A Reply to I.M. Skeptical on Thomism

Are Thomism and science incompatible? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone sent me this article about Thomism and science by I.M. Skeptical who I will just call IM from now on. In this, he seeks to show that science is not compatible with Thomism. While he is at least quoting the other side, I do not think he really has the issues understood.

At the start, he says in this article that is a response to Thomistic Scholar that Dr. Dennis Bonnette, that since the original article was written, Thomistic scholars are obviously feeling the heat. This kind of armchair psychologizing I find amusing. If a Christian says nothing in response, he has no answer. If a Christian says something, it is obviously because he is scared of what has been stated. This doesn’t put the article at a good start.

As IM continues, he says that there is disagreement on the issue of God, but this cannot really be considered science vs. Metaphysics. After all, there are plenty of scientists who do believe in God. What ends up usually happening in this post of IM’s is that contradiction is asserted when it does not follow. IM does go on to say this:

Science has nothing to say about God, which is a metaphysical claim, so there is no disagreement there.  But metaphysics goes far beyond the question of God’s existence.  It is concerned with the reality of all kinds of things.  In Thomism, movement is explained in terms of the metaphysical paradigm of act and potency.  In science, it is explained in terms of the paradigm of mass, force, and energy, which is no less a metaphysical concept.  But Thomists disagree with that, because they see metaphysics as being separate and distinct from physical reality.  To them mass, force, and energy are science, but act and potency are metaphysics.

All movement in metaphysics is potentiality and actuality, but that can be brought about in terms of mass, force, and energy. It’s not an either/or. Gravity can cause an apple to fall, but that fall is also a case of actuality and potentiality at work. Thus, I don’t see how we disagree with that. While we could debate what a “law of nature” is, that doesn’t mean we don’t see that what is claimed is brought about by them does happen and there are physical consistencies. Actually, we would see this as part of the fifth way.

He goes on to say the following including a quote from Bonnette:

Bonnette attempts to illustrate his thesis of basic agreement by way of an example involving sensation and cognition.  It is epistemological realism – the philosophical notion that the object of our perception has external reality.  But his example goes off the rails with regard to agreement agreement between science and Thomism.  The scientific view is that sensation of an external object creates a neural pattern in the brain, and subsequent cognitive references to the object actually occur by means of neural activity and connections involving that set of neurons.  And Bonnette calls this an epistemological nightmare.  He insists that knowledge of an external object is “direct”:

While an entire epistemology is not possible here, note that we cannot doubt external reality when it is directly confronted. Doubt arises only when we shift our attention to a judgment about the external object in which what we know is not the object itself. For example, if I close my eyes and wonder whether the lion confronting me is really about to attack me, I am no longer looking at the lion, but at some internal image of it.

IM responds with:

Just to get this straight, as I understand it, the point of agreement here is on an issue of epistemology – namely epistemological realism – not on the science of cognition, which Bonnette apparently holds in disdain.  We don’t “directly confront” external reality at all, but the only image we have is an internal image that exists entirely in the brain.  And to the extent that our senses can be fooled, it is possible for a false image to be formed, and we certainly can doubt that external reality.  How this supports his thesis is a mystery to me.

However, IMs statement would be a science killer if believed. Why not be a solipsist? You could point to the data you get from the world around you, but how do you know that is really from the world around you? Perhaps it is all a hallucination? If the place you start is inside your head, you can never get out. This is why Thomism has been called the common sense philosophy.

Do we know about hallucinations and senses being wrong? Of course, but we start out with the idea that all things being equal, our senses are generally reliable. IMs position is more of a Kantian position which is probably the strongest reply to Aquinas, though I still find it problematic. If IM starts in their head, then all the data that comes in to them supposedly could still just be part of the hallucination. You could never know otherwise.

IM goes on with another quote from Bonnette:

The next area of agreement that he discusses is “metaphysical first principles”, such as the principal of non-contradiction and the principal of sufficient reason.  Again, he gives examples that don’t seem to support his own thesis.  On non-contradiction, he says:

Even the smallest phenomena must be read as what it is and not as its contradictory – otherwise, the reading would be useless. Claims of contradictory phenomena, such as wave-particle duality, rely on such observations. If a subatomic entity appears as a wave, that same exact reading cannot say it is a particle.

He evades the real issue here.  Yes, it’s true that observations of particles only measure one of these properties at a time, but the more fundamental issue is not that these properties are contradictory, but that the subatomic particle is something that exhibits both characteristics.  So rather than clinging to concepts of physical substance that are contradicted by observation, we need a metaphysical concept of substance that agrees with what we observe.

All that is being said is contradictions can’t be true. Again, if it is thought that contradictions can be true, then we can all go home. IM is right and Bonnette is right and I am right and if you disagree you are right. Again, reality will all break down. What about the Principle of Sufficient Reason?

Likewise, on the principal of sufficient reason, he reverts to a theistic definition of causation:

Causes are merely reasons for things that do not explain themselves.

Which is just another way to say that everything has a cause except for God.  And he insists that scientists always have to find causes for everything.  But that’s not really true.  At a macro level, things can be said to have causes (in terms of objects interacting with one another according to Newtonian or relativistic physical laws), but at the quantum level, things happen on a stochastic basis, and there is no notion of causality in quantum physics.  As it happens, this is a major point of disagreement between science and Thomism, despite Bonnette’s denial.

I love that first line of dismissal as if what Bonnette is saying is all about God. No. It’s not. There is no interaction with the four traditional causes of Aristotle. There is also nothing wrong with finding causes for things. Am I to think that scientists look at the quantum level and say to themselves, “Well, that looks uncaused. Let’s go get a drink.” At this point, my thinking is wait and see what will happen in the future in science.

Moving on:

He also takes care to separate the metaphysical principles at the heart of Thomism from science.

Potency and act, matter and form, finality, essence and existence: Most other Thomist principles are so clearly philosophical that natural science properly says little about them. The exceptions would be materialist denials that substantial forms and final causes exist in nature. Still, those are clearly philosophical, not scientific, claims.

He has no choice but to make this separation, because these metaphysical principles are in direct contradiction to modern science.  Act and potency do not explain how things move.  They provide a teleological account of movement that was incorporated into the physics of Aristotle, which was the science of the day, but no longer have any explanatory value.  Essentialism and forms are a reflection of man’s propensity to classify things, but they are purely conceptual, and don’t even stand up to philosophical scrutiny, let alone scientific.  (As modern philosophers note, how many grains of sand can you remove from a dune before it is no longer a dune?  As scientists note, at what point in evolutionary history does an ape give birth to a man?)

I always find it amusing that when science has a question, it’s always “Let’s go and find out the answer!” When the question exists in philosophy, “See? That’s proof that it’s false.” Every position has hard questions to answer. How many grains of sand make a dune? Granting evolution, when does an ape become a man?

These are all great questions worthy of study, but none are a defeater. They’re just reasons to keep studying. The same applies to science. He also says potency and actuality do not explain how things move. No one said that they do.

So why is it that Thomists place metaphysics as primary? IM has the answer!

“There is only one reason Thomists hold metaphysics above and separate from science.  Metaphysics is the thing that stands between science and theism.”

Again, it has to be fear. Right? Nope. Metaphysics is first because it comes first in order of being. Science is second because it covers specific kinds of reality. Note that in the time of Aquinas, science as we know it would be called natural philosophy. Theology would be called a science for Aquinas seeing as it was a body of knowledge, which is essentially what is meant.

Thus, I find IM’s position not strong at all. He has at least interacted some, but the armchair psychology is the problem. I could just as easily turn it on him and say that he wrote a reply because he is feeling the heat of Thomism. That could be true, but it cannot be demonstrated and is only an ad hominem.

Finally, as a Thomist, I have no problem with science. Whatever is true in science we should affirm. Reality does not contradict.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

What Is A Woman?

How do we answer this question? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

For all interested, my Dad is doing much better. He actually got to come home Tuesday of last week. I was betting on him being in there a lot longer, but no. We have also been regularly been having some fun with him on things he said and did when he was delirious such as asking me if I was an angel when he didn’t recognize me and how he was watching HGTV and asked my Mom if she had remodeled the house.

Over the week, we also had the fun of a new meme featuring Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in that she said she could not answer what a woman is because she is not a biologist. Funny? Yes. Many of my fellow conservatives were glad to see that she went to biology for the answer, which is something seen as being objective.

So yes, we all should know what a woman is. However, I also think we should ask in some ways what a woman is and I think this shows a deeper problem in philosophy today. It is a problem of not understanding essences.

Consider a small child. The child does not generally have training in philosophy, He sees his family has an animal that has four legs and tends to bark a lot and he is told this is a dog. He is out walking in the neighborhood with his parents and he sees several animals in the lawns of the neighbors. These creatures he sees are different sizes and colors, but yet he is told that they are all dogs. In the windows, sometimes, he sees these small delicate animals and if he could hear them, he would hear meows from them. These would not be dogs, but they would be cats.

The boy is not a philosopher per se, but he is learning something about reality. He is learning about essences. There is something essential that all these creatures have in common that makes them dogs and not cats, but they differ in other areas called the accidents that are non-essential. These are conditions such as size and color. A dog could even lose a leg and still be considered a dog.

Nowadays, we don’t know that. We have philosophies today that can question if the world is really real. The east has often had this, but it hasn’t been as common in the west. Now, it is becoming more and more so. I personally see this as coming largely from the influence of Descartes. Centuries ago, there was no field known as epistemology. Now there is.

So we come to the question of “What is a woman?” There are many ways we can explore this. It has been said that many a man asks himself the question “Am I a man?” There is no indication that he is talking about his biological features. He’s not going to take off his pants and look and say “I guess I am. Good to know.” Instead, when he asks this, he is more asking if he has the character that a man is supposed to have in his mind.

We can also go another way and just simply ask “What is a human?” Aristotle said it was a rational animal, but if we found another animal that was rational, would we say that was a human? Fans of science fiction and fantasy can easily think of material creatures that are rational, but they would not be considered human.

The problem in our culture is we don’t really think such essences exist anymore. Nominalism has taken us over and most of us don’t even know what that is. It’s one reason we think you can surgically alter a man enough and lo and behold, he becomes a woman and starts winning swim championships.

I’m not saying no one is talking about it this way, but I haven’t seen it. For most teenage boys, I suspect they would say “I may not be able to define in that way what a woman is, but I know one when I see it and I like it.” Perhaps beyond biology, we should have a deeper conversation about philosophy, something our culture has sadly lost sight of. When that happens, it’s not that we cease to do philosophy, we just do it exceptionally poorly. (Consider how a great intellect like Stephen Hawking can say “Philosophy is dead” in a statement teeming with philosophical nuances and all of it bad.)

I’m quite certain that some people will comment on my post at least on Facebook who hold to a sort of scientism. They often think they’re making powerful arguments, but they’re not. This is not to attack the sciences, but to reailze science has limitations and when it comes to essences, that is a limitation of science.

In no way also does this held the so-called transgender ideology. If anything, it tells us we can’t change our gender any more than I could take my little cat Shiro and do mass operations on him and turn him into a dog. We can change the appearance all we want, but it doesn’t change the reality.

Perhaps this would then be a good time since everyone is asking to think “What really is a woman?” What do all women have in common that is absolutely essential to them? What do all men? What do all humans? If someone wants to say “Nothing. It’s all subjective”, then there is no feminism or transgenderism any more at all. After all, if being a woman can be made to mean anything, then it really means nothing. (This is one of the dangers of trying to change what marriage is. If it can be made to mean anything, then it really means nothing.) We already started down this road decades ago when we decided to redefine what a human baby is and allow abortion. It’s not a shock that when one people group wants to destroy (The Nazis) or enslave (Slavery in America) another group, they often dehumanize them.

So in one sense, Judge Brown got a softball question and she failed miserably at it. On the other hand, she also got a complex question that we should all consider asking ourselves and pondering. Perhaps it’s time to return to Plato, Augustine, Plotinus, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, etc. and see what we can learn. Maybe the past can actually inform us today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Three Views on Creation and Evolution Conclusion

What are my final thoughts? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So having reached the end, I want to lay out some thoughts on the matter. While I have my views, I want to focus on what I think we should agree on. All of what I say will be that which I think should be agreed on by all Christians in the debate.

First, whatever is shown to be true by science and Scripture should be accepted. Christians should have no problem with whatever method God chose to use. If the evidence showed He used evolution to create, then we accept that. If we find evidence that shows that the Earth is much younger than we thought, then we accept that.

If we hold to inerrancy, this should not be a problem. We would realize that if Scripture is true then whatever is shown by science will align with it. To say otherwise is to keep going on with the outdated conflict hypothesis.

Second, we should not try to fill in gaps with God. When the medieval scientists did their work, they were filling in gaps of knowledge and thought by explaining more, they were giving more glory to God. They were discovering how the creator chose to work and tended to want to use materialistic explanations. They really did not do appeal to miracle.

If we put God in as just someone to stop a gap, then we have a very different view of God. We often have it that we think the universe can exist just fine on its own and is not dependent in any way on God, despite Scripture regularly telling us otherwise. This is where we get to the internet atheist idea that if evolution is true, God is out of a job. This is itself a theology that does hold that the universe can exist on its own. How it exists needs to be answered.

Third, that doesn’t mean there could never be gaps where miracles could occur, but a miracle should not be occurred to just because there is a gap in knowledge. I would think we would need some indication from Scripture that a miracle took place and a problem clearly insurmountable by materialistic means. Unfortunately, no one will agree entirely on what that means, which means it is part of the debate.

Fourth, we need to stop telling everyone why they’re holding the positions that they hold unless they say otherwise. Atheists will tell Christians they hold their views for a fear of death, for example. Christians will tell atheists they just want to live in sin. Now in some cases, this could be true, but we need to realize that saying that doesn’t deal with the arguments.

Meanwhile, between us, something I saw in the book was various appeals to why someone held their view and the reasons were never good. It was a psychological motive that the other person would always deny. No matter who is doing this, it doesn’t help our debate any.

Fifth, we need to realize there are going to be gaps in our knowledge always no matter our viewpoint. I said I would have some of my own questions for evolution and here is a big one I wonder about. I wonder how sexual reproduction came about. I can understand single-celled organisms reproducing by themselves. It sounds like a complex process, but that is within onesself.

I have a hard time understanding how through small incremental steps a system evolved between the two sexes in species where they would reproduce in such a method. I would be willing to accept that this is just an unknown at the time, but for me, it is a big unknown. That brings me to my next point to discuss.

Sixth, either way, we definitely have to avoid making people think, no matter their worldview, that they must choose between Christianity and science. When atheists tell Christians they have to accept either evolution or Christianity, a great many will choose Christianity because it gives them greater benefits in their lives and sadly will become hostile to science and not make great contributions that they could make.

Christians, meanwhile, will not reach atheists if they say it has to be one or the other. This should be seen as an in-house debate. Whatever one thinks of evolutionary creationism, I really don’t think it should be labeled a heresy. Heresy is a very serious charge that puts someone outside of salvation.

Ultimately, perhaps we should all just listen to one another more. Instead of saying why we think the other person believes X, let them tell us why they believe it. What is their evidence? Maybe we should then respond to that.

I would like to see this debate get along better and have us realize we are Christians debating an issue that is really secondary. We all unite on Jesus, which is the most important aspect.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge Part 3: Three Views on Creation and Evolution

What do I think of Howard Van Till’s view? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This chapter is easily the longest one in the book, and that’s understandable. Van Till is taking on a position that is seen as a negative in much of the Christian community. There are too many times when a Christian says that they are open to evolution and immediately the hounds of heresy come out ready to devour.

So let’s get some positives.

First off, I fully agree with this aspect of Van Till’s essay. We don’t need to make it the point to anyone that they have to choose either evolution or Christianity. That does harm both ways. An atheist who is convinced by science, rightly or wrongly, that evolution is true, but is told he has to abandon that to become a Christian is not going to be able to easily do this.

For the Christian, if they see evidence that convinces them that evolution is true, rightly or wrongly, they could be ready then to abandon Christianity. This is especially so if we don’t give them reasons for thinking Christianity is true other than their emotional feelings. Now add in also that for young people in college, they could be more easily tempted to give in to strong sexual desire and have more emphasis to abandon Christianity.

The focus of Christianity is not creation. It is Jesus. I would rather have someone have the wrong view of creation and the right view of Jesus, rather than have the right view of creation, such as a Jewish person who treats the Old Testament like Scripture, and is wrong on Jesus.

Second, I appreciate his points on supposed gaps that we sometimes seem to want to see in evangelicalism. We often give the impression that the more questions science answers, the more God is out of a job, but what a poor view of God for both the Christian and the atheist. A God who is just a stopgap? Both the atheist and Christian have poor theology and yes, every atheist has a theology. They have a doctrine of the deity or deities they don’t believe.

Van Till says that a universe that has all of this seamlessness needs its own explanation. Something I notice in the book is I can’t remember one time Aquinas is cited. For Aquinas, the idea of sustaining of the universe would be essential to him. The existence of God is shown by something as simple as change in the universe.

I also appreciate that Van Till did spend some time in Genesis. I think he spent more than the others, but again, I wish he had spent a lot more. He did stress the importance of taking the text seriously.

Some negatives here?

I would have liked to have seen more of the evidence of evolution that he finds convincing, rightly or wrongly again. I do grant though that for those of us who are not scientifically minded, this could be difficult. We more often just hear that the majority, even Christian biologists, accept evolution, and this could be true, but I want to know why they do.

Second, I want to know how prayer works in his world. Van Till believes in miracles, but he doesn’t seem to explain them. What are we wanting God to do? Van Till can sometimes make God be too transcendent just as his opponents can overemphasize immanence.

Third, I would like to have had something explained about the soul in creation. How does man get one? Now it could be that Van Till holds to anthropological monism. Okay. Say that then. If he doesn’t, then explain what does happen.

Overall though, I think Christians need to listen to this position and don’t have the hounds of heresy come out. Making a war of science and religion only hurts both sides. These need to be viewed as allies and not as enemies and anyone who says they are enemies is doing a disservice to both. I am sure that is not the intention of many, but that is often the effect.

Next time, I plan to give some concluding thoughts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Part 2 — Three Views on Creation and Evolution — OEC

What do I think of Robert Newman’s view of Old-Earth creationism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Regular readers of the blog know I’m someone who is on the fence in a way between Old-Earth Creationism and Fully Gifted Creationism, OEC and FGC respectively, using the latter term as that is the term used in part three and I wish to be respectful to the one who uses it. I have some qualms about what evolution can explain, but if I was convinced it was true, it would not change my interpretation of Scripture or my beliefs about Jesus.

Thus, when I read Newman’s essay, I found much that i agreed with. I saw that he wants to be faithful both to Scripture and science. Regularly, it is said that if we are handling both correctly, they will agree. This should be a statement that all three camps in the debate should be able to agree to.

I did like that he paid some attention to Genesis 1-2, but sadly again, not much. Now I realize the book is about creation and evolution and not necessarily Genesis, but if you’re talking about Christians, you eventually do have to get to Genesis if you’re talking about creation. Howard Van Till in part three will spend the most time on this, but again, he is sorely lacking in spending a lot of time on it.

One major point of disagreement I had with Newman, however, is that in his chapter he talked about how he gets concerned when some Christians say the Bible does not have anything to say to us about science. Well, maybe it does. But then again, maybe it doesn’t. Why should I go to the text assuming that it wants to answer modern science questions any more than I should go to it to get a strategy guide for the latest video game or learn how to do algebra?

Now I realize that seems a bit playful. After all, video games and algebra weren’t really in practice when the Bible was written, but yet in the same way, modern science as we know it wasn’t being practiced. Why should I think that Genesis is trying to give me a scientific account? It could be that it is, but that needs to be argued and not assumed. We have often thought some places in Scripture were giving scientific accounts and it has not ended well.

Newman’s repliers seemed to be friendly to him and briefly, this is something I had a problem with in this book. It seemed that most every reply was from someone who held to the OEC position. J.P. Moreland was a lone exception who holds to it, but admitted that he sometimes thinks YECs have a good case. I would have either liked to have had the writers reply to each other, or else had a Christian who was YEC, one who was OEC, and one who was FGC all replying. The problem was you have four replies and all seem to come from the same camp.

Overall, I don’t have much to say about Newman’s essay as I agreed with a good deal of it. For me, the question of whether evolution happened or not is a non-question and that will be covered more in part three where I do plan on giving some ideas that do give me qualms still about being willing to sign on the dotted line. At the same time, I realize I am approaching this as a non-scientist and there is only so much time to study any given field. I like to admire it as an outsider, but I don’t take parts in debates of science as science. The history and philosophy I will do, but not the data itself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge Part 1: Three Views On Creation and Evolution — YEC

What do I think of the argument presented here for YEC? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I am going through the book Three Views on Creation and Evolution and the YEC position is the first one. This one is done by John Mark Reynolds and Paul Nelson. Readers of this blog know I move somewhere between OEC and evolutionary creationism. For this part, I am only commenting on the chapter of Nelson and Reynolds (N&R from now on). I might say something on the responses to their essay and their response to the responses. Time will tell.

So let’s start with the positives.

I do appreciate that there doesn’t seem to be dogmatism on the part of N&R. They do condemn any name-calling on any side of the debate, even on their own. They also do admit that there are problems with their viewpoint that need further exploration and they emphasize scientific exploration.

I also definitely agree with them that science should be open. Too many times, naturalistic assumptions that are simply bad philosophy can impede research. Whatever happened, it must not be XYZ after all, because that could lead to theistic claims. This was something that happened when science started to conclude that the universe had a beginning.

That having been said, there were a number of problems in their essay that in some ways left me surprised. Let’s go over them.

For one thing, I was surprised with how little argument there was on the main subject matter. It’s only towards the end of a long essay that they start making an argument for their position. Unfortunately, their argument was simply going with what they called a plain reading and nothing about the scientific arguments that they could use and no interaction that I recall with the contrary position.

Now my problem with a plain reading is, plain to who? Why assume that the question that a 21st century American brings to the text is the one that the text itself is addressing? It could be that the author was writing to address scientific questions, but that needs to be argued and not assumed.

If anything, I would be extra cautious about reading the Bible as a scientific text since the people it was written to did not think in those terms. These were not people who were going out and doing experiments, not because they would necessarily oppose that, but more because they were often just trying to survive. Science really got going when we had developed enough agricultural means that we didn’t have to work as long for food.

Many times when a text has been read scientifically, it has led to embarrassment since the text was never meant to be that way. Let’s consider how the text tells us to love the Lord with all our hearts. Now we could say “This makes no sense. The heart is not an organ of love, but it is one of pumping the blood throughout the body and keeping it functioning.” Yes. We know that today, but even still, we often use that expression. There needs to be a reason given as to why one should think the text is speaking scientifically.

Second, the writers seem to have a problem with secondary means. Psalm 139 tells me I was knit together in my mother’s womb. However, everyone would also know that was a nine-month process. God can be behind something and it be a process as well.

Third, there were too many false assumptions on the part of N&R. When they spoke about theistic evolutionists, they often said that they cannot allow an act of God in any way into their system. Unfortunately, I know a number of TE’s who would have no problem with that. TE’s who are Christian do hold to miracles after all, such as the resurrection of Jesus.

When I saw a statement like that on their part, I wound up getting dismissive. If you are presenting a case and claiming your opponents believe or know X, you’d better make sure they do. I’ve had a number of atheists tell me that I know XYZ, when I know no such thing.

I also thought they were too dismissive of ideas such as God sustaining the universe. It was presented as if to say “What does this even mean?” and then it was not really discussed. For me, God’s sustaining of the universe is something incredible that shows how active He is in the universe. Elihu told Job that if God removed His breath, all life would perish.

God’s sustaining the universe means right now, everything you and I do depends on Him. It means that the universe doesn’t exist on its own, which is something that I think is a problem for materialism. Existence is treated as if it’s a brute fact. Yes. The universe exists. How? It just does. What does it mean to exist? Why do you ask such stupid questions?

By giving up this ground, I fear N&R have conceded too much to atheism with this position. Very few people today seem to have a doctrine of existence. Atheists often want to ask if God exists without first asking what it means to exist.

Finally, N&R gave the sound of one hand clapping. I get that they do not agree with other positions, but they needed to seriously interact with them. I did not see this take place.

The next chapter will be on Old-Earth creationism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Is Doing Science Good?

Is our science necessarily a blessing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I went to the doctor again having a sore throat and some lightheadedness. Turns out, I have strep. I am supposed to be able to go out into the world again on Thursday. For now, I am feeling a bit miserable.

Last night then, I was doing some gaming while listening to N.T. Wright. That’s something that usually always gets me thinking. Wright talked about Paul and the world he lived in and why he did what he did.

As I took my medication last night for Strep, I started considering it. What did people do in the time of Jesus when they had a sickness like this? There weren’t really medications that they could take that were as effective as what we have today. I really am thankful to live in this world where I can have medication available.

That got me considering about the nature of science. We have done this with medication and that is certainly a good use of the science that we have. However, why should we develop the science to work on this problem? We could just as easily poison everyone with a medication as we could cure them.

We have many things we could do with science, and sure, we do use science for weapons of war, but even when we do that, we don’t go out full throttle with them and unleash them on anyone else who disagrees with us. Had we wanted at one time, we could have taken over much of the world being militaristic.

Let’s imagine that we could go back to ancient Rome and give them the means to launch a nuclear weapon. Do we have any reason to think they would not have nuked Carthage in the Punic Wars? We could say that they would have made medication also and given it to all their people, but why think that? Rome wasn’t known for taking care of the poor. It would be better to take care of the elites and the military.

Today, we don’t really have this concern. It seems like a given to us that you care for the poor among you. It seems like a given that you try to use nonviolent means before going to violence. Why do we think differently?

It’s because before science became the force that it is on the scene, Christianity became a force as well. Our values were drastically changed by Christianity and most of us don’t realize that there is a background Christianity behind much of our moral thinking even if we don’t recognize it. Because of that, when we developed science, we thought of the ways that we could use it to help us and to explore the cosmos. We developed weapons of war so we could defend ourselves, but never with the intention of a militaristic takeover of the rest of the world. Again, ancient Rome would likely have done the opposite.

We are often told that we have a lot of blessings today because of our scientific enterprise, and I agree with that. However, if we didn’t have the moral categories we have, we could easily turn most any place we wanted to into Hiroshima or Nagasaki. We could easily infect the world in biological warfare and kill billions. It’s a blessing that we have this science today, but a better blessing that we have the moral teachings of Jesus that guide us.

Yet what will happen if we ever abandon that heritage and the morality that has been given to us?

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

What Hill Will You Die On?

Are some battles the ones that are essential? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently in a group I’m in, someone shared a picture with someone saying on social media, “Answer me one question and I will convert to atheism. Show me the evidence for the Big Bang Theory.” I find it incredibly sad that someone could make a post like that and even if it wasn’t real, we know there are people who think that way.

For one thing, let’s start with a basic quibble. Every position has something that can be called evidence. The most crazy conspiracy theory out there that no one else will believe in except the one person who does still has evidence. You could say he’s interpreting it wrongly or that it’s not really true, but it is still evidence. If you asked if there was any evidence for Muhammad’s night flight, I could say that we do have Muslim sources saying that. That is evidence. Do I trust that evidence and think the sources are reliable? No.

This person likely meant proof, but even that is problematic for there is very little in life that we have proof for and certainly not in the area of science. We can have extremely good evidence in science for something, but that evidence is always probabilistic. It’s the same with history also. Historians don’t speak of proof. There are many events that are so sure that it’s ridiculous to doubt them, such as the crucifixion of Jesus, but that does not mean we speak of “proof.”

So after that, let’s get to the more serious point. This is not a hill to die on. Many readers I have here are YECs, but I would say the same thing to someone who was OEC and was saying “Show me the evidence of evolution and I will become an atheist.” What has to be asked is what is absolutely necessary for Christianity to be true. That doesn’t mean the other doctrines are unimportant or that they are false. It means what is absolutely necessary.

Let’s consider something with evolution. Let’s suppose you had thought that Piltdown Man was good evidence for the theory. Some people did believe that. I was trying to see how many dissertations were written on it, but I could not find that number aside from creationist websites citing 500 and I did not want to use the opponent to back the statistic.

Now we know it was a hoax. Does that mean that anyone who thought it was real should automatically conclude evolution is false? No. It could be false, but all that is really false in this case is one finding. Now you could say you question the scientific establishment after that, which is a separate issue, but the core leading cases for evolution and the science behind it would still be there. What that is would be up to the scientists to explain, but I have never had one tell me the case is built on one discovery.

So what about Christianity? You definitely need the existence of God for that. You also need Jesus being fully God and man or else we are not truly reconciled by the grace of God, which also entails the Trinity eventually, and you need the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is also not saying that you necessarily have to affirm everything to be a Christian. For example, I don’t expect a small child to understand the Trinity nor do I think the early church was quoting the Nicene Creed, though the seeds of the doctrine were there.

What about inerrancy? That is something important, but there could hypothetically be an error in the Scriptures and Christianity could still be true. It could still be that God exists and Jesus rose from the dead. After all, the early church didn’t even have a New Testament and it’s not like a slip-up in a later writer could overturn a past historical event. Note that this does not mean inerrancy is false. That is not relevant at this point. It is just saying it is not an essential. It’s not even saying the doctrine is unimportant. It can still be important and I understand many churches and Christian schools putting it in a statement of faith.

The same applies to YEC. The same applies to OEC or to Evolutionary creationism. If you look at any of these and say “If this is not true, I am abandoning Christianity”, then you are basing your faith on something other than the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. You could say if they are false, “I still have the resurrection of Jesus, but now I really have to rethink doctrine XYZ” and that’s okay!

For me, there have been many positions on which I have changed my stance. One such example is eschatology. I used to be a strong dispensationalist. I grew up listening to Southern Gospel music and so many songs are about the rapture. I was challenged by a Baptist minister especially to rethink that with plenty of reasons and like C.S. Lewis being dragged into the kingdom, I went kicking and screaming. Over several years time, I moved into orthodox Preterism. I have a strong passion to talk about eschatology and that doctrine, but I will not base my Christianity on it. I would say if it was shown to be false, “Whoa. I really gotta rethink the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation.” Maybe I would never even find an understanding of them. That’s okay. For all of us, there are things in the Bible that we don’t understand and aspects of our theology we are still working out.

Please note that at this point, I am not saying YEC, OEC, or EC are false. Right now, it doesn’t matter. I’m also not saying your stance on origins and creation doesn’t matter. I’m not saying you can’t have strong positions on those issues, be passionate about them, and argue for them. I am simply saying don’t base Christianity on them. Christianity needs to be based on the life of Jesus Christ and His resurrection.

Odds are if you are journeying on your Christian life and studying, you will change your mind on a number of issues, and that’s okay. There will still be many things you don’t know in the end also, no matter how much you study. If any of us could comprehend God, we would be God and He would not be. There are going to always be passages of the Bible that you don’t understand and you will not be a perfect interpreter of every one of them. That’s also okay.

Don’t be like this person who based their faith on something other than Jesus. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s wrong. I don’t really care on that issue. What I want to know is where does he stand on the resurrection of Jesus. It would be better to get Jesus right and everything else wrong, than to get everything else right and Jesus wrong.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

How Does This Work?

Do we need to know how two things work together? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I saw again someone asking the question on how an immaterial mind, like God, can affect a material world? I am not at all saying that we shouldn’t ask the question, but I find it striking that these people act like saying “We don’t know, therefore it can’t happen.” These are also the same people who share the idea that religion is against finding answers to questions and science is the one that says, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”

Apparently, that means in all questions except for those about religion.

I replied the same way that I always do. Right now, I am sitting at my desk typing, at this point, on this blog. I am willing myself to type. I do not know how that works, but yet I am doing it. Even if I held to a purely materialistic view of man, which I don’t, I would not know how to explain that.

When it comes to the world we live in, let’s suppose, as I do, that I have arguments for God, an immaterial being, that I find conclusive. Let’s also suppose that while they are not hills I am ready to die on and a debate I don’t really enter into that much, let’s suppose that I have reasons I find conclusive for believing in an immaterial aspect to me. One such reason even in scientific circles is Near-Death Experiences. True, some scientists do think they’re bunk, but some, and not just Christian ones, spend a great deal of study on these. My thinking on them is I think some of them are true, but they are not meant to give you the furniture of the afterdeath.

I do also take it as a given that there is such a thing as a material world. I’m not going to bother dealing with the thoughts of people like Bishop Berkeley or Eastern thought that can say the material world is an illusion at this point. That could be fascinating to do some time but now is not that time. For now, we’ll just say that there is something immaterial and there is a material world.

Let’s also suppose, as I do, that I have reasons I think justify me in believing in the reality of miracles, such as the resurrection of Jesus. Even if there had been no resurrection, that does not mean I would be unjustified in believing in miracles if I think I have good evidence of them. If this is the case, then I already have reason to believe the immaterial can act on the material.

In what might seem like a slight detour, let’s consider evolutionary biology. In this area, many creationists often say that there is no known mechanism on how life came about from non-life to get evolution started. There are many proposals, but none that are conclusive. Again, I am not a scientist, but let us suppose that this is still the case. This in no way means that there is no answer or that the answer cannot be found. It could be hypothetically the case that the answer is never found, but it will not disprove evolutionary biology. I would encourage those on the more creationist side of the debate to not go that route as it is just God of the gaps and if an answer is ever found, that seemingly puts God out of a job.

However, evolutionary biologists who would complain about that technique of creationists, and I think rightly so, need to make sure they’re not making the same mistake. This would be a sort of materialism-of-the-gaps. Now in both of these debates, it would be different if someone could give some sort of argument that could prove that either of these is impossible, but as far as I know, this has never been done.

This also means that you are not obligated to know every in and out of your worldview no matter what it is. I don’t expect an evolutionary biologist who is an atheist to tell me every aspect of the history of our species and of our cosmos and answer every question I have in order to hold his position. He should want to know as much as he can, but no one can know it all. At the same time, on the grounds given above, a Christian can say they do not know for sure, but why not be “scientific” and say “Let’s find out.”

Either way, this is a poor objection. I would like it that the side that keeps saying “Let’s find out” would want to actually study the subject they are arguing against and find out if they are misunderstanding.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

How To Not Be Taken Seriously

What are some arguments to avoid if you want a good dialogue? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, I wrote about how not all atheists on the internet are alike. Some atheists are what are known as internet atheists or fundamentalist atheists. So what are some arguments that they use? I am going to give a few of them and keep in mind, it’s not just the arguments but how they’re asked. If someone asks about these and I think they genuinely want an answer, that’s one thing. If they assert them constantly and don’t dialogue on them, then I don’t take them seriously.

Let’s start with one of the biggest ones. Jesus never even existed. If you say this, it is thoroughly difficult to take you seriously. Most Christians I know don’t even bother interacting with this nonsense any more. Most of these arguments are hugely question-begging and done from people who know nothing about how to do history. Along with this goes the pagan copycat argument.

Following this route, if you cite Richard Carrier as if he’s the best thing ever to happen to New Testament scholarship, then you will not be taken seriously. By the way, when I say Richard Carrier, I mean the unemployed polyamorous prominent internet blogger who’s banned from SkeptiCon. Carrier also doesn’t teach at any accredited university or seminary. There’s a reason for that. It’s not because of credentials, but because of his positions.

If you present faith as believing without evidence, I don’t have reason to take that seriously either. This is a constant mantra that the new atheists had. This is again a question that can be asked still in an inquisitive way that I would be happy to correct since so many Christians get this wrong sadly. Faith is really seen more as trust in that which has been shown to be reliable. It’s not blind belief.

And following that pathway, if you cite the new atheists regularly, that will be a red flag. No. The God Delusion is not a devastating book to theism. Even some atheists wrote about that book being an embarrassment. Michael Ruse endorsed the book the McGraths wrote in reply saying that Dawkins’s book left him embarrassed to be an atheist.

If you outright refuse to read whatever disagrees with you, then you won’t be taken seriously. The number one I use is Andrew Loke’s book nowadays. This book is absolutely free to read on a Kindle device. I have seen some people make so many excuses to not read it. Look. If you have time to go on Facebook and just argue against me relentlessly, you can put aside some time to read what disagrees with you. I could understand if I was asking you to buy the print version that costs over $100. I am asking you to read something free.

If you also refer to my book as the BuyBull, I will not take you seriously. Any time I hear someone say this, I walk away thinking they’re practically someone in high school who doesn’t know better. I am up for a good insult just as much, but this is not one. It gets into this idea that everything in the Bible is completely stupid and false. For some people, you would think they would rather commit ritual suicide than admit there is something in the Bible that can be true.

This will not shut down debate, but as a rule, in academic debate, I do not read Wikipedia. Wikis are just fine for pop culture items. I will go to wikis for TV shows and movies and video games as I trust the fans on the internet to be able to know about these topics. When it comes to more serious issues, I don’t know who edited that Wiki article last.

“But if you check the notes on the article, you get fine sources!”

“Then give me those sources directly.”

Memes are another kind of defeater. About the only exception is if you have a meme that is a quote of something someone has said. It’s just put in a pithy illustration. If you think a meme is a great presenter of an argument, I don’t take it seriously. A meme is meant to be either an illustration of a point already made, or a quip meant to be purely humorous, and I have plenty of those that I use constantly. It’s not meant to be the argument itself.

If you are someone also who emphasizes science above everything and especially says everything must be explained scientifically, then I don’t take that seriously. This is not because I am anti-science, but I am anti making everything science. It’s not. There are plenty of things that we know that we don’t know scientifically. I don’t have to wake up everyday and do scientific tests to see if my parents love me. History and Math are not necessarily known through science. Science can contribute in some ways, such as archaeology, but not mostly. Philosophy is another such area.

I am also cautious about those who present the Middle Ages as a Dark Ages where science was shut down entirely and the Christians were killing anyone who dared challenge them. Thankfully, this myth is starting to be undone in the world around us. One leading voice doing this is atheist Tim O’Neill.

Also, if I am in a Facebook debate and most every comment I give gets the laugh emoticon from you, I will know you are a waste of time. The laugh emoticon should really be saved for jokes. When it’s used in a debate like that, it just comes across as petty.

Keep in mind also that all of this is said in light of knowing how something is said is just as important. If an atheist comes to me and says, “But I have heard that scholars say Jesus never existed and is based on pagan myths,” and I can tell he’s just stating that as if to say that’s what he’s read, but is open to knowing otherwise, then no problem. The same for every other item on this list.

Many of us in apologetics hope to someday find better debates, but too many atheists are really dumbing down their side. Yes. I also know many Christians are doing this. We often are cleaning our own house out. I too rarely see leading atheists doing the same.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

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