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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

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  • Archive for the 'faith' Category

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Sunday, January 8th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    The following are my comments to another person, Nontheistdavid. His post can be found here.

    Nontheistdavid,

    “Hogwash. If unicorns or invisible “immaterial” beings exist then there should be verifiable and testable evidence of their existence. We should be able to measure and modify to some degree the behavior and/or effects they have on the universe.”

    There are a lot of assumptions in this statement, and it goes to the heart of the difference between theists and non-theists. What perplexes many theists is not so much that non-theist make different assumptions. Rather it is that non-theists do not even seem to realize that they are making their own assumptions, while the attempt to ridicule others; thus their frequent attempts to try and equate the belief in god with the belief in unicorns. While, given its frequent use, non-theists evidently think this is some sort of killer argument, it is so absurd on its face (see my last reply to LaClair) it only makes the non-theist look irrational. Yet they continue to use it.

    “Also why do you theist keep using the term “naturalism”?”

    I for one try to avoid sematic debates that rarely are productive, thus I used the term naturalism, because that is what LaClair used for his views. In this note I used non-theist, because that is what you used.

    “Science engages in Methodological naturalism and most certainty does not deny anything.”

    Depending on exactly how you defined “methodological naturalism” I might agree with you, but you would have to define this a bit more before I could really comment.

    If science is taken as the search for natural explanations, and therefore incapable of saying anything about non-natural explanations, that is fine as long as the bias is recognized. If science is seen as an unbiased investigation and scientists are therefore free to investigate potential non-natural explanations that would also be fine. The problem enters in when you have the view held by many non-theists, that science is seen as an unbiased investigation, but were any non-natural explanation are ruled out a priori as illegitimate.

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Sunday, January 8th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s  post is here.

    LaClair,
    “if anyone ever demonstrates that a non-naturalistic explanation adds anything to our fund of knowledge, then we scientific naturalists will change our minds.”

    While this may sound good, when one begins to examine this claim in detail within the framework of naturalism it ultimately falls apart. This is because the evaluation of evidence is very strongly tied to one’s world view. Given the presuppositions of naturalism, presuppositions that cannot be demonstrated but must be accepted on faith, it is impossible to demonstrate a non-naturalistic explanation, because naturalism a priori equates reality and naturalism. Any line of reasoning that supports a non-naturalistic explanation is not seen as evidence for a non-naturalistic explanation, but evidence that that line of reasoning is unreliable.

    For example, the current evidence supports that the natural universe as we know it had a beginning and could not have existed for ever. If our current evidence is correct, then either, the natural universe came from something, or came from nothing. If it came from something, then this something would be non-natural, and this is evidence of a non-natural explanation that naturalism denies.

    Perhaps you are different, but all naturalists I have talked to in the past have either denied the validity of the question, expanded the definition of naturalism to include what would otherwise be non-natural (thereby creating a tautology ) or preferred to accept the belief that something came from nothing without cause rather than face what would in any other circumstance be the obvious conclusion.

    “The fact that you think those two claims [invisible unicorns or gods] are of a different quality speaks only to the power of culture to shape belief.”

    One could just as easily argue that the fact that you think these two claims are the same speaks to the power of naturalism shape belief. The problem for you is that there is no correspondence between these two claims. While the philosophical underpinnings of naturalism have come under increasing criticism from serious philosophers, Dallas Willard for one, has pointed out that there has been a rebirth of serious consideration of theism from philosophers starting in the latter part of the 20th century. While serious and scholarly people have discussed the merits of theism down through the ages, I am not aware of anyone who has seriously put forth a claim that there are invisible unicorns. Thus while naturalists like to try and make an equation between these two claims; it is absurd on its face. Pretending that these two claims are the same hardly demonstrates the rationality of your position.

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Sunday, January 8th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s post  is here.

    LaClair,
    “Unfortunately in my view, however, many people define faith as the basis for belief,” while true, there are also many who do not.

    “’the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ (The Bible, Hebrews 11:1).” While the KJV translates the passages this way, most modern translations translate hupostasis as assurance or being sure. More importantly, the examples that fill the majority of the chapter follow the pattern of they believed, so they acted. As part of faith 11:19 even says that “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (NIV) All of which is consistent with the view of faith I put forth.

    “A definition nearer to this one is necessary in theology because there isn’t any evidence for the existence of a god.” Sorry but this is just incorrect. It is not necessary, if for nothing else; I do not hold such a belief, nor am I the only one. In addition, there is clearly evidence for the existence of god. It is certainly possible to have legitimate disagreement over whether this evidence is sufficient to constitute “proof”, but that hardly translates into no evidence at all.

    “Because religion and theism are cultural phenomena and culture-shapers, what many or most people think matters? That is why I invoked popular belief.” While such statements are acceptable with those who share your beliefs about religion, in discussion such as this with varying points of view such statement amount to circular reasoning, as they presuppose beliefs that are under discussion.

    “Of the Big Bang, scientific naturalism says…” I had problems with this paragraph as it seems internally inconsistent. You state first that naturalism “declines to posit that any but a natural explanation will suffice, or be useful.” But then goes on to rule out anything but a natural explanation.

    As a factual matter, the claim that a theological framework “is affirmatively harmful because it establishes a framework that is opposed to scientific method and is likely to inject irrelevancies and confusion into any inquiry into objective reality” is simply wrong and either ignorant of history of science, or at the very least highly selective in it view of history. It also assumes a unity in the concept of “theological framework” which simply does not exist. There are in fact a variety of theological frameworks. While some are “affirmatively harmful” not all are.

    “You can call that a limitation if you want to, but then you may want to ask whether a limitation is useful.” It is of course a limitation by definition. You are excluding possible explanations a priori and as a result must reject any evidence to the contrary as irrelevant. One thing that is pretty clear from research on the brain is that what does not fit our view of reality, we tend not to see. In short you are biasing any conclusions reached and this, whether you like it or not renders your conclusions suspect, and ultimately irrational, as they fall victim to the fallacy of circular reasoning.

    Frankly the main difference I have between scientific naturalist and my view of science is that I think that science should not eliminate any possible answers. In the past, naturalists I have talked to have tried to distort this into claiming that non-natural answers should receive some sort of priority, but that is not my view. In fact, I do not even opposed to giving natural explanation some priority. I just would not exclude non-natural explanations a priori. I for example, find the hysteria over Intelligent Design illustrative. Will Intelligent Design theories ever lead anywhere? I do not know. But I would not ban them as the scientific equivalent of heresy, and I oppose the current inquisition like zeal to root out any who might dare to even consider such answers.

    As for you views on consciousness, this is a classic example of the problems with the bias of naturalism. You basically have claimed that only natural answers are permissible, and then claim as support for this view that the only explanations we currently have for consciousness are natural. Do you not see the glaring logical fallacy in this? Frankly we know very little about consciousness, and there are some very significant questions such as the nature of Free Will remain unanswered.

    “anyone who criticizes that narrative will face a reaction. It has nothing to do with rationality.” Like the reaction one gets from scientific naturalists when one questions their narrative?

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism

    Sunday, January 8th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    While traveling I saw a review for Alvin Plantinga new book “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism.”   Checking out the comments on Amazon.com, I noticed a discussion, and decided to jump in.   Here are my replies, with links back to the notes I am replying to. The passages in quotes are taken from the note to which I am responding.

    In reply to Paul L. LaClair post:

    LaClair,

    I was checking out this book and started following this discussion. I found your comment to calcidius that “Most people who say they believe in a god admit they have to rely on “faith,” since they can’t prove it” as particularly problematic for the following reasons,

    “Most people” — the fallacy of an appeal to the people. What “most people” say is irrelevant to the truth of a proposition, particularly in the discussion here as “most people” do not think deeply about the philosophical underpinning of their beliefs.

    Then there is the contrast of faith and proof. Proof is a very vague and ultimately subjective concept. What does and does not constitute proof varies from situation to situation, and from person to person. In its general sense, proof is simply the level of evidence needed to conclude that something is true.

    Faith, on the other hand, is not a basis for belief, but a reliance on a belief that causes someone to act. In the realm of religion, a person can intellectually believe that God exists, but if that believe has no impact on their life, they do not have faith. However faith is not limited just to religion. Everyone has faith in what they believe, and they structures their lives accordingly, even the scientific naturalist.

    While it is possible to have a blind faith in the absence of, or even counter to, the evidence, not all faith is blind. Faith can be supported by the evidence. An engineer could calculate that a bridge will support him, but it is faith in his calculations that allows him to cross the bride.

    This is where the contrast of faith with proof is so problematic. It is one of the reasons I rarely talk about proof, preferring rather just to speak of evidence. Is there proof for god? While this would depend on the standard of proof being used, for simplicity sake, I will say no. But the absence of proof should not be taken to mean the absence of evidence, and I do believe that there is evidence for God. In fact, I believe that a theistic worldview has the least problems of all the various ways of understanding reality, including scientific naturalism, and thus is the best explanation.

    You can see this difference in your statements such as,

    “Good scientists hold many of the questions open, and then make judgments about which avenues of inquiry are most likely to be productive. A reasonable scientist does not spend her time trying to figure out whether ‘God did it’”

    But what is “reasonable” and “most likely to be productive” will depend strongly on one’s world view. Thus for example, when considering questions such as the origin of the universe, or the beginning of life, should a scientist be seeking to discover what happened, or should they limit themselves only to natural explanation for these questions? Scientific naturalism argues the latter.

    Spirituality & Religious Behavior & Life

    Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

    There is a direct correlation between spirituality and religious behavior and how we see and feel and react to the world around us.  Those who pray on a daily basis, and attend religious intuitions on a weekly basis,  are happier,  healthier,  more content, more satisfied in their job,  closer to their families, and have a better outlook towards the future. If you ever wanted evidence that spirituality and religiosity has a direct impact on how we regard life,  its  right there in the book for you.

    Frank Luntz, discussing his book “What America Really Want … Really” with Dennis Prager Sept 15, 2009 Hour 2 on Prager’s paid site .

    Of First Importance

    Friday, April 10th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    As I have discussed previously all too often people dismiss rituals as meaningless and of little value. But is somewhat of a chicken and egg problem.  Are rituals dismissed because they are meaningless and of little value, or are they meaningless and of little value because they are dismissed?

    Whether something does or does not have meaning depends largely on us.  The cross is meaningful because we see it as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice.  We give it meaning by associating it with what Christ did.  In short, we choose whether or not we will see it as significant.

    This phenomena is not simply limited to religion.  For example in 1971 Congress restructured federal holidays to give more three day weekends.  Before 1971 Memorial Day was May 30th. Now it is the last Monday in May.  As a three day weekend every year Memorial day has for most completely lost its meaning. A Gallop Poll last year show that only 28% of Americans knew the actual reason for the three Day weekend they were celebrating.  Instead,  for many Memorial Day is nothing more than a time for barbeques and parties rather than what it was originally intended, a solemn day to honor those who gave their lives in the service of their country.

    Yet when rituals are seen as meaningful, they can focus and magnified belief. They also serve a teaching function, as a way of transmitting important values to the next generation.  The casual anything goes attitude of society exists just as strongly in a church more eager to attract members than to make disciples.

    Apart from older churches with a long history of tradition such as the Roman Catholic Church, Easter and Christmas are pretty much the last Christian rituals, and for many even these are in decline. The meaning slowly draining away year after year, and for increasing numbers of young people the meaning is never implanted.

    This weekend most Western Churches will celebrate Easter which commemorates the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  (Orthodox observe Easter on the 19th)  This is the most important date on the Christian Calendar.

    Paul writing to the Corinthians said that “I passed on to you the most important points that  I received: The Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures-and is still alive!-” (1 Cor 15:3-4 ISV)

    This is so important and central to the Christian faith that Paul later writes “if the Messiah has not been raised, then our message means nothing and your  faith means nothing… your faith is worthless and you are still imprisoned by your sins.” (1 Cor 15:14,17 ISV)

    Given its centrality and importance it is not surprising that the resurrection is not only one of the most well documented events of the Bible , it is one of the most well documented events of the time period, and one which skeptics have attempted in vain to refute for 2000 years.  (See Christianity and Secularism Chapter 6)

    The magnitude of the event is beyond comprehension.  Even the natural aspects are difficult to fully grasp,  a man was betrayed by one of his inner circle and deserted by the rest.  The crowds that had hailed him one week earlier now called for his death.  He was savagely beaten, scourged, condemned to death and then crucified.  Because of the coming Sabbath, his body was hurriedly placed in a borrowed tomb. Which was then guarded by those who had had him executed.

    Yet starting early on the following Sunday morning, people began claiming to have seen him. And not just a few,  all of those close to him did, along with many of his followers. Even Paul who strongly tried to suppress the growing faith, saw him and converted as a results.   In fact Paul point out that one appearance was before a crowd of over 500 , and challenged skeptics to go and talk to those that were still alive about what they had seen.  In short a man who had died, had come back to life.

    As amazing as this was, this was still just of secondary importance, serving mainly as a confirmation of what was really the most astounding part, a part that went completely unseen by those who witness Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

    Jesus did not just die on the cross, he died for our sins. This is the truly astounding part and something that is beyond all comprehension. He died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), He died for me, and he died for you.  He did this that we may live.  “For as in Adam all die, so also in the Messiah will all be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:22 ISV)

    This is the true meaning of Easter, that Jesus the Son of God,  “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures-and is still alive!” (1 Cor 15:3-4 ISV)    This is the true meaning of Easter.   Will what you do this weekend be in accord with this?

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXXII

    Friday, February 20th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In my extended review of Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” I have finally reached the last chapter, “In Conclusion: The Need for a New Enlightenment.”  Hitchens opens the chapter with a discussion of a quote by Lessing, where he says that given the opportunity to know all truth, he would reject the offer in favor of pursuing the truth, even knowing he would remain thereby in error.  Of course this raises the question of why pursue something if obtaining it is not the goal. 

    But for Hitchens this is not a question of a choice between “All truth” and the pursuit of truth.  Hitchens equates knowing “all truth” with faith, and for him the question becomes a choice between faith and reason, faith and modernity, faith and technology, and even a choice between faith and civilization itself. 

    Of course this is a false choice.  I am religious and I certainly do not claim to know all truth.  Far from it and I spend much of my time pursuing it.  But this error goes to the heart of the atheist’s argument, and so in an odd sort of way it is fitting that Hitchens end his book with this error. 

    In reality it is not that those who are religious claim to know the truth, are dogmatic, blindly accepting certain truths, lack skepticism, or do not have a passion for inquiry.  There are certainly some who are religious who would fit this description, just as there are some who don’t believe in god for whom this would also be an accurate description.  Frankly some of the most closed minded and dogmatic people I have run into have been militant atheists.  Not all to be sure, but the simple fact is that these traits can be found amongst all groups, atheist and theist alike. 

    Those who believe in God can seek the truth and can learn and grow just like atheists.  As many have pointed out, including a few atheists, science had its roots in the Judeo-Christian worldview and many of the earlier greats minds of science, like Kepler, Newton, and even Galileo were Christians.  The real problem is not that we don’t search for truth or look at the evidence, but rather that theists reach different conclusions and consider other possibilities, possibilities that are prohibited in the atheist’s materialistic worldview.

    And that is the real problem.  Christians make no bones about it, we have a worldview, a framework in which we evaluate the evidence and apply reason as we strive to learn the truth.  Atheists claim that this shapes how we look at things and the conclusions that we reach; which is quite true, for that is exactly what frameworks do. 

    Where the atheists go wrong is that they also have a framework, a framework in which the only thing that exists is the material universe governed by natural law.  The atheist worldview shapes how they look at things and the conclusions they reach, just as much as the Christian worldview does for Christians.  Frankly, it probably affects them more.  While most Christians realize that they have a worldview, most atheists not only don’t, they frequently deny it.  For them, they don’t have a worldview that shapes their thinking, they just have reality, and see everything else as wrong, all the while claiming confidently not to be dogmatic, but open minded. 

    For the atheist, the existence of God, the supernatural, that we have a soul, etc., does not fit into their worldview and so for them, these things not only do not exist, they cannot exist.  While they are adept at pointing out problems in the theist worldview, any problem, lack of evidence, or evidence to the contrary for the atheist worldview, is simply ignored with the claim that “we will figure it out someday.” When it is demonstrated that the odds against the things they believe must have happened are unimaginably large, they just cling tightly to the minuscule possibility at they happened, however small.  Their worldview permits nothing else.  In fact they sometimes reply, as some have with the origin of life, that however small the odds, it must have happened because we are here. 

    While they are quick to attack religions for their irrational beliefs, often going to the point of casting this as a battle between faith and reason, their attacks are often themselves irrational, which  I have repeated pointed out, is the case with Hitchens.  The real problem in seeing this as a battle between faith and reason,  is that atheists have a distorted definition of faith, which is in reality for them, simply a belief in something that is false.  But that is not faith.  Faith is trusting something to the point of acting on it.  In the Christian worldview, you have faith in God by following his teachings, the first step being accepting Jesus as your savior. 

    Atheists have faith in their worldview just as much as Christians do in theirs.  Which worldview is right? Well I have written two books, Christianity and Secularism and Evidence for the Bible laying out my view of the evidence.  On the other hand, as I have show many times here, Hitchens arguments are based on sloppy thinking, errors and irrationalities, and thus hardly provide a firm foundation for his claims.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXI

    Friday, November 7th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great,” after dealing with the Old and New Testaments, Hitchens, takes on the Koran, but I will leave it to Muslims to respond, and move on to chapter ten, where Hitchens deals with the dual subjects of Miracles and Hell.  Or at least that is what the title claims, as the chapter really only deals with miracles, and even here the arguments are particularly weak, even for Hitchens.

    At its core, his argument seems to be that Hume, who he claims wrote “the last word on the subject” (pg 141), argued that we have free will to decide if we will believe in miracles or not, at which point Hitchens calls upon “the trusty Ockham” (pg 141) and his razor to decide that we should not.  Hitchens then has a very feeble, at best,  attack on the resurrection which never really rises above attempts at ridicule, then supports this with a few examples of false miracles, primarily related to Mother Teresa.

    That we have the free will to decide about miracle was hardly new with Hume, nor even a fair summary of his thought. Nor did Hume write the last word on the subject, as many words have been written pointing out the problems with Hume’s critique, including a few of my own.  Still, Hitchens’ arguments, weak as they are, suffer from the two main problems common to atheist’s arguments in this area and these center around the nature of miracles and concept of free will.

    For Hitchens and other atheists, miracles are suspect because by definition natural explanations of some sort are always going to be more likely. This is bolstered by the fact that many alleged miracles have been shown to be the result of natural forces or fraud.  Yet error and fraud exist in all areas of human experience. So that there is error and fraud in some miracles is not a reputation of all miracles, and in fact the Bible warns us to be careful about this, a warning that Christians have not always taken as seriously as they should.

    Miracles, at least in the Christian view, are the acts of a personal God.  They are not forces of nature that can be measured and studied in a laboratory.  That one person prayed and was healed does not mean that everyone who prays will be healed, even though there are some Christians who believe this.  Such personal acts do not lend themselves to the type of evidence atheists demand, especially since the purpose of a miracle is normally not to show the existence of miracles or God.  Of course the atheist often asks why doesn’t God just perform a miracle and prove that he exists ?

    That bring us to free will.  Hitchens main argument is that we have free will to choose whether or not to believe in miracles. Free will is a good way to understand this issue, and the problem with atheistic reasoning, as it ultimately argues against, not for, free will. 

    The issues and complexities of election aside, we do at least at some level have free will.   As Jesus said of Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37 “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”  Now it is true that that God does not prove he exists in some undeniable way, and from this the atheist concludes that that he does not exist.  I believe, however, he does not because that would conflict with our freedom to choose.    

    Do we, for example, have the freedom to choose whether or not we will accept gravity or if the Moon exists? Not in any meaningful sense, and if God met the atheist’s demands, neither would we have any meaningful choice to believe in God.  Rather than proof, God has given us evidence. Evidence that points to his existence, and evidence for miracles.  As I argue in Christianity and Secularism  the resurrection is not only the best explanation for the events surrounding the death of Jesus Christ, it is the only explanation that explains both the empty tomb and that the disciples really believed that had seen the risen Christ, two things that even some skeptic and critics of the resurrection believe need explanations.   Yet, while strong evidence, it is not proof.  God has left us the freedom to ignore the evidence and to reject the resurrection despite the evidence.

    The atheist view does not, despite Hitchens claim, allow such freedom.  In the atheist view,  barring absolute proof,  the miraculous must be rejected in favor of the natural.  For the atheist there is no weighing of evidence pro and con, a miracle is either proved or rejected, with a standard of proof so high that if met it would eliminate any meaningful freedom to reject God.

    So ultimately, this is a matter of how you frame the question.  If, as the atheists see it, this is a question of proved or rejected, then miracles, and belief in God will be rejected.  If however this is seen as a question of evidence pro and con, then the  evidence supports the belief in miracles such as the resurrection, and the belief in God.   God has given us the freedom to choose. What we do with that freedom is up to us.

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

    Hitchens – God is not Great XII

    Friday, August 29th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Continuing my extended review of Christopher Hitchens’, “God Is Not Great,” after the first two examples in chapter four, which, as I have show fail to make Hitchens’ claim that religion is hazardous to health, Hitchens proceeds on a tour of the strange and obscure; the practice of some Islamic clerics of issuing a package deal for marriage and divorce certificates permitting men to legally marry and then an hour later divorce a prostitute; the killing of cats in the Middle Ages because it was thought that the Black Death was linked to black magic, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses refusal of blood transfusions, among others.  Hitchens sums up his view when he says, “The attitude of religion to medicine, like the attitude of religion to science, is always necessarily problematic and very often necessarily hostile.”  (46-47)

     

    This brings us to the second of the two fallacies mentioned in an earlier post, Hasty Generalization.  The fallacy of Hasty Generalization occurs when you try to derive general rules form what are inherently individual cases or very small samples. For example, when driving, a man or woman cuts you off, and based on that you claim that all men or all women are bad drivers. That is essentially what Hitchens is doing here.  Some religious people, or even some religious groups, have practices that are harmful to health; therefore religion in general is harmful to health.

     

    But there is an even deeper problem for Hitchens. Logical fallacies are errors in reasoning.  The do not necessarily mean that the conclusion is wrong, only that a particular way of justifying a conclusion does not work. More troublesome for Hitchens is his claim that religion must be hostile to medicine, for it is clearly false and easily demonstrated as such.

     

    While it is true that here have been some groups, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Scientists who have been hostile to some or all of medicine, they are hardly the norm. In fact the norm at least within Judaism and Christianity has been the opposite.  If Hitchens were correct that religion’s attitude to medicine “is always necessarily problematic and very often necessarily hostile,” then why are there so many Christian hospitals? Why are there so many Christian and Jewish doctors and nurses? Why do so many churches sponsor trips to third world counties to provide health care, clean water, and basic sanitary practices?

     

    Hitchens points to the superstition that surrounded the Black Death, though he does concede that “We may make allowances for the orgies of stupidity and cruelty that were indulged in before humanity had a clear concept of the germ theory of disease.” (pg 47) But has the noted Historian Will Durant points out, while a few clergy hid in fear, “the great majority of them faced the ordeal manfully” (Will Durant, The Reformation, pg 64) and thousand gave their lives doing what little they could for the sick, for it would be over 500 years from the first outbreak before the cause was finally determined.

     

    Even with the germ theory of disease things are not quite so clear.  In school I was taught the germ theory was a clear victory of science over superstition the latter coming in the guise of spontaneous generation.  On more than one occasion I have been told by atheists that it was also a victory of atheism over religion. Nothing can be further from the truth.  In fact, as I recount in my book Christianity and Secularism, the view of those atheist has it backwards.

     

    The Germ theory was put forth by Pastor, and defended by Lister, both of whom were Christians, while the opposition to the germ theory came from secularist who needs spontaneous generation to explain the origin of life apart form religion.  It was only after Darwin’s theory of evolution was adapted to try and explain the origin of live that the opposition to the germ theory was finally dropped.  In this case it was the secular, not the religious, who were a hazard to health.

     

    To be clear, I do not use this example as an attack on secularism, but rather to show that the traits Hitchens is attacking in religion, are not inherently religious traits, but traits that extent to all of humanity, including even atheists.

     

    Towards the end of Chapter four, Hitchens summarizes his argument as, “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women, and coercive towards children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.”  It is very true that far too many examples can be found of religious people who fit into these categories.

     

    But it is equally true that even more examples can be found of religious people who not only do not fit into these categories, but precisely because they were religious have argued and fought against these very things, some even giving their lives in the process.  Just to take the first one, violence, during the Middle Ages the Church sought to limit the violence in the wars between the European kingdoms, and it is just an historical fact that the weakening of the Church in the Renaissance, brought about a marked increase, not a decrease in violence. In short Hitchens’ claims are not only logically fallacious and at their core irrational, they are just wrong.

     

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

    Christianity and Secularism

    Evidence for the Bible

     

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great VI

    Friday, July 11th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    This week I return to my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great,” Hitchens concludes his first chapter, describing his father’s funeral where he spoke on Philippians 4:8

    Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report: if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

    For Hitchens, this is a “Secular injunction” that shines “out from the wasteland of rant and complaint and nonsense and bullying which surrounds it.” (p 12)

    The last part of Hitchens’ comment can only be seen as at best hyperbole.  In fact, what immediately precede this passage are injunctions to: rejoice, be gracious, don’t worry, pray, and be thankful, though I guess that these were corrupted by the “rant” about prayer. On the other side, what follows this supposedly “secular injunction” is an encouragement to not only think about these things, but to put them into practice.

    Ultimately Hitchens comments make no sense.  The immediate context does not support his description of a “wasteland of rant and complaint and nonsense and bullying,” nor does the broader context of the letter, the New Testament, or even the Bible as a whole.   Such distorted hyperbole may be as red meat to his fellow atheists, to be uncritically swallowed, but it hardly supports his claim that he is representing the rational position.

    His description of this as a secular injunction is likewise problematic.  Why is this injunction secular? Is it because the word God does not appear in the passage? The context is certainly not secular. This injunction comes as at the conclusion of the letter, in the passage Paul is summing up what it means to live as true Christians.

    As a side note, I can’t help but wonder if Christians down through the ages had really taken these words to heart, how different the writings of the neo-atheists would have been, as a great deal of their critiques involve Christians who did not live up to the teachings of Bible.

    Still, there are two main problems with Hitchens claim that this is a secular injunction. The first is that some of these words lose their meaning apart from a context that involves God. Granted terms like true and honest have secular meanings, thought it is worth noting that as society has become increasingly secular both of these terms have  suffered. For example, it now common among those strongly influenced by secularism to believe that truth is relative, and thus is different from person to person. There is no such thing as absolute truth.

    Terms such as lovely and good report are even more problematic.  It would be very difficult to claim that as society has become more secular it has become lovelier, or that it has even exulted the lovely.  A survey of modern art would quickly show the opposite.  In fact noted the historian Jacques Barzum summed up the last 500 years of the cultural life in Western Civilization in the title of his book as From Dawn To Decadence

    Finally, terms such as pure and virtue are inherently moral and thus require a moral context before they have any meaning at all.  For example, pure in the context Paul meant is something vastly different that pure in a racial context. In fact I would argue, based on the teachings of the Bible that pure in a racial context is irrelevant and to advocate it is evil.

    In short the injunction itself is meaningless unless given a context or framework in which these terms can be understood. Christians have a clear framework in which to understand this injunction. Secularism has no such clear framework. Secularists are free to fill in the blanks however they see fit.  Most do this from the culture in which they live, which in Western cultures means one strongly influenced by Judeo-Christian values.

    As such it is very possible that Hitchens and I would have a great deal of agreement as to what this injunction is saying, but where we agreed, it is not because I am adopting a secular framework, but rather because Hitchens views overlap those derived from the Bible.  But even if we assume that these terms had some universal meaning apart from Christianity, that would still not make this a secular injunction, for there is the problem why should it be enjoined.  What is the secular imperative to embody these attributes? There isn’t any.

    Sure a secular rational in favor could be constructed. But a secular rational against could likewise be constructed. This is because secularism itself is neutral. In fact in the context of evolution, the key imperative would be to survive, and so whenever lying or injustice served the aim of survival, then it should be done. In the Christian context, truth and justice are attributes of God. Since we are created in his image, we should likewise embody these attributes. Not just when it serves our personal interest, but at all times.  For as Paul said in the next verse,

    Likewise, keep practicing these things: what you have learned, received, heard, and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.

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