apologetics

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Sunday Quote! – Is Atheism Wishful Thinking?

tls-feserEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Atheism as Wish Fulfillment

I’ve been reading through Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. Feser is a Thomistic philosopher (one who follows in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas) and so he approaches these questions from a slightly different perspective than that of other theists who have responded to the challenge of the New Atheism. I’ve only just begun the book, but I found this quote juicy:

It is true that a fear of death, a craving for cosmic justice, and a desire to see our lives as meaningful can lead us to want to believe that we have immortal souls specially created by a God who will reward or punish us for our deeds in this life. But it is no less true that a desire to be free of traditional moral standards, and a fear of certain (real or imagined) political and social consequences of the truth of religious belief, can also lead us to want to believe that we are just clever animals with no purpose to our lives other than the purposes we choose to give them, and that there is no cosmic judge who will punish us for disobeying an objective moral law. Atheism, like religion, can often rest more on a will to believe than on dispassionate rational arguments. - Edward Feser, The Last Superstition, 10

Feser’s point is that atheists are just as capable of allowing their desires to cloud judgment when it comes to matters of philosophical judgments as are theists. Everyone has desires; the question is what the evidence is to support those desires. What do you think of this quote? How would you respond to those who assert that religious people are merely seeking wish fulfillment?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Guest Post: “The Presumption of Popular Atheism” by David Glass- In this post, David Glass, himself an able response-man to the New Atheism, highlights one primary argument atheists make regarding theism: that theists have all the burden of proof on their side.

SDG.

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Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate

bnye-kham-debateToday, Ken Ham, a young earth creationist, debated against Bill Nye an agnostic famous for “The Science Guy” program, on the topic: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s scientific era?” The debate was watched by over 500,000 people and generated a huge amount of interest. Here, I’ll review the debate section by section. Then, I’ll offer some thoughts on the content as well as a concluding summary. If you watched the debate, you may want to just skip down to the Analysis section. The debate may be watched here for a limited time (skip to 13 minutes in to start debate).

Ken Ham Opening

Ham began by noting that many prominent scientists argue that scientists should not debate creationists. He wondered aloud whether that might be because creationism is indeed a viable model and some don’t want that to be shown. He then showed a video of a creationist who was a specialist in science and an inventor, noting that creationism is not mutually exclusive from science.

The three primary points Ham focused on were 1) the definitions of terms; 2) interpretation of the evidence; and 3) the age of the universe is not observational science. Regarding the first, Ham noted that science means knowledge and so evolutionists cannot claim to be doing science. Regarding the second, he argued that both creationists and evolutionists observe the same evidence; they simply interpret that evidence differently. Regarding the third, Ham observed that “We weren’t there” at the beginning of the Earth and so we can’t know through observational science what happened.

Bill Nye Opening

Nye noted that the primary contention of the topic was to see whether the creation model lined up with the evidence. Thus, we must compare Ken Ham’s creation model to the “mainstream” model of science (his word). There are, he contended, major difficulties with Ham’s model, including the fossils found in layers in the Grand Canyon. He noted that there is “not a single place” where fossils of one type cross over with fossils of a different type or era. Yet, on a creation model, one would expect vast amounts of mixing. Thus, the creation model fails to account for the observational evidence.

Nye also noted that there are “billions of people ” who are religious and do not hold to creation science.

Ham Presentation

Ham again emphasized the importance of defining terms. He then presented a few more videos of creationists who are active scientists in various fields. One, a Stuart Burgess [I think I typed that correctly] claimed that he knew many colleagues who expressed interest in creationism but were afraid for their careers.

Non-Christians, Ham alleged, are borrowing from the Christian worldview in order to do science. The reason for this is because their own worldview cannot account for the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, or the laws of nature. He asked Nye to explain how to account for these aspects of reality without God.

The past cannot be observed directly, he said, and concluded that we can’t be certain that the present is like the past. Thus, we must only deal with the observed facts that we can see now. On this point, the disagreements are over the interpretation of the evidence. That is, there is a set of evidence that both people like Nye and Ham approach. According to Ham, it is their worldviews which color their interpretation of the evidence such that they use the same evidence and get entirely contradictory conclusions.

The diversity of species which is observed is only, Ham argued, difference in “kind.” Thus, it cannot be used as evidence for evolution. The word “evolution” has been “hijacked” and used as evidence for unobservable phenomena extrapolated from that which is observed. The various species demonstrate a “creation orchard” as opposed to an “evolutionary tree.” One may observe different creatures, like dogs, each stemming from an a common origin, but none of these are traceable back to common descent, rather they exhibit discontinuity in the fossil record.

There is a major difference, Ham alleged, between “observational sciences” which looks at the things we can see in repeatable events now and “historical sciences” which extrapolates from the evidence gathered what happened in the past. We can never truly have “knowledge” regarding the historical sciences.

Nye Presentation

Nye began his presentation by noting that the debate took place in Kentucky and “here… we’re standing on layer upon layer upon layer of limestone.” The limestone is made of fossils of creatures which lived entire lives (twenty or more years in many cases) and then died, piled up on top of each other, and formed the limestone underneath much of the state. The amount of time needed for this is much longer than just a few thousand years.

Nye also turned to evidence from ice cores, which would require 170 winter/summer cycles per year for at least a thousand years to generate the current amount of ice built up. In California, there are trees which are extremely ancient, and some trees are even older, possibly as old as 9000 or more years old. Apart from the difficulty of the age of these trees, one must also wonder how they survived a catastrophic flood.

When looking at a place like the Grand Canyon, one never finds lower layer animals mixed with higher level animals. One should expect to find these given a flood. Nye challenged Ham to present just one evidence of the mixing of fossils of different eras together; he said it would be a major blow to the majority sciences.

If the flood explains animal life and its survival, one should observe the migration of animals across the earth in the fossil record; thus a Kangaroo should be found not just in Australia but along the way from wherever the Ark rested. However, these finds are not observed. Finally, the Big Bang has multiple lines of evidence which confirm it as the origin of the universe.

Ham Rebuttal

Ham argued that we can’t observe the age of the Earth. No science can measure it through observational evidence; rather it falls under historical sciences. One should add the genealogies in the Genesis account in order to find the age of the Earth. Whenever a scientist talks about the past, “we’ve got a problem” because they are not speaking from observation: they were not there.

Various radiometric dating methods turn up radically divergent ages for artifacts from the same time period and layer of rocks. The only infallible interpreter of the evidence is God, who provided a record in the Bible.

Nye Rebuttal

Rocks are able to slide in such a way as to interpose different dated objects next to each other.

Nye noted that Ham kept saying we “can’t observe the past,” but that is exactly what is done in astronomy: no observation of stars is not observing the past. Indeed, it takes a certain amount of time for the light to get to Earth from these various stars. The notion that lions and the like ate vegetables is, he argued, preposterous. Perhaps, he asserted, the difficulty is with Ham’s interpretation of the biblical text.

Nye then compared the transmission of the text of the Bible to the telephone game.

Ham Counter-Rebuttal

Ham again pressed that natural laws only work within a biblical worldview. There only needed to be about 1000 kinds represented aboard the ark in order to represent all the current species. Bears have sharp teeth yet eat vegetables.

Nye Counter-Rebuttal

Nye asserted that Ham’s view fails to address fundamental questions like the layers of ice. The notion that there were even fewer “kinds” (about 1000) means that the problem for Ham is even greater: the species would have had to evolve at extremely rapid rates, sometimes even several species a day, in order to account for all the differences of species today.

Q+A

I’ll not cover every single question, instead, I wanted to make note of two major things that came up in the Q+A session.

First, Nye’s answer to any question which challenged him on things like where the matter for the Big Bang came from was to assert that it’s a great mystery and we should find out one day. Second, Ham’s response to any question which (even hypothetically) asked him to consider the possibility that he would be wrong was to assert that such a situation was impossible. In other words, he presupposed he was correct and held to the impossibility that he could be wrong.

Analysis

Ken Ham

Ken Ham’s position was based upon his presuppositional apologetic. He continued to press that it is one’s worldview which colors the interpretation of evidence. The facts, he argued, remained the same for either side. It was what they brought to the facts that led to the radically different interpretations.

There is something to be said for this; it is surely true that we do have assumptions we bring to the table when interpreting the evidence. However, apart from the problem that Ham’s presuppositional approach with creationism is unjustified, Ham failed to deal with facts which really do shoot major holes in his theory. For example, it simply is true that, as Nye noted, when we observe the stars or distant galaxies, we are observing the past. Ham was just wrong on this regard. Moreover, other observational evidence (though not directly showing the past) does demonstrate that the Earth cannot be so young as Ham supposes. Furthermore, his hard and fast distinction between historical sciences and observational sciences is more of a rhetorical device than anything.

Ham’s position, I would argue, fails to account for the evidence which Nye raised (along with a number of other difficulties). Moreover, he continued to paint a picture of the Bible which rejects any but his own interpretation. In other words, he presented a false dichotomy: either young earth creationism or compromise with naturalism. However, I did appreciate Ham’s focus on the Gospel message. It was refreshing to have him present a call to belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior in front of such a massive audience.

Bill Nye

Nye did an okay job of trying to show that there may be more to the debate than simply creationism-or-bust for Christianity. Indeed, he actually went so far as to say there is “no conflict” between science and faith. Instead, he argued that Ham’s position is the one which generates such a conflict. His rebuttals provided some major reasons to think that Ham’s creationism could not account for the evidence. In particular, the difficulties presented by the proliferation of species after the flood and the fossil record were solid evidences.

However, Nye’s presentations had a couple difficulties. First, he failed to account for polystrate fossils: the very thing he challenged Ham to present. There really are such things as fossils which are found out of sequence (thanks to ElijiahT and SkepticismFirst on Twitter for this). That’s not to say they prove young earth creationism. Far from it. So Nye seems to have been mistaken on this point. Second, he presented the Big Bang theory as though Fred Hoyle somehow came up with the hypothesis, yet Hoyle is well known for denying the Big Bang. Third, the notion that the interpretation, translation, and transmission of the Bible through time is anything like the telephone game is a tiresome and simply mistaken metaphor.

Both

Both men were extremely respectful and I appreciated their candor. Each had several good points; each had some major flaws in their positions. The dialogue as a whole was interesting and helpful.

Conclusion

Readers by now should realize that I have to confess my title is a bit misleading. I was impressed by the tone of both speakers, though I thought they each made major gaffes alongside some decent points. The bottom line is that I find it unfortunate that we were exposed to a false dichotomy: either creationism or naturalism. There is more to the story. As far as “who won” the debate, I would argue that because of this false dichotomy, neither truly won. However, it seemed to me Ham had a more cohesive 30 presentation. That is, his presentation stayed more focused. Nye’s presentation jumped around quite a bit and had less directness to it. So far as “debate tactics” are concerned, one might chalk that up to a win for Ham. However, Nye successfully dismantled Ham’s presentation in the rebuttal periods. Thus, one was left with the impression that Ham’s view was indeed based upon his presupposition of its truth, while Nye was more open to the evidence. Again, I think both are wrong in many areas, but I hope that Nye’s tearing down of Ham’s position will not demonstrate to some that Christianity is false. As Nye noted, it may instead be Ham’s interpretation which is wrong.

There was much more to cover here than I could get to, so please do leave a comment to continue the discussion.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Naturalis Historia- This site is maintained by a biologist who presents a number of serious difficulties for young earth creationism.

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth- I attended a debate between an old earth and young earth creationist (the latter from Answers in Genesis like Ken Ham). Check out my overview of the debate as well as my analysis.

Debate Review: Fazale Rana vs. Michael Ruse on “The Origin of Life: Evolution vs. Design”- Theist Fazale Rana debated atheist Michael Ruse on the origin of life. I found this a highly informative and respectful debate.

Reasons to Believe- a science-faith think tank from an old-earth perspective.

Other Reviews of the Debate

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye post-debate analysis- The GeoChristian has a brief overview of the debate with a focus on what each got right or wrong.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Aftermath- Luke Nix over at Faithful Thinkers has another thoughtful review. His post focuses much more on the topic of the debate as opposed to a broad overview. Highly recommended.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: The Debate of the Decade?- Interested in what led up to this debate? Check out my previous post on the topic in which I urged Christians to write on this debate and also traced, briefly, the controversy leading up to this debate.

The image used in this post is was retrieved at Christianity Today and I believe it’s origin is with Answers in Genesis. I use it under fair use to critique the views. I make no claims to owning the rights to the image, and I believe the image, as well as “The Creation Museum” are copyright of Answers in Genesis.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Lawrence Krauss vs. John Lennox on science and faith

153734main_image_feature_626_ys_4I’ve been catching up on my podcasts and I recently listened to a dialogue between an atheist, Lawrence Krauss, and a theist, John Lennox on questions about science and faith. It was on the Unbelievable? program (something I strongly suggest you listen to weekly) [listen here]. Thus, it was less a debate than it was a moderated discussion. Here, I’ll only focus on a couple questions that came up in their dialogue.

How and Why

According to Lawrence Krauss, science cannot answer “Why” questions but only “how” questions. Lennox brought up the example of a Ford motor car sitting on a driveway [I added this last bit for clarity]. He argued that one can explain the “how” it got there but there still remains the question of “why” it was made. Thus, the “why” questions remain “real” questions whether or not science is capable of investigating them. Interestingly, Krauss took a different tact than I expected in his rebuttal: he argued that the “why” question (at least in the Lennox case) is reducible to a “how” question. That is, one could explain how Henry Ford designed it, had it built, and then someone bought it and drove it to where it is sitting.

But of course redefining terms does little to address the actual questions at hand. Lennox was keen to show that questions about “why” are indeed meaningful. It seems that Krauss’ only response is to either say “no they’re not” or redefine actual “why” questions into “how” questions and argue there still are no “why” questions. The move is not very subtle, nor is it successful.

Purpose in the Universe?

Krauss made several comments regarding purpose in the universe. First, he seemed to suggest that in order to assert the universe has purpose, one must know what that purpose is. Second, he argued that the universe is indeed quite wasteful if it were intelligent designed with purpose. Third–in response to Lennox’s statement that Krauss and other cosmologists admit that for life to exist there would have had to be several generations of stars (to produce enough carbon for carbon-based life)–he alleged that there could be all sorts of other life forms we don’t know about. I’ll address these each briefly in turn.

First, it seems clear that if one wants to suggest the universe has a purpose, one does not have to know what the purpose is. We can see this all the time in our own interactions with the world. Suppose I see a pile of blocks on the floor in an office building stacked in piles of various heights and arranged by color. I can immediately recognize that there must have been some purpose behind it–for the arrangement by color is quite telling–but I may not be able to pinpoint the exact reason. Perhaps some five-year-old was amusing herself by stacking blocks by color. Perhaps an adult was making art by stacking them in that way–a kind of reminiscence on childhood. There could be any number of other reasons. But the fact that I don’t know the reason doesn’t mean there is no reason. Similarly, I may claim the universe has a purpose even without claiming to know what said purpose is.

Second, Krauss seems to make the error that if the universe were designed for humans, that would have to be the only purpose involved in the entire universe. I’ve addressed this claim in some detail elsewhere, so for now I’ll just say that Krauss’ mistake lies in assuming that if there is a purpose behind the universe it must be the only purpose.

Third, Krauss missed the point of Lennox’s rebuttal. For the life we are dealing with is clearly carbon based. For Krauss to stretch the question to possible scenarios of non-carbon based life is to miss the thrust of his own argument. He was asking for purpose in this universe; he was not asking for purpose in any possible universe. Thus, his statement is off base. Moreover, I tend to agree with scientists like Iris Fry and the like who agree that it is implausible to suggest life could be based on silicon or other things apart from carbon. That is a debate that would take us far afield, so I’ll leave it at that.

Science Doesn’t Care About Philosophy

Lennox, towards the end of the discussion, pointed out that Krauss’ claim to define nothing as something is nonsense. Krauss’ response? He jettisoned philosophy immediately: “Science doesn’t care about philosophy,” he said [he may have said "Scientists don't..." but after listening to it a few times, I couldn't tell which he said]. If you don’t see a problem with this, you should. First, the statement itself is philosophical. Second, any number of claims he made throughout his discussion with Lennox were philosophically grounded. Third, science depends upon philosophy to operate. Fourth, as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere, Krauss’ own work is directly dependent upon philosophy.

Documents Aren’t Evidence

Krauss said that documents don’t count as evidence. His assertion was based upon the notion that a book like The Great Gatsby is a document, but it is not taken as factually true. Apart from purely begging the question regarding the genre of the Bible alongside The Great Gatsby, Krauss is also severely mistaken in his claim that documents aren’t evidence. According to Krauss’ claim, we should essentially dissolve our government, because our system of government is based upon a document: the Constitution. But the Constitution cannot count as evidence for anything! So this begs the question: why should we go to it to see whether or not Lawrence Krauss should have freedom to express his vitriol against religious people?

The problem is that Krauss is just wrong here. Documents do count as evidence. One needs to acknowledge the genre, intent, etc. regarding a document, but for Krauss to utterly dismiss documents as evidence is absurd. One may ask whether Krauss wrote any books. He could, presumably, produce documents to show that he did indeed write books. But on his own standard of proof, he hasn’t presented any evidence whatsoever. Thus, on Krauss’ definition of evidence, I conclude that Krauss has never written anything.

Conclusion

There is much more that I could interact with in regards to this conversation between Krauss and Lennox, but I’ll leave it for now with the comments I have. I suggest readers go listen to the dialogue themselves. It seems to me clear that Krauss continues to flounder in areas outside his expertise. He misused the notion of an “appeal to authority” when he applied it regarding Lennox’s citation of Nagel, he continued to make errors regarding non sequitors, he dismissed his own books as evidence that he wrote anything, and his comments on purpose betray a lack of reflection on the topic. Krauss continues to show that he is basically ignorant of even the implications of his own claims.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Shoulders of Giants? -Philosophy and Science in Context, or “Krauss Jumps off!”- I argue that Krauss is mistaken to claim that philosophers know nothing. I further argue that Krauss’ own work is dependent upon philosophy, so he ironically (ignorantly?) dismisses the very basis for his work.

William Lane Craig vs. Lawrence Krauss- Thoughts and links- I summarize and analyze a debate between Lawrence Krauss and the Christian philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig. I think this debate was devastating to Krauss’ positions regarding his atheism.

Follow this link to access the audio for the dialogue between Lennox and Krauss.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy

“Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician”- A brief look at the e-book by Tom Gilson

question-week2I recently downloaded Tom Gilson’s evaluation of Peter Boghossian’s epistemology for my Kindle. The work is witty but also to the point. Gilson launched a full-on attack against Boghossian’s mission to create atheists. The best parts of the book–and let me be clear, I think the entire work is essential reading–were his critique of Boghossian’s view of faith and his appeal to Christians regarding the importance of the topic.

Gilson makes it clear how important it is to provide a reasoned answer to Boghossian’s view. However, he goes much further than that; he notes that Boghossian’s mission is specifically to destroy the faith of Christians. For any Christian, this should be a disturbing thing to hear. Unlike many other atheists, Boghossian seems to have a plan: he’s going to actively work to proselytize Christians for atheism. He may be called an atheist missionary. Gilson called Christians to see this as a serious threat for Christianity. It’s not that Christianity doesn’t have the resources to answer Boghossian’s arguments; instead, it is that we have not equipped ourselves to do so. The average Christian-in-the-pew is basically incapable of refuting Boghossian-esque reasoning, and so will, possibly, have their faith seriously challenged by arguments which are basically vacuous.

Part of Boghossian’s mission, Gilson notes, is to redefine the meaning of faith. For Boghossian, faith should always be understood as “pretending to know what one does not know” (kindle location 118). Gilson notes that not only would such a redefinition be catastrophic for people of faith [of "pretending to know..."], but it is also a completely invented definition with no basis in reality. That is, Boghossian sems to be pretending to know what he doesn’t know. On his own definition, he is very faithful.

Why think that Boghossian’s definition is wrong? Gilson offers a number of points. Among them is the fact that the redefinition of the term cannot account for its usage among the faithful. Gilson shows how the redefined “faith” would lead to an absurd meaning for any number of texts in the Bible. Not only that, but he also cites a number of Christian thinkers to demonstrate that the usage of “faith” is much more grounded in evidence and true belief than it is grounded in a “pretend” world. By the time Gilson has finished dismantling Boghossian’s usage, it becomes clear that the latter is truly living in his own fantasy. The problem is that if Christians do not equip themselves to combat it, the dream may become reality.

There are a number of other excellent portions of this quick read, such as Gilson’s direct interaction with a number of Boghossian’s interviews and writings. He also approaches Boghossian’s work from several angles, providing a solid ground for the refutation of the atheistic work.

In short, I implore you to pick up and read this work by Gilson. He has done an excellent job of showing how Boghossian’s work may prove to be a challenge to Christianity. But the greater service he has done is provided a tool to equip believers to combat this challenge. Read it, spread it. Keep the faith.

Links

You may get Gilson’s e-book for free at this link [I am unsure of how long this offer will last]. You may also support the ministry of Ratio Christi by purchasing the e-book.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Tom Gilson, Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician (2014).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Bible Is Not One Book

Bibbia_con_rosaI was doing some research recently for a lengthy (book length!) project I am working on and was searching Amazon for some books on Bible prophecy. I came upon a work by John Walvoord called Every Prophecy of the Bible. It looked interesting, so as always, took a look at the high reviews as well as the low reviews. I looked at the one star reviews and came upon one by a user named “gavin.”

I was perplexed by his (a male, judging by the picture) objection to confirming the Bible as true through prophecy. He wrote, “The book basically runs off a list of biblical prophecies that have supposedly been fulfilled. Amazingly pretty much all the evidence for these so called fulfilled prophecies comes from the same book making the prophecies in the first place ie the bible.” He then proceeded to ridicule Christians who do believe this as holding to an “infantile” belief.

The Objection

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have seen an objection like this. Put simply, the objection is that the Bible can’t confirm itself, because that would be a circular argument. In other words, one can’t use material from one part of the Bible to confirm other parts of the Bible because then one is arguing for the truth of the Bible from the Bible.

The Problem

Most people should immediately see what the problem is. Although the Bible as we have it today is a single “book” in the sense that its contents share the same binding, it is really a collection of independent works written across over a thousand years by various authors in different parts of the world. In other words, the Bible is not “one book,” at least in the sense that one needs to maintain for this objection. Thus, if there is a prophecy found in one book which we know to be earlier than a book which is later that records its fulfillment, then there seems to be at least some evidence, prima facie, for the truth of the prophecy. (Of course this would be contingent upon the historical accuracy of the books, etc., etc. but the simple fact of an alleged prophecy’s existing before its fulfillment is an interesting facet to consider.)

A friend, Anthony Weber, made an analogy: think of the Bible as a library of books. Would it not be silly to think you couldn’t pull one book of the shelf and say that it confirmed another book? Suppose each book was about history, and one made a mere mention of a topic, while another featured a more detailed description. Would we not be surprised if someone came along and objected, saying “Well, they’re in the same library, so we can’t trust them!”

Inerrancy?

Christians need to realize that this has implications for doctrine as well. For example, those who maintain inerrancy–and I strongly believe that consistent Christians should do so (see my arguments to this end and defense of the doctrine here)–may be concerned that viewing the Bible in this fashion comes in danger of breaking it up piecemeal and pitting each segment against the others. But this is not what follows at all. Instead, it is simply an acknowledgment that the Bible is a collection of works in different genres written at different times in different places which, when put together, form a coherent whole.

Concluding call for intellectual honesty

In light of what I have explored, I want to first issue a call to the atheists out there: I know that you (atheists) do not all hold to objections like this and would find someone else using this objection a bit alarming. I call you to challenge your fellow atheists to a more honest interaction with positions of faith. If you want to criticize someone else’s position, fine. But do it without completely misrepresenting them. Call out your fellow atheists when they try to put forth this kind of drivel as a serious objection to Christianity. I try to call out fellow Christians when they do the same with other views.

To my fellow Christians: be aware that objections like these are not the backbone of atheism. Frankly, I think people like “gavin” are just grasping at anything to maintain unbelief and ridicule others they choose to look down on as “infantile.” Let’s engage with people who make these objections, but if they persist, dismiss the objection as the ridiculous notion it is. Finally, if you catch yourself treating the Bible like one book without any distinction in genre, time, place, etc., stop yourself. It is important to note the Bible is united in message, but God used different people as they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” It wasn’t delivered all by divine dictation.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Dying for Belief: An analysis of a confused objection to one of the evidences for the resurrection

800px-Caravaggio_Doubting_ThomasThere is an objection to one of the evidences for the resurrection which is, frankly, terribly confused. I most recently ran into it on the discussion page for the radio show Unbelievable? Essentially, the objection goes like this: Christians say the fact that the disciples died for what they believe is evidence for its truth, but all kinds of religious people die for what they believe; are they all true?

The objector then often proceeds to note that some Muslims will die in suicide bombings due to their beliefs; they will note events like Thich Quang Duc burning himself to protest persecution; they will note other events in which religious people die for their beliefs. The implication, it is alleged, is that this cannot count for evidence for the truth of what they belief. People die for false things all the time; it doesn’t make what they believe true.

The objection seems compelling at first because it is, in fact, largely correct. The simple fact that people are willing to die for something does not make whatever they are wiling to die for true. However, this objection shows that the objector is badly misrepresenting the Christian apologetic argument.

The apologetic argument is intended to be used against those who would allege that the disciples made up or plotted for the notion of the resurrection for some reason. It therefore presents a major disanalogy with people of other faiths (or even later Christians) dying for what they believe. The major difference is that the Christian is claiming the disciples who went willingly to their deaths would have known what they were dying for is false, if it were.

Suppose you and a group of friends decided to make up a story to get some money. You decided that you were going to pretend that a buddy had died and risen again. You managed to set up circumstances in which your buddy appeared to die; then smuggled him off to Argentina–because that’s where everyone likes to hide, apparently. Later, you ran about the streets proclaiming that you’d seen your buddy walking around. He had been risen from the dead. And, you’d tell the story for the right price. To your delight, the story spreads like wildfire. But eventually it attracts attention of the wrong kind, and people are coming to kill you. Now, suppose that you could easily get out of it alive by simply confessing you’d made up the whole story. What would you do?

Alleged explanations for the evidence for the resurrection which appeal to purported conspiracies are much like this. The disciples would have known they were lying. Thus, the fact that they willingly went to their deaths does indeed count as evidence for the truth of what they were claiming. Otherwise, one would have to claim that these people quite seriously and willingly went to their deaths for something they knew was a lie they themselves had invented.

Thus, it is not enough for the objector to simply point out that other people die for faith not infrequently. That is not the core of the apologetic argument. Instead, they must argue for the implausible notion that the disciples willingly died for what they knew was a lie. It was not something they simply thought might be a lie; it would have been something that they were certain was false.

I do not think it is too far afield to suggest that the objection fails. It seems far more likely that they certainly believed what they professed were true, and they were in the unique position of knowing whether or not they were lying. Thus, the explanation of the resurrection is more credible than the explanation of a conspiracy. There are, of course, other attempts to explain away the historical argument for the resurrection, but those are arguments for a different time.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus” by Adam English – A Seasonably Appropriate Book Review

swsc-english

In the quest for the real Santa Claus, what is discovered more often than not is that he can assume any shape. He can accommodate anyone… (191)

There are many discussions floating around about the “real” Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas. I have a bit of a side interest in the topic because I was never a believer in Santa Claus and so I’ve always been interested in the reality behind the myth. So, when I received The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus
for Christmas last year, I was excited to dive in for the season this year

Perhaps the most interesting portion of the work is English’s discussion of the historiographical difficulties related to unearthing the historical Nicholas of Myra. The difficulty with discovering the “real Santa Claus”–Saint Nicholas–is compounded by the fact that Nicholas of Myra (the Nicholas in question) is often confused with Nicholas of Sion (10; 80; 120; 174). Historical accounts of the life of Nicholas have often conflated these two persons, which means historians must extract them from each other in order to make an account of either. English confronts the possibility that Nicholas did not exist–a possibility put forth by some scholars, in fact–head-on by noting the multiple, independent sources for his life. Although Nicholas did not leave behind a legacy of his own writings, the extant evidence, argues English, is enough to acknowledge his existence as well as a historical core of stories about his life (11ff).

English does a great job of reflecting upon the apparently historical narrative while also drawing out the legends and apologetic tales which grew up around the narratives. Throughout the book, he reports a number of stories related to the life of Nicholas of Myra. He reports these stories seemingly in order of legendary development. For example, the famous story of Nicholas’ gift of gold to three women in need (about to be sold into prostitution) received more embellishment as time went on (57ff). However, English does not always do a great job of making the distinctions clear when these various types of tales are discussed. Part of this is probably due to the historiographical difficulties noted above, but it would have been nice for English to at least offer his opinion regarding the stories he related as to which he felt might be accurate as opposed to inaccurate. At some points he does, but at others he simply offers a series of increasingly surprising accounts without any commentary as to the possible historicity of the accounts.

A central part of the work focuses upon the council of Nicaea and the famous incident of Nicholas’ alleged slapping or punching of Arius or a different heretic (Arian) at the event. English argues that it is unlikely that it would have been Arius, because Arius was not a bishop and so likely would not have been present at the council itself  (101-107). Moreover, English believes that a different story, in which Nicholas reasons with an avowed Arian to change his view, is more likely the historical background for the story (107-109). Nicholas’ own place at the council is disputed, but his orthodoxy is acknowledged by all his biographers, and it is likely that he defended the orthodox position at the council itself (107ff).

Apart from his participation at Nicaea, Nicholas also, of course, performed the basic functions of a bishop, which at his time included helping to resolve issues in Myra and the surrounding area (115ff). He helped with the struggle against pagan belief and practice, and at this point some of the stories and legends of Nicholas of Sion were often intermixed with those stories of Nicholas of Myra (120-125).

English’s work also draws out the way that Nicholas of Myra has been adapted for multiple purposes and occasions. Whether this is through the adaptation of his apparently real, historical life to various theological discussions (including Aquinas) or legends which were developed to supplement his legacy and individual viewpoints, Nicholas’ story continues to have widespread appeal.

The Saint Who Would be Santa Claus is an interesting read on a compelling man. Perhaps the most interesting part is the frequent fusion of myth and legend with the historical account. Those interested in the life of the “real Santa Claus” should immediately grab the book for their collection.

Links/Source

Adam English, The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012).

Saint Nicholas- A Christian life lived, a story told- I wrote about the interplay between myth and reality in the stories about Nicholas. I wrote about how the myth of Nicholas actually bolsters the Christian worldview by pointing toward our longing for the ideal.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins” by James Stroud

phnr-stroud

…Either we will stand behind objective truth or sink into the abyss of relativism in the name of political correctness. (278)

One area Christian apologists need to explore further is the study of historiography. Historiography is, basically, the study of how to study history. It provides the framework in which one might seek truth in understanding historical facts. The way we study history will directly impact the results of historical investigation.  John Warwick Montgomery, Michael Licona, and N.T. Wright have done an excellent job integrating historiography into their approach, and there are several treatments of historiography in works on archaeology with apologetic import (K.A. Kitchen is but one example), but there remains much room for development of this essential discipline in the area of Christian evidences.

James Stroud, in his work The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins, has provided much development in this area. Historiography, he noted, touches upon a number of extremely important questions such as “What does it mean to know something?”; “How do we come to know something?”; “Can we know the past?”; “How does one study history?”; “Is there objective meaning to history…?” (30-31). He does a good job presenting some of the difficulties inherent in the study of the past, as well as providing a few possible solutions. Central to Stroud’s argument is the notion that “one’s personal philosophy and presuppositions guide.. one’s interpretation of the available data…” whether one is talking about science, history, or religion (31).

Next, Stroud turned to an analysis of positivism and academic freedom. His argument is essentially that one should not pre-commit to a “closed” philosophy of history such that one cuts off any and all debate about the presuppositions one uses to interpret history and historical sciences. The winners write the history, but they are also capable of restricting the direction research may turn (49-50). There must be a distinction between the definition of science and science in practice; that is, one should not restrict scientific study through the use of one’s presuppositions to determine what is even capable of being studied or used as a hypothesis. Instead, people should be allowed to follow the evidence where it leads, even if such a project may discover things which lie outside the accepted explanations.

It must be acknowledged that Christianity is, by its nature, a distinctly historical religion: “[T]he truth or falsity of Christianity stands or falls with individual events within history…” (69). Thus, Christianity is almost uniquely capable of being approached in such a manner as to discern its truth through historical claims.

Interestingly, Stroud did not limit his use of “philosophy of history” to the study of history. Rather, he expanded it to include origin sciences, which are, he argued, a kind of historical science themselves. Thus, he examined both the origins of the universe and the origin and diversity of life alongside the historical portions of the book. In these sections on the historical sciences, he presents the design argument both in its cosmological and biological forms.

The meat of the book, however, may be found in the exploration of human history, which comprises approximately half the book. Here, Stroud really gets into stride. One central part of his argument is that “Language, writing, civilization, and religion all seem to be in a fairly advanced stage of development [from the beginning]….” (146). Proposed solutions which argue for a gradual evolution of human culture continue to be confronted by discoveries to the contrary, such as Gobekli Tepe, which shattered preconceived notions of the history of religion (155-157). Language appears to be highly complex from the beginning, and there is little reason to think that some languages are more primitive (in the sense of development) than others (149-150). Stroud relates these points back to the expectations one might get from the biblical text and argued that the biblical text presents a plausible interpretation of such evidence (163ff).

The Flood served as one of the case studies Stroud utilized to make his point. He argued that the preponderance of evidence suggests that the biblical flood is accurate (174-177). The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 also hints at “astonishing” accuracy regarding the historical recordings in the earliest portions of the Bible. Moreover, stylistic evidence within Genesis places its date as very ancient, just as one might expect from taking the book at face value.

Yet Genesis is not the only portion of the Bible which received insight from Stroud’s analysis. The conquests recorded in Joshua have been backed up by archaeological findings. The history of David also garnered attention, and Stroud’s handling of the archaeological data is informative and concise.

The New Testament is, of course, centered around Christ, and Stroud explores the evidence for the Resurrection and the narratives related to Him. One very important point he made is that “…it must be pointed out that the… manuscripts we have for Jesus today did not start as a ‘Bible’ but were later [collected into one]… [T]o dismiss any of this manuscript evidence is in effect to dismiss the most primary sources we have on the Historical Jesus” (240). Yet even sources apart from these can account for a number historical aspects of Christian faith and practice, to the point that it becomes very difficult to reject entirely the Christian story (240ff). Stroud defended the Resurrection itself with a type of “minimal facts” argument, in which he reasoned from several largely established facts of the historical Jesus to the resurrection (248ff).

Naturalism, argued Stroud, fails to account for the historical and scientific evidences for the origins of the universe, life and its diversity, civilization, and the evidence related to the historical Jesus. One should therefore not be constricted to operating within a naturalistic paradigm when one investigates origins or history generally. An a priori rejection of the supernatural is unwarranted.

Thus far, I have shown a number of  positive portions of the book. That is not to say there are no areas of disagreement or any problems. First, Stroud’s writing style often comes across as autobiographical, which takes away from the academic feeling of the overall work. Second, there are a number of grammatical errors in the book which are sometimes quite distracting. Third, there is a tendency to overstate the case in some places, such as asserting that any discussion of evolution beyond microevolution is “100 percent speculative”  (117) or that “all scholars” in some certain field agree with some fact or another. Fourth, at points Stroud states the view of the opposition in ways that I suspect would be objectionable. One example may be found here: “[T]he vast majority of naturalists confirm that humankind did indeed share a common language…” (177) or the notion that “even the most adamant proponents of naturalism” would admit that the origin of life is unexplainable through naturalistic means with the current understanding (115). I suspect that adamant naturalists would object to this and argue that the RNA world hypothesis or some other origin-of-life scenario does, in fact, explain the origin of life.

Many of these difficulties are minor, but they tend to pull down an otherwise excellent work. It is unfortunate, because it also seems like these could all be solved by a good editor. As it stands, however, one should be careful when reading the work to be aware that in many cases one should perhaps temper the sweeping conclusions Stroud makes. In any field of study, there are rarely (if ever!) times where “all scholars” might agree on something, and the language in the book constantly implies that there are many such agreements in some of the most contentious areas of all historical or scientific studies. Although this does not throw his conclusions out the window, it does somewhat devalue the work, as one must read it with an actively cautious eye.

I don’t often (in fact, I can’t think of ever mentioning this before) discuss the cover of a book I’m reviewing, but I have to say this has what might be the coolest cover for an academic book I have seen. I mean seriously, look at it! It is awesome.

With The Philosophy of History James Stroud has provided much needed development for Christians who might want to look into the study of the methods of historical investigation to develop their own understanding of Christianity. He also applies these methods in sometimes surprising ways. I have noted a number of areas of difficulty found within the work, but it should be noted that these are comparatively minor when compared to the project as a whole. Stroud has provided some necessary development in an area of study that Christians should continue to develop. Historiography is an essential field for Christians to study and become involved in, and The Philosophy of History has provided a broad framework for others to continue the work (and hopefully for Stroud to continue, himself). It is an excellent, thought-provoking read which illumines areas of which many apologists, unfortunately, remain unaware.

Source

James Stroud, The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins (Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing, 2013).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book for review. The author only asked that readers provide feedback of any kind, including negative, in order to broaden the dialogue in this area. 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Resource Review: “Flight: The Genius of Birds”

FLIGHTBRD-1Flight: The Genius of Birds” is the latest from Illustra Media, “a non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation specializing in the production of video documentaries that examine the scientific evidence for intelligent design.” In this film, the argument is made that the complexities of avian flight present a challenge to naturalistic scenarios in which such mechanisms may have arisen.

The Complexity of Birds

The film traces the incredible development of birds from single cells into babies and the way in which their bodies must work in order to achieve flight. One of the people interviewed in the film notes that flight is not an incremental phenomenon; the entire body must be set up in order to accomplish it. The way feet work, the shape of the wing, the structure of muscles, and the weight of bones are all factors which must come into play in order to make up an animal capable of flight.

Hummingbirds

“Flight” presents a number of different birds as case studies the complexity which the systems that make up a bird show. Hummingbirds’ flight muscles comprise, on average, 43% of the bird’s body mass. This allows the birds to have an enormous amount of precision in order to move in the ways that they can, such as hovering, moving backwards, laterally, etc. The hummingbird generates lift both on the back and the front strokes of their wings. This capability is grounded in the shoulder joints found in the bones which are at the bases of the wings. The hummingbird’s heart must beat at an enormous rate, which means that it also must eat quite a bit in order to sustain the energy level required for the bird’s metabolism and constant movement. The hummingbird’s tongue is particularly interesting, for it has a number of functions on it which allow it to draw up nectar far more efficiently than had been thought.

European Starlings

These starlings, sometimes flying in groups in the hundreds of thousands, move in a stirring, beautiful way, seeming to shift as if they comprised one organism. The way that these birds continue flying without running into each other is by monitoring those starlings which are closest to each other. Rather than monitoring the entire formation, they simply move when those around them move, which lends itself to the movement of a flock as one kind of organism. Their movements must take place within very minuscule spans of time in order to maintain the formation. They follow air flows to minimize the turbulence they encounter, and their formation also serves as a defense mechanism.

Arctic Terns

Arctic terns have the longest migration of any animal on earth. They cross the planet from pole-to-pole to seek out nesting and feeding grounds. From the North Atlantic, they head south, eventually splitting as half go along the African coast while the other half goes along the coast of Brazil. In the south, near Antartica, they feast upon small fish before heading back north. They must arrive back near Greenland and other areas in the north for a nesting period of about 8 weeks. Then, as winter sets in in the north, they head back south.

How did the complexity arise?

The film here presents an argument that a materialist must use Darwinian evolution to explain the unique functions of flight. No design may be invoked in order to explain these things in a materialistic worldview. Dinosaurs were the precursors of birds, and natural selection selected for those dinosaurs which began to develop better means by which to avoid predators and catch prey.

The Feather

One feather may contain around a million individual parts, from the shaft to the individual strands, barbs, which compose the feather, and each of these are made up of barbules. These are constructed in such a way as to interlock with each other. Yet the feather is but one of the many factors which must go into the mechanisms required for flight.

Other Mechanisms

Other than those already noted (muscles, bones, etc.), birds require a navigational system which allows them to migrate and follow food. They must have instincts to cue and direct their movements across continents and even oceans. One could see how these latter functions came into play in the case study of the Arctic Terns.

Natural Selection?

The film makes the argument that natural selection cannot account for the mechanisms required for flight. The primary problem presented by “Flight” is the “lack of foresight.” Natural selection cannot look ahead and select for various factors in order to put them together into an integrated whole. The argument is that the multiple and independent functions needed in order to get a functional bird which would have some chance at survival is impossible to get to by means of a process which is blind.

Evaluation

First, I have to say that there were moments I found myself with my mouth hanging open and the gorgeous imagery in “Flight.” This was particularly the case following the starlings’ movements, the icy regions the terns flew through, and the overall imagery related to the hummingbirds.

The use of particular case studies over the middle section of the film was particularly effective at showing the problems which may come up when trying to describe certain characteristics and behaviors which birds exemplify that cannot be explained so easily by naturalistic mechanisms.

The film also did a good job of noting that there are presuppositions when it comes to the scientific enterprise. Given naturalism, neo-Darwinism is the only game in town. However, as was asked repeatedly throughout the film, if one is capable of acknowledging design and intelligence when it comes to certain things, why should one preclude the possibility of an intelligent agent when it comes to higher orders?

One problem with the film can be found in the format. It is necessarily short, making only the briefest points and only touching upon those things which it discusses. I suspect that those who hold to a naturalistic worldview will be largely unimpressed, while those who hold to the possibility of intelligent agency in biology will see it as backing their own positions. However, those who may be on the fence will see that there are reasons to ask questions.

Overall, “Flight: The Genius of Birds” is a good way to introduce the topic of intelligent design. It is a beautiful film which raises a number of questions. However, it does so in such a way as to ground these questions in very real conditions. By using case studies focused around particular birds and the problems they may present to those operating with a naturalistic worldview, “Flight” paints the debate in such a way as to allow either side to present their case for meeting the challenges head-on.

Disclosure

I was sent a copy of Flight: The Genius of Birds to review by Illustra Media. They neither asked nor required any specific type of feedback regarding the film. My thanks to Illustra Media for the opportunity to review the film. My thanks also to them for providing the above image.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Guest Post: “The Presumption of Popular Atheism” by David Glass

David Glass is the author of Atheism’s New Clothes: Exploring and Exposing the Claims of the New Atheists published by IVP/Apollos. He writes for the apologetics website ‘Saints and Sceptics’ and has a particular interest in the relationship between science and Christianity and in how evidence should be used in debates about the existence of God. He works as a lecturer in the School of Computing and Mathematics at the University of Ulster where he does research on topics at the interface between computing and philosophy.

anc-glassIn the New Atheism and related forms of popular atheism belief in God is frequently ridiculed and dismissed without any serious consideration of the arguments. Underlying this mindset is the belief that there is a quick-and-easy argument against belief in God and that as a consequence there is no need to take theism seriously. The argument is this: in the absence of evidence for God’s existence it is much more rational to disbelieve in God than it is to believe or to adopt a neutral stance. In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins makes this point by drawing on a story by Bertrand Russell. He asks us to consider how we would respond to someone who claimed that there is a teapot orbiting the sun somewhere between Earth and Mars, but which is too small to be detected by any telescope. Just because there is no way of proving that it does not exist, it does not mean that we should adopt the view that there is a 50:50 chance that it does exist. Since there is no evidence for its existence, we should believe that it does not exist or, more strictly, that its existence is very improbable. By analogy, he claims that the same applies to God.

This is a version of the presumption of atheism, the idea that the burden of proof lies with the theist to show that God exists rather than with the atheist to show that he does not. It’s important to distinguish the presumption of atheism from the claim that there is no evidence for the existence of God. In popular atheism, the two notions tend to go together with the latter point often taken for granted, but it is entirely possible to be a theist and yet embrace the presumption of atheism. Such a theist would accept the burden of proof, but claim that the burden can be met as there is plenty of evidence for God. Interestingly, it seems that the late Antony Flew, who was probably the leading advocate of the presumption of atheism in the twentieth century, eventually gave up his atheism because of the evidence for the existence of God. He still maintained, however, that the presumption of atheism was the right starting point; it’s just that the evidence for God was too convincing to ignore.

So one problem with the New Atheist approach to the presumption of atheism – what we might call the presumption of popular atheism – is that it presupposes that there is no evidence for God just as there is none for Russell’s celestial teapot. No doubt the New Atheists would claim that they have considered all the purported evidence and arguments for the existence of God, but their discussions of these topics leave a lot to be desired and are generally considered to be the weakest part of their attack on religious belief. Furthermore, their approach to the presumption of atheism seems to distort their views on what would constitute evidence for God. To take one example, does the fine-tuning of physical constants and other features of the universe constitute evidence for God? Dawkins is not impressed with the anthropic principle response to fine-tuning, the idea that we shouldn’t be surprised by the fine-tuning because we wouldn’t be here to talk about it in the absence of fine-tuning. For Dawkins, an explanation is required and so he appeals to a multiverse, the idea that our universe is only one of many. He doesn’t seem overly impressed with multiverse explanations of fine-tuning either, but he finds them preferable to design. Why? Because God is so improbable that he cannot be considered as an explanation for fine-tuning.

Notice the logic of the argument. Dawkins believes he has a good reason for adopting the presumption of atheism and hence assigning a very low probability to God. (We’ll come back to his argument for this in a moment.) He then uses this same belief to justify ruling God out as an explanation for fine-tuning and so he rejects the idea that fine-tuning can provide evidence for God.[1] In other words, his views about the presumption of atheism have determined whether fine-tuning constitutes evidence for God.

Setting aside the problems with the New Atheists’ hasty dismissal of evidence for God, what about the presumption of atheism itself? Let’s take the analogy between God and the celestial teapot. Clearly, God is not like a teapot orbiting the sun! The teapot would be just another object in the universe, admittedly a very odd one, but it would not help us to make sense of anything else. By contrast, as the Creator of the universe, God would be the most important being to exist. God would provide the ultimate reason for the universe itself, for the order within it and for our existence. As Dawkins himself points out:

a universe with a supernaturally intelligent creator is a very different kind of universe from one without. The difference between the two hypothetical universes could hardly be more fundamental in principle, even if it is not easy to test in practice.[2]

The same could hardly be said for a teapot! For this reason, the hypothesis of theism cannot be dismissed in the same way as the hypothesis of the celestial teapot.

Dawkins does not merely appeal to an analogy with the celestial teapot, but provides an argument based on organized complexity to support his contention that God’s existence is highly improbable. Unfortunately for Dawkins, this argument fails for multiple reasons, the most obvious of which is that there is no good reason to think that God would possess the kind of organized complexity required for Dawkins’ argument to work.[3]

So Dawkins and the other New Atheists have given us no good reason to embrace the presumption of atheism. And they can’t expect the rest of us to embrace it just because it is intuitively appealing to them. As atheists have generally recognized, there can be no presumption of the presumption of atheism. If it is to be embraced, a good reason is needed yet none has been provided.

In summary, the idea in popular atheism that there is an easy way to dismiss belief in God based on a presumption of atheism and the claim that there is no evidence for God does not stand up to scrutiny. If the case for God’s existence is to be evaluated seriously, presumptions and analogies with teapots are not much help.


[1] I’ll set aside the question of whether there are other good responses to fine-tuning. Here I’m only concerned with the logic of Dawkins’ argument. Interestingly, even in the context of biology, he makes use of this dubious argument.

[2] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam, 2006), p. 58.

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