Monday, May 23, 2005
As good journalists often do, Strobel opens this chapter with a compelling story. He recounts the story of how Ronald Keith Williamson is wrongly convicted of a murder in
He then goes on to establish the link between atheism and evolutionism, citing Richard Dawkins as saying that
Miller’s “life in a test-tube” experiment was based on faulty data; therefore life could not have come from nonliving chemicals.
I can’t blame Strobel for not mentioning this, since his book was published in 2000, and this press release came out in April 2005 (a month prior to this writing.)
Among the statements in the article are as follows:
Next Bradley goes on to discuss various ideas about the mechanics of how evolutionists say that life on earth evolved. He mentions The “Random Chance” theory (which no one believes anymore), “Chemical Affinity” (that the chemicals needed for life were inevitably attracted to one another), “Self-ordering tendencies” (that life formed from self-organizing matter), “Seeding from space” (the idea that life originated somewhere else and ended up on Earth. I quite agree with Bradley that this only postponed the question of how life came to be.), “Vents in the Ocean” (that life originated near hot-springs in the ocean), and “Life from Clay” (that live evolved in clay rather than in water—I don’t really get this one.) I’m not going to get into detail on these, as I don’t have the time. I’m going to skip to the real crux of the matter.
Not convinced. Actually, I don’t even think the objection for which the chapter was named was even adequately addressed. Most of the chapter was did not even address evolution, but abiogenesis—the origin of life. As I mentioned before, even proving a divine origin for life would not disprove evolution. It could still be believed that God just got the process started. Nor would proving a natural origin for life prove that no god exists. It’s just that such a proof would point towards the credibility of a belief that there is no intelligent creator, which is what I think Richard Dawkins meant when he said that
Saturday, May 14, 2005
Friday, May 13, 2005
Interviewee: William Lane Craig, Ph. D. in philosophy and theology
I’ve noticed that although the wording of this objection is misleading (see the pre-read impressions) the issue is cleared up in the chapter. I think this chapter started off very well, with a good definition of the word miracle. Craig defines a miracle as “an event which is not producible by the natural causes that are operative in the place and time the miracle occurs.” He is also straight on the point that miracles do not contradict science, but that science is the pursuit of natural causes and not supernatural ones. And he notes that miracles should not be difficult for even a scientifically minded person to believe—assuming that they believe in the Christian God. If God exists, it is not unthinkable that he would intervene in nature from time to time. Fair enough. He even, to my surprise actually (I thought maybe Strobel would just assume that his audience believed in God), outlines a few of the arguments for the existence of God in the chapter.
Next Craig gives us another definition of faith. He defines it as “trust or commitment to what you think is true.” He has an idea of a very rational faith. Anyone who is committed to an idea has faith. Maybe what many of the more intellectual Christians believe (such as C. S. Lewis) but this definition is often not what is meant by the word faith. In a rational way, may Christians call ‘faith’ what is more accurately called ‘justified belief.’ But faith in the Bible is irrational faith—belief without evidence, belief without ‘sight’. At least, this was the faith argued for by
The First Cause Argument
This argument, as presented by Craig goes as such:
P2: “But something cannot come out of nothing”
C: “there has to be a transcendent cause beyond space and time which brought the universe into being”
Predictably, Craig equates the “transcendent cause” with the evangelical Christian conception of God. He rather glosses over the issue of where God came from, by saying that God never had a beginning, therefore he was uncaused.
I have some major problems with this argument, and that is that it appeals to the “God of the Gaps” theory, which basically states that “What we know we call science; what we don’t, we call God.” We just don’t know what came before the Big Bang, and it could be that we will never know. Perhaps there is some sort of “uncaused cause” out of which the Big Bang came, but it’s quite a leap to assume that it is a god, much less a particular conception of God. For all we know, it was some sort of catalyst that was destroyed in the process of creation. Until we have pushed the frontiers of science to the time before the Big Bang (or until, possibly, the Big Bang is overthrown by a better theory) the possibilities will be limited only by human imagination.
The Fine-tuning Argument
Craig presents this argument as follows:
P1: “The Big Bang was . . . a highly organized event which required an enormous amount of information.”
P2: “At the very moment of its inception, the universe has to be fine-tuned to an incomprehensible precision for the existence of life like ourselves.”
C: There must have been an Intelligent Designer.
I have a few observations to make on this argument. First, had the factors involved in the creation of the universe not been favorable to life, we would not be here to contemplate the reasons for our existence. I wonder how he defines “highly organized” in P1 above. Strobel suggests the possibility that there are other universes, but Craig simply dismisses the idea because even if it were true we have no way to verify it. He claims that the only reason the skeptics form such hypothesis was to avoid the idea of an intelligent designer of the universe. This is after he agreed, earlier in the chapter, that science is interested in natural explanations to phenomena—not supernatural ones. Interestingly we can’t verify the existence of his God either, though he holds this as self-evident.
The Argument from the Existence of Morality
Craig’s presentation of this argument:
C: God must exist
When Strobel asks for a definition of objective moral values, Craig replies that “Objective moral values are valid and binding independently of whether anyone believes them or not.” If God didn’t exist, Craig asserts, then “moral values are simply the product of socio-biological evolution.” I find it interesting that he does, at least, acknowledge that moral values could evolve naturally. But then he states that if that were the case, then moral values would be no more than opinions and tastes, like “Broccoli tastes good.” He doesn’t say much to support this assumption (that evolutionary morals would only be a matter of individual taste), however. I don’t have time or incentive here to explore the evolution of morality, though much has been written on the subject elsewhere.
That being said, how do you judge the actions of a woman who is deluded into thinking that God wants her to, say, drown her children in the bathtub? She knows that to do such a deed would be reprehensible evil, and yet she thinks that God said to do it. Should she follow her own judgment—that the act is wrong and she shouldn’t do it—or should she follow what she perceives as the will of God? How do you judge such an act?
The Argument from the Resurrection
Here is Craig’s Argument:
P1: If we can believe in God, then we can believe in miracles.
P2: Miracles point toward the existence of God.
P3: If Jesus was raised from the dead, miracles exist.
P4: Ancient documents testify to the resurrection of Jesus.
C: God exists.
The Argument from Personal Experience
P1: People have experienced God in their personal lives
C: God exists.
Logically, this argument is begging the question (that it is actually God that the people experience.) However, I don’t think that this is even intended to be a logical argument. It’s an emotional appeal. As I’ve decided that I’m not even going to try and argue about the authenticity of others’ personal experiences, there is not much I can say about this. I can’t believe on the basis of someone else’s supposed experience of God. Most Christians I know will likely agree with me on this point.
Closing and Verdict
The chapter concludes with an appeal to the certainty of Craig as to the truth of his beliefs, and an appeal to Revelation 3:20 (“Behold I stand at the door and knock . . .”). Backing this certainty is the evidence of lives changed by Christianity. Actually, I would be greatly astonished if a dramatic change in a person’s beliefs and worldview did not greatly change their life. In fact, I would wonder about the honesty of their belief if there were no change. This effect is seen regardless of the actual truth of the beliefs, as shown by the fact that this claim of changed lives is not limited to Christianity, or even religion itself.
At least, Strobel does recognize that atheists may very well be good and moral people in this during the discussion of “objective morality.” I guess he did not fit this category as an atheist, as shown by his reference to his “living in the mire of immorality as an atheist” near the end of the chapter. But at least he recognizes that atheism is not equivalent to immorality.
I’m not convinced by the arguments in this chapter. I did however, find it to be a worthwhile challenge to read and respond to it.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Chapter 1: Since evil and suffering exist, a loving god cannot.
Interviewee: Peter John Kreeft, Ph. D.
I was partly surprised that in the introduction he does interview Templeton, who is an agnostic former Christian. I’ve never read Templeton’s book, though Strobel paints it as a hateful diatribe against Christianity. It may be an interesting next read.
Anyway, this chapter is supposed to answer Templeton’s objections that the suffering in the world disproves the existence of God. Strobel interviews Peter Kreft about this problem of evil. Kreft shows some good thoughts in the interview, makes some nonsensical statements about atheism, and also gives a few arguments about how the existence of evil is not incompatible with the existence of God.
A bear, a trap, a hunter, and God.
In this analogy, a hunter finds a bear in agony in a trap, has pity on it, and tries to set it free. The bear, naturally, can not comprehend and resists the hunter. In the analogy, a suffering human is the bear, the merciful hunter is God. Interesting point to make is that, in all likelihood the bear has every reason in the world to mistrust the hunter. And who placed the trap to begin with? Maybe it’s just a bad analogy, at least if the bear is held responsible for misunderstanding the intentions of the hunter. Another point of breakdown in this analogy is that the hunter has reason to fear the bear—an angry wounded bear is a force to be reckoned with! The hunter is putting his life in danger, while on the other hand God would be totally shielded from any harm.
Faith and Prejudice
Here it gets interesting.
No skeptics allowed? Skeptical seeking wouldn’t count here as true seeking, because in order for this to work you must have already decided what you will find before you start. This negates any reason to search anyway, if you’ve predetermined “who” you will find. No thanks.
Besides, “Supreme Good” is an abstract concept. I seriously don’t think Kreft or Strobal really that believe their God is an abstract concept . . .
Free Will Argument
Next he gives the standard Free Will argument, which says that it is really humans’ fault that there is suffering, not God’s. This world of suffering is what humanity chose. But he says that if there is no free will, and no possibility of moral evil, there can be no choice except to obey--and therefore no love. Later he talks about heaven as being the place where we will be compensated for all our sufferings. I wonder if he thinks there will be no free will, and therefore no love, in heaven. No sin is allowed in heaven. It will be perfect, right?
Good from Evil
He claims that good comes from suffering, and uses the sacrificial death of Jesus as an example. Generally, this is only an example that works for conservative Christians, and as I’m not, I’ll not bother going into more detail here.
He then asks the question of why a loving god would watch while an innocent child is hit by a truck. Judging from the example he choose to explain, he seems to says it was allowed to teach the child some lesson though suffering. The analogy he gives is of his daughter pricking her fingers with a pin trying to sew a Girl Scout badge. Of course she finally succeeds and is proud and elated that she did it all by herself, forgetting about the pain. He doesn’t say what sort of lesson or character development was learned by the child who was hit by the truck in the original question.
This one says that God feels all our sufferings. Every tear is his tear. This one I just don’t buy. If I had cancer and were suffering terrible pain, I doubt it would do me any good whatsoever to know that my father was—even by his own choice—feeling that pain as well. I’d be a whole lot more interested in relief than in the knowledge that someone else “feels my pain.”
There is a bit more to the chapter, but this about sums up the arguments. The best appeals are the emotional ones, talking about how God has shaped his life though painful experiences, etc. I’ll not say anything to attempt to invalidate the personal experiences of the author and his interviewee, though personal anecdotes don’t prove anything.
Not convinced. For one thing, I’ve heard rebuttals to all the arguments that he has presented, and most of his analogies are bad. The free will argument is the most convincing argument in the chapter, though it still has problems. What about natural disasters? Did evil human will bring on the tsunami, for instance? My point being that there is suffering that occurs that has nothing to do with human choice. So the argument by free will is not sufficient to explain suffering.
I think that the best reason that the problem of evil points to the non-existence of God is that the suffering in the world, natural disasters and all, is totally consistant with a universe that is unaware that we exist and indifferent to us. The wrongs done to humans against each other are a result of people taking care of their own interests without regard to others. This is why any decent civilization has laws against robbery, and insider trading. Postulating a creator God who is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful makes the whole thing so much more complicated than it has to be.
Monday, May 09, 2005
The other day I was in a bookstore with my Mom. She seems rather intent on finding more or less subtle ways of exposing my to Christianity lately. She asked me if I would read The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. In return, I asked her if she would read a book of my choosing if I read her book, and she agreed. I've picked a book out for her, though I haven't given it to her yet (I've picked Why Atheism, by George Smith). I have now read the intros and chapters 1 and 2 of Strobel's book. And I've decided to get the most out of it by writing a fairly thourough review, chapter by chapter. I'm doing it mainly to thoroughly scrutinize his arguments and provide rebuttals. I will be posting these here on my blog every few days, as I have time to write and revise my chapter reviews. I've started with my pre-read impressions:
The Case for Faith: Pre-read impressions
The blurb on the cover says that this is “A journalist investigates the toughest objections to Christianity”
A journalist—ok, fair enough. Not likely to have expertise it the subject matter, as journalists usually are more interested in communicating facts than studying them.
Investigates—if The Case for Christ is any indication, I doubt there will be much actual investigation. I expect to see interviews and such with Christians, Theologians, and perhaps former atheists who have converted for such or such reasons. But I don’t expect to see any interviews of present Atheists or religious skeptics, or even liberal Christians. It will be a one-sided investigation.
Toughest Objections to Christianity? I will examine this when I see what issues he is addressing.
Good, descriptive table of contents. I will write my impression to each of these “toughest objections” before reading.
Objection 1: Since evil and suffering exist, a loving god cannot.
Ah, the problem of evil. This is an interesting one, but it was not a major that turned me on to atheism—though it has strengthened my position. I’ve heard lots of answers to this one. It is a worthwhile argument for atheism however, as it greatly simplifies life if you don’t have to try to make sense of preventable, senseless suffering in light of a good god.
2: Since miracles contradict science, they cannot be true
This one I have never heard before. I can see where the misconception comes from, however. When doing scientific analysis, bringing in supernatural causes to explain things doesn’t explain anything. Miracles are just useless to science. That’s no proof that they never happen, but as none have been really verified, we have every reason to be skeptical that they do happen. Especially in the light of the fact that most every phenomena which used to be clearly miraculous or supernatural now has a perfectly reasonable scientific explanation.
3: Evolution explains life, so god isn’t needed
Straw man. Evolution doesn’t even address the issue of god. It provides a natural explanation of how species evolve, or on a grander scale how the universe evolves. Whether or not God exists or is needed is irrelevant. A lot of Christians both acknowledge evolution and believe in God.
4: God isn’t worthy of worship if he kills innocent children
This one is worth considering, but I would think it should have been addressed in chapter one. It is an extension to the problem of evil. Strobel is getting two objections for the price of one.
5: It’s offensive to claim Jesus is the only way to god
It wouldn’t be offensive, assuming that god is real and there was evidence to support the exclusivity claim. As is, there is no more support for it than there is for the claims of other religions. No evidence, just blind faith.
6: A loving god would never torture people in hell
Perhaps the best objection listed so far. Doesn’t the idea of eternal torturous punishment make God sound, well, pretty darn sadistic?
7: Church history is littered with oppression and violence
Too true. While not negating the claims of Christianity, per sea, it I think it does shed doubts on the Christian claims to morality.
8: I still have doubts, so I can’t be a Christian
No comment. Not relevant to my situation, and not really an objection to Christianity at all. Except for the apparent inability of god to give assurance to his followers.
Note: all these objections are objections to Christianity, not to “faith.” I think this book should be called The Case for Christianity, not The Case for Faith.
Also, I have lots of objections that are not listed here, that I think are tougher than the ones he’s listed. Like:
If complexity cannot exist without a designer, who designed God? (I would not call the Christian concept of God simple.)
Is an action good because god said so, or does god say so because the action is good
I have more—my point is that Strobel is not really addressing the “Toughest Objections to Christianity,” as he claims. I expect that this book is not designed to convince skeptics but to shore up the faith of doubting Christians. We shall see.
Check back soon for my review of Chapter 1!
Saturday, May 07, 2005
Parents on trial in child's death
Indiana case will touch on religion
I found this intriguing, and read on . . .
FRANKLIN, Ind, -- The trial of a couple whose ailing newborn daughter died when they rejected medical treatment in favor of prayer may focus more on facts than faith. . . .
. . .The couple belong to a church that advocates prayer and faith healing over medical intervention. Instead of seeking a doctor's help, prosecutors said, the parents called church elders to their home to pray for the child, who died less than two days later.
Naturally, the couple did what the Bible said, and only that. According to the church they belong to (The General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn, which I never heard of before) they take these verses literally:
Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. (James 5:14-15)
Fortuately, most Christians no longer trust in prayer to the extent that they rely on it exclusively when their children are deathly ill. In practical matters of life and death such as this, scientific thought has overtaken faith in the miraculous. Unfortunately they are also mostly likely to attibute cases like this to some kooky cult, and never think to apply this lesson on the failure of prayer to their own religion.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
This is where you can go to find the history of the NDR and find out where there are events in your area.
Also interesting information, and a discussion of the tension between the National Day of Reason and the National Day of Prayer.
Unfortunately there are no event scheduled within a reasonable drive from my home. So I'm observing the day by writing this blog, and by wearing my "America: It's not a Religion Thing, It's a Freedom Thing!" t-shirt. And maybe I'll visit the library :).
Monday, May 02, 2005
I need help! Think of more and put them in the comments. Thanks :)
- You might be an atheist if you have ever tried to sell your soul on eBay.
- You might be an atheist if your list of heroes includes Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson. (Or you may be a Deist :-p)
- You might be an atheist if “god” means less to you than “dog,” or if you have a bumper sticker that says “Dog is my co-pilot.”
- You might be an atheist if you have ever been expelled from Sunday school.
- You might be an atheist if you’ve ever mentioned the babblefish as proof of the non-existence of god.
- You might be an atheist if the idea of life after death makes no sense to you.
- You might be an atheist if you write Thomas Paine or Carl Sagan quotes on gospel tracts you find in bathroom stalls. (I do this. lol)
- You might be an atheist if you’ve said that you serve the IPU only, bless her holy mane.
- You might be an atheist if you’ve joked about going to hell.
- You might be an atheist if you do not worry about what anyone else thinks of that lustful thought that just ran though your mind. ;)
- You might be an atheist if you've ever baited Christians on internet forums. (This does get old after a while.)
- I need more ideas!