sense. The same with innocence. Yet guess what we focus on here in America? Yep. The feeling of guilt, something not talked about at all in the text.
Are there some feelings talked about? Yep. Honor and shame. These permeated the Biblical worldview and yet how often in churches do you hear sermons on honor and shame? If you’re like me, never. In fact, a search for these terms in the Bible show that they showed up far more in the NT than their Western counterparts.
I also see in Skeptic Mom an idea that Christianity should be focused on the next life. To be sure, Christians should be heavenly-minded, but not at the expense of Earth. Earth is not an afterthought. It is not a mistake. It is the place God designed to dwell with His people. We might have interrupted the plan, but we did not ruin it. That is still His plan. The hymn is true that this is my Father’s world. We should focus on Christ, but never lose sight of this life that He has given us. This is the world we live and serve and worship in. This is the world that we are to seek that His will be done here as it is in Heaven. This is the world that we seek to have brought to Christ that He will rule over it.
Too many churches do have this idea that this world doesn’t really matter. Christ does not share that idea. This is the world that He loves.
In the end, I conclude that I have all the things that Skeptic Mom says she has and in fact, I think I have overall a better explanation of reality. Now to get into the arguments for that, there are many other posts on my blog here that can go into each of those, but I especially think Christianity best makes sense of the life and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It looks like Skeptic Mom got a legalistic and anti-intellectual version of Christianity and sadly threw the baby out with the bathwater. I wonder if she has ever considered reading someone like N.T. Wright and the depths of his knowledge on such subjects.
I also think this is a warning to the church. The Christianity Skeptic Mom abandoned is rampant and people see it as real Christianity. It is not. I do not doubt people in it are real Christians, but it is not because they are following the Bible well and the long Christian tradition. Our churches could all be benefited by better equipping the saints with good theology and doctrine and teaching them how to think and examine both sides of the argument.
Hopefully in fact, both sides of this argument will do that. We could have much better debates.
What is to be the relationship between faith and reason in Christianity? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
What has Jerusalem to do with Athens? So was the question of Tertullian around 1800 years ago. Today, we are still asking that same question. What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens? How is it that faith and reason work together? Should we live in suspicion of reason? Should we welcome reason when it is used as tool for our faith, or are reason and faith remarkably similar both before and after conversion?
This is the question asked in this book edited by Steve Wilkens.
The book has there different views on it. One view is that faith and reason are in tension with one another. The other is that faith comes and then it seeks understanding. The next is that faith and reason are working together. Those who are familiar with me will know I naturally fall into the last camp where I see faith and reason as allies.
An aspect that made it all difficult however was the lack of a rigorous definition of faith. Too many times we talk about faith and we don’t define what the term means. Some writers did attempt to define it, but I wish there had been some set definition right at the start that all the writers would have agreed on prior to the writing.
The faith against reason approach I find the most problematic. It is more of a camp that I would think leans heavily on a presuppositional approach with what fallen man can and can’t do. It is a dichotomy that I really do not see in Scripture in that for all the talk about fallen man, it looks like Jesus appealed to these fallen men often in their reasoning capacity and asked them to believe the message that He brought.
In fact, the first sentence struck me as problematic when Carl A. Raschke in this section said “Christian faith and philosophy have for the most part been in tension for most of the last two thousand years.”
This is quite a difficult view to accept. Are we to say that truths discovered through reason have been in tension with Christianity for so long? I immediately found myself stunned at this sentence. In fact, it seemed quite dangerously close to the double-theory of truth. I am sure Raschke does not hold to that, but that is where my mind went immediately. If Christianity is the true faith and philosophy is seeking to give us true knowledge, won’t they work together?
Raschke when he gets to Aquinas just says that Aquinas accepted Aristotle carte blanche in order to argue vigorously for Christianity over the Muslims. This really ignores much of the impact of what was going on with Aristotle and gives the impression Aquinas just went along for the ride. Aquinas showed how it was compatible with Christianity, but even he jettisoned a number of aspects of Aristotle’s system.
So overall, I found this idea unimpressive and in fact problematic. If philosophy presents something true and Christianity does, there can be no tension.
The next essay was by Alan Padgett and it’s on Faith Seeking Understanding. There was much more of this to agree with and in fact, I was wondering what was so different about it and the last view that I do accept. The main difference is that in this view, reason really takes over once the faith has already done its work.
So let’s go to Craig Boyd’s view on a synthesis between faith and reason and why it is that I accept this.
My reasoning is simple. All truth is God’s truth. If something is true in the sphere of philosophy, or any other sphere for that matter, it will be true in the area of Christianity. Boyd points out that Christ and the apostles regularly point to the reasoning of their audience and why it is that they should accept the claims given.
Boyd also offers I think the most rigorous arguments going step by step about what faith is and what reason is and how different people view reason. He deals with misconceptions of reason and I think quite well points out that for the proponents of the first view who say that there is tension between the two, that essentially, the only thing people of that view can say to those who are outside is simply “Believe!”
For those interested in the faith and reason debate, this will be a valuable read and one that will benefit your study of it. It comes with my recommendation. My thanks to IVP for their generous gift to me of a copy for review purposes.