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Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson

Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson →

It is past time for Christians around the U.S. to make it abundantly clear that Pat Robertson is not one of us and does not speak for us.

When my wife and I married, we were very consciously thinking of these types of scenarios when we promised fidelity "in sickness and in health".

This week on his television show Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said a man would be morally justified to divorce his wife with Alzheimer’s disease in order to marry another woman. The dementia-riddled wife is, Robertson said, “not there” anymore. This is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

...

Sadly, many of our neighbors assume that when they hear the parade of cartoon characters we allow to speak for us, that they are hearing the gospel. They assume that when they see the giggling evangelist on the television screen, that they see Jesus. They assume that when they see the stadium political rallies to “take back America for Christ,” that they see Jesus. But Jesus isn’t there.

Jesus tells us he is present in the weak, the vulnerable, the useless. He is there in the least of these (Matt. 25:31-46). Somewhere out there right now, a man is wiping the drool from an 85 year-old woman who flinches because she think he’s a stranger. No television cameras are around. No politicians are seeking a meeting with them.

Does the Doctrine of Election Trouble You?

Does the Doctrine of Election Trouble You? →

Z posts an illustration, about the Christian doctrine of Divine Election.

“After giving a brief survey of these doctrines of sovereign grace, I asked for questions from the class. One lady, in particular, was quite troubled. She said, ‘This is the most awful thing I ever heard! You make it sound as if God is intentionally turning away men and women who would be saved, receiving only the elect’ I answered her in this vein: ‘You misunderstand the situation. You’re visualizing that God is standing at the door of heaven, and men are thronging to get in the door, and God is saying to various ones, ‘Yes, you may come, but not you, and you, but you, etc.’ The situation is hardly this. Rather, God stands at the door of heaven with His arms outstretched, inviting all to come. Yet all men without exception are running in the opposite direction toward hell as hard as they can go. So God, in election, graciously reaches out and stops this one, and that one, and this one over here, and that one over there, and effectually draws them to Himself by changing their hearts, making them willing to come. Election keeps no one out of heaven who would otherwise have been there, but it keeps a whole multitude of sinners out of hell who otherwise would have been there. Were it not for election, heaven would be an empty place, and hell would be bursting at the seams. That kind of response, grounded as I believe that it is in Scriptural truth, does put a different complexion on things, doesn’t it? If you perish in hell, blame yourself, as it is entirely your fault. But if you should make it to heaven, credit God, for that is entirely His work! To Him alone belong all praise and glory, for salvation is all of grace, from start to finish.” —Mark Webb

This entry was tagged. Christianity

Can I Thank God for That?

Can I Thank God for That? →

Kevin DeYoung posits an interesting question and a different way of thinking about Biblical “grey areas”.

I’ve learned over the years that the simplest way to judge gray areas in the Christian life like movies, television, and music is to ask one simple question: can I thank God for this? (We are to give thanks in all circumstances, right? )Not too long ago my wife and I went to the movie theater to watch one of the summer blockbusters. It was a fun PG-13 movie, and you’d probably say it didn’t really have any bad parts. But it was very sensual and suggestive in several places. I got done with the movie (yes, I watched the whole thing) and thought, “Can I really thank God for this?” Now, I’m not a total kill-joy. I like to laugh and enjoy life. I can thank God for the Chicago Bears, Hot N’ Readys, and Brian Regan. But I wonder if after most of our entertainment we could sincerely get down on our knees and say, “Thank you God for this good gift.” Something to think about.

This entry was tagged. Christian Living

Critiquing "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" (Ch4)

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Welcome back. We're way off-schedule here, but still moving along. Here's what we've covered so far in Geisler and Turek's 12-point argument for Christianity:

1. Truth about reality is knowable. (Actually, we've shown it's impossible to know if this is true, but also that it doesn't matter, so Geisler and Turek are OK here.)

2. The opposite of true is false. (No argument from us.)

3. It is true the Theistic God exists, as evidenced by:

3a. the Cosmological Argument (I agree, but ironically the Bible doesn't)

Meaning today we're tackling the authors' second line of evidence for God's existence:

THE TELEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT

As Geisler and Turek tell it, the classic argument goes like this:

  1. Every design has a designer.
  2. The universe has a highly complex design.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a Designer.

Some might quibble with the authors' phrasing - Kyle Williams charges, "The words ‘design’ and ‘designer’ are so closely related that the first premise is a tautology, the second premise begs the question, and the conclusion, therefore, is meaningless." - but I personally think the authors' meaning is clear enough to where we can get on with it. After all, Geisler and Turek can afford to beg questions since they will be devoting the next three chapters to answering them.

Yes, you read that right: the next three chapters. Settle in, it's going to be a long one.

Though to be fair, if any subject of Christian apologetics deserves such in-depth treatment, it's undoubtedly the old T & A.

For at least two at least two big reasons:

First, if you Fundamentally believe and take literally the Bible's Creation Account (previously discussed), you can't let stand all the scientists' talk of natural forces gradually building us into the species we are today. That would invalidate part of God's Word, which would put the entirety of the Good Book in doubt. So I hear, anyway.

Second and perhaps more importantly, the Teleological Argument is vital theologically to every church save the Universalists'. Since the fact is that even if God did reveal himself through miracles to a bunch of Jews two or three years ago, He certainly hasn't revealed Himself to everybody else, it's necessary for God's existence to be evident simply from the natural order of things. Otherwise, there's no good reason for God (read: Christians) to blame them for not believing in Him. That's not a big problem for "Calvinist" Christians, who at the end of the day don't think a good reason is necessary to torture someone eternally, but it's a serious issue for the rest of us.

So there's an awful lot riding on whether Geisler and Turek can make a good case for the T.A.

Pity them for it, because there isn't one to make. The Teleological Argument, as we shall see, is flawed to its very core.

THE ANTI-THEORY

The problem with the Teleological Argument is exemplified by the modus operandi of its main defenders in the United States, American Christians who comprise the "Intelligent Design Theory" (IDT) movement. The movement's purpose - and I will try to give a neutral definition here that is nevertheless true - is to very pointedly use only scientific facts to back up its members' belief in a higher being's design of our cosmos, in hopes they can get God mentioned again in American school systems. A lot of IDT advocates believe in the Bible's account of our world's creation in seven days. Others believe God simply guided the natural processes which produced life here on Earth. Geisler and Turek's I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist is actually a fair example of the approach, even though it doesn't exclusively deal with scientific questions.

However, since Geisler, Turek, and their fellow Christians understandably have no idea where to begin explaining the mechanics of speech-triggered omnipotent power, the practical function of their work is to be what in politics you'd call a "party of obstructionism", arguing against others' solutions while having jack-all to contribute themselves. Less than a minute of subjecting any Christian to the Socratic Method should be enough to make clear their arguments all spring from the informal logical fallacy of arguing from ignorance. In short, they represent not theory but anti-theory.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but a great illustration was brought before the Kansas Board of Education during its semi-recent trial of the IDT. Advocates of the IDT were compared to those people who once theorized that, since we didn't know how Egyptians could build the Pyramids with their primitive technology, aliens must have helped them.

As you might expect, believers in the IDT take issue with this characterization. The preeminent William Dembski claims to have "an explanatory filter" for pinpointing the fingerprints of our designer on this world - specified complexity - and IDT hero Michael J. Behe thinks he's proven, a la Sherlock Holmes, that the Theory of Intelligent Design simply must be true because nothing else can account for what he's named irreducible complexity. Geisler and Turek also raise the "Anthropic Principle" in Chapter 4. We'll give all of it a fair hearing starting with this post.

And with all this introduction out of the way, let's get to dissecting

CHAPTER 4: THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE

Geisler and Turek's argument in Chapter 4 is that the Anthropic Principle proves the validity of the Teleological Argument. According to them, the Anthropic Principle is:

just a fancy title for the mounting evidence that has many scientists believing that the universe is extremely fine-tuned (designed) to support human life her on earth.

But it's actually:

the philosophical argument that observations of the physical Universe must be compatible with the conscious life that observes it.

If this doesn't strike you as a brilliant insight, I don't blame you; I'm not overly impressed either. Geisler and Turek find it revelatory, though, for just how precise conditions have to be to support the conscious life in question (namely, us). And they spend most of the chapter trying to drill into us an appreciation of same, using the famous story of the Apollo 13 crew's survival to illustrate the "anthropic constants" (conditions required for our existence - for instance, Earth's oxygen levels remaining at a steady 23%) necessary for us to live. They then climatically assert that the chance of 100+ of these conditions all simultaneously converging is virtually zero, so Someone must have planned it.

The short answer to all of the above is that it's an argument from incredulity, which is only a variation of the argument from ignorance. Christians rightly object on this same ground when atheists calculate how many religions and permutations of those religions exist or have ever existed and then jeer at the improbability of a Christian's beliefs being correct. But let's address Geisler and Turek's claim more thoroughly anyway.

There are multiple ways to do so. I might note that trying to mathematically divine the chances of highly complex events has always been bupkis, since the various factors' relations to each other not only complicate matters, but often simplify them as well. For instance, I have no idea what the likelihood is of gravity existing (nor does anyone - so we've just put paid to the whole issue right there, haven't we?), but I do know that the power of gravity makes it much more likely - even almost certain - that various materials will be pulled into orbit around larger bodies. The ramifications of other universal laws similarly preclude any conditions other than those we observe. And never mind the probability of these various principles existing in the same universe, Since we have no idea how they might relate to each other (scientists have long searched for a great "Theory of Everything" to explain it), we can't say whether or not it's improbable they're all here. Maybe they're a package deal.

I might also point out that just because it's improbable conditions have developed in a manner suitable for our kind, that does not mean other conditions would have been unsuitable for any kind. Different rules might have just resulted in different lifeforms.

Putting aside the statistical stuff, though, I think it's most important to call Geisler and Turek on how baldly they're overselling this universe's suitability for our people. The unique "anthropic constants" of Earth can be seen, in fact, as the exception that proves the rule of the cosmos's lack of consideration for us. Our home represents almost nothing of the universe's total, ever-expanding space, yet it's the only hunk of rock of which we're currently aware on which our species is capable of surviving - and even here, people seem to forget, it's been a tough road to hoe. A lot of our planet isn't inhabitable or is just barely so. When we arrived, it was also full of predators trying to eat us, and we could barely farm enough food to survive. Natural phenomena still knock down our homes and kill us by the thousand.

Earth is not the ideal homeland Geisler and Turek make it out to be. Things have only been as good as they are on this planet for a very limited time, too - a blink of an eye in geologic terms. For most of its existence, Earth has been completely uninhabitable, and forecasts are that it will be again "soon". Unless we become a space-borne people before it does, the story of our species will parallel that of the short-lived sperm whale in Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Of course, it shouldn't be necessary for us to flee a planet designed expressly for us, so one should question why the Designer, if He exists, has done such a shoddy job. As Geisler and Turek are Christians, I feel comfortable their answer is that our world was designed to be perfect, but we ruined the design by sinning.

That "theory" is interesting to consider, since it reminds us of Christian theology I don't think is really heard anymore. Man clearly lacks the power to modify his world through his own choices. What agent, then, changed the earth and its inhabitants after Adam and Eve sinned? The common summation of the process is that "Sin entered the world" (from Romans 5:12), implying that "Sin" in fact a malevolent, immaterial force. Just as God warned Cain, Sin was crouching at the door, waiting for us to crack it open so it gain access to Creation and ruin everything! But no: this is just fanciful anthropomorphizing of a concept. Sin is not simply one more member of Christianity's rogues gallery.

A little more Bible reading leads us instead to the real culprit: God. His alterations to His own design are right there in Genesis 3:16-19:

To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Not only does God clearly make it hard to earn a living on this planet in the above passage, but it can also be read as Him imposing the punishment of death on us all. This fits in with the prevalent idea of God meting out death as the going wage for sin.

If you don't agree with that interpretation, you must at least agree God indirectly kills us in the next few verses:

3:22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

But I am rabbit-trailing.

To review: materialist atheists believe this world is the result of impersonal cosmic phenomena, evolutionary processes, and natural selection. This is why the universe has made so little room for us and been so scandalously and unfairly brutal: it wasn't made with us in mind. What we do enjoy of it, we enjoy because we have successfully adapted to it as a species.

Au contraire, say Geisler and Turek. Quite the opposite! This planet must have been made with us in mind, since we are so improbably suited to it - and the extent to which we are clearly not suited for it simply suggests the degree to which that Designer means to make things hard for us.

I don't think there can be debate as to which of these two theories is more egocentric, but I'll leave it to you which requires more faith.

I don't really want to do that, of course, but I have no choice. I can't reach through this screen and throttle you until you pick the obvious answer.

NEXT: We can actually move right along to Chapter 5, as the remainder of Geisler and Turek's fourth chapter demands no rebuttal. The authors spend the remaining pages of it sermonizing on how contemplation of the vastness of space can help us understand, if only slightly, the majesty of God. They base this Sunday School lesson on Bible verses, even though they're still quite a few steps from proving that source's validity. If that sounds intriguing to you, you'll have to buy the book.

Critiquing "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" (Ch3, P2)

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Welcome back. Here's where we're at in Geisler and Turek's 12-point argument for Christianity:

1. Truth about reality is knowable. (Actually, we've shown it's impossible to know if this is true, but also that it doesn't matter, so Geisler and Turek are OK here.)

2. The opposite of true is false. (No argument from me!)

3. It is true the Theistic God exists, as evidenced by:

3a. the Cosmological Argument. (I agree, but ironically the Bible doesn't)

Now that they've proven the universe had a beginning, Geisler and Turek reach this chapter's selling point. Quoth they:

"In light of all the evidence for a beginning of the space-time universe, the Beginner must be outside the space-time universe." (92)

And according to them, that "Beginner" must be:

  • self-existent, timeless, nonspatial, and immaterial (since the First Cause created time, space, and matter). In other words, he is without limits, or infinite.

  • unimaginably powerful, to create the entire universe out of nothing

  • supremely intelligent, to design the universe with such incredible precision (we'll see more of this in the next chapter);

  • personal, in order to choose to convert a state of nothingness into the time-space-material universe (an impersonal force has no ability to make choices).

What "Beginner" could possibly fit all these criteria?

Only God, of course - but that's not particularly a problem for us, since of the four characteristics Geisler and Turek identify here, only the first is of any certainty. Sure, the First Cause must have been outside of our universe, but there's no way to tell how "powerful" it was (a match isn't very powerful on its own, but lying next to a tank of gas it commands respect). And Geisler and Turek won't be showing us evidence for the universe's intelligent design until Chapter 4, so they can scarcely cite it now. As for the idea that the First Cause must be intelligent because an unintelligent force couldn't choose to create our universe, that's simply silly; since we have absolutely no idea how our universe's multiple dimensions interact with other dimensions, we have no way of knowing how necessary the ability to choose was for Creation.

As for what alternative to God might be "self-existent, timeless, nonspatial, and immaterial", allow me to introduce you to:

THE MULTIPLE-UNIVERSE THEORY

There are multiple versions of the Multiple Universe Theory (As you might expect! Ha!), but the concept at its most basic is that our space-time universe is one of many and that other universes may have different laws governing them than we do. So while logic would seem to dictate that our space-time universe requires a beginning, it may well be that another universe is eternal, and that universe has given birth to ours (or given birth to a universe which has given birth to ours, etc.).

Actually, Geisler and Turek themselves introduce us to the theory in I Don't Have Enough Faith, but they strangely wait until Chapter 4 to do so, rather than including it in this chapter's list of atheist explanations for the Big Bang.

Which is not to suggest they don't have an answer for it. They do:

"First, and most significantly, there's no evidence for it! The evidence shows that all of finite reality came into existence with the Big Bang. Finite reality is exactly what we call 'the universe'. If other finite realities exist, they're beyond our ability to detect... That's why this multiple universe idea is nothing more than a metaphysical concoction - a fairy tale built on blind faith..."

It's just the most breathtakingly hypocritical answer you can possibly imagine.

I shouldn't have to tell you why. In fact, I don't even believe Geisler and Turek need to have it explained to them how, absent any other evidence, it's just as easy to suggest an eternal, non-material, alternate universe as an eternal, non-material, omnipotent, omniscient being.

I do, however, think it's worth explaining why it's not simply just as easy, but easier to suggest another universe than a god. And for that, I'll need to employ two tools: the Principle of Analogy and Occam's famous Razor.

The Principle of Analogy, somewhat related to the Principle of Uniformity raised by Geisler and Turek (but not until Chapter 5), is basically a rule of thumb for judging the likelihood of claims about facts and events. The idea is we should compare any new claims to our own knowledge of past and existing trends. The claims which most conform to what we know already are most likely to be true.

Everyone uses this principle to navigate through life, of course, because there's really no alternative yardstick to use. Everyone, of course, also ignores this principle at some point for volitional reasons. And yes, sometimes people follow the principle and are wrong, and sometimes people don't follow it and turn out to be right. The principle of analogy's just a rule of thumb, after all.

What's more, it's mildly subjective. Two people may have different experiences with a third person, giving them two different viewpoints on how likely it is that third person would do something wrong.

All those caveats made, however, it bears repeating: no alternative yardstick exists.

Occam's Razor is even easier to explain as a concept: it's the idea that the best explanation for anything is usually the simplest explanation accounting for the most evidence. Of course, accounting for evidence can make even the most simple explanation available to us very, very complicated, but there you have it.

OK: let's apply these principles to the respective likelihoods of God and a different universe. What is immediately clear is that God is a more alien and complicated concept to our experience. We are at least certain that such a thing as a universe can and does exist. Yes, an everlasting universe with different physical laws does seem pretty out there, but every difficulty we encounter in conceiving one is also met when we try to conceive God, and in imagining Him we must also wrap our head around the existence of a personality of a far greater complexity than our own. Compare the number of question marks another universe creates versus the number brought up by a Supreme Being and there's really no contest.

CONCLUDING CHAPTER 3

While Geisler and Turek manage to convince me the universe had a First Cause, so far they haven't given any good reasons for why that First Cause must be a god. To be fair, though, we're clearly not meant to take the Cosmological Argument as stand-alone proof, but as the first of four lines of evidence, with the other three to be detailed in Chapters 4-7. We'll jump into the second line on Wednesday.

Ere we do, however, a few final notes on the chapter which I don't feel are worth full blog posts.

_ Eins_:

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Since his name and likeness have become inseparably linked with Science itself in our culture, Dr. Albert Einstein's personal beliefs about God have themselves become a "football" in the ongoing debate between theists and atheists, with each side arguing Einstein shared their world view - the illogical, but very human assumption being that whichever side Einstein was on, Science must be on. For the record, atheists were right. Einstein himself got so sick of theists misappropriating his name that he released this statement:

"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

Chapter 3 of_ I Don't Have Enough Faith..._ worrisomely begins, "It was 1916 and Albert Einstein didn't like where his calculations were leading him." So I felt grimly certain as I continued reading that they would make the infuriating error of suggesting he was a theist.

I wasn't prepared for what I found instead. The following, merrily bizarre sentence made me laugh out loud:

"Although Einstein said that he believed in a pantheistic God (a god that is the universe), his comments and statements admitting creation and divine thought better describe a theistic god."

Now, never mind that Einstein never claimed to be a pantheist, or admitted the existence of "divine thought". What's amusing is the petulant comment at the end that, even though the Avatar of Science regrettably wasn't a theist, what he said sure sounds more theist than atheist.

Reading that, I just can't help imagining a bitter girl muttering to another, "Fine, the dress is yours. But I look better in it." It's fabulous.

Zwei:

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Speaking of misappropriation, Geisler and Turek also heavily suggest in this chapter that the Big Bang Theory is somehow theist property. In fact, just judging from what they've written in this section, you might be forgiven for thinking atheists have always found the Big Bang Theory as odious as they do Young Earth Creationism.

As someone who grew up in the same Southern Protestant culture the authors are representing, I don't even have to do research to know that the divide presented by Geisler and Turek here - of Christians and the Big Bang Theory on one side, atheists with their Steady State on the other - is a complete fabrication. If you don't want to take my word for it, though, just google the words "Big Bang Theory Christian view". The top entries that come up will be articles by Protestants decrying the theory as one more lie from Satan.

Yes, the Big Bang Theory was first proposed by a theist - a Roman Catholic priest, in fact, who personally thought it a religiously neutral idea (and his church would later come to agree, thus displaying a commendable openness to evidence coupled with a lack of recognition for the need for consistency). He also did propose it at a time when most secularists believed in an eternal universe and yes, a number of disagreeing atheists accused him of injecting his theology into his science.

But begging your pardon, so what?

It's one of the stranger ways Christians think that I've encountered, even as a Christian myself, but for some reason (or rather, no reason) they seem to think any scientific discovery made by a Christian is a feather in their faith's cap, or even one of many "points" scored to be compared with the number of discoveries made by nonbelievers.

"Most Western science is built on discoveries by Christians!" you hear them say. "Copernicus? Christian. Galileo? Christian. Einstein? He sounded like one."

Sometimes the point of their listing these names is to prove Christians are capable of good science. No atheist ever seriously charged otherwise, but there you have it. Other times the point seems to be that the discoveries of great thinkers are somehow inseparable from their beliefs about God, as if the Theory of Gravity only makes sense so long as you're the same sort of monotheist as Sir Isaac Newton was. Which is bonkers.

By no logic is an atheist "borrowing from" Christianity by accepting the Big Bang Theory or any other concept previously understood by the religious. Yet that's clearly what Geisler and Turek imply, again and again, in this chapter.

Drei:

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Finally, Geisler and Turek cap off the whole chapter with the "really good question": "If there's no God, why is there something rather than nothing?" (94)

Another question shows how not-so-good it really is: "If there's a God, why is there a God rather than no God?"

At some level, it's all arbitrary, Guys.

Chapter 4 starts Wednesday.

Critiquing "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" (Ch3, P1)

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Since we all know how hard it is after a good, long holiday to get back into the swing of things, let's start this series's return to form by refreshing ourselves on where we are in I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist's 12-point argument proving Christianity. Thus far we've learned:

1. Truth about reality is knowable. (Actually, we've shown it's impossible to know if this is true, but also that it doesn't matter, so Geisler and Turek are OK here.)

2. The opposite of true is false. (No argument from me!)

Leading us to their third assertion,

3. It is true the Theistic God exists, as evidenced by:

3a. the Cosmological Argument.

You're probably already familiar with the Cosmological Argument. If not, Geisler and Turek ably summarize this very old proposition (Plato and Aristotle were using it) on page 75, using the following syllogism:

_1. Everything that had a beginning had a cause.

  1. The universe had a beginning.

  2. Therefore the universe had a cause._

It goes without saying (but I'm going to say it anyway - I'm just that kind of person) that the "First Cause" which Geisler and Turek have in mind is God. Only at this identification do they actually part company with many atheists. Most nonbelievers today accept the validity of the C.A.'s conclusion, as well as the evidence Geisler and Turek use to support it.

Strictly speaking, this means I really shouldn't have any problems with this step of their argument, right?

Here's my dilemma. Technically, the answer is no. Geisler and Turek prove to my satisfaction the universe had a cause. Not only is their logic inescapable, but their proof at least seems undeniable to my eyes: the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the universe's constant expansion, the observation of radiation from the Big Bang, and Einstein's Theory of General Relativity all point to a beginning for our little reality.

But: while I don't mean to spoil anything for you here, the twelfth and final assertion which Geisler and Turek will make in I Don't Have Enough Faith... is this:

12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false).

And if that's so, then all of the evidence Geisler and Turek use in this chapter is nullified; the great climax of their 12-point argument pulls its own feet out from under itself.

Because the Bible's account of Creation doesn't agree with the Big Bang Theory. Not at all. Even in the slightest.

IN THE BEGINNING

There is perhaps no story in the Bible as badly understood by modern readers as the Book of Genesis's tale of how our world was made.

This is in part a problem of education. For instance, when the very first verse in the Bible reads, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (NIV), the modern layperson should be forgiven for mistakenly thinking "the earth" refers to our planet or "the heavens" refers to God's kingdom above.

But the larger problem is that we are taught to take the account as the unvarnished truth. Since none of us can do this (accepting the text as it's written presents far too much difficulty for any educated adult today) but we also can't call the account untrue (most people have too much invested in the Bible being right to allow for its being wrong), we "rewrite" the story in our heads so as to lessen the cognitive dissonance we have to experience in order to agree with it.

Let's look again at the Bible's first verse, and add to it the second.

_1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters... _

Taken completely literally, those verses already start raising questions for the modernist. If the earth was formless and empty, how is there water - especially "the deep"? But as a Christian, I didn't mind because I easily (and I thought, reasonably) paraphrased the verses in my head in such a way that the troublesome terms became metaphors. "In the beginning God created our universe and our world. Back then, Earth wasn't around. There was only the deep obsidian of starless Space. The Spirit of God hovered in this black 'ocean'."

Then I just completely ignored the fact that God never creates literal water in the story but is soon manipulating it and strangely putting storing some of it above a gigantic dome He calls "the sky". Like most believers, I was really pretty apathetic about the particulars, at least whenever they weren't under attack from skeptics, so my personal rationalization of the Creation Account didn't require much polish. I just needed to figure it out enough to believe it.

My view of the text has since changed primarily because one day I gave myself permission to not believe it if it didn't convince me, then set out to obtain an educated answer. It didn't take much investigation afterward to learn that the reason God doesn't create water in the Book of Genesis is because throughout the Middle East, it was once commonly held that water has always existed. "The lifeless waters of chaos" are the eternal, uncaused element in Sumerian, Babylonian, and Egyptian mythology. The task of the Creator(s) is always to master these waters and bring forth life in their midst. The Babylonian god Marduk, for instance, creates the world by killing the ocean goddess Tiamat and splitting her in half.

So assuming the Hebrews thought similarly to their neighbors, which is very likely considering both the text of Genesis and the influence those civilizations had on Israel and Judah, it's pretty easy to imagine the Bible's point of view on what the universe looked like before God created our "planet": just pretend you're underwater, and so deep there's absolutely no light by which to guide yourself.

The light problem, of course, is the first to be fixed by God.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.

5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

Then God creates some space in which to work:

6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”

7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so.

8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And now the Bible has just defined the parameters of our world; ours is the place in the universe God has protected from water with an occasionally leaky dome.

9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.

10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

The trick God pulls in verse 10 - bringing forth land out of water - is extremely important thematically for the rest of the Bible. When in the Book of Exodus a "sea of reeds" splits apart to allow God's people passage, God is applying His signature move, the power over water which identifies Him as the Creator. It's the ultimate expression of His divine authority and thus, a fitting finale for His war with the Egyptians.

But I'm in danger of digressing, probably because I like literature a lot more than I like science and philosophy a la carte.

Above is the proper interpretation of how the world began in the Bible, its plain meaning to anyone reading it without an emotional need to make it square with modern science. Geisler and Turek undoubtedly disagree, but they are wrong. Yet regardless, they haven't mentioned the Biblical story of Creation in this chapter, only the Cosmological Argument, with which I can't find any particular fault. So should I give them a pass?

If only for the sake of continuing this series, I suppose so - but more and more, I'm wondering if I'm justified in my suspicion that Geisler and Turek are basically trying to pull an "end run" here. Such a strategy would certainly square with their immature conception of philosophical argument in general.

If so, though, it won't work. Logic can't validate something that's self-evidently false, as many Biblical assertions are. When logic seems to do so, you've only proven your logic's faulty.

We'll conclude Chapter 3 next post.

Critiquing "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" (Ch2, P3)

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Author's Note: Read comment after post.

First, some housekeeping.

The question of whether I'd be able to keep up my posting schedule on this series during Christmas vacation finally resolved itself for me today, when I realized that no, I haven't a snowball's chance in Hell of keeping it on track. So be it known that a one-week hiatus herein begins, hopefully concluding with a new post on the 29th.

If you're Christian, think of this as one less atheist making war on Christmas.

And with that, let's wrap up Chapter 2 of I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.

WHEN LAST WE LEFT OUR HEROES...

As I mentioned when we began it, Drs. Geisler and Turek have devoted the bulk of Chapter 2 to simply explaining why logic and evidence are the best guides to one's beliefs. They don't really believe this, of course, but I do, so I'm not inclined to argue. There's also some stuff in this section about agnosticism, but we've already covered that while talking about Chapter 1.

Strictly speaking, then, it's unnecessary to talk about Chapter 2 at all, buuuuuuuuut Geisler and Turek happen to make within it a few by-the-side and implicit suggestions which, while lacking any real bearing on the authors' main 12-point argument, are so wrongheaded they demand objection. So I'm, y'know, objecting to them.

The last of these suggestions involves a short anecdote on pages 54-55 involving internationally-renowned Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias. A professor confronts Dr. Zacharias and tells him that:

"...you're using 'either-or' logic. In the East we don't use 'either-or' logic - that's Western. In the East we use 'both-and' logic. So salvation is not either through Christ or nothing else, but both Christ and other ways." (54)

As you might expect, Dr. Z coolly proceeds to show the professor the error of his ways, proving that

"despite what the relativists believe, things work in the East just like they work everywhere else. In India, just like in the United States, buses hurt when they hit you, 2+2=4, and the same gravity keeps everyone on the ground... Truth is truth no matter what country you come from." (55-56)

All simple, well, and good, you might say. But in taking time to refute "Eastern logic", I think Drs. Geisler and Turek are not only engaging in typical misrepresentation of their enemies' ideas, but also quietly denying an important fact about Christianity itself: that it is at root an Eastern religion, with an awful lot of so-called "Eastern logic" ingrained into it.

WESTERN LOGIC VS. "TRANSCENDENTAL NONCOGNITIVISM"

It's easy to understand why most of today's Christians don't think of their religion as "Eastern". Most of them are themselves born of the West, just for starters, and this has long been so. Today's politics (not to mention our increased knowledge of world geography) have also resulted in the modern land of Israel becoming an honorary member of "the West", much like Japan. And of course, Western ideas have had such an influence on Christianity's development from such an early stage that whatever the religion may have been at its beginning, it's probably only accurate to describe it as Western now.

Nevertheless, Christianity first sprang forth as a sect of Judaism, the religion of a people of the East, and consequently an awful lot of discussion in the early Christian church was devoted to trying to balance the Eastern-style theology of Christianity with the Western-style thinking of the people who ended up adopting it. In fact, one can trace the very origin of Christian apologetics to the need for early Christians to come up with responses to the questions and accusations of "Greeks" who found Christian concepts bizarrely illogical. One can also say that I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist and this corresponding blog series are part of the continuation of that same conflict. Our debates are the latest rounds in a long fight between the traditions of Athens and Jerusalem that apologists like Geisler and Turek are determined to marry, just as were their predecessors Origen, Justin Martyr, et al.

To see the family resemblance between Christianity and its Eastern cousins today, however, we need to know what "Eastern" logic really is. Geisler and Turek typically provide only enough information to fashion a straw man they can easily bat aside, so let's look instead to a gentleman named James Quirk, who's written a pretty good summary about what he calls "transcendental noncognitivism". He writes:

A key theme of Eastern traditions, including Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism, and Taoism, is the idea that transcendental truth cannot be apprehended by the conceptual, logical, dualistic human mind...

Transcendental noncognitivism, then, is the recognition that the ultimate nature of reality, the Absolute, or "God" is fundamentally ineffable - beyond conceptual and logical comprehension. This conclusion itself, however, is not illogical - on the contrary, it is generally the culmination of an intensive logical process which brings logic and conceptual thought to the very limit of their applicability. To discover the trans-logical, trans-rational nature of reality is itself a logical and rational outcome. Under this approach, it is logic which leads to faith, rather than away from it, as it often does in the West. Far from being some strange process of magical thinking and incomprehensible occurrences as is often imagined by both Western critics and New Age adherents, the mystical process is in fact a deeply logical and rational one - at least until the very moment when logic and rationality must finally be transcended out of sheer necessity.

Am I the only one who sees a similarity between the above explanation and a number of things Christians say when they inexorably arrive at the limits of their ability to describe God and other divine concepts? I even recall our own webmaster Joe once pontificating: "If we could understand everything He did, would he be God?"

EXEMPLI GRATIA

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No good? Maybe we need an example. Let's talk about a core tenet of Christianity that is clearly contradictory in the same way as a number of "Eastern" religious ideas.

Frustrated by his perception I don't understand the laws of logic, my reader Steve recently started listing the various laws in a comment. One of the laws he mentioned is the Law of Identity. To let him put it:

A is A and not non-A

Cat (A) is Cat and not non-cat (non-A)

Is this true or is this false? is a cat a pickle? is a cat a dog? is a cat a sandwiche? or is a cat a cat? This is the law of identity.

A neat and tidy summary, I think. In light of this Law of Identity, however, what are we to make of the person of Jesus Christ?

Because I am pretty much certain that Steve, being a Christian, believes Jesus Christ was both fully man and fully God - an idea theologians refer to as the Hypostatic Union. I can be sure of this because the concept is very mainstream: as much as Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians disagree with each other, they'll all nod their heads if you mention Jesus was and is simultaneously human and divine. And be sure to note: "Jesus' two natures are not 'mixed together,' nor are they combined into a new God-man nature" (CARM). Neither is He a spiritual schizophrenic, a man possessed by God as some are said to be possessed by demons. No: Jesus possesses two natures commonly described as being "attached" to each other, yet He is the Word of God become flesh, which suggests transformation. In short, He's 100% God, but He's also just a guy.

There are no meaningful answers to the questions that raises. The folks over at CARM (Christian Apologetics Research Ministries) have tried to help us understand by including a table in their own article on the Hypostatic Union that's meant to "help you see the two natures of Jesus 'in action'", but all it clarifies is the incoherency of the concept. Jesus knew everything (John 21:27) yet grew wiser as He became older (Luke 2:52)? The "fullness of the deity dwells in Him" (Colossians 2:9) but "He has a body of flesh and bones" (Luke 24:39)? It makes no sense, even after you've made all the distinctions between "natures" and "Persons" and "senses" and "essences" the apologists ask you to.

It's only fair to note Geisler and Turek don't agree. However, it's also fair to note that when they briefly discuss Jesus' two natures in I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (in Chapter 13, and here let me apologize for getting ahead of the book; I'll try not to do it again), they don't provide any half-decent explanation either.

Know what, though? Many Christians I know are OK with that, just like they're OK being monotheists worshiping a Trinity. There's even an alternative term some of them use for the Hypostatic Union which gets across the incomprehensibility of their belief: "the mystical union".

A term of which I suspect their Taoist cousins in religion would approve.

A LAST QUESTION

To recap, Messrs. Geisler and Turek take a few pages in this chapter to explain why "Eastern logic" doesn't work, so it can't be used as an excuse not to accept the "Western logic" they mean to deploy in favor of Christianity. However, they have either forgotten or wrongly believe Christianity doesn't depend on a little "Eastern logic" of its own. The point at which "Eastern logic" becomes necessary is beyond the scope of their book, however, so this problem doesn't derail our discussion of it.

It does, however, leave me a wee bit curious.

Here's why:

With I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, Geisler and Turek hope to prove the Bible is true by using only logic and evidence. If they can do that, of course, they don't just win a debate over the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy; by default, they also win every other debate against Christianity, so long as the relevant points are easily identifiable within the Good Book. Right? Right. After all, if they've proven the Bible is true, they don't have to prove God is good; they just have to show where the Bible says God is good.

Yet some Biblical doctrine, like the Hypostatic Union, is clearly illogical - or "transcendentally noncognitive", don't you know. So, is their plan simply to say of such things, "Well, we proved the Bible is true. So even though this doctrine is illogical, you have to believe it because we've logically proven the Bible is true?"

In other words, are Geisler and Turek hoping to use "Western logic" to prove the "Eastern logic" of their doctrine? It certainly seems like it.

Surely that creates an impassable loop of contradiction, though. The Bible cannot logically be true if it contains illogical ideas.

Which happens to be exactly the contradiction that Christian apologists like Dr. Zacharias like to throw in the faces of "Eastern logicians".

As Drs. Geisler and Turek write on page 56:

People will try to tell you that logic doesn't apply to reality, or logic doesn't apply to God, or there are different types of logic, and so on. But as they say such things, they use the very logic they are denying. This is like using the laws of arithmetic to prove that arithmetic cannot be trusted."

Well said.

NEXT: We start Chapter 3 on the 29th.

Critiquing "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" (Ch.2, Part 2)

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Sorry about being a day late, Folks. Traveling.

Last post, I endeavored to show why atheists, despite often being accused by Christians of having "volitional reasons" (ulterior motives beyond sound reasoning) for not believing in the Christian God, have far less motivation to believe what they do than your average churchgoer.

Many Christians, of course, will automatically discount the points I've made. What's interesting, however, is that many of them will justify doing so by noting that I was clearly writing with strong emotion.

Why would that possibly matter? It's not that they think strong emotions invalidate arguments. Rather, they have been taught, as a staple element of their religion, that all arguments for and against Christianity are ultimately beside the point.

In my first post concerning the central proposition of I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, I expressed surprise that two believers in Biblical inerrancy would agree with skeptics that one should believe whatever theory best explains the available evidence. I was, of course, being facetious; I know that Geisler and Turek are just pretending that they think logic and evidence are the most important arbiters of belief. What they really believe, as do the overwhelming majority of Christians, is what preeminent apologist Dr. William Lane Craig proclaims in his own book Reasonable Faith, which is notably addressed to believers rather than I Don't Have Enough Faith's more skeptical audience:

Unbelief is at root a spiritual, not an intellectual, problem. Sometimes an unbeliever will throw up an intellectual smoke screen so that he can avoid personal, existential involvement with the gospel... [Your attitude to the unbeliever] should be something like this: "My friend, I know Christianity is true because God's Spirit lives in me and assures me that it is true. And you can know it, too, because God is knocking at the door of your heart, telling you the same thing. If you are sincerely seeking God, then God will give you assurance that the gospel is true. Now, to try to show you it's true, I'll share with you some arguments and evidence that I really find convincing. But should my arguments seem weak and unconvincing to you, that's my fault, not God's. It only shows that I'm a poor apologist, not that the gospel is untrue. Whatever you think of my arguments, God still loves you and holds you accountable. I'll do my best to present good arguments to you. But ultimately you have to deal, not with arguments, but with God himself."

Dr. Geisler is on record as agreeing with this view. He once said:

I commend to you that disbelief is not rational; it's volitional. Disbelief is not because people don't have enough brain power; it's because they don't have the will power.

So you see, when Messrs. Geisler and Turek say us nonbelievers "often" make their decisions based on volitional grounds, that's just a bone thrown our way for the sake of continuing discussion. To their minds, we have nothing but volitional reasons which we've disguised with intellectual objections. Every argument against Christianity is in truth just a skeptic's dishonest excuse for not bowing to God's authority.

Thus, any exhibition of strong emotion only confirms to Christians like them that my resistance to Christianity is the result of some personal grudge. Perhaps, they think, this wound for which I am blaming God instead "giving it to Him" goes all the way back to the Lord not saving my parents' marriage. Maybe it was His refusal to cure my grandmother. Or was I sexually abused? Y'know, it could be I would just feel so guilty about my sinful activities that I've decided to relieve myself of the pain by pretending God's not real.

Thing is, the Christians aren't entirely wrong here. If I'm honest, I do have a volitional reason for opposing Christianity.

That's right, yeah: I admit it. Ya read it here first. I am ticked. Carryin' around some hurt inside.

I'm mad - justifiably so - that I spent the first quarter-century of my life believing Someone existed who didn't; that I put myself through a lot of anguish I didn't have to endure because I thought that was what this Person wanted; that as a result I missed out on opportunities I will never have again in this one chance I possess to live; and that my former brothers and sisters in Christ can be so unfair as to suggest, after I did everything they asked, that my heart just wasn't in it.

And this outrage isn't solely directed at the Christian faith and its leaders, either. To some extent, I'm also put out with myself. I look back on my time in the church and I regret telling completely unloved wives they should stay with their deadbeat husbands. I regret when I dismissed nonbelievers' experiences in the same way many Christians now dismiss mine. I contributed to other people's pain in those instances, and fully believing I was right to do so at the time doesn't absolve me. Let me tell you, there are several people to whom I feel I'm going to have to apologize next time we meet.

Conventional wisdom with which I basically agree says I should untangle myself from such negative emotions as soon as possible. Let it go. Put it in the past. Historian Diarmaid MacCulloch even writes in his introduction to Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years that he fondly remembers his time as a believer even as he continues to spend his life studying those ex-beliefs, which is a level of peace I find almost excessive but guess I wouldn't mind achieving, if indeed my personality is capable of it. Regardless of what "peace" means for me, I think venting and investigating my thoughts about Christianity is in fact a step toward it. Everyone who has made peace with something started by talking about it.

So instead of doing something else with my time, I'm going to quote rather liberally from an article by Dr. Robert Price (entitled with typical cheekiness "By This Time He Stinketh") to explain the folly of Craig, Geisler, Turek, et al.'s take on nonbelievers.

Craig... freely admits his conviction arises from purely subjective factors, in no whit different from the teenage Mormon door-knocker who tells you he knows the Book of Mormon was written by ancient Americans because he has a warm, swelling feeling in his stomach when he asks God if it's true...

It almost seems Craig has embraced a variant of the Double Truth theory sometimes ascribed to Averroes, the Aristotelian Islamic philosopher... Can it be that Craig is admitting he holds his faith on purely subjective grounds, but maintaining that he is lucky to discover that the facts, objectively considered, happen to bear out his faith? That, whereas theoretically his faith might not prove true to the facts, in actuality (whew!) it does?

... But what might first appear to be a double truth appears after all to be a half-truth, for it is obvious from the same quotes that he admits the arguments are ultimately beside the point. If an "unbeliever" doesn't see the cogency of Craig's brand of New Testament criticism (the same thing exactly as his apologetics), it can only be because he has some guilty secret to hide and doesn't want to repent and let Jesus run his life. If one sincerely seeks God, Craig's arguments will mysteriously start looking pretty good to him, like speaking in tongues as the infallible evidence of the infilling of the divine Spirit.

Dr. Price identifies this as "[committing] the fallacy of ad hominem argumentation even while projecting it onto the opponent."

He's right. And it's one Christian apologists need to drop if they are to be taken at all seriously by nonbelievers. Ad hominem assertions are not by definition wrong - sometimes it's clear that a person is being dishonest about where he or she is coming from (like Geisler and Turek in I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, just for example) - but to incorporate into your religion a blanket statement to that effect about everyone in the world who doesn't agree with you, regardless of their countless different reasons, is transparently self-serving sophistry. Once you add to it the notion that evil spirits are probably involved in holding closed the doors to heathen hearts, you have a view of other people only slightly more respectable than a mental patient's paranoid suspicion everyone around him is a robot.

To the credit of Drs. Geisler and Turek, they understand this at least well enough to only touch very lightly upon it in I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Thanks to their forbearance, we can at least pretend for the remainder of our reading that Geisler and Turek really do believe one's beliefs should match the evidence at hand. A conceit on which both the book and this blog post series depends.

Critiquing "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" (Ch. 2, Part 1)

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_Posting a wee bit early, 'cause I'm packing tonight and traveling tomorrow. _

We may be able to get away with speeding through Chapter 2 in no more than three posts. Most of it's just Geisler and Turek explaining the various reasons people have for believing religious claims and why the only good reason to believe a theory is because it best fits available data. They won't get any argument from me there.

If I were a less contentious man, in fact, we could probably skip this chapter altogether, since there's no point within it directly relating to G&T;'s 12-step argument that I'm unwilling to accept. But as they set out their perfectly sound arguments for why we should uphold only logical beliefs, they also touch on a few ideas held by "fundamentalist" Christians which are not only worth discussing, but also just kinda stick in my craw. So I'm going to take this opportunity to shake my fist at them.

ULTERIOR MOTIVES

The first of these ideas is that atheists choose not to believe in God for what Geisler and Turek refer to as "volitional" reasons, i.e. personal motivation.

"Many beliefs that people hold today are not supported by evidence, but only by the subjective preferences of those holding them. As Pascal said, people almost invariably arrive at their beliefs on on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive." (54)

They say something similar back in the introduction:

"Although few would admit it, our rejection of religious and moral truth is often on volitional rather than intellectual grounds - we just don't want to be held accountable to any moral standards or religious doctrine." (36)

It will not surprise you that they are referring to atheists. They (and the majority of Christians, in my experience) believe that:

"Belief requires assent not only of the mind, but of the will. While many non-Christians have honest intellectual questions, we have found that many more seem to have a volitional resistance to Christianity. In other words, it's not that they don't have evidence to believe, it's that they don't want to believe." (30)

Let me just say here and now that this is utter stercus tauri - and a case of what psychologists call "projection" if ever there was one.

If anyone has the motivation to will themselves into believing something untrue, it's the Christian, not the atheist.

PASCAL'S SCALE

Geisler and Turek mentioned Pascal earlier. Let's go back to him.

As you probably know, Pascal is famous for his rather calculated decision to embrace the tenets of Christianity. He said that one should be a Christian because if you turn out to be wrong, you've lost far less by living the life of a Christian than you're bound to lose if you end up a mistaken atheist. After all, the Christian stands to lose some opportunities for fun and a portion of his income, but the atheist stands to lose eternal life (or rather loses the chance to enjoy it somewhere other than in a fiery netherworld).

Though most atheists (and Christians) reject his appraisal as an unsound reason to join a church, there can be little doubt Pascal correctly valued the respective promises of the two world views. By no remotely sane calculation are atheists more optimistic about the future than Christians. Whatever freedoms atheists gain by rejecting religious regulation of his lifestyle, they do surrender far greater benefits (or the promise of them) in return. They lose the comfort of having a great celestial guardian over them who will one day right every injustice they suffer. Instead they have to simply suck it up when faced with this world's evils, even though crimes are a thousand times more terrible to behold when your world view allows for the possibility the perpetrators might never be punished and their victims never compensated. They also lose the easy answers to the existential dilemmas that bedevil everyone else on the globe. Atheists have to decide for themselves what their dreams are, then run the risk of failing to obtain them in this life - with no hope of a second chance in another.

And oh yeah, did I already mention...? THEY HAVE TO RESIGN THEMSELVES TO DYING. That's an absolutely traumatic experience which the majority of Christians can't appreciate. Their theology neuters the concept.

The supposed sacrifices entailed in converting to Christianity - "[changing] thinking, friends, priorities, lifestyles, or morals" (30) - are a clear joke in comparison. They're also greatly exaggerated. When Norman Geisler writes "Christianity is free, but it can cost you your life" (30) I can only imagine he's thinking of Christians who live in the (non_secularized_) parts of the world extremely inhospitable to their presence. Those Christians, however, are a comparative minority, and the dangers they face are not unique - or even typical - to Christianity. In fact the great majority of Christians live their lives basically unmolested, in the comparative safety of their like-minded communities, living lives not vastly different from their fellow countrymen.

Now, you can say Christians who live unremarkable lives are wrong to do so. You can say they are not living up to Jesus' example. For the purposes of this discussion, that only strengthens my argument. It says quite a lot that atheists are unwilling to convert to even a supposedly watered-down version of Christianity, one divested of its most unattractive qualities.

Let me add also, concerning the so-called sacrifices involved in becoming a Christian: having to "[change] thinking, friends, priorities, lifestyles, or morals" (30) isn't only a problem faced by the religious convert. Every atheist who has "deconverted" from his or her faith, like myself, has had to make the same changes. What's more, new atheists don't necessarily have a ready alternative to their religious community available. Whether or not you believe Atheism is just another belief system, it's certainly not just another religion. No unified community of atheists really exists, much less an institution central to the life of every atheist, a la the Christian's church or the Muslim's mosque. This can make it much more difficult to meet new friends with similar views.

So can we toss the idea right now that your average atheist is simply shying away from the great burden under which Christians must struggle for the sake of Christ?

DOUBLETHINK

Actually, I doubt very much we can. Toss the idea, I mean.

The fact is, most Christians already understand the majority of what I've just written, and they speak often amongst themselves about how horrible it must be to not know Jesus. Shoot, evangelists among them talk to nonbelievers about it. It's part of the pitch. "Come and find rest."

As if to prove my point, Christian friends and family have recently been circulating around versions of Steve Martin's "Atheists Ain't Got No Songs" - which, let me just add, I do find funny.

(But you remember why the funniest jokes are so funny, right Guys? It's 'cause they're true.)

So why are Christians still talking about atheists' "volitional reasons"? We'll talk about it next post.

Critiquing "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" (Ch1 Conclusion)

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Pages 42-43 of I Don't Have Enough Faith... comprise an anecdote from Norman Geisler's time in the "Evangelism Explosion" program.

You may be familiar with "EE". It's a very popular training course for Christians, meant to teach them how to effectively evangelize neighbors, coworkers, and everyone else. Some of the high school students I taught in South Korea even enrolled in it and showed up at my apartment one night to practice. Not that I knew that was why they'd come. No, it took me a good five bewildering minutes to realize they were sticking to a prepared script as we talked. After which, of course, I started messing with them by replying in ways I knew their script didn't anticipate. But I digress.

I'm not a fan of EE or other systematic evangelizing strategies. I wasn't one before I lost my faith, either. My strong distaste for them originates from my brief career as a vacuum salesman after high school. Six days a week I would go to someone's house and use my presentation - one provided me by the company but which after a certain period I adapted to my own style - to convince them they should make a decision that very day to buy a $2500 appliance. And believe it or not, just prior to my early retirement from the business, I was succeeding in two out of every three households.

That's how truly vulnerable people are to bad ideas, even ones easily answerable. Most of us aren't naturally quick on their feet, haven't spent a lot of time training ourselves to think critically (much less debate the finer points of our ideas at a moment's notice), and find face-to-face discussion of a contentious issue very intimidating. Easy prey for a strong and prepared personality.

So when I read Norman Geisler's account in I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist of how easily he evangelized a man named Don, I don't find myself impressed. I just shake my head and feel sorry for the guy who was watching TV or eating his dinner.

But to the anecdote itself. I won't get into the question of whether Geisler's justification for God's judgment is valid. That topic yawns before me like a black hole; I know if I come close to its edges I will be sucked into a vortex of points unrelated to this chapter from which this series may never emerge.

Nor will I remark once more upon his nonsensical deployment of the Road Runner Tactic (TM). That's been adequately covered.

Let's just join the conversation at the bit where Don tells Geisler he (Don) doesn't believe in God.

"Well, are you absolutely sure there is no God?" I asked him.

"He paused, and said, "Well, no, I'm not absolutely sure. I guess it's possible there might be a God."

"So you're not really an atheist, then - you're an agnostic," I informed him, "because an atheist says 'I know there is no God,' and an agnostic says 'I don't know whether there is a God."

This is pretty clearly unfair. All Don does is admit the possibility he could be mistaken in his beliefs. That's no more than Geisler and Turek themselves do on page 25. Quoth they:

Whatever we’ve concluded about the existence of God, it’s always possible that the opposite conclusion is true.

Does that make Geisler & Turek agnostics? Of course not. Geisler and Turek are just admitting... well, exactly what Kant was trying to prove, ironically: that there's always a chance you're wrong because there's always a chance you've received imperfect data. They were right to say so and aren't alone among Christians in believing it. Here's what my fellow Minor Thoughts blogger wrote not too long ago, paraphrasing content from In Search of A Confident Faith:

The first philosophical aspect of faith is that beliefs are not binary. It’s not true that you either believe something completely or disagree with it entirely. Beliefs are expressed in degrees of confidence. You can either believe something (51-100%) confidence, disbelieve something (0-49% confidence) or be completely counterbalanced (50% confidence or no confidence either way). This is true of everything in our lives, not just religion.

For instance, I’m 90% confident that Republicans will retake the House this year — I believe it. I’m only 40% confident that Republicans will retake the Senate — I disbelieve it. You can see that it would take a lot to change my belief about the outcome of the House elections but only a comparatively little to change my belief about the outcome of the Senate elections.

For a Christian, it’s possible to believe in God with only a 51% or 55% confidence. You would believe, but your faith wouldn’t be very strong. You would be constantly reevaluating your beliefs and seeking new evidence to either increase or reverse your existing beliefs. This is important because it indicates that the presence of doubt is not fatal.

All our beliefs are based on data that is at least questionable. So as Kyle over at ExChristian.net writes in his own rebuttal to I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist:

“By [Geisler's and Turek's] definition, an agnostic is one who has the integrity and intellectual honesty to admit that he is not absolutely sure about the existence of God. Being agnostic, then, is a good thing. Anyone can be agnostic, no matter what conclusions he has drawn. You have drawn the conclusion that God exists, and because you also believe in Jesus, you correctly call yourself a Christian. I have drawn the opposite conclusion, and I correctly call myself an atheist. Yet we are both agnostic, too; we both admit the possibility, no matter how remote we think it is, that our conclusions are wrong. So you are an agnostic Christian and I am an agnostic atheist.”

Couldn't have said it better myself.

... Which is why I quoted him.

CONCLUDING CHAPTER 1: THE APPLICABILITY OF AGNOSTICISM

In the spirit of the agnostic, allow me to note that it's possible I am wrong about all of this.

Geisler and Turek's main problem with the agnostic's philosophy - and the reason why they spend two chapters trying to debunk it - is their perception that its adherents use it to abdicate responsibility. As they write on page 32, "there's a big difference between being open-minded and being empty-minded."

Geisler and Turek aren't wrong here. A lot of self-described agnostics, when it comes to larger questions about the universe, do tend to punt in a way they never would when it comes to other issues. They use the incompleteness of their data as an excuse not to think.

However - and here I think that if Geisler and Turek were to read what I'm about to write, they would nod their heads - their position is a sham. You can be a close-minded Christian or a close-minded atheist or an open-minded (read: agnostic) Christian or an open-minded atheist or a close-minded Buddhist etc., but you can't be simply an unhyphenated agnostic. It's functionally impossible.

Imagine a general is faced with a battlefield shrouded in an impenetrable fog. He has no way of knowing what's inside of it. Regardless, he must decide on a plan and implement it, for the alternative is paralysis. Just so, one must base one's behavior in life on some rudimentary idea about Heaven and Earth, using the data available, however imperfect. So if a self-described agnostic is living as if no god exists which plans to punish him for his sins, I submit to you that agnostic has already judged for himself what the more likely answers are to his questions.

Thus Kant and other agnostics don't really pose a threat to the Christian world view. They only impose a certain level of humility upon us all as we decipher for ourselves the reality around us, using the faculties with which we are armed.

Despite the Christian's consistent call for humility in all things - I've gotten finger-wagging from a lot of Christians already for being too self-confident in my denunciations of Geisler and Turek - this particular need for meekness drives a lot of them mad. I attribute that to a number of "volitional" reasons, myself. And what do you know? Looking at Chapter 2, I see those are what we'll be discussing on Wednesday.

Until then: Stay thirsty, my friends.

Critiquing "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" (Ch.1, p.40-49)

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Ha! It's still Wednesday! This post's on-time! He slides into home!

(Ahem.)

Ere we return to the contents of I_ Don't Have Enough Faith..._ scheduled for today, I wish to regale you with a joke - one made by my father's side of the family whenever the occasion is suitable.

Imagine, if you will, that the entire family is about to sit down to a meal. Prior to seating herself, one of the cooks - likely my grandmother - notices the oven has been left on, even though its contents have long since been removed to the table.

She immediately demands: "Who left the oven on?!"

Whereupon one of us replies: "Well... I guess we all did."

Cue much laughter and mirth. Or groans and denunciations. Whichever happens to suit your temperament. You get it though, right?

Sure you do. But wait! There's more. Please imagine that after the joke is acknowledged, my grandmother once again asks: "Seriously, though! Who left the oven on?!"

Oops - turns out she really is a little upset about this. We probably shouldn't have joked about it. The atmosphere grows a little uncomfortable.

But not as uncomfortable as when two voices pipe up from the end of the table: "We just told you."

The voices belong to two men named Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. They were in town for the holiday, so my family invited them over. My father's a fan of Geisler's work. He bought me a copy of The Big Book of Bible Contradictions for Christmas one year.

"Excuse me?" my grandmother might reply (might, because we are of course firmly in the territory of fiction now).

"We all left the oven on," Geisler and Turek say again.

"Yes, but who forgot to turn it off?" my grandmother asks.

"Everybody!" Geisler and Turek respond. They are smirking to each as they say this, clearly congratulating each other on their brilliance. Everyone else, meanwhile, is exchanging nervous glances. On the one hand, they're guests in our home and we must treat them well. On the other hand, they're being jerks, and they don't even seem to realize it; it's as if they really, truly believe they've addressed the question. Something should be done.

So, as is the way with anecdotes, especially fictional ones, I become the hero of the story by saying: "OK. Who removed the turkey from the oven and did not proceed to then twist the knob to the 'off' position?"

At this point, the culprit sheepishly owns up. My grandmother gives him an appropriately withering look. Luckily, however, her glare transmits far less ire than it might have otherwise. By now, most of her anger has been diverted and firmly fixed toward toward our guests.

OK. That's my tale. Please keep it in mind as we return to today's pages of I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.

When last we left our heroes (I mean authors Geisler and Turek, not Joe and me... lest there be any confusion), we had just been introduced to their patented Road Runner Tactic.

Just to review: the Road Runner Tactic is "the process of turning a self-defeating statement on itself" (39), so named because:

it reminds us of the cartoon characters Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote... Just when the Coyote is gaining ground, the Road Runner stops short at the cliff's edge leaving the Coyote momentarily suspended in midair, supported by nothing. As soon as the Coyote realizes he has no ground to stand on, he plummets to the valley floor and crashes in a heap.

Well, that's exactly what the Road Runner tactic can do to the relativists and postmodernists of our day. It helps them realize that their own arguments can't sustain their own weight.

The authors primarily intend to utilize this tactic to defeat claims that all truths are relative, or that all truths might as well be relative since it's impossible to know anything for certain - claims they have labeled ornery agnosticism. The reason they seek to invalidate ornery agnosticism, of course, is because it provides a convenient excuse for people not to believe evidence for their Christian claims.

So they list multiple examples of how one might become an "absolutely fearless defender of truth" (p.39 - no, really) by deploying the Road Runner Tactic against

self-defeating postmodern assertions such as: "All truth is relative" (Is that a relative truth?); "There are no absolutes" (Are you absolutely sure?); "True for you but not for me" (Is that statement just true for you, or is it true for everyone?).

You see their point - and presumably, also the point of my story.

Yes, the Road Runner Tactic allows for some fun "Gotcha!" moments, but it doesn't remotely address the actual argument of the ornery agnostic, does it? It's just a quibbling over semantics - a diversion from the real issue.

Let's Tarantino back real quick to my grandmother, who is an excellent example of an ornery agnostic because she's demented and has Alzheimer's. Her five senses and memory are constantly misinforming her. Let's say she has what alcoholics call "a moment of clarity" - she becomes briefly, terrifyingly aware of her mental illness - and looks over to Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, who happen to be standing by her at the time.

"Help!" she says. "I can't tell what's real! I can't know anything for sure!"

"Oh?" one of them replies, unable to keep a smile from creeping onto his face. He knows he's about to look like a super genius. "Do you know that for sure...?"

In this scenario, hopefully my grandmother maintains her sanity long enough to kick one or both of them in their groins. But perhaps she doesn't, because before things go any farther someone nearby might roll their eyes and say to the apologists: "OK, I'll answer. No, she doesn't know that for sure. Maybe her brain is telling her truth, but she can't tell. Duh!"

Similarly, if any ornery agnostic says: "Since our brains are capable of misinforming us, we can never be completely certain of our findings."

And Messrs. Geisler & Turek respond: "Are you certain of that?"

The ornery agnostic is quite within his or her rights to answer: "No. Maybe my brain always tells the truth, but I can't be sure. That's the point."

QED. So much for the Road Runner Tactic's disproving of the ornery agnostic's position - which doesn't mean it's useless, only misapplied in this case. Thumbing through the second chapter, I see other points at which Geisler and Turek deploy the R.T.T. quite effectively. Here are a few other paraphrased examples of theirs, both hits and misses:

  • "I don't believe in the Law of Causality." "What caused you to come to that conclusion?" (Thumbs up.)
  • Page 40: "All truth is relative!" "Is that a relative truth?" ("Nope, you're right. It's not. So we've identified one truth that is. Yay." Bad usage.)
  • Page 43: "I'm skeptical about everything." "Oh? Are you skeptical about skepticism?" (What is that even supposed to mean? Oy vey.)
  • Page 59: Off-hand, the doctors' attack on Hume's principle of empirical verifiability looks solid, but then I'm not really schooled in Hume. In regards to Kant, I think they make the same error I've been trying to illustrate for these last two posts. Kant's point is clear to those willing to honestly wrestle it.

CHECKING ARGUMENTS AGAINST REALITY

Here's another, more simple way of putting all of the above:

When Geisler and Turek say that truth is knowable, it's implicit that they mean: "People can accurately observe Reality."

We know for a fact, however, that many people like my grandmother cannot accurately observe Reality.

We also know that people who cannot accurately observe Reality are often incapable of understanding their condition.

So Geisler and Turek are quite simply wrong here, just as biologists were quite simply wrong (and to their credit, understood they were wrong) when they decided it was physically impossible for a bumblebee to fly. They've gotten so hung up on their rhetorical argument that they've failed to notice its departure from their actual experience (an obvious irony when we're discussing ornery agnosticism, but there it is).

That's a mistake with a history, especially in religious apologetics.

NEXT: As we cross over into Chapter 2, we hopefully finish up with I Don't Have Enough Faith's treatment of Agnosticism - and after having spent so much time showing why they're wrong to discount it like they do, nevertheless (reservedly) agree with Messrs. Geisler & Turek that it's not a worthy a world view.

Critiquing "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" (Ch.1, p.35-39)

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Sorry I'm late with this one. The wife fell ill this week and the new employee needed training. Wah, wah, wah. Onwards.

With Chapters 1 and 2 (they are grouped together in the book, so we'll do it too), Messrs. Geisler and Turek seek to prove, as you might expect, the first two points of their case for the Bible. In keeping with their intention to prove the inerrancy of the Bible "from the ground up" - taking no link in the chain of their argument for granted - these first points are pretty basic:

  1. Truth about reality is knowable.

  2. The opposite of true is false.

For purposes of clarity, I'm dividing their first point into two sub-points (both of which they address):

1.1. Truths about reality exist.

1.2. Truths about reality are knowable.

The first point of these two sub-points and the second point are easily and ably proven through logic. Since all truths exclude their opposites, they can't all be true; most of them have to be false. Easy. So let's just check those right off by bolding them, like Geisler and Turek do in their book:

1.1. Truths about reality exist.

1.2. Truths about reality are knowable.

2. The opposite of true is false.

Now: in my opinion, the first thin ice upon which Geisler and Turek walk concerns Point 1.2.

The doctors declare that truths about our reality can be induced and deduced through information we obtain via our five senses and some good logic - and as easily agreeable as that sounds, many a philosopher would disagree. A school of thought exists which suggests we can never be certain of anything, because our five senses are easily fooled and our ability to analyze anything logically depends on our senses.

My maternal grandmother is a perfect example of what these philosophers mean. To my family's general horror, my grandmother's mind has disintegrated over the last several years; she is now "demented" in the medical sense of the word, as well as a victim of Alzheimer's. As a result, I have entered her home to find her hiding in her house from intruders she can clearly see, but we can't; had to stop her from going into the forest to look for her lost children (my parents); and watched helplessly as she spoke with her reflection in her bedroom mirror. I've never witnessed anything more heartbreaking or disturbing.

I can compare my grandmother to other people and see that yes, she must be the one who's crazy. All evidence points to her view of reality being mistaken, not mine. But try telling my grandmother that.

I certainly have. To my regret I occasionally became frustrated with her - mad because as many times as I told her my aunt is not her sister or some other rudimentary fact about the world, she did not absorb that information - but now I've come to accept she can't will her way out of her current perspective. Her way of looking at the world is as unshakable as mine is now... which apparently isn't that unshakable at all. All it would take to change it is a good, hard hit to the head or a neurological disorder.

So what if you were afflicted with my grandmother's disorders? Yes, you'd be insane - but how could you tell? And how, some philosophers add, can we tell that we're not already afflicted with "disorders" of our own? We can't, of course. And thus the truth may be out there, but we can't know it for sure. Geisler & Turek name this viewpoint ornery agnosticism*.

Or so many of us might think, say Drs. Geisler & Turek, before reading I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist - because they claim to have coined a method by which you - yes, you! - can easily demonstrate the absurdity of such notions. And if you think I'm merely mocking the good doctors with my enthusiasm, well, here's their introduction of it:

If someone said to you "I have one insight for you that will absolutely revolutionize your ability to quickly and clearly identify the false statements and false philosophies that permeate our culture," would you be interested? That's what we're about to do here. In fact, if we had to pick just one thinking ability as the most valuable we've learned in our many years of seminary and postgraduate education, it would be this: how to identify and refute self-defeating statements... (38)

They call it... the Road Runner Tactic.

"Acceleratii incredibus"

And it is certainly as simple as advertised: you're supposed to identify a self-defeating statement (if I write "I can't write a word in English" I am clearly wrong) and then turn it back on its itself ("Ah ha!" you might wittily reply, "That can't be true, because you just wrote that in English!"), thus revealing it as the nonsense. Simple as it is, though, Geisler and Turek assure us:

This will make you look like a super genius!

And as is their wont, they offer us a few anecdotes to show us how well it's worked for them.

Which we'll judge for ourselves on Wednesday.

*I just tried to google "ornery agnosticism", since it struck me as an odd label, and can't find it referenced outside of Christian apologetics.

Critiquing "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" (p.17-19)

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The 12-point argument for the Bible's divinely-inspired authority doesn't actually start until Chapter 1, but Mssrs. Geisler and Turek make a couple of assertions in their book's introduction ("Finding the Box Top to the Puzzle of Life") that require addressing - and more importantly, also begin to reveal a tendency they have to manipulate their readers.

Their introduction begins by recounting Frank Turek's experience as an undergraduate in a university's course on the Old Testament. Turek writes:

From the beginning, the professor took a very skeptical view of the Old Testament. He immediately affirmed the theory that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible, and that many of the Bible's supposed prophetic passages were written after the fact.

At the end of the semester, Turek claims he was nearly convinced the Bible could not be taken as read, but still didn't know whether that meant God existed. So he decided to ask his professor.

Without a moment's hesitation he snapped, "I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"No, I have no idea."

Hearing this, Turek "simply walked out, frustrated with the entire semester... I expected a lot more from a university religion professor. I later learned that my expectations were too high for the modern university" (18-19).

Like most Christian conservatives, Turek and Geisler have a serious axe to grind with today's public universities. They deride the attitude they believe has taken hold in the "_plura_versities" that "deem every viewpoint, no matter how ridiculous, just as valid as any other" (19).

This accusation of theirs is, I think, an oversimplification of what's actually a pretty reasonable point-of-view. Sure, there are plenty of people out there who just so hate conflict that they've chosen to protect themselves from it by effectively shutting off their minds to the question of who's right and who's wrong in politics and religion. There are also those who've put serious thought into the matter, however, and have decided against judging world views because if The Truth is unknowable - and there are good reasons to suggest it's not - then practically speaking, all that matters is what works for you, while not infringing on others' search for what works for them. I'm not really a fan of this view, but it makes more sense than Geisler and Turek are suggesting here when they condescendingly explain how two mutually contradictory claims can't both be true (do they truly believe this idea's never occurred to the "_plura_versities" with whom they disagree?).

But we'll talk more about agnosticism when Geisler and Turek do; I don't want to get ahead of them. Today I just want to talk about Turek's Old Testament professor, because the episode irks me. The avowed agnosticism of Turek's professor doesn't bother me as it did (and apparently still does) bother Turek because it's clearly only a summary of the man's ideas on the subject. As a lone statement it doesn't tell us much at all; the specifics of his world view clearly require a little unpacking. All of which is to say that if Turek had simply stuck around long enough to ask a second or even third question, he probably would have gotten a much more concrete response.

Obviously I can't know what Turek's O.T. professor would have said if given the chance, but here's just one of many possibilities:

"If you don't know if God exists, how do you know the Bible isn't 100% true?"

"Oh no, I'm as certain as I can be that the Bible's version of God is incorrect. It bears all the marks of simply being a man-made document. But in so far as whether a being we could rightly name 'God' exists in our vast multiverse? Whether the Prime Mover was or is intelligent? I really have no clue and I'm not convinced we can. I wish it were otherwise."

See? That wasn't so hard, was it?

Here's the thing, though: taking this episode in isolation, I would simply chalk up Frank Turek's huffy exit here to a young man's impatience. But a pattern begins to emerge when you read through the other chapters of I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. It turns out Geisler & Turek love to provide us with anecdotes in which they wittily outmaneuver an atheist in a debate. Chapter 2 includes a plethora of them, including several more examples of how much smarter Christian apologists were as young men than their secular college professors (come to think it, it's practically a genre of anecdote in Christian apologetics: David and Goliath recast in an academic setting). And the cut-off points for a number of these recounted conversations are problematic for me in the same way Turek's opening story of his semester in an Old Testament class does, particularly when G&T; get to their patented "Road Runner Tactic" for debates in Chapter 2. I'll note them as we come upon them.

For now, I'm just going to point out that Frank Turek's lack of further inquiry into his old professor's belief accomplishes something: it makes the professor look more foolish than he probably was. As we continue reading through I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, I think we'll find Geisler and Turek do this often.

(A twice-weekly schedule, by the way, is looking about right for now. So see you on Sunday.)

Critiquing "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" (p.1!)

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That Geisler and Turek have written a book about how much more intellectual sense it makes to be a Christian is, to my mind, interesting in itself for what it says about modern Christianity.

The title isn't simply a catty remark about how ridiculously unsupportable Geisler & Turek believe atheists' world view to be; it's the central contention of their book - that one reason to believe in Christianity is because it's the shortest leap of faith available. As early as their introduction, they set out very carefully an understanding of faith as an unnecessary evil, one which everyone is forced to employ to the least possible degree because none of us have omniscience. And they are very clear on the point; later they spend part of their second chapter insuring we understand the only good reason to believe something is if it's supported best by the available data.

Which is not an argument with which I'm inclined to disagree... but, er, isn't it an unbiblical position? I mean, I can't be the only one who remembers that faith is considered a good thing in the Word, right? Isn't Faith one of Paul's three virtues?

I realize I'm open to charges of equivocation here. "Faith" has a number of definitions and the one Geisler & Turek use ("belief that is not based on proof") is different from the faith Jesus finds and applauds in a Roman soldier ("confidence or trust in a person or thing"), or the faith of the three Hebrews before Nebuchadnezzar's oven ("the obligation of loyalty or fidelity").

But it's not different from what Jesus is talking about when He says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Or when He demands we come to Him with the belief of little children (i.e. unquestioning) in Matthew 18:3 & 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, and Luke 18:15-17. Or when God informs Israel that any messenger capable of "signs and wonders" should nevertheless be distrusted if his message does not conform to prior revelation, so that even actual, first-hand evidence of the supernatural is no excuse to change one's mind. No, these are all ringing endorsements for faith irrespective of evidence. In fact, the less evidence you need the better.

The modern rationalist, of course, dismisses this world view as a near-perfect inversion of the true respective worths of faith and evidence. In I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, it's clear Geisler & Turek agree it's more important to have evidence than faith, as do many other Christians here in the West (just check out Webmaster Joe's own introductory posts on the book In Search of A Confident Faith. The first one's here, second one's here). But by doing so, they in effect cede that the Bible's own point-of-view about belief is antiquated.

If you ask me, that's not a good way to start an argument for the Bible's inerrancy.

NEXT: The book's introduction.

Critiquing "I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist": Intro

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A couple of days ago I wrote about why I wouldn't be writing a series on this blog rebutting Norm Geisler's and Frank Turek's I_ Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist_, a book I feel is pretty emblematic of Christian apologetics as a field.

This is the beginning of that series.

I changed my mind and decided to write it for a couple of reasons. First, I was pretty convinced that such a series would be merely redundant, since Kyle over at ExChristian.net has already done an excellent job of putting paid to Geisler and Turek's book, but on further reflection Kyle's responses to the majority of these arguments aren't (all) mine. Second, the book's 12-step line of reasoning for why the Bible is divinely-inspired and inerrant also looks like a handy way to organize a discussion not only of Geisler and Turek's points, but the points of other Christian apologists like the odious Dr. William Lane Craig. Third, I have to read the book anyway - I promised - so I might as well get some mileage for Joe's blog out of it.

Webmaster Joe, incidentally, is reading and annotating a book of Christian apologetics himself: In Search of A Confident Faith, by Drs. Moreland and Issler. I think it'll be interesting to see how the two books we're reading compare. I suspect, for example, to find the two books replicate many of the same arguments. I will, of course, continue to snap at his heels whenever he posts, and gladly invite him to return the favor.

OK then! So here's Geisler and Turek's chain of logic, which is designed to take one from no presuppositions whatsoever in favor of Christianity to believing the Bible is the divinely-inspired Word of God.

  1. Truth about Reality is knowable.
  2. The opposite of truth is false.
  3. The theistic God exists, which we can tell from the Cosmological Argument, Teleological Argument, and Moral Argument.
  4. If God exists, miracles are possible.
  5. Miracles can be used to confirm a message from God.
  6. The New Testament is historically reliable.
  7. The New Testament says Jesus claimed to be God.
  8. Jesus' claim to be God was miraculously confirmed by his fulfillment of prophecies, sinless life, miraculous deeds, and resurrection.
  9. Therefore, Jesus is God.
  10. Whatever Jesus/God said is true.
  11. Jesus taught the Bible is the Word of God.
  12. The Bible is the Word of God and anything which contradicts it is false.

We'll start either tomorrow or the day after.

If anyone has any good ideas for what to call this series of posts, by the way, I'm open to suggestions. Nothing's coming to me just at present and unless something does, I'm just going to be boring about it.

Battle of the Giants

There's only one possible debate between a skeptic of the Bible and a Christian apologist I would care to hear more than Dr. Robert M. Price vs. Dr. William Lane Craig: a debate between the aforementioned Dr. Craig and Dr. Jeremy Beahan (unfortunately not yet the recipient of a Wikipedia page) of the always-excellent Reasonable Doubts podcast.

I'm still sadly unaware of such an event - but I'm more than content to learn today that my second-place dream match-up did in fact take place as far back as 1999 at Ohio State and can be downloaded here. And so utterly convinced am I of its entertainment value that as of this writing I've yet to listen to it for myself.

Which means I might as well throw out my prediction ere I enjoy: I think Dr. Price is the most Biblically literate and clear-thinking skeptic I've ever discovered, but I cringe to suspect Craig will acquit himself better, as his debating skills are legendarily sharp (thus my hope he'll one day debate Dr. Beahan, who I'd wager anything knows at least as much bout philosophy as Lane, if less about the Bible, but most importantly knows how to formally debate). Let's find out...

UPDATE: Yeah, I had it just about right. Craig stayed completely on-target and Price rambled, allowing himself easily to be diverted by whatever side-subject caught his interest. The former came to a debate, the latter merely to talk. What I find curious about this result is its (herein demonstrated) predictability; how bizarre that Craig's opponents, from Hitchens to Price, either never seem to realize he intends to engage them in an old-school, formal debate - in which points are systematically laid down, then attacked and defended - or simply refuse to put in the time to prepare for one with him (and preparing wouldn't even take them that long. This particular apologist rarely varies his case; listen to any one of his presentations and you've listened to them all). What's more, they don't seem to understand how ineffectual they look when they fail to address his points.

Ah, well. Maybe one day I'll get my debate with Dr. Beahan.

Why is this site empty? It's Kyle's fault

So I got into a little bit of a tiff on Facebook recently with a Creationist acquaintance and foolishly ended up promising to read any one book he desired. He chose Norman L. Geisler's I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist.

I found the choice almost serendipitous, since I once toyed with annotating another one of Geisler's books, his Big Book of Biblical Contradictions, before deciding I would rather do something else with my time (after all, I didn't leave the Church just so I could switch teams). Now, however, I flirted with the idea of following through with the project using I Don't Have Enough Faith.... The discovery that I_ Don't Have Enough Faith..._ is free to download on Google Books almost clenched it for me; I wouldn't have to worry about getting my copy back to the library on time.

Then I also found this lengthy but entertaining article by Kyle of ExChristian.net, in which he demolishes the same book point-by-point - and does such an effective job of it that I felt my enthusiasm disappear with every additional line I read.

Now I've finished and just don't care again.

So it goes.

This entry was not tagged.

In Search of a Confident Faith (Ch.1, Pt.2): atheist annotations

Webmaster Joe is writing a series here on In Search of a Confident Faith, by J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler. His post on the first half of Chapter 1 is here; his post on the rest of it, here.

Being this blog's loyal opposition (I am loyal to Joe and opposed to most of what we both once believed, religiously speaking), I can't help but provide a few of my own annotations for what we've learned so far from Messrs. Moreland and Issler.

"A Christian with doubts isn’t a heathen or someone to be feared. A Christian with doubts is someone who’s less than 100% confident that Christianity is true — but still more than 50% confident. What’s needed isn’t blind exhortation to “have more faith” but more evidence to create confidence — to create more faith."

They're right on their main points here: it's obscene to suggest that doubting is sinful, and the unspoken idea prevalent in churches that you can simply will yourself to believe something either more or less is absurd.

Yet there's a corollary idea here that goes unsaid: once we begin to talk about Christians who are "pretty sure" or "mostly sure" God exists, talk of a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is revealed as the metaphor (if we're being generous) or pure hyperbole (if we're not) it's always been. As Joe says, he has great faith in his wife, to say nothing of his confidence in her actual existence - and why shouldn't he? But despite statements sometimes made by Christians to the effect that it would be as crazy for them not to believe in Jesus as it would be for them to stop believing in other people they know, it's clear the Christian "relationship" is no different from the connection other religious people feel with their objects of worship.

But it's the other important message from the authors in this chapter that's positively stupefying when you consider its real implications so that you wonder how they dared to write it at all.

The good news is that you can indirectly control what you believe and how strongly you believe it by freely choosing to do certain things that develop God-confidence as a byproduct.

Spoken for truth, as they say: our actions affect our beliefs as much as vice-versa.

Most Christians already understand, of course, that the best way to believe something, keep believing it, and even believe it more than before is to carefully control your interactions. For instance, that's why they read books like In Search of a Confident Faith when they have doubts. So long as they always turn to Christianity for answers to problems with Christianity, they can minimize that terrible chance they might find answers to their questions from more threatening sources. What's interesting is that Christians also understand this is what they're doing, but their religion has made such close-mindedness acceptable by spiritualizing the whole matter.

There's much more to write - a book, really - but other matters to attend. Happy reading.

In Search of a Confident Faith (Chapter 1, Part 2)

I'm going to continue talking about what I learned in Chapter 1 of In Search of a Confident Faith. Last week, I talked about the first half of Chapter 1.

Philosophical Aspects of Faith

After unpacking the three theological aspects of faith, the authors move on to three philosophical aspects of faith. These are degrees of belief, confidence in and confidence that, and changing beliefs.

Degrees of belief:

The first philosophical aspect of faith is that beliefs are not binary. It's not true that you either believe something completely or disagree with it entirely. Beliefs are expressed in degrees of confidence. You can either believe something (51-100%) confidence, disbelieve something (0-49% confidence) or be completely counterbalanced (50% confidence or no confidence either way). This is true of everything in our lives, not just religion.

For instance, I'm 90% confident that Republicans will retake the House this year -- I believe it. I'm only 40% confident that Republicans will retake the Senate -- I disbelieve it. You can see that it would take a lot to change my belief about the outcome of the House elections but only a comparatively little to change my belief about the outcome of the Senate elections.

For a Christian, it's possible to believe in God with only a 51% or 55% confidence. You would believe, but your faith wouldn't be very strong. You would be constantly reevaluating your beliefs and seeking new evidence to either increase or reverse your existing beliefs. This is important because it indicates that the presence of doubt is not fatal.

... It follows from the fact that confidence comes in degrees, that in order to grow in Christ, it is not enough to assess what we do and do not believe. Rather, it is crucial to assess our degree of belief.

A Christian with doubts isn't a heathen or someone to be feared. A Christian with doubts is someone who's less than 100% confident that Christianity is true -- but still more than 50% confident. What's needed isn't blind exhortation to "have more faith" but more evidence to create confidence -- to create more faith.

Confidence In vs Confidence That

This second philosphical aspect of faith is fairly simple. You can have "confidence in" in an object (such as a automotive transmission) or a person (such as your wife). You have "confidence that" an alleged truth is actually true. For the record, I don't have confidence in my car's transmission but I do have confidence in my wife. I have confidence that the earth orbits the sun. I don't have confidence that anthropogenic global warming will destroy mankind.

Two important things follow from the distinction between "confidence in" and "confidence that." For one thing, the proper value of each rests on the worthiness of its object. Regarding "confidence in," its proper value is derived from the reality of its object and the object's dependability or trustworthiness.

... Regarding "confidence that," its proper value derives from the fact that the object--a particular claim--is actually true and not false.

... The second implication of the distinction between "confidence in" and "confidence that" is that while truth is an important aspect of biblical faith, faith goes beyond accepting certain truths and crucially involves "confidence in" and reliance upon a Person--the Triune God.

Changing Beliefs

The final philosophical aspect of faith deals with how to increase your faith in something or someone. The authors take pains to point out that beliefs can only be changed indirectly -- never directly. You will never increase your own faith or someone else's faith by merely commanding greater faith to exist.

The good news is that you can indirectly control what you believe and how strongly you believe it by freely choosing to do certain things that develop God-confidence as a byproduct.

In essence, persons do not have direct control over what they do and do not believe (or regarding the strength of their beliefs), but they do have indirect control over their beliefs. Put differently, one's beliefs (and their strength) are not directly subject to one's free will, though other activities that indirectly produce (or strengthen) belief are subject to one's free will.

Why Do We Have Faith

The Hidden God

Finally, Moreland and Issler address the question of why we have to have faith in God at all. Unfortunately, I thought this was the weakest part of the entire chapter. They start out by talking about the hiddenness of God.

... God is not interested in merely getting people to believe he is there. That's why he doesn't write something in the sky for all to see. Rather, he is interested in forming a community of people--his kingdom covenant people--who have entered that community voluntarily and uncoerced, and they have done so for the right reasons, among which include the desire to be with and like God himself.

... the Bible clearly teaches that there is knowledge of the existence of God (Psalm 19; Romans 1). What is hidden is God's manifest presence and some of his intentions.

This is worded as though Moreland and Issler believe that the two ideas are in conflict with each other. That it would be impossible for people to enter God's community voluntarily and uncoerced unless God were hidden. That may very well be true. Scripture is full of statements about man being unable to resist worship (or even keep living) in the unmediated presence of God.

Moreland and Issler themselves don't make any attempt to defend this assertion. They simply throw it out there. That greatly weakens their next two points.

Faith is How We Live Our Lives

... The second response is that, in light of the fuller understanding of the nature of faith provided above, it becomes evident that faith--confidence in and confidence that--is the very rail upon which we live our lives.

Everything we do, everyone we admire or detest, every emotion that we have comes from our specific beliefs and how strongly we hold those beliefs. My beliefs shape my daily thoughts, guide the priorization of my goals, and produce my daily behaviors. Change my beliefs and you change who I am. Change me from a raging free market capitalist to a committed liberal democrat and you'll change a lot of what makes me "me". Likewise, change my Christianity to atheism and you'll also change a lot of what makes me "me". Sure, I won't become a different person entirely but my priorities will change. My reading list will change. Some of my emotions will change.

My beliefs -- and the faith I have in those beliefs -- define who I am. Christianity is "merely" one element of my personal matrix of beliefs. Having faith in Christianity doesn't make me more or less rational than having faith in capitalism or faith in the ability of the Green Bay Packers to reach the Super Bowl. Faith is faith. It's the object of faith and the evidence for that faith that matters in determining whether or not I'm crazy.

Faith and people

Finally, faith is how we related to people all around us. All of our social interactions are driven by the faith (or lack of faith) we have in the people we meet each day.

we flourish in the presence of trust from others, offering confidence and trust is one way to show respect to and value other persons, and reliance on and confidence in another are essential to the way persons work together and cooperate with each other.

... Imagine what would happen to personal flourishing, individually and communally, if there were no such thing as trust. When we recall that faith is not blind choice but is trust, reliance and confidence, it becomes clear that the existence of faith is merely one important aspect of the nature of persons and the proper way they relate to one another. Furthermore, God-confidence is fundamental to living well in this universe, as Hebrews 11:6 teaches: "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

Christian faith, ultimately, comes down to how much you know about God, how much you believe what you know, and -- from that -- how much confidence you place in God to do right and to be worthy of worship.

In Search of a Confident Faith (Chapter 1, Part 1)

Several months ago, I started reading through In Search of a Confident Faith. I quickly discovered that it had a lot of good information that I both wanted to remember and wanted to pass along.

I put my reading on hold until I could actually document things systematically. I'm finally at the point where I managed to write about Chapter 1, so I'm now going to inflict my enthusiasm on you.

Introduction

What is faith? Is it an existential leap into the unknown? Is it a blind hope that somehow everything will work out okay, even if you don't know how? Is it wishful thinking without a solid foundation? Or is it something more?  J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler tackle this topic in Chapter 1 of In Search of a Confident Faith.

They say that faith is more than just the idea of blind trust that the word conjures up in modern Western thought. Instead, they argue, faith is something that must be built on a solid foundation, if it's to be worth anything at all. They start out by proposing to drop the word "faith". It's too confusing and -- by now -- has too much baggage associated with it. Instead, they encourage you to think of it in terms of three synonyms: "confidence", "trust", and "reliance". They say "We can see that if faith is essentially trust and confidence, its proper exercise crucially requires reasons, evidence, and knowledge."

Without reason, evidence, or knowledge, no Christian should hold Christianity to be true. Faith without reason and evidence is mere wishful thinking. They want to encourage Christians to question their faith and to discover what -- if any -- foundation they have for their faith.

If Christians have a solid foundation for their beliefs, then they can have great confidence in those beliefs, great trust in those beliefs, and a great reliance on those beliefs. They'll know why they have those beliefs and won't live in constant fear that they've misunderstood something or have wasted their lives on a delusion. Having a confident belief is vital to actually living as a Christian.

Because many Christians don't have a strong foundation of evidence for their faith, they are deathly afraid of doubting Christianity. This fear comes from a fear of what other Christians might think, a fear of what God might think (if he even exists), and a fear of what unpleasant truths they might discover if they ask too many questions. To combat these fears, Moreland and Issler proffer three different types of uncertainty -- only one of which is sinful.

one must distinguish among (1) unbelief (a willful and sinful setting of oneself against a biblical teaching), (2) doubt (an intellectual, emotional or psychological hindrance to a more secure confidence in some teaching or in God himself--I believe something but just have doubts) and (3) lack of belief (I don't believe something but know I should and want to--I need help).

Theological Aspects of Faith

Moreland and Issler begin to move into the meat and potatoes of the chapter. They unpack three historical theological aspects of faith. True faith starts with knowledge and ends with full fledged commitment. These three theological aspects of faith are faith as knowledge (notitia), faith as assent (assensus) and faith as commitment (fiducia).

Notitia

Notitia refers to the content of faith, primarily the assertions of Scripture and theological, doctrinal formulations derived from Scripture. ... Notitia is also defined as knowledge of the meaning of or as understanding the content of doctrinal teaching. This clearly implies that far from being antithetical to faith, knowledge is actually an important ingredient of it.

Faith starts with simply knowing what the truth claims of the Bible (or anything, really) are. Is it claimed that stealing is honorable or dishonorable? Is it claimed that the poor are victims of their own stupidity, victims of the oppressors, or something else entirely? Is it claimed that the world is screwed up from the result of unwise choices or from malevolent evil? Is it claimed that the path to salvation lies in increasing knowledge or in humble submission to another? Every religion or set of ideas has its own set of facts. In the first stage, notitia, you don't have to agree or disagree with any of them. You just need to know what they are.

Assensus

Assensus refers to personal assent to, awareness of or agreement with the truth of Christian teaching, and, again, it is primarily intellectual, though as we shall see in chapter three, there are clear affective and psychological components to assensus. Medieval theologians distinguished varying degrees of assent to something, with "full assent without hesitation" as the strongest form. The important thing is that it is not enough to grasp the contents of Christian teaching; one must also accept the fact that this teaching is true.

To get to this stage, you have to actively weigh the evidence for the facts that you've learned as part of notitia. You have to listen to the arguments pro and con. You have to apply your own reason and understanding. Only when you've agreed that the facts are, in fact, true can you move to assensus.

Fiducia

Finally, fiducia involves personal commitment to its object, whether to a truth or a person. Fiducia is essentially a matter of the will, but because Christianity is a relationship with a Person and not just commitment to a set of truths (though this is, of course, essential), the capacity to develop emotional intimacy and to discern the inner movements of feeling, intuition and God's Spirit in the soul is crucial to maintaining and cultivating commitment to God.

To be honest, I don't see a huge gap between assensus and fiducia. I know there can be a gap between claimed agreement with the Bible and actually living out a life of commitment but I don't think there should be. I think that if you really and truly whole-heartedly agreed with something that it would be hard to avoid living your life according to that belief. And, for Christians, agreement with Scripture is an agreement that you can have a personal, life altering relationship with the Being that created everything. If you agree with that, how can you not have a personal commitment to obeying that God fully?

But, of course, it's impossible to argue or guilt someone into a relationship with God. Moreland and Issler recognize that.

Merely exhorting people to be more committed to God—"just have more faith"—seldom produces greater confidence and dedicated trust in God. Rather, what is needed is a realistic picture of a flourishing life lived deeply in tune with God 's kingdom—a life that is so utterly compelling that failure to exercise greater commitment to life in that kingdom will feel like a foolish, tragic missed opportunity for entering into something truly dramatic and desirable.

That finishes up the three theological aspects of faith. Next week, I'll continue talking about Chapter 1 and I'll cover the three philosophical aspects of faith as well as the question of why it's necessary to have faith at all.