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  • Archive for August, 2007

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part IV

    Friday, August 31st, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    August 31, 2007, Wausau, Wi  I ended part III of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” by pointing out that atheism, like all world views, involves a component of faith.  It is not the completely reason and evidence based system that it claims to be.  This time I want to look at what is at best a strange line of argument made by Dawkins, but it is an argument which is increasingly common among atheists.

    On page 20, Dawkins writes, “A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts – non-religious included – is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect, in a different class from the respect that any human being should pay to another.”

    To anyone even remotely familiar with the assaults to which Christians and Christianity are routinely subjected, Dawkins statement will come as somewhat of a surprise. To justify this strange claim, Dawkins points that “In Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants are euphemized to ‘Nationalists’ and ‘Loyalists’ respectively.”  Yet this hardly is showing any deference to religion. What Dawkins’ neglects is the historical fact that the conflict in Ireland existed long before there was any difference in religion.  In fact it is more likely that the difference in religion was caused by the conflict rather than the conflict caused by the difference in religion.

    Another way Dawkins’ attempts to show that religion has some sort of preference is that religious leaders are sought out for their opinions on moral issues.  While he says he does not want them excluded from such discussions as he puts it “why does our society beat a path to their door, as though they had some expertise compare to that of, say, the moral philosopher, a family lawyer or a doctor?”

    One reason perhaps is that, while Dawkins may not like it, religion is a source of moral teachings. So why wouldn’t we seek the opinions of those trained in a moral teaching for their advice on morality?  A lawyer is trained in the law, so that might make a lawyer a good source of legal advice, but what is legal and what is moral are two different things.  There are many things that are legal and yet immoral.  For example, most everyone, including atheists, would agree that adultery is immoral. Yet it is legal. In fact one of the big problems I see is that we, as a society are thinking more in legal terms and less in moral terms. In fact one of the universities I was associated with, required its instructors of ethics to be lawyers. Thus a common defense we frequently hear for questionable actions is, “but there was nothing illegal” as if that makes everything ok.   Much the same can be said about doctors. They are trained to give medical treatment, not moral advice.  ‘Practices safe sex, and everything is ok.’

    While the moral philosopher has at least studied morality, one could just as easily ask, what makes them automatically more qualified than a theologian? Moral philosophers may be trained to think about moral issues, but what are they using as a basis for their moral view?   At least for a theologian, the basis for their moral beliefs is pretty clear. With many moral philosophers, it is not clear at all. The situation is sort of like having two doctors, one who was trained at a school you know well, and another whom you have no idea where or how they were trained. Which would you trust with your life?

    Several of the other examples of the supposed “unparalleled presumption of respect for religion”, involve Islam, and actually argue more for a special status for Islam than for religion.  For example, Dawkins points to the recent incidence of the Danish cartoons that caused riots in the Muslim world, and how newspapers “expressed ‘respect’ and ‘sympathy’ for the deep ‘offence’ and ‘hurt’ that Muslims had ‘suffered.’” (pg 27) I know that here in the United States, many news organization refused to even show the cartoons.

    The main problem with Dawkins’ argument is that his examples are not representative of religion in general.  For example, with the Danish cartoons, while deference and respect was clearly paid to Islam, there is no such similar deference paid to Christianity.  When Andre Seranno  received a grant from the government to place  a crucifix in a jar of his own urine in the name of art, most of the complaints were that it was government funded. More importantly the newspapers were not sympathizing with the hurt felt by Christians, but instead attacking them for being intolerant and trying to stifle artistic freedom.  There was much the same reaction when, again in the name of art, a picture of the Virgin Mary was smeared in Elephant dung.  Then there was the play that depicted Jesus has a homosexual.  When Christians complained, and justifiably so, about these and many other affronts, there were no calls to understand there hurt, but rather they were label intolerant and were accused of censorship.

    In fact, the affronts against Christianity and Christians are now so common, that even many Christians accept them as a normal part of life in 21st century America.  Thus like so many of Dawkins’ claims, the claim that there is some sort of deference paid to Christianity, is simply false, and shows a massive misunderstanding of the actual situation.

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

    Part I     Part II   Part III   Part V 

    Zeitgeist – The Response

    Friday, August 24th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    August 24, 2007, Wausau, Wi — This week I thought I would address some of the responses to Zeitgeist, The Movie and my review.  Perhaps the one of the most absurd attempts to defend the movie was the claim that you cannot invalidate the claims in Zeitgeist, without first validating the claims made in the New Testament.

    The irrationally of this statement is easily seen by simply turning it around.  One could just as easily, and in fact given the actual evidence, more easily, claim that one could not invalidate of the historical claims made in the NT without first validating the claims in Zeitgeist, which given the errors shown in my review of the movie,  would be impossible. While I believe the claims in the NT are historically accurate, I would never make such an argument, because is it irrational on its face.Some messages took objection to my claim that the December 25th date was not biblical but a later tradition and therefore those parts of the movie based on this date were invalid.  These objections took two main forms.  One was to claim that there is no proof December 25th was a later tradition.  This of course ignores the statements in Luke that points to the spring as the time for Jesus birth.  But it also reveals a common line of argument with such claims which is to point to anything that can be seen as supporting them as valid evidence, while everything that conflicts is simply ignored.

    The other approach was to claim that the Church did set the December 25th date, even if it was later, and that this shows the claims in the movie are correct.   There are two problems with this argument either one of which would be fatal. The first is that the movie claims that the beliefs of Christianity derived from date. But how could this be true if the connection was only made hundreds of years later?  The other problem is that when the connection was made, it was not to commemorate the date, but to use the celebration of Christmas, to replace the pagan celebrations that occurred on this date. So no matter how you look at it the movie’s claim that Christian belief derived from the winter solstice simply wrong.

    A more general defense was found in a number of messages, which was even if some of the details of the movie were incorrect, the main message of the movie that religion basically is just a means of control, was correct.  In fact it was commonly called the most powerful form of control that exists.

    Such arguments have a number of problems.  If the purpose of religion is to control, then how, by whom and for what purpose? This might make sense when dealing with a religion that has a clear hierarchical power structure, but not all religions have such a structure. In fact, one of the problems with Islam is that it lacks any formal power structure that could control its radical extremes.Many Protestants churches have a very democratic power structure (which was historically an important factor in the emergence of democracy in Europe and the US.) How does “control” fit as a purpose for these groups? Applied to specific groups and individuals, “control” might be an explanation, but as a blanket explanation, it fails miserably.But even if true, religion is hardly the main means of control. Government is far more powerful and invasive. More importantly, while religion is often, and should always be, voluntary, government, by its nature is not. Just look at the massive amount of control Government has over our lives in the US, and we are classified as a “free” society. Consider the amounts of control totalitarian governments have over the day to day lives of their citizens. So government is much more a source of control.In fact one of the benefits of religion is that it can provide a check and balance on government, sort of like the separation of powers set up in the Constitution. In fact this was why the founding fathers viewed religion as so important, yet independent of government, for it could provide a check on government.The real danger occurs when government becomes completely dominated by any single group so as to use it power to suppress and restrict competing groups for then the ability for checks and balances disappears. In European history, Christianity was at times too closely allied with, and in some cases was, the government. That was a problem. Today the danger lies with secularism, which has come to dominate government, and is using its power to restricting the influence of religion. Completely remove the influence of religion and you remove any ability it has to check the control of government.

    To see this just look at the last century where you had a declining influence of religion in America you had a corresponding increase in the growth of government, and a corresponding decrease in freedom. Sure we now have much more freedom to use certain words formally considered vulgar, but in exchange we now have speech codes on what opinions and thoughts are acceptable. Express a politically incorrect opinion, however true it may be, and you can be sent to sensitive training, or even lose your job. (In Europe, which even more secular, you can go to jail). So in 21st century America, I fear Big Government much more than Big Religion.  And it is not coincidence that those who seek to limit religion the most, also seek to expand government the most.

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

    Review: Part I     Part II     Part III      Responses II  

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part III

    Friday, August 3rd, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    August 3, 2007, Wausau, Wi  In part II of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I pointed out that atheists, like the educated elites, have constructed a world view based on assumptions that leads them to their conclusions.   One can clearly see this in Dawkins description of the atheist’s view.  Dawkins writes, “Human thoughts and emotions emerge from exceedingly complex interconnections of physical entities within the brain.  An atheist in this sense of philosophical naturalist is somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body, and no miracles – except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand.  If there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope eventually to understand it and embrace it within the natural.” (p 14)

    Dawkins starts with what seems like a statement of science about human thoughts and emotions, and from there expands it into a view of atheism.  Yet this statement about human thoughts and emotions is not a statement of scientific fact, but is at best a statement of atheistic belief or maybe even hope.  This is because we do not know how we think and feel, and there are lots of competing views. 

    In the early days of computers, it was assumed by many that as computer technology grew and developed, before long we would have machines that could really think and would someday be conscious.  In science fiction there are many examples of conscious machines such as Hal, the computer in 2001 A Space Odyssey, and Commander Data in Star Trek. 

    Yet as computer technology developed and programs grew more and more complex, the more we came to realize how little we actually understood consciousness.  As a result the whole field of Artificial Intelligence has largely transformed itself away from creating conscious machines, and into simply handling complex decision making processes. While there are still those who hope to one day create a conscious machine, many have grave doubts that it will ever happen.

    From this questionable belief about how we think, Dawkins goes on to defines an atheist as “somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world.”  This also is not a statement of science, it is a statement of faith.  Atheist often try to avoid the fact that this is a statement of faith, by claiming that this is a justified conclusion, because there is no proof that there is anything beyond the natural, and it is irrational to ask them to prove that there isn’t. 

    As I discuss in my book, Christianity and Secularism, there are several problems with this argument, but a key one is that the whole concept of proof is very subjective and is greatly determined by one’s world view.  Notice how in his statement Dawkins insulates his view from problems.  He leads in with what seems to be a statement of science to say human thoughts are explained, and thereby implies both that atheism is a scientific view, and that there is no need to seek any further explanation.  He then rejects that there is any supernatural, God, soul or miracles. Finally, those things that science can’t yet explain are handled with the “hope” that we will someday figure it out.

    As a result, Dawkins’ claim boils down to a claim that the atheist worldview is correct, because within the atheist world view there is no proof that there is anything else.  But this is circular reasoning.  This problem is not unique to atheist, it is a problem all world views must confront, and why ultimately faith and hope plays a role in all world views, even the atheist’s.

    For Christianity, the idea that faith and hope are important parts of the Christian world view is both accepted and embraced.  But for atheism they pose a major problem. This is because atheists so strongly identify themselves with science and much of their attacks on religion centers on attacking faith and hope, particularly faith.  In fact many atheists will strongly try to insist that atheism does not depend on faith and dogmatically reject any claim that is does.

    But dogmatic denials do not change the fact that the acceptance of atheism requires the acceptance of a naturalist world view that cannot itself be proven, but must be accepted on faith.  You can see this even in Dawkins statement of “hope” that the issues out there that have not yet been understood, will be eventually be understood in a naturalistic way, when by the very fact that we have not yet understood them means we do not know what the explanation will be. In short, Dawkins has faith that the explanation will be a natural one.

    As I point out in my books, while atheist often criticize Christians for having a faith contrary to the evidence,  this is actually the case with them in areas such as their claim that the origin of universe does not require something beyond the universe, or their claim that the origin of life was a natural process. In both cases, the evidence is not only strongly against them, it has been getting worse for some time.

    So a key component of atheism is faith, just as faith is a key component in all world views. As such, when the atheist like Dawkins attacks Christianity for relying faith, they are also attacking themselves.

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

      

    Part I     Part II     Part IV     Part V