Showing posts with label apologetics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label apologetics. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

I'm taking a break from class this semester and I thought I'd share a couple essays I wrote for my previous classes. This first one is a research paper I submitted for my History of Christianity class a while back.

Christian Apologetics in the Early Church

Introduction
The apologetic arguments of the early and medieval church fathers are still useful today. This short paper will discuss some of the history of the early and medieval church fathers as apologists and some of their major arguments and how modern apologists can use those arguments still today. This paper will go through Justin Martyr, Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas; concentrating on these writings: Martyr’s First and Second Apology, Augustine’s Confessions, Anselm’s Monologium, and Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. In these works, some arguments are no longer used, some are still in use, and some should be revived. This paper will attempt to show that there are various arguments and styles that historical apologists used that have fallen out of style but should be revived. Some of these are specific arguments and some are styles. Modern apologists are removed from the Church Fathers not only in time but in desires, thoughts, attitudes, and arguments. These trends are some things that should be changed in modern apologetics.

Justin Martyr
As is appropriate this paper will open with the oldest of the Church Fathers that is well known for his apologetics, Justin Martyr (c. 100-165).1 Justin studied Greek philosophy including stoicism, Aristotelian philosophy, Pythagorean philosophy, and Platonism before becoming a Christian.2 However, as Lane says, “[Justin] was not just a Christian seeking to relate Christianity to Greek philosophy. He was a Greek who had come to see Christianity as the fulfillment of all that was best in philosophy, especially in Platonism.”3 This is reminiscent of a great quote from a modern Christian philosopher, William Hasker, as he writes in his short book on Metaphysics, “[I am] a Christian who loves philosophy and would like to consider himself a philosopher; [I am] a philosopher who loves Jesus Christ and wants to be known as a disciple. A Christian first, a philosopher second—but neither one at the expense of the other.”4 This modern quote seems to reflect the ideas of Justin Martyr. Justin himself clearly held a high view of philosophy and Greek philosophers. In his first Apology, he references philosophy quite often and even writes a chapter saying that Plato’s Tim├Žus referenced the image of the cross from the Old Testament story of Moses and the serpent lifted up in the desert.5 How well this works as an argument is not so clear. However, Justin does write quite a bit in defense of Christians that were being unfairly mistreated. Justin countered ideas like how Christians were called atheists, and he argues that Christianity is the true philosophy.6 One of the key points that can be clearly seen in Justin’s “short” works (the first and second Apologies) is his extensive use of non-Christian writings and thoughts. He is not afraid to reference various Greek writings. If anything, he seems to like co-opting Greek philosophers in his writing. It seems that most modern apologetics works use Greek terminology, but do not often reference Greek or other non-Christian writing to co-opt them into their writings. Modern apologists could do well to use the philosophy of non-Christian writers against them. Christianity does have the most consistent philosophy and modern apologetics writers would do well to emphasize that and demonstrate it using both biblical arguments and non-Christian philosophy.

Augustine
Augustine (Bishop of Hippo) lived about 189 years after Justin had died (354-430)7 and is probably one of the most famous of the Early Church Fathers to this day.8 Augustine studied Neo-Platonism and became a Christian after following Manicheism for a time and was a prolific writer over a wide range of subjects.9 His most famous work, Confessions, is a somewhat dense autobiographical work that starts with his childhood in book one and progressing through his life and confessions/theology to book thirteen.10 Like Justin, Augustine seemed happy to incorporate certain (Greek) philosophical ideas into his own. And, he wrote of his struggles using Neo-Platonic thoughts and terminology.11 These influences may or may not have been a good thing, but Augustine and others that were influenced by Greek philosophy still seem devoted to building their theology on the Bible. Augustine’s apologetic writing is as varied as his theological works are, but his famous line, “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee”12 is an early version of C. S. Lewis’ argument from desire. “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.”13 Also, Augustine’s view that evil is “nothing but a privation of good,” is a kind of answer to the “problem of evil.”14 Augustine also referenced Romans 1 as a kind of cosmological argument.15 The lessons of Augustine are less in the form of what he writes about, rather in how he writes. Augustine’s writings are very personal in nature. Augustine also quotes the Bible very often. Many modern apologetics texts tend to not reference the Bible hardly at all. So, modern apologetics writers ought to follow Augustine’s example in how he writes from personal experience and how he utilizes biblical arguments throughout his work.

Anselm
Anselm has somewhat of a bad reputation among many apologists today as he was one of the first, and certainly the most famous for using, the “ontological argument.” Anselm lived in the early 11th century (c. 1033-1109) and wrote creatively as the Bishop of Canterbury.16 As mentioned above his most famous argument comes in the form of the ontological argument. The argument, found in the Monologion:
[A]ll other goods are good through another being than that which they themselves are, and this being alone is good through itself. Hence, this alone is supremely good, which is alone good through itself. For it is supreme, in that it so surpasses other beings, that it is neither equalled nor excelled. But that which is supremely good is also supremely great. There is, therefore, some one being which is supremely good, and supremely great, that is, the highest of all existing beings.17
This argument has been reworded, reformatted, and argued by multiple writers since Anselm penned it. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy lists such writers as “St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Gassendi, Spinoza, Malebranche, Locke, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, … Charles Hartshorne, Etienne Gilson, Maurice Blondel, Martin Heidegger, Karl Barth, Norman Malcolm, and Alvin Plantinga.”18 Unfortunately, though that is an impressive list of writers, it is not considered a very good argument by many apologists today. Many think of the ontological argument as defining God into existence. And, though that is a fair critique, others, most notably Alvin Plantinga, have revived the argument with some success. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (online) has an entire article devoted to this argument that often references Plantinga’s version.19 It is the position of this paper that apologists have too long ignored this argument, which in its own way also reflects the ideas expressed in Romans 1. All people actually know intuitively that God exists and this argument can move other arguments into the realm of possibility. It can establish the idea that belief in God is reasonable, because after all it is possible that there is a “Best Being” (God), to use the term “good” that Anselm uses, and if it is possible that such a being exists, then it is at least reasonable that it be so. This argument can be used as a stepping stone. If one can get a skeptic to at least admit that it is possible for such a being to exist, then one can move on to other arguments like the cosmological arguments, which were very popular for the next apologist this paper will discuss.

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, who lived from 1224-1274, is well known for his use of Aristotelian philosophy.20 This may be a weakness of Aquinas because critics of Christianity often say that it is unduly influenced by various Greek philosophers and there are even some Christians who disagree with the Greek influences and refuse to listen to anything written by such theologians because they deem them unbiblical in their reliance on Greek philosophy.21 Aquinas was so enamored with Aristotle that he took to simply calling him “the Philosopher.”22 Aristotle not only heavily influences Aquinas, but Aquinas heavily referenced the writings of Anselm and Augustine (though not always agreeing with them).23 He was and still is revered, particularly by Roman Catholics, as the best philosopher/theologian/apologist of his time, perhaps of all time.24 Undoubtedly, Aquinas’ most famous and influential apologetics work is in his “five ways.”25 The "first way:"
It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. … It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.26
This is just the "first way" and each of the other arguments are just as powerful. They each deal with different aspects of the universe, so they could be taken together as all cosmological arguments. The "second way" deals with efficient causes (again using Aristotelian terminology); the "third way" deals with the nature of being and not being; the "fourth way" deals with the gradation of goodness in everything (somewhat similar to Anselm’s ontological argument); and the "fifth way" is an argument from design.27 What can one learn from Aquinas’ apologetics? Clearly, there is a ring of confidence in the way Aquinas writes. So, perhaps the best point to learn from Aquinas is his tone. He writes as one having authority, interestingly, as Jesus was described (Matt. 7:29 and Mark 1:22).

Lessons
The lessons we can learn from these great masters are too many and too powerful for this short paper to express. However, let us try to sum them up here. Justin Martyr has a few weaknesses. His weaknesses are not born out of his inabilities or anything like that; it is just that he was writing to a different audience in a different time period. In fact, when he was living/writing the canon had not even been established yet.28 Justin’s weaknesses are that he appeals almost exclusively to the Scriptures to make arguments. But, this is also a strength. Modern apologists have been drawn to a style the reflects that of Aquinas, who relies more on philosophical argument to make apologetic points.  But, Augustine is not without his weaknesses as well. He had an unfortunate emphasis on Church authority that Counter-Reformers latched on to, as well as a view of faith-leading-to-salvation that Reformers admired.29 Perhaps the best lesson in that is for modern apologists to be careful not to espouse overly contradictory views. Regardless, Augustine’s candor and self-reflection are things that modern apologetic writing would do well to emulate. When one comes to Anselm there is much to be said (indeed much has been said), but one of his weaknesses could be that his work is dense; it is nearly impenetrable. It takes scholarly work well beyond the scope of this short paper to truly understand even small parts of this master’s work. Despite being opaque with difficult phrasing Anselm certainly has a powerful apologetic tool in the ontological argument. Modern apologists should follow Plantinga as he follows Anselm in pushing this argument as a starting point. Lastly, this paper explored some of Thomas Aquinas’ work and it is certainly tough to find a weakness here. Perhaps the only one, as has already been mentioned, is Aquinas’ near infatuation with Aristotle. Aquinas’ style of authority is certainly to be respected and emulated, but there is a danger in speaking too authoritatively as well. That style can push away people seeking God. Yes, as previously mentioned, Aquinas’ strength is his confidence, but that strength can be a liability. It can push people away.
Conclusion
This paper is too short to contain all that is needed to really make the point expressed in the introduction. However, it should be clear that these four and many other major Christian Church thinkers/apologists/theologians of the past should still be studied today. There is much we can still learn from these masters. That is indeed why they are often referred to as “masters.” This paper on Justin Martyr, Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas is just the tip of the iceberg concerning Church history with regards to apologetics. It is great thinkers like these that should encourage all of us to do our research and learn from these masters as they have learned from the Master.

Notes:
1 Robert C. Walton, Chronological and Background Charts of Church History (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005) Chart 1.

2 Tony Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 10.

3 Ibid., 10.

4 William Hasker, Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Pr., 1989), 25.

5 Justin Martyr, The Apologies of Justin Martyr, trans. Rev. Alexander Roberts, and James Donaldson, Suzeteo Enterprises), Kindle Locations 1038-1054.

6 "3. A Brief History of Apologetics," Bible.org, accessed July 10, 2018, https://bible.org/seriespage/brief-history-apologetics.

7 Walton, Chronological and Background Charts, Chart 1.

8 Lane, A Concise History, 47.

9 "3. A Brief History of Apologetics."

10 A concise summary and the full text of each book can be found here: "The Confessions," Catholic Encyclopedia: Miguel Hidalgo, accessed July 10, 2018, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1101.htm.

11 Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 85.

12 Augustine and E. B. Pusey, The Confessions of St. Augustine (No publisher information), Kindle Edition, 1,

13 C. S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 58.

14 Augustine, The Confessions, 20.

15 "3. A Brief History of Apologetics."

16 Walton, Chronological and Background Charts, Chart 1.

17 Anselm of Canterbury, Monologium, (The Fig Classic Series, 2012), Kindle Locations 72-75.

18 Greg Sadler, "Anselm of Canterbury," Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed July 10, 2018, https://www.iep.utm.edu/anselm/.

19 Graham Oppy, "Ontological Arguments," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, February 12, 2016, accessed July 10, 2018, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-arguments/.

20 Walton, Chronological and Background Charts, Chart 1.

21 This observation is based on years of interacting with various believers and unbelievers on social media platforms about theology and philosophy, and some of the comments in this article: Paul Vincent Spade, "Medieval Philosophy," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, March 15, 2016, accessed July 10, 2018, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/medieval-philosophy/.

22 This series of lectures from Recorded Books give a very thorough treatment of Aquinas’ philosophy: Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas Course Guide (Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2009), 38.

23 Ibid., 7.

24 Ibid., 6.

25 "3. A Brief History of Apologetics," As the footnote on that page says there is an abundance of literature written about the “five ways.” There is no way to capture all of that here.

26 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (Complete & Unabridged) (Coyote Canyon Press.), Kindle, 10.

27 Kreeft, The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, 17-19.

28 "3. A Brief History of Apologetics," though to be fair, this is true of many of the Early Church Fathers.

29 Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought, 47-48.


Bibliography
Anselm of Canterbury. Monologium. The Fig Classic Series. Kindle, 2012.

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica (Complete & Unabridged). Coyote Canyon Press. Kindle.

Augustine. The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. Edward Bouverie Pusey. No publisher information available. Kindle.

"The Confessions." Catholic Encyclopedia: Miguel Hidalgo. Accessed July 10, 2018. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1101.htm.

Hasker, William. Metaphysics: Constructing a World View. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Pr., 1989.

Kreeft, Peter. The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas Course Guide. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2009.

Lane, Tony. A Concise History of Christian Thought. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Lewis, C. S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007.

Martyr, Justin. The Apologies of Justin Martyr, trans. Rev. Alexander Roberts, and James Donaldson, Suzeteo Enterprises. Kindle.

Noll, Mark A. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012.

Oppy, Graham. "Ontological Arguments." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. February 12, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-arguments/.

Sadler, Greg. “Anselm of Canterbury.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed July 10, 2018, https://www.iep.utm.edu/anselm/.

Spade, Paul Vincent. “Medieval Philosophy.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. March 15, 2016. Accessed June 10, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/medieval-philosophy/.

Unknown Author. “3. A Brief History of Apologetics.” Bible.org. Accessed June 10, 2018. https://bible.org/seriespage/brief-history-apologetics.

Walton, Robert C. Chronological and Background Charts of Church History. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review of Bertrand Russell's Lecture "Why I am not a Christian" Part 2

Here we go again! Let's finish this. I started review/critiquing Bertrand Russell's lecture and I highly recommend that you read part one before continuing here. Without any more intro, let's jump right back in.

"The Moral Arguments for a Deity" -- His understanding of the argument is fairly rudimentary, but I agree with this first part, "One form is to say that there would be no right and wrong unless God existed." The way Dr. William Lane Craig phrases the argument is actually in the negative form: "If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. Objective moral values and duties do exist. Therefore, God does exist." So, his phrasing isn't a problem at the outset. Then he goes into this:
"I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question. The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are then in this situation: is that difference due to God's fiat or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God."
Here's the problem I have with this section. It's all stolen. It's basically a modern version of Plato's famous Euthyphro problem (often called the Euthyphro dilemma). To boil it down, either God commands goodness, or God is subject to goodness. This is a problem for the Christian making the moral argument because the crux of the issue is "objective moral values." If God commands goodness then is it "objective"? Russell doesn't have much more to say, other than it could very well be some other source of morality, he calls it a "superior deity." There are lots of good answers to the Euthyphro problem and I don't want today's issue to be as long as yesterday's so I'll merely point you to my two previous writings on the subject and this other post.

"The Argument For The Remedying Of Injustice" -- Here we come to what seems like the least invested of Russell's arguments. He says that, "they say, that the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world." The odd thing that doesn't make sense in this argument is I can't see where one can conclude, "therefore God exists." Maybe one might conclude, "therefore it'd be better if God existed." Essentially, we have a cruel world where is seems that bad people are rewarded and good people suffer. I don't see this as a very strong argument so Russell's critique is fair. He uses this analogy: "Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue: 'The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.' You would say: 'Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment;' and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe." Even though I don't think the argument can conclude that God exists. I do think the existence of Heaven/Hell does make living more comfortable for the Christian. Think about it, if bad people are guaranteed to get their comeuppance, that could give some comfort to believers, but not necessarily.

Here is seems that Russell finally tips his hand. He says, "What really moves people to believe in God is not any intellectual argument at all. Most people believe in God because they have been taught from early infancy to do it, and that is the main reason. Then I think that the next most powerful reason is the wish for safety, a sort of feeling that there is a big brother who will look after you. That plays a very profound part in influencing people's desire for a belief in God." Basically, Russell seems to portray a level of omniscience here. Has he interviewed every believer ever? Interesting though, surely Russell knows of the Apostle Paul. Paul is well known as one of the most prolific Christian missionaries, and he certainly didn't seem to have a wish for safety. Paul lists the "safety" that he was enjoying as a Christian teacher in 2 Cor. 11:24-31. It's only the modern "prosperity gospel" teachers that really state that Christianity really brings a comfortable life. Still none of this concludes, God does not exist or even that God does exist. In fact, this is a textbook kind of genetic fallacy. Even if every Christian everywhere only believes in God because of emotional desires and because they were "taught from early infancy to do it," that doesn't mean that God does not exist. What does it matter why people believe in God?

"The Character of Christ" -- This series of arguments are, again, rather unconvincing to the existence of God, though they are aimed directly at Christianity. As I said in part one, if Christ isn't divine, then Christianity is worthless/false. This leads to an interesting conundrum though, because Russell freely admits that he just doesn't agree with some of the teachings of Christ. This whole bit is just Russell's opinion. Also, this is just Russell saying, in a sense, I don't like these teachings. This also wouldn't conclude, "Therefore, God does not exist." The best one could conclude is that Russell doesn't like the teaching of Jesus. He starts with the "turn the other cheek." But, he dismisses this by saying that it wasn't original to Christ. Does Russell really think that an itinerant rabbi in first century Israel would steal a teaching (or even know, without being divine)? This is a teaching that Russell says came from "Lao-Tse and Buddha some 500 or 600 years before Christ." Which is more reasonable, that Jesus simply taught this or that he somehow had access to Far Eastern thought and teaching centuries before the rest of the Western world? I guess this is just Russell complimenting Jesus' teaching, but then dismissing it because others have had similar teachings. Next he takes aim at, "'Judge not lest ye be judged.' That principle I do not think you would find was popular in the law courts of Christian countries. I have known in my time quite a number of judges who were very earnest Christians, and they none of them felt that they were acting contrary to Christian principles in what they did." So, Russell likes this teaching but has a problem with Christians following His teaching!? This, like so many other things in Russell's lecture, betrays a serious lack of logical reasoning. This is kind of like Russell saying that because Christian judges ignore Jesus' teachings, Jesus wasn't a good teacher. Clearly that is a total non-sequitur. One last thing that Russell likes, "Then there is one other maxim of Christ which I think has a great deal in it, but I do not find that it is very popular among some of our Christian friends. He says, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor." That is a very excel ent maxim, but, as I say, it is not much practiced. All these, I think, are good maxims, although they are a little difficult to live up to." Again I have to ask, what does this prove?

"Defects In Christ's Teaching" -- Here Russell falls in with some extremely outlandish views. "Historically, it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one." Why would he go and say a silly think like the existence of Christ is doubtful? The existence of Jesus Christ is one of the best attested things in history. There is more textual evidence of the biographies of Jesus Christ (the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament) than there is anything else of that age. We have more evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ than is necessary to conclude that Jesus certainly existed. His first actual problem with Christ's teaching is, "[Jesus] certainly thought his second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that." Here's the kicker for Jesus' supposed claim that His second coming would be soon. The key phrase in the passage is that certain things will not happen until "the Son of Man comes into His kingdom." What exactly does Jesus mean by "come into His kingdom"? Now, clearly some in the early Church thought this was true. However, Paul specifically taught early Christians at the church of Thessalonica that they need to not live lazy lives just waiting around for Christ to return. So, sure Christians in the early Church thought that Jesus was returning in their time, but just because people have misunderstood this teaching doesn't mean that it was false. One interesting point though, Russell quotes Jesus as saying, "Take no thought for the morrow," but like so many before, Russell is taking a verse out of context. But, here it's used to deceive. The context for Jesus instructing his followers to not worry about tomorrow is not in the context of the Second Coming.

"The Moral Problem" -- Russell now aims his criticism of Jesus' teaching to what he calls moral deficiencies. He says, "There is one very serious defect to my mind in “Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person that is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment." So, despite Russell previously saying that Christians don't have to believe in Hell to be Christians and that he's not going to criticize that view, he now says that Christ can't be moral if He teaches about Hell. Russell also seems to have a problem with how Christ speaks to those with whom He disagrees. He compares Jesus' harshness with Socrates, but again this is a misunderstanding of Christian theology. Jesus doesn't level criticism toward those that merely disagree with him. That's not what salvation in Christianity is about. You don't have to "agree" with Jesus to be saved. Sure, if you are a Christian you will agree with Christ's teachings. But, salvation is a matter of accepting the teaching that Christ is the payment for one's sins, not just agreeing with Jesus' teachings. This doesn't sound like a convincing argument, "I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of this sort into the world." Russell doesn't think that a kind person would preach in a way that makes people afraid!? I've  heard this analogy a few times so I don't remember the exact source. Imagine you know that someone is walking towards a cliff. Is it a kind person who just lets that person walk off the cliff? Is there even a time when telling someone that they might die that might be scary for that person? Is that okay? Again, the kind person would be the one that tries to keep the person from dying, even sometimes using fear.

His other criticism was fairly personal. He doesn't like Jesus cast out demons into some pigs that then run off a cliff. He thinks that wasn't very nice and that a kind person wouldn't do that. Same with the withered fig tree. A kind person wouldn't do those mean things. These are petty and not very powerful arguments against Christ's teaching. Just because you don't like the way Jesus did things doesn't mean that he wasn't kind. Russell's opinion, for what that's worth, is clear, "I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to History. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects."

"The Emotional Factor" -- "One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous," I think Dennett stole this (at least I don't recall him giving credit to Russell). He talks about this in his work Breaking the Spell. Why does this seem to be an unspoken, often spoken of, rule? If anything, Christianity has welcomed a huge history of probing and analyzing of its claims. It's also interesting to note that the very existence of the supposed New Atheists is the 9/11 attacks. The New Atheists responded to the 9/11 by trying to debunk all religion as dangerous. Please convince me that religion makes men virtuous and yet, is somehow the cause of more bloodshed than anything else and dangerous. Either Russell is wrong, or the New Atheists are wrong (they could both be wrong). Here again Russell fails in his rhetoric, "That is the idea -- that we should all be wicked if we did not hold to the Christian religion. It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked. You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs. In the so-called Ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with all its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burned as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion." He contradicts himself. We can't attack religion because it keeps people behaving morally, but people behave very badly when they are religious. He insists that Christianity is morally bankrupt: "I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world." Dawkins rips off this idea in The God Delusion. He refers to a moral zeitgeist. That morality is progressing, but Christianity is holding it back. Funny word though, progress, what would it mean to progress morally? Progress implies an intended direction. Where are we heading morally speaking?

"How The Churches Have Retarded Progress" -- Here is the main quote:
Supposing that in this world that we live in today an inexperienced girl is married to a syphilitic man, in that case the Catholic Church says, 'This is an indissoluble sacrament. You must stay together for life,' and no steps of any sort must be taken by that woman to prevent herself from giving birth to syphilitic children. This is what the Catholic church says. I say that that is fiendish cruelty, and nobody whose natural sympathies have not been warped by dogma, or whose moral nature was not absolutely dead to all sense of suffering, could maintain that it is right and proper that that state of things should continue.
But, we don't really have a good accounting for what is moral or immoral action. This critique of the "Catholic Church" (by which I assume he means the Roman Catholic Church) is nothing more than, Russell doesn't like the presumed teachings of the Church. This is nothing more than Russell's opinion. As such, it doesn't really deserve a response. Just as the previous issue, if we don't know where morality is progressing, we can't say that the Church is retarding its progress.

"Fear, The Foundation Of Religion" -- Russell says, "Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing -- fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand-in-hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things." Again, mere speculation. Is this really the truth? How does Russell know that Christianity is based on fear? Sure, there can be aspects of Christianity that are scary, but really, does Russell think that it's all about fear? Russell says that science can alleviate these fears, but how is that? He doesn't explain what science has to do with alleviating fear.

"What We Must Do" -- Finally, we come to Russell's conclusion and not a moment too soon. Russell says, "We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world -- its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it." (Emphasis mine.) Again, what's the meaning of "good"? Russell hasn't given us what goodness means, so these are just his opinions. Also, facts cannot be good or bad, they're just facts. This final quote I completely agree with, except the idea that Russell is implying that Christianity is what's wrong with the world and it is what needs changing/abolishing. "A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create." I find a bit of irony in Russell implying that Christianity is full of "ignorant men." Christianity has long been a bastion of education. Maybe today it's not as focused on education as it has been in the past, but it definitely isn't full of "ignorant men." In this final thrust, we have another genetic fallacy. Even if Christianity were full of and lead by only ignorant men, that wouldn't make it false.

Let's wrap this up. I don't have much more to say. This lecture was pretty sad. If anything it was like Dawkins' book The God Delusion. Just like that book, reading this lecture actually strengthened my faith. If this lecture represents the best arguments against Christianity, then Christianity is almost definitely true.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review of Bertrand Russell's Lecture "Why I am not a Christian" Part 1

So, two instigating factors drove me to read this famous lecture given by Bertrand Russell in 1929 (or at least the text I have was copyrighted in 1929). The first was a conversation online with a skeptic. We were discussing the moral argument for God. To be more specific we were discussing whether or not the skeptics I was engaging (on a Facebook site specifically for discussing religion) were actually atheists or "simply lacking belief in God." The discussion was started by the page owner sharing a post that said there were only three options, you either accept the proposition that there is a God, reject the proposition, or just don't care or know. This kind of discussion comes up all the time as modern (New Atheists) online skeptics often like to shirk the burden of proof (or really any responsibility in their position) by saying that they don't believe that God doesn't exist, they simply lack the belief that any god exists. Basically they often try to claim the null view, as opposed to a negative view. Anyways, that's backstory. One of these atheists quoted Russell's famous lecture as a response to my posting of the moral argument for the existence of God. Then, Friday night I met up with a small apologetics discussion group to watch the recently released movie, The Case for Christ. I'd seen the movie before, but on this viewing it struck me that Lee Strobel had once been strongly influenced by Russell's teachings (he specifically references this lecture). I then decided that if this was a good enough lecture for them, I ought to know what this great lecture actually taught. I didn't expect it to dissuade me from Christianity, but I want to know what Russell actually taught rather than hearing it secondhand. Without further ado, here we go.

I'm going to tackle each section separately:

"What is a Christian?" -- Here I actually appreciate Russell's honesty. He is clearheaded enough to not attack a straw man. He talks about watered-down Christianity that was, and still is, popular. He's right to say that Christianity is more than just "... a person who attempts to live a good life." I disagree that "The word does not have quite such a full-blooded meaning now as it had in the times of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. In those days, if a man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant. You accepted a whole collection of creeds which were set out with great precision, and every single syllable of those creeds you believed with the whole strength of your convictions." I know Christians that could be described that way, in fact, I consider myself to be one! I also disagree with the notion that a Christian can believe that Christ was the "best and wisest of men." A fundamental doctrine of Christianity has to be that Jesus Christ was more than just a wise man, but that He is divine. If Christ isn't divine then Christianity is false, and the surety for that truth is the truth of the resurrection. I also agree with his point concerning the abandonment of the doctrine of Hell. While I accept that Christians can, without abandoning Christianity altogether, have different views of Hell. There still needs to be some kind of understanding of an afterlife, which generally entails Hell and Heaven at the least. It's interesting from a rhetorician's point of view that while he here says that he's not going to include belief in Hell as part of fundamental Christian views, but later he does attack the theology of Hell saying that, "I do not myself feel that any person that is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment." So, believing in Hell isn't fundamental to Christianity, but it is a fundamental teaching of Christ and Russell can't be humane and believe in Hell at the same time. Despite what seems like Russell going back on his statement that Christians don't have to believe in Hell to be Christians, let's move on.

"The Existence of God" -- I was hoping that this would be where his really heavy-hitting arguments against God would start to come out, but alas this section is more about how this is too big of an argument to condense into such a short space (this was a lecture), and that he was only going to summarize his position. It is curious though that he brings up the Roman Catholic Church's teaching "that the existence of God can be proved by the unaided reason." This is a bit confusing because it seems like he's lambasting the Roman Catholic position as being about faith without reason, but then he says that he's going to take on only a few of their arguments here. I am puzzled. If their position is that it's a matter of faith and not reason, then why would they have arguments at all? Arguments are a feature of rational inquiry and persuasion, not blind faith.

"The First Cause Argument" -- Here we go, finally. His first critique of this argument is to call into doubt the concept of causation entirely. He says, "The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality that it used to have; but apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity." I don't appreciate the hubris. He hasn't made an argument yet and yet he's already assuring us that it cannot have any validity!? Also, it seems he's trying to say that science has somehow removed the need for a First Cause. How so? He hasn't offered any explanation of that, just a throwaway phrase that "men of science" have somehow debunked this argument. If anything, this argument has only gained traction in the area of science. Big Bang theory has exploded (yes a pun) on the scientific scene as a cosmology that destroys Russell's claim that "men of science" have reduced the vitality of this argument. They have demonstrated quite convincingly that there was an ultimate beginning to the universe, which plays right into the Christian's hand. In Russell's defense Big Bang cosmology was still young in the 1920's but he still doesn't have a scientific leg to stand on here. In addition to floundering scientifically, I think Russell just hasn't contemplated the philosophical arguments against a temporally infinite universe. He says that "the philosophers" have gotten at this as well, but still doesn't address how there could be an infinite past.

After this failure Russell commits probably his worst philosophical argumentation misstep (at least so far), he sets up an easy straw man. He says that when he was eighteen he was convinced by John Stuart Mill's autobiography that there is this question that kills the First Cause argument: "Who made God?" Really? That's your knockout blow? His parody (well, I wish it were a parody, apparently he take this seriously) is, "If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument." First, no theist ever says, intentionally, that "everything must have a cause." There are different varieties of this argument, so I can't include them all, but suffice it to say that Christian theologians/apologists who use First Cause arguments aren't so stupid as to clearly paint themselves into a corner with "everything must have a cause." The phrase that I've heard from most is, "Everything that begins to exist has a cause." That is a fair premise and it doesn't sound anything like Russell's straw man of First Cause arguments.

This next section was particularly humous to me so I have to point it out. He tells of how the Hindus believe "that the world rested upon an elephant, and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, 'How about the tortoise?' the Indian said, 'Suppose we change the subject.'" And, then proceeds to do the very same thing! He says, "The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause." In a sense, he's saying that we're just too naive to see how something could not have a beginning, and like his imaginary Indian says, "suppose we change the subject." Let's hear it, what is your best argument that the universe did not have a beginning. It's no use saying that we're just not imaginative enough to see how that's possible. That's like saying that we've never observed anything starting without a cause nor have we seen anything be infinitely existent, nor could we even imagine what that would look like, but it certainly is just our lack of imagination, it is possible. Just saying that something is possible doesn't make it so. I could say that a married bachelor is "possible" all I wanted, that doesn't make it so. I've said too much on this one part, let's keep going.

"The Natural-law Argument" -- This one is a more interesting one to me because I think Russell has something going for him, at least in part. These types of arguments are commonly called teleological arguments, arguments from design, or fine-tuning arguments. Russell is trying to take on what is, in my opinion, one of the strongest arguments for God. Unfortunately for Russell he didn't have modern science to again demonstrate just how delicately balanced the universe really is. He speaks of the popularity of these types of arguments in Sir Isaac Newton's day as they appealed to the "laws of nature" and that those laws are best explained by the existence of God. He does get something quite wrong here though. He says that once people had God as their explanation that it was "a convenient and simple explanation" and that it "saved them the trouble of looking any further for any explanation of the law of gravitation." Really? He even says that "Nowadays we explain the law of gravitation in a somewhat complicated fashion that Einstein has introduced." But, if we now explain gravitation differently, how did we get to that new understanding if we stopped looking for any further explanation of the law of gravitation back in Newton's day? He contradicts his own position! I will read him with a bit of charity here though and say that what he's really trying to say is that we've now come to understand gravitation differently and that it's not the law that we used to think it was. That's fair enough. "We now find that a great many things we thought were Natural Laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest depth of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard. That is, no doubt, a very remarkable fact, but you would hardly call it a law of nature." This is his strongest point, though it misses the mark.

His strongest point is that what we call "laws" of nature, are really just as subjective as the length of a yard. This is a good point because it cuts out the common phrase (I've heard it from numerous Christians, I've probably even said it) "if there's a law, there must be a lawgiver." The tact that many try to take here is that the laws of nature are like the governing laws of humans. That God wrote the, if you will, constitution of the universe, which included things like the law of gravity. I think this phrase, "laws require a lawgiver," is wrong-headed. I think Russell (and others) have a point. The law of gravity is, at its heart, just a human construct. It's not that gravity would go away if we didn't know about it or if our law were wrong (clearly we've had numerous wrong scientific ideas in the past). However, here's where I think this strongest point misses the mark. The teleological/design/fine tuning arguments don't rest on what we call "laws." What these arguments are really pointing to is the fact that the universe has qualities that only make sense given a divine Designer. Take the law of gravity, it's one of many that has to be a certain strength or the universe would collapse. Cosmologist have techniques and computer models where they have simulated, using complex mathematical modeling, what would happen if any one of the universal constants were somehow different than it is. It's not that there's some law that requires a lawgiver, per se, it's that there's a delicate balance that could only have been set up on purpose.

Russell points out that "Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which way you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and, being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that, because even supposing that there were you are then faced with the question, Why did God issue just those natural laws and no others?" I believe I've sufficiently answered his question in my previous paragraph, but let me summarize it. In cosmological modeling there are very few that will "work" that is, there are very few settings on the cosmological dial that will actually allow for the existence of a universe at all. So, while Russell is right to point out a distinction between human laws and natural laws, we're talking about a different situation altogether. One could say by way of analogy that the universe does seem to be running by a set of laws not unlike a country runs by a set of laws. And, just as a country needs a good set of laws to keep running a universe does as well. Only a perfectly knowledgeable, powerful Creator could set up laws and enforce them in such a way that keeps the whole universe running. Here's another important point that I think Russell gets completely wrong, "if there was a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary." This doesn't take into account what it means to be all-powerful. It seems that Russell is taking omnipotence to mean "able to do absolutely anything." Again, he's breaking with Christianity. Christianity teaches that even God is bound by His own nature, logic. Nonsense is still nonsense even when spoken of about God (I think that someone smarter than me said that, but the closest quote I can find is from John Lennox "Nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists.") God can no more make a married bachelor than you or I, because the very concept is nonsense. God chose to use gravity, atoms, quarks, strings (maybe), photons, strong and weak nuclear forces, etc. etc. to build His creation. Those physical things are limited by their natures to be physical. As physical things they have to be arranged in a certain way or else they wouldn't be anything. That is the design. Less like "laws," and more like a delicately balanced masterpiece.

"The Argument from Design" -- He starts off his critique of design arguments with a lot of silly things that people say things are designed for, but they are clearly misconstruing the purpose for which things are designed. Yes, we who hold to a design argument will need to give an accounting for this. If we say that such and such a thing was designed, we have, in a sense, said that we know for what purpose that thing is made. This is obvious with man-made objects. The lamp sitting beside me is clearly purposed to give light to an area. Knowing that purpose I can then say whether or not it was designed and if it was designed well. But, there is another level that Russell doesn't even attempt to address here, probably because it destroys his whole counter to design arguments. He says, "When you come to look into this argument from design, it is a most astonishing thing that people can believe that this world, with all the things that are in it, with all its defects, should be the best that omnipotence and omniscience have been able to produce in millions of years. I really cannot believe it." While I support the first part, we can't speak to the mind of God and say for what purpose the universe was designed (except with God's revealed truth, that is, God has told us some of His purpose for creating), we also cannot speak to whether or not that design is good or bad without knowing the mind of God. But, that is just what Russell is doing. He's saying that the design is bad. How could he know whether the design is good or bad? This is like an ordinary child looking at the design of the so called "Bird's Nest Stadium" (the actual name is the Beijing National Stadium) and saying that the design was bad! Who knows how to design a stadium better, the architects that built that amazing structure or this snotty, haughty child? God is many, many orders of magnitude above our understanding of design than the architect is above the child. So, who is Russell to say that the design is bad?

In addition to claiming to know that this design is bad, Russell also seems to think that the idea that this world will come to an end someday is a point against God's designing the earth. Once again it seems that Russell has fallen into his own trap. He has implied that we can't know something is designed without knowing for what purpose it was designed. But, here Russell has implied that God probably didn't design the world or at least didn't design it well because it will someday be dead and lifeless. Does Russell know for what purpose God made the world? If and only if one knows the ultimate goal of the existence of the world can one say that its dying is a bad design. Think of an analogy here, a lightbulb. It gives light and works. Is it poorly designed if it eventually wears out and stops working? Russell seems to be implying that an omniscient/omnipotent God would be able to design a lightbulb (from our analogy) that can last forever. But, again, does he know God's goal in making the lightbulb? Maybe, and I don't know for sure, God wanted the lightbulb to last only this long and no longer. Only if one knows when something is supposed to go defunct can one say whether or not it performed as expected or not.

When I first started writing this I had hoped I would be able to keep my comments to one entry. But, as I reach this point I realize I should have broken this up into multiple entries. So, I'll do just that. This is part one. Come back tomorrow for part two!

Ancient Okinawan Village on Ikei Island

Friday, October 6, 2017

Do We All Need to Become Scholars?

This is a response to Richard Bushey's post here. I highly recommend you read his post first. Here I'll give you a few minutes.

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Okay, ready? Let's talk about why I disagree with him. Here's the first sentence wherein I think Richard has really gone awry, "A possible resolution to this problem is to start doing real scholarship." Particularly the wording, "real scholarship." What kind of career are you involved in right now? If you regularly read my blog you'll know that I'm in the military. When I read "real scholarship" I think consistent, long-term studies. I think reading original sources in the original languages of those sources. I think there's no way that I have time to seriously devote myself to "real scholarship" at this time except in small chunks when I'm taking a college class. I would rephrase this as, "A possible resolution to this problem is to start being more scholarly." I have no problem with the conclusion being, let's work hard to be smarter on a particular subject (particularly when one enters the arena to defend that subject). In order to illustrate why I think Richard is wrong I made some graphics about how I see the world of Christianity divided up:


I realize there are definitely more subdivisions that this, but I feel like I captured all the relevant sections in this. There are certainly LOTS of Christian scholars, and I do honestly have a goal of someday being a professor and being considered a scholar. Authors, I think, are often more keenly aware of this distinction when they write. If you go to a bookstore and pull a book off the shelf on _____ topic. More than likely you're reading a popular-level book on _____ topic. If you go to a college bookstore, the opposite is true; you'll more than likely be reading a scholarly text on _____ topic. This graphic is what I feel Richard is trying to push:


And here is a more balanced proposal that I'd offer:


Now, before Richard rips my head off I want to point out an important distinction (one that I feel Richard didn't deal with at all). If we change our triangle to be behaviors as opposed to people it will look very different, and it'd be one that I'd be more inclined to agree with.


I think all Christian apologists would agree that the bottom tier is something people shouldn't do. In fact, it denies some biblical instructions "... always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you ..." (1 Pet 3:15b). And, I agree with Richard that merely memorizing answers to skeptics' questions or giving generic, basic arguments for the Christian faith is not the best. However, I'd argue that not everyone is cut out for true scholarly studies. As I started this off with, for many of us scholarly studies runs secondary to the rest of our busy lives. Let's look at a prominent scholar who also works tirelessly in the field of Christian apologetics. Dr. William Lane Craig has been a scholar since 1971 (that's ~46 years, longer than I've been alive!), he has a B.A. two M.A.s, a PhD, and a D.Theo. He's been published over 234 times (only about a third of which would be considered "popular level" [source])! Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for Dr. Craig and all the great work he does as a scholar and as a Christian apologist. But do I really think that ANY of my readers can get to that level? Maybe one of you but certainly not all of you, not me, and probably not Richard himself (though he might be on track). This is the sign of life-long devotion to scholarship. We would do well to emulate him. But, if you're shooting for and expecting that, you're probably going to be disappointed. I'm aiming for a much more modest goal. I want to become a military chaplain and then retire to a small college philosophy professorship (or associate professorship).

One other key point that I disagree with Richard on is this: thinking purely from a practical perspective with regards to apologetics. In fact, I completely agree with Greg Koukl's points in Tactics (available on Amazon) that there is not enough focus on the practical perspective in the field of Christian apologetics. He says, "These three skills — knowledge, an accurately informed mind; wisdom, an artful method; and character, an attractive manner — play a part in every effective involvement with a nonbeliever." He goes on to say this and it's something that I think Richard seems to be completely missing, "The second skill, tactical wisdom, is the main focus of this book." A practical perspective is what many are missing!

What do I think we should do? I think we should all study harder. We should all study arguments from people with whom we'll (probably) disagree. We should devote more time than we already are doing these kinds of scholarly activities. All in all, I don't really disagree with Richard, we need more Christian scholars. But, as Koukl says, I think we also need more, better diplomats -- ambassadors for Jesus Christ.



Saturday, June 20, 2015

On the Existential Argument for God

First, I'd like to point out that I very much dislike any existential argument, somewhat related to the argument from desire (for God or anything else).  They're very much appeals to the populous.  And, while there is a point to be made, I hope I make it as we go, I dislike appeals to popular opinion.  Just because a large group of people feel such-and-such does not say anything to the truth of that feeling.

As a bit of background: I was doing some searching for existential arguments when I happened upon this page from "Common Sense Atheism."  This article written by Luke Muehlhauser is a response to an article by Tawa Anderson on "Apologetics 315," and I decided to respond to both of them here.

The first of Tawa’s arguments for God and the one that I want to discuss here is "Can Man Live Without God? An Existential Argument from Human Religiosity.”  Luke points out: "Tawa notes that every ancient and medieval culture was highly religious, and that 'there is indeed a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God.'"  However, Luke has no (real) response.  He only scoffs, "Tell that to the healthy, satisfied, well-educated atheists of Scandinavia and they will laugh at you."  Will they?  This article and this article from the New York Post and this article from the Guardian, all tell very different stories about Scandinavian happiness than seems to be touted in the atheist blogosphere.  The basic points in those articles are that Scandinavians are actually among the saddest people in the world, it's the social norm there to conform and claim happiness and uniformity above all else.  Sure they might be among the best educated in the world, as Luke seems to fall into the confusion between causation and correlation as he blogs on this topic quite frequently.  Let's not assume that just because they're unhappy atheists that that is why they are highly educated or vice versa.  Perhaps education and atheism are only corollarily related.

After scoffing and wrongfully claiming that Scandinavians are happy atheists, Luke moves on to an appeal to the majority in the educated world: "Tell that to the most prestigious scientists and philosophers in the world, most of whom are atheists, and they will laugh at you.  (More scoffing/emphasis added.)  Tell that to the millions of fulfilled, moral, successful atheists around the world and they will laugh at you."  Again not really an argument just mocking scorn.  But, since he's gone there let's play the numbers, and if we're playing we might as well play big right?  On Luke's other post about the causes of atheism he references this statistic: "non-believers skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900 to 918 million in 2000, or 0.2% of world population in 1900 to 15.3% in 2000" from this source.  So, given approximately 10,000 years of recorded human history the largest percentage ever recorded was a measly 15.3%!?  I am not a mathematician (I'm a linguist), but even I can tell that the incredibly vast majority of human beings throughout the entirety of human history were definitely religious, at least in some fashion.  If anything this supposedly educated majority of people that are happy atheists is completely false given simple statistics.  Also, let's look at educated religious people.  This interesting article on "Examiner.com" counts some of the top IQs ever tested as being Christians or at least theists.  Maybe the test is skewed to allow for a religious person to score higher (that was sarcasm!)?

So let's go back to Luke's only critique so far, "The claim that 'there is … a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God' is empirically false."  Is it?  We've shown clearly that trillions of people throughout history have had a desire for the ultimate, the other-worldly, the infinite.  But, because there's been a jump in atheism in the past hundred years or so the claim that most people have a desire for God is "empirically false"?  Perhaps Luke is misunderstanding the definition of empirically false.  How is this argument "a shameless, cult-like attempt to prop up human insecurities so that people cling even harder to the superstitions that feed off their insecurity"?  It's a verifiable claim from history that most people want to connect with God.  This verifiable fact implies that there is a hunger deep within humanity.  What are we to make of this hunger?  CS Lewis uses the analogy of one's hunger for food.  If an animal was born without the hunger for food, that organism would die within one generation.  Why are we still living with this desire if it's genetically disadvantageous to desire God, why is it still here?  If it's genetically disadvantageous to desire moral actions why do we still have those desires as well?  Luke's "critique" falls flat.

Luke's prejudice is clear when he calls belief in God "lies" that we ought to leave behind.  Claiming that "meaning and morality and happiness ... is available without fear and superstition (again a sign of prejudice), that is when they leave childish (and again) and comforting notions about gods behind."  I'm genuinely confused here though.  In the very next paragraph Luke claims that religion "thrives on existential insecurity," but he just said that it's "childish and comforting."  How can it be both comforting and full of insecurity?  Again a weak critique here because it's internally inconsistent.  Supposedly religion is childish and comforting, yet it seeks to unsettle its adherents.  Apparently this one book, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, is Luke's bible and much of his blogging apparently is founded on it.  It may have something interesting to say, but so far based on Luke's comments reflecting what it says, I'm not impressed.  That book claims that "Religion does not provide existential security – instead, it thrives on existential insecurity. It thrives on poverty and ignorance and fear and instability and risk."  And, that "the poorest nations in the world are the most religious," to which I wonder if this took into account the difference in wealth between Islamic countries and Christian or (post-Christian countries) or atheist nation-states like China.  Also, in a sense this is to be expected!  "When people live in a society that already provides them with [any] security ... [that has] stability and safety and education and health care ..." etc. etc. "then people don't need (or want) gods anymore."  (Quotes taken from the blog not from the book.)  Of course, if you lacked nothing in your life, would you want something more?  Oh wait that's the hallmark of the rich!  They become rich because they want more and more.  I found this interesting quote in Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, (I do NOT recommend the book in general, this is merely a quote) "The change in purchasing power over the last half century in the wealthy nations carries the same message: real purchasing power has more than doubled in the United States, France, and Japan, but life satisfaction has changed not a whit."  Even Jesus taught this concept in Matt. 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25.  Why would one think that people with money and security would want God?  They already have security and all the "happiness" that money can buy, which if they're honest isn't really all that much.  Apply this on a societal scale and see a similar result.  If the government supplies all the money, food, health, lodging you could ever want why would you look to God for anything.  That worked so well in the Soviet Union (again with the sarcasm).  So what can we conclude from this?  Safety and security provided by the state quickly and quietly errodes religion (particularly the weak, liberal religions that seek to appease society rather than God).  Scandinavia is the poster child for this.  As the weak, socially watered-down church there stopped appealing to God it became less and less appealing to people as their physical needs were all met by the socialist state.

This last bit is obvious and the clearest indicator that Luke has no understanding of the argument being discussed: "Does my yearning to be the next Matthew Bellamy suggest that I will be? Alas, no. Wishful thinking does not indicate truth."  That is not what the existential argument is saying whatsoever.  The argument does not say that wishing for God makes God exist.  It says, there is an overwhelming desire within humanity for the divine.  Therefore, there probably is something to that desire and the best explanation is that God put that desire in us.  The argument is not saying that wishful thinking makes it so.  Luke's critiques present a clearly flawed view and a deep misunderstanding of the argument in general.  As I said, I don't particularly like the existential argument(s) for God, but Luke Muehlhauser clearly doesn't understand them.  There is a big difference between not liking or thinking that an argument is ineffective and misunderstanding an argument and poorly critiquing it.

One last thing and this is more for my own edification than anything else.  I'd like to try to put the (correct) argument in a syllogism.

P1) The vast majority of humanity has had a desire for God
P2) People *generally* do not persist in desires that have no possibility of being fulfilled
C1) There *probably* is a God

From my recent trip to Korea

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists Number Three

Based on my post back in December about trying to break my writer's block (obviously it didn't work), I'm tackling this list of ten things Christians/theists need to keep in mind.  See this link for number one and here for part two, this is the third point:

There is a gap between natural theology and revealed theology. Arguing for a prime mover is not the same thing as arguing for any faith tradition.

This is a tough one to tackle in a whole blog entry because I totally agree.  Thomas Aquinas and others' "prime mover" argument for God really only gets to the first point of theism.  However, if just this initial part of the argument stands, at the very least atheism is false.

P1) All things that begin to exist have a cause for their existence
P2) The universe began to exist
C1) The universe has a cause

That is just the beginning of the argument.  That only gets to the point that there is some sort of God that created the universe.  That basic argument does not get us to the Christian God.  However, if we add these next few premises we can come to that conclusion:

P3) The cause for the material universe cannot be material itself
P4) The cause for the material universe cannot be with the scope of time
C2) The best description of such a Being is found within Christianity

Also, there is a long and complex argument for Christianity from historical facts:

P4) If Christ rose from the dead, He is God incarnate
P5) Christ rose from the dead (and there is historical evidence to support this)
C3) Christ, as revealed in the Bible is God (the God described above)

So there you have it; there is a gap between natural/general and revealed/special revelation, but it is not a huge gap and easy to cross.  Show me another religion that can claim anything near as powerful as the arguments for Christianity and I'll at least give it some thought.  Though I've done quite a bit of comparative religious studies and I've found other views wanting.

Denominational differences are another question altogether and doesn't belong in this particular discussion, so I'll leave that for another day.

Photo credit goes to my beautiful wife, Michelle Ronicker

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists Number Two

Based on my recent post about trying to break my writer's block, I'm tackling this list of ten things Christians/theists need to keep in mind.  See this link for number one, this is the second point:

Science has radically altered how we understand the universe, so theism must grapple with the implications of science before offering prescientific beliefs as truth.

First off, let's discuss definitions of various terms here.  I'm not claiming that these are the best or dictionary definitions, but it seems these are commonly agreed upon definitions.  If you disagree with these definitions I'd be open to hearing alternatives.

Science -- the methodical study of the physical/natural universe.
Radically altered -- completely changed.
Universe -- the totality of physically existent things.
Grapple with the implications -- consider and think about with relation to meaning.
Prescientific beliefs -- (honestly I'm not certain here, but I assume) metaphysical statements.
Truth -- that which best coherently explains and correlates with reality.

Given these definitions I find it curious why this would even be a problem.  Science deals with the physical nature of the universe, religion/Christianity deals with the metaphysical and sources of what it means to exist.  I think the original assumption is that science has somehow proven that God doesn't exist or at least that God doesn't need to exist.  I do not agree with the concept of NOMA, (Non-Overlapping MAgesteria) but in a sense the two are on a one-way street.  Science is concerned with what is happening or from what cause something happens, but it is limited to physical universe.  Science cannot get to a deeper meaning of existence.  Science cannot give why there is anything at all instead of nothingness.  Maybe, but honestly I'm not holding my breath, science will someday give us how the universe came into existence, but even then it still doesn't say why.  To try to apply purely scientific views to morality, consciousness, deeper meaning etc. only leads to disastrous results.  Pure logic says that one must torture the innocent if it will bring about something good.  Applying mathematic principles to life leads to devastating consequences.  As portrayed in the popular movie, Watchmen the hero/villain Adrian Veidt is perfectly justified in killing millions in order to potentially save billions of people.  Also, in V for Vendetta the government is perfectly justified at rounding up innocent people to do scientific experiments on them.  As I insinuated before any number of thought experiments seem to easily slip into absurdity.  Say you somehow could save one person by the torture of another, innocent, unrelated person.  Under strict utility, you have to weigh things that are totally unrelated to their value as human beings.  In a strict utilitarian view the idea of inalienable rights (life, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness) is foreign.  You do not have a right to life if somehow your death brings about some good.

So, the study of the physical universe has greatly altered our lives including how and what are able to do, but it has had no impact on the meaning of life.  Just consider what I'm doing right now.  I'm typing out my thoughts on a laptop computer that is able to connect wirelessly at great speed to the largest collections of facts ever compiled.  It can process information at a speed faster than what used to take up several rooms of computing devices.  This isn't even all that amazing of a machine either.  Even small electronic devices can carry thousands of books.  We can nearly instantaneously communicate visually even at great distances.  We've landed on the moon.  We've sent probes deep into outer space.  But, all of this wonderful progress doesn't bring any deeper meaning or better moral value (whatever that may mean).

So far I've been bringing out the point that science doesn't bring meaning or really better people, only better convenience to living.  But what about the implication that religion is trying to control or denigrate science and scientific progress?  Why is this such a common theme?  I've actually written about this a couple times here and here.  Science actually only makes sense in the context of belief in God.  If everything is the result of random chance (under a strict materialist view), why would one expect any semblance of order to nature?  How can we perform scientific tests without first assuming that things won't randomly change?  Materialists won't admit it, but the consistency in nature is a presupposition smuggled in from the Christian/theistic view of the universe.  These "prescientific" beliefs actually guide science to be better, not just by giving science moral guidelines within which to work (think Nazi science experiments), but by giving it a foundation from which to spring.  If everything is random, then the scientific method itself will never work, because there's no reason why we should expect our testing and hypothesizing to be consistent in a framework of randomness.  Science, in the proper context is not lessened by believing that God created (creates) the natural universe, it a deepened understanding of the creator.  Indeed science is a form of worship, studying to know the Creator better by studying the creation.

Truth ... As Pilate so famously asked of Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18:38), presumably not knowing that Jesus had already given the answer, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6)."  If you're trying to get to the truth of things, there is only one source of truth revealed to humanity in various ways.  Science certainly is a wonderful study and can teach us much about God, but God has also revealed much of Himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 1:18).  There is no reason to expect science to "find God," or truth about God, but I'd say the reason some scientists can't find God is they are looking at the trees and missing the forest.  Big Bang theory also points to a creator.  The awesome intricacies of biological life, particularly the information found in genes, also points to God.  Also, based on a video I watched recently about quantum theory it seems that one of the conclusions we can come to is that quantum mechanics actually indicates that God is the reason for the universe.  So, science has proven God, just not in the way dogmatic materialist scientists will accept.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ten Things Christians Should Keep in Mind When Debating Atheists Number One

Based on my recent post about trying to break my writer's block here's number one:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Consequently, the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist.

I've talked about this before and I don't really want a rehash of the same thoughts.  But, I want to revisit this idea to flesh-out how this really matters (or rather, how it doesn't).  What are the supposed extraordinary claims that the theist is supposedly making?  I can't speak for all the atheists who argue about this, but I assume that most of them are calling miracles "extraordinary claims."  Now, let's look at this.  Are miracles extraordinary claims?  Well, yes.  Of course they are, by definition a miracle is something extraordinary, but they're really only unexpected if there's no God.  If one takes a materialistic approach to philosophy, then a miracle cannot occur.  However, there's an important point missing from this whole conversation about miracles.  The very existence of anything whatsoever is a miracle in itself.  It's an ongoing miracle of creation.  I know, some theologians will balk at this, as the Genesis account implies that God is no longer creating.  Gen 2:1 says that the heavens and earth were completed and that God had "completed His work."  So, where do I come off saying that existence itself is a miracle?  Well, Col 1:17 Paul talks about how, in Christ all things hold together.  In this paradigm a miracle is not surprising at all.  Hebrews 1:3 has an even more active phrasing about how God holds everything together by His power.  So, the God who holds everything together can, by His mere willpower, suspend, cancel, or defy His own control over the entire universe.  Miracles are not nature behaving wrong or differently than it normally does or should.  It's God doing His will contrary to what we think or what we expect.

Also, as I commented before, which is a bigger miracle: A) The universe, for no reason with no cause exists, or B) God made the universe out of nothing?  Again, toss aside materialism for a minute.  If you a priori take materialism to be true then of course the theistic answer sounds extraordinary.  But at face-value the A) choice is obviously much more extraordinary.  I have seen arguments, most notably from Hawking, that attempt to use science to say that because of the laws of physics the universe must exist.  I don't even pretend to understand his scientific arguments, but have read some interesting things online that summarize Hawking and other prominent scientists' claims, and I've got to say, "I'm not buying it."  First off, every time I hear these types of arguments I hear a redefining of the word "nothing."  Now I understand that in certain contexts nothing can mean different things.  For example, one might ask, "What's up with you lately?"  To which you might answer, "Oh, nothing."  Does that mean the same as deGrasse Tyson's use of "nothing" which apparently means some type of quantum field in flux?  Obviously not.  But, these are the types of things I see when I discuss the beginnings of the universe with a materialist.  There was something (called nothing) and it exploded and became something else.  I pointed at Big Bang cosmology as an argument for God with an atheist one time and after going around and around, this interlocutor ended up admitting that the Big Band was true, but we don't know what happened before the Big Bang.  It's funny though, this particular atheist refused to accept that it might have been God. Basically reduced to saying, "We don't know and likely will never know what caused the Big Bang, but I refuse to accept that it could have been God."  If you give me a just-so story and make all your pieces fit together by inventing facts and theories that have never been shown to work in reality and only really work in some outrageous mathematical formula, all of which you cannot explain in terms that any regular person could follow or would accept, I have every right to dismiss your claim as extraordinary.  I have a saying I've been using for a while now (not sure if I've used it in my blogging before, if so I apologize for repeating myself), "Any claim made without evidence, can be dismissed without argument."  These are indeed extraordinary claims, but for sure the more extraordinary is the one that defies definition, explanation, and reason.

Lastly, I want to comment on the final part of the statement, "the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist."  Now, I know I'm only an amateur philosopher, but my knee-jerk reaction is, "So what?"  I, as a theist, have no qualms with making a case.  In general, yes, I'm making a claim.  (I don't think we can completely let off the atheist, but the point still stands, I'm making a truth-claim.)  My claim is fairly simple to prove though, "I believe, with good reason, that God exists."  Throw that one out there and see if anyone can disprove it ... notice some important points before you attack it.  First, "I believe," with this important qualifier, no one, can ever prove my claim incorrect unless that person somehow has mind-reading capabilities, which apparently doesn't exist outside God.  One might attack the second portion, "with good reason."  Well, let's look into various reasons/arguments. There are so many!  I've already mentioned the cosmological argument.  Then there's various design/fine-tuning arguments.  There's the moral argument made popular by CS Lewis in his masterwork Mere Christianity.  And, there are many others, some based on evidence and some on philosophy.  But clearly, there are plenty of "good reasons" to believe.  If you don't accept my claim, then not only are you calling me an idiot who hasn't examined these arguments, but you're making the claim that the millions of other Christians throughout history have all done the same thing.  Now, don't get me wrong, I don't typically think an appeal to authority is a particularly compelling argument.  However, if the authority to whom I'm appealing is sprinkled with such intellectual greats as Plato/Socrates, Aquinas, Newton, and even many of the top ten highest measured IQ test scorers who are at the very least theists, some clearly Christians, I'm justified in making such an appeal.  So, tell me again how you, Mr. Internet Atheist, know that only stupid, backwoods, country-bumkin, redneck, low-brow, Bible-thumpers believe in God.

Sorry for the abundance of sarcasm, but it seems that Mr. Internet Atheist is getting to me.  He's been drinking the Dawkins koolaid and doesn't really have anything new to add to the conversation.  I am by no means creative or worthy to be called an innovator in this discussion, but at least I admit that I'm standing on the shoulders of giants.  I don't know very much, but I do know that I exist and that I have good reasons to believe what I believe.

Screenshot from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/finetuning