My Thoughts After Reading “Atheist Delusions” by David Bentley Hart

Before I say anything else, I want to urge the reader not to allow the title of this book to color their perception of it any more than they can help. Whoever selected the title of “Atheist Delusions” may have done so in an attempt to grab the interest of today’s conflict thirsty, spectacle seeking, self-righteous intellectual crowd more so than to put an accurate heading on the book.

“Atheist Delusions” is, quite simply, an enormous book. Not in length, but in scope and vision. Hart proposes a different way of looking at the past, present, and future of the world; a different way of interpreting the philosophical, scientific, political, and religious narrative of the West. And not only are the scope of his topic and the ambition of his vision big, so are his knowledge and ability.

I read “Atheist Delusions” after reading “The God Delusion” and I think it would be illustrative to compare the two.

Dawkins is funnier. He is more accessible. He demands less. His is exactly the kind of book that becomes a 21st century best seller. Hart uses bigger words, longer sentences, longer paragraphs, a much larger vocabulary, and most importantly, more intricate and profound concepts. His is, in this respect, the kind of book that I imagine would have sold well 150 years ago.

To give the impression, however, that this book is mere contemplative philosophy would be very misleading. There are more facts in some of Hart’s individual chapters than in Dawkins’ whole book. I suspect that a genuine unbiased statistical analysis would reveal at least 10 times as many verifiably factual statements in “Atheist Delusions.” Hart certainly puts forth his fair share of opinions, no doubt, but it is refreshing to be given so much information to go along with it.

Historical information is presented in support of Hart’s thesis: that the typical modern narrative of the West – of ancient cultures, blossoming in rationality and scientific inquiry, followed by a great darkness and stagnation caused by the rise of Christianity with its blind submission to dogma, followed by a flourishing of mankind again as the shackles of belief are cast off and reason is championed once more – is a rhetorical myth constructed in the support of modernity’s underlying agenda. That agenda is a new conception of freedom, not as the submission to an underlying set of principles that govern reality but as the isolated action of the will, free from all such underlying, universal principles. In the old understanding of freedom, we unlocked our true potential and thus the freedom to soar as we learned to be true to our own nature and the nature of reality. The new, modern conception of freedom is one unencumbered by such pesky, metaphysical guidelines. It is freedom for freedom’s sake.

That narrative which has been constructed to that end, of Christianity as mankind’s historical obstruction of reason, was, generally, what I was indeed taught in school.

The wealth of history, complete with names, dates, and quotes from primary sources that are presented to counter this modern myth was (no pun intended) enlightening to me. I don’t think I have ever willingly read so many historical facts in my life. I learned a great deal, and walked away knowing that the textbooks I grew up with didn’t share the whole picture. The crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts, Galileo’s skirmishes with the Catholic Church, and the like were dealt with extensively. If you are wondering how in the world such historical facts could possibly be the subject of a book about the merits of Christianity, you will just have to read it and see.

If the book contains 10 times more facts than “The God Delusion”, it contains 20 times the depth of philosophy. Hart, for a man so well acquainted with history, is also an excellent articulator of profound metaphysical inquiry. I suspect that Dawkins would read much of what thrilled me in this book and scarcely be able to get anything intelligible out of it. I base this on the casual dismissal of theology and related philosophies that was typical in his own book and illustrative of his own narrow scope of expertise.

Hart puts things more blatantly when he speaks of “Richard Dawkins triumphantly adducing ‘philosophical’ arguments that a college freshmen midway through his first logic course could dismantle in a trice.” Thank you, David Bentley Hart, for confirming that I’m not going crazy.

In more constructively critical language, he speaks to the same kind of closed-mindedness which is typical of the New Atheists in his remark: “It is astonishing really, (and evidence that a good scientific education can still leave a person’s speculative aptitudes entirely undeveloped), how many very intelligent scientists cling to an illogical, inflexible, and fideistic certainty that empirical science should be regarded not only as a source of factual knowledge and theoretical hypotheses but as an arbiter of values or of moral or metaphysical truths.”

This kind of talk can easily be accused of being overly condescending or arrogant, especially when it is so infused with Hart’s large vocabulary. But Hart does reveal that he has a great deal of respect for many of Christianity’s enemies… just not the modern, uncreative, best-selling, simplistic ones.

His mastery of history sheds light on the present and the future. I cannot help but share a passage that I find a particularly piercing assessment of the present, as described in terms consistent with the book’s aforementioned thesis:

“The true essence of modernity is a particular conception of what it is to be free, as I have said; and the Enlightenment language of an ‘age of reason’ was always really just a way of placing a frame around the idea of freedom, so as to portray it as the rational autonomy and moral independence that lay beyond the intellectual infancy of ‘irrational’ belief. But we are anything but rationalists now, so we no longer need cling to the pretense that reason was ever our paramount concern; we are today more likely to be committed to ‘my truth’ than to any notion of truth in general, no matter where that might lead. The myth of ‘enlightenment’ served well to liberate us from any antique notions of divine or natural law that might place unwelcome constraints on our wills; but it has discharged its part and lingers on now only as a kind of habit of rhetoric. And now that the rationalist moment has largely passed, the modern faith in human liberation has become, if anything, more robust and more militant. Freedom – conceived as the perfect, unconstrained spontaneity of individual will – is its own justification, its own highest standard, its own unquestionable truth.”

When I read over my review I can’t help but agree with prospective readers that I sound painfully biased. Maybe it is unfair of me to compare works that are clearly on two different scholarly plains. Hart is a brilliant scholar and a philosopher, while Dawkins is an intelligent, snarky scientist. Then again, maybe it isn’t unfair. After all, Dawkins is Atheism’s front man, and ideological front men should be held to decent scholarly standards.

And are we not all biased towards what we perceive as the truth? Read the book and reach your own conclusions. I couldn’t possibly presume to demonstrate Hart’s conclusions as skillfully as he does in a thousand pages, let alone in a brief review.  I have merely tried to describe them.  The truth has always been open to our inquiry. That’s part of the beauty of life.

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My Thoughts after Reading “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins

One of the reviews printed on the back of my copy of The God Delusion calls Richard Dawkins “one of the best nonfiction writers alive today.” Before reading the book, I found that description rather incredible. After reading the book, I must say that Dawkins is indeed a masterful writer. He is easy to read and often charmingly witty.

And so, if you are reading my response to his book in hopes of some “intellectual throw down” in which I mock Richard Dawkins for being a moron, you will be disappointed, and I’m not even particularly sorry to disappoint you. As a matter of fact, I intend to draw out not only what I think is shortsighted in his work, but also what I see as particularly insightful. He does, in many respects, have a piercing intellect, and I dare say that in many respects he is indeed more intelligent than I am.

To be quite candid, though, I am still a firm believer in God after reading his book. Mr. Dawkins’ chief aim is to destroy faith in God among the masses, and whatever secondary insights he may posses, this primary goal is one that I consider a grave miscalculation.

What Dawkins gets right:

  • Whether we like it or not, Einstein was something much closer to a pantheist than a proper Christian, and certainly did not believe in a personal God. While this fact has little if any bearing of the evidence for God’s existence, it is worth setting the record straight.
  • The book states a clear intention not to deal specifically with the Abrahamic God, but with the simple “God Hypothesis” in general. This is a wise choice not only because I doubt that he could constrain himself from descending into vitriol against my God and thus becoming derailed from proper argument, but I also recognize along with Dawkins that talking about a specific God isn’t of much use until you’ve decided on the existence of any God at all.
  • As Dawkins makes clear, and as was clearly stated in the Treaty with Tripoli in 1797, the United States is not a “Christian Nation” in any sort of categorical, governmental way. Nor were many of the founding fathers, such as Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, or Adams, in any way shape or form, Christian. In fact, many of them actively disdained Christianity. We, as Christians, lose credibility in all academic fields, when we try to rewrite history by cherry picking quotes.
  • Dawkins rightly admits that he does not “know” that God does not exist, but that his own inquiry leads him to believe that God’s existence is very improbably, and he consequently lives as if there is no God. Thus both he and I would agree, I think, that hard, mathematical proofs need not be furnished before we can take a stance on the issue of God’s existence. We can work with the evidence together and let it lead us to conclusions that are respectable.
  • The book contains several ridiculous or otherwise embarrassing quotes by believers. In many cases, Dawkins is right about the fact that the quote in question in ridiculous or embarrassing.
  • Dawkins is particularly adamant that it is wrong to teach children to accept blindly what they are told. They should not be taught that it is virtuous to believe something is spite of persuasive evidence to the contrary. They should not be discouraged from asking questions. I agree. Does Mr. Dawkins know that there are many Christians who encourage open and honest discussion, even among children?
  • Dawkins suggests that we should not refer to young children as “Christian children” or “Muslim children,” etc. as they are too young to decide what they believe on those matters. I understand his apprehension, and in a sense, I agree. Each person gets to decide their own religion or lack thereof, and makes those decisions, perhaps with increasing conviction, as they get older.
  • In the final section of the book, Dawkins allows himself to sort of ramble a bit about how amazing science is in general, without making any real comment on God. It is some of the best reading I have done in a while. His passion for science is evident and inspiring, and the specific insights that he shares from contemporary science are thought provoking and wonderful.

What Dawkins gets wrong:

  • The very idea that any religion makes any meaningful claim that science cannot be used to prove or disprove is simply assumed to be ridiculous. Dawkins speaks as though no question of ultimate meaning or purpose, or morality, or of any philosophical question that religion might comment on, is outside the jurisdiction of science. For someone who in other places in the book condemns black and white, dogmatic, unnecessarily bipolar thinking, this oversight of his is unfortunate. It makes the unwarranted assumption that all realities are observable by the five sense organs.
  • Dawkins thinks that superhuman aliens probably do exist because of the Drake equation, which plugs in seven variables and spits out the probability that such is so. He admits that some of the variables in the equation are still very difficult to estimate. No kidding. One of the variables is: the percentage of those planets that have conditions that are favorable to life that actually do develop life. Since we’ve seen life spontaneously arrive from non-life so many times, we should definitely have a good idea of what that number would be, right?
  • Later in the book, Dawkins suggests that the chances of life spontaneously arising from nonlife on a planet that is suitable for it are about one in a billion. I’m quite surprised that such a respected biologist believes that. I have been unable in my searching to uncover anything that makes abiogenesis even seem possible. I would encourage those interested to investigate themselves, with all of the scientific depth necessary to understand the topic, rather than take Dawkins’ word for it on this one.
  • Dawkins starts his dissection of arguments for God’s existence by presenting Aquinas’ thirteenth century proofs, and oversimplifying them. Honestly, why not address contemporary arguments as presented by leading contemporary apologists, and quote them, so as not to oversimplify things?
  • Dawkins doesn’t actually seem to understand the Cosmological argument. I’m sure he is more than intelligent enough to do so, he simply hasn’t taken the time. He is so ready to find it bankrupt that he doesn’t pause long enough to hear its claim. Throughout the book, in fact, he seems surprising inept at philosophy, despite his amazing intellect.
  • Dawkins reveals his ignorance of the cosmological argument in the comment about believers that: “They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God Himself is immune to the regress.” If he understood the Cosmological argument at all, he would realize that the whole proposition that the argument proves is that an entity that is immune to the regress of causality must exist.  You must disprove the logical structure of the argument, or disprove one of the premises, in order to refute that claim. But he doesn’t, and you can’t. It’s a solid argument for the fact that some entity that is immune to the regress of movement, causation, contingency, etc. necessarily must exist.
  • Dawkins goes on to say that even if we take the “dubious luxury” of postulating a terminator to the infinite regress of causality, there is no reason to believe that it should have any of the properties normally ascribed to God. But as contemporary apologists have pointed out, and as he fails to even address, such an entity would have been the entity that started everything in motion, as God is said to have done, and would be outside of the laws that normally govern our universe, as God is said to be. And since such an entity has no preceding cause, it seems that it would be eternal, as God is said to be. Etc.
  • Dawkins spends way too much time addressing silly arguments for God’s existence that no one makes anymore, or pointing out that various unscientific arguments are in fact unscientific. Fun reading for a smug atheist, but not contributing to the real discussion at hand.
  • Dawkins refers to God using the concept of the “Ultimate Boeing 747.” What he means by this is that a God complex enough to design our world would Himself have to be even more complex than the world, and that such a God would then need an even more complex explanation. This is very ironic since Dawkins spends so much of the book talking about how we need to have our consciousness’s raised by Darwinian natural selection so that we can realize that complex things can arise from simplicity through natural processes. If such is the case, why can God not be self-causing in the same sense that biodiversity supposedly is? In this manner he also assumes that the cause of the universe is bound by the same kinds of rules that bind the universe itself, which he would know is untrue if he had understood the Cosmological argument.
  • Dawkins seems to think that explaining how biodiversity could have arisen without intelligent guidance answers the Teleological question exhaustively. First of all, he presents no evidence that genetic mutations are sufficient to drive Darwinian natural selection. Evidence that I continue to wait for. Secondly, explaining biodiversity is such a small part of the question. What about the origin of life? What about the leap from prokaryote to eukaryote, which Dawkins admits in the book, might be even more unlikely than abiogenesis itself? Neither does he present convincing evidence as to how our universe is so fine tuned for the conditions necessary for any type of order at all. He simply points out that, however unlikely it is that everything should be so fine-tuned, it obviously is since we are here. Multiverse theories are suggested. There is no evidence presented to support them.
  • The many theories and speculations presented as to how religion might have come about as a result of evolution and how we might have evolved to be moral creatures are all very interesting. They reveal, though, just how open for speculation macro evolutionary theory is. It is a theory that deals with such an incredibly complex system in such a general way that reasonable speculations are endless and difficult to confirm or deny.
  • Dawkins continually blames the concept of religion itself for so much of what rightly ought to be blamed on ridiculous people doing ridiculous things. Yes, they are using religion as license to be ridiculous, but the problem is not religion itself.

The book was a fascinating read and often enjoyable.

I was disappointed, though, by the lack of scientific depth regarding Darwinian natural selection and the processes that supposedly drive it. This is not a science book.

I was also disappointed by how little of it was devoted to addressing arguments for God’s existence. This was due to the fact that Dawkins, who appears to care very little indeed for philosophy, didn’t give them the time of day necessary to be properly understood or responded too.  Much like all of the clips that I see online of him intellectually destroying uneducated people who cannot articulate arguments well, he seemed to do a lot of demolition work on caricatured ideas that I wasn’t particularly invested in to begin with.

Ultimately, however charming his wit may be, it is tragic to see someone with such talents using them in such a manner.  It is sad that we live in a world where so many religious people do so many terrible or ridiculous things that he would be turned so far away from any kind of religious faith.  It is sad that he would be so unacquainted with what God is really like that he can speak ill of Him in good conscience.  It is beyond sad, it is a tragedy.

If I could give Dawkins some advice, it would be to take philosophy more seriously, and to use his imagination a bit more when considering what is really going on in this fantastically amazing universe.

Can Science Explain Everything Without God?

string theory multiple dimensions

The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene has got to be one of the most interesting books I have ever picked up.  Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University who is widely regarded for a number of groundbreaking discoveries in superstring theory.  His book explains and illustrates the fundamental concepts of relativity, both general and special, and quantum mechanics, and then explains how superstring theory is making great strides towards unifying theses models into one all-encompassing theory of everything.

The search for a scientific theory of everything, or T.O.E., has been practically frantic for decades.  In essence, a successful T.O.E. would provide one all-encompassing cohesive framework for explaining the properties and behaviors of all matter, all energy, and all forces in all dimensions.  We’ve already acquired some very intriguing insights into the nature of motion, acceleration, gravity, matter, space, and time among other things through empirically verifiable experiments, and superstring theory may one day be capable of unifying and making sense of these findings.

The search for a T.O.E. is exciting because, as human beings, we have a real hunger to understand the world around us.  We want to know the how and the why, not just the what.  If we could establish a fully cohesive, logically consistent T.O.E. that was supported by experimental evidence, we would finally know the how and the why of everything that goes on in the universe, and would no longer need God to explain anything, right?

Well, not exactly…  Leaving aside the philosophical discussion about whether our minds would even be trustworthy guides in a materialistic universe, here are some other gaps that such a T.O.E. would not close:

1) Observations that can contribute to science are limited to phenomena observable by the 5 sense organs.
Information about reality is only valid for scientific purposes if we become aware of it through the use of our senses provided by our physical bodies.  This is wonderful because it eliminates a huge amount of subjectivism from the scientific process.  But it also rules out the possibility of science describing or explaining anything that cannot be observed this way.  Therefore any phenomena not observable in any way by any of the senses is beyond the realm of science.  Science has no business saying what does or does not exist in this realm.  It is inherently limited to a description of the sensory.

Someone might point out that scientists also use logic and math that has not been confirmed by direct observation, but these concepts do follow directly from mathematical and logical concepts that we have observed at work in the real world, and are confirmed by experiment.

The bottom line is that since science does not have authority in the realm of the subjective, it cannot rule out the existence of realities that are not universally observable in the natural world.  That’s potentially a big hole in a theoretical T.O.E.  Why should we assume that all truths are universally observable in the natural world by the sense organs?

2) Implications of probability waves in quantum mechanics.
The double-slit experiment and other data indicate that all particles exhibit characteristics of both particles and waves, and that the wavelike behavior of a particle, such as an electron for instance, is modeled by the mathematical concept of a probability.

In other words, we absolutely cannot predict where a particle is going to go, we can only give the probability that we will find it at any place at any time.  This is not due to a lack of knowledge on our part, this is literally because particles do not behave in an exactly predictable manner.  There is actually an element of true, mathematical randomness in their behavior.  If the same experiment is carried out the same exact way multiple times, a particle will not behave the same way each time, even with all else equal.

This concept deeply shakes our concept of reality.  And for those interested, Heisenberg uncertainty and quantum tunneling make things even weirder.  These concepts led Richard Feynman to write of quantum mechanics that it “describes nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense.  And it fully agrees with experiment.  So I hope you accept nature as She is–absurd.”  This is one of the most brilliant physicists since Einstein speaking.

But what if the behaviors of particles aren’t actually random?  What if they behave within a certain framework of probabilities so as to maintain order in the cosmos, but leave a certain amount of “randomness” in their behavior for manipulation by a supernatural agent?  This concept essentially provides a scientific means for the occurrence of “miracles” which would be departures from the possibilities allowed by classical, but not contemporary physics.

3) The existence of information, matter, energy, time, space, or anything.
Scientists are uncovering an ever growing body of specific information about the nature, behavior, and natural laws of our universe.  From universal constants to mathematical formulas of incredible complexity to the information encoded in our DNA that they would claim resulted indirectly from these constants and formulas.

But even if we were to identify all of the information that describes physical existence, we wouldn’t have identified where the information came from, or where the matter came from that it acted on, or where anything at all originally came from.  The materialist can choose to assume that it was just always there, and most do believe essentially this.

But notice that not only is the question of why such information and matter “always was” beyond the scope of human science, it also indicates the existence of an eternal, omnipresent, immaterial body of very specific and elegant information that has resulted in fantastic and beautiful complexity, and that this information either already contained or else resulted in consciousness (after all, it has resulted in us.)

Surely even as a cynic, if you know the basic philosophical claims that the Hebrew scriptures make, and you are familiar with contemporary scientific findings, you see that the two are in fact converging rather than moving farther apart.

I hope that in light of these principals, it is clear that while a T.O.E., if it is even possible for us to uncover and uncover reliably with our human minds, would not have authority to speak on matters whose implications are unverifiable by the sense organs, would leave the door open for supernatural agency in our world through probability waves in quantum mechanics, and would explain the behavior of but not the reason for the existence of information or anything else.

Is the Old Testament Full of Bad Ethics?

Bible

In my interactions with atheists, I typically do not mention Bible verses in my argumentation.  I do not appeal to the circular reasoning (“the Bible is true because it says it is”) that is often used to caricaturize Christian apologetics.  In fact, I’m not sure that I know any Christians who actually appeal to that line of thinking.  But even though I don’t typically mention Bible verses, the Bible is almost always brought into the conversation, by the atheist.

For many, the teachings of the Bible are seen as socially and ethically regressive, not only untenable but unconscionable for the contemporary Westerner.  God’s Word, especially the Old Testament, is branded as promoting polygamy, slavery, rape, homophobia, and male chauvinism.  As Christians, we may not even know how to respond to these claims.

What is so tragic about this view of the Bible is that it is indeed so easily supported by scripture when a holistic approach to interpretation is not taken.  Verses can be picked and chosen without being qualified by the context of the Bible as a whole.  If you are the cynic that I described above, I want you to know that I understand why you would come to the conclusions that you have.  I also want to ask you to consider what I have to say in response with an open mind.

A) Christians are not under the Old Covenant.

The first half of the Bible contains a history of God’s chosen people and includes the law which He gave to them to establish their earthly government.  This portion of the Bible is commonly called the Old Testament, and contains what is usually called the Old Law or the Old Covenant.

Christians are NOT required to live according to the Old Law.  Jesus “ended the system of law with its commandments and regulations.” (Ephesians 2:15.)  The Old Law was nailed to His cross and is no longer binding on us (Colossians 2:14.)  In fact, to make this point especially clear, God commanded Peter to rise, and kill and eat as food animals which were not permitted under the Old Law (Acts 10:12-15.)

It is important to understand that anything written as a commandment in the Old Law cannot be applied to Christians today unless it is repeated in the New Testament.  But here’s a hint, there is no written law code in the New Testament.  There are indeed a few commandments, but the heart of the New Testament is a message of love which overarches all of our actions.

B) The Bible actually teaches against polygamy, cruel forms of slavery, rape, homophobia, and male chauvinism.

I’d like to briefly address each of these issues.

1) A full treatment of the polygamy issue is given here.  The basis of the argument is that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman even from its initial institution (Genesis 2:24,) and that the Bible’s portrayal of polygamy is of a practice overflowing with problems such as jealousy, trickery, and disputes.  If God supported polygamy, why would he paint such a nasty picture of it?

2) The Bible warned those who owned slaves in the 1st century Roman empire to treat their slaves with respect and sincerity of heart, also commanding them “do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Ephesians 6:9.)  In other words, masters, God is your master and He is taking note of how you treat your servants.

3) Jesus not only condemned rape, but even the look of lust that could eventually lead to it (Matthew 5:28.)  The Old Law as well commanded the Hebrew not covet that which was not his, and this explicitly extended to human beings (Exodus 20:17.)

4) There is no denying that the Bible teaches that engaging in the sexual practice of homosexuality is wrong.  But before we claim that the Bible teaches homophobia, we need to realize that the concept of “being homosexual” is an extremely new concept.  What the Bible condemns is not the experience of same sex attraction, but the actual physical practice of homosexuality.  Do a word study on any of the verses condemning it.

Also, the Bible NEVER teaches that we should not love someone because of who they are or what they do.  Actions may be condemned, but the person should be loved regardless (Romans 5:8.)

5) As for male chauvinism, examine Paul’s instructions to husbands in Ephesians 5.  “Love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”  The love that Christ demonstrated was one that was willing to suffer and die for the good of another, even when wronged.  That is the love that the Bible commands men to have for women, and God warns those who fail to treat their wives with understanding or show them honor that He will not even hear their prayers (1 Peter 3:7.)

To say that the Bible teaches us to mistreat women, hate homosexuals, or practice injustice in general is to ignore a great deal of Biblical teaching to the contrary in order to falsely represent a few select passages.

I know what you are thinking.  Sure, the Bible speaks out against these practices, mostly in the New Testament, but God clearly supports the same practices in His law!  The Bible contradicts itself and therefore can be used to teach whatever anyone wants.  This is what brings us to the crux of the matter.

C) It is a false assumption that when God makes provisions for a behavior in His law, He supports those behaviors.  Here are three examples that clearly demonstrate that this is not the case:

1) God made provisions in the law for divorce for almost any reason (Deuteronomy 24:1-4,) but Jesus taught that God made these provisions because of the hardness of their hearts, “but from the beginning it has not been this way.” (Matthew 19:8.)

2) Deuteronomy 17 is full of commandments concerning the future time when Israel would have a king, yet when they did ask for a king, God said that they were rejecting Him in the process (1 Samuel 8:7.)

3) Even as the Old Law permitted polygamy, God specified that in His New Testament church, He wanted the leaders to be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2.)

The principle is clear: just because God makes provisions for a practice in His law does NOT mean that He wants it to happen.  The law was simply a “guardian” or “tutor” to watch over God’s chosen people until the Messiah came (Galatians 3:24.)  It was not capable of eradicating sin, nor was it intended to do so (Romans 8:3.)  I suspect in fact that if God had indeed outlawed everything that was a sin, we would call Him a dictator.

In closing, I also want to point out that the entire Old Law rested on the two greatest commandments, found in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, to love God with all of your hearts and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Upon these two commandments hung the implementation of everything else (Matthew 22:36-40.)

Key to this discussion is that not only can the Old Testament not be honestly used by Christians to support immoral practices under the New Covenant, but even when a practice was provided for under the Old Law, informed theology makes it clear that this did not indicate God’s support of that practice.

Thoughts on the Problem of Evil

world hunger

There seems to be a general consensus in contemporary academia that there is no bigger problem for the Christian apologist than the problem of evil.

It is a problem often presented, unlike most questions in which an objective answer is important, in extremely emotional terms.  This is indeed unusual.  Contemporary psychology indicates that negative emotions in particular cloud our judgment, activating primal circuits in our brains rather than those necessary for higher order thinking.  For this reason, emotions are often purposefully left out of objective discussion.

I will not go so far as to say that an answer to the problem of evil can be satisfying even without providing some degree of emotional comfort, so long as it is logically consistent.  But in light of this psychological principle, I will encourage the questioner to consider, and seek to diminish, any inhibiting effect his emotions might have on his ability to reason as we go forward.

The common version of the problem of evil (or suffering) goes like this:

“If God were real, He would not allow this kind of evil and suffering to exist in the world.  Therefore, there is no God.”

This argument may be emotionally moving, but it is objectively speaking, an unsophisticated argument.

The cynic here is clearly appealing to a universally accessible standard of morality by which to judge good and evil.  If allowing innocent people to suffer is not objectively wrong, then the entire argument is a mere opinion.  If allowing innocent people to suffer is objectively wrong, then the questioner must explain where he gets his objective standard from, a task that is impossible without an appeal to the existence of the supernatural, the very thing he was trying to disprove.

The fact of the matter is that our unshakeable internal sense of morality betrays God’s existence to us.  Without even realizing this, the cynic appeals to that internal belief in an objective morality even in his very arguments against the God who gave it to him.

There is however, a more sophisticated way of stating the question:

“A belief system which states that God is all knowing, all powerful, and all loving, and which also acknowledges that innocent people do suffer according to an objective moral standard, is logically inconsistent and therefore erroneous.”

In the previous argument, the cynic betrays himself by revealing his own hidden belief in the objective supernatural.  In this argument, however, the cynic merely points out an understood inconsistency in the believer’s worldview without making any contradictions of his own.

After all, believer’s are the ones who insist on a universal morality.  If they want to keep both their morality and their God, they need to explain this apparent contradiction.

The obvious hidden assumption in this latter argument is that God’s failure to intervene in situations of the earthly suffering of innocent people violates the morality that He himself establishes.  It is obvious that God is indeed remaining inactive in the prevention of the suffering of innocent people.  But is it possible that this does not violate the morality that He has established?

Remember that in order to refute this argument, we need only to demonstrate that there are no contradictions in our faith.

And there certainly are not.  Christianity clearly ensures that in the end, all will be made right.  Justice will be served, and the wicked will suffer for their heinous crimes against the innocent (Romans 12:19).  And indeed, the righteous will be rewarded to such a degree that the suffering we experienced on earth will not even compare with the glory that is then revealed to those who deserve it (Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 5:10).

Only if we look at death as the end, as atheists are accustomed to doing, is there an apparent contradiction in the believer’s worldview.  But since death is not the end for the believer, and ultimate justice is guaranteed in his belief system, there is no contradiction present in the argument that we are addressing.  The cynic may dismiss such a belief system as silly, but he cannot rightfully claim that it is logically inconsistent and therefore erroneous.  His argument is in shambles.

Christianity actually offers a response to what we see around us.  It has an answer for the rage and despair that we feel in the face of evil.

Atheism does not.  The only answer we have is that all of this suffering is meaningless, happening for no reason, never to be avenged or made right unless some human manages to take his own personal vengeance, or somehow erase the past before he lays down and dies forever.

It is an inescapable conclusion that if our existence is the product of mere chance, then senseless crimes are as reasonable as any other outcome.  English journalist Steve Turner put it so powerfully:

If chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky, and when you hear “State of Emergency! Sniper Kills Ten! Troops on Rampage! Whites go Looting! Bomb Blasts School!” it is but the sound of man worshipping his maker.

We can choose to believe God when He tells us that all will be made right in the end, or we can choose to believe “science” that our suffering is senseless, never to be made right.  But we cannot appeal to an objective moral law in our insistence that the moral lawgiver does not exist, nor can someone who properly understands the Christian worldview claim that it is inconsistent.

The Cosmological Argument: An Intelligible, Contemporary Version

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Statement of Intention:

The cosmological argument for the existence of God is nothing new.  In fact, atheists indicate that they are getting tired of refuting it over and over again.  But because of recent advances in science and philosophy, the cosmological argument is actually stronger than ever.

My intention here is not to simply restate the same argument that has always been made in the same way that it has always been presented, but to present it in a clear and concise, up-to-date, relevant way that internally addresses the claims that atheists make in their responses to it.

Presentation of Argument:

1) Anything that exists either a) has a cause outside of itself (and is a “contingent being,”) or b) is causeless or self-causing (and is a “necessary being.”)

*Note that the cause that resulted in a contingent being is itself a thing that exists, and thus it also must be either a contingent or a necessary being.

2) Since a contingent being exists, it must be a) the result of an infinite string of other contingent beings, or b) the direct result of a necessary being, or of a string of one or more contingent beings that ends in a necessary being.

It should be obvious once these concepts are understood that the vast majority of entities that we can identify in our world (physical objects of all sorts, people, etc.) are in fact the result of a very long line of contingent beings.

So is this very long string of contingent beings infinite, or does it end in the existence of a necessary being?  This brings us to our third premise.

3) An infinite series of causes never reaches a final product, so nothing that exists in the present can have resulted from an infinite string of contingent beings.

*Mentally note the difference between “eternal” and “infinite.”  Eternity merely indicates that something is outside of time, while infinity indicates a quantity with no bounds.  Infinity may be a useful concept in abstract mathematics, but in reality it is by definition an impossibility for us to have arrived here from an infinite string of previous causes, since one more cause would always have to be added before we could arrive at the present, and one more, and one more, etc.  In any case, it is unsatisfactory to answer the question “where do contingent beings come from” with the response “other contingent beings make them.”

4) In light of these three previous premises, since either an infinite string of contingent beings or the existence of at least one necessary being must have brought us to the present, and since an infinite string of causes can not have done so, a necessary being must exist.

Very well then.  A being which either caused itself or has no cause must exist or at least have existed in the past.

Addressing The Most Common Objection:

The common follow-up question: “then where did the first cause come from?” displays a failure to properly understand the argument.  If the argument is properly understood, it logically demonstrates that an uncaused or self-caused being must exist, it is an unavoidable conclusion that can only be escaped if one of the premises can be shown false.

Let me illustrate this concept this way: whether you are a believer, an agnostic, or an atheist, you absolutely must acknowledge that something is self-causing or uncaused.  It could be the universe.  It could be a god.  It could be a god that made a god.  But you absolutely must stop somewhere and call it the beginning.  Without a beginning for your story you can never get to the middle.

Taking the Argument Further:

To suggest that at this point I have proven that God exists would be shortsighted and naive.  I have simply proven that something is uncaused or self-caused.  So why not the universe?  After all, if the laws in the universe can explain its own behavior, why make up a God to go one step beyond the evidence when He is unnecessary to explain the nature of material reality?

The common response to those questions from a thinking believer is that the evidence for the big bang has proven that the universe had a beginning, and if it had a beginning then it had a cause and it thus must be a contingent being.  This is reasonable because in reality we observe that a thing can be a certain way in the simple case that it already was a certain way and nothing has changed it, but nothing begins or happens without something causing it to be so.

But let us humor the hypothetical atheistic standpoints that the universe caused itself suddenly at the big bang, or that an uncaused set of laws called it into existence.  The laws and constants that govern our reality, and the math behind it all, are said to be sufficient to have called the universe into existence, creating matter, time, etc. in the process.

The laws that govern the universe might possibly be capable of this act… if they were actually capable of doing any act!  But laws don’t actually govern, they simply describe.  The laws of nature do not have authority, ordering around the universe, commanding it to behave a certain way.  They simply describe for us the patterns that we have found in the universe’s behavior.

In fact, that atheists would suggest that natural laws “govern” our universe,  essentially commanding it to act a certain way and “calling” the universe into existence betrays the intuitiveness of the idea that a mind really is at work here!  Something with agency, something with the power and authority to establish such organized behavior is indeed at work, and natural laws describe this agent.

The bottom line is that acts of governing, commanding, and calling are only doable by a being with agency.  Natural laws are merely descriptive principles of observed patterns in our universe, and descriptions of recognized patterns cannot do anything, they are mere information.

Whatever the necessary being behind everything is, it has caused our universe to behave in the way that our natural laws describe.  Logic has brought us to God’s doorstep.

See a problem with my argumentation?  Point it out in the comments, I’m always looking for new clarity.

Has Science Done Away With Faith?

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In debates at the center of science, philosophy, and religion it is common to hear claims like these:

“you have your faith but I have actual science,” or “religion is just having faith when there is no evidence, but science is actually based on facts.”

These statements are received with frustration by believers who assert that “science is just another belief system, just like religion” or “believing in evolution actually requires more faith than believing in God!”

These two groups of people are clearly talking past each other.  They don’t even speak the same language.  Literally.  Because they have defined their terms differently.  When people disagree about the very meanings of the terms that they are using, not only is it virtually impossible for them to reach meaningful conclusions together, they can’t even argue with each other with much coherence!

We will never get to the heart of these discussions until we learn to speak each other’s languages.  So, this post is really all about definition of terms.

Science.

What is science?  Is it a process of gathering information and recognizing patterns in the world through observation and repeatable experimentation?

Or is it a somewhat nebulous group of millions of academics and researchers who claim to use this method, and the composite body of conclusions that they have drawn?

Faith.

Is it a blind leap into the dark based on tradition and subjective feelings of spirituality or compulsion?  Is it an insistence on holding certain views despite a lack of evidence, or even in the face or substantial contrary evidence?

Or is it a conclusion drawn where mathematic certainty is impossible, but where much real world evidence is evaluated by reason in order to make an educated and intellectually honest decision?

To complicate matters, “religion” is often used interchangeably with faith, though its definition is much more narrow and indicates not a mental process but a body of practices or doctrines.  Similarly “evolution” is sometimes used interchangeably with science, though it is neither a process of learning nor the body of evidence gathered by a branch of academia, but simply one prominent theory within that branch.

Before we even start arguing about religion or evolution, we at least ought to agree on the role of science and faith in the discussion.

Here is why atheists and believers keep talking past each other:

If faith is a belief based almost solely on superstition, subjective experience, or tradition (as atheists understand it to be), and science is the knowledge of patterns in the world gained through repeatable, testable experiments (as they believe all conclusions in the scientific community to be), then science offers far greater certainty than faith, and ought to supersede it.

But on the other hand, if faith is a conclusion, be it one without 100% objective certainty, reached by the use of reason acting upon verifiable evidence, and science is the branch of human institutions that adhere to the scientific method, then indeed, the two walk hand in hand rather than being mutually exclusive.

The contemporary atheist often tends to confuse the two definitions of science that I have provided, not even recognizing a distinction.  He understands all conclusions supported by the scientific community to be fact simply because they were reached by a community that claims to observe the scientific method.  But in so doing he not only grossly underestimates the possibility of human error, he also turns a blind eye to the truth about countless “scientific facts” that are neither testable nor repeatable but are rather touted for their “explanatory and predictive mechanisms” and rely on various untestable assumptions.

To take any assertion made by the majority of the scientific community, and claim that it is fact simply because “it’s science” without actually presenting the nature of the experiments, data, and conclusions for yourself, is nothing more than the logical fallacy of appeal to authority.

Of course, the atheist would argue, the science that has disproven God is so complicated that you’ll just have to trust the experts.  It is indeed valid, but an appeal to authority is necessary since you wouldn’t understand the explanation.  This is why you often here so little science in a debate about the existence of God, why it is rare to see much scientific depth from atheists themselves in their arguments.

You want to talk science?  Let’s actually talk science.  But if you want to appeal to the authority of the scientific community, which in large part has strayed from the testable and repeatable to the “explanatory” and “predictive,” I won’t be convinced.  We learned from the dark ages not to “trust the experts” who have the “special knowledge.”

Faith does not need to be blind.  It is not always based on tradition or spiritual compulsion.  In my case, it is a conclusion I’ve drawn about what I can’t know for sure, based on all of the things that I can know.  Much of those things that I can know are indeed derived from science.  And they are repeatable and testable.  In fact, I dismiss nothing from science that is repeatable and testable, and yet I find it beautifully compatible with my faith.

Read more of my articles or start a discussion in the comments if you’d like to learn more.