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

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Hawking and Logic - From the book A Brief History of Time

Designed? Not designed? Can we infer design when we see it?

So, as I wrote before, I'm currently working in the Middle East as part of my job in the military. I have lots of time on my hands and as part of using that time wisely, I've recently been listening to more audiobooks. This is a common practice for me back home, but here I have even more time to kill, which leads to listening to more books. I recently started listening through this work by Stephen Hawking, who I'm sure you've heard of as he was a popular leader in making scientific ideas consumable by the general public. A popular popularizer of science. This book is quite easy to listen to and comprehend and I highly recommend it. He (Hawking) makes clear that he doesn't believe in God, but there are some interesting points that I think he makes that might lead one closer to belief in God. For example, this paragraph from chapter eight (not sure what page):
One possible answer is to say that God chose the initial configuration of the universe for reasons that we cannot hope to understand. This would certainly have been within the power of an omnipotent being, but if he had started it off in such an incomprehensible way, why did he choose to let it evolve according to laws that we could understand? The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they refect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired. It would be only natural to suppose that this order should apply not only to the laws, but also to the conditions at the boundary of space-time that specify the initial state of the universe. There may be a large number of models of the universe with different initial conditions that all obey the laws. There ought to be some principle that picks out one initial state, and hence one model, to represent our universe.
What I read into his writing here is that Hawking would have been more inclined to believe in God if an actual “theory of everything” (TOE) were to be discovered. It’s interesting to me because I have said something akin to that whenever someone talks about a TOE. If such an equation exists, to me that implies, even more so, that there is a Grand Designer. The idea I'm going for is quite simple. Hawking says the idea in reverse: "if [God] had started [the universe] off in such an incomprehensible way, why did [God] choose to let [the universe] evolve according to laws that we could understand?" Or, more simply, we find the universe understandable, so if God made it understandable now, the initial conditions of the universe should also be understandable. I completely agree, and so do many others. What Hawking is hinting at here is what many call "teleological arguments" for God. Put simply, the universe is orderly, orderliness implies design, design implies a designer, the only being capable of such design would be what we call "God." This makes complete sense to me and I feel like a TOE points to design and therefore a Designer.

Another interesting point in that same chapter is later when he talks about multiverse theories and the anthropic principle. I don't have a quote for this (audiobook), but two things stick out to me. He talks about infinity with regard to multiverse theories. I've written some about infinity and how people often misuse or misunderstand the concept herehere, here, here (infinite regress in epistemology), and here (Aquinas' third "way"). Hawking talks about different theories of a multiverse and though he is carefully skeptical of them because of our inability to contact, view, get to, or understand such things, he addresses the idea quite a bit. But, when he talks of them he has a very small view of the word "infinite." As many philosophers have pointed out, an actual infinite creates or contains irreconcilable paradoxes. So, Hawking says that given an infinite number of universes or parts of an infinite set of local universes within a larger infinite space, there would be more universes that are incapable of supporting life. However, this idea illustrates his small view of the word "infinite." If there truly is an infinite number of universes, there would be an infinite number of universes that are capable of sustaining life. In fact, there would be an infinite number of universes identical to our own universe. "Infinite" really is that large of a concept (when used properly). In this same chapter he references the anthropic principle, which to me, is not a threat to theistic belief systems. Within the idea of the anthropic principle are two primary views. The "weak anthropic principle" is counter to the "strong anthropic principle." The weak version basically says that any design in the universe that we infer from the fact that we're here and alive is wrong. We wouldn't be here if the universe weren't this way and we're using survivorship-bias to say that we wouldn't be here if it were any different. The weak version is anti-design, saying that we are assuming design when we shouldn't. It's obvious that we have to be here because we're here and design has no part in it. Like looking at a painting that was made by throwing paint randomly at a canvas and seeing design in it, but in reality there is no design and our assumption of design is found in our bias toward assuming design in things. Honestly, I find the strong version more compelling because it's a version of the teleological argument for God. We're here and that's not surprising. Everything in the universe seems set up with the intention of producing a place where our observation of such things is possible, and we're here.

To summarize my counterpoints. A TOE is one more in a huge number of elements of design in the universe. This book lists 93 just for the formation of the universe, 154 for the formation and growth of life on the Earth, and 10 more for the formation of life as we know it. If there's a TOE then it would make sense that a Grand Designer with intelligence beyond comprehension set up the universe with that as a framework. Also, an actual infinite is paradoxical and nonsensical and should not be a part of our understanding of the universe or multiverse. That idea that there even is a multiverse (either concurrent multiple universes or an infinite series of past and future universes) is taken completely on faith. How can someone who claims to be a scientist, who claims to care about evidence and logic, who asks for evidence for God, who claims there is no evidence for God, believe in something like the multiverse which, by definition, cannot possibly be tested for or evidence gathered for it? This book has it right, it does take more faith to be an atheist.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Apologetics Application Essay; Secular Humanism

Introduction

This paper seeks to analyze the worldview secular humanism and test it to see if it contains the truth about human origins and purpose. In analyzing this worldview, it will be beneficial to compare it with the Christian worldview to see which one better explains the human condition. Because the search for truth is the highest goal, this paper will attempt to compare the truth claims of secular humanism to see if it fits with reality and if it has any explanatory power. To start off, this paper will include a description and summary of the worldview and an overview of its major tenets including: its view of ultimate reality, its source of ultimate authority, its understanding of epistemology, its ontological view of human beings, and lastly its source of morality (if any).[1] After summarizing those tenets an evaluation of the worldview will include an analysis of that worldview including: how well it explains what it ought to explain, the worldview’s logical consistency or lack thereof, coherency of the view, its factual adequacy, its existential viability, and intellectual and cultural benefits (if any). As part of this analysis, this paper will also look at whether the worldview has had to radically change based on newly discovered counter-evidence and whether it provides the simplest yet complete explanation of all the facts.[2] After thoroughly summarizing and analyzing secular humanism in that way, the same evaluative analysis criteria will be applied to Christianity as a worldview in order to compare the two views. The final sections will be a defense of how Christianity and concluding whether or not it is a better worldview.

Summary of the Worldview Secular Humanism

Ultimate Reality

The first step in summarizing any worldview is to look at its understanding of ultimate reality, to understand what that worldview sees as really real. For the secular humanist ultimate reality is purely physical. Secular humanism is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get view of reality. It can be taken one step further, though philosophically minded secular humanists resist this, and can be expressed as only things provable by scientific inquiry are real. For the secular humanist God and anything non-physical does not exist.[3][4] Ultimate reality is nothing more than just physical objects such as sub-atomic particles, protons/neutrons/electrons, and other physical objects. Minds, God, spirits, and anything non-physical does not exist.[5] Carl Sagan is famous for the quote “The Cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be,”[6] which sums up the secular humanists’ view of ultimate reality quite succinctly. The secular humanist view of reality leads directly to the only available source for ultimate authority, mankind.

Source of Ultimate Authority

For the secular humanist, mankind is the measure of all things. And, for mankind, science is the ultimate authority, including on moral issues.[7] There is no “ultimate authority” in the sense that there is some higher authority. There is only what we can see, feel, taste, touch, sense, test, measure, etc. There is no non-physical realm or authority stemming from such realm. Mankind is the only known intelligent being capable of making rational decisions about anything. And, as such is the only authority in anything, but that authority is not based on mankind’s ontology or by virtue of being human. That authority is merely a product of mankind’s ability to analyze information and apply the scientific method to the data and come to various conclusions. As such, the secular humanist can say that “science” is the ultimate authority. In addition to being secular humanism’s ultimate authority, science is secular humanism’s only source for epistemology.[8]

Understanding of Epistemology

When asked how one can know what is true, the secular humanist must answer, “Science!” This leads to science (whatever that means) is also the answer to the question of what grounds knowledge. For many popular secular humanists, Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson come to mind, this is the one-word answer to everything but particularly how we know anything. However, this philosophical position, scientism, is rejected by many philosophically-minded secular humanists, but it is still popular with social media atheists and the so-called “New Atheists.”[9] This position, scientism, fails its own test because the statement “Science is the only source for truth,” is not a statement of science. There is no way to scientifically test that statement. But, to continue summarizing secular humanism one must turn to how that worldview understand human beings.

Ontological View of Human Beings

In many ways humans in secular humanism could be compared to God in the Christian worldview. Humans are the source of ultimate authority, science, morality, and the reason to do anything. The litmus test for moral actions is whether or not it will bring well-being for others, particularly humans.[10] Also, under secular humanism humans are merely the product of time, chance, and natural pressures. There is nothing special or unique about humanity and it will someday be supplanted by a better species. Humans are nothing more than somewhat advanced animals with the curious ability to self-reflect and consider their actions with a wide-ranging view of its effects.[11] Since humans are the sole source of authority in the secular humanist worldview it actually makes sense that humans are the source and authority for all moral issues as well.

Source of Morality

In keeping with humans being the sole authority for morality, Harris, as seen in the subtitle of his book The Moral Landscape makes the case that science can give us morality and value.[12] A position, no doubt that Dennett would support as he attempts to derive meaning from evolution.[13] The position of secular humanism is that one is obligated to treat humans well. In many ways secular humanism is a kinder, gentler version of atheism. A version of atheism that says one must be kind to humanity. Harris’ whole moral edifice is built on this idea that human wellbeing is paramount and that the moral thing is to follow one’s biological directive to increase one’s own wellbeing as well as that of the human race.[14]

Summary

In summary, secular humanism is the view that there is nothing but material reality to the universe, that humankind is the ultimate authority, that science is the only source of knowledge, human beings are merely highly evolved animals, and morality is a sort of scientifically derived rules that say to treat humans kindly.

Evaluation of the Worldview

Explains What It Ought to Explain

The first question in evaluating any worldview is whether or not it explains what it ought to explain. Secular humanism as a worldview fails to explain several features of reality that we know and experience all the time. For example, anything non-physical like mental activities, cannot be explained at all through this worldview.[15] Also, as we explore more and more into the quantum realm even physical reality is seeming less and less explicable from a purely physical standpoint.[16] Also, there are numerous features of the physical world that clearly cannot be explained by purely physical responses. For example, the existence of the physical universe itself fails to explain itself. More and more discoveries surrounding Big Bang cosmology are defying scientific explanation.[17] Therefore, secular humanism fails to explain anything with metaphysical concepts at its core. There is no room for the metaphysical in secular humanism.

Internal Logical Consistency

With the abandonment of any semblance of metaphysics there is one major logical inconsistency that is clear, ontology in general fails for secular humanism. Ontology is a metaphysical concept; therefore, it is not acceptable in secular humanist thought. Also, the epistemology of secular humanism, without any ontological grounding, is merely science as the only arbiter of truth, but that view cannot be tested by science itself and indeed is borrowing from the ontological ideas of religion to progress at all.[18] If science is the only way to analyze truth, then the foundation of science is philosophical, not scientific and the system collapses without an internal logical consistency. Though it may be logically inconsistent, the next question must be whether it is it livable or existentially viable.

Existential Viability

While at first glance, and by their own insistence, this view is existentially positive in nature, but in reality, they have to steal an important position from the Christian worldview. The secular humanist has to steal the idea that humans are valuable from the Christian worldview.[19] Under secular humanism there is no ultimate reason to treat other humans well. This is merely an assertion that many people have rejected. This completely ad hoc assertion that one must treat other humans well leads to the next criteria in evaluating a worldview.

Radical Ad Hoc Readjustment

One must ask if secular humanism has or needs to offer some radical ad hoc readjustment after new scientific findings have been made. There is at least one point where this view has sought to radically readjust itself. Before Big Bang cosmology was established those who rejected God as creator of the universe could rest comfortably assuming there was no ultimate beginning, which implies a creator. However, since science has fairly firmly concluded that there was an ultimate beginning, scientists have scrambled to find anything that will allow the dismissal of an ultimate beginning (Hawking’s rounded boundary for the universe, multiverse theories, etc.).[20] The multiverse theory is another radical ad hoc readjustment to Big Bang cosmology and the apparent design of the universe. One area where secular humanism claims victory is in simplicity, which is the next and last question in this analysis.

Simpler Explanations Are Better Than Complex Ones

We take this idea for granted and secular humanists definitely tout this as a strength, that simpler explanations are better. Secular humanism claims to have simpler explanations than Christianity in nearly everything because it omits the Creator. However, there are two problems with this. One, just having a simpler explanation is not enough. It has to be a simpler explanation that also sufficiently explains all the facts. Secondly, removing God as an explanation seems like it would simplify things but it does not because it adds needed explanatory factors. Removing a creator means that in order for biological life to be come to exist time, chance, and natural pressures. Those are three (insufficient) explanatory factors, however, with Christianity only one explanatory factor is needed, God.

Summary of Evaluation

In evaluating the worldview of secular humanism, it is clear that it fails every portion of the test. It is not able to explain existence or answer questions about why we are here and what we ought to do now that we are here. It fails to maintain a logical consistency since it has a logically incoherent epistemology and ontology. It is existentially unviable because it has no basis by which one ought to behave well and borrows from other worldviews to build that part of its worldview. It has gone through major turmoil with the discovery of Big Bang cosmology and has sought to redefine that aspect of its views in various ways. And lastly, it is not really simpler or at least not simpler in a satisfactory manner. In many areas it requires outside inputs to move forward and cannot explain anything fully within itself.

Evaluation of Christianity

Explains What It Ought to Explain

In order to fairly judge between secular humanism and Christianity one must subject both to the same evaluative criteria. So, in asking whether or not Christianity explains what it ought to explain we see that Christianity explains the human condition, sinfulness, and its uniqueness being made in the image of God. It also explains the source of all reality, God, and the source of morality, also God. In addition to explaining the human condition of sinfulness, Christianity gives a method of redemption and an explanation of the end of the problem with God making all things anew without the problem of sin. What else can be added to these questions? It seems as if Christianity certainly has the answers necessary here, but one must also ask if it is consistent.

Internal Logical Consistency

Though many have attempted to point out logical inconsistencies with the Bible and with Christianity in general, it has stood the test of time and analysis. All of the supposed biblical inconsistencies are almost always due to an extremely literalistic reading of the biblical narrative. Also, though some have attempted to show a logical incoherence in the existence of God and evil, these attempts have failed.[21] The same is true for attempts to show an inconsistency in the concept of omnipotence, they all fail. Christianity offers logically consistent responses to those arguments as well. Not only is Christianity logically consistent it is certainly existentially viable.

Existential Viability

The Christian life is existentially viable in every way as it is consistently lived out by millions of happy, well-adjusted, thoughtful Christians all around the world in every level of social structure and in every cultural milieu. Not only is it existentially viable, it is existentially preferable. Christianity gives deeper meaning and goal-oriented life to its adherents. It gives a deep and meaningful source for humanity and an ultimate goal of loving God and following God’s guide for proper human living. Christianity is not just logical and preferable, is also is consistent.

Radical Ad Hoc Readjustment

While some have felt the need to radically readjust Christian views (modern, ultra-liberal Christians), there is no need to nor is there any such readjustment in orthodox Christianity.[22] [23] In fact, the very concept of orthodoxy resists any such readjustment. The goal of many thoughtful theologians is how we can incorporate new information into orthodoxy not radically readjust our views. In many ways consistency is what is needed in this troubled world and Christianity can be that answer, but there is one more question to analyze in Christianity.

Simpler Explanations Are Better Than Complex Ones

Is Christianity simpler? Though this may seem like “cheating” the Christian worldview can actually give the simplest explanation of all, “God did it.” However, clearly that answer can be a discussion-killer and need not be used for everything or indeed anything. In fact, this is a common criticism of Christianity, that it relies solely on a God-of-the-gaps explanation for everything. However, this is unnecessary as God has given us enough information and we can coherently combine that information with natural studies to come to logical and coherent views of virtually every facet of human existence. We might not know how God did it, but we can easily infer that God did it and that is the only explanation that can cover all the facts.

Summary of Evaluation

While secular humanism failed in every aspect of evaluation, Christianity has passed and passed with flying colors. As Christ said that He had come that we “may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10, NASB)[24] As part of that abundant life Christians have explanations for all the important facets of life, logical consistency, existential consistency, stability, and simpler explanations that deal with what they must deal with to be worthwhile explanations. There are, of course, arguments against Christianity and it is to those one must turn next.

Defense of Christianity

Problem of Evil

One of the most popular and in some ways difficult to answer criticism of Christianity (and theism in general) is the problem of evil. However, as Craig and others have shown Christianity’s answer to the problem of evil is superior in every way to secular humanism and indeed every other worldview. Although secular humanism gives no account for what it means to be evil at all, and secular humanism must rely on moral relativism which is a self-defeating view of morality, Christianity has no such problem. Under secular humanism nothing is actually right or wrong if there is no objective ontology for moral truth. The secular humanist view is that humans are the sole source for what is evil and the sole judge of what is evil, then what is evil today at one point was not evil at all. What is good today may someday become evil. This inconsistency is particularly clear in the moral problem of evil, but with the natural problem of evil is it also true. For the secular humanist, there is no evil in nature. In fact, without death and disease in nature evolutionary progress is impossible. On the other hand, Christianity has a knock-down argument concerning the existence of evil: “1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. 2. Evil exists. 3. Therefore, objective moral values exist (some things are evil!). 4. Therefore, God exists.”[25] Christianity takes the so-called problem of evil and makes it an argument for God. That is because if God does not exist, then objective morality and evil would not exist. Therefore, there really is no problem of evil for the Christian. At least not philosophically. There is an existential version of the problem of evil. That version is about degrees of evil. The problem there is in subjectivity. The existential version asks why there is so much evil in the world if there is a good God who could stop it. However, this fails because it is impossible to define how much is too much evil. Also, when exploring how God could eradicate evil without causing evil or removing free will there is no good answer. That is just one argument for God, there are others that one can look to that make the existence of God and the truth of Christianity more secure.

Arguments for the Existence of God

First, the cosmological argument (Craig espouses what he calls the Kalam cosmological argument): “1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause. 2. The universe began to exist. 3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.”[26] Next logically follows concerning the universe and how it is arranged. The teleological argument can be phrased: “1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either law, chance, or design. 2. It is not due to law or chance. 3. Therefore, it is due to design.”[27] These two arguments taken together do not get to the truth of the Christian worldview. However, the absolutely essential argument for the Resurrection of Christ will put the nail in the doubting coffin.[28] There is not space to go through all the parts of the arguments here but the basics are simple. There are no alternative explanations for the Resurrection. The various alternate explanations have been defeated in various ways and in various locations.[29] There is much more to be said about the arguments for God but those three and the turned-on-its-head argument from evil are more than enough to establish the reasonableness of the Christian worldview.

Defense of Objective Truth and Moral Values

Before concluding, a short word should be said about truth with regards to the Christian worldview. Objective truth and moral values can only be found in theistic worldviews and Christianity gives the most coherent version of this. In dualistic worldviews the idea fails because they allow a space for an equivalently-powered being to contradict the “good” version of God in every way. If there are two equally-powered beings, one good and one bad, one could never know if the revelation one is receiving is from the good version of god or the bad. However, Christianity offers a consistent position that God in his ultimate goodness and authority is the sole ontological source for objective truth and moral truths.

Conclusion

Clearly, with the abject failure of secular humanism and the success of the Christian worldview one is only left with one remaining question, “What should you do if Christianity is true?” The only reasonable answer seems to be to embrace Christ. Once one does so, one “in Christ, is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor 5:17b) There is new life and as mentioned before, life abundant. If Christianity is true why not embrace it? Truth the ultimate goal of this paper. If one has found “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6) in Christ, one only has repentance and acceptance remaining to join the family of Christianity.

Footnotes:

[1] Douglas R. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 75.

[2] Ibid., 53-60.

[3] "Definition of Humanism," American Humanist Association, accessed December 14, 2018, https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/definition-of-humanism/.

[4] Marc Kreidler, "What Is Secular Humanism?" Ingersoll Biography - Council for Secular Humanism, August 16, 2018, accessed December 14, 2018, https://secularhumanism.org/what-is-secular-humanism/.

[5] Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (Place of Publication Not Identified: Transworld Digital, 2015).

[6] Agarthas888, Cosmos 1 - "The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean,” December 18, 2017, accessed December 14, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfCc7ZJjHiM.

[7] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (London: Black Swan, 2012), 2.

[8] Helen Longino, "The Social Dimensions of Scientific Knowledge," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, April 12, 2002, accessed December 14, 2018, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-knowledge-social/.

[9] James E. Taylor, "The New Atheists," Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed December 14, 2018, https://www.iep.utm.edu/n-atheis/. The section of this article entitled “Works About the New Atheism” has a high quality selection of apologetic responses to New Atheists in particular and secular humanism in general.

[10] An interesting side note is that, as Bush states, in the secular world humans are losing their humanness.

[11] L. Russ Bush, The Advancement: Keeping the Faith in an Evolutionary Age (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 33.

[12] Harris, The Moral Landscape 2.

[13] Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster 1996).

[14] Harris, The Moral Landscape 1.

[15] Also, in many ways these cannot be studied by science, which is secular humanism’s sole arbiter of truth.

[16] Bush, The Advancement 54.

[17] Stephen J. Williams, What Your Atheist Professor Doesn't Know (But Should). (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013), 32.

[18] Frank Turek, Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2015).

[19] Ibid., 92.

[20] S.W Hawking et al., Brief Answers to the Big Questions (London: John Murray, 2018), 47.

[21] William Lane Craig, On Guard Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs, Co.: Cook, 2010), Foreword and elsewhere.

[22] John C. Lennox, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 15. This first chapter of Lennox’s book draws an interesting parallel between the Copernican revolution of the moving earth and possible readings/understandings of the “days” of creation in Genesis.

[23] Bush, The Advancement 55.

[24] All Scripture references will be in New American Standard unless otherwise noted.

[25] William Lane Craig, On Guard Chapter 7.

[26] William Lane Craig, On Guard Chapter 4.

[27] Stephen J. Williams, What Your Atheist Professor 123. This text also has the most impressive listing of delicately balanced constants of the universe for life to exist.

[28] Douglas R. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics 529.

[29] Lee Strobel and Jane Vogel, The Case for Christ: A Journalists Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).

Bibliography

Agarthas888. Cosmos 1 - "The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean.” December 18, 2017. Accessed December 14, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfCc7ZJjHiM.

Beckwith, Francis, and Gregory Koukl. Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-air. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.

Bush, L. Russ. The Advancement: Keeping the Faith in an Evolutionary Age. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003.

Craig, William Lane. On Guard Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. Colorado Springs, Co.: Cook, 2010.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. London: Black Swan, 2016.

"Definition of Humanism." American Humanist Association. Accessed December 14, 2018. https://americanhumanist.org/what-is-humanism/definition-of-humanism/.

Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Dillahunty, Matt. YouTube. October 05, 2016. Accessed December 14, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKlycI9ZKsY.

Grayling, A. C. The Good Book: A Humanist Bible. New York: Walker &, 2014.

Groothuis, Douglas R. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011.

Harris, Sam. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. London: Transworld Publishers, 2012.

________. Waking up a Guide to Spirituality without Religion. London: Black Swan, 2015.

Hawking, S.W, Eddie Redmayne, Kip S. Thorne, and Lucy Hawking. Brief Answers to the Big Questions. London: John Murray, 2018.

Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. London: Atlantic Books, 2017.

Kreidler, Marc. "What Is Secular Humanism?" Ingersoll Biography - Council for Secular Humanism. August 16, 2018. Accessed December 14, 2018. https://secularhumanism.org/what-is-secular-humanism/.

Lennox, John C. Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Longino, Helen. "The Social Dimensions of Scientific Knowledge." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. April 12, 2002. Accessed December 14, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-knowledge-social/.

Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Russell, Bertrand. Why I Am Not a Christian; An Examination of the God-Idea and Christianity. Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Jullius Company, 1929.

ScienceToday. YouTube. May 21, 2017. Accessed December 14, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=711VklH-4fA.

Strobel, Lee, and Jane Vogel. The Case for Christ: A Journalists Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

Taylor, James E. "The New Atheists." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed December 14, 2018. https://www.iep.utm.edu/n-atheis/.

Turek, Frank. Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2015.

Williams, Stephen J. What Your Atheist Professor Doesn't Know (But Should). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Christian Apologetics in the Early Church

Since I haven't written anything here for a VERY long time and I'm taking a break from classes 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.

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