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“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 2- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part II

We left off last time with Alexander Campbell having just outlined his own project for the defense of Christianity, which shows a number of arguments that are different from those used today in apologetics. But one argument worth highlighting is where he charges Owen’s position with having to essentially undermine all human testimony. Campbell here is alluding to the position of Owen and many people today that only that which is able to be experienced by direct sense perception is credible. But if true, Campbell charges, it follows that:

To complete the process of degradation, [humans are] to be taught that [they] ha[ve] no faculty, or power of learning or knowing any thing but by
[their] senses , or that [they] can receive no certain information from the testimony of [their] ancestors.
…That all the information which is traditional or handed down, is false and incredible. (page 18 of the edition linked)

In other words, if we truly affirm that only that which can be perceived is to be believed, all human testimony, all tradition, all knowledge handed down is false–or at least, ought to be doubted. This is a point which persists to this day when speaking of Christianity and atheism. Often, the position is taken that only scientific knowledge is verifiable or trustworthy. But if that’s the case, it would mean that every person is an island of ignorance. After all, it is impossible for one person to even begin to scientifically test every single discovery for themselves. Simply having someone tell them how gravity works, about the Big Bang, or the like would entail believing testimony as opposed to that which one has tested oneself. Humans, in other words, must believe testimony whether we like it or not.

Owen then, rises and offers his own principles. First, that “truth is always consistent with itself.” Second, that “No name or authority, whatever may be its nature, can change truth into falsehood or falsehood into truth, or can, in any way, make that which is true to be false, or that which is false to be true” (20). Astute readers may jump ahead and try to guess where Owen plans to take these axioms in his attack on Christian faith. For now, Owen’s own words are enlightening.

After noting that humanity is spread about all kinds of different places, Owen notes the necessity, then, for humans to have gained knowledge in their own locales. These introduce prejudices and assumptions based on one’s own perspective which Owen charges we ought to try to remove–a quest for universally verifiable facts (21). Here is where Owen approaches the meat of his early argument:

In furtherance of this mighty change in the destinies of mankind, I am now to prove “that all the religions of the world have originated in error; that they are directly opposed to the divine unchanging laws of human nature; that they are necessarily the source of vice, disunion, and misery; that they are now the only obstacle to the formation of a society, over the earth, of intelligence, of charity in its most extended sense,and of sincerity and affection. And that these district religions can be no longer maintained in any part of the world, except by keeping the mass of the people in ignorance of their own nature, by an increase of the tyranny of the few over the many.” (21)

It would be easy to simply dismiss these lofty claims as impossible for Owen to prove, but if we are seeking truth it is important to examine the arguments even of those with whom we disagree. Tucked in between these assertions of Owen, some of which he will argue for at length, are some hints as to how Christians were perceived in his own time–as well as our own–along with some truly challenging questions about Christianity specifically. There are, after all, many religions in the world. If we agree with Owen’s claims that these cannot contradict each other and that no testimony may make that which is false true, then we must account for the great many divergent beliefs about the ultimate reality in our universe. Additionally, the notion that all religions lead to vice, disunion, and misery is often countered by ways religion has benefited the world. Historically, it is important to see that this debate took place on the soil of the United States and was published in 1829. During this time, there were Christian ministers explicitly arguing in favor of slavery and even of slaves needing to submit to the cruelest forms of punishments of their masters, using the Bible to back their claims. The charges against Christianity are not always easily answered by argument; Owen’s arguments show that practice is just as important as beliefs.

Owen then launches into a series of points to establish the accidents of birth in time and location of every human being. No one can determine when they’re born, where they’re born, what their parents believe, or anything of the sort (22-23). After that, he argues about how characters are developed with some questionable generalizations about psychology and child rearing. Owen then argues from all of this that no one can determine their own character or beliefs. From there, Owen argues that the origins of all human religions have come from the most ignorant and darkest of all times, and so they ought to be rejected as ideas which, due to their accident of circumstance having been formed in the worst of times, will not yield the greatest good for the most people (26-27). It’s important to note throughout these arguments of Owen’s where assumptions are made or stated without argument. For example, he says:

doctrines and fables could not, at first, be received, except through force, fraud, or ignorance, they have been the cause of shedding the blood of the most conscientious and best men in all  countries, of deluging the world with all manner of crime, and in producing all kinds of suffering and misery. (27)

But Owen has certainly not established that all “doctrines” were first established through force, fraud or ignorance. He’s playing to the audience here, and it is important to note that. He goes on to assert that all “fables and doctrines” lead to poverty or fear of it, ignorance, and many more ills (27-29). Moreover, it is only by historical accident that his audience, Owen charges, are teaching their children Christianity rather than any other belief system (29).

We’ll leave off here for now, anticipating Campbell’s response, beginning on page 30.

Questions

  1. What do you think of Campbell’s points regarding sense perception and testimony?
  2. Is there anything objectionable in Owen’s two principles on page 20?
  3. How can we as apologists witness to others not merely with sound arguments, but with actions that show Christianity is worthy of consideration?
  4. What do you think about the way Owen is using historical accidents of birth as the backbone of argument so far? How might such arguments be answered?

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!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

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.

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“Debate on the Evidences for Christianity” – Alexander Campbell vs. Robert Owen (1829) Part 1- Historical Apologetics Debates

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866)

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was a Scots-Irish immigrant in the United States who debated Christianity with a few well-known skeptics. One of his best known debates was with Robert Owen (1771-1858), who argued in favor of agnosticism. This debate was published as “Debate on the Evidences of Christianity” (1829, see link for download). Here, will look at what answers Campbell gave and where his arguments might have been improved. Owen was a fine opponent whom Campbell himself acknowledged as a worthy scholar.

Debate on the Evidences for Christianity Part I

The debate begins with a rather lengthy back-and-forth in which Owen and Campbell confirm and re-affirm their desire to meet and discuss the evidences of Christianity. Yet even in Campbell’s opening response to Owen’s request for a confirmation of the reasons for the debate, Campbell begins to offer an apology. He states:

Why, then, do you say, apologize for bringing this subject into public debate? Because, in so doing, we may appear to concede that it is yet an undecided question sub judice [under judicial hearing/review]; or, at least, that its opponents have some good reason for withholding their assent to its truth, and their consent to its requirements. Neither of which we are, at this time, prepared to admit. (12-13)

In other words, Campbell apologizes to his audience for giving the possibility of putting “God in the dock,” as the older phrase goes. But Campbell notes that Christians are to always have a reason and be prepared to defend their faith, so he presses on in his defense of Christianity.

Campbell then turns to the question of why skepticism is on the rise, a certainly on-point question in our own world. He argues that:

However this may be, for here we would not be dogmatical, we are assured that the progress of scepticism is neither owing to the weakness nor the paucity of the evidences of Christianity ; but to a profession of it unauthorized by, and incompatible with, the [C]hristian scriptures. (14)

Campbell’s reasoning, then, is that skepticism is on the rise not because the arguments and evidence for Christianity is poor, but instead because those who profess Christianity are themselves hypocritical and live unChristian lives.

Then, Campbell states some of the positions he believes his opponent will be force to hold, like holding that humans are no more moral than bees. He also outlines how he would defend Christianity. Namely, he would start by arguing for the truth of revealed religion, then move to show historical evidence, then show the divine origin of Christianity, and finally try to show from the “actual condition of the world” and prophecies that Christianity is from the Creator (18).

The outline he gives on page 18 is particularly interesting for those interested in historical apologetics because it shows how arguments can go in and out of fashion over time. This is evident when one reads several works on the Deist Controversy, but also when one reads older works in general, one finds several arguments people of the time thought were interesting or compelling that we have little interest in. The same could be said in reverse–it is unlikely that some of the arguments modern apologists write about would find much sway in the 1800s. Cultural norms and expectations go into an apologetic just as much as do other factors.

For now, we’ll leave off here, awaiting Owen’s response to Campbell in this first part of the debate.

Questions

  1. Do you think it would be possible to prove the divine origin of something? If so, how?
  2. What do you think of Campbell’s presentation of Owen’s position?
  3. Do you think that professing Christians today harm the witness of Christ? How might an apologist approach such a question?

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!

Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).

Dead Apologists Society– A page for Christians interested in the works of historical apologetics. There is also a Facebook group for it.

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.

 

 

“What’s Behind it All?” Debate Review: Lawrence Krauss vs. Stephen Meyer vs. Denis Lamoureux

The official image for the debate. I use it under fair use.

The official image for the debate. I use it under fair use.

A debate on the topic of God, science, and the universe; “What’s Behind it All?” was had at Wycliffe College in Toronto, Canada. The speakers were physicist Lawrence Krauss, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, and biologist and theologian Denis Lamoureux. Meyer and Lamoureux are Christians, but differ on evolution. Lamoureux holds to theistic evolution/evolutionary creation, while Meyer advocates Intelligent Design theory. Krauss is an atheist. Here, I will sum up different parts of the debate, then offer some analysis. I skip over the roundtable discussion. It should be noted Meyer was visibly suffering from a migraine and at points had great difficulty throughout the debate due to the impact of this migraine.

Lawrence Krauss Introduction

Krauss took a good amount of time at the beginning of his introduction to “disparage” (his word) Stephen Meyer. He took time to specifically insult Meyer and others who hold to Intelligent Design.

After these remarks, Krauss went over a number of slides showing the evidence for how the universe is laid out, finally asserting that “nothing” makes energy flat. By nothing, he meant dark matter and other forms of nothing (again, according to his ). “Empty space, with nothing in it, can start to produce particles.” According to a slide he showed right after saying this, “Gravity plus quantum mechanics allows space (and possibly time) to appear from nothing.” There were no causal relations before the Big Bang, and so there was nothing to cause anything. “Classical notions of cause and effect may go out the window,” Krauss claims, due to this.

“Life is fine-tuned for the universe” rather than the universe being fine-tuned for life. Life adapts to the universe, and it is natural selection that leads to life being what it is.

Ultimately, “us [sic] and ultimately everything in the universe” is irrelevant, according to Krauss.

Stephen Meyer Introduction

Meyer notes that Krauss didn’t even critique the theory of intelligent design, because he never even explained what it was. To engage with an idea, one has to at least explain what that idea is. Meyer notes that he is defending a theistic view of science rather than a materialistic view of science.

Meyer then presented an overview of the biological argument for intelligent design, noting that DNA is a kind of information conveyance mechanism. The origin of information, then, is the difficulty that materialists are faced with. DNA information provides functional information. From an evolutionary point of view, Meyer argues, this is difficult to explain, because the number of functional arrangements of this information is vastly outweighed by the number of non-functional arrangements.

After this lengthy presentation on ID theory from a biological perspective, presented further positive evidence for ID theory alongside a few papers he cited that critique the theory. He noted that the objections fail, and that the evidence is powerful enough to show that ID theory must be taken seriously as a theory. Information, that is, relies upon mind in order to be generated. Then he surveyed a number of origin of life scenarios and noted significant problems with each.

Denis Lamoureux Introduction

There is a false dichotomy in these discussions, argued Lamoureux. One side is presented as being science, evolution, and atheism; the other is presented as being God, miracles, and the Bible. Lamoureux noted that he walks the line between these, arguing that evidence for biological evolution is overwhelming and that there is no debate whatsoever on it while also believing in the inspiration of the Bible.

The problem of intermediary fossils is often plugged in with a “God of the gaps.” Lamoureux cites the difference between Sharks and boney fish as an area where the transitional fossil was thought to be missing, but then a fish without a jaw was found that would be an intermediary between the two (an earlier fossil that could lead to both). Thus, the gaps that we have, argued Lamoureux, are best explained for evolution as gaps in knowledge, not an area to import God or design. Missing fossils may require us to wait for hundreds of years to find anything, but we keep plugging the gaps.

Lamoureux appealed to the notion of teleology- purpose vs. the notion of dysteleology – that there is no purpose. Culturally, people tend to think of evolution as being dysteleological and creation as teleological, but these present yet another false dichotomy. Instead, teleology with evolution is possible. He argued that natural processes like embryology is still seen as teleology, despite the fact that we know how the development continues through the stages. That is, teleology is not thrown out by knowing how it all works. Therefore, Lamoureux argued that we can hold to evolution and teleology, a view he calls Evolutionary Creation (commonly called theistic evolution). Rather than appealing to specific examples of design, this view sees creation as artistry and all of creation pointing to the creator, despite our capacity to explain it. He continued to cite Charles Darwin quotations from late in life showing that he also agreed that theism is compatible with evolution.

Lamoureux argued that concordism- the notion that the Bible and science correspond specifically- is mistaken. The Bible, he said, reflects an ancient cosmology, and argued that we have to read ancient texts in the context in which they were written.

Meyer Response

ID is not a “god of the gaps” argument. Rather, the form of the argument presented is an inference to the best explanation. We make this kind of inference all the time. Meyer argued that the a priori ruling out of intelligence for certain kinds of causes and effects means that you will miss evidence. Rather than assume it impossible, we ought to follow the evidence where it leads.

Lamoureux Response

Meyer’s theory relies on things that we can ultimately disprove, and he noted one aspect of the Cambrian Explosion that Meyer tries to use, but has been shown to have an evolutionary path.

Krauss’s science is pretty good, but he delves into metaphysics frequently and does so poorly. Krauss’s notion of a universe out of nothing is not really out of nothing, and other physicists note that Krauss is mistaken regarding the definition of “nothing.”

Krauss Response

DNA is not the first form of life, and pointing to the most complex forms possible fails to take science seriously. An RNA world is the most likely origin of life scenario. RNA could be naturally formed, and although we don’t know the answer yet, we could find it.

Lamoureux’s position is untenable because he basically just says the Bible is scientifically garbage and then says we should follow it. The Bible, he argues, is the most immoral document he’s ever seen.

Analysis

First, the decision made by Krauss to start the debate with personal attacks on Meyer is inexcusable. Time and again, Krauss has proven himself incapable of mature conversation. To be fair to him, he did try to help Meyer with his difficulty getting his powerpoint set up later, and also at least acknowledged some of the difficulty Meyer was having with a migraine, but the fact he made the conscious decision to begin a debate with personal attacks shows his character.

Krauss continues to make up whatever definition of “nothing” suits him at the moment. If it is convenient for “nothing” to refer to dark matter, then nothing is dark matter. If “nothing” needs to be used as empty space, then nothing is empty space. He doesn’t just move goal posts, he simply carries them around, dropping them wherever he sees fit. To claim that gravity and quantum mechanics can make a universe come out of nothing is so nonsensical, it hardly warrants comment. After all, what are gravity and quantum mechanics? If Krauss is to be believed, they are nothing. But of course he isn’t using the term in any restrictive sense, because he is just using “nothing” to refer to anything whatever. For Krauss, “nothing” is something. Why? Because he says so.

It’s difficult to analyze the theory of ID in this format, because the debate is ongoing and the reasoning complex. Moreover, Meyer’s difficulty with his migraine at points meant he had to skip over explanations and examples. I believe that Lamoureux in particular offered some strong critique, particularly in his notation of the way that transitional forms continue to be found. Moreover, Lamoureux was able to show that at least one specific example used by Meyer has been shown to be mistaken. However, Meyer’s presentation does raise questions about the origin of information and its use. In the roundtable discussion, Krauss, Meyer, and Lamoureux all got into it regarding whether Meyer’s analysis presents an accurate view of evolution. Lamoureux argued it did not because Meyer approaches the question like an engineer, expecting specific mathematical permutations; but he said that evolution does not work that way. Krauss noted that natural selection removes much of the randomness of evolution, thus undercutting some of the math in Meyer’s view. Ultimately, the debate over ID will almost certainly continue, and I can’t help but feel that Meyer would have made a better showing without the migraine. He did a wonderful job despite it, and largely held his own.

Lamoureux’s position has much to commend it, particularly because he doesn’t demand a kind of reading of the Bible as a science text. However, I wonder whether Krauss’s critique is forceful: that Lamoureux effectively tosses the Bible and what it says about the natural world out, but then expects it to be believed on other aspects. Of course, Krauss quickly demonstrated a complete lack of nuance with reading of the Bible, but his point ought not be dismissed too swiftly. Can Lamoureux offer a way of reading the Bible that reconciles this seeming incongruity? Meyer’s position allows for God to be active in the world, without appealing to the notion of artistry as a way to show God’s activity. Does this show Meyer’s position is superior?

As an aside, I’d like to commend Lamoureux for using gender neutral language repeatedly in his presentation. Even when quoting Darwin at points, where Darwin used the archaic “man” to refer to humans, Lamoureux read the quotes as “men and women.” I believe he did the same in a Billy Graham quote, though I didn’t catch if the original also said “men.”

“The universe doesn’t care about us.” Quoted from Krauss in this debate, this is the summary of his worldview. Of course, his worldview does not matter, if he’s right. If he’s right, then there is no purpose for even having this debate. And that, perhaps, is what we should take away from this debate. On a worldview level, Krauss offers nothing (har har) to go on. The interesting debate, then, is whether Meyer or Lamoureux are correct.

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!

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.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate– In-depth coverage and analysis of the famous debate between young earth creationist Ken Ham and Bill Nye the science guy.

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.

Sunday Quote!- On Theological Controversies from John Newton

newton-reinke

Every 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!

On Theological Controversies- From John Newton

I recently finished reading Newton on the Christian Life (see my review here), a book about John Newton’s pastoral theology. John Newton worked on slave ships but after his conversion worked to help end slavery in the British Empire. His pastoral theology had great depth, as evidenced in this quote on theological controversies, published in a newspaper during a particularly bitter debate between Arminians and Calvinists:

[B]efore you engage in debate, you must take heed of your opponent. He is an eternal creature. If he is not a Christian… he warrants your deepest pity, kindness, and prayers… If, however, your theological opponent is a genuine Christian, think about your future together in heaven.” (Kindle Location 5460, cited below)

Think about that for a moment. Your “debate opponent” will be together with you in heaven forever. This isn’t someone you can hide comfortably from behind a keyboard. You’ll meet one way or another. How do you think you should treat this child of God?

But that’s not all. Newton’s advice applies even moreso if the debate is against someone who is not a Christian, for they “warrant… your deepest pity, kindness, and prayers.” What kind of Christians are we if our theological debates drive people away from Christ (another theme in Newton’s pastoral theology)?

We should keep in mind Newton’s advice as we engage others; all of whom bear the image of God.

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!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Tony Reinke, Newton on the Christian Life (Downers Grove, IL: Crossway, 2015).

SDG.

Debate Overview: Pro-Life Incrementalism vs. “Abolitionist Immediatism” – Gregg Cunningham vs. T. Russell Hunter

I do not take credit for this image and use it under fair use.

I do not take credit for this image and use it under fair use.

I’ve been looking forward to this one, folks. Here we have a debate between Gregg Cunningham and T. Russell Hunter on “Pro-Life Incrementalism vs. Abolitionist Immediatism.” T. Russell Hunter, a member of the group “Abolish Human Abortion,” argued for “Abolitionist Immediatism,” which is effectively the position that we must only work for the immediate ban of abortion. He issued a challenge to so-called “pro-life incrementalists”–those who would allow for “gradual” steps to legislate abortion (i.e. banning abortions for gender selection, etc.)–to debate the topic. Gregg Cunningham, Executive Director of the Center for Bioethical Reform, took up the challenge.

I took the time to watch and reflect on this lengthy debate. Here, I provide an overview of the debate with summaries of the statements made throughout [I do not summarize the Q+A session]. My next post on this debate will be a commentary on the debate itself and the arguments presented therein. Here, I will stick as closely as I can the arguments as they are presented. I will not offer analysis of the arguments in this post. In my next post on this debate, I will go over many of the arguments found herein and offer reflections on the debate.

I’d love to read your thoughts on the debate. You can watch the debate here.

Hunter Opening

The debate between incrementalism and immediatism is ancient. It is ultimately a debate between “God has said” and “Did God really say?” [He quotes this.] Immediatism is not suggesting that something happens overnight, but is rather the working towards immediate action. American abolitionists against slavery were immediatists–they believed that slaves ought to be instantly set free. These immediatist abolitionist saw any incremental solution to slavery as something that would prolong the institution of slavery and opposed it entirely. They saw slavery as a national sin and the nation needed to immediately repent of the institution of slavery.

After citing a few abolitionists, Hunter argues that Wilberforce was an immediatist, not a gradualist as many pro-life incrementalists have argued. Total abolition, according to Wilberforce, is the only acceptable solution to slavery. Any delay allowing slavery to continue for even an hour undermines the notion that slavery is sin. Martin Luther King Jr. was also an immediatist and argued for the immediate ending of segregation and racial injustice.

Ultimately, the call for the immediate repentance and the doctrine of immediatism is found in the biblical prophets (Isaiah 1:16-17 among others).

Cunningham Opening

We [at the Center for Bioethical Reform] are moral immediatists but strategic and tactical incrementalists. This is not because the desire is only for incremental legislation, but because strategically it works. Hunter’s position presupposes that the pro-life movement has the power to end abortion right now but chooses not to. Strategically, we should work to save every baby by passing every law that the courts and public will allow.

Hunter’s position includes a number of factually incorrect statements. The pro-life position is not losing the battle over abortion. The pro-life position is not eager to compromise, nor is it comfortable with the current status. Hunter’s approach suggests that he is the only one praying; but the pro-life movement prays, but also works to pass every law to save every baby possible in the here-and-now. Peer-reviewed study shows that legislation that restricts or regulates abortion are saving babies’ lives. Abortion rate is falling in states in which funding is cut off, parental or other requirements are in written law, and the like. We can save those babies these laws save en route to abolishing abortion.

Pro-life lawmakers have put their seats on the line to try to draft pro-life legislation, and they have lost their positions due to their own pro-life views. Yet they have been proven to be effective–these laws save lives. Again, Cunningham asserted that we may be absolutists morally, but strategically must be incrementalists because that saves lives now.

Sometimes we need to compromise on our laws in order to get them passed and save lives now. (He uses an example of the rape exception clause and his own use of the rape exception clause in order to prevent Planned Parenthood from defining the clause, thus saving lives by making it as narrow as possible.) Years later, the evidence showed that not one abortion had happened with a rape exception clause, and this saved babies lives immediately, despite Cunningham himself being against rape exceptions.

Hunter is mistaken on William Wilberforce, who was a moral absolutist, but a strategic incrementalist. Wilberforce started off fighting the slave trade rather than directly abolishing slavery, and this demonstrated that he was out to save lives and end as much slavery as he could. Legislation Wilberforce supported forced slave ships to be redesigned and worked to put laws through that restricted the ports slave ships could use, etc. He worked incrementally to restrict and slow down slavery through slave trade as much as possible.

Hunter Rebuttal

Wilberforce did not author the bills that attacked the slave trade. He only sometimes voted for them and “often ridiculed” them.

There is no talking about abortion without talking about it as a spiritual issue. “Secular people need to hear that abortion is sin also.” It is people’s hatred of God which leads them to abortion. To modify bills to get them passed by including compromises regarding restrictions is “writing an iniquitous decree to pervert justice.” Every child who is aborted is an image bearer of God and one of our neighbors.

Making an occasion for sin allows it to grow. Through incremental legislation, abortion is perpetuated. When bans are placed on things like partial birth abortion, it is an attack on method, not on abortion itself. Thus, inevitably abortion methods will change and the banned method will end, but abortions will continue. Whenever one method is ended, another method takes precedence and abortion continues. Partial birth abortions are morally equivalent to any earlier abortion, and when we work to make things like that illegal, abortion continues and people focus on things like partial birth abortion rather than abortion at large.

Cunningham Rebuttal

The inescapable conclusion of Hunter’s argument is that until we can outlaw abortion, we should be utterly indifferent to the slaughter of the babies that we can save now. Instead, we should be committed to saving every baby that we can now. While we move towards the goal of ending all abortion, we should not allow those babies we can save to die.

Wilberforce gave a speech to Parliament in which he advocated paying compensation to slave owners for their freed slaves weeks before his death. He did this because he didn’t have the votes to get abolition without compensation. This was a strategic move, not indicative of the moral absolute of ending slavery now.

Hunter’s argument that pro-life incrementalists imply that abortion is okay when they try to regulate abortion is absurd on its face. It is not as though by saving a baby because dismemberment laws were passed, someone is then advocating the position that abortion that is not dismemberment is suddenly okay. Incremental legislation saves and changes what it can when it can; it does not at all imply that the whole system is acceptable.

Hunter criticizes those who spend times fundraising, but the very images he uses that show abortions would have been impossible without fundraising and the professionals who take the photographs and obtain the images.

Cross Examination

[I do not type up every question and answer in these Cross-Exam portions.]

Cunningham: Hunter is critical of pro-life people working with secular people and the like in order to try to end abortion. If, hypothetically, your child falls into a swimming pool, would you quiz the paramedics about their worldview before letting them resuscitate your child?
Hunter: I would want them to resuscitate my child. That’s a straw man. When we fight evils, we do need to fight them on God’s terms. If we want the power of God on our side, we should not join hands with a “God-hating worldview” because secular worldviews are the very things that make abortions possible. Making strategies with people who adopt the worldview that allows for abortion perpetuates abortion.

Cunningham: I’m not the one who decides what the limits are on legal restraints for abortion. The public decides what the restraints are by what they will allow and vote for. Hunter’s position suggests that pro-life advocates have the power to end abortion now and choose not to do it. This is mistaken because attempts to end all abortion immediately continue to fail to be voted in.
Hunter: I would not put a bill forward to begin with.
Cunningham: Do you care about the lives of the babies?
Hunter: Yes.
Cunningham: Then why do you suggest we shouldn’t vote for legislation that saves these babies lives?
Hunter: Children are not increments.
Cunningham: We can do both.

Cunningham: Why can we not work to save babies through incremental legislation while working to end abortion entirely?
Hunter: You can do both as long as you don’t undermine the whole project. The rape exception is always brought up. People begin to believe that murdering children is okay if exceptions are in place.

Cunningham: Do you understand the difference between a moral immediatist (with strategic incrementalism) and pure incrementalism or compromise?
Hunter: Yes.
Cunningham: Why do you insist on conflating the two?
Hunter: Because if you undermine your own immediatism, you are what the word of God says someone who perverts justice.

Cunningham: Should we allow these babies to die rather than enact incremental legislation? [This is a key portion of the debate. See the transcript of this entire question and answer here.]
Hunter: Abortion is evil and it is one of the things that the powers and principalities of darkness endorse. If they can keep abortion going by deceiving people into becoming gradualists, then that will be allowed.
Cunningham: Let’s be both [incrementalists and immediatists]. Let’s be both.

Hunter: Is it that you don’t want to deal with immediatism, or do you just want to avoid the conversation about immediatism?
Cunningham: I’m determined to save that baby [through incremental legislation], and that’s an immediate kind of thing. We can be both immediatists and incrementalists. It is a false dilemma.
Hunter: Do you believe we have to fight abortion as abortion and sin?
Cunningham: We have to use clauses which the courts will allow because they strike down legislation that is complete ending of abortion.

Hunter: How do you do “both” [immediatism/incrementalism]?
Cunningham: The way people have continually done both. We can talk about abortion as sin and as a human rights violation, while working to end as much of it as we can. It does not have to be either/or. Hunter tends to be binary without justification.

Hunter: Do you think the church is doing enough to work against abortion and do you think that incremental bills encourage apathy?
Cunningham: The church is not doing enough and we are not educating our pastors enough to combat abortion.
Hunter: I see apathy tied into incremental legislation because when I ask pastors to help and go to abortion clinics and the like, I hear them cite their support of incremental legislation.
Cunningham: The reason for this is because the pastors are poorly trained.

Hunter: Do you think that people are more likely to oppose abortion if we convert them? Do you think it is a wise strategy to deal differently with secularists and Christians?
Cunningham: We don’t know who believes what. It is not either/or. We make sure both sets of people here both sets of argument, including getting the opportunity to share faith in Christ.
Hunter: I have e-mails from you saying you bring different displays to Christian schools and state schools. Do you think it is folly to try to call the nation to repent of abortion?
Cunningham: We should work to make every argument we can make to save the life of every baby whose life is imperiled, and this includes passing every law we can pass now to save every baby we can.

Hunter Closing

Isaiah 30 (reads). Pro-life incrementalists are like the Israelites running to Egypt instead of God. People, instead of trusting in the word of God and going into conflict with the people of the age, go and look at the laws to see what they can get within the current federal ruling. We must cut down the tree itself rather than the branches. Incrementalism is not in the Bible. It is not in the historical record. If you believe and trust in God, then you would be an immediatist.

Cunningham Closing

We don’t have to do either immediatism or incrementalism, we can do both. Hunter doesn’t find incrementalism in the Bible, but it is in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 3 shows that God reveals revelation incrementally. Mark 10 shows that the Law was incrementally revealed over time regarding divorce laws, which became much more restrictive over time, working with people over time. Regarding the temple tax, Jesus saw that he did not owe the temple tax, but he paid it anyway in order to compromise and pick the battles. It is possible to save babies incrementally and not do so to the exclusion of trying to save all the babies. Hunter’s position does not save babies now. The position does not allow for the love of Christ.

Conclusion

I will be offering analysis of this debate in a coming blog post. Please feel free to comment yourself on what you think of the debate and the arguments put forward therein here (and on the future post as well).

Links

Debate Between Gregg Cunningham and T. Russell Hunter– Scott Klusendorf, a major pro-life speaker and author, offers his reflections on this debate. He also has links to some other analyses.

Is it Wrong to pass incremental pro-life laws?– Here is a snip of the debate from the cross examination portion in which T. Russell Hunter is challenged on whether he would choose to save lives with incrementalism or let babies die for the sake of immediatism.

Debate: Pro-Life Incrementalism vs. Abolitionist Immediatism– a link to the debate.

The image used in this blog is not mine and I do not claim rights. I use it under fair use.

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.

“Is Faith a False Epistemology?”- Debate Review: Tim McGrew vs. Peter Boghossian

question-week2Peter Boghossian, whose recently wrote a book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, recently met with Tim McGrew in a debate on the Unbelievable? radio program. Here, we’ll take a look at the debate and what we might conclude from it. The Unbelievable? show is set up like a moderated dialogue, and Justin Brierly often asks thoughtful questions throughout the dialogue. Unless otherwise noted, anything in quotation marks are the exact words of the speakers.

McGrew Opening

McGrew notes that he went into epistemology and philosophy of science due to his interest in evidence for his faith. He shares his chagrin that there doesn’t seem to be any “trickle down” from academic arguments about the faith into internet debates–though he tongue-in-cheek noted that it is “surprising” that someone on the internet might be wrong. He notes that philosophy of religion has given many different reasons to think that faith is grounded in evidence and good reasons to think Christianity is true.

Boghossian Opening 

Boghossian notes his movement of “street epistemology” is not about evangelizing for atheism but rather a call to people to think more rationally. He says he wanted to write a book which was aimed at the kind of conversations people have on the street. Developed theology, he says, is “purposeful obfuscation” which has no respect for. Brierly asked Boghossian what, in his view, would believers reaction be when challenged on their thinking, to which Boghossian answered that people would be “disabused of… superstitions” and must be more careful with how they use the word “faith.” He sees people leaving their faith as a consequence of reasoning. His book, he says, is a way to equip people to dialogue about faith without being uncivil.

Dialogue Highlights

McGrew

McGrew states that Boghossian is defining terms in “irregular ways,” particularly the definition of “faith.” He states that he knows of no one outside of Boghossian and those he has encouraged, who defines faith as “pretending to know things you don’t know” (this is the actual definition Boghossian provides for the word “faith”).

Boghossian

The primary definition of “faith” should instead be seen as “belief without evidence.” He says he’s focused on how people use the word faith as opposed to dealing with definitions. He states that this is how “literally billions” of people define faith (belief without evidence). “Pretending to know what you don’t know” is “a very valid” definition of faith, though “belief without evidence” is to be seen as the primary definition.

McGrew

The vast majority of people do not use faith to mean belief without evidence. Even atheists like “The Good Atheist” are opposed to Boghossian’s definition of faith.

Boghossian

I’m concerned with how “people actually use terms.” When people use the term “faith” they mean there is confidence over and above the value of the evidence. Prominent Christians also use the word “faith” to mean belief without evidence.

McGrew

Boghossian has already changed his definition of faith by now saying that “faith” means “belief with confidence above that which is allowed by the evidence” (paraphrase). These definitions are not the same as belief without evidence. Well below 1% use faith in that same fashion. There may be different conceptions of what counts as evidence, but this does not mean that people think they are believing without evidence.

Faith should be defined as “trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true in the face of  difficulties.” McGrew uses an example of a parachute: one who is going skydiving may be apprehensive about jumping out of a plane despite knowing that the vast majority of people make the ground alive when they go skydiving. One can know all of this evidence, but can still say they have “faith” that their instructor packed the parachute correctly. There is a distinction between hope and faith.

Boghossian

People use faith and hope as synonyms, but they are not. But where “does evidence stop and faith take over?”

McGrew

Putting it that way prejudices the outcome of the question, because it puts the question in such a way that faith has to “sometimes make up” evidence for action or belief. But when we act, we are not acting on percentages but rather we are acting or trusting in something on the basis of the evidence we have, despite not having complete certainty.

religious-symbolsBrierly

Justin Brierly eventually cut in and moved to refocus the conversation around Boghossian’s claims that faith should be seen as a mental illness, complete with entire institutions devoted to treating faith as a disease and working towards “interventions” to move people away from faith. Brierly was quoting from Boghossian’s book in this section, and he asked Boghossian to expand on this.

Boghossian

It is “very unfair” to say that I target the Christian faith. “I am deeply hostile to all faiths… My attempt isn’t to demean anybody.” Religions should be seen as possible mental illness, and to exclude faith from treatment as a mental illness is hampering science. Faith “hijacks the thinking process… We need to help people through these delusions they have.”

McGrew

There still seems to be no point of agreement. To define faith in this manner is to “reduce disagreement to derision.” By defining faith as belief without evidence, Boghossian has derided people of faith. Essentially, the definition is propaganda: defining faith as inferior by default and so demeaning those people of faith.

Boghossian

When people have conversations with people of faith, they should not have a one-on-one conversation with name calling. The advocating of putting religion on the DSM (a manual for diagnosing various mental disorders) is not connected with everyday conversation and is so not insulting.

McGrew

Boghossian’s overall body of work defines faith in a way which is demeaning: “pretending to know what you don’t know.” If this is the strategy, this is like “newspeak” in 1984 by George Orwell.

Boghossian

The difference is that in public lectures, one should not do this. Instead, we should have “interventions” with people. People who have faith are “not well.” Apologetics is confirmation bias and is damaging.

McGrew

Boghossian seriously misunderstands the role of apologetics, which is the pursuit of whether a conviction holds up under scrutiny. It is no more necessary to make a detailed scholarly study of every faith before coming to a settled belief that only one is true than to have to read every biography of every person who was alive at the time Lincoln was shot to conclude that John Wilkes Booth shot him. To say otherwise is to “pretend” that one can’t have good evidence unless one concludes one doesn’t have good evidence for other things. We don’t have to rule out all alternatives to a theory, rather, one just has to have good evidence to hold that which they do.

Analysis

It should be fairly clear that Boghossian’s attitude towards people of faith is not one that is friendly, as he apparently claims. When someone says that people of faith need to have “interventions” and be studied as mentally ill, that hardly is a way to respect them. Moreover, he then advocated a kind of split-personality: when someone is one-on-one, they should not bring up the notion that the person of faith is mentally ill because that would be insulting, but apparently it’s not insulting when someone writes a book saying that very thing.

Clearly the biggest issue in this debate was that of the definition of faith. Here it should be seen that once again, Boghossian’s view did not hold up. He ended up actually changing his definition in the course of the conversation, when pressed, to belief beyond the evidence. But he still claimed that “billions of people” use the term “faith” to mean “belief without evidence.” I would simply ask Boghossian: what is your evidence for that claim? Has he talked to billions of people to discover this? Where is his data to back up this claim? It seems to me that Boghossian’s definition of faith is based upon his “pretending to know something he doesn’t know”–namely, that this is how people of faith define faith.

Polemical use of the term aside, I strongly suspect that Boghossian truly does not have evidence for his use of that term faith as backed by “billions.” Moreover, I wonder whether Boghossian defines faith in that way simply because he rejects the evidence for, say, Christianity, and has gone from his own view that there is no evidence for Christianity to saying that Christians must be having faith as “belief without evidence.” But of course disagreeing with someone else’s assessment of the evidence does not entail that the religious “other” believes they are believing without evidence.

McGrew did a fantastic job of continually orienting the discussion around the topic at hand: epistemology. Boghossian’s continued appeal to certainty or the alleged need to explore every faith to know if one is true was thoroughly shredded. As McGrew pointed out, Boghossian could hardly hold a single belief if one truly had to reject every other possibility in order to hold to one as true. Boghossian’s epistemology, it seems, is the faulty one.

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!

“Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician”- A brief look at the e-book by Tom Gilson– Tom Gilson has challenged Boghossian on a number of points, including his view of the meaning of “faith,” in his e-book “Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician.” It is well worth the read, and this review provides a summary of the major points.

Check out Tom Gilson’s live blog of the debate.

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.

Really Recommended Posts 2/7/14- Ken Ham/Bill Nye, Russell Wilson, creationism, and more!

postTwo huge stories this week: the Super Bowl and the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate. As such, I’ve brought up some links related to each. As always, let me know your thoughts! If you’re interested in the debate, be sure to check out my overview and analysis.

Notable Christians Open to an Old-universe, Old-earth perspective– In the debate, Ken Ham kept mentioning various scientists who were Christian and young earth creationists. Here, there is a list of many notable Christian thinkers who are open to an old-earth perspective instead.

Origins Science and Misconceptions of Historical Science– Over at Naturalis Historia, this extremely relevant post was offered up which contests Ken Ham’s presentation of a major gap between historical sciences and observational sciences.

ESPN spots a ghost in the Seattle-Russell Wilson lovefest– One thing that has received little coverage regarding the Seahawks is Russell Wilson’s faith. Perhaps that’s because he is not so in-your-face as Tim Tebow, but both Wilson and Robert Griffin III are faithful men. Here, the author explores the popularity of Wilson in a fairly secular city.

All 32 NFL Teams Crossed with Star Wars– I love football, and I love Star Wars. These are some awesome Star Wars crossovers for NFL Teams. Check it out!

How about checking out some reviews of the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye? Here are a couple:

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.

Be sure to check out my own review of the debate, which gives a lengthy overview as well as specific analysis on the debate- Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye: Analysis of a lose-lose debate.

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.

——

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

Debate Review: Fazale Rana vs. Michael Ruse on “The Origin of Life: Evolution vs. Design”

rana-ruse-dbFazale Rana recently debated Michael Ruse on the topic of the origin of life. Essentially, the question of the debate was whether the origin of life is best explained by naturalism or design. Here, I will provide brief comments on the debate.

Please note I make no claims to being a scientist and I am fully aware that I evaluate this debate as a lay person.

Michael Ruse Opening

Michael Ruse was careful to note that he is not keen on saying design is not possible. Rather, his claim is that naturalism is the most plausible explanation for the origins of life.

Ruse’s argued that design is implausible. Specifically, he noted that if design is the hypothesis put forward, there are any number of ways that one might consider that hypothesis. Is the designer a natural being within the universe or a supernatural being like God? Is there only one designer, or was there a group of designers (and he notes that a group of designers seems more plausible because automobiles require many designers to bring them about)? Finally, he raised the issue of bad design choices. He asked why, if there were a “hands-on” designer, would that designer not grant immunity to HIV and the like.

Ruse also argued that one can fall into the fallacy of selective attention- if one focuses upon only one example in isolation, then one might come to a conclusion that certain laws/theories may not be correct. But placing these same problems in context shows that they can be explained against “the background of our knowledge.”

Finally, Ruse ended with a number of examples for how problems which were seemingly insoluble were explained by naturalistic means. He also argued that one of the popular arguments for design, the flagellum, has so many different varieties (and is sometimes found to be a vestigial organ), and so cannot be shown to be designed.

Fazale Rana Opening

The problems which must be accounted for within an origins of life model are numerous. One must account for self-replication, the emergence of metabolism, the formation of protocells, the synthesis of prebiotic materials, the formation of life’s building blocks, and more.

Rana then turned to some primary models used by researchers to explain origin of life (hereafter OOL). First, there was the replicator-first model, which was problematic because in order for a molecule to be a self-replicator, it must be a homopolymer. But the complexity of the chemical environment on early earth rendered the generation of a homopolymer on the early earth essentially impossible. Next, the metabolism-first model runs into problem due to the chemical networks which have to be in place for metabolism. But the mineral surfaces proposed for the catalytic systems for these proto-metabolic systems cannot serve as such; Leslie Orgel held that this would have to be a “near miracle” and Rana argues that it is virtually impossible. Finally, the membrane-first model requires different steps with exacting conditions such that the model is self-defeating.

Rana argued positively that OOL requires an intelligent agent in order to occur. The reason is because the only way that any of these models can be generated is through the work on OOL in a lab. Thus, they can only be shown to be proof-of-principle and the chemistry breaks down when applied to the early earth. The fact that information is found in the cell is another evidence Rana presented for design. The systems found in enzymes with DNA function as, effectively, Turing machines. Moreover, the way that DNA finds and eliminates mistakes is machine-like as well. The fact that the needed component for success in lab experiments was intelligence hinted, according to Rana, at positive evidence for design.

Finally, Rana argued that due to the “fundamental intractable problems” with naturalistic models for the OOL and the fact that the conditions needed for the OOL and the processes required to bring it about have only been demonstrated as in-principle possible with intelligent agents manipulating the process.

First Cross Examination

At this point, Ruse and Rana engaged in a dialogue. Ruse first challenged Rana to show how the OOL model based on design could actually be based upon Genesis, as he quoted from Rana’s book (written with Hugh Ross), Origins of Life. He pointed out a few difficulties with using the Genesis account in this manner. Rana answered by putting forth his view of the Genesis account as an account of the origins of life on earth–a view which sees the Genesis account as corresponding with the scientific account (concordism). Yet the Genesis account is itself written from the perspective of a hypothetical observer found on the face of the earth rather than a perspective above the earth.

Rana asked Ruse for his thoughts on how much impact philosophy has on the debate over the OOL. He noted that it may be a presupposition of naturalism which lends itself to interpreting the OOL. Ruse answered by saying it is a good point and that philosophy cannot be denied a role in the discussion. But the question is not simply one of “gut commitments” and that one has to also take into account the scientific evidence and a “pragmatic reason” for holding to naturalism: naturalism works. It continually explains problems, even if it takes time.

Ruse Rebuttal

The difficulty with the OOL debate is that it is too easy to take things out of context in order to show how many problems there are with a model. He argued that it is “peculiar” to take the results of a group of researchers and yet somehow go “flatly” against the “overall interpretation that each and every one of these people” would have taken from the research.

Despite all the difficulties, Ruse argued, researchers are starting, slowly, to get some view of how to explain the OOL. He pointed to some successes within the OOL sciences to show how eventually we may discover a naturalistic explanation.

Rana Rebuttal

Rana began with the notion of a creation model. He argued that models are not always drawn from the data, but rather models and theories are constructed from a number of different points.

Regarding the science itself, Rana noted that there is no established source of prebiotic materials on the early earth. The popular theories for how these materials might be generated fail for a number of reasons.

The argument, Rana said, is not a god-of-the-gaps argument. Instead, it is an observation of the breadth of scientific evidence which shows that in-principle experiments have been successful, but when applied to the scenarios for the early earth, the only way for success to be achieved is through intelligent agency (scientists in a lab manipulating the conditions).

100_1912Second Cross Examination

Rana asked Ruse to respond to the notion that OOL research is similar to literary criticism in that all the different theories continue to be debated but none have come into dominance or can be established over the others. Ruse responded by noting that OOL research does have some “just so” stories but that science has taken seriously the criticisms and come towards the possibility of answering some of the questions.

Ruse asked why God would not intervene for things like cancer. Rana answered by noting that in the broad scope of a model with intelligent agency, poor design is no problem. But because Rana believes it is the God of the Bible, he says it may be a legitimate criticism of the design position. However, things which appear to be bad designs can turn out later to have some reason for the way they are used. Moreover, once a creator has put in place designs, they are subjected to the laws of nature and so they could become decayed or break down.

Ruse Closing Argument

Ruse argued that when one takes a “Biblical position” one is “not doing science any more.” If one wants to assert that the science points to miracles, then Ruse said he would argue that the nature of our experience is not “blank” in relation to the OOL, but rather that the previous successes of naturalism means we should fall back upon naturalism regarding the OOL because it has worked in so many other areas. Thus, the problem with the OOL is not with the problems themselves but rather with our own ability to solve the problems.

Rana Closing Argument

The OOL and complexity of the cell require an intelligent agency in order to account for the OOL on earth, Rana maintaned. The problems with naturalistic accounts appear to be intractable, and the role of intelligent agency in lab work cannot be ignored because that same agency is what leads to the allegedly naturalistic successes. The information found in biological systems also give evidence for design.

Finally, methodological naturalism turns science into a game to be played in which the goal is always to find a naturalistic explanation, even if none is forthcoming. Instead, science should be, in practice, open to the possibility of agency within the natural world. Ruse’s argument is essentially an appeal to the future in which the notion is just that one day the answers will come forth.

Analysis

First, I would note how pleased I was with the nature of this dialogue. Unlike some other debates, Ruse and Rana were largely cordial and even amiable towards each other. It is clear that they each had respect for the other’s work and arguments.

The debate itself was very interesting. Fazale Rana continually went back to the science and pointed out the difficulties which remained, while Ruse seemed to continually appeal to the overall success of the naturalistic paradigm. Regarding Ruse’s position, I think it was perhaps disingenuous to conflate naturalism with science,  particularly considering that very point was largely at the center of the debate. Is it indeed the case that we must be methodological naturalists? It seems that even Ruse agreed that our answer to this question will largely shape one’s interpretation of the problems and reactions to the problems brought up.

Regarding the science itself: Ruse brought up several successes which scientific research has yielded, but it seemed clear that none of these offered evidence which countered Rana’s arguments of the intractable problems for the OOL. Rana did an excellent job showing how the models which are in vogue right now for the OOL all fail on a number of levels to account naturalistically for the OOL.

Moreover, the fact that current research does rotate around the actions of intelligent agents. Given that such intelligent agents are necessary to bring about even the in-principle results for the OOL, it seems that Rana’s argument that this hints at an intelligent agent in the overall OOL schema was largely successful. It seems to me to count as positive evidence for design.

Overall, I have to say this was a great debate. I think one’s conclusions regarding the outcome of the debate largely will come down to a matter of worldview.

Links

Be sure to check out my extensive writings on the origins debate within Christianity.

The debate can be found here. It is worth a watch/listen due to the complexity of the issues involved. Or you could just watch it here:

Be sure to check out the Reasons to Believe web site, which is the organization Fazale Rana is part of.

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.

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