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Reading Idea: Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics

Broken Words

Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics
by Jonathan Dudley
$4.99 on Kindle

I had no idea that many (most?) evangelicals didn't believe that human life begins at conception. It'll take a lot to convince me that it doesn't, but I'm willing to read the history of how beliefs shifted in the evangelical community.

The 'biblical view' that's younger than the Happy Meal

In 1979, McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal.

Sometime after that, it was decided that the Bible teaches that human life begins at conception.

Ask any American evangelical, today, what the Bible says about abortion and they will insist that this is what it says. (Many don’t actually believe this, but they know it is the only answer that won’t get them in trouble.) They’ll be a little fuzzy on where, exactly, the Bible says this, but they’ll insist that it does.

That’s new. If you had asked American evangelicals that same question the year I was born you would not have gotten the same answer.

That year, Christianity Today — edited by Harold Lindsell, champion of “inerrancy” and author of The Battle for the Bible — published a special issue devoted to the topics of contraception and abortion. That issue included many articles that today would get their authors, editors — probably even their readers — fired from almost any evangelical institution. For example, one article by a professor from Dallas Theological Seminary criticized the Roman Catholic position on abortion as unbiblical. Jonathan Dudley quotes from the article in his book Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics. Keep in mind that this is from a conservative evangelical seminary professor, writing in Billy Graham’s magazine for editor Harold Lindsell:

God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: “If a man kills any human life he will be put to death” (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22-24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. … Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.

Christianity Today would not publish that article in 2012. They might not even let you write that in comments on their website. If you applied for a job in 2012 with Christianity Today or Dallas Theological Seminary and they found out that you had written something like that, ever, you would not be hired.

At some point between 1968 and 2012, the Bible began to say something different. That’s interesting.

Even more interesting is how thoroughly the record has been rewritten. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

I heartily recommend Dudley’s book for his discussion of this switch and the main figures who brought it about — Francis Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, Richard Viguerie, etc.

Best predictor of divorce? Age when couples cohabit, study says

Best predictor of divorce? Age when couples cohabit, study says →

For years, social scientists have tried to explain why living together before marriage seemed to increase the likelihood of a couple divorcing. Now, new research released by the nonpartisan Council on Contemporary Families gives an answer:

It doesn't. And it probably never has.

"Up until now, we've had this mysterious finding that co-habitation causes divorce," she says. "Nobody's been able to explain it. And now we have—it was that people were measuring it the wrong way."

Couples who begin living together without being married tend to be younger than those who move in after the wedding ceremony – that's why cohabitation seemed to predict divorce, Professor Kuperburg explains. But once researchers control for that age variable, it turns out that premarital cohabitation by itself has little impact on a relationship's longevity. Those who began living together, unmarried or married, before the age of 23 were the most likely to later split.

Interesting. This should change the way that Christians talk about the importance of chastity before marriage. It probably won't but it should.

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

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My Haul from Amazon’s “Big Deal” eBook Sale

Amazon is running a Big Deal sale on Kindle books. It includes about 970 books and ends today.

Like most sales, there is quite a lot of dreck in there. But I waded through it all and I did manage to find a few good bargains.

Not a bad haul for $21.00.

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.)

The Earth is the Lord's

In Calvinism Continued, Adam argues that it's nonsense to suggest that all sin is really a sin against God.

A Christian might also suggest that all sins are sins against God, not men - but that is simply nonsense. Whosoever harms me, harms me (a better argument is the idea that God wants you to forgive as you were forgiven, but that proves a lack of need for blood). God is by all accounts undamaged. Indeed, the only crime against God must be simple, completely ineffective rebellion - which we must assume does not hurt God's feelings, because that would suggest we have some power over Him - and the idea that God can't put up with that suggests He's not merciful at all.

I disagree, for perfectly valid libertarian reasons. But to follow the logic, you'll have to temporarily assume that the Bible is what it claims to be: God's attempt to reveal who he is and what he's all about.

Propositions:

  1. God created the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
  2. God created man (Genesis 2:7-8)
  3. Ownership comes from mixing labor (John Locke)

Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.

Conclusion: God owns the earth and everything in the earth -- including us. Further conclusion: Because God owns us, he can do with us as he likes. He has, in fact, done so by giving us the Law and requiring us to obey it. I'd say that most of the Old Testament assumes this point of view.

Deuteronomy 10:12-14

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.

1 Samuel 2:8

He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,
and on them he has set the world.

1 Chronicles 29:11

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.

Nehemiah 9:6

You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

Psalm 24:1-4

The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.

To repeat my argument: God created the world and everything in it, including us. Therefore, God owns us and is perfectly justified in doing with us as he likes. God has designed his world (his universe) to run according to certain laws. Every violation of those laws is a violation of the "natural order" of things and a rebellion against God. Rebellion is nothing more nor less than taking that which doesn't belong to you, namely power.

True, your sin of theft is between you and your victim. He's harmed by longer having that which once belonged to him. But your theft is a crime against God: you've also usurped his power to decide what is and isn't right. You've placed your own judgment and desires above his.

Jonathan Edwards makes the argument that punishment must be proportional to the degree of sin. He goes on to argue that sin is a crime against an infinite God and deserving of infinite punishment.

A crime is more or less heinous, according as we are under greater or less obligations to the contrary. This is self-evident; because it is herein that the criminalness or faultiness of any thing consists, that it is contrary to what we are obliged or bound to, or what ought to be in us. So the faultiness of one being hating another, is in proportion to his obligation to love him. The crime of one being despising and casting contempt on another, is proportionably more or less heinous, as he was under greater or less obligations to honour him. The fault of disobeying another, is greater or less, as any one is under greater or less obligations to obey him. And therefore if there be any being that we are under infinite obligations to love, and honour, and obey, the contrary towards him must be infinitely faulty.

Our obligation to love, honour, and obey any being, is in proportion to his loveliness, honourableness, and authority; for that is the very meaning of the words. When we say any one is very lovely, it is the same as to say, that he is one very much to be loved. Or if we say such a one is more honourable than another, the meaning of the words is, that he is one that we are more obliged to honour. If we say any one has great authority over us, it is the same as to say, that he has great right to our subjection and obedience.

But God is a being infinitely lovely, because he hath infinite excellency and beauty. To have infinite excellency and beauty, is the same thing as to have infinite loveliness. He is a being of infinite greatness, majesty, and glory; and therefore he is infinitely honourable. He is infinitely exalted above the greatest potentates of the earth, and highest angels in heaven; and therefore he is infinitely more honourable than they. His authority over us is infinite; and the ground of his right to our obedience is infinitely strong; for he is infinitely worthy to be obeyed himself, and we have an absolute, universal, and infinite dependence upon him.

So that sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving of infinite punishment.

Therefore, I argue, God is perfectly justified in any punishment he cares to deal out.

Re: Is Joe Wasting His Life?

Adam is right, of course. The crucial question about whether or not I'm wasting my life -- about whether or not anyone is wasting his life -- is "what exactly [is] a good Christian supposed to do with his or her new life in Christ?" I posed the original question (am I wasting my life) as a result of reading and listening to John Piper. Adam answered the question from his own perspective, I'll start by answering it from Pastor John's perspective.

Pastor John has written a short pamphlet entitled, appropriately enough, "Don't Waste Your Life". His intro to the book provides a succinct answer to the question:

God created us to live with a single passion: to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work, not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives.

Later in the second chapter, he expands on that a bit more:

God created me--and you--to live with a single, all-embracing, all-transforming passion--namely, a passion to glorify God by enjoying and displaying his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. Enjoying and displaying are both crucial. If we try to display the excellence of God without joy in it, we will display a shell of hypocrisy and create scorn or legalism. But if we claim to enjoy his excellence and do not display it for others to see and admire, we deceive ourselves, because the mark of God-enthralled joy is to overflow and expand by extending itself into the hearts of others. The wasted life is the life without a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.

The book itself attempts to answer the question "What does this mean I should do?" He says:

It has become clearer that God being glorified and God being enjoyed are not separate categories. They relate to each other not like fruit and animals, but like fruit and apples. Apples are one kind of fruit. Enjoying God supremely is one way to glorify him. Enjoying God makes him look supremely valuable.

And, later:

Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Daily Christian living is daily Christian dying. The dying I have in mind is the dying of comfort and security and reputation and health and family and friends and wealth and homeland. These may be taken from us at any time in the path of Christ-exalting obedience. To die daily the way Paul did, and to take up our cross daily the way Jesus commanded, is to embrace this life of loss for Christ's sake and count it gain. In other words, the way we honor Christ in death is to treasure Jesus above the gift of life, and the way we honor Christ in life is to treasure Jesus above life's gifts.

... But what I know even more surely is that the greatest joy in God comes from giving his gifts away, not in hoarding them for ourselves. It is good to work and have. It is better to work and have in order to give. God's glory shines more brightly when he satisfies us in times of loss than when he provides for us in times of plenty. The health, wealth, and prosperity "gospel" swallows up the beauty of Christ in the beauty of his gifts and turns the gifts into idols. The world is not impressed when Christians get rich and say thanks to God. They are impressed when God is so satisfying that we give our riches away for Christ's sake and count it gain.

This was part of what gave rise to my original question. By this definition, am I wasting my life? I'm rich. Historically speaking (as we've previously discussed, Adam) I'm ridiculously, fabulously wealthy. I can listen to almost anything I want -- spoken or musical -- at any time. I can watch nearly any form of any entertainment at any time. I have access to thousands of books within days or minutes. Most of the world's knowledge is at my fingertips, thanks to the Internet.

I'm pretty well-off by American standards as well. Our household owns 3 computers, 2 iPods, 2 completely paid off cars, 18% of a house, lots of nice clothes, and plenty of food. We can eat out nearly anytime we want to, we can and do fly around the U.S., we rent nice cars and stay in nice hotels on vacation. I have a beautiful, helpful wife who loves me. We have two beautiful daughters. All four of us are in perfect health. In short, I'm doing pretty well at doing as Voltaire's Candide said: "', i.e. enjoy your work, wife, and life - in short, function as you were made to function - and leave the rest up to God."

But, so what? Is that really all there is? Just be thankful that I'm one of the lucky ones and enjoy my wealth? Most days, I'm very tempted to say "yes". God gave it to me, why should I complain about it? But other days I wonder -- am I wasting His gifts? Am I wasting my life?

If, tomorrow, everything were to disappear in a Job-like orgy of destruction, how would I react? Would I praise God and say "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21)? Put differently, is God the most important thing in my life or are my things the most important thing in my life?

My original post also referenced the Rwandan genocide. Many Rwandan Christians reacted as violently and savagely as non-Christians when everything was stripped away from them. I'd like to think I wouldn't do the same thing in the same situation. I'd like to think that my reaction would show that God is the most important thing in my life -- even more important than my family.

God willing, I'll never have to go through that situation and I'll never have to find out the hard way. But it's something I think about as I examine my own priorities and how I react to my stuff.

Now, you also mentioned Luther's solution of passive righteousness to the dilemma of how to improve yourself -- how to become more like God and less like a sinner. And, Luther is right. The two opposite extremes are excessive pride in your accomplishments and excessive despair at your failures.

Personally, I've found Tim Keller to be a big help in understanding how this works. I'll quote from his book The Reason for God. He says:

Religion operates on the principle "I obey--therefore I am accepted by God." But the operating principle of the gospel is "I am accepted by God through what Christ has done--therefore I obey." Two people living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may sit next to each other in the church pew. They both pray, give money generously, and are loyal and faithful to their family and church, trying to live decent lives. However, they do so out of radically different motivations in two radically different spiritual identities, and the result is two radically different kinds of lives.

The primary difference is that of motivation. In religion, we try to obey the divine standards out of fear. We believe that if we don't obey we are going to lose God's blessing in this world and the next. In the gospel, the motivation is one of gratitude for the blessing we have already received because of Christ. While the moralist is forced into obedience, motivated by fear of rejection, a Christian rushes into obedience, motivated by a desire to please and resemble the one who gave his life for us.

I've long lived my life with a constant fear of failure. I'm afraid to try new things because I'm afraid of the consequences of failing at them. That's carried over into my Christian life. I've been afraid to do things for God because I've been afraid of lousing them up and making a bigger mess. Keller (along with C.J. Mahaney and John Piper) has taught me that I can't possibly be any worse than I am. I don't have to worry about God's unhappiness if I fail to live up to his standards and I don't have to bend myself into a pretzel trying to be perfect. Jesus already paid for every single one of my rebellions and moral failures.

I am free to live out my life without endless agonizing over every decision. I'm free to go out and "just do it". I don't have to figure out how to be perfect before doing "it". Whatever I decide I want "it" to be. In a way, I feel like my options are opening up for the first time ever.

Will I do it? Will I step out and do something for God? Will I prove that God is more important than my stuff? Or will I still refuse to take risks, because I don't want to endanger my stuff? Will I use my life profitably or will I waste it?

Live in Grace

Between Two Worlds: All of Grace:

Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (p. 19):

Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace.

And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace.

And from pp. 22-23:

Pharisee-type believers unconsciously think they have earned God's blessing through their behavior.

Guilt-laden believers are quite sure they have forfeited God's blessing through their lack of discipline or their disobedience.

Both have forgotten the meaning of grace because they have moved away from the gospel and have slipped into a performance relationship with God.

Together for Adoption: The Forgotten Part of James 1:27

The world tells us that our fundamental identity is determined by our performance not by the performance of another (i.e., Jesus). It seduces us to believing (often unknowingly) that our main sense of significance is found in what we do or in what we're involved in.

It might look like this: "God is pleased with me because I have given my life to caring for the least of these." Now, does God smile at us when we care for orphans? Yes, but if the main way we sense his smile is by our efforts to care for orphans, then chances are we've become stained by the world.

If our primary sense of God's smile upon us comes from our involvement in caring for the least of these, then it's highly likely that to some extent our lives are performance-based rather than grace-based. In other words, it may be that my functional paradigm of Christian living is: "I share God's heart for the orphan; therefore, God is pleased with me," rather than "God is pleased with me because of Jesus; therefore, I am freed to care for the orphan." There is a massive difference between these two ways of thinking. To think the first way is to be stained by the world. To think the second way is to be unstained by the world.

Is Joe Wasting His Life?

joe

"Something I’ve been thinking lately," our dear webmaster Joe has recently written. "Am I different as a Christian than I would be if I wasn’t a Christian? Am I just wasting my life?"

Then he linked to a rap video appearing to strenously urge its viewers not to knock over convenience stores. DON'T WASTE YOUR LIFE, it demanded at its end via big white letters.

It probably goes without saying (but here it is anyway) that I've been worrying for Joe ever since. I had no idea he was knocking over convenience stores. And what's worse, I still don't know what's driven him to it. Does he need the money for crack?

Here's the worst of it: Separated as we are by just under 900 miles of amber waves of grain and purple mountains' majesty, I'm practically powerless to help the guy - except perhaps to wire him a little green, and wouldn't that just be enabling? My budget says yes, yes it would be, which means all I have left are my words.

And here they are, Joe - and on a public blog, no less, because the best antidote for darkness is the bright beam of posterity.

Joe, your dilemma highlights another problem with modern-day Christian theology: that is, what exactly a good Christian is supposed to do with his or her new life in Christ. Many (even most) Christians will of course scoff at the idea that this is any sort of quandary at all. "What does the Bible say?" they might respond. But my opinion stands that 'tis truly a tad tricky.

Here's why: the Christian New Testament of the Bible is an extremely apocalypse-focused collection of texts. Many scholars in fact agree that early followers of Jesus expected the end of the world to occur within their lifetimes or shortly thereafter, possibly because Jesus told them so (Matthew 24:34 - and no, He's not referring to the Transfiguration). Thus the overriding directive for Christians was to go forth and create new Christians, occupying yourself with as little else as possible - indeed, relinquishing the gift of marriage unless you just couldn't resist your sexual urges, and living as if you weren't married if you were.*

(*And as an aside, boy has that advice from our dear apostle Paul resulted in headaches for young Christians since; many are the Bible-believing boys and girls who have had to struggle with the idea that they're settling for serving their beloved God less by exchanging vows. Would that Paul had never written the stupid part - if he actually did. Anyway:)

If you desire to compare your accomplishments to that original standard, Joe, simply ask yourself how many people you've recruited for the Christ, and deduct points for all the time you've spent married when you could've been SAVING SOMEONE FROM ETERNAL TORMENT IN THE SNAKE PITS OF HELL.

Ahem.

There are other yardsticks available with which to measure your faithfulness, though, since as you are probably aware we are now well past those early, heady days, and we must now take note that God's Holy Church has been caught somewhat flat-footed by just how big a procrastinator its saviour has turned out to be. Pastors and priests usually explain our unexpectedly long wait for Jesus' second coming as an act of mercy on the part of the Lord; they say He is pushing back the final hour to allow more chances for salvation. Knowing that God's love is infinite and that He has now shown the sinners of this world so much love that they have waited well over a thousand years longer for His return than they waited for His arrival in the first place (the first references to a messiah at best occur in the Book of Isaiah, written in the 700's B.C.), the Church and we members of it should probably figure out how we're supposed to pass the time.

We will toss Paul's suggestions into the recycle bin, then (because Lord knows, someone will dredge them up again), and consider other Biblical advice. The Teacher of the Book of Ecclesiastes has some, though readers disagree as to precisely what that advice is; Christians and Talmud-lovers suggest Qohelet pushes for his readers to keep their treasure in Heaven, as Jesus would say, while people who actually read the book understand him to be basically proferring the same advice as Voltaire's Candide: "tend your garden", i.e. enjoy your work, wife, and life - in short, function as you were made to function - and leave the rest up to God.

I find it an attractive suggestion, Joe. What say you?

I should warn you, modern Christian thought rather rejects the Qohelet Theory. Rather, the view of today's mainline Protestant congregations is that your lifespan here 'pon Earth is a self-improvement project. You are meant over the course of your days to be slowly but surely perfected, to morph from a vile, despicable convenience store robber into a poor copy of Jesus Christ. The climax to this evolutionary narrative is your death, whereupon you are to complete your transformation (no matter what your spiritual state at the time of your deceasing) into a glorious new creature.

This option is also attractive, actually, but in my experience deceptively so; self-improvement is hard, stressful work if you take it seriously. Martin Luther addressed the difficulties in a treatise on Galatians. To paraphrase him, if you try to become a good man and think you are succeeding, you are a deluded egomaniac - and if you try to become a good man and fail, you will beat yourself up about it, since Mankind cannot be good enough.

Unfortunately, Luther's solution for this problem - "passive-righteousness" - is one of those ideas that sounds great on paper because it makes use of theology, but doesn't make any sense when you actually try to apply it. He claims that we must simply cease to struggle to be good (presumably "active-righteousness") and allow the Holy Spirit to do the work for us.

One only has to ask, "What does this mean I should do?" to realize it's hogwash. By and large, good things happen when we do them; nothing happens when nobody moves. Mankind's effort is clearly involved, So it clearly doesn't pass the real-world test (and is also horrifically debilitating) to declare nobody can be "good" via their own devices. Yes, you can argue that the results will never equal the amazing goodness of an omnipotent, omniscient person, the every action of whom is the standard by which Goodness is judged even if we don't understand how it could possibly be good at all - but what in the world kind of standard is that? A standard which you cannot reach, as I've learned since meeting my mother-in-law, is really no standard at all (and on the opposite side of the coin, any standard which you will reach no matter what is not exactly worth striving for either).

I would therefore say that the modern Christian concept of Life's purpose is usable, but the theology that accompanies it is not. Clearer some people are better than others and you should strive to be one of them. By all means, consider the question of whether you are a better person than you were five years ago and rate yourself appropriately, if you like.

But I'm personally still not quite crazy about it. To quote one of Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt's cabinet members (I forget which), "In the long run, we are all dead." Self-improvement is not a value in and of itself; taken alone, it is but vanity. Reward for self-improvement is only found in its context. Does being a better man, for instance, result in your being a better husband and father, thus benefiting the people you love? Is that a goal of yours? If yes, it is good.

I'd argue instead for a result-focused lifestyle (and yes, "self-improvement" can be a result - but as I said, it's of no real use as the ultimate one), in which we strive to create the reality we desire.

Note that I am not suggesting a result-oriented life; there is a difference. A man who sets out to be a good husband and father has a chance of dying satisfied only if he keeps proper perspective about how much control he has over such matters.

We have actually come full-circle, since a result-focused lifestyle is exactly what the apostle Paul was suggesting nearly two thousand years ago, the important difference being of course that he had already taken the liberty of choosing the result on which to focus. When I first met my fiance, I was surprised to find her very skeptical about that focus; unlike me, she'd never thought of the commission as binding upon her. Nowadays I agree, if only because so many of my ideas about Christianity are currently in flux that I don't feel I have enough answers to share with others.

But I digress! Let me know which of these options you choose, Joe, or if you'll be selecting another. In the meantime, remember to adequately scope out your targets before you strike, and pay your taxes on whatever your take is.

The To-Do Lists Are Never Done

As unfinished work piles up each day at the office, I could certainly stand to remember this more. The To-Do Lists Are Never Done:

Only God gets his to-do list done each day.

This simple sentence informs how I begin my day, what I expect to accomplish during the day, and how I close each day.

When I step out of my office and turn the light off at the end of my day, and the list of to-dos is incomplete, I say to my secretary, "Nora, we will try again tomorrow." This brief statement is an acknowledgment of my limitations, and is my way of saying that--once again--I didn't get everything done. It's a moment for me to cultivate humility.

No matter how much planning, scheduling, and discipline is present in my life, I will never completely redeem the time. I am a finite creature, limited in what I can accomplish, and further limited by my sin. So it should surprise nobody that I leave to-dos undone each and every day.

My joy is not derived from the flawless execution of my goals. My joy each day is derived from the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Only God gets his to-do list done each day. I need the cross of Christ each day.

(Via C.J. Mahaney's view from the cheap seats & other stuff.)

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