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  • Archive for June, 2007

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part II

    Friday, June 29th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    June 29, 2007, Wausau, Wi  In  part I of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I looked at three errors in Dawkins view of religion.  Somewhat more surprising, however, is Dawkins view of atheism in America. He claims that “The status of atheists in America today is on a par with that of homosexuals fifty years ago. ”  He goes on to claim that atheist are so under siege that they “are reluctant to ‘come out.’” (p 4)  Does Dawkins really believe this? In the 1970s when I was an atheist, it never even crossed my mind that I was some sort of persecuted minority, or that I needed to hide my rejection of a belief in God. Since then, if anything atheist has only become more accepted.

    Dawkins goes on to say that “atheists are a lot more numerous, especially among the educated elite, than many realize.” (p. 4) While I have no doubt Dawkins is correct that many of the “educated elite” are atheist [and most of rest are either agnostics or simply support secularism],  I don’t think that this would  come as much of a surprise to many, but rather is pretty common knowledge.  In fact this is one of the reason his previous claim that atheists are a persecuted minority is so silly, for these elites  not only dominate Universities,  but also the news and entertainment media, and much of government, and they use their power and position to spread secular views, and attack and restrict religious views wherever they can, and they have been quite successful.

    More importantly, Dawkins clearly sees the fact that so many of these educated elites are atheist as strong evidence that he is correct. After all if these smart people believe it, it must be true.  However for those like myself, “educated elite” is not a positive term, but a negative one that refers to those who are so caught up in theory and academia that they long ago cut themselves off from reality. 

    One of the hard lessons that those in the physical sciences like physics and chemistry have historically struggled with is that nature often acts in ways that one would not expect.  The history of science is full of scientists who had really nice theories of how nature should work, only to have them dashed to pieces when they were tested.  This is a good thing as it move our knowledge forward.    However as one moves out of the physical sciences and into the social sciences the ability to actually test one’s theories becomes increasingly difficult. More over the ability of the researcher influence the results increases.  Yet this difficulty has not tempered the “educated elite” creation of new and novel theories.

    For example, until recently it was the norm for the “educated elite” to claim that men and woman are basically the same. Any behavior differences we observer were simply the result of how they are raised.  Now for those who were not fortunate enough afford such an education the ideal the men and women are the same was always pretty silly.  But then the educated elite are not the elite for nothing.

    Even though recent medical research, particularly on the brain,  has thoroughly debunked this claim and has clearly show that, to the great astonishment of many of the elite, that men and women are different, this falsehood that they are the same continues to  shaped much of the social debate in this country.  After the differences were demonstrated, many of the elites simply moved from the view that the differences don’t exist, to the view that they are not that important.  

    For example, the idea that because of these differences, a father and a mother play different roles in the raising of a child is still questioned by many of “educated elite” who continue to maintain that these roles are completely interchangeable.  It really does not matter if you have a mother and father, a mother  and mother, father and father, or whatever combination you desire, the only thing that is important is that the child is loved.  I have often hear the “educated elite” characterize the claim that the best way to raise a child is with loving mother and a loving father in a stable committed relationship  as  a bigoted and narrow minded religious view, and I should not seek to impose my religious views on society because of the separation of church and state. 

     In short, what defines so much of the “educated elite” at least beyond the physical sciences, is they have constructed a world view that is largely immune to actually testing and even when parts are disproven, this is not allowed to have much impact on the worldview itself.  Yet because it is labeled “science” this world view is somehow seen as automatically true, differing views are then rejected as religious and therefore false.  

    Where this comes into play for atheism is that this is pretty much what atheist like Dawkins have done. They construct a world view based on assumptions that cannot be tested or proven, but must just be accepted, and then when God does not fit into the world view they have constructed, they conclude He does not exist.

     Could it be that the vast majority believe in God for the same reason that the vast majority believe that men and women are different, and that the educated elite reject God for pretty much the same reason they once rejected the idea that men and women are different?

    Part I   Part III   Part IV   Part V 

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part I

    Friday, June 22nd, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

    June 22, 2007, Wausau, WiRichard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” is yet another in a long line of books which attempts to make the claim that believing in God is irrational. As with the other attempts, Dawkins ultimately ends up only demonstrating his own lack of critical analysis. There is a very simple rule in critical thinking that I teach all of my classes: Anything can be accepted if you only consider the evidence in favor, and conversely anything can be rejected if you only consider the evidence against. While this is a pretty straight forward and simple rule, it is one that Dawkins runs afoul of from the very first page.

    Dawkins, citing the John Lennon song “Imagine” wonders, “Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no Northern Ireland ‘troubles’, no ‘honour killings’, no shiny-suited bouffant-hair televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money (‘God wants you to give till it hurts.’) Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheading of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing an inch of it.” (pp 1-2)

    This one passage reveals three major problems with Dawkins’ approach. The first we have already mentioned. This is a list that contains only negative items. What about the positive? What about the good that religion has done? As I point out in my book, Christianity and Secularism, with Christianity’s rise to dominance after the fall of Rome, it brought for the first time an ethic of kindliness, obedience, humility, patience, mercy, purity, chastity, and tenderness. (p 101) Nor, without religion, would the church have been able to try to settle disputes between rulers during the middle ages so as to avoid war, nor limit the killing of civilians. Nor would Christians have been able to stress the equality of all people, nor lay the foundations of science and human rights, nor push for, and eventually achieve, the abolition of slavery. Christians by no means have a perfect record in this area, and in fact have far too often failed to live up to the teaches of Jesus, but by no means is the record all negative as Dawkins “Imagines.”

    Dawkins second major error is to treat all religions as the same. They are not. In fact of the 15 things Dawkins want to imagine the world without, 11 of the 15 involve Islam either exclusively or in conflict with others. The simple fact is that, of all the major world religions, only Islam was founded by a military leader. Through-out its history, Islam as been spread by force of arms, and there remains today a significant percentage of Islam who support the use force and coercion to maintain and spread their religion. The issue is not one of religion or no religion and Dawkins would imagine and in fact, as I argue in Christianity and Secularism, it would be impossible to have no religion. Religions have to be judged individually on their own merits. Dawkins’ approach is the equivalent of arguing for the rejection of investigation in favor of blind faith by lumping legitimate sciences like chemistry in with alchemy and then pointing to the problems of alchemy as a reason to reject chemistry. For Dawkins, the problems of one religion are reasons to reject all religions.

    Of the remaining four items in Dawkins’ list that do not involve Islam: witch-hunts, the Gunpowder plot, Northern Ireland, and corrupt televangelists I would argue that only the first two can really be attributed to Christianity, which brings us to Dawkins’ third major error, which confuses things that involve religion with things that are caused by religion. The conflict between England and Ireland goes back much farther than the England’s change to Protestantism. In fact, this conflict is much more a cause of the religious difference, than caused by religion. As for the corrupt televangelists, con-artists can be found in most areas. That some use science to fleece people, is not a reason to reject science, why should it be any different for religion.

    As for the remaining two, these are legitimate objections. (though the Gunpowder plot failed and thus had little actual impact beyond those who planned the plot, I take it to represent the religious conflict that did exist at the time). Whereas Dawkins errs by only looking at the negative it would be equally erroneous to only consider the positive. Like most everything else that involves people there are pros and cons to religion in general and Christianity in particular. A balance approach requires us to look and both the pros and the cons. As I argue in Christianity and Secularism, when this is done for Christianity, I believe that Christianity has had a strong net positive influence in the world.

    Of Gods and Gaps

    Friday, June 15th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    June 15, 2007, Wausau, Wi— Many skeptics see religion as little more than how people tried to make sense of the mysterious world around them, before the emergence of modern science.   Lightening was seen coming down from the clouds so there must be something in the clouds throwing it down, and this something powerful enough to cast down lightening must be a god.

    With the emergence of modern science and the understanding of nature that we have gained as a result, the need for religion has diminished.  So now we have a much better understanding of the physical basis of lightening and thus no longer need the lightening god to explain it.   With each advancement of science,  the need for religion has diminished.  Or at least so the argument goes.

    Skeptics now tend to write off every claim that God has not been excluded by claiming it is nothing more than a God-of-the-Gaps argument.   God is only invoked to explain those areas where there is a gap in our scientific knowledge.  

    Now there is no doubt that the God-of-the-gaps charge is at times accurate.  But even so, that does not make it always accurate, nor does it mean that atheistic charge does not have problems of its own.

    One of the problems is the skeptics view of religion that sees it as little more than an explanation for nature to be supplanted later by science. Most religions, and in particular Christianity, are much, much more than just an explanation for nature.  In fact for Christianity, explaining nature is at best just a backdrop to the primary focus which is our relationship to God.  Christianity does maintain that God created the universe and everything in it, but it also believes in a creation governed by reason. In fact much of modern science came out the desire to understand the creator by studying the creation, in the same way you would study a painter by studying their paintings.

    But a more serious problem is that while Christians are sometimes guilty of gap arguments, not all arguments pointing to the problems of science are gap arguments.  The problems with gap argument is that they are based on the absence of evidence, and thus commits the fallacy of an argument from ignorance, we do not know, therefore it must be God.

    However, if instead of pointing to an absence of evidence, an argument points to the evidence against, it is no longer a gaps argument.  For example, if one looks at the evidence for the origin of the universe, it clearly points to a beginning. There are two main competing scientific theories for how this took place both of which cannot explain how the whole process could started on in first place.  An objective look at the evidence says that the universe had a beginning. Either the universe created itself, (and absurd idea) or there was some other creator. This is not a gaps argument because it is simply going where the evidence points. 

    Much the same can be said for the origin of life where the more it is examined, the more impossible it seems to get.  Again this not a gap argument because is not grounded on the lack of an explanation, but on the evidence that it is impossible.

    In fact, in both of these areas, if anyone has a gap type argument, it is the atheist. But rather filling the gap with appeals to God, they appeal to chance. Whereas Christians believe that God can do anything, atheist believe that chance can do anything if given enough time.  This chance-of-the-gaps type argument takes many forms. For life, the belief is that regardless of how impossible the evidences says the origin of life would be, there is always a small chance, however tiny,  that it could have happened so it is not completely impossible. But arguing something is not completely impossible is not quite the same as arguing that is happened.   

    One popular incarnation of this chance argument is to postulate an infinite number of universes and then claim that we just happen to be in the universe where all these seemingly impossible things did actually happen by chance.

    What is often overlooked by atheists and agnostics in all these appeals to chance, is that by their very nature, these arguments run contrary to the evidence.  After all, if the evidence clearly supported natural processes, there would be not be any need to appeal to chance.  For example, one does not need to appeal to an infinite number of universes to explain the possibility of lightening. 

    When dealing with the unknown,  one can either go where the evidence currently points, or try to explain away the evidence so as to maintain current beliefs.  For both the origin of the universe and life, the evidence is currently against it being completely natural.  Attempting to explain this away so and to maintain a worldview that precludes the existence of God and the supernatural,  is putting faith in the worldview above evidence and reason, and in doing so theses skeptics are guilty of exactly what they accuse Christians of doing. Claiming that unknowns can be explained by chance is a chance-of-the-gaps reasoning.  It is placing one’s faith in chance ahead of the evidence.

    Irrational Nobility

    Friday, June 8th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    June 8, 2007, Wausau, Wi— It has often been pointed out that adversity reveals a person’s true character better than anything except possibly the acquisition of power.  Whether it is the result of great tragedy such as the sinking of the Titanic, or the destruction of Greenburg Kansas, or great evil such as the attacks on 911 or the recent shooting at Virginia Tech, or more personal situations, when tested by great adversity minor flaws can crack wide open revealing great weaknesses, or we can find inner strengths we never knew existed.

    Two recent news events have highlighted both extremes.   In May we saw the story of Andrew Speaker.  Speaker had been diagnosed with a strained of tuberculosis that was drug resistant.  But he was planning to honeymoon in Europe, and while he was told it was better that he not fly, he was not ordered to stay away from planes.  So he went to Europe as planned.

    While Speaker was in Italy,  doctors learned that not only was his TB resistant to drugs,  the particular strain he had was both very dangerous, and “extensively drug resistant.”  Dr. Marin Cetron, director of the Center for Disease Control’s division of global migration and quarantine, said “He was told in no uncertain terms not to take a flight back.”  

    But Speaker didn’t want to wait. Disregarding what the doctors said and the potential risk he posed to others he would come near, he took a commercial aircraft From Rome to Prague, and then from Prague to Montreal. From there he drove to into the United States. By doing so he put at risk all he came in contact with, especially the passengers in the seats around him.

    Selfish?  Clinical Psychologist Andrea Macari, PH.D  came to Speaker defense on the O’Reilly Factor (06/01/07) claiming that “I think all acts are selfish… selflessness is just an illusion.”  While such views are increasingly common in the Me-First worldview so clearly demonstrated by Speaker, they stand in stark contrast to another recent new story, the story of Liviu Lebrescu, a story I hope you remember.  

    Born in Romania, Librescu survived the Holocaust later immigrating to Israel.  Twenty years ago Librescu came to United States where he was a  researcher and lecturer in engineering.  He was teaching a class on mechanics on the day of the Virginia Tech murders, when he heard the shooter coming close to his classroom. Librescu told his students to run to the window and climb out. He, however, ran to the door and blocked it with his body, to give time for the students to reach safety.  He gave his life so that his student could live.  If we are to believe Macari, Librescu gave his life in a selfish not a selfless act.

    Later in the interview on the O’Reilly Factor concerning the TB patient Andrew Speaker, Macari couldn’t believe O’Reilly when he said that if he has been in Speaker’s situation, he would have stayed put, so as not to put other people in danger. If you live in the moment with a Me-first attitude, such moral certitude probably does seem unbelievable, even foolish.  But as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:14 “A person who isn’t spiritual doesn’t accept the things of God’s Spirit, for they are nonsense to him. He can’t understand them because they are spiritually evaluated.” (ISV)

    However, if instead of a  Me-First view of the world, you have a set of core values upon which you base your moral decisions, and you have thought about right and wrong and how your actions impact others, as God’s word teaches us, one reaches a different conclusion.

    This is one of the problems with secular attacks on Christianity. They claim to want to replace what they see as the mythology of Christianity with reason and science. But if we are not created in the image of God, but merely the result of chance combined with time, there is no purpose in life, other than to live it. If all there is, is simply the here and now, the selfish actions of Speaker would be the rational action, after all survival of the fittest would argue that you should do whatever it takes to survive. On the other hand noble acts like Librescu would be the irrational one. What possible reason could there be to give up your life, if there is nothing beyond this life. 

    This is the problem with secular moralities. There is no firm core, no bedrock upon which to base a moral system. They are not, as they claim, based on reason, for reason is process not a foundation.  Ultimately they end up being based on the self and what is in the best interest of the self.  This is why secular moral views have such great difficulty not only condemning evil but also praising the noble, without having to appeal to values that have been embedded in the culture by the religion. But as secularist continue to chip away at religious values,  ultimately they end up like Israel during the time of the Judges, where “,each person did whatever seemed right in his own opinion” (Judges 21:25 ISV) which is then combined with the increasingly popular line “who are you to judge.”  Unfortunately I fear that the upcoming generations will contain more Speakers than Librescus.

    A Review of Sam Harris' The End of Faith Part VI

    Friday, June 1st, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    June 1, 2007, Wausau, Wi— I will conclude my review of Sam Harris’ The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by looking at the alternative that Harris presents.  Harris fundamentally argues for a view of life that seeks happiness through the process of reason and evidence.  In his attacks on religion, Harris is not arguing for secularism per se but for reason.  This is how he attempts to avoid the charge that the greatest evils in human history ( the holocaust, the massacres in communist countries, of Russia, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc) have been the result of secular regimes not religious one.  As we saw in part one Harris’ claim that religion is at the root of most conflicts in human history is false. Still religion has been responsible for evil.  Yet secularism made up any gap and far surpassed religion in just one century. 

    Harris seeks to avoid this problem by claiming that  the evils caused by secular governments were because of secular dogmas  and thus similar to the religious dogmas he condemns.  The problem is that while hindsight is always 20-20 and thus allows a small fig leaf to avoid such culpability, this is really no different than the Christian who tries to claim that those who did evil in the name of Christ are not really following the true teachings of Christ.  Frankly, I think that Harris’ view is even worse off for at least the Christians can point to clear a foundation (the Bible) about which we can discuss. Harris has no foundation other than happiness, and no means to pursue clarifying what this means than science.

    But the history of science is full of problem, wrong turns and downright errors. This is not really a criticism of science; this is just part of the nature of discovery. But it is hardly a firm basis for morality.  For example Harris tries to lay the blame for the holocaust on religious anti-Semitism, ignoring the fact that many of Christianity’s strongest critics were extremely anti-Semitic showing that anti-Semitism is not simply an Christian or even religious phenomena. Still if the holocaust had been lead by Christians had been limited to the six million Jews, Harris might have had a point.  But 12 million died in the holocaust.  What about the other six million others who died along with the six million Jews, or the fact that Hitler was not religious? While religious anti-Semitism sadly did play a role, it pales in regards to the role played by science and “reason.”

    Both Fascism and Communism saw themselves as scientific alternatives to religion. In particular for the Holocaust there was the science of eugenics and others theories that trace themselves back to Darwin and the theory of evolution and its survival of the fittest.   While justly rejected now, in the early part of the 20th century this was the “scientific” view of the day.  Hitler did not seek to exterminate the Jews because of the false religious view that they were Christ-killers, but because of the false scientific view that they were inferior people who were corrupting the purity of master race.  Harris rejects this view now as just another false “dogma” but that is the nice thing about hindsight, it is always 20-20.  Someday I hope that the current ban on DDT will also be seen as a false dogma, but it is still in effect and still defended, and is resulting in the deaths of between one and two million people each year for a total in excess of 40 million people since it went into effect.

    The key problem with Harris’ view is that his choice of happiness both vague and subjective. For example, China argues that the group is more  important than the individual, and thus individual rights can be superseded by the state as it seeks to better the whole.  Someone else might see that acquisition of power as the key to their morality, or as Hitler, the building of a master race through selective breeding and the elimination of the mentally ill etc, to make the best people possible.   Without an objective standard by which to measure,  it would simple be a matter of personal preference which of these to choose.  Nor would one be able to say, for example,  that building of a master race was wrong and therefore not a valid option,  as what is being chosen is the foundation for morality, that it, the basis by which we would decide was right and wrong.  This is how those secular regimes in the 20th century were able to kill hundreds of millions of people, for as strange as it sounds they lived in a moral systems that said it was good.

    While Christianity has nowhere near a perfect record, I believe that any objective review of the evidence would show thatven with its faults and missteps, Christianity has been and continues to be a very positive force in human history. In the last 150 years since science has attempted to separate itself from religion and replace it as a guide for society, the results have often been disastrous. In effect Harris is asking us to abandon what has a proven track record, what has for example provided the intellectual and moral back ground for countries like the United States, and instead embrace what had never worked and when tried as lead to the greatest evils in history.   Now that is a real leap of faith.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking  you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.   

    Part I     Part II    Part III     Part IV   Part V