Another Bad Atheistic Argument

Does the size of the universe prove there is no God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I check writings of atheists often and I got a blog notification this morning of an atheist blog that will remain nameless. I commented once in response to a post here and soon found my comments being moderated while my opponents got to keep going on. Underhanded movements in comments are something that cause me to ignore someone very quickly.

But today, I see a post about proof of atheism. Hey. I gotta see what this stellar argument is. As I expected though, I was gravely disappointed. This argument as not stellar at all, other than that it was about space.

The idea was about how vast the universe is and we can’t explore it all and how many stars there must be out there. Why would a being of omniscience or omnipotence do this? Now that is a good question. I leave it to the more scientifically minded to address it. However, the author made no attempt to answer and just said that we don’t know what brought about the Big Bang, but it sure wasn’t God.

Because, well, reasons I guess.

Now notice this. This argument just points to something we don’t know and assumes right off that there can be no good reason for this. Considering how limited our knowledge of the universe really is, isn’t that a hasty conclusion to make? Why should we think there’s no good reason for it?

Not only that, suppose I have several philosophical arguments for God, like the Thomistic arguments, that are deductive arguments such as the conclusion is reached with certainty from the premises. If so, then those arguments trump an “I don’t know” argument any day of the week. I can just as well say back, “I don’t know either” and still have my strong case for theism.

We’re also often told that religion stops people from answering questions and science goes “Let’s find out!” Well where is that scientific attitude here? Instead, it’s just “I don’t know” and then “It’s not God.”

The argument is also actually theological. “If there is a God, He would not create this way.” Really? How is that known? Where is this data coming about that if a god exists of any kind, He wouldn’t create in such and such a way?

Even if we granted the challenge to monotheism, couldn’t we hypothetically say that perhaps polytheism is instead true and atheism is still false? After all, the world of comic books is a world populated with several planets and universes and such, and yet it is often a world teeming with gods. Of course, I don’t think that is true, but that would still be enough to show atheism still has work to do.

If you’re an atheist, please don’t engage in such lazy thinking. If you want to make a claim about how God would or wouldn’t do something or why He would or wouldn’t, bring some data. Where do you get this knowledge of God and what He is like? Also, it is not effective to say, “I wouldn’t do it this way.” Okay, but I think we can all agree you’re far from omniscient and omnipotent and it’s just ridiculous arrogance to think you can come anywhere close to that.

A lot of self-respecting atheists would not make this kind of argument out there. They’d actually be agreeing with a lot of what I say in this post I suspect. There are bad arguments for theism and bad arguments for atheism. We should make it a point to eliminate both wherever we see them.

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

Book Plunge: Worldviews and the Problem of Evil

What do I think of Ronnie Campbell’s book published by Lexham Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If there is any objection normally raised up against theism, it is the problem of evil. How can a good God allow so much evil in the world or any evil even? The argument from my perspective is not the most rational or logical, but it does have a strong emotional appeal. As I write this, our society is on lockdown from fear of a virus and even before this point, atheists were already making memes about God allowing or not doing anything concerning this virus.

In this book, Campbell looks at how different worldviews answer the problem of evil. He deals with naturalism, pantheism, panentheism, and theism itself. Each topic is dealt with the same way. In the end, there is more examination of theism since this is where Campbell lies and he spends more time on defenses of it. In each chapter, he also looks at the best defenders of each position.

Each worldview has to deal with the following questions: Life, human consciousness, the metaphysics of good and evil, and human responsibility. At this, I would have preferred the first two be left out. Let’s suppose we grant the positions of life and consciousness as questions to be set aside for the moment. If we look at just evil itself, how well does each worldview explain it?

Campbell does treat each view fairly and then looks at theism. Here, I would have also liked to have seen more distinction. He focuses naturally on Christian theism, but I was hoping in the book to see a comparison between Islam and Judaism and perhaps even deism as well. Campbell makes the Trinity a necessary part of his defense, so Islam would definitely have some problems, but couldn’t Judaism possibly work still since it would be open to incarnation, resurrection, and Trinity? After all, the first Christians were open to all of these and were Jews.

I was pleased to see the engagement with New Testament scholarship when talking about the Trinity. Campbell looked at some of the best research on this and if you’re not familiar with it, you will gain enough to be basically cognizant of the issues. This is explained in a way that is easy to understand as well.

Campbell also has some questions about classical theism. I really did not find them convincing as a classical theist myself. Still, it is not necessary to Campbell’s book that you embrace his view. I did appreciate his critique of open theism, however.

The final chapter also deals with the defeat of evil and looks at questions such as the nature of Heaven and Hell. While I am not a proponent of conditional immortality, I don’t think many of them would find his arguments in this case tenable. There was some said on Heaven, but I think more needed to be said.

If there was something else I would add, it would be a brief chapter on those who are dealing with suffering right now. What advice does Campbell have for us when we are in the midst of the pain? At that time, the intellectual arguments don’t really help out that much. I realize this book is not meant to be a pastoral book, but that would be something good still to have.

Overall still, this is a very thorough work on the problem of evil and atheists who want to use it as an argument need to deal with it. It’s also a rare book that deals with pantheism and panentheism on the problem of evil as well. Now maybe someone who studies this more will go forward and look at Judaism, deism, and Islam more on evil.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why I Don’t Debate Evolution

Is this an issue really worth debating? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Over the weekend, I saw some Christian friends arguing on Facebook about evolution. One is open to it if not supportive of it and the other is skeptical. I have also been reading through Richard Dawkins’s Outgrowing God who seems to be of the opinion that if you prove evolution, then you have put God out of a job.

Here I sit then thankful that I don’t debate the issue at all.

Let’s start with Dawkins. Dawkins regularly in his book when he talks about anything outside of science gets things stupendously wrong. I don’t want to be like that. When I get to the science section of his book, it sounds impressive, but then I think that he really blundered earlier. How do I know he didn’t do the same here? I try to give the benefit of the doubt because this is his area, but it can be difficult.

Yet here I am, someone who has not studied science. Do I want to make the same mistake in the opposite direction? Do I want to risk saying embarrassing things about science in a way that when it comes time to the areas I do know something about that people will not listen to me?

Keep in mind this is me saying this is what works for me. If you are someone who has studied science seriously and reads both sides, I have no problem if you want to debate evolution really. I think there are better areas to debate, but I’m not going to stop you.

But what about Genesis? For Genesis, I go with John Walton’s interpretation. In this one, Genesis is not describing the formation of creation in material terms, but in terms of function. It is telling how everything works together in the making of sacred space. The days can then be literal because this is just God making declarations over what He has made.

As it stands then, I have no hill to die on. My worldview then does not depend on modern science. Evolution is true? Cool. I move on. Evolution is false? Cool. I move on.

In my opinion, both Christians and atheists who think evolution is the dealbreaker are misinformed. For one thing, none of this has impact on if Jesus rose from the dead. At the most, it can damage inerrancy. The case for the resurrection of Jesus does not depend on Genesis.

It’s also sad that in some sense, atheists are right when they say we have God of the gaps and science keeps filling in those gaps. The early scientists who were Christians did their science to see how God did something. It was not assumed that He had to do something a particular way and if He didn’t, then He didn’t exist.

Let’s take our own formation. We all believe thanks to Psalms that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and the Psalmist says we are knit together in our mother’s womb. At the same time, many of us do not balk at the idea that we are formed through a process of gestation that takes place in nine months and don’t think this means God micromanages our DNA. God can still form us and a natural process can be involved.

Why not with our original creation?

Also, the existence of God is not on scientific terms, since science can never prove or disprove something immaterial. It’s in the area of metaphysics and here the question goes deeper. It is the question of existence itself. What does it mean to be? It’s not just how the universe came into being, but how does the universe stay in being? What about goodness, truth, and beauty? Where do they come from?

These are questions that are not scientific necessarily, aside from perhaps how the universe came to be. The rest are philosophical questions and God is something that can be studied through philosophy. This is where the real battle lies.

Furthermore, I get concerned that we could be keeping up a stereotype of science vs. religion. This is a big problem I have with Dawkins’s book. At the end, he can describe things like starlings in flight or chameleons catching insects with their tongues or anything like that. I read it and think “How marvelous the way God’s creation works.” Why? Because God is largely in my background knowledge and I see no contradiction between evolution and God.

Thus, if God is in that knowledge and I have no problem with evolution, I, like many others, will interpret knowledge I gain through the lens of what I already hold on what I at least think are good grounds. There are plenty of people who will not think that way, but religion is a deeply important part of their lives.

For those who have science as their background and are atheistic, this will get them to think science and religion are opposed, but the problem is a number of religious people could think the same way. Dawkins could wind up driving people away from science.

The reality is if you pit these two against each other, people will gravitate towards the one that means the most to them. Jesus means a lot more to a lot more people than, say, knowing how far away the Crab Nebula is from us. They will accept science on basic things, but not on things that really challenge their thinking.

My philosophy now on it is to just stay out of it. I do not know the field well enough to debate it and I could make blunders that would undermine me in other areas. It also does not impact my position on Genesis or Christianity at all. Once again, if you know the science and you think you can give someone a door to Christianity, have at it. God bless you. If you are not a scientist though or someone who seriously studies it, be careful about debating such a topic.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Atheism: A Critical Analysis

What do I think of Stephen Parrish’s book published by Wipf and Stock? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Stephen Parrish has written a book that is highly philosophical, and yet at the same time, highly readable. The book is a look at the idea of atheism. Does it really stand up to scrutiny? He looks at it from a scholarly level and from a popular level both.

At the start, one gets treated to definitions. What is meant by atheism and theism? What is meant by religion and science? What is meant by the term supernatural? These are all terms that we use freely, but very rarely do we stop and ask what they mean. I am one who never uses the term supernatural thinking it is way too vague and when I get a claim such as someone talking about the evils of religion, I ask for a definition of religion.

He also deals with popular objections. Is atheism merely a lack of belief in God? What about the idea that someone is an atheist to many other gods out there. The one who identifies as an atheist just goes one god further. Sure, these are all piddly weak on the surface and the old atheists would have been embarrassed to see such arguments, but they are out there today.

Parrish’s work that presents problem areas mainly for atheism come in three categories and these can be broken down further. The first is the origin of the universe. This is an interesting topic in itself, but I am pleased to see that he goes even further and asks not only how the universe came into being but rather how does it continue in being. It’s not enough to ask why it came in the first place. Knowing how it remains here is something great to ask too.

The second area is the problem of the mind. How is it that the mind works? What is the explanation of consciousness? There are a plethora of different theories out there. Parrish works to explain the flaws in the other theories and gives a case for why theism has better explanatory power.

The last is ethics and morality. There is a subsection here on beauty as well. How is it that we live in a universe where there seem to be principles of good and evil that most people consider objective, binding, and authoritative? Could they all really be subjective?

An atheist reading this could think, “Ah. Those are issues, but surely he should discuss the issue that’s problematic for theists. The problem of evil.” He should and he does. He looks at this and a number of defenses and theodicies and then turns and says that on his argument, the problem of evil is more of a problem for the atheist than the theist.

Some of you might be wondering why I don’t spell these kinds of thoughts out even more. There’s a simple reason for that. You need to go and get the book yourself. I can’t help but think of the quote of C.S. Lewis.

“In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — “Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,” as Herbert says, “fine nets and stratagems.” God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”

A man wishing to remain in his atheism should also realize that this book is a trap as well. While I am far more Thomist than Parrish is in my philosophy, there is far more that I agree with than I would disagree with. Anyone who is a critical atheist needs to get this for a critical analysis of that view.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Two Dozen Or So Arguments For God

What do I think of Jerry Walls and Trent Dougherty’s book published by Oxford University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Around thirty or so years ago, Alvin Plantinga gave a talk on two dozen arguments for the existence of God. It’s my understanding these were brief synopses of some arguments. Some Plantinga favored and some he didn’t. These are also generally outside of the usual classical traditional arguments. You won’t find the Thomist arguments in there and Bill Craig adds in the Kalam and the moral argument isn’t there as much and even the fine-tuning argument has some updating to it.

Now that topic has been fleshed out further and each of these arguments has a fuller explanation of it given. Some arguments people will like more than others. Each should give the reader something to think about. It will be interesting to see what replies come from the other side in response to this project.

Let me start with a criticism here also. I consider myself a classical theologian and think in those philosophical terms. As it was, most of the arguments in the book then I did not understand the logic of. I don’t speak in terms of modal logic and possible worlds and much of the symbolism found did not make sense to me. This work then I would say is not really layman friendly. It would be nice to see another work done like this that would work on the popular level for the rest of us.

My favorite essay then in the book was actually Tim McGrew’s on the argument from miracles. This is because much of it spoke to my area of history and there were even side notes in there I can use such as problems with the argument from silence, a favorite of mythicists and others on the internet. Other arguments did give me something to think about when it came to things that I did understand.

Consider something like the argument from numbers. Does this point to an eternal mind? The same kind of idea could be at work in my debate with Dan Barker where Barker actually said that 2 +  2  = 4 was not true in the time of the dinosaurs. If that is the case, then that would mean all truths like that would be truths that depend on us for their making. If we make them, we can change them. That would also include the moral truths that Barker emphasizes such as behaviors he thinks are evil when done by God, which would refute his whole argument.

The book also has an appendix with a brief interview of Plantinga discussing various questions about the project. Many people could be interested in his answers to questions about day to day Christian living. There is a notes section at the end looking at the arguments in the book, but I found it unclear if this was Plantinga’s musings going on or something else.

Those who enjoy philosophy will appreciate this book, but I think it will be those who enjoy philosophy of a certain kind. For the layman, I recommend waiting for a version to come out friendly to the layman. I hope the editors will seriously consider that as it would be another great gift for the man in the pew.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: A New Dawn For Christianity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Atheism On Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Enlightenment Now Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

What? Isn’t that a denial of omnipotence?

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Should God Appear To Me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Nick Peters