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Elgin’s Books


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  • Archive for January, 2008

    A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion Part XIV

    Friday, January 25th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In this part of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I will continue my look at Dawkins’ speculations on the roots of morality.  Dawkins rejection of God and acceptance of evolution forces him to find an evolutionary basis of morality.  He admits that “On the face of it, the Darwinian idea that evolution is driven by natural selection seems ill-suited to explain such goodness as we possess, or our feelings of morality, decency, empathy, and pity… Isn’t goodness incompatible with the theory of the ‘selfish gene’?” (pg 214-5)

    Dawkins’ goes on to argue that the idea that it is, is a misunderstanding and the evolution is not incompatible with goodness.  There are two main problems with Dawkins argument. The first is that it is really very selective and theoretical and amounts to little more than special pleading.  The second is that while Dawkins’ see evolution’s ability to account for goodness as a strength, and yet another reason we do not need religion, the special pleading nature of the argument is in reality an indication of a much deeper problem: that as put forward by those like Dawkins it is a tautology . 

    In logic a tautology is an argument that is always valid. While this sounds like a good thing, the problem with tautologies can been seen in the following example; it will either rain or not rain tomorrow.  Now this statement will always be valid, regardless of location or weather.  But while always valid, it tells us nothing about whether or not we will need an umbrella. In short it really tells us nothing at all.

    What Dawkins explanation really reveals is that evolution is a huge complex tautology.  It can explain anything the evolutionist needs it to explain.  Soon after Darwin, the theory began to be applied to societies to justify why some people were better off than others, in Social Darwinism.  It then became the basis of Eugenics, which effectively argued for selective breeding of people, to produce better people, much the way we selectively breed animals.  This culminated in Hitler’s belief in a master race, and the elimination of impure bloodlines. 

    Following WWII, this was all rejected, and rightly so, as immoral. While we continued to selectively breed animals, people were off limits.  Yet Dawkins now argues that he can explain an almost opposite morality also based on evolution.  What this means is that evolution can explain either view. Just like the statement it will either rain or not rain tells us nothing about the weather, evolution tells us nothing about morality. It only tells us about the ability to speculate to a particular goal on the part of the scientist.

    The problem with the particular answer Dawkins gives is that he cites a number of “good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous, or ‘moral’ towards each other.” (pg 219) Yet those pushing Social Darwinism, or Eugenics in the 1920s and 30s also had many good Darwinian reasons as well. So a clear question become why Dawkins’ Darwinian reasons should be preferred to these other Darwinian reasons. For most people this is pretty easy to determine as history has shown that the Darwinian reasons for Eugenics leads to some pretty immoral things.  But since Dawkins is arguing for the basis for morality, he cannot use morality to make such a choice without falling victim to circular reasoning.  Which leaves him with special pleading; his reasons are better than the reasons that led to eugenics because they give him the answer he is seeking.

    Yet even if Dawkins were correct, and our sense of morality is what it is because of evolutionary pressures to survive, it still would not follow that this is what morality should be in the twenty-first century.  Dawkins acknowledges this when he says that “those rules still influence us today, even where circumstances make them inappropriate to their original function.” (p 222) In short, even if Dawkins’ is correct concerning his view of the evolutionary basis for morality, that says nothing about what morality should be today.  In fact the only thing Dawkins would have succeeded in doing it arguing that morality is at best a residue of the evolutionary process, and there is no reason it should hold any automatic power over our actions.

    In fact the only principle left would really be “might makes right.”  Whoever has the power, would determine right and wrong.  Of course the problem here is that had Dawkins view been accepted earlier, for example before much of the progress in civil and human rights over the last couple of hundred years, there would have been no reason to make those changes, and they very likely would never have happened. 

    The belief in human rights is grounded in the belief that we are all created in the image of God, and what God has given, no one can arbitrarily take away, not even the king.  The anti-slavery movement was not grounded in Darwinian reasons, but in religious belief, in particular in the belief that slaves were men with rights.  Luckily those views became well entrenched before Darwin put forth his theory, as I am not at all sure that had the ideas of evolution become entrenched first, whether an anti-slavery movement could have ever taken root.

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

    Age of Emotion

    Friday, January 18th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    We live in an age of emotion. Society is always in flux, changing, moving, and it is the same with emotion, and its counterpart reason. The last few hundred years have been called the age of reason as until very recently, reason was the dominate of the two. But over the last several decades reason has retreated back, and emotion has come to the forefront.

     Where it use to be very common when seeking someone’s opinion to ask them what they think on a given subject, now it is far more common to ask how they feel.  Asking how we feel about something is not the same as asking what we think, as the two can be, and even at times should be, different.

     For example, consider for the moment that a favorite pet of many years is suddenly sick and suffering with no hope of a cure.  While our reason tells us that the humane thing to do is to have the pet put to sleep, our feelings will almost certainly be telling us the opposite.

     Parents also know this conflict. Their emotions simply want to make a child happy. But their thinking tells them that always giving a child what they want is not in the child’s best interest. One of the signs that we are in an age an age of emotion is the large number of mothers and fathers who interact with their children more as friends than as parents.

     The new dominance of emotion is everywhere. While the Spock of the 1960s TV show Star Trek was completely logical, the Spock of later movies was a more emotional Spock, a Spock more in touch with his feelings.  Whereas the hero of movies used to be the strong silent type, now they frequency struggle with family problem, death of a loved one or some other emotional issue.

     To be clear, this is not an attack on emotions. God created us with both a heart and a mind. With feelings and intellect, and both are important. As with so many things in life, the question is not one of either-or, but of finding the right balance.  While too strong an emphasis on the intellect can lead to cruel and heartless actions, so can too much emphasis on emotions. The right balance can be difficult if not impossible, to find. In fact if you think you have the right balance, it is probably a good indication that you don’t.

     One good indicator of where society is can be seen in the actions of politicians campaigning for office. Whatever you think or feel about politicians, in an election they have one overriding goal: to win; and to do this they have to appeal to people to vote for them. While those in safe districts where their election is assured don’t have to worry about this, those who might lose have to pay very close attention to what people are thinking or how they are feeling as the case may been. 

     While there are frequent complaints about all the negative campaigning and calls to stick to the issues, the simple fact is that for the most part politicians only do what works. If people really were turned off by negative ads, there would be very few negative ads.  If people really wanted discussions about the issues, that’s what politicians would do. In fact they do frequently give such issue oriented speeches when before groups that want them.

     Politicians long ago figured out the emotional age we are in, and have adapted their campaign accordingly.  Thus candidates make a point of not wearing suits all the time less people get the feeling that they are not one of us. Their appeals are laced with words and phrase that will bring about positive feelings about them and negative feeling about their opponent. 

     The Church is not immune for these cultural shifts.  The shift between reason and emotion can most clearly be seen in the struggle between the Praise and/or worship part of the service, and the sermon.  Not too long ago, the sermon dominated, preceded by a song or two.  In many churches the praise and worship now dominates, and even the sermon is, like the politician’s campaign pitch, aimed more at making you feel good.

     Josh McDowell has documented some of the results in his book, “The Last Christian Generation.” McDowell reports a marked increase in the percentage of young people who also leave the church when they leave home. (pg 13) In fact, many young people see church as just a series of events with little impact on their spiritual life. (pg 59 – 61)

     Even when they stay connected to a church, they may not be that much better off.  A Barna survey in 2005 found that only 8% of Protestants actually had a Biblical worldview, Evangelicals did better but still half did not have a biblical world view.

     Part of this is the emotional emphasis of many services, services aimed more at getting an emotional reaction rather than intellectual respond. Both are good and both are important. But an emotional reaction is temporary and disappears quickly once the source is gone.  In short it may not last much beyond the parking lot of the church.  An intellectual response however, is much more lasting, for it changes how a person thinks, and thus how they live.

     So how is your Church doing? Does it have the right balance? Think about it.

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

    The Grand Experiment

    Friday, January 11th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    One of the main ongoing debates between Christians and Atheists is over the foundation for morality. Christians believe that morality in inherently tied to God. To reject God, is to reject the foundation for morality. Atheist often distort this into a claim that atheist are immoral.  This however is not the case. It is not that an atheist must be immoral, but rather that they are free to choose whatever morality suits them.  

    More importantly, a society that rejects the foundation will over time drift farther and farther from Christian morality.  While this drift does not happen quickly it does happen and this is exactly what we have seen over the last few decades.  Very early in the abortion debate opponents argued that an acceptance of abortion would lead to other things like an acceptance of euthanasia.  While supporter of abortion rights ridiculed such claims, now euthanasia is legal in one state and people are pushing for it to be legal in others. Similar parallels could be drawn for many other issues such as the push for homosexual rights leading to sex marriage, or the push for the ERA and the claims it would lead to same-sex bathrooms, bathrooms that are now beginning to appear, though under the more PC name of gender-neutral bathrooms.  

    Opponents of the Judeo-Christian morally that once dominated in America are taking a piece-meal approach, challenging only specific issues at any given time. They are quick to point to the religious foundation for Christian morality as a way of rejecting it, yet they never provide any alternative foundation in its place.  

    Nowhere is this more apparent than in the public schools, and the results are becoming increasingly clear. In the first edition of Christianity and Secularism written in the late 1980s I wrote about how in Los Angeles a wall was built around a school to keep bullets from hitting the students. Since then we have had a number of students bring guns into schools to kill.  

    While such things would have been unthinkable a decade or two earlier, now unfortunately they are increasingly common. Secularists vigorously resist any attempt to link such shooting to their undermining of the Judeo-Christian value system. It is as if a person did not like a part of a building, so they undermined the foundation of the building believing that only the part they did not like would crumble.  

    The secularists have sought to undermine traditional views of most forms of sexuality, the family structure, and life among other things. To do this they have pushed an attitude of non-judgment, with its catch-all denunciation; “who are you to judge?” This is hardly a rational position as they are judging any who dared disagree with them, without seeing a conflict. Still they have been very successful with the young, many of whom are now so non-judgment as to be amoral; so amoral that it is difficult for them to even think in terms of morality.  

    Following the murders at the Mall in Omaha last month, an NBC TV reporter interviewed a friend of the murderer, (played by Dennis Prager on his show. Dec 6 2007 Third Hour)

    Reporter: “What are you thinking about now, now that you know that [your friend] was involved in the shooting earlier today”  

    Friend of Murderer: “I don’t think anything less of him, because I know that [he] would never have done anything like this just for fun it, it was he wanted to go out in style and that is what he did, he went out in style.” 

    No judgment for the lives taken. No judgment for the family and friends whose lives will never be the same because of the loss of a loved one.  No judgment for the wounded or their pain and suffering.  Instead, “I don’t think anything less of him… it was he wanted to go out in style.”  To those who grew up with traditional Judeo-Christian values, the lack of any moral judgment in those words is very hard to comprehend. Yet it is what the secularists pushing non-judgment have created.  

    As if it were some bad science fiction movie, the secularists have conducted a grand experiment on society, with our children as the guinea pigs. They have raised a generation whose main view of morality is to not pass moral judgments. They chipped away at the foundation for morality, thinking that only those part of the Judeo-Christian morality they disagreed with would fall away.  But whatever their intentions, they have raise generation for whom the questions of is it good or evil; is it right or wrong, play little if any part in their thinking, replace instead by “does it affect me personally?”  

    What will be the result of this experiment?  Nobody knows for sure but the current trends don’t look good.  Not everyone raised with this view will want to ‘Go out in style’, killing as many as they can in the process, but we have already seen that an increasing number do.   More widespread is the marked increase in cheating, or the winning at any cost mentality that pervades sports, business, and politics.  

    If you assume that thousands of years of human history are irrelevant, and that most if not all the bad things in history were the result of religion anyway, then perhaps this grand experiment of producing an amoral society will produce a better society.  I for one doubt it.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion Part XIII

    Friday, January 4th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In the last part of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I discussed Dawkin’s speculations on the origin of religion.  In Chapter six Dawkins continues his speculations or the Roots of morality with all the same faults and some new ones.  I looked forward to this chapter with great interest, as not only is Morality a key issue in life, it is also behind one of the arguments for the existence of God.

    Thus I was disappointed, thought hardly surprised, when Dawkins began with what at best can be considered a strawman argument.  He says “many religious people find it hard to imagine how, without religion, one can be good, or would even want to be good.” (pg 211)  Since “many” is a somewhat vague term when talking about the vast majority of the world’s population, Dawkins’ statement is undoubtedly true in some sense.  Still, it really misses the key issue of the origin of morality.  As I wrote in my book Christianity and Secularism, concerning this subject, “this does not mean that only people who believe in God are moral. A person can be an atheist and still be a very moral person, and a person who does a tremendous amount of good.  The real question is where do morals come from?”(pg 179)

    But before moving to that question I would like to address some comments Dawkins makes concerning a letter that claimed that evolution was by blind chance, atheism was nihilistic, and if true would mean that life was without meaning. Dawkins objects saying “for the umpteenth time, natural selection is the very opposite of a chance process.” (pg 214)

    Here Dawkins equivocates a bit. Equivocation is using the same word or phrase with different meanings.  Dawkins is correct in that evolution is not a chance process, in the sense that it is governed by natural laws, and the forces that govern evolution are constantly selecting the most likely to survive, weeding out the rest. So when talking about evolution as a process, it is a process with a goal. But chance does play a role, as it is by chance that certain features appear so that the process can either select or reject them. 

    However, if instead of talking about the process of evolution, we consider the occurrence of evolution or the result of evolution, chance plays a huge and even dominant role. Evolution does not teach that human being appeared because evolution purposed for them to appear, they appeared by chance.  In fact, the more science studies origin of the world and the condition needed for intelligent life, the more they must fall back on chance to explain why we are here.  So Dawkins’ rebuttal depends on a narrow and somewhat different meaning for evolution.  Thus the equivocation. 

    Dawkins then goes on to point to his book “Unweaving the Rainbow” to argue that atheism does not mean a meaningless nihilistic existence.  Again there is some equivocation here. Dawkins is correct in the sense that we can find meaning in anything.  Parents often find meaning in their children. People can find meaning in their work, or in their hobbies, or in helping others. The can find meaning in supporting their favorite sports teams, or perhaps in Dawkins case in science.  So in this sense Dawkins is correct. 

    But this is a very subjective and narrow type of meaning.  The real question is whether not there is anything more than this. If the Sun were to explode tomorrow, and all life on earth wiped out, the planet broken in small pieces, would any of this have meaning? The answer from evolution must be no. Whether you had been a Stalin murdering millions, or a Mother Theresa who had devoted your life to helping the poor, a world class athlete or a couch potato, a Christian or an atheist, would make no difference at all. All would irrelevant and without meaning.

    The simple fact is that meaning requires an intellect, a though process that can judge value.   To have a meaning beyond ourselves requires a thought process beyond us. To have an ultimate type of meaning requires an ultimate type of thought process.  In short, it requires a God.

    Now the atheist can argue that this is all there is. There is no meaning beyond the meaning we give to things. They can even argue that we should give some meaning to certain things.  But they can’t legitimately complain when Christians they charge that their view says there is no ultimate meaning.

    A similar confusion, lies behind the charge that atheist can’t be good, though in Dawkins defense it is a common error. If one believes that morality comes from God, then absence of God, would then be an absence of morality. Many falsely assume that this mean immoral, but it doesn’t.   An absence of morality would be amoral, not immoral.  Atheists, because they reject God as source for morality, are not automatically immoral; they are free to pick whatever morality that suits them.  Many adopt large parts of the morality of the society in which they are raised, which in the western world is a morality that has been strongly shaped by Christianity. 

    But this freedom to choose the good, also means they are free to choose the bad. This is why the foundation of morality is so important, and why atheists even though they may be themselves moral, have a major problem in this area.

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