Monthly Archives: August 2010

I’ll Never Understand This

Christopher Hitchens

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Okay, it is time for me, once again, to put on my “naive religious person” hat and wonder why on earth people get offended over the stupidest things.

It has nothing to do with the recent decision to ban cross memorials for fallen state troopers in Utah because it allegedly is Christian proselytization forced on innocent motorists driving down the highway. That was a bit outrageous, and those judges should have their heads examined. The cross isn’t a Mormon symbol, and both the folks who erected the monuments and the troopers to whom the monuments were dedicated were Mormons. The cross has come to mean “grave marker” just as much as it symbolizes Christianity. For more information on that, see the related links below.

No, the subject of this post is one of far greater concern to me. Vjack of Atheist Revolution has written a post decrying prayers being offered for Christopher Hitchens’s recovery from cancer. He discusses why prayer, in this specific case, is offensive, then treats the broader issue of why prayer in general is offensive. Read the rest of this entry

The Invention of Religion

Cults and new religious movements in literatur...

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A new blogger arriving on the scene, badcatholic, imagines himself back in time as a fly on the wall during the invention of religion.

Caveman 1: Bro, these mammoths are frightening, and I don’t know why it rains.
Caveman 2: Yeah, sounds like we need some supernatural explanation for natural phenomena for which we are not yet advanced enough to understand.
Caveman 1: Right. So we’ll need a god…
Caveman 2: Nice.
Caveman 1: And let’s have no adultery with beautiful women…
Caveman 2: Uh-
Caveman 1: And in with the concept of eternal, unimaginable torment-
Caveman 2: Slow down-
Caveman 1: And moral obligations, and no more of this survival of the fittest. We’ll not be able to lie, or steal, or cheat, or mastrubate-
Caveman 2: Are you sure you-
Caveman 1: Or eat too much, or drink too much, or be lazy, or be prideful… (source)

It has always fascinated me that atheists repeatedly assert that religion is a human invention, yet a quick study of religious vices and virtues reveals that we’ve set an impossible standard for ourselves. Religions, not just Christianity, speak of the evils of acquiring and hording material possessions, lust, adultery, pride; and extol an others-centered attitude as well as exhorting adherents to not even think about bad things. Religion asserts that humans are broken and need to be fixed, either through a set of ritual behaviors or by a quickening of the spirit by the hand of God, and those who refuse to comply will face eternal destruction, shame, and humiliation. Who would invent that?

On the other hand, if God is the author of religion, that makes much more sense. A divine being who  stands in judgment of humanity warning us against adultery, lust, and evil thoughts makes more sense than a bunch of primitive humans with no motivation to make monogamy the preferred form of marriage, adultery a grave sin, and forbid masturbation and all forms of lust as the standard of behavior.

If mankind invented religion, I think we’d see a much different picture than we do now.

"Logical" Reasons for Leaving Christianity, part II

Don Exodus made a series of videos detailing why he left Christianity. The Blog for WhyWon’tGodHealAmputees touted that his reasons were eminently logical. In the previous post, I made short work of that myth. Don’s reasons were emotional, not at all based in pure logic.

The second part doesn’t start off any better. He spends some time reviewing material from the first video about how the null hypothesis is applied in every area of life except religious belief. Then he makes the claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Since religion makes the most extraordinary claim of all–that an omniscient, omnipotent God cares for each individual person, then that should require the most extraordinary evidence of all.

Science icon from Nuvola icon theme for KDE 3.x.Image via WikipediaLet’s spend some time there for just a moment. To my knowledge, it isn’t claimed that all supernatural claims should be rejected a priori. Yet, when it comes to claims relating to the existence of God, it seems that all atheistic skeptics reject that a priori, on the claim that there is no evidence to suggest that God exists.

The apostle Paul would disagree strongly. Central to his argument that all are under the law, and thus the condemnation and wrath of God, is that men (and women, I would think) are without excuse for knowing about God’s existence. Without excuse. That’s pretty forceful!

Additionally, as Mariano Grinbank suggests, to merely assert that a claim is extraordinary and therefore requires extraordinary evidence is dodgy. No matter what evidence that the theist provides, the atheist could simply say, “Not extraordinary enough for me!”

I previously discussed what would be considered “supernatural.” God exists outside of nature, but he ordered nature and decreed its movements in a way that serves his purpose. What that means is that the category of “supernatural” is meaningless–it isn’t a violation of the law of gravity for me to pick up a box and hold it in my hand, suspended over a table; so why would it be considered a violation for God to hold that same box suspended over the table? It isn’t.

So if God is ordering nature and influencing its movements to achieve of a particular end, how is that going to look any different than a natural explanation behind everything?

Gravitation keeps the planets in orbit around ...Image via WikipediaDon makes the claim that it is extraordinary to posit the existence of God. I think, however, it is far more extraordinary to posit that the universe expanded from a singularity with exactly the right speed, gravitational pull, force, mass, and energy which set in motion a series of unbreakable chain reactions leading to the emergence of life on a small, insignificant planet. That life eventually became smart enough to deny the existence of a creator and make a YouTube video about it. The sheer odds against that happening anywhere in this universe, or that the universe could have even supported it to begin with, are at odds with any naturalistic explanation. With a naturalistic explanation, it all would have had to happen by complete accident.

Unfortunately, retreating to the theory of large numbers–in other words, that it had to happen somewhere given the enormity of the universe and the myriad of planets therein–is nothing but a convenient dodge. That would only work if each planet that emerged was a dependent trial, much in the same way that you eventually have to draw an ace of spades from a deck of cards given enough draw-and-discards. Fact is, that each planet is an independent trial. That means that each planet that emerges has the same odds of supporting life, regardless of the success or failure of a previous planet to support said life. And that is granting that the universe itself could support life; there are literally hundreds of variables that had to be in place prior to thinking that any planet could support life! Large numbers doesn’t get you out of either of these problems.

Of course, no “I Reject Christianity Video” would be complete without a total misunderstanding of faith. True Christian faith is a reasoned trust based on past performance. Don fails to define “faith” in his video, but I’ll be willing to bet that it is similar to how Richard Dawkins et. al. define it: “Belief without (or in the teeth of) evidence.” That is not how a Christian thinks of faith, and we apologists hate when pastors, elders, or other senior leaders tell a seeker with an honest question about God’s existence to “have more faith.” That’s such a cop-out, and many of the anti-testimonies I’ve read contain that story: “My pastor ignored my question about God and told me I needed to have more faith.”

Next comes the argument that the Bible contains nothing that illiterate goat-herders of the day wouldn’t have already known. Don thinks that God should have had them write something about antibiotics, a scientific equation, or something similar to prove that it was written by an omniscient God.

That’s fallacious for a really good reason. If the Bible contained a recipe for antibiotics or a scientific equation, then textual critics of today would have assumed that the ancient Israelites had worked antibiotics out on their own. Don spends quite a bit of time in his video declaring naturalistic explanations are superior to supernatural ones (stating at the end of part I that supernatural explanations have an explanatory track record of 0). So, if the Bible did contain advanced knowledge, then moderns would simply assume that the Israelites already knew of it somehow.

Prophecy is explained in much the same way. The primary reason that the book of Isaiah is split into two (or sometimes three) separate books is because so-called “Second Isaiah” contains exact descriptions and names of post-Exile personalities and events. The a priori assumption is that it can’t be this way because of fulfilled prophecy, so therefore the second part of the book must have been pseudopigrapha written post-Exile under the name of the pre-Exile prophet Isaiah.

So it would be were the Bible to contain scientific knowledge that wouldn’t be “discovered” until Einstein. The skeptics would try to find a naturalistic explanation for that bit of data to be there rather than bow automatically to God.

Next comes the idea that we reject every historical God except Yahweh, so why not just go one step further? Well, that is really the subject for another post entirely, but briefly: rejecting all possibility of God is tantamount to admitting that, by accident, everything developed the way it did by accident and there is no higher purpose or reason for existence. I might be okay if that didn’t imply that morality is an illusion, free will doesn’t exist, and there is no inherent difference between being born a human or being born a tree. I think that even atheists agree there is a vast difference between being human and being a plant, or even between being human and being a close primate relative.

Two obvious objections arise. First, that I only believe in God because I’m experiencing a visceral reaction to the implications of something I don’t like. In other words, I believe for the same reasons I’m accusing him of rejecting his faith. Second, that I’m appealing to consequences of belief, which is a logical fallacy.
It is fair, in both instances, to point out that the logical consequences of this belief are not accepted as true by either side. That removes the charge of hypocrisy on my part, and the logical fallacy. Evolutionists argue that life didn’t arise by chance, nor did it evolve purely by chance either. They fail to explain the guiding force, but believe that it exists and can be explained.

Don wraps things up by saying that it will take evidence to prove to him that God exists. Again, as with any unbeliever, what sort of evidence will make him believe is left vague and I much doubt that he will be forthcoming with specific evidence. As I’ve detailed above, Don is asking for extraordinary evidence to prove the claim that God exists. But, no matter what evidence is presented to him, he is able to say, “Not extraordinary enough!” This is the cop-out.

Then he asks for God to personally prove his own existence, which I’ve already explained why that line of thinking is futile.

So, Don really has nothing new here. Another emotional rejection of theism disguised in the thinnest veneer of logic.

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As Promised . . .

In this post, I revised my previously negative opinion of Dave Armstrong and his ministry. In short, after following Dave’s blog for some time, I am now of the opinion that he is doing Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, a favor. He has started his promised series of posts on Christianity and its relationship to science, which I will be following with great interest.

Dave commented on my post:

I bear you no ill will at all and am happy to accept your apology. In fact, as soon as I can I’ll remove some old papers where we clashed, as a little “thank you” and reciprocal act.

To which I replied that I would also remove posts where we clashed. To that end, I did my best to follow through. I searched my blog for “Dave Armstrong” and either removed or revised the posts that resulted. There were posts specifically focusing on Dave. I removed them if they weren’t reasonable critiques or if they made fun of him. I revised posts that took unnecessary swipes at Dave, e.g. when he wasn’t the topic under consideration but I utilized an opportunity to make fun of him.

If I discover any other instances, I will promptly remove or revise those as well.

I pray that Dave’s ministry will continue to touch lives and advance the cause of God’s Kingdom on earth. We may have different ideologies, but I know that Dave and I have that as a common goal. Bickering among ourselves serves no purpose.

Forgetting About This World

Atheists frequently charge that Christians are so obsessed with the next world, that we forget about this one. To that, C.S. Lewis writes:

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

That’s What I’m Talking About!

Mel Gibson's mugshot from his 28 July 2006 arr...

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I’ve been fairly critical of Catholicism. But this guy has pretty much summed up what needs to be said about Christianity in general and its relationship to the secular media. Yet people seem to find a causal relationship between religion and public stupidity, such as what we have seen from Mel Gibson in the past.

In Memorum: Clark Pinnock (1937-2010)

I really hadn’t read much of the work of Clark Pinnock, who was a defender of open theism, but I had always meant to get around to it (and to the work of John Sanders as well). I was familiar with Pinnock through my brief flirtation with open theism when I had first begun apologetics ministry back in 2006, but I was only passingly familiar with him. I know that he was a great thinker, as he pioneered a brand new systematic theology (however misguided that may have been).

His theology may have been wrong, but I think that it was constructed in the spirit of better defining the nature and person of God; trying to tear down some of the mystery surrounding the divine. That’s a noble goal.

His work survives, so I hope to still read some of his books. May he rest in peace, and may he delight in the presence of the God he endeavored to serve.

Two Great Posts from TurretinFan

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When I read blogs, I have the tendency to skim my RSS readers rather quickly and read things based on titles. You’d think that that would mean I spend time and effort on each of my post titles, but the sad truth is that I don’t. That is really a topic for a different time. Two titles on TurretinFan’s excellent blog did catch my eye, and they were very much worth the time to read and consider, as they show some interesting holes in evolutionary theory.

I don’t believe I classify as either an evolutionist or a creationist, though I suspect that many would consider me a creationist. I think that evolution is certainly possible given that it is supported well as a scientific conclusion, but the necessity of God makes evolution a moot point. It is not necessary given God, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. Neither does evolution, if true, falsify God.

Even though I must admit strong scientific evidence in favor of evolution, there are certain philosophical problems with it. TurretinFan calls attention to one such problem in this post. TF cites three scientific studies that create a problem for modern evolutionists. In the first, sea sponges are found to be 70% genetically similar to humans. This, combined with the other two studies that argue against familial ties (however distant) from chimpanzees, creates some reasonable doubt among the prevailing theory of evolution.

TF says that this information will be waved away by evolutionists. I think it is more likely that evolutionists will try to discredit either the research or the researchers, in that way they can safely ignore the conclusions altogether or at least minimize the impact of the study on their beloved theory.

In the follow up to the first post, TF recounts a comment from Peter Pike that creates serious philosophical problems with the theory of evolution. Genetics are used to trace the evolution of living species, but morphology is used for extinct species. The problem? Genetics is a poor way to predict morphology. What this means for evolutionists is that they are using one method on living species, and an incompatible method on extinct ones.

One method is going to be accurate, the other method is going to be inaccurate. As there is no way to reproduce evolution in the lab (there is a way to monitor it from this point forward), we don’t know which method is more accurate. Therefore, whole evolutionary trees are going to be dead wrong and we don’t know how.

Evolutionists, please don’t argue that my last point doesn’t matter one way or the other. With a little bit of Googling, I can find quotes from other evolutionists who argue that evolution is literally the pinnacle of modern science, and all other scientific advancements, theories, and discoveries rely on the truth of evolution. The point is that it does matter. If science literally depends on how accurately we are able to trace ancestry, then science itself is falsified on this philosophical point alone.

Last of the Short Videos Answered!

With this, I have now answered the last of the short videos from GII Video.

This one may have been the easiest, since the arguments were even more fallacious than usual. I loved how the narrator switched Dobson’s words from “spanking” to “beating” without warning at the midpoint of the video, while still maintaining it was a direct quote. That was classic.

On to the (hopefully) more challenging longer videos.

"Logical" Reasons for Leaving Christianity, part I

The Blog for WhyWon’tGodHealAmputees featured a video that it touted as giving “logical” reasons for leaving Christianity. So I thought I’d take a look at it.
There are numerous problems with this video, not the least of which being that these arguments have been handled before. This guy, who goes by Don Exodus, show no realization that all of his arguments are old, tired, and refuted. In other words, he is looking only at the atheist side of things and not interacting with theist arguments. Confirmation bias at work.
Let’s see what we’ve got here. First, he claims to have gone to Christian school up until college, and he studied theology. But then he claims never to have been very religious. I don’t know what do with this comment. I’m not sure how much theology he has studied (it couldn’t have been very deep, if he is now an atheist using the types of arguments that he is). But, I don’t know many people who are, as he says, “not very religious” that have studied theology. Maybe he hasn’t studied it in detail, and only knows the basics. That will be my working theory with his theological knowledge.

Next, he says that he disagrees with the fact that in America, a person is considered a Christian until something happens otherwise. He thinks that Americans should remain atheists and allowed to choose a religion after examining the necessary evidence. After all, he reasons, that’s how everything else is done. This, of course, assumes that there is no good evidence for God or for religion, as does some additional statements he makes below. I’ll return to this idea in a minute.

After studying evolution extensively, he wanted to find out how the creationist mind thinks. So he spent some time arguing on creationist websites, and testifies to being “horrified” at the arguments that they use. Clearly, they don’t understand evolution. The fact that he was appalled by this led him to distance himself from creationism and re-examine his religious beliefs.

This is where I think that the crux of the problem lies, and this is where the confirmation bias comes in. He wants to jettison everything about creationism, and this includes (for him, at least) his religious beliefs. We have a visceral reaction to something, and that is what starts the dominoes falling toward atheism. Again, we have confirmation of my personal theory that atheism is not a logical conclusion, but an emotional one. To that end, he stresses that, were it not for his interaction with creationists, he would never have thought about his religious beliefs in this way.

He then discusses the null hypothesis. As applied to religion, it  means that we should default to atheism and require the religious person to provide evidence for God. The standard conception of God is that he exists outside of nature and influences natural phenomena (i.e. nature is his servant). What sort of evidence are we looking for here? If God exists completely apart from nature, then we couldn’t find evidence of him within the system.

It’s like asking for wet evidence of a dry being. It can’t be done.
Instead, we can logically argue that, since the universe exists, and life within that universe, that something actually set this in motion, and ordered it to create intelligent life. Nowhere in nature do we see order built out of chaos. Nowhere in nature do we see intelligence emerging where there previously was none. Therefore, whatever caused the universe to appear and life to emerge on earth must be outside of nature. What sort of evidence are we expecting to find within nature?

This also partially covers his next objection to the ability to find a natural explanation of mysterious phenomena. In almost every case, humans have been able to ascertain a natural explanation for things through the use of science. Again, considering that God has ordered nature and decreed its movements to his own ends and purpose, one has to wonder what sort of supernatural explanation would even exist.

It’s probably worth mentioning that some Christians don’t believe in the category of “supernatural.” God is outside of nature, but uses nature as his servant to achieve his desired outcomes. He seldom reaches a divine hand into the machine and just does something ex nihilio. There are only a very few times in the Bible where God actually does that: the creation event itself, the protection of the three loyal Israelites in the book of Daniel, the abundant miracles of Christ, the signs and wonders that accompanied his apostles.

Even supposedly “supernatural” events are described by the Bible as natural. Many suspect that an impending volcanic eruption caused all of the plagues described in the book of Exodus–perhaps the only plague defying explanation was the death of all the first born sons. The Flood was described as natural, with erupting volcanoes, earthquakes, water bubbling up out of springs and caves below the earth, and heavy rains. “Supernatural” is a category that doesn’t exist. Therefore, we can expect to find natural explanations behind alleged miracles without diminishing the need for God.

Then Don outlines the Kalaam cosmological argument for God’s existence. His predictable objection is to simply ask, “What created God?” The fact that God exists eternally is the answer: he has no need of a creator since there was never a time when he didn’t exist. So Don says to just “be consistent.” Why couldn’t the universe have always existed, by that model?

Fair question. If the singularity that resulted in the Big Bang did simply always exist, then is there a reason that the universe could have become what it is without a creator? Nope. If the singularity exists with nothing external to it–not time, nor space, nor other matter, nor even energy–what, then, caused the Big Bang? Nothing material exists without a cause. Even if you back up to the precise moment of the Big Bang, and nothing exists apart from that singularity, then nothing could have caused it to explode and thus begin the universe as we understand it to exist. Here, you fall prey to natural law again. Inertia is a b****. That means that the cause of the universe is external to the universe itself–back to God.

Next, Don quotes Christopher Hitchens. The fact that Don is in agreement with calling Jesus a “human sacrifice” is proof enough that he hasn’t studied his theology very effectively when he was younger. Also, who says that heaven sat around for 98,000 years and took no action? The Bible doesn’t back that theory, as there are numerous accounts of what God has done for his people, listed in the introductory chapters of Deuteronomy and narrated to us in Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers.

That’s just the first few books of the Bible. The case for God interacting in human history becomes even stronger as one reads further.

After that, Don tips his hand and reveals that his reasons for de-converting are emotional. He starts talking about how many infants that God has killed. I would like to believe that infants are automatically going to heaven, but I know that the biblical basis for that is lacking. It seems that infants join the damned in hell, by virtue of original sin alone. However, let’s remember that God is a righteous judge who shows no partiality, so whatever the fate of the infant, we can rest assured that it is perfectly fair and just. So this is nothing more than a visceral reaction to something in religion that Don finds unpleasant.

Next, Don details how he doesn’t believe that an omniscient God would have ever sent the Flood, or be grieved to have made humanity. An omniscient God would have gotten this right the first time, he reasons. Whenever I hear something like this, I always wonder, given that humans are not omniscient, what is the basis for making this claim? Don isn’t omniscient, and therefore unable to say, “If I were omniscient, I’d do this” authoritatively. He could easily change his mind upon getting more information–e.g., if he actually became omniscient.

Finally, Don asks the hypothetical question: “If you were dressed in a flame resistant suit (up to 3000 degrees) and armed with the latest model fire extinguisher, and you come home to find your neighbor’s house on fire, and you stand by and watch the family perish, which of the following describes your behavior: (a) All-powerful; (b) All-knowing; (c) All-loving; or (d) Mysterious.”

This is touching close to the atheist mindset I frequently encounter. If God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenovolent, then he should take care of all of our problems: there should be no starving children in Africa, there should be no crime, etc.

These problems, however, are generally caused by human beings exercising their free will, which is thoroughly tainted by sin. Why should God clean up our problems? What is wrong with expecting us to keep our own house in order?

I have two kids, and I have certain expectations of both of them. Obviously, I can do everything for them with no problem. I can clean up the mess that Ashleigh makes in the living room, I can read her books, and in the future, I can do her math homework. But why would I do that? How is she ever going to learn to do the right thing if I’m constantly cleaning up her messes and doing her homework assignments?

The crises that occur here on earth are God’s design and they are meant to teach us important lessons. Some of them we learn, and others we fail miserably. Each evil is an opportunity to do good, and sometimes we exercise that ability, while other times we do not. There is enough food to feed the hungry, but it never gets to the hungry. I’ve worked food service for a number of years, and I can attest to the amount of food that Americans just throw away, sometimes for no other reason than the customer doesn’t like the way the food looks and wants the restaurant to make it over again. What a waste. Why is that God’s problem? It isn’t–it’s our problem! We should fix it rather than rely on God to do everything for us.

Looking forward to part 2.