“Naturalism or Christian Theism: Where Does the Evidence Point?” TreeSearch Founder Blake Giunta Debates Justin Schieber

I want to draw readers’ attention to a great debate that recently took place at the University of Texas at Dallas, between Blake Giunta, the founder of a recently-developed online apologetics resource called “Belief Map“, and Justin Schieber, the host of the Reasonable Doubts radio show and podcast. Blake posted a postmortem review of the debate at his website. That, along with a video of the debate itself, can be found here. I highly recommend watching this debate for yourself and reading the summary over at the TreeSearch website. Blake is an up-and-coming apologist and has shown himself to be widely read, thoughtful and reflective, and winsome in his approach. I am sure we will be hearing a lot more of him in the future.

You Can Still Hear the Recording of My Appearance on “Dogma Debate” Atheist Radio Show

A couple weeks ago I was invited, along with two friends, Blake and Derrick, to be on an atheist radio program called “Dogma Debate” (website here). Blake Giunta is the recent founder of a really great apologetics website called TreeSearch. The main host, David Smalley, and his co-hosts, enjoy interaction with Christian believers, and I applaud their efforts in seeking out opportunities to provide a platform to both sides of the argument to present and defend their case. Unfortunately, few shows are like this. Unbelievable, with host Justin Brierley, on Premier Christian Radio might be the closest Christian equivalent to this show. The hosts for this episode — indeed, our interlocutors — were David Smalley and Lydia Allen. We were originally invited on to discuss how Christians and atheists could better engage and interact with one another (something I have previously written about here). But, as is often the case with radio, the conversation went way off on a tangent quite quickly. The debate was rather intense at some points and went on for about three hours — then there was also the “After Show” discussion exclusive for paid subscribers, which went on for perhaps another 90 minutes.

You can listen to the debate at this link. Enjoy!

Still Haven’t Found What You’re Looking For? C.S. Lewis, Bono and the Argument from Desire

For better or worse I was a child of the 80’s, and during that time a new rock band came on the scene that changed pop music, both in Britain, America and eventually the world. I immediately loved their sound as soon as I heard it. Their style was unique, and the lyrics had a real message. Their songs resonated much deeper than the typical pop tunes being played on the radio. That band was U2 from Dublin Ireland.

In May of 1987 the band released their 5th studio album titled “The Joshua Tree.” The second track on that album is a “gospel-esque” song that producer Danny Lanois encouraged Bono to write.[1] The song is “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The song has been acclaimed by many critics and publications as one of the greatest songs of all time.[2]

What makes this song so unique and timeless? Sure it’s Bono’s excellent vocals, Adam Clayton’s chilled-out bass, and the Edge’s astral guitar licks, but I believe that it is also something more, something much deeper. The song touches on a truth that is embedded in all people – a deep sense of longing and desire for something that this present world cannot fully satisfy. Here is the second refrain.

 

I have kissed honey lips

Felt the healing in her finger tips

It burned like fire

(I was) burning inside her.

 

I have spoke with the tongue of angels

I have held the hand of a devil

It was warm in the night

I was cold as a stone.

 

But I still haven’t found

What I’m looking for.

But I still haven’t found

What I’m looking for.

 

The song is written in the style of a gospel-lament which has it roots in the Psalms, the Lamentations of Jeremiah and later, African-American Spirituals. So, what is the singer lamenting?

He is lamenting that no matter what he tries or what he does, ultimate satisfaction isn’t found in this world. His satisfaction must come from somewhere else. He was made for something else, for somewhere else, or perhaps for someone else. He is a pilgrim and a sojourner on this earth, “just a passing through.”

Here a much younger “Edge” explains the origins of the song & Bono sings it with a gospel church choir in Harlem, NY.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis articulates an argument for the existence of God based on our dissatisfactions as well as our deepest desire, which sounds a lot like the lyrics of U2’s song. I would even argue that the core idea is the virtually the same.

Lewis’s argument goes like this:

…A baby feels hunger; well there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world[3]

Philosopher Peter Kreeft has done us a great service and re-formulated Lewis’s argument from desire into a syllogism that might be a little easier to follow.

  1. Every natural innate desire corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire
  2. But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth and no creature can satisfy.
  3. Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures which can satisfy this desire.
  4. This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”[4]

Premise 1 – Every natural desire corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire

The key here is that every natural desire has a corresponding reality. The implication is that there is a distinction between two kinds of desires – natural desires and artificial desires. Everyone has natural desires, like the desire for water, food, sleep, friendship (companionship), etc…, but we also have desires for things that are artificial, or conditioned by society – like the desire to be famous, or the desire to possess superpowers (like one of the Avengers), or the desire to own a Ferrari.

However, with the artificial desires we don’t recognize a condition called “Ferrari-lessness” which corresponds to, say a natural desire like the desire for water (thirst), or for food (hunger).

Premise 2 – But there exists a desire in us which nothing in time, nothing on earth and no creature can satisfy.

This premise is existentially true, and either one senses it or not. It can’t be forced. It may be pointed out, however, that even though one might not sense a desire for God, it doesn’t mean that the desire is non-existent,  just buried under the concerns, the worries and the busyness of life.

The Southern novelist Walker Percy commenting on “the search” in his classic novel The Moviegoer (1961) touches on this idea:

The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be on to something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.

Something is missing, so we despair. Indeed, as Thoreau writes, “…most men live lives of quiet desperation” (Civil Disobedience & other Essays), or like mythical, Greek Sisyphus, we “feel” the futility and the endless drudgery of work & life and deeply sense that there must be “something more.”

If God is the ultimate source of joy and fellowship, then nothing but Him and Him alone (& life with Him forever) will satisfy the heart of every person.

This truth has been articulated by many different voices throughout history.

“For He [God] has set eternity in the hearts of men…” – King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

“Thou, O Lord hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee” – St. Augustine (The Confessions)

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” – Blaise Pascal (Pensees)

“Not to be onto something is to be in despair” – Walker Percy (The Moviegoer)

“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” – U2 (Bono)

Peter Kreeft brilliantly summarizes premise 2 this way:

The second premise requires only honest introspection. If someone defies it and says, “I am perfectly happy playing with mud pies, sports cars, or money, or sex, or power,” we can only ask, “Are you really?” But we can only appeal, we cannot compel… Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted that “there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’”[5]

Premise 3 – Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures which can satisfy this desire.

Premise 4 – This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”

Admittedly, the conclusion of this argument is not an “air-tight” case for the God of the Bible, but it is certainly a stepping stone. When the argument from desire is placed alongside of other arguments for God’s existence, such as the cosmological argument, and the teleological argument, then I think it makes a pretty compelling case worthy of serious consideration.

Kreeft says, “What it proves is an unknown X, but an unknown whose direction, so to speak, is known. This X is more: more beauty, more desirability, more awesomeness, more joy.”[6]

Our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. ~ C.S. Lewis (The Weight of Glory, pg. 42)

Truth, Goodness & Beauty

It may be that beauty, and our desire for infinite beauty and truth and goodness is where we feel the unfulfilled longing[7] the most, as Kreeft brilliantly explains:

There are three things that will never die: truth, goodness and beauty. These are three things that we all need, and need absolutely, and know we need absolutely. Our minds want not only some truth and some falsehood, but all truth, without limit. Our wills want not only some good and some evil, but all good, without limit. Our desires, imaginations, feelings or hearts just want not just some beauty and some ugliness, but all beauty without limit.

For these are three things that we will never get bored with, and never will, for all eternity, because they are three attributes of God, and therefore all God’s creation: three transcendental or absolutely universal principles of all reality.   …Truth, goodness and beauty are ‘patches of Godlight’ here in the ‘Shadowlands.’ Their home is Yonder.[8]

Christianity teaches that the only way to truly KNOW God is through Jesus Christ who came to reveal Him for Who He truly is.

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3)

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Still_Haven%27t_Found_What_I%27m_Looking_For (accessed, Sept. 2, 2014).

[2] Ibid.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, chap. 10

[4] Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL, 1994), pp. 78-81, also see his “The Argument from Desire” on http://peterkreeft.com/topics/desire.htm (accessed Jan. 1, 2006).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Kreeft, Op cit.

[7] In his autobiographical work Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis explored his own experiences with what he called “the stab, the pain, the iconsolable longing” that he was sure all human beings felt.

[8] Peter Kreeft, “Lewis’s Philosophy of Truth, Goodness and Beauty,” in David Baggett, Gary R. Habermas and Jerry Walls, Editors, C.S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 23-36.

Was There Only One God in the Beginning?

The Case for Original Monotheism from Wilhelm Schmidt

Where did the idea of one supreme God originate? There are really only two options: either monotheism (mono– “one” theos – “god”) was original to humans from the very beginning, or it was an invention or development of religion in early human cultures.

Anthropologists and historians of religion, at least since the European Enlightenment, and certainly by the end of nineteenth century, have taught that the idea of “one supreme God” was not original to mankind, but rather was a late development in the history of religion stemming from animism and/or polytheism. Today Muslims, Christians and Jews comprise the three great monotheistic faiths of the world. The adherents to these three faiths reach well into the billions.

According to the Bible, God directly created mankind from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:5-9). In the Genesis account, the first man and woman (Adam & Eve), enjoyed direct fellowship and communication with God. The fellowship was broken when the first humans acted independently of God by an act of direct disobedience to His command (Gen. 3). The results of that act of disobedience was broken fellowship with God and banishment from His presence.

If we track with the Bible’s account of history, then as the population of the earth increased, mankind moved further and further away from God, where eventually an understanding of who He was, was either lost or replaced with polytheism, the deification of the forces of nature, or some combination of both.

In his excellent new book, In the Beginning God, Winfried Courduan states that,

The Bible does not give us an account to how idolatry and polytheism arose historically. We know that Abraham came from a line of people who worshipped a moon god, but we don’t know where that chain was broken. …there is good reason to believe that there were other monotheists around besides Melchizedek. Further, there were multiple opportunities to learn about the one God, not to mention the probability of there having been a live memory carried all along in Moses family.[1]

Nevertheless, in Genesis 12 we learn that God did not allow mankind to be unaware of who He was, but appeared to a man in ancient Mesopotamia named Abram. Historian F.E. Peters summarizes:

…at a given moment in historical time, he [God] addressed himself to one Abram, the sheikh of an extended family of Near Eastern sheep nomads who were camping in what is today called the Negev. Worship me, the god said, and I will make you and yours a great people. It was not a unique or a solitary voice; we know from plentiful evidence that there were other, many other, gods on that landscape and in the minds of Abram’s contemporaries. Abram, however, limited his worship to this one deity, and the god in turn granted his favor to Abram, or Abraham, as he was henceforward called.[2]

God tells Abraham to count the stars (Gen. 15:5)

God tells Abraham to count the stars (Gen. 15:5)

Later in biblical history, God would appear once again, but this time to Moses who grew up in Egypt, another nation of many gods. In the famous scene of the burning bush (Ex. 3), when Moses asks God His name, God tells Moses that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex. 3:15). Finally, when God gives Moses the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20) the first three commandments all deal with the nature of the one true God and what it means to properly worship Him and Him only (Ex. 20:3-7).

That was the working narrative for at least nineteen centuries until the rise of naturalistic & skeptical theories concerning the Bible and the rise of monotheism.

In the seventeenth century Dutch philosopher, Benedict Spinoza published the Theologico-Political Treatise in 1670 (also posthumously in 1677). In it he argued (among other things), that all revealed religion had to be analyzed on the basis of reason; not blind faith. Theology & philosophy must be kept separate. He categorically denied prophecy, miracles & the supernatural. He also denied Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and stated that it was probably a cobbled-together text which was likely composed of multiple authors.

In the following years, scholars such as Thomas Hobbs, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Julius Welhausen and many others followed Spinoza in their distrust of the biblical record of history.

By the end of the nineteenth century many scholars had developed serious doubts about the Bible’s account of reality, especially the dawn of history’s monotheistic origins in Eden.

Wilhelm Schmidt to the Rescue!

Enter Wilhelm Schmidt, a German scholar who lived in the early twentieth century and argued on scholarly grounds, that the original religion of human beings was monotheism. According to Corduan, “In 1906 Schmidt created a journal called Anthropos, [which was] intended to provide missionaries with greater awareness of new developments in the field of cultural anthropology.”[3] From this humble beginning and focus on religion, Schmidt’s thesis eventually developed into a massive 12-volume work, Der Ursprung der Gottesidee [The Origin of the Idea of God] (Munster: Aschendorff, 1912-55).

Schmidt’s thesis of original monotheism derives from what he called the “culture-historical method.”[4]

[to read Schmidt’s main thesis for yourself, it is now available this excellent new reprint version The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories originally published in 1931]

Schmidt’s Main Thesis & Ideas

In his massive 12 volume work, “Ursprung” or The Origin of the Idea of God, Schmidt analyzed the major theories of comparative religion up to his day, as well the theories of the development of religion in ethnology from cultures around the world (ethnology is a branch of anthropology that compares global nations and cultures and how they identify themselves).

Essentially Schmidt’s case for original monotheism “is grounded in the culture-historical method by which we can discern which among present cultures appear to be the ones that most closely resemble the earliest human cultures. Ethnologically, those are the ones that show the least amount of growth in their material culture. And it is precisely those that display forms of monotheism” (W. Corduan). When all of the data are sifted and analyzed, Schmidt argues that one can discern the core belief of the earliest human cultures was monotheism, or a belief in “the Primitive High God” [one God].[5]

He writes:

…the goal of all work on the lines of the historical method is not to set up theories or hypotheses but to arrive at scientific certainty. Here we mean by ‘scientific certainty’ the facts which make up our picture of primitive religion, not indeed as atoms, but as an organic and mutually interdependent whole. …If we apply that criterion to the abundant mass of data which we can now produce regarding the primitive Supreme Being, the first thing to notice is that the total sum of facts is of a nature to satisfy the total sum of human needs…[6]

Schmidt’s thesis is well grounded in his extensive research and analysis in historical, linguistic, and anthropological studies. Yet, his theory also fits perfectly with what the Bible teaches about original monotheism (in Genesis).

That being said, Corduan warns us of absolute certainty beyond all objections in Schmidt’s “original monotheism” theory.

Have we (that is to say Wilhelm Schmidt and those of us who support his cause) really shown that original monotheism is true beyond all conceivable objections? Of course, we have not. It would be impossible for any human to do so. …There is no scientific enterprise where eliminating all “conceivable” objections is the point[7]

The point is that there are good and sold reasons (aside from, but also in support of the Bible) that are grounded in thorough research and data in the field, that mankind worshipped one God from the very beginnings of the human race.

Theistic Arguments Are Grounded in Both Reality and Scripture

Although this is not the main point of my post here, the second way in which one could argue for original monotheism is via theistic arguments. If theistic arguments (such as the cosmological, teleological and moral arguments) can succeed in establishing theism, then theism (properly defined) would be the default position in the history of humanity, and atheism only a recent development.

In a touch of irony then, the so-called “primitive” monotheists of the Ancient Near East [i.e. Abraham & Moses] were more up-to-date, and in touch with reality than today’s modern sophisticated and “educated” atheist elites.

The Unique Message of Christianity: The Broken Relationship Between God and Man Is Restored in Christ

Finally a brief word about the uniqueness of the Christian claim that is relevant to the question about original monotheism. Christianity has its roots deeply embedded in the Old Testament and as such Jesus claimed to be the one promised and predicted from the writings of the Old Testament prophets (Luke 4:14-21). Not only this, but He also made the audacious claim that He was God in human flesh (John 8:21-58), even stating that He was the visible manifestation of the great “I Am” (Creator & Covenant making God) of Exodus 3 when Moses spoke with God face to face from the burning bush. In John 8 the Jewish leaders questioned Jesus about His true identity.

Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”…(Jesus said), Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds (John 8:53-8).

When the Apostle Paul was waiting for his traveling companions in Athens he even made an appeal to the Athenian philosophers, to their belief in an “unknown God” in Acts 17.

For as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription TO THE UNNKOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you; ‘God who made the world and everything in it, since He is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, Nor is He worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath and all things. And He has made from one blood, every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth and has appointed their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’ “ (Acts 17:23-28).

Paul then continued to proclaim Christ and His resurrection to which some of them mocked, some believed and yet others were curious to hear more (Acts 17:32-34).

Christ came for one reason only and that is to perfectly reveal the God whose fellowship was broken with mankind in the garden. He restored the knowledge of God and even more by His death, burial and resurrection, showing the world what God is truly like.

He is the image of the invisible God the first-born over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on the earth, visible and invisible…For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness [of deity] should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross (Col. 1:15-16, 19-20).

 

[1] Winfried Courduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2013), location 5409 in the Kindle Edition

[2] F.E. Peters, The Monotheists: Jews, Christians and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, Vol. 1 The Peoples of God (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press), xix.

[3] Forward in Wilhelm Schmidt’s, The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories (Protorville, OH: Wythe-North Publishing, 2014), v.

[4] Ibid.,pp 219ff.

[5] W. Schmidt, The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories (Protorville, OH: Wythe-North Publishing), p. 283.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Win Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2013), loc 5809 in the Kindle Ed.

Is Atheism a lack of belief in God?

It’s been fashionable lately for atheists to claim that atheism is “a lack a belief in God.” So when a theist comes along and says that atheists can’t support their worldview, some atheists will say something like, “Oh, we really don’t have a worldview. We just lack a belief in God. Since we’re not making any positive claims about the world, we don’t have any burden of proof to support atheism. We just find the arguments for God to be lacking.”

What’s lacking are good reasons to believe this new definition.

First, if atheism is merely a lack of belief in God, then atheism is just a claim about the atheist’s state of mind, not a claim about God’s existence. The “atheist” is simply saying, “I’m not psychologically convinced that God exists.” So what? That offers no evidence for or against God. Most people lack a belief in unguided evolution, yet no atheist would say that shows evolution is false.

Second, if atheism is merely a lack of belief in God, then rocks, trees, and outhouses are all “atheists” because they too lack a belief in God. It doesn’t take any brains to “lack a belief” in something. A true atheist believes that there is no God.

Third, most atheists don’t merely “lack a belief in God because they are constantly trying to explain the world by offering supposed alternatives to God. Atheists write book after book insisting that God is out of a job because of quantum theory, multiple universes, and evolution. While none of those atheistic arguments succeed in proving there is no God, they do prove that atheists don’t merely lack a belief in God — they believe in certain theories to explain reality without God.

They believe in those theories because atheism is a worldview with beliefs just as much as theism is a worldview with beliefs. (A “worldview” is a set of beliefs about the big questions in life such as: What is ultimate reality? Who are we? What’s the meaning of life? How should we live? What’s our destiny? etc.) To claim that atheism is not a worldview is like saying anarchy is not really a political position. As Bo Jinn observes, “An anarchist might say that he simply ‘rejects politics,’ but he is still confronted with the inescapable problem of how human society is to organize itself, whether he likes the idea of someone being in charge or not.”

Likewise, atheists can say they just “reject God” but they are still confronted with the inescapable problem of how to explain ultimate reality. Just as anarchists affirm the positive belief that anarchy is the best way to organize society, atheists affirm the positive belief that atheistic materialism is the best way to explain ultimate reality.

In other words, atheists don’t “lack a belief” in materialism. They are not skeptical of materialism — they think it’s true! As Phillip Johnson said, “He who is a skeptic in one set of beliefs is a true believer in another set of beliefs.” Lacking a belief in God doesn’t automatically establish materialism any more than lacking a belief in atheism automatically establishes Christianity. No atheist would say that a Christian has made a good case because he “lacks a belief” in materialism!

Everyone has the burden of proof to support his or her position. Atheists must make a positive case that only material things exist. That’s why instead of debating “Does God exist?” I prefer to debate the question “What better explains reality: atheism or theism?” Then it’s obvious that both debaters have the burden of proof to support their position. Atheists can’t just identify what they think are deficiencies in theism. They must make a compelling case that everything has been caused by materials and consists only of materials, including:
• The beginning of the universe
• The fine-tuning of the universe
• The laws of nature
• The laws of logic
• The laws of mathematics
• Information (genetic code)
• Life
• Mind and consciousness
• Free will
• Objective morality
• Evil

It’s rare to find an atheist attempting to explain more than one or two of these things materially. How could they? How can laws be materials? The new atheists must provide reasons to support their belief that materialism is true. Simply lacking a belief in God doesn’t prove their worldview.

Finally, the “I merely lack a belief in God” definition leads to a contradictory result. As Dr. Richard Howe points out, “This definition of atheism entails the quirky conclusion that atheism is logically compatible with theism.” Here’s why: If lacking a belief in God is the definition of “atheism” — and not “there is no God” — then “atheism” is true even if God really exists. How is that reasonable?

We shouldn’t allow atheists to hide behind that lacking definition. A true atheist is someone who believes there is no God. And atheists have the burden of proof to show how materialism is true and reality can be explained without God.

Can Science Disprove God?

Suppose that there were no scientific evidence whatsoever for the existence of God, would that disprove God? Or would that necessarily make it irrational to believe in God?

I argue that it wouldn’t – such an overly-skeptical view reveals a flawed epistemology (theory of knowledge). One who makes such a claim is apparently adhering to a strong form of scientism, the view that science is the only source of knowledge. For, there are many non-scientific reasons for belief in God, such as:

The purpose of this blog is not to explore these non-scientific arguments but merely to point out that one cannot call belief in God irrational without also refuting these types of non-scientific arguments. Explore the hypertext links for a sampling if you’re unfamiliar with these arguments. The claim that science is the only source of knowledge is self-refuting – it’s a philosophical claim that cannot be scientifically demonstrated so if science is the only source of knowledge one could not rationally affirm it. Dr. Turek’s Roadrunner Tactic (of applying a claim to itself) reveals this pretty clearly. Most philosophers have long since abandoned this overly narrow epistemology but unfortunately some scientists still hold to it.

Too often skeptics point to prominent scientists who are atheists as though that somehow shows that belief in God must be irrational. I confess that I myself unfortunately went through a period of doubts in the late 1990’s in part because of this fear of how so many of these smart scientists could think that there is no evidence of God.

But is science really even the appropriate discipline for determining God’s existence?

I later came to realize the folly of assuming scientists are best-suited for evaluating evidence for God. Sure a disproportionate number of really intelligent people are scientists but are they really trained so as to be able to best evaluate potential evidence for God? Clearly, they are not trained to evaluate any of the non-scientific evidence I listed above. Many of the most vocal atheistic scientists such as Krauss, Dawkins, and Hawking make numerous philosophical mistakes.

Moreover, science is generally defined such that no appeal to the divine is even considered – this is known as methodological naturalism. Thus, both the nature of the knowledge taught to scientists as well as the methodology they learn for evaluating evidence are not well-suited for evaluating the breadth of evidence and arguments about God.

Dr. Ed Feser, who has been on the CrossExamined podcasts here and here, has an excellent rebuttal to scientism. He critiques Alex Rosenberg’s argument that science can show that God doesn’t exist. First , here is Feser’s summary of Rosenberg’s argument:

1. The predictive power and technological applications of physics are unparalleled by those of any other purported source of knowledge.

2. Therefore what physics reveals to us is all that is real.

Feser goes on to explain: “How bad is this argument?  About as bad as this one:

1. Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has.

2. Therefore what metal detectors reveal to us (coins and other metallic objects) is all that is real.

Metal detectors are keyed to those aspects of the natural world susceptible of detection via electromagnetic means (or whatever).  But however well they perform this task — indeed, even if they succeeded on every single occasion they were deployed — it simply wouldn’t follow for a moment that there are no aspects of the natural world other than the ones they are sensitive to.  Similarly, what physics does — and there is no doubt that it does it brilliantly — is to capture those aspects of the natural world susceptible of the mathematical modeling that makes precise prediction and technological application possible.  But here too, it simply doesn’t follow for a moment that there are no other aspects of the natural world.”

But there is also Scientific Evidence for God!

I don’t intend any disrespect for science in this blog – I should mention that I myself have a degree in physics and have worked in scientific/mathematical domains of software engineering for the past 27 years. I have great respect for science and actually I think that God has also left plenty of scientific evidence for His existence. This blog is an introduction to a series making a case that what we have learned from science actually does support theism over atheism. It’s important, however to keep things in perspective! Scientific knowledge is just one aspect of knowledge and a skeptic who hasn’t searched out the non-scientific forms of evidence is making a big mistake. Nevertheless, the church too often provides no response or a weak response to challenges to belief in God from atheistic scientists. I think, therefore, that it is important to look at whether or not there are theistic implications from origins science. Over the next few weeks I’ll be making a case in this blog that the following aspects of science provide evidence that God exists:

  • Origin of Universe
  • Origin of the Laws to Support Life
  • Fine-Tuning of the Initial Conditions of the Universe to Support Life
  • Fine-Tuning of the Constants of Nature
  • Origin of Life

Before we get into the evidence, in my next blog I’ll discuss what would constitute suitable evidence for God from science and some of the objections that invariably arise. A careful philosophical evaluation is in order before laying out the facts so that we can properly interpret them.

The Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye “Post-Debate” Round Up

Just as expected, the much anticipated and hyped debate between Kan Ham (CEO of Answers in Genesis) & Bill Nye (the “Science” Guy) sparked a “mini-blizzard” of blogs and articles from people on both sides of the debate (I guess this is just one more to add to the pile).

Ham-Nye debate

If you happened to miss the debate, it will be posted here on the AiG (Answers in Genesis) website and will also available for purchase. An estimated three million people viewed the debate which was streamed live from the internet to schools, churches and colleges across America and around the world.

It is certainly easy to play “Monday morning quarterback” on these sorts of debates. Both men are to be admired for being willing to stand “in the arena” and defend their respective views and take criticism.

I thought both men handled themselves admirably, although I must say that I thought Nye was more personable and passionate when he was speaking which certainly plays to his favor rhetorically. One of Ken Ham’s strongest moments, I thought, was when he played the clips of various PhD. scientists who are  creationists and have either invented useful technologies [MRI] or have conducted peer-reviewed research, undercutting Nye’s claim that a belief in Divine creation stifles or limits science.

Nearly everyone has thoughts on what “should have been said” or “what kinds of evidence should have been used.”

I read though the various blogs and articles, however, I came across several great points which I will highlight in a moment.

Originally, I had planned on writing a point-by-point critique and evaluation of the debate, but since that has already been done on numerous other sites (which I will list below for your consideration); instead, I will review just a couple of my personal expectations on what I thought the debate would accomplish (I originally shared all six on my personal Facebook page) and whether or not they “played out” as I expected.

1. Both debaters represent a popular understanding of the respective positions on this debate (Faith & Science). It will certainly not be settled in this debate, but will spark even more debate and reams of new blogs from apologists scrambling to distance themselves from “Simple minded” creationists like Ken Ham.

As expected, I remain unconvinced that someone who was watching the debate last night will walk away with a deeper and more enlightened understanding of this complex issue (i.e. faith and science and their compatibility).

There’s certainly nothing wrong with public speakers who try to popularize complex ideas and communicate them to an broad audience (that’s what I do!), but I don’t believe that these two gentlemen were the best representatives of their respective “camps.”

As a friend of mine pointed out last night, “…they both seemed like they were giving infomercials for their respective audiences.” I agree.

Also expected and fulfilled were the reams of new blogs and articles from apologists offering alternative explanations and perspectives (I guess this one is a self-fullfilled prophecy!).

2. As a classically trained apologist (in the vein of Aquinas, C.S. Lewis, Geisler, et. al.), I cringe at the very likely possibility that Ham will “…beg the question” in his presuppositional approach to defending the Bible. When and if he uses evidence, I will rejoice and be glad.

The question that was debated was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?” While this is a good question, it actually doesn’t get at the root issue which is whether or not a theistic God exists and what evidence, if any points to His existence.

At CrossExamined we don’t take an official position on the age of the earth. We have students and supporters who defend each of the mainline views on origins (i.e. Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism, etc…).

That said however, we confidently stand on evidence in support of our belief in a personal, all-powerful, space-less, timeless, immaterial Creator. We leave it to Christians to sift the evidence for themselves, as to whether or not the earth is young or old.

The question of the age of the earth is a “second order question.” The question of God’s existence is a “first order question.” In dialoguing and debating non-believers, we should not front-load the conversation with secondary questions. Establishing God’s existence is primary.

Last night Ken Ham’s very starting point for science was the Bible itself and the age of the earth. The only problem with that is that Bill Nye and perhaps millions of others, don’t accept the Bible as true because they don’t believe there is a God.

My criticism isn’t necessarily leveled against Ken Ham’s Young Earth Creationism (or some of the other evidences he presented), rather it’s against the WAY that he argued which is just as important. In beginning with the Bible, he put the cart before the horse.

Let me be perfectly clear – I am a staunch defender of Biblical inerrancy, but in order for inerrancy to be philosophically true, Truth (with a capital “T”) must exist, God must exist and naturalism (as a worldview) must be false. The space-time universe is not a closed system, so miracles and the supernatural are very reasonable possibilities.

3. The truth of Romans 1 & Psalm 19 has been in full operation since the creation of the world when there were no publicly hyped debates.

One of the great things about God’s Word is that its truths are timeless and ever relevant.

Creation itself (which is silent yet vocal – Psa. 19:3-4) is the greatest evidence for the Creator. The evidence is so great and overwhelming that there is no debate – all men are without excuse (Rom. 1:20). The age of the earth wasn’t an issue when Paul penned Romans, yet he tells us that “everyone can know that there is a Creator.”

Below are a few blogs that I found especially helpful in illuminating and evaluating the Nye/Ham debate.

Helpful Blogs About the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Debate On Feb 4th, 2014

Casey Luskin (Discovery Institute) Old Earth Creationist 

David Coppedge (Creation Writer) Young Earth Creationist 

Melissa Cain Travis (Houston Baptist University) Old Earth Creationist

Dr. Albert Mohler (President, Southern Seminary) Young Earth Creationist 

 

 

Does Causality Apply Outside of Space and Time?

The-Law-of-Causality-JM2 During a radio debate I had with an atheist recently, I pointed out that the universe had a beginning and thus needs a cause.  He responded by claiming that since there was no space or time prior to the creation event we shouldn’t appeal to the law of causality to claim that the creation event was caused.

 

Dr. Lawrence Krauss cites a slightly different objection. When Dr. Krauss says that every physical thing requires a physical cause, he is talking about what Aristotle called “material” causality—namely, what the cause is made of.  But the objection my radio opponent made deals with what Aristotle called “efficient” causality.  An efficient cause is what most people think of when they think of a cause.  It is the primary source of the effect:  an author writes a book, a spider builds a web, a quarterback throws a pass.  They are efficient causes.

Atheists who make this claim are saying that there is no efficient cause of the universe because it didn’t take place in space or time. Let’s look at that argument in a syllogism.

  1. The law of causality only applies to physical things in space-time.
  2. The creation of the universe did not occur in space-time (it was the creation of space-time).
  3. Therefore the law of causality does not apply to the creation of the universe.

This argument doesn’t work because the first premise is false. Notice that there is no physical relationship between the premises and the conclusion of the argument above (or any argument).  Also notice that the premises are not objects in space-time.  Yet, there is a causal relationship between the premises and the conclusion.  In other words, true premises cause valid conclusions.

If this atheist argument were sound, then no argument could be sound.  Why?  Because if the law of causality only applied to physical things, then no argument would work because premises and conclusions are not physical things.  For any argument to work—including arguments against God—the law of causality must apply to the immaterial realm because the components of arguments are immaterial.

In other words, logic itself wouldn’t work if the first premise were true. But since logic works, the law of causality applies metaphysically not just physically.  In fact, to deny causality beyond space and time would be to deny logic, which would be self-defeating and would negate our ability to argue anything.

You can also see why it is self-defeating to deny the law of causality by simply asking anyone who doubts it, “What caused you to come to that conclusion?”  Or more precisely, “What reasons do you have for your position?”

If the person cites scientific experiments or observations as the source for his evidence, then point out that experiments and observations presuppose cause and effect.  You couldn’t make those observations or draw any conclusions without the law of causality.[i]  Likewise, any process of reasoning he uses would also use the very law of causality he would be denying.  In other words, it’s self-defeating rationally and scientifically to conclude that effects do not need causes. That’s because any denial of the law of causality uses the law of causality. 



[i] Some atheists will appeal to the quantum level to question the law of causality.  But just because we can’t predict cause and effect among subatomic particles, doesn’t mean that there is no cause and effect.  That could be a matter of unpredictability rather than uncausality.  In other words, the limits of our knowledge of the quantum level might be the issue. Moreover, any conclusion the atheist makes about the quantum level would use the very the law of causality he is questioning.  That’s because his observations of the quantum level and his reasoning about it use the law of causality!  While it is possible that causality does not apply at the quantum level, given the fact that the law seems universal everywhere else and the scientist uses it in all of his conclusions, why would anyone conclude it’s more plausible to believe that causality does not apply at the quantum level?  Could it be because it helps one avoid God?

“Eternity Has the Floor:” Another Look at Pascal’s Wager

Silent you stand before the altar of death! Life here and life after constitute an eternal conundrum; but its expiring spark awakens us to holy devotion and quiets every other voice except religion. Eternity has the floor.

~Alfred Nobel: read at his funeral (1896)

The above words were spoken at Alfred Nobel’s funeral service in 1896. In life Nobel was an interesting but ironic man. He is remembered, of course as the Swiss chemist and engineer who invented dynamite among other things, and also the man whose name is associated with coveted prizes in physics, chemistry, literature and peace. Nobel was also an atheist, and yet he also left large sums of money to churches. In 1888 when Nobel was reading through a French newspaper, he was astonished to read about his own obituary – the heading was “The merchant of death has died.” As it turned out, it was actually his brother Ludwig that had died. It would only be eight years later that Alfred himself would die by a brain hemorrhage at age 63.

Apparently Nobel had given some thought to that moment when he would face his own mortality. It’s not a pleasant thought – thinking about one’s own death, but one day every person must stand in silence and enter that mysterious realm beyond this life on earth, or as Nobel says… that eternal conundrum

Cementary

The Old Testament patriarch Job pondered this question millennia ago when he asked, If a man dies, will he live again? (Job 14:14)

Atheists and materialists alike, stake their eternal souls on the belief and the affirmation that there is no afterlife or soul which survives the body after physical death. But is science equipped to answer such a question? Pascal would say no.

In the 17th Century (the 1600’s) a brilliant Frenchman (child prodigy, pioneering mathematician, inventor of the world’s first mechanical calculator, philosopher and scientist)[1] named Blaise Pascal put forth a rather strange argument for religious faith – and not just generic religious faith, but faith in full orbed Christianity.[2]

This is Pascal’s famous argument called “The Wager” (or The Bet).

But first let’s clear up a common misconception and make one clarification about Pascal’s famous Wager.

(1). He is not proposing “faith in faith” (a blind leap in the dark), but assumes that we have our data correct (faith is only as good as its object) – i.e. that the true God is the God of Christianity and that salvation is found only in a belief in Jesus Christ and that rejection of Him will result in eternal damnation.[3]

(2) Similar to the above notion – the Wager should not be considered in complete isolation from the larger work of Pascal’s Pensees (his apologetic for Christianity).

As philosopher James R. Peter’s observes, “Properly understood, the wager makes a compelling but limited point….”[4]

Kreeft clarfies:

“The Wager is not an attempt to prove the God exists. It is not a new argument for the existence of God. Rather it tries to prove that it is eminently reasonable for anyone to “bet” on God, to hope that God is, to invest his life in God. It moves on the practical, existential, human level rather than the theoretical, metaphysical, theological level. …It is not an alternative to the traditional arguments for the existence of God… [the Wager]…is addressed to unbelievers, to those who are skeptical of both theoretical reason and revelation.”[5]

What Pascal’s Wager highlight’s is the fact that we are all “in the game” – there is no neutrality on the question of God’s existence or of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.

He writes:

“Let us examine this point, and let us say: ‘Either God is or he is not.’ But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails. How will you wager? Reason cannot make you choose either, reason cannot prove either wrong.

Do not then condemn as wrong those who have made a choice… ‘No, but I will condemn them for not having made this particular choice, but any choice, for although one calls heads and the other one are equally at fault, the fact is that they are both at fault: the right thing is not to wager at all.’

Yes, but you must wager. There is no choice, you are already committed. What will you choose then? Let us see: since a choice must be made, let us see which offers you the least interest. You have two things to lose: the true and the good: and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness.”[6]

Finally and interestingly, the Wager comes down to a pleasure (or a happiness) calculus – which appeals to what a person has the potential to gain from such a wager.

Here is what is at stake.

A. God exists (& Christianity is true)

  • If I believe it and it turns out to be objectively true then I gain eternal happiness and lose nothing.  
  • If I do not believe it and it turns out to be objectively true then I lose everything (including happiness and pleasure).

B. God does not exist (Christianity is not true)

  • If I believe this and it is objectively true then I gain nothing and lose nothing.
  • If I do not believe this and it is objectively true then I gain nothing and lose nothing.

If Christianity is true then those who don’t believe it have everything to lose. But if it is not true then nothing, in the end, is lost to the pious believer. It is really the unbeliever who has more to lose if they are wrong.

Pensee 241 provides a good summary:

I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true [& it not actually be true].

On death’s threshold “eternity has the floor,” then religious questions don’t seem so silly after all.

What will you choose then?


[1] For an old but excellent biography of Pascal’s life see Morris Bishop’s classic, Pascal: The Life of Genius (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1936)

[2] See his Pensees, 418.

[3] For more on this point see Peter Kreeft’s excellent book, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees Edited, Outlined & Explained (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), pp. 292-3.

[4] James R. Peters, The Logic of the Heart: Augustine, Pascal, and the Rationality of Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 188-9.

[5] Kreeft, pg. 291 [emphasis mine].

[6] “233” in Pensees, Translated by W.F. Trotter, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor in Chief, Great Books of the Western World, (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952), 213-6 [emphasis mine].

A Titanic Failure: Never Learning from Our Past

Rulers, Statesmen, Nations, are wont to be emphatically commended to the teaching which experience offers in history. But what experience and history teach is this, – that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.

~ Georg Wilhelm F. Hegel, from his lectures, On the Philosophy of History (1837)

Just recently my son has become keenly interested in the story of the Titanic, the steam ship which hit an iceberg and sank in the Atlantic on April 14, 1912. These past few days we have watched a number of very interesting documentaries, some of which recount eyewitnesses to the disaster who were passengers on board the night it sank. On board the ship that fateful night were some of the world’s most famous and prominent people – among them were the American millionaire John Jacob Astor IV and his wife Madeleine Force Astor, industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim, Macy’s department store owner Isidor Strauss and his wife Ida among many others. Throughout the documentaries there were historians and letters cited from people who lived at the opening decades of the 20th century. Historian Carroll Quigley in his book Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time writes that, “The 19th century was characterized by (1) belief in the innate goodness of man, (2) secularism, (3) belief in progress, (4) liberalism, (5) capitalism, (6) faith in science, (7) democracy, (8) nationalism.”[1]

Although most people today think of the Titanic as the award-winning movie of 1997, in 1912 it was the symbol of the hopes and dreams of thousands of people around the world. For the wealthy it represented the pinnacle of technology and the triumph of science, to the poor, it represented a chance for a new life in America – itself a symbol of hope for millions of immigrants. On the evening of April 15, 1912 the huge ship struck an iceberg ripping open a huge section of the hull. In 2 hours, 40 minutes it was on the bottom of the Atlantic. 1,514 lives were lost. The world was in shock.

Sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic, April 15, 1912

Sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic, April 15, 1912

The sinking of the Titanic was the first of several shocks the world of the early 20th Century would receive. Just two short years later, (July, 1914) for the first time in history, the entire world would be engulfed in the First World War. In 1918 when the war ended, over 10 million Allied & Central command soldiers were dead, not including civilians. The results of WWI set in motion the gears which led to the Second World War when Adolf Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.[2]

WW I also had a profound effect on some of the greatest artists (Picasso, M. Duchamp, etc…) and literary minds of the 20th century. Among them was J.R.R. Tolkein whose Lord of the Rings series came right out of his gruesome experiences of fighting in the trenches on the Western Front. One of his biographers makes a telling comment. He writes:

This biographical study arose from a single observation: how strange it is that J.R.R. Tolkein should have embarked upon his monumental mythology in the midst of the First World War, the crisis that disenchanted and shaped the modern era.[3]

“The crisis that disenchanted and shaped the modern era…”

What can we learn from this and the other tragedies of the last century?

QUESTIONS TO PONDER

In conclusion, I would like to ask if there are any lessons we can learn from these opening decades of the 20th Century? Are we, in the 21st Century, still clinging to 19th century ideals which lead to the disillusionment of so many? I assert that we certainly are. We are holding on to at least three of them and we are once again setting ourselves up for even greater disillusionment or even worse:

(1). Belief in the innate goodness of man. (Is human nature basically good?)

“The belief in the innate goodness of man had its roots in the eighteenth century when it appeared to many that man was born good and free but was everywhere distorted, corrupted, and enslaved by bad institutions and conventions. As Rousseau said, Man is born free yet everywhere he is in chains.

Obviously, if man is innately good and needs but to be freed from social restrictions, he is capable of tremendous achievements in this world of time, and does not need to postpone his hopes of personal salvation into eternity.”[4]

If the Twentieth-Century and our own experience has taught us anything, it is that man is not innately good – but has a fallen nature. People automatically don’t do the right thing and despite all of their valiant efforts[5], atheists & materialists fail to ground absolute goodness in reality. Similarly, if there is no God – no absolute standard, then there is no ultimate grounding for right and wrong (morality). If there is no God (in reality) then (in reality), there is no difference between Mother Theresa and Hitler.

(2). Secularism (Is ‘religion’ just a hangover from our past?)

Secularists have a strictly materialistic & mechanistic view of human nature and because of this they utterly fail to account for man’s religious nature which they will never eradicate nor will they understand with the methods of the sciences. For most of human history people have had the desire to worship. This is certainly not to say that all religions are the same or that they are all equally true, but merely to point out that the desire to worship and the desire for transcendence is part of what it means to be truly human.[6] Secularism just doesn’t get it! The ultimate question is which religion is true? Which religion corresponds to reality? If the laws of logic apply to all of reality then they apply to religious claims as well. Only one can be true.

(3). Faith in science (Will “science” solve our problems?)

“Science” is touted by many today as the only true view of reality and an inoculation against the claims of religious masses who still live in ignorance & stupidity. These are the ones who still believe that “science” will answer all of our burning questions and solve all of humanity’s problems. But lest we forget, we have the 20th Century as a guide. It is intimately familiar to us. We have lived through much of it. It is analogous to all of human history because of the simple fact that human nature remains the same and many are still trusting that “science” and the scientific worldview is the way forward.

Why are things not improving now in the first decade of the 21st Century – the most well-informed, well-educated and scientifically minded centuries to date?

Surely the sciences and technology have brought us much good (curing diseases, saving lives, etc…), but they are ill-equipped to solve our greatest problems which are spiritual & moral in nature.

Many critics will surely point to religious extremism and the turmoil happening in the Middle East as the prime example that “religion” is at the core of the world’s problems. They fail, however, to make vital distinctions between contradictory religious truth claims (especially in the Theistic religions of Judaism, Islam & Christianity). Yet it is only in the religion of Christianity – whose message is the reconciliation of fallen humanity (made in God’s image) to the Creator by the God-Man, Jesus Christ who died on a cross for the sins of the world – that there is hope for the future.

There simply is no unity, order or peace apart from Him.


[1] Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1966), pp. 24-5.

[2] And of course, WW2 ended with the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

[3] John Garth, Tolkein and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003), xiii.

[4] Summary of Quigley, p. 24.

[5] One of the latest is Sam Harris’s, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (New York: The Free Press, 2010).

[6] For an excellent study on the relationship between science and human nature I strongly recommend Brendan Purcell’s excellent work, From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Human Origins in the Light of Creation and Evolution (Hyde Park, New York: New York City Press, 2012).

A Not So Bright Future: Technology, Atheism & the Death of Man

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900

It is widely believed that the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche ushered in the twentieth century with his famous phrase, “God is dead…”[1] Nietzsche himself died in 1900. Obviously atheism didn’t start in the twentieth century with Nietzsche. In fact, he was the culmination (the pinnacle) of a long line of thinkers which reached back into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[2] The European Enlightenment promised grand and wonderful things when human reason finally divorced itself from the shackles of faith.[3] Using the newly found tools of the “scientific method,” (via Bacon & Spinoza); a humanistic morality which was becoming increasingly devoid of God (via Nietzsche); and the burgeoning industrial revolution with its new technologies, the twentieth century was set take mankind to new heights never before dreamt of – a utopia of sorts. Some who were wise, however, could see that “wicked things were written on the sky.”[4] The next century (the 20th) would either be wonderful or it would be a nightmare. Enter H.G. Wells novel, A Modern Utopia (1905), the book which inspired Aldous Huxley’s vision of the future in Brave New World (1932), and later, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four (1949).

Both of these novels predicted a future in which mankind would be destroyed either by external oppression by a despot using technology (the big-brother of Orwell), or through technologies which would make us lazy and undo our capacity to think (Huxley).[5] In both instances, technology would somehow be used to lead to our undoing.

If there is no God (or at least since He died in the 19th century) then humans must put their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future in something. Enter the Enlightenment 2.0 – 21st century edition – human reason, science and technology will surely help us solve all of the world’s problems. How are we doing 13 years into this century? Not very well. Do we ever learn? Usually not.

Neil Postman makes a brilliant observation in, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992). An observation that we should etch into our heads.

Our most serious problems are not technical, nor do they arise from inadequate information. If a nuclear catastrophe occurs, it shall not be because of inadequate information. Where people are dying of starvation, it does not occur because of inadequate information. If families break up, children are mistreated, crime terrorizes a city, education is impotent, it does not happen because of inadequate information. Mathematical equations, instantaneous communication, and vast quantities of information have nothing to do with any of these problems. And the computer is useless in addressing them.[6]

The scientific, atheistic and materialistic worldview is utterly incapable of ensuring civilization. It can’t be trusted. Why? Because the last century has been one gigantic experiment in what it is capable of and also of what it is incapable of.

In my next post A Titanic Failure: Never Learning from Our Past, we will take a look at some epic examples of the complete failure of the European Enlightenment and materialistic atheism and what it could teach us about our future – if anything at all.


[1] See, “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” in Walter Kaufmann, Editor & Translator, The Portable Nietzsche (New York: Penguin Books, 1982).

[2] For an excellent book on the philosophical battles which ensued between various German thinkers on the role of reason during the era of the Enlightenment see, Fredrick C. Beiser’s, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987); for a Christian analysis of the Enlightenment see, James Collins, A History of Modern European Philosophy (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1954).

[3] Interestingly, the modern Internet & Wikipedia had its birth in the Enlightenment with the idea of the Encyclopédie which was published in France 1751-1772.

[4] To borrow line from Chesterton’s poem “The Ballad of the White Horse” – a poem about England’s Saxon king, Alfred the Great.

[5] I am indebted to Neil Postman for this observation in his excellent book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985). Postman’s thesis is that Huxley was right. History has proven that he was correct.

[6] Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), p.119.

 

Does God Exist? Craig vs. Millican

Dr. William Lane Craig is probably the best debater for evangelical Christianity today.  Rarely do Craig’s opponents address his arguments, much less provide coherent refutations.  Dr. Peter Millican at least attempts to refute Craig’s arguments directly.  This makes for a very spirited exchange.

For those of you who may not have time to watch the entire debate, the blogger Wintery Knight has summed up the exchange nicely here.  He also provides links to the audio.

This Saturday on the National Mall in Washington, It's the Unreasonable Rally

This Saturday, March 24, on the National Mall in Washington D.C., atheists and secularists from all over the world will gather for a day of entertainment from guest speakers, comedians and musicians. The Reason Rally, which claims to be the “the largest secular event in world history,” features such notable figures as Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Dan Barker, David Silverman, James Randi, Lawrence Krauss, and PZ Myers.

But is the Reason Rally all that it advertises itself to be? I, for one, very much welcome the celebration of reason over superstition, delusion and irrationality. I am also very strongly an evidentialist inasmuch as I maintain that justifying belief requires having rational substantiation for it. Surely, genuine “skepticism” is not a position one takes, but rather an approach to evaluating claims.

Click here to continue reading>>>

Christian Response to the Reason Rally, March 24th, Washington DC

From here:

“Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers and other New Atheists are planning a “Reason Rally” in Washington, D.C. on March 24. They’re billing it as “the largest gathering of the secular movement in world history,” and they’re using it to trumpet their message that reasonable people reject belief in God.

We disagree.

Together, we represent Christians from the United States and around the world who believe that Christianity is a reasonable worldview. Our goal is to demonstrate a humble, loving and thoughtful response to the Reason Rally.We’ll be equipped there with:

  • Gifts of kindness to give away–free bottled water, for example
  • Mini-book (32-page) summarized versions of Reason Really, an exciting soon-to-be-published ebook written especially for this purpose.
  • Flyers advertising that ebook.
  • A limited number of copies of a currently published book on Christianity and atheism.

Further details on these books are available on request.

Join us in Washington!

Come join us there! We invite you to unite with us in a spirit of grace and truth (John 1:14, 1:18), ready to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), with godly grace and wisdom (Col. 4:6).

This is not a counter-demonstration. We are going there to share Christ person to person as opportunity arises. We will not raise our voices. We will talk with those who want to talk with us. We will offer gifts and materials to all, but we will not press ourselves on those who do not wish to converse. Knowing that the way others may choose to gather near us is not entirely in our control, we will nevertheless attempt to avoid gathering groups larger than a handful of people.

Let us know how to contact you so we can share plans and resources.

Come fully equipped

We’ll provide you some advance training by way of Internet, so you will be prepared for interactions in this unique “Lion’s Den” environment.

The items you will have opportunity to share at the Reason Rally require some funding. We ask you to share in this by donating funds for what you will distribute there—and more than that, if possible, to help other ministries and individuals who will be there.

How Can I Help?

For now, there are three primary ways you can get involved!

First, join us in prayer. We are asking God to empower this loving, intelligent response to the Reason Rally. Our goal is to make a positive difference with each person we reach through this effort.

Second, join our contact list. This will allow us to keep you informed as plans progress for our response to the Reason Rally.

Third, consider making a donation. Even a small amount – $5, $20, or $50 – when pooled together, makes a big difference. We are seeking to raise a total of $5,000 for this outreach.

This united outreach is being led by:

 

Supporting Bloggers

The Universe Had a Beginning

Cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin wrote a book in 2006 (Many Worlds in One) in which he refers to a theorem he developed with Alan Guth and Arvind Borde. Although not a believer in God but the mulitverse, Vilenkin says that their theorem proves that even if other universes exist there was an absolute beginning of them all. In other words, one cannot posit a multiverse, as atheists often do, to avoid an absolute beginning.

Vilenkin put it this way: “It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning (Many Worlds in One [New York: Hill and Wang, 2006], p.176).”

In a recent debate, Dr. William Lane Craig points this out forcefully and exposes his opponents attempt to take Vilenkin out of context. He also states that Vilenkin’s theorem shows there was an absolute beginning regardless of the initial physical states of the universe.

The bottom line is this: Since there was an absolute beginning to space, time and matter, it’s reasonable to conclude that the cause of the universe must be spaceless, timeless and immaterial. This cause must also be personal in order to choose to create, intelligent to create such a fine-tuned universe, and powerful to create out of nothing. A spaceless, timeless, immaterial, personal, intelligent, powerful Being is exactly what theists call “God.”

The Dawkins Dilemma – Part 3

First, my apologies for having been away from the keyboard for the past 5 months. Unfortunately, my work activities have required that situation.

As you may recall, I started a series last autumn examining the veracity of Dr. Richard Dawkins’ “The GOD Delusion”. In two topics that dealt with this I examined how I believe Dr. Dawkins was deliberately manipulating the facts and using “smoke and mirrors” to pursue his own personal agenda.

While I have no ax to grind with individuals espousing their own personal views, I felt it necessary to comment on Dr. Dawkins’ work because of his reputation as a world class scientist and his resultant responsibility to present information in a fair and accurate manner, something he fails to do.

As I’ve cited before, Dr. Dawkins has a specific agenda. He states that very clearly on page 28 of the paperback edition where he writes: “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.” Now, I have no problem with Dr. Dawkins writing a book that says “I’m and atheist, here’s why, and here’s why you might consider it as well” as long as he presents the facts fairly and accurately.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Dr. Dawkins’ book is overflowing with misleading information, half truths, and embarrassingly shabby scientific reporting (at least for a man of his professional credentials). My intent in this series of posts has been and continues to be to point out these glaring inadequacies.

You see, there are real people making life-altering decisions based on what Dr. Dawkins has written. Many of them blindly accept that since he is this “world-class scientist” he is presenting matters of undeniable fact when, in reality, nothing is farther from the truth.

Unfortunately, Dr. Dawkins seems to get a free pass on most of what he writes. Perhaps a majority of his readers have neither the time nor resources to actually check out what he is saying. Or perhaps it’s because his charming and somewhat amusing writing style coupled with his scientific reputation prevents people from recognizing how they are being mislead in his quest to achieve his stated agenda.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, I’m not saying that honest errors and oversights can’t occur. They can and do. However, the quantity and regularity with which misleading information occurs within Dr. Dawkins’ manuscript demonstrates his deliberateness in the process. His method of presenting them confirms this. I’ve already addressed numerous instances of this in The Dawkins Dilemma – Parts 1 and 2, and plan to demonstrate yet more examples of this misleading dialogue in this and future posts.

For example, let’s look at how Dr. Dawkins portrays Thomas Jefferson in his book. Now why Dr. Dawkins feels that Thomas Jefferson’s beliefs are relevant to whether or not God exists, I’m not sure. However, since he brought Jefferson into the discussion, his comments are fair game. Note, I’m not going to discuss Jefferson’s views on different religions (Christianity, Calvinism, Theism, Deism, etc) only the likelihood that he was an atheist, as Dr. Dawkins implies.

Dr. Dawkins first addresses this on pg. 64 where he notes:

“Christopher Hitchens in his biography Thomas Jefferson Author of America thinks it is likely that Jefferson was an atheist, even in his own time when it was much harder:

As to whether he was an atheist, we must reserve judgment if only because of the prudence he was compelled to observe during his political life. But as he had written to his nephew, Peter Carr, as early as 1787, one must not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. ‘If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in this exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you.’

I find the following advice of Jefferson, again in his letter to Peter Carr, moving:

Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”

On page 122-3, Dr. Dawkins again quotes Jefferson when he says:

“Although Jesus probably existed, reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New Testament (and obviously not the Old Testament) as a reliable record of what actually happened in history, and I shall not consider the Bible further as evidence for any kind of deity. In the farsighted words of Thomas Jefferson, writing to his predecessor, John Adams, ‘The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.’ “

Sound like pretty compelling stuff? Sure, until you read the actual letters.

Let’s look at the complete letter to John Adams and see what else Jefferson said:

“I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his 5. points is not the God whom you and I acknolege and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a daemon of malignant spirit.”

“He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be”? … “the God whom you and I acknolege and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world”?… Doesn’t sound much like an atheist to me.

What about the quote Dr. Dawkins mentions above? Well the full quote is:

The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.

You see, Jefferson wasn’t denying the existence of God or Jesus, but rather criticizing Calvinistic views. Jefferson closes by saying:

So much for your quotation of Calvin’s `mon dieu! jusqu’a quand’ in which, when addressed to the God of Jesus, and our God, I join you cordially, and await his time and will with more readiness than reluctance. May we meet there again, in Congress, with our antient Colleagues, and recieve with them the seal of approbation `Well done, good and faithful servants.’

Again, I’m not discussing Jefferson’s views on different religions only the implied fact that he was an atheist. Again, his own words state “He [Calvin] was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be”. So ask yourself why are Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins trying to convince us that he likely was? What could possibly be driving them to spend time taking quotes out of context in an attempt to prove a point which Jefferson himself so clearly refuted?

I believe that this simple example demonstrates the approach Dr. Dawkins’ takes on the broad spectrum topics he discusses, some of which I’ve already addressed. At best he’s demonstrating incompetence in researching his facts, something which I seriously doubt given his professional background. More likely, he’s deliberately misleading his readers; possibly figuring the vast majority would blindly trust him, never bothering to check the actual facts.

By the way, you don’t have to take my word for any of this, just go to: http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/53/Letter_from_Thomas_Jefferson_to_John_Adams_1.html for the complete text of the letter.

Oh…one more thing… Concerning Dr. Dawkins’ quote I mentioned above…“Although Jesus probably existed, reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New Testament (and obviously not the Old Testament) as a reliable record of what actually happened in history, and I shall not consider the Bible further as evidence for any kind of deity.”… Where is the substantiating information? Who are these “reputable biblical scholars”? Why hasn’t Dr. Dawkins provided some names or statistical references to actually back up such a bold statement? After all, saying that they “…do not in general regard…” would seem to infer that a majority feel this way so there should be plenty to choose from.

Again, I apologize for my time away from this topic, it was unavoidable. I hope to be able to respond to your comments (job permitting) and continue working our way through Dr. Dawkins’ book.

Why are Atheists Angry at God?

Why are atheists angry at God?  Joe Carter, web editor of First Things, cites studies recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that those who don’t believe in God tend to be the people most angry with Him.  (Click here for the entire article.)

Of course, we cannot take aggregate data and apply it to specific individuals.  It may be true that atheists on average are more angry with God than believers, that that doesn’t mean atheist X is.  However, I’ve found the anger from many of the atheists with whom I’ve interacted to be quite palpable, beyond what you would expect if one were engaged in an honest pursuit of the truth.  In fact, some individual atheists admit as much.

Atheist Thomas Nagel, Professor at NYU, admits that he has a cosmic authority problem with God.  He thinks the same is true of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.  When you read their books or hear their debates, it’s hard to disagree with Nagel.  Hitchens in particular calls himself an “anti-theist” and God a cosmic dictator in a “celestial North Korea.” That’s why I said in our two debates that Christopher’s attitude seems to be, “There is no God and I hate Him.” (Maybe I’m misreading Hitchens, but I don’t think so. In addition to the evidence from Christopher’s own statements, his brother Peter, who wrote “The Rage Against God,” comes to the same basic conclusion writing of Christopher’s “passion against God.”).

One has to ask, why all the anger?  To say that atheists are just angry with believers wouldn’t explain it because the study found anger with God, not his followers.  If God doesn’t exist, why be angry with Him?  The apostle Paul had an answer that he recorded in Romans 1:18-32.  But I wonder what you think.

The Dawkins Dilemma – Part 2

Those of you who read Part 1 hopefully understand my concern is that in his book “The God Delusion” Dr. Richard Dawkins has set out to divert people from any religious views they and move them into the world of atheism in what i contend is an inappropriate and inaccurate manner, especially in light of the “world-class scientific” credentials he possesses. Furthermore, I believe people making decisions based on reading this book have the absolute right to have the material presented in a fair, accurate, and honest manner.

In Part 1 I demonstrated how Dr. Dawkins manipulated the available information to skew the perceptions on the effectiveness of intercessory prayer. For Part two, I’m going to jump forward to Chapter 3, Pages 118-120 in the paperback version and focus on the section entitled: “The Argument from the Scripture”.

I’m not saying that I don’t take issue with many of the things Dr. Dawkins says in the in the first two chapters (in addition to the prayer example) but I’ll save commentary on that section of the book until a future post. There are two reasons for this. First, many of the issues I have with this material revolve around the rather subtle wording and style Dr. Dawkins uses, and I think that once I point out some of the more obvious issues farther on in the book it will be easier to go back and pick those items up later.

Second. A large portion of the first two chapters of “The God Delusion” deals with the contention that there are many religious persons (including professed Christians) who have done terrible things. On that point, I agree with Dr. Dawkins, there are. However, the fact that some Christians, Muslims, Jews, or Atheists for that matter do so has no bearing whatsoever on the existence or nonexistence of God. It is, in my opinion, discussed simply to shape the readers perspective leading into subsequent portions of the book.

With that being said, let’s look at what Dr. Dawkins’ has presented in pages 118-120.

We’ll start with his comment in the middle of the page 118 which states:

A good example of the colouring by religious agendas is the whole heart-warming legend of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, followed by Herod’s massacre of the innocents. When the gospels were written, many years after Jesus’ death, nobody knew where he was born. But an Old Testament prophecy (Micah 5:2) had led Jews to expect that the long-awaited Messiah would be born in Bethlehem

He goes on to say:

In the light of this prophecy, John’s gospel specifically remarks that his followers were surprised that he was not born in Bethlehem:Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?‘ “

To state that John is in any way inferring that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem is totally untrue. You can easily check this for yourself. The Scripture quoted above is John 7:41. However, if you go back just a few lines and check John 7:1, you see that “After That, Jesus went around Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life.” The Scriptures state that Jesus traveled regularly and just because he was most recently in Galilee doesn’t mean he wasn’t born somewhere else.

In my mind that’s equivalent to someone trying to dispute my having graduated from Ohio State simply because I moved to Virginia from my previous residence in Maryland after having lived in Ohio, Florida, Texas, and California. (But some said, Shall the Chief Engineer come out of Maryland? Hath not the resume said, that he cometh of the Ohio State Engineering Department and out of the town of Columbus in Ohio, where Woody was?)

Continuing on to pages 118 and 119.

Matthew and Luke handle the problem differently, by deciding that Jesus must have been born in Bethlehem after all. But they get him there by different routes. Matthew has Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem all along, moving to Nazareth only long after the birth of Jesus, on their return from Egypt where they fled from King Herod and the massacre of the innocents Luke, by contrast, acknowledges that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth before Jesus was born. So how to get them to Bethlehem at the crucial moment, in order to fulfil the prophecy? Luke says that, in the time when Cyrenius (Quirinius) was governor of Syria, Caesar Augustus decreed a census for taxation purposes, and everybody had to go ‘to his own city’. Joseph was ‘of the house and lineage of David’ and therefore he had to go to ‘the city of David, which is called Bethlehem’.

Let’s check the sources. Matthew 1:20 details an angel’s words to Joseph: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…” Mathew 1:24 further states “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (NIV)

So where were Joseph and Mary? While Matthew doesn’t specifically say, a good case can be made that it is somewhere other than “home” since that is where they are told to go. And, where is Joseph’s home…Bethlehem.

Now let’s look at Luke. Luke tells us both Mary (Luke 1:26) and Joseph (Luke 2:4) are in Nazareth. Luke 2:1-3 states: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David because he belonged to the house and line of David.”(NIV)

Again, let’s ask where were Joseph and Mary? Somewhere other than “home”, but this time we have an answer, Nazareth. And where did they go? To Joseph’s home…in Bethlehem.

From this we can see that what the Scriptures say concerning the location of Jesus’ birth, is nothing remotely like what Dr. Dawkins says in his book. Lets’ keep going.

Still on Page 119, Dr. Dawkins states:

Moreover, Luke screws up his dating by tactlessly mentioning events that historians are capable of independently checking. There was indeed a census under Governor Quirinius – a local census, not one decreed by Caesar Augustus for the Empire as a whole – but it happened too late: in AD 6, long after Herod’s death.

There are a couple of items that should be discussed relative to this. For baseline purposes we will use the generally accepted date of 4 BC for Jesus’ birth.

The first item is a matter of translation. The term “governor of” may also be translated as “governing in” and Luke presents his description of Quirinius in the same manner he uses to describe Pontius Pilate’s role as a regional Procurator (i.e. not a “Governor”). (Luke 3:1) Thus it is valid to extend the time period during which Quirinius was serving in some official capacity which has been documented back to as early as 12 BC and leads to a translation describing a census that took place under the direction of Quirinius, before he formally became “Governor”.

Additionally, the Luke uses the Greek word “protos” which in addition to being translated as “first” may also be translated as “prior to” when followed by the genitive case. Thus the implication here is that Luke could also be referring to a census (commonly thought to be the “Oath Census” in the 2-4 BC time-frame) that took place prior to the 6 AD property/taxation census.

While I will agree this is somewhat of a gray area as far as clarity is concerned, Dr. Dawkins again fails to mentions any valid discussion that happens to contradict his absolute vision, thus again leading the reader away from a fair and accurate portrayal of the facts.

The final example I want to point out in this section can be found in the middle of page 120. Dr. Dawkins states:

“Shouldn’t a literalist worry about the fact that Matthew traces Joseph’s descent from King David via twenty-eight intermediate generations, while Luke has forty-one generations? Worse, there is almost no overlap in the names on the two lists! In any case, if Jesus really was born of a virgin, Joseph’s ancestry is irrelevant and cannot be used to fulfil, on Jesus’ behalf, the Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah should be descended from David.”

I’m sure in researching this topic that Dr. Dawkins came across (but failed to note) the widely accepted position that Matthew traces back the lineage of Joseph while Luke traces back Mary’s lineage. No wonder there is little overlap between the two. Also note that Matthew didn’t say there were 28 generations in total from David to Jesus, but rather 14 from David to the exile to Babylon and 14 after the Babylonian exile ended to Jesus.

As for the Messiah being descended from David, that blood relationship is provided through Mary’s ancestry. Joseph, while not the biological father of Jesus, is considered the legal father, and according to the Jewish law, passes on the royal and legal family ancestral link to David and Solomon.

In Part 1 of this post, I showed you how Dr. Dawkins had selectively manipulated the “prayer experiment” to fit the needs of his agenda. In this part, I hope you have seen how he continues to manipulate the facts in a manner the leads people to his agenda.

As with Part 1, I ask only that you take the time to look over this from a neutral point, think for yourself, and ask yourself the following questions relative to The God Delusion:

1.      Am I being told the truth or am I being given a rhetoric which is unfairly skewed to lead me (and others) into potentially life-changing decisions?

2.      Does Dr. Dawkins (a world-class scientist) present you with a fair, accurate, and ethical document on which to base my life decisions or is he unfairly misleading me into making the decision he wants?

Let me know what you think.

Is Intelligent Design Science?

 

The purpose of this post is not to prove that Intelligent Design is true, nor that it is superior to naturalistic alernatives, but simply to raise awareness over some of the lines of evidence where Intelligent Design seems to be science. Let me also reject in advance those who dismiss ID with casual comments like, “There is no evidence whatsoever for ID,” “ID is creationism in a tuxedo, but still has no ticket for the party,” or “ID is no more scientific than astrology” or the like. These aren’t necessarily ridiculous positions to hold, but they require a lot more substance than most claimants (that I’ve encountered) are usually willing to muster. ID does not necessarily deserve credit or acceptance, but if satisfies the criteria for admission into scientific consideration then one cannot in good-intellectual-honesty dismiss it out of hand and still claim to be science minded.

First, ID employs a theory drawn from science, namely, information theory (see, Dembski’s The Design Inference)–information theory is a staple in SETI, Forensics, Archeology, Cryptology, Anthropology, etc.

Second, the problem with ID is not whether information theory is scientific, but whether astronomy, biology and chemistry are valid fields of applying information theory. Properly casting the nature of this debate is key to understanding the lines of argumentation. Those rebuking ID for elaborating “information theory” should instead focus their argument on the illegitimacy of applying information theory to fields like astronomy, biology and chemistry.

Third, ID does achieve claims that are, at least on a low level, falsifiable. For example, the Bacterial flagellum may be irreducibly complex if no more basic alternative-use formulations such as a (Type III secretory system [syringe type rod]) can be found which are constitutionally older than the flagellum. Applying ID theory to the flagellum renders a testable prediction, namely the falsifiable theory that if the flagellum is irreducibly complex then there will never be discovered a simpler same-function form nor an older a lternative-function form.

Fourth, neither naturalism nor materialism has been, historically, a necessary precondition for doing science, given the preponderance of religious scientists throughout history. It may be argued, weakly, that if one allows for supernatural causes one is discouraged or distracted from the hard task of finding natural, reliable, or material causes for natural phenomenon. While that possibility makes sense, it has not been the reality. Despite there being many non-theists (ie: no kind of God-belief) in the sciences, there are still a host of theists who have little trouble employing a methodological naturalism for much of their work while suspending that assumption where it might bias the data (such as, dismissing evidence for a miracle claim simply because naturalism demands dismissing all miracle claims). Stephen Jay Gould’s Non-overlapping Magisterium is a nice theory to safely quarantine religion and science from effecting each other, but both make metaphysical claims on history, humanity, and the natural world. And many scientists exist in the overlap for, despite the claims of casual anti-ID theorist, these science minded theists can readily admit the possibility of an active God without descending into a “magical” irrational view of nature.

Fifth, ID does bear fruit in further predictions and study. We can, for example, study and apply irreducible complexity theory anywhere in biology to see where it fits and where it does not. At minimum, such applications of ID force evolutionary alternatives to mount a more comprehensive/compelling set of unintelligent mechanisms since the known unintelligent mechanisms fail pretty badly on many cases. Pure evolutionary theory, for example, has the difficulty of explaining the reality of “true belief” given the non-intelligent mechanical causes of newtonian forces as it’s only physical forces, or, natural selection and genetic variations as it’s overriding biological forces. Sure one can appeal to conceptual models and thought experiments to argue for an evolutionary answer to this problem Plantinga calls “the Evolutionary Argument Against naturalism,” but that effort is bound to circularity, begging the question, since naturalistic answers ostensibly presuppose that intelligence arises from non-intelligence though that is precisely the premise needing defense.

For another example, ID predicts that the more irreducibly complex and higher specified complexity of something, the less capable we will be at demonstrating a viable evolutionary account. By testing evolutionary mechanisms against a given object–such as the Giraffe’s neck or the woodpecker’s tongue–we can see, according to the prediction, whether the known mechanisms of evolution easily explain it or not. If the Giraffe’s neck, which supposedly is irreducibly complex, then there would be no immediate and demonstrable explanation from naturalism for its appearance. If the Giraffe’s neck is slightly or greatly complex, and irreducible in either case, then evolutionary theory will have an easier or harder time, respectively, providing a viable account from natural causes that does not betray the kind of incrementalism espoused by Darwin nor, if one is okay with being in the scientific minority, the punctuated equilibrium espoused later. Remember though, that both sets of theories have their own burden of proof whereby they ought to exceed the (low) test of “explanatory” sufficiency and reach some kind of testibility.

Still a third example of how ID is fruitful with testable predictions, ID predicts that high-information content within organisms can devolve, but does not greatly evolve. Hence, we can subject microrganisms to generations of forced mutations to see if any give rise to sustainable gains in specified complexity. Fourth, ID presents tremendous applications for the search for extra-terrestrials (ie: non-human intelligences), and reapplication of information theory in forensics, cryptology, computer programming, Artificial Ingelligence, and archeology. Fifth, and implied above, ID also presents a valuable frame of reference for critiquing the monopoly of evolutionary theory (such that many evolutionists are not aware of any explanatory gaps or weaknesses within evolutionary theory). And what is science if not a free-exchange of alternative theories and findings achieving the market-capitalism of ideas whereby poorly framed hypotheses can be honed and improved, or ground down into oblivion.< /p>

Sixth, it is not very scientific to put faith in evolutionary theory to IN THE FUTURE resolve present ignorance. Evolution-of-the-gaps is no less dogmatic and faith based than is God of the gaps. And frankly, a great deal of force behind the rejection of ID is fueled by faith in evolutionary theory to explain aspects of nature that are yet unknown. Though evolution, according to typical evolutionists, has been well verified on many accounts, scientists pride themselves on respecting no authorities and refraining from all faith or dogma in place of their science. Where evolution has not been DEMONSTRATED to explain a certain phenomenon it remains a theory, or, at best a hypothesis. But any use of said hypothesis prior to experimentation risks being philosophy or even theology. Scientists are more than allowed to do philosophy, they just have to sacrifice the authority and credibility of “Science-says-so-and-so” when they are philosophizing.

Seventh, NO scientific claim is DEDUCTIVELY verifiable–as that would entail the kind of certainty achieved only in logic and math. It would not be fair to demand of Intelligent Design a degree of certainty that the rest of science rarely if ever achieves. All scientific claims, even the strongest ones, are limited to INDUCTIVE probability never deductive certainty since they are fundamentally empirical (not rationalistic or formalistic in their metaphysics or epistemology).

Eighth, ,any theoretical streams within science are deemed “scientific” though they conceptually and practically defy testability (whether verification or falsification)–just as Theoretical Physics like String Theory.

Ninth, whatever else “science” means, there would seem to be something inherently unscientific about disqualifying what may be true and treat any related questions as uninteresting since they are not bound by naturalism. Science should not be too proud to investigate the mating habits of insects nor the possibility of a non-human intelligence.

Tenth, science itself could not exist without philosophy of science to establish it’s nature and parameters. Truth be told, ID tests the demarcation problem for Science though many scientists themselves may have never known there was any problem demarcating Natural Science from other fields of study like theology or philosophy. Scientists hate to admit this, as there is a generally negative view of metaphysics entire even though every scientist is, by the nature of the field, a part time metaphysician. To illustrate, it was philosophy of science that gave birth to the scientific method which gave birth modern science. This point is relevant because the natural sciences rightly incorporate under the title of “science” things that were never purely “science. The scientific method was not hatched in a lab but in the mind of philosophical-theological-scientists. We would sacrifice too much if we cut off any “philosophy” or “theology” as non-science simply because it is not testable in a lab as that would forbid the scientific method itself–which is philosophy, and not itself testable within the parameters of science.

Eleventh, it is a genetic fallacy and a fallacy of association to fault ID for having young-earthers, religious people (who are presumed “biased”), or otherwise unliked characters among its members. We should remember that early chemists are largely indistinguishable from alchemists–yet we would not want to dismiss their work as “unscientific” just because they were still dabbling in pseudoscience. We would not want to morally fault science for its association among Nazi experimenters in WWII. Abuse does not bar use. And if ID is abused or genetically tainted by some of its practitioners we still have the theory itself to deal with lest we mistakenly burn the message because of the messenger. Conversely, we cannot rightly fault the findings of atheistic humanists in science because they, perhaps, have an anti-theological bias or might be “swayed” by their irreligion or humanism or atheism. Biased people can still do good science provided there’s is not an overriding bias.

In conclusion, a compelling case can be made that ID is indeed science and therefore it deserves a hearing among science minded people.

The Dawkins Dilemma – Part 1

It is the ultimate responsibility of the scientific and engineering communities to convey information in a clear, honest and accurate manner. To do otherwise is not only unethical but can endanger the health and welfare of people as many of the decisions we make both as individuals and as a society depend on the “facts” reported to us.

While all young scientists and engineers are taught the criticality of this concept, there are far too many cases where publications by allegedly educated, highly reputable professionals contain “facts and conclusions” that are either contrary to or in direct opposition to the supporting evidence.

One might wonder why anyone would anyone would risk publishing such information, especially in light of the peer review process that is supposedly employed in the review of such documents. The general reasons this occurs can include:

  1.  Inexperience or honest errors and omission
  2. Carelessness
  3. Deliberate manipulation of the data to support the author’s personal agenda (fame, greed, power, control, etc)

The unfortunate thing is that the greater the author’s education, experience, and skill, the more likely that a publication that repeatedly contains such erroneous treatment of the facts tends to fall into the last category.  As the old saying goes, “figures lie and liars figure”.

Such is the dilemma faced by Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion”, whether to accurately and impartially portray the facts surrounding the items he discusses in this book in the hope that they provide support for his position or, to manipulate them in a manner that forces them to support his stated mission states “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.” regardless of whether or not they actually do.

Now Dr. Dawkins has impressive credentials. He earned a PhD in Biology from Balliol College, Oxford in 1966. He has served as an assistant professor of zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, a lecturer in zoology and fellow of New College at Oxford University 1970-1990, and in 1995 he became Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford.

Dr. Dawkins’ awards are numerous, well deserved, and include the Zoological Society of London Silver Medal, the Michael Faraday Award, the Kistler Prize, and the Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic. He has been awarded several honorary degrees, topped “Prospect” magazine’s 2004 list of the top 100 public British intellectuals, granted Fellowship on the Royal Society and the Royal Society for Literature, and has authored numerous award winning and bestselling books.

There is little question as to the education, knowledge, skills, qualifications, and expertise possessed by Dr. Dawkins. This effectively eliminates Category 1, listed above, as the cause of inaccuracies in “The God Delusion”.

I’ve also eliminated carelessness as a cause since Dr. Dawkins himself notes the critiques of “various drafts” by a qualified (but hardly impartial) panel of experts, states that his wife read “the entire book aloud to me at two different stages in its development so I could apprehend very directly how it might seem to a reader other than myself”, and indicates that in the paperback edition he has “taken the opportunity to make a few minor improvements, and correct some small errors that readers of the book have kindly drawn to my attention.”

Therefore, one can only categorize the omissions, manipulations, and misrepresentation of the facts Dr. Dawkins presents in “The God Delusion” as falling into the third category listed above.

So, what are some of the issues in “The God Delusion” (Note: In discussing this I will only be using the paperback edition). Well, before addressing this, let’s establish some ground rules.

  1. In this and subsequent postings I will base comments only on documented evidence. While I won’t make philosophical judgments, I will reserve the right to present evidence that may be as speculative as that presented by Dr. Dawkins. This will be done only to offer you the opportunity to question for yourself the validity of Dr. Dawkins’ statements.
  2. I have nothing personal against Dr. Dawkins. I assume he is a good man who is grounded in his beliefs. I do, however, believe he needs to be held to responsible for his lack of scientific and research professionalism in presenting the information in “The God Delusion”.
  3.  I ask only that you be fair and honest in determining whether or not the information contained within “The God Delusion” is presented in a reasonable and accurate manner. This is a responsibility Dr. Dawkins has to his audience and a right you have as the reader, especially if you are making life changing decisions based on it.

So let’s start by looking at Dr. Dawkins’ treatment of prayer…

On pages 85-90, Dr. Dawkins discusses “The Great Prayer Experiment”, a $2.4 million dollar study funded by the Templeton Foundation performed under the direction of Dr. Herbert Benson, “a cardiologist at the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston”.  This study was officially known as “The Study of Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer” or more simply “STEP”.

Dr. Dawkins starts this section of his book with a very brief mention of the study done by Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton before jumping directly to the Templeton Foundation study. He describes the basic setup and conduction of the experiment along with what he portrays as the “clear cut” results. Dr. Dawkins states:

“Dr. Benson and his team monitored 1,802 patients at 6 hospitals, all of whom received coronary bypass surgery. The patients were divided into three groups. Group 1 received prayer and didn’t know it. Group 2 (the control group) received no prayers and didn’t know it. Group 3 received prayers and did know it.”

The results of the study, as Dr. Dawkins correctly notes is that there was no statistically difference between Group 1 (received prayer and didn’t know it) and Group 2 (received no prayers and didn’t know it). Surprisingly, Group 3 (received prayers and did know it) had a statistically significant higher incidence of complications.

I won’t present everything Dr. Dawkins states on these pages, you can read that for yourself assuring the accuracy of his words. Also, in keeping with Ground Rule 1, I will not present any opinion on the effects of intercessory prayer. I will only let the facts speak for themselves and let you determine if Dr. Dawkins if presenting an accurate view of the study and giving you facts upon which you should be basing life decisions.

First a little history. While Dr. Dawkins has noted only two studies (Galton and Benson), a 2008 article by Dr. Larry Dossey in discussing intercession prayer experiments in the November/December 2008 issue of Explore, The Journal of Science and Healing, states:

“We can identify around two dozen major-controlled studies in humans, approximately half of which show statistically significant results favoring the intervention group toward whom healing intentions were extended.”

Note, I’m not saying prayer intervention works, only that Dr. Dawkins did not report the existence of any of studies other than Galton and Benson. In fact, the Benson study is considered by many as only the 2nd best known intercessory prayer experiment following a 1988 study by cardiologist Randolph Byrd. The Byrd study (cited as a reference in the Benson study) showed a 5-7% benefit for those receiving prayer (vs. compared to the 7-8% considered statistically significant for Group 3 in the STEP study).

Now as for the study itself, Dr Dawkins incorrect categorizes the groups as “Group 1 received prayer and didn’t know it. Group 2 (the control group) received no prayers and didn’t know it. Group 3 received prayers and did know it.” In reality Benson et al describe the groups as:

  • Group 1 – Received prayer, informed that they may or may not receive prayer
  • Group 2 – Received no prayer, informed that they may or may not receive prayer
  • Group 3 – Received prayers and did know it

Now this seems like a small difference, it can affect the results (i.e. receiving or not receiving prayer and know knowing about it vs. knowing that it is a possibility). In fact, an editorial by Mitchell Krucoff et al that was published in the same issue of the American Heart Journal in which Benson’s STEP paper appeared notes that:

“Patients enrolled in double-blinded arms might still be inclined to guess or even believe they know what their treatment assignment actually was. In elective percutaneous coronary intervention patients enrolled in a double-blinded prayer study, about two thirds of patients not actually assigned prayer believed that they were.”

He went on to state:

“‘Constraints on how intercessory prayer was provided’ excluded all but a handful of prayer groups and may have affected the actual prayers performed by these groups.”

Further, Dossey (in the publication cited above) states that:

“Surveys show that around 80% to 90% of Americans pray regularly when they are well and it can be assumed even more pray when they are sick. Faced with the possible prospect of being denied prayer in the study, the subjects in A [Group 1] and B [Group 2] may therefore have redoubled their personal prayers for themselves. Thus a paradox may have resulted in which A and B received more prayer – not less – than C [Group 3]”.

Also, Manoj Jain, one of the original authors of STEP stated in a 2006 Harvard medical School news release:

“One caveat [of STEP] is that with so many individuals receiving prayer from friends and family it may be impossible to disentangle the effects of study prayer from background prayer.”

Now, in discussing the statistically significant higher incidence of complications in Group 3 Dr. Dawkins casually comments:

“Was God doing a bit of smiting, to show his disapproval of the whole barmy enterprise? It seems more probable that those patients who knew they were being prayed for suffered additional stress in consequence: ‘performance anxiety’, as the experimenter put it.”

Well, in the American Heart Journal editorial cited above Krucoff et al take the experimenters to task by stating:

“While presenting these results clearly and noting them in discussion, the investigators take an almost casual approach toward any explanation, stating only that ‘may have been a chance finding’”.

Ariel et al really drive this home in the May 2008 issue of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in which they note that the patients in Group 3 “which had the highest rate of complications, may have been predisposed to do worse”. They state:

“When compared with the other two groups, this group had a higher incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema and chronic bronchitis), a higher incidence of smoking history, a higher rate of three-vessel coronary bypass surgery, and a lower rate of beta-blocker use prior to surgery.”

and conclude that:

“For a fair trial of prayer, the study should have established a level playing field between all three groups through proper randomization, such that no group was worse off than any other going into the study.”

As I noted before, I’m not trying to promote my own beliefs on intercessory prayer. Rather, I’m simply pointing out that the “evidence” cited so glowingly by Dr. Dawkins is, in fact, nothing like he has portrayed it to be. As a scientist routinely involved in both writing and reviewing papers on such studies, it is clearly apparent that he has manipulated the information to further his stated agenda, i.e. “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

“The God Delusion” has, I believe, sold over two million copies. Unfortunately, Dr. Dawkins has let his disdain for organized religion skew his scientific objectivity. Regardless of your beliefs on this and other topics addressed by Dr. Dawkins, you as the reader have the right to a fair and impartial presentation of the facts on which to base any future decisions you may make, decisions Dr. Dawkins is clearly trying to direct for you.

In the next installment, I’ll give you some more examples of Dr. Dawkins’ misleading presentation of factual information from “The God Delusion”.

Christians and Atheists Seeking the Same Thing?

Evangelical author Skye Jethani makes the insightful observation that some so-called Christians and some atheists have quite a bit in common when it comes to control.  While some atheists (like Hitchens and Dawkins) want control without God, some evangelicals want control over God.  He writes:

“The great irony is that while claiming submission to God, those advocating a life under God are actually seeking control over him through their religiosity. Pray X, sacrifice Y, avoid Z, and God’s blessings are guaranteed. They have reduced God to a predictable, controllable, even contemptible formula. Some evangelicals condemn the atheists for exalting themselves over God without realizing they are guilty of the same sin by other means.”

Tozer said the most important thought you have is the thought you have when you hear the word “God.”  Indeed, many people are worshiping or rejecting a God of their own making.  They have false notions of the one true God–He’s either a finite, moral monster who needs a cause (Dawkins and Hitchens) or a cosmic candyman who owes us if we behave a certain way (the “Word of Faith” believer).  They set up a straw God and then easily knock him over or loose their faith when he falls down and doesn’t come through.  That’s why I often ask people who don’t believe in God, or who are disappointed with God, “What kind of God don’t you believe in?” After they describe their God, the response is often, “I don’t believe in that God either.”

Jethani’s entire article is worth the read here.